Monday, May 30, 2016

You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch!)

It's been a little while since my last blog entry, but I'm back! Near the end of last year, I made an acting reel, mainly comprised of footage from Alex Fofonoff's Blood and Thunder (in which I starred) and my films Jack and Lucas Go To A Wedding, Jake the Cinephile and With Love, Marty. Take a look below if you're interested, and please share - I'd love to get more acting work (if anyone needs a Jack-like character in their movie, I'm your man!) Look for memorable appearances by excellent acting partners like Desi Domo, Alexis Gay, Bethany McHugh and Lucas Loredo. Thank you to Bobb Barito for his sound design and to Alex for so much great footage from Blood and Thunder.

Jack Kyser Acting Reel 2015 from Jack Kyser on Vimeo.

Speaking of Blood and Thunder, we had a great first screening of the film back in December. It was truly an honor to share Alex's film on a big screen with a group of friends and collaborators. We're still in the process of getting the movie out there and submitting it to festivals, and I'm very excited for more people to see it.

My friend Marissa Rutka has a great new web series titled Coffee Catch-Ups that's online now, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of the production (and a subject in the series). You can find the two episodes where I'm featured before - in the first, Morgan Ingari and I recount the eye-watering events of Hurricane Sandy, and in the second, I go into Jake the Cinephile mode and offer out my rather obsessive-compulsive idea of perfection. Keep watching the series for more memorable guests and friends, like Charlotte Arnoux, Adam Boese, Nick Tanis and Emmy-winning guest star Jon Annunziata. The series was also nominated in the Documentary & Factual category of T.O. Webfest and will play at their festival later this month, so that's exciting!

In other news, my movie Jake the Cinephile is now available to watch online on Vimeo! I had a lot of fun screening this film at NewFilmmakers New York and The Beacon Film Festival (Freeze Frame) a few years ago, and I can't thank all of my extraordinary collaborators on the film enough. Here it is:

Jake the Cinephile - A Film By Jack Kyser from Jack Kyser on Vimeo.

My senior thesis film You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory is winding down its festival run after screening at a number of festivals last year. We were proud to be nominated as a Finalist for Best Student Film at the Blow Up-Chicago International Arthouse Film Festival in December. And earlier, on Saturday, November 21st, I was thrilled to screen You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory at the Katra Film Series with some other great films. After the film screenings at Katra, there was a Q&A with the other filmmakers, where I was joined by my great lead actor Mike Wesolowski.

On Friday, April 22nd, By Sidney Lumet, the wonderful documentary on which I was an associate producer and assistant editor, had a special free screening at the Tribeca Film Festival at the SVA Theatre, followed by a lively Q&A with panelists Jonathan Demme, Treat Williams, Amy Ryan and Jenny Lumet moderated by director Nancy Buirski. It was a particularly exciting day because, before the screening, I was part of the production team on an excellent interview with Mr. Williams, where he discussed shooting Lumet's masterpiece Prince of the City (1981). From both that interview and the post-screening talkback, I learned so much great New York City filmmaking history in the span of a few hours.

By Sidney Lumet received a lot of great press in advance of its screening at Tribeca. Rolling Stone listed the film as one of fifteen movies they couldn't wait to see at the festival, and the Village Voice selected it as one of the Best of Tribeca.

The trailer for By Sidney Lumet is also now available for the world to see - you can watch it here. Earlier this year, the film screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. But, for me, the most exciting screening of By Sidney Lumet was at the Austin Film Festival last October, where it played at the historic Paramount Theatre. It was a great afternoon screening, and a good number of my friends and family members were able to come see the picture on the big screen. Nancy held an excellent Q&A after the film was over onstage (I was also able to see a number of other films at the festival, including YouthBrooklynLegend and Coming Through the Rye, and meet one of my favorite actors, Chris Cooper, for the second time).

By Sidney Lumet spans Lumet's entire career, from 12 Angry Men (1957) to Dog Day Afternoon (1975) to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), and it's really been great to see the film and Lumet's work so justly celebrated over the last year.

Meanwhile, Loving, the narrative film adaptation of Nancy's first film, The Loving Story (2011), wrapped production last fall, and earlier this year Focus Features bought the film to release in the fall. Directed by the astounding Jeff Nichols (Take ShelterMudMidnight Special) and starring Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga and Michael Shannon, Loving recently made its world premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it was the talk of the festivalLoving is shaping up to be the second masterful film by Nichols this year (after Midnight Special, which I'll discuss below), and it's a very exciting time for Nancy's career.

The Cannes line-up this year, by the way, was particularly exciting - in addition to Loving, there were new films from Sean Penn (The Last Face), Woody Allen (Cafe Society), Paul Schrader (Dog Eat Dog, starring Nicolas Cage) and Jim Jarmusch (Paterson), along with a special screening of Jonathan Jakubowicz's Hands of Stone to honor star Robert De Niro, who is supposed to give another great performance in the film. And in the absolute best news of the festival, STX bought the international rights for Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, which is the movie I've been waiting for my entire life. If The Irishman is indeed moving forward, it's the best news of the century.

By the way, I suspect Penn's The Last Face (which was received poorly) is a good film, and critics are simply making it difficult for the movie to find a distributor. Meanwhile, most studio crap gets a pass - I'll have a bit more to say on critics dismissing interesting cinema while giving bloated, uninteresting superhero films way too much leeway a little later.

On Saturday, April 23rd, ten years after the best concert of my life (seeing The Rolling Stones in Zilker Park in Austin), I went to the only concert that can ever top it - finally, after waiting for so long, I saw Bruce Springsteen in concert. That's right, I went down to The River to worship at the altar of The Boss. His two performances at Brooklyn's Barclays Center marked the end of The River Tour 2016, in which Springsteen and the E Street Band performed the entirety of their 1980 album The River (along with a large number of other Springsteen songs). As you might expect, I rocked out. From the homemade Springsteen t-shirts worn by fans congregating at the nearby Shake Shack to the power and majesty of the music itself, this concert was three and a half hours of joy. The River is such a beautiful, haunting album (here's a link to some of the videos I took on my phone during the concert).

And his live performances of these classic songs were as full of exuberance and passion as I've heard (though I feel quite familiar with his live work, having watched recordings of his concerts for years now). There was simply so much energy in songs like Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, Born to Run, Badlands, Out in the Street, I'm A Rocker, Cadillac Ranch, Crush On You, Two Hearts and You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch). He crowd-surfed, he threw multiple guitars off-stage (toward someone waiting to catch them), he got a married couple onstage to slow-dance, he danced like a madman, he busted through the crowd like The Boss.

And then there were the songs that nearly moved me to tears. He opened with Purple Rain, as this was two days after the tragic passing of Prince. And then The River stand-outs Fade Away, Stolen Car, The River and Independence Day broke my heart, along with two of his most emotional and triumphant songs, Lonesome Day and The Rising.

Earlier this year, my roommate Bobb got a vinyl record player for our apartment, and my used copy of The River I purchased from Other Music (which is unfortunately closing in June) has received more play than almost any other record in our collection. It's just a masterpiece, and as someone who considers Bruce Springsteen my favorite musician, I'm embarrassed I hadn't explored it and appreciated it the same way I have with Born to Run, Born in the U.S.A., The Rising, Magic, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Devils and Dust and so many other seminal Springsteen albums until this year.

April 29th was the fourteen year anniversary of my dear dad John Kyser leaving this earth - what a fun, loving man he was. He is deeply missed. To the right, you'll see some pictures taken by my great mom Gretchen Kyser.

Earlier in March, we held the Second Annual Lip Sync Battle Contest at my apartment, where friends attended and took turns performing sections (or the entirety of) songs that they chose (and rehearsed) before the competition. To commemorate the one year anniversary of our first party, I edited together a trailer of our performances from last year's inaugural contest. Take a look here and marvel at the talent on display.

Congratulations to our outrageously talented winners Mo Faramawy, Marissa Rutka, Taylor Frey and Alex Schaefer, as well as our Special Jury Prize winners Jon Annunziata and Emma Viles (traveling all the way from Boston!). There were magical performances by everyone and excellent judging all around.

We're not even half-way through the year, but there have already been several outstanding new film releases - although it's sometimes disturbingly difficult to find them when so many screens are devoted to the latest superhero monstrosity. In all seriousness, any self-proclaimed lover of film owes it to himself or herself to actively go out and see the new films from Richard Linklater, Terrence Malick, Jeff Nichols and Joel and Ethan Coen in a movie theater. It is more important than ever to support great cinema and choose wisely, particularly when nearly every screen in the city is dedicated to garbage (even when the garbage is supposedly "good," I simply find myself bored, desperately wanting to watch a real movie). Many, many worthy films open every Friday, and they're often lucky to survive even for two weeks in New York. I shudder to think how many films like Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret (2011) I've missed and have flown under the radar - and I'm someone who keeps up regularly with what's out there.

In my last post, I wrote in detail about my love for Linklater's flat-out amazing Everybody Wants Some!! Instead of making a top ten list this year, I might just list the ten best uses of music in the film. Linklater's new movie deserved a wide release, but Paramount Pictures didn't let that happen. Anyone who has seen the movie has fallen in love with it, but the studio simply didn't give the picture the chance it deserved and allow word-of-mouth to spread. Linklater is a national treasure, and actor Glen Powell delivers a star-making performance here (plus, my friend Jenna Marie Sab plays the mud wrestling champ, and Bernie Tiede served as the set cat wrangler).

It's a miracle that a movie as contemplative as Malick's Knight of Cups exists in this day and age. Richard Brody wrote a great piece on the film for The New Yorker (it's worth noting that Brody is one of the only film critics who actually seems to appreciate daring filmmaking anymore - some of the reviews for Knight of Cups would lead you to believe your money would be better spent seeing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).

Malick finds real beauty in the decadence of Los Angeles, with locations as evocative as anything in his filmography (production designer Jack Fisk does amazing work, as always). Malick also benefits from having an incredibly strong, emotive lead actor in Christian Bale, who is fascinating to watch in every quiet moment of this film. He seems to relish Malick's style of filmmaking, inviting us to share his character's very real struggle without having anything close to a traditional scene of dialogue.

The scenes with Bale's father (Brian Dennehy) and his brother (Wes Bentley) are some of the best in the film. Cate Blanchett makes a memorable impression as Bale's ex-wife, in a sequence in which we come to understand so much about his character through his reactions to her work as a nurse.

It's interesting to see Malick film the modern-day emptiness of a heavily materialistic culture, partially because I'm so used to seeing the natural world represented in his films. This is only Malick's second non-period piece (after To the Wonder), and I love seeing him capture our world in a way that emphasizes both the beauty and the trappings of a decadent wasteland.

Structuring the film in sections named after tarot cards fits so well with this story of a man on a quest to find meaning in his life and world. The experience of a hard-partying Hollywood player has never been put onscreen quite like this before, with so much contemplation as to what it all means and what role he's playing. There's a very memorable scene in which Bale's apartment is robbed and he's held at gunpoint. One of the burglars asks why there isn't anything of value in his home, and Bale doesn't have an answer.

As always with Malick, I found myself lost in Knight of Cups in a beautiful way, and I was made a little less aware of the current time and space around me. There's no way in his pictures to really know where we are structurally in the story, and so our minds are free to wander and take in the beauty of each moment. We simply exist in the space of the movie, and that is a wonderful thing.

Midnight Special is really, really special. The films of Jeff Nichols take place in cheap roadside motels, gas stations, backwoods areas and on dark highways. The locations alone have more character than most other studio films out there. All of his films are about parental concern in some way or another, and about a kind of anxiety and longing at the heart of modern southern men.

Interestingly, both Mud (2013) and Midnight Special feature powerful late scenes that help unearth the themes of the film, followed immediately by a rousing shootout. These critical scenes – in Mud, the titular character giving our young protagonist advice on love, and in Midnight Special, a child comforting his parents about to lose him – have a beautiful romanticism to them. And then Nichols leaps immediately into the thick of an adventure. It’s exhilarating filmmaking.

I love how dark Nichols and cinematographer Adam Stone allow some of these scenes to get – we actually feel like nighttime is upon us. And the darkness only helps conceal the mystery, along with the beautiful score from David Wingo, who also scored Mud, Take Shelter (2011) and the films of David Gordon Green.

Edgerton is silent and strong, providing a subtle, effective presence in each scene, while Shannon is riveting as a father willing to do anything for his son.

Midnight Special is an emotional story about parents protecting and eventually letting go of their child, and how others along the way are deeply affected by the child's vision. Nichols is so good at making movies that are about so much more than they seem, and they always sneak up on you and reveal themselves in profound ways. The combination of supernatural imagery with ordinary life is even more prevalent here than in Take Shelter, but Nichols uses special effects only when necessary, and only in the interest of enhancing the story.

With these last few films, Nichols has created a new American South that feels real and heartfelt. Here, he embraces his inner Spielberg and makes a film full of haunting images, quiet characters whose inner lives speak volumes, and an atmosphere that lingers long after the credits are finished.

In February, Joel and Ethan Coen released their latest masterpiece, Hail Caesar! Josh Brolin, in his third collaboration with the Coens, leads a hilarious ensemble cast, and the picture is a treat for anyone who loves classic cinema. The Coens have a great time paying homage to classic studio films from the 1950s. They're also two of the only major American filmmakers to deal seriously with religion in their films. Hail, Caesar!, which begins and ends with Eddie Mannix (Brolin) in confessional, is fascinating when you consider the minor sins for which he atones, as opposed to the things he doesn't confess. He doesn't give a second thought to anything slightly immoral that involves running Capitol Pictures more effectively, whereas smaller things, like having an occasional cigarette, weigh on him heavily. This is a dense film, and worth seeing multiple times. Every film from the Coens is like a puzzle, and as you're watching it, you know the pieces are going to add up to something brilliant, but part of the fun is trying to determine how seemingly throwaway scenes contribute to the overall picture.

If you want brilliantly-written, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang-style fun, run to see Shane Black's The Nice Guys, in which Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make a hilarious pair of private eyes. This is precisely the kind of movie that deserves to be making loads of money - if only America wasn't so simultaneously force-fed and obsessed with superhero atrocities. Jodie Foster's Money Monster is also a great, tight thriller reminiscent of Sidney Lumet's work - and features a fantastic supporting performance from my friend and NYU peer Grant Rosenmeyer! He plays Tech Dave, who spends a great deal of time in the control room and later in a van with Julia Roberts.

A24 continues to release the most memorable films out there - The Lobster is amazingly inspired and strong, with an extraordinary performance by Colin Farrell. And earlier this year, The Witch unsettled me deeply. Talk about a production company on a winning streak - in the last year, they've released While We're Young, Ex Machina, Amy, The End of the Tour, Room and Green Room, in addition to the above titles. If I see their logo attached to a movie trailer, I'm seeing the movie without a doubt.

I was a little late to the game in seeing it (after it won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film), but Son of Saul by László Nemes is a work of art. In short, it's important to go out there and see the original films. So please go support The Nice Guys, Money Monster, The Lobster, A Bigger Splash, Weiner, Maggie's Plan, Elvis and Nixon, Miles Ahead, The Family Fang, Green Room and - if it's still playing near you - Everybody Wants Some!!

Earlier this February, I attended the first screening of the Blackhat Director's Cut at BAM, with Michael Mann, one of my favorite directors of all time, introducing the film. I was a fan of this movie when it first opened a year ago, and I love this restructured version even more.

In this cut, the romance between Chris Hemsworth and Tang Wei's characters is much stronger, and the characters overall are more fully defined. You know you're watching the work of a master visual stylist when you can practically feel the locations while watching the picture, and Blackhat has no shortage of incredibly memorable set pieces.

The sheer urgency and immediacy of the shootouts are as gripping as anything in Mann's filmography. The hacking scenes are beautifully filmed and visualized, and Mann's hyper-digital aesthetic has rarely felt more appropriate and essential, given the subject material. It's hacker versus hacker at the end of this picture. The film feels like it takes place in two worlds - one made up of sprawling and confusing physical geography, the other an unknowable and far advanced world that leaves the physical one muddled in chaos. On a side note, I was thrilled to be quoted in an IndieWire story about the Blackhat screening.

In April, I saw the current revival of Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway, which was an incredible production. I hadn't seen the musical since the 1990s, when I went with my parents to a production at Austin's Paramount Theatre.

As for this year's Academy Awards, I thought the winners themselves were right on the money. The final three Oscars went to exactly the people who deserved them - they got it right. Let's finally say it - Academy Award Winner Leonardo DiCaprio. We all know it should have been Oscar #4, as he should have won for Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006) and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), but no matter. The Academy awarded a magnificent actor and a truly kind person (from the few times I met him on The Wolf of Wall Street), not to mention an extraordinary performance.

In fact, I made the t-shirt to the right two years ago in the spirit of a possible DiCaprio win for The Wolf of Wall Street. That didn't happen. But I brought it back this year, and it happened.

The Best Director win for Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu and Best Picture win for Spotlight are, again, precisely the choices I would have made - not just among the nominees, but for the entire year, period. I loved whatever it was Michael Keaton mouthed when Spotlight won - that's two Best Picture winners in a row for Keaton, baby (and you can bet he's coming back for more this year with his excellent-looking performance in The Founder). The awards were enough to start a hashtag like #OscarsSoRight.

I was a little sad about Sylvester Stallone's loss for Creed, though my two picks for Best Supporting Actor (Harvey Keitel for Youth and Keaton for Spotlight) weren't even nominated. But it's cool that, before Lincoln (2012), Steven Spielberg had never directed an Oscar-winning performance - and now, with Mark Rylance's brilliant performance in Bridge of Spies, he's directed two. I was hoping to see the Best Song Oscar go to Youth, the actual best song nominated, by an artist apparently not famous enough to perform (don't even get me started on the exclusion of Brian Wilson's song from Love & Mercy).

To be honest, I hadn't been so excited for the Oscars since The Departed (2007) won it all nine years ago, mainly because of the prospect of a DiCaprio win. And the other winners were largely excellent (Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight! Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer for Spotlight! Brie Larson for Room! Adam McKay and Charles Randolph for The Big Short!). Still, the tone of the evening oftentimes left a bad taste in my mouth - there's a way to critique the politics of the entertainment industry without disrespecting the films and people who are nominated.

In the same vein, it's hard to find articles about the Oscars that actually discuss the films themselves anymore, but here's a great piece on how Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is a master class in the art of visual nuance. Also, here's former Boston Globe editor Marty Baron on the power of Spotlight and great journalism, and Carl Bernstein on his love for Spotlight.

It was a good awards season, for the most part, as well - with The Revenant becoming a worldwide hit, winning the major BAFTA awards and Alejandro González Iñárritu winning the DGA for the second year in a row - he could not be more deserving. Spotlight, meanwhile, won the WGA award. Here's a great Rolling Stone article on Iñárritu, which includes Scorsese's thoughts on The Revenant (he calls it a masterpiece).

There have been some tragic deaths since I last wrote here, including musical legends Glenn Frey, David Bowie and Prince; Gary Shandling, who gave us masterful comedy with The Larry Sanders Show; Kathryn Altman, who so lovingly kept her late husband Robert Altman's legacy alive and well, particularly with the magnificent book on his career; and brilliant author Harper Lee. I had the honor of briefly meeting Harper Lee ten years ago with my friend Bolton Eckert at Horton Foote's ninetieth birthday party - she was an extraordinary person, and her work and legacy will live on forever.


  1. Hi, just want to say I’ve been following your blog very closely for about a year now. Thanks for this! Totally invaluable. Love your writing. I’m going to NYU for film this fall and your blog has certainly shaped my perspective of both film and the Tisch experience.

    1. Hi Taylor,

      Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and for reading the blog! I really appreciate it, and I'm so glad it's offered some perspective on Tisch and NYU. Congratulations on getting into NYU, and I think you'll really love the program - I'm excited to hear how your first semester goes! Good luck, and thank you again for reading and reaching out!