RMV Quick Critique: Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry (2008)

        Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry gives a brief history of the origins of tattooing in America, though the main focus of the film seems to be tattooed old men telling ridiculous stories about the good-old-days and tattoo legend Norman K. Collins. Collins simply went by Sailor Jerry, but he became one of the trailblazers in tattooing when he set up shop in Hawaii. The stories don’t always portray the tattoo legend as the kind of person that would have made a pleasant companion. His work, however, speaks for itself.
Entertainment: 4/10
Quality: 6/10
Availability: DVD

Throwback Thursday Review: A Serious Man

  • Actors: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Universal Studios
  • Blu-ray Release Date: February 9, 2010
  • Run Time: 106 minutes



            The Coen brothers have a long career of creative choices and standout successes. They followed the success of Fargo with the unique The Big Lebowski, and after the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou? they made the studio films Intolerable Cruelty and the remake of The Ladykillers. After No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers have made a comedy that aligns with the wince-worthy moments of Fargo. There is also a personal touch to A Serious Man which seems to come from the Coen brothers’ own childhood experiences, if only to a small extent.


            This darkly humorous endeavor doesn’t include any wood chippers, ill-fated kidnappings, or violence of any kind. The movie is painful to watch because of the onslaught of trouble placed upon Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). The film begins with an odd prologue that can only be speculated upon after the conclusion of the film. In a Jewish community a man allows a dybbuk into his home unknowingly. A dybbuk is the spirit of a dead person, roaming the earth and said to cause bad luck when crossed.


            Whether Larry is cursed because of his ancestor’s interaction with a dead man or simply because of the randomness of life is unclear. What is certain is that little seems to be going right for Larry when we enter the storyline. His wife (Sari Lennick) is leaving him for Larry’s best friend, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed). As if this weren’t bad enough, Sy wants desperately to talk the whole situation over with him. They force a peaceful separation on Larry. Meanwhile Larry’s children are both selfishly absorbed in their own melodrama. His daughter (Jessica McManus) is saving up for a nose job while his son (Aaron Wolff) is saving up to pay off a large bully he owes.


            The confusion on Stuhlbarg’s face is a perfect reaction to most of these situations; Larry works as a math professor who seeks for the solution practically and rationally. With the non-stop disaster taking over his life, Larry cannot comprehend what he did to deserve such trouble. His job is no better, as the tenure board is receiving anonymous negative notes about Larry and a student attempts to ruin his career when a bribe for a better grade is not accepted.  


            A Serious Man is not the most accessible of the Coen brothers’ films, but those who appreciate their sense of humor will praise it as one of their best. The Blu-ray includes a number of special features that fans will also appreciate, including a look at the personal connections between the filmmakers and the film. There is also a featurette on the creation of the neighborhood sets of Minneapolis 1967 and a featurette about the Hebrew and Yiddish used in the film.


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance: 7/10

    Disc Features: 7/10


    Room 237 Blu-ray Review


  • Narrators: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks
  • Director: Rodney Ascher
  • Format: Blu-ray, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: MPI HOME VIDEO
  • Release Date: September 24, 2013
  • Run Time: 102 minutes



            Room 237 reminded me of being a graduate student in a film studies program, surrounded by theories and ideas that are occasionally profound. This is not a typical film, or even documentary, but more of a visual essay on the possible meanings behind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Some of the theories given throughout the film are a bit of a stretch, and there are times that the details being pointed out by the theorist aren’t even entirely accurate. Part of what makes this film interesting is the variety of possibilities, all so very different.


            The unique thing about this film is the fact that there is absolutely no new footage. It is all either footage taken directly from The Shining, or additional film footage from random movies which help to coincide with whatever the various theorists are discussing. There are a variety of main ideas found within The Shining, and each is argued by a veritable authority.


            The main theories within Room 237 about The Shining’s deeper meaning include discussion of the Holocaust, Native American Indians, the Apollo 11 moon landing, and even the past as a whole.  Having the footage from the film play as the experts discuss the film is helpful when there seems to be truth behind their ideas, but it is a double-edged sword for those who are over-thinking and under-watching.


    There is one section of the film where one of the supporting characters in the film is discussed and one theorist mentions a point where he sighs when asked to do something, but when the footage is shown, there is no sigh. There are also many issues of continuity discusses within the film, one involving the same actor’s clothing in one of the scenes. Some sequences have glaring continuity issues, such as a chair disappearing from one shot to the next, or a sticker disappearing from a bedroom door. If nearly any other director had done this, it would have quickly been dismissed as an error, but Kubrick’s celebrity has made it so that nothing he did was a mistake or unintentional. Instead there are plenty of people willing to come up with a variety of excuses for his intentional errors in continuity.


    The only problem with this is the errors in some of the theorists. There is a scene where the actor’s pants supposedly change from shot to shot, and according to the theorist who points it out, this is intentional and significant for some reason. The only problem with this theory is the fact that the pants never change. He claims that the pants are striped in the close-up and then solid in the master shot, but the stripes simply look solid from further away. It is clear in the high definition presentation of Room 237 that the pants are actually the same, proving some of these theories may be the result of a stretched imagination and poor eyesight.


    Even disagree with some points, and unconvinced that Kubrick was the god-like filmmaker everyone makes him out to be, Room 237 was exactly my type of film. Regardless of my belief, I enjoy the thought process behind these theories. This is the way I think about movies, and sometimes my theories are a stretch as well. One thing is certain; it is far more interesting than simply reading The Shining as a ghost story.


    The Blu-ray release includes a commentary track with more theories from internet theorist Kevin McLeod, known to many online as mstrmnd. The special features also include a panel discussion with some of the experts and the filmmaker at the Stanley Film Festival, which is nearly an hour long. There are also 11 deleted sequences, a making-of featurette for the music, and a discussion of the Mondo poster design.


    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7/10

    Historical Significance: 7/10

    Disc Features: 8/10



    New TV on DVD and Blu-ray: 2 Broke Girls, Arrow, Homeland and The Mentalist

  • Actors: Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Garrett Morris, Jonathan Kite, Matthew Moy
  • Writers: Michael Patrick King, Whitney Cummings
  • Producers: Michael Patrick King
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: September 24, 2013
  • Run Time: 576 minutes

  • 2 Broke Girls: The Complete Second Season


            If sexual innuendo and jokes at the intelligence level of a fifteen-year-old boy are still humorous to you, or if you still are fifteen, “2 Broke Girls” will make you laugh. I watch the series with mild amusement, mostly because I have met girls like the foul-mouthed and sex-obsessed Max (Kat Denning), as well as the superficial and self-involved Caroline (Beth Behrs). I watch the show because I can turn it off after twenty minutes, reminded why I no longer see those girls.


            Max and Caroline work in a Brooklyn diner, although it often appears much more like the trendy hipster cities of Los Angeles than New York. Global location aside, the diner is a dump which is run by a small and young Asian man named Han (Matthew Moy), with a few rarely working employees that include Earl (Garrett Morris) and the lecherous cook, Oleg (Jonathan Kite). Max and Carline also have a sex-obsessed neighbor named Sophie (Jennifer Coolidge). In fact, the only time they aren’t discussing sex on some level is when they discuss cupcakes.


            Attempting to escape their job, the girls try and start up a cupcake business. This season they open a store, which doesn’t really go anywhere, but they have a few relationships along the way. The series is full of many devices to keep them from succeeding too soon, because what kind of show called “2 Broke Girls” has successful entrepreneurs.


            The DVD release for the second season of 2 Broke Girls has all twenty-four episodes on three discs. There are also a handful of special features dispersed among the discs, including unaired scenes and a gag reel. The rest of the features are a bit like imagine Max’s cupcakes; enjoyable but void of any nutritional value.


    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10

    Historical Significance: 6/10

    Disc Features: 6/10


  • Actors: Stephen Amell, Katie Cassidy, Colin Donnell, David Ramsey, Willa Holland
  • Director: Guy Norman Bee
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 9
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 989 minutes

    Arrow: The Complete First Season


            First and foremost, Arrow is yet another CW series. This means a familiar polished set of colorful visuals, a cast of actors who either look too young or too old for the role they are playing, and a number of predictably melodramatic love triangle situations. Production design and casting choices aside, “Arrow” actually stands above many other CW series of recent history. They seem to make shows directed exclusively at teenagers, younger the better, but “Arrow” has a few things going for it that make up for the show’s sillier aspects.


            I have never read any Green Arrow comics, although I find it interesting that Green is such a popular color to attach to any superhero type character. Whether or not this series stays close to the comics is a mystery to me, but the narrative in this series is something of a blend between Robin Hood and Hamlet. As unoriginal as some of these story elements are, including a crime fighting costume that looks like a bad-ass Robin Hood with a mask, at least they have ground the story in solid narratives. On top of this solid foundation, the series makes bold choice to keep the origin story something of a mystery, told only through flashback sequences. This helps keep the series interesting, especially when the stale teen melodrama begins to take over.


            There is also a great deal of action, and it is all done somewhat realistically. Though the logic of some of the arrows is about as believable as the gadgets James Bond was using not too long ago, there are no superhuman elements within the storyline. The action is a mixture of MMA fighting and parkour, all rather impressively choreographed. This helps to overlook the fact that nearly every set seems to be backlit by green gels. Or that an enormously large percentage of the cast members have green eyes, despite it being the rarest color. If you can ignore this sledgehammer attempts at subtle imagery, there are some sincerely compelling action storylines to make this one of the more solid superhero series.


            In a new trend from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment, the Blu-ray release of “Arrow” comes with a DVD and Ultraviolet copy as well. The only problem with this generous addition is the amount of space the additional discs take up. Suddenly this single season is a massive box set, albeit an impressive one. The special features helped me out in understanding some of the origins for the story with the “Arrow Comes Alive” featurette, as well as a look at the stunts and choreography training for the film’s impressive action. There are also unaired scenes, a gag reel and footage from Paleyfest with the cast and crew of the series.  



    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 5/10

    Historical Significance: 6/10

    Disc Features: 7/10


  • Actors: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Morena Baccarin, Jackson Pace, Morgan Saylor
  • Directors: Daniel Attias, David Semel, Guy Ferland, Jeremy Podeswa, John Dahl
  • Format: Blu-ray, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Blu-ray Release Date: September 10, 2013
  • Run Time: 629 minutes
    Homeland: The Complete Second Season
            When “24” came out it was the first post-9/11 terrorist thriller on television, and for a few years it seemed cutting edge. Even with the absurdity of the time constraint gimmick, “24” had moments of brilliance, and it provided a cathartic and patriotic win against terrorism. After the series had been done to death, writers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa moved on to loosely adapt the Israeli series entitled “Hatufim,” which means Prisoner of War.
    “Homeland” is a much more complex and character driven than “24” was, filled with a certain amount of intensity and action while also retaining a certain level of realism. It follows the suspicions of CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Golden Globe winner Claire Danes), a bipolar woman with an obsession destroyed her career in the first season. When a marine is rescued after being a prisoner of the Al Qaeda for years, Carrie suspects that he may have been turned. Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) returns home a different man, which is apparent to his family as well as Carrie. The question remains whether this is simple post traumatic stress or whether Brody has been turned into a sleeper agent plotting a terrorist attack against the country.
            Season one ended in such a way that suggested Brody’s secrets would remain hidden, dragging the same premise out for another season. Fortunately, this was not the case. What makes “Homeland” remain compelling in the second season is the way in which the writer’s are unafraid to tear everything down in order to take the series in a new direction. The manner in which the second season ends also suggests a whole new approach in season three. Television used to be safe and dull, predictably formatted in the series and each individual episode. “Homeland” follows none of those rules, and is one of the reasons why television has grown more sophisticated.
            The 3-disc set includes all twelve season two episodes, along with exclusive story extensions and a prologue to season three. There are also some deleted scenes, a featurette about the finale and the sequences shot in Israel, and a Super 8 film diary by Damian Lewis.
    Entertainment Value: 9/10
    Quality of Filmmaking: 8.5/10
    Historical Significance: 8/10
    Disc Features: 8/10

  • Actors: Simon Baker, Robin Tunney, Tim Kang, Owain Yeoman, Amanda Righetti
  • Writer: Bruno Heller
  • Producers: Bruno Heller, Chris Long, Tom Szentgyorgyi, Daniel Cerone, Eoghan Mahony
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese, Thai, French
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 5
  • Studio: Warner Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 946 minutes

  • The Mentalist: The Complete Fifth Season


            There are a dozen different ways that “The Mentalist” can be compared to other shows. You could easily compare it to the cable show “Psych,” but I tend to find similarities with this show and “Lie to Me.” Both use the study of human behavior in order to deduce the truth behind a crime. “Lie to Me” was about a man brilliantly able to detect lies, better than a polygraph. There is a sequence in “The Mentalist” in which a suspect says that he heard Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) could tell when anyone was lying.


            Simon Baker is what truly seems to make the show work the way it does. It is a dark show about a celebrity psychic whose family was murdered by a serial killer named Red John, following some ill-made arrogant remarks about catching him. Although Jane is a grieving father and husband dedicated to hunting down the man responsible for vengeance, Baker plays the role in a carefree manner that is likeable. He is nearly always jovial and easy-going despite the heavy weight that he carries, making his character a unique addition to the investigative detective genre.


            Jane works alongside a team of specially trained detectives in California. The team is headed up by Teresa Lisbon (Robin Tunney) along with Wayne Rigsby (Owain Yeoman), Grace Van Pelt (Amanda Righetti), and Agent Kimball Cho (Tim Kang). They catch a variety of killers and every once and a while an episode continues the Red John narrative, which tends to remove the lighter tone of the show. More episodes seem dedicated to Red John season five, which makes me wonder if the final season is upon us.


            All twenty-two season five episodes are includes in this five disc set, along with a handful of special features. There are two featurettes; one follows the process of production, from script to screen, while the other deals with the process of training given to the actors in order to behave like real law enforcement.



    Entertainment Value: 8/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10

    Historical Significance: 7/10

    Disc Features: 6/10



    Exclusive Interview: Jordan Vogt-Roberts, DIrector of The Kings of Summer

            In the mid-1990s there was suddenly a shift in the style of filmmaking, and many purists laid blame at the feet of MTV and the music video generation. This was not unfounded, especially once MTV began to list the name of the director along with the song information in November of 1992. Visually prolific directors had long been created from the world of marketing and commercial advertisements, but the new medium added an avenue to success. There was a sudden influx of directors who had honed their craft as an entirely visual medium, which created filmmakers with a distinct style and newfound celebrity. Lasse Hallström built a career upon his work with Abba, Michel Gondry with Björk, Spike Jonze with Weezer and The Beastie Boys, and Gore Verbinski started out making punk music videos for Bad Religion and NOFX.

            Eventually these filmmakers were absorbed into Hollywood and it was business as usual, but twenty years later we are witnessing a new generation of filmmakers with all-new avenues of work experience brought by online media. It was less than ten years ago that the video sharing website Vimeo was created, the name itself being an anagram for movie. Four months later, YouTube followed suit, and by October of 2007 Vimeo became the first to offer support for the playback of high definition quality video. This laid the groundwork for filmmakers to begin sharing their content online, both amateur and professional. Suddenly there was a format to suitable for the previously dismissed short film, and now we are seeing filmmakers emerge from this medium.

    Vogt-Roberts and Nick Offerman at Sundance

            Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is one of these up-and-coming filmmakers. Although The Kings of Summer is Vogt-Roberts’ first feature, he approached it with years of experience and a collection of valuable professional connections. Vogt-Roberts created a website with an assortment of comedian friends to showcase videos he had produced and directed, which led to direction of web content for FOX, Sony, and Warner Bros. He then created an hour-long special for Comedy Central and directed episodes of HBO’s “Funny of Die.” While the music video directors of the 1990s built their careers upon the success of the musicians they were known to work with, Vogt-Roberts utilized the comedians he has built relationships with throughout his many online projects (and the offline television off-shoots of and online video sharing site) in order to create an impressive ensemble debut.

    I sat down for an exclusive conversation with Vogt-Roberts a week before the home video release of The Kings of Summer, in order to pick his brain about the film’s influences, improvisation, and the difficulties shooting in the woods. 

    Ryan Izay: So, I watched the film two times last night, back-to-back. I think I’m ready to write a dissertation on this thing.

    Jordan Vogt-Roberts: I feel like I have to apologize for you having to watch it twice.

    Izay: The second time was actually with the commentary track. The first thing I want to know is what kind of dynamic is going on with you and Gabe (Gabriel Basso)? You rip him a new one in the commentary track.

    Vogt-Roberts: (laughs) I actually haven’t listened to that commentary. We all just developed that dynamic on set. We’re all really close and Gabe was just kind of a bully to everyone, and he just took over that role of telling everyone they were doing a terrible job. And so now we’ve all flipped it on him and we just give him a lot of shit.

    Izay: It made for a very entertaining commentary. I can tell you all have a real friendship by the way you talk.

    Vogt-Roberts: Yeah, we had a lot of fun. Those kids are great.

    Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias and Nick Robinson (left to right)

    Izay: I would love to hear how this film came together. I know that Chris’ screenplay was on The Black List in 2009. How did it come to be something you were attached to direct?

    Vogt-Roberts: It was on the black list and the company that bought it, Big Beach, they were trying to figure out if they were going to make it. It’s an interesting script. It’s not a film people were in the business of making, the way it’s about kids but sort of for adults. I’d been looking to make my first feature. I’d been making shorts and TV commercials for awhile. I have a couple short films with characters that approach the material in a similar way; dark but funny, sad but in an uplifting way. They came to me and I fell in love with the script immediately.

    Izay: You’ve got a lot of great bit parts filled with extremely talented actors; Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”), Craig Cackowski (“Weeds”), Megan Mullaly (“Will & Grace”), Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24”), Kumail Nanjiani, and even a very brief appearance from Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”).  How did you get all these great people involved?

    Vogt-Roberts: The whole idea to me, to some degree, was that I wanted to make an ensemble. I wanted to create a world where everything is slightly left of center, and in order to do that I felt like every small part needed someone who could elevate the role a little bit. A lot of those actors I had worked with in the past on different projects: Tony Hale, a lot of the comedians like Hannibal Buress, friends of mine I called up and said “Hey, would you fly into Ohio for a day and shoot this small little scene.”

    Alison Brie, Vogt-Roberts, Chris Galletta, Robinson, Megan Mullally, Arias and Basso  

    Izay: How much was improvised on set with so many small roles filled with such talented comedians?

    Vogt-Roberts: It was a mixture of both. Chris’ script was really great and there is stuff that is verbatim on screen as it is in the script, and I also encouraged a lot of improv. I encouraged a lot of riffing and playing around if we wanted to loosen it up, but that’s only because I’m not fourteen and the writer isn’t fourteen. I wanted the film to feel a little softer, and to have the kids speaking like a fourteen or fifteen would speak like.

    Izay: I think I heard you mention something about improv lessons in the commentary.

    Vogt-Roberts: Yeah, I put them through improv training, not so that they would be super quick and witty but because I wanted them to feel comfortable enough to bring themselves to the roles. I wanted them to feel invested and I wanted them to be able to show up and elevate each of the roles. And they did. A lot of my favorite stuff was improvised.

    Izay: I’d love to hear what it was like filming in the woods. It may have just been the way it was shot, but we really do feel immersed in wilderness for much of the film. What was that like on set? Was it a pain in the ass?

    Vogt-Roberts: (laughs) Yeah, it was kind of madness, but it was pretty great. A lot of those are cheats, where there’s a busy road or a house right behind camera that you can’t see. But a lot of that stuff is pretty deep into the woods, and… (laughs) It was a little maddening. It really was out there, it’s sweaty and hot, and you’re getting eaten by bugs. I think there was a whole period of the movie where I don’t think I went to the bathroom once because I was sweating out all the water I was taking in. It was kind of horrible and then also kind of great, just thinking, “I can’t remember the last time I was in the woods for a month at a time.” It just forced you to bond, which was nice. Everyone was going through the same shit together, so it was definitely a good exercise in team building.

    Izay: Any nightmare days that stood out in the shoot? Anything you would go back and do over differently, if you could?

    Vogt-Roberts: I wouldn’t change much. There are a few scenes that I would change coverage on, but nothing major. The movie is the movie. We had a couple difficult days. On the one day we blew up that truck we were shooting in this dried lakebed and a tree collapsed. It crushed one of our trucks, and then half of our crew got stung by bees all in the same day. We had some pretty insane, biblically hard days. I wouldn’t change too much. It was a sort of rite of passage.

    Izay: What about preparation for this film? Did you watch any other films for inspiration? I know a lot of critics have been comparing it to Stand By Me, Son of Rambow, and I definitely saw a little Wes Anderson in there.

    Vogt-Roberts: Before we started making it, I didn’t watch a lot of films. Before I started pitching on it, that’s when I watched a lot of stuff. It was sort of a post-modern Stand by Me, to some degree. The kids of that generation were capable. Our generation, we’re kind of wusses. We couldn’t survive the way they could. A lot of it was about the differences between those generations of kids. Stand by Me was obviously a reference; John Hughes was also a huge influence. In the first two minutes of the movie, there are references to John Hughes, Kubrick and Terrence Malick. The movie as a whole is a variation on a mash-up, but I think it wears its influences very clearly on its sleeve. And it’s really influenced by Malick, just because I was obsessed with seeing if I could make a really dumb Terrence Malick movie; can we combine really ethereal images, and then make jokes effectively? I also wanted to make a throwback to old Amblin movies, but that still felt fresh, original, and contemporary.

    Izay: I absolutely got the Malick as I was watching it. I’m glad you said it though, because I thought it was just in my head. So, when did you first realize you wanted to be a filmmaker?

    Vogt-Roberts: I was the type of kid who would make stop-motion movies with my action figures. I always loved watching behind-the-scenes specials and I just loved movies. I was one of those kids. Star Wars blew my mind. I didn’t really think it was possible until much later. It wasn’t until I was going to college that I was like, “maybe I should give this thing a shot.” I just kind of went ahead, and said “let’s see what happens.” Since I was a kid I was pretty obsessed with the world of movies. I loved going to the movie theater, making little shorts, and just building things. I just loved the world creation of it all.

    Izay: What are some of your favorite comedies? Desert Island picks.  

    Vogt-Roberts: My favorite comedies are Ghostbusters, Annie Hall, Boogie Nights, Three Kings. Some of them aren’t even necessarily comedies but they’re the things that I laugh the hardest at.       

    Izay: And what’s next for you, Jordan? Are there more feature films lined up or are you planning to go back to making more shorts?

    Vogt-Roberts: I’m making some TV stuff right now; a couple different pilots. But I’m in the process of setting up a few features at different places. It varies, but I just want to work in all different mediums. I love making shorts, and I love commercials because they are a lot of fun to film. I love all of them.

    Izay: Thanks for talking with me, Jordan. I really did enjoy the film. Two times was not as difficult as I imagined when I started the commentary track. You’ve got a good movie.

    Vogt-Roberts: I haven’t even heard that commentary, so I have no idea how it holds up.

    Izay: You guys run a little silent towards the end, but it is solid track before you run out of things to say. And then you get a second wind when the credits start to roll, almost like you’re ready to start the film over again and keep going. Especially Moises Arias.

    Vogt-Roberts: (laughs) Well, we had recorded two commentary tracks that day. So Chris and I had just recorded it once and the kids showed up, and I think I do remember us running out of steam a little bit at the end. We might release the other commentary track as a bonus for people online. That one’s a little more straight and informative, whereas this one with the kids was definitely a little goofier and weirder.

            The Kings of Summer is available on DVD and Blu-ray today, September 24th.


    The East Blu-ray Review

  • Actors: Brit Marling
  • Format: AC-3, Blu-ray, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), French (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English, French, Spanish

  • Rated: PG-13
  • Studio: Fox Searchlight
  • Release Date: September 17, 2013
  • Run Time: 117 minutes


            The premise for The East is promising, albeit simply a more socially aware variation of the much better German film, The Edukators. The most frustrating aspect of the film is not the wasted concept, however, but the self important way with which the material is approached. The left-wing agenda is not even as strong as the filmmaker’s arrogant airs of self importance in filmmaking. Even with a strong visual style, director Zal Batmanglij doesn’t have enough narrative convictions to tell a convincing story, a flaw which I would attribute to the fact that he continuously allows his star to co-write screenplays with him.


            When attending a screening of The Sound of My Voice, Batmanglij’s debut feature which was also co-written by lead actress Brit Marling, I witnessed an interview with the director and his co-writer. It was clear by the manner in which he deferred everything to Marling who has control in the filmmaking process. I don’t know what Batmanglij’s relationship is with the actress, but Marling appears to have far too much influence at the detriment to each project, all the while Batmanglij seems content to follow along like a lost puppy. This is as much of a problem as the narrative’s detours into unnecessary romantic relationships between the terrorists. The minute-long scene where we watch Marling do nothing but cry on a bridge with some of the film’s sloppiest camera work to the tune of a emoting pop song is a perfect example why an actor should not be allowed this much vain control in the filmmaking process.


    Marling stars as an agent for an elite intelligence firm, Sarah Moss, though her approach to going undercover to investigate the enviro-terrorist group is treated as though she were an F.B.I. agent. Clearly this would be a stretch for the young actress, so instead she is working for some unknown firm of rich executives. Since Sarah is on the side of the rich 1% in her investigation, she must also be naively Christian in order to enforce even more of the film’s asinine stereotypes and melting pot of half-baked ideas. This film is filled with nonsensical script additions such as this, which must not have appeared to be a problem for Marling as long as she made herself look good and wrote her character into every scenes of the film. One of the movie’s more obnoxious moments is when Sarah checks into a hotel in order to dye her brown hair peroxide blonde in order to fit in better with the hippie terrorists. Not only does the dye job seem contradictory to her cover, but the bottle job is followed up by shots of her perfectly highlighted hair, complete with brown roots which mysteriously grew in a matter of minutes.



    This is a thriller which takes itself far too seriously, especially considering there is not a single scene without a glaring plot-hole to tear down the illusion of self-declared sophisticated entertainment. Like the group of wannabe modern hippies calling themselves ‘The East,’ there are so many attempts at forcing random elements together that the result is nothing more than a large unorganized mess. Though the film looks fantastic, the structure offers as much stability as the rundown shack the group hides out in for much of the film. The only thing worse than a stupid movie is one filled with the disillusion intelligent, and The East is the most self-important thriller in years.    


    The Blu-ray includes several making-of featurettes about the script and the cast, as well as some agenda-minded features that discuss the left-wing ideas inserted into the film’s screenplay. None of these features are recommended for anyone who felt the way I did about this film, unless you need more proof of the filmmakers’ sense of self-importance.


    Entertainment Value: 5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 4/10

    Historical Significance: 3/10

    Disc Features: 6/10



    Exclusive Interview: Damian Lee, Director of Breakout

            Not every filmmaker got their start through a prestigious film school, or by maxing out credit cards to make their first feature. There are many avenues of life experience which can easily become a valued asset to the art and business of filmmaking, as I discovered from my interview with Canadian writer/director Damian Lee. As a former athlete, Lee’s filmography has had the type of stamina hard training sports might require; completed with years with patience and dedication. Breakout, a backwoods thriller starring Brendan Fraser, Dominic Purcell (“Prison Break”), and Ethan Suplee (“My Name is Earl”), is the latest release from writer/director Lee in a career of filmmaking that spans over thirty years. An athlete never stops training, developing and growing, and this is the work ethic that Damian has clearly brought with him into his career in film production.



    Ryan Izay: Damian, I’ll get to Breakout in a minute but first I have to ask about a rumor I heard about you. Is it true that you used to be a bare-knuckle boxer in Peru?


    Damian Lee: (laughs) Well, I started out as an athlete. I actually had a couple of sports that I participated in professionally. One of them was boxing, for a little bit. At one point I fought Trevor Berbick, Heavyweight champion of the world, in Jamaica. There was some bare-fisted fighting that went on for awhile, but it wasn’t as extensive as perhaps you’d imagine. But there was a lot of boxing. It’s a sport I got into when I was pretty young, and I liked it. And did it for quite a while. Some of it got pretty brutal, but it was an adventure and I had the privilege of fighting some pretty notable fighters. Not that I did that well, I’ll tell you.


    Izay: How does one go from being an athlete to a filmmaker?


    Lee: Well, one of the things that I did was ski professionally for quite awhile, and the ski racing was broadcast on television a lot. So, I was around that and around television production. When I quit ski racing and all the other sports I was doing, I started to produce, direct and write those television shows. And that got pretty boring after a couple years, because there’s no plot. You’d show someone running, or kayaking, or something, but it gets pretty boring. So, then I made my first movie. I made a very low-budget movie for $125,000, and it was Jim Carrey’s first movie. It’s called Copper Mountain. I made it at Copper Mountain. It had Alan Thicke in it. There was literally no plot to it; it was just two guys going to Copper Mountain to ski and pick up girls. So that’s how I segued into the production business. And there was a natural rhythm that I liked in production. There was a gearing up, not unlike athletic events. And I find that a lot of athletes translate pretty well into the production industry. There’s a similar work ethic, and actually producing a film can be pretty physically demanding. Boxing and other sports really helped me in terms of physical dynamism, so that was a big asset, actually. So, that was the transition.   


    Izay: You’ve got quite a few writing credits, as well as directing. Have you always been a writer or is just that you wanted the control that comes with creating your own story?


    Lee: Both are probably correct. I was writing a lot before I started writing for films. I always enjoyed writing and then when I started writing for films, I found the writing aspects, in many ways, is the only true creative aspect of the process. The rest of the process is quite interpretive.  Actors interpret, directors interpret, production designers interpret; we interpret the words on the page. It’s one of the aspects of the process that you are left to your own devices, and vices, so that you can actually work quite freely. It’s probably the most liberating aspect of the entire process. Of course, there is control. You can design a picture before you shoot. Or if you think of actors you’d like to work with, or actors who can capture the moment that you’re envisioning on the page. So, that very much is a control thing, but for me, I enjoy the freedom of creating a vision. I very much enjoy that.


    Izay: Do you have cast members you would like as you’re doing the writing?


    Lee: I definitely have archetypes in mind. And from the archetypes, whether it’s subconscious or conscious, the archetypes begin to manifest themselves in the articulation of particular personas and names. But I think you write in archetypes first, before thinking of particular actors, whether we consciously do it or not. Because the archetypes represent a particular type of energy, or device, or momentum, and that exists for the story. And if that device needs to be represented in a human form, I begin to envision the particular face of an actor.


    Izay: A Dark Truth had political issues in the screenplay, and Breakout has environmental ones. Are these issues which have a personal significance as you are writing? Do you intentionally integrate issues into your genre films?


    Lee: Very much so. What I like to do is take issues of importance, be it spiritual, political, sociological, monetary, whatever, and I like to find the heaviest issue you can deal with and then tell it in the most physically dynamic way. For example, if you had a scene discussing politics with a person, if you take the extreme dynamic level it could be two officers interrogating, water-boarding, a member of Al Qaeda. Then the political views are articulated as a physical thing within the scene. I like to find those moments of friction, and explore what the film wants to say in the realm of the frictional conflict.    


    Izay: What was the seed of inspiration for Breakout?


    Lee: I think there it was the idea of ends versus means. To what extent are we willing to put ourselves. For example, Nelson Mandela. How many years was Nelson Mandela in prison for? 27 years. He had chances when he was in prison; if he had capitulated, in a signed statement he was wrong, he would have gotten out. But he believed so strongly in what he was doing that the objective justified the means in which he was suffering. That was one of the themes in Breakout that I wanted to explore. There was a great film called Witness with Harrison Ford, many years ago. That film started out as an episode for “Gunsmoke.” Witness started out as a single episode, but it was never made for “Gunsmoke,” and it morphed into this Academy Award-winning film. Another film I’ve always really liked, that I wanted to explore in this, was Deliverance. The thing I find interesting about that movie… the rednecks, they weren’t doing anything wrong. It was acceptable morality in their world, right? I love Dominic’s character in Breakout. When he’s trying to kill the kids and their father, he sees it as God’s will. I really like he can embrace a religious philosophy that no matter what they are doing, he thinks they’re right. Look at Islamic extremism. Look at Catholic extremism! People think the Spanish Inquisition was just a few years; it lasted almost 700 years. The final person put to death in the Spanish Inquisition was in Mexico City in 1850. It’s pretty amazing. So, anyway those were the themes I wanted to explore in Breakout. And stories I wanted to tell. Deliverance is an amazing film, and that scene is an amazing scene. And Witness is an amazing film. So, those are themes I wanted to explore, and also the aspects of ‘ends-versus-mean.’ Those are all important to me, in terms of looking at this film.


    Izay: What was it like filming in the woods? I spoke to Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of Kings of Summer, this past week. He was telling me many of the shots were cheated, but it was still a pain. Was this your experience?


    Lee: It was, just in terms of humping the gear around. We were humping a lot of hills and rivers and stuff. Even if we weren’t that far in, a half-a-mile or whatever over woods and rocks, it was basically just the movement of gear that was difficult. And also having the cast, in some of the shots, move over distances. It’s difficult to coordinate moving the cast back into position ‘A.’ So, if I’m like “Let’s do that take again,” if the canoes were at point ‘A’ and they’ve moved 500 yards down the river, to get that canoe back up the river takes a lot of time and energy. So…patience, patience, patience. There’s a lot of dead time when you’re doing something like that. If you’re doing the big master take, you can’t hurry that. Getting into position in the morning took longer, getting out took longer, and the individual master takes took time themselves.


    Izay: As far as casting goes, I noticed that you worked with Dominic Purcell again in your upcoming film, A Fighting Man. Can we hear a little about that? It isn’t based on your days as a bare-knuckle boxer, is it?


    Lee: (laughs) No… I really like this film. It’s basically all set in the ring. Dominic plays an older fighter, 43 years of age, whose been retired for four years. He’s not a very good fighter; he’s just never been knocked down. And he’s proud of that one thing. He comes back because he needs the money; his mother is dying and he wants to take her back to Ireland one last time. And he ends up fighting this young kid, 20 years of age, called King Solomon. It’s a story of the old and the young meeting in the ring, and what they come to mean to each other. It’s a story about them earning the respect of each other in most brutal of circumstances.


    Izay: What boxing films influenced your making of A Fighting Man?  


    Lee: I like Raging Bull a lot. The boxing in that, at least from my perspective, leave some things to be desired. But it’s a great boxing film and very much influenced me in many ways. Also, The Champ, a Jon Voight film, another great film. But again, if you look at the boxing by today’s standards, seems to be lacking. But the heart is very substantial. That was a big film, in terms of significance of heart and spirit in the ring. The first Rocky was a great boxing film, and then I think a lot of the other ones were less boxing and something more of an event. The first Rocky was influential in many ways, and Dominic Purcell’s character certainly has echoes of Stallone’s Rocky.


    Izay: What about your stylistic influences when it comes to the actual boxing? Are there films in which you do like the way they approached it?


    Lee: I think I like aspects of the films. I like certain aspects of Raging Bull; I liked certain aspects of the first Rocky. Those are films that I liked certain aspects of, stylistically. I wanted to make the film quite real in terms of the coverage of the fighting. I had the fighters training in the ring, learning the choreography of the boxing four months out before the filming started. So these guys knew the boxing so well, I could film this in its entirety in a wide shot and the boxing would actually play. The trainer who was working with both fighters and acting as the primary choreographer was a great fighter himself, and I used him as the referee in the fight.

    Izay: Any other projects you are working on right now?


    Lee: Yeah, there are a few films. A film called Christian Soldier, which is in development. It deals with ethics in extremely violent situations. I like the potential of that, though not a lot of work has been done on that yet; and I think the title is compelling. Also a film that David Peoples wrote, that I did the last draft of. David Peoples, of course, who wrote Blade Runner and Unforgiven, so that’s a pretty substantial film. There’s a film I’ve been working on with the United Nations for the last four years; it deals with water deprivation. The word ‘news’ comes from North, East, West, South, and so I took that as a template for this film, in which there is water deprivation in different parts of the globe that become interconnected. And we have A Fighting Man in the post stage right now and my editor is Bill Steinkamp. Bill did Scent of a Woman, A Time to Kill, The Firm, The Fabulous Baker Boys; he was Sydney Pollack’s editor for twenty-years. I consider it a great privilege to be working with him as my editor and co-conspirator.


    Izay: When can we look forward to seeing A Fighting Man?


    Lee: I would imagine next spring. We’ll be finished before the end of this year. I think we start to mix it two months from now, and then the picture should be completely finished and we’ll be working with Sony for distribution. It’s a hell of film, really moving story. Famke Janssen is in the film, Dominic is in there, of course, James Caan, Kim Coates, Louis Gossett Jr., Adam Beach…It’s a pretty impressive cast.


    Izay: I look forward to seeing that.


    Lee: I want you to see it. And after you watch it, call me and let’s talk about that film.


            Breakout was released on DVD on September 17th through Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Also, A Dark Truth is available now on Instant Netflix, Redbox, and on DVD and Blu-ray.