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Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Moms' Night Out
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action
Release Date:
May 9, 2014

John Wick
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Earth to Echo
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG for some action and peril, and mild language
Release Date:
July 3, 2014

23 Blast
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Release Date:
October 24, 2014

 

Snowpiercer
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:
Rated R for violence, language and drug content
Release Date:
July 2, 2014

Interview: “Avatar” Villain Stephen Lang on Playing a Good Guy Coach in “23 Blast”

posted by Nell Minow

Stephen Lang is best known for playing the villain in “Avatar.” But in “23 Blast,” based on the real-life story of Travis Freeman, a high school football player who lost his vision but stayed on the team, Lang plays a good guy, the coach who encouraged and supported him. I talked to Lang about acting and what it is like to play a real-life character you know will be watching.Copyright 2014 Touchdown Productions

I’ve seen you play a lot of bad guys and a lot of guys from other eras and it was really nice to see you playing just a regular nice contemporary guy. What was that like for you?

I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought, being nice or not nice, you know when I was still making this film, but when I watched the film I was like, “ Huh, what is it about this that…oh yeah, I am actually sympathetic. Wow.” And I realized, gee it’s kind of a while since I played someone who is not doing things bad things to people, so it is really quite a pleasure to watch.

From the very first scene, when you’re coaching the little kids, we see how decent and honorable your character is.

I love that scene. This is one of my favourite scenes in the movie. You know if you recall in this they were really little kids, you know.  And the bench was kind of high and their feet didn’t even touch the ground; they all were in football uniforms. And we only had this one bench and it really was not a very long bench. And we had like eight or nine kids crammed down to the bench, right and I was kind of at the end of the bench. So if you were the kid furthest away from me you had to lean far out so we could see everybody. And there was a kid who leaned far back, he just tumbled off and fell on his head. Once we made sure he was okay, it was very funny, a kind of slow motion dance.  It was what we would have called precious.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dylan Baker last week, so I got his take on what it was like to be a first time director, but tell me about what it was like to work with him.
I’ve known Dylan and have really a lot of respect for him as an actor – as an actor’s actor.  I was pleased to be asked to be part of his effort and I suspected that he would do a good job. I knew he would do a good job with the actors. And in fact, he did. And you know, he was well supported, I think from the technical side. I think he came into it knowing a certain amount but until you have actually directed, I mean so what. But he was really up to the task in that movie, it looks quite splendid.  And I enjoyed working with him very much. We worked to fine-tune it together. He was very open to what I brought to it, and it was always very clear about stepping in and saying, “How about if we tune this, try this and everything.”  I worked in concert with him. And I know that when I deal with him, I’m dealing with somebody who is intimately familiar with the whole process. So it was an altogether pleasurable experience.

When you take on a role like this, how much is what is on the page and how much is based on meeting the real person?

It really would depend on the project. If you were playing Bear Bryant for example, a coach who is nationally renowned,  it would be really a wise thing to study very, very hard, understanding that the audience already has an expectation of the character. But Coach Farris is a wonderful guy, he is physically quite different from me and I met him during the filming and enjoyed meeting him but I felt there was enough on the page for me to work with and to create my version of who this coach was and hopefully he is satisfied. There are no historical imperatives for me to be concerned about. When I played Stonewall Jackson, you want everything dead on accurate as you can be or if you are going to make an alteration, you want to know you are doing it because it is a choice, maybe because dramatically it may better than the truth. There is a tremendous amount written and said about Jackson so we know. The same cannot be said of Coach Farris. Although down in Portland I think he is quite well known and anyway, a nice guy.

Did you play high school football?

Yes, and I was a center, like Travis in the movie. I had a coach who was a really good man and a really good coach, for football and lacrosse.

You have done a lot of theater. Can you tell me a little bit as an actor about what it is that you can do in a film role that you can’t do on stage?

I would say in film very often it is a question of mastering mechanical skills, whether it be hitting your mark while you are riding a motorcycle or jumping off something. Not that that doesn’t occur on stage but theatre is that experience that you shared that you’re having and it is there and it is gone. Film is just this recorded out of sequence moments.

What’s the best advice you ever heard about acting?

Hit your mark and tell the truth. One actor did say to me years ago something which I have thought of over the years, because you know it is a tough business, right? In the best of careers there are disappointments, things that you think are going to turn out great don’t turn out great – and along with the moments of joy and the actor said to me right at the beginning, forty years ago, he looked at me, he says, “Hey, remember this; get angry but don’t ever turn bitter.” That’s pretty good advice in a way, you know. And keep getting better, keep learning all the time because if you are standing still then you’re petrified in this business. That is why I have to play a role like this. It was cool for me because I can be the authority thing, the bad guy thing, I can be that. It is nice to get an opportunity to work with little kids or to play a more sympathetic role now and again.

What are you most proud of with this film?

It is a true story. And I think the thing that is most outstanding about it is that it is a film that could have been done in a less sensitive, way it could have come very perilously close to a kind of a cloying sentimentality. And I think that was avoided totally, completely. It is told simply and at times it is charming, at times it is highly emotional, at times it is quite funny. And it is told literally with an authenticity and an honesty and a simplicity that is very, very moving, a real testament to the filmmaker, to Dylan and to his editors and the choices that they have made.

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

posted by Nell Minow
A-
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Movie Release Date:October 24, 2014

michael-keaton-birdman (1)Filmed as though it was almost entirely one long, stunning, audacious, breathless and breathtaking shot, “Birdman” (subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”) explodes with ideas and visions, adopting the language of dreams to explore and upend the very idea of storytelling.

Michael Keaton plays a character in superficial ways like Keaton himself. He is Riggan, an actor who has undertaken at least three impossible tasks at once. He has adapted the acclaimed but notoriously difficult and difficult to adapt Raymond Carver collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, into a Broadway play. The translation of stories whose art is in the spareness and lyricism of the prose into a theatrical production is at best ambitious, at worst impossible. But Riggan is not just the writer. He is also the director and star. He has put his last dime into the show. If it fails, he loses everything. And there is more. His estranged and angry daughter Sam (Emma Stone), just out of rehab, is working as his assistant so he can keep an eye on her and perhaps repair their relationship. One of the actresses (Andrea Riseborough), may be pregnant with his child. And a piece of equipment has just fallen on the head of one of the actors. They are about to go into previews and he cannot perform.

Riggan and Jake, his best friend/lawyer/producer (a slimmed down and pitch-perfect Zach Galifianakis), throw out (real-life) names of possible actor replacements. The best of their generation: Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Renner, Robert Downey, Jr — but they are all in Hollywood playing superheroes. Riggan knows something about that. He played a superhero called Birdman in a series of wildly popular films. He had money, fame, success, and the kind of power all of that brings. But now he has an ex-wife (Amy Ryan), an angry daughter, a possible new child on the way, and he is risking his future on the longest of longshots, a serious play in the high-pressure world of Broadway theater, between the vicious barbs of dyspeptic, despotic critics and audiences who would rather be at the latest musical.

Riggan and Jake argue about what to do next.  The understudy? No! “It’s not like the perfect actor is just going to knock on the door!”  Cue knock on the door.  It is Lesley, the non-possibly pregnant actress in the show (Naomi Watts), volunteering her boyfriend, Michael (Edward Norton), who is available (he just got fired or quit or both) and wants to do it.  He is a Broadway darling, a Serious Actor with a lot of fans.  Jake is ecstatic.  This will sell a lot of tickets.

Michael shows up with the script already memorized and able to give a dazzling performance that pushes Riggan to do his best. But Michael is also narcissistic and arrogant. His relationship with Lesley is deteriorating and he is hitting on Sam. Worse, he is sending her mixed signals, making her feel even more insecure and putting her recovery at risk. Riggan is under even more pressure externally and internally as a voice — his Birdman persona? His younger self? His future self? — is urging him, taunting him, distracting him.

It is a high wire act, the endless, dreamlike take festooned with farce-style slamming doors, fantasy interludes with monsters and explosions, sharp satire, poignant drama, and across the board performances of superb precision. As sheer, no-net, bravura filmmaking it is pure wonder, and if it raises more questions than it answers, at least they are the big questions of meaning, identity, work, love, art, and, of course, superheroes.

Parents should know that this film includes very strong and crude language, explicit sexual references and situation, gun violence, drinking, smoking, and drug use.

Family discussion: How much of what we see in this film is “real” and how can you tell? What do you think is happening in the final scene?

If you like this, try: “All That Jazz” and “Nine”

John Wick

posted by Nell Minow
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating:Rated R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Movie Release Date:October 24, 2014
Copyright Summit Entertainment 2014

Copyright Summit Entertainment 2014

This is a movie directed by two stunt men, which means it is pretty much a first-person shooter video game projected onto a movie screen. But that also means that it is directed by people who really know stunts and the kills on screen (reportedly more than 80) are on display for maximum effect. It delivers exactly what it promises, with a couple of surprisingly sharp and witty touches that lift it above the usual bang bang. There aren’t many movies where the funniest line is the way a character says, “Oh.” And I loved the idea of a very high-end, very specialized safe house/hotel just for assassins. Of course the only currency accepted is gold coins. And of course there is a doctor on duty 24/7 to sew up wounds without any pesky questions.

Keanu Reeves plays the title character and we know from the beginning of the film that he is not having a good day. We see him very badly, maybe mortally wounded, lying out in the rain, watching a video of his wife on his phone. And then we go back a couple of days to see what got him there.

His wife (Bridget Moynahan) is dying. At the funeral, he has an cryptic and uneasy conversation with Marcus (Willem Dafoe), a former colleague. That night, alone in his beautiful but spare home, John accepts delivery of a package. It is an adorable puppy, a gift from his late wife, with a note telling him that “you still need something, someone to love.” She urges him, “now that I’ve found my peace, find yours.”

When he goes out to get food for the dog, he stops to fill up his vintage ’69 Mustang with gas. An arrogant, hot-headed young Russian thug (Alfie Allen) wants to buy the car, snarling that everything has its price. His handler/bodyguard apologizes courteously and they go their separate ways. But that night, when John is asleep, they break into his house, brutally attack him, kill his puppy, and steal the car.

But they have stolen from the wrong person. Before he left the business to live blissfully with his wife, John Wick was employed as a killer and he was very, very good at it. “He was the one you sent to kill the boogeyman,” Viggo, the crime kingpin (Michael Nyqvist) says grimly. He has reason to know, as he was John’s employer. Viggo once saw him kill three guys with a pencil. And Viggo has reason to be grim; the hothead who stole John’s car was Viggo’s own spoiled son.

John gets out his sledgehammer to break the concrete floor and get to the weapons and stash of gold coins he had hidden there. He suits up (bulletproof vest and impeccably tailored grey duds), and off he goes, dodging the attacks from Viggo’s goons and then from the open contract Viggo puts out on him for any hitman (or women) who is willing to take him on, mowing down everyone, and I mean everyone (well, everyone male) who gets in his way.

Reeves is well cast as the implacable, unstoppable John Wicks, and Nyqvist (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and the Swedish “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” series) is outstanding as the wily Viggo. There are some nice darkly comic moments (trust me about that “Oh,” and a later reprise), but this is all about the stunts, and as pure adrenaline action fodder, this movie delivers the goods.

Parents should know that this film includes extremely graphic and intense violence with many characters (and a dog) injured and killed, disturbing images including spurting blood, wounds, stabbing, assault weapons, and explosives, strong language, smoking, drinking, drugs, skimpy clothes

Family discussion: Does everything have a price? Why did Viggo decide to make a deal? What did he mean when he said “this life follows you?”

If you like this, try: “Shoot ‘Em Up”

23 Blast

posted by Nell Minow
B
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for some teen drinking
Movie Release Date:October 24, 2014

23 Blast is the name of a football play, and “23 Blast” is based on the real story of Travis Freeman, a high school football star who lost his sight, but, with the help of a courageous coach and committed teammates, was able to keep playing.

The real hero of the movie is the coach, played by “Avatar” villain Stephen Lang, with a touch of dry with along with his determination and sense of honor. The film’s very first scene, with the coach working with a group of young boys as he learns he will be getting a job with the high school team, introduces us to him as a man of character who understands that the win that counts is the integrity and teamwork he instills in his players. And it introduces us to the tone of the film, honest, unvarnished, and real. You may think you know where a fact-based story about a blind player on a high school football team is going, but this film will surprise you.23blast

That first scene also introduces us to the boys who will become the stars of the team, Travis (a very likeable Mark Hapka) and Jerry (Bram Hoover, as the bad boy with a good heart but a weak will). They are very different people. Travis plays by the rules. He is respectful, reliable, and grounded in his faith. Bram cannot resist a party, and as for rules, they are for ignoring or for breaking. But on the football field, they have a bond. Their passion for football, and their deep understanding of its options, demands, and strategies connects them. Travis is devoted to football because it is his nature to give himself fully to whatever he takes on. Bram is devoted to football because it is the only place where he feels at home.*

One night following a game, Travis becomes ill at a party. The next day he wakes up with severe swelling on his face. His parents take him to the hospital and the doctor tells them he needs immediate surgery. “You’re going to have to take the cross off,” the nurse says as he is wheeled into the operating room. He survives the surgery, but he is blind.

At first, Travis is devastated. He will not leave his room. He refuses to cooperate with the occupational therapist (a warm and spirited Becky Ann Baker). But a dream of a sermon seemingly directed to him and a visit from the coach opens up possibilities he thought were foreclosed. “I’m going to need you to step up,” the coach tells him. “The team needs a leader. Are you that guy?”

It seems impossible. How will he run, tackle, catch? The coach makes him the center and he has to learn a whole new set of skills. But learning that he can learn is revelatory. Some of his teammates are not on board. His ties with Jerry are tested by Jerry’s irresponsible and self-destructive behavior. But the coach understands that the most important thing he can teach these players is not the techniques or strategy but the meaning of being a part of something bigger than each of them.

This is quiet, even modest storytelling, with a surprising final punch, an inspirational tale that never becomes sugary or preachy.

Parents should know that this film includes teen drinking and a drinking game. A character becomes blind and there is a sad offscreen death.

Family discussion: What do we learn from Travis’ dream about the sermon directed at him? Why was Patty able to help him? Would you be willing to have a disabled player on your team?

If you like this, try: “Brian’s Song” and “Remember the Titans”

Previous Posts

Interview: "Avatar" Villain Stephen Lang on Playing a Good Guy Coach in "23 Blast"
Stephen Lang is best known for playing the villain in "Avatar." But in "23 Blast," based on the real-life story of Travis Freeman, a high school football player who lost his vision but stayed on the team, Lang plays a good guy, the coach who encouraged and supported him. I talked to Lang about actin

posted 5:56:30am Oct. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Filmed as though it was almost entirely one long, stunning, audacious, breathless and breathtaking shot, "Birdman" (subtitled "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance") explodes with ideas and visions, adopting the language of dreams to explore and upend the very idea of storytelling. Michael Keaton p

posted 5:59:46pm Oct. 23, 2014 | read full post »

John Wick
This is a movie directed by two stunt men, which means it is pretty much a first-person shooter video game projected onto a movie screen. But that also means that it is directed by people wh

posted 5:44:02pm Oct. 23, 2014 | read full post »

23 Blast
23 Blast is the name of a football play, and "23 Blast" is based on the real story of Travis Freeman, a high school football star who lost his sight, but, with the help of a courageous coach and committed teammates, was able to keep playing. The real hero of the movie is the coach, played by "Ava

posted 3:57:18pm Oct. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Trailer: Little Hope Was Arson, Story of Church Burnings
[iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/EYk-EU9Ydyw?rel=0" frameborder="0"] Available in select theaters and nationwide VOD beginning Nov 21! For more info, please visit: http://littlehopewasarson.com. January 2010: In the buckle of the Bible Belt, 10 churches burn to

posted 1:00:10pm Oct. 23, 2014 | read full post »


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