Film Review: “Captain Marvel”

Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn
Directed By: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 124 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It only took 21 movies for Marvel and Disney to finally release a female-led superhero film, and it’s not about Black Widow. It’s the kind of some comic book fans have been clamoring for, for about a decade now. For those fans, I have to warn you up front, this isn’t the monumental moment you’ve been hoping for.

“Captain Marvel” is an origin story in reverse. When we first meet Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Larson), she goes by Vers and is having her skills crafted under the observant eye of the Kree military. She’s in a unit that serves as an important cog in the intergalactic war between the Kree and Skrull. Honestly, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have a lot of movie binging to do. The film really doesn’t pick up pace until “Vers” is stranded on Earth after being ambushed by some Skrull. It’s on Earth that she not only chases down the Skrull, but begins chasing down fleeting memories of a life she’s forgotten.

The first 30 minutes or so are pretty rough, even if you understand and know all of the necessary backstory that’s been glossed over in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Thor” films. It attempts to juggle exposition, mystery, and introductions, while handling them all poorly. The exposition isn’t interesting, we already know who “Vers” is, and Marvel is generally terrible about disguising their surprise villains. The movie actually gains momentum and gets a lot more fun when Danvers crashes through the roof of a Blockbuster Video, one of the dozens of reminders that this takes place in the mid-90’s.

As a child of the 90’s, all the winks, nods and nudges are welcome, but they ultimately come off as pandering. The movie feels like it needs to tickle some nostalgia bones, in lieu of character building or plot development. That being said, I don’t mind a little Nirvana or No Doubt in my soundtrack or jokes about how painfully slow computers and the Internet used to be. Millennial inside jokes aside, it’s on Earth that Danvers runs into a young Nick Fury (Jackson), which helps serve as a bit of an origin story for the Avengers initiative.

The 70-year-old Jackson and the 29-year-old Larson are actually a dynamic duo. Their green screen scenery chewing brightens up some otherwise dull moments. It’s regrettable that Marvel missed out on giving them some 90’s buddy cop tropes to gnaw on. “Captain Marvel” may have actually worked better as a parody or homage of films like “The Last Boy Scout” or “Bad Boys.” Luckily these two stars share a lot of screen time and seem to feed off each other’s energy.

“Captain Marvel” is what we’ve come to expect from these yearly Marvel traditions, a lot of CGI, fun set pieces and eye candy for the masses. I actually had quite a bit of fun when I wasn’t analyzing its flaws. So if you want a mindless superhero film, then that’s what you get. That being said, it’s still above the mindless action of Snyder’s DC films because it doesn’t bog the fun down with a bleak atmosphere and outlandish character interactions. For others who are expecting a little more or something a lot more audacious, you’re out of luck. Disney probably over thought this one a bit; and it shows.

If it weren’t for Larson and Jackson, the film may have been a forgettable dud in the same vein as “Thor: The Dark World” or “Iron Man 2.” Those two wring out so much from a minimal script. The writers seemed to be more interested in padding time and setting up a payoff, which never pays off. The film has about half a dozen writers and doesn’t do anything remarkably different with tone or style, like “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Black Panther” managed to do in recent years. “Captain Marvel” is the kind of film you could nitpick to death if you don’t turn your brain off. Everything from visual effects to casting choices is suspect and up for ridicule.

I actually didn’t have high hopes for “Captain Marvel,” so I may not find it as underwhelming or disappointing as some people. Whereas a film like “Wonder Woman” felt like it was breaking new ground, “Captain Marvel” seems to tread water. A lot of that may be due to Disney’s weariness of trying something outlandishly new or daring with its multi-billion dollar baby. Disney could merely be testing the waters. You should be frustrated if the next female superhero film from the studio powerhouse is another cookie cutter film. A progressive step requires a fresh idea, not a copy-and-paste formula that’s slowly becoming stale.

“Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel” book nominated for Rondo Hatton Award


“Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel,” a book written by Media Mikes co-founder Michael A. Smith, with Louis R. Pisano, has been nominated in the category BOOK OF THE YEAR for the 17th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards.

The Rondo Awards have recognized, since 2002, the very best in film, television and publishing in the field of Classic Horror.

“Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel,” was initially published in 2015. However, Smith spent two years after its publication finding more behind the scenes photos and tracking down more members of the crew to tell their story about working on the Hollywood Sequel that launched the constant stream of films we have today.

Filmed but never seen: the death of Bob (Billy Van Zandt)

The nominated book is a limited (to 1000 copies) signed and numbered edition, with the majority of the photos and images posted in color.

Tegan West, Sarah Holcomb, Martha Swatek and Gary Springer on set. West and Holcomb would later be replaced in the cast.

If you would like to vote for the book, send an email HERE and tell them you’d like to vote for the JAWS 2 book for Book of the Year. If you would like to order a copy, please click HERE.

Film Review: Woman at War

WOMAN AT WAR
Starring: Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, Jóhann Sigurðarson, Jörundur Ragnarsson
Directed by: Benedikt Erlingsson
Running time: 1hr 41 mins
Magnolia Pictures

The personal and political overlap in Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman At War which opens this Friday, March 1st in New York and Los Angeles. The Icelandic comedy-drama stars Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir as Halla, to everyone in town she is the local choir director, but to only a close pair of confidants she is The Mountain Woman. Under this guise, Halla goes far into the Icelandic highlands to single-handedly sabotage a nearby aluminum plant and make global investors wary of further industrializing her country. In addition to Geirharðsdóttir’s passionate lead performance, there’s gorgeous scenery and some quirky narrative choices which make this timely, but never preachy, film well worth checking out.

As she sets about doing the opening mission of Erlingsson’s story, Halla marches to the beat of her own drum, literally. When she draws back her bowstring to let loose an arrow which will fell power lines of a whole factory, Erlingsson’s film composer, Davíð Þór Jónsson, and two additional musicians are diegetically staged behind her drumming (and sousaphoning) along in support. This deadpan trio make recurring appearances each time Halla’s actions tend towards the illegal, sometimes even before she knows she’s in hot water. At least they’re visually charming harbingers. Halla appears to be a lone wolf but she finds support in a local farmer, as well as a choir member who happens to be high up in the government team on Halla’s tail. With all this already on her plate, she also learns that years after submitting her paperwork to adopt a child, the agencies have dropped their age limits and she’s the candidate to take on a daughter from the Ukraine. The additional prospect of motherhood also introduces a beautiful trio of female Ukrainian choir singers who, at the best of times in the film, join Jónsson’s instrumental trio to lovely effect.

Erlingsson doesn’t get too bogged down in the whys of Halla’s quest to save the planet she literally hugs at times because his biggest ally in this is his DP, Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson. The wide shots of the Icelandic countryside are breathtaking and stand in stark contrast to the industrialized locales that Halla is railing against. In some of the films stunning helicopter and drone chase sequences, the quick-thinking Halla could have easily been a goner but for the natural resources and shelters offered up by the countryside she so loves. And while the film’s core cast is small, Erlingsson takes many opportunities to touch upon what’s at stake here whether through background telecasts, school girls posing in support of The Mountain Woman’s manifesto, or a finale that hinges on a flood that’s more than likely influenced by climate change. Seeing all this and knowing that Halla had retired her hopes for motherhood before seeking a way to save the world for its own sake, for me, makes her a woman to root for.

Film Review: “Arctic”


ARCTIC
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Joe Penna
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins
Bleecker Street
 
Every once in a blue moon a film comes along that reminds us how truly spectacular cinema can be and replenishes our passion for the artform. The stark Danish adventure/drama “Arctic” happens to be such a film. With a gripping man-versus-nature story that makes “Cast Away” and “All Is Lost” look like cocktail parties, “Arctic” is as impressive as the unyielding icy bleakness which constantly threatens to overwhelm the lone survivor of a plane crash somewhere in the Arctic Circle.
 
Shot entirely in Iceland, “Arctic” does not waste time with a lot of background exposition to its story, co-written by Brazilian director Joe Penna whose previous directorial work includes the 2015 shorts “Turning Point” and “Beyond.” Instead it thrusts us into an already precarious, ongoing struggle for survival by a man named Overgård (Mads Mikkelsen). He survives each day by sticking to a strict routine that includes maintaining a giant SOS carved into the snow, generating enough electricity with a hand crank to operate a distress signal, and catching fish through ice holes.
 
We don’t know if he is the pilot of the intact, yet charred plane he uses for shelter, but we do know that whoever was with him died in the crash. Despite all his hardships, Overgård preserves a steely resolve to stay alive and an unyielding belief that help will come. His hard work appears to pay off when his distress signal is picked up by a rescue helicopter. However, Mother Nature denies his victory with a vicious storm that causes his would-be saviors to crash nose first into the unforgiving ice below. Overgård stabilizes the helicopter’s badly injured co-pilot, but the new situation pushes his abilities to keep them alive to the limits. Ultimately, he is faced with a terrible choice of whether to stay put or risk traveling across the Arctic wasteland to find salvation.
 
Whether it’s playing the nemesis of a Marvel wizard in “Doctor Strange” or being a falsely accused teacher in “The Hunt,” Mikkelsen has repeatedly demonstrated an ability to delve into any role thrown at him. One of the most underrated actors in cinema today, Mikkelsen is a force of nature himself in “Arctic.” He attains a level of intensity that Tom Hanks and Robert Redford were never able to achieve in their respective films as he musters emotions as raw as the fish his character eats. Our hearts beat as his does with jubilation when it appears that he is going to be saved and they sink to the depths when he bottoms out in despair. It’s all done with pure emotional power performed flawlessly by Mikkelsen.
 
For his first attempt at directing a feature-length motion picture, Penna does his craft proud with a fluid story that offers a few nice twists and plenty of dramatic suspense. Overall, “Arctic” is a must-see that any cinema lover should put on their to-do list even if the film’s setting makes us feel like winter is never going to end.

Actor Ian Shaw talks about portraying his father in his new “Jaws”-inspired play.

As many of you readers know, both myself and Mike Gencarelli (your favorite “Mikes”) appear in the brilliant “Jaws” documentary entitled “The Shark is Still Working.”  The film tells the story of the making and the impact of the 1975 blockbuster.  But there are stories still to be told.  Ian Shaw, whose father Robert portrayed Quint in “Jaws,” has written a play, based on stories his father told him about the production, entitled “The Shark is Broken.”

Like his parents (his mother was the brilliant actress Mary Ure), Shaw is an accomplished actor with many film and television credits to his name.  In what I call a stroke of irony, Ian portrayed Colonel Paul Tibbets, the pilot who dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in the television film “Hiroshima.”  “Jaws” fans will remember that Quint was a sailor on board the U.S.S. Indianapolis, the ship that carried the bomb to the island of Tinian, where Tibbets began his mission.  

Mr. Shaw took some time out recently to speak with Media Mikes about his latest project.

Mike Smith:  What can you tell us about “The Shark is Broken?”

Ian Shaw:  It’s 1974. Martha’s Vineyard. Three iconic actors are confined together during the tortuous filming of what will one day be regarded as the greatest blockbuster movie of all time  Forced into close proximity by studio politics, endless delays and foul weather, the three must deal with violent outbursts, squabbles, rampant egos, petty rivalries and the fact that the mechanical shark keeps breaking down.  This causes their insecurities to run riot. Is this film going to ruin their careers? Who is going to want to see a film about sharks with hardly any shark in it? And who is the star of the movie anyway? 

MS:  What inspired you to take on this project?

IS:  Like so many people, I’ve always loved the film, except of course I have the personal connection of being Robert Shaw’s son.  The film is a rare combination of elements combining to maximum effect: the performances, the music, the design, the writing, the direction, the cinematography and editing all combine to create a fantastic amount of tension and emotional reaction from the audience.  That’s really hard to do. When I was a little older, I read Carl Gottlieb’s spellbinding account of how they managed to achieve it, The Jaws Log.  What particularly fascinated me were the problems they had with “Bruce”, the nickname for the shark, named after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer.  Then there’s the sheer audaciousness of filming at sea, the relationships with the locals, and the tensions between my father and Richard Dreyfuss.  Both of whom I admire hugely, I might add.

Ian Shaw sneaks a peek at “Bruce” while visiting his father on the set of “Jaws” in 1974. (Photo used with the kind permission of Ian Shaw)

MS:  You started your professional acting career in your mid-20s.  Was there any reticence on your part to pursue the profession, being th son of two very distinguished actors?

IS:  No.  I had a wonderful drama teacher at my school, Michael Walsh.  From the age of eight, I was performing in school plays, and I fell in love with the process.  And I think if your parents are actors, you think it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. Later on I discovered how hard it was for other actors from different backgrounds to make the leap.  I just made a promise to myself one day that I would pursue the path of an actor. I can remember the exact moment, as if it was yesterday. I was standing outside the school gym, where we used to put on plays. Even though I was very confident, probably with the arrogance of youth, I told myself it might take a long time to become successful! So there was never any question about what I would do. You can’t break a promise to an eight year old!  

Your older brother, Colin, portrayed your father’s character as a young boy in “The Deep.”  You bear a striking resemblance to your father.  Would you consider portraying him in a project?

IS:  Well, here we go – I’m playing him in The Shark Is Broken.  Wish me luck…

MS:  What else are you working on?

IS:  I’m also performing with the actors Duncan Henderson and David Mounfield in our adaptation of three Damon Runyon stories – the show is called Broadway Stories, and it will alternate nightly with The Shark Is Broken at the 2019 Edinburgh Festival, Venue – Assembly Festival, George Square.  Damon Runyon is best known for being the source material for the musical “Guys and Dolls.”  His short stories, which centered around the world of New York’s Broadway, took in what might be seen as the seedier side of life; a place of gamblers, molls, hustlers, dames and gangsters. With an utterly distinctive vernacular he described this hard, and often illicit world, but without the usual judgement or dismissal.   The first story is about a woman who murders her husbands for the life insurance.  The second is a study of the relationship between a half blind cat and a mobster holed out in a derelict hideout. The last is a comedy about an eating contest. 

NOTE:  Readers interested in helping get THE SHARK IS BROKEN to the sage can click HERE

Information about the upcoming performances of THE SHARK IS BROKEN and BROADWAY STORIES will soon be available HEREh

Film Review: “Alita: Battle Angel”


ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL
Starring: Rosa Salazar and Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 2hrs 2 mins
20th Century Fox

 BREAKING NEWS: James Cameron movies are generally more about style over substance. As a screenwriter, his simplistic scripts often play second fiddle to grandiose special effects. A bright, shining example would be 2009’s “Avatar,” which was a fantastic 3D experience that sugar-coated a “Dances with Wolves” meets “Braveheart” storyline. (I can hear someone shouting, “Aren’t you forgetting ‘Titanic?’” Sorry, 14 Oscar nominations but none for screenplay.) Apparently, you can’t teach an old screenwriter any new techniques because Cameron’s latest producer/writing endeavor, “Alita: Battle Angel” is all about shock and awe but lacks a soul. 

The story is set in the year 2563 where a dystopian society exists after a mysterious war called “The Fall” has wiped out much of Earth’s population. All we know that is left is a trash heap of a town known as Iron City, which sits directly below Earth’s last floating city – Zalem. Iron City is literally the junk yard for the wealthy Zalem and it is there where mild-mannered Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Bastards,” “Django Unchained”) finds a disembodied female cyborg with a living brain still intact. 

How this cyborg ended up in the trash is a mystery, but nevertheless Dr. Ido rebuilds the cyborg and names her Alita (Rosa Salazar, “Maze Runner”) after his deceased daughter. Alita, a bright-eyed child with no memory of her past, soon befriends Hugo (Keean Johnson, “Nashville”), a teenage street hustler with dreams of getting enough money to buy his way into Zalem. It is through him that Alita is introduced to the violent sport of Motorball, which resembles a souped-up version of 2002’s “Rollerball.” 

Thanks to Dr. Ido’s side job as a Hunter-Warrior, which is a fancy title for bounty hunter, Alita becomes exposed to a part of Iron City that leads her on a path to realizing her full potential, which involves a United Republics of Mars berserker battle suit. We are given scant background information about all of this except that there was a whole lot of fighting and some guy named Nova sees all atop his perch in Zalem, which sounds like an over-the-counter sleep medication. Of course, everything leads to a resounding conclusion as the unknown underdog attempts to overcome all odds. How original! 

Directed by Robert Rodgriguez (“Sin City,” “Spy Kids”), someone else who is often more about style over substance, “Alita” stylistically is pleasing to watch and there is plenty of action to fill your plate. It doesn’t hurt that the cast contains three Academy Award winners including Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, who plays Dr. Ido’s estranged wife, and Mahershala Ali as Alita’s primary nemesis. They all give a level of gravitas that would have otherwise sunk the film faster than if it was struck by an iceberg in the north Atlantic. While their lines are often unimaginative and cliched, the cast delivers them with such polish that you almost forget how blasé it is. 

For pure popcorn flare, “Alita: Battle Angel” does provide some fun for your time at the theater thanks to its talented cast and visual effects. Don’t expect a satisfying climax though as it sets itself up for a sequel, which may not happen if it cannot at least recuperate its massive production costs. Don’t worry though, you will get to see more James Cameron epics as more “Avatars” are set to be released.


 

Film Review – “Isn’t it Romantic”

ISN’T IT ROMANTIC
Starring:  Rebel Wilson, Adam Divine and Liam Hemsworth
Directed by:  Todd Strauss-Shulson
Rated:  PG 13
Running time:  1 hr 26 mins
Warner Bros.

Natalie (Wilson) isn’t sure about a lot of things.  A skilled architect, she is treated more as a gopher by others in her office instead of a valuable asset.  One thing she is sure about?  She hates romantic comedies,which her assistant (Betty Gilpin) constantly watches at her desk.  One night, while battling a mugger, Natalie is knocked unconscious.  When she comes to, she discovers that her life has changed. And she’s not happy.

A winning comedy built around the chemistry of its stars, “Isn’t it Romantic” is a fun time at the movies.  Much of the fun comes from trying to pick out all of the rom-com tropes that Natalie dislikes yet is now experiencing.  Handsome suitor?  Check. Overly-gay best buddy? Check.  Killer karaoke chops?  Yes, sir. The more she learns the more frustrated Natalie gets.  And when she learns that every time she tries to use the “F” word she is overridden by the sound of a honking horn, she is horrified that the world she is now living in is only rated PG 13.

With two of the “Pitch Perfect” films behind them, Wilson and Adam Divine have built an amazing rapport, and it shows on the screen. Hemsworth is quite charming and Bollywood star Priyamnka Chopra is both funny and beautiful!  The story moves quickly (the film is less than 90 minutes long) and makes a nice Valentines gift for that special someone.  Unless,of course, they hate romantic comedies!

Film Review – “Destroyer”

DESTROYER
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Toby Kebbell and Sebastian Stan
Directed by: Karen Kusama
Rated: R
Running time: 2 hrs 1 min
Annapurna Pictures

A body is discovered in a deserted area.  Next to it lies the murder weapon and some oddly discolored money.  On the back of the victim’s neck are two very distinctive tattoos.  Detective Erin Bell (Kidman) stumbles to the scene, mutters “I think I know who did it,” and stumbles away.  Thus begins “Destroyer.”

Riding strongly on the narrow shoulders of its lead actress, “Destroyer” is a film that, through a series of flashbacks, tells the story of how Erin Bell went from gung-ho law officer to the self-destructive drunk she is now. We slowly learn that she and her partner (both at work and in love) were deep undercover with a gang of bad guys (think Keanu Reeves’ Johnny Utah in “Point Break,” though I’m not sure how well Kidman can throw a football).  The more we learn the more we aren’t sure whether we should sympathize with Bell’s plight.  She’s still a tough cop – one who will go to any lengths to obtain information – but she’s also a horrible human being.  You feel sorry for her and her plight, but you also can’t help but think she brought it on herself.

Going the “no makeup” route here, Kidman is almost unrecognizable. In fact, in some scenes she more resembles former “Dr. Who” star Tom Baker rather than one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood.  With her hollow cheekbones and mousy hair, she could easily be mistaken for your neighborhood crack addict.  She is the emotional heart of the film and she does not disappoint.

Working from a script by “AEonFlux” screenwriters (Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi), director Kusama, who also helmed the film “Girlfight,” keeps the story moving, giving the viewer just enough information that, no matter how hard they try, they are always a step or two behind.  Well recommended. 

Film Review: “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part”

Starring the Voices of: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks and Will Arnett
Directed By: Mike Mitchell
Rated: PG
Running Time: 106 minutes
Warner Bros. Pictures

“The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” was never going to live up to the first. Well. I take that back. It could have. The first film’s core creators, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, are no longer at the directorial helm, but have their names plastered throughout the credits as producers and writers. Personally, I don’t think the oddball duo have yet to fail when they’re behind the camera. But as writers and producers, their names are surprisingly all over the place in Hollywood, from movies like “Smallfoot” to “Brigsby Bear.” They generally hop on board projects with promise, and while the follow-up to “The LEGO Movie” had promise, it partially delivers.

The sequel, just like in real life, takes place five years after the first film. The first one ended on the ominous announcement that real world child, Finn (Jadon Sand), has a baby sister. That baby sister has intruded on Finn’s imagination, therein intruding on the imaginary LEGO world on-screen. Emmett (Pratt) and Lucy’s (Bank) brick world has gone from a thriving metropolis to a “Mad Max” hellscape where other worldly LEGO creations stop off in their world to abduct and torment Emmett and Lucy’s pals. It’s only later that the duo find out that Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), of the Systar System, is abducting their friends for a specific purpose and are now targeting them. Trying to explain this almost feels more confusing than it should be. So if you haven’t seen the first, just skip this one.

The manic whimsy of the first is still intact, as jokes sometimes come flying fast and furious with a kinetic energy that’s reminiscent of other Lord and Miller productions. Unfortunately the film takes a while to find out what new stories and themes it would like to tell the audience. The first handful of minutes are spent catching viewers up on events in the fictionalized worlds, as well as retelling jokes, beat by beat, down to the punchline. Older viewers might feel like they’re being duped, much like fans in the 80s felt when seeing “Airplane II: The Sequel.” Luckily that feeling dissipates after a while.

You may have forgotten, as you should, but there was a silly controversy back in 2014 when the first “LEGO Movie” came out. Some found that the movie was bad for kids because of its “anti-corporate” message. I can feel your eyes rolling as you read that. But for those who felt like that was a legitimate gripe, you’ll be pleased to know that this film feels a lot more like a cash grab and doesn’t have an anti-capitalist leaning. That being said, there are still a lot of moments of subversive brilliance possibly directed at the studio.

A good chunk of those clever jokes seem to be digs at Warner Bros., who may have demanded a sequel after money came rolling in. I won’t give the playful comedic jabs away since they’re in the film’s third act. In a handful of instances before that, the film appears to be taking part in other kid’s movie tropes, like musical numbers or sequel/world building, as a chance to not only make-fun of the constructs, but point out how they’re generously shoehorned in to most narratives in kid’s movies. If Lord and Miller merely served as producers, and not writers, I might actually feel like some of these creative choices were studio notes. It’s also possible I’m looking far too into it.

Even while scraping away some of the layered intellect this film has, this sequel is non-stop eye candy accompanied by rapid-fire jokes that’ll put smiles on the faces of kids and adults alike. While there’s no doubt that this’ll please the young ones, it might have some parents who watched the first one feeling fatigued. That’s because it doesn’t quite match the persistent irreverent wit of the first, or the revelations that reward viewers who watch the film a second time. Even though I’ve spent a lot of time comparing this one to the original, this sequel still manages to squeeze out some heart from its human and brick characters. “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” is beautifully animated, uproariously funny and mischievously inventive, but not as much as as its predecessor.

Exploring the Plotaverse with Sascha Scheider

I recently came across an article detailing a new way to present photographs in such a way that the still image came to life.  As I read the piece I was intrigued by the name of one of the co-founders of Team Plotaverse, Sascha Scheider.  Imagine my surprise, and genuine joy, to discover she is granddaughter of the late actor Roy Scheider.  Impressed with what I read I contacted Ms. Scheider, who at age 26, was recently named to the 2019 Forbes magazine Consumer Technology 30 under 30 list.

I contacted Ms. Scheider and she graciously agreed to this interview.  After a few minutes of both of us sharing stories about her grandfather, we got down to business.

Mike Smith:  What exactly IS the Plotaverse?

Sascha Scheider:  The Plotaverse is a digital sharing platform.  I started it with my partner, Christopher Plota, who is a professional fashion, advertising and celebrity photographer.  He’s been in the industry for 30 years and has always been on the cutting edge of technology.  I have a background in painting, business and the arts.  We got together and started talking about what we could do because in the industry a lot of photography is just going straight to video.  And when you become a photographer and are passionate about that, you don’t want to just shoot video.  You want to shoot photos.  They are really two completely different things.  So when we started talking I told him that I was seeing the same thing in the fine-art world.  Artists are trying to stay relevant but aren’t sure how because everyone is moving towards moving images.  How do we help them?  He has been animating still images since the early 2000’s.  He told me about his process and we started talking about it.  When we met we became inseparable.  He’s my partner, he’s my boyfriend.  (laughs)  We’re partners in every way.  So we started developing and creating things.  We started off with Plotagraph, which is our image animation technology.  We started out on desktop and now it’s on mobile – featured in the app store, it’s number one in photo/video.  We had no idea it was going to take off this big. 

While we were creating Plotagraph we also discussed creating a community.  At the time we were living in Florence, Italy, where I studied art for almost four years.  I had an apartment there so we were in Florence taking about creating a community.  So last year, on Valentine’s Day, we launched Plotaverse, which is our mutual sharing platform where you can post high quality digital art.  Plotaverse is the whole community for the entire motion-art movement.  It’s not just Plotagraph.  It’s Cinemagraph, time-lapses, motion graphics…really anything you can think of.  We’ve added Plotaeffects and Plotamorph.  This is a hub which is one big creative tool.  

MS:  What has been the response from people that have used the site?

SS:  It’s been amazing.  They see what can be done with just one photo and they realize they can do the same thing with all of their photos.  Historic photos.  New photos.  You have your photo and you can “move” any part of the image you want to.  Say you had a photo from Jaws and you want the water to move while the shark stays still.  You can do that!  And it’s almost like being on a loop…it never ends.  And it’s very easy today to take photos.  Cameras are everywhere, even in phones.  And the process is eye-catching.  We are seeing that, when used on social media, topics are getting 10 times more engagement using an app from the Plotaverse.  Paris Hilton started using it last July on Instagram and since then she’s gained  5.7 million followers.  And we see it working well with advertising.  They say a picture tells a thousand words.  It already has a story.  It has a dialogue.  It’s just not moving.  When you add some of our technology you’re still telling the same story but you’re getting your message across a lot easier.  

People today have an attention span of about six seconds.  The days of the 30-second spot are going away.  But how can you make a whole video in six seconds?  How are you going to get that message across?  That’s were the Plotaverse really comes in and saves the day.  You already have the story within the image but now it’s moving and looping those six seconds.  

MS:  Last year you held a very successful contest in conjunction with Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.  Are you planning anything for this year?

SS:  Right now we have nothing planned but I’ll definitely keep you posted. 

MS:  What’s next for the Plotaverse?  Do you have more surprises in the works?

SS:  Absolutely.  We recently launched PlotaTV, which will be a series of interviews covering the world of motion arts.  They will be educating and helping the community understand what motion art is and how they can use it to help monetize their work.  The whole idea is giving these artist a way to bring their art to the next level.  We also have plans for more apps down the line.  

TO DISCOVER THE PLOTAVERSE, CLICK HERE

FOR THE COMPLETE LIST OF FORBES 30 UNDER 30, CLICK HERE

Film Review – “In Like Flynn”

IN LIKE FLYNN
Starring:  Thomas Cocquerel, Clive Standen and Corey Large
Directed by:  Russell Mulcahy
Rated:  R
Running time:  1 hr 46 mins
Blue Fox Entertainment

Fletcher Christian.  Peter Blood.  Robin Hood.  "Gentleman" Jim Corbett.   All of
these men had great adventures on the big screen.  But none of them were as 
exciting as the early adventures of the actor who portrayed them, Errol Flynn.  Some
of those adventures are on display in the new film, "In Like Flynn."

The film begins in New Guinea in 1930.  There we find Flynn (Cocquerel) 
leading a film producer (Daniel Fogler), his cameraman and some helpers 
through the jungle, looking for images to be used in an upcoming film.  Their
presence upsets the local tribesmen and soon the group is fleeing for its life,
with Flynn repeatedly saving their hides.  When they are successfully back
at their camp, the producer tells Flynn he needs to come to Hollywood.  But
Flynn has other plans.

I've always been fascinated by the back-stories of people.  What incidents from 
their past led them to their present.  If "In Like Flynn," which is based in part
from some of Flynn's writings,is to be believed, the roles he would later play
were boring compared to his life experiences.  Sailing the oceans.  Hunting 
for gold.  And, in true Flynn fashion, a big hit with the ladies, the film portrays him
as a real life Indiana Jones.  He lived for adventure.

The cast is first rate.  As Flynn, Cocquerel has the good looks that made
the Tazmanian Devil a star.  More importantly, he captures the spirit with
which Flynn approached every day of his life.  No matter the circumstances,
you can always see the gleam of mischief in his eyes.  As his best friend and
fellow adventurer, Rex, Corey Large (who also produced and co-wrote the film) is
equally good.  The two actors make a great team and their chemistry keeps the
film moving.  Also keeping the film moving is the fluid direction of Russell Mulcahy.
Mulcahy, who turned a brilliant career making music videos (his video for "Video
Killed the Radio Star" was the first ever shown on MTV) into Hollywood 
features, among them "Highlander" and "Ricochet."  Even after four decades 
behind the camera it's clear that he hasn't lost his talent for taking viewers
on a visual adventure.    And it's one I highly recommend you take.                

Film Review – “Cold War”

COLD WAR
Starring: Joanna Kulig, Tomasz Kot
Directed by: Pawel Pawlikowski
Rated: R
Running Time: 1 HR 29 mins
Amazon Studios 


Nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography), “Cold War” is an engaging yet tragic period drama that is much deserving of all its accolades.
Shot entirely in black-and-white with English subtitles,
writer/director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Ida”) deftly captures the
brutal essence of communist-controlled Eastern Europe while putting us
on a complicated, 15-year odyssey of obsession.
 
The story begins in 1949 Poland where the scars of a world war
are still fresh. A soft-spoken music director Wiktor (Tomasz Kot, “Gods”)
is tapped to co-helm a school that’s intended to create a group of
talented young people to stage traditional, Polish folk dances. It is during
auditions at the bullet-ridden school that a crafty blonde singer named
Zula (Joanna Kulig, “Pitbull: Tough Women”) catches his eye.  Despite a warning about her troubled past, Wiktor and Zula develop a
secret, passionate love affair.
 
Two years later they have an opportunity to escape their communist
oppressors by crossing into West Berlin, but Zula chickens out while
the brooding Wiktor leaves her behind anyway to go carve out a life as
a jazz pianist in Paris. Even though lovers come and go as the years
pass by, Wiktor still regards Zula as the love of his life. His devotion to
her is so strong that he even risks being sent to a Polish prison when he
travels to Yugoslavia to watch Zula perform.
 
They only reunite when Zula marries an Italian man so she can get out
from behind the Iron Curtain to be with Wiktor. A successful singing
career begins to take shape with Wiktor accompanying her on piano.
However, her jealousy towards other women and her desire to be the
center of attention, especially Wiktor’s, leads Zula to run back to
communist Poland. Wiktor is desperate to follow her but he knows he
will be arrested if he does. It proves to be a fateful test of his devotion to
her.
 
Pawlikowski’s endeavor has all the feel of a film straight out of 1957 as
he channels the bleak repression the peoples of Eastern Europe faced
under Soviet dominance. There is a paranoid sense that there are eyes
everywhere, and in some instances its true. It’s this omnipresent fear he
generates with his script that gives Zula and Wiktor’s relationship a
palpable edginess. Their romance is so much like a careening roller
coaster that it makes it difficult to accurately predict its outcome.
 
Kulig is brilliant as she infuses a sense of instability into Zula. In a
way, you want to yell out in vain to Wiktor to stay away from her,
but his devotion runs so deep that he is beyond help. This obsession is
played with expert subtlety by Kot and skillful direction by Pawlikowski
who keeps the pacing brisk with a short running time. Never mind the
critical darling that is “Roma.” Instead, go see “Cold War.” Trust me,
there’s nothing cold about it.

Film Review – “Stan & Ollie”

STAN & OLLIE
Starring:  Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly and Danny Huston
Directed by:  Jon S. Baird
Rated: PG
Running time:  1 hr 38 mins
Sony Classics

They were one of the greatest comedy teams of all time.  The thin, quiet Englishman 
and the almost larger than life "Babe" from Georgia.  There job was to make us laugh and
this they did.  But when the laughter stopped, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy found themselves
on the outside of Hollywood looking in.

Featuring two award-worthy performances by Coogan (Laurel) and Reilly (Hardy), "Stan & Ollie" tells
the story of the duo as they mount what they hope is a comeback with a vaudeville tour of Great Britain.
Interspliced among the trip are scenes from the duo's past.  We join them on the set of 1937's "Way out West."
While working on the film they discuss their upcoming contract renewal and the hopes of more money
from studio head Hal Roach (Huston).  Laurel is released from his contract and Hardy is left to do a film with
Harry Langdon ("Zenobia"), which is heretofore referred to as "the Elephant movie."  Though the two have
reunited for the tour, there appears to be no love lost between them.  When Laurel states that he loves "Babe" (Hardy's
nickname), Hardy replies, "You loved "Laurel and Hardy," but you never loved me.

If I'm going to throw out kudos to this film, and I already have with the actors, I would be remiss if I didn't 
mention the amazing make-up work presented.  Like Hardy, Reilly has (and I mean this in a nice way) beady
eyes and you can see into Hardy's soul through Reilly's.  Coogan is equally brilliant as Laurel, who spends a majority
of the film writing scenes for  a comeback film he knows will never be made.  Thankfully this one was.

If you're not familiar with the work of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, I urge you to seek it out, either through home video
or YouTube.  If you are, and are a fan, I urge you to seek out "Stan & Ollie."

“The Favourite” and “Roma” lead the nominations for 91st Annual Academy Awards

“Roma,” director Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white reminiscence of his childhood, and the period film “The Favourite” led the way when the nominations for the 91st Annual Academy Awards were announced today. Each film earned a total of ten nominations, including Best Picture.  Cuaron himself received five nominations (Picture, Foreign Film, Director, Original /Screenplay and Cinematography}.  The film also received nods for Best Actress (Yalitza Aparicio), Supporting Actress (Marina de Tavira), Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and Production Design.

Besides Best Picture, “The Favourite” scored nods for Best Director (Yorgos Lanthimos), Best Actress (Olivia Colman), Supporting Actress (both Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz), Original Screenplay, Film Editing, Costume Design, Production Design and Cinematography.

Another multiple nominee was Bradley Cooper, who was recognized for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture for “A Star Is Born,” which also earned two nods for Lady Gaga (Best Actress and Best Original Song) and netted Sam Elliott his first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.  In total, the film earned eight nominations.

The other nominees for Best Picture are a worthy and diverse group.  “Black Panther” becomes the first comic book film to earn a Best Picture nod.  Joining it, “A Star is Born,” “The Favourite”and “Roma” are “BlacKkKlansman,” Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Green Book” and “Vice.”  A total of ten films can be nominated in this category, though only eight made it this year.

Other director nominations:  Spike Lee (“BlacKkKlansman), Paweł Pawlikowski (“Cold War”) and Adam McKay (“VICE”)

In the Best Actor race,Cooper is joined by Christian Bale (“VICE”), Willem Dafoe (“At Eternity’s Gates), Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Green Book”).  Along with Misses Aparicio, Colman and Lady Gaga, the Best Actress race includes Glenn Close (“The Wife”) and Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”).

Best Animated Feature nominations went to “Incredibles 2,” “Isle of Dogs,” “Mirai,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse.”

Below is a complete list of this year’s nominees.  The 91stAnnual Academy Awards will be presented on Sunday, February 24th.

BEST PICTURE

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Roma

A Star is Born

VICE

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

Christian Bale- VICE

Bradley Cooper – A Star is Born

Willem Dafoe – At Eternity’s Gate

Rami Malek – Bohemian RhapsodyBohemian Rhapsody

Viggo Mortensen – Green Book

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

Yalitza Aparicio – Roma

Glenn Close – The Wife

Olivia Colman – The Favourite

Lady Gaga – A Star Is Born

Melissa McCarthy – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Mahershala Ali – Green Book

Adam Driver – BlacKkKlansman

Sam Elliott – A Star Is Born

Richard E. Grant – Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sam Rockwell – Vice

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Amy Adams – Vic

Marina de Tavira – Roma

Regina King – If Beale Street Could Talk

Emma Stone- The Favourite

Rachel Weisz – The Favourite

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War

The Favourite

Never Look Away

Roma

A Star Is Born

COSTUME DESIGN

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Black Panther

The Favourite

Mary Poppins Returns

Mary Queen of Scots

DIRECTING

Paweł Pawlikowski – Cold War

Spike Lee – BlacKkKlansman

Yorgos Lanthimos – The Favourite

Alfonso Cuarón – Roma

Adam McKay – Vice

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

Free Solo

Hale County This Morning This Evening

Minding the Gap

Of Fathers and Sons

RBG

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

Black Sheep

End Game

Lifeboat

A Night at the Garden

Period. End of Sentence.

FILM EDITING

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

The Favourite

Green Book

Vice

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

Capernaum

Cold War

Never Look Away

Roma

Shoplifters

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Border

Mary Queen of Scots

Vice

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

If Beale Street Could Talk

Isle of Dogs

Mary Poppins Returns

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

“All the Stars” from “Black Panther”

“I’ll Fight” from “RBG”

“The Place Where Lost Things Go” from “Mary Poppins Returns”

“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”

“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”

PRODUCTION DESIGN

Black Panther

The Favourite

First Man

Mary Poppins Returns

Roma

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

Animal Behaviour

Bao

Late Afternoon

One Small Step

Weekends

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

Detainment

Fauve

Marguerite

Mother

Skin

SOUND EDITING

Black Panther

Bohemian Rhapsody

First Man

A Quiet Place

Roma

SOUND MIXING

Black Panther

Bohemian Rhapsody

First Man

Roma

A Star Is Born

VISUAL EFFECTS

Avengers: Infinity War

Christopher Robin

First Man

Ready Player One

Solo: A Star Wars Story

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BlacKkKlansman

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Star Is Born

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

The Favourite

First Reformed

Green Book

Roma

Vice

Film Review – “Clyde Cooper”

CLYDE COOPER
Starring:  Jordi Vilasuso, Abigail Titmuss and Richard Neil
Directed by:  Peter Daskaloff
Not Rated
Running time:  1 hr 21 mins
Souvenir Films

While a man sits sadly on the edge of a bed, two beautiful women begin to experiment with each other.  Suddenly they are interrupted by the sound of a single gunshot.  Thus begins the noir-ish drama “Clyde Cooper.”

A slickly shot mystery, the plot finds the title private investigator (Vilasuso, a staple the past 15-years on various daytime soap operas) being asked to help a smitten gentleman find a woman who, despite only knowing her for a few days, has become, in his mind, THE one.  Cooper takes the case only to discover that there is a lot more going on then meets the eye.  People aren’t who the seem to be and, as the bodies begin to pile up, Cooper discovers a twist in the case that adds a new dimension to the film.

The script, by director Daskaloff, gives Cooper some nice throw-away lines and it’s a credit to Vilasuso’s talent that he comes off as a well intentioned wise ass instead of a boor.  Production credits are strong and whoever came up with the idea of a house with a piano key stairway – one that plays when you’re going up or down – deserves to never be without a job.  An entertaining musical score by Jonathan Price helps keep the action flowing.

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