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: “Judy”

 

 

  • JUDY
  • Starring:  Renee Zellwegger, Finn Wittrock and Rufus Sewell
  • Directed by: Rupert Goold
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Roadside Attractions

 

When you mention the name Judy Garland to most people, their first thought is usually of Dorothy Gale, the Kansas farm girl who traveled the Yellow Brick Road in “The Wizard of Oz.”  They may not know that she was a singular talent with an amazing singing voice, or that she was also a fine actress, earning two Academy Award nominations and criminally losing Best Actress for “A Star is Born” to Grace Kelly.  They may remember her as Liza Minelli’s mother.  But very few will know that she led a troubled life.  Multiple marriages.  Being fired from films (she was originally scheduled to star in “Annie Get Your Gun” but was replaced by Betty Hutton).  Alcohol and drugs.  It all contributed to her death at the very young age of 47.  There will never be another Judy Garland.  But I must say, Renee Zellwegger in the new film “Judy” comes awfully close.

 

The film highlights two periods of Garland’s life.  As a child actress (Darci Shaw), presumably during the filming of “The Wizard of Oz” and towards the end of her life when she undertook a tour of London.  Both are harrowing.  Despite all of the smiles and staged fun, Garland is treated like an indentured servant by everyone from MGM head L.B. Mayer to the studio hack hired to make sure she doesn’t take a bite of a hamburger during a photo shoot for fear she’ll gain weight.  In London, Garland (Zellwegger) must deal with her personal issues, which include showing up on stage intoxicated.  Things begin to get better when she meets Mickey Deens (Wittrock) at a party.  Though he is much younger then she is, the two begin a relationship which seems to life Judy up.  But can she remain on top?

 

I always go into films like this with a little trepidation.  It is rare when you find an actor or actress that is able to embody a character you are so familiar with.  Jamie Foxx (“Ray”) and Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) pulled it off and were rewarded with Oscars.  Zellwegger may join them next year.  Hers is not a caricature of Garland but an actual channeling.  Her appearance…her mannerisms…everything says “Judy Garland” on film.  And, while she doesn’t sound like Garland when she does (and to be honest, no one can) she pays homage to some of the great tunes Garland was famous for.  In between concert scenes, which are well presented, the little looks into the life of this legend keep the film grounded, solidly anchored by Zellwegger’s award-worthy performance.

 

“The Wizard of Oz” is regarded as a classic.  So was Judy Garland.  50 years after her death, and 80 years after the film debuted, it’s good to see her getting her due.

 

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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.

A guide to the UK’s North West for film lovers and TV buffs

Often those visiting the UK will typically head firstly towards the capital city of London, for its massive tourist draws and points-of-interest, not to mention its influence on pop culture and cinema – with unique attractions from its Secret Cinema experience to the London Design Museum, which recently held an exhibition dedicated to the revered director Stanley Kubrick and his works.

However, northern cities such as Liverpool and Manchester offer a strong alternative. They are often the go-to filming destination for big Hollywood films, due to their accommodating nature for production companies, and stunning, historic architecture that can stand in for many iconic locations, from London to New York.

Thinking of visiting? Here is the low down on some of the best places to visit for film buffs in the North West.

Liverpool

Liverpool is an extremely popular filming destination for both independent cinema and big blockbusters alike, and often doubles up as locales to suit fantasy and period dramas.

If arriving in the city by train you might immediately notice a location in Lime Street Station. Those who have seen the recent summer blockbuster Yesterday, from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle will know that this featured prominently in a poignant scene from the film.

Liverpool’s Littlewood’s building, once used during World War II to manufacture parachutes, will bring a state-of-the-art Hollywood-grade studio to Edge Lane in the coming years, sure to produce many great films for the future. Unfortunately, the site suffered setbacks due to a fire this time last year, but the £60m project is set to not only boost the cities’ economy, but also provide the potential for careers in staging, sound engineering and lighting.

This is not the only development ongoing in the city, and many other aspects are also building, in preparation for the future as the area swells in popularity. For example, not only has development in-and-around Liverpool Football Club’s famous Anfield stadium spelled economic growth, but in the Baltic Triangle sector of Liverpool, what has now become a creative and digital hub for business, bars, restaurants and homes are quickly popping up as an alternative destination to the city centre. Property specialists RW Invest state that the area is one of the most demanded in the country currently for students and young professionals, and will continue to grow rapidly in the years to come.

Manchester

Pride of the north and one of the biggest student cities in the UK, Manchester is another city with plenty of destinations worth visiting if you’re a film fan. Again, there’s a variety of things to do here, from walking tours showcasing locations used in the city, to galleries and cinema centres with unique offerings such as HOME.

The walking tour of Manchester features one of its most recognizable landmarks, the Manchester Town Hall in Albert Square. The Victorian and Gothic-esque architecture was used as a filming location for the most recent adaptation of Frankenstein, starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, and James McAvoy of Split/X-Men fame.

MediaCityUK in Salford is another factor that solidifies Manchester’s place on the map for film and TV production influence. The hub for many of ITV and BBC’s studios, the network of buildings employ thousands of people and have done a lot for the city’s economy. Those visiting can go on many different tours of the different sets and blocks, and you could even get yourself into the live audience of one of the many shows filmed there.

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: “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 “The House”

 THE HONEST TRUTH ABOUT “THE HOUSE”

Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jason Mantzoukas
Directed by: Andrew Jay Cohen
Rated: R

Do you want to learn how to play roulette? Then let’s head on to “The House” and teach you a thing or two. Just make sure to head on to the store to buy something as an alibi, then pass the back into the woods. The path should lead you directly to the house. With talents like Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jason Mantzoukas, there is no denying that you would learn more than just roulette games. I for one enjoyed this movie, even though it received a lot of criticism for its downfall in a lot of ways. One of which is their worldwide grossing of $34 million against their $40 million budget.

In the story, Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) turned the house of their gambling addict friend Jason Mantzoukas starring as Frank, with his permission and help of course, into a casino. A house where they made tons of cash in a matter of weeks. This wasn’t their initial intention though. All they wanted was to raise enough money for the tuition of their lovely daughter. The initial plan was to raise as much as was required for the tuition fees, then pull the plug on the casino as soon as possible. But things begin to heat up and get interesting all together, and it becomes harder to pull out. Let’s take a look at the story before reaching a verdict.

The Johansen family visit Bucknell University with their daughter, and warn her about the dangers college comes with. Alex (Ryan Simpkins), their daughter just wants to get their talk over with, and all she’s interested in is studying at her parents’ alma mater. She gets admitted, but they can’t afford to pay for her tuition. They were expecting to receive funding from the Scholarship program of the community. Unfortunately, the city councilor decides that there isn’t enough funding for the scholarship program, and would rather build a city pool with the available funds. A twist in expectations for the Johansens that would spice up the movie even more!

They try to get a loan, get Kate to take back her job, and ask for a raise at work. All fail, and they eventually go to Vegas to have a great time with their friend Frank. They were rolling it hot and winning consistently until they were jinxed by Scott who yelled at frank not to roll a seven. After trying every means possible to raise the money and failing, they finally agree to start a casino at the house of their neighbor after he continuously pestered them to. Their neighbor; Frank, played by Jason Mantzoukas, was going through a divorce with his wife for his gambling addiction.

The fun thing about the movie is that the couple was able to get the majority of the community to be discreet about the house. The house only got better and better, and it was a fun place for everyone to have fun. Things got way more interesting when the fight night was added to the casino, and this got the attention of more people to the house – and the city councilor knew nothing about it, not even the police!

Things got out of hand quickly when they cut off the middle finger of Carl and set Tommy Papouli on fire. The police found out and the city councilor confiscated their stash. Nothing was more heartbreaking than that! But just as I had the desire to get the money back, so did they! They exposed the city councilor of his dirty works and got their cash back. Happy ending!

The love for this movie might be a little more than the storyline, and I can’t deny my interest in movies Will Ferrell stars in.

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.   

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: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”

  • WHERE’D YOU GO BERNADETTE
  • Starring: Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup
  • Directed by: Richard Linklater
  • Rated: Rated PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins
  • United Artists Releasing 

The question that has haunted America for decades now is where did Jimmy Hoffa go? Rumor had it once upon a time that he was buried in the end zone at the New York Giants old football stadium. If it were true, then it’s too bad that the much-delayed comedy/drama “Where’d You Go Bernadette” was not buried with him under a ton a concrete. Based upon the 2012 novel of the same name by American novelist Maria Semple, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” wanders aimlessly for over two hours and establishes no real emotional connection with the audience. Despite a talented cast, and a long list of cameo appearances and small roles by recognizable faces, it’s not enough to save its unremarkable script and direction by Richard Linklater (“A Scanner Darkly”). 

Bernadette Fox (Cate Blanchett) is an agoraphobic mother of a teenage daughter and was once a trailblazing architect in Los Angeles. Since moving to Seattle with her husband and tech entrepreneur Elgie Branch (Billy Crudup), Bernadette has isolated herself in their home, created from an abandoned church, and devoted all her time to their daughter, Bree (Emma Nelson in her feature film debut). Not only does she refuse to make friends with her closest neighbor, the nosey Audrey Griffin (Kristen Wiig), but she also does whatever she can to make Audrey’s life miserable. The only other interaction she has is with an unseen assistant named Manjula to whom she assigns all sorts of tasks via text messaging. 

We eventually learn more about her past successes, which is where cameos by Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn and Megan Mullally come into play, but by the time it does we don’t care. The greatest failure of any story is the inability to hook the audience within the first sentence/paragraph of a book or the first couple minutes of a film. If this doesn’t happen then it’s a monumental task indeed to get the audience to ever give two cents. This is exactly the case with “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” which was originally supposed to be released in the spring of last year. There are brief glimmers of something serious going on with Bernadette’s character, and Blanchett is terrific at fleshing them out, but it’s all overwhelmed with one-dimensional characters around her, boring dialogue, and predictable, Disney-like comedy. 

With their marriage on the rocks because of her hatred of all things, including Seattle, and facing near-financial ruin thanks to a scam, Bernadette freaks out and instead of facing her problems flees to Antarctica where they were supposed to take a family trip. The question is – will the experience turn Bernadette back into being a creative force in the architect world, or will she disappear like so many doomed Antarctic explorers at the dawn of the 20th century? Truth be told, the answer doesn’t matter.

 In conclusion, if you want to be scratching your head wondering where this film is going, while also having to listen to needless and distracting voiceover narration by Nelson, then “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” is the story for you. I think Mr. Hoffa would agree.

Film Review: “The Art of Racing in the Rain”

  • THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN
  • Starring:  Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried and Kevin Costner
  • Directed by: Simon Curtis
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 49 mins
  • 20th Century Fox

There are two kinds of people in this world.  Dog people (guilty) and cat people.  Dog people, please continue reading.

Meet Enzo.  He is an older dog that has lived an amazing life.  And, if you have a couple of hours to spare, he’ll share his story with you.  Enzo (voiced perfectly by Kevin Costner) is chosen as a pup by Denny Swift (Ventimiglia), a race car trainer who aspires to one day drive in Formula One races.  As the years progress, the two are inseparable, sharing adventures both behind the wheel and at home,   Things get complicated when Denny meets Eve (Seyfried) and even more so when they have a daughter, Zoe (Ryan Kiera Armstrong).  Eve’s parents, played by Kathy Baker and Martin Donovan, are well off and not happy with their son-in-law’s profession.  Denny has begun to get some racing gigs, but they take him away from home for prolonged periods.  Things get worse when Eve becomes sick.  Can Enzo save the day?

An entertaining film that’s light on plot points, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” is the kind of film Walt Disney would make in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s (think “The Shaggy Dog”), though without such a dramatic backdrop.  Ventimiglia – in the Disney version Denny would be played by Fred MacMurray – does his best with the material he’s given.  I must admit that I’m really only familiar with Ventimiglia as Rocky, Jr. in “Rocky Balboa” and “Creed II.”  I didn’t watch “Heroes” and, though my wife loves the show, I don’t watch “This is Us.”  Considering a lot of his role is playing off of what Enzo is doing, he does a good job portraying a man who loves both his family and the art of going fast.  Seyfried is fine in a very one-dimensional role, making the best out of what she’s been given.  But the true star here is Costner.  He’s always had the kind of voice that you wish your next “Book on Tape” comes with.  It’s his story and he tells it with panache! 

Film Review: “Blinded by the Light”

  • BLINDED BY THE LIGHT
  • Starring:  Viveik Kalra, Kulvinder Ghir and Meera Ganatra
  • Directed by: Gurinder Chadha
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Warner Bros.

I was introduced to Bruce Springsteen when I was 15-years old.  And I wasn’t introduced to the Boss by a school friend but rather by my father.  He had been out and seen Springsteen’s face on both the covers of TIME and Newsweek magazines so, intrigued, he bought me the “Born to Run” album.  When he handed it to me he said, “This guy is supposed to be pretty good.”  He was.

England in the 1980s.  As the decade begins we meet Javid and Matt – two young boys with different upbringings.  For his birthday, Matt got a new bicycle.  Javid’s parents got him a Rubik’s Cube.  Learning over fun.  They also share another difference.  Javid is Pakistani while Matt is white.  Their friendship is color-blind.  Sadly, their neighbors are not. 

We meet up with the two lads in 1987 as they prepare for pre-university schooling.  Javid (Kalra) wants to be a writer, though his father finds that occupation frivolous and wishes him to be a doctor.  Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) is now a musician with his own band.  One day, after a day of bullying, Javid meets Roops (Aaron Phagura) a Sikh classmate who hands him a couple of cassettes and tells him that he needs “the Boss.”  After a few listenings he readily agrees.

An uplifting film with a serious back story, “Blinded by the Light,” like this year’s “Yesterday,” is an amazing combination of words and music that tells a story that is just as vital today as it was 30 years ago.  Javid is questioned by his father about why he is so enamored by this American and Jewish singer (for the record, Bruce Springsteen is NOT Jewish), unable to believe that this man’s words can have any meaning in his family’s life.  Yet Springsteen has always been a poet for the people, putting their daily struggles and triumphs into words that resonate with his listeners.

Director Chadha, whose best known film is probably “Bend it Like Beckham,” fills her lens with amazing images, often featuring Springsteen’s lyrics superimposed over the scenes, giving the songs and their message added meaning.  She has also assembled an amazing cast.  Kalra and Chapman have a great chemistry, facing the ups and downs of being friends.  Phagura is energetic as Roops, a young man who has discovered the music that comments on his life and is happy to share it.  Hayley Atwell has a nice turn as Javid’s instructor.  And I must give a proper mention to Kulvinder Ghir, who plays Javid’s father, Malik.  Malik is a proud man who is dealt a few setbacks yet never falters in his love for his family.  He only wants his children to succeed…to do better than he did…though he is reluctant to accept the paths they wish to take.

Even if you’ve never enjoyed the music of Bruce Springsteen (I guess there may be a few people out there that feel this way), you will be swept up in the way that music is celebrated here.  In this writer’s opinion, “Blinded by the Light” is pure inspiration!

 
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Film Review: “Them That Follow”

  • THEM THAT FOLLOW
  • Starring: Alice Englert, Walton Goggins
  • Directed by: Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage
  • Rated: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 38 mins
  • 1091 Media 

If you are anything like Indiana Jones, then the Appalachian-set drama “Them That Follow” will at the very least make you squirm in your seat. The feature film directorial debut by co-directors/writers Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, “Them That Follow” is an interesting yet not too in-depth look into a branch of the Pentecostal faith that believes handling venomous snakes will prove their devotion to God. With a pace that flows like the mountain streams in the film, this relatively short drama contains a standout supporting performance by Academy Award-winning actress Olivia Coleman, but nothing else much is all that memorable. 

A teenage boy named Augie (Thomas Mann, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl”) is led into the woods by the girl of his affections, Mara Childs (Alice Englert, “Beautiful Creatures”), to a den of poisonous rattle snakes. It is perhaps not the greatest way to spend a date, but it quickly gives us an idea of what the people of an isolated mountain community are like. Snakes or no snakes, troubled times are brewing when we watch Mara steal a pregnancy test from a local convenience store run by Augie’s sour mother, Hope (Coleman). 

This leads into a brief depiction of a church service led by old school pastor, Lemuel Childs (Walton Goggins, “The Hateful Eight”), Mara’s father. Lemuel inspires his small, yet devoted congregation to uplift their arms and wail as he dances about with a rattlesnake in his hands preaching that serpents will not hurt them if they truly believe in God. It all serves to heighten the pressure that Mara feels as she prays for the stain on her soul to be removed thanks to her test turning positive. And while Augie may be the baby’s father, she is squeezed in a vice when she is pressured to marry Garret (Lewis Pullman, “Bad Times at the El Royale”), another local boy infatuated with her but with a seemingly stronger devotion to her father’s church. 

A pregnancy is obviously a difficult thing to hide for long and as such the stakes are raised when Hope discovers her secret as well as her blabber-mouth-of-a-best-friend, Dilly Picket (Kaitlyn Dever, “Booksmart”). The film falters with this storyline to be as tense as it could have been. It feels more like an after-school special on TV with the snakes being more dramatic than most of the actors. Goggins starts off well enough with his performance but his character is soon revealed as merely one dimensional. What could have energized the entire film, and is only barely alluded to, is the cultural struggle between the Pentecosts and the outsiders, especially law enforcement who seems to hound them. 

Colman, fresh off her win for “The Favourite,” is a shining light as she burns up the screen each moment she is in a scene. Her performance ranges from stoic to deeply emotional. Every actor around her is overshadowed by her presence, which is not hard to do as the rest of the cast delivers mundane performances. Overall, “Them That Follow” is predictable fair with nothing to keep our memory of watching it alive for too long.

 
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Film Review: “A Score to Settle”

  • A SCORE TO SETTLE
  • Starring:  Nicolas Cage, Noah Le Gros and Benjamin Bratt
  • Directed by:  Shawn Ku
  • Not Rated
  • Running time:  1 hr 43 mins
  • RLJE Films

Not many people know this, but Nicolas Cage made his film debut 37 years ago in the comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”  He was one of Sean Penn’s stoner pals (along with fellow up and coming actors Eric Stoltz and Anthony Edwards).  He was also billed with his real name, Nicolas Coppola.  I didn’t really pay attention to him until the next year’s film “Valley Girl.”  There was something about him that struck me as interesting.  His career highlights include winning the Oscar for Best Actor in “Leaving Las Vegas” and such action hits as “The Rock” and “Con Air.”  I should also add that, when he was in Baltimore making the film “Guarding Tess” that he often ate at the restaurant my roommate worked at.  I was told he was very nice to talk to and a great tipper!

He hasn’t been in a lot of high profile films lately, but no matter what the film, he’s usually the best thing in it.  He certainly is in the new drama “A Score to Settle.”

Frank (Cage) has been looking forward to this day.  After 19 years he is being released from prison, where he was sentenced for a brutal murder.  On his way out he is informed by the prison doctor that he must do something for his insomnia or risk a life of hallucinations and, eventually, death.  But all Frank wants to do is spend some time with his son, Joey (Le Gros), hoping he can make up the time he lost with him.  Oh, and he also plans to take his revenge out on the people who put him in prison.

An entertaining and well-paced film, “A Score to Settle” is Nicolas Cage at his best – deeply intense with a little bit of crazy mixed in for good measure.  Carrying a duffel bag full of cash, as well as a bunch of prison-made baseball bats, Frank is trying to ease the guilt he feels from not being there for Joey, especially after his wife dies.  However, a fancy hotel, new clothes and even a new car are not what Joey wants.  Complicating things are Frank’s relationship with his former partner in crime, Q (Bratt) and his meeting of a female escort (Karolina Wydra) with her own problems.  As the film progresses it takes a twist that amps up the emotional impact of Frank’s mission. 

A well recommended action/thriller, “A Score to Settle” is currently available with Video on Demand.