‘There’s Something About Ben’ — MMI’s Tribute to Ben Stiller

Posted on November 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm

David Schwartz of the Museum of the Moving Image has a thoughtful essay on the showbiz satires and family psychodramas of Ben Stiller to accompany the museum’s salute at their annual gala last week.

It has often been said that show business is in Ben Stiller’s genes. If that’s true, then so is a healthy–and seemingly neurotic–disdain for Hollywood glitz. Indeed, the 42-year-old star’s profound and playful understanding of the way that movies and TV shows can be both alluring and alienating is at the heart of his prolific body of work….

So what is behind this constant impulse to satirize show business, to make fun of the industry that provides Stiller’s livelihood? The answer, beyond the surface of the sheer entertainment value of his movies (and Stiller’s films have earned nearly two billion box-office dollars) is that he sees show business as the perfect arena in which to explore, in amplified form, many of the neuroses of modern life. In show business, such foibles as vanity, insecurity, pretension, ego inflation, and feelings of inadequacy are all on display in heightened, occasionally ridiculous form. Our laughter at Stiller’s characters usually comes along with a bracing dose of self-recognition. This is because the public spectacle of show business becomes the ideal forum for an intimate exploration of the most basic psychodramas.

Schwartz notes that Stiller delivers a real performance, even in the broadest comedies, and has been successful in a remarkable range of roles and genres. He concludes that Stiller “has been able to find success in Hollywood while also turning a mirror on it. He lets us laugh knowingly at show business, but he also reveals that show business is a reflection of both our dreams and our imperfections.”

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Actors

Interview: Tannishtha Chatterjee and Sarah Gavron of ‘Brick Lane’

Posted on July 25, 2008 at 10:00 am

Sarah Gavron is the director and Tannishtha Chatterjee is the star of the new British film “Brick Lane,” based on the best-selling novel by Monica Ali. While the book covers three decades in the life of its heroine Nazneen, a Bangladeshi girl who comes to London for an arranged marriage, the movie shows us just one transitional year. I spoke with Gavron and Chatterjee in Washington D.C.

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In the US, everyone but the Native Americans is very aware of his connection to the immigrant experience, though that does not necessarily translate into being welcoming of newcomers. How is it different in the UK, which had a very homogeneous and colonialist way of looking at the world for so long?

SG: London is now a fascinating place to live because it has so many cultures, even if you’re a born and bred Londoner, you’re growing up around people who have been displaced, so you get it once removed. Sometimes you have to wait quite a long time to hear English being spoken.

Naznnen is homesick for much of the movie and yet when she has a chance to go back, she does not. Why not?

TC: There is an image she has of Bangladesh, but that Bangladesh is gone, it’s changed. The image they have in their minds is not what it was.

Do women and men find different challenges in navigating a path between assimilation and identity?

TC: In certain ways yes, especially women like Nazneen who are homemakers and don’t have an outlet outside their home or make friends through work or get to know the culture from outside. Creating a home is a bit claustrophobic because they don’t connect to anyone outside. Men in some ways have a connection but in other ways face the harsh reality of the outer world, and feel more like an outsider. Nazneen does not even know their world.

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Actors Directors Interview

Emile Hirsch Goes Into the Wild

Posted on September 24, 2007 at 10:18 pm


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

Ben Foster in ‘3:10 to Yuma’

Posted on September 3, 2007 at 10:22 pm


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

Interview with the Bratz

Posted on August 3, 2007 at 10:36 pm

Talking to the girls who play the Bratz on screen is like being at the coolest slumber party in town. Like their characters, Skyler Shae (Cloe), Janel Parrish (Jade), Logan Browning (Sasha), and Nathalia Ramos (Yasmin) are big time BFFs, very different but utterly supportive, all talking at once but somehow always somehow hearing, loving, supporting, and responding to what the others are saying. In Washington, they went on a night-time sight-seeing tour of the monuments in Washington, signed autographs for fans who were all but levitating in excitement, and stopped by to visit the patients at Children’s Hospital before sitting down with director Sean McNamara for an interview.


McNamara sat back and let the girls do most of the talking – it was easy to see that he was used to that. It was also easy to see how much he genuinely enjoyed and respected the young performers. “When we announced that we were making the movie online we had 1400 submissions in one hour,” he said. “We saw over 5000 girls. We didn’t have fixed characters in mind, so we asked what they could bring that no one’s ever seen before. We looked for the ability to act, to make us believe their performance, and that special something that comes between the words. These girls got it; they created believable, interesting characters that came through.”
What’s on your iPod?
All four at once: Everything!
LB: I love everything! Let me just tell you my playlists: Country, Bumpin’, Poppin’, Rock, Indie, and Musical.
SS: I’ve got David Gray, Lonestar, Justin Timberlake
JP: I’m a theater freak. I was in “Les Miserables” on Broadway, so that is my favorite. I listen to tons and tons of Broadway. It’s my dream to be in “Miss Saigon.” I’ve also got classic rock, oldies — that’s the foundation of music. I love artists that play their own stuff, especially Holly Brook, Robin Thicke, and Alicia Keys.
NR: A little of everything, but my passion is classic rock. My dad has over 2000 records at home, lots of vinyl, (Peter) Frampton, (Eric) Clapton, Supertramp, and The Beatles. I love “Go Your own Way” by Fleetwood Mac.


You never met before the movie. How did you find ways to connect to each other to make your onscreen friendships seem real?
SS: We hung out all the time, went shopping, had our nails done.
JP: We did a lot of dancing and singing together, and we had the most fun set, with constant humor, constant jokes.
NR: We learned acting skills from each other and dance moves. Logan really inspired me.
LB: We feed off each other’s energy and make each other laugh by imitating each other. Janel has cute little baby voices. And Nat is always practical, a great advice-giver.


In the movies, the Bratz get their name from a “mean girl” who tries to boss around everyone in the school. What makes people behave that way and what makes the Bratz the only ones who don’t do what she says?
SS: People want to fit in, so they are afraid to say no to her. Because she is beautiful and controlling and powerful, and people want to go to the coolest party.
NR: She wants attention. She is insecure, so she overcompensates.
JP: I think some people who truly believe they’re better than everyone else. The Bratz show that the good relationship with their family is the foundation for having the confidence to say no to her.
LB: All the Bratz are anti-stereotypical; they do not feel they have to do what everyone else is doing.


What makes Bratz dolls so popular?
NR: They’re cute, trendy, different, young, and diverse. Each girl can relate to one of them. And we’ve seen that girls do not necessarily pick the one of the same race as their favorite.
LB: The idea behind it was girls expressing themselves different ways, finding their own way.
Bratz all have “a passion for fashion.” How do clothes help you express yourself?
SS: Chloe loves sports and film-making, so that affects her look, jeans and hoodies.
LB: We all have unique and different styles in the movie, and it helps us show who our characters are, what makes each of us unique. We all have different color palates. Sasha is very Beyoncé, very classy, and animal prints are her signature.
ND: Yasmin wears fun, flirty dresses.
JP: Jade loves very funky, old stuff, loves to take something and “Jade-ify” it, with lots of chunky skull jewelry and lots of black.



What makes girls’ friendships so special?

JP: To have someone that’s always there for you not matter what, even though you have little fights and get torn apart.
LB: I have five best friends back in Georgia. We are there for each other with family situations, with school, they’re the ones that will help you when everyone is against you, exactly like in the film.

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Actors Interview
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