Tuesday, April 24, 2007

INTERVIEW: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright

First zombies, now cops.

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the comedy duo perhaps best known for their appearance in Shaun of the Dead, will light up the screen again this weekend in the buddy cop action film Hot Fuzz. In the film, Pegg stars as Nicholas Angel, a police sergeant so good at his job that his co-workers conspire to get him assigned to a quiet little town with no crime. With the help of a new witless partner (Frost), he'll have to solve a series of suspicious events that hint the town may be more than it seems.

This was a departure for Pegg, who had to play a more serious character than usual.

"It was difficult because I couldn't rely on the comic devices I could use if I was playing a more comic character. Shaun was very much closer to myself, in the sense that he was a regular guy," Pegg said.

His co-star also needed to do extensive research in order to prepare for his role as a policeman.

"I joined the Hungarian police force for a year. I played the character rather like a police dog." Frost said.

Most people are probably familiar with Pegg and Frost after they starred in the 2004 zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead.

"We kind of figured that we had to up the ante after Shaun of the Dead," Pegg said. "It's kind of similar in tone."

Whereas Shaun of the Dead parodied the stereotypes and cliches of zombie films, the team's new film promises to do the same thing, but within the buddy cop genre.

"We made Hot Fuzz because we wanted to make a cop movie. We're drawing attention to some of the more cliches that are used in cop films," Pegg said. "We want to make a film that could stand up as a cop buddy movie if you took away the jokes. We make jokes within the genre rather than about it."

Edgar Wright, the director of the film, said that Hot Fuzz was an even greater challenge to make than Shaun of the Dead due to its higher production values and larger crew.

"It was quite daunting. I think the thing that helped enormously was that we rehearsed with everyone before shooting," Wright said. "Doing scenes with lots of actors, no matter how famous they are, is always difficult. It was a real balancing act with the actors to make sure everyone had their moment."

Wright is also the person responsible for coming up with the title of the film.

"I always thought 'fuzz' was the coolest name for the police," Wright said. "If I was a policeman, the one slang term I wouldn't mind being called is 'the fuzz.'"

The film promises to be filled with many large-scale action sequences. Pegg and Frost did their own stunts when possible.

"We did everything we could. It was really good fun," Pegg said. "It was a challenge to leap through the air and all that sort of stuff."

Frost had a different perspective on the value of stunt work.

"I get very nervous before a stunt because hundreds of people are watching and you want them to like me afterward. It's very nerve-wracking," Frost said. "But afterward, a hundred girls clap, so it's great."


Adam Brody, the actor probably best known for his role as Seth Cohen on the television series "The O.C.", can next be seen in the film In The Land of Women. It's a film that puts Brody in his first leading role, in company with well-known co-stars such as Meg Ryan and Kristen Stewart.

The actor said he was drawn to the film by the power of the script.

"I really loved the script. It's such a mature script," Brody said. "This is a very old-fashioned, kind of sweet story. It's a very kind of hopeful, sweet, nonviolent story which I think there's a distinct lack of if you look around at movies today."

Brody stars as Carter Webb, a television writer who goes home in an attempt to find healing after his girlfriend breaks his heart. It's a role the actor said has the potential to connect with the majority of viewers.

"I don't want to say [my character's] an average guy," Brody said. "But he's just looking for some answers and, I mean, he gets broken up with. I think everyone can relate to that."

The actor said he is trying to move away from television and start a career in film.

"I'm pretty excited about film right now," Brody said. "I'm sure sooner or later I'll be back in television, but for right now I wouldn't mind doing some movies. I like the idea of telling one story and then moving on and telling another story."

Though he has had secondary roles in films such as Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Thank You For Smoking, this marks his first time as a leading man. It's a change that affected how he saw himself as an actor.

"You're always infusing a character with yourself. I felt like I sort of changed. At first I liked acting as close to me as possible, and by the end I sort of wanted the opposite," Brody said.

He also discovered how hard it actually is to lead a film.

"It's hard work. Cameos are sort of amazing because you go in for two days and then you're in a movie other people worked on really hard for a year," Brody said. "I'm in this for more than a few minutes. With this, you're working harder than you have, but it's also more fulfilling."

The film is directed by first-time director Jon Kasdan. According to Brody, he was as competent as a veteran of the industry.

"It was interesting because he doesn't come off as a first-time director at all. I don't feel like I worked with a first-time director. We became friends and hung out for about 10 months before shooting the movie while I was still doing the show," Brody said.

The actor said he chose his profession not for fame and fortune, but simply because it's what he likes to do.

"It's very important to me to love what I do, and try to find a career that I truly enjoy. You spend so much of your time at work. If you can find something that excites you to do from 9 to 5, that's half the battle of life, I think."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

FEATURE: Full Frame 2007

I have just returned from my fourth and final day covering the Full Frame documentary film festival in Durham, North Carolina. After much sleep deprivation, muscle atrophy, and enough caffeine to kill a small horse, it's over.

Full Frame really is an amazing festival. Although it's been growing, it's still very small and intimate considering it's basically the Cannes of documentary film festivals. I can't believe how many people, even around North Carolina, haven't heard of it. Holy crap, it was a blast. It's great just being surrounded by a community of people that share the same passion for documentaries and film in general. Below you will find a summary of the entire weekend, complete with pictures, day-by-day.

Firstly, though, I have to talk about the press screeners I received. I got about eight, but I only got a chance to see one, and that was The Great Happiness Place. The film focuses on the male "hosting" industry in Osaka, Japan. Basically, they're like prostitutes for emotion and love instead of just sex. Girls pay them to party with them and make them feel loved. Also, interestingly enough, most of their clients are prostitutes themselves. This is a really good documentary, and I'd encourage anyone reading to check it out. It's just really interesting how people spin webs of deception, and how other people in turn fall into them, even if they consciously know what they're doing. Fascinating.

The actual festival itself proceeded as follows.


After getting set up with all my press stuff and figuring out the ticketing system, I went to the first of many films: For The Bible Tells Me So. As I was standing in line, I noticed a middle-aged man with thick-rimmed black glasses standing in front of the theater. For some reason, I had the strange feeling that I knew this person. I puzzled over this mystery as I walked into the theater. I spied the man sitting on the aisle, and proceeded to go sit down on the row right behind him, a few seats over.

And that's when it hit me: I was sitting within arm's length of Kirby Dick. I hadn't even been at Full Frame for an hour before seeing my first celebrity. I had no idea that he was going to be there; I found out later he was part of the committee for selecting the Grand Jury Award. For those of you who don't know, Kirby Dick is an awesome documentary film director, responsible for movies like Twist of Faith and This Film Is Not Yet Rated (which is a really fun film). Unfortunately, before I could say hello and talk to him, he struck up a conversation with two guys that were there from UNC. Nooooooooooooo! Of all people, it had to be my bitter rivals!

I've noticed that I get really star-struck. It's really difficult for me to walk up to someone and be like, "I'm Andrew! I love your movies!" This even applies to non-celebrities and filmmakers that aren't really big names. The only time I can do it is if I manage to find the person alone, and not looking like they're focusing on something else. The last thing I'd like to do is piss them off because I interrupted what they were doing. So unfortunately, I didn't get to officially meet Kirby, though I saw him at several points throughout the weekend. Every time I saw him, he was either talking to someone else or seemed like he was rushing off to do something important. Still, it was cool to see him. Here's a rather poor picture of him I took at the awards ceremony:

Kirby Dick is awesome.

Anyways, back to the movie. For The Bible Tells Me So is really good. The film follows five families and the backlash they face when a member of each comes out as being gay. It's a fascinating examination of the conflict between homosexuality and religion. The film contains interviews with many religious figures (one of the main people in the film is even Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop), and they talk in-depth about the accuracy of biblical literalism and the necessity of exegesis (putting biblical passages in their historical and cultural context). A couple interesting things about the Robinson and the film:

1) The director got Robinson to be in it by sneaking through his security, barging into his office, and getting ten minutes to pitch his project.
2) Robinson has stated that he now has no idea why he said "yes" to appear in the film, but that the director was so passionate about his project he knew that it would turn out okay.

I highly recommend this film, particularly for people who struggle with the issue of homosexuality due to their religious convictions. It's particularly amazing given the fact that it's directed by a newcomer, Daniel Karslake, who ended up winning Charles E. Guggenheim Emerging Artist award at the festival for the best first-time documentary feature filmmaker.

Daniel Karslake gets his award.

Next up was the documentary I was most looking forward to seeing, Lake of Fire. Directed by American History X helmer Tony Kaye over a period of 10-15 years, the film delves deeply into both sides of the abortion debate. This film is amazing, and ended up being my personal favorite of the festival. It's shot in high-quality black-and-white (an obvious thematic metaphor) and contains some of the most interesting shots visually that I've ever seen in a documentary. It just sucked me in and wouldn't let me go. This film is definitely the single greatest examination of the abortion issue that I've ever seen. Both sides are given their fair share of screen time, and Kaye points out the strengths and weaknesses of each argument. If you're pro-choice, you will find yourself understanding where the pro-lifers are coming from, and if you're pro-life you will see the legitimacy in the pro-choice position as well. This film weighed heavy on my mind for a long time after I saw it, and has definitely expanded and influenced how I now feel about the issue. This is a film that needs to be seen by anyone who claims to have an opinion about abortion, and one that aims to inspire dialogue between the two sides. If you're a steadfast feminist, see it. If you're a hardcore conservative Christian, see it. If you're in between, see it.

After that, I wandered around for the while. Saw Ariel Dorfman surrounded by about half a dozen people. Next up was the opening night event, a screening of the German documentary Castells about a Spanish/Catalan human pyramid team. It wasn't fantastic, but it wasn't terrible either. It's one of the few documentaries I've seen that literally had the audience on the edge of their seats at points. Think of it as the inspirational sports film of documentaries.

Next up was the opening night party. It was okay. The food was the kind of upper-class fancy shmancy cuisine that looks better than it tastes. I met the producer of a film called Eloquent Nude (which I ended up not being able to catch), and chatted with a woman who was at Full Frame for the sole purpose of finding people to fund the documentary she wants to make about how Harlem is losing its culture and heritage as more and more upper-class white people move in and transform it into a typical suburban city. Sounded interesting. I hope she manages to get it made.

I ended the night by going to see Bob Dylan: 65 Revisited from D.A. Pennebaker. Pennebaker is one of the classic documentary filmmakers of our time, and the film consisted of cut footage from his famous documentary about music legend Bob Dylan, Don't Look Back. Although it lagged at times, it was interesting, and quite funny at times. I'm not a huge Dylan fan, but I don't mind his music, and a lot of the movie was made up of full-length song performances, so that was cool. I later saw Pennebaker later in the press room, but unfortunately didn't get a chance to speak to him. Still, the guy's a legend (though I must admit, I hadn't heard of him until I found out he'd be there).

After that, I got home for around 4-5 hours of sleep, before hitting the road again with Mason at 7:30 the next morning.


We started off the day by attending the Meet-The-Press/Filmmaker breakfast at a small restaurant near the theater. The food was good, especially since it was free. I ended up sitting with the director and producer of a documentary called Angels In The Dust. Although I didn't see the film, it sounded interesting. They informed me that it contains elephants, and elephants are always worth seeing.

The first screening we went to was White Light/Black Rain, which focuses on the aftermath of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It's an interesting topic, but the film suffered from severe pacing issues, and I found myself dozing in and out of consciousness.

Next up was Leila Khaled: Hijacker, a film with complex themes centering on Leila Khaled, a famed Palestenian freedom fighter responsible for various acts of terrorism, including five hijackings. This film wasn't spectacular, but I liked it, and it ended up winning an award in the end. It really makes you think about the nature of terrorism, and whether or not violence can be justified in certain situations. This was followed by Promised Paradise, a film about an Indonesian puppeteer who confronts the bomber of a Bali night club in his prison cell, and investigates whether or not the terrorists' actions can be justified in the Koran and if they'll indeed wind up in Paradise. This is a unique, intriguing film that I'd recommend checking out if you get a chance.

Followed was another double screening: The Last Days of Yasser Arafat and The Hands of Che Guevara. The former was the better of the two, and follows a journalist attempting to get a privileged one-on-one interview with the President of Palestine. It was interesting. Arafat comes across as a really nice guy who really loved his people and was almost always very jovial. The one about Che Guevara was very beautifully shot, and had an interesting premise (it follows the supposed journey of the revolutionary's hands which according to rumor were amputated upon his death). However, maybe I was just too sleepy, but the film seemed like it should have been shorted by a good 20 minutes, and I found myself in and out of consciousness again. Bummer.

After this, I attended my first special event of Full Frame. Since it's the festival's tenth anniversary, ten notable filmmakers and supporters of the festival had been chosen to present a documentary that they found meaningful, along with an essay on why it's important. I went to check out The Battle of Algiers, the 1963 classic about the Algerian war for independence from the French. I had never seen it, and I figured this was as good a time as any. It's not really a documentary, but it was presented by Oscar-nominated director Mira Nair (director of the incredible Monsoon Wedding and most recently The Namesake), who after the screening talked about the film and made a case for it being considered part of the genre. I loved the movie, and recommend that everyone see it. Mira Nair also had a lot of very interesting things to say about it, and why it's more relevant today than ever. She's obviously very smart, having graduated from Harvard. I said hello to her after the screening, and let her know that I think it's great to see strong female directors such as herself making a name for themselves in Hollywood. She seemed like a very nice person.

The one and only Mira Nair.

The night ended with a screening of Larry Flynt: The Right To Be Left Alone, which focuses on the founder of Hustler magazine and first-amendment defender Larry Flynt. It's a really interesting look at the controversial figure, and touches on all of the main points of his life. Though the cut I saw did had some slight editing problems, I really liked it. Though I personally am morally opposed to pornography, I do strongly believe in the first amendment and the right of people to buy and sell it if they so choose. Flynt has been responsible for a lot of major events due to his adamant support of freedom of the press, from his Supreme Court trial against Jerry Falwell, to his refusal to reveal the source of the DeLorean surveillance tape, to his campaign to run for President and federal lawsuit over the freedom of the press in Iraq. He just seems like a really nice, funny guy (the director referred to him as a "true gentleman") who gets a lot of crap over his occupation. To paraphrase him: "Everyone claims to support freedom of speech, but many people don't really know what that means. You can't truly support freedom of speech until you support the right of someone to get up on stage and say every single thing that you personally disagree with."

Flynt himself was supposed to show up to present the film, but got sick at the last minute and couldn't make it. However, the director and producer were there, and Jimmy Flynt showed up in his brother's place.

The director, Joan Brooker-Marks.

The producer, her husband, Walter Marks.

The two together.

Larry's brother, Jimmy.


Started out with a short documentary called Nobody Calls My Parents Losers, about a teenager who lives in an orphanage since his mother is schizophrenic and his father is manic-depressive. This was a good character-driven little doc. I liked it. This was followed by The Killer Within, a dark and fascinating film about a man with a secret - he killed a man in college - and what happens when he decides to reveal it to his family and the world. It forces the audience to come to terms with questions like: Is it possible for people to change? Is there a limit on how far forgiveness can go? It reminded me a lot like a real-life version of my own script, The Act, in many ways. Highly recommended.

Next I went to see Julia Reichert (director of my favorite documentary of all time, A Lion in the House) present her choice of an important and ground-breaking documentary. She chose Roger and Me, the first film by Michael Moore, and the film that proved documentaries could reach mainstream audiences and be as entertaining as they were informative. Again, this was another classic I hadn't seen, so I took this opportunity to see it on 35mm film. I loved it. Moore does a good job of showing the negative effects of a culture centered on capitalism and greed, even if he doesn't directly come out and state that it's an anti-capitalist film. After the screening, Reichert talked with Moore himself about the film, and Moore took a Q&A from the audience. A few interesting tidbits from the session:

1) Paraphrasing Moore: "My films are designed to make people angry, and inspire action. I want people to have a good time watching my films, but then walk up to the usher on their way out of the theater and ask, 'Where is the nearest torch?'"
2) He views capitalism as an evil economic system. When asked if there is a system he thinks the United States should adopt instead, he replied, "Norway." His new film Sicko supposedly answers this question in greater detail.
3) All of the stock General Motors footage in Roger and Me was stolen. Moore had a friend that worked in the video department of GM that snuck him in and helped him make copies of the footage he wanted. According to Moore, "Now that it's been five years and the statute of limitations is up, I can make that information public."
4) When asked if he ever worries about assassination due to his outspoken stance against the administration, he replied that he couldn't go to details, but that lately it's been on his mind since someone was recently released from prison who at one time was indeed planning to kill him.

Anyways, he seems like a pretty cool and down-to-Earth guy. You can tell he comes from a working class background, with only a high school education. He was very relaxed and upfront about everything - he didn't make a big deal about posturing, if that makes sense. I'd heard somewhere that he's actually pretty arrogant and rude, but he seemed like an alright guy to me. I wanted to meet him in person, but unfortunately the one time when I got close to him (passed him on the way down some stairs as he was coming up), he seemed like he was heading somewhere and kinda just wanted to get away from everyone. Maybe it's just me.

Julia Reichert talks to Michael Moore.

The next big event I attended was a panel discussion with many of the guest curators. Nine of the ten were present at Full Frame in person (Scorsese couldn't make it in person) and seven of them were all on stage together to discuss various issues about documentary filmmaking, such as: the role of documentaries, the differences between documentaries and narrative films and which is superior, the concept of inspiring rage in the audience, whether or not it's possible to indeed find truth, etc. It was all very interesting. The panelists were: Michael Moore, D.A. Pennebaker, Julia Reichert, Cara Mertes, Mira Nair, St. Claire Bourne and Ariel Dorfman. A few observations: St. Claire Bourne seems like a really interesting filmmaker. I had never really heard of him (I don't know enough about documentary filmmakers), but evidently he's famous for his documentaries about African-American issues, and is good friends with Spike Lee. Also - Ariel Dorfman is the man. You can tell he's a writer. He is extremely articulate and structures his sentences very uniquely, almost poetically. I'm disappointed that I didn't get to meet him, but I guess since he works at Duke if I really feel the urge to talk to him I can always drive half an hour and do it. There was also a work-in-progress documentary called A Promise to the Dead that I didn't see playing at Full Frame about his life, but that should be interesting to see when it's finished.

Julia Reichert and Mira Nair.

St. Claire Bourne, Ariel Dorfman and Cara Mertes.

Next up was In The Shadow Of The Moon, a documentary about landing on the moon with interviews with several people from the Apollo missions. This was definitely the March of the Penguins of the festival, in that it's a very mainstream and family-friendly documentary with really high production values. I recommend it for anyone interested in space missions and the lunar landing. It's very inspiring, and a lot of the footage from the space shuttle is jaw-dropping.

Saturday ended with a very well-done animated short called The Guarantee, followed by a sneak preview. I decided to attend the sneak previews this year, since the sneak last year had been Jonestown: The Life And Death of Peoples Temples, which was awesome. Unfortunately, due to the fact that distribution details haven't been worked out yet and I'm not sure if it's had an official "premiere" yet, I'm not allowed to reveal the name of the documentary in connection with Full Frame. However, I will say this: it's a very sweet, poignant documentary that I think everyone will be able to relate to in one way or another, and it wound up being one of my favorites of the whole festival. I'm going to try and figure out when exactly I can reveal what it was publicly, but for right now if you want to know you'll have to ask me privately through email or instant message.

Mason and I had been planning on seeing two more films, but by this point we were exhausted, so we decided to call it a night.


Woke up feeling lousy, so we decided to skip the first slate of documentaries in favor of another two hours of sleep. This helped greatly.

I started out the day by managing to get a brief interview with the director of last night's sneak preview. Woohoo! I really hope this film gets wide release, because it really is quite remarkable.

The first film today was another sneak preview. I'm not sure if I can reveal what it was, but I'll go ahead and say that it's about the torture issue, and deals with the scandals that took place at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Gharib. It's really heavy at times, but very good, and definitely worth seeing when it gets released. The director is also a fairly big name in the world of documentary filmmaking - three years ago he came out with a documentary about a certain corporate scandal. You might know who I'm talking about now.

After that, it was time for the Awards Ceremony and barbecue. The food this time was actually really good. None of that rich-people's food. This was good ol' North Carolina barbecue, slaw, baked beans, tea, rolls, etc. Unfortunately, like last year, I hadn't seen the films that ended up winning the big awards (Audience Award went to War Dance, and Grand Jury Prize went to The Monastary). However, I was pleased to see Lake of Fire receive an honorable mention for one award and Daniel Karslake get recognized for For The Bible Tells Me So. Another film that got a lot of attention (I think it might even have won two awards) was The Devil Came On Horseback, which focuses on the conflict in Darfur. I actually still have a press screener of this, so maybe I'll get a chance to watch it.

The final film of the festival for me was one that already has gotten a limited release, but one that I've really been wanting to see. It's Prisoner or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair. This would have made a good companion piece for the sneak preview I had recently seen. It focuses on similar events, but from a more character-driven rather than issue-driven approach. Check this one out, too.

I hung around after the screening in an attempt to talk to the director, Michael Tucker. Unfortunately, there were some other people talking with him and they were taking a long time. However, Daniel Karslake walked by and I took that opportunity to meet him instead, congratulate him on his award, and tell him how much I loved his film. We talked for a good 10-15 minutes about the film and filmmaking in general. We had a good 5-10 minute chat about the film and filmmaking in general. He's a cool guy, and had some good advice. He also told me he's thinking about next doing a documentary on world poverty, and how statistics suggest that if we spent $50 billion a year for 5-10 years, we could virtually eradicate that. That's a very striking statistic, particularly when you consider the United States has spent around $700 billion on the war in Iraq. No matter what he ends up doing next, I hope it turns out well. He's a really nice guy.

Here are a few more random pictures from the festival:

St. Claire Bourne presents an award for achievement by a filmmaker of color.

The award goes to this guy, Marco Williams, for his film "Banished."

Me and the director of the film-that-cannot-be-named. She went incognito for the picture.

Me and Mira Nair. Yeah!

Me and Daniel Karslake hanging out.

And that was this year's Full Frame. Once again, it was a blast. I saw 20 films total. There's so much to do, and I couldn't see everything I wanted to, but it was a lot of fun all the same. I hope I'll be able to continue to go, at least for the next two years while I'm still part of the college press. It's inspired me to start thinking about making documentaries myself, so who knows what will happen there. I can't wait until April 2008!

You can find trailers for some of the films you might be interested in below:

Prisoner or: How I Planned To Kill Tony Blair
The Killer Within
White Light/Black Rain
Larry Flynt: The Right To Be Left Alone

Until next year...

REVIEW: Grindhouse

Filmgoers are about to get a blast from the past this weekend with the release of Grindhouse, a double-feature that pays homage to the grindhouse exploitation films of the '60s and '70s.

Robert Rodriguez (Sin City) and Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill) have teamed up to direct a tribute to the edgy, low-budget films of their childhood. The result is a film lover's dream come true, and a damn good time as well.

The film begins with Planet Terror, an over-the-top zombie gore-fest directed by Robert Rodriguez. Rose McGowan stars as Cherry, a go-go dancer who teams up with an old boyfriend, El Wray (played perfectly by Freddy Rodriguez) and a slew of other eccentric characters to take on a horde of flesh-eating zombies and the corrupt military officials behind the infection.

Gore oozes out of every scene, the violence is nonstop, and there are so many explosions you'll think you accidentally walked into the next Michael Bay popcorn flick.

If there is any major flaw with Rodriguez's entry, it's that there's too much action, and it all seems a bit too expensive for something claiming to pay homage to low-budget exploitation films of decades past.

However, Planet Terror packs such a punch and is such a thrilling ride that this is an easily forgivable offense.

Tarantino's offering, Death Proof is a much different film, in both style and tone. Tarantino has long expressed a love for exploitation films, and he clearly knows the turf better than Rodriguez. Big-budget action is pushed aside in favor of lengthy conversations and suspense, but if there's anything Tarantino has shown he has a strength for, it's clever dialogue.

It's possible that after the kinetic energy of Planet Terror, viewers might find Death Proof lethargically slow, to the point of boring. However, every good double-feature showcases movies that are vastly different in pacing and tone, and Grindhouse is no different.

Kurt Russell's performance as a serial killer stuntman who uses a car as his weapon of choice is one of the actor's strongest yet, and indicates that he still has the acting necessary to be a leading man.

Part slasher, part feminist revenge flick, Death Proof showcases Tarantino's ability to craft both intriguing dialogue and high-octane action. Though it takes its time in getting to the car crashes and chase sequences, each scene feels like it belongs, and there's enough dark comedy to keep things interesting. When it is time for the action, Tarantino chooses to use raw filmmaking techniques rather than CGI to keep things suspenseful, and the result is a spectacular chase that demonstrates how creativity and talent are more effective than a computer any day.

In between the films, viewers are treated to another staple of Grindhouse cinema: an intermission filled with previews for coming attractions. All of the trailers in Grindhouse are fake, and crafted by such contemporary horror film directors as Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and Edgar Wright. Each trailer pokes fun at a different subgenre of horror, from slashers to foreign imports, with hilarious results.

Technically speaking, Grindhouse looks and feels like something out of an old grindhouse movie theater. Both directors highlight the conventions and the flaws of the genre, from grainy and scratched footage to missing frames. When you add to that the inclusion of fake trailers, the atmosphere is perfectly nostalgic and campy.

Some might be put off by the extreme amount of gore and nudity in the film. Frankly, I'm surprised Grindhouse didn't receive an NC-17 for some of its more graphic imagery. However, these are both foundational elements of exploitation films, and Tarantino and Rodriguez were wise to acknowledge and have fun with the sheer absurdity of it all. As a parody of the gratuity of the genre, the result never feels gratuitous itself, but only as shocking and darkly hilarious as you'd expect given the material.

This is not a perfect film. However, in terms of entertainment value, it's the best time I've had in a theater so far this year. This is a movie to see with friends in theaters, and with a large audience to share the experience. At a running time of three hours, you'll be hard-pressed to find another film that gives you as much bang for your buck as Grindhouse.

Rating: 9/10

REVIEW: Blades of Glory

It started with dodgeball. Then it was NASCAR. Now it's figure skating. Hollywood seems to be going through a phase of sports-themed comedies, and this weekend will see the release of Blades of Glory, the latest Will Ferrell movie in which he plays the same egotistical-jerk-at-the-top-of-his-game as usual. Really, does he play anything else?

Will Ferrell and Jon Heder play Chazz Michael Michaels and Jimmy MacElroy, respectively - professional figure skaters whose rivalry for each other eventually results in them being permanently prohibited from skating singles in the Olympics. However, the pair discover a loophole that will allow them to skate as a pair. They'll have to put aside their differences if they're going to steal the gold from the favored competitors, Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler).

Ferrell and Heder have great chemistry, and that's what keeps this comedy afloat. Although a lot of the jokes get repetitive, their facial expressions and mannerisms always result in at least a chuckle. With the exception of the two leads, all of the other characters are entirely one-dimensional, existing only to crack a few one-liners and move the story along. It's unfortunate more time wasn't spent developing the script, but as a comedy it does succeed in garnering laughs.

The film reaches its peak when it moves away from the obvious homosexual innuendoes and focuses on developing the rivalry between the two protagonists and finding newer and better skating techniques. The figure skating is perfectly exaggerated, playing off the conventions of the sport and its athletes with the right balance of seriousness and satire.

Blades of Glory is not the great, timeless comedy that it had potential to be. However, neither is it the tired clich�d piece of garbage it also could have been. Rather, it's content to stay somewhere in the middle. The jokes are the kind that you'll find yourself laughing at and then forgetting within minutes of leaving the theater.

In the end, this is just your standard comedy, nothing more. It doesn't live up to its potential, but it should satisfy viewers, at least until the next Will Ferrell sports movie comes out.

Rating: 6.5/10


Jon Heder is probably best known to most as the socially inept yet lovable Napoleon Dynamite. However, ever since that small film became a cult sensation, the actor has had the opportunity to work with many veteran directors and actors and make a name for himself in Hollywood. He can next be seen alongside Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory, a comedy about two male figure skaters who end up competing as a pair.

According to Heder, it's a film audiences are lucky to see. There was a brief period of time during which it was nearly cancelled, after the actor broke his ankle during training.

"I wish I could say it was a cool accident and I was doing a cool trick, but I wasn't. I was going into a spin and my foot stayed stuck in the ice, so I just kind of crumpled on top of it," Heder said. "There was a brief time where we really thought the movie wasn't going to happen."

Luckily, he was able to heal and complete the production. One of the biggest things he said attracted him to the project was the opportunity to learn how to figure skate. He found the sport to be demanding both physically and in terms of his acting.

"It was a challenge but I loved it. I was extremely excited to learn a new skill," Heder said. "It's athletic, but you're acting at the same time. You have to work your muscles but you also have to be showy. You have to have grace and pizzazz."

Unlike some of the other films he's been in, the physical nature of the role combined with the larger scale of production made it a challenge to work on.

"It was like a workhouse. We did have a fun time, but as opposed to some of the other sets I've worked on, it was a lot of hard work," Heder said. "We get there and we want to be funny but we also want to look good on the ice."

Heder said working with Will Ferrell was a good part of making the movie.

"It's great. There's no ego. All the guy cares about is making people laugh and entertaining people," he said.

There was, however, a little friendly competition between the two actors.

"The competitive parts usually came on the ice, like who was the better skater. We were both kind of new at it," Heder said. "I remember thinking, 'Will has three extra weeks of training than me, but I can still skate circles around him.'"

Despite the difficulty of the work, he and Ferrell were able to find ways to improvise and have fun on the set. For example, the actors would often invent new and unique figure skating maneuvers.

"'Love Dust' was a move I came up with. It's pulling the sparkles out of your heart, blowing them into the air and letting them fade into existence through your fingers," Heder said.

Heder also had input on some of the costuming choices for his character.

"I'm very proud of the peacock costume. That was kind of my doing," Heder said. "We got the idea from Johnny Weir, who's a great American figure skater who had a swan outfit that he used one time."

Weir was not the only professional athlete to influence the film. Many figure skaters were consulted for the film, and even have cameos in the final product.

"There's a lot of famous skaters that came on. The one I interacted with the most was Scott Hamilton. He was really cool," Heder said. "He was the one that was kind of telling us, 'There's crazier stuff in the world of ice skating. You need to go farther!'"

Although he would be interested in doing more dramatic roles, the actor said he finds comedic roles to be very enjoyable.

"There's something fun about it. You feel good when you can make someone laugh and make yourself laugh," Heder said. "I really enjoy physical comedy, kind of turning your body into a cartoon. You can get so much about a character through the way they position themselves and the way they move."

Blades of Glory opens nationwide Friday, March 30.

INTERVIEW: Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg has risen through the ranks of Hollywood like few have. Once known as the crotch-grabbing rapper Marky Mark, he went on to become admired for his acting talent, even going as far as to achieve an Oscar nomination for his role in last year's The Departed. The actor can now be seen this weekend in Shooter, an action-packed shoot-em-up meant to pay homage to the action-conspiracy films of the '70s.

"The high-intensity action movies that they've been making lately aren't really the kind of character-driven movies that I love and that I grew up watching in the '70s," Whalberg said. This is kind of a throw-back to that."

The film was adapted from a novel, though other things were instrumental in crafting the character. According to the actor, one of the biggest challenges of the film was its physical demands. He did all his own stunts, as a means of maintaining the audience's suspension of disbelief.

"I knew going in it was going to be tough, but actually making the movie, the stuff was pretty rigorous," Wahlberg said. "And with this, I had no previous sniper training, so we went to sniper school and physically I had to really transform."

In the film, Wahlberg plays Bobby Lee Swagger, an ex-sniper hired to protect the president from assassination. Things take a turn for the worse when he's framed for an attempt, and he becomes a fugitive who must find the real killer and the reason for the setup.

"I don't think it's a glorified soldier role at all. I mean, now knowing what being a sniper entails, it is an extremely difficult job. There's not much glamour involved in it at all," said Wahlberg. "You know, you've got a guy who's all about honor and integrity. It's much more of a Travis Bickle or a Dirty Harry than it is a Terminator-type character."

INTERVIEW: Wes & Jonathan Craven

Thirty years after the release of a remake of his 1977 horror film The Hills Have Eyes, Wes Craven teamed up with his son, Jonathan, in writing a sequel to the 2006 remake. The Hills Have Eyes II which will be released into theaters this weekend, follows a group of military trainees who are attacked by mutants in the desert.

"It was great. I've never had a smoother writing experience," Jonathan said. "We sat in a room for a month and pounded out a first draft. We got along great and had a great time."

Though both Cravens had writing experience, this was the first time they had teamed up and collaborated on a project.

"We could have conversations about being a father, which was a new thing for us. It was two writers and two fathers writing together," Wes said.

As one of the godfathers of the horror genre, responsible for films such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, Wes said there are only a few rules he tries to follow when writing and directing his movies.

"The basic questions I try to ask are, 'Would I like to watch this?' and 'Have you already seen a movie like this?'" Wes said. "Also, don't kill the cameraman."

Though he has been displeased with some of the recent trends in the horror films, he said he feels that movie studios are finally back on the right track in regards to the genre.

"Thankfully they've gotten past the PG-13 remakes of Japanese horror movies," Wes said. "I think we're back to very hard-hitting horror films. It's very in-your-face sort of horror because it's so horrific."

His son agreed, and said he felt that this new film fits perfectly within that category of horror.

"This is sort of post-postmodern horror. It's just kind of back to the basic sincerity of horror filmmaking. It's brutal and direct," Jonathan said. "I think people that like horror with dark humor will like this movie."

Though The Hills Have Eyes II follows a similar premise to the first in that people are being attacked by cannibalistic mutants, there was a distinct difference in the characterization of the protagonists.

"The first one was about a family who was way out of their element. You had a baby who was taken and members of the family who were threatened and killed," said Jonathan. "This year's movie is more about the family of a small military unit. They're two different sorts of families, and this one takes it up a notch in terms of horror."

Focusing the film on a group of soldiers also brings up a interesting thematic difference with the previous film. Could something like The Hills Have Eyes II be viewed as a political statement against the war in Iraq?

"There is an obvious parallel," Wes said. "However, I don't think anyone wanted to make a film that was political, but just explore the idea of people forced into a situation that they're unprepared for and untrained for."

The two writers also hinted that there might be more films following this group of mutants in the future.

"We hope there will be a third," Wes said.