Juno Temple on Getting Seriously Greedy in ‘The Brass Teapot’

Juno Temple in The Brass Teapot

WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place in 2013.

The wonderful Juno Temple has left an indelible impression in movies like “Atonement,” the controversial “Killer Joe,” and as Selina Kyle’s BFF in “The Dark Knight Rises.” Now she gets to move up to a starring role in Ramaa Mosley’s “The Brass Teapot” in which she plays the happily married Alice. She and her husband John (Michael Angarano) are madly in love with each other but also seriously broke, and she is desperately looking for a job but is constantly turned down for other applicants who have more experience, usually in the form of a master’s degree. But one day she discovers a beautiful brass teapot at an antiques store which ends up spewing out money whenever she hurts herself, and from there Alice does everything she can to generate all the money she and her husband could ever need.

I got to catch up with Temple during a roundtable interview at “The Brass Teapot’s” press conference which was held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. She described Alice as being a “confused creature” because while she is not doing well financially, she does have a wonderful husband to lean on during tough times. Temple talked about the similarities and differences between her and Alice and how they each came to inform the way she played this character.

Juno Temple: It’s interesting for me because she’s someone that I find myself very different from, but that’s the challenge isn’t it? That’s the joy of being an actress. At the beginning she can’t see what is in front of her. She just can’t open her eyes and see that actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, she’s bloody lucky. She’s very ambitious and she expects a lot more for herself, and she’s frustrated that she is not where she thinks she should be at. So, her ego is kind of hurt and she’s almost embarrassed to be who she is which I understand, but it’s almost like c’mon, look at this amazing husband you have! Look at this person who adores you, and people can only dream of people that look at you that way sometimes.

Now once the brass teapot, which Temple described as being “magical, mythical and a devil,” comes into the picture, Alice undergoes a major switch as she and her husband acquire a wealth which has long been denied to them. She becomes insatiably greedy as they stand to make so much money through the pain and misery they willfully inflict on themselves and each other. As Temple continued to talk, I really came to admire the objectivity she had about Alice and how the character fits into the overall story.

JT: It’s interesting because she almost kind of deserves to go through what you go through to open her eyes to reality a little bit because I think she’s being a bit lazy with the teapot. The whole joy of booking a job as an actress, auditioning and then coming back and maybe doing a screen test and then actually getting cast and then getting to shoot the same for real, is you earn it. You earn that moment and it’s joyous. With Alice, she’s getting in a muddle that she thinks that this money is hers, but actually it’s the teapot’s and it’s feeding off some really, really important emotional nasty shit that is inside of this couple and giving them money. But actually, it’s destroying these people and give them what they think is awesome and useful and makes life like a good thing like a big house, posh dresses, nice dresses, etc. In the end, she really takes it too far.

The other great thing about Alice as a character is she does have an arc. In acting classes, teachers tell their students to map out the journey the character they are playing has in a play or script. Each character starts off at a certain point and ends becoming a different kind of person at the conclusion, and as an actor you need understand where your character is going from start to finish. This way it becomes not about the end result but more about the journey you take when you finally come to play your character on stage or screen. Temple took the time to describe the journey Alice has in “The Brass Teapot” and of where it eventually leads her to.

JT: I like the arc that she has because she really does learn about herself. It’s almost like she grows up from being a child to a grown-up, and I think it’s ultimately a story about love and about someone really, really loving someone else and helping someone through this crazy addiction, and love kind of conquering everything, I guess.

Speaking of addiction, Temple did quite a bit of research into drug addiction as she felt Alice was essentially an addict herself. The teapot of the movie’s title is an object of greed as well as a narcotic of the most inviting kind. Once it has a grasp on Alice, it almost completely consumes her and her husband in the process.

JT: What I learned about it was that you cannot control it. Your body becomes completely dependent on it that it almost hurts to get rid of it. So that was a really interesting thing for me of it almost being a painful process to sever the tie between her and the teapot. But the tie between her and her husband wasn’t as painful. Drug addiction destroys a lot of relationships, and sometimes it can create new relationships when people get it out of your lives. That was a major research thing for me and a major thought behind it.

But while “The Brass Teapot” deals with the dangers of an addiction, Temple is quick to stress the movie is really a comedy with a lot of humor. It’s a fable at its heart of how money can change you, but it can’t make you happy all the time. Temple is a joy to watch throughout as she takes Alice from being a frustrated and unemployed young woman to an endlessly greedy human being willing to do anything to keep those dollar bills flying in.

As the interview came to an end, she shared with us what keeps her going as an actress.

JT: We’re all in this business because we love it, because we’re passionate about it. If it’s a 20-hour day, tomorrow could be another one, but guess what? There’s a weekend coming. I think you’re in it for the right decisions if you’re willing to do a 20-hour day, and if you need a few extra tears are just going to ask them to wait for 15 minutes. I definitely want to be at giving actress and that’s something I really, really, really treasure.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW I DID WITH THE DIRECTOR OF “THE BRASS TEAPOT,” RAMAA MOSLEY, WHICH I DID FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED.

Olga Kurylenko Talks About Losing Herself in Terrence Malick’s ‘To the Wonder’

 

To The Wonder Olga Kurylenko

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2013.

While former Bond woman Olga Kurylenko gave a compelling performance in “Oblivion,” she gives an even greater one in Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder.” As Marina, a European woman who moves with her American boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) to Oklahoma, she is fascinating to watch as she goes from being deliriously happy in love to becoming emotionally devastated when their relationship turns sour. Seeing her dance her way through a sterile drug store to becoming so upset at how bad things get makes you see what she is capable of as an actress.

Going from a big budget science fiction film like “Oblivion” to a low budget “art film” like “To the Wonder” was clearly a study in contrasts for Kurylenko, and she joked about how she at least had a trailer on the set of “Oblivion.” She went out of her way to discuss the differences between the two films to Sheila Roberts of Collider while at the “Oblivion” press conference, and it’s one of the few instances where we get a good look at how the secretive and elusive Malick works with his actors.

“It was very different. They couldn’t be further apart from each other,” Kurylenko said of “Oblivion” and “To the Wonder.” “In Malick’s film, for example, there was no script and that’s the difference. Here, with ‘Oblivion,’ the script was very detailed and very precise. The way Malick worked with us, he never rehearsed, and he was actually against any rehearsal.”

“Malick just throws actors in, but there is a backstory and again lots of conversations,” Kurylenko continued. “The way I built my character was by talking with Terrence all the time. We just spoke, spoke, spoke. I had a little homework to do before I started the movie. I had to read three Russian novels: ‘Anna Karenina,’ ‘The Idiot’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’ Those are very tiny little novels (laughs). After that, I didn’t really need to read a screenplay. We just spoke. There were discussions about what I drew from the books, how we can compose the character, what similarities there are between Marina and different female characters in those books, and that’s how the character was born. It was a mixture of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Terrence Malick.”

Kurylenko describes working with Malick on “To the Wonder” in even greater detail in an article she wrote which appears on the Black Book website. In the article, she makes her experience seem incredibly vivid as she describes how free spirited she became while on set. Once she and Malick had their discussions about the character, he let her run wild and encouraged her to find that elusive thing he called “the Wonder.” What is “the Wonder?” Well it sounds like the deep fascination we have with the ways of nature, and we constantly lose our fascination with that in our busy lives and continued dependence on technology. Anyway, from what Kurylenko wrote, it sounds like she was both eager and ever so desperate to find it.

“Terry smiles and I jump, twirl, run, and jump again,” Kurylenko wrote. “He claps, ‘more, more, more, like a rabbit!’ But then the Wonder suddenly goes missing. I scream and run into the house-throwing things, breaking things. It rains pretzels and cereal and there are more screams, but now they’re not mine, they’re Neil’s, and I’m laughing wildly and crying-my Marina is hysterical, unstable. I collapse on the floor and I wipe my tears from his shoes and kiss them. I ask, ‘Why do I do this? I want to be good, so good, but sometimes I suddenly feel possessed.’ And I beg forgiveness.”

“I receive pages every morning, sometimes ten, sometimes more,” Kurylenko continued. “They’re not exactly a script. Whether one exists or not is a complete mystery, but the words are (excuse my poeticism) rather like a breakfast for the soul. And every morning it’s a feast! If I digest the sense of what the pages contain, the nature of Terry’s words will shine through my eyes while we’re filming, and I won’t even need to speak. Every sentence is filled with such deep knowledge of the soul.”

One great thing I learned while looking into the making of “To the Wonder” was how Kurylenko always stayed in character even when the cameras were not rolling. Some actors believe their work stops when they have no lines of dialogue to speak or when the camera isn’t focusing on them, but any great acting teacher will tell you your work never stops even when the day is done. Kurylenko understands this perfectly, and she told Liz Braun of The Toronto Sun how this made “To the Wonder” more physically challenging for her than “Oblivion.”

“It was exhausting, because I was the character even when the camera didn’t film me — you have to be with Terrence because you never know when he’s filming you, and he doesn’t like rehearsals,” Kurylenko told Braun. “Terrence is someone I utterly admire and love. I trusted him completely, because he made me do somewhat ridiculous stuff. I never said no. I did everything, and I was dancing, moving through nature, walking constantly.”

While it may seem inconvenient for Olga Kurylenko to have two movies out at the same time as one might bury the other at the box office, the upside is both of them show the range she has as an actress. We cannot deny Kurylenko is a very talented actress, and it will be interesting to see where her career goes from here. Her role in “To the Wonder” might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but hopefully more of those opportunities will come her way very soon.

SOURCES:

Sheila Roberts, “Olga Kurylenko Talks OBLIVION, Flying the Bubbleship, How Her Bond Experience Helped Her with Action, and More,” Collider, April 13, 2013.

Olga Kurylenko, “Olga Kurylenko on Terrence Malick and Filming ‘To the Wonder’-In Her Own Words,” Black Book, April 11, 2013.

Liz Braun, “Olga Kurylenko compares ‘Oblivion’ and ‘To the Wonder,'” The Toronto Sun, April 17, 2013.

 

 

‘Deadfall’ is an Effective Thriller with Strong Performances and Beautiful Cinematography

Deadfall movie poster

Deadfall” is a riveting thriller which held my attention from beginning to end, and sometimes that’s all I ask of certain movies. This one came out under the radar back in 2012, premiering on VOD first and then debuting in a few theaters, and it is no surprise in didn’t catch on with audiences as a result. But while it may not break any new ground in the crime drama genre, and I did have a couple of issues with the script, I did admire the performances from the entire cast. Also, director Stefan Ruzowitzky does strong work in keeping the level of tension high throughout the proceedings, and this is enough for me to give the movie a solid recommendation.

“Deadfall” opens with Addison (Eric Bana) and his sister Liza (Olivia Wilde) driving through a snowy landscape while on their way to the Canadian border. They have just robbed a casino which didn’t go exactly as planned (things like that never do), and their situation gets even more precarious when their car crashes which forces them to split up. The car crash which opens the movie is a hair raiser and pretty nasty, and it reminded me of how deer are more fascinated with oncoming headlights than they have any right to be.

Meanwhile, Jay (Charlie Hunnam) has just been released from prison and is contemplating the possibility of meeting up with his parents June (Sissy Spacek) and Chet (Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving dinner. But things get bad for him as well after he accidently injures a former colleague severely, and he ends up on the run rather than run the risk of going back to jail. While driving through blizzard conditions he comes across Liza who is shivering due to the lack of warm clothes, and he quickly saves her from freezing to death. From there, you know all these characters’ paths will eventually cross with one another by the movie’s end.

The first thing I want to point out is how beautiful the cinematography in “Deadfall” is. It was shot in Canada and director of photography Shane Hurlbut does incredible work in capturing the snow’s beauty as well as how unforgivingly punishing it can be. Even as I watched this in a very nice air-conditioned screening room, I found myself wanting to put my jacket on. This became even more so while watching poor Olivia Wilde walk through a blizzard while wearing a miniskirt. After watching her in “Deadfall,” you cannot say she is not brave actress.

As for the performances, the best one was given by Eric Bana as Addison. The actor has left an indelible impression on us in movies like “Chopper,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Munich,” and he makes Addison a very charming bad guy. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Addison’s a psycho and someone we would all be best to keep our distance from but you can also understand why some of the characters in “Deadfall” hang out with him a lot longer than they should. Bana proves to be very unpredictable in the role, and you can never be sure at certain times if he’s going to be naughty or nice.

Wilde also delivers a strong performance as Liza, and she once again proves what a fiercely intelligent actress she is. Throughout “Deadfall,” we watch as she takes Liza from seeming like a lost girl to becoming a person whose confidence in their self continues to build. The relationship Liza ends up developing with Jay helps start the process of freeing her from Addison’s Svengali hold, and Wilde creates a fascinating portrait of a woman who manages to come into her own by the movie’s end.

Charlie Hunnam, best known for his work on the television show “Sons of Anarchy,” looks appropriately tough in the role of Jay. As we watch him getting released from prison at the movie’s start, he looks more than capable of boxing any opponent into complete submission. But the strength of Hunnam’s performance comes from those shades of vulnerability which his character cannot keep hidden. While prison has made him hard, it has not robbed him of his soul. Jay has made some foolish mistakes in his life, but Hunnam makes you care about him to where you cannot help but be deeply involved in his plight.

Kate Mara is also very good here as police officer Hannah, but she is unfortunately saddled with a father who treats her poorly because she’s a girl. Treat Williams plays Hannah’s dad, but while he’s always good, his character feels like an unnecessary addition to “Deadfall.” All we see him do is talk down to his daughter even when we can tell she is absolutely right about everything she sees going on. It’s the stupidity of characters like which really gets on my nerves.

You also have to give credit to Ruzowitzky for taking the time to cast Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson as Jay’s parents. It’s astonishing to realize these two actors have never worked together before, and they bring an authentic down to earth flavor which helps ground the movie’s story in a reality we can recognize. Kristofferson’s part is a little underwritten, but it’s still fun to watch him here.

“Deadfall” ends on a somewhat frustrating note as there are a lot of loose ends left over and the fates of certain characters are left unresolved. Still, I found it to be a very entertaining movie thanks in large part to the terrific performances of the entire cast. And yes, the cinematography was incredibly beautiful, and especially for a movie which cost only $12 million to make. It alone reminds me to bring layers of clothing the next time I visit a blizzard-ridden city as I have been spoiled by the sunny California weather for far too long.

* * * out of * * * *

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE INTERVIEW I DID WITH STEFAN RUZOWITZKY FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED.

Olivia Wilde Discusses Playing Liza in ‘Deadfall’

Olivia Wilde in Deadfall

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012.

Olivia Wilde might seem like just another pretty face in Hollywood, but she continues to give the characters she plays a strong intelligence they might not otherwise have. If you look at her performances in “Tron: Legacy” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” you will realize she has put a tremendous amount of thought in how she approaches her roles to where you leave the theater incapable of forgetting the effect she had on you. The latest example of this is “Deadfall” in which she portrays Liza, the sister of Addison (Eric Bana) whom she is on the run with after a casino heist gone wrong.

Deadfall movie poster

For Wilde, the role of Liza represented a huge departure for her. She had just finished playing Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley on the television show “House,” and Liza took her in a completely different direction.

“Liza was so different from anything I’d ever played before, and I think I was really attracted to playing someone a little more broken,” Wilde said to Sophie A. Schillaci of The Hollywood Reporter. “I had spent many years on ‘House’ playing this very tough woman. I had played tough women in movies, and I realized that was something I was gravitating toward because it’s probably something I aspire to. But I’m interested in exploring people who really don’t have their act together completely.”

At the beginning of “Deadfall,” Addison and Liza’s car crashes in the snow which forces them to separate and go on the run towards the Canadian border. Liza, wearing little more than a miniskirt, almost freezes to death until former boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam) rescues and later starts up a relationship with her. I got to attend the movie’s press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and it was fascinating to hear Wilde talk about the relationships Liza had with each of these men and how deeply they affected her.

“Well I think with Addison she’s a perpetual child, she’ll always be his little Liza,” Wilde said. “So that established what the dynamic was like in that she’s very dependent on him. She’s terrified of him and yet she is still very drawn to him. But the romance between Jay and Liza allows her to be a woman, and you really see her coming into her own. So naturally in the writing they were very different relationships, and that kind of did the work for me.”

There was also the question of how deep the relationship between Addison and Liza went. At the start of the movie they look to be as close as a brother and sister can be, but as the story continues it looks like there is a lot of sexual tension between them. While it is not entirely clear if their relationship is an incestuous one, a kiss the two share at a Thanksgiving dinner seems to imply there might be. This led Wilde to talk more about the research she did for this role.

“That (kiss) kind of underlined the tension between them,” Wilde said. “I heard someone say that the relationship between passion and rage is very close, and there’s a violence to our upbringing in our lives that I think could just easily fall over into sex. It was really helpful to read about incestuous relationships and to know quite a lot about how that tends to happen, and yet it’s a very subtle part of the film. There are only one or two spots where it’s hinted at, and I’m glad we didn’t over explain it because it does leave it a bit of a mystery, but it adds so much to the story.”

All actors need to take the time to research the similarities and differences between them and the characters they play. For Wilde, it made her realize that her life could have been much different if she was more like Liza in “Deadfall.”

“I feel very lucky to not be Liza,” Wilde told Jay Stone of the National Post. “It makes me really appreciate having a very loving family and healthy upbringing and not having been abused. It’s a horrible problem that exists in many families. One of the reasons we’re doing this as actors is to reflect humanity, to show these types of people on screen and bring light to them in a certain sense.”

We’re going to see a lot more of Olivia Wilde in the future. Up next for her is “The Longest Week” in which she stars opposite Jason Bateman, “Black Dog, Red Dog” with James Franco and Chloe Sevigny, “Her” directed by Spike Jonze, and “Drinking Buddies” which is the project she is most excited about being a part of. As long as Wilde continues to bring that same level of thoughtfulness and intelligence she brings to movies like “Deadfall,” we will have so much to look forward to.

SOURCES:

Sophie A. Schillaci, “Olivia Wilde Sheds Her ‘Tough Woman’ Image for ‘Broken’ Character in ‘Deadfall’ (Video),” The Hollywood Reporter, December 7, 2012.

Ben Kenber, “Interview with the Cast and Director of Deadfall,” We Got This Covered, December 7, 2012.

Jay Stone, “Deadfall’s Olivia Wilde feels ‘lucky not to be Liza,'” National Post, December 7, 2012.

‘Shoplifters’ is an Emotional Rollercoaster and One of the Best Movies of 2018

Shoplifters movie poster

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Shoplifters” is one of the most emotionally resonant movies I have seen in 2018, and it is a real gem in a cinematic year dominated by, big surprise, superhero blockbusters and endless sequels. The hope and warm emotions which emanate from it feel like the kind I have not been witness to on the silver screen in ages, and the movie dares you to ponder what the word family really means. While many see families being bound by blood, “Shoplifters” suggests there is more to it than that.

Things start off with Osamu Shibata (Lilly Franky) arriving at a supermarket in Tokyo, Japan, and we will eventually see how this movie got its name. With him is the young Shota (Jyo Kairi), and they use hand signals with each other to indicate when the coast is clear to take what they want and need. Put aside the fact no parent or adult figure should ever be teaching a child to steal; these two have an effective system which leads to them obtaining the goods they need without going through the checkout line or setting off an array of alarms. More importantly, it shows the strong connection between these two, and it is not one which is easily formed.

Upon arriving home, we see they with several other people in a cramped apartment which was made for two people at best. Among them are Osamu’s wife, Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), who works an unforgiving and low-paying job at a local laundromat, their daughter Aki (Mayu Matsuoka) who performs sex shows for anonymous customers, and grandmother Hatsue Shibata (the late Kirin Kiki who steals every scene she is in) whose residence they all reside in. Everyone here is suffering through an unsteady economy dominated by recession, so these characters are forced to steal items such as food and clothes in order to get by. Yes, Hatsue does have her late husband’s pension to fall back on, but it is never enough to fulfill their needs.

Then on one cold evening as Osamu and Shota are returning after another successful day of shoplifting, they come across Yuri (Miyu Sasaki), a 5-year-old homeless girl sitting all alone by herself. As the temperature decreases rapidly, and you could do a drinking game for every time a character says “it’s cold,” they decide to take her home for the night. With their apartment overcrowded, Nobuyo suggests they return Yuri home, but a visit to her residence reveals her parents are abusive to one another and to Yuri as well. As a result, Osamu and Nobuyo find themselves informally adopting her.

What struck me most about “Shoplifters” is how genuine its emotions feel. From a distance, the description of the plot might make it seem something along the lines of “Three Men and a Baby” or maybe even “Raising Arizona,” both of which featured characters who become parents in unorthodox ways. But Kore-eda is not out to manipulate our emotions for a single second as he lets life unfold before us in a way which feels real and unpredictable. No one appears to be acting here, and every single actor inhabits their roles to where you are seduced into the movie’s wonderful atmosphere with what seems like relative ease.

The affection everyone in the small apartment has for Yuri feels wonderful and hopeful to take in, and her presence has a profound effect on them all. The scene where Nobuyo and Yuri burn the 5-year-old’s clothes in an effort to start fresh in life speaks volumes. The two share scars of past abuse, and Nobuyo cuddles her and says how people show their love for one another through hugs, not violence. If there has been a more genuinely sweet scene in a 2018 movie, I missed it.

As for the others, Osamu and Nobuyo find an intimacy in their relationship which has eluded them for far too long, and Aki yearns to get closer to one of her customers as she can no longer keep him at a distance. Shota slowly begins to bond with Yuri to where he feels comfortable calling her sister, but this later leads him on a journey to find himself in a way which will have inevitable consequences for everyone that we don’t really see coming.

Revealing more of what happens in “Shoplifters” would be criminal, but I can tell you the last half is truly devastating as everything we thought we knew about these characters is turned upside down. One of Kore-eda’s masterstrokes as a writer and director is he never judges the characters, and as a result, neither did I. Even as the local news reports of Yuri’s disappearance, Osamu and Nobuyo justify their actions by saying they did not kidnap her since they never asked for a ransom. It’s a weak defense to be sure, but seeing the connection these characters have with one another deeply moved me to where I actually found myself giving them a pass which I never would have in real life.

With “Shoplifters,” Kore-eda aims to look at what makes a family. While we collectively believe it is blood which makes a family, he wonders if there is more to a family than that. At a key moment, one of the characters says if having a baby automatically makes you a parent. Well that goes without saying, but considering the love and affection these characters grace Yuri with, I had a hard time finding enough of a reason to separate her from them.

Kore-eda was also influenced by the Japanese recession, and he uses this to deal with the declining social statuses many are forced to deal with in the country. Then again, “Shoplifters” could be about any country where greed continues to wreak havoc due to corporations valuing the size of their profits over the rights of the workers who helped get them those profits. We Osamu trying to get whatever work he can, and the work he gets never pays enough. Nobuyo’s job offers her a pathetically low wage, and then later we get a scene where her boss forces her and her co-worker to decide amongst themselves who should get fired when it is determined there is only enough money to keep one of them on the payroll.

“Shoplifters” is a movie which will stay with you long after you have watched it. I was deeply moved by it from start to finish as its humanity really made me appreciate the value of family in a way no other movie has in a long time. We are at a point where there are far too many movies to keep up with, but this is one I highly recommend you check out above others. This one took me for quite the emotional ride and left me fully wringed out by its end, and the experience was one of the most rewarding.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Love, Gilda’ Shows How the Late ‘SNL’ Comedienne Never Really Left Us

Love Gilda poster

You cannot help but fall in love with Gilda Radner. Even in death, her spirit radiates with a power nothing can destroy. Her smile stretched for miles whenever she appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” and it never faded from our sight even as she fought a tough battle against ovarian cancer. When she passed away on May 20, 1989 at the age of 42, it really felt like a national tragedy, and I remember Steven Martin paying tribute to her on the “SNL” stage while on the verge of tears. After showing a video of him dancing with Gilda, he said the following:

“You know when I look at that tape I can’t help but think how great she was and how young I looked. Gilda, we miss you.”

It’s now been almost 30 years since Gilda died, and she is still missed. But with the documentary “Love, Gilda,” she is brought back to life for a time, and we get to see sides of her many have not seen previously. Granted, her life has been documented endlessly on various shows and in numerous books, but we get to see home movies of her youth and journal entries, most of which were previously unseen. Whether or not you think this documentary touches on anything new, just the chance to spend time in her company makes it a must see.

Among the most memorable images we get of Gilda are in home movies made when she was a child. Even back then she had a big smile on her face and a zest for life which never faded. We also see how she was overweight as a child to where she talked of how kids at school teased her viciously. One family member told her to make a joke about her weight if they made fun of her again, and this proved successful. From there, I think it’s safe to say comedy was Gilda’s weapon of choice for all the obstacles life would throw at her.

It’s a treat to watch “SNL” regulars like Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Cecily Strong among others reading from Gilda’s journals as it is clear on their faces the love they had for her work, and of the effect she had on theirs. Poehler even admits many of the characters she created on “SNL” were essentially B-versions of Gilda’s characters, but her work still stands on its own regardless. I envied these celebrated performers as they got a glimpse of Gilda’s actual handwriting which gives a glimpse into her wonderful mind.

As “Love, Gilda” moves on, we see her reflecting on the fame she achieved through “SNL” and the overall effect it had on her. I believe her when she reveals how she was unaware of how famous she had become until the cast visited New Orleans. We also come to see how fame at times served to keep her chained to a certain place in life, and of the pressures it brought on which made her eating disorder even worse. Once again, comedy becomes her weapon as she finds ways to make fun of being famous as her spirit remains strong. While she came to fame in a time before the advent of social media and cell phones, being in the public’s eye probably wasn’t much easier.

This world can really beat you down to where we become overcome with disappointments and bitterness, and many often feel like happiness is a commodity far out of their reach. So, it’s always great to know that one person who maintains a strong spirit and a wonderful view of life in the face of personal tragedies. Even as we watch Gilda Radner in her most harrowing moments, going through chemotherapy and losing the ability to bear children, she still has a big smile on her face and an infinitely strong spirit which never faltered even in her dying moments. She also had the love of her life, the late Gene Wilder, at her side through it all. I can only hope to be as lucky.

Could director Lisa D’Apolito, who had the privilege of appearing in my all-time favorite movie, Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” have dug deeper into Gilda’s life? Perhaps. Some parts are given short shrift like her brief marriage to guitarist G.E. Smith and her movie career which ended after the critical and commercial failure of “Haunted Honeymoon.” D’Apolito also uses audio of Radner reading from her autobiography “It’s Always Something,” which remains one of my favorite books ever. Anyone who has read it can testify just how revealing Radner is about her struggles, and it threatens to make this documentary pale in comparison.

Regardless, D’Apolito does excellent work in making us see what a strong human being Gilda Radner was, and of how her spirit and influence remain incredibly strong even years after her death. The “SNL” cast member was made to endure terrible things in her life and left us at far too young an age, and yet she came out fighting and left us laughing hysterically. She even found humor in her cancer battle and demonstrated this when she guest starred on “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” and her entrance was one full of victory. Nobody dared to make jokes about cancer back then, but she showed no fear in making fun of the most hideous of diseases. Even if it feels like there could have been more to this documentary than what we are shown, D’Apolito makes us see how Radner lives on in many ways.

Wilder founded “Gilda’s Club,” an organization where people with cancer can meet to build emotional and social support, after her death, and there are now over a dozen of them throughout America. Her book “It’s Always Something” is still in print, and I cannot recommend it more highly. And, of course, you can always catch her in “SNL” reruns which continue to entertain audiences of many generations. She may be gone, but “Love, Gilda” shows she never really left us. With a spirit as strong as hers, she never will.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘World’s Greatest Dad’ is a Twisted Black Comedy for Father’s Day Viewing

Worlds Greatest Dad movie poster

World’s Greatest Dad,” which was written and directed by comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, was one of those small movies from 2009 which got released under the radar. It does star the late Robin Williams, but it never got the same level of marketing some of his others got that year, namely “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” and the god awful “Old Dogs.” But those who have a deep love for twisted humor should enjoy this one, and it features one Williams’ last great performances before he prematurely left the land of the living.

Along with Jody Hill’s “Observe and Report,” 2009 was quite a year for black comedies which managed to mine comedy out of the most sensitive of subjects. Williams plays Lance Clayton, a failed writer and poetry teacher who is the antithesis to Mr. Keating from “Dead Poet’s Society.” The class he teaches is not at all popular, and he is unable to inspire his students or make them seize the day. Lance dreams of publishing one of his novels and of becoming rich and successful, but this success has eluded him throughout his life. Of course, once you look at the kind of novels he writes, it becomes sadly understandable why he has received a truckload of rejection letters.

Lance is also a single father to his son Kyle, a kid who many would go out of their way to nickname the antichrist. Has there ever been a ruder, endlessly selfish, thoughtless, or verbally abusive son in the history of cinema? I’m sure there are, but none come to mind at the moment. Kyle makes Rhoda Penmark from “The Bad Seed” look like Teddy Ruxpin, and he’s what Macaulay Culkin’s character from “The Good Son” would have been like if the filmmakers weren’t subjected to the iron grip of Kit Culkin. Maybe these are extreme comparisons, but they seem to fit.

Then one day, Lance comes home to find his son Kyle dead in front of his computer after accidently strangling himself during the act of autoerotic asphyxiation. Knowing the way he died, once revealed to the public, will be humiliating for him and forever put a stain (no pun intended) on his son’s memory, Lance makes Kyle’s death look like a suicide and even writes a suicide which ends up having more emotional depth than anything which could possibly have come out of Kyle’s shallow little mind. Once the note is made public on a police website, everyone at school starts seeing Kyle in a different, albeit completely false, light, and Lance soon gets the fame and adoration he always dreamed of having, and this leads him to pen a fake memoir in his son’s name.

From this description, “World’s Greatest Dad” looks to travel down the same satirical roads as “Heathers” in how it depicts the absurd effect a person’s death can have on us, especially when it involves someone we hardly knew or truly despised. But as familiar as these roads are, the timing worked to this movie’s advantage as it was released not long after the death of Michael Jackson. With his sudden passing, all the crimes he was accused to have committed, but was never convicted of, quickly seemed to disappear as if they were all a fiction, and all we could think about was the great music and dance moves he left us. With Kyle, his sins seem to be miraculously absolved upon his death, and people look to his spirit as if he was some kind of cult hero. It’s all further proof of how we have tremendous respect for the dead, but none for the living, and this saying is amped up to such a crazy degree by Goldthwait.

But Goldthwait also has an even bigger target than our adulation for the not so dearly departed, and that’s the hollow pursuit of fame. We all know this filmmaker best from his days as a comedian, and his off-kilter voice had us laughing endlessly time after time. Seeing his work as a filmmaker should make you realize there is more to him than his talent for burning up furniture on “The Tonight Show.” Being as famous as he is, Goldthwait understands how fame can bring you in touch more with people who don’t have your best interests at heart as well as others who never have cared about you in the first place. It becomes easier to see why having all this adoration can make you feel even more than you ever have before.

Kyle’s death ends up turning just about everyone at school into an utter hypocrite. Many who would rather have beaten the leaving crap out of him suddenly come forth to say they were actually friends of his. Even the principal and school psychologist try to use Lance’s new-found fame to advance their career goals. Heck, a Goth chick becomes a Bruce Hornsby fan after Lance tells her Kyle was as well. Of course, we have already previously seen how Kyle hated Bruce Hornsby as much as Lance loved to listen to him, and the level of absurdity reaches epic heights once Lance publishes his son’s fake memoir, and the book deal which has long eluded him suddenly becomes a reality.

Williams’ performance in “World’s Greatest Dad” showed how great and subtle he was to where it wasn’t always necessary for him to act crazy 24/7. Aside from his concert tours, seeing him going all nuts in a movie eventually wore out its welcome, and at times it felt like he was desperate to make us laugh. But as Lance Clayton, Williams never overdoes anything, and he makes the character sympathetic even when we know what he is doing is very wrong.

Williams also captures the lonely life of an unpublished writer whose existence is filled to rim with endless rejection. Seeing another teacher getting an article published in the New Yorker, and on his very first try by the way, brings about a resentment in him he can’t quite hide. The “Good Will Hunting” actor captures Lance’s pain perfectly, and he grounds this character in a reality which grows increasingly bizarre as the movie goes on to where he never has to a single scene just for laughs.

But one actor who truly deserves a lot of credit is Daryl Sabara who plays Kyle. Perhaps best known for his work in “Spy Kids,” Sabara doesn’t even try to find any redeeming qualities in this astonishingly vulgar character because it feels like there are none to find. Building on the school bully he played in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween,” he fearlessly makes Kyle one of the most despicable teenage characters I have ever seen in motion pictures, and he even makes Danny Lawrence from “The Karate Kid” look like a real pushover. Sabara’s work here is fearless, and you have to give him big props for how far he was willing to go.

I also really liked the lovely Alexie Gilmore as Claire, the younger teacher who is more or less dating Lance while having eyes for another teacher, Mike (Henry Simmons from “NYPD Blue”). Her adorable personality and warm smiles make you almost completely forget how incredibly self-serving she is. Perhaps Claire doesn’t even know how selfish she is as she remains very coy about her relationship with Lance, but we cannot look past how selfish she is in her own desires. Despite all this, Gilmore still makes you root for her to be with Lance even after we realize this relationship is not in Lance’s best interest.

Many have complained about how “World’s Greatest Dad” ends with a number of issues unresolved, and this is true. Things are tied up a little too neatly, and you get the impression Goldthwait could have made this black comedy even blacker than it already is. Still, he shows a lot of guts taking on such touchy subject matter which other filmmakers would never dare deal with. As dark a comedy as this may seem, he also makes it a very moving one. Once you get past what you see on the surface, there’s actually quite a bit to take in. With this film, Goldthwait makes us understand how being alone can be nowhere as bad as being surrounded by people who make you feel lonelier than ever. Remember when Travis Bickle talked about being “God’s lonely man?” Well, I was reminded of that here.

Goldthwait previously directed several films before this one including “Shakes the Clown” and “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” and he would later give us an even darker and more biting black comedy with “God Bless America.” But aside from working in comedy, he also directed the found-footage horror movie “Willow Creek,” and he gave us one of the most unforgettable documentaries of recent years with “Call Me Lucky” about the late comedian Barry Crimmins. Like “World’s Greatest Dad,” they deserve a bigger audience than they have received to date, and they demonstrate how talented Goldthwait is behind the camera as well as in front of it.

Williams and Goldthwait were great friends off screen, and their appreciation for one another really showed here. “World’s Greatest Dad” may seem like an unusual movie to view on the very important occasion of Father’s Day, but you can only watch Gregory Pick in “To Kill a Mockingbird” so many times. Lance Clayton may not be the greatest dad as the title infers, but you never doubt the love he lies about him to the world to achieve fame and cover up what an infinite little prick he was in his short life. For those in the mood for a thoughtful black comedy, this one delivers.

Besides, is there any other movie out there featuring two teenage girls getting in a catfight over a Bruce Hornsby CD?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’ Digs Deep Into His Life

gonzo-the-life-and-work-of-dr-hunter-s-thompson poster

I felt like I could never figure Hunter S. Thompson out. Whenever I saw films based on his work, he seemed like some crazed lunatic living in a world of his own creation and madness. After watching “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson,” I feel like I now know what he was all about. Hunter was as patriotic as any American can get, and while he always seemed to be losing his mind, no one can deny he was a true visionary. At the very least, he was never boring.

This documentary was directed by Alex Gibney who managed to get many people to talk on camera about Hunter who, whether they loved or hated it, had to admit to feeling the upmost respect for all he did. The fact Pat Buchanan participated in this documentary is a big surprise considering how Hunter described him as a “half-crazed Davy Crockett running around the parapets of Nixon’s Alamo.” The writings of Dr. Thompson are featured throughout, and the documentary is narrated by Johnny Depp who played the eccentric author in Terry Gilliam’s film version of “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas.”

Hunter is credited with creating Gonzo journalism, a style of reporting where reporters involve themselves in the action to such a degree to where they become central figures in their own stories. He would take on assignments like covering a motorcycle event, and then he would veer off into something else like the death of the American dream. Through his writing, he got at the ugly heart of the matter and exposed it for all its misleading falsehoods.

“He was a reporter with a wild imagination.”

-Tom Wolfe

“He was not afraid to express himself in sometimes shocking ways.”

-President Jimmy Carter

We see Hunter take on his first big assignment when he meets the Hell’s Angels in California which he looked up to as the last outlaws in the world. This relationship, however, turned sour when he witnessed them gang bang a woman at their party. The group later suspected Hunter of trying to profit off of what he wrote, and they beat him severely. This whole experience ended up shaping him as a writer as he looked beyond the façade sold to the public on a regular basis.

One of the most interesting parts in this documentary is how it shows Hunter’s love of America and his sadness over the death of one of his favorite politicians, Robert Kennedy. It is made abundantly clear how Hunter so wanted to believe in the hope of a better future. His sadness only deepens when he is witness to the beatings at the Democratic convention which took place the same year Robert died, and he berated the Democrats for not doing their part to put an end to the violence.

I got a huge kick out of the section where Hunter runs for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado, as it showed how visionary he was as he had all these plans for revitalizing the town of Aspen. He called for the decriminalization of drugs for personal use, but he also wanted to keep a ban on trafficking as he was no fan of people profiting off of them. Furthermore, he wanted to tear up the streets and replace them with grassy pedestrian malls, he proposed placing a ban on tall buildings being built as they obscured his view of the mountains, and he wanted to rename Aspen “Fat City” in an effort to deter investors who wanted to commercialize the city. Of course, Hunter lost the election which was no real surprise to him, but his run for the office was never ever forgotten.

“Gonzo” also does a great job of looking at the various relationships Hunter had throughout his lifetime. We get a look at his marriages and learned what it was like living with him. To know Hunter was to tolerate him. Perhaps the most interesting relationship documented here is the one between Hunter and artist Ralph Steadman who created some of the most insane drawings which accompanied Hunter’s feverish writings in Rolling Stone magazine. It is interesting to learn Steadman was actually a conventional artist whose work was no different from anyone else’s. But then Hunter turned Steadman on to drugs, and his work evolved into what he is best known for. There is a great moment where we see Steadman at work, and he has this utterly insane look on his face as if he is gleefully possessed. Who knows what would have happened to him had he never met Hunter.

Perhaps the most important section of “Gonzo” is when Hunter supports George McGovern’s run for President of the United States. McGovern was the democratic nominee running against incumbent President Richard Nixon. The Vietnam War was raging on, and hundreds of young American lives were being snuffed out day after day. McGovern sought to put an end to the Vietnam war which the whole country had since gone against. Hunter had a vicious hatred of Nixon, and he saw the possibility of Nixon going on to a second presidential term as a possible death blow to this country.

As important as this section of the documentary, it was a bit overlong and could have been shortened. It gets redundant as we clearly get the message of Hunter’s disillusionment with politics in general. Fortunately, “Gonzo” picks up in the last half as we see how Hunter became trapped by his fame to where his work suffered as a result. But the McGovern section is still important, especially when Hunter is interviewed in the documentary and says this, “I desperately wanted to put an end to that senseless war [in Vietnam]. I’m sick and tired of old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”

Sound familiar? No wonder Hunter got depressed when George W. Bush got elected and the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. Hunter wrote about those events as if he knew exactly what they would lead to, another war overseas with America striking back in revenge mode. This was all another depressing example of how history repeats itself.

For the most part, “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson” does an excellent job of making you understand him better and of where he was coming from. We need people like Hunter, people who challenge authority and get us riled up about the way the country is heading. His suicide, other than being very selfish and hardly noble, robbed us of a powerful voice we need in times when politicians continue to deepen the divide between the rich and the poor. Hunter was a crazy man at times, and he was also proof that if you take enough drugs, they will completely mess up your head. But you had to love him because he was never boring and always fearless. It is likely there will never be another man like him.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Ti West and Gene Jones on Preparing for ‘The Sacrament’

The Sacrament movie poster

You may not know who Gene Jones is, but odds are you have seen him in at least one movie he has co-starred in. Many know him best for his role as the gas station owner who is subjected to one of Anton Chigurh’s terrifying coin tosses in “No Country for Old Men,” and he also appeared as Wild West Barker in “Oz the Great and Powerful” and co-starred in “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.” But after watching him in Ti West’s “The Sacrament,” it will be impossible to forget who Jones is as he gives us a character who seems sweet on the surface but is really a vicious devil in disguise.

“The Sacrament” follows a couple of reporters as they travel out to a commune located out in the middle of nowhere to find one of a long lost relative. Upon their arrival, they discover the commune is a technology-free zone called Eden Parish, and they meet Father (played by Jones) who is the leader and treats his loyal followers with tremendous warmth and care. But when these outsiders arrive, he quickly sees them as a threat and eventually convinces his followers to take a sinister course of action which leads to an unspeakable tragedy.

The press day for “The Sacrament” was held at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, and many who worked on this movie, be it in front of or behind the camera, participated in an informative press conference. Among those there was West who told us he wanted to audition Jones after seeing him play a pharmacist on “Louie.”

Ti West: There’s a scene where there is a woman waiting in line and asking all these inane questions to the pharmacist who’s not paying attention, and Louie (C.K.’s) waiting behind her and he’s getting bored. And then Gene eventually turns to her and is like, “Have you had a bowel movement today and was it soft?” And then she gets uncomfortable and then that’s the scene, and I was like, “That’s the guy.” So, what we did was that we tracked him down and then I asked him to do a quick audition. Most of the reason I asked him to do the audition wasn’t so much to see if it would be any good. I just wanted to see if he would not be into the material. So I knew that if he did the second audition that he wasn’t going to be uncomfortable with the subject matter like that because you never know if you don’t know people. Gene likes to say that the first audition wasn’t very good and that’s why I asked him to do a second one which is not true. But there was enough from those, just seeing him do it, to know what I had thought was going to happen was going to happen.

The plot of “The Sacrament” was largely inspired by the 1978 Jonestown Massacre when Jim Jones made the followers of the Peoples Temple commit mass suicide. When Jones first appears onscreen as Father, you can’t help but be reminded of Jim, especially with those sunglasses he’s wearing. But in describing his preparation to play Father, Jones shot down our assumptions of what he did to prepare for this role.

Gene Jones: It’s less than one day in Father’s life, and not a typical day. So, I didn’t do any Jim Jones research about what he read and how he interacted with people on a daily basis. What I tried to do was be a guy who was so nice, you would leave your family and you would leave your country and go with this guy. I never met Ti until I stepped onto the set. I did audition for it, but it was a video audition. Actually it was two auditions and Ti commented on those, and those comments gave me the freedom to go where I wanted to go which was in the direction of being so damn trustworthy and so avuncular and nice. A phrase that popped into my head a few weeks ago when I was doing one of these (press conferences) was I wanted to show you somebody who was evil but not mean. Somebody who believed absolutely poisonous things but was the nicest fellow you ever met.

West said when he first met Jones in the flesh was when he arrived at the movie’s set located in Savannah, Georgia. Jones’ first big scene was when he does the interview with the two reporters, and it involved a lot of work and memorization on his part. West was more than prepared for things to go wrong as he described this scene as a “massive undertaking,” but we all felt his astonishment at how things actually turned out.

Ti West: It’s the kind of production day that you dread because it’s a night shoot, there’s 200 extras, it’s 12 pages which is like six times more than anyone wants to shoot in a day and there’s just so many moving parts, and it was cued up to be a disaster. I remember on the very first take I hadn’t told the extras what to do yet, and you’ve got to keep in mind that the extras are just there for one night to be in a movie. They don’t know what the movie is about and they haven’t read the script. They are just like, “Yeah we’re in a movie!” They’re all seated and you figure that some of them aren’t going to be good and will have to move them around, but before we do any of that let’s just wing it. Let’s just try one where Gene comes in and we’ll tell them to cheer. He can come in and then start talking to A.J. (Bowen), and its 12 pages so if the lines get screwed up we’ll stop and then we’ll do it in chunks, and this is how we are going to get through this night. Well on the very first take, Gene came in everybody went crazy. He sat down, did a 17-minute unbroken take without dropping a line, got up, everybody cheered and he walked out, and all of the reactions from the extras were their genuine reactions. They weren’t me feeding them things to do because I just wanted to assess the situation, but the assessment of the situation was we don’t need to do anything because Gene nailed that so effortlessly, and then all the extras chimed in perfectly. Gene had figured out how he was going to do it, and all I had to do was just capture it.

Jones’ comment on how the extras fueled his performance was great because he made it sound like he was doing a play more than making a movie.

Gene Jones: I loved, loved the congregation, and there’s little variations each time you shoot. They were tuned to that and I didn’t have to say, “Give me an amen somebody.” They would give me an amen. They would just give it to me and they would nod, and it was just alive. It was like talking to a group of friends. They all chimed in and they were great.

In a business which can be so ridiculously youth-oriented, it is nice to see an actor like Gene Jones defy the odds. If this were a studio movie, executives would have probably forced Ti West to cast a young adult who was more demographically desirable. But in the end, there are certain parts only actors of a certain age can pull off, and this is one of them. Jones succeeds in giving us a villain for the ages as Father draws people in with ease and then destroys their lives for the most selfish of reasons.

“The Sacrament” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Click on the video below to check out the interviews I did with Ti West, A.J. Bowen, Joe Swanberg and Amy Seimetz about “The Sacrament” for We Got This Covered.

‘The Girlfriend Experience’ has Sasha Grey Teaming up with Steven Soderbergh

The Girlfriend Experience movie poster

The Girlfriend Experience” represents one of Steven Soderbergh’s more experimental films as well as the occasional escape he gets from mainstream filmmaking. Like “Bubble,” he shot it with a very low budget and a relatively inexpensive camera, and he cast actors in it with no previous experience. There is, however, one exception to this, and that is Sasha Grey. Known to people, though they probably wouldn’t openly admit it, as one of the biggest stars in pornography films, she gives the term “Grey’s Anatomy” a whole new meaning. Her being cast in the lead role should show just how big of a breakthrough the world of pornography has made into the mainstream media, something which can no longer be denied.

This movie takes place a month or so before the 2008 Presidential election between Obama and McCain. Sasha plays Christine, a high-priced escort who goes by the alias of Chelsea, as she services the rich commodities brokers of New York. Sex does play a part in her job, but this is not the only thing she provides. Chelsea gives herself over to you as your girlfriend for the evening; one who will listen to your problems over a dinner at a nice restaurant, and she is there for you when the reality of life hits you too hard, or if your wife and kids are giving you too much to deal with. Basically, she is selling companionship as a commodity, and she has become independently wealthy because of it. Throughout the movie, she seems to have a disconnect between what she does, and the life she has outside of it. But as the story goes on, you will see this façade take quite a beating.

Sasha’s life outside of being an escort includes having a boyfriend who works as personal trainer at gyms. He is played by Chris Santos, and his relationship with Sasha is a stable one. While their chosen professions differ from one another, they are essentially the same; they sell their services for a price and try to remain independent while running their individual businesses their own way. Chris and Sasha are, to put it bluntly, pimping themselves for a price, except Sasha is getting a better price for her services. Unlike others, Chris is comfortable with what Sasha does for a living, assuming it remains in certain parameters the two of them have set for one another.

“The Girlfriend Experience” is really not about sex, and there is no simulated or non-simulated sex to be found here. Those looking for the typical Sasha Grey experience need to be made fully aware of this before they sit down to watch this film. She does have one nice full-frontal scene near the beginning of the film, but it is hardly titillating in the way you would expect. What this movie is really about is the practice of buying and selling certain commodities, and of how even the feel of loving companionship has become an ever-growing business. The question presented to us is, are we so drained of feeling and morality that we feel more comfortable buying companionship than we are in obtaining it naturally? Furthermore, what if the line between what you do for a living and what you do outside of it becomes blurred? Can you remain objective in such a situation?

Soderbergh gives the movie a non-linear approach as the movie shifts back and forth in time, and we see the characters in different emotional states. This will undoubtedly annoy many who are so used to watching movies where everything is shown in chronological order. I, on the other hand, welcome this approach because it is always refreshing to see any filmmaker challenge the medium especially when movies these are mostly about tried and true formulas. This method makes this movie seem more unpredictable in regards to what will happen next, and it also gives the audience a somewhat alienating feeling which forces us to view these characters from a clinical distance. “The Girlfriend Experience” doesn’t want us to feel like we are in the same room with these characters. Instead, it wants to observe them and think about what they are going through. The movie also wants us to question if there really can be an unbreakable line between work and play. If we lose sight of this, is it even possible to bring ourselves back to where we once were?

As an actress, Sasha Grey is no Meryl Streep, but she does do good work here. Soderbergh made it clear he chose her in part because of her name value in porn films, and that is understandable. It will certainly bring a bigger audience to this film than it would have gotten if another actress played her part. Soderbergh also said he chose Grey because she is a lot like the character in that she runs her own business and is her own agent; she runs herself and has no one managing her. Indeed, looking at Grey’s career overall, it’s hard to think of another actress, let alone a more accomplished one, who could have been more believable here. In many ways, Grey is Chelsea, and she may even be the first to admit this.

Shooting this movie with a digital camera, Soderbergh makes it clear “The Girlfriend Experience” takes place in the real world and not some fictional one. The Elliott Spitzer scandal which came about because of his dealings with escorts like Chelsea could make this film seem like a documentary. In casting people with no previous acting experience, Soderbergh succeeds in giving us characters we recognize from our daily lives. Still, he doesn’t let you get too close to them. Just as you’re about to get closer, he moves the story in another direction to where you are just as starved for feeling as the characters are.

The film’s final image, of two characters locked in an embrace, seems to define it completely. We want this closeness to another person just as much as we are frightened of it. It makes us wonder if it is possible to achieve it without having to pay a price for it. The movie does not lay judgment on escort services or other forms of prostitution, but simply acknowledges how one of the oldest professions in the world still plays a significant part in our world whether we admit it or not. It has since evolved to another level where it is being offered for more than just a quickie in a motel.

“The Girlfriend Experience” is one of Soderbergh’s more interesting films of the past few years. It runs at a scant 77 minutes, but it feels longer as there is much to take in. Many will say he owes us a movie this short after splitting his previous movie, “Che,” into two. It’s not quite a great movie, but it is very good and willing to take chances other movies in 2009 have not. It will be interesting to see where Grey’s career will go from here. Porn actors and actresses rarely, if ever, make a break into mainstream films because of the stigma attached to their profession. But even those who consider themselves “morally superior” to pornography are probably bigger fans of it than they will ever admit. It all plays a big part in our lives, probably on more of an unconscious level more than anything else.

Of course, it will become a very lonely world if the only way we can get intimacy is to pay a high price for it.

* * * ½ out of * * * *