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Movie Review: YOUTH

Youth Paolo Sorrentino

An emissary from the Queen of England (played by Alex Macqueen) has been tasked to persuade Fred Ballinger (played by Michael Caine) to come out of retirement and conduct his most popular work, “The Simple Songs,” one last time. Ballinger refuses due to personal reasons. He would much rather make music by manipulating a candy wrapper between his fingers. His skill and ability is still alive, albeit at a supernatural level, as we later see when he literally conducts a pasture full of cows. Well, he must have some pretty compelling personal reasons to refuse Her Majesty. And so begins writer/director Paolo Sorrentino’s “Youth.”

Amid the backdrop of an otherworldly resort away from everything, we find a number of people, young and old, confronting or avoiding their lives. Fred Ballinger has made a friend there upon whom he relies for good company. This is the famed film director Mick Boyle (played by Harvey Keitel). If Ballinger is having difficulty with one pivotal time in his career, then Boyle is struggling to sustain his legend. He’s hired out and brought with him to stay at the resort, a coterie of young and hapless would-be writers to help him complete his next cinematic masterpiece. Instead, Boyle spends most of the time lecturing them on life. In one brilliant scene, he demonstrates the difference between youth and old age with a telescope. Look through it and things seem close, like in youth. Look through the other end, and things seem far away, like in old age. His staff can only nod and agree with him.

Michael Caine

Michael Caine

And then there’s Jimmy Tree (played by Paul Dano) who fears he will never live down his role as “Q” in a popular sci-fi television program. Dano seems to be playing a man at least twenty years older than himself and he’s great at it. This is the sort of thing that Peter Sellers would have done to perfection in his prime. Tree is sympathetic to Ballinger’s plight. In another spot on scene, Tree empathizes with Ballinger having to wear his most popular work like an Albatross around his neck. “A moment of frivolity can be dangerous,” responds Ballinger.

It’s not just growing old that is a bone of contention. Those who are in the midst of youth can also find it bewildering and frustrating too. One young and nubile masseuse in particular, (played by Luna Zimic Mijovic) steals the screen whenever she appears. Mijovic’s uninhibited sexuality is irresistible and mesmerizing. She has established an understanding with Ballinger which gives her some control, at least over someone else. In contrast to that character’s powerful but unsteady position is Madalina Diana Ghenea as Miss Universe. Apparently, she’s at the resort just for a little R & R. She is, no doubt, gorgeous and manages to project an elegance and intellect even while simply gliding nude into a pool. If she has any problems, it is in having to convince others that she is smart and far from vulnerable.

Luna Zimic Mijovic

Madalina Diana Ghenea

The one person in the role of a bridge between the past and present is Ballinger’s daughter, Lena (played by Rachel Weisz). It is her unenviable position to have her life abruptly unravel when her husband runs off with another woman during her visit with her father. Her wayward husband, Julian (played by Ed Stoppard) happens to be the son of Harvey Keitel’s character, Boyle. In an amusing scene, Boyle and Ballinger not only interrogate Julian but also his new love, a pop star (Paloma Faith, playing herself!) Of course, Julian is a grown man and in no need of lecturing. Both Balliner and Boyle realize this but they welcome the distraction nonetheless.

Finally, there’s that special scene with Jane Fonda as Brenda Morel, who starred in Boyle’s best work. She lets Boyle have it by letting him know how far off the mark he’s gotten. In a film that evokes a Fellini sense of wonderment, this is an all-time great cameo.

“Youth” speaks to the common desire to be young forever, and fear of growing old, by seeing youth not as something fleeting but as something sempiternal. In old age, we can return to youth, if we’re open and brave to confronting our ambitions and missteps. To see each main character grapple with the folly and substance of youth makes for some of the most memorable moments you will find in contemporary cinema.

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Filed under Creativity, Hollywood, Michael Caine, Movie Reviews, movies, Paolo Sorrentino, Youth

Interview: Bill Plympton and CHEATIN’

Ella and Jake in Bill Plympton's CHEATIN'

Ella and Jake in Bill Plympton’s CHEATIN’

Frank and Cora in 1946's THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Frank and Cora in 1946’s THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE

Bill Plympton Animation Available on iTunes as of April 2015

CHEATIN’ is Bill Plimpton’s seventh full-length animated feature. It is for adults who like an All-American gritty noir story and fans of great storytelling from such greats at Terry Gilliam and Federico Fellini. Read my review here. On April 3, CHEATIN’ opens in New York and then to selected cities throughout the month. It is also available online! You can see it on Vimeo. And you can see other Plympton features on iTunes starting in April. Yes, if you’re a loyal fan or are new to his work, Bill Plympton is here! For details, and to see the movie, just go to the CHEATIN’ THE MOVIE website right here.

Bill-Plympton-Cheatin-2015

A Gritty Tale and a Sexual Odyssey

CHEATIN’ is visually stunning and immersive. It features the journey one woman must take in order to find what she wants. In the tradition of noir, characters must go through the yin and yang to find their true selves. Light into dark. And then dark into light. Truly, a perpetual swirl of desire and searching. And you throw into the bargain a magical soul-transfer machine, and you’ve got yourself a Bill Plympton animated feature.

Disney Can Give Bill Plympton A Call

It is always a pleasure to chat with Bill Plympton. For this interview, we cover a lot of ground on the storytelling process. We chat about how CHEATIN’ and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE would make for a perfect double bill. And I asked Bill, the king of independent animation, if he’d ever consider working with Disney if the right project came along. Yes. Bill would take the call.

What if Hitler Opened a Theme Park Called, “Naziland”?

And we discuss some upcoming projects. You’ll want to listen to that.

Below is the podcast interview. Enjoy:

Be sure to visit the CHEATIN’ website right here. And, if you’re in the New York metro area, be sure to go to Village East Cinema on Friday, April 3, and you’ll see Bill Plympton in person! He will create a drawing for anyone who asks for one.

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Filed under animation, Bill Plympton, cartoon, Filmmaking, Independent Film, Indie, Interviews

Review: Bill Plympton’s CHEATIN’

Bill-Plympton-Cheatin-animation

Ella is an enigmatic beauty. She seems so ethereal and unaccessible. And then, one day, her defenses down, she stumbles into a romance with Jake. This sounds like the start of another great Bill Plympton animated feature. It takes me back to some of my earliest memories of his work. I had seen at least some of his stuff on MTV back in the day. All I can say is, if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to dig deeper.

Bill Plympton is one of the greats. He has a way of looking at the world that is truly original. He stepped into the spotlight with his Academy Award-nominated short, “Your Face,” in 1987. He was courted by Disney but he chose to remain independent. He’s the only animator to single-handedly draw every frame of a feature film–six times. Plympton cartoons blaze upon the screen: joyful, erotic, and full of wonder. And so that leads in to, “Cheatin’,” Bill Plympton’s latest feature.

Cheatin-Bill-Plympton

Things don’t just move in his animation. They jiggle, ripple, undulate, sway, and sashay. There’s a perpetual sexual tension metaphorically attached to nearly everything. We begin with the long fluttering ribbon attached to Ella’s hat. In this feature, our two lovers are quite a mismatched pair but they definitely have a spark between them.

If Ella was ever aloof, Jake wears down her reserve. He rescues her twice, both times with great sexual connotations. But that’s only the beginning of our story. No sooner does boy meet girl, it seems, than boy loses girl. In fact, these two had become quite the couple when things go terribly wrong. Outside forces relentlessly work against them. For example, one of Ella’s rivals attempts to lure Jake away while he’s mowing the lawn. She carpets the sky with a pulsating pattern of her laundry. Ella retaliates with a counter-strike of her own laundry.

Plympton-Cheatin-animation

What happens next involves an elaborate process of regaining love. This includes a wayward magician and his mysterious “trans-soul machine.” Perhaps this contraption will shed light on what has thwarted our lover’s happiness. As this dangerous and uncertain path unfolds, our story spreads out with hints of grand opera, science fiction, and crime noir.

As in all Bill Plympton features, we find that human longing and desire, in one form or another, cannot be ignored and is seldom, if ever, denied. Amid a rogue’s gallery of buffoons and dimwits, lovers race toward each other’s hungry bodies. Sexuality will find its release whether it oozes from the walls or drips from the ceiling. And, amid the melting butter and bubbling coffee pots, a more complex story unfolds. While sex makes the world go round, Bill Plympton, like Federico Fellini and Terry Gilliam, provides much more. The content is implicit, not explicit. It’s a mix of the tragic and the comic that proves so pleasing.

“Cheatin'” is in theaters and online as of April 2015. For more details, visit the official website right here.

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Filed under animation, Bill Plympton, Movie Reviews

Interview: Jason V Brock and the World of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Jason V. Brock

Jason V Brock

Jason V Brock is an author, artist, and filmmaker who finds himself in a very interesting place in pop culture. For starters, he has created two well-regarded documentaries that focus on two very different men, both great contributors to science fiction, horror, movies, television, and the arts in general. One is Charles Beaumont. The other is Forrest J Ackerman. We chat about them and the creative process. How do you create art? One rule of thumb: Do it yourself! We begin with a look back at Brock’s childhood and how he, a child of the ’80s, grew up with the DIY ethos. In Charlotte, North Carolina. That’s where Brock cut his teeth on comics, retro cinema, vintage LPs, pulp fiction, and Playboy. Brock began working at his local comic book shop at the age of 13. His dad was a writer and graphic designer. It sounds like an idyllic way to grow up, right out of a Ray Bradbury story.

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Charles Beaumont and Robin Hughes on the set of “The Howling Man”

Speaking of stories,there are so many stories to cover just in Brock’s documentary on Beaumont. Take the case of the short story, “The Crooked Man,” by Charles Beaumont. It is a classic today that was highly controversial for the time, circa 1955. It imagined a society where homosexuality was predominant while hetrosexuality was outlawed. The story was bought by Esquire but subsequently was not published. It turned out to also be too hot for the pages of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. But when Playboy published it in 1955, then that same story became okay, more than okay. Charles Beaumont sold his first science fiction story, “The Devil You Say,” to Amazing Stories in 1950. By 1954, he had written the first work of fiction, the landmark work, “Dark Country,” to appear in Playboy in 1954. This kicked off over a decade of Beaumont stories in Playboy. Writing for movies and televison soon followed including some of the best episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” All this, and so much more, before his life was cut short at 38 by a mysterious illness.

And, that gives you some sense of what to expect in Brock’s “Charles Beaumont: Short Life of Twilight Zone’s Magic Man.” You can find that documentary as well as Brock’s documentary on Famous Monsters of Filmland’s former editor, Forrest J Ackerman (Uncle Forry), “The AckerMonster Chronicles!” right here.

We also chat about Brock’s work in editing and writing his own stories. This led us to discussing a unique pairing of talents. In the course of working on the Beaumont documentary, Brock got to know one of the members of the Southern California Writer’s Group, William F. Nolan. They struck up a solid friendship. When Nolan was at a turning point on where he wanted to live next, it was a reasonable choice for him to move a bit further north from Bend, Oregon to Brock’s neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington. It turned out to be a natural fit and Brock and his wife, Sunni, could not be happier to share meals but not only that. Bill Nolan became family and you look out for family.

A-Darke-Phantastique

Among Brock’s impressive editorial work, there’s the recent anthology, from 2014, “A Darke Phantastique.” This is a 730-page lushly illustrated collection of some of the best dark horror fiction around with more than fifty stories, poems, and one teleplay. This includes Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Case of the Four-Acre Haunt”; Paul Kane’s “Michael the Monster”; William F. Nolan’s “The Last Witch”; Nathaniel Lee’s “The Wisest Stone and the Zoo”; Derek Künsken’s “The Buddha Circus”; E.E. King’s “Three Fables”; Jason Maurer’s “In Your Dark: Differing Strategies in Subhuman Integration Through Monster Academies” and S.T. Joshi’s “You’ll Reach There in Time.” “A Darke Phantastique” is published by Cicatrix Press and you can find it here.

Disorders-of-Magnitude-Jason-V-Brock

And another recent anthology, out this year, is “Disorders of Magnitude.” This is a 336-page overview of the genres of horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. It will prove useful to anyone who wants a better understanding of the roots of one of today’s dominant forms of entertainment and art. Included in this collection are essays, reviews, and interviews. Brock studies such dynamic figures as H. P. Lovecraft, Forrest J Ackerman, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, Rod Serling, and William F. Nolan. This collection also includes filmmakers Roger Corman, George Romero, and Dan O’Bannon, and such fantasy artists as H. R. Giger. “Disorders of Magnitude” is published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. You can find it as Amazon right here.

You can listen to our conversation by clicking the link below. For anyone interested in writing, filmmaking, and creativity in general, there’s something here for you. Enjoy.

And be sure to visit Jason and Sunni Brock at JaSunni Productions to find out more about their products and services right here.

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Filed under Charles Beaumont, Documentaries, Forrest J Ackerman, George Clayton Johnson, Interviews, Jason V. Brock, Rod Serling, Sci-Fi, science fiction, The Twilight Zone, William F. Nolan

Review: ‘Flash William’ from The National Film Board of Canada

Flash-William_National-Film-Board-of-Canada

The National Film Board of Canada is a treasure trove of film and animation that never fails to intrigue, entertain, and educate. The NFB’s Albert Ohayon shares today a little gem about filmmaker Flash William Shewchuck. He was a one-man film industry in his little mining town of Cadamin, Canada. With persistence and care, between working a variety of odd jobs, Flash William kept to his dreams.

This 20-minute film, which originally aired on Canadian public television in 1978, shows what one man can do if determined. Today, we take it for granted that we can create some sort of movie on a cell phone. But, starting back in the 1950s, it was unheard of for someone to undertake to make movies all by themselves with limited funds. Flash William not only made movies, he played them at his local theater. He was the director, sometimes the only actor, and even the ticket taker.

Flash-William-National-Film-Board-of-Canada

Directed by John Laing and Thom Burstyn, this documentary will inspire on many levels. There is no sign of the director as an egomaniacal control freak here. Left to do what he loves, in the seemingly blissful and innocent wilderness, Flash William is enjoying a true labor of love. That alone is something to cheer about. And Flash William wasn’t out there in the woods documenting moose. He made full-fledged dramas.

And he made all of his films in this hometown of Cadamin. At the time of the documentary, the mining town had long since dropped from a robust population of 1,000 down to 100. For the showing of one of his films, the whole town, minus two, were in attendance. The town itself is a character in the documentary and, even when Flash was directing only himself, he always had Cadamin by his side.

You can view “Flash William,” courtesy of the NFB, here.

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Filed under Canada, Documentaries, film, Filmmaking, National Film Board of Canada, NFB

Interview: Director Roger Sewhcomar and ‘Do You Like My Basement?’

Director Roger Sewhcomar, with Devon Talbott and Charlie Floyd, in DO YOU LIKE MY BASEMENT?

Director Roger Sewhcomar, with Devon Talbott and Charlie Floyd, on set of DO YOU LIKE MY BASEMENT?

Roger Sewhcomar has crafted a devilishly good horror movie, both chilling and satirical. If you’re in New York City, be sure to catch it at the NewFilmmakers Short Film program on May 29. You can find details here. And, of course, there’s more to come as the film moves on to other venues and branches out into new web content.

Karlheinz Böhm, as Mark Lewis, in PEEPING TOM

Karlheinz Böhm, as Mark Lewis, in PEEPING TOM

If you’re a film buff, you may find yourself comparing “Do You Like My Basement?” to classic horror, especially, “Peeping Tom,” considering both main characters, Stanley Farmer, and Mark Lewis, respectively, are deranged filmmakers. They are up to their gills in toxic psychosis. “Peeping Tom,” although now considered a masterpiece, did not go over so well in 1960 and its director, Michael Powell, paid a heavy price as he was thoroughly drummed out of the business by harsh critics. “Do You Like My Basement?” has a much brighter future ahead of it, not only by comparison, but for being quite a gem. Director Roger Sewhcomar provides just the sort of horror that goes beyond expectations, and meets the contemporary taste for suspense.

Charlie Floyd on set of DO YOU LIKE MY BASEMENT?

Charlie Floyd on set of DO YOU LIKE MY BASEMENT?

A production such as this has its share of unsung heroes, those that go the extra mile but may go unseen. Ironically, the main character to this film, Stanley Farmer, is never quite seen. However, there is no mistaking the presence of actor Charlie Floyd. In fact, he’s always there. Once you hear his voice, you won’t mistake it. Mr. Floyd leads a strong cast in this remarkable mix of horror, satire, and dark comedy.

It was a pleasure to get to chat with director Roger Sewhcomar. We go over his influences, what it takes to make a movie, and what lies ahead for “Do You like My Basement?” Click below. Enjoy.

Visit the “Do You Like My Basement?” website here.

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Filed under Horror, Independent Film, Indie, Interviews, Kickstarter, movies