Tuesday, 30 March 2010
This is one film that does exactly what the title suggests; it kicks ass.
Fans of the graphic novel will be pleased to see it keeps the pacing and many of the quirks of the original story. The actors are all perfectly cast, none more so than Brit Aaron Johnson as the title character. After playing a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy and now a geek-turned-hero, he is really proving himself to be a remarkable talent. Nicolas Cage always tends to balance on the line between cool and neurotic, but he delivers what is undoubtedly one of his coolest performances to date as the Adam West-esque Big Daddy. The young Chloe Grace Moretz is also a stand out, backing up her dramatic turns in The Poker House and (500) Days of Summer with meaty role few child actors would have been comfortable tackling.
Director Matthew Vaughn's experience working with Guy Ritchie on several films shows here, with the smutty dialogue and expertly choreographed action sequences. He integrates music from The Prodigy to The New York Dolls seamlessly, giving the film more attitude than it seems humanly possible. No doubt parenting groups will be up in arms about the character of Hit Girl, an 11-year-old mass murdering dynamo whose potty mouth makes Gordon Ramsay look like a nun.
But the film as just as ultra violent, ultra awesome and, in some cases, ultra offensive as its source material. Produced by Brad Pitt (among others) and his production company Plan B Entertainment, it has not lost any of its bite in the transition to the silver screen and as a film, it delivers a one two punch to the traditional comic book movie. Like the bastard child of Tarantino and Spiderman, Kick-Ass proves you can make adult entertainment from a juvenile concept, with a sprinkling of social commentary. The ending leaves opportunity for a sequel, so you can only pray enough people see and support this ballsy film that makes no apologies for what it is.
Kick-Ass opens in cinemas next Thursday, April 8.
Monday, 29 March 2010
Thursday, 25 March 2010
The film centres on an average Joe, Kirk (Jay Baruchel), who by chance meets the perfect woman Molly (Alice) (as pictured above, awwww). As their friendship develops in to something more, his lack of confidence and the influence of his friends and family begin to pick away at the relationship.
It is a simple enough concept and for the most part it works due to the charming performances from Baruchel and the supporting cast. After scene-stealing roles in Tropic Thunder and Knocked Up, and voicing the lead character in How To Train Your Dragon, Baruchel gets a well-deserved starring role in this comedy. Like a cross between Nicholas Cage and John Cusack, he is a quirky leading man to watch.
The colourful array of characters that make up the friends and family in the story provide much of the comedy, particularly stand-up comedian T.J. Miller (far right) as the abrupt, loud-mouthed member of Kirk's posse. He has some of the throw away lines and his explanation of a `moddle’ (man poddle) is hilarious. Nate Torrence (far left), Alice Eve and Krysten Ritter are also stand-outs.
Although marketed at the American Pie audience, this is more substantial than the frat-boy franchise, yet not quite as good as last year's sleeper hit The Hangover.
Formulaic in parts, She's Out My League exceeds the constraints of the genre by looking at the greater issue behind the story; self-esteem and the respect we have for ourselves. Plus, there’s some good dick jokes balanced out with a spot of romance.
She's Out Of My League is released in cinemas next Thursday, April 1.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
The story follows disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) who has been hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the head of the powerful Vanger corporation, to solve the disappearance of his niece Harriet 40-years earlier.During the investigation Blomkvist wades deeper in to the intricate web that is the Vanger family and he takes on board the skills of brilliant young hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). As the pair begin to piece together the clues surrounding the mystery, they uncover a series of gruesome murders.
Fans of the book would be no doubt be wary of any film adaptation, as history has showed us book-to-movie projects rarely work. This is the exception. The Lord Of The Rings exception if you catch my drift.
Larsson's novel is no fairytale, examining freedom of speech, sexual abuse, the justice system and violence, all the while painting Sweden as a corrupt and chauvinistic society. The film maintains the complexity and choreographs the moments of suspense, action and genuine terror perfectly.
As Lisbeth, Noomi Rapace emerges a true star. She pours her heart and soul in to the character who is no doubt the most refreshing movie heroine since Clarice Starling or Lt Ellen Ripley. Even those two wouldn’t have been able to drop the c-bomb as convincingly as Salander. In the same way Marion Cotillard took out the Oscar for her part in French film La Vie En Rose, Rapace should be a shoe-in for the best actress Oscar come 2011. She is fierce and vulnerable at the same time, while managing to allude to the many layers of her character.
With Swedish subtitles and from a team of relatively unknown filmmakers and actors, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has not lost any of its meatiness in the transition from paper to screen. It is not an easy film, its criticisms are unflinching and its violence graphic. Yet the pay-off is worth any of the horrors you see and its two and half hour running time goes by in a flash. Director Niel Arden Oplev has made a stylish movie and the best compliment it can be given is it lives up to the brilliance of the book.
I know it’s early days yet, and what I’m about to say may soon become redundant with Kick-Ass’s release in a few weeks, but this is by far the best film of the year…so far. If I were the star-giving type I would give it everything I had and then a few pinched from the sky above me.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo opens tomorrow.
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
You know that feeling, when you walk out of the cinema having seen a truly awful film? The spreading numbness, disbelief and finally the realisation you will never get those hours of your life back. Yes, Trasformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen left a lasting impression on many of us. But imagine subjecting yourself to that experience over and over again, for an entire year. Film commentator Michael Adams did and lived to tell the tale.
At the start of a New Year, Adams made a resolution to find the worst movie ever made by vowing to watch at least one terrible film per day, for 365 days. He documented his quest in the book Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies, released earlier this year.
The book follows his success watching 406 bad movies in12 months, while balancing his job as Reviews Editor for Empire magazine, online columns at Movieline, Rotten Tomatoes and The Wrap, co-host of SBS’s The Movie Show and his personal life. Having read the book, it is a must-have for all movie lovers and aspiring film geeks. Instead of just watching and reviewing the films, he hunts down the makers and stars and grills them on their cinematic disasters. He also throws in a few break-outs such as of bad movie vocabulary, the worst movie titles ever and bad movies that should have been made. It’s interactive, insightful, fun and a downright enjoyable read.
I interviewed Adams about the book, bad movies and Boll (the Uwe kind) earlier this week. I’ve got to say, his responses were hilarious and have entertained myself and colleagues for days. Enjoy.
Movie Mazzupial: You intertwine your personal narrative into the book. When there was so much else happening in your life, was it hard to stay inspired and sit down to dozens of truly awful movies?
MA: Sometimes it was really tough. You know, up with a 18-month old child at 5.30am, working 9 to 5.30, cooking dinner and chatting with the missus over wine until 8.30 or later. And then some godawful piece of junk, like Burt Reynolds in Cop And A Half, John Carradine in Horror Of The Blood Monsters or Madonna in, well, anything beckons. It was hard to force myself to press play, but once I did I was usually fascinated by the awfulness that unfolded. Other times, though, it’d be like this strange little refuge. There was more than one time when I escaped the frustrations of normal life by watching something terrible and came out the other side smiling.
MM: Is there a particular bad movie that you feel isn’t actually that bad, just misunderstood?
MA: Ishtar has a reputation for being bad but it’s actually rather good fun. The bad rap comes more from it being a box-office failure. I like The Postman, starring Kevin Costner, which makes me the only person outside of his mum that does. But how can you not like a post-apocalypse in which Tom Petty plays himself? There are plenty of bad movies that are good, if you can accept “entertaining” as one definition of good. I laughed more in The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s god awful melodrama, than in most major Hollywood comedies of the past 10 years. The laughs weren’t intended but who’s arguing the toss when you’ve got tears streaming down your face, your sides are aching and you look around the cinema and there are 250 other people in the same condition?
MM: Bad movies seem to have a cult following in and of themselves (the Woodites, Bayhem and so forth), what is it that makes them appealing?
MA: As I say, entertainment can take many forms. The thing with good-bad movies is how much fun they are. That can come from the gap between ambition and execution. Ed Wood wanted to make a huge and important alien invasion epic in Plan 9 From Outer Space. He just didn’t have the talent or resources. But what emerged still works as an entertaining experience. Bad movies are also a great shared experience. People pass commentary, crack jokes, laugh with and at the likes of The Giant Claw, Showgirls or Battlefield Earth. It’s an interactive experience. Also, sometimes, there are some really interesting angles that no-budget filmmakers take because it’s the only way they can get their movie noticed. If you made a martial arts film in the Philippines in the 1980s, it had little chance of being seen anywhere outside of that country. But if you cast a 2’9” midget named Weng Weng as your lead, then you have a film for the ages – and one that couldn’t have come out of Hollywood. Same goes for haunted house movies – they’re a dime a dozen. But having heard the title Death Bed: The Bed That Eats you get the originality of the concept immediately. Yes, it’s stupid, but it’s also unforgettable.
MM: Instead of simply listing and criticising the bad movies, you have sought out the makers behind the films as well. Who was the most interesting to talk to?
MA: Jesse Woodrow was pretty amazing. He was this coked-out model-actor and friend to Paris Hilton and co-star in the movie The Hillz before he became a radical born-again Christian with an apocalypse predicting radio show in Texas. So, he’s telling me about partying with Paris and Leif Garrett and how they were all so wasted and then in the next breath he’s telling me the world’s about to end. Insightful on a lot of levels. And weird. I do love Uwe Boll. He’s the German director who’s hated by internet movie fans for movies like BloodRayne and Alone In The Dark. He actually punched out five critics in a boxing ring because he though their reviews were unfair. But he admitted to me his movies weren’t very good.
MM: As a movie buff yourself, what was it like to get such a glowing foreword to the book by none other than George A. Romero?
MA: I met George in Melbourne in 2008 and we got on really well. He had me over to Toronto to be a zombie in his latest film, Survival Of The Dead, which is out later this year. I was terrible in it – I can’t even fall down convincingly. So it was really nice of him to write that very sweet intro. And it means a lot to fans of his to see his stamp of bloody approval.
MM: What do you think were the worst movies of last year?
MA: Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen deserved every Razzie it won. G-Force sucked – an insult to kids, I thought. The Taking Of Pelham 123 again demonstrated John Travolta’s abiding commitment to crappy cinema. Marley & Me was a dog in every sense. Race To Witch Mountain was as brutal as being slammed around the ring by The Rock. Terminator Salvation appeared to have been made by people who’d never seen any of the original films. Bruno was a massive disappointment after the brilliance of Borat. There’s never a shortage of sludge being pumped out of the Hollywood pipeline.
MM: Who do you think is today’s Ed Wood?
MA: Uwe Boll’s pretty close. He’s not the worst filmmaker working today – that honour would have to go to Ulli Lommel, his German compatriot – but Boll’s movies get publicity for their badness. That said, he works independently, outside of the studio system, and on budgets much smaller than Hollywood hacks. If you put him next to Michael Bay, for instance, and look at the money spent, Boll doesn’t scrub up that terribly.
MM: What stinkers do you think we have to look forward to for the rest of 2010?
MA: Oh, man. It’s hard to tell because sometimes trailers lie. Hot Tub Time Machine, for instance, has terrible trailers but it’s a really funny movie. But watching Miley Cyrus in musical teen death-rom-com The Last Song should prove a treat. Sex And The City 2 looks like it might inspire me to drive the heel of my Christian Louboutin stilettos through my eyeball. Clash of The Titans could go either way – who got paid for that tagline, “Titans Will Clash”? And, excuse me, but did the Australian public beg for Wog Boy 2? I must’ve missed that petition.
MM: Finally, what is the next project for you? A good movie book perhaps?
MA: Ah, it’s top secret, I’m afraid. Okay, I’ll tell you.
I’m doing an experiment in which I show a certain types of movies to Siamese Fighting Fish and then stage death matches. So, will Betty, my current champion, raised on a diet of only Meryl Streep cinema, be able to defeat Jimmy, who has spent the past week watching nothing but John Wayne westerns? Read the book to find out! Title suggestions welcome, too.
Hi-freakin-larious. Showgirls, Teen Wolves and Astro Zombies (above) is currently available in bookstores and online HERE.
Monday, 22 March 2010
Friday, 19 March 2010
Underwater 3D epic Sanctum finished filming in Queensland today and I spoke to director Alister Grierson exclusively about it. The Gold Coast director and the stars are flying down to Mt Gambier on Monday to shoot the final underwater cave scenes.
Grierson says they have spent the last three days filming on Dunk Island in North Queensland and are now on the ``home stretch''.
``It's very exciting, but I've got more work to do supervising the shoot with the second unit in Mt Gambier," he says.
``It has been physically demanding for the actors and quite dangerous.
``It's always stressful when you have people in the water in these dangerous situations but they really stepped up to the challenge.
``They're relieved to finish in a way, but it's always sad when you finish a film because it's like a community and you form some really close bonds.''
Sanctum stars Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd and Australian actors Richard Roxburgh and Rhys Wakefield as three divers on a cave-diving expedition gone wrong. It is based on the real-life experience of the producer and writer Andrew Wight and is being executive produced by Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron (also known as God).
Majority of the film has been shot on the Gold Coast at Warner Roadshow Studios and Grierson says the post-production will be done in Melbourne.
``Heading into the editing room, adding the visual effects and all the sound, it's my favourite part of the filmmaking process,'' he says.
He says they will deliver the finished film to the studio in October, with a late 2010 theatrical release most likely.
Despite having a budget of only $30 million, James Cameron says he thought Sanctum would be able to utilise his 3D technology better than Avatar.
``Avatar is much more expansive, but the thing that most people don't understand with 3D is that it works best in a very claustrophobic environment,'' he said.
``With Sanctum you can really feel that those rock walls in the cave are only a few feet away.
``It works exceptionally well in creating a sense of claustrophobia.
``There will accelerated heart rates, tight breathing and white knuckles when they (audiences) go through a lot of the experiences in this film as a result of the 3D putting them right there in these constricted places.''
If you have been living underwater in a cave for the past few months, you can check out my previous Sanctum stories here, here and here.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
Right, this is what he had to say:
"I think my number one favourite movie of all time is Raging Bull. It's just a great guys movie and I love it. There are some good French movies and I don’t want to just name Scorsese movies but they’re up there. Hmmm, there’s a lot…what else? A movie that blew me away recently was The Lives Of Others, it was almost like a perfect movie. In fact, some people thought it was too perfect the way it all ended up, but I thought it worked great."
So there you go, the highest-selling comedian in Ireland's favourite film isn't Michael Collins. Go figure.
For Des' touring dates and general info visit his website.
Monday, 15 March 2010
So you can understand my hesitation at seeing Remember Me. It has some solid performers and the trailer looked substantial, promising me more than another by-the-numbers romance targeted at Robert Pattinson fans.
It didn't disappoint. In fact, it went above and beyond my expectations, with the powerful story surprising me more than I had dared hope.
Remember Me opens with the tragic murder of a mother by two thugs on the subway while her young daughter looks on. Fast forward a decade or so and that little girl is now Ally Craig (Aussie lass Emilie de Ravin), all grown up and attending college with Tyler Hawkins (Robert Pattinson) who was coincidentally roughed up and jailed overnight by her policeman father (played by Chris Cooper). Hawkins has his own set of problems in the form of some serious daddy issues and struggling to get over the suicide of his older brother. He has close relationship with his younger sister, but is otherwise a brooding, chain-smoking youth who is “undecided about everything”.
It’s not until his roommate and best friend Aidan (Tate Ellington) suggests wooing over the policeman’s daughter, who is unaware of the connection between her classmates and father, that Tyler’s life starts to get interesting. By interesting, I mean some hardcore flirting, hardcore falling-in-love, followed by some hardcore sex. And so, the story progresses as these two people, each struggling to deal with their own experiences of grief and loss, connect.
On the surface Remember Me could appear like another clichéd romantic drama (or dramantic as I like to call it). Yet once you sit through the movie, the tribulations of the characters and up to the final, breath-taking twist at the conclusion, you see it’s much more than that.
The characters aren’t flat, two-dimensional cut-out’s like the ones you find in every Nicholas Sparks tear-jerker. They are complex, layered, passionate and often irrational people with flaws ‘a plenty (not unlike you or me). They wouldn’t translate so well on screen though if it wasn’t for the universally good performances from the ensemble cast. Pattinson is reminiscent of James Dean’s in Rebel Without A Cause or more recently Jospeh Gordon-Levitt’s turn in Brick, while Ravin plays her part as does most of the supporting cast. Yet it’s Pierce Brosnan as Tyler’s father who really brings the fire power. Not a huge fan of the Bros myself, I was blown away by the intricate performance which swings from reserved-asshole to raging parent throughout the course of the movie.
The story, oh the story! Written by Will Fetters, the basic premise of two people affected by violent deaths, connecting and falling in love isn’t that different from the Michelle Pfeiffer and Ashton Kutcher stinker Personal Effects, released last year. It’s where he takes the story, how he develops it and the themes he explores within the context of these two lives that captivates. A love story, sure, but it deals with the complexities of loss, bullying, family relations and more, all beautifully executed by director Allen Coulter, who made the impressive Hollywoodland (starring Ben Affleck and Adrien Brody) and portions of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under.
Yeah, I've read the reviews. I've seen what people have said about this film, writing it off as another weepy romance that exploits an important moment in American history. I strongly disagree. The ending, for which I can't detail here with destroying one of the most important sock-em-tooyah punches of the movie, left me glued to my seat five minutes after the film finished, still in shock. There are plenty of hints throughout the film about the `final twist' but whether you work it out or not isn't really the point. The way Fetters has taken a colossal event and made a story doesn’t actually focus on the event itself, but rather backtracks to the story of an individual and the affected lives. By keeping its metaphorical cards to its chest, Remember Me is able to make the audience focus on the most simple, yet significant element; the people.
A Sixth Sense twist in a romantic drama? That’s some quality mind fuckery and I like it.
Though there are more than your fair share of people ready to bag this film, I say kudos to Robert Pattinson who, as the star and executive producer, busted his British balls to bring Remember Me to the big screen.
Remember Me is currently screening.
Friday, 12 March 2010
To coincide with the DVD and Blu-ray release of Surrogates earlier this month, I participated in an online virtual roundtable interview with the director Jonathan Mostow.
A Harvard graduate, Mostow started out in the bizz making several short films and direct-to-video release, before establishing himself in the action genre with 1997's Breakdown, starring Kurt Russell. The `Mos’ (as I like to call him) is best known for his take on the Terminator series with Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines.
His seventh feature Surrogates is based on an underground comic-book series set in a futuristic world where humans live in isolation and interact through surrogate robots. Bruce Willis plays a cop who is forced to leave his home for the first time in years in order to investigate the murders of surrogates.
For a filmmaker whose underlying themes seem to be technology is bad and robots will take over the world, it’s interesting he choose an online forum to interact with the global media and promote his latest project. It was all very high-tech might I add. Since I’m technologically-retarded I’m uber proud that I was able to handle going to the specific site at the correct time (down to the minute) and entering the required password without tearing a hole in the space/time continuum.
Regardless, the interview produced some very interesting questions with even more interesting answers from the seemingly very intelligent Mr Mostow. I will leave it up to you to try and spot my questions amongst this extensive transcript, but my favourite question has to be; "Is this the real Jonathan Mostow, or am I interviewing... a surrogate?"
Kudos whoever you are, kudos.
Q: How did you direct your actors to have the 'surrogates' effect? What kind of suggestions would you give?
Jonathan Mostow: When I made Terminator 3, I learned something about directing actors to behave like robots. And one of the key things I learned is that if an actor tries to play a robot, he or she risks playing it mechanically in a way that makes the performance uninteresting. So how I approached the issue in that film and in Surrogates was instead to focus on erasing human idiosyncrasies and asymmetries -- in posture, facial expressions, gait, etc. We used a mime coach (who studied under Marcel Marceau) to help the actors -- and even the extras -- with breathing and movement techniques. The actors really enjoyed the challenge.
Q: Do you think that the release of movies will continue to take place in theaters or, as the quality standards is constantly increasing at home with technology; movies might start to be released instantly on different Medias or directly on the internet in the future?
Jonathan Mostow: As you probably know, this is a hot topic of conversation in Hollywood right now. It seems that we're heading toward the day that films will be released in all platforms simultaneously, albeit with a cost premium to see it at home. But I hope that theater-going doesn't end -- I think that watching movies on the big screen with an audience is still the best format and also an important one for society. Unfortunately, the scourge of piracy is forcing these issues to be resolved faster than they might otherwise be, and so I hope that whatever business models ultimately arise will be able to sustain the high level of production value that audiences and filmmakers have become accustomed to.
Q: Which other features can we find inside the Extras of the DVD and BD?
Jonathan Mostow: The DVD and Blu-ray both have my commentary and the music video by Breaking Benjamin. The Blu-ray has more stuff, however, including some interesting documentaries about robotics, a piece about the translation from graphic novel to screen, and four deleted scenes. (Plus, of course, the Blu-ray looks better!)
Q: What's your recipe for creating a good action movie?
Jonathan Mostow: I wish there was a recipe! It would make my life so much easier. Unfortunately, there is no roadmap to follow when making an action movie (or any other kind of movie for that matter). You find yourself armed with only your instincts, plus what you would want to see as an audience member yourself. The place I begin is with story. If the audience doesn't care about that, then it doesn't matter how amazing the spectacle is. My central philosophy is that people go to the movies to be told a story, not to see stuff blow up.
Q: Do you believe your film made the audiences rethink some aspects of their lives?
Jonathan Mostow: I hope so. Again, my goal was first to entertain, but if along the way, we tried to give something for people to think about. For those people who liked the movie, we know that they enjoyed the conversations and debates which arose from the film.
Q: Are there any sci-fi movies that were inspirational to the tone, look and feel you wanted to strike with Surrogates?
Jonathan Mostow: For the look and feel of this movie, I found inspiration in some black and white films from the 60s -- early works of John Frankenheimer -- plus the original Twilight Zone TV show. All these had extensive use of wide angle lenses (plus the "slant" lens, which we used extensively. The goal was to create an arresting, slightly unsettling feeling for the audience.
Q: What's the most rewarding thing you've learned or taken from making this movie?
Jonathan Mostow: Making this movie had made me much more conscious of how much time I spend on the computer. Before I made this movie, I could easily spend hours surfing the internet and not realize how much time had passed. Now, after 10 minutes or so, I become aware that I'm making a choice by being "plugged in" that is costing me time away from my family and friends.
Q: Did you read the comics before you started making the movie? If so, what did you like about them the most?
Jonathan Mostow: Yes, it was the graphic novel that inspired me to make the movie. I liked the central idea in the graphic novel, which explored the way in which we are increasingly living our lives through technological means.
Q: What do you personally think of the Blu-ray technology?
Jonathan Mostow: I LOVE Blu-ray. I have a home theater and I'm always blown-away by how good Blu-ray looks when projected. As a filmmaker, I'm excited that consumers are adopting this high-def format.
Q: This world is tech-addicted; do you think it is a plague? Should we could we control this?
Jonathan Mostow: Interesting question -- and I speak as someone who is addicted to technology. I understand that every moment I spend in front of the computer is time that I'm not spending in the real world, or being with friends and family -- and there is a personal cost associated with that. Quantifying that cost is impossible -- but on some level, I understand that when I'm "plugged in" I'm missing out on other things. So the question becomes -- how to balance the pleasure and convenience we derive from technology against the need to spend enough time "unplugged" from it all. I don't know the answer. And as a civilization, I think we're all struggling to figure it out. We're still in the infancy of the technological revolution. Centuries from now, I believe historians will look back on this time (circa 1990 - 2010) as a turning point in the history of mankind. Is it a "plague"? No. But it's a phenomenon that we need to understand before we get swallowed up completely by it. I don't want to sound like I'm over-hyping the importance of this movie, because after all, Surrogates is first and foremost intended to be a piece of entertainment, but I do think that movies can help play a role in helping society talk about these issues, even if sometimes only tangentially. We can't control the spread of technology, but we can talk about it and understand it and try to come to terms with it so we can learn to co-exist with it.
Q: In Surrogates every character in the frame looks perfect: was it a big technical problem for you? How did you find a solution?
Jonathan Mostow: I talk about that on the DVD commentary -- it was a big challenge. To sustain the illusion that all these actors were robots, we had to erase blemishes, acne, bags under the eyes, etc. In a sense, the actors were the visual effects. As a result, there are more VFX shots than non-VFX shots in the movie.
Q: What is your favorite technical gadget, why?
Jonathan Mostow: Currently, my favorite gadget is the iPhone, but the toy I'm really waiting for is the rumored soon-to-be released Apple tablet.
Q: Do you prefer "old-school", handcrafted SFX or CGI creations?
Jonathan Mostow: I think if you scratch beneath the surface of most filmmakers (myself included); you will find a 12 year old kid who views movie-making akin to playing with a giant electric train set. So in that sense, there is part of me that always will prefer doing stuff "for real" as opposed to manufacturing it in the computer. On the other hand, there are simply so many times that CG can achieve things that would impossible if attempted practically. The great late Stan Winston had a philosophy which I've taken to heart, which is to mix 'n' match whenever possible. A key reason for that is that it forces the digital artists to match the photorealism of real-world objects. One thing I try to avoid in my films are effects that have a CG "look" to them. The challenge is never let the audience get distracted by thinking that they're watching something made in a computer.
Q: This is a so-called virtual roundtable interview. Wouldn't you agree that in the context of "Surrogates" this is quite ironic? However, virtual technique like this is quite practical, isn't it?
Jonathan Mostow: Great question! However, why do you call it "so-called"? I'd say this is 100% virtual, wouldn't you? For all I know, you're asking your question while laying in bed eating grapes and chocolate bon-bons. (Please let me know if I'm correct, BTW.)
Q: How close did you try to keep the film to the graphic novel?
Jonathan Mostow: We talk about that in one of the bonus features on the Blu-ray. The novel was interesting in that it was highly regarded, but not well-known outside a small community of graphic novel enthusiasts. So that meant that we weren't necessarily beholden to elements in the graphic novel in the way that one might be if adapting a world-renowned piece of literature. Even the author of Surrogates acknowledged that changes were necessary to adapt his novel to the needs of a feature film. Hopefully, we struck the right balance. Certainly, I believe we preserved the central idea -- which was to pose some interesting questions to the audience about how we can retain our humanity in this increasingly technological world.
Q: does the rapid technological evolution help making sci-fi movies easier, or harder, because the standards are higher and higher?
Jonathan Mostow: From a practical standpoint, it makes it easier because the digital/CG revolution makes it possible to realize almost anything you can imagine. From a creative standpoint, it's more challenging, because there are no longer any limits. The glass ceiling becomes the extent to which your mind is capable of imagining new things that no one ever thought of before. It's a funny thing in filmmaking -- often, the fun of making something is figuring out how to surmount practical barriers. As those barriers get erased, then those challenges disappear.
Q: Are you afraid, that the future we see in the movie could be real someday soon?
Jonathan Mostow: Well, in a sense, we're already at that point. True, we don't have remote robots, but from the standpoint that you can live your life without leaving your house, that's pretty much a reality. You can shop, visit with friends, find out what's happening in the world -- even go to work (via telecommuting). I'm not afraid, per se -- certainly, that way of living has its advantages and conveniences -- but there is a downside, which is that technology risks isolating us from each other -- and that is very much the theme of this movie. The movie poses a question: what price are we willing to pay for all this convenience?
Q: Jonathan, you've worked with some of the most famous action stars to ever grace the silver screen, Arnold, Bruce, Kurt...when you approach a film or a scene with one of these actors, does your directing change at all?
Jonathan Mostow: I've been very lucky to work with some great movie stars of our time. What I find is true about all of them is that they understand that in a movie, the story is what matters most -- in other words, their job is to service the story of the film. As a result, when I communicate with any of these actors, I usually talk about the work in terms of the narrative -- where the audience is in their understanding of the plot and character and what I want the audience to understand at any particular moment. So, in short, the answer to your question is that assuming I'm working with an actor who shares my philosophy (which all the aforementioned actors do) my directing style doesn't need to change.
Q: Which aspect of the filmmaking process do you like the most? Directing the actors? Doing research? Editing?
Jonathan Mostow: Each phase has its appeal, but for me personally, I most enjoy post-production. For starters, the hours are civilized. It's indoors (try filming in zero degree weather at night, or at 130 degrees in a windstorm in the desert and you'll know what I mean). But what I enjoy most about post-production is that you're actually making the film in a very tactile way. You see, when you're finished shooting, you don't yet have the movie. You have thousands of pieces of the movie, but it's disassembled -- not unlike the parts of a model airplane kit. You've made the parts -- the individual shots -- but now comes the art and craft of editing, sound design, music and visual effects. Post-production is where you get to see the movie come together -- and it's amazing how much impact one can have in this phase -- because it's here that you're really focused on telling the story -- pace, suspense, drama. To me, that's the essence of the filmmaking experience.
Q: Are any of the props from Surrogates currently on display in your house?
Jonathan Mostow: That question makes me chuckle, because to the chagrin of my family, I'm a bit of a pack rat and I like collecting junk from my films. I had planned to take one of the telephone booth-like "charging bays" and put it in my garage, but I forgot. Thanks for reminding me -- I'll see if it's still lying around someplace!
Q: What was the most difficult element of the graphic novel to translate to the film?
Jonathan Mostow: I'll give you a slightly different answer: The most difficult element to translate successfully would have been the distant future, which is why we decided not to do it. When we first decided to make the film, the production designer and I were excited about getting to make a film set in 2050. We planned flying cars, futuristic skyscapes -- the whole nine yards. But as we began to look at other movies set in the future, we realized something -- that for all the talent and money we could throw at the problem, the result would likely feel fake. Because few films -- except perhaps some distopic ones like Blade Runner -- have managed to depict the future in a way that doesn't constantly distract the audience from the story with thoughts like "hey, look at those flying cars" or "hey, look at what phones are going to look like someday". We wanted the audience thinking only about our core idea -- which was robotic surrogates -- so we decided to set the movie in a time that looked very much like our own, except for the presence of the surrogate technology.
Q: The film does a magnificent job of portraying the difficulty and anxiety of characters forced to reintroduce themselves to the outside world after their surrogates have experienced it for them, which is certainly relevant in an era where so many communicate so much online. Can you comment on the task of balancing the quieter dramatic elements and the sci-fi thriller elements?
Jonathan Mostow: When I was answering a question earlier about sound, I spoke about "dynamic range", which is the measure of the difference between the loudest and quietest moments. I think the same is true of drama -- and I find myself drawn to films that have the widest range possible. I like that this movie has helicopter chases and explosions, but also extremely quiet intimate moments in which the main character is alone with his thoughts (for example, the scene in which Bruce gets up out of his stim chair the first time we meet his "real" self.) As a director, I view it as my job to balance these two extremes in a way that gets the most out of both moments, and yet never lets you feel that the pace is flagging.
Q: On the movie's you've directed, you have done some rewrites. Was there anything in Surrogates you polished up on, or was it pretty much set by the time pre-production got under way?
Jonathan Mostow: In the past, I've typically written my movies (Breakdown and U-571 were "spec" screenplays I wrote on my own and then subsequently sold, and then brought in collaborators once the films headed toward production.) On T3 and Surrogates, I did not work as a writer (both movies were written by the team of John Brancato and Michael Ferris). Surrogates was interesting in that the script was finished only one day before the Writers Guild strike of 2008, so by the time we started filming (which was shortly after the strike ended), there had been far less rewriting than would typically have occurred on a movie by that point.
Q: Do you have a preference in home audio: Dolby Digital or DTS? And are you pleased with Blu-ray's ability to have lossless audio?
Jonathan Mostow: Personally, I prefer Dolby Digital, but only because my home theater is optimized for it. Obviously DTS is also a great format. I am thrilled with all the advances in Blu-ray audio.
Q: Boston's mix of old architecture and new, sleek buildings works wonderfully well for "Surrogates." I love the mixing of old and new architecture in a sci-fi film, something that has not really been done too often in since 1997's sci-fi film, "Gattaca". Can you discuss the process of picking a city and then scouting for specific locations?
Jonathan Mostow: Thank you -- I talk about that in my DVD commentary. Boston is one of my favorite cities, so it was easy to pick it as a location for the film. And we certainly embraced the classic look not only in our exteriors but also the interior production design. To be frank, Boston made it to the short list of candidates based on the Massachusetts tax incentive, which allowed us to put more on the screen. Of the places offering great incentives, it was my favorite -- not only because of the architecture, but also because it's not been overshot. Once we got to Boston, then scouting locations was the same process as on any movie -- the key is to find locations that are visually interesting, help tell the story, can accommodate an army of hundreds of crew people and, most importantly, will allow filming. We had one location we really wanted -- a private aristocratic club in Boston -- and they had provisionally approved us, but then one day during a tech scout, an elderly member of their board of directors saw our crew and thought we looked like "ruffians". Our permission was revoked and we had to find another location. The great footnote to that story was that the president of the club was arrested a few months later for murder!
Q: I imagine that before writing and creating the world of Surrogates you studied the topic. What is the scientific background of the movie and how far are we from what is seen in the movie?
Jonathan Mostow: I did a fair amount of research for the movie, but really, what I discovered is that the best research was simply being a member of society in 2009. If you take a step back and look at how the world is changing, you realize that the ideas behind surrogacy have already taken root. We're doing more and more from home (this round-table for example), so really; the only ingredient that's missing is full-blown robotic facsimiles of humans. Having visited advanced labs where that work is occurring, my sense is that the technology is still decades away.
Q: As far as I know in the movie there was some digital rejuvenation of Bruce Willis for his role as a robot. How did you do it and what do you foresee for this technique? Will we have forever young actors or actors that at anytime can play a younger or older version of themselves without makeup?
Jonathan Mostow: For Bruce, we approached his surrogate look with a combination of traditional and digital techniques. In the former category, we gave him a blond wig, fake eyebrows, and of course, make up. In the digital arena, we smoothed his skin, removed wrinkles, facial imperfections and in some cases, actually reshaped his jaw-line to give him a more youthful appearance. Could this be done for other actors? Sure. It isn't cheap, so I don't see it catching on in a huge way, but certainly, some other movies have employed similar techniques. Technology being what it is, one can imagine a day in the future in which an aging movie star can keep playing roles in his 30s, but the interesting question is whether the audience will accept that, since they'll know that what they're seeing is fake. In the case of Surrogates, we discovered with test audiences that if we went too far with Bruce's look, it was too distracting, so in certain cases, we had to pull back a bit.
Q: Do you supervise aspects (video transfer, extras or other elements) of the home video (DVD/Blu-ray) release for your films?
Jonathan Mostow: Yes. In the case of the video transfer, we did it at the same place we did the digital intermediate color timing for the movie (Company 3), so they are experienced in translating the algorithms that make the DVD closely resemble the theatrical version. I am deeply involved in that process, as is my cinematographer. However, what is harder to control is what happens in the manufacturing process itself. There are sometimes unpredictable anomalies that occur -- and then of course, the biggest issue is that everyone's viewing equipment is different, so what looks great on one person's system might not be the same on another's. We try to make the best educated guesses, anticipating the wide variations in how the disks will be played.
Q: Mr. Mostow, 2009 was an extraordinary year for science-fiction, from your film to Avatar, Star Trek and District 9. Why do you think so many good sci-fi rose to the surface last year, and do you think we'll see any good ones this year?
Jonathan Mostow: First of all, thank you for mentioning our film in the same breath as those other movies -- all of which I loved. I don't think it's a coincidence that 2009 was a good year for sci-fi. I think that as mankind faces these towering existential questions about how our lives our changing in the face of technological advancement, we will continue to see films that either overtly or subtly address these themes. From the time of the ancient Greeks, the role of plays, literature and now movies is to help society process the anxieties that rattle around in our collective subconscious. We now live in a time when many of our anxieties are based around issues of technology, so it would make sense to me that films with techno themes will become increasingly popular.
Q: Was there ever a discussion to create a SURROGATES-themed video game? The plot lends itself to a decent companion game.
Jonathan Mostow: There are no discussions that I know of, but I agree, it would make the basis for a cool game.
Q: Each of your films has boasted sound mixes that many have considered classic examples of sound design. Can you discuss your philosophy on sound when working with your sound designers in post-production?
Jonathan Mostow: I really appreciate this question because sound is something I care deeply about and I believe that mixers I've worked with will probably tell you that few directors get as involved with sound as I do. Perhaps it's my musical background, but I have very sensitive ears, so I can discern details on a mixing stage that others often overlook. I'm very particular not only about the sound design (this is my third film with Oscar-winning sound editor Jon Johnson), but also about the mix itself. I think a good soundtrack helps immerse the audience in the movie. Ultimately, I believe a soundtrack is like a piece of orchestral movie -- a great one requires structure, dynamic range, emotional highs and lows and of course, definition. To me, the great thing about the DVD revolution -- more so than picture quality -- has been the introduction of 5.1 surround sound to the home.
Q: How involved was KNB Effects? What did they bring, if anything, to the films effects designs?
Jonathan Mostow: KNB is a top-flight company that specializes in prosthetic devices for movies and creature design. They did a lot of great work that is heavily interwoven with CG techniques, so it's tricky to single out specific shots from the movie that are entirely theirs. They were great to work with.
Q: “Surrogates” plot revolves around an important issue in the current times – the growing need of anonymity and increasing loss of real human contact. Do you think we’re going in the way you’ve portrayed in “Surrogates”?
Jonathan Mostow: I think I answered this question earlier, but I'm re-addressing it here because I like your reference to the "growing need of anonymity". That's a big sub textual theme in Surrogates and also a pretty fascinating aspect the internet. Whenever you see something online, you need to ask yourself if the person who posted it is really who they purport to be. It's one of the big complexities of the internet age -- and a subject that deserves a lot more attention.
Q: I really enjoyed listening to your audio commentary on the DVD. Talk about your approach to it. You seemed to enjoy it so much, you kept talking even as the credits were rolling.
Jonathan Mostow: Thanks for the compliment. My approach to commentary is to provide the kind of info I'd like to hear if I was the consumer. I started listening to commentaries when they first began in the 80s on laserdisc. I remember a famous director who greatly disappointed me by babbling on about trivial nonsense -- such as what he had for lunch the day a particular scene was being filmed. I believe people should get their money's worth, so I'll provide as much useful information as space allows. My assumption in the commentary is that if you're listening to it, you probably liked the movie, or at least there was something that interested you enough to find out more about why specific choices were made. So I try to tailor my comments for that audience. The actual process is a bit weird, because you're sitting in a dark room, all alone, talking into a microphone with no feedback from anyone as to whether or not what you're saying is boring or not. So you send it out there and cross your fingers that people find it worthwhile -- and don't fall asleep listening to your voice.
Q: How do you approach the promotional campaign for a film and in what way do you enjoy participating most in promoting one of your films?
Jonathan Mostow: I greatly enjoy the press phase of the film -- but not for reasons you might expect. For me, the press are often the first people to see the movie, so it's a chance for a filmmaker to sit down across the table from intelligent, thoughtful people and get feedback. (Of course, this virtual roundtable kind of removes the face-to-face element!) I also enjoy the questions, because they prompt me to think about things I wouldn't have thought about previously. For example, someone today asked about the thematic connections between T3 and Surrogates. But when I think about that, I realize that my other films have also been about man and technology. Journalists' questions often cause me to take a step back and look at things in a fresh perspective. Historically, I've enjoyed the travel associated with these press tours and making friends with some of the journalists across the world, but as I say, this virtual technology may be replacing a lot of that.
Q: I found the distinction between the surrogates and their human handlers interesting. Can you expound upon why such a drastic difference?
Jonathan Mostow: The difference was logical. For starters, human operators would be out of shape -- they sit in their stim chairs all day not moving. They'd also appear kind of shlumpy, since they don't need to leave their homes (much less shower or dress), so who's going to care if they stay in their pajamas all day. On the surrogate side of the equation, we imagined that based on human nature, in most cases, people would opt to operate idealized versions of themselves -- so if their surrogate looked in a mirror, for example, they'd see this fantastic-looking version of themselves. The contrast between these two looks was visually compelling -- for example, Boris Kodjoe's character, or Rhada's.
Q: One of the deleted scenes shows the surrogates' prejudice towards a human being among them. Why was this particular element cut?
Jonathan Mostow: The scene you reference (Bruce and Radha in a bar) was cut, but the underlying idea is still in the movie -- although admittedly not as strongly as had we kept the scene. (There are references in the movie to "meatbags" and other moments that indicate a hostility and prejudice toward those who reject the surrogate way of life.) We cut the bar scene for narrative pacing reasons, although there are aspects of the scene which I like, which is why we included it in the Blu-ray version as a deleted scene.
Q: This isn't your first time dealing with a high concept of man versus machine. Can you talk about why this concept intrigues you?
Jonathan Mostow: It's true that I've touched on this thematic material before -- in fact, I think all my films in some way have dealt with the relationship between man and technology, so apparently, it's an idea that fascinates me. I assume your question implies a relationship between the ideas in Terminator and Surrogates, so I'll answer accordingly... Whereas T3 posed technology as a direct threat to mankind, I see Surrogates more as a movie that poses a question about technology -- specifically, what does it cost us -- in human terms -- to be able to have all this advanced technology in our lives. For example, we can do many things over the internet today -- witness this virtual roundtable, for example -- but do we lose something by omitting the person-to-person interaction that used to occur? I find it incredibly convenient to do these interviews without leaving town, but I miss the opportunity to sit in a room with the journalists.
Q: Can you explain the casting choices in Surrogates? Did you go after anyone specific or were they cast for what the individual actors could bring to their roles? Jonathan Mostow: The interesting thing about casting this movie is that for the surrogates, we needed terrific actors who also looked physically perfect. Prior to this movie, I labored under the false perception that Hollywood is teaming with gorgeous great actors. Not necessarily so. Yes, there are many wonderful actors. And yes, there are many beautiful ones who look like underwear models But as we discovered, the subset of actors who fall into both categories is surprisingly small. We were lucky to get folks like Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe -- and we were equally fortunate to find a number of talented day players to round out the smaller roles in the cast. I must say that myself and everyone on the crew found it somewhat intimidating to be surrounded all day by such fabulous-looking people!
Q: You've worked with special effects a lot prior to Surrogates. Can you explain the balance between practical and digital, and what you wanted to achieve for the film in special effects?
Jonathan Mostow: My goal for the effects in this film was to make them invisible. There are over 800 vfx shots in Surrogates, but hopefully you'll be able to identify only a few of them. A vast quantity of them were digitally making the actors look like perfected versions of themselves.
Q: One of your film's themes is the fears of technology. What are some of your own fears about technology and the future?
Jonathan Mostow: Some people have labeled this film as anti-technology. But I don't see it that way. In fact, I love technology. I love using computers and gadgets. I love strolling through Best Buy and the Apple Store to see what's new. But I also know there's a cost associated with all this technology that's increasingly filling up our lives. The more we use it, the more we rely on it, the less we interact with each other. Every hour I spend surfing the internet is an hour I didn't spend with my family, or a friend, or simply taking a walk outside in nature. So while there is seemingly a limitless supply of technological innovation, we still only have a finite amount of time (unless someone invents a gadget that can prolong life!) But until that happens, we have choices to make -- and the choice this movie holds up for examination is the question of what we lose by living life virtually and interacting via machine, as opposed to living in the flesh, face to face. I hope that's a conversation that will arise for people who watch Surrogates.
Q: When directing do you take the approach of Hitchcock and storyboard every angle, or do you like to get to the set and let the shots come organically? Maybe in between?
Jonathan Mostow: I'd say in between. Action needs to be carefully planned and boarded. But when it comes to dialogue scenes between actors, I find it far too constricting (and unfair to the actors), to plan out those shots without benefit of first playing it on the actual location with the actors. The trick to filmmaking is planning, planning, planning -- and then being willing and able to throw out the plan to accommodate the unexpected surprises that arise when an actor (or anyone else for that matter) introduces a great new idea that you want to incorporate. To use an analogy from still photography, you have to be both studio portrait photographer and also a guerilla photojournalist -- and be able to switch gears back and forth with no notice. At least, that's my approach. Others may work differently.
Q: The scene shot in downtown Boston was great and the fact that the city allowed it was pretty cool. But this was a very action-driven scene with Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell. Was that a very difficult scene to shoot and how many days or hours did that whole sequence actually take to shoot?
Jonathan Mostow: If you're referring to the chase with Bruce and Radha, here's a great irony -- that sequence was one of the few not shot in Boston -- in fact, it was shot almost entirely on the Paramount backlot (to my knowledge, it's the largest and most complex chase scene ever shot on their backlot, which if you saw it, you'd realize how tiny an amount of real estate it is, and so pulling off a chase of that scope was quite a tricky bit of business).
Q: When looking for scripts to direct, what absolutely needs to be in there for you to say, "This is a story I want to tell?"
Jonathan Mostow: For me, the story must compel me and have dramatic tension. As you know from watching movies, that's hard to find.
Q: Could you tell me something about the experience of having obtained an Academy Award for your movie U-571?
Jonathan Mostow: The Oscar we received for U-571 was for sound editing (we were also nominated for sound mixing). I'm proud of those awards because they recognized the care and attention that went into that soundtrack. I employed the same sound editing team on Surrogates, and so I hope the DVD and Blu-ray audience who have good 5.1 sound systems will enjoy the fruits of our labors. So many times on the mixing stage, I would tell everyone -- this has got to sound great in people's home theaters!
Q: Do you think we are heading down the road to a version of human surrogacy with the advances in technology, or do you think direct human-to-human interaction will always be a part of life?
Jonathan Mostow: Do I believe that someday Surrogate robots will exist? Yes. Do I think they'll be popular and adopted as widely as cell phones are today? Perhaps. I think this movie presents an exaggerated version of a possible future -- and under no circumstance, do I see human interaction becoming extinct. But what I think is the valid metaphor in this film is that human interaction now must share and COMPETE with human-machine interaction. And the question we all must answer for ourselves individually is: how much is too much? No one has the answers... at least yet. Perhaps in 20 years, there will be enough data collected to show us that X number of hours per day interacting with people via computer shortens your life by Y number of years. But for now, it's all unknown territory to us. All we can do is ask ourselves these questions. And at its core, that's what this movie is doing -- asking questions.
Q: There's this very surreal feeling to the world and your direction with all the dutch angles add even more to that sense. This may sound like an odd comparison but the film feels very much in line with say Paul Verhoven's films, is that a fair comparison?
Jonathan Mostow: It's true that we did apply a heavy style to underline the oddness of the world and give the film a different, arresting feel -- but I'll leave the comparisons to others. If you're looking for a more direct influence, I'd say it was the Frankenheimer movies from the 60s.
Q: Is this the real Jonathan Mostow, or am I interviewing... a surrogate?
Jonathan Mostow: I'm the real me. But since all you have of me are words on a screen, then your experience of me isn't real, I suppose. Ah, the irony of it all...
Q: Is doing an audio commentary a painful experience where you spot errors or 'what might have beens' or is it an interesting trip down memory lane, where each shot conjures up a day on the set?
Jonathan Mostow: Very much the latter. Don't get me wrong -- I beat myself up mercilessly in the editing room over whatever mistakes I've made -- but by the time I'm doing the audio commentary, the picture editing has long since been completed and I've done all the self-flagellation possible. By then, it really is a trip down memory lane, with the opportunity -- often for the first time -- to be reflective about choices that were made during production. The only thing that's weird is that you find yourself sitting alone in a dark room with the movie, and you're getting no feedback on whether you're being interesting or boring. So I hope people like the commentary. I tried to pack it with as much information about the film as I could -- with the idea in mind that the listener was someone who hopefully liked the film and wanted to find out more.
Q: Ever have any plans to shoot a film digitally in Hi-Def as opposed to using the traditional 35mm film approach? Namely what do you think about the Red One camera?
Jonathan Mostow: Although I've never used it, from what I understand, the Red is a great camera -- although, like anything it has its plusses and minuses, which are too technical to get into here. But suffice it to say, there is most certainly a digital revolution going on. Just last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is shooting a documentary entirely on the Canon 5 still camera (which also shoots 24p HD video). I've seen some of what he's done and the stuff looks gorgeous. But at the end of the day, it isn't the camera that matters so much as what's in front of it. Surrogates was shot in 35mm for a variety of technical reasons. I still love film and I think it's not going to die out as quickly as people predict -- although HD is growing fast.
Q: How involved was Robert Venditti with the film? Did he tell you any key themes that absolutely had to be in the film?
Jonathan Mostow: Venditti was great. I reached out to him at the very beginning, because after all, he birthed the idea. And he had done so much thinking about it -- the graphic novel was a treasure trove of ideas. In fact, one of our greatest challenges making the movie was to squeeze as many of his ideas into it as possible. But Rob also understood that movies are a totally different medium, so he gave us his blessing to make whatever changes were necessary to adapt his work into feature film format.
Q: Some directors describe their films like children, and they love them all...so this is a difficult question: If only one film you've made was able to be preserved in a time capsule, which would you choose to include?
Jonathan Mostow: In some aspect or another, I've enjoyed making all my films, but my personal favorite remains Breakdown because that was my purest and most satisfying creative experience. On that film, I worked totally from instinct. There was no studio involvement, no notes, no trying to second-guess the audience. I just made the movie I saw in my head. Looking back, I see how lucky I was to be able to work like that.
Q: Do you have a favorite filmmaking technique that you like to use in your films?
Jonathan Mostow: I have a few little signature tricks, but really, I try not to impose any signature style on a movie, because ultimately, I believe that the story is king, and everything must serve the king. So, if you've seen Surrogates and my other films, you'll see that that the style of Surrogates, which is very formalistic and slightly arch, is much different than any feature I've done previously.
Q: Is it ever daunting when making a "futuristic" film to avoid the traps of becoming dated too quickly? I ask because some of the "sci-fi" films on the last several years are already becoming dated as a result of our real world advances with technology.
Jonathan Mostow: A great question and one that hopefully we correctly anticipated before we started the movie. Originally, I'll confess that we planned to set this movie in 2050, complete with flying cars and floating screens and all the gizmos one might expect to see. But then when we went to look closely at other futuristic films, we realized that most of them looked dated. And there was a 'fakeness' factor to them that distracted from the story. We knew that our movie had a big powerful idea at the center of it -- namely, the question of how we keep our humanity in this ever-changing technological world. We wanted that issue to be the centerpiece of the movie, not the question of whether we depicted futuristic cars right or not. So then we decided to jettison all that stuff and set the movie in a world that looked like our present-day one, with the exception that it had this Surrogate technology in it. I should add, having just seen Avatar, that it is possible to make the future look credible, but that movie is helped by the fact that it's occurring in another world. Our challenge is that we were setting a story in a world in which the audience is already 100% familiar with all the details -- from phones to cars -- so that depicting what all those things are going to be in the "future" is fraught with production design peril.
Q: It is mentioned in the bonus features that the makeup effects and visual effects basically worked hand-in-hand in the smoothing look of the robotic surrogate characters; was this perfection that is seen in the final product more challenging than in past productions you have worked on, being that this film was coming to Blu-ray?
Jonathan Mostow: Well certainly Blu-ray has raised the bar for make-up because high-def shows every facial imperfection, skin pore, etc. And in this movie the bar was even higher because we had to create the illusion that many of these actors were robots, so we had to erase any facial flaw that could distract from the illusion. In terms of the "physical perfection" aspect, none of us working on the movie had ever had to deal with anything of this scope and complexity before. By the end, we all felt simpatico with the plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills.
Q: What's a good Sci Fi film that you'd recommend to someone who says 'I hate Sci Fi'?
Jonathan Mostow: Well, just this year there were so many.... District 9, Star Trek, Avatar were all standouts. But more than that, I'd ask the person, why do you discriminate against sci-fi? Because, when you think about it, the term "sci fi" is a bit of a misnomer. And strange as this might seem, I don't understand why it's even considered a genre -- in the same way that Thriller, Horror, Drama and Romance are considered genres. Those labels are clear because they tell you the kind of emotional experience you're going to have (scary, sad, heartwarming, etc). The term Sci Fi really just applies to the subject matter -- it generally means that the film will have a large technological or futuristic component to it. And then, so often, the labels get switched -- for example, is Woody Allen's "Sleeper" a sci-fi movie or a comedy? Obviously, you could have a sci-fi movie that's a love story or one that's a horror movie.
Q: You seem to have a strong connection (or should I say gift) when it comes to sci-fi. I feel like you really "get" that realm. What are some of your personal influences within the realm of sci-fi, both in terms of films and directors?
Jonathan Mostow: More so than sci-fi, I'm interested in dramatic tension, so the filmmakers who influence me most are the ones who are masters at creating suspense and tension... Hitchcock, Spielberg and Frankenheimer are three that come to mind.
Q: A lot of science fiction films have to balance being informative about their worlds while also not being pandering or relying to heavy on exposition, how do you walk that fine line?
Jonathan Mostow: That's a very insightful question -- you're right -- so often in sci fi films the pacing tends to collapse under the weight of the filmmakers feeling the need to convey a lot of exposition. A classic example is Blade Runner. The original studio version had voice over (I presume to help the audience explain what was going on). Ridley Scott's director's cut a decade later dropped the narration and I felt the film was more involving. In Surrogates, we initially didn't have any exposition. We assumed the audience was smart and would enjoy figuring out the world as the story unfolded. But when we showed the film to the studio for the first time, they had an interesting reaction -- they said "we don't want to be distracted by wondering who is a surrogate and who isn't, and what the rules of the world are", so we came up with the idea of the opening 3 minute piece that explains the world. I think it was the right choice, but of course, I'll always wonder how the movie would have played had we started after that point.
Q: Although you've of course directed thrillers (BREAKDOWN) and WW2 dramas (U-571), you've now helmed two sci-fi movies. Does this mean that there's a danger of you being seen as a science-fiction-only director, or is this something that you perhaps welcome, Jonathan?
Jonathan Mostow: I've tried to resist labels, because I don't want to be categorized into a box. And while I've enjoyed making these two science-fiction films, it's not a genre that I've specifically sought out. If I had to guess, I'd predict that my next film will be a thriller. That's the genre I've most enjoyed.
Q: In terms of stunts, how much did Bruce do himself? He has said before that people think he’s “too old to do stunts”
Jonathan Mostow: Bruce is a very fit guy -- he's in great shape and works out every day. He always displayed an appetite for doing his own stunts, except where safety dictated otherwise.
Q: In your opinion, what should we expect to see from robot technology in the next ten years?
Jonathan Mostow: I think 10 years is too short a period to see anything that approaches what's in this film -- I think that's 30 years away. 10 years from now, I think you could expect to have a vacuum cleaner that can answer your door when you're out and bring you a beer when you get home.
Q: Curious, was there ever a plan for an alternate ending for the film?
Jonathan Mostow: The only other versions of the end we discussed involved the circumstances in which Bruce and Radha's characters were reunited.
Q: The concept of what was featured in “Surrogates” is so fascinating. Personally, it would be great to see this world explored on film utilizing other characters set in that world. Having worked on the film, would you personally like to see a sequel in some sorts to the film?
Jonathan Mostow: I think that the concept of Surrogates offers a world that could lend itself to other stories. Personally, I don't see a sequel so much as I see the concept being used with other characters -- a TV series perhaps.
Q: All your movies put their main characters in the edge, with a lot of action sequences and a plot holding some twists towards the end. Is this your signature or just a coincidence?
Jonathan Mostow: Personally, I enjoy movies that are visceral -- that provide an experience that can quicken your pulse and give you sweaty palms -- as opposed to movies that you sit back and watch in a more passive way. That said, while the story of Surrogates may not be as visceral as my other films, I still tried to inject my approach into it to a degree.
Q: What do you think the Surrogates Blu-ray experience can offer viewers as opposed to the standard DVD format?
Jonathan Mostow: Blu-ray is obviously higher quality and I'm glad to see that consumers are adopting it rapidly. The Blu-ray also has additional features.
"The action is Tarantino meets Batman, the characterisations are Superbad meets Napoleon Dynamite, and the military hardware on display is an unbalanced loner’s fever-dream. I'm not in the habit of awarding star ratings for films but if I were, in this case I'd be tossing stars around like a tipsy ninja.
I've never said this before in a review but please see this film. For two reasons: First, I want you to be happy. Second, I want it to make enough money to finance a sequel."
Kick-Ass is released in cinemas on April 8 in Aus.
Famous for his commercials, New Zealand director Paul Middleditch continues his crossover into feature filmmaking with the adult dramedy Separation City.
Unless you’re a trans-Tasman film buff, odds are you haven’t heard of Paul Middleditch. You’re more likely to have heard of his famous characters, namely the disgruntled worker from the Yellow Pages ad who turned the line “not happy Jane” into a mainstream catchphrase.
Coming from a background in directing commercials, Middleditch says humour is an element he has carried across from his early projects into his feature filmmaking career.
It is certainly key ingredient in his most recent work Separation City, which follows the intertwining lives and relationships of several adults living in Wellington, New Zealand.
“A lot of the best films I’ve seen use humour to look at the dark things, like Little Miss Sunshine,” he says.
“I wanted Separation City to be a commercially entertaining film that has real emotional hurt to it and a lot of the material is quite heavy.
“But it really has heart to it.
“I think I wanted to make the film insightful, but very amusing in its insight.”
Unlike his earlier films A Cold Summer and Terra Nova which used local actors, Middleditch says he has assembled “a United Nations cast” starring acclaimed character actors from around the world. In the lead roles are Australian actors Joel Edgerton and Les Hill, New Zealand actress Danielle Cormack, German actor Thomas Kretschmann from such films as The Young Victoria, Valkyrie and Wanted. and British actress Rhona Mitra (above) who was most recently seen in Underworld 3: Rise Of The Lycans as Sonja.
It took considerable effort on Middleditch’s behalf to convince Kretschmann to do the film as it was his first foray into comedy.
“He said to me `I’m German, I’m not funny” he says.
“I managed to convince him and he loved it, he had a lot of fun with it.”
Moderate star power aside, Middleditch says the key to Separation City is the story, written by former political cartoonist Tom Scott.
“I was approached to do the film because they were looking for a comical, New Zealand director and Tom Scott had put together this funny, enlightening script about what can happen in a long term relationship and marriage,” he says.
“It’s about how you start to redefine yourself after having children and the marriage can be neglected.
“In the movie two people’s self-esteem is through the floor and by chance they meet and get excited by each other.
“It has a very positive, uplifting message that nobody is perfect.”
Middleditch says he’s “very proud” of the performances from the ensemble cast, particularly Joel Edgerton (above) in a rare comedic role and close friend Les Hill, best known for his role in Underbelly.
Dr Who ring tone of Les on the phone, have to go in interview bro
“We have worked together on a lot of commercials but this is his (Les Hill) first major comedy role and he’s hilarious,” he says.
“He’s probably the funniest thing in the film, like a Jack Black sort of character.
“He trusted me to cast him as Harry, a dry-as-a-biscuit political journalist, and he had to put on weight for the role.
“He’s usually a pretty healthy sort of guy so he loved the idea of getting off the plane and going to McDonalds.”
As if to illustrate their friendship and in a stroke of perfectly choreographed timing from the Gods, the Doctor Who theme song goes off in the background as Middleditch’s mobile phone starts ringing and he has pause the interview.
“Hang on one second, it’s Les,” he says.
“Hi bro, I’ve got to go, I’m doing an interview.”
Resisting the urge to make a comment about the use of the word `bro’ amongst Kiwi’s, I instead ask him about working with cinematographer Steve Arnold who, after working on the John Malkovich film Disgrace, has shot another visually stunning film in Separation City. Wellington has never looked quite so beautiful on film, with Arnold applying his skill for capturing beautiful images to the New Zealand landscape just as easily as he does in the streets of Berlin.
“Working with Steve…I’m a very visual director and I wanted to give the film a very exciting, cinematic feel,” says Middleditch.
“We shot a small amount in Berlin and we had a beautiful shoot there in mid-winter with only four hours of shootable light to work with.”
With Separation City now a finished product and screening in cinemas nationally, Middleditch says he has been up to his old tricks creating yet another comical character in an ad, this time Barabara who lives in Bank World from the new ANZ ads (below).
Middleditch has also been in the US looking at several projects, including developing a film in Australia. (Above) Writer and producer Tom Scott with director Paul Middleditch