Criticism, Movies

Must-Stream: Snag Films’ troubling doc ‘Lost for Life’

0 Comments 28 July 2014

Whatever you think about life without parole for minors who murder — and you may not have even considered the issue — Joshua Rofe’s engaging documentary Lost For Life will challenge your preconceptions. If first met the director at the Middleburg Film Festival last October.

Immediately after watching the film last October I wrote: “One notable nonfiction feature was Snag Films’ “Lost for Life.” Director Joshua Rofé has created a tight, extremely well-researched documentary that addresses juvenile offenders with a record of heinous crimes sentenced to life without parole — hence they are lost, for life. The movie allows the audience to have an internal debate about the justice of this irrevocable sentence for juvenile offenders. But its power lies in the director’s ability to get up close and pull the truth from his subjects, like one man now in his twenties who killed a fellow high school student with almost no motive and no previous indications of violent behavior. The result is a movie that is both shocking and revealing about the American justice system and the children in our midst.”

Currently available via iTunes, here’s the most recent trailer released by Snag Films:

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Willem Dafoe on Working with Philip Seymour Hoffman and His ‘Fault in Our Stars’ Fame

0 Comments 26 July 2014

A Dapper Dafoe

A Dapper Dafoe

From the Green Goblin to Nosferatu, Martin Scorsese’s Jesus Christ to Lars von Trier’s Antichrist, actor Willem Dafoe has cultivated a career out of taking risks. This year his gambles have paid off handsomely: At age 58, the Wisconsin native is having one of the best years of his career. He recently starred in this summer’s smash weepie The Fault in Our Stars and the ensemble comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel. This Friday, he dons a German accent and a slick suit to play a dodgy banker in John Le Carre’s espionage thriller, A Most Wanted Man (the film, which opens Friday, is one of the last to star the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died earlier this year).

Arguably the hardest-working man in show business, Dafoe discussed five of his latest roles with Yahoo Movies:

A Most Wanted Man

As Tommy Brue, Dafoe serves as a foil to Hoffman’s Günther Bachmann, a German spy on the verge of a nervous breakdown. “I didn’t know Hoffman personally before [we made the movie], but to work with him was to feel like you knew him for a long time,” Dafoe told Yahoo Movies. Of their scenes together — some of which take place in a sedan racing through Hamburg, Germany — Dafoe said: “His character bullied me in those scenes. You may be in a car and it may seem deceptively simple, but a lot is going on.”

The Fault in our Stars

In this smash adaptation of John Green’s young-adult hit, Dafoe played Van Houten, an embittered, alcohol-addled novelist who’s sought out by young lovers Hazel (Shailene Woodley) and Gus (Ansel Elgort). “The other day I was walking down the street in New York,” Dafoe says, “and these 11-year-old girls mobbed me and shouted ‘Van Houten!’ It was like the first time I had ever been recognized in my life. It was like starting all over again it was so unexpected. Sure, kids see Spider-Man, but there was a different kind of passion that young teenagers have when they saw me. They didn’t see an actor that played Van Houten. They saw Van Houten [himself].”

The Grand Budapest Hotel

In Wes Anderson’s latest ensemble-comedy, Dafoe played a menacingly silent assassin. “Wes has a way of assuring you of a good life adventure when you work on one of his movies. Wes showed me an animated storyboard with line drawings for the picture, and I remember after seeing it, I joked, ‘Wes, you don’t need any of the actors. You have a movie right here!’” As far as the atmosphere on the set of the film — which co-starred Ralph Fiennes and Bill Murray — Dafoe says it “was like the actors’ retirement home.”

Nymphomaniac: Volume II

When discussing his latest collaboration with renegade director Lars von Trier — in which he plays the scheming superior to Charlotte Gainsbourg — Dafoe downplayed his participation in the sexually explicit movie. “My involvement was minimal, a couple of days… When I watch it, it’s almost a movie I’m not in.” But he had more to say about their previous collaboration: “Looking at Antichrist, Lars was feeling very insecure and a little ill, he had great ideas, but he didn’t know whether he could actually finish the movie. He used to say, ‘I may not come to set tomorrow or I may not finish this movie.’ It was always scary, and required a huge amount of trust on our part.”


In Abel Ferrara’s biopic — which will open this fall, after premiering at the prestigious Venice Film Festival — Dafoe plays the title character, the controversial gay Italian director (The Decameron), poet and writer who was assassinated in 1975. ”Pasolini is someone I admire a great deal,” said Dafoe, who splits his time between New York and Rome. “He fascinates me. I immersed myself in Pasolini for three months, wore some of his clothes and carried a pen that Maria Callas gave him. Those little details connect you like little relics to the material. They put you in touch with the ghosts.”

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Celebrity, Movies, Television

9 Things I Learned About Jason Momoa While Breaking Bread at Sundance

0 Comments 05 July 2014

Writer, Director, Star, Easy Rider, Khal Drago: Jason Momoa

Writer, Director, Star, Easy Rider, Khal Drago: Jason Momoa

Tuesday night, July 8th, I’m going to host a Jason Momoa double header: a Meet the Filmmaker Q&A at the wonderful Apple Store in Soho at 5 PM, followed by an Evening with the Actor conversation and screening of the biker movie he wrote, directed, costumed, and starred in, Road to Paloma, at the 92nd Street Y. The first one’s free; the second requires tickets.

Momoa, as I learned at a dinner hosted by WWE Studios President Michael Luisi  in Park city last January, is a very fun and accessible guy. Here’s my Yahoo dispatch from that feast:

Cross that one off my bucket list! Last night I had dinner with Jason Momoa, the actor who bedded the Khaleesi in some of the hottest love scenes on TV as the Dothraki king Khal Drogo in HBO’s Game of Thrones. The occasion? WWE Studios was hosting a dinner for a dozen or so to celebrate the SAG winner’s directorial debut, Road to Paloma. He also wrote the Native American biker drama, which co-stars Momoa’s wife Lisa Bonet and comes out in July.

Here are nine nuggets that emerged over steak and fried chicken at Butcher’s in Park City:

1. There’s no truth to the rumors that he was cast as Aquaman in the delayed “Batman vs. Superman” movie – but he’d be happy to make it a reality if he were asked. [Update: He's still not talking but in June, People Magazine reported that everybody's favorite Dothraki had been cast as Aquaman in Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.]

[Related: My Us Weekly Review of Conan the Barbarian]

2. Although Momoa, 34, was born in Hawaii, his parents split. His mother raised him in Iowa – Madison County to be exact. One of his high school buddies actually had a role in the Meryl Streep-Clint Eastwood movie The Bridges of Madison County.

3. When you’re 6′ 5″ and very muscular, ordinary chairs are too small for comfort – and he tends to tip back in them to the danger point.

4. Momoa has a number of tattoos – one on his arm said, “Pride of Gypsies,” which is the name of his company. Another on his upper arm just above the elbow is rows of black triangles that represent shark’s teeth – so that when he’s in the water, sharks will recognize him as one of their own.

Flashback to "Easy Rider" on "Road to Paloma"

Flashback to “Easy Rider” on “Road to Paloma”

5. His dream project is to write and direct what he calls his “Braveheart.” It’s a heroic historical drama based on the true story of the Koolau Rebellion, or the Leper Wars on Kaua’i. As Momoa pointed out, Jack London immortalized the relatively little-known conflict in his short story “Koolau the Leper.”

6. Momoa has two children, 5 and 6, with wife Lisa Bonet. He kept in touch while in Park City by talking on his phone with them while snowboarding down a mountain.

7. While shooting the first season of Game of Thrones in Ireland, Momoa had more than a few awkward moments. When he went to the local pub, he didn’t exactly blend in. Who was this giant guy with, as Momoa put it, a “70′s porn mustache” and eyeliner? He was just an actor studying his lines – in Dothraki – and calling for another glass of Guinness. By the time he returned to shoot the second season, the locals were buying him beers and calling him “mate.”

8. On February 27, the Sundance Channel will premiere The Red Road, a twisty contemporary noir in which Momoa plays a lead role as a New Jersey Native American with a mysterious past opposite New Zealander Martin Henderson, Julianne Nicholson, Tom Sizemore and Bonet.

9. Momoa, a big man with a big heart, gives good hug – and is the absolute life of the party.

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Independence Day 2012

0 Comments 04 July 2014

Just two years ago we lit sparklers on my father-in-law Randy’s lawn in Alexandria, Virginia. Lizzie and I had bought them earlier in the day at the roadside superstore that sold everything from smelly glow worms to weapons of mass destruction. We went old school: sparklers. We gathered in the trim front yard that was already igniting with fireflies, the air smelling charred. The sounds of bigger, grander bombs bursting in air at bigger parties and somewhere, in the distance and over the Key Bridge, on the mall.

Inside the split-level ranch, Randy, the retired Air Force General, was spending his last summer. The family patriarch was probably watching TV, the fireworks from the Capitol, although he was even less interested in the tube than he had been. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what was going on because of dementia, it was that he was getting so much closer to being gone. Another July 4th, a movie’s plot, who did it and why? It did not matter.

I love these pictures because they capture the three people I love most in the world, grainy, summer. It’s as if the photos imprint the humidity and how beautiful a warm Southern night can be, how they feel infinite. I love the way the sparklers register on Lizzie’s iPhone. Even my husband, Ranald, allowed us to take a snapshot of him, and that put him in the picture. I have always loved sparklers, the fire and crackle and the way they bring people together — lighting them, watching them, the little disappointment as they sizzle out. Get another one. And another. Until the box is empty.

A few days later, in the Subaru on the long drive to Upstate New York, I must have told the kids that Grandpa wasn’t going to last long. They did not like hearing this. I was such a downer. Why should they? I thought I was preparing them for the inevitable, but what can prepare them for that loss? We all loved him so much.

I’d been married over 25 years by then. My feelings had altered from the awe and a little fear when Randy first picked Ranald and me up at Union Station before we were engaged, to love and need and a peacefulness together I wouldn’t have thought possible when we first met.

I came of age among lefty Jews during the Vietnam War. My parents taught me everything military was bad at the same time they told me to finish my milk. It took a long while for that conditioning to dissipate. In the end, if anybody would ever have my back, the General would. If there was a blackout, or an invasion, or a zombie apocalypse, or a night with a bottle of Macallan on the table, I wanted him there.

Looking at these pictures, you see a happy family, a boy, a girl, a husband, a wife somewhere not wanting to be in the picture, but having purchased the artillery and marched us outside and away from the television. I see them, too. But I also see the lights in the windows, the house by the Potomac that I returned to for over a quarter of a century, from a young naiver-than-I-knew woman overly attached to her parents, to a wife and mother of a son and daughter with a strong marriage built brick by brick in joy and tragedy.

I see the last Independence Day we spent at that house in what was nearly an annual event. We went South again at Christmas and Randy was already in the hospital. We saw him once more: we waited outside his room on Christmas Day while he argued with the nurse. She came out, a little Filipino, flustered but still in charge, and we apologized for him, then filed in.

Randy was wearing those awful hospital gowns that defy dignity — that last uniform he would ever wear while alive. His eyes were unfocused without his glasses, his hearing iffy without his aids. But he was still commanding for a little man, still tied us together. We stood in a row at the foot of his bed like the Von Trapps. The little grandchildren now grown into adolescence. Randy was lucid but this was one ridiculous battle he just didn’t want to fight anymore. He died before the New Year.

And while we are all still in mourning, the beauty of having had him as part of my life is how much he came to mean to me, despite my upbringing, and to those around him. He was a man in full, not a guy in flip flops and cargo shorts. I still see Randy in my husband’s smile, in his square head, in the way Ranald is so firmly rooted in reality.

Randy exemplified the best in the American military man, the fighter pilot, the West Point grad, that had fought for our independence. He missed WWII but flew missions in Korea and Vietnam.

Tonight, when it’s dark and bursts of fireworks flash above the tops of the trees, I will raise my shot glass to the sky, and remember our fun times on the Fourth, with you Randy, when we were a little lit, like sparklers.

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Mystery, Television

Oh, Agatha, ‘Endeavour’ Series 2 Would be Miss Marple’s Favorite Show

0 Comments 03 July 2014

Men in White Skins: Shaun Evans and Roger Allam play members of the Oxford City Police CID

Men in White Skins: Shaun Evans and Roger Allam play members of the Oxford City Police CID

I would not go so far as to say that Shaun Evans is the new Benedict Cumberbatch, but he is one of those yummy PBS nerds (like Laurence Fox of Inspector Lewis) that grows on you as the episodes pile up. In Endeavour, he does not play a funny guy, but a plain, sincere, smart Oxford scholarship student turned drop out with a chip on his often rounded shoulders. His name is Morse, Endeavour Morse in this prequel to the long-running Inspector Morse series based on the Colin Dexter novels.

In the newer shows of The Bridge era, they would dump Endeavour Morse on the Asperger’s Spectrum with his intense intellect and focus and failure to pick up social cues but I’m so tired of playing amateur psychoanalyst. Did Sherlock have Asperger’s? Does it matter?

I have now watched all of Season 2,
currently screening on PBS but available in one big dose of four addictive episodes on DVD, continues in the early sixties and while Britons around Morse are just beginning to turn on and tune out, he’s relatively square. That he takes up with the attracting and caring Black nurse down the hall is interesting. It seemed inevitable in the first series, and is just unfolding in the second. But that’s because, so far, the romance is secondary to a series of brilliant puzzle-box mysteries that would impress Agatha Christie. Sure, if the guest star is a recognizable name it’s likely he’s caused a corpse or molested a child sometime. Basically the plots are jaw-droppingly serpentine, whether the crimes take place with a hint of the supernatural in a girl’s school that was once the site of a dreadful killing (“Nocturne”), or a series of housewife stranglings with a black silk stocking (“Sway”), there are always hints of sexual perversion, betrayal and institutional corruption in the shadow of the Oxford dons.

Here’s a peak at the series. I’ll post more soon:

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