Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Why Remake ‘Left Behind’?

posted by jtotey
Nicky Whelan and Nicolas Cage star in "Left Behind" which opens in theaters October 3, 2014. (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

Nicky Whelan and Nicolas Cage star in “Left Behind” which opens in theaters October 3, 2014. (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

In 1994, Paul LaLonde served as executive producer of Left Behind, which was intended to be used as a documentary to those people “left behind” after the biblical rapture. Included in the cast was Hal Lindsey who was there to explain what had happened. In 2000, LaLonde helped produce the original Left Behind movie that starred Kirk Cameron. Now in 2014, he is producing yet another version of the movie, this time starring Nicolas Cage. In-between these dates, LaLonde has produced over eight other end-of-the-world features. The end times are a big deal to this guy, but why make the remake?

The original Left Behind, and its sequels, had a very limited budget and were sent straight to DVD. “The first book in the Left Behind series is really quite an enormous book and we tried to do the whole book in one movie. And it really didn’t do justice to, especially to the rapture but also to the whole book because there was no time to get to know the characters. And there was no time to really appreciate the enormity of the event,” says LaLonde during a recent press conference. “Basically the [new] movie is based on, you know, 25 pages of the first book, so it’s really a remake of about three minutes of the first movie.”

Lea Thompson stars in "Left Behind." (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

Lea Thompson stars in “Left Behind.” (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

LaLonde had no intention of making another low budget movie so the he stepped up his game with A-list talent cast and crew. The fairly small cast includes Nicolas Cage as pilot Rayford Steele, Lea Thompson (who is currently a contestant on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars) as his Christian wife Irene, Cassi Thomson as their daughter, Nicky Whelan as Hattie, the stewardess he is having an affair with and Jordin Sparks as a young mother trying to outrun her troubles at home. LaLonde also chose Vic Armstrong to direct the thing. “If you go on IMDB and look up Vic Armstrong, you’ll, you’ll think he’s faking his resume. He’s been part of some of the biggest movies that there are,” says LaLonde. “He’s exactly what the movie needed and he didn’t disappoint me.”

Armstrong is better known as a stunt director, so this movie was a different experience for him. “As a stunt director, you’re still telling stories. In some ways I think it’s even harder because you’re trying to tell stories with mime language if you’d like,” says Armstrong. “The only reason stunts are in a movie are to progress the storyline and the movie itself so you do have to adhere to storylines…If you get a good script it’s very, very easy.”

“I was absolutely thrilled when I read this script,” says Armstrong.  “Seeing how character-driven it was and what a fabulous story-line it had was a thrill to me. When I first met Paul, the first thing I said to him was, ‘Well I’ll tell you what, I love the script so much I can’t see a word in it I’d like to change.’ [It’s an] adventure story full of wonderful characters, fabulous performances and a great look. You still have the other side of it, you have the rapture. You have the believers, you have the followers and I felt very conscience of the fact that they were trusting me to deliver what they wanted to see as well.”

Cassi Thomson stars in "Left Behind. (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

Cassi Thomson stars in “Left Behind. (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

Not only was LaLonde thrilled to be working with Armstrong, but so was Nicolas Cage. “I’m very comfortable working with Vic. I got to spend quite a bit of time with him on another movie that we made, called Season of the Witch. And it was a good experience and I thought that he directed me to a good performance and something that I was very proud of and wanted to work with him again,” says Cage. As for his own reasons for wanting to do a faith-based film, Cage was a little more mysterious.

“If you look at my filmography, there’s no secret to the fact that I am drawn to movies that aren’t afraid to take on spiritual themes. And you know, without going into my own personal, you know, spirituality which is very sacred to me and not something that I think is, you know for public consumption or to be put on or in the media but, but I like to let my work speak for me. I like to find movies that allow me to explore these inner or outer worlds through the work without having to really talk too much about it.”

Fair enough. As for some of the other actors, here is what they had to say about the matter:

Cassi Thomson, who plays Chloe Steele: “When I read [the script] it was very much character-driven, which is something you don’t really see that often in a movie that has so much action. It is also is a very strong female character which unfortunately aren’t that many of, nowadays. I honestly thought I would never book it because I’m not a big A-Lister name. Luckily they gave me a chance to be a part of something that was one of, really the most memorable times of my life. And, you know, I had always wanted to do a film like this. And it just, it was great. I mean Vic was great. Nicolas Cage was great. Everybody was really amazing to work with.”

Jordin Sparks stars in "Left Behind." (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

Jordin Sparks stars in “Left Behind.” (Stoney Lake Entertainment)

Jordin Sparks, who plays Shasta: “It was really interesting for me because, I was like; I’ve never played a mother before. Shasta’s is trying to take her daughter to a safer place, and in her head that’s what she thinks she’s doing. They’re not going through great things at the moment so she’s taking her daughter and she’s just very leery of everybody on the plane. ..She kind of thinks everything is a conspiracy, that everyone’s out to get her. When I was younger, I read all of the Left Behind teen series and I just remember being, you know, so affected by the thought of ‘Wow, what if, what if my closest friends just disappeared one day. What if they just weren’t here?’ It was just really interesting and as a kid that’s definitely very scary. It’s something that’s like, ‘Ah well, okay, that’s very scary. It’s just in a book.’ But you know, when you read the bible and you take those things to be truth, you know it is definitely something that you can think of and go ‘Wow, that, that could actually happen.’

Nicolas Cage, who plays Rayford: “If there’s anything for me, I want that to come across that people realize [that]we all make mistakes but in a moment of crisis what we really want, what we really go to is the love we have for our families. And that’s what pulled me into this project. That, and also how you make such an extraordinary set of circumstances authentic and how do you make that real and that was a tremendous challenge for all of the actors… I’ve always been attracted to movies that aren’t afraid to venture into the unknown.”

Nicky Whelan, who plays Hatti: “I hadn’t read the books before I had started filming. I wasn’t familiar with this story. I just read this cool action-packed movie with great cast in it, and then sort of learned more about it as I got more involved…It’s clearly obvious why [Hatti] doesn’t get taken in the rapture. However, Vic and I did discuss making this character as human as possible…It was quite a challenge. I’ve got to be honest because, there was nothing to build from or anywhere to go from and we really had to be careful with Hattie. I really think that we brought it to life, and so I hope that everyone sees that, and enjoys it.”

Left Behind opens in theaters everywhere October 3, 2014. Click here to watch the film’s preview.

CBS’ ‘Stalker’ not Worth Staring at

posted by jtotey
Pictured: Dylan McDermott and Maggie Q (Photo: Richard Cartwright/CBS)

Pictured: Dylan McDermott and Maggie Q (Photo: Richard Cartwright/CBS)

While many people have no desire to watch a TV series with a title like Stalker, the CBS show won its time period in viewers and key demographics last night. Despite the good ratings, that doesn’t mean that the show will stick around for very long. Curiosity in the show is probably the biggest factor for the show’s ratings success and the fact that it aired after the popular and similar Criminal Minds helped as well. Now that people have seen it, will they come back next week? This viewer won’t. It has less to do with the show’s subject matter and more to do with the dynamics of the show.

Stalker is a psychological thriller about detectives who investigate stalking incidents. It stars angry actor Dylan McDermott as Detective Jack Larsen, transferred to L.A. to work with Lt. Beth Davis (Maggie Q) who quickly realize that neither likes each other. The biggest problem with the show is that the audience won’t like them either. Beth is not a warm person and Jack tries too hard to make a good impression. Both of them know their stuff as one is a former victim of stalking and the other wrestles with their own stalking desires. Both are not afraid to work outside of the law to get what they want, making the two morally ambiguous. I could be wrong, but I think most people like their “good guys” to be good through and through. In the pilot episode it becomes clear that those who wear the white hats also wear the black hats from time to time. But some people seem to like that sort of thing given the ratings for both Dexter and Hannibal which also feature antiheroes.

Another problem with the show is that within its 60 minute timeslot, which comes to about 40+ minutes in total length, the show not only focuses on one stalking, but two others as well. Those will no doubt continue throughout the season. While the main story is way over-the-top and unbelievable, other shows like CSI have told similar outlandish tales with better flair. Finally, the really should have been more scary than it was.

If you missed last night’s show, CBS is giving you another chance to watch it this Friday at 10:00 p.m. Stalker airs weekly on Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. on CBS.

Boxtrolls: Incredible Animation, Charmless Story

posted by jtotey
The detail of the art used in "The Boxtrolls" is seen here. (Focus Features)

The detail of the art used in “The Boxtrolls” is seen here. (Focus Features)

All the work and detail that went into The Boxtrolls may never be fully appreciated. Though an early promotion featuring the making of the movie using the song, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” as a backdrop was presented months ago, that all might be forgotten now that the film is out in theaters. The stop motion animation is almost too good on the big screen for viewers to actually see what they are looking is actually small puppets and hand-crafted sets. As with its predessors, Coraline and ParaNormal, The Boxtrolls is beautiful to look at and one should appreciate all of the work that went in to making the film. Unfortunately, the artwork is only half of the production.

Based on the book “Here Be Monsters” by Alan Snow, Boxtrolls was an attempt to move in a different direction than the two previous films. Where the first two were considered children’s horror stories, Boxtrolls is more of a fairytale. The story itself had great potential, but the end product is a charmless mess.

Boxtrolls are mischievous creatures who dress themselves in cardboard boxes and refer to each other by whatever the box original contained such as “fish,” “sweets” and “wheels.” By day, they sleep peacefully under the streets of the city of Cheesebridge. By night, they roam around the city and take with them anything that isn’t nailed down and sometimes that too. There they create inventions and machines out of the things they find. Sometimes they just destroy light bulbs or what not to enjoy the sound that the broken glass makes. They are neither bad nor good, they just are who they are, but the folks of Cheesebridge are frightened by the creatures. Naturally, stories about the boxtrolls being baby snatchers and eating children, circulates throughout the town and fuels this fear.

The boxtrolls do have one human child in posession though who they raise as one of their own. He is placed in a box that had contained eggs, dubbing him “Eggs.” Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead Wright)  is fed bugs (just like the others) and even after he outgrows his box, he still is unaware that he isn’t really a boxtroll.

Meanwhile above ground, Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) craves to become a “white hat,” a leadership position within the community. Not because he has any interest in civic obligations, but because the white hats spend an enormous amount of time tasting a variety of cheeses instead of creating laws. Apparently, Archibald is lactose intolerant, but that doesn’t seem to faze him. He makes a deal with Lord Portly-Rind (Jared Haris) that if he rids the town of the boxtrolls, that they would give him a white hat and access to the tasting room. For years, Archibald and his crew snatch up boxtrolls and lock them up. When Egg’s mentor, Fish, is snatched up, Eggs goes on a mission to rescue him by going above ground for the first time.

On top Eggs meets Winnie (Elle Fanning), daughter of Lord Portly-Rind, who informs Eggs that he is really a boy and in fact that he just might be the baby that went missing from the town years earlier. In turn, Eggs tells Winnie the truth about the boxtrolls and how they are just misunderstood.

The film does show a glimmer of heart early in during a series of scenes of baby Eggs and Fish playing together. If the film could have kept this tone throughout, the end product may have been better. The makers of Boxtrolls could learn a few lessons from Pixar and Disney. Like ParaNorman, the story is clever, but not cohesive and the characters don’t really get developed. They also don’t seem to value the power of great voice actors to bring the characters to life. The writers mistake jokes as plot points, which doesn’t work at all. In fact, throughout the movie, it seems like the makers try out a number of gags that they think are funny. They’re not.

In addition, a number of storylines fail to make sense. The town of Cheesebridge is poorly run by its leaders, but the citizens don’t seem to care nor do they seem to be affected by it. Winnie’s father ignores her by making cheese-tasting a bigger priority and that attitude never really changes. Finally, Eggs and Winnie’s friendship is an odd one as she isn’t very nice to him, at least not at first.

Though the film tout’s of having a “what really makes a family” message, this seems more like a marketing plan than an actual theme of the movie. A family movie doesn’t need to have a message to be enjoyable but it does need to make sense within that story’s universe. It doesn’t here.

ABC’s ‘Murder’ is Riveting and Morally Ambiguous

posted by jtotey
ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating, Billy Brown as Nate, Alfred Enoch as Wes, Jack Falahee as Connor, Katie Findlay as Rebecca, Aja Naomi King as Michaela, Matt McGorry as Asher, Karla Souza as Laurel, Charlie Weber as Frank and Liza Weil as Bonnie. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating, Billy Brown as Nate, Alfred Enoch as Wes, Jack Falahee as Connor, Katie Findlay as Rebecca, Aja Naomi King as Michaela, Matt McGorry as Asher, Karla Souza as Laurel, Charlie Weber as Frank and Liza Weil as Bonnie. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)

In short, ABC’s new drama, How to Get Away with Murder is riveting. The pilot held my attention all the way through making it hard to wait to see the next episode. It is a well done show with multiple layers to it. However, like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, two other shows by the same producers, the storylines are not only way over the top but also morally ambiguous. It appears that there are no “good guys” here, so you are not sure who to root for. It is like watching a train wreak being horrified and fascinated at the same time.

Murder flashes back and forth from the present time and three months earlier. In the present, a group of four law students contemplate what to do with a dead body. Three months earlier, we learn that they are all part of Annalise Keating’s criminal law class. Keating (Viola Davis) chews up every scene that she is in as the tough as nails law professor. There is nothing soft or fuzzy about her and in order to stand out in her classroom, you need to go to great lengths to impress her.

Keating doesn’t see her job as letting guilty people run free. She views it as “doing her job.” In short order we see that she doesn’t condone finding evidence to support her client even if it isn’t obtained in the most ethical way. She invites her students to work with her firm on some of the toughest cases and dangles the carrot of employment as an enticement to impress her. Only the smartest and most resourceful students will get that carrot. To complicate matters, a missing student is found dead on campus, adding yet another murder to solve.

Some of the students will work all night trying to uncover clues, while some work under covers, if you know what I mean, to find answers. Wes Gibbons (Alfred Enoch) appears to be the most innocent of the bunch and yet has a knack for walking in on things at the wrong

Wes Gibbons as Alfred Enoch. (ABC)

Wes Gibbons as Alfred Enoch. (ABC)

moment. He is likeable enough, but his exaggerated looks of surprise throughout the show make it hard to take him seriously. In short order, he finds himself sharing secrets with Keating and learns more about the woman than he ever wanted to know. She is either a broken woman or pure evil, only time will tell.

The show also features two of Keating associates, Frank Delfino (Charlie Weber) as Frank Delfino, who likes to hit on students and Bonnie Winterbottom (Liza Weil) who likes to call him out on it.

It is too soon to tell if this show will have a moral compass or if it will be just a show about bad people doing bad things. I am not a fan of Scandal or Grey’s Anatomy, but I am hooked with this one. I may change my mind if I don’t see some light in the darkness soon though.

How to Get Away with Murder airs on Thursdays at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.

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