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The Nice Guys Review and Interviews: Worth the Standing O at Cannes?



Shane Black writer/director of this week’s release THE NICE GUYS is a veteran and pioneer of action flicks, having written among others the buddy-cop classic Lethal Weapon. THE NICE GUYS was just shown at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.  Is this new flick starring Russell Crowe and Gosling the must-see that its standing ovation at Cannes suggests?

Last year, buzz got out and spread far and wide about the fun stars Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe had filming THE NICE GUYS. This lead to conjecture as to whether off-screen chemistry and friendship would translate to chemistry onscreen, and subsequently, a great movie. Gratefully, it does.

Playing like film noir starring Abbott and Costello, THE NICE GUYS screenwriters expertly weave offbeat, often physical humor and action with some great noir elements. A complex plot, investigators with their moral compasses on the fritz, a beauty both dangerous and in danger, heavy drinking, fast paced dialogue, and valuable stolen property that’s worth murdering for, all surround the two men and precocious 13-year-old girl thrown into the mystery together.

Jackson Healy (Oscar winning Aussie Russell Crowe) is an enforcer, debt collector, and strong arm-for-hire who teams up with 10% detective 90% con artist Holland March (Ryan Gosling) to investigate the death of a female porn star, and find a missing girl, only to embroil themselves in an ever unraveling conspiracy.  The brains of the operation is March’s daughter, foul-mouthed good-girl Holly played by Angourie Rice. Imagine a youthful, slightly softer Eve Arden. The diminutive wise-cracking dame is essential to the redemption neither Healy nor March are aware they both yearn for and deserve.

Director Shane Black has decades of experience as a screenwriter in Hollywood, writing scripts for the Lethal Weapon franchise, The Long Kiss Good Night, as well as for movies like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, films he directed. He has done something here that seems effortless, but is deceptively difficult.  He has subverted a large number of expectations in both buddy comedies and neo-noirs.  Ryan Gosling talks about Black’s directing:

The way Crowe and Gosling interact and ricochet lines off each other is like watching an ace juggler on a street corner.  As actors, they are both committed listeners, and both look for opportunities to build a scene as a team, not as separate entities spewing lines, and those qualities are highly effective in the service of THE NICE GUYS. The result is a pervasive authenticity that invites the viewer to feel a part of their experience, and thereby elicits curiosity, loyalty, and a strong desire for the characters’ success. Here’s Crowe talking about director Shane Black giving him and Gosling room to create:

With an Oscar winner and nominee heading this cast, you’d think a 13 year old co-star would be left floundering behind, but Angourie Rice shines as brightly as either of these international stars.

A great find who showed her talent in 2015’s apocalyptic indie bummer THESE FINAL HOURS, she is not only one to watch, but a nearly guaranteed ingenue A-lister in the making. For fans of Matt Bomer, (and they are legion) the role he plays is unlike any other in his career, and he takes to it alarmingly well.

There’s no better way to sum up the value of THE NICE GUYS than to watch Angourie Rice explain perfectly why THE NICE GUYS is the potential box office bonanza badly needed for Warner Brothers going into the summer movie maelstrom, whilst showing her considerable sass:

I loved THE NICE GUYS, and so will those of you who commit to seeing it.  You’ll find it a hoot and a pleasure to be taken along on this cinematic adventure. Their fun in making it translates to our fun in watching it.


Money Monster Review: Worth investing your time?


Full transcript:

MONEY MONSTER reunites George Clooney and Julia Roberts and it’s directed by Jodie Foster, who, has been operating successfully for many years as a women behind the camera and under the radar in Hollywood. Shouldn’t we be supporting these actors and director? Is MONEY MONSTER worth your time and money?

Financial advisor Lee Gates (George Clooney) struts around the set of “MONEY MONSTER”, his market analysis and forecasting cable show shepherded by the producer in his ear Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts). Kyle Budwell (played by the ever-rising star Jack O’Connell), a blue-collar worker who has lost his nest egg, disrupts the studio and takes over on-air by waving a gun and strapping a bomb-vest on Gates. He wants answers about a company, IBIS Clear Capital, and their disastrous 800 million dollar stock loss that rocked the market. Chief Communications Officer Diane Lester (Caitriona Balfe) is poised to speak on his show about the computer glitch that is supposedly to blame, but Budwell’s not buying it. The rest of the film is a taut thriller that balances the sweat-inducing placation-filled dialogue between Gates and Budwell, and the race to get to the truth behind IBIS’s claim about their losses before Budwell blows himself and the whole building up.

There’s much to enjoy in MONEY MONSTER. The lean script whisks audiences through the movie’s 90 minutes, while the dialogue reveals character motivations, and creates connection with all the co-starring cast members. The plot continually subverts expectation, setting them up only to later knock them down. This is what a movie for adults looks like, folks. Without question harkening back to the 70s and 80s films of Sidney Lumet and Alan Pakula, MONEY MONSTER has the guts to be entertaining at the same time as asking more of itself. Clooney, Roberts, and O’Connell are all in top form. In this particular role, Clooney’s proclivity for head bobbing works as the recognized signature movement of a self absorbed star, and the actor uses it as he does his character’s props. As the nervy, desperate man with his hand on the trigger, O’Connell, who is an award-winning A-lister in Europe may finally become a household name in the US.

On the downside, the story requires a colossal suspension of disbelief, most markedly in some idealistic-leaning plot-points. Foster and her team seem to know all this, and accept it as part of the story they want to tell. The subject matter also seems dated rather than of-the-moment. While all this is slightly distracting, it doesn’t deter viewers from buying into the convoluted threads that lead to an exciting climax.

Regardless of the optimism and moments of lightness peeking through, Foster as the director succeeds in making a film that keeps audiences connected to the drama through its conclusion. Clearly, it is meant as a diversion first and foremost. Sophisticated and suspenseful, Money Monster is grown-up entertainment and a solid investment.


CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Review – Super Showdown or Marvelous Mess?



Captain America Civil War opens too wide release this weekend. Have we finally reached superhero saturation or will civil War directors the Russo Brothers keep audiences Crazy and clamoring for more? Cinema Siren has the answer for you!

Let me start with not so much a warning, as a tease. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR is not really a Captain America movie, It’s an Avengers movie standing behind a starred shield. While Cap is the central figure, he is so only by small margin. It’s a story comic book fans know and love, and its interpretation for the screen has been much anticipated.

As the name implies, the central storyline of CIVIL WAR, is that our favorite costumed characters, once friends, are now at odds. Being asked to allow oversight by the powers-that-be, has lead to a rift. Captain America leads one side, and Iron Man leads the other. They enlist a whopping 10 other superheroes to their teams. Colossal clashes ensue. There are battles. Who is on what team and why?

Does the idea of two major comic book creations tussling while politicians cry for more control sound somewhat familiar? Indeed, in that way, Captain America: Civil War shares more than just a passing similarity to Batman v Superman. So what? Any comic book fan knows there are many shared themes and stories. With that in mind, why can’t Marvel and DC coexist, and even, dare I say, intermingle in the hearts of fans?

That being said, Captain America: Civil War benefits greatly and keeps their audiences in thrall leveraging the basic Marvel trait shared by most of its characters: a snarky sense of humor. Or perhaps we should say, a stark-y one. There is no shortage of darkness, death, and destruction in this film, but comedic touches offer welcome shifts in mood. In that, directors Anthony and Joe Russo create a nearly perfect balance. Kudos, also, to the screenwriters who somehow divvy up just the right amount of screen time to heroes we know, such as Cap, Iron Man, and Black Widow, those we want to know better, like War Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man, and those we meet for the first time. With cheers often erupting when onscreen, Black Panther, as played by Chadwick Boseman and Spider-Man, ably embodied by Tom Holland nearly steal the entire film, and both beg for their own features.

There are some strong, surprising character arcs, especially for Steve Rogers, which is as it should be. Chris Evans has made the character so his own it’s hard to imagine any other actor donning his shield. Downey Jr. himself is quite a standout in the film. We learn a great deal about Stark’s backstory and the personal demons that plague him, and as usual the actor is up to the challenge.

With this many characters and aspects to story, it’s possibly inevitable that things get a bit unnecessarily convoluted, especially with regards to the villain’s and even several of the heroes’ motivations. These are forgivable trifles in the face of such entertainment and spectacle.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR has thrown down the gauntlet for any other would-be blockbuster released in 2016. I pity any film, regardless of genre, opening in the next four weeks.

It would be easy to nitpick about confusing plot lines and an over abundance of characters. That would mean unfairly discrediting the colossal job of successfully integrating so many superheroes while maintaining distinct personalities and points of view. Ultimately Captain America Civil War is fun & exciting, and will make even more fans, if that’s even possible, for the Avengers franchise.


KEANU Review and Interview: Comedic Purrfection or Cat-astrophe?


Full transcript:

This week’s release KEANU is highly anticipated by the cult of Key and Peele, the stars and creators of the film. Is this movie about a gangster kitten and the humans that save it the cat’s meow?

Full disclosure: I am a huge Key and Peele fan. So I asked myself, is it even possible for a mashup of kitten videos and Key and Peele sketch comedy to fail? It’s like peanut butter and chocolate. This must have been what Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele discussed with Key and Peele co-writer Alex Rubens and director Peter Atencio during a story meeting. The result is intermittently hilarious, and thanks to a scene-stealing, meowing, ball of fur, nearly every scene has an awwww-or should we say, paw factor that goes to 11.

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele play Clarence and Rell cousins and besties who spend a crazy weekend searching for the beloved kitten that dragged Rell out of a deep post-break up depression. In this and other ways the plot pays sly homage to John Wick and other various films which star the kitten’s namesake Keanu Reeves. The pair find themselves posing as dangerous gangsters from out-of-town, inadvertently getting involved with drugs and murder. It’s funnier than it sounds. Imagine slo-mo shots of Keanu weaving his way through a drug-meet gone bad, bullets flying as he trots and meows, tail held high.

The secondary characters are best when they act as straight-men, mostly playing as foils for the grown-Urkle nerdiness of Key’s Clarence, as he feigns the language and swagger of a hardened criminal while rationalizing his minivan and love of George Michael. Method Man and Luiz Guzman are great as cold killers who happen to have a soft spot for kittens, and Tiffany Haddish and Nia Long offer strong female characters that are interesting and well developed. So much so, their interest onscreen rivals the stars, and even Keanu, which is no small feat. Note that Haddish wound up adopting one of the 7 cats used to play the title tabby.

What might limit the film from becoming a mega-hit is the same issue that sometimes troubles Key and Peele’s tv show. If KEANU had a more merciless editor, the jokes and scenes would fly by, and no one would notice the fairly one-dimensional plot. Fifteen minutes could have been shaved off of the 98 minute running time to tighten up the timing. Still, as with the show that made this comedy team famous, the moments that work in KEANU are worth those that drag. Clearly, they cleverly ascribed to the philosophy of “there’s a lull! Quick! Throw a kitten at it!”

Look for Keanu Reeves, who does have a cameo of sorts in KEANU. How that actually gets written into the script is nearly worth the ticket price, and is featured in one of the best, albeit most bizarre sequences of the film.

Loose editing and a limited storyline hasn’t kept a long list of other comedies from finding success at the box office. As a clever, kooky comedy with the expected touch of satire usually served up by its stars, Keanu is repeatedly watchable for the fans of Key and Peele, as well as fans of kittens everywhere.


THE DARK HORSE Review: What makes New Zealand’s cinematic export a Must-See?


Review Transcript:

Opening for wider release this weekend in the US is the multiple award-winning feature from New Zealand THE DARK HORSE, which has been lauded in its home country as one of the best films in New Zealand film history, and stars FEAR THE WALKING DEAD’s Cliff Curtis. Is it as great and worthy as the kiwis believe, and if so why?

What do you say about a film that is now being used in New Zealand schools and has inspired countless kids to focus on the right path and leave gang ties behind? I’m going to go on record now and say this is my favorite film of the year, thus far, and essential viewing for all indie movie lovers, but stay with me while I explain what makes it so good.

In 2003, James Napier Robertson saw the award-winning documentary DARK HORSE created by filmmaker Jim Marbrook about Genesis Potini, a chess savant with bipolar disorder. Struck by Potini’s magnetism, tenacity, love of life, and his ability to inspire,  Robertson went after the rights and approval from Genesis himself to write and direct a feature based on his story.  In Robertson’s film, we see that while battling the demons of his illness, Gen built a chess club for at-risk Maori youth, creating a team called The Eastern Knights. They wind up attending the National Chess Championships in Auckland. He does all this this while struggling with medication and watching his brother Ariki commit his teenage son Mana to a demeaning initiation into the street gang he runs.

By all accounts Gen, who was nicknamed, “Da Man”, was a powerful force of change, and had a huge effect on everyone around him.  His joy and enthusiasm was infectious, his commitment energizing, and his influence has continued way beyond his untimely death in 2011.  Perhaps that’s why Robertson insisted Curtis go entirely method and become Gen, down to staying in character for the entirety of filming.  Whatever the reason, it worked.  Curtis completely embodies Potini. Many of the finished scenes are the result of multiple takes where Curtis channeled from the the place of emotional extremes. Another brilliant move on Robertson’s part was to cast many Maori non-actors, from members of the chess club, to Wayne Hapi who plays Gen’s brother Ariki and his volatile friends, most of whom were former gang members, some even from rival gangs.  As Ariki, Hapi has an authenticity and economy of word and movement that belies his lack of training.

THE DARK HORSE is inspiring, most particularly in showing Gen’s perseverance in the face of so many challenges, but there is also a pervasive tension that nearly rises to action-film or thriller level.  As those who have ever known someone with mental illness can attest, for those with bipolar disorder any day can lead to self destruction or utter ruin, and that sense is palpable throughout the film.  Also, knowing Gen’s story is based in real life, his nephew Mana choosing the gang life over chess, or his brother Ariki causing those around him serious harm, are real possibilities. It is that mix of tension and drama, and the character arcs structured into the story that make THE DARK HORSE so compulsively watchable.

It will be nice if this New Zealand export gets continued attention and praise as those in the US and elsewhere are exposed to it.  Genesis Potini, the man and his story deserves recognition.  Writer/director Robertson and all the cast and crew of THE DARK HORSE came together to a light on one person who rose above his own struggle to alter the lives around him, in a community sorely in need of hope and motivation.  The end result shows the best of what feature filmmaking can be.


Cinema Siren Subscribers: please check out my video review and interview with James Napier Robertson, which will be featured on our Cinema Siren youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/c/cinemasirenonline

Really, it’s one of the most inspiring interviews about what film can do…check it out!

The Sweeney: Paris Review-Manned, Ritchie-fied, Cliched.


THE SWEENY: PARIS, aka THE SQUAD aka ANTIGANG, directed by Benjamin Rocher, of THE HORDE, stars Jean Reno, and co-stars Alban Lenoir and Thierry Neuvic, all well-known actors in France.  It’s seeing worldwide release after being shown in France in 2015.

If you’ve seen the 2012 British drama, know that this film is a very close remake. Whether it’s worth checking out depends on just how much of a fan of Jean Reno’s you are, as well as how nostalgic you already feel for another version of this story.  Those who loved the original TV show from the 70s were already disenchanted by the English feature film, begging the question of this newer take, “who is this for, really?”

I confess I hadn’t seen the one from 2012 before sitting down to this new rendition.  I found PARIS reasonably entertaining, even though, as per usual, my French fluency had my head shaking at the subtitle translations. I’m not sure who does the translating, but almost without exception exact accuracy is chosen over capturing the feeling or sense of what is being said. Indeed, it left me vaguely impressed, until I watched the English version.

What possessed producers to create something so similar to the Nick Love-directed one released only a few years ago? It is true that the filmmakers of THE SWEENEY: PARIS take advantage of the opportunity to French it up.  Having duo citizenship as French and American, I know the actors in this movie well and like their other work, and in that respect it had some appeal. There is definitely a difference in not only dialogue but characterization based on the humor, class structure, and social norms associated with France that alters the film.  Is it enough to warrant seeing it again or instead of rewatching THE SWEENEY? In a word, no.

THE SWEENEY: PARIS, with it’s 90 minutes running time, is cut down from 112 for the English version.  Unfortunately, much of the character and plot development that take place in the earlier film is lost in these missing minutes. Without giving away major story points, suffice to say in THE SWEENEY: PARIS the action is left needing to exist largely for itself, instead of being motivated by character experience.  That doesn’t negate the entertainment value of some impressive action set pieces, but it does remove most of the impetus to see it in addition to the first feature..

For those who have seen neither film, the choice is clear.  Although Ray Winstone shows he continues to have that grizzled edge as an actor that makes his DI Jack Regan believable, it’s even more fun seeing Hayley Atwell of AGENT CARTER, Damian Lewis of HOMELAND (and WOLF HALL, and everything else, it seems), and Allen Leech of DOWNTON ABBEY, all of whom became far bigger stars subsequent to the release.  THE SWEENEY’s gun battle in Trafalgar Square remains the cornerstone of the film, compensating the cliched elements seen a million times in other action flicks, from Guy Ritchie, Michael Mann, and a host of others, including French action auteur Luc Besson.

All in all, it’s confounding why Rocher, apart from a paycheck or an obsession with 70s Brit TV, would choose to add this to his building filmography.  If you want to see Reno in action, see LEON, SUBWAY, or LA FEMME NIKITA, or wait for it to show up streaming online. Otherwise, just see HEAT or INSIDE MAN again.  Those are doing the same thing infinitely better than either versions of THE SWEENEY.


23 Emmy noms? Interview: Margie Cohn, head of DreamWorks TV.


As anyone in the animation industry, and indeed anyone who follows the world of film and animation knows, an Emmy Award nomination is always to be celebrated. Multiply that by 23, and you can imagine the party-like atmosphere happening at DreamWorks TV, after the news they were nominated for daytime Emmys in a wide variety of categories, and spread across 6 shows. Also, character animator Chad Weatherford, representative of one of the many talented artists at DreamWorks, has already won a Juried Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation.

This rings loud and clear as yet another validation for the decision made at the studio in 2013 to partner with Netflix for over 300 hours of original programming. I spoke by phone to the Head of Television at DreamWorks Animation Margie Cohn, who, before joining the studio in 2013, was a 26-year veteran at Nickelodeon. I asked her thoughts on getting these nominations, and in so many categories:

“You can’t see me but I’m glowing! We’re really proud of our work and we set our creative bar high. It’s extremely nice to be recognized for that, and because we’re such a new player the number of nominations feels especially gratifying. We have a studio full of incredibly talented artists and writers and production people, and they’re being recognized for individual achievement as well as the shows themselves are being recognized as outstanding. It’s exciting!”

Cohn is in charge of the entire TV department, which she has been building up since 2013, and reveals she finds every day exhilarating, but has a lot of help making things work:

“It’s a thrill. It’s exciting. But you know, I have some amazing partners here, I’m not doing this all myself. I’m working with some great development people, Peter Gal, who I worked with at Nickelodeon, Mark Taylor, who built the animation studio at Nickelodeon started the CG Group, is here too. The three of us put all the together and we knew how to do it. We had an incredible slate handed to us, with legs, and it was just an incredible opportunity. We were able to also start from scratch, so we could handpick all the best people to come over. I look around this building and I am just delighted with who’s here and working for us, and how happy they all are. It’s great to build something.”

Their setup over their 4 floors in an office building in Glendale is, in some respects, very similar to other studios.  They have over 600 people working in individual show units led by executive producers and supervising producers.  A lot of the animation itself is outsourced to studios around the world.  They do most of the writing, the boarding, and the designing in California, and the actual animation is often done offsite. The atmosphere and approach, however, differ in a number of ways as a result of the platform on which the cartoons are presented.

“One difference is because people are not competing for the best time slots, they’re very collegial, which is a fantastic thing in the studio. Also, the nonlinear platform has encouraged us to innovate in how we tell stories. If you think about it there are no commercials. There’s the ability to binge watch. So it gives us an opportunity for deeper more complex stories, and even some serialization in our comedies. There are some shows we are designing to be serialized, adventure shows like VoltronDragons has some serialization, but even in shows like All Hail King Julien we’ll often have mini-arcs. For example, when Julian’s parents come to visit him they impact stories for a few episodes, and it may cause you to watch more than one. But also, knowing that they’re there, and they exist on the platform at all times, we really want to make sure that they stand up to multiple viewing. So we put a lot of care in our design, in our story animation.”

Of course there are lots of new shows in the works that may sometime in the near future also number among their Emmy noms.  About Guillermo Del Toro’s Trollhunters, Cohn says to expect something beautiful and atmospheric.  She is very excited about the release of Voltron: Legendary Defender, which is coming soonest (streaming on Netflix June 10th), and about which there was a panel at WonderCon:

“There is an avid fan base, I think, ready for that show. We revealed our show runners, Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery, who did a lot of work on Korra and Avatar: the Last Airbender and other action properties. Lauren is someone who has been a lone woman on action shows for years. They have done a loving reinvention that is simply spectacular, and filled with character, humor, and mythology. The fans really had a fantastic reaction to it.”

As one of the women at the top of the world of animation, we talked about the astounding statistics of women currently enrolled in animation studies, an example of which is the 71% at CalArts.

“We have a lot of women here at DreamWorks TV, and they’re rising through the ranks. We have three shows now being executive produced by women, which is very exciting. As someone who started out in animation being the one woman in the building, it’s pretty amazing what’s happening. It’s a new world. I’ve always noticed that the place where women have been scarcest is in the story department. That’s where you learn to executive produce and tell great stories. And I just see more and more with each passing month, we’re getting more women in those roles. It gives me a lot of hope and excitement for the future.”

When I wished Cohn good luck with the Emmys, saying I hope they bring some home, her enthusiasm was unqualified:

I hope we do win some, but either way, we’re going to be making a tremendous amount of noise at the Emmys. 

With that attitude, it’s no wonder she is leading DreamWorks TV onward and upward.

Here is a list of nominations and wins for DreamWorks TV:

 All Hail King Julien

– Outstanding Children’s Animated Program
– Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program- Danny Jacobs
– Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program
– Outstanding Directing in an Animated Program
– Outstanding Sound Mixing
– Outstanding Sound Editing

– Outstanding Original Song “True Bromance”

Dragons:  Race to the Edge

– Outstanding Children’s Animated Program
– Outstanding Casting for Animated Series or Special
– Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program
– Outstanding Sound Mixing

– Outstanding Sound Editing

The Adventures of Puss in Boots

– Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program – Eric Baize
– Outstanding Casting for Animated Series or Special
– Outstanding Main Title and Graphic Design

– Outstanding Music Direction and Composition

The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show

– Outstanding Children’s Animated Program
– Outstanding Directing in an Animated Program

– Outstanding Main Title and Graphic Design


– Outstanding Sound Mixing
– Outstanding Sound Editing

– Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation:  Chad Weaterford (WIINER – Juried Award)

*reposted from my article on Indiewire’s Animation Scoop from April 4th.

Miles Ahead Movie Review and Exclusive Interview: A Trip Worth Taking?


Full interview transcript:

Fan favorite and Oscar winning actor Don Cheadle is finally seeing his directorial debut and passion project MILES AHEAD released. Will the funky biopic anchored in the time Miles Davis was creatively stagnant in the late 70s starring Cheadle as the iconic musician find an audience, and does it prove itself worthy of its subject?

If ever a biopic was the cinematic equivalent of a experimental jazz fusion improv, MILES AHEAD would be it.  It weaves together extended metaphors in the form of completely fabricated characters and storylines representative of aspects of Miles Davis’s persona, memories, and paranoid imaginings, with real events from his decidedly bizarre, avant-garde existence and personal history. Those who know the work and art of Miles Davis will recognize the truth in both the factual and metaphoric aspects of MILES AHEAD, the name of which is taken from Davis’s 1957 album.  Whether it results in a fully formed success as the first biopic for a legend of what he himself called “social music”, is arguable. Much like the music it emulates, however, it’s certainly never dull, and always engaging.

Cheadle embodies Davis in every way, down to his famously furtive and mercurial physicality, his lack of eye contact and his raspy voice. His portrayal is mesmerizing, and explains why Miles Davis’s family was so committed and so intent in having him portray the musician.  The supporting cast also commands audience attention, which is essential to carrying viewers through some of the more impressionistic, sometimes confounding elements of the movie.  An invented action flick-like hunt for master tapes, complete with car chase and flying bullets, stands in, one assumes, for the cocaine-fueled firings of Davis’s brain synapses.  For so much movement, it nearly stops the film in its tracks.  It speaks to Ewan McGregor’s trust as an actor that he commits 100% to being a part of Cheadle’s unique vision in expressing Davis’s genius.

By Cheadles’ own explanation, MILES AHEAD is meant to be as improvisational. The director/actor/writer offers a piece, a slice of Davis’s personal history, as frenetic, freeform, and unpredictable as the music in Davis’s long and diverse career.  For those in the Davis fan camp who know his life, there is much to recognize.  Davis is haunted by memories of dancer and ex-wife Frances Taylor, who acted as his muse featured on the cover of “Someday My Prince Will Come”.  She’s played with luminosity and sass by Emayatzy Corinealdi.   Actor Keith Stanfield stands out as the young musician named Junior who has an abusive relationship with his wife Janice.  All who know the musician’s life know he represents Davis himself as a younger man, who had the nickname Junior and whose first wife, whom he hit, was named Janice.

With the director’s choice to mimic Miles Davis’s singular vision and challenges for the movie, MILES AHEAD was destined to be divisive and only successful in part. Choosing to capture Davis’s risk taking, no-holds-barred style of musical artistry and expressing it as film means creating something obtuse and at times incomprehensible.  As a musician, Miles Davis thrived on leaping into an experience without a net. To him it was the leaping that was an integral part of the art, and whether it held together or not, the risk was worth it.  The same is true for MILES AHEAD.  If it doesn’t always hold together, it is the best testament and tribute to him for Cheadle as a filmmaker that he was willing to leap out, whatever the result.  As Miles Davis himself said, “Do not fear mistakes.  There are none.”

While it may flummox those searching for a purist’s biopic, given the iconoclastic nature of Davis’s life and contributions, who really wants that? If you want to experience a bit of a genius from inside his head, MILES AHEAD is well worth the trip.



MILES AHEAD director Don Cheadle always knew he would not be doing a straight-ahead, traditional biographical film. In his appreciation and respect of Miles Davis, he had in mind to create a film that sprung forth from the brain and creative spirit of the artist.  He talks about what it was like to be inside the experience of creative paralysis Davis was experiencing during the time represented in the film:

“I think, in a way, being an actor who is usually being handed material to flesh out and to work with, you get the clay and it’s already in some kind of a form. As the writer, part of it’s a lot different. Having been a writer and written several scripts, that’s when all of that stuff comes rushing up. Its just me and what i can figure out. That’s when that paralysis, that’s when that block of, you know, you sit in that room and then want to do anything else but be sitting in that room. You need to have handcuffs to the chair sometimes. I think that’s what Miles found himself in. You know, I talked to Vince and he said, well I said “why did he stop,” and he said, “he didn’t know what to say, he didn’t have anything to say.” He said so much up to that point, you know, what do you do when you’re like ‘ah, the tap just ran out.’ A lot of that makes sense why you have to sit still that long to kind of figure it out and let that stuff all churn. Although, Miles admittedly did not know that that was something, he did not know that he was going to stop for five years, and he didn’t know if he was ever going to come back. To hear him talk about it he wasn’t concerned. Now others around him, were “it was eating him up.” They were dying. Vince says the first time he heard miles try to play after he came back from that, and he couldn’t – we show it in the movie – he couldn’t make sound, and it just, he said he just wept. He just sat there and cried. And Miles was like, ‘Don’t cry around me!’  It just destroyed him. But, you know, this is that swing that sometimes you go through, when you feel the water go out and it’s like ‘What now? What next?’  Nobody can answer that for you. You’ve just got to figure it out. And that’s why we had this, the Miles Davis that’s in the movie, with this nineteen year old kid walking alongside of him. He’s the person who unlocks the code. He’s the person that cracks that for Miles, that says, ‘No, there is something going on in here.’  When we’re in that place, I think each one of us is the one that wakes us back up. That original searcher, that first kid who went “oh, I want to do this.” That’s who you have to get back in touch with to get you back on your feet.”

I asked Cheadle if finding that place was about accessing optimism:

“I think it’s stronger than that. It’s not, it’s not usually result oriented. It’s not optimism as it sits against some thing that you’re going to get as a result of it. It’s usually just a naked desire to do something and figure something out. At that point we often have a high – a low threshold, a low expectation of success and a high tolerance for failure. And as we get older that thing often flips and then you don’t move because you’re like,  ’It may not work. What if it doesn’t happen? What if I fail? What if?’

And if you’re built in that upside down way, it’s really hard to do anything because you have to fight through so much fear to get out of your own way. There was a considerable amount of that for me, so in a lot of ways it was meta. Because I knew I was going to be doing something where lot of people who would go ‘What are you doing? You’re not going to talk about John Coltrane and you’re not going to talk about when they did ‘So What’?’  And to that I say, no i’m not…and in fact, when all of those things come up I’m going to have Miles Davis attack it, right then and there. ‘Jazz? Don’t call it jazz….’  This is how I’m going to do it, I need the Miles Davis that says,  ‘You want the Miles Davis story? I was born, I did this, I did that. Are we done with that?’  I’m join to attack it. I’m going to just put it up and attack it, and hopefully after I do that three or four times, people will go  ‘Oh, ok I guess we’re not doing that. I guess we’ll just watch this now.’

Judge it on what it is, if you want to judge it on what it isn’t, There’s nothing that we can do about that. This is what it is. I saw somebody say at the end, when Miles turns and you see the hashtag #SocialMusic on his back, ‘There weren’t hashtags in 1980!’  Correct! There was no Twitter then, right.  There also was no flat screen TV that’s behind Miles Davis in the very beginning, when the interview is happening. Time is permeable and malleable. Miles Davis is still here and all of that is still happening. That’s what I hope that people take away from it, just an experience and being entertained and engaged and having the desire to learn more, hear more, mostly, more than anything, just hear more.”

Lastly, he talked about the wonderful scene at the very end of the film when Cheadle as Miles Davis plays with some of the heaviest hitters in the jazz world, both iconic and new.  I mentioned even Miles would have chosen to have Esperanza Spalding and Gary Clark Jr., who were featured in that scene of live music:

And Antonio Sanchez, too. I mean Antonio was just coming off of Birdman. I’d see these guys at gigs and I was like “hey man, I’m trying to do this thing. do you want be in it?” and they were like “yeah, cool.” Like, really? Like “yeah, if I’m not gigging, I’ll be there.” And all they wanted was, you know, get me there, put me up, feed me and then I’m straight. And they didn’t want to leave. We had a day before we shot that last scene, which we had no idea when we were going to shoot it, we couldn’t afford to shoot it, we had no budget for it. We hadn’t funded it, we had to sneak into it. We just had to figure out how to do it, and if we had one of those musicians that said “I need a grand” it would’ve been like, well we can’t do it. But they all came and we were at the Red Bull recording studio working on the music before and recording stuff so that we would have it as backups if we needed it, which we never used. All the stuff that’s in the movie is live. But Herbie (Hancock) was like “I need the music, ‘cause i need to rehearse.” I was like, “you need to rehearse?” Esperanza would be in there and I’d ask her to play a certain way, and she’d be like “I can’t play that. This isn’t my regular axe.” It was so heartwarming to know that these guys still can be nervous about it and have trepidation about it. I thought, ‘Oh, then I’m fine.’  You guys can be nervous and you are the greatest who’ve ever done it then it’s ok to be nervous. But they didn’t want to leave. They said we should tour with this group. I was like, yeah, let’s do that!

From Don Cheadle’s words to the jazz gods’ ears…

MILES AHEAD is playing nationwide.

Everybody Wants Some!! Review: Will You Want Some, Too??

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Written Transcript:

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! Review: Will You Want Some, Too??

This weekend sees the release of writer/director Richard Linklater’s EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!!, the spiritual sequel of his 1993 cult classic DAZED AND CONFUSED, but does it live up to the hype and awesomeness of its predecessor?

Richard Linklater has repeatedly proven himself worthy behind the camera and creating for it, most recently with the multi-Oscar-winning BOYHOOD. But early on he built a devoted fanbase for DAZED AND CONFUSED, a comedy about kids navigating a pot-fueled last day of high school in 1976 that sported the tagline “See it with a bud”.  Now he offers another series of flashbacks, this time building the slice-of-life story around the first days at college before classes start for a group of baseball players in 1980. As a film that captures a moment and experience in time with perfect detail, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! is spot-on. All people who got into relatively harmless trouble in their youth, especially those between the ages of 45 and 60, will rarely stop laughing or smiling, but it can also be appreciated by all adult fans of both comedy and the art of making bad decisions that leave a trail of broken windows, empty cans, and rolling papers.

The film is deceptively nonchalant about a seminal time in everyone’s life, when every decision seems both meaningless and terrifyingly important, a time when how we are seen by others seems so essential to moving forward with our goals. Through conversations and interactions that span from ill humored or aggressive posturing, to fraternal and compassionate mutual support, there are multiple layers about being real, accepting lessons, and choosing to just get on with it, whatever “it” is.  In that way, it is universal.  All this, however, is couched firmly in all things nostalgic of 1980, down to boys in bad facial hair, cut-off shorts, and bubble-font t-shirts, trying to get girlie action, and sucking on bongs and beer-shots to an absolutely perfect soundtrack, which should break download records, or better yet fly off the shelves of vinyl shops nationwide.

As with DAZED AND CONFUSED, which introduced breakout star Matthew McConaughey, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! features a great ensemble cast sure to bring several rising stars to greater attention of Hollywood’s casting agents.  Most notable are Blake Jenner as freshman everyman Jake, Wyatt Russell as Willoughby the stoned philosopher, Glen Powell as motormouth Finnegan, J. Quinton Johnson as the voice of reason, and Zoey Deutch as Beverly, the sweet yet savvy drama nerd, but the entire cast is memorable, and those who take this film to heart will find their own favorites. For fun, check out the cast pictures on IMDB after you see the film. It will show you just how far they stretch their looks and demeanor for their roles.

Yes, Everybody Wants Some!! is very funny, but sink into it.  It’s so much deeper than the beer and bong water it’s steeped in.


I SAW THE LIGHT Exclusive Cinema Siren Interview with Tom Hiddleston


I SAW THE LIGHT’s Tom Hiddleston on Hank Williams: “Despite being afflicted by formidable demons, the legacy of Hank Williams is about joy”

It is telling and speaks volumes that when our press roundtable was meant to be at an end and we hadn’t even gotten through one question from the four journalists, I SAW THE LIGHT director Marc Abraham got up and politely informed the publicity team he and Tom would continue our interview until all our questions had been answered.  Although we were all tempted to ask I SAW THE LIGHT star Tom Hiddleston, currently sitting atop the A-list of actors in Hollywood, about every past and future role, we stuck to the subject at hand.  It is clear by the way both director and star talk about the film and the subject matter, there is passion and pride there.  There is also a desire to get it in front of those who will appreciate it and find it inspiring.

I SAW THE LIGHT is a biopic about legendary musician and bad boy Hank Williams, and Abraham says he found the perfect actor in Hiddleston, and never doubted he could carry the thespian weight of his labor of love.  He had seen him in WAR HORSE, and knew he not only had the talent, but the looks to portray Williams authentically.  Growing up in Tennessee, Abraham, who is mostly known as a producer of movies like CHILDREN OF MEN and THE HURRICANE, says he always listened to and admired Williams.  When he decided to write, produce, and direct a film about his life, it was of paramount importance that it be an unembellished, truthful representation of him, and with a focus on his tragically short yet prolific career as well as his monumental contribution to the world of country music.  To that end, Tom Hiddleston learned all the songs Williams made famous, cultivated an impressive yodel and vocal tone similar to the musician, and played live in front of multiple audiences.

While the film itself has gotten mixed reviews, there is no critical dissent about Hiddleston’s portrayal.  It is as if he is channelling Williams, making him compulsively watchable.  His presence in I Saw the Light should make his fans, known as Hiddlestoners, first in line this weekend when the film is opening wide.  I asked Hiddleston what the role left him with in terms of his experience and memory of Williams, having internalized the man and lived in his skin for the role:

“I’m left with this extraordinary joy. He, even though he suffered so much, he brought so much joy to so many people and still continues to. I think it’s his legacy that people feel incredibly touched by his music and it gives them comfort. Whether it’s the upbeat melody of ‘Hey Good Looking’ or the mournfulness of ‘I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry.’ In the words of Richard Griffiths in The History Boys, “That’s a hand reaching across time and touching yours.” I think his music is of enormous solace and comfort, that’s my overwhelming impression. When I bring his name up people go, “yeah!” and respond so positively.  It’s not a heavy, his legacy isn’t heavy, despite that fact that his life was, that he himself was afflicted by heaviness and by formidable demons.”

Hiddleston is known by his fellow cast members and crew as being an enthusiastic optimist, and it seems to infuse all his work, both inside his roles, and outside as the actor promoting his work.  I asked him, since Hank was a troubled soul, what would he give by way of advice, or what would he do to help this man he lived inside and brought to the screen for I Saw the Light, and mentioned he brought that joy out of him as he did so famously as Loki onstage at San Diego Comic-Con:

“That was an amazing day.  But it’s the funny thing about the performances, and I always think about this, and it’s something that plays into the film, is live performance is alchemy and chemistry. It’s chemistry between the performer and the audience, and the chemistry, the energy of the audience is as much a part of the occasion as the performer. If there are empty seats in the house, it isn’t the same. And Hank knew that, Hank understood that and he played with that. That’s what  that movie was about, really; I was confronted with the enthusiasm of seven thousand people, and I just had to handle it.

But Hank, what would I say to him? I think he was blinded by the sheer velocity of his life, and the distractions of fame and temptations of his good fortune that he couldn’t see the gift in from of him. He’d lost sight of very simple things which might of given him peace. He was a man who said that the early afternoon is the lonesomest time of the day, and that’s a man who’s lost something, who’s ceased to take pleasure in very simple things, which I imagine as a child he must have used to. And I think that’s what happens when people go into a downwards spiral as he did, where he had such an intense schedule from which he felt increasingly alienated, and such a fevered reliance on prescription and alcohol that actually at a certain point, you know, he is being pulled down by the gravity of all that, and he can’t literally, to coin a phrase, he can’t see the light. So….I would probably cancel his touring schedule; I would probably send him home. I’d get rid of all negative, intoxicant influences, and just try to simplify his life a little bit, to prolong it, but that’s not what happened.”

I asked if he felt like Hank was a friend of his now, and he said he did, but it was an evolving thing:

“It’s really interesting because I, at first, I didn’t feel like he wanted to make friends with me. I felt like he was far away. I remember, I actually remember I used to get up and run in the morning when we were shooting in Shreveport, I remember openly addressing him at one point. I probably shouldn’t admit that, but out loud, I was running in the morning, and I said:

“Help me out here buddy, because I’m trying to help you…”

Because there were certain aspects of him, he was a mystery, I think he was a mystery to himself in lots of ways. Because I was trying to get close to the center, express his truth. But it was so enjoyable, I mean this is what acting is about, I think.”

I SAW THE LIGHT stars Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams, Elizabeth Olsen as his wife Audrey, and Cherry Jones as his mother Lillie, and is in theaters nationwide April 1st.

Tom Hiddleston and Leslie Combemale (Cinema Siren/Screen Relish)