Q&A: ‘Enemies Closer’ Director Peter Hyams Finds Joy In “The Process”

Enemies Closer (LionsGate)Now playing in select theaters and available On Demand, Enemies Closer reunites Peter Hyams and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The pair previously worked together on Timecop and Sudden Death, and their chemistry is evident with their latest venture. Playing an environmentally conscious drug runner, Van Damme brings a welcome sense of flair to Hyam’s latest production.

We had an engaging interview with Mr. Hyams, whose diverse career includes such features as Capricorn One, Outland, Narrow Margin, and the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick End of Days. Hyams, who also serves as the cinematographer in much of his work, talked about the joy of shooting Enemies Closer and elaborated on why, several decades into the business, he’s still a passionate filmmaker.

 

What are the advantages of being the director of photography for most of your films?

It’s a great advantage. I grew up as an art student. I grew up with photography as a language that I speak, and I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that people who direct a film have an image in their head. Because I’m semi-fluent in this language, what I have in my head, I can put on the screen. When I’m scouting a location, I choose the location and I know exactly how I’m going to light it and I know where I’m going to place things. So I think I have a real advantage over people because if you have to do things very quickly as in the case with this film, I know where and how to do it before I go into it.

There are far greater directors than I’ll ever be who collaborate with wonderful cinematographers and come up with great films. And then there are directors who are really knowledgeable and are hands on with the photography of their films. So I don’t think there’s really a rule.

Can you talk about the challenge of doing night shoots and making it viscerally interesting?

It was an enormous challenge, which is why I exactly wanted to do it. I think most cinematographers will tell you that they like (shooting) interiors…and night exteriors are what separates men from boys and girls from women. And this was a film that was mostly exterior, mostly at night. In the woods, in the lakes, in mountains. Plus, it had to be shot in a very short amount of time. So it was very difficult (but) that was the reason I wanted to do it.

Although the movie’s just 85 minutes, there’s still a ton of story and action to spare.

I am very, very impatient with my own films. So I’m somebody who wants to make things shorter all the time. I’ve actually been locked out of my own editing room by film editors, because they know I will sneak in and cut every time I look at something that I want to take out. One time I was literally locked out of the editing room and it was at the back of my house.

Especially with a film like this, I wanted it to be extremely tight. This is not a very sober and deep character study. This is a movie that should excite and entertain and make people say ‘Wow!’ I don’t think it works if it’s slow and lumbering. The film could have easily been a half hour longer (but) I just wanted it to be as tight as it could be.

Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a villain who is concerned about the environment. Was that originally part of the script, or was that trait developed during production?

When I was first offered the film, Van Damme was going to play the part that Tom Everett Scott got to play. He was going to be the good guy and that didn’t interest me. I wanted to do it if Van Damme played the bad guy. When I spoke to Jean-Claude, he said “I don’t know about that.” I said “if you play the bad guy, I promise you we’ll make a character that is so flamboyant and so much fun it’ll be much more fun than playing the good guy.” There’s not a lot of ad-libbing in this movie so I’m a believer that what’s on the page is basically what you try to do. So all of the quirkiness, all of the kind of absurd, environmentalist, vegan nuttiness, that was always there. That was in the script.

Jean-Claude came up with the idea with this wacky hairdo and once he signed on to do it, he went in all the way. And he’s actually very funny. It’s a facet of his that he hasn’t shown a lot in his movies. I saw it in JCVD, and he was just (plain) funny. He didn’t have to be told the humor of it. He got it. The one thing I talked to him a lot was this was a guy whose emotions were always shifting in 90 degree changes. There were no curves. He would be smiling and sweet and then he would plunge a knife into someone’s stomach or break their neck. That would make him totally psychotic. I was very proud of him, he delivered a performance that was surprising to a lot of people.

Enemies Closer (LionsGate)Another element that stands out in the film are the action sequences. Much of the fighting takes place in confined spaces.

People have seen a lot of fighting in movies, and people have seen individuals bopping each other over the head. So you have to give each sequence a reason and a character. The more confined the space, the more dangerous it is, the more you have no place to run. If the fight occurs in someone’s house in the kitchen, you use the kitchen. If it’s in the woods, you use the trees. If there’s a fight in the water, then you use the water. That, to me, is what distinguishes each sequence.

With the new technology available today regarding shooting and editing films, are there steps being bypassed along the way with such an easy access to materials?

I’m somebody who actually believes in demystifying films, and the easier it is to access and get an image onto film, the more one cares about what the image is. If you play a tuba, it’s very hard to get a sound out of a tuba. If you hit a piano key, it’s very easy to get a pretty sound out of a piano key. But to play the piano well, you have to really (understand) it’s far more complicated than playing the tuba. This very obtuse musical analogy is a way to say it’s really great that anybody can try to do it, just like an art student. You have a pencil and a blank sheet of sketch paper, and some people can draw better than others. I’m for that. I’m for everybody trying. I’d like to see someone do something as interesting as what Spike Jonze (Her) or David O’Russell (American Hustle) did or what David Fincher does, or what Martin Scorsese did. Not everyone can do that. That’s what separates them from mortals.

Is that what keeps you passionate about directing? The absolute hunger to get better and learn from the process?

 What keeps me passionate is that I don’t think I’m good enough and I’m trying to get good. I’m trying desperately to get good. I think it’s impossible for me to ever reach (the level) where I’m good enough, so I’m going to keep trying.

As I’ve gotten more and more experience, not to mention older, I see better. I see that the gulf between me and the people I think who are truly gifted – I think that gulf is getting wider, and not narrower. So I’m trying hard. I’m kind of like Charlie Brown. Each time I believe Lucy is not going to take the football away – and she does. There was a guy who once said he didn’t know what he was, he just knew where he was going, and he knew what he was wasn’t there. That’s kind of the way I feel.

What was the joy in making Enemies Closer?

First off, the joy is the process. It’s making film. That’s the beginning, the middle and the end. It’s what I care most about in the world aside from my family. I just want to do it. I try so hard just to get better. Every time I’m given the opportunity, I (believe) that this is the chance to do something and this was very rushed and a small budgeted film. I do think the job of a director is to pour a quart of water into a pine box. I just said, okay, I’m going to make this the biggest and most elaborate film on this budget than anyone’s ever done.

What are your feelings about shooting on digital instead of film?

I’ve been using the RED camera and been shooting digitally with the last three films I’ve done. Once digital photography reached a certain resolution, which it has…once it gets to 4K, once you get to tinted, logarithmic color depth you basically are equaling 35mm film. Digital photography is here, it’s what it is. It’s going to stay. I believe Paramount Pictures announced they are not going to release any film from now on and in any other format other than digital. Digital cameras are exponentially getting better and better. The newest one is 5K. So to me it’s a technology I embrace and love.

For a review of Enemies Closer, check out my post on Hollywood Outbreak.

 

Blu-ray Dreaming: ‘Enough Said’ A Beautiful Pairing of Julia Louis-Dreyfus & James Gandolfini

Enough Said

Director Nicole Holofcenter’s storytelling passions lie within the intricate relationships of complex people who, in essence, are just trying to get through the day with a bit happiness. So it was great to see Enough Said receive its share of Critics Choice nominations, and James Gandolfini was named Best Supporting Actor by the Boston Society of Film Critics (Holofcenter also received the BSFC award for Best Screenplay).

Enough Said (PG-13, 93 minutes) centers on a masseuse named Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) who becomes enamored with Albert (Gandolfini), a fellow divorce who’s blessed with a great combination of dry wit and kindness. Their gradual coupling is thrown for a curve after Eva discovers a narcissistic but well meaning client (frequent Holofcenter collaborator Catherine Keener) is Albert’s ex-wife. Toni Collette also stars as Sarah, Eva’s best friend whose chemistry with her hubby (Ben Falcone) comes from a highly argumentative place. Eve Hewson, the daughter of Bono, also is featured as Albert’s daughter Tess.

As in her previous works Friends with Money and Please Give, Enough Said illustrates how seemingly disparate individuals eventually stumble upon real, human connection. Holofcenter refuses to paint her characters in broad strokes, instead relying on life’s small moments for a subtle mixture of comedy and resonance.

My only complaint regarding the Enough Said Blu-ray is the disc comes with just several featurettes and a trailer. They do give a slight peek into Holofcenter’s working world, but an in-depth commentary from the filmmaker and its cast would have been welcome. Still, that’s a small price to pay since the film stands on its own merits, and at least fans can digitally download the movie on their respective device.

One of my favorite Enough Said exchanges takes place during the movie’s first act, as Eva attends a party and meets a new contact (Keener).

Enough Said is now out on Blu-ray and DVD.

 

 

‘RoboCop’ Interview: Michael Keaton Recalls Batsuit Challenges

Gary Oldman;Michael Keaton; RoboCopMaybe it’s because I’m older than dirt, but it just seems like yesterday when Michael Keaton was donning the Caped Crusader suit for director Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns.

With RoboCop, Mr. Keaton is Raymond Sellars, the opportunistic CEO of OmniCorp who wants to push robot technology to the extreme, even if it’s at the expense of the narrative’s hero, Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman).

During last week’s press conference, Keaton reflected on his own challenges of playing an iconic hero who donned a rather intimidating suit: “The way in was Bruce Wayne,” said Keaton. “The Batman thing I didn’t know what I was going to do with that.”

To hear Keaton talk about his experiences wearing the Batsuit in director Tim Burton’s Batman, click on the Soundcloud bar below:

RoboCop, co-starring Gary Oldman, opens February 12, 2014.

 

 

Fernando Vargas Brings His Fighting Spirit in ‘Welcome to Los Vargas’

Welcome To Los Vargas (CR: Ethan Miller/Getty Images for mun2)In the ring, three time world boxing champion Fernando Vargas was known for his never say die spirit and immense talent. Fans will get a peek into his life with his wife Martha and their four children when the reality series Welcome to Los Vargas premieres Sunday, January 26th (9 pm pt/8 pm ct, mun2).

The program will focus on Vargas’ new career as a Las Vegas trainer as he attempts to mentor a new generation of boxers. Singer Frankie J guests on the first episode, which has Fernando and Martha going out on date night while Vargas’ father-in-law Alfredo oversees their four kids.

In the video below, Mr. Vargas talks about his fighting spirit and his love for the song “No Me Se Rajar.” Martha Vargas is also featured in the clip, and she briefly discusses her husband’s responsibility to his loyal fans.

Review: Gimme Shelter Shines With Inspired Work From Vanessa Hudgens

Gimme Shelter (Roadside Attractions)During Gimme Shelter’s third act, director Ronald Krauss effectively utilizes “To Build A Home,” a stirring song from The Cinematic Orchestra. Although it starts off in  subtle fashion, the track reaches an epic swell as Patrick Watson reflects on life’s evanescent nature. But nothing in this world is truly permanent, and on our borrowed time building a home, or for that matter a family, can be a truly beautiful thing.

We are introduced to Apple (Vanessa Hudgens), a distraught, angry teenager who leaves her crack addicted mother (Rosario Dawson) to find her absentee father (Brendan Fraser), a successful Wall Street exec who’s moved on with his own family (Stephanie Szostak, memorable in Dinner for Schmucks, plays Fraser’s wife). Life in a new environment unfortunately doesn’t suit Apple, whose emotional scars won’t exactly heal overnight.

Apple’s pregnancy complicates matters with her father and stepmom, as they suggest that motherhood is not her best option. Distraught and confused, Apple moves on and decides to keep her baby even with no resources at her disposal. A near fatal car accident leads her to a friendship with a dedicated clergyman (an effective James Earl Jones) who then steers her into a shelter headed by a woman named Kathy (Ann Dowd).

Gimme Shelter (Roadside Attractions)

Ronald Krauss’ film is inspired by his friendship with Kathy DiFiore, the founder of Several Sources Shelter, and he lived at the shelter for a year to research a planned documentary. After taping over 200 hours of interviews, he decided a narrative was the most effective way to tell Kathy’s story, and Apple was inspired by several women he met at the shelter (including one of the film’s co-stars, Darlisha Dozier).

It’s great to see Krauss’ cinematic heart is in the right place, and although some naysayers may see the drama as heavy handed and predictable, I was completely immersed with Apple’s journey. I’m a sucker whenever an actor goes for the fences and hits a performance out of the park, and Vanessa Hudgens, who gained 15 pounds and lived in a shelter for several weeks, gives her most inspired performance to date. There are no false notes in Hudgens’ work, and it’s hard not to connect Apple’s transformation with the actress’ own personal growth. It’s a finely etched and nuanced turn, and along with her turns in Spring Breakers and The Frozen Ground, Hudgens is carving out an impressive body of work.

Brendan Fraser, who donated his film’s salary to DiFiore’s Several Sources Shelter, brings ample empathy and depth to a role that could have been considered two dimensional. As June, Rosario Dawson also delivers a pitch perfect portrayal of a woman who will probably never overcome her crippling addictions. In one memorable sequence with Hudgens, Dawson delivers a monologue that’s truly hard to shake, as June finally realizes that she’s lost her one and only love.

To hear Rosario Dawson talk about the complex relationship between Apple and June, click on the clip below:

There will be discussions that Gimme Shelter is a pro-life film since it explores Apple’s decision and and Kathy DiFiore’s faith filled experiences. But these are all ingredients which are part of a bigger meal, as the picture offers a compelling look at how family isn’t simply defined by our DNA. A house is not a home without filling it with the people we love, and thanks to sublime acting from all parties involved, as well as solid storytelling from Mr. Krauss, Gimme Shelter continues to resonate past the closing credits.

To hear Vanessa Hudgens staying in character during Gimme Shelter, click on the Soundcloud bar below:

Gimme Shelter opens today in select theaters.

Series Premiere: Rake’s Origin Story Stems From Late Night Converstations

Premiering tonight, Rake centers on a criminal defense attorney (Greg Kinnear) who lives to the beat of his own drum, much to the chagrin of his ex-wife (Miranda Otto), a call girl (Bojana Novakovic) he’s enamored with, and his frustrated assistant (Tara Summers). The show is based on Peter Duncan’s hit Australian series, which featured Richard Roxburgh in the lead role.

“I was intrigued immediately when I saw the show (and) the mess of that guy,” said Kinnear. “That absolute lack of need for approval is a hugely attractive thing, especially if you’re an actor. Getting to play a guy who really isn’t interested what you think is really cool element for me.”

In the clip below, Peter Duncan talks about the creative genesis behind the original Rake:

Ryan Lewis & Tori Praver Headline Buffalo David Bitton Spring Campaign

Ryan Lewis/Tori Praver (courtesy of Buffalo David Bitton)

Ryan Lewis and jeans have been on my mind for the past several days. Although I’m a few eons late to the party, I’m obsessed with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ acclaimed hip hop album The Heist. Secondly, that Denham the Jeanmaker spoof of American Psycho and hipster culture is simply sublime.

The bottom line is that few things feel better than a perfect pair of jeans, and Ryan Lewis and supermodel Tori Praver are headlining its Spring 2014 campaign. The multi-media campaign, which debuts in March features shots of the two luxuriating at a private beach in Malibu.

“I really love Buffalo David Bitton jeans to perform in; their jeans stretch which allow me to move around on stage,” said Lewis who, along with Macklemore, is nominated for seven Grammy awards.”

Praver, a Sports Illustrated supermodel, adds: “What I love about Buffalo David Bitton jeans is the fit. They are all super comfortable; the cut is great. I live in them. I am really loving all the colored denim for Spring, they are really fun.”

Buffalo David Bitton’s initial collaboration with Lewis started late last year, as they helped produce a series of documentaries focusing on the fall tour of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. “There were eight to ten weeks where there was a seven person camera crew on site with us each day, capturing the tour and what we were doing on a day to day basis, for a documentary, and Buffalo has been at the forefront,” said Lewis.

If you’re an old hip hop head like me and are just starting to appreciate Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, check out this live version of their tune Make The Money.”

To check out Ryan Lewis talk about his plans for this year and being part of his first fashion campaign, check out the video.

Where dreaming is believing…

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