Film Review: “Birds of Passage”

Starring: Carmiña Martinez, José Acosta
Directed by: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Rated: Unrated
Running Time: 125 minutes
The Orchard

Operating with dangerous impunity from roughly 1976-93, the infamous Medellín Cartel of Colombia was once among the most powerful and notorious drug trafficking organizations in the Western Hemisphere. While it is hard to tell how much is fact, or fiction, the Colombian entry in this year’s Academy Awards, “Birds of Passage,” which did not make the final cut of five, does take us back to the humble origins of the drug trade in the years just prior to the Medellín Cartel’s savage rise. From the late 1960s to the late 1970s, “Birds of Passage” paints an intriguing, although uninspired picture of the native Wayuu people and how a desire to pay for a dowry turned into a bloodbath heated by blind revenge.

If you have never heard of them, the Wayuu are a Native American people from the Guajira Peninsula, straddling northern Columbia and northwestern Venezuela. Unlike many other native groups, the Wayuu were never fully conquered by the Spanish thanks in large part to their adaptation of using guns and horses. Their indomitable spirit is still reflected in the matrilineal society we are introduced to in the late 1960s when Zaida (Natalia Reyes, who is set to co-star in “Terminator: Dark Fate”), the daughter of protective clan leader Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), is ceremoniously presented as being ready for marriage.

Rapayet (José Acosta) is a single man who announces his desire to marry Zaida through a “word messenger.” However, the dowry is steep. While contemplating his quandary, the unemotional Rapayet and his friend Moisés (Jhon Narváez) encounter some American Peace Corps members who are looking to score weed to take back to the United States. Rapayet seizes the opportunity and convinces his older cousin Aníbal (Juan Bautista Martínez) to harvest some whacky weed for the gringos. Not only do the profits allow him to pay the dowry, much to the chagrin of Úrsula who disapproves of Rapayet, but they also provide everyone involved a way to become filthy rich.

Greed begets power and power begets violence as Rapayet’s influence grows, but a pivotal moment involving the hot-headed Moisés has vicious repercussions for years to come. Additionally, the ancient traditions of Úrsula’s clan come under increasing attack from the new times they live in. It all comes to a bloody head that is reminiscent of something straight out of “The Godfather,” “Scarface,” or virtually any other organized crime-type of drama. And that’s a major problem with the film.

Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, who previously worked together on the 2015 drama “Embrace of the Serpent,” “Birds of Passage” does contain a terrific, Shakespearean tragedy at its core. It is saddening to witness the meteoric rise and epic downfall of both a family and an ancient culture all at the hands of the illegal drug trade. However, it’s boringly predictable and the characters are stereotypes. Furthermore, the acting varies between being wooden and over-the-top with pacing that is sluggish at times. Take a pass on “Birds of Passage.”

Book Review "Kingdom Keepers VI: Dark Passage"

Author: Ridley Pearson
Age Range: 10 and up
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Book CH
Release Date: April 2, 2013

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Even since the first “Kingdom Keepers” back in 2005, I have been in love with this series. There was something interesting about what happens when Disney goes dark. This series has developed so well since it began its adventure exploring from park to park with some really great plot twists and fun characters. I love the fact that Maleficent gets center stage as she is one of my favorites. In “Dark Passage”, we hit the seas on the Disney Cruise Line and various Caribbean islands. Since Disney is so vast, there is no shortage of where we can go with this series. I feel that this sixth book in the series is the most ambitious and has yet to disappoint. So don’t worry this series is not running low on steam and continues to grow strong.

Official Synopsis: The five Kingdom Keepers and their core friends have uncovered a startling truth: Maleficent and the Overtakers (Disney villains) are plotting a catastrophic event that could have repercussions far beyond the world of Disney. Aboard the Disney Cruise Line’s inaugural passage through the new Panama Canal, the Keepers and their holograms uncover a puzzle hidden within the pages of a stolen journal. The point of that puzzle will reveal itself in the caves of Aruba, the zip lines of Costa Rica, and the jungles of Mexico. A destructive force, dormant for decades, is about to be unleashed. The five Kingdom Keepers are to be its first victims.

Ridley Pearson really knows how to speak to his audience.  The book is aimed at the “Young Adult” audience but it doesn’t talk down to them.  He treats his fans like they are adults and that is why I feel that this series also draws in an older audience as well, like myself.  Plus who doesn’t like to read about a different side of Disney with new and our favorite character. Ridley Pearson has stated before that this series will contain seven books, which means that we are getting close to the end to the “Kingdom Keepers” series. I still would like to see this series transform into a TV series or feature film.  Maybe one day. I feel that there is a major audience for this. Either way, I will be on the edge of my seat to see what Pearson has planned next.

Blu-ray Review “Rites of Passage”

Actors: Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, Wes Bentley, Ryan Donowho
Directors: W. Peter Iliff
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Release Date: October 16, 2012
Run Time: 102 minutes

Film: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1.5 out of 5 stars

“Rites of Passage” packs a decent cast including Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff and Wes Bentley. Not A-list but definitely notable stars. The story itself takes too long to get started and ends up not delivers much before its close. There is some decent laughs, even though they are not really warranted. It ends me being a bit too formulaic for me, personally. I would say if you have nothing better to do on a rainy day, this might be worth a rent but its not special.

Premise: An anthropology student, invites a few of his classmates, and their professor to his family’s abandoned ranch – once a sacred Chumash burial ground – to recreate an ancient ceremony. There they meet Nathan’s psychotic older brother and his drug fueled friend. The students then embark on a rite of passage that no one will ever forget.

The Blu-ray presentation is good enough and holds up for the format. The 1080p video works well for the film. The audio included is a sharp DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The special features are lacking quite a bit. There is only a short “The Making Of” featurette and a trailer included. So if you are looking for commentary or anything decent to companion the film, you will be disappointed.

Interview with Johnson Phan

Johnson Phan is currently appearing the “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” playing the character Shang Tsung. Johnson is appearing in the TV series “True Justice” with Steven Seagal, and also in Syfy’s “Sanctuary”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Johnson about his role in the series, what he hardest stunt was and what we have planned upcoming.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got involved with “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”?
Johnson Phan: The timing of everything was perfect. With what was going on in my life at the time and “MK: Legacy” coming to Vancouver. I seriously felt it was a combination of the universe and my energy aligning with one another and of course.  Also it was the fact that I did my homework as an actor and was able to fully commit myself and connect to the material during the audition process. Then a few days before they started shooting “MK” the opportunity landed into my lap and I was prepared to handle it.

MG: How was it playing such an iconic character such as Shang Tsung?
JP: Mike, it was a surreal feeling Dude! I grew up playing the video game all day at the arcades and watching the movies so basically, I almost pissed my pants when Maria, my agent, called me about booking the gig. How fuckin’ awesome is it to be playing Shang Tsung?…one of the most bad ass villains out there! Come on it doesn’t get any cooler than that.  Once I calmed down… fear and nervousness kicked in. Shang Tsung being such an iconic character and I wanted to make sure that I was able to be honest with what I was doing in the reality of the “MK: Legacy” world. I know how many people love this franchise, so I of course “at the end of the day” want to entertain everyone and deliver the goods. Thanks to Kevin for all his support was able to connect and stay grounded to what I was doing

MG: How was it working with Kevin Tancharoen?
JP: Kevin Tancharoen, is one cool cat! It was an incredible experience working with him and I’m not just saying that so I could be in his next project [laughs]. He was super easy to talk to and work with. He was also very specific and detailed with what he wanted. It was great to work with someone who was so hands on with every aspect of the project from the set decoration stuff, to one of the actors hair styles, to another actors gloves, to the movement and mannerisms of an actor’s delivery. Kevin did all of his homework and has lots of passion for what he is doing, so the positive energy on set was very infectious. He is a very personable dude with a hella creative mind so watch out for him world!

MG: You are no stranger to web series format, tell us about “Chasing Mood”?
JP: “Chasing Mood” is basically a web series that kinda feels like “Seinfeld” mashed together with “Entourage”. You have a bunch of interesting characters that share the trials and tribulations of life together, sometimes supporting each other and for the most part just creating awkward moments. The show was created by the very talented Mr Leslie Birch and Mr Curtis Lum. “Chasing Mood” is one of the funniest experiences that I’ve had on set. The director and writer Leslie Birch gave us actors the flexibility to do lots of improv and play around with the written material. The creation of the show is what got me interested on being part of the team. You’ve got a talented group of people looking to create their own opportunities in the film industry by investing their own money and taking control of their careers. How awesome is that? How can I not jump on board and support this? When you love and have passion for something… Don’t let others control when you are able to do it, take the steps necessary to make things happen for you and control your own career and destiny.

MG: You’ve worked stunts on some big films, “Watchmen” & “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”, what has been your hardest stunt to perform?
JP: Hmmmm, When I think about this question…there is one specific project that comes to mind, that I’m hesitant to you talk about [laughs]. One of the main reasons being that, as a “Stunt Performer” you never really talk about your injuries or wine about things and with this experience I’m going to share with you today, it will sound like a little bit of both the people who are close to me will understand and know my intentions. Just sharing an experience here! Not complaining or no wining here, so here we go… STORY TIME! It all took place on Season 5 of the TV show “Psych” and I was hired as a stunt actor, so I basically was one of the main villains of the episode the Episode “Romeo and Juliet and Juliet”. As a stunt actor you are required to ACT and do your own STUNTS, think of it kinda like an action actor (Jackie Chan). My character Teno Tan had two fight scenes, both incorporating lots of action and martial arts fighting normally this wouldn’t be difficult for me… so here’s why it was my ”hardest stunt”. A month before this “Psych” show, I injured my lower back training. When I got the gig not only was I not fully recovered, but my muscles were stiff and joints were tight and because of the injury and condition I was in, it made filming for me very difficult the action sequences demanded a lot from me. One of the fights was with another stunt performer, and it was an all-out hand to hand with flying kicks in the fight scene. The second fight scene was the final fight with the lead of the show himself Mr James Roday. I had to chase him around a martial arts dojo and fight him with a sword and of course doing a fight scene with the lead of a show you have to be so much more careful, so the pressure was on like a mother fucker! Here’s where things get interesting…because of my lower back injury, my body was very weak and had to adjust and compensate and because of all of the strain and compensation, it threw my whole body off balance which led me to tare my left quad and dislocate my right shoulder during rehearsal. So now I’m broken all over the place and we haven’t even started filming yet. It was a five day shoot and I was gimped and there was no way I was going to quit or be recast. The role itself was a great opportunity for me and I couldn’t let it slip. So I did a lot of praying and eventually got through it all and delivered the goods. I thank the universe that I was working with such a talented stunt team and was able to finish filming. These guys all helped support me, and not only made me look good but made my performance possible because of all the adjustments. Thanks you Dan Shea, Jeff Ong and Brian Ho you guys ROCK! That was my Hardest Stunt!

MG: What other projects do you currently how in the works?
JP: I got a TV show called “True Justice” with Steven Seagal, where I play “Chai” the Yakuza gangster and most recently the TV show “Sanctuary”.

Interview with Aleks Paunovic

Aleks Paunovic is currently appearing the “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” playing the character Shao Kahn. Aleks is also appearing in this fall’s “This Means War” and “In the Name of the King 2”.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Aleks about his roles in both projects and also what he  has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you became involved with “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”?
Aleks Paunovic: I was fortunate enough because I went out for a casting and I had a really good relationship with the casting director. Probably about a month after I got a call that I got the role.

MG: Where you familiar with character of Shao Kahn before this project?
AP: I was and I was apprehensive about doing that role.  I didn’t quite understand how I would fit in the mold. It was so great the route that Kevin took “Rebirth” and with “Legacy” opened where this project can go with his fresh vision. I was scared at first if the fans of “Mortal Kombat” would jump on board with me being Shao Kahn.   Once I understood the vision Kevin had I was very comfortable and confident playing him.

MG: What do you like most about the character?
AP: Kevin was one a shoe string budget and we were just trying to understand it. For me, just knowing the immense popularity of that role and basically the baddest bad guy.   In this we find in Kevin’s vision how bad Shao Kahn can be and how involved the character can do.  That to me was excited knowing that from the ground floor you can get some really good character development.

MG: You have worked with fellow “MK: Legacy” co-star, Tahmoh Penikett, a few times now with “Battlestar Gallactica” and “Riverworld”, tell us about that?
AP: I am pretty sure it was a coincidence but Tahmoh and I have been best friends for years, off screen.  We were just in Toronto to watch the biggest UFC in history.  We grapple around and hang out often.  Our biggest connection as friends is the fight games.  He is a phenomenal fighter.  So we train a lot together. He is one of my best friends.

MG: You have worked on a bunch of projects with SyFy, do you enjoy working in that genre?
AP: Oh man, I love the sci-fi genre!  It is an interesting world to be apart of because the fans are so dedicating and loving and they just want you to succeed.  When you get involved with the fan view of a project, I think that is the best thing as an actor to connect with fans.  They want these films to be good and they want to help your growth.  It has been awesome. I love that genre.

MG: What would you consider your most challenging project to date?
AP: Well there are two projects and they happened back to back. The first was a film called “Personal Effects” directed by David Hollander. Ashton Kutcher, Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates were in it. I played a mental challenged man, who ends up killer Ashton Kutcher’s sister.  In the film, I had to develop this different character.  I felt that the character I was playing was not suppose to work out, so I stopped. I didn’t even do a push up for a few months and ate as much as I could.  So I wanted to look really out of shape.  Besides that though the role was very dark and for me that was the hardest but it was also very rewarding. It was great getting to work with those actors and I was really proud of my role.  After that I did a project called “Fireball” and I had to switch it up and loose the weight and put on as much muscle as I could.  I was playing a steroid freak football player, who likes to set things on fire.  So both of those projects back to back were tough.  I find though that the most challenging projects I do are also the most rewarding.

MG: Tell us about your involvement with “In the Name of the King 2”?
AP: I got cast as the right hand man to the King played by Dolph Lundgren. I played a guy named Allard and I go on this mission with the King.  It was really cool experience.

MG: You appear with fellow “MK: Legacy” co-star Kevan Ohtsji in “This Means War” directed McG, tell us about working on this?
AP: That was so great. McG is quite a character with such immense energy. Tom Hardy, I am a huge fan of him.  I had a quick little cameo with him.  I want to get more involved with doing comedy.  I am 6’5 and 250lbs, so I get a lot of jobs kicking the crap out of people but I really love comedy.

Interview with Susan Sullivan

Susan Sullivan is known for her role of Martha Rogers on ABC’s hit show “Castle”. With the show approach its end of season three and is hotter than ever, Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Susan about her role and what we can expect for season four.

Mike Gencarelli: What do you like most about playing Martha Rogers on “Castle”?
Susan Sullivan: I think when you are cast well in something, the character sort of mirrors and crystallizes your own dynamics. It really brings out where you are in your life and also certain things you are experiencing. The whole aspect of aging, feeling a little marginalized, trying to stay alive and in the game and youthful.  All of those aspects are fun for me to explore because [laughs], I am exploring them in my own life.

MG: What has been your inspiration for her character?
SS: My real inspiration for this character is my own mother, who is 94 and still with us, God bless her.  She is someone that is always offering advise to people and who is very helpful.  She is like this wise old soul, plus she has a lot of energy and incite…that she readily shares. I think I try to incorporate parts of my mother into the character.  In fact Martha being a life coach was my mother’s idea.  We even put one of my mothers lines in the show, “You is who you is and if you ain’t who you is, who is you?”, which she says on a daily basis [laughs].  So that is my personal inspiration and of course as we grow older we sort of become our mothers, so there you go.

MG: The family dynamic that you have on the show is just great, how was it been working with Nathan Fillion and Molly Quinn?
SS: It is just great. Of course even if it wasn’t I would tell you it is but in this case it actually is [laughs].  I think it would be really hard to fake that.  We have this really connectedness.  I look at Nathan now and I said “Wow we are starting to even look a like, when did that happen?”  Of course Molly is completely delightful.  In relationships, it is always wonderful when you have something to learn from the person you are with.  I learn a lot from both of them in very different ways.  We have a really profound connection.

MG: Do you have a favorite episode from the series to date?
SS: Well on a personal level, yes.  I don’t know if it was necessarily one of the better episodes. When I find out that Chet has died and dealing with that loss and how one comes to terms with that.  That was really interesting for me as an actor and as a woman.

MG: You have worked on various TV series, how do you find this show differs from them?
SS: Each show has its own personality and style.  Of course “Dharma and Greg” was a sitcom, so that was completely different and also she was sort of an abrasive character.  Each character you play, you tend to bring the character home with you.  For Martha, I would have to say is that she has so much life force about her and she is wonderful to encounter.  I would have to say that she is probably one of my favorite characters, even though you don’t see a lot of her.  But that is sort of good too.

MG: Any sneak as to what we can expect for the end of this season?
SS: Well [laughs], I must tell you it is one of these shows where so much happens in one episode.  I read the script and said this should be a two-parter.  I think they even shot enough for a two-parter, so I know a lot of that episode will be left on the cutting room floor.  Well, it is going to be a complete surprise, with all the turns and angles. This is a show about turns that surprise and if the turns don’t surprise you in the storyline then it isn’t much fun. Hang on to your hat kid, because this is a whirlwind.  I can tell you that.

MG: Not sure what you can tell about next season but will Martha have new love interest?
SS: Oh, I am sure several [laughs].  I insist in fact, it is in my contact.

MG: What else are you currently working on?
SS: For the month of June, I will be doing a play called “Love, Loss and What I Wore”.  It is at the West Side Theater in New York.  It is with a rotating cast of actresses, five women. So if anyone is in New York and is a “Castle” fan…look it up!

Interview with Derrick Denicola

Derrick Denicola stars in the upcoming independent film “Go For It” which opens in theaters Friday May 13th. Derrick took time out of his busy schedule to talk with Movie Mikes about his career and his new film.

Adam Lawton: Can you tell us how you first got into acting?
Derrick Denicola: I started acting in college. When I was going through the book of classes I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. There were some improvisational classes that sounded fun however you had to be a theater major to take them. I decided I would declare myself a theater major so I could take those classes and until I figured out what I wanted to do. Once I got started I really fell in love with it and never looked back.

AL: Was there something in particular that sparked that love?
DD: Yes. At LSU where I went they had a peer mentoring group where a senior would take around a freshman and show them the campus as well as some classes. While I was doing this I got to see a rehearsal for a play. I saw all the great work that the actors were putting into this play and I left with such a creative high that I knew from that moment that acting was what I wanted to do.

AL: Can you tell us what it was like working with Michael Ironsides in “Mutants”?
DD: I didn’t have any scenes with Michael but I did get to see him work as we were on set at the same time. He is extremely professional and very intimidating! He is a very big guy who knows exactly what he’s doing. You can really learn from him by just watching how he gives himself to the creative process. It was a joy to watch him work.

AL: What was it like showing up on set for your first film role?
DD: I had more anxiety sitting in a trailer or at home reading the script hoping that I would do a good job more than anything.  A strange thing happens when you walk on set though and you see everything lit up and the cameras ready. The nervousness starts to go away and your acting instincts start to kick in. You start to see the set as what it’s meant to be rather than a movie set.

AL: Can you tell us about your role as Sebastian in “Ben and Jakes Big Deal”?
DD: That was a small independent film that was in a way experimental. The actors had a chance to write the script for the film. We were each given four pages of guidelines for where the story was supposed to go. How we got there was up to us. I was surrounded by some really funny people during that project. Currently I don’t know what is happening with that film but I imagine the end result is going to be something completely disastrous or unique and genius.

AL: From all your projects do you have one that sticks out as a favorite?
DD: They all are special in their own ways. “Go For It” which comes out May 13th has really stuck with me. Both the film and the people I have met along the way have been really great! Meeting Carmen Marron has been one of the most inspiring things that has ever happened to me. Just getting to hear how the movie got made is just as good as the movie itself. Carmen was a guidance counselor with no film experience and her and her husband saved up all the money themselves to make this film!

AL: Can you tell us a little more about “Go For It”
DD: “Go For It” is an inspirational dramedy which features a really great cast and I think the film will have something for everyone. Aimee Garcia from the George Lopez show is in the film as well as Gina Rodriguez. It’s really just a wonderful cast and we are all hoping to make some really positive role models for young people. I play Jared in the film that’s the love interest of the main character Carmen. During the film the character of Carmen has to make a choice as to what she loves more be it Jared or dancing.

AL: Do you have any other upcoming projects?
DD: You actually caught me on the best day! I just finished a meeting with a production company to shoot a pilot I wrote. I will also have a role in the project as well as being the director. The project is called “Unreal Estate Agents”. This will be my first time directing and production is scheduled to start in about a month. I am really excited for this project!

Interview with Beatrice King

Beatrice King is currently appearing the “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” playing the character Queen Sindel. Peter is also appearing in the Seth Rogan lead film titled, “50/50″ this Fall.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Beatrice about his roles in both projects and also whatshe  has planned next.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with the “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” web series?
Beatrice King: I originally auditioned for the role of Meleena in Vancouver and they really liked my audition. From there I was considered for the role of Queen Sindel. A short time later I was notified by the casting director that I got the role.

MG: Were you familiar with the Sindel character prior to your audition?
BK: I had been because my brother grew up playing “Mortal Kombat”. However I would have to say that some of the research I did on the character came into the role but, a large portion of it came from the script. I wanted to make sure everything was right because Kevin’s vision of the series is different from the video game.

MG: How was it working with Kevin?
BK: He is fantastic! I loved working with him. He’s a young guy with an incredible vision. He took the time to work with each actor one on one for each scene which is something he wanted. Personally I like a director who really communicates what they want. I think when a director does this it brings the project to a whole new level creatively.

MG: How was your experience working on a web series compared to television or a film?
BK: I thought that this project really felt like a feature film. I didn’t feel like a web series at all. Having such a great cast as well as Kevin and Warner Bros. involved really helped. Every person involved I think looked at this project as a labor of love and put everything they had into each of their parts.

MG: Can you tell us about the film you did recently with Seth Rogan titled “50/50”
BK: That film is scheduled to come out later this fall and is kind of a darker comedy. It was really interesting and I am very excited for it. I think when the audience thinks of Seth Rogan they think more about the projects he has done. This film is really different and I think it’s going to offer something really new in the way of Hollywood comedy.

MG: How was it working with “Glee” star Cory Monteith on “Sisters and Brothers”?
BK: It was great! I had actually worked with Cory before on the television series “Kaya”. I also am friends with Alie Liebert so it felt just like working with friends and really great people who are all incredibly talented. Everyone was really welcoming and making sure each other was comfortable on set and with the director.

MG: You also worked on “Strange Magic” by J.K. Rowling. Can you tell us about that?
BK: That was filmed in Victoria and I had to really work on my British accent for that which was an incredible process. I always have enjoyed working on new characters and accents. I find that very rewarding as an actor to be able to portray someone totally different. I feel really fortunate because this was another project that everyone was really supportive of one another. You really were made to feel part of the team. I played the secretary of a literary agency in that film and it felt very natural to work in that environment because I was an English major in school.

MG: Did you get the chance to meet J.K. Rowling during the filming process?
BK: No not during filming. But we were at the table read and the person who played J.K. in the film looked so much like her it was incredible. I think viewers are really going to find similarities to the real J.K. Rowling.

MG: If you could choose one actor to work with who would it be?
BK: I would have to say off hand probably Natalie Portman when I was studying acting at a young age her role in “Beautiful Girls” really inspired me. However before I did “50/50” I would have said Joseph Gordon-Levitt because I had followed his career and how he has branched out but it seems to be changing from time to time but for now it’s Natalie Portman.