Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
The directors of 'Jesus Camp' return with a look at the abortion debate
We live in a country where genuine debate seems to be dead, and has instead been replaced by polemic, polar opposites that scream at each other. Most documentaries these days are produced to advance an agenda by one side or another, and as a result, sitting in a theater frequently feels just like watching this biased news channel or that one. Not that I think bias is necessarily a bad thing, or even something that can be avoided, as long as it's open and not disguised. A film like "Outrage," for example, is profoundly biased, but it still makes its points in a clear-eyed, well-argued way.
What's truly difficult is to make a film about something as hot-button divisive as abortion and still somehow give both sides of the debate equal time and equal weight. Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the filmmakers behind the terrifying "Jesus Camp," found the perfect way into the conversation in their new film "12th & Delaware." Even the title of the film serves as a microcosm, since I'd imagine there are thousands of 12th and Delawares in America. In this case, Ewing and Grady went to Fort Pierce, Florida, where they found a remarkable situation that sums up exactly where we are with this dialogue right now. Their approach to the film was to give both sides of the situation half the film to present the case with no editorializing at all, and in doing so, I think they've made a powerful film that is infuriating and heartbreaking.
A short chat with the man who's kickstarted James Bond... twice.
My sit-down conversation with Martin Campbell didn't take place under the best of circumstances, through no one's fault. It was just one of those things. It was the press day at the Casa Del Mar, and things ended up running super-late. My interview was supposed to be at 12:05, and at 2:00, I was finally ushered into the room where Campbell was sitting, visibly agitated that his lunch was being delayed by yet another reporter. Even worse, I knew that Devin Faraci from CHUD was waiting to talk to him after me, meaning his lunch was even further away than he thought.
It's hard enough to have a real conversation in these circumstances, but when things get this sort of tight, what you get is pretty much a quick set of cursory responses. I credit Campbell for attempting to dampen his own irritation with the situation, and I hope we were able to touch on some points that are of interest. You be the judge:
Martin: How are you?
Drew: Very good, sir. So... my 4-year-old is now a fan of your work.
Martin: Oh, good.
Drew: They sent us the Disney "Zorro" to watch first...
Martin: Oh, have they?
Drew: ... and then when the BluRay for your first Zorro film showed up, he insisted and it became like a big event this week in the house.
Two fathers, two dead daughters, and a whole lotta grief
I put off writing these because, frankly, I don't have a lot to say about either of the films. I wouldn't call either of them a bad film, but I don't think they deliver any real satisfaction. They fall into that middle ground that seems to frustrate film critics the most, the amiably mediocre, and because there's little room for hyperbole when writing about a middling effort, most film critics feel handcuffed in these instances.
"Creation" is the story of Charles Darwin in the years after he'd done his research but before he published "Origin Of The Species," and it is earnestly acted by Paul Bettany, Toby Jones, and Jennifer Connelly, among others. Jon Amiel is a director whose work I've liked many times in the past, but this time out, there's no pulse. I watched the film one and a half times, afraid that maybe I was too tired the first time I saw it, but there's something overly serious and glacial about the film that just doesn't work for me. It's a film about ideas, but it skips across the surface of those ideas, and dramatically, the film just lays there. The major conflict in the film comes from the difference between Darwin's ideas and the religious faith of his wife. Toby Jones plays Thomas Huxley, who pressures Darwin to publish his book because he believes it will be the final blow from science, killing religion once and for all. Darwin and his wife are already stretched thin because of a personal tragedy, so the tension between them, escalated by his work, threatens to destroy them. And that tragedy is what ties today's two new films together, and the way both of them handle the tragedy is oddly similar.
The first trailer for the film highlights the cast and the things that go boom
Are you ready for the return of '80s action movies?
A few weeks ago, we got our first look at "The A-Team," which seems to be filled wall-to-wall with ideas that are right out of the '80s, and now "The Losers" premieres its first trailer over at MSN Movies, and it looks like Sylvain White is just as big a fan of that aesthetic as Joe Carnahan is.
The film was written by Peter Berg and Jamie Vanderbilt, the guy behind the new "Spider-Man" scripts, and here's the way Warner Bros. describes it in the official synopsis:
"An explosive tale of double cross and revenge, "The Losers" centers upon the members of an elite U.S. Special Forces unit sent into the Bolivian jungle on a search and destroy mission. The team--Clay, Jensen, Roque, Pooch and Cougar --find themselves the target of a lethal betrayal instigated from inside by a powerful enemy known only as Max. Presumed dead, the group makes plans to even the score when they're joined by the mysterious Aisha, a beautiful operative with her own agenda. Working together, they must remain deep undercover while tracking the heavily-guarded Max, a ruthless man bent on embroiling the world in a new high-tech global war."
The cast includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, Holt McCallany, Oscar Jaenada, and Jason Patric.
Interested? Well, here's the embed from MSN Movies:
An amazing set from an amazing comic makes for a deadly funny new film
Louis C.K. is one of the best stand-up comics working, cut from the same cloth as the greats of the profession like Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, and he spent last year building an all-new set, then shooting it, and "Louis C.K.: Hilarious" is the result. It is indeed preposterously funny, so funny that my body simply gave out halfway through and I found myself completely unable to laugh anymore, the first time that's ever happened to me.
If that's all I had to say about the film, that would still pretty much sum up what you can expect if you get the chance to see the film theatrically. It starts with him walking onstage and ends with him walking onstage. There's no awkward framing device, no attempt to make it "more" than a concert film. I've seen him live many times over the years, but I'd say in the last five or six years, he's really jumped to a new level as a performer. His writing has gotten sharper and sharper, and the way he's blended shockingly confessional material with the sort of observational humor that many comics build their set around is what makes him stand apart. There are times Louis says things that I can't believe anyone would ever have the stones to say them in public. They're things that we all think, but for some reason, we've created a social contract in which we only allow people to voice these thoughts under the cover of art, and Louis C.K. absolutely raises stand-up to an art when he's at his best.
But, wait, there's more coverage still to come
It has been a blur.
Every festival is different. They are affected by where they take place, what's available during programming, who's doing the programming, what message they want to send, and by the crowds that show up to watch the films. There are dozens, if not hundreds of variables, that make each festival around the world different, and that make an individual festival different from year to year.
This year, Jeff Cooper stepped up as the director of the festival, and I'd say he should feel confident that what he and his amazing team presented to audiences and journalists from around the world was a solid, eclectic look at what is going on in independent cinema at this particular moment, and what we can expect moving forward. It was nine years ago that I first came to Sundance, and it's changed a lot in that time, as would be expected. Even so, it's still unmistakably Sundance.
For example, that crazy spot in the Albertson's/Yarrow parking lot that always turns to knee-deep puddles of ice cold slush? Still there. Still dangerous. Still infuriating.
The volunteers? Always amazing.
The people working in the press office who have to listen to a staggering amount of whining and poor behavior all week? Absolutely brilliant, as expected.
Spending a week in the dark, mainlining movies while chatting with film freaks just like yourself from all over the world between the films? Sublime.
Indie darlings Mark and Jay Duplass talk about their first studio experience
The final interview I did for "Cyrus" at the Sundance Film Festival was with writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass. I've liked their work for a while now, but I've never seen one of their films on the right schedule to actually have an interview with them. They're Austin boys, which practically makes us family at this point, and we've talked via e-mail a little earlier this year, so by the time the publicist introduced us, both Mark and Jay already seemed familiar. They asked me as I was sitting down how my Sundance had gone overall:
Drew: I scheduled a little smarter so I’m not seeing everything. But I’m processing what I’m seeing as opposed to... because you get into those six movie days and, man, I don’t know what I’m watching anymore, so I can’t do that. I can’t do that to the movies.
Mark: What is your limit? What can you do well?
Drew: Three movies and a couple of interviews during the day and then I feel like that’s huge. So, gentlemen, we had these made up for Hitfix. These are the official HitFix mints that we’re giving out.
Jay: Awesome. All day, every day, we're talking to people right now. This is awesome. Sweet.
Drew: I’ve had a few people beg off saying no, no, I’m straight. It’s okay. I’m not handing out pharmaceuticals.
Mark: These are... this is awesome. Thank you. That’s bad-ass. Kind of important when you’re doing interviews all day.
Drew: Yeah, well, thank you for sitting down with me, guys.
Does the maker of 'Brass Eye' make terrorism funny?
Chris Morris is part of a particular generation of British comedy guys to come out of TV, and taken as part of a movement, I find it very exciting. "Four Lions" is an enormously cheeky feature film debut for Morris, but there's also a "get out of jail free" card that he's dealt himself here that is the one clear way he seems to be playing it safe.
First, let me be clear: "Four Lions" is the most interesting thing I've seen at the entire festival so far. "Cyrus" may be more successful overall as a film, but "Four Lions" is more exciting, more electric. I find it hard to believe that this film really exists. I half-suspected that what I'd heard about it before seeing it would turn out to be an elaborate prank on the part of the filmmakers. Nope. Chris Morris has indeed made a broad heartwarming comedy about five bumbling jihadists living in London, suicide bombers just waiting on their call to service.
And it is painfully funny.
I think a movie like this is absolutely essential right now. It is vital to defang and demystify the notion of the terrorist. When we have people trying to blow up planes, it's scary. When they're trying to blow up planes with their underpants, it starts to get funny, and then we don't know how to process that. The added level of absurdity is what Morris seems to be exploring, the idea of a world where terrorrists have blooper reels, and by daring to aim just as high as he is low with his jokes, Morris pulls off the near-impossible.
Hill discusses playing it straight, reading his reviews, and why 2010 is the best year ever
I've spent enough time around Jonah Hill now that I relax when I sit down to interview him because I know we'll have plenty to talk about. I had just wrapped up with my John C. Reilly interview when Jonah arrived, and after one other conversation, theey walked him over to the couches where I was waiting, and Jonah settled into his chair across from me:
Jonah: Nice to see you, dude.
Drew: Nice to see you.
Jonah: How’s it going?
Drew: It’s going well.
Drew: I’ve got to give you these. HitFix mints.
Jonah: Awesome! (laughs) They look like drugs.
Drew: We love to hand those to people. I gave them to the producer of "The Wackness" the other night, and he said, "Oh no, no man. It’s okay, I’m straight." I was like, "No, they’re mints." And he’s like, "Oh, okay. You have to understand, since 'The Wackness,' people hand me things all the time."
Reilly talks about working with Jonah Hill and the real secret to the Duplass process
The first time I met John C. Reilly was at the premiere of "Anchorman." And that was just a brief, "Hey, how are you? I like your work." That sort of thing. The next time I spoke to him was at Fantastic Fest. last year, where I interviewed him about "The Vampire's Assistant" just after seeing it. I was in the grips of an insane sudden onslaught of the flu, so I barely remember our conversation. Considering how long I've enjoyed his work, I figured it was about time we finally sit down and had a conversation where I actually came to it clear-headed, and so the day after I saw "Cyrus," I found myself at the Village At The Yard, sitting on a couch across from Reilly, in room where other journalists were talking to people like Alex Gibney and Tilda Swinton.
As with Spike Jonze, I came to the interview bearing gifts:
John: It’s just you and me?
John : Oh okay, I thought Jonah was joining us.
Drew: I think I'm going to talk to Jonah after this. For our website, HitFix, we brought mints this year. Would you like HitFix mints?
John: Yeah, sure. (starts to open the plastic wrap on the bottle) Do they have a psychotropic effect?
Drew: I wish. But at the very least you can make people think at parties that you’re giving out the good stuff now. So, so far "Cyrus" is my favorite thing I’ve seen up here.