Jeff Daniels Has All the Answers

Jeff Daniels Has All the Answers (photo)

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You mentioned Michigan, which is where I was born. How did you end up in the Great Lake State?

It’s home. I grew up in Chelsea, my wife Kathleen grew up in Chelsea. After ten years in New York, we had a kid, and we wanted to raise them in a place that we understood. She’s surrounded by family on both sides, so when I’m using the airport to go to work, she’s got a place where she can raise the kids that is outside the industry.

That was the reason we went there, and it worked in ways that we didn’t know back then. The kids have seen the world, but from outside the industry looking into it. They went to London when we shot “101 Dalmatians,” and they got to meet Jim Carrey on the set of “Dumb and Dumber.” It’s been a great ride for them, but then they’re in the Midwest, where nobody’s famous. They understand. We did it family first, career second — a close second. It keeps you sane. You end up taking movies for the right reasons, instead of “I’m not famous enough this year. I need to do something that makes me more famous. I need to marry somebody who is famous.”

You must be a hometown hero.

I think, whether it’s Chelsea or it’s Michigan, they pull for me. I’m like the Detroit Tigers. They want me to win. The support is great.

What do you do when you’re not working on a movie?

I play a lot of guitar. I’ve been doing a lot of gigs the last seven or eight years. I did them initially to raise money for my theater company, but I really enjoy just walking out with a guitar, plugging it in front of 200 to 1000 people. I’m always working on improving the show and writing new songs. I just wrote a play for my theater company. And then I play golf, with friends of mine or my boys.

What instigated your relationship to music?

When I moved to New York in ’76, I was 21, and I bought a guitar just because I knew I’d be sitting around. I needed something to fill my time, and I wanted to learn how to play. I did a lot of musicals, and I still wanted music to be a part of my life.

I picked up the tab books of Stefan Grossman and Doc Watson, guys like that, and really started to understand how to fingerpick. Later on came the blues and the Delta blues. I went down to Clarksdale, Mississippi, made the pilgrimage to the crossroads, and Robert Johnson’s grave. I never kept a diary, but I would write these songs, and a lot of them are just godawful, but they went into the notebook. Nobody was going to see them. They were just for me.

Now, I write for that audience that’s going to be sitting there that night. I don’t write for Billboard or to sell songs to some country and western guy. I’m observational, then I try to turn it into something that the person sitting there can relate to. That’s where you get songs about road rage called “Have a Good Life (Then Die),” and dealing with the 800-pound gorilla in the room, “If William Shatner Can, I Can Too.” And getting shot and killed by Clint Eastwood, I drop some Hollywood stories in there and try to make it musical with “The Dirty Harry Blues.”


You directed two movies, “Super Sucker” and the Michigan-themed “Escanaba in da Moonlight.” Is this a hat you’d like to wear again?

Nah, I didn’t like it. I’ve always been attracted to writing. I was interested in why Woody Allen was rewriting a scene in the middle of “The Purple Rose of Cairo” [and] Jim Brooks would rewrite little lines in “Terms [of Endearment].” I couldn’t care less about the camera or what kind of lens was on there: “What do you got on there, a 75? Why is that?” As I look back, I’ve always been interested in story structure, how to write well. Guys like Shelby Foote [or] Lanford Wilson. That’s been the driving force.

“The Answer Man” opens in limited release on July 24th.

[Additional photos: Lou Taylor Pucci and Jeff Daniels in “The Answer Man,” Magnolia Pictures, 2009; Jeff Daniels on the set of “Escanaba in da Moonlight,” Purple Rose Films, 2001]


Face Melting Cameos

The 10 Most Metal Pop Culture Cameos

Glenn Danzig drops by Portlandia tonight at 10P on IFC.

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Glenn Danzig rocks harder than granite. In his 60 years, he’s mastered punk with The Misfits, slayed metal with the eponymous Danzig, and generally melted faces with the force of his voice. And thanks to Fred and Carrie, he’s now stopping by tonight’s brand new Portlandia so we can finally get to see what “Evil Elvis” is like when he hits the beach. To celebrate his appearance, we put together our favorite metal moments from pop culture, from the sublime to the absurd.

10. Cannibal Corpse meets Ace Ventura

Back in the ’90s,  Cannibal Corpse was just a small time band from Upstate New York, plying their death metal wares wherever they could find a crowd, when a call from Jim Carry transformed their lives. Turns out the actor was a fan, and wanted them for a cameo in his new movie, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. The band had a European tour coming up, and were wary of being made fun of, so they turned it down. Thankfully, the rubber-faced In Living Color vet wouldn’t take no for an answer, proving that you don’t need to have a lot of fans, just the right ones.

9. AC/DC in Private Parts

Howard Stern’s autobiographical film, based on his book of the same name, followed his rise in the world of radio and pop culture. For a man surrounded by naked ladies and adoring fans, it’s hard to track the exact moment he made it. But rocking out with AC/DC in the middle of Central Park, as throngs of fans clamor to get a piece of you, seems like it comes pretty close. You can actually see Stern go from hit host to radio god in this clip, as “You Shook Me All Night Long” blasts in the background.

8. Judas Priest meets The Simpsons

When you want to blast a bunch of peace-loving hippies out on their asses, you’re going to need some death metal. At least, that’s what the folks at The Simpsons thought when they set up this cameo from the metal gods. Unfortunately, thanks to a hearty online backlash, the writers of the classic series were soon informed that Judas Priest, while many things, are not in fact “death metal.” This led to the most Simpson-esque apology ever. Rock on, Bartman. Rock on.

7. Anthrax on Married…With Children

What do you get when Married…with Children spoofs My Dinner With Andre, substituting the erudite playwrights for a band so metal they piss rust? Well, for starters, a lot of headbanging, property destruction and blown eardrums. And much like everything else in life, Al seems to have missed the fun.

6. Motorhead rocks out on The Young Ones

The Young Ones didn’t just premiere on BBC2 in 1982 — it kicked the doors down to a new way of doing comedy. A full-on assault on the staid state of sitcoms, the show brought a punk rock vibe to the tired format, and in the process helped jumpstart a comedy revolution. For instance, where an old sitcom would just cut from one scene to the next, The Young Ones choose to have Lemmy and his crew deliver a raw version of “Ace of Spades.” The general attitude seemed to be, you don’t like this? Well, then F— you!

5. Red and Kitty Meet Kiss on That ’70s Show

Carsey-Werner Productions

Carsey-Werner Productions

Long before they were banished to playing arena football games, Kiss was the hottest ticket in rock. The gang from That ’70s Show got to live out every ’70s teen’s dream when they were set loose backstage at a Kiss concert, taking full advantage of groupies, ganja and hard rock.

4. Ronnie James Dio in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (NSFW, people!)

What does a young boy do when he was born to rock, and the world won’t let him? What tight compadre does he pray to for guidance and some sweet licks? If you’re a young Jables, half of “the world’s most awesome band,” you bow your head to Ronnie James Dio, aka the guy who freaking taught the world how to do the “Metal Horns.” Never before has a rock god been so literal than in this clip that turns it up to eleven.

3. Ozzy Osbourne in Trick or Treat

It’s hard to tell if Ozzy was trying his hardest here, or just didn’t give a flying f–k. What is clear is that, either way, it doesn’t really matter. Ozzy’s approach to acting seems to lean more heavily on Jack Daniels than sense memory, and yet seeing the slurry English rocker play a sex-obsessed televangelist is so ridiculous, he gets a free pass. Taking part in the cult horror Trick or Treat, Ozzy proves that he makes things better just by showing up. Because that’s exactly what he did here. Showed up. And it rocks.

2. Glenn Danzig on Portlandia

Danzig seems to be coming out of a self imposed exile these days. He just signed with a record company, and his appearance on Portlandia is reminding everyone how kick ass he truly is. Who else but “The Other Man in Black” could help Portland’s resident goths figure out what to wear to the beach? Carrie Brownstein called Danzig “amazing,” and he called Fred “a genius,” so this was a rare love fest for the progenitor of horror punk.

1. Alice Cooper in Wayne’s World

It’s surprising, sure, but for a scene that contains no music whatsoever, it’s probably the most famous metal moment in the history of film. When Alice Cooper informed Wayne and Garth that Milwaukee is actually pronounced “Milly-way-kay” back in 1992, he created one of the most famous scenes in comedy history. What’s more metal than that? Much like Wayne and Garth, we truly are not worthy.

Deadgirls and Grouchy Gurus

Deadgirls and Grouchy Gurus (photo)

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“Paraiso Travel”
A hit in its native Columbia, director Simon Brand’s sophomore feature explores the issues of illegal immigration and the disconnect between the promise of the American dream and the reality of scratching out a living under the radar. Angelica Blandon and Raúl Castillo co-star as Reina and Carlos, a newly arrived Latin American couple who find themselves lost and separated in a seedy New York neighborhood. In Spanish with subtitles.
Opens in limited release.

Having honed his skills as a helmer-for-hire on “Chuck” and “Battlestar Galactica,” director Jonas Pate delivers his first feature since 1997’s thriller “Deceiver.” Kevin Spacey lends his singular brand of deadpan misanthropy to the role of Dr. Henry Carter, shrink of choice for Hollywood’s elite. Tired of hearing their self-absorbed prattle, Carter diagnoses himself with “compassion fatigue syndrome” and self-prescribes time away and extensive marijuana therapy. Saffron Burrows, Mark Webber and an uncredited Robin Williams fill out the cast as a few of Dr. Carter’s dysfunctional patients.
Opens in New York and Los Angeles.

“Surviving Crooked Lake”
Filling that inexplicably underserved niche between “Deliverance” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” this wilderness survival thriller follows four teenage girls forced by a tragedy to fend for themselves and find their own arduous way home when a camping trip in the Canadian Shield goes very wrong. The low-budget tale has a unique look to it — enough to nab it the Vision Award for Cinematography at Slamdance last year.
Opens in limited release.

“The Ugly Truth”
A specialist in throwaway crowd-pleasers (“Legally Blonde,” “21”), Aussie director Robert Luketic’s latest features brooding machismo expert Gerard Butler attempting to do warm and fuzzy. Butler plays a relationship expert whose controversial advice for the single ladies (“It’s called a Stairmaster, get on it.”) is put to the test when he takes neurotic morning show producer Abby (Katherine Heigl) under his wing for a crash course in romance. Can’t imagine where this one goes.
Opens wide.

Meeting Mr. or Ms. Wrong

Meeting Mr. or Ms. Wrong (photo)

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1. “John & Mary” (1969)

Directed by Peter Yates

This film was a real surprise find for me a few years ago, and a huge inspiration for “Like So Many Things…” It’s about two strangers (Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) and the morning after their one-night stand. Completely unique (especially for the time) in encapsulating the awkward dance between a man and woman trying to really know each other and wondering if there’s anything there. The acting is amazing and you’re locked in John’s apartment the entire time, watching the two, wondering where it’s going to go. It reminds me of the Rita Hayworth quote, “They go to bed with Rita Hayworth, but they wake up with me.”


2. “He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not” (2002)

Directed by Laetitia Colombani

If you haven’t seen this film, you’ve got to! Simple, yet deceptive. When you see Audrey Tautou, you think of the sweetness of Amélie as she plays a wide-eyed student artist who falls for a handsome older cardiologist (Samuel Le Bihan). Then the story goes left as Colombani creates a thriller about perception. In most stalker films, you always see it from the side of the victim, but never sympathetically from the side of the predator. And what Colombani does so well is not only make you empathize with the antagonist, but see the world through her eyes and experience her heartbreak, rejection and desire for revenge.


3. “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

Directed by Elia Kazan

Okay, besides starring my all-time favorite actor Marlon Brando in a performance that no actor since has touched, this film contains so much passion and energy and want and pain and regret and savagery. You are constantly aware of the heat — in New Orleans, and between the characters involved. They’re so flawed and complex — and thus real. Is Stanley right for Stella? Is Blanche right for Mitch? Is Stanley right for Blanche? I’ve watched this film dozens of times and it still remains honest and spellbinding.


4. “Faces” (1968)

Directed by John Cassavetes

Complex and wincingly uncomfortable to watch at times. Starring Gena Rowlands, Seymour Cassel, John Marley and many others, it makes you really look forward to being middle-aged and unhappily married. Couples individually search for comfort and excitement in the arms and attentions of younger strangers — each of them trying to rekindle their youth and passion. There’s a heartbreaking scene between Cassel’s character Chet and a mature overweight woman at a house party where the women has had one too many drinks. The awkward image of her fawning over him will stay with you for months, if not years.


5. “Last Tango in Paris” (1972)

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Yeah, okay, I know… another Brando film. But damn, talk about meeting Mr. Wrong. A young actress (Maria Schneider) meets Brando’s character, whose wife has committed suicide. The film is a study in mourning (and my second favorite after Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue”) and how sadistic a person can be in dealing with loss. No names. They meet, they screw, they push themselves sexually and emotionally. How far will she let him go? How much of himself will he share? Great film.

[Additional photos: “Romeo and Juliet,” Paramount, 1968; “Far From Heaven,” Focus Features, 2002; “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Focus Features, 2004; “Something Wild,” Orion Pictures, 1986; “John and Mary,” 20th Century Fox, 1969; “He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not,” Samuel Goldwyn Films, 2002; “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Warner Bros., 1951; “Faces,” Castle Hill Productions, 1968; “Last Tango in Paris,” United Artists, 1972]

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