Posts tagged with Gone Doggy Gone

Dear Hollywood: Stop getting our hopes up

"Jurassic World"

"Jurassic World"

Hope is a dangerous thing, and with its never-ending stream of sequels and franchise reboots, Hollywood preys on its audience’s hope in the most cynical of ways. Hope is what drew me to see “Jurassic World,” even though I knew in the back of my mind not to get too hopeful.

First there was the hiring of hot indie writer/director Colin Trevorrow (“Safety Not Guaranteed”) to make me believe this would not be the same old rehashed story.

Then came the casting of Chris Pratt, recently elevated to leading man status thanks to an unexpectedly warm, funny and charming performance in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Plus, the studio pulled a Disneyland/Disney World name upgrade. It’s “Jurassic World” now. That must mean there are some great new ideas to revive this dinosaur of a franchise!

Sadly, the only real upgrade is exactly the one you’d expect: The CGI is better and there’s more dinosaurs. If that’s all you need to be convinced to see “Jurassic World,” you can stop reading now.

If you are a Hollywood producer, however, please read on. This next idea is for you. I’m not looking for a cut of the royalties or anything — I’m just a concerned citizen who wants to improve your business and my entertainment.

I’m not sure this can be called a flow chart if there’s really only one path, but here goes:

How to Decide Whether to Reboot a Franchise: A Flow Chart (in Column Form, so Not Really A Flow Chart at All)

Does your reboot add or alter the story in a significant way while retaining the spirit of the first movie? If no, then stop. Don’t prey on our hope. Forget about all the money you’ll make. Just stop.

If yes, then move forward.

Really? It does? I know that’s what you’re telling yourself so you can sleep at night, but come on: A dinosaur genetically engineered to bring more people to a theme park isn’t a significant alteration, it’s exactly the same idea as the first “Jurassic Park.” The only difference is that the park is open already. Do you have a better idea? If not, you must stop now.

Oh no. You’re still here? Why? You think your film retains the spirit of the original? Not even close.

In 1993, the wonder of seeing dinosaurs rendered with convincing CGI was analogous to the wonder of bringing an extinct race of animals back to life. Over 20 years later, nobody cares about that. And don’t think that “nobody cares about dinosaurs anymore” line from Bryce Dallas Howard lets you off the hook. It’s not enough to be self-aware about the pitfalls of making a crappy movie, and then just continue to make that same crappy movie. Please stop now.

OK, you’re stubborn. I understand. You think the commentary on how audiences always want “bigger” over “better” is new enough. It’s not. It’s window dressing. You still have little kids in danger of being eaten by dinosaurs run amok and a guy who thinks he’s the Dinosaur Whisperer.

If the core of the film is dinosaurs getting out of their pens and terrorizing people, then you do not get to move forward. Because if this is true, the only place to go is “bigger,” and you’ll think that means more destruction and more violent kills. And we’ll be so bored, that we’ll appreciate those kills for the briefest of moments — and then feel dirty about it afterward. Because we let hope get the best of us. Again.

Please, I beg of you: stop now.

What, “Terminator: Genisys” opens July 1, and you brought Arnold back? Well, with the right idea…

Paul Dano in "Love & Mercy"

Paul Dano in "Love & Mercy"

'Love & Mercy'

Opening Friday at Liberty Hall, "Love & Mercy" is an absolute must-see. Here's my review.

Chronicling two important time periods (the late '60s and mid-'80s) in the life of Beach Boys leader Brian Wilson, it's a rarity among music biopics in that it actually spends time on the creation of the music that made the artist famous. It also sports a structure that's unique to the genre, which serves to deepen Wilson's creative challenges and personal problems. Elizabeth Banks turns in the best performance of her career as Melinda Ledbetter, the woman who pulled Wilson out of a life-threatening situation.

'Gone Doggy Gone' on VOD/Blu-ray

Back in 2013, I profiled KU graduate Kasi Brown, who was co-writing, co-starring in and co-directing a comedy called “Gone Doggy Gone” with her creative partner Brandon Walter. While making its festival run, “Gone Doggy Gone” played at a Free State Festival pre-event earlier this year, and now the movie has a VOD/DVD release date of July 10.

Ostensibly, “Gone Doggy Gone" is about a childless couple who treats their precious dog like a baby to avoid dealing with their own relationship issues. Then the dog is kidnapped. Weirdly, however, that premise is doled out in the first 20 minutes and it’s obvious who took the dog, so the film pivots into full-on farce, which is a great decision.

The plot doesn’t make any sense, even though it tries in vain to justify its characters’ silly actions. There’s no way Abby and Eliott (Brown and Walter) are as dumb as they act, but that becomes increasingly OK as the story continues to spiral out of control.

The couple’s friend Kat (Kate Connor), who refuses to grow up and still dates much younger men, provides a funny and surprisingly dark stream of middle-aged angst. What’s weirder, in the midst of all the madness, a subplot with lonely dog-sitter Jill (Shaina Vorspan) and a schlubby private investigator (Jeff Sloniker) actually develops some surprising tenderness and sympathy. Tonally, it’s an awkward, sometimes hilarious mix.

“Gone Doggy Gone” is a funny, low-budget indie that’s at its best when it diverts from what is purported to be the main plot. It proves that Brown and Walter are talented comedic writers who aren’t afraid to get more than a little absurd for a laugh.

The writing is less successful when it gets sappy, but even in those moments, there always seems to be a smart-aleck joke right around the corner, like the very last shot of the film.


‘Foxcatcher’ a twisted American dream, and a mini Free State Festival

There’s a nearly wordless scene early on in the disturbing tragedy “Foxcatcher,” now playing at Liberty Hall, that beautifully sets up the relationship between brothers and wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo).

They grapple with one another during a training exercise at their blue-collar gym, and for younger brother Mark, there is clearly something to prove. It’s jarring to see such intense physicality between men, while also understanding that this is a commonplace routine for the two Gold medalists.

When older brother Dave gets the upper hand, Mark lashes out and accidentally draws blood. When Dave brushes it off casually, it only makes Mark seem more desperate.

Bennett Miller, recently nominated for a best director Oscar, exerts exquisite control over “Foxcatcher,” which is based on a true story, but is so atmospheric that it plays like a horror film. It’s a tough watch to be sure, and it’s also rewarding — not from a satisfying plot standpoint but in that the spell it so completely casts.

The image of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) wandering alone in the morning mist on his enormous Pennsylvania estate, his face cocked slightly up in a frozen expression of entitlement, is one I still can’t shake. John is the wannabe father figure to Mark, who comes to live on Foxcatcher Farm and train for the 1988 Olympics in the best facility money can buy.

The bulk of “Foxcatcher” is made up of subtle trade-offs between these two men. Tatum fills Mark with all kinds of pent-up rage that he’s only able to express on the mat, while Carell’s du Pont is about as creepy as it gets. His conversation is stilted and unsure, but somehow also filled with arrogance and power.

Mark goes along with John’s increasingly strange behavior — which includes the patrician competing in a local wrestling tournament created for the sole unspoken purpose of letting him win — because of his access to the gym and equipment.

There’s no backstory to explain any of the bizarre behavior in the movie, although one definite piece of age-old motivation is introduced. Mark lives in his brother’s shadow — it’s Dave who has all the social skills and a well-adjusted family — while du Pont is haunted by his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who cares more for her horses than her wrestling-obsessed son.

Like his previous films “Moneyball” and “Capote,” Miller has a keen eye for examining the intersection of class, money and ambition. The screenplay, from Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, compresses the timeline of the story, moves key scenes around, and favors character over action, but it absolutely stays focused on these difficult larger themes.

John du Pont calls himself the “Golden Eagle” and prattles on unconvincingly about why the team needs to win for America, but “Foxcatcher” reveals American ideals twisted beyond belief.

Free State Film Festival Winterfest

The ever-growing Free State Festival isn’t until June, but the Lawrence Arts Center will be hosting a two-day mini-fest Jan. 30 and 31 featuring two movies hot off the festival circuit that have local ties, which should ramp up excitement a little early this year. The Free State Film Festival Winterfest will include a panel discussion with the filmmakers and a reception Jan. 31.

“Gone Doggy Gone,” a comedy about a couple stuck in a lackluster marriage who lavishes all their affection on their dog — which is suddenly kidnapped — has played 18 festivals and won 11 awards since last January.

Lawrence High School and KU graduate Kasi Brown co-wrote, directed and stars in the film with her creative partner Brandon Walter. They shot it in Los Angeles, where they live, and Brown is excited to bring the film to Lawrence, where she still has many friends.

“This level of success makes us feel like we are on the right path in our lives. It's funny, because when you first submit to festivals and initially you get those first rejections, the fear sets in and you start to wonder if you might have made a colossal mistake,” she says. “Maybe your movie is actually a disaster and you wasted all of your sweat, blood and tears on a film no one else can appreciate. After the first acceptance, I was able to breathe again.”

Thanks to the film’s festival visibility, “Gone Doggy Gone” now has domestic distribution with Indican Pictures and foreign distribution with Showcase Entertainment. It turns out that audiences all over the world can relate to the movie, not just Americans who live in big cities.

“One person told us he brought his wife to the film because she was just like Kasi's character who treats their dog like an actual baby,” Walter says. “He refused to tell her what the movie was about, and as it played, she saw herself in Abby. He told us she really liked it and that it made her look at her own behavior. We do wonder, though, if they're still married.”

Also playing at Winterfest is the locally shot “The Sublime and Beautiful,” which has also screened and collected awards internationally. This family drama from writer/director/star Blake Robbins was co-produced by and co-stars Lawrencian Laura Kirk. For more information on the Free State Film Festival Winterfest, go to


Lawrence native producing her first feature-length film, ‘Gone Doggy Gone’

Originally, today's blog was going to focus partly on a new IndieGoGo fundraising campaign for the upcoming indie comedy "Gone Doggy Gone," which is being co-written, co-directed, and stars Lawrence native Kasi Brown. But there's enough good stuff here to fill up the whole thing.

Kasi Brown graduated from Lawrence High School 20 years ago and got her BA in Theater and Film at KU in 1996. She's lived in Los Angeles since 1999 and has appeared in commercials and on TV shows such as "ER" and Monk." Brown has written a ton of scripts and her dream is to produce and direct a feature film. Now's the chance to help her out.

"We wrote a comedy horror feature first, but realized the special effects would cost too much for us to make it ourselves," she says.

So Brown and her producing/writing partner Brandon Walter skipped that script and are aiming to make their first feature film a comedy about a couple who treats their dog like a baby ... and then it gets kidnapped. Movies are expensive, so Kasi and Brandon have launched a crowdfunding campaign with IndieGoGo and have 30 days to raise $75,000. Why not Kickstarter?

"Indiegogo allows you to choose between flexible and fixed funding. Kickstarter only has fixed funding, which means if you don't make the goal you set for yourself, you don't get to keep any of the money that was donated to you," Kasi says. "With flexible funding on Indiegogo, if you make your goal Indiegogo only takes 4% of the donated money, while if you don't make your goal they take 9% but you get to keep the money you raised."

Help fund "Gone Doggy Gone" by Kasi Brown and Brandon Walter!

Help fund "Gone Doggy Gone" by Kasi Brown and Brandon Walter! by Eric Melin

Why a movie about a kidnapped dog?

"So many people treat their dogs like babies, especially in Los Angeles," Brown says. "They put them in carriages, dress them -- I even saw a dog stuffed into a baby Bjorn. People use dogs to deal with or cover up their issues. Some people use them as starter babies to practice being parents. Some dog owners are empty nesters who fill the void of their missing kids with dog babies. Some couples only speak to each other through their dogs. They'll say, 'Laila wants kisses' when they are in need of kisses."

Click here to go to the "Gone Doggy Gone" IndieGoGo page and help a Lawrence native make her first full-length feature.

So that was going to be it in today's Scene Stealers blog about Kasi Brown and her movie. But what happened is I was doing research on her past projects and discovered all kinds of great stuff that Kasi and other local filmmakers have been a part of that I didn't even know about before.

A couple years ago, Brown headed back to Kansas to co-write and act in a web comedy series called "Next!" The four-part mockumentary-style show was put together by Kansas City-area casting director Heather Laird and drew heavily on her own professional experiences as a casting director. Brown plays an Associate Casting Director (also named Kasi Brown), and the series was so good it won Best Comedy Series at the 2010 NAPTE LA TV Festival.

Episode One (below, and uncensored, by the way) was also co-written by Will and Ric Averill, two staples of the local theater and film community here in Lawrence:

Mother Approved is the sketch comedy show that Brown and Walter have been doing lately, and much of the cast from "Gone Doggy Gone" is culled from that group of performers.

In 2010, Mother Approved won the MobiFest Award for best short-form video series at ITVFest for its "Phobia" segments, which are up to 10 total now. Each one is set up for you to try and guess what the real-life phobia is before the sketch ends: