Interviews

ET Movie

Within the logo of Amblin Entertainment lies one of Steven Spielberg’s most iconic images: a boy flying on a bicycle with a shrouded extraterrestrial friend in tow. This image also provides a fitting summary of how Spielberg’s films have been popularly understood — as wondrous, spectacular articulations of imagination seemingly possible only through an affirmative style of filmmaking. But there’s also that other side of E.T. that’s absent within Amblin’s logo, that side that’s about the paranoia of a government that coldly quarantines and dissects a force it doesn’t understand, the parts of the film that met your childlike wonder with a stark nightmare. The tensions between these two poles of Spielberg’s work are explored in depth in a new book by film scholar James Kendrick, whose “Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg” approaches the storied oeuvre of the most successful living filmmaker from the vantage point of his evident but less appreciated darker themes – his propensity to meet wondrous imagination with the worst tendencies of human nature. In fact, Kendrick argues that the dominant way we interpret Spielberg – as something of a reliable architect of affirming cinematic entertainment –prevents us from fully appreciating the depth and complexity of a director whose work oscillates on the pendulum between light and darkness, hope and despair. Here’s what Kendrick had to tell us about the darkness brooding within Spielberg’s films.

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Scream Factory

The long-fabled director’s cut of Clive Barker‘s Nightbreed finally saw release this past week via Scream Factory’s beautiful new Blu-ray, and those of us who’ve been eagerly awaiting it since 1990 have one person to thank for it. That one person is Barker, obviously, as he not only wrote the short novel “Cabal” but also adapted it into a flawed but fun film filled with untapped promise. There are others beyond Barker, though, who deserve our gratitude as well. I’m talking about the fans. In the two plus decades since Nightbreed‘s release, rumors of additional footage fueled our imagination, and the more optimistic among you — because no, I did not believe this day would ever come — kept the hope alive online and at genre conventions. As more and more of that footage was rediscovered, and as “the Cabal Cut” made its way around the country, the clamor for a properly restored, director approved cut of the film grew. But after Barker and the fans? There are people behind the scenes who had their hands in this endeavor from the very beginning, people whose efforts and own appreciation of the world Barker created helped lead to this release — people like Mark Miller (Vice President of Seraphim) and Michael Plumides (Nightbreed: Director’s Cut producer).

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Nightcrawler Movie 2014

Last summer Jake Gyllenhaal dropped out of Into the Woods to film Dan Gilroy‘s Nightcrawler. When the two production schedules clashed, the actor had to ask himself: should I make some bank off the huge Disney musical or take a pay cut to star in the directorial debut of the guy who wrote The Fall and The Bourne Legacy? Thankfully, Gyllenhaal didn’t base his decision on how many zeroes his check would have had. That’s not to imply Into the Woods is a project without artistic merit, but how frequently does a character as complex as Lou Bloom come along? It’s a question with an obvious answer, but a potentially moronic question is apropos for a discussion with Gyllenhaal, an actor who’s more than willing to ask questions others might deem stupid. Bloom features the DNA of Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, but he’s his own scrappy animal. The young freelance crime journalist is naive, unrelenting, childlike, vicious, disgusting and admirable. He’s a self-starter who will risk his life — and sadly the lives of those around him — to capture the most valuable crime scene footage in order to produce the best story possible for a local news network. When the sun goes down in Los Angeles, Bloom goes on the prowl, ready to hit record on his camcorder at the sight of a dead body. In the eyes of Gilroy and Gyllenhaal, he’s a nocturnal animal. To take on the look of a hungry coyote, the actor dropped 30 pounds; he’d often run 15 miles to the set to maintain his figure. […]

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Adam Sandler in Men Women and Children

Jason Reitman is a hard filmmaker to pin down. He’s made six features, and when a director has made that many films, it’s usually not terribly difficult to find themes or ideas that tie a filmography together. Besides generally following smart but naive characters, you can’t really do that with Reitman’s pictures. The element that comes closest to defining Reitman’s body of work is his passion for self-reflective stories. After his past two divisive efforts, Labor Day and Men, Women & Children, it’s obvious his voice and interests go beyond one story or one specific idea. What’s missing from those films, for starters, is Reitman’s comedic wit. That’s not to say they don’t have his sense of humor, albeit in much smaller doses, but they wear a more serious face than his earlier work. Critics certainly aren’t used to this side of Reitman. “It feels like the snarkier I am, the more the critics like it,” Reitman tells me with a laugh. “I mean, you gotta make films in your own voice. When you start trying to please people, you’re never going to win.”

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ABCs of Death 2

Let’s not beat around the proverbial toilet-shaped bush here… the first ABCs of Death is a pretty dire affair. Out of 26 short films there are maybe a Billy Barty-sized handful of good to great ones with the remainder being a mix of lazy, dumb and poorly executed ideas. The announcement of a sequel was met with tepid anticipation because while that first film is unfortunate the idea behind the anthology — 26 directors, each with a letter of the alphabet, a miniscule budget and free reign to create a short relating their chosen word to the idea of death — is still a fantastic one overflowing with potential. Happily, ABCs of Death 2 is a far more entertaining and creatively explicit collection of creepy, fun and wild short films. (Read my full review here.) Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Rabies, Big Bad Wolves) came on board with a request for the letter F, and after signing multiple affidavits swearing that they wouldn’t be doing a short about farts or fucking they set to work on one of the anthology’s more dramatic and weighty entries. We spoke with the directing duo at last month’s Fantastic Fest about their first collaborative short film, political overtones, necessary cleavage and the fate of their much-teased back-burner project, the Israeli spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in Palestine.

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Sasha Grey in OPEN WINDOWS

When Open Windows was making the festival rounds, it played like an increasingly crazy kidnapping yarn where all the action happens on a single laptop screen. Since it’s hitting theaters after August 31st (November 7th to be exact), Nacho Vigalondo‘s movie about an actress held against her will plays out very much like a statement on the large-scale celebrity photo leak that was dubbed The Fappening with a speed unique to the internet. It has the deranged, unseen hacker pulling the strings; the nascent A-lister (played by Sasha Grey) held hostage by the threatened release of a sexual video; and the super fan being used as the reluctant-but-not-that-reluctant tool of her discomfort. First of all, yes, it’s absurd. It’s a convoluted high concept worthy of Rube Goldberg, and Vigalondo takes great delight in expanding that wackiness. Second of all, it’s not easy to escape the unintentional commentary being offered here, and that’s something the writer/director fully recognizes. “I was horrified by the leak of photographs of famous women on the internet,” he tells me while nursing a hangover in the (also prescient) Black Lodge-themed karaoke room at The Highball during Fantastic Fest. “I’m horrified about my movie talking so straight about that stuff, and I’m feeling uncomfortable about my movie being a crazy fantasy. Because it’s not realistic at all. It became science fiction. I was so uncomfortable that this movie is a crazy fantasy about something so serious. [The leak] hadn’t happened by the time I was making it. But at the same time, […]

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Radius-TWC

The definition of spoiler used to be pretty black-and-white. Back in the summer of 1980, was it a spoiler telling someone Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father? Without a doubt. How about telling someone Bruce Willis is actually a ghost in the 1999 film The Sixth Sense? Absolutely. Or what about in 2001 how Captain Leo Davidson discovers the Apes inexplicably took over the Earth in Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes? Nobody probably cared in that case, but the point stands. Lately, for some, the definition of “spoiler” has altered, mainly because people have been growing increasingly spoiler sensitive over the past few years. Some people actively seek out spoilers before they see a film or a television episode, but for others the mere mention of a relatively small plot detail can be enough to send them into a rage. The most recent film to dredge up new debate on the topic is The One I Love, a new sci-fi drama starring Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss. The two actors play a couple, Ethan and Sophie, who have been having some relationship issues. Their marriage counselor, played by Ted Danson, suggests a getaway. He tells them of a beautiful retreat that’s helped rekindle various other marriages. Ethan and Sophie agree to go. This all happens in the first 14 minutes. At the 15 minute mark, something strange happens. Some consider saying even that much to be a spoiler, let alone actually identifying what the strange thing is, but here’s the issue at hand: That “thing” is the set up of […]

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Sin City A Dame to Kill For

Josh Brolin‘s performance in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn’t wildly dissimilar to his work in Men in Black III. They’re very different films and performances, of course, but both prequels feature Brolin inheriting a role from another actor. Brolin eerily embodied Tommy Lee Jones as Agent K, while in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For he’s channeling Clive Owen’s work as Dwight McCarthy from the first movie. This is Dwight before he had to change his face, which, in case you haven’t read Frank Miller‘s comics, is why Owen isn’t back playing the character. Whether Josh Brolin studied Clive Owen’s performance never came up in our wide-ranging conversation with the actor, who’s clearly pleased with both the film and his performance. With the exception of Labor Day – a film I’ll readily go to bat for — it’s the first time since True Grit Brolin hasn’t had to carry a movie. Not because he isn’t the lead, but looking at Oldboy, Gangster Squad, and Men in Black III, the end products often weren’t on par with Brolin’s work in them. Thankfully, that’s not the case in this instance, nor should it be in the near-future. Brolin has Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice coming up, the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar!, and Everest, a survival pic boasting an impressive cast. He’s also playing Thanos in the Marvel Universe. Brolin has a lot going on at the moment, but he took the time to speak with us at the junket for Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

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Chris Pratt in Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel Studios is still new. Based on their track record, that’s almost hard to believe. Of the nine movies they’ve put out, all of them have performed considerably well, if not completely gangbusters, at the box office. Considering their latest film, Guardians of the Galaxy, is on track to make over $70m this weekend, their luck will continue. At this point, we may have to stop calling it luck and start calling it smart business decisions. One of the people responsible for Marvel’s success is, of course, the president of the studio, Kevin Feige, and he’s fully embraced the spirit — and often downright weirdness — of the characters and their worlds. Feige gambled on an untested formula that’s paid off. Few people expected Iron Man, and with it Marvel, to succeed the way that it did, but he was one of them. Six years ago, it was clear he believed in their ambitious plan from the start. “It’s a little bit of planning, a little bit of luck and you end up with a studio that has the film rights to Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Ant-Man,” he said in 2008. “And clearly, when you put them all together, you know who you get.” He meant The Avengers, as well as a whole series of successful solo superhero films around it. Guardians of the Galaxy is the one that now puts Marvel’s brand to the ultimate test. Iron Man wasn’t a very well known character to the general public, but the Hulk, Thor and Captain America were all pretty […]

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Guardians of the Galaxy Obscene Gesture

At the start of Guardians of the Galaxy, “A Film By James Gunn” flashes on the screen, and that’s exactly what we get. For a big Marvel movie under the Disney banner, this isn’t the kind of story we expect to see from them, so when the end credits roll, Gunn’s name seems to shine brighter than the audience-magnet brand and the internationally beloved corporate entity above them both. His style survived the blockbuster process. Of course, once you know the director behind Super and Slither made Marvel’s latest, it’s not much of a surprise. The drama is unexpectedly sincere, while the jokes are wonderfully dirty — a tonal blend he can’t get enough of — while staying strangely innocent in the face of serving a story about lovable misfits finding a higher purpose. There’s no mean-spirited marrow in the movie’s funny bone. Gunn has managed to top the comedy done by the likes of Joss Whedon, Shane Black and Jon Favreau in past Marvel movies, so when we spoke with him recently, we asked him how he’d pulled it off.

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A24

Three years ago writer/director Kevin Smith pushed himself as a filmmaker with Red State. The quasi-horror movie was polarizing for both Smith’s fans and critics. Good or bad, it’s definitely far more ambitious than Smith’s previous movie, Cop Out. He was trying something new. Red State was a 180 turn in the director’s career. With his new picture, Tusk, Smith is continuing down the road he set out on back in 2011. A trailer for the film was released shortly after its Comic-Con debut. From the looks of it, Tusk features the old and the new Kevin Smith. That’s a good thing, because when Red State turned into a shootout, the old Smith was missed. Smith’s finest work generally involves characters talking around a table. Tusk doesn’t seem to stray too far from Smith’s dialogue-heavy past, since the film does feature two characters stuck together in a house, so we should expect a good amount of dialogue from Smith. If you don’t want to know whether Justin Long’s character does actually get turned into a walrus, avoid this discussion with Smith. And, even though I call it a discussion, it’s not really that at all. When you interview Kevin Smith, he’s never at a loss for words. It’s best to just let him say what he has to say.

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Horns-Daniel-Radcliffe

The filmmakers behind Horns had a wealth of material at their disposal. Author Joe Hill‘s novel easily could’ve been adapted into a miniseries, which is an idea even the film’s director, Alexandre Aja (The Hills Have Eyes), endorses. It’s not a gigantic book, but it tells more than one story, both tonally and structurally. Hill’s novel goes from comedy to horror in a matter of pages. In the movie, those transitions often happen in seconds. Pulling off those tonal shifts is a challenge and they’re certainly not meant for every filmgoer. Joe Hill, on the other hand, wants to see more of those kinds of movies. He also wouldn’t mind less adaptations like The Prince of Tides, a film he highly recommends staying away from. Hill had plenty more to say in our discussion with him at Comic-Con, including why having a sexual fetish beyond high heels is important.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Reeves

When some actors and directors promote an adaptation or remake they’ll pretend they’ve always been fans of the original movie or the comic. You can generally tell when they’re lying, trying to pander to fans. Thankfully, real die-hard fans often get to be a part of properties that actually mean something to them. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director, Matt Reeves, is one of those people. Like most kids growing up in the ’80s, the New York-born filmmaker gravitated toward E.T., Close Encounters, and Star Wars. For Reeves, though, those films never held a candle to Planet of the Apes. “That was my obsession. That was my Star Wars,” he tells us over the phone, counting the hours until the film opens this Friday. When it comes to the Apes franchise the original film and, the strangest of the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, are his favorites — Reeves is still shaken by the image of the mutated humans removing their faces in the latter film. He also has a deep fondness for the television series which only lasted, to his surprise, three months back in 1974. “I thought for sure it was on for years because it took up so much of my childhood. I had dolls, the records, and these comic books. I was so obsessed with that world.”

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Paramount

At the start of Doug Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow our hero, Major Bill Cage (Tom Cruise), is a coward. He’s more than ready to run from a fight he knows he’s not equipped for. That’s not the kind of hero we expect from a blockbuster, but it’s the type of subversive choice we should expect from screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie, who had a hand in bringing Hiroshi Sakurazak’s graphic novel, All You Need Is Kill, to the big screen. A protagonist unwilling to help save the world isn’t the only fresh idea in Edge of Tomorrow. Even when Cage becomes a fierce soldier, he’s still no match for the bad-ass helicopter-blade-wielding Rita Vrastaski (Emily Blunt). She is the hero of this movie. Vrastaski drives the story. Cruise, once again playing a role a lot of movie stars would pass on, consistently pushed for his co-star to be this film’s true hero. Cruise and McQuarrie’s creative partnership is built on risky choices. Valkyrie, a one-eyed Nazi movie about killing Hitler, was released on Christmas day in 2008. They took a crack at Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, the kind of character that doesn’t think twice about putting a bullet in the head of his unarmed enemy even after they’ve surrendered. And now, with Edge of Tomorrow, they’ve championed a project that follows an unlikely hero in a story not based on a well-known property. The two men are now hard at work on the next Mission: Impossible, but Christopher McQuarrie was kind enough to speak with us weeks after Edge of Tomorrow‘s release. The very candid Mr. McQuarrie openly discussed his […]

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The Rover Movie

The Rover opens with a man at the end of his rope. Eric (Guy Pearce) has nothing. Except for his car. Naturally, when Eric steps out of his vehicle to grab a drink, it’s stolen by a group of bandits, and for the first time in a while, Eric has a purpose: get his car back. It’s deliberate in its simplistic structure, but sweating from point A to point B is only the surface of director David Michôd‘s layered second feature film. It’s a lean movie compared to Michôd’s directorial debut Animal Kingdom, and that was by design. “I wanted to make something much more elemental and an intensely intimate about a small number of characters in vast and empty landscape,” Michôd tells us, reflecting on The Rover‘s stiflingly hot environments while sitting in the air conditioned meeting room of the Four Seasons Hotel. “I love the idea of making a movie that would work in a similar tonal world as Animal Kingdom, but be of a different form.” But Animal Kingdom and The Rover are kindred spirits in more ways than tone. Both films focus on introverts facing an internal struggle within the framework of the more obvious, more aggressive external threat. However, this time around Michôd’s lead is far less passive, stopping at nothing until he retrieves his property. At the center of this “dark fable that plays by slightly different rules,” Eric roams through a quasi-post-apocalyptic Australian desert. Who Eric was before the economic collapse is mostly a mystery, but the man in his mid-40s was never an enigma to Michôd. “He’s old enough to remember […]

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Walt Disney Pictures

Once you’ve heard Bill Paxton scream, “Game over, man!” you can never unhear it. And that’s a good thing. He got to play big on camera throughout the ’80s, but hamming it up isn’t all he’s capable of as evidenced by a string of great dramatic roles in the ’90s including One False Move, A Simple Plan and Apollo 13. Years later he surprised people again with his directorial debut, Frailty, which made our list of one of the best horror films of its decade. He followed that film up with The Greatest Game Ever Played, a movie that clearly means a lot to Paxton despite its failure to find a wide audience. From 2006 to 2011 he played Bill Henrickson on HBO’s Big Love. He received considerable acclaim for his performance, but he once again found himself having to prove himself capable of range beyond that character once the show came to an end. It’s easy to get typecast, but to combat being put into a box, Paxton has taken on an eclectic set of supporting roles over the past few years, including this week’s Million Dollar Arm. With this Disney release, Agents of Shield, Edge of Tomorrow, and Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, which I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about, 2014 is a good year for Bill Paxton. The actor spoke with us about his performance as USC pitching coach Tom House, as well as the highs and lows of the film business, the paradoxical nature of acting and more.

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Open Road Films

If someone said in 2001, “I bet this Jon Favreau guy — the star, writer, and director of Made – is going to help turn Marvel into one of the most successful film studios ever,” you probably would’ve written them off as insane. When you think about it, though, Favreau exhibited a voice for character, story and comedy in Made and Swingers that was well-suited for the Marvel universe. His sensibility made Iron Man a hit, impacting the tone and spirit of the Marvel films that followed. After his one-two punch at Marvel and a crack at a high-concept western, Favreau has returned to his roots with Chef, a film about a creatively unsatisfied cook, Carl Casper (Favreau), who also has to reconnect with his son. Some say the film is really about a filmmaker frustrated by the system, but, first and foremost, it deals with the important choices in life a creative has to make. “I knew I wanted to talk about the balance of career and family,” Favreau tells us. “By the time you hit my age, those little decisions you’ve made really affect your life and you think, ‘How did I end up here?’ A lot of people are confused by where they land. Often when you put all your effort into your career, it’s not as satisfying, because you don’t have that base and foundation.” What is success without people to share it with? It’s an age old theme, but it’s something that Favreau hopes resonates.

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Paul Schneider

You enter with a compliment. This is how professional courtesy works – when you’re entering a room (typically a hotel room, often a nice one, usually stripped of things like beds and dressers, which gives most interview settings the feeling of intended disarray) to interview the talent associated with a film or a book or a television show or whatever it may be, you enter with a compliment. I really enjoyed the book, reading is a cool thing. I loved your performance in the season finale, especially when you died. I liked that scene where you have phone sex while in the same room as the other person. You were so good in this! It’s an icebreaker, and an expected one, and it normally doesn’t lead to anything beyond a pleasant start to a ten-minute chat that is recorded for later use. This is not what happened with Paul Schneider. 

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Kevin Costner in DRAFT DAY

Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Dave are four of Ivan Reitman‘s films that have stood the test of time. When Reitman was on top of his game, the now 67-year-old filmmaker hit grand slams. I’m not using these sports metaphors because his latest film, Draft Day, includes the NFL Draft, but because, like athletes, some directors have hot streaks and cold streaks. For an array of reasons, slumps happen. Reitman’s lasted 18 years. After Dave he directed Junior, Father’s Day, Evolution, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and Six Days, Seven Nights. A few of those films had glimmers of hope that Reitman hadn’t lost his touch, but during those years, only as a producer was he making quality movies. People generally focus on the films that proceeded Dave, not Old School, Up in the Air,  I Love You, Man and Private Parts, and one of those acclaimed films he came close to directing. “It was stupid,” Reitman says, on why he didn’t direct Private Parts himself. “I was doing three movies at once: Space Jam, which I was sort of directing, but I wasn’t officially directing; Father’s Day, which I shouldn’t have directed, because we never got the script right; and Private Parts. Private Parts was the one I gave up, and I shouldn’t have.”

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Richard Shepard and Jude Law on set of DOM HEMINGWAY

Director Richard Shepard makes tonally risky choices. The Matador and The Hunting Party are broad comedies, but they also focus on characters with serious problems. Shepard doesn’t play those personal conflicts as jokes, either. He takes their predicaments very seriously, no matter how goofy his characters may act. These three dramatic comedies, including his latest film, Dom Hemingway, are driven by the loss of a loved one. In the case of Dom Hemingway, the narrative is also propelled by a potbellied, foul mouth, unhinged and egotistical safe-cracker named Dom Hemingway (Jude Law). This is a man who loves his name, himself, and, of course, his cock. You read that last part right. The film opens with Dom discussing what a wonderful piece of equipment he has. Needless to say, he’s a magnetic character who is, maybe not a good person, but someone you root for, if only because he knows how to talk about himself to exhaustive lengths. We discussed with writer-director Shepard how he made this incredibly flawed protagonist so damn appealing:

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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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published: 12.15.2014
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published: 12.12.2014
D+


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