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    • Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal and Carlos Lopez Estrada Reveal How Friendship Made BLINDSPOTTING Possible!

      2 hours ago

      ericvespe

      Summer movie season is in full swing right now. You can still find at least three superhero movies in theaters as well as a big, dumb action movie staring The Rock and the latest Mission: Impossible film hits screens in a little over a week. But that doesn't mean there aren't smaller, more meaningful movies out there.


      One is coming out this weekend called Blindspotting. I saw this film at Sundance and raved about it back then. Now you have a chance to see what I was talking about. Starring Hamilton's Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar and Jasmine Cephas Jones, this is one of those everything movies. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you cry, it'll make your butthole clench in pure tension. You know, everything.


      Blindspotting is about a man in the final days of his parole who witnesses a policeman shooting an unarmed man. He's traumatized by the incident, but can't speak out for fear of revealing that violated his parole. At the same time his crazy best friend isn't helping matters by constantly acting as the well-intentioned, but bad influence in his life. 


      It's a great film and I was super excited to sit down with the two leads, Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, alongside their director Carlos Lopez Estrada to talk about how this film about friendship was actually born out of friendship as well as just how great their supporting cast is and how they struck an authentic balance between real world issues and escapism entertainment.


      It's a good chat. Enjoy!



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      Eric Vespe: Hey, guys. So, I saw the movie at Sundance and flipped for it. It spoke to me in a way I wasn't quite expecting and I think it's because of the way the humor of the film pushes the narrative. It's a movie with deadly serious content, but first and foremost it's almost a buddy comedy. I cared about the stakes of the movie because I cared about the friendship between you guys. Was that your way into the story?


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: The movie is based on friendship. It sounds like a corny thing to say, but it's true. The movie's a result of the friendship between Rafa and Daveed for... how many years?


      Daveed Diggs: Hella years.


      Rafael Casal: (laughs) Hella years. We're coming up on two decades.


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: Then there was a friendship between Daveed and myself. It started professionally and then...


      Daveed Diggs: It became romantic.


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: It wasn't romantic, it was just physical. (laughs) Then through Daveed I met Rafa. It's oversimplifying the process a little, but a lot of people came to (the movie) because of friendship. (Producers) Keith Calder and Jess Wu have been working with these guys for 9 years as well. A lot of the actors are either friends or friends of friends of people who these guys have worked with. It is a family endeavor and I'm glad to hear that energy translates when you watch the movie. Calling this movie a passion project is a serious understatement. They could probably tell you a little more about the real genesis.


      Daveed Diggs: (to Rafa) You said something great a little while ago about humor and male relationships... about how men interact with each other.


      Rafael Casal: Just say it's my quote, but Daveed will say it.


      Daveed Diggs: Rafa says that one of the ways that men stay friends with each other is by making jokes. That's what we do. We're always sort of covering up...


      Rafael Casal: It's the barrel roll out of tension. We have two main emotions that men are socially accepted to express. It's anger and humor. Those are the two conditioned ways to fluctuate. 


      Really the movie runs the way heterosexual male friendship tends to toggle. It's devoid of too much talk about feelings and it's very much humor-humor-humor until it boils up and because of that I think the characteristic of the film I love the most is just how much they try to keep bringing humor into it until it's completely impossible. Even in the end it's Miles' final barrel roll that gets us to a place of hope between the two of them, by trying to get them to laugh. That's the survival nature of friendship.


      Daveed Diggs: It sets up this thing where you can't trust humor any more. It's not enough. But then the final statement is pretty much if we acknowledge that we both changed we can still make jokes.



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      Eric Vespe: I relate to that a lot. It's also important for audiences to know, too. You can tell people Blindspotting has great messages about gentrification and police brutality and the unfairness of the parole system and their eyes might glaze over. It might sound like homework. But if you can tell them it's a funny movie and you're going to connect with the characters that changes the conversation that gets people to give it a shot.


      Daveed Diggs: The buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one... the reason that we say that sentence so much is because that sentence, and when you see the movie you'll get this, is to me the definition of what “Blindspotting” is. You say “a buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one” and all people hear is the “buddy comedy” part and the second half is lost. You don't entirely know what it means, so your eyes float to “buddy comedy.”


      The first press we ever got was “Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs are doing a buddy comedy set in Oakland.” Yeah, we gave you the full sentence, but that's where your eye went.


      The in is that it's a buddy comedy, but it doesn't ignore the world that it exists in and it's that world that won't let it be one. The inherent seriousness of the time we're in gives you the buddy comedy, but puts it in the world that we're in.


      The world just unfolds as it is, which is why I never throw out the gun control and violence themes or even really police shootings. We're just now starting to add that because we're being told to. (laughs) We're being told it's helpful.


      Eric Vespe: Speaking of, your character witnesses a police shooting and the guy playing the officer is Ethan Embry. He's so damn good in this thing. He's a deeply flawed character, but not a one-dimensional bad guy. I felt I was empathizing with him and I never in a million years would have thought I'd do that with a person in his position.


      Rafael Casal: The amazing thing about empathy is all you actually have to do is make them human. You'll forgive so many flaws in a character's personality or political position as long as they feel full and human.


      Daveed Diggs: And I don't think we're even asking for forgiveness. It's just that you can sort of understand it. What we don't see is him over there and laughing and high-fiving two weeks after he shot a kid. His life probably sucks. You don't have to let him off the hook for being poorly trained and for shooting somebody because he was scared of a person running away from him. You don't get off the hook for that. You don't get brownie points for that, but also your life is probably pretty shitty.


      From our perspective (Ethan's character) couldn't reconcile with his wife after that. There's no turning back from that. The great thing about Ethan as an actor is that he made that whole movie in his head. He had the whole story of that officer in his head.


      Rafael Casal: The other side of this film.


      Daveed Diggs: And he asked us a ton of questions about it. We didn't write that into the script, so he came to us and asked us questions. Where is this guy from? Does he have other infractions?


      Rafael Casal: Do you think he came from the military? He gave it that much thought. I don't think at any point Ethan was trying to create a character that he thought was morally right. He just wanted a three-dimensional human being who is also a product of his surroundings and biases.


      Daveed Diggs: I don't think Ethan likes him very much!


      Rafael Casal: But I think he got him, which is nearly impossible when you read this script and invest in the main characters. To be able to find a sincere way into that officer...


      Daveed Diggs: It's a thing we asked of everybody involved in this film. So much of the focus is necessarily on us, but it was really important to have all these characters who were fully realized and felt like they had their own lives. So everybody had to do that work, without necessarily the lines to support it. Jasmine (Cephas Jones) came to the Bay a little bit early and just hung out. She's soooo New York.


      Rafael Casal: She's so Brooklyn! She was there for two days. She came to the Warriors parade...

      Daveed Diggs: It happened to be when the Warriors won the title.


      Rafael Casal: She hung out with two of the women who here character is based on and within two hours had the speech pattern down and was just walking around with it. They did her hair and I just kept forgetting that was Jasmine. It was magic.


      Eric Vespe: Janina (Gavankar) is great, too. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when she's doing your hair. It's the most romantic not-romantic scene ever. It's romantic in that these are two people who get each other and care for each other, but they're not at a place where they can become an item again.


      Daveed Diggs: We auditioned here by seeing if she could braid hair. She can't, so that's an incredible acting job. You'll see she focuses on the back of the head. (laughs)



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      Carlos Lopez Estrada: I think Janina is one of those casting stories that I'll always remember because she came in to read towards the later end of the process. We had seen a lot of actors, some very, very talented people came in to read, and we were having a hard time making a decision. It was an important role. Then she walked into the room and did a handful of things that no one had done and I think understood the depth of the character in ways that we hadn't even fully grasped.


      We had a conversation with her about the script and about how she related to it being an Indian woman and understanding how minorities feel. It's just one of those things I'll never forget. She walked out of the room and we all just looked at each other and said, “Wow. How could we not work with this woman?”


      Daveed Diggs: She taught us things about Val in the audition.


      Rafael Casal: She totally changed the character.


      Daveed Diggs: There's that moment at the end of that scene after their hug she just said “Okay, bye” and walked out. No one else had played it that way. There was always this longing pathos thing, but she did it that way and I was like “... okay.” I was reading with her.


      Rafael Casal: She just cut the scene off!


      Daveed Diggs: All of us were like “That's how that scene was supposed to go! Shit.” It gave her so much more agency than I think even we were giving to that character. The best of our abilities we were still two dudes trying to write women and she came in and was like “This is how I would do it in this moment.”


      Carlos Lopez Estrada: She's not like Val, but in many ways she is. She'd come up to all three of us and we would give her direction and she'd say “Actually, I'm not sure if I agree with that” and we'd have these really interesting conversations.


      Rafael Casal: She really took Val from us.


      Daveed Diggs: Thank goodness.


      Rafael Casal: She'd be like “Val's this person. I know her better than you, so we're going to do it this way.” We were like “Okay!”


      Eric Vespe: It's a tough character because that archetype could come across as naggy.


      Daveed Diggs: It could come across as naggy, I know! It's tricky. There was an edit where we failed her, really. There was an early edit where she came off that way and it wasn't because of her performance, it was because we were choosing the wrong shots. For time we cut a bunch of things out, so we had to go back put more of her in. She gives this wonderfully nuanced performance with so much empathy in it, but for time we cut a lot of those moments and we were watching it going “We have to put that back.”


      Rafael Casal: There's the balance of sweet and stern and she gave us so many different takes of each one in each scene. Compiling that, you have to have just the right amount of Val's sweetness and kindness that you understand why her and Collin were together, but also just enough coldness that you get that this isn't a happily ever after thing.


      Eric Vespe: Absolutely. I love the movie and I think a lot of people are going to love the movie as well. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.



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      The movie's out in select theaters this weekend and goes wide on July 27th. If you like good things, go watch it!  

    • The Aquaman Poster Is Released And The Internet Is Already Clowning It

      2 days ago

      ericvespe

      My history with the modern DCEU is a little rocky, but I'm by no means a DC hater. Growing up the only good comic book movies were DC films! Superman and Superman II, the two Tim Burton Batman movies. Hell, I even liked Supergirl as cheesy as that was.


      The Dark Knight was my favorite movie the year it came out and I still hold it up as a masterpiece of popcorn entertainment.


      DC is just having some trouble finding its footing in the Marvel era. It's a tough road to hoe for Warner Bros. We've seen so much of Batman and Superman, so how do they both give us what we want and also something new?


      There's no easy answer to that question, but I think the key lies more in their less-familiar characters. Wonder Woman has been all over pop culture, but she never got her moment in the sun quite like she did in her own standalone movie. Patty Jenkins embraced the good-hearted Diana and also made her a badass who will stand up and fight for those that can't. It was more than just "cool moments." 


      Could James Wan work similar magic for Aquaman? I'm optimistic, not because I have any deep love or nostalgia for the character (I don't), but I like Wan as a filmmaker. He's got a great eye and distinctive voice. 


      While I think they blew it pretty hardcore with Batman V Superman and Justice League, I still hold out hope DC rights the ship. 


      So, when I share some images of the internet joshing the new Aquaman poster know it comes from a place of good fun. Here's the official one:



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      The movie could be amazing, but that poster is pretty silly. Even DC fans are making fun of it. Looks like a photoshoot at the local aquarium. People have pointed out that the big mean shark on the right side of the poster is a stock image that you've seen a million times before, but hey, short cuts happen.


      The internet isn't as forgiving as I am, though. Here are a few of my favorite instant photoshop jobs I saw today:



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      Alright, the last one is kinda mean and snarky, but it made me laugh.


      One nice thing I'll say about this poster though is that it shows a lighter, more fun vibe. I've seen a few clips and unfinished effects shots from this movie at various Conventions over the last 12 months or so and Wan isn't shying away from making this weird as hell, which is why I'm still hopeful we'll get something special out of this movie when it premieres this holiday season.


      In the meantime I'm sure we'll be getting a new trailer soon since they're going to be doing their big Hall H presentation at Comic-Con this week. We'll know soon enough exactly what kind of movie we're in for here.

    • Skyscraper Is Just As Silly As You Expect, But Also Pretty Fun

      1 week ago

      ericvespe

      It's hard to remember in these days of comic book movies being all the rage, but the state of the big studio summer blockbuster was pretty dire before movies like Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man changed the game. For every Independence Day we get a dozen Dante's Peaks.


      Enough time has passed that it's strangely nostalgic to see a traditional big, goofy disaster movie again. Skyscraper is by no measure a serious attempt at drama, but it's not trying to be. All it wants to do is entertain you by throwing one of the most charismatic action stars in history into increasingly ridiculous set pieces as he has to scale a burning building to rescue his family. If you can accept it on its own level you should be able to have some fun with it.



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      In terms of scripting it's a great example of set up and pay off. In fact you could almost call Skyscraper Chekhov's Gun: The Movie.


      If you're unfamiliar with the term, Chekhov's Gun simply means if you show a gun a wall at the beginning of a story by the end of that gun better have gone off. It's a storytelling principle that is in place so writers don't promise things they don't deliver on.


      The first act of Skyscraper is all about showing us stuff that pays off later. We're walked through this magnificent high tech tower in Hong Kong called The Pearl and things big and small are set up to be revisited later, from giant wind turbines to a garden section in the middle to even a sword hanging on the wall of the CEO's penthouse apartment.


      While the script, written by director Rawson Marshall Thurber, won't be winning any awards it's tighter than you'd expect and does right by its lead characters. Yes, there's Dwayne Johnson's one-legged security specialist Will Sawyer who is instantly likable and heroic and all that, but there's also his wife, Sarah, played by Neve Campbell, who skirts the typical damsel in distress trope. She's always proactive from scene one and nobody's victim. She's smart, kind, supportive, instantly catches on that something's wrong and calmly goes about finding a way out for her and her children. In any other big blockbuster type movie she'd just be waiting for the hero to come rescue her, but not here. It's a welcome breath of fresh air and Neve Campbell gives it her all.


      Johnson is his typical bundle of muscle, sweat and charm. Gotta hand it to The Rock. That dude never phones in a performance, which is crucial when you're dealing with a story as silly as this. You want to see The Rock trying to jump into a fiery building from a construction crane.


      Skyscraper really is The Towering Inferno mixed with Die Hard, but leans more towards Towering Inferno than you may think.


      Despite what the many sequels try to tell you, the original Die Hard worked because Bruce Willis was an everyman, not an action hero. Willis has taken the mantle of the action star post-Die Hard, but you have to remember up to that point he was a comedic romantic leading man, famous mostly for his quick-witted banter with Cybill Shepherd on Moonlight. He wasn't a muscle-bound action hero, he was just a dude who got hurt and didn't just shrug off his injuries.


      That's not what Skyscraper is. It is physically impossible to make The Rock an everyman, and that's a compliment to the hardest working man in show business. Seeing him kick ass is why people buy tickets to his movies. He's more in the Schwarzenegger mold than early Willis and he uses that to his advantage every time out, especially in last year's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle where his perfectly sculpted body was the central joke.


      In short, Skyscraper delivers on what it promises. I doubt it'll ever be anybody's favorite movie, but it's an audience pleaser and never gets boring, which is the worst sin a movie like this could commit

    • Indiana Jones 5 Delayed! Disney shifts their schedule around!

      1 week ago

      ericvespe

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      There was a massive shift in Disney's release schedule today. Most of these new dates affect movies still in development, so don't worry. Avengers 4, Captain Marvel, Episode IX, Frozen 2 and all those are still coming when you expect them.


      Most of the moves are earlier than previously announced, the one exception being a big year push for Indiana Jones 5. Originally slated for 7/10/2020 the movie will now come out 7/09/2021. It makes sense, especially with the news that Solo's Jon Kasdan was reportedly doing a big rewrite after Spielberg regular David Koepp had his shot at the script.


      It's a bummer, but as long as they get it right and wash away the taste of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull they can take as much time as they need. 



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      Mary Poppins Returns moves up a week from December 25th to December 19th, The Rock's Jungle Cruise movie will release October 11th, 2019, Maleficent 2 will hit theaters May 29th, 2020 and an Untitled Marvel movie moves from July 30th, 2021 to February 12th, 2021.


      It's a good bet that the Untitled Marvel movie will be a Black Panther sequel since it's moving from a coveted summer slot to February, which was very, very good to the first Black Panther film, but that's just a guess. 


      So that's the big update. Still can't wait for Spielberg and Harrison Ford's final outing with Dr. Jones. Call me an optimist if you want, but I have a good feeling that they'll knock it out of the park.



    • Ant-Man and the Wasp is funny, entertaining, endearing and a little slight.

      1 week ago

      ericvespe

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      It's an interesting time for Marvel right now. We're smack dab in the middle of a changing of the guard. Many of the cornerstone characters aren't expected to make it out of the still untitled Avengers 4 while the newer, more fun characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man are going to be shouldering the weight of the MCU going forward.


      There's two movies between Infinity War and whatever its sequel will be called: Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel. Infinity War is the culmination of 10 years of Marvel cinematic storytelling and, as such, the film has a weight to it. Yes, people die and there are massive stakes, but even more than that the film has to shoulder an epic scope worthy of being the endgame of 10 years of tentpole filmmaking.


      So when I say that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a step back into a more innocent MCU style it's not a condemnation. It's a little refreshing, actually. The stakes here are personal and once again rooted in family. It's not the end of the world if Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne fail, but the emotional stakes are just as high for the characters.


      Ant-Man and the Wasp checks off all the MCU boxes. Young-ified actors in an opening flashback? Check. Goofy leading man? Got it. Light-hearted action scenes? Yeppers. Sons and daughters with mommy and/or daddy issues? All of it.


      The movie begins with Scott Lang on house arrest for helping out Captain America in Civil War. He's at the end of his two year sentence, just days away from having his ankle bracelet removed and being able to leave the confines of his admittedly very nice house. He can finally be a full father to his daughter and put his life of crime and crime-fighting behind him.


      Of course that's now how things play out. He's pulled into another adventure by Dr. Hank Pym and his daughter, Hope, and has to dodge his strangely nice FBI handler (played by the hugely likable Randall Park), keep ahead of a charismatic crime boss (Walton Goggins) and somehow fight a mysterious masked stranger who can phase in and out of reality (Hannah John-Kamen).


      Scott has some vital information that may save the original Wasp from the Quantum Realm, but is up against too much to face alone. There's not really a whole lot of resistance from him about teaming up with the Wasp, but that's okay. It fits his character and it's kind of nice to see a guy accept a strong female partner pretty much right off the bat instead of having to dramatically cope with his vision of his masculinity under threat.



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      Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are just as strong together in costume as they were as normal people in the first movie and Lilly in particular gets a lot of time in the spotlight here. She's way more proactive, pushing the narrative as she desperately tries to save her mother. Because Scott has to stay hidden or risk losing his family there's a story reason for Wasp to be the face of the fight and their main villain is powerful enough to warrant the tag team action.


      I found Ghost to be interesting, but a two-dimensional (yuk-yuk-yuk). Her character is tortured, in pain, and just wants to find a solution to her problem. That solution lies in Pym's tech and she doesn't care who she has to hurt (or even kill) to save her own skin. That's very rich, fertile ground, but just as soon as they introduce her they throw her out of the narrative for a full act. When she comes back into the fray she's almost cartoonishly villainous.



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      That's not a knock on Hannah John-Kamen's performance. She gives it her all and you can feel a character in pain in every moment of her screen time, but she's let down a little bit by the script.

      Speaking of there's a whole lot of telling instead of showing going on here. There are multiple moments where characters have long speeches telling you exactly who they are or exactly what they're doing. It effectively gets that information across, but it feels a little lazy to me. I much prefer finding out these details through the story unfolding instead of being told everything right up front.


      The funny thing is they make a joke out of this exact kind of monologuing early on with Randall Park's character, but then they proceed to actually do it right afterwards! It's like they were apologizing in advance for the shortcuts they were about to take.


      On a technical side this feels more fully a Peyton Reed joint. You can still feel some of Edgar Wright's fingerprints on the first movie, but this one is totally Reed and Paul Rudd. The goofy stuff is at the forefront (I mean, you saw the giant ant playing drums in the trailer, right?) and the action scenes are fun, but a bit on the standard side. The focus instead is on character emotion and making damn sure you have a good, light, fun time at the movies.


      That's not a bad thing, but if you don't find yourself automatically on the Marvel train then you probably aren't going to love this one. On the other hand, if you're down with the MCU then you'll enjoy yourself here.


      Once again Michael Peña and Scott's ragtag friends steal the show. Peña has so much heart and childlike awe and wonder that it can't help but infect the audience with his positivity. Both TI and David Dastmalchian get expanded roles, too, and are so fun together that I'd totally watch a movie of just those guys running a security company as all the superhero shit goes down off-screen.


      Laurence Fishburne and Michelle Pfeiffer are good additions to this universe. Pfeiffer gets to be pretty badass but doesn't have a whole lot to do just yet. Fishburne's character's troubled history with Hank Pym is some of my favorite new stuff added in this film. Bill Foster has a solid moral compass, but has also been harboring resentment towards Pym for decades. Again, nice rich character detail but it's pretty background stuff.


      I don't know what it says about the movie that some of its flaws is that there's way too much good stuff in there that I wanted to see more of. If Walton Goggins had 20 minutes more screentime I wouldn't have been upset about that, either.


      At the end of the day, this flick is fun and adds a few more shades to the MCU. That's all it wants to do and it delivers. It'll be a good test to see if audiences on the whole reject a return to a more slight, character-focused version of an MCU movie or if post-Infinity War they will only accept huge superhero movies with 17 characters on screen at any given time. I have a feeling it's the former, but we'll soon see. 


      All I know is I liked it and feel good recommending it to people. It won't change your life, but you won't feel ripped off paying for a ticket to see this one big.

    • Alex Wolff Discusses Going Through Hell To Make Hereditary!

      1 month ago

      ericvespe

      As you probably know by now, I adore Hereditary. I love, love, love, love that movie. I love how fucked up it is, I love writer/director Ari Aster's attention to detail, both visual and character-wise, I love the pacing, tone and acceleration into madness and I love how it has absolutely wrecked both audiences I've seen it with now.


      None of that would be possible without a kickass cast and while everybody shines this movie really boils down to Toni Collette and Alex Wolff for me. They get put through hell here and both absolutely shine in their roles.


      So you can imagine I was super psyched to get to talk with Alex Wolff about the making of this movie. The dude started off a Nickelodeon kid actor and has graduated to this incredibly complex, unquestionably fucked up role of a lifetime.


      I think we did a pretty good job of avoiding spoilers, so you should be free and clear on that front. Wolff was a very fun and funny interview, as you'll see by our very first interaction. He also proved to be a real-deal cinephile and actually knew his shit, which is refreshing when you're talking to someone so young.


      Enjoy the chat!



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      Alex Wolff: Hey, Eric.


      Eric Vespe: Hey, man. How're you doing?


      Alex Wolff: I'm good, I'm good. I'm in the middle of a junket and I'm looking at some pretty delicious breakfast, but I'm not going to be eating on the phone with you, so I'm just staring at it and it really, really looks good. Just know that's how much I care about you that I'm not just stuffing bacon into my mouth because it looks so good and if I have one bite that'll be it... Okay, I am going to eat it. I'm sorry. I care about you, but it looks too goddamn good.


      Eric Vespe: That's okay. I ask some pretty long-winded questions so there's plenty of chewing time to be had.


      Alex Wolff: Okay, great!


      Eric Vespe: So, your character is put through some crazy stuff in this movie...


      Alex Wolff: Yeah, no shit!


      Eric Vespe: Everybody goes through hell in this movie, but your character in particular is put through the ringer. I'd like to start by asking how you emotionally prepare for a role like this. I assume it's not as easy as just turning it on in front of the camera and turning it off when they yell cut. There's got to be some ramp up and cool down to go to the places that you go in this movie.


      Alex Wolff: Oh yeah. I think it's safe to say that I was deeply, deeply, deeply affected by every single moment that this character goes through. I kind of stayed in that space for the whole movie, so I left the movie with a little PTSD. It was a serious feat and a serious trauma. I feel super lucky that I got to do it, but it was definitely an upsetting thing to go through. Me and the director, Ari, had this sort of pact. We were like “Alright, let's both get into a kamikaze plane and crash into the ground. We'll both jump into the fire together and we'll both get burned and then we'll help lift each other up afterwards.” We had this very close, familial relationship throughout the movie.


      Eric Vespe: There's a scene in the movie I want to talk about. I was already onboard with this film, but there's a moment that happens about halfway through the movie where I went from just digging the movie to being fully invested and it's a moment that rests almost solely on a close up on you reacting to something horrific. How much pressure did that put on you? You have to do so much and there's no place for you to hide.


      Alex Wolff: Thank you so much, man.


      Eric Vespe: I think this moment really sets the movie on track for the craziness that follows and you sell it. Did you know all the time that Ari was going to milk your reaction as much as he did?


      Alex Wolff: I knew when I saw the movie. I didn't know. There were a lot of other things we did, but he chose to stay on that shot for so long. I'm glad because I gave it everything I had.


      It's one of those things that's hard to talk about. I just want people to see it for themselves. It was really upsetting to shoot. It's funny, we did that angle and I remember crying and sweating and Ari was hugging me. I thought I was done and I went back to the trailer, thinking it was over, and they were like “Actually, we're going to do one more. We're going to do a different shot.” I was like “Jesus Christ” So I had to get back into it. He used that, too. It's all in one close up, but he does use this one shot that's a little further back that is pretty upsetting, too.


      I just feel lucky that I have a director who trusted me enough as an actor that he'd hold it on my face. I really think Ari is a genius. He knows what he's doing.


      Eric Vespe: I got to talk to him a little bit...


      Alex Wolff: He's not a genius at interviews! But he's a genius at directing. (laughs)


      Eric Vespe: He said something really interesting about the influences he had for the movie, which were more '50s and '60s melodramas instead of horror. Did he give you any homework when you got the part? Any particular films he wanted you to watch?


      Alex Wolff: I'm a pretty big cinephile, so I take pride in the fact that there weren't many movies that he suggested that I hadn't seen, but there were some. I'd never seen In the Bedroom and I'd never seen The Ice Storm. He's also obsessed with Wong Kar-Wai and stuff, but those two movies he told me to watch them.


      Actually, no. I'd seen The Ice Storm before. I don't know what I'm talking about, but I watched it two or three times while making the movie and I watched In the Bedroom a few times. I'd just be keeping these movies on repeat. He's seen every single goddamn movie on planet Earth. I consider myself a pretty big cinephile and I've seen so many movies, but man, this motherfucker gave me a run for my money.



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      Eric Vespe: As a cinephile working with a fellow cinephile I would assume that helps strengthen the trust between you two and would give you some cinematic shorthand.


      Alex Wolff: Absolutely. A hundred percent. That was part of our initial connection and knowing we were on the same page with this movie.


      Eric Vespe: Did he bring any of that into the direction? Like “This is how this moment should be played, just like this moment in Hitchcock's Psycho.” That kind of thing.


      Alex Wolff: I remember one time he compared a moment to One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. He would sometimes bring references in, but he really wanted me to craft my own performance and he really wanted to craft his own movie. As much as we were inspired by other movies we never wanted to imitate other movies. We wanted to create our own thing. But it's really Ari, man. Ari's got a specific vision. He's a genius.


      Oh, and Chinatown. Chinatown was one we talked about All. The. Time.


      Eric Vespe: I like all the films you mentioned. There's such dark tones to The Ice Storm and Chinatown.


      Alex Wolff: Yeah, we never really talked about horror movies.


      Eric Vespe: Can you talk a little about the script? Was everything on the page? Did you know what you were in for from day one?


      Alex Wolff: I thought it was a great script, but I didn't quite know how uniquely it was going to be shot. I read the script a bunch of times. I read it about a year before I went in for it. I read it and I was like “This script is unbelievable.” I was terrified. It left a bad feeling in my stomach. At the end of reading it the first time my mom walked into my bedroom and I screamed out loud. It scared the shit out of me!


      I thought it was a unique, interesting script. Then I went in to audition for it and I had to break down and cry and all this stuff and the way he worked with actors... I was like “Okay, this is an amazing script, a delicate, intricate, specific script, with a director who cares about actors and knows how to work with actors.” Then I got on set and was like “Okay, this is a genius script where people talk how people actually talk. I have a director who is making sure the performances are grounded AND this camera shit he's doing is some of the craziest shit I've ever seen.” It felt like a triple punch. He knew exactly what he was doing in every sense of the word.


      Eric Vespe: Nice, so there was no first time feature filmmaker fear on your part, then?


      Alex Wolff: Well, I had a little bit of fear. This was a pretty big movie, a pretty crazy stunt to pull off for a first time director, so I was testing him and making sure. That scene where I'm under the bleachers is the moment I hold dearest to my heart and I was like “Hey, man. What do I do?” He was like “I think you should just have a panic attack.” That's awesome. It's a good way of saying it. “Just have a panic attack.”


      Eric Vespe: Thanks so much for your time. Hopefully you were able to sneak some bites of breakfast while we were talking!


      Alex Wolff: Thank you so much, Eric. I'll talk to you soon.



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      Hereditary opens this Friday. Go see it! Bring an extra set of underwear. You'll need it...

    • Hereditary Director Ari Aster Wants To Use Your Horror Expectations Against You!

      1 month ago

      ericvespe

      Hereditary is by far the most effective horror movie in recent memory. The downright creepy atmosphere gets under your skin, the tone lodges itself into your brain and sticks with you for days after seeing it and it will just generally kinda fuck you up for a while after seeing it.


      Who could be behind this extraordinarily macabre vision? A dark, brooding figure that lurks in the shadows, perhaps. Or maybe the kind of guy with sallow skin that you imagine has a basement full of amateur taxidermy.


      The reality is Ari Aster seems to be a normal dude. He looks like your next door neighbor or the enthusiast geeky cousin you had who will talk your ear off about classic cinema, whether you want them to or not.


      In person Aster is a shy, humble guy who seems a little surprised that people actually liked his movie. I saw him “Aw, shucks” his way through the Sundance Q&A after the premiere of this film back in January and that's how he came across when I got the chance to talk to him over the phone.


      He's also a major cinephile, so when the topic of influences comes up he has some very surprising answers. You'd think stuff like The Omen or Rosemary's Baby would be his keystone inspirations for this project, but you'd be mistaken.


      We keep the chat fairly spoiler-free, so don't worry about us ruining the experience. You do want to go into the film knowing as few of the surprises as possible, though. Aster talks about using your expectations against you in this movie and he ain't lyin'. There's some good “What the fuck!?!” moments to be had in this one.


      Enjoy the chat!



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      Eric Vespe: We haven't had a chance to meet yet, but I was in that very first Sundance screening of Hereditary where you scared the shit out of everybody for the first time. So, thanks for that.


      Ari Aster: Oh, wow. No, thank you!


      Eric Vespe: The amazing thing about a film festival that you don't get in today's movie-release world is that you can walk into a film completely blind. I can't tell you how much I loved being a part of that audience as we discovered your movie. Did you watch it that night or are you the kind of filmmaker that can't watch their stuff with a crowd?


      Ari Aster: That screening and the second screening I sat through. The first one there was a speaker down in the back of the theater, so I was actually having an extended panic attack through that screening. (laughs)


      But yeah, that was a great night. When you're in post on a movie like this you get so lost in the minutiae of just making the film and you forget what you made or what you're even trying to make or what steps you're going for on the audience. Especially since a horror film is all about audience engagement. But I'd honestly forgotten I'd even made a horror movie. At the end of the day you're just trying to make a movie that works, you know?


      Eric Vespe: Yeah, I remember at the Q&A you seemed surprised that the audience kept asking you about how you made the movie so damn creepy.


      Ari Aster: I was! I was! That night the prevailing feeling was one of release. “They didn't hate it! Great!” The next night we had a screening at the MARC theater, which was even bigger and all the speakers were working beautifully and I was past the fear of people hating it. It was really beautiful. The audience was going with the film, they were feeling it, it was effecting them.


      It was also a bit surprising to see how well people were receiving it because ultimately the goal was to make a very alienating, upsetting movie. So it's been a nice surprise to see people are embracing this, like, kind of evil thing.


      Eric Vespe: You do something with tone that I think so many people who make scary movies don't do. A lot of people want to make fun horror movies, not a lot seem to want to make an upsetting horror movie. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the key to your success here is you take an old school Rosemary's Baby style approach to this where you focus on character drama first and foremost.


      Ari Aster: Thank you, yeah. I did want to go the way of the long, deliberate runway. I wanted to make a film that was grounded in a place of character and let everything grow out of that. When I was pitching the film I was never pitching it as a horror film. I do hope it delivers as a horror film, but the way I was pitching it was always as a family tragedy that warps into a nightmare.


      I wanted it to feel like a nightmare in the way that life can sometimes feel like a nightmare when real disaster strikes. In that way, I feel like the film is as much of a melodrama as much as it is a horror film. I like horror movies, but I love melodramas! In the melodramatic tradition, the movie sympathetically attaches itself to these people and what they're going through. It tries to honor the feelings by going all the way into them. I wanted to make a film that collapses under the weight of what these people are going through. I wanted the fabric of the film to tear open because it's so full of toxic, unresolvable feelings.


      Eric Vespe: It's funny that you mention melodrama because there was a film that your movie reminded me of a little bit, but I didn't think it was at all intentional and it was just me connecting dots that weren't there. It's a great Technicolor melodrama called Bigger Than Life with James Mason...


      Ari Aster: I love Bigger Than Life! Nicholas Ray.


      Eric Vespe: That movie is not at all genre, but it has a disturbing tone to it, too, as we see a family breaking down before our eyes.



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      Ari Aster: I can't say I was thinking about Bigger Than Life for this one, but I love Bigger Than Life and the films of Nicholas Ray are kind of in my bones at this point just because I grew up loving them so much.


      I think, if anything, this film owes something of a debt to Douglas Sirk, especially Imitation of Life, which has a lot in common with Mildred Pierce in that it's a movie about your child turning on you, but this film also plays a lot with the idea of your parent turning on you.


      But Sirk has always bothered me. What he does with color, his sets are so artificial and garish... he was really brilliant. When I think of the end of Imitation of Life, where there's this funeral parade in the streets where everybody is dressed in these really bright pastel colors... there's something so perverse about that. There this incongruity to the images and what he's doing. He's doing two things at once that really have no business with each other.


      I first saw those films when I was a kid and I couldn't make sense of them. They confused me. They really got to me. Now I have a stronger visual vocabulary and I can see what he's doing, but the perversity of those films still really ticks at me.



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      Eric Vespe: Those films really push their actors. James Mason in Bigger Than Life really goes for it as his character's fragile mental state cracks and shatters. He goes into some really dark places. That's the connection I made to your movie. You put poor Toni Collette and Alex Wolff through the ringer in this movie. How did your cast respond to you pushing them so far?


      Ari Aster: They were all very game, so I was lucky to have actors who were willing to go all the way and dive into this. It's a very intense movie and I was asking them to go to very dark places. To everyone's credit in the film nobody was holding anything back.


      The film is dealing a lot with catharsis. There are all these things being built up and built up and built up and then finally there's this upsetting release.


      Eric Vespe: That's a great way to put it. At that Sundance screening I remember looking at the people around me in that last 20 minutes and everybody was transfixed on the screen, not blinking. They were so into it. That kind of audience involvement gets me excited to watch the movie again with a new crowd.


      Ari Aster: That's one reason that I really love genre, especially the horror genre, because there are these expectations and tropes. Once you introduce one trope it lulls people into their seats. Most of the people who are in that theater are people who watch horror movies. If you're somebody who really likes horror movies you're aware of all the sub-categories and you're aware of what this device means. So, if this device appears that suggests we're going in this direction.


      There's a complacency that comes with watching a horror film. At the same time people are walking in and there's this mutual dare. The filmmaker is daring you to come in and the audience is daring the filmmaker to try to scare them. There's something very fun about establishing tropes that people recognize. I think the first third of the movie does do that. It's sort of nodding towards certain films and certain traditions and I'm hoping what it does then is it upends them in a brutal way. If you do that right it kind of shocks you out of your complacency.


      I'm always so excited when I'm watching a film and I think I know where it's going and then I suddenly realize that I'm not in control of this experience. I'm really hoping that, if anything, the movie does that.



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      Eric Vespe: I can't speak for everybody, but that's certainly the effect that it had on me. You're right, when you're not sure what's coming next you feel strangely vulnerable.


      Ari Aster: Thank you. It's the Psycho thing, right? We're with Janet Leigh, she's stolen the money and I'm sure people are a little bit weary because they know the movie's called “Psycho” if they're seeing it for the first time in 1960, but we're with her. She's stolen the money, but she's decided to bring it back. She's learned her lesson. Okay. We're with her, we like her and then she's stabbed to death in the shower. Now what?


      I'm hoping that Hereditary does something similar to that where there's a kind of shared trauma among the audience that then joins you to the experience of the characters in the film. If you have that complacency that I'm talking about where you sink into a movie and you know this trope and you know this device and you watch it at a distance, where the audience is kind of elevated above the material and they're looking down at it and they're judging it from a more clinical place. But if you a delivered a blow that is tied to the blow that the characters in the film suffer that, I hope, brings you back down to the plane of the movie and hopefully you're in it now. Hopefully now you're at the film's mercy.



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    • Upgrade Director Leigh Whannell Discusses His Geeky Influences And Why "Gimmick" Shouldn't Be A Dirty Word

      1 month ago

      ericvespe

      There's a lot of good genre on the way. Next week sees one of the best horror films of the year, Hereditary, hitting theater screens and this weekend we have a straight up fun sci-fi action/body horror movie called Upgrade. The movie's about a guy who is paralyzed and used as a guinea pig by an eccentric Elon Musk type that claims his new AI can help paraplegics walk again. Naturally there's unseen consequences to this decision, including a kind of Gollum/Smeagol relationship that forms between the lead and the computer voice in his head.


      The movie was written and directed by Leigh Whannell, one of the masterminds behind the original Saw and Insidious. Upgrade is crazy, playing like a real-deal movie version of the best '90s direct to VHS movie you never saw. It's fun, but not stupid if you catch my drift.


      There's a clear sense of Whannell channeling some of his cinematic fetishes into this story, so when I had the chance to talk to him about it that's what we focus on. We discuss the evolution of his movie tastes and how that mirrored my own. In short, it's a chat that movie geeks can relate to. If that sounds like you, then enjoy yourself!


      We do talk about Upgrade, too, don't worry. We don't spoil anything either. Double bonus!


      Hope you folks enjoy the chat!



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      Eric Vespe: Everybody who is a big movie fan has that core group of movies or a particular genre that they loved growing up. What were yours?


      Leigh Whannell: I guess it went in stages. It depends at which age you'd ask me. When I was 5 or 6 I was your pretty typical Star Wars kid, loving Star Wars, watching a VHS copy of that until it was completely worn out. Raiders of the Lost Ark... But actually my favorite film of that era was Jaws. Even more than Star Wars! I guess that maybe signposts an early love of horror, but I just loved Jaws so much. I was obsessed with movies.


      As I got a bit older and was in my early teens I was basically loving video store staples. I grew up in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. It was very suburban and I wasn't deviating from the standard Die Hard/RoboCop/Lethal Weapon path. My parents weren't forcing me to watch Last Year at Marienbad, that's for sure. (laughs)


      Through my teen years I loved genre films... horror films, sci-fi, stuff like Aliens. Then when I got into film school, that's when your palate gets expanded. All of a sudden you're watching foreign films you don't have access to in the suburbs of Melbourne. My local video store wasn't stocking Wim Wenders films! It's almost like A Clockwork Orange. They sit you in a chair and forcibly make you watch all this stuff from all over the world, from different time periods. I'd say that was the final evolution with me, in terms of my taste in films.


      It's amazing, though, that as an adult, the films that I go back to are the ones I loved as a teenager. It's almost like comfort food for my soul. To sit down and watch Big Trouble In Little China, for me, is such comfort food.


      Eric Vespe: I know what you mean. There are certain films that are “Any Time Movies.” No matter what mood you're in... if you're down, they'll bring you up, if you're happy they'll just magnify that. Big Trouble is definitely one of those. Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Big Lebowski, Little Shop of Horrors are big ones for me.


      Leigh Whannell: Yep, yep. There's just a few that no matter will just put you there. E.T. is one for me. I can keep going back to E.T.


      Eric Vespe: I think anybody who's a big movie fan will recognize that trajectory. I remember I took a film appreciation class at UT and while I dabbled in older cinema that's where I really became obsessed with it. The professor showed us Sunset Boulevard and it blew my mind. It got me to commit to exploring older films.


      Leigh Whannell: Yeah, I think you're right. You have these watershed moments. I guess it's similar with music. Your music tastes evolve as you get older and you end up having these seminal moments when you're exposed to something that changes the trajectory of your musical tastes. And that happens with movies.


      I was not deviating from the standard Die Hard path. All the suburban kids around me where I grew up, they loved Die Hard, too. They loved The Crow and Lethal Weapon and all this standard Hollywood action stuff, but I remember... I think it was my last year of high school, I ended up renting Reservoir Dogs on VHS and that was definitely a watershed moment. It was a huge moment. It stood out and marked itself as more special, somehow, than those other movies, those standard Hollywood action movies of the '80s and '90s.


      I remember being excited about that film in a way that I hadn't been about other films. You're right. You can always look back and map out these points... they're kind of like the Monolith in 2001. They come to visit the monkeys every hundred years and shove us into the future.


      Reservoir Dogs was definitely a black Monolith in the desert for me. It started me investigating movies in a different way. Instead of caring about who was in the movie, I wanted to know who was making the movie; who was behind the camera. That's not something I thought up prior to Reservoir Dogs.


      I remember in that moment in time, with Tarantino, suddenly being a filmmaker was cool. It wasn't about being the movie star. In fact, I'd say that Tarantino was a much bigger star than any of this cast members.


      These all add up to a picture when you stand back and look at them.


      Eric Vespe: Yep. That era was full of that phenomenon. You had Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Smith as well, who were more famous than most of the name actors in their movies.


      Leigh Whannell: Exactly.


      Eric Vespe: I have a similar story... The short version is a friend of the family was a big movie nerd, so she'd take me out to see movies every weekend. She liked all sorts of movies, I was definitely more interested in genre. Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein had just come out and I wanted to see that. She said she'd take me to that if I'd go see this John Travolta movie after. I saw Frankenstein and hated it. I was fuming because the movie I wanted to see sucked and now I had to go see this stupid art house movie with the guy from Look Who's Talking in it. That one was, of course, Pulp Fiction.


      Leigh Whannell: (laughs) That's such a good consolation prize!


      Eric Vespe: Within the first five minutes of that movie my world had changed. There was something so different about film. It legitimately blew the doors open for me.


      Leigh Whannell: People really propagate the mythology of the cinema of the '70s, that auteur era with Francis Coppola and William Friedkin and Steven Spielberg, but for people my age the '90s were really that moment. All of a sudden you cared about movies in a different way. Even the biggest redneck living in my suburban neighborhood had copies of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack! That's something that would not have happened prior to that film. It was such an explosion in the culture that it seeped out to the people who normally wouldn't care about stuff like that. Even my mum knows who Quentin Tarantino is, which is pretty amazing because I doubt she could name any other film directors. It was a huge time, an exciting time.



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      Eric Vespe: What I liked about Upgrade is that feels like a throwback film. The world is over the top, it has some ridiculous conceits in it, but you as a filmmaker takes it seriously, which I think is the magic formula of making a movie fun. I see a lot of movies that are super serious, I see a lot of movies that are super silly. I don't see a lot of people striving for that balance. Can you talk a little about hitting that tricky balance and maybe how some of the stuff you loved growing up fed into that?


      Leigh Whannell: Well, I'm definitely influenced by those films that I mentioned growing up. I always loved contained sci-fi and movies with a dark, film noir bent to them, especially if they incorporated sci-fi. If you look back at the first Terminator film, it's kind of a mixture between a horror film, a film noir, set in the alleyways of Los Angeles and a sci-fi movie, but it's got this punk energy to it.


      Sometimes they're very literal about those things. For instance, the first group of guys that the Terminator kills is a group of punks. The nightclub where Sarah Connor hides out is called Tech Noir. I've read plenty of stuff about that movie and James Cameron always coined the genre that way. He thought he was making a tech noir film.



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      One could look at as a marketing gimmick, but it's something he really bought into. You can't help what you love and I've always just loved that. I love movies that leave you with something, movies that aspire to change your perception of story. I guess I'm trying to dance around the word “gimmick.” It's such a dirty word, but I get really excited by “gimmick movies.”


      When I first saw Memento I loved it. The whole gimmick of that movie playing backwards was exciting to me. I loved Run, Lola, Run and the gimmick of seeing the same story play out three times. Of course it has to be a good movie. You can't let the gimmick itself sell the movie. You have to make a good film, but I don't see anything wrong with a gimmick.


      I love movies that try to push the genre they're working in and frame the narrative in an interesting way, whether it's playing it out backwards or repeating the same story three times. I've always kind of written to that. Even the first Saw movie was a non-linear film. I wanted to tell a thriller that was out of order, that felt like you were waking up from being unconscious and were remembering things.


      Upgrade was kind of that to me. Some may look at it and sneer and say “What did you think was interesting about this?” But to me the idea of a character in a movie that was purely a voice in a guy's head... I found that really interesting. I feel like you always end up writing the movie you want to see and I feel like if I was 20 years old I would want to see Upgrade. That's a movie that's framed in a way that would excite me. That's what I'm always striving for. I want to satisfy the 20 year old movie-going version of me.


      Eric Vespe: I think you do a good job with that here, for sure. Even people that I've seen that didn't love the movie all say “If I'd seen this when I was 15 it would have been my favorite movie ever!”


      Leigh Whannell: (Laughs) I've seen a lot of reviews of this movie that are positive. I've lost count of the ones that say “It's silly. It's dumb fun, but it's great!” I'm like, “I thought when I made a film that good reviews the reviews would actually be good!”


      Eric Vespe: (laughs) They're positive backhanded reviews is what you're saying?


      Leigh Whannell: Yeah. My cheek is just red and stinging from the amount of backhanded compliments I've received on this one, but what're you going to do? Once the movie leaves your hands it's not yours anymore and you can't control the perception of it. You just let it go.


      Eric Vespe: Awesome, man. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me. Good luck with the release!


      Leigh Whannell: Thank you, mate. I appreciate it!



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      Upgrade is in theaters this weekend! Give it a shot if you like fun things!

    • The History of Star Wars Fandom and How That Relates To Solo: A Star Wars Story

      1 month ago

      ericvespe

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      A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Star Wars fandom was united. It was generally accepted that A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and most of Return of the Jedi were good, the Ewok spin-off movies and the Holiday Special were bad and all was right in the world


      Sure, Ewoks were always divisive, but a lot of the Return of the Jedi hate that has become commonly accepted didn't seem to pop up until around the time the Special Editions were released. As someone who was there I don't remember anybody talking shit about the movie on the whole. Ewoks, absolutely, but most people loved how the Vader/Luke/Emperor storyline played out, thought the Jabba sequence was rad as hell and the Redwoods speeder chase the most thrilling thing since the original trench run.



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      Then the Special Editions happened and that was a huge event. The movies were all #1 again at the box office, but all the early days CGI soured the experience a little and then became giant points of contention when George Lucas refused to let people own the actual versions they fell in love with to begin with.


      But we all still mostly agreed on Star Wars. At least on all the important things anyway. Some of us spun off to the Extended Universe books, some of us stuck with the movies as our canon, but we all basked in the same loving glow of this series we all adored.


      Then the dark days began. For me it was sitting in the Regal Metropolitan's biggest house after waiting in line for 2 weeks for The Phantom Menace. The opening crawl went by and the audience was going absolutely batshit. It was the first official, real-deal Star Wars anything in 16 years and it was finally here. Then the Neimoidians spoke. I'll always remember the line-reading. “Yes, of course. As you know our blockade is perfectly legal.” The emphasis was on all the wrong syllables and it sounded like a white guy playing a 1940s-era Asian stereotype.



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      There was a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and the whole temperature of the room changed like an invisible wet blanket smothered the audience's enthusiasm at the same time. That movie has high highs (Darth Maul, a cool lightsaber fight, the remarkably thrilling podrace sequence) and low lows (pretty much every line of dialogue stiltedly spoken, a convoluted, boring plot about trade embargoes and resource hording, and front to back bad acting from good actors), which left me in a daze when I exited the theater.


      Episode 1 couldn't be bad. It's Star Wars and no official Star Wars Saga movie had been bad before, so it must be me. I rewatched it a half dozen times that summer and every successive screening made me angrier and angrier at the stuff that didn't work.


      You may love the prequels, you may hate them or you may feel indifferent about them, but it's undeniable that they deeply fractured Star Wars fandom. I thought I had moved on from that franchise until The Clone Wars was able to retroactively improve the nonsense of the prequels. Suddenly Anakin was a multi-dimensional character and I actually bought him as a good guy worth saving. Suddenly the Clones had personality and were rich characters. Suddenly the Jedi weren't just boring dudes sitting in a circle debating about mundane bullshit. I still may not love the prequels, but The Clone Wars and, later, Rebels, helped me come to terms with them.


      Then the Disney era came and for a brief time fandom was reunited again. Maybe not as permanently or purely as they were in the good ol' days, but that level of excitement between when Episode 7 was announced and it premiering was the closest I've felt to pure unity since the lead up to Episode 1.


      Again, there were always minor squabbles and some cynicism, but on the whole the question of what this new Star Wars was going to be enraptured most of us. The guessing game and slow glimpses behind the scenes and wait for that first trailer... it all felt fun again.



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      There's a reason The Force Awakens broke box office records and had huge legs. It was a fantastically fun movie with one foot planted firmly in nostalgia with the legacy characters and a rehash of A New Hope's basic structure and one foot taking a giant step forward, introducing us to a whole new cast of lead characters that somehow felt perfectly Star Warsian.


      Rey, Finn, Poe, BB-8, Kylo Ren... they all felt like part of this universe without being direct repeats of what came before, thanks in large part to the smart decision to mix and match Star Wars character tropes. There isn't a Han Solo type. Finn and Poe have elements of the charming scoundrel, but Poe also has Luke's almost naive optimism. Rey has Luke's pure-hearted earnestness as well as a dash of Han's roughness and Leia's get-shit-done attitude, for example.


      But even this very crowd-pleasing movie couldn't completely heal the fractured fanbase. The cracks started showing up again, this time with a heavily misogynistic flavor that puts a bad taste in my mouth. The same people who believed a young man intuitively strong with the Force but without any training whatsoever could use the Force to essentially dunk a basketball from outside the stadium said that it was unrealistic that a girl who had fought for her life since she was a child could swing a lightsaber.


      That's not to say everybody who dislikes the new characters or how they're executed are misogynists or racists. I want to be clear about that because saying something that definitive undercuts the discussion at large and automatically paints anybody who disagrees with me in the most negative light possible. I would never assume that's where you're starting from if you dislike the new Disney-era saga films. However it is fair to say that if you are racist and/or misogynist odds are you hate these new movies.



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      Star Wars has always been progressive. The very first film is an allegory for Vietnam, which means the evil Empire is the American Military Industry, folks. They may dress like Nazis, but the Empire is a stand in for America and the evil Emperor was Nixon. Don't take my word for it, Lucas says it here.


      But a lot of fans were happy to keep all that as subtext and weren't comfortable when that progressiveness was put on full display in the new era.


      Yes, some prequel haters were dismissive of prequel apologists and that conversation was hardly ever cordial and very often heated, but there's a meanness to the fanbase now. Maybe, like the MAGA hat wearing bullies that have sprung up in the last two years, the mean Star Wars fan was always there and just afraid to go full bore until now, but it's happening.


      That all came to a head with The Last Jedi's release. One more time, in case you missed it, I'm not saying that if you disliked any aspect of Episode 8 you are automatically lumped in with the worst of the worst. It's totally fair to not want to see Star Wars evolve past the icons that you love and that's what that film was about. Remember them, use that memory to inspire the next generation, but it's not their time anymore. We see that on the light side with grumpy old man Luke's storyline and you see that on the dark side with Kylo Ren finally evolving past just trying to imitate Vader.


      That brings us to Solo. The reason I spent so so so much time outlining the history of Star Wars fandom is because I believe where you fit into the current Star Wars fandom will determine how you react to Solo.



      solo-product-preview-tall-A.png



      I think those that loved the direction The Last Jedi and, to a degree, The Force Awakens were going in will feel like Solo is a step backwards. Their interest will be muted because it's not a story about pushing the overall lore forward. It's a nostalgia bath that wants you to relax in the warm waters of characters and iconography most of us grew up with.


      There's no real attempt at gaining any deeper understanding of the characters you already know and love. They're so focused on just making them look and feel right that any deeper reason for this movie to exist within the established lore is thrown out the window.


      For me that was frustrating. We'd get little glimpses going in that direction. In particular there's a conversation between Han and Lando where they're getting to know each other and talk a bit about their parents. The way Lando talks about his awesome mother piqued my interest. It was the first time I felt like they were exploring something about that character I didn't already know, but it's dropped as soon as it is brought up.


      And that's fine. It's not what I want out of Star Wars at this point, but I'm sure it's what a lot of people do want. They just want a fun story told in an exciting way with the characters they loved. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's not all that interesting to me.


      But I'm the guy that never really got into the Extended Universe books either. I liked what I read just fine, but they just never felt like real Star Wars to me. They did for a whole lot of people, but I wasn't one of them, despite trying as hard as I could to be one.


      Solo is made for those people. It really does feel like a movie adaptation of an EU book that never was and for some that will be music to their ears.


      Whether you will think Solo is good, bad or mediocre will entirely depend on what you want out of Star Wars. My guess is that history will show it as an entertaining, but inconsequential addition to the overall lore, but only time will tell.


      On a technical level it's a solid movie. There are a couple really thrilling action sequences, one involving a train heist and one being a rather creative envisioning of the Kessel Run. These sequences are unquestionably well-executed. Towards the end they finally go for the character complexity I was hoping for with a band of pirates and smugglers, but at that point it felt like too little too late to me.


      The idea of doing a Han Solo on his pirate adventures story is pretty fun, but much like Rogue One I felt like they missed the target on integrating a famous cinematic genre into Star Wars. If they made Heat, but in Star Wars or even The French Connection, but in Star Wars, that would have been amazing, but we don't get nearly enough of the smuggler life or spend enough time in the gritty criminal underbelly of this universe. That stuff felt like a side note, kind of like how the Men On A Mission aspect of Rogue One was backgrounded pretty much until the final third and we never got to see those people actually work as a team until the big mission... when they're all separated anyway.



      solo-a-star-wars-story-20.jpg



      Everything you've heard about Donald Glover's Lando is spot-on. He's got the charisma and chops to make me buy that he's Lando. Alden Ehrenreich is trying his damndest to pull off young Harrison Ford's swagger and he succeeds on some levels, but the fact that Glover seems to do it so effortlessly really shows how much Alden's struggling to find that pencil line thin balance between capturing a character's essence and just giving us an imitation.


      It made me wish this wasn't a story about Han Solo, to be honest. If Ehrenreich was playing a character in the Han Solo mold then I think he would have been freer to try different things and make it his own.


      I have some issues with where things leave off at the end, particularly when it comes to Solo himself. I kinda feel like it undercuts who he is at the beginning of A New Hope, but I'm not too much of a stickler about that because there is still a question about stuff that could happen between the end of Solo and the beginning of A New Hope.


      The score is pretty damn good, as to be expected. Some great themes return at the right moments and really help give those big scenes the Star Wars feel. John Powell does a fine job at keeping the non-John Williams cues feeling like Star Wars and not a pale imitation, which is a tall order.



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      Ron Howard is a guy who knows how to put a film together. He has decades of experience telling him what angles work best for what scene, how to manipulate the edit and to keep the pace going, but there's not much of a director's voice on display. He does a solid job, no doubt, but I didn't feel like there was anything special going on, which is kind of my issue with the entire movie to be honest. Maybe if he had been able to build this one from the ground up instead of pinch-hitting when things went bad between Lucasfilm and Chris Miller and Phil Lord things could have been different, but that's not what we got here.


      At the press screening there was a bit of a technical difficulty. Right in the middle of the movie, just as the main heist was about to begin, the screen went dark, but the audio kept playing. This went on for about 60 seconds and then the projectionist stopped it and rewound the film. The problem was they rewound it almost a full reel, maybe 15 minutes.


      As I rewatched those 15 minutes I found I was bored, which doesn't bode well for my next actual re-watch. If that had happened during The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi or literally any original trilogy movie I wouldn't have felt that way, but I did here and that might be the most blisteringly critical thing I could say about the movie.


      It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad fan if all you want is to cuddle up to an old friend and bask in nostalgia for 2 hours and 15 minutes. If that's what you want then you'll get your money's worth here. If you want something a little deeper then you might find this journey into the Star Wars universe a little hollow.

    • Captain Marvel Enlists Annette Bening!

      2 months ago

      ericvespe

      You know, I love it when the MCU lands big, serious actors. I mean, superhero movies on the whole don't have a problem hiring all sorts of actors, from A-list to Oscar types, like Viola Davis and Will Smith in Suicide Squad or Benedict Cumberbatch for Dr. Strange or Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, but occasionally there's a bit of old school casting that makes me sit up and take notice.


      Gary Shandling in Iron Man 2 was the first one. I just never pictured a world in which Larry Sanders himself would be on screen with Tony Stark. Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was another happy surprise.


      The biggest get up to this point was Robert Redford in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Him being the big bad guy of that film helped Winter Soldier set a new tone for the MCU. It's still got goofy comic book shit in it (the whole Zola/Talking Computer sequence for instance), but there's a degree of legitimacy that comes with someone like Redford.


      It seems like Captain Marvel is going in that same direction, at least in terms of casting. The Hollywood Reporter has a story saying that Annette Bening was cast in a secretive role that is most likely a scientist of some sort. 



      Annette-Bening.jpg




      Bening doesn't do a lot of giant budget movies and when she does they tend to be weird. Mars Attacks jumps to mind. Her big films all seem to be awards stuff, like American Beauty. She usually stays in the more serious adult drama world so when she signs up for something like Captain Marvel that tells me she believes in the story being told and/or really wants some of that sweet, sweet comic book movie money.


      Either way it's an exciting development for MCU fans. 

  • Comments (8)

    • Izayer FIRST Member Star(s) Indication of membership status - One star is a FIRST member, two stars is Double Gold Keeper of Stories

      8 months ago

      Wow. I remember when the podcast guys talked about you when they were still the Drunk Tank. Welcome. I'm sure that RT will regret love having you write for The Know! Welcome aboard!

    • prydie

      8 months ago

      Great to see you've found a new home! Looking forward to more of your work.

    • SailorGirl81 FIRST Member Star(s) Indication of membership status - One star is a FIRST member, two stars is Double Gold Keeper Of Kittens

      8 months ago

      Welcome to Rooster Teeth and The Know!

    • RiverRunning

      8 months ago

      Hello :)

    • RWBimbie Keeper of Poems

      8 months ago

      Heyo !

    • ItsMeMara FIRST Member Star(s) Indication of membership status - One star is a FIRST member, two stars is Double Gold

      8 months ago

      Welcome to The Know can't wait to see what you bring to the community!!

    • EricHVela FIRST Member Star(s) Indication of membership status - One star is a FIRST member, two stars is Double Gold Matador Computador ¡Olé!

      8 months ago

      MOVIES!


      I mean...


      WELCOME!


      (and MOVIES!)

    • Donjre

      8 months ago

      Welcome!

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    Hokey Religions and Ancient Weapons Are No Match For A Good Blaster At Your Side

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  • Questions answered by ericvespe

    I curate a pretty solid Twitter stream filled with entertainment reporters, aggregators, actors, directors, producers and just plain ol' cinephiles. That means there's commentary for just about every bit of news that comes down the pipe. I also check out the scoopers regularly. Deadline, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, etc. 


    Good luck on the director goal. It's a lot of work, but if you've got stories to tell then you're in the right field! 

    Favorite 80s movie monster and why?

    | Asked by: Xuelder 8 months ago

    This is an excellent question. Do you go by design? Quality of the movie or series they're in? Lasting chills? Design would be between Predator, Pumpkinhead and Gill-Man from Monster Squad (all created by the late, great Stan Winston, by the way). I watched more Friday the 13th movies growing up than I did Nightmare on Elm Street, but I like the character of Freddy more, especially in that first film and Dream Warriors. It might not be the most original answer, but I'd probably go with Freddy.

    Absolutely not. That's what being a geek is all about. I can't tell you how many cool, random, weird movies I've found while chasing down movies with favorite character actors in it or directed by people I dig. That's the fun of all this!

    Honestly (and I know this makes me sound like a politician, but it's true) I love all kinds of movies. It's hard for me to pick between Jaws and Casablanca or The Exorcist and Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather. I definitely have a soft spot for horror and sci-fi and I'm usually more willing to give a new random horror flick a shot over some drama I've never heard about.

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