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By Christopher Stipp

The Archives, Right Here

Check out my other column, This Week In Trailers, at SlashFilm.com and follow me on TWITTER under the name: Stipp

BOMBAY BEACH - DVD REVIEW

bombay_beach_dvdAn emotionally gripping documentary that charts the lives of those living around the Salton Sea area in California this is a film that incorporates the emotional punch of showing a triad of stories that deal with rural poverty and abject isolation with some artistic injections of poetry and dancing. I know, it sounds like a combination that should not work and if it wasn’t anyone else but filmmaker Alma Har’el at the helm of this project it wouldn’t have worked well but the truth of the matter is that you understand her subjects more because of these disparate elements. You appreciate their inner plight when you can peel back the superficiality of living in a place that seems to be oozing despair and show them as human beings who yearn for more than what they have, what they’re surrounded by.

Just like General Orders No. 9, this documentary blends the literal and surreal in ways that just make sense. The lives of people who are living closer than any of us will to the edges of society make for more than just documentary fodder, it makes for the perfect platform with which to illustrate people many of us try so hard to ignore. There is no place to hide here and thank God for that.

About the film:

Bombay Beach, the Tribeca Film Festival 2011 winner “Best Feature Documentary” is now on DVD

- A documentary that is as much MTV as PBS… an awesomely fresh piece of cinema.” –IndieWIRE

“It’s an American beauty.” –The Wall Street Journal

“A beautiful, quirky and ultimately very moving film” –Terry Gilliam

WINNER OF THE BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY AT THE 2011 TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL, FILMMAKER ALMA HAR’EL’S “BRILLIANT AND POETIC ” FESTIVAL SMASH IS A MOVING AND MADLY INVENTIVE DOCUMENTARY EXPERIENCE

PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

Decades ago, the Salton Sea was a California tourist hotspot and a symbol of 1950s-era American optimism. Now, in a state of environmental decline and abandonment, its inhabitants still cling to their dreams despite living among the decaying relics of a bygone era. This year’s winner of the Tribeca Film Festival documentary competition and a festival hit around the world, BOMBAY BEACH creates a portrait of this small community living on the fringes of the lost American dream, and the dreamers who populate its surreal and poetic landscape. The film makes its DVD debut this January, from Entertainment One under the Focus World brand, which is charged with finding the most exciting voices in international and independent film.

“Many films try to portray dignity in rural decay, but the authentically poetic Bombay Beach is the real deal.” –The Associated Press

True to her roots as a photographer, video artist, and music video director, Alma Har’el crafts an adamantly atypical and artistically innovative film, telling the story of three protagonists: Benny Parrish, a young boy diagnosed with bipolar disorder, whose troubled soul and vivid imagination create both suffering and joy for him and his complex and loving family; CeeJay Thompson, a black teenager and aspiring football player, who has taken refuge in Bombay Beach hoping to avoid the same fate of his murdered cousin; and Red, an ancient survivor and former oil field worker, living on the fumes of whiskey, cigarettes and an irrepressible love of life.

Each narrative is interspersed with dance sequences choreographed to music composed for the film by Zach Condon of the band Beirut, and songs by Bob Dylan; however, it is the camera that sets this film apart. Quite simply, the landscape of Bombay Beach is as fantastic and surreal a place as a dream. Each image appears to have been folded up and sent through the wash in somebody’s back pocket. Light collects in folds and pours through creases, revealing an earth that is worn, soft and surprising. The result is a moving and madly inventive documentary experience — an evocative, symbolic portrait of rural America and its inhabitants.

BONUS FEATURES

• Deleted Scenes
• “Where Are They Now?” Featurettes
• Selected Scenes with Commentary by filmmaker Alma Har’el and editor Joe Lindquist
• Alma Har’el Music Videos

REAL STEEL - DVD REVIEW

real-steel-blu-ray-dvd-1If any of you have watched OVER THE TOP you’ll have a good idea of where things are going in this one.

And that’s not a knock against a movie that is really made for families and in a landscape that is filled with dreck like Mr. Popper’s Penguins the pickens are slim. There really should be a handicap when it comes to family entertainment because it truly does have to serve many masters: mothers, fathers, and the kids. When you have to blend these many audiences it’s easy to see how too much of one could be a bad thing and end up with a movie best left to the kiddies but director Shawn Levy deserves some praise, however slight, for giving everyone their bread and circuses.

When you have a story about a father who has never met his son, who initially doesn’t want anything to do with this sudden parenting situation he finds himself in, a robot who wants to be more than just a robot (don’t they all), and a love story that is about as tame as something you’d see on the Disney Channel, you shouldn’t expect much. But, what you do get, is more than the sum of its robotic parts.

The action is good, the pacing is incredibly passable, and the ending, while not altogether surprising, is enough to make this one of those movies that if you had to find yourself choosing from a list of others in its weight class, should be your very first pick.

About the movie:

“It’s Rocky with robots…a heartwarming movie for everyone.”
—Pete Hammond,

Box Office Magazine

DreamWorks Studios’ REAL STEEL, starring Hugh Jackman, muscles its way into the Home Entertainment arena on Blu-ray™, DVD, Digital and On-Demand on January 24, 2012. This visually stunning action-adventure filled with heart and soul is a “must-add” to every home movie collection, delivering a premium in-home experience complete with knockout bonus materials that dive deeper into the action.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack, with its perfect picture and sound, delivers the ultimate punch, offering viewers a variety of supplemental bonus features that take them ringside with Director Shawn Levy on the making of the film. Exclusive features include a bare-knuckled exposé of the life story of Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman), deleted and extended scenes that go deeper into the film and storylines, and a riveting profile with legendary boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard. Plus, the revolutionary Real Steel Second Screen app lets viewers sync their iPad™* or computer with the Blu-ray movie to peel back layers of effects with progression reels, check out 360-degree turnarounds of the robots, explore seamless branching pods that delve into the cutting-edge technology used to create the fights, and much more.

The #1 movie in the country for two consecutive weeks during its theatrical run, REAL STEEL is directed by Shawn Levy (Night At the Museum franchise, Date Night and What Happens in Vegas), produced by Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List), with a screenplay by John Gatins (Coach Carter, Summer Catch). Set in the not-so-distant future where boxing has gone high-tech and 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots have taken over the ring, the film stars Hugh Jackman (X-Men franchise, Australia) as Charlie Kenton, Evangeline Lilly (TV’s Lost, The Hurt Locker) as Bailey Tallet, Dakota Goyo (Thor) as Max Kenton, Kevin Durand (I Am Number Four, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) as Ricky, and Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau, The Hurt Locker) as Finn.

Bonus Features Include:
REAL STEEL SECOND SCREEN
Countdown to the Fight—The Charlie Kenton Story
Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ
Deleted and Extended Scenes with introductions by Shawn Levy
Extended “Meet Ambush”
Deleted “Butterfly” Storyline
PLUS All DVD Bonus Features

1-Disc DVD (1 DVD)
Making of Metal Valley
Building the Bots
Bloopers
HIGH-DEFINITION & STANDARD DEFINITION DIGITAL
Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman’s Champ
PLUS All DVD Bonus Features

FILM SYNOPSIS:

Balancing gritty action and emotional heart, “Real Steel” is an inspiring and visually stunning film that takes audiences on an action-packed journey. Washed-up boxer Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) scrapes by as a small-time robot-fight promoter as he tries to make a comeback. Against all odds he eventually succeeds—at least in the eyes of his son Max (Dakota Goyo). “Real Steel” is spectacular family entertainment that will have everyone cheering again and again.

###

Director, Warren Skeels of “Thespians” - Interview By Ray Schillaci

Back in May of 2011, I raved about a documentary at the Phoenix Film festival that brought laughs and tears to the audience that packed the theaters. Warren Skeels’ “Thespians” now has a DVD release and has premiered on Showtime. Warren recently graced me with an interview and gave me some insight into the amazing journey of this special film.

warrenintroRS: Warren, I have to tell you how excited I am that your film is moving forward. Not enough people see documentaries and it’s probably been since Michael Moore that audiences discovered documentaries can be informative and entertaining at the same time.

WARREN: Very true.

RS: Your film has a similar emotional journey as entertaining as Alan Parker’s 1980 film, “Fame”.

WARREN: I’m glad you feel that way. My background is with the performing arts. I went to a performing arts high school and did the theater thing. I went through this whole journey that the kids that we followed went through. So, I could empathize with them. I went to So Cal and got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and minor in Film, and after I made two films, two narratives, I was trying to think of what project I could do next.

Sometimes when you’re doing a narrative project, it’s like making a movie and there’s maybe no kind of future inherent or value in it except for the fact that it’s an entertainment product and that it’s done. I really wanted to do something that had a bigger meaning to it, but also could be entertaining. I was talking with my sister, who also has a performing arts background and we were discussing what a great time we had doing thespians in high school.

Then it just hit me that would be a highly entertaining film to follow different trips on this journey. At the same time, it could also be a way to highlight the value and the importance of theater arts and education. I wanted to do so in a way that was entertaining and hopefully inspiring, but not like a Dateline, news magazine. I did not want the approach where I’m going to Capitol Hill and talk about the lack of funding in the arts and just allowing that to be the 800lb gorilla in the room.

RS: I’m curious, how did you go about distinguishing the four different schools?

WARREN: I would love to say, I had an audition process for that. I certainly needed to hedge my bet, so to speak. I was close with the state director from when I was a senior in high school. He had been doing it for eighteen years…it was actually the last year he was going to be doing it.

He was reluctant as to tell me who was performing well. I didn’t say; tell me who the best schools are. I just said; over the last five years tell me some of the recurring schools who seem to be showing up in the critic’s choice. That way I could go and talk to them and see if they would be interested in the experience and seeing if the teacher was interesting and dynamic, can kind of articulate their experiences as well and that sort of thing. I ended up choosing four high schools off that kind of list and the fifth high school I chose ended up being the “Alter Boys” school, which was not on the list at all.

RS: They were great.

WARREN: Yea. The teacher, Shirley Sachs, of that group was a teacher of mine in high school. When she found out I was making this film, she requested me to come out and see an early rehearsal of “Boys”. They could not put one foot in front of the other. But she was so convinced that they would compete and that because they were such brainiacs and their work ethic was so determined, by the end of it, I would be surprised as to what they had put together, and that they would bring a quality product to the table. I would watch them and I thought, wow, they are going to bring a lot of levity to this film.

RS: Yes, they did.

WARREN: It was one of those things where the outline of where I thought I was taking the film, but at the same time, that’s why you create an outline. You create a blueprint so that you can veer if you need to pick up something. What we ended up doing was essentially following five schools, one of which did not make the final cut, which was Coral Reef High School in Miami, a predominantly Hispanic-Jewish school that was really fascinating to me. In the end, it just did not have a strong enough story line that shared the spotlight with the other storylines.

The “Alter Boys” story was really funny to me, because watching them learn it the first time that Jade came in from New York, and he’s the choreographer and he’s like, “I’m not going to pull any punches. I’m going to treat you like how anybody else would in New York.” I don’t know if it’s that evident in the film. I think it’s partially evident and it’s humorous just being there, on the floor and it’s highly entertaining even outside of what you see in the film.

RS: It’s funny that you say that, because I was going to ask if you thought anybody was holding back when you were filming, the students or the teachers. I remember way back that my drama coaches could be brutal or there always seemed to be a drama queen, a young woman or man in class.

WARREN: What was interesting, I wanted to put a particular filter on the film as well. Which was, we all know what high school theater kids can be and the last thing I wanted to do was make a film and bolster that perception of the loud, annoying theater kids. I really wanted to examine and show the value of what is really happening. I specifically had that filter on going into it. When there were moments or times where that was kind of exhibited I found ways not to make that into the cut of the film.

RS: Did you ever expect the reaction you are getting as far as the documentary?

WARREN: It’s really flattering to see the response to the film and I think as a filmmaker you just hope that people want to see the film. So, with that in mind, I feel very fortunate. I feel most fortunate that the people, kind of opened up their lives to us, to follow their process and the schools that allowed us into the classroom and give us access to tell their story.

You know, in this day and age, it’s kind of difficult to walk a camera into a school. There’s a lot of red tape and fortunately we were given permission and a lot of that had to do with the fact that I had produced a documentary film prior to this called, “Chops”. That was about the largest high school jazz competition in Lincoln Center, New York with Wynton Marsalis and the late Ed Bradley made a cameo as well. We premiered that at the Tribeca Film Festival. We sold it and with that little bit of critical acclaim it gave us some footing and some credibility to kick-start dialogue with the school systems that we were going into. They were much more opened to us being there. I think if we had just walked off the street and did not have any credits it would have been a more difficult process.

RS: Would you say there were other hurdles in pre-production and filming?

WARREN: What was interesting was; I did not know how long it was going to take for the kids to warm up to us. Yet some of them like Jeremy were, “Sure, you want to start filming. You can start right now. What do you want to know?” Then the “Altar Boys” were a like, “Ah maaan, they got a camera here? They’re going to film us, oh no!” It took them a little bit too warm up. Brendan could walk through his room and describe his toy frog and the maps made for Halloween and his interest in history and architecture. Then all of a sudden I was like a voice for him and he was really excited about that.

Then there were others like Adam and Melanie doing the duet piece from “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” by John Patrick Shanley. Adam was really anti my presence for a good bit of time before he started to get a little more familiar with me and saw that my crew and I were there on good terms and we were doing something positive. He kind of turned on us a little bit, but in a good way. Initially, he was kind of unapproachable, which was unfortunate because we were really trying to highlight what he was doing and it just took awhile.

The interesting thing is all the kids that are in this film, I stay in touch with a lot of them and they’re like my younger brothers and sisters. I’m trying to look out for them and their careers. Tiffany from the “Look Homeward Angel” play, I’m trying to get back with her and people regarding representation. Ana also from “Look Homeward Angel,” the blonde, I actually directed her in a short film that hopefully I will bring to the Phoenix Film Festival, which I would love to do.

warren-and-anaRS: I have to tell you, two people for me stood out from the rest. Jeremy was one. What’s happened to him so far?

WARREN: Jeremy actually has a band called Easton and they have something like 30,000 fans on Myspace. He was the lead singer of this pop rock band in his middle high school years, but then he started getting more and more involved in theater, but being a lead singer in a band was his first love. He kind of fused into acting. He went up to SUNY Purchase in New York. Melanie from “Danny in the Deep Blue Sea” stayed as a senior at Boston University BFA program and Adam is a senior at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

RS: The other person that really struck me was Ana. Were you aware while you were filming her that she had a striking resemblance to another actress?

WARREN: Who do you think? Sharon Stone?

RS: I’ve heard so many people say, that’s a young Sharon Stone.

WARREN: Yea. What’s actually funny is that when we were filming at State our executive producer came to visit and was kind of hanging out at our room and he was like, “How’s my young Sharon Stone?” the whole time. The thing about her is that she’s a very attractive girl and she’s very talented too. She’s doing a ton of modeling in Greece and in China and modeling in New York. She’s working on a degree on PR/Communications at Platford University, in St Augustine, Florida. She just played one of the leads in a suspense/thriller short film that I directed this past summer. We should be working together again.

RS: With your theater background, you had to find yourself very connected to these kids. Did you ever find yourself becoming emotionally involved with your subjects to the point where it upset you when certain players did not do as well as expected?

WARREN: There’s kind of two different motions to that kind of run the gamut with this kind of scenario; 1.) I really started rooting for all of them and wanted them to do well, because I genuinely liked them as kids and liked what they stood for. I felt like an older brother to the performers. 2.) (WARNING: SPOILER ALERT…for several paragraphs) as a filmmaker you kind of hope for some successes and some failures. With Jeremy, when he went overtime and ended up losing, at first I was really bummed, cause I thought he was going to be someone who was going to go all the way.

He’s so super talented and his monologues were really strong. But in the end, by him losing early and failing, it gave us some conflict of a resolve that this could happen to the others, and better, we’re going to be moving forward. It also gave us value in a story that you can’t lose. It’s not that everybody is going to win, but someone will lose and how Jeremy, who was so strong, actually is the first one out. I think it was kind of a wake-up call for the viewer, realizing, “Oh, we’re not going to be watching him for the next hour-and-a-half. He’s done.”

RS: It was pretty much a shock to a lot of people. I know that my son’s drama class, when they saw it, they were in total suspense after that. They had no idea who was going out.

WARREN: As a filmmaker and working with my editor, Billy, we took out that part (originally) because he (Jeremy) didn’t go any further and so we focused on the Dr. Phillips High School kids and “The Altar Boys’ and others. Then I realized, I was missing out on that sense of loss, that you can’t lose and we went back in and added all of Jeremy’s stuff, because I really enjoyed that storyline. If he was a little more disciplined, he could have gone all the way. But he let his talent; ego and pride go beyond itself.

What we didn’t have on camera, which I really wished we did, we were not rolling at the time, the rehearsal prior to the District when he did his monologue, his teacher Beverly timed his monologue and said, “Right now, you’re thirty seconds over. I think we should work on this and cut some lines, so you have some time.” He responded, “Oh I’m not worried about it. I’ll be fine. I’ll get under.” And, of course, he didn’t. I wish we had that on camera, because it would have built it up even more.

(SPOILER ALERT ENDED)

And, what’s interesting is that he’s kinda made out to be a little bit more egomaniacal in this film than he is in real life. He’s actually a sweet heart as a kid. But you’re making a film and it’s entertainment so you kinda bring out certain elements and I talked to him about it after the editing and I told him we have a certain focus on your character, it’s going to be hilarious. He couldn’t wait to see it. Then he came to New York when we held a special advanced screening for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS who is a beneficiary of the film (15% of our net profits go to them on behalf of all Thespians). Jeremy loved it. It was like, “I’m in a movie, and this is great!”

Adam, the guy from “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” actually just saw the film for the first time after a friend of the family’s brought to his mom’s attention that a picture of her son was in Entertainment Weekly. She was surprised when the friend inquired if he was in the movie, “Thespians,” and she acknowledged it, but had not seen it. She didn’t know what was happening with it. He just kinda lost touch with everybody because he was going through college and that sort of thing and kind of MIA for a little while.

She finally caught it on Showtime and called Adam, insisting he catch it on the cable. I got an email about six days ago from him telling me how he felt so bad about giving me a hard time, at first, because this is really a great film. He told me I did a wonderful job and he was really proud to be a part of it. I thought it was really cool to see that. It’s like the best self-help video anyone could ever make for me. I was like, “Aaaah.” He did give me a real hard time at first. Like, “What are you doing? Why are you filming us? Why do you want this so much? Trying to cause trouble?” He gave a lot of lip, so to speak.

RS: Warren, this is such an important film for young people involved in the Arts, and I feel from middle school on, is there any movement to make this documentary required viewing in schools.

thespianproductionWARREN: Not that I know of and if that were to happen I think that would be fantastic. We are trying to make the educational rights affordable. We want to allow the school to screen it as many times as it wants for their students, faculty, staff, guests and etc for a onetime fee of $270. They just can’t charge admission, but they could screen it for eternity as long as it’s at the school district. I talked to our investors and relayed that schools have it really tough right now and if we could get any kind of price break on this and I finally got them to agree on a $99 rate.

Currently online, through the website thespiansthemovie.com you can purchase the DVD for $19.95 (for individuals) and receive a 20% discount by using the code, “heart”. For teachers and schools (for the educational license) enter the code “xmas” and it will go from $270 to $99 and the educational license comes with the DVD, 12-page film guide, and a 24×36 movie poster. We wanted it to be the holiday season year round for teachers when ordering the educational license.

What I would love, is to find a way to where if the school themselves cannot afford it in their budget that boosters or parent association or kid’s parents via a program can afford to buy it for the school. So it would not have to be bought by the school but for the school. We tried to work that out with people in Texas and California already.

RS: I want to thank you for your time and cooperation granting me this interview and I will continue to my praise for this film by letting you know that “Thespians” has made it to my top ten list of films of 2011.

WARREN: Awesome.

RS: I’m going to encourage young and old to share in the enjoyment of this wonderful motion picture experience that celebrates the joys of being a Thespian.

WARREN: Thank you so much, Ray.

RS: You’re welcome. I wish you the best of luck. You have a powerful film that touches so many people and I’m proud to have been able to talk to you and to convey this to everybody I know.

WARREN: Thanks, that means so much. It really does, more than you know.

Attention teachers, parents and anyone who knows any person with an interest in the performing arts, this film is for you. I urge you to check out their website and make the purchase of this DVD that is perfect for any home video library and educational institution that promotes the Arts. When viewing, be prepared to laugh, cry and cheer. Warren Skeels’ “Thespians” is a wondrous emotional journey.

Comments:

2 Responses to “Trailer Park: REAL STEEL, BOMBAY BEACH and Warren Skeels of THESPIANS”

  1. judy kessler Says:

    Excellent interview. The questions were spot on, gave readers everything they would want to know plus more. Very interesting read. Kept my attention thru the whole article.

  2. Ray Schillaci Says:

    CORRECTION: It has been brought to my attention that the choreographer of “The Alter Boys” is not “Jade,” but James Kinney. Kinney has been performing professionally since the age of 15. He has graced the Broadway stage in “Fosse” “Dance of Death” Barry Manilow’s “Harmony” and “Sweet Charity”. My apologies to Mr. Kinney for the error.

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