In A World… (The Top 10 Films of 2016)

31 12 2016

“In a world…”

Any self-respecting ’90s moviegoer can never forget announcer Don LaFontaine’s literally trademarked invocation. It was an invitation to enter a world apart from our own, be it an entirely invented fantasy realm, a different country or a fresh perspective.

I bring this up in regards to a year end list of 2016 because so many things I could say to describe the events of this year feel so unfathomable that they could only follow “In a world…” Both personally and culturally, the past 12 months have upended plans, expectations and assumptions. It’s not just the result of the 2016 election in America, or the outcome of the Brexit referendum, or whatever the hell happened when Batman battled Superman – and on the positive side, it’s not just the fact that I covered Sundance, tackled SXSW, and interviewed some really talented cinematic artists. It’s everything that led up to that, all the many breaks that went the way they did to get us to this point.

I always do my best to rewatch any movie I put on my year’s best, but this year I found that I had to rewatch more 2016 films not to determine whether they were as good as I had originally thought. Rather, I had to reexamine what I thought they were about at their core. I could go on and on, but for some examples: “Christine” played like a personal psychodrama at Sundance and an elegy for the dignity of television journalism in December. “Jackie” felt like an empowering tale of a former First Lady gaining her agency at the New York Film Festival in October, yet it seemed more like a requiem mass for a fallen dynasty in late November.

Melissa McCarthy as Michelle Darnell in The Boss

Films whose attitudes I had dismissed – “Deadpool,” “The Boss,” “War Dogs” – seemed validated. Others that seemed to champion the virtues of our era – “Denial,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Neighbors 2” – felt somewhat hollow, if not completely naive.

I remain uncertain as to which of these films is weaker or stronger for accommodating such a panoply of vantage points. In a world where nothing seems certain, it was a valuable and instructive experience for me to remember that while a film as an object stays the same, our ideas and understandings about are invariably shaped by the worldview from which we approach them. The conditions of its creation are unchangeable. The context of our reception is always subject to forces beyond our control.

So … in a world where seemingly so much is at stake and so little is known, what place do movies have? And what importance does writing about them take? When I started paring down the 200 theatrical releases from 2016 that I viewed this year (fun fact: that’s exactly the same amount as 2015), I was struck by how many of them had created an irresistible world or replicated our present one with a staggering amount of accuracy and honesty. I realized that for so much of the year, the best cinema was not an escape from the world but a means for better understanding it in this crazy year.

Without further ado, here are my selections for the top 10 films of 2016. Rather than lavish them with superlatives, I simply hope to convey what I found of value in those worlds. (If you want all the praise, look to my reviews – the titles hyperlink to them.) Now, on with the show: in a world…

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INTERVIEW: Actors Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman and Blake Jenner of “Everybody Wants Some!!”

22 04 2016

I should have known to just throw out all my pre-prepared questions when I walked into the interview suite to the sight of Everybody Wants Some stars Tyler Hoechlin, Ryan Guzman and Blake Jenner in a full-on body pile on top of the film’s executive producer, Steven Feder. The ten minutes with the actors that followed were among the wackiest, zaniest and most unpredictable I ever expect to have with talent – and I loved every moment of it.

Not that I ever doubted the authenticity of the team-building fostered by director Richard Linklater, but it was abundantly clear after this interview that there was no fakery up on screen. They banter about like siblings but with little of the rivalry and power jostling that normally comes about in such a relationship. As I quickly learned, Jenner’s status playing the film’s protagonist, freshman pitcher Jake Bradford, made him no more or less valuable than older or more experienced actors like Hoechlin and Guzman, who respectively play senior hotshots McReynolds and Roper.

Chalk it up to me being the last person at the end of the press day, or perhaps because my standing as a 23-year-old guy just out of college himself made me a closer demographic match to a peer than most journalists grilling them, but the traditional model of interviewer/subject transaction seemed to fly out the window. I did my research prior to our sit-down yet never found any examples of the guys seemingly so loose and unfiltered. The conversation started off about Texas (since we were in Houston, Linklater’s birthplace) and wound up in tangents of good-natured barbs, obscure pop culture references and the occasional song lyric. So just like any other gathering of multiple twenty-something dudes, in other words.

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I’m sure you’ve heard this all along the press tour, but Everybody Wants Some really could be anyone’s college experience anywhere. But as a native Texan, it struck me as being very specific and accurate about this state. When you all were developing the characters and the atmosphere with Richard Linklater, did he want them to be true to Texas?

TYLER HOECHLIN

I don’t remember that being a thing because I don’t know if I even thought about that. I thought of my guy being an out-of-state guy, to be honest.

RYAN GUZMAN

I thought of my guy being a Texas guy.

TYLER HOECHLIN

But it never weighed on the film. We never talked about, “This guy’s from this part of Texas.” Maybe he did with certain guys in particular.

RYAN GUZMAN

Like Bueter [the nickname for Will Brittain’s character, Billy Autrey], for instance. He might have talked to him about that.

TYLER HOECHLIN

But it wasn’t something where we all sat down individually and said, “This part of Texas is you.”

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RYAN GUZMAN

But we love Texas.

BLAKE JENNER [after a beat]

Texas Am I.

[Hoechlin and Guzman erupt in laughter]

TYLER HOECHLIN

What was that?

BLAKE JENNER

I am Texas, Texas am I.  You’ve never heard that saying?

TYLER HOECHLIN

No, not at all.

BLAKE JENNER

I guess I’m just spiritually older than you guys.

[Interviewer’s note: I’ve never heard this phrase in over two decades living in the state of Texas. The Internet was not helpful, either. Sorry, Blake.]

What did you take away about Texas, either from playing your character or just from shooting the movie here?

RYAN GUZMAN (with a put-on drawl)

Y’all got some pretty ladies out here. I do like it.

BLAKE JENNER

You guys have some great, great Mexican food. I’d never had breakfast tacos before. I got to go to ACL and see Eminem, which was really cool. I really enjoyed that experience.

RYAN GUZMAN (overlapping)

Really good music out here.

BLAKE JENNER

I was living on Elizabeth and South Congress, which was a nice spot to check out some art shops and bookshops. I just like the culture you got out here.

RYAN GUZMAN

Hell yeah.

TYLER HOECHLIN

I really like the feeling of originality in Austin that’s really just kind of its own thing. The music scene, the art scene – it is its own special place.

RYAN GUZMAN

I had planned to go back to where I was actually born, but it was like six hours away from Austin.

BLAKE JENNER

ROAD TRIP!!!

That’s the thing people don’t realize about Texas – other people say “the next town over” and for us, that’s six hours away.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah.

BLAKE JENNER

Oh, and the barbecue. I went to Salt Lick, and it’s the most incredible barbecue I’ve ever had in my life.

I know the working title for the movie was That’s What I’m Talking About, which I didn’t think much of until I saw the movie again and noticed how many times you all said the phrase. Literally, I think every character had at least one moment where they said it. If you’re allowed, can you elaborate a little on what “that’s what I’m talking about” means to the movie?

TYLER HOECHLIN (looking over to studio personnel)

Are we allowed to talk about that?

BLAKE JENNER

Now that it’s not the title, it’s just slang. It’s common language between them.

RYAN GUZMAN

I think it started becoming ingrained in us. Like we would just spout off, “that’s what I’m talking about,” without even realizing we were saying the title.

TYLER HOECHLIN

I don’t know what more we’re allowed to say.

BLAKE JENNER (curling up, in a soft voice that slowly takes on a German accent)

They beat us. They beat us. They beat us. We don’t talk about it.

TYLER HOECHLIN (as Guzman joins in on the “They beat us”)

You can ask the next one, they’ll just keep going.

[Interviewer’s note: A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, later added: “It was a VERY popular phrase, but it was also used in Dazed and Confused. It was a phrase one of the characters in Dazed and Confused used a lot. So there was a tie-in to that. But part of it was like, oh, they say it so much that to name the movie after it would be a cliché. Rick liked the idea of a song, like Dazed, as the title.”]

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Watching the film again last night, I was struck by how much more endearing these guys in 1980 are than your average 2016 bro, even though the characters in the movie are probably a little bit more crude and open about how they feel about women. Have you brought anything back from the period to be a little more … chivalrous? [Interviewer’s note: was reaching for a different adjective and the wrong one came out – was aiming for something more in the ballpark of genial or sociable.]

TYLER HOECHLIN

Chivalrous? From these guys?

RYAN GUZMAN

I have never actually thought of those two things together, chivalry and this movie.

TYLER HOECHLIN

No, I can’t say I took anything from McReynolds on chivalry.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, definitely not Roper for sure.

BLAKE JENNER

Maybe just like a little piece of knowledge we took back from into present day?

RYAN GUZMAN

Well, you know what, living in the moment. I think we can all agree on that…

BLAKE JENNER

Yeah, that’s what I was going to say. I just didn’t want to be the first one to say it.

Living in the moment for sure. Everything was so disconnected in the best way back then. You were with your boys, and those were the only people you were with. There were no cell phones, no Facebook, no Twitter, so this movie is a cool message to live in the now.

RYAN GUZMAN

You actually had a reason when you were together to talk about your lives rather than just tweet about everything or Snapchat everything.

BLAKE JENNER

That’s all we do now, we talk about SisQó.

RYAN GUZMAN

Where did he go?

BLAKE JENNER

Where did SisQó go?

RYAN GUZMAN

Look up his Snapchat.

BLAKE JENNER [singing lyrics fromSisQó’s “The Thong Song”]

I like it when the beat goes / baby make your booty go!

Everybody-Wants-Some-Blake-Jenner

Blake, that final creeping grin on Jake’s face in the film reminded me so much of the face Mason makes in the last shot of Boyhood.

BLAKE JENNER

The birth of a psychopath…

Was that coincidence or was it written into the script?

BLAKE JENNER

No, that was actually written into the script! I just didn’t want to make it a gimmicky kind of thing or, like, “This is the checkpoint at the end of the movie!” It feels pretty natural the way we shot it, me, Temple [Baker, who plays fellow freshman teammate Tyrone Plummer] and Rick that day. But yeah, that was part of it the whole time.

The movie is so much about living in the moment and embracing the joy of the present, but were you ever thinking about what happens to your characters after the movie ends? Like, is McReynolds going pro, is Jake planning to hone in on a single girl and a single identity?

TYLER HOECHLIN

We’ve thought about it recently because we’re trying to figure out how to convince Rick to do a sequel.

BLAKE JENNER

Or a mini-series. Any series.

RYAN GUZMAN

At the time, we were talking about this whole “Mac & Cheese” thing (an affectionate power couple name for the bromance between the two characters played by Hoechlin and Guzman) for a little bit.

TYLER HOECHLIN

We decided, as character research, we were just actually going to move in together. So Ryan and I actually live together now. So, yeah, we’re researching for “The Mac & Cheese Show.”

RYAN GUZMAN

He says “living together,” but he just orders me around. And I just clean the house.

TYLER HOECHLIN

It’s not my fault you let it happen.

BLAKE JENNER

You’re like the robot maid in the Jetsons.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, I don’t know why I wear a bustier.

BLAKE JENNER

What’s her name, Rosie? Is that the maid?

TYLER HOECHLIN

You’re Rosie Jetson.

RYAN GUZMAN

I’m Rosie Jetson. Cool. That’s what I planned to be when I came out to L.A. [in a soft, hokey aspirational voice] “What do you want to be? I want to be a Rosie Jetson! A star.”

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Whatever it takes to make the dream work!

RYAN GUZMAN

I’ve heard worse.

BLAKE JENNER

With Jake, I think he’d get to know Beverly a little more and maybe make his mark over the next couple of years on the team. Do his best to become a leader like McReynolds and Finn and all those guys.

RYAN GUZMAN (put out)

And Roper, I guess.

BLAKE JENNER

No, Roper is going to jail. Roper is being imprisoned.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, me and Jay Niles and Coma. All for different reasons.

BLAKE JENNER

Coma for public intoxication.

RYAN GUZMAN

Mine’s for a prostitution ring.

BLAKE JENNER

And Jay Niles flipped out at a mall. He was working at a kiosk. “TOO PHILOSOPHICAL FOR THIS KIOSK, MAN!”

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I’ve heard you all talk a little bit about the casting process and how you each auditioned for multiple parts, and I think it’s interesting the way the cast came together with some of the older, more experienced guys getting the upperclassmen parts and the younger guys along with the fresher faces playing the freshmen. Beyond how it provides some degree of realism on screen, do you think that the characters’ place mirroring the actors’ place helped the bonding process off screen, too?

TYLER HOECHLIN

I don’t think anybody’s history ever came in.

RYAN GUZMAN

Yeah, it was more so just getting together and figuring out how to work this thing out. From day one, we all turned into brothers. There were certain things like, “How was Jennifer Lopez’s butt?” That was one of the first questions. But nothing from our history came into play.

TYLER HOECHLIN

I remember walking into the production office, and I had no idea who had been cast yet. I saw, I think it was Juston [Street] and Austin [Amelio] were there, maybe one or two other people. They didn’t say we were going to meet the cast; they didn’t say anything. So I showed up and met them, and it took me a minute to go, “Oh, ok, I had no idea you were too!” We just got to know each other from a base normal level and just became a team.

RYAN GUZMAN

It was instant love the first second I saw Blake Jenner…

Blake Jenner (singing the song by Gary Weaver)

Dreaaaaaaam weaver!

RYAN GUZMAN

…since that first question.

BLAKE JENNER

What was the first question?

RYAN GUZMAN

I can’t say it.

BLAKE JENNER

You can’t say it? Oh, the length. Yeah.

RYAN GUZMAN

We both equaled out to two inches.

[Entire room bursts into laughter]

TYLER HOECHLIN

On that note…

On that note, don’t just sit here and laugh. Go see “Everybody Wants Some!!” It’s now playing just about everywhere. 





REVIEW: Everybody Wants Some!!

30 03 2016

SXSW Film Festival

After completing the arduous shoot of “Apocalypse Now,” director Francis Ford Coppola famously remarked, “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” Writer and director Richard Linklater, brilliant though he is, seems to lack Coppola’s penchant for bombast or self-promotion. So, if I might, I would like to say what I doubt Linklater ever would about his latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is not a film about college. It is college.

For the roughly two hour runtime of Linklater’s so-called “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” I did not merely watch a representation of college-aged males running amuck. I was transported back to my own college days – never mind that the film takes place in 1980, when my dad first enrolled. The cars, the hair, the music and the outfits might have shifted in the four decades between then and now, but the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

I have praised many a college movie, from Noah Baumbach’s sardonic “Kicking and Screaming” to Lord & Miller’s farcical “22 Jump Street” and even the animated with Pixar’s “Monsters University.” Those movies can hardly hold a candle to “Everybody Wants Some!!” I recognized every single character in the film as having some analogous counterpart in my own life. This may have a little something to do with the fact that Linklater is, like myself, a Houston native and very familiar with that distinctly Texan strain of the “bro.”

I suspect, however, that my reaction comes less from geography and more from ethnography. The film is not rooted in place or time, though each definitely leaves a stamp. Rather, it is about the full college experience and all it entails. “Everybody Wants Some!!” celebrates that very unique freedom of the period between being someone’s kid and being someone’s parent. It’s the rare occurrence where liberty comes with hardly any repercussions or responsibilities. The now matters more than the future, and everyone collectively agrees to enjoy it.

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