DID YOU READ

Tribeca 2011: Chris Evans, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen Make a Point With “Puncture”

Tribeca 2011: Chris Evans, Adam Kassen and Mark Kassen Make a Point With “Puncture” (photo)

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For those who think Chris Evans’ superheroic exploits will be restricted to the 1940s, there’s a surprise in store with “Puncture,” which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. Though it still involves on kind of Blue Shield, the actor plays an even unlikelier champion of the people than the scrawny Steve Rogers as Michael Weiss, a Houston attorney who made it his life’s mission to introduce the Safety Point needle, a device that ensured clean needle use in hospitals, much to the chagrin of major medical manufacturers who tried to blackball its inventor from ever reaching the market. Sadly, while Weiss was clearly a gifted lawyer, it was his additional interest in needles for recreational use that kept him from ever seeing the success he deserved with the case.

Yet that’s what makes “Puncture” such a great showcase for Evans and a compelling debut from Mark and Adam Kassen, two producers-turned-directors for whom the subject matter struck close to home as the sons of two health care professionals. Although there’s no doubt that gives the film an attention to detail that’s key, it’s how the directing duo balances the demands of a legal thriller with the personal struggle that Weiss goes through as a functioning addict that’s most impressive, though they get considerable help from a career-best performance from Evans. While in New York for the festival, the trio talked about bringing such a wonderfully contradictory character to the screen, making a film in the midst of the real-life people involved, and how to make a courtroom thriller interesting in an era after “Law & Order.”

How did all you guys get interested in this film?

Mark Kassen: Paul Danzinger [Mike Weiss’s legal partner] sent us a story and we thought it was really compelling. We thought if he would trust us and give us some time to get a proper writer on it and make it work, we’d take it over, so we took a big leap of faith with him. We went out to our friend Chris Lopata, who we worked with on a number of projects – we spent about a year working together on the script and kind of getting it right, going down to Houston interviewing people, working with Chris and then when we felt great about it, we went to our mutual agents and they actually had said “this is something Chris Evans would like” and we said, “do you think he would read it?” And they said, “I don’t know, maybe.” And he did.

Adam Kassen: We had a meeting and as we keep saying, we got him drunk and he came to Houston with us. [laughs]

Chris Evans: That was it.

What did you like about it?

CE: My agents know the type of stuff that I like, the kind of scripts and characters that I dig and they sent this, they said, “you’re going to like this” and within the first 10 minutes, I could tell I’m going to like this guy. The script was so good, it was so intimate and I was so shocked no other actor was going to steal this from me and then I met with these guys and you could love a script all you want, but if you don’t like [or] have confidence in the directors, you’re not going to have a good movie. It’s not worth it and it’s a waste of time. But I felt extremely confident. I walked out of the meeting like, man, I can’t believe this is working out. I’ve got a great script, a great role, great directors and I didn’t have to audition or earn it or fight – this is great.

AK: Well, [Chris] did earn it in his past performances, so we were really excited. When you have a character like that, we were very careful in our selection of casting is that you don’t want to have someone who’s one note or self-indulgent and to have someone that Chris does is very rare, a dynamic actor who can also have that soul and show that honesty and tragedy and excitement all in one is a rare thing and to have it in Chris, we felt really lucky and fortunate to get him in the role.

You actually dedicate the film to Mike Weiss by using a string of contradictory labels for him like “Lawyer, genius, fool, addict…” Is there any interesting story behind that?

AK: Actually, I think Paul Danzinger wrote those words down.

CE: I loved that you encapsulated that – it was such a great thing to read on that last page. Like what a great encompassing [thing] of who this guy was. It was just unbelievable.

AK: That’s actually what inspired us about the story is Paul isn’t a screenwriter, he’s a lawyer — that’s not what he could do, but he wanted to get it in a way we could read it. In that sentence what he was able to do that we picked up is how much this person affected him and all these other people. So of what we kept, that may have been the bulk of it in that ending sentence. It definitely moved us from the beginning. And quite frankly, as we were working on it, the first time I ever saw it with music — I’ve seen the movie a lot in many pieces and it’s very hard to stay emotionally involved in the film that you’ve taken apart and put together — I still get emotional when those words come up.

CE: Me, too. That’s part of the stuff I love about the character is that little final hook. I was like this guy’s great. And then we went to Houston and we met with a lot of guys who knew Mike, his family, friends and you start trying to piece together who this guy was and I’ve never made a movie based on a real person before, so it’s strange. You can’t start from scratch. There’s an existing history here that you have to respect and incorporate into what you’re building.

At the premiere, you spoke about how you used some of the paintings from Mike’s house as set decoration and without getting supernatural, is there a certain energy you feel as filmmakers when you’re surrounded by the real artifacts and people?

MK: I think the energy of the people you surround yourself with affects things in even subtle ways when it hits the screen, even from shooting down in Houston. We thought at one point that we would shoot it in L.A. or maybe somewhere else a little more convenient for people, but by shooting in Houston around real places that Mike was, I think just helps add a layer of authenticity to the film and helps the spirit and energy of it.

AK: And a testament to him and the other people involved in his life, people really came out for the film, both in the city of Houston and everyone within the tentacles of Mike’s universe from his family to Paul Danzinger’s entire family. [Many of them played] extras and judges that Mike worked with [would] give us their courtrooms and things like that. We’re very careful to say this is not a documentary, this is a movie that people will be entertained by hopefully, but the credibility comes in almost in capturing little pieces from those things.

As an actor, does it affect you in a different way?

CE: It’s terrifying. It’s intimidating. It’s not just you on the line. If it doesn’t work out or you’re not happy with your performance, it’s not like well, I’m the only one that has to really deal with the ripple effects. If you don’t give a solid performance, you’re kind of trashing someone’s gift to you. The fact that they gave us the story, you’ve got to respect that.

MK: Also, Adam and I talked about as we went along of kind of realizing the effect of having these people around potentially in a negative way at a certain point because as an actor, you spend this time working on a character and then letting go hopefully and then you have to be free to let whatever happens happen and so you try not to watch yourself from a third place. If you feel someone’s watching you who has opinions about what that might’ve been, it starts to get in your head and that’s a weird thing.

CE: You start to second guess yourself.

AK: Worse than someone like JFK because JFK’s an iconic figure and people have an impression of him.

MK: But if it’s an intimate person whose brother and father are around and they’ve had [that] experience, then makes what you’re trying to create a very weird thing.

Another thing I’m sure you talked about was not falling into the traps of most legal procedurals and while Mike’s unconventional life certainly helped, how much did you want to embrace or avoid the traditional beats of the genre?

AK: A lot of that was at the script stage and then in casting people that we cast so those moments that could slip into those kind of films you’re talking about didn’t [because] of the performances. We were conscious that we didn’t want it to be, though we enjoy the show very much, a “Law and Order” episode. Even the courtroom drama stuff, we showed discovery, which on the face of it is a boring process you don’t see, but still in it, there’s some technical and interesting stuff and we got such great actors that you still got great character pieces that pushed the film forward, but not in the traditional courtroom sense you would normally get.

MK: For better or worse, we were conscious of the tone of the movie we wanted to make and we kept that in check by asking ourselves throughout the editing process, especially in terms of the suspense – we talked a lot about that – when did it matter and when didn’t it? Because suspense is like in a horror movie, it’s a trick, so it’s a technical thing that you can inject if you want to, but if it isn’t really the movie you’re making, then it’s just like a jerk-off. and we really tried to stay true to what we thought we were doing.

Chris, you play a drug addict in the film, but was finding the subtlety in the courtroom scenes actually harder?

CE: Yeah, courtroom scenes are really tricky because we’ve all seen those movies with iconic courtroom spiels. The movie starts out with that and it’s one of the first ways you get to know the character and you want to make it charismatic and be dynamic for the audience to like the guy right away and there was a version in my head where I got the script, I was like I’m going to play with this and really not go big, but be just different. Then it just felt almost cliché – it felt forced. And I said, we’ve got plenty of movie to let this guy’s levels come out. So I ended up dialing it down a bit and I think it felt more real.

MK: And we cut the line “You can’t handle the truth!” [laughs]

“Puncture” currently has no U.S. distribution, but will play the Tribeca Film Festival on April 26th and 28th.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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