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‘Nebraska’ Review: 10 Things to Know About Alexander Payne’s New Drama

Nebraska review movie

Paramount

While we all wish that those ridiculous pop-up ads and promotional flyers claiming we’ve won a prize were actually real, they’re always bogus. Yet, there comes a time in an aging man’s life when the chance to be rewarded, and to achieve what you never did, conjures an unrelenting hopefulness, which a scam — no matter how blatant — could ever extinguish.

In Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is that aging man, one who receives a certificate in the mail claiming he’s won a million-dollar sweepstakes. Resolute in claiming his prize, Woody leaves his home in Montana for Lincoln, Nebraska — even if it means walking there.

His wife (June Squibb) can’t handle Woody’s stubborn antics, so she calls her two sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk) to help her out. When they fail to hammer any sense into Woody, Dave reluctantly decides to entertain his father by escorting him to the source of his winnings.

“Nebraska” opens in select theaters this weekend, but is it worth your time? Here are the 10 things you should know about the black-and-white, nontraditional road movie.

1. Will Forte Makes an Impressive Dramatic Turn
It definitely comes as a surprise to find former SNL favorite, Will Forte, co-starring in a drama, and specifically, not as the goofy guy with a weird hobby (remember The Falconer?). You’ll find no trace of MacGruber or Tim Calhoun in his David, a serious role that reveals Forte’s well-rounded talent. In a film where there is a solid handful of laughs (some rather raunchy), Forte is never the one joking. David is an incredibly relatable character, and one that leaves us excited to see more of Forte’s dramatic side.

2. Bruce Dern Delivers a Career-Defining Performance
Bruce Dern may not be as high-profile as other Hollywood legends, like Jack Nicholson or Gene Hackman, but that’s exactly what helps the reticent, stubborn Woody feel so fresh and real. Known more for playing anti-heroes and villains, Dern may seem an unlikely choice for Woody, but his very honest performance in “Nebraska” proves otherwise. Maybe it’s Dern’s unpredictable nature as an actor that lends credence to his very real portrayal of an obstinate man who zones out frequently, occasionally serving up one-word answers. Or, maybe it is simply Dern’s ability to completely embody Woody, pulling in universal elements of our parents and grandparents, so that, on some level, by the end of the movie we feel that we really know him.

3. Alexander Payne Knows How to Capture Emotional Rawness
Payne, best known for “The Descendants,” “Sideways,” and “About Schmidt,” has a knack for capturing the honesty and rawness of human behavior. In “Nebraska” each character expresses his or her emotional struggle, one that reflects whatever point it is in his or her life. Woody, a kind-hearted alcoholic-in-denial, longs for freedom and peace in what may be his final years; David, the unsuccessful son working at an electronic store, can’t seem to get a handle on his life and future; Woody’s wife, Kate (Squibb), is sick and tired of putting up with her husband. Disappointment, regret, guilt, hopelessness, faded love, indecisiveness, inescapable stasis: these are all feelings we know, have known, or may know one day.

4. The Use of Black-and-White Is Very Fitting
“Nebraska” feels like a film stuck in the recent past (in a good way). A good deal of that feeling comes from the movie being shot in black-and-white, an aesthetic in which contrasting light and dark hues enhance the richness of emotions portrayed on-screen. With color stripped away, the characters and their stories become the sole focus; there’s nothing to visually distract us.

4. Bob Odenkirk Is So Saul
Maybe we’re still experiencing “Breaking Bad” withdrawal, but Bob Odenkirk is, and (for us) always will be, Saul. He gives a good performance in “Nebraska” as Ross, David’s older and more successful brother. Ross is the stabilizing glue that holds the unpredictable Woody, the softer David, and the bad-mouthing Kate together. While Ross never dons a goofy-colored suit and tie, we can’t help but see the dirty “Breaking Bad” lawyer in Odenkirk’s exasperated tone and wild hand gestures. Also, did anyone else pick up on the fact that (spoiler!) Nebraska is where Saul ended up? Maybe his new identity is as Ross, the local news anchor… hmm.

5. While It’s a Drama, It’s Also Very Funny
The beauty of “Nebraska” is that it draws a great deal of comedy from the tragedy and humor of everyday life. It never tries to tell an unwaveringly serious story. Payne relies on realism, reminding us that nothing in life is wholly dramatic or funny. For instance, one scene has Woody and David searching for Woody’s lost dentures along train tracks. While that’s a funny-sounding setup, the scene is grounded by the fact that Woody lost his teeth as a result of his alcohol problem.

6. There’s a Hilarious Cemetery Scene
While visiting Woody’s hometown, David, Kate, and Woody go to his family’s burial site. This would-be somber moment quickly turns hilarious as Kate shows her true colors — and even shows some skin when she flashes a grave stone. As she introduces each of Woody’s dead family members to David, she mentions what she most fondly remembers them for, and it’s endlessly entertaining. Squibb is shockingly (and amazingly) crude, but her behavior never feels forced or one-dimensional. She’s a rambunctious, inappropriate old woman, and she’s just real.

7. It Has a Very Unfair ‘R’ Rating
We’ve seen PG-13 movies far more deserving of an R rating. While “Nebraska” has some inappropriate and colorful language that earned it an R, it’s unfortunate that a movie almost completely devoid of ill or offensive motives like this is restricted to a 17-and-up audience. If your teenager really wants to see it, you can feel confident in buying him or her a ticket.

8. It’s a Shining Exploration of American Greed
There are two types of people in “Nebraska”: those who congratulate you when they hear you’ve won a million dollars, and those that scheme to get a cut for themselves. There are more of the latter in “Nebraska,” specifically Woody’s old friends and close relatives. While good ol’ American greed is shown through the shameful extents some of the characters go to claim their share, Woody’s dedication to his prize is the furthest thing from it. He doesn’t brag about his money or flaunt the idea of being a potential millionaire; in fact, he doesn’t seem to care about the money, just the few things it will give him that he failed to acquire in his life. “Nebraska” is really about a man nearing the end who is trying to make up for lost time, his losses, and life’s disappointments.

9. There’s a Solid Supporting Cast
“Nebraska” is a great showcase of older actors in some fine supporting roles. Stacy Keach plays Woody’s former partner and old friend, Ed Pegram, who turns out to be not-so-friendly; and Mary Louise Wilson (who you may have seen on “Louie” as Louis C.K.’s recently outed mother) and Angela McEwan give warm supporting performances as small-town Nebraska folk.

10. It’s Great for an Older Audience
Exploring themes of reflecting on a life in old age, making up for past disappointments, and getting toreally know the family you thought you knew, “Nebraska” is a mature film that will resonate with older audiences. This year has had a good handful of worthy dramas for adult audiences (“12 Years a Slave,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” and the upcoming “August: Osage County”), however, “Nebraska” is one that really zones in on aging and family. While it may not be as high-profile or commercial as any of those movies, it’s a noteworthy addition to this year’s list of best movies.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on November 14, 2013.

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What Is ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’? A Primer on the Controversial Lesbian Drama

Blue Is the Warmest Color

Sundance Selects

You’ve probably heard of the French film “Blue Is the Warmest Color” if the Cannes Film Festival was on your radar or if you’ve heard buzz about the film’s graphic 10 minute sex scene. But just in case you haven’t, we’re here to bring you up to speed on the critically acclaimed lesbian-centered drama that got itself an NC-17 rating in the U.S.

What It’s About: From Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is based on the 2010 French graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh. The film follows the love story that blossoms between two women, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux, “Ghost Protocol”).

Why It’s So Controversial: “Blue” first hit the film world’s radar when it won the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, earlier this year. However, the film provoked such fiery attention for its incredibly erotic and extended sex scenes. While some prosthetics were used, the actresses’ bare bodies are shown and not just briefly, but for a full 10-minute scene and then in two shorter ones that follow. After winning at Cannes, the film stirred up more heat when Exarchopoulos and Seydoux spoke out against Kechiche and his directing methods, claiming they felt like prostitutes and were forced to do things they never agreed upon. Critics have taken multiple stances on the use of nudity and depiction of lesbian sex in the film, including Manohla Dargis who derided the scenes as exploitative, and Indiewire who proclaimed them sexy and accurate, but boring.

What Sets It Apart: In the LGBT genre, and especially in mainstream movies, there is a pronounced lack of well-made films that realistically portray lesbian relationships. The few films that do center on a female couple’s story, which are usually indie or foreign, are either campy (“But I’m a Cheerleader”), stereotypical male fantasies (“Room in Rome”), or a little too cute to be believable (“Imagine Me & You”). “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is one of the few, if only, that treats a lesbian relationship like that of any couple — the fights, the lustful honeymoon phase, the heartbreak, the jealousy are all portrayed without attention to the fact that it’s experienced between two women. Although Stacie Passon’s “Concussion” is said to be a similarly commendable depiction of sexuality, “Blue” is one of the best lesbian dramas to ever come to the big screen.

Why You Should See It: While “Blue” puts into question appropriate filmmaking methods, it also pushes the boundaries of the representation of sex — specifically lesbian sex — in movies. Would the scenes have been different from a female or a lesbian director? Should they be dismissed for their length and graphic content, or praised for their more accurate portrayal of lesbian sex than in previous films? These questions make up the whole of why “Blue” is such an important movie, and not just for a niche audience, but for everyone.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 23, 2013.

’12 Years a Slave’ Review: 10 Things to Know About the Historical Epic

"12 Years a Slave" review, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender

Fox Searchlight

In pre-Civil War America, neither legal documents or state lines could completely define the identity of a man, who regardless of lawfully deemed freedom was never guaranteed it.

Steve McQueen’s historical epic “12 Years a Slave” is based on the 1983 memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black man in New York who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. The educated and revered violinist Northup, portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Children of Men”), is deceived by carnies and wakes up to find himself in shackles. Northup is stripped of his identity and passed from one plantation owner to the next.

“12 Years a Slave” has already reaped high acclaim after its premieres at various festivals, and is said to be the best and most emotionally intense film of the year. But before you start deeming it Oscar worthy, read on for 10 things you should know about the film before it opens in limited release this weekend.

1. It’s Incredibly Brutal
With Nortup’s first beating, where wooden planks and whips literally tear his shirt to bloody rags, McQueen immediately informs us that his film is going to be uncomfortably real and brutal. The director not only shows the many gruesome aspects of slavery, but he holds on to them long enough so that we must witness the full experience. From a stifling rape scene, shocking moments of unexpected violence, and an already infamous graphic whipping scene, the film has some of the heaviest and hardest-to-watch moments on screen in a while. Be prepared.

2. Ejiofor Gives the Performance of His Career
Ejiofor proved himself a noteworthy actor to watch with 2005’s “Serenity” and 2006’s “Children of Men,” yet his phenomenal performance in “12 Years” assures us that he knows his craft. The dehumanization of Northup is evinced in Ejiofor’s facial expressions alone, his glossy eyes revealing more about his internal and external degradation than words could tell. The confident, learned Solomon Northup, stripped of his identity, slowly descends into a petrified and humiliated man viewed as nothing more than a beast, as Paul Giamatti’s slave trader calls him. Yet unlike the other slaves, Northup maintains an unwavering conviction to survive no matter how much whips and words may break him down. From the tips of his toes that struggle to keep him alive in one long, unflinching scene to the quivers of his cheeks that restrain his hatred, every ounce of Ejiofor becomes Solomon Northup on the screen.

3. McQueen Brings the Perfect Balance of Realness
While there is a substantial amount of violence in the film, McQueen’s visceral approach is nonetheless artful and respectful of the history of slavery. He offers up a raw account of events without sensationalizing and dramatizing them, nor insulting the audience by diluting them. “12 Years” is clearly a film dedicated to honestly relating a real-life story, not one that manipulates audience’s emotions or one with an aim to strictly sell tickets. Each scene feels real enough to the point where we get it just enough.

4. Lupita Nyong’o Is an Actress to Watch
In her very first film role newcomer Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsy, the most hardworking and, unfortunately, most favored slave on Edwin Epp’s (Michael Fassbender) plantation. The sexual harassment and rape Patsy endures from the sickening Epps is undoubtedly awful, but nearly pales in comparison to the unending torture his jealous wife Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson) puts her through. As Patsy, Nyong’o gives one of the most remarkable and heartbreaking performances of the year that will stay with you long after. It’s always refreshing to discover such talent in a new actor and we’re certain we’ll be seeing Nyong’o in many great roles to come.

5. It Effectively Uses Its Large Cast
While the other historical epic this year (“The Butler”) made a decent attempt with a large cast, it mainly used it as bait to enhance the story rather than to create strong characters. “12 Years a Slave,” however, utilizes its big-named cast to the perfect degree, where the audience isn’t left waiting for a famous actor to arrive on screen. While the film features small roles from Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, Quvenzhane Wallis, Paul Dano, and Benedict Cumberbatch, the actors themselves never overshadow their characters but simply add to the richness of the story. The main standouts are Michael Fassbender’s malicious slave owner Epps, and Sarah Paulson who is an ideal fit as his wicked, vile wife.

6. It’s So Much More Than a Film
In the wrong hands “12 Years a Slave” could’ve easily become operatic and desperate, or inappropriately violent. Yet with McQueen’s background in art and his previous films “Hunger” and “Shame”, both of which portray the agony of the human condition in a visually beautiful, yet trialing manner, “12 Years” is so much more than a movie. McQueen’s slow tracking shots through the sugarcane fields, his unwavering scenes of cries and abuse, and his elongated gaze on the embers of burning paper dig out deeper emotions beyond the surface of the story.

7. Hans Zimmer’s Score Is a Bit Melodramatic
Zimmer’s style is known for its epic emotionalism, and while “12 Years” is an epic, the music feels slightly overwhelming and melodramatic. This may be because of its pairing with McQueen’s slow-paced, naturalistic style, which is very dissimilar to Zimmer’s usual films full of action and fast editing. The score may also feel slightly out of place due to its striking resemblance to Zimmer’s past compositions. The music that repeats throughout the film is very similar, if not the same, to both his “Time” composition from “Inception” and “Journey to the Line” from “The Thin Red Line” (give them a listen once you see the film). Perhaps less repetition of the same music and more periods of silence would’ve better suited the film’s moments of intensity.

8. It Depicts Slavery Unlike Other Films Before It
So far this year two films have examined racial tensions and politics in America, with “Fruitvale Station” and “The Butler.” The latter briefly portrayed slavery rather softly and commercially, while just last year we got Tarantino’s signature twist on slavery in “Django Unchained.” It seems a fitting time though for a film to finally take a serious approach to one of the most horrific periods of dehumanization and suffering in American history. Unlike its predecessors, “12 Years” approaches pre-Civil War events with a mature respect without exploiting them for sympathy or blatant condemnation. While audiences of course have no first-hand experience of the slavery era to know how truly accurate the film is, McQueen’s film feels like the most authentic portrayal yet.

9. Yes, It Will Definitely Get a Ton of Nominations
We know all the early Oscar talk is annoying, but, with a film like “12 Years a Slave,” it’s incredibly difficult to avoid awards chatter since it so aptly succeeds on so many cinematic levels. From its brilliant cinematography — suffering truly never looked so gorgeous and harrowing — and its outstanding performances, to the all-consuming power of McQueens watchful, detailed eye, the film merits many praises.

10. While Historical, It Feels Very Relevant
It’s not uncommon for a period piece or a historical epic to get bogged down in the cobwebs of antiquity, feeling more like an educational lesson that is wholly separate from us today. However, McQueen’s film isn’t one that is easy to brush off as merely something that happened, as it leaves a lasting impression of something that still impacts us. “12 Years” isn’t a preachy sermon on morality and race issues, it doesn’t summarize history like “The Butler,” and it doesn’t just tell the story of one man. It encapsulates the birth of an evil and a widespread persecution which created waves that have echoed throughout history into the present. McQueen’s film is so powerful and consuming that you feel like you’re right there with Northup, yet when the credits roll you can’t help but feel the rippling effects such an era of agony has had on race in America and still does today.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 17, 2013.

‘Her’ Review: 10 Things to Know About the Technological Romance Flick

"Her" review, Joaquin Phoenix

Warner Bros.

In “Her,” which premiered at the New York Film Festival last weekend, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely writer living in a futuristic Los Angeles who can’t get himself to sign his divorce papers. When the world’s first artificially intelligent computer software comes out, one that is personally matched to each user, Theodore sets it up immediately. After a few blunt questions including, “How would you describe your relationship with your mother?” he is given Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Programmed with the thousands of personalities of her creators, Samantha is a constantly evolving software that develops more complex knowledge and emotions every moment. As Theodore interacts with her more and more each day, he begins to fall in love with her.

Spike Jonze’s sci-fi romance depicts a relatable, poignant love story with one of the best, yet most unusual onscreen romances this year. While the film doesn’t open until December 18, here are 10 things you should know about it.

1. It’s a Bizarre But Beautiful Love Story
Amy Adams’ Amy, Theodore’s closest friend, says “Falling in love is the craziest thing to do. It’s kind of like a form of socially acceptable insanity.” Nothing could ring truer in a film where various forms of love are examined and explored: a man falling for his A.I. computer software; said software experiencing the same emotions; a woman struggling with her marriage. At first, Theodore’s relationship with Samantha seems as weird as it sounds, but as the two grow closer their relationship becomes more and more realistic. We soon can’t help but see them as a real couple, communicating long distance.

2. It Echos Contemporary Anxieties
While “Her” takes place in a not-so-distant future, it serves as a reflection for the many social anxieties we face today. The need to always be connected, to always be in-the-know, is still present in Jonze’s future world. His Los Angeles citizens are constantly communicating via bluetooth-esque earpieces. Though Theodore works as a ghost writer of love letters, he spends most of his time playing video games and calling up a hotline for phone sex, all technological ways to connect that result in no real satisfaction. If Jonze’s world is our future then it proves that while technology may be fancier and more convenient, it may still leave us wanting more.

3. But Overall, It’s More About Humanity Than Technology
Though “Her” is an examination of technology and its growing effect on our daily lives, that’s just the basis for its story about the human condition. The film begins by exploring Theodore’s seemingly odd relationship with his OS (operating system) Samantha, and eventually focuses its attention more toward human emotions, experiences, and relationships. The closer Theodore gets to Samantha the more he unlocks his long-hidden spontaneous, vulnerable self. This ability to find friendship and even love with an OS becomes quite common among the film’s other characters. Yet through this deep connection with technology, Theodore, and even Samantha, soon discover what it means to be human. In a way “Her” begins with how technology removes us from ourselves, but then explores how it can help us stay in touch with our emotions.

4. Joaquin Phoenix Is Amazing (as Always)
Theodore is his most sensitive and relatable character yet, one whom isn’t as much of an anti-social recluse as Ryan Gosling’s Lars in “Lars and the Real Girl,” but still suffers from loneliness and heartbreak. In a majority of his scenes, Phoenix is alone on screen as he converses with Samantha, yet his performance is constantly charged with emotion. Whether lying in bed talking, dancing alone along the subway platform, or spinning around on the boardwalk with his eyes closed, Phoenix is fully captivating. He proves that he can carry an entire film and create a relatable character we can see facets of ourselves in.

5. Scarlett Johansson’s Voice Has a Strong Presence
While we only hear a voiceover from Johansson, her character is as palpable as the rest. The many nuances in her voice — her crackly laugh, her soft inhales, her squeaky excitements — make her presence all the more human, as if she’s just a person on the other end of the phone. We may imagine Johansson’s face as we listen to her Samantha, but the inability to see her on screen constantly challenges our imagination as we fight to visualize each of her expressions. Johansson’s voice work reveals just how much of a believable character can be created through audio only.

6. Amy Adams Is Very Real
Amy Adams is Spike Jonze’s usual rugged-yet-natural-looking female character (think Cameron Diaz in “Being John Malkovich”). Her messy hair and baggy clothes go along with her faltering marriage and overwhelming job. Adams has played both raw, feisty characters and sweet, charming ones, but as Amy she’s an unabashed and honest woman who’s endlessly flustered with life. She’s the best friend you wish you had, who can break down crying in front of you, but also just be blunt when you need it. Amy is the best portrayal of any real onscreen female this year.

7. It Has an Odd But Hilarious Sense of Humor
In “Her” we get a sense of Jonze’s unusual and candid sense of humor with a handful of unexpectedly funny moments. When Theodore is having phone sex, what would seemingly turn into a sad moment of loneliness quickly becomes the most bizarre and hilarious encounter imaginable. Jonze also adds doses of humor with Theodore’s holographic video game where an alien character shouts funny vulgar remarks at him and Samantha.

8. The Tone Is Very Natural
Regardless of its science fiction story, “Her” is both realistic and relatable. Jonze succeeds in showing people (or should we say all entities) for how and what they are: sensitive, jealous, goofy, angry, and selfish creatures. An entire spectrum of emotions is revealed through Theodore and Samantha as they come to discover each other and eventually themselves. There are moments in the film where you can laugh if you find it funny or take it earnestly. In a way, the film’s very natural and relatable style reflects how we all go through a confusing range of feelings and how every experience lends each person different ones.

9. It Reveals a Likely Future
Jonze’s futuristic world feels not so far away with its voice operated earpieces à la Siri, holographic motion-controlled video games (we’re almost there), and digitally transcribed letter-writing service. In the film, Theodore writes for BeautifulHandwrittenLetters.com, an ironic name for a company where no such handwriting occurs. Theodore verbally dictates all types of moving letters as his computer digitally transcribes them into cursive fonts and prints them onto digitally drawn lined paper. It wouldn’t be so surprising if this became the future of editorial publishing.

10. As Jonze’s First Solo Script, It’s Incredible
Spike Jonze made his signature mark as a director with films like “Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation,” and “Where the Wild Things Are,” so it may seem surprising that “Her” is Jonze’s first solo writing credit. While Jonze has given life to Charlie Kaufman’s personal screenplays, “Her” seems like a very personal piece of Jonze himself. The film’s look at relationships and loneliness is so relatable that any viewer can find moments to connect to, to use as a reflection of their own personal struggles. To capture such honesty about the human condition in his first screenplay is a commendable achievement. We can’t wait to see what he brings us next.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 14, 2013.

How Did They Shoot ‘Escape From Tomorrow’?

how they shot "Escape From Tomorrow"

MANKURT MEDIA LLC

The Magical Kingdom you spent your childhood exploring may not be the innocent perfection you believed it to be. That’s right: Disney World has a demented side and filmmaker Randy Moore is here to show it to us.

Moore’s “Escape From Tomorrow,” a psychological horror fantasy, follows a recently unemployed father (Roy Abramsohn) through the deceiving depths of Disney World during his family vacation. What would normally appear to be a fun day of rides, wonder, and fireworks turns into a psychotic nightmare of erotic perversion, violent death, and evil enchantments. “Escape From Tomorrow” is Disney gone wrong — or maybe just Disney how we don’t want to see it, disillusioned by its sugarcoated grandeur.

Besides the mind-bending story, one of the most fascinating aspects of the film is that it was actually shot in complete secrecy in both Disney World and Disneyland, something that has garnered much controversy. Filmed in guerilla-like documentary style, the crew pretended to be tourists with personal cameras while the actors stayed in character throughout the park. In various interviews Moore has described the unusual and hectic process of shooting the film while avoiding the Disney Police, facing technical difficulties, and getting the incredible shots they needed.

Moore told Ain’t It Cool News that the film was shot over five or six separate trips to Disney parks in both California and Florida, with only one two-week-long trip that included the actors. While spending that much time in the House of Mouse may sound fun, in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine the director said, “The actual shooting was a nightmare.” Each day began with rehearsals in Moore’s hotel room, then the actual shooting would happen in the park where they were able to get only three or four takes before security noticed them. “There was no crowd control… It really all depended on the amount of traffic and visibility and the time of day,.”

In order to blend in with the crowd, Moore said that he even asked the camera department to shave their beards so they’d look like tourists. “We basically lived the movie with the actors,” he said. And as far as the cast themselves? Moore told Indiewire about a close call with park security when the stars remained in character and saved the crew from almost getting caught. Moore described how security asked the “family” why they were walking out of the same location more than once and why people (the crew) were taking their pictures. When the guard asked if they were famous, Katelynn Rodriguez, who plays the young daughter Sara said that she had to go the bathroom. “So they took her to the bathroom,” Moore said, “they took off their mics [and] when they came out there was a parade that came between them and the security person.”

Secretly recording planned footage at the Disney parks is one thing, but you may be wondering how in the world they recorded dialogue. In Moore’s Ain’t It Cool interview, he pointed out the interviewer’s digital recorder and said, “That’s what we used for park sound. They would run for 18 hours on one battery. We wired all the actors and spent a month and a half synching the sound without synch points after we shot the movie.”

Another amazing aspect of the film is the numerous shots of the park when it’s completely empty. Moore said of the crew, “We got there really early in the morning with the crowd, got to the front of the line and when they opened the gate we ran ahead.” Moore, his DP, and Assistant Cameraman each had cameras and would have set areas and rides they’d rush to shoot before crowds interfered with the shot.

Of course the main question remains: is “Escape From Tomorrow” legal? This concern has been on Moore’s mind since the production began and after it screened at Sundance when distribution was still a lingering question. According to a New Yorker article, the film luckily falls within the blurry lines of the fair-use category of copyright law since it’s more of a commentary and parody of Disney. Still, the Mouse has yet to speak out against the movie or present a lawsuit, a strategy many predict is Disney’s way of averting any extra attention given to the film. The less they say, the more the film will fall under America’s radar supposedly. But regardless of the company’s stance or absence legal action, we think “Escape From Tomorrow” is hardly a film that will escape your attention.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 11, 2013.

‘The Ring’: The Birth of Tech-Horror That Made Me Fear My TV

Naomi Watts, "The Ring" the ultimate horror experience

Everett

This is the first article in Moviefone’s Ultimate Horror Experience series, where the Moviefone staff looks back on scary movies that impacted us the most. Stay tuned for a different movie each week in October.

The early 2000s were the beginning of a horror subgenre, one that used the emblems of the millennium to explore ghosts and demons. I’ve come to dub this period as tech-horror. Tired of trite stories about haunted houses, demonic possession, and ancient fatal curses, filmmakers began using technology to spook us; at the time, there was nothing scarier.

One of these films was “The Ring,” which came out when I was 11 years old. This was a time when digital technology was slowly infiltrating our daily lives and online communication was on the verge of expanding. At that age, I was still using MySpace and AOL instant messenger, and had just gotten my first cell phone (in retrospect, 11 was a horrifyingly young age for such a gadget). DVD players had just recently become available at reasonable prices so nearly every household would soon own one. But this was still a transitional period, where we weren’t quite ready to step into the unknown of digital technology and still held on to our VHS collections.

Thus “The Ring,” an exploration of horror and death through human interaction with technology. Although it borrowed concepts from ’80s indie films “The Video Dead” and “TerrorVision,” Gore Verbinski’s remake of the Japanese original “Ringu” was one of the first mainstream American films to explore the new frontier of tech-horror. “The Ring” sparked a new subgenre that visualized a cultural anxiety towards budding technology, with films like “One Missed Call,” “FeardotCom,” “Pulse,” and eventually the “Paranormal Activity” series. Yet what exactly was so damn frightening about “The Ring”?

According to the movie, death by VHS could happen to anyone. A videotape was floating around somewhere in the universe that could kill those who watched it. No one knew what video it was, but once they hit play they were doomed. So, as a proficient lover of films, wasn’t it more likely to happen to me?

Of course this was just a movie, but to an 11-year-old in 2002 this was a pretty scary concept, especially for one who did so much home-movie watching and visited Blockbuster as often as the grocery store. The scariest films I’d seen up to that point were “The Sixth Sense” and “The Others,” both of which involved supernatural hauntings, things I shook off as fantastical stories. But death by video? An evil girl crawling out of the screen into your living room to kill you? The television screen, the safety zone which divided the film world from the real world, felt like it had been penetrated and I was no longer a spectator. These devices had just been fully introduced to my pre-teen life and now they could kill me?

In retrospect, my fear makes sense. I grew up in an age of blooming ubiquitous technology, a time where my middle school identity was defined by my MySpace profile, where my cell phone became my third arm, where Blockbuster and Netflix home-video watching was constant and instigated my dream of becoming a film critic. Technology was everywhere in the household and now movies were coming out that revealed the many ways it could make us susceptible to ghostly attacks. Maybe this is the underlying reason I’m not necessarily a fan of horror — maybe it simply became too real for me at too young an age.

I thought perhaps the gripping fear from scary movies I’d seen in my childhood had faded with time. I recently rewatched “The Sixth Sense,” which was just as great of a film but failed to have the same intensity of paralyzing fear it had on me at age eight. But last year, when I was working in a West Village public school, I suddenly stopped short in the hallway. Brian Cox was standing a few feet away from me, peering at a wall display of classroom work. I couldn’t help but feel incredibly uncomfortable and scared. Of course this wasn’t Samara’s father, only the actor who played him, but I immediately realized “The Ring” still had a hold on me, technology driven or not.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 9, 2013.

A New Age of Comedy In 6 Seconds or Less

Vine, vine logoThanks to the Internet we now have various mediums and genres of humor. The first wave of mainstream Internet humor began with YouTube, which in essence brought the type comedy of from “America’s Funniest Home Videos” to your fingertips. Finding something to laugh at online became a matter of searching for your own comedy treasures on YouTube for as long as your procrastinating heart desired.

Yet Internet humor has recently grown beyond YouTube and onto quicker, more immediate platforms. Instead of devoting time to watching videos of varying lengths, we can now be laughed to tears in six seconds or less. With the invention of Vine and the creation of memes and gifs, Internet humor has now become a wholly new language of its own and one that is constantly evolving.

Vines offer the ability to pack as many visuals and sounds as possible into videos of six seconds or less. A few years ago it might have seemed impossible to create something funny in such a limited length, but Vine users have found ways to make both hilarious and artful videos with the tool. While some utilize it to make inventive stop motion shorts, others manipulate pre-existing footage, enact spoofs of pop culture, imitate cultural norms, or capture candid moments. There are so many types of Vines now that they can grouped in sub-genre categories: Smack Cam Vines, White People vs. Black People Vines, Girls Vs. Guys Vines, Drive-Thru Prank Vines, Dubbed Music Vines, and many, many more.

Yet regardless of how many types of Vines exist, the phenomenon itself is what’s astounding. Instead of spending varying lengths of time watching funny YouTube videos — we’re all guilty of those binges — we can now get the same kind of comedy and entertainment in an instant. From watching a kid attempting to dance sexy only for his dog to hump him, to a terrible (yet incredibly hilarious) dub over a Beyonce performance, to a dog “dancing” to 50 Cent, these little gems make us laugh so hard with so little.

But here’s the Vine catch: you can’t just watch one. The first one’s hilarious, then the next isn’t quite as good so you keep clicking forward until over two hours have passed of non-stop Vine viewing (true story). With so much humor jam-packed into only six seconds you’ll find yourself craving more, curious about what other clever ways people have devised to make you laugh.

However, unlike a YouTube video that you can sit with for a while or watch singularly, Vine allows no time for a break. Since Vines are on auto-replay, as soon as one ends you can either watch it again (if it’s funny enough), skip to the next, or pause it (which is almost difficult since the videos are so quick). You may find yourself laughing at one Vine and clicking to next only to continue laughing more, leaving you a mere moment to catch your breath. In just a few minutes you can consume nearly 30 (give or take if you rewatch some) separate Vines; that’s 30 separate six second movies, or 180 seconds of unrelated footage, or 30 different ways of making you laugh or wowing you. That is a lot of activity for a mind to handle, so much that you probably couldn’t stop to name more than five you fully remembered.

The Internet has done a lot of miraculous things, but in the realm of immediate humor gratification it has succeeded to condense comedy to the tiniest, quickest fragment possible. If six seconds of comedy made by a stranger can make us laugh, will we continue to have the patience for a two hour stand-up special or a 90 minute comedy film.

Vine is fun, accessible, and rather genius; instant comedy for the man or woman on the go. However, it’s also vastly changing the way we consume comedy and entertainment, what we require to laugh, and our patience for humor. Technology may be changing comedy, but as long as it keeps us laughing it can’t be that bad, can it?

A version of this article was originally featured on RevUpTransmedia.com on October 7, 2013.

‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ Review: 10 Things To Know About the Fantasy Film

Ben Stiller, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty review

20th Century Fox

Ben Stiller’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” an adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story of the same name, premiered at the New York Film Festival this past weekend to widely polarized critical reactions. While many proclaimed the film an utter mess, others praised its fun and fantastical nature.

Directed by and starring Stiller, “Walter Mitty” loosely follows the fantasy and real-life adventures of the fictional title character (first portrayed on screen by Danny Kaye in 1947). Stiller’s awkward and timid Mitty works in the photography department at Life magazine and is the liason for famed photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn). But when a negative of O’Connell’s photo goes missing — one that will be used as the cover photo of the very last Life print issue before the mag transitions to online — Mitty must go on a real adventure, one crazier than his imagination has ever concocted.

The comedy-fantasy flick from Stiller doesn’t hit theaters until Christmas Day, so to get a head start, here are 10 things you should probably know about it.

1. It’s Not the Film the Trailer Depicts
According to the trailer, Stiller’s remake appears to be more of an artful take on the famous short story than a silly romcom. Unfortunately, those expecting “Walter Mitty” to have a profound and uplifting message or original characters will be disappointed to find it a hodgepodge of Hollywood cliches. Stiller’s film takes the typical early-2000s romcom — as always, set in the journalism industry — and uses Thurber’s short story as inspiration for fantastical, outrageous, and some outright weird daydream sequences. The promo wants us to believe Stiller’s Mitty is a mix of Zach Braff‘s Andrew Largeman in “Garden State” with the wildly imaginative mind of Gael Garcia Bernal in “The Science of Sleep.” But don’t be mislead: “Walter Mitty” is nothing but mainstream fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

2. It’s Super Cute and Fun
Some of us have a soft spot for sweet and cheesy films, especially ones with visual flair like this movie. Stiller is convincing as an awkward nerd with big dreams of adventure. His daydreams are the most exciting element of the movie, from his superhero dog-in-a-burning-building rescue to his fantasy of talking back to Adam Scott‘s frat boy bully. His zone-out moments and real-life adventures are equally ridiculous, and his sentimental moments are pure cheese. If you swallow “Walter Mitty” for what it is, it is an enjoyable saccharine treat.

3. It’s Uneven In Tone
That said, the main downfall of “Walter Mitty” is its indecisiveness between comedy and drama. The film has a handful of laughable moments, but screenwriter Steve Conrad (“The Pursuit of Happiness”) throws in sudden serious elements that feel widely out of place. In one scene, Walter quickly transitions from lightheartedly joking about being in a Papa John’s in Greenland to relating the story of his father’s death. While the wavering tone of serious and playful throughout the film reflects the awkward nature of Stiller’s character, it unfortunately ruins several moments that could’ve been more believable.

4. Kristen Wiig Is Miscast
There’s something about Kristen Wiig, or maybe everything, that just makes you want to burst out laughing; it’s why we love her. For that very reason Wiig will simply never work in even a semi-serious role or as a character with any level of normalcy. Wiig’s Cheryl, a separated mother with an inactive eHarmony account, is your everyday woman with slight nerd tendencies like Stiller’s Walter. However, it’s impossible for Wiig to deliver a line with any amount of seriousness that doesn’t leave the audience teetering on whether to laugh or not. We’ve been conditioned to never take Wiig seriously. Like many other breakout female SNL cast members, Wiig has pigeonholed herself into such arbitrary comedic characters that normal ones may never fit.

5. Adam Scott Is Kind of Disappointing
The “Parks and Rec” actor is enjoyable to watch on the big and small screen for playing both a shy sweetheart and, at other times, an arrogant jerk. As Walter’s new boss, Scott is the perfect cocky bully you want to punch in the face. However, his character is nothing but a repeat of his “Step Brothers” character Derek, also a rich, insolent brat who thrives off of picking on losers. Had this been the first time we saw Scott as the ultimate office A-hole it would’ve been perfect, but Scott brought nothing new to the part and instead played the character with an air of desperation.

6. The Technology Adds to the Dream Sequences
A remake of Danny Kaye’s 1947 film was definitely due, if only to take advantage of current technology. The movie’s CGI makes Mitty’s fantasy and real-life adventure sequences all the more fun and crazy, from the animated sharks surrounding him in the ocean to flames exploding as Mitty escapes from a burning building. However, some CGI seemed unnecessary and completely weird, such as a daydream scene where Mitty imagines himself aging reversely, Benjamin Button-type.

7. It’s the Perfect Christmastime Movie
Opening on December 25th, “Walter Mitty” is the ideal Christmas film. With opening day contenders like Meryl Streep‘s family drama “August: Osage County,” macho sport comedy “Grudge Match,” and Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” Stiller’s movie will be the ideal cherry entertainment for the entire family.

8. The Soundtrack Is Great
With empowering indie rock songs from Arcade Fire and Of Monsters and Men, along with a heavy focus on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” “Walter Mitty” is full of great music. The soundtrack definitely attempts to add an indie feel to the very mainstream movie, which, if anything, will bring wider attention to (slightly) lesser known bands and introduce the greatness of Bowie to a younger generation.

9. It’s a Good Oscar Contender
“Walter Mitty” has a good shot at getting a Best Picture nominee for its crowd-pleasing ability and feel-good nature. With a surplus of heavy dramas this year, Stiller’s film will shine as the fun yet sweetly sentimental family comedy. It’s unlikely the movie will go home with any golden statues, but we predict it will help skyrocket Stiller to directing bigger projects.

10. But Stiller Still Needs More Work as a Filmmaker 
This is undoubtedly the actor’s most ambitious film as a director and one that has the widest audience appeal. Stiller may not have proven himself successful in convincingly blending comedy, drama, andaction, but “Walter Mitty” is definitely a step in a better direction for his career behind the camera. The film’s many elements of reality and fantasy are a whole new territory for Stiller, and while he didn’t quite master them, we’re at least glad he’s moving away from slapstick comedy and closer toward big blockbuster crowd pleasers.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 7, 2013.

‘Gravity’ Review: 10 Things to Know About the Space Epic

Sandra Bullock, "Gravity" review

Warner Bros.

It’s difficult to find any flaw in Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity,” which, at this point, is easily the best film of the year if not one of the best technical films ever. While its best to avoid hyping up a movie to such grand extents — and we do really hate all the early Oscars talk — we just can’t help ourselves (sorry).

The space thriller, co-written and directed by Cuaron (“Children of Men,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban“) stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone and George Clooney as astronaut Matt Kowalski. While Stone is working on a repair on the crew’s Explorer space shuttle, the team gets word that a field of debris is heading their way. When it connects, their shuttle gets destroyed, and Stone ends up disconnected from the ship. With nowhere to return to, she must find a way to get to the International Space Station before her oxygen runs out.

Before you shoot out to see how this epic tale ends, here are 10 things you should know about the space thriller.

1. Its Characters Are Kind of Cheesy
On paper, “Gravity” is a rather corny and cliched story about two lost souls: Dr. Ryan Stone has lost her faith over the death of a loved one, while Matt Kowalski is a country-music-loving Texan divorcee. We learn details about the characters’ backstories in brief conversations, none of which are unique or profound. If you close your eyes during these moments, “Gravity” may sound like a typical Clooney or Bullock movie. However, this isn’t a film for shut eyes.

2. It’s More About the Thrill Ride
Discounting “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Gravity” is Cuaron’s most Hollywood-ized film, and one that delves less philosophically into the human condition. Instead, Cuaron spends more energy on technical prowess, layering and building suspense, and manipulating the audience’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you go into “Gravity” expecting a complex story or strong character development, you’ll find yourself disappointed. “Gravity” resembles a cinematic space roller coaster more than a typical trip to the movies — and that’s why we love it.

3. It Will (Literally) Take Your Breath Away
There are moments in the film where you may feel like your oxygen is running low. You’ll probably release your sweaty grip from the seat, swallow a giant gulp of air, and attempt to level your heartbeat. The relentless moments of panic makes the experience of watching “Gravity” an all-consuming one. If any film will give you the most fun 91-minute anxiety attack of your life it’s this one (trust us, it’s worth it).

4. Bullock Is Maybe Her Best Ever
Bullock brings a genuine mix of courage and fear to the role. You can tell Stone’s scared out of her mind, but she never lets you doubt that she’ll figure out a way to survive. Her character is the ideal Hollywood hero we never stop cheering for, but also one who is deeply human. She’s no superhero in this survival tale, much less a professional astronaut — she’s just a woman trying to make it home alive. While there’s not much in Bullock’s performance that we haven’t already seen before, it’s nonetheless emotionally charged and honest. Her moments of panic and fear are so real you forget you’re watching a character.

5. See It In 3D
No one actually wants to put on a pair of used plastic glasses to enjoy a movie; it’s annoying, it’s expensive, and it usually offers nothing new. But all you anti-3D moviegoers out there: I am one of you, but I implore you to set aside your three-dimensional distaste for an hour and a half, put on a pair of clunky frames, and go to space. To see the dazzling depth of Earth against the blanketed atmosphere, the hyper-realistic debris speeding at you, and the intricacies of a tiny metal bolt floating towards you in zero gravity, is breathtaking. For the first time since “Avatar,” 3D has finally found a good way to enhance a film.

6. It’s (Probably) the Most Advanced Space Movie Ever
You may think James Cameron’s comments about “Gravity” being “the best space film ever” seem exaggerated. Sure, Kubrick’s “2001” has long been the king of space epics alongside the original “Star Wars” films. But Cameron’s right: space has never before looked as strikingly real and intricately detailed as it does in this film.

7. It May Not Be Practical, But That’s OK
While the film may be a bit unrealistic — one major plot hole has already been spotted by a real astronaut — it doesn’t really matter, right? No space movie can be wholly realistic, especially one that has as many crazy moments as this one. At the end of the day, “Gravity” is a movie — and it’s probably the closest most of us are ever going to get to space for under $15.

8. The Sound Makes the Film
If the visuals rank first in this film then the sound — or lack thereof — comes second. Sound may not be something you always think about in a movie, but “Gravity” will definitely draw your attention to it. Cuaron takes advantage of the fact that there’s virtually no sound (at least that the human ear can hear) in space. There are various periods in the film with literally no noise except for the characters’ breathing and voices, reminding you of the complete and terrifying aloneness of space.

9. Cuaron’s Camerawork Is Riveting
Known for his considerably long takes, we experience both the infinite vastness and the suffocating claustrophobia of space through Cuaron’s camerawork, which spins out of control with Stone’s body then shoves us into the helmet with her. Like the astronauts, we lose complete control as the constantly moving camera tosses us around helplessly in zero gravity.

10. It Proves That the Death of Cinema Is Nowhere Near 
You’ve heard the debate over the past few years that filmmaking is in decline and that 3D is destroying the medium. If any film proves otherwise it’s “Gravity.” With some of the most mesmerizing and advanced photography and 3D ever used in a film, it’s hard to deny that this space movie won’t mark a shift in film history.

This article was originally featured on Moviefone on October 3, 2013.

The TV Binge: Watch at Your Own Risk

"Orange Is the New Black"Retrospectively I can chunk the last year of my life into TV binge phases. “Law and Order: SVU,” my go-to streaming show, remains at the core with other series like “Parks and Rec” or “Portlandia” highlighting summer or fall seasons. It even seems that I more easily remember these periods of my year mainly by what shows I was watching, by what I was spending the majority of my free time consuming.

“Portlandia” and “Parks & Rec” both shaped my 2012 streaming summer, the latter of which bled into the fall. My winter was equally divided between “Downton Abbey” and “American Horror Story,” a suitable pair to balance excessive streaming of the other — a cup of English Breakfast always soothes supernatural nightmares. However this past summer was my true initiation into my binge-watching addiction, instigated by the recently most binge-watched show ever, “Orange Is the New Black.”

When “Orange” debuted on Netflix in late June it was one of the few new series of the summertime hiatus and the only series where the entire first season premiered in full to stream. As many other critics have proclaimed, the first few episodes were semi-engaging, but nothing quite as addictive as the show turned out to be. Then after three days and many hours of sleep lost, I found myself starved for more lesbian prison drama. I had never watched an entire season start to finish, or any show until 2 a.m. for three consecutive days. This marked a new era of binge-watching and everyone was hooked.

When the first season of “Orange” was over I didn’t know what to do with myself so I transitioned my new binge habit to one of the many shows I’d never had the time to start before. Thus, my “Breaking Bad” addiction commenced. During the month of July watching the series became my usual evening/weekends routine, going from episode to episode as easily as Walt cooked one meth batch to the next, becoming addicted to a show that increasing became about addiction.

Sure, it can be said that TV binge watching devalues the quality of individual episodes. We absorb less when we watch four or five in one day and the suspense and anticipation that is characteristic of modern drama TV is eliminated. We probably even appreciate episodes less since it becomes harder to remember and cherish specific elements when we’re infiltrated by them at fast paces.

Yet this kind of speed watching is exactly what we want, to overdose on our favorite shows without having the previously mandatory patience from one weekly episode to the next. Our current expectations of immediate entertainment mean we want everything at once and at our fingertips. And once something runs out and we’re forced to be patient? As “Orange” revealed, we will be. Most people finished the first season in under a week, but didn’t know what to do next. Then the Internet blew up over the show for the remainder of the summer with bloggers continuing to dissect each and every angle of it.

So maybe then binge watching doesn’t mark a loss in quality or appreciation. This controlled type of binging, where we only get small doses at a time, floods us, but then squeezes us dry so that we have to return to re-watch and re-inspect what we may have missed. Just as we were only given one season of “Orange” at a time, we were also painfully teased with an 11 month intermission in the final season of “Breaking Bad.” Sure we can binge-watch the series all at once leading up to the premiere of fifth season’s second half, but then we’re still forced to watch the end of Walter White’s story in the traditional weekly episode manner. Of course once the full series is added to Netflix the case will be different, but there is nevertheless a game of push and pull here with networks serving us an unlimited buffet just to hold back the desert a little longer.

The modern age of television watching has become one big tease, and now unlike ever before it’s up to us how much we want to indulge in. We can cook one batch, space out our episode viewing, and walk away from the sooner-to-be addiction. Or we can take over the meth business, watch every available “Breaking Bad” episode as fast as possible, then sweat out the finale an episode at a time. Pick your TV poison.

A version of this article was originally featured on RevUpTransmedia.com on September 27, 2013.