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.
There are worse ways to spend a Saturday than chatting with Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer.
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.
Donald Sutherland is a titan, and it is a genuine pleasure to get a chance to engage him in conversation.
Sure, I wish it had been in circumstances other than the sort of forced five-minute intimacy of a press junket, but for a guy like this, you take what's offered. His career has been filled with so many remarkable and eccentric high points that it's hard to even know where to start complimenting him or how to even dig into his body of work.
His presence as President Snow in "The Hunger Games" is crucial. Although Snow plays a key role in the trilogy as a whole, he's really not a figure of any weight in the first book. In adapting it, Gary Ross has built Snow into the film organically, and I think he is an important part of the film as a whole. He has to be. If you're going to really make the final film pay off, you need to introduce Snow as early as possible.
It also helps that they cast Sutherland, because he's a smart actor who brings this real weight of experience to the table. I think one of the things that made him such a popular presence in films is that laser-sharp intelligence of his. He was the perfect Hawkeye in "M*A*S*H*" because it seemed impossible that he could ever lose any verbal joust. He's drawn from the tradition of a Groucho Marx or a Bugs Bunny. He not only enjoys the contest that good repartee can be, he is also unquestionably great at it.
It's a rule of on-camera interviews that you don't really want to sit down with more than two people at the same time. Groups of three can be hard, even when all three people are ready and willing, because of the logistics of it. You're talking about four to six minutes with four people in a conversation. That's a sprint, no matter what, and it worries me walking into a room.
I feel like I've interviewed Elizabeth Banks many times now, and she's one of the most unassuming, easygoing people you can sit down with. I get the sense she understands how fundamentally silly this process can be, and she always appears to be having fun with it. I talked to her about "Hunger Games" when we met for "Man On The Ledge," and when I sat down with Woody Harrelson for "Rampart," I couldn't resist a little bit of talk about Haymitch, his character in this film.
Todd Rohal had an unnaturally long period of time pass between the production of his first film, "The Guatemalan Handshake," and his second, "The Catechism Cataclysm." Five years between movies can seem like a lifetime for a filmmaker, so it was nice to see that after "Catechism" played the festival circuit last year, just now arriving on home video, Rohal's already got a new film ready and it premiered here on Saturday afternoon. He has definitely picked up the pace, and I'm glad he's managed to shake that awful inertia that can be really tough on a filmmaker, so I feel kind of bad when I say that my main criticism for Rohal right now would be "please slow down."
Both of these recent films, "Catechism" and "Nature," are built on strong simple ideas that easily could have been used in a big-budget mainstream comedy. They're both driven by character-driven comedy and blatant absurdity, and there's definitely a consistent voice from film to film. I like his sensibilities and there are many things in both of the films that made me laugh. But both films also strike me as deeply undercooked in some essential way, like we're watching a rough assembly instead of a finished edit. They are shaggy to the point of sloppy, and I feel like one more pass at each of the scripts might have teased the great ideas into an actual great execution.
I'm starting to get a little confused about which festival I'm attending, because while everything I see in Austin this week says "SXSW," it's got a distinctly "Fantastic Fest" vibe going on.
I have a feeling part of that's just been the choices I made about what to see and when. I've been at most of the midnights, and so far, my days have been occupied largely with things other than movies, like yesterday's live-chat with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard or the panel I moderated for "Holliston," a crazy new sitcom for FEARnet starring Joe Lynch and Adam Green.
But it seems significant that "The Cabin In The Woods" was the opening night movie, and it seems right that the Secret Screening turned out to be Scott Derrickson's new film "Sinister," starring Ethan Hawke and not set for release until later this year. The film has local ties in the form of co-screenwriter C. Robert Cargill who worked at Ain't It Cool with me as "Massawyrm," and it almost felt like a cast and crew screening when the film played at midnight on Saturday, even with technical delays that had the film starting a full hour late.