In a good horror story, viewers are always surprised by who the real villain is. It is when monsters do not look like monsters that we are simultaneously horrified and curious. Preying our how our eyes fool us into believing that a young child is nothing to be afraid of, TRUE BLOOD has introduced the diabolical Alexander Drew, a vampire who only looks so innocent and sweet. In a recent exclusive interview, young star Jacob Hopkins shared what he enjoys about playing the monster behind the eyes of a child.
How exciting is it to work on TRUE BLOOD?
JACOB: You know, I’ve never seen the show because it’s for an older audience. So I didn’t know how it would go, but to tell you the truth, it is really fun. There’s the fangs, and they are better than the plastic ones. They are way cool. They look so real and match my teeth color. There’s also the wardrobe, I get to wear a suit. That’s really cool ’cause I feel like an adult — and the set was so beautiful. It was like out of a movie. There were so many people on set, so many different cameras, and it was very busy but everyone knew exactly what to do. We would rehearse in the morning before we would shoot and there was a lot of joking and laughing. I had a lot of fun. So it is pretty cool.
So you had a great time portraying Alexander. What drew you to the character?
JACOB: The character is really creepy and stuff. So what drew me to him was he is an interesting monster. The show explores a lot of monsters and I like characters that are monster-like, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That sort of personality is really fascinating and that’s pretty much how Alexander is. He kind of has a really sly and sarcastic side to him, but then he’s also got a tough side. Most monsters are kind of curious, and that’s how Alexander is. He is pretty obnoxious and full of himself, but he’s pretty serious too. Like he never jokes around with the other vampires. He is very feisty and strong-minded vampire, and he has a little dark side to him. I don’t know, maybe there is some good in him, but he never shows it. He is a pretty mean vampire — let me just say that! [Laughs] I like that we really get to explore him this season.
Is there one particular quality about him that you really appreciate?
JACOB: I really appreciate that he’s a quick thinker. He always has a good come-back or something, and he really thinks deep. He knows people better than you think he does and he’s kind of quiet. He is also a talkative person, but at the same time, he thinks a lot. While talking a lot, he also thinks in his head. Like he killed an Authority member without a second thought. He thinks quick like that. I think that’s really cool.
What do you think his goals are? What is he trying to accomplish?
JACOB: Well, every vampire on the Authority wants to accomplish the same goals: mainstreaming. But like any other authority, there are the debates, the disagreements. Every council does that, and sometimes things gets a little heated with each other.
Is Alexander just thirsting for blood, or is he thirsting for power?
JACOB: He’s pretty much one of those vampires who wants power. He wants to be the most powerful vampire in the world. But there are two things in his way: Roman and Russell. He tries to get them out of the way because he’s pretty much full of himself. ‘Cause, like I said, he only thinks about himself. People don’t really think he could be the most powerful vampire because of my looks. He’s like an old man stuck in a little kid’s body. But he only looks like a 9 year old, but if you want to talk authority, he’s got authority. He’s that important; he doesn’t look that way.
He probably uses the fact that he looks so young to his advantage. Do you think that makes him a smarter enemy in conquering those who stand in his way?
JACOB: I guess, yeah. Looking young has its advantages. Like he looks so innocent and sweet and he’s really the big bad, horrible monster. So he can do something like this: he goes up to a mortal and because he looks so innocent and sweet, and they will be like, “What a cute little boy!” Then he just drops his fangs out and bites them. So he can use that to his advantage.
He’s also kind of a mischief maker. Are we going to see more of his calculating side, or are we going to see more of his fun side, creating more mischief?
JACOB: He is creating a lot of mischief so far and he’s not a nice vampire. But he respects Roman a lot and he behaves as much as possible around him.
Who has been your favorite character on TRUE BLOOD so far?
JACOB: Alexander is a feisty and strong-minded vampire. He’s the kind of vampire who is very sneaky and he is a really smart vampire. He’s also very important and wise, and he makes himself heard a lot. He certainly has his own opinions and it doesn’t have anything to do with the importance of himself. So I guess he’s my favorite vampire since he’s pretty cool. I also like Roman too ’cause he looks really cool. He’s got this really cool suit and Chris is a really good actor and he makes Roman come alive.
What can you like to tease about what’s upcoming for Alexander?
JACOB: I can’t tell you! [Laughs] But I can tell you that I love my job. You’re going to be surprised. There’s twists and turns and drama. So you’ll have to wait and see.
Tiffany Vogt blogs at The TV Addict.
Steve Harvey’s best-selling advice book “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man” was translated into the film Think Like a Man earlier this year. The transition from ink and paper to celluloid was a successful one, resulting in a movie adaptation that received surprisingly solid marks from critics (read our review) – given Hollywood’s underwhelming track record, when it comes to turning popular dating advice books into star-studded events (He’s Just Not That Into You, looking at you).
The aspect of Think Like a Man‘s success that’s surely pleased Screen Gems the most is a $93 million worldwide gross on a $12 million budget. Hence, it’s little surprise that development has begun on a sequel (we’ll call it Think Like a Man 2, for now).
Screen Gems’ Think Like a Man sequel will be scripted by the same duo who wrote its predecessor, Keith Merryman and David A. Newman (they also penned Friends with Benefits). The screenwriters have established a reputation for churning out rom-coms that resonate with contemporary audiences, but do not stray far from the tried-and-true plot formulas and conventions which have earned the sub-genre fans since… well, the early days of narrative filmmaking, to be honest.
Harvey will be back as an executive producer on Think Like a Man 2, with Rob Hardy and Rushion McDonald; Will Packer is also returning, in a producer capacity. It stands to reason that the central cast from the first film (including, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Taraja P. Henson, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, and Chris Bown) will likewise be brought back, as could also be the case with director Tim Story.
Think Like a Man 2 will presumably travel a path similar to the first film, following the various male and female “players” as navigate the “game” of evolving relationships. Rom-com sequels are a rare species, as most filmmakers hold off on continuing the love story – or stories, in the case of Think Like a Man – after the happy ending (or something close to that) has seemingly been reached.
Think Like a Man 2 could turn out okay, assuming the original cast returns (screen chemistry intact). Not to mention: so long as Merryman and Newman refrain from simply rehashing what went down in the first film – while passing the sequel off as a “new” chapter in the ongoing story (that’s never happened before, right?).
Of course, the real question is: how much of an informercial will this sequel be for Harvey’s new book, “(Continue To) Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man”? (Zing!)
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.
As festival director Skye Sitney said when introducing the film, it’s one of those stories that “if it were a fictional film, you’d throw up your hands halfway through at how improbable the whole thing is.”
And she’s right. Aside from the fact that it’s chock full of Journey’s ridiculously addicting, rock anthem music, the beauty of the story is that Steven Spielberg couldn’t have scripted the film better if he tried.
It goes something like this: poor kid from the Philippines loses his mom and ends up homeless on the streets of Manila. To support himself, he channels his amazing vocal talent into a gig in a local band. They survive playing covers of American bands like Bon Jovi and Journey. The kid grows up, keeps singing, battles drug and alcohol abuse and tries to launch a solo career that goes nowhere. By the time he turns 40, he’s so despondent that he’s ready to give up on music altogether. Just as he’s deciding to pack it in, he gets an email from the states – it’s Neal Schon from Journey. The band is desperately searching for the perfect new front man and they’ve stumbled across video of the kid on YouTube singing Journey covers. They’re blown away. Can he come to the US to audition in person?
Thus begins the wildly implausible and totally enthralling story of how Arnel Pineda – former street kid from Manila – became the new Steve Perry, helped Journey score their first platinum album ever, and now travels around the world playing to sold out stadium crowds.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a soft spot for Journey about a mile wide (and not just because they have best musical shout out to the Motor City in all of rock and roll). So, as a Journey fan and the daughter of native Detroiters who’s a sucker for a good Cinderella story, the film bordered on a religious experience.
As a filmmaker who’s constantly working to hone my own craft, it was about 20 minutes too long and lacked a clear narrative arc, especially when it came to Diaz’s coverage of the band’s history and own trajectory. And whatever HAPPENED to Steve Perry, anyway? The question looms large and never really gets answered. That said, Arnel and his story are thoroughly riveting, the band is actually refreshingly humble and easy to connect with, and watching the transformation and rebirth of both Journey and the kid from Manila is a pretty powerful experience.
There are so many moments in the film that are documentary gold, but the final concert scene where native son made good comes home, complete with close-up on wife wiping away tears, holding baby as she watches her husband perform for tens of thousands of adoring, screaming fans as the wind whips her hair was straight out of Hollywood. It’s like you’re pulling so hard for Pineda that you’re pulling for Diaz, too, even when the film falls short. All in all, it’s a story that could only happen in America, covered in pixie dust. Well shot and totally worth seeing.
The film was followed by Q&A, featuring director Ramona Diaz, producers Josh Green and Capella Fahoome. Washington Post music pop culture critic Chris Richards, moderated. Diaz, who is Philipina described how she discovered the story. “I’m plugged into the community and get all of these emails. And someone forwarded me an email from the immigration officer that gave Arnel Pineda his visa [to come over for the audition],” she explained. “I knew someone had to make this film, but I thought ‘ that’s a lot of work.’ The music was expensive. The logistics.” She called their manager and suggested he find someone to make the film. The manager, convinced Diaz was the right filmmaker for the job, called Journey’s manager. Journey’s people were skeptical, but finally granted permission for a one-day shoot. From that footage Diaz and her team cut a five-minute trailer and sent it to the band. Journey’s manager called back almost immediately and invited them to come on board.
“It was so exciting,” Diaz recalled, “but we had no money. It was 2008, the market had just crashed and no one was funding films.” Farhoome explained that the team “charged up our credit cards” and Green said that he “lost track of how many corporate videos and commercials Cabella – and Ramona too – did to keep this going.”
Another challenge was access within the access. While the team had permission to film, it took them a while to earn the full trust of the band. They were allowed around with the cameras, but not yet allowed backstage. “Arnel was really open but the other guys had been around the block before,” Farhoome explained. Diaz was the first to score the coveted all-access pass that allowed her to go anywhere. Passes for the crew soon followed.
Timing was also key. The crew got in with Arnel on his first tour with the band, before he had an assistant or his family traveling with him. The crew became his entourage. ”We were alone in the dressing room, we became his conscience,” Green explained. The intimacy of this relationship comes through in the film and the viewer really gets a sense of Pineda’s almost childlike joy, his near-crushing anxiety and fear of failure – all uncensored and uncut.
As to the filmmaker’s relationship with the band now, Green says they’re still in close touch. “They’re about to go on another monster tour, and they just closed CMT awards with Rascal Flatts, which was huge. We’re going to do a theatrical run later this year so they’ll hopefully be there for that.”
Aside from the obvious challenges - “money, money and money” – the filmmakers had to both literally keep up with the band and keep up their own stamina. “It was not glamorous at all,” Diaz explained, “It was tiring.” She went on to explain how her team followed Journey’s two big tour buses in one mini-van that housed Diaz, the producers, and the crew. “We’d chase the buses and then they got to where they were going, the band would sleep and we worked filming load-in and set up…we were just following them around the country in our little mini-van hoping you’re getting something good. ”
Other big challenges included culling through 500 hours of footage from the road and scouring the globe to identify and secure archival footage. “It was like special ops getting footage out of all of these countries,” Green said.
Diaz said she was inspired by other rock documentaries, including “Metallica, Some Kind of Monster,” but at the end of the day, Pineda’s is a unique story all his own. “It’s a feel good film. It takes a different road than other rock films. It had to be about Arnel.”
Erin Essenmacher blogs at The Film Panel Notetaker.
If you were ever a fan of the short-lived FOX program Firefly and its subsequent feature film, Serenity, then chances are your ears perk up anytime whispers of a reunion or continuation of the series makes their way through the rumor-filled corridors of the Internet. Now, in an effort to celebrate the 10-year anniversary, and to likely put to rest any belief that it will ever be a full-fledged program again, the cast of Firefly will be reuniting for a panel at this year’s Comic-Con.
The panel comes courtesy of Science Channel, which has been airing reruns of the sci-fi show since 2011. Creator Joss Whedon and writer Tim Minear along with Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin (Jayne Cobb), Alan Tudyk (Hoban Washburne), Sean Maher (Simon Tam) and Michael Fairman (Adelai Niska) are all scheduled to make an appearance at the hour-long panel that Science Channel says will also include “numerous buzz-worthy surprises” – so read into that whatever you will.
In addition to hearing Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion talk wistfully about Browncoats, the power of a cult following and a pre-Mad Men Christina Hendricks, the panel will also showcase some previously unseen footage from the series. Perhaps there will also be some talk of Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, which counts Firefly stars Fillion and Maher amongst its rather large cast.
So far, no word on whether or not Gina Torres (Zoë Washburne), Summer Glau (River Tam), Jewel Staite (Kaylee Frye) or Morena Baccarin (Inara Serra) will be added to the panel, but chances are an extra chair or two could be found should their schedules suddenly open up.
Along with Firefly, Science Channel is also bringing John Noble of Fringe fame to the Con – in part because the actor is the host of the network’s Dark Matters: Twisted but True series, and also because Fringe repeats will air in syndication on Science starting November 20. Airing reruns of popular programs can be the cable network equivalent of a gateway drug, so with Firefly and soon Fringe in rotation on Science Channel, it may only be a matter of time before Science reveals aspirations of producing original scripted content of their own.
Most notably, though, after Joss Whedon triumphed at the box office with The Avengers – which has now become the third highest-grossing film of all time – he wrote a letter to his fans thanking them for their continued support, and expressed a desire to remain the same Joss everyone had come to be so fond of. Taking part in a panel for a show that has been off the air for nearly a decade certainly goes a long way in proving Whedon to be a man of his word.
Kevin Yeoman blogs at Screen Rant.
One of the magical things for me about art in general, and documentary film in particular, is the ability to make connections, to reveal patterns in seemingly disparate parts of life.I was struck again by this when I saw the third (excellent) Silverdocs film in a row featuring Detroit as a central or strong supporting character.
Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s latest effort Detropia is, as the name would suggest, set in the Motor City. While Detroit is the star of the show, as the name would also suggest, the film is bigger than Detroit. What really makes the film stand apart is Grady and Ewing’s ability to connect the dots and show how Detroit is the canary in the coal mine for the rest of the U.S. The decline of the Detroit parallels decline of the middle class and the greatest destruction of wealth this country has seen. So at its core Detropia is really about the fate of Detroit as a metaphor for the fate of all of us – will we move towards rebirth and utopia? Or crumble and slide into dystopia? The core lies in the spirit of its the scrappy residents fighting to keep the city alive. Tommy, a native Detroiter and owner of the Raven bar just outside the city, gets one of the last and most powerful lines of the film (and I’m paraphrasing here) “when you see your neighbor’s house is on fire, you need to help them put it out because you know your house will be next.”
In contrast, Hans Petter Moland’s When Bubbles Burst – a riveting and insightful look into to roots of the global financial meltdown, is set half a world away in Vik, Norway. When city officials discover that the city is nearly bankrupt thanks to some bad U.S. bonds that go belly up, they travel the globe trying to determine how this could have happened. Their first stop? Yup, you guessed it – Detroit, which they describe as ground zero for the housing crisis. Ten minutes in, the tracking shots of boarded up and burnt out homes that look more like 1980’s Beirut than anything you’d expect to see in 21st century America, are all too familiar. And as our Norwegian friends drive by the desolate and decaying multi-story building that was once one of the country’s busiest and most beautiful train stations, Tommy’s words ring in my ear. In our highly connected and globalized economy Vik, Norway might as well be a Detroit suburb – we’re all connected here and all of our houses are burning.
And then there’s Malik Bendjelloul’s Searching for Sugarman. The central character is the mysterious American folk-rock musician Rodriguez who recorded two albums in the early 70’s and quickly became a megastar in South Africa on par with Elvis and the Beatles. As one of the main characters, Sugar, puts it: “if you went into any given home in South Africa in the 70’s and 80’s and flipped through any record collection you would find three albums “Sergeant Pepper’s” by the Beatles, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel and “Cold Fact” by Rodriguez.”
But unlike those other musical legends, no information exists on his background or identity. Rumors and urban legends swirl about the circumstances of his death — he shot himself live onstage during a performance, no he self-immolated, no, no, no he simply went the way of so many of his contemporaries and died of a drug overdose. In the meantime Rodriguez’ Dylan-esque voice and anti-establishment lyrics become the soundtrack to the anti-apartheid movement.
One intrepid music critic turned detective takes on the mystery and finds Rodriguez (drum roll, please…) living in Detroit. His job: gutting those same burned out homes featured in Detropia and When Bubbles Burst.
Even after he’s “discovered” (or re-discovered) and goes back to South Africa multiple times to play to sold-out stadiums full of screaming fans, Sixto Rodriguez chooses to give most of the money he earns away to friends and family, stay in his modest little Detroit home and continue gutting and renovating houses for a living.
Through Rodriguez’ eyes, Detroit is poetic, beautiful even. Like the opera singer who steals the show in Detropia by giving an impromptu concert in the decaying Detroit train station, he seems to reminding of us place that decline and rebirth are two sides of the same coin.Three different filmmaking teams covering three different continents to take on three decidedly different stories, but all with the same basic morality tale: We’re all connected and we’re all in this together; that just when they think you’re dead (be the “you” a city or musician) you can show them you’re still alive and kicking, that there’s hope for us yet, but only if we are bold enough to embrace truth, beauty and each other.
Erin Essenmacher blogs at The Film Panel Notetaker.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is easily one of the most anticipated films of 2012, which is why it’s no wonder that so many young actors are vying to join the franchise. After opening to strong critical praise, The Hunger Games earned more than $660 million worldwide. Who wouldn’t want to get in on some of that action?
Late last month, we shared the news that Taylor Kitsch (Battleship), Garrett Hedlund (TRON Legacy), and Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger) were in talks for the fan-favorite role of Finnick Odair. Today, we have some news to share about another fan-favorite character: Johanna Mason.
According to an exclusive report from Entertainment Weekly, actress Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) is being considered for the important role of Mason in the sequel. For those who haven’t read the books, Mason is a former Hunger Games victor from District 7, who won by pretending to be weak and then slaughtering the other combatants.
Malone isn’t the only actress allegedly in talks for the part. Model Zoe Aggeliki was recently rumored to be a contender for the role and actress Kristen Bell has made no secret of her desire to star in the movie as well. That said, Malone wouldn’t be a bad choice for the part (although she doesn’t quite match the way I pictured the character in my head).
Malone, who was seen most recently in the History Channel special Hatfields & McCoys, is roughly the right age for Mason and could bring a certain level of familiarity to the role for audiences without overshadowing some of the more prominent characters.
If Malone does get the part, she’ll be in good company. Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence will be returning to play heroine Katniss Everdeen, Josh Hutcherson will return as Peeta Mellark, rising star Liam Hemsworth (The Expendables 2) will get an expanded role as Gale Hawthorne, and Woody Harrelson is set for another round as mentor Haymitch Abernathy. That’s not including Academy Award nominee Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was recently offered the role of Plutarch Heavensbee.
What do you think of Jena Malone possible playing Johanna Mason? Is the actress a good fit for the part?
Rob Frappier blogs at Screen Rant.
After a noticeable three-year absence, Aaron Sorkin makes his long-awaited return to television with The Newsroom, a behind-the-scenes look at the fictional news network ACN, its onetime staple series “News Night,” and its host, the seemingly uncontroversial Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels).
Following an unexpected, emotionally-driven speech while appearing on a panel of political experts at Northwestern University, the career of McAvoy changes dramatically, as the subsequent weeks find his show in decline and much of his newsroom staff jumping the sinking ship.
Hopes were high that The Newsroom would become a “perfect storm” of sorts, taking the best elements of Sorkin’s past work to help create a new, original series on HBO. That being said, the series premiere of The Newsroom never felt as succinct as Sports Night, as earnest as The West Wing, or as honest as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.
Leading The Newsrooms’ eclectic cast of exceptional actors is Jeff Daniels, whose portrayal of the typically-sardonic Will McAvoy is, as expected, wonderful. Unsurprisingly, the same thing can be said about Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher, Jr., Allison Pill, Dev Patel, Thomas Sadoski and Sam Waterston. In the case of The Newsroom, it feels as if it’s the man, not “the machine,” wherein the problem lies.
Kicking of the premiere with a wonderfully-crafted monologue for Daniels, much of the premiere follows in suit. Coming in at just over 72 minutes, the almost feature-length premiere felt, at times, like more of a collection of wonderfully written monologues than the character-driven series we’ve come to expect from the man that helped revolutionize single-camera series.
The Newsroom’s placement on HBO allows Sorkin to do many things he couldn’t on TV, but perhaps it’s through those very same network limitations and time constraints where his stories became perfectly tuned. Slated as a 60-min series, there were many times where scenes felt like they could have either been shortened, reworked, or completely left out.
Sorkin perhaps felt like he needed to include a lot in the premiere episode, but a tighter pace would have made for a more fluid viewing experience, allowing audiences time to become attached to the characters on their own terms. Though one of the smallest television casts that Sorkin has worked with, very few characters, along with their motivations, are clearly defined by the end of the premiere.
With an orchestral theme song that doesn’t feel quite right for the series, and a unique, sometimes chaotic, visual styling that separates (not elevates) The Newsrooms from Sorkin’s usual pedigree, watching the premiere can easily become a challenge; it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that some things are amiss with this series.
Even so, for fans of Aaron Sorkin, there’s much to be excited about. While many will certainly focus on the political aspect of the series, HBO’s The Newsroom is as much about politics as FX’s The League is about football. Instead, this series much more about one man’s attempt at being true to himself.
McAvoy’s comments about America no longer being the greatest country in the world certainly caught the attention of everyone watching, but it was his further explorations (some forced), where the real story lies. Dropping references to New York Times media reporter Bill Carter and NBC’s famed late night staple Jay Leno, Sorkin is highlighting viewer’s trends toward more honest media – perhaps not always the highest-rated, but certainly more honest. For McAvoy, the struggle about coming to terms with his unconscious need (and want) to be more than just “the guy that doesn’t bother anyone” is one of The Newsroom’s few narrative anchors, though one that was only briefly touched upon. Fortunately, it’s an extremely hefty anchor. Certainly mirroring conversations that many longtime personalities must have had internally, McAvoy’s transition brings up some interesting questions.
As the familiar Sorkin storylines from the past begin to bleed their way into The Newsroom, audiences will be able to continue along an enjoyable journey that was started on Sports Night. However, for those looking for a truly more evolved series, one must look within those familiarities to find growth. At this point, it’s difficult to say how challenging that may be for audiences, but hopefully it becomes easier in subsequent episodes.
For all intents and purposes, HBO’s The Newsroom is anything and everything that one would expect to see from Sorkin’s return to television – though perhaps not what many had hoped. While there’s more than enough beautifully-written dialogue for fans to sit back and enjoy, it’s hard not to acknowledge a certain disconnect from the series and its characters that can be felt throughout the premiere.
Even though, at times, much heart can be felt onscreen, there’s not much more than Sorkin’s name currently driving curiosity and intrigue for subsequent episodes. Fortunately, for now, Sorkin’s name alone is enough.
Giving The Newsroom a few weeks to find itself, as well as to introduce the rest of the cast (Jane Fonda & Olivia Munn), isn’t much to ask from a series, writer, or network of this caliber. However, unlike in previous series, where Sorkin was able to tweak storylines to reflect the current status of the actual show, the first season of The Newsroom is already completed.
Like a train following an already set course, there’s no chance of correcting its path, even if it’s on the wrong one. At this point, the only thing you can do is to hope that you still end up at your destination. Thankfully, Aaron Sorkin is one of the few people to trust when it comes to navigating the world of television.
As if taking a note from The Newsrooms’ original title, we hope for more as this series develops.
Anthony Ocasio blogs at Screen Rant.
The Museum of the Moving Image’s See It Big series, curated in collaboration with Reverse Shot editors Michael Koresky and Jeff Reichert (Remote Area Medical), presented Thursday night, a 35mm print of Academy Award-winning auteur Martin Scorsese’s 1993 masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Winona Ryder. Based on the novel by Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence is a love triangle between aristocrats and their social mores set in 1870s Manhattan. The film is a beautiful piece of art, a painting come to life, every single frame so carefully crafted from the makeup to the costumes to the set design, to the way the camera moves from one room to another, and to the incredible performances. I’m particularly in love with the shot of Michelle Pfeiffer as she’s standing on the docks by the lighthouse, and we see her from the point of view of Daniel Day Lewis, as he’s waiting to see if she’ll turn around and look at him as the boat passes.
This era (the 1990s, not the 1870s, mind you), happens to be one of my favorite. Other similar films to come out then that I extremely admire are Merchant and Ivory’s Howards End and The Remains of the Day, though these two are set in England. Like The Age of Innocence, these films also examine social manners between rich and poor, and have forbidden romances. Not to digress too much, but I think Anthony Hopkins gives his best performance ever, maybe one of the best in cinema history, in The Remains of the Day.
Scorsese came to the Museum Thursday night to do a brief introduction to the film. There was not a Q&A after the screening, but he eloquently reflected on his film, and what inspired him to make it. He said this picture goes a long way back. He has always been enthralled by films that are set in the past, usually the 19th Century. He’s enthralled by these characters that live in such a different world. Their thoughts, their emotions, all their conflicts. It was very immediate to him in and odd way. This connection of people in the past sheds humanity. It was a major desire of his to make a film that he wouldn’t call it a genre, but a period piece. Although he joked that everything he’s made is a period piece.
The first period film to really strike a blow with him was The Heiress, based on the novel by Henry James and directed by William Wyler. When he was two years old, his father took him to see it. Another film he admired was Albert Lewin’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. He also loved The Innocents, which had an eerie quality. But all of these period films culminated in Visconti, particularly The Leopard (showing soon at the Museum from a restoration print).
Woven through all of these films like a thread during the 20 years he watched them, was filmmaker Max Ophüls. Letter From An Unknown Woman, a very melancholy, sweet film, was on television all the time until he was about 12 years old. Then later on, Le Plaisir and La Ronde. And in 1968, the restoration of Lola Montès, for which he said the late and great cineaste writer Andrew Sarris called it “the greatest film ever made.”
Scorsese said the style in all of these films is enveloped in narration. Narration is very important to him. The British film,. The satire of the British film, Kind Hearts and Coronets, with its sharpness, really led to Goodfellas.
In the early 1980s, screenwriter Jay Cocks, his old friend, gave him the book of The Age of Innocence, and by the time he read it, it was in England in 1985. He told Cocks when they started writing the script together that it’s a love story primarily. What’s important is the feeling and to nail the emotion right, not necessarily the setting. The challenge is to make a picture that stands on its own, but it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t have references to the past art form.
Scorsese told the audience that if you’re young and you find this of any interest, you may seek out some of the films he was talking about and learn other filmmakers’ ways of thinking of other cultures and to see the universal connection of our shared humanity.
The Age of Innocence was a special film for Scorsese, one that he said he was very passionate about making, and was very special for a personal reason. It certainly changed his life in ways he didn’t expect. He loved Edith Wharton’s writing. It’s reflected in the use of narration, but he doesn’t think he can talk about Edith Wharton’s work without any real insight, except when he read it, it affected him deeply, and so he had to make the picture. It wasn’t easy to make. It was on and off for many years until finally Columbia Pictures put some money together and got a lot of incredible people to work on this film. Scorsese ended his introduction by thanking them all. Michael Balhaus, cinematographer, Dante Ferretti, production design, Gabrielle Pescucci, costumes, for which she won an Academy Award, Thelma Schoonmaker, editor, Elmer Bernstein, music, Saul and Elaine Bass, opening credits. Jay Cocks co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. They both show up as photographers in the film. And all of the actors. Joanne Woodward did the narration. Michael Gough and Alexis Smith, who played the van der Luydens, Robert Sean Leonard, Jonathan Pryce, Siân Phillips, Richard E. Grant, Geraldine Chaplin, Mary Beth Hurt, Miriam Margolyes, Alec McCowen, and the remarkable Norman Lloyd whose work goes back to Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. At 97 years old now, he’s a nonagenarian tennis champion. And leads, Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder.
Brian Geldin blogs at The Film Panel Notetaker.
They won our hearts on "The Sing-Off," teased us with some stellar Youtube covers, and now, after much anticipation, they're releasing their EP.
Pentatonix, the five-person a cappella group that includes Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado, Mitch Grassi, Avi Kaplan, and Kevin Olusola, won 200,000 dollars and a recording contract with Sony (which they have since dropped) as winners of the third season of NBC's "The Sing-Off," a show in search of the nation's top a cappella group. The group gained an edge with their electronica vibe and ability to do vocal dubstep, covering artists like Usher, Ke$ha and Kanye West.
Scott, Kirstie and Mitch all met at the same high school in Arlington, Texas, where they formed a trio and began performing. A day before their audition for the sing-off in June of 2011, they added Avi and Kevin, and Pentatonix was born.
Here's a breakdown of the members:
Scott sings most of the solos and has one of those silky-smooth voices you thought had gone extinct after Sinatra or Fitzgerald. He can trill, riff, go high, low, sound like Britney Spears or impersonate Marvin Gaye. You name it. He even did reggae at one point in the show.
Kirstie is the only girl in the group, but always stands out with energetic performances and pitch-perfect vocals. (It's probably important to point out here that all the vocals in the group have always been on-key, which is a welcome break from shoddy vocals on shows like "American Idol.")
Mitch is a little fireball of passion and can hit notes I haven't even heard Kristie reach. You can often hear him singing the upper harmonies, but on occasion, he comes out with a stellar solo, as he does here in Florence and the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over."
Before they were of "Sing-Off" fame (and excuse me for sounding like a hipster), I actually came across Scott, Mitch and Kirstie in a video with Todrick Hall, an ousted American Idol hopeful. In the video, the four singers deliver their drink orders at a Starbucks in vocal form, much to the barista's surprise. Listen to the catchy tune here:
Avi makes up the bass half of the two-person rhythm section that "Sing-Off" judge Shawn Stockman fondly called "Meat and Potatoes." His voice can go incredibly low, allowing him to sound like a human synthesizer. The most recent video they've posted, a mash-up of Justin Bieber's "As Long as You Love Me" and Katy Perry's "Wide Awake," actually ends with Avi singing solo, a first for him.
Last but not least, Kevin is maybe the most impressive member of the group simply for his ability to beat-box, percussion, sing and rap, sometimes all at the same time. Sounds in his repertoire include horse-hooves, choo-choo trains, gunshots, and motorcycles. I also came upon Kevin before his Pentatonix days in this video of him playing cello while beatboxing:
If you like what you hear, subscribe to their Youtube channel for more covers and make sure to check out their EP out next week. Here's one last video for you, a cover of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," which has over 6 million views so far.
For moviegoers who are still unfamiliar with author (now screenwriter) Seth Grahame-Smith, the idea of an undead-slaying Honest Abe might seem especially ridiculous – but that’s only because Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter beat Grahame-Smith’s other well known horror mashup novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, to the big screen. While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies continues to languish in preproduction hell, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) managed to bring Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to fruition, barely two years after the source material book was first published (in March 2010).
However, despite an intriguing (and purposefully absurd) premise, moviegoers have a plethora of vampire films to choose from, these days. Do Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov manage to deliver a film adaptation that successfully juggles the campy setup and over-the-top action with intriguing alt-history tie-ins and enjoyable character/Presidential drama?
Fortunately, the answer is yes, assuming that moviegoers can suspend enough disbelief and lock into Grahame-Smith’s eccentric retelling of Abraham Lincoln’s secret monster-slaying nightlife. Certainly, anyone expecting a straightforward and grounded take on the life of Honest Abe should pass on the film (and look to Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln starring Daniel Day-Lewis), as Vampire Hunter is full of one-note characters, sometimes laughable attempts at tying the supernatural plot to real life events, and several over-the-top set pieces. That said, the mashup film is exactly what viewers should have expected from a Bekmambetov film about an axe-wielding President who fights to free America from slavery and undead bloodsuckers, alike.
For anyone unfamiliar with the alternate historical account depicted in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the film (and source material novel) are centered around Abe’s secret diary, which includes the account of both his political – as well as supernatural – encounters, starting with the death of his mother at the hands of Jack Barts (Marton Csokas), a local businessman/vampire. After years of patiently waiting, Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) sets out to avenge his mother and encounters Henry Sturgess (Dominic Cooper) – who trains Abe in the art of vampire hunting and impressively choreographed axe wielding. Despite Henry’s instruction to avoid making friends or starting a family, Lincoln befriends a local shopkeep, Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), courts Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and reconnects with childhood friend/free African-American, William Johnson (Anthony Mackie). Though, when vampire chief Adam (Rufus Sewell) forms an alliance with confederate separatists, Lincoln’s loved ones (as well as the country itself) are threatened – forcing the 16th President to take action in and outside of the political arena.
As mentioned, the basic plot of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can be pretty convoluted – especially in its attempts to marry historical events and real-life personalities with supernatural elements. At times, history and fiction are stitched together in a way that makes both sides of the mashup more interesting, such as Lincoln’s time spent running a general store and a flatboat trip to New Orleans; unfortunately, other moments are too on-the-nose – relying on thin (and overly convenient) supernatural explanations for real events.
Similarly, characters are exceptionally one-dimensional – which is, by far, the biggest missed opportunity in the entire film (considering the story utilizes a number of historical figures within a supernatural conspiracy plot). While audiences may be surprised to find that one of history’s most iconic leaders (who, in this case, also happens to fight vampires at night) isn’t all that interesting, it’s hardly the fault of actor Benjamin Walker – who manages to keep what could have otherwise been a goofy portrayal of the 16th President (both old and young) grounded and believable during even the most outrageous monster slaying escapades. Both Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Mary Todd and Anthony Mackie’s William Johnson are equally competent but underutilized – mostly reacting to increasingly crazy revelations without room to actually flesh out their characters as anything more than Lincoln’s loved ones. However, the biggest character misfire is the flat-out boring implementation of the primary vampires – the aforementioned Adam, and his lady Vadoma (Erin Wasson), who are nothing more than soulless faces in a convoluted attempt by Grahame-Smith to marry a vampire rebellion with anti-abolitionist confederates.
In spite of its shortcomings, the core premise rarely fails to entertain (even if there are a number of eye roll-worthy moments), since the vampire hunting elements successfully up-the-ante with each encounter. Early on, Lincoln forgoes his mentor’s preferred means of dispatching vampires, i.e. silver bullets – in favor of some slick axe work. While some audience members may find the axe versus vampire flesh sequences to be a little too flashy (and hard to follow), Bekmambetov utilizes some effective slow motion camerawork to showcase Lincoln’s stylish and acrobatic slaying techniques. In a genre that is overwrought with gun battles and throwing knives, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter thankfully presents a number of entertaining close quarters combat sequences that, despite our obvious real-world knowledge of Lincoln, make it easy to believe that the President could go toe-to-toe with similarly gifted monster slayers like Blade and Van Helsing.
Despite some high-octane action moments in the film’s trailer, Vampire Hunter is actually pretty intimate – as most of the epic moments are still pretty confined (narratively speaking). Few of the set pieces are given much time to build tension and many of the encounters offer little more than flashy hack and slash choreography. This isn’t to say that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter can’t deliver on excitement – since a number of the vampire hand-to-Honest Axe combats benefit from Bekmambetov’s trademark fast and furious action beats.
Additionally, while many theaters will be pushing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 3D, the film would be just as enjoyable without the premium upgrade. There are a few moments where the slow-motion axe combat looks especially slick (as vampire blood spews into the air) and several larger shots (such as a trip on the Mississippi river as well as Civil War battlefields) are definitely enhanced by the added dimension; but only those few moments are must see in 3D. As a result, the 3D up charge isn’t a waste, but it’s hardly required viewing.
Moviegoers expecting a gritty “Lincoln kills vampires” character drama will likely be disappointed by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; although, as a tongue-in-cheek action mashup, Grahame-Smith and Bekmambetov have, for the most part, delivered an entertaining (albeit campy) historical retelling. The film doesn’t quite deliver a fully-formed combination of history and supernatural horror (if that’s even possible), but for anyone who can accept the experience on its own terms, there are plenty of entertaining moments of vampire hunting to keep your appetite for blood a fun time at the theater sated.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.