Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ebertfest 2012: Day 3

Chaz Ebert and Roger Ebert
Whether it’s the selected films or the genial vibe of the event , Roger Ebert’s presence can’t be missed at the festival bearing his name even if he is no longer introducing each movie and conducting every post-film Q&A.  He made his second appearance from the stage this year to lead into the showing of a documentary about a longtime filmmaker friend who experienced his own brush with death.

Ebert’s computer gave voice to some of his words.  His wife Chaz read the rest of a lovely tribute to director Paul Cox.  From introduction through the discussion, the session was an extended feel-good moment, so I’ll try my best not to seem like a crank in writing about the film, which I didn’t care for.
Chaz Ebert, Paul Cox, and festival director Nate Kohn
ON BORROWED TIME is part career overview, part documentation of Cox’s journey from cancer diagnosis to liver transplant.  I’ve not seen much of Cox’s work, but what I am familiar with hasn’t particularly won me over.  An abundance of shots and scenes from his oeuvre are regularly dropped into the documentary, but free of their contexts and with my rudimentary knowledge of his films, it looks like so much indistinguishable b-roll.  I’ll allow that, to some degree, this is my problem more than it is the film’s.

Watching this clip show and hearing people friends and collaborators attest to his abilities yielded the similar effect of taking in a concert film featuring a band whose greatness is, at best, something I’m not convinced of, and, at worst, something I question.  No matter how accomplished the final product might be, if the basic content isn’t engaging, it doesn’t matter how eloquently it’s delivered.

I want to be clear about my ignorance of Cox’s overall body of work and biases formed based on what I have seen.  I don’t think ON BORROWED TIME is a particularly good entry point for someone in my position.  It goes without saying that those with affection for the director’s films will take more away from this than I did, but that cuts straight to my issue with the documentary.  It’s for those already in the club, not those who need to be persuaded or educated.

I suppose it points out the positive environment fostered at Ebertfest if I feel as though I must be apologetic for disliking a film.  Then again, Cox means a lot to Ebert and went through a serious health situation, so in this instance it seems like I’m being a bit rude.  So it goes, I guess.
David Poland, The Alloy Orchestra's Ken Winokur and Terry Donahue, and David Bordwell
I’ll have no such problem praising The Alloy Orchestra, which has performed at almost every Ebertfest.  The three-piece band’s accompaniment to a silent film is an annual highlight, and this year is no different.  Rather than playing with one feature, they presented their WILD AND WEIRD program of short films from 1906 to 1928. (Some of the dates I’m listing with these films conflict with the information on The Alloy Orchestra’s website.  I’ve cross-referenced with the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia, but who knows which source is most accurate.)

The program consisted of:

-DREAM OF A RAREBIT FIEND (Wallace McCutcheon and Edwin S. Porter, 1906)
-THE RED SPECTRE (LA SPECTRE ROUGE) (Segundo de Chomón and Ferdinand Zecca, 1907)
-THE ACROBATIC FLY (F. Percy Smtih, 1910)
-THE THIEVING HAND (J. Stuart Blackton, 1908)
-FILMSTUDIE (Hans Richter, 1926) (with poetry by Hugo Ball)
-THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA (Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich, 1928)

Early cinema is a big blind spot for me, so it was a treat to see these highly imaginative and inventive shorts often experimenting with special effects and animation.  Among my favorites was the comedy ARTHÈME SWALLOWS HIS CLARINET is built upon an accident that results in an unfortunate musician having his instrument pushed through the back of his skull.  Think of star Ernest Servaès as a proto-Steve Martin with an arrow through his head.  The stop-motion animated THE CAMERAMAN’S REVENGE is a sophisticated parody of melodramas in which a restless beetle couple have extramarital affairs and run afoul of a camera-wielding grasshopper.  The short amazes with the personality given to the insects. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF 9413, A HOLLYWOOD EXTRA is a visually striking criticism of a system that chews up and spits out aspiring stars.  Surely Guy Maddin, a past Ebertfest guest, would go crazy for it if he hasn't seen it.  (Fun fact: Gregg Toland photographed it.)  As a whole, the WILD AND WEIRD program served as a fun introduction to this time in cinema history.
Nell Minnow, Omer Mozaffar, Paul Cox, and Michael Barker

Sony Pictures Classics co-president Michael Barker is a regular Ebertfest guest and is here with three films this year.  His introduction to A SEPARATION, in which he described it as a perfect film, set the bar high.  Having already seen and loved Asghar Farhadi’s film, I was inclined to agree.  (My review is here.)  Seeing it again, I’m convinced that Barker isn’t resorting to hyperbole.  It’s amazing how no moment, shot, or line of dialogue is wasted in A SEPARATION.  If a film can achieve the platonic ideal of perfection, this one has done it.

One line that stuck out to me this time was when Nader corrects his daughter Termeh during a language lesson.  She uses a word that her teacher told her was correct, but Nader argues that “wrong is wrong” and that it does not matter who says otherwise.  (I wish I’d written down the exact line.)  This point gets to the crux of the dispute between the couples and why it spins out of control.  The failure of everyone involved to own up to their mistakes inflames an already volatile matter.


-This year’s festival has had a bit of bad luck in terms of invited guests being able to attend.  Patton Oswalt couldn’t make it Thursday.  A SEPARATION star Peyman Moadi was supposed to be in Champaign on Friday, but Barker explained that he’s currently shooting a movie in such a remote part of Iran that they were unable to get in touch with him.

-Each year it’s interesting to discover what improvements have been made to the Virginia Theatre.  This time it’s a renovated men’s restroom.  It is nicer, although I think there’s even less room to maneuver in it now.  Never fear, though.  The best view of Champaign (from the urinals) remains.

-On Opening Night I was pleased that an organist was back at the festival, but unless I’ve missed him, he’s not been present since.

On Borrowed Time (David Bradbury, 2011): C-/40
Wild and Weird program (Various): B+/74
A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) (Asghar Farhadi, 2011): A+/100

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ebertfest 2012: Day 2

Group identification played a major role in the second day of Roger Ebert’s Film Festival.  The films examined who one casts one’s lot with (BIG FAN and KINYARWANDA) and what it is like to lack a larger body to be a part of (TERRI).

This was my third time seeing BIG FAN--the first theatrically, for what it’s worth--so I’ll direct you to my review rather than rehash what I wrote a couple years ago.  I will add that Michael Rapaport does a note-perfect turn as the main character’s sports talk radio nemesis.  The irony is that Rapaport’s character and the protagonist might get along like gangbusters if it weren’t for the fact that they root for rival football teams.
Steve Prokopy, Christy Lemire, and Big Fan writer-director Robert Siegel
Such irrational enmity looks dumb to outsiders.  Speaking as a sports fan, it can seem stupid from the inside too, yet I completely understand it, even if I won’t excuse it.  I don’t get as intense as the people in BIG FAN do about their rivalries, but as a Cincinnati Bengals fan, I cannot root for the Cleveland Browns or Pittsburgh Steelers.  Not only do I want to see my chosen team succeed, but I also want to see those particular competitors thoroughly fail.  This goes back practically to the beginning of my fandom.  The Browns haven’t even been much of a threat for ages, but I still desire to see them lose all the time.

David Bordwell, Darren Dean, Ishmael Ntihabose, Deatra Harris, and Kinyarwanda  writer-director Alrick Brown
Shifting from the silly tribalism of sports fans, KINYARWANDA looks at group conflict with much greater consequences.  Writer-director Alrick Brown explores the clash between Rwanda’s Hutu and Tutsi classes and the genocide that resulted.  Brown sketches the story in multiple scenarios that at first seem disconnected but eventually connect in an appeal for forgiveness and healing.

The handsome cinematography and strong sense of passion on the part of the filmmakers make KINYARWANDA a film I wish I could say that I liked more than I did.  It’s a good-looking movie seeking to discover fresh angles on An Important Subject.  In the post-film Q&A Brown came across as thoughtful in his processes and in his aims, but in this instance I think he talks a better game than what made it onto the screen.

KINYARWANDA borrows the worst storytelling impulses of Alejandro González Iñárritu. The vignettes are arranged nonlinearly, but the narrative strategy leads to no greater purpose.  The structure Brown has chosen creates mild confusion that wouldn’t have occurred if he hadn’t shuffled the chronology.  More importantly, the film lacks momentum with its cubist observation of genocide.  In an attempt to make something epic, he’s tied together many scenes that, while inspired by true events, translate as sincere but banal anecdotes.
Terri star Jacob Wysocki, Christy Lemire, and director Azazel Jacobs
Group identification is missing entirely for the title character in TERRI, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Terri (Jacob Wysocki) seems perfectly comfortable with himself, but life isn’t going to be easy for an obese teenager who wears pajamas to school.  He lives with and cares for his sick uncle (Creed Bratton) and appears to have no friends.

Terri’s tardiness and unconventional dress eventually catches the attention of the assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald (John C. Reilly).  The administrator goes over the top to seem simpatico with Terri, but his genuine intentions to help can seem false or condescending when Terri realizes that he’s receiving the same treatment that special needs and misfit classmates get.

Wysocki is terrific at creating a unique character who is sensitive, empathetic, unusual, and self-assured, perhaps to a problematic degree.With no one to look out for him, Terri has found what works to get him through each day, although it also means he may be boxing himself into a corner that he won’t be able to get out of.  Wysocki doesn’t play Terri as a weird kid but as a vulnerable one who could use some friends and confidants.

All those descriptions apply to Reilly as Mr. Fitzgerald too.  He’s a total hoot as a school employee trying to pal up to at-risk students.  At first he seems like a hopelessly out-of-touch adult trying to act with it to get through to the kids.  By the end he’s shown to be as susceptible to being the butt of jokes as the students he wants to help, yet his ease in who he is and desire not to let it hold him back truly does make him a good role model and mentor.

As is part of the challenge in coming of age, the difficulty is being able to see beyond oneself or one’s circumstances.  Everything can feel like the biggest deal in the world.  TERRI uses tunnel vision to build these places and times to elicit those teenage feelings.   The strange charm in this funny and heart-rending film comes in how director Azazel Jacobs constructs the hermetic worlds of school, home, and, in the film’s longest and most pivotal scene, one evening of hanging out.

Unlike other festivals, where attendees are scattered around town, Ebertfest builds a community and can feel more like a family reunion.  One of the new traditions is for a group to go out for drinks and karaoke at a nearby bar.  While I haven’t dared to rock the mic either year, it’s been fun to hang out with friends and new acquaintances in this setting.  Moviegoing can be seen as a lone pursuit--and sometimes it is--but for five days in April in this environment it isn’t.


-Patton Oswalt was supposed to attend Ebertfest and host a screening of KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS.  His schedule ended up preventing him from coming, although he promised to clear the room to be in Champaign-Urbana next year.

-One improvement made for this year’s Ebertfest: the passes don’t have the sharp edges that they have in years past.  When wearing them in the whipping wind--or even when crossing one’s arms--it always seemed like the passes had the potential to do some slicing.

Big Fan (Robert Siegel, 2009): B-/62
Kinyarwanda (Alrick Brown, 2011): C/46
Terri (Azazel Jacobs, 2011): B/71

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ebertfest 2012: Opening Night

Film festivals can be a great deal of fun, but in my experience there isn’t a lot of laughing at them, at least during the screenings.  The reason why should be eminently clear to anyone who follows reports from the major international festivals or keeps track of year-end awards chatter.  The best and most important filmmakers, and those aspiring to join their ranks, tend to make serious movies about serious subjects, leaving comedies struggling to be included in the programming.

How nice then that the 14th annual Roger Ebert’s Film Festival kicked off with some lighter fare.  The opener was JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, a romantic comedy that has apparently been in contention to play Ebertfest for a number of years.  Based on a statement in the post-film Q&A, I wonder if the hold-up has been technological, but more on that later.

I saw JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO when it was released in 1990.  I was on a church youth group retreat at a hotel connected to a mall in Piqua, Ohio.  Rather than spending all that time browsing and shopping, I went to the movies.  In fact, I saw two, which may have been the first time I pulled a self-programmed cinematic double feature.  (The other title I saw:  DRIVING MISS DAISY.  That I did this at 16-years-old probably says something why I’m writing about films all these years later.)

If memory serves, I was the only person in the auditorium to see JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, which would be about right since the film has long been considered a flop.  While I don’t recall seeing John Patrick Shanley’s film in 22 years, I remember liking it.  Seeing it again, I wonder what in the world in it would have spoken to me that age.  This is one weird, ambitious movie that isn’t targeted at someone who wouldn’t have had his driver’s license for long.

Tom Hanks stars as Joe Banks, a chronically ill employee at a gloomy surgical tools company where the workers trudge into the factory like extras in METROPOLIS and the fluorescent lighting sucks the vitality out of the office drones.  At his latest visit to the doctor, Joe is told that his maladies are all in his head.  He’s a hypochondriac.  Well, check that.  There is one exceptionally rare disease that is literally in his head.  Joe has a brain cloud.  He’ll feel fine until this black cranial fog stops his brain function in six months.

Joe quits his job.  Before he can decide what to do with the rest of the brief life he has left, a wealthy superconductor manufacturer named Graynamore (Lloyd Bridges) comes knocking on his door with a ridiculous offer.  He’s trying to complete a business transaction with the natives of an obscure and tiny Polynesian island, but the only thing they want is a volunteer to appease their vengeful god by offering himself as a sacrifice and jumping into their big volcano.  Graynamore figures that since Joe’s on borrowed time, why not go out in a blaze of glory, so to speak, and enjoy the luxuries that the titan of industry will give him in exchange for doing him a solid.  Joe needs little persuasion to agree to the deal.

So, JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO is a comedy about a nub of a man ground down by years of mindless work, made keenly aware of the precious time he’s wasted, and calmly prepared to commit suicide in what will surely be a horrifically painful death.

Somehow Shanley, who wrote and directed, spots the whimsical tone that allows most of the film not to seem as dire as that summary sounds.  The humor is rooted more in fraternal commiseration about workplace drudgeries than in screams from dark nights of the soul.  JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO doesn’t wallow in self-pity but instead uses the scenario for encouragement about the value in even last-ditch self-improvement.

Much credit goes to Hanks,who quickly gets Joe to the fifth stage of grief and adopts a devil-may-care attitude that lets the audience know he’ll be all right even if he does fling himself into a pit of molten lava.  Meg Ryan’s delightful work in three roles also lightens the load.  Ryan displays admirable range as Joe’s ditzy co-worker straight out of the classic screwball era, a brassy femme fatale whose car sports a GOOD GIRL vanity license plate on the front and BAAD GIRL on the rear, and sweet girl next door type who might give Joe a reason to hold onto his remaining days.

JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO features some good laugh lines and the amusing use of deus ex luggage, but the high point is reached when Shanley drives home his message.  The crooked path from the base of the volcano to the mouth rhymes with the one Joe wearily trod to the office for years.  How is going to a job one hates any less harmful than taking the plunge into a volcano?  At least the misery is over faster in the latter scenario.  Joe’s epiphany, that choosing to stay in a longtime rut is no less ruinous than something more actively destructive, provides a lesson of hope, albeit in a strange and mildly unsettling manner.
Pablo Villaca, Christy Lemire, and Joe Versus the Volcano Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt
When I first noticed that Ebertfest would be digitally screening JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO, I was a little let down.  That disappointed faded as the film played.  This was an outstanding digital presentation.  According to Director of Photography Stephen Goldblatt, Warner Bros. made the DCP from the negative, perhaps for the festival, because no prints remain.  Could that be why it has taken until now for JOE to reach the Virginia Theatre?
Chaz Ebert, Ali Leroi, Raymond C. Lambert, Phunny Business director John Davies, and Kelechi Ezie 

The night’s second session began with the short THE TRUTH ABOUT BEAUTY & BLOGS.  Written by and starring Kelechi Ezie, the piece feels more like a calling card for the actress--she can write, act, sing, and produce!--than a satisfying standalone work.  It doesn’t help that the short is built around overly familiar jokes about social media and technology.

Following the short was the documentary feature PHUNNY BUSINESS: A BLACK COMEDY.  Ebertfest often has films of local interest.  This one definitely fits that slot, although the archival performance footage of a who’s who of African-American comedians who broke in the 1990s broadens its appeal.

PHUNNY BUSINESS tells the story of All Jokes Aside, a black-owned comedy club on Chicago’s south side.  Anyone who became anyone in the black comedy world came through there and likely owed it a substantial amount of credit for helping their careers.  Jamie Foxx, Bernie Mac, Cedric the Entertainer, and Dave Chappelle are just a few of the recognizable names who performed at All Jokes Aside.

While the comedians have plenty of stories to share, the business side of the venture gets greater attention.  Club co-founder Raymond C. Lambert saw a niche to be served and achieved spectacular results doing so.  Black comedians might get time to practice their craft when clubs gave them one evening a week, usually with “chocolate” appearing in the name of the showcase, but they had nowhere for regular gigs.  Lambert gave them that stage in a neighborhood where their audience was.  All Jokes Aside was very successful for the better part of the ‘90s, but it didn’t last forever, although the film strongly suggests that it might have and should have survived.

PHUNNY BUSINESS is slickly assembled, at times to its own detriment when it gets off-point, and nicely detailed in explaining what made this particular business different and prosperous.  Lambert’s description of the reports he required, the research he did on potential bookings, and the rules he set for comedians illustrate how much more complicated running a comedy club could be if determined to do it properly.

Lambert is an engaging interview subject bursting with intellect and enthusiasm.  His interviews come off as overly rehearsed, but one senses that the kind of preparation he put into the documentary shoot is also what he poured into his business.  It served him well there.  It feels contrived in the film.

Joe Versus the Volcano (John Patrick Shanley, 1990):  B/70
The Truth About Beauty and Blogs (Rosalyn Coleman, 2011): C/48
Phunny Business: A Black Comedy (John Davies, 2010): B-/64

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pre-Ebertfest 2012

I've arrived once again in Champaign, Illinois to attend Roger Ebert's Film Festival, also known as Ebertfest.  This will be my twelfth(!) time attending, which doesn't seem like it's possible, and to the best of my ability, I'll be blogging about it while I'm the Land of Lincoln.

Anyway, I'm here a night early because Patton Oswalt was supposed to be hosting a special screening of KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS at the University of Illinois tonight.  (Oswalt was invited to the festival since BIG FAN is part of this year's lineup.)  I thought that might be a fun thing to do--I've never seen KIND HEARTS--and I liked the idea of easing into the festival rather than rushing into town and then zipping from movies to panels and more movies.  Knowing that I would definitely be here Wednesday through Sunday, I pre-paid for the room on Tuesday night to save a few bucks...and then the screening was moved to a different evening to accommodate Oswalt's schedule.  So here I am in town with nothing to do.

Since I've been busy and thus unable to keep up my standard relentless pace of moviegoing--keep in mind I'm still seeing around four a week in theaters--I figured I'd use the free evening to catch up with a film on my to-see list.  That's certainly a better idea than trying to find something worthwhile on the hotel's basic cable.

I knew the Art Theater was playing THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, but I decided against seeing it because I didn't feel like taking a chance on what the digital presentation might be.  It sounds terrible to say this, but I'd rather watch it at home on Netflix Instant than gamble on paying for something whose A/V quality is an unknown quantity.  If it had been a print, I'd have been there.

Pulling up the listings on the Flixster app revealed two multiplexes within five miles and a drive-in within fifty miles.  That's when, after more than a decade of visiting, I realized how few opportunities the locals have to see much of anything beyond the widely distributed studio films.  (Both theaters were showing everything you'd expect, although one was playing THE RAID: REDEMPTION, which I chose to see since I did a lot of sleep-deprived head-nodding when I saw it at the Toronto International Film Festival's Midnight Madness screening.)

Ebertfest does a lot right, but I'll admit to being a little irritated with the number of invited films that opened within the last six months of the previous year or even this calendar year.  In most cases I've already seen them, and I figure they were probably available theatrically to most festival attendees, not to mention that they can be readily acquired on DVD/Blu-ray/streaming video now.  Granted, I know the festival isn't programmed exclusively for me, but having attended when some harder-to-see titles were booked, it's a little disappointing to have very recent ones dominate the schedule.

Now that I have a better sense of what the moviegoing options are here in Champaign-Urbana, I can set some of that irritation and disappointment aside. While Ebertfest does bring in plenty of people from outside the area, I've always understood the event as a gift to this community.  In my ignorance, I assumed that this university town would get more specialty titles than it appears it does.  So, it's fair enough to pick recent arthouse films to play the festival, even if I'd like to see Ebert reaching back a few more years when making his selections.  I guess there's still something for me to learn about this event after all these years.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo)

THE KID WITH A BIKE (LE GAMIN AU VÉLO) (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)

Eleven-year-old Cyril Catoul (Thomas Doret) wants two things: to be with his father and to get his bicycle.  In THE KID WITH A BIKE he’s better off investing his emotional attachment with the vehicle.

Cyril’s father Guy (Jérémie Renier) has entrusted him to a children’s home and leaves the boy believing that this will only be a temporary arrangement.  Despite all evidence--lack of contact, a disconnected phone number--Cyril refuses to accept that his dad has abandoned him.  

One day he escapes the institution to go to the apartment they once shared so he can be reunited with his parent.  The landlord insists no one occupies that unit any longer, but Cyril must see for himself.  Shortly after getting inside the building he is confronted by counselors who want to take him back to the home.  

Cyril eludes them and slips into the medical office downstairs.  The officials easily find him, but rather than going quietly and willingly, he causes a scene and tightly grasps Samantha (Cécile de France), a stranger in the waiting room.  Only after he is told that he can see the apartment does Cyril calm down.  When he enters it, there is no father waiting to embrace him.  The empty living space has been cleared of all possessions, including his bike.

The incident touches Samantha.  She buys back Cyril’s bike, which his father sold, and returns it to the boy.  At Cyril’s asking she also agrees to be his foster parent on weekends.  Samantha even arranges a meeting between Cyril and Guy.  When it is apparent that he will continue to give Cyril false hope of being together again, she forces the delinquent dad to be honest about the future and dedicates herself to the wounded child.
Writer-directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne possess an extraordinary talent for turning social issue dramas into tense and empathetic thrillers centered on The Golden Rule.  Their films are implicitly religious studies of the moral choices confronting us as individuals and societies, yet they are anything but tedious sermons overflowing with platitudes and simple answers, the likes of which often mark what passes for explicitly Christian cinema.  Instead the Dardennes make gritty modern parables calling for compassion and sacrifice when such support is not easily given by those providing assistance or earned, if it is merited at all, by the recipients.  Like contemporary Jonahs, the Dardennes’ characters are regularly called to do precisely what they would prefer to avoid.  That human struggle gives their films the urgency and heart missing in cozier dramas where paying it forward is as painless as dropping spare change in the Salvation Army’s red kettles.
For Samantha in THE KID WITH A BIKE, the test is what to do about a boy who desperately needs someone to love and care for him.  For little more than a moment Cyril enters her life at random, yet something compels her to reach out to him.  Her motivation is never explained.  Perhaps she couldn’t if she tried.  What matters is that she helps him, not why.  They are brought together at a critical time in his development, and her kindness and generosity, while often rejected, offer the protection Cyril won’t get elsewhere.
Samantha, a single hairdresser who may have taken on more than she anticipated, lives out 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.  In a marvelous performance rooted in action instead of backstory, de France demonstrates the purity of love and delicately expresses the joy and pain experienced in giving it unconditionally.  Samantha is not transparent, yet de France grounds the character so that her doings seem natural and true to form.
Doret, making an exceptional film debut, is a bundle of restlessness and anger.  His small stature makes plain the unguarded exposure to his father’s harshness and disguises the coiled energy with which Cyril will strike when provoked.  Doret does well projecting and exhibiting toughness beyond his years, but he’s most affecting when revealed as a confused and hurt child. 
The Dardennes’ style resists cheap sentimentality, yet in THE KID WITH A BIKE it yields a deeply moving examination of love as a shield.  They put forth no guarantee that everything will work out.  The vulnerability in no expectations or certainties materializes in a harrowing portrait of an at-risk child and the woman who could be his salvation.  In the Dardennes’ films the grace issued by ordinary people supplants miracles but is no less of a wonder.
Grade: A-

Sunday, April 22, 2012


UNDEFEATED (Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, 2011)

With many school districts struggling financially, the money funneled to athletics programs deserves scrutiny.  What is the value in having extracurricular sports when lack of funding may also require reducing academic offerings?  Are the education system’s priorities misplaced when a student with marginal scholastic achievements but superior and in-demand physical skills has a better chance of attending college than a classmate with a high grade point average?  What should be made of poor schools that, in order to have enough money to sustain their programs, travel significant distances to face wealthy schools that are paying them to play the games?  While the documentary UNDEFEATED concerns itself with seeking an answer to just the first of those questions, directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin don’t ignore the realities surrounding this inspirational tale of mentorship through high school football.

At the center of the film and the players’ attention is Manassas High School head coach Bill Courtney.  He’s in his sixth year volunteering to lead the North Memphis, Tennessee team as they begin the 2009 season.  From the first scene it is clear that Courtney isn’t giving his time and energy for the power or glory associated with the position in some communities.  In a couple weeks he must deal with more incidents of players getting shot and embroiled in legal trouble than many coaches will experience in a career.  The team has a losing history and a reputation for being undisciplined.  For toppers, Manassas has not won a playoff game in its 110-year existence.  Hopes are higher than usual for the upcoming season, but at Manassas nothing is guaranteed.

Three player stories come to the forefront in UNDEFEATED.  Senior offensive lineman O.C. Brown is unusually fast for his enormous size and thus attracts college recruiters.  The big question is if he can keep up his grades and score high enough on a standardized test to be eligible at the next level.  Senior Montrail “Money” Brown’s mental toughness and desire compensate for whatever physical shortcomings he may have versus competitors.  He wants to further his education and has the GPA to do so, but he’ll have to find a way to get there other than an athletic scholarship.  Junior Chavis Daniels returns to the team after more than a year in a youth penitentiary.  His anger issues threaten to be a problem for himself, his teammates, and the coaches.

UNDEFEATED follows the Tigers week by week as they make a push for the postseason, but the title does not refer to a lossless record--Manassas loses its first game--but a resilient squad.  In a refreshing break from the norm, the last game--the stereotypical big game--unfolds with the audience having a vested interest in the outcome yet with it ultimately being secondary to the relationships formed and life lessons learned.  The players and the coaches emerge from these months unbeaten by the setbacks and hardships they are dealt.  It’s about becoming a better person, not x’s and o’s or W’s and L’s.  
UNDEFEATED isn’t explicitly arguing for the necessity of competitive athletics at schools, even those with shrinking budgets, but it makes an effective case for how the character building that can come from playing sports is as valuable as anything in the curriculum.  Could a classroom teacher also occupy the crucial role that Courtney and his assistants fill in their players’ lives?  Certainly, although there’s a sense in the interactions here that sports and coaches have a way of getting through to them where regular instructors and courses cannot.  The reasons why aren’t fully articulated--Lindsay and Martin could stand to dig deeper with the players--but the results as presented are hard to deny.     

With a story that proves to be heartwarming and predictable, UNDEFEATED mostly plays according to the script familiar in its fiction and nonfiction counterparts. It does have the wisdom to dodge at least one problem inherent in the scenario, though. Typically a coach like Courtney would be viewed unquestioningly as a selfless man making a great sacrifice.  I’m not asserting otherwise or casting doubt on his intentions or achievements but pointing out that the person in this role is often held up as a saint. To his credit Courtney displays self-awareness of how his devotion to the football team means neglecting spending time with his wife and kids.  Like many of the details in UNDEFEATED, more examination would be welcome, but I appreciate that the sentiment is mentioned at all.

Race and class would seem to factor into much of what transpires, yet at best it is approached at arm’s length.  The potentially stickiest situation avoids the trap of hailing the white outsider showing the light to the black students.  Courtney is white and, by all appearances, economically comfortable while the inner city team looks to be entirely African-American and presumably disadvantaged.  The instance in which motives could be questioned--call it THE BLIND SIDE exception--doesn’t trigger any alarms.  

UNDEFEATED can be neat and tidy to a fault, but such quibbles seem minor when witnessing the positive example Courtney sets for his players and the affection they express for him.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Career Opportunities


When I was in high school I entertained the notion that spending a full 24 hours with friends in Meijer, a Midwestern supermarket supercenter chain, would be a fun thing to do.  Everything one could want or need would be under that enormous roof.  I could eat three square meals, watch the row of display TVs, play the floor model video game console, read a book or magazine, and probably grab a nap in the camping section if a little shuteye was necessary.

Since Meijer is open 24 hours a day, attempting this feat was feasible, assuming management didn’t get suspicious of teenagers hanging out for such a long time.  I suppose a day of roaming the aisles of mega-commerce could be pulled off today if this feat still sounded appealing in any way.  Maybe the attraction would return if Jennifer Connelly wanted to accompany me on the adventure.  After all, according to CAREER OPPORTUNITIES a woman like her is attainable at your monolithic neighborhood discount retailer.  

In the 1991 comedy 21-year-old Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley) is living up to his surname as far as adulthood is concerned.  He has been fired from countless jobs, spins wild fictions of his activities, resides with his parents, and doesn’t show any concern that such an undistinguished existence is his present and foreseeable future in sleepy, working class Monroe, Illinois.

Jim’s dad (John M. Jackson) gives him one more chance to get his act together.  Otherwise it’s off to St. Louis to work for his uncle.  Jim is dropped at the front doors of Target and expected to come home with employment.  Things are looking up when he negotiates a plum hiring package from a middle manager (an uncredited John Candy), but it turns out Jim was mistaken for an operations manager candidate.  The offer is immediately withdrawn.  Instead Jim is presented with a virtually minimum wage job as the night janitor or nothing.

On his first night the head custodian (William Forsythe) locks Jim in the superstore and explains that he’ll be back at 7 a.m.  Jim puts his nose to the grindstone for a bit, but it isn’t long before he’s availing himself of the store’s wares and roller skating up and down the aisles in his underwear.  Then he glimpses a girl.  And not just any girl but The Girl.  Josie McClellan (Connelly), the beautiful daughter of the town’s wealthiest man, is there looking back at him.

Josie fell asleep in the dressing room while hiding there and weighing whether or not to shoplift.  As she explains to Jim, she resents her father and feels like her life peaked with high school.  A little petty theft might rattle her dad and grant her the personal freedom she doesn’t feel is available without drastic action, although she inevitably lacks the courage to follow through on her ill-considered plan.

During their overnight talks Josie senses that Jim is a kindred spirit in spite of their obvious differences.  Neither is happy with their current lots, but she has enough cash in her purse that they can pick a place on the map, run off together, and start anew.  Before they can follow through on their impetuous decision, a pair of bumbling crooks (Dermot Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney) break into the store and hold them hostage, sort of.

Although Bryan Gordon directs CAREER OPPORTUNITIES, the film so distinctly bears producer and screenwriter John Hughes’ fingerprints that one can be forgiven for thinking he’s behind the camera.  Jim is a deluded washout, yet he’s a character very much in the tradition of Ferris Bueller.  (Never mind that Whaley’s performance is in the register of Woody Allen as a ‘50s-styled Midwestern gentile.)  His verbal dexterity and flair for bold acts are meant to recall that high school hero, except the best Jim can do is impress grade school kids who readily swallow the baloney he feeds them.  Jim’s hometown knows him as a liar--Josie says so--yet the film can’t help but inexplicably view him as a charming dreamer.  Ferris Bueller pushed the limits but had the good sense not to be as self-sabotaging as Jim.

Jim and Josie don’t set all manner of painful traps to fend off the thieves, but HOME ALONE is also imprinted on CAREER OPPORTUNITIES.  Like an unattended child doing what mom and dad won’t allow, Jim indulges his whims with Target to himself...and so can you during regular shopping hours in their 1763 stores in 49 states.  (I have no idea what Target’s financial involvement was with the film, but surely it was a cozy corporate relationship.  Target’s bullseye logo is used in the on-screen opening title.)  The stupid robbers who interrupt Jim’s blissful evening with Josie might as well have driven across the state from failed burglaries in HOME ALONE’s Chicago suburb to Monroe.

The class-conscious romance is pure Hughes, although in this instance it hardly seems credible in spite of some nice moments Josie and Jim share as they open up to each other and discuss their disappointments.  Hughes displays a deft touch in Jim’s initial failure to listen to Josie as she reveals deep fears of what awaits her.  He’s so caught up in his own neuroses that he can’t take the time to pay attention to her in a way that it seems no one ever has.  Hughes’ skill in tapping adolescent longing is also evident in Jim’s remembrance of the brief contact he had with Josie in high school.  While he vividly recalls the time they danced not even for the duration of one song and wishes it could have been slightly more, she retains no knowledge of it.  

Such interactions and the confessions therein might have amounted to something substantial if CAREER OPPORTUNITIES were stripped to their heartfelt conversations.  That’s where the film’s modest strengths are found.  Instead the romance is broken up by the aforementioned criminals, Josie’s father (Noble Willingham) and a police officer (Barry Corbin) searching the town for her, and, most unnecessarily, cutaways of Jim’s dad engaged in a late night bout of stress eating.  With these regular diversions the bond between Jim and Josie becomes too easily forged, especially considering the distance with which Connelly plays her poor little rich girl character and the happy ending envisioned for these two.  

For better and worse, CAREER OPPORTUNITIES plays like a hodgepodge of Hughes’ greatest hits. The themes resonate while the particulars don't translate as well to young adults.  The confidence that Jim and Josie can break out of their ruts and thrive together would be more convincing if they were headed to college and not a working world they are unequipped for.  The problem isn’t that CAREER OPPORTUNITIES devotes its heart to romantic fantasy but that it throws reason and reality to the wind for an off-putting guy and shortsighted girl.  After all, in the early morning hours sweeping floors at Target, you’re more likely to come face to face with a mess in aisle three needing cleaned up than the girl of your dreams with $52,000 in cash and looking to run away to California with you.

Grade: C-

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Three Stooges

THE THREE STOOGES (Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly, 2012)

Directors and brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly revive the cinematic hijinks of three idiot siblings in THE THREE STOOGES.  Split into three linked episodes, the film begins with baby brothers Moe, Larry, and Curly being tossed from a speeding car onto a Catholic orphanage’s doorstep.  The oddball boys struggle to win the hearts of adoptive parents, especially if they come as a package deal, so thirty-odd years later they’re still living with the good sisters and fellow parentless kids.

How much longer Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes), and Curly (Will Sasso) can stay is in doubt.  The orphanage needs $830,000 in short order to keep its doors open.  The boys volunteer to raise the money and head into the big city to save their home.

Fortune shines on them, or so they think, when a buxom woman and her supposed husband wish to hire them to ease his pain with a mercy killing.  Why, the couple is even seeking to pay the exact amount the orphanage needs for a night’s work.  Lydia (Sofia Vergara) and Mac (Craig Bierko), who is really her lover, want the Stooges to bump off her wealthy husband, but in the knuckleheads’  typical fashion, they bungle the job.  As they fail to earn the necessary cash, dissension divides their ranks.

THE THREE STOOGES is a rare modern slapstick film that succeeds with remarkable consistency.  There’s nothing new in the way these three galoots sling puns and cause hilarious physical pain to one another and anyone unfortunate to wander into their vicinity.  The Farrellys even borrow the comedic sound effects from the original shorts to punctuate all those eye pokes and knocking heads.  The terrifically timed, well-executed silliness is embraced without irony or any greater sense of purpose.  It delivers what it promises: scene after scene of low comedy done with relish.
Years ago it was reported that THE THREE STOOGES would star Jim Carrey, Sean Penn, and Benicio Del Toro.  Who knows what that unrealized alternate version would have looked like, but those top shelf actors would have been hard-pressed to come through any better than the less familiar stars who got the roles.  Diamantopoulos dons Moe’s bowl cut like a general’s stars and takes authoritative lead of this misfit trio with his rapidly barked orders and deployment of slaps and gouges.  Like a linebacker doing ballet, Sasso brings grace and innocence to Curly as the physical manifestation of the unfiltered id.  Hayes sounds like a dead ringer for the original Larry, and he slides comfortably into the laid-back, old-beyond-his-years manner that defines his personality and prematurely receding hairline.  The kid Moe, Larry, and Curly, played by Skyler Gisondo, Lance Chantiles-Wertz, and Robert Capron, do bang-up interpretations too.

THE THREE STOOGES is a celebration of the stupid that hits one square in the gut, yet the Farrellys ensure that none of the comedic violence feels malicious, even when the victims are easily scorned JERSEY SHORE cast members.  It’s all good fun that connects on a base level.  A nun is accidentally bonked in the face with the head of a sledgehammer.  The Stooges fend off hospital staff and security by wielding newborns producing prodigious urine streams.  The dimwitted trio ruins a golf course and kills who knows how many fish when they misinterpret what it means to get into the farm-raised salmon business.

The flatly shot STOOGES leaves much to be desired visually, but there is plenty to admire in the sharply constructed gags and anarchic spirit powering this lowbrow laugher.  The Farrellys have made a dumb movie, but it takes real skill to be this good at being brainless.

Grade: B

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Conversation with The Cabin in the Woods' Drew Goddard and Kristen Connolly

In THE CABIN IN THE WOODS a group of college friends set out for some fun in the wilderness but discover that someone or something is out to get them at their remote location.  To say much more about the clever horror-comedy from director and co-writer Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon would be to spoil the surprises in a film that amusingly deconstructs scary movies while still aiming to terrify the audience.

In late March Goddard and lead actress Kristen Connolly, who plays the archetypal horror movie heroine, visited Otterbein University and WOCC TV3 to speak with me about THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  Ideally this film is best seen without a lot of foreknowledge as to its particulars, so I focused the conversation on the genre.  The interview is mostly spoiler-free, but those who don't want anything ruined in advance should proceed with caution or watch a condensed version of my interview
Mark Pfeiffer: THE CABIN IN THE WOODS plays as if it is a dialogue with horror films that preceded it. In a sense it’s a direct form of film criticism. What prompted you to tell the story in this way?

Drew Goddard:  It really just came from a place of love.  We just love horror movies.  I wrote this movie with my partner-in-crime Joss Whedon, and we just started from a place of us talking about our favorite horror movies and what made us scared and what made us cheer and what made us laugh and trying to figure out how to make the ultimate horror movie as it were.  From those discussions we just sat down and tried to write the best version of it we possibly could.

MP:  Was it in response to anything in particular, not necessarily a film but maybe a trend?

DG:  Not really.  Certainly there’s stuff that we’ve seen in horror films that we don’t care for, but the movie wasn’t really directly commenting on that.  It was more about celebrating the genre as best as we possibly could.

MP:  The genre can be looked upon as being disreputable, but the film argues that horror movies fulfill a necessary purpose.  I’m curious what you think horror can do that other films maybe aren’t able to do as well.

DG:  I think first and foremost the experience of watching a good horror film with an audience, there’s nothing like it.  It must be that it gets us in touch with something primal inside of us that needs to be released in the relative safety of the theater.  I’m not sure, but I know when you feel that energy, that electricity when you’re in a good horror movie and the audience is all screaming together as one and laughing together and feeling that release, there’s nothing like it.  I think we must have this primal need to look at our own darkness and then be relieved that that’s not actually happening to us at the end of the day.
MP:  Kristen, as a performer, how do you respond to that?  Is it different?

Kristen Connolly:  You mean performing in a horror movie as opposed to a different (genre film)?

MP:  Right.

KC:  Yeah, sure.  I shot a little tiny independent movie after this, and it was a romantic comedy.  It was a lot of night shoots, and I was sitting around on the couch.   I was like, “What the hell are we doing?  Let’s get moving.  I’m going to fall asleep if we don’t something.”

DG:  Aren’t I supposed to be screaming?

KC:  Yeah, shouldn’t I be running and yelling and crying and covered in something?  I hadn’t really thought about it before.  I was talking about this with Fran (Kranz, co-star in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS).  It’s such a different experience working on a horror movie and one that I think people don’t appreciate how hard it is.  It’s just physically demanding. It’s emotionally demanding. And to be in that state of terror is very draining, but it’s really exciting also.  There’s nothing like it.

MP:  Does that create a different bond between the actors than it would on another type of film?

KC:  Yeah, I think so.  Our group got really close really quickly.  I’m sure part of that was running around in the woods together at 5 o’clock in the morning.  We all really bonded, and we all really took care of each other, I think.

MP:  The film gives the impression that this is way out in the middle of nowhere.  Was it actually as remote as it seems?

DG:  Pretty much.  We were really in the middle of nowhere in the Vancouver woods, and so we felt cut off.  Certainly on those night shoots you had trouble discerning the movie from reality.  I certainly started to get freaked out about 3 a.m.  I don’t know about you.

KC:  Yeah.  Oh, definitely.  And we had bears on set one day too.  That was pretty exciting.  I think they put out trays of Chinese food, and then all of a sudden there were six bears wandering around the set.

DG:  Bears love Chinese food.  A lot of people didn’t know that.  That’s what we learned from THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. 
MP:  While the film certainly upholds horror movies, it also feels free to criticize them.  What frustrates you about what you see in contemporary horror pictures?

DG:  I feel like I can always tell when the director doesn’t love horror movies or doesn’t love his characters, more importantly.  There’s a feeling of we’re just setting these people up to get knocked off.  And then taking that a step further, I can always tell when the characters within a horror movie don’t care about each other.  That was really important for the five of them, and they all got that immediately that they need to look out for one another.  I think you can feel that energy.  You can always feel in a bad horror movie when a friend of theirs gets killed, they’re all immediately, “Well, we gotta keep running.  Forget that person!  We don’t care!”  We made a real effort to find that bond, not just between director and characters but between characters themselves.

MP:  Kristen, what was the challenge for you playing a character whose most important characteristic is that in a sense she is an archetype for horror films?

KC:  To be honest I didn’t really think about that much while we were shooting.  I know we talked about it early on.  I think there are a lot of outside elements that do the work of that for you.  My focus was really on the relationships between the characters and the friendship between Dana and Marty and between all of them as a group.  I think that the costume does some of the work, that the writing does a lot of the work, and I think the audience’s perceptions of what that role is do a lot of the work as well.  So as far as playing an archetype, I didn’t feel like I was doing that.

DG:  Yeah, I always said, “Don’t worry about the archetype.  You play the character.  I will worry about the archetype.  That’s my job.”  Because it’s a strange thing we ask of our cast.  In this movie there are sort of two roles.  They’re playing their character, and then there’s an archetype, and they sort of switch in and out depending on where we are in the movie.  That can be very tricky.  It was always about making sure we’re just emotionally relating to the person and not the idea.

MP:  With that then, keeping the audience in concert with what you’re trying to do, what was most important to you in how you kept everybody in line?  The movie does bounce back and forth quite a bit, more so than I would have expected.  So that everyone is, “OK, I get what you’re going for, but I’m still invested in the main story,” as it were.

DG:  First and foremost, tell the story.  That’s the rule.  If we’re getting too off point, then it had to go and don’t worry too much about the second layer and the third layer and the fourth layer, just know that that will organically come to the story.  Our first responsibility is telling an entertaining story for the audience. 
MP:  I hadn’t read much about the film before seeing it on purpose, especially with South by Southwest and starting to hear reactions.  What was interesting to me upfront is that there’s this really jarring scene that if your expectations are essentially that it’s teenagers in the woods.  What were you hoping to accomplish with that?  What do you think that does to an audience that is coming in like I was?

DG:  I think we wanted to say first and foremost, “This is not your average, everyday horror movie.”  We wanted to tell the audience right away we’re not playing cute.  This is a different movie.  This is something that you have not seen before, and we’re going to take it to new and exciting places.  It was one of the first scenes that we came up with because that’s the sort of scene in a traditional movie that would go right in the middle.  Oh, here’s the big reveal and then move on.  And that’s what a lot of people who’ve seen the trailer are worried about.  Oh, we’re giving this away.  I’m like, no, that’s actually the first two minutes of the film.  We’re actually not giving anything away.  Just trust us.  We’re saving a lot for you.

MP:  Kristen, this is your first lead role?

KC:  Uh huh.

MP:  How was the whole experience for you?

KC:  It was amazing.  I felt just so lucky to be a part of it and that Joss and Drew gave me this amazing opportunity and as much responsibility.  I was like, “Really, are you guys sure you want me?”  And I got to do so much stuff in this.  I know that you warned me early on this is going to be really hard, it’s going to be really, really hard.  And I was like, “No, I go to the gym.  I’ll be fine.”  But there’s nothing that can really prepare you for it.  It was an amazing learning experience for me and an amazing amount of fun and then to go to the theater and see it has just been--I’m going to get emotional--it’s been just really a wonderful experience.

MP:  Is that perhaps greater because the film has had to take a longer period of time to get in front of audiences?

KC:  Maybe.  I don’t know.  It could be.  It was a long time, and I think we all loved the movie so much that we really wanted to show it to people and knew that it was awesome.  We just didn’t know exactly what route it was going to take getting into movie theaters. To have it premiere at South by Southwest, to have it be with Lionsgate, it seems like everything has just worked out so perfectly, and it’s just been really extraordinary.

MP:  The movie does tap into what fuels nightmares and even some of the cultural differences that we have--you have the stuff with the Japanese horror films, which are clearly of a different model than what we get typically in America--and even the things that seem to bubble up and be of the moment of what seems to scare people.  For instance, you end up choosing the redneck zombie torture family, which is certainly something we’ve seen plenty of times, but at the same point, people don’t have that experience.  That’s not a natural fear that you have that you’re going to encounter these sorts of folks.  I’m just curious why you think that sort of monster or even the ones that do recur, why that resonates with audiences or even with yourself.

DG:  It’s hard because we deal with so many nightmares in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.  I don’t want to spoil too much.  Just the concept of monsters in general is something that’s interesting to me.  I don’t know why any individual monster is more scary or less scary to some people.  It’s just some things resonate with people, some things don’t, and that changes over time.  It changes who we are.  We dealt with this a lot in CLOVERFIELD when this post 9/11 world where monsters suddenly became much scarier if they didn’t have a purpose behind them and it was just something rampaging.  I think that reflected what we were feeling as a culture.  And now we’re in this different time and the menace has a little bit more motivation behind it.  But again, that’s just reflective of the time.  It just evolves with time as society evolves.

MP:  Youth and beauty are always despoiled in these kinds of pictures.  That has been consistent whether you want to go back 30, 40, 50 years or today.

DG:  Even further.

MP:  Is that ultimately what’s underlying the fear in these films?

DG:  Certainly the question that interested me the most in making this film is--and it’s not just horror films--society has this need to idealize and marginalize youth and then destroy it.  And that’s not just in movies, that’s in society.  And that’s not just in current society, that’s been happening since the dawn of man.  We have put kids up on a pedestal only to sacrifice them, throw them into a volcano, destroy them publicly.   We keep doing it.  We have this weird worship of the youthful energy.  You see it now.  We idealize youth and then we send them off to war just to be slaughtered on the front lines.  As we get older we’re not fighting the wars, we’re letting these kids do it.  The question of why we need to do that, it serves some social purpose, but I don’t know what it is.  But the question of why is very much at the heart of this movie.

MP:  I may be reaching on this one, but looking at the stuff that you’ve written for television in particular that even applies to this film, there’s a view of reality of what we know and then there’s this invisible force designing it all behind the scenes.  Is that coincidence or is there something that draws you to this idea that you keep returning to it?

DG:  Yeah, I suppose so.  It is that age old question of free will or predestination.  I don’t know that I know the answer but I am fascinated by it.  I am fascinated by “am I free to make my choices or am I forced to make my choices because of the world around me”.  I do keep coming back to that, I suppose, but it’s never conscious.  I just notice it later after I’ve read my own script. 
MP:  I guess if you want to get into auteur theory it naturally goes right into that.  Well, we haven’t really talked about Joss Whedon and his involvement with the project.  Maybe both of you could speak to what collaborating with him was like.

DG:  I’ve been working with him for awhile.  My first job was as a staff writer on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for Joss, and I got that job because I was the world’s biggest Joss Whedon fan.  When I first saw BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER I was in college, and it was like a bomb went off.  It was like, oh, somebody’s actually doing the most interesting, edgy filmmaking in the world and it’s on television on the WB.  I couldn’t believe that that was happening.  I love his writing.  He’s my favorite writer of all-time.  To get to work for him on BUFFY was a dream come true.  We’ve just kept that relationship going.  I’m always trying to find ways to work with him because I feel like he is one of those crazed geniuses you see once in a generation.  He’s just a joy.

KC:  Fran said something yesterday that I think is really true that Joss, without really doing anything, he just inspires you to want to do your best work.  And I think it’s because he’s always so supportive of people and he’s such a kind, nice person, but he’s also just so smart and it makes you really want to step it up.  I’m really glad actually that I didn’t know much of his stuff when I came out to meet you guys and that I didn’t know much of LOST either because I would have been a nervous wreck in that audition, so I think it’s probably good that I didn’t watch all of it until after.  I was like, “Oh my God, these guys are so smart.”

MP:  You’ve come more from a theater background.

KC:  I do, yeah.

MP:  How’s that transition been for you to do especially something like this, which has got to be vastly different from KING LEAR or some of the other things you’ve done?

KC: Although we were saying yesterday that Fran, his character isn’t that unlike the fool in KING LEAR.  I think that the approach to the work is the same.  It’s the same character work you do no matter what medium it is.  You’re not rehearsing really, so with this the shooting is the rehearsal, and you just try things and do it as many times as you can and as many different ways as you can whereas in rehearsal you sort of try those things out and then piece together what you like.  You’re an editor, I guess.  It’s funny, since I’ve finished school most of what I’ve done have been horror movies and Shakespeare.  I don’t know what the connection is.

DG:  There’s a lot of blood in both.

KC:  Yeah, exactly, a lot of blood.

MP:  What’s next for each of you after this?

DG:  I’m just having so much fun with this movie that I want to watch it with as many audiences as possible.  It’s really a fun movie to watch with an audience, so I’m on the CABIN world tour for the next month or so just checking this thing out.

KC:  I’m kind of doing the same for the next few weeks just going around watching the movie and talking about the movie.  Then I start a new series in April, HOUSE OF CARDS.  David Fincher is directing it, and it’s for Netflix.  It’s kind of a new thing, so hopefully it’ll be a lot of fun.

MP:  Clearly this is the sort of movie where seeing it with an audience is going to be a different experience than watching it at a press screening or even watching it at home.  What have been your observations as you’ve been at these various events seeing people reacting to it, hopefully in ways you anticipated and, I think maybe even hopefully, in ways you didn’t?

DG:  The thing that’s nice is, we knew if you’re a horror fan, you’re going to like this movie because we’ve got something for you in this movie. But the thing that’s been really satisfying for me is to hear the reaction afterwards.  A lot of people say, “I don’t even like horror movies, and I loved this film.”  That’s kind of surprising. That’s nice because it feels like I’m helping people see what I love about horror films and help expand that.  That’s been really nice.

KC:  There are moments in the movie--I can’t really say what they are--but I love hearing the audience respond every night.  There are a few that get the same reaction every time, and then there are different places where people laugh at something that maybe they didn’t laugh at the last time.  So that’s been really fun, to hear people enjoying the movie as much as I think we all enjoyed making the movie.