Category Archives: MSN Movies

‘The Spectacular Now’ Review, as an appetizer for The Lunch.

TSNThis week on The Lunch, we talk to both the writers and the editor of “The Spectacular Now,” with  my conversation with co-writers Michael H. Webber and Scott Neustadter followed by a conversation with editor Darrin Navarro. But before that Episode of The Lunch posts tomorrow, I thought I’d present a small appetizer — namely, an audio version of my MSN Movies Hitlist review of the film from the Sundance Film Festival this year. It should, I hope, give you an idea of why “The Spectacular Now” is one of the year’s best films.

Yours, James.

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Interview: Clark Gregg of ‘The To Do List’

The fact Clark Gregg is best-known for his work as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson in Marvel Comics’ cinematic universe is like only knowing Beethoven’s Fifth as a ringtone: Gregg’s worked with some of our best actors and directors, as well as writers as distinguished (and distinctive) as Aaron Sorkin and David Mamet. In writer-director Maggie Carey’s “The To Do List,” he plays Judge Klark, the uptight father to Aubrey Plaza’s Brandy Klark — and when Plaza goes on her mission to learn about sex, Judge Klark gets to endure a lot of the fallout with frazzled, real reactions that are still very, very funny. We spoke with Gregg in L.A.

MSN Movies: What’s it like to essentially play the Paul Lynde character from “Bye Bye Birdie? ” Like, the sputtering, reluctant dad, who knows his kids are up to something but would prefer, in fact, to not talk about it?

Clark Gregg: Well, now I’m really wishing I’d thought of that because we do watch “Bye Bye Birdie” at my house sometimes, and now I really wish I had done a full Paul Lynde, which maybe I did by accident.  You notice, I was joking with Connie Britton that we both love these kind of movies — sexual coming of age movies.


And we always wanted to be in one.  And we turned around and went, “Oh my God, we are in one but we’re the parents. ”

Right.  The ship has sailed for you to peek through a hole in the shower wall?

Yeah.  Well, probably not. (Laughs) As a young character, yes it has.  And that’s surreal, a little bit, because one feels young inside. But at the same time, I love that our characters also had a kind of complex sexual relationship that they were still working through, and that took the sting out of it.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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Interview: Aubrey Plaza of ‘The To Do List’

On “Parks and Recreation,” Aubrey Plaza’s best known for her cool deadpan and flat-voiced take on absurd situations; in “The To Do List,” opening this week, she gets to play a normal – or more normal — teen, Brandy Klark. Trapped in 1993 and realizing that the only thing she doesn’t know about before she heads off to college is sex, Brandy sets out to do her own research … and a few other things as well. Written and directed by Maggie Carey, “The To Do List” is smart, smutty and sweet in equal measure; we spoke with Plaza in Los Angeles about the film.

MSN Movies: The number one thing I noticed watching the first scenes of this film is that you do a great thing, which isn’t just your vocal intonation… it’s that your body language is really different, to play somebody who is on that cusp between high school and college.  And it’s really, really well done, there’s all of the gangliness and uncertainty.  How hard did you work on that?

Aubrey Plaza: Honestly, once we started doing fitting and I started wearing those terrible clothes (Laughs) … It really got me in that mindset.  I did work on it, but it came from, you know, more of an emotional place, I think, than anything.  I wasn’t like, physically practicing moves, it just came kind of from, I think, my state of mind when we were shooting.

Right.  Not, “I’m going to move in the way that an insecure teen would, but…”

Yeah, I think it just kind of came out of me like that.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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Interview: Joshua Oppenheimer, Director, ‘The Act of Killing,’ Pt. 2

In part two of our interview with ‘The Act of Killing” director Joshua Oppenheimer,  the discussion turns to politics and editing — two very tricky subjects, considering that Oppenheimer’s film not only finds Anwar Congo, a man who took part in the killing madness of 1965-1966 Indonesia but, by giving him a film crew, asks him to shoot re-enactments and interpretations of his past as a killer in the name of the ruling party. (MSN Film Critic Glenn Kenny’s full 4/5 review can be found heremy review of the film from the Toronto International Film Festival can be found here.) For this two-part interview, I spoke with Oppenheimer in Los Angeles; the first part of this interview can be found here.

There’s a whole thing about how, by and large, Hollywood and moviegoers like it when films are about political issues that are important, that are morally relevant, and that were settled some thirty to forty years ago …

That’s a really interesting point; I’ve never heard that, but that rivals Errol Morris’s point that, he re-watched “The Year of Living Dangerously,” preparing to write for this, and he said, “Josh, I just had this great insight about historical drama.  History is just used a backdrop for people getting it on.”

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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Interview: Joshua Oppenheimer, Director, ‘The Act of Killing,’ Pt. 1

In “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s created one of the singular films — never mind documentaries — of this year. It’s hilarious and horrifying, brutal and human, surreal as a fantasy and real as a wire across your neck pulled murder-tight. Director Oppenheimer was in Indonesia filming the survivors — and the killers — of the 1965-’66 murderous killing campaign that created a military dictatorship and declared open season on communists as Army units and local criminals worked together to execute over a million people. Oppenheimer, overwhelmed, found himself working with one ex-“gangster,” Anwar Congo, a petty crook who, in ’65, had been recruited to kill. Oppenheimer wound up giving Congo access to film cameras and technical resources — on the condition that Congo film re-enactments of his past as inspired by various types of film. The end result — with musical numbers and gangster-film action, costumes and make-up and special effects — is as fascinating as it is repellent. (MSN Film Critic Glenn Kenny’s full 4/5 review can be found heremy review of the film from the Toronto International Film Festival can be found here.) For this two-part interview, I spoke with Oppenheimer in Los Angeles; the film opens in New York today, and nationwide in upcoming weeks.

MSN Movies: I hate to draw too much a parallel with anything as banal as reality television to your movie, but whenever they have, on trashy daytime talk show or local morning television show or talk show, people on the show to talk about things like “I’ve dated a goat!,” the trick isn’t just finding someone who dated a goat, it’s finding someone who’s willing to talk about it on camera.  You had to find someone who was involved with the massacres of the Suharto regime and was willing to talk about it on camera.  Are those things which are at best crimes just such a part and parcel of life in Indonesia no one would feel any worry, or concern, or shame about them? 

Joshua Oppenheimer: Well, all you have to do … now that The Act of Killing has come out … It has changed the way Indonesians talk about this.  You can no longer probably go to Indonesia and walk into a village and say, ‘Who was killing people here?’  and have people talk in the way they did six months ago.  After seeing the film debut at Toronto, the editors of Tempo Magazine, Indonesia’s largest news magazine, the equivalent of Time, felt they had to break their own 47 year silence about the killings by marshaling their own evidence to show essentially that “The Act of Killing” is a repeatable experience, that it’s not something unique to what I did with Anwar.  They sent dozens of journalists all over the country, to every …to regions both where they knew the killings had happened and to places they didn’t even know if the killings had taken place, and everywhere they went, the journalists were able to walk into a neighborhood and say, ‘Who was killing people here in 1965?’  And everybody would know, and they would visit those people and those people would boast.  So essentially you have a whole society, a whole regime founded on these crimes.  And a regime which has justified these crimes ever since.  And both, and I think in two ways, justifying them to keep everyone else afraid and also reassuring the perpetrators themselves that what they did was right. Because otherwise you have to wake up in the morning, and look in the mirror, and see a murderer.


But I think you make a really apt and interesting connection to reality TV in the sense that, I think “The Act of Killing” is kind of the antithesis of reality TV in that, in reality TV, the directors are sort of manipulating situations so that they know, so that they can anticipate a dramatic arc, and they can create… it’s very controlled.  It’s a kind of controlled psychological experiment, but it’s hyper-controlled.

But both “The Act of Killing” and reality TV emerge from a cultural moment where, somehow, vanity and becoming an instant celebrity is, the acceptable deadly sin.  It’s the deadly sin of our moment.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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MSN Interview: Steve Carell of ‘Despicable Me 2′

With a glowing tan, a few day’s worth of stubble and a contented look, Steve Carell is more than glad to talk about the task of re-voicing Gru, the ex-villain at the heart of “Despicable Me 2.” We spoke with Carell in Los Angeles about strange voices, the art of adding heart and why everyone wants to be a Bond villain …

MSN Movies: The number one question I have is — does doing the Gru voice give you a sore throat? Or do you need a slightly sore throat to do the Gru voice properly?

Steve Carell: Neither.

Neither? It just comes naturally?

(In Gru voice) No. It just comes naturally, and you do it forever, and nothing ever goes wrong.

Now I mean I’m trying to picture … you drop into it so swiftly. When you’re getting ready to do these films, do you do it around the house? Do you find yourself like startling the pets by going, “Get off couch now”?

Not really, no. I mean it’s just, it’s … here’s the thing: It’s not really an accent. It’s not a discernible country of any sort so there is no doing it wrong. Which I think I tend to try to set the bar low for myself, and so in this way no one can accuse me of not doing this accent properly ’cause it’s not, it’s not an accent.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies: 

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MSN Interview: Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker of ‘Red 2′

In “Red,” the romance between ex-CIA man Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and would-be thrill-seeker Sarah (Mary Louise Parker) gave the boom and blast of the proceedings no small amount of humor and heart’ in ‘Red 2,” the unlikely twosome continue both their relationship and their globe-trotting action, with a very real question as to which is more dangerous. We spoke with Willis and Parker in New York about re-teaming, director Dean Parisot, and befuddlement …

MSN Movies: The first RED was a great left field summer surprise.  When they said to you, ‘We want to get the band back together with a few extra straws to stir the drink,’ how enthused were you by that prospect?

Bruce Willis: I was very enthused.  Were you enthused?

Mary Louise Parker: (Laughs) Deeply.  Yeah.


 MLP: Yeah, and we have a really easy rapport, so it doesn’t feel like a lot of effort…

BW: — Remarkably —

MLP: …To hang out with this man.  So, it’s like, nice to show up.  In the morning.

BW: She makes me laugh.  She makes me laugh.

And the comedy is a big part of it, because Mr. Parisot knows superbly how to combine that kind of action and comedy.

BW:  He is the world’s leading authority of being calm in the face of what could be…

MLP: Chaos.

BW:  A chaotic…   a chaotic film…

MLP: He’s just like, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ all the time.  He was like, ‘Don’t worry about it, it’ll be fine, we’ll figure it out, just don’t worry about it.’

BW:  ‘… Everything’s gonna be fine…’ Actors probably won’t tell you, but I’ll tell you today —  and if you want to confirm this you can –but there’s that little bit of fear, there’s that little bit of fear in your heart that you may not get it right or, ‘Am I doing this scene correctly?’  ‘Is this interesting?  Is it entertaining?’  You always have that little thing.  But you can’t admit to it, but I just admitted it to you.  So…

MLP: You can take it back.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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MSN Interview: Byung-hun Lee of ‘Red 2′

As the best-paid — and best — assassin in the world, Korean killer Han Cho Bai stalks Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), Myron Boggs (John Malcovich) and the rest of the ‘Red 2′ gang like a grim hound of hell. Offscreen, though, Byung-hun Lee is relaxed, smiling and personable — in other words, not at all like the silent, smoldering slaughtering killers he’s played in films from “Joint Security Agency” to “G.I. Joe.” We spoke with him in New York about “Red 2,” the fun of mixing comedy with stunts and what it’s like for any action fan to have to beat up Bruce Willis …

MSN Movies: There’s a fight sequence in this where you have a fridge door handcuffed to you that’s just incredible.  How long does it take to shoot that and do you have any fun doing it?

Byung-hun Lee: Yeah…I liked that scene.  So much. (Laughs)  When I first read the scene, I thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be so hard …’ you know, fighting against more than 10 ‘policemen.’  It’s not normal people.


It’s ‘policemen.’  And, ‘Wow, it’s going to be so hard.’  But, so I trained a lot and tried to memorize all the choreography so hard.  And also, Bruce Willis brought a lot of ideas to that scene, so we made really great scene, I think.  And I really enjoyed it.  It took around three or four days to shoot that.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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MSN Interview: Dame Helen Mirren of ‘RED 2′

In “RED 2,” Helen Mirren is back as Victoria, an ex-MI-6 employee with a regal air and an eagle eye, shooting and sniping as need be to help Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) and the gang save the world. It’s …. a change of pace for Mirren, who’s best known for playing Queen and the high-born (and even wrote her own cracking good joke about her acting career in “RED 2″ when Victoria’s trying to be admitted to an asylum) gets to let her hair down and loosen up her trigger finger in “RED 2″; we spoke with her in New York about guns, changing things up, collaborating and having fun at your own expense …

MSN Movies:  There’s a great shot in this where you’re in full camouflage, toting a sniper rifle that is, possibly, as tall as you are.  Do you ever think to yourself, ‘Well, this makes a lovely change of pace…’ ?

Helen Mirren: (Laughs)  Yes, yes.  I love that scene, actually, stepping out of the thing.  And a great gun, you know.  And they said, ‘Well, what would you like this one (gestures) or this one (gestures)?’, and I said, ‘Oh, that one.  The big one.’ (laughs)

Traditionally, when doing Shakespeare or Ibsen, you don’t say ‘the bigger the better,’ no?

(Laughs)  Well, you know, Shakespeare had some pretty good scenes of violence, you know.  He understood war and violence pretty well.

Read the full interview at MSN Movies:

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MSN TIFF Review: ‘The Act of Killing’

Everybody loves the movies in this terrifying documentary of monsters and art

Rating: 4/5

(“The Act of Killing” opens on Friday; this review is from last September’s Toronto International Film Festival.)

Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary “The Act of Killing,” presented here at the Toronto International Film festival in its world debut, is impossibly difficult to watch. It should be. Oppenheimer — at great risk for he and his crew, too many of which have to go anonymously in the credits for fear of their very lives — approached Anwar Congo, an elderly man in Indonesia. In 1965, when a military coup overthrew the elected presidency and replaced it with a military dictatorship, Congo was a young man, who made money scalping movie tickets and through other petty crimes.  In the next year, over one million ‘communists’ — any enemy of the state or irritant to its agents — were killed. And criminals like Congo were the killers, and those who stood by and let them kill gained power, and have stayed in power.

Oppenheimer and his crew asked Congo if he’d like to film his recollections, his experiences and his actions during anti-‘communist’ purges; he chooses to film adventure sequences, nightmares of his own death, noir­­-styled scenes of his capture and interrogation and musical numbers set to the muzak-like sounds of “Born Free” where his victims take the wire strangling-nooses he used to kill off and thank him for sending them to heaven …

– Excerpted from my MSN review, which can be found here

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