Inside Movies & DVD with Drew McWeeny
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.
Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody co-star in this genetics-age Frankenstein riff
It's been interesting to listen to the conversations about "Splice" in the few days since I saw it. Reactions have been fairly evenly divided, and the people who don't like it aren't really running down the filmmaking or the performances or the effects work used to bring Dren, the strange new life form at the center of the film, to such vivid and bizarre life. They just plain don't like the experience. I can see that. "Splice" is jet-black, especially with its sense of humor, and any time you mix sexuality into a horror film, people get weird about it. It plays on a level that some people's lizard brain just plain rejects. Too much chocolate in the peanut butter, so to speak.
I really liked "Splice,' and in the days since I saw it, I've been thinking about some of the images and ideas over and over, which is a good sign. There's a lot going on in the film, and it's the sort of thing that will play well a second or third time, as you're able to go back and really break down what it is Natali's doing in each movement of the film. I will admit that the first time I read the names of the characters played by Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley in the film -- Clive and Elsa -- I rolled my eyes and thought, "Oh, no, that's so obvious and on-the-nose cute, I hope the whole film is like that."
The thing is, Natali defuses it in the first scene, when we meet the first generation born-in-a-lab life forms that were created by the hotshot geneticists played by Brody and Polley. The monsters are called Fred and Ginger, and it's thrown away in a manner that lets you know that Natali thinks the naming is less important than what they do, that "cute" is a tendency most people can't resist when naming couples. Clive and Elsa are, of course, a reference to Colin Clive and Elsa Lanchester, who played Dr. Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein in the 1935 masterpiece "The Bride Of Frankenstein," and that obvious joke is also a statement of mission: Natali knows exactly what story he's teling, and he wants to bring Mary Shelly's original concepts into the age where genetic miracles have become almost commonplace.
Did Adrien Grenier make a better movie than the guy who directed 'When We Were Kings'?
In this corner... Leon Gast. He's the director of "When We Were Kings," a movie I've got a ton of love for, and he's been cutting concert films and documentaries for decades. He's at Sundance this week with "Smash His Camera," a documentary about legendary paparazzi Ron Galella.
And in this corner... Adrian Grenier. Yes, the star of "Entourage." Vinnie Chase. That's HBO's big star on HBO's big show about celebrity culture. It's a slick and sometimes funny show, but it offers no real insight into fame. It's selling a fantasy of how business works, how people behave. It's exaggeration, cheerfully shallow stuff, so maybe that makes me skeptical of Grenier as a filmmaker. He's the star on TV, but here he's the director of a film about Austin Visschedyk, a kid he met taking his picture, already a working member of LA's venal paparazzi scene before the age of 15.
Both films, not so surprisingly, feature a scene where a clip from "La Dolce Vita" is shown while it's explaiend that the character Paparazzo (Italian for "mosquito) was the origin of that word being used to describe a specific kind of ultra-aggressive celebrity photographer. It's ground zero for the term. If you see them both, you can't help but wince. It's wild how close the two scenes are.
Besides that, though, the films are very different.
And if you'd told me which filmmaker I would be more impressed by after seeing both films, I would have scoffed. With scornful laughter. Right. In. Your. Face.
Ryan Reynolds stars in this year's first big Sundance success story
This week on "Coincidence Theater"...
As I lined up tonight at the Holiday for the 8:00 show of "Buried," the news broke and the word spread. "Buried" had just been sold. For a whooole lot of money.
Congratulations, Team "Buried." Well-played. These guys just played the Sundance game exactly right.
They've got a movie. It's pretty much exactly exactly as advertised. It's Ryan Reynolds in a box for ninety minutes, emoting a whoooole bunch. Ryan Reynolds pretty much is the experience here. He gives one of those high-wire act performances where part of your reaction to it is raw admiration at the stones it takes to go for it. Reynolds is never less than 100% engaged in his role, from the opening frame to the closing one. He's onscreen the entire time. Alone. Either you pull that off or you don't as an actor. Either you can hold an audience's interest, or you can't. There's no middle ground. Reynolds deserves a cut of this film at the box-office because when there's word of mouth, much of it will be in regards to him.
On a similar note, Rodrigo Cortés is an enormously talented director in terms of control. He's well-aware of the math-problem of shooting a whole movie in a coffin. So he solves the problem visually, scene after scene. He takes each phone call, each new realization, and turns them into completely self-contained set pieces of tension, each with a distinct visual plan. He's going to make many, many movies, and I'm fairly sure I'll like many of them.
Because, sorry to say, I didn't care for "Buried" at all.
We discuss his robots in love, 'Jackass 3D,' and 'Wild Things' on BluRay
The MySpace Cafe stands at the top of The Lift, which is at the bottom of Main Street.
And, to my enormous delight, it's about 100 yards from the back door of the condo where Team HitFix is camped out this year.
That made for a very convenient afternoon when I had time for an hour-long nap I desperately needed, and then I got up, showered, and walked over, headphones on. There's something epic about playing Basil Poledouris and Ennio Morricone music while you're walking through a snowstorm. Up the stairs to the MySpace cafe, and then a quick check-in, and then I was able to get out of the cold just long enough to basically take off the jacket, the gloves, and grab a hot chocolate, and then it was right over to sit down with Spike Jonze, here in town to promote his short film, "I'm Here," which I reviewed on opening night.
I hadn't seen Spike since the interview we did on Ain't It Cool News while "Where The Wild Things Are" was still in post-production, and we've been trying to put some time together for months. It was nice to finally see him here, especially with a new film to talk about, and the first thing I did as I sat down was handed him what looked like a prescription bottle. He seemed a little taken aback until he turned it and realized it was a bottle of our special festival-only HitFix mints. They come in an authentic pharmacy bottle with the following label:
"Prescription for an entertainment fix: HitFix.
Dosage: all day, every day.
Active ingredients: movies, TV, music, concerts, local events.
Overdose at HitFix.com/Sundance"
Adam Green strips it down and makes it work
Adam Green is a firmly-established part of the LA horror scene at this point, and his film "Hatchet" has earned him a fairly solid fan base in the horror world. I like Adam a lot, and I want to like "Hatchet" more than I do. I like it in theory, but I just wasn't crazy about the actual execution of it. It's sort of like how I felt about Eli Roth's "Cabin Fever." By the time I saw it, I liked Eli a lot, but the film left me cold.
For me, "Frozen" is the moment when I get onboard. I think Green's new film is impressively directed, well-acted, and does its job both effeciently and effectively. It's another of this year's midnight movies at Sundance, and I would imagine this audience, after dealing with the weather at this year's festival, is going to feel an extra connection to the film as they watch it.
"Frozen" has been described as "'Open Water' on a ski lift," and that's certainly fair. As much as I liked the performance in "Open Water," though, I always thought the film was just okay. "Frozen" is much better as an actual movie. Green expertly accelerates the desperation over the course of the film, and he punctuates the pervasive dread at just the right moments, in just the right ways. This isn't anything like the reckless abandon of "Hatchet"... it's all about the slow burn that delivers on occasion with cruel precision
Upsetting story of revenge that earns its worst images
Here's the short version of this review: I watched the film on a screener disc on my laptop with headphones on at the HitFix condo while our music editor Melinda Newman and our reporter Katie Hasty were both writing, and by the end of it, they told me that just by my body language and my reactions while watching it, I had convinced both of them to never see the movie. As Dan Feinberg put it, "If a movie's making you cringe and turn away, I have to figure that's a movie I don't ever want to watch."
How would you ever forgive yourself?
More than any other question posed by the ugly and provocative "7 Days," that's the one I keep coming back to. If your child was kidnapped and murdered, how could you ever stop thinking about all the things you might have done different? What if you'd walked with them that day? What if you'd driven them instead? What if you'd been there?
One of the things no one warns you about before you become a parent is the things it does to your imagination. No one tells you about the way you suddenly aren't in control over the things that run through your head, the horrifying scenarios that play out a thousand times a day, unwelcome and impossible to forget. You're walking across a parking lot and for just a moment, your child pulls his hand free of yours and runs ahead, and an entire sickening movie plays out behind your eyes in a flash, and you see it with IMAX clarity, your child crushed under a car's tire or struck and left brain damaged, and your reaction is almost always too extreme, an effort to just drive the image away, to safeguard them from every single possibility of harm to any degree. That's some sort of primal brain chemistry defense mode that kicks in with new parents, I think.
Reilly, Hill and Tomei all click as the Duplass Brothers storm the mainstream
John meets Molly.
John likes Molly.
Incredibly, Molly likes John as well.
If only things were that easy.
That's "Cyrus" in a nutshell. Mark and Jay Duplass wrote and directed the picture, and it is a small intimate film that Fox Searchlight can absolutely sell like a mainstream hit. It is a smooth piece of satisfaction, and that's not soft praise. There's a light, effortless quality to the film. You never see any of the typical mechanics of plot. Each scene is polished, burnished by both the improvisation process during shooting and an exhaustive, precise editing schedule that they enjoyed on the film. This is a film as wise about the relationships between men and women as Albert Brooks in the "Modern Romance"/"Lost In America" phase of his career. This is a grown-up movie, and yet paralyzingly funny in places. It's uncomfortable, but it's not shot through with the casual misanthropic horror of a "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"Cyrus" is an original, though, for all of the comparisons I just made. I'm just trying to describe a general reaction on my part. The film opens with John (John C. Reilly, who gives one of the best performances of his career here) being told by his ex-wife Jamie (the always awesome Catherine Keener, who is, not surprisingly, awesome) that she's going to be getting remarried to Tim (Matt Walsh). It has, after all, been seven years since she divorced John. Still, he hasn't moved on. He hasn't recovered. He hasn't even tried. Jamie talks him into going to a party with her and Tim, and he reluctantly agrees. At the party, he meets a woman, Molly (Marisa Tomei), and something clicks between them. It's just natural and real and a reaction that makes perfect sense as staged by the film.
Does the slasher-movie comedy deliver on its postmodern promise?
At the opposite end of the "Very Long Day With More Snow Than I've Seen In The Entire Past 25 Years," I found myself settling in just in time for the 11:59 show of "Tucker & Dale vs Evil," part of the Park City at Midnight line-up this year. It's a strong midnight line-up in general, and I really wrestled with seeing either this or "Splice" tonight. I'll see "Splice" on Saturday night, and I'm looking forward to it based on the reactions I'm hearing from people I trust.
I'm not sure if I'll be as effusive in my reactions to "Tucker & Dale," though. I didn't think it was a bad film, and stars Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk are pretty fantastic together. They are both comic gold pretty much every time they open their mouths, a matter of two guys with amazing timing playing off each other like clockwork. My issues lie more with a screenplay that has a great idea but can't quite execute it with the nimble wit it deserves, and with a director whose work is solid, but not great at nailing down the biggest laughs that the film sets up.
If you haven't seen the unfinished promo reel that leaked online last month, the premise is fairly simple. Labine and Tudyk play Dale and Tucker, two friends who are high-functioning hillbillies, good guys who have just bought a vacation cabin that they're planning to fix up. As they're driving up to the cabin for the first time to do some rennovations and, time permitting, some fishing, they cross paths with a bunch of college kids who are also headed up to the same general area for some camping. The shy but sweet Dale tries to talk to one of the girls, psychology student Allison ("30 Rock" hottie Katrina Bowden), and in the process, terrifies the entire carload of kids into thinking their lives are in danger from the sorts of crazed mountain folk who have become a staple in horror films.
Australian musical is a smile from first frame to last
I published my final review of last night at about 3:00, fell asleep around 4:00, and by 8:30, I was sitting in the audience of the Raquet Club, ready for my first movie of Friday. I'm not sure how I got up to do it, but now, at 3:00 on Saturday morning, I'm back at the HitFix condo, and I haven't slept yet, and I have several things I want to share with you before I crash, so I'll have to just throw a little more caffeine into the mix and see how far I get.
Bird Runningwater is the associate director of Native American and Indigenous Programs for the Sundance Institiute, and he came out to introduce the morning's screening. This is actually the second time he's invited director Rachel Perkins to Sundance. The first was for her film "One Night The Moon," which played here in 2002. That movie was a musical, an operetta based on a true story about young girl who disappeared in the Outback in the early 1900s. Grim stuff, supposedly. She spent six years after that working on an Australian mini-series, a Ken Burns-like documentary project called "First Australians." By her own description, that was much grimmer than "One Night The Moon," a really rough emotional experience for her as a filmmaker.
So when she finished those projects, she decided to get involved with an antidote to all that doom and gloom in the form of a film version of a 20-year-old Australian stage musical, and in my opinion, the result is the first real slamdunk of the festival for me, a movie that made me smile from the very start to the very finish, and handled properly, it's a film that I think could absolutely be sold to the same exact audience that made "Mamma Mia!" and "Slumdog Millionaire" big box-office hits.