Even by the standards of "indie-voice-of-a-generation" cinema, director Richard Linklater has achieved a unique adjectival status. When you sit down to watch a Linklater film, you can know exactly what that means without having any idea what you're in for. It could be a rotoscoped take on Philip K. Dick (A Scanner Darkly) or a coming-of-age tale where no one comes of age (Dazed and Confused). Jack Black might be a friendly, neighborhood murderer (Bernie) or a rock-burn-out substitute teacher (School of Rock). Hell, he's even forever, successfully linked Zac Efron to Orson Welles. Linklater films can really only be categorized under miscellaneous. But like porn and First Amendment violations, you know ’em when you see ’em. There's long, meandering takes and expletive-laced philosophy; fuzzy politics, brain science, and ontological agony; and sex that seesaws between heartrending romanticism and pure horniness. And plenty of pot.
But towering over this varied filmography is Before Sunrise. Even if you don't know Linklater, chances are you know its protagonists, Ethan Hawke's Jesse and Julie Delpy's Celine, the modern-day Gen X Romeo and Juliet. With Before Sunrise, Linklater created the ultimate romantic fantasy for the hopelessly horny and hyper-articulate. (I can't be the only awkward freshman who lifted quotes to make headway with girls.) Then, in a stroke of truly ballsy filmmaking nine years later, Linklater cracked open that film's perfect, ambiguous ending and pulled out a surprising, poignant sequel, Before Sunset. It earned him, Hawke, and Delpy an Oscar nomination for screenwriting. Now, almost 20 years since the original, Jesse and Celine are back with Before Midnight. In another filmmaker's hands, even a gifted one, the conceit should have gone stale by now. But somehow, saddling the ethereally romantic duo with children, messy divorces, and agonizing job offers, Linklater has reached new heights. Personally, Before Midnight might be one of my favorite cinematic rants about love. (Don't just take my word that it's a possible masterpiece: here!) So, when you're offered the chance to talk to a filmmaker who's contributed so much to our modern notion of love, you take it.
Frances Ha — Noah Baumbach's latest flick, a black-and-white comedy about a young dancer flailing around New York City — isn't exactly all smiles. Like much of Baumbach's back catalogue, you get plenty of people being petty, confused, unkind, blunt, and full of shit. But unlike The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding, or Greenberg — all of which try to make you, and to an amazing degree succeed, root for deeply, deeply unlikable people — Frances Ha throws you a bone right off the bat, in the form of Greta Gerwig. As Frances, Gerwig bounces from rough patch to bad idea to well-intentioned screw-up, indefatigably cheery and eager the whole time. Especially relative to Baumbach's last hero, the perfect malcontent Roger Greenberg, it's like she's a big straw basket full of puppies.
Gerwig, who met Baumbach on Greenberg, co-wrote the movie. Since, the two of them have moved on to another co-written project, again starring Gerwig, as well as an animated movie for Dreamworks, about a plucky dog searching the city for his lost love. (They're also dating. For much more on that, I suggest this excellent New Yorker profile.) Last week, I sat down with Baumbach briefly to talk about collaborating with Gerwig on Frances Ha, as well as the Internet, The Corrections, and Kanye West. Remembering that great scene from The Squid and the Whale, when Jeff Daniels says he fired his agent because he "made a disparaging remark about the Knicks at a party" ("Said they played like thugs"), I also asked about the NBA playoffs. (This was right after the Knicks had tied their series with the Pacers at a game each.) Only appropriately, the exchange ended up being less about Baumbach's sports fandom and more about his relationship with his father.
When the National’s lead singer, Matt Berninger, got his metalhead brother Tom a job working as a roadie for the band’s High Violet tour in 2010, he knew his younger sibling would be bringing along a camera. Initially, Tom planned to shoot short, funny vignettes about the band members, possibly for the National’s website. Over time, he wound up turning the camera on himself, as his misbegotten odyssey as a backstage crew member went from bad to worse. Luckily, the tour documentary Mistaken for Strangers turned out much better than Tom’s short-lived roadie career. While Strangers includes band interviews and performance footage from scattered concerts performed all over the world, the film centers on the relationship between Tom and his older, skinnier, and more successful rock star brother. The final result is a cross between a conventional rock doc and American Movie — like hockey-haired Wisconsin filmmaker Mark Borchardt, Tom Berninger is a hard-drinking, hard-luck wannabe horror filmmaker who is trying to get his life in order and make his dreams come true. Mistaken for Strangers premiered last month as the Tribeca Film Festival, and will be screening at festivals throughout the year. After spending an afternoon interviewing the National, I called up Tom to talk about the movie, his concerns about being typecast as a drunken goofball, and heavy-metal Christmas albums.
If you've already seen The Place Beyond the Pines (it opens wide today, after runs in L.A. and NYC), it'd be quite kind of you not to spill the details. Derek Cianfrance's follow-up to his 2010 heartbreak epic Blue Valentine is both larger in scope and more deceitful, as it traces a few cracked familial lineages through an unorthodox structure that should leave you shocked inside of an hour. Last week Grantland sat down with Cianfrance at the New York offices of Pines distributor Focus Features. He was wearing the meme-classic Three Wolves Howling T-shirt, and he was very easy to talk to.
Pretty much the one thing I remember from Quantum of Solace (which is, let’s be honest, by far the most forgettable Daniel Craig Bond film) is Ukrainian model/actress Olga Kurylenko striding across the desert in a designer ball gown. Seeing as roughly 80 percent of Bond girls are as interchangeable as men’s magazine covers, I consider that a noteworthy accomplishment. Since then Kurylenko has continued to battle Bond-ian fungibility with eclectic credits in films like hyperkinetic writer/director Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths and Mitch Glazer’s show about the good ol’ days of Cuban crony capitalism, Magic City. This summer, Kurylenko stars in two films that, if not for her, would never even be mentioned in the same breath: Terrence Malick’s latest art house/spiritual experience, To the Wonderwith Ben Affleck, and the sci-fi mega-movie Oblivion with Tom Cruise.
That’s not so much eclectic as paradoxical, but paradoxical sure can be fun. I chatted with her about twirling through Malick's latest film, Cruise’s incomparable running abilities, and the one thing that a big Hollywood blockbuster and a Malick movie have in common. Read on below!
Ever since his bad-police magnum opus Training Day, director Antoine Fuqua has specialized in taking totally implausible, big-budget action movies and making them plausible: an Arthurian myth grounded in Roman history; an elite gunman who avenges a Cheney-esque government oil conspiracy; Richard Gere as a cop. For his latest film, Olympus Has Fallen, Fuqua takes on the holy mountain of action-movie clichés: the White House under siege by terrorists. Sure, it’s an over-the-top premise that demands an extra dose of salt and butter to swallow, but Fuqua takes it seriously. This is, after all, the guy who helped Denzel Washington combat the Academy’s antediluvian white-male tendencies and win a history-making second Oscar. So when we got a chance to talk to the guy behind the first of the two Die Hard–in-the–White House movies, we took it. Read on as Fuqua discusses beating the bejesus out of Melissa Leo, Morgan Freeman’s lovely singing voice, and why big-time Hollywood directors should be part of the national security debate. [Note: There are some SPOILERS ahead.]
A defining part of Lena Dunham’s deal is that in the entertainment big leagues, she’s a rising three-tool player who can write, direct, and act. But the reality is that doing all of that on your own on a television show is too much flor just one person to handle. Accordingly, over half of the episodes of Girls’s second season were directed by others, with Jesse Peretz tackling more than anyone else. Peretz’s three episodes were the cocaine-fueled “Bad Friend,” the contentious “It’s a Shame About Ray,” and last night’s “It’s Back,” which is the last of this season’s non-Dunham-directed episodes. Peretz previously did the Charlie and Marnie breakup episode from the show’s first season and directed the indie features First Love, Last Rites, The Châum;teau, and Our Idiot Brother, as well as the Zach Braff vehicle The Ex. A founding member of alt-rock cuties the Lemonheads in the late 1980s, he left the band in its early stages and initially made a name for himself as the music-video director responsible for such Alternative Nation classics as the Foo Fighters’ Mentos-spoofing “Big Me” and Nada Surf’s “Popular.” Peretz will join the staff of Girls in Season 3 as a producer and has since started directing other TV shows. Here he speaks about the process of working with Dunham and whether he thinks Nina Persson of the Cardigans can act. (Spoiler alert: She can!)
As a stand-up, Anthony Jeselnik has carved out his own space with punchy one-liners that play verbal ping-pong with topics most others wouldn’t touch: disease, rape, cancer, death, baby death. Nothing was off-limits. The idea was, “Fine. If no one else will talk about them, I will.” Now, with his own show on Comedy Central, that sheer abuse of the envelope has moved to late night. Last night, I sat down with Jeselnik right after the taping of The Jeselnik Offensive’s second episode to talk about his early stand-up career, what he took from his time as a writer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and choosing between comedy and the bullshit that often comes with it.
So I want to start with your stand-up. I remember seeing you do Comedy Central Presents, but when was that?
I want to say I did it in 2009. I remember being on Fallon, and I remember it airing around the end of Fallon, which was in 2010. So late summer 2009, I recorded it.
With Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's gone back-to-back on the "messy, brilliant revenge-fantasies where the operative word is 'fantasy'" projects. Both times out, Tarantino has explained, he was reacting to a monolith of dusty historical-fiction flicks presenting only the victimization of the oppressed peoples in question. But instead of plucking anything from any number of well-documented tales of defiance and revolt, QT went ahead and made up his revenge whole-cloth. The results are way more entertaining, and way trickier to parse.
A few months ago, when the buildup began for Big Boi's second solo album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, I made a pact with myself that if it looked like the project was going to be underwhelming, I just wouldn't give it any coverage. I'd pretend like it never happened. The idea of the Outkast-related hot streak coming to a crashing halt (again, Idlewildnever happened. We all made that up, collectively) was too much to accept, and if bad things were looming, my plan was to simply sit this one out.
But then I realized something else. If it was good, it was going to be awfully hard to write about the project without bias. Beyond the facts that I'm from Atlanta and that my first concert was Outkast opening for Lauryn Hill and that Outkast is easily the most important musical act of my life — beyond all that — there's nothing I want more in music than a successful Big Boi/Andre/Outkast project.
So, if I were to say, after a week of listening to the album nonstop, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors is easily a top-five rap release of 2012, should you take that with a grain of salt (or, if you will, a sprinkle of grits)? Absolutely.
You can't blame the marketing folks behind Killing Them Softly — the third movie from Australian writer/director Andrew Dominik, after Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford — for pushing it as something along the lines of "coolest man alive Brad Pitt straight-up assassinating some mf'ers." Just know that if you go ahead and catch Killing this weekend, that's not quite what you're getting into. Adapted by Dominik from George V. Higgins's 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade, the movie offers a lean and restrained (but still very murder-y!) low-stakes crime story — a couple of bumbling cons get hired for what seems like an easy score, a card-game robbery, and things get complicated — and presents it as a tale about "capitalism — about chasing a buck" in the depressed 2008 U.S. economy. Last week I sat down in a Waldorf-Astoria hotel room with Dominik (who looked particularly dapper in a bespoke suit, shoulder-length hair, and with an American Spirit in hand) to talk about Killing.
Last week, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell were stashed in a top-floor suite of the Beverly Hills Four Seasons while on a promotional jag for their new movie and second collaboration with each other and writer/director Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths. (The first was a 2010 run on Broadway with A Behanding in Spokane.) Your humble correspondent was given a scant 10 minutes alone with the pair, ostensibly to talk about the movie, a strange and sensationalist exploration of psychosis, megaviolence, and puppy love co-starring fellow wackjobs Tom Waits, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson. But Walken (serene and clad in black warm-up pants and a T-shirt) and Rockwell (hyperactive in jeans and availing himself of the PR team’s free yogurt) clearly enjoy each other’s company and did their best to make their own conversation.
Tom Scharpling is beloved in the alternative comedy world for his call-in radio show The Best Show on WFMU. While The Best Show has run for more than 10 years, Scharpling has continued to diversify his résumé, including writing for the entire eight-season run of Monk, contributing articles to print and online publications, and doing a periodic podcast with Marc Maron called The Marc and Tom Show. In 2010, Scharpling began directing hilarious concept-heavy music videos for indie rock acts. These videos often feature appearances from comedians, including his Best Show partner and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster. His videography includes a trailer for a fake New Pornographers biopic and Titus Andronicus doing a one-day tour of New Jersey.
Recently, Scharpling directed the video for Aimee Mann's "Charmer," which features Mann buying an increasingly assertive robot, played by Laura Linney, to handle her public appearances. This week brought the premiere of "Labrador," his second collaboration with Mann. The video for "Labrador" is a shot-for-shot remake of "Voices Carry," the breakthrough hit by 'Til Tuesday, Mann's group from the 1980s.
The moment when you finally meet someone you know only by way of the Internet can be, well, awkward. In some cases, that meeting is disastrous, because the real-life relationship pales in comparison to the Internet friendship. Other times, however, the in-person encounter strengthens the hunch that said person could actually be someone you have things in common with, beyond the laptop. As I hopped out of a cab and walked into Los Angeles's Paper or Plastik Cafe on a hot afternoon in August, I wondered which I was headed for.
Having spent over a year watching the YouTube phenomenon The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, created, written, directed, produced, and starring 27-year-old Issa Rae as the lovably awkward "J," and then exchanging e-mails for the past few months, I was banking on the fact that this young woman whose on-camera character and off-camera persona I connected with would ultimately be someone who, in real life, I connected with. Upon walking in and being put at ease by her similarly unprofessional attire and relaxed nature, it immediately felt as if we were about to have a conversation, instead of me conducting an interview. It was like we were new old friends. Or old new friends? Either way, it was good.
Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs) have been mainstays in the world of indie music for years, but their new band, Divine Fits, is still a baby. This week marked the release of their very good debut LP, A Thing Called Divine Fits (Merge Records), as well as their ninth ever live show at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles. I met up with Daniel and Boeckner at the venue, where they talked about their collaborative process, their recent relocation to sunny California, and crowd-surfing in Salt Lake City.