Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Interview with Lisa Cholodenko, writer/director of The Kids Are All Right

Lisa Cholodenko isn’t a household name as writer/directors go, but that may change somewhat after her latest film, The Kids Are All Right, which was released smack in the middle of the summer, and recently came out on DVD and Blu-ray. The movie features three of our greatest actors – Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo – doing some of the most astute work of their careers. Expect the movie to snag some Oscar nominations for one or more of the trio, and if there’s any justice, Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg will be nominated for Best Original Screenplay as well.

The movie is blisteringly funny while at the same time painfully honest. It tells the story of a lesbian couple (Bening and Moore) who’ve been together for 20 years and raised two children (played Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who are now at an age when they’re interested in meeting their sperm donor (Ruffalo). Human comedy ensues with unexpected results. The Kids Are All Right is one of the best movies of the year, and Cholodenko, whose previous films include High Art and Laurel Canyon, is a huge factor in its success. Now you might be thinking that a movie about two lesbians and their kids isn’t exactly what you’re looking for. If so, you’re exactly the person who should see this film, because it’ll change your ideas of what makes a family in this day and age. And it will make you laugh – loud and hard.

Cholodenko took some time out to talk to Bullz-Eye on the occasion of the film’s home video release and after some introductory chit-chat we discussed the lesbian right, gay porn, and new meanings for the word “tribe.”

Bullz-Eye: The Kids are All Right was like this oasis of reason in an ocean of CGI and fart jokes this past summer. Do you get frustrated when you look around see the types of movies that rake in the big bucks these days?

Lisa Cholodenko: I wish we would kind of go back to the time where there were more interesting, idiosyncratic human kinds of comedies and dramas, and not such the kind of broad and farcical, box office driven fare, but that’s where we are right now, so, I just accept it, and I’m glad that there’s space for films like this.

BE: Well, so am I. There was some fairly vocal criticism of the film from the most unlikely of places – the lesbian community. Where do you think that kind of outrage comes from and, outside of raising awareness for the film itself, does that kind of anger serve any worthwhile purpose for a thoughtful movie like this?

LC: I keep referring to them as the lesbian right (chuckling), and I think that in any kind of group there’s going to be a contingent of people that are more extreme in their views of things, and more politicized and so, I think there’s room for everybody, and I don’t have a problem with that. It’s gets a little tedious speaking to it – not to you – but when I’ve heard it in Q & A’s and stuff, but I’m sympathetic. There’ve obviously been no great representations of lesbians in cinema, or certainly there hasn’t been in a long time, and it’s kind of an old school doctrinaire, “Oh of course the lesbian goes off with a man.” But if you look at the film with any kind of care, it’s really not about that at all.

Read the rest of this interview with Lisa Cholodenko by clicking here and visiting Premium Hollywood.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sherlock: Season One

Bringing Sherlock Holmes squarely into 2010 sounds too gimmicky to work, but the fact that it does may be only part of the reason Sherlock is such a surprise. The 19th century iconography the Holmes concept is mired in only exists because that’s when Arthur Conan Doyle wrote all those stories. As far as he was concerned, he was telling tales set in the present. It takes someone who really gets what this Holmes thing is all about to pull off a feat such as this update, and co-creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (both of Doctor Who fame) appear to relish the task. These guys are clearly drunk on Holmes. Nothing they’ve done taints the legacy; they’ve only added to it, and perhaps even whipped it into shape for audiences who might think the works of Conan Doyle are for stuffy old literature enthusiasts. If there’s one thing these three movies are not, it’s stuffy.

Here Sherlock Holmes is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who has an impossibly deep voice for the wiry, young man that he is. He does an exceptional job in the role of mad genius, and draws you in from his very first scene. Dr. John Watson, a military doctor back from Afghanistan, is brought to life by the wonderful Martin Freeman, who many people know at this point as the actor destined to breathe life into Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Freeman also owns his role, and together the two make a perfect team, as they stumble into one another’s lives and take up residence at 221b Baker Street. Freeman may have scored the role of his career with Peter Jackson, but it’s only a matter of time until Cumberbatch gets top billing at the cinemas. It doesn’t take a sleuth to see that this guy’s destined for greatness.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Chat with Piers Wenger of Doctor Who

It’s important to understand the circumstances under which I interviewed Piers Wenger, one of the executive producers of the current era of Doctor Who, and it’s equally important to understand how I dropped the ball on this interview, which is a huge shame, because anyone who knows me knows I’m a freak for Doctor Who, and I’ve no excuse for botching this one.

Except that I do.

Well, maybe not an excuse, but certainly a reason, and one which leaves me with no one to blame but myself. The story which follows will, I hope, serve as a warning for all who read it.

The phoner between Mr. Wenger and I was scheduled for Monday the 15th at 11 A.M. I knew this well in advance, and even though I’m generally not at my best until post-noon, I anticipated no problems, despite the fact my 39th birthday was the day before. This in and of itself should not have been a red flag, as any celebrating I was going to do would be on Saturday night. By all counts, I’d be in fine shape for Monday morning.

Saturday night, however, is merely where it all started, as I gathered with friends at my favorite bar and commenced the celebration, making merry, drinking, and having a grand ol’ time. As the night wore on, the festivities moved to my friend Paul’s place, where I indulged, alone, in a specific spirit, one which was given to me as a gift that night.

Ouzo, the famed Greek aperitif that smacks of black licorice, is a curious mistress. It courts you in the early stages of the night, seduces you into surrender later on, and then, when you’re not looking, comes up and violently takes you from behind and doesn’t let go. Those crazy Greeks. Around dawn, when it was time to share a cab home, I had finished about ¾ of the 80-proof bottle…which, you’ll remember, was on top of all the drinks I’d had earlier in the evening. Upon arriving at my place, my wife wisely went to bed. I, however, stayed up, intent on finishing the Ouzo (not to mention some vodka that was sitting around), listening to music and watching Blu-rays. I‘m sure at some point I even put on the Doctor Who Season Five Blu-ray, and thought, “That interview with Piers is going to rock!”

Yes, there is an interview with Mr. Wenger, but to read it, you'll have to click here to visit Bullz-Eye, finish my story, and then read the interview.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series

Still haven’t gotten around to checking out Doctor Who, have you? Don’t let the Season Five label dissuade you: This is a great place to get in on the action without feeling like you’re totally out of the loop. It features a new Doctor (Matt Smith), a new companion (Karen Gillan), a new head writer (Steven Moffat), and, most importantly, a new storyline that’s only barely connected to the four seasons that came before it. It is, for all intents and purposes, a new show. This is actually not a new strategy for Doctor Who, which has more often than not successfully reinvented itself every few years since it started in 1963, and now it’s gone and happened once again.

Technically, this Blu-ray set looks and sounds amazing, better even I think than “The Complete Specials” box set looked earlier this year. The art direction this season was cranked up to 11, and it shows in every nook and cranny of every frame. I viewed these episodes initially in standard def, but watching them on Blu is like a night and day difference. Even some of the effects work which seemed rather shoddy in standard looks wonderful here. (I’m thinking in particular of the Silurian city shots with the Doctor and Co. running in the foreground.) Clearly at this point, Doctor Who is all about high definition, so if you’re a fan and you’ve still not upgraded, I’m telling you, you are missing out something fierce.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Doctor Who: Revenge of the Cybermen / Silver Nemesis

We’re pretty much dragging the bottom of the Cyber-barrel this month, folks. With “Revenge of the Cybermen” and “Silver Nemesis,” all of the Cybermen stories (save for William Hartnell’s final adventure, “The Tenth Planet,” which is missing its fourth episode) are now available on DVD in some form or another. Despite being the Doctor’s third most popular enemy – after the Daleks and the Master – their track record in the series has always been pretty spotty, and there are probably more weak Cyber-stories than there are good ones. Unfortunately, neither of these entries highlights their strengths.

At the time “Revenge of the Cybermen” was unveiled in ‘75, the silver beasties had been absent from the series since 1968, having made no appearances during the Jon Pertwee era. (Somewhere out there, somebody is saying, “What about their cameo in “Carnival of Monsters?” To which I reply, “Come on…”) Tom Baker was the new Doctor, and it was decided that the transition from Pertwee might be easier for viewers if some classic baddies were brought back for his inaugural season. In the case of “Genesis of the Daleks,” an unquestionable classic was produced. In the case of this Cybermen story, well, not so much.

Read the rest of this DVD review for "Revenge of the Cybermen" as well as "Silver Nemesis" by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Damned by Dawn

The critical blurb on the cover of Damned by Dawn is difficult to miss: “Sick of waiting for Evil Dead 4? Check out Damned by Dawn.” It’s credited to a website called Quiet Earth. As is all too often the case, this blurb was taken out of context. A few clicks of the keyboard lead to a short article that, at least when it was written, reveals nobody at Quiet Earth had seen the movie, and they’d only viewed the trailer. It’s not their fault they came up with a line that someone in a marketing department latched onto, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for Quiet Earth’s full review, but in the meantime, here’s my take.

A young woman named Claire (Renee Willner) and her boyfriend Paul (Danny Alder) go to visit her dying “Nana” (Dawn Klingberg) on her deathbed, in a remote, rural area of Australia. The grandmother’s kindly manner is betrayed by her appearance. She’s got long, stringy hair and sunken, bloodshot eyes – positively witchlike. Only a granddaughter could love this creature that appears to have been carrying the weight of death itself with her for many a year. She tells Claire not to interfere with her impending passing or the spirit that’s coming to claim her soul. Obviously, Claire doesn’t quite understand what the old broad means, nor does she know what the urn the woman has passed on to her is all about. It doesn’t take long for the Banshee (Bridget Neval) to appear for Nana, and with her are dozens of scythe-wielding, undead minions. Claire, Paul, her father, and a couple others destined to be spirit fodder have quite the situation on their hands.

If you go into Damned by Dawn expecting a classic film of the Evil Dead type, you’re bound to be disappointed, and that’s why blurbs like the one mentioned above can do little movies like this more harm than good. On the other hand, there’s no question the filmmakers seem influenced by Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead...

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Slings and Arrows: The Complete Collection

Given that Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall fame is not only one of the writers, but also one of the stars of Slings and Arrows, one would think it would be much funnier than it is. It exists somewhere in that netherworld between drama and comedy though (as much TV seems to these days), but labeling it a dramedy is useless, because that doesn’t really tell you anything other than you might laugh or you might cry. In fact, dramedy is such an ineffective word, that I’d like to find the person who came up with the term and knock the crap out of them, or at least hire someone to. But I digress.

The series revolves around the fictitious New Burbage Festival, which is dedicated to showcasing the works of Shakespeare. Don’t bother trying to find New Burbage on the Canadian map, as the town is just as much of a creation as the festival. The central character is Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross), a rebellious sort who had a breakdown seven years ago smack in the middle of performing the lead role in a production of “Hamlet.” Afflicted with some vague mental illness for which he’s been treated, he’s continued trying to stage shows as a director at various venues without much success. Business went on as usual at the festival without him, although it appears nothing’s been quite the same since that night for artistic director Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette) and leading lady Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns). One night Oliver sees Geoffrey on the news, chained to a rundown theatre he’s trying to protect, and in an inebriated state tries to telephone him to make amends. Geoffrey rejects the apology, and Oliver stumbles out of the phone booth and is hit by a meat truck. Naturally, the festival needs a new artistic director, and Geoffrey begrudgingly accepts the job on a temporary basis. But it doesn’t take long for Oliver’s ghost to come knocking, or is it that Geoffrey has finally lost his mind for good?

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.