Today is a very special day…so special that I decided to cancel my trip to the Sundance Film Festival so as to better serve this gem of a film that myself and countless others (mainly Jeff Janke and Amber Goetz) have poured thousands and thousands of pounds of heart, soul and radass humor into. Not only do we release our trailer today, but it has been announced that we were awarded Best Comedy at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival and it will screen February 18th at 10:45pm at LA Live. I can’t wait for you all to experience the film when the time comes and if you can’t make the festival, don’t you worry, it’ll come out somehow in a theater near you or direct to your streaming devices. But for now, thank you for your support friends new and old, family, podcast listeners, total strangers, hearing me go on and on about the innumerable stories and experiences that this film has brought into my life…and this is only the beginning. Please enjoy:
For those who know me, I am not a fan of New Year’s Eve. A night usually filled with grand plans later supplanted by disappointment (I knew I was not alone!), I decided to take it easy and watch a New Year’s Eve movie or two with one of my roommates. After Bridge of Spies, a solid film starring one of my favorite actors, we still had a few hours to kill before midnight and I was running out of options in my collection of SAG screeners. Despite its not so festive nature, Ramin Bahrani’s 99 Homes was sitting there intriguing as hell and featuring one of my other favorite actors, Michael Shannon (especially after his little surprise turn in The Night Before, the Gatsby moment being one of the top comedy movies moment in recent memory). Grim looking vibe aside, we went for it agreeing that if we weren’t feeling it we would turn it off. But this film is just too damn provocative.
It follows blue-collar, single-father handyman Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) who loses his house to foreclosure and attempts to get it back by making a deal with the possibly sociopathic real estate broker Rick Carver (Shannon), an accomplice in the eviction that took Nash’s family home. Nash’s end of the deal? He only has to evict people from their own family homes.
Despite some moments of a-little-too-forced improvisation and “just because emotion” shouting, the film buzzes with a gut-wrenching authenticity, especially evident in the expected montage of Nash having his first run-ins with his prey. Casting Directors Douglas Aibel and Tracy Kilpatrick did an incredible job in finding hauntingly real-seeming actors and combined with Bahrani’s scintillating direction, their woes pack so much gravitas onto this film. The feeling it gives reminds me of what beachgoers feel after Jaws. Owning a home today seems absolutely terrifying, especially for this generation, and as the fallout of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis settles, stories like 99 Homes and The Big Short have emerged, making it clear that there are far more dangerous sharks than great whites. Without giving too much away (but still, just in case, slight spoiler alert) the ending is rather vague and doesn’t give much of an explanation as to where the hell we should go from here. There is one thing though…
“Don’t get emotional about real estate.”
Carver repeats this as a sort of demi-mantra for Nash and his devilish nature is frequently slightly outweighed by Shannon’s inherent likability as a very smart actor; he fools you for a second or two into thinking these and some other great quotes he rattles off are sage words as to how to stay afloat in the fraudulent system that ruined the lives of millions (that system fascinatingly portrayed in the already mentioned The Big Short by the way…seriously check that one out too). As far as 99 Homes is concerned, many families became homeless by trying to hold onto unaffordable real estate because of emotional attachment. But of course these poor people were being completely and utterly dicked over. And therein lies the conflict that holds you steady for the entirety of this movie, that those responsible for the crisis are kind of smart men and women who took advantage as a means to succeed and survive. Sometimes they seem right, most of the time they are completely wrong but trying to survive financially in a society led by the morally f**ked up while maintaining a healthy/happy life is an increasingly immense balancing act, isn’t it?
To end 2015, I decided to gather together a musical treat for your ears as you go off on your various flights and drives and other holiday travels. Check out some of the performances from previous episodes as well as tracks off of the albums from some of my incredibly kind guests. Happy holidays everybody!!!
01:36 Katie Boeck – The Brighter Side
06:07 Wardell – Funny Thing
10:14 MEST – Rooftops
15:28 Hollywood Undead – Bullet
19:40 Skating Polly – Kick
23:42 Katie Boeck – Victory
28:36 Rachel Mylan – New Growth
32:08 Special holiday treat outtro Guster – Mamacita Donde Esta Santa Claus?
Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! Upon my return, I sat down with the lovely Sasha Spielberg…a marvelous musician, writer extraordinaire and all-around goof. We chat about her band Wardell and their west coast tour with Ryan Adams, what it’s like to pioneer a new media format with Literally Can’t Even on Snapchat, and why our generation might forget to procreate.
My latest chat features Chris Aquilino who has appeared on Jane the Virgin, Bones, House of Lies, and will be seen on Amazon’s Bosch and in the upcoming Mockingbird Pictures independent feature film The Sweet Life (starring Chris Messina and Abigail Spencer). We chat about what success looks like, being swept up in the do-it-yourself generation, and what food truck offerings appear on a TV set after success at the Emmys.
It is upsetting. Frustrating. So much so that I feel an obligation to begin an entirely new section of this site, one that contrasts my usually positive “Mind Blown” series. I don’t like to be negative but I cannot sit idly by whilst an injustice must be brought to light. Thus we have our first “Mind Groan.”
When I saw Steve Jobs a couple weeks ago, I instantly understood why it got an awkward release despite the all-star cast, commercially successful writer/director duo, and the fact that it is just a damn good movie. Everyone, including and especially Universal Pictures, was taking a huge risk by putting this film out there. It is not a standard biopic. In fact, writer Aaron Sorkin dislikes the association with that word…understandably so. It is a magnificently written, superbly acted play that was filmed like a movie, that is based on real life people/events, combining Sorkin’s signature high-speed dialogue with a Chekhovian structure. And this is why it was pulled from over 2,000 theaters on Monday; it’s just too refined, too smart for the masses to handle.
“America is getting dumber.”
I’ve heard a lot of filmmakers from all sides of the camera, from each type of office chime this sad statement. And it’s just getting truer. In a world of poorly written comic book movies and uninspired remakes, Universal tried to challenge audiences to reach a little higher for an intellectually stimulating experience centering around the man who touched the lives of every single person in the computer-using world and beyond. I applaud their efforts, avoiding a straightforward rise-to-power story and opting for a unique structure in which the messages of the film are morally challenging and not spoon-fed. They tried to break the negative feedback loop we appear to be trapped in, a growing gap between the filmmaking community and the audiences for whom they create; as we try to make smarter and emotionally richer content, the masses demand less thoughtful work, at least according to the numbers. There was hope in Straight Outta Compton, a film Universal distributed with Circle of Confusion as the production company. But Steve Jobs was their earnest attempt to bridge this gap, and it backfired; costing $30 million to make, it has only drawn around $17 million according to the most recent box office results. Universal has called retreat. Making matters worse will be the enabling numbers of another Universal film, Jurassic World, which has pulled over $650 million domestic. Don’t even get me started…
As you may have noticed, the latest interview on SideKickBack should’ve dropped by now…fortunately, I have been a little too busy the last couple weeks as one of the most wonderful times of the year is upon us. If you haven’t heard of AFI Fest, you are truly missing out.
This is now my second year as a staff member at the prestigious festival that offers free tickets to all of its screenings. Yes, you read that correctly, f-r-e-e. Free films, for all. You could attend this festival, see dozens of world class films, mix it up with industry folk and cinephiles, see world premieres of movies in the same theater as the very stars on the screen in front of you, and only pay for parking.
Last year, a co-worker and I decided to attend a midnight screening of a South Korean comedy-crime-thriller because “why not.” The film was A Hard Day and it was kind of like Rush Hour. The only major difference was that it was way, way better. Funnier, more intense and just an overall better ride. The best part of seeing it was that like a great live theater performance, we got the feeling we were watching a once in a lifetime moment. A lot of these films will not adorn the pages of People Magazine or Us Weekly; they’ll be lucky to even see the light of day again in America outside the festival circuit. Nevertheless, they are unique and easily loveable and damn good movies. I encourage all of you to try find some for yourself at this year’s festival. We’ve got some bigger ones too, like Concussion with Will Smith or The Big Short with Steve Carrell and Christian Bale. Foreign films that wowed at Cannes Film Festival, we’ve got them too. There’s a film for you at AFI Fest, and all you have to do is grab some of our remaining tickets and you too can have your own little experience with an amazing gem of a film.
Come and check out AFI Film Festival 2015!
This week I get to chat with Stan Zimmerman, known for writing/producing on such television programs as Roseanne, Gilmore Girls, The Golden Girls, Rita Rocks, such feature films as The Brady Bunch Movie, A Very Brady Sequel and such plays as Meet and Greet and Suicide Notes: In Their Own Words. We talk about how being a writer in television has evolved, what it means to be a violet and solving toilet troubles with the high school theater department bathroom.
Stan’s upcoming projects include:
Gilmore Girls – that’s right! Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel return in Netflix’s revival of the popular series and what better way to keep the good times going by making sure some of the original writers and producers like Stan are around.
Suicide Notes – Stan isn’t necessarily all comedy. At last year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, Stan presented this powerfully moving piece featuring the last words of celebrities and everyday people alike, encouraging the audience to take a good hard look at a tough to talk about topic. The play is still in development and continues to grow and shape as he reaches out to more venues to present the evolving piece.
Skirtchasers – starring Barry Bostwick and Elizabeth Keener, this web series (available at Tello Films) explores the difficulties a not-so-perfect father has with trying to mend his lesbian daughter’s broken heart.
Secs & Execs – currently in post-production (and to be also made available at Tello Films), this web series starring Sandra Bernhard features the differences (and not so differences) between the high-powered execs and those who serve under them.
I’m not sure if this next installment is influenced by current events, perhaps its basic coincidence, but I guess that’s another way of saying it was simply meant to be. I recognize that when I watched The Dirties on Sunday night, the timing of seeing it was an important factor but perhaps that is the point. Shot in a found-footage, documentary-like style (be prepared for some very shaky-cam) this festival darling follows two high school students making a home movie about taking down the bullies at their school, Quentin Tarantino style, guns a-blazin’. As the film progresses, one of the young men takes the joke to uncomfortable heights.
I first heard about The Dirties during a Kevin Smith interview in which he also gave a shout-out to Blue is the Warmest Color. I mention this because while these two films are so different in so many ways, they have one very important thing in common that makes them fantastic: as Mr. Smith puts it, the feeling of watching a camera being dipped into real life. Two very different stories, two very different styles, one very overwhelming and sometimes physical response.
In The Dirties, writer/director/editor/producer Matt Johnson stars as Matt alongside his best friend Owen, played by Owen Williams; already reality has become a head-scratcher. The film opens with a purely accidental scene between Matt and two real life passerby kids asking about the movie that’s being filmed. There are scenes in which Matt sits down to edit the very movie we are watching. There are the sudden moments of frighteningly real bullying, the kind that is psychological and paralyzing. Going into watching the film, I knew there was a mixture of real people and actors partaking in the action and it is absolutely impossible to distinguish who or what is real or fake. Sometimes, catalyzing events happen that I felt like I missed because it wasn’t set up in a way that the camera could catch it perfectly, leaving me to wonder if it was staged or not. There is a constant changing of mood and tone; one moment Matt is being his usual zany jokester self and the next he is reading Columbine by Dave Cullen; one of several incredibly brilliant and sobering ways Johnson reminds us of the anchor that holds this whole story in the real world. The never-ending questioning and shifts lead me to feel perpetually unsettled by every person and everything they did, wondering if life is imitating art or vice versa. Who is going to be the one that pushes this narrative over the edge? I felt as though the story was going to betray me, that the harsh truths of bullies and school shooters would end up on my screen in a very unsettling way no matter how bad I wanted everyone to get along. It was a unique feeling I don’t think a film has ever given me before.
The Dirties is a riveting, provocative and bold film made for very little by some very daring people and it brings to light just how bad we can be to each other at our most sensitive and volatile ages. At a time when school shootings are the source of incredibly heart-breaking frustration, The Dirties offers a no-nonsense view on the matter that feels just too damn important.
The latest episode of SideKickBack Radio features the incomparable actress Naomi Grossman, whom you might recognize (with some difficulty) as Pepper from American Horror Story. We chat about her high school reunion, the difference between “making it” and “doing it,” and large Argentinian hats.