AUSTIN - No horror movie has ever given me the same amount of anxiety before seeing it that "Pink Flamingos" did.
The first time I read about the film, I remember recoiling completely at every single part of the description. It was in Danny Peary's book "Cult Movies," and when I picked that book up in 1981, I read through it in about three days, and it started me on a search to see all the films in the book as quickly as possible. The only film that I hesitated about in any way was "Pink Flamingos." It didn't help that I read the J. Hoberman/Jonathan Rosenbaum "Midnight Movies" not long after that, and their chapter on John Waters only made me more sure I was afraid of everything that film stood for. I was still in my early teens, and while I was drawn almost innately to the wilder fringes of film, my own personal life experience was so alien to what it sounded like Waters captured in his films that I just cringed at the idea of seeing them.
Now, at the age of 42, I laugh at the idea of ever having been afraid of Divine or John Waters or the films they made together. I may not love every one of their collaborations, but I love that they collaborated. I love that they found each other, and that along with the rest of the lunatics who were part of Dreamland Studios, like David Lochary or Mink Stole or Edith Massey, they made movies that didn't capture a subculture so much as they launched one. John Waters has been so thoroughly embraced by the mainstream at this point that it's hard to remember a time he was considered a purely underground artist, but the new documentary "I Am Divine" does a great job of showing how Glenn Milstead went from being a nice Baltimore kid to being a drag icon who shocked the world.
AUSTIN - No horror movie has ever given me the same amount of anxiety before seeing it that "Pink Flamingos" did.
AUSTIN - Normally, when we're at festivals the news from the outside world gets turned down to background noise, and we focus on the films we're seeing here. In the case of this year's SXSW film festival, it's hard to tune out rumblings about what might happen with the future of the "Evil Dead" franchise, particularly since there are so many different reports of what's supposedly going to happen. In order to help sort out the rumors, I am going to discuss some spoilers for the new film, so be warned.
The simple truth is that there are no official firm plans in place yet for either project, but there are conversations going on that could end up in a number of different permutations of films depending on how things come together. Sorting out fact from fantasy isn't easy especially considering some of the sources of the confusion, but it's sort of maddening to see fandom get worked up when it sounds like the things that they're discussing aren't worth getting upset about… or at least not yet.
When Fede Alvarez did the Q&A after the "Evil Dead" premiere on Friday night, he revealed that there is already work being done on a script for "Evil Dead 2," and that it's not going to be using the 1987 "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" as inspiration. Makes sense. Despite some confusion during production, I think it's clearly inaccurate to call this new movie a remake in any way.
AUSTIN - It seems fitting that Joseph Gordon Levitt's first feature film would play at the SXW film festival. There's something about this fest that feel different than any other I attend. I think of Sundance as a festival that likes to anoint the "next big thing." Cannes seems to me to believe that the people they invite are already anointed. Toronto is a glut of movies, pretty much everything that's ready at the time, and everything you can imagine is represented there. But South By Southwest feels to me like a party, like as long as you have a camera and you made something, they're interested in having you here so you can see how it plays. Everyone's invited, and that same attitude seems to be built into the DNA of Levitt's entire HitRECord initiative, which is more than just a website. It's a community of people who are constantly playing with the tools that have transformed filmmaking for the 21st century.
When actors direct, there's obviously a version of that which is more vanity project than anything, and while I've seen painless versions of that, it's always a little frustrating to me to sit through. The good news is that you'd have to be openly hostile and simply not watching to think that what Levitt's done here is anything less than a genuine work by a real filmmaker. He's got a strong sense of voice, and he is exceptionally good at communicating visual information clearly. This is a film where every cut is an additional brush stroke, where he's trying to paint a very specific portrait of the way things work between men and women. Just as I think Joe Swanberg's "Drinking Buddies" offered up some real wisdom about a particular dynamic, Levitt has a very specific idea about the relationship between the porn that men watch and the romantic comedies that women watch. It's not a connection I've ever directly made, but once you see the way Levitt makes the connection, it's a hard point to argue.
AUSTIN - Eric Heisserer has had a tough career to judge as a screenwriter. His produced credits so far are "Final Destination 5," "A Nightmare On Elm Street," and "The Thing," and I would genuinely have a hard time finding much good to say about any of the three. I would have an equally hard time blaming much about the films on him, because I am keenly aware of just how insignificant a part of the machinery you are as a writer when you're working on franchise films and high-stakes remakes for the studios. The key decisions on all three of those movies were made by people way above Heisserer's pay grade.
Heisserer published a short story called "Hours" on a site called Popcorn Fiction, and if you're a regular reader of this blog, then you may recognize that site's name. I published two stories on the site as well, and I assume the same thing I liked about it is what drew Heisserer to it. The site is owned by Derek Haas, a working screenwriter, and while Popcorn Fiction is happy to publish a writer's story, they don't demand any ownership of the material, nor do they retain any rights over it if you choose to do something with it in another media. It's a great place to showcase personal work that you might otherwise never get in front of an audience, and for Heisserer, it was a chance to publish something very different than the work he's known for already. Not long after he put it up, he took it back down because the story was optioned and was set to be developed into a feature.
AUSTIN - The easy temptation would be to say that Joe Swanberg has made some sort of major jump from the films that he has made in the past to his new film, "Drinking Buddies," which made its debut tonight at the Paramount Theater, part of this year's SXSW film festival. I don't think that's true, though. It's an evolution, definitely, but I don't think it's a radical shift so much as it's another small step forward, resulting in what may well be his most accessible and enjoyable film to date.
Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson star as Kate and Luke, friends who both work at a micro-brewery. He's one of the brewers, and she's involved in actually getting the beer picked up by distributors around the country. They are good friends at work and after work as well, and the whole opening 20 minutes of the film, Swanberg does a tremendous job of capturing the rhythm of a long, boozy night out at the bar with a bunch of friends, and it's only once the night wraps up that we see both of them go home to their respective partners. Luke's in a longtime relationship with Jill, Anna Kendrick's character, and Kate's been dating Chris (Ron Livingston) for almost a year. Even so, there are strong obvious signs of attraction between Kate and Luke, and for a while, it looks like the film is going to be about some boozy transgression that ruins everything.
AUSTIN - Okay, now it feels like an Austin film festival.
It seems fitting that as Sam Raimi does a victory lap around Hollywood this weekend to celebrate the mammoth opening for "Oz The Great and Powerful," his original partners-in-crime Bob Tapert and Bruce Campbell are in Austin, where they premiered the new "Evil Dead" for the first time tonight.
Fede Alvarez made a short film a few years ago called "Panic Attack," and that ended up landing him an overall deal with Ghost House Pictures, the company that Tapert and Raimi started to produce genre movies. The film he first tried to develop with them fell apart, so they asked him if there was anything else he might be interested in doing, and he pitched them his take on the classic that launched all of them in the first place. It was a bold move, especially considering how often Raimi and Campbell continued to talk about the possibility of making an "Evil Dead 4" that would return Ash, their iconic main character, to the big screen.
AUSTIN - I am fascinated by the world of stage magic. Always have been. It was hard not to become interested when I was growing up in the '70s because it was the age of the big prime time magic specials. During that era, there were two guys who always seemed to be in the lead, the ones who were turning out the most theatrical and the most entertaining specials, Doug Henning and David Copperfield. The idea that there was a rivalry between them over who was the best magician was part of what kept my friends and I so engaged from special to special, from year to year.
In recent years, I've been far less interested in the magic you see on TV, and part of that is because of the almost anti-theatricality that guys like David Blaine and Kriss Angel depend on for their performance personas. It feels to me like magic has evolved into something I don't particularly enjoy, or at least it does until I go to a place like the Magic Castle in LA and see somebody doing close-up magic that once again blows my mind and rekindles my sense of wonder. Intellectually, I understand how most tricks work, and I know misdirection is being used to help steer the illusions, but when someone pulls it off, there will always be that delicious feeling that something truly remarkable has just happened right in front of my eyes.
One of the things that is an undeniable pleasure about "Oz The Great and Powerful" is that Sam Raimi ended up casting three beautiful and talented ladies as the witches, and each of them brings a very different energy to the picture.
I've already run my interviews with Mila Kunis and Michelle Williams, and I've saved Rachel Weisz for last. I think Weisz is a classic beauty, and I love the way she's chosen roles over the years. She's not someone who seems like they're busy chasing the perfect career move or the giant blockbuster role. It still seems surreal when I see her show up in something like "The Bourne Legacy" or "Oz" because of how rarely she seems drawn to this type of material.
That was one of the things I discussed with her when we sat down to talk, and I think there's something very appropriate about her playing Evanora, older sister to Kunis's Theodora in the movie. They certainly look like they share a joint heritage, but more than that, I think Weisz has an authority that makes her a convincing choice to rule the kingdom of Oz while waiting for the arrival of the Wizard who is supposed to take the throne. She never telegraphs Evanora's intentions, and even once she begins to reveal her true agenda, she never ends up playing the obvious choice.
I remember when "Willow" was first announced. I was working at a movie theater, and in those pre-Internet days, there were posters that would arrive and be the first indication that a movie even existed. Sure, I read "Starlog" and "Fangoria" and whatever issues of "Variety" I could get my hands on, and I did my best to be as tuned in as possible to what was happening in movies, but it was a lot harder to come by early information. As a result, when we opened the poster tubes on day and pulled out a gorgeous but mysterious teaser poster that consisted of red-orange clouds and a simple title treatment for "Willow" with the tagline "Forget all you know… or think you know," all we really had to go on was "From the creator of 'Star Wars'" at the top and "From the director of 'Cocoon'" at the bottom.
Almost immediately, the speculation began, and more than one person guessed that this was finally the new "Star Wars" film, a mere five years after the release of "Return Of The Jedi." In those days, we still believed that Lucas was going to continue making the films in a fairly timely manner, and even once other publicity materials started showing up, it took me a while to really believe that "Willow" was its own thing.
Michelle Williams explains why there's some Marilyn Monroe in her Glinda in 'Oz The Great and Powerful'
One of the greatest things about "Oz The Great and Powerful," for me anyway, is seeing Michelle Williams play a role where she spends a good deal of time actually smiling.
If you knew her primarily from "Dawson's Creek" in the early days, it would have been very hard to predict that she would eventually end up as one of the most acclaimed and interesting actresses working. The last decade or so has seen her deliver one great performance after another, though, and sitting down to talk to her about playing Glinda the good witch in "Oz" was a a genuine pleasure.
Before we started rolling, we talked a bit about Sarah Polley's new documentary "Stories We Tell" and how seeing it changed my perceptions of "Take This Waltz," the film that Polley made with Williams. She seemed delighted that I knew "Waltz" and loved it, and it was obvious as we spoke that she is a huge fan of Polley's work.