A roundtable chat with Luke Wilson of “Middle Men”

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It’s been nearly 15 years since producer James L. Brooks bankrolled a feature version of a short film made by some Texas youngsters, and that movie (“Bottle Rocket”) introduced the movie world to director Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and his brother, Luke. Since then, Dallas-born Luke Wilson’s movie-star handsome likeness has become a highly familiar to filmgoers, playing both leading men and supporting roles mostly in comedies like “Legally Blonde,” “Old School,” and Mike Judge’s criminally maltreated “Idiocracy,” as well as “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” and a classic cameo in “Anchorman.” (He was the anchor who — spoiler alert — got his arm was sliced off with a sword by Tim Robbins.)

To this day, Wilson has a habit of turning up in odd and interesting places, like a series of well-known commercials for AT&T or in the uneven but entertaining “Middle Men,” in which Wilson very credibly stars as a Texas businessman who gets much more than he expected at the intersection of e-commerce and adult entertainment. He is also preparing to play the part of Laura Dern’s flaky ex-husband on “Enlightened,” a new TV series from cult writer-producer Mike White (“Chuck and Buck,” “School of Rock“) with episodes directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme.

At the risk of creating an embarrassing but perhaps partially correct impression of a man-crush, in person Luke Wilson is a highly charismatic guy. Behind his highly colloquial speech — I’ve left out a lot of “likes” — is an intelligence that, without giving away much of anything, dispenses with a lot of the usual show business interview platitudes. Now in his late 30s, he also appeared thinner than his slightly chunky appearance on “Middle Man” or his recent AT&T commercials. That was because Wilson had deliberately gone over his normal weight by about 25 pounds for the role of a hard-driving businessman and family guy.

What was that like?

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A chat with Alex Gibney

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There’s no doubt that Alex Gibney is on a historic roll as a documentarian. Within only a few years, he’s been involved with probably the largest number of popular and influential documentaries of any single human being not named Michael Moore. Those works would include the outstanding “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” and the equally strong, and Oscar winning, “Taxi to the Dark Side,” about American use of torture in the “war on terror.” Gibney has also made his share of more historically themed documentaries, including “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.” He was also involved as a producer in two of the other most important and controversial documentaries of recent years, the Iraq-war expose, “No End in Sight” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

If Gibney’s past output is hugely impressive, however, his upcoming list of films is dizzying. At the recently wrapped Tribeca Film Festival in New York, he premiered as a “work in progress,” a new and apparently very revealing, look at former New York state governor, attorney general, and Wall Street watchdog Eliot Spitzer and the sex scandal that drove him from office. He also has a segment in the upcoming film version of the super-hot bestseller, Freakonomics, as well as new films about two very different cultural legends: bicyclist Lance Armstrong and author/super-hippie Ken Kesey of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Merry Pranksters fame.

There’s also the recently completed “My Trip to Al-Qaeda” and the film Gibney was promoting at his publicist’s L.A. office one recent afternoon, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.” It’s a work of amazing journalistic detail that also works very hard to be lively and accessible.

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Even if I felt that Gibney didn’t quite master that “accessible and lively” aspect too consistently this time around, his “Casino Jack” reviews so far have been great overall. He’s certainly a filmmaker to be reckoned with and one with an outstanding body of work behind him and much, much more to come. Not my idea of a lazy person.

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Here, have some movie news with your left over brisket

If you’re noticing that film bloggers and journos seem to grasping at news straws, blame the Passover/Easter spring break slow down. Anyhow, as folks work off all that schmaltz and matzoh at the gym, let’s nevertheless briefly consider a few items of some interest.

* For starters we have the kind of “breaking news” that isn’t really news at all. It’s looking like “The Hangover 2” is going to be a lot more expensive than the first because, you know, the cast would like to be paid a lot more this time and there was a lot of haggling. Can’t blame them . However, as much as I liked the first movie, it did not in any way cry out for a sequel. As the first commenter at Deadline|New York says, lightning doesn’t strike twice — except, of course, when it does. We’ll see.

* More sequel news  — well, rumor reported as news — Will Smith is supposedly “locked in” for “Independence Day” sequels. (H/t Anne Thompson.) Momentum may be building here and the story could be true. Director Roland Emmerich dropped a hint or two about it in a recent interview with our own David Medsker recently. We’ll see.

* And, you know how I always make a big deal about not prejudging movies. The E*Trade talking baby movie is sorely tempting me to make an exception. No. We won’t see.

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* Three brief items from THR. First, pretty Kaley Cuoco of “The Big Bang Theory” will be going cinematic in a partially animated flick comedy that involves Russell Brand voicing the Easter Bunny; it’s called “I Hop.” Also, LeBron James‘ next coach might be director Malcolm D. Lee. And, finally, two comedy writers who apparently enjoy bowling have been hired to work on the “Baywatch” movie, Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka. Tanaka has the kind of cross-ethnic name that, I think, could influence a guy to go into comedy, though I’m thinking “Kazuhiro Saperstein” would have been even better.

* I’m late to the viral video party, but the “Scarface school play” vid isn’t nearly as funny as it sounds. I guess thinking it was “real” could help, but how could anyone think it was real?

* The new film from master documentarian Errol Morris (“The Fog of War,” “Standard Operating Procedure“) sounds really interesting and potentially even more controversial than any film he’s made because it’s apparently lighthearted. Some might not agree that’s appropriate given the main character’s crime. Read the Playlist’s description and see if you agree.

http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2009/etrade-babies-in-2009/etrade-baby-golf
  

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Awards news: Director’s Guild and Sundance

There’s some sadness hanging over the American film world this morning due to the tragic and disturbing death of highly respected 39 year-old editor Karen Schmeer, best known for her work on Errol Morris projects as “Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,” “Mr. Death,” and “The Fog of War.” (Shawn Levy of The Oregonian has much about piece her shockingly random death in a crime-related automotive accident, her work, and her early start in the documentary film business.)

Nevertheless, the awards beat goes on and today, as Nikki Finke points out, we can chalk up a big victory for female directors as Kathryn Bigelow of “The Hurt Locker” defeated a boys club of directors that included such ultimate mega-males as Quentin Tarantino and her one-time husband, James Cameron.  Bigelow, of course, has been a noted director since her early features, 1982’s “The Loveless,” which introduced Willem Dafoe, and 1987’s ahead-of-its-time vampire drama, “Near Dark” attracted the attention of genre friendly critics. Her best known film, ironically enough, is probably the silly action flick, “Point Break,” which has emerged as a culty guilty pleasure after its 1991 release.

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“The Hurt Locker” is the first time Bigelow has been associated a project to get this kind of near-universal acclaim. It’s a major departure stylistically from her often slick and superficial past work, looking at an unexploded bomb team with the same kind of dispassionate intensity as “The French Connection” examined police work. This award definitely makes Bigelow the apparent favorite for the Best Director Oscar. It also doesn’t hurt it’s chances at the Best Picture award either.

“Hurt Locker” also swept the Producers Guild award earlier this week. Similar to the DGA, that award is widely seen as a harbinger for the “Best Picture” category, in which the producer is the one who actually receives the award. Still, as Dave Karger reminds us, the DGA doesn’t make the award inevitable. Also with the nominees this year doubled to ten and a more complex voting system for “Best Picture” that category, at least, remains open to any of the four or five most frequently nominated films in my opinion.

In other awards, “The Cove” got a boost in the nevertheless very hard-to-predict documentary Oscar category with an award for its director, Louie Psihoyos. I usually don’t cover TV, but it is worth a mention that the winner of the award for direction in a TV drama series was also won by a woman. Lesli Linka Glatter was awarded for her work on the action-packed “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” episode of “Mad Men.” Not a bad choice.

Meanwhile, over in Park City, Utah, the Sundance Film Festival presented its awards, which offer a fairly significant peak into what are likely to be some of the most acclaimed and potentially award-winning films of the next year or so. Young people with family ties to crime seemed to be a winning theme in the dramatic categories: “Winter’s Bone,” about a young girl in search of her crystal meth manufacturing father, won the U.S. Prize; the Australian crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” about a teen boy born into a crime family in 1980s Melbourne, took the international award.

The documentary award went to one of the festival’s most high profile entries, “Restrepo.” From two-first first-time directors, journalist/author Sebastian Junger (the book, The Perfect Storm) and documentary cinematographer Tim Hetherington. The film is follows a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan for a year. As the offical Sundance description has it, it depicts a “surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie….”  Indiewire’s Eugene Hernandez has a complete rundown.

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