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Wiener-Dog, Todd Solondz Interview

7 Jul

‘Wiener-Dog’ — A Comedy Of Despair About Mortality And A Dachshund

A still from Todd Solondz's latest film "Wiener-Dog." (Courtesy IFC Films)closemore

Indie auteur Todd Solondz, whose latest dark comedy “Wiener-Dog” opens Friday, has always made films his way — on his own terms — plumbing moral and ethical realms that would make most cringe. If he sounds like something of a maverick or self-starter, on paper he is, but in the flesh he casts a very different image.

To begin with, Solondz, who cites Andy Warhol and John Waters as influences, is a mild reflective sort and willing to collaborate for the sake of art. He’s quite humble too. After eight features he points out, “I am very fortunate I am still able to get films made,” referring to the struggle many directors face trying to garner enough funding to make independent film.  Continue reading

The Final Chapter

17 Mar

The final chapter

Sylvester Stallone discusses Rocky Balboa

By TOM MEEK  |  December 19, 2006

It’s been 17 years since Rocky V and 30 since the original. This week, Rocky Balboa opens, and you can almost hear the comics and late night TV hosts sharpening their knives. After all this time, why make another beat-the-long-odds boxing movie, especially when the franchise’s star, Sylvester Stallone is 60?“The fifth one ended with no emotion,” said Stallone, looking fit in jeans and a white button down during an interview at the Ritz Carleton. “It did not come full circle. The optimism that is usually associated with Rocky was not there. There was no moral message, nothing uplifting, zero.”

John G. Avildsen (The Karate Kid) directed the first and fifth Rockies, while Stallone, who cooked up the series and penned each script, helmed the others. Balboa, he says, will be the final chapter, and a tone of therapeutic necessity marks voice of the ’80’s icon. “I just wanted to end the series on the right note, and to do that, you’ve got to do it yourself. You go back to basics. If it stumbles, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.”  Continue reading

Ray Manzarek

17 Mar

Interview: Ray Manzarek of the Doors

The return of the Lizard King, sort of

By TOM MEEK  |  April 5, 2010

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Photo:http://www.visum-reportagen.de

It’s been nearly 40 years since the death of Jim Morrison, but the surviving members of the Doors, keyboardist Ray Manzarek, guitarist Robby Krieger and percussionist John Densmore have kept soldiering on, playing in various reformations (Densmore has, for the most part, largely declined to partake) of the ground-breaking band.  The meteoric rise of the band, during Morrison’s brief stint, is chronicled in the new documentary, When You’re Strange directed by longtime indie stalwart, Tom DiCillo (Johnny Suede and Living inOblivion).

Manzarek has openly called the film “the true story of the Doors” and the “anti-Oliver Stone,” in reference to the 1991 bio-pic The Doors, starring Val Kilmer. I spoke with Manzarek via telephone to get his input on the film, Oliver Stone, his relationship with Morrison, and his upcoming East Coast tour (including a Boston stop) with Krieger as Manzarek–Krieger (with former Fuel front man Brett Scallions filling Morrison’s large shoes).

So how did the project come together?
Dick Wolf, the TV producer.  He was a big fan of the Doors and booked the Doors when he was in college a long time ago.  So he’s been a Doors fan ever since, and he came to us and said, “Let’s make a documentary.”  He had won an Academy Award with a documentary short about two firefighters who died during 9/11 [Twin Towers, 2003] and he wanted to make a feature and hired Tom DiCillo, a guy who had made documentaries and did well at Sundance. So we talked to Tom and he had a lot of great ideas, especially the whole shamanic thing with Morrison driving in his car and hearing about the death of Jim Morrison.  It was something Tom wanted to cut back to [in the film]; Jim Morrison coming back to Los Angeles even if he was dead, or is he? [The footage was from a short film Morrison made during the recording of L.A. Woman, the Doors last album with Morrison]. I thought it was an in interesting idea.  Continue reading

Edward Zwick

17 Mar

Interview: Edward Zwick, director of Love and Other Drugs

Beyond Glory days

By TOM MEEK  |  November 26, 2010

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Folks most immediately identify Edward Zwick as the director behind Glory (1989), perhaps one of the greatest Civil War dramas ever rendered on film. Not bad for a sophomore outing — one that came as a  stark contrast to Zwick’s first feature film, About Last Night, a 1986 cheeky romantic comedy starring Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. From there, Zwick — who’d worked in drama at Harvard and cut his teeth in TV with the popular serial thirtysomething — would embark on a cinematic directorial career encompassing a diverse and wide-sweeping range of subjects: Zwick was the hand behind such films as The SiegeDefiance, and The Last Samurai.

Equally impressive are Zwick’s endeavors as a producer. His name is etched on such Academy Award golden children as Shakespeare in Love and Traffic.

For his latest, Love and Other Drugs (read our review here), Zwick writes, produces, and directs. This one’s another rom-com, with some darker issues at heart and centered on the late-’90s pharmaceutical bubble crowned by the introduction of Viagra to the marketplace. The inspiration for the movie comes from Jamie Reidy’s novel Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman and stars desirable, upwardly mobile talents Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. I recently had a chance to sit down with Zwick and discuss the film and his life behind the camera.

What drew you to this project?
I had always been interested in human behavioral comedy. I had done it before in my career and gone back to it with My So-Called Life and thirtysomething, so it’s not like I ever left it. I think it’s really important for an artist to remain a moving target, and I think I have focused the past couple of years on pieces that were larger in scale and that were often in a historical context or epic, and I just wanted to bring it down to something that was only about the performances and only about the smaller moments and try to talk about what is epic in personal lives. Continue reading

Welcome to Sarajevo

17 Mar

R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 01/08/1998, B: Tom Meek,

Bosnia calling

Michael Winterbottom’s scathing Sarajevo

by Tom Meek

WELCOME TO SARAJEVO, Directed by Michael Winterbottom. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, based on the novel Natasha’s Story, by Michael Nicholson. With Stephen Dillane, Woody Harrelson, Marisa Tomei, Emira Nusevic, Kerry Fox, Goran Visnjic, Emily Lloyd, and James Nesbitt. A Miramax Pictures release. At the Kendall Square.

Michael Winterbottom is perhaps the most-talented, least-known filmmaker of the moment. His fledgling accomplishments — Butterfly Kiss, the tangy road movie about two lesbian serial killers, and Jude, featuring the red-hot Kate Winslet in an idiosyncratic updating of the quintessential Thomas Hardy novel — demonstrated the British director’s knack for visual storytelling. But neither film would serve as an appropriate yardstick for what Winterbottom has achieved with Welcome to Sarajevo, the first cinematic rendering of the Bosnian conflict.

Based upon British war correspondent Michael Nicholson’s novel Natasha’s Story, and piquantly peppered with other journalistic reports from the front line, Welcome to Sarajevo is a blistering docudrama, as refreshing as it is horrifying. Told through the eyes of Western journalists, the film doesn’t concern itself with the nebulous details of the Bosnian Serbs’ terrorist assault on the city that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics; instead it’s a simple, eloquent, chronicle of Sarajevans’ daily struggle to survive. Winterbottom sets the film’s stark tone in the unassuming opening sequence as his camera follows the ceremonial preparations of a bride and her wedding party. The pageant frolics along, carefree and unconcerned, until the rip of a sniper’s bullet terminates the moment of jubilation and ushers in the shocking reality of civil war.  Continue reading

The Ban in Iran

16 Mar

An Interview with filmmaker Jafar Panahi in a May 2001 Boston Phoenix – linked here for as long as the Phoenix’s archives (RIP Phx!) remain online, text below.

The ban in IranFilmmakers around the world confront the same issues that Hollywood has to contend with: lack of money, lack of talent, production snags. In many countries, however, cinematic artists face an even bigger hurdle: governments that exercise regulatory control over film content. To Live, Zhang Yimou’s 1994 epic chronicle about China in social-political transition, was banned in his homeland — though it’s been seen by Western audiences. Now with The Circle, an indictment of Iran’s oppression of women, filmmaker Jafar Panahi has suffered a similar fate. The film won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival but has yet to be shown publicly on Iranian soil.

I would very much like to have people in my country see the film; it makes me sad, ” says the director. Panahi made The Circle in response to his two earlier films, The Mirror andThe White Balloon, both of which were about young female protagonists. ” I wanted to see what they would be like as adults. Would they be as bold? There would be more restrictions on them and they would be less innocent. They would be aware and have knowledge of the controls around them — the circle of restriction that they are caught in and cannot escape. That’s what I wanted to explore, and the idea came together after I read about a woman who committed suicide after killing her two children and I began to contemplate the reasons why, because the paper made no such notation about a motive. ”

To make the film, Panahi had to find his own funding. ” There are two types of films in Iran, propaganda films, like films about the Iran-Iraq war that are financed by the government, and private films that are made on bank loans. These either are made for commercial profit or are arthouse films about human interest like mine. I made The Circle with money I had made from my first two films, and I got help co-producing it with the Italian company that had picked up my other films. “

Throughout the process Panahi had to get government approval at regular checkpoints. ” When I first wrote the film and submitted it for review, I did not hear back for a long time, many months. And then they let me make the film, and when I was done, I gave them a print, and again I did not hear from them. ” At that juncture Panahi became fearful that no audience, national or international, would see his film, but then a fortunate sequence of events occurred. ” We have this festival called Fajr, which is a big deal in my country and many people come to it, and when I couldn’t show it there, I took some of my friends, associates, and fans from other countries to my house and showed it to them. One of them, from the Venice Film Festival, where it took top honors, said they had to show it, and the government, believing that a copy of the film had made it out of the country, allowed it to be shown [in Venice] with only three days to go, but it is still not permitted to be shown in my country. “

Given his penchant for such provocative subjects, does Panahi see himself as a political filmmaker or a feminist? ” My films are humanistic, though many have said they are political and I can understand that, but I am an artist trying to shed light, to enlighten, to jolt the mind, I am not political, I am not going to change the world, I am just showing things. As for being a feminist, my films are about daily struggle, not just about women, but for all people, they could be about men, too. “

Last month, however, on April 15, Panahi was detained by police during a layover at New York’s JFK airport. Although details of the incident remain unclear, he maintains that he was humiliated, denied requests for an interpreter, and then, many hours later, led back onto a plane in shackles. In an open letter, the director returned the (American) Freedom of Expression Award and challenged the awarding board and the ” US media ” to ” dare to condemn the savage acts of American Police/Immigration Officers. ” Like his films, the letter appears to be just another intrepid act of a nonpolitical person.

By Tom Meek