Emile Hirsch Goes Into the Wild

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Emile Hirsch gives a magnificent performance in one of the year’s best films, Into the Wild. I met with him in Georgetown to ask him about making the film.
What does Sean Penn as an actor bring to directing?
He has that whole wealth of experience since he’s done it on the actor’s side. So you trust him so much. Everything he asked me to do, certain things I was hesitant to do, he did first. He ate squirrel. He went first on the Colorado River. He let me know I could do it. Sean was an incredible director. He let me learn for myself, He helps you bring out the best in yourself and there’s no greater gift.
All of the movies Penn has written and directed are in some way about lost children. Why do you think that is?
He is a man of high intellect but also a very keen instinct. A lot of his choices are on an instinctual level in a very pure way. One of the things I admire about him so much is the kind of strong-willed instinct that he has and the confidence to trust that instinct and move forward. Where so many people are in the back rubbing sweaty palms, he is doing it. He wanted to do this movie because he always had a really strong wanderlust, as do I. It was infectuous, the idea that you want to go out and live your life all the way and have more meanng, live it while you have it.
You play a real-life character who died of starvation in Alaska. Did he have poor judgment? Was he self-destructive? Where would he have gone next?
He made a couple of really crucial errors, not bringing things with him like a map. But he purposefully did not bring them because he wanted to shave he margin of error. He shaved it a little too much. He had amazing wanderlust and also had a lot of personal problems.
Did he learn from the people he met or were they just way-stations on his journey to sever all ties?
He was very determined. The people on the road started to open his eyes, but it took the total solitude for him to find himself and what the meaning of his life could possibly be.
It’s quite a contrast to go from this film to your next film, “Speed Racer.” How do you prepare for such different genres?
The directors of “Speed Racer,” the Wachowski brothers, the guys who did The Matrix, have a particular sensibility about performances they expect. It was like being in a sauna for eight months and jumping into an ice bath without a break — with the lid locked!
Were there elements of the real-life story that were especially meaningful to you in portraying Chris McAndless?
The abandoned bus he lived in, which he called “the magic bus.” It was like a waystation, always symbolzing the journey, Where he learns about himself. It symbolizes the question, “Where is he going?” And I read the books he was reading, Walden by Thoreau, Emerson, Dr. Zhivago by Pasternak, Jack London’s Call of the Wild. What Chris did was very similar to what Thoreau did.

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Actors Interview

The Kingdom

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for intense sequences of graphic brutal violence, and for language.
Profanity: Some very strong language, racial epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Extreme, graphic, and intense peril and violence, terrorist attacks, torture, many characters injured and killed, including parents and children
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

The highlight of this film is over by the time it begins. A brief credit sequence outlines the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia in provocative, trenchant terms covering the Saudi nationality of Osama Bin Laden and most 9/11 hijackers to the entanglements between the US and its top politicians and the oil companies and the Saudis.


Then the movie opens and the last moments of complexity and signficance are over and it becomes a high-budget episode of “The A Team” crossed with “24” and a sort of “CSI: Riyadh” until a few minutes at the end try to tack on some larger meaning. It just shows how thin the material in the rest of the film is by contrast.


It is carefully constructed for maximum impact. Happy American families stationed in Saudi Arabia, mostly by oil companies, are relaxing in that most American of pastimes, a baseball game. And then an all-too-sickeningly familiar scenario unfolds, as a carefully orchestrated multi-stage terrorist attack, killing hundreds of people. Meanwhile, the man who planned it, watches from a balcony far away, filming the explosions.


Who has jurisdiction to investigate and respond? Legally, the Saudis have exclusive authority. As a matter of diplomacy, the United States does not want to interfere. But a movie-genically diverse group of FBI agents fly over to investigate, over the objections of the State Department and his Justice Department superiors.


Jamie Foxx is leader Ronald Fleury, and he is joined by canny cracker (Chris Cooper), a wisecracking newbie (Jason Bateman), and a tough but tender-hearted woman (Jennifer Garner). They are escorted by a sympathetic Saudi (Ashraf Barhom) and pestered by an obnoxious embassay aide (Jeremy Piven).


Director Peter Berg tries to show his mastery of the situation by even-handed assigment of good- and bad-guy roles on all sides and undercutting his shoot-em-up, just-in-time, climax with a final acknowledgement of the inextricability of the forces and tensions behind terrorism and corruption. His capable cast does their best to inject some character into all the bang bang. But it still comes across as arrogant, superficial and part of the problem, not part of the solution. A character is shown reading “The Koran for Dummies” as preparation for the investigation. The movie so mistrusts its audience that it tries to be “The Mideast Conflict for Dummies,” throwing a lot of gunfire and brutality on the screen to get us to learn something about Saudi Arabia and ending up losing not just credibility but interest as well.

Parents should know that this movie has very graphic violence, including a massive terrorist attack by suicide bombers that results in the death of a hundred civilians, including children, torture, and heavy artillery attacks, with explicit shots of gruesome injuries, bloody deaths, and dead bodies. Characters are in intense peril and many, many people are killed. Characters also smoke and use very strong language. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of strong, loyal, capable diverse characters.


Families who see this movie should talk about how we draw the line between diplomacy and law enforcement. How would the US respond to another country’s law enforcement officers coming to investigate a crime in the US? What do you think about the ending? What does it mean to say that tradition and modernity are in violent collision?


Families who appreciate this film will also like The Siege and Arlington Road.

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Drama Movies Thriller

Resident Evil: Extinction

C

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Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong horror violence throughout and some nudity.
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Explicit graphic violence and peril, slashing, impaling, shooting, exploding, zombie humans, dogs, and birds
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, very strong women
Date Released to Theaters: 2007

Those meanies at the Umbrella Corporation are at it again in the third chapter of this series based on the popular computer game. That pesky virus they allowed to escape has wiped out nearly all life on earth except for raging feral zombies.

The corporate bad guys somehow all have clean shirts, a little English girl hologram to tell them what is going on, and working computers in those underground offices, the ones with the spooky mirrored corriders and intricate booby-traps. Bad guy number one talks like this: “their hunger for fleshhhhhh.” He is releasing a series of Alice clones (which have scars for some Lamarckian reason), but he needs the real thing to get her special blood for his anti-virus.

Meanwhile, Alice (Milla Jovovich)-in-anti-wonderland is riding around on a motorcycle like Mad Maxine, fighting off feral humans and those inside-out zombie dogs. She meets up with a hardy group of survivors led by Ali Larter (TV’s “Heroes). They all say a lot of brave and hearty things to each other in between rapping out commands about securing the perimeter and evac-ing the bus. The group includes a cute guy with an English accent (Christopher Egan), a cowboy, a girl named K-Mart, a guy good at tossing off wisecracks (Mike Epps), a warm-hearted medic (Ashanti), and a guy Alice likes a lot (Oded Fehr).


And Umbrella Corp’s Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) is trying to track down Alice to use her blood for an antivirus.


True to its video game origins, the movie is basically one set-piece after another, all going something like this. Alice (sometimes another character) enters a new environment. It is quiet. Too quiet. Then something scary and gross happens. And Alice (sometimes another character) responds by fighting back with knives, guns, explosives, a fireball, or kicking and punching. Cue “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.”


The scary and gross things include not only the ever-popular zombie dogs, but also zombie ravens and a tentacled zombie mutant, as well as the normal, everyday zombies. The environments include a broken-down gas station and a deserted Las Vegas. That’s deserted in both senses of the word. No one is there and “the desert has taken it back;” everything is buried under sand.


It is still more shooting gallery-style videogame than movie. The Resident Evil games themselves have far more by way of plot and characters. And it has to do without the interactivity that adds vitality, so it all seems rather remote, underscored by the cardboard dialogue. The best you can say is that it tries to provide some variety in all of the various battles with zombies, and that Epps, Larter, and Fehr seem to forget they are in a video game movie and for a moment when watching them we can forget it, too.

Parents should know that this movie has extremely gross and graphic violence, with many disgusting deaths and gross monsters. There are a lot of “ewwwwww” moments with spurting blood, sliced-off body parts, and disgusting sounds of pulverization. Characters are in extreme peril and most of them are killed. There is some strong language and non-sexual nudity and a joke about porn. Characters smoke cigarettes and a joint. A strength of the movie is the portrayal of exceptionally capable and courageous women, though of course they dress for combat in scanty clothing.


Families who see this movie should talk about the challenges of turning a game into a story. What can keep a corporation from becoming as powerful as Umbrella Corp? One difference between the good guys and the bad guys in this movie is shown by who is — and is not — willing to sacrifice himself or herself for the others. Where do we see that?


Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the first twothe much better The Fifth Element, also starring Milla Jovovich, and zombie movies like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead, and the “zom-rom-com” (zombie romantic comedy) Shaun of the Dead. They may also enjoy trying the the games.

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Movies Science-Fiction Thriller

Ben Foster in ‘3:10 to Yuma’

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Ben Foster stars with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in “3:10 to Yuma,” one of this fall’s two big westerns. This is a remake of an earlier film by the same name, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, a tense thriller about a rancher who must deliver a captured outlaw to the train station, so he can be taken to trial. Both movies are based on a story by Elmore Leonard, better known as the writer behind stories of modern-day crooks and tough guys. This new version is directed by James Mangold of “Walk the Line” and “Girl, Interrupted.”

Ben Foster took time to talk with me by phone between interviews when he was in Washington to promote the film. He was very engaging and very forthcoming about his tactics in approaching this role.

Jim really re-created and modernized the film and really delved into the character development. Fans of the original film will be startled. I decided not to watch the original film. I related to being in an accident where it seems like everything slows down. My research was going through the archival photographs of outlaws at the time. We concluded they were the rock stars of their day. They were like pirates or rock and roll stars, living outside of the law, where murder becomes your show, performance. So I watched glam rock footage, David Bowie and INXS. These outlaws were also indiginous to the environment and its elements. They were predators. That idea seemed to resonate the most, so we looked at mountain cats, how they move and approach their prey. We also thought of matadors because there is a certain elegance to the character. I play the second in command, so finding a certain kind of deviant loyalty was also important.

Foster started acting professionally when he was very young, so I asked him about his influences.

Gary Oldman is brilliant. Barry Levinson gave me my first job in Liberty Heights and really shaped me with his approach to work. I was hoping to be told what to do and his direction was by asking questions, making it your own. Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog) works in that same way and so does Jim Mangold.

His future plans:

I’m heading to Belfast to shoot a film called “50 Dead Men. I want to keep doing what I am doing. I’m fortunate to stay busy and not feel that I am repeating myself.
I’ve never avoided a genre or pursued one. It’s always the material and who the other players are. What’s important is I’ve never taken a job because I know how to do it. I look for a sense of recognition. Ideally in conspiracy with the director you create a fouidation that lets the character come in, making room for that person to come through, so you’re experiencing through them rather than through you. I believe you do the research and preparation so you can experience what is going on for the first time.

He admires his co-star:

Russell Crowe was incredibly supportive. He went out of his way to make sure that I felt good on my horse. I had never ridden a horse before and that’s not something you can really fake. He is really misrepresented in the press. He is a remarkable actor. If you’re hardworking and you mean it, you’ve got him on your side.

And the most important thing to know about this film:

There’s a stigma with westerns that makes people think there’s no dialogue and it’s all people scowling at each other. This is more of a character-driven action film great acting, great ride, not a dated western, it really moves.

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Actors Interview
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