Author Archives: Dylan Visvikis

About Dylan Visvikis

Dylan Visvikis is a working screenwriter and director in Los Angeles.

Hitchcock – Film Review

D’awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

It is a most fortuitous coincidence that I am taking a class on the life and works of Alfred Hitchcock in the year of the release of the first real Hitchcock biopics–HBO’s The Girl being one, and the film I saw last night, Hitchcock, being the other. I haven’t seen The Girl, though the professor of the class (the Alma and Alfred Hitchcock chair, by the way, due to his status as one of the foremost, if not the foremost, Hitchcock scholar in the land) seems to think that it’s awful. But as of last night, I have seen Hitchcock. And it is far, far from awful.

The film covers the making of Hitchcock’s most popular and revolutionary film, Psycho, as the book it was based on (by Stephen Rebello) had done. (Author’s Note: I would recommend you see Psycho before seeing this film. Hitchcock will spoil some of its more inspired twists.) At the start of the film, Hitchcock’s latest effort, North by Northwest, premieres, and it is a rousing success, but the writings of a particularly disdainful critic stick in his mind, and he feels the need to do something new and ambitious to keep himself relevant as he enters into his 60s. So he finds the most pulpy novel in America, buys up all the copies so that no one knows the ending, and sets out to work on a picture no one wants to make–Psycho. He and his wife, Alma Reville, his most important and necessary collaborator, have to finance the picture themselves, in turn risking everything they have–their standing in Hollywood, their house, etc.–leading to one of the more interesting making of stories in the history of cinema.

Anthony Hopkins is obviously solid as the title character, and brings a great deal of nuance to the table, but the film belongs to Helen Mirren, who brings to life the amazing woman behind the man with an appropriate amount of vivacity and reality. She deserves an Oscar nomination, if not a win, for that performance. Because the film centers so much on the main couple, the characters that surround them are reduced to smaller roles, so to flesh them out with considerable presence, great actors are needed. Scarlett Johansson, my future wife what who said that, plays the star Janet Leigh, the always amazing Michael Stuhlbarg plays Hitch’s agent, character actor Danny Huston gets a chance to shine, Toni Collette seems slighted in the small role of Hitch’s secretary, but makes the most of it, Jessica Biel brings a necessary humanity and pettiness to Vera Miles, but the real scene-stealer is James D’Arcy, who IS Anthony Perkins–there’s no better way to say it. He has maybe two or three scenes, but he deserves serious consideration for literally being this other person.

The direction, by Sacha Gervasi, is necessarily tight and smart. One rushed, handheld sequence in particular really brings you into the emotional mentality of the master of suspense. The writing (by John McLaughlin, a long way from his last film, Black Swan) is consistently funny, absolutely beautiful to Hitchcock scholars–the nuances are stellar, though casual moviegoers might not get them–and worthy of consideration for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Technical stuff is superb. Danny Elfman’s score is whimsical and fabulous, bringing in elements of Bernard Herrmann’s classic motifs. Jeff Cronenweth proves he can shoot something other than Fincher darkness with his obviously Hitchcockian cinematography. The period aspects of the film are very well-done and the editing, by Fighter editor Pamela Martin, is tight and un-excessive.

Overall, Hitchcock is a beautiful, cute, funny and smart film that deserves serious Academy attention, with no technical flaws. It’s so obvious everyone on this movie was making it for the art, the passion and the legacy, and not the money. A legitimate labor of love, a rarity in modern Hollywood. Check it out if you love a good love story, a heartwarming story, or even Hitchcock. It’s a surprisingly awesome date movie.

4.5/5 stars.


Dead Man’s Bones (aka Ryan Gosling Has A Band)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Gosling

Do I need to say more? He’s a class act and a man other men should be like. My role model. My muse. Mr. Gosling, I salute you.

iTunes

Oh, and did I mention the entire album is a collaboration with a children’s choir started by Flea? Yeah, that’s a thing.

Oh, and it’s pretty good too.


Lincoln – Film Review

If you like Broadway plays, politics and really talented actors at the top of their game, you’ll like Lincoln.

Tony Kushner wrote Lincoln. He also wrote Angels in America and co-wrote Spielberg’s Munich. He’s won a Tony. And most of all, he’s a playwright. This aspect of him shines through more than anything else in this film. Lincoln is the one of the talkiest films I’ve seen in recent years, but not in a Sorkin-y rapid-fire kind of way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, if you’re a fan of smart, complex films and long, interesting Broadway plays, then you’ll love it.

The film covers the last few months of Lincoln’s (a serious Best Actor contender and sure-fire nominee Daniel Day-Lewis) personal and political life (mostly the latter), as he tries to pass the 13th Amendment through Congress and secure a peace agreement with the Confederacy.

Throughout the film, Lincoln interacts with a seemingly endless cast of supporting players that each fight for screen time. Mary Todd Lincoln, his wife, is played beautifully by Sally Field, as is his son, Robert, by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. James Spader steals a couple scenes, and every actor I’ve ever liked manages to sneak their way into the film (Hal Holbrook, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Costabile, Jared Harris, Lee Pace, Jackie Earle Haley, David Straithairn, Bruce McGill, John Hawkes, and Stephen McKinley Henderson among others). However, the real scene stealer and serious Oscar contender is Tommy Lee Jones, who’s Thaddeus Stevens deserves a film of his own.

It is in the scenes with Stevens that the film proves its mettle. Stevens was an ingenious, clever and alienating radical Republican who fought valiantly for the legalization of the black vote… over 100 years before it was legalized. Lincoln being a great compromiser, his discussions with the totally valid and right Stevens over how much to fight for civil rights are the most interesting and complex parts of the film. Stevens is also formidably funny, providing some of the film’s best wit.

The film does have its flaws. It has a slow start and things feel dragged out by deliberately slow pacing on director Steven Spielberg‘s part. The editing by Michael Kahn could have streamlined things for certain, and the runtime could easily be a half-hour shorter without losing any plot or dialogue. Things seem to linger just a bit longer than they need to. Even the ending should have ended at a certain shot, but instead chose to go farther. I thought Janusz Kaminski‘s cinematography was gorgeous, but some of my cinematographer friends were concerned with his supposed overuse of lights. Overall though, I’m being nitpicky. John Williams is on his game and it’s clear Spielberg knows how to tug the heartstrings.

Like Flight, I applaud its ambition to be smart, challenge its audience and slightly more adult. More importantly though, after War Horse, it’s awesome to see Spielberg back to his usual brilliant self.

OVERALL: Definitely worth the price of admission. Definitely an easy Oscar contender for Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor. Beyond that… we’ll see.

4/5 stars.


Introducing – Kenzie & Kendal

This is literally the most chance discovery I’ve ever made. A Facebook friend of mine liked a band. She’s not someone I’m particularly close with. It popped up on my news feed, and I’m a guy always on the lookout for new music. So I clicked on the page, and listened to a few songs.

Kenzie & Kendal have doubled their likes on Facebook in October to over 1,000. I’m one of them now. They have a derivative sound, sure, but it’s a good derivative sound. Taking guidance primarily from The Civil Wars and The Swell Season, Kenzie & Kendal have crafted a well-arranged debut album of songs ranging from Swell Season’s acoustic indie-style stuff to Civil Wars’ more americana/folk-based melodies.

When searching for them on YouTube, I found one song, “Six Feet Deep”, the most heavily arranged and rootsy song on the album. A related song was “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart, one of my favorites. I won’t post it here, because I don’t think it’s the most accurate or best representation of their work. The album kicks off with a song called “We’ll Be Just Fine”, and it’s definitely the best of the bunch. So here’s a link to it:

iTunes

Preview it, listen the WHOLE WAY THROUGH (the chorus takes a while to hit), and if you like it, help out some struggling indie artists. Or just rip it from their BandPage on Facebook and share the crap out of it like I would if we had the space to store it (coming soon, hopefully). Either way, attend their live shows and support them, ’cause that’s a good thing to do and you’re a good person, right?


Flight – Film Review

The best film I’ve ever seen about addiction*. Not without its flaws, but a great, totally entertaining ride from master director Robert Zemeckis, a certified pilot himself, making an original story that would most certainly have not gotten made if it weren’t for the noble efforts of Mr. Zemeckis.

February 3, 2012. Myself and three others were lucky enough to spend a few hours with Robert Zemeckis. We got to talk at length about anything and everything, about film and social media and modern society. He is easily one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever spoken to, if not the most intelligent. After those precious few hours, he became a hero and a role model. I know I’ll sound like I’m preaching some religious gospel, but he spoke of a coming revolution in film. He spoke of my favorite film, The Social Network, and how it was far and away the best film made in the past two years, and that only a few others had been made competently. He talked about how when he and his friends were in film school, they hated everything but Hitchcock. All they wanted to do was revolutionize filmmaking. Change it. Make it meaningful. Change the world. And they did. For better in many ways, for worse in others, he contends. But he spoke of a coming revolution, a necessary revolution, because this severely broken culture needs it, now more than ever. And he didn’t know where it would be headed, but he knew that from now on he’d try to do the best he could to set a good example for it. He declared to us in that room that he’d never remake a film, or make an unnecessary sequel, or otherwise make unoriginal, uninspired or unimportant material again. And he spoke of the film that would launch all of that: Flight.

He spoke of an inspired script by John Gatins–original, powerful and adult. Gatins had long intended to direct Flight, but leaped at the chance for Zemeckis to take his spot. While the script isn’t necessarily perfect–it suffers from some ill-advised tonal shifts that, while working effectively on their own, don’t seem to flow well together–it creates a moving character study that’s sometimes funny, always real, and surprisingly gripping. Interesting themes are explored, and there are more than a few beautiful, revealing character moments.

He spoke of Denzel Washington, giving one of his finest performances. He wasn’t lying. Denzel should easily be a part of this year’s Oscar conversation for his portrayal of a cocky, amazing pilot with alcoholism. He brings a gravitas, a distinctly male sensibility to the character, and a reality to the horrors of alcoholism. But he’s not the only brilliant performer. The surprising scene-stealer Kelly Reilly (the Sherlock Holmes films) makes Nicole, his love interest and recovering addict feel equally real and easily holds her own with Denzel’s powerhouse pilot. John Goodman makes his mostly-comic relief character soar (see what I did there), Melissa Leo makes her single scene phenomenal, Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle are, as always, rock-steady, and Tamara Tunie, as one of the flight attendants on board the doomed airliner, brings a graceful subtlety in a performance that I believe will be unfairly overlooked.

The reason the film is so excellent, though, is because of Zemeckis’ controlled, powerful direction that takes the audience on a tension-filled ride the whole way through. Zemeckis is one of the few elite directors around today that can make people really feel something in the theater. He can create jump scares from the most subtle of character moments, create tangible tension in even the most mundane scenarios, and immerse you in the dark, complex world of a dark, complex man, and make you love to watch him. It’s an x-factor that pushes beyond technical mastery to tap into something deeper. In the film’s first scene, there’s a riveting, distinctive shot of Denzel’s character doing cocaine. This shot is technically masterful on so many levels, and immerses the audience so deeply in the world almost immediately. I’m not a particularly visual filmmaker, but I recognize and appreciate the effectiveness of directorial action such as that.

Speaking of cinematography, Don Burgess creates an often beautiful film, with a few distinctive shots for good measure. Another Zemeckis longtime-collaborator Alan Silvestri delivers a subtle, spellbinding score, as per usual. Jeremiah O’Driscoll, who worked his way up from apprenticeship to assistant editor to full-on editor over the course of the past 20 or so years, proves his mettle in live-action films with a clean, taut and character-driven editing style that subtly enhances the emotional content of the film.

This is a rare film. Exploring the treacherous waters of addiction is a risky pick in today’s no-budget-or-big-budget business, and it certainly took the courage of a well-respected director like Zemeckis to get this made. Hopefully, this film does well at the box office, and studios realize that the Transformers and Paranormal Activity films aren’t the only way to make money at the multiplex. Hopefully, adult dramas will return with the ambition that this film exemplifies.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s damn good, and real adult dramas need to make a comeback. And for those reasons, it’s definitely worth the price of admission.

*Disclaimer: Still haven’t seen Trainspotting or Requiem for a Dream.


Introducing – The Shortcoats

As many of you probably know by now, one of my favorite screenwriters is Lorene Scafaria–she’s the writer responsible for the brilliant adaptation of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist and the auteur behind the significantly underrated and significantly beautiful film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World–and it should be no surprise, seeing as she’s good friends with Diablo Cody.

One of the most severely underappreciated actors in Hollywood is Adam Brody, who first turned heads as scene-stealing, Death Cab-loving, much-prettier-version-of-me Seth Cohen on The O.C. and continues to impress in films like Jennifer’s Body and In the Land of Women.

Jonathan Sadoff, along with Rob Simonsen, composed the score for Seeking a Friend. He also graduated from the best school in the world, USC, and scored the feature directorial debuts of both James Franco and Michael Keaton.

What do these three people have in common? They were all a part of Seeking a Friend, and they are all in a band called The Shortcoats. Scafaria takes on lead vocals and keys, Brody’s on drums, and Sadoff covers guitar, bass and production.

With just under 200 likes on Facebook (I was #194, just in case I have an excuse to brag about this later…not that I would or anything, I mean I’m not gonna be that guy…), The Shortcoats are under the radars of even the hippest of hipsters. I don’t really understand why. From their lone 5-song EP, I can easily tell that their melodies evoke the best of indie rock from the 80s with a modern spin (as the band members’ particular tastes would indicate), and their lyricism is unsurprisingly equal parts rhythmic and relatable, much like Scafaria’s dialogue. The lo-fi feel of the intricately choreographed backing tracks provide a worthy, rangy dynamic canvas for Scafaria’s unique, raw vocal style. There’s no unnecessary flair to the proceedings, but there’s a definite care for the details and little touches that really round out a good EP.

Check out “Too Late” below and check them out on Facebook and iTunes.

P.S:  Scafaria has also released two awesome solo albums that I can’t stop listening to at the moment, and Brody is also in the band Big Japan, with fellow underrated actor Bret Harrison. So those artists are worth checking out too. If, y’know, whatever, you’re into that sort of thing.


I Guest Reviewed on The Post-Credits Podcast and all You Get is this Stupid Free Download

A couple weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Ben Affleck‘s new film Argo with Michael Chasin, Ty Sheedlo, JT Hagaman, and returning guest Michael Nader on the sublime Post-Credits Podcast, which, if you didn’t know, reviews and analyzes films with a cheery vibe and an infectious sense of humor. Now that the film’s been released, so has the podcast. Enjoy!

Right-click to download, or just left-click to listen:

icon for podbean