Thursday, November 19, 2009

Opening Night at Gobi Mongolian BBQ in Silverlake

Let me be perfectly clear: Mongolian barbeque is awesome. Not since Orange Julius has there been such a welcome addition to mall food courts across our great land. That’s why I was thrilled when I was invited to the opening night party at Gobi, Silverlake’s new Mongolian barbeque restaurant. But wait. I’ve driven past Gobi for months and seen that it was open, so why throw an opening night event now? Perhaps because they realize they’re going to need as much help as they can get.
Arriving at the party, attendees were greeted by a line that wrapped around the building and flowed deep into the adjacent parking lot. In an effort to keep cranky waiting patrons happy, small plates and little cups of beer were passed along as dozens huddled in the unusually crisp L.A. air. It turns out the delivery service outside was far superior to the melee inside. Gobi is small. Very small. With room for only about a dozen small wooden tables, there was barely a spare inch to move, let alone breathe, which might have been one of the hidden blessings about hardly being able to get any food.

Upon entering the party, I saw and smelled small plates of pesto-tossed noodles and meat. It looked tantalizing. I’d love to tell you what it tasted like but it seemed to be a momentary apparition because it never appeared again. While waiting and praying for food to appear, there was a bar armed with beer and watered down soju cocktails to keep the hordes at bay. The Ginger Blossom, made with soju, ginger, lemon-lime soda and lime juice, was both refreshing and delicious despite being made with the one liquor guaranteed to give you an instant hangover. Finally, through some jostling, cajoling and a moment of intense begging, I was finally able to secure two small portions of what I was told was the “Traditional” plate which appeared to contain noodles, beef, chicken, mushrooms and broccoli, though nothing seemed to account for the slight but puzzling flavor of goat cheese.
If you’ve never had Mongolian barbeque before, here’s how it works: You’re given a bowl and your choice of frozen, thinly shaved meat, sliced vegetables and several sauces. While most Americanized Mongolian BBQ joints offer simply mild or spicy, Gobi’s big brain moment is that they have more unique, though occasionally unappetizing sounding, sauces on tap. Choices include lemongrass, the aforementioned phantom “Asian pesto,” lemon mint, green curry, smoked oyster and BBQ. Next, Sizzler salad bar style, you cram as much as you can into your bowl, hand it to a technician who throws noodles on top and then cooks the whole thing on a massive circular iron griddle with impossibly long chopsticks. Like I said, it’s awesome. But Gobi, despite having been soft-opened since July 14th and owned by frozen confection genius Michael Buch, the man behind Pazzo Gelato, and his girlfriend, Christina Rivera, has a lot working against it.

The first problem is how DIY everything feels. Sure, when you go to Mongolian BBQ or Korean BBQ, part of the fun is doing it yourself, but that’s not the issue with Gobi. While Gobi’s commitment to all-natural chicken, pork and lamb, and seasonal, local produce is commendable, their execution is surprisingly lacking. With four months to have worked out the kinks, there’s no reason why their food should taste like the Trader Joe’s Kung Pao noodles that come in a box and can be purchased for $1.99. The décor also feels unintentionally simple, as if someone decided to start a craft project, got some stencils and made a pretty cherry blossom tree. If everything Gobi offers can be done at home, why, especially in this recession, do they deserve $13.95, without drinks or a tip? Adding to the “Why bother?” conundrum, Gobi sits just down the block from Rambutan Thai and the venerable Pho Café on Sunset Boulevard. If you need an Asian noodle fix, there are plenty of other, tastier avenues to travel down within yards.

Back at the party, I finally snagged a plate of the curry noodles, which, disappointingly, were identical to the traditional noodles except that they’d been doused in spicy curry powder which left a gritty texture and overwhelming back-of-the-throat kick of spiciness. Yet another Gobi fail. Disheartened and unsatisfied, I struck out into the L.A. night, leaving behind throngs of people battling over the few, tasteless noodles to be found, though not greatly enjoyed. I headed to Pazzo Gelato instead. It was delicious.

Gobi Mongolian BBQ
2827 W. Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 989-0711

Monday, November 16, 2009

Veggie Grill: A Vegan Fail

What’s the point of eating meat without the meat?

That’s what I kept asking myself as I left West Hollywood’s new outpost of the Veggie Grill, a restaurant that’s caused a sensation in Orange County before opening at 8000 Sunset last month, perfectly placed for all those sweaty, fake-n’-baked, taut, toned Crunchaphiles to curb whatever minor cravings they might be willing to indulge after a hard workout.
I am not much of a meat eater and prefer clean cuisine, but Veggie Grill has a warped perception of what “Good for you” means and how it should be prepared. It’s a bad sign when the best part of your meal at a health food restaurant is the fries. The ones at Veggie Grill are sweet potato (the idiot-proof fry, if we’re being honest) and they’re crispy, sweet and salty; you can’t deny their deliciousness. What you can deny is what they accompany. For my first (and probably last) foray into the Veggie Grill, I decided on the Baja Fiesta Salad ($8.95) and the Santa Fe Crispy Chickin’ Sandwich (also $8.95) with a side of the aforementioned fries.

Thrilled at the idea that each salad includes quinoa, an edible seed from South America that is recognized as a perfect protein, has a nutty flavor, and texture similar to bulgur, I dug into the salad first. In a brimming white plastic bowl sat chopped romaine lettuce, a few under-ripe chunks of papaya (the Mexican, blander, cheaper variety rather than Hawaii’s prized, sweet papaya), a few soft, browning squares of avocado, a sprinkling of quinoa, and chopped cucumber. I searched for the roasted corn salsa promised on the menu but all I found were a few sad charred corn kernels strewn amongst the lettuce. For a veggie restaurant, they don’t seem to take much pride in their produce, but that was the least of my concern. Upon first bite, I was struck by the intensely sweet ginger-papaya vinaigrette. It was cloying, viscous, overpowering and had nary a hint of ginger. If they wanted something that tasted like it came out of a bottle, why not use Annie’s Asian Sesame dressing? That’s delicious. This salad was not. From limp lettuce to vile vinaigrette, it was a $9 salad fail.

Next, my “Chickin’” sandwich arrived. On a dense, sweet, whole wheat bun lay a faux fried chickin’ breast topped with mushed avocado, two dried up slices of red onion, a leaf of lettuce and two whitish tomato slices. On the side sat what I discovered to be the prize of the night, the “Southwestern spiced vegan mayo,” which is basically just thin, runny chipotle mayonnaise. Much like the sweet potato fries, if you take chipotle and anything on the mayo scale and put them together, it’s going to taste good. Who cares if it’s vegan? What made less sense was the utterly tasteless chickin’ patty desperately parading as its meaty counterpart. I understand the desire to put lipstick on a pig (not that there would be any pig at the Veggie Grill, but go with me here), but it’s still a pig. Why create a vegan restaurant that serves mangled vegetables next to tarted-up, pretend versions of forbidden foods if they’re not exceptionally executed? M Café de Chaya served a vegan burger called The Big Macro that is the most satisfying, delicious burger in all of Los Angeles. And it never tries to be something it’s not.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Behind the Scenes of Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson is a man with undeniable style, a very specific style. But isn’t that the sign of a true auteur? Walking into the SLS hotel in Los Angeles, a property which frantically reaches for coolness but ends up feeling closer to desperate, Anderson, looking every inch the effortless hipster half of Silver Lake wishes they could be, carries a heavy duty metal suitcase, wrapped in tape that screams “Caution: Fragile” in big red letters. Inside, carefully swaddled in black foam, are Mr. Fox, Mrs. Fox and Ash, the three stars of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s outstanding adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved story. Each doll, standing between one and two feet, is so vibrantly realized; you half expect the voices of George Clooney (Mr. Fox), Meryl Streep (Mrs. Felicity Fox) or Jason Schwartzman (Ash) to pour out of them.

After making a name for himself with off-center classics like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson is tackling animation for the first time. Rather than falling back on the ubiquitous use of computers, Anderson decided to turn to stop-motion, a technique largely abandoned, though, after watching his use of it, audiences will be wondering why. He approached Dahl’s widow, Felicity, and convinced her that he was the right man to finally adapt a story many had wanted to before. Felicity was so won over by Anderson’s passion, he was invited to move into the Dahl family’s Gipsy House estate in Great Missenden, England. There, he wrote the script along with Noah Baumbach (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), walked Dahl’s gardens, absorbed Dahl’s life and even had photos taken of all the home’s furnishings so that miniature versions could be replicated and used in the film.

“My goal was to make it as Dahl as possible,” Anderson, dressed in an olive green version of Mr. Fox’s corduroy jacket, begins. But the film is unmistakably his directorial style, something he’s flustered to hear. “The last movie I did [The Darjeeling Limited], people said, ‘I can see this is a lot like your other movies,’ and I thought ‘But we’ve gone to India, we’re on a train, it’s totally different!’ I have a way of thinking about staging and design and it comes through. But that’s just me picking what I like.” The director is adamant that he was trying to do the material justice, rather than create something that could be seem as “A Wes Anderson Film.” “It ends up seeming that way because I’m making the decisions,” he shrugs, “but not because I wanted it to feel like another thing I did before.”

In fact, according to Jason Schwartzman whose long-standing relationship with Anderson dates back to 1998’s Rushmore, the only constant about working with Anderson is “It’s always an adventure with Wes.” Unlike most animated films which are recorded and mixed with solitary actors in sound booths, Anderson recorded his actors live, on location.

“The way he wanted to do it was unorthodox,” Schwartzman smiles. He explains that Anderson announced that he wanted to get all the actors together and do the film like a radio play. “We got together several times over the course of a couple years and we did it like a play, really acting it out,” Schwartzman reveals. “If there’s a scene that takes place outside, we all went outside. If we had to be digging in the scene, we would all just start digging. The sound was being recorded with just one microphone. That’s when can you get stuff like overlapping, cutting off, mistakes, starts and stops. It was really happening. Even the crickets; that’s real sound.”

Anderson explains that, while he was incredibly grateful to be surrounded by a team of exceptionally talented animators, it was his inexperience that allowed him to reinvent the process. “I had my own ways that came from not having done [an animated film] before. I wanted to shoot it just the way I would a live action movie which, in the end, becomes, sometimes, extremely challenging.”

The challenge came from using a technique introduced in 1898 which has had little advancement since. With stop-motion animation, a three-dimensional object is manipulated millimeter-by-millimeter, frame-by-frame, until it appears to be moving. Since it takes 24 frames to make one second of film, the amount of work necessary to fill an entire 88 minue movie with stop-motion is astonishing, but it lends a real tactile quality to the work.

“When you watch an animated movie, you know humans made it,” Schwartzman says, “But then it’s put into a computer. But this,” he shakes his head in awe, “They’ll work all day and it’ll add up to four or five seconds. On one hand, you know it’s so not real, but I think the thing that gives it a feeling of reality is that humans did it. You just know people touched it.”

Dare Review

Truth or dare? How about neither?

Dare, a new film by first time director Adam Salky which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, investigates the lives of three intertwined high school students. The problem is, this freshman effort isn’t truthful enough to resonate nor daring enough to provoke and therefore it falls flat.

Broken into a tryptique of narratives, Dare follows three high school seniors who share a drama class and a whole lot of drama. First up is Alexa (Emmy Rossum of Phantom of the Opera and The Day After Tomorrow former fame), a girl who’s so stressed out about her need for scholastic perfection that she has to go on the pill to regulate her period. Sound ludicrous? Just go with it, because that birth control is going to come in handy real soon. Alexa dreams of becoming an actress but when her class is visited by a special guest (Alan Cumming, tossing out a cameo as a high school alumnus and local actor made good), his harsh critique of her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire sends her into a trampy tailspin. She puts a few blonde streaks in her hair, ditches her oversized, boxy sweater, and pretty soon she’s in a pleather skirt seducing the high school’s resident bad boy, Johnny Drake (Friday Night Lights star Zach Gilford).

Their tryst sets off a domino of events leading viewers to the film’s next segment focusing on Ben (Ashley Springer), a tech geek who’s been Alexa’s best friend since childhood but who failed to mention all that time that, oh yeah, he’s gay and in love with Johnny Drake also. His infatuation leads to a champagne fueled, Cruel Intentions-esque game of poolside blowjob chicken and an intro into the life of Johnny, the man, the myth, the mystery.

Stepping into Johnny’s life is sort of like an extended version of the monologues in The Breakfast Club. You realize that even though his life seems perfect, after all, he’s rich, popular and handsome, there are much darker forces at work and he’s really just a lost little boy desperate for love and connection. Poor little rich boy.

Written by David Brind, Dare evolved from Salky and Brind’s student thesis film during the graduate film program at Columbia, the problem is, it never truly evolved beyond the shell of an idea. Thanks to uneven pacing, performances, visual structure and writing, Dare screams sophomoric.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Behind the Scenes of The Twilight Saga: New Moon with Rob Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Lautner and Chris Weitz

November 21st, 2008. Twilight opens. Fans go wild.

November 20th, 2009. New Moon will open. Fans will go wilder.

It took just 364 days, a lifetime for most Twi-Hards, a millisecond for anyone involved in the filmmaking process, but the second film in the Twilight saga, New Moon, is locked, loaded and ready to unspool in theaters across the country. You can almost hear the collective cries of “OMG, OMG, OMG!”

Since their unveiling last year, the cast has grown accustomed to constant scrutiny. That’s what happens when you’re involved in one of the biggest cultural phenomenons of the new millennium. But with New Moon, two unlikely heroes have emerged from the massive fame shadow cast by Twilight stars Kristen Stewart and Rob Pattinson; director Chris Weitz and Taylor Lautner, whose role as Jacob Black is greatly expanded.

Weitz was admittedly nervous about taking over the Twilight reins from director Catherine Hardwick, who helmed the first installment in the series. The only way he knew to combat that anxiety was to be extraordinarily prepared once he arrived on set and to make sure everyone involved understood his level of commitment. In order to bring the cast and crew onto the same page, he began by handing out what Stewart refers to as his “syllabus,” a gesture that still leaves Pattinson in awe. “I’ve never had that from any director,” the actor begins, running a hand through his equally famous locks. “It was like forty [or] fifty pages long. And this is in addition to a bunch of letter, emails, everything, trying to show he’s on the same page as us and completely with us in making the film. He is like a saint. I think that shows in the movie. It’s got a lot of heart, especially for a sequel and a franchise.”

“I was the new kid,” Weitz shrugs. “All of the actors knew their characters but what I really didn’t want was sequel-itis or the idea that we were just cranking out a franchise. I wanted everyone to know what sort of movie we wanted to make.”

Stewart explains that Weitz’s gesture was the ultimate set unifier. “It was like inviting everyone onto this project and saying, ‘Please, everyone love it, and please, everyone, be invested and work hard.’ It was very encouraging.” The admiration she had for her director only grew as they spent more time together on set. “I think to be a good director, you have to be a good person and you have to care about people. I don’t know a more compassionate human being [than Chris]. He really loves the project as well. He wasn't just jumping onto the next big thing. He’s incredible. I love him.”

“It’s just a love fest,” Weitz grins.

However, production on New Moon didn’t begin with sunshine, puppies and lollipops. Amidst controversy and reported bad blood around Hardwick’s replacement by Weitz, there was tremendous fan uproar when it was suspected that Taylor Lautner would be swapped for Michael Copon, an actor who was thought to be more believable as the suddenly 6’5, muscle bound Jacob described in New Moon. It was only after intense training and a diet that required him to consume over 3200 calories a day, that Lautner’s position in the franchise was secured, and that’s a blessing because New Moon wouldn’t be the same without him. In fact, Lautner steals the show right out from under his co-stars. If anything, for newly minted Twilight fans, Jacob emerges as the heartthrob, far overshadowing Edward, whose absence is the centerpiece of New Moon, while Lautner’s star is catapulted into the stratosphere.

When asked if he was ever concerned about making Jacob too appealing, Weitz replies, “It’s a balance in terms of how he’s written and how Edward is written. For the die-hard Twilight fans, nothing will ever beat Edward. You’ve got this very strong, simple fact that they know he’s The One which allows you to push as hard as you can and make Jacob as winning as Taylor has been able to be.”

Lautner is so disarmingly attractive, both physically (he’s shirtless for the majority of the film) and emotionally, that Bella’s refusal of Jacob in the film seems too obviously born out of loyalty to the book rather than rational. But Lautner defends the series’ love triangle as well as the devoted camps of both Team Jacob and Team Edward. “It just depends on what kind of girl you are, what kind of guy you like,” Lautner says, offering a gleaming smile that makes him vaguely resemble a younger, ethnic Matt Damon. “Edward and Jacob are complete opposite guys. They’re hot and cold. Literally. I personally love Bella and Jacob’s relationship, how they begin as best friends and it starts to grow into something more and more. Both guys are in love with Bella, both guys are always going to be there for Bella and they’re protective. It’s just what kind of guy you like.”

You can decide which team you’re on November 20th when Twilight: New Moon opens nationwide.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nicolas Cage and Werner Herzog on Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Attempting to launch a film franchise seventeen years after the original movie hit screens to tremendous critical acclaim is a very dangerous undertaking, but that’s exactly what Nicolas Cage and director Werner Herzog are attempting to do with Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. The film follows Cage as Terrence McDonagh, a police lieutenant whose reluctant heroism during Hurricane Katrina leads to a massive drug problem and steady downward spiral, distantly echoing the plot of 1992’s Bad Lieutenant directed by Abel Ferrara and starring Harvey Keitel in an electrifying tour de force performance. Upon hearing the news of this purported sequel or remake, Ferrara was quoted as saying “As far as remakes go,…I wish these people all die in Hell. I hope they’re all on the same streetcar, and it blows up.” In retaliation, at a press conference during the Venice Film Festival, Herzog responded to questions about Ferrara by saying, “I’ve never seen a film by him. I have no idea who he is.”

This war of egos and words seems to still be smoldering. When asked about continuing the Bad Lieutenant saga, Herzog, a stoic, somber German man with a thick accent, immediately bristles. “Bad Lieutenant was the title of the screenplay [by William Finkelstein],” Herzog begins coolly. “It was the idea of one of the producers to start a franchise. I never liked it and tried to have it made into Port of Call New Orleans but now we have a hybrid. But the question of remake is off the table. People even now speak of the original which doesn’t happen when people look at Scorsese’s film about Jesus Christ. It’s not the original and Mel Gibson’s is not the remake.”

Oookay. There’s no reason to drag Jesus Christ into the argument, cranky pants.

Asking Nicolas Cage to offer a little illumination on stepping into Keitel’s shoes is met almost as unwelcomely. The actor, who recently lost his father and is currently embroiled in a multimillion dollar tax evasion scandal, which he blames on his business manager, conducts his duties with the press through gritted teeth. Literally. His eyes rarely rise off the crisp white linen tablecloth in front of him and he speaks as if he was battling TMJ or had just had his mouth wired shut. In response to questions about how it felt playing a corrupt Louisiana cop, Cage mumbles, “I don’t judge him. I don’t think of him as bad or good. He just is. It’s more existential, which is what I think separates it the most from the original film.”

Continuing to rail against comparisons to the original, Herzog jumps in to point out, “I’m not the man to make Rocky 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I get bored very easily.” So why make a Bad Lieutenant film if he’s so against the idea of repetition? “Because the character is fascinating enough to place him in other situations,” Herzog replies. “It’s fine to have Jesus Christ 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or James Bond in a bunch of set ups. I think there’s something valuable about [this character as well].”

Delving into this world allowed both the director and star to snuggle up with dark, subversive humor. “The more vile and debase the character gets,” Herzog continues, “The more he should enjoy himself. There’s such a thing as the bliss of evil. If you enjoy it, it becomes hilarious.” Sounds like it. A total knee slapper.

And did Cage enjoy getting down with his very baddest self? “I just felt that I was in the zone,” the actor shrugs. “I came in with a vision. I was thinking about things like Richard the Third. I didn’t need to be pushed or pulled. I just came in and did what I had to do and I thank Werner for having the guts to let me do it.”

While he’s less than forthcoming about his feelings about the performance or any history that trails his performance, Cage is at his most enthusiastic (on a relative scale) when discussing his director. “I think Werner and I had a perfect marriage,” he offers. “Werner moves very quickly. My best takes are my first and second. Werner has confidence in what I’m going to do; I have confidence in what he’s going to do.”

So there, Abel Ferrara.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans opens November 20th

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Elijah Wood and Shane Acker on "9"

Since 1999, Shane Acker has been fixated on a post-apocalyptic world inhabited only by stitchpunks (Acker’s term) and the robots that hunt them. While studying at UCLA, he began work on a short thesis film which became an eleven-minute animated piece entitled 9. The short, about nine puppet-like creatures who inherit the earth after machines destroy humanity, was eventually nominated for an Oscar, won a Student Academy Award and, on 9-9-09, the big screen version lands in theaters with the voice talents of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and Christopher Plummer.

Wood says Acker’s extended tenure on the project was one of the most reassuring parts of a medium that is, by nature, extremely difficult to fully comprehend during production. “We were in the hands of the person who created these characters,” Wood says. “He was able to describe things in a really detailed way and articulate what he wanted from the character both physically and emotionally.” The actor explains that one of the most difficult parts of doing voice work for animated features is not being able to see or interact with the world you’re supposed to exist in.

“It’s very solitary,” Wood says. “You’re in this booth, imbuing the character with a sense of life in a stationary position and then those words get shipped to animators. At times there’s thirty people working on your movements and face.”

“The hard thing in animation,” Acker adds, “is it’s not like you shoot a bunch of footage that you have a lot to make a movie out of. It’s an inverted process; you draw everything you want and then you have to make that specific thing.”

For Wood, the most challenging part was manipulating his voice to sound like it was experiencing something it wasn’t. “You’re not running, you’re not jumping, you’re no falling, so you have to figure out how you do that vocally and be convincing.” But that’s not where the difficulties end.

“Don’t go in too hungry!” Wood says, revealing the greatest voiceover hurdle most viewers might never think of. “You’ll have a lot of problems with stomach gurgles.” The actors also had to be wary of dry mouth, too much water, odd teeth clicking noises and too much movement creating rustling noises with clothing. “The mic picks up so much,” Wood sighs.

While Wood was involved in the project for almost three years, eons in actor years since most films barely shoot for three months, Acker has devoted a decade to 9. Though he says a feature length production of a world he created and has loved so dearly is a dream come true, Acker also admits “There wasn’t a whole lot of downtime between the short and the feature. I’ve been running a marathon for quite some years now,” he chuckles.

His marathon was kicked into high gear after graduation from UCLA when he met with the king of dark, twisted animation, Tim Burton, who signed on as one of the film’s producers, ensuring 9 would come to fruition as a feature. The gravity of Burton’s involvement and the ease of securing financing were more than Acker could initially comprehend. “I was inexperienced,” Acker says, smiling and shaking his head in disbelief, “coming from a point of not knowing, like ‘Setting up movies is easy, isn’t it?’ Then reality set in and I knew that I had bitten off more than I could chew.” He says it was fear of failure that propelled me through the production and, as opening weekend approaches and he’s able to drink in his moment in the limelight, he hopes his story can serve as a fairytale for film students and young cinephiles. “I think it’s inspiring to young filmmakers. It can be done; a short in film school can lead to a feature film!”

9 opens September 9th

Jennifer's Body, Megan Fox's Thoughts

When you’re hot, you’re hot, and Megan Fox is a brand of caliente that Hollywood hasn’t seen since another Jolie fille, one who Fox has begged to no longer be compared to, burst onto the scene in 1998 as a lesbian supermodel who loved drugs and nudity. Come on, Megan; your last name is Fox! Your exquisite sexiness was practically pre-ordained. Embrace it, drink it in.

Although she’s continued her “No, seriously, guys, I’m awkward and self-conscious. Hell, I’m practically Alan Alda” campaign, which, incidentally, no one was buying in the first place, her latest starring role in Jennifer’s Body is going to permanently blast that argument to smithereens. Fox stars as Jennifer, the most lusted-after girl in school (type casting, much?). She’s popular, the head cheerleader, to-die-for gorgeous…and then she becomes simply to-die-for after a satanic ritual goes terribly awry and Jennifer begins feeding on the boys of her high school.

The script is Academy Award-winning scribe Diablo Cody’s latest opus of obsessively idiosyncratic teenage angst. “I don’t know why teenagers are my muses, they just are,” Cody shrugs. “Teenagers inspire me. I’m fascinated by teen speak, with youth culture. I love adolescents because they’re in a kind of purgatory. They’re not kids anymore, and, at the same time, they don’t have adult responsibilities, so they’re experiencing life, but with all these heightened emotions.”

Completing a girl-power trinity of female writer, director and star is Karyn Kusama who is best known for Girlfight, her 2000 film which launched Michelle Rodriguez’s career and won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, the Deauville Film Festival and the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes. Girlfight, Kusama’s follow-up, Aeon Flux, and Jennifer’s Body all center around powerful and violent female leads, but it wasn’t just the director’s resume that sold Cody.
“We saw a lot of [directors] and then I sat down with Karyn one day in the lobby of a hotel,” Cody recalls. “After speaking with Karyn for only about five minutes, I wanted to call the producers so badly and say ‘Please hire this woman immediately!’ I was so excited. Her understanding was so complete.”

That same enthusiasm was shared when Fox signed onto the lead role early on in the pre-production process. From the beginning, everyone involved knew Fox was the first and only choice for the role. Bewitchingly beautiful, smolderingly sexy, demonically possessed, Fox already had two of the three elements necessary to portray the character, but she was more interested in exploring the Jennifer’s depth and comedic elements. “The way the character is written, it would be so easy to play Jennifer one-dimensionally,” Fox explains, “but we’ve added so much to her. She’s still superficial, don’t get me wrong, but there are moments when you see her legitimately hurt; she’s not always the aggressor or the predator.”

Coming off the second Transformer film, a franchise which catapulted her into the public eye, Fox was very concerned about her performance and plumbing as much nuance as possible from her acting. “There’s no distractions,” Fox says. “There’s no robots to distract you from whatever I give, so, if it’s terrible, you’re gonna fucking know that it’s really terrible. That, of course, is intimidating but I think the character was so much fun for me. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I was just trying to have fun with it and I felt like I was able to make fun of my own image as to how some people might perceive ‘Megan Fox’ to be.”

Cody says her script was meant to be analogous to the plight of high school. Granted, it’s campy, gruesome and over-the-top, but it’s not that far off if you focus on the themes of high school hierarchies and the prescribed decorum. “Any person who dares to respond in an unconventional way is branded a traitor,” Cody spits. “I think back-biting is a very accurate term and, in [the film’s] case, it’s literal. This movie is a commentary on girl-on-girl hatred, sexuality and the death of innocence,” she says, before adding, “But it’s also just about fun. I wanted to write a really entertaining popcorn movie.”

“The script was by far the funniest script I’ve read. Ever,” Fox says empathically. “It’s also the most realistic interpretation of teenagers I’ve ever read. Diablo’s really good at relating to how kids are. I was in high school just a few years ago and it was a nightmare.”

Jennifer’s Body opens September 18th

The September Issue is Pure Glam

Oscar and Gaultier and Vuitton, oh my.

For anyone who dreams in couture, lives for their stilettos and owns or can quote any of the following: Unzipped, Sex and the City and/or The Devil Wears Prada, than The September Issue will be your cinematic journey to Mecca.

Shot with unprecedented access, the documentary follows Anna Wintour and her staff at Vogue as they prepare their legendary September Issue, the largest and most important edition of the year. Wintour, the magazine’s editor for 20 years, reportedly consented to the documentary as her way of responding to the aforementioned ...Prada.

If she was hoping to dispel any rumors about her sharp, rigid, hyper-exact frigidity, she’s done something she seems incapable of; she’s failed. However, if she was hoping to illuminate viewers and give them a great understanding of what she does and how ferociously genius she is at it; she’s achieved a thundering success.

Weaving through the hallowed hallways of Vogue, zigging and zagging around racks of the most exquisite clothing in the world, from the runways of Paris to the modest showroom of (then) up and coming designer Thakoon, who Wintour discovered and mentored, The September Issue demonstrates that Anna isn’t just an editor; she is THE voice and vision of style, in America and around the world.

As one interviewee says, Wintour is the Pope of fashion.

But the film isn’t just about Wintour, it’s about the glory and glamour, strife and struggle of creating a style bible.

Andre Leon Talley flutters in and out of the film like the caftan-cloaked mad genius he is, hollering things like “It’s a famine! A famine of beauty!” but the film’s heart and soul rests in Grace Coddington, Vogue’s creative director, a styling mastermind, Wintour’s co-worker for two decades and the only person who seems to have been able to lip off to her and live to tell the tale. Coddington, who is vivacious, spunky, immeasurably talented and refreshingly honest, grounds the film and is one of the few subjects who makes the audience feel like they’re a part of her journey, rather than a spectator. Plus, watching her work is mesmerizing and we will never forget the scene where she encourages a model to enjoy some cake (which she does with glee…probably since it’s the first thing she’s eaten in a loooong time).

My only gripe with the film is with Wintour and her devastating choice to wear and promote fur. It makes me so sad and ill that defenseless animals have to die to old hags can feel luxurious, but a lot of that rests on Anna’s head, something she’s quite proud of (she’s credited with resurrecting the fur industry). With so much power, why not choose to use it wisely and judiciously?

Beyond any personal moral objections, the film is an orgy of fashion that gives the audience the ultimate VIP behind-the-scenes glimpse as we watch the industry’s most powerful people practically groveling at Wintour’s feet as she looks up at them (she’s short) from under her signature ridgeline of bangs, purses her lips and decides what “It” should look like now.
It’s a perfectly put together view of the artistry, decadence and absurdity of fashion.

What else would you expect from Vogue?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Alexis Bledel and Zach Gilford on Post Grad

Picture this: a college graduate with big dreams of making it out on her own is hit with a cold, hard dose of reality when she finds, despite a good education, willingness to start at the bottom, and just the slightest whiff of desperation, she can’t find a job anywhere and is forced to move home with her crazy family.

Sound familiar? Sure, the majority of college graduates are entering the worst job market in recent American history, but this isn’t the tale of some girl who lived down the hall from you freshman year; it’s the setup for Post Grad, a new comedy starring Alexis Bledel and Zach Gilford, backed by a comedic goldmine including Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, J.K. Simmons and Carol Burnett.

The script was written by first time scribe Kelly Fremon who admits the film is largely autobiographical, if you eliminate the romance and the diabolically hot neighbor played by Rodrigo Santoro. “I started writing this script when I was at home on my parent’s couch after I’d graduated” Fremon begins. “I just felt like the biggest and the only loser on the planet.” But over the course of creating a theatrical version of her loser-dom, she discovered she was surrounded by friends who were dealing with similar issues and post-collegiate angst. “That’s part of the reason I was really compelled to write it, because I started to find that everyone I knew was going through the same thing. Everybody was coming up against so much friction in the real world.”

“When we started on the movie, we knew it was universal” director Vicky Jensen adds. “[In your twenties] you have these wonderful expectations where you just think you know everything.” Before anyone knew how topical the film would be, the director says she just wanted to make a movie about the potentially unwanted lessons learned “when you have to start making your own decisions and reality hits you in the face. It’s about growing up, graduating to the next chapter in your life.”

For Jensen, Post Grad is also a sort of graduation. After decades in animation, this is her first foray into working with people in front of her lens.

“You could tell she’s an animator because, at one point, she was telling me to move as if she were animating me,” Bledel recalls with a chuckle. “My idea was to just do everything exactly the way she said. I didn’t want to stray from it if she had a vision.”

“The upside to that,” Gilford is quick to point out, “is that she knew what she wanted. She never seemed like she wasn’t sure. She had it all in her mind.”

One of the things Jensen and the rest of the production had in mind was great chemistry between their two leads. Bledel was attached to the project for some time before, serendipitously, her male counterpart was cast. One actor dropped out just as the writer’s strike halted production on Friday Night Lights allowing Gilford to fly to LA to audition for the role.

“We were asked to do these acting exercises together…” Bledel begins, before bursting out laughing as Gilford turns fuchsia.

“It’s awkward. It’s really awkward,” Gilford interjects. “They shove you in a room and they’re like ‘You need to charm this person and have great chemistry with them in order to get the job.’ And you’re like ‘Okay.’”

“It’s a bit forced” Bledel agrees, collecting herself. “And you can’t force chemistry; you just have to read the scenes.”

When asked if either has ever known the post-graduate deluge of failure the film mines for laughs, both shake their heads.

“I haven’t personally,” Bledel admits. “But I’ve experienced setbacks where I had to regroup and start from scratch.”

“I was fortunate enough not to have to go home,” Gilford says, good-naturedly. “But it’s still early, I could move home next week.”

Post Grad open August 21st.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bobcat Goldthwait and Robin Williams on the Making of "World's Greatest Dad"

Chocolate and peanut butter. Spaghetti and meatballs. Bobcat Goldthwait and profanity.

Two great tastes that taste great together.

After blazing a path to stardom in the 1980s thanks to three Police Academy films and his shrieking, twitching, acerbic stand up persona, perhaps best known simply by the voice, a cross between a Sam Kinison and Pee Wee Herman, Goldthwait has found a second act in Hollywood as writer and director. His fourth film, World’s Greatest Dad, stars his long time friend and collaborator Robin Williams as Lance Clayton, an aspiring writer turned inconsequential poetry teacher, loathed by his son (Daryl Sabara, who’s given a treasure trove of hilariously vulgar dialogue), ignored by his students and cuckolded by his girlfriend, until a tragic event turns out to be the greatest opportunity of his life.

Williams initially read Goldthwait’s script as a favor to his old friend, thinking he would play a small part and lend his name to help the production secure financing, but he became so enthralled by the film, he asked if he could play the lead. “It was one of the best scripts I’d read,” Williams says in a brief moment of calm between the frenetic friends. “After I saw Sleeping Dogs Lie, I went ‘He’s not afraid to take on an unusual subject like girl-blows-dog. Let’s see what he does with this.’”

While Goldthwait’s last film was shot in two weeks with a crew from Craigslist, World’s Greatest Dad swelled with the addition of Williams. “Robin wanting to be in the movie changed everything,” Goldthwait explains. “People ask if I wrote it with Robin in mind, but if I was going to write a role for him, I’d stay away from poetry teacher. That was pretty well handled before.”
“We can call this Dead Penis Society,” Williams instantly quips.

In a recent New York Times article, Goldthwait admitted the movies he did at the start of his career are the ones most people do at the end of their careers. Though he’s still ashamed of what he calls his “porn past,” moving behind the camera has changed his feelings about filmmaking.

“It’s so exciting to make these movies because they’re way more personal,” Goldthwait says. “These are way more about me than anything I’ve ever done on stage. I’ve always hid behind a persona and this really is who I am.”

“The Bob that I know,” Williams chimes, “is this really intelligent, film-savvy man who’s also so humane. That’s what I think the movies are. What’s at the core is this great humanity. At the end, there’s a tenderness to it, a kindness. As nasty as the subject matter is.”

Nasty indeed. Vulgarity and impropriety are risen to operatic levels in Goldthwait’s films, but not in a Farrelly Brothers, insert-fart-joke-here way. His deft touch and covert benevolence elevate a seeming sewer of profanity and make them comedic gold. Williams is also a master wielder of dirty words, so what are their favorites?

“Dog cock!” Goldthwait is quick to reply. “Three out of the four movies I’ve made; there is a dog cock in it.”

Williams has a harder time choosing just one. “Which baby do you sacrifice?” he jokes before finally knighting “Cunt” as his ultimate choice.

But World’s Greatest Dad isn’t just a torrent of curse words and dick jokes; it’s a hilarious, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, side-splitting dark comedy that features some of Williams’ best work since Good Will Hunting.

“I’m really proud of this movie” Williams declares. “It’s small but it’s beautiful in a weird way. I trusted [Bobcat] and I’m very happy I did. It was the most open I’ve ever been.”

“Every time you jump and you don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s when everything seems to work out,” Goldthwait adds. “But it’s terrifying.”

World’s Greatest Dad opens August 21st

Saturday, August 15, 2009

At first glance, It Might Get Loud could be misperceived as just three guys sitting around a room talking about the electric guitar. Except the three guys are Jimmy Page, Led Zepplin’s legendary ax-man, U2’s The Edge and Jack White of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and the recently formed Dead Weather. Basically, three of the coolest, most influential and dynamic guitarist alive today. (No disrespect, Richie Sambora.)

Helmed by Davis Guggenheim, the Academy Award-winning director of An Inconvenient Truth, It Might Get Loud is a visceral, enthralling, unforgettable piece of artistry that delves into the way music is made, the cultivation of these artists’ individual sound, the dialogue melody creates and the meaning sound has in the lives of those whose music informs our own existence.

Producer Thomas Tull (300,The Dark Knight) initially approached Guggenheim with the idea of a documentary about the electric guitar. “We realized there are a lot of music documentaries or music movies that felt lacking to us,” Guggenheim recalls. “They were about everything but what the artistic experience was; car wrecks and overdoses or a film filled with platitudes about how so-and-so changed music forever. We weren’t trying to be a top ten list or encyclopedic, we were just trying to get underneath the characters of people who express themselves in a way that’s kind of a mystery. When you hear an electric guitar, there are no words, so there’s nothing to associate or quantify, nothing you can put on Wikipedia that someone can look up. [We thought] ‘What if we made a movie about something no one’s ever described before in the proper way?’”

They agreed the three artists they wanted to follow were Page, Edge and White, who all immediately agreed to participate, and the process began with long sit down interviews and no cameras, just tape recorders. Guggenheim took the audio, edited it together and used it as a template for shooting. White, cloaked in head-to-toe black, his face tucked under a porkpie hat, describes the filmmaking process, much like the song writing process, as “a genesis.”

“This was incredible,” White says, “because Davis gave so much leeway into what we were going to do. [That’s] why I got involved in the first place. If he’d sent a script that said ‘We’re going to be doing this, this, this, this and this,’ then it wouldn’t have been as interesting and creative for any of the people involved.”

It was the film’s exploration of music as the ultimate storyteller that Page found compelling. “I think music can always be a life changing experience, or life affecting, at least,” says Page in a flowing white shirt that matches his shock of long white hair. He has a genteel air unexpected of a rock star who shaped the 1960s and 70s. “There’s music that people will always relate to, that point when they heard it, when they experienced it. Whether they’re playing it or you’re receptive as an audience.”

While they all arose in different eras and have decidedly different sounds and styles, one commonality the three musicians share is they were all self-taught. “It’s not like we’re part of an orchestra were everyone’s been taught the same way and it’s sort of varied areas of interpretation” Page explains. “The character of what we’ve lived is in our music.” It was their individual but shared brilliance that Guggenheim used as the ultimate template for a film about music at its purest and most profound.

“There are many, many people who can play guitars note-perfect and are virtuosos” Guggenheim says, unmoved, “but I wanted people who were searchers, people who really inspired us and whose stories said something more than ‘Here’s a hit.’”

It Might Get Loud opens August 14th

Alyson Michalka on Bandslam and 78violet's New Album

Alyson Michalka, known to just about anyone under the age of 18 as Aly, Disney Channel star and one half of the sister act musical duo, 78violet (formerly Aly and AJ), wants to rock you. Her two latest projects, the feature film Bandslam, opening August 14th, and a new untitled album hitting stores in the fall, are all about a stronger, more mature Aly.

“I’ve always wanted to do feature films so this is a big deal for me” Michalka says when asked about Bandslam. The film follows a group of teenagers who come together over their shared love of music and compete in the ultimate local talent competition. Co-starring fellow Disney darling Vanessa Hudgens and newcomer Gaelan Connell, Michalka plays Charlotte, a high school legend; prom queen, cheer captain, a girl so popular and adored “she has her own Wikipedia page,” who gives it all up to be part of a rock band.

Michalka reveals she’d always had concerns about working on a project that required her to exploit both her acting and musical talents, but, after reading the film’s script, she was intensely “attracted to the character and the integrity of the movie” and decided to give it a shot.

“I auditioned and played a song by Aimee Mann called ‘How Am I Different’ on the piano” Michalka recalls. “Everyone was pretty much being accompanied by the pianist, but I decided to accompany myself, just because I’ve been playing for so long, and [director Todd Graff] was like, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s so awesome!’ and started thinking maybe Charlotte should play the piano.”

While her musical ability helped her win the role, it also placed many more demands on the performance. Once she arrived on the film’s Austin, Texas set she was expected to play piano, guitar, sing and act. “It was a lot of pressure to have to do [all of that] in a movie and be really strong [at everything.]”

It could be argued that all the elements that weighted so heavily on Michalka are all the things she does regularly anyway. When asked why she felt such intense anxiety about doing the things she’s built a career around, she says without hesitation, “I think, because I wasn’t with my sister, it was different. And the fact that [Graff] really knew what he wanted with this film and I wanted to be able to portray that exactly. I’m not playing Aly, I’m playing Charlotte. I wanted to still bring myself to the character but create something new.”

Speaking of something new, Michalka thrills when asked about the album she and her sister just finished recording. After changing their name, they’re also changing the group’s sound and the way they make the music. Like so many Disney stars, including co-star Hudgens, Michalka is evolving and that comes with more than growing pains; she has to figure out how to maintain her fan base while maturing with them and letting new listeners know she’s got a lot more in her bag of tricks than the record Disney execs want to hear.

“This is a record I think people will be shocked by” she says excitedly. “It’s the Aly and AJ that we always wanted to be. We want to make sure everything is just perfect because we’ve actually never put out a record that I was 110% in love with. There was always one part or one song that I thought didn’t fit, but this is not like that. We’re really excited. It’s a new start for us. It’s definitely a rock album; it’s not a kid record at all.”

Bandslam opens August 14th

Interview with Jonathan Groff, Star of Taking Woodstock and Soon-To-Be Household Name

Jonathan Groff: Hi Sasha.

Sasha Perl-Raver: Hi Jonathan. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.

JG: Thank you.

SPR: I’ve been describing you as the Kate Hudson of this Almost Famous. You are going to be such a massive movie star. Are you aware of that fact?

(He erupts with laughter) Wow! That’s very nice. Thank you.

You know journalists; we don’t have to gush. We’re mean, we’re critical. You were unbelievably charismatic. Is that how Ang Lee got you for the part? Did he see you in Spring Awakening and decide to include you in the movie?

He didn’t. It’s actually a crazy sort of story. I put myself on tape for this movie with Avy Kaufman who is this incredible casting director who does a lot of movies with Ang, among other things. I put myself on tape which we, as actors, do all the time. You go, there’s this little digital camera and you put yourself on tape and it goes away to the universe and you never hear anything again (he laughs). I put myself on tape, actually it was a week after I’d left Spring Awakening and I got a call, literally, two hours after the audition from my agent. He said ‘Avy loved your tape and she fast tracked the tape to Ang and Ang thinks it’s great and he needs a couple of days to think about it but he thinks that you’re the guy.’ And I got a call a couple of days later telling me I’d got the job having never even met him, just from this tape, which was insane.

But that makes perfect sense, having seen the movie. I think that is what’s going to start happening. Have you already started getting other calls for other parts or are you holding off until the movie comes out to decide that you’re going to do next?

Yeah. I’ve gotten no calls. I’m just waiting to see what happens after this guy comes out and I feel really lucky because, thank you for saying I did a good job but I also got to play this guy named Michael Lang. I got to spend a lot of time with him in real life. He was very generous with me and I got to spend the weekend with him and his family and pick his brain or whatever. And he is this magnetic, mystical, beautiful, amazing human being. So I was just trying to do him justice because he is this unbelievable person.

Did you know anything about him before accepting the part?

Well, when I went to the audition, before I auditioned, I watched the very famous Woodstock documentary which he’s featured in several times. He’s in like the first fifteen minutes and when he came on screen with his hair and his motorcycle and his leather vest and a cigarette coming out of his mouth I was like ‘That’s the guy that I’m auditioning for?’ (laugh) I was totally blown away. He’s such an incredible person and character and sort of blows you away in that documentary and so I was totally freaked out when I saw that because he’s so charismatic in that documentary. So I’d known him for the audition and for that but I hadn’t known him before that. But people that really know Woodstock, this was part of the challenge of the movie, is people that really know Woodstock not only know the name Michael Lang and know what he did, but they also know what he looks like, how he walks, how he interacts with other people. He’s very beloved amongst the Woodstock community. So we really had a task in that we had to honor him and his genius and brilliance. Ang really wanted to capture his vibe. We really wanted to capture his vibe because he really is a special person.

Can you actually tell me a little bit more about working with Ang Lee once you got to set? Especially since you didn’t even have the opportunity to audition for him, that first day, walking up, that has to be almost crushing pressure.

I was so nervous. Yeah. Because I had never done any sort of movie before. Ever. This is my first one and I was so nervous to meet him. Literally all of that melted away our first meeting which lasted about three hours over at Focus Features. A, because he’s such a nice guy. He’s so unassuming. He’s so humble and ego-less. He puts you at ease the minute you shake his hand. He instantly made me feel relaxed and the first thing he said to me was, ‘I know this is your first film. I’ve done a lot of people’s first films and you have nothing to worry about. I’m going to hold your hand through this process. You’re going to be totally fine. I know that you can do it. I know you’re going to be great. And feel free to ask any questions. No question is too small to ask. I totally understand what you’re going through.’ So that was great for starters, so have Ang Lee say that to you. And then he drops the four-inch, three-ring binder of research on my lap of articles and history and pictures and gave me fifteen films to watch and like five mix CDs of music from the time period he felt was important to listen to. And then it immediately became out the work, creating this character and making this movie. I get really excited when all that stuff starts to happen. He expects you to do your homework and really demands a lot of you. He gave me three books, I was reading the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, there was all this stuff to get ready for it as well. So, he gives you all this research and sort of the next phase of working with him is the rehearsal. I would come to upstate New York where we they had our production offices where we were shooting and we would have work sessions. Dimitri and I and Ang would sit there and read through the lines and talk about, talk about what he wanted and just sort of speak through it, say the words out loud. There were a couple of times where I would sit there and do my lines and Ang would sit a couple of feet away from me and just stare at me, ‘cause I’m also trained in the theater so we express a little more to reach the last row of the balcony. And he would say, ‘Okay, you don’t have to show me so much. If you’re feeling it, I can see it in your eyes. If you’re feeling it, I can see it in your eyes’ he kept saying. Just incredible lessons that you’re learning from this master. We did that and that was great and the next phase was the actual shooting of the movie. He’s actually a lot like Michael Lang, he’s the leader that’s very quiet, doesn’t raise his voice and everyone instinctively just wants to please, wants to do what he says. Onset he was very calm, soft-spoken, and very specific about what he wanted, the kind of shots he wanted, how he wanted you to feel in the shots, what he wanted to see from you, but he also doesn’t talk as much onset. He really expects that you’ve done your homework, which, hopefully, I think we all did. He’s meticulous and obviously pays a lot of attention to detail. You end up feeling, before the first meeting with him that very first day when he dropped the binder on me, walking in there I was feeling very nervous, but the minute I met him, because of the way he is, I felt very safe. But you also feel safe because you’re doing a movie with Ang Lee, so you feel comfortable and confident to sort of just throws your hands in the air and do whatever he asks you to do because you know you’re working with this incredible artist.

And because Dimitri was carrying his first feature, I’m sure there was a sense of comradery there as well.

Absolutely. Absolutely. It was even more of a mountain to climb for Dimitri because he’d never really acted before, it was all stand up. So not only was this his first big movie, it was a major career change in a way. It’s a totally different skill set and a totally different mindset and I really think he’s amazing in the movie. He’s sort of a personal hero for me because he took everything with a grain of salt and remained positive and was very hard working, never threw a diva tantrum. You’ve just got to love someone like that who just jumps in and has no previous experience whatsoever and just goes for it. I feel lucky that I got to work with him and got to know someone like him because he’s such a good person.

You’re back doing Shakespeare in the Park for the second time. Was Hair before or after you filmed this?

Let’s see, was it before or after? (he muses) I got cast in the movie in May, we started rehearsal for Hair in July and we ran Hair in August and I actually left Hair early to go shoot this movie. I left Hair on a Saturday and we started shooting first thing on Monday morning or something. It was crazy, they sort of overlapped a little bit.

And did they bleed into each other in any way because you were immersed in this world of hippie-dom?

Yeah, I feel really lucky because a lot of that research that Ang gave me before we even started Hair rehearsals was totally appropriate for that project and vice versa. It was like my own personal Summer of ’69 last year. I was living in that time period for the whole summer. I was listening to the music and wearing wigs and the whole nine yards. The character I played in Hair and the character I played in Woodstock are totally different so there really aren’t any parallels there as far as the acting of it was concerned, but the backdrop of it and the vibe of it was absolutely beneficial that I got to experience both at the same time.

And what about now playing Dionysus this year in your return to the Park? Because there’s something about him, the idea of the God of Ecstasy, which absolutely could be paralleled to Michael Lang.

It’s so funny that you say that because I was just talking to my dad on the phone about a week ago and he was asking me how rehearsals were going and I was like ‘It’s so crazy because I never expected this, but I’m using a lot of Michael Lang in this character.’ I keep thinking about him, he keeps coming up for me in this project because Dionysus is famous for, when they performed the Greek tragedy in like 400 B.C. or whatever, they performed with masks on and the Dionysus mask had a grin. Even though he was doing all of these terrible, awful things, ripping peoples bodies apart, he always, on the outside, appeared very angelic and was grinning always, so I keep thinking of Michael’s grin and Michael’s angelic, mysterious, mystical smile.

Now, as you’re going off to do other things, have anyone spoken to you yet about being on Glee?

(He explodes with laughter) It’s so funny because Ryan Murphy is a friend of mine! I did a pilot for him about a year and a half ago for FX that never went and we became close on the set. I think he as well is a brilliant, brilliant director, writer, creator. I know him very well and, obviously, my greatest friend on the planet is the genius star of that show. I feel, indirectly, a part of it just because I’ve known about it for so long and know them both very well but, no, there hasn’t been any talk about me appearing on it yet.

If you had the opportunity to create your own dream concert the way Michael Lang did, who would you bring together?

That is a brilliant question! Hmm, okay, let me just think about what’s in my CD played right now. Well, it would have to be outdoors because that’s part of the whole thing. I’ve been obsessed with Ray LaMontagne lately. Do you know him?

Oh my God! I just saw him at the Bowl a few weeks ago.

You did? Was it great?!?!

He’s not much of a showman, he didn’t talk between the songs but listening to his voice…Ohh! He drives me up the wall. I love him more than I love breath.

Oh my God! That’s so crazy! I do too and I’ve never seen him live. I would listen to ‘Til the Sun Goes Black CD every day before Spring Awakening. I would turn all the lights out in my dressing room and lay on the ground. I would listen to the song ‘Be Here Now’ every day because, as an artist, it’s the perfect thing to listen to because that was what I was trying to focus on. And the first day, this is going to blow your mind, the first day on the set of the movie, I was so nervous, obviously, because it was first day of the movie was the first day that I was working, it was the scene with Eugene Levy on the hill, and I go into the makeup trailer and the song that the makeup lady was playing in the trailer was 'Be Here Now.'

No! That’s like a sign!

I know! Isn’t that crazy?!?! It immediately put me at ease. I just felt like, this is where I’m supposed…it was a moment for sure.

Good luck with the movie. I have no doubt it’s going to make you a huge star.

Oh, you’re so nice. Thank you so much for everything.

Taking Woodstock opens August 28th, 2009

Ashton Kutcher's "Spread": A Movie Review

"I don't want to be arrogant... but I am an incredibly attractive man."

Thus begins Spread, starring Ashton Kutcher, the story of a man who is utterly vacuous but delightfully attractive. Hmmm, the story of Kutcher's life much? I kid, I kid, I’ve always enjoy Ashton; he’s attractive, charismatic and charming, but that charm can only go so far and, in Spread, it’s spread way too thin.

Set in a grotesque version of Los Angeles where everyone’s a gigolo or a gold-digger, Kutcher stars as Nikki, a homeless, jobless drifter who spends his life finding women to pleasure in return for food and shelter. All he wants is to enjoy their spread. Go ahead, let the entendres wash over you.

The film was written by Jason Dean Hall and it starts with a clear, biting voice that’s sardonic and engaging, but it quickly falls into American Gigolo or Shampoo clichés while the film’s leads, Kutcher, Anne Heche, as Kutcher’s oft-naked sugar mama, and Margarita Levieva, a fellow hustler who wins Nikki’s cold heart, though it’s never clear why beyond the idea that men love the chase and both actors are handsome and libidinous, grow intensely unlikable.

Kutcher is pretty but flat, utterly lacking the quirky, adorable, goofball charm he projected in A Lot Like Love or That 70's Show. Levieva is window dressing without any substantial presence and Heche does her best to bring some semblance of reality to a character that was written to be an idiotic, permissive, pathetic cougar, but they all fail at making these people three dimensional. Thanks to puerile writing, lame performances and David Mackenzie’s bland, unimaginative direction, when each character reaches his or her rock bottom, it’s impossible to sympathize; rather their suffering can be written off as karmic retribution.

For those looking to justify Spread as a movie-going experience, the highlights you can look forward to are lots and lots of simulated sex featuring Kutcher, who also produced the film, and a bevy of beauties, especially Heche. That might make it worthy of a rental but it’s destined for fast-forward purgatory. Though he does a mean Kermit the Frog impression, one 30-second bit isn’t enough to salvage his performance or Halls’ belligerent screenplay.

I used to call The House of Sand and Fog "Bitch, Go Get an Apartment and Stop Whining." Spread could easily be renamed "Dude, Go Get a Job and Put Your Pants Back On (Minus the Suspenders)."

Grade: D-