Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Hollywood High for 'Man on Wire'

The documentary "Man on Wire" - the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit and his walk 1,350 feet above ground between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center on August 7, 1974- has been called a delicious heist film with "Mission: Impossible" moments. Director James Marsh, who says he set out to make a gripping suspense film more than a standard documentary, is not only fine with Hollywood powerbroker Robert Zemeckis and his production company Imagemovers acquiring the story; he encouraged Petit to make the deal.

"Making a documentary is not a way to become rich I can tell you that," says Marsh. "Robert Zemeckis is going to do a fairly big, expensive and very advanced film with Philippe. It's a different kind of film that looks at Philippe's adventure in a different kind of way."
The idea of another crack at helping retell the "artistic crime of the century," perhaps in Zemeckis' trademark motion-capture technology, sounds interesting. But Marsh is already at work on his next project, an independent drama about Britain's Yorkshire Ripper.
"This is a story with enormous universal appeal and has endless possibilities. You can make it as a stage play, like a one-man show or on and on." Despite the big-budget allure, Marsh says his time with Petit is over.
"I've done my thing with it and it was a very enjoyable film to make and it was year of my life happily spent making the film but I wouldn't want to do it again or repeat it."
- Steve Ramos

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Cheering for Kevin Costner, or should I say, ‘Mr. Brooks’

At a recent screening, a colleague responds with an are-you-kidding-me stare when I share my excitement for director Bruce Evans’ Kevin Costner thriller “Mr. Brooks.” I happily explain the reasons for my high anticipation without an ounce of guilt.
It’s not enough that “Mr. Brooks” is the increasingly rare adult movie surrounded by an ever-growing pile of family-oriented blockbusters. Better yet, it’s also a suspense drama, a clever Jekyll and Hyde-inspired psycho-thriller co-written by Raynold Gideon (John Carpenter’s “Starman”) and Evans.
Post-viewing, I have to admit that “Mr. Brooks” relied a bit too much on action chases for my taste — I don’t care how geriatric it sounds to say, Imagine what Hitchcock would have done with this story, I’ll say it anyway. Still, “Brooks’s” adult pleasures far outweigh its faults. Kevin Costner (left) finds believable creepiness in his character’s blonde, bland persona. As a hipster artist looking to blackmail Brooks, Dane Cook keeps his smarmy brand of comedy in check. Demi Moore is all surface-level gusto as the police detective trailing Brooks. Still, it’s good to see Moore back on-screen. Only the William Hurt truly stumbles as a character best described as Brook’s devilish advisor, a Jekyll-like cliché. Like I said, Hitchcock would have done things better but the very fact that I’m even mentioning the one-time Master of Suspense says there’s plenty to like about “Mr. Brooks.”

“Mr. Brooks,” released by MGM, is playing in commercial theaters across America throughout June, or however long it can last against more popular summer blockbusters.

Monday, June 04, 2007


New BBC Screenplay puts spotlight on Paul Andrew Williams, but will U.S. Audiences ever catch ‘London to Brighton’?

One talent who benefits from the recently announced joint productions between BBC Films and Pathe is up-and-coming British filmmaker Paul Andrew Williams. Hired to write “The Choir,” an original script about a widowed old man whose life changes upon joining a strange choir, Williams will be working for producer Ken Marshall, who produced his fantastic debut feature “London To Brighton.”
No director has been announced for “The Choir.” Perhaps, Williams may get the nod. “London To Brighton,” one of my favorite films from last year’s Toronto Film Festival, shows Williams to be a talent worth celebrating.
A woman’s tale about a middle-aged prostitute, Kelly (Lorraine Stanley in a standout performance), who befriends and protects an eleven-year-old runaway, Joanne (Georgia Groome, pictured left), “London To Brighton” has the energy and visual spark of the best British gangster films. What separates Williams’ debut feature from the crime genre pile is its substantial storytelling, believable grit, fully drawn characters and humanistic heft. “London To Brighton” has earned Williams comparisons to Mike Leigh, which after watching the film, is a celebratory but fair review.
Currently, as far as U.S. audiences are concerned, “London To Brighton” has yet to break out of the film festival bubble and enjoy a full, theatrical release. Perhaps Williams’ BBC Films deal will help get “London To Brighton” into stateside theaters. It deserves to be seen.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


My Holiday with Student Films Across America

Between swimming pool dips and cookouts, the more typical of Memorial Day activities, I also watched and re-watched some half dozen short films courtesy of the ambitious folks behind the debut film tour Student Films Across America. As a volunteer judge, I’m not going to disclose my rankings publicly. I’ll leave that task to Student Films Festival Director Steven Amos and his ambitious crew. What’s worth mentioning is the consistent quality of the entries I watched, all from emerging artists and all worthy of big-screen, public viewings. One of the films I viewed repeatedly was filmmaker Moon Molson’s “Pop Foul” (pictured left), a tense coming-of-age tale about a young boy who acts out after watching his father beaten by a local criminal during a walk home from his Little League game. I missed “Pop Foul” during its Sundance Film Festival screenings, where it was part of the shorts program, but I was glad to finally catch up with the standout film.
Filmmaker Gavin Heffernan pays homage to Agnieszka Holland’s 1999 faith drama “The Third Miracle” with “Santa Croce,” his picture-perfect tale of a rural California town responding to a religious miracle.
In “Somewhere in the City,” a tale of a restaurant owner reaching out to man in desperate need for a job, filmmaker Ramsey Denison makes beautiful use of the film’s cramped kitchen setting.
“Alibi Inc.” is a French-language thriller involving a company who provide alibis to their less-than-honest customers (The same idea was used on a recent “CSI: New York show). Director Gregoire Bedard serves his story well with plenty of atmospheric flourishes.
A scene at the end of “An Abstraction on the Chronology of Will,” co-directors Ben Collins and Kevin Phillips’ tale of a young man who joins the military as means to get over his failed love life, is visually astounding. It’s as if the main character travels back through the entire film in order to apologize to his ex-girlfriend.
Finally, actor/filmmaker Ryan Krickow works both sides of the camera in “Hyperhydrosis,” a subtle comedy about nervous sweating taken to comic book-like proportions.
Short films may be abundant on the Internet but the majority are quick, homegrown, uploaded rants, closer in spirit to e-mail than literature.
Student Films Across America, which will showcase these films as part of a tour beginning June 7 in select cinemas across the country, treat these young directors as artists and not video bloggers. I was honored to have the chance to help out.

Check out tour dates, maps and fun videos from the festival tour bus at www.studentfilmsacrossamerica.com

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Will Audiences Go Crazy for ‘Crazy Love’?

Michael Moore’s “Sicko,” about America’s healthcare system, continues to be one of the big stories out of the Cannes Film Festival thanks to the positive reviews of the film, White House threats of a ban over its climactic footage of US citizens seeking medicines in Cuba and disagreements over footage featuring Sen. Hilary Clinton in a less than positive light. Controversy is a tried and true marketing ploy for documentaries; one that has served Moore extremely well over the years.
Another documentary worth talking about is “Crazy Love,” director Dan Klores’ rollicking good time of a film about the fifty-year love affair between lying husband Burt Pugach and his beautiful girlfriend Linda Riss (pictured left).
The sadness, crimes and terrible actions between Pugach and Riss made New York newspaper headlines for many years but I wouldn’t call the film controversial. Instead, reviewing the film for “indieWire” at the film’s Sundance Film Festival premiere, I wrote of its great period music, archival footage of New York and fast-paced he said/she said interviews. “Crazy Love” does not generate anger like a Michael Moore polemic. Instead, Linda and Burt, the craziest lovebirds you’ll ever meet, let their unique romance and devotion to each other take command. In this case, controversy is not needed for a great time at the movies.

"Crazy Love" premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Magnolia Pictures will release it in New York on June 1 and in theaters across America throughout the summer.

Monday, May 21, 2007


Welcome Back, James Gray

There are numerous reasons critics and journos choose to support favorite filmmakers. Surprisingly, the consistent quality of their films isn’t always at the top of the list. Case in point is James Gray, whose last film, 2000’s New York drama “The Yards,” failed to match the intensity and intelligence of his debut film, the Russian mob drama “Little Odessa.” Those who pay close attention to the business of moviemaking will tell you that the movie audiences watched was not the same film Gray intended. His was a case of a young filmmaker losing creative battles with the company behind his movie.
Seven years after box-office defeat, Gray is at Cannes with his 1980s-set crime drama “We Own the Night,” about a war between New York police and the Russian mob, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg, his stars from “The Yards.” Gray’s latest film, just his third in twelve years, screens for Cannes audiences later this week but the film has already been bought by Columbia Pictures with plans for an Oscar-focused, late 2007 release. It’s a bold comeback for Gray and proof of what I admire best about him: enthusiasm for storytelling, a refusal to sell out and an unwavering belief in his art. It’s something I remember vividly upon first meeting Gray at an East Village bar to talk about “Little Odessa” and I’m betting that enthusiasm remains as fierce as ever.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Who will speak out for indie films ‘Orphans’ and ‘Hannah Takes the Stairs’?

On the phone late yesterday with Nashville Film Festival Artistic Director Brian Gordon, talking about the fest’s successful 2007 edition and its creative synergy of its hometown music industry and independent film. (Note: I covered the fest for the online trade "indieWire"). Our conversation soon shifted to the subject of film advocacy and the essential role of festivals like Nashville in providing venues for independent dramas like “Orphans,” Ry Russo-Young’s powerful drama about two adult sisters coming to terms with the death of their parents, and Joe Swanberg’s “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” an improvisational comedy about a young woman (Greta Gerwig, pictured left) incapable of making an emotional commitment.
The Cannes Film Fest is underway; so the allure of red carpet/celebrity moments is more captivating than ever (Didn’t Norah Jones look stunning?). Even Nashville, one of the most laidback festivals around, claims its share of red-carpet frenzy courtesy of Matchbox Twenty front man Rob Thomas in attendance to support his lively and engaging documentary “My Secret Record,” about his battles with his Atlantic Records bosses while recording his 2005 solo album.
Thomas and his screaming fans aside, Nashville is an oasis for low-profile/high-quality films, like Adrian Belic’s documentary “Beyond the Call,” about a group of men who travel the world’s trouble spots helping out people in need.
My question for Gordon, a true lover of film, is what happens when art houses play “The Da Vinci Code” instead of movies like “Hannah Takes the Stairs,” when festivals focus on “Spider-Man 3” instead of “Orphans” and the number of cinematheques, the most alternative of film venues, continue to shrink in size? Gordon did not have an answer other than continuing doing his job for the Nashville Festival.
Advocacy for quality, grass-roots cinema, is my buzzword of the moment and here on the blogosphere, where the majority of film talk rests with superhero blockbusters, it’s more important than ever to promote films like “Beyond the Call,” “Orphans,” and “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” They’ve already played in front of audiences in Nashville, and hopefully, they’ll find their way to you.

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