SXSW 2011: The Innkeepers

For two movies about essentially the same thing (in this case, a haunting), Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” and James Wan’s “Insidious” have received vastly different reactions from SXSW attendees, with many liking one but not the other, and vice versa. Those who read my review of “Insidious” already know where my allegiance lies, because while “The Innkeepers” may fancy itself a horror film, there’s nothing particularly scary about it. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy star as the last remaining workers at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a fledgling hotel that has relied on stories of being one of New England’s most haunted locations to fill its rooms. But as the Inn’s final days draw near, the pair goes searching for proof that it’s actually haunted in one last effort to save the hotel from closing its doors for good.

The_innkeepers

Unfortunately, you have to sit through a fairly uneventful 100 minutes to find out the answer, and it’s not really worth the wait. Though West teases the audience with brief moments of suspense that continue to build as the story unfolds, there’s very little payoff, to the point that when the horror elements finally do kick in, they’re not as terrifying as you would hope. Instead, the movie spends a lot of time camped out at the front desk where the two leads shoot the shit and play tricks on one another. It’s witty and amusing at times, but never quite enough to hold your interest, despite the fact that Paxton and Healy actually have pretty good chemistry. If there’s one redeeming quality, it’s the fantastic score by Jeff Grace, which at the very least makes it watchable. That doesn’t change the fact that the film is still a mediocre film, and the only one that Ti West has to blame is himself, because while “The Innkeepers” certainly had the potential to reinvigorate the horror genre in the same way as “Insidious,” it falls short.

  

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2010: A Look Back at a Lot of Interviews

At the end of 2009, I took a look back at 100 interviews I’d done over the course of the year, and it was exhausting…not only for me, but possibly also for you, the reader. Oh, I still think it was a heck of a piece, but I believe I made a mistake by numbering them. I mean, you get about 20 – 25 into the proceedings, and it’s, like, “Oh, geez, I’ve still got 75 left to go? Screw this, I’m out of here.” So this time, I’m not going to tell you how many quotes are in the piece. I’ll just say that I talked to a lot of really funny, fascinating, and decidedly forthright people during the course of 2010, and I’ll let you dive in. Hope you enjoy the chance to reminisce as much I did, and here’s to a great 2011 for us all!

Big Shots at the Box Office

“I was in Australia, touring with my films and live show, and I got an E-mail from my agent, saying that there was interest in me for Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I thought, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ I thought it would be for a day or two, maybe a few days or something, and I would’ve been very happy to do that. But then the offer came in, and it was for virtually the entire run of the film. I didn’t even know what part it was for, so I asked my agent, and he said it was for the Knave of Hearts. So I looked up the Knave of Hearts in the original book online and…it didn’t really seem like a character that would require the run of the film. I thought, ‘Something must be different.’ And then I got the actual screenplay, and it was extremely different. I could see that it was written as a sequel. But it was a great part, and I was ecstatic to be in it…and I’m still ecstatic to be in it!” – Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland

“They called my agent and said they were auditioning for (‘Inception’), so I flew myself back, I read for Chris (Nolan) once, and I left. I think it was later that day that I heard from my agent, saying, ‘They’ve cut everyone except you. Now, they’re going to go to London to see some people, and then we’ll know more after that. So don’t get your hopes up, but…this is great!’ Then I came back and read again, and I got the job. And then, as you might expect, I freaked out completely.” – Dileep Rao, Inception

“I was actually down at my ranch in South Texas, and my guys called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get you a meeting with Sylvester Stallone. He’s casting a movie called ‘The Expendables.’’ Several months went by, and he’d already cast ‘The Expendables,’ but he still wanted to meet me for potentially playing the part of Dan Paine. So I went in to meet Sly, it was the first time I’d ever met him, and I’m a huge fan. I remember watching ‘Rocky’ back in ’76 or whenever it was, then getting up the next morning, drinking eggs, and running down the street…and now here I am meeting with this guy!” – Steve Austin, The Expendables

“I was privileged and honored to work side by side with Sly (Stallone in ‘The Expendables’). Most of my scenes take place with him, and I’m telling you, man, he took me under his wing, and it was a brilliant thing. I don’t know what else to say. ‘Rocky,’ ‘Rambo,’ just everything he’s done is iconic, and it wasn’t lost on me. I love the man, and I can’t wait to do another one, ‘cause Sly’s the king of the sequels…and in my whole career, I’ve never done a sequel to any one of my projects. So I’m, like, ‘Sly, I’m ready for ‘Expendables 2,’ okay?'” – Terry Crews, The Expendables

“Jessica (Pare) was just about to disrobe…we were in the (hot) tub…and they were, like, ‘Ready!’ And she took off whatever was covering her in the tub. And somebody asked the boom guy a question just as she was disrobing, and all he could say was, ‘Yesssssss…’ He could only whisper. I didn’t make a joke about it, though. I was just, like, ‘Okay, Craig, keep it cool, keep it together…’” – Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine

“I made the mistake of using one term loosely and saying (filming in 3D) was a tedious process, and somebody made it sound really bad. The bottom line is that it took a little longer, and the one that suffered more than anybody was (director Kevin Greutert) and the camera guy, because they have to get it right. You know, calibration and being specific with lights and all that stuff. For me, it was a good excuse to go play with the crew that wasn’t on set and crack a couple of jokes, so I got to socialize a little bit more.” – Costas Mandylor, Saw 3D

“Usually, when you’re coming in completely blind with who you’re working with, you don’t know if you’re going to get along, nor do some people put the time in to try to get along. We were all in Pittsburgh, and we did do, like, two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting (‘She’s Out of My League’), and in those two weeks, we hung out a lot…and, luckily, it went good rather than bad. Because sometimes it’s just awful, and you’re going, ‘I can’t stand that guy!’ So we were lucky. I know a lot of people always say this when they come off work, because they’re kind of trained to say it, but with this one, we all really got along, and I think that’s what helps our chemistry on screen so much: we thought each other were funny, we even liked to hang out afterward, and that played well. ” – Nate Torrence, She’s Out of My League

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A Chat with Ti West (“House of the Devil”)

Writer / director Ti West has been in the business for a decade now, helming such memorable – if low-budget – films as 2005’s “The Roost” and 2007’s “Trigger Man,” but it wasn’t until this past year that he finally began to rack up some major critical acclaim, courtesy of a mighty darned cool horror flick called “House of the Devil.” The film made the festival rounds and picked up a lot of buzz, then did a stint on the VOD circuit, but now it’s finally hitting home video, and you can count on it developing a cult following in a rapid fashion. Bullz-Eye talked to Ti in connection with the DVD release of “House of the Devil,” and in addition to discussing how such familiar faces as Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov came into the picture, he also chatted about some of his earlier directorial efforts and acknowledged that he’d much rather Alan Smithee’s name appeared on “Cabin Fever 2” instead of his own.

Bullz-Eye: Big fan of the movie. I heard a lot of the buzz about it, but I only finally got to see it once it came out on DVD.

Ti West: Oh, good. I’m glad it delivered. A lot of times, people hear a lot of buzz, and then they say, “What the fuck…?” That’s the great thing about getting buzz for a movie: it’s like free promotion. And then the bad thing is that the message boards sometimes run wild on you. (Laughs)

BE: Well, in this case, I was more or less familiar with a lot of the films that it was stylistically emulating, so I was, like, “This is sweet.” So what gave you the idea to do this…I don’t know, would you call it an homage?

TW: I wouldn’t. People do. But I more just think of it as a period piece. I mean, it’s set in the early ‘80s, so I tried to make it look like it was the early ‘80s, the same way if, it was set in the ‘50s, maybe it would be, like, Technicolor-looking or something like that. I just think that, because that period is so en vogue to reference and it’s so hip and retro to make movies about it, the word “homage” gets thrown around a little bit more than it should.

BE: So what inspired you to do a period piece, then? (Laughs)

TW: Well, I mean, since the story was about Satanism, more or less, the early ‘80s was really the height of this sort of cultural phenomenon within the United States. Now it’s called “Satanic Panic.” I just remember that growing up very vividly. I don’t know why, but I guess growing up in the suburbs, I just remember that if you went down to the park by yourself, you’d get kidnapped in a van with no windows and they’d sacrifice you to the Devil. And I remember seeing, like, Geraldo and people talking about it on TV, and I just found it really fascinating, so it always stuck with me. So when it came time to make another horror movie, I just wanted to make something Satanic, because I also really like the sort of evocative imagery and all that sort of stuff, so the only time that made sense for me to set that movie was in the early ‘80s. Nowadays, nobody’s worried about the Devil because there’s so many other things to be worried about, whereas in the ‘80s, there was this weird, almost fantasy element to what people were afraid of.

BE: You’ve definitely got a couple of actors in the film who are, if not genre specific, certainly bring to mind a few other creepy movies, like Tom Noonan (“Manhunter”) and Mary Woronov (“Silent Night, Deadly Night”).

TW: Definitely, yeah. I’m huge fans of both of them, and I’d worked with Tom before, so it was a pleasure to do it again.

BE: Had you always considered him for the role of Mr. Ulman?

TW: Not necessarily. It was one of those things where I was so focused on “how the hell am I going to find a girl who’s going to be in every frame of this movie?” that I hadn’t really given a lot of serious thought to who we were going to cast in that part. And then he E-mailed me and had gotten hold of the script somehow…I still don’t know how he did that…but he’d somehow gotten hold of the script, and he liked it and said, “I think I’d be great for it.” And I was just, like, “Done!” It made it really easy. It wasn’t necessarily written with him in mind, but it wasn’t necessarily not, either, because I know him and I knew he’d be perfect for it.

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A chat with Mark Duplass of “Humpday”

Mark DuplassMark Duplass, along with Joshua Leonard (“The Blair Witch Project”), is one of the two stars of one of the funniest and just plain nicest movies I’ve seen in awhile. If you haven’t yet read my review, writer-director Lynn Shelton’s Indie Spirit award-nominated “Humpday” is a really funny comedy about two completely heterosexual best friends who become possessed by the idea of making an art-porno in which the two of them take their bromance to its highly illogical extreme.

Duplass may be best known as one half of the film-making Duplass Brothers, who had a big indie/festival hit with “The Puffy Chair,” one of the most acclaimed films in the so-called “mumblecore” movement — improvised, usually comic, films in which no one actually mumbles much but in which the dialogue is largely improvised. While the “mumblecore” tag has become more than a little dated, the Brothers D are currently completing their first movie with big-name stars (specifically, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly), which was without a title when this interview was conducted but we’ve just learned via Anne Thompson is going to be named “Cyrus.”

“Humpday” technically could be considered mumblecore because, while it was for the most part tightly plotted, the dialogue was improvised. It’s a technique Duplass was clearly comfortable with as he has acted in the films he has been making with his brother, Jay Duplass, for over a decade, as well as in such other ‘core hits as “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” We caught up with Mark via phone a bit early in the day (my time), one recent Friday morning…

PH: Just before I saw “Humpday,” I reviewed the DVD of “The Odd Couple.” I was just thinking, now that you’ve had time to think about the movie and everything, and we have this recently coined word “bromance,” which this movie obviously deals with – how do you think “Humpday” fits in with all these other movies that have been out there?

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