Gus Van Sant

Things were so much simpler before Matthew McConaughey became a well-respected, critically lauded actor. The world was a brighter, shinier place. It was full of romantic comedies like Failure to Launch and The Wedding Planner and How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, films where McConaughey was little more than a sparkling Southern drawl stuffed into a sport coat. That old Matthew McConaughey is gone now, lost adrift a sea of accolades and acting ability and roles that are all very serious and very sad. The new McConaughey is a serious actor who takes on tougher, more complex roles and aces them, every single time. The new McConaughey is a man who will actually close his drapes before stripping nude, getting high and pounding on his conga drums like an insane person. It’s a whole new world out there. And it’s a world that will continue into Sea of Trees, the latest role McConaughey will, presumably, be really really great in. The film, according to The Wrap, will be directed by Gus Van Sant and star McConaughey as a depressed man who ventures into Japan’s Aokigahara Forest with plans to commit suicide. There, he’ll meet Ken Watanabe, who entered the forest with similar motives but has since undergone a change of heart and wants to live. Together, the two of them will “begin a journey of reflection and survival.”

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franco

James Franco‘s Sal follows actor Sal Mineo’s final hours with a fly-on-the-wall approach. In the film we see the bright young actor, played by Val Lauren, prepping a directorial feature he won’t make any compromises on. After seeing Sal, it’s easy to draw comparisons between Franco and Mineo in that regard. Franco has spent the last few years directing personal projects that are nothing if not uncompromising. Behind the camera, he’s taken on norm-defying adaptations like As I Lay Dying, the experimental recreation of lost scenes from Cruising and a documentary focused on his guest starring appearances on soap opera General Hospital.  Those projects, along with Sal, aren’t overtly commercial endeavors (as you may have noticed), but Franco’s directorial features have certainly found their audience. He works fast, and, as Franco tells us, that work ethic isn’t a matter of simply rushing through project after project. Despite being insanely busy, he sat down with me to discuss that work ethic and the prospect of making even more movies.

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pettyfer-abs

While E.L. James’ “Twilight” fan-fiction turned series of erotic novels, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” were popular enough that it would seem like film adaptations of the books would make unheard of amounts of money, there are still a few problems to solve that have likely kept the material from being put on the fast track to development. How would a Fifty Shades of Grey movie handle all of the kinky sex stuff, which is central enough to the storytelling that it would have to be included, but which would undoubtedly give it the dreaded R rating that restricts a film’s audience and that studios hate? Is it possible to keep in enough of the steamy stuff and still make it PG-13, or would it be stupid of Focus Features—who owns the film rights to the books—to not just bite the bullet and make R-rated film versions of these popular novels, no matter how much the restricted rating makes their bean-counters sweat? Thankfully for all you fans of latex jumpsuits and nipple clamps, there’s a man out there who feels that he has the right approach to making a Fifty Shades of Grey movie a success, and that man is veteran director of independent film, Gus Van Sant.

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review no

Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 NYFF, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. The revolution will not only be televised, it will have commercials. At least that’s how it happens in No, Pablo Larraín’s new chronicle of the last days of Augusto Pinochet’s rule in Chile. It is the story of a military dictatorship that fell to an ad campaign, a cheerful one at that. This causes contradictions. On the one hand, the film emphasizes the joy of mass political action. Liberation is exciting, and people get excited about it when they are shown a brighter future. However, advertising is also the great commercial and consumerist art form, here being used as a tool by socialist and other left-wing opponents of the regime. On paper this seems extremely counter-intuitive, and No doesn’t lose sight of these tensions. To turn this whirlwind of politics and confusion into a human story, Larraín builds his film around a single young man caught at the very center of the drama. René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal) is an up-and-comer in the world of advertising, making a name for himself in a particularly important firm. Yet he suddenly finds himself faced with a life-changing decision. It is 1988, and due to international pressure on the Pinochet regime Chile is going to have a national plebiscite regarding the dictatorship. It would be the first free election in almost two decades. It was a simple proposition: “Yes” to keep […]

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Promised Land

When he’s not being overly experimental with his stories, there’s no amount of heart that director Gus Van Sant can’t deliver. He’s proven such abilities time and time again with films like Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester and most recently with the biopic Milk. Van Sant has never been bad at finding the humanity in his stories, so it shouldn’t surprise that his latest team-up with Matt Damon finds plenty of humanity and heart as well. And it’s not just a matter of being set inside the economically ravaged American heartland, where such stories litter the once flourishing agricultural landscape. With Promised Land, Van Sant once again finds his safe zone. And when combined with a cast of seasoned veterans, he also finds himself the director of yet another engaging human story.

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Promised Land

Promised Land has been met with a few Frank Capra comparisons, clearly establishing it as one of director Gus Van Sant‘s more easily digestible and accessible pictures. The filmmaker has never been afraid to test an audience’s patience or make them feel truly uncomfortable, but the new Matt Damon- and John Krasinski-penned movie isn’t one of those pictures. If anything, Promised Land, the story of a man trying to convince a small town to turn towards big business fracking, fits in quite neatly with Van Sant’s other, softer pictures: Milk, Good Will Hunting, and Finding Forrester. Those are his audience-friendly movies, the kind you’d pick watching with your grandma over, say, To Die For or Elephant. Speaking with the highly acclaimed Van Sant, we discussed his relationship with his audience, the process of test screening, and the investigations his characters tend to go on:

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Once upon a time, Michael Gates Gill’s memoir, “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” was optioned by Universal to become a film that would be directed by Gus Van Sant and would star Tom Hanks. Chances are, that would have been awesome. It didn’t end up happening though, so get it out of your head now. It’s done. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Deadline has gotten word that The Weinstein Company has just swooped in and gobbled up the rights to the book, which will likely give it a second shot at becoming a film. For those of you not familiar with Gill’s story, you’re probably wondering how exactly Starbucks (yes, we’re talking about the coffee chain here) could have saved someone’s life. It certainly wasn’t through the quality of their over-roasted beans—am I right, hipsters? Ahem. Anyway, “How Starbucks Saved My Life” makes more sense if you hear its full title, “How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else.” It’s Gill’s account of how falling on hard times and actually having to get a job and work for a living gave him a new perspective and generally saved him from a life of behaving like an entitled goon. Suddenly he has to answer to someone who is younger than him, has darker skin, and is equipped with lady parts, he has to actually do manual labor in order to receive a paycheck, and once he gets said check he […]

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Promised Land Trailer

Things get perhaps a bit zippy and drippy and cliched at the end of this first trailer for Gus Van Sant‘s Promised Land, but there’s just so much good stuff before all that upbeat music and hackneyed professions of maybe-wonder to sink it. Originally slated as Matt Damon‘s directorial debut, Promised Land does still feature Damon in front of the camera and behind its script, as he’s co-written this one with co-star John Krasinksi (of note, this is the sort of pairing dreams are made of), who first conceived of its story with author Dave Eggers before Matty and Johnnycakes (as we like to refer to them) penned the script. Details have been slim about the project, but we have known that it would center on “a salesman [who] experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town” and that it would possibly involve fracking. It looks like both those nuggets have proven to be true, as Promised Land looks like a mix of Erin Brockovich and Michael Clayton, set in a small town that Damon’s natural gas conglomerate is trying to convince to sell off their drilling rights. Things get messy when some of the townspeople start to revolt against ol’ smoothy Damon and his company, and that crisis isn’t helped by a potential love triangle that also involves Krasinski and the lovely Rosemarie DeWitt. Take a look:

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Consider this a bit of friendly advice – get on the Scoot McNairy train now. The actor has been steadily working in Hollywood for over a decade, with roles in film and television projects as varied as Herbie: Fully Loaded and The Shield, but he’s best known for his break-out role in Gareth Edwards’s 2010 indie gem, Monsters. Since then, McNairy has collected a series of interesting roles from a variety of filmmakers that should (and, if Hollywood has any sense, will) make a household name out of him. McNairy will next be seen in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly (the project formerly known as Cogan’s Trade) and Ben Affleck’s Argo. Not too shabby, right? Let’s just go ahead and add two more high profile roles to McNairy’s resume – Deadline Mexico City reports that he’s signed on for a supporting role in Gus Van Sant‘s Promised Land and the lead male role in Lynn Shelton‘s Touchy Feely. All aboard the McNairy Express.

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Gus Van Sant

The other day the venerable Cole Abaius reported on a rumor that Matt Damon was no longer going to be making his directorial debut on an upcoming project about a sales executive who has his life changed when he travels to a small town. The reason Damon was backing off the project was said to be “script issues,” but this sounded absurd because Damon is a co-writer on the film and he still intends on starring in it. So how could he possibly have issues with the script that would preclude him from directing?

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People best know Taylor Lautner for running around in jean shorts with no shirt on as the werewolf in the Twilight series, but that’s not all the actor has to offer. It turns out cutoffs and glistening abs aren’t what defines him, he contains multitudes. In order to branch out a bit and diversify his portfolio, Lautner is going to produce and star in his next film, which is going to be smaller, and more indie. Lautner and his production company Quick Six have acquired an article that appeared in ‘The New Yorker,” and if that isn’t indie sounding enough for you, he’s hired indie legend Gus Van Sant to come on and direct. Sources say that after the relative failure of his big budget starring vehicle Abduction, Lautner is looking to take his career in a different direction, away from being a big name action star. From this point on he only intends on working on projects that involve the best writers and the best directors. I’d say that getting Van Sant on board is a good start to that goal, so it will be interesting to see who he hires to adapt the “New Yorker” article. Putting together dream projects that you can star in isn’t a luxury that a lot of young actors have, it must be nice to be sitting on all that Twilight money. A lot of people are probably going to view his decision to only work with top people as presumptuous, but I […]

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On January 19th, 2008, Bryan Cranston had one claim to fame, Malcolm in the Middle. Certainly not a bad role, but it did place everyone’s opinion of what Cranson was capable of into a box. That all changed on January 20th, 2008. Breaking Bad transformed his career and made people realize that Cranston was more than a wacky dad on a FOX sitcom. Since 1984, Kelsey Grammer has had exactly one claim to fame, his famous role as Dr. Frasier Crane on Cheers and the spin-off Frasier. Much like Cranston, it’s a role that has come to define Grammer’s career and has allowed, like Cranston, for people’s opinion of the man’s ability to be put into a single box… That will all change this Friday thanks to the new Starz series, Boss.

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I’ve no better, more eloquent way to put this — Gus Van Sant‘s Restless is awful, pandering, painfully acted, lazily written, up its own ass schlock. It’s bad. This is not the Van Sant that pulled beautiful, nuanced performances from his actors in Good Will Hunting, gave us solid, dark, indie-fare like Elephant, or even the almost total airball remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This, perhaps, is a sign that Van Sant has taken his title as arthouse darling and run it completely off the rails.

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Last year I came away from Cannes needing to tell as many people as possible to see Blue Valentine, which enthralled and emotionally jarred me thanks to a blend of compelling story-telling and two mesmerizing lead performances ranging from touching to explosive in the space of a few short minutes. Already, only two days in, I feel the same way about Gus Van Sant‘s Restless, the film that today opened the Un Certain Regard section of the festival. Restless is a similar tale of two entwined souls romantically entangled, but unlike Blue Valentine, which was all about the central pair’s relationship to the extent that it quite wonderfully presented them as living in an impenetrable and ultimately devastating bubble, Van Sant throws in a couple of narrative conceits and a hugely gripping hook that adds a different element to the film. Both films share a resolute focus on a final point: while Blue Valentine alludes to it (the relationship’s end) thanks to an alinear narrative structure, Restless reveals very early on that Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) has a terminal disease that will kill her inside three months, which gives the story both structure and that killer hook. This is no Bucket List – there are no grand, sweeping gestures, no life affirming to-do-lists to complete in order to feel complete before death. Instead we are offered a portrait of a young couple, both aged by their personal tragedies (one by her illness, the other by the death of his parents), yet unwilling and unable to cast […]

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Culture Warrior

Dear Mr. Franco, Before I say anything else, I just want to say, at the risk of sounding like a brown-nosing blogger writing a hypothetical letter to a movie star who most definitely will not read it, that I actually do appreciate what you’re trying to do. Many people would start a post like this heavy on the snark and in total dismissal of a star’s decision to construct their career as performance art. But I don’t. I think it’s kind of interesting. Kind of. We know you’re talented. And we know you like to explore a variety of avenues of expression. It’s not just that you’re actor, but an actor who can play Aron Ralston and Alan Ginsberg, convincingly, in the same year. It’s not just that you’re a filmmaker, but the filmmaker that made Saturday Night, which is more enjoyable than anything SNL has produced in years. It’s not just that you’re pursuing a PhD, but…well, I’m actually not familiar with your scholarship, but I’m sure you’ll publish something someday. Anyway, this is to say I’m writing from the perspective of a reluctant fan. But after Sunday night, you and everybody that respects you deserves a damn break.

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Three names emerge as Summit starts aiming at Oscar-caliber talent for the top job on its monster.

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Could this Tom Robbins journey through immortality and beets be Oscar-caliber? You’re damned right it could.

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cultwarrior_decadeinreview

This week’s Culture Warrior gives an exhaustive review of the decade that you won’t find anywhere else on the Interwebs.

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cultwarrior-slow

Some movies are meant to be slow. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Slow can be beautiful.

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milk-2

The lovely folks over at Focus Features are really excited about their film Milk being nominated for 8 Academy Awards. Who wouldn’t be, right? And to celebrate all of their nominations, including Sean Penn’s Best Actor nod and one for Best Picture, they have put together two brand new featurettes.

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