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Daily Archives: March 9, 2011
After a searing (and overlooked) performance in last year’s drama “Rabbit Hole,” Aaron Eckhart is back in the multiplex with the us-versus-them war film “Battle: Los Angeles,” in which Eckhart’s Marine Staff Sgt. Nantz leads a platoon into war against invaders from beyond. Part “War of the Worlds” and part “Black Hawk Down,” it’s a big, loud action film — and when I spoke with Eckhart in L.A., his enthusiasm, dedication and good humor spoke for itself. Here are his comments without interruption.
“I was doing a stunt, and I saw an opportunity to try to make it better and just told the cameraman about it. When I did it, the faux rock — or whatever it was — was wet, and I slipped. I went head-first — well, arm-first — about 7 feet down onto some rocks and busted (my arm). I knew when I landed; I heard it pop. But I kept on going with the scene, and I think it’s the one in the movie. I didn’t say a word to (director Jonathan Liebesman). In fact, I didn’t even go to the doctor’s for two days. I didn’t say anything. The thing is that if I had told them I had broken my arm, then I would’ve had to go to the hospital. We’d have to stop filming. I couldn’t afford to do that.”
“It was definitely an adrenaline junkie movie … running around and all that. I craved the opportunity to be able to do that, and this movie fulfilled that. It hasn’t satiated me, because I still want to go do others. It’s a lot of fun. The child in you comes out, the kid. It’s fun to run around, to be outside, to have great props and cool uniforms and say cool things and then have all the toys that the Marines provided us.”
“I got the script from my agent, and it was kind of like an alien movie, and he said, ‘Go meet this guy Jonathan (Liebesman).’ Jonathan didn’t have the job yet, but he was making a play for it. So I met him, and he had done all these sort of mock-ups with the aliens on his computer, just using kind of generic software, and it was very impressive stuff. At the end Jonathan showed me a page on YouTube that was some Marines going house to house, going through them in Fallujah, and it was both organized yet chaotic. It was unpredictable. These guys were showing their training and they showed their youth. And Jonathan said, ‘This is what the movie is going to look like,’ and right then I said, ‘I’m in. I’ll die for this part.’ I feel like through the filming, to the final cut, that we achieved that goal. The goal was that this is a war movie, a documentary kind of war movie with aliens in it. For me I was like a kid in a candy store.”
“I feel, and I’m just an actor, but I feel that the question hasn’t been answered about space yet, and there are a lot of questions that haven’t been answered. That leaves our imaginations to run free. This movie can be non-judgmental — you can have a non-judgmental foe, a foe that comes from another place. It’s a completely imaginary foe where that works for us in this context because it is a war movie and we are going to war and we’re shooting and killing things — but we have no personal relationship with them other than our imagination. So I think it can be pure entertainment, which is good. Nobody is really getting hurt in the movie — I mean, there are some deaths, but they’re understandable. What’s fascinating to me about it, not only as a war movie, (is) that it’s also about the coming of age of a group of young Marines. It’s about coming together and sticking together. It’s about personal survival. It’s about learning and helping each other.”
“I absolutely loved it. In fact, this is the first character that I’ve ever had in my movie-making experience where on the last day I was sad. I really love this character, as you can see: I’m keeping my hair short. I can’t wait (to see) if this movie has a sequel, because I loved my M4 (rifle). I loved the guys. I loved the weaponry, the tanks. I loved the bravado. I loved the companionship, and I do love war movies. I mean, I always say that an actor should be able to do three things: shoot a gun, ride a horse and play cards.”
Australian actress Mia Wasikowska had, by any estimate, a pretty good 2010: taking the lead in Tim Burton‘s money-making “Alice in Wonderland,” followed by a part in the high-powered ensemble of “The Kids Are All Right.” Now Wasikowska’s the title lead in Cary Fukunaga’s new adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” Talking with Wasikowska in Los Angeles, I asked her, only half-jokingly, if after “Alice” and “Eyre,” there are any other Victorian works of literature she’s due to star in next. She laughed: “I don’t know, we’ll see. Yeah, there does seem to be a trend.”
And it’s a trend fate seems to be endorsing. “I was reading (“Jane Eyre”) after I’d finished filming ‘Alice.’ It was the first time I went back to Australia without having to go back to school, so I was at a loss. I made a list of 10 classics that I thought I should read, and ‘Jane Eyre’ was on the list. … So I started reading it, and I was up to the fifth chapter, (when) I e-mailed my agent, and I asked, ‘Is there a script around? Is anyone developing the project?’ She said, ‘No, not at the moment.’ There wasn’t anything at the time, but literally two months later she e-mailed me the script. Then I met Cary. It was a case of really good timing.”
Wasikowska may have had great timing, but that didn’t mean that the film wasn’t going to present challenges. “The book is 500 pages of Jane’s internal monologue. Everything we know is because of what we’re being told (by) her, that she’s observing. She has so much going on in her mind. The challenge with adapting it for the screen is you’ve got a limited amount of time to have actual dialogue scenes, and you can’t have Jane talking to herself the whole movie. How do you transfer all of that thought and opinion and emotion and everything she sees and experiences that we hear in the book into a visual? How do we see all that stuff? It was a case of knowing precisely what she’s thinking in those moments and hoping that comes across.”
There were also moments where Wasikowska has to play up the bumps-in-the-night uneasiness of the material. I asked if she, at times, felt as if she were making a horror film.”That’s what I loved about it, because the book is incredibly dark, and the Brontës were really dark writers for their time, anyway. As female writers, the context of their book, there’s a lot of mystery, and it’s all about the unknown and the unseen and the stuff we don’t know. I feel like Cary did an excellent job of bringing in all that: all the mystery in it, and we’re not sure what is going on.”
Even more terrifying for Mia Wasikowska than ”Jane Eyre“‘s moments of madness and horror? The combination of Victorian costuming and English weather. “There is no way that you can’t think about or be conscious of the costumes of that time. The corset really gives you an understanding of the repression that women were under. I can’t really bend down to pick stuff up, and you can only reach your arm up so high because there’s a flap on your arm. The restriction isn’t just here: It restricts your whole body. It’s excellent in order to really physically embody the character and understand that.” Wasikowska laughed. “As Mia, it sucks.”
Equally un-fun? Portraying emotionally tormented races across the windswept moors of England in the film’s opening moments. Was that as cold, I asked, as it looked? “Very cold,” she said. “I remember specifically, that was Day 2, and I think I got hypothermia. It’s not hard to imagine how horrible that would be, because it’s freezing and they have the rain towers pouring on you. Then the clothes weight an extra 20 pounds. It’s very, very cold. It’s hard enough standing on a moor dressed up in modern-day North Face clothes, let alone in the rain and in 20 pounds of petticoats.”
On a lighter note, I asked Wasikowska about her co-star Michael Fassbender, who plays Mr. Rochester. When doing scenes with Michael Fassbender, which counters his handsomeness more: What a jerk Rochester is, or those ludicrous sideburns? Wasikowska smiled. “The chops are all I have against the man,” she said. “It’s really funny. I had so much fun with Michael. He’s, as you know, an incredible actor. From the first day of rehearsals we got along so well, and we were able to encounter the intensity of the material with a lot of fun, and then take that energy and channel it into the scenes.”
Of course, it wasn’t all fun. Jane is, for lack of a better word, a feminist — even if she’s living in a time hundreds of years before that word even existed. And portraying that was an important objective for Wasikowska. “It’s rare even now for someone to have such individual thought and such strength of character, let alone in that time,” she said. “She’s such an incredible character, and she has such a strong sense of self and who she is and was born with an innate sense of self-respect. There’s something inside of her that believes she’s worthy of having a good life and being treated well and respected and finding her equal. She definitely won’t compromise herself for anybody else, which is so important for young women — and, really, anybody — to remember, because when you fall in love with somebody, you’re at your most vulnerable. It’s very easy for even people who are very strong to feel the need to compromise themselves for their partner or something like that. Jane never does that, and in the end she’s rewarded for it. It takes a lot of bravery to do that.”
Kicking off this Friday in Austin, Texas, the South by Southwest Film Festival — bundled up alongside the Interactive Conference and Music Festivals that run roughly concurrently — combines the best of American independent film with more than a few big-studio premieres and a few midnight movies offering gore and more to a discerning crowd. It’s also worth noting that the high-tech flavor of the Interactive Conference — and the rock-and-roll energy of the Music Festival — carries over into the film programming as well. With that said, here are a few of the films we’re most looking forward to. You can find out more at sxsw.com.
“Source Code“: From the director of “Moon,” Duncan Jones, “Source Code” stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a U.S. soldier hurled into the last few moments of another man’s life moments before a bombing on a train. He’s told he can’t stop the bombing, but he can learn enough to prevent another, worse follow-up event. The structure sounds familiar (I’ve been calling it “Groundhog … DIE!”), but Jones has a flair for smart sci-fi; it’ll be interesting to see if he can follow up the excellent “Moon.”
“Small, Beautifully Moving Parts”: Something about this American indie appeals to my tired-of-technology soul, as IT support freelancer Sarah Sparks (Anna Margaret Hollyman) finds she’s pregnant — and, freaked out by her own emotional responses (or, rather, lack of thereof) sets out to find the mom she hasn’t spoken to for years in the wilds and silences of the off-the-grid American West.
“A Year in Mooring”: Josh Lucas stars as a man dedicated to repairing a dry-docked ship in a small town. The supporting cast is interesting — including James Cromwell — but the real reason this catches my eye is the fact that Chris Eyre, of “Smoke Signals” and “Skins,” is in the director’s chair. And it’ll be interesting to see Lucas step up to a starring role.
“Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop”: When Conan O’Brien‘s corporate problems meant he couldn’t be funny on TV as part of his severance with NBC, he took the act — and his neuroses — on the road. Combining a tour doc with a warts-and-all look at the desperation and insecurity behind so much comedy, “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” offers an up-close view at one of the more curious show business stories of the past 10 years.
“The King of Luck”: Closing SXSW’s film screenings, “The King of Luck” is a look at the life and times of Texan and music legend Willie Nelson … directed by Billy Bob Thornton. No, that won’t be cool. And I’m lying.
“Bob and the Monster”: A documentary about Bob Forrester’s transformation from indie rocker (with Thelonious Monster) to rehab and addiction counselor — and his own long-beaten, but never far-off, struggles with heroin. Full of cameos from other struggling rockers, “Bob and the Monster” promises a look at what happens when the middle part of ‘sex, drugs and rock ‘n” outweighs the other sides.
“The Beaver“: Yes, that “The Beaver,” with Mel Gibson directed by Jodie Foster in a psychotic “comedy” about a man who has a co-dependent relationship with a beaver puppet he communicates with and through. The basic notes make it sound like “Harvey” on too little sleep — and all of Gibson’s travails aside, it’ll be great to see Foster back directing again.
While not every film at SXSW is a premiere, the festival seems to have an awfully gracious attitude about films that have played other festivals making a bow at SXSW, and has a roster full of movies from Sundance and Toronto playing the fest. If you’re heading to SXSW — or just keeping score at home — here are a few films whose buzz has already been loud, and is sure to only grow louder after SXSW.
“Beginners“: Featuring what’s been called a surefire Oscar-nominee performance from Christopher Plummer, “Beginners” stars Ewan McGregor as a man recounting how his father (Plummer) came out of the closet … at age 75. Awards hype aside, anything with McGregor and Plummer is a must-see, and writer-director Mike Mills’ film earned a great deal of love from the audience at Toronto.
“The Sound of My Voice”: One of my favorite what-the-what? surprises from Sundance this year, “The Sound of My Voice” manages a tricky twisting metamorphosis: It’s a thriller! It’s a relationship drama! It’s science fiction! No, it’s a crime film! Its squirrelly, unnerving energy constantly pushes you to the edge of your seat, helped in no small part by the can’t-look-away performance by writer and star Brit Marling.
“The Interrupters”: Yes, this is a 190-minute-long documentary. But it’s by Steve James, the man who directed the brilliant “Hoop Dreams,” and takes us inside whole new ways of thinking about the seemingly age-old problem of inner-city violence in Chicago. Everyone who saw this at Sundance came away shaken, moved and praising its brilliance … and that kind of enthusiasm makes me incredibly hungry to see “The Interrupters” for myself.
“Tabloid”: After a few searing documentaries, Errol Morris gets back to wild, weird stuff with “Tabloid,” a twisted, true tale of love, abduction, religion, life after death, madness, money, Mormonism and more, all told by Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming with no shame and even less restraint. Crazy, yes — and crazy fun.
“Bellflower”: Mixing comedy and drama with “Road Warrior” visuals, “Bellflower” is the story of two lifelong friends who worry about the end of the world … namely, that it won’t happen, and all of the plans they’ve laid (and crazy contraptions they’ve built for the post-apocalypse) will be for naught.
South by Southwest starts March 11 and runs through the 20th. We’ll have more from Austin here at The Rundown next week.