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Interview: McKenna Grace, Charlie Shotwell, & Milan Ray talk “Troop Zero”

Have you ever felt like you weren’t good enough to achieve your dreams? That is was safer to just hide in the background and hope to go unnoticed?And that is best to not want something in life because that way you’re never disappointed? Well, clearly that’s no way to live your life and in the new Amazon Original film, “Troop Zero” we’re taught it’s better to make the effort, put yourself out there and go after what you want.

“Troop Zero” is set in rural 1977 Georgia and follows Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace). She is a peculiar little girl who spends her time dreaming of outer space. So, naturally she is thrilled to learn of a competition that would give her the chance to have her voice recorded on NASA’s Golden Record. Only problem is, she needs to be part of a Birdie Scout Troop to qualify for the contest. Christmas quickly rounds up a band of misfits and they become Troop Zero. The group face obstacles, get in fights and form an unusual, yet, extraordinary friendship.

I sat down with stars of the movie, McKenna Grace, Charlie Shotwell, and Milan Ray to discuss the courage of following your dreams, bullying, and much more. We even play a little would you rather game! Listen to the interview below and make sure to see the film! Available now on Amazon Prime.

Charlie Shotwell (left), McKenna Grace (middle), & Milan Ray (right)
“Troop Zero” Interview with stars, McKenna Grace, Charlie Shotwell, & Milan Ray

Interview/Review: Trey Edward Shults talks “Waves”

Trey Edward Shults, Writer/Director of “Waves”

“Waves” goes from bad to unbearable within the first hour; however, the second half of the film remarkably heals itself.

Director/writer Trey Edward Shults wrote “Waves” after his critically acclaimed thriller, “It Comes At Night”. He continues to keep our tensions high with his new family drama. It’s a story he explained that, “was inspired from a number of real life experiences, including meeting my girlfriend and Kelvin Harrison Jr.”

Kelvin Harrison Jr. and Alexa Demie in “Waves”

As the film begins we meet Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.). He’s a senior in high school who as it all: Popularity, a hot girlfriend (Alexa Demie), and star wrestler. Life at home isn’t too shabby either. His father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) owns his own construction business, his mother Catharine (Renée Elise Goldsberry) is a counselor, and his sister Emily (Taylor Russell) is quiet and reserved, hiding in the shadow of her brother.

Though Tyler is pretty well off, we come to discover his father is constantly pushing him both physically and mentally. He puts a lot of pressure on Tyler to be the best; pointing out that because the family is African American they don’t have the luxury of being average. So when Tyler learns of his shoulder injury, which would end his wrestling career, he decides to hide it and self-medicate. Matters only get worse when his girlfriend reveals she is pregnant.

You might think you know what happens from there, but you don’t. And you’re going to find out here.

By the second half of the film the family is barely keeping it together, and suddenly we’ve gone from Tyler’s movie to Emily’s. She is even more introverted, and doesn’t seem to have any friends at school. That is until she meets Luke (Lucas Hedges), an awkward, but nice boy who also wrestles.  The film completely shifts in tone as we see love blossom in a steady and beautiful manner. Emily and Luke’s relationship is the cure we need after an unnerving first half. 

Taylor Russell and Lucas Hedges in “Waves”

Shults wanted to essentially split the film in two and show the dichotomy of our lives. “I wanted audiences to see, in it’s structure, separate views from a male and female. How different they handle conflict, and what are their highs and lows,” Shults elaborates.

Both Tyler and Emily continuously use Instagram in a way that make us question our own use of the app. It’s a way to track a significant other’s location, stalk a crush and, of course post lots of pictures. “I was trying to make it real and honest. I don’t have social media anymore, but I can imagine how it would feel to have one. I’ve even followed crushes, but in an appropriate way (Laughs).” explains Shults.

At the core, “Waves” is a film about family. The parents are connected to both Tyler and Emily’s stories, especially their father. Ronald is more invasive in Tyler’s life and almost absent in Emily’s. This raises the question, what is the right balance of a parent’s involvement in there children’s lives? Shults went on to answer, “It’s hard to say what’s the right amount of involvement, but for this movie communication is big. It’s important that parents make their kids feel like they can always come to them for anything.  It sounds easy, but it isn’t.”

As the film comes to an end, a shattered family struggles to put themselves back together. What you witness will make you want to embrace your own family and loved ones. Shults’ hope is that audiences will “connect with the complex characters, and have a lot to think about. And maybe even give them hope in their own lives”

“Waves” is a tough start. But if you allow yourself to stay on this emotional roller coaster, it will be a ride worth taking. 

Rating: 4/5

“Waves” opens in select theater November 27 (Playing at Landmark Magnolia)

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Movie Interview: Thomasin McKenzie talks “Jojo Rabbit”

“Jojo Rabbit” is one of the best films of the year. I was thrilled to sit down with one of the stars, Thomasin McKenzie (Elsa) to discuss how adults should teach children to be kind to others, how she likes to pass the time and we play a fun rapid fire game!

“Jojo Rabbit” opens in theaters November 1.

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Interview: Alisha Wainwright & Jason Ritter talk “Raising Dion”

Jason Ritter, Alisha Wainwright, & Ja’Siah Young star in “Raising Dion”

Dion is an eight year old boy who has just discovered he has super powers. His mother, Nicole (Alisha Wainwright), is a widowed single mom who’s learning how to best raise her son and protect him from a mysterious villain. “Raising Dion” is a thrilling, family sci-fi/drama premiering on Netflix October 4. Alisha Wainwright and Jason Ritter join Susan Stephens to talk about the show.

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Interview: John Travolta talks “The Fanatic”


John Travolta and Devon Sawa star in the new film, “The Fanatic”. Trust me when I say, you’ve never seen Travolta like this! It’s a psychological thriller that will have you questioning the difference between fan and stalker.

I got a chance to sit down with John Travolta and discuss when it’s appropriate to walk up to celebrities, who is his guardian angel, his favorite Travolta dance move, and more!

“The Fanatic” opens in select theaters on August 30 at the AMC Mesquite 30 and Studio Movie Grill Colleyville in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. It will be on Video-On-Demand and digital release September 6.

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Interview: Eugenio Derbez talks “Dora and the Lost City of Gold”

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” Production Still

The popular animated series, “Dora the Explorer” is now a live action big screen movie!

I sat down with one of the stars of the film, Eugenio Derbez (Overboard, Instructions Not Included), to discuss why it’s hard to make friends in high school, which celebrity he would want to dress up as, and more!

“Dora and the Lost City of Gold” opens in theaters August 9.

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Interview: Garth Stein talks “The Art of Racing in the Rain”

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is the new comedy/drama, based on Garth Stein’s bestselling 2008 novel. The film is told from the point of view of Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner), who watches his owner, race-car driver Denny’s (Milo Ventimiglia) life unfold. Enzo witnesses Denny get married and have a child; along with the hardships of losing loved ones and dealing with criminal charges.

It’s a journey through life that makes us wonder just how much our pets are taking in, and what would they say if they could talk? And like almost every dog movie, this one will have you reaching for all the tissues. 

Author Garth Stein visited Mutts Cantina in Dallas this week for a fan event, and I sat down with him to chat about the film which is based on his own personal experiences.

Garth Stein, Author of “The Art of Racing in the Rain”

I haven’t seen an audience react so strongly to a film like this one in a long time. There was cheering, there was laughing, and of course, crying. What do you think it is about this story that has people so emotionally invested while they watch?

Well it’s a good old fashioned family story that’s told by a dog. So there’s the endearing quality of Enzo, who’s a really keen observer and he studies human behavior and that’s his goal. But he also doesn’t get everything right. It’s a very black and white world for him, in a sense. You’re either a good guy or a bad guy. And though he may not always be right, we’re invested in him. When something happens that’s funny or exciting, we’re going to be especially responsive.

There’s a really great scene between Denny and Eve (Amanda Seyfried) when they’re discussing if loving the race is enough to keep doing it, since it’s clearly a huge obstacle for them. Do you think loving a job is enough to keep pursuing it?

Yes! I mean there’s a point where you have to have a gut check. There’s a point where you have to say, “Okay am I really with this?” And if the answer is, “Yes”, then you have to make the sacrifices. You have to do the work. I mean that’s what happens with Denny in the book, and that’s what happened with me when I was writing the book. You know I wrote the book and I sent it to my agent and he said that, “you can’t do this, no one can sell this book, throw it away.” And I fired him. I did a gut check, and I had to sit with myself and meditate on it. And if I had listened to him, no one would have ever met Enzo.

I think it’s great that Enzo knows how to distract Denny when he’s down. One of those ways is by making him watch TV. When you’re upset and you need a good distraction what do you like to watch or do?

You know it’s interesting, I do meditate and I do play tennis. There’s nothing like a good hard work out to get your mind off all your troubles. But I think that’s the idea.  To go to something that does not need much conscious mind input, and therefore can alleviate any anxieties one might have.

I really like watching movies. Movies are my medicine. When I’m down I watch either a comedy or horror flick. (i.e. “Tommy Boy” or “Scream”). What movies do you like to watch to clear your mind?

So my go to movies would be, “The Godfather” movies, “Alien”. Yeah so there are some movies that make me go, “You know what, I don’t want to think about anything right now, so I’m going to watch Alien 2” (Laughs).

My youngest kid is 12 years old and this summer we’re doing “The Summer of Horror”. So he wanted to see like more scary movies. We’ve been doing like “Halloween”, “Friday the 13th”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, and we started with “The Shining”, which freaked him out a little bit. And then we watched “The Babadook”…at some point I looked over at him and said, “You know what we’re going to stop right now.” And he was okay with it (Laughs). That one might have been too soon to watch (Laughs).

It’s interesting to see people’s lives from a dog’s perspective in this film. It reminds us of what all dogs are able to see and listen in on. If you could be any person’s dog in this world for a week and get insight into their lives, who would you choose and why?

That’s tough. Honestly, I have to be with Enzo on this and be with one of the great drivers. Well with the actors, Steve McQueen or Paul Newman would be fun. But you know, what about someone like Louis Hamilton? He just won his seventh Grand Prix of Hungry. That would be pretty awesome to be with one of the great Formula One drivers.

There’s a great line in the film while Denny is fighting for custody of his daughter, “There’s no dishonor in losing the race, there’s only dishonor in being afraid to race.” Metaphorically speaking, what has been your most challenging race?

You know there’s been a lot of challenging races. My father died 10 years ago. Obviously that’s pretty challenging. It was an interesting transition, and it took me a while to get use to the change in the family dynamic when that happens. There is an accommodation that has to happen. My mother and I got through the difficult part and now were cruising.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” hits theaters August 9th

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Movie Review/Interview: Directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz talk “The Peanut Butter Falcon”

Shia LaBeouf and Zack Gottsagen star in “The Peanut Butter Falcon”

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” is a modern Mark Twain style adventure story. The film follows Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down Syndrome, who runs away from a residential nursing home and the employee who cared for him (Dakota Johnson) so that he can follow his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Along the way he meets Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), and the two form an unlikely brotherly bond during their exciting and, at times, dangerous travels.

This is writers/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz’s debut feature, and it’s one of the best films of the year. A simple premise with a lot of heart. This is due in great part to the fantastic performances by Gottsagen, LaBeouf, and Johnson. 

I got a chance to sit down with Nilson and Schwartz while they were in Dallas to promote their film. It was entertaining to say the least. They are very cool dudes, who are passionate about this already critically acclaimed movie. We chatted about LaBeouf and Gottsagen’s chemistry, pro-wrestling, meeting your heroes, and much more.

Rating: 4.5/5

All hands in with Michael Schwartz (Left) & Tyler Nilson (Right)
Full Interview with Director/Writers Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz

“The Peanut Butter Falcon” opens in select theaters on August 9.

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Interview: Director/ Writer Lulu Wang talks “The Farewell”

After seeing the trailer for “The Farewell”, I was hooked into the idea of seeing this original movie. A Chinese family lying to their grandmother, who only has months to live, and deciding to not tell her. As a way to gather before Nai Nai’s (Shuzhen Zhao) final months, the family schedules an impromptu wedding.

I can tell you now, the anticipation was warranted as the film delivers in performances, emotion and overall story.

The film is based on a real lie that director/writer, Lulu Wang, and her family came up with 6 years ago. Audiences are invited into this family gathering, and will feel as though they are sitting in on private conversations.

Lulu Wang (Writer/Director of “The Farewell”)

I sat down with Wang while she was in Dallas to promote “The Farewell”.  She explained why she wanted to share this story. “I think the set-up, first of all was so ridiculous. I felt like I needed to share it; in a way like “this is so crazy can you believe it?” It was also the humor and joy that’s juxtaposed with the grief. And how this family has such a light-hearted wonderful perspective on life, that even in the darkest moments they’ve certainly taught me to not focus on the negative and to find the joy and humor in whatever levity you can.”

No matter what culture or background you come from, anyone will be able to relate to the characters in “The Farewell”. Wang described how she wrote with such authenticity. “The key is to make them (the characters) complex and not one-sided. I didn’t set out to make anyone good or bad. I just found the things that I love about them; the things that are kind of irritating sometimes and frustrating and explored all of that.”

Though we are used to seeing Awkwafina (“Crazy Rich Asians”, “Oceans 8”) in comedic films, the actress shines in a more dramatic role as Lulu Wang’s character, Billi. Awkwafina had expressed interest in the role after reading the script, and sent Wang an impressive audition tape. “In the tape she did a couple scenes, and it was really the moments where she wasn’t even talking. She was reading with this woman off screen. And when this woman was delivering lines, Awkwafina was listening. But sometimes with actors, when they’re just listening it feels like they are just waiting for their turn to speak. I mean in real life, too, sometimes people are just waiting for their turn to speak (laughs). But with Awkwafina, you could really tell on screen that she was just listening, and processing, and she had all of this conflict just going on internally. And it was amazing that she was able to do that without saying a word,” explained Wang.

There’s a line in the film about how, “If it’s for good it’s not a lie. It’s a good lie.” Wang expressed how she felt about that quote. “I think the one thing I’ve learned from working on this film is; I set out to find an answer, but I came out on the other side realizing that it’s not about the answer. It’s really just about asking the questions. I think that I’ve just come to really respect my family’s decision (to not tell Nai Nai about her illness) and recognize that it’s not my decision to make. And I feel fortunate that it’s not my decision, because it is not an easy one to make.”

Though “The Farewell” can be sad at times, there is a lot awkward laughs throughout the film. A fun moment of comic relief is seeing different family members karaoke during the not so typical wedding scene. Wang discussed her love of karaoke and her favorite songs to perform. “I have a lot. Awkwafina has been talking a lot in the press about my Bloodhound Gang song (laughs). Which like, I didn’t start singing that until my producer started singing that, and it became like an inside joke. But I have quite a few. I really like Day Dream Believer by the Monkeys. I like some good oldies. I’ll also once in a while do like Halo by Beyonce. That’s a very good karaoke song!”

The movie expresses a powerful message recited by Nai Nai, “Life is not about what you do, it’s how you do it.” Wang discussed how she’s currently living life the way she’d hope, by trying to get the most out of every moment. “I recently watched Aziz Ansari: Right Now, which was such a great show and such great title. But in the stand-up, he says that “the only thing that matters is this moment and the people that we’re with”. I was really moved by that, because after everything he’s been through and the state of the world that were in right now. I just don’t want to make work, or do anything that continues to cause divide. Like, I don’t want to spend time fighting, and so just trying to stay level headed and enjoy the moment.”

Audiences will enjoy every moment spent during “The Farewell”. It’s a must see for the entire family.

“The Farewell” opens in select theaters on July 26!

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Interview: JD McCrary & Shahadi Wright Joseph talk “The Lion King”

Image result for the lion king

“The Lion King” returns as a live-action re-imagining of the Disney classic. The actors who voice the roles of young Simba and Nala, JD McCrary and Shahadi Wright Joseph, talk with me about the film and their favorite Lion King music.

“The Lion King” opens in theaters July 19!

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