Archive for category Drama

Interview with Steven Bartle [Part 2]

Photo of the 'God Save the King' Poster

Courtesy of Steven Bartle

In the first segment of my interview with Steven Bartle, the U.K. actor and writer told me about how his medical discharge from the Royal Marines Commandos shaped the story of his upcoming film short, Recoil. Bartle is very busy on other projects like Distant Love and God Save the King.

As a film producer, are you getting the music for Recoil, too?

I’m currently working with a well-known British producer called Damon Hess, who is doing some of the music for Recoil. It’s a very exciting time to be working with an artist such as Damon. He is collaborating with [DJ and singer] Sonique on a brand new release for Reckless Records due out in the summer.

Tell us about Distant Love, another short film.

Distant Love is actually the first [short] film that I’ve written fully. The husband is doing everything he can to save his marriage that’s falling apart in his eyes. As far as he’s aware, he’s done nothing wrong. He treats his wife like the princess she deserves! But she’s throwing everything back in his face and treating him like he’s not there. In the end, we’re left with this huge twist that I’m not going to reveal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Interview with UK Actor Steven Bartle [Part 1]

Photo of Steven Bartle

Steven Bartle, Courtesy of Bartle Productions

I want to spotlight StevenBartle: an actor, writer, and producer who currently resides in London. Originally from Sheffield, Bartle was a Royal Marines Commando until 2010, when he was injured in an attack that left him blind in one eye and unable to continue in the service. The young man was determined to make a fresh start, which came to be in his passion for acting. The 26-year-old was happy to Skype with me last month to discuss his career and reveal his upcoming projects.

How did you decide to get into acting?

I always wanted to be an actor. However, I never had the courage to do it. I never believed in myself. I went and joined the [Royal] Marines. After that [ended], I was just overcoming some very dark personal issues. I was starting to really think that I may as well come out of that and pursue what I really want in life and not be scared anymore. Read the rest of this entry »

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Whistler Film Festival: ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson’

The Case of the Sympathetic Barber

About thirty minutes before his Red Carpet appearance, Robert Carlyle gave his frank opinion about the titular character from The Legend of Barney Thomson. “He’s not a very nice person, this Barney,” the Once Upon a Time star admitted at the Whistler Film Festival, where his directorial debut was welcomed for its North American premiere. “It’s one of the most difficult things about the script: How do I play this guy and make him somehow sympathetic? Because he’s a tit, he really is!”

Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle in his directorial debut, ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

It helps immensely that Carlyle dwarfs Barney’s unpleasant “outbursts” towards customers by bringing on the full force of an outrageous personality like Cemolina. Emma Thompson, a two-time Academy-Award-winning actress, is both delightful and horrifying as Barney’s mother. Only two years older than Carlyle, Thompson benefited from the expertise of Mark Coulier (Spectre, Iron Lady) for the prosthetic make-up design needed to transform her into the feisty Scottish woman. It’s Emma Thompson as you’ve never seen her.

Despite being in her seventies, Cemolina stays active with her betting at the dog races, her lively Bingo nights, and old lady dance parties. But by no means would we ever expect her to garner the accolade of “Mother of the Year” for the scathing verbal abuse she unleashes on Barney, the hapless and lonely barber. “I never saw the f***ing point of you,” she tells her long-suffering son. Ouch.

A View from the Barber’s Chair

The Legend of Barney Thomson follows the misadventures of Barney, who has been relegated to the last chair at rear of Henderson’s Barbershop. About to be fired, he accidentally kills his boss (Stephen McCole) and attracts the fierce scrutiny of Detective Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) and Detective Sergeant MacPherson (Kevin Guthrie). The citizenry of Glasgow are on edge about a strange wave of murders carried out by a killer who mails body parts to the loved ones. An overwhelmed Barney turns to his mother for help, which leads him to uncover some startling revelations. He’s also at a loss about what to do with his so-called friend, Charlie (Brian Pettifer), who connects the dots about the unfortunate accidents at the barbershop.

Robert Carlyle and Emma Thompson

Barney (Robert Carlyle) and Cemolina (Emma Thompson) at the dog track in ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

The script was written by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren, as an adaptation of Douglas Lindsay’s The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson. Understandably, there’s a bit of humor that you can’t pull over to the screen from chapter titles on paper like “Forgive Me, Mother, For I Have Sinned.” But the weakest point of the film for me is how Barney and Charlie are pitted against each other. It feels a bit too contrived, compared to the more natural comparisons between Barney and Holdall. Cowan and Carlyle said at the general Q&A that a lot of creative liberties were taken with Charlie. There’s a connection with Carlyle’s past (a local from “the cinema queue” in Glasgow) that feels far too distant for viewers to readily grasp. At the same time, there are still jokes and a richness to be gleaned from their scenes. The fair or carnival setting is a perfect backdrop for two of their conversations and not solely because they are on the teacup ride.

Dissecting the Barber’s Cut

That point leads me into a far more interesting and pleasant discussion topic: where Robert Carlyle succeeds with his directorial debut. Strong casting, already mentioned with Emma Thompson, is of great importance when the shooting schedule is very tight. Barney Thomson benefits from the talents of Ray Winstone, Tom Courtenay, Ashley Jensen, and others. Another positive aspect is the gallows humor. Adding the Glaswegian accent into the mix makes it possible for Barney’s panicked line of “His freezer is too wee!” to reduce a crowd to full-bellied laughter.

Ray Winstone and Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle and Ray Winstone on the set of ‘The Legend of Barney Thomson.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

The film has a sophisticated level of cinematography, due to the fantastic artistry of Fabian Wagner (Game of Thrones, Sherlock) in scenes like the Bingo night and Barney’s daymare. The active camera, especially with a complex arc in the latter, pulls the viewer completely into the barber’s state of mind. Closely tied to the cinematography is how the sets were conceived by Carlyle and designer Ross Dempster.

It seems that some critics have found it to be “lacking” or spare, questioning the atmosphere of the Glasgow portrayed. However, Carlyle does have a very specific agenda in keeping things simple and outfitted in a sort of retro style. The jaunty tunes in the soundtrack highlight the irony in Barney’s misadventures, but they also cement a sense of timelessness in hearkening back to decades long gone. After all, legends are timeless, supposedly outliving the hazy eras and rubble in which they take shape. Barney Thomson is a neo-noir film, too, taking some inspiration from David Lynch’s Blue Velvet near the end.

Robert Carlyle

Robert Carlyle. Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

There’s one last series of backdrops and background elements that I want to analyze in a way that might stretch credulity. Kasabian posters bearing Serge Pizzorno’s face pop up regularly, an obvious reference to one of Robert Carlyle’s favorite alternative rock bands. The office of Chief Superintendent McManaman (Tom Courtenay) features a taxidermy bear with its arms outstretched over Holdall as he bickers with DI Robertson (Ashley Jensen). Earlier I mentioned the fair, where Charlie and Barney circle round in the teacup.

Whether it’s entirely intentional on Carlyle’s part, (I suspect it is that) each instance of playfulness carries the underlying motif whereby violence or chaos is ready to burst into the frame. The connection is subtly drawn by the band posters, but plenty of Kasabian’s tracks (“Switchblade Smiles,” “Underdog”) are explicitly about fights. That bear looks just as menacing as it appears comically innocuous with its claws and massive size. Fairs and carnivals have a dark and maddening side (if a bit cliché) as well. Thus it’s surprising when other critics express doubt about the build-up to the inevitable, hilarious, and explosive outcome at Loch Lubnaig. There is a very convincing and well-laid trail.

Final Cuts

The Legend of Barney Thomson is a carefully constructed film under the direction of Robert Carlyle. It’s full of surprises and great fun at every turn. You don’t want to miss the blooper reel at the end credits.

This opening feature for the Edinburgh International Film Festival is worthy of the BAFTA Scotland Awards and nominations it garnered recently. It also came out as the runner-up for the Audience Award at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival. The Legend of Barney Thomson comes out on VOD on February 2, 2016, followed by a theatrical release in North American theaters on March 11.


This article was originally posted on Blogcritics.org with the same title. I added photos and made size adjustments.

 

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Whistler Film Festival: ‘Born to Be Blue’

Born to be Blue is a passion project that was years in the making for actor Ethan Hawke and director-writer Robert Budreau. Hawke plays the role of jazz trumpeter and crooner Chet Baker, who seems to be on the cusp of a comeback when the film opens in the mid-1960s. After his release from an Italian prison, there’s a black and white sequence that pulls the viewer back 1950s. The big moment is an evening in New York at the Birdland jazz club, where legend Miles Davis (Kedar Brown) is in attendance.

Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo

Ethan Hawke and Carmen Ejogo in ‘Born to Be Blue.’ Photo courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival.

Co-star Callum Keith Rennie emerged for a Q&A after the screening at the Whistler Film Festival earlier this month. He called attention to the tensions that he felt Budreau and Hawke wanted to capture. “It was the new white guy on a scene that was predominately understood to be Black. It was ‘the new kid in town.’ I think there was a bit of a distance between the groups coming together,” Rennie explained to the crowd at the Village 8 Cinema.

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Interview with Alessandra Piccione: ‘The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship’

Alessandra Piccione is a co-owner and screenwriter at Platinum Image Film in Toronto, Canada. Her feature film, The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship, recently had its Western Canada Premiere at the Whistler Film Festival. The comedy stars Krista Bridges (Heroes Reborn), Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars), David Cubitt (Medium), and Brooke Palsson (Less Than Kind). I interviewed her for Blogcritics during the week of the festival.

Krista Bridges and Enrico Colantoni

Krista Bridges and Enrico Colantoni in ‘The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship.’ Courtesy of the Whistler Film Festival

It’s great to be interviewing you today about your film.

Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be interviewed.

Your film company is based in Toronto. Have you been to the Whistler Film Festival before?

No, actually this is our first time. I’ve heard wonderful things about it so I’m really excited about going.

You penned the script for The Colossal Failure of the Modern Relationship, a film which took about two years to complete with director Sergio Navarretta.

From the first moment we thought of it – It was a fairly quick process in a way because we had projects that were in development and held for so long. We thought, you know what, let’s do something that’s fun and won’t take forever. It’ll be a little simpler. It took about two years from start to finish.

I notice you drew a lot from Italian cinema for this film. For me when I view those films, the quiet moments are so beautifully done. That quality also comes through in Colossal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Virginia Film Festival: ‘Last Days in the Desert’

Ewan McGregor in 'Last Days in the Desert'

Ewan McGregor in ‘Last Days in the Desert.’ Photo Courtesy of the Virginia Film Festival

It seems difficult to create a fresh perspective on Jesus, given all of the films and television specials that have been released over the years. However, director and writer Rodrigo García was able to do just that in his latest film, Last Days in the Desert. He focuses on a few days at the very end of the forty-day period that Jesus (Ewan McGregor) spent in the desert, fasting and praying before starting his active ministry.

García and producer Julie Lynn were both interviewed recently at the Virginia Film Festival by Harry Chotiner, a professor at New York University. The director, appearing on a large screen through video chat, summed up his film as a story about men “finding destiny under powerful fathers.”

One startling aspect of the film is a significant casting decision: Ewan McGregor plays both Jesus and Lucifer. “Lucifer uses human ways to destabilize Jesus,” García said. “He’s the least politically correct character.” Save for a couple additions of jewelry and his evil smirks, Lucifer looks the same as Jesus. His abilities in shape-shifting and mimicry are both entertaining and creepy at once.

There are accounts in the Bible about Lucifer’s efforts to tempt Jesus – asking him to turn stones to bread, jump from a pinnacle, and turn from God. These parts of Scripture are ignored in favor of a different plot. Coming upon a family in the middle of the desert, Jesus is challenged by Lucifer to resolve their problems. The family, which remains unnamed, has a father (Ciarán Hinds), a son (Tye Sheridan), and a dying mother (Ayelet Zurer). The son dreams of going to Jerusalem, but the father wants build him a house and remain in the desert. The major issue is communication, which places Jesus somewhat in the role of intermediary. Second to Lucifer, Ciarán Hinds as the father gets some of the best lines. “It doesn’t matter that we don’t talk,” the father says about himself and his son. “We’re not women.”

Rodrigo García takes questions from Julie Lynn and Harry Chotiner.

Rodrigo García takes questions from Julie Lynn and Harry Chotiner. Photo: Pat Cuadros

When other films depict Jesus at work, he’s not usually undertaking dusty and potentially backbreaking tasks like lifting huge stones, as he does here. That level of strain tends to be saved for the carrying of the cross. Additionally, survival itself in the desert is an arduous endeavor, as he copes with fasting, isolation, and the weather. The desolate sands and rocky outcroppings seem to dwarf McGregor as he walks along, his dark brown garb standing out amidst lighter coloring of the terrain.

It’s also interesting to note that the script, totaling to a mere 60 pages, is rather sparse in dialogue. “More than a couple of agents called asking, ‘Where’s the rest of it?’” García remarked. Thus the frames, artfully rendered by Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity), convey the moods in the silent moments beautifully and enable the film to be more of a psychological study of Jesus’s fears and doubts. It’s not a fool proof presentation though, leaving some moments hanging.

It’s not much of a spoiler to mention that the ending of Last Days in the Desert includes the Crucifixion. “I didn’t want people going out of the theater wondering, ‘Who was that?’” Garcia explained. There are, in essence, three possible endings running together that encompass the weakest part of the film. The overall conclusion feels disjointed, detached, and unsatisfactory. Nonetheless, Last Days in the Desert is a unique exploration of Jesus’s human side in way that is contemplative, creative, and respectful. It’s a version capable of stimulating discourse among religious and non-religious individuals alike.

This article was first published on Blogcritics.org, under the same title.

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Middleburg Film Festival Panel: Meg Ryan’s Directorial Debut, ‘Ithaca’

Ithaca Promo Photo

Photo used with permission from the Middleburg Film Festival

In the presence of Meg Ryan, the word “uncertainty” is not likely to cross your mind when it comes to her work. The Golden Globe-nominated actress was remarkably poised and cheerful in her demeanor as she took her seat on the Hill School stage last weekend. That Saturday marked the world premiere of her directorial debut, Ithaca, at the Middleburg Film Festival (MFF) in Middleburg, Va.

“What am I [as a woman] doing here, making a story about boys?” she asked Sam Shepard one day at the set. The renowned playwright and actor replied that she shouldn’t worry, because women make men after all. Indeed, Ryan has much to be proud of with her new film, which was shot at an exhilarating pace (a mere 23 days!) in Petersburg, Va. Ithaca centers upon a coming-of-age story about Homer Macauley, a boy who starts his first job as a telegram delivery boy. The drama is an adaptation of William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy and takes place during World War II.

Producer Janet Brenner joined Ryan at the Hill School for a Q&A with Susan Koch, Executive Director of the Middleburg Film Festival. (The Friday screening featured a discussion with Ryan and lead actor Alex Neustaedter.) For both ladies, casting was one key element, coming down to their list of “dream actors.” The cast came to include Jack Quaid (Ryan’s son) as Homer’s brother out at the war front, as well as Hamish Linklater and Sam Shepard as Homer’s supervisors. Another standout actor is the youngest in the line-up: Spencer Howell as Homer’s lovable younger brother, Ulysses. Howell’s “tender” and cute face even served as Ryan’s screensaver as she worked through the meticulous post-production process, an ordeal she’s not sure if she will tackle again.

Ithaca MFF 2015

Janet Brenner and Meg Ryan. Photo: Pat Cuadros

As one audience member pointed out, at times there is very little dialogue in a scene. Ryan agreed, emphasizing the impact of the cinematography. “The frames are so communicative, so evocative,” she explained. For Ryan, the camera lens “barrels over” or directly addressed the themes of death and grief, wrestling with them genuinely.

Ithaca also marks the on-screen reunion of Ryan with Tom Hanks, a subject that piqued the curiosity of the audience. Ryan animatedly recounted the story of her co-star’s departure from the set on his only day of filming. It’s easy for one to picture Hanks standing before the crew and solemnly declaring, “I think we’ve gotten to know each other well in the last 10 hours.”

Ryan provided a lot of advice to aspiring actors and filmmakers in attendance. “Don’t wait to be hired,” she said, recommending YouTube as a platform for getting a portfolio started. Technology and accessibility are factors that have brought changes to the film industry, she went on, predicting that someday the Academy Award for Best Picture will be given to a film shot entirely with a smartphone.

What’s next for Meg Ryan? “Sleeping,” she joked. In reality, Ithaca has only just begun its journey through the film festival cycle. In early November, it will be screened at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, Va.

This article was first published as “Middleburg Film Festival Panel: Meg Ryan’s Directorial Debut, ‘Ithaca'” on Blogcritics.org.

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