WWII

Review: Unbroken

Dec 24 // Matthew Razak
[embed]218764:42090:0[/embed] UnbrokenDirector: Angelina JolieRated: PG-13Release Date: December 25, 2014 In a surprising twist for Hollywood, it's quite possible you don't know the true story that the film is based on as the legend of Olympian Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) and his POW experience during WWII has faded into history. O'Connell gets shot down while bombing Japan and he, Francis 'Mac' McNamara (Finn Wittrock) and Russell Allen 'Phil' Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) are the only ones to survive in two tiny life crafts. After days at sea they are finally rescued by the Japanese and taken to a POW camp where Louis is tortured and beaten by Mutsushiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). The film is basically his tail of survival. Sadly, Jolie doesn't quite have the skill to make it seem genuine. While there's plenty of budget and everything looks fine most scenes come off painfully contrived. The feeling is that the film is more concerned with tugging at your heartstrings than telling a truly affecting story. By the film's end you can guess every emotional key stroke the movie is going to make. The emotional impact of true heroism sucked out of the film because it is trying just so hard to be about true heroism. Jolie also makes the mistake of telling instead of showing (unlike the far superior Selma). The movie jumps back and forth in time as we go through the checklist of life moments that make the man into a legend. Instead of getting to know him we get to know a rough sketch of him. Instead of focusing on the character we focus on the life and lose the character because of it. This is especially true when Louis is in the prison camp. Great opportunities are missed to develop his relationship with Mutsushiro (and to develop Mutsushiro into a better character), but the film is so set on telling it's story points it never allows it. It's surprising since the Coen brothers took a crack at the script, but it's true. That's not to say the Jolie is completely incompetent behind the camera. The film looks fantastic, and when it isn't trying to pander it does some very interesting things. While the Louis/Mutshushiro relationship is not as good as it could have been it is still intriguing, and Jolie has shown that she can at least piece together a competent story, even if it doesn't strive to be anything more than what it looks like.  There are some fantastic performances buried in the melodrama and checkbox plotting as well. We're going to be seeing a lot more of Jack O'Connell if this is the kind of performance he's going to deliver. It isn't perfect as he's often played into some particularly cheesy scenes, but he does deliver. And any film with Domhnall Gleeson is going to get better not matter what it is.  Unbroken isn't a train wreck, but it just wants to be so much more than it is. A paint by numbers retelling of a fantastic story that pulls at the heartstrings with cliche rather than true emotion. It isn't a film that's not enjoyable to watch, it's just sad to see it try so hard doing all the wrong things. 
Unbroken Review photo
Can't be fixed
Unbroken is the first film directed by Angelina Jolie. That alone has given it a lot of hype, but it's easy to understand why it would be pushing at Oscars anyway. It's base on the true story of a WWII hero and Oscar jus...

Review: Fury

Oct 17 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218467:41900:0[/embed] FuryDirector: David AyerRelease Date: October 17, 2014 Rating: R  Taking place in April 1945 as the Allies occupy Nazi Germany, Fury tells the story of a small group of soldiers and their tank: Sergeant  "Wardaddy," (Brad Pitt) "Bible," (Shia LaBeouf), Grady (Jon Bernthal), "Gordo," (Michael Pena) and the newest recruit Norman (Logan Lerman), whose never seen battle before being thrown in the tank with the others. And that's really it. That's both Fury's most well regarded aspect and biggest flaw. As with other Ayer films, Fury is all about the small things. Choosing to focus on character work over big events tends to always make the narrative falter. It's no different in Fury, unfortunately. Thankfully, Fury's built on a solid foundation of character arcs. While the narrative may not have a clear direction, the character evolution is set up quite nicely.  Due to its focus on characters over the grander narrative, it's implicitly broken up into smaller vignettes. If you take each scene as a small pocket of story, it's easier to digest. While that might make the pacing of the film harder to follow, it's far more enjoyable when you realize you're just supposed to take each scene as they come. So it's pretty much like every other David Ayer film where he stretches out smaller beats in between big action scenes. Yet this time, the focus is all on those smaller beats. The best example of this is early on when you first meet the crew. In order to break the tension, they start joking around and there's a beginning and ending to that story before going on to the next thing. It's pretty neat.  The more I watched Fury, the more I fell in love with its well built core. If any one of the five central actors were weak, the whole thing would've fell apart. Luckily, you don't have to worry about any of that as there are no slackers here. Brad Pitt doesn't get a lot to do other than put on a machismo front, but his pensive moments truly shine through when they occur little by little. It's not much more than a stare off into the distance, or a hint at a troublesome past, but it works. Jon Bernthal plays up a country drawl pretty well, Michael Pena plays between comedic and tragic as his character usually gets more of the jokes in the film (along with a well delivered speech), and while Logan Lerman is the weakest of the bunch (which is a shame given the amount of focus he gets), he's fine as a stand in for the audience as we get to find out more about everyone else.  The breakout star is definitely Shia LaBeouf. I've seen different facets of his performance in other films, but it's still surprising to see him pull off emotion with such nuance. At times he gives his dialogue a stone faced delivery so that it's intentionally hard to decode, and at others, he's on the brink of tears. LaBeouf gets the toughest role. He's the one character who doesn't pretend he's hardened through war and instead uses religion to pacify his guilt over committing horrible acts of man, and thus needs to display a well of emotion just bubbling under the surface. That aspect of his performance can't be laid out well through words, so I'll just say every cut to him during the final scenes is heartbreaking. His sorrowful stares are a sight to behold.  Now Fury isn't perfect. Just by writing this review I'm recalling certain issues I had with its finale as it mirrors many of Ayer's other film endings, the film's flow might take some getting used to (with one particular scene feeling totally out of place), and it's got a few shades of predictability, but I can't say those issues had a huge effect on my overall enjoyment watching. Fury is a little over two hours, but I didn't feel it at all. I was completely invested because the characters at the center were so compelling.  Oh yeah, I had forgotten all about the action scenes! The tank fights are pretty damn great too. Haha I got swept up in how well everything else was done, I kind of forgot this was a war film. And that's the point. It's not about World War II, and there's no big mission to kill Hitler or save America or anything like that. It's just about some poor guys who are trying to make due in their mess of a world. 
Fury Review photo
Furioso
I've been anticipating Fury for quite some time. Writer/Director David Ayer is one of my favorite folks in the industry, and I'm always eager to find out what he's churning out next. From Training Day to The Fast and The...

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See Fury early and free


Washington DC screening
Oct 08
// Matthew Razak
Looking for a World War II movie with tanks starring Brad Pitt? That's an oddly specific thing to be looking for, but you've come to the right place as we've got passes to Fury. The film looks to at least be like a spot of fu...

Fury Trailer photo
Fury Trailer

International trailer for Fury has a few kinks


Sep 08
// Nick Valdez
I've been all for David Ayer's Fury since its inception. Ayer's track record is great, it's got a great cast (highlighted by Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf), and I like tanks on tanks on tanks. But with this newest international...
Fury Trailer photo
Fury Trailer

First official trailer for Fury, starring Brad Pitt


"Kills are peaceful. History is violent."
Jun 25
// Nick Valdez
David Ayer is one of my favorite writer/directors. From Training Day, The Fast and Furious, to End of Watch, he's always impressed me with his smaller dialogue moments around hefty action scenes. Looks like we'll be getting ...
Fury images photo
Fury images

New images of David Ayer's Fury look pretty cool


tanks on tanks on tanks
May 05
// Nick Valdez
David Ayer's Schwarzenegger starring Sabotage may have been a well intentioned misfire, but I still have faith in his upcoming WWII tank project, Fury. It's filled to the brim with talented folks (Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf...

Review: The Monuments Men

Feb 07 // Matthew Razak
The Monuments MenDirector: George ClooneyRelease Date: February 7, 2014Rated: PG-13  [embed]217264:41225:0[/embed] History lesson time. Back in WWII the Nazi's stole everyone's art. Like everyone's. Also, a war has a tendency to destroy things. In reaction to this as the war began to turn for the Allies the U.S. put together a group of people whose job it was to make sure that important pieces of art and architecture did not get destroyed, stolen or lost, and, hopefully found their way back to their rightful owners. This is the story that The Monuments Men tells. The film boils down the actual events to a small team of key characters desperately searching through Europe for art. They're led by Frank Stokes (George Clooney) and include James Granger (Matt Damon), Richard Campbell (Bill Murray), Walter Garfield (John Goodman), Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Dongald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville) and Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban). The team splits up once they get to Europe, with Granger going to Paris to attempt to pry information out of art expert, and assistant for the Nazi art collector, Claire Simone (Cate Blanchett). This also acts as the film's truly needless and poorly executed love story. As the team works to protect one or two items of art they realize the Nazis are moving all the art somewhere and they must find out where. It really does sound like an incredibly intriguing plot, and considering that the search in real life eventually let to finding the Nazi's entire gold reserve, effectively putting the final nail in the coffin for Germany, it really should be. The problem is that nothing ever actually seems to happen. Despite a fantastic cast the film has no forward momentum at all. Most of the scenes feel more like vignettes, and every attempt to pull at the heart strings (of which there are many) falls demoralizingly flat. We're rushed into the premise, rushed through characters and rushed through the art, which is a bit ironic considering how important the film keeps telling us we should have a true and deep connection with the art we take in. The really weird thing is how completely incongruous not caring about characters is with the actors that are on the screen. Your memory is telling you that you should be enjoying the back and forth between these guys and that because it is them you should be invested in their characters, but your memory just can do it. The screenplay, which clearly does not feature enough ad-libbing feels heavy on the actors who don't seem to be able to move out from behind it. The only guy who really hits is, maybe not unexpectedly, Bill Murray. His "emotional scene" kind of hits home, though it was clearly designed to play during the film's original holiday release.  What's even odder is that Clooney's direction is so incredibly bland for this film. From a guy who did wonders with Good Night, and Good Luck, The Monuments Men feels like a paint by numbers affair. This probably isn't epitomized better than by the fact If you're not an American solider then you're evil, except for that one scene where we see that everyone is human. Clooney directs the film in such stark black and white affairs that you're never able to get into what's going on. By the time the big Nazi's are bad speech comes in you've fully clicked over to cynical mode and there's no way to pull out. Their inevitable success by the end of the film feels more like a bunch of dumb luck than a successful story. It's not like The Monuments Men is a horribly bad film. It's just so plain that vanilla is more flavorful. There's not spark between a cast that should be sparking enough to set of forest fires, and the story never starts so it can never get going. The Monuments Men is the kind of film you flip over to accidentally when searching through channels in a few years and think that maybe you should finally watch it. Then is a perfect time to sit through it, but it doesn't warrant anymore viewing effort than happenstance allows. 
Monuments Men Review photo
Hardly monumental, definitely full of men
When monuments men was delayed from award season to a early February release it didn't cause too much concern. The line that the film wasn't quite ready seemed plausible, since there's no way a film with this cast, taking pla...

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See Monuments Men early and free


Washington DC screening
Jan 31
// Matthew Razak
I think we've all been waiting very patiently for The Monuments Men to come out ever since it was delayed back in December. The cast is awesome, the story is true and it's a WWII movie to boot. There's a reason ever...

Review: The Book Thief

Nov 15 // Matthew Razak
[embed]216848:40925:0[/embed] The Book ThiefDirector: Brian PercivalRated: PG-13Release Date: November 8, 2013  The Book Thief is based on a young adult novel in which the narrator, Death, recounts the story of Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a girl living in Germany during WWII, and her adoptive parents, Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). As you can guess, the war comes to their town, as it did all of Germany, and things start to unravel as the family takes in the son of a Jewish friend, Nico (Nico Liersch). Rudy hides in the basement as Liesel grows up throughout the years, pilfering a book or two there. The two most important aspects to remember about the book is that it was geared towards young adults and that death narrated the entire thing. Neither of those things happen in full in the film, and it makes it one of the most heavy-handed films of the year. Death begins narrating the movie, spewing a few well-known lines from the book, and then almost completely disappears for the rest of the film only to pop up at the very end to deliver the film's message. It's lazy screenwriting and turns what could have been an interesting slant on the very-tired WWII genre into a gimmick that feels more desperate than heartfelt. If the filmmakers had either ditched the Death narration altogether or gone with it full tilt, it may have worked, but here it just seems crass. Secondly, since the film isn't geared towards young adults, its over-simplification of an incredibly complex and emotionally challenging subject makes it feel like it's simply playing on heart strings instead of actually trying to say something. As the story unfolds and each big emotional hit comes, the predictability and simplicity of the relationships in the film seem less and less human and more and more like someone trying to make people cry. That treatment may have worked in the book, which would intentionally keep things light, but the film doesn't try to be light. Instead, it ditches its young adult roots and goes full boor into being a "real" film. The ironic thing is that by doing exactly that, they ditch what could have made the film actually click and becomes more disingenuous instead of less. I'm not saying you won't cry during this film. Every moment of it is geared to make you feel emotions and please a crowd with its deep meaning. It's just so incredibly obviously done that you can't help but roll your eyes at each moment. Director Brian Percival, who is best known for Downtown Abbey episodes, has the subtlety of a rhino barging into a bathroom stall and the directorial creativity of an unconscious buffalo. There's nothing here to grab you and command you to pay attention. Instead, the film is full of cameras being plunked down in front of actors and over-dramatic lighting. It all looks like it was designed by a committee on what will make movie theater audiences cry, but not be truly upset by anything. The actors that the camera is plunked down in front of are the film's saving grace. It's no surprise that Geoffrey Rush is wonderful, because he's Geoffrey Rush, but Emily Watson goes toe-to-toe with him wonderfully as Liesel's cantankerous, but lovable (oh the cliches) mother. Nélisse is also fantastic and would be my vote to replace the over-rated Chloe Grace Mortez in the pale, blonde child star category. While the scenes may not be executed that well she still has some challenging moments to pull of and does almost flawlessly.  If its crassness and dull direction don't get you, then The Book Thief could harbor some meaning for you after seeing it since it does involve Nazis, WWII, the holocaust and death. It's just that these things are subjects best left to people with the skills to cover them, not to films that feel like grabs at Oscars with the emotional depth of bird baths. At the end of the film, Death comments that he sees humanity's beauty and ugliness and always wonders how the same thing can be both. Well, The Book Thief isn't both. It's just ugly.
Book Thief Review photo
Stealing two hours of your time
It's a dead week for the movies. The biggest thing coming out is Best Man Holiday, and we didn't see that. Instead, since it's opening wide today, we've got a review for The Book Thief, which has the dubious title of "Movie W...

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See The Book Thief early and free


Washington DC screening
Nov 11
// Matthew Razak
Sick and tired of World War II movies? Then we don't have just the ticket for you. However, if you want to see the film that produced the cheesiest trailer of the entire year then we do! The Book Thief is screening tomor...
Monuments Men delay photo
Monuments Men delay

The Monuments Men delayed to 2014


:(
Oct 23
// Nick Valdez
The extremely charming The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney, is unfortunately going to be pushed from its December 18th release date to sometime in 2014 (missing out on Oscar season). According to The LA Times, Georg...
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First image from WWII tank film Fury rolls in


Sexy men sit on a tank
Sep 19
// Matthew Razak
David Ayer's Fury is a WWII movie about a group of soldiers who take their tank Fury behind enemy lines in a deadly mission. In other words it sounds like it could be awesome, and judging from the first official photo, Tweete...
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The Wind Rises delivers new trailer and controversy


Let's watch a trailer and then talk Japanese politics
Aug 15
// Matthew Razak
With Studio Ghibli's The Wind Rises sitting at number one for four weeks running in Japan, and what's sure to be a successful festival tour picking up with the Venice Film Festival one would believe that everything was ...

Interview: Richard Raaphorst (Frankenstein's Army)

Jul 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215504:40021:0[/embed] [Editor's note: some of the responses were altered to avoid spoilers. Thanks to Dave of Unseen Films for the photo of Richard Raaphorst after a screening. Concept art from Raaphorst's new projects are from his website, richardraaphorst.com.] Can you talk about where the initial idea for Frankenstein's Army came from? If you think back, it's very hard to understand where an idea comes from because most of the time an idea comes to you. Because you don't expect it. An idea is popping up emotionally out of nowhere. It's like how a neutrino becomes an electron -- there's no reason why it's happening. Ideas sort of like weird scientific phenomenon. Well, it started with an emotion, really. Very abstract. I think 10 years ago -- I'm a big soundtrack collector -- and I bought the soundtrack for Fight Club and there was this intro song, and maybe you can recall it. It was very violent, very mechanical: DZZZGH! DZZZGH! DZZZGH! And it was very staccato. [Editor's note: It's "Stealing Fat" by The Dust Brothers, and it's the embedded video above.] When I played it over and over again, I got this feeling of these mechanical claws, ones that are very rusty and with layers of history. I didn't have a context or whatever, I just knew I wanted to do something with robotic arms made in a clumsy, old-fashioned way. And that was chasing me all the time until I suddenly saw the context for what the story should be. It had many different identities until I realized that I wanted to make an army of Frankensteins, basically. That was my wish -- I analyzed my own wish. And then I thought, "Why not make Frankenstein's Army?" I'm kind of... not really obsessed but fascinated with the Second World War, and so I wanted to do two things. I thought, "How can I combine this?" And I thought, "It's uncombinable," however you say it, so just do it! [laughs] Yeah! Because it's illogical. And that's cool, you know? I'm going to do something which is in fact totally illogical and make the unbelievable believable. That's what I wanted to do. [embed]215504:40022:0[/embed] You mentioned being a soundtrack collector. Are there any personal favorites, or did other soundtracks inform Frankenstein's Army? Yes. There's a lot of stuff from -- well, it's not really soundtracks but it can be soundtracks -- it's from Jim Thirlwell. He's from Australia and lives now in England, and he makes really dark soundtracks, but they don't belong to a film. Interesting. [Editor's note: Thirlwell is probably best known for his work with Coil and Foetus, and also for scoring The Venture Bros.] Do you know what it is about soundtracks? I have a theory about it. Do you have time? Certainly. Please, yeah. It's like paintings. If you paint a landscape, then the landscape is inviting the viewer to step into this world, right? To experience the atmosphere. I'm very into watching atmospheres. As soon as you paint a face or a person in it, the painting doesn't invite you anymore because the focus is entirely going to the main subject. Yeah. The same thing with soundtracks. Soundtracks are inviting you, they're challenging your imagination. You are really swimming into the music rather than singing along with the lyrics. Do you understand this difference? Yeah. There's like this feeling rather than words or a specific image. You create a cloud around you with an atmosphere and that is feeling, that's how it works with me. So basically soundtracks, audio, is the core of inspiration, even the core of those visual ideas in Frankenstein's Army. It all starts with an emotion. Even now when I start to draw, I first try to set down a soundtrack or a tone in a soundtrack. Like Philip Glass in Koyaanisqatsi, there's a second track called "Organic." It only starts with one tone, and that one tone for me is focus. It's an emotion, and everything you can build off of it. [embed]215504:40023:0[/embed] That's actually and interesting theory, though. It makes sense. If everything starts with an emotion then all of a sudden everything can be tethered to that initial tone that goes through. And now that I think further, I think I try to create this line also in this movie because it's first person. There's not really a protagonist. The protagonist is the viewer, so it's the same with soundtracks: you have to fill it in yourself. You are the one that is not getting answers but is asking the questions, yeah? You are the one who's responsible for what's good and bad. I'm not in charge to say that, so in that way I leave a lot open and I leave a lot of it up to imagination. I don't know, it's just that I want to invite. [a beat] You know, the thing with soundtracks is that it's also thin ice because people always look for the things that are missing. They say, "Hey, there are no drums! There's no vocal! There's no lyrics! How can it be music?" It's the same with any other thing which is new. First they look at the things they are missing, and then later when it's been approved, they invent a new genre [label], and then it's suddenly accepted. Once there's a label, you know. Sort of like-- Yeah, the labeling. Once it's become identifiable it winds up-- It needs a stamp. And I think I need a stamp as well on this one. Oh really? I don't have a name for it yet. It's a fusion of many things and it's hard to define which one it is because it's many. And now at the moment I'll call it horror-fusion or fantasy-fusion. It's a mixture with a little of everything. Amid the mixture there's the found footage aspect. Could you talk about your decision to make this the found footage of a Russian propaganda movie, or really a kind of war document on a mad scientist? I took it a little broad, you know? I didn't do it too literally, but I wanted to create a bridge between film and role-playing/first-person perspective gaming. What I said earlier was that I wanted to make the viewer part of the bad guys or the good guys -- the soldiers. I thought, "It's nice if it really comes close to us, and it's us to decide if [what happens] is good or bad." It's so easy to make a judgment from a helicopter's point of view, and that's not how it is in life. It's down in there. We can never pull ourselves above our heads and look around. We are in it, and that's it. So I wanted it to get a kind of intensity, and I thought intensity and atmosphere were more important than building a character from A to Z, and we can say, "Okay, this is a nice character," this is the first act and this is how it develops. We are so used to this grammatical form of movie watching that it becomes very predictable. The pattern, yeah. And that's what I don't like. I don't like being predictable, you know, because it's boring. [laughs] [laughs] I really dug Frankenstein's army itself. Can you talk about creating the individual creatures? Before creating you have to create limits first, or else you can create anything and then it becomes boring again. Things become farfetched. So what I did, I made limitations. I call this an oblique strategy, so you take something from outside with which you can control your creativity. What I did, I got very close to the scriptwriter. He made his own monsters, and I'm going to do literally what he's saying but then in my own way. So he says, "I've got here a zombot with four arms." And when it was designed it looked like shit. What did it-- It looks weird. [Editor's note: At this point we both put our arms up at our sides and waved them around at each other.] You know? [laughs] And I was wrestling with it over and over and over again until I decided that it could walk on four arms. [The description] doesn't say it has to have legs. And so, you know, it became the mosquito guy. Which is such a striking image. Which is totally different from the initial robot guy with four arms. So this was really working for me, because it brought me further than my own imagination. This is how I work. I always like to listen to other people's briefs and take it and do my own thing with it. Because if everything needs to come out of your own head, the ideas will be pretty empty pretty quick, you know? Yeah. For me it was like a nice play through, yeah. Do you have a favorite zombot? Totally. It's the little walking trash bin. Oh, that guy's awesome! [laughs] Yeah! I thought, "I want to reduce someone to the bare minimum," you know? Just a walking trash bin with legs. And it's very unclear what it can do. Exactly. It's just this weird presence which shows a madness, but I was always trying to figure what his purpose would be. Like, "Is he just an ottoman?" There's a melody line in it, in the designs, because what I did was start organic and I ended robotic. So I started as human I can do, without any attachments. Even when they're completely naked, the beginning. Then you see a variation with clothes on. And then it goes further and further and further until propeller head. He's the most extreme one, and you cannot top yourself anymore, so then you have to go into a different kind of atmosphere. So if you look at the traditional three-act structure, it isn't there, but I used different arcs, like spiraling down in visual madness, which is overtaken, and then suddenly the whole found footage idea becomes a one-take steady shot, and everything takes place in front [of the camera] like theater. Which is the opposite of the beginning. My approach was totally different from the traditional way, but I think there's no other way for me. Was there a particularly difficult sequence to stage? Was there a very difficult-- Everything was extremely difficult. Really? Everything in the interiors because the takes were so long and everything was practical, it was absolutely undoable. I mean, of course it was doable because we prepared so well, but we could only afford four takes at the maximum. We had 20 days of shooting. So it's go-go-go. It was like a military operation, and no one was allowed to make mistakes. But it was great fun. I became the bigger me. [laughs] [laughs] Could you explain? You realize that you are capable of doing things that you are not aware about. It's you pushing the bar so high that the only way to get there is to force yourself to grow, and it matters for everyone there. It was, "This is the plan and we're going to do it, no matter what." And there's zero tolerance, and there was also this energy that was very addictive with everyone. And yeah, I think it worked very well. We did everything we planned to do. No pages were torn out. I would have assumed with a short shoot like that you'd eventually go, "What don't we need?" But you kept everything. And we did even something extra sometimes. What was one of the add-ons? Well, we thought we needed another zombot in the factory sequence. There's an industrial American thing standing in the corner. We need just an extra detail, you know? Everything is in the details. That's where I wanted to have it detailed as possible, and sometimes we are running out of details so we created some more. There were some fighting scenes we added, and the zombot with the exploding eye. Oh yeah. That was extra. Just a few hours preparation and we just did it. It's quite amazing, but of course, last day we were totally zombots ourselves. [laughs] [laughs] Yeah, you guys were probably mostly machines. Yeah. I really admire the use of practical effects. Do you have any thoughts about CG? Yeah, of course. I do a lot of CG in commercials, but only when it's not visible, because I think it's misused a lot. Nowadays, every nice shot looks like a postcard: beautiful clouds, the perfect sky, you know? It's like a painter is making all the shots, and I don't like that at all. I like eye candy myself a lot, but it doesn't mean that it has to be painted [and look] dead. Practical effects feel physical even when it's with foam and it's puppety, it's real-made. There's a presence. Yeah, and digital is out of computer and it doesn't have any charm. And I wanted to make a character movie. Every zombot needed to be a character and also I thought for the soldiers it was important to distinguish themselves from each other, but also I wanted the location to be a character, and each room needed to be a character, and also the movie itself needed to be a character. So there's no way for CG. If I would add CGI it would be characterless. It's the difference between an oil painting and an airbrush. Yeah. Or a Photoshop. It looks even more perfect, but you don't have texture. Texture is what gives you charm, that's what I believe anyway. I can only speak for myself. On the note of texture, I guess, or charm, one of the moments of film I liked so much involved the scene with the brains toward the end with Frankenstein himself. It's such a kooky, mad idea, but maybe it's also utopian in a warped way. [laughs] It was one of the-- The most difficult thing of this movie was trying to define the character of Frankenstein, because I didn't want to do anything that was the same as we've known him. Everybody who was thinking of Frankenstein saw this distinguished gentleman. Like Peter Cushing in a Hammer Movie. And I was constantly hammering that this was not the case. I only got people [auditioning] who were fitting into this Peter Cushing kind of stuff until I met Karel Roden, and then suddenly I realized, "You are the guy. You are so out of the box." He has this mysterious aspect. It's the same thing that you cannot really define who he was, and this is what made him very interesting. But also he was so critical of why Frankenstein is doing the things that he does. And he's just a guy who wants to end the war, but he's a very simple guy. His father did all the science, so he doesn't need to be intellectual or smart. He like a mechanic almost. It's like a car factory worker! Exactly. Or a plumber. "Oh, this works. Next!" And it was more like that, and I thought, "Now that's a Frankenstein I never have seen." And you know, I don't really want to make it too serious, I want to entertain. I thought, "You know, it starts maybe a bit serious, but then we can add more and more humor, and I think it worked out pretty well. When you see too many monsters, they will be boring, so I needed to boost up just a real human being. Who himself is just fascinating to see on camera. But you know, when you hear him talking, he's even crazier than the craziest zombot. There's another twist. And... [a beat] Oh you were talking about Frankenstein and the brain. We had this back and forth about what he wants. He wants to end the war. How? He wants to make the sides understand each other. How? [laughs] And that's how the brain came about! [laughs] It's brilliant! [laughs] It's like a mechanic who doesn't know anything about neurology going, "Yeah, why not?" But it's the heart of things... or it's the brain of things. [laughs] I wanted to have this like a pictogram, just as a symbol almost. This was a shot that was not in the script at first, but created it in two weeks before wrap. The special effects guy, he said, "I don't have any budget anymore!" He used everything he had. But we found a way to make it work by re-using old material. Repurposing old brains! Nice! But that's the Frankenstein way of thinking again. Not only did you create zombots but-- We tried to use everything. It's an extra shot, but it's my favorite shot. It's the moment in the movie where everything about Frankenstein kind of makes sense. It's like, "Ah, that's why he's doing it... Oh god, that's why he's doing it?" And how he's doing it is like-- Obvious almost. [laughs] [laughs] What's next for you? Any projects down the pipeline? I'm developing two scripts very seriously and I'm going to shoot two trailers for both projects, and I'm going to the market at the end of this year. Also I'm very open-minded to do a sequel to Frankenstein's Army. There's a lot of potential there. As a matter of fact, we have an outline already, and it's... Well, I cannot say anything but I can't wait too break it out. I have keep myself, or I have to control myself not to work it out too early. [laughs] Can you say anything about the other two scripts you're working on? Ummm... They're both biological horror. And one of them is more science fiction and it's about the Higgs boson. And the other one is based on Dutch legends in which there are children who are buried in the soil. They come back. Their hands grow above the surface, and the hands are in the shape of mushrooms begging for mercy. And when you eat those mushrooms, those kids are going to haunt your head. That sounds incredible! [laughs] [laughs] And the Higgs boson is about the discovery of the Higgs. Do you know what the Higgs is? I'm not familiar. They call it the God particle. Ah, okay. They discovered it in Geneva in the CERN. The particle has no mass but it's... Okay, the Higgs boson goes like this. [Editor's note: Raaphorst demonstrated a path with his finger traveling through a Coke can on the table.] And it goes slow, slow, slow, and because it's going slow here that this can materializes. So [the characters in the film] fuck up the Higgs boson, so you can imagine what will happen with a Coke can like this, but also human beings! That sounds awesome! Both of them sound awesome. [laughs] [laughs] So I'm making designs right now, and I want to try to be as original as H.R. Giger in Alien.
Frankenstein Interview photo
Director Richard Raaphorst discusses the music and mayhem of Nazi zombots
Even though I had issues with the found-footage aspect of Frankenstein's Army, there's a great anarchic imagination in the film, and it belongs to director Richard Raaphorst. I had a chance to sit down and talk with Raaphorst...

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Coen Brothers to rewrite Angelina Jolie's Unbroken


The Coens will rework the WWII drama that Jolie will direct
Feb 26
// Hubert Vigilla
Angelina Jolie has enlisted Joel and Ethan Coen to rewrite her WWII drama Unbroken. The film is adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 book of the same name that chronicles the life of WWII POW Lou Zamperini. According to The ...

Interview: Terrance Howard, David Oyelowo, Roscoe Brown

Jan 19 // Matthew Razak
When you approach a film like this how do you approach your characters when you have somebody who lived through this experience like Dr. Brown on set with you? David Oyelow: If you're a any sort of self respecting actor you're always going to try to fill the characters in your film with integrity, but that's just your basic responsibility as an actor. Here there's an added desire and responsibility to get it right when you have someone you truly admire. It was layered in that sense: the combination of us as actors combined with their heroism, integrity and discipline. It made for a rare opportunity to really try and do something. You were aware that you were making an entertaining action movie, but it was clear that this was going to be part of the Red Tail's legacy. It's something we took very, very seriously. Dr. Roscoe Brown: The thing I really enjoyed about this movie is to see these younger people listen to me! And they did listen well, and they did learn well. In a sense they became the Tuskegee airmen 60 years later. Terrance Howard: And that's the one thing I like about the legacy of humanity. You will find that the accomplishments and exploits is not indigenous to those of that era or space in time. I love the fact that this film can inspire, globally, people to reach beyond the limitations that someone else has placed upon them. With such a large ensemble cast it must have been hard to pull together. How was it for you as actors working in such a big cast? Oyelow: It wasn't difficult because we were very aware of the opportunity that we were being afforded. It's a very rare opportunity for any actor -- black, white or in between -- to have these resources. To have George Lucas god-fathering the project, to have a young director with a vision. We all came together, looked each other in and said we are going to kill this... or be killed. In terms of a big group it was an absolute pleasure for us because we were very aware that this was a special project. What sort of things did you first ask Dr. Brown to create your characters. What was important to you to understand? Howard: When I was 14-years-old my uncle pulled me to the side and he made me recite a mantra. He said, "You must maintain your majestic composure at all times." When I met Dr. Brown what I noticed in him was that magnificient majestic composure in him. With that you can extrapolate what it took for him to reach this point at this ripe old age. At one point I played Nelson Mandela in a film and I didn't want to learn about Mandela at 83, which is how we've grown to know him, I wanted to know about him at 44. So in extrapolating the derivative of Lightning (Oyelow's character) out of Dr. Brown you're taken back 60 years and you see that child like exuberance that David was expressing. That's what you add to him. It's not so much the questions that you ask, but the silent information that gives you the confidence to move forward. How hard was it for you, David, to sit in a fake cockpit and picture a dogfight going on around you. And, Terrance, how jealous were you that you didn't get to do that? Howard: Oh, I was their teacher. [laughs] Oyelow: That was actually the most challenging part of doing this film. Partly because we're depicting the very thing that they were most famous for. That had it's technical challenges in terms of the fact that we are not pilots. One of the best days for me on doing this film was having Dr. Brown and Lee Archer talk us through flying a plane. They sat in front of us in a hotel room in Prague and they showed us everything -- what our feet are doing, what are hands are doing. You combine that with the fact that this was very technically difficult. We were developing technologies that didn't exist in order to make these planes look as real as possible. We'd be in a gimble and would be getting tossed to and throw and you'd have to learn which plane was going where so that in a run you could react appropriately. You had to learn it like you would learn lines. Terrance your character fights for the black pilots to get recognition in the Pentagon. Do you think that there's a similar struggle for black actors getting recognition to get roles? Howard: I hope that the Colonel was fighting for more than just recognition. I hope that he was fighting with the view of the prize ahead of what this would accomplish for the world. To say if you give us an opportunity I can show you something magnificent. As an actor first, black second, I think that what I'm hoping to accomplish down the line is let me do the best that I can. I don't care if a white guy plays a black guy as long as he can do it better than the black guy can. That's what it means when you become an actor. Everything is stripped down. George Lucas has said that he envisioned this movie as a movie that a young boy can enjoy. Beside the entertainment value what do you hope young boys and girls will get from the film? Dr. Brown: One this is that most people under 25 don't even know what segregation was. They don't know how bad it was. Also, it shows how excellence helped to eradicate or diminish some of the prejudice. So hopefully they'll see this as a story of challenge and excellence and learn that anybody can overcome obstacles if they work at it and are dedicated to it. Oyelow: I think one of the reasons why we set out to make a big, action movie is that the message that's also being made isn't for a nice market. This is not a black movie made for the black community. This is a story about heroes who overcame obstacles and were saving the world just like Superman. I mean literally. You have your villain in Hitler, you've got the world under threat and this motley crew game together and were unified to save the world. Dr. Brown: Well, we weren't that motley. Oyelow: [laughs] No, no. You were all different. That's what I mean by motley crew. These were individuals within in this community. Films don't show that very often. Most of the time we're the best friend or a gangster or an archetype. You don't see a group of believable young men and identify with them regardless of color. Howard: [looks over at the film's poster and points at it] If I had been on the marketing team the slogan wouldn't have been 'Courage has no color,' but 'Courage has a new color.' Dr. Brown, how well do you think the actors portrayed the Tuskegee airmen? Dr. Brown: 101 percent. And how much does that mean two you, Terrance and David? Howard: First and foremost I didn't need his approval to feel good about myself. But having that endorsement that's like a little child who is going to walk no matter what (it's in our nature to get up and walk), but when the encouragement of your family and your father standing there telling you that you can do it there's a nurturing there. It's such a privilege to know these men. I wish I could have met them all.
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Earlier today I brought you the first part of our interview with a large chunk of the people involved in Red Tails. Now I return bearing more talks of WWII, heroism, planes. This time, however, we have a new set of character ...

Interview pt. 1: Red Tails: director and Cuba Gooding Jr.

Jan 19 // Matthew Razak
Cuba, you've been in a lot of war films. What attracts you to these roles? Cuba Gooding Jr.: When I first heard about the Tuskegee airmen in my early 20s, for the first movie, I was emotionally moved and equal parts frustrated and angry. It pissed me off to know that there were black fighter pilots that contributed in a major way to the war effort and I had never heard of them. There have been so many great movies about WWII, but to hear about them now and realize that they had not been part of my education was upsetting. I know how powerful the medium is and I know that lots of kids get their education from film so I made it a pact with myself that I would tell the story of a black solider any opportunity I got. But especially with this story it's not just a black story it's an American story, it's a great American story. What is it about the role that attracted you? Gooding Jr.: Well, it wasn't just the role it was the project itself. The first time we attempted to do this story [ed: Cuba was in a previous film about the airmen] it dealt with the racism and it dealt with the training process and it culminated with the first entrance into the war. This was George Lucas, told on a grand scale and showing the pilots as the warriors that they were. That's the story I wanted to tell. That's what I knew I had to be a part of. This is a rare major release with an almost entirely black cast. George Lucas recently said that that was one of the reasons he had so much trouble getting it to the market, especially since the overseas sales were predicted to not do well. Did you feel any of that push back because of the race of most of the cast? Anthony Hemingway: This isn't the first time there's been that struggle. I think everyone highlighting it is taking away from what we really should be talking about, which is the Tuskegee airmen. The good thing about it, I suppose, is that it relates back to the struggle of the Tuskegee airmen and how they persevered so that this could even be possible. Gooding Jr.: You know this film was made with passion and that's what you feel. You come see this movie and you're learning about American warriors. Like Anthony said, we're focusing on the struggle of getting this story told and the airmen's struggle of being recognized as American heroes. You got the rare experience of working with the actual people who took part in the story of your film. What did you look for from them as an actor and as a director? Hemingway: Well, I wanted to have them open up and let them take that ride. You know even the little things like the songs they chanted or the mantra they had to motivate themselves. It was just really amazing to get the thumbs up on something or criticism so I could get it right. Gooding Jr.: Everything he said. You just want to get them comfortable enough to start telling stories. The other thing that I like about these roles is that when you have that individual on the set it gives you a focus to telling the truth about that person and that permeates your performance. There's been talks about a prequel and a sequel... (at this point Cuba Gooding Jr. let out an academy award winning worthy whoop of excitement and laughed.) I guess that answers my question if you'd like to do it. Hemingway: I think that was just a statement George was making. Of course we would like to do it, but I think what he was saying was that he hopes that this will open the door for more stories just like it. Anthony, how was it going from TV to film and then Cuba how was it working with Anthony. Gooding Jr.: [emphatically] Great. Anthony? [laughter] Hemingway: Thankfully the body of work I've done prepared me for this. I think the only real difference is the time that you get to spend on getting it right. To be able to pay attention to the details that you get to see on the bigger screen is really the only difference. That's where the pressure lies really. How do you balance creating a character in a film when you're playing a real person, Cuba? And how do you, as a director, balance fact and fiction when you're making an action movie? Gooding Jr.: When I'm dealing with real people, or in this case a character based on multiple real people, you're always trying to find certain things that you can grasp. I remember the first day of rehearsal Anthony walks in and says, "I think you're going to have a pipe." [mugs confused]. It was like, somebody get me a pipe, and then two months later I couldn't live without having that pipe. It became an appendage. It's just one of those things that anything around you affects the emotion and reaction of the character and the more submersed you can be mentally and physically in that world the better. We shot on an abandoned Russian airfield one hour out of Prague and you felt like you were back in 1943 on this air base. It was surreal. Hemingway: It's always a challenge knowing what you set out to do and knowing that this is fact and it's an amazing story that you want to get right. But also you have to entertain. There's level in there where you have to take some creative license with it. You want to make it creative and exciting. It's a challenge finding that balance. You put the actors through a boot camp and it looked like and sounds like they really bonded. Hemingway: Yea, that was the purpose of that. We live in a time when we're walking around with our phones out and we don't have conversations anymore. This was a time where they had to stand together. The boot camp was really a way to remind them and make them be as one. It made them really shoulder up. I think the boot camp help them create that sense of camaraderie. The dogfights are pretty cool. How hard was that for you to put together? You've got digital effects, real effects and actors sitting in fake cockpits. Hemingway: Well it was easy because I had George Lucas and ILM on my side. [laughs] But, it was a challenge. I don't fly. Not knowing how to even speak that language and get all that right. It makes me happy when people in aviation have come up and said that we got it right. It's really cool to see that all our efforts are received and appreciated. I also add that I had so much research. Watching all the dog fights from then was amazing. I was able to really have inspiration and something to go off of.
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This past weekend I got the chance to sit down and talk with not only members of the cast of the upcoming WWII film Red Tails, but also its director and one of the famous Tuskegee airmen that the film is based on. Below you'l...

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NYCC: Two new Red Tails clips


Oct 15
// Matthew Razak
If I wasn't excited for Red Tails before (I was) I am now. At NYCC the producers, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen and two of the film's cast walked us through making the film. They laid down some pretty interesting stuff, esp...

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