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 clich├ęs 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-