June 26, 2010

PODCAST: Restrepo (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)

RESTREPO filmmakers Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington

Although neither New York-based journalist Sebastian Junger nor Liverpool-born photographer Tim Hetherington are strangers to combat zones, feature filmmaking was indeed a new war to be fought. In their brave and riveting documentary debut Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance, the two seasoned professionals used their fact-finding instincts to depict an experience I had never before felt with such heart-in-my-throat immediacy:

RESTREPO is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, "Restrepo," named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 94-minute deployment. This is war, full stop. The conclusions are up to you.

Sitting down with Junger and Hetherington this past week, the three of us discussed the risk and reward in making Restrepo, politics versus morality, why they should be seen as journalists instead of activist filmmakers, and how—in justifiable comparison to their doc—The Hurt Locker isn't quite a fair portrayal of the soldier's experience.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (16:52)

Podcast Music
INTRO: The Raconteurs: "Broken Boy Soldier"
OUTRO: Casualty: "Military Intervention"

[Restrepo is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, with more cities to follow beginning July 2. For more information, please visit the official site.]

Posted by ahillis at 9:09 AM

June 24, 2010

PODCAST: Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)

DOGTOOTH director Yorgos Lanthimos

Having now seen Dogtooth three times, which I not-so-hyperbolically called "the most original, challenging, and perverse film of the year so far" in the Village Voice, I was thrilled to speak with Greek filmmaker Georgios Lanthimos (Kinetta) about his must-see second feature:

A hyper-stylized mixture of physical violence and verbal comedy, DOGTOOTH is a darkly funny look at three teenagers confined to their parents's isolated country estate and kept under strict rule and regimen—an inscrutable scenario that suggests a warped experiment in social conditioning and control. Terrorized into submission by their father, the children spend their days devising their own games and learning an invented vocabulary (a salt shaker is a "telephone," an armchair is "the sea")—until a trusted outsider, brought in to satisfy the son’s libidinal urges, starts offering forbidden VHS tapes in return for sexual favors.

Having done a full year's round of press since the film won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes '09, Lanthimos was gracious enough to spare a few more minutes before leaving his New York hotel and returning home to Greece. We discussed his initial story concept, Dogtooth's ambiguous take on American pop culture, the non-existent props audiences have projected into his film, and feeling isolated himself.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (14:02)

Podcast Music
INTRO: Islands: "Kids Don't Know Shit"
OUTRO: Irene Cara: "Flashdance... What a Feeling"

[Dogtooth opens this Friday in New York and July 9 in Chicago, with more dates to follow. For more information, please visit the official site.]

Posted by ahillis at 8:49 AM

June 22, 2010

Education Docs: No Chide Left Behind

by Mark Phillips

The Lottery

Filmmakers have discovered educational reform. This is not necessarily good news. As an educator, I was initially excited about there being a number of newly released features that focus on the reform of our crisis riddled public education system. Most of our policy makers have the wrong answers. Most Americans are relatively ignorant when it comes to the complexity of the challenges. I'd hoped these filmmakers might help educate both. Having viewed three of these films, it appears to me that the filmmakers are more likely to become part of the problem than to contribute to finding solutions.

I want to begin with New Jersey journalist-turned-filmmaker Bob Bowden's The Cartel, released briefly in San Francisco and other major cities, but not likely to get much publicity outside of the Tri-State area.

Essentially a '40s-style propaganda film, the film documents—in clearly marked chapters—the failure of New Jersey’s education system. It provides staggering, and highly selective, evidence that the system is failing. As one example, we learn that 80% of the students going from high school to community colleges need remedial courses.

The CartelThe problem is depicted as the "Cartel", a fusion of the teachers union, overpaid administrators, and legislature-driven patronage. We see a Jersey City administrative parking lot filled with Mercedes Benz cars. We listen to a singularly unimpressive state teacher union leader pathetically tell us that 99% of the teachers in New Jersey are doing a good job, an absurd figure for any occupation!

There are some truths here. The achievement gap across the student population is huge, and not just in New Jersey; and every "player" within the cartel does share culpability. Unfortunately, this is also an insultingly simplistic representation of these issues.

The answers provided, vouchers and charter schools, are equally simplistic. None of the excellent arguments against vouchers are presented, including the Constitutional issue of separating church and state, the blurring of lines between public and private schools, and the socially stratifying damage to schools in lower socio-economic areas. There is also no discussion of the vast differences in quality across charter schools. We know there are good and bad charter schools, but this film is not interested in looking at this complexity. It has solutions to sell, not alternatives to examine.

The film would also have us believe that as Jersey City and Camden go, so goes the U.S. Not quite. Patronage in Jersey City hardly represents a norm across the U.S. and there are far brighter, charming, and articulate union leaders than the easily vilified caricature cast for this film.

The LotteryMadeleine Sackler’s The Lottery [official site], which follows four families with children seeking entrance into one of the best charter elementary schools in Harlem, is a better film. It provides a powerful and poignant look at exactly how much it means to each of these families to be selected by lottery for the Harlem Success Academy, a widely applauded school initiated and run by Eva Moskowitz. What is obviously most upsetting here is that the opportunity to attend a first-rate school is determined by blind luck, and unselected children are then forced into neighborhood public schools—all rundown and failing.

Additional dramatic scenes take place at a school board meeting and in an assembly of the New York City Council. Both arenas address the issue of whether PS. 194 should be closed down and turned over to Moskowitz & Co. to expand the Academy. (An encounter between Moskowitz and Council member Maria Del Carmen Arroyo is alone worth the price of viewing the movie.) These sequences could have been used to examine the thorny dilemmas of our underfunded public schools. But in each case, Moskowitz is portrayed as the heroine and the Board and Council members are portrayed as obstructionists who are helping deprive these children of the opportunity to attend a first-rate school. Once again charter schools are The Answer, the teacher's union is the arch villain, and tenure is a primary obstacle.

The LotteryHow can we help but want a charter school for every child when our emotions are tweaked at the sight of the brokenhearted attending class in such a hellhole? There are some truths here. Teacher unions are not handling the inherent challenges pragmatically and continue to act like protective trade unions, not dedicating themselves to improving the quality of teaching. Tenure and review processes need to be redesigned. Many of our schools, especially in urban areas, are dilapidated and ineffective. And there are many excellent charter schools.

But these are half-truths. We don’t see reform minded union leaders in these films when they do actually exist. We don’t meet any of the excellent and progressive-minded teachers who are struggling with limited resources and oppressive testing in underfunded rundown schools. We don’t hear about any of the many failing charter school organizations. And we definitely don’t hear from any of the major national experts on educational reform—like Barack Obama's chief education advisor during the election, Linda Darling-Hammond—who are working to improve large, struggling public schools, and have their own reservations about charter schools.

Even in their best moments, these films present a very biased and manipulative perspective that may only create further polarization when what is needed most is bridge building, not more offensive or defensive maneuvers.

Waiting for SupermanIn the fall we’ll have Davis Guggenheim's own system-dissecting tract, Waiting for Superman, which will receive the widest publicity and circulation. Will it get it right? Unless the final cut turns out to be different from the early preview I've seen, nope. It is the most polished of the three films and, like The Lottery, has affecting moments and makes many important criticisms. Yet it is also manipulative, highly biased, and oversimplified. This surprised me because Guggenheim's 2001 film, The First Year, was a balanced, insightful, and sensitive look at the pressures on teachers.

What makes me angriest about these films, despite their quality moments, is their potential impact on viewers. They won't help people better understand the tricky challenges that face us in education. Instead, they will contribute to a further black-or-white polarization of perspectives.

Mark Phillips is Professor Emeritus of Secondary Education at San Francisco State University and writes a monthly column on education for the Marin Independent Journal. He also works with alternative high schools in the San Francisco Bay area and with the California Film Institute's Educational Outreach program.

Posted by ahillis at 8:38 AM | Comments (5)

June 16, 2010

DVD OF THE WEEK: Mystery Train

by Steve Dollar

Mystery Train

Mystery Train
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
1989, 110 minutes, in English

Nothing boring ever happened to me in Memphis. Every time I went there to report one story, I came back with another, stranger tale to tell. Although, even in this age of compulsive oversharing, I'm reluctant to get down to the nitty-gritty, and not just because my mother might be reading this. It's because things that happen in Memphis are so … uncanny, it's fair to feel a little bit spooked about it. And even if you weren't, who'd believe you? The place is a vortex, oscillating amid some kind of electro-magnetic juju flux, like the island in Lost. Which would totally explain all those posthumous Elvis sightings.

Mystery Train Jim Jarmusch had never been to Memphis when he was developing Mystery Train. But he had no problem imagining exactly what the place feels like to an outsider. The film opens and closes with nearly the same shot: a passenger train rolling (in different directions) down the tracks, whistle blowing, buffeted by the lush, green chaos of kudzu patches, which are ubiquitous in the deep south. Once the train reaches the city, though, it's nearly as depopulated. A young Japanese couple, Mitsuko (Youki Kudoh) and Jun (Masatoshi Nagase), make their way from the train station to Sun Studios, where a loquacious tour guide confounds them with her rapid Dixie-fried cadence, and stop in an empty park, where Mitsuko is cast into rapture before a statue of Elvis Presley. "Carl Perkins," Jun insists, asserting the aesthetic primacy of another rockabilly championed by Sam Phillips in the mid-1950s. (Except, in broken English, it sounds like "Cah Parkins"). The two make their way to an isolated block, where a neon sign lights up the Arcade Hotel. The street looks forgotten, as if time itself had taken up residence elsewhere. "If you took away 60 percent of the buildings in Yokohama," Jun is translated, "it would look like this." On the soundtrack, one of the themes composed by John Lurie slinks along in a half-awake blues mode, bent notes trailing off of Marc Ribot's guitar like mosquitoes hovering in the still air, too lazy to bite.

Mystery Train Just released by Criterion in a snazzy new Blu-ray edition, Mystery Train makes for happy reappraisal. When it came out in 1989, it seemed underwhelming—even given the director's signature low-key sensibility. A sequence of three stories that unfold over the course of an evening in and around a Memphis fleabag hotel—a site haunted by the King, but managed by R&B madman Screamin' Jay Hawkins, resplendent in a red suit the hue of a heart attack—it was another of Jarmusch's shaggy dog sagas. But it seemed more shag than dog. The cast, a veritable hipster diaspora, included Steve Buscemi, Tom Noonan, Cinqué Lee (Spike's little brother), Joe Strummer from the Clash, and Rockets Redglare, a long since deceased East Village character who I used to witness being 86'd from bars in the late 1990s. It was a lark; Jarmusch's Ocean's Eleven, if you will. Nothing wrong with that, but the narrative weight felt unbalanced.

The film begins as a beautifully nuanced two-hander with the sweet Japanese kids embracing the American pop culture they worshipped at its very core, yet still mystified by Southern exotica, and dithers into comic, hapless boozing and gunplay as three stooges (Strummer, Buscemi and Rick Aviles) go on a misadventure. Screamin' Jay acts as the force of gravity, instructed by the director to temper his outrageous stage persona. "I told him, 'I'm a stick of dynamite and you done lit the fuse and you defy me to blow,'" Hawkins told me, when he was promoting the film 20 years ago. There's genius in that, as there is in snatches of B-movie banter like Hawkins' comment about Cinqué Lee's bellhop attire:

"Well, you should do like I do, shit, go over and buy your own damn clothes over at Lansky's, somewhere like that; I mean, you know it's like they say: the clothes make the man. I mean look at that damn hat on your head, you look like a damn mosquito-legged chimpanzee …"

Mystery Train The script is full of such gems, which give the Mystery Train's atmospheric drift moments of Zen-like insight. Of course, it's all about the atmosphere, that aura of abandonment that pervades the hotel, with its ghastly tacky wallpaper and velvet Elvises hanging above the beds. Robby Müller, who had traversed the South in the early 1970s shooting Alice in the Cities for Wim Wenders, captures the city's faded glory in rich colors that are only more resonant in high-definition. This is one of those DVDs that really pop on Blu-ray. Muller's compositions and use of light share an affectionate eye with two great Southern photographers, Williams Eggleston and Christenberry, illuminating odd, discarded corners of the landscape with the oxidized poetry of tin roofs rusted. As Mitsuko and Jun found, it's a place to get lost in—from their perspective, maybe something like Mars, if Elvis was from there.

Although, as Lee's factoid-dispensing bellhop tells us, if Elvis had been on Jupiter, he would have weighed 648 pounds at his death.

Posted by ahillis at 11:23 AM

June 14, 2010

deadCENTER '10 PODCAST: Gerald Peary, Elvis Mitchell, Pete Vonder Haar

Pete Vonder Haar, Gerald Peary, Elvis Mitchell

Following a deadCENTER screening of Boston Phoenix film critic Gerald Peary's impassioned doc feature For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism [official site], Peary sat down with The Treatment host Elvis Mitchell (who appears in the film as a former New York Times critic) and Film Threat contributing editor Pete Vonder Haar for a panel discussion on "the current state of criticism and its impact on film."

Yes, yes, you cine-obsessives reading this may be sick to death of hearing about the years-in-the-making transition from "The Good Ol' Days of Print" to the "Blogger Invasion" free-for-all, but when I had the pleasure to speak with all three panelists, we tried to expand our range of topics: Are we talking too much about criticism instead of the movies themselves? What's the strange critical reaction Peary has received from the very subjects of his documentary? Is it a conflict of interest for critics to meet filmmakers, and what was that "cool, Dirty Harry kind of thing" Mitchell once did?

I hope you'll appreciate the irony that our post-panel chat began a little too near the public restrooms, as there's nothing better to punctuate a conversation about the decline of film criticism than the sound of a toilet flushing.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (17:44)

Podcast Music
INTRO: Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper: "Elvis is Everywhere"
OUTRO: BS 2000: "Mr. Critic"

Posted by ahillis at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)

June 12, 2010

deadCENTER '10: Everything But The Bicycle Thief

Mat Hoffman with Spike Jonze at deadCENTER

In the dead center of the country and the calendar year, Oklahoma City's aptly named deadCENTER Film Festival is one of those sneaky regional festivals that you wouldn't necessarily think by its locale would be built around a passionate and thriving film community, feature consistently solid programming (full disclosure: they invited a documentary I co-directed in 2007), and offer surprise events, colorful guests and, frankly, the best excuse to come to Oklahoma—for me, three out of the last four years.

The Birth of Big AirThis being deadCENTER number 10, it's fitting that the traditional decade anniversary gift is aluminum since it's a substance shared with a running motif of this year's festival: bicycles. The festival kicked off on Wednesday night with 2,250 turning up for a block party in the middle of Automobile Alley, which included an en plein air screening of The Birth of Big Air. Don't be fooled by the fact that Jackass co-founder Jeff Tremaine directed this compelling, appreciably hour-long doc portrait of two-wheeled daredevil Mat Hoffman, as there are no scrotum staplings or other gross-out antics to sully an otherwise mature, straightforward appreciation of the Edmond, OK native. (deadCENTER takes pride in showcasing local talent, whether in front of or behind the camera.)

The Birth of Big AirIn the mid-'80s, Hoffman took the BMX trick-riding circuit by storm, winning the obligatory amateur competitions before dominating the pro league practically overnight. In jaw-dropping archival footage and gushy interviews with impressed colleagues, family members and friends (including Tony Hawk, the late Evel Knievel and co-producer Spike Jonze, who was 12 when he started riding bikes with Tremaine, and a teenager when he met Hoffman), the film chronicles how this humble half-pipe gladiator inadvertently gave birth to the X Games and other extreme sports when he schemed to build a homemade ramp gigantic enough to clear 20 feet of air. When he realized pedaling power wasn't going to build enough acceleration, a reconfigured weedeater engine was installed, and eventually a buddy would tow him from behind a motorcycle. Past the glory of having pushed the boundaries of the human body, Hoffman's story is most remarkable when you get past the countless concussions, broken bones, surgeries and—no kidding—self-suture jobs, and realize this dedicated family man wasn't making a nickel off a dangerously gnarly pursuit he was unstoppably driven to do.

Biker FoxAfter the screening, Jonze and Hoffman were brought out to do a Q&A to discuss their more than two decades of friendship and mutual respect, during which an awkward tween girl took the microphone and told Jonze, "You changed my life. I love you." But that wasn't nearly as strange as when, reportedly, a balding man with shoulder-length curly "lockses" and too-tight, gaudily bright bicycle wear gave Jonze an autographed photo of himself, the titular subject of Jeremy Lamberton's doc portrait Biker Fox. Born as Frank P. DeLarzelere III, the hyperactive 50-something eccentric and muscle-car parts salesman is a bit of a Tulsa legend, if only in his own mind. He's an avid conservationist and fitness guru who lost at least 80 pounds from bicycling, which is both his favorite hobby and the activity that has instigated his numerous arrests. The guy may want to spread joy and goodwill to others, but he's severely prone to such road rage as antagonizing drivers and throwing his bike (the latter of which becomes a point of contention in a trumped-up charge by cops).

Biker FoxIn his downtime, we witness his unorthodox love for wildlife. He feeds packs of feral raccoons on his porch and even in his living room, toys with wasps and flies, allows a crow to eat off of his back, and films motivational testimonials with a cardinal on his shoulder. (Much of the footage was shot by Biker himself.) Imagine a blend of Napoleon Dynamite and Grizzly Man's Timothy Treadwell, speaking in Bill Paxton's pinched voice, and you might understand why the film skates that uneasy line between laughing with and laughing at. The dude is clearly a kook, very watchably so. In night-vision cam, he discusses why he can only sleep in a pitch black room with no clocks, and a howlingly funny, extended sequence features him distractedly taking work calls while feeling the sing-along, headbanging spirit of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." In his words, which riled up the audience during a late night screening, "We rock and roll down here in Oklahoma, man!"

Biker FoxIt's easy to be hypersensitive to the comic intentions of the filmmaker, as Biker is self-consciously performing in front of the camera, but then Lamberton occasionally juxtaposes his half-naked antics with audio footage that sounds unguarded. In its defense, however, when Biker's deaf assistant is introduced early on, signing and unintelligibly speaking to the camera, some audience members idiotically laughed, but it felt like their inappropriate reaction, not something they'd been given license to do. Nowhere else in the film did that discomfort come on so strong, partly because Biker's life philosophy is one in which I believe he'd want us to be entertained by his dorky front-flips, psychedelic green-screen home movies and preternatural ability to startle coyotes. Though the film's final 20 minutes can be a bit exasperating (intentional?) as it suddenly takes on an episodic structure, only reaffirming our subject's peculiarities while teasing to have multiple endings, it's still a raucous and scruffily cinematic work (a monologue during a lightning storm is inspired in its lo-fi textures) that promotes the flying of one's freak flag and the importance of showing backbone. "You gotta work 12, 14 hour days to be somebody," Biker lectures. "Think about that."

Seltzer WorksCompleting the silver-spoked trifecta, Friday night's Mixtape Shorts got in gear with Lucy Kreutz's Bicycle Cowboy, an uneven but cute enough slapstick ode to silent B&W westerns, about a handlebar mustached cowpoke who anachronistically rides on a banana seat, not a saddle. Among the program block's best were Mr. Hypnotism, Okie Noodling cult filmmaker Bradley Beesley's drolly entertaining doc about "professional" hypnotist and self-admitted grifter Dr. Ron Dante, who besides making millions as a con artist, was once married to Lana Turner and also convicted for attempting to kill a stage rival. Publicist-turned-filmmaker Jessica Edwards' Seltzer Works is an appropriately bubbly, beautifully filmed delight about Brooklyn's last seltzer filler, a part-celebration and part-eulogy of an old-school New York pleasure that should—at the very least—bring third-generation bottler Kenny Gomberg some thirsty new business.

The Flaming Lips: Blastula, The Making of EmbryonicMost anticipated of all from this set was the world premiere of George Salisbury and Wayne Coyne's Blastula: The Making of Embryonic, a behind-the-scenes short doc concerning 2009's amazing album from hometown legends The Flaming Lips. Jamming in multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd's home while children played nearby, the fabulously freaky avant-rockers can be seen working through some of the most whacked-out, cryptic songs they've recorded since 1997's four-simultaneously-played-CDs experiment "Zaireeka" (and maybe even their early, druggiest of post-punk days). When we're allowed to be a fly on the wall as the band works through prototypes of what would end up on the record, the film plays like an apolitical, neo-psychedelic version of Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, just as frustrating in that we never get the satisfaction of hearing a song completed. But when Coyne and his bandmates give talking-head bytes on their creative methodologies, they all come off as charming idiot savants, totally unable to explain in useful, tangible terms how they put together one of last year's finest.

Posted by ahillis at 6:01 PM | Comments (3)

June 10, 2010

PODCAST: Pauly Shore

ADOPTED filmmaker and star Pauly Shore

It's been two decades since comedian Pauly Shore first turned up on the beach to host MTV's Spring Break parties, and whether you're tickled or annoyed by his goofy antics from Encino Man and Bio-Dome, his character "The Weasel" has, fittingly, weaseled its way into pop culture history. Personally, I gained respect for the guy once he became a filmmaker with his ballsy, scathingly self-critical debut Pauly Shore Is Dead, so I couldn't pass up the chance to talk to Shore, again in the director's chair for the new mockumentary Adopted, coming to DVD on June 15:

Adopted is a comedy that explores the lengths to which Pauly Shore will go to adopt a child during a trip to Africa. Practicing fatherhood by taking a variety of "orphans" on day-trips, Pauly believes that he can leave his playboy past behind for good and start an instant family, as many other stars have done. After getting help from a social worker friend, Pauly takes an orphan-a-day while he explores this strange country full of weird and wonderful people. Stumbling along the adoption trail, he steps on toes and pokes fun at the current fascination with celebrity adoptions.

I sat down with Shore to ask whether the Madonnas and Jolie-Pitts of the world are heroic or self-righteous as adoptive parents, whether he'd make a good father, if he'll still be "The Wiez" as a 60-year-old man, and the biggest misconception people still have of him.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (18:14)
[WARNING: Explicit language]

Podcast Music
INTRO: Ween: "I Gots a Weasel"
OUTRO: Enablers: "Pauly's Days in Cinema"

Posted by ahillis at 12:20 AM

June 8, 2010

DVD GUILTY PLEASURES: From Paris With Love

From Paris With Love

From Paris With Love
Directed by Pierre Morel
2010, 95 minutes, in English and French

For whatever his schlocky flaws, I'll take the chest-beating mainstream action of French director Pierre Morel (District B13, Taken) over Michael Bay's visual incoherence, Neveldine and Taylor's self-impressed postmodern pranks, the workmanlike tedium of later-era Ridley Scott, or anything with a Brett Ratner credit every time. A former cinematographer and pupil of Luc Besson (who co-wrote this script with Adi Hasak), Morel's underrated eye and knack for making kinetic movement rhythmic and easy to follow elevates Besson's run-of-the-mill, mismatched-buddy thriller into a propulsive, enjoyably Eurotrashy entertainment.

From Paris With Love In the straight man role, Jonathan Rhys-Myers is the U.S. ambassador's aide James Reese, a by-the-books nerd from the East New York projects who now lives with his fashionable French girlfriend and secretly moonlights for the CIA. James hopes to catch his big break into special-ops when he's assigned to partner with rogue FBI agent Charlie Wax, played by a bald, goateed, makeup-caked ruffian named John Travolta, chewing the scenery like it were the greasiest, juiciest hamburger he's ever tasted (not for nothing, he has a gratuitous predilection for the Royale with Cheese). There's certainly a bit of post-Pulp Fiction burlesque to Charlie, the most unhinged and legitimately fun-to-watch Travolta performance since Face/Off, and his blustery braggadocio (with more gratuitous predilections: hookers and blow) gives the film ten times more personality than that Arnold on Green Acres.

From Paris With Love Oh, and don't worry about the plot. With all the Chinese drug dealers and Pakistani thugs who Charlie gleefully drops (while poor James stands slackjawed, holding a vase full of coke that gets to break at precisely the right comedic/badass moment), some critics have taken stabs at the sociopolitical mechanisms working within the film's convoluted war-on-terror references, but that any exist and engage is a stretch. Knowing any more than that might ruin what's essentially super-spy camp with a half-serious swagger, John Woo's sense of blood-splattered symphony without the pretentious iconography, and the clearest of delineations: The good guys are as easy to profile as the bad guys, the story twists are outrageous instead of believable, and of course your driver should pull up to the overpass; it's too hard to jettison another car with a bazooka from the freeway.

Posted by ahillis at 2:38 PM | Comments (1)

June 3, 2010

PODCAST: Vincenzo Natali (Splice)

Splice-Vincenzo-Natali.jpg

Even after toying with genre in films like Cypher and Paris, Je T'Aime, Canadian auteur Vincenzo Natali is still best known for his 1997 feature debut, the futuristic Kafkaesque horror Cube. However, expect his fanbase to soon grow as rapidly as the out-of-control genetic experiment in his new film Splice, which Warner Bros. picked up after its Sundance premiere:

Superstar genetic engineers Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) specialize in splicing DNA from different animals to create incredible new hybrids. Now they want to use human DNA in a hybrid that could revolutionize science and medicine. But when the pharmaceutical company that funds their research forbids it, Clive and Elsa secretly take their boldest experimentation underground—risking their careers by pushing the boundaries of science to serve their own curiosity and ambition.

The result is Dren, an amazing, strangely beautiful creature of uncommon intelligence and an array of unexpected physical developments. At first, Dren exceeds their wildest dreams. But as she grows and learns at an accelerated rate, her existence threatens to become their worst nightmare.

Earlier today, Natali called me to discuss creature design, scientific responsibility, whether he takes the Cube sequels as flattery or forgery, and how adapting J.G. Ballard and William Gibson might make him a masochist.

To listen to the podcast, click here. (15:52)

Podcast Music
INTRO: Social Distortion: "Mommy's Little Monster"
OUTRO: "Weird Al" Yankovic: "I Think I'm a Clone Now"

[Splice opens on June 4 in theaters everywhere. For more info, visit the official site.]

Posted by ahillis at 2:57 PM