It's strange to think that, including "The Hunger Games," Gary Ross has only directed three films.
Those three films cover a lot of ground, too. "Pleasantville" is very different than "Seabiscuit," and neither one of them would prepare you for what he's done with "The Hunger Games." I'm going to guess he was not the first person on the list that Lionsgate put together when they bought the book and started talking about turning it into a film. I'm not sure what I've been expecting. I read the books last year, and since then, I've watched all the casting announcements and we've run the photos and the trailers, and honestly, none of it really told me what to expect from the film.
It's strange to think that, including "The Hunger Games," Gary Ross has only directed three films.
At this point, I'm starting to suspect there are more than two Duplass brothers.
It's really the only way to explain their almost absurd level of productivity recently. Since "Cyrus" played Sundance, it seems that there is always something coming out with either Mark Duplass starring or written by them or directed by them, and it's been a good run for the two of them.
I quite liked "The Puffy Chair," their early film, but when they made the jump to working with casts that are better-known, they also seemed to hone their craft in a way that is surprisingly at home in the mainstream. Their new film, "Jeff, Who Lives At Home," is my favorite thing they've done, and so of course when asked if I wanted to sit down with them to talk about the movie, the answer was a very easy "yes."
The film begins in total darkness, and an older English man is screaming at someone. "NO YOU WILL NOT TALK TO THEM! NOT IN MY MOVIE! I DON'T WANT ANY OF THEM IN MY MOVIE!" Then the darkness splits and you realize someone was pressed up against the camera. The person moves back, waving a cane, swinging it with real intent. We get our first look at the Ginger Baker of today, red-faced and furious.
"Are you really going to try to hit me with that?" someone asks from behind the camera. That only seems to make Baker crazier, and he thrusts with the cane, rewarded with a satisfying crack for his efforts, and he roars, "I'LL SEND YOU TO F**KIN' HOSPITAL!"
There's a cut, and we see the director of the documentary, Jay Bulger, stagger outside the car, bleeding freely from the gash across the bridge of his nose. "I think Ginger Baker just kicked my ass," he says. BOOM. The main title comes up. "BEWARE OF MR. BAKER." And just like that, you're off and running on a truly hilarious and harrowing look at one of the great monsters of rock, the legendary drummer Ginger Baker. The film manages to make the case for his place in the firmament of musicians who helped shape an era, and it also reveals that time has not dulled his fangs one little bit.
I was not familiar with the name Megan Griffiths until now, but it appears that I've been watching her work for years. She produced two of Todd Rohal's films, she co-produced the outstanding "Your Sister's Sister" which I saw this year at Sundance, and she also helped produce the documentary "Zoo," which is a terribly disturbing film. I did not see her previous films, but "The Off Hours" was at Sundance last year, and I know a few people who liked it.
I will definitely catch up with it, because I thought her new film, "Eden," was a strong, simple presentation of a harrowing story, with a great performance from Jamie Chung to ground the whole thing. Based on the real life of Chong Kim, who gets a co-story credit, "Eden" tells the story of a young Korean girl who works for her parents in their store and who is just starting to experiment with freedom, sneaking out with her friend, smoking cigarettes. She's very young, and despite her little white lies, she seems like a fairly innocent girl.
There are worse ways to spend a Saturday than chatting with Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.
Both of them were part of the same press day for their new film "Jeff Who Lives At Home," and I was excited to discuss the movie with both of them. They are both sharp, vibrant performers who have spent most of their career making movies better just by being in them.
I love that Sarandon is so hard on her own work in the movie "Joe," which I brought up while we were talking. That's a pretty great little '70s picture with an amazing central performance by Peter Boyle, and Sarandon stars as his daughter. It's one of her earliest roles, and she shuddered at the mention of it, saying she's awful in it. While I agree that she is much, much better now, I don't think she's right about how bad she was. Even in the early part of her career, Sarandon had a great live-wire energy onscreen that made it impossible to look away. Is her performance in "Dead Man Walking" better than her work in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"? Sure. Of course. But she's still fascinating in "Rocky," and in "Joe," because you could see right away that she was wildly alive behind those giant almond eyes of hers.
The male leads of "The Hunger Games" really don't spend any time together onscreen, but the dynamic that each of them shares with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) helps shape not only this first film but the entire trilogy ahead.
What's impressive is that this is not about an easy love triangle. If you were to remove the romantic entanglements from "Twilight," for example, there's nothing left. And while there are definitely strong feelings between Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), that's not what drives this film. That's not what drives the overall story. That's not the point. I like that Katniss is defined by way more than just the men in her life.
Having said that, Gale and Peeta certainly matter. In this first film, Gale represents the life Katniss thought she was going to live forever, scratching by in District 12, caring for her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) and her mother (Paula Malcomson), sneaking off to hunt illegally with Gale by her side. Peeta is part of this new life she stumbles into when she volunteers to take Prim's place in the The Hunger Games, with Peeta picked as the other tribute from District 12.
Ciaran Foy's film "Citadel" would be an effective horror film if all he did was successfully impart to the audience the crushing anxiety and cold-sweat fear that is the everyday state of an agoraphobic, but when you add creepy mutant kids to the mix, you get a potent cocktail that should please horror fans enormously.
Foy talked about the origin of the film briefly before the screening and told the audience that following a random act of violence against him, he developed a crippling case of agoraphobia, and that the film is part of his desire to overcome the problem. I would believe it, because the set-up for the film is very direct, very personal, and effectively etches an incident in which Tommy (Aneurin Barnard) and his pregnant wife Joanne (Amy Shiels) are getting ready to move out of the block housing tower where they live in a particularly blasted part of Ireland. Tommy is carrying bags out to the waiting taxi, and on his way back up, the elevator (which is just as dented and damaged as everything else in the building) stalls, and he can't get the door to open. He can see into the hallway where Joanne waits, though, which absolutely tears him up when he sees a group of strange kids in hoodies crowd into the hall and attack her. By the time he manages to get to his wife, she's had a hypodermic needle stabbed deeply into her stomach, and she's having some sort of reaction to whatever she's been injected with.
Craig Zobel's first feature film, "Great World Of Sound," was a low-key charmer that I enjoyed enormously. It's got a great unique voice, and I don't think it easily fits any single genre description. Now, with his new drama "Compliance," Zobel's made an aggressively unpleasant film, but with intent. The film asks hard questions about basic human psychology, and it is a harrowing experience that closely follows the details of the real-life story that inspired it. I can't say I liked sitting through "Compliance," but I can say that I think it's significant, and that it cements Zobel's place as a serious filmmaker with an important voice.
"Compliance" tells the story of one horrifying day at a fast-food chicken place, where Sandra (Ann Dowd) starts out off-balance because of an overnight freezer mishap. Sandra's an older woman who has no real rapport with her young staff, no matter how hard she tries, and she's not particularly good at the business of managing people. She might be good with the daily details of running the restaurant, but she's awkward and tries way too hard when she's talking to Becky (Dreama Walker) or Kevin (Philip Ettinger) or Marti (Ashlie Atkinson).
I love that the SXSW awards are announced at this point in the festival because it means I can use the second half of the festival to catch up. In some cases, I'm surprised that something I've seen is on here, and pleased because I'm having a good festival overall. They've programmed the hell out of SXSW this year, and I'm really enjoying the surprises I've seen.
Some statistics they sent over to put these awards in perspective: "The 2012 SXSW Film Festival hosted a total of 132 features, consisting of 74 World Premieres, 17 North American Premieres and 11 U.S. Premieres, with 58 films from first-time directors. 138 shorts will screen as part of 12 overall shorts programs. The nearly 275 films were selected from a record number of overall submissions, over 5,300, comprised of approximately 2,000 features and 3,300 shorts. This was a 7% increase over 2011 despite moving submission deadlines a month earlier than in previous years."
I feel like there are certain people I've interviewed to the point of familiarity, and in each case, I'm glad it's these people that are the ones I see over and over.
It becomes easier and easier to just pick up the conversation where we left off and talk about the new thing and talk about their craft, and it's better, I think, for you as the reader. You're going to see a more relaxed version of this person, and that's going to mean you'll get something more genuine out of them.
Case in point, there's this set of interviews from "Jeff Who Lives At Home," the new film from the Duplass Brothers. It's weird how omnipresent they seem at this moment. For example, today, I went to a SXSW screening of their film "The Do-Deca Pentathalon," and then I got out and started writing up these interviews for their other film "Jeff Who Lives At Home," which I've been writing about since Toronto last year. Mark was also in "Your Sister's Sister" and "Safety Not Guaranteed" at Sundance, and we talked to him about all of those.