Thursday, July 29, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Charlie St. Cloud

Sitting on a sunny stretch of Marina del Rey on a recent Saturday afternoon, sipping a cup of tea while waiting my turn to speak with Burr Steers and Zac Efron, respectively the director and star of the new film, Charlie St. Cloud, I started to notice everyone who passed, joggers with strollers, speed walkers in Shape-Ups, tourists in Bermuda shorts, would look above me and get a bizarrely beatific, stupefied smile on their face as they strolled along the water front.

What’s inspiring those beaming faces?

Efron is sitting in a second story window, brightly lit by television cameras, being interviewed about his latest role. His trademark locks are pushed back to reveal a forehead rarely seen during his meteoric rise in the High School Musical trilogy, making his turquoise blue eyes even more striking, and his relaxed charm is palpable even gazing up at the newly minted movie deity from below. The beach cruisers are being treated to a fleeting glimpse of a movie-star-in-the-making and the mere proximity to glory has them drunk with wonder.

When I speak to Efron a short while later, I ask if he realizes he has that kind of effect on people.
“Ooff,” he grunts, shaking his head. “It’s not really tangible to me. I don’t really notice it. But I know my mom gets pissed off when she hangs out with me. She walks behind me and she says no one says anything until after I’ve walked past. After they look and [freak out]. But they never give it away, they’re always really good, so I never see it. I don’t really notice,” he shrugs.

Even if he doesn’t, Hollywood does, knighting Efron the heir apparent to the leading man throne. Although Charlie St. Cloud is only his third major leading role, Efron is already drawing weighty comparisons from Steers.

“All of our leading guys it seems started out as child stars,” Steers points out. “Ryan Gosling was a Mouseketeer, [Leonardo DiCaprio] did Growing Pains, Johnny Depp was on 21 Jump Street. They get those jobs because they’re charismatic and then build on that and understand that there is someplace to go from there, an evolution that has to happen.”

Part of that evolution is strategically chosen roles and the careful cultivation of working relationships. This most recent project has that in spades. The film, based on Ben Sherwood’s novel about a young man literally and figuratively haunted by the death of his younger brother and unable to move past the pain of that loss, reunites Efron and Steers who previously worked together on 17 Again.

Efron brought Steers into the project, feeling the director, who is perhaps best known for his debut, Igby Goes Down, would be able to help him reach the level of performance necessary for the role and he’s absolutely right. The great revelation of the film is that Zac Efron is quite talented and can handle emotionally demanding material beautifully. So how did the director lead his leading man through the performance?

“I don’t walk anyone through anything,” Steers insists. “I create a situation where actors feel safe.” He says he focused on the emotional stakes of the film and the made “[Zac] find it in himself. I don’t let him avoid anything.” Steers explains that one of the things that attracted the actor to the project was his own extremely close relationship with his younger brother, Dylan. Steers used that emotional bond to help Efron tap into his character’s pain. “I made him go there,” the director says. “This wasn’t an easy process for him.”

Though, according to Efron, one he loved, especially since it reunited him with Steers. “He’s very generous with the actors,” Efron says. “Every take, he’s running over to talk to us and he’s got so much to say; an opinion, a new point of view or something to think about, which is great for me. I enjoy that much attention from the director when they really care about your performance.” It was invaluable guidance the actor craved after deciding to step away from the musical genre that earned him legions of fans, even dropping out of the planned Footloose remake in favor of Charlie St. Cloud.

“There’s a style to High School Musical that I knew I didn’t want to stick with forever,” Efron admits. “It’s incredibly fun, it’s very addicting, those movies, I’m constantly chasing that dragon, so to speak, trying to bring that energy to everything I do, but I definitely want to make films with substance, move on, try new things and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Charlie St. Cloud opens July 30.

Behind the Scenes of Dinner for Schmucks

After sharing the screen in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd have teamed up for a new comedy inspired by the 1998 French film, Le Diner de Cons. Dinner for Schmucks is about Tim (Paul Rudd), a rising executive who has to find the ultimate imbecile guest to bring to his boss’s monthly dinner party of pathetic losers in order to get a promotion. When he almost runs over IRS employee Barry (Steve Carell) as he’s bent in the street foraging for dead mice to use in his taxidermy still life dioramas (possibly the best part of the film), Tim thinks he’s hit the jackpot until his new friend causes his life to unravel.

Directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers), Dinner for Schmucks features a powerhouse comedic cast, including Ron Livingston, Zach Galifianakis and Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Conchords) in supporting roles. But the weight of that many frighteningly funny minds on one set was an embarrassment of riches that led to one major problem: blown takes thanks to a nasty case of the giggles.

“It’s a challenge not to ruin a take by laughing,” Rudd says in his signature deadpan when the cast gathers for the film’s press day at the Beverly Hills Hotel on a cool July afternoon. “I didn’t rise to that challenge on many occasions.”

Unable to control those irrepressible giggles, when one reporter compares Galifianakis to a combination of “Marlon Brando and Andy Kaufman,” both Carell and Rudd erupt.

“I can’t get that combination out of my head,” Carell giggles. “I want to see that movie!” When he finally simmers down, Carell continues, “[Zach] is intensely funny and he’s so specific in the choices he makes. He’s just really a joy to work with.”

Offering similar praise to Clemens who, in many ways, straps the movie to his back and walks off with it, even in such stellar company, Carells says, “[Jemaine] is a really good improviser in the sense that you never feel him going for a joke, you never get a sense that he’s waiting for his turn to say or do something funny. He’s really just part of the scene and always ends up making it better. He’s a really fine actor. He committed to his character so completely. There’s a sense of calm and inner dignity to the character, even in the face of absurdity, which I just loved. He was a hard person to work with and not ruin takes because he’s just so good.”

“He’s so good at subtlety,” Rudd offers, spring boarding off Carell. “There were many moments when he would just say something, it wasn’t really a joke, but it would just really make me laugh. He’s good in everything.”

Continuing the love fest, both actors have only the highest praise for their director, who they both agree was a major element in their desire to make the film. When asked what their favorite Roach film is, they’re both quick to respond.

“Austin Powers was one of the funniest movies I’d ever seen,” Carell trumpets, “and it was such a surprising movie. That’s what first attracted me to want to work with Jay.”

“One of the things I think is amazing about Jay is how versatile he is,” Rudd offers, referring to Roach’s comedies and his TV movie about the 2000 Presidential election, Recount. “He’s such a smart guy, he’s got all this talent and yet he’s the most self-effacing guy, stealthy with his humor, his ability to write, edit, he’s amazing. I was thrilled to get to work with the guy.”

Less based on and more inspired by the French original directed by Francis Veber, who Roach calls “the Mike Nichols of France,” the actors decided the best way to make their performances click was to forge their own path.

“I approached this the same way I approached The Office,” Carell explains. “I still haven’t seen the original Office because I didn’t want to do an impersonation of Ricky Gervais. I still haven’t seen the original French film because I didn’t want to have that inform what I was going to do. I tried to look at it like a blank slate.”

“Yeah,” Rudd nods, “to prepare for this I watched the British Office.”

Hollywood Bites Reviews: Dinner for Schmucks

Eating your words is always such a bitter, unenjoyable endeavor.

A few weeks ago, I wrote the following about Dinner for Schmucks: “With [Paul] Rudd, [Steve] Carell and [Zach] Galifianakis, some of the funniest guys in Hollywood, under the watchful eye of director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents, Meet the Fockers, Austin Powers), it seems impossible this flick will be anything short of hysterical.”

It’s a good thing I used the disclaimer “seems,” because seeming is not being.

Inspired by the 1998 French film, Le Diner de Cons, or The Dinner Game in America, Dinner for Schmucks has everything going for it; enjoyable source material, a director who specializes in over-the-top humor and a stellar cast of comedic luminaries. Walking into a screening, I had the highest hopes and expectations. But that only made their plummeting descent that much more harrowing.

The film follows Tim (Paul Rudd), a rising executive who has to find the ultimate imbecile guest to bring to his boss’s monthly dinner party of pathetic losers in order to get a promotion. When he almost runs over IRS employee Barry (Steve Carell) as he’s bent in the street foraging for dead mice to use in his taxidermy still life dioramas (the best part of the film), Tim thinks he’s hit the jackpot. Instead, his new friend causes his life to unravel.

It’s familiar territory which borrows heavily from What About Bob? and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, films that are far better entertainment than this.

Ultimately wasting the cast’s talents in favor or recycled pranks, Schmucks suffers from a lack of finesse and funniness, usually a prerequisite for a comedy. While a heaping portion of the blame lands on the shoulders of screenwriting team David Guion and Michael Handelman for their grating script, Roach was the captain of this ship and his ham-fisted, sophomoric direction is ultimately at fault for sinking the film.

Carell and Rudd’s chemistry was proven in both The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, but here they’re just flat caricatures. Rudd delivers a passable performance by falling into his usual, dry charm, but Carell makes you fear his decision to leave The Office by reaching for jokes so exhaustively, he’s dwarfed only by Galifianakis whose blowhard shtick is wearing exhaustively thin. The one shining beacon in the film is Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement, whose ability to elevate lackluster material was already proven in Gentleman Broncos. As Kieran Vollard, an art star with an eye for Tim’s girlfriend, Clement almost makes Schmucks worth the price of admission. Almost.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When Sasha Met J.J.

Behold, the moment of my life, just after I met J.J. Abrams.

Between Felicity, Alias and Lost, I've spent more time being entertained by this man than possibily anyone. And I love him for that.

We talked about his amazing taste in men (Scott Speedman, Matthew Fox, Daniel Dae Kim, Joshua Jackson, Michael Vartan), the fact that I scheduled my tonsilectomy around the finale of Lost and toasted his general brilliance.

J.J. Abrams is a genius! I bow at his feet.

Comic-Con 2010: 'Tron The Pill,' Jeff Bridges' 3D Innovation

Making their third annual appearance at Comic-Con, this morning the entire Tron: Legacy posse, including Jeff Bridges, Michael Sheen, Olivia Wilde and Garrett Hedlund, showed up this morning to pimp their film, once again, to the San Diego crowd.

Tron and Comic-Con have been like peas and carrots in recent years. But don’t expect a complaint from Michael Sheen. An admitted fanboy himself, Sheen was as giddy as a Trekkie with a new pair of Spock ears to be in San Diego promoting his project.

Sheen: “I was supposed to come for a few years, with Underworld, Alice in Wonderland and Twilight, and I wasn't able to. I wanted to build up a really big head of steam so that when I got here, I'd be carried shoulder-high through the streets, crowned the new King of Comic-Con. That hasn't happened yet. So you have the chance to make this young man's dream come true.”

It’s been 28 years since Tron first hit theaters. Obviously Jeff Bridges was a much younger man then, one who’d enjoyed far less of life’s carnal pleasures. When asked how he felt to be jumping back into the Tron world, he said he’d heard rumors about the film’s return for two decades but had sort of given up on the idea.

“Disney had it on its back burners and they were not satisfied with the script so they waited and I'm so happy they did,” Bridges said. “Because we got a good script and they held out to find the right guy at the helm. With [drector Joe Kosinski] they found a terrific leader.”

Before Kosinski did any casting or camera tests, his first step in buiding the new world of Tron was to hook up with Daft Punk to create a score the director says blends electronic and orchestral music “that really blurs the line bet sound design and music in a new way.”

“I hooked up with Daft Punk very early in the process, before even doing the effects test piece. We went down to the 101 Cafe in Hollywood and met them for a pancake breakfast. Their passion for Tron and what inspiration it is to them, which I think is obvious if you've ever been to their live shows, we talked about it for a long time and got started on the music before we ever started shooting and still are, almost two years later. They are, as we speak, putting finishing touches on the score.”

Sure, the score will be super cool, but the thing everything, including the actors, seemed the most excited about were the neon bodysuits they wore during filming. Responding to a question about how they were to wear, the cast said:

Olivia Wilde: It was amazing.
Michael Sheen: It was amazing--to watch Olivia in the suit.
Wilde (laughing): It was totally revolutionary. We were wearing electro-luminescent lamps woven through neoprene and all these other materials. We would get really excited every time the suits would turn on.
Garrett Hedlund: At the beginning, you’ve got to train immensely for the suit and then they’ve got this thing called Cyber-Scan where they create this suit out of every curve and definition of your body so it’s completely exact and fits like a glove. Then the greatest thing is, you go into a dark room room and the producer has their kids around, you light it up and they just go “Aaaaaahhhh!”
Sheen: There was a great moment before every take where sound’s rolling, camera and, just before they’d say action, they’d say, "Light them up! And—action!" And suddenly the whole room would go "Bing" and you'd forget to act for a little bit, it’s so cool.

That’s a moment audiences will get to experience in 3D when the movie hits theaters December 12, 2010. Asked how he sees 3D technology evolving, Bridges said "We're always looking for something to bring the audience into the story. Isn't 3D without glasses coming out? Or holograms? That's where it's going. Or maybe you'll just take a pill. ‘TRON: The Pill.’"

From the Dude’s mouth to your ears.

Hollywood Bites Reviews: Salt

The curse of the reshoots continues.

The Last Airbender, Wolverine, Jonah Hex; they all went through major reshoots and still managed to be dreadful. Now you can add another film to that Hall of Shame, Angelina Jolie’s spy thriller Salt, a film so laughably awful, at a recent screening the audience went from minorly chuckling during the film’s climax to downright guffawing at its implausibility.

Salt is about Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative who goes on the lam after she’s accused of being a KGB sleeper agent in a scene that involves the most laborious exposition filmgoers have suffered in a very long while. Given everything that’s gone on in the news recently, you’d think that would be a boon for the film. But Kurt Wimmer’s script, filled the Cold War references, feels tragically dated, as though it had been fished out of a desk two and a half decades too late and the producers paid good money to make sure the New York Times and Wall Street Journal made Russian spies news again just before the film’s release.

Director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Sliver) fills his frames with obvious nods to the movie’s subject matter, such as in an interrogation room where a half dozen reflections curve behind the action, the equivalent of a cinematographer, in this case Robert Elswit, shouting, “These people are layered! They might not be who you think they are! See. See. There’s multiples of them!” Other times, Elswit, whose previous work includes The Will Be Blood and Good Night and Good Luck, allows his camera to drop in and out of POV shots, including one shaky steadicam shot from a dog’s eye view. Do you blame the guy with multiple Oscars (Elswit) or the man whose last good movie was 2002’s Rabbit Proof Fence (Noyce) for that embarrassingly bad choice?


Speaking of decisions that are less than wise, while Jolie was once Hollywood’ go-to girl for bad ass chick roles, the Oscar winner looks vacant and wane this time around as she listlessly goes through the motions she delivered with verve in Tomb Raider, Wanted and Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Perhaps she realized she was in unsteady hands (probably right around the time she saw herself “disguised” as a man in one of the most hilariously implausible scenes) and decided to phone her performance in.

Noisy action sequences are little match for such a ridiculously plotted and poorly acted movie. Even in the summer, when escapism is the goal, Salt is an unwitting comedy that’s meant to be laughed at, not with.

Comic-Con 2010: Michelle Rodriguez on Avatar, James Cameron and Movie Death

At the press conference for her new film Battle: Los Angeles, described as a cross between Black Hawk Down and Alien by director Jonathan Liebesman, Michelle Rodriguez sounded off about what James Cameron thinks about animation replacing actors and why she gets killed off in every movie.

Asked about the possibility of actors eventually being replaced by animated avatars, Rodriguez instantly bristled:

“I’d like to make a note, people don’t understand because they weren’t there. I was there. I saw what Jim did with Avatar and what the future of film is in his eyes. What he wanted to transition to was respect toward the actor because you are literally looking at an enhancement of the actor’s performance. You are not looking at some guy who’s an animator creating the emotions or performance. The dots are on all the parts of your face and you have a camera staring at you. It’s the actor’s performance. That’s something I think a lot of people don’t understand because there’s a lot of work that was placed behind it. Eventually, over the years, it’ll become a lot easier to do [that kind of animation], a lot cheaper and it’ll take a lot less time. But directors who know what it’s all about, like Jim and Jonathan, know it’s about the human soul shining through into whatever story it is you’re trying to tell. Actors aren’t going anywhere.”

Damn, Gina. Simmer down. We’re with you; if we want to see animated acting, we’ll go to whatever new movie Pixar is putting out, not rent Beowulf. No need to get so testy.

Surprisingly, she was much perkier when asked the question: “Why does Michelle Rodriguez always die in every movie?”

"Because I don’t rip my clothes off and I’m nobody’s girlfriend!" she hooted, clapping her hands and laughing hysterically. "A lot of writers are new to the whole tough girl thing. They don’t know what to do with a chick. If she’s got character and she’s strong, it’s sort of like, ‘Well, we’ve got the dude who’s strong, so what do we do with the chick who does that? Kill her. Duh.’ Eventually they’ll get used to it. Maybe Salt will change a thing or two.”

Having seen Salt, we can say with total certainty that the only thing that’s gonna alter is Angelina Jolie’s bankability and credibility. That movie gives ass-kicking tough women everywhere a bad name.

Fox News' Lips and Ears Talking Wahlberg and The Other Guys

I come in at the 0:42 second mark and again in the last 30 seconds.

Friday, July 16, 2010

"The Town" Trailer Just Blew My Mind

Sadly, the 2010 Summer Movie season has been one of the worst in recent memory. Filled with sequels that ranged from clunky (Iron Man 2) to downright despicable (anyone associated with Sex and the City 2 deserves to be publically flogged), if it weren’t for Pixar’s Toy Story 3, Glee creator Ryan Murphy’s adaptation of Eat, Pray, Love, and Christopher Nolan’s Inception, this summer might have been as successful as an underwater BBQ.

Luckily, there’s fall to look forward to and I have newfound hope thanks to Ben Affleck and his film, The Town.

Ben returns to the director’s chair after his triumphant feature, 2007’s Gone Baby Gone. As director, writer and star, word on the street is this might be Ben’s chance to claim a golden statuette all his own (he shared an Oscar win with Matt Damon in 1997 for their Good Will Hunting screenplay) and finally emerge from his butt buddy's shadow.

Co-starring Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Gossip Girl’s Blake Lively, the film is about a career thief (Affleck) who’s in love with Claire, a bank teller who was traumatized by a recent heist (Hall) that he was behind. As their relationship deepens, an investigator (Hamm), who’s also infatuated with Claire, closes in on cracking the case. Based on Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves, I dare you to tell me this trailer doesn't look incredible.

Go, Ben!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hollywood Bites Reviews "Inception"

As Inception arrives in theaters this Friday, little is publically known about the film other than what writer-director Christopher Nolan told the LA Times in January; that the enigmatic thriller revolves around “corporate espionage by way of dream invasion.” Think of it as The Matrix meets James Bond with a side of Freud, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy (in a star-making turn) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Got it? Good. Because that’s as much of a spoiler as your gonna get.

If you’re hungry for a spoiler, you’ve come to the wrong place because elaborating on Inception’s plot will do nothing to enhance the rapturous experience of settling into a darkened movie theater to witness one of the best films of the year courtesy of perhaps the greatest director working in Hollywood today. This is a movie best viewed with a blank slate and an open mind; just sit back, relax and let it blow you away. And then dash back into the theater for a second showing.

Since Momento, there’s been no question of Nolan’s ability to create labyrinthine plots that are both mind-bending and heartbreaking. But Inception ups the ante to a blockbuster scale which surpasses the director’s dark Batman dreamscapes by leaps and bounds. Visually stunning, wonderfully acted and richly layered, it’s a film that deserves immeasurable praise (it will surely be heaped with accolades come award season) and multiple viewings. During the summer movie season, when audiences are too often told to switch their brain to auto-pilot, Nolan delivers a thoughtful, compelling, vividly woven film that may prove to be his opus.

The only thing you need to know about Inception is this: It’s brilliant!

Chris Pine's Bloody Good Show: Lieutenant of Inishmore

Don’t be surprised if a few of your fellow theatergoers march out of The Lieutenant of Inishmore in a huff halfway through the final act. This isn’t a play for the faint of heart and director Wilson Milam goes, quite literally, for the jugular, creating a spectacle that’s haunting, hilarious and deeply disturbing. For those who chose to turn tail and abandon the show as it reaches its climax, count it as their loss because the play is one of the best shows to grace the Mark Taper Forum’s stage in recent memory.

Awkward, brutal, bloody and unrelenting--did I mention it’s a comedy?—playwright Martin McDonagh is known for works that thrive from their ability to take violence, humiliation and torture and turn them into oddly compelling, beautifully cultivated creations, such as his Oscar-nominated screenplay for In Bruges or his Tony-nominated works such as The Pillowman and The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

A shoe polish black comedy that seems like something Quentin Tarantino might have authored had he gone into theater, Inishmore is McDonagh’s thinly veiled farce about Northern Ireland’s longstanding war for independence from England. It begins inside a shabby old shack on the outskirts of a quiet Irish town with Donny (Sean G. Griffin) and Davey (Coby Getzug in an assured and magnetic performance) examining what remains of a dead black cat. But this isn’t any cat, it’s Wee Thomas, the beloved pet of Mad Padraic (Chris Pine), a man so mad, “the IRA wouldn’t let him in,” who’s off on a rampage of torture and chip-shop bombing in Northern Ireland. Called in the middle of deciding which nipple to slick off a drug dealer, Padraic races home to be with the cat he loves more than life itself and bloody, hilarious carnage ensues.

Pine, of Star Trek fame, was most recently onstage at the Geffen in last year’s production of Farragut North. Though at times he seems to be channeling his Enterprise predecessor William Shatner with an Irish lilt, he’s wonderfully capable onstage, confidently strutting across the boards as an impish man-child with a shotgun temper in this stellar production.

Behind the Scenes of Inception

Before attending a screening of Inception, Christopher Nolan’s hotly anticipated new film, Warner Brothers issued explicit instructions to all attendees not to tweet, Facebook, blog or otherwise spread internet word about the film. Usually when a studio issues that kind of edict, it’s because they realize they have a turkey on their hands and they don’t want any advanced negative word of mouth, but in the case of Inception, the veil of secrecy is actually a service to filmgoers. In the Google Age, most films are ruined before you step foot in the theater thanks to reviews that overshare, trailers that leave nothing for later, and blogs focused on publishing every possible spoiler.

Whether out of respect or fear, Nolan has managed to pull off a coup. As Inception arrives in theaters, little is known about the film other than what the writer-director told the LA Times in January; the enigmatic thriller is about “corporate espionage by way of dream invasion.” Think of it as The Matrix meets James Bond with a side of Freud, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy (in a star-making turn) and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

At the press day for the film, whose grandeur and complicated logistics made The Dark Knight look like a cake walk according to the auteur, Nolan bandied back questions about secrecy as a form of hype to promote his movie. “It’s difficult to balance marketing a film with wanting to keep it fresh for the audience,” Nolan replied. “My most enjoyable experiences as a moviegoer have always been going to [see a movie] that I don’t know everything about. You want to be surprised and entertained by the movie. I think too much is given away in movie marketing.”

Without revealing too much (trust me, you want to be surprised) the film was partially sparked ten years ago by Nolan’s fascination with dreams and their similarity to movies. His intrigue with the subject grew from childhood and he was drawn to the idea of trying to portray an imaginary realm onscreen. “I think for me, the primary interest, in dreams and making this film, is the notion that your mind, while you’re asleep, can create an entire world that you’re also experiencing without realizing you’re doing it. I think that says a lot about the potential of the human mind.” Nolan took the idea of dreamscapes and used that as a jumping off point to create a limitless “playground for action and adventure.”

DiCaprio, who admits he’s not a big dreamer, says he was drawn into the film for a number of reasons, but especially the chance to work with Nolan. “This was an extremely ambitious concept that Chris was trying to pull off and he accomplished it with flying colors,” DiCaprio offers. “There’s very few directors in this industry that could pitch to the studio an existential, high-action, high-drama, surreal film and have the opportunity to do it, and that’s a testament to his previous work in [films like] Momento and The Dark Knight.”

Everything about Inception solidifies Nolan’s reputation as one of the best directors working in Hollywood today and he will no doubt be doing major red carpet duty come awards season. One of the most stunning sequences in the film involves Gordon-Levitt in an extended fight sequence that calls to mind Fred Astaire’s anti-gravity dance in Royal Wedding, but about a hundred times cooler.

Asked about the logistics and training involved in shooting the scene, Nolan beams, “We had a stunt guy who looks exactly like Joe, made up perfectly -- and he stood there on set every day for three weeks and didn’t do a thing. Joe insisted on doing everything himself, apart from one shot. He just did the most incredible job with these bizarre sorts of torture devices.”

“Thanks!” Gordon-Levitt replies. “It was just about the most fun I’ve ever had on a movie set. It was also probably the most pain I’ve ever been in. But, you know, pain in a good way, like in the way I guess an athlete must [feel]. They have to put on the pads and wrap their ankles and they get a little beat up during the day but that’s just part of slamming yourself into walls and jumping around.” Referring back to the ode to Astaire, the actor smiles and says, “It’s sort of like how Sesame Street and Star Wars both use Jim Henson puppetry. It’s similar technique, but a very different effect.”

Inception opens July 16.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

What's Playing: Grease Sing-a-Long

Bigger than American Idol, badder than High School Musical, better than Glee (I said it!), Grease is, was and will always be the word.

Need proof?

Then head to a showing of Grease Sing-a-Long as it makes its way across the country this month and witness the power of a Pink Lady.

Remastered to be brighter and shinier than ever before, what makes the film such an event is the addition of lyrics to the bottom of the screen along with an open invitation to sing your heart out and dance in the aisle while watching Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta at his prime. The moment the music starts, chills rush up and down your spine, your heart thrills and you find yourself belting out words you assumed were long since forgotten, and the few you don’t remember are dancing helpfully across the bottom of the screen, just below Travolta’s adorably dimpled chin.

But this ain’t your mama’s karaoke sing-a-long, don’t expect a boring yellow ball bouncing dorkily over the words. The lyrics have been wittily animated and work seamlessly into the story, slyly winking at the audience or giving some extra sass.

Adding a slight Rocky Horror element to the experience, each audience member is given a gift bag filled with goodies to be used during the show, like pom poms for the pep rally, bubbles to blow during “Beauty School Drop Out,” and a yellow handkerchief for the climatic race at Thunder Road.

At the premiere screening at the Hollywood Bowl a few weeks ago, 18,000 people, from small children to adults in full costumes, came out to celebrate the return of one of the most beloved movie musicals of all time and it was a mind blowing experience. Do you have any idea how cool it is to see 18,000 people doing the “Greased Lightning” arm move at the same time? Or swaying in unison while singing “Hopelessly Devoted” without a single judgmental eye or ear in the crowd?

Cooler than Sandy in a cat suit purring, “Tell me about it, stud.” Remember those chills I was talking about earlier? I guarantee they’ll be multiplyin’.

Julianne Moore on Stalking Her Role in "The Kids Are All Right" and Kissing Many Many Co-Stars

As she enters a coolly elegant suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills dressed in a forest green and black Isabel Marant silk blouse and sexy, skin-tight, army green jeans, her resplendent mane of red hair pulled into a high ponytail, Julianne Moore’s presence is commanding and entrancing. Looking decades younger than her 49 years, the actress and mother, who’s in town to discuss her new film, The Kids Are All Right, which made a huge splash during its debut at Sundance, is so stunning and regal, it takes a moment to catch your breath. But by the time you have, she’s beaming at you, her green eyes sparkling, offering a kind of giddy warmth as she eagerly dives into the topic of her latest project.

The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko (Laurel Canyon, High Art) is the story of two teenaged siblings (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who decide to find their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo) and bring him into the family fold that their lesbian mothers (Annette Bening and Moore) have created. Written by Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith), Moore has been attached to the project since 2005, after she minorly accosted Cholodenko at a work function.

“I loved her movies so much!” Moore gushes, clasping her hands together and swaying like a 13 year old taking about Justin Bieber. “I actually approached her at a Women in Film luncheon and asked her why I hadn’t seen the script for High Art,” she giggles. “She said, ‘I think you were working.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think I was! I mean, I never even saw it!’ I said I’d love to work with her, we expressed our admiration for each other and then she sent me this.”

Moore explains she was drawn to the director’s work because her movies weren’t “event” pictures. Rather, they were character studies about complex relationships. “Lisa’s [work] is about how people connect, communicate and how they love each other. It’s the kind of film I respond to the most because it’s about human behavior,” the actress says. “What’s so interesting about this movie is it really highlights how important a family is, what a long term relationship is, and what it means to stick it out with somebody, to forgive somebody’s mistakes.”

The film is largely a meditation on family and building family out of whatever you believe in the most profoundly. Since the central relationship is a long-term lesbian couple, there are surely people who might be offended by or against what others will see as a simple human story, but Moore has no interest in the politics potentially raised by the movie. She feels the coupling of two women is just as commonplace as anything else you might see nowadays, both onscreen and in your daily life.

“Films don’t influence culture as much as they reflect it,” she says. “The reason we can have a movie like this is because these are the kinds of families we’re seeing these says. This is not shocking, this is not other, this is not different. One of the things this movie says is to appreciate the family you have, how valuable family is and how much we should cherish it.”

While Moore has her own loving family, including two children with her husband, director Bart Freundlich, the truth is that she spends a great deal of her professional life making out with her co-stars. It begged the question: Where does Annette Bening rate on her long list of onscreen lovers, because Moore’s had a lot.

“I know,” she grins wryly, “I’ve had a lot! I’m actually doing this Steve Carell movie right now and I turned to the writer and I said, ‘I think this is the first movie I haven’t kissed anybody in,’ and he said, ‘No, you kiss Kevin Bacon.’ I was like, ‘Oh my god! I DO!’ It’s funny because I’ve kissed so many actors. And actresses. Everybody!” she laughs. When asked about Bening specifically, she smiles like Mona Lisa and says, “Actors are great kissers, and actresses. That’s our secret; we’re all really good kissers.”

The Kids Are All Right opens July 9th

Adrien Brody, Robert Rodriguez and Nimrod Antal Talk "Predators"

Since the classic first Predator film was released in 1987, it’s trudged down a long, sloping road toward embarrassing mediocrity thanks to Predator 2, Alien vs. Predator and the bastard stepchild in the attic, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.
In an attempt to reboot the franchise, producer Robert Rodriguez teamed up with director Nimrod Antal (Vacancy, Kontroll) to make a film they hope will be what Aliens is to Alien, hence the additional “S” in the title. Both are admitted Predator fans who recall in detail the first time the saw the Schwarzenegger vehicle.

“I remember going to [the original film] with my brother,” Rodriguez begins. “We went to see it thinking it was a Commando-type movie and I remember the audience reaction [halfway through]. They were kind of confused when it turned sci-fi and horror. Everyone was a little, like, ‘Wow, what the hell was that movie?’ And it just caught on and caught on and kept growing in popularity. There was something very unique about it. It inspired me to do mixed genre features later.”

“14 years old, Avco on Wilshire, [four of my best friends from junior high] and I, and I walked out going, ‘Whoa!’” Antal counters. “And the day my agent called and said I was going to be directing this movie, I was reunited with those guys after 15 years. I was in a restaurant with them. True story.”

Having been intensely influenced and captivated by the film as teenagers, they approached the material with nostalgia, reverence and verve. “We always started with the original film,” Antal insists. “We wanted to make something the fans would appreciate, but would stand on its own without aping [the original].”

That meant no Schwarzenegger, who, Rodriguez laughs, wouldn’t have been available anyway since he was busy being the Governator. Hunting for a lead actor who could shoulder the weight of the genre piece, they stumbled on an unlikely pick: Adrien Brody.

“It seems, on paper, an odd choice but it really wasn’t,” Rodriguez shrugs. Brody was initially offered a supporting part which would later be cut from the script, but the actor said he was more interested in playing the lead. Rodriguez, imitates the director response to Brody’s query. “‘I don’t know, what do you think? Should we do it, bro? He’s an Oscar-winning actor.’ Anytime you have an Oscar-winning actor wanting to be in a Predator movie, you should probably go that route,” he laughs.
“His passion was so refreshing,” Antal continues. “To see someone of his caliber really want something as bad as he did was awesome. He came in saying, ‘I want this! I’ll fight for this. I’ll prove you guys wrong if you have any doubt.’ That was bitchin’.”

Asked what drove his desire to step into the lead role of a franchise like Predator, Brody, who speaks with both lulling calm and sharp exactitude replies, “It’s surprising to me when people are surprised by my choices. As an actor, I made a conscious decision to not repeat myself so that I keep the process interesting for myself and the people who have seen my work. I looked long and hard for an opportunity like this.”

Brody admits it wasn’t easy to secure the endorsement of a movie studio, but thanks to Antal and Rodriguez’s support, he landed the role and kicked off intensive preparation that included a restricted diet, heavy weight lifting for the first time since college, books on Buddhism and by ancient military strategist Sun Tzu, as well as “pouring over military manuals and field guides.” He said he did “as much as I could to create someone who has a sense of control, awareness and ability to not let fear that would naturally ensue paralyze him actually propel him into being a warrior. I [tried to] harness everything in my power to be ferocious.”

As the movie arrives in theaters, Brody views his work in the film as “a big coup.”
“I’m very protective of this material because I’m a fan of the original, I’m also respectful to fans and wanted to give them what they wanted and hopefully elevate the material as well,” Brody says. “I’ve seen it once and was kind of awestruck at both loving the film and simultaneously being so proud to be in it. It brought me back to being a child and being like, ‘I love this fucking movie.’ And then it’s me in it. It’s so exciting. It’s a gift.”

Predators opens July 9th

Monday, July 5, 2010

Miso-Glazed Seabass with Crispy Rice from Private Chefs of Beverly Hills

A previously unpublished recipe from Teenage Tasteland, aka The Episode Where Children Made Me Cry. But there's nothing sad about this seabass, which can be served with or without the crispy rice cakes. With is better if you're serving it as an appetizer, without is better as an entree, perhaps with some sauteed bok choy and a little brown rice. Enjoy!

Miso-Glazed Seabass with Crispy Rice

Miso-Glazed Seabass
1/3 cup sake
1/3 cup mirin
1/3 cup yellow miso
3 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
4 sea bass fillets, approximately 5-6 oz each (black cod can be substituted)
2 stalks green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons pickled ginger, chopped

Mix sake, mirin, miso, brown sugar and soy sauce in a shallow baking dish and add fish, turning to coat.

Cover and marinate at least two and up to six hours.

Preheat broiler.

Broil fish until top is caramelized, fish is firm to the touch and flakes easily, about 7-8 minutes depending on thickness of fish.

Remove from oven and place on serving platter.

Transfer any marinating liquid to a small sauce pot and bring to a boil. Allow to reduce slightly, about two minutes, and pour over fish.

Sprinkle with green onions and pickled ginger and serve immediately, or, if placing on crispy rice cakes, flake fish into large chunks and set aside while preparing rice.

Crispy Rice Cakes

2 1/2 cups cooked sushi rice (if unfamiliar with how to prepare sushi rice, ask nicely at your local sushi restaurant and they’ll usually sell it to you)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Spread rice on a large piece of plastic wrap. Lightly wet your hands and press rice down until you have a rectangular sheet of rice approximately a 1/4-1/2 inch thick.

Cover with plastic wrap and press down on rice with a large, firm object like a cutting board.

Unwrap and cut rice into 20 equal pieces, each about 3 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and add sesame oil. When oil-butter mixture is hot, add rice cakes and sauté until crispy and golden brown.

Top with seabass, scallions and pickled ginger and serve.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Talkin' Helen Mirren on Fox News Lips and Ears 7.2.10

I come in at the 0:46 mark and again in the last 30 seconds of the clip.