Interview ~ Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, & Blake Jenner from Everybody Wants Some!!

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Though I’d always been interested in movies and how they are made, I’ve strangely never felt the need to be the one that sits down and talks to filmmakers, actors, and production crew to get the skinny on what efforts went into making the film.  I figured I’d leave that to those with a bigger vocabulary, better follow-up questions, and less inclination to get too star-struck.  However, in my time as a Midwest movie critic I’ve had several opportunities to have some face to face conversations with the actors and/or creative personnel and found that I’ve started to enjoy the chance to ask the questions I, as a critic and more importantly a fan, wanted to know.

This latest interview with three of the stars of Everybody Wants Some!! felt like I had snagged an invitation to the cool kids table.  Here were three handsome actors on the rise that had a unique experience in making the film and though one of them appeared a little sleepy (understandably so) when they stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe in the Mall of America, all three were gracious with their time and thoughtful in their responses. They may have been asked similar questions on their whirlwind promotional tour but they sure made their answers feel individualized and not the least bit like a canned reply dictated by their studio.

In a group interview with fellow local critics Ryan Sanderson of Minnesota Connected,  Paul McGuire Grimes of Paul’s Trip to the Movies, and Jonathon Sharp of WCCO, Ryan Guzman (The Boy Next Door, Jem and the Holograms), Tyler Hoechlin (best known for MTV’s Teen Wolf), and Blake Jenner (TV’s Glee and Supergirl) reflected on their time on the set of Everybody Wants Some!!, what it was like to work with director Richard Linklater, how they prepared for their roles as college kids in the days before school begins, and what they took away from the process.

Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.

Asked about the different approach Linklater took between high school and college, Guzman responded “I think high school is more ‘succumbing to the man’, being told what to do, living under a regime. College is more of a free experience, finding out what you’re capable of. Two different experiences, two different time periods, two different ways of telling a story.” Much of the cast isn’t that far removed in age from the characters they’re playing, though living three decades after the film takes place means there were different take aways for each guy.  Jenner commented that “with all of the distractions there are today with social media, Twitter, Instagram, everything’s so abrupt and direct and immediate. You find yourself thinking about the past and the future a little bit more than you should. I think what this movie does so well is teach everyone to live in the now, and be grateful for the first three days of something because it could affect you for the rest of your life. You might look back on it and write a movie about it.”  Guzman added, “I think there are many messages throughout the whole film. There’s a couple that stick out to me. One is letting your inner strange out, not letting judgment force you or put you in a corner. Just being true to yourself and going that route, among other messages.”

As the more senior member of the trio, Hoechlin reflected that he loved “the way Rick {Linklater} can have a movie that’s this much fun but have so many moments that are profound. You sit there and think, “Oh wow, that makes me think and feel something.” One of my favorite scenes is where Wyatt Russell’s character is speaking with Blake’s character and says ‘just be weird’ and when you do that you bring who you are and never who they want and that’s when it’s fun. There’s something great about that. It’s just so much more fun when you stop trying to be something that’s an expectation as opposed to embracing what you are and running with it.”

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In reading the press notes before the interview, I noted that all three of the guys had some history with sports before the acting bug bit (or in the case of Hoechlin who started acting at 9 before focusing on a baseball career, re-bit).  Since the movie deals so much with sports and the camaraderie between players, I wanted to know how their history with sports influenced their acting. Hoechlin felt that “Baseball, specifically, is such a game of failure, and you learn more from your failures than success. It definitely helps with being persistent. You have a bad game, go 0-4, and you have to get up the next day and play again. It’s the same thing with acting. You have a lot of auditions, and you get a few of those jobs. I think the mental aspect to just brush it off and keep going has been the most helpful thing for me.  Guzman was a pitcher in college and learned that you have to take it “second by second. A good hitter these days is hitting .300. He’s only getting 3 out of 10. That’s kind of crazy, so the competitive aspect too. I always compete with myself rather than anyone else. The second I try to outdo someone else’s performance; I take away from my own. There are different things to take and give from the athletic word to the theatrical world.”

What struck me the most about the movie was how well cast it was and how it seemed to me like everyone had formed a backstory of relationships that came across throughout the film.  After the audition process which, Jenner remembered, consisted of “an interview talking about yourself, your hobbies, what you liked to do, what kind of person you are. After that, we were invited back to play with some dialogue. We were asked to put a baseball tape together of our baseball experiences/talent. Then after that, a couple of more auditions and that was it,” Linklater gathered all of the men at his Texas compound for a few weeks of male bonding where the group would watch movies (Animal House was a favorite, as were documentaries on baseball legends Doc Ellis and Augie Garrido), play baseball, and workshop the script in which they ultimately helped shape their characters (they even selected items from a make-shift costume shop to pick clothing they felt their characters would wear) .  All three found this process to be most unique, as Hoechlin recalled that “we had three weeks of rehearsal beforehand, and then we would go have a script reading every day. Some days we would work more on the page but he would encourage us to talk about different ideas away from the reads to see what we would come up with. Some days he would say, ‘Feel free to try some stuff this time,’ and if he liked it, he would make notes and it would be in the next draft of the script. We worked it out really well. Every once in a while on set something would happen, and he always encouraged that if an accident happened to go with it to see where it goes.”  “We lived together for two and a half weeks at Rick’s place in bunk beds,” recalled Guzman, “We were literally sleeping on top of each other and just hanging out. Anytime we weren’t working, we would come to set and hang out and watch, cheer the guys on. Those were some of the best times I’ve ever had being part of a production.”  Jenner agreed, “I always say 100% that some of the most important homework we could have done was living together for two weeks so we could really get to know each other and really got to form a bond. We got to form our own little inside jokes. I’m totally grateful for that time.”

Fans of Linklater’s previous films, when asked to single out their favorite it turned out that each guy had their own unique choice among their director’s roster.  Hoechlin favors Linklater’s landmark 2014 film that was nominated for six Oscars, “I really loved Boyhood. I thought that was such an amazing accomplishment. I love the fact that it’s one of those movies that over the course of that many years, you would assume that there would be that one moment in the movie that would be that life-shattering altering moment, and I loved that by the end of it, it was just these little moments and conversations in life that can shift it and that can skew your opinion about something and make you who you are. I loved it. Absolutely loved that about the movie.”  Guzman couldn’t land on just one so he gave us three, “Dazed and Confused. I love the Before series (Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight). A Scanner Darkly.”  Jenner is surprised no one mentioned School of Rock but even though he has a musician’s past, it’s not Jenner’s favorite but “it’s one of them. One that I really enjoy watching is Waking Life. I really dig that; tapping back to what I said about living the now. There’s something a little different that anyone could take away from it when they watch it.”

With the film wrapped and the guys on to new projects (Hoechlin will appear in the two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey while Jenner is onboard September’s The Edge of Seventeen), Hoechlin was asked to reflect on how his time on the set compared to working with Paul Newman and Tom Hanks on the 2002 Sam Mendes film Road to Perdition. “What was great on that set was that those guys were, in a weird way, similar to Rick in that they were very much trusting that I was able to do what I was supposed to do and needed to get done. So really what I got was through observing. They were more than happy to have a conversation about whatever would come up, but it didn’t feel like I was being watched and judged by my coaches. That’s what we were doing here too, just trying to find a way to make a great movie.”

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Read my review of Everybody Wants Some!!

 

 

Movie Review ~ Everybody Wants Some!!

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Stars: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Ryan Guzman, Juston Street, Glen Powell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to director Richard Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.  Even though there are no overlapping characters between the films, it’s not hard to imagine Blake Jenner’s leading player in EWS!! as a college-ready version of the character Wiley Wiggins played in the earlier film.

For EWS!! to play well as an almost sequel to a much loved near-classic that’s now become almost as much of a cinematic rite of passage as the various hazing sequences it showcases, it has to have something that sets it apart.  Once again, Linklater (Bernie, Boyhood, Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight) shows his knack for perfect casting by bringing together a host of handsome stars on the rise to populate his otherwise plotless observances of the last days of summer for a college baseball team.

Incoming freshman Jake Bradford (a winning, mellow Blake Jenner), arrives at his off campus housing on a Friday and spends the next three days getting to know his teammates, his surroundings, and himself.  Clearly influenced by Linklater’s own life, the character isn’t your typical meek newbie nor is he a loutish oaf that scores high on the d-bag meter.  Actually, even with its brief divergences into misogyny (there’s but one female role in the film that isn’t there to bed or bitch about), the film largely avoids the stereotypical frat boy trappings by providing actual personalities for its competitively horny young males.

Originally brought into the fold by team captain McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, reminding me of a young Matt Dillon), Jake starts to learn the ropes from teammates like Glenn Powell’s (The Expendables 3) Finn, who can talk about anything from girls to gentrification and Wyatt Russell’s (22 Jump Street) Willoughby, a stoner that encourages everyone to “just be weird”.  There’s also the requisite dimbulb (Temple Baker), the sensible voice of reason (J. Quinton Johnson), a county-fried roommate (Will Brittain), and an easily provoked pitcher (Juston Street, the only faulty bit of character machinery in Linklater’s otherwise smooth engine of a movie) that pop up throughout the film to join in the weekend hijinks.   As the lone prominent female, Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) more than holds her own as a matched equal to Jake that isn’t your typical co-ed. It’s not hard to picture Deutch’s mother Lea Thompson playing the same role had the film been made thirty years ago.

Since the casting is top notch, that means the acting is skilled too and the three weeks the actors spent rehearsing all day at Linklater’s Texas compound pays off well because you walk away totally buying the characters you just watched, flaws and all.  It has the same sharp wisdom and warm hope Linklater is so good at injecting into his films and pleasantly goes against the structural norm of these college set film by following these guys only up until the first bell rings on Monday morning.

It’s not often I leave a theater already figuring out when I can swing by and catch it again but I left EWS!! plotting a return visit.  I appreciate that Linklater has a way of making his films so accessible that it’s easy to watch them over and over again and, even if you don’t get anything new out of each watch, still be entertained.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Everybody Wants Some

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Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Release Date:  April 15, 2016

Thoughts: For his follow-up to a career-high achievement with Boyhood, writer/director Richard Linklater has created a “spiritual sequel” to his popular 1993 comedy Dazed and Confused.  Trading D&C’s long hair, bellbottoms, and ‘70s high school setting for the porn staches, tight shorts, and college campus parties of the ‘80s, Linklater has assembled another cast of barely-knowns, several of which are likely wondering who’ll be the next breakout star ala Matthew McConaughey.  Linklater has had this one on his mind for some time and if Boyhood’s miraculous results after its slow gestation is any indication, good things come (Link)later.

Movie Review ~ Jem and the Holograms

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The Facts:

Synopsis: As a small-town girl catapults from underground video sensation to global superstar, she and her three sisters begin a journey of discovering that some talents are too special to keep hidden

Stars: Juliette Lewis, Molly Ringwald, Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Ryan Guzman, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Though I found myself sitting through it often, I wouldn’t say that I was a huge fan of the Jem cartoon series that ran from 1985-1988. The animation was rough, the music was a little grating, and the focus on “glamour and glitter, fashion and fame” didn’t really register in my pre-teen consciousness. In the cartoon, Jerrica Benton is the owner of Starlight Music and, with the help of her holographic computer Synergy becomes Jem, a rock star singer taking the world by storm with her band the Holograms. They are often in competition with The Misfits, another all-girl band usually is up to no good and getting in the way of the Holograms success. It was fantasy entertainment to the tune of 80s girl group pop rock and it was nothing if not a pleasant distraction.

Talk of a big-screen Jem has been raging on for years and what was initially planned as an animated feature morphed into the live-action doozy that’s being released 27 years after the series ended. If you aren’t familiar with the cartoon you may be willing to give the filmmakers a pass in what is in the end another in a long line of failed female driven franchises. Banking on the success of Pitch Perfect and its sequel, Universal Studios enlisted director Jon M. Chu and screenwriter Ryan Landels to produce a new take on Jem and it’s a miscalculated failure on nearly every level.

First off, this should never have been a live-action film. The appeal of the cartoon was the colorful world of fantasy and fashion the series nailed in its relatively charming low-budget way. The concept of a holographic computer creating images and scenes to protect its owner isn’t that far removed from the kind of animated offerings released by major studios today. Plus how often have we had an all-out rock cartoon, and a female-led one at that? If anything, a feature length cartoon of Jem should have found its way to theaters in the early nineties after the series has ended.

Landels hollows out the film down to its bare bones, leaving most of the names intact and switching the gender of the main antagonist. Jerrica Benton is a meek singer/songwriter too scared to go out on her own still living with her younger sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott, Insidious: Chapter 3), and two foster sisters (Hayley Kiyoko and Aurora Perrineau). Times are tough and their guardian aunt (Molly Ringwald, Sixteen Candles) is in danger of losing their California suburban home, threating to split the tight-knit family apart. When Jerrica takes on the persona of Jem and records a late night acoustic song, Kimber uploads it onto YouTube where it becomes a viral sensation overnight, rocketing Jem to stardom.

This is when the movie first shows signs of jumping off the track. The sudden stardom of a YouTube superstar is something director Chu knows a thing or two about having helmed Justin Bieber’s film Never Say Never. There are definite parallels between Bieber’s swift rise and Jem’s quick ascent to pop culture icon, though I think Bieber released more than one song before audiences went totally wild. The film tries so unsuccessfully to have us believe that Jem causes a commotion based on one melancholy song that I half expected the entire movie to be a dream at the end.

Before they know it, the executive of Starlight, Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis, Cape Fear, who is either brilliantly badass or crazed campy…I still can’t decide which) is guiding them through make-overs, pop-up concerts, and red carpet walks that leave the girls in a daze.   Erica’s son, Rio (Ryan Guzman, The Boy Next Door) is charged with watching over the band and, shocker, he develops a thing for Jerrica that threatens his relationship with his scheming mother.

Synergy is now a tiny robot, the kind you’d by at a Brookstone for Christmas and sell at your garage sale the next summer, and it presents the opportunity for the film to have one interesting nugget to keep audiences awake for the next 118 minutes (it’s so long…so very long). You see, before Jerrica and Kimber’s dad died, he left Synergy unfinished and the little bot wakes up when they enter Los Angeles offering clues to a treasure hunt of sorts. So while Jem is struggling with her newfound fame (the film takes place over the course of 30 activity filled days), Jerrica is on a personal quest to finish the work her father started.

Musically the film isn’t that memorable. While Peeples has a pleasantly sweet voice she lacks the overall presence and star power needed for Jem. Her big solo number comes across as Lady Gaga light, performing in front of limber back-up dancers (when did they rehearse?) that kept my attention more than she did. As a group, Jem and the Holograms aren’t that distinguishable from any number of girl groups populating the music landscape now. I kept waiting for The Misfits to make an appearance, challenging the girls to up their game in the music department. Sadly (and maybe spoiler alert?) there are no Misfits to be had and the group works their way through two generic sounding ditties. The overall message in Jem and the Holograms is learning to love yourself no matter what life throws at you or how scared you may be to show who you really are and it’s a worthy one…but it comes in such a neon colored empty bucket of a film that I wound up just wishing it was printed on a T-shirt. Chu fills the film with all kinds of social media interjections, randomly cross-cutting cinematic scenes with YouTube videos of undiscovered music acts. There are also a healthy number of testimonials from those personally affected by Jem discussing what her music means to them. I couldn’t tell if these were all scripted or if they were people actually honesty linking their personal experiences to Jem. It’s so heavy with current social media that in five or ten years’ time it will be looked at as a time capsule of the here and now.

I would have liked to see the movie either become a full-fledged musical (an impromptu a capella moment on a beach had potential) or be a period set piece with all the excess of the 80s. Instead, it’s a film in serious need of autotune.

The Silver Bullet ~ Jem and the Holograms

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Synopsis: Music executive, Jerrica Benton, lives a secret, adventurous life as a glamorous rock star named Jem.

Release Date: October 23, 2015

Thoughts: When I heard Universal Studios was getting behind a big screen treatment of the ‘80s cult cartoon Jem I was looking forward to a neon-colored camp odyssey that maintained the more fantastical elements while bringing the rock heroine forward into a new millennium.  After viewing the first trailer for Jem’s silver screen debut I’m…pretty bummed.  While I’m sure it will strike a chord with the Pitch Perfect crowd, this looks like a piffle of a mash-up of Josie and the Pussycats and Dreamgirls more than it does the Saturday morning flash-fest that inspired it.  Nice touch having ‘80s icon Molly Ringwald (Sixteen Candles) onboard and I’m never going to say no to a Juliette Lewis (Cape Fear) appearance…but yeesh…this looks terrible.

Movie Review ~ The Boy Next Door

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman falls for a younger man next door, but their torrid affair takes an obsessive, dangerous turn.

Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, John Corbett, Ian Nelson

Director: Rob Cohen

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Sometimes when I’m sick in bed I can’t resist putting on one of those so bad its good trashy erotic thriller films from the 90s. I’m talking “classics” like Mark Wahlberg’s Fear, Sharon Stone’s Sliver, Bruce Willis’s Color of Night, and Kevin Bacon’s Wild Things. All totally B-grade films with A-list stars released by major studios that probably should have known better. We’ve been largely starved for these films recently but leave it to a former Fly Girl and the man that directed the first Fast and Furious film to bring home the bacon.

Ham is featured heavily in The Boy Next Door, actually, with its hambone script, hammy acting, and ham-handed direction. No cliché is off limits according to screenwriter Barbara Curry and much of the plot holes, contradictions, and outright impossibilities began to make sense once I found out Curry is an ex-Assistant U.S. Attorney from Los Angeles.

Curry’s set-up comes across like a movie on the USA Network you’d have on as background noise while you dusted your tchotchkes on a lazy Saturday afternoon. In the midst of a painful separation from her philandering husband (John Corbett), high school teacher Claire (Jennifer Lopez, who looks like anything but a woman named Claire) spends the final days of summer eating huge plates of food and staring lasciviously out the window at new boy next door Noah (Ryan Guzan, looking like he’s pushing 30 instead of 20) who has befriended her awkward son (screechy voiced and intolerable Ian Nelson, The Judge).

In a moment of “weakness”, i.e. she’s just a girl that can’t say no, Claire and Noah do the nasty in one of two surprisingly explicit and raunchy sex scenes. Waking up and realizing her mistake, Claire rejects Noah’s further advances, changing Noah from a horndog to a hellhoud in the process. Somehow the script finds a never ending supply of rationales for why she doesn’t come clean to anyone…least of all her friend and colleague played by frozen faced Kristin Chenoweth (Rio 2) and Kristin Chenoweth’s Botox (Hit and Run).

Made in less than a month for the chump change price of 4 million (half of which must have gone to lighting J.Lo’s house to constantly look like a purple-hued nightclub), the film doesn’t look bad nor is it assembled poorly…it just doesn’t hide any of the multiple faults at play. Clearly filmed out of sequence as evidenced by performances that are routinely caught in mid-hysteria only to be near comatose in the very next location shot, the film is only 90 minutes long but has no forward momentum.

Lopez has shown that she’s not a bad actress and I’m frankly surprised it’s taken her this long to try her hand at this kind of quick buck film, but she deserves better than the slack direction from Rob Cohen (Alex Cross) and nonsensical script but at least she looks fabulous in every single shot. Guzman may have been trying to have a permanent case of bedroom eyes but it comes off like he’s reading an eye chart on a distant horizon, the character is more bratty than diabolical and I kept wanting Lopez to just give him a good spanking and have the credits roll.

Personally, I would have been interested in having the titular boy next door be Lopez’s son…since Nelson plays him as such an oddball knob that having him flip out over his mom dating his friend might have been more intriguing to watch. Hard to say what exactly Chenoweth was going for here, one minute she’s concerned best friend, the next she’s a sassy woman of the world sporting jewelry four sizes too big for her neck. Though she gets to deliver the most hilariously awful in the film, she’s dealt no favors by Cohen featuring the pint sized Broadway imp in too many shots next to his Amazonian curvy star.

This being the film it is there was no ending to be had but the one that finds Lopez fighting for her life in a musty old barn while Guzman terrorizes her with a variety of ishy violent acts before getting his well-earned (and equally ishy) comeuppance. It’s maybe the only thing marginally satisfying about this well below average effort. Maybe worth a rental if you’re planning a night of adult cocktails…this can take the place of your cheeseball if you’re counting calories.