BLACKBOOK PREMIERE: Captivating Video for Jackson Penn’s Acoustic Version of ‘Streetlights on Mars’

 

 

You may not know Jackson Penn’s name, perhaps – but you’ve probably heard his songs. Indeed, as Freddy Wexler, he has penned gems for Kanye, for Steve Aoki, for Selena Gomez…we could go on.

But he’s been saving some of those songs for himself lately – or at least for his solo alter ego Jackson Penn – including a particularly profound one titled, intriguingly, “Streetlights on Mars.” He recorded a version in 2017 that was characterized by its cool, calypso-new-wave musical undercurrent. But with its poignant lyrical musings – “Holy rolling on ecstasy / She said to me / Promise not to wake me if it’s all a dream” – it was practically begging for a more stripped down version.

And so it is that we premiere here precisely that very version, with a video showing Jackson Penn singing to the accompaniment of nothing but acoustic guitar. We asked him to elaborate…

 

You’ve written songs for artists that tend to employ mostly really elaborate production. What inspired you to do such a stripped-down version of “Streetlights on Mars”?

The song came from a pure place, so I wanted a simple version with no distractions. I think great songs are about melody and lyrics.

You use a lot of metaphors: “streets of gold”, “streetlights on Mars,” “tripping on fields of marigold.” Do you try to paint pictures with your lyrics?

I loved reading stories growing up, and I spent more time living in my imagination than in reality. I guess I still do.

You sing “This is the start / Even if we don’t know where we are.” Is this song a kind of “spiritual” journey, if you will?

It’s about a night that gets so crazy, you question if it’s even real. I think a crazy night can get pretty spiritual.

Will you be releasing more singles this year? A full album?

I’m putting out a new single called “Babylon” in March – and I’ll hopefully put out an album this summer.

 

 

The 15 Best Films to See in New York This Week: Suzuki, Rivette, Desplechin + More

Presenting our weekly guide to must-see movies in New York: from Jacques Rivette at BAM to IFC Center to Seijun Suzuki at Film Society, here are 15 films to see in New York this week.

***MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16***

PRINCESS RACCOON, Seijun Suzuki
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

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This “energetic, inventive and ever-so-slightly insane mishmash of music, magic and madness” (Mark Kermode,The Guardian) stars Joe Odagiri as a prince. After being exiled, he comes across a magical land of shape-shifting raccoons and falls in love with their princess (Ziyi Zhang). Rooted in Japanese folklore, studded with tunes that range from operetta to hip-hop, and set in a fantastical Edo period of the imagination, this film shows Suzuki at his most kindhearted and whimsical. Although he was pitching a project as late as 2008 (at the age of 85!), this is most likely Suzuki’s final film, and it’s a fittingly friendly way to say goodbye.

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OUT 1: EPISODES 1 & 2, Jacques Rivette
BAM

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Over eight episodes, a cast of French New Wave icons improvise a spellbinding tale involving two theater troupes rehearsing Aeschylus, a female con artist (Berto) who seduces her victims, and a deaf-mute (until he speaks) busker (Léaud) on a quest to uncover a mysterious secret society. As the characters’ paths crisscross and the film’s puzzle-box structure grows ever more elaborate, a portrait of post-May 1968 Paris and its dashed dreams emerges. The result is a cinematic experience unlike any other, in which, as Rivette himself put it: “the fiction swallows everything up and then self-destructs.” New restoration courtesy of Carlotta Films US.

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JE TU IL ELLE, Chantal Akerman
MoMA

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A film about hunger—sexual and otherwise—and the anguish of loss, Akerman’s breakthrough feature is a brilliant subversion of the feminine mystique, and of the narrative conventions of porn and road movies. A chamber piece starring Claire Wauthion, a young Niels Arestrup (A Prophet, The Beat that My Heart Skipped), and Akerman herself, Je tu il elle is divided into three acts that chart a solitary young woman’s compulsive habits and chance encounters with a truck driver and an ex-girlfriend. Restored digitally by the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique.

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***TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 17***

KANTO WANDERER, Seijun Suzuki
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

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Based on a book by Taiko Hirabayashi, one of Japan’s most famous female novelists, Kanto Wanderer puts a Suzukian spin on the classic yakuza movie conflict between giri (duty) and ninjo (humanity). Nikkatsu superstar Akira Kobayashi plays Katsuta, a fearsome yakuza bodyguard torn between defending his boss against a rival gang leader and his obsession with Tatsuko, a femme fatale who reappears from his past. Suzuki uses this traditional story to experiment with color and to indulge his interest in Kabuki theater techniques and effects, most notably in the stunning final battle, in which the scenery falls away to reveal a field of pure blood red. “As an example of Suzuki’s mid-period output at Nikkatsu, Kanto Wanderer offers us an inspiring sample of experimentation on assignment” (Margaret Barton-Fumo, Senses of Cinema). Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

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OUT 1: EPISODES 3 & 4, Jacques Rivette
BAM

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Over eight episodes, a cast of French New Wave icons improvise a spellbinding tale involving two theater troupes rehearsing Aeschylus, a female con artist (Berto) who seduces her victims, and a deaf-mute (until he speaks) busker (Léaud) on a quest to uncover a mysterious secret society. As the characters’ paths crisscross and the film’s puzzle-box structure grows ever more elaborate, a portrait of post-May 1968 Paris and its dashed dreams emerges. The result is a cinematic experience unlike any other, in which, as Rivette himself put it: “the fiction swallows everything up and then self-destructs.” New restoration courtesy of Carlotta Films US.

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MY SEX LIFE…OR HOW I GOT INTO AN ARGUMENT, Arnaud Desplechin
FIAF

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Mathieu Amalric stars as Paul Dedalus, a neurotic, Joycean 29-year-old grad student who can neither finish his thesis, nor commit to a girlfriend. Following his circle of friends and lovers into their every late-night, cigarette-fuelled argument over love and philosophy, director Arnaud Desplechin revels in the chaos of being young and self-involved.

At once sincere and slyly self-aware, Amalric’s performance is the heart of this comic epic dedicated to the lives and romantic entanglements of flailing twenty-somethings. 

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CARMEN FROM KAWACHI, Seijun Suzuki
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

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A 1960s riff on the opera Carmen (including a rock version of its famous aria “Habanera”), this picaresque tale sends its heroine from the countryside to Osaka and Tokyo in search of success as a singer. Her journey is fraught with exploitation and abuse at the hands of nefarious men—until Carmen seeks revenge. Mixing comedy, biting social commentary, and Suzuki’s customarily outrageous stylistic flourishes, this fast-paced gem is an overlooked classic from his creative late period at Nikkatsu Studios. Print courtesy of the Japan Foundation.

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***WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 18***

A PLACE IN THE SUN, George Stevens
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

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George Stevens took the plot for one of his biggest runaway successes—it won six Oscars in 1952—from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy: a poor, ambitious young man (Montgomery Clift) becomes disastrously involved with two women (Shelly Winters and Elizabeth Taylor) while trying to ingratiate himself with his wealthy uncle. Clift, then at the peak of his powers, transforms George from a sleazy social climber into something close to a tragic hero. But it’s Winters’s performance as the doomed young Alice, a factory worker from whom George drifts away in favor of a wealthy socialite, that becomes the film’s emotional center. She’s the prototype for many of Haynes’s heroines: stifled, alert, possessed of strong desires, and ultimately destroyed by the shallow movements of the society in which she’s stuck.

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OUT 1: EPISODES 5 & 6, Jaques Rivette
BAM

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Over eight episodes, a cast of French New Wave icons improvise a spellbinding tale involving two theater troupes rehearsing Aeschylus, a female con artist (Berto) who seduces her victims, and a deaf-mute (until he speaks) busker (Léaud) on a quest to uncover a mysterious secret society. As the characters’ paths crisscross and the film’s puzzle-box structure grows ever more elaborate, a portrait of post-May 1968 Paris and its dashed dreams emerges. The result is a cinematic experience unlike any other, in which, as Rivette himself put it: “the fiction swallows everything up and then self-destructs.” New restoration courtesy of Carlotta Films US.

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AMARCORD, Federico Fellini
MoMA

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Screened with an additional 10 minutes of silent outtakes edited by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), this Italian theatrical version ofAmarcord—unlike the English-dubbed U.S. release—highlights Fellini’s use of multiple narrators and points of view. Filmed in Fellini’s seaside hometown of Rimini, where he made I Vitelloni in 1953, this affectionately grotesque fantasia about provincial life during the Fascist 1930s is filled with his usual gallery of broadly sketched eccentrics—the village idiot, the overripe mamma, the buffoonish collaborator—seen through a filter of personal reminiscence (the title means “I remember”) that makes this one of his most deeply felt films. And while its vaudevillian pleasures remain undimmed across the 42 years since it won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, Amarcord is also a trenchant meditation on Italy’s national character, reflecting Fellini’s observation that “fascism and adolescence continue to be . . . permanent historical seasons of our lives.” Restored digitally by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, with funding provided by yoox.com. In association with the City of Rimini, Cristaldi Film, and Warner Bros.

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I MOSTRI, Dino Risi
MoMA

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The ultimate Italian omnibus film, with no fewer than 20 episodes depicting, as director Dino Risi put it, “a distrust in humanity” resulting from the Italian economic boom of the late 1950s. Ugo Tognazzi and Vittorio Gassman interpret a variety of human monsters, from princes to prizefighters, in brief, satirical sketches that spare no one, including the viewer. Released in the United States in a radically shortened version, I Mostri is back—at some 31 minutes longer—in the full fury of its original Italian release. Restored digitally by Cineteca di Bologna and Museo Nazionale del Cinema di Torino, in association with RTI-Mediaset, Lyon Film, and Surf Film.

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***THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19***

JOHNNY GUITAR, Nicholas Ray
Film Forum

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“How many men have you forgotten?” “As many women as you remember.” In a dusty Arizona town, Joan Crawford’s pants-wearing, gun-toting saloon owner (“Down there I sell whiskey and cards. All you can buy up these stairs is a bullet in the head. Now which do you want?”) stands to rake in the dough when the railroad comes through. But when the stage is robbed and a rancher murdered, the townspeople ready a noose for her more-than-friend The Dancin’ Kid (Scott Brady), with insanely jealous cattle baroness Mercedes McCambridge (years later the voice of the Devil in The Exorcist) hell-bent on having Crawford join him. Enter Joan’s old flame Sterling Hayden, as the eponymous Johnny, who, despite preferring guitar-play over gun-play – and up against bad guys like Ernest Borgnine and Ward Bond – does what a man’s gotta do. Nick Ray’s baroque, emotionally tormented Western, photographed in “gorgeous Trucolor by Consolidated” (and looking better than it ever deserved in this new 4K restoration), bursts at the seams with sexual tension and anti-McCarthy allegory. American reviewers scratched their heads (British critic Gavin lambert deemed it one of the silliest films of the year), but it was immediately embraced by the young critics of Cahiers du Cinéma – among them future directors Eric Rohmer (“Ray is the poet of love and violence”), Jean-Luc Godard (“here is something which exists only in cinema”), and François Truffaut (“dream-like, magical, delirious… the Beauty and the Beast of the Western”). High praise indeed for a Republic Pictures oater!

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OUT 1: EPISODES 7 & 8, Jacques Rivette
BAM

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Over eight episodes, a cast of French New Wave icons improvise a spellbinding tale involving two theater troupes rehearsing Aeschylus, a female con artist (Berto) who seduces her victims, and a deaf-mute (until he speaks) busker (Léaud) on a quest to uncover a mysterious secret society. As the characters’ paths crisscross and the film’s puzzle-box structure grows ever more elaborate, a portrait of post-May 1968 Paris and its dashed dreams emerges. The result is a cinematic experience unlike any other, in which, as Rivette himself put it: “the fiction swallows everything up and then self-destructs.”

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FINGERS, James Toback
Nitehawk Cinema

Harvey Keitel’s wannabe concert pianist turned thug-for-the-mob gets the hots for taciturn sculptress Tisa Farrow – but her super-stud “boyfriend” Jim Brown might have something – or possibly nothing – to say about it… Perverse, petulant, personal – and at times painfully penetrating – a pointed portrait of the preposterousness of the masculine myth… crawling through the nooks and crannies of a city as fractured as its protagonist’s psyche — to a tune filled track of Bach, Bebop, and Girl Group Rock ‘n’ Roll – it’ll get its FINGERS in you!

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MOANA WITH SOUND, Robert Flaherty, Frances Flaherty, and Monica Flaherty
Film Forum

Originally touted as “The Love Life of a South Seas Siren!,” with accompanying bare bosom artwork, documentary pioneer Flaherty’s second feature after Nanook of the North is actually a serene look at the lives of the lovely and gentle Samoans, made entirely on location in the island paradise of Savai’i. In 1923, Flaherty journeyed with his wife Frances and their children to the South Seas island to film the exotic lifestyles of the Samoan people, resurrecting their recently vanished customs and capturing them before modernization permanently altered their way of life. Over fifty years later, Flaherty’s daughter Monica returned to the island with verité legend Ricky Leacock, recording authentic location sound, dialogue and folks songs to complement her father’s exquisite images.

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Director John Magary Talks His Ferocious Debut Feature 'The Mend'

Originally posted from BAMcinemaFest, run again for this weekend”s release of The Mend

As refreshingly playful as it is emotionally ferocious, John Magary’s frenetic and biting comic drama, The Mend, delivers absolute pleasure in a sardonic grin. As the writer/director’s debut feature, the Josh Lucas and Stephen Plunkett-led film examines the wrought psychology of brotherhood, love, and madness. Set in Harlem and shot in the apartment where Magary and co-writers Myna Joseph and Russell Harbaugh all reside, The Mend explores what happens when short-fused and bizarrely engaging Mat (Lucas) reunites with his seemingly stable younger brother Alan (Plunkett) at a house party on the eve of a romantic vacation Mat had been planning with his girlfriend Farrah (Mickey Sumner). But when Alan comes home much sooner than expected, he finds Mat has made himself at home in the apartment, accompanied by his on-and-off-again girlfriend Andrea (Lucy Owen) and her son Ronnie. Returning without Farrah, a now vulnerable and temperamental Alan succumbs to the strange state of his apartment, and when the power goes out, is forced to come face to face with the delicate familial threads on the verge of destruction.

As one of the most exciting films of the year, The Mend emerged at SXSW to a flurry of praise and last night had its New York premiere at BAMcinemaFest. Last week, I got the chance to sit dow with Magary to chat about the collaborative process of the film, embracing the divisive, and his myriad pools of inspiration.

Before you began working on The Mend, was there another script you”d been developing?

Yeah, I had this script that was called Go Down Antoinette, and might become Antoinette. I made a short film in New Orleans called The Second Line and it did okay, it was at Sundance and places like that. Then at the same time, this feature script I’d written, set in New Orleans, was at the Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab. So for that six month window there was a lot of momentum behind the script. After the Lab I got a little lost with the script and kind of scared of it. It’s not totally the Lab’s fault, but the Lab puts so much focus on the flaws within the scripts and the things that aren’t working, and also how really, really deeply hard it would be to get made. It takes place over 45 years, and it’s a huge task, not just because it’s a period piece and the budget, but at some point I said: “I can’t—I don’t know if I could make this now.” There was also a little bit of—there was so much of New Orleans in the movies at that point, because of Beasts of the Southern Wild and stuff—I felt like I missed a moment or something. So I did the exact opposite of the movie and tried to something we thought could be small and containable and in our apartment.

I”m assuming you have an older brother.

I do have an older brother, but he’s not like Mat exactly. The characters are both kind of composites of us. He’s not like a drifter. We’re both very messy people, but he’s a nicer guy. It’s funny how Mat gets described as a drifter. I don’t think I ever thought of him as a drifter until the movie was done.

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What did you think of him as?

I think just an asshole or something. Just this force that comes and weasels its way in. I don’t know if I had a metaphor for it exactly. I guess I hadn’t known any real genuine drifters in my life—who does, really?

The design “work” he does is also a strange job for the character.

It became a choice to not go further into that within the film. I get a little frustrated with movies when they completely lose sight of how the characters make money or exist in the world. To me, it’s like if you see one of those embarrassingly bad websites, those would be Mat’s websites, or like a website half done and you click on everything and it’s under construction. I was very interested in this guy who is five years behind—behind technology; his computer is terrible. He knows how to consume technology and take part in it, but he doesn’t know how to master it.

But in a film like this, how they make money isn”t something you find yourself concerned with. It felt a bit elevated from reality.

Most movies it doesn’t even occur to you how someone makes money. But since we’re in the apartment, it might occur to you how they are able to live in an apartment. It’s weird. One of the big choices in writing and editing was taking that trip to the younger brother’s workplace; we had to decide whether or not that was worth taking. It doesn’t conclude in any way, but it adds a little to his back-story and stuff. I enjoy little things like that, embracing tangents and following characters as they leave the story.

The film had definite odes to Arnaud Desplechin—the emotional chaos, the tangents and pockets of life that are usually cut out. I was recently watching Mathieu Amalric’s break dancing scene in Kings and Queen, which is one of my favorite examples of a scene that may be unnecessary to the character’s overall story, but so satisfying to watch.

And what’s amazing about him is that it’s not just unnecessary, but potentially embarrassing. What I love about Desplechin is that he embraces these flourishes and tangents that could be stupid or silly. And it’s not even a question of whether or not they satisfy a character’s journey., it’s just that they would seem utterly superfluous, but they don’t. His talent is weaving that into the overall texture of the movie. I know a lot of people who think his movies are too long and too big, and they’re crazy. He’s interestingly divisive. 

But even with the dramatic weight of his films and their dense texture, a real pleasure always runs through them.

And also that overflowing narrative design where he’s very novelistic, mapping characters within plot and stuff. It’s something I aspire to. Yeah, his movies have a density to them that feels not lifelike, exactly…

So in terms of the writing process, how was the experience of collaborating? 

The structure happened with Myna, who’s a producer and my girlfriend, and my friend Joseph, and Russ Harbaugh who’s a director, and Myna’s also a director. Russ is actually our roommate. We structured the film in a fairly traditional writer’s room way where we did index cards and sequences and broke it down into stretches. So weirdly, the bones of the movie are all three of us. Russ and I were kind of splitting duties for a while, but he has his own script and so it became like I’ll just take it. I tried to bring it in and make it my own thing. They were both on set a lot and they were pure collaborators. I like to have someone to bounce ideas off of. It’s not something I was used to, but I like that.

Do you write in small moments or sequences, or is it a linear process?

I wish I could’ve, but it was mostly linear. I’ll sometimes miss a point where I’m really blocked and just jump ahead and write something I know but it’s very planned. Part of the slowness of my writing process it that I can’t move on until I feel like the page is totally right, even though it might get demolished at some point. It was often structured around ideas for vignettes. Having him go to work. That’s just a general, generic idea. Keep that in mind and possibly bring the narrative back there, or just get rid of it if it’s really not working.

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Do you find yourself writing around little obsessions you wanted to incorporate into the story—like the e-cigarette and Mat’s constant asking about Menthols?

The e-cig thing was actually a late addition to the script. I’m curious how that will age the movie. It’s already not as popular as it was. I liked that idea that even cigarettes, a cool signifier for this drifter guy, are being overtaken by an electronic thing he can’t quite catch up to. So the image of him smoking that e-cig, or asking the guy on the street about a menthol cigarette, is incorporating the world outside and the neighborhood.

He’s the type of character who would be smoking all the time just because he always needs to be constantly stimulated.

And e-cigs are hilarious because they feed into one more electronic obsession. You can plug them into your computer and recharge them! It’s so weird. You can’t even do really unhealthy things without electricity being involved somehow. The scene in the outdoor coffee shop where they move in on him, and up, and he yells at the camera… he goes “I’m going insane! Help! Save me!” That was an idea. Certain scenes are visual first and then you build the scenes around them. Others are character based and then you best online casino work on the visual part of the movie. Scenes that were visually led are the ways I like the most and get most excited about, because they seem more like pure cinema. I guess I’m trying to define what cinema is—that weird idea without the camera move or the zoom in on the guy, or looking at the camera. Without that, the scene is nothing. Without using the tools of cinema, the scene becomes—you could cut it.

Why did you choose to begin with a blow up between Mat and Andrea and follow him after rather than seeing him for the first time at the party? I enjoyed the frantic madness of the opening, knowing nothing but then slowly peeling back.

It was written in a very elliptical way. When she kicks him out of the room, we never know why. I was basically trying to set the tone of what the relationship is. It’s like this is what happens when they break. A lot of the stuff was very much a product of editing. Our editor was just bouncing back—there’s probably 20 different versions of the opening.

Were you thinking about the editing during the writing process? It feels like a real expression rather than just a means of putting the narrative together.

Yeah, definitely. I edit myself a lot, for money and for fun. The writing is very much driven with editing in mind, but not always. Certain scenes I’ll write and not know until right before shooting whether we’re going to shoot it. How you shoot it is how you edit it in some ways. There’s a kind of style that interests me which comes out of a 60s French New Wave, into the 70s—a blunt, hard cut style that I like. I want editing to be a separate process. I don’t want it to just be finishing up the directing or cleaning up fuck ups. I want it to be its own writing process. What I love about editing is that you can create a feeling that wasn’t there on set or in the script, through sound and stuff. I tried to be as engaged with sound as much as possible, in terms of what’s going on in the background and how loud things are. It’s the part of the process I enjoy the most.

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Can you talk about the cacophonous score and how you wanted that to exist within the story? 

The score was tricky. We were working with Michi Wiancko and Judd Greenstein, who are very talented musicians that had never done a film score before. I was trying to do something a little different with the music. I don’t like scores that are mixed very low to try to create a reassuring hum of tension or hum of warmth or something. I don’t see the point. It’s a cliché, but this score becomes its own character. It creates this ironic dissonance with what you’re seeing always. It makes it more an act of theater.

Like when he’s eating the cupcake and the music that’s playing is in total contrast to the mundane nature of the moment. 

That whole sequence on the street, and when he angrily chugs Red Bull, it’s basically taking someone doing something tough and then slightly deflating it. I feel like the movie always rides that line between real misery and mocking misery. There’s something about when people are really low that can be a little funny. At the climax when they have that fight and then they look at each other, the music there gets very genuine in a way. Michi was really driving the composition there. I love music in movies. I played in the orchestra in high school and college but I don’t know how to compose. I don’t know how to word it, exactly. I think you can let the music resolve the character; I think it’s okay. It doesn’t have to be weird. It can be just genuine: “This is the climax of the movie, and I’m gonna do what I do.” I was really happy with it. Their input was great. They were experts on the movie. They analyzed it, and watched it over and over again, and really grew to like it, which was cool. Talking with them about the music was like seeing it anew for the first time.

Thinking of the movie Margaret, there”s that scene when she goes to Mark Ruffalo’s house and she’s walking up to the door, the music is just so emotional and heavy like it shouldn’t be there—but then again it”s allowing you to engage in her heightened emotions without feeling manipulated in any way.

The effect of it is it really does focus you. “Maybe I should be taking what I’m watching more seriously right now.” There’s a lot of spillage in Margaret that I just loved. Unafraid drama, but also unafraid aesthetic. The movie isn’t Scorsese, it’s someone a lot less experienced, but you’re watching someone trying and really pushing themselves. And it has such an amazing dramatic instinct, like there’s a grenade the entire movie.

Were your aesthetic choices, like the irises, written into the script?

Maybe it’s just a stubbornness, but I feel like the choices I’m trying to make aesthetically are to destabilize things constantly. So if the music feels like it’s stabilizing things, I’m not happy with it. And that applies to the dialogue, and sometimes too much. I hate basic dialogue—”Are you enjoying that sandwich?” or something like that, but I shouldn’t always. It’s helpful to sometimes use that, and a nice little discussion can be good. But in terms of the irises, I’m sure the influence there was Desplechin or Scorsese. I’m a big Scorsese fan. I love the simplicity of the an iris and it feels, for obvious reasons, like an antique artifact. But you also focus differently with an iris in a weird way, and you look at something differently. It looks more like a portrait, and you take it less seriously. It becomes something other than reality.

I love all devices, they’re all fun to me. It’s funny, something like irises, when you watch a Chaplin movie, they really were used a lot, like it was a very common way to end or begin a scene and it’s just something that I hope comes back. 

How did you go about casting and did you have these people in mind from the beginning?

In weird ways I wrote with people in mind that would never be in the movie. Maybe it’s obvious or not, but Naked was a big influence, because David Thewlis performance in that was this articulately vicious person, which I like. I don’t think Mat comes off nearly the same way, but otherwise we had a pretty traditional process. We had a casting director and a lot of auditions. Steven was the first person we cast and we had him involved for over a year. Josh Lucas was an idea, and it’s tough with a role like that because he’s has been in so many movies and you don’t know if they’re going to take a chance or be interested. But he just liked it a lot, I think he wanted to go where the character went in some ways. It was really cool. I liked how handsome he is—just bringing that baseline of sexual attraction. I don’t know, I think that creates a greater danger in some ways and weirdly, maybe makes you like him a little more even when he’s being an asshole. He’s got those blue eyes. [laughs]

Women are clearly charmed by it.

Sometimes mysteriously charmed! Casting is a fun part of the process and can go on for a very long time, so when you’re small and casting often at the same time that you’re looking for financing, it can be pretty dicey.

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The party scene established a great tone right away, and was also long enough to really immerse you in the world of these people and get the experience of being there.

Some people watch it and think the entire movie is just going to be at the party. But yeah, there are so many ways of shooting a party scene. Sometimes they’re made up of discreet little moments of conversation, sometimes the question is whether or not you just capture the feeling of the party itself. Something that interests me, I knew with this party I did want it to feel long. A lot of readers we had and people that watched our rough cuts were like, you know you can cut this? And we’re like, oh we know but we wanted to keep it going. It’s a great way to introduce people, and also a little bit about what people are talking about now. It also can introduce tensions among people and dynamics.

Did you have time to rehearse with he cast and block out scenes in the apartment?

No, almost not at all. We had some discussions, I would talk with Josh, talk with Stephen, I would talk with Mickey. Next time I would love to have like a week of rehearsal, just because when you don’t rehearse you have to bring blocking with you to set. So in some ways, it feels a lot less organic, and in some ways I feel like those decisions should be made with the actors. There’s a lot of stuff that the director has to bring that can interrupt the organic flow. With movies, usually when there’s no budget it’s rare that you get to rehearse at all. But then because it’s digital, you can start to look at takes as a way of rehearsing, which I think is the ultimate triumph of digital, the fact that you’re not worried so much about burning through film. 

Was there anything in particular you were re-watching or reading and looking to for inspiration?

It’s weird, I feel like one of my slight issues is that I don’t have a rigid ideology of how I approach things. I like a lot of different movies and I don’t know if I have  a personal rules of how I want to make things, which I think is good but could be nice sometimes to just know, no I’m never going to do that. But with this I was influenced by watching and re-watching A Christmas Tale and weirdly watching and re-watching The Age of Innocence and reading American Pastoral and some Jonathan Franzen. At all points I’m just trying to engage and dig as deep as I can and like, ring as much as you can possible out of every single scene and have as many ideas going at once. If you feel secure with one scene then you need to fuck it up somehow or add something on.During the pre-production they did that Leos Carax retro at the French Institute, and Myna and I went to every one and I’d never seen Mauvais Sang before and was just blown away. Denis Levant cuts his hand at one point in the movie, so little things like that, they plant in the back of your head and you forget why you came up with the idea. Then you see the same movie again and then you’re like, oh yeah that’s where I got that.

You mentioned in another interview that you’re never sure how much chaos the audience can handle—is that something you are constantly conscious of when both writing and editing?

I’m always conscious of it definitely. Even at the beginning, I literally was like I want there to be a really long party and the length was the first thing that interested me. But it’s always a question of when you need to focus, and not just make the scene shorter, but have the character say something helpful that’s expository and a guidepost. I sense from people who see it, that’s the thing that pisses them off about the movie, that it’s so loose and you kind of know where it’s going but you don’t. The foundation of the relationship between the brothers is what animates the entire movie. But it’s funny, in the editing, the question of chaos becomes very concrete. It’s like that’s when you’re like okay you do you really want this there. We had to cut some sequences that were later in the movie and just take it too far away from where we want to be. Someone brought up that they don’t like that ending and it should end with the two guys sitting on the couch sad, which is very like 60s art house ending, like here they are, they’ve made their beds.

Lukshon

Elegant, casual Southeast Asian small plates from Sang Yoon (Father’s Office). pork ribs and Hawaiian butterfish steal the show for meat and fish. Noodles and rice, too. Full and stocked wine bar, plenty of great cocktails in a glossy, contemporary restaurant designed by MASS Architecture’s Ana Henton. Leather booths, chef’s counter (six seats to check out the kitchen) and a communal table. For quieter seating, try the outdoor patio out front.

n/naka

World-class, seasonal/daily omakase from one of the world’s only female (and now famous) sushi and Japanese Kaiseki chefs (who learned from Takao Izumida, who learned from Matsihisa), sometimes sourced directly from chef Niki Nakayama’s organic garden. For the uninitiated: Kaiseki is the ancient meal format rooted in Buddhism, with courses varying in texture, consistency, and taste (soft to crispy, light to heavy, etc.). Think abalone pasta with truffles, radish and pickled cod rod, or blue crab zucchini blossoms (fried), and sushi.

Ramen Yamadaya

20 hours are spent boiling the pork bone broth at Ramen Yamadaya, more than twice as long as the necessary eight, just 30-45 seconds for the noodles (depending on customer preference), and soup is served at a precise 203 degrees — they’re ramen freaks here, and you will be too. Digs are bare, to put it politely, but people (grad students, etc.) come here for the food.

K-ZO

Splurge-worthy sushi and Japanese small plates by chef Keizo Ishiba, trained in French cuisine, too; you’ll find some fusion in the non-sushi dishes, like a sashimi grade seafood bouillabaisse and ratatouille. Go for the omakase – your choice of Bamboo or Pine Tree – for chef’s choice of the menu. Attentive service in this clean, white space. The focus is no the food.

A-Frame

Poke, mac salad, O.G. Ribs and a double Kimcheeseburger — real ono grindz from celeb chef Roy Choi (Pot, Commissary, Alibi Room, and the inspiration for the movie Chef), who transformed A-Frame into as authentic a Hawaiian joint as he knew how early in 2015 — inspired by food from post-WWII America, Polynesia, the Philippines and Japan. Check out the Luau Hour (happy hour) too. Look around and you’ll think you’re at Trader Vic’s (where Choi had a brief stint)– minus the kitch.

Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce on Becoming Fitness Trainers for Andrew Bujalski’s New Indie Rom-Com, ‘Results’

Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

In filmmaker Andrew Bujalski’s new romantic comedy Results, Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders are the platonic ideal of fit. Their tight and brightly-colored workout gear looks tailored to their sculpted physiques as they jog, weight lift, make out, and go about their lives as trainers in Austin, Texas. Yet when I met Pearce and Smulders at the Crosby Hotel yesterday, Pearce was enjoying a personal bowl of M&Ms and Smulders was reclining on the couch with her shoes half off. Although the stunning people in front of me were far removed from their characters in Bujalski’s film, what effortlessly remained is how their personalities bounced off each others like old friends. 

Having made a name for himself with mumblecore movies like Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha, Bujalski’s career picked up steam in 2012 with his analog ’80s gem  Computer Chess. Following his indie success with Results, Bujalski made his first foray into working with Hollywood actors—and as his largest film to date, it’s just broad enough to fall into the rom-com world but still delightfully strange enough to feel a part of his own. 

Centering around Danny, a depressed, newly-divorced, and recently wealthy man—played by Kevin Corrigan in one of his best roles—the film begins when he decides to reinvigorate his life and join a gym. Out of boredom and the desire to take a punch without falling down, he meets gym owner and fitness guru Trevor (Pearce) and starts training with the sharp-tongued and fiery Kat (Smulders). With Bujalski’s intelligent and subtly comic writing married with the sincere performances from its cast, we observe as their three lives entwine. Bujalski gives plenty of room for the characters to veer off into idiosyncratic and strange tangents, while offering an interesting look at the intersection of depression and self-fulfillment.

After its premiere at Sundance back in January, Results will begin its theatrical run this Friday at IFC Center. In honor of the occasion, I sat down with Pearce and Smulders to chat about their natural on-screen chemistry, the interesting variation of their careers, and the unpredictable pleasure of working with Kevin Corrigan.

Were you familiar with Bujalski’s work prior to being a part of this film?

Cobie Smulders: I read the script through the conventional way of Hollywood. One of my managers thought I would like it, so I read it and I did. Then I familiarized myself a little bit with Andrew. I met with him via Skype and we got along very well. He came to L.A. and we played around with some scenes and then that was it. So I watched Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha and Computer Chess, and I really loved his point of view. I was like, this is a guy who’s really thinking outside the box and I want to be part of whatever process this is going to be because it’s going to be interesting and challenging and educating. Then when I heard that this handsome devil was doing it, I was like, “Come on, let’s go.

Guy Pearce: Let’s go running.

CS: Let’s go training!

GP: I met Andrew a couple of years before for something that kind of kept appearing and reappearing but never actually happened. Meanwhile, he then started to write this and I liked the idea of it. Once I knew that he wanted to do it, we were on set pretty quickly. Usually that’s the way, I find. So when I met him all that time ago, I watched his films and really liked his take on stuff.

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Were you attracted to the idea of being in a movie where you could be both dramatic and comedic, as well as physical?

GP: I don’t know if I thought about the comedy side of it all that much.

CS: Yeah, I really didn’t think that it was going to be that funny. But when I saw it with a live audience, I was like, “Oh yeah, this is funny. There are funny moments in here.” 

GP:  Most of his stuff, it’s just life. So sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s dramatic. I never really think in terms of genre, and I don’t necessarily think of Andrew’s films in that way. The characters just felt well-written and well-realized and you just kind of go, “I want to do anything with you because you’re so insightful.”

Trevor has a recurring fantasy of a juice bar–something about that is inherent funny.

GP: I know guys like that, guys at the gym who go, [closes eyes] “Hold on, wait, so I’m imagining…” You’re like, “Seriously?”

CS: Visualization of the secret of it all. But whatever works. This is a movie that says, “Hey man, whatever works for you.” I feel like that’s so much of the dynamic of this relationship. They’re so different, but Kat is like, “Hey, if it works for you, and you can make people feel that way, and you feel good about that, that’s fantastic, go ahead. I do not subscribe to it at all, and that’s okay too.” That’s also an interesting dynamic. 

You two have a really natural chemistry together. Did you get to spend any time together prior to shooting the film?

GP: We only met a day or two before we flew down to Austin to start rehearsing. But as soon as you start chatting with somebody and find something to connect over that you find funny then that’s all you need.

CS: We have similar senses of humor.

GP: We had a good time.

CS: Yeah, we had a good time. 

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You’re both quite believable as trainers; you make it look easy! Did you spend some extra time hanging around the gym to prepare?

GP: I didn’t because I’ve done it for years in my whole life to some degree. I was like, “I know this world, I don’t need to talk to anybody.” 

CS: I was like, “I don’t know this world. I don’t like gyms.”

GP: “I’m just naturally this gorgeous.”

CS: Yeah, no. But I worked with some trainers in L.A. and then in Austin, and I’ve worked with trainers before for some other projects and stuff. In terms of character, I observed other characters and also took from life and took from experience.

GP: Funny enough, the thing I wasn’t particularly knowledgable about was the floor stuff. There was that physical trainer Andrew employed for the movie, and I needed to talk to him. I’m much better with weights and machines, I can do all that stuff standing on my head, but all the floor stuff, particularly, in this day and age—

CS: But that kind of worked for your character because you were classic.

GP: Absolutely—and well, let’s face it, I’m not a young man anymore.

CS: Kat was a little more, “Try this!”

GP: I don’t think Trevor actually wants to train anybody. He wants to run the business.

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Did you find there was anything different about making this film compared to the larger scale projects you both work on?

CS: Every project is different group of people, a different city, and a different dynamic. Austin really was a big part of my experience there. I’d never been to the state of Texas before, I’d never been that South, so I thought that was cool. Then it’s also just about the people you meet and the people you get to work with.

GP: If you do a small film, it’s also about the intimacy. When you do a big film, there are kind of layers of technical and studio levels, but when you do something like this, you’re like, “You’re the boss, and you’re going to be hanging out with everybody.” You get a much more transparent sense of what’s going on. I kind of like that – it’s like making films at home for me. They’re all independent films, they’re all low budgets, and I kind of like that. It’s like doing a class project or something, more than working for the man.

Variation is fun. I choose stuff because of what it is, not how big or small it is. You go, that’s a story that I like and a character I believe in and I feel like I can do something with it. If it happens to be this small or this big, then so be it. I did Iron Man 3 then went straight to New Orleans and did Hateship Loveship with Kristen Wiig and that was nearly as tiny as this movie. We all shared a trailer together. 

CS: Yeah, I was just thinking about scale, and I was like, “I don’t think I drove in a car for seven hours across the desert on Avengers.”

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How was working with Kevin Corrigan? I imagine he was a great scene partner.

CS: He’s very reactive. He’s very in the moment and he feels it; his character gets away with the biggest moments. It was very interesting for my character just to watch him because my character’s reaction would be similar to my own. I was like, okay, we’re just going to see where this goes and then I’ll bring us back over here.” So it was really fun, it was kind of like having a front row seat to a really good show.

GP: He’s really interesting and really unpredictable. You kind of don’t know what you’re going to get, particularly in the fitness world where there are rules. You need to warm up and stretch and cool down. There are rules, and Kevin as an actor, I think, that doesn’t play by the rules. That character he played clearly isn’t playing by any of the rules that these guys are aware of, so he really is kind of like an alien dropped into another universe.

Have you seen any films lately that you really loved?

CS: I saw a really good one, you [Pearce] might like it, it’s called What We Do in the Shadows. Have you seen it? It’s Jermaine Clement and a bunch of New Zealand guys. It’s basically a fake documentary on vampires in New Zealand. It’s really great, it’s so fucking funny. It cracked me up. 

GP: I watched a little bit of On Golden Pond the other night. [laughs]