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Interview: The Miseducation of Cameron Post’s Chloe Grace Moretz, Desiree Akhavan, and Mathew Shurka

Posted on August 7, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Copyright FilmRise 2018
Sundance winner “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” takes place in 1993, when a teenager is sent to a Christian “gay conversion” program something between boarding school, boot camp, rehab, and prison. Chloe Grace Moretz gives a performance of great subtlety and sensitivity in the title role. My friend and fellow critic Leslie Combemale and I spoke to Moretz, director Desiree Akhavan and gay conversion survivor and activist Mathew Shurka about the film.

I always think that one of the greatest challenges an actor can have is a part like this one where your character is so much an observer, with no big speeches.

Chloe Grace Moretz: What’s beautiful about the film is that it really is an ensemble piece. It’s called “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” but I walk through it with you guys, perceiving and understanding and taking in and comprehending this space that I’ve been thrust into. We shot the movie chronologically. We only had 23 days to shoot the movie. It was wonderful because we just walked through each beat. Because we didn’t have much rehearsal time, there wasn’t much to do other than feel and hear and listen and perceive.

Because my character didn’t have a lot of lines, all this stuff is happening to her and around her and she’s having all these projections put on her about of what she is and what her problems are. And all she says is, “I don’t think so.” It all happens in her head and it was really fun for me to play with that and depict it all through my face and my eyes. It’s what I like doing best as an actor, ever since I was a little girl. It’s always been something I enjoy, showing context and subtext in my head and having it pushed it out through my eyes, not having to vocalize it. A lot of times in life, when you’re faced with sadness and depression and anger you can’t really formulate words for that. When someone is looking at you and telling you everything you’re doing is incorrect, sometimes the best you can do is say, “I don’t think so.” You internalize that.

Desiree Akhavan: That was the character. Someone who wasn’t that talkative. An introverted, athletic lesbian, an ode to every woman I’ve ever loved. I was building a type. I’ve been asked if that was something that changed specifically through casting Chloe, because she has a strength for communicating without words, but it was just a happy marriage, when the character meets the right actor.

Copyright FilmRise 2018

Mathew Shurka: It was incredibly powerful to see that in Chloe. It is so hard to turn conversion therapy into a film. All the subtleties are really clear in the film. My favorite part is when she just walks into the conversion therapy center and Reverend Rick is playing the guitar. There’s a shot of Chloe’s face. There’s doubt, there’s fear, and “where am I” and it’s every teenager. As a survivor, it read really clear to me, what was going on with her character.

We’d like to believe we are wiser now than in 1993, when this movie takes place, but how many states still allow conversion therapy?

Mathew Shurka: Only 14 states have banned conversion therapy for minors, which means that some form of it is still permitted in 36. But it’s legal for adults in all 50 states. A majority of conversion therapy programs are religion-based, but not all. This movie shows both, an actual therapist and a pastor. In reality, that’s how it goes. All of my treatment was conducted by licensed professionals. My father, who was the one who was really adamant about me going into conversion therapy did his due diligence and he wanted someone who had gone through the training of a therapist to conduct this.

They’re fighting these bills so a lot more are getting licensed as therapists to have more credibility, because they are fighting these bills. There are licensed and there are unlicensed and then the overlap who are both, pastors and licensed therapists. We say you have to choose. In the states where we passed those bills, people say, “What if there’s a pastor who wants to conduct conversion therapy?” and we say, “You have to honor and obey the terms of your therapist license.” You have to choose. You want to be a pastor and have those rights, fine, but if you’re acting as a therapist you have to honor that license.

Because these issues are still so present, did you ever think of setting the film in the present instead of in 1993?

Desiree Akhavan: We thought about it because it would have been cheaper. But no, it was always really important that they were as isolated as possible. For the dramatic stakes to be as high as possible, Cameron could not even know about other gay kids, let along see them on Instagram or reach out and ask for help. I didn’t want there to be a world outside of what they knew around them. I wanted to be loyal to the book but I also didn’t want to deal with technology and the whole host of changes that would bring to their lifestyle and personalities and their identity and their self-expression. The way kids live right now is very different from the way they lived in 1993 and it was important to keep it that way. But it is a very relevant film and when I began this process I didn’t realize how relevant it would become through the course of production.

Interview: Kelly MacDonald and Marc Turtletaub of “Puzzle”

Posted on August 7, 2018 at 8:00 am

Copyright 2018 Sony PIctures Classics

In the midst of the summer blockbuster season, a quiet film about a neglected wife who does jigsaw puzzles is getting a warm reception from critics and fans, with special praise for an exquisite performance by Kelly MacDonald as Agnes in her first lead role. I spoke to MacDonald and director Marc Turtletaub about the film.

There’s a timeless quality at the beginning of the movie as we see Agnes getting the house ready for a birthday party. We don’t know if it is set in the past or just today in a place that has not changed very much over the decades. It’s a surprise when one of her gifts is an iPhone because until that moment it could have been taking place in the 1950’s or 60’s.

Marc Turtletaub: Yes, it was intentional. You do it in the production design and the cinematography. Those early scenes are shot in silhouette and there is a lot of smoke being blown into the room by the cinematographer. It creates an atmosphere in which it feels almost like Agnes, the central character, is stuck in time, and she is as a character. She’s in the house she was raised in, in the house where she took care of her father, the one she raised her children in and so we wanted to create a sense in the environment that it was almost from another era.

It’s not only in the cinematography but it’s the production design and the costume. I spent way too much time picking out a dress for Agnes that would meld into the wallpaper we were picking out so you’d get the sense that not only was she stuck in time but that she was almost unseen in part of the environment.

Kelly MacDonald: There is a book, The Yellow Wallpaper, and that’s exactly what happens to her as she disappears into the walls.

MT: And in Garden State where it’s a complete match. We didn’t want to go that far. We did have a reference though, Bonnard. I was at a museum and I saw some of his work and I was so taken with how the study had a woman in front of the background and they melded so perfectly I went, “ That’s it, that’s what I’m looking for.”

Kelly, you had an unusual opportunity and challenge because you created the character without any words for the first part of the movie.

KM: I’ve always been interested in what it would be like to be in the silent era like Lillian Gish and just solely rely on expressions. So this was like my opportunity. I hadn’t realized when I read the script quite how much of the film has Agnes on her own. I just find those scenes were quite lonely because I got used to being around boys and family and everything and so there was a bit of that but I did quite enjoy just being able to express things without words. Quite often I’m trying to get rid of extraneous dialogue anyway. I’m happy without words.

Your character solves the puzzles very quickly. How did you make that look so natural?

KM: It brought back how much I like puzzles. So I was doing them when I would finish work for the day. I stole a couple from work and I would go back and decompress by doing puzzles. It’s very Zen and relaxing.

And I’d be presented with the prop of the day puzzle and then I would start to find a spot and take the best side that I wanted to work on and then place them on the table and try and remember where I put the pieces I’d be using. It was good brain training. And then I would start do it as fast as possible.

You were acting with one of my absolute favorites Irrfan Khan. Did you consult one another on the chemistry between your characters?

KM: I don’t think we really did discuss it. It was just suddenly he arrived as a fully fledged oddball. The first scene we filmed together was when I tell him I know he is an inventor. That was a good introductory scene to do actually because it was quite a long scene and we got to be face to face. I got to be awkward and he got to be just sort of bemused by this strange woman. When I think of him in the film I think of him in that doorway just being so physical and brilliant and just compelling I think.

There are a number of literal reflections in the film. What does that, well, reflect?

MT: I think of one that probably stands out most of all to me and it’s about it’s the moment where Irrfan Khan’s character Robert talks to Agnes about how active her mind is and the fact that she has nowhere to express it, no one to express it t. He sort of nails it and says something to her that no one has ever said to her but at the same token he actually listens to her. He can be a bit of a mansplainer but he also sees her in a way that maybe no one except her eldest son somewhat sees her.

There’s this wonderful moment after that where we hear Ave Maria and then she walks off and she goes down the street and we set it up so that as Kelly walks you see her reflection in the windows of the stores. And then she stops in front of one store and she flips her hair up and she puts it on top of her head and she pulls it behind her ear. As soon as I read it, that’s the visual I had in my mind. I wanted to see her looking at herself maybe for the first time in years as a woman and thinking about being more self-conscious.

We wanted to show different images (I call them portraits) of her at different stages of the movie and some were more successful than others; that was a successful one. I think another successful one is some of the reflections in the train and we just tried to capture Agnes at a different point in time to see how she’s evolved during the course of the movie.

Marc, You have an unusual career path for a director. What does being a CEO teach you that helps you as a director?

MT: I’ve had a strange life, not just career and I’ve had a lot of experience in a lot of different things. What I think I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is how to collaborate. People who are leaders in whatever endeavor and become successful over a long-term learn how to encourage other people. That’s something you do as a director. You encourage others, whether you’re a parent doing that and leading your children or whether you’re running a company, you’re encouraging. You hold a vision, you know how to set a boundary when you need to but there’s so much about encouraging people to do their best. And when you have people like Kelly and (I really say this in all candor) and Irrfan and David Denman and the young people we had, it makes the job really easy.

I love the way that recognizing her gift for puzzles inspires Agnes to notice more of what is going on around her. She even tells her husband she thinks they should begin watching the news. And she notices for the first time how unhappy her son is.

KM: It isn’t that film about a sort of savant which is great. She’s good at puzzles and she is fast but it’s not the through line of the film. What it does is remind her that she used to really quite like math. It just starts this little thing inside her brain, like this little scratch, and she wants to know what life might have been if things had been just even slightly different.

I just love that. The thing I love about her is she’s kind of got Truth Tourette’s — she just says what’s in her head. She does lie in the film but she does quite a bad job of it and struggles. But when she’s relaxed she can’t help but just see and some things that she says are totally brutal.

She’s a grown woman but she’s like a child. She is being kept like a sort of child-woman and it’s quite right that she has to at some point start discovering herself.

And her oldest son completely sees his mother and what she is and who she is in a way that Agnes isn’t even aware of. but he hasn’t spoken about it and it’s when she starts to sort of change slightly in these tiny ways to normal people but to her family it’s just seismic and it’s the tremors, the after-effects that touches them all. It’s really a beautiful thing that as she’s beginning to sort of open that door inside herself.

When you’re so trapped inside yourself it’s hard to see anyone else. If you do not see yourself with any depth how can you see depth in other people? This experience gives her the ability to just recognize her son’s in real trouble and she’s a very good mom and I think it’s lovely.

MT: She frees him.

KM: And it’s not a romance film either. It’s not about who is she going to end up with, who is going to make her better because it’s her journey. She could have fallen into either set of strong arms and the problems would remain and she would still have a lot of work to do on herself.

Marc, as I look back on the movies you have produced, it seems they are all about imperfect people trying to do the best they can.

MT: I try to. That’s like all of us, right? Audiences are hungry for real people realistically displayed. Mike Leigh said it beautifully: He takes the mundane and makes it poetic. That’s what we aspire for in this movie, to have ordinary characters but their lives stand for something so much bigger.

KM: Ordinary stories that move you, When people talk to us about how this movie makes them feel, they touch their hearts, literally put their hands on their chests, and I love that.

Interview: John David Washington of “BlackkKlansman”

Posted on August 6, 2018 at 8:00 am

Former pro football player and “Ballers” co-star John David Washington stars in Spike Lee’s new film, “BlackkKlansman.” It is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, the first black law enforcement office in Colorado Springs, who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan over the telephone in the 1970’s. In an interview, Washington talked about playing someone who is pretending to be what he is not, rocking a 70’s look, and his dream role in a Shakespeare classic.

Was Stallworth really so inexperienced that he accidentally gave the KKK his real name?

Exactly. He was just trying to make a name, he was ambitious and he was in the moment very emotional and he had a brain freeze. I asked him several times what really happened, and after like the third week of asking he said the same thing, and I was like, all right, that must be the real story.

Your character is basically lying to everybody, not just to the Klan but also to the girl he likes, who would not spend time with him if she knew he was a cop.

He was a man that believed in what he was doing. He was this sort of Jackie Robinson police detective. I can’t imagine what that feels like, being in that community being the only person that looks like you. So I think he had to build up this sort of defense or shield he had to protect himself so maybe getting into these characters helped him be able to do his job more fluidly. If he exposed too many emotions or trusted too much that could compromise how he does his job and the integrity of it, What happened with the love interest, though, that’s when he started to break that wall down and because of not just her and her passion and her beauty but the cause.

It’s not like he wasn’t aware of his people. He says, “Because I’m not going to give it away it doesn’t mean I’m not for the liberation of my people.” He believes that he can do on the law side and I appreciate that. He thinks, “We’re trying to do the best we can. We’re protecting ourselves and the community and that means we got to do what we got to do but we’re doing it the right way or for the right reasons.” It means a lot to have a platform like this to show such emotions and show that we care too.

What was it about or his outlook or his background that made him think that he could change things from the inside?

I can’t give too much away about his background and what motivated him because there is some deep stuff there, but there were some personal experiences that he had gone through to help motivate and sustain him and give him the stamina to take it on the chin and get to where he was. I can’t imagine being a black man in Colorado Springs in the 70’s. He had to persevere.

In “Ballers” you play a guy who pretty much says whatever is on his mind and in this movie you play a guy who keeps a lot inside so tell me how you approach that as an actor.

One’s therapeutic for sure. Ricky Jarret on the football show is more of a representation than the actual person. Ron is living and he’s alive and well and there is a lot of information in his book and I spent time talking to him so it was a different type of concentration, a different type of representation. It’s not just an idea. It’s just about this man who lived and how he lived and what he believed in.

Also I feel like who’s directing and who’s guiding the ship makes a huge difference for me too. The direction I got from Spike Lee and the trust I got from Spike Lee made this the most unique experience I’ve ever had.

Copyright 2018 Nell Minow

How did Spike Lee first talk to you about the role?

Got a text from him: “this is Spike – call me.” I called him and he said there was a book about a man who infiltrated the Klu Klux Klan. He sent the book, and I was like, “All right.” I read the book and was blown away. I called him back like, “I can’t believe this! This is incredible.” From then on it wasn’t like “So, you want to do it?” It wasn’t like, “Let’s discuss feelings,” or anything like that. He was like, “I’ll have the script for you in a couple months,” so I started doing research as if I was getting ready for the role.

What did it feel like to see yourself in that 70’s hair and wardrobe?

I loved it! I didn’t want to look like we’re playing Halloween 70’s like in films that almost are like making fun of how they dressed. I remember Spike was talking about this passionately like, “We thought we were fly. We thought we looked great,” so that authenticity really helped inform us as what choices to make based off of how we felt with the clothes we put on with the fabric and the accessories and obviously the hair and the shoes. It was great.

So when you first looked at yourself in the mirror tricked out like that what did you think?

I thought, “There he is,” and then, “Just go get it.

At one point you’re talking to the head of the KKK, David Duke, played by Topher Grace, over the phone, and he brags about being able to tell by voice who is black. How did you think about your voice in those calls?

He can speak jive or the King’s English. I have a wealth of experiences too from private school to HBCU, historically black college, to North Carolina where I spent a lot of time. All that is a part of me, how I talk and how I speak and even in my cadence; it can change when I get excited about certain things and so sometimes I have this North Carolinian cadence.

I love that he didn’t put on, he didn’t see it like putting on a white voice and I don’t know what that means either to be honest personally, but what he did do was use a certain language. There was a certain hate vernacular that helped entice hatred to him so that he can penetrate that hatred. He called them trigger words, and David Duke was so sure a black man would not use those words he never suspected.

The KKK members use those hateful terms and describe horrible acts in such a casual tone of voice, too.

It’s one thing when you’re emotional about something and you express it through a curse word or raise your voice, but like you said, this is regular conversation.

Ron’s partner, played by Adam Driver, had to pretend to be him when they met in person. How did you work with Adam on coordinating that?

Ron in the book talks about how they worked together. They would meet and make sure they were on the same page with the information that he got and what he said and once Adam’s character got it they had to make sure they coordinated to make sure they were on the same page, so we were doing the same things. We weren’t necessarily trying to sound like each other because Ron said they really did which is a huge take away for me, too. One time it was a close call but like they just didn’t pick up on him; they never did.

The movie makes it clear that the fellowship was really a large part of the appeal of the Klan. They just wanted to feel like they were a part of something.

Absolutely, it was institutional hate; it was organized. There is a camaraderie. That brotherhood I think was a part of a draw and strength in numbers. Again that’s why these trigger words, the language that’s used in this film are vulgar and a bit abrasive but it had to be; it was necessary because this is the language that is spoken and this is how he was able to get in and maintain this case and get it to where he got it to.

It took a lot of courage to do that.

I agree. One of the hardest days on the film for me, it seemed like one of t=the most authentic days, when I was really in a time warp was the banquet scene, when Ron is on security detail. I called Ron Stallworth afterward and told him, “You’re a true hero. I can’t believe you did that.” I felt like personally John in that role on that day was looking death right in the eyes several times.

Watching the scene it was giving me anxiety. I know what’s going to happen and I’m still like, “Oh my,” it was tripping me out. That day was a hard day for all the actors, we all talked about it.

I heard that your dream role is Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare.

I’m trying to! If you know anybody tell them I said we’re looking for funding and by God, I’ll do it. I keep the monologue on me at all times. The way when I was working on it I found him a bit of a misunderstood character. Traditionally it is played a certain way but I felt like he was more sensitive than given credit for. I felt the sensitivity that was insecurity like some mother issues coming out which I would have loved to explore through this guy. So I had this other kind of approach. That’s just me and the language.

Ashlie Anderson, whose character I have to I run after and chase, before every take we would do the scene. We would get our Taming of the Shrew on before they started to film, Ashlie, shout out to you girl; we’re partners in that.

What do you think of when you think of the KKK?

My mom had an encounter with the KKK when she was I think 7 years old in North Carolina. She snuck into a cross burning. I’m so lucky she didn’t get caught because I wouldn’t be here.

New Lists: Best Golden Age Movie Musicals and Best TV since 2000

Posted on August 5, 2018 at 8:00 am

Lists are designed to start arguments, not resolve them, but it is always fun to see what other people think as long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Vulture has a list of the best Golden Age movie musicals.  Without making any comment on whether this list is definitive, I’ll just say that every one of them is well worth seeing.

The Ringer has a list of the best 100 television episodes of the century (so far).  As you might predict, “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men,” “The Americans,” and other high prestige dramas, but it was fun to see great choices from “Project Runway,” “Barefoot Contessa,” “The Bachelor,” and the one that would probably top my list, the one with the twist in “The Good Place.”

Copyright 2017 Fremulon


Like Father

Posted on August 4, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Profanity: Strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and non-explicit situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkenness including drinking to deal with stress and to bond
Violence/ Scariness: References to illness and sad deaths
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2018
Copyright Netflix 2018

My review of “Like Father,” the new Netflix film with Kristen Bell and Kelsey Grammer, is on rogerebert.com.

Bell and Grammer are consummate pros. They cannot make this material surprising, believable, or even particularly moving, but they do their considerable best to hold our attention and are always watchable. Their scenes together are high points, even when the big speeches are thinly conceived. If the discussions about whether Rachel really needs to be on her phone at a gorgeous secluded waterfall and whether Harry has really confessed everything Rachel should know get tedious, the evident enjoyment that Bell and Grammer have in being together, especially in their silly karaoke number, make us happy to come sail away with them for a little while.