Sex and another city

Skype. Facebook. iPhones. GPS. We have never been more connected. But, asks Drew Barrymore’s chin-stroking new flick Going The Distance – dubbed an “edgy comedy” by its director Nanette Burstein – is all this new technology helping to build relationships, or is it just making things worse?

Promising a grittier take on the romcom mould, documentary filmmaker Burstein wants to bash vapid, eye-achingly polished ‘chick flicks’ into shape with Very Modern Issues™. “Tonally it’s more akin to Knocked Up than The Proposal”, she says of her fiction debut. What sort of VMIs are we dealing with? Well, real-life couple Barrymore and Justin Long play a journo and music exec who attempt a tech-enabled long distance relationship. Cue pining, Skyping and (naturally) phone sex…

“It’s kind of a high concept,” nods Ron Livingston, who plays Long’s boss. “Is it possible to have a relationship via all these new toys and tools? At the end of the day you’re still in different places.”

For romcom regular Barrymore, the cocktail of riskier dramedy elements with timely concerns felt perfect for breaking the bad habits of more recent romantic comedies. Here, honest portrayals of human interaction were paramount. Goodbye Sex And The City 2-style materialism. Hullo heartache.

“It felt very real, this is the dynamic of men and women,” Barrymore explains. “The humour isn’t that sort of Three’s Company, misunderstandings, girl-in-distress comedy.” As for playing yin to real-life beau Long’s yang, the actress is typically non-affronted. “Knowing someone creates an honest chemistry,” she says. “That’s something to capitalise on, not to be afraid of.”

Alright, so can long distance actually work in our tech-savvy age? If you’ve been in a city-hopping tryst, you probably already know the answer. And Barrymore? “I used to be obsessed with happy endings,” she muses, “but more and more I’m liking the stamp of reality that feels really pertinent and accessible to my own life.” Get the tissues ready…

Via Total Film

Transformers 2 racist?

High-octane robo-smash-em-up Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen has taken a bit of a beating these past weeks; Harry Knowles urged people not to see it, and it’s a mere 20% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Now, adding fuel to the fire, the film has been accused of… racism. Why? Well, it’s all down to twin Autobots Skids and Mudflaps. Introduced midway through Michael Bay’s rampant actioner, these robo-twins talk in jive, are seemingly illiterate (“we don’t really do much readin’!” they jabber), and allegedly reinforce unflattering black stereotypes. Oh, and one of them has a gold tooth.

Bloggers the world over sounded their war cries, and eventually the film’s creative minds have been forced to respond. Except nobody’s accepting responsibility. Bay insists the perceived stereotypes were “done in fun”, while Reno Wilson, the (white) voice artist behind Skids, reasons the characters downloaded their mannerisms from the internet to fit in on Earth. Oddly, the film’s novelisation waters down the troublesome characters, downgrading them to mere cyphers, while clearing up the literacy issue (they can read, just not ancient scrawls).

Meanwhile, Bay’s involvement in the proposed Transformers 3 remains shaky at best. With Paramount keen on a 2011 release, the über-director has his eye on a break from the bots and a T3 in 2012. But if Bay does step up to the challenge, don’t expect him to launch himself onto the 3D band wagon: “I’ve heard that a major side effect of watching 3D is feeling exhausted. Can you imagine how you’d feel watching one of my movies in 3D?”

And could an epilogue in the Revenge of the Fallen novelisation – featuring an injured Megatron boarding the feted ‘Nemesis’ Decepticon spaceship and discovering a slumbering army – be a teasing prelude to filmic chapter three? Transformers 3: Rise of the Nemesis, anyone?

Via Total Film

Zombieland

What you gonna do when your town – hell, your world – is besieged by zombies? Well, call Woody. Harrelson, that is (though we wouldn’t mind watching the Allen variety psychoanalysing the fucked-up undead for an hour or two). Harrelson may be the dippy funnyman we all remember from Cheers, but by all accounts he’s got one heck of a right hook. Just ask the paparazzo he landed a knuckle smash to in April this year. The actor’s excuse for the bust up? “I wrapped a movie called Zombieland, in which I was constantly under assault by zombies, then flew to New York, still very much in character. With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie.” Imagine that went down well at the station.

Filmed around Giorgia, USA, Zombieland pits a rag tag band of humans against an emerging army of flesh-munchers. But if you’re sensing a certain degree of ‘deja so?’, you’ve not seen Harrelson’s Tallahassee, a Steston-toting redneck at the centre of the wretched resistance. He’s also on a personal mission to find the last Twinkie on the planet. “Ma mother always told me, ‘Some day you’ll be good at something’,” simmers Tallahassee as he brandishes a rifle. “I don’t think she coulda guessed that somethin’ would be zombie killing.” The arsenal at his disposal? Machine guns, pianos, fairground rides… you name it, he’ll use it to bash in the brains of anything lacking a pulse.

So, could this be America’s steroid-pumped answer to that other renowned zom-com? Director Ruben Fleischer certainly believes so. “I like to think of it as Midnight Run with zombies,” he says. “It’s the story of these two unlikely people that go on a road trip together. Woody Harrelson is this zombie-killing badass and then Jesse Eisenberg is this sort of wimpy coward and they have both managed to survive.”

Rounding out the cast are a notably more mature Abigail Breslin, and current horror pin-up Amber Heard. Thus far we’ve only glimpsed the trailer, but with its mash up of zom-brats and comedy slow-mo chases (all set to Van Halen’s rocking ‘Everybody Wants Some’), Zombieland could just be the sleeper horror hit of 2009. As for the rumour that Bill Murray has a zombie cameo, Fleischer’s keeping schtum. “I guess you will just have to go see it!” Bet Tallahassee could get it out of him.

Via Total Film

Is this the most violent movie ever made?

Nails hammered under fingernails, castration, nipples filleted from flesh, electrocution, rape… “This really did push the limits,” confirms special effects co-ordinator Paul Hyett, best known for his gore-ific work on The Descent. “What we were shooting was pretty extreme.” No, this isn’t Saw V, it’s WAZ (pronounced ‘W delta Z’, but affectionately labelled ‘WAZ’ by its cast and crew). A moody, feverish film populated with stark imagery and hard-bitten performances, it’s the debut feature for British director Tom Shankland. And rumour has it that it contains some of the most horrific, brutally violent images ever put to screen.

Shot in Belfast and New York over six weeks in May and June 2006, WAZ traces its roots back to the Darwinist theories of George Price. An American population geneticist, Price formulated an equation – WAZ = Cov – that appeared to disprove the existence of selflessness, heroism or love in nature. “How do you tell a love story within the most brutalised, violent landscape?” postures Shankland, who worked on the script with former film school buddy Clive Bradley. “That was the conflict in this film. What happens to the idea of love, or the possibility of love with this amount of damage and violence?”

Damage is the key word in WAZ. Set in a timeless, nameless city, hard-boiled Detective Eddie Argo (Stellan Skarsgård) and rookie Helen Westcott (Melissa George) are chasing a serial killer out to test Price’s theory on love. Kidnapping a pair of loved ones – twin brothers, say, or a mother and her child – this demented predator straps both up to electric chairs. One of the pair is tortured, and given a noxious choice: to stop the physical pain, just flick a switch. The catch? Your loved one fries. As Westcott posits during the investigation, “How much pain will it take before you kill someone you love?”

With its torture scenes and fearless approach to depictions of violence, comparison with the likes of Saw and Hostel are inevitable. “I can totally see why,” Shankland says. “I don’t resent the comparison at all, I get it. The minute you see anyone tied up in a chair, having nasty things done to them, you can’t not think of Hostel. But I felt that we were up to something else.” Skarsgård echoes his director’s sentiments. “Early on in WAZ we had the discussion that it was essential that it be more frightening than gory,” he reveals. “That was the ambition – to not hesitate in showing terrible things, but not letting people escape the reality of the thing by being too much into special effects.”

So, is this the most violent movie ever made? “I think that would be so cool, that I could have a T-shirt saying, ‘I made the most violent film ever made’,” Shankland deadpans. “I think probably it feels more violent than it looks. What I hope is it’s as much about violence as it’s offering it up for entertainment’s sake. It hopefully gets into the emotion and psychology of violence.”

SELMA BLAIR Q & A

WAZ has some pretty horrific imagery. Where’s the line between exploitation and justifiable depictions of violence?
Oh God, I think to each his own. I don’t know if I even believe in exploitation. Someone’s putting something on the screen for some reason – if it’s gore just for gore’s sake, or just to show how soft our bodies are and how easily they can be mutilated. That all is for the end of some type of storytelling. I just don’t like to watch it, and I don’t like to be a part of it [laughs]. But then, there I am! But I liked the story because it was a story of love and redemption to me. It wasn’t a story about the gore.

How did you find shooting the rape scene?
That was a difficult day ‘cos I’m naked and somebody’s actually, you know, putting a bottle between my legs. I’m like, ‘You don’t actually need to put that broken bottle between my legs, you can pretend you are.’ That was the closest we got to for real gore. That was a bit tough, but Tom [Shankland] was amazing and shot it really quickly. I really trust Tom, I hope I get to work with him again.

You’ve just finished shooting Hellboy 2 haven’t you?
Yeah I just finished. It was sensational, I mean really sensational. It was a gruelling shoot. Guillermo’s such a perfectionist, he’s such an amazing creative genius – I don’t use that word for people, but I think he’s just above and beyond, and a great storyteller. It was 3 months of night shoots and 6 months of shooting in Hungary. The movie is gonna be amazing. I’m positive it’s just gonna blow people away. I know that a Hellboy 3 is being talked about. And if Guillermo’s doing it I’d be there in a second.