It looks like comic book heroes are as recyclable as cinematic cardboard. We recently had an X-Men reboot. Batman's having a more successful run under Chris Nolan's direction. And who can forget the awkward back-to-back Hulk features from the mid-aughts?
The Amazing Spider-Man, set for release in 2012, stars Andrew Garfield (dude from Social Network who got screwed in the merger) as Spidey, Emma Stone (Superbad) as Gwen Stacey, Denis Leary as George Stacey, Martin Sheen as Ben Parker and Sally Field as May Parker.
Oh, and the real star: 3-D glasses, baby! Spidey's gonna be swinging through the theater like a Broadway musical (except with fewer injuries).
In the jovial rom-com A Swedish Midsummer Sex Comedy, now out on DVD, a group of friends — one of whom is played by Luke Perry — gather to celebrate what one character calls “a festival of fucking.”
Perry, on the phone from Los Angeles, explains that he didn’t know anything about the Swedish fertility festival before making the film. “I thought it was going to be like Labor Day or Memorial Day, where you play volleyball and cookout.”
The laconic actor pauses and adds, “The Swedes kick it up a notch.”
The lone American in the cast, Perry plays Sam, the best friend/best man of Emil (Daniel Gustavsson) who hopes to marry his girlfriend Susanne (Lisa Werlinder) at the Midsummer festivities. Over the course of the sunny day and equally sunny night, however, things go awry, and some bedhopping begins.
While the randy Sam seduces some women in the film, he also has a scene in a co-ed sauna, about which Perry recalls, “I go in [the spa] with a half-dozen naked Swedes, and the director’s wife flogs me on the back with eucalyptus leaves!”
Making a film about couples coupling, uncoupling and re-coupling was mostly an enjoyable experience for the actor. “The chemistry was so immediate and casual and cool — that it is a testament to how great the Swedish actors were to me. It almost made me want to get a big dragon tattoo,” he says with a big, hearty laugh.
Philly native Shari Solanis stars in the erotic drama Now & Later, now out on DVD. Solanis plays Angela, an illegal Nicaraguan who takes in Bill (James Wortham), a banker-turned-felon who just jumped bail. The pair hole up in her apartment to talk politics and sex — and then have sex, and then more sex. While Wortham’s performance is about as stiff as his frequently visible erections, Solanis is compelling throughout. She makes Angela a feisty free spirit who's desirable for her mind and her body. City Paper talked — and talked sex — with Solanis on the phone from Los Angeles.
City Paper: What prompted you to make this film?
Shari Solanis: Well, there are not too many projects that are intelligent, interesting, and provide an opportunity to be creative. I think there is a lot of hypocrisy and Puritanism, and it’s very outdated. What’s wrong with the human body, and sex? Why can’t we talk about it? I wanted to be a part of a project putting forth that message.
CP: How do you prepare for the role, get into character?
SS: I watched a lot of movies, such as Last Tango in Paris, and I read a lot of books. The culture was what I had to really get in touch with. I’m mixed-race — my upbringing involved being raised in an all-white neighborhood in the Northeast. I went salsa dancing with our assistant director. That said, when I jump into a character, I don’t want to be too cerebral. I do my research, but I delve into it and … come what may.
CP: How did you identify with your character, whose background is revealed over the course of the film? What rang true?
SS: She’s artistic/creative, and very humane. I’m not Mother Teresa, but I care for people. Aside from the cultural differences, who she was at the core was something that I was able to sink my teeth into easily. I have strong thoughts about feelings and politics — my father was a Vietnam vet — and I’m outspoken and liberal.
CP: Angela talks about life — saying that we’re here by chance, that we should feel, not think, and make every memory as good as possible. How much of her philosophy do you subscribe to?
SS: I buy it intellectually — but is it something I am able to own at every moment? NO! I am a cerebral person but I don’t always have the [luxury] of enjoying the breeze on my face, and the taste of my food. But when I do, I do enjoy it. Especially as an American — which is what Angela’s speaking out against/breaking down for Bill. I’m on the other end of that lesson, as well. We care more about what’s happening tomorrow than today. I learned a lot from Angela.
Morgan Spurlock takes no crap. That fact was readily apparent at the Q&A session after the April 14 screening of his new film, POM Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (check out Sam Adams' review). While he is snarky, silly, and genuinely funny — watching him giggle in his film about the equine/human shampoo brand (yeah) Mane ‘n Tail was a bit like watching a five-year-old giggle about poop — he has made himself known through this film as the sort of director who won’t be trodden upon. And in the advertising world, that’s all anyone wants to do to you.
After the screening, Spurlock stood before the audience wearing his custom-made suit emblazoned with all the logos of the corporate sponsors who financed the film. The suit has been making the rounds with the director on the late night circuit, and is yet another tongue-in-cheek stab at the ad industry. Maybe he believes that one day we’ll all wear suits covered in ad logos. Don’t we already, what with Nike, Abercrombie, et al?
Just as the Q&A got going, three people got up and began to walk out. Spurlock paused from answering a question to call out the ditchers. “Oh, thanks for coming you guys. Don’t worry, the Q&A will get much more interesting once you leave. Hurry on out of here so we can all talk about you behind your backs.” They shamefully walked out and the audience wolf-whistled like the abandoners were elementary school kids getting called to the principal’s audience.
Far beyond that sort of no-nonsense shtick, Spurlock answered questions primarily about his relationship with the advertisers in the film and whether he had “sold out.” He said that he would have if he had he let the brands get final cut of the film (which they didn’t), and he sacrificed no control over the movie. “The brands wanted a monetary return on their investment,” he said. “I said hell no! Your return is being in this film!” The audience burst into applause at the point.
When asked how a budding filmmaker can maintain artistic integrity, he said the most important thing is maintaining one’s vision and creative control. No easy feat, surely, in the shark tank of advertising. That’s what makes the film so genius. Spurlock doesn’t really offer a solution to the problem, though. He doesn’t even seem to think, from the answers he provided, that a city with no advertising (in the film we see Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city that has outlawed any form of outdoor advertising) can even happen in America. He thinks it can happen from people getting fed up enough and making it happen.
He wants to make us see that advertising is everywhere, and maybe that will frustrate us enough to try to change things. “I’ve ruined TV and movies for you,” he said. “You will see ads more now than you ever did before.” So the solution really, is his film. Now we’ll really see that advertising everywhere, and it’s up to us to get fed up enough to try stop it. If that’s what we want, of course.
Sid Ceasar and Milton Berle may have brought audiences to television throughout the dawn of the 1950s, but Ernie Kovacs was a one-man band, acting as producer/director/writer and visual presence whose creations inspired sketch comedies like Saturday Night Live and beyond.
This month, those innovations can be found in the Shout Factory’s newly released six-DVD release, The Ernie Kovacs Collection. Kovacs’ primary collaborator and wife, Edie Adams, gets her due, too, with the re-release of her autobiography, Sing a Pretty Song, most of which discusses her wild times on air and off with Kovacs.
If you still don't know what fracking is, the Oscar-nominated Gasland is a good place to start figuring it out. Writer/director Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary looks at the hydraulic drilling process developed by Haliburton to pull natural gas out of the ground.
That wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that the companies executing said frack don’t really say much to the landowners from whom they're buying fracking land. A lucrative offer from an energy company to lease their property comes with little or no explanation until their land is raped and water is flammable. Some would say becoming an energy superpower is worth most inconveniences. Then again, some would say that all Hitler wanted to do was better the roads and septic systems of Germany. From Texas to Pennsylvania, drilling companies are buying up properties in anticipation of a drilling boom and finding legal loopholes to inject toxins into the ground. Adding insult to possible injury is the fact that our government is allowing the natural gas industry to profit at $2 billion annually while but paying zero tax. Contrast that with education budget cuts, the recent decision to neuter DEP Field Inspectors by not allowing them to give violations to drillers illegally dumping and the current findings of a study showing that natural gas may be dirtier than coal — oy.
Iris Marie Bloom from Protecting Our Waters will give a 15-minute intro, and there’ll be a Keynote outro from David Masur of PennEnvironment from Harrisburg. Go get educated. (To read more about fracking, visit The Naked City blog, category: FrackTrack.)
Gasland screens Wed., April 13, 6:30 p.m., free, Mugshots Coffeeshop & Cafe, 2106 Fairmount Ave., mugshotscoffeehouse.com.
"I've been 30 years" in the practice of the traditional African religion, proclaimed one woman during yesterday's Q&A with Robert "Bobby" Shepard, cinematographer and co-director of When the Spirits Dance Mambo. She was visibly moved while telling Shepard that she wanted to thank him, that she never thought she'd see her religion represented so fairly and beautifully on the screen. Shepard smiled broadly, crossing his arms over his heart to receive the praise, and as the commenter finished by saying she wished her mother, who had initiated her into the religion, was still here to see this, Shepard beamed, "She is." As Shepard allowed to another commenter, yes, being in the presence of so many spiritual people had a profound and lasting effect on all working on the movie.
Clearly When the Spirits Dance Mambo goes far beyond the colorful rhythm-driven typical Cuban music and dance documentary. Those elements are there, but shown in their natural place, as part of the religious experience. Anytime you have three practitioners of a religion you get four opinions, and the traditional African sects are no exception. The film does an excellent job of showing each opposing view in its best light. Some priests are thrilled that people travel from around the world to be initiated, paying fees for their instruction. Others say, this makes it nothing more than a commodity in the marketplace — cut to the orisha dolls being sold on the street. One batá priest mutters that everybody in Cuba is a drummer and no, batá drumming is not open to all comers. On one topic all spoke with one voice. They declare that no matter which branch you follow, this is a religion of caring for family and community. Bad actors are not welcome by true believers.
The film has been out long enough to be available on DVD, with both the original Spanish-only and the English subtitled versions in the same box. Seeing the exquisitely researched archive material, centuries-old ink drawings of natives and enslaved people in Cuba flash all too briefly across the big screen tempts the acquisition of a private copy for the chance to linger over the details at leisure. Lovers of modern Cuba will appreciate the shots of churches and shrines that accompany the discussions of how Yoruba religion was preserved by cloaking it in Catholicism. Watching the dancing scenes of the Fiesta in Santiago de Cuba, it is asserted that without the contributions from Africa, there would be no Cuban culture as it is known today.
Shepard is a warm and approachable man, and the winner of numerous awards for his cinematography. In the Q&A he happily shared production details. He and co-director, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, to whom Shepard humbly gives all praise, arrived in Havana with a script. "After the second day we abandoned the script" and shot whatever the ancestors and the spirits lead them to. They ended with over 50 hours of film which they pared down to 90 minutes, working on it two or three times a week. "When we learned that the film had to debut in Havana in 10 days we looked at each other and said it's done." How often will you encounter that kind of candor from a star in the business? To learn more about the mechanics of shooting a documentary, attend Shepard's workshop tonight at Scribe Video Center.
The Art of Documentary-Style Cinematography, Wed., April 6, 7 p.m., $25, Scribe Video Center, 4212 Chestnut St., Third Floor, 215-222-4201, scribe.org.
This weekend I was laid up with severe sciatica pain — presumably the delayed result of ill-advised full-tackle snow football back in January. So it was mostly a web-surf and DVD-centric weekend.
(Which is to say, somewhat ordinary.)
Sleeping in Airports
This website is exactly what it sounds like: a consumers guide reviewing which airports are the most comfortable for catching Z’s while you’re waiting around. Apparently, Vancouver Airport is a narcoleptic’s nirvana. Unfortunately, our loud Philadelphia International Airport ain’t exactly the Waldorf Astoria. I don’t know why I love spending so much time on this site. I rarely fly and I’ll never visit most airports. I think there’s just something anthropologically satisfying about witnessing the Internet manifest destiny in this manner.
The opening scene where Quentin lectures the rest of the guys about Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” is emblematic of his ability to tie down larger-than-life characters to relatable situations like shootin’ the shit at the diner. Until Inglorious Basterds came out, R-Dogs held up as my favorite Tarantino joint (but now it’s either a tie or the Basterds for the win).
A new blog run by some comedian friends, dedicated entirely to local comedy in Philly. WitOut offers access to a lot of great videos, and a pretty thorough roll-call for Philadelphia comedy-shows and available comics/groups. If you’re looking to try telling jokes, they have a great open-mike guide as well.
I haven’t yet worked in the food service industry, but if it’s anything like what they depict in Waiting, well, then it seems like most other jobs I’ve had. Ryan Reynolds channels his Van Wilder to create a depraved, young Shatner-esque frat-a-saurus alpha-male of the food industry. Supporting laughs are provided by Louis Guzman, John Francis Daley, Andy Milonakis, Chi McBride, David Koechner, Justin Long (as the straight-man) and others. Unlike with some lowbrow comedies, I don’t really mind when this one tries to get serious during the third act. Long’s performance is believable enough to earn some leeway when spaces between laughs get extended. Besides, isn’t that what life’s all about? Existential connundra punctuated by dick jokes?
Q&A with THOMAS MCCARTHY: "It was a challenge to make these characters sing. I loved that challenge."
Win Win, the newest film from writer/director Thomas McCarthy, is much more than a subtly poignant, deeply funny and uniquely literate film about high school wrestling, poor choices, lost love and irksome adolescence starring Paul Giamatti, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan and young Alex Shaffer. (It's all those things, and more.) Like Shaffer’s wrestler in Win Win, McCarthy was once a young mat-hugger in New Providence, N.J. Since then he's been Oscar-nominated for screenwriting (the animated Up) and directed his scripts for The Station Agent and The Visitor — not to mention being a memorable character actor with titles such as The Wire, Little Fockers, The Lovely Bones and Syriana to his credit. Let’s rock this.
City Paper: Should we consider Win Win at all autobiographical since the film is set at New Providence High, where you went to school? What elements came from your experience?
Thomas McCarthy: Not really autobiographical, no. There are personal elements, yes, from my history, that I drew upon. I grew up there. I know a little about the high school wrestling team. … Certainly reflecting upon our wrestling experiences and some of the things we went through as kids and with other kids. What the matches felt like. I was a mediocre to bad wrestler, so that helped.
CP: All of the male leads in all of your films — The Station Agent, The Visitor, Win Win — they all seem put out, very put upon. Even when the best of luck is theirs, they don’t seem easy about having it.
TM: You wouldn’t be wrong. I don’t set out that way. Some of them had good lives cut out for them to start. Maybe things didn’t wind up good in the end. Now Paul’s character in Win Win — he loves his life. He’s built that life. He likes his practice, his house. He’s trying to live his American dream. But then he commits this act under an enormous amount of pressure that invites the put-upon-ness you speak of. He’s a really good guy who made some bad choices, and now he has to pay for them. That’s what I was trying to explore. Paul and I talked a lot about this. He didn’t want to play people he’s been before. His character here is different than the ones he’s worked on before. In fact this guy is quite content and happy in his life. It’s just that in this moment in time — it ain’t working.
CP: Next time, I'll preface questions like those with “Willie Loman”-level put-outedness versus the lesser sort.
TM: (laughs) That’s a whole different level of pain.
CP: What made you want to do this film at this point in your career?
TM: It was gradual. I didn’t have a eureka moment, in fact, I had the idea in my head for over a year before I committed to start writing it. I had it. Laughed a lot about it. Then I fell in love with the characters and the story. I do that with a lot of scripts. See the merit as the passion grows. Plus it had something to say as well as had heart. The characters, at first blush, are quite conventional — who they are, where they live in small-town New Jersey. It was a challenge to make these characters sing. I loved that challenge.
CP: Your characters are truly lit from within. Did you get into this business leaning more toward acting, writing or directing?
TM: I did see my self as actor first even though I entered this business late. Right after college. That was a big jump to start. Hey I want to be an actor. But as I was achieving that — hey, I’m being taken seriously, this must be a mistake — I just found myself writing. After I had a few movies under my belt where I started portraying the same guy, thirtysomething, not married, but trying — I thought about what to do. Should I set around and complain and do the same part or do I write? As I was writing The Station Agent, I began to think that I would love to direct this. It was a very organic process, honestly. My life and career shifted. It had options. I had options. Suddenly there were a few different tings that I could do. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t be allowed to do all three. I will continue to do as such until someone asks me to stop.
Duncan Jones is an amiable chap. When the question-and-answer sesssion following the Rave theater screening for his new film, Source Code, had a microphone malfunction, the director quickly went into “town hall” mode and did it without a sound system. When I interviewed him the next day at the Four Seasons Hotel and told him that I couldn’t stand Source Code star Jake Gyllenhaal (who was attached to writer Ben Ripley's script before Jones got on board) until this very film, the bearded director smiled and said, “That’s all right. I liked him just fine.”
It is perhaps his genial steadiness and humor that makes Source Code what it is — a colorfully future-forward and frenetic Hitchcock-like conceit (with hints of Memento and Groundhog Day) where the mega-watt action and vivid effects never overwhelm the romantic back story or the comedy of it all. That and the fact that Jones was a philosophy major in college (“I could’ve reasoned my way through this film,” he laughs), a director of commercials in Britain (ads for Kodak and French Connection were his claims to fame) and a hardcore video gamer who makes mention of Grand Theft Auto as inspirational to the hyperactive heft of Source Code.
Then there’s this. When I tell Jones that I’ve interviewed his father, David Bowie, in several similar face-to-face situations, the director laughs and asks, “Are we so very alike?” When I tell Jones that I got his pop angry throughout several questions during our interviews, he laughs and says, “Well, he takes things so much more personally than I do. Much more to heart.”
With that, Jones wasn’t looking to repeat the minimalist sparseness that was his self-penned Moon, his airy 2009 Sundance Festival hit that starred Sam Rockwell. For a director so rooted in retinal-searing science fiction and the tech of it all, Jones digs his actors and never leaves them in the cold. “I love acting and thrive on that sense of collaboration,” he says. “I trust my actors.” Jones didn’t want to repeat himself or take the easy road. Word has it that he turned down the re-boot of the series of Judge Dredd comic flicks. Besides, he waded through filming “too many commercials so I could afford to shoot what I wanted to,” he says regarding what was supposed to be his debut, the Blade Runner-like Mute, which he’ll take on next.
Jones wanted to do something ultra-vivid with multiple moving parts like Source Code, something where he could make grandiose special effects an intimate escapade and toy with up-to-the-minute effects like “virtual stuntman,” that allowed Gyllenhaal’s “Army Capt. Colter Stevens” to leap from a moving train, roll, then return to a standing position with the grace of a gazelle. Beyond the technological puzzle that Jones was happily engulfed in solving throughout Source Code was the question of how to make the eight-minute intervals that “Stevens” had in which to solve the crime, a different vibe for each of his actors. It's a simple explanation, he says: “I’m a problem solver.”
Read Shaun Brady's review of Source Code in our Movies section.
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