All posts by Eric Benner

Eric Benner

About Eric Benner

Born and raised in Philadelphia Eric Benner grew up with a passion for movies. This passion later became a lifestyle. Realizing he wanted to enter the film industry, Eric made his way to Wilmington, NC and is currently enrolled in film school. In his free time, he writes and directs his own short films and does camera work for various commercials and other film projects. Eric also works at a movie theater on the side to stay close to what he loves most about the film industry, the movies themselves.

The Making of ‘Pieces of Talent’ – An Interview With Filmmaker Joe Stauffer

joe stauffer

Independent Filmmaking takes passion, hard work, and inspiration. I recently sat down with Joe Stauffer, the director/writer/editor of the horror film Pieces of Talent. He gave me an inside look into what it takes to make a good film independently. Stauffer kept the whole process local in Wilmington, NC and continues to support independent filmmaking.

[divider]

ERIC BENNER: Was Pieces of Talent something you’ve wanted to make for a while or was it one of those ideas that just pop in your head out of nowhere?

JOE STAUFFER: Well, the film was spawned from a short film we did a few years ago. The character had been around for a while so we decided to take that short film and make a feature out of it.

BENNER: How long ago did you start writing this film?

STAUFFER: David Long wrote the original script in 2008 and for some reason I didn’t read it for forever and then in 2010 we decided to tear it apart, put it back together and really go into production with it.

BENNER: One key element behind everyone’s work is inspiration. Where did you gather your inspiration from for your own work?

STAUFFER: Our inspiration is just making art and making films. We love to create things. There are a lot of parts of the story that are obviously pulled from real life experience. People say, “Write what you know,” so that’s what we did, and we tapped into that and then we explored a dark side of that. So the inspiration came from everyone and all around us and doing what we like to do. The filmmaking process is our inspiration and part of the story at the same time.

BENNER: Was there any specific point in your past when you decided you wanted to go into filmmaking?

STAUFFER: I played in bands from my early teens to my early twenties. I got tired of doing the band thing so I decided to start doing music videos as a way to be involved in the music community without dealing with the headaches of being in a band. So I started doing live videos and stuff, and then got more into narrative based videos. From there short film, and then got hired to do more long form stuff. In my early twenties is really when I had a realization of how much I really loved filmmaking. I’d always messed around with it previously, but in my early twenties I realized “This is for me”. And that is when I started pursuing it, you could say.

BENNER: Speaking of music videos, there is a David Long music video in the special features. Was that something you planned all along or was it something that just spurred out of the moment during production and then you decided you wanted to shoot a music video for that character?

STAUFFER: No, actually that song was just sent to us by Klassified. He is the guy that beats up David in the movie. All the rap that you hear in the film is his work. So he contributed to the soundtrack and acted in it. He just sent that over to us one day. He just did it for the hell of it. We had no idea and we got that in our email and we were like, “We have to shoot a music video for this. It would be so fun,” so we did. Me and David drove up to New York and picked up Kristi and then drove her back here and shot it. We got a couple of the cast members together and made it happen. It was fun.

BENNER: In all independent filmmaking one of the main obstacles is finding funding. How did you go about getting funding for this film?

STAUFFER: Several old, magic couches.

joe stauffer 2

BENNER: Was the whole film shot locally in Wilmington, NC?

STAUFFER: About sixty percent of the film was shot in Wilmington, NC and all of the farm stuff was shot near Godwin, NC which is a little bit north of Fayetteville. We were the last movie to shoot in Whitey’s before they tore it down.

BENNER: Was there a lot of local people working on the film or did you have outside help?

STAUFFER: Our film was crewed 100% locally. The cast was 100% local. All of the music was 100% independent. Every aspect of this film is independent right down to the distribution model we are going with. We want to keep it personal and have a real connection with our audience.

BENNER: I noticed in the film that the character David Long’s real name is David Long. Was there any reasoning behind keeping his name the same in the film?

STAUFFER: His character is very much based in reality. David is one of the sweetest, psychotic folks I have ever met.

BENNER: One of my favorite moments in the film was the shotgun death. How did you go about creating the effects in that scene?

STAUFFER: Our special effects artist Tony Rosen made the prosthetic head and filled it with blood and everything and we did the original take with a six shooter using real bullets. It didn’t work like we wanted. One of our crew members had a shotgun in his truck so we used that. So that effect that you see is about as real as you can get without actually killing someone. We kept the set extremely safe the entire time. We actually had zero accidents on the production which is very fortunate considering the farm we shot on was a death trap!

BENNER: When the blood splashed on the camera lens was that planned or did that just happen?

STAUFFER: That was not planned, I still find blood on my equipment to this day.

BENNER: Independent Horror films seem to be booming these days. It is rare to find a gem such as Pieces of Talent. About how many people did it take to create this film?

STAUFFER: It’s a tough question. With all of the main people, the main cast, the background actors, and the crew it’s a lot. If you just count the main cast and the crew maybe twenty or thirty. My mom catered it haha! I personally directed, edited, sound designed, and shot it… so that reduced the crew a little bit. The onset experience took a wonderful group of folks to make happen.

BENNER: It seems you wear many hats when you are doing your work. Do you do all of these jobs for all of your work? Do you like to do everything and be directing, be writing, be the editor? Is that something that you choose to do or you do out of necessity?

STAUFFER: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that naturally it’s a quality control thing. It’s about trust. If I can find someone to do the job sufficient I will have someone else do that job, but if not I’ve got to do it myself and maintain the standard of quality that satisfies me. Because we want to stay true to our vision, to our idea of what it could be and should be. If details aren’t paid attention to you lose that.

BENNER: The ending of the film was very surprising to me. Without revealing too much, was that the first ending you came up with or were there multiple ideas you had in mind?

STAUFFER: Yeah, when we originally wrote it that was then ending we had. We definitely left some off, there’s an extra scene on the DVD that shows a little bit. There are some hidden selections. There is about 15 minutes we didn’t put into the film. But the ending that you see was originally written that way. We just decided to end it ambiguously. I don’t know if that’s saying too much. We wanted to keep it open ended.

BENNER: Speaking of all the hidden features, was that something you planned for the DVD?

STAUFFER: Absolutely, we wanted to keep the DVD as organic as the film. So I personally authored the DVD. I did all the artwork, made all the motion menus and everything. We wanted to hide little nuggets of joy in there.

BENNER: Do you think you will stay in the horror/suspense genre or do you see yourself branching out into other genres as well?

STAUFFER: I’m not a big horror junkie. I enjoy the genre, but I’m also big into comedy. We like to have fun. Even in the film there are a lot of comedic moments. There’s a balance there. We have a couple more projects planned that are horror, but after that we’d like to do some comedy.

BENNER: Something I’m sure people are interested in is what’s next for you. Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

STAUFFER: Yeah, we have a film called “The Azalea Haunting” (https://www.facebook.com/azaleahaunting) that we are currently in pre-production with and another film called “Sleepy Creek” (https://www.facebook.com/sleepycreekresearch). They’re both horror and we plan on getting them done in the next year, both of them. We will be independently releasing them as well.

BENNER: Are you going to shoot those locally in Wilmington as well?

STAUFFER: We are. We’re going to try to keep everything as local as possible.

BENNER: Where can someone pick up a copy of Pieces of Talent?

STAUFFER: The film is now available in many forms on our official website. We have a two-disc special edition DVD that is available on our website (http://piecesoftalent.com). We also have full length, collector VHS with the entire film, and “Watch Me” VHS tapes that contain a death scene from the film and an art film I did a few years ago. We also have an “instant ticket” available to stream from the website for $5.99. We are independently releasing this film and really appreciate the support.

[divider]

The DVD is available here: http://piecesoftalent.com. Enter “horror” and save two bucks!

To see a review written about Pieces of Talent click here.

‘Pieces of Talent’, A Grisly Display of Love Fueling Insanity [DVD Review]

Charlotte-3

Horror films are starting to get a bit cliche these days, but Pieces of Talent is pleasantly different. Joe Stauffer directs this creepy tale of a man in love with a woman. The film however, is not your normal romantic love story. When the guy in love is a psychotic madman with sinister methods things tend to get a little bloody. Aside from the story, the cinematography alone will have your eyes unable to look away. Every shot is captivating and blends beauty with the horror being shot refreshingly. Pieces of Talent is an independently financed and distributed film that is sure to deliver everything you need out of a good horror film.

Pieces-Of-Talent-DVD-SingleEvil comes in the form of David Long (played by himself). He is as menacing and weird as they come. David is making a film that he describes as capturing beautiful moments. The story centers around Charlotte (Kristi Ray) trying to get an acting career off the ground. Her character is a little dry at first, but the more and more you get to know her you see the side of her that is just struggling to survive. Charlotte and David’s paths eventually cross outside of the club where she works. He is getting beaten up and robbed of his camera. This is the beginning of a very strange romance. David is a very scary individual and he doesn’t hide it, but Charlotte for some reason doesn’t see that and thinks of him as a sweet guy. This is the only thing in the film that doesn’t seem plausible because no one should ever trust a guy that has “killer” written all over them. As things progress David’s life at home becomes very busy with multiple captives. The gruesome nature of David’s “beautiful moments” is rotten to the core.

Gore is a huge factor in this film and is done wonderfully. All of the death scenes are unique but still hold the realism needed to send chills to the audience. Pieces-Of-Talent-DVDBetween the actors and the special effects make-up everything looks and feels as if it is really happening. Even the torture mechanisms were perfect. They looked as if they were truly crafted by some freaky guy on a farm. The thought process alone going into creating a machine like that is scary. One of my favorite moments of the film is the shotgun death. This shot is so well done that it will have you wondering if it just happened for real. Blood splattering on the camera lens could not be pulled off with more precision than in this moment. I don’t want to reveal too much because you have to just see it for yourself.

With all of the horrific things that happen in this film they still come across with a sense of beauty. Stauffer is an artist of his craft. He captures the raw nature of each moment as it passes. The first person shots are chilling and put you right in the middle of the chaos as it is unfolding. A lot of horror films try to pull this effect off, but none deliver like this. It is clear that Stauffer put his heart into this film because each shot is given so much care and attention. True imagination is reflected onto the screen.

David-2

The DVD for Pieces of Talent is packed full of extra features. It is cleverly set up and includes hidden features. Included is a hilarious music video for “The David Long Song” that is featured at the end of the film. The video is very comedic but stays true to David Long’s character. Also featured on the disc are outtakes, a kickstarter video, a commentary with some of the filmmakers, and other eerie videos featuring David Long during his normal routines. The short film that the film is based on is also something available to watch. It is intriguing to see how the simple short film grew into Pieces of Talent. When done with watching all of the extra features if you look hard you can find hidden videos that are not part of the normal list on the menu.

David-3

“Beautiful Moments” was a recurring theme in the film and that is what Pieces of Talent conveyed. Compelling cinematography, twisted deaths, and the wonderfully different David Long all came together to create a horrific piece of art. It is not every day you see blood come across as beauty. It is definitely worth picking a copy of this film up. Between the amazing independent film produced and the loads of extra features it is a great buy. Since it is being independently released you can only get a copy on piecesoftalent.com. Don’t miss out on this unusual love story that drags you into the darkness of David Long’s mind.

‘The Raid 2,’ A Bloody, Violent Adrenaline Rush [Blu-ray Review]

©Sony Pictures Classics
Hammer Girl ©Sony Pictures Classics

Forget every action movie you ever seen. Forget all of the explosions, damsels in distress, and fighting with aliens. A few years ago an Indonesian film graced screens by the name of The Raid: Redemption. After seeing that film it is hard to imagine how it can be pushed further. Director Gareth Evans has gone far beyond a push further in what may be the greatest and most unique action movie ever made, The Raid 2 (The original title is The Raid 2: Berandal). The plot of the film may not be the most unique, but there are no other action scenes that can even come close to the ones in this film. Others merely stand in the shadow.

81YBvcTi8aL._SL1500_
©Sony Pictures Classics

The first film follows Rama (Iko Uwais)and his team of fellow police officers trying to get to the top floor of a building to arrest a drug lord. Through countless gun and machete fights it is clear that Iko Uwais is here to stay for many films to come. The brutality of his fighting style is expressed more and more as the scenes unfold. Gareth Evans captures this in a way that only him and his team can. With every step you feel as if you are right there in the middle of the blood soaked fight. With the first film having a lower budget Evans was constrained cinematically and also to one location in the film. That didn’t stop him from giving birth to a whole new category of action movies though. After the success of The Raid: Redemption, having a bigger budget for the sequel was a certainty. The Raid 2 picks up right where the first one left off. This film is a lot more complex having a much larger number of characters as well as a plot that branches out into all parts of the city. Rama is thrown out of his comfort zone right away as he agrees to go undercover to weed out all of the corrupt cops in the force and at the same time take down all of the organized crime in the city. He is pretty much a one man army. Unlike the first film he is on the other side of the law this time around.

Rama is thrown into prison to make his background look legit for the people he works for when he gets out. While he is in prison he meets Uco (Arifin Putra) who is the son of Bangun, a local crime lord. To gain Uco’s trust, Rama protects him in an extravagant prison riot. He sees his way in to working for Bangun and does every thing he possibly can to get to that point. This riot is so chaotic and will have your eyes submerged in the thick mud it is unfolding on. I thought the mud was an interesting choice to throw into the mix. It shows how Rama can adapt to every environment he is placed in. With prisoners stabbing whoever is near them and SWAT teams taking out prisoners, Rama still finds a way to fight his way all the way across the yard to protect his mission. There are a lot of shots in this scene that are so long and continuous that it feels as if there are no cuts at all. The time and effort placed into a scene like this is inspiring. Every detail and ever angle is considered so that the perfect fight can be produced. I have enormous amounts of respect for the men and women who have worked on this film and its predecessor. They aren’t trying to make it good, they are trying to make it the best that they absolutely can. That is what makes this movie so special. Not only is it phenomenal, but you can clearly tell how much care was given into the making of this film.

©Sony Pictures Classics
©Sony Pictures Classics

Once Rama is out of prison he begins working for Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). This is where the story becomes much more extensive than the first film. It is basically Rama against the whole city. You have the crime group that is controlled by Bangun which covers most of the city. The other large crime group is the Japanese. The two groups have a peaceful relationship and stay out of each other’s way. However, there are always smaller fish trying to control the action. The police are just as corrupt and the leader Reza is always trying to strike deals with the crime lords in his city. With all of the power and land these leaders rule over there is one that wants to take it all for himself by starting a war between them. This devious individual goes by the name of Bejo (Alex Abbad). He manipulates everyone around him into getting what he wants. Abbad plays the character perfectly. He is always calm and collected, but there is a small feeling given by his mannerisms that he could snap at any given moment. When he is shown on the screen the character manifests a form of fear and evil that simmers below his calm demeanor. It is almost if it is not there at all, but you can’t deny what is truly there. With all of these groups bound to clash it only means one thing is coming, pure violence.

In the first Raid film, Rama is pretty much unmatched. His skills in combat come across as far superior to the people he is fighting. In The Raid 2, that is not the case at all. Many unique and astounding characters are introduced to make Rama fight for his life like never before. One of the cool parts of this sequel is that it focuses on these many characters as well as Rama. Before they all get to go toe to toe with Rama, they all get their own fight scenes to show just how brutal and vicious they are. My two favorite new additions are Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man. No two siblings have ever been more scary than these two. Hammer Girl’s introduction takes place on a subway train and puts her up against a dozen men with knives. Her weapon of choice, given away by the name, is a hammer in each hand. The fight is breathtaking and doesn’t let up for a second. Her savage nature of the way she fights makes her seem as if she is enjoying it just a little too much. Her brother is just as bloodthirsty as she is. A baseball bat may seem like a normal, boring weapon. When put in the hands of Baseball Bat Man, it becomes a death sentence. He doesn’t just beat people with it, he destroys them. The way he handles it is barbaric and with no mercy. When he strikes a person with his bat he ends up hitting them another few times before they even hit the ground. It is so fast and well choreographed that it feels like a dance fueled by aggression.

Cool fights and interesting characters make this a great action film. However, it is the cinematography and locations combined with those aspects that make it the best action film. The way they film all of the action is unlike anything anybody else can pull off. A large portion of the film is all handheld. They use what is called a Fig rig. It is essentially a steering wheel that you mount a camera on in the center to give the user very fluid mobility. This is how the feeling of being in the fight is created. In most of the action sequences the camera is in the middle of the fight. They choreograph every step so that it can be smooth and become one single fight. The camera is constantly moving in and out from between people that are beating each other to death.

©Sony Pictures Classics
©Sony Pictures Classics

One of my favorite aspects of the way they film these sequences is the way they pass the camera between operators. In some of the fights the actors are flying all over the room and going places where a normal camera movement could not. They use the Fig rig to incorporate a way to keep the handheld feel of the action intact. What they do is simply place another camera operator where the camera needs to go and then they hand the rig to the other operator, but keep a smooth transition between the two because of the “steering wheel” like aspect of the rig. During an epic car scene in the film look for the camera moving from car to car. This is an example of what they can achieve with that technique. They literally pass it from the back seat of one car and into another which has another operator attached on the side that then passes it through that car and to the other side where a third operator waits. The shot is fascinating the way it plays out as well as the way it was created.

One of the differences between this film and the first is that it is not confined to one location. The first film was pretty much Rama’s skills caged in one cinematic setting. The world opens up much wider in this one. The different locations showcased in this film give both the director and actors more room for creativity with plot and the way the fights play out. The locations are truly magnificent for the fights that take place in them. One in particular is the scene where an assassin named Prakoso is swarmed by an arm of thugs inside a club. Prakoso is played by Yayan Ruhian, who interestingly played a different character called Mad Dog in the first Raid film. The club is very vibrant with different colored laser lights shining everywhere. The structure of the club is what makes it so special. There are large circular booths that surround the club and each one is higher than the other. Prakoso is sitting in one of these booths when the fighting starts. Since each is higher than the other he is constantly jumping through bars and levels as he plows his way through the onslaught that is trying to defeat him. Some cool movements with the camera on the Fig Rig are used here. In this scene the camera is passed between bars from the ground level up into the different booths numerous times. The fight eventually ends up breaking out into the back alleyway behind the club. The scene takes place during the winter time so there is snow on the ground giving a nice backdrop for all the blood being splattered everywhere. The fight ends with a beautiful death that you will have to see for yourself. One other scene to look for is the kitchen fight scene. I don’t want to give much away about this one other than it takes place in an all white kitchen, lots of blood is spilled, and it is perhaps one of the best hand-to-hand fight scenes ever accomplished.

When picking up your copy of The Raid 2 be sure to get the Blu-ray because it includes tons of special features that are not to be missed. There is a five minute deleted scene titled “Gang War” that didn’t make it to the final cut. It is definitely worth checking out and provides a little more action that focuses on the lower level characters. There is plenty more content as well including three featurettes titled, “The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel”, “Ready for a Fight: On Location”, and ” Violent Ballet: Behind the Choreography”. Each one of these is compelling in it’s own way. Part of the magic of this film is not only the film itself, but how the film was made. It is not your typical film set. Everything has been rehearsed a million times before anybody even sets foot on set. Every shot and movement is planned months ahead of time. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes really proves that these are all professionals who care about performing their job to the absolute best of their abilities.

With so many action films flooding cinemas each year it is very refreshing to see a foreign film such as The Raid 2 surpass every single one of them. Originality seems to be fading out these days, but Gareth Evans showed the whole world how untrue that is. Violence and merciless action has never been so divine. Every aspect of the first Raid film is brought to a whole other level in this sequel. Each fan of the original film will receive everything they could ever wish for. Evans and Uwais have earned their places among the top of their respective craft. Even if you don’t enjoy foreign films that much, this is one that is worth sitting through. There were times I forgot it was even in Indonesian because of the way it flows so well from scene to scene. If there is one action movie that ever needs to be watched it is this film. The Raid 2 burns with a fire that will transcend the viewer into the new age of action films.

‘Duck Dynasty: Duck Days of Summer,’ Ducks out of Water [DVD Review]

phil_in_hawaii
Phil in paradise. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The duck clan is back in a special three episode set that takes the gang out of their comfort zone immensely. A trip to Hawaii, an RV adventure, and a redneck water park all come together to bring forth the heat in Duck Dynasty: Duck Days of Summer. These episodes are taken from the popular television show on A&E called Duck Dynasty. It is a show ultimately about family. The Robertson family are all very close and run the family business together. Duck calls are their business which provides a new kind of show to be produced.

duckdaysofsummer
DUCK DYNASTY: DUCK DAYS OF SUMMER on DVD. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

When you see these characters you would not think they were wealthy or as famous as they are. It all started with Phil Robertson making duck calls for hunters. His son Willie went to business school and then took the family to new heights. They all have huge, bushy beards and play to the redneck stereotype almost too much, but when you see where they live your judgment will change. The show takes place in Louisiana and centers around the family’s everyday life. It is depicted as a reality show, but it seems scripted almost seventy-five percent of the time. The laughs sound forced and the redneck stereotype is brought up so blatantly that it is obviously just for the show. The humor that is present comes from the ridiculousness of the situations they find themselves in. Si, the uncle, is hilarious. He stands out and constantly has something to say, even if you can’t understand him half the time.

Three episodes focusing on the theme of summer are included in this set. “Sweatin’ Bullets”, “Redneck Roadtrip”, and “Aloha, Robertson’s!” are all featured with the last one being an extended episode. In “Sweatin’ Bullets” the air conditioning breaks at the office when it is extremely hot outside. Everyone is drenched in sweat so Willie calls in a guy named Mountain Man to fix it. He is probably the least qualified person to fix it. He is very lazy and hard to communicate with. While this is going on the family ditches Willie there to go build a “redneck water park” down by a lake. The water park seems really fun with a slip and slide along with a tire swing hanging from a construction vehicle. Even though it appears fun, it is also very dangerous looking. They are grown men which is fine, but when the children started using it I was waiting for a hospital visit to be shown.

A RV trip commences in the second episode “Redneck Vacation”. Willie gets an RV for the business that has their Duck Dynasty logo on the side above all of their faces. His brother Jase thinks it would be a good idea for him to “borrow” the keys to it and go pick up some other vehicles to tow back. Jase believes that if his face is on the side he should be allowed to drive it whenever. When on the trip their is a hilarious police encounter that is not to be missed. The gang stinks up the bus in unpleasant ways and forces Si to ride in one of the vehicles being towed. When the police pull them over for him riding back there, he has to explain to them why he has left the bus. This part provides some laughs, but the rest of the episode is pretty mediocre.

img_2367
Departing the resort. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The last episode “Aloha, Robertson’s!” is slightly longer than the others, but is the best one of the three. Willie plans a present to his family and surprises them with a trip to Hawaii. This takes everybody for a loop since that isn’t the normal type of place for them to visit. It provides a very interesting fish out of water effect. While at the resort they are staying at, the family splits up into different parts. Willie wants everyone to follow his itinerary for the trip because he has activities planned. Phil and his wife Kay, stay in their room for most of the time watching the Jason Bourne trilogy. The women do not want to go either and stay by the pool while Willie is forced to only bring Jase, Si, and the children. The activities he has planned are not what they were intended to be when they try to go on a Jungle Adventure. They get their and are provided with Segways to navigate through what looks like a garden. It was meant to be funny, but I found it boring and not needed. One activity that they do that was interesting was learning how to surf. The children ditch the adults here to go look at girls leaving the three adults and Willie’s daughter. The daughter gets up on the board and looks like a natural surfer. Willie on the other hand was terrible at it. Seeing him try was a highlight of the episode because you wouldn’t normally see people that aren’t accustomed to this lifestyle put this much heart into it.

After watching the three episodes there is a bonus interview with Uncle Si that you can watch if you want to see more of this crazy kook. It is only him talking to the camera, but if you are a fan of Si, it is definitely worth checking out. I had never watched Duck Dynasty before this DVD and I probably won’t get hooked on the show in the future. However, I can easily see the appeal for the millions of people that watch the show. Seeing a family of duck call manufacturers and their life is not a very common experience. Although it has the impression of being heavily scripted, the dedication this family has to each other is inspiring and is worth a look.

Wes Anderson’s Artistic Masterpiece, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ [Blu-ray Review]

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

Ever since that day in 1994 when Wes Anderson unveiled his short film Bottle Rocket it was clear that his vision and style was unlike anything seen before. Through charming storytelling and unique cinematography Wes Anderson has created many diverse worlds through the years. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou he explored the lives of people at sea and the turmoils and hardships that come with the isolation. In Moonrise Kingdom he entered the world of Khaki scouts and showed us that love can be found in the strangest of places. Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel, based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, gives birth to a whole new world for his characters to stir up trouble in. The film’s title is very fitting for it is “grand” in every way imaginable. I would even go as far as saying that this is not merely a film, but a piece of art. The way it is constructed and put together is similar to the way a painter strokes a brush along a canvas. Every stroke is distinctive and tells a story within itself, just like every frame of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Each scene, character, and event has a purpose that leads to a bigger vision which proves to be beautiful and heartwarming all around.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

The film takes place in three different time periods, each with their own aspect ratio. Using different aspect ratios throughout a film is not common, but Wes Anderson executes it perfectly. When the screen switches it helps the mind maintain what time frame events are transpiring in. It opens up on a shot of a girl sitting down on a bench next to a statue with an abundance of keys hanging on it. The aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is used for this time frame. She pulls out a book and begins to read “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. On the back is a picture of the writer (Tom Wilkinson) and it instantly takes you to an introduction to the story by the writer himself. He recounts a trip he took to the hotel where he met an individual that inspired the book itself. Transitioning into the 1960’s the aspect ratio changes to 2.35:1 and the actor playing the writer changes to Jude Law. He comes across as a young and lesser experienced writer. The hotel is in it’s “off season” making it look desolate and run down. With such a small amount of guests staying at the hotel everyone pretty much knows everybody else. One day the writer notices someone new and seeks out information from the current concierge (Jason Schwartzman). The man turns out to be Zero Moustafa, the owner of the The Grand Budapest Hotel. After having a conversation in a room full of bathtubs Zero is touched by the writer’s genuine interest in his story. This scene is magnificently crafted using every detail to bring forth emotions. The set is designed using different shades of blue and symmetry between the sides of the room. When the camera is set low you can see how every tub matches up perfectly against the other in the frame. It is almost an illusion causing the room to seem much longer than it is. After they leave, they sit together for dinner where Zero begins to unveil his touching story about his journey at the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Time jumps back to the 1930’s when the hotel is in it’s prime. This time frame is presented in the aspect ratio 1.33:1, also known as the “Academy Ratio”. Wes Anderson had stated that he always wanted to film something in that ratio and with The Grand Budapest Hotel requiring three, an opportunity presented itself. The hotel in the past is divine in nature. Anderson chose to build a miniature model to showcase the establishing shots. He likes to use these models in many of his movies and in my opinion, the only one that can pull them off. On top of a mountain sits the hotel with a funicular railway leading up to it from the bottom. A funicular railway is one that does not go on a straight track, but an inclined one similar to going up to the top at the beginning of a roller coaster. I believe this small addition gives it character and sets it aside from other hotels. The building is painted in elegant shades of pinks that make the purple uniforms of the employees pop out.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

The story opens up on Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Skyfall) as the concierge of the hotel Gustave H., his last name is a mystery. Fiennes brings this character to life in a comical way. Gustave is a very serious man. He is well organized and well admired, especially by older women. He has a thing for older women and takes most of them to bed. As sophisticated as he is, the eccentric side to him is just as strong. It is a clever mix that brings forth much humor throughout the film. The narrator Zero, is introduced next as a young lobby boy in training. Younger Zero (Tony Revolori) is a very enthusiastic individual eager to learn everything he can from the great M. Gustave. Zero sees The Grand Budapest as an “institution” which causes Gustave to see promise in the young boy. Every inch of the hotel interior that is shown is intricate in design. Beauty is all that is seen making up the different rooms of the hotel. Even the design of the elevator is special. Painted in a bright vibrant red, the inside will give you chills. The purple uniforms practically jump off the screen when shown inside the elevator. This makes every separate ride look like a new painting is being created on screen.

Everything changes in Gustave’s scheduled life when one of his older companions (Tilda Swinton) is murdered. He is called to the reading of her will curiously. There her estranged family gathers from all parts of the world. Among them are two shady individuals, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling (Willem Dafoe), that have the auora of evil surrounding them. Willem Dafoe keeps a menacing stare that doesn’t change for the entire film. Greed fills the air as the will is read. At the end of the will she leaves Gustave a painting by the name of “Boy With Apple”. The painting is supposedly priceless. Chaos is all that ensues after Gustave’s next action. Knowing the family is furious, he steals the painting with Zero to take back home with him. Dmitri retaliates by framing Gustave for the murder.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

Seeing Gustave in a prison is hilarious. He is completely out of his comfort zone and forced to adjust. At one point there is a planned prison escape that is smart and very true to Aderson’s style of filmmaking. The plan is elaborate and one of the longest escapes I’ve ever seen. The group of escapees go up and down enormous distances and pretty much go through every area of the prison. It is drawn out just enough to showcase how “ridiculous” this world is. These types of sequences throughout the film however, are what makes it so great. The ridiculous nature of Gustave’s world is what is so appealing. After Gustave escapes he makes a call for help to “The Society of Keys” that sparks another drawn out sequence. Although drawn out, it is intelligent and makes the world this film takes place in much, much bigger. Concierges from all over are forming in response to Gustave’s need for help. Bill Murray is even among these concierges and is the one that sends Gustave and Zero further on their adventure. The pair have to dodge much more trouble later on, but form a bond of friendship that gives the film the heart it needs to stand out above all others.

Within the chaos and disorder also lies a charming love story between Zero and a girl he meets named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Agatha works at a local business named Mendl’s creating delicious pastries. Zero is very protective over her when Gustave tries to constantly flirt with her. His eyes are full of genuine care whenever he gazes at her. I think the reason Anderson decided to put this side of the story in place was to teach the audience a specific lesson. Through all the war and turmoil in the film, there is always room for hope and love. Horrific things can happen to a person, but hope and love can always keep someone going and help them survive. The chemistry between the pair is enchanting and really brings out the soul of the film.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

When picking up your copy of The Grand Budapest Hotel, I definitely recommend getting the Blu-ray edition. The Blu-ray has a long list of special features included that the DVD version does not. Bill Murray tours the town of Gorlitz where most of the film takes place. The small town has tons of character and the residents seem to be very happy. Also included is a section focusing on The Society of Crossed Keys. A look into the way hotels used to be run is provided. Apparently concierges back then were very well connected just like Gustave. Other special features included are Kunst Museum Zubrowka Lecture, The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mendl’s Secret Recipe, and much more. There are four featurettes that give the viewer a look into the mind of Wes Anderson and how it works. The way he makes his films is so intriguing and there is a reason why so many stars make up the cast. Anderson brings about a certain comradery between all those that work on his films. They have fun and that is what filmmaking is all about.

Wes Anderson has come a long way from his first film Bottle Rocket. His style which was defined so long ago has not lost it’s touch, but become stronger. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a treasure among films. Anderson is a true artist of his trade and continues to captivate the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. In the film Gustave speaks of glimpses of humanity still existing within all the destruction in the world. This idea seems to span over all of Anderson’s works, and he is by far the perfect person to bring it to the screen. Underneath all of the characters he creates there is good among all of them. Gustave took that glimpse of humanity and made it as real as it can get. Anderson’s set of films will always be on their own level of existence. There is meaning behind everything he creates and that is where the magic in his films comes from. If you enjoy his work I recommend picking up a copy of the book “The Wes Anderson Collection” by Matt Zoller Seitz. It is filled with essays, interviews, production photos, and much more information on all of his works leading up to this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a model of perfection and I feel privileged to have had the chance to enjoy it.

‘Joe,’ A Chilling Tale of Evil Pushed In The Right Direction [Blu-ray Review]

The Sheridan and Nicolas Cage in the movie JOE. © 2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. Artwork & Supplementary Materials © 2014 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.
Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage in the movie JOE. ©2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. ©2014 Lions Gate Entertainment.

Everybody has evil that resides within themselves, but it is how we decide to use it that defines who we are. David Gordon Green’s latest film Joe captures how these decisions can shape where people’s lives are driven. The film is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel “Joe” that he wrote in 1991. Nicolas Cage (National Treasure, Con Air) stars as Joe, a man with a troubled past that will not stay buried. This is by far one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances in a long time. He brings the character to life wonderfully and truly “becomes” Joe. Between the compelling story and the emotions delivered, this film is definitely one to watch. Anyone can relate to fighting evil and temptation in their lives.

From the first five minutes the film will grab onto your heart and will not let go until the credits roll. It opens up on train tracks where Gary Jones (Tye Sheridan) is speaking to his Dad (Gary Poulter). His Dad is clearly a drunk and has done something terrible to the point that Gary does not care what the consequences will be for his actions. His Dad is wearing a jacket that has G-Daawg written on the back of it. This becomes what his character is known by throughout the film. This scene is powerful and shows what kind of relationship these two share. Gary is certainly the more grown up of the two. G-Daawg is so drunk that he can barely sit up on the train tracks. He sways back and forth as his son tells him how rotten he is. It takes a turn when G-Daawg has had enough and slaps Gary across the face. From this moment on the score is so gripping that you will be falling off the edge of your seat. G-Daawg walks up the hill and is met by a couple men that begin to beat him to the ground. Gary watches from afar and then walks away down the train tracks. He looks back once with a smirk on his face seeing the evil he is leaving behind. It is a brief moment, but is extremely powerful and sets the tone for the rest of the film nicely.

The setting is established very quickly as other characters are introduced. Placed somewhere in Texas, the locations are very southern. With lots of trees and plenty of run down convenience stores it seems very barren. The few people who do reside in the town have very thick southern accents and all seem to know each other which gives it that “small town” feel. Joe (Nicolas Cage) shows up to one of the convenience stores and picks up a crew of workers in his truck. They venture out into the woods and start hitting the trees with an ax that has liquid spewing out from a tube that is attached. What at first looks like chopping down trees is actually them killing the trees. The liquid that is coming out is poison. I had never heard of anything like this before. They can’t chop down the trees until they are dead so they are the team that comes in and kills them first. When Joe starts chopping it is different from the rest of the crew. All of his anger and problems are channeled from his eyes down into his ax. His eyes are full of what looks like controlled rage. Without knowing anything about him, it is obvious that he has a dark past.

The Sheridan and Gary Poulter in the movie JOE. ©Roadside Attractions ©Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter in the movie JOE. ©2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. ©2014 Lions Gate Entertainment.

Joe is caught off guard when Gary drifts into town with G-Daawg and the rest of his family. Gary is just looking for work for him and his Dad and is given a chance to work on the “tree killing” crew. This proves to be a problem when G-Daawg shows he has no work ethic. Gary on the other hand is always working and eager to learn anything new. Joe fires G-Daawg, but allows Gary to continue working. This only causes more destruction in Gary’s life because his Dad steals all of his money that he earns. Tension rises and the true nature of Gary’s home life is revealed. G-Daawg’s ongoing abuse on his family comes to light. Seeing him beat his own son and stealing his hard earned money felt so real to me. The performances given were so dramatic that all I could think of was wanting to help this poor kid. Not one person in this world should have to go through anything like that. It made me sad watching it because I know that similar circumstances occur all the time. Tye Sheridan did a stupendous job of bringing every bit of emotion needed to fill this role of such a broken individual.

Things take a quick turn from drama to violence all of a sudden as the dangerous people in the town are brought out of the shadows. Joe returns home after a hard day of work to his Dog that is friendly to some, but vicious to others. Out of nowhere a shotgun is fired from afar ripping through his shoulder. A man by the name of Willie-Russell is sitting in his truck at the end of the driveway and speeds off. Later we find out that Joe had a confrontation with this man at a bar a few days back. This is what escalates from a bar fight in a small town. Joe is severely pissed. His past starts to come into light at this point as he struggles to contain everything that is dwelling in his soul. He is a very complicated person. On the outside he seems very nice, however he could snap in a split second. There are many instances where he lashes out, but he knows how dangerous he is and more importantly knows how to bring himself back to humanity. Through fights with various police officers as well as retaliating against the man who shot him we learn that he has been in prison before. He served twenty-nine months in a penitentiary for assault on a police officer. Joe is the type of guy that refuses to back down for anybody. He contains his true self by drinking and making frequent visits to the local brothel. This may seem like an unsavory thing to do, but considering what comes out of Joe when he is unleashed it becomes a better alternative.

The Sheridan in the movie JOE. ©Roadside Attractions ©Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Tye Sheridan in the movie JOE. ©2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. ©2014 Lions Gate Entertainment.

One of the most genuine aspects of this film proved to be G-Daawg, the evil itself. Gary Poulter brings everything he has into the character. There is a scene where G-Daawg, with no hesitation, beats a fellow homeless man to death. His motivation is a bottle of wine and nothing else. The alcohol triggers his madness and brings forth only death. Gary Poulter is not a very experienced actor, however does not show it in this role. The thing is, all he had to do is act himself. Gary was a local where Joe was being filmed. He happened to be homeless and had problems with alcohol similar to the role of G-Daawg. With him being an alcoholic, it was a risk hiring him for sure. He proved them wrong and delivered an impressive performance. Unfortunately a few months after production had wrapped, he was found dead and never got to see the film. His memory will forever be remembered through Joe.

Joe is a film that gives the chance for the viewer to connect on an emotional level. Through all the violence and all the hatred, there is always good. Joe went down a dark path when he let himself drift. Gary was brought to his town for a reason, he was the one to bring him back. The connection Gary and Joe have is a twisted father/son relationship that becomes an unlikely friendship. Joe sees that Gary could end up like him and makes the sacrifices needed to save him. Gary’s soul is still pure and Joe sees this. It is exceptionally heartwarming to see someone sacrifice everything they know to save one individual. Joe will captivate you and will leave you satisfied with how it concludes. You will not want to miss out on this inspiring film when Joe comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on June 17th, 2014.

Low Budget Yields Low Quality in ‘Bullet’ [Blu-ray Review]

©Funimation ©Giant Ape Media
Danny Trejo as Frank “Bullet” Marasco in BULLET. ©Funimation ©2014 Giant Ape Media

To make a decent film you have to put in time, love, and originality or it will fall into the shadows where nobody will care about viewing it. Nick Lyon’s latest film Bullet will surely reside in those shadows. Danny Trejo (Machete, Bad Ass) stars in this stereotypical cop story that delivers no gratification and will have you wondering what happened to creativity. With a budget of approximately three million dollars it definitely shows. Although the effects are pretty decent, the film seems very rushed and sometimes repetitive. Danny Trejo is probably the only reason Bullet was even made due to the fact that he has gained a following through his countless appearances in various films.

©Funimation ©Giant Ape Media
©Funimation ©Giant Ape Media

The story revolves around Frank “Bullet” Marasco (Danny Trejo), an untraditional cop that is not afraid to get his hands dirty if necessary. Danny Trejo is surprisingly fit for being seventy years old and has the right look for this type of role. Frank is introduced as an undercover cop with methods that are a little unorthodox. While interrogating a criminal named Leroy in the middle of the desert Frank places three gas cans down and has Leroy sit on the center one. While asking him questions Frank begins to shoot the gas cans on the sides creating small explosions. The scene is interesting, but I feel unrealistic as well. The gas cans seem like they are placed to close to the middle where Leroy is sitting and would probably kill him in reality. With realism aside it is a good introduction to what type of cop Frank is. Like in most cop action films Frank’s character is a loner. He doesn’t have much family except for a daughter and grandson whom he doesn’t speak to often. He has thrown himself into his work and knows nothing else. Being the hardworking and dedicated police officer that he is though attracts many ruthless enemies.

Revenge is always the key motivation in a typical cop action film and Bullet is no exception. Frank put away Manual Kane who killed three cops and is now waiting for lethal injection. Unfortunately Manual’s father is drug baron Carlito Kane (Jonathan Banks). Carlito will stop at nothing to free his son and see the man who put him there buried underground. He starts by kidnapping the Governor’s daughter and threatens to execute her if his son is not released. The Governor tries to meet these requests, but these type of things always take time. In the meantime Carlito is not pleased and grows impatient. While hunting for the whereabouts of the Governor’s daughter, Frank gets dragged into the drama. While taking his grandson Mario to the park, Carlito’s men distract Frank while Mario is kidnapped. Fury burns in the eyes of Frank as the desire for revenge swells inside him.

Tension begins to rise in the mood of the story, however it does not come across as very believable. Everyone seems to have something to lose, but when an emotional scene is being delivered all I can see is actors reading lines. There is no sense of sincerity in their words. Frank’s grandson is abducted and in the next scene he seems fine. He’s only a little bummed out when he should be enraged beyond belief. When the film seems to mellow out and lose your attention a curve ball is thrown to pull you right back in. Carlito becomes desperate and attempts to set up Frank for the murders his son committed. This would force the release of Manual. Frank is forced to sign documents implicating him for these crimes and then is told to sign a suicide note in exchange for Mario’s release. The suicide note does not suit Frank so he escapes only to be hunted by the police for the document he signed. This adds some depth to the plot and unleashes who Frank really is. Now being hunted by the police and Carlito’s gang, Frank can not hold back anymore. He does everything and anything he must to get his grandson back and clear his name.

©Funimation ©Giant Ape Media
Torsten Voges as Kruger in BULLET. ©Funimation ©2014 Giant Ape Media

Carlito is the only character in this film that is actually believable. Jonathan Banks (Breaking Bad) does a splendid job of bringing the right amount of “crazy” to his drug baron persona. Carlito Kane is calm and collected, but can snap at any moment. Banks knows just how to bring this to the screen. In most shots his face shows almost no emotion or movement whatsoever. He reacts when necessary and then in a split second he is back to his emotionless self. When he has an outburst of violence it is quite the site to see. Rage and lunacy is all that manifests from within Carlito.

When the credits roll you will feel as if you wasted three hours of your life even though the film is only ninety minutes long. With no substance Bullet is not worth watching. There are endless other action movies that will give you all that Bullet delivered and more. If you pick up a Blu-ray of Bullet you will have access to “The Making of Bullet”, which in my opinion is more interesting than the film itself. It is the only special feature other than previews that is included. The featurette gives an insight to why the film turned out the way it did. Bullet was given a low budget of three million dollars from the beginning and went through many script problems. After twenty rewrites, yes twenty, the final draft was completed. If twenty rewrites were completed I expect a fantastic script and that was not what was produced. The production schedule did nothing to help this. With only eighteen days to shoot, the pace of the production was very hurried. They seemed to have the mentality of “good enough” when shooting the film. Eighteen days of production will not give what you need to create a successful action movie of the caliber they were attempting to reach. If one wants to produce an action movie that stands out from the rest, tender love and care is needed. It can’t be rushed and requires true devotion to the story.

Don Peyote, A Twisted Inner Journey [Film Review]

DON_P_134
Dan Fogler as Warren in the psychedelic comedy “DON PEYOTE” an XLrator Media release. Photography credit: Isak Tiner.

When you dive into the mind of a conspiracy obsessed, hallucinating documentarist your brain will not know what to do but dive further into the abyss. Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero direct Don Peyote, a story about a simple and normal man thrown into the pits of insanity. This film is not for the everyday viewer for it requires a very open mind. Through many different visual techniques it portrays a man slowly losing his mind quite well. Don Peyote is an adventure to say the least and will definitely seize your attention.

Dan Fogler stars as Warren, a very likable character who is just trying to discover himself. Warren is engaged to be married and trying to balance wedding plans with his true hobby, conspiracy theories. He seems normal on the outside, but once his mind is revealed his sanity comes into question. One day Warren runs into a homeless man obsessed with Doomsday, he then later embarks on a drug infused exploration surrounded by fellow conspiracy theorists and off the wall characters. Through a weird hallucination, he meets a mysterious girl (Anne Hathaway) who feeds him information about every secret and theory that one can think of and splits his mind wide open. In the opening credits to the film a quote is shown that reads, “The hundredth monkey phenomenon refers to a sudden spontaneous and mysterious leap of consciousness that is achieved when an allegedly “critical mass” point is reached by some process currently beyond the normal scope of science.” It sure is a mouthful, but I believe this is that moment for Warren.

Dan Fogler as Warren and Kelly Hutchinson as Karen in the psychedelic comedy “DON PEYOTE.” ©XLrator Media. Photo: Isak Tiner.
Dan Fogler as Warren and Kelly Hutchinson as Karen in the psychedelic comedy “DON PEYOTE.” ©XLrator Media. Photo: Isak Tiner.

The film takes an interesting turn after this monumental night. Warren becomes engulfed by all the knowledge he has been given, he wants answers so he turns to his best friend who goes by the name of Balance to help him make a documentary. The film begins to switch in and out of a documentary style that is executed and timed perfectly. It compliments Warren’s interviews with different conspiracy theorists and shows his mind slowly changing and drifting away. When his fiance starts to notice this, his whole life begins to spiral downwards. Warren reaches a point in his mind where he is too far gone to come back and is placed in a mental hospital where his hallucinations only get worse. His fiance then leaves him which causes Warren to latch onto the only thing he has left, his journey to find himself.

Fogler and Canzoniero do a phenomenal job of interpreting Warren’s mind onto the screen. Although Warren is already crazy, he allows his hallucinations to help guide him through this quest. Through clever cuts and lighting changes, it is hard to separate illusion from reality. He manages to break out of the hospital and ventures out into the real world to live out his fantasies. Many stars make cameos here and there during Warren’s travels. They help him find what he is looking for and occasionally provide comedic relief. Josh Duhamel’s performance was by far the finest. When Warren decides to venture into the woods he comes across a homeless man (Josh Duhamel) and his girlfriend. They bring him back to reality for a little bit and teach him how to be happy again. The homeless couple’s relationship is very strange, but yet beautiful. They are not the stereotypical homeless people. They choose to live the way they do and are completely satisfied with just each other. Once everything seems to settle down Ayahuasca (a psychedelic) is introduced causing Warren to become lost within himself permanently. He manages to reach the end of his journey which unfortunately was not as satisfying as I was hoping. Although it was heartwarming, it just didn’t feel like the end of his story.

 

DON_P_257
(L-R) Elisabeth Harnois as Eve, Josh Duhamel as Adam and Dan Fogler as Warren in the psychedelic comedy “DON PEYOTE” an XLrator Media release. Photography credit: Isak Tiner.

“The hundredth monkey phenomenon” was successfully illustrated in Warren’s life. Every inner journey is unique and Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero did a fantastic job of writing Warren’s. The human mind is showcased in a distinctive way using modern animation and effects combined with unique storytelling. Don Peyote will take you further down the rabbit hole than you ever imagined you could go. When the film is done you may be a little confused, but it is only because no one can truly understand how it is to be that far gone without going there themselves. Dan Fogler does a great job bringing you as close into that type of mind as you can get. He’s remarkably believable and makes you feel deeply for the character. By the time the film ends, you will be left with a special connection and place in your heart for Don Peyote.

[divider]
Don Peyote. Directed by: Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero; Written by: Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero; Available on VOD and iTunes: May 9, 2014; Available In Theaters: May 16, 2014; Running Time: 98 minutes; Rated: NR

X-Men: Days of Future Past – A Mind Blowing Take on the Original Comic

X-Men5
Erik Lehnsherr (Young Magneto), played by Michael Fassbender, wields his powers. ©Marvel ©Twentieth Century Fox

Mutants, time travel, and giant robots come together this summer to bring new life to the 1980’s X-Men comic story “Days of Future Past.” Bryan Singer directs this latest X-Men film bringing back some of the cast from both the original trilogy and X-Men: First Class. Let me start by saying that this movie is more inspired by the comic rather than based on it. Both stories are astonishing, but also could not be more different. Characters, events, and even the time periods are all moved around and changed throughout the film.

It all started in 1981 when the creative team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Terry Austin released issues 141 and 142 of The Uncanny X-Men. The story was titled “Days of Future Past” and was set to span over the two issues. The comic starts out in the future year of 2013 (the future when the comic was released). An older Kitty Pryde, now going by the name of Kate, lives in a world where mutants are kept in internment camps which are similar to the concentration camps during the Holocaust. America is now run by Sentinels that discriminate against mutants.

As the mutant population dwindles down, Kate must join together with Rachel Summers, Franklin Richards, Wolverine, Colossus, Magneto, and Storm for one last chance to save mutantkind. Their plan is to have Rachel use her telepathic powers to send Kate’s consciousness back in time to her younger self to prevent the assassination of Senator Robert Kelly, Professor Xavier, and Moira MacTaggert.

This is what caused mass mutant hysteria and brought about the future that Kate lives in. Kate’s mind is then sent to her younger self in 1980. There she gathers the X-Men together to help her keep her future from ever happening. They go to Washington, DC where a hearing takes place dealing with mutants. This is where Mystique and her Brotherhood of Mutants plan their attack. Once in Washington, the X-Men try to keep humans out of harm’s way as the Brotherhood strikes on the hearing.

After saving Professor X and Moira MacTaggert the X-Men realize that the Senator is missing, and so is Kate. Meanwhile one of the Brotherhood members, Destiny, has the Senator in a room and is about to shoot him. Kate jumps in the way saving his life. By doing this the future is changed and her mind instantly goes back to where it belongs. The apocalyptic future run by Sentinels is prevented, or at least postponed, for the time being.

X-Men1
Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) powers her way through a top secret military installation. ©Marvel ©Twentieth Century Fox

The film itself, although straying very far from the comic, was breathtaking to say the least. In this adaptation the future is controlled by “super” Sentinels that can adapt to any mutant’s powers and are virtually unstoppable. The mutant team in the future is very different than the comic counterpart. In this story, Kitty is the one that has the power to send people back in time and they decide to send X-Men’s poster boy, Wolverine. Their reasoning being that he is the only one that has a healing power. In their eyes, his mind will be able to heal as fast as it is being torn apart since he is being sent back an enormous leap in time.

I am more fond of the reasoning in the comic behind sending Kate back, though. In the comic it is because she is the newest member of the X-Men in the past and is the only one that has not been trained yet against a psychic attack. However, with the film timeline being different, Kitty would not be alive in 1973 when the past takes place. In the past, Wolverine’s mission is to stop Mystique from killing Boliver Trask who is the creator of the Sentinel Program. His death leads to the capture of Mystique and experimentation on her.

The DNA they gather from Mystique gives them what they need to create the Sentinels that can adapt to mutant powers in the future. To stop this Wolverine must bring together Charles Xavier, Beast, and Magneto. Magneto is unfortunately in prison at this time for allegedly shooting President JFK. Wolverine recruits Quicksilver for help since Magneto is being kept below the Pentagon.

When Fox first released an image of Quicksilver online, complaining ensued. He looked very corny and unneeded. When he took the screen he proved everybody wrong, very wrong. What followed was an amazing sequence where time was slowed down as Quicksilver sped up and took out every guard in the room. It was truly one of the best moments from the film. Marvel’s version of Quicksilver that will be appearing The Avengers: Age of Ultron has a lot to live up to.

Even though the stories between the comic and film are very much their own, the filmmakers know that there are die-hard fans expecting to see things they grew up loving in the comics. Wolverine in the future dons the classic gray streaks in his hair from the comic counterpart, showing his first sign of aging in the movies. The final showdown also shares the same setting of Washington, D.C. This is where Magneto becomes the star and the main antagonist at the same time. When someone can lift an entire baseball stadium with his mind, you better run and not look back.

Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) In X-Men: Days of Future past.
Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) in X-Men: Days of Future Past. ©Marvel ©Twentieth Century Fox

The conclusion of this film will literally leave you on the edge of your seat. Between the battle in Washington, D.C. and the final battle in the future against the “super” Sentinels, your mind just might melt. The visual effects are eye-popping and the way the mutant powers are showcased is very fresh and contemporary. Iceman finally pulls off his famous “ice slide” which left fans cheering. As far as the end of the film goes, I do not want to give too much away. Go see it in person and experience the film first-hand. It is well worth the money and a great start to this summer of movies. Stick around for after the credits for an extra scene that I will discuss below, but don’t scroll down if you haven’t seen the film yet.

———–Spoiler Alert!———–Spoiler Alert!———–

You have been warned!

If you wish to continue reading, highlight the text below.

Age of Apocalypse is finally on it’s way. Unless you have been living under a rock you now know that the next X-Men film is coming out on May 27, 2016 and will be titled X-Men: Apocalypse. The scene at the end of the credits gives a look into the history of the next villain. It takes place in ancient Egypt where a boy in a cloak is being worshiped by hundreds chanting, “En Sabah Nur”. This is the birth name of Apocalypse. As they are chanting, he builds actual pyramids in the air with his mind and the camera turns to reveal him as a young boy with grayish-blue skin. My favorite part of this scene is right when the camera stops panning to reveal four men on horses in the background. The framing is perfect, giving an iconic image of Apocalypse and his Four Horseman who serve as his generals of sorts. Even though this is not the version of Apocalypse that will be fought in the next movie, it is a very satisfying tease. The next movie will again feature characters from the past, as well as some from the original films. This might mean that we could see future Cyclops with his son Cable. Cable has been confirmed for Fox’s X-Force movie that is in production so it is very likely. With pre-production already taking place the anticipation will only rise for X-Men: Apocalypse as 2016 nears.

Switch, China’s James Bond [Blu-ray Review]

switch-blu-funimation
©Giant Ape Media

Jay Sun’s directorial debut, the action film Switch starring Chinese superstar Andy Lau, is a major disappointment except for its visually stunning cinematography. Originally the film was set to be released in 2012, but was pushed back a year to convert it to 3D. Even pushing it back to work on 3D effects did nothing to take away from the confusing and ridiculous plot line.

The film revolves around two halves of an ancient scroll painting called “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains.” One half is located in the Zhejiang Art Museum in China. The other is in the National Palace Museum in Taiwan. These paintings attract the attention of a group of British smugglers and another group led by a Yakuza thug Yamamoto. As the paintings become endangered, Hong Kong sends their special agent Xiao Jinhan (Andy Lau), a James Bond knockoff, to protect them. From here the plot begins to twist and turn until you don’t know which way is up. The different halves of the painting switch hands so many times that it becomes insignificant when it does. The Hong Kong Agent ends up being in a different country almost every scene chasing after the painting. The plot then becomes even harder to muddle through with repetitive conflicts and some that don’t even fit in the plot at all. The last thing I expected to see in the climatic battle was the two opposing fighters taking the time to stop and put on fencing gear before a nonsensical fencing duel. At the end of the movie you are left with confusing questions that shouldn’t be there when the plot is so simple and straightforward.

Cinematographer Don McCuaig (XXX and Bruce Almighty) deserves all the accolades for this film. Each scene is lit vastly differently from the last. The different color schemes used make what you are watching look like a painting moving on the screen. Blue lighting is often used in the fight scenes that give it an intense feel as the camera weaves in and out of the action. The sets are also constructed perfectly in each scene to compliment the lighting used. The most beautiful set had to be Yamamoto’s house. Every room is more radiant than the previous one. In one scene he is sitting at a white piano surrounded by different pools of water and around them are a legion of candles. The whole room is surrounded in dim blue lighting that creates a fantastic effect of the candles blending in with the water.

switch bigger pic 2
Andy Lau in Switch. ©Giant Ape Media

Fascinating locations enhance the beautiful cinematography throughout the film. Part of Switch was filmed in Dubai, providing endless skyscrapers and resorts to use in the film. Some of Dubai’s most beautiful landmarks are showcased in the film, such as the Burj Khalifa, Atlantis The Palm, and Burj Al Arab. All three constructs would make anybody gasp. The Burj Khalifa is the absolute tallest building in the world. Many would notice it from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol which also centers around a secret agent. The building stands at an astounding 2,722 ft. and has more than 160 stories. Another portion of the film takes place at Atlantis The Palm which is the first resort that was built on the artificial island The Palm. The resort provides the location used for the car chase scene involving the Hong Kong agent where he takes his driving to the hallways. The inside of the resort is showcased as he drives throughout the halls and up the staircases. Anybody would be lucky to have these locations at their disposal for filming.

Switch definitely did not live up to expectations. All of the amazing locations and beautiful cinematography did not make up for the mediocre acting and poor plot structure. I feel like they were wasted on this film. When the credits rolled I was satisfied visually for sure, but had this empty feeling that was left by an unfulfilling story. My advice, if you want to enjoy this movie, watch it with the sound off and let your eyes enjoy the beautiful scenery.