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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Musical biopics with a difference. Maybe. Part 1

Talking with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” while promoting the very funny musical biopic spoof, “Walk Hard,”  star John C. Reilly made a telling observation. He noted that such figures as Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, and Johnny Cash were all very different people with very different lives, but the movies about them tended to be all kind of the same. This month in Europe, that proposition is being tested by two very interesting looking films about two extremely unusual musicians who were so unusual I never particularly expected to see a movie about either of them. Hopefully, both will make it stateside in due time.

The first movie is “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” about Ian Dury. Dury, with his crack back-up band, the Blockheads, was a figure in my personal favorite wing of the punk/new wave era of the late seventies that was embodied by his label, Stiff Records. He fashioned a surprisingly effective and popular combination of English music hall, “blue” humor, and Parliament/James Brown style funk and early hip-hip. Partially disabled by polio, he had the requisite difficult life and, physically and in every other way, he was born to be played by outstanding Peter Jackson stand-by Andy Serkis, for once free of make-up efx or motion-capture.

Olivia Williams (“Dollhouse,” “Rushmore”) seems to be everywhere all of a sudden, and I’m completely okay with that. And, as Dury’s son, that’s young Bill Milner from “Son of Rambow.” I do have to say the real-life Dury was slightly better at carrying a tune. Still, looks good and the reviews so far are promising.

Next: an arguably even more dysfunctional, but even more talented, French musical madmen gets his biopic.

  

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Hollywood (and the rest of California) destroyed! Millions to be made!

John Cusack in

Yes, with just one really big new release this week, it’s looking like Sony and Roland Emmerich’s eschatological extravaganza, “2012,” will most definitely take the box office crown this weekend. Prognosticators are, however, offering a pretty broad range of possible results. Pamela McClintock of Variety says that “observers” are guessing the mega-disaster tale will make “north” of $40 million “or even substantially more” on its opening. The ever jolly Carl DiOrio of The Hollywood Reporter gets more specific on the “substantially more” and suggests that those mysterious tracking surveys mean that $55-65 million is “doable” for the first would-be blockbuster I’ve ever heard of to be based on the Mayan calendar. Some of this speculation, of course, is based on the large success ($186.7 million domestically) of Emmerich’s other mass destruction based sci-fi flick from 2004, “The Day After Tomorrow.”

Still, there are some issues, including an outsize running time of 2 hours and 38 minutes, forty minutes longer than “Day.” Predictably, most critics are making fun of the film. Let’s face it, Emmerich isn’t exactly known for thoughtful cinema. Still, while the film only scores a meager 32% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, it does seem to generate a certain number of backhanded compliments from those who think it edges into guilty pleasure territory, including from our own David Medsker and a darn funny, three-star review by the Chicago Tribune‘s Michael Phillips. In any event, that running time could be an issue in terms of number of shows per day and also simply by annoying impatient filmgoers. However, the teen boys who go to this stuff never seem to mind a long running time if they get their share of thud and blunder and, by all accounts, “2012” provides oodles of some of the best wanton destruction in some time.

Bill Nighy in Being released in some 882 theaters, as compared to 3,404 for “2012,” is Focus Features’ “Pirate Radio.” It’s a shortened version of a fact-inspired comedy that was called “The Boat That Rocked” in the UK. Writer-director Richard Curtis of “Love, Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and cult TV favorite “Blackadder,” is once again splitting critics with this ode to the glory days of sixties pop. However, a running theme in the reviews appears to be that, for a comedy about a bunch of radio rebels forcing their way illegally onto English airwaves during the heyday of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, it’s a bit polite. And so, the RT rating is a mehish 56% as of this writing.

I should add, though, that there’s something about Richard Curtis — I’d guess it’s gratuitous niceness — that tends to make some critics underrate his films. “Love, Actually” was a terrific piece of work in my own opinion, but it only earned an RT rating of 63%, though it also earned roughly a million bucks for each percentage point. Will Harris, who got to travel to our nation’s mother country to participate in the press junket for “Pirate Radio” is of a like mind, but feels this effort is worthy but a bit less wonderful its predecessor. (Will’s interviews from his trip are highly recommended. I suggest you start with Richard Curtis.)

And that’s it for the major/semi-major releases, but there’s some very interesting action amongst the limited flicks. First, as per Box Office Mojo, the critically lauded, sure-to-be Oscar nominated “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire,” which did amazing limited release business last weekend for Lions Gate with a per-screen average of $100,000 in 18 theaters, is expanding to 174 screens this weekend. Apparition/Sony’s critically derided and sure to be utterly un-awarded “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” is bumping up to 244 screens after showing some cult strength.

Finally, in an interesting strategy for a fairly high profile animated family film with an all-star voice cast, “Fantastic Mr. Fox” — from Fox, naturally — is opening in four theaters this weekend. The thinking here is, I’m guessing, that this isn’t just any animated family film based on a popular children’s book by Roald Dahl, but one directed by arthouse fave Wes Anderson. Though there may, or may not, have been significant issues during its making, it wound up with great reviews. In fact, the painstakingly non-CGI puppet animation is collecting the most consistently good notices of Anderson’s entire remarkable career, as reckoned by Rotten Tomatoes, beating even his instant classic “Rushmore” by four points. So, giving “Mr. Fox” a little time to percolate and spread some good word of mouth by opening it more slowly makes a lot of sense. It’s a strategy that should be used a lot more often, with good movies that is.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

  

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