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Moana Interview - Animator Darrin Butters

Posted by Nick Spake on November 24, 2016 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (0)

My interview with character animator Darrin Butters (no relation to the "South Park" character). Butters has been part of the Disney family for 20 years. He got his bring break in 1996, working as an assistant on the studio’s first CG animated feature, "Dinosaur." Since then, he’s played a role in "Bolt," "Tangled," "Wreck-It Ralph," "Paperman," "Frozen," "Big Hero 6," "Zootopia," and of course "Moana."


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Loving - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on November 10, 2016 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

"Loving" is a dramatization of arguably the most significant interracial marriage in American history. It’s actually surprising that Hollywood has taken almost fifty years to produce a major motion picture about the Loving v. Virginia case. Of course there was a 1996 made for television movie starring Timothy Hutton and Lela Rochon. Even in today’s supposedly progressive world, the themes depicted in "Loving" remain as relevant as ever. Sure, interracial marriage might not be prohibited in the US anymore, but audiences can still draw parallels to same-sex marriage, which only just became legal in all fifty states. Racial tensions also continue to run high in our country with many people taking sides. In that sense, "Loving" couldn’t have come at a better time, especially now that Donald Trump is president.


Joel Edgerton turns in some of his finest work as Richard Loving, a white man from Virginia. Richard is deeply in love with an African American woman named Mildred Jeter, beautifully played by Ruth Negga. When Mildred becomes pregnant, Richard doesn’t think twice about asking her to marry him. Since it’s 1958, though, interracial marriage is still outlawed in their home state. The couple tries to beat the system by getting hitched in Washington, D.C. After returning to Virginia, however, they’re both quickly incarcerated.


Richard and Mildred are given two options. They can either remain in jail or find a new home in Washington. The two naturally choose the latter, but the adjustment isn’t easy. As much as Mildred loves Richard, it pains her to be so far away from her family in Virginia. It appears that the couple might be able to finally get some justice when a politician named Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) catches wind of their situation. He believes that the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court, abolishing the interracial marriage ban for good.


Mildred is willing to get in front of the cameras and voice her opinion. Richard is much more reluctant to put himself out there, fearing that his family will be harassed and killed. He’s willing to take a risk, though, if it will make his wife happy and lead to a brighter future. This is largely what makes "Loving" such a great film. Even when Richard and Mildred aren’t speaking to each other, they’re always on the same page. Life might not always be simple for them, but the audience never doubts for a second that these two adore one another and will overcome any obstacle together. The bond they share is truly powerful and poignant, reminding us that love should be the only factor when it comes marriage.


Writer/Director Jeff Nichols is known for making very understated films that manage to say a lot with minimal dialog or action. His signature subtlety is present throughout the entirety of "Loving." Nichols is given numerous opportunities to take a more straightforward or obvious route, but he avoids melodrama around every corner. Instead, he gets the film’s messages across through low-key direction and multi-layered performances. The result is a gripping, thrilling, and inspiring experience audiences everywhere should take to heart.

4 out of 5 Stars

Arrival - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on November 10, 2016 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” would make a superb double feature with Jeff Nichols’s “Midnight Special,” which hit theaters earlier this year. Both movies have phenomenal buildup, calling to mind Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “Arrival” in particular is perhaps the closest any contemporary film has come to capturing the wonder of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode. Like Rod Serling’s best works, “Arrival” is a poignant and clever piece of science fiction with provocative themes that parallel our own society. Above all else, this is a challenging mystery that keeps you guessing until the final act, which fortunately doesn’t disappoint.


Amy Adams, who’s still overdue for an Oscar, gives one of her finest performances as Dr. Louise Banks. This linguist becomes the government’s go-to girl when several UFOs arrive on earth. Upon making first contact, the military quickly finds that the aliens are unfamiliar with the human language. These extraterrestrials primarily communicate through visuals that kind of look like inkblots. Banks is tasked with not only interpreting their language, but also teaching the aliens how to converse with humans.


“Arrival” features great supporting performances from Forest Whitaker as a US military colonel and Jeremy Renner as a hunky mathematician. However, the film belongs to Adams, who creates a strong, smart, and driven protagonist at the center of the biggest event in human history. Banks is already coping with the loss of her daughter, who died for a terminal illness. Yet, this doesn’t stop her from pushing forward with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Adams brings a genuine sense of awe to her role and keeps us invested every step of the way.


The aliens are also unique creations with some of the most distinctive designs since “District 9.” Their spaceships in particular are highly inventive, looking like eclipsed moons on the outside. On this inside, though, they’re reminiscent of the Star Gate from “2001: A Space Odyssey.” With a budget of only $50 million, Villeneuve accomplishes so much on a visual level than Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, or Zach Snyder could with $200 million. While the effects here are extraordinary, they really aren’t the focus here. This is a movie about communication, which is especially significant in an era where so many cultures seem divided and disconnected. If we could all learn to speak a universal language, though, we might just move towards a brighter future.


There’s an unwavering sense of uncertainty throughout much of “Arrival,” as Banks attempts to uncover why these aliens are here. Have they come to enrich humankind or cause our downfall? Eric Heisserer’s screenplay brings everything full circle in the end with a twist that surprisingly doesn’t feel forced. Villeneuve, who previously gave us “Prisoners” and “Sicario,” continues to prove that he’s among our most impressive up-and-coming directors. One can only hope he’ll bring the same passion and intelligence to the upcoming “Blade Runner 2049.” Until then, “Arrival” is a modern sci-fi classic that’ll make audiences think while also influencing them to keep watching the stars.


4.5 out of 5 Stars

Moonlight - Review

Posted by Nick Spake on November 4, 2016 at 2:00 AM Comments comments (0)

“Moonlight” is a stunning cinematic achievement that has a fair deal in common with Richard Linklater's “Boyhood.” Both films are extraordinary coming-of-age stories. “Boyhood” was primarily about capturing the experience of growing up, however, painting a picture that could speak to anybody. “Moonlight,” meanwhile, is arguably a more personal outing, depicting a young man’s search for an identity in a ruthless environment. Barry Jenkins’ film is tragic, gritty, and occasionally flat-out brutal. At the same time, though, it catches you off guard with its moments of sheer hope.


The movie is broken into three acts, following an African American named Chiron throughout childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Newcomer Alex R. Hibbert plays Chiron as a young boy. Bullied by the other kids his age, Chiron is branded with the nickname “Little.” Chiron’s home life isn’t much better, as his dad is absent and his mom is an abusive drug addict. In a Best Supporting Actress caliber performance, Naomie Harris dominates the screen as Chiron’s mother. Creating a cruel and unpredictable character, her portrayal is right up there with Mo'Nique’s Oscar-winning work in “Precious,” although Harris’ character arguably has more humanity.


Chiron finds two parental figures in a drug dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) and his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe). While Juan seems like a threatening individual at first, he becomes the first person to show Chiron love and support. It quickly becomes clear that Juan puts up a tough front, having a heart of gold underneath. With that said, Juan is still forced to do things he’s not proud of in order to survive. Guess who sold those drugs to Chiron’s mother in the first place?


Ashton Sanders plays Chiron as a teenager, leading to the darkest act in “Moonlight.” Chiron is tormented at school, as thugs beat him relentlessly while shouting homophobic slurs. The closest thing Chiron has to a friend is Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). The closer they get, Chiron and Kevin find that their feelings for each other might run deeper than friendship. Like Juan, though, Kevin also needs to preserve his image to get by. This ultimately influences Chiron to make a decision that will forever change the course of his life.


Two-thirds into “Moonlight,” some audience members might wonder why they’re watching such a bleak, difficult film. However, they’ll begin to understand why in the third act where Trevante Rhodes plays an adult Chiron. Without giving too much away, the film’s final destination is a lot different than what audiences will likely expect. Let’s just saw that it brings Chiron’s life full circle in a smart, poignant, and beautiful manner.


Barry Jenkins has delivered a truly profound film about labels, society, and the masks we wear. “Moonlight” also provides an insightful looks at the phenomenon of nature vs. nurture, demonstrating what it means to product of your environment. It accomplishes this with superb acting, a gripping score, and subtle direction. Most importantly, it encourages us to see other people in multiple lights, as the world isn’t always black and white.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

5 reasons Star Trek is moving in the right direction

Posted by Nick Spake on July 24, 2016 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (0)

As much as diehard Trekkers might deny it, though, the reboot films have all been exceptional in their own right. With the release of "Star Trek Beyond," let’s take a look at five reasons why this franchise is moving in the right direction.

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What does Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 need to do to keep the franchise fresh?

Posted by Nick Spake on July 24, 2016 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is naturally one of the most anticipated releases of 2017. The only problem is that the first film banked on the fact that it caught people off guard with its eccentric characters, lively universe, and powerful family dynamic. Now that these characters are all pop culture icons, is it even possible for "Vol. 2" to keep this franchise fresh?

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Top 10 Movies of 2016...So Far

Posted by Nick Spake on July 3, 2016 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Believe it or not, 2016 is already almost halfway over. Now’s the perfect time to look back at some of the best movies of the year thus far. Here are my personal top ten picks:

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Why We Should Give Ghostbusters a Chance

Posted by Nick Spake on May 27, 2016 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

Since Feig has proven that he can do little wrong, we should at least give this new "Ghostbusters" a chance. Yet, various fans are reluctant to even consider the possibility that it might be good, refusing to see the film under any circumstances. Read more at Flickreel:

Alexandra Shipp X-Men: Apocalypse Interview

Posted by Nick Spake on May 22, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Flickreel recently had the pleasure of speaking with Alexandra Shipp, who stars as a young Storm in "X-Men: Apocalypse." The 24-year-old actress told us all about playing an iconic superhero, why Storm is a force to be reckoned with, her life growing up in Arizona, and what the future holds for her…

Should Warner Bros. Kick Zack Snyder off Justice League?

Posted by Nick Spake on May 22, 2016 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Since Snyder has let us down time and time again, should Warner Bros. just kick him off "Justice League?" Read more at Flickreel: