Friday, May 29, 2015

Interview: Andrew Bujalski

Like a character from one of his movies, writer-director Andrew Bujalski has a self-effacing style of speech and a habit of making a thoughtful observation, then promptly second-guessing it. He also seems to be motivated in large part by conquering his own fears, which he acknowledges so freely that he used the word "fear," "frightened," or "terrified" in answering about a third of my questions as we discussed moviemaking in general and his latest feature, Results. Where Bujalski's early films were about people feeling their way through life after college, and his last feature, Computer Chess, was an affectionate and bemused look back at the infancy of computer-nerd culture, Results is a charmingly meandering, brainy rom-com set in the adult working world. As always, the director finds gentle humor and emotional truth in the bumpy road traveled by his main characters: Trevor (Guy Pearce), the owner/manager of a gym; his star trainer, Kat (Cobie Smulders); and their new client, Danny (Kevin Corrigan), a newly minted millionaire who's a schlubby stranger to the world of fitness. He also scores some interesting points about how the work we do—or, in Danny's case, don't do—both reflects and affects who we are.

Your movies don't seem strictly autobiographical, but they do seem to be at least partly about whatever stage of life you're at. I wonder if you're thinking about doing anything about parenthood, since you've been very open in interviews about how being a father has transformed your life.
I don't know. The problem is it would be such a big undertaking that I'm a little nervous about the idea. You really have to direct kids. Not that the directing would be so scary, so much as coordinating and organizing and the rest of it. Like with everything, there would be ways, but you strike fear into my heart. [laughs] Like you say, nothing I've done is strictly autobiographical, but it's all very personal. My life feeds into what I do in a kind of back-alley way, in terms of perceptions and wondering what we're doing on this planet. So, yeah, the thought of doing a movie about parenthood has crossed my mind. I've imagined what I'd like to say about that, but it would be kind of frightening to try to actually pull it off.

Interview: Guy Pearce

In town to promote Andrew Bujalski's Results, Guy Pearce was articulate, seemingly unguarded, and quietly enthusiastic as we talked this week at the Crosby Hotel. Pearce's character, a gym owner and manager named Trevor, is one of three main characters who spar, spark, and bond throughout the film, which Slant's Chuck Bowen praised as the "rare romantic comedy that's hopeful without resorting to condescending, deadening platitude, temporarily lending respectability to the phrase 'life-affirming.'" A fan of his director's "slightly odd, asymmetrical rhythm," Pearce spoke of finding just the right balance between sharpness and cluelessness for Trevor, and about why it was a relief to play the part in his own Ozzie accent. He also had plenty to say about why Tom Hardy is the new Brando.

You usually play characters who are very self-aware and smart and capable, but Trevor is pretty clueless, in a sweet and funny way. Was it fun to play a bit of a dim bulb for a change? Or did you not think of him that way?
Yeah, yeah, I do. [laughs] Andrew said, "I don't want him to be too dumb." I said, "No, but in all my years of going to gyms and seeing gym junkies and trainers, there's a real sharpness to them, there's a real confidence about spreading the word about fitness and stuff, but there's a slight blind spot. And I'm interested in that blind spot." He said, "So am I," so that was great.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

100 Words On ... Mutual Appreciation

Uneven lighting and musical performances recorded on what sound like on-camera mikes bolster the sense of scrappy DIY creativity in early 21st-century Brooklyn that is the subject of Mutual Appreciation, a low-budget indie about the kinds of people who might make a low-budget indie. A cast gifted at offhand delivery and squirmingly funny body language brings writer-director-editor-costar Andrew Bujalski’s smart script vividly to life. Good with women, as always, Bujalski puts his most insightful and forthright character Ellie (Rachel Clift), the center of a tentative romantic triangle, at the center of the movie as well. The dialogue sounds improvised, thanks to Bujalski’s deftness at capturing that millennial way of talking that manages to be both self-effacingly diffident and disarmingly direct. Written for The L Magazine

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Japanese Dog

The Japanese Dog
has the look of a thoughtful arthouse character study, with its generally still camera, long, deliberately paced takes, and habit of artfully framing characters through doors or windows to make a painterly tableau of quiet, everyday actions. But while classics of this genre, like Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, weight quotidian household routines and family relationships with great meaning and suspense by laying bare the emotional fault lines underlying the status quo, The Japanese Dog never quite cracks the surface.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Farewell Party

A neatly balanced tragicomedy about the easily blurred line between assisted living and assisted death, The Farewell Party follows a group of friends in an Israeli assisted living community as they help each other cope with the ravages of aging, including the agony of slow, painful deaths from the likes of cancer and dementia's rapid diminishment of the self. Scenes like one in which they're stopped for speeding on the way home from a comrade's deathbed inject the kind of relief you might find in a joke shared at a wake. The cocky young traffic cop starts off condescending to Yehezkel (Ze'ev Revach), the "Gramps" at the wheel, but he loses his composure when Yana (Aliza Rosen), the dead man's wife, starts to weep and Yehezkel says it's because of the cost of the ticket. ("We live on Social Security," he says sorrowfully, playing the "old" card deftly). The rest of the group starts to cry, too, triggered by Yana's tears, and the discombobulated cop brusquely announces that he's letting them off.

Monday, May 11, 2015

I'll See You In My Dreams

Explaining why he just bought himself a yacht, Bill (Sam Elliott), the sexy septuagenarian whose arrival at a retirement community creates a stir in Brett Haley's I'll See You in My Dreams, tells Carol (Blythe Danner) that he can't understand people who wedge themselves into a rut after retirement and stay there until they die. Carol simply listens, no longer sure where she stands on the subject. Since her husband died 20 years ago, she's been living just the sort of life Bill is sneering at, so she's well aware that there are far worse ways to pass the time than reading the morning paper by the pool in your L.A. bungalow, playing bridge or golf several times a week with your best friends, or settling into bed with your pet and a glass of wine to watch some TV before falling asleep. On the other hand, a series of small but seismic changes in her life—the death of her dog, a budding friendship with the sensitive young man, Lloyd (Martin Starr), who cleans her pool, and Bill's unexpected interest in her—is altering her longstanding routine and making her wonder if she wants to spend the rest of her life doing essentially the same thing every day.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Go West, Young Man: Talking to Slow West Director John Mclean

One of the best movies at last month’s Tribeca Film Festival, Slow West, which opens in New York on May 15, is an accomplished, original Western by first-time feature filmmaker John Mclean (formerly a member of the Beta Band). In it, young Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his guide (Michael Fassbender) strike out to find a young woman named Rose. Shot in New Zealand and written and directed by a Scot, it looks at the American West through what Mclean calls “a European point of view.”

There’s a lot going on in this movie, but one of the main themes is how many different cultures came together to create the United States—from south of the border, from Africa, from all over Europe and more—and how the Native Americans who were here to begin with were shut out of that process. What made you want to focus on that part of our history?
I traveled around America a lot when I was younger, and I met a lot of Americans who said, “Oh, my grandfather was European.” So I decided to write it from a European point of view. Then I started reading up on the story of the West, and it’s a lot more tragic than all these Western movies tell it.