After the Credits Episode 158: VIFF Industry Interview with Bernie Su

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When it comes to online media, it doesn’t get much bigger than Bernie Su. An executive producer at Pemberley Digital, Su and Hank Green have been the creative force behing a number of very successful web series including the Emmy winning “Lizzie Bennet Diaries“, “Emma Approved” and “Frankenstein MD“. We talked a little about how he got into developing web series, the success of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and what’s next!

Su is in Vancouver as for the VIFF Industry conference which kicks off today and runs through to October 4th at the Vancity Theatre. This year’s conference includes a great assortment of speakers including “Archer” creator Adam Reed, the lead writer of “Assassin’s Creed” Corey May, Dallas Buyers Club screen writer Craig Borten, director Jay Duplass and Snowpiercer screenwriter Kelly Masterson among many others.

Conference highlights include “Specific Voices – Episodic TV” which features Chris Collins, Executive Producer and head writer of “Sons of Anarchy,” and Jack Amiel, co-creator of “The Knick,” discussing how to keep their vision intact on TV, “Meet the Gatekeepers,” a panel which includes network and cable executives speaking about their approach to trends in programming and “Totally Indie Day” on Oct. 4, which features an entire day of programming designed specifically for aspiring creators.

For tickets and additional program information, check out the VIFF Industry site.

Trailer: The Mule

This Australian drug smuggling movie seems to successfully mix comedy and dark thriller with more than a little body function. Hugo Weaving appears to be having a blast as the cop who detains a drug mule (played by co-director Angus Sampson) and holds him in a hotel room for a week waiting for him to pass the kilo of cocaine along via natures course. Meanwhile, the drug dealers at all levels (including LotR’s Denethor, John Noble) want their money and their drugs. The whole trailer has a great editing rhythm set to an electronic score. Cool synth scores are all the rage these days.

Trailer #2: Exodus

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A second trailer for Ridley Scott’s Moses biopic features more CGI, more Christian Bale screaming at the heavens, more sad Ben Kingsley and more bad eyeliner on Joel Edgerton. Despite its posh production value and sophisticated computer graphics, the whole thing is still rather yawn inducing.

Review: The Skeleton Twins


Director: Craig Johnson (True Adolescents)
Writers: Mark Heyman, Craig Johnson
Producers: Stephanie Langhoff, Jennifer Lee, Jacob Pechenik
Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Boyd Holbrook, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 93 min.

 

 

My original posting of this review can be found on LetterBoxd

 


There’s a long tradition in film of comedic actors transitioning into dramatic roles with indies that gravitate towards a grey area in between the two genres, particularly in movies that make sure to hit the Sundance Film Festival before their wide release. From Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl to Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine and beyond, the snowy sidewalks of that Utah town are practically paved with actors looking to get their drama bonafides and while plenty have faltered along the way, this year saw two of the most resoundingly successful achievements in quite some time. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are primarily known for their multiple Emmy-nominated work on “Saturday Night Live” and after leaving their long stints on the program in recent years they find themselves coming together again in a very Sundance-typical tale of two troubled siblings in Craig Johnson’s darkly comedic, surprisingly abrasive and endearingly heartfelt drama The Skeleton Twins.

At first glance, The Skeleton Twins shares more than a few similarities with another recent Sundance hit, the Oscar-nominated Tamara Jenkins film The Savages. While that feature had the star power of already-certified dramatic heavyweights Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney, it also revolved around two estranged siblings forced by a hospital visit to come back together and sort out their issues, complete with adultery and a wintry setting that made it a perfect fit for that Sundance atmosphere. The Skeleton Twins does great effort at settings its own path, but Johnson and his leads are able to capture the same kind of hilarious, heartfelt and emotionally resonant experience that Jenkins and company were able to achieve and if there’s a film that you’re going to be compared to you can certainly do a lot worse. The Skeleton Twins shares plenty of familiar tropes that we’ve seen in Sundance and indie movies at large over the past decade but thanks to the sharp script by Johnson and Mark Heyman, along with a superb ensemble, it’s able to make its mark in its own very distinct way and has become one of my favorites of the year so far.

We open the film with Maggie (Wiig) and Milo (Hader) on opposite sides of the country, her in New York and him in LA, yet both of them are connected by their dissatisfaction with the state of their life. As Milo blasts Blondie’s “Denis” in his apartment, he slits his wrists and slides into the bathtub, leaving a disturbingly comical suicide note on the back of an envelope on his table. Over in New York, Maggie stands with a handful of pills, a tear running down her cheek and a conflict over whether or not she’s ready to take the plunge. Before she makes her choice she gets the call that Milo’s in the hospital and she heads across the country to see her brother for the first time in ten years. Milo, secretly begging for help while maintaining his “it’s not a big deal” attitude, agrees to stay with Maggie and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson, who delivers one of the most genuinely, effortlessly likable performances I’ve seen in years) back in their hometown and so sets up The Skeleton Twins’ basic premise of putting these two back under the same roof and having them work out their issues.

The plot doesn’t get much more intricate than that; the various running narratives are filled in with developments like Maggie’s infidelity with her scuba instructor (played by Boyd Holbrook who puts on an alarming, unnecessary Australian accent) and Milo rekindling an old, formerly illegal, affair with his high school teacher Rich (Ty Burrell in a surprisingly impressive bit of against-type casting) but Johnson’s film all comes down to these two siblings and their dynamic with each other. Casting Hader and Wiig opposite one another was a risky move, given that anyone familiar with the two could go in expecting the kind of romp that you’d imagine two recent Saturday Night Live alums to be heading together, but it’s one that paid off incredibly well thanks to their long history that has developed their relationship in a way perfect for actors playing brother and sister. For years these two were locked in a room together night after night, working out sketches for their live show into the early hours of the morning, and that kind of familial bond only furthered their chemistry in bringing these two siblings to the screen in vivid life.

They may have been estranged for ten years but there’s no denying that Maggie and Milo were raised in the same home and the two pick up exactly where they left off. Whether they’re delivering sharp jabs at the dissatisfied lives they’ve come to inhabit or embracing their similar sense of humor over a rib-busting scene of nitrous oxide use at the dental office where Maggie works (reportedly the only scene where the two legendary improvs were allowed to strut their off-script skills), Hader and Wiig have cultivated a sibling camaraderie that you simply can’t fake and yet at the same time they never fall into the traps that could have come with their years together on a show like Saturday Night Live. They may be two actors known largely for comedic work, but here the two show off their dramatic skill in equally astonishing measure and both have elevated themselves to a point where it becomes clear that they can handle both sides of the tonal coin in perfectly-measured stature.

Wiig has had some difficulty in recent years trying to make the transition to the dramatic side of things in quickly forgotten flops like Girl Most Likely and Hateship Loveship but here, aided by the support of Hader and the strong writing of Johnson and Heyman, she’s able to stretch her legs and fully convince as a woman so troubled by her life and her own self-destructive actions while never being able to properly express them to anyone around her. It’s the best work of her career to date, but the show ultimately belongs to Hader who is a revelation as Milo, a gay failed-actor having to come to terms with the fact that his life isn’t anything near what he had hoped it would be at this point. In one key scene between the two, Milo talks about how their father (who not-coincidentally ended his own life by jumping off a bridge many years ago) once told him when he was a boy that the kids who were popular in high school were only going to see their lives go downhill from there while Milo would flourish once he was able to step out into the real world — the heartbreak comes when Milo, holding back tears, states that he was the one it never got better for.

The Skeleton Twins is loaded with moments that pull on the heart strings in natural, believable ways without ever descending into nauseating “indie drama” quirks that would pull you out of the authentic experience of these two troubled siblings colliding forces with one another and knocking their damaged lives back into perspective. Over the years the two have perfected their self-managed, self-destructive ways to a point where they simply live with their unhappy existence and pretend that everything is fine to such a convincing degree that no one around them sees just how far down they’ve gotten. You can’t hide anything from your siblings though and once the two are back under the same roof it’s only inevitable that this glass house will come smashing down around them. Milo and Maggie stray the line between likable and loathsome, even teetering over into the latter at times, but Hader and Wiig constantly keep you invested in them and the clever, impactful writing makes sure to leaven the heaviest moments with plenty of warmth throughout. The film’s centerpiece, in which the two come together over a lip-sync rendition of Jefferson Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”, is as crowd-pleasing a moment as any you’ll see on screen this year and a testament to the fact that no matter how much Maggie and Milo can dig their claws into one another they will always have a bond that no one can manage to break or fully understand.

  

After the Credits Episode 157: VIFF Dispatch #1

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On our fist dispatch from the Vancouver International Film Festival, I’m joined by festival correspondent, and Green Screen of Death podcast co-host, Bill Harris (@soundjam69) to get some insight into great titles from Fantastic Fest and some of the highlights (and low lights) of VIFF so far.

Prepare yourself for some high praise of Xavier Dolan’s Mommy!

Occultober – Day 1 – Race With The Devil

Over the course of the month, one a day, we will be offering suggestions on cult films to watch. And by cult films, we mean films about cults, even though many of these films have cult followings in their own right. Each will go up as a separate post at the stroke of midnight, as it should be.

Race With The Devil
Why not kick things off with a bit of that old-school 1970s Satanic Cinema mixed with adrenaline-laced car chases. The tail off from the Corman biker movie cycle (the film features a stalwart of the genre, Peter Fonda, along with Warren Oates) before Mad Max, there is an absolutely incredible action set-piece in the middle of the film involving a lot of Satanists attacking a Winnebago at 80 miles per hour.

The rest of the film has some pretty classic occult cinema imagery, as well as sympathetic and fine performances from the two couples who turn off the main road with their RV and witness a human sacrifice.

VIFF 2014 Review: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

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Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the work of Isao Takahata but he was never a director whose work I make a priority. Yes, Grave of the Fireflies is spectacular but I can only handle so much heartbreak in any given year and in any given festival and the day before The Tale of the Princess Kaguya was supposed to screen, I seriously considered leaving it off my schedule. By some miracle, I went ahead with the screening only to come out the other end completely wowed.

Like many of Takahata’s previous works, Princess Kaguya is a cautionary tale, on the surface a beautiful sort of fairy tale with a message. The story opens in a remote village where a bamboo farmer, living a quiet life with his wife, is blessed for his hard work with a miniature bamboo princess. He takes the creature home to his wife and suddenly the princess disappears and is replaced by a baby girl who begins to grow faster than average children. Much further down the line, the bamboo farmer, now blessed with piles of money he believes he should be using to transform his daughter into a beautiful princess, moves the family to a newly constructed palace in the city where the young girl is slowly transformed, against her will, into a respectable young lady ripe for marriage to any prince.

Takahata’s film isn’t only memorable for the beautiful animation which is unlike anything I’ve seen of late but for the message of its story. Here we have a free spirited young woman who is forced to change who she is to fit society’s version of the ideal woman only to discover that in doing so, she wasted away a large portion of her life. Not satisfied with only one angle, Takahata also explores themes of true love and the often complicated relationships we have with our parents.

The movie lags a little in the middle when the princess sends her potential suitors in search of priceless (and in some cases non-existent) artefacts as a way to prove their love but the scenes also allow for some wonderfully charming moments. Princess Kaguya made me laugh and it made me cry. It also reminded me that animated features can be more than what Disney has to offer and left me wondering why we don’t see more sophisticated animated stories like this one.

It doesn’t end badly but the final scenes of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya might require a little explanation for the little ones more used to Disney’s fairy tale endings. A really wonderful film.

The of the Princess Kaguya opens in limited release on October 17th.

VIFF 2014 Review: Beautiful Youth

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Regardless of how news outlets spin current world events, by now everyone is more or less aware that the global economy is in trouble and that some countries are doing far better than others. Europe has been experiencing particularly difficult times and those difficulties have appeared here and there in film, in some instances more bluntly than others. Spaniard Jaime Rosales’ Beautiful Youth is the most recent, microscopic look at the hardships faced by a young couple in Spain.

Ingrid García Jonsson and Carlos Rodríguez star as Natalia and Carlos, a young couple in love. She’s dropped out of school and spends her days at home, hanging out with friends and occasionally shop lifting make-up while Carlos works odd jobs and conspires with his friend to open his own business. In an effort to generate quick cash, the pair agree to appear in a porn, a venture that turns out to be only the first in a long line of schemes to generate income. Making money to take care of themselves becomes both a thing of the past and a thing of immediate urgency when the young couple is faced with a new challenge: parenthood.

Beautiful Youth could easily have become a cynical movie about the difficulties of being young amid a recession but instead, it’s a testament to human resilience. Watching Natalia and Carlos grow and mature over the course of a few short years is a beautiful reminder of how the events of our lives shape the people we become, even if the changes aren’t immediately apparent. Both Rodríguez and Jonsson give great performances but the film focuses mostly on Jonsson and the challenges she faces and the actress shines in the role.

Rosales takes a verite approach to Beautiful Youth which gives the movie an added layer of reality. On a few occasions, Rosales uses technology in an interesting and new way to mark the passage of time and showing the changing relationship between Natalia and Carlos and though I appreciate the approach here, I hope it doesn’t become a regular thing in features.

Beautiful Youth neither glorifies nor frowns on the actions of Natalia and Carlos, it simply presents an unabashed look at coming of age under difficult circumstances and it does so with a glint, however small, of hope.

Beautiful Youth plays VIFF again on October 2nd. Check out the VIFF program for tickets and additional screening information.