- 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: John C. Reilly
As the distracted-but-doting father in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,” John C. Reilly plays an affable, warm man who may not have all the facts; as the title teen, Ezra Miller is magnetically malevolent. But sitting down to talk about the film, the two laughed and complimented each other on their press-day wardrobes. Reilly, in a blue jacket and straw fedora, laughed as Miller flipped over copies of that day’s “Metro” paper that featured Miller’s face on the cover: “I’m just a little perturbed by sitting and looking at what looks like a jury of my peers that are myself staring back at me. It’s a little strange to me still; I guess I’m not acclimated.” Reilly explained how “I prefer to be overdressed than underdressed. My self-esteem is low enough; I don’t need to drag myself down further.” He nodded towards co-star Miller: “You don’t know what that’s like: You’re a golden child.”
Reilly felt lucky, though, as he explained coming on board the film: “I was obsessed with Lynne Ramsay for years and years. I loved ‘Ratcatcher’ and ‘Morvern Callar’ and it’s been some years since ‘Morvern Callar’ came out. I was like, ‘What happened to that woman? I’ve got to find out what happened.’ I called my agent at the time, and I said, ‘Here’s the directors I want to work with.’ The first person I said was Lynne, and he said, ‘Actually, it’s funny you mention that. She’s just written the script, and she wants you to do it.’ And here we are at Cannes.
Reilly and Miller both praised how Ramsay and co-writer Rory Kinnear transformed Shriver’s original novel — which is written as a series of letters — into, as Reilly put it, something new, “Instead of this corny voiceover treatment of a diary kind of thing.” Miller shuddered: “The horror of voiceover.”
Reilly didn’t take a Cannes debut for granted, but he also didn’t think it was that unlikely: “We had high hopes, and Lynne has had good success here at Cannes in the past; Tilda is beloved here. I knew — if the movie came together in the way that Lynne wants it to — ‘I think we have a shot there.’ When the news finally came — and it came late; they don’t really let you know until right before — it was much celebration around the world, because all of us are scattered all over the world right after we shot it.”
Less happy, for Miller, was trying to get into Kevin’s toxic mindset. “For me, it was about really trying to create the internal conditions of someone who’s, in a certain way, neglected, and how that development tracks from an incredibly young age. Adolescence — which is where my Kevin appears — is the moment when everything you felt throughout your childhood takes on this very distinct black-and-white clarity and you feel so righteous and certain in your course of action. Kevin is furious that there’s so much inauthenticity that he’s been treated with his entire life. Essentially for me the most important thing was really having no judgment of him whatsoever, just fully feeling all of that constantly — which was, indeed, a little traumatizing.” Miller laughed: “But in a good way.”
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is one of the most beautifully bleak psychological fake-outs the cinema’s given us in years, as Lynne Ramsay (”Ratcatcher,” “Morvern Callar”) directs an adaptation of Lionel Shriver‘s 2003 novel. At first blush, Ramsay’s film would appear to be a look into the genesis and reasons behind the title teen’s killing spree; the film we get is something different entirely, an exploration of loss and pain and grief through the eyes of the mother (Tilda Swinton) left shattered and battered in the wake of her son’s irrational, irredeemable actions.
Ramsay’s been out of the loop for a while—she was famously slated to helm Alice Sebold‘s “The Lovely Bones before Peter Jackson took the job only to wholeheartedly botch it; her last film was 2002’s “Morvern Callar.” What “We Need to Talk About Kevin” makes abundantly clear is that her absence is far more our loss than hers. The novel was a series of letters, written by Eve (Swinton) to her husband in the aftermath of Kevin’s actions; the film flickers and skips between moments like memory, or a bad dream, and the net effect is both as plainspoken as a death sentence and as impressionistic as color on a stark background.
The formalist construction here is a thing of wonder—there’s a brute splash or slash of red in so many scenes that you think Ramsay must be joking, and then she throws in a brief nod to assure you that she is (watch carefully in the grocery store) and then continues so that it is clear she is not. Jonny Greenwood‘s muted score mixes with blues and pop numbers, some too-on-the-nose and some not. The sonic collage of the film—suburban sprinklers hissing and ticking like coiled vipers, far-away sirens and up-close whispers—also works to establish mood and tone with real and rich effect.
Swinton is superb, and if there were any doubt she’s one of our greatest living actresses, that has now been removed with one swift stroke. We see Eve as a young woman in love, as a young mother in crisis, as an older mother in … denial? Panic? Ignorance? We’re shown Eve’s flaws and failings as a parent—but if being an imperfect mother—tired and frustrated and ambivalent about parenthood—were enough to make a child a killer, the gutters would be overflowing with blood.
Rather, the script (by Ramsay and collaborator Rory Kinnear) and Ezra Miller‘s work as the teen Kevin (aided by Rock Duer and Jasper Newell as the toddler-aged and childhood Kevins) make it clear that Kevin is a manipulative monster, a sneering sociopath, and that looking for reasons would be, at best, folly; Kevin is one of those people where, bluntly, the machinery came off the assembly line already broken. Some of Kevin’s plots and stratagems will seem almost ridiculous—and they are—but at the same time, anything less would offer the film, and the audience, and the characters, an easy series of outs. In “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” you gaze into the abyss and it can’t even be bothered to make eye contact with you.
John C. Reilly’s work as Eve’s husband Franklin is peripheral—as it should be. Swinton’s Eve is the film—its eyes, its voice and its perspective—and watching Eve struggle mightily to achieve small victories in the face of colossal losses is immensely affecting. At times, Swinton is pale and clammy with grief and agony; when she smiles, it’s with the luminous blur of a dying light bulb. Eve is not perfect; no one knows this with more fervor, or with more reason, than Eve herself.
We’d hesitate to call “We Need to Talk About Kevin” a thriller, but there are moments where we sat riveted and fretful with the slow-wound tension of the moment. We’d hesitate to call it a drama, but it had moments of truth—as big as agony, as small as a nod of the head—that clutched at our heart. We’d hesitate to call the film a tragedy, even with classic themes and images nestled among the station wagons and tile hospital corridors, and as Swinton scrubs and scrapes at red paint like Lady Macbeth. We can call “We Need to Talk About Kevin” fascinating, and chilling, and a welcome return for a director who shouldn’t have had to be away for as long as she was; Ramsay’s look at guilt, loss and shame is the kind of hard, unflinching stuff that gives off sparks of insight and truth each time it strikes hard at your brain and heart.
In “Cedar Rapids,” Ed Helms makes the scariest jump of any actor’s career: from supporting player to leading man. Helms — best known for comedic work on “The Daily Show” and “The Office” on the small-screen, and for “The Hangover” at the movies — plays Tim Lippe. Tim’s a heartland junior insurance man dispatched to the regional convention in Cedar Rapids, where he falls in with rogue insurance salespeople John C. Reilly and Anne Heche, and woozy, boozy hilarity ensues.
Speaking with Helms in January at Sundance, where the film made its debut, the 37-year-old Helms couldn’t have been happier about the fact his film got to use Sundance as a launching pad.
“It’s the coolest thing ever. The energy here is so positive. I feel like people go to movies hoping for the best. What Sundance represents, in terms of a love of passionate moviemaking and storytelling and people who really put their ass out there in the wind and make movies without a lot of support or hope of distribution or hope of exposure — they’re brought to a place like Sundance to be celebrated. That’s a really cool thing to be part of, and it feels like a really good fit for us.”
But even with micro studio backing from Fox Searchlight, Helms is quick to note that “Cedar Rapids” has plenty of off-kilter situations and characters, especially his part as Tim. But, at the same time, Helms knew he couldn’t go too crazy playing Tim: “I think it was always an effort to stay true to the backstory of this character, which is very unusual. He’s not a normal guy. Tim’s life story is so specific and weird and not of the Midwest: His parents died when he was very young — his dad in a horrible, violent sawmill accident, his mom later on as a young teenager — and he’s never had guidance. He’s always taken a path of very little resistance, and he’s never been challenged. I think the choices about how naïve he is in different times, it was all based on a rather dramatic — but I believe plausible — backstory of a guy who is incredibly sheltered and, arguably, stunted in a lot of ways.”
But it’s not all Method acting and deep character. I had to ask Helms: How hard is it to keep a straight face when John C. Reilly, stripped down to his skivvies, is pooching his belly into your eyeline? “It’s impossible,” he said. “The outtakes will bear that out. But there’s something also about John that, no matter how ridiculous and funny he’s being, in a movie like this — as opposed to something like ‘Stepbrothers,’ for example — he’s also being so in-the-moment and poignant. If you can try to focus on that, it’s easier to stay present as an actor. He’s a spectacle to watch and to work with.” Even as you both sit there in your underwear? Helms shook his head. “Yes. A lot of underwear in this movie.”
As party-hearty insurance saleswoman Joan Ostrowski-Fox in “Cedar Rapids,” Anne Heche sports a shock of red hair and an attitude that reminds you how “scarlet” rhymes with “harlot.” Sassy, sexy and loose, Joan is a standout supporting role for Heche, an actress clearly relishing her chance to play a role that allows her to act and not just be a tabloid target, as she was in years past.
At Sundance, I asked Heche if the red locks were the key to her character. “Completely,” she said. “It’s really nice when things help you from the outside in. If your clothes work, if your hair is right, that’s all a great beginning.”
But, I asked, did director Miguel Arteta come up with the idea of Joan’s hair? “He did not,” she said. “I did. I read the script and had been a blonde for a while on ‘Hung’ and knew there was an image that was associated with that character that I certainly wanted to change. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, necessarily. As I read (‘Cedar Rapids’), one of the guys who worked with me on my hair, I asked him if I could borrow a red wig, and I put it on, and I thought, ‘This is it. Miguel’s either going to throw me out of the room, or he’s going to say, ‘This is the beginning of a really fun character.’ Fortunately, he loved the wig and laughed and said, ‘Thank God you’re not a blonde.’ From then on, he never got off her being a redhead and would not allow her to be anything but a redhead from that first moment.”
But Joan’s more than her haircut, and Heche relished playing the backslapping-saleswoman side of Joan. “She’s a fantastic broad,” she said. “I think (she’s) drawn in terms of how we accept men going away for a business trip: We think they’re going to go away, they’re going to party, they may have a little dalliance over here with a little lady. That’s all fine and we accept that in terms of what we think men will do, and (screenwriter Phil Johnston) wrote that for her, too, which I thought was a real nice gender play. She is one of the boys.”
Joan’s Cedar Rapids party time includes a roll in the hay with Helm’s Tim Lippe — and so, I asked Heche, which is harder: Shooting comedy or shooting sex? “Shooting comedy is really fun,” she said. “It’s sometimes complicated and often specific and certainly lovely and joyous, especially when you’re working with a team of people that are this funny. Shooting sex is not fun: It’s with somebody that you’re not a partner with; it’s awkward; you hope to get it over with quickly and hope that it translates the way it’s supposed to on-screen. … There’s nothing comfortable for anyone involved in them.”
Worse than the sex? The convention hotel’s overchlorinated swimming pool, where Heche, Helms and Reilly drunkenly bond. “It was disgusting,” she said. “It smelled so bad. You could almost float in it like the Great Salt Lake. Honestly, it was vile.” But, I wondered, did that suffering help you, Helms and Reilly bond? Heche laughed: “For sure. Maybe it was the fumes of that that helped infuse our friendship.”
“As the 2010 Sundance Film Festival comes closer, it would be very easy to run through the catalog of films and pick-and-choose the highlights, all the while knowing that no listing of a few films can capture all of the possibilities the festival presents in its 31st year. If you like a little Hollywood glamour with your Sundance experience, there’s “The Runaways,” the story of L.A.’s infamous girl group, featuring Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. If you’re a documentary maven, there’s “Cane Toads: The Conquest,” a sequel to 1988’s “Cane Toads: An Unnatural History,” about the long-term ecological consequences of Australia’s best-known least-loved foreign guest — this time in 3-D. If you’re hoping for lightning to strike twice, or eager to mock what some call “the Braff Effect,” where a popular sitcom actor tries to show a different side at Sundance, there’s “happythankyoumoreplease,” where “How I Met Your Mother“‘s Josh Radnor writes, directs and stars in a tale of, yes, modern love.
And the list goes on: If you want a little politics in your Sundance experience, there’s “12th & Delaware,” where the directors of “Jesus Camp,” Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, boil the American debate about abortion down to one corner in Florida, where an anti-abortion group and an abortion clinic literally sit on opposite sides of the street. The Sundance mix of crime and off-kilter storytelling is represented by several films this year, like “Holy Rollers,” featuring Jesse Eisenberg in the true-life tale of a Hasidic Jew who became an ecstasy smuggler; the creepy vanguard of horror is still alive and well in the Midnight selection, with films like “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil,” which stars Alan Tudyk in a parody of the “cabin in the woods” horror flicks Sundance has seen before.
And while Sundance seems to be offering more of the same, that “same” is always different — and there are several big changes in the air this year, like a new section called “Next” that’s designed to offer new filmmakers a showcase (and, perhaps, reduce the “Stars in Snowgear” effect that some claim has made Sundance too beholden to A-list actors “slumming” in independent films). Director and actor Mark Duplass will be at Sundance this year with “Cyrus,” the third feature he’s created alongside his co-director, co-writer and brother Jay, and while his film has a budget and stars (including Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei) and distribution through Fox Searchlight, he’s aware of, and grateful for, how “Next” focuses on, as the Festival puts it, “innovative, original work in low- and no-budget filmmaking.”
Duplass has a more direct take on why “Next” matters: “Their desire to really support the micro- or no-budget filmmaking movement … it’s almost like they’re starting to curate talent. They’ve shown all five of our movies so far. And we were these little kids who didn’t know what we were doing when we made our first short in 2003 [“This is John”], and we’ve kind of grown up with Sundance over the years.””
“More and more these days, movies are presented to us not merely as films in and of themselves, not as something as simple and strong as a single story well-told but, rather, as the first installment of the franchise the studio would like to start up and running. You can sense it in the film’s shape and structure; all laborious set-up, a climax that feels more like the lead up to the halftime whistle, the introduction of too many characters and an overall feel of pained, panicked over-exertion that’s about as appealing as watching your waiter grow sweat-stains under the armpit of his shirt at a restaurant.
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is based on a series of young adult novels by Darren Shan; interestingly, or creepily, the hero’s name is Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia), a good-hearted teen drawn a little to the dark, who is eager to bear witness, along with his friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), when the creepy Cirque du Freak comes to town. One of the Cirque’s lead performers, Mr. Crepsley (John C. Reilly) is a showman to die for who’s never going to die; he’s a vampire. And soon — to save Steve’s life — Darren is as well, and hurled into the war between the immortal-yet-moral vampires and their bloodthirsty brethren, the vampineze, while the malevolent Mr. Tiny (Michael Cerveris) looks on waiting for a long-prophesied war to begin … which, yes, sounds like pretty much every other work of young adult fantasy in the past 100 years, doesn’t it?”
— from my redblog review.
Two different but not unrelated things flitted across my consciousness last week. One was the realization that we’re approaching the 10th anniversary of the release of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights; the other was the death of Jim Mitchell, the notorious porn prince of San Francisco. Time marches on; it puts movies into the canon and people into the ground, and all we can do is stand dumbstruck about the fact both happen and look at old photos, old movies, old things to try and forget that we’re getting old too.
And if any movie ever got the toxic, narcotic repellent appeal of both porn and ’70s nostalgia, it’s Boogie Nights. Sure, Anderson’s film is exuberant and flashy and energetic — Anderson admits that Scorsese’s one of his biggest influences — but it’s also sad and grim and unblinking. For every scene of brightly-lit disco dancing and laughter in Boogie Nights, there’s another where small bills change hands in small alleys, or similar transactions where all parties involved lose a little bit of their soul. Rose-colored glasses don’t just change the hue of what we’re looking at, they affect focus — when we think of Saturday Night Fever, we think of Travolta dancing in white, not the rape scene or the suicide; when we think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, we think of Sean Penn’s wacky Spiccoli, not the bare-bulb sex scene or Jennifer Jason Leigh’s abortion. But it’s hard — in fact, nearly impossible — to look back at Boogie Nights and separate the sizzle from the sleaze, which just demonstrates how good it is.
But, at the same time, Boogie Nights is fun, is exuberant, is engaging. Part of that is watching very talented actors be given the space to riff and improvise (John C. Reilly and Don Cheadle, in particular) and part of it is the comedy inherent in contrast between the character’s internal conception of what they do and the more blunt reality. Julianne Moore is an amazing actress, no question, but if you ever want to see the proof, check out the scenes in Boogie Nights where her character, Amber Waves, is ‘acting’ in porn, and saying dialogue like “As you may or may not know, this is an important film for me. If it’s not a hit, I’m gonna get kicked out of my apartment. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦” Anyone can make Shakespeare look good; you have to be an amazing actor to play bad acting that convincingly, that well. Moore, Mark Wahlberg and Heather Graham all pull that trick off in Boogie Nights, and the film’s better for it.
Another great thing about Boogie Nights is that for all the sex and salacious stuff, it’s also a movie about movies. It would make a great double-bill with Singing in the Rain, actually — they’re both about the changing art of moviemaking. Singing in the Rain’s about when movies went from silent to sound; Boogie Night’s about when porn went from film to video. And, at the same time, Boogie Nights’ romanticized vision of porn is contrasted with the reality — the banality of it, how un-sexy it really is, how it’s a production-line industry. Boogie Nights’s characters are obsessed with surfaces and style and consumerism — Cheadle’s love of stereo gear, Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler raving about a new shirt that “This is imported Italian nylon. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦” — and that as that sinks in you realize it’s in part because they’re commodities, too.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s commentary track on the fully-loaded two-disc set of Boogie Nights makes his love/hate relationship with the porn industry pretty clear — and it also gives great insights into how he works, what he cares about and why he makes movies. With his next film There Will Be Blood (an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!) coming soon, re-visiting Boogie Nights give you a sense of what to look forward to — a film about an industry, and the people in it, and about California’s dream-curse of infinite possibility. I’ve watched Boogie Nights over and over again, and I’m still not sure if it’s a sad film about sexy people or a sexy film about sad people; that uncertainty’s exactly why I keep going back to it, and tribute to Anderson’s triumph.