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SXSW 2013

Review: Cheap Thrills

Feb 24 // Sean Walsh
[embed]217292:41239:0[/embed] Cheap ThrillsDirector: E.L. KatzRelease Date: February 21, 2014 (VOD), March 28, 2014 (theatrical)Rating: NR  Craig (Pat Healy) is in a bind. Laid off from his crappy job, with a wife and infant child at home and an eviction notice to deal with, he finds himself at the bar. There, he runs into his old friend Vince (Ethan Embry), a guy in the business of 'collections.' Before long, they make the acquaintance of the super-rich Colin (David Koechner) and his smoking hot wife Violet (Sara Paxton). It's Violet's birthday, and Colin has money to burn, which results in him paying Craig and Vince to perform a series of ridiculous tasks. Before long, they wind up back at Colin's house, and things quickly escalate. Pat Healy makes a perfect everyman loser. Everything ultimately hinges on his need to provide for his wife and child and he takes to the role very well. Ethan Embry plays one of those guys you were friends with for a long time, but eventually grew apart from because he keeps fighting guys for no reason while you're out on the town, and plays that guy well. The really great thing about David Koechner is that every character he plays is essentially a lovable goof. Cheap Thrills adds a certain desensitization to that character that works perfectly for him. It's the Koechner we know and love, but he's so rich that other people are just pawns in his weird game. Sara Paxton spends most of the movie looking pretty and texting on her phone, only getting directly involved to further the game, and she's surprisingly effective. Cheap Thrills is a simple movie, really. Guy needs money, an opportunity presents itself, and that opportunity takes guy to a dark place. There a two main locations, a main cast you can count on one hand, and not much in the way of special effects. It's a very lean movie, but boy did it suck me in. I instantly was sucked into Craig's plight, myself barely existing from paycheck to paycheck, and have often thought of what I would do for easy money, and how much I would do it for. On top of that, I watched this movie with my girlfriend, and she asked me "Would you do X or Y to pay the rent?" She also walked out about two-thirds of the way through due to the subject matter. Any movie that sparks a dialogue and repels the squeamish gets high points in my book. There's really not a lot to say about Cheap Thrills. It has a great cast, a simple plot, and an effective execution. It's gross, it's violent, it's a little sexy, and it gets its point across without belaboring it. If you're in the mood for a dark comedy that will make you ask yourself the same questions posed to the protagonist of the film, Cheap Thrills is the one for you. And you get to watch two dudes race each other to poop on someone's floor. What's not to love?
Cheap Thrills Review photo
Dark, brutal, and David Koechner
Any movie synopsis that includes "black comedy" and "David Koechner" is an instant sell for me. Toss in Empire Records' Ethan Embry and the two leads from Ti West's The Innkeepers and my expectations will be through...

Review: These Birds Walk

Oct 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215136:39827:0[/embed] These Birds WalkDirectors: Omar Mullick and Bassam TariqRelease Date: November 1, 2013 (New York), limited release to followRating: NR The Edhi Foundation was started by Abdul Sattar Edhi. The charitable organization has many facets to it, including ambulance service, women's shelters, foster care, nursing homes, and rehab clinics. We see Edhi himself, a man in his late 80s or early 90s, bathing children using buckets and a basin. While directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq could have made a traditional documentary profile on the group and the man -- something inspirational and expected (which I don't mean in a dismissive way) -- Edhi instead says that they can find a portrait of who he is in the work his group does and the normal people that his organization employs and helps. The filmmakers turn their focus on an ambulance driver named Asad and the runaway children of a Karachi orphanage, particularly a boy named Omar. He's seen at the opening of the film rushing toward the Arabian Sea with an excited kind of abandon. I couldn't tell if it was twilight or dawn -- it's that uneasy in-between look of the sky and the light that always throws me -- but Omar's joy is palpable, both in running and in finally hitting the water; it's what being carefree looks like. As the film unfolds, we watch Omar and the other children of the orphanage fluctuate from piety, innocence, vulnerability, and rage. One child leads prayer with due diligence while a few of the other kids slap at each other and goof around. In little conversations between the children, none of whom could be older than 10 or 11 tops, they insult each other and smack each other around but then apologize like brothers. The only adults present are the filmmakers and their camera, which was probably held at abdomen or hip level to help immerse the audience in the world of these kids. I'd briefly mentioned the idea of the observer effect in my review of Matteo Garrone's Reality last week, and I think it's appropriate to bring it up here as well. Even though the vérité doc is meant to capture reality, the mere presence of an observer means that the observed will act differently. (It seems even more likely if the observer has a camera.) There's an extended scene where we watch the runaways play together. Amid the laughter and smiles, Omar sprints back and forth along a corridor, occasionally leaping into the air -- like his small, handmade kite on a short string, this is the closest he can get to a full sensation of flight. But then things get brutal. A skirmish begins between Omar and one of the other kids, which escalates into a full-blown fight. Omar gets pinned and the bigger kid keeps telling him to calm down and apologize. Instead Omar just shouts a muffled, "I'll fuck your sister," his face on the ground. It's so raw, it's so real, and maybe some of it's an act of some kind. I have no doubt these kids get rowdy -- they're expressing a rage of abandonment and bleak future, but also expressing the freedom for boys to be boys -- but I wonder if some of it was played up because someone was actually paying attention to them. In the Q & A after the screening, Mullick and Tariq both acknowledged this, and this kind of acknowledgement is made in These Birds Walk as well. Though they also said that the children have barely seen any films, maybe just one or two Bollywood movies in their lives, so their sense of vamping for the camera is much different than people from the West, or more well-off citizens of Pakistan, I'd imagine. What's interesting is how Mullick and Tariq refuse intervention, let their camera hold the moment, and do their best to observe and do only that. If the moment of roughhousing was initially a kind of acting out for the camera, it suddenly becomes real again -- it's only the moment of roughhousing and suffocation, the second where the camera disappears and there is only the need to break free from being held down. It's a wonder that the directors were able to find some beauty in all this heartache and sadness, which may be another one of those distancing things about documentaries -- we are with the world of the film because we feel a closeness to the subjects but always apart from it through our ability to aestheticize. The children sleep by candlelight, and in that half-lift dark, Omar says a prayer to be reunited with his family. The camera is on him, but he is absolutely sincere about what he's saying. He doesn't countenance the camera. There is only the flame and his wish for family rather than temporary foster care, for real siblings rather than this brotherhood of the lost and abandoned. It's beautiful, it's heartbreaking; we are with Omar but only always watching. Asad, who I mentioned earlier, drives an ambulance for the Edhi organization, but is also charged with picking up runaways and returning runaways to their actual families. We watch different kinds of reunions. One is tearful while the other foreboding. Some of these runaways left their homes because of abuse or neglect, and to return to that home means something far less desirable than the care of the Edhi Foundation. Perhaps returning home is more dangerous than life out on the streets. Omar's family lives in a very dangerous part of Pakistan, one which people would generally avoid given its close association with the Taliban. Yet Asad has to make the trek to return this boy to his home, which should be an answer to Omar's prayers. And yet given the other children, given the reality of Omar's life, I wondered what would happen. Going back to that shot at the sea, we're at a spot in between day and night. Omar asks Asad to stop at a mosque so that he can pray before they continue his return to his family. Once out of the ambulance, Omar takes off running. The camera darts through the crowd trying to keep up. Is he running away again? Is he simply excited? In moments like this, my intellectual concerns about observer effect and the way filmmakers affect reality are moot. This moment -- the excitement and all the ambiguity wrapped up in it -- is true. The camera struggles to capture reality like chasing a runaway kite.
These Birds Walk Review photo
A vérité look at Pakistani runaways and a group that helps them
Many people who hop into documentaries casually expect a certain amount of overt filmmaker guidance -- voiceover narration, talking head interviews, infographics, archival footage; anything to help impart information. Yet the...

Review: Zero Charisma

Oct 11 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215045:39792:0[/embed] Zero CharismaDirectors: Katie Graham and Andrew MatthewsRating: N/ARelease Date: October 11, 2013 (VOD/iTunes, New York) Scott (Sam Eidson) is a late 20-something living with his grandmother while hosting a weekly tabletop RPG with his friends as the sometimes overbearing Game Master. When an opening comes up in the three-year-long game and with no interest from any of Scott's other "friends," he desperately recruits Miles (Garrett Graham). However, when his friends begin to gravitate towards the much cooler, hipper Miles, a psuedo-rivalry is started between the two. Zero Charisma hones in on these two drastically different types of nerds, as Flixist Editor-in-Chief and I defined as the nerds and "the nerds."There's Scott, who is sometimes narcissistic, constantly demeaning towards his friends, and a generally unlikable guy. Then there's Miles, who's cool, calm, and collected, yet prone to moments of being "holier than thou" with his undercover nerdiness.  The funny thing about Zero Charisma is that these characters are people I've both known and seen in my life. Their portrayals are extremely accurate, right down to the wardrobe choices of Scott and Miles. They contrast between Scott's metal-inspired vests and shirts and Miles' cardigans and band shirts. But beyond their physical appearances, their performances were remarkable. You can't help but laugh when Scott goes into a hissy fit, yet immediately feel terrible about it right after. It's this sincerity that helped make Zero Charisma so good. Scott is unlikeable character from beginning to end, but you can empathize with him. Again, this might be due in part because I'm accustomed to people like him, but you understand that his personality isn't rooted in bad thoughts but in a troubled past where he found an escape in tabletop gaming. Once that is taken away from him, you feel for him. He's still rotten and acts outrageously, but at least you can understand why. Zero Charisma is a funny film that has just as much heart as it does laughs. Honestly, I wasn't really expecting a heartfelt, feel-good film going in, but I'm glad that it ultimately was an entertaining film. Considering the process the filmmakers went through to create the film, it's great that Zero Charisma was an ultimately good film. Alec Kubas-Meyer: I wrote about Zero Charisma before it was finished, back when it was running a second IndieGoGo campaign hoping to raise finishing funds to get it to South by Southwest. I asked the filmmakers some questions and did something both because I found it interesting and because I hoped it would help out. But somewhere in the back of my mind was a nagging fear that the final product wouldn't have been worth my time or my readers' money. When the first reviews came out of SXSW, I breathed a sigh of relief, because I didn't want . I was excited for the film to come to NewYork, so I could see for myself what I had recommended to people.  Fortunately, the film had its New York premiere at Comic-Con. I honestly can't think of a more perfect place to play it. The press was corralled together in two rows while the regular moviegoers were scattered throughout the audience. I only mention this because it was interesting to see what different groups laughed at. Sometimes the critics would laugh hysterically while the rest of the room was relatively quiet. But there was constant laughter, not because it was bad (like the subject of the Best Worst Movie, Troll 2, which was the directors' previous project), but because it was genuinely funny. I know nothing about Dungeons and Dragons; table top RPGs have never particularly appealed to me even as several of my friends have joined a weekly game and told me of their exploits on the high seas. It's one of those areas where most of the people in that room probably grasped some of the subtleties a lot more than I did, but it didn't make a difference in the end. This isn't really a story about the game, even if that is the apparent focal point. It's a story about the people who play the game, and what it can make them do, and what it means to play games. It's a strange film, in part because its main character never really grows up. He's an aging man, but he acts like a teenage brat, and that's true for almost the entire movie. The ending gives him the slightest bit of redemption, but for the most part it's an unending downward spiral. Scott does something stupid, then something stupider, then something stupider, and Zero Charisma follows him down that rabbit hole. But that's how people are sometimes, and the interplay between him and the others was consistently fascinating, even if it hurt me to watch some of the more awkward scenes. But even then, I laughed and laughed and laughed. The film is a celebration of nerd culture that will appeal to people who aren't nerds. That's one hell of an accomplishment. 81 - Great
Zero Charisma Review photo
+9 Hilarity
There are nerds, and then there are nerds. Nerds may like to flash a retro gaming shirt or spout Star Wars trivia, whereas nerds tend to obsess over their interests and fascinations. It's cool to be proud and comfortable...

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Coldwater trailer, poster feature Flixist quote


I'm as giddy as a schoolgirl right now!
Oct 08
// Geoff Henao
One of my most surprising films of this year's SXSW was Coldwater. Directed by Bellflower's Vincent Grashaw, the film's depiction of an abusive, questionably run reform/boot camp resonated with me strongly, attaini...

Review: Don Jon

Sep 27 // Allistair Pinsof
Don JonDirector: Joseph Gordon-LevittRating: NRRelease Date: January 18, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival), March 11, 2013 (SXSW) Jon lives in an era of the transparency of porn. Hard cocks and jiggling boobs are shown in detail and freely available every waking hour on the internet. Sexual suggestion is now reserved for TV ads of a girl in tank top eating a cheeseburger while almost but not quite having an orgasm. Don Jon is a tool, a Guido, a chump, to be dismissed on first glance. Yet, Gordon-Levitt makes him a likeable guy and a sympathetic victim of his environment. Jon would fit right in with the cast of Jersey Shore, but somehow his machismo is endearing, calling to mind John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or Rocky. He`s self-centered but not without heart. Wanting to discover a new plateau in his sex life (excluding porn), Jon courts ("long-term game") Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), an inarguable "diamond" according to Jon. Though he can`t see the point of romantic films any better than his older female friend (Julianne Moore) can see the point of him watching porn, Jon surprises himself with the lengths he goes to win this girl over. In the end, the sex is just sex -- a far cry from his coveted porn collection. Gordon-Levitt gives Don Jon a repetitive rhythmic pace in both editing and scripting. Sequences of porn browsing, club encounters, and road rage repeat throughout the film, mirroring the loud energetic but ultimately monotonous music blaring at the clubs Jon frequents. The camera work is also accelerated, often circling around scenes with great speed. The persistent use of music paints a strange mood around the film, blending hyper club anthems with a traditional string score and electronic glitch effects. Don Jon is a familiar love story that never feels like one. After all, it's a film about a narcissistic macho man who falls in love with sex. What makes Don Jon so great is the personality Gordon-Levitt brings to his material in both direction and performance. Undeterred, Gordon-Levitt examines porn's effect on society while keeping the film innocent and insightful. Geoff Henao: Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes his writing/directorial debut with the fascinating Don Jon. While still fundamentally a romantic comedy, Gordon-Levitt touches on much deeper themes, such as the "stereotypical" portrayal of masculinity and how men feel as if they have to live up to such expectations, as well as a look at unrealistic depictions of sex in porn and how "real" sex is nowhere like the fantasy sex displayed online. However, Gordon-Levitt uses comedy and humor to address these issues. What results is a smart (probably the smartest) rom-com that isn't heavy-handed. Sometimes, the move from being in front of the camera to behind the camera can be hard, but with Gordon-Levitt's many years in the business, the transition was fine-tuned. From the editing to the acting to the script, Don Jon just feels like a labor of love. I hope and pray Gordon-Levitt acts for the rest of his life, but if he ever does decide to permanently move behind the camera, Don Jon is proof that he'll be perfectly fine in the director's seat. 85 -- Exceptional
Don Jon Review photo
That's some good jerkin'
Our rabid consumption of media informs our lives and habits as much as our upbringing. For Jon, that media obsession is porn. When he isn't debating what number to rate a girl at the club, he is masturbating three times a day...

Review: Rewind This!

Aug 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215061:39802:0[/embed] Rewind This!Director: Joshua JohnsonRating: NRRelease Date: August 27, 2013 (iTunes) Tackling the whole of the home video revolution in one documentary is a hefty task. There are so many angles that you can approach the VHS format from given what it meant for consumers and film enthusiasts throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The initial way in for director Joshua Johnson is the VHS collector community. We start out in a flea market browsing through the bins, like we're on some kind of dig through the recent past -- it's even shot to resemble home video on magnetic tape. It makes sense to start with the collector community. In a lot of ways these people are the hearts and hubs of the VHS world today. Not only are they actively hunting for rarities and trying to fill holes in their collection, their passion for the format is infectious. These collectors of VHS are like movie geeks par excellence, and their home décor reflects that sense of authentic, easily earned instant cred: a Hausu poster, eccentric organization methods, niche interests. One collector named Dormarth specializes solely in horror. In his attic he's sorted his thousands of VHS movies into personally created sub-genres and sub-categories. He's also wears a Nekromantik t-shirt, so you know he's legit. Related tangents: The first time I heard about Nekromantik was back in the mid-90s when I was trying to buy some bootleg VHS tapes online. I think the first time I saw it was on VHS. And on the note of Hausu, many of my friends who went to NYU in the early 2000s discovered that film thanks to a VHS copy at Kim's Video in New York. (Kim's is now sadly defunct, and its 55,000-title VHS and DVD collection donated to Salemi in Sicily, Italy.) These stories of VHS discovery are not unique to me or my friends. The collectors and denizens of video stores know these tales well, and some of these rarities highlighted in Rewind This! are a hoot. The one I need to see ASAP: an awkward, two-hour western shot entirely on VHS. While Rewind This! could have just been profiles of collectors and their passions, it expands outward from these individuals to what the VHS format meant for the history of film (and porn!). Suddenly the consumer was in control of their ability to view films rather than the studios. With video stores, people were able to browse, hunt, discover, be surprised, and be disappointed; and with video stores came an in flux of wacko movies to meet demand. The format wars are covered as well, highlighting why VHS won out in the market over Beta, complete with vintage commercials (much more charming than commercials today). The film also gives time to highlight essential to direct-to-video and sell-through heroes, like Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, Full Moon's Charles Band, and Basket Case and Brain Damage director Frank Henenlotter. A few of the tangential aspects of the VHS market get quickly picked up and then dropped, though only because these is so much to cover when it comes to the format. Tape trading, for instance, gets a brief mention, highlighting the legendary short documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot and the on-camera cursefest of Jack "Winnebago Man" Rebney. And yet there's one aspect to tape trading that wasn't touched on: the MST3K tape circulation campaign. But while this wasn't included, I concede it's more of an MST3K thing than a VHS thing per se, and it'd be hard to sculpt that into the film. Again, the VHS topic is so vast that leaving a few things out is unavoidable and necessary. What you don't get in one spot is more than made up for by those unexpected alleys an eddies of the VHS world: outsider artists, unused box art, a look into home video marketing that goes back to the strategies of Roger Corman and other B-movie mavens of the day. As Rewind This! winds down, the film switches from profile to history to outsider chronicle to a kind of call for advocacy and action. There are so many films out there that only exist on VHS, and the format's life is limited. Slowly, all the magnetic tape is losing its quality, and soon all there'll be is static and flickers of disturbance. Few beyond the collectors are taking VHS preservation seriously, and yet there's a legitimate fear of losing thousands of hours of film history forever. In the case of movies shot on VHS, it's almost like losing punk fanzines; in the case of movies never issued on a digital format, it's like losing bits of cinema history -- in both cases, it's a kind of sad cultural memory loss, though it may be the cruel nature of any history, whether of ancient civilizations or entertainment. While worrying about what the future will do to these objects of the past, the interview subjects in Rewind This! wonder what the loss of the movie in artifact form means for the future of watching film. We lose VHS for DVD and Blu-ray, and we're losing the physical discs for clouds and other forms of digital delivery that don't involve a physical component. While it's a technological step forward, it may be a step backwards for people who love film given the access and ownership provided by the physical artifact the film is printed on. And with trading and swapping things to watch, it's hard to say what these digital communities mean for members who don't have to hunt, swap, or interact directly with others in the community -- that was what tape trading and video stores provided, in a way. I wonder if there will be a similar love for DVD and Blu-ray 10 years from now. There's something about analog technology that's sexier than digital stuff -- look at the vinyl resurgence -- so I'm not so sure. (Okay, maybe audio cassettes or 8-tracks don't have as many champions, and there are hardcore laser disc collectors out there.) The love may be there for DVD, but it won't be the same, at least for one generation. I can't see a love letter/historical record like Rewind This! made for DVD or Blu-ray. This is more than just a trip down memory lane and more than just a love letter. It's the fondness for your first love -- video stores, VHS, the hunt -- that leads to a lasting obsession in entertainment and the archaeology of its past. VHS, baby, where would we be without you?
Rewind This! Review photo
The home video revolution will not be demagnetized!
Even though there are some holdout shops in certain parts of the country -- notably cities with major movie scenes -- the video store is now a dusty ruin of history. A downright ancient part of these Parthenons and Acropolise...

Flixclusive Interview: The makers of Rewind This!

Aug 26 // Hubert Vigilla
So what prompted all of you to get involved in a movie about the VHS and home video revolution? Christopher Palmer: Jooooooosh... Josh Johnson: The initial prompt was the number of people that I had seen or known there were still collecting video tapes years after they'd stopped being manufactured. They were all doing it for the same reason, which is that there are a lot of films that were only available on that format that haven't maybe jumped to other formats. So it was this sort of amateur archival effort to preserve and continue to have access to these films. And I started talking to people, I realized that there was a kind of subculture or community that could be plugged into, of people who were really passionate about this. And not in an exclusive way but in wanting to share this material with people. And that seemed like a good thing focus on for a film. The first thing I did was talk to Christopher about coming on board to shoot and edit and help out with the film. And [Christopher] brought on Carolee as a producer, and the three of us sort of talked about other types of angles we needed to explore so it wouldn't be such a narrowly focused documentary. That's how we came up with a lot of the other angles and approaches that the film takes. There's so much you could have covered with the subject matter. What made you focus on the different aspects of VHS that you have in the film? Christopher Palmer: Umm, the desire to get as near to 90 minutes as possible. [laughs] [laughs] Christopher Palmer: We had so much content and we were talking to people-- I mean we were talking to filmmakers, collectors, and people who were distributors, and all different kinds of people involved in the story. As we developed and as we traveled, someone would bring something up and all of a sudden we'd realize, "Oh, shit, we need to focus on artwork!" or "Oh, we need to focus on this other thing." And so we asked all of those questions as it was appropriate to each individual person, and we just tried to distill it into a feature-length that would be digestible. We really do have so much content that's still excellent. It's not like this is the bare minimum. It was killing babies the whole time getting rid of a lot of this footage to get it down to that length. Hopefully it'll be extra features or something. Like on a three-tape set. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Josh Johnson: Another part of whittling it down was also evaluating all of the comments we had on a particular subject and then considering whether or not when added together it would be worthy enough to be an addition to the film. So we may have had several interesting comments on a particular subject, but it still didn't feel like there was enough weight or information there that actually deals with that subject, and then the decision was that it'd be better to not get into it at all rather than get into it and not feel like we covered it properly. Christopher Palmer: Yeah, like laserdisc. We were going to hit laserdisc hard, and then we kept looking at it and were like, "Well, this was a transitional phase; this was another format. Are we going to hit every format? How much weight can we give it and do it right?" And then we realized that we can't. We have to move on. You know, mention that technology exists but just moving it forward to VOD and where we go. There's a community of VHS collectors. Did you ever find a Beta-collecting community anywhere? Carolee Mitchell: Not Beta. We talked to lots of laserdisc collectors; or lots of people who collected laserdisc, or some people who specialized in it. We found people who had a few Beta here or there, but not like specifically Beta collectors. I don't think we even heard about anyone who did that. Josh Johnson: Yeah, the only thing that I've seen is that recently there is a Facebook community for Beta Max collectors and it's very, very small. Like maybe 30 or 40 people, or something like that. That was just recent and that was the first time I'd ever really encountered any kind of group of people that were actively collecting Beta. Christopher Palmer: And remember that [VHS and Beta] were going head to head with the same movies coming out at the same time. VHS has so many movies and videos of weird stuff out there that only exist on VHS. With Beta Max, you could have all that stuff on VHS. There was really nothing in particular that would make you feel like, "I have to have this Beta Max" other than the desire to have something that's weird. And most people don't have a machine that'll play it, which I understand. Can you talk about some of your favorite local video stores growing up? Obviously a lot of the love and passion for VHS comes from those places. Josh Johnson: For me growing up it was actually not a video rental store for the most part. It was a video rental section within the local grocery store. Oh nice! Josh Johnson: I would explore the aisles and eventually kind of memorize the stock that they had, because they didn't really get new stock in more than a few times a month. So I would kind of go with a new title in mind that I wanted to get or an older title that I needed to have or wanted to revisit. And for years that was really where I went to. It wasn't until I was older that we had a local chain video store. For the most part it was that small operation out of the grocery store. And it eventually became really significant for me because when I was old enough that my parents let me ride my bike to the grocery store by myself, they just told them to put me on their account and I could rent whatever I wanted. So I would ride almost every day and get a new video and return them the next day on my bike and just keep that cycle going. I was able to see a lot to movies. Christopher Palmer: For me there were two stores. One was attached to a supermarket. It was attached to a Kroger. I don't know if you know Kroger's -- there was a Kroger Family Video. And it was cool that it was called Kroger Family Video because they had all these horror posters up and this fantastic horror collection: all this really raunchy, weird stuff. And so, you know, I worked my way through like all kinds of mainstream classic comedy stuff, but I also got to lots of horror that way. And then when I decided that I wanted to know a lot more, there was this place called Hastings. And this is like Texas stuff, maybe. I'm not sure if it's just the town that I grew up in, but they had an extensive collection, including weird shot-on-video stuff that nobody really should have. It was just amazing that in this town that may not be considered a cinema town the rental store had so much selection for you, and you could explore any genre. Carolee Mitchell: And I grew up in the tiniest of all of the towns -- I grew up in a really, really, really small Texas town, and we had two locally owned video stores, one of which is still open. Seriously? Carolee Mitchell: Like tiny, super mom-and-pop. And then there's another one there that opened a little later. We didn't actually rent that often. We recorded more than we rented. Like renting was something really special for us. My family didn't really have much money at all so we did a lot of recording and rewatching things from TV, but when we did rent it was definitely something special. And so we had all kind of agreed what we wanted to see and that was the route we went. Though when I got a little older, of course, we'd go with friends and would pick out movies to see over a weekend. There's sort of a resurgence, especially in the Brooklyn area lately, of local video stores. I still haven't had a chance to schlep to any of them., unfortunately. Have you guys made your way to any? Carolee Mitchell: We've been to Video Free Brooklyn. Christopher Palmer: Yeah, that place is nice. Carolee Mitchell: It's kind of amazing. Didn't he have a Kickstarter campaign for that? Carolee Mitchell: He did. Yeah, yeah. It's fantastic. I kind of pride myself in really knowing film well, and they have stuff I've never heard of. It's very small -- tiny, tiny small; about the size of a walk-in closet -- but just amazingly curated. It's pretty fantastic. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. We've got in there and seen movies or even labels that we've never heard or never read about. Carolee Mitchell: It's definitely something special. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Do you all collect VHS yourselves, or at least some nostalgic items held over from childhood? Christopher Palmer: Oh, we all collect VHS, but different types of things. We all have our own interests. Josh Johnson: Yeah, I think what's consistent amongst the three of us as far as VHS collecting goes is that we're all really interested in things that are only available on that format versus artwork that we like or just nostalgia that we have for a particular title. It's usually more of an archival thing, that we want to have access to these films that we love because VHS is the only way to have that. Christopher Palmer: Sometimes you have to check your titles and say, "Did this come out on DVD?" or whatever, or some format. You know, "Is it supposed to be widescreen?" "Is it accessible?" "Okay, now it's time to take it out and give it to Goodwill or a friend or something." Actually, I did appreciate that pan and scan moment in Rewind This! because for the longest time when I worked at a video store, people would keep wondering about the black bars thing. It rang sadly true. Carolee Mitchell: Oh, when my dad started buying DVDs he bought full screen because he was exactly that person who didn't want to have the black bars. So he would buy almost anything -- if it was available full screen, that is what he'd buy. And no arguing would make him change his mind. [laughs] Christopher Palmer: But it's so weird that the marketing industry has allowed up to or encouraged us to think about aspect ratio so that we buy this new format -- it was another reason to buy DVD -- and then so we eventually buy the new TVs to fit that. But it's an education, that process. Josh Johnson: It's interesting that there's a generation that's much younger than us that now has primarily experienced things via the widescreen set. So it was important for us to in the film to visually represent the things that we were talking about so that it could be absorbed by people that didn't go through this portion of home video history. How did you decide who to interview in the film? Obviously you had to choose from a wide range of people. Josh Johnson: We interviewed twice as many people as you see in the finished film, so a huge part of it was covering as broad a range as we could without necessarily knowing what things we would ultimately focus on, and then whittling that down in the edit. Initially we started talking to collectors and filmmakers and each time we would do an interview that would lead to four other suggestions of interviews that we could or should do. And we just kept following the trail wherever it went and thinking of new angles to explore. And once we got into the editing room, that's when we really figured out which topics we were going to get the most out of. Christopher Palmer: It's a very organic way of creating a documentary, just getting everything and figuring it out from what we had and what people are telling us, not trying to lead them anywhere -- what did we really need to tell this story. Carolee Mitchell: And we can't forget to mention how important social media was in this. We were all very involved in Twitter, Facebook, so tons of recommendations from people and people reaching out to us saying, "I hear you're making this doc. I have someone that you need to talk to." So that played a huge role on the production of the film. Josh Johnson: Absolutely. We got a lot of recommendations from people we did not know and had no interaction with whatsoever. They became aware of the film and reached out to us. You guys Kickstarted the film. Josh Johnson: Yeah, for completion rather than the upfront funding, so we'd been working for a couple years before we launched [a campaign on Kickstarter] to get the funding to complete it the way we wanted to. How was the campaign? I've always wondered about crowdfunding through social media. Was there a learning process involved? Carolee Mitchell: Well, like we said, we're pretty involved in social media so we did a lot of research about the best practices. We had already been prepping any press outlet that we had friendships with and let them know that this was coming a few months before we even launched it. And then just following best practices and being very explicit about where the money is going. I think the fact that we already had so much put into the film helped us get the funding. It's a lot harder of you haven't started it and haven't put anything in to get people to give you money. But we have a great trailer, you know, we have a great teaser for it that showed the quality of what we're doing, the quality of the people involved. I think that people had confidence that their money was actually going to lead to something that would be finished and successful. Josh Johnson: The other thing that I think was really significant about it was that because we were so active in social media in cultivating an audience, we had a large audience for the film in place before the Kickstarter launched. So not just journalists, but there were also people that were becoming fans of this film before anything actually existed. When the Kickstarter launched, they were already right there aware of it and ready to contribute. Let's get back to the collectors. With the collectors that you interviewed, did you find any commonalities in their personalities or differences even? Christopher Palmer: Well there were different kinds of collectors, for sure. There were ones that all about collecting en masse. There was certainly that. And there were some that I feel like were much more about the hunt: going out to flea markets, garage sales, and just that process. And then there was like Dormarth, who were just about getting horror and breaking it down into sub-genres. There were different kinds of collectors out there. Josh Johnson: One commonality that we found that was very surprising to us -- although I suppose it does sort of make sense on a certain level -- is that there was a huge overlap between VHS collectors and professional wrestling fans. Really? Interesting. Josh Johnson: So many of the people that collect videos that are featured -- I mean, we don't get into it in the movie -- but in their personal lives, they really are passionate about watching professional wrestling. They may even tape it or have viewing parties. There was a lot of overlap. Carolee Mitchell: That was surprising for me. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. What do you think the explanation for that is? Josh Johnson: I think just that professional wrestling in the form that it's primarily known as now is something that really got popularized in the 80s around the same time that the video culture was booming, so I think it's a nostalgia for the same time. But there's no obvious overlap for me. I mean we're all passionate about home video, and yet we don't have any interest in professional wrestling. So it was a surprise to us. I guess it kind of makes sense. I remember when I was still really into wrestling from age 10 to 18, I'd tape pay-per-views. Maybe that's part of it too? I don't know. Christopher Palmer: I mean, nostalgia is a huge aspect to this, but it's access too. We don't want anyone to believe that there's some sort of arrested development going on with our subjects because there isn't. I mean, there's so many different reasons to appreciate VHS and it's still relevant today, which I think is the message to come away with. And taking two steps back to what we were talking about a second ago, it's a testament to how universal this story is; how powerful the home video concept was: to own it and control it. We were getting support from all over the world. All over the world people were like, "Here, yes. We want to encourage you to continue and make this project successful." How do you think streaming and online video have changed the way people experience movies? Carolee Mitchell: There's definitely a mass consumption aspect now, right? I mean almost anything you want to see is available immediately and you're able to sit down and watch films 24 hours straight without ever getting out of your couch, really. [laughs] There is something about the fact that there is so much media that's instantly available. I don't know what that says, but there's a complete difference. Christopher Palmer: There's a perception of infinite access. It's this idea, and I think it's false, that we have so much control and we can see anything we want at any time. And yeah, you can download things, you can bit torrent things, you can watch things on Netlflix, and we have a great deal of control, but in some ways we don't. And I feel like that's something people need to talk about now. You pay this money and you access this [digital information], but it's an ephemeral thing, and it doesn't exist in a way that you can resell it or hand it to a friend to say "Watch it." And, you know, what does that mean for the future of being a film consumer? Josh Johnson: What the home video revolution changed more than anything else about our relationship to movies was that concept of ownership. Once people had ownership over their movies they had a sense of entitlement to have access to these movies. It was considered dangerous to the studios because they no longer had that control to give or take at will. What's interesting about the streaming phenomenon is now going [against that]: the studios can grant or deny access at will. So the perception that the access is unlimited is in fact kind of false. The streaming revolution is probably the closest the industry has ever been to the way it was in the 1930s, when studios had a monopoly on the entire distribution system. A movie is no longer an artifact -- it's intellectual property and digital information. Josh Johnson: Exactly. And the control is completely in the studio's hands. What do you think that spells for the future of how we consume media? Especially if it does wind up going in that direction. Josh Johnson: That's a good question... It's difficult to speculate, but I think one thing that's going to change is that physical media is probably going to go away beyond being more than a nostalgia item, and there will be a lot of access to a large library of films. What I think is going to go away is the ability to truly see anything that you might want, because [studios are] going to make things limited for a certain amount of time, they're never going to pull their entire catalog and then digitize it. So the need to maintain some of these physical objects as they are released is going to be more important, because they're no reason to assume that they're going to be available in any other version, whether it's on a cloud or something else. And this sort of amateur archival effort is happening now with videotape collecting is going to become more relevant and more important, because it really will be clear that it's going to be the only way to be seeing this material. Are there any professional VHS archivists who are working or is it just the network of collectors? Christopher Palmer: I mean aside from the torrenting community -- which is really all it has been up until this point to get VHS content out there that's only on VHS -- there are a few start-up archives that want to digitize [VHS] and make this stuff available. Nothing is widely available at this point. Josh Johnson: It's starting to happen but there's a lot of resistance within the archival community because there's been so much time and investment put into celluloid archiving that to step away from that to start working on this is something that not a lot of people are very interested in doing. The reality is that the timeline is more urgent for video than it is for a lot of celluloid. Christopher Palmer: Celluloid's going to keep for a while. It's more stable-- Carolee Mitchell: If properly taken care of. Christopher Palmer: If properly taken care of, yeah -- it doesn't catch on fire. [laughs] [laughs] Christopher Palmer: Magnetic tape is [more finite]. They were saying 30 years, roughly? Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Have they starting to notice a lot of magnetic tape starting to go kaput? Is it just a matter of getting blurred or a steady degradation over time? Christopher Palmer: It's a gradual degradation. It's not like it's gone. It's just more-- I don't know how you'd describe it. It's looks like tape wear, you know? It looks like more and more tape wear. Josh Johnson: Yeah, the actual timeline is not really definitive. Some tapes are aging better than others. It's hard to know exactly what the lifespan is going to be, but that's exactly why it's urgent that this material be preserved as soon as possible, because the timeline is so vague. The nature of nostalgia is something that I'm always interested in. You talked about the commonality of pro wrestling with collectors. Are there any other nostalgia items that are common to VHS collectors? Christopher Palmer: That we've encountered? Yeah. Christopher Palmer: Some people were into [audio] tape cassettes, which was interesting because I don't know if it's possible that there are things on tape cassette that are not on vinyl or on a CD. But I feel like that is something that people are definitely harkening back to earlier time to appreciate. Carolee Mitchell: A lot of the people that we talked to and a lot of the people that we know who are collectors really are focusing [on VHS]. I would say that with the majority of the serious VHS collectors, it's not nostalgia-based -- it is access-based, that it's not available anywhere else, and if you want this movie, it has to be VHS. So it's necessarily nostalgia. Christopher Palmer: Yeah, I think it's so easy... We're very forgetful in this modern age. Something new comes out, and we're ready to adopt it very quickly, which is cool -- you know, we appreciate that, and something movies forward. But then we forget what we just had, and maybe even throw that stuff in the garbage. I know for myself, and this is kind of stupid, but when DVD came along I was so excited about 5.1 surround -- you know, I knew what that meant -- and widescreen -- I've been wanted that for a while. And I gave away my tapes. I gave away my tapes, and I kind of regret that, and it took me a few years to realize that there are a few things [with VHS not on DVD] and I really should give up on this format for the new one. Josh Johnson: That's not to take away from the function of nostalgia, which is also obviously a part of the film. As far as other commonalities like professional wrestling, I'd say skateboarding is something a lot of people had a lot of nostalgia for, and skateboarding was a popular thing in the media [of the home video era]. And also just a general kind of love for underappreciated cultural touchstones: things that were meaningful when you're 15 that people dismiss when they're 30. A lot of people that are motivated by nostalgia are really holding on to certain artifacts of a particular time of their lives and they want to be able to continue to celebrate it. I totally have to ask about that shot-on-VHS western. Christopher Palmer: Ah yeah. Like seriously, how is it to watch that? Is it really as awkward as the clip in the documentary? Christopher Palmer: Every. Single. Scene. It's under two hours but it feels like three days. [laughs] Christopher Palmer: But it's magical! I don't know. Josh? What do you think? Josh Johnson: It is absolutely that awkward, but it's also that unique. I mean, it doesn't feel like any other movie; it certainly doesn't feel like a conventional western. Most shot-on-video movies tend to be action and horror, so even on that level of other amateur films it doesn't really feel similar. So it's a very unique experience. Good or bad, it stands alone. Christopher Palmer: And that's one that you cannot get on a bit torrent. You are not going to be able to find. Still VHS only. Christopher Palmer: Yeah. Is there a prize item in any of your VHS collections? Carolee Mitchell: Well, we have more of a Holy Grail item that I know Josh has been looking for. Josh Johnson: I've really been trying to find this movie called Science Crazed. [embed]215120:39812:0[/embed] Science Crazed. Josh Johnson: Which I've seen but don't have a copy of. It's a Canadian film that was shot on 16mm independently in the late 80s and then realeased direct-to-video in 1991. And it's a feature film comprised of about 45 minutes of footage and they stretch that out to a feature length by recycling the same footage over and over into different contexts and new scenes. And it's sort of a fascinating editorial [experiment] to watch and study how they use a limited amount of footage to create a full-length movie. It's just nowhere. Carolee Mitchell: We can't find it. We know a couple of people who have it-- Christopher Palmer: And one of them was a star in it! [laughs] [laughs] Josh Johnson: There were probably hundreds of tapes made but, they just seem to have fallen off the radar. We haven't been able to find any. It never turns up on eBay or the Amazon marketplace. Carolee Mitchell: We've been looking. [laughs] Christopher Palmer: And what's amazing about this era was that the people who made this film were able to go to mom and pop shops and be like, "We've got this movie. You should rent our movie!" And they sold this movie directly to the mom and pop store. You'd never be able to do that. You certainly can't just walk into Netflix's headquarters and be like, "You need to put this on Watch Instantly!" [laughs] Christopher Palmer: It's just not going to work that easily. There's a structure now. [But back then] it was so fast and loose that just anyone could do that. Josh Johnson: It was a wild west industry during the early years of the home video era, and it's really exciting to think about the film industry in those terms.
Rewind This! Interview photo
Josh Johnson, Christopher Palmer, and Carolee Mitchell talk VHS love
With the documentary Rewind This!, director Josh Johnson has created a fine overview of the VHS era, covering the many different facets of the home video revolution. It's not an easy task to tackle the whole format from diffe...

Review: You're Next

Aug 23 // Matthew Razak
[embed]215074:40602:0[/embed] You're NextDirector: Adam WingardRated: RRelease Date: August 23, 2013 You're Next is a home invasion thriller/slasher. You know the ones where a group of people are holed up somewhere and they start getting picked off one by one by some psychotic killer. Those can be fun, but rarely does one come along with a story as clever as You're Next'. Erin (Sharni Vinson) arrives at her new boyfriend's rich parent's house for their 35th wedding anniversary. We're quickly introduced to the disjointed family which consists of mom and dad, three brothers, one sister and their significant others. In short, plenty of people to kill. And kill they do, as a group of men in creepy animal masks starts to slaughter them off. These killers, however, didn't count on Erin being a trained survivalist and all around ninja. It's this little point that turns the move from a slasher with some cool kills in it into something a whole lot smarter. By empowering the clichéd female lead into a total kick-ass (her first kill is something out of a kung-fu movie) they flip genre conventions on their heads to the point that you wonder who the real psychotic killer is. It makes for a great story and an even better horror movie since it's actually, you know, interesting. Vinson also lends the semi-ridiculous character of Erin a bit more believability by presenting a far more layered heroin than you'd expect from a film where machetes penetrate multiple skulls. Of course this is a slasher film, and all the genre analysis and clever story telling don't matter a lick if the kills aren't good. You're Next's kills are some of the best I've seen in a long while, which is even more impressive because most of them are so simple. Director Adam Wingard takes kills we've seen a thousand times (machetes, slit throats, arrows, etc) and either reinvents them or delivers them in such a great way that they seem utterly original. Plus, the penultimate kill at the end is easily one of my favorites in any film and had me applauding when it landed. One last note is the movie's soundtrack, which absolutely blew me away (a bit too literally as the theater's sound system was cranked to 11). It's a modern update on the driving scores of 80s slasher films and almost perfectly executed. Sound is such an important aspect of horror films and You're Next's score is what ties this film together and turns what could have simply been a lot of great blood and gore into something that is truly scary and thrilling. Now that Lionsgate has picked it up this is a movie you're going to need to track down and see once it hits theaters in August. Even if it doesn't get a wide release this will hit VOD and start spreading as a classic thanks to word of mouth. Smart, inventive and wickedly fun, You're Next is what should be next in your horror movie lineup. Alec Kubas-Meyer: You're Next gets something of a pass because, even though it's being released in 2013, it was made before Cabin in the Woods did its modern deconstruction of the horror genre. It's still unforgivable that the characters split up when in danger (and the survivalist protagonist lets them do it), but less so. In 2013, that stuff won't fly, but in 2011, it could tepidly get off the ground. But even though the movie's a few years old, it's still one heck of a good time. You're Next isn't really traditional horror, and it certainly isn't a traditional home invasion story. Once the motivation's out of the bag, it goes from a horror film to more of an ultra-violent thriller-comedy. The thrills are great, the comedy is freaking awesome, and the violence great too, even if some of the kills (especially at the end) are over-the-top in a bad way. If any of that sounds good to you, it's hard not to recommend this one to anybody who wants to see both rich people and their assailants get mercilessly slaughtered. Good times, mate. 83 - Great
You're Next Review photo
Up next: great horror
It's been a long road for You're Next. The indie horror film has been in development since the earlier 2000s and even once it was finished it took more than a year to find a distributor who would get it out there. Lionsgate e...

Review: Drinking Buddies

Aug 22 // Geoff Henao
[embed]215041:40597:0[/embed] Drinking BuddiesDirector: Joe SwanbergRating: RRelease Date: August 23, 2013 Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) are really close co-workers working at a craft brewery in Chicago (Revolution Brewing, specifically). Besides making and selling the beer, their days and nights are spent drinking. Their tight-knit friendship, however, begins to inch towards uncharted territories when they inadvertently find themselves spending a lot of time together during a weekend outing with their significant others, Chris (Ron Livingston) and Jill (Anna Kendrick). Suddenly, the line begins to blur as their attraction to one another begins to blossom into something more. Further complicating matters are Kate's and Chris' problems, as well as Jill's pushiness for Luke to seriously consider marriage. With every beer downed, the tension rises between the two until a breaking point hits. Drinking Buddies focuses on those close, platonic friendships everybody has that always flirts with the notion of developing into something more. Swanberg hones in on the cautious flirtation and uncomfortable awkwardness that tends to result from such scenarios for the film's humor. Its appeal is broad, yet the jokes aren't ever fully thrown into the audience's face. Don't get me wrong: you'll be laughing out loud by some of the banter between Wilde and Johnson, but there are subtle cues that'll have you nudging the "close friend" sitting next to you. Kendrick shines in these scenes where the humor is low key as her facial expressions help sell the awkwardness between Jill and Livingstone's Chris. There's one scene in particular where a simple pause in her tracks sets the joke. The film is full of these little nuances accentuated by the actors' performances. The chemistry between Wilde and Johnson is spot-on and truly reflect the types of friendships I've had and seen in my life. Johnson just has this everyman appeal to him that perfectly fits his laid-back character, while Wilde is able to blend her sex appeal with a "one of the guys" disposition. Like I wrote in the review's subtitle, Drinking Buddies really is as refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day, whether it's a PBR or a local craft IPA.
Drinking Buddies Review photo
As refreshing as a cold beer on a hot summer day
Everybody always has that one platonic friendship where the line is constantly tiptoed upon that could lead to something more. As always, that move can never be made due to outside circumstances, such as a boyfriend or girlfr...

Interview: Drinking Buddies (Cast and Director)

Aug 21 // Geoff Henao
I had a video interview maybe half an hour ago. It was the first time I had makeup on. It’s weird. Anna Kendrick: Do you feel like you’re wearing a mask? No, not really. It’s very subtle, so I think she just touched up my natural beauty. I’m just kidding. AK: You’re glowing. Am I? Yeah. It’s beautiful. Jake Johnson: It’s probably a pregnancy. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was going to be set in Chicago. That’s my hometown, born and raised. How important was that to you [Joe Swanberg] to have it set in Chicago? And Revolution [Brewing], too, of all breweries. That’s actually a really amazing brewery. Joe Swanberg: It was really important, and [was] actually one of the things that Jake and I talked about at the very beginning. The possibility came up of maybe shooting it somewhere else. It was almost like if we don’t do it in Chicago, we might as well not make the movie. JJ: The financiers wanted us to go do it in Boston, and everything got very real. Joe and I had this talk where, “Okay, it works in Boston, and here’s how.” It just doesn’t. It’s a Chicago movie. JS: When I thought about the idea… It’s the first film I made where I was location-specific in that way, and I had ideas in mind. In the beginning, I wanted them drinking at the Empty Bottle; I wanted them playing pool in that specific pool room. How I pictured shooting it, and once I went in that direction, then it was fun to go all the way there and really make it a Chicago movie. But also, hopefully not in that kind of celebratory inside baseball way that I’ve seen in some films sometimes, where it’s like, “Alright, we get it! It’s Chicago!” But if you live in Chicago, it feels right to you. It’s the kinds of places these characters live. JJ: It doesn’t feel like it’s on a sound stage at CBS where they’re like, “We love Chicago!” JS: Let’s stick up [Chicago] Cubs stickers everywhere. That’s how I felt. It felt really natural to me, but still has that appeal to people who don’t live in the city, or aren’t aware of the city. They’ll understand, “Oh, a big brewery! A really nice bar/venue place, pool table, very distinct.” What was the… poop, I’m brain farting right now. AK: Did you just say poop instead of shit? Yeah. AK: Awesome. Sorry. What was the influence for the film? What inspired you to direct it? JS: A couple of things. Definitely craft beer. Just being, for about five years now, I’ve sort of been immersing myself in that world, and just really discovering it, just figuring out that there were such a thing as a craft brewery, and feeling like those companies were pushing the envelope. Also, there’s kind of a David and Goliath thing going on in craft beer right now anyway because the macro breweries control something like 92% of the market, and every craft brewery combined is the other 8%. It’s tough for them to get shelf space, it’s tough for them to convince people, especially in a bad economy, to spend extra money on a product that they could get for really cheap. All that stuff was interesting to me to think about, characters working in that world. I have friends that I went to high school with and friends that I’ve met since that work at breweries around Chicago, so I kind of starting to learn a little about that. I also wanted to make a movie… I just wanted the films to kind of grow up with me and sort of always reflect where I was at certain points in my life. As I look around at people that are going from their late-20s into their early-30s now, I’m seeing a lot of friends of mine really getting serious about the marriage question, and the idea of settling down. People have different responses to it: some people are really excited to make that commitment and do that, and other people really freak out and buck against it. I just wanted to throw a bunch of characters into that point in a relationship. The ending itself is kind of muted. That last scene is very silent, and it’s not the way more films like that would conclude. Did you have any other ideas? Did you shoot any other endings? JS: We thought about taking it a little… The additional ending wouldn’t have changed anything, but it was one of those instances where in the editing room, it became abundantly clear to me that that other scene wasn’t going to add anything to the movie. I’m really trying to think about that lately, making each scene important and valuable. And also, a lot of the influence from other movies I’m taking and thinking about lately have to do with having a somewhat satisfying ending, which is nice to finish a movie and walk out with a smile on your face. I think some part of me used to think that was really lame, and these days, I’m actually really excited about that. Ron Livingston: Well Joseph, you’re getting older. You got a son now. You got to think of the future. JS: I think you can get away with more. If you let the audience walk out with a smile on their face, they’ll forget that you rubbed their face in shit, maybe, for 90 minutes. I think it buys you a little bit with those people. That scene at the table, which was initially the second to last scene, as soon as I put it into the cut, I was like, “Okay, we’re done telling that story.” How do you guys feel about your characters? Jake, your character, I think, was probably the most innocent in that he never really crossed over that boundary, but was still tiptoeing that line a lot. How do you feel about your character’s guilt? JJ: I think that’s interesting. Olivia [Wilde] and I were talking about that, but I think that, and Anna and I had a discussion on this, but I think that Luke is pretty guilty. I think the lines are blurred. I don’t think there are necessarily good guys or bad guys in this movie, and it’s what I like about it. I think it’s a realistic look of people… I don’t think Luke is ready to get married. I think he’s very scared of that, but I don’t think he’s ready to lose Jill, so he’s in that tough spot that I think a lot of people get into. It’s like, “I’ve been in this long-term relationship. I don’t want to lose it, but I’m not ready to grow up and get married and take that last step.” This is his last kind of tango with this fantasy girl where everything falls into a perfect line of his fiancée, or soon-to-be fiancée is gone, here’s this other girl coming on hard, and then in the movie, he gets beaten up, cut up, and then he realizes he wants to go home. I feel that he’s guilty, and what he did, he shouldn’t be proud of, but in this movie, everybody’s got blood on their hands. Even Ron’s character, when I was re-watching, I’ve seen the movie three times… That’s a good segue, by the way. JJ: He’s a snake, too! They were on that hike, and I didn’t realize it in the first sitting, but he was planting these seeds of, “Oh, he’s making moves on her from the beginning!” There were a lot of laughs in the audience when you pulled out the wine. JS: I was so happy. When you say, “Had I met someone like her, you…” Obviously, when we were shooting it, [the reaction] was exactly what I was looking for. It’s so difficult to know whether that’s going to play. And it played so well. It hit well. It hit really well. JS: And everybody was instantly, “Ooooh!” JJ: Well, I missed it watching it. JS: Yeah, that’s what I mean. JJ: And when I saw it up there [at its premiere], I thought he was just like… I really like that thing of I missed it before. AK: I think I was worried, in that moment, it would feel just [controversial], and I could feel the audience going, “What’s her face doing?! What’s happening, what’s happening?! What is this moment?!” JS: I’m sorry to detour a little bit, but that’s why movies always still need to be shown in movie theaters. It’s great that people can order it and download it and watch it on their laptops, but you do not catch moments like that as well on your laptop. You just don’t. JJ: Well, I missed it until last night, because that whole thing you [Livingston] were saying about the whole, “15 years ago, if I would have…” I just thought Chris is just kind of thinking, and talking out loud, and getting into character. I didn’t realize he was making a play right then until the audience laughed, and I went like, “..what? Oh my god, this fucking snake’s at it!” When Anna did the move of, “I’m feeling nervous right now,” when I saw that, she’s taking the reins, so this is on Jill, but really from the beginning, when [Chris said], “Oh, you’re a teacher? That’s really impressive,” I was sitting there like, “Oh, he was making plays from the start!” Yeah, she was feeding off of his lines. And what you [Swanberg] were saying, too, about the crowd participation, you definitely miss that if you’re at home, in your dark room, on your laptop. AK: Also on your cell phone. JS: And checking your email occasionally. AK: Like just opening a window. I won’t miss anything important. JS: I can still hear it. Going off of what Jake said with your reactions. Your character is very awkward sometimes, and I really like that, because… I don’t know, you play that well. AK: Awkward? Thanks... yeah. I didn’t mean anything negative about that, sorry. Your character was very nervous, but she was innocent, too, except for that one moment. JJ: I get the feeling you were late with that part. AK: I mean, yeah. When we were making it, and then even, which surprised me, when I was watching it, I kept thinking like, “I should just say something. Just say something.” And I wasn’t sure what Joe was going to end up using, and I knew if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t use it. But even so, I was like, “Oh Anna, you are fucking it up. Say something!” But I think that’s who she is. She’s comfortable with silence. I don’t think it’s as much that she’s nervous. I mean, there are certainly plenty of moments where she’s nervous, because she’s in uncharted territory a little bit sometimes, but I think for the most part, she knows who she is, and that’s based on a person I know whom I’m very impressed with. I just wanted her to be comfortable just listening because she’s cool and she knows who she is and she doesn’t have to constantly chatter, which I have a tendency to do. What I meant with the awkwardness thing, your facial expressions, that’s what I meant. You play them off, like especially in that scene where Ron’s character starts spitting game at you, laying down that line. AK: Yeah, I think she is a little unsure of what to do with that… RL: Spitting game? JJ: The subtitle of this is going to be, “Ron Livingston is spitting game.” Sorry, that’s my hometown vernacular coming out. JJ: It’s perfect. He was. I’m a professional, guys. I’m wearing a tie! JJ: I didn’t realize he was spitting fucking game. AK: This is a girl who has been in a relationship since she was 21 and has just been comfortable with that and hasn’t really noticed other guys that much. And then it’s like, “Something… what is happening?” I think she’s a little in uncharted territory, and then she does decide to go for it, it’s not like she’s a victim. But I think that’s exciting that she’s like, “Oh, is something… is something happening?” JS: I think she’s so brave, too, to tell him… It’s something that I’m taking from Kris [Williams Swanberg], my wife. She’s so good at just talking to me and telling me things, whereas for me, any kind of indiscretion or thing I’m embarrassed about or anything, I’m just like, “That’ll get bottled up and never see the light of day.” That stuff starts to eat at you a little bit. Over the course of your entire life, all of the things you should have told somebody, but didn’t… those aren’t necessarily good to just live inside of you. I think that’s such a hard, brave thing to do to look at somebody you love and acknowledge to them that you hurt them or did something wrong to them. But then that’s how people heal and get over things. If everybody in a relationship was just, “Well, I did that thing, but I’m big enough to live with it. I don’t need to bother them with it. I don’t want to hurt them.” You’re just collecting scars over time. I really wanted that character… I think it’s just so admirable. It’s really important to me that that confession happen. And that he [Johnson’s character, Luke] doesn’t confess. He’s just like, “Oh, it’s fine. You’re forgiven.” What he’s really saying is, “I did it, too, but I’m not big enough to acknowledge it to you. I can’t reciprocate right now.” RL: I think that character is the one who, of all of them, is the most able to… She lives and dies by naming the elephant in the room, whether it’s, “We have to talk. The marriage thing is the big elephant in the room.” This kiss thing is the elephant in the room. I feel like, in a way, she kind of teaches everybody else, like you guys, you [Johnson] and Olivia, spend the whole movie getting to that scene in the end where it just hits you in the stomach where Olivia is like, “I’m single,” and it’s like [Luke goes], “Don’t go there, don’t go there, don’t go there.” But you finally need to go there and name what is this thing. And I actually like the fact that, I think Chris kind of gets from interacting with Anna, he actually becomes able to name the thing in the room saying like, “I’m too old for you. This doesn’t make any sense. I don’t know what we’re doing.” I don’t think he’s going to do any better. I think he’s probably either go do the same shit until he’s just old and dead, or find somebody his own age, but I don’t think he’ll ever be able to manage that. But that elephant in the room thing is big in this movie. I agree. Just like a little sidebar back to what you [Kendrick] were saying, you kind of implied that there was some ad-libbing and improvising. Did you stay as close to the script as possible? Everyone: There was no script. Oh really? Oh wow. AK: There was no script. There was no paper. JJ: There was an outline, so we knew what was happening. We knew what the story was, we knew what the scene was, and everything was blocked out, but all of the dialogue was improvised. The story was in place, but the dialogue was improvised. So the chemistry amongst you guys was real then. AK: Things got really weird. RL: It’s funny, because that goes a long way. We get to that first apartment, and you look around and it’s like, “Well, I guess I’m playing a guy who lives here. I guess he’s persnickety because this place is persnickety.” And then he says, “You need to put a drink on a coaster,” and it’s like, “Who puts Olivia Wilde’s drink on a coaster?” And it’s like, “Well, he’s that guy.” It’s like more constricting than having a bunch of lines. That’s true. That’s also how Chicago is. Every neighborhood is segregated, it’s a different a lifestyle, there’s different people. The area fits. Okay, final question: Beers. Do you guys have favorite beers? Especially considering [the film]. JS: I could talk five hours about it. Yeah, right now, if I had to take one beer to an island, it would be Three Floyds Zombie Dust. It’s an IPA. But that changes all the time. That’s just my “right now” beer. What about you guys? Any particulars? AK: I just tried a beer from my hometown called Allagash Curieux. It’s really nice. Jake? JJ: I’ll take a Stoli on ice. Ron? RL: Yeah, I’m going to demure on this one. Alright, thanks guys. That was awesome. 
Drinking Buddies Inter. photo
Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Joe Swanberg, and Jake Johnson walk into a bar...
On an early afternoon in Austin, TX, I had a chance to sit down with the cast and director of Drinking Buddies, which consisted of Anna Kendrick (End of Watch), Jake Johnson (Safety Not Guaranteed), Ron Livingston (Office Spa...

Review: Prince Avalanche

Aug 08 // Matthew Razak
Prince AvalancheDirector: David Gordon GreenRated: RRelease Date: August 9th, 2013 What's really impressive about Prince Avalance is just how subtle it is in how it balances drama and comedy. Most of the film could be interpreted as lighthearted, but behind everything is a powerful story packed full of emotions that aren't explained outright, but are constantly boiling underneath the films comedic exterior. There's a palpable sense of character and nuance behind the comedy that elevates the film above your standard high comedy.\ The story lends itself to this. Set after a fictional forest fire in Texas in 1987 the movie is the story of Alvin (Paul Rudd) and Lance (Emile Hirsch). Alvin has taken a job repainting road lines after the fire in a remote part of Texas and hired Lance, his girlfriend's brother, as a favor to her. The movie follows them as they paint lines and camp out and their lives open up in front of us through their conversations and interactions. This isn't a fast movie as all movement comes from conversations about the things in their life occurring and not actually showing what occurs. Everything is framed by the charred forest and ruined homes caused by the forest fires, and the scenery and story inform each other incredibly. This does mean that the film moves a bit slower than your average fare and it can feel like it's dragging here and there. Thankfully Rudd and Hirsch are easily at the top of their game throughout delivering nuanced performances that garner laughs, but deliver more underneath. In fact most of their laughs aren't pulled from gags or jokes, but from some truly impeccable timing on behalf of both actors. It's great that it works since the two of them are the only people on screen for the majority of the time; there performances only interrupted by Lance LeGault who plays an almost mythical country truck driver that prompts much of the growth of the two characters, and, metaphorically, the surrounding countryside. However, the best part of the film is with the movie's fourth performer who is an actual resident that the crew found sifting around her destroyed home. She gave Rudd, in character, a tour of the her house and it is absolutely heartbreaking. Director David Gordon Green admitted that the scene wasn't even in the original film, which is simply unfathomable once you see it as it seemingly drives both the narrative and the theme forward perfectly. It's one of those scenes that simply makes a movie. Prince Avalanche is probably Rudd's best comedy in a while since it isn't a comedy in itself. It's also an impressively simple film that hits all the right notes between drama and humor while telling the story of a devastated area of our country without explicitly telling it. By doing this it avoids heavy handedness and hits the core of its themes all the better. Hubert Vigilla: There may be two camps on Prince Avalanche by the time of its theatrical release: some will find it exceptional thanks to its insight into male loneliness while others will find it insufferable because of its extreme quirkiness. These two poles may be exemplified in the unique contradictions (in a good way) of Paul Rudd's character: a staunch and condescending outdoorsy-type who loves his me-time, takes everything he does too seriously, and sports a mustache reminiscent of Magnum P.I. or Werner Herzog circa 1981. I'm somewhere in between these extremes since there's a fair amount to admire in Prince Avalanche, much of it thanks to Rudd, who carries most of the picture on his shoulders. Rudd plays against type, while Emile Hirsch works as a foil to that character. It's the classic straight man and funny guy set-up for a comedy duo. Their dialogue expresses the bitterness of two opposites thrown together, but there's a sense that this enmity may grow into mutual understanding and respect. Explosions in the Sky was involved with the score, so that's cool too. But Prince Avalanche is a fairly routine/predictable buddy story. We all know what happens when a guy who needs to loosen up is paired with a dim-witted-but-well-meaning free spirit for an hour and a half. (The journey not the destination; yeah, yeah, sure.) Writer/director David Gordon Green frames this familiar plot in metaphors about rebuilding, relationships, and things lost forever. It's effective in spurts when driven by the performances. Sometimes the meditations on these themes get lost in the film's tonal shifts and moments of indulgence, however, which leads to occasional bouts of navel gazing. 59 -- Average
Prince Avalanche Review photo
What happens when Paul Rudd stops playing Paul Rudd
After the forest fires that destroyed much of the southwest this past year David Gordon Green wanted to make a movie set in the charred forests and ruined homes of the aftermath. What resulted was Prince Avalanche a film...

Interview: Paul Rudd (Prince Avalanche)

Aug 07 // Matthew Razak
What was it like being in that environment? It's a very shocking environment. Paul Rudd: It was really strange landscape. One I'd never been in before. The two things that I kept thinking about was just how far reaching that fire was. It was just endless the amount of charred trees and ground. And the smell in the air. Even though the fire had happened months before it was still there... and it was hot.  David Gordon Green: It rained a lot during production to, which we had to work into the narrative. If you were out there right now it would be bright and sun and that would contrast the darkness, but it was actually a mood that was very unique. To me it felt like you were in Eastern Europe somewhere, like a different civilization. The more time you spend in some place that feels so foreign and unfamiliar the more we created our own universe. It was very isolating, but it was only four miles away. Emile Hirsch: It was like an alien landscape. I enjoyed it, but it was an environment I'd never been in before. We were able to enjoy ourselves and marvel at everything. DGG: Everywhere you turned the camera it was interesting. It was like instant production value on the one hand, but it also brought a very valuable sense of a melancholy tone to the humor. I spoke about the rebirth and that was part of the beauty to me. On the one hand it's a very devastated community, but on the other hand you have these two guys creating a friendship. You see the little buds of trees popping up under these dead pines so the forest will be reinvented by mother nature just as these characters are being reinvented by their strange internal frustrations. What inspired you to create this film? DGG: To be honest it was the location, and it's the remake of this Icelandic film. To start it was the location. I've known Emile and Paul for a long time and I was look for that minimal vehicle that seems simple so that you can focus on performances with great actors. Sometimes you get caught up in the bigger movies. You've got 100 locations in 25 days and the money runs out and all those things. People talk about it as return to roots to indie movies, but it was simplified even more than that. Indie movies area pain in the but because you don't know where the money is going to come from. There's very little independent about making independent movies. That was the great thing about this movie because it was reliable so we could design the process from the get go to be very contained. It was all contained in this one area and it just had these two central characters. So, you know, assuming these guys showed up to work each day we were good to go. Did you notice a difference between reactions to the film at Sundance and at SXSW? DGG: The beauty of Sundance is nobody knew what the film was going to be. But I think the thing at Sundance is there's such an indie presence that everyone was going,  "Is this going to be some big hip broad comedy that we're going to make $100 dollars off of." That's what I think they were looking for. We went to Berlin, which I thought was amazing, because the German audiences aren't banging down the doors for comedy so they really saw the humanity of the movie and the little nods to the language tapes that Paul's character listens to. It felt like an American version of a European film to them so it was very interesting having that warmth there.  Yesterday, at SXSW, across the board this was the best reaction to the humor of the film. All the things that we wondered if it would work. You know, it's not a jokey movie, but the strange little reactions and things that are said. Paul referred to it as minor-key comedy, which is perfect. Seeing that comedy work yesterday was great. We made the movie kind of self indulgently so seeing people react to our self indulgence in a good way was very exciting. You mentioned this is a "minor-key" comedy, but you're known for bigger, more brash comedies. What attracted you to the restrained more dramatic role? PL: What drew me to the movie was David. I've been a fan of him for a long time and known him for a long time and thought this was going to be a great experience. I thought this was going to be truly artistic and get back to the root of storytelling.  In relation to the character I never saw it as being broad or being a guy who thought he was funny. In the way the opposite. I also never delineated between comedy and drama. I just played the truth of the situation and sometimes it was something strange and funny and others it was dramatic and sad. I was drawn to the idea of doing some kind of three dimensional character that doesn't fit into any kind of box.   Was it tough to play off of each other for almost an entire movie or did you really get into sync right away? PL: I met Emile on this, but I felt like we clicked together really quickly. EH: Once we started rehearsing and getting into it I felt like it was clear super early that we weren't going to have any problems getting it right. PR: We also had the real joy of having Lance LeGault come in and throw a monkey wrench into everything. That guy is a tsunami. He's so funny and so great. It's sad because he passed away after shooting. DGG: He did the greatest thing. He kissed the baby doll when he got out of the truck, which wasn't in the script. Like there was some other story there. I want to see that movie. Emile, what draws you to independent films more than bigger ones? EH: I didn't really think of this as an independent film when David called me. Even though budget wise it was small there's still very known quantities involved. As far as making the film I was super excited because David and I were going to make a film about 9 years ago that didn't happen and I was bummed so I've been waiting all this time. Why did you set the film in the 80s? DGG: The beauty of it was that you could really isolate these characters in that time period. Today you could just go out and get in touch with families easily. It was just a different time where your remote job would actually remove you. There's no one to call when you're tired of being with this jack ass. You have to look each other in the every day. That motherfucker may drive you crazy but you still need to sleep next to him in a tent while he's jerking off. To me the beauty of it is that they're in this cage in a weird way. The dynamic of the situation can really change. It was fun to be able to really just engage in those two characters rather than have all the up to date communication. I wanted it to be a interesting texture and not full of technology that was going to be out of date by the time it hit theaters. Can you talk about the older woman in the film who shows Paul's Character around her destroyed home (Joyce Payne)? DGG: That wasn't even in the script. It was just something that came up when were location scouting for the film we found her digging through the ashes of her home. One of my producers ended up striking up a conversation with Joyce and it come up organically. It was really amazing how open she was about her experience. It kind of became this strange documentary. We didn't give her lines. She just walked Paul through her home and Paul was basically directing that sequence. He followed her around and tried to keep her track. It just ended up taking on a real gravity and adding substance to the movie. It's real transition tonally in the movie.
Paul Rudd Interview photo
Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, and director David Gordon Green walk into a bar...
Prince Avalanche was one of my favorite films of SXSW and it was in large part thanks to the fantastic performances given by Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd. It was only after the screening that I remembered it was directed by Dav...

Interview: Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing)

Jul 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215124:39822:0[/embed] [Editor's note: A few of the questions and answers have been altered to avoid spoiling the events of the documentary.] I was struck by one of the things you said during the Q & A last night: if I remember right, you mentioned that The Act of Killing began when you learned one of your neighbors [in Indonesia] was a survivor of these atrocities. Could you elaborate on that? I was living in a village outside of the city of Medan -- a plantation village -- working with plantation workers who were struggling to organize a union, and in the aftermath of the military dictatorship it had been illegal. And I found that one woman I was working with -- she wasn't my neighbor, I think that got confused. She was a few [Editor's note: word unclear] down. But she was the main character in that film. She's a plantation worker who was spraying a weed killer without wearing a mask, and it was being ingested because on her lunch break it would be on her hands. It was destroying her liver. And it turned out that all of the people I was filming with were afraid to organize this union they were creating through any real activism because in 1965 and 66 there'd been [a union], and its plantation workers and its members were accused of being leftists and then put in concentration camps or killed. These people who were killed were the aunts, uncles, and grandparents of the people I was filming with. And with this woman [from that film], we talked about how we could tell the story of what happened to the victims faithfully, and it was this woman who suggested that I film the killers, and I could start right across the street with my neighbor. My gosh. Okay, now I see. I think that was part of the confusion. "Your neighbor is the one who killed my aunt." And that's how the process began. You mentioned that you'd interviewed many of the killers who committed these crimes. What were their reactions when you asked them to tell their stories? They were pretty uniform. I mean, many of these people were older, so I was hesitant. I didn't think I'd go in and ask them, "How did you kill people?" That wouldn't work, or you wouldn't assume that's going to work. So I thought, well, what I'll do is ask them about their youth. What I would start with was, okay, they were obviously retired older people so I'd say, "What did you do for a living?" You know, "What did you do before you retired?" And then I would get-- Well, starting with the neighbor, and it's typical, I asked, "What did you do for a living?" And he said, "Well, I'd been the security guard on this plantation, but I was promoted to being the manager because I had actually exterminated the communists on this plantation." And I'd ask, "What do you mean by that?" "Well, there was this big union here and they were all secretly communists, and I beat them up. I used to be very strong," and he'd show me his muscles and how he's still pretty strong, "and I'd beat them up until they were unconscious and then drown them in irrigation ditches." And he would just start laughing as he started telling me this, and he was telling me this in front of his 10-year-old granddaughter who watched on bored as if she'd heard this story many times before. So with each of the killers they were volunteering these stories. I was asking myself not only, "What did they do at the time," but also, "Why are they volunteering their stories? How do they want to be seen by the rest of the world?" Or in the case of my neighbor, "How did he want to be seen by his granddaughter and how did he really see himself?" And I realized that if I let these men tell their stories, they can tell it however they wish, and in documenting the process I would be able to answer those questions. There's a sort of glorification or hagiography about these murderers. Do you think there's anything unique about their place in Indonesian society? Is it a larger symptom of human nature in general? I think both, actually. I mean, of course when you meet perpetrators of atrocities, when you see perpetrators of atrocities in films, or you read their testimonies, they usually deny what they've done or they apologize for it. Here you have people who are doing neither, and I think the reason for that is that normally when you hear from perpetrators of atrocities it's already been accepted by everybody that this was an atrocity. That there's a crime. Or that the perpetrators -- even if they don't accept it in their hearts -- are forced to accept it because they've been thrown out of power. But here you have perpetrators who've won, who are still in power, who have retained their power through celebrating what they did because it's terrifying for the rest of society to hear genocide commemorated against the dead. So on the one hand you can say there's a kind of Machiavellian use of fear; the use of storytelling as an instrument of fear by the killers in this society. I don't believe that's as far as we'd like to think from our own society. If you imagine Native Americans watching westerns-- Yeah, yeah. It might be pretty upsetting and frightening, you know, especially in the early days of cinema. It was only about 100 years ago; [and they may have been] some Native Americans who remember the genocide of the 19th century. Could you imagine an old Native American watching a western, which would be a celebration of genocide? Or African Americans watching Birth of a Nation, with the Klan riding grandly to the rescue of white advocates of segregation and slavery. That's pretty horrifying. So storytelling can be an instrument of fear, and that's one part of it. But I think Anwar's story became very interesting. [Editor's note: Anwar is one of the killers who is featured prominently in the film.] And just before I go on about Anwar: I think one of the things I was trying to do was expose how stories were being used as an instrument of fear in society on the behalf of the survivors. It was a way of exposing a whole regime of terror. The woman who suggested that I film the killers said, "One reason we can't do this safely is because the killers are still in power. But if you film them and you film their boasting -- and they'll be boastful, and they'll seem to be proud -- if you film that, people will see exactly why we're afraid." I was seeking to expose this grotesque commemoration of genocide as a way exposing a regime of terror on behalf of the survivors and the human rights community in Indonesia. It turned out, in a way, that Anwar -- because his trauma is actually close to the surface -- he was particularly prolific in generating these kind of grotesque and absurd images of celebration of atrocity. But I think every time he does that, it's somehow actually a reaction to his incipient guilt, and that's the other part of this story. When he danced the cha-cha on the roof [where he murdered hundreds of people], he's not just saying, "To hell with my victims! I can dance on their graves!" Although that's what it looks like at first, or maybe the dominant image is that. But if you look more deeply there, he's trying to forget what he did because it haunts him, and so he goes and does drugs and drinks and goes dancing. Similarly, when he comes up with this crazy image of the victims waiting for him in heaven and giving him a medal to thank him for killing them, he came up with that right after playing the victim [in a murder recreation] and got very upset by it. So I think the celebration of genocide for the perpetrators is a way for the perpetrators to reassure themselves that they can live with what they've done. In a sense there's this tension between my trying to expose a regime of terror by working with a man to let him create these celebratory images of genocide, and his project of psychologically convincing himself and the world that what he did was okay. There's an interesting second part to that about storytelling as an instrument of fear because storytelling in your film also becomes a kind of instrument for moral understanding or historical understanding. Do you think the impulse to use storytelling to understand ourselves or to cause fear is interrelated? Or maybe they're diametrically opposed forces? I think you're making an excellent point, and it's one that I don't think I have great language for expressing yet. But I think it's absolutely what the film is doing. Because... Your point is of course correct. For the reasons I just said, I wasn't trying to lead [Anwar] into some kind of psychodrama. I was resisting that because I was trying to generate these allegories for their impunity. I think that's why it's so effective when that moment toward the end of the film comes -- it's about what he realizes on his own. On his own, exactly. The process is like holding a mirror up to himself. It's as though the image in the mirror is of his own creation, in the sense that it's giving someone a chance to paint their own portrait. He paints a little and steps back and looks at it. He paints some more and looks at it. He decides what to paint next. And at some point he realizes that this is not going to be a beautiful picture, and there's no way of making it a beautiful picture. It's a bit like The Picture of Dorian Gray, somehow. Just noticing all of a sudden as you create this image of yourself -- even if it is fantastical -- just how ugly the fantasy is. The other thing that's interesting when you think of it from the perspective of what Anwar's trying to do psychologically perhaps... Or my understanding of what he's trying to do: there's no option of him of making just glorious and heroic scenes; he has to show the killings. I think that's what he's trying to paint; that's what he's trying to distance himself from; that's what he's trying to make okay. It wouldn't satisfy him to just produce scenes like the waterfall and the fish, the scene with him as a loving grandfather. He needs to actually show the horror and contain it to distance himself from it in the same way that he used Elvis Presley music to distance himself from the act of killing when he was killing people. Do you still stay in contact with Anwar? I'm in pretty regular touch with Anwar. And tell me if I'm repeating something that you hear me say last night, because it was a long Q & A [and outside chat] in the lobby. [laughs] No worries. Anwar didn't want to see the film when we were finishing it. We knew exactly how painful it would be. And I certainly didn't insist because I knew what he knew was in the film, and I knew it would be hard for him. And then the film came out in Toronto and he was very emotional about it. I'm sorry, it was a big story and he was very emotional about being the center of a big story, and then he asked to see it. We set up this screening and he watched it. I was no longer able to be with him in person because it was no longer safe, but I was there on Skype. And he was very moved by the film. I was in touch with him a lot before he asked to see it trying to explain to him what was going on: why the film was eliciting this reaction, what's in the film, reminding him of what's in it, and explaining very simple things, like why it wouldn't be a good idea to come to the screenings of the film in Telluride or Toronto -- he wouldn't be seen as a hero. We had a lot of talks before he saw the film, and he said, "Look, Josh, I really need to see the film." He saw the film, and it was a very painful moment for him, but a very important one, I think. I know he cried. He said he'd remain loyal to the film, and indeed he has. It's kind of astounding. I was worried, I said to him, "You don't have to, Anwar. I don't want the paramilitary group to blame you," but they haven't. So far they've just blamed me and they've left him alone. Wow. And I'm in touch with him very regularly to make sure that this is still the case, and to help him out if there's any problems. You know, we care for each other a lot. We have a pretty deep relationship, and it's sad that it's such a pained relationship, but it's also kind of inevitable somehow. The film's been screened in Indonesia and obviously that's what causing a lot of this concern. What's the dialogue like about The Act of Killing in Indonesia? Apart from the military officers, the paramilitary movement, and maybe some of the corrupt politicians in the film, the film has been overwhelmingly embraced in Indonesia. In preparing for the release in the United States, we've been commissioning all of Indonesia's leading filmmakers to work together -- or five or six of them -- to document the way the film is traveling around Indonesia. People talk about it as finally showing in an undeniable way what happened to their society and the origin of the corruption and violence that characterizes their political life. So younger Indonesians who were too young to remember the Suharto dictatorship, who don't remember the anti-communist propaganda -- they know that something's wrong with their so-called democracy that doesn't reflect the people or doesn't express the popular will in any way, and they don't really know the origin of that. But then they see the film and they sort of think, "Ah ha, this is why." That moment of revelation. "This is our history." Yeah, that's how the youngest Indonesians were seeing it. And then people my age who grew up with the anti-communist propaganda, for them, as Adi says in the film, it turns the history around 180 degrees. And they always suspected that it was a lie. And in fact it was more than that they expected it -- they knew it. And the film for them, as I may have said last night, [it's like being] the child in the Hans Christian Andersen story "The Emperor's New Clothes." The king's naked and everybody knew it, but they were too afraid to say it. Having seen the the film, there's no going back. For people who are older who were involved in building this regime, I think it's been very devastating, because the film shows to some extent what they've been a part of. The editors of the leading Indonesian news magazines and media outlets I think have seen the film as an almost cautionary tale: "My god. Okay, we didn't kill people maybe like Anwar, but we're part of this." Because they knew they didn't kill people with their own hands, they have the courage to say, "We better deal with this now because we don't want to end up like Anwar on the roof." And so the Indonesian media, which is pretty much led by people who are part of this system, has been really brave in starting to talk about what's happened. The film has really been embraced by the media, by survivors, by journalists, by filmmakers, by everybody. We held a screening in a cinema in Jakarta. It was during a period when Jakarta had bad floods. We had 600 people, the cinema was totally full, with people sitting in the aisles, [and they'd been] walking through floodwater waist deep. We were in a part of the city that had a total blackout from the floods, and people were trying to get to the cinema in the hopes that there would be a generator around to project the film. Oh my gosh. And they had a generator. And stories like that abound all over the country. It is incredible, and Drafthouse [Films] is trying to document some of that now for the release of this film. I don't want to hold you up because I know you need to travel. My last question is -- and it's a broad one -- do you think as a filmmaker you have a moral imperative whether as a pure documentarian or an investigative journalist? Is there a moral imperative in your work? You mean in my method or my message? A bit of both. Because I think the method of The Act of Killing -- to focus on the killers rather than the survivors-- I think... I think that when the survivor that I was working with told me, "Film the killers and everyone will see why we are afraid," she was absolutely right. As I think I said earlier, when--. Oh, but I can't recall [if I did say this]. [laughs] If I did, then I'm sorry. [laughs] [laughs] Oh, no, no, no -- don't apologize. When I filmed the first killer, I felt like-- Did I just say this to you? No, this is new territory for me. Okay. So when I filmed the first killer it was my next door neighbor, I said that, right? Yes. And then I felt like I had to film every killer I could find. I felt it was my duty, my obligation. There was a moral imperative to film every killer I could find, because these were stories of world and historical importance with details of the massacre of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people that were going to be lost as these men grew old and died in a region where nobody had ever documented this. And I felt I had no choice but to do it. It was like a duty, and obligation, a burden that had fallen into my lap and I just had to deal with it, the way you deal with an illness, almost. And I think that there was also a sense that I had to continue with the project until philosophically, morally, politically, artistically the whole story was told as powerfully as I could do it. And I just kept going. I would shoot would with Anwar and we'd go to some deep place, and I'd realize we haven't shown enough of the political structure around him, and I'd have to go back to film with some of the leading politicians, but then we need more reflection from Anwar about what all of this means. It just kept going, and I felt compelled to make this as comprehensive as this could be without compromising the essential fact that it's not an exhaustive historical investigation but a portrait of a regime of fear now and how we construct our world through stories, and in ways that can be terrible. I think I felt compelled to continue, and I think I felt... I never doubted the moral perspective of the film, but some viewers who are resistant to the film will say, "Aren't you giving them a platform?" I think to myself, not only am I not giving them a platform, but I think back to what this woman said, "Film the killers and everyone will see why we are afraid." And I think that's just as true as ever, and the people who are asking this question ("Aren't you giving them a platform?") know that it's true as well but are too afraid -- and I don't blame them -- to deal with the consequences of the movie: we are all closer to the perpetrators than we'd like to think. I think some people reject the movie because it's too frightening for them to see a part of themselves in Anwar, or to see part of our society in that society, because the moment we do that, the whole edifice of the world being divided into good guys and bad guys, which is really an escapist fantasy, crumbles. And we have to deal with the fact that we are all perpetrators too; that our prosperity, our comfort, our lives depend on the suffering of others, particularly as we now precipitate a global ecological crisis. I think the moral imperative of the film for viewers could be maybe summed up thus: look at yourself, look at the world, and do not flinch from what's most frightening and most painful. And that makes sense given the entire approach. We go back to the idea of the mirror and the portrait: it's all about being able to observe what we're becoming and to look at ourselves. To just say one more thing about it, someone asked me this question somewhere -- I don't remember, maybe Berlin, one of the festivals -- "Did you ever feel that you just wanted to get out of there and go home?" I mean, did you? You know, when I first filmed a killer taking me to a place where he killed people... It was February 2004. It was two killers. They took me down to a riverbank where they were given busloads of people every night to decapitate. They were given over by the army from concentration camps, they were prisoners. And they chopped off their heads and went home every night. 10,500 people were killed at that spot according to some folio of Indonesian army notes that I came across in an office in Medan. And after showing me how these guys did this, one of the two death squad leaders pulled out a point-and-shoot camera from his pocket and asked my sound guy to take pictures of him and the other death squad leader posing with the river flowing behind them. And they started doing the thumbs up and V for victory. What? Oh my god! Oh my god! Right! But that was in February 2004. And in April 2004, shortly after I got back to England, pictures appeared in all of the world's media of American soldiers in Iraq giving thumbs up and doing the V for victory while torturing people. Yes. And I was making this film contemporaneously with an evolving nightmare at home where we were celebrating at home my government, who was not just condoning torture or practicing torture but denying it, but really celebrating it. Really, in a sort of "Yahoo!" way just celebrating torture. And the pundits were saying torture is too good for these guys. And they were not only doing that, they were getting methods of torture! Yeah, exactly! Guantanamo [got it] from watching Jack Bauer. Anwar got it from watching gangster films. So I felt as I was making this film -- and this is the fundamental moral position of the film, the final moral imperative -- that there's nowhere to escape to. This is not a story about a strange place where killers have won. Killers usually win, and they usually build their normality on the basis of terror and lies.
Act of Killing Interview photo
The director of The Act of Killing discusses fear, genocide, and storytelling
The Act of Killing was the most audacious documentary I saw at SXSW, as well as the most upsetting and politically charged. We'll have a full review of the film tomorrow when it gets a theatrical release thanks to Drafthouse ...

Interview: The Detroit protopunk band Death

Jun 27 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215133:39847:0[/embed] [Editor's note: Photos of Death and me are from Tank Alston, the band's manager. The images were posted  on the band's Twitter account: @WorldWide_DEATH.] I remember the first time I heard Death. It had to be two years ago when I was coasting around online looking for music to listen to. Up came "Politicians in My Eyes" and it blew me away. Bobby Hackney: Thank you. How'd the show go last night? Bobby Hackney: It was awesome. Dannis Hackney: Really, really awesome. Bobby Hackney: I don't know which one was better: the earlier show we did with Rough Francis or the one we did last night. But both of them-- Dannis Hackney: They were killer. Bobby Hackney: We had such a great time. Dannis Hackney: [directly into the recorder] Thank you, South By Southwest. Bobby Hackney: Thank you. [laughs] Can you talk about first being contacted for the documentary A Band Called Death and how that process came about? Bobby Hackney: Well, you know, after the Death discovery... Jeff Howlett was a man that I knew from out reggae band days. Dannis and I knew Jeff because he was a musician in a band as well. And it was funny, because after the Death discovery we were getting a lot of phone calls from all over the place. I mean we even got calls from celebrities who were interested in doing our story as a documentary. Jeff approached us, and he had this real heartfelt conversation with me and Dannis, but we still didn't know what the gist of it was. Of course, keep in mind, this was only a few months into the whole discovery, so we're still kind of like a deer in the headlights. "Where is all this coming from? How did this [happen]?" You know. So we're still mesmerized by this whole thing and Jeff says he wants to do a documentary. We didn't think that [the film] would be anywhere near the magnitude of what has transpired. We thought it was just going to be like maybe a local video, and we're like, "What, Jeff? You going to show this on public access? Is this going to be something we watch on Saturday morning instead of the cartoons? What's going on here?" Dannis Hackney: [laughs] [laughs] Bobby Hackney: He he told me, "Nah, I think this documentary is going to be really good. I think your story's compelling and I have some wonderful ideas." So we let him do a series of interviews, a series of test shots and things like that. And when we saw the first pass of what him and Mark were doing, Dannis and I looked at each other and said, "This is way more serious than public access. This looks really good." And so it just kind of snowballed from there, just sort of grew and grew. And we continued [our thing], and he followed us to Detroit, Chicago, New York, wherever we were playing. They did a whole lot of footage in Detroit, really took the time to contact our family and sit down and really have one-on-ones with a lot of our family members. So they got the story from all angles of the Hackney family, and about what we did in Detroit, and a lot of our neighbors we grew up around. Dannis Hackney: People who were calling the police on us! Bobby Hackney: Yeah! [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: [laughs] [laughs] Bobby Hackney: It just blossomed into a production that we had no idea would be on this level. About halfway into project, we knew that there was something special that was taking place. And then when I got the call one night and Jeff was as happy as-- Well, you know. He just couldn't calm down over the phone. I had to calm him down so he could tell me the news. Scott Mosier, who'd produced Good Will Hunting and Dogma, been involved with animation, won an Academy Award for a short documentary -- he wanted to get involved. Scott got involved and he introduced himself to us and our family. He's just a wonderful person in that he really guided us and helped us understand the whole concept of what this whole thing was about and where it could possibly go. So we were in. We were just totally in. So this has been the the culmination of a four-year project. Four years to make this movie. How long did Jeff and Mark stick around with all you guys? Were they just constantly around you? Dannis Hackney: Oh yeah. They went to all the gigs. They went to the hotel rooms. They interviewed old friends. We lived together for a long time on the road -- his camera crew, us, and the band. They went into all these cities and just did it. The more they did it, the more they liked it; the more they did it, the more we liked it. So it just kept going until it wound up becoming the documentary that we have. It's nice. It was Jeff or Mark who said just a minute ago that your brother Earl served as a kind of older brother and a father figure for you two. And I also have to say, he has one of the best laughs ever. Bobbie Duncan: [laughs] Dannis Hackney: [laughs] Bobby Hackney: [laughs] Yes he does! His laugh will be worldwide famous! But you know, him being the oldest brother... In the early 50s and 60s, that's the way the family hierarchy went. If you were the oldest brother, you really were like the surrogate mom and dad. Most of the time when dad was gone at work or mom was out of the house, you knew who second in command was, and that would be the oldest sibling. Dannis Hackney: That was Earl. Yup. Bobby Hackney: But you know the great thing about it was he never tried to dominate us in the way. Earl was great because he was the one that established the agreement that we all held with each other: that we wouldn't be against each other, that we wouldn't fight each other, we wouldn't try to make each others's lives miserable. We would always be in each others's corners. And that's the one thing I love him so much for. He was truly what a big brother should be. Dannis Hackney: He was a good big brother. [laughs] Can you talk you talk about that first show you guys played after the discovery? Dannis Hackney: Wasn't that Joey Ramone's Birthday Bash [2009]? Bobby Hackney: That was Joey Ramone's Birthday Bash. Mickey Leigh [Editor's note: Joey Ramone's brother] invited us there and, just like Bobbie said in the film, that was probably one of the most nervous days of me and Dannis's life. Bobbie Duncan: Mhm. Dannis Hackney: That's right. Bobby Hackney: It was the first time we were going to play Death music in front of a huge crowd in New York City. And, I'll tell you-- Dannis Hackney: Coming from being reggae! [laughs] Bobby Hackney: Being in that dressing room backstage at the Fillmore, you'd have thought that we were having kids. Dannis Hackney: Mhm. Bobby Hackney: We were pacing the floor like expectant fathers! [laughs] [embed]215133:39848:0[/embed] [laughs] Bobby Hackney: And Bobbie was trying to calm us down, and we're like just leaning on him. "You're the New York guy! You're in your element -- help us!" [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: [laughs] Bobby Hackney: And he's looking at us like, "Dude--" [laughs] Dannis Hackney: "--I have issues of my own!" [laughs] [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: "You've got to hold me up too!" You had so much pressure stepping in for David. Bobbie Duncan: Huge shoes. Bobby Hackney: Mhm. Bobbie Duncan: I had big shoes to fill. I mean, not even just the guitar playing, but David's just the influence [on the band] altogether. Just to be the guy who's like, "So who's playing the guitar?" To be that guy, you know? [laughs] Bobby Hackney: It took us a while to really get the stride of it, because there were so many emotional things, can we play the music the way we used to play it. I mean we know that we have a lot of young fans who have expectations when they hear those records. We were carrying all those kinds of burdens in those first few months of really doing the Death material again. And course with me and Dannis, with every note that we played -- and still to this very day -- with every note we play, we remember incidents and wonderful memories of Detroit. I had mentioned that to James Shapiro, who's the Drafthouse Films COO. I said during those times, between 1971 to 1976, we were literally joined at the hip. I mean, if you wanted to find any one of us, all you had to do was find one of us, because the other two would be very close by. [laughs] You guys were saying that you three are getting tighter and tighter as the band Death now. Bobby Hackney: Yeah. I like the fact that with the Death logo, there's that fourth dot outside the triangle. It seems so perfect, because it's almost as if David's watching over all of you. Bobby Hackney: Wow. Dannis Hackney: It's funny you mention the idea of being perfect because perfection is him. Bobby Hackney: That's right. Dannis Hackney: That's the godhead of our operation. Bobby Hackney: And David... That was his resolve. David was well ahead of the whole spiritual concept. He was well ahead of all that, I think, before me and Dannis. And I can say this because I was in school, Dannis had recently graduated or was about to graduate and was on his way to college in Detroit -- Detroit Technical College. So we were thinking about jobs. I was thinking about graduating from school. I had a part-time job. David was just thinking about one thing and one thing only, and that's the music -- hitting that perfection he wanted, writing the songs. I would get home-- Now, I had to write all the lyrics. David depended on me to write all the lyrics. And I would get home and I would have homework to do, and he'd be like, "No, man. You've got to write the lyrics for this song. Come on, I need this song right now. I need it now!" [laughs] Bobby Hackney: So, you know. [laughs] There was a lot of times I had to do my homework right before I went to school because I spent the whole evening with David writing songs! [laughs] And he would come to me with this music and he would say, "This is what I feel." Even with "Let the World Turn." He would describe it, and he would describe certain things, and I would have to come up with the lyrics, man, to match that feeling he would describe. I remember he was telling me the concept for "Let the World Turn," and he says, "Death is like when you wake up, you're really not going to know where you've been. Like when you wake up from a dream and you know it was a good dream but you can't remember the dream." That's where the lyric [comes from]: "Will you be glad when they let you off / Oh but you won't know really where you've been." When he saw the lyrics, he's like, "Man! That's it! That nails it!" And he used to come to us with those concepts. He'd come to Dannis and say, "Look, we need to sound like this." They used to work together at the Chrysler plant, and he was telling them about some machine that they used to hear all the time. [embed]215133:39851:0[/embed] Like some sort of industrial? Dannis Hackney: [Editor's note: Audio a little unclear, but piecing this together from memory.] Yeah, in the stamping room, one of those stamping things. Bobby Hackney: I didn't know what they were talking about, but Dannis got the sound that he was talking about. Dannis Hackney: He'd say stuff like, "Sound like a machine." Or, "Imagine a train. [Make it sound] like a train." Because, you know, we weren't formally educated in music, so we used actual things and themes to picture what we wanted to hear. Bobby Hackney: That train scenario is particular on "Rock and Roll Victim." Oh nice. Dannis Hackney: He was telling me, "The hihat's got to sound like chugga-chugga-chugga-chugga. Bobby Hackney: A choo-choo train. That actually makes more sense, though, musically. You're going for that really visceral feel. All: Yeah! As opposed to being like, "Oh, let's process this, or play at this speed." No. This. Has. Got. To. Sound. Like. A. Train. Dannis Hackney: Right. And I came as close to it as I can. So the background music doesn't get boring. [laughs] Bobby Hackney: [laughs] Have you ever considered combining the rock of Death with the reggae of Lambsbread? Dannis Hackney: Ehhhhhhhhhhh... Bobby Hackney: You know, it's just that the music that we played as Death in 1975 was so rock and roll pure. Yeah. Bobby Hackney: We've been tempted to do that, but it's almost like you don't want to mess with grandma's recipe, you know what I mean. [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: [laughs] [laughs] Dannis Hackney: [laughs] That's right! Bobby Hackney: I don't want to put too much salt in the cookie mix, you know?! [laughs] Dannis Hackney: The world's already got Bad Brains. That's true. Dannis Hackney: Bad Brains was very successful at it, and God bless them, but we kind of want to keep our thing pure rock and roll. Bobby Hackney: And they even tweeted to us, "Don't let go of your reggae roots, because we haven't." Right now I think that for all the fans, and there are a lot yet to come who know about Death but haven't seen Death live, we want to stay committed to them and give them what they want. For the time being, when you come out to see Death, that's exactly what you're going to get. Dannis Hackney: But you gotta remember: we may be a tad slower. [laughs] Dannis Hackney: Those guys were 17, 19, and 21. What is it like playing those Death songs now that you're older? You mention being a little slower, but obviously... Dannis Hackney: Well you just got to practice them a lot more. Me and Bob talked about that a lot. I'm said, "Look, man, I was 19 years old when I was sounding like a freight train." Now, I can sound like a train again, but that train might not be-- Instead of 100 miles per hour, it might be moving at 90. [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: [laughs] [laughs] 90's still plenty fast, though. Bobby Hackney: But the wonderful thing is that because we're now veteran players and we've been through a lot more musical situations, the music is a little more-- I don't know if I'd say it's easier to play, but you can really get into the whole rock and roll feeling. If you're playing rock and roll you can get into that feeling; if you're playing reggae you can get into that feeling; if you're playing blues, jazz, whatever. We fortunately didn't give up playing music, so we've got that experience going for us, which comes in really handy with the Death stuff. How much material did you record in those early days? Are there still a lot of tapes lying around unreleased? Bobby Hackney: There are a lot of tapes. We've got a whole catalog. You see those lyric sheets in the movie? Yeah. Bobby Hackney: Those are from our actual catalog. We have a catalog about this thick of nothing but Death songs that never made it to the studio. [Editor's note: Bobby measured out between his fingers something the thickness of a phonebook.] Oh wow. Bobby Hackney: We've got a lot of stuff. We premiered a couple of those songs yesterday at the early show, and the crowd just went wild for them. We have a new album that we've just finished with songs from that catalog, some songs that Bobbie has contributed, some songs that we've written together. What's the new songwriting process like with Bobbie in the band now? What is it like to create new Death music. Bobby Hackney: I'll let Bobbie answer. Bobbie Duncan: As a writer myself, first the opportunity had to come where Bob said, "Hey, let's start putting together a new album; let's start putting together some tunes." And I guess the process is the same. When David was around he had a concept he brought to the band. Like, "Hey, this is what I want you play, this is the music," but his writing partner were his brothers. For me, what I did in the first place was check out the movement and concepts of the Death music that existed and drew from the energy I was getting from that, and especially from my performances. I came up with a few skeletons, and one of the skeletons I came up with was a song by the name of "Relief." In order to keep the integrity of the music of Death, I could have completed the whole song on my own, but I said, "Nah, I just don't want to do everything in it." So I brought it to Bob and to make sure I got that same energy, he contributed to the song and Dannis contributed to the song. I think we still bring it to the table in the same way, but I just don't live under the same roof with them. Our roof is like the studio. [laughs] [embed]215133:39852:0[/embed] [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: We start with our writing process there, instead of like, you know, he's laying down watching TV, [and I'm like,] "Hey, Bobby, write these lyrics for me." [laughs] I don't want Bobby doing his homework in the morning. Bobby Hackney: [laughs] Dannis Hackney: [laughs] [laughs] Bobby's doing his taxes and you're like, "No, come on, I really need lyrics for this." Bobby Hackney: [laughs] Exactly. Bobbie Duncan: But you know, I think it's pretty much the same process in a sense, but again, I think it's just location. We come together at certain times during the week and we work on the projects like that. I know Rough Francis is playing here at South By as well. Bobby Hackney: Yup, they're here. And they're still here. What's it like having a family of music? Bobby Hackney: Well, you know, I think it just grows from what our mom instilled in us. We kept making the same thing available to our kids. We made music available to them, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. You see my three sons in [Rough Francis], Dannis's daughter plays drums, we have two other kids... I mean, it's a whole musical family. That's just been our family legacy, and we're just thankful for that. All the kids, not only do they respect what we do, but we kind of mentor them in music and I think that music with kids makes them more academically involved, it helps their social lives. You know, we try to just make music available to them as much as we can. [Editor's note: At this point Tank Alston, the band's manager, showed me a photo on his iPhone of a toddler at a tiny drum kit.] Oh! That is brilliant! Awesome! [laughs] Bobby Hackney: That's my grandson! He's the next generation. He's the next one coming. I remember at the Q & A after the screening last night, someone asked about what the band could have been called other than Death. [Editor's note: During part of the documentary, the band talks about how they almost dropped the name Death.] And I think Dannis replied, "Anything But Death." But were there any serious alternate names that you proposed but David shot down? Bobby Hackney: No, we didn't. Dannis Hackney: We really didn't pitch other names. Because we knew that his anger would go like fwooooossssh! [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: [laughs] [laughs] Bobby Hackney: Not only that, but we believed that Death was unique, and me and Dannis, though even we were taken aback like everybody else, I think we had resolved that we've got to make this work. Dannis Hackney: Yeah, we've got to make this work. Bobby Hackney: Especially after we heard David's concept. We had thought when he first did the name, "Please don't tell us you're going into places like gory rock bands. Don't tell us that." And he's says, "No, man. Look, this is the concept." And David always believed-- He called death a door. Now you notice on that Fourth Movement album there's a door at the top and there's the triangle? That was David's concept too. [Editor's note: The Fourth Movement was a gospel rock band that Bobby and Dannis started in the late 1970s/early 1980s following the dissolution of Death.] He used to say, "You know what? It's a shame we can't call ourselves The Doors. That's a great name that's already been taken." He believed that Jim Morrison had the same concept when he named his band The Doors. It's all about that mystery -- what's behind the door? When David told us that concept, it's like Death had opened up a whole new realm of life for us. So we had to stick with him on it. We had to. [embed]215133:39849:0[/embed] Do you think Death was ahead of its time or just unable to find a foothold in its time? Bobby Hackney: Well, we knew that we were doing something pretty unique at the time, we all did. We knew that there was hardly any other black band on the east side of Detroit that was doing what we were doing. We knew that there were other bands like The Chambers Brothers, and of course Jimi Hendrix had put together the Band of Gypsys. We always looked at that and said, "Well that's a black rock band." We didn't think that we were ahead of our time in our music. We just knew that we were playing some pretty hard driving rock and roll. We thought the fact that we were all brothers and that we were all black and that we came from Detroit playing rock and roll was unique enough. With the name Death. So we thought that was unique enough. We didn't think the music was going any groundbreaking, you know? [laughs] Bobbie Duncan: That's amazing, you know, because that's the first time I ever heard Bob say that. Myself, because we're all from the same era, I listened to the stuff. The first time I heard it, I thought it was ahead of its time. I didn't know you guys thought that. Bobby Hackney: No, we didn't. We thought that what was ahead of its time was our concept. And our name. Bobbie Duncan: Yeah, but the music was ahead of its time, because it was punk rock before punk. And, wow, just never heard Bob said that. That's wild. [laughs] Bobby Hackney: That's really true because we were just thinking of being like Alice Cooper. Dannis Hackney: Mhm. Bobby Hackney: We were thinking of being like Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, even though there were doing the tripping thing. Most of the bands we gravitated to were the three-piece bands. Dannis Hackney: The power trios. Bobby Hackney: Power trio bands, and really The Who. Quadrophenia made a big difference. They had put out Tommy. David liked Tommy, but the strings and horns and orchestrated arrangements of Quadrophenia -- he just said, "Man, this is where rock and roll is going." We knew that Jimi Hendrix had talked about that concept before he died, that he wanted to take his music into an orchestrated level, and David was convinced that Pete Townshend had the same concept that Jimi Hendrix did. He said, "This is what Jimi Hendrix was talking about doing with his music," after he heard Quadrophenia. Quadrophenia became like David's notebook. Like I said, that was the album: I would leave in the morning to go to school, Quadrophenia would be playing; I'd come back, Quadrophenia would be playing. And I mean all four sides. He tuned into all four sides, listening to the arrangements and the orchestrations.
Death (Band) Interview photo
The power trio talks rebirth and what it's like to be a band called Death
After speaking with A Band Called Death directors Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino, I had the opportunity to speak to the band Death itself. Bobby Hackney (bass, vocal), Bobbie Duncan (guitar), and Dannis Hackney (drums) were all...

Interview: The directors of A Band Called Death

Jun 26 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215132:39841:0[/embed] Do you guys remember the first time you heard a Death song? Jeff Howlett: The first time that I heard a Death song played was at the Rough Francis show. [Editor's note: Rough Francis is a band that was started by Bobby's Hackney's sons: Bobby Jr., Julian, and Urian. Their early shows involved the band playing songs by Death.] It was one of their first shows in Vermont at this place called The Monkey House. Bobby Jr. told me, "Come check out my band Rough Francis." And I said, "Well, what's that?" I was obviously curious. And he says, "My father was in a protopunk band in the 1970s called Death." "Oh... Death? But your father's in Lambsbread." [Editor's note: Lambsbread is a reggae band started by Bobby and Dannis from Death.] And so I went and checked them out and right then and there, the first song out of the gate I was like, "This is amazing stuff!" And just the whole show from then on just completely blew me away. So I hadn't actually heard a recording of Death per se at that point, but just Rough Francis playing the music, and it was definitely something special. Mark Covino: Do you think [Jeff's] talking to low? Well, yeah, maybe just a little bit. Mark Covino: Just a little bit louder? Jeff Howlett: Bump it up? Mark Covino: Because we've got this guy over here. [points at someone on his cellphone a table or two away] Jeff Howlett: Oh yeah. It'll be okay. [My recorder] will still pick you up. Mark Covino: I talk loud. I'm from New York. I don't give a shit. Jeff Howlett: Mark and I are very easy to distinguish. [embed]215132:39842:0[/embed] [laughs] Mark Covino: So yeah, how I heard about Death is through Jeff when he tried to get me to work on this film. He told me about it and I was already working on another project and trying to wrap it up. I told him, "I don't have time for your fucking movie, I'm sorry, man." [laughs] Jeff Howlett: [laughs] Mark Covino: And I was like, "You know what? Send me some links, like two tracks or the song you keep talking about. Send me the New York Times article. Send me the synopsis for how you see this film being put together." He sent me that email and I blew it off for about two weeks, and he was probably thinking, "Well, I guess that's all said and done." Then I had one of those "I'm a depressed filmmaker trying to make movies and I'm not making movies right now" [moments]. Let me see what he was talking about. I like rock and roll. I made a documentary on hip hop and I'm not a huge fan of hip hop, so this might be fun, and at the time Jeff wanted to do a 20-minute doc, so I said, "Okay, this isn't gonna be any longer than like a month shoot." [laughs] Mark Covino: I read the New York Times article. Was floored. Read his synopsis. I was sold. And when I listened to the two tracks by Death, I fell out of my seat. Jeff Howlett: [laughs] Yeah. Mark Covino: And I called Jeff immediately and I said, "We're making this project and it's going to be a feature. There's no way we're doing it as a short." Why had you envisioned it as a short doc originally, Jeff? That's fascinating, actually. Jeff Howlett: Yeah. So I originally thought of it as a short doc just simply what we had so far. I don't know -- I think it was sort of the naivete of not knowing how large this project could actually be. I knew it was an interesting subject. You know, the songs speak for themselves. You put the vinyl down and you listen to that 45 and it just pops. [embed]215132:39845:0[/embed] Yeah, the sound [on a Death song] is just nuts. Jeff Howlett: You know. Err, if you're lucky enough to get a Death 45, you know? [laughs] They're like $800. Mark Covino: I was listening to MP3s and I was sold. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: You just listen to the music and you just know. It's something special. And just wow. My first thing listening to their music was, "Wow, this is amazing stuff." Like just recorded, sonically -- I'm a musician as well and that's kind of how Bobby and I met 20 years ago. I was in a band, and obviously he's in Lambsbread. It's just sonically speaking from that perspective. I just knew that this was something special. Mark Covino: The music pretty much let us both know that we needed to make a movie. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: Yeah. [laughs] Whether it be short or not. Mark Covino: [directly into the recorder] By the way, I'm Mark: the annoying loud guy. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: Yeah, I think we've established that. [laughs] What was it like contacting the Hackney brothers and talking about Death for the first time? Jeff Howlett: I actually had a conversation with Bobby Jr. I had a conversation at this coffee shop in Vermont called Common Ground, of all places. He was in a band called Common Ground, believe it or not. [laughs] Years before. Anyway, weird coincidence. We met there, had a coffee. I said, let's talk about this Death thing and obviously Rough Francis, because it was sort of going to be a doc about two bands kind of. Makes sense since it's completely a family story. Jeff Howlett: Right, it's a family story. So we sat down and talked about it and I said I haven't talked to Bob in a few years-- Mark Covino: Bob Sr. Jeff Howlett: Bobby Sr. [a beat] I call him Bob and his son Bobby. [laughs] There ya go. Jeff Howlett: So we sat down and had a conversation and I just knew in that conversation that we could make this happen. When we sat down and actually started talking about... I did a first interview to sort of just feel it out and get sort of the broad aspects of the story. Right at that time is when the New York Times article hit. When I saw that article I knew we had to document this story right then and there, that's when we started, right when that article hit. I mean, there was an article previous to that and when it came out it really intrigued me. I was like, "Man, I really need to sit down and talk to Bob and Bobby about this." I mean sitting down for that one-hour interview, me and Bobby Jr., I was sold. This story is-- It can't stop at the New York Times article. This has to breathe life. I was going to film school at the time, and that's when I met Mark. Mark Covino: I thought we met in juvie. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: [laughs] Yeah, during juvie. Mark Covino: That's a whole different story altogether. During a knife fight or something. Jeff Howlett: Yeah, right, right. Mark Covino: He stabbed me. Jeff Howlett: [laughs] Yeah. How close is the structure of the film as a finished feature to the original synopsis? Jeff Howlett: Oh wow. Mark Covino: It is way different. You know when I called him up and said we were doing a feature documentary. I said, "We're doing a feature rockumentary." [laughs] Our original idea was to just show a bunch of live shows and a few segments where we're interviewing them in the green rooms or something. Really? Mark Covino: Almost like the old documentaries Jeff Howlett: Mhm. Mark Covino: The more we started them and learning about the real story, the more realized that it was a family story as much as it was a music story, and that completely sort of wrote itself as we were going. On the writing side of things it was pretty easy because it's there. Jeff Howlett: It tells itself. Mark Covino: Yeah, it tells itself. Jeff Howlett: It really does. How much footage did you guys shoot overall? Jeff Howlett: Over 100 hours? Mark Covino: Close to 200 hours, maybe. In three years of shooting. And I always have to ask with documentaries, how did you sculpt that material into a film? Mark Covino: In the editing process? That was unique because we got an editor. Jeff Howlett: Mhm. Mark Covino: Originally I was going to edit. Jeff Howlett: Rich Fox is the editor, by the way. Mark Covino: When we got our producer Scott Mosier on board, he said, "Do you guys want to edit this?" And I was like, "Yeah... but I'm a little worried I might get burnt out. So I'd appreciate if you've got a list of people." And he's like, "Well, I've got a good friend named Rich Fox. He broke into the industry by directing and editing a movie called Tribute about tribute bands." Jeff Howlett: Mhm. Mark Covino: He's kind of into the material, and he also just finished editing the Ozzy Osbourne documentary. So I said, "Perfect." He did the Ozzy Osbourne documentary, he knows different video formats, because I shot everything on GoPros and HPXs. A whole gamut. Jeff Howlett: Super 8, the whole nine. Mark Covino: And Rich very quickly gave us a rough cut, like within a month. Wow. Mark Covino: He was just phenomenal. It was the backbone, it still needed the flesh put on it, but he sculpted it from there. But not once did we ever see him. Everything was communicated through email. Interesting. Mark Covino: And that's a first for me, and that's definitely a first for Jeff. How does that change your usual editing process? That seems-- Mark Covino: Usually I would sit down with my editor. Jeff Howlett: We actually cut quite a bit of footage prior to having Rich just to sort of give Scott and Matt [Perniciaro] an idea of what we have. Mark Covino: At the time we got Rich, Jeff and me cut a promo that we put out to let people know we were making the documentary, and then we cut a trailer to put out to let people know it wasn't the Mos Def documentary that was being talked about at the time. And then after that when we got Mosier interested, he wanted to see some footage just to see if it was worth coming on board as our producer. So we cut a 30-minute version of the movie. And none of that's in the movie... [laughs] [laughs] Jeff Howlett: Right. Mark Covino: But it'll be on the DVD, hopefully. You have footage of Death when they played their reunion show-- Well, not really a reunion show but kind of a rediscovery show. Mark Covino: The Detroit show? Yeah, exactly. Could you talk about the experience of that night? Jeff Howlett: Oh wow. Mark Covino: [laughs] That was pretty-- Jeff Howlett: Amazing. [laughs] Mark Covino: It was kind of surreal. Jeff Howlett: By the way, that was Mark and I with five cameras. Mark Covino: It was just us doing that show. Oh my god. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: It was a very interesting experience. Mark Covino: No sound guy. Jeff Howlett: No sound guy at all. Mark Covino: That's why it sound like shit. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: [laughs] [laughs] Mark Covino: But no, I mean, that was a crazy, crazy night. Jeff Howlett: It was. Mark Covino: There was tons of family there. The guys that helped bring the album out. Jeff Howlett: Matt Smith. Mark Covino: Yeah, Matt Smith from Drag City Records was there, who you see in the movie. Don Schwank, who was the guy who brought the crate 35 years later, and that's why people have the album. So it was just... Emotions were high, and everyone was crying. David was there. You could feel David's presence. Jeff Howlett: Yeah, every show Death plays they usually have a banner of David on the stage to sort of have that presence known to the audience, and of course for them. You feel it, man, you know? You see them live and everything, and it comes full circle. Mark Covino: That's why I love that part in the movie where I held on that shot -- Bobby walks off the stage and we're still on [the banner of] David looking over at the audience. It makes this weird sense too since David thought the recordings would be discovered, and at the same the Death logo is the fourth dot off the side of the triangle, like someone looking on. It's all too perfect how this aligns. Jeff Howlett: It is, it is. Mark Covino: I'm telling you, man: I still don't believe any of this shit and I made a film on it! [embed]215132:39843:0[/embed] [laughs] Mark Covino: But it's real and it just happened. Jeff Howlett: Yeah, it just unfolded. Was that a constant thing? As you were delving into this family story, were just constantly discovering new layers? I guess... what was the process of the archaeology of the story? Jeff Howlett: It kind of evolved. The underlying thing was we have this thing about David. Everybody is talking about David. Everyone that we interviewed: David, David, David, David. And we were just like-- Mark Covino: Who's this David guy? [laughs] Jeff Howlett: [laughs] Mark Covino: I mean, of course we knew who he was. Jeff Howlett: But, you know, that's when we're like, "Let's dive a little bit deeper," and that's when the family elements really came out and the questions got deeper. Mark Covino: That's when we interviewed Heidi, David's wife. Jeff Howlett: More people sort of came on board. Mark Covino: There are so many layers to David. Jeff Howlett: Yeah, There are so many layers to David. Because we had this sort of rockumentary, if you will, but it was like, "Wait a minute..." And we also had a lot of input from Scott and Matt and Jerry [Ferrara]. Mark Covino: Our producers. Jeff Howlett: Our producers. And they sort of threw some questions back our way. And it was like, "You know, this makes a lot of sense." And we sort of combined everything in the interviews, and it became more like a collaborative process. Whereas maybe in a lot of docs it'd be like, "Okay, here's a director. I'm a producer. Let's just coordinate things and make it happen." But it was a very collaborative process in that way, which really, I think, helped us build the story even more. Mark Covino: And definitely David's part was a big part of that because everyone really connected with him. You guys got Jello Biafra, Henry Rollins, and Kid Rock in the film. How did you get in touch with those guys? When you said, "Hey, we're doing something on Death," were they just like, "Oh yeah, I'm on this!" Mark Covino: Pretty much. It was a combination of Jeff getting in touch with people, like Alice Cooper and Jello Biafra, and Scott using his connections to get through to Elijah Wood, Questlove, and Kid Rock-- Did he get Kid Rock? Jeff Howlett: Yeah, and Kid Rock. Mark Covino: And we even have more people who didn't make it. We have Wayne Kramer. Jeff Howlett: From the MC5. Yeah, yeah, it was mentioned last night. Mark Covino: You know, we always get the question, "Why didn't you interview someone from MC5?" We did, it just didn't work in the edit. I don't know. Jeff Howlett: There are guys -- Chuck Treece, Wayne Kramer -- that we interviewed but, you know, where does it fit in? And it's just like... Mark Covino: You can't put everybody in. Jeff Howlett: But you want to put everybody in. Mark Covino: Documentaries you want to keep as short as possible. Jeff Howlett: Yeah, you want an hour and a half. Mark Covino: Well, in my opinion, at least. I don't want to watch a fucking two-hour documentary. [laughs] Jeff Howlett: [laughs] [laughs] Actually, I'll say this before I go: Earl Hackney has one of the best laughs ever. Mark Covino: It is the best! Jeff Howlett: No question! Mark Covino: I could listen to him laughing non-stop all day. Jeff Howlett: That interview was so amazing! The first time that he laughed-- Okay, the first time that he laughed, I looked at Mark and we were just like trying not to look at each other. You don't want to look at your buddy and ruin the moment, so you just let him laugh. [embed]215132:39846:0[/embed] Right. Jeff Howlett: Yeah, it was just great. He's such an amazing guy. Mark Covino: He's got a big heart. Jeff Howlett: A huge heart. Mark Covino: He's been there for his brothers from the start. He's kind of been a father figure to all the boys because he's the oldest brother. That's the interesting thing too because you see him laugh and it's so huge and then later when you see Earl somber you know that everything about him is so sincere. Mark Covino: It also helps in the documentary later on when we start talking about the dark times with David, it's Earl quiet and very stern. Jeff Howlett: And that room -- just a real quick tidbit -- was designed for David. The space room? Jeff Howlett: The space room, yeah. Mark Covino: The room we interviewed Earl in with the planets and everything. David was really into the planetary system and clouds, and in their music room that Death performed in he would paint planets and put stars in the floor that glowed in the dark. Jeff Howlett: Yeah. Mark Covino: He wanted to live in a different place than Earth. And so Earl created this room in his office. Jeff Howlett: A David room. Mark Covino: A David room -- this shrine to David. He's actually working to get a little plaque made to put on the door. That's where that interview was done, and it made it so much more dramatic. Jeff Howlett: More powerful, yeah. Mark Covino: Not to mention I interviewed him at like two in the morning. [laughs]
Howlett/Covino Interview photo
Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino talk about Death, life, and rock and roll
In the last few years, the almost-forgotten Detroit protopunk band Death has been going through a rebirth. And it's only three decades after the fact. The group was born in Detroit in 1971, a power trio comprised of three bro...

Review: Much Ado About Nothing

Jun 07 // Matthew Razak
[embed]215029:39763:0[/embed] Much Ado About NothingDirector: Joss WhedonRating: PG-13Release Date: June 7, 2013 (limited); wider release June 21, 2013 Since I enjoy Shakespeare's comedies more than his dramas, because I'm uncultured and such, Much Ado About Nothing is my favorite of his plays (followed closely by A Midsummer Night's Dream). I've seen it on stage a few times and, of course, watched the Kenneth Branagh version a few times over (Keanu ain't that bad). So the idea of Joss Whedon gathering together all his favorite actors and making my favorite Shakespearean play into a movie was better than almost everything ever. It's easy to report that Shakespeare's writing still stands the test of time, and a pleasure to report that Whedon has put together a fantastic interpretation of the play. Shooting entirely in black and white and in his own home over the course of a week in what the cast has basically described as a party, Whedon creatively interprets Much Ado About Nothing into a darker and more sexually charged story than we're use to. While the comedy points are definitely the main thrust of the movie, Whedon take s a lot more care to develop the character's motivations and interactions while updating the play to a modern context (though it could have easily taken place at any time). I'll eschew plot description since you should already know the classic tale of absurd misunderstanding and quick witted dialog. In case you were confused there's plenty of great lines here that are still hilarious despite having been written many, many years ago. Whedon imbibes them with new life, however, turning even some of the most banal scenes into either comic wonders or powerhouse dramatic sequences. There are some seriously impressively done scenes throughout the film that lend a new depth to the play and a bit of fun. It helps that the cast is clearly having a blast. Comprised of a bunch of Whedon's favorite actors from his plethora of films and shows (Nathan Fillion, Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz), it's basically a walk down Whedon memory lane. Most of the cast does admirably, though for some it's pretty clear that Shakespeare isn't their forte. The most surprising successes are Fran Kranz, who busts out of his typecast nerdiness into a surprisingly strong romantic lead; and Nathan Fillion, who is beyond hilarious in his role as a bumbling police office. Acker and Denisof are also perfectly matched as the constantly bickering Beatrice and Benedick. The most disappointing is Sean Maher who doesn't seem to get comfortable with the evil Don John until halfway through the film, though he does get one of the best sight gags.  It's not all his fault, though. The movie was shot in a week, andthat is pretty clear. It's a simple fact that you need a bit more time to get Shakespeare down, especially with the majority of the cast having never performed it professionally. What this leads to is it being very obvious which scenes were shot early and which were shot later. The cast clearly got into a rhythm as the shoot went on and it makes some scenes far better than others. It's hard to fault them for not mastering Shakespeare right away, and once they do get into a groove and during some of Whedon's more impressively done scenes, it is easily some of the most enjoyable Shakespeare you'll see. The downside is that the movie never really goes above being enjoyable to being truly great, but considering the time frame and DIY nature it probably was never meant to. What's obvious here is that Joss Whedon is a great director, Shakespeare is a great writer and if you get a cast together that really clicks you're going to make a fun movie. While it's easy to interpret Shakespeare in a variety of ways that I wouldn't deign to call any version of a play the definitive version, this is definitely one you'll want to see. Hubert Vigilla: There's a strange and undeniable joy in Much Ado About Nothing. From scene to scene, from beginning to end, there's a sense that everyone involved in the production was having a great time. The 12-day shoot was probably more like a 12-day party, and I almost got the sense that the production embodied the old-fashioned ethos of those early Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney films: let's get our buddies together and make a gosh darn movie! The two couples -- Beatrice (Amy Acker) & Benedick (Alexis Denisof), Hero (Jillian Morgese) & Claudio (Fran Kranz) -- are well cast and serve as solid examples of Shakespeare's parallelism and contrast when romantic pairs are used. Nathan Fillion bumbles about and steals his scenes when Dogberry arrives. I think my only gripe is that some of the score sounds like it's from a made-for-TV movie, but even this helps feed into the quick and playful spirit of the film. Much Ado About Nothing is a source of constant delight. 81 -- Great
Much Ado Review photo
Whedon takes aim at the bard
How do you follow up the biggest blockbuster in cinematic history? One crammed full of superheroes and special effects and big name actors? A film that epitomizes Hollywood in all its glory and all its faults? If you're Joss ...

Review: The East

May 30 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215119:39807:0[/embed] The EastDirector: Zal BatmaglijRating: PG-13Release Date: May 31, 2013 Our first introduction to the group The East comes right at the beginning. They record their break in of an oil mogul's mansion, the video intercut with images of birds and marine life dying in an oil spill pulled straight from the Gulf Coast a few years ago. The members of The East begin to pour crude oil through the air vents as an act of revenge. All the while, Page delivers a statement of purpose in a voice that's part-zeal and part-drone but all true-believer. To stop these acts of eco-terrorism and corporate terrorism, a private intelligence organization called Hiller-Brood has been set up. They're sort of like the private-contractor version of the CIA and the FBI -- like OCP bought one of them or started their own. Marling plays Sarah Moss, an operative recruited by Hiller-Brood to infiltrate The East and gather information on their members and their acts of terror, which The East refers to as "jams." As Sarah leaves her comfortable life for the field, she goes on a hobo adventure before finally becoming enmeshed with The East. At the head of the group is the charismatic Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), who at first looks like a dashing version of Charles Manson. Sarah is a competent-enough young agent in the field, able to handle herself physically and steel herself mentally for what's ahead. When inside the group itself, she's able to keep her distance. It's hard to say exactly where she stands ideologically in all this. She works for a 1% organization, but at the same time she can't be so naive about the nature of corporate malfeasance and the general disregard a lot of large companies have for the environment or for people at the bottom. Her own tie to The East needs to be complicated in some way to justify what happens in the film. As for The East themselves, they're an odd group that's less like a menacing collection of anarchists and more like a summer camp for radicals. For example, there's the initiation rite for Sarah. It's an expression of the cause as a collective, but it feels more like a corporate team-building exercise. That's fine, I guess, but pretty darn silly as well. Later the group plays spin the bottle, which adds to the odd summer camp vibe. There's also communal bathing. At the very least, the cast does all of this with a straight face, just the way an actual collective of true believers would do it. There's actually not a single weak performance in the film given the material, and yet I think the characters are more like underwritten radical-types rather than fully realized characters who are radicals. Page especially has just the one mode of drone, but she does it with dead-eyed conviction. The undercurrent of silliness might have been intentional in Batmaglij and Marling's script. And yet there's such an air of seriousness to all the proceedings, both from the collective and from Hiller-Brood, it's hard to tell. A lack of humor is the sure sign of an ideological extreme, but the audience I watched it with didn't seem to clue into that. At one point before a terrorist act, Page's character is ardent about pursuing the whole action to the end. "This is my jam!" she insists. I think I was the only one in the theater laughing -- not in a mocking way, but in a way that at least was hip to the gag. Going into The East I expected a few possibilities for Sarah's gradual affinity with the group. There's the Stockholm syndrome possibility, for one, in which she may be mentally or physically broken in some way so severe that she begins to sympathize with her captors (e.g., Patty Hearst). But that's not it since she's actually free to leave the collective if she pleases and its members are all very supportive. There's also the possibility that the cause of The East would win her over based on the compelling power of the ideology. And yet that's not it either since Sarah constantly expresses moral qualms about what The East is doing even if she understands why. The East seems like Sarah's only friends on the road, and yet she isn't so isolated at home -- she has a loving husband who trusts her and is fully supportive of her career choices. Here's the reductive part I mentioned much earlier, and I'm doing my best to avoid spoilers: the reason Sarah feels growing ties to The East has less to do with ideology or action and more to do with the loins. She's slowly falling in love with Benji. In other words, this strong character isn't being allured by the way a cause speaks to her own strength or how people around her speak to her own deeply-held convictions in life. No, no, she just really likes a boy and wants to jump his bones. (Suddenly spin the bottle makes so much sense.) Now given, Skarsgård is a handsome man and his character is a romantic radical hero, but I think this part of the story does a disservice to the Sarah character and the potential of the film's ideas. And that's the thing. Where the plot of The East goes to has a lot of potential if you think of it just in terms of point A and point Z; the problem is all that stuff in the middle of the alphabet. More than that, I think the moral gray area and complexity is lacking since this is a movie about extremes -- a private contractor that serves the interests of the elite and a radical collective living on trash -- and only one of these groups actually has some humanity to them even if they are kidnapping and poisoning people. Complexity would come when a third way is suggested. Or fourth, or fifth, and so on. The moral gray area is choice G, choice M, choice R, etc. -- again, all that stuff in the middle of the alphabet between A and Z. At the Q & A after the screening, Batmaglij and Marling mentioned how the film's script came together quickly, right after the BP spill, just as Occupy was becoming a movement, while Wikileaks was continuing to disseminate information, and I assume as Bradley Manning was becoming a martyr for transparency. They said they were trying to follow the momentum of these expressions of anger and advocacy, always trying to catch up to them. It sounds weird, but I wish they'd slowed down a little. Sure, they might have been a step or two behind the zeitgeist, but they'd have made up for it in the urgency of the film's message and the better execution of their story.
The East Review photo
An eco-terror thriller that's timely, urgent, and rushed
The East is a movie of its time, born out of a mix of outrage and advocacy. At the outset there's imagery of the BP oil spill. Scattered throughout the movie are little impressions of the Occupy, anarchist collectives, and An...

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Trailer: A Band Called Death


Apr 25
// Liz Rugg
"Before there was punk, there was a band called Death." Death is a band that's now referred to as protopunk, basically meaning they were punk rock before punk rock existed. Basically meaning that they're super cool and were ...

Review: The Lords of Salem

Apr 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215060:39790:0[/embed] The Lords of SalemDirector: Rob ZombieRating: RRelease Date: April 19, 2013 At the heart of the film is Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a recovering addict who works as a radio show co-host. It's like a morning zoo crew complete with sound effects, but it's done late at night. They have eclectic guests between the fart noises and springy erection sounds: one night a black metal singer with an inverted crucifix scar on his head, the next night a local man who's written a book on witches. She lives in a large apartment with extravagantly cool decor: the walls featuring images from Méliès and Commando Cody. Her life seems sitcom happy, but there's a sense of impending dread in the dark corridors of her apartment building. The shadows seem much darker than they ought to be, and for some reason an empty apartment has a new tenant. A mysterious recording by The Lords comes into Heidi's life in a wooden box bearing runes. On the thick vinyl disc is a repetitive droning sound that reminded me a little of Goblin on ludes. The song starts sending Heidi into a fit where she sees flashes of the city's violent past of witchcraft and mayhem. Her radio co-hosts (played by Jeff Daniel Philips and Ken Foree) decide to play the recording on the air. That's just the beginning of Heidi's decline into madness and centuries-old evil involving a coven led by an absolutely demented, scene-stealing Meg Foster. When The Lords of Salem builds its mood of dread, it's a surprisingly fun watch. Sheri Zombie believably slips into relapse and breakdown, and her character serves as a kind of anchor to the story as it becomes stranger and stranger. Running parallel to Heidi's breakdown is a writer/historian played by Bruce Davison who's trying to uncover the secrets of that recording by The Lords. He's like a cross between Udo Kier in Suspiria and Richard Farnsworth in Misery -- fearless Captain Exposition. As the dread goes full berserk, Zombie starts to fill his film with short, spiky moments of surreal madness. Some are like night terrors from Dario Argento and other maestros of Italian horror, while others are like Ken Russell, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Stanely Kubrick at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. When Heidi goes to a church, she meets up with a lecherous priest who goes into full freakout mode. One delirious segment features a bizarre creature that's both absurd and terrifying-because-it's-so-absurd, which makes for the best stuff of fever dreams. But it seems like The Lords of Salem loses its way as it tries to wind down the story through a series of visual freakouts. I can't pinpoint just where the movie goes off the rails, though. Maybe the creature I mentioned above, which caused different kinds of laughter from the audience: some nervous, some confused, some mocking. The cards are on the table and it's a pair of twos. I suppose it makes sense that The Lords of Salem would go this direction since it's Heidi's film and it's about her madness and the extent of this descent. As witchy delirium sets in, the colors in her life go into stark Argento monochrome, and the apartment devolves to an awful kind of squalor. And yet the promise of the plot and those moments of sheer dread give way to a kind of goofiness, like the radio show promo seen early in the film on bath salts. It's a fatal goofiness, however, and while some bits of the finale are memorable, I think they're memorable for being misfires. There's always been a strange connection between material that's funny and material that's terrifying; ditto sublime moments of surrealism and silly moments of surrealism. While the film's real world plot goes from lighthearted and silly to absolutely severe, the surreal psychological segments seem to do the opposite: the chilling strangeness of Foster's performance and the Bava/Russell visions give way to images of masturbating corpse priests and Sheri Zombie treating a stuffed goat like a mechanical bull. We go from horror storytelling to the in-between shots in a music video. While The Lords of Salem goes way off the rails, it at least does it in a fascinating way -- a nuclear train with an ensuing mushroom cloud; I can't look away, and I think my face is melting off, partly from the radiation, partly from all the confused expressions on my face. Thankfully it seems like Zombie is in on his own joke rather than taking it all too seriously, which makes the more pretentious moments of The Lords of Salem somewhat bearable. He knows a lot of the stuff is ridiculous but he does it anyway. Even though Zombie's next film is Broad Street Bullies -- a hockey movie based on the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s (think Slap Shot but real) -- The Lords of Salem kind of makes me want to see Zombie do a full-on Jodorowsky-style film that exists entirely in its own surreal universe. Maybe there, in that odd world, a finale like The Lords of Salem's would seem less ridiculous and more sublime.
Lords of Salem Review photo
Rob Zombie riffs on Euro horror, a visually stunning trainwreck ensues
When we posted the trailer and poster for The Lords of Salem a few weeks back, I mentioned how the only Rob Zombie movie I've liked was The Devil's Rejects. Yet The Lords of Salem looked promising. It gave off a vibe of Rosem...

Interview: Rob Zombie (The Lords of Salem)

Apr 17 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215111:39969:0[/embed] [Editor's note: Some of the questions and responses have been altered to avoid spoilers.] What do you think about the way people have been reacting to The Lords of Salem so far? It's great! I'm very excited. I'm not really that worried about reactions. Most of the time I don't even pay attention because it is what it is? I don't sit there watching the audience in fear. But, it's great -- it's exactly what I thought. Some people love it, some people hate it. [a beat] Shocking. [laughs] I assumed the release of the film and the release of your new album is intentional. Can you just talk about how you divide your energies between getting the word out on both? Well, getting the word out on both is actually a littler easier, because I would normally have to do all of this twice. So now I can just sort of do it all at once. It was getting the two things made simultaneously that was the tricky part. That was a great idea on paper, but in execution it was pshew -- fucked up! A lot of work. Would you mind speaking to the process of making the book in addition to the film? Well the book was 100% based on the original shooting script. It almost at this point bears very little resemblance to the movie, which is kind of cool. I mean, I forget when that started. That started during the shooting of the movie, and at some point I realized I was trying to keep the book updated and current to the changes that were happening on the film, and then I just gave up and said "This is impossible." Because the film was changing so much everyday due to just-- I mean, you know, this was a very short shooting schedule. It was four and a half weeks, so I just decided at some point that the book would be all about the original shooting script that we never were going to shoot, so they're very different. At the Q & A [after The Lords of Salem] you mentioned that this loose thread you shot but were unable to complete because of the death of Richard Lynch. Could you talk about how that would have changed the story on the screen? Well yeah, I mean... Let's see... Originally Richard Lynch was playing Jonathan Hawthorne, and then the guy who now is playing Jonathan Hawthorne was playing a different character whose name I can't think of right now. And it was just all the people that were getting killed and dying and getting killed by the Lords music were all linked back through these characters throughout the course of the film, so there was more of a thread. There was sort of a domino effect, and once I couldn't finish those scenes with Richard, what I had shot was useless, so then I just changed it around. But then the characters in modern times who were supposed to be connected [to that footage], they didn't make any sense either, so they all got the hatchet too. So that's why I had to cut so many people out of the movie. I tried making it work, but I just realized it was becoming so convoluted and so confused without the [missing] information that I just chopped it all up. Was tackling your own take on the Salem witch stories something you've wanted to do for a long time? Well, I mean, not really. It's funny, because I came up with the idea about six years ago, maybe. Just like any idea, you have this sort of half-assed idea and you write it down and forget about it. And I kind of forgot all about it, and it wasn't until I was approached to make a movie-- Because the way this project started was someone came to me and was like, "Oh, do you want to make a movie with us? This is the budget, you have total control, blah blah blah. Our only request is that it's sort of more of a psychological horror movie." And I was like, "Okay, that sounds good," but I couldn't think of anything. It was actually Wayne Toth who did all the effects -- who's done the effects on all my movies -- that said, "Hey, how about that Lords of Salem thing you mentioned like a thousand years ago?" I'd completely forgotten all about it. I went back and pulled it up, and I'd written like 20 pages. That's how it all came to be -- it was actually something I'd forgotten all about. You mentioned yesterday that one of the notes production gave you was to make all of the characters 18 and sexy. That's the note every studio gives you, actually. [laughs] [laughs] What other problems did you encounter while filming? I mean, problems kind of get forgotten because there are problems like every second of the day, unfortunately. But really, the biggest problem was just I'd never made a movie this quickly or for this amount of money, so I wasn't ready for that. So when you have the script, you're going through it and you're like, "Oh crap!" There's a certain point after the first week of shooting where you realize, "We're never going to get through this script in four weeks." And you just start ripping pages out and rewriting stuff, and that went on every single day. And then it sort of became a good thing, because stylistically it became-- Well, there's like a scene where one character is laying there dead with three other characters around, and I'm like, "Okay, all this stuff needs to be condensed into one shot, and that's it." There was a lot of that, just figuring how we can turn seven pages into a quarter of a page, because that's what we did everyday. And everyone got like one take because we were running out of time. Was there a lot of research done on your part about what happened in Salem? Does anything sort of stick out in your mind? I did a lot of research and I didn't use any of it, really. Because the one thing that became apparent to me was -- this sounds kind of weird -- but the Salem witch trials were kind of boring. They just hung everybody, you know? Until I started researching it, I think a lot of people confused the European witch trails with the Salem witch trials. In Europe it was the iron masks and the spiked chairs and they're lighting people on fire and doing all this crazy shit. They didn't do any of that in Salem. They just took them out and hung them by the neck. It's like, "That's no interesting." So I sort of abandoned factual things quickly. Can you talk a little about the community of actors you work with, like the actors who come back time and time again? In this movie I actually tried to bring in people I've never worked with, because for me I want to mix it up too. Or if I bring somebody back, I want them to do something different. But sometimes it's hard not to write something with somebody in mind. It makes it so much easier, and I did it again on this one. At the same time, I always try to keep my mind open for like the Bruce Davison role. I don't want to have anybody in mind for that. Or like Judy Geeson's role. I always wanted Pat Quinn, although almost to the last second I didn't think we were going to get her due to visa issues. So yeah, it's kind of a little bit of both. With the next movie that I'm working on, Broad Street Bullies, I don't see anybody that I've ever worked with before being in the movie, truthfully. Not unless they can put some skates on. Yeah, I doubt they can. [laughs] What made you decide to make the leap from horror movies to true-life sports? It's just a great story. I mean, I just love movies and I hate being pigeonholed over stuff. It becomes a real bore, and I don't ever want to be labeled as, "Oh, the guy who does that." It's boring. So I like breaking out, but I was always looking for the right project. Nothing ever came up that I thought, "Oh yes, that's it." Stuff would come to me and I was just like, "Ehhh" -- just couldn't get on board. But Broad Street Bullies takes place in 1974, which is a time period I love. I was a huge hockey fan back then during that time period, so it just had all the elements. I mean it's just a really rough, dirty, nasty story, but it just happens to be a sports movie. Who was your team? Well I was from Massachusetts, so I was into Boston, but I still love the Flyers -- even though they were hated I still thought they were cool. [laughs] You know, they were the outlaws. I think it's something that's a big departure, but given the nature of the story, fans will still dig it even I they don't care about hockey because that's sort of irrelevant in a way. Like most people love Rocky even if they're not boxing fans because it's not really about boxing per se. How are you going to approach this film stylistically? Your five films have a very specific visual look to them and tone. I'm wondering if you're looking to use the same tone and style or if you're going to do something a little more mainstream. Well, I don't like the term "mainstream" because I just find "mainstream" everything boring. "Polished," then? No, and I don't like "polished" either. [laughs] No, but I like things being raw. It's so easy to polish things. In fact, I like mistakes because things have become so polished. When I see certain movies I go-- I mean, maybe I know too much [about the process], but I can look at something [and know it's polished]. They go through frame by frame and digitally airbursh every actors fucking face until I feel like I'm watching an animated movie even though it's a live-action movie. And I hate that. So stylistically, I would want the movie to look like it was shot in the 1970s, because if it's going to be a period movie, I want it to feel like it was made in that period. A movie that has a look that would be perfect is something like The French Connection. If it could look like The French Connection, that would be the perfect look for Broad Street Bullies. But with Lords of Salem I'd argue that's a very polished movie. The cinematography alone is very much different than Paranormal Activity. Yeah! Would you mind speaking about the cinematography? The cinematography was a conscious decision because-- You know, Lords of Salem is a low-budget movie and it had a short schedule, but I didn't want to make it look like a low-budget movie. It's really easy to say, "Aww man, we're going to shoot everything handheld! We're going to shoot some of it with our iPhones! It's all rough because we got no money! Whoopdedoo!" And I was like, "Fuck that! Let's make it look like the grandest film I've ever made even though the budget of [The Lords of Salem] is not even a third of The Devil's Rejects." I mean we had nothing to work with, and I thought just because of that it doesn't have to look that way. So in some ways I think people like it because they do think, "Oh, this is the most normal-looking movie," in a way. I thought that was important for the story too. It had to feel normal and safe in a certain way with the cinematography so that when it got grand and weird it went somewhere. If it was already rough and nasty at the beginning, then you kind of have nowhere to go with it, and I didn't really think that fit the grand visuals. Like [it was] the exact opposite with the Halloween movies: I wanted to take something that had become commercial Michael Meyers and make it all dirty and filthy. Would you ever want to shoot a movie as fast and quick as this again? Not a movie like this, no. I mean, I would like to have more time. Because really, the funny thing is that having too much time and too much money doesn't mean that what you're going to do is good. Sometimes I think it hurts people because there's a certain rhythm you get on set. It's just the adrenaline you get of working. Because I've been on sets of other people's movies where I'm like, "Nobody's fucking working!" [laughs] They have so much money where there's literally nothing going on! They're taking like four hours to set up the most nothing shot, and you can just feel it. The actors are all in their chairs falling asleep and they're bored. They're like, "What are we doing now?" They're not even paying attention. And I'm like, "This is no way to work." So there's that perfect middle ground where you're moving fast but not so fast where people are confused, which is... [laughs] It's also not a good thing when your actors go, "Wait, what are we doing?" They're like, "I'm changing my clothes again. What scene is this?" There were certain times where I'd say to the actors "Change your clothes, come through the door. Change your clothes, come through the door. We're only going to be here five more minutes and I need to use this. We're going to get all your entrance and exists right now." And they're confused. I dunno. How long is a piece of string? How long do you need to make something good? The right amount of time. I wonder if you accepted these conditions to work fast and for x-amount of money and creative control-- Was that any reaction to working on the Halloween franchise with the Weinsteins at all? Yeah, I mean, it really was. I didn't realize because of the limitations how hard it would be at certain times -- I didn't really think about it. I think all of us -- me, my crew, and a lot of the actors -- after the Halloween stuff we were like, "We need to make a movie that's fun." Because those movies were so stressful and not fun to work on that nobody could remember why they wanted to make movies anymore. [laughs] [laughs] Y'know? But that was a big part of it. What was the most challenging thing about the shoot? Any of the scenes, kind of like the last shot of the movie, that was the most challenging. It was kind of a complicated thing to set up because nothing's digital. It's all practical effects. We did it all live, and when you're trying to work super fast. [laughs] It's five hours to set up this one shot, you really start question [yourself]. "This shot better look cool because we wasted half a fucking day on it." Thing like that tended to be the most challenging. Can you talk about working with Meg Foster? She does some ridiculous shit in that movie. [laughs] She's great. Yeah. I mean working with Meg Foster was fantastic. I really love Meg. It's funny because after I cast her, I started worrying if she would be great. Because when I went back and watched a lot of her movies... People always go "Oh, Meg Foster in They Live!" but they didn't give her anything to do in that movie. She's in there. No one ever gave her much to do, like they just thought, "Oh, she's pretty. Let her be in the movie." But then once I got to know her and we started working I'm like, "Why isn't Meg Foster talked about like Helen Mirren?" You know, I mean, it's sad sometimes, the way things go. Yeah, she's just phenomenal, and would clearly do anything for the project. Was she was completely gung-ho about anything you said? Yeah! Yeah! She's not anyone I had to convince about anything. What about Judy Geeson? What led you to her? That was on the the last people cast. I was having a really, really hard time casting that role just because-- It was really weird. I mean, there's a real hatred of horror movies in Hollywood. Hated, especially by actors. They just don't want to be a part of it. A lot of times people go, "Why do you use the same actors?" Because they'll do it. It's amazing the people that won't do things. I'll see someone and think, "Clearly she'll do it. She's now down to non-speaking roles and background parts in TV commercials!" And you offer them a lead role and they go, "Oh, I don't want to be in a horror movie." Like you're asking them to be in some kind of Asian gangbang movie with like midgets. [laughs] You know, they're really like, "Ewwwooooh." And really, one person after another. It was like so-and-so is locked in, they fall out. The next person, no. No. No. No. And I was like, "Oh my god, am I just going to have to eliminate this role?" And then at the last second, Judy Geeson came in an read and I was like, "Fuck everyone, she's great." And both Judy and Meg hadn't done anything in over a decade. They both basically stopped acting. That's a thing I found with a lot of these actors too: they're over it, you know? Because like I said, you're either Helen Mirren and the whole world worships you or you're 60 years old and [the studios] are like, "Oh, you're a washed-up old lady we couldn't give two fucks about." I think they're all happy to be appreciated again. It seems like a lot of people talk about actors not wanting to be in horror movies. A lot of people look down on horror movies overall as a genre and they go in with expectations but don't like it regardless whether the movie's actually good or not. Yeah. Now you're making a sports movie, and it feels like it's almost dealing with the same thing, like if ESPN doesn't like it-- Well, it's really funny, though. It's weird, there's such a different vibe. The the horror movie... The genre community is so different because it seems like they love horror movies so much that they hate everything. [laughs] [It's like they only like something] from 30 years ago. "Oh man, I gotta go home and jerk off to fucking Day of the Dead," but they hate everything. Whatever random movie, you know. But like the rest, they're like, "Oh, great." People [outside of the genre community] don't think of it that way. Like, "Oh, that's cool." I don't think people are at home furious about Argo! "THAT'S NOT THE WAY I WANTED THAT MOVIE TOLD!" [laughs] You know, it's like really weird. People who you think should be the most supportive are always the people the least supportive and hate you the most. Like a regular movie website would be like, "Hey, great," but the horror movie website's like, "Fuck you! And fuck you! And fuck you!" [laughs] Okay. [laughs] It might not be as extreme, but it's kind of similar to sports. Like there's some boxing movie [and people are like], "Oh, it's not as good as Rocky, so it must be shit." But the rest of the word doesn't act that way, that's the funny thing. They say, "Hey, great, a hockey movie. That'll be cool." It's really weird, and it's so funny because I think the genre world gets so micro-focused and stuff. You get out in the real world and everyone's like, "Ah, who gives a shit? That's a movie, I gotta get to work." [laughs] [laughs] They're not staying up all night blogging about it, they just don't care. So it's a really weird thing, you know? How much do you pay attention to criticism or media about your films? I really don't because it doesn't matter. If someone goes, "Read that, it's really nice," I might look at it and go, "Hey, great, somebody liked it." But that's about where it ends. I mean, you can't... It's sort of all irrelevant. I think that if I was new to this, I would be like, "Oh my god, somebody [wrote this]," because I know some people who've got to read everything. And then they just have a meltdown. The thing that I've noticed is that everyone's opinion changes with time. Even big film critics go back and change the reviews in their books all the time because they originally trashed a movie that's now considered a classic. Like, "I've gotta go back and add a couple stars to that review or I'll look like a dick," you know? [laughs] It happens all the time. I had a friend who used to always do that: point out in Leonard Maltin books, "Oh, look, now he likes that movie a lot more than he did back in '74." And that's the thing with all my films. When I made House of 1,000 Corpses, everyone fucking hated it. "Oooh, biggest piece of shit ever made, blah blah blagh," and now they're like, "Ohmygod, that'smyfavoritemovie! I love it so much!" And then when I made Devil's Rejects, "Oh, that sucks compared to House of 1,000 Corpses," and then now they're like, "Ohhh, that's my favorite one!" It's just the endless "whatever's new sucks and whatever's old is great." So, bleaughck. But I already went with that with the music business too. I think everyone likes to feel like they're in the know if they like something old, and they have to shit on everything new, until that's old, and then they like it. Can you talk about some of the influences on the film? I mean, I don't know if you're familiar with the work of Ken Russell-- What, you think I just fell off the fucking turnip truck?! [laughs] No. But in terms of The Devils or Don't Look Now, do you look to those films at all and do they consciously or unconscious perhaps... Well, I mean, I've seen all those films so they're all in my head, and I went and watched some of them with my cinematographer because that's the one thing: it's not like you're trying to emulate a film or copy a film, but sometimes it's really hard to explain what you're thinking with just words. It was a sort of, "Maybe it'll be like the paces of Barry Lyndon with the visuals of The Devils but sort of filtered through Repulsion, with a little bit of, you know, Tommy thrown in for some pizzazz at the end." [laughs] It's sort of like a mishmash of everything. Did you look to any artists at all for some of the visual imagery? I'm not an art scholar or anything, so-- So I can just make up a bunch of names? [laughs] You can make up a bunch of names, but then I could go and Google them. [laughs] But I'm just wondering, for example, one of the final images is the most powerful image in the film. That was pretty much a classic image. We pulled from a bunch of different ones for sure, just so I could show Brandon some of how it was lighted and showed wardrobe that this was what we were going to do. So yeah, there wasn't any one particular artist. That was sort of a classic look of that person and those kinds of paintings. There may have been some in particular, but I can't remember off the top of my head. Sometimes I'll just see an image and go, "That's cool. I like the way that street looks," I don't even know what it is. What advice do you have for young filmmakers who may be battling with budget constraints who want to make their films look high quality? Truthfully, I don't think that's important. I think that's the least important thing you can do, because it doesn't impress anybody. Think of it in terms of music. You can hand me the worst-sounding cassette, and if the song is great, you'll go, "That song is fucking genius!" And you can hand me the most overproduced record of all time, and I'll go like, "That is fucking bullshit." And it's the same thing with movies. You can watch something and it could look-- You could film it on your phone and watch it and then think, "Jesus Christ, that guy is a good fucking actor." And you'll get it. Nobody cares. Nobody in Hollywood cares, and nobody's going to be impressed by it. There's no point. Good work comes through even if it's through shit materials, so someone could do this giant mural and people will think, "This guy sucks," and some other guy will fucking draw on a napkin with a fucking pen and people will go, "Fuck, Jesus Christ that guy is talented." So yeah, I think it's irrelevant. I guess long-windedly I'm trying to say that's irrelevant. [laughs] Good work come through no matter how rough it is. The characters and the scenery have seemed to become your staple in all these horror movies. People can see a movie without seeing the credit and think, "Oh, this is a Rob Zombie horror movie." Is there ever a point where you're looking at makeup or the wardrobe and you're thinking, "Ooh, too much. Let's pull it back." No, I always actually think the exact opposite. Every time a movie's done I'll think, "Fuck! Why didn't we go even further?" I've thought that every time. I've thought that on this movie, I've thought that on every movie. I always think that. You forget sometimes why you make the choices you did. Sometimes it was the only choice you could make. Sometimes the sun was setting and that was the only shot you could get, or whatever. But you forget that stuff and you think, "Why didn't I do this?" I mean, all the actors do it. They're all, "Oh, why did I say that line like that? I should have done this." It's a never ending... [laughs] I guess that's why other people's criticisms are irrelevant because you're so busy criticizing yourself there's no room for other people. [laughs] [laughs] Could you talk about the process of writing and recording the Lords song? The spooky record thing? Yeah, that was something that was a little tricky because I wanted it to be organic in the sense that it really was a group of musicians playing that. It wasn't like weird sounds we put together, everybody had some weird old instruments; it was recorded live, it was real, because I thought that was important... even though I don't know if it is -- at the time I thought it was. But how we came up with it. I was on the East Coast and John 5 was on the West Coast, and we were basically on the phone basically humming different weird note patterns back and forth to each other until we arrived at that one. And truthfully, I don't know if he thought of it or I thought of it or if it was a combination of both. I mean he can't remember either. It's sort of one of those things where I needed it to be catchy enough that people could remember it when it came up in the movie, but odd enough that it didn't sound like a song. Because it's not really supposed to be a song. You mentioned wanting to push things further. Even in this movie which does go to extremes. Is there any particular scene you can think of, like with one of the insane midget turkey-baby thing? Yeah, everything. Literally everything I think that. But I know at the time I didn't do things because I could. You know, like when we shot the scene of Sheri with the skull make-up walking up the stairs with the little guy. That was our last day of shooting on that set, it was 5:00am, we had been there forever. She was so delirious she didn't know where she was. My biggest challenge at that point was to keep Sheri from having a laughing fit because she was so punchy that anything would set her off. And you know, you walk up the stairs and you see that little guy, it's like you want to burst out laughing, because it's so funny. I still laugh every time I see him. So yeah, every scene has something like that. It's actually kinda weird. The creature is absurd but I found it terrifying at the same time because I was like, "What the hell is that? My god!" She was actually scared. She hated looking at it. Because he'd be walking around the set in that suit, and he's only like 2'6", I think. He's so tiny. You have to be really careful because he literally was like the size of a baby walking around. [laughs] It's pretty freaky. Is that you find kind of challenging when you're making a movie: turning something funny into scary, or turning scary into something you may think is funny? I mean, I knew I wanted something that was absurd, because the basic story, if I just read you the one line, you'd go, "Oh, that's been done before." Which is fine, that doesn't bother me. It kind of like how every note's been used, but it's just how you put the notes together. But I knew when we finally saw the thing I didn't want him to be some giant demon creature. So then I thought the reveal would be this weird little Kentucky Fried midget. [laugh] You know, maybe it's funny, maybe it's terrifying -- but you'll remember it. [laughs] It's like thinking of this other creature was a challenge, you know. I didn't want it to look like a baby with like contact lenses. It'd probably be something more disgusting than that. You had mentioned in the Q & A you're not thinking sequel with this one, but it does leave the door open somewhat to a sequel if you wanted to come back and revisit. I mean every movie kind of does in a way, because I think we now see it that way. But I don't think it would make sense. To me the power of so many movies was that feeling when the movie stops. And then coming back a couple years later and going, "Oh, I know I left you with that weird feeling. Now let's explain it." And you're like, "Really?" Sorry if I'm-- No, not [to your question]. I mean the feeling that really, we need to explain it? And you feel the same with The Devil's Rejects: you wrote down an idea but it's not something that you're going to [necessarily] act on. Probably not. Doing another Devil's Rejects thing is the only time I've ever felt like I want to do something because of the fans. And I don't want people to misinterpret that. I always want to do things as great as possible for the fans, and that's really important. But I can't be dictated by what they want. You can't work that way. But that's the only one that just seems like people just love it so much that I feel... That's the only time I've ever toyed with the idea of doing another one. It seems like that movie has become so insanely popular as the years go on, but... It always seems when you go back for the third one. Nothing quite cuts it. We hear Sam Raimi say, "Well, I want to do Army of Darkness 2 for the fans," but there's that sense that it nothing I want to do but something I have to do. I assume the same would probably be with Halloween 3, if Weinstein just dumped a shitload of money on you. Yeah, I mean, it's like I'd never approach is as, "Ughhh, I have to do this." would always try to approach it like I wanted to make it special. Things just happen. Like whatever we did when we did Devil's Rejects, you wouldn't recapture it again. It just wouldn't happen. The actors have aged, they're different, the relationships between the actors have changed. You'd come back and... it's like you're trying to force a high school reunion to happen. I mean, maybe you'd get something great, you know? What I would try to do would be to try something different just so that it wasn't feeling like you'd try to recapture something. And it's like you said before: as soon as it'd come out, people would just be like-- "This is shit! This isn't what I wanted!" [laughs] "The first one was so much better." Basically what I was saying. But then give it six years and then all of a sudden... Exactly. There's something about the horror genre though, when fans like a movie, there's always a movement behind it. Like, "Yes, let's make another one. We'll do three more sequels!" Well, yeah. It's weird. You never know how much was dictated by the fans and how much is dictated just by the business. Because it used to be like, "Oh, check out my new project! It's unlike anything you've ever seen!" And now when you say that, people just sort of glaze over. But now, [if you say], "Check out my thing! It's just like Paranormal Activity!" People are like, "Really?! Let me see it!" [laughs] It's like that with music. It's like that with music. It's like there's this quest to give me more of exactly what I know I already like. That's why, you know, it's all the same. "Play the hits!" And that's why when people ask, "Do you listen to what the fans say," I'm like you really can't because The Beatles would still be playing "She Loves You." They never would have got to The White Album because the fans would have been like, "Harumngph! 'Revolution,' please! Give us another 'Help!'" What do you consider to be your biggest career success and your biggest career failure? I don't know. I always feel that both of those things are in the future. I don't feel like anything has really been a failure, because it always seems like it made sense and worked out in some fashion. There have been things that have taken strange paths to getting there. Like [The Haunted World of El Superbeasto] was one. Working on it, the company kept changing hands until by the time we wound up at the final place, they're like, "We're horrified by this! We're not releasing this! This is nothing but dirty jokes and cartoon tits!" But the people we started with were very excited about that aspect of it, so, yeah, that was kind of a bummer, but someday it'll be resurrected in some way, somewhere else probably. As far as the biggest success, I always think that's the next thing, you know? I'm never satisfied with it. [a beat] Everything has been the biggest failure, I guess. [laughs] [laughs] You brought up Tommy earlier, and I'm kind of wondering if at some point you'd be interested in doing... I don't want to say a rock opera, but at least something where music is a factor in the narrative. I think it'd be great. I mean, there are certain types of movies that just have disappeared. They'll make things like Chicago or Dream Girls, but Tommy and The Wall -- that type of thing is gone. I just don't know if people would go for it. But every time I think people won't go for something, that's exactly when they go for it. But yeah, some sort of music-driven film would be great. They're turning a lot of those movies into musical theater. Any artist with a multitude of hits seems to be approached about that. Have you ever been approached about something like that? I have not, but I mean, I would always say this seriously -- and it sound like I'm joking -- but House of 1,000 Corpses as a Broadway play makes total sense. It seems like anything that's weird and odd and a little bit campy, it seem now like, "Yeah right." But who would have thought any John Waters project would somehow be this multi-million dollar bonanza on Broadway. Or even Monty Python or anything. Xanadu. Fucking Spider-Man! [laughs] [laughs] They're doing Silence of the Lambs right now. Silence of the Lambs. [a beat and then laughs] It's just so strange! [laughs] Really just like anything else. Any kind of known property is what they want, because they just never want to do anything new. That's the whole thing with the industry. New is bad, built-in audience is good. Going back to a couple questions ago, are there any other actor you want to resurrect from being in career stasis? People who haven't worked in a while that you think should really be in a movie. I mean, probably. I see people all the time that I really like. I don't have any names that jump to mind at the moment. A lot of times... What's been the sad case sometimes, and I don't want to mention names, there are people like that and you get with them and you realize that they've gotten too old and there's a reason why the don't work anymore. Even with Richard Lynch it was sad. When I worked with him on Halloween he was phenomenal, but when he showed for The Lords of Salem, his agent sort of neglected to tell me that he was basically completely blind. He literally couldn't see. And I couldn't understand it because the camera would be here, six inches from his face, and he'd be yelling "Rob, where's the fucking camera?" Is he joking? It's six inches from his face. And then I was like, "Oh..." You literally had to walk him and place him and sort of direct him that way. So, he didn't seem healthy, but, you know, the agents don't tell you, and that's happened a few times with people where they show up and you go, "Well, I guess that's why so-and-so hasn't been working a lot lately." But, then again, some people are like Eli Wallach. [laughs] [laughs] Keep charging along! [laughs]
Rob Zombie Interview photo
Bottom line: Rob Zombie is an absolutely f**king delightful person
Even though I didn't care for Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem, I was interested in speaking to him, having dug White Zombie growing up and enjoying The Devil's Rejects. A friend of a friend had met Zombie through his job and ...

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A playful poster for Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing


Apr 12
// Liz Rugg
I feel like "playful" is a pretty good way to describe director Joss Whedon's newest movie, a Shakespeare adaptation called Much Ado About Nothing. Even though it's coming from one of the most fiercely loved directors of our ...

Review: Evil Dead

Apr 05 // Geoff Henao
[embed]214272:39427:0[/embed] Evil DeadDirector: Fede AlvarezRating: RRelease Date:  April 5, 2013 When Mia (Jane Levy) decides to go cold turkey from drug abuse, she asks for support from her friends to support her by staying a weekend at an old family cabin. Childhood friends Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci) and Olivia (Jessica Lucas) are joined by old friend and Mia's brother, David (Shiloh Fernandez) and his girlfriend, Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore). Tension remains between David and the rest of the group due to his inability to show up when he's needed. However, the seemingly abandoned cabin appears to have been used for some sort of cult activity. When Eric finds a book full of evil chants and horrific imagery, known to most as the Naturon de Monto, Mia's struggle against sobriety becomes an afterthought as each person struggles to stay alive. Let me just go right out and say it: The hype is real. Evil Dead stands as proof that horror remakes can be done properly. Moving beyond the legendary status that the original film holds, this new Evil Dead film can stand alone as a truly great horror film. Terms like "reboot" or "remake" do fit this film, but they don't do this film justice. Rather, Evil Dead stands as a rebirth, both for the franchise, but for horror films in general. However, that's not to say that there aren't nods and allusions to the original film. While the film closely follows the events of The Evil Dead, it takes these homages and cleverly spins them so that they feel fresh and interesting while still serving as bits of fanservice to the franchise fanatics. Alvarez and his writing partner, Rodo Sayagues, are fans themselves, and set out to make a film that would appeal to old and newcomers to the series. They definitely hold The Evil Dead's influence on their sleeves, but are able to go to extreme levels that the original never could have, whether because of budgetary limits or technological deficiencies that existed 30 years ago. Alvarez was basically given full reign with the film, and his vision of a proper, modern day Evil Dead delivers. More interestingly is his decision to shy away from CGI, thus creating a more realistic tone for the film that other contemporary horror films lack. The film is bloody, brutal, gory, and everything you'd want from a film that carries the Evil Dead moniker. The cast shine in their established roles/archetypes, which are the typical roles you'd find in every other horror film. However, the film's third act flips not only the established script, but what's essentially expected of an Evil Dead film. It's gutsy moves like this that truly showcase why Alvarez was hand-selected to bring the franchise to new audiences, despite his inexperience with Hollywood. Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert, and Sam Raimi all gave Alvarez and Sayagues their blessings, and their trust in them didn't go unfounded. Any fears you may have had about the film tainting the Evil Dead name can, and will, be alleviated.
Evil Dead Review photo
A horror remake done right.
[This review was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.] Evil Dead was going to be the shining gem of this year's SXSW jus...

Interview: Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues (Evil Dead)

Apr 04 // Geoff Henao
Coming up with a good villain for this film… Fede Alvarez: She’s a good hero and villain, which is what I think made her [Mia] so unique. Even though she’s bad ass and people are scared of her so much, I think at the end of the day, she’s everybody’s favorite character because everybody’s with her since the beginning moment the movie opens. I feel the people kept with her because she’s doing something brave. Since day one, the moment the movie opens, you see a character that is ready to do something that is very ballsy. We all have our vices and our bad habits and we all wish [we could say], “You know what? I’m going to stop doing this.” I think it was great the way we created that character. I think since the first minute of the movie, people admire her because she’s ready to do something like that. And of course, everybody’s patronizing to her, and everybody hates that, and she’s the one that’s right. She’s a great character, and then suddenly, she’s the worst thing that can happen to you. She’s so scary. That’s what I like about her: She’s the hero, but she’s the villain at the same time. The pressure of remaking Evil Dead, since it’s such a beloved movie for horror fans around the world: Is there this pressure like, “I’ve got to make this the right way, but also want to do it my way. I don’t want to necessarily compromise what I see for this film, but also acknowledge that there’s definitely this expectation.” FA: At the end of the day, Sam [Raimi] told us at the beginning, “You have to go and write and make the movie that you want to see in theaters – not [the film] that the fans want to see in the theaters, not that Sam Raimi in the theaters, but what you guys [Alvarez and Sayagues] want to see in theaters.” Rodo Sayagues: We were fans, too. FA: He knew we were fans and followers of his movies as kids. It was like giving two guys in the audience [like saying], “You know what? This movie’s yours. You do it.” Because we’re completely outside of Hollywood, we’re from Uruguay, we’re fans of his movies, and he gave us the chance to write and direct this movie. It’s amazing. I think that comes out of the genius of Sam Raimi to take such a risky choice. Since you were outside of the Hollywood system, how did you get hired for this job? FA: That short Panic Attack [Ataque de Panico] was just another short [and] a lot of things I was doing, but it ended up an overnight hit on YouTube. It was in the right moment at the right time, I guess, because Facebook was exploding and YouTube was putting up the HD format that didn’t exist before that. Suddenly, it was an HD short, and everybody had Facebook at that moment, and it was when everybody was opening their accounts, so everybody was sharing it on Facebook. Today, nobody cares what somebody posts on Facebook, because you post so much stuff. Back then, it was quite new, so it was suddenly like boom, everybody was passing that on, so it became a viral, overnight thing. It had half a million views in one day, in night together. Through that short, just suddenly, I got a lot of attention in Hollywood, like I woke up and had 150 emails from the industry. I thought it was a joke at the beginning, but it was real. Then I went to LA, met a lot of people, and some of the people I met was Sam Raimi and his team, and we’re big fans and followers of his career, and soon I was the guy he wanted to work with. And also, he gave us… he closed the deal with us to make a movie, it was a blind deal. He said, “I want you to make the movie you want.” And out of that deal and that relationship, we ended up making Evil Dead. I asked some of the others earlier, but there are homages and allusions to the first film. Did you feel like you had to include that to kind of keep it in the Evil Dead realm? FA: As a fan, I want to see that. They didn’t want me to have the car in the film. They mentioned that, yeah. FA: Sam was like, “I wanted you to do your movie.” And I was like, “Yeah, but last time we saw the cabin, everybody died, and Bruce turned around and everybody was gone, but the car was left there. I want the car to be there.” When I walked on set the first day, I could see the car, and I felt like it was holy ground and needed to be respected, all of those elements. And I did that in kind of a religious way in so many levels that I bet you didn’t even notice in the movie. You know, in the original movie when the first girl was going to turn, she’s like reading those poker cards out loud and saying the sequence of cards that she started repeating, and she turns around and she’s possessed… [There’s] a deck of poker cards on the table in the living room and every one of those cards are assembled in the same order that she named them in the original movie, so there’s details like that that you’ll spot them if you pause it. But like that, the house is flooded like that. I think it was a way to bless every part with things from the original, and then we did the same thing with the audio. You’ll hear the voice from the original cast in the movie. When Mia shoots David and starts screaming, she’s screaming, but in the air, you can hear the original omen, the “One by one, we will take you!” You can hear that in the air, somebody screaming that. That’s from the original movie, so there’s a lot of little details like that. Some of them, you will know it as one-liners out of context, stuff like that, but just because we like it, not because somebody asked us. I don’t think they even know that they’re there. One of the controversial scenes from the first one, you also decided to keep, was the tree rape sequence. How did you decide to do it? Was there ever a decision to take it out? FA: It wasn’t a decision to take it out. Actually, we didn’t write it in the original draft. RS: It wasn’t there until the third draft. FA: It wasn’t until production, like… Rob Tapert, who created the original movie, it was Rob’s idea when they made the original movie, came up with the idea of the tree rape. In production, I don’t know why, but suddenly, [we said] “We need that tree rape in the movie.” The reason why we didn’t write it was because we felt we were never going to get away with it with MPAA these days. That was sex and violence altogether, my god, there’s no way. RS: We had to find a way to make it happen not as explicit as it was in the first film, the original one. FA: I think it’s quite explicit. I think the only way it’s not is that it doesn’t seem like she’s enjoying it. In the original movie, she’s going, “Oh yeah, baby.” And that’s like… that’s wrong. In this one, we wanted to show how painful that is, something like that would not be enjoyable at all. I think Jane [Levy] did a great job portraying that pain. It also serves its story. It’s like whatever was inside that demon in the forest is now inside of her. She takes that with her in the house. That’s why she said, “There’s something with us, and I think it’s inside the room right now.” She means herself. Your short, Panic Attack, was kind of in CGI with the robots, but the decision to use practical effects here was more like, not an homage, but more of a desire to kind of connect with the horror from the original. FA: It’s not that I’m not a fan of CGI, it’s just I’m filmmaking. It depends on what you have to tell, and the story I wanted to tell back then was an alien invasion movie. Unfortunately, I couldn’t build those robots for real, it would have been tricky, but I thought I would do it at some point with scale models. But it worked for what it was, and you have to use the techniques you have available to tell the stories you want to tell. That’s what it’s all about. With this one, we didn’t need it. We could have used it, but we didn’t need it. Most importantly, we wanted the movie to [last] as long as possible. We have a responsibility with the original classics. We want it to stand as long as those, and in order for a movie to last long, you don’t want CGI because CGI looks great today, but looks like shit in five years. We could have gotten away with some weird creature at the end that could have been awesome, but then you watch the movie in ten years and [say], “Wow, what were we thinking back then?” That’s the bad thing about CGI, I think. One of the great movies these days have CGI end up getting old very fast. They were saying you want it to be as timeless as possible [with] no cell phones, no modern technology. It could be anytime, anywhere. FA: It could be in the 80s. I think the only thing that dated it a little bit was the car. I regret that a little bit. I should have used an older car, but then the rest was… it was risky. We were worried that the audience were going to wonder why they don’t take a cell phone and call the police. They don’t, and people go with it. They didn’t really care about it, which was awesome. Are you excited to come out here and talk to the fans? FA: Oh my god, yes. I could stay here until I’m 50, believe me. I’m going to enjoy the festival, I know that. I want to watch movies, I want to be around people.
Evil Dead Interview photo
Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues walk into a bar...
[This interview was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.] Finally, the last of my SXSW Evil Dead roundtable interviews s...

Review: Upstream Color

Apr 04 // Allistair Pinsof
Upstream ColorDirector: Shane CarruthRating: NRCountry: USARelease Date: April 5, 2013 (New York), additional cities in weeks to follow (For a full list of cities, dates, and theaters, click here.) There are only middles in Upstream Color, no beginnings or ends. As viewers of Shane Carruth`s debut Primer may expect, this mesmerizing followup is esoteric and dense. I feel as if Carruth dug a tunnel through my skull, damaging wiring along the way, and then dumped a bucket of water on my central computer -- once Carruth`s mucking around is over, the sparking of my system does enough self-inflicting damage. Does that sound good? I can't think clearly enough to say. Once decoded, Upstream Color's plot is simple and laughably bizarre, full of gaps and unearned explanations. This conclusion didn't hit me until the day after, however, because decoding Upstream Color is an essential part of the film. Like Primer, major reveals can literally be missed in a blink of an eye. The framing and structure of Upstream Color gives its ridiculous plot credence and weight. In the hands of M. Night Shyamalan, this tale would get as many unintentional chuckles as The Happening. The music throughout the film is comparable to those new age albums that claim to alter your brain's beta and delta waves. At the end of the film, I found myself enter a strange dreamlike state where the world felt less real. I can't say if that's the power of the film or the music manipulating my brain. Whatever the case, it's effective.The visuals and editing complement this sleep state with shallow focus and washed-out color, like that first glimpse of a bedroom upon awakening. The editing continues this emulation, sporadically cutting to black, as if awakening and falling back asleep. Upstream Color feels like a UFO abduction or watching The Tree of Life on sleeping pills. Upstream Color is the dream that haunts you throughout the day. Not a spooky haunt; more like deja vu. After watching the film, something changed and it wasn't my environment. That's powerful. I tell you how Upstream Color feels instead of what it is (an uncertainty that won't be collectively solved by the internet -- sorry, Primer fans.) If this all reads like hyperbole, then let me add that the ongoing uncertainty of the film's plot fights against the tranquility of the filmmaking; and the lack of apparent answers is maddening; and I`m not sure if I enjoyed it. Then again, Upstream Color is a film that hurts my brain to the point where enjoyability is no longer a value it knows. Consider the number below arbitrary and the words above both a warning and an invitation. Hubert Vigilla: Whenever I see a bit of writing that's difficult to decipher, I have an immediate desire to want to try to read that text. It sort of makes sense that the first image in Upstream Color involves some mysterious writing that's been discarded. From the very beginning, I wanted to understand the rhythm, the shape, and the color of the film, and I think a lot of people will be frustrated if they're looking for a straightforward narrative that tells them what to think and what to feel. Instead, Shane Carruth's crafted a moody, manic, gorgeous movie that's felt before it's understood, much like a good piece of music. It's part David Cronenberg, part Terrence Malick, and yet an organism that's entirely Carruth's own. This is on a different scale than Primer because Upstream Color wants get at the core of what it means to be human and alive. It does this by taking an odd shape: a mind-bending, emotionally charged sci-fi misfit love story, heavy on the hobby horses of existentialism, transcendentalism, and the desperate concerns of damaged souls -- free will, control, love, ennui, loneliness, alienation, community, self. A lot of people will leave Upstream Color asking, "What did I just watch?" and will just discount it as nonsense. I can't hold it against them. It's not a movie for everyone, and nothing should be or can be for everyone. That isn't to say there's no sense of universality to Upstream Color. I think it's rife with universality, but just because a movie expresses something human doesn't mean it will express those concerns in a way that everyone will enjoy. It may wind up being the most divisive movie since Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain. But Upstream Color isn't nonsense. I won't say that Upstream Color makes perfect sense to me, but it doesn't need to since its metaphors and ideas are left a little open like good metaphors should be. I feel such a strange connection to the movie, as if it expresses things going on in my own head in a way I've never thought of before. I keep turning the story over in my brain and I keep finding new connections and new possibilities, as if charting the night and finding new constellations. I need to watch Upstream Color again, not because I want to decode every symbol, but because I want to experience the strange joy of the film that's hard to express in words. 91 -- Spectacular Geoff Henao: Upstream Color was the first film I screened at SXSW this year, and needless to say, it was definitely a very heavy film to launch this year's SXSW experience with. Like Allistair and Hubert said, the film is very dense and hazy, both metaphorically and literally. There's a mental haze of confusion over exactly what's going on, heightened by the cinematography's penchant for soft saturation. Shane Carruth puts all of himself into his films, and with that comes a natural notion to question everything going on. And really, Upstream Color will have you asking so many questions, not only about what it is you've seen, but whether or not you even liked it. This film will make you think, ponder, wonder, pontificate, and reach for a level of understanding that, maybe, will be unattainable. It's overwhelming and polarizing, much like Allistair mentioned with his reference to Tree of Life. It's not as rooted in science-fiction logic like Carruth's previous film, Primer, but feels like an extension of that film's universe. No matter how you feel about Upstream Color after the credits roll, it'll stick with you for a long, long time. Isn't that what the best films are supposed to do? 80 -- Great Alec Kubas-Meyer: I can't put a number on Upstream Color. There is no single word that embodies my reaction to the film, and I don't even know that my thoughts could be reduced to anything less than a run-on sentence. Were I to make a graph of my investment in the story and the characters, it would look like an incredibly dangerous rollercoaster. Were I to graph my understanding, well, it wouldn't look like much of anything. Here are some things I know about Upstream Color: it's better than the disgustingly bad Leviathan (something I spent several minutes contemplating while the occasionally overbearing audio mix was reveling in a bizarre underwater soundscape), Amy Seimetz looks good with short hair (a rarity among women), there are pigs in it (though I don't really know why, even if I have a vague idea), and Hubert understands it way goddamn better than I do (which I know because we have had several conversations about it). Everything else is honestly kind of up for grabs. I want to see Upstream Color again in a year, and then a year from then, and so on. It would be interesting to see how my reaction to the film changes as I age, both because I will have a better understanding of the film from previous viewings and because I will have had new experiences that could give me some fresh perspective on whatever it is that's going on. I recommend Upstream Color on the basis that I have never seen anything like it and most of the people I've met who have seen it have enjoyed it, but even days after the credits have rolled and I've had plenty of time to talk and think about it (I even know how director Shane Carruth wants the film to be interpreted), I'm just so lost. Words truly can't describe Upstream Color... or at the very least, my words can't.
Upstream Color Review photo
No math required
Part of me wants to wait until I fully understand every facet of Upstream Color before I review it, but a larger part of me suspects I never will. Might as well strike while the iron is hot. Upstream Color is mind-altering,...

Interview: Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert (Evil Dead)

Apr 03 // Geoff Henao
That’s a nice little pocket square. Bruce Campbell: My wife is always tweaking it. That’s awesome. BC: I iron my own clothes. I press my own clothes. My first wife taught me how to iron. Oh really? BC: Yup. You start with the collar, iron it flat, and then you flip it over and iron that. Then you do the back, then you end with the sides and the sleeves. I’ve watched so many YouTube videos. I can’t figure it out. BC: Oh, ironing is key. Ironing is important… depending on what you’re going for. That’s true, and if you mess up, you could cover it up with a jacket anyways. BC: Well, here we are… How often were you guys on set? BC: Rob was there. Rob Tapert: I was there... They made it seem like you were on the set a lot. BC: No, I was working on my day job, on Burn Notice, the TV show. Rob was the man in the trenches there. But you know, as Rob explained it, if you’re doing your job right as a producer, you don’t have to be there looking over the guy’s shoulder. Nobody wants that. RT: I had an office there, and there would be days where I would go there, spend all day in the office, kind of doing stuff related to another thing I was doing, Spartacus, in the Evil Dead office in case anything came up. Saw Fede [Alvarez] and the guys at lunch, talked about [stuff], then go afterwards and talk to the actors, go back to my office, and that’s [all]. I wouldn’t actually hang around on set because I think [being] on set’s really boring. If I’m there, something’s wrong. BC: It’s true, it’s true. It’s a good way of looking at it. RT: Or I will have watched dailies, then I would go out and say, “Oh that was really great,” or “You know, we should keep our eyes on this.” But otherwise, it ran pretty smoothly. Now Bruce, I know you were the most resistant, reluctant to do the remake. BC: Well, not necessarily. I wouldn’t characterize it like that. Well, the things you were letting go… It’s kind of like letting go of Ash… BC: I didn’t really have an issue. Look, to us, it was if Sam was on board, we’re on board. We were surprised at how on board he was. Rob and I came up afterwards, after the fact. RT: We didn’t want to do a bad version. I had seen a lot of remakes that were a bad version, so until there was a proper filmmaker… and it all worked out right. We needed somebody who was going to write the script and direct it, and kind of take ownership of… take the hand off the franchise into their own hands, and that’s what happened. There were many missteps we could have made. BC: And we were happy to relinquish Ash. We didn’t want to put that on some actor, “Blah blah blah, you’re going to play the part. You’re going to imitate me.” Because that would have been a direct remake as opposed to its own thing. BC: Yeah, yeah. This gives it a lot more space, and this way the series can operate independently in different universes. We can still make Evil Dead 4. There’s nothing to do with this movie. This [Evil Dead] gives it a lot of space, and the series can operate independently in different universes. We can still make Evil Dead 4. [It] has nothing to do with this movie, whatsoever. Nothing, just a creepy book, that's the only thing they have in common. If you guys do go forward with an Evil Dead 4, would you still be considering continuing in this more modern universe? BC: Sam's been talking about it. Rob and I are like, 'Show us a script.' [...] If we did another, Army of Darkness 2, which is really what it would be, it wouldn't be Evil Dead 4 because Army of Darkness changed its name a bit. So really, it would be Army of Darkness 2. RT: Nowhere was it called Evil Dead 3. It was Army of Darkness everywhere. Fans knew it as that, and in foreign countries, they called it whatever… La Casa 3 or something. What were things that Fede did that you saw in dailies [where] you were like, “No, we don’t want this.” Anything you kind of objected to? RT: No. There were things… Bruce, Sam, and I watched the movie when it was about 80% shot, and we went, “Oh, this is really good. This is great. He’s done a great job,” and we said, “These are areas where we want you to think about. We think you should beef up something. BC: Just to punch it up a little. RT: Punch it, make it bigger. BC: Go a little crazier. RT: He took that opportunity in a couple of extra days, and we made some of the things bigger. We were happy with that. Was the raining blood, was that your guys’ thing? RT: No, that was Fede. He fought for that forever. He had to have it. BC: It’s pretty unique, though! Not many movies have a blood rain sequence. How does it feel to come out to [the premiere] and to have fans out there cheering? BC: It feels great! It’s kind of like we’re being provided for now 30 years later. We’re sort of getting paid now for what we did a long time ago. None of us really made legitimate money off of [them], especially the first one. It was just the fact that we wanted to get into the film business, that’s what it represented. This is sort of odd that it’s nationally released, it looks good, real photography, good visual effects, the music is over the top, and it’s just great to see this movie all spit polished and looking nice where people can’t tell how you did the effects. That’s all you want, we just didn’t have money to hide our effects. Was there any question it was going to be practical effects vs. CGI? RT: There was a little discussion over what we were going to do and how. There were shortcuts you could make in production that save you a day, a couple of days of shooting at the end of a schedule if you opted to say, “Oh, we’re just going to split that tongue in CGI.” Fede fought against that, and he was right to fight against it, and [we] ultimately said, “Okay, you know what? We’re going to go down that [path]…” BC: As a result, the film also has a retro look, a pre-CGI look because there’s no ghostly image going around. Even though it’s a very different film, it’s going back to that 80s genre of horror films where now, it’s kind of more like that hostile, very violent [film] where there’s no point, but this is more gore because it’s scary as opposed to gore for the sake of gore. RT: And found footage. Do you have a favorite sequence in the new film? RT: I like the nail gun sequence, the nail gun and crowbar sequence [where] Natalie ends up armless [and] crawling across the floor [saying], “My face hurts!” BC: I like Jane Levy’s never-ending scream where she just stands there and she just screams and shit is blowing around the room. You’re like, “What? What?!” And she just keeps screaming and keeps screaming. That was really cool. They said [at the post-screening Q&A] that your scream was mixed. BC: Yeah, it’s in there a couple of times. RT: But Jane’s a real screamer. You get actresses who can scream and some who can’t, and Jane was a real screamer. BC: Yeah, she could scream. There are a few homages and allusions to the first film. Was that all on Fede, or was that you guys kind of encouraging it? BC: We didn’t discourage it. I mean, look: It should be Michigan state, so it’s [in] Flint, Michigan we’re talking about, you see the car, you’ve got the book. There were things to give people the basics. Fede had a lot of wiggle room to go around that. RT: And I hassled him about the car all the time, not that I was against having it in, but I wanted him to explain why it was there. At the end of Evil Dead, it gets sucked down a hole. BC: Sucked into a vortex. It’s in 1300 right now. RT: Yeah, so what is that car… No, it traveled with you into the future… depending on the ending. BC: We don’t know where the car is. RT: “Why’s the car there?” [Mimicking Fede] “Oh, the fans are going to love it.” That’s not good enough. You’ve got to tell me why that car’s there. To his credit, he just kept saying, “The fans are going to love it. We have to have it.” BC: He used that line on me, too. We were mixing the sound, and there’s one part where we just wanted to keep pushing the music while the possessed chick is kissing… the blood kiss underneath the stairs, and she’s just barfing in her mouth. Fede just wanted the music louder and louder. I said, “Fede, you’re crazy. The music’s too loud,” and he goes, “No, the fans would insist on it.” I was like, “Okay… fine,” so we left it. In his soul of souls, he was like, “They need it.” Going forward, you guys [talking about a sequel], if you make Evil Dead 4, [would it be] separate, so this Evil Dead [sequel] would be its own thread, its own world? BC: Yeah, connected to the first movie, not to any of the original movies. So if you made Evil Dead 4, it would be its own separate [film]? BC: It would matter not. RT: Evil Dead 4’s the one with the guys in the walkers.
Evil Dead Producers photo
Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert walk into a bar...
[This interview was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.] Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert: Two of the three masterminds be...

Interview: Shiloh Fernandez and Jane Levy (Evil Dead)

Apr 02 // Geoff Henao
Last night with a live audience, was there any sort of pressure to move the story towards a more modern, realistic gore, stay[ing] away from campy sort of thing? Jane Levy: I don’t really know. I think there was a level of, I don’t know if this has to do exactly with what you’re talking about, but I think Fede [Alvarez] wanted to make a film that was timeless. There are no cell phones in the movie, if you noticed, and we’re wearing clothes that’s a little ambiguous. Lou [Taylor Pucci] looks like he’s straight up from the 70s. It’s not really clear exactly… I mean, I’m wearing a Michigan State sweatshirt, but I feel like the place and the time is not totally clear, and I think he did that on purpose. And none of you guys overacting or anything like that. It was more natural until maybe you were possessed. JL: Yeah. I think we took our jobs seriously; we didn’t necessarily take ourselves seriously. I mean, we’re making a horror film at the end of the day. The campy thing, I have a hard time defining or understanding. I don’t think anyone ever tries to be campy, do they? Shiloh Fernandez: The thing is that Evil Dead 1 is very… it’s sincere. They made a movie, and you can see it, and you can feel it. I think the campiness came in the next movie in Evil Dead 2 when Bruce Campbell is in the car and faces the camera. The movie that Fede was asked to make was Evil Dead, you know? So he took that scary movie that he remembered as a kid, and that’s what he did. The campy thing is like, there are funny moments, it’s really funny, and that’s what’s so good about it is because you laugh. The deaths with the [way] they do shit to themselves. It’s so insane that, hopefully, causes some laughs. I’m kind of curious about the physicality during the possession when you guys become more twisted and contorted. What was that like to do that everyday? JL: Yeah, it’s all really though. You get neck problems, man! It was fun to think about it. Fede hired a couple of movement coaches that worked with us and talked about our being possessed and what that would mean for our particular characters. We all had our freedom with that, each one of us gets possessed. We had discussions, but ultimately, we just tried stuff on the day, and I guess whatever was scariest, Fede chose for the cut. Are you guys prepared for the wider response for comic book convention crowds? Are you guys ready for that? JL: That stuff is really hard to comprehend, because who knows? It’s sort of like saying… I don’t know, this is a really hard question to answer. What if it’s not? What if nobody sees it? I don’t know. SF: That’s happened to me before, that question two years ago. “Are you ready for this thing?” First of all, there’s nothing to prepare for, because you can’t ultimately prepare for something that isn’t real. JL: And that you don’t understand and have never experienced. SF: I think what’s cool is this movie is a legendary film, so no matter what happens, it’s cool to be a part of this. Did you feel that pressure of remaking Evil Dead? That’s, to a lot of people, the holy grail of horror films, so it’s a lot of pressure as an actor being part of that legend. You know, “You got to live up to its standards.” It’s not like the acting in Evil Dead wasn’t exactly top-notch. SF: I didn’t say that. I’m saying that. It was great, but in retrospect, it was kind of cheesy. But now, you guys are a part of that history. JL: I didn’t really feel any pressure. None of us were trying to be anybody, we’re not trying to imitate anything. Fede wrote the script; I’m sure maybe he felt some pressure. I’m sure he did. I think he speaks honestly about that, but I was just an actor. I was just a piece of it. SF: Yeah, I think it’s a beloved movie. I’m not a huge fan of remakes. If a movie I love gets remade, I’m sort of pissed off, so I understand that attitude, and I think that the only thing you can do is to trust in the director and pray to god that he does a good job. Ultimately, I always felt like, how frustrating it was, he was going to make a movie. JL: And Sam [Raimi] was behind every single decision and has the final say in everything, so the original director is “The Great Powerful” for this whole project. I made a joke because he’s making the Oz movie. But it really was sort of like that. I never met Sam, but he was very much involved; the same as Rob [Tapert]. Are you guys fans of the original, or did you only see it before you got the part? JL: I saw it once I got the part, and I really liked it. I was really impressed, and I thought it was really fucking scary. SF: You thought it was scary? JL: Totally. I was so scared. SF: I really liked the first one. We already talked about that, yeah. The story’s obviously a lot different, and the background is a lot different, but keeping a lot of same things, [like] with the tree scene, you know… kind of that iconic, awful, horrible, things from the first movie recreated. How do you feel [about the film] keeping close to the original, not necessarily in tone or style, but keeping in the spirit. It was a very different story, and I digged that. SF: I think that’s really cool, the little things that we say peppered in to give [an] homage is really cool. I know that we got there and there was no tree rape scene, and there was going to be a snake. That was something we were all really excited for to have that particular scene in the movie to completely appease the fans that might be doubtful of this reboot. It was great to keep a lot of those elements. Besides the original Evil Dead, did they make you guys watch any horror films that have come out since? JL: He did give us a list of his favorites, but he didn’t make us watch everything. SF: You did a lot… JL: Yeah, I watched a lot of horror movies. SF: He told me to watch a Gregory Peck movie, and I can’t remember the name of it right now. Unfortunately, I didn’t do it... clearly. If you saw the movie last night [at the premiere], I didn’t do it. What was it like working with more practical effects as opposed to CGI. There was a big emphasis on being more gritty and more intense, and that definitely adds to it. When it’s CGI, it’s kind of fake and takes you out of it, so what was that like to work with more practical effects? SF: Jane had to deal with it a little bit more than I had to, but for me, it was really hard because I’ve never… You sort of want to get into a rhythm and flow in the scenes with them, but ultimately, they got to reset and they got to wash that fucking blood off the wall, and they’ve got to re-tie her arm up to the wall or whatever. It’s really tedious and hard to stay focused and stay in it. JL: I thought it was really fun, actually. I mean, I’m not saying the whole movie was fun, but a lot of the practical effects were great because everything’s happening right now. It’s not all in your imagination. Like in the first scene where I come out and I scream and the windows break, the windows actually broke in the house. In that scene I watched Jessica [Lucas] shoot where she looks herself in the mirror and the mirror breaks, [it] was all set up. It was just so cool to watch it actually happen, and also, it was fun to work as a team. One day, I shot the shotgun, and Fede was like, “It doesn’t look real because a shotgun would have smoke afterwards” and the shot’s behind my head and I’m laying there on the floor. I think I said… I smoked a cigarette on the floor and tried to blow it. They were like, “No no no no no, that’s not good enough because it’s not coming from the right angle.” So a guy in rain boots laid next to me, some kid in New Zealand, and smoked a cigarette next to me in my face after I shot my gun so that there would be smoke.
Evil Dead Main Cast photo
Shiloh Fernandez and Jane Levy walk into a bar...
[This interview was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.] Last weekend, I sat down with Jane Levy (Nobody Walks) an...

Interview: The supporting cast of Evil Dead

Apr 02 // Geoff Henao
What was it like working with Fede [Alvarez]? I’ve been hearing a lot about him as a first-time director. How did that feel like? Jessica Lucas: Great. Actually, when I went to audition, [I] was kind of skeptical and not sure if I wanted to do it or be in a horror movie. Fede is the person that made me want to [be in it]. He was really enthusiastic, and you could tell he’s just so passionate about the originals and wanted to make a very cool, original film that still had nods to the original films. He’s the whole reason I did it. Lou Taylor Pucci: You’ve seen how cool, calm, and collected he is. It’s true. You need that in a director sometimes, especially for a movie like this with such crazy energy and everything being practical and disgusting. We only had one take of something because there’s only one arm or whatever. He knew what he wanted, and he was cool. That’s hard to do, especially for a first timer. JL: Yeah, he never lost his enthusiasm, either. Elizabeth Blackmore: Or his vision, really. He knew what film he wanted to make. When he had an idea or something, would he just pitch it to you guys, or he’d tell you, “This is what we’re doing”? LTP: For about 25 minutes. [He begins mimicking Alvarez’ stuttering.] JL: I remember you guys [Pucci and Alvarez] having some very long, drawn-out conversations, [we were] like, “Are we going to shoot today” while Fede was still talking. LTP: Fede’s a talker. It’s better than not being a talker, though. Did he have you guys as a cast bring you a bit closer together because you’re childhood friends. Did you guys do any sort of bonding experience? LTP: We actually wanted to go to the real cabin in the woods and spend a vacation in the real cabin, but they wouldn’t let us for insurance reasons. So we went and rented a beach house in the middle of this beach community in Brazil, and it was way upper class, ritzy; we were next to a golf course. It was hilarious. JL: I’d take that over the cabin. LTP: Actually [when] we really got to bond was the four days leading up to shooting, like we filmed the next day after we got back, so everybody’s tension was running really high at the end. They’re like, “Okay, vacation’s over!” EB: I think we all got along really well from the beginning. LTP: Nobody’s really a jerk… except for Shiloh [Fernandez]. How physical was it for you guys, and you [Pucci] especially, because your character basically got fucked over the entire film? LTP: It was super physical. My favorite thing was just jumping rope and doing something that would get me totally wiped out by the time we got to the screen, because you had to come in with the same scared face. Let’s do scary faces again! What about you guys? JL: Was it physically grueling? Yeah. Well, I only shot my sequence for about a week, and I remember just at the end thinking, “This is hell. I’m so glad that it’s over, but then we realized everyone else had to keep on doing it and it smells so bad. EB: I think one of the hardest things was so much makeup and prosthetics, you know? And it takes hours, like six hours. And then having to suddenly jump in to slicing my arm or whatever. It’s just like… Lou would be jumping rope, and I would be spinning in circles just trying to get that energy back up. JL: You spend more time getting ready than actually shooting. LTP: Do you remember that one time, we were filming in the beginning, we did it in chronological order, so all of the drama was in the beginning. Remember they wanted us to do it without Shiloh there? They were like, “We’re going to get ready for this. Be ready, because you’re not always going to always be working with the actors. You’re going to have to work with stunt doubles and a tennis ball or something.” They tried doing that with a drama scene. We were like, “No! This is a bunch of… This is the acting part. You’ve got to let us do the acting part once!” But they did. Fede knew. We were pissed. JL: We got our way, though. LTP: I don’t know where that came from, the story that just happened. How long did the shoot take? LTP: Three months. Were there times on the shoot [where] you guys were actually, physically scared, like “Wow, this is scary. I wonder what it must look like on the screen”? EB: I remember watching Jess’ face get vomited on. I finished for the day and I was just watching, and I went, “…oh. Okay.” JL: I think it was more traumatic for everyone else. Like Jane was freaking out. She absolutely hated having to vomit on me. I was acting like I was drowning in it, so she actually thought I was. I thought we were only going to do it once or twice at the most, but we did it four or five times. What was the vomit mix? LTP: Mint flavored or vanilla flavored? JL: It was more like a strawberry. At least it had a flavor. EB: We get asked these questions every day. “What flavor blood? Peppermint? Vanilla?” JL: The worst part about it was that they only mixed it up every other day, so on day two, it was the most rancid smelling, disgusting thing, and I would just have to get covered in it. LTP: That is so disgusting. They would only mix it up every other day. That is so disgusting. EB: There’d just be these jars in the fridges, like: “Demon vomit.” LTP: I was mostly working with Jessica in the scene where we got really beat up, you know what I mean? That vomit was like a mucous; it was like a pudding. It was like pudding all over you. There were chunks, too. I noticed that. LTP: And it would all dry, so it was like we were wearing these cardboard cutout shirts and stuff, because they were solid by the end of it. They weren’t cloth anymore, they were just dried blood. JL: We went through a lot of wardrobe. EB: I think I had close to 30 dresses. LTP: I had 27. JL: Sometimes, they had to cut you out of them in the end because you can’t get them off. Were you guys fans of the original, or did you watch it when you got hired for the movie? LTP: I was a huge fan of the original from when I was younger. JL: I still haven’t seen it. I do want to see it, I just didn’t want to be informed by something else. I would love to see it now. It’s on Netflix Instant, so maybe I’ll go see it. LTP: I really love that it’s not really a remake. It really isn’t. It just doesn’t feel like it. It’s not trying to be anything like the other one. It just has the same cabin and the same general characters as every other horror film. But I mean, that’s it. It’s its own thing. Last year at SXSW, they had The Cabin in the Woods. Any comparisons? LTP: Yeah, I didn’t like that. Really? EB: I haven’t seen it. We were in New Zealand when it came out, and it hadn’t come out there, so we didn’t get to see it. LTP: It was just, they were going for the funny. [Evil Dead] was funny in its shock value, and I just choose this. If I want to watch something that’s horror, I want it to be at least scary. That wasn’t scary at all. It was funny. It was more like a comedy. It was different with what it was, but to think you were going into a horror film, then getting what it was. JL: Actually, Fran Kranz [Marty in The Cabin in the Woods] was at the premiere. LTP: I shouldn’t say I hated The Cabin in the Woods. That was a bad idea. JL: No filter, I like it. LTP: Yeah, shit happens.
Evil Dead Supporting Cast photo
Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore walk into a bar...
[This interview was originally posted as part of our South by Southwest 2013 coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of Evil Dead.] Evil Dead was highly anticipated at this year's SXSW. Who...

SXSW: South by Southwest 2013 Recap

Mar 22 // Flixist Staff
[Note: Reviews are listed in chronological order.] Much Ado About Nothing - 80Evil Dead - 85 Prince Avalanche - 88 The Fifth Season - 54Xmas Without China - 72Good Night - 70When Angels Sing - 40Don Jon - 83/85 (Allistair/Geoff)Drinking Buddies - 80 Upstream Color - 91/80 (Hubert/Geoff) Spring Breakers - 70/78 (Geoff/Matt)You're Next - 86 Everyone's Going to Die - 83 The Lords of Salem - 40Zero Charisma - 70Rewind This! - 77Grow Up, Tony Phillips - 65Swim Little Fish Swim - 77Sake-Bomb - 55The Rambler - 38I Am Divine - 80 The East - 56Coldwater - 87 The Punk Singer - 85 These Birds Walk - 80 Diario a Tres Voces (Three Voices) - 70Hawking - 74Los Wild Ones - 81 Awful Nice - 75 [Note: Interviews are listed in chronological order.] Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Sean Gallagher, Alex Karpovsky, and Jonny Mars (Good Night)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Joe Swanberg, and Jake Johnson (Drinking Buddies)SXSW Interview: Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, and Elizabeth Blackmore (Evil Dead)SXSW Interview: Shiloh Fernandez and Jane Levy (Evil Dead)SXSW Interview: Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert (Evil Dead)SXSW Interview: Rob Zombie (The Lords of Salem)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Lola Bessis, Ruben Amar, and Brooke Bloom (Swim Little Fish Swim)SXSW Interview: Fede Alvarez & Rodo Sayagues (Evil Dead)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Paul Johnson, Christopher Palmer, and Carolee Mitchell (Rewind This!)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Emily Hagins, Tony Vespe, AJ Bowen, and Katie Folger (Grow Up, Tony Phillips)SXSW Interview: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch, and David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Junya Sakino, Gaku Hamada, and Eugene Kim (Sake-Bomb)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Joshua Oppenheimer (The Act of Killing)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Jeff Howlett and Mark Covino (A Band Called Death)Flixclusive SXSW Interview: Death (A Band Called Death) [Note: Content is listed in chronological order.] SXSW: Evil Dead 4 would essentially be Army of Darkness 2SXSW Flix for Short: Nick Astro Found SXSWSXSW: Photo Gallery... of sortsSXSW: Top Films of the Festival
SXSW 2013 Recap photo
Everything we did at SXSW 2013... well, not everything.
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] We ca...

Top Films of SXSW photo
Top Films of SXSW

SXSW 2013: Top Films of the Festival


Our top nine films of SXSW 2013!
Mar 22
// Flixist Staff
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] As we...

SXSW Review: Awful Nice

Mar 22 // Hubert Vigilla
Awful NiceDirector: Todd SklarRating: TBDRelease Date: TBD To play up the oddball humor of a film about bitter rivals (related or not), there's usually some contrast between the leads. The personality types for the two brothers are familiar: Jim is the responsible one, married, gainfully employed by a university, a published author; Dave is the screw up, and we first see him sleeping naked in a tepee with a pet tarantula in a foggy but otherwise empty pickle jar. Jim has to coax Dave to go to their dad's funeral. Once there, they learn that they've inherited a lake house from their youth out in Branson, Missouri. They could just cash in the value of the property with one of his dad's business associates, played by a grumpy and aged Christopher Meloni. (I originally thought it was Michael Showalter beneath the sunglasses and the wig.) Rather than take the cash, Dave thinks he can rebuild the house with Jim, possibly to bond with his brother, but most likely because he's a homeless, shiftless loafer and the lake house beats a tepee on the reservation any day. Jim agrees for some reason, possibly to bond with his brother, but most likely because it's a good excuse to get away from the drudgery of his routine. The fix-it job goes through a series of slapstick botches as the story progresses. Sklar does his best to avoid the cliches of the "house as a metaphor for relationships" films, and he's generally successful. This is thanks in large part to the constant bickering between the brothers. There's a definite acid-vs-base chemistry between Dave and Jim. Even though Jim is the guy who's supposed to be with-it, he's got a streak of mean-spiritedness and condescension that eggs on Dave's devil-may-care free spirit. In the rare moments where Dave can one-up Jim, he relishes in it. Example (and I'm just piecing this together from memory, so it's not exact): Jim: You worked at a zoo! What do you know about fixing a house? All you did was clean up dog shit. Dave: Excuse me, why would I be cleaning up dog shit at a zoo? I don't think you know how zoos work. Sklar co-wrote the movie with Rennie (who plays Dave), so there's a certain quickness to the back and forths between the two brothers. With movies that are built on snappy verbal exchanges between two people, it really does seem ideal to have a second writer to bounce ideas back and forth with. The dialogue comes fast, the insults and jabs arrive quicker, and there's a sense of personality that arises from comic beat to comic beat. Beyond the verbal gags in Awful Nice, Sklar and the cast have a good knack for little details when they construct scenes around jokes. There's the pet tarantula in the opening scene which helps lend an extra layer of sordidness to what Dave's life in the tepee must have been like. A later throwaway moment involving Tabasco sauce also builds a sense of rough-and-tumble history. In the background in an office scene, there's a piece of kitschy art that is so thrift shop-chic and so Branson. Awful Nice shoots from gag to gag rapidly, which makes the movie breeze by, and which fills each scene with a sense of expectation -- here's the set-up, now what's the punchline going to be? While Sklar and his team have a knack for episodic jokes, the last third of Awful Nice feels like it's lacking something toward the end. It's not bad and it thankfully doesn't become sentimental in an unearned way. Sklar and his actors could have easily gone there, but the movie is resistant to such easy, feel-good moments that would undermine the bitterness of this relationship. I think that's admirable, actually, since it'd be easy to go for some easy emotional beat and wrap up the film with a bow. Instead I think the resolution comes a little too easy and it's not as satisfying as everything that leads up to it. In some ways what happens is telegraphed well in advance, and for a film where the jokes seem to come out of nowhere, something that I could see coming feels a bit pat. In that respect, I wish the plot was treated more like the jokes in the film, that there'd be a sense of surprise to both the set-up and the punchline. And yet I can't completely hold the wrap-up to Awful Nice against it since it has a lot of other things going for it, like an inventive way of getting rid of wasp nests that involves a softball bat. It's a short gag, just another episode in a series of fix-it misadventures. Jim is hesitant, Dave is certain it's going to work. Of course it doesn't work out quite as planned, but the joke is well-constructed and that's what matters. On to the next one.
Awful Nice Review photo
Violent sibling rivalry is a damn funny thing
[From March 9th - 17th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2013 in Austin, TX. Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!] Sibling rivalries are...


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