'Bruce' the shark with Steven Spielberg in 1975 on the set of Jaws.
The 73-year-old Japanese animation titan Hayao Miyazaki says The Wind Rises is his final film, and if that’s true—and I hope it’s not but fear it is, since he’s not the type to make rash declarations—if that’s true, he’s going out on a high. The movie won’t, I’m afraid, appeal to kids the way Ponyo or Spirited Away does. It’s monster-, ghost-, and mermaid-free. It centers on grown-ups and is gently paced—maybe 15 minutes too long, I’d say, but you can forgive those longueurs when the work is this exquisite. It’s romantic, tragic, and inexorably strange, a portrait of a young Japanese man who dreams of creating flying machines and the Imperial Empire that funds his research. His country will take those machines and send them off to rain death and destruction on its enemies—but that’s not something to which the young designer gives too much thought. It’s not part of the dream of flight.
— David Edelstein on Miyazaki’s newest—and perhaps last—film The Wind Rises
Director Alexander Payne’s film Nebraska is nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. In his recent conversation with Terry Gross they discussed his short in the 2006 anthology film Paris Je t’aime. Terry asks the director about actress Margo Martindale’s emotional scene:
"You see in that clip that she has very ready access to emotion, and that’s what the great actors have and that’s why life is often so difficult for them because they can’t keep their emotions tamped down as you and I can. So then if you can put an oil pump on the spurting oil well of emotion, then you can be a professional actor.
And so I think we did 4 or 5 takes and she was equally good in all of them and it was just a matter of making sure the camera was right and the timing with the voiceover and so forth. But I clearly remember having 3 or 4 great takes to deal with. The good ones keep it going, it’s not just like oh, one take where they really hit that emotion—well, maybe, but let’s try it again. The cameraman missed it. The assistant cameraman made your eyes out of focus. We need to do it again.
Or, I remember telling Paul Giamatti in Sideways, he was really in a deep place and I had to say, “Okay, stop Paul. Could you please rotate your head 12 degrees to the left?” I mean, we all have to understand that film is technical as well as emotional.”
Fun extra: Here’s Payne on the Colbert Report
photo via salon credit: Merie W. Wallace
In his Fresh Air interview director David O. Russell explains how Christian Bale’s “noticeable” comb-over in American Hustle relates to the larger themes of the film:
It’s his own hair, he combs his own hair, it’s a comb-over … they have like some kind of wool that people can put in there, on their head, they can glue it to the top of their head. I mean, I watched many people — my dad’s friends and even my dad construct themselves. To me, what that scene is about really … it’s not just his hair, it’s really what the whole movie is about — which is about the fragility of identity. I think identity is fragile. … I think love is also fragile and is living and shifting, like shifting ground under your feet.
Greetings from Sundance!
The last time Fresh Air had staff at the Sundance Film Festival was 1999. This year both Associate Producer Heidi Saman (left) and Producer Ann Marie Baldonado are at the festival, now in full swing. Heidi, who is also an accomplished filmmaker, is there as a Sundance Knight Fellow. Ann Marie is there to check out films for future guests and will give her thoughts on films premiering here.
Stay tuned for more updates!
Fresh Air’s tech contributor Alexis Madrigal discusses his research on the many “micro-genres” of Netflix. Here’s an excerpt of his piece:
Now it’s become one of the company’s big selling points. Netflix doesn’t just provide streaming movies and TV shows; it knows you.
Thinking about how specific Netflix could get, I started to wonder, “Just how many micro-genres does Netflix really have?”
A friend pointed out that the web addresses for the categories in the Netflix database were sequentially numbered, and that I could type through each URL, one by one, and figure out all the micro-genres.
The first brought up African-American Crime Documentaries. The second pulled up Scary Cult Movies From The 1980s. The next was Tearjerkers From The 1970s. After a couple more minutes, I tried entry 10,000, just to see if the database was really that big. Japanese Horror Movies From The 1960s was in that slot.
There was no way I could copy and paste tens of thousands of genre titles by hand, so I wrote a simple script, a little piece of code, that would copy the names to a list. I set it up to run and then I waited, as the script kept copying-and-pasting for more than 20 hours.
I found that Netflix has 76,897 separate categories. To my knowledge, no one outside Netflix has ever compiled this mass of data before. And now we can really understand how the system works.
Director Alexander Payne speaks to Terry Gross today about how he mixed non-professional, professional, and non-actors on the set of Nebraska, trying to create a believable, real life feel:
All of my films, and [Nebraska] even more so, are a combination of highly seasoned, professional actors who typically live in Los Angeles or New York; local, non-professional actors … [who do] community theater, local commercials, that sort of thing; … and then non-actors, people really off the street or, in this case, off the farm whom John Jackson, my casting director, and I make a point of finding.
For this film, it took over a year of casting to find, for example, those retired farmers who play some of Bruce Dern’s character’s brothers and their wives. And it was a long process of putting out casting notices on, for example, rural radio after the farm report or in small town newspapers. …
That’s how we began to assemble the cast. So there are many people in the film who have never even been in a high school play. … At the same time we’re trying to find non-actors who can reliably present an unselfconscious version of themselves when the camera is running, I also have to ensure that the professionals coming from the coasts are believable in that setting.
image via LA Times
From left, Dennis McCoig as Uncle Verne, June Squibb as Kate Grant and Bruce Dern as Woody Grant in a scene from the film “Nebraska, ”
Sure the Toronto International Film Festival closed a few weeks ago with 12 Years A Slave winning the Audience Award (FYI, that Audience Award isn’t always an indication that a film will do well, but recent recipients include Best Picture Oscar winners The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire and last year’s Silver Linings Playbook). But the films that showed there are slowly but surely making their way to theaters near you and will continue to do so well into 2014. Fresh Air Producers Ann Marie Baldonado and Lauren Krenzel have some final thoughts on some films you may want to look out for.
12 Years a Slave (pictured above)
I say believe the hype. This film about a free black man (Chiwetel Eijofor) who gets kidnapped and forced into slavery is incredibly difficult to watch, but is so incredibly worth it. You see families callously separated, slaves beaten to death or near death, and the quiet, outrageous indignities slaves had to endure on Southern plantations in the 1840s and 50s. During the official TIFF press conference for the film, director Steve McQueen said he wanted to make a movie about slavery because he “wanted to see images from that particular past, (he) wanted to experience it through images.” This visual artist turned feature film director expertly takes us through scenes that are long, in a way too long, forcing viewers to deal with the brutality of what they are watching. At times you are floored, you flinch or shut your eyes, you may cry, but you have to deal with the images. McQueen’s choices are careful, deliberate, political. Yes, it’s a difficult 2 plus hours to sit through, but if 12 Years a Slave is a film that is trying to honestly address slavery, shouldn’t it be? (Also stars Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sara Paulson and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o. Release date: October 18th) – Ann Marie Baldonado
As Nicole Holofcener said during the Q & A after the premiere of Enough Said, this is the film of hers that “actually has a plot.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus stars as a divorced masseuse who starts to date a middle-aged man, only to find out she’s also unknowingly befriended his ex-wife who begins listing all of his irritating faults. It’s a comedy of manners and the performances sparkle. Louis-Dreyfus uses her considerable comedic skills to portray a flawed woman you can enjoy. The rest of the cast is also great—-with Toni Collette as a refreshingly honest friend and Catherine Keener as the poetess ex-wife. But it’s bittersweet to see James Gandolfini here in one of his last roles. His presence is so keen and natural and intelligent, you’re left feeling slightly bereft at the end of this adult comedy. (In theaters now) –Lauren Krenzel
This is the movie Matthew McConaughey lost all of that weight for. Sure, dramatically transforming your physical appearance for an acting role is the equivalent of donning a sandwich board that says “Reward me with an Oscar nomination”, but I say you have to hand it to McConaughey; in this film he also managed to strap on the acting chops we all kind of knew that he had ( right?). The film is based on the true story of Ron Woodroff, a straight electrician/rodeo cowboy who contracted HIV in 1986. He denies that he has the “gay disease” for as long as he can, then finally starts looking for treatment. After getting frustrated with the lack of drugs available to treat HIV/AIDS patients, he starts smuggling cutting edge treatments into the US from all over the world. At first, he treats himself, but then begins selling the drugs out of a motel room. He consequently becomes a lifeline for the mostly gay population suffering with the disease, giving his clients the treatments the FDA is too slow to approve. Also looking completely skeletal is Jared Leto, who plays a pre-op transsexual who becomes Woodroff’s unlikely business partner and friend. Leto may also be getting some Oscar attention for his work. The film loses a little narrative steam as it goes on, but it’s matter-of-fact style and extremely strong performances can’t be denied. (Release date: November 1st)- AMB
This latest film by veteran filmmaker Jim Jarmusch could easily be dismissed as just another vampire project. But this one lingers in the mind long after, with great visuals, grinding, dark music and the luminous Tilda Swinton—who could very well be an actual vampire. Here, she is centuries-old and lives in present-day Tangiers but travels to Detroit to help her depressed, underground musician, vampire husband, played by Tom Hiddleston. Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin and John Hurt show up to complicate the plot and in the end, the film becomes an oddly humorous and poetic meditation on eternal life and a very long marriage. (Release date: TBA)- LK
A few years ago, Mumbai and New York City based director Ritesh Batra was working on a short documentary about the century-old practice of delivering homemade lunches to the offices of Mumbai; couriers pick up lunch containers from homes in surrounding towns and through an elaborate system that utilizes bicycles, trains, color coding, and symbols, those boxes somehow find their way to the right desks in the right office buildings, then find their way back to the right homes after lunch. That exposure inspired Batra to write the screenplay for The Lunchbox, a film that charmed film festival audiences in Cannes before doing so in Toronto (I think this film could have been a serious contender for the Audience Prize, had its second public screening not been upended by print problems). A stay-at-home mother (Nimrat Kaur) fears she is losing touch with her husband who is working longer hours. In attempt to get him to notice her again, she pours a lot of love and effort into the lunches she prepares for him (try not to see this film on an empty stomach). The usually fool proof lunch delivery system fails when her culinary masterpieces are wrongfully delivered to a grumpy widower who is about to retire, played by Irrfan Khan. The lonely wife and lonely office worker start writing notes to each other, delivered in the lunchbox, and begin to find the connection they have both been longing for. This is a great first feature by Batra. He finds beauty and interest in Mumbai’s cramped train cars and non descript office buildings— not an easy feat— though perhaps his best directorial move was casting Kahn as his leading man. Here again Kahn displays his ability to impart all of his characters, no matter how taciturn, with an interior life. Inevitably, you can see it in his eyes, a certain longing and regret that is always compelling. Hopefully the news this week that India did not chose The Lunchbox as its Oscar submission this year (and Batra’s vocal reaction against it) won’t stop people from finding this film. (Release date: TBA)- AMB
Here is a piece of trivia. Jason Bateman became the Directors Guild of America’s youngest-ever director when he helmed a few episodes of his show The Hogan Family when he was eighteen. Now over 20 years later, he has finally directed a feature film. Why did he choose Bad Words to be his first feature? He says it was partly due to the fact that the dark, “Blacklist” screenplay was close to his own sense of humor, and partly because “the size and the scope of the film” was something he felt he could take on. He is right that there is something to be said for not biting off more than you can chew, and he does just that. This great, tight little comedy kept me laughing throughout, with lines and bits that were just. plain. wrong. Bateman plays 40-year-old Guy Trilby, a misanthrope who after finding a loophole in the national spelling bee guidelines, decides he is going to compete and take every pre-pubescent kid down. He verbally abuses the children. He uses their insecurities— about their bodies, their nerdiness, their parents—against them, shaking their confidence, disrupting the careful way they attack each word they need to spell. He does befriend one competitor, Chaitanya, a naive Indian-American boy played by relative newcomer Rohan Chand (who at 9 is about the age Bateman was when he started acting). One sequence where Guy takes Chaitanya out for a night on the town, complete with ice cream, car chases, pranks on cops, drinking, and an interaction with a prostitute, left the Toronto crowd howling. Sounds wrong, right? That’s what makes it funny. I say with Bad Words, our love affair with Bateman’s portrayal of morally questionable men continues. Focus features just announced this week that the film will make it to theaters early next year. (Also stars Allison Janney, Kathryn Hahn, and Phillip Baker Hall. Release date: March 21st, 2014)
Even though we saw 15 movies each, we still managed to miss a few that caused lots of excitement and bidding wars at the festival: The F Word, starring soon-to-be Fresh Air guest Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, and Adam Driver; Can a Song Save Your Life, starring Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo, directed by John Carney who directed Once, and All is By My Side, directed by John Ridley, starring Andre Benjamin aka Andre 3000 of Outkast as a young Jimmy Hendrix. Ann Marie saw sections of this film and found Benjamin’s turn as Hendrix to be kind of extraordinary. (Release dates to be announced)
Fresh Air producers Ann Marie Baldonado and Lauren Krenzel are at the Toronto International Film Festival, which starts today.
Ann Marie and Lauren are the producers that book television and film guests for the show and in addition to watching a lot of films and taking down notes for potential guests for Fresh Air, they’ll be doing short interviews with filmmakers and actors attending the festival.
Here is the first of their “Dispatches From Toronto.” Stay tuned for interviews and notes from behind-the-scenes at the festival.
David Edelstein on Neil Jordan's new film Byzantium:
Jordan and writer Moira Buffini weave stories within stories; every vampire has a tale to tell. An extended excerpt from the old Hammer film Dracula: Prince of Darkness, seen on a TV, clues you into the movie’s revisionist theme: In that picture, monks hammer an enormous stake through the heart of a writhing, nightgown-clad female vampire — an obvious metaphor for women being punished for carnal desire. But the females in Byzantium assert their right to indulge.
The desire to make images move, the need to capture movement seems to be with us 30,000 years ago in the cave paintings of Chauvet. … [T]he bison appears to have multiple sets of legs. Maybe that was the artist’s way of creating the impression of movement. I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge. It’s an attempt to capture the mystery of who and what we are and then to think about, to contemplate that mystery.
— Martin Scorsese in his 2013 NEH Jefferson Lecture, "Persistence of Vision: Reading the Language of Cinema." Fresh Air excerpted the lecture for a portion of our show on Tuesday.
David Edelstein on the new P.J. Hogan comedy Mental, starring Toni Colette:
Toni Collette plays every acting part as if she has nothing to lose — what director Hogan clearly treasures. Her Shaz has a bit of Auntie Mame, but this is no sixties R.D. Laing portrait of mental illness as healthful. We cheer Shaz when she takes revenge on people who’ve given the Moochmore girls a hard time — including the mother’s square sister, who hacks off part of the youngest daughter’s red hair for a Queen Elizabeth doll she’s making. But Shaz is in a dark place. She can turn on anyone, even the girls.
On today’s show, David Edelstein reviews three different films that share the common impulse to demonstrate indelibly how for girls, behaving outrageously is still a political act. Here’s what he has to say about one of those films, Beyond the Hills:
Mungiu based Beyond the Hills on a true story, though he soft-pedals the degree of sexual abuse the girl based on Alina suffered in the orphanage. But there’s no ambiguity: The more she acts out, the more outraged Papa becomes. It’s a long and grueling film with a haunting wide-screen palette, stark and oppressive but teeming with veiled women who come and go like puppets.
The filmmakers’ notion is to go back before Dorothy and Toto and chart the journey from Kansas to Oz of the wonderful wizard himself — here called Oscar Diggs and played by James Franco as a traveling-carnival magician who uses his bag of tricks to get women into bed. No, it’s not author L. Frank Baum’s wizard, but I for one think the idea for the character is inspired. He’s the kind of flimflam artist Mark Twain might have come up with — and, in fact, did in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
Image from Oz courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures