Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, the low budget The Last House turns a horror flick into an insipid nightmare. Trying to be creative director Sean Cain uses a quick flash back technique that confuses his audience by chopping up scenes making the storyline a travesty. A waste of a good budget, special effects and make up, this horror film isn’t even that good on DVD. Read more
Two fine comedians Simon Pegg and Lake Bell turn up the fun in the film Man Up now playing at select theaters. Their chemistry reaches high levels as they deliver a very enjoyable romance that has a lot of twists to its rewarding ending. Nicely directed by Ben Palmer, one of England’s top television directors, the film’s perfect for a date night out.
Known for her various roles in Weird Science, Kingpin, Sugar babies and Hall Pass, Vanessa Angel is an accomplished talent with a broad body of work. In Trouble Sleeping, Vanessa plays a woman tormented by the memories of her late-husband’s suicide. Her life is further complicated by the arrival of her stepson, who will soon inherit all of his father’s wealth. A psychological thriller with a twisted sense of humor in the vein of the Coen brothers’ films, Trouble Sleeping is directed by Robert Adetuyi and stars Billy Zane, Vanessa, Rick Otto, Ingrid Eskeland, Kale Clauson and Fred Stoller. In this one-on-one interview, Angel reveals the challenges she faced in bringing her compelling character to life.
What attracted you to this psychological thriller?
Vanessa Angel: I was excited when I read the script. Rob (Adetuyi) and his lovely wife thought I would be a really good for it. And it’s so rare that you find a script with a middle-aged woman in the lead. For me, it was her unraveling, that emotionally, there were just so many things to play. But her personality made it appear that everything was okay. I grew up in England, and I used little snippets of my mother for the character. In England, during my parents’ generation, there was a tendency to keep everything in with a stiff upper lip, to give the appearance that everything is great, when inside, there’s a whole cauldron of emotions happening. So l loved the script, which Rob originally wrote as a play five years ago. It was just such an actress piece, and yet the story was so intriguing. It had that dark Coen Brothers humor as well, which I saw when I read it the second time.
What challenges did you face in bringing Vanessa’s character to life? Vanessa: I didn’t have a lot of prep time, and since the casting was so last minute, the people Rob had in mind for Alex didn’t have a window open at the time, so Rob cast my husband for the role. That was actually great because when you’re in a relationship with someone, there are nuances of communication that you have in a marriage that are very hard to create with an actor, especially when you literally meet the day before shooting. So I was hoping that would come out, and because Rick is my husband, we had a chance to go over the scenes at home, which really helped when you don’t have much prep time. It was challenging to hit the emotions and bring in that sense of comedy as well. We shot the entire film in 12 days, so that also presented a challenge. Rick and I have a daughter and we don’t usually work at the same time, so the logistics of being a parent and filming 14-hour days presented an additional challenge.
The dialog is particularly lean and effective. Was it in the original script or did you hone it down during filming?
Vanessa: It was actually in the original script. We did make some changes as we were filming. Sometimes you rehearse a scene when you’re reading it on the page, but then when you actually make it come to life, you change it. The dialog was very pared down and read like a play. I loved the Memet-esque feel of the dialogue. Rob was very open and not married to every word—especially if he felt it wasn’t working. We also made some changes to the final scene. Luckily, we had Roy Wagner as the cinematographer/DP who was absolutely brilliant in making Rob’s vision come to life. Because of the stillness of the dialogue, he wanted lots of camera movement, as opposed to repeated over-the-shoulder shots, which would have made some scenes appear too dead.
The lemon merengue pie reference underscored with subtle wit Vanessa’s need for acceptance in this dysfunctional family. Your thoughts on this?
Vanessa: I sort of came up with the idea. Originally, there wasn’t a reference that the pie had been on her wedding menu when she was married to Charles. I wanted there to be a reason for it to be said. I did a TV series back in the ‘90s called Weird Science, which was a very broad comedy. I always try to bring a little humor into a film, but also make it real. But you can’t be too broad in these situations because it affects the tone. Vanessa is driven by making this poor decision. She slowly realizes the error of her decision, and how she can’t live with it anymore. She’s guilt ridden while trying to keep the appearance of being very together.
What do you think the film tries to convey with the recurring nightmares of Charles trying to kill Vanessa?
Vanessa: That’s a very interesting question. I think, it’s just Vanessa not coming to terms with what she’s done. It’s in her subconscious. Anytime you make a decision you don’t feel good about, it often recurs in your dreams. And that’s how you work things through. I think that Vanessa can’t accept that, and slowly, toward the end of the film, she realizes that she can’t be without Charles.
Dr. GIlbert is an amusingly off-kilter character. Do you believe he helped highlight the film’s unique point of view?
Vanessa: Yes (laughs). We shot with him the very first day. It was when he was telling us Vanessa’s stepson was coming home. He’s so funny. It was the first day, and Rob wasn’t quite sure how the rest of the shoot would go. Rob was concerned that maybe it would be too funny. But it was very real and it felt right.
You have an extremely broad body of work. What do you like about psychological thrillers?
Vanessa: As an actor, any time you can find layers, the objective or reason why someone is the way they are, it’s a plus. I think psychological thrillers give you so much more to play with. Comedies are more surface. So I love to use my emotional depth and sense memories to go to those really dark places. As an actor, you’re trained to really enjoy going to those emotional depths. So you need to access that when you’re doing these kinds of films. It makes you really feel alive and in the moment.
Finally coming to an end, the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 2 brings the trilogy to a close. The continuation of the battle to take down President Snow adds depth to the characters, ties up loose ends and shows the future in a surprising finale. Well-acted as usual, the cast has their roles down pat as they begin the final battle for Penem and stake their claim on the Capitol. Ardent followers, mostly female, will be lining up in droves to see this final episode. So if you want to be the first, seek out tickets early. Read more
This little gem of an animated flick on Blu-ray/DVD called Toy Story that Time Forgot should excite youngsters from 4 to 10 and those parents that are still holding on to their childhood days. Because it’s short enough to play over and again, no one in the home will be able to avoid the laughter and there’s even a sing-along in the Bonus Features. Two new characters are featured in this robust treasure that puts the Toy Story gang in the center of it all. (also Check out the Doc McStuffins: Pet Vet review below) Read more
Fighting for Women’s voting rights, the film Suffragette has all the trappings for an Oscar run. Well directed, the movie tells the story from the angle of a new recruit entering the fray at the beginning of violent protesting that helped to turn the tide slightly in favor of the movement. However, it’s the sterling acting that sets Suffragette apart from the rest of the pack in the Oscar race for one of the ten spots. Read more
A very compelling documentary What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy opens in theaters this weekend. The film delves into two high officials of the Nazi government that were responsible for most of the deaths in the concentration camps during WWII. With material discovered by an International Lawyer, the responses from two sons that grew up in the families of the two Nazi officials during the war and the aftermath are eye opening. It’s that one in a million chance to get an inside view of the monsters that controlled the destiny of millions of Jews. The film gets shocking at times as one of the sons tries to defend his father. Read more
A native of Westport, Connecticut, actress/writer/director Tara Subkoff is known for As Good as It Gets, The Cell and All Over Me. In #Horror, which stars Chloë Sevigny and Timothy Hutton, a group of girls face a night of horror when the compulsive addiction of an online social media game turns a moment of cyber bullying into a night of insanity. In this one-on-one interview, Subkoff reveals the challenges and real-life experiences that shaped this film.
Why did you decide to make #Horror?
Tara Subkoff: I didn’t really decide to make it all in its entirety at once. Studios have groups and decide what they want to make. But artists don’t. They make what they feel. They have a point of view and they want to say something, and make it more clearly through the whole process of writing, shooting, editing, and all the art collaboration that was collaged in the film. At the end, I’m as surprised as you are as to where the film went. I think that’s the true nature of a good film, and one that evolves.
Sadly, there are way too many marketing and focus groups in filmmaking these days.
Tara: I completely agree with you. I’m very grateful that the film was independently financed, which allowed me to create a real director’s cut. I’m so grateful to IFC for distributing the film. I could have gone with someone else, but they wanted to re-edit and change things. It’s very rare that a filmmaker’s vision is honored. I’ve had some experience in Hollywood as an actor with features and directing several shorts, but I wanted to create a film that was really artistic.
What was the biggest challenge you faced?
Tara: Shooting in three snowstorms was pretty damn challenging. Nearly half my crew walked off, saying I was crazy. We couldn’t breathe it was snowing so fast. And this wasn’t CGI snow, but real snow. The other challenge was filming with minors, which was their first film experience. It was an 18-day shoot and we lost three days to bad weather. Another challenge was editing the film. My advice to all young filmmakers is to shoot as much as you can—before they take the cameras away. It really matters when you go into edit and you don’t have that other shot, or that snow that matches the other snow. I had to be very creative with editing. You really learn screenplay structure the hard way when you’re in the editing room. Hopefully, all this will make me a better writer.
It seemed like the isolated home with all its bizarre art was itself a character. Why did you choose that setting?
Tara: I really wanted to write about the 1% of the 1%–the people who have it all. We secretly all want to have it all, and we’re conditioned and brainwashed to want that. I wanted to write about the life we aspire to—what that looks like and what that feels like. I think art is very important; it holds a feeling, and if it’s good, it stands the test of time and communicates something that is abstract but important. The artwork came from my friends and it’s really another character in the film. I grew up in Westport so I’m familiar with that world, the importance of keeping up appearances, the possessions people have, and keeping up with other towns—rich vs. poor. I wanted to create a visual landscape that was very specific.
The film goes into a host of issues, including cyber bullying, parental neglect, infidelity. Why did you choose to include them?
Tara: I wanted to write about modern life and its many problems. I think they’re the same problems that we’ve always had, but they just look different today. And I wanted to be honest about what they look like.
Can you go into the actual events that inspired the film?
Tara: Many of my friends had 12-year olds who were severely cyber bullied at the time. And I was severely cyber bullied as a 12-year old on the bus. I was horrified by it, much more than any ghost in the woods. But in my day, I could go home and the bullying would stop. With the platform kids have today, it never stops, it’s relentless. You can’t just put the phone down and turn it off, it just keeps going. It’s a whole new level of cruelty and meaness. And it could follow you into your college application, your first job interview or first love interest. It’s out there for all the world to see. It’s so humiliating and disgusting. It’s very damaging when you’re developing as a person. So I wanted to write something that felt real in 2016.
The graphics were stunning, bold and a bit unusual for a film of this type? What was the thinking behind that?
Tara: I wanted to portray the feeling of going into their game world. It’s another life and you’re locked in it. If you play CandyCrusher, the colors and the world are so addictive. I wanted to convey what it feels like to get lost in your phone.
The very funny comedian Amy Schumer steps into her first film screen role in Trainwreck and she nails it. The newcomer who has taken the boob tube by storm with her bawdy Inside Amy Schumer, moves to a film venue with ease. Now on Blu-ray/DVD she delivers a hilarious story with a fine support cast that keeps it all together to its bizarre romantic ending. Much like her TV show the film uses many side vignettes that contribute to the central theme of trying to survive her screwed up life. It’s a lot of fun for the ladies and couples, but it’s only for adults only. Read more
The movie Terminator Genisys, now on Blu-ray/DVD, surprises with top quality special effects, continuous action scenes and a welcome return of Arnold Schwarzenegger. The storyline may be a little complicated if you are trying to piece together the previous four outings, but take a deep breath and just go with it to enjoy the shape shifting time traveling bots that deliver chaos wherever they appear. If you are an action junkie and want an adrenaline rush, get the newest edition on home video of John Connor’s attempt to take down the spy in the sky that led to annihilation of billions of people on the planet. Read more
One of the most chilling films I’ve seen this year Pay the Ghost comes to Blu-ray/DVD featuring one of the creepiest narratives of a child disappearance. Very good acting, directing and cinematography lend to this sinister story that not only grabs at the heartstrings, but continues to frighten till the credits roll. It makes me wonder why the distributors did not release the video in October for the horror crowd because it’s that good. Read more
Weird, wild and whimsical the musical drama Bang Bang Baby has a fine cast, good direction and a story too inconceivable to be nothing but science fiction. Played out and filmed like it could be taking place on a stage with many sets, the film’s presentation reminds me a lot of the madcap Little Shop of Horrors. The 60’s rock music also adds some nostalgia as part of the enjoyment. Now available on all major VOD platforms. Read more
Slipping into theaters this weekend and beating the rush of blockbusters, Spectre the new James Bond thriller should garner a lot of box office bucks from its loyal fan base. The movie however drags between action scenes and falls short in supporting roles. That said, Spectre does entertain with cinematography that’s picturesque, explosive and slathered with CGI. If you are a big fan of the series then get in line for a ticket to another big film featuring 007. Read more
A different kind of road trip, Lost in the Sun takes a ride cross country with very good acting performances by Josh Duhamel and Josh Wiggins. Under the able direction of Trey Nelson the two fine actors make the simple theme work. And melding Nelson’s coming of age story with a twist that you may realize early on, makes the impromptu trip an intriguing action drama. Read more
Very fascinating, delicate and inspiring A Brilliant Young Mind has a very good cast, fine direction and a story that you’ll long remember. The film was inspired by the documentary by Morgan Matthews that involved following young brilliant math students that participated in the challenging competition International Mathematical Olympiad. Here he takes a script written by James Graham and fashions it into a story of one boy who faces a test of will, social acceptance and rules for romance. Read more