Ex-Rated Podcast: Wild at Heart

1133333I recently had the opportunity to spew my guts out about one of my all-time favorite movies, Wild at Heart, on the Ex-Rated Podcast (so-named because the hosts used to date). Ryan Weadon and Matt Fisher were very fun to talk to about the movie, the Lynchverse, and Nic Cage’s eccentric spending habits, amongst other things. Please give it a listen over at Ex-Rated Movies.

https://app.stitcher.com/splayer/f/126373/55658253

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2014 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL WRAP-UP

As you may or may not know, the Seattle International Film Festival is the largest film festival in the world. This year, they screened 435 features and short films from around the globe. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to see everything, so I try my best to curate my personal program wisely. Unfortunately, even an awful film can have a great idea at its core so I am sometimes duped by a promising synopsis. Thankfully, my dance card contained way more great films than stinkers this time around. Here are the best and worst of the 20 or so films I squeezed into the festival’s month-long run:

BEST:

“The Babadook” – This Australian export, akin to “Rosemary’s Baby”, is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in years. It tells the story of a widowed mother who questions her own sanity when her behaviorally impaired son becomes obsessed with a morbid children’s book that mysteriously appears on his book shelf. Supernatural though it may be, “The Babadook” also hauntingly examines grief in the face of senseless tragedy. Try not to watch it right before bed.

 

“Happy Christmas” – Joe Swanberg is one of the founders of Mumblecore, and with every new film, he makes a better case for genre MVP. If you liked “Drinking Buddies”, you will certainly love “Happy Christmas”, which stars versatile minx Anna Kendrick as a hot mess who gifts her brother and his burgeoning family with her post-breakup meltdown during the Christmas holiday. Swanberg also stars alongside his real life baby and the long-underutilized Melanie Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures”, “Foreign Correspondents”) as a writer who has put her career on the back burner in order to stay at home with their son.

 

“In Order of Disappearance” – Comparisons to “Fargo” extend beyond the prevalence of snow, in this Norwegian film from director Hans Petter Moland. Star Stellan Skarsgaard channels Liam Neeson in this humor-speckled revenge drama in which an unassuming snowplow driver systematically hunts down the men responsible for murdering his son.

 

“Mood Indigo” – However you stand on the work of French director Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), you have to admit that he is always innovating. His latest film is his most experimental yet. It’s “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”-meets-“Synechdoche, NY” aesthetic left the entire theater in a surreal daze, as if they had sprinkled shroom dust on the popcorn. It’s not his masterpiece, but it is required viewing for anyone who is remotely interested in experimental cinema.

“Night Moves” – Kelly Reichardt is a true cinematic auteur and her latest film induces a lingering performance from Jesse Eisenberg as one third of a trio of eco-terrorists (alongside Dakota Fanning and Peter Skarsgaard) who are blindsided when they fail to consider the full implications of their actions.

 

“Skeleton Twins” – Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig are unbelievably brilliant in this black comedy about estranged twins who begrudgingly reunite following simultaneous suicide attempts. It’s entirely possible that this movie would be completely devoid of humor (and sympathetic characters) without the two leads. But because it’s Hader and Wiig (quite possibly the most natural comedic actors on the planet.), you love them and want them to be happy despite their self-destructive idiocy.

 

“Obvious Child” – I saw this at another festival but I really can’t say enough nice things about Jenny Slate’s killer multi-layered performance in the funniest romantic dramedy about abortion in recent memory.

WORST:

 

“Alex of Venice” – I hate to put Chris Messina’s directorial debut in this category, because it’s a masterwork in comparison to my other two Worst of Fest choices, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a very good film. Messina attempts Cassavetes vérité, but the hackneyed dialog betrays him. Performances by Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Don Johnson (going for a late-career dramatic turn a la Tony Danza) are as good as they can be under the circumstances.

 

“Another” – A large part of me just wants to forget I ever saw this movie. And in time, I’m sure I will. But I am compelled to put out one more warning to stay the hell away from this amateurish, nonsensical, misogynistic pile of poop. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s just SO BAD.

“Zombeavers”– The title is absolutely the best thing about this failed attempt at b-movie camp. If you like relentless entendres about hairy vaginas, you still won’t like this movie.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

 

“An Afternoon with Laura Dern” – I thoroughly enjoyed this professionally moderated Q&A with one of my favorite actresses following her receipt of SIFF’s Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award. In addition to her immense talent, Dern is lighthearted, humble and as savvy about film as she is enthusiastic. A screening of David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” followed the Q&A, featuring one of Dern’s most memorable roles as the sweetly rebellious and philosophical Lula Fortune.

 

“To Be Takei” – From sci-fi cult hero to nerd national treasure, George Takei has reinvented himself numerous times throughout his career. Jennifer Kroot paints a respectful portrait of a relentlessly optimistic and talented man who has used his charm to advance the LGBT equality movement.

“Venus in Fur” – Roman Polanski’s latest is a compelling, if on the nose, portrait of a self-obsessed director and playwright who doesn’t realize he’s met his match in a seemingly naïve actress auditioning for the lead role in his adaptation of the Leopold von Sacher-Masoch novel. Hyper meta though it is, (it’s a play within a play about a novel within a novel), the story still manages to be fairly straightforward and accessibly clever.

 

“Willow Creek” – Accurately described by many (including writer/director Bobcat Goldthwaite) as “The Blair Sasquatch Project”, this found footage horror film surpasses its predecessor with compelling characters and story structure, but falters at the very end.

 

GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE AWARDS:

Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood”, swept the Golden Space Needle awards, earning accolades for best director, best actress (Patricia Arquette) and best damn film period. Alan Hicks took home Best Documentary with “Keep on Keepin’ on”; an account of jazz legend Clark Terry’s mentoring of blind piano prodigy Justin Kaulflin. Cody Blue Snider’s “Fool’s Day” took home the award for Best Short.

SIFF is a film festival marathon. It’s exhausting and occasionally painful, but ultimately very rewarding. Thank you to SIFF for another great fest. Time to catch up on my DVR and then start training for next year!

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

AN AFTERNOON w/ LAURA DERN

2014 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL EVENT!

On Saturday, May 17th, the Seattle International Film Festival awarded Laura Dern their Outstanding Achievement in Acting Award at the celebrated Egyptian Theatre. She appeared genuinely thrilled to accept what looked like a tentacle wrapped around a sparkly party hat from her old friend Eddie Vedder. Family in tow, Vedder delivered his lengthy, rambling introduction dressed as a dad at a PTA meeting. He mixed metaphors like a college party cocktail, comparing her career to a painter’s palette and to his own vocation. (“I’m in a band,” he helpfully exposited.) He described her performances as “classic albums” and attempted to highlight her dedication to the craft with an anecdote about how Dern became emancipated at age 12, not to separate from her revered parents, but so that she could work longer hours on “Ladies and Gentlemen… The Fabulous Stains.” (Dern later remarked that the 4 months she spent in Vancouver with the Sex Pistols turned her off drugs for life). “Laura Dern,” Vedder concluded. “She can play.”

And with that, the theatre darkened and we were treated to a lovingly curated highlight reel, beginning with a clip of Amy Jellicoe’s epic meltdown on HBO’s original series, “Enlightened.” This 10-minute scene was shot in one take and it perfectly illustrates Dern’s intensity and commitment to a character. “I will bury you, motherfucker!” she screamed after forcing an elevator door open with her bare hands. It was the ideal introduction to a retrospective of diverse characters ranging from rebellious youth to morally ambiguous women to self-righteous head-cases and a couple of mainstream roles in between.

Dern seemed somewhat unprepared for the reel, saying that she hadn’t revisited many of her characters in a long time. She remarked that her children, also present, were not yet allowed to see a large chunk of her body of work (possibly a response to the trauma of having “seen [her] father’s head roll down a staircase” in “The Exorcist” when she was a little girl). However she admitted that they were no strangers to their mother’s potty mouth. Regardless, neither they nor the Vedders would stay for the post-Q & A screening of the family unfriendly, “Wild at Heart.”

The Q & A moderator was Elvis Mitchell, host of NPR’s film personality interview show, “The Treatment.” Mitchell conducted the interview in his customary conversational manner. Dern was excited to share her stories and methods, and to discuss film in general. In addition to her parents, actors Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, she named Lucille Ball as her hero (which makes perfect sense in light of her signature cry face). When she’s working, she isn’t concerned about her appearance because glamor is the enemy of authenticity. This approach to acting comes from her parents, who told her, “An actor’s job is to transform.”

She cited her children as her greatest source of inspiration, observing, “Just when you think you can guide someone, they end up guiding you… you have to let your kids define their own life experience.”

Of course, she is also highly influenced by the tremendous directing talent she’s worked with over the years, including Alexander Payne (“Citizen Ruth”) and the incomparable David Lynch (“Blue Velvet,” “Inland Empire”). Lynch looks for loyalties over performances, often conducting interviews in lieu of auditions. He insists that his actors be “perfectly authentic,” which is likely challenging considering his frequently fanciful narratives.

His most fanciful narrative to date was his most recent film, “Inland Empire.” Dern recalled his pitch to her: “You’re gonna star in my next movie… And there’s no script… And you’re gonna play all the characters in the movie.” (Incidentally, Dern does an excellent David Lynch impression.) Despite the lack of information about the story, Dern delivers a series of incredible performances that make enduring the intimidating running time (180 minutes) worth the effort.

Tired of dealing with studios, Lynch funded “Inland Empire” completely out of pocket. He had no trouble coming up with the production money, but was frustrated with the seemingly mandatory expense of film promotion. In protest, Lynch’s entire publicity campaign for the film was to sit on Hollywood Blvd with a cow on a leash and a sign that read, “Laura Dern for Best Actress.” Of course, people took videos of the stunt and it went viral, thus eliminating the need for traditional promotion.

Dern fits well into Lynch’s mode because she’s also an insatiable risk taker. “If other people say you shouldn’t do it,” she remarked, “I like to do it.”

After the Q & A, the die-hard audience members stuck around for a screening of David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” (1990), starring Dern, Nicholas Cage, Diane Ladd and a delightful assortment of Lynch regulars. This warped take on “The Wizard of Oz” is a highly quotable love story set in the darkest time line. It’s also meant for the big screen, allowing the viscera to pop and Lynch’s meticulous sound editing to envelop you. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).