In celebration of its 15th anniversary, a restored, 4K version of the sci-fi drama cult classic “Donnie Darko” is being released on Blu-ray on April 18. The film tells the story of a troubled high school student (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his imaginary friend, a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days.
During an interview with director/writer Richard Kelly earlier this week in anticipation of the remastered film, we talked about the cult status of “Donnie Darko,” how he thinks the movie would fare if it was pitched to studios today, and how Kelly feels about the trajectory of his career up to this point.
Back in 2001, “Donnie Darko” only grossed a little over $7 million at the box office, but would later be labeled a cult film because of its success on the video market. Looking back 16 years later, would you rather have had it become a mainstream success at the theaters and evaded the cult label or is its status as a cult film an important element of what the film is today?
Well, I would love to have a theatrical hit. That would mean a lot to me and I think it would make things a lot easier for me to make more films with greater frequency. I think this was the path that “Donnie Darko” was meant to take. For whatever reason, it needed to take it’s time and marinate. I’m really honored that it continues to connect with people. It means a lot to me that people would ascribe cult status to it. I am proud to wear the badge of a cult film. But I also do believe [“Donnie Darko”] has pushed its way into the mainstream to a significant degree. I think it is becoming more mainstream year by year. It was never a theatrical hit, but I believe that because of the digital and home entertainment space, it has become something that has been seen by a lot of people. I’m just grateful that people continue to respond to it.
If you were to pitch “Donnie Darko” to an independent studio today, what do you think would happen? How has the indie side of the industry changed?
I think there’s a stronger appetite for 80s nostalgia now that didn’t exist in the year 2001. I think a lot of people looked at us like we were crazy when we were pitching doing a 1988 period piece in the year 2000 because that was only 12 years in the past. It would be like pitching a 2005 period piece today. People would sort of roll their eyes. (Laughs) But a lot has changed. We have Netflix and Video on Demand and iTunes and streaming services that can deliver movies to millions of households. There isn’t that feeling that if your movie doesn’t get a theatrical release, then it’s invalidated or it’s not legitimate enough. That’s the way it was in 2001. If you didn’t get a theatrical release in 2001, you wouldn’t get reviewed by the major critics and the major newspapers. Maybe to some degree that’s still true today, but you have these streaming services that can deliver independent films out of Sundance very quickly and in a very high-profile way. I’m open to anything and everything, but I do love the theatrical experience and I do think “Donnie Darko” was meant to be seen on the big screen.
What kind of parallels, if any, do you see in the political landscape you include in “Donnie Darko”—the rebellious nature of the teens during a transitional period in the White House—and what is taking place today in Washington, D.C.? Are there comparisons you can make?
In 1988, we were transition from [Ronald] Reagan to [George H.W.] Bush. We had a candidate in Michael Dukakis who was unsuccessful in galvanizing the liberal base and the younger generation that was rebellious against the Reagan-era policies. In the film, you see Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character and her stance with her parents. It was almost like a failure to change the administration. Now, we see the pendulum swinging from one direction to the other after eight years. Back then, we had eight years of Bill Clinton followed by eight years of George W. Bush followed by eight years of Barack Obama. So, you’re looking at three pendulum swings of two-term presidencies. If the pendulum swung in Michael Dukakis’s favor, how would history be different? That’s kind of what we were thinking in the movie. What could the state of our nation have been? We’re obviously in pivotal days in the history of our nation today. There is a lot to think about.
Because you’ve been so connected with this film for the last 16 years and because Frank the rabbit is such a menacing cinematic character, I was wondering if in this last decade and a half you’ve had nightmares about Frank. Has he ever pop up randomly in your dreams?
Never once, no. (Laughs) Never once. I think I got him out of my dreams by making the film. I got it out of my system. I never dream about my own films, perhaps because I live with it every single day of my life. I never dream about a film I already made. But I’ll dream about a film I’m going to make in the future, that’s for sure.
Do you own a copy of “Donnie Darko” on VHS? Also, what would you tell my wife who has been begging me for the last 15 years to throw away my over 300 VHS movies that are taking up space in our house?
(Laughs) I do not own VHS tapes anymore. I think those were sent away to wherever VHS tapes go—VHS heaven. What would I say to your wife who is upset that you haven’t discarded your VHS collection? I think there’s nostalgia to those tapes. I think they’ll probably be worth something someday.
I’m surprised you don’t own at least one copy of “Donnie Darko” on VHS since back in 2001 that’s how most people saw the film. I mean, DVDs weren’t really popular at that time.
Yeah, I remember VHS everywhere in Blockbuster. I just remember I hated the VHS and original DVD artwork they did. It was such a bastardization of the original poster. I hated it.
Last year, Kevin Smith compared you to Christopher Nolan during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter and basically said you’re one of the greatest filmmakers but haven’t been given the opportunity to really break out yet. How do you feel about your career progression? Is it something you think about at all?
I guess I’m constantly just disappointed in myself. (Laughs) I mean, those were very lovely words from Kevin Smith. He’s been a really great friend over the years. I am very flattered that he would say that about me. I guess, if anything, I’ve been working really hard on my screenplays and trying to make sure my next film has all the elements in place to be successful and that I have the proper budget to realize my vision and to try and dazzle people. I don’t want to make a film that disappoints people. I think I’ve been really deliberate and careful. I have written a lot of screenplays. I certainly hope to make many, many more films. I would love to be successful and work with even a fraction of the budget that Christopher Nolan gets to work with. He’s an extraordinary filmmaker. He actually helped give me a career and protect “Donnie Darko” because we had the same distributor back in 2001 when he made “Memento.” He really helped me and supported me and has continued to support me over the years. Yeah, I’m eager to hopefully work at a higher budget level if I can, that’s for sure.
In 1964, Life magazine called Madalyn Murray O’Hair, atheist activist and founder of American Atheists, “the most hated woman in America.” The year prior, O’Hair was involved in the historic U.S. Supreme Court case that declared Bible reading unconstitutional in American public schools.
Thirty-two years after the landmark ruling, O’Hair, at the age of 76, along with her son Jon, and granddaughter Robin, were murdered and dismembered in San Antonio, Texas, after an attempt was made to extort money from O’Hair’s organization.
If the violent crime in 1995 is not something you’re familiar with, the recently-released Netflix drama “The Most Hated Woman in America” revisits the life of O’Hair and explains how she became one of the nation’s most outspoken leaders of atheism and how that led to her death at the hands of convicted felon David Waters.
The film stars Academy Award-winning actress Melissa Leo (“The Fighter”) as O’Hair, and actor Josh Lucas (Hulk) as Waters. During an interview with me at the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this month, Leo and Lucas were more than open to discussing the admiration they both have for O’Hair and the religious freedom she fought for her entire life.
“I can’t imagine what this country would be like if every person educated through the public-school system had been indoctrinated over these years in that way,” Leo, 56, said. “We would live in a Christian nation, and that would be very terrifying to me.”
While some would argue that O’Hair attempted to force her own beliefs on others, Lucas, who describes O’Hair’s story as a “phenomenal mess,” thinks she was helping protect all religions.
“She was telling everyone that they have the right to do whatever they want,” Lucas, 45, said. “That’s what this country was established as and that’s what this manic struggle from an ideological perspective has been ever since. This country has always been at war with itself in that way.”
For Leo, the answer to how the U.S. was established is an obvious one that should not be ignored. It’s an ugly history that this country will never heal from, Leo said, unless it is recognized a lot more than it has been in the last 500 years.
“It will always go back to the genocide of the first nation’s people, on which this country is based,” Leo said. “White people came here seeking religious freedom. There is a contradiction there that, until it gets spoken about, will never change and only worsen.”
As for his own personal religious beliefs, Lucas said making “The Most Hated Woman in America” has challenged him to question his relationship to God, spirituality, and humanity, especially during a transitioning political climate that is currently instilling fear in people nationwide.
“The world order is changing,” Lucas said. “It has led me to ask myself more directly about who I am and what I want in my life. What I keep coming back to is that human beings are both divine and diabolic at the same time, which is exactly what these characters are in the film.”
Leo hopes an introduction to these characters, especially O’Hair, will reignite dialogue about religious freedom in the U.S. Whether you agree or disagree with her belief system, she would like people to realize that O’Hair transformed this nation for the better.
“She had the kind of flaws most people have” Leo said. “If she had been less vilified as ‘the most hated woman in America,’ maybe she wouldn’t have had to say, ‘OK, I’ll show you that I am!’ I think Madalyn got in her own way, but no more so than most human beings.”
In the new sci-fi horror film “Life,” Swedish/Chilean director Daniel Espinosa (“Safe House”) tells the story of a team of scientists who discover an evolving and dangerous life form that escapes in space and begins to wreak havoc on the crew.
During an interview with me during the South by Southwest Film Festival earlier this month, Espinosa, 40, talked to me about his thoughts about the sci-fi genre, and how his fear of small spaces affected the making of the movie.
Prior to making “Life,” what was your relationship with sci-fi? Was it a genre that intrigued you? Did you think it was something you’d like to try during your career?
The idea that I would get to do sci-fi was something almost surreal. I never pictured it was something that would happen. It was more like one of those daydreams—allowing yourself to have dreams that are bigger than you could imagine. I think all directors want to be in the world of science fiction—even great, artistic directors like [Andrei] Tarkovsky. I think we’re all intrigued by this genre.
I got the opportunity to interview you in 2012 when you made “Safe House” with Denzel Washington. During that interview, you said when it comes to making American films, “you have all the money you want” and “it’s almost like a dilemma” because “how can you be creative when anything is possible?” Did you have the same experience making “Life?”
No, because my budget [for “Life”] was like $56 million or $58 million. I mean, “Gravity” looks like a more expensive movie, but not a much more expensive movie. And “Gravity” was $120 million. [“Life”] was severely under-budgeted. It costs more the other way around when it requires creativity. I decided to shoot the movie only with one camera and no second unit this time. So, there were more limitations. You have to be aware of what story you want to tell.
Something I didn’t know about you until recently was that you’re actually claustrophobic. Did you worry at all that you wouldn’t be able to make it through this film just from a physical standpoint? I mean, how did you work in such a confined space.
(Laughs) Yeah, I can’t even stand the idea of tight confinements! I just told myself that this was a good thing for the movie. I used it almost like a spider sense. When my anxiety went up, I knew the shot was great.
How do you feel when “Life” gets compared to other sci-fi films like “Alien” or “Gravity” or “The Thing?” Would you rather that it stood on its own?
I think in the tradition of science fiction, you’re always supposed to talk about each other and compare. “2001” has to echo against “Solaris.” And they have to echo against “Alien.” And “Alien” has to echo with “The Thing.” In comparison to “Alien,” “Alien” was placed in this dystopian future, which was modern back in the 1970s because of the atomic era and the fear of the atomic bomb. I think science fiction is supposed to be a keyhole into the future—a look to technology. I think that keyhole today doesn’t allow you to look into the future. It only allows you to look to tomorrow. That’s what I found fascinating with [“Life”]. It takes place tomorrow.
You explained in another interview that you spoke to director Ridley Scott after his upcoming “Alien” movie was placed on the schedule on the exact same date as the release of “Life,” which forced you to change your release date. How much of that strategic, behind-the-scenes stuff is frustrating for you as a director, or do you welcome that competition?
I don’t care, man. It’s complicated making movies. I don’t really get too many headaches over those kinds of things. I’m only concerned about getting my movie as close to what I want it to be. Making a movie is like raising a child. You see all these dreams and aspirations, and hope you have the knowledge and insight to be able to facilitate those possibilities.
What were some of the challenges of making a movie where a CGI character is the main antagonist? Did you enjoy the process for those scenes?
I thought it was kind of fun. It’s fun having the actors revert back to their roots. The root of performance is imagination and creation. To let these actors present this inner fear on screen at something they can’t see coming, but can only imagine was interesting. An imagination will always be stronger than reality.
I know you live in Sweden and you have no plans to move to Hollywood. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on opportunities because you don’t live closer to the action?
No, I don’t. I really enjoy my quiet life in Stockholm. I get to walk with my daughter to pre-school. I get to walk home and meet an old friend on the street corner. He yells at me a little bit for being a sellout in America. And then I go home and make a coffee and read a script. Do you think I would give that up to be in the fast-paced life of Hollywood and to hang out at some bar with celebrities?
You’re half Swedish and half Chilean. What do you resonate with the most about your Latino heritage?
I think it’s our revolutionary past. It’s a side of ourselves that will never die down. When people say, “Is it hard to be in the Hollywood system?” I say, “It’s hard being a refugee, man. This is easy.” When I meet studio heads and they want to fight, we’ll give them a fight. It’s like a Mexican boxer. You know they’ll give a good fight no matter what.
There are about 150,000 Chilean immigrants living in the U.S. today. What do you say to those people who are part of the political landscape today who think we need to worry about America first and not immigrants or refugees?
I think that’s terrible. I think that’s atrocious. Most of those people who criticize Latinos, they are former refugees. Most of those people who came over on the Mayflower were bandits and crooks. They are in a horrible position to be pointing their finger. This country was based on the brilliance of refugees. It’s very un-American.
Although considered to be at one of the high points of his 30-year-career as a stand-up comedian, Louie Anderson wouldn’t mind if journalists scrapped the word “resurgence” for something a bit more poetic.
“This isn’t really a resurgence,” Anderson, 64, told the me during a phone interview earlier this month. “This is a brand new third act of my life. It’s like the window has opened and people can hear me. They have rediscovered me.”
What they have rediscovered is Anderson doing what he has been doing ever since he made his professional TV debut on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1984—making people laugh. The only difference this time is that he’s doing it while wearing colorful blouses.
In the hit FX comedy series “Baskets,” Anderson plays Christine Baskets, the mother of twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets (both played by Zach Galifianakis). The role earned Anderson an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series last September.
During our interview, Anderson, who is making a tour stop at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday, March 26 at 7pm, talked about his success on his new TV show, growing old, and why he doesn’t do political humor on stage.
Did you actually come to San Antonio to shoot your scene in “Cloak and Dagger” in 1984?
Um, I’d have to look that up. Was I in that movie?
Yes, you had a small role. You played a taxi cab driver.
Ah, OK. No, we were on a street at Universal Studios.
Oh, that’s too bad. Compared to other cities, San Antonio doesn’t have too many major films we can claim.
So, then, yes! Let’s say yes. Yes. That’s how you fix that. You can start the rumor.
You made your first appearance on national TV in 1984. A lot of what you did back then was self-deprecating humor, which I know you still do now. How much has your material changed?
I like to tell people I do all the F words—family, food, father, being fat, being over 50. All the clean F words, I guess. I do a lot of food stuff. Did I mention food? I have a lot of fun. Stand-up is my first love and the thing I would put at the top of my résumé.
You’re turning 64 on Friday (March 24). Do you plan to use the Beatles’ song as an intro to all your shows?
That’s really a great song, isn’t it?! I was at a birthday party recently for somebody who was turning 64 and they played that song when they walked in. It’s certainly a song of my era. But I’d rather be 46. It’s always better to be younger because parts wear out and you can’t just go out and get them like knees and the back. I’m in pretty good shape, but I think 64 might change it all—change the perspective. If you were to ask me if I feel 64, I would say no. I just did a Funny or Die and I felt very young.
When you go on stage now to do stand-up, does it feel like a job or is it still as fulfilling as it was early in your career?
Oh, yeah, if not more so because now there is a whole new group of people getting to see me. It’s like I have a whole new audience. That gives me a boost right there. I’ve always believed this: You have to get up for your show. You have to be there—be present. You have to do a great job. Don’t mail it in. If you’re there 100 percent, your audience will also be there.
You mentioned that you are a clean comedian. Do you think there was a time in your career where you could’ve made the decision to go the other way and become offensive or controversial?
I think I could’ve been a completely different comedian, yeah. But I think for me, it wouldn’t have worked. What’s innate for me and comfortable for me is what I’m doing. If the dirtier or edgier stuff became more important to me, I would do it. So, I think for me I wanted to reach the family. I wanted people to be able to bring their kids and their parents to my show. Also, you get a lot more jobs on TV when you’re clean. At least that’s how it was when I started out.
So, along with staying clean, something else I noticed, especially now that everyone is doing it, is that you don’t talk politics. Why don’t you go there?
Yeah, I don’t talk too much about politics. In real life, if you did a survey of your audience, you might be surprised who your fan base is. [Politics] is not my thing. I guess I could be very political. I think everyone is political with their own beliefs, but I want people to have the greatest time they can [at my shows]. I want them to be able to forget their troubles. I want them to leave behind the newscast and just relax.
But you’re active on Twitter, so all you have to do is tweet something to Donald Trump and you’d be in the headlines the next day if he tweeted you back.
Oh, yeah. I do do an impression of him in my act. People can come and see that. [Trump] looks a lot like my oldest brother, so whenever I see him I always think of my older brother. But [politics] really isn’t me. It’s not where I’m going. I have a lot of beliefs and I love this country, but I’m a stand-up comedian. I mean, so many people are doing the political stuff and I’m glad. I think there’s an appetite for it, but my appetite is for a taco shell made out of chicken.
I know you pulled your inspiration for your character Christine Baskets on “Baskets” from your mother. What would she think of your portrayal? Would she find it funny?
Yeah, I think she’d really like it, but then she’d try to correct me. She’d be like, “You know when you’re doing that one thing, Louie? It’s not the same way I would do it.” I get it, mom. It’s OK. I get it. So, she would love it. She would feel special because it’s definitely a homage to her. She’s be thrilled.
The second season of “Baskets” is coming to an end this week.
Do you hope the ride continues and FX says yes to a third season? What would that mean to you? (Editor’s Note: After this interview, Netflix renewed “Baskets” for a third season).
Well, what I love is what’s next for the family and what’s next for Christine. The writing is so good. The people are so terrific. There’s just so much great stuff going on. I just feel the ride is getting up on that big hill and getting ready to go on another season. Everybody, I’m sure, would be excited to do it. I try not to think about that too much. I try to be present. I miss working on it when I’m away and I love working on it when I’m there.
You’ve joked before that you’re the most successful Anderson child—you come from a family of 11 children. Can you give me an example of what your brothers and sisters do for a living?
Oh, yeah. I had one brother who was a locksmith and also spoke to police departments about crime. Two of my sisters were homemakers. Both had six kids, so they were full-time moms. My other sister was a hairdresser. My other sister owned a flower shop. So, they had small businesses. I have a brother who is a carpenter and another who worked for a pawn shop for years. My other brother was a high school janitor. He’s the brother that was much funnier than I was, actually.
What is an Uncle Louie like?
You know, I love all the kids. I’m doing a benefit for one of my nephews who is deaf to help raise money for his school in Minnesota. I try to give advice, but try not to tell people what to do with their lives. I try to be loving and caring and kind and understanding. I want them to know they can confide in me. I want the best for them. I have one nephew who is a stand-up comic. He’s doing really well. He doesn’t mention he is my nephew, which I really think was the smart way to go. He wanted to make his own way. I want them to be able to do things and try things and get the most out of their lives.
In the independent drama “The Sense of an Ending,” Academy Award-winning actor Jim Broadbent (“Iris”) stars as Tony Webster, a man who must confront his past when the mother of a former lover dies and leaves him a mysterious journal that changes the course of his life. The film, which is directed by Indian filmmaker Ritesh Batra (“The Lunchbox”), is adapted from the 2011 novel of the same name by British author Julian Barnes.
During an interview with Broadbent, 67, who is known for such films as “Moulin Rouge!,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” and the “Bridget Jones” franchise, we talked about the similarities of his newest film with the theater, and what message about confronting one’s past he would like people to take from the theater. Broadbent also spoke about his experience starring in Season 7 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which premieres this summer.
I know you have a fondness for the theater. Is a film like “The Sense of an Ending”—with its intimate scenes and smaller production—as close of a moviemaking experience you can get to working on the stage?
That never occurred to me. [The film] is very intimate and very quiet. It’s very contained, really. A lot of that is because my character Tony Webster is at home on his own. I think that would make for great theater, certainly in terms of having great one-to-one scenes.
Is there a specific message you would like audiences to take from this film about confronting their past and finding closure?
I love the whole theme of the film. It’s about history and about the stories we tell ourselves and how unreliable they are. In a way, it invites us to think about and confront our past and learn from it. [Tony] is a character that is divorced and is living on his own, but he is quite pleased with himself—quite self-satisfied. He thinks he’s got it all sorted and then he gets this legacy from his first love’s mother. It throws all his memories of what he thought he was and how he behaved as a young man into turmoil. He has to readdress things. I think anyone watching the film—in some ways—will start thinking about their own past and how they’ve got to where they are. I think it’s quite a profound piece of writing.
You’ve worked in the film industry for almost 50 years. How do you choose projects these days? Do you look at somebody like director Ritesh Batra and decide you want to work with him because you like his past work, in this case “The Lunchbox?”
Very much, yes. I thought “The Lunchbox” was fantastic. It never occurred to me that I would get to work with him. Certainly, when I knew he was working on the film, I was absolutely delighted. He’s a wonderful director. Some people ask, “Are you happy to work with a director who has only made one film before?” You would never have guessed he’s only directed one other film. He so sure, competent, very quiet and very precise. He cares mentally about the filmmaking. He was a delight to work with. He is a very wise director.
You’re going to be in a very popular pop culture phenomenon soon when you star in Season 7 of “Game of Thrones.” How do you feel knowing you’re going to be a part of something that millions of people watch and invest their time in every week?
Yes, I’ve made my contribution and the next season is coming up. It was fascinating to work on such an extraordinary and iconic production. I suppose it’s similar in a way to coming in and doing what I did in “Harry Potter.” Every part of the production was so impressive. I was fascinated by how it all worked. I think it’s going to be very exciting. My contribution, I don’t know, but it certainly is looking great.
Since starting your career in the 1970s, what have you learned about yourself as an actor over the years?
I think from the word go I knew it would be good for me to spread my net very wide and try a lot of different things. I’m always looking for the job I haven’t done before—something new. That has served me well since I’m recognized for all sorts of different things. It’s always a learning experience. My lesson for myself: always look out for something where you’ll learn something you haven’t done before. It’s an ongoing process of learning something about myself inevitably along the line.
Starring: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans
Directed by: Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”)
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”)
As impressive a pair of live-action adaptations Disney was able to churn out in the last two years with 2015’s “Cinderella” and 2016’s “The Jungle Book,” it would’ve seemed like the studio figured out a surefire way to take a beloved classic film and enliven it for audiences who never owned a copy of the original on VHS. In “Beauty and the Beast,” however, director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls”) doesn’t seem very interested in producing a fresh take of the 1991 animated movie. In fact, in this re-imagining starring Emma Watson (“Harry Potter” franchise), it looks as if the most important thing to do was adhere to the film’s “tale as old as time” adage and commitment to nostalgia. If anything, “Beauty and the Beast” is too faithful.
There are a few liberties screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) and Evan Spiliotopoulous (“The Huntsman: Winter’s War”) take in the narrative that don’t add much to the overall emotion of the story. The backstory of the Beast (Dan Stevens) get more screen time as we learn the fate of his mother before he is turned into a hideous castle-dwelling monster. Identity politics also come into play as this version of “B&B” introduces us to Disney’s fist gay character, LeFou (Josh Gad), who in the original Disney movie was Gaston’s buffoonish punching bag. In this one, he’s a lively flirt.
Waston is serviceable as the intelligent and innocent Belle, but her interaction with the Beast in the first half of the movie leaves much to be desired. Their relationship lacks because the Beast is missing all of the charm and charisma of his animated predecessor. Becoming computer generated has done no favors for the Beast and we’re left with a hollow shell of a character that used to feel genuine, emotionally complex and enchanting.
While the art direction is nearly flawless albeit a bit overly gaudy at times, scenes like the dance in the ballroom or the “Be Our Guest” performance don’t visually pop like they once did. And when it comes to the new music, none of the songs from “How Does a Moment Last Forever” to the quite lullaby-like melody “Days in the Sun” are not memorable.
Wonderful set pieces, costumes, and childhood memories aside, “Beauty and the Beast” is fairly unexceptional. If French author Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s traditional fairy tale has never crossed your radar before, it’s probably best to start with the one that came during Disney’s Renaissance period. It is, by far, the more romantic and entertaining of the two.
Based on the 2002 French book “Autobiographie d’une courgette” (“Autobiography of a Zucchini”) by author Gilles Paris, Swiss director Claude Barras tells the story of the title character, Zucchini, a young boy who is sent to live at a foster home in hopes of finding a family to adopt him. While there, he makes friends (and foes) with the diverse kids living with him at the home. For his film,l Barras was up for an Academy Award late last month against some heavy competition, including “Kubo and the Two Strings,” “Moana,” and eventual winner “Zootopia.”
I got a chance to speak to Barras before the awards ceremony. We talked about why the film’s darker elements work in an animation like this, his favorite character in the film, and the message he was trying to get across to audiences about overcoming fear.
What spoke to you most about Gilles Paris’ book that made you want to turn it into an animated film?
It’s the subject of the book, child abuse, and its point of view, which shows hope and forgiveness as the antidote, that made me want to translate it into film. “Autobiography of a Zucchini” is a rather amusing monologue that speaks of sad things while shedding light on them, but it is also a book that is read at age 15 and up, since it includes specific scenes of abuse and guns. [Screenwriter] Céline Sciamma and I tried to open up this story to children by stressing resilience rather than the details of the abuse the children have experienced. But it was no small matter to translate this cinematographically. Morgan Navarro, a friend who writes books for young people, and who has a very good sense of dialogue, helped me for a time, but it’s Céline who finally found how to mix humor and sadness with a great deal of tenderness and empathy. The key, she says, is to manage to think like a child and not to wonder how children speak.
How do you feel darker elements of a story like this lend themselves to animation, which is usually used for happier narratives for kids?
The children live in the same world as we do, a world that is sometimes cruel and violent. It’s important to speak to them about it frankly, but also with humor, tenderness and hope, so as not to leave them alone when faced with these subjects, out of fear of mentioning them. Childhood is both enormous hilarity and inconsolable sadness. The great success of the script is this jumble of childlike emotions. We laugh in the sad scenes and cry in the happy ones. It’s this contrast that gives rise to the deepest emotions and the darkness enables me to better expose them to them to the light.
Which of the children do you identify with the most and what makes him or her special to you?
I like Simon a lot, because he hides his sensitivity, he is modest, but deep down he has such a big heart that he is able to sacrifice his own happiness for that of others. He is, perhaps, the real hero of the film, the one who most learns to overcome his anger to show the feelings of love buried underneath. For this reason, my favorite moment, from reading the book, is when Simon overcomes his feeling of abandonment and encourages Zucchini to leave, to grow, but ends with a touch of humor, in order not to reveal his feelings too much, so as not to cry. The voice of Simon is very special, since [actor] Paulin [Jaccoud], who had recorded the short test for the voice of Zucchini in 2009 (the bonus casting in the final credits), had matured by the time of the casting in 2014. He was really sad that his voice no longer corresponded to the role, and we were, too. We then had the idea to have him test for the role of Simon. He immediately convinced us.
In the film, one of the orphans has been separated from her mother because of immigration laws. This is a timely subject in the United States because of the uncertainty of what a Donald Trump presidency will do on the topic of immigration. Was this a theme you wanted to come across to audiences? Did you think about that at all?
Yes, that was a motivator for me and for the film’s team, to tell this story to our children today. A story that teaches them not to be afraid, not to respond to violence with violence, to overcome anger while reaching out a hand when we encounter difficulties, and to break down the walls that prevent us from sharing…at the very time when, in our democracies, fear and the desire to build walls threaten our capacity to understand each other and to live together with our differences, which are our real wealth.
Personally, I felt most of the animated films released this year were incredible. As one of the smaller animation studios currently receiving accolades for their work–in comparison to big names like Disney, Pixar and a surging company like Laika–is there pressure for a studio like yours to be competitive with those that have more name recognition and money?
No, not pressure, just great pride in being here, for myself and for my entire team, which is more than 50% women, a fact sufficiently and unfortunately rare enough for me to take pleasure in mentioning it. What is happening to us today really thrills me because it makes it possible for the film to find its audience, far beyond my hopes, and that is what carries me through this long work of promotion which began in Cannes eight months ago and which is continuing in Los Angeles today. Compared with the studios, it must be noted that the smaller the budget, the greater the choice of subject and the director’s freedom, because there is minimal box-office risk with a budget of $8 million. I really prefer this. To return to your question, it is undeniable that this year was very strong with many films of good quality and with propositions very different from each other. This diversity in stories and audiences is certainly a good sign for the future of animation.
The 2017 family sitcom “One Day at a Time,” a remake loosely based on the 70s and 80s TV show of the same name, was recently renewed for a second season by Netflix. The show follows the Alvarez family—single mother Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado), grandmother Lydia (Rita Moreno), teenage daughter Elena (Isabella Gomez), and young son Alex (Marcel Ruiz), living in Echo Park in Los Angeles.
Earlier this year, I got the opportunity to speak to the show’s creators, Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce, and also executive producer and TV icon Norman Lear, who created the original show 42 years ago. Lear, 94, is also best known for producing the shows “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” and many other TV classics.
Norman, what was it about “One Day at a Time” that lent itself to a remake instead of any of the other TV series that you’ve created over the past few decades?
Norman Lear: Well, “One Day at a Time”…can’t be compared to another show. The first divorced woman on television with children—raising children alone. This show, as you’ve seen, is altogether unique and different from the original. It enjoys the same title because it was somebody’s notion [that], “Why don’t we make [them] a Latino family?” You’ve seen the show, so you know it’s utterly unique. [Creators] Mike [Royce] and Gloria [Calderon Kellett] didn’t look at any of the scripts from the old show. This started with an imagining of Gloria’s family. And she and Mike worked with that idea…100 percent of the time.
Every couple of years or so, TV audiences get a show that centers on a Latino family, but it rarely gains a lot of traction. The last one that was successful was “The George Lopez Show,” which ran for six seasons. Why haven’t we seen more sitcoms that focus on Latino families make it?
Gloria Calderon Kellett: I don’t know. I think we’re so interesting. I think that’s a great question.
Norman Lear: Well, I don’t know. I didn’t know “The [George] Lopez Show.” I know him, but I never knew his show. This show, what Mike and Gloria have rendered here, is gloriously warm. There is no family of any stripe or color or religion that can’t relate to it because of our common humanity. [The Alvarez family] is a great family. The performers are glorious.
GCK: I think that people have tried [to make sitcoms centered on a Latino family]. I know so many wonderful, talented people who have tried. I really have to credit Norman because without [him] and Mike, the show would not be happening. I am so happy to be lending myself for the specificity. If I had come and pitched a show about a Latino single mom, I don’t know that people would have paid attention as much as they would have paid attention with these two icons attached to it already. So, I feel really grateful that basically these two guys with incredible success in their own right have said, “Hey, maybe we should listen to this one over here.” That is why people listened—because these very talented men told them to.
Norman, I know you’ve probably heard the term “Netflix and chill.” I’m wondering if you’ve ever Netflixed and chilled before? (Note: I asked Mr. Lear this question not knowing what the term actually meant myself. At the time, I thought it meant for two people to just hang out and watch Netflix all day. I had no idea it mean to have sex with Netflix playing in the background).
NL: I’m sorry, have I what before?
Have you ever Netflixed and chilled?
NL: I’ve never Netflixed before, no. This is my first…
Oh, at all?
NL: You mean have I…
GCK: Norman, it means [to] stay at home and have sex with somebody. That’s what it means.
Mike Royce: Norman is older, as am I. We’re more Netflix and pills.
Would you sit down and binge watch all the episodes of “One Day at a Time” or do you think you’d watch them more sporadically?
NL: I don’t know. I haven’t binged yet. I did binge once. That was, I think, six or eight episodes of something. But I don’t know. If I sat down and watched this and had a long evening and got hooked as I think I would, I would likely binge. Although I have not yet had the experience. But, then again, I’m only 94.
GCK: That’s true. There’s still time.
The term “B-movie” might be synonymous with campiness and low-production value, but director Mike Mendez doesn’t mind if you put his new horror movie, “Don’t Kill It,” into that category. He’s only cares if you have fun watching it.
During an interview with me last week, Mendez and “Don’t Kill It” star and all-around badass, Dolph Lundgren, talked about their new film, which follows Jebediah Woodley (Lundgren), a demon hunter who teams up with an FBI agent to eradicate an evil force plaguing Mississippi.
During our talk, Mendez and Lundgren shared their different opinions on the idea that “Don’t Kill It” is considered a “B-movie.”
Dolph, where did Jebediah get his look from—the trench coat, the hat, the vaporizer?
Dolph Lundgren: A lot of that was Mike and I talking. Originally, the film was set in Alaska, but we changed it to the south. But, yeah, Mike came up with a lot of those ideas. We had a great costume designer. He came up with some really good ideas. In the original script, the character smoked, but Mike thought the vaporizer would be kind of fun because it’s modern, but it’s still kind of cool and old-school. It’s quite visible on film as well. I thought it was a great idea. It was a collaboration.
Mike, what led you to casting Dolph in the lead role? What said “demon hunter” about him?
Mike Mendez: I’ve been a Dolph fan since I can remember—obviously from “Rocky IV,” but I love action movies, so I saw him “The Peacekeeper” and “Showdown in Little Tokyo” and [1989’s] “The Punisher.” He’s an icon. I think that’s what was exciting for me about the project. The character of Jebediah had the potential of being an iconic character. So, to have an actual icon don his coat and hat sort of lends itself to making something memorable. I think it is sort of awesome that we’re introducing Dolph to a whole new generation who can appreciate what I saw when I was a kid.
Dolph, you’ve always been a very physical actor. You’ll be turning 60 years old this year. How do you handle the physicality of your job now that you’re getting a bit older?
DL: You have to be real careful as you get older because you don’t want to get injured. It takes longer to heal. I’m a little more careful. I don’t do any more crazy stunts like I used to back in the 80s when they didn’t have CGI. Sometimes, you get a chance to do your own stunts like jump from a motorcycle to a car or jump out a window, but I don’t do that much anymore. I do try to do some of the fighting scenes. Audiences kind of expected to see the star [of the movie] doing some of those things. It’s also fun to stay in shape for it, so I try to do as much as I can.
Mike, how do you feel about the term “B-movie?” Some people connect that subgenre with movies that are campy and corny. How do you feel when people refer to your films as “B-movies?”
MM: Well, it’s kind of a funny thing. I don’t think of it that way. But, obviously, others do because I constantly see “B-movie filmmaker” or “trash cinema auteur” written about me. (Laughs) I kind of expect it now. But [my films are not “B-movies”] to me. I take this as serious as anything else. I think I just sort of revel in it. I love the horror genre and I am not above demons and vampires and zombies and werewolves. I love it. It’s just what I enjoy. [“B-movie”] is not a term I necessarily love, but I definitely understand it and I have to except it. A lot of the people I grew up admiring like West Craven and Sam Raimi, they all were labeled as “schlockmeisters,” so I’m in good company. Whatever people want call my movies is fine. Just as long as they’re having a good time, I feel we’re doing our jobs.
Dolph, what about you? Do you like the term?
DL: I don’t really like it. I think it’s different for me because most of the enjoyment of my job is to entertain people. I meet a lot of these people when I go on the road to do publicity. Some people just like action movies. Movies like [“Don’t Kill It”] have great fans who are very loyal and very thankful. They’re certainly just as good, if not better, as the critics who label a movie as an A-movie or B-movie or C-movie. I mean, when I did “Expendables 2,” Chuck Norris was in it. He’s done some B-movies before. But I tell you, when he came on set, he was the biggest star there. Everybody wanted his autograph more than [Sylvester] Stallone or anybody else. Even more than Mel Gibson when we had him in “Expendables 3.” You can look at [the term “B-movie”] sitting in an office labeling movies, or you can look at it when you’re on the ground with the regular people that you’re entertaining. I look at it that way. It makes me feel good to make a lot of the films I make. I try to see it in a positive light. I try to see life like that.
So, Dolph, what do you think Ivan Drago (his character in “Rocky IV”) would be doing now, 35 years after he lost to Rocky Balboa? Do you think he’d be working for Vladimir Putin?
DL: Yeah, maybe. Everybody’s asking about Ivan Drago, and I think he’s going to come back again. I have a feeling. We might get to see him one more time, which I never would have thought. But, yeah, he could be. He could’ve stayed in shape. He could be running a [Russian] hacking department for an Internet division. He could’ve turned the American elections around and gotten his boy [Donald Trump] in the White House, which he succeeded in doing. He could be holding some video footage of things that happened in Moscow, which could destroy [Trump].
DL: Yeah, that’s what could have happened. Drago could’ve changed the course of world history.
Two-time Academy Award-nominated composer Marco Beltrami (“3:10 to Yuma,” “The Hurt Locker”) has written music for superhero movies before, but nothing like his latest, “Logan,” the tenth film in the X-Men film franchise in the last 17 years.
Set in 2029, the film follows James “Logan” Howlett (Hugh Jackman), AKA Wolverine, who has moved on from his days at the leader of the X-Men and now lives in an abandoned plant near the Mexican border caring for his elderly patriarch Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). When Logan and Professor X learn of a new child mutant, who possesses some very familiar abilities, they make it their mission to get her to safety before she is destroyed by the men who created her.
During our interview, Beltrami, 50, who has also scored such films as “Hellboy,” “World War Z” and all four films in the “Scream” franchise during his 23-year career, talked to me about the film references director James Mangold talked to him about as inspiration for the film, and why this “X-Men” film feels different from others. He also explained why he recused himself from voting for this year’s Academy Awards.
Congratulations on “Logan.” I have to say, it’s the best superhero film I have ever seen, especially since it doesn’t feel anything like a conventional superhero film.
It definitely does not fit into the strict superhero genre. It’s a lot of other movies.
Why do you think it was important to give this film a completely different tone than any of the other “X-Men” films before it?
I think [director James Mangold], when he made the previous Wolverine movie (“The Wolverine”), he started to make it a little bit different [than the past films]. It turned out the last act [in “Logan”] was made in the mold of other movies like “Seven Samurai.” I think he really wanted to play [Wolverine] as a real character rather than a superhero. [“Logan”] is a road picture and a father/daughter story. It’s about a man who has lost everything, even his desire to live. I think it has a lot of deeper, darker connotations.
What kind of conversations did you have with James about what you both wanted to achieve with the score?
[James] spoke to me about references and things that inspired him. “Taxi Driver” was a big influence. So was “Paper Moon,” although that film doesn’t have a score. He was talking in terms of the feel of the movie itself. Musically, he wanted to achieve some of the rawness and grittiness of some of those 70s scores. He wanted something not polished. Nowadays, movies are very polished. He wanted something more rough around the edges. Overall, I think the main concern for me as a composer was that the music didn’t get ahead of the picture. In many respects, [“Logan”] doesn’t have a thematic score. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to get away with that because it is a big studio superhero movie, but a lot of people seem to be responding to it.
You’ve written scores for a handful of horror movies in your career. Did some of those elements find their way into the “Logan” score? I’m specifically thinking of the tracks “That’s Not A Choo-Choo” and “X-24.”
Oh, yeah. It’s always fun to explore that kind of stuff. I think the most horrific part of the film is the scene at the farmhouse. To me that’s very horrific. The sounds that we created for X-24—there’s some synthetic [sounds] because he is a synthetic character. There is this bending and processed and pitched-down cello sound we use. The sound is organically base, but also manipulated. That’s something I enjoy doing. Even if there’s no grandiose theme to it, hopefully the score has more of a sonic continuity. That was sort of the goal.
Another of my favorite tracks is called “El Limo-nator,” which I found reminiscent of parts of the score from the original “Terminator” film. I know you scored “Terminator 3.” Did you get inspiration from the original for that specific track?
You know, I guess everything is related somehow. It was sort of hard to pass up on the title. It’s always fun titling those things. Yeah, there is that relentless drive which is very similar to “The Terminator” in that respect. There is a sort of unstoppable feel to it.
You’ve worked with many directors in your career—Wes Craven, Guillermo del Toro, Kathryn Bigelow. Are your favorite directors those who are hands-on or hands-off with you as the composer?
It depends on how the director’s work inspires me. I think that’s the main thing. If I have the inspiration, it’s great. I’m into it. [James] is very hands-on. He likes being collaborative. I think it’s a collaborative business. Sometimes a director will hear what I’m doing and send me down another avenue that’s based on something else. That could be very enlightening. It can be challenging and often more work, but you can also come up with things you might not ever have thought of. I think that’s how you grow as a composer or in any field. [James] doesn’t say things just for the hell of it. He was very inspiring to work with on this movie.
Is it more fulfilling when you write the score for a film that becomes a critical success like “The Hurt” and “3:10 to Yuma” than a film that gets critically panned, or is it all work to you?
It’s always nice to have someone recognize the film or the score as an achievement when you put a lot of work into it. There have been films I’ve done that have not been well received that I still put a lot of work into and felt good about the score. It’s just the way it is. You can’t always predict these things. It’s the process that’s important. Everything else afterwards is something beyond your control. But, yeah, when you work your ass, it’s better if the movie does well.
“La La Land” just won the Oscar for Best Score of 2016. I know as a past Oscar nominee, you are part of the branch that votes in that category. What were some of your favorite scores of 2016?
Well, I have to be honest. I didn’t vote this year. I was working on a picture in Russia last year and when I got back at the beginning of November, I was so busy. I immediately started working on [“Logan”]. I only saw like two films. So, I really can’t say what I liked. It’s odd because I usually watch all the movies. I’m very involved in the Academy. I’m in the executive branch. It was tough. I took off Christmas Day, but other than that, I worked straight through the year.
In the historical drama “A United Kingdom,” Academy Award-nominated actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”) portrays Ruth Williams, a former WWII ambulance driver in London who marries Prince Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo, “Selma”) and would later serve as the inaugural First Lady of Botswana. Their interracial marriage was considered controversial by the apartheid government of South Africa and the tribal elders of Seretse’s homeland, which was known at the time as Bechuanaland.
During an interview with me last week, Pike, 38, discussed Ruth and Seretse’s relationship and the research she did to play the character. She also talked about the timeliness of the film and what she hopes audiences learn about the power of true love.
In your research on Seretse and Ruth’s relationship, what was something you learned about Ruth’s life that you found particularly interesting?
I think I learned from reading her own articles. She wrote a series of articles for something called the Sunday Dispatch, which was a newspaper in England during the time she was in Africa. Those articles are the most illuminating because she was not a journalist. She was not edited. You really got the flavor of her voice. She was really funny and witty. I was also really struck by how important her experiences in the war were to her. She mentioned it briefly in the film that she drove an ambulance. She was on the front lines. She was evacuated as a young woman and came back to London, but couldn’t bear the boredom.
Was Seretse and Ruth’s relationship something you learned about in school during in history class?
No, not at all. It was too embarrassing for the British government.
What spoke to you about this story that made you want to be a part of it?
David [Oyelowo] sent me the script, but I didn’t know anything about the story. Then I saw photos of [Seretse and Ruth] and got to look into their eyes. I thought that if still images could move me that much, who knows what a film could do. Also, the book (“Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation” by Susan Williams), which our film is based on, is wonderful. It’s fascinatingly detailed about the history, and [Williams] also uses a lot of original sources. She got to interview both Seretse’s sister and Ruth’s sister. You get a very keen impression of both of them.
Ruth passed away almost 15 years ago. If you had the opportunity to ask her a question, what is something you would have asked her that you didn’t get from your research?
I imagine you wouldn’t get to know her very well by asking her direct questions. I imagine she was the kind of woman who, although she lived through all these incredible experiences, was probably better at small talk. I think you would have to get to know her gently. You would probably have to start with what kind of music she likes and talk about her grandchildren and sort of get into it that way.
Did you talk to David and his wife, Jessica, about their own personal story of their interracial marriage and whether or not there were any parallels to Seretse and Ruth?
Yes, I was very interested in their story—not that they endured the kind of racism that Ruth and Seretse endured. David and Jessica had a couple of stories early on of things that I was able to try and create expression from, especially with some of the casual attacks they have experienced and Jessica’s complete anger, which sort of rose up. I found [her anger] very indicative of what Ruth felt.
Here in the U.S., interracial marriage has only been legal for 50 years. Doesn’t that strike you as not so long ago? Isn’t it crazy to think that it just happened?
Oh, I know! The principles of apartheid and separation and segregation do seem crazy. What’s interesting is to explore why people felt it. Then you can understand the danger of anything repeating itself—prejudice coming back in. It’s a large part of why I wanted to make this story. Yes, the story shows their love was able to overcome prejudice, but almost more importantly is that they conquered fear. They conquered fear in Botswana and fear among their families. They loved each other so truly and so passionately and so truthfully, people couldn’t help but be swayed by it. I think love can be a huge weapon in overcoming fear.
Do you consider it a timely film in the U.S. now that the political landscape has become so negative?
I think “A United Kingdom” is a weirdly, timely movie now. I always felt it would be timeless. And now we see that it’s quite timely. We’re living in this culture where we’re now being asked not to trust people, and this is a movie about the power of trust—trusting in yourself and trusting in others and asking people to put their trust in you. When you think about Ruth, it’s unusual in a movie to get the experience of a white person who is being excluded from a black world that they are craving to belong in. That was a very interesting perspective.
How has your life changed since 2014 when you earned your first Academy Award nomination for “Gone Girl?” Is it much easier to get your foot in the door? Are you getting more phone calls from filmmakers? Was there moment when you realized things were different?
It’s hugely much easier, but you’re always having to work. You can never slack off. There are millions of people who saw “Gone Girl,” but there are still plenty of people who never did. You still have to try to convince people. That never goes away.
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford
Directed by: Jordan Peele (debut)
Written by: Jordan Peele (“Keanu”)
Dark comedy, sharp social satire and mainstream horror elements merge into the strange and, at times, smartly-written film “Get Out,” the first feature directed by Jordan Peele of the sketch comedy TV series “Key and Peele.” Tonally satisfying and provocative, the hybrid genre movie might overstay its welcome and miss out on driving its critique on cultural appropriate all the way home, but Peele has taken the somewhat unique idea (“Being John Malkovich” did it better) and modified it into his own clever, anti-racism statement.
Things get a little uncomfortable for Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), a young, African American college student, when his white girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), brings him home to meet her family. While Rose believes race isn’t going to be an issue for her progressive parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford), the atmosphere surrounding the visit doesn’t sit well with Chris as soon as he gets there—from the unintentionally ignorant albeit inappropriate comments and questions that come his way to the bizarre interactions he has with the family’s black employees. Chris doesn’t know what’s up, but something is definitely not right. When Rose’s psychiatrist mother, Missy (Keener), decides to hypnotize Chris without his permission, supposedly to break him of his smoking habit, is when Chris’s short weekend trip with his girlfriend turns into a disturbing nightmare that he cannot awake from.
Borrowing themes from past films like the aforementioned “Malkovich,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “The Stepford Wives” (and possibly even director Johnathan Glazer’s trippy 2013 metaphysical drama “Under the Skin”), Peele’s exploration of current race relations in America and how casual racism has somehow become the norm, even among seemingly intelligent individuals, is the strongest reason to make your way to the theater for his promising directorial debut.
“Get Out” works much better as social commentary than it does when it regresses into mainstream horror in the third act, but by then Peele has audiences already hooked. If he had fleshed out some of the more complex ideas instead of actually cutting flesh, “Get Out” could’ve been something truly special.