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?