Yes, RUBBER was released theatrically on April 1st. No, it’s not some kind of a joke — I’ve seen it, I know. It’s actually a film about a tire that gains consciousness in the middle of the desert, finds it has the power to destroy objects and animals (including the human kind) with its mind, and then goes on to wreak fear and destruction amongst the inhabitants of a small motel. That director Quentin Dupieux (a.k.a. electro musician Mr. Oizo) goes ahead and has characters regularly address the audience — both in the actual auditorium and on the screen (the latter are placed on a hilltop and conveniently provided binoculars to watch the action) — then gives Wings Hauser possibly his best role to date as one particularly cantankerous spectator, and did it all with a bare-bones crew (Dupieux wrote, directed, composed (with Gaspard Augé) and photographed using the Canon 5D, the same digital still camera used for TINY FURNITURE) on a short schedule (less than one year from conception to final cut), only adds to the rarefied nature of the entire project. But have no doubt: It exists, and it’s pretty damn cool.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Dupieux.
Brad Anderson knows his way around old school horror — you know, the kind that relies on atmosphere and suggestion, the kind values the power of the disturbing thought as much as or more than threateningly wielded power tools and bleeding limb-stumps. In films such as THE MACHINIST (where Christian Bale almost literally wasted away on-screen) and SESSION 9 (where David Caruso went slowly nuts listening to a tape recording) he got considerable mileage out of the power of nuance. Now, with VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, he turns the encroaching dark into a malevolent force, throwing Hayden Christensen, Thandie Newton, and John Leguizamo together to face the deadly (and digitally enhanced) shadows. “Watch this with the lights on,” is an old cliché, but in this case, it’s all too applicable.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Anderson.
His previous film, SMILEY FACE, seems to have perked director Gregg Araki up considerably. There’s a fatality to his newest, KABOOM — dealing with the imminent end of the world and all that — but there’s also an antic attitude to it that pulls the proceedings away from the darkness. Granted, when your story is about an “ambisexual” (that’s the way the notes put it) college freshman (Thomas Dekker) who’s getting premonitions of an impending apocalypse in between bouts of sex and copious drug use — all while his best friend (Haley Bennett) is being stalked by a jealous witch and his surfer-cute roommate (Chris Zylka) is sending out decidedly mixed signals — it’s hard to keep a (forgive us) straight face. This may be another of Araki’s doomed generations, but they’re not gonna mope around about it.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Gregg.
In 1999, Warner’s released THE IRON GIANT. Well… released may not be the best term. Slipped into theaters under the cover of night so that anyone who might be remotely interested couldn’t possibly know of its existence… yeah, that’s the term. Despite the stealth marketing, director Brad Bird’s animated tale of a young boy who lives in red-scare, 1950’s America and manages to bond with a giant, gentle, metal-eating robot managed to catch a few discerning eyes (mine included), and has since been championed as a tremendously entertaining animation classic. As for Bird, well, the guys at Pixar took note, too, and Brad wound up helming a couple of minor trifles you might have heard of: THE INCREDIBLES and RATATOUILLE.
The staff over at New York’s Film Forum clearly know a good thing when they see it, and this year, they decided to treat their audience to a limited run of THE IRON GIANT as a holiday treat. It’s running from December 22nd through the 28th, and to commemorate the event, I got an opportunity to talk with Bird. We were able to discuss the creation of GIANT, plus look into some of his other projects, including his live-action debut: the Tom Cruise-starring MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL.
Click on the player to hear the interview.
The triangles just keep getting more complicated, don’t they? In the new Peruvian film, UNDERTOW, fisherman Miguel (Cristian Mercado) is eagerly awaiting the arrival of his child by his wife Mariel (Tatiana Astengo), while at the same time carrying on an affair with his male lover, the artist Santiago (Manolo Cardona). But when Santiago dies in a swimming accident and returns as a ghost who can only be freed when Miguel formally sets him loose, issues of love, identity, and one’s perception within a closely knit community rise to the surface. (Fitting, I guess, for a nautical community.)
Director Javier Fuentes-León is making his feature film debut here, and is employing a healthy dose of magical realism to tell his tale, giving the film as a whole a spare but appealing naturalism and imbuing the love-making sequences with a compelling sensuality. It’s a distinctive and affecting addition to fantasy film.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Javier.
Kinda sorry I’m going to see LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS in IMAX 3D this weekend, and not Gaspar Noé’s new film, ENTER THE VOID. This is the movie that could benefit from the full, immersive, 3D treatment: a swirling, gliding, electric voyage into life and death, with sex, drugs, and a dynamically surreal Tokyo thrown in for good measure.
That all this is conveyed through the viewpoint of a mere blip on the universe’s map — a low-level drug dealer, Oscar (Nathaniel Brown), who comes a-cropper of a botched drug bust and ends up on the wrong end of a cop’s gun — lends what follows no little ironic impact. As he lays bleeding on a lavatory floor, the camera takes the vantage point of Oscar’s soul as it rises, experiencing the transition to the next world in a manner that closely resembles The Tibetan Book of the Dead. In a sinuous, seamless camera track, we see Oscar’s life — particularly the bond he has with sister (Paz de la Huerta) — played out as grand, psychedelic pageant. The experience is mesmerizing and surprisingly poignant — certainly one of the most intense and seductive experiences I’ve had this year.
Click on the player to hear my interview with Gaspar Noé.
CENTURION tends to focus on the resilience side of human existance, what with swords, hatchets, and various other implements of death being wielded hither and yon and a small clutch of battle-scarred soldiers trying to survive their onslaughts. Based on the historical myth of a legion of Roman warriors who vanished into the mists of northern Britain, never to return, Neil Marshall’s violent imagining of their fate offers a propulsive adventure in which Michael Fassbender’s dedicated centurion seeks to lead a small band of soldiers out of enemy territory while being hunted down by a relentless Pict tracker (played by Olga Kurylenko, whose inspirational physique would make anyone wish that surrender was an option). And if you remember Marshall from DOG SOLDIERS and THE DESCENT, you know that once the narrative gets going, it’ll be at least as relentless as the soldier’s adversaries, and once things get violent, man, you’d better duck (and this isn’t even in 3D!). A fitting way to commemorate the end of summer methinks.
Also in this episode, an interview with director Danièle Thompson about her sharply observed dinner comedy, CHANGE OF PLANS. Not genre, but worthwhile, anyway.
Click on the player to hear the interviews.
Y’know, people probably shouldn’t be this gleeful about issues of mortality, but in the cases of the movies being discussed in this episode, we’re kinda glad they are. This episode features interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and George A. Romero, both of whom have previously addressed matters of life-and-death in their own, unique ways, and have decided that there’s still more sport to be had from the subject.
In MICMACS, Jeunet gives us a cockeyed protagonist in the person of Bazil (Dany Boon), a man who quite by chance winds up at the precipice of the eternal when a stray bullet gets lodged in his brain. This makes him not so charitably inclined towards the manufacturer of said bullet, a matter only exacerbated when he discovers that the land mine that killed his father in the Middle East was created by a neighboring company. His only recourse: Take down both corporations, with the help of a ragtag assortment of unusually talented junkyard misfits. For such a dire theme, the film turns out to be quite a lighthearted adventure, with Jeunet deploying all his powers of visual invention into the narrative, while also making copious nods to film history, particularly to the works of silent comedians and Sergio Leone.
George Romero is also taking a few pages from cinema history, most specifically from classic westerns. In SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD, the group of renegade guardsmen we met in DIARY OF THE DEAD — led by Alan Van Sprang — decides they’ve had enough of zombies, and aim themselves for a respite on an island off the coast of Delaware. Problem is: Not only is the place already infested with the walking dead, but they’ve become a rather peculiar stake in a kind-of range war between waged between two feuding clans. As always, Romero mixes zombie assaults with some particularly vivid death scenes — for both living and dead — along with some trenchant observations of our current, fractious times. Turns out the departed still have something to say to their survivors, and it has nothing to do with moving into the light.
Click on the player to hear the show.
Have no doubt, I love bad movies. I still have fond memories of the first time I stumbled onto ROBOT MONSTER, back in the days when local broadcast television had afternoon movie shows, and one could serendipitously chance upon such inspired dreadfulness as a cheesy science fiction epic — with Hamlet-like ambitions — in which the titular monster was actually some guy in a gorilla suit wearing a toy diver’s helmet (check it out if you don’t believe me). Lemme tell ya, there’s nothing quite like sitting through ninety minutes of “What the frak is this?!” to put a spring in your step and reinvigorate your will to live.
Problem is that, these days, fortune has dictated I be late to this particular party, getting around to the legendarily awful long after their cults have formed. Which is by way of saying that I haven’t yet seen TROLL 2, the notoriously awful non-sequel (title notwithstanding), not-really-horror film that’s at the center of the documentary BEST WORST MOVIE. Not to worry, director Michael Paul Stephenson — who two decades ago was the child star of the movie — is less about celebrating the film than he is about exploring its impact on those involved, both before and after it had attained its midnight-movie status. To that end, he tracks down many of the project’s key players, including director Claudio Fragrasso — who expresses some well-justified discomfort with being embraced by this particular group of admirers — and co-star Dr. George Hardy, a dentist whose zeal for the spotlight first found him cast as Stephenson’s father, and then embracing his notoriety with perhaps a bit too much ardor.
The film is an intriguing examination of a certain, two-edged brand of fame and how the artists involved handle its effects. I got to explore the issue with Stephenson, amongst other topics — bottom line: He seems to have survived the trauma quite handily. Click on the player to hear the interview.
There are some films that you’re either for or agin, and wow, does THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE fit into that category. A vivid little bit of Grand Guignol wherein a couple of hapless tourists (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) stumble upon the lair of the prototypical mad doctor (Dieter Laser) who proceeds to stitch them (and a Japanese guy played by Akihiro Kitamura) together to form the titular medical abomination — and yes, that means mouth-to-anus and, yes, we do get to watch them experience the subsequent digestive process — this offering from Dutch director Tom Six is the kind of thing that seems expressly designed to test the will of the die-hard horror-lover.
And I surprised myself: I like it. Yeah, I turned off the playback about a half-hour in, but once I steeled my nerves enough to resume, I found that, after reaching about the halfway point, a certain grand absurdity begins to take hold of the proceedings. It helps that the good doctor’s creation, once unveiled, is patently ridiculous, and that Mr. Laser has no problem chewing the scenery with a ferocity that suggests that director Six kept him away from the craft services table for the length of the shoot. The film still pushes all kinds of buttons (the tag line reads, “100% Medically Accurate,” after all; and the young actors seem to have been cast for their capacity to sob and groan), and some will style this as yet another sign of the coming fall of civilization. If so, at least we’re having a laugh as we go down the drain.
Tom Six and I had an opportunity to talk about how the film was born from a rather creative notion on the meting out justice, as well as what it takes to wardrobe the modern mad scientist and what the audience might expect from the upcoming sequel (danger, Will Robinson). Click on the player to hear the interview.