Month: March 2015
Taglines: Loving husband. Devoted father. Ruthless killer.
Inspired by actual events, The Iceman follows notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon) from his early days in the mob until his arrest for the murder of more than 100 men. Appearing to be living the American dream as a devoted husband and father; in reality Kuklinski was a ruthless killer-for-hire. When finally arrested in 1986, neither his wife nor daughters have any clue about his real profession.
The Iceman is an American crime thriller film based on the true story of longtime notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski. Released in 2013 at the Venice Film Festival, the film was directed by Ariel Vromen, and stars Michael Shannon as Richard Kuklinski, Winona Ryder as his wife, Chris Evans, and Ray Liotta.
The Iceman showed at the 2012 Telluride Film Festival and the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival before receiving a limited release in cinemas in the United States on May 3, 2013. It expanded into more cinemas in the USA on May 17. It was released to DVD on September 3.
A Movie Is Born
In 1992, HBO aired the disturbing documentary, “The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Hitman.” It was a series of one-on-one interviews with Richard Kuklinski, a known contract killer, who was serving a life sentence in a New Jersey prison for killing 100 men. In the documentary, Kuklinski details how he committed the murders, showing no remorse except when he talks about his family, who had no idea of his heinous acts until his arrest in 1986.
The haunting documentary mesmerized filmmaker Ariel Vromen, who had directed two movies at that point in his career, one of them being the well-received Danika, which starred Marisa Tomei and won Best Feature Film at the San Diego Film Festival in 2006. “I was amazed by the story,” Vromen recalls. “The weirdest feeling that I had was that I liked the guy.”
Convinced that Kuklinski’s life contained the seeds of a compelling story, Vromen teamed up with writing partner Morgan Land (Rx) to pen the screenplay The Iceman. Determined to direct the project, he then reached out to veteran producer Ehud Bleiberg (The Band’s Visit, Adam Resurrected), whom he had previously met with for another project. Bleiberg, who has produced more than 30 films, was moved by Vromen’s passion and recognized the potential for an intriguing portrayal of a man who somehow managed to balance two wildly conflicting realities.
“Here was this guy who has some experience in his childhood that caused him, from my point of view, to do things that normal people don’t do,” Bleiberg explains. “He could kill people without blinking — no feeling, no anything. That was one part of the story. The other part of the story was the family. What does the family know? A guy comes home from work after he kills someone. It’s hard to believe how he could live with his family while doing these terrible things. His balance of the two worlds interested me very much.”
Believing in Vromen and his story, Bleiberg was on board. However, mindful of Vromen’s short track record as a director, the producer needed a way to showcase Vromen’s directorial chops for potential investors. Bleiberg and Vromen settled on the novel idea of doing a screen test of one of the script’s most crucial scenes. For Vromen, casting the scene was as critical as any other skill in his director’s toolkit.
“I realized that in order to showcase anything at that stage, it was most important to show that I have a good eye for choosing who I want to star in this film,” the director says.
For Vromen, there was only one actor who was capable of playing the role of Kuklinski — Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, “Boardwalk Empire”). “I became obsessed about him doing that role,” Vromen says, adding that he first met the Academy Award-nominated actor at an Oscar party and told him he’d started writing the script about Kuklinski. “He didn’t know about the story but he was very intrigued,” Vromen recalls.
A couple of years later, Vromen ran into Shannon again, this time sitting next to him at a restaurant bar. Vromen brought up the project and floated the idea of Shannon playing Kuklinski in the screen test, which was to be a one-day shoot in Los Angeles. Shannon agreed.
“Michael walked into my house the day before we shot it,” Vromen says. “He thought he was doing a test against a wall and would read a couple of lines. So when someone put a moustache on him and a costume, and then the next day he saw that we had a little set organized, that was pretty impressive. I think that’s what made him understand it was something that we all were serious about.”
Shannon did the test scene, which has since been posted on YouTube, where it has garnered almost 200,000 views. “It was an opportunity for Ariel to get a little warm-up because he wanted to make this film for such a long time,” Shannon says. “I think it was good to get that practice run and see what it was like. And it was a lot of fun.”
Although the scene ran for just four minutes, Shannon’s performance so impressed Vromen and Bleiberg that they knew they’d found their man. “We spent a lot of money for that day of shooting, like a regular day on the shoot for a film,” Bleiberg says. “But when we saw Michael’s performance, we’re like, ‘This is the Iceman!'” Vromen concurs: “It was almost like the role was meant for him. No one else could play that role. Luckily, Ehud supported me on that.”
The test scene served the dual purpose of confirming Shannon as the right man for the part and helping Bleiberg secure the much needed financing from Millennium Films — even though Shannon was not yet widely recognized as the star he is today.
“To my eyes, Michael Shannon was already a star, and unbelievable at that, but he wasn’t known by the people who would want to put that kind of money into a movie,” Bleiberg says.
To get around that issue, the filmmakers’ strategy was to surround Shannon with a supporting cast of A-list actors that would be more familiar to investors. But they needn’t have worried; HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” became a hit with Shannon in the riveting role of FBI Agent Nelson Van Alden. Now, other name actors wanted the opportunity to work with Shannon and agreed to review the script, knowing he was attached to star. “It was almost perfect timing,” Vromen says.
For the challenging role of Kuklinski’s wife, Deborah, the filmmakers cast Winona Ryder. “Winona was fantastic,” Shannon says. “It’s a very difficult role she was playing. It’s hard for people to believe that Richard could have kept his violent job a secret from his family. That was something that Winona had to wrestle with, but she’s got a really big heart and throws herself into what she does. You just feel for her every time she is on screen; you feel what she is going through.”
Ryder says she has always been a fan of mob films like The Godfather, but The Iceman offers a different take on the genre. “It goes right into the very core of questions about right and wrong and humanity. Can someone that’s capable of so much death and destruction and brutality also be capable of the tremendous love for his family? That alone is a very intense question. For Kuklinski, it was just business. For us, it is monstrous. Michael has played unhinged characters before, but this is a very interesting portrait painted across his face. It’s unique and very complicated, and there is heart in there and also terror.”
Ryder says she was blown away by the experience of working with Shannon. “Michael Shannon is one of the best actors that I’ve ever worked with and I’ve worked with some pretty great actors,” she says. “Every once in a while, someone comes along and you feel like they’re almost yanking you by your throat into the actual moment of the scene and it just wakes you up. It’s exhilarating and it’s intoxicating and it’s very inspiring to watch someone sort of walk into the fire, and in this case into the very core primal place of our humanity.”
Ryder says Shannon’s performance in a sense made her fall in love with acting again. “His skills and his talent are stunning,” the actress says. “I don’t remember a moment in any scene where he wasn’t just completely present and, when someone is like that, it forces you to be as well and it’s an amazing feeling. You sort of look for that for the rest of your life.”
Ryder says she first became aware of the magnitude of Shannon’s talent through his role in the 1999 drama Jesus’ Son and was excited when she met with Vromen and he told her that Shannon was on board to play Kuklinski.
“I really liked Vromen’s take on the film in the sense that he really wanted to go into the duality of the character obviously, but also he wanted to make a comment on the way people live in denial, which has more to do with my character. We all have lived in denial in one way or another. This just takes it to a very different level.”
That aspect of the Deborah Pellicotti character made it very challenging for Ryder to prepare for the role because so much information about Kuklinski was available for people to read online and in books.
“I had to shut myself off from all of that,” Ryder recalls. “I sort of had to unlearn anything that I knew about him, I had to do the opposite of what I usually do, which is research. I had to take out all of the pages in the script that I wasn’t in or that my character wouldn’t know. I had a Sharpie and I would just cross out anything that my character was either in denial of or unaware of.”
In a curious way, this approach helped Ryder get into her character’s skin. “In a way, it was almost a good thing because I think Deborah was doing that — she was unlearning, she wasn’t asking any questions, she was pretending like she didn’t know things to a certain extent. So there’s a parallel there in the way I approached it and the way she was living her life.”
For the role of Mr. Freezy, Chris Evans, who played Captain America in this summer’s blockbuster, The Avengers, came in for two weeks. Evans lists Shannon among his favorite actors working today.
“It’s amazing when you get the chance to work with someone who is so fantastic, who you respect so much,” Evans says of Shannon. “It’s a little intimidating because Michael’s so good. His commitment to authenticity and to the truth is real. He has such artistic integrity and sets the bar high, which is fantastic. He’s not going to do it if it’s not right. It’s a great experience as an actor to learn from someone like that, to watch their process and understand where they refuse to compromise.”
For his part, Shannon says he and Evans shared a good camaraderie on set. “He was very creative and full of energy and very serious about what he was doing,” Shannon recalls. “He really contributed a lot to the picture — even to enabling it to happen in the first place.”
Other actors who joined the cast include Ray Liotta (Goodfellas), David Schwimmer (“Friends”), John Ventimiglia (“The Sopranos”), Jay Giannone (Safe) and Robert Davi (“Profiler”). In addition, Stephen Dorff (Public Enemies) and James Franco (127 Hours) each worked one day, making cameo appearances in key roles opposite Shannon.
For Vromen, being able to direct this movie was a dream come true. “It’s so difficult to do an independent movie, so to speak, but here we’ve done it,” he says.
The result, Bleiberg says, is no regular mob movie. “Richard Kuklinski was not part of The Family; he was an outside contractor. He was contradictory. He was a family man with his family, but on the other side he was different. He killed people so that no one knew they had been killed. He operated for two decades without anyone knowing who he was.”
As for the impact of the movie, Bleiberg predicts that the unsettling dichotomy embodied in Kuklinski will work overtime on audiences’ minds and emotions after they see the film: “They will wake up in the middle of the night and think, ‘How did Richard Kuklinski go for two decades killing people and no one knew what he did?'”
Evans concurs. “I love true stories, first and foremost,” the actor says. “But I think any time that you have a story about someone who’s done things that are so foreign to the majority of us, it’s just mind-blowing to watch them — to see one human’s capacity to commit evil. For me, that’s the stuff I go to the movies to see; that’s the compelling drama.”
As for his experience playing such a twisted title role, Shannon waxes philosophical: “I guess any time I take a job, I’m not afraid to dig into something, no matter how ugly it may be. To me, that’s where the stories are — that ugly, dark, confused place. Those, unfortunately, for better or for worse, tend to be the most interesting stories. People are fascinated by them.”
The actor says the film is like a portrait. “Any time that you look at a portrait, it’s just a deeper understanding of whatever it is that you’re looking at,” he says. “The value of making this movie is to give you some idea of what Richard Kuklinski’s life might have been like. Here’s a fellow that people are intrigued by and want to know more about. Hopefully, we’re giving them that insight.”
Directed by: Ariel Vromen
Starring: Chris Evans, James Franco, Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, David Schwimmer
Screenplay by: Anthony Bruno, Morgan Land, Ariel Vromen
Production Design by: Nathan Amondson
Cinematography by: Bobby Bukowski
Film Editing by: Danny Rafic
Costume Design by: Donna Zakowska
Set Decoration by: Teresa Visinare
Music by: Haim Mazar
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language and some sexual content.
Studio: Millennium Films
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Taglines: Even heroes fall.
Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle.
With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?
“The exciting thing about ‘Iron Man 3,’ is that it’s not only the culmination of the first two films, but it’s also a follow up to ‘Marvel’s The Avengers,’” says producer Kevin Feige. “It’s one of the first situations where you have a movie that is the sequel to two different films and in a way that liberates it to be more unique than anything that has come before it, which is what we’re most excited about.”
In the Marvel cinematic universe, all events that happen within each film have a direct influence and consequence in future films and franchises. For Tony Stark the events and encounters he faced in “Marvel’s The Avengers” may be behind him, but he is still working hard to balance the demands of his own personal life.
For the storyline of Marvel’s “Iron Man 3,” the filmmakers decided on a “back-to-basics” tone where they could explore what Tony Stark would do if all of his money and toys were stripped away from him and he was forced to find a way back to being a Super Hero.
“Early on in the development, we talked about this notion of taking Tony Stark back to basics because we wanted to see him just use his brain,” explains executive producer Louis D’ Esposito. “You want to see what he can do when the odds are against him and it makes you wonder, ‘How is he going to get out of this one?’”
Executive producer Stephen Broussard explains the filmmakers’ decision to blend two different storylines together for the film. “There are two classic stories that have appeared in the ‘Iron Man’ comics–one is older and the other is more modern,” explains Broussard. “The older is the character called The Mandarin, and he is one of the most famous villains in the franchise. The character dates back to the 1960s and we wanted Shane [Black] and Drew [Pearce] to take that idea and contemporize it for present-day audiences.”
Broussard adds, “We also wanted to combine that with another storyline in the comic called Extremis, which came out not too long before the first ‘Iron Man’ film in 2008. It deals with the biological enhancement of humans and Tony must face super-powered humans in that. So we just thought, wouldn’t that be interesting if we tried to combine these two stories into one for ‘Iron Man 3′?”
An early believer in the Extremis story line, Downey Jr. says, “I remember when we were getting ready to shoot ‘Iron Man,’ I started reading ‘Iron Man’ comics and there was this one called ‘Extremis,’ and I thought it was really interesting and cool.”
“The thing about the Extremis storyline that always interested me in the comic books was that you had a sense that Tony Stark puts on an iron suit and hides inside it in a way,” says director Shane Black. “The character wouldn’t call it that, but that’s kind of the case. With the Extremis people, you always got a sense that they’re burning up from the inside. So one of them could actually say to Tony for instance, ‘you drive a car, I am the car.’”
There is plenty of angst from “Marvel’s The Avengers” to fuel Tony Stark’s arc too. Before “Marvel’s The Avengers,” Tony Stark thought he was the only Super Hero in the world, and in “Iron Man 3″ he must deal with the revelation that he is not the only one out there. As Kevin Feige explains, “In ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’ he faces a world-changing event that not only includes seeing the powers of other Super Heroes, but also having a portal to another world opened above his head.”
For Robert Downey Jr. the journey of Tony Stark in the “Iron Man” franchise is one that is very relatable to audiences. “The great thing about ‘Iron Man 3′ is that we really are going back to kind of an extension and continuation of some of the things that made the franchise fly to begin with,” says Downey. “With the execution and incredible success of ‘Marvel’s The Avengers,’ we’re afforded the opportunity to not have to set up another film and can really explore the character of Tony Stark in ways that are very organic and connectable and play to the strength of the franchise.”
Director on Board
While Downey and Marvel were both on board for the third installment of the franchise, one of the big questions that needed to be answered was who was going to take over the directorial reigns from Jon Favreau, the director who put the “Iron Man” franchise on the map and delivered two worldwide blockbuster hits.
“All of our films are defined by the filmmakers we collaborate with to bring these stories to the big screen,” says producer Feige. “What Jon Favreau was able to do on the first two films was groundbreaking and astounding. So, when we realized we needed to bring in a new director, it was a daunting task. We needed somebody who had the experience, taste and ability to make a big action movie, but was grounded at the same time.”
The filmmakers turned to Shane Black, who serendipitously directed Robert Downey Jr. in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” the film that was a big factor in propelling the actor into the running for the role of Tony Stark in “Iron Man.”
For Downey, hiring Black to write and direct the film brought the franchise full circle and was a little bit of karmic payback for the director’s behind-the-scenes help on “Iron Man.” “During the preproduction of ‘Iron Man,’ Jon Favreau and I used to call Shane and ask him for advice about scenes and he would give us these metaphors and sometimes direct comments, but it was always great advice and he would never take a penny for it –although he did once asked for a piece of well-done salmon and some blueberries,” laughs Robert Downey Jr. “Shane has been so instrumental in shaping the buddy comedy/action genre and I was delighted when Marvel brought his name up and obviously very much in favor of him directing ‘Iron Man 3.’”
For director Shane Black, a lifelong “Iron Man” fan and self-proclaimed fan boy, reteaming with Robert Downey Jr. was one opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. “Having the opportunity to direct and write ‘Iron Man 3,’ was just the greatest opportunity, and Robert always seems to elevate the material–that’s what’s great about him,” says Black.
“We wanted ‘Iron Man 3′ to have a fresh tone and Shane Black has an incredibly unique style to his writing,” concludes producer Louis D’ Esposito. “He does action very well, but he also does twisted black comedy with heart and emotion very well too. What’s amazing about Shane is he finds ways to do all that in one scene. It’s always been his trademark that his scripts are kind of quirky and off-kilter, but with big emotion and a lot of heart.”
The “Iron Man 3″ Experience
Reflecting on the journey of making Marvel’s “Iron Man 3,” Gwyneth Paltrow says, “I think this movie ends in a really unexpected way and there’s so much heart to it. It’s about discovering yourself and what’s really important. And, of course, it’s done with all the fireworks and action and excitement, but there’s real heart underneath it.”
“The most gratifying part of the journey thus far at Marvel Studios is seeing the way worldwide global movie audiences respond to these films,” says Kevin Feige. “I think people like the notion of going to see a film that fits into a broader mythological framework and ‘Iron Man 3′ continues that tradition. I think audiences will be satisfied when they see what Tony Stark has been up to.”
Sums up Robert Downey Jr., “In a way, this is the holiday season for us all as far as the ‘Iron Man’ of it all. If it never gets any better than this, I think we’ll be satisfied because this might be our best effort yet.”
Iron Man 3
Directed by: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley
Screenplay by: Drew Pearce, Shane Black, Stan Lee, Don Heck, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby
Production Design by: Bill Brzeski
Cinematography by: John Toll
Film Editing by: Peter S. Elliot, Jeffrey Ford
Costume Design by: Louise Frogley
Set Decoration by: Danielle Berman
Music by: Brian Tyler
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content.
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Taglines: It’s never too late to start acting like a family.
The Big Wedding is an American comedy film written and directed by Justin Zackham. It is an American remake of the original 2006 Swiss / French film Mon frère se marie (My Brother is Getting Married), written by Jean-Stéphane Bron and Karine Sudan. The film stars a large ensemble cast including Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, Susan Sarandon, and Robin Williams. It was released on April 26, 2013 by Lionsgate in the United States and Canada.
With an all-star cast led by Robert DeNiro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, with Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams, The Big Wedding is an uproarious romantic comedy about a charmingly modern family trying to survive a weekend wedding celebration that has the potential to become a full blown family fiasco.
To the amusement of their adult children and friends, long divorced couple Don and Ellie Griffin (De Niro and Keaton) are once again forced to play the happy couple for the sake of their adopted son’s wedding after his ultra conservative biological mother unexpectedly decides to fly halfway across the world to attend. With all of the wedding guests looking on, the Griffins are hilariously forced to confront their past, present and future – and hopefully avoid killing each other in the process.
The Griffins Request the Honor of Your Presence
This Spring, when an all-star, multi-generational cast led by Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace, Ben Barnes, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams gathers together for The Big Wedding, you can bet a hilarious family fiasco is about to ensue. That’s exactly what happens in this uproarious romantic comedy about the ties that bind, as long-divorced couple Don and Ellie Griffin are forced to pretend they are still happily married at their son’s wedding. Among all their family and friends, the hoax snowballs, culminating in a series of surprising outcomes on the way to “I do.”
It all begins as the sprawling Griffin clan prepares for the nuptials of their adopted son Alejandro (Barnes). But what should be an occasion of pure bliss soon turns into sheer lunacy as the bride and groom try to make everyone happy — including Alejandro’s highly traditional, Colombian birth mother who has never been to America… nor been told that Don and Ellie are no longer married.
Now to get her blessing, Don and Ellie will have to act out their long-forgotten roles as a contented couple, while Don’s girlfriend Bebe (Sarandon) watches their performance in dismay. As the wedding weekend gets under way, love is in the air, but little white lies are tripping everyone up. In the mix, old flames will ignite, new romance will erupt, secrets will be outed and in-laws will be upended but, if they can all just avoid killing one another, the entire Griffin clan might just find themselves united in their own version of harmony.
The film’s cast of actors, accomplished in both comedy and drama, was drawn to a modern wedding story with a screwball twist: a family in the perilous, hilarious situation of pretending to be something they’re not, and discovering who they are in the process. Says Robert De Niro, who as Don Griffin finds himself in compromising positions in the midst of the celebration: “Every wedding has tension and stress. There’s always drama because everyone wants to plan everything perfectly, to get it right, to make everyone happy — but that’s especially true in this movie!”
Modern weddings seem to bring out the crazy in people like no other life event; perhaps in part because modern families bring with them to the big day so many amusingly complicated twists on love: from divorce to re-marriage to families that go well beyond the nuclear. This is the quirky contemporary reality that screenwriter-director Justin Zackham taps into with The Big Wedding, a story of some very knotted nuptials. . . and a family who will do the most outlandish things for one another’s happiness.
Zackham, who previously wrote the screenplay for Rob Reiner’s The Bucket List, set out to combine classic elements of screwball comedy — the barbed dialogue, the outrageous situations, the mix of sincerity and slapstick — with characters and family dilemmas that are strongly identifiable right now. But he never imagined that his script would bring him together with a star-studded cast mixing Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe winners with fresh-faced newcomers — all of them ready, much like their characters, to go to hilarious lengths for love.
It all started when Zackham saw the French-Swiss comedy Mon Frere Se Marie (My Brother Is Getting Married). The comic possibilities of the film’s concept — a long-divorced couple is asked by their adopted son to pretend to still be happily married for the sake of his biological mother — hit home instantly with Zackham. He loved the circular idea that the harder a divided family tries to keep up the appearance of blissful perfection, the more their conflicts start bubbling to the surface . . . and the more you get to really see what really holds them together underneath all the friction.
Zackham was already well acquainted with how weddings can push perfectly ordinary people to the edge. He recalls that his own wedding hit a snafu when his then-fiancee refused to elope because “it would upset her mother” and instead spent a year and a half in a mind-boggling planning frenzy. So he began re-imagining Mon Frere Se Marie as it might play out on his home turf in the fashionable suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, where many Manhattanites escape from the city to raise their families. While bucolic on the outside, Zackham was well aware that Greenwich is filled with charmingly eccentric clans of all kinds.
“I grew up watching all these crazy but wonderful families interacting — and I saw them both falling apart and coming together and that was something I always wanted to write about,” he says. “So with The Big Wedding, I saw a chance to do a comedy that is not only a lot of fun but also has some real emotional truth to it — real anger, real surprise and most of all real love between family members who are very different kinds of people. I like comedy that comes out of characters wanting something so badly that they put themselves in strange and unnatural positions. That’s what happens to the Griffin family when Don and Ellie have to pretend to be married — yet they do it because they truly love their son.”
That motivation was the key to Zackham’s screenplay. Because as outrageously dysfunctional and disjointed as the Griffins might be underneath their harmoniously married “act,” Zackham also saw the family as bound together at their roots. “When Robin Williams asks Diane Keaton ‘Which kind of love are you feeling right now?’ she says ‘All of them,'” he points out. “And that idea was as important to me as the humor — that there’s a real affection between these people and for this one weekend, they are going to find a way to be a family, whatever it takes. In the middle of it all, you see all the different kinds of love that are work in any modern family.”
When Zackham’s childhood friend and long-time producing partner Clay Pecorin read the screenplay, he was moved by the recognizable characters, but found a great deal of humor in it as well. “It’s a very funny script,” Pecorin says. “I’m married, and have been to several weddings, so I know how they can become train wrecks. Everybody gets freaked out. You’re putting together families who don’t know each other, who might not really like each other, but they all have to figure out how to be together, and all of that comes out in a hilarious way in this story.”
Producer Richard Salvatore had a similar reaction: “When I read the script, I laughed out loud on every page which is very rare. You’ve got three levels of comedy going on — with the marriage, the reunion of Don and Ellie and then Lyla’s story — and it’s all very funny and silly but also heartfelt and loving. I’d done other comedies but this really had so much heart, I felt we’d be able to put together a very strong cast.”
That proved to be very much the case when Diane Keaton came aboard early on, then brought Robert De Niro along, starting a kind of domino effect of casting coups. “Diane really liked the script and was amazing in helping us put the film together,” recalls Pecorin. “Then Bob [De Niro] came on and suddenly everybody wanted to work with them and be a part of this project. We were pinching ourselves; we never expected to be this fortunate.”
Continues Salvatore: “We all felt Bob would be the perfect Don to hook up with Diane and that opened the floodgates. Then Katherine Heigl said she would be interested in working with Bob and she met Justin and the love fest started to grow.”
That love fest, Salvatore notes, was sustained by Zackham throughout the production. “The tone on the set starts at the top and if you have a director who cares about his actors, then the actors care more about the movie. Justin was always able to convey his passion for the project and every person on the movie brought their A game.” Once on the set, Zackham could have been intimidated by a cast this diverse and accomplished, but he says the opposite was true: their talent set him at ease. “Everyone from Bob, Diane and Susan to Katie, Amanda, Ben and Ana were so prepared and feeding off each other, that I realized the most important part of my job was just not to screw that energy up,” the screenwriter-director muses. “I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”
The Big Wedding
Directed by: Justin Zackham
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Robert De Niro, Katherine Heigl, Robin Williams, Ben Barnes, Christine Ebersole, Patricia Rae, Megan Ketch, Christa Campbell
Screenplay by: Justin Zackham
Production Design by: Andrew Jackness
Cinematography by: Jonathan Brown
Film Editing by: Jon Corn
Costume Design by: Aude Bronson-Howard
Set Decoration by: David Schlesinger
Music by: Nathan Barr
Studio: Lionsgate Films
Release Date: April 26, 2013
Taglines: Her love will never die.
Beautiful vampire Djuna (Josephine de La Baume) tries to resist the advances of the handsome, human screenwriter Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia), but eventually gives in to their passion. When her troublemaker sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida) unexpectedly comes to visit, Djuna’s love story is threatened, and the whole vampire community becomes endangered…
Kiss of the Damned is a vampire film written and directed by Xan Cassavetes. The film played at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival and was released in theaters May 3, 2013. The filming locations were New York, NY and New Fairfield, CT.
I am not a fanatical vampire person, although there are certain vampire films, mainly European, which have burned in my mind ever since seeing them as a teenager. Their beauty, formality and atmosphere continue to fascinate me. They are fantasies that reflect reality with their depiction of a kind of breathtaking power, loneliness and quest for survival.
With Kiss of the Damned, my first narrative feature, I wanted to tell a story of vampires trying to find the meaning in life, to enjoy the dilemma of forever. I wanted to borrow the tradition of contrasting loveliness and brutality from the vampire films I love, to set a story about confused creatures, trying the best they can to find truth. – Xan Cassavetes
Review for Kiss of the Damned
Kiss of the Damned received a lot of positive notices after it played this year’s South by Southwest. Maybe seeing it with a crowd makes a difference. Or maybe there was something in the air in Austin when it was screened. Either way, this critic feels like they saw an entirely different movie than the one in those favorable reviews.
A vampire tale that is awfully familiar, Kiss of the Damned is like a Skinemax offering with marginally better acting and a slightly bigger budget. If some flesh and sex are all you ask of a vampire movie, you will be plenty satisfied. But it’s not quite ridiculous enough to fall into so-bad-it’s-good territory and for the most part it is excruciatingly dull.
Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is a screenwriter camped out in some small town in an effort to get some peace and quiet and focus on his writing. One night he ventures to a local bar for some Scotch and is immediately smitten with Djuna (Josephine de la Baume). Sparks fly and she takes him back to her place, a large house she is watching for a friend. Just when things start to get hot and heavy, Djuna pushes Paolo away. She claims to have a skin condition and says it is too dangerous and he must go.
Paolo is not deterred. Less than 10 minutes into the movie he is completely obsessed with Djuna. He basically stalks her until she lets him back into the house. To make sure he understand what he is dealing with, she chains herself to a bed and allows him to see her turn into a vampire. Does Paolo run when he sees a woman chain herself to a bed and proclaim to be a vampire? No. Does he run after she really does turn into a vampire? No. He acts as if this is something he sees all the time. Instead he lets her bite and turn him, telling her that “I’d have done anything to be with you.” At this point, outside of being a vampire, there sure doesn’t seem to be anything remarkable about Djuna.
Djuna fills Paolo in on the lifestyle, explaining that they will heal quickly and never age, but they can die (beheading, etc.). It’s the usual rules. Everything is going well until her sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), shows up. Mimi is nuts and she and Djuna do not get along. They bicker endlessly about nothing particularly interesting and Djuna knows that she and Paolo need to get far away as soon as possible.
The bickering is boring. Vampires discussing the current state of vampire life (are they the real monsters or are human?) is boring. Talk of a synthetic drug awaiting FDA approval is boring. The love story at the center of everything is forced and unconvincing. The acting ranges from passable to embarrassing. There’s the aforementioned sex and a little gore but it’s certainly not the least bit suspenseful. Everything is stale and sluggish.
It also takes itself way too seriously most of the time. There are moments of absurdity (Paolo and Djuna kissing passionately through a chained door, seen via overhead shot) and you think maybe it will run with this and be entertaining. But those moments are the exception. For the majority of its running time Kiss of the Damned is tiresome and pedestrian.
Kiss of the Damned
Directed by: Xan Cassavetes
Starring: Josephine de la Baume, Roxane Mesquida, Milo Ventimiglia, Anna Mouglalis, Michael Rapaport, Megumi Haggerty, Caitlin Keats, Tiarnie Coupland
Screenplay by: Xan Cassavetes
Production Design by: Chris Trujillo
Cinematography by: Tobias Datum
Film Editing by: Taylor Gianotas, John F. Lyons
Costume Design by: Audrey Louise Reynolds
Set Decoration by: Daniel R. Kersting
Music by: Steven Hufsteter
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, strong sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Taglines: The thing started when everything was over.
Philip (Pierce Brosnan), an Englishman living in Denmark, is a lonely, middle-aged widower and estranged single father. Ida (Kim Dyrholm) is a Danish hairdresser, recuperating from a long bout of illness, who’s just been left by her husband for a younger woman, Thilde.
The fates of these two bruised souls are about to intertwine, as they embark for a trip to Italy to attend the wedding of Patrick and Astrid, Philip’s son and Ida’s daughter. With warmth, affection and confidence, Susanne Bier has shaken a cocktail of love, loss, absurdity, humor, and delicately drawn characters that will leave only the hardest heart untouched. It is a film about the simple yet profound pains and joys of moving on – and forward – with your life.
Love Is All You Need is a Danish romantic comedy film directed by Susanne Bier and starring Pierce Brosnan, Kim Bodnia, Trine Dyrholm, Paprika Steen, Sebastian Jessen.
About the Story
Hairdresser Ida, who has recently ended a successful breast cancer treatment, returns home to find her husband Leif cheating on her. At the same time, her daughter is getting married in an Italian villa with a lemon orchard in a few days, and on the way there she runs into Philip, the groom’s father.
At the wedding, which is eventually called off when the putative bride and groom find that they are not, after all, right for one another, Ida and Philip develop an attraction. On their return to Denmark, Philip decides to reduce his workload and move permanently to Italy. He finds Ida at the hairdressing salon where she works, only to be rebuffed as she has returned to Leif. But Ida then has second thoughts and goes to Italy to be with Philip.
The southern Italian scenes were shot in Sorrento and on the Amalfi Coast. The film’s soundtrack features multiple versions of the song “That’s Amore”. In 2013, Love Is All You Need was selected as best comedy film at the 26th European Film Awards.
Love Is All You Need
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Kim Bodnia, Trine Dyrholm, Paprika Steen, Sebastian Jessen
Screenplay by: Anders Thomas Jensen, Susanne Bier
Production Design by: Peter Grant
Cinematography by: Morten Søborg
Film Editing by: Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm
Costume Design by: Signe Sejlund
Art Direction by: Tamara Marini
Music by: Johan Söderqvist
MPAA Rating: R for brief sexuality, nudity and some language.
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: May 3, 2013
Mud is an adventure about two boys, Ellis and his friend Neckbone, who find a man named Mud hiding out on an island in the Mississippi. Mud describes fantastic scenarios-he killed a man in Texas and vengeful bounty hunters are coming to get him.
He says he is planning to meet and escape with the love of his life, Juniper, who is waiting for him in town. Skeptical but intrigued, Ellis and Neckbone agree to help him. It isn’t long until Mud’s visions come true and their small town is besieged by a beautiful girl with a line of bounty hunters in tow.
About the Story
Jeff Nichols got the spark of an idea that later grew into Mud while doing research in the Arkansas Public Library. He had found a picture of a river diver with fantastical gear in a book. The image struck his imagination. “I began thinking of what kind of character this was, where he lived, and what his life was like.” Add Nichols’s love of Mark Twain, his penchant for sweeping action and big themes, and the story of Mud grew from there.
Nichols had wanted to tell the story of Mud for the last decade. With the critical success of Shotgun Stories (2007) and his Cannes Grand Prize award winning film, Take Shelter (2011), he was finally able to marshal the resources to see his vision come to the screen. In that regard, says Nichols, Mud is the culmination of everything he has been working toward as a writer and filmmaker. Mud, his third film, is also his most ambitious, with the biggest budget of any of his films, and it required more time for writing and producing, with a 39-day shoot spread over eight weeks on location in Southwest Arkansas.
The film’s river setting, its teenage protagonists, and its themes of sacrifice and forgiveness echo themes from the American classic The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn, (which was required reading for 14 year-old actors Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland on the set). In an interview prior to filming, Nichols described Mud as “kind of like if Sam Peckinpah directed a short story by Mark Twain.”
In creating Mud, Nichols was influenced by writers who bring a strong sense of place to their work, including Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy, and Southern authors Larry Brown, Flannery O’Connor, and Harry Crews. “All of these writers made me want to learn how to become a good storyteller,” he says. He also takes inspiration from the films he most admires , a list that includes The Hustler, Badlands, Hud, Tender Mercies, Cool Hand Luke, A Perfect World, Fletch, and Lawrence ofArabia. “All of these films reached an honest place in regard to the human condition while telling really entertaining stories,” Nichols said in an interview with IndieWire.
Whereas Shotgun Stories was, in broad strokes, about revenge, and Take Shelter was about fear, Nichols says Mud is about love. Mud is about two 14-year-old boys who find this man hiding out on this island in the middle of the Mississippi River, and they decide to help him out,” Nichols says. “But what the film is really about is love. And it’s about this boy, Ellis, searching desperately for an example of love that works, whether that is looking to his parents, or looking to his best friend’s uncle, or in this case, looking to the character of Mud. Ellis wants to see love work. He desperately needs to find an example that isn’t broken.”
Sarah Green worked closely with Nichols to produce Mud, following their successful collaboration on Take Shelter. “Mud is a wild river adventure with an unreliable protagonist, a beautiful woman, bounty hunters and a classic quest. These young boys have to solve the obstacles that complicate their quest, and in the process they learn about life and ultimately love. It’s an enormously fun story, which will pull you in, and then leave you thinking about the people in your life that you love.”
Producer Aaron Ryder describes Mud as “not your traditional love story,” but about a young boy’s discovery of what love really is. “He’s searching for love because his parents are splitting up. He’s searching for guidance and he’s searching for identity. I see it as just a beautiful love story,” he says.
About the main character of Ellis, the 14-year-old protagonist, Nichols says, “It’s a little cheesy to say, but Ellis came from a series of high school heartbreaks. I am a big believer that love, when you’re a teenager, is probably more fierce than it ever will be for the rest of your life. That doesn’t mean it’s deeper or more sincere, it just means it’s more intense. When you’re in love, it’s this feverish thing, and when your heart is broken, it’s just as painful. And that really, for me, is what I wanted Ellis to be like. If I could express in a film that polarization and that intensity in love out of a young kid, I feel like it’s a story worth telling.”
Nichols won universal respect from the Mud cast and crew, as both a writer and a director. “As I read scripts I don’t like to know who’s involved at first, because I don’t like to be drawn to stories for any reason other than that the script is great,” explains producer Lisa Maria Falcone, head of Everest Entertainment. “ I saw the passion that [Jeff] had. He’s one of those directors that I see is really going to be explosive. He’s explosive today in such a short period of time. I can on ly imagine what he will become.”
“Jeff is one of the more extraordinary talents working today. He’s a very thoughtful writer, and structures his work thoroughly so it plays out in both a surprising and satisfying manner,” says Green. “As the writer he knows the story intimately, as the director he’s lived with the material long enough to have a very clear intention of how to tell that story. I hear from the actors over and over again about how clear and specific he is in his direction.”
To complete Mud in under 40 days, Nichols relied on a dedicated, experienced, tightly coordinated team on the set that included Adam Stone, who has lent his expertise, visual talent, and cool hand as director of photography on all three of Nichols’s films. Cas Donovan, assistant director, and Hope Garrison, assistant director, kept production moving forward through rough terrain, remote locations, shootouts, stunts, snakes and explosions, and the inevitable surprises and adjustments that occur during filmmaking.
Mud was filmed in 35mm using an anamorphic lens in a 2.40 (widescreen) aspect ratio. Nichols wanted to give the film a timeless look so the story of Ellis and Mud would be the focus. Ellis’s perspective is represented in the production of the film through long lenses: “This is the world seen from Ellis’ eyes. So, Ellis is me. Ellis is whoever is sitting in the seat, really,” says Nichols.
Nichols had a vision for how small visual cues would add dimension to his characters. In a script where spoken words are few, he knew these details would provide a path for the audience to connect with the story. Nichols had a clear sense about how things should look and feel, from the fishing gear on Senior’s houseboat to the books on the bookshelves in Tom Blankenship’s house (Sam Shepard had suggested to Nichols that his character was the kind of man who would read Don Quixote. Nichols rushed an original edition to the set in time for filming). He even carried out his long-held image of the oyster diver in Galen’s extraordinary welded underwater gear, inspired by his initial public library research a decade earlier. Working closely with art director Richard Wright and costume designer Kari Perkins, Nichols was able to achieve a small-town, timeless look and feel and enhance the wild river setting for Mud.
Simplicity and authenticity in the set decoration, along with the natural settings on the river and in the towns in Arkansas, were the foundation upon which movement, drama and very intense scenes unfolded. “I knew it was going to be a tricky film to make because all of the stunts and effects are practical,” says Nichols. “Shotgun shootouts, dirt bike scenes, snakes and water and all this craziness.”
Directed by: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Sam Shepard
Screenplay by: Jeff Nichols
Production Design by: Richard A. Wright
Cinematography by: Adam Stone
Film Editing by: Julie Monroe
Costume Design by: Kari Perkins
Set Decoration by: Fontaine Beauchamp Hebb
Music by: David Wingo
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, sexual references, language, thematic elements and smoking.
Studio: Lionsgate Films, Roadside Attractions
Release Date: April 26, 2013
Taglines: The code has never been compromised. Until now.
After his latest mission goes disastrously wrong, veteran CIA black ops agent Emerson Kent is given one last chance to prove he still has what it takes to do his job. His new assignment: guarding Katherine, a code operator at a top-secret remote CIA Numbers Station where encrypted messages are sent and received. When an elite team of heavily armed assailants lays siege to the station, Emerson and Katherine suddenly find themselves in a life-or-death struggle against an unknown enemy. With the station compromised and innocent lives at stake, they must stop the deadly plot before it’s too late.
The Numbers Station is a British-American action thriller film, starring John Cusack and Malin Åkerman, about a burned-out CIA black ops agent assigned to protect the code operator at a secret American numbers station somewhere in the British countryside.
The film was directed by Danish director Kasper Barfoed, and the camera work was by Icelandic cinematographer Óttar Guðnason. It was produced by brothers Sean and Bryan Furst of American Furst Films and Nigel Thomas at British production and film finance company Matador Pictures.
About the Story
A CIA operative, Emerson Kent, is sent to kill a man who owns a bar. Before being killed by Kent, he reveals he is a former agent who wanted to retire. A witness flees the scene, accidentally leaving his wallet behind. Kent finds the wallet and tracks the witness to his home, where he kills him. Kent spares the life of man’s daughter, who follows him outside, hysterical. As Kent tries to convince his boss, Michael Grey, not to kill her, Grey strikes Kent on the back and he falls to the ground.
Kent and the woman share a last look at each other as Grey kills her. Kent is transferred to Suffolk, England to watch over a numbers station. While there, he befriends Katherine and is haunted by memories of the woman who was killed. When the numbers station comes under attack, Kent and Katherine barricade themselves inside. One assassin is already inside the secure station and, after a lengthy shootout, is killed by Kent.
Kent requests assistance, and the operator tells him help will arrive in four hours; since the code has been compromised, he must kill Katherine. Kent notices that Katherine has a serious leg wound and dresses her wound. Kent receives an update from the operator, and, when he reports that he has not killed Katherine yet, the operator orders him to do so immediately.
Kent contemplates her death but ultimately decides to recruit her help in tracing fifteen unauthorized messages sent from the station. On the computer, Kent and Katherine discover dossiers of fifteen different government officials, including Grey. The unauthorized codes are instructions to assassinate the officials, and Katherine is to be eliminated so she can’t cancel the broadcasts. Kent says that the assassinations would leave the intelligence world crippled and the world unrecognizable.
Kent tricks the telephone operator by giving him a false confirmation code; the operator offers Kent a deal, and Kent pretends to have killed Katherine. Kent escapes to his car, where he recovers a cell phone, and then races back to protect Katherine, who has cracked the code and is broadcasting orders to cancel to previous instructions. Katherine leaves her station when she sees the assassin, but he manages to wound her before Kent kills him.
Katherine insists that Kent complete the final cancellation order, and he leaves her side briefly. When he returns, he administers an anesthetic, and she asks him if she will wake. Kent reassures her that he will not kill her, but he reports her as dead to Grey. Kent spreads C4 explosives throughout the base and drops Kathetine’s jewelry on the floor. After he carries Katherine outside, the base explodes, destroying all evidence.
The Numbers Station
Directed by: Kasper Barfoed
Starring: Malin Akerman, John Cusack Hannah Murray Liam Cunningham, Lucy Griffiths, Hannah Murray
Screenplay by: F. Scott Frazier
Production Design by: Ged Clarke
Cinematography by: Óttar Guðnason
Film Editing by: Chris Gill, Per Sandholt
Costume Design by: Sian Jenkins
Set Decoration by: Liz Griffiths
Music by: Paul Leonard-Morgan
MPAA Rating: R for violence and language.
Studio: Image Entertainment
Release Date: April 26, 2013
Taglines: Look Up.
A hard-working lawyer, attached to his cell phone, can’t find the time to communicate with his family. A couple is drawn into a dangerous situation when their secrets are exposed online. A widowed ex-cop struggles to raise a mischievous son who cyber-bullies a classmate. An ambitious journalist sees a career-making story in a teen that performs on an adult-only site.Â They are strangers, neighbors and colleagues and their stories collide as they struggle to connect in today’s wired world.
Disconnect is a 2012 American drama film directed by Henry Alex Rubin and stars an ensemble cast, which includes Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Andrea Riseborough, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Alexander Skarsgård, and Max Thieriot. The film also marks the acting debut of fashion designer Marc Jacobs.
About the Production
Andrew Stern’s screenplay elicited immediate enthusiasm from the Disconnect producers. Much like the interwoven yet parallel lives of the characters in the movie, the script made its way to both producers Mickey Liddell and Jennifer Monroe of LD Entertainment as well as producer William Horberg of Wonderful Films.
Not only did the script present a collection of richly drawn characters in dramatic situations that were both riveting and relatable, there was something else about Stern’s story that touched the producers and stirred their imagination: its keen relevance to the times we live in. As it turns out, the movie sprang from Stern’s literal observation of the world around him. The screenplay reflects how technology both unites and divides us.
“I wrote the screenplay when I noticed that at the dinner table people had their phones out and were emailing and texting — that people were present and strangely not present with one another,” Stern says. “I decided I wanted to write a multi-story film about how technology is connecting us in one way, but also disconnecting us at the same time. Overall, it is about the need for people to connect to one another, regardless of whether or not they do it on a computer, a cable, a smart phone or simply with the person facing them, it’s the innate need we all have in common. But because of the way we’ve all accepted living online, texting, tweeting, emailing and so forth, somehow face-to-face personal communication and real human interaction has become less and less important. The film deals with this.”
“Jennifer and I happened to read the script and we both instantly fell in love with it,” Liddell says. “We asked around and found out that the script was with Bill Horberg. And so we went over — we literally just burst into Bill’s office, introduced ourselves and said, ‘We love Andrew Stern’s screenplay and we would love to produce it with you.’”
“I’m always reading new scripts, eager and excited to find something good,” Horberg says. “Andrew Stern’s screenplay Disconnectcame to me on a weeknight with no real fanfare. At ten o’clock in the evening I decided to crack it open and to my astonishment found that I was still reading it at midnight, turning the pages in a desperate attempt to see what happens next. I couldn’t put it down.”
“It is such a real, contemporary story that speaks to so many issues that are occurring in today’s society in terms of human interaction, communication, lone, vulnerability, hope,community and healing.Best of all, it told this ripping good tale! Three of them!” Horberg says.
As with Horberg, the project’s myriad storylines and characters and its contemporary and universal themes also resonated with Liddell in a big and genuine way. Liddell says, “We loved the script and responded to it emotionally. We were excited because we felt it was so timely: it spoke deeply to the era in which we live in. We told Bill this is exactly the kind of movie we wanted to make, the kind of material we are always looking to find. The story concerned situations we all recognize, the way people sometimes try to connect but wind up distancing themselves from one another.”
With their partnership and the financing cemented, Liddell and Horberg confronted the next crucial step in bringing Stern’s story to the screen: finding a director. While dozens of directors expressed interest in the project, there was something about Henry-Alex Rubin’s passion for the movie that spoke to Liddell and Horberg. Not to mention, both men were already fans of Rubin’s freshman offering, Murderball.
Murderball was a stunning documentary, nominated for a 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary: it is the story of paraplegics who play full-contact rugby in Mad Max-style wheelchairs overcoming unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympics in Athens, Greece. The film has a power and force to it, but it’s also extraordinarily moving with unforgettable and completely relatable characters — not unlike the intertwining stories and characters in Disconnect.
“He was the first director who walked in and said, referring to the script, ‘I grew up with this. This is all true.’ He had a profound understanding of these characters, their emotions and the path of their circumstances,” Liddell says.
Disconnect is Rubin’s first non-documentary feature length film and it was the characters and their stories that motivated and inspired him. “I love documentaries. I love making them but I always toyed with the idea of making a fictional feature,” Rubin says. “When I read Disconnect,I was moved by each of the intertwining stories. Primarily I find myself drawn to people’s emotions, and I was really drawn to these people and their situations.”
With a director on board and financing in place, the next urgent task at hand was casting — assembling an ensemble of players to bring the stories in Disconnect to life. Concentrating first on the story of Derek and Cindy Hull, the couple whose marriage has deteriorated after the death of their child, the filmmakers approached Alexander Skarsgard for the role of Derek, a former marine, and Paula Patton to play his frustrated and unhappy spouse, Cindy. Skarsgard was the first actor to commit to the project.
Although Skarsgard is well known for his role on HBO’s True Blood, it was his breakthrough portrayal of Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert in HBO’s miniseries, Generation Kill, won him critical acclaim and the attention of American audiences.
Says Horberg, “It’s perfect casting for Alex to play an ex-marine, a man of few words whose stoicism and quiet determination hide a deep valley of emotion. “I’ve known Paula for a couple of years and have always wanted to work with her. She has fantastic range. We felt Paula and Alex would work really well as a couple in a story that is both subtle and intense.”
Skarsgard was particularly interested in Derek’s painful relationship with his wife. “I read the script on the plane back to the US from London and Stockholm and fell in love with it. I was intrigued by the character of Derek, interested in his relationship with Cindy. She and Derek are married but their marriage is falling apart. I like movies about relationships and relationships that aren’t working. This is something I’m interested in exploring. Derek is not very happy. Life is not what it used to be or what it was when he was in the service. Now, he works at an office, he hates his boss, and he and Cindy have drifted apart. Deep down there’s still love between them, but it’s like they’re living two separate lives in the same house, which is the situation at the beginning of the story. It gets worse between them before it gets better and that’s really interesting,” Skarsgard notes.
“Alex is not playing an easy character,” Rubin says. “Derek doesn’t exactly show emotion. He’s a man who’s come back from war and who’s locked into a job he detests. He doesn’t say much — he shows it with his eyes. Alex gives you layers and layers of meaning with his eyes and his body language. He does so much with so little. It’s astonishing.”
Skarsgard was a fan of Henry-Alex Rubin and ironically, got to initially know his director via an Internet video chat “I had seen Murderball and thought it was a beautiful, beautiful documentary. I hadn’t met Henry before this project but we got to know each other by Skype. I was in Stockholm and he was in London. I really liked him. He had some interesting ideas about the script, the character and how he wanted to tell this story. It seemed like a terrific combination: a great script and a young director with a real vision. I was thrilled to do the film.”
Paula Patton was equally enthusiastic. “I just loved the script and when they asked me to play Cindy, I jumped at the opportunity. The story has such relevance to the way we live today. Henry did such a perfect job on Murderball that I thought he was a natural for this. I think the film shouldfeel like a documentary, as if we are peeking into the lives of other people.
“Cindy is a really interesting character. She and Derek have been married a long time. I understand the ups and downs of married life and I believe with true love you can get through anything. Cindy finds herself in a place that seems like despair and the challenge is for the character to fight that despair,” Patton says.
For the roles of Rich and Lydia Boyd — the affluent, loving, but pre-occupied parents in the tale of a cyber-bullied teenage boy — the filmmakers cast Jason Bateman and Hope Davis.
“The casting of Jason Bateman was a gift,” Horberg says. “Henry and I both felt instinctively he was the perfect person for the role. He’s such a versatile actor who brings so much empathy to everything he plays.”
Although Bateman is more known for his comedic performances, it was his accessibility that appealed to Rubin and convinced him he was the perfect choice for this dramatic role.
“Jason is a very thoughtful, perceptive, precise and intense person who doesn’t always get to express that side of himself on screen — all of those aspects played into Rich, who is a driven lawyer and also a father. It was exciting for me to watch and I hope it was for him to play. Jason has innate compassion along with his humor. Rich is not funny but somehow when you meet him you like him instantly. I think that’s part of the gift that Jason brings to his roles. He’s like Jimmy Stewart or even Tom Hanks. You immediately warm to him. And that’s what we needed for Rich,” Rubin says.
Bateman says, “I don’t get a chance to do a lot of dramatic work on screen and this seemed like a great opportunity. When I read the script I kept thinking of real people and real situations. Because I’m always on my iPhone or my computer or my iPad, it made the story feel relevant and personal to me.”
In fact, the chance to work with Bateman first drew Hope Davis to the project. “To be honest, when I heard Jason Bateman would be playing my husband, I just jumped at the chance. I really wanted to work with Jason, I think he’s great,” she says.
Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Haley Ramm, Kasi Lemmons
Screenplay by: Andrew Stern
Production Design by: Dina Goldman
Cinematography by: Ken Seng
Film Editing by: Lee Percy, Kevin Tent
Costume Design by: Catherine George
Set Decoration by: Amanda Carroll
Art Direction by: Jennifer Dehghan
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use – some involving teens.
Studio: LD Entertainment
Release Date: April 12, 2013
Taglines: Earth is a memory worth fighting for.
Tom Cruise stars in Oblivion, an original and groundbreaking cinematic event from the director of TRON: Legacy. On a spectacular future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, one man’s confrontation with the past will lead him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he battles to save mankind.
Jack Harper (Cruise) is one of the last few drone repairmen stationed on Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying threat known as the Scavs, Jack’s mission is nearly complete.
Living in and patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above, his soaring existence is brought crashing down when he rescues a beautiful stranger from a downed spacecraft. Her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he knows and puts the fate of humanity in his hands.
TOM CRUISE stars in Oblivion, an original and groundbreaking cinematic event from the visionary director of TRON: Legacy and producers of Rise of the Planet of the Apes. On a spectacular future Earth that has evolved beyond recognition, one man’s confrontation with the past will lead him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he battles to save mankind.
2077: Jack Harper (Cruise) serves as a security repairmen stationed on an evacuated Earth. Part of a massive operation to extract vital resources after decades of war with a terrifying alien threat who still scavenges what’s left of our planet, Jack’s mission is almost complete. In a matter of two weeks, he will join the remaining survivors on a lunar colony far from the war-torn world he has long called home.
Living in and patrolling the breathtaking skies from thousands of feet above, Jack’s soaring existence is brought crashing down after he rescues a beautiful stranger from a downed spacecraft. Drawn to Jack through a connection that transcends logic, her arrival triggers a chain of events that forces him to question everything he thought he knew. With a reality that is shattered as he discovers shocking truths that connect him to Earth of the past, Jack will be pushed to a heroism he didn’t know he contained within. The fate of humanity now rests solely in the hands of a man who believed our world was soon to be lost forever.
Oblivion Takes Flight: Production Begins
In 2005, five years before Joseph Kosinski directed his first feature, TRON: Legacy, the director wrote a 12-page story titled “Oblivion.” In his sci-fi adventure set in 2077—six decades after an alien invasion irradiates Earth—we follow the missions of Jack, a repairman on a nearly destroyed planet who is uncertain of his place in the universe.
Though the daredevil pilot serves as the last drone repairman stationed on our planet, Jack questions authority and is curiously drawn to preserving the world he once knew. When a gorgeous stranger crash-lands in front of him and upends everything that he believes, he awakes to a reality-shattering alternative truth that he must accept or reject. Ultimately, he becomes a leader for the remaining people of Earth, a man driven by purpose and a new destiny.
It was a dream of Kosinski’s to turn “Oblivion” into a screenplay, but the timing wasn’t quite right. The delay would prove fortuitous, however, when Kosinski met Barry Levine and Jesse Berger, co-founders of Radical Studios, several years later. Together, the men partnered to develop the story into an illustrated graphic novel known in the industry as an “ashcan,” written by ARVID NELSON, illustrated by ANDRÉE WALLIN and art directed by Kosinski, Levine and Radical Studios art director JEREMY BERGER. This would allow them to demonstrate to investors the direction in which they wanted to go with the property.
Kosinski reveals story elements of his graphic novel: “It’s an action-adventure set in the year 2077 after a massive war has left Earth uninhabited and in ruins. The story centers on Jack, a drone repairman who is an integral part of a larger mission. A wonderful mystery, unbeknownst to him, will be the key element to saving what is left of humanity.” What the director focused upon was the brutal honesty of the story. He adds: “There is a difference between those who ignore the truth and put their blinders on and the people who decide to take the truth head on—regardless of how hard it is to face what it means.”
Kosinski admits that this science-fiction saga was one he’d long been interested in telling. Growing up, he was enamored with such films as The Omega Man, Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, books including “Hyperion” and TV shows like The Twilight Zone. The filmmaker admits that he loved the juxtaposition of a rugged backdrop against the stylish results of imagined future technology. He says: “I have always liked the ’70s sci-fi art by Chris Foss, Peter Elson and Chris Moore and knew that with VFX technology as advanced as it is today, I could combine CGI work and real landscapes seamlessly and create something unique.”
Levine and Berger were inspired by this young director’s vision, and Levine recalls his first reaction to the property: “When I read Joe’s story, I found it to be compelling, original and motivating of human nature and character. Oblivion is a great action-adventure, but at its core is that one character you are rooting for, and that is what makes for a great movie.”
Organically, this illustrated novel became a pitch for the film itself. There was overwhelming support from fans at 2010’s Comic-Con International in San Diego, at which Kosinski was also presenting footage for TRON: Legacy. Indeed, 30,000 copies of the graphic novel were distributed at the convention from the Radical Studio booth. Recalls Levine: “There was a line of 1,000 people at Comic-Con waiting for Joe to autograph a copy of the Oblivion ashcan. Along with the story, we created a memorable logo and illustrations that got a response from the get-go. It was a feat to take the leap and make this story into a screenplay. It’s an intellectual approach to a high-concept story with great set pieces. No one has seen anything like it before.”
Shortly after the team tested the waters with the property at Comic-Con, Universal Pictures came on board to develop the project with Kosinski, Radical Studios and Chernin Entertainment, and an Oblivion screenplay was in the works. Peter Chernin, the veteran producer who successfully rebooted a storied franchise with his 2011 blockbuster Rise of the Planet of the Apes, brought the lessons learned on that film—one that became the foremost contemporary model of combining heartfelt emotion with exciting, intelligent, speculative fiction. Chernin explains Oblivion’s draw: “Oblivion’s story connects with people because, though it is an action film, its essence is a movie about a guy trying to discover his humanity. That’s the core, and that is why it is ultimately so satisfying.”
For the feature, Kosinski and Levine were joined by fellow producers Dylan Clark, who had produced Rise of the Planet of the Apes alongside Chernin, and Duncan Henderson, known for maneuvering epic set pieces in films as varied as Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
With a shooting screenplay by Karl Gajdusek and Michael deBruyn, the filmmakers were finally equipped to begin the massive task that would become the Oblivion production. Clark reflects upon the design and undertaking: “Oblivion had this great visual world that Joe presented. It was something that happened to Earth, but it didn’t look dusty and dreary and dark. It looked vibrant, had a lot of colors and it felt unique. That’s what got us: the conceptual design of this was something we’ve never seen before.”
As his story takes place during the latter part of this century, Kosinski knew he needed a top design team to create a world that was most assuredly futuristic, but believable 60-plus years from current day. He brought on the key players he had worked with on TRON: Legacy to illustrate his version of this postapocalyptic world.
Henderson knew that his director would be up for the massive challenge, reflecting: “Joe’s a great storyteller. One of the things that intrigued me to want to do this picture was his original story. It lets an audience follow along in a way where you think you know something and then you discover it doesn’t quite make sense. The secrets just keep revealing themselves, like you’re peeling back an onion. You discover the story as you go; you get filled in with more facts and get a new picture. It’s one fantastic reveal after another.”
Beyond Practical: Visual Effects
VFX supervisor Barba previously teamed with Kosinski on TRON: Legacy. He viewed his goal on Oblivion to make Kosinski’s vision come to life in post so that the audience will believe the Bubbleship can fly, the Skytower rests 3,000 feet in the air on a platform, and that drones rocket by at warp speeds to chase down scavengers. Says Henderson: “There are huge VFX components that go into making a film of this scale. Nevertheless, Joe wanted to capture as much practically on set during filming as he could. We have a good balance of the two and they feed the story, so VFX are not just there to be a spectacle. Rather, they are plot-driven.”
The director reflects upon the world his VFX team helped to create: “From a visual effects standpoint, our biggest challenge was making sure that the digital elements in this movie integrate into the live-action photography seamlessly, because so much of this movie is in camera. We never wanted any of the digital elements to stick out. So when the drones are flying around, they had to feel like they were captured in camera on set.”
VFX producer and co-producer Steve Gaub came on board Oblivion early on to work on previsualization shots with Kosinski. Says Gaub: “We had a whole previsualization team doing early animations. The more we could lock into that, then the earlier on we could set the template of what we wanted to be practical photography versus what needed to be computer-generated, and what we wanted to be half and half.”
The VFX team chronicled everything that was happening on set so that they would have the necessary tools with which to work during postproduction (when they created the computer-generated imagery). Through the use of still references, they compiled as much data as possible to record what space and lighting—as well as intricate scene details—were used on each day of shooting.
Approximately 400 computer artists at VFX venues Digital Domain and Pixomondo relied upon the Oblivion on-set VFX team for incredibly specific texture and light data so that 3D models of everything from the set to the Bubbleship to the cast could be created for the VFX shots. Shadows proved to be a particular challenge on this film as most of the action takes place outdoors under bright sunlight…while computer creations need to match the real world flawlessly.
Directed by: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Zoe Bell, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Screenplay by: Joseph Kosinski, Karl Gajdusek
Production Design by: Darren Gilford
Cinematography by: Claudio Miranda
Film Editing by: Richard Francis-Bruce
Costume Design by: Marlene Stewart
Set Decoration by: Ronald R. Reiss, Gena Vazquez
Music by: Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Trapanese
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief strong language, and some sensuality / nudity.
Studio: Universal Pictures
Release Date: April 19, 2013
Neil (Ben Affleck) is an American traveling in Europe who meets and falls in love with Marina (Olga Kurylenko), an Ukrainian divorcee who is raising her 10-year-old daughter Tatiana in Paris. The lovers travel to Mont St. Michel, the island abbey off the coast of Normandy, basking in the wonder of their newfound romance. Neil makes a commitment to Marina, inviting her to relocate to his native Oklahoma with Tatiana. He takes a job as an environmental inspector and Marina settles into her new life in America with passion and vigor. After a holding pattern, their relationship cools.
Marina finds solace in the company of another exile, the Catholic priest Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is undergoing a crisis of faith. Work pressures and increasing doubt pull Neil further apart from Marina, who returns to France with Tatiana when her visa expires. Neil reconnects with Jane (Rachel McAdams), an old flame. They fall in love until Neil learns that Marina has fallen on hard times. Gripped by a sense of responsibility — and his own crisis of faith — he rekindles with Marina after another trip to France. She returns with him to Oklahoma, resuming her American life. But the old sorrows eventually return.
Written and directed by Terrence Malick, TO THE WONDER is a romantic drama about men and women grappling with love and its many phases and seasons — passion, sympathy, obligation, sorrow and indecision — and the way these forces merge together and drift apart, transforming, destroying and reinventing the lives they touch.
Working once again with the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (THE NEW WORLD, THE TREE OF LIFE), and a team of gifted collaborators, Terrence Malick has concocted a deeply moving visual language intermingling love, nature and spirit — “all things work together for the good,” as one character in TO THE WONDER proclaims — that ranks among his most personal and heartfelt works.
About the Production
Academy Award-nominated director Terrence Malick is renowned for making brilliant and unique works using unconventional storytelling methods. His latest film, TO THE WONDER, is no exception. The film presents to the audience something more than a conventional romance or crisis of faith. As in his previous film THE TREE OF LIFE, juxtaposing one family’s evolution with the creation of the cosmos, the journey that plays out in TO THE WONDER illuminates the emotional and spiritual depth of its characters as they change and grow over time.
In each of Malick’s films, from his early features BADLANDS and DAYS OF HEAVEN to his more recent work THE THIN RED LINE, THE NEW WORLD and THE TREE OF LIFE, human characters struggle to find a connection between nature and spirit — from the physical world that surrounds them to the more intangible depths of the soul. How characters navigate these two realms simultaneously is revealed less through dialogue and other conventional means of cinematic exposition than through pure emotion or feeling — as though the viewer were experiencing a world through a character’s eyes.
In the same way that the combat drama THE THIN RED LINE asked “What is this war in the heart of nature?,” or the historical epic THE NEW WORLD examined the birthing pains of a nation in the coming together of two disparate cultures, the romance at the heart of TO THE WONDER grapples with love and loss on similarly dualistic levels. Like the dramatic cloisters of Mont St. Michel that rise up to the sky in the film’s rousing opening minutes, suggesting a realm somewhere between heaven and earth, or reality and fantasy, Malick again establishes a unique sense of place — one that can be mapped in the physical world, but which can also be accessed through more esoteric channels like the human heart.
The filmmakers chose the town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to provide the earthly backdrop for TO THE WONDER’s epic story of love, longing and spiritual questioning. Much of the town’s character remains intact thanks to the largely preserved buildings erected in the early 20th century, including the famous Price Tower designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1956. But Bartlesville has also yielded to the modern age, with its low-slung ranch homes and industrial machinery associated with the small city’s lifeblood, the oil business.
“Terry is a philosopher, so a lot of his imagery has to do with his ideas, and I think he found something important in the starkness of those homes (and buildings),” says Academy Award nominated production designer Jack Fisk. “The city became a character in the story,” explains producer Nick Gonda. “Through the hospitality of the people of Bartlesville, Terry was able to interact with his surroundings much like he works with actors, letting its inherent qualities emerge. As a result of that, we were able to work in the way that Terry has dreamt of working for many years.”
Beyond the town’s limits, the open spaces and natural beauty of the American West act as a reminder of the rhythms and cycles amid which our human struggles and aspirations may appear only as mere details on a vast canvas. “The color palette of this region is stunning,” says TO THE WONDER location manager John Patterson, of the Oklahoma countryside where much of the film was shot. “It almost seems like it’s made for this film, made up as it is of browns and yellows and beautiful sky and clear open spaces.”
The small-town feel in Oklahoma is intensified by the contrasting Old World (and other- worldly) setting on Mont St. Michel, the island off the coast of Normandy, France. As the story opens, Neil and Marina are at the height of their romance, basking in the sun on a beautiful, rocky beach on Mont St. Michel, which is known in France as the Merveille, or “Wonder.” A top destination of pilgrims and tourists, the Merveille is best known for its abbey and cloisters. Monks in search of remote solitude have lived on the island since the sixth century.
“The film feels to me like more a memory of a life than a literal story in real time of someone’s life, the way movies more commonly are,” says Ben Affleck, who plays TO THE WONDER’s central figure, Neil. “This pastiche of impressionistic moments, skipping across the character’s life and moving in a nonlinear way, mirror, in my mind, the way one remembers one’s life. It’s a little hypnotic and you’re a little bit in a daze. It’s more fluid than real life is.”
To achieve this quality, Affleck and his fellow cast members immersed themselves in Malick’s imagined world. The director guided them toward classic works of fiction, art, music and cinema to foster the mindset and understanding of their characters. Many didn’t know what the film would ultimately be about or how the final product would turn out, as Malick leaves himself room to accentuate the movie’s core themes during post-production. Malick’s cast members say they will miss the experience when they move on to more traditional projects. “He’s always giving leeway and room for you to make up your own mind, which is really lovely,” says Rachel McAdams, who plays the role of Jane, a woman who tempts Neil with the promise of a different kind of love.
Malick and Affleck have known each other for many years, and the film’s lead actor insists that Malick has been spinning the story that ultimately became TO THE WONDER for more than a decade. Affleck has often sought advice and mentoring from the more experienced filmmaker, including recently when both were in post-production on their own projects.
Affleck was pleased when Malick asked him to join the cast of TO THE WONDER. “I’m a great admirer of Terry, like everyone else,” he said. Affleck had planned to take time off to spend with his family after finishing his own film THE TOWN, but felt he couldn’t turn down a chance to work with Malick. “I learned more in the seven weeks on TO THE WONDER this movie than I’ve learned in my entire life working with other directors,” Affleck admits.
To prepare, Affleck read works by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and F. Scott Fitzgerald. He also watched movies starring Gary Cooper to shape the character of the earnest and thoughtful Neil, whom Affleck describes as the “silent center” of TO THE WONDER. “The wonderful thing about talking about a movie with Terry is that he has such a rich, full mind, and so many frames of reference, that the conversation weaves in and out of a lot of different areas, like music and philosophy and religion and art and other drama, history and other movies, novels in particular, literature,” Affleck says. “This is a guy who’s orienting his approach to filmmaking in the deepest tradition of the arts.”
For Affleck, the character also has resonances with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, as his inability to decide on a course of action threatens to cause his undoing. In Affleck’s view, TO THE WONDER depicts Neil as he discovers his true self, and the film asks viewers to consider the obligations they have to each other and to the world that go beyond selfish interests.
To the Wonder
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem, Olga Kurylenko, Charles Baker, Romina Mondello, Tatiana Chiline
Screenplay by: Terrence Malick
Production Design by: Jack Fisk
Cinematography by: Emmanuel Lubezki
Film Editing by: A.J. Edwards, Keith Fraase, Shane Hazen, Christopher Roldan, Mark Yoshikawa
Costume Design by: Jacqueline West
Set Decoration by: Jeanette Scott
Music by: Hanan Townshend
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality / nudity.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: April 12, 2013