Watch the First Trailer for Michael Winterbottom’s ‘The Look of Love’

Personally, I have always found director Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan to be a perfect pairing. After their successful collaboration with 24 Hour Party People, the two made the tragically hilarious The Trip, and now soon see the theatrical release of their latest, The Look of Love. After opening at Sundance to mild reviews, the film will open next month in the U.K. but we’re still waiting on a U.S. date. Starring Coogan at the iconic Paul Raymond, the film follows the life of the British nightclub owner/adult magazine publisher  who was nicknamed the “King of Soho” back in the 1950s and ’60s. He stars alongside Anna Friel, Imogen Poots, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry, and David Willams in the film that finally has been given a proper trailer thanks to the Guardian

The official synopsis for the film reads:

After starting his show business career as a mind-reader in a cabaret act, Paul Raymond went on to become Britain’s richest man and a modern King Midas. With an entrepreneurial eye and a realisation that sex sells, he began building his empire of gentleman’s clubs, porn magazines and nude theatre – provoking outrage and titillation in equal measure.
Raymond’s personal life was as colourful as his revue shows. His marriage to Jean, a nude dancer and choreographer, ended in a difficult divorce when he met Fiona – a glamour model who became the famous pin-up star of his magazines and shows. His daughter Debbie was the true love of his life, his business partner and heir to his empire – until her tragic and untimely death aged 36. Three weeks later Raymond was named Britain’s richest man and his fortune put at 1.5 billion

Check out the trailer below.

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The Best of the Sundance Early Reviews

Reviews can be dangerous. Personally, I tend not to read too many of them until after I’ve seen a film—and even then, only after I’ve processed my own thoughts. What’s the point in seeing a film if you’re just going to walk out of the theater and think, Well that was a disaster, but I know I’m supposed to love it or being profoundly moved by something but knowing that critics felt just the opposite so, I’ll keep this absolute joy to myself. Come on, now. If there’s a discussion to be had about the film before its release, it’s always more interesting to learn about the person or people behind the film and how that person made this specific piece of art and what it meant for them, so you can at least learn the intentions behind the work.

But when it comes to festivals, reviews can really make or break a long-waited anticipation—they can squash the thrill of those nine years of waiting to see if one couple gets together or elate you to know that a director whose first feature you loved didn’t fall flat in their sophomore effort. And for the movies debuting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, most theatrical releases are still unsettled, so a long-lead review may not have the ability to hinder your perception as powerfully as it might if you knew you were seeing the film tomorrow. So for those you not in Park City this week, check out a collection of snippets from this weekend’s reviews, covering some of the most anticipated films of the festival from Linklater’s Before Midnight  to David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche.

Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

"It’s a brave, creative decision on the trio’s part, and it’ll be interesting to see how civilians in the real world react to the film. Falling in love is easy. Sustaining love with the complicated burden of life on top of it all is hard. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight isn’t the most digestible picture, but its challenging, funny, painful, very present and alive depiction of relationships at 40 is so honest and real that we wouldn’t have it any other way."—Indiewire

"The previous films’ manufactured deadlines—a train departure, a trip to the airport—are no longer with us; the pair are now together until they decide not to be. Turns out, that’s as dramatic as a ticking clock."—The Hollywood Reporter

"Delivering vanity-free turns in which no apparent effort has been made to disguise wrinkles or sagging eyelids, the actors have melded so completely with their roles as to seem incapable of a false note; rewardingly, Hawke for the first time seems to truly match Delpy in emotional stature. The lightly self-reflexive script includes more than a few references to and examples of role play, reminding viewers of the artificiality of two characters who couldn’t seem more authentic."—Variety

"Physical time has to pass for both the stories and the audience, and the resulting authenticity gives the trilogy its magic. It makes the Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight unlike anything in cinema history… Every moment with the couple feels true but never overbearing. Jesse and Celine have never been symbols for all relationships; their love story stands on its own, and becomes fully fleshed out through the strength of the filmmaking and performances. These characters have never been blank slates you project your own experiences onto."—Collider

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, David Lowery

"Ain’t Them Bodies Saints maintains a strong linear approach that makes the collage of cinematic trickery more philosophically engaging than in his previous work… Lowery doesn’t leave everything up to the imagination: The tense climax, involving a superbly choreographed nighttime pursuit, breaches the subdued rhythm with supreme calculation. It’s easy to figure where Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is heading shortly after all the pieces are put in place, but the surprises of how they get there arrive in every scene." —Indiewire

"Ain’t Them Bodies Saints recalls Malick’s outlaw-lovers drama Badlands and the open-sky beauty of the fable-like Days Of Heaven. (There is, however, no voiceover in Lowery’s film.) Lowery is hardly the first filmmaker to crib Malick’s poetic aesthetic, but his clear confidence in aspiring to the same sort of enrapturing experience is undeniably impressive. When the results are this cohesive and affecting, one begrudgingly acquiesces rather than complains…In tune with the movie’s lyrical style, the performances have an elemental power that’s understated but resonant."—Screen Daily

"The film is a lovely thing to experience and possesses a measure of real power. Emerging cinematographer Bradford Young does his most impressive work yet, combining with Lowery, production designer Jade Healy and costume designer Malgosia Turzanska to deliver a kind of timeless look that feels equal parts Old West, Depression-era Texas and the slow-to-arrive modern age."— THR

The East, Zal Batmanglij

"The second picture in a fascinating collaboration with producer-writer-star Brit Marling, this clever, involving spy drama builds to a terrific level of intrigue before losing some steam in its second half. Still, the appreciable growth in filmmaking confidence here should translate into a fine return on Fox Searchlight’s investment, and generate good word-of-mouth buzz among smart thrill-seekers."—Variety

"The East is a terrific companion piece for anyone who enjoyed Sound Of My Voice… Though the script (by Batmanglij and Marling) could’ve used another polish, as a filmmaker, Batmanglij is still at the head of the class of up-and-coming directors. It’s great seeing him able to paint on a larger canvas here and provide Marling an opportunity to turn in another beguiling performance."—Indiewire

"[Batmanglij] has serious directorial chops. It’s a piece full of tension and intrigue..There isn’t enough properly at stake for the film to earn its facile pro-coporaterrorism ideas, in my opinion, and motivations feel questionable throughout. Nevertheless, I look forward to this guy’s career. He knows how to get a reaction out of an audience."—HitFix

The Look of Love, Michael Winterbottom

 "Before its measure of gravity kicks in, some viewers may find it depressing in its soulless, kitschy period portrayal of immediate gratification… Though all the performances are very good, much of Look‘s entertainment value comes from an impressive tech package that captures the shifting fashions of swinger-favored pop-culture garishness over the pic’s roughly 25-year period… While it’s seldom lingered on, the large amount of fairly graphic sexual imagery may prove a ratings challenge in some territories."—Variety

"Shockingly, for all of the topless women, the movie is surprisingly bland. Raymond is always entranced by a comely naked lady, so it’s doubtful that Winterbottom was trying to show the decline of his protagonist’s libido. More effort is put into the dangers of cocaine than any thoughtful exploration of Paul Raymond’s personality."—Collider

"The script’s biggest failing is not creating a full-bodied character out of Debbie.Loaded with music—albeit some surprisingly obvious choices from the director who made 24 Hour Party People – the film is absorbing on a scene-by-scene basis. But it connects the dots of Raymond’s life in a perfunctory way, without locating a fluid through-line or gaining emotional access to its elusive subject."—THR

The Spectacular Now, James Ponsoldt

"Ordinary in some ways and extraordinary in others, The Spectacular Now benefits from an exceptional feel for its main characters on the parts of the director and lead actors…Looking plain, even homely and singularly unadorned, Woodley is world away from the svelte little hottie she portrayed two years ago in The Descendents but again is entirely terrific. By contrast, most of the other kids are more recognizably superficial and stereotyped. The adults, particularly Chandler as the jaw-droppingly irresponsible father, are uniformly excellent."—THR

"Ponsoldt’s picture is self-possessed, mature and deeply patient, but it’s perhaps not at the exact pace some audiences are accustomed to…Don’t be surprised if the film is sold like (500) Days Of Summer (or a similar film) when it eventually makes its way to theaters, but this picture is particularly darker, sadder and pained. The Spectacular Now is wise beyond its years, charismatic, measured and authentic in its depiction of the pains, confusions and insecurities of the teenage experience, and while its deliberate rhythm may prove to be a harder sell among the teen crowd, it’s a valuable and honest film that’s worth the investment."—Indiewire

Stoker, Park Chan-Wook

"This being a Park movie—albeit one scripted by actor Wenwtworth Miller—depraved urges and grotesque outbursts linger around every turn, but Park’s formalism positions the mayhem within an alluring cinematic tapestry… Stoker may not break new ground, but it stands firmly on an effective toolbox right through its zany finale. Ultimately a subversive take on family bonds, the movie puts a wry twist on the coming-of-age mold."—Indiewire

"…delivers what the South Korean auteur does best: moody mise-en-scene with intense moments of ultra-violence. This is a dark, dark story, yet somehow Park is able to impart a safeness that allows the audience to sit back and enjoy the thrill ride."—Twitch

"Park’s regular d.p. Chung-hoon Chung appears to be channeling photographer Gregory Crewdson’s eerily high-key Americana in his lighting schemes, while Clint Mansell’s characteristically rich, modernist score is embellished with haunting piano duets composed specifically for the film by Philip Glass. The repeated use of the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra number ‘Summer Wine,’ meanwhile, is typical of the director’s cockeyed take on American culture. Long may he continue to explore."—Variety

Breathe In, Drake Doremus

"Doremus doesn’t seem particularly interested in the melodramatic aspects of his story, skipping over the arguments and fallout almost entirely…The film focuses more on states of mind, using Dustin O’Halloran’s rich piano score to amplify the collective agitation, while capturing from each character’s perspective how one can occasionally feel like an outsider even while clearly part of something. Working again with cinematographer John Guleserian, Doremus opts for a cooler palette, rendering these middle-class problems in tony blues and beiges."—Variety

"…it’s the actors who crush these intense moments of desire and longing into something near breathless…Sensuous and plaintive, Dormeus’ camera once again captures that arresting emotional truth that’s marked his relationship dramas thus far, and there’s even some moments of Malick-ian wonder and beauty… "Breathe In" may telegraph where it’s going late in the game and these irrational decisions might make for some frustrated viewers, but it is without a doubt one of the most emotionally poignant and heartbreaking movies of the festival thus far."

"If the film does have a flaw it’s that the storyline follows a fairly predictable path, but the raw performances and Doremus’ inspiring direction are so effective at getting you invested in these characters that this minor quibble is quickly rendered insignificant by the film’s haunting closing sequence. The key is in the execution, and that’s where Breathe In excels."—Collider

Don Jon’s Addiction, Joseph-Gordon Levitt

"Again, Gordon-Levitt’s confident direction stops the film from going off the rails, but the plot strains trying to make Jon becomes a mature adult… When it comes to the protagonist’s inability to achieve intimacy, Don Jon’s Addiction feels like Shame but with jokes and Tony Danza."—Collider

"…here’s a heavy testosterone-driven pushiness, rather than a deeply felt sex drive as an elemental force of nature that’s crucial to this man’s self-expressiveness, that soon becomes obnoxious, and a lack of self-reflection that leaves Jon, and the film with him, frustratingly one-dimensional.Both as a director and actor, Gordon-Levitt is switched on all the time, offering little shading or nuance."—THR

"Filled with heat, emotion, verve and humor, Jon’s journey to sexual fulfillment is certainly not the most obvious rom-com path to redemption we’ve seen on screen in some time. Replete with characters who love to challenge their stereotypes, Don Jon’s Addiction is a beguiling romantic comedy with a heart, soul and pulse that will pleasure you for a full 90 minutes with hardly breaking a sweat."—Indiewire

Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green

"What makes the performances so enjoyable and unexpectedly touching is that the parallel arcs of this twin character study are drawn with such delicacy. Hirsch is impish, abrasive and a little lost, with Lance already seeing himself as ‘fat and old’ compared to the younger, cooler guys on the dance floor. In a nuanced turn that swings from funny to angry to emotionally raw and back again, Rudd draws on stage skills that have been largely untapped in his recent films."—THR

"A somewhat surprising vehicle for smoothly commingling Green’s own seemingly unreconcilable career sides, Prince Avalanche (a title he admits makes no particular sense) has room for both very funny physical comedy and a couple of rapturous, stand-alone, near-experimental montages given superb support by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo’s diverse original rock tracks."—Variety

"So even if Prince Avalanche feels more than a bit wobbly, it does show Green once again trying his hand at the idiosyncratic style of his promising early years, an encouraging sign one hopes isn’t just a passing fancy."—Screen Daily

Michael Winterbottom Redeemed At Sundance

Two years ago, English auteur Michael Winterbottom debuted The Killer Inside Me, a nihilist noir adaptation of Jim Thompson’s hard-boiled crime classic, to great outcry at Sundance Film Festival. It was deemed too hyperbolically violent, too in enthralled by its own sadistic lead (played by a dead-eyed Casey Affleck) for any refined moviegoer to tolerate. Well guess what, everyone who thought that: Winterbottom just sold a new film about pornography.

The Look of Love, which stars continued Winterbottom muse Steve Coogan, who also co-anchored the director’s The Trip andTristram Shandy, screened on Saturday evening and became the first drama acquired at the festival this year. IFC is the lucky studio that snapped up the surely entertaining flick, which itself concerns the rise and fall (and rise?) of smut impresario Paul Raymond.

But we should expect anything apart from the paint-by-numbers biopic. The last time Coogan starred in a Winterbottom film about a legendary pop culture icon (Factory Records founder Tony Wilson), he broke the life examined into a colorful postmodern shrapnel that kept the viewer ever off-balance and dreading the final credits. If ordinary critics are already panning itThe Look of Love is bound to be just as delightfully twisted.

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The Fifteen Most Anticipated Films at This Year’s Sundance Film Festival

Amidst the delirium of award season, the annual Sundance Film Festival creeps up every January to remind us each year that the scope of Hollywood is changing and being infiltrated with a host of new talent and emerging artists from around the world. The festival is a beacon for A-list talent as well as those new to the world of cinema who are getting their first premieres and chance at large-scale recognition. With an enormous slate of films, the festival will commence on Thursday and feature new work from those you already know and worship and those whose names are on the tip of our tongues.

Among the films being shown are sophomore efforts from writer/directors Zal Batmanglij, James Pondsoldt, and Shane Carruth, as well eagerly-awaited follow ups from Richard Linklater and Michael Winterbottom—to hint at the list. In the past few months, we’ve had a chance to see some of the films before their premieres, and it’s safe to say that this year looks to be a truly thrilling one as distributors latch onto films and prepare them to hit theaters later this year. So for those of you not heading to Park City this week, here’s a list of our most anticipated Sundance narrative features for you to get excited about.

1. The EastZal Batmanglij

Someone is attacking big corporate CEOs and forcing them to consume harmful products they manufacture. An elite private intelligence firm is called into action and contracts ex-FBI agent Sarah Moss to infiltrate a mysterious anarchist collective, The East, suspected to be responsible. Skilled, focused, and bent on success, Sarah goes undercover and dedicates herself to taking down the organization. She soon finds, however, that the closer she gets to the action, the more she sympathizes with the group’s charismatic leaders.

2. Upstream ColorShane Carruth

Kris is derailed from her life when she is drugged by a small-time thief. But something bigger is going on. She is unknowingly drawn into the life cycle of a presence that permeates the microscopic world, moving to nematodes, plant life, livestock, and back again. Along the way, she finds another being—a familiar, who is equally consumed by the larger force. The two search urgently for a place of safety within each other as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of their wrecked lives.

3. CO.G.Kyle Patrick Alvarez

David has it all figured out. His plan—more a Steinbeckian dream—is to spend his summer working on an apple farm in Oregon with his best friend, Jennifer. When she bails out on him, David is left to dirty his hands alone, watched over by Hobbs, the old farm owner and the first in a series of questionable mentors he encounters. First there’s Curly, the friendly forklift operator with a unique hobby, and then Jon, the born-again rock hound who helps David in a time of need. This first film adaptation of David Sedaris’s work tells the story of a prideful young man and what’s left of him after all he believes is chipped away piece by piece.

4. The Spectacular NowJames Ponsoldt

Sutter Keely lives in the now. It’s a good place for him. A high school senior, charming and self-possessed, he’s the life of the party, loves his job at a men’s clothing store, and has no plans for the future. A budding alcoholic, he’s never far from his supersized, whisky-fortified 7UP cup. But after being dumped by his girlfriend, Sutter gets drunk and wakes up on a lawn with Aimee Finicky hovering over him. Not a member of the cool crowd, she’s different: the “nice girl” who reads science fiction and doesn’t have a boyfriend. She does have dreams, while Sutter lives in a world of impressive self-delusion. And yet they’re drawn to each other.

5. Touchy FeelyLynn Sheldon

What happens when a family’s delicate psychic balance suddenly unravels? Abby is a free-spirited massage therapist. Her brother, Paul, an emotional zombie, owns a flagging dental practice, where he enlists the assistance of his equally emotionally stunted daughter, Jenny. Suddenly, transformation touches everyone. Abby develops an uncontrollable aversion to bodily contact, which seriously hinders her chosen profession and the passionate love life she once shared with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, rumors of Paul’s “healing touch” begin to miraculously invigorate his practice. As Abby navigates through an identity crisis, her brother discovers a whole new side of himself.

6. Interior.Leather bar.James Franco/Travis Matthews

The 1980 film Cruising, starring Al Pacino as an undercover cop investigating a murder in the New York City gay, leather, bar scene, was plagued with controversy, and its director was forced by the Motion Picture Association of America to cut 40 minutes of sexually explicit material. Those 40 minutes have never been screened publicly. Filmmakers James Franco and Travis Mathews set out to reimagine what might have transpired in those lost scenes in this intriguing film about the making of a film.

7. Ain’t Them Bodies SaintsDavid Lowery

Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.

8. Kill Your DarlingsJohn Krokida

While he is attending Columbia University in 1944, the young Allen Ginsberg’s life is turned upside down when he sets eyes on Lucien Carr, an impossibly cool and boyishly handsome classmate. Carr opens Ginsberg up to a bohemian world and introduces him to William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. Repelled by rules and conformity in both life and literature, the four agree to tear down tradition and make something new, ultimately formulating the tenets of and giving birth to what became the Beat movement. On the outside, looking in, is David Kammerer, a man in his thirties desperately in love with Carr. When Kammerer is found dead, and Kerouac, Burroughs, and Carr are arrested in conjunction with the murder, the nascent artists’ lives change forever.

9. May in the SummerCherien Dabis

May has it all—a celebrated book, a sophisticated New York life, and a terrific fiancé to match. But when she heads to Amman, Jordan, to arrange her wedding, she lands in a bedlam of family chaos she thought she’d transcended long before. Her headstrong, born-again Christian mother so disapproves of her marrying a Muslim that she threatens to boycott the wedding. Her younger sisters lean on her like children, and her estranged father suddenly comes out of the woodwork. Meanwhile, doubts about her marriage surface, and May’s carefully structured life spins out of control.

10. What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About LoveMousy Surya

At a high school for the visually impaired in Jakarta, Indonesia, the students are like any other teenagers: they attend classes, pursue artistic endeavors, and fall in love. The most privileged of the bunch, Diana, patiently awaits signs of womanhood and humors her mother’s attempts to mold her into the perfect girl. The beautiful Fitri has no shortage of male attention and enters into a passionate affair with, unbeknownst to her, a hearing-impaired punk rocker who is masquerading as a doctor. Meanwhile, Maya, blind since birth, aspires to be an actress and performer. Regardless of physical barriers, the students find ways to communicate and collaborate, enabling them to connect—with each other and to the outside world.

11. Crystal FairySebastian Silv

Jamie is a boorish, insensitive American twentysomething traveling in Chile, who somehow manages to create chaos at every turn. He and his friends are planning on taking a road trip north to experience a legendary shamanistic hallucinogen called the San Pedro cactus. In a fit of drunkenness at a wild party, Jamie invites an eccentric woman—a radical spirit named Crystal Fairy—to come along. What is meant to be a devil-may-care journey becomes a battle of wills as Jamie finds himself locking horns with his new traveling companion. But on a remote, pristine beach at the edge of the desert, the magic brew is finally imbibed, and the true adventure begins. Preconceived notions and judgments fall away, and the ragtag group breaks through to an authentic moment of truth.

12. Il Futuro (The Future), Alisha Scherson

When her parents die in a car accident, adolescent Bianca’s universe is upended. Staying alone in the family’s Rome apartment and entrusted with the care of her younger brother, Tomas, she struggles to hold things together as her place in her surreal new world becomes blurry. Life is further complicated when Tomas’s gym-rat friends invite themselves to stay indefinitely. Using Bianca as a lure for a heist they’ve concocted, they convince her to initiate a sexual relationship with enigmatic blind hermit Maciste, played by Rutger Hauer. But as the two spend time together, Bianca unexpectedly finds normalcy and acceptance in the aging B-movie star and former Mr. Universe’s rococo mansion.

13. The Look of LoveMichael Winterbottom

Welcome to the scandalous world of Paul Raymond, entrepreneur, impresario, and the “king of Soho.” Seeing mediocrity in the smutty sex parlors of London, Raymond unveils his first “gentlemen’s club” in 1958 and gradually builds an empire of clubs and erotic magazines that brings him vast wealth while affronting British sexual mores. It also brings a litany of obscenity charges, a failed marriage, troubled children, and personal tragedy.

14. Before MidnightRichard Linklater

We meet Celine and Jesse nine years after their last rendezvous. Almost two decades have passed since their first encounter on a train bound for Vienna, and we now find them in their early forties in Greece. Before the clock strikes midnight, we will again become part of their story.

15. The Necessary Death of Charlie CountrymanFredrik Bond

Obeying the last wish of his deceased mother, young American Charlie travels to Eastern Europe with no plans. He lands in a truly unknown place—wilder, weirder, and more foreign than he could have ever imagined. Committed to spontaneous, explosive, and instinctive acts, Charlie now finds himself pursuing an equally lost soul named Gabi, a mysterious Romanian woman unable to shake her dark, violent past.

Filmmaker Alex Karpovksky on ‘Girls’, Cassavettes, and His Secret to Success

When I first saw filmmaker/writer/actor Alex Karpovsky’s fourth feature at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, the intense psychological thriller Rubberneck, I was blown away for two reasons. First of all, the film was brilliant, and stars Karpovsky as a jilted lab technician creepily obsessed with his co-worker and one-time one night stand, and only gets better from the first frame. Secondly, his performance is an absolute departure from the snarky, slightly abrasive character ofRay Ploshansky he plays on Lena Dunham’s zeitgeist-smashing HBO comedy, Girls.

Or his role as the film editor with a wandering eye in the upcoming indie comedy, Supporting Characters. Or his co-starring turn in Dunham’s first full-length feature, the highly praised Tiny Furniture. Not to mention the countless other indie films he has acted and participated in since 2003. He plays these characters to such great and unnerving effect that it was actually hard to imagine him any other way. It was rare and wonderful to be that surprised. When talking to Alex Karpovsky about creating his micro-budget films, the thrilling success of Girls, and the filmmakers he respects, there is a thoughtfulness and natural integrity that shine forth from the tall, engaging and sweetly sexy actor, especially when you realize that his calling arrived later in life.

“My dad teaches computers at Boston University,” he says, breezing into a sweet locavore café in Williamsburg in from the pouring rain. “He’s been there forever, since 1985. My mom is a retired dental assistant. I have no siblings. Only dogs! For a long time, I very much wanted to be an academic. I thought there was a lot of coziness to it, but also a very kind of pampered lifestyle that felt pleasant to me. You have your summers off, you know. Seemed like a nice way to live. I thought I’d teach at a nice, bucolic campus somewhere, ride my bicycle to work, and have that double lifestyle. For whatever reason, I took an exit off that highway.”

Karpovsky spent his junior year abroad during college in England, returning there for grad school to study visual ethnography at Oxford. He found a personal freedom there that had been sorely lacking in his adolescence. “When I was young, from the ages of, like, five until about 12, I was very, very boisterous and extroverted,” he says. “A real hooligan—a troublemaker, actually. Not in any dangerous way. But I was just very, hyper. I would always be joking around, and I would always be sent to the principal’s office. And I was doing practical jokes, and stuff like that. Then in junior high, I don’t really know why this happened, but everything turned very one-eighty. I just got very internal, insecure, and reflective. And that lasted until I was about 19 or 20, until I went to Oxford and started doing theater for the first time. I feel like that sort of brought back those feelings I had inside of me that had been lying dormant. That was extremely exciting and invigorating, to kind of resuscitate this part of me that I didn’t know was even still in me.”

After dropping out of Oxford, he moved to the Lower East Side of New York, working as a caterer and honing his stand-up techniques, which were modeled after his idol, Andy Kaufman. When the catering gigs stopped cutting it financially, a friend suggested that he go into video editing, a gig that paid much better. He started out his movie career cutting karaoke videos and infomercials throughout his twenties.

Asked about his stumbling into what one would now call a dream career, he gets a bit reflective. “It may be a romantic interpretation of a flaw, but sometimes people’s ideas, if they’re not exposed to a lot of stuff, can become more original,” he explains. “And less derivative, because there are less associations. But I do feel like if I had gotten into making movies earlier, I would be a better filmmaker today. On the other hand, I might have burnt out earlier. That’s something I see a lot of on the festival circuit. These kids finally make their movie, but they’re only 23, 24, or 25 years old, and you never hear about them again.”

He is enthusiastic to be shooting the second season of Girls, and clearly loves his cast, director Lena Dunham, and producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner. “It’s justso much fun,” he tells me, smiling. “I love going to work.” When asked if his snarky character of Ray Ploshansky is the moral center of Girls, Karpovsky hedges a bit. “Ahhh, maybe to some extent,” he replies. “I feel like one of the reasons that I really love the show is the fact that the humiliations of these girls are so funny and so real; the characters need to have a real lack of perspective, and a real naïveté, to stumble into these problems. I feel like if thereis a compass, or an injector of perspective and ‘wisdom,’ it has to be in the form of moral correction that is equally misguided, so they can stumble further into the humiliations and problems.” He smiles, eyes twinkling, clearly happy to play that instigating force on the show.

Politely declining to discuss the show’s backlash and subsequent anti-backlash surrounding the fact that the Girls characters are white and come from pretty privileged backgrounds, he professes a clear respect for Dunham’s overall vision. “These girls have problems; there’s a lot of ignorance on their part. But, there’s also a lot of drive, a lot of ambition, and alot of sincerity. And a lot of them are pretty open about what they don’t know. That provides a great forum for not only a lot of the comedic moments, but also the really dramatic moments, which are dotted throughout the first season. It gives the series a real dimension, and a depth, and that’s maybe why it gets the criticism that another series, you know, wouldn’t.”

On his character in his upcoming self-scripted and directed road trip film Red Flag (in competition at this summer’s Los Angeles Film Festival) being an indie filmmaker also named Alex Karpovsky, he demurs. “It’s not really that autobiographical. It’s an aggressively caricatured version of who I am. Two of the main influences on the tone of Red Flag are Curb Your Enthusiasm and Michael Winterbottom’s film The Trip. The framework is realistic, but everything else is sort of a narrative fancy.” He also has a role in the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, and is now too busy, he says, to even make time for a girlfriend. “It wouldn’t be fair,” he protests sweetly. “I have no time!”

Karpovsky seems to have the innate talent that Dunham and other filmmakers such as the Duplass Brothers have also achieved, which is the actual ability to do it their own way with some very nice results. “These movies are so easy to make, in the sense they cost nothing, and you don’t need to bend over for anybody to do it,” he tells me. “As opposed to other stuff, where you have the process of dealing with people you may not creatively respect, and having to negotiate, and feel like you’re compromising everything you think is cool (about a project), which is always the message I hear from my friends. It doesn’t sound terribly appealing.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Karpovsky harbors an unbridled love for wild-man filmmaker Vincent Gallo, a fact we both share in equal intensity. “Oh, he’s tremendously talented!” he says. “ He can do it all. He’s visionary, in many ways. Fiercely independent. Makes the movies he wants to make. He can bring in some really name actors, but he brings them in on his terms. I really respect that.”

He soon reveals his ultimate formula: “My sort of dream is the John Cassavetes model. Go out, and try to make some money, preferably doing acting, but whatever! And hopefully you can make that money in these short injections, so it’s not a full-time job. You go away for two months, get a little bit of money, and then pour that money back into your film. And that’s just what Cassavetes did. He’d go and act in stuff, then go back and make his movies, which he knew would not make any money. But that’s what he loved to do! It’s a great model, I think, and it has always been my fantasy. It’s a pretty difficult thing to do.”

He beams when I remind him that, yes, he is living his fantasy. “Yes,” he agrees. “In a way, it is like a dream on top of a dream. You have the Cassavetes model, yet you also are really proud of how you get the money to do what you love. That’s great! I feel incredibly fortunate about that.” 

Art-House Movie Sex vs. Porn

News came (heh, heh) recently that art-house legend Peter Greenaway has begun casting for his next film. Nothing surprising here, except that Greenaway (whose A Zed & Two Noughts is a staggering, symmetrical exploration of entropy and one of the pinnacles of contemporary cinema — not to mention the closest any filmmaker has gotten to replicating the magic of Vermeer’s lighting) has allegedly asked potential female stars the following two questions: “Would you be willing to have unsimulated intercourse on screen?” and “Would you be willing to appear in a shot in which semen leaks out of your vagina?” Rarely do acclaimed directors incorporate full-on home-stealing into their films, but it’s certainly happened before. (Here’s looking at you, Mr. John Cameron Mitchell.)

After sitting on it for a few minutes (it’s just too easy, I’m sorry), I began to wonder whether recorded sex was more appealing when helmed by non-porny moonlighters or if we should all just leave the dirty stuff to people with names like Ron and Larry …

The Idiots (1998). Before the reigning bad-boy of Danish cinema broke waves with his highly-publicized Björk spat, Lars Von Trier released this film about a group of “anti-bourgeois” adults looking to defy social mores. In doing so, they pretend to be developmentally delayed — they call it “spassing” — a consuming pastime that climaxes in a graphic group sex scene. It’s no real mystery why this thing was nominated for the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival.

The Brown Bunny (2003). I’ve always liked Vincent Gallo’s films, and, despite the myriad times he’s been torn apart by journalists, he’s never been anything but polite to me. That said, The Brown Bunny was, at times, hard to stomach. After Chloë Sevigny’s Daisy performs fellatio on Gallo’s Bud (giving new meaning to “Performance of the Year”), he insults her in bed, calling her out on her assumed promiscuity. When asked about the experience, Sevigny told London’s Guardian, “It wasn’t that bad for me; I’ve been intimate with Vincent before.”

Shortbus (2006). Let’s just say that the creator of Hedwig and the Angry Inch grew into his own with the release of his second film, an urban sex odyssey about relationships and relations in Manhattan after dark. Everyone from cabaret icon Justin Bond to singer-songwriter Jay Brannan took part in John Cameron Mitchell’s pansexual labyrinth. It’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the auto-erotic asphyxiation set.

Ken Park (2002). Written by Harmony Korine and directed by Larry Clark, the guys responsible for KIDS, it’s no surprise that this skate-sex exploration features incest, drug abuse, and enough oral to fill a dentist’s office. Not surprisingly, the film has not been shown in England, has been banned in Australia, and was never given wide release in the United States.

9 Songs (2004). How appropriate that a man named Michael Winterbottom (and the filmmaker behind A Cock and Bull Story and the upcoming The Killer Inside Me) would direct this sexually explicit story about love and music. It was branded with an X-rating in most countries but, oddly, shown by the Dutch public broadcaster BNN (which, months earlier, screened Deep Throat). Despite its ejaculation scenes, 9 Songs only received a 28% “Cream of the Crop” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

A lot of Diego Luna’s Career. There was Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), of course, in which Luna and co-star Gael García Bernal went all locker-room buddies on each other, and then, after a few bottles of tequila, had a three-way with a married woman. This month, Luna stars in The Night Buffalo (2007), which, allegedly, depicts unsimulated on-screen sex. It should also be noted that, despite a lack of full Luna in Harmony Korine’s fantastic Mister Lonely, the actor does play Michael Jackson.)

El Topo (1970). Rumor has it that the sex scenes involving legendary writer-director Alejandro Jodorowsky and actress Mara Lorenzio in this cult western aren’t fake. But, when pitted against the film’s insatiable bloodsport, it all seems sort of irrelevant.

Borat and Bruno (2006 and 2009, respectively). In Borat, the titular Kazakh journalist, while looking to make benefit from the cultural learnings of America, engages in a naked rumble with his full-figured producer Azamat Bagatov (after the latter is caught masturbating to photos of Pamela Anderson). In Bruno, which centers on an Austrian fashionista (who makes Clay Aiken looks like Mickey Rourke), character creator Sacha Baron Cohen incensed censors with what looks like gay sex inside of a tent. The tent was later pitched to avoid an NC-17 rating.

Green Porno 2 (2009). This series of short live-action films focused on the reproductive habits of marine life stars Isabella Rossellini, who dons a giant sea-creature phallus to impregnate a sperm whale. (I think it was a sperm whale … truth be told, I was a little distracted.)

I was hoping to come up with a 10th example to round-out a fully-flesh-out list (last time, sorry), but I came up short. In its place, here are funny, actual porn titles that spoof Hollywood films: Shaving Ryan’s Privates, Beverly Hills 9021-Ho, Jurassic Pork, Charlie’s Anals, and You’ve Got Male (Genitalia).