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The 2016 Academy Award Nominations PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 14 January 2016 12:05

Leonardo DiCaprio in The RevenantAs we Oscar watchers frequently like to ask on nomination morning: Who knew? Regarding this year’s contenders, who knew that category fraud would be so successful? Who knew that the lesbian romance Carol would be so well-liked – just not well-liked enough? Who knew this would be the second year in a row with acting races populated exclusively by white people? Who knew that Lady Gaga would receive as many nominations as Ridley Scott?

Predicting the 2016 Academy Award Nominations PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Thursday, 07 January 2016 06:00

Margot Robbie in The Big ShortAs is traditional, I’m taking my annual stab at guessing this year’s Oscar nominees a week before they’re actually announced: at 7:30 a.m. Central (5:30 a.m. for those sleepy souls in Hollywood!) on Thursday, January 14. As isn’t necessarily traditional, my guesses in nine categories are also in this week’s print edition of the Reader, which meant I had to make final decisions a full day earlier than usual. Which, in turn, meant that I made seven major prediction changes mere seconds before they were in my boss’ hands ... and likely would’ve made more if he got to the office just a few minutes later.

But I’ll also, in my head, no doubt be making additional changes up until 7:29 a.m. next Thursday, so enough waffling! Let’s get this fool’s errand over with!


"Fury," Joy, and Everything in Between: Movies of 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 06 January 2016 06:00

Movies of 2015This past April, my editor and I were talking about writer/director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina, the supremely eerie, clever science-fiction thriller I had just written about. Jeff hadn’t seen the film yet, but said he was looking forward to it, and added, not necessarily verbatim, “Based on your review, I’ll be very disappointed if it doesn’t wind up on your 10-best list.”

I don’t know why that conversation has stayed with me for eight months. Maybe it was the subtle reminder to not forget about early releases when writing in December; maybe it was the necessary reminder that expert springtime genre movies are every bit as valid as the wintertime Oscar bait I frequently gravitate toward. Either way, every time something excellent opened post-April, I found myself questioning where it landed on my ongoing list of 2015 favorites: above or below Ex Machina?

So if you’ll allow me a preemptive apology: I’m sorry, Jeff, but Garland’s film – one I’ve now seen and loved several times over – didn’t make the cut. Neither, I should add, did Steven Spielberg’s richly entertaining Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies. Nor Asif Kapadia’s wrenching Winehouse documentary Amy. Nor Olivier Assayas’ mesmerizing Juliette Binoche/Kristen Stewart drama Clouds of Sils Maria. Nor Adam McKay’s blistering satire The Big Short. Nor freaking Paddington, which I’d still watch any day of the week. Who knew 2015 would be such a fantastically fine movie year?

A Foot in the Door: With “Nightlight,” Scott Beck and Bryan Woods Go from the Quad Cities to Hollywood PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 01 April 2015 11:42

Scott Beck (left) and Bryan Woods. Photo by Fred Hayes.

The train rumbles toward you, and then it’s over you, throwing sparks. It’s a short train, but it’s nonetheless a harrowing seven seconds – looking, sounding, and feeling uncomfortably real.

That’s because, on a practical level, it is real.

This happens less than 10 minutes into the new, nationally distributed horror movie Nightlight by writers/directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the filmmaking duo from the Quad Cities now based in Los Angeles.

“That whole sequence was a lot of fun to figure out,” Beck said in a recent phone interview. The special-effects team proposed using computer animation for the train, he said, but he and Woods asked: “Could we actually get a real freight train on these tracks?”

We’ve been introduced to five teens who’ve come to a supposedly haunted forest for “flashlight games.” One involves laying down a flashlight on railroad ties, running down the tracks to a specific point, and then running back and grabbing the flashlight. There’s not much to it ... except for the train.

This bit lasts roughly a minute and 40 seconds, done in a single shot.

“The scene starts with the train incredibly far away, [and] it just gets closer and closer,” Woods said.

We can only hear the train’s horn as the first three people complete the task – getting louder with each blast. With the fourth teen, we can see the headlight peeking through the trees as the engine comes around a bend.

And after Shelby, our protagonist, puts her flashlight on the ties, we see the train itself, with her sprinting toward it and then back toward her flashlight.

She jumps away just before the train hits her, but her flashlight – which belonged to a friend who committed suicide and provides the point of view for all the movie’s action – remains on the tracks, and the audience gets an unsettling understanding of what it would feel like to be under a freight train moving at full speed.

I'd Like to Thump the Academy … : Notes on the 2015 Academy Awards Telecast PDF Print E-mail
Movies - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Monday, 23 February 2015 16:00

producer/writer/director Alejandro G. Iñárritu and team members of Best Picture Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)Neil Patrick Harris, at the tail end of last night's Academy Awards ceremony, climaxed his hosting duties with the resolution to a magic trick he'd set up earlier in the evening. Much, much earlier in the evening.

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