Ever since the end credits rolled on Zal Batmanglij’s debut feature Sound of My Voice, I have been anticipating just what his next cinematic endeavor would offer. Upon seeing his first, I was immediately drawn to he and co-writer/actress Brit Marling’s brilliant simpatico and their shared affinity for storytelling that’s both beautifully poetic yet intelligently thought-provoking. And as two of the most interesting and wholly inspiring voices in independent cinema, the two have once again struck audiences with their new film, eco-thriller The East, which opened to rave reviews last week.
After seeing Shame upwards of three times in theaters and spending countless hours at MoMA throughout the year hiding out watching his 1994 short film Deadpan, it’s safe to say I am more than ready for vicious director Steve McQueen’s next film. As one of the most fearless and thrilling directors in contemporary cinema, McQueen crafts harrowing pictures that cut straight to the heart and rip you apart from the inside out.
And as of today, it’s been announced that his highly-anticipated Twelve Years a Slave has been acquired by Fox Searchlight. And it seems they’re on quite a roll lately, with the success of last year’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and the upcoming premieres of The East and Trance, as well as Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel next year. Having worked with McQueen before on Shame, there doesn’t seem to be better fit. And although it appears the film will not be premiering at Cannes, today we learn that there is in fact a release slated for December 27th, 2013.
Twelve Years a Slave stars a host of wonderful talent from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender (of course) and Benedict Cumberbatch, to Paul Giamatti and Scoot McNairy, as well as Fox Searchlight alums, Beasts stars Quvezhane Wallis and Dwight Henry. The film is based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 autobiography, telling his story as a slave who was kidnapped and put in a slave pen, "paving the way for a grueling life under numerous owners."
Let’s just say, I am more than a little excited for this one.
As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family.
Stoker tells the tale of a highly intelligent girl, India (played by Mia Wasikowska), after her father dies in an auto accident on her 18th birthday. Following his death, her mysterious yet absolutely charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). India’s questions arise as to the nature of Charlie’s appearance in their lives and although sensing his dark ulterior motives, she becomes infatuated with him, inexplicably drawn to this dark figure who has crept his way into her world.
It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style, Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film.
Yesterday, I got the chance to sit down with Director Park (with the help of his gracious translator) to talk about his attraction to the script, telling a coming of age tale, and gorgeous physicality of his characters.
Director Park, how you first became connected to the film and what drew you to it?
The make-up of this family that is comprised of mother, father, and the only daughter is exactly the same condition as my own family, and that was something that sparked my interest at first. And I liked the quietness of it all, it wasn’t a script where all the characters get all too excited and jump around everywhere; I loved how it was all composed and very quiet.
And did you work with Wentworth on the script to change things and further develop them?
No, there was one big long meeting where a lot of discussion was taking place and it was an opportunity where I could listen to his intentions behind everything that we found on the page and allowed me to retain all the good things about the script without taking away the integrity of the script. I was able to expand those ideas and develop those ideas and delve deeper.
There are so many different layers and genres composed together in the film, but I was drawn very much to India’s sexual awakening throughout the film. Is that something you really wanted to explore, a young girl’s coming of age?
Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through.
The visual style of the film was so wonderful and added so much to the story. How did you want to create their world through set design and colors and even the way the camera moved that echoed the psychology of the characters.
It’s not easy to explain but when people talk about all this Hitchcockian reference in this film, I am rather bewildered. Whatever influence or reference to Hitchcock Stoker has—the obvious one is Shadow of a Doubt—it was Wenthworth that was really being influenced by that. Although I knew the film had obvious influences from Shadow of a Doubt, the actual film is something I had seen such a long time ago, so exact details of it I have trouble remembering even and that goes the same for all of these other great works by Hitchcock. And if people will say this film feels like it has been influenced by Hitchcock, it’s probably something more fundamental I guess, in that everything you see and hear in a film, it needs to be intended, it needs to be planned, it needs to have significance and this attitude to filmmaking is something I learned from Hitchcock. And because of this, I would go and make a meticulous storyboard for every singe shot in the entire film in the order I would imagine the film to be cut later. So everything is pre-planned this way and how I would use color and how I would visualize this world to speak to the psychological state of each character, it’s part of the process.
Speaking to that meticulous style, there was a great physicality between everyone, it seemed very choreographed—the three of them doing this waltz around each other throughout the house. Was that something that was in the script or more of a directorial decision?
To a certain degree the script described such physicality or choreography, but as I am the one who is going to be directing this film in the end, I had to do my own pass of course. And while doing my own revision of the script to tailor it to become my film, it is something that I was thinking, what could I do with the script and how I could visualize it? And that’s all reflected into what you see now. And I really was thinking of the structure and the design of the house, the space where the dynamic between these three characters would take place. And it’s an interesting dynamic too, it seems to start one way, to be a certain dynamic between two characters and then it switches to being focused on another set of characters between this triangular relationship. So in order to express that, it naturally led to directorial decisions about the physicality or the choreography, which I had to think about even during the stage of revisions.
Image via Fox Searchlight
Fox Searchlight has had quite a year. Between Beasts of the Souther Wild, Sound of My Voice, The Sessions, and now their latest Sundance hit, The East, the company is setting a standard in distribution, putting out films that deserve to be seen and heard with the backing of a company who can provide a home for the artists behind them. And with some of the most talked about films of the year having had their premieres this weekend at Sundance, distributors are chomping at the bit to obtain their festival favorites Yesterday, Relativity Media broke records with their acquisition of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon’s Addiction for a staggering $4 million dollar price—unusual for a Sundance feature. But now it looks like Fox Searchlight is about to one up them—set to pay a hefty $10 million for The Way, Way Back. From the writers of The Descendants Nat Faxon and Jim Rash in his directorial debut, the film is an eccentric coming-of-age story starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Maya Rudolph, and Rob Corddry. Here’s what critics are saying about it thus far:
But the biggest reason people might be talking about The Way, Way Back for a long time — and quoting it ad nauseum — is Rockwell, who simply pulls off the best Meatballs/Stripes/Ghostbusters-era Bill Murray since the legend himself. (EW)
In terms of production value, "The Way, Way Back" looks great as it is, reminiscent of the similarly sweet-and-sour "Little Miss Sunshine" (on which Carell and Collette previously collaborated), though that film certainly made more of its signature vehicle. (Variety)
Despite the familiarity of this setup, Way Back is a charmer, putting refreshingly little emphasis on Duncan’s romantic needs and allowing family melodrama to erupt and simmer down without pat resolution. Like a kid who gets a free summer in an exclusive beach town and chooses to spend his days manning a chlorine-and-concrete water park, it knows when not to take the obvious route. (The Hollywood Reporter)
Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s latest collaboration, eco-thriller The East premiered at Sundance last night to a warm reception. Produced by Fox Searchlight with Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, and Ellen Page leading the cast, the film explores similar themes as the previous Sound of My Voice, with questions of identity, the allure of charismatic leaders, and a sense of well-nuanced thrill. Batmanglij has a knack for exploring the questions of our age with a mystical sense that at once heightens reality and reminds us of our basic human desires. And in The East:
Sarah Moss (Marling) is a brilliant operative for an elite private intelligence firm whose top objective is to ruthlessly protect the interests of their A-list corporate clientele. She is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate an anarchist collective known for executing covert attacks upon major corporations. Living amongst them in an effort to get closer to their members, Sarah finds herself unexpectedly torn between two worlds as she starts to fall in love with the group’s charismatic leader, finding her life and her priorities irrevocably changed.
Check out the trailer below, which looks pretty damn haunting and incredible.
Here’s the cast and Batmanglij at Sundance this past weekend.
Filmmaker Benh Zietlin’s debut feature, Beasts of the Southern Wild, has been getting lots of attention. The movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, won the influential fest’s top prize for a feature and was promptly picked up by Fox Searchlight. Later, when it went to Cannes to screen for tan, famous people, where it picked up a International Federation of Film Critics prize. Luckily this won’t be one of those movies that critics freak over years before the public gets to catch up; Fox is releasing the film July 27—and before then it will make appearances at the BAMcinemaFEST in Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The trailer for the film has been out for a while, showing off the magical realismy story of a group of people living in The Bathtub, a low, poor New Orleans neighborhood, who are convinced that they can scare the coming Katrina (or the devil or whatever it is it) away.
At the center of the story is the ridiculously adorable Quvenzhané Wallis, whose character tries her best to save her people before the storm decimates them all.
Now, another clip from the movie has been released, giving already salivating film fans something else to gobble up and giving all the rest of us a chance to know what the hell they’re talking about as buzz grows to a fever pitch in the weeks before the opening.
Check it out below and get ready to shame your friends who haven’t yet caught on.
Two former unpaid interns for the Darren Aronofsky film Black Swan are suing Fox Searchlight because they claim they were used unfairly on set. The New York Times reports the lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court, targets the practice of using unpaid interns on movie sets in general. “In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees,” the lawsuit says. “No shit,” replied anyone who has ever had an unpaid internship.
The two plaintiffs, Alex Footman, 24, and Eric Glatt, 42, are seeking back pay and an “injunction barring Fox Searchlight from improperly using unpaid interns.” The suit is also seeking class-action status, which would make it a groundbreaking case that will affect hundreds of other Fox Searchlight interns. According to the suit, the plaintiffs say their experience didn’t offer them the educational experience required of unpaid internships in order to make them legal. Footman said his duties included “preparing coffee for the production office, ensuring that the coffee pot was full, taking and distributing lunch orders for the production staff, taking out the trash and cleaning the office.” Add, “Make copies of invoices” and he’d have the entire unpaid intern repertoire.
There are two very different but equally logical responses to this. One is to admit that the state of unpaid internships has gotten out of control and that employers too readily rely on them in lieu of creating actual jobs. The other is to tell these guys to buck up; they should be happy they were interning on the set of a surreal, Oscar-winning ballet thriller. Most interns have to make coffee for accounting firms.
Footman told the Times, “I hope this case will hold the industry to a higher standard and will get rid of this practice.” Even if it doesn’t, at least their foot will be in the door.