Monday, April 30, 2012

The 31 Day Movie Challenge: Day 1 - PUFNSTUF (1970)

- Rated G
- Starring Jack Wild, Billie Hayes, Martha Raye, Mama Cass, Billy Barty
- Written by John Fenton Murray & Si Rose (Based on the TV show H.R. Pufnstuf)
- Directed by Hollingsworth Morse
- Running Time: 1hr 34min

(The 31 Day Movie Challenge was proposed to me by fellow film critic Jessie Hoheisel (from superawesomemovieblog). We each chose 30 films for each other to review for the month of May. The first film chosen will be from 1970. The second film from 1971... and so on. The last day will be a film from 2000. I accepted the challenge!)

In 1969, producers Sid & Marty Kroft produced a wacky kids show called H.R. Pufnstuf. I never did see the show growing up as was a bit before my time (but I did see some of Kroft's many other weird shows), so I went on Netflix to watch the first few episodes. Wow... just... wow! Very strange show, but I kind of got a kick out it. In the show, Jack Wild (Oliver!) plays a kid named Jimmy who, along with his talking magic flute, get stranded on Living Island where they meet the mayor, a dragon named Pufnstuf, and many of his other strange character friends. Also on the island is a witch named Witchiepoo, who wants to steal the flute from Jimmy. Wild and Billie Hayes (Witchiepoo) were really the only seen actors on the show as every one else are actors in imaginative "Barney-like" costumes. It's a pretty nutty show that got many laughs from me, just because of how weird it was.

One year later, Sid & Marty decided to take their show to the big screen. The main cast reprises their roles as the plot of the film is pretty much an extended version of the pilot. Jimmy arrives at Living Island, and the Witchiepoo steals the flute. I guess the main difference is that this time Witchiepoo plans on showing off her new flute toall of the witches at the Witch Convention, which will be taking place at her castle. It's up to Jimmy, Pufnstuf, and the rest of the gang to save the day.

Since the first episode is only about 24 minutes, the filmmakers really tried to expand the story. The first few minutes show Jimmy in the real world. He doesn't fit in as he argues with people in his school band. He finds the flute out of nowhere and the two just get in a boat and runaway together. You know, I expected maybe that the film would explain why he ran away more than the show did, but it really doesn't. It was pretty pointless and shouldn't have even bothered.

Once they get to Living Island at first, it was almost too much like the first episode, but then they added several musical numbers. As awkward as they were, I sort of enjoyed them. They very much have that late-60's pop vibe. I thought they were pretty good, actually. Some of the numbers have psychedelic editing going on too that I thought was a bit of a hoot. I liked the format.

The characters are just as silly as the show. Pufnstuf talks with that southern drawl, Dr. Blinky is that crazy owl with a Ed Wynn-type voice, but my favorite is probably stupid bat, who works for the Witchiepoo. He's so stupid and cute! There are also new additions, such as the head witch and a witch named Hazel, who is played by a very game Mama Cass. Hazel's musical number is lots of fun too. However, I did think that Witchiepoo got annoying after awhile, with her screechy voice and childlike silliness. She was fine in a half hour show, but for a 94 minute feature, I found her a bit grating.

This was made for very small kids, and because of how childish all of the characters act, this can be very irritating for many people. But, if you loved how bizarre the show was, then you will probably enjoy it. I thought it was better as a half hour show. I got a kick out of the 70's hippie-like tone and strangeness of the film. It's not every day you see a Nazi mouse working for a coven of witches, but I think something got lost in the transition from the show to the feature. I laughed more on the show, but didn't find the jokes too funny here. Maybe my expectations for a TV show are lower, but my expectations for a theatrical film are higher? I don't know...

I will say this. If you are curious by cinematic oddities, this certainly classifies as one. I probably would have enjoyed this more seeing it with a Midnight crowd, laughing at how outrageous the whole film was. But sitting at home by myself, I found myself losing interest about halfway through, though I did enjoy every musical number. I would definitely sit and watch it again, but probably just cause it's so weird, not because it's that good of a movie. I will most likely watch more of the show before I revisit the feature again. I would say watch the show with your kids, than show them this. They'll probably like it, though kids' tastes have changed over the years, so who knows?

**1/2 (out of ****)

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review of SAFE (2012)

- Rated R for strong violence throughout, and for language.
- Starring Jason Statham, Chris Sarandon, James Hong, Catherine Chan, Robert John Burke
- Written and Directed by Boaz Yakin
- Running Time: 1hr 34min.

Yes, he's back!  Jason Statham IS Jason Statham IN Jason Statham!!!  Playing pretty much the same persona (grizzled, rough and tough) that he has for the past 10 years or so, Statham stars as an ex-MMA fighter who also happens to be an ex-cop, of course (he quit because he ratted a bunch of dirty cops out).  Also, because of a fight he didn't throw, the Russian mafia kill his wife and unborn child.  He spends the next year living as a bum on the street, building up rage.

There is another story as well.  A young Asian girl named Mei is a mathematical genius with a photographic memory.  She is kidnapped by the Yakuza (or something similar), brought to New York City and forced to crack codes and stuff.  When a deal between the Yakuza and the Russian Mafia goes wrong, Mei is caught in the middle.  She runs away and both criminal organizations are after her, as well as the corrupt police.  Meanwhile, Statham is feeling so down in the dumps that he decides to end his life by throwing himself in front of a subway train.  But just before he is about to do so, he sees some thugs chasing after Mei.  Seeing this gives him the feeling that he might have some sort of purpose, and dedicates the rest of the movie protecting her by stomping on and shooting anyone who is a threat to Mei.

Nothing original here.  But that's not necessarily what I look for in an action film.  I want it to be bad ass, well directed, and to give me an adrenaline rush.  And on those terms, this film more than succeeds.  It was nice to see the movie taking it's time introducing the two leads (about half an hour).  The first shot of the movie shows Mei walking in the subway, only to turn around to see an unfocused figure appear behind her.  Then we get flashbacks leading up to that first shot, this time shown from Statham's perspective.  That was a nice touch and a creative way to engage the viewer.

The movie does have lots of action, but it is a little more than that.  It does have the relationship between Statham and Mei. It's a touching one, just don't expect it to be as the same level as Luc Besson's THE PROFESSIONAL.  But it works nonetheless.  Once Statham and Mei cross paths, the action is nearly non-stop.  Yes, we do get to see the shave-headed stud break bones with his bare hands, but there are also countless shoot outs that are well crafted.  Occasionally, director Yakin does use the shaky cam technique, but when he does he also doesn't cut the footage up.  He uses longer takes than the average action flick.  And he also was creative when he planed the sequences.  Example: During a car chase, the camera is behind Statham as he drives and we're seeing what he's seeing.  Then the camera zooms in on the rear view mirror and we see the bad guys behind them.  It goes back and forth for about 45 seconds, giving a different kind of style than the average cut-up generic garbage. 

Jason Statham is playing a role that he could do in his sleep, but his energy seems to be a bit higher this time around.  It seems fresher.  His character has a little bit of a soft spot this time.  But only when dealing with Mei, because when he's kicking ass, he is even more ruthless than his TRANSPORTER character.  Early on, when he knocks out a half dozen baddies, he picks up a gun and points it at the last guy.  The thug winces, obviously giving up.  Then, in front of several innocent bystanders, Statham shoots him point blank in the face.  I wasn't expecting that, but it certainly raised the stakes in the action department.  This is DIE HARD 2 level violence!  And that's a good thing!

The supporting cast is decent.  Chris Sarandon (that's Prince Humperdink from THE PRINCESS BRIDE) seems to be having fun as a crooked politician, James Hong (Lo-Pan from BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) is even better as the leader of the Asian mafia.  Catherine Chan does a nice little job as Mei.  She's cute, not precocious, and has a tad of attitude.  She's convincing, but no one is going to accuse her of being the next Dakota Fanning.

Writer/Director Boaz Yakin (REMEMBER THE TITANS, UPTOWN GIRLS) would seem an odd choice to be at the helm of this violent actioner, but only if you overlooked the fact that his first film was the gritty crime thriller FRESH, which was also about a young kid mixed up with some hoodlums.  Instead of having just your average dumb action filmmaker throwing mindless action at the audience, Yakin at least attempts to give you endearing characters to root for.  It's smarter than your average entry in the genre.  I even found some of the cliched lines to be hilarious (which I think were meant to be).  After nearly half the movie of Statham fighting off tons of assholes, he savors the bite of a submarine sandwich.  A character asks him how he could eat at a time like this, and he replies: "I've been in restaurants all night and all I've been served was lead".  YES!  What a great line!  Something that Bruce Willis would have said back in 1991!  The climax is very satisfying.  It's built up in a way that you expect it to go one way, but then ends completely different.  I got a kick out that. 

I'm a little upset that this isn't doing better in the Box Ofiice when THE TRANSPORTER films (even the atrocious third one) did solid business.  This is far superior.  It's still cheesy action.  The kind of movie that me and my brother would have went nuts for back when we were 14.  It's a Segal movie, but with better acting and a smarter script.  It's not an art house film.  It's a kick ass ride.  Action fans will not be disappointed.  This isn't a game changer by any means.  It's not realistic at all, but that's not what I wanted.  I wanted a kick ass movie... and I got one.

*** (out of ****)

Friday, April 27, 2012


- Rated R for sexual content, and language throughout.
- Starring Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, Rhys Ifans
- Written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller
- Directed by Nicholas Stoller
- Running time: 2hrs 4min (?!?)

From the creators of the acclaimed raunchy comedy FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL comes another raunchy comedy about Tom and Violet (Jason Segel and Emily Blunt), a couple who get engaged and keep stalling the wedding from actually happening.

We see Tom and Violet meet at a New Year's eve party (dressed up as Princess Diana and Super Bunny) and the two awkwardly hit it off.  After one year, they get engaged (awkwardly, or course).  Then it's five years of misery.  During this time, Tom gives up his dream job of being a head chef at a sea food restaurant in L.A. so Violet can pursue a Psychology job at a Michigan University, which leaves him slowly growing unhappy.  Violet becomes a little too close to her boss (Rhys Ifans), Tom's jerky best friend marries Violets sister when he gets her pregnant, and Violet's job becomes permanent rather than the 2 years it was supposed to be.  All of this causes major strain on the relationship.  Will they survive?

The answer is actually another question: Who cares?  Both Jason Segel and Emily Blunt are very talented and have some highlighted comedic moments throughout the film, but these two characters clearly don't belong together.  It's hard to root for a couple who are an obvious non-match.  Sure, opposites attract, and I've seen that formula work before, but the chemistry is just not there.  I think it's due more to the writing the acting.  There are funny moments though.  Like when Violet gets shot with n crossbow by her 4 year old niece, or when Violet and her sister have a serious argument in front of a kid using the voices of Elmo and Cookie Monster (best scene in the movie).  I also liked Dakota Johnson (who looked so much like Jess Weixler, that I was trying to convince my friend sitting next to me that it was "the chick from TEETH").  Her scenes involved some rough sex gags that taught me one thing... I want to have sex with Dakota Johnson.

But the main problem with this movie is the same problem I had with the overrated BRIDESMAIDS.  It's over 2 hours long!  There are too many scenes that could have been left on the cutting room floor, as they serve no purpose to the story.  They're there for cheap gags, and most of them just feel improvised.  It's that awkward humor that we're supposed to think is HILARIOUS!.  It's not.  It's just awkward.  Also, EVERY SINGLE supporting character is quirky, whether it's the main character's parents, Violet's co-workers, or Tom's "Melissa McCarthy-like" boss... they're all wacky!  Sheesh!  Chris Pratt is more annoying than funny as Tom's douchebag best friend.  He's such a dick that it seemed like the only way that they would ever be friends was if a screenwriter wrote it in that way, because audiences love asshole friends.

Now, I liked the ending.  I found it to be quite clever and refreshing.  And there were some funny scenes sporadically during the running time, but it's wildy uneven.  The plot is pretty thin as it's strung together with unrelated (sometimes) humorous sequences.  People who just like to laugh, and don't really need to have a structured story (I don't really need it either,  but if they are trying to have a structure like they are here, than it should feel structured), then this might fit the bill.  But I need something more.

** (out of ****)

Review of MONSIEUR LAZHAR (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for for mature thematic material, a disturbing image and brief language.
- Starring Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse
- Written & Directed by Philippe Falardeau
- Running time: 1hr 34min.

The last nominated Foreign film from the 2011 Academy Awards to finally get a theatrical release, comes from Canada.  It takes place at a public school in Montreal when one of the teachers commits suicide during work hours.  An Algerian immigrant named Lazhar takes the job.  Instead of ignoring the incident, he teaches the kids how to cope with their grief for the loss of their teacher.  But the new teacher has some secrets of his own.

This is a nice, honest, endearing, and intimate little film.  The opening scene, in which one of the students discovers the dead teacher hanging from the ceiling, is an eye opener.  It's done with one unbroken, handheld take that is very jarring and effective.  A great way to open the film.  Once Lashar begins teaching the kids, he finds himself connected with two of  the students, Marie and Simon.  They both used to be friends but have grown apart due to the tragedy.  As the film goes on, Lazhar's unconventional teaching methods help the students but concern the faculty.  He constantly butts heads with the Principal, but it's subtle.  It's not overdone.

In fact, nothing is really overdone here, which is an occasional weakness.  Lazhar begins a relationship with a fellow teacher, but it never fully develops.  Also, I wish there was more of a resolution to the story of Marie and Simon.  But nitpicking aside, I found this to be a very touching movie.  It even gave me a few lumps in my throat.  Much of the credit goes to Mohamed Fellag as the title character.  He's give his role a stern frame of mind and a warm heart.  He has a very welcoming personality, which won me over.

This is a good movie about teaching, but more importantly, a good movie about the loss of a loved one and how to cope with death.  I thought this was better than the decent, but overrated A SEPARATION (which won the Oscar).  Check it out in theaters this weekend!

*** (out of ****)


- Rated PG for mild action, rude humor and some language.
- Featuring the voices of Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton, David Tennant, Selma Hayek,  Brendan Gleeson, Jeremy Piven, Anton Yelchin
- Written by Gideon Defoe
- Directed by Peter Lord
- Running time: 1hr 27min

This stop-motion family flick is from the makers of WALLACE & GROMIT and CHICKEN RUN.  I found both to be mildly amusing.  The problem with those movies are that the cheeky and witty humor start to get irritating after awhile.  While I love the look to both, they're a little too low-key for my taste, and I think were in need of a burst of energy.

The story is about Pirate Captain (yup, that's his name) who is a free-spirited, light-hearted pirate, who longs to be Pirate of the year.  He also has an eccentric and wacky crew, of course: Besides his number two (in command), there is an albino, a peg leg, and a bearded "guy" who is remarkably feminine.  Since the Captain is pretty much the laughing stock of a pirate, he intends to prove himself to all the other pirates by acquiring enormous amounts of "booty" (the money kind).  The crew meets Charles Darwin (who has a pet monkey who only talks with note cards), who informs the Pirate Captain that his fat pigeon isn't a pigeon at all, but a Do-Do, which is extremely rare.  The plan is to sell the Do-Do to Queen Victoria who wants the bird badly, but nothing goes according to plan as the evil queen has an ulterior motive.

Finally, the creators of WALLACE & GROMIT have made a briskly paced film.  It's just nuts!  The jokes come fast and furious.  So many sight gags come and go in a blink of an eye that I'm sure I didn't catch everything.  Make sure you pay close attention to the background (loved the Pirate Captain wanted poster: "and a free pen"... you'll just have to see it).  The fun, infectious tone is set early on and never peters out.  The humor is kind of like a Monty Python for kids.  The characters are delightful, instead of irritating like in many kids' films.

I didn't even recognize Hugh Grant as the Pirate Captain.  He uses a different voice and is very convincing.  He's a know-it-all, but has a big heart.  He just wants to be respected.  I found it to be very clever for the filmmakers to use Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria as villains in the piece.  My favorite character was probably Darwin's monkey, who very much reminded me of a classic silent comedian.  A great example of some of the sight gags is when the monkey is telling Darwin something crucial by holding up cards, Darwin says. "Quiet!", then the monkey raises a card of the same word, but smaller.  Pretty brilliant.  The movie is loaded with great little moments like this.

The look of the movie is outstanding.  What impresses me about stop-motion is that every little set and prop had to be built.  The attention to detail is perfect.  My only complaint would be the 3D.  The movie has several scenes during nighttime and in the shadows, it was a little difficult for me to see some things.  But that's not the picture's fault, but the studio for making the conversion to 3D.

Kids should like the movie enough, but I imagine the parents will enjoy this even more than their kids.  After it was done, my daughter said she liked it, but not as much as me.  And I asked her why she said that, and she replied by saying "You were laughing A LOT, Dad!".   Even if you don't have kids, this is very much an animated film for everyone.  Arguably more for adults than kids, as there are some clever inclusions of grown-up jokes (but not as gratuitous as SHREK) thrown in to the mix.

This is easily one of the funniest films of the year thus far.  It's smart, witty, hilarious and even a little ridiculous.  I highly recommend checking this out, with or without kids. 

***1/2 (out of ****)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review of THE RAVEN (2012)


- Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images.
- Starring John Cusack, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Luke Evans
- Written by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare
- Directed by James McTeigue
- Running time: 1hr 50min

This isn't some historically accurate bio-pic on Edgar Allen Poe.  This is a "what if" flick.  "What if" Poe (John Cusack) had an adventure where his girlfriend (Alive Eve) is kidnapped (and buried alive) by a serial killer who is a huge fan of the author, performing grisly killings straight out of his books?  Along the way Poe teams up with a detective (Luke Evans), and the two track down the mysterious man. 

It's certainly a "Neat-O" idea.  I often like these kind of "what if"films.  The premise works most of the time.  The pre-title murder sequence is done in a traditional Gothic horror style (not unlike SLEEPY HOLLOW).  McTeigue, who's first film V FOR VENDETTA was impressive (his second, NINJA ASSASSIN was not) has made a great looking movie, with dark, crisp direction.  The murders are blunt and gruesome.  Nothing is watered down here, especially the "pit and the pendulum" sequence.  Yuck!

I would say the first two-thirds of the story are compelling, but once we get into the third act is when it develops some problems.  The killer is kept a secret, which makes the revealing all the more underwhelming.  And of course he has a five minute monologue explaining why he murdered everyone.  It stops the movie dead in it's track.  Once it gets to this point, the film never fully recovers, as it sludges it's way to an unsatisfactory ending. 

The bigger problem is the casting of John Cusack as Poe.  He's a very talented actor.  I loved him in BETTER OFF DEAD and BEING JOHN MALKOVICH.  But he's very much miscast here.  It's not that he's doing a bad job, he's just wrong for the part in almost every way.  He speaks in a very theatrical way, and it's just not very convincing.  And I couldn't tell if he had a mild British accent or if he was even trying at all.  He was about as believable as Matthew Broderick would be as Abraham Lincoln.  Also, the writers attempt to make him a sort of quirky, offbeat character (like Depp's Ichabod Crane), as he spouts off witty comebacks.  Cusack, despite a gallant effort, can't pull it off.  The rest of the cast is fine, especially Alice Eve as Poe's fiancee' (who looks like she was born to wear a corset... mmmm) and Brendan Gleeson as her disapproving father. 

Like I said before, McTeigue did a great job visually directing the picture.  Fans of Gothic horror will probably find a lot to like here.  And I'm sure there will be plenty of folks who will be able to tolerate Cusack's miscasting, and forgive the weak ending.  But for me, it didn't all come together.

** (out of ****)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Retro Review: MACBETH (1971)

- Rated R for extreme graphic violence, disturbing images and full frontal nudity.
- Starring John Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, Terence Bayler, John Stride
- Written by Roman Polanski & Kenneth Tynan
- Directed by Roman Polanski
- Running Time: 2hrs 20min

The more I see of Roman Polanski's films, the more respect for him I gain.  I still have a few more movies to view, but he's definitely becoming one of my favorite filmmakers.  The only one of his films I haven't cared for is OLIVER TWIST, which wasn't terrible and had a wonderful look, but I just couldn't connect with it.  CHINATOWN remains one of my all time favorite films (just like many other film geeks), THE PIANIST becomes more of a masterpiece with repeat viewings.  REPULSION is chilling, THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS was offbeat fun, ROSEMARY'S BABY is beautifully haunting, FRANTIC is a solid thriller.  Heck, I even liked the wacky THE NINTH GATE.

I was curious to see his version of Shakespeare's MACBETH, a story of which I haven't seen or read in any form.  This was Polanski's first film after the tragic murder of his wife Sharon Tate, who was a victim of the Manson clan.  I'm not sure if the incident impacted the way he conceived the film, but this is a bleak, grim and shocking tale, almost playing out like a horror movie.

I love the idea of Shakespeare.  I love how the story is driven with poetic dialogue that has to be deciphered.  But to be quite honest, it usually takes a couple of times seeing the film to fully understand it.  I'm just not as smart and sophisticated as I like.  After watching this, I immediately went to Wikipedia to read the full plot of Macbeth.  Now, knowing what happened, I can say that it's a pretty darn good movie.  One that I definitely want to watch again, because I know I'm going to enjoy it so much more.

Some of you may know the story of Macbeth, but for those who don't I'll do my best to explain (remember, this is the movie version, so I'm not sure how faithful it was to the original source).  Of course this takes place in Medieval times, and Macbeth is a soldier for the king of Scotland.  After a great battle, he meets with some witches that foresee he will become king.  When he's not named heir to the thrown, he gets pissed off.  He and his wife, Lady Macbeth, scheme to throw a party with the King and his men.  At night, Macbeth kills him and frames 2 servant girls.  The king's sons, fearing for their own life, flee the scene.  Macbeth becomes heir to the throne, and he's not a very good king.  He pretty much tries to eliminate any other threat to his crown, which starts a bloodbath of revenge. 

Like I said before, you really have to pay attention to Shakespeare (unless of course for someone who is used to the Bard's way of telling a story) to get everything going on.  And it took me awhile to figure things out.  But, now that I understand everything that happened, it's a pretty kick ass tragedy.  The story is very compelling.  It's a shocking tale that is very violent.  I was surprised by how gory this movie was.  Throats are punctured, people are hung, heads are cut off, etc.  The swordplay, mainly in the finale, is very realistically choreographed.  It's not perfect.  It's sloppy, like how a real fight should be.  And it's slightly sped up, which was oft-putting at first, but I think it works. 

Polanski has made a gorgeous film and an ugly film at the same time.  The colors are bright, but somewhat faded.  The art direction is fantastic in how it depicts the time period as a dismal and filthy place.  It's not glossy like some big budget Hollywood productions have fantasized about the period, but probably more historically accurate.  The scope is epic, but condensed by the intimacy of the story and camera placements.  Polanski also plays up the fantasy and dreamlike elements (the naked witch scene is crazy) of the story with some psychedelic editing. And that cinematography is amazing.  It's subtle enough that it doesn't distract the viewer from the story, but if you pay attention, you'll realized that there's many long takes and tracking shots, as well as slow zooms and carefully framed images to symbolize certain things. 

The acting is good all around, from mostly an unknown British cast.  John Finch is outstanding as Macbeth, perfectly displaying his slow descent into madness.  Francesca Annis is beautiful as Lady Macbeth and is just as good as Finch.  The other notable actor is Terence Bayler as MacDuff, who seeks revenge on the newly appointed king after his family is murdered. 

If you're a fan of Shakespeare or Polanski, you won't want to miss this.  If you're not too familiar with the famous playwright, you might want to familiarize yourself with the story first so you won't be lost, that way you'll be able to enjoy it much more.  Macbeth is a great film that deserves to be rediscovered. I would love to see this on a big movie screen. 

***1/2 (out of ****)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Exclusive interview with Director Whit Stillman (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS)

I had the opportunity to interview filmmaker Whit Stillman, director of Damsels in Distress. I found him to be a unique individual and really enjoyed our conversation. Talking with him, I felt that he was a true and bold artist, though when listening back to the interview I realized he sounds exactly like John Malkovich.

We met at a bar downtown, and as we went to sit down I noticed that the electronica music was really loud over the speakers. Whit Stillman commented on it as he said, "Welcome to the disco lounge". We both laughed. Then as we settled into our seats, he asked me whom I write for, which was Switchblade Comb at the time (which is currently on hiatus). He thought it was a pretty cool website name.  Then I began the interview.

AUSTIN KENNEDY (AK): Congratulations on the movie. It's good to have you back.

WHIT STILLMAN (WS): Thank you. It's good to be back.

AK: Was there any particular reason why it took so long to make your next movie (14 years)?

WS: Yeah. Failure. Failure as a producer. In addition to being writer/director, I've never been fortunate enough to marry a producer or somebody involved. I like being a producer on set. But in between films I haven't really focused on raising money. I sort of relied on one buyer, and then I had a period when I couldn't get that buyer. So I had to find a way to raise the money myself. And also finding an active producer who could help me.  I wasn't that depressed most of the time, cause I was working on scripts and getting paid for some of them. And the writing had gone pretty well. So I got to see great places like Paris and Madrid while writing scripts, and they were going well. But the horrible thing was allowing so many years to go by without a film happening. I got pretty close . You always think it's around the corner, but you somehow have to lock it in and make it all happen.

AK: With your first 3 films, you sort of have a cult following in the independent community...

WS: Even out here?

AK: Yeah, definitely.

WS: Really. Because I had this screening at USC that Leonard Maltin had, and at the end I asked the students how many had seen any of my films and only one out of a hundred people had seen any of my other films. And that was so different than my experience at Indiana University of Bloomington. And at Harvard Film Archive. There they saw my films, but at USC none of my films.

AK: Even critically you've got a lot of acclaim, and with getting that kind of praise does that add pressure or expectations for the next project, especially when it's been so long?

WS: They publicize the praise, but I also see all the bad stuff, so that keeps it in perspective.

AK: In your earlier films, you've drawn upon your own personal experiences. So I was wondering what your inspiration was for DAMSELS IN DISTRESS. How did that come about?

WS: Well there's the original inspiration, and there's what happened later. The original inspiration was the story of girls like this who came to where I went to college, when I was there it was pretty political, kind of grim, depressing and non-social/anti-social. And I went back and they said, "There are these girls who came and they wear this French perfume, it's very strong and very good, and they dress up, and they have these really fun parties, and they teach you everything... and blah blah blah blah blah." Everyone was just so happy about this change. So that was one idea, which put things in motion. And then I had a pretty painful experience of being dumped by a girl who I was really involved with and I thought she was really in love with me and all that kind of stuff. But no, she dumped me. And it really really really got me down. When I saw her a couple months after that I was sort of like, "Thank you for giving this story to my movie", cause I just signed a contract like 2 days before when I got dumped and I was like, "Oh my God, I have a story!". Because I didn't have an experience in quite the same way. I've had a lot of rejections, but the rejection came before the relationship. And so I now had the experience of being dumped. It's kind of an eye opening experience and I don't ever want to have that experience again. Ever! And so that gave me a lot of material for Violet (played by Greta Gerwig in the film), and it was really helpful.

AK: Was there anything that interested you about the College social scene (it's a big part of the film)?

WS: Yeah. I really liked idea of social textures and how these people were doing stuff. This is a bit of a Utopia film, a bit of a fantasy where there's this sort of absurd fraternity with these absurd characters. There's this country/western dance place they all go to and line dance and do the two-step. And there's everybody tap dancing there at the suicide center , and then I have this sort of Gershwin number. And this was all kind of fanciful.

AK: It definitely had a whimsical quality.

WS: For sure.

AK: Did you have any actors in mind while writing or was there an audition process when you were casting?

WS: I auditioned. Generally I like to meet people and then go work on the script with them.  So they're always reading the script.  And very often now, I like to do this thing now where people are kind of important.  When you're there with the actor, they really should know what we're doing.  So, I'll leave them alone with the script, and they can do it their way.  And that's how you get the audition. 

AK: I liked Greta Gerwig.  She's so good in the movie as Violet and completely embodies the character. Did she immediately get the character or was it something you had to really work with her on?

WS: It's interesting because a lot of people did come in with their characters already formed and worked out, and I just kind of watched them do it, and maybe study tap dancing techniques.  But Greta was still in "free search" mode.  We had this table read shortly before we started shooting and she was really worried about that I would think what she was doing at the read was what she was going to be doing with her performance.  During the first few days of shooting she was sort of triangulating where it should be.  She was quoted in a magazine as saying that after one take I came up to her and said, "Remember what you did in that last take.  Never do it again". 

AK: (laughs)

WS: She was really doing wildly different versions on each take.  It's very interesting.  And frankly, I really like it when someone searches for it, when they don't immediately think they have it. 

AK: That way you can work in the editing room too.

WS: Yes, there's some interesting editing room thing, but also she really worked hard to find a very cool Violet. 

AK: It (the searching for her character) doesn't show.  It's a very specific performance I think on screen.

WS: Yeah.

AK: I really liked Analeigh Tipton (as Lily).  She's great.

WS: She's from here you know.

AK: I heard that.  And I think she's going to be huge.  She's a really good actress.  How was it working with her? 

WS: Incredibly easy.  She's so natural.  The only kind of direction was like: "Analeigh, you know that cute walking thing you do on your tippy-toes.  You can only do that three times in the movie.  You can't do it ten times".  She's very cute.  She's very real.  But I didn't want her to be too cute. 

AK: I don't think she came across TOO cute. 

WS: Good.

AK: I love how the film's coda is a whimsical musical number.  During the writing process, when did you know it was going to go in that direction, that it was going to end with a musical number?

WS: Good question... I have a feeling that was always the intention.  The idea of the second dance was new, but I think the idea of "always looking up" was there. 

AK: Are you a fan of musicals?

WS: I love musicals.  I was thinking when I was watching a revival of GUYS & DOLLS that I'd be happy just to see GUYS & DOLLS every night.  Unfortunately, I don't have that much money. 

AK: (chuckles).  What are some of your favorite musicals?  On film.  

WS:  On film?

AK: Yeah.

WS: On film, my favorite musical is a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers RKO musical directed by Mark Sandrich called THE GAY DIVORCEE.  After that they made TOP HAT.  GAY DIVORCEE is kind of a low budget earlier version of TOP HAT.  It's got a great Cole Porter score.  It's got Night & Day.

AK: Oh cool.  I definitely have to check that out.  For me (in Damsels in Distress) the color really stands out in the film.  Is that something you worked with the costume designer on?

WS: Yes.

AK: It was like every character had a different color on.  No one's really wearing the same color.  It added something...

WS: Yeah, she did tons of work.  On a low budget film it's really challenging to do a good wardrobe.  It's Ciera Wells.  She did a great job. 

AK: As a writer/director... this is a really hard question.  I'm sure you'll roll your eyes when you hear it.  But what do you prefer: Writing or directing?

WS: I guess I prefer writing. 

AK: More freedom?

WS: Less tension.  You have more time to get it done.

AK: Right.  So what's next?  You gonna wait another 14 years?

WS: Get back to writing. 

AK: Do you have more scripts during that time (hiatus) that you were working on?

WS: I have 5 scripts in various states that I'm working my whole life, and I'll get to a number of them.  I sometimes think of going off and try to write fiction, so I don't have to get in production. 

AK: You did the one novelization of THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO...

WS: I would like to do that again, but one only has so much time.  And I really feel very strongly now that I have to use my time wisely.

AK: Well, that's about all I have.  Thanks a lot, Whit.

WS: Great.  Thanks very much. 

As I was heading out he asked me if I was from Minneapolis.  I told him yes and asked if he had a chance to go around town yet.  Whit said he was going to take in the sights later on that evening.  

Hope you enjoyed the interview! 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review of THINK LIKE A MAN (2012)

- Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some crude humor, and brief drug use.
- Starring Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart, Romany Malco, Gabrielle Union, Regina Hall, Meagan Good, Taraji P. Henson, Steve Harvey
- Written by Keith Merryman & David A. Newman (based on the book by Steve Harvey)
- Directed by Tim Story
- Running time: 2hrs 1min

This is a pretty typical multi-character romantic comedy. The premise is that Steve Harvey has written a book called Think Like a Man, and we see how this effects four couples. All four of the guys are friends. Dominic is the dreamy-eyed dreamer who longs to be chef, Jeremy has been with the same girl for years but has no intention of committing, Michael's mom always comes first in his love life, and Zeke is a womanizing playboy. Dom meets a strongheaded business woman who is sick of dating immature (and broke) guys. Jeremy's girlfriend is sick of his childishness. Michael meets a single mom who needs someone who will put her first. And Zeke meets a woman who wants to find a man who wants more than just sex, so puts him to the 90-day no sex test. All the girls read the Steve Harvey book in order to keep the relationship in their control, and it works... except when the guys figure out the game. Then they read the book too, and turn the game around on the girls.

There's nothing really original about this, but the actors really made it work. It's surprisingly funny. Credit goes to the male leads, as they display a likable and believable bond between them. Just seeing them sitting at a bar and just discussing relationship issues was entertaining. The dialogue is smart and funny. Kevin hart plays the guys' best friend who is going through a divorce and offers more of the silliest moments of the film. The actresses also attribute themselves wonderfully. Gabrielle Union (I can't believe she's 40, because she looks 25!) is terrific in this as Jeremy's longtime girlfriend. Never thought I would ever see a hot black girl wearing a nerdy Voltron shirt in my lifetime!

Yeah, the movie is cliched, and you can pretty much guess what's going to happen. But the enjoyment of this film is watching the characters hang out and interact with each other. Director Tim Story (Barbershop and the Fantastic Four movies), does a good job balancing the comedy and drama, much better than Tyler Perry (who usually overdoes both). If you like a good battle-of-the-sexes movie, it's definitely worth your time.

*** (out of ****)

Review of DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (2012)

- Rated PG -13 for mature thematic elements including some sexual material.
- Starring Greta Gerwig, Analeigh Tipton, Adam Brody
- Written & Directed by Whit Stillman
- Running Time: 1hr 38min.

This was my first experience of a Whit Stillman film. He made 3 movies in the 90's, but hasn't made a film in 14 years. For his comeback, he made a semi-surreal tale about a group of college girls who attempt to change the frat boy mentality of your typical college dude, as well as saving fellow students from depression and suicide. In reality, the girls are snobs who think they're better than everyone else and seem to do these helpful humanity activies to make themselves feel even more superior. They are led by Violet, who is satirically full of her self. She has a few followers as well that try and imitate her. But when newcomer Lily joins the group, she questions their ways and changes the routine in Violet's hypocritical world.

It's a hard movie to describe. It's actually kind of clever. I liked how it didn't seem to take place in reality, but in a sort of stylistic version of college life. The costumes are subtly colorful and there is a contrived way the dialogue is delivered. But it sort of works. Greta Gerwig completely embodies Violet, who has all the best lines. Every thing she says is passive aggressive, but there's a rhythm to it, and Gerwig just nails this. Analeigh Tipton has this innocence about her as Lily that is completely believable. I think she has this natural acting ability and will probably be the next big thing. Adam Brody is also pretty good as a sort of love interest for both Lily and Violet.

Stillman's script snarls with wit and snarky commentary on social organizations. He certainly has a unique style, and it makes me want to seek out his earlier films. Unfortunately, I felt like the film kind of petered out in the last act. The juggling of the characters started not to work. There were a few things that Lily did that didn't a whole lot of sense. Also, it felt like there were scenes missing. For example: Two characters fight with each other, and then a few minutes later everything is fine. I also thought the ending was a bit of a cop out. Even though I like musical numbers, and this one was very good, it felt out of place. Like the movie couldn't figure out how to end. I'm sure there was a point to it, and I might possibly understand and appreciate it more upon a second viewing. But, for some reason it just didn't feel right.

I have a feeling that this will find a following amongst hipsters, and those that enjoyed the Christian Slater movie HEATHERS (I love it too!) will find a similar (but far less violent) tone. I do think that Wilt Stillman is a truly unique artist, but I think I need to see it again to fully appreciate it.

**1/2 (out of ****)

Review of THE LUCKY ONE (2012)

- Rated PG -13 for some sexuality and violence.
- Starring Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Riley Thomas Stewart, Jay R. Ferguson
- Written by Will Fetters (based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks)
- Directed by Scott Hicks
- Running time: 1hr 40min

Nicholas Sparks is all the rage right now. Ever since THE NOTEBOOK (which I loved), he's been on fire. I also enjoyed DEAR JOHN, but didn't care for NIGHTS OF RODANTHE or MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE.

Zac Efron stars as Logan, a marine who finds a picture of a beautiful woman in the aftermath of a battle in the Middle East. He keeps the photo throughout his tour of duties and feels like it brought him good luck. Once he returns, he travels to North Carolina in search of this mystery woman in the picture. He finds her. She is a single mom named Beth who works at a farm living with her son and mother. Logan approaches her but instead of explaining why he came, he accepts a job offer to train dogs at the farm. He finds out during this that the picture was Beth's brother, who died in the war. Of course the two fall in love, but Beth's beer drinking Sheriff ex-husband doesn't approve, as he threatens their relationship many different ways. And what will Beth think once she finds out that Logan has her brother's picture?

I am not against cheesy cornball romances. I even enjoy crying a lot at movies. But this is way too much. Director Scott Hicks (responsible for Academy Award Nominee SHINE), has a wonderful eye for scenery and composition. The movie looks lush and beautiful, as it seems nearly half of the film was shot during magic hour. Unfortunately the story is TOO cliched. I usually don't care if a film is predictable just as long as it's well made. But, this is over-cliched.

I mean, as soon as the ex-husband shows up with a beer in his hand, asking for his son... LOOK OUT! I guess he's the bad guy? This character is so evil and bad that it gets to the point where it became a parody. I was laughing out just how much of a douchebag this guy was. Also, the romance is laughably over the top. When we first meet Beth, she is walking out of a barn with the sunset behind her and the soothing music just oozes out of the speakers. Come on, guys! Too much. And that's just scratching the surface.

The film is also lazy in it's writing. Instead of showing scenes with actual dialogue and character interaction between the two lovebirds while they were falling in love, the filmmakers just replace all that with countless montages. Seriously, I don't think I've seen this many montages in a movie all my life. If I were playing a drinking game and took a shot every time a montage came on, I would've been hammered before the first half was over. Montages are not a substitute for storytelling.

The acting isn't dreadful. Zac Efron is fine as Logan. Taylor Schilling is decent, though I thought she looked far too old for Efron (even though she's not 30 yet in real life). Blythe Danner is the typcial cute mom that gives good advice laced with smart comments, usually with a smug look on her face. Jay Ferguson probably did what he was supposed to do as the a-hole of an ex-husband, but his character is outrageous.

No, the big problem is just how manufactured this movie feels. There is not one real, natural, or genuine second in this movie. It's a standard, stock romance that felt more like the filmmakers were completing a checklist of "romantic drama" story cliches, than telling an actual story. There are much better full blown romances out there than this. I laughed a lot in this movie, and that wasn't intentional.

*1/2 (out of ****)

Review of JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI (2012)

- Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief smoking
- Directed by David Gelb
- Running Time: 1hr 22min

This is a documentary about an 85 year old man and his quaint little sushi restaurant. I have never tried sushi and probably never will. I hate fish. I hate the way it looks and the smell makes me gag. So I definitely was NOT the audience for this.

It's a pretty straightforward movie as it tells how Jiro Ono became an expert on Sushi, and how his sons followed in the business. This one caught me off guard. I was surprised how involved I became in Jiro's world. He's a no-nonsense, straight-to-the-point man with an adorable, but stern demeanor. He's a perfectionist, and is really hard on anyone who works for him, but I got the sense that it was all worthwhile for everyone. Apparently, this is the best sushi in the world. I liked how we really got to see the pressures of his oldest son and how he is preparing to take over the family business, though I felt a bit of reluctance since his father will be taking the credit for the sushi long after he passes on (which doesn't seem to be anytime soon). I also got a kick out of comments made from customers, as many said that they loved the food, but that Jiro is such an intimidating presence that they were uncomfortable. But all said it was still worth it. Jiro sure came across as a unique character. The film is also beautifully and articulately shot. The sushi looks wonderful and it almost made me want to try it.

I do think it got a tad long (even at 82 minutes), as I felt it didn't have enough material for a feature, but it would have made an excellent short. Overall, I still enjoyed it quite bit. I can imagine that if you are a sushi lover, then you'll be drooling over the delicious looking scenery, and maybe even convince you to make a trip to Japan just to try some of the food.

*** (out of ****)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Review of CHIMPANZEE (2012)

- Rated G.
- Narrated by Tim Allen
- Directed by Alastair Fothergill & Mark Linfield
- Running Time - 1hr 18min

Disney's 4th consecutive nature Documentary. They started back in 2009 with EARTH, and continued with OCEANS and AFRICAN CATS. I enjoyed both EARTH and OCEANS, but thought that AFRICAN CATS fell flat. That could also be due to seeing the far superior THE LAST LIONS (which was also a Doc about Lions) first.

Unlike the other Disney nature films (those had random images of animals in their natural habitat, without trying to tell a story), the filmmakers actually tell the tale of a baby chimp they call Oscar. His mother raises him, then when she disappears the elder ape takes care of Oscar. Also, there is a bad group of apes who are led by the "cleverly" (sarcasm) named Scar, who threaten to take over the "good" chimps habitat.

There is some good photography, as there usually is in these movies. There were occasional cute moments, like when Oscar is trying to break open a nut with various sizes of branches, but I ultimately didn't care for this. And the main reason is the narration. For some reason, Disney thought it would be a brilliant idea to have overrated and "shoot me in my face" irritating actor/comedian Tim Allen to talk over the ape action. What a horrible idea!

Unlike narrators of the past films (James Earl Jones, Pierce Brosnan), Allen makes wise cracks and silly voices while doing the commentary, making it (maybe) a step above America's Funniest Home Videos. Occasionally he would try to tell a story, but then he would just go into old Home Improvement bits. Yes, there's even a moment when he says "Power tools!" , and then proceeds to do his man bark, or whatever the hell he does that the majority of lower middle class Americans thought was so funny in the 90's. Inappropriate when doing an intimate nature documentary. His narration constantly gets in the way of even remotely enjoying the story.

And just when you were about to say, "Well, the silly narration is there to make it more entertaining for the kids", about 15 minutes into the movie, my 8 year old daughter whispers to me, "I hate the narration. He's trying to be too funny. I just want to see the animals". Yeah, that's right! Suck it, Hollywood! You don't need to play down to kids. They want to see good movies just like us adults. She was getting so upset at Tim Allen, that at one point she yelled, "Shut Up!" to the screen. I had to calm her down.

Now, I guess if you're a die hard Tim Allen fan, you'll probably appreciate his narration, though I'm 100% positive that this would have been a moving and touching Documentary if it was taken much more seriously.

*1/2 (out of ****)

Review of MARLEY (2012)

- [PG -13] for drug content, thematic elements and some violent images.
- Directed by Kevin MacDonald
- Running Time: 2hrs. 24min.

I never really heard anything by Bob Marley until I was well out of High School, and when I did I found it pleasant. But it wasn't until I heard the album EXODUS in it's entirety that I started to truly admire him. I have all of his major studio albums, so I consider myself a fan. I didn't know anything about his personal life, so I was curious to see how much this documentary would cover.

At nearly two and a half hours, Filmmaker Kevin MacDonald (TOUCHING THE VOID and THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND) had seemingly limitless access to archive footage in order to assemble a very extensive look at the famous Reggae musician. This epic Doc covers everything a hardcore fan could hope for: His birth, his mysterious white father, his introduction to music, his first experience with fame and how he handles it, the many ladies of his life, how his music changed from ska to reggae, his energetic stage shows, the politics of his music, and ultimately his sickness and death. And much more.

MacDonald has structured the film fairly straightforward, mixing interviews with family and band members with rare archive footage. I was worried that I would feel the film's long running length, but for the most part it kept my interest. This is a true celebration of the man and the legend, as his music is played throughout the film's entirety, whether it's concert footage (which is awesome), sweeping photography of Jamaica, or just interviews, Marley's music dominates.

I'm happy that we get to see all sides of Marley. He comes across as a genuinely likable dude, but had a reputation as a ladies man, having several lovers (a text came across during the film stating that he had 11 kids from 9 different relationships, I think). I do think his music gets pushed to the background during the second half, as it focused a lot on the political happenings in Jamaica. That's fine, but I would have preferred to see more insight on the writing and recording of his most famous and important album, EXODUS. It's mentioned once ("EXODUS was a huge hit"). That definitely could've been expanded upon. Another couple of minutes wouldn't have hurt. I think that album is too important to just gloss over.

Besides that, as whole, the Documentary is engaging enough to entertain music lovers. Bob Marley fanatics are going to treat this film like the Holy Bible. I'm not quite there, but it's definitely worth two and half hours of your time.

*** (out of ****)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

(EXCLUSIVE) Interview with CABIN IN THE WOODS director, Drew Goddard!!!

2 weeks ago I had the opportunity to interview the co-writer/director of the crazy new genre defying horror film, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. Drew Goddard began his career working as a writer for Joss Whedon on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and for JJ Abrams on Alias and Lost. He also wrote the script for CLOVERFIELD.

Enjoy the interview!

Austin Kennedy (AK): How’s it going?

Drew Goddard (DG): You know, it couldn’t be doing better. Really...

AK: Oh Jeez, where to begin... Thank you for making an awesome movie! I saw it last week.

DG: Oh, thank you! Thank you for saying that.

AK: It’s so awesome!

DG: It really means a lot.

AK: I loved it! It was one of those things though, when I was sitting watching it... I was like “Okay, I think I know where it’s going...” and then, “OH MY GOD!”

DG: (laughing at me geeking out)

AK: I was like, “YES!” I love how it opens with Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, and I was like “What’s going on?” and then, BOOM! “CABIN IN THE WOODS” (I was regarding how the titles appear on the screen) That’s awesome!

DG: That’s right. We wanted to send out early to people that this was not your typical movie.

AK: How did the project start, was it an idea started by you or Joss (Whedon)?

DG: It was Joss’ original idea. We were looking for something to do together. And we were just talking about horror movies. We were sort of brainstorming sub-genres and stuff. He said, “I got this idea about a cabin in the woods...” he sort of had this basic construct of it worked out, and when I heard it, I was like “Oh, this sounds good”.

AK: I really think it turns the horror genre on it’s head. Do you think maybe that came out of frustration or a kind of retaliation on what was being turned out by the studios at the time?

DG: A little bit, but the truth is it came much more from a place of love than a place of hate. I think our goal was to celebrate the horror film than it was to tear anything down. I just love horror films. I love the genre. And certainly , when you’re celebrating something there is the need to sort of poke and prod it. Certainly we poke fun at certain places, but it all comes from a place of love.

AK: Was there any film specifically that influenced you?

DG: I can honestly say with this movie... every horror film I’ve ever seen.

AK: It’s like the kitchen sink thing.

DG: It really is.

AK: I definitely have some questions about some spoilers a bit later, but you’ve been writing for a while now. What decided you to choose this one, and how did you prepare for it?

DG: During my whole career, I’ve had so little of a plan. I’ve really just gone with what sounds fun at the time. Part of that is just working with people I like. Just finding my friends and just keeping that 12 year old spirit of “let’s just get our friends together and have fun”. You didn’t worry about stuff when you were 12, you just said “Hey, let’s play monsters”. And that’s been the spirit of my career. JJ (Abrams) calls and says, “Hey, you want to do a monster movie, but want to shoot it with a video camera?” and I’m like, “Yeah”.

AK: Did Joss suggest you direct it (CABIN), or did you jump up and say that you wanted to direct it?

DG: A little of both. I don’t remember “chicken or egg”-wise who said it first, but he knew I wanted to direct. He was actually pushing me to direct. He wanted me to direct as early as Buffy (The Vampire Slayer). He said, “You should direct an episode.”, but I wanted to get a little more experience. I knew enough to know that directing wasn’t easy. You need to train for it. You need to prepare. And so I felt like that the first few years of my career that I was preparing for this job.

AK: Did you feel like you were ready this time?

DG: I felt with CABIN that I was ready as you can be without actually doing the job. With directing, you just have to do it.

AK: Any special preparation for it?

DG: Not really. I feel like writing and producing for television was the best preparation I could’ve done. Cause in TV, the writer is sort of in charge anyway. You do a lot of stuff that directors do in features. You do a lot of talking to the actors and managing the set and stuff like that. So that was definitely the best preparation.

AK: When presenting the actors with the script, can you share any of their reactions, because I can imagine being an actor reading the script and being like “Oh my God!”

DG: We wrote the parts for Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford. We sent them the script first. We sent it to Richard first actually, and Richard immediately signed on.

AK: Awesome.

DG: I know. And we were shocked because that week he was nominated for an Academy Award (for THE VISITOR). I was like, “you’re nominated for an Academy Award, but you want to do this crazy horror movie”. And Richard was like, “Yes, this is exactly what I want to do. You don’t get opportunities like this. It’s different. It’s such a rare thing as an actor to be offered something that’s not like any other movie”. And he just wanted to be a part of it. And Bradley felt the same way, so they both said yes right away. With the kids we wanted fresh faces, we didn’t give the script out. We just auditioned. And we wrote a lot of fake scenes. They didn’t know that they were fake, but they were just absurd scenes. Like Pterodactyl attack. One of them had a hot tub with a creature in it, and it was molesting... They were just crazy scenes, but they weren’t in the movie. We just wanted to put these kids through their paces. We were just trying to find actors that would fit with what we were trying to do. None of the 5 of them had read the script until after we cast them.

AK: How did they react when they read it?

DG: They were pretty excited. They weren’t sure what to expect based on the sides I had given them. They were nice. They just believed in us. They just took a leap of faith.

AK: For me, if I read it, it would be one of those things that I would be like, “I ‘ve got to see that to believe that.”

DG: There definitely was a quality of “Are they going to be able to pull this off, it’s really sick”.

[this next portion of the interview, we talk about the finale so if you don't want to know too much, you might want to skip it and come back after you've seen it.]

AK: For the finale, it must have been a blast brainstorming every single kind of monster and creature imaginable. Were you just writing them down like, “[spoiler]”

DG: I don’t want to give out spoilers, but yeah there was definitely a lot of times on this movie when I was looking around thinking, “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this”. Because this is what I would do. It feels like I’m 12 again and this is the ultimate horror monster movie in my toy box. It felt like “this is the dream”. I still can’t believe we got away with it.

AK: I was really into the movie and then the last 20 minutes... that just seems daunting as a filmmaker. Cause it’s so chaotic and there’s so much going on. How do you sustain that while you’re filming. How did you organize that?

DG: It’s funny cause it was so energizing. My experience as a screenwriter sort of taught me that it’s really hard to do a good 3rd act. You see it time and time and time again in movies where it’s like, “Oh, that started great, but then it just felt like that they didn’t know what they were doing here.” And in this one we knew that this was NOT going to be the case. I just knew. No matter what happens in the first two-thirds, once they got to the last third... "we’ve got something for you"!

(we both laugh)

DG: There’s something that’s very empowering about that. But that was the hardest thing I had to do was construct that ballet at the end. A couple of the shots in that final bit, I spent a year and a half working on. Just getting it right, just working with artists and figuring out how we were going to shoot it. We worked really hard on that.

[end spoilers]

[the publicist peeked her head in and told me that I had one more question left]

AK: So next you have Robopacalypse with (Steve) Spielberg (Goddard wrote the script and Spielberg is directing)?

DG: Because it’s Spielberg, I can’t say too much.

AK: Are you in pre-production?

DG: It’s been in pre-production, yeah.

AK: The script’s written.

DG: The script’s written, but it continues to evolve, as these things do. But it’s based on a book by Daniel Wilson. It’s a hard science look at what would happen if our technology turns on us. It’s sort of an epic sci-fi that no one does better than Spielberg.

AK: Do you plan on directing again?

DG: I’d love to direct again. We’ll see if they let me.

AK: Cool! Thanks a lot Drew. Pleasure to meet you.

DG: Nice to meet you!

After I turned off my recorder, as I was heading out, I told him how I can’t wait to see his film with a crowd (as I only saw it at a press screening with only 10 critics in the theater). I asked him if he saw it at Butt-numb-a-thon, but he said he couldn’t make it. But he did see it with a crowd at SXSW and said it was pretty incredible.

He was a fun dude that felt like someone I probably would have been friends with when I was growing up.

Stay tuned for my full review on the film.