April 2006

National Lamppon’s Vaca…,er, RV?

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: We’re the Millers
  • IMDB: link

rv-posterBefore we start click and watch the trailer for this film.  Go ahead, I’ll wait….hmm…hmm…hmm…

Oh, you’re back?  Okay answer me this – Did you think that trailer was really funny or kinda’ lame?  Your answer to that question will tell you whether to go see the film as it’s just 98 minutes of the same dumb dad, hip-hop white son, bitchy teenage daughter, redneck RV campers, shit jokes, and yodelling.  Yeah…I’d pass too.  It’s not that it’s horrible, but seriously why waste an hour and a half of your life on something this dumb and pointless?

Disconnected from his family and in trouble at work Bob Munro (Robin Williams) decides to gather his family, his teenage daughter Cassie (JoJo) and son Carl (Josh Hutcherson) and wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines), together and take an family vacation to Colorado (while secretly working on his proposal).  Since his family was set on a trip to Hawaii they aren’t too happy with the change in plans.

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Stick It

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Stick It
  • IMDB: link

stick-it-posterOnce you realize the film isn’t going to be Bring It On and accept for being what it is (which is both more and less) you can really enjoy yourself.  The movie contains the same level of writing but as Jessica Bendinger takes the place behind the camera this time you get a more emotional, intelligent, and well-rounded film that if not quite as funny still provides some great one-liners and humorous moments without going for all the easy jokes.

Tough chick Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) gets into the trouble with the law and is sent away to a gymastic camp run by Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges).  Haley isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms because of her past experience where she quit the gymnastic team during competition losing them all a shot at the gold.  Despite a mountain of talent her disrespect for how the sport is run and past experiences make it hard for her to get back on the horse and train with the other girls (Vanessa Lengies, Nikki SooHoo, Tarah Paige).

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Killer Diller

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Killer Diller was a labor of love for writer/director Tricia Brock (if you haven’t read our interview with her make sure you check it out) which finally will be released today.  The film is funny, charming, warm, quirky, with some great blues music that will leave your toes tappin’ after the credits role.  This one is worth checking out folks.

Killer Diller
4 Stars

Killer Diller, which opens today in a limited Midwest release (Kansas City, Columbia, St. Louis, Memphis and Nashville), is about a college half-way house, a guitar playing car thief, an autistic piano player, and some great blues music.  I would highly recommend seeing this film if it’s in your area, and if it’s not yet hopefully it will do well enough to earn a wider release over the next few weeks.

The story begins with Wesley (William Lee Scott), a career criminal (car jacking mostly) getting into a bar fight and thrown back in jail.  He is released into the custody of Ned (Fred Willard) who runs the B.O.T.A. house, a half-way house at a local college that helps reform convicts (Niki Crawford, Jared Tyler, RonReaco Lee, Ashley Johnson) by putting them in a band to perform religious hymns.  Wesley doesn’t make new friends in the house and when stranded one day he meets Vernon (Lucas Black) an autistic young man with an uncanny ability to play the piano.

To help save his own skin and the house, which the Dean (John Michael Higgins) wants to pull funding from thus sending everyone back to prison, Wesley brings Vernon into the band.  Vernon’s inclusion has immediate impact as the band shows signs of improvement.  As they play and talk Wesley and Vernon find common ground in a love of the blues and the band moves from Ned’s frightful religious tunes to playing the blues as “The Killer Diller Blues Band.”

The film was shot in Fayette, Missouri and because of that a remarkable thing happens.  We actually get a Midwestern film that looks like it was shot in the Midwest.  Writer/director Tricia Brock finds just the right local touches including the campus of Central Methodist University and the home of Vernon and his father (W. Earl Brown who gives a nice low-key perfomance here).

The entire cast puts on a good show both in front of the camera and on stage.  William Lee Scott and and Lucas Black carry the film as Wesley’s friendship with Vernon does what nothing else could do for him – make him reevaluate his life and think of others for a change.  Willard and Higgins are perfect as the bickering campus officials and their interplay provides constant enjoyment whenever they appear on screen together.  Add to that the sexy Niki Crawford singing out the blues with her sultry tones and you’ve got something quite original.

There are reasons to support independent films.  Many such films wouldn’t be possible under the constraints of the Hollywood system.  Killer Diller succeeds because it has a story to tell and knows how to present it to the audience without preaching (pretty good for a film that deals with religious themes), becoming too campy, or getting in its own way.  It’s a really fun time and a quite enjoyable film.  And no, I’m not going to tell you what B.O.T.A. stands for; go see the movie and find out!

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G-O-O-D

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Okay you’ve probably seen this film before.  A child prodigy learns of his/her gift, finds a teacher, and in training learns about him/her self and valuable life lessons.  Akeelah and the Bee isn’t the most original film, and it is more than a little contrived, yet it somehow overcomes these limitations and presents a truly enjoyable film for the whole family with some of the best ensemble child acting I’ve seen in some time.

Akeelah and the Bee
4 Stars

How cool are spelling bees?  The film asks that question multiple times and the answer shifts from person to person over the course of the film including our title character.  Akeelah and the Bee actually makes the National Spelling Bee look pretty darn cool.  Now c’mon folks, that should pique your interest.

Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is an underachieving student in Crenshaw, California with an older sister (Erica Hubbard) who has a baby, a brother (Julito McCullum) who wants to become a gangbanger, and a mother (Angela Bassett) who works all the time and has little time or patience for her kids’ problems and screw-ups. 

Akeelah’s teacher (Dalia Philips) notices Akeelah’s talent in spelling words far beyond the normal vocabulary for a child her age and brings this to the attention of Principal Welch (Curtis Armstrong) and his friend, a former college professor, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) who has been looking for a local child to train for the National Spelling Bee.

Akeelah is pushed into the spelling bee (which she would rather not take part for fear of looking uncool) but her early success makes her want to continue against her mother’s wishes who see such activities taking time away from her real schoolwork.  She starts to train with Larabee and a larger world begins to open up both mentally as she learns new words and where words come from and physically as she meets other children (J.R. Villarreal, Sean Michael, Sara Niemietz) from surrounding areas who also want to win the National Spelling Bee.

The film is as much about how Akeelah’s interest and participation changes her as it is about how it transforms those around her inluding her best friend (Sahara Garey), Dr. Larabee, her mother, and the entire community who with each of Akeelah’s successes become more invested in her journey.  Though when the film develops into the 80’s training montage with the entire community taking part (including the ganbangers) I did groan a little.

The performances are outstanding all around, and even though the adults are fine it is the children who own this film.  Keke Palmer owns the film and holds her own against Bassett and Fishburne in her scenes with them.  And J.R. Villarreal is a break-out star just waiting to be discovered who almost, almost, steals the film with his infectious good humor. 

If the film has any failures it’s how thinly written the adults are compared to the children.  There’s no reason for Akeelah’s mother to be so against an academic outlet her underachieving child is actually interested in, and making her the villain of the early half of the film is a disservice to both Bassett and the script.  And of course Fishburne’s character can’t just be a former teacher tying to help out a child from his community, but instead hides a secret pain tha will of course parallel events that occur during the film to help heal him and make him whole.  And the other parents present in the film are simple jokes from those willing to cheat to others pressuring their children to win unwilling to accept failure. 

Yes the film’s falls into contrived traps and simplistic story elements at times, but somehow these never drag it down.  Maybe it’s the spelling bee, maybe it’s the young cast, or just maybe it’s such a warm-hearted and likeable film it would take a robot not to melt at least a little.  It’s an enjoyable and even exciting film that audiences of all ages can enjoy.  This isn’t the first film of this type made (nor even the first with Fishburne – check out Searching for Bobby Fischer) but it’s heart is in the right place and is a good film that the entire family can enjoy together.

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United 93

by Alan Rapp on April 28, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

As you look at reviews for this film I predict that you’ll find many that will fall into two categories.  The first will praise the film for tackling such a tragedy.  The second will dismiss the film out-of-hand for exploiting 9/11 for box office cash.  I’m going to try something a little different and try to review the film first and most importantly as a film and only then address the social/moral grounds.

United 93
3 & 1/2 Stars

United 93 is an interesting and captivating film without actually haviing much to say about the 9/11 terrorist attack.  In many ways it can be compared to your average action/thriller but because the events that it deals with are both factual and terrifying one would thing it would try a little harder to be more.

The film isn’t an analytical look examining the causes and effects of the event.  Nor is it a character study as it never stays with any character long enough for us to distinguish one from the other (we don’t even get their names).  Nor does the film try to put the events into a historical perspective.

So what does the film do?  The film’s main objective is to present writer/direct Paul Greengrass’s vision of what took place that fateful morning on one of the hijacked planes and on the ground as air traffic controllers, and the US military and government, unsure of what was happening, and unable to communicate effectively, failed to stop one tragedy from becoming four.

A group of Arab terrorists (Lewis Alsamari, Jamie Harding, Omar Berdouni, Khalid Abdalla) board Untied Arilines flight 93 on the morning of September 11.  Because of delays with take-off they wait on the runway while members of other terrorist cells hijack their planes and proceed and crash them into their targets.  Finally the terrorist on flight 93 seize control and as the frightened passengers learn from talking with their loved ones on airine and cell phones about other planes that have crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon they decide they have no choice but to fight back by trying to retake the plane.

The film tries very hard not to exploit the situation and for the most part does suceed.  It would have been extremely easy to make this either overtly sentimental, preachy, or in bad taste too action oriented.  Director Paul Greengrass provides an evenhand in showing the various reactions ane emotions of the terrorists, the flight personel on the ground, the military, and the passengers.

One choice the film makes is to keep each of the passengers nameless.  Though the actors are credited with playing the actual people aboard the plane the film doesn’t take time to look at who they are and how they came to be onboard.  This groups all of them, flight crew included, into a single group of victims and potential heroes.  However it doesn’t really let us get to know the actual people to any degree.  So the film fails in its attempt to make the people seem more real by not distinguishing them from each other; it only makes them into nameless stock film characters in a disaster film.  We learn more about the terrorists (though to be fair, not much more), who don’t even speak English and aren’t given subtitles.  The film is relying entirely on the viewer knowing that these events are real and offers no on-screen reason to invest in the characters or situation.

The visual style of the film really bothered me.  The film is shot almost entirely on small sets (the plane and cramped offices) with shaky hand-held crameras.  The motivation behind this choice seems to be the cramped sets and your face shooting style would give the film a more realisic look.  The result however is sketchy at best.  The style is annoying, often not capturing what we want to see, bobbing up and down and taking your focus off the action to wonder if the camera man has cerebral palsy, and in the end feels cheap rather than real.

Where the film succeeds is in keeping your interest and attention.  Despite it’s many faults (and the fact that you know how it will end) you still get caught up in the drama.  The reaction scenes to the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are well handled as is the sense of incomprehension by those not believing what is happening before their eyes.

Director Paul Greengrass makes an interesting decision in casting many of the flight controllers as themselves which adds a little to the realism and credibitiy of the film.  Actually all the best scenes of the film take place on the ground as the various workers try to understand what has happened and figure out a plan of action.  I wish the entire movie had been made from this perspective and we were never shown what happened on the plane.  I think it would have been much more meaningful and would have caught the feeling of helplessness and hoplelessness so many felt that day.

The cast and crew do a remarkable job making a film that it can be debated whether or not should be made and if it (and to what level it) exploits the tragedy of 9/11.  Despite the flaws of the film there is much of value here and it is definately worth seeing; though a film with this subject manner should have more to say rather than just put on a show.  Although Greengrass gives us a compelling look at the events of that morning by the end we don’t know anything more than we did when the film began about the people onbard flight 93.  It’s an ambitious attempt but the movie would have better served to try and do less and do it better.  If the film had just focused on the terrorists, or the ground, or a small section of the pasesngers it could have gone into more depth than the cursiorary glance we get at all these separate stories.

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Hard Candy

by Alan Rapp on April 27, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

I can’t say I really enjoyed Hard Candy.  What do you say about a film in which the protagonist (a 14 year-old girl) tortures a 32 year-old pedophile to such an extent that she becomes as evil (if not more so) than the object of her rage?  Not exactly your Friday night date movie.  The film opened in limited release in New York and Los Angeles two weeks ago pulling in $127,000 on a grand total of two screens.  It opens wide tomorrow; so if the subject matter doesn’t completely make your skin crawl then check out the review…

Hard Candy
3 Stars

A two actor performance piece about a a deranged and vindictive 14 year-old girl and a pedophile.  Yeah…you might say this isn’t exactly for everybody.  I saw the film in a mostly empty theater during a press screening and I’m pretty sure I would not want to view it in a crowded one.  It’s an intensely uncomfortable experience that never quite justifies what it puts the audience through, but there are points to, well not exactly enjoy, but at least appreciate.

Jeff (Patrick Wilson) is a photographer who has an attraction to underage young girls who he meets online.  As the film opens he has made a date with 14 year-old Hayley (Ellen Page) to meet at a local coffee shop.  The two rendezvous and talk and eventually go back to his place where they share some more conversation over drinks.  Everything seems to be going swimmingly for Jeff until he faints and wakes up tied to his chair with Hayley in control calling him a pervert and a predator.

Hayley proceeds to verbally abuse Jeff as she searches through his house for evidence of child pornography and proof that he’s responsible for the abduction and possible murder of an underage girl from the same coffee shop.  Jeff at first can’t comprehend his new condition as this young girl has turned the tables on him and seems to grow crazier the longer this goes on.  Hayley even goes so far as to tie him to the table and offer her own solution to his problem by suggesting and performing (guys, prepare to wince) an impromptu circumcision.

The film is not for everyone and truthfully most people will be quite uncomfortable through parts if not all of the film.  The issues the film raises are serious ones and it never takes them lightly in Hayley’s search for justice and truth.  The problem becomes we never are let into the reasons behind her crazed mission and so she comes off as bad, if not worse, than the child molester (something quite remarkable but not necessarily good for the film).

The performances are outstanding in what amounts to basically a two-man play (in fact I think this material would work much better on stage than in a theater where I don’t think casual observers are going to be comfortable with the subject matter).  Ellen Page plays Hayley with a multitude of colors and layers letting us see her childhood innocence and her very adult cynical attitudes that lead to violent outbursts and some shocking actions.  Wilson has the uninviable job of making the pedophile the victim of the piece and does well with such a near impossible task.

The film veers off from time to time as events happen and Hayley proves so resilient and intelligent (even clairvoyant at times) that by the end of the film its hard to take her seriously as an actual 14 year-old (or even human for that matter).  The film’s length and rather unsatisfying ending may also leave viewers a little cold to a film that although it has a lot to say in the end doesn’t really have a point.

Still the film will illicit a reaction from you the audience member and is different enough with good performances for me to recommend it to people that can stomach the subject matter.  Be warned however despite how well it is made it’s not an easy film to take, nor in the end that satisfying of one.  And you might want to budget some time afterwards to go home and shower..

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Killer Interview

by Alan Rapp on April 26, 2006

in Film News & Trailers

Killer Diller might not be a film you know much about.  An independent film shot in Fayette, Missouri in only 26 shooting days follows the tale of a group of convicts in a religious themed half-way house as they strive to bring the music of the Lord and eventually play the blues.  Quirky?  Off-beat?  Yes, and also very entertaining.  You’ll have to wait a couple days for my full review, but today we’ve got another treat for you.  Tricia Brock (the writer/director of the film) sat down for a round table interview recently to tell a few Kansas City journalists about her film and we were lucky enough to be invitied…

Interview with Killer Diller writer/director Tricia Brock
N/A

In promoting her first feature film Killer Diller writer/director Tricia Brock came to Kansas City and took part in a round table interview with local journalists.  Brock’s independent film (shot in 26 days in Fayette, Missouri for just over $2 million) tells the tale of a group of convicts in a half-way house with the introduction of a guitar playing car thief and the help of a local autistic piano player come together to form the Killer Diller Blues Band. 

After two years (the film was finished in 2004) it will finally get a limited regional release this Friday (make sure to check back on Friday for our full review) in Kansas City, St. Louis, Columbia, Memphis, and Nashville.  Hopefully the film will make enough noise to attract enough fans and garner support for a wider release next month.

How did the novel by Clive Edgerton come to you?

The Novel

I read a review in the New York Times; one of those little paragraph reviews.  And there were two phrases that popped out: one was “quirky characters” and I went right for that of course, and the other was “blues guitar.” 

It was those two things that made me want to read the book.  And then when I read the book I said this would make a fabulous film; this would be the kind of film that I would want to see.

Did the novel’s author have any input into the movie?

No, but he loves it – which to this day is one of my great thrills.  He actually came to location and he is in the movie.  The day that he left, now that he’s seen it, he said, “Now I can die a happy man.”

You use the Missouri setting quite a bit in the film.  Was the novel set in Missouri?

No, North Carolina.  Because I revered the writer and wanted to do justice by his work I was going to shoot it there.  I actually went to a festival in Wilmington with a short film I’d made and went location scouting and just couldn’t find it.  I just didn’t see any small college campus setting and rolling hills that was appealing.  I said to Clyde where was this town you’ve written about?  And he said he made it up.

Meanwhile my mother told me I ought to shoot the film in Fayette, Missouri.  Luckily we were on the phone so she couldn’t see my eyes rolling.  She called Jerry Jones, the head of the Missouri Film Commission, and told him about the project and he went up and photographed several places, one of which was Fayette.  The minute I saw it I said that’s it.

Was it hard to get the cast to come to Fayette?

No, RonReaco Lee who plays Ben Ashley, he’s from Georgia and lives in L.A., he turned to me at one point like week three and said it will never be like this again; you just don’t know how special this is.  It was a tight-knit community; everybody on that set for whatever reason loved being there, believed in the film, was excited about it. 

I had crew from St. Louis, crew from Kansas City, and at one time or another almost everyone came up to me and said this movie is the reason I got into the business, this is the movie I hoped I would get to work on.  It was like that the whole time.  I was held up by good will and they all killed themselves.  Everyone cried when they had to leave.

How was it shooting on a college campus?

Shooting in Fayette, MO

It was great.  Obviously there are places one could go that would not be as accommodating as Central Methodist University.  We were also there when they were out of school.  I was a little worried about that because I didn’t want the campus to look dead, but enough people showed up, and we had enough extras and we pulled from the university.

For the campus housing did you use sorority or fraternity houses?

No just houses that we saw and of course Vernon’s house out in the country, about ten or fifteen minutes away.  You could not set dress [to improve the look]; I defy anyone that could equal that.  We didn’t do a thing. 

Did Missouri seem different when you returned here to make the film?

No, I mean I come back here all the time.  What I loved about it though, where we were, and there’s many parts of Missouri that are like that, is how unspoiled it is and how there’s a timelessness about it.  Which is one of those things which has helped me with the release of this film because it was finished two years ago.  It’s a film you could look at ten years ago it could have been made it could be made ten years from now. 

You said the phrase blues guitar immediately grabbed your attention.  Had you been exposed to that sort of music?

I just loved it and I’ve tried to find what that’s grounded in and I can’t.  I grew up in Southern Missouri; my parents listened to Mitch Miller or church music.  It was something from the time of my early 20’s.  I just think it’s one of our greatest American art forms. 

What I love [about the film] is the music progression mirrors the character progression.  The music really is a character in the film.  It starts out very slow when they are estranged from each other and then it starts to warm up when Vernon comes into the mix and then it just takes off and sails when they start playing blues.  That was something I wanted to achieve and I hope I did.

You use so much music in the film did you have trouble getting rights to songs?

No, it was all cleared in advance.  It was a process and it wasn’t easy.  I lost some things I had wanted that we couldn’t afford.  If it wasn’t public domain we had to be able to negotiate the rights, but most of the ones I really loved are in there.  We had to be very careful because if we didn’t have the rights you couldn’t show it anywhere.

One of the things that was a potential challenge was how would you portray religion in the film?

I found Fred Willard’s character misguided, he was well intentioned, but misguided in how he felt he was going to rehabilitate these kids.  Though I found his earnestness not only funny but oddly touching.  For me, some of it might be considered tongue-in-cheek but I think for those who are more of that philosophy from what I’ve understood they are not offended.  I think, if I’m lucky, what will happen depending on who you are that will affect your response.

Your degree is in journalism; has that had any impact in your filmmaking?

I don’t think so.  I think what it did was it opened a door to expose me to production and the world of media.  My first job was in advertising, but I found it not very satisfying creatively.  I was a girl slave, but I was very inspired being a young girl out of school and being around that group of people.  It was just a creative funhouse.

It took a long time to get the courage to call myself a writer then even longer to get the courage to say I wanted to direct.  It just took a long time for me to say it out loud.

How was it different writing and directing this film than say an episode of Twin Peaks or other television?

There’s no comparison.  Something like Twin Peaks you are serving a project that exists and obviously there’s a collaboration and I thought it was brilliant but you are there to serve that vision.  You know you’re a hired gun.  So you go in and part of that challenge is to do it in a very limited amount of time and you have to be fast and win over the actors and plan your shots.  It’s a crash course in film school in three weeks.  Features are a long time, the minimum it would be is two years of my life.  So it is nice to go in, it’s not my creation.  I have a very specific job to do, to go in and get out.  I love all my shows, I love working on The L Word and working on Huff and I’m going to do a Deadwood [episode].  I’m scarred but mainly I just can not wait.

When you are working on your own thing it’s much closer to your heart certainly, you have more responsibility so it’s a little scarier, and ultimately more satisfying because it’s yours.  Although I still thought I had to serve the book but at a certain point, it was a long process.  I think the last two or three drafts I put the book down and would not pick it up again because you get very hamstrung with the novel.  Finally at the end of the day my job was to take his book and make it a movie.

The way you depicted autism must have been a challenge?

Yes, but as you’ll notice we never talk about it, never refer to it, never give it a name.  Vernon is just Vernon.  And he has his own growth in the movie as he comes out of his shell a little bit.  For me it was challenging for that character to have his own dignity, which I think he does, and to be treated like all the other characters as a character in the movie.

Did you have certain people in mind when you were writing the screenplay?

I always saw Fred and I have to say Lucas.  I had to fly to Alabama and drive down a long country road to go to Lucas’ house and have dinner with him.  He didn’t really want to do the movie; he just wanted to be at home.  It was hunting season, but his mom, I owe it to these women – my mother, Mary Willard, and Lucas’ mom.  So I could tell to sit at his dinner table and talk to his family and pitch my movie was going to get nowhere.  Near the end I started talking to him about the only thing I knew I could engage him in was hunting.  That boy got up and went and got his scrapbook.  I looked at every bloody carcass of every deer that kid had shot his entire life.  Then he went and got his bow, because he’s a bow hunter, and I’m standing in his kitchen and he’s showing me how to hold the bow and that’s how we found our way to each other or I found my way to him.  Then a lot more time passed as money fell in and out.  Then he came to L.A. to audition for something else and I introduced him to Will and they really liked each other and that helped me a lot.

How did Fred Willard come to the film?

He read the script and with a lot of begging from me.  And I have a tremendous debt to his wife Mary who read the script and said Fred you’re doing this.

What about John Michael Higgins?

I’m just crazy about him, he’s hysterical.  Fred was on and John Michael came on later and they were just fabulous together.  Those were some of my favorite days.  Truthfully as a director my job with those two guys was to get out of their way and just let them do what they know how to do.

Fred Willard here is playing a more well-rounded character than his Christopher Guest film roles.  Was that a concern?

It’s not that I was worried about it but I knew I didn’t want him to do a parody and we talked about it because I had to be careful.  I think he’s amazing.  He said how do you see Ned?  And I just answered him in one word and that’s all I ever had to say.  And I said – real. 

Fred was just amazing, I wrote the script and I would be on set watching a scene and watching Fred take what I knew I had written but his timing and his phrasing were so good I didn’t recognize it.  He just raised the bar for everybody they loved working with him.  Isn’t he kind of vulnerable?  I think he is.  All of it is scripted but at the end of a line he might throw in something of his own.  I’m not saying that every single word Fred says I wrote but the essence was there and he definitely made it his own.

Was it tricky to take no musicians and have them movie and perform as a band?

There were those who said you’re setting yourself up, it’s your first movie and what you are trying to do is impossible.  The told me to find another script or take the music out but I never considered it, never wavered, I was going to do this.  There were some moments of magic where it all worked. 

When you cast the film were you looking for both actors and musicians?

I was.  Shanita who’s played by Niki Crawford had to sing.  I had a real drummer; you cannot cheat playing the drums.  And then the two guitar players and the piano players are [staged].  I was stuck.  I had to have actors that could act but if this band does not work as a band I don’t have a movie.  I had to have two things work hand in glove. 

Of all of them, the best musician, an accomplished musician you should get his CD is Jared Tyler who plays the bald headed kid Raymond.  He isn’t an actor but I knew I wanted him in the movie and it adds a wonderful dimension to it.  Every night in the motel they would all play music with Jared that just created this atmosphere where they were all just picking stuff up all the time.  So that’s why Jared’s there.

How much rehearsal time did you have?

Very little, we had them for about a week.  I started them off in L.A. a little bit but Lucas was in Alabama so I didn’t have him, but Lucas is such a natural performer.  Like for example the big auditorium scene at the end I had Jeff Balko whose hands we used play the song and then Lucas just stood there and watched him.  I had everybody standing by and called action and he was able because there are times I pan down to his hands from his face to match.  He just did it.

The addition of one person to the mix made everyone else sound good.

Meaning Vernon, yes.  I use the analogy of playing tennis and when you play with somebody better your game improves.  He upped the bar and they were all just inspired because before Vernon they’re resisting Wesley they just think he’s blowing more smoke.

You bookend the film with Taj Mahal playing on the National Steel Guitar on an empty stage.  Where did that idea come from?

I just think Taj Mahal and the character of JR is the spirit of the movie.  And I really felt that blues is an uniquely African-American art form and it’s from that character that Wesley learned so I felt he was the inspiration and the spirit of the film.

You had originally titled the film Bottleneck?

It was originally titled Killer Diller which is the name of the novel but the working title during production was Bottleneck.  We’re an independent film, Tom Cruise is not in my movie, Paramount is not distributing it and we are not on 3,500 screens. 

Everyone said you are out of your mind to have an independent film with a title like Killer Diller and it’s not a horror film.  I listened and listened and I finally said okay.  Bottleneck everyone felt more reflected bottleneck blues, more reflected the music, and so that’s what we went with.  Then we finished the film and after the experience of seeing the film, if I can just get people in there to see it, the [original] title makes perfect sense.  It just felt more true.

With your experience on this film would you want to do another independent film?

I used to say next time I’m doing it for less than three million dollars.  I don’t want to do twenty million or fifteen million.  That’s not what I aspire to do.  I mean five million; I would not know what to do. That would be for me my Titanic.  I am of the philosophy of less is more.  I really think when you’re creatively smacked up against a wall I love to see the creative solutions that come out of that.  When you don’t have the cranes, and you don’t have CGI, all the bells and whistles I think that’s more authentic.  I’m never going to be that kind of high concept film maker, I’m much more into character stories.  There’s no reason you can’t do them for less money,

How did you finance the film?

After I had a script that I was somewhat happy with I applied to the AFI’s directing workshop for women which is a very prestigious program.  This program is three weeks but 75 or 80% of female directors working in Hollywood have been through this program.  It’s like a stamp of approval.  It took me over five years; I applied three times, and the third time I got in.  The year I got in there were 400 applications, they chose 40 for the final interview process, and out of the 40 the picked eight.  So that gives you an idea of how hard it is.  Since then they’ve kind of teased me about you’re one of those who was going to do it anyway, but I wasn’t.  I didn’t have the $50,000 to put on a credit card to go off and make a short film.  I didn’t have those resources and I knew this would be my ticket.  I got into AFI 2001, and finished in 2002.  I’m like their postal child now, they have me back all the time to speak and teach classes. 

So I made a short film, that I’m not sure ever worked as a short film.  It was called “The Car Kid”  and was about when Wesley and Vernon met.  And I took a piece of my feature script, which I already had, because I wanted a calling card for the feature.  One advantage of being around Hollywood for as long as I have is you have met a few people.  So I was able through various contacts to get James Franco played Wesley, Brad Renfro played Vernon, and Meatloaf played the father.  I had three amazing actors; it was a five day shoot.  I think you can see that film online.  People saw what I could do; the music in it was amazing. 

Then I had something other than a script.  I went out and got a producer, Jason Clark, and we went about trying to finance it.  We were budgeted at four million dollars.  We got a fianancier in Seattle and then a fiancier in Texas the Seattle fell out two months before we were supposed to shoot and rather than just go to bed for the next ten years I cut the budget in half.  I had already made all my deals with my actors.  I had to go to Kodak and all the equipment houses and made a four million budget into two, and that’s with all the music, so I could still make the film.  By that time we had been given the tax credit by Missouri so that helped; the Missouri Film Commission was instrumental in getting the film made. 

It was rough.  I sat with the line producer and just started cutting everything.  I just told everybody it’s this or it’s never going to happen.  You could spend another year, or two years, or ten years looking for two million dollars or just take what you’ve got and go.  It was a great shoot, we had a blast.

How did you find the inspiration to stick with this?  It sounds like you were beset with doubts?

Not once I started shooting but until then.  It’s very lonely having an idea that’s only your idea.  It is the artist’s way to have you vision and hold on to it.  I always knew it could be what it is, something special.  It was a real journey when I started to write it then I thought I would write and produce it and then finally I was going to direct it.  It really came in stages and I did other things during those years to make a living. 

It’s because of this film I now direct in television and I work a lot for Showtime with The L Word and Huff and will do a Deadwood [episode] next year.  I will be the first woman [to direct Deadwood].  It’s taken two years; you’re rolling a boulder up a hill the whole time.  It’s a hard business anyway and even harder for women.  Someone told me an appalling statistic, what’s the biggest boys club The United State Senate, but there are more women working in the Senate proportionately than women in Hollywood.  I did an episode of Grey’s Anatomy a few weeks ago.  There is no comparison; it cured me of network television.  HBO is impossible to break into, there are very few women, but if I do one that does well…  You have to be so determined and tenacious.  There’s a great quote I used to read almost daily something about the world is full of unrewarded genius but perseverance is what will take the day.

Check out the Killer Diller Homepage

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New on DVD

by Alan Rapp on April 25, 2006

in Home Video/DVD News 

We’re here to let you know what’s out there for your entertainment dollar.  Every week a new batch of DVD’s gets shipped out and thrown onto the shelves.  This week we’ve got the latest from Woody Allen, Heath Ledger (making love to women this time), Charlize Theron as an assassin and Claire Danes as a shopgirl, and season sets of American Dad, The Waltons, and Nero Wolfe.  All of that and more; take a peek inside for the full list.

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Here’s what is getting released today on DVD:

Film:

Match Point – Woody Allen’s tale of a cunning young man (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) that marries for money but can’t quite get his new brother-in-law’s girlfriend (Scarlett Johansson) out of his mind or bed despite the inevitable consequences.  Like recent Allen DVD’s this is a bare-bone edition without even so much as a trailer.  Check out the original review.

Casanova – Heath Ledger as the legendary lover of women who finally meets his match in this farcical romantic comedy from director Lasse Hallstrom.  The DVD contains commentary by the director, a making of the film featurette, extended scenes and featurettes on re-making 18th Century Venice and the costumes of the film.  Read the original review.

Shopgirl – Steve Martin’s novella makes one big dud of a film that easily found its way onto my worst of 2005 list.  No one comes off well here in this tale of Mirabelle (Claire Danes) a simple shopgirl pesude by two equally undesirable men (Steve Martin, Jason Schwartzman).  The DVD contains commentary by director Anand Tucker, deleted scenes, and a making of the film featurette.  Read the original review.

Tristan + Isolde

– Romeo and Juliet lite.  Tale of a knight (James Franco) and his love affair with the future Queen of England (Sophia Myles).  The DVD includes commentary tracks with the executive producer Jim Lemly and co-producer Annelai, and screenwriter Dean Georgaris, a featurette on the making of the film, a still photo gallery, music video and trailer and TV spots.

Special Editions:

Aeon Flux (Collector’s Edition) – Movie adaption of the MTV cartoon starring Charlize Theron as the beautiful assassin trying to overthrow the government.  The DVD contians commentary by Theron and producer Gale Anne Hurd and co-screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfered, and five features on the stunts, locations, set photography, costume design, and the world of Aeon Flux.

The Patriot (Extended Cut) – Mel Gibson kills a whole bunch of British (wait, didn’t he do that in Braveheart?) in this extended version with an exta 10 minutes added to the theatrical release, featurettes on the visual effects, battle scenes, and real patriots of the time period, concept art designs, filmographies, and photo galleries.

The Wedding Singer (Totally Awesome Edition) – Re-release of Adam Sandler singing horribly at weddings, making fun of the 1980’s, and winning the heart of Drew Barrymore.  This edition contains ‘80’s mix tapes, a jump-to-a-song feature, a look at the Broadway show based on the film, and featurettes.

Family/Animated:

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children – Computer animated sequel to Final Fantasy VII involves a disease called Seikon-Shoukougun.  The two-disc DVD contains both Japanese and English tracks, deleted scenes, a featurette on the video game, a making of the film featurette, footage from the Venice Film Festival, deleted scenes, and a sneak peek at future Final Fantasy games.

Little Einsteins – Team Up for Adventure – Disney’s precocious pre-schoolers go on musical adventures around the world.  The DVD also contains a bonus never-before-seen adventure and a game for young children.

TV:

Nero Wolfe – The Complete Classic Whodunit Series – Adapted from the novels of Rex Stout, a brillant overweight detective (Maury Chaykin) solves mysteries from his home with the legwork from his partner Archie Goodwin (Timothy Hutton).  All 20 episodes of the 2001 A&E series are collected here.

American Dad – Vol. 1 – Lackluster sequel property from the creators of Family Guy involves a CIA agent who stives to protect his family including an alien houseguest.  The first volume includes the first 13 episodes of the series (12 with commentary), animatics, table reads, deleted scenes, and a behind the scenes featurette.

The WaltonsThe Complete Third Season – Those wacky Waltons in all 24 episodes of fun in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Good night John-Boy.

Law & Order: Trial by JuryThe Complete Series – Failed Law & Order spin-off tracing the entire process of a legal system from arraignment to trial only lasted 13 episodes all included here with the Law and Order: SVU cross-over, deleted scenes, and featurette.

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This Week

by Alan Rapp on April 24, 2006

in Film News & Trailers

So what’s out there this week.  Well today we’ll take a look at the films scheduled to be released this Friday including the first 9/11 feature film, gymnasts getting the Bring it On treatment, a “killer” blues band, Robin Williams, and the national spelling bee.  All that and more; read on…

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Here’s what’s scheduled to hit theaters this week.  Want to know more, just click on the title for film info including a full cast list.  Want a closer look, just click on the poster to watch the trailer.

Akeelah and the Bee

Warm-hearted tale of a young girl (Keke Palmer) from Crenshaw who begins to train for the National Spelling Bee.  Great acting by the child actors (J.R. Villarreal, Sean Michael, Sahara Garey) and some not too shabby adults as well (Laurence Fishburne, Angela Basset, and Curtis Armstrong).  The family friendly plot shoud make Akeelah score with large enough audiences to become a modest hit.  The film was written and directed by Doug Atchison (The Pornographer).  Check back on Friday for our full review.

United 93

The first feature film to deal with the events of 9/11 (the film was rushed through production to beat out Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center).  The film deals with the many issues of the morning but focuses mainly on the United Airlines flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania.  Based on cell phone and airplane recordings of the passengers attempt to retake the plane and the miscommunication of the agencies learning of the hijackings.  Directed by Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy).  The trailers were pulled from NY City after complaints prompting the question, it too soon?  Check back on Friday for our full review.

Stick It

The latest from Jessica Bendinger (she wrote Bring it On) who does double duty as writer and director in this comedy about the wold of big competition gymnastics.  The film focuses on wild child Haley (Missy Peregrym) who despite unlimited talent left the sport costing her team a chance at a gold medal, but due to her legal troubles is forced to return to a world she no longer wants to be a part of.  Jeff Bridges signs on as the coach.  The film takes a look at the hard training involved and takes a shot or two at the judging system currently used.  Check back on Friday for our full review.

RV

Robin Williams takes his wife (Cheryl Hines) and kids (Joanna “JoJo” Leversque and Jash Hutcherson) on a roadtrip in an RV to the Colorado Rockies.  According to the trailers hilarity ensues.  Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black and Get Shorty but sadly he’s also responsible for White Noise and Wild Wild West).  Can Robin Williams provoke enough wackiness to make such a lame premise interesting or at least watchable?  Arrested Development fans can look for Will Arnett and Tony Hale amongst the…fun?  Check back on Friday for our full review.

Water

With such an awesome title do I really need to give your more?  Jeez!  The third film in Deepa Mehta’s trilogy (Fire, Earth but oddly no Wind) tells the tale of an eight year-old Indian girl sent to the temple to live in penitence with widows in the holy city of Varansi when her father dies.  Her sudden appearance affects the social outcast women living in forced seclusion including a young widow who falls for a follower of Mahatma Ghandi.  The strong attacks from Hindu fundamentalists (who tried to shut down production with, um, unethical means) have given the film some free, though not great, press.

Killer Diller (limited release)

Based off the novel by Clive Edgerton comes this film by writer/director Tricia Brock about a group of convicts in a halfway house of the Lord playing hymns (rather badly) until the addition of a car thief (William Lee Scott) and an autistic piano savant (Lucas Black) bring the group together in becoming The Killer Diller Blues Band.  The film also co-stars the wonderfully funny Fred Willard and John Michael Higgins.  It’s getting a limited Midwest release with (hopefully) a wider release to come.  We were lucky enough to get an interview with Ms. Brock and we’ll have that for you later this week plus our full review for the film on Friday.

The Lost City (limited release)

Andy Garcia, Dustin Hoffman, Bill Murray – why haven’t I heard of this film before now!  A project Andy Garcia has been trying to get made since he hit Hollywood is a loving look at his native Cuba for his directorial debut.  The story involves a nightclub owner (Garcia) in 1958 Cuba caught between the transition from the oppressive Fulgencio Batista (Juan Fernandez) regime to Fidel Castro’s Marxist government.  Also starring in the film are Ines Sastre, Tomas Milian, Steven Baurer and Jsu Garcia as Che Guevara.  The film is filled with lavish photography and Cuban musical numbers showcasing Garcia’s home country.

Wassup Rockers (limited release)

Hispanic teens blow-off the hip-hop craze in South Central L.A. and grab their skateboards and rock out to pun rock.  Escaping to Beverly Hills they run into trouble with cops and the eccentric elite as they become lost in la-la land and learn important lessons about themselves and the world.  The latest from writer/director Larry Clark (Kids, Bully) was picked as the opening night film for the Slamdance Film Festival.  Like Clark’s other works this stars a collection of unknowns – Jonathan Valasquez, Fransico Pedrasa, Milton Velasquez, Yunior Usualdo Panameno, Luis Rojas-Salagado, Iris Zelaya, ad Ashlye Maldonado.

Guys and Balls (limited release)

Okay, with a title that gay…  The German film (Manner wie wir) from 2004 about a gay teen (Maximilian Bruckner) kicked off his soccer team and with the help of his sister (Lisa Potthoff) and a cranky former star (Dietmar Bar) tries to form his own all gay team to take them on.  Not exactly Bend it Like Becham.  Can the films light-hearted comedy and serious gay themes, in German with English subtitles, with an all German cast and no Hollywood stars play well in the US? 

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The Sentinel

by Aaron on April 21, 2006

in Movie Reviews 

Nearly everything under director Clark Johnson’s (S.W.A.T.) belt is either a procedural cop show or t.v. action drama, and it shows with his latest film, The Sentinel.  This by the book thriller starts with a clever premise and then very quickly breaks what Alan & I call the ‘One Dumb Move Rule’, which trips whenever the simplest decision is overlooked for the sake of convoluting the plot.  Michael Douglas stars as an aging Secret Service man whose watched those he’s trained surpass him in the ranks, with Keifer Sutherland as his once-friend-now-pursurer who thinks Douglas is behind an assasination attempt on the president.  It’s difficult to get into the specifics of this one without giving away all the ‘twists’, but needless to say this film, while passable, runs more like an extended pilot than a cinematic experience. 

The Sentinel
2 & 1/2 Stars

Remember when it seemed like every other film was about the President of the United States?  What happened to that trend? Oh yeah, Clinton left office.  It’s telling when the only time Hollywood looks to the White House for material it’s either damning (see American Dreamz) or focusing on the underlings who make things run.  One would think that In the Line of Fire closed the book on Secret Service films, but apparently that was not to be.  Are we better off for having reopened the veiled windows of what goes on with the President’s bodyguards once more?  Let’s find out, shall we?

  Secret Service guard to the First Lady Pete Garrison (Douglas) is a well respected and admired agent who nonetheless has managed to alienate his pal David Breckinridge (Southerland), and keep himself from rising any higher in the organization. 

When a colleague is murdered, Garrison crosses paths with Breckinridge and his newest investigator Jill Marin (Eva Longoria who has absolutely nothing do to in this film), as they all attempt to track down the details of a plot against President Ballentine (David Rasche, otherwise known as Sledgehammer). 

When suspicious arises that the plot is being abetted by one of the Secret Service’s own, Garrison faces the possibility that his indulgence in a particular executive perk will be exposed, and he’s subsequently set up as a patsy by the unseen force behind the plot.  Investigation and chasing ensue.

That’s it, really.  The Sentinel is nearly indistinguishable from any number of ‘innocent man on the run’ films, including this year’s entry in the seemingly endless ‘Harrison Ford’s Family Is In Danger’ catalogue, Firewall.  Cliched might be too kind a word to bestow upon this rather run of the mill thriller, as you’ve got the hot young gun with something to prove, two old pals torn apart by personal issues yet forced to work together (Will they make up? Oh noes!), the ‘this is your worst nightmare’ speech, and twists that could be figured out by the end of an extended trailer.  Folks, this plot is older than cave painting.

Of course, there’s no shame in covering already well-paved roads, as long as you can bring something unique to the table, right?  Well, yah, but don’t look to director Clark Johnson to deliver anything especially groundbreaking.  Though his work in television has touched a lot of groundbreaking series, his efforts here result in nothing more ambitious than a particularly big budget TV movie.  In fact, the only semi-unique touch this film offers is the ridiculous notion that a Secret Service agent (one of the toughest gigs to get EVER) would betray his President.  Oh, and a long shot of Eva Longoria’s panted ass, but I’m pretty sure that happens every week on Desperate Housewives.

In the end, The Sentinel is a pretty non-taxing thriller that probably won’t elicit any strong feelings from you.  It’s not quite gawdawful to be truly abhorrent, but neither is it remarkable enough to be more than yet another entry into this years so far lackluster film experience. 

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