Film Review: Chloé Zhao’s “The Rider”

By Armando Inquig

armando inquig

Sony Pictures Classics

Written, produced, and directed by Chloé Zhao, “The Rider” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 20, 2017. There, it won the Art Cinema Award, the top prize at the festival’s Directors’ Fortnight—a section where Zhao’s debut feature film, “Songs My Brothers Taught Me,” was screened and well-received in 2015.

Since its premiere, “The Rider” has garnered near-universal acclaim, enjoyed successful runs at both Telluride and Sundance in January, and secured nominations at the Independent Spirit Awards for best feature, director, editing, and cinematography. The film boasts a 97% rating on the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus lauding “writer-director Chloé Zhao’s use of untrained actors to convey the movie’s fact-based story.”

Drawing inspiration from its actors’ real-life experiences, this docu-fiction chronicles the journey of a young Native-American cowboy and professional horse trainer, Brady Blackburn (portrayed by real-life rider Brady Jandreau). The story delves into his physical and emotional challenges after a devastating rodeo accident leaves him with a steel plate in his head, his perseverance despite medical advice to never ride again, and his quest for a new purpose in life.

Casting Brady, a non-professional actor in the lead role, was undoubtedly a gamble. Yet it proved fruitful: critics praised his portrayal, noting its reflection of his personal experiences and how it lent the film authenticity.

So moved by Brady’s story, Zhao also enlisted his family for the film. His real father and sister, Tim and Lilly, play fictionalized versions of themselves. The film also features his friends, including former bull rider Lane Scott, who was paralyzed in a car accident in 2013.

With the story told from Brady’s viewpoint as a sidelined rodeo rider, audiences sense his life’s trials and emotional turmoil. Yet, the film retains an undertone of hope.

Early in the film, we witness visible staples embedded in his skull. But Brady persists. In his hometown, where he’s somewhat a celebrity, he’s given encouragement to chase his dreams. Audiences root for his comeback in both his career and life.

One poignant moment shows Brady training a horse. Here, he’s truly in his element, gradually winning the horse’s trust. Their bond is evident, fostering viewer optimism, regardless of impending tragedies.

In a heartrending sequence, a horse named Apollo got caught in barbed wire, severely injuring his leg. This forces Brady’s father to euthanize him. Reflecting on this, Brady tells his sister, “I got hurt like Apollo did, but I’m a person, so I got to live.”

Director Zhao says in promoting the film: “Through Brady’s journey, both on and off screen, I hope to explore our culture of masculinity and to offer a more nuanced version of the classic American cowboy. I also want to offer an authentic portrait of the rough, honest and beautiful American heartland that I deeply love and respect.”

Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics, the film’s cast includes Brady Jandreau, Lilly Jandreau, Tim Jandreau, Lane Scott, and Cat Clifford. “The Rider” is now screening in select theaters across the US.


Interview: Pinar Toprak On Composing For Movies, “Krypton,” And The World’s Biggest Video Game

By Armando Inquig

It’s been a great year for composer Pinar Toprak so far. With Syfy’s “Krypton” set to premiere tonight (March 21 at 10 ET/PT), Fortnite is also sitting atop Apple’s gaming app store.

Pinar Toprak

Recently, Pinar composed additional music for the superhero ensemble Justice League. I was lucky to grab some minutes with Pinar Toprak to talk about her work on one of the year’s most anticipated TV series Krypton, which is set two generations before its destruction, and the surprising success of a game that is taking the world by storm.
(Interview date: May 20, 2018)


Krypton is finally premiering this week. What was it like scoring the series?

Pinar Toprak: It’s a wonderful experience. I’ve been a Superman fan since childhood. Its surreal. Every day I get to work on it. It’s amazing. I’m having the time of my life.

People have preconceived notions about (planet) Krypton, usually relating to how it ended, but not many before that. Where did you draw inspiration from?

PR: We wanted to do something that was different. Not what you would necessarily expect to hear because this is about Krypton. Obviously, we have the Superman legacy with us which is Superman’s grandfather. But it’s also about how they really lived and what happened then. Rather than thinking of it like a Superman film that we’re used to, I wanted to do something that is unique and unique to Krypton. So, it’s about finding different sounds and creating new music and new things, example for Brainiac. It’s really a lot of fun.

Did you incorporate scores from movies or TV series based on DC comics? Did they inspire you in some way?

PR: There were two moments on the first episode which will air tomorrow. There’s an homage to the Superman legacy, basically. But other than that, I wanted to do our own thing. Because this is unique, and this show has such a different angle to what we’re used to. So, it’s a whole other approach.

You’re talking about John William’s Superman theme, right? I thought that’s a cool touch.

PR: Yes, there are two moments on the episode that will air tomorrow. Thank you. It worked well.
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Classic Film Review: A Detective’s Dilemma In Alfred Hitchcock’s “Sabotage”

By Armando Inquig

Sabotage-The-Woman-Alone---Alfred-HitchcockAlthough ‘Sabotage’ is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s lesser-known films, its darker elements mark it as a significant precursor to his later works.

Narratively daring for its time, the film incorporates dark and tragic elements that Hitchcock would later become known for. Released in 1936, Sabotage is one of Hitchcock’s British productions before he moved to the US and transitioned into Hollywood.

The film follows cinema owner Karl Verloc (played by Oscar Homolka), a man who engages in attacks against the city’s infrastructure, unbeknownst to his wife, Mrs. Verloc (Sylvia Sidney), and her younger brother, Stevie (Desmond Tester).

Ted Spencer (John Loder), is the detective sergeant assigned to investigate him, and infiltrates Verloc’s life under the guise of a cinema patron. As Spencer delves deeper into his investigation, Mrs. Verloc gradually senses that something is wrong with her husband. It is soon revealed that Verloc, pressured by his co-conspirators, is planning to carry out a big sabotage act.

He secretly instructs Stevie to deliver a film canister containing a lethal bomb that is timed to explode in the heart of London. Stevie, who is innocent and unsuspecting of its contents, agrees to transport the canister. On his way to the location, the bomb detonates on a crowded bus, killing the young boy and sending shockwaves through the city. Mrs. Verloc is devastated by the loss of her brother and confronts Karl, and in a moment of anger, stabs and kills him.

Detective Spencer, now seemingly having some feelings for Mrs. Verloc, is torn and grapples with the implications of it all. Will Detective Spencer abide by his obligations and turn Mrs. Verloc in, or will his emotions prevail and help her escape?

In true Hitchcockian fashion, the film navigates complex ethical dilemmas involving loyalty, justice, and the consequences of actions, themes that became a hallmark of his storytelling and continued throughout the rest of his career.

His direction is steady, focused on the psychological complexities of the characters without devolving into a conventional tropes.

“Sabotage”, released as “The Woman Alone” in the United States, is now available in Blu-ray in the United Kingdom in a high-definition format.