Patton Oswalt: A “Fan” for All Seasons

Patton Oswalt: A “Fan” for All Seasons (photo)

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One of the most irreverent, quick-witted and prolific stand-up comedians working today, Patton Oswalt is instantly recognizable from his TV appearances (“The King of Queens,” “The United States of Tara”), voiceover work (“Ratatouille”) and cameo roles in movies (“Observe and Report,” “Starsky and Hutch”). So the most surprising fact about Oswalt’s first film leading role is that it’s far too unsettling to be called a comedy. “Big Fan” marks the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of last year’s “The Wrestler.” A convincingly sincere Oswalt stars as Paul Aufiero, a sad-sack Staten Island parking lot attendant who obsessively follows the New York Giants, and spends his free time writing triumphant rants about his beloved footballers to be unloaded on a sports radio call-in show. Oswalt has joked that the movie should be called “Fattsy Driver,” but the more accurate Scorsese reference is “The King of Comedy,” as Paul becomes dangerously fanatical about his favorite linebacker. In town to promote the film and his new comedy album “My Weakness is Strong,” Oswalt sat down with me at a midtown Manhattan pub to talk about comic books, why Staten Island isn’t entirely depressing and the last time he got his ass kicked.

So you’re a comedian doing drama, working with a former Onion writer now recognized for drama, and you’re shooting this quick and dirty little indie. How unusual was this project?

[laughs] Quick and dirty is correct! What was challenging was the lack of any kind of facilities. You change your clothes in the back of the van, you stay in the car with the heater on to stay warm, or we’re all on location at someone’s house. Because I’m such a film buff, [I had] that nerdy exhilaration: “This is what it probably was like to do ‘Mean Streets’ or ‘The Rain People’ or all these early movies when they had no fucking money.” It was all “Quick, grab the shot before we get arrested,” or “Call your friend tomorrow, we got a mock-up. Doesn’t he have a room that’s really white? We’ll make it look like a hospital. Fuck, what are we going to do?” It was all [about] who can pitch in where, and I loved that kind of moviemaking, where we used the world around us, rather than depend on sets.

Do you get pampered working on studio projects?

Well, there’s a level of comfort from being on a much bigger budget thing. Something like this, it didn’t take you long to get into the character: “What is the effect of staying in this room my whole life done to me?” I’ve been here for eight hours, and it really is starting to affect my worldview, and pissing me off a bit. There’s something beautiful about that.

The film was shot all over Staten Island. Is there any place more depressing?

It’s not that the place itself is depressing. There’s just been no effort towards any kind of design or aesthetics. It’s like that Oscar Wilde quote — “Why are Americans so violent?” He goes: “Well, you guys have such ugly wallpaper.” That sounds funny, but there’s something psychological to it. If you surround people with ugliness, then they’re going to be in a bad mood all the time. But a lot of the [restaurants] were all family-run, so that part still had a lot of humanity to it. It had this cool dichotomy that I loved.

I know you’re not a sports fanatic, so let’s talk comic books. What’s the most obsessive thing you’ve done in the name of comic collecting?

I don’t collect them, but I do read them, so I do get very obsessive. I want my new comics on a Wednesday. I fucking want them. I’ve gotten in cabs and driven to the outskirts of Las Vegas to find a comic book store on a Wednesday, so that I’ve got my pile. But I’m not obsessed with the characters — I very much follow the writers and artists that I like: the Luna brothers; everything Ed Brubaker, Brian K. Vaughan, Daniel Way or Matt Fraction does; or Warren Ellis, his 19 titles a week. [laughs] That stuff jazzes me up. The things I love… I try to have them enhance my life, not replace my life.

08252009_BigFan3.jpgSo what’s the through line of your taste? What appeals to you in modern comics?

The only genre I have left is just “good.” I tend to trust writers, and I also read reviews. When people say, “Oh, there’s this new writer, you should really check him out. He’s doing something great,” that’s what I follow. I don’t sit there and go, “I like robots. I like werewolves.” It doesn’t matter. Dave Mazzucchelli has this new one — “Asterios Polyp,” about an aging architect — that I could not put down. At the same time, Darwyn Cooke adapted Richard Stark’s “The Hunter,” and I could not put that down. I just like good stuff.

Besides being obsessive, your character Paul’s fandom is communal. Do you have any hobbies you share with a collective of friends?

There’s nothing I meet up for anymore. It’s all solitary. I’m so busy working, writing and performing that I don’t have time. Going to see movies with friends, and sitting and arguing about them afterward, that’s still an abiding passion. But I wouldn’t say that that’s a hobby-like meeting — tt’s just me and my friends going to see movies.

From my limited exposure to your onscreen buddy Kevin Corrigan, he seems like a real-life eccentric.

That’s really how he is. He’s not “Oh, I better put on the weirdo character now.” It’s just the way he interacts with the world and the way his thoughts come out of him. You realize he’s moving at a different and random speed. That’s what gives him his genius.

In so many ways, Paul just wants to be left alone. Being in the limelight now more than ever, is there anything you want to be left alone about?

Not really. I’ll discuss anything with anyone. There’s nothing I feel like I have to hide, or just… [in a whiny voice] “Oh, guys, just leave me alone.” I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you like it, don’t be guilty about that.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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