"Feedback screenings are essential to get out of your headspace." One of my very favorite films of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival was a documentary titled Minding the Gap, made by filmmaker Bing Liu. It won over audiences and critics, and picked up the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Filmmaking at the end of the festival. Minding the Gap follows three skater kids from a small town called Rockford, Illinois as they grow up and become adults and start to realize who they really are and how they were raised. It's quite a moving, powerful, remarkably aware film about American society and masculinity, and the struggle of breaking free from the world you were raised in, and much more. I made it my mission to meet filmmaker Bing Liu, and shake his hand, and talk to him about making this film. Bing's the real deal.
"Sometimes you need luck as a director. We always think it's all about control and it is a lot about control when you direct a movie, but it's also about things that you can't foresee." There's a film now playing in theaters titled The Divine Order, from Swiss writer/director Petra Volpe. The film is Switzerland's entry in the Oscars this year and it's obvious why when you see it. This very entertaining, exciting, engaging film tells the story of a woman in a mountain town in Switzerland who rallies other women to join in the fight for the right to vote. Swiss women only passed a law in 1971. I had a chance to talk with writer & director Petra Volpe and I'm so happy I did - she's a joy to talk with and had much to say about making empowering films.
"It's the multiplication of brains and [all] the people that you have to tune to make sure that they are all dreaming in the same direction." He's a master filmmaker and continues to deliver some of the best films of this decade - Denis Villeneuve. Born in Quebec, Villeneuve has been an acclaimed filmmaker for many years but finally got his foot into Hollywood's door after making Incendies in 2010. He followed that up with Prisoners, as well as Enemy released the same year, before making Sicario and Arrival. His latest is Blade Runner 2049, a highly anticipated, long-awaited sequel to the sci-fi cult hit from 1982 starring Harrison Ford as a cop named Deckard. I didn't get to chat with Villeneuve for Arrival last year (it was one of my favorite films), so I chased him this time for Blade Runner and got to spend a few minutes talking with him.
"I tell stories. All I can ever do is express how I'm feeling at a moment." In theaters this week is the new film from acclaimed filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, a very provocative and intense feature titled mother!. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem as a couple living in a secluded home, trying to fix it up and make it nice until one day uninvited guests show up. Mother! premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals, and the reviews have been all over the map. I loved the film (here's my review), because I understood exactly what he was doing. This is Aronofsky's outburst of anger about the state of the world, and the way we abuse and mistreat this beautiful planet we live on. While at the Venice Film Festival, I met with Darren briefly for a chat about mother!, and the state of the world - he's always fascinating to talk with.
"I feel very proud to put something out there that is kind-spirited." Lake Bell has a new movie hitting theaters this week and it's worth a watch whenever you have the time. Many people know Lake Bell as an actress, from shows like "Boston Legal" and "How to Make It in America" and movies like Million Dollar Arm, What Happens in Vegas, and Man Up. But Lake is also a talented filmmaker, writing and directing original feature films. Her feature directorial debut, In a World…, a charming comedy about voice-over actors, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. She has followed that up with a romantic comedy titled I Do… Until I Don't about marriage that is opening in theaters soon. Lake stars in I Do… Until I Don't as one of the lead characters, and she also produced, wrote & directed it, which is an impressive feat.
"You really have to drive your own train and you have to keep it running." Yes indeed. Meet Jim Strouse. Also known as James C. Strouse. Jim is a filmmaker originally from Indiana, who now lives in New York City. If you don't recognize his name, hopefully you will recognize his films - Grace Is Gone (in 2007), The Winning Season (in 2009), People Places Things (in 2015), and now this year he has brought us The Incredible Jessica James. Jessica James stars the talented Jessica Williams as Jessica James in an optimistic, engaging story of a struggling playwright in New York. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, like every film Jim has made, and is being released by Netflix - it's available to watch now. I caught up with Jim at the Sundance Film Festival this year for a chat, and I'm happy to finally present our interview in full. I love his films and I'm glad I had the chance to talk with him out there.
"We pitched that movie. I pitched it to the studio. And they said yes." It's here - one of the best movies of the year. War for the Planet of the Apes is now playing in theaters, and it's a masterpiece. I've seen it twice already and it gets better on the second viewing. Andy Serkis is extraordinary as Caesar, concluding this sci-fi trilogy with one of the best performances you'll see in any movie this year. War for the Planet of the Apes and the film before it, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, were both directed by Matt Reeves. Reeves broke in directing Cloverfield, and followed that up with a remake of Let the Right One In titled Let Me In. I was anxious to talk with him for this movie, it was one of my most anticipated of the year and surpassed all expectations. I was able to catch up with Matt briefly on his press tour and chat about making these movies.
It's time to start experimenting with sci-fi again. South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp is launching a new experimental filmmaking collective called Oats Studios. We've been posting previews over the last few months, but now it's time to give fans a small taste of what's to come. Blomkamp has launched the first project, titled Rakka, online in the form of a 20-minute short film that plays more like an extended proof-of-concept pitch reel. You can find it on Steam or watch the full thing below for free. So what exactly is Oats Studios? I talked with Neill on the phone for 30 minutes earlier this week to dive deep into the concept and figure out exactly what it is they're trying to do. Oats is an "incubator of ideas that come from me or come from other people," then they "put out those ideas to the audience, see how the audience feels about them."
"I don't choose the projects. I think the projects choose me." At the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, legendary Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike premiered his 100th film. At least, that's what the marketing folks were telling us. When I asked him specifically about this, he gave me a different answer. Nonetheless, Miike is indeed a "legendary" filmmaker. Even at the age of 56, he still keeps making movies non-stop, sometimes two or three in a year. His latest film is titled Blade of the Immortal (or Mugen no jûnin in Japanese), an adaptation of a manga series about a samurai cursed with immortality who takes on a job of protecting a girl. He's known for ultra-violent horror, epic samurai films, and the occasional drama. It was an honor to speak with him for what is the only interview he did with a website from America while at Cannes this year.
"Why not allow different directors to put on the same opera and see how the directors do it differently?" There's nothing like talking with filmmakers about their films. The best interviews are when the discussion starts naturally and flows in different directions. We could keep talking for hours, if only the publicist didn't come in and cut us off. I interviewed Hugh Jackman a few years ago for the release of The Wolverine, but this time I wanted to talk to the director - James Mangold. I was lucky to get time with James after the premiere of his new Wolverine film, Logan, at the Berlin Film Festival. We talked about making this movie something unique, as well as his dislike for movie "universes", the freedom of the R-rating, and much more.
"I wanted the movie to be a love letter to not just dreams, but to the kinds of dreams that society often mocks." He's only 31 years old, but has already made two of my favorite movies. Damien Chazelle is the writer/director of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, Whiplash (from 2014) and this year's La La Land, an exuberant and exciting musical that is my #1 movie of the year. La La Land premiered to rave reviews at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto Film Festivals this fall and is now playing in theaters nationwide. I was lucky enough to catch up with Chazelle at the Telluride Film Festival and sit down to talk about making La La Land. I was still on a high from the movie, and was very excited to chat with him about everything - from Ryan Gosling's piano playing, to capturing Los Angeles, to making sure this success doesn't go to his head.
"I feel very excited as of late for what's to come, whether it works or not." I can't say enough how much I adore Damien Chazelle's musical La La Land. It's an exhilarating cinematic experience, full of so much joy and happiness, along with superb dancing and exuberant singing and beautiful sets and gorgeous sunsets. Aside from Ryan Gosling, the other co-star of La La Land is Emma Stone. Her first big break out role was playing Jules in Superbad back in 2007, and over the nearly 10 years since she's earned an Academy Award nomination (for Birdman) and worked with some of the best filmmakers around. I was lucky to spend 15 minutes chatting with Emma about her career and her work on La La Land and it was an absolute delight.