‘Zombieland’ Comes to the Internet as Amazon’s First Original TV Show

Fans of Zombieland, the 2009 horror-comedy that was not, sadly, a weird sequel to Adventureland, will be excited to know that Amazon, in an effort to be as cool as Netflix, has greenlighted a series version of the film. Of course, this isn’t TV—it’s the internet. You’re not going to find your Jesse Eisenbergs or your Emma Stones or your Woody Harrelsons or your Abigail Breslins or even your Bill Murray cameos on an online retailer’s original programming network. Behold, the cast of Zombieland: The WebTV Show. Kirk Ward, Maiara Walsh, Tyler Ross, and Izabela Vidovic will star in what Amazon hopes will be their House of Cards. I am dubious; at least House of Cards had Kevin Spacey and a Mara sister. 

[via Indiewire]

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Jesse Eisenberg, Emile Hirsch, and Diane Kruger to Star in Chris Eigeman’s ‘Midnight Sun’

Best known for his roles in Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, Barcelona, and Last Days of Disco as well as Noah Buambach’s post-collegiate classic Kicking and Screaming, accidentally hilarious actor Chris Eigeman has gone behind the camera in recent years. In 2007 he penned and directed the Famke Janssen pool shark drama, Turn the River, which I think I may have been the only person who saw that—and that’s only because Eigeman came to my college class to discuss it. However, it would a good directorial debut and showed that he did have the chops in him to make something great.

But now, Screen Daily reports that Eigeman’s next feature Midnight Sun will star Jesse Eisenberg, Emilie Hirsch, and Diane Kruger. The 1940s-set drama takes place during the creation of the A-bomb, following young post-grads whom in 19943, are recruited by the government to work on a secret project. Richard Rhodes who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Making of the Atomic Bomb will actually be consulting on the project as well. 

Well, sign me up. I must admit, the premise does sound pretty great and eternal post-grad Jesse Eisenberg seems suited for a film like this and it’s hard for Emile Hirsch and Kruger to go wrong. The project is being sold at the European Film Market this week with principal photography set begin this summer. Let’s hold our for a 2014 release, please.

The Slow-Burn Talkie: ‘To Rome With Love’ Can’t Fulfill Our Modern Cinematic Desires

Woody Allen’s newest picture, To Rome With Love, contains plenty of the bread and butter ticks: witty complaining (courtesy of Allen’s own character, Jerry), Freudian line-dropping (see Jerry’s psychiatrist wife, played by Judy Davis), and any other kind of bullshit line-dropping (Ellen Page’s character takes care of those cringe-worthy nuggets). But it also seemed to offer what’s marked most of his Continental films as of late—a pleasantly low-stakes plot.

Less at play are the Crimes and Misdemeanors/Match Point moral meditations or the tight farcical narratives of Sleeper and Small Time Crooks. These recent films—Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight in Paris—exist as much as vehicles for delightfully self-indulgent dialogue and gawking at European cities (Gaudí! Mansard roofs! The Coliseum is still standing!) as they do for traditionally enticing three-act stories. Which is all to say, I’m ready to eat this shit up, especially when every other movie this summer appears to have an explosion (or implosion) or a chase scene at every ten-minute beat.

Even amid the hype surrounding Pixar’s new feminist princess film Brave are murmurs that the studio overdid it on the frenetic tension in order to draw in otherwise uninterested ten-year-old boys. At least for the two-minute trailer, there’s really no break between climbing things, racing somewhere on horseback, or someone getting smacked with an axe. But I think it’s less a marketing ploy and more just the exercise of your standard Robert McKee screenwriting dogma—conflict, conflict, conflict!

Judd Apatow, from time to time, seems to get labeled a successful maker of “dudes hanging out” movies. But the recent media storm around Girls has seen plenty of mention of Apatow’s mastery at emotional tension when it comes to screenwriting. Lena Dunham, who certainly has Woody Allen at the tip of her pencil the whole way, might have had a less impactful show had she kept it as a clever chat session instead of heeding Apatow’s advice. But it’s an understandable temptation: I don’t like watching bad things happen to people. I think, how much nicer would it be to just observe the Algonquin table roam around Rome for an hour and a half?

And then I sit through a movie like To Rome with Love and am humbly reminded why it’s just so boring to watch characters you don’t care about recite over-written conversations.

One of the film’s four unrelated storylines, featuring a lost-cell-phone-induced separation of two innocent young Italian lovers and the hilarity that ensues, is fun and amusing, but the joy is lost in the long 102-minute waiting time for the end credits. The vignette for Allen’s own character, essentially a witty gabfest about why Allen is afraid of retirement, is perhaps justification for said fear, or at least evidence for why making a movie once a year is a rough goal. But the parts with Jesse Eisenberg and Ellen Page are ground zero for what was both aggravating and tiring about the movie. Greta Gerwig, who plays Eisenberg’s sweet but aloof girlfriend, essentially invites Page, a self-involved actress, to stay with them and seduce her boyfriend.Aside from the over-done dialogue, what kills it is the sense that all these characters are so narcissistic that even if their relationships fall apart it still won’t really bother them. Why root for them? Why not? Two hours later, it is what it is.

The final storyline with Italian actor Roberto Benigni, who plays a briefly and arbitrarily celebrated media darling, has drawn a kind of “like Celebrity but worse” reaction. But the images of paparazzi swarms in Rome also harken flashbacks to 8 ½, Fellini’s film about, among other things, what happens when an in-demand artist lacks inspiration. You can’t then but sense that Allen, between his wonderfully inventive, intelligent films like Sweet and Lowdown or Midnight in Paris, has powered through the less inspired periods with sit-down-start-writing-and-see-what-I-come-up-with films like Whatever Works or You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

The thematic end-note, if you want to call it that, comes from Benigni’s storyline: after he’s been dumped by the paparazzi, he launches into a fit looking for attention, and his old chauffer reminds him that it’s better to have a little fame than none at all. I wouldn’t question Allen’s sincerity, and for that matter, far be it from me to knock the career of one of the greatest auteurs of all time. And you sense at this point that he’s making these films to keep his hands busy just as much as anything, with no pretense for each one to be deemed a masterpiece. But if there is any strain in Woody Allen that’s producing a fear of cultural irrelevance, he’s going about it wrong. Just shed some dialogue and put in a couple explosions. Or Snooki and JWoww. Same thing.

‘To Rome With Love’: Explore Italy With Woody Allen & the Beautiful People

After scoring a surprise summer hit with last year’s Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen is hoping to repeat the seasonal success with To Rome With Love, his newest romantic comedy. Described as "a story about a number of people in Italy" — plots are for dorks! — it stars actors and actresses like Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Greta Gerwig, Roberto Benigni, Allen himself and more, ambling their way through a series of vignettes set in the Eternal City. There’s a trailer courtesy of Yahoo, showcasing the snappy characterization that’s practically perfunctory at this point in Allen’s writing and directing career.

Allen’s movies are just fantasy camp for the aspiring bourgeois, aren’t they? Regardless, we’ll all be first in line. To Rome With Love is out on June 22.

Actor & Playwright Jesse Eisenberg on the Thrill of the Stage

My friend Dan once explained to me why he likes Jewish people: “In most families, you sit around the dinner table in silence until you absolutely need something from the other end. That’s when you’re forced to speak. But when I eat dinner with a Jewish family, the tiniest comment sets off an entertaining debate. Someone will say ‘I like this pasta’ and it’s immediately followed by controversy. ‘What, you didn’t like what your mother made last week?’ ”

Dan grew up in polite Alaska but moved to New York to attend acting school, where he experienced for the first time a culture and kind of dialogue that was, for me, the only way of life. In my family, every conversation was a debate complete with philosophical tangents. A discussion about the Yankees would quickly devolve into an argument about salary caps and then into a theoretical consideration of hegemony, and finally, inevitably, a shouting match about Israeli policies in the Middle East.
So for me, acting was a seamless transition from living. I would yell at my real sister at home, travel to the theater, yell at my fake sister on stage, and then head back home to apologize to my real sister. (In our house, every argument had two acts.) For Dan, the theater was a place to experience new thrills–what he would call the “exhilarating little orgasm” you get from acting when it feels, even for a moment, entirely real. Although Dan and I came to the theater from different places, we both felt the same buzz.
This raises the question: What exactly do we like so much about drama? Why do people like Dan and me, who have no real strife–who have the use of all our limbs and are not starving on the street–create fictional situations to make our lives more dramatic? Do some people need drama in their lives like others need extreme sports? Are Dan and I just bungee jumping every night on stage?
It’s possible that Dan and I pursue theater for two, virtually opposite reasons. I might enjoy drama because it resembles the way I view the world–that is, through a heightened state of argument and debate. The eternally nasty George and Martha of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? recall an average Tuesday night for my girlfriend and me. Dan, on the other hand, might enjoy drama because it provides him with a new way to interact with the world. For him, George and Martha are foreign creatures whose psyches are fascinating to explore for a few hours each night.
I always thought it was curious that Dan got such a charge from acting in extremely dramatic situations, when in real life he tries to avoid them at all costs. But I guess, in a way, acting allows Dan to sit at the Jewish table for a few hours. On a good night, he might even be able to pass for one of us. 
Jesse Eisenberg’s play, Asuncion, is playing at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater until December 18. 

Ruben Fleischer On ’30 Minutes or Less,’ ‘Between Two Ferns,’ & ‘Gangster Squad’

The unexpected success of Zombieland in 2009 not only made stars of its young leads Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone, but also its rookie director, Ruben Fleischer, who became an in-demand, if still unproven, filmmaker. To select his follow-up effort, Fleischer met with some of Hollywood’s biggest players to discuss franchises and reboots, but ultimately went with 30 Minutes or Less, an original, nitro-fueled action comedy about a pizza delivery boy (Jesse Eisenberg) who, along with his best friend (Aziz Ansari), is forced to rob a bank by two bottom-rung criminals (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson).

Next up, Fleischer will make Gangster Squad, a period mob drama starring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, and Emma Stone (but not Bryan Cranston). We recently sat down with the director to talk about the opportunities he passed up, directing the first two episodes of Zach Galifianakis’ talk show Between Two Ferns, and making his first movie without Jesse Eisenberg.

After Zombieland was a hit, did you have your pick of scripts? Without sounding like too much of a jerk, yeah, I got a lot of opportunities. For eight years, I was trying to be a director before I got to make my first film, so the fact that I got to make the movie was incredibly satisfying, and the fact that it was well-received was even more exciting, and the fact that people wanted me to make another one was unbelievable. But yeah, it was a pretty hard thing to decide, because I had opportunities to work with some of my favorite actors, and to take over these big franchises.

Such as? None of these were offers, but I had conversations to do movies with Will Ferrell, and Mission: Impossible, X-Men. I was having conversations with Tom Cruise in a room. It was completely overwhelming. I didn’t feel totally up to the task of making something on that scale. I applaud Marc Webb for making the leap from (500) Days of Summer to The Amazing Spider-Man. I didn’t have the confidence to do that. So I was really psyched when I read the 30 Minutes or Less script, because it was so original, so fresh, and really funny. It felt like I knew how to make this movie and was very excited to do it.

When Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari are cast, do you need to rethink the characters to fit those actors’ very distinct personalities? We didn’t have to make too many adjustments to the script, but by definition, when Aziz was cast, he being South Asian, we had to make the love interest South Asian too, because the whole premise is that Jesse is in love with Aziz’s sister. Until then we’d been auditioning white girls.

Did Freida Pinto’s name come up at all? She’s rad, and we actually inquired, but apparently she isn’t comfortable doing an American accent. But other than her and Mindy Kaling, there aren’t any Indian actresses I can name, so it was actually a really cool process auditioning all these super-talented South Asian women. And then finding Dilshad Vadsaria was awesome because she really delivers in the role. And then as far as casting Jesse, I think he has certain connotations as an actor and the types of roles that he’s played, and so for him it was fun to play someone more conventional—the dude who sits on his couch and smokes weed.

After you made Zombieland, did it feel like you penetrated a wall that previously felt impenetrable, in terms of making it as a successful filmmaker in Hollywood? No, I can say it was encouraging, but it still feels pretty impenetrable.

Do you see yourself as an auteur? No, not at all. I don’t even know what that word means, but I would assume it means that you write your films, like Woody Allen, or Tarantino, or the Coen brothers. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word in conversation, but it implies author to me. There are no “film by” credits on my movies and there never will be, because I feel like it’s such a collaborative process. It’s never “A Ruben Fleischer film.” It’s a film that a lot of people made and contributed to. Tarantino can say that because nobody else can make the movies that he makes. I see two versions of it. One is the Coen brothers who can do any genre and it’s specifically a Coen brothers movie. Another version is Ang Lee, who can make Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and The Hulk, different movies that if you were to ask an audience wouldn’t know they were made by the same person.

You’ve directed some episodes of Between Two Ferns. What was that like? The guys who did Comedy Death Ray got their own pilot for Fox, where there was an audience section and there was short films. I did all the short films. The Michael Cera one was the first Between Two Ferns, and it was just this little piece we did for the pilot which never happened, but we all loved that thing so much that we got Fox to let us put it online. The Jimmy Kimmel one was the second one, which I think we did because Zach was going on Jimmy Kimmel as a guest, and he thought it would be funny if he had his own talk show. The ones they’ve done since then I haven’t been involved with because I was off shooting Zombieland and stuff. Originally it wasn’t intended to be a series.

Is it scripted? I think Zach knows what he wants to do and beats that he wants to play, but there’s no script whatsoever. You talked before about not having the confidence to do a huge studio picture. So how do you feel now that your’re taking on Gangster Squad, which seems like a big deal for Warner Bros. I’m ready, but maybe I overstated it before. It wasn’t because of a lack confidence, it’s more like I wanted creative control. I knew that for my second film, where I’m still trying to figure out my voice as a director, that as soon as it becomes a franchise, the studio is going to be all over you. Or if you’re dealing with a huge movie star and it’s his franchise, you’re at best a facilitator because they know it better than you do. But what’s exciting about Gangster Squad is that they hired me, and I’m casting the movie. It’s my job to define the film, whereas a franchise movie, or a superhero movie there’s less room for interpretation. So while I definitely didn’t feel prepared to do a huge movie at that point, it was also the terms on which I wanted to do that movie. And what’s cool about Gangster Squad is that it’s not beholden to anything other than being a great film. And they’ve given me the reins to the best job I can making the movie. IT’s really a chance for me to make a movie on my terms.

Are you excited about making a period film? I’m so psyched. The other day we had our prop show-and-tell, and there was a table full of Tommy guns, and I almost lost it. It was like, Holy shit, I’m making a fucking gangster movie. I was so, so psyched, I can’t even tell you. Are you ready to do a feature film without Jesse Eisenberg? (Laughs) It honestly will be hard. You can’t ask for a better actor. He’s so talented, so generous, so easygoing, and has no ego. He just wants what’s best for the film.

Jesse Eisenberg Loves Ween

I’ve always related to Jesse Eisenberg, what with us both being Jewy, nerdy, and good at speed-talking. But now I realize we are kindred souls in another sense: We both dig the band Ween. Ween had their moment in the early-to-mid-nineties, when the duo of fake brothers, Dean and Gene Ween, managed to pump out a few novelty hits for Beavis and Butthead to joke about. But the band was really too weird for mainstream success, though they did develop an obsessive cult-following of college stoners like me and Jesse Eisenberg. Truthfully, I’d kind of forgotten about Ween until I read this interview with Eisenberg on Spin.com.

But where I merely dabbled in Ween-dome, giggling over bong rips at the “Spinal Meningitis” song, Eisenberg is a seriously hardcore fan. This is evidenced by the fact that he hyper-articulately breaks down Weens masterpiece Chocolate and Cheese song-by-song for our reading pleasure, and also the fact that, as he bizarrely explains, the only music he likes is Ween and musical theater. Here’s an excerpt:

How did you get into Ween? Jesse Eisenberg: It was really strange and related to [Chocolate and Cheese], actually. Like, ten years ago I was acting on a television show [short-lived FOX series Get Real], and every week, something very, very dramatic had to happen, because it was an hour-long drama. So for one week, my character got spinal meningitis, which did not carry over from the previous week or to the subsequent week. So the guy who was my stand-in, who’s still one of my best friends, gave me this album, Chocolate and Cheese, because the second track is “Spinal Meningitis.” We were listening to it as a way to just bring some levity to the episode, which was a little overdramatic. I also thought the song was really great, and I started playing it at my mom’s house and she got pissed-off every time that song came on ’cause she thought it was disgusting.

But the album was incredible; I’d never heard music like this before. I never really liked comedy songs, and Ween has a great way of never making specific jokes — you can’t really tell where the joke is lying. But beyond that, musically they were just fantastic. And since then, I have gotten every album that they’ve made. It’s the only band whose albums I buy. I’m not into music — the only music I like is musical theater, but I have every Ween album.

Director David Fincher on ‘The Social Network’

Yesterday at the Soho Apple Store, The Social Network director David Fincher and star Jesse Eisenberg sat for a Q&A. Given that there’s already been significant flap over the film’s accuracy, especially with respect to its portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, it came as no surprise that someone asked the pair about possible misrepresentation. Just how fast and loose are they playing with the lives of Zuckerberg et al? Fincher spoke for both of them, saying, “I don’t think it would be responsible for either of us to enter into an endeavor that was simply a million dollar hatchet job.”

Fincher went to admit that lots of conversations were naturally “distilled, crystallized and crushed” for the sake of narrative economy, and that everyone involved knew full well that “specifics of what they were talking about were debatable.” Nevertheless, their aim was true. “I think we got to a kind of truth about a place, a time, and a group of people—specifically the people whose names we used. I hope it’s fair. The intention was to be fair.”

For once I agree with Jeffrey Wells: that’s a reasonable and honest answer. Fincher’s full response is below:

Links: Lionel Messi’s Skimpy Day at the Beach, Eminem Resurrects Megan Fox’s Career

● Katy Perry, not to be outdone by perennial rival Taylor Swift, brings us her own album news in the form of the cover art for her upcoming record Teenage Dreams. In our version, however, there are no clouds. [Huffington Post] ● Yep, the best soccer player in the world has a gorgeous girlfriend (and likes to wear undies to the beach). [TMZ] ● Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a funny when he compared the oil spill to Mel Gibson. Too soon, on both counts. [AP]

● Megan Fox has gone from working with director Michael Bay to reportedly being cast in director Joseph Kahn’s next project, a music video for some guy named Eminem. [E!] ● That was quick. Fox is now moving forward with a Barefoot Bandit movie, with Dustin Lance Black (Milk) penning the script and David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) looking to direct. Being a criminal is awesome. [Variety] ● Has Mark Zuckerberg seen The Social Network trailer yet? “Someone showed me a part of it,” the founder of Facebook tells Diane Sawyer. On his impersonator Jesse Eisenberg: “He seems like a nice guy.” [Gawker.TV]