- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
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Tag Archives: Jack Black
In the Richard Linklater film “Bernie,” the title character — based on the real Bernie Tilde, a Texas resident embroiled in a headline-grabbing murder case when he accidentally killed his best friend and benefactor Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) — is played with a pitch-perfect mix of grandstanding and shyness by Jack Black. Black made his name as the wildman in comedies from “High Fidelity” to “School of Rock,” But Bernie is a much more restrained performance — strange, sweet and sorrowful, while still showing the life and vivacity the real Bernie was, and is, known for. We spoke with Black in Austin at SXSW, where “Bernie” played Wednesday night.
MSN Movies: What was the degree of apprehension for you, as a native son of California, to play such a Texas part and did the “outsiderishness” help in that?
That was one of the most attractive parts of the role. Getting to play someone from a different region. It’s always fun to inhabit a character with a different accent because you get to do a little “actor-y” research. And you’ve got something that gives you clues as to who this person is. And there’s so much of the personality in the voice, you know? And I also have always felt sort of a strange kinship to the Texas people. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, but people a lot of times will say, “Are you from Texas?” For some reason, I feel like I’ve always had a little bit of Texas in my soul. Maybe in a past life I might have been a Texan military officer. I’m channeling myself right now.Please note that Mr. Black is now channeling himself through his past lives.Well, I just did a movie with Shirley MacLaine, so I know how to do this.
Sitting down opposite Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson, it’s hard to not feel a moment of awe — after all, each of the three is renowned for comedy timing, quick-wittedness and a remarkable willingness to go all the way for a joke. Talking about their birdwatching comedy “The Big Year,” Martin, Black and Wilson talked about the nature of competition, the allure of birding and of the elastic way time stretches or shrinks depending on your interest level.
At one point, Jo Beth Williams’ character says, ‘They’re men, dear: If they’re not competing, they die.’ Do you find that to be the case? Are you competitive gentlemen?
Wilson: I’m definitely competitive. I don’t think insanely competitive, but there are people that are so competitive they keep playing because it hurts too much to lose. I’m the type of competitive where I’d actually like to play somebody who’s a little better, because it’s more fun, it’s more challenging.
Martin: Who would want to play a game against someone who’s not competitive?
Wilson: They play a game against somebody who they can beat. My friend Don Nelson would rather play somebody in shuffleboard that he can beat 20 times in a row, whereas I’d rather play somebody who’s a little bit better.
Black: I want to win so badly that, like your friend, if I sense that I’m not going to win, I’ll pretend like I’m not interested in that game, like, ‘Eh, what a boring game.’
Wilson: That would drive me crazy. That would infuriate me.
It is, perhaps, too unkind to call “The Big Year” the perfect film to screen on a trans-oceanic plane flight whose compliment of passengers is made up solely of AARP Members. But we can think of no words of praise less slight and no words of condemnation more heated, so there it is. Inspired roughly by Mark Obmascik’s non-fiction book of the same name, three fictional characters are our guides through the biggest event in American birdwatching, the annual competition to see the most North American birds in a year.
A nice interest — and one compounded by the fact that you don’t even need to have photographic proof — or, if you can cite the sound call precisely, even see the bird. Owen Wilson is a go-getter contractor who holds the record; Steve Martin is a man who has to put aside his CEO status and marriage to pursue his dream; Jack Black is a divorced engineer who has to overcome lack of funds and the disapproval of his gruff dad. Director David Frankel — who gave us the fizzy “The Devil Wears Prada” and the fuzzy “Marley and Me” — doesn’t try to push this big, fat, slowball of middlebrow entertainment out to the edges, where it might make it over the fence either as satire or as low-and-slow drama, but instead puts it right back over the middle of the mound to limp to death in a catcher’s mitt.
Frankel has an embarrassment of riches here — supporting-part bench strength from Jo Beth Williams, Dianne Wiest, Rosamund Pike, Rashida Jones and Angelica Huston — and that’s just the ladies. Also on board are Brian Dennehy, Jim Parsons, Barry Shabaka Henley, Joel McHale, Kevin Pollak, Anthony Anderson and Tim Blake Nelson. He most assuredly has a cast — and a beautiful canvas in the wide open spaces of America, but chooses to shoot it tight and flat and squashed as a postcard, even if shot in 2.35:1. “The Big Year” will, we’re sure, become a big film for families trapped indoors on holidays who don’t hate each other enough to drink but who don’t like each other enough to talk.
While not part of the official selections at Cannes, someone at Paramount studios must figured that if you have to have the stars of “Kung Fu Panda 2″ meet the press, well, why not do it in the South of France? Especially since the first “Panda” played there out-of-competition back in 2008 — and also probably in no small part because Angelina Jolie probably had family plans to travel with “Tree of Life” star Brad Pitt …
Sitting with Jack Black and Jolie, the voices of Po the Panda and Tigress, I asked exactly to what degree either of them acted out while in the recording booth; does the kung-fu spirit move them to move? Jolie thought so: “It can get pretty physical.” Black, renowned for his distinctive physicality on-screen, was even more sure: “I do like to mimic any of the moves that Panda’s going to do. I like to do it, too, so I get the vocalizations just right.”
As a sequel, “Kung Fu Panda 2″ is also in 3D — so, I asked Jolie, how did everyone involved make sure that the film wasn’t just bigger but also better? “Why it stands out is because so many animated films are great, but (‘Panda 2′) does stand on its own in that it’s an ancient story, it’s a classic, and it feels like a classic with kung fu and animals and fun.” Jolie explained that many of the merits of “Kung Fu Panda 2″ were revealed to her in the making of it.”It has a beautiful message in it. We knew that — (but) I didn’t know exactly which ones, and then we discovered that they were about family and inner peace and coming to terms with who you are and friendship and loyalty. It was what we’d hoped for, and better than I imagined.”
With Black, his excitement about the sequel was a little more down to earth — and all about Gary Oldman’s bad guy, an albino peacock named Lord Shen. “I love that it had a great new villain with a very evil and intriguing plan. At the same time, Po had this inner journey that he was going to take to find out who he really is — and to find inner peace is the only way to truly kick ass. It seemed like a really good, fun movie.”
As Po, Black has a mix of enthusiasm and observational irony; how hard is it, I wondered, for him to get into that headspace? “It’s pretty easy. It’s basically me in my teen years — that’s how I think of it. The first movie, Po was me when I was 10 years old, and this one’s me when I was 13, 14. The next one will probably be …” ‘Kung Fu College,’ I asked? ” Black shrugged: “Who knows? I didn’t know where that was going. It might be a prequel. We might go back — before I was born. Haley Joel Osment will take over.”
With animation, having a great actor as the new villain is all well and good — until you realize that you may never be in the same room with him. So did Jolie and Black feel mixed emotions about having Oldman join the cast but not necessarily them? Jolie nodded: “Absolutely. We think, ‘I’m finally doing a movie with Gary Oldman — but he’s a peacock and I’m a tiger and we’re not on the same team.’ The other side of it is … who cares? I just get to do a movie with Gary Oldman. ” Black also felt that having someone with bad guy experience was imperative: “Yeah, he’s always been one of my favorites. He’s done so many great ones over the years. That was the big question: ‘Who’s going to be the peacock? Who’s going to be the villain?’ When I heard Gary Oldman’s name, my heart’s like, ‘Come on … please come true.'”
You may not recall much of “Gulliver’s Travels,” the 1726 fable by Jonathan Swift. Maybe you can see, in your mind’s eye, shipwrecked traveler Lemuel Gulliver on the beach, bound by hundreds of the tiny Lilliputians, residents of the first strange shore he washes up on. Or perhaps you see Gulliver, now himself small, among the giants of Brobdingnag. You don’t really have to recall much more than that from your long-ago slog through the book in high school or from one of the many filmed versions; the people behind this new 3-D version, modernized and starring Jack Black as Gulliver, certainly don’t bring much more than those two images from the book to the table. Instead, “Gulliver’s Travels” is an incredibly costly, special effects-laden plotless muddle of a film that might as well be called “In the Name of Jesus, Doesn’t the Prospect of Leaving the House and Not Having to Talk to Your Family for 90 Minutes During the Christmas Holiday Sound Appealing?”
Directed by Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Shark Tale“), “Gulliver’s Travels” casts Black as Lemuel Gulliver, a mail room employee at a New York newspaper, who, desperate to impress comely travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), fibs and plagiarizes enough of a writing career to get an assignment to investigate some phenomena near the Bermuda Triangle. Adrift — literally, once he gets aboard a boat — and unprepared, Gulliver is picked up by a waterspout that deposits him in Lilliput, where everyone is one-twelfth the size of a normal human and yet 100 percent as worthy of consideration and the truth.
Neither of which Gulliver extends, fibbing himself into heroic status and saving the day in several unlikely ways. This impresses the King (Billy Connolly) and his daughter Mary (Emily Blunt) and the lowly worker Horatio (Jason Segel) he befriends; it does not impress Gen. Edward (Chris O’Dowd), the leader of the Lilliputian armies, and a bit of a blowhard and a boor. O’Dowd is a very funny actor, and his general is a fairly funny performance — imagine Michael Caine from “Zulu” as a John Cleese character — and any time O’Dowd, or anyone on-screen, does anything you might want to watch and enjoy, the film gets self-conscious and hurries to provide another pee, butt or belly joke.
Which is the strangest thing about watching “Gulliver’s Travels”: Everyone in it is really good. Connolly, Peet, O’Dowd are all comedic talents. Blunt has a real presence. Segel is somehow charming and yet foolish, silly and sincere. And while a little of Black’s boastful bragging and rubber-faced clowning goes a long way, they are hardly the worst thing in the world to watch. Nicolas Stoller and Joe Stillman have written a script full of tiresome platitudes and special effects-aided urine jokes, each there solely to move toward the closing dance number and credits with a minimum of fuss. The message of “Gulliver’s Travels” is, apparently, “Just be yourself” and “Don’t lie.” Considering that the budget for this film is tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, I would like to let 20th Century Fox know that I will tell kids “Just be yourself” and “Don’t lie” for half of what they spent on this film and its green-screen effects and marquee-name musical numbers.
The great irony is that Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels” to satirize the social order of his day. Now, this 2010 version, bloated with pixels and hurling itself off the screen in 3-D, feels like an unintentional satire of modern kids-movie excesses and banality. When the film needs to end, it’s not the culmination of several plot threads; it’s a musical number, a happy sing-along version of a song released in 1969. A “giant” Lilliputian robot is added for ostensibly comedic effect. Gulliver’s journey to Brobdingnag gets short shrift. And again, the traditional problem of big-budget family entertainment arises, where the grown-up jokes are too grown-up for the younger kids in the audience and the jokes for kids are too insipid and simplistic to appeal to grown-ups. It’s as if Stoller and Stillman wrote some billboard-ready, poster-ready and trailer-ready scenes for the marketing department to use and then stopped. Like I said, you probably don’t recall much of the original “Gulliver’s Travels.” The good news is that even if you get dragged to this big-money modernization of the tale, you won’t recall much of this version, either.