Time to close the year off with some rip-roarin’ adventure, so why not throw in a little, continental flair in the process? Steven Spielberg has decided to take that route, and make his debut in the animation field, with THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN, a cg-animated film using AVATAR’s performance-capture process and based on the charmingly audacious comic books by the artist Hergé. Starting with a mysterious message found in a model boat and spinning out into grandiose tapestry of action that includes pirate raids, fictional Arabian kingdoms, motorcycle chases, and talented opera singers, the story takes the classic boy reporter/detective (performed and voiced by Jamie Bell) and gives him the kind of adrenaline-filled exploits that only Spielberg can orchestrate.
Click on the player to hear the press conference featuring Steven Spielberg (who fields most of the questions), producer Kathleen Kennedy, stars Bell and Nick Frost, and WETA effects master Joe Letteri.
Award-winning novelist Julia Leigh makes a hell of a directorial debut with her quiet fantasia, SLEEPING BEAUTY, the story of a young college student (Emily Browning) who becomes immersed in a strange world of desire when she signs on as employee of a service that drugs women and allows men — frequently much older — to do whatever they wish with the inert bodies (with the strict proviso that there be no penetration or damage).
Dark, provocative, erotic, the film inspires a multitude of responses, frequently within the same second of footage. And once you get past the tale’s elegant mise en scene and sensuous atmosphere, don’t be surprised to discover Leigh has posed some intriguing questions on love, death, and all the impulses that drive our species. Sex is 99% brain, after all.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Leigh.
The tag line for Tom Six’s new THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 (FULL SEQUENCE) is “100% Medically Inaccurate,” tipping those who witnessed the merciless onslaught that was THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) that the follow-up is, if anything, going to be a further affront to everything that is pure, good, and sanitary in this world.
The tale of a mentally deranged parking attendant (Laurence R. Harvey), who is transported by repeated, obsessive viewings of the first HUMAN CENTIPEDE film — in which a mad, German doctor (is there any other kind?) stitches three unfortunate people together, mouth-to-anus, with the expected, alimentary repercussions — and decides to make his own, twelve-person (“full sequence”) version with the crude tools available to him, FULL SEQUENCE is an unstinting assault of gritty, black and white photography, and grotty gore effects, not to mention crowbar assaults, ball-peen hammer dentistry, staple-gun surgery, and live centipedes inserted in orifices where live centipedes should not go. THE BLIND SIDE it ain’t, but that’s all to the good, in my humble opinion. If you’re the type who can get into Six’s “You think that’s too much? Try THIS!” aesthetic, you’ll no doubt find it an intense and weirdly gratifying ninety minutes. You sick little monkey, you.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Tom Six and Laurence R. Harvey.
Roland Emmerich can bite me. The guy’s been making disaster films since time can remember, yet for all his besetting humans with floods, fires, and earthquakes (and the occasional alien invasion), he’s never managed to make something as resonant, affecting, and powerful as TAKE SHELTER. A film that skirts the line between vivid fantasy and straight drama, it tells the tale of a loving, working-class husband and father (Michael Shannon) suddenly overwhelmed by visions of impending doom and torn between the compulsion to protect his wife (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart) from the onslaught and the fear that a family history of schizophrenia may be making itself manifest. This is director Jeff Nichols second feature (and his second with Shannon), and in weaving a scenario that balances vivid imagery with nuanced observation — and is highlighted by moving, vulnerable performances from Shannon and Chastain, among others – the film speaks compellingly not only to the power of familial love, but to a sense of creeping helplessness that’s overtaking American society.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Nichols.
Somehow, it seems like it was only a matter of time before director Nicolas Winding Refn hitched his camera to a hurtling piece of American metal and did a full-on car chase film. In DRIVE, Ryan Gosling plays a guy named… wait for it… Driver, a stunt man with a freelance career in piloting getaway cars and dreams of breaking into the racing world. That is, if his dedicated agent (Bryan Cranston) can swing the breaks, and he isn’t waylaid by gangsters Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks or distracted by his beautiful next-door neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her young son. It’s Refn, so moral ambiguities will abound, not to mention some incredibly mounted chases and unrestrained violence. Sum total: Action goodness with both brains and balls. Fine, fine stuff.
And, yes, despite Refn’s heightened aesthetic, DRIVE doesn’t really qualify as genre film, but in the course of our conversation, the director does briefly discuss plans for his remake of LOGAN’S RUN, which will also star Gosling. So there ya go.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Refn.
Cause for celebration, indeed: Hong Kong director Tsui Hark is back, and if anything, his vision has gotten more crazily energetic and eye-dazzling in his latest effort. In DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, Andy Lau plays actual historical figure Dee Renjie, a disgraced judge who’s compelled to confront the undeniably fantastic when he’s sprung from prison by embattled Empress Wu to find out who is exterminating her entourage by having them burst spontaneously into flame. As can be expected from Hark, the film is a treasure trove of dizzyingly exquisite fight sequences, backed up by a witty and intelligent story line that has Dee on the one hand deploying science against the forces of superstition and on the other sees him in conflict with an empress ruthlessly determined to maintain her power. It’s got action, it’s got spectacle, it’s got a deer who can kick ass. What else could you ask for?
Click on the player to hear my interview with Hark.
Guillermo del Toro says that, as a kid, he harbored great affection for the TV-movie version of DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, enough so that he and his friends used to creep each other out merely by whispering the name, “Salllllleeeee.” The years have passed and audiences have (maybe) become more sophisticated, but the new version of the film, co-written and co-produced by del Toro and directed by comics artist Troy Nixey in his feature film debut, clearly demonstrates that there’s still room in the hearts of horror fans for a flick that worms its way into your brain with evocative atmosphere, and a story that has a young girl (Bailee Madison) ignored by her father and his girlfriend (Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes) and beset by little creatures who just plain want her.
Because of Hurrican Irene, we’re forsaking the usual production values to bring you my interview with Nixey as fast (and easily) as possible. Click on the player to hear the chat.
Think of it as one spiritual brother reaching out to another over the span of almost an entire century: Bill Plympton — the innovative animator known for his edgy surrealism and distinctive, hand-drawn style — has decided to rejuvenate the work of one of animation’s first fathers, Winsor McCay, the man who painstakingly and single-handedly created such elegant, landmark films as GERTIE THE DINOSAUR and LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND. Plympton has reached into McCay’s catalogue to pull out THE FLYING HOUSE — an UP-like adventure in which a married couple take wing in their homestead — and with the help of a small corps of volunteers, is busy cleaning up the footage, adding a soundtrack voiced by Patricia Clarkson and Matthew Modine, and, in a move that’s controversial only until you see how pretty it looks, added a delicate color palette to the original black and white footage.
Plympton and I talk about the McCay project, as well his work on the new Weird Al video, TMZ, and his new book, the comprehensive survey, Independently Animated: Bill Plympton: The Life and Art of the King of Indie Animation (which you can purchase here, if you’re of a mind). Click on the player to hear the show.
The course of true love is never easy. When an imposing, MAD-MAX-like, fire-breathing automobile intervenes, it can get downright complicated. Evan Glodell’s BELLFLOWER is the tale of two Southern Californians — Woodrow (Glodell) and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) — who fill their free time with speculations of the post-apocalyptic future and preparations for same that include the construction of Matilda, a bad-ass, black automobile that would make the Road Warrior drool. But when Woodrow begins hanging out with Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a woman with similar, dark impulses, the ecology of the two friends and their circle of acquaintances is about to undergo a serious upheaval.
Glodell packs the film with a wired, spontaneous energy, and doubles-down on the rough, hand-tooled feel by having a hand in the building of the film’s flame-throwers and cars, as well as the home-made lens system used to shoot the footage. Good to know that, come the Fall, canny filmmakers will still be able to survive.
Click on the player to hear the interview.
Shot on the proverbial shoestring over seven quick production days, DO NOT DISTURB is a curious little anthology film with some interesting names attached. Mali Elfman — daughter of Danny — wrote and produced, as well as starring in a couple of segments; Eric Balfour (SKYLINE) directs one segment and stars in another. Other helmers include music video director Petro Papahadjopoulos and Brandon Nicholas; and daddy Danny chipped in a theme song, with other soundtrack contributions coming from Incubus’ Mike Eizinger and Thenewno2′s Oliver Hecks. The stories, all set in one hotel room, run the gamut from a conventional drama featuring some teen classmates on a school trip, to an alien encounter, to a prostitute contending with a client with esoteric tastes in role-play, to a twist on the ol’ involuntary organ-donor urban myth. Turns out some hotel rooms need a UV sweep; some just deserve to be walled-up and forgotten about.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Mali.