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Phillip Noyce Adds a Dash of “Salt”

Phillip Noyce Adds a Dash of “Salt” (photo)

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Following a screening of “Salt” at the L.A. County Museum of Art, Phillip Noyce recounted how, as the son of a former instructor for Australia’s covert ops team Zed Special Force, he was inspired to spy on people on his way home from school in Griffith, New South Wales. Strangely enough, he’s doing something similar today — only with $100 million at his discretion and Angelina Jolie to do his bidding as a CIA agent capable of turning an office chair and cleaning chemicals into a blowtorch and diving out of the way of subway cars while on the run from co-workers who suspect she’s working with the Russians.

As LACMA chief programmer Ian Birnie acknowledged in his introduction for “Salt,” “We’ve never shown a movie that’s been advertised on the side of a bus,” but Noyce is the rare director who can straddle the line between high art and high fun. If it can be believed, “Salt” is the director’s first studio film in over a decade after the twin indie triumphs of “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and “The Quiet American” in 2002 and “Catch a Fire” in 2006, and for a thriller about the scary potential uprising of enemy sleeper cells, it’s anything but sleepy.

Shortly before Noyce was to head to Comic-Con for the first time today to promote the film with Jolie on one of the more anticipated panels, he spoke about returning to the genre he helped reshape during the ’90s with “Clear and Present Danger” and “Patriot Games,” why Jolie’s acting muscles are more important than her biceps and how Harvey Weinstein started and ended the indie film revolution.

Since you last directed a studio-backed spy thriller, the “Bourne” trilogy and Bond reboot have changed the mechanics of action films. Were the conversations you were having studio any different than when you worked on the Jack Ryan films during the ’90s?

I think Martin Campbell with Bond and Paul Greengrass with the latter Bourne movies have provided a new high mark that we have to live up to in kinetics and emotionality. Bond used to be most noted for his one-liners. You could never feel the pulse of his heart beating — whereas in “Casino Royale,” he suddenly became a human being, and that breathed new life into a tired series.

07222010_SaltJolie2.jpgAnd Greengrass’ particular editing style has given us the kind of edge of your seat ride that is more akin to a rollercoaster than a moviegoing experience. Hopefully both of those influences are felt by audiences when they see Evelyn Salt’s story and that we’ve added something else, which is the uniqueness of a female character doing all that and more.

“Salt” seems to place a premium on showing the action rather than following the trend of a lot of recent films where editing is used for energy. Was that important to you?

Sometimes editing by stealth is interesting because you can create rhythms that affect and audience viscerally but they don’t really understand. We do that a few times in “Salt,” but generally the kind of storytelling that we use is one where you can follow exactly what is going on in terms of the geography of the characters. But I love those Greengrass films.

People refer to his style as “shakycam.” Well, for me, given how much we now rely on our home video cameras as a record of contemporary life, “shakycam” is 90% of our day-to-day reality.

You mentioned at the LACMA screening that you had nightmares after Harrison Ford barely made it through one particularly dangerous stunt on “Clear and Present Danger.” Are these films more psychologically taxing than non-action films?

Your worst nightmare as a director of an action film is that people get injured. Your very worst nightmare is that someone might lose their life. It is only a movie and that’s something that you don’t want to have to live with. But it’s one of the possibilities that you always have to be prepared for because there is a certain amount of danger involved in thrilling audiences and it’s become easier in some ways through the years with CGI.

At the time, 15 years ago, I did “Clear and Present Danger,” Harrison Ford really was driving past a massive explosion. Nowadays, we’d use a much smaller explosion and augment it with CG work in post-production so that the actor’s not in nearly as much danger. All of that is fine — except when you suddenly get an adrenaline junkie like Angelina Jolie, who really wants to be out there and doing all these things for herself. [laughs]

07222010_SaltJolie3.jpgYou’ve said Angelina Jolie is “great at action because she’s a great actress,” which seems to run counter to what we expect from successful action stars.

Acting is really important if, like Angelina, you are physically adept and athletic, but she’s not muscular. We can imagine that with extreme training as a covert spy, she would’ve developed techniques of hand-to-hand combat that don’t rely on muscle power but rather on skill.

But giving and taking in an action sequence, the believability of that ultimately depends not on really being punched, not on really being kicked, but convincing the audience that you’ve just been through that. And Angelina’s skill as an actress is in direct proportion to her abilities as an action star. She knows how to pretend.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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