Interviews

 By Kathy Harr

Camus said, "Yes, there is beauty and there are the humiliated. Whatever the difficulties the enterprise may present, I would like never to be unfaithful either to one or the other."

That describes the folksinger-songwriter Phil Ochs as seen in Kenneth Bowser's new documentary, Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune. Bowser, who is married to actress Amy Irving and has also made a films about Saturday Night Live, Preston Sturges andFrank Capra, is probably best known for making the film based on Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. His next project may be one based on another Biskind best-seller, Down & Dirty Pictures.

There But for Fortune, which is slowly releasing nationally, including San Francisco'sBalboa Theater this weekend, was called a “A complex portrait of an ultimately unknowable man,” by Peter Rainer http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Movies/2011/0107/Phil-Ochs-There-But-for-Fortune-movie-review. “At once an unsentimental portrait of the ambitious singer who thought himself bound for glory, and an affecting elegy for a time when song was a form of revolution,” wrote Lisa Schwarzbaum. Bowser was kind enough to chat with me about art and truth, yesterday's failures and today's wars, and what was left on the cutting-room floor.

Blog entry 03/25/2011 - 10:42am

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though the multitalented Tom McCarthy, 45, made his acting debut in Mike Binder's Crossing the Bridge (1992), the nineties gave him very little follow-up work. But in the 2000s things began to happen for him, including small parts in movies like Meet the Parents (2000), The Guru (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Syriana (2005), and Flags of Our Fathers (2006). However, McCarthy answered his true calling when he was able to write and direct his first film, The Station Agent (2003).

That film may have seemed on the surface a slight, indie comedy, but had subtle depth of character in addition to sharp writing, clever casting, and strong performances, and it was a modest success story. The same thing happened with McCarthy's second film, The Visitor (2008), which still serves as a model for cross-cultural Hollywood tales. An achingly good Richard Jenkins earned an Oscar nomination for his lead performance. McCarthy himself earned an Oscar nomination the following year for contributing to the screenplay of Pixar's Up (2009). Now comes McCarthy's third movie, Win Win (opening today in select theaters), which is a good deal messier, but perhaps even deeper than his previous works.

Blog entry 03/18/2011 - 10:14am

by Jeffrey M. Anderson 

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT director Lisa Cholodenko<br />
(photo credit: Danielle Taormina-Keenan)

Lisa Cholodenko's well-received 1998 debut High Art was a major landmark for lesbian filmmaking in the '90s, even if the writer-director makes films more to please herself than to fill any LGBT niches. After moving from New York to Los Angeles (where she shot 2002's titularly set ensemble drama Laurel Canyon—which, coincidentally, was centered around straight people), dealing with distribution troubles and working in television (directing episodes of The L Word and the short-lived Push, Nevada), the 46 year-old auteur returns to the big screen with her finest and most widely released effort yet, The Kids Are All Right.

Blog entry 07/07/2010 - 10:22am

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Jared Hess, 30, and Jerusha Hess, 29, met in film class at Brigham Young University and together wrote a little independent movie called Napoleon Dynamite, which Jared directed. Released in 2004, the movie was a once in a lifetime success story, earning a genuine cult following and inspiring a generation of dialogue-quoters and "Vote for Pedro" t-shirt wearers. Hollywood loved it too, and it wasn't long before the Hesses were in charge of the bigger budgeted Nacho Libre (2006). Despite considerably less flattering reviews, the film went on to gross over $80 million, more than doubling its production budget.

Both films contained the same kind of off-kilter rhythms and dry, almost-but-not-quite cruel humor that fans seem to love. Their new film, Gentlemen Broncos (opening Oct. 30 and Nov. 6), is more complex in the plot department but still hangs onto these unique rhythms. Michael Angarano stars as Benjamin, a home-schooled teen who is also a burgeoning sci-fi writer. His widowed mom (Jennifer Coolidge) sends him to a writer's camp, where he submits his manuscript, an epic called Yeast Lords, to a contest to be judged by his hero, published author Ronald Chevalier (Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement). Lacking in new material, Chevalier senses the greatness of Yeast Lords and steals it for himself. Meanwhile, Benjamin's new friends Tabatha (Halley Feiffer, daughter of cartoonist/playwright Jules) and Lonnie (Héctor Jiménez) offer to make a low-budget film of the manuscript; Benjamin watches as they makes a royal hash out of it. We also see "footage" from the "real" Yeast Lords, played out as a slightly more expensive sci-fi epic starring Sam Rockwell as hero "Bronco."

The Hesses recently journeyed to San Francisco and took time out to sit down with GreenCine for a discussion about the film.

Blog entry 10/30/2009 - 11:02am

Atom Egoyan, ADORATION

By John Esther

The New York Times' Stephen Holden certainly adored Adoration: "A profound and provocative exploration of cultural inheritance, communications technology and the roots and morality of terrorism, the Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan nimbly wades into an ideological minefield without detonating an explosion." Here's a synopsis from the official site:


High school French teacher Sabine (Egoyan's wife and frequent collaborator Arsinée Khanjian) gives her class a translation exercise based on a real news story about a terrorist who plants a bomb in the airline luggage of his pregnant girlfriend. The assignment has a profound effect on one student, Simon (Devon Bostwick), who lives with his uncle. In the course of translating, Simon re-imagines that the news item is his own family's story, with the terrorist standing in for his father. Years ago, Simon's father crashed the family car, killing both himself and his wife, making Simon an orphan. Simon has always feared that the accident was intentional. Simon reads his version to the class and then takes it to the Internet. In essence, he has created a false identity which allows him to probe his family secret. As Simon uses his new persona to journey deeper into his past, the public reaction is swift and strong. Then an exotic woman reveals her true identity. The truth about Simon's family emerges. The mystery is solved and a new family is formed.

John Esther chatted with Egoyan on April 24, to some known as "Recognize the Armenian Genocide Day," an annual event protesting the continued denial of the 1915-1916 massacre of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turkish government, a theme explored in Egoyan's 2002 film Ararat.

Adoration is now out on DVD.

Blog entry 10/13/2009 - 3:36pm

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

 

 

A SERIOUS MAN star Michael Stuhlbarg

 

The major talking point about the Coen Brothers' new film A Serious Man seems to be that it has "no stars," or is comprised of a cast of mostly unknowns. The leader of this unknown ensemble is Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays Larry Gopnik, a tenure-track professor and Jewish father living in 1967 Minnesota. Life doesn't seem too bad for Larry until a nearly unending list of terrible things befalls him, including a pending divorce, a car accident, a gambling brother, ungrateful children, a mysterious letter-writer, a bribery attempt, a lusty neighbor (on one side) and a threatening neighbor (on the other), plus a doctor's appointment and a bar mitzvah under the influence of pot. Larry seeks the help of three rabbis to help sort his life, and finds that their cryptic advice doesn't provide any easy answers. Really, the only thing you can do is laugh. It's up to Stuhlbarg to shoulder all this calamity and turn it into black humor, and he pulls it off.

Before landing this rare leading role, Stuhlbarg appeared in small roles in several films, including A Price Above Rubies (1998), The Grey Zone (2001), Martin Scorsese's short film The Key to Reserva (2007), Afterschool (2008), Ridley Scott's Body of Lies (2008) and Cold Souls (2009). On television, he has appeared on Ugly Betty and Law & Order. But his formative time has been spent on the stage, having earned a Tony nomination for The Pillowman, plus a few Shakespearian turns in Richard II and Hamlet. The very kind and pleasant Mr. Stuhlbarg sat down for a brief talk with me about his new film.

Blog entry 10/05/2009 - 5:59pm

 

Erick Zonca, JULIA

Julia
Directed by Erick Zonca
2008, 144 Minutes, In English and Spanish

How did The Dreamlife of Angels director Erick Zonca, working from a script he cowrote with Aude Py, think that the typically reserved, sophisticated Tilda Swinton could so convincingly step into the shoes of a despicable, loudmouthed floozy? An unhinged character study that drunkenly stumbles into an accidental thriller, Julia is shouldered as much by Zonca's instinctual filmmaking as it does on Swinton's intense, knock-out performance:

Julia, 40, is an alcoholic. She is a manipulative, unreliable, compulsive liar, all strung out beneath her still flamboyant exterior. Between shots of vodka and one-night stands, Julia gets by on nickel-and-dime jobs. Increasingly lonely, the only consideration she receives comes from her friend Mitch, who tries to help her. But she shrugs him off, as her alcohol-induced confusion daily reinforces her sense that life has dealt her a losing hand and that she is not to blame for the mess she has made of it. Glimpsing imminent perdition, and after a chance encounter with Elena, a Mexican woman, Julia convinces herself—as much in panic and despair as for financial gain—to commit a violent act. As the story unfolds, Julia's journey becomes a headlong flight on a collision course, but somehow she makes the choice of life over death.

Sitting down with Zonca (and a translator he barely needed) at the Magnolia offices, I drank up his every word on alcoholism, unlikeable characters, the Helmut Newton photo that stuck in his mind, why he's different from Ken Loach, and of course, Tilda Swinton—with whom I would also chat about Julia in that same room a week later.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

Julia is now out on DVD.

 

Blog entry 08/18/2009 - 4:55pm

Laurent Cantet By Jonathan Marlow

"The tendency of cinema now is to be more and more connected to reality. If you look at the selection of films at the Cannes Film Festival this year, it was obvious. I think it is because the world in which we are living is more and more complex. It is becoming difficult to find a place in this world where you can ask these questions. Cinema provides a good place to ask these questions."

That's Laurent Cantet, talking with Jonathan Marlow about, among other things, his Palme d'Or-winning film, The Class. At GreenCine Daily, we've been collecting accolades for The Class from Cannes, the New York Film Festival and just here.

The Class is now out on DVD.

Blog entry 08/09/2009 - 9:57am

By Andrew Grant

[NB: Sion Sono was in New York last week for the New York Asian Film Festival, promoting his two latest films, Love Exposure and Be Sure to Share. I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss these films as well as his career as a whole, but our time was cut short owing to an overbooked schedule. Our too-brief interview was mostly spent discussing Love Exposure.—Andrew Grant]

sionsono.jpg

Japanese director Sion Sono is fascinated with borderlines. Whether addressing love and hate, good and evil, the individual versus society, or even the distinction between art and commerce, it's the precarious balance between the two that defines and runs through most of his work.

Though he's directed nearly twenty films over the past thirty years, Sono's work remains relatively unknown in the States outside of the fanboy/J-Horror circle, with whom he made a splash in 2001 with the cult film Suicide Club. Several other titles have found a life on DVD, but unlike his peer Takashi Miike, he's never found acceptance from the arthouse crowd. However, that may change with Love Exposure, his 2008 four-hour near-masterpiece that has been picking up praise and awards at festivals worldwide, and which was a surprise hit at the Japanese box office.

Blog entry 07/07/2009 - 11:52am

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

THE HURT LOCKER's Kathryn BigelowIn the great tradition of tough-guy filmmakers like Howard Hawks, Don Siegel and Samuel Fuller, Kathryn Bigelow is one of the finest living crafters of male-bonding genre films. It may seem an odd fit, as the beautiful, elegant, highly intelligent 57 year-old woman was educated at the San Francisco Art Institute with a background in painting; she's hardly the eye-patch-wearing, cigar-chomping type like her Hollywood predecessors. When I asked her about this duality in 2002, she responded with genuine puzzlement. Why would a woman want to make muscular action films? Frankly, why not?

Bigelow's latest, The Hurt Locker—easily one of the year's best films, based on journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal's interviews and experiences—revolves around the lives of three Army bomb techs (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty) in the last days of their Iraq tour, circa 2004. Yes, it's yet another right-here, right-now Iraq film, but it doesn't hurl any messages in our faces about the horrors or futility of war. It's not dreary, somber or self-serving. It's not about politics or politicians, wives or families, insurgents or Iraqis. Rather, we're presented with a sturdy combat film with lots of thrills and explosions and summertime-friendly action. It dares to suggest that, sure, war is hell, but it's not without its pleasures.

Blog entry 06/26/2009 - 11:31am

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