Spotlight: Matthew McConaughey

Matt

MATTHEW IS ALRIGHT ALRIGHT ALRIGHT….
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Things have been pretty extraordinary for Matthew McConaughey over the last few years. For the first half of his career, Matthew was drowning in a sea of cheesy B-films and romantic comedies that typecast him in roles that earned him a reputation for one of Hollywood’s biggest stereotypes. Then something happened. Matthew started reaching a little further for scripts that went against the grain. It all began in 2011 when he starred as a menacing bounty hunter in “Killer Joe”. It was in that role where Matthew etched his name in stone for being an extremely underrated and versatile actor. Over the next few years, McConaughey would earn an Emmy nomination for a total 360 performance in HBO’s “True Detective”, a leading man tour de force in Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”, and a much-deserved Oscar win for “Dallas Buyers Club”. The beautiful statement with all of these roles is Matthew is constantly adding to a filmography that has etched his name as one of the most demanded actors in the world.

Opening in local Akron theaters on August 19th, Matthew will lend his vocal abilities to Laika Productions newest feature film, “Kubo and the Two Strings”, an epic adventure about a kindhearted boy who summons a mythical spirit from his past. Matthew will join fellow Hollywood heavyweights like Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes and Rooney Mara for the animated feature that will resonated with the whole family. It is the first time that Matthew will star in an animated featurette, proving McConaughey’s ability to adapt to changing situation in his career.

One film that captures all of these sides in one, and really opened the eyes of those in the independent film world is Matthew’s title role in “Mud”; the winner of the Robert Altman award at the 29th Annual Independent Spirit Awards. Also a film that currently holds a 98% of Rotten Tomatoes.

Mud (2012)

Mud

Jeff Nichols writes and directs this modern day coming-of-age story about friendship, perception, and trust. In Arkansas, 14-year-old Ellis (Tye Sheridan) lives in a boat house with his mother Mary Lee (Sarah Paulson) and his father Senior (Ray McKinnon). Ellis helps his father by selling fish with his best friend Neckbone (Jacob Lofland). Ellis and Neckbone find a motorboat stranded on the top of a tree in an island on the Mississippi River after a flood and they plan to fix the boat for excitement. One day, they climb the tree and they find fresh food inside the boat, meaning that someone is living in “their” boat. They leave the place and meet a man named Mud (McConaughey) near their boat. Soon they learn that the passionate Mud killed a man that had beaten up his girlfriend Juniper (Reese Witherspoon) and now the father and the brother of the deceased man are hunting him down. Mud makes a deal with Ellis and Neckbone that will help him to reunite with Juniper. But when Ellis meets Mud’s stepfather Tom (Sam Shepard), he has a different opinion about the love of Juniper with Mud, and the real motivations of this mysterious stranger.

“Mud” takes on plenty of central themes, but the most important aspect is the innocence of a child being corrupted in this adult world. For the entirety of the movie, Nichols narrates by way of these adolescent boys through our very own eyes, and it creates a real moral dilemma in the judgement of each character we come across. The boys view love as a fairytale they have waited their whole lives for, but get a different taste of it when they are up close. Nichols tackles effortlessly the kind of boredom and naivity that comes with being a teenager, and the importance of a life changing event coming along.

The script does start a little slow, but the real meat of the material happens during the second act where the wicks are lit for the firework finale that sets the creative roof on fire. Nichols definitely had a “Huckleberry Finn” influence when writing the characters, as the character of Tom Blankenship is based on the real life motivation for the Finn character. Beyond this, there’s so many traits in the friendship of Ellis and Neckbone that resembles the very outline of Tom Sawyer and Mr. Finn. These are two kids who only understand each other. The rest of the world simply doesn’t view them as productive members of society, so they seek a lot of comfort in one another. This gives the script a real heartwarming aspect, while playing against the kinds of mournful sorrow that floats around them like a poisonous cloud.

Leaps and bounds above the rest however, is a breakthrough performance by McConaughey that re-launched his career into a completely different direction. Mud is a ticking time bomb that keeps building more and more to an emotional explosion that levels everything within a mile radius of him. In the character of Mud, he isn’t admirable or even trustworthy, but there’s that X-factor in Matthew’s performance that makes the two hour investment a validated one, complete with a silent sorrow for a man who has lost so much. Matthew has never been this coherent when it comes to his characters emotions, and Mud is a welcome breath of fresh air for a man who wears his love for attention to detail on his chest.

Come for the kind of atmospheric tension that Nichols has perfected with precise execution, but stay for McConaughey’s wild card responses that play a vital part in so many character’s lives. This film packs plenty of surprises along the way in character development, as well as the constantly changing web of inevitable consequences that surround them. There’s certainly no sticks in this “Mud”.

You can find more of my film reviews at:
Thefilmfreak.com

The Rise and Fall of Roadrunner Video

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AKRON ADOLESCENCE

The Rise of Roadrunner
by Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Long before the days of skipping chapters on a DVD or streaming an entire movie on Netflix, VHS video was a rising technology among the masses for their dose of culture. Among the very places that you could find such a relic was the local video store. In Akron, plenty came and went, but Roadrunner Video was among the most memorable for any movie lover like myself. The once prosperous local franchise boasted twelve local chains that garnered quite the reputation for the increasing attention to video and VCR sales. Roadrunner not only kick-started the dawn of the video store, but it embraced it with several hard-to-find titles, as well as the most dependable of places to find your favorite movie posters. A virtual library of visual stimulation for the masses that craved the gore of horror, the destruction of action , the feel-good laughs of a comedy, or the sensuality of the behind-the-curtain section. More on that later. This was the place where dreams were rented out at 1,2 or 5 days at a time, and its endless supply of stocked shelves provided one of the most memorable places where my love for film could occasionally get out of its cage.

If I remember one thing from my frequent visits to Roadrunner, it was the visual delight of a place that took pride not only in embracing the best styles of the 80’s, but the very cult-like feel for where B-movies go to prosper for eternity. The neon decals around the store lit up the interiors with pink fluorescence, giving off a feeling of entering another dimension from the very one I stood on at North Main Street. Upon opening the door, a smell of fresh plastic filled my nose as a result of the hundreds of video cases that surrounded a room as big as any you have ever seen when you are seven. I used to associate such a smell with a video store, and even today will get that faint whiff from time-to-time, and it freezes me dead in my tracks, longing for an easier time. What was great with such a local-run business is that the door to employees was never revolving. Every week, I saw and talked with Randy, a teenager who I viewed as the single coolest entity in my pathetic Pee-Wee Herman filled life. Randy felt like family to us, and that’s certainly something strongly lacking in today’s businesses.

This was also the place for my biggest showdown with my arch-nemesis every week: Antie the Bug. Antie was a prop from the movie “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, and Roadrunner would set this enormous ant to the right of their cash registers so it could peer into the eyes of every nightmare-tortured child like me. Every week I would run past Antie, so not to stand face-to-face with my greatest fears. The bug never came down throughout my childhood, and eventually its appearance started to decay, due to aging paper mache and neighborhood vandals. It was around this time when I took my biggest steps to bravery in my life. I was around the age of ten, and I decided that enough was enough. I remember riding my bike down to the store. I was all by myself, with no intention of checking out a movie, just to handle business. My heart was beating a million beats per second, when I opened the door with authority, walked right up to Antie and said “I can’t be afraid of you anymore”. Not the bravest of speeches, but it was my “Citizen Kane” moment.

Once childhood was over, and my young teenage years were quickly approaching, Roadrunner became the forefront to the biggest mystery among any of my friends; what was behind the silver curtain? You’ve seen it before. Every store has a curtain which leads to another room with a different kind of film. I could only ponder what kind of treasures the store hid back there. I mean, if the movies on the showroom floor were as good as I remembered them being, surely these had to be even better. I was right….well kind of. I remember being dared by one of my friends to run in there for ten seconds, typical trouble among bored teenagers. When I took the challenge, my eyes caught on to a new kind of subject. Women, they were everywhere and their lack of clothing on the cover
was quite the concept for a kid who viewed them as “Cootie-holders”. In many ways, Roadrunner Video took my innocence that day and never gave it back. Which could explain why video stores aren’t as popular today in the ever-growing field of protective parents.

Throughout the years, evolving technology kept on moving, and competition was on the horizon for Roadrunner Video. After invaders like Blockbuster Video and Hollywood Video staked their claim on the Rubber City, the days were numbered for the dwindling local chain. By 2005, all Roadrunner Videos were out of business, and I was left with a lifetime of memories, as the pink neons went off for one last time. On the final day, I remember a nearly empty room and a feeling of defeated dread that overtook the once beautiful spirit of such a place. That day, I purchased a copy of “Bubble Boy” for $3. Not my proudest moment, but it was the least I could do for a place that acted as a third parent in my life. A place where I conquered my fears and embraced women as equals. A place where it was kind to rewind, a philosophy that we could all use upon reflection in our lives.

Photo Credit – Ed Haas
You Can read more of Chris’s weekly film reviews at Thefilmfreak.com

Spotlight: Kristen Wiig

Spotlight Series: Kristen Wiig

Kristen

FROM SATURDAY NIGHT TO STARDOM
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Many actors and actresses come in and out of “Saturday Night Live” with the hope of a prestigious career in Hollywood cinema. Some examples of successes are Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler, and Will Ferrell, but the list of obscurity piles even higher. One aspect until the 21st century has always been that women haven’t gotten as big of a push on the show as men. That changed with the arrival of hilarious heavyweights like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and of course the great Kristen Wiig. Kristen made her first big screen appearance as a cameo in 2007’s “Knocked Up”, and it’s clear that she had the charisma and sarcastically witty delivery to be a big screen presence. In 2011, on the eve of her final season on SNL, Wiig broke through the mainstream with a female dominated ensemble in tow, in “Bridesmaids”. Ever since the success of that film, Kristen has supplied film after film of gut-busting humor to give her fans an appreciation for the true art of comedy. The laughs would always be there, but it’s in Kristen’s ability to adapt to serious roles that has earned her a respectable reputation as a versatile actor among Hollywood’s elite. With roles in “All Good Things” and “The Skeleton Twins”, Wiig has solidified her name on the top of any casting list for future projects.

Perhaps Kristen’s most challenging of roles came in 2014’s “Welcome To Me”. A role that brought together the best of both worlds; humor and performance, as well as bringing a lot of awareness to Multiple Personality Disorder. Let’s take a look at the film that earned Kristen’s performance a standing ovation at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival:

WELCOME TO ME (2014)

Welcome to Me

Alice Klieg (Wiig) suffers from borderline personality disorder, but she has what she needs in life. She has an apartment, a best friend, and tapes of every Oprah Winfrey show. After winning the lottery, she also has 83 million dollars. What she doesn’t have is an outlet for the whole world to know who she really is. The TV station cuts her off when she tried turning her lottery announcement into a frank discussion of her sexual experiences, but with her money in hand, she’s off to LA to convince two struggling TV producer brothers to produce her own TV show. Whatever it costs, she’s going to do it. From swan entrances to dog neutering, she is going to introduce the world to Alice. But is the world ready for Alice?

What takes a lot of bravery in Wiig’s performance, is the ability to relate the very struggles that Alice goes through without being offensive about it. What begins as a touch of light-hearted comedy, soon turns into a blanket of melancholious sorrow for her inability to progress with society. The film offers a mesmerizing turn from Kristen that will leave you laughing and cringing for the very surreal tightrope of bizarre that she walks here. Her performance is simply a tour de force of deeply disturbed narcisstic tendancies, combined with an originality on delivery that puts her work in a class of its own. Wiig, as well as Shira Piven’s precise direction, presents a lead protagonist that tiptoes between a character the audience can love and hate at the same time. We learn so much about her condition, but the film never presents it in a light of pity. Alice has a degree as a veterinarian, and serves as a fully functioning woman with some kinks. It respects the character as a human person, and all of these things together only adds to the kind of depth that can push Wiig’s performance further.

The film’s script is a little jumbled, but I feel there is great artistic creativity in its presentation. The direction tends to jump from one scene to the next without much rhythm or consistency for its story, but I have always viewed this as intended, considering the background of our main character. Alice is always jumping from one topic to the next, and Piven’s script does a lot of the same. It really presents the very depressing nature of this condition, while trying to communicate to the audience a very relatable centerpiece. Over the course of the 89 minute presentation, A lot of the film happens in eventful spurts, instead of one continuous story. This kind of thing is likely to alienate some audiences, while offering an imaginative spin for the others.

One of the more surprising aspects to the film’s reception has come from splitting the audiences directly in half. According to Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently holds a 73% among critics, but a disappointing 46% among moviegoers. This is a little surprising, but I think a misleading trailer leads this movie in a different direction than where people end up. I recommend if you check it out, just go into the film blindsided. I think it offers the biggest return with the least you know about Alice and her complicated situation.

“Welcome To Me” invites you to a performance that will open your eyes to a different side of Wiig’s capabilities that proves she has conquered TV and the silver screen alike.

You can find more of Chris’s weekly film reviews at:
Thefilmfreak.com

Spotlight: Mia Wasikowska

Mia

MAMA MIA
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

As far as acting chameleon’s go, Mia Wasikowska offers A magically diverse range of characters over the course of her career. unbelievably, in just twelve years on the silver screen, the twenty-six year old Australian has carved A reputation for being a quiet storm of sorts in the roles she takes on. Her hushed personality in her characters offers just enough mystery behind A sort of seductive smile that leaves us completely wanting more. That’s when the real genius of her spell takes place. Through playing opposite of some of Hollywood’s hardest hitters, Mia time and time again steals the show from the very best because of her ability to get lost in every character, and undeniable emotional depth for such a young talent. Beginning May 27th, Mia will once again reprise her role as Alice Kingsleigh, and fall into Wonderland, in “Alice Through the Looking Glass”. However, not everything has been sunshine and talking hatters for the Aussie. To understand why she’s so great as A childlike adult who refuses to ever grow up, you must first witness the darker side to this stigma. Lets check out one of the most astonishingly-deranged films I have ever seen.

STOKER (2013)

Stoker

Chan-Wook Park’s North American directoral debut centers around brash family motives embraced by mysterious characters. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is emotionally reeling after the death of her father and best friend Richard (Dermot Mulroney) to a tragic auto accident. The solitude of her luxurious family estate, the peace of her tranquil town, and the unspoken somberness of her home life are suddenly upendeded by not only this mysterious accident, but by the sudden arrival of her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), whom she never even knew existed. When Charlie moves in with her and her emotionally unstable mother Evie (Nicole Kidman), India thinks the void left by her father’s death is finally being filled by his closest bloodline. Soon after his arrival, India comes to suspect that this mysterious, charming man has ulterior motives. Yet instead of feeling outrage or horror, this friendless young woman becomes increasingly infatuated with him. This dangerous game of cat and mouse has India discovering things about herself she never envisioned capable of.

If reading the plot to “Stoker” doesn’t make you feel awkward enough, the dark and ominous atmospheric tones for the movie will. Park’s films always view the world as an unforgiving place, and “Stoker” is certainly no different. His use of silence and the effect it has on character mood and composition really serve as A delightful strength to the film’s growing cloud of caution. This is A family with A tortured past that really comes back to haunt them in present day. We as an audience get the feeling that anything is possible within the enigmatic psyches of our main characters. Most notably in India, who Wasikowska developes as an emotional onion, peeling back one layer at a time. India feels like a girl whose world has just crumbled down around her, and perhaps a piece of herself has died with her father. There’s so much within the way Mia performs this character that is reminiscent of the silent pictures era of film. Her character proves that actions speak louder than words, and it makes for a very hypnotizing scene-stealing performance. Mia doesn’t just shine going blow for blow with on-screen mother Kidman, but their brilliant interractions and on-screen chemistry provide A symbolic passing of the torch for the majestic Wasikowska.

There’s also A lot of deeper meaning below some of the tense and claustrophobic feelings of India’s experiences with Charlie that is easy to pick up on. One can translate India’s awakening externally as A sort of modern day growing-up tale, when the child becomes the adult. There’s certainly enough evidence to support this in India’s daily wardrobe, suited to look like an early 20th century schoolgirl. We see A couple of times in the movie where she is handled and treated like a fragile little girl, despite her look and age being a completely different telling. One scene in particular showcases Charlie tying India’s shoes for her so that she doesn’t fall. Scenes like this and the subtext of one character standing higher than the other on A staircase more than communicates to the audience the kind of adolescent coming-of-age tale that screenwriter Wentworth Miller (Yes, of TV’s “Prison Break” fame) was trying to tell. It’s A transformation that the audience can believe in, if only for the well being of India’s mental stability.

“Stoker” is A beautifully twisted story, artfully composed and fiercely performed. This film triumphs as A hyper- visual gothic masterpiece that can’t be missed. At the helm is A spellbinding performance from Wasikowska, who
executes a psychological storm of emotional depth years ahead of her prime.

You can read more of my film reviews at:
Thefilmfreak.com

Spotlight: Jake Gyllenhaal

Jake

Jake’s “Highway” to success
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal has taken a long road to reach the kind of notoriety that entails his reputation today. From early appearances in films like “City Slickers” and “October Sky”, Jake created a calling card for passionate dedication to every role he accepted. This month may be the biggest dramatic spin that Gyllenhaal’s career has ever taken. In director Jean Marc-Vallee’s (Dallas Buyers Club) latest picture due in theaters April 8th, Jake plays a widowed successful investment banker who struggles after losing his wife in a brutal car accident. With each reflection back into his past, he reveals a lot of secrets from decisions that shaped him into the man he is today. It took a lot to shape Jake into the actor he is today, and one of those extreme decisions is a film that I always wanted to check out, but didn’t think it would offer anything of substance. Boy was I wrong.

Highway

Highway (2002)

Set in April of 1994 just days after the painful suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, Jack (Jared Leto) and Pilot (Gyllenhaal) are the best of long-time friends. Jack is caught with the wife of his employer, a powerful Vegas thug who sends his goons after Jack. After convincing Pilot to flee with him, they head for Seattle, with dreams of Pilot hooking up with a loving crush. The goons learn from Pilot’s drug source where the youths are headed, and they follow, hell bent on breaking Jack’s feet. On the road, Jack and Pilot give a ride to Cassie (Selma Blair), a distressed young woman. Together, the three head to Seattle on a pavement of drug-induced madness that has them running from their tortured pasts.

What I found so original about director James Cox’s script is that this is punk music filmmaking at it’s finest, but there’s a lot of heart beneath the rough exteriors of the characters in this film. Besides the grunge-dominated soundtrack, the opening five minutes offer no dialogue, but the backstories of Jack and Pilot are presented with some grainy, edited in scenes from their childhoods. What this does is communicate to the audience visually instead of vocally some of their most meaningful of moments. I’ve always believed in a show-and-don’t-tell philosophy when it comes to storytelling, and Cox is a master of an original style. The film also uses this editing tricks in communicating some of the real cause-and-effects from rapid drug use. Several long-winded dialogue scenes overlap each other to give a point of view from our protagonists that translates their altered states. 422

Leto is his usual sexy rockstar self, but Gyllenhaal’s performance offers a side of him that we have never seen. It’s quite a treat to watch a young, charasmatic prominent actor like him presented in such a rage of fire. Writer Scott Rosenberg makes the most of his transition, supplying Pilot with many quotable one-liners, as well as a loser’s story that you can truly root for. The world feels very easy to a man like Pilot, and watching his eyes opening to the realization that there are bigger problems out there humbles his character in a way that is almost heartbreaking to the viewers. The friendship between the two main protagonists is communicated so effortlessly because their on-screen chemistry goes leaps and bounds above the sometimes hollow directions that the film can take. With anyone else, this film could fail, but it’s in the forbidden territory for Gyllenhaal that gives the movie the substance that it needs to keep going. 588

The film takes a strange turn during the second act when a character with an unusual look is introduced. It does feel like it is a negative with it changing the kind of mood set for this film in the opening act, but there is a bigger picture. Rosenberg’s script supplies just the right amount of room for emotional leverage with the audience, so they can pick up on the very hints that the movie offers for its moral compass. Pilot in particular transforms the most during this act because he doesn’t quite see the world as shallow as some of the other characters do. His intentions are noble, and it only confirms that this is the right character for a majority of 96 minute screen time.

“Highway” offers some unorthodox methods to the way it draws its audience in. But with a perfect blend of bizarre direction, as well as artistic originality, this film cements that no Gyllenhaal library will be complete without his most rebelious of roles. Jake would go on to a wide array of characters, with film roles in “Nightcrawler”, “Donnie Darko” and “Prisoners”. With over twenty-five years of screen credits, he has cemented his place as Hollywood’s dramatic chameleon.

Highway is available on Youtube in its entirety

You can find more of The Film Freak’s reviews at:
Thefilmfreak.com

Spotlight : Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller

shailene-woodley-miles-teller

Spotlight: Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller

Allegiance in Allegiant
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

How many actors have done multiple movies together? Certainly the duos of Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau, as well as Woody Harrelson/Wesley Snipes come to mind. But how many have been in the same movie five different times? That’s the circumstances surrounding the two stars of the newest Divergent series film “Allegiant”, out in theaters March 18th. The two are the closest of friends outside of cinema, but have etched an on-screen chemistry that have made them the representatives for best duo of the current generation of films. Many are familiar with their most popular of titles, but where did their magic begin? Lets take a look at their first film together:

Spectacular Now

The Spectacular Now (2013)

“500 Days of Summer” Writer Scott Neustadter pens this screenplay based on the best selling novel by Tim Tharp about the biggest year of change in a teenager’s life; the final year of high school. Sutter Keely (Teller) lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whiskey-fortified thirst-master cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend (Brie Larsen), Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finecky (Woodley) hovering over him. She’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. While Aimee has dreams of a future, Sutter lives in the impressive delusion of a spectacular now, yet somehow, they’re drawn together on a colliding course of Aimee’s hopes with Sutter’s negative influences.

During an age where teenage films are more concerned with recycled plots, “The Spectacular Now” shines with originality in plot device, while showcasing a fresh cast of up-and-coming stars just itching to steal the light. Directed by James Ponsoldt, the film tackles the kinds of issues with teenagers that other films in the post-John Hughes era were afraid to expose. The subject of alcoholism is presented with a very frightening context, as it’s a slow underlying process to costing Sutter everything he has. The brilliance of this direction is that it’s done with such a subtle touch that it never feels overdone or repetitive in storytelling. The film is also brilliantly structured with several surprises behind every corner. Neustadter’s script leaves enough room creatively to always keep the audience guessing with its characters and the many ever-changing situations they find themselves in. By the time the film is over, you will think this is anything but your typical teenage drama. 436

One of the many impressive layers to the film is in the many varying performances from a next generation cast of A-listers. This is Teller’s first performance of meaningful range before he went on to the Oscar Best Picture nominee “Whiplash”. Teller’s Sutter still effortlessly displays that Cusack-esque personality that is hard to hate no matter how naive he acts. Woodley displays a childlike innocence that makes it easy for anyone watching to fall in love with her. The chemistry between them feels like best friends from the get-go because they work so well off of each other, going line for line in real, honest teenage dialogue. One scene in particular is an uncut, unedited continuation for over three and a half minutes between them. I don’t care who you are, that’s impressive. In addition to this, the film boosted the careers of big timers today like Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brie Larsen, and Bob Odenkirk to round out one of the strongest ensembles I have ever seen for a teenage drama.

What matters most to me is that the production design led by director of photography Jess Hall (Hot Fuzz) really took the time to give a gorgeous background and cinematography to a film primarily about adolescence. The rich color scheme and tapestry in design gives the film a real mature feeling in tone that never sacrifices one without the other. There’s a kind of dreamy and glossy presentation to the wide angle shots of the town and surrounding landscapes where our protagonists take us. This is of course personal interpretation, but I feel like it is to give the impression that life around us may look like a fairytale, but what’s going on internally is the real truth. This is an appropriate theme to the kinds of novels Tharp has written in books, with most of them requiring a deeper look to see what’s really going on behind the beautiful towns with picket fences.

“The Spectacular Now” is anything but just another whimsical romantic teenage romp. Instead, it pushes through the cliches of a spoon-fed genre by signaling that fear of growing up, and more importantly who we will grow into.

Spotlight : Ryan Reynolds

Ryan Reynolds

Spotlight: Ryan Reynolds

But why buy the cow?
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Buying the cow

Fourteen years prior to becoming Deadpool, the world was just getting to know Ryan Reynolds from a supporting role that he had in 2002’s “Buying The Cow”. Ryan only had a few small roles before then, but his role as Mike Hansen gave the world a sneak preview into one of the most charasmatic actors of our time. Over the course of a stacked filmography, Reynolds went on to star in big budget blockbusters like “The Green Lantern” and “R.I.P.D”, while also offering a sensitive side in films like “Definitely Maybe” and “The Proposal”.

“Buying The Cow” centers around a committment freak named David Collins (Jerry O’ Connell) living in Los Angeles with his supportive girlfriend Sarah (Bridgette Wilson). When Sarah sees their future going nowhere, she gives David an ultimatum: commit or get out. David has two months to decide if he wants to stay with Sarah as she leaves town for a job in New York, or test the dating waters to see if he still has it. Following the advice from his more outgoing friends (Bill Bellamy, Ryan Reynolds), David hits the dating scene as he tries to find his one and only soul mate, a mysterious woman (Scarlett Chorvat) he sees again and again, but always gets away before he can talk to her.

The film’s well-known cast all has their time to shine, but it’s Reynolds who steals the show without ever giving it back. Hansen is a character who has bounced from woman to woman over the course of his life, but is questioning his sexuality for the first time ever. He has an epiphany after a mix-up that has him waking up to a man serving him breakfast: maybe the reason he can’t get close to anyone is because he is “Playing for the wrong team”. It makes for some truly gut-busting scenarios, while offering an informative social commentary on gay relations in the early 21st century. Reynolds commands the attention of the audience with his unique personality traits reminiscent of the late, great Jack Benny. The biggest surprise of Hansen’s life is a misunderstanding, but what follows is pure comedy gold for any Reynolds fan. His quick-witted replies have the audience hanging onto every word of his dialogue, and you quickly notice that Reynolds is probably the character who this film should be following.

The material is a bit juvenile at times, and this does serve as more of a male comedy than a female one, but I feel like “Buying The Cow” has something to offer everyone based on it’s inside looks at the male psyche. The friendships feel honest in their portrayal, and that is sometimes the hardest thing to capture in twisted comedies. These are a group of friends who want the most for their troubled leader, so many times it’s nice to have that kind of entrance into their brotherhood. The ladies will love this cast of characters, as many scenes showcase the kinds of dumb things that guys will do to go home with the one he desires. At 88 minutes, the film’s plot is kind of limited in terms of it’s capabilities to branch out and seek something more than the predictable outcomes, however, the energetic enigma that is Reynolds keeps this film on track.

Besides the remarkable hillarity of a future leading man, “Buying The Cow” is a recommended choice for it’s stroll down memory lane of hits from every genre that were reminiscent during their respective era of musical direction. Some of my favorites featured are “Get Down Tonight” by KC and the Sunshine Band, “Freakin You” by The Jungle Brothers, and a testicle tuck scene involving Reynolds with a background of “Cars” by Gary Numan. Yes, you read that last part correct. These songs and many more give the movie that nostalgic fascination with the retro eras that were commonplace with the genre for the time. It’s a musical happening, toe-tapping kind of soundtrack that reminds you the good times that are to be had with this story. 648

Director Walt Becker knew he had a star on his hands, so much so that he cast Reynolds as the title role in the 2002 smash hit from National Lampoon’s “Van Wilder”. Even though that film is more known, “Buying The Cow” is a gem that shouldn’t be understated for it’s return value on one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. It’s a film that provides a look inside of ourselves and the relationships that we seek when it comes to exploring the most out of life. A deep-rooted message that not many buddy comedies were providing for the time. I personally am looking forward to seeing “Deadpool”, and I hope it serves as a reminder that Reynolds can be that guy who carries a film. He just has to have the material that shines to his brand of humor and charm.

You can find more of The Film Freak’s film reviews at Thefilmfreak.com

Top 5 Akron films

greetings-from-akron-ohio

5 films featuring Akron, Ohio
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

After discovering back in November, Akron’s big influence in the Oscar contender “Room” (Review online at Thefilmfreak.com), I decided to dig even futher to figure out films far and wide that mention or even feature Akron, Ohio in some form. My research unearthed over twenty films and even a few television shows that showcase the rubber city. Below are my five favorite film appearances by our favorite city. Enjoy

25 Hill (2011)

25 Hill

A film whose entirety takes place in Akron, is about an 11-year-old boy whose derby dreams are left in pieces after his soldier father is killed in Afghanistan. The boy teams up with a father figure whose own son, a firefighter, died in the line of duty, and the two help each other find redemption and revive the derby. This film served as a boost in advertising for one of Akron’s oldest traditions during the summer of 2010, when the film was shot all over Summit County. “Major League” actor Corbin Bernsen directed and starred this heartwarming tale, bringing an over one million dollar budget to Akron. In addition to the Soap Box Derby, the film features shots of Downtown, most notably Main Street. “25 Hill is the only film on this list whose majority of scenes were shot in our hometown.

My Fellow Americans (1996)

My Fellow Americans

Two former U.S. Presidents (Jack Lemmon, James Garner), who are hated rivals, join forces to expose the current, corrupt President (Dan Akroyd) at the risk of their lives. Midway through the film, the two presidents discuss a hideout point in Akron, Ohio, which is right next to Lemmon’s library in Cuyahoga Falls. This Akron appearance used to always crack me up because there are Douglas Fir trees, as well as mountains in the background. Not exactly the best representation of Akron on the list, but it is my personal favorite of the films included on this list for the back-and-forth bickering between the main protagonists, that offers lots of Republican Vs Democrats slighting. Lemmon serves as a Republican representative from Summit County, and the movie leaves us in a dreamlike state, as we wonder what the world would be like under an Akronite’s leadership.

The Great Buck Howard (2008)

Buck Howard

When a law school dropout (Colin Hanks) answers an advertisement to be a personal assistant he unknowingly signs on to work for a belligerent has-been magician (John Malkovich) struggling to resurrect his career. This leads to a journey across the country staging the comeback of a lifetime. The film features a stop in a quite familiar city, that is featured as a stop in Howard’s redemption tour. The audience is treated to Malkovich’s enriched enjoyment of our city, when outside of a building where Howard just performed, he yells “I LOVE THIS TOWN!!”. What i like about this appearance is that the people of Akron are given a lot of spirit and excitement for someone they believe in. The spot is brief, but with Akron on his side, Buck is blessed with the support to keep going on his tour after a rocky start.

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Inside Llewyn Davis

The film follows the life of a young folk singer (Oscar Isaac) as he navigates the Greenwich Village folk scene of 1961. Guitar in tow, huddled against the unforgiving New York winter, he is struggling to make it as a musician against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, most at his own doing. During the beginning of the third act for the film, Davis heads to the midwest for a business opportunity in Chicago. After another failed chance, Davis heads back to New York, but has a near fatal accident on Route 8, just ten miles outside of Akron. This pick is a little shaky since it’s not technically Akron, but Route 8 is known for one direction, and the Akron sign gives us a warm feeling during some of Llewyn’s most trying times. In addition to rubber city ties and stellar acting, the film is boosted by the greatest musical score of 2013.

Harvey (1950)

Harvey

An whimsical middle aged man and an imaginary bunny rabbit whose dreamy vacation spot is in Northeast Ohio, is at the center of this black-and-white classic. Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six-foot rabbit for a best friend, Elwood Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) is thought by his family to be insane, but unexplainable developments leave his loved ones in question as to whether he really is being truthful. “Harvey” is a timeless classic among film fans young and old, and a lot of that centers around this one man comedic stage show that Stewart immitates effortlessly. It would be great alone for a film of this magnitude to mention Akron, but it’s made even more important when we find out that this fictional rabbit lives in the real-life city. Based on my thirty years in this city, i’ve never seen six-foot tall rabbits, but i have seen a lot of honorable praise for this beautiful place. Something Stewart has in this movie in spades.

The Ref & Shogun Japanese Steakhouse

The RefShogun

A HOLIDAY HEIST OF FEAST AND FILM
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

The Ref (1994)

Everyone has their own choices that they watch every holiday season. For me, the one that always puts me in a joyous mood is the one that exploits the real negatives of Christmas. “The Ref” is directed by Ted Demme (That Thing You Do), and is a dark comedy starring Denis Leary as cat burglar Gus. On the heels of an already bad break-in, Gus finds himself caught in the middle of Caroline and Lloyd (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey), a bickering married couple on the brink of divorce, after he breaks into their house on Christmas Eve and holds them and their family hostage. What follows is a cynical, yet viciously funny anti-holiday film that will offer a reflection on tired traditional families.

There is so much to be commended about Demme’s portrait of an American family in the new age. Everything feels authentically rich and original in tone for the genre decades before films like these were released annually. Despite a hardened criminal in Gus, Demme uses brilliant comedic timing, while relying on the quick witted dialogue of his main protagonist. Leary works greatly in this role because the movie is intended in the slapstick variety of film. Think “Home Alone” grew up to be a kidnapping story, but still held on to it’s childish roots. It would be tough for many people to classify this as a Christmas film, but the homage to history is certainly there, most notably with “It’s A Wonderful Life” being shown on the TV throughout the film. A kind of soft heart of domesticity underneath its superficially shallow humor.

While the film’s delivery will bring you to the table, it’s the stellar work of the ensemble cast of Hollywood veterans that will leave you gut busting with laughter in your seat. Besides Leary, a young Spacey commands the attention with his soft-to-loud anger growing louder and louder with each scene. The chemistry between he and Davis is so beneficial to the audience, because as much as we grow tired of their bickering, we are rooting for their recovery selfishly for more laughs. The awkward laughs really get raised a notch when 71-year-old Glynis Johns joins the fun as Spacey’s rudely overbearing Mother. There’s a real rivalry between her and Davis, and it supplies a lot of the honest tension of family gatherings with one-up responses that will have your jaw hitting the floor.

Shogun Japanese Steakouse

Need a cure from the harsh and unforgiving Winter weather of Akron? Come warm up by the fire and enjoy the best in Asian cusine at Shogun Steakhouse. Housed in the ever-developing area of South Akron, this one-of-a-kind dining experience will tingle your taste buds with the delight of nourishment satisfaction, while offering a cooking presentation umatched in any kitchen. The restaurant offers everything in tastes from Filet Mignon steaks, to chicken and shrimp combos, to a wide variety of house sushis that will have you planning future trips to taste the many fresh flavors. To seal the deal is a well stocked bar that houses some of the best in domestic, as well as foreign alcoholic tastes, sure to please any wide variety of pallate. As far as dining experiences go, this is one that proves a little extra spending goes a lot further than just another satisfying meal.

Film Freak Recomends:

Upon my innagural visit to the Shogun, i was greeted by outstanding customer service. The staff and crew are very hospitable, and it made me feel very comfortable in a new place. I scanned the menu for the one dish that would perfectly represent everything i was looking for with a familiar taste prepared in a new way. After finishing, i can safely say that all of my readers must try the Steak and Shrimp Combo. It’s the perfect combination of surf and turf, made even more irresistable by the hearty portions and Asian traditional preparations. I was also treated to a side helping of scallops, in which my butter was literally drizzling down the sensuous texture of some of the best Shellfish i’ve ever tried. Shogun is open for lunch or dinner, but the hours are different for each day. Be sure to plan ahead.

Shogun Japanese Steakhouse Is located at:
2863 South Arlington Road
Akron, Ohio, 44312
330-645-9000

You can find more of The Film Freak’s reviews at
Thefilmfreak.com

Swingers & Wally Waffle

SwingersWaffle

The SWING of a new semester

By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Swingers (1996)
Starring – Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau, Ron Livingston

With the start of another school year, i searched my DVD library for a film that represented the college life that might have passed by today’s crop of young students. The film i chose doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with curriculum or the college backdrop itself, but it is the perfect representation for groups getting together searching for a Friday night of escapism and intrigue. ‘Swingers’ is a film writen and starring Jon Favreau, about a group of guys all in their 20s, all coping with the mysteries of life and women, set in the back streets and sometimes hidden clubs of Hollywood, California. Mike (Favreau) is down in the dumps because he left his girlfriend behind in New York when he came to Hollywood to seek his acting fortune. Instead, he’s found loneliness and the blues. Now, after six months of dealing with Mike, his buddy Trent (Vaughn) and the other swingers have had enough. It’s time to bring Mike back to life.

I really enjoy the film because of it’s authenticity to the kinds of conversations i have had with my male friends. Fear not though ladies, there are a lot of hidden gems in the film for you to soak in about the true secrets of the male psychology and how it relates to the opposite sex. There are many key scenes to what makes the film work, but i think it’s the character building backstory scenes between the group that tells the audience more than any big screen production ever could. The film shows us that there are many different kinds of friendships that make us the people we are. Trent is the asshole in Mike’s life. He’s cocky, fast-spoken, and insensitive to the kind of beautiful babies (His words, not mine) that he is trying to attain. Mike also has a friend who moved from New York to LA with him, named Rob (Livingston). Rob is that caring type who knows how Mike feels with the look of a facial reaction. It’s a nice balance of power for the audience to choose who they identify with in their own lives.

Some little known facts about the movie reveal that the apartment that Jon Favreau was living in at the time was used as his apartment from the movie. The film was made for less than 2 million dollars, so the production crew struggled with ideas on how to showcase extras in the movies. They decided to shoot at real Hollywood parties that were taking place the night of the shooting. It’s a shining example of rogue filmmaking at it’s finest.
Rise and dine

After a long night of scouting the hippest joints in the rubber city, check out one of my favorite breakfast joints, Wally Waffles. Wally’s opened it’s doors in 1975, and ever since then it has gained word of mouth as one of the best bangs for your buck, when seeking fuel to tackle whatever the day brings. Over the next forty years, this place has opened two new shops in the Akron area, showcasing AM domination on the East and West side of Akron’s expanding reach. So what makes this place special? I adore any restaurant that doesn’t stop serving breakfast just because your clock tells you it’s afternoon. For those of us who like to hit the snooze button, there are no restrictions. Whether it be deliciously mouth watering stacks of pancakes, or waffle combinations glazed in multi-flavored syrup from the breakfast gods above, there is no time limit for this edible perfection. If breakfast foods aren’t your craving, there is also a wide variety of PM meals sure to grab your attention. Signature dishes like the ‘Chicken and Waffles sandwich’, to some of the thickest burgers like ‘The Holy Cow’, will make you a regular to the Highland Square scene.

Film Freak Suggestion : I’m a morning and nighttime lover of food, so i will pack a tasty tag team to accomodate all readers. If the early bird truly catches the worm in your lifestyle, order the ‘Churro’, a Belgian waffle dipped in pancake batter, deep fried & topped with cinnamon sugar. It’s warm and sweet center is the perfect start during the most important meal of the day. For Lunch/Dinner? i love ‘The Pretzel and Nacho Cheese’. It’s an eight ounce beef slab on a pretzel bun, colliding with a combination of Bacon and Nacho Cheese. If it’s a light meal, i recommend their Grilled Chicken Salad. It’s healthy for the Akronite on the go, but it’s a nice offering for such a light meal.

Wally Waffles has two locations at:
845 West Market Street
Akron, Ohio, 44303
330-374-4915

750 South Avenue
Tallmadge, Ohio, 44305

You can read more of my reviews at:
thefilmfreak.com

The Assassin

The Assassin

Nightlight Corner
“The Assassin” (2015)
By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

Revenge is a game full of many twists and turns. This motto is no more evident than in the film that has won director Hou Hsiao-Hsien the Best Director award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival; “The Assassin”. This is Hsiao-Hsien’s first film in eight years, and over 500,000 feet of footage was shot for the film’s final 101 minute presentation cut. The film is set in ninth-century China, at the end of the Tang Dynasty, with popular Asian actress Shu Qi playing a highly trained female assassin who, after failing with one mission, is sent back to her home province to kill its governor (Chen Chang), who is also the man she loves. “The Assassin” is a visually stunning presentation in feminist defense. Yinniang (Shu Qi) is a female protagonist who is easy to get behind. She’s a badass with a sword, she commands respect, and she is absolutely fearless when it comes to her numbers of enemies. Yinniang faces the uphill battle of killing a man who was not only a former love, but a former employer. This structure in plot has been told before, but never in such a Chinese representation of the culture during a forgotten era.

Hsiao-Hsien is a master behind the camera. He is someone with great respect for Chinese culture, and that comes off greatly with the wide angled camera shots. The characters come off almost as secondary when compared to the mass surroundings around them where anyone could be hiding. Couple this with patient and observatory storytelling, and the movie showcases that it cares more about the story and less about the consequences that are coming. This film is definitely for the story lover in all of us. Martial arts fans will yearn for more action but this is a film that exercises great restraint and rewards compassion, induldging those of a demanding nature will be rewarded when their dedication to the script pays off for the overall bigger picture. On top of this is a musical score that is very faint, as opposed to some Hollywood films where the score dominates the film. Hsiao-Hsien instead inserts it subtly, making the suspense peak at the right moment in every clip.

The real wild card of this film however, is Qi. She is enigmatic in her responses, and a feel of alienation makes her a real firework to anyone who opposes her. What makes her character so enticing to me, was heart pounding revelation that she doesn’t need a gun from afar. She likes to do her killing close and personally, and that is something that kept me interested in her character. Qi is currently a megastar in Asia, and a role like this really set her apart from the roles she’s taken on in her past. To play someone so mysterious, yet enticing at all times, Qi was the best choice for a role so complex. She is beautiful in presenation, but deadly in execution. The rarest of messengers.

“The Assassin” boasts itself as one of the most beautiful films to come to America in 2015. Behind a powerful message and crisp cinematography, It serves as an educational dose to the cultures and actions of a generation when the battle for respect was at it’s deadliest.The lives of many are in the hands and sword of one girl; “The Assassin”. You can find this tribute to film 101 at the best Independent theater in the land; The Nightlight, beginning on October 30th. If you haven’t been to The Nightlight, this is the perfect time to seek out the comforts and tastes of how movies are supposed to be experienced.
You can find The Nightlight at:
30 North High Street
Akron, Ohio, 44308

You can find more film reviews from The Film Freak at:
Thefilmfreak.com

AKRON ADOLESCENCE – The Edge of Education

Pry

AKRON ADOLESCENCE – The Edge of Education

By Chris Kessinger (The Film Freak)

The Sun always seemed to shine a little brighter on the first day of school. The promise of a fresh start, with the ability to be and do anything that we wanted in regards to the future ahead. The smells of the new textbooks, the sounds of kids rushing through the doors to get a look at how good the Summer months were to their significant crushes. These were just a couple of the noticeable traits in a place we would spend the next 178 weekdays, leaping closer to the inevitability of adulthood. What i didn’t know was that place would teach me much more than just the things you could find in classroom.

I spent three years at Akron’s Ellet High School, after a troubling freshman year at Cuyahoga Falls High School. My parents divorced when i was nine years old, and i decided to move back in with my Mother to start fresh at a new surrounding. I remember being nervous, considering i only knew a couple of people in the entire school. Something about high school just didn’t mix well with me up to that point. I was a rebelious teenager as a result of being a victim of bullying, as well a lack of care when it came to scholastic studies, due to uninspiring teachers who didn’t want to be at school any more than i did. Ellet was going to have to work, as it was the last chance i had to turn things around before i entered the workforce. I already made the decision to not attend college, so i had to make this work for everything i ever wanted.

It was on that day that i met the man who would change my life forever, the late, great Steve Pryseski. Pry (as i called him) was the English teacher, yearbook editor, as well as voice for the football team. On top of this, he was a devoted husband and father to two children. From afar, he didn’t look real, as he never tired or lacked consistency of top notch effort in any aspect of his life. The guy is still the biggest Ohio State Football fan that i have ever come across, complete with his Woody Hayes profile features. Pry looked like your typical high school teacher, so what made him so special to the aspects of my life? He opened my eyes to culture and proved to me that i could literally be anything i wanted. 414

From the first day i met him, he instilled a sense of confidence in me that i carry with me in everything i do. We talked about school studies during the day, but it was our after class discussions about film that inspired me to be a film critic. Steve would always ask me what in particular i enjoyed about a film. He told me to always convince him like he was someone who never saw them film. To interest him into why he would want to watch this movie. I didn’t have much a teenage relationship with my Father, but Steve was the closest thing i got to it around that time. He never let me feel less, even when i struggled with descriptive verbs on how to convey what certain films meant to me. He would work with me, despite doing this for hundreds of other kids for eight hours a day. He did a lot for me, but perhaps the biggest difference shouldn’t be seen from afar, but from up close. Steve helped me graduate high school.

I was an average student in high school, but Pry knew i could do better. He would help me study everyday after school, while he was doing yearbook classes. By Junior year, i was averaging a 3.2 GPA. School felt easier with Pry over my shoulder. Then, one day you wake up and you’re a senior. I never really suffered from Senioritis. My problem was that i didn’t want to leave the only person who i considered a mentor. Even after i left, Pry continued to write me once a week to check in on me. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2013. He never got to read any of my in-depth film reviews, or my work for this brilliant newspaper, but i like to think that he is still watching over me, serving as that voice in my conscious to always push me to do better. 740

With students returning to school over the last month, i’m sure you all have your memories like mine. Maybe you have met your ‘Pry’, maybe you haven’t. Keep your eyes open. You never know when the biggest influence on your life will make an appearance. In closing, i quote the great Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it”.

Thank you Pry
GO BUCKEYES!!!

You can find more of Chris’s film reviews at Thefilmfreak.com.