Film Review: Jojo Rabbit

Starring: Roman Griffin Davis, Taika Waititi, Scarlett Johansson, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Taika Waititi
Rated: PG 13 
Running Time: 108 minutes
Fox Searchlight Pictures

I don’t know how a movie featuring an imaginary Adolf Hitler managed to be one of the most heartwarming films of the year…but it’s 2019 and every day actual reality gets more ludicrous, so that sounds about right. Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit is a masterful satire that nails its tone with a kind of supernatural precision that most filmmakers can only dream of and a story still more wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) is a small boy who lives with his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) in a village in WWII Germany. His only ambition is to fight for Hitler just like his absent father. Lacking any real warfront nearby and too young to be conscripted, Jojo instead joins up with the local division of the Hitler Youth headed by the one-eyed Captain Klenzendorf (Sam Rockwell). It’s a lot like boy scouts if all the participants were extremely racist and whose bonfires consisted of banned books. Jojo plays tough but gains his titular nickname when the older scouts test how murderous Jojo actually is and the kid fails to kill a bunny in front of the everyone.

Jojo is not only disappointed with himself but he’s royally failing Hitler! Specifically the imaginary Fuhrer, played by Waititi himself, who follows Jojo around and goads on Jojo’s tough guy persona. To be clear, Waititi isn’t actually playing Hitler (in fact when asked about ‘researching’ his portrayal, the director says he didn’t because that guy was “a fucking cunt.” Yep.) Instead, he is playing an icon to a child, which is an entirely different prospect. In Taika’s take just about the scariest thing about him is the unnatural blue contacts. He’s a playground bully who spouts back all the vile lies about Jewish people the boy’s troop leaders are trying to drill into him. Jojo’s whole bubble is popped when he finds an actual living Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in his mother’s attic.

With McKenzie’s arrival, the film begins to become something much more than the riotous comedy that Waititi achieves in laying out Jojo’s life in the scouts. (Although if this film had only given me a burnt out Sam Rockwell demonstrating deadly weapons to a group of small children, I would have still considered it a cinematic gift, but I digress.) No, rather than being fearful, Elsa leans hard into the gross mythos the Nazis are spreading about her people in order to intimidate the young Jojo. It’s one thing to tell a ten year old that Elsa is a demon, entirely another to ask him not to then be terrified when faced with her one on one. Their bond is the heart of the film and McKenzie wields what small power she has over Jojo with ferocity while Jojo steadily moves from fear into fascination and maybe even friendship. Mckenzie’s is a stunning performance that has me more excited to see her in Edgar Wright’s next feature. As for Davis, putting the weight of this movie on the ten year old is thematically fitting but a huge risk. However just like Hunt for The Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison, Waititi’s casting of Davis proves to be spot on. 

Meanwhile these kids are surrounded by the grown actors putting in some truly beautiful work. Sam Rockwell’s one eyed captain is physically out of commission but maybe that’s not the only reason he’s not on the field. Considering there’s nothing remotely straight about him and second-in-command Finkel (Alfie Allen). Scarlett Johansson is fearless as Rosie who lovingly calls Jojo “Shitler” and whose drinking, smiling facade belies her own defiance. After all, her sheltering Elsa is a huge breech of the law. Still Rosie dances, she bike rides and she declares her dinner table neutral Switzerland. Johansson brings genuine depth and warmth to Rosie in both her bonds with Jojo and Elsa.

Jojo meeting Elsa and beginning to encounter the larger world is where Waititi really hits home. Rosie allows Jojo into the Hitler Youth only insofar as she is a single mother and there’s really no alternative daycare. But when face to face with his supposed enemy, Jojo’s whole worldview is challenged.  Hate cannot flourish without ignorance and it’s the ordinary people in this film whose small acts make the larger world better for all. Taika’s crafted a film that’s not only timely but manages to earn tears both from laughter and sadness.

Interview with Actor Michael Pare’

I first saw Michael Pare’ when he appeared on television’s “The Greatest American Hero,” but it was his performance as Eddie Wilson in the film “Eddie and the Cruisers” that cemented him in my mind as an actor to watch.  While on his way to Nevada to shoot his latest project Mr. Pare’ took time out to talk to me about his latest film – “Once Upon a Time in Deadwood” – his aspirations to be a chef and how Rick Springfield almost ended up playing Eddie Wilson.  (I should also note that this interview is posting on his birthday so, from all of us at Media Mikes, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MICHAEL!”

 

MIKE SMITH:  You studied to be a chef.  Was that your original career goal?

 

MICHAEL PARE’:  Yes.  When I was in high school, my first job where I had to pay taxes, social security and everything was in a fast food restaurant.  Then I got on at a regular restaurant that served steaks and everything else.  I was pretty good at it and I liked the life.  So in my junior year I heard from a co-worker about the Culinary Institute of America.  I got a recommendation from my boss and I applied and got in.  At the time it was known as the best cooking school in the United States.  I attended for a year and was given an internship at Tavern on the Green in New York.  They eventually offered me a full-time, six days a week job.  So I moved to Manhattan, which is where I was discovered.

 

MS:  Do you ever give the Craft Services people on set any pointers?

 

MP:  (laughs) No, but there are a few directors I’ve cooked with.  Uwe Boll and I used to have a sauerbraten contest every time we worked.  Cooking is something that a lot of people share.  In all of the arts food becomes an important part of your life.

 

MS:  How did you get into acting?  What took you from the kitchen to the soundstage?

 

MP:  I got discovered by an agent.  There was a bar where my girlfriend waitressed at that was kind of a show business bar.  It was right across from where they broadcast the news for ABC. A lot of people in the business hung out there.  The agent noticed me and asked me if I was an actor or a dancer.  I told her I was in the restaurant business.  She kind of pursued it and talked me into taking a few classes.  I did and I liked it a lot.  My first classes were at Carnegie Hall.  I’d go to class during the day and work the night shift at the restaurant.  I studied for two years and then auditioned for ABC’s talent development program and I got it.  They brought me out to Hollywood and put me on “The Greatest American Hero.”

 

MS:  You made your feature film debut as Eddie Wilson in “Eddie and the Cruisers.”  How did you get the role?

MP:  Marty Davidson, the director, called my agent and asked me to come in and meet him.  That was it.  I met with him about four or five times.  Marty was a very artistic guy.  He put the cast together and we had two weeks of improve and then we shot it.  I did it on hiatus from “The Greatest American Hero.”

 

MS:  Is it true that Martin Davidson would threaten to replace you with Rick Springfield?

 

MP:  (laughs)  Yes, but he only had to do it once!

 

MS:  I like Rick Springfield (Ok, I’ve seen him in concert a dozen times so I REALLY like Rick Springfield) but I don’t think he would have been a good Eddie.

 

MP:  It would have been a different movie.

 

MS:  Exactly.  Did you know while you were making the film that it was going to be regarded the way it is now?

 

MP:  No.  At that time I was still a young actor and didn’t know the potential of things.  I had only done two seasons of “The Greatest American Hero” and a movie of the week, so it was all like a dreamland.  I didn’t even think about marketing.  When I was back on “The Greatest American Hero” I was telling another actor about the film and he told me “you don’t have nothing without distribution.”  I had no idea what that meant.  I told him, “well, I shot it and they’re happy…that’s all I can say.”

 

MS:  Anyone ever ask you to sing “On the Dark Side” at karaoke?

 

MP:  (laughs)  If I do karaoke it’s Johnny Cash.

 

MS:  What drew you to your latest role in “Once Upon a Time in Deadwood?”

 

MP:  I’ve done a few westerns so when Jeff Miller (the film’s co-producer/co-writer) called me up and said he had an interesting project with this guy named Robert Bronzi I called up Danny Baldwin.  I knew he had worked with Robert and I asked him what he was like.  He said that Jeff and his team were very creative… very open minded.  So I said “ok.”  And then when I met Rene’ (director Rene’ Perez) he was surprised as he expected to meet someone who was a little more “beat up.”  I’m a pretty healthy guy.  That was it.  We shot in a little western town in central California up near the Sequoias.  We used blanks and squibs as opposed to all of the CGI stuff that is so popular now on low budget movies.  It was a great experience.  Nice cast.  Rene’ is very creative.  He’s the DP and the director.

 

MS:  Do you enjoy the genre’?  Do you have a favorite role-type?

 

MP:  I like all of them.  If you do it so long you play everything.  And you hope one of the roles will be successful, you know?

 

MS:  What are you working on now?

 

MP:  It’s called “Bridge of Doom” We’re shooting in Caliente’, Nevada.  It’s the military reaction to the Zombie Apocalypse.  When I heard that I was like, “great…we never hear about that part.  It’s always about the civilians out in the middle of nowhere.

Oscar Winning Film Editor Paul Hirsch Talks About His Career and His New Book

Oscar winning film editor Paul Hirsch has been fortunate in that he has worked numerous times with two of Hollywood’s best known filmmakers, Brian DePalma and John Hughes.  He also won an Academy Award for his work (along with Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew) on one of the most popular films of all time, “Star Wars.”  With a book highlighting his career about to be released, Mr. Hirsch took the time to answer some questions about his lengthy career.

 

MIKE SMITH:  What drew you to become a film editor?

 

PAUL HIRSCH:  A number of things.  I was fascinated when I first saw a Moviola.  I was blown away by a festival of Orson Welles films.  I liked working with my hands, and was drawn to the tools.  I loved movies.

 

MS:  Other film editors I’ve interviewed had mentors they admired.  I recently spoke with Arthur Schmidt and he told me that he learned under Dede Allen and Neil Travis.  Did you have someone whose work you admired and/or who took you under their wing?

 

PH:  Brian DePalma was my mentor.  He encouraged me, empowered me, validated my work and deeply influenced me.  I was cutting his films from the age of 23, and so never worked under a professional feature film editor.  I learned by doing and studying how films I admired were cut.  I was sort of like the art students you see in museums, copying the masters.

 

MS:   How did you come to edit “Hi Mom” for Brian DePalma?

 

I had cut the trailer for “Greetings,” thanks to my brother.  When they got the money to do a sequel, titled “Son of Greetings,” Brian hired me to cut it.

 

MS:   Five or your first six films were with DePalma.  He is well known – and often criticized – for his use of split-screen (the prom from “Carrie” being a great example).  Was that something you discussed in the editing room or was that his original vision?

An example of the split screen process used in “Carrie”

PH:  Split screen is Brian’s thing.  I can’t take credit for it, but I do love and appreciate the tension that can result from juxtaposing images on the screen, even if, or rather, especially if, the screen isn’t actually split.  I’m referring to deep focus shots, which have become a lost art, where you have a near object on one side, and a distant one on the other.  Brian did that a lot, using split diopters, with tremendous success.

 

MS:   A lot of the young filmmakers in the 70s (DePalma, Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas) were very close with each other.  Is that how you were hired for “Star Wars?”

 

PH:  Yes.  Brian screened the final cut of “Carrie” for George and Marcia Lucas on their return from principal photography on”Star Wars” in England.  They needed help, and turned to me.

 

MS:  How difficult was it editing a film where you sometimes had to wait months for a finished special effects shot?

 

PH:  We had ways around that.  We would cut in place-holders or a piece of leader that we estimated was the right length.

 

MS:  You, along with Marcia Lucas and Richard Chew, received the Academy Award for your work on “Star Wars.”  Where do you keep your Oscar?

Richard Chew, Marcia Lucas and Paul Hirsch hoist their Oscars with presenter Farrah Fawcett

PH:  It’s on a bookshelf in my office.

 

MS:  You’ve done eleven films with DePalma but, surprisingly, not ‘The Untouchables.”  Was there a reason you didn’t cut that picture?

 

PH: I moved to the West Coast after “Blow Out.”  I didn’t cut a picture for Brian in the ensuing ten years.  We next worked together on “Raising Cain,” when he was living in California.

 

MS:  You also worked a lot with John Hughes.  How was he to work with and were there any major differences in the way he and DePalma approached a film?

 

PH:  John was a lot of fun to work with until he wasn’t.  He was a brilliant artist, but had mercurial moods.  But I had a great time working with him.  John was a writer, primarily, and his medium was words, by and large. Brian is a great visualist.  His ideas are primarily graphic, both in terms of camera movement, which no one does better, and in terms of visual story-telling, that is to say, how scenes can be constructed in the editing room.

 

MS:   Hal Ashby was a great film editor who went on to become a fine director.  Have you ever wanted to direct?

 

PH:  I did want to for a while, and then the fever broke.  I like working all the time, and editing afforded me that.  To me, directing was like perpetually running for office.  I’m more of an introvert, and editing suits me just fine.

 

MS:   Your most recent film was the Tom Cruise version of “The Mummy.”  What is the biggest difference between cutting a film now and forty-plus years ago?

 

PH:  There’s a lot more reliance on vfx now, which consumes a lot of time and energy.  And when I started out, directors were given much more discretion.  The director was the key creative figure in the package, often with final cut.  That happens less these days.  If a director had a hit back then, the studio would ask, “What do you want to do next?”  Today, the projects are developed by the studio, and the director is “cast” the same way you would choose an actor for a role.  Producers and studio executives are much more involved in the editing process these days.

 

MS:  What can you tell us about your new book?

Mr. Hirsch’s book will be released on November 1st and is currently available to order now on Amazon.com and other sites.

PH:  It’s an account of my adventures in Movie-land, my experiences of the last fifty years and what I learned during that time.  I write about the various projects I worked on, and the fascinating people I encountered.  I share some of the insights I picked up along the way as I made my way into the industry.  It’s not a how-to book, which I consider boring.  And it’s not a gossipy tell-all where I get revenge on the jerks I met along the way, which really weren’t that many when I think about it.  The people I got along with are much more interesting.  I meant it to be entertaining above all.  I hope people will read it for pleasure. I’ve had a number of friends read it.  Editors in particular seem to like it, but I think anyone who is curious about what goes on behind the scenes in our business will find it fun to read.

 

MS:  Are you working on anything new?

 

PH:  I’ve been working on the book for many years, first writing it, and then editing it.  I only just recently finished going over the page proofs.  I’m going to take my time now, reading scripts, and will see if anything pings my interest.  I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Film Review: “Joker”

Joker

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro and Zazie Beetz
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

Much like the Joker’s origin in “The Killing Joke,” Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) is an aspiring stand-up comedian. Before he can reach that pie in the sky dream, he makes ends meet as a clown-for-hire, takes care of his ailing mother in a rat-infested apartment, and attempts to deal with several mental illnesses. There’s actually nothing particularly extraordinary about Arthur, and that seems to be casually ingrained into him by his co-workers, passersby on the street and even his own mother. But if the title of the film wasn’t a big enough clue, there’s a lot in life that’s in store for Arthur.

It’d be disingenuous to try and rank all those who’ve portrayed the Joker (minus Jared Leto) because of the drastically different material they were given. However, “Joker” stands tall in its own category because it’s surrounded by subpar films. Villain origin stories aren’t great fodder, just look at “Venom” and “Hannibal.” But “Joker” isn’t just an origin story for the clown prince of crime, it’s a character study, something that’s never been done before on screen. Breaking down the Joker is a tricky task and there’s really no right way to do it, but there’s definitely a wrong way to do it. While Phoenix does it magically nuanced way, director/writer Todd Phillips handles it in ham-fisted fashion.

Phillips is more well-known for his “Hangover” trilogy or juvenile 2000 film, “Road Trip.” Behind the camera, Phillips is more than capable of telling a gritty crime story, drawing from what I can only assume is movies he grew up on and influenced him to become a filmmaker in the first place, “Taxi Driver,” “Kings of Comedy” and “Network.” He encapsulates that late 70s/early 80s glow well, emulating its style, color palette and nihilism. Where he falls remarkably short is writing a script that’s on par with those classics. Phillips makes a lot of leaps in logic, despite grounding the main character in a very realistic Gotham.

There’s nothing supernatural or superhuman about Fleck’s life. There’s no vat of chemicals to fall in or scars that he’s telling conflicting stories about. Everything that makes Fleck the hero and villain of his own story, is inside. So what makes a lot of the “Joker” work is the acting and not Phillips. That’s because the director gives away several mid, and late, storytelling reveals by relying on clichés early on. Anyone familiar with the Batman lore or movies involving psychosis will be able to spot plot twists and turns involving characters or the plot. Phillips’ maturity with his hands behind the camera unfortunately doesn’t translate when the pen meets the paper.

I’ll give credit to Phillips for one aspect, and that’s at least using one of the film’s tropes to set-up discussion about the ending of the film. Since Phillips has noted this is a stand-alone film (meaning it doesn’t fit into the DC Cinematic Universe and won’t have a sequel), there’s a lot to take away from the final 15 minutes. That’s where I assume a lot of the pre-release controversy stems from. Several people have weighed in on what they believe Phillips is intending to say, but I’m in the minority because I’m not sure Phillips is actually trying to say anything in particular. I believe he structured it in such a neutral fashion, that the discussion will simply be guided by the ideology of the viewer.

But for all the hype, controversy, praise, condemnation and mystery, the only thing worthy of discussion for years to come is the performance by Phoenix; everything else feels like contemporary background noise. Phoenix, as he’s done in nearly every role he’s been given, is absolutely magnetic. Despite the derivative nature of the script, Phoenix keeps his character wildly unpredictable while combining antihero elements and sociopathic tendencies. We’re not just witnessing the birth of a supervillain, we’re watching a true descent into madness.

“Caddyshack” Hits the Links in Omaha

The SHACK is back!

On Friday, November 8th, film historian Bruce Crawford will be presenting the 1980 comedy classic “Caddyshack,” starring Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Cindy Morgan.

The event will be held at the Joslyn Art Museum, 2200 Dodge Street in Omaha, Nebraska.

In attendance at the screening will be actress Cindy Morgan, who played the beautiful and much sought after Lacey Underalls in the film.  Miss Morgan will speak before the screening and reminisce about the making of the film.  Fans can stay after the event for a meet and greet with Miss Morgan and autograph session.

2019 marks the 27th year of Crawford hosting an evening of classic film, along with members of the casts and crews who created them.

This event marks 27 years since Crawford started hosting film legends and the classic films on which they worked. He typically presents two movies each year, spring and autumn.

Tickets for the event (screening and meet and greet) are $24.00 and go on sale Thursday, October 3rd.  They can be purchased at the customer service counters of all Omaha-area Hy Vee food stores.   Proceeds will benefit HELP Adult Services. All tickets are a non-refundable donation.   Fans interested in just attending the screening may be able to obtrain complimentary tickets by calling 402 393 4884

For more information or to obtain tickets over the phone you can call (402) 341-6559  or click HERE.

 

 

Horror Icon, Lin Shaye talks about her new film “Gothic Harvest”

Lin Shaye might be known best for her role of Elise Rainier in the “Insidious” franchise. Lin got started in horror back with “A Nightmare on Elm Street” through the recent “Ouija”, and its prequel “Ouija: Origin of Evil”. Shaye is also known for her comedic roles with the Farrelly brothers, including Dumb and Dumber, Kingpin, and There’s Something About Mary. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Lin about her new film “Gothic Harvest”.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got involved with “Gothic Harvest”?
Lin Shaye: I got involved with the film because of Chris Kobin, who is the writer and one of the producers. I have worked with Chris before, we did the “2001 Maniacs” movies together. Bill Moseley, my co-star for this film also starred in “2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams” taking over the lead from Robert Englund, so we have worked together before also. It was an interesting story for me. I have high regard for Chris. He is a smart guy and a very loyal person. He approached me and asked if I wanted to be apart of it, so that’s how I got involved.

MG: Speaking of being trapped, what was it like being restricted to a wheelchair in the movie?
LS: It actually helps with the character in many regards. Being stuck anywhere, especially mobility, it takes a lot of muscle power to move you around. It takes a lot of real muscle to move. We had a really old wheelchair. Nowadays, wheelchairs are made with ball bearings and they spin and do wheelies and they maneuver amazingly. Not back then, you really needed to push to get them through doorways. You have to use your whole body to move them forward, not just your arms. It was a little bit jaunting and gave me totally new respect for disabled people that need to negotiate that in order to get anywhere. It was very difficult. To try and get somewhere it created emotionally a sense of frustration, which was perfect for the character.

MG: You’ve been in horror films from “A Nightmare on Elm Street” all the way through to the “Insidious” franchise; did you ever think you would have become such a horror icon?
LS: NEVER [laughs]. I am just grateful that I am getting to continue to work on such exciting projects. All of the things I have done leading up to this, I don’t really think in terms of genre. I think in terms of storytelling and character. Those are the determining factors for me in order to do a film. I love comedy also. I don’t gravitate to one genre over another. With acting, you making a real impact on people and I feel a real responsibility to looking for material that is about something important. Not education, per se, but reminding people of what is important in life. I just feel very privileged. Especially Elise in “Insidious”, people have asked me why I think she is popular and that is because she is a giver not a taker. I honestly believe people feel safe with her and that is part of her popularity.

MG: Do you have a personal favorite horror film?
LS: I thought “Hush” was great, out of the new horror films. I thought that was a really scary film with such a simple premise…but my favorite horror film is “The Shining”. I don’t think anyone has made a film that is quite as terrifying as that was and that still holds up today.

MG: Any more plans for the “Insidious” franchise?
LS: There is a rumor but I haven’t seen anything specific. I kind of know what they are thinking and I know the line that they are looking into but I don’t know when it would be because Blumhouse has so much going on right now. The “Insidious” franchise really exploded for them as a company as well as the “Purge” films. I don’t know anything definite but there is a rumor that there will be more.

MG: You’ve also done comedy like “Dumb and Dumber”, “Kingpin”, and “There’s Something About Mary”; how’s it like switching between genres?
LS: The lines all blur in terms of genre. It is really about what is the core of the character. What’s fun for me and even when I was a little kid, I remember loving the idea of being able to step into someone else’s life and disappearing. As an actor you have the luxury of being your buried feelings up in the forefront. It is a very exciting experience. I just feel lucky fortunate of not drawing lines in terms of genre but just finding the truth of the person I am playing.

MG: What do you have upcoming next?
LS: There was a little film I did called “Room for Rent” that is one Amazon Prime. I want everyone to see it. It is some of the best work that I have ever done. It is not a horror film but more of a psychology thriller about a woman’s decline into insanity really. I am very proud of it. Also I am doing the new “Penny Dreadful” series called “City of Angels” for Showtime. I have never done a TV series and it is big machinery. It has a fantastic cast and fantastic scripts. There are ten episodes and I will be in six of them. I play a fabulous character. Nathan Lane and I sort of play sidekicks. John Logan is the creator and he is exceptional. I am very excited for this project and I just hope I do a good job at the end of the day.

Actor/Comedian Jason Stuart Talks About His New Book and Latest Projects

With almost 150 film and television credits to his name, I’m pretty sure you’ve seen Jason Stuart on screen.  From small screen appearances on shows like “The Drew Carey Show,” “My Wife and Kids” and “Will & Grace” to his acclaimed performance in – in this writer’s humble opinion – the Best Film of 2016, “The Birth of a Nation,” he continues to add to his ever growing resume’.   He recently added a new chapter to his career story – author – with the release of his book “Shut Up, I’m Talking!”  The book details his career as well as the challenges he faced

I recently spoke with Jason about his new book and about how coming out in 1993 effected both his life and his career.

Photo Credit: Kimo Lauder

MIKE SMITH:  What prompted you to write the book?

 

JASON STUART:  I had a very good friend who worked with me on a comedy radio show I did in the Midwest.    His name was Dan Duffy and he had written a book called “The Half Book,”  He called me and told me I needed to read his book.  I bought the book and read it.  It was about him getting cancer and how he recovered, how he survived with the love of his family.  It was funny and it was touching and I was so moved by it that I told him “I need someone like you to help me write my book.”  And he said he’d love to do it.  So that was it.  I always think when something is put in front of you it’s meant to be.

 

MS:  Any reactions from your friends who may not have known you story?

 

JS:  That’s a great question.  Tons of people.  When I decided to write it I thought about it as a way to get my story out, to let people see me in a different way…to help my career and to possibly get some publicity.  Maybe I’ll make a little money.  But then I realized, “OH!  People are also going to be reading this book.  They’re going to hear all of these things I said about my personal life.  And they’re going to have opinions about it.”  I totally forget about that part.  People have been really candid.  People have stopped me on the street or called me…it’s been a lot of really positive energy.  Much more than I ever thought.

Photo credit: Sean Black

 

MS:  Do you think there is still a stigma in Hollywood that prevents gay actors from getting certain roles?

 

JS:  It’s certainly not what it was 26 years ago, but I still think that when somebody sees you a certain way it’s very hard for them to see that you would be right for certain roles.  Hollywood doesn’t seem to want actors, they seem to want “be-ers.”  My favorite actor growing up was Dustin Hoffman.  He still is.  He played Lenny Bruce.  He played Benjamin in “The Graduate.”  He played the father in “Kramer vs Kramer,” he was Captain Hook.  He was Willy Loman.  He did all sorts of roles.  You don’t really get to do that as much, but I’ve been able to make a career out of doing that.  When something comes along and they tell me I’m perfect for it, it’s not always clear to me.  We don’t always see ourselves as others see us.  Being a gay man over 50 – there are very few “gay men” parts over 50.  They don’t write them.  That role doesn’t exist very much.  So I wind up playing villains…managers…all these kind of characters.  What I want to do is play dads…because everybody has a dad.

MS:  If I can ask my question more directly, do you ever think because they know that you’re gay that you’re easily dismissed for certain roles?

 

JS:  I think so.  People are like that somewhat.  I’d have to say it’s natural.  People have to “see it.”  See you do the work.  Which is why I’ve created several demo reels.  They have to see that you can do it.  You have to be able to prove it to them.  You have to be able to get someone to represent you that is open enough to do that for you.

 

MS; You’ve done both television and film.  Do you have a preference?

 

JS:  Not any more.  Today there is no difference.  It’s about the quality of work.  I ask you a question back:  what is a television show and what is a film?

 

MS:  I think, to me, the difference is that in television, or on stage in a successful show, you have the opportunity to keep developing the character as the series or show progresses.  With a film, you’re only dealing with the role for a few months.  Does that make sense?

 

JS; Yes it does.

 

MS:  What are you working on now?

 

JS:  I have a new film called “Hank” which is now out all over the country.  It’s a short film about a guy in a relationship whose partner decides he wants an open relationship and I don’t.  It’s gotten some of the best reviews I’ve received since “The Birth of a Nation.”  And then I’m in a film called “Immortal” which is opening at the Scream Film Festival.  It’s a thriller and it’s opening on the 16th of October.  I’m also doing stand-up at the Icehouse Comedy Club in Pasadena.  I also just completed a web-series I wrote, produced and appeared in called “Smothered” with Mitch Hara.  I’m also being considered for a recurring role in a big series – I can’t say which one – as well as a national commercial.

MS:  It’s good to be busy.

 

JS:  It is.  I feel very blessed.

IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN ORDERING MR. STUART’S BOOK, YOU CAN FIND IT ON AMAZON.COM, BARNESandNOBLE.COM OR YOU CAN ORDER IT FROM THE PUBLISHER HERE.

Film Review: “Ad Astra”

AD ASTRA
Starring:  Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga
Directed by: James Gray
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  2 hrs 2 mins
20th Century Fox

Roy McBride (Pitt) is an astronaut.  He begins and ends every day with a diagnostic test, one that is given to ensure he has his emotions in check.  Roy is the only person who, despite the situation, can maintain a heart rate of less than 80.  This is put to the test when, during a routine maintenance mission on a space antenna, a tragedy happens, causing Roy to literally fall back to earth.  Despite the obvious adrenaline rush his heart rate remains low.  Which makes him perfect for his next mission…one to save the world.

Overly long (it feels like double the 2 hour run time) but beautifully filmed, “Ad Astra” rockets across the screen powered by one of Brad Pitt’s best performances.  Age has somewhat weathered his good looks, which is a good thing because there has been a fine actor under that face for years.  Roy’s mission is to head to Jupiter to find out what is emanating from the planet that is putting the Earth in danger.  Roy is shocked to learn that the cause may be his father (Jones), who was presumed killed in action during a visit to Jupiter many years ago.

A lot of the film is Pitt, alone with his thoughts, and he holds the story together as best he can.  Supporting players, like Negga, Loren Dean and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Donald Sutherland do well with what screen time they have.  The film is beautifully photographed so credit is due to the production people.  But the pace…Oy!  Pitt mentions in the film that his journey has covered 2 billion miles.  Believe me, it feels like you were along for every last one.

Film Review: “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice”

LINDA RONSTADT:  THE SOUND OF MY VOICE
Starring:  Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and JD Souther
Directed by: Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
Greenwich Entertainment

Last week when I reviewed the outstanding documentary about David Crosby I noted that I had been very lucky to have met him many years ago at a Vietnam Veteran’s tribute concert.  I bring that up because I also met Linda Ronstadt that day, and she is the subject of the new film “Linda Ronstadt:  The Sound of My Voice.”

As a teenager in the 1970s, Linda Ronstadt’s music comprised a lot of the soundtrack of my life.  And, as a teenage BOY in the 1970s, I had a poster for her “Living in the U.S.A.” album on my wall, giving me a new appreciation for roller skating.  This new documentary takes a look at her life, from childhood through today, giving a very in-depth look at one of the most successful female artists of all time.

She had a very loving upbringing.  Her paternal grandfather was an inventor who gave us such household items as the electric stove and the toaster.  Her mother met her father at college.  Their home was always filled with music, both contemporary and the Mexican music her father enjoyed.  All three (two girls and a boy) loved to sing.  They formed a folk group in the late 60s with little success. Ronstadt met guitarist Bobby Kimmel and they formed the band Stone Poneys.  The band had a hit with their version of Mike Nesmith’s “Different Drum” – still the only song written by a member of the Monkees to hit the Top 10 – and drew much attention.  Unfortunately, that attention was directed at Linda, who received many offers to record as a solo artist.  And she did, releasing hit after hit for many years.

The film is full of great archive footage, including early television appearances on such shows as “Dick Cavett” and “The Johnny Cash Show.”  It also has amazing interviews with pretty much anyone you can think of from the musical scene of the 1970s.  Don Henley and Glenn Frey recount how they were hired to be part of Ronstadt’s road band, only to discover that they had great songwriting chemistry together and leaving to form their own band – the Eagles.  Other female vocalists, like Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris, talk about Ronstadt’s influences on their careers.  If you are a fan of the music of this era, this is a must see movie.

Ronstadt no longer tours, as she is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, but this film serves as a time capsule of her greatest moments and a reminder of how great music was before auto-tune!

Film Review: “Villains”

VILLAINS
Starring: Bill Skarsgård, Maika Monroe, Jeffrey Donovan & Kyra Sedgwick
Directed By: Dan Berk & Robert Olsen
Rated: R
Running Time: 89 minutes
ALTER

A pair of thieves with dreams of living it up in Florida make a couple of big mistakes during a gas station holdup sending them down a wildly different road in Dan Berk and Robert Olsen’s Villains. First, they swear this is their “last job!”—always a no no where movie characters are concerned—and second, they forget to,  you know,  pump their escape car with any of the station’s gas. Thus they find themselves stalled out on the road and scouring the nearest secluded home for anything to help them in their journey. The home they find just so happens to have a small girl shackled in the basement. Suddenly the mission isn’t just for gas for the car but an all out battle with the unsuspecting homeowners. As I said, it’s a much different path than Florida.

Villains grabs you quickly and easily thanks to the charisma of its two leads, Jules and Mickey (Maika Monroe and Bill Skarsgård, respectively). They’re goofy as all get out—we’re introduced to them fumbling through their robbery in rubber animal masks—but it’s so obvious they’re head over heels in love with each other that you just want to root for them. Of course Monroe (It Follows) and Skarsgard (It & It Chapter Two) are no strangers to the suspenseful or violent elements Villains throws at them eventually, but as these two crazy kids they both show off a genuine knack for comedy. I can’t imagine a better time to see Villains than if you’re in need for some comedic relief after a dose of Pennywise.

Now let’s get back to that girl chained up in the basement. Turns out she belongs to the equally tight couple of Gloria and George (Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Donovan), the homeowners who combat Jules and Mickey’s manic energy with nothing but civil hospitality. The thieves are ready to fight their way out of the house with the chained little girl, but George and Gloria disarm them long enough to chat about what’s going on. Donovan in particular revels in George’s southern salesman draaaaaaaaawl to calm everyone down. The unlikely clash of these couples is strongly supported by candy colored production design and a nifty musical score that keeps the proceedings tonally in sync until very near the end of the film. The resolution of the wildcard chained child isn’t quite as much fun as how we got there, but with a runtime just shy of 90 minutes, it’s hardly an issue.

The fun of this Villains is all down to the perfect casting. The couples are equally unhinged but operating by their own internal logic while being totally devoted to their partners. Mickey and Jules are like excitable puppies in their eagerness to please each other while George keeps up a veneer of civility even though it’s clear that Gloria is way out of touch with reality. Sedgwick too puts in a delightfully bonkers turn as Gloria that includes a striptease for Mickey. Everyone is chewing so much scenery it’s a wonder anyone has room for Gloria’s shepherd’s pie.

Film Review: “Tigers Are Not Afraid”

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID
Starring: Paola Lara, Juan Ramon Lopez
Directed by: Issa Lopez
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes
Variance Films 

While there are certainly enough terrifying elements to make “Tigers Are Not Afraid” a horror film, this 2017 title from Mexican director Issa Lopez is a breath of fresh air for any cinephile. It first taps into the cartel-related violence plaguing Latin America to create an imaginative story concerning a group of orphaned children struggling to survive. Next, Lopez’s engaging script puts a spin on what would have been a tragic drama by inserting the ghosts of that violence and their desire for retribution. At not even 90 minutes running time, “Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a sprint that will leave your heart racing. 

Lopez hooks us right away from a startling statistic: that in the 10 years since the beginning of the drug cartel wars (2006) in Mexico, that an estimated 160,000 people had been killed and another 53,000 had disappeared. Staggering numbers to be sure. However, it is made even more sobering when you are forced to consider how many innocent children in all of it have been turned into orphans with no where to go. If a random bullet does not get them, then human traffickers will. 

We find young Estrella (Paola Lara) attending school and crafting a fairy tale in her class about a tiger when gunfire on the street erupts, causing all classes to be suspended indefinitely. While hunkering down, a teacher gives Estrella three pieces of chalk that represent three wishes for Estrella to use. It is not until Estrella encounters a dead body in the street that things become a little Stephen Kingish as a trail of blood follows her home like a snake. 

After Estrella arrives home, we realize that both of her parents have vanished, and she is utterly alone. The father has apparently been out of the picture for a while, so it is the mother that is the focal point of her mourning. In desperation, Estrella uses one of her chalk pieces to wish that her mother would come back. A natural thing to want, but poorly though out as her mother comes back to her in the form of hushed whispers and ghastly images. 

Estrella, always followed by the blood trail, ends up finding refuge with a group of orphaned boys led by a streetwise kid named El Shine (Juan Roman Lopez). This refuge is no place for a girl, especially since El Shine has recently stolen the gun and cell phone belonging to a notorious human trafficker who has murdered multiple people. As they try to stay one step of ahead of them, Estrella other wishes, compounded by her mother’s requests goes to show to be careful what you wish for, even if you do survive. 

“Tigers Are Not Afraid” is a gripping, intense story that is plenty tragic even without the horror element. The plight of Mexican children entangled by this long war on the cartels and the one between them, is too easily forgotten by a news media starving for the next 24-hour news cycle. As for the horror element, it is done is such a minimalist way that it greatly heightens the story’s tension when it is introduced. The acting by the two lead children is performed well enough, but it is the story itself that is the star. If you have heart issues, then you might want to take your medication first before seeing “Tigers Are Not Afraid.”

 

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Film Review: “Rapid Response”

RAPID RESPONSE (Documentary)
Starring:  Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Bobby Unser
Directed by: Roger Hinze and Michael William Miles
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hr 39 mins
Atlas Distribution Company

My nephew loves the Indianapolis 500.  It was an event he could attend each year with his father and, more personally, it’s where he met his fiancé.  I used to watch it on television in the 1970s as a child and I can still remember watching the race in 1973 when a high speed and fiery crash ended driver Swede Savage’s (an awesome name for anyone in sports) day.  Savage died about a month later in the hospital, though it’s unsure if his injuries or a serious illness he had killed him.

In 1966, racing fan (and medical student) Stephen Olvey attended the race only to see tragedy strike again.  After the accident, he questioned why, even though there was safety and fire equipment at the track, there were no medical personnel.  Would a doctor at the Speedway have saved the driver?  Since then Dr. Olvey has put together a team of professionals whose job is to save lives at racing events whenever possible.

Full of some amazing archive race footage, as well as interview with such legendary drivers as Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser and Rick Mears, These are men who risked their lives weekly going 200 miles per hour and it’s obvious that they wish a lot of Dr. Olvey’s innovations were around when they were racing.  “Rapid Response” is an in-depth look at the work Dr. Olvey and his “crew” do almost every weekend of racing season.   A look is also taken at how the team has changed the way races are run, making the time spent on the track safer for everyone.

If you’re a fan of auto racing, this is a film I highly recommend.   

Bill Moseley talks about his role in “3 From Hell”

Bill Moseley is a legend in the horror business. He is known best for playing Chop Top from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” and also Otis in “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil Rejects”. He is reprising the role of Otis in Rob Zombie’s latest film “3 From Hell”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Bill to discuss his new film and stepping back into the character.

**Tickets for the September 16th/17th/18th nationwide release of 3 FROM HELL are available at FathomEvents.com/3FromHell**

Mike Gencarelli: It’s been nearly 15 years since “The Devil’s Rejects”, what was it like picking up this character again after all these years?
Bill Moseley: It seemed liked it was going to be a pretty daunting task to try that but once we got to the set and got costumes and makeup – and with that good script under our wings – everything worked out pretty smoothly.

MG: Gotta respect the beard man, how long that take to grow out?
BM: That beard was at least 16 months. My wife was very excited when I finally got “beard release”. She followed me to the barbershop, here in Los Angeles, and they cut it all off and put it in a plastic bag.

MG: After working with Rob Zombie now on a few films; did you feel you had freedom with this character?
BM: Most of it was in the script. Sometimes with creative freedom to come up with new lines and moves for the character is because the scripts need a little help. But with Rob’s scripts they are so good you really don’t need to do more than follow the printed page.

MG: After the ending of “The Devil’s Rejects”, some would have thought that was the end but, I like things turned out in “3 From Hell”…
BM: With “3 From Hell”, I am glad the way Rob brought us back due to the poor shooting of the Rudgesville Sheriff Department. A lot of fans certainly wanted more after “The Devil’s Rejects”. I remember at different horror conventions fans coming up and giving scenarios. The worst was with someone waking up and saying “Wow, what a dream I had”, that is the lamest device in Hollywood. One that I thought was really cool is that we did actually die, went to hell and the devil rejected us making us truly the devil’s rejects…but of course then if you do that then we are supernatural and that’s a different universe. This way makes sense cause the sheriff’s department looked like a real motley crew even with us driving right at them.

MG: Where was the Mexico scenes shot?
BM: Right outside LA. It was a cool movie ranch. I think it was in the same vicinity as the spawn ranch scenes from “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”. I don’t think it was exact location but there are still movie ranches dived around the hills in LA.

MG: What was your biggest challenge working on this film?
BM: The biggest challenge was getting back into Otis’ skin after 14 years. Also to do Otis from “The Devil’s Rejects” justice and to take him to a new level and that is a big challenge. I was a little nervous at first, day 1/day 2 on the set, I had mini monologue to deliver and I remember flubbing the lines, so I took a time out after a couple of takes. I remember a voice in my head saying “Get out of the way Bill, I got this!” It was Otis and after that everything just went very smoothly.

MG: Would you consider this the end for Otis and the gang or could you see yourself stepping into this role again?
BM: I don’t necessarily see an end. I still have a kid in college, so I hope there will be three or four more of them. And BTW they are really fun to do. It is hard work making movies, there are a lot of moving parts and pressure but working with these guys makes it worth it.

Film Review: “David Crosby: Remember My Name”

  • DAVID CROSBY: REMEMBER MY NAME
  • Starring:  David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Graham Nash
  • Directed by: A.J. Eaton
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
  • SONY Picture Classics

I met David Crosby in 1987.  He was backstage getting ready to perform on a Vietnam Veteran’s concert being taped for HBO.  I accidentally walked into what I thought was the bathroom only to find out it was his dressing room.  He was very nice and we talked for a few minutes.  Later that afternoon he, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash performed in (as always) perfect harmony.

Today, at age 72, Crosby is still on the road.  He has to be.  Though he was very successful during his time with The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN) and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (CSNY), he is quick to point out that he is the only member of those bands who never had a solo hit record.  The new film, “David Crosby: Remember My Name” finds Crosby about to head out for a six week tour.  This saddens him, as he would rather stay home with his wife, Jan.  This saddens Jan, as she is aware of Crosby’s health problems and always fears that when he leaves for a show he will never return home.  But if there is one thing Crosby loves as much as his family, it is to sing.  So out on the road he goes.

An excellent combination of archive footage and interviews, “David Crosby: Remember My Names” is an outstanding film which reminds me, in style, of another documentary, “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me.”  This could be because the director of the Campbell doc, James Keach, is an executive producer here.  The film covers almost every aspect of Crosby’s life, both the highs (no pun intended) and the lows.

The son of an Academy Award winning cinematographer (Crosby’s father, Floyd, won the award for his work on the film “Tabu”), Crosby listened to his mother’s records and soon began playing the guitar.  When he got older, he became a co-founder of The Byrds, a very successful group.  However, due to some of his antics – including telling a concert audience that President Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy – he was booted from the band.  He then teamed up with Stills and Nash to form one of the biggest super groups in music history.   We are shown a

Montage of drug fueled images from the period, including one with my friend Carl Gottlieb expounding on them.  (NOTE:  Carl helped David Crosby write his two volume autobiography, “Long Time Gone” and “Since Then”)  We also learn that Dennis Hopper based his character in the film “Easy Rider” on Crosby.  However, things begin going bad when Crosby’s 21 year old girlfriend, Christine Hinton, is killed when a bus hits her van head-on.  Heartbroken, Crosby finds solace in sailing – and drugs.   Later in his life, his addiction will send him to prison.

One of the best music autobiographies ever written.

The film also allows Crosby to take the audience to Kent State University, where 4 students were killed on May 4, 1970 when members of the Ohio National Guard fired their weapons into a group of students who were protesting the war in Vietnam.  There is a cultural center on campus now, a museum dedicated to the images of that tragic day.  The emotion still wells up in Crosby’s voice as he describes how one leader in the National Guard swore he’d never fired his weapon, when a photo on the wall captures him doing just that.  Within a month of the shootings, CSNY release their song “OHIO,” which Neil Young wrote after seeing a LIFE magazine cover story on the shootings.  Neil Young has said that the event was so emotional that David Crosby wept while recording the song.  That emotion, almost 50 years later, is still obvious. 

The film also includes footage of Crosby on tour, and his voice is just as sweet as it was in the 1960s.  He also shares some personal stories about such fellow musical icons as Cass Elliott, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan.  If you’re a fan of Crosby, or just the music of the period, this film is a must see!

Film Review: “Official Secrets”

Starring: Keira Knightley, Matt Smith, Matthew Goode and Ralph Fiennes
Directed By: Gavin Hood
Rated: R
Running Time: 112 minutes
IFC Films

At just 29 years old, British translator Katharine Gun became the center of UK headlines when she leaked a memo from her job at the Government Communications Headquarters to UK publication, The Observer. The memo detailed a plot between the US and UK to illegally strong arm smaller UN member countries into signing off on the ill-fated war in Iraq. When she admitted to as much, Gun spent nearly a year before being formally charged under the Official Secrets Act of 1989. Meanwhile the US and UK invaded Iraq despite lacking the support of the nations in the memo. The film adaptation of this case as directed by Gavin Hood is a well crafted political thriller driven by a top notch performance from Keira Knightley.

I had concerns going into this film that it would play out like so many Newspaper Movies (as brilliantly parodied by Seth Meyers and Co, in case you missed it) and I wasn’t entirely wrong. The hallmarks of that trope are all still here –Phone Acting, clandestine meetings on benches, the obstinate paper editor–fortunately they’re performed by a charismatic ensemble led by Matt Smith, Matthew Goode and a very shouty Rhys Ifans. As the film goes on it adds additional strong players to the field with the likes of Tamsin Grieg and Ralph Fiennes when the legal drama starts to ramp up.

More importantly though is that all those subplots and their cliches take a back seat to Keira Knightley’s tightly wound performance. As Gun, she is resolute but not without fear. Some of the most thrilling sequences of Hood’s film come as the enormity of Gun’s act bears down on the wide-eyed Knightley and she realizes how much she has at risk by forging ahead. Having an immigrant husband in Gun’s situation as she does, for example, truly raises the stakes when contending with the government. Often Hood makes some smart choices to elevate Gun’s bravery by highlighting that relationship. How easy it would have been for Katherine, as her barista husband suggests repeatedly, to just do her job and leave the consequences to her higher ups.

Gun had so much to lose but recognized an opportunity to avert a disastrous war and chose to act for her people rather than a lying government. Gavin Hood’s film adaptation of her story comes at a time when relations between the press and politics are arguably even more fraught than 2003, making her story well worth hearing. 

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