DID YOU READ

“Bullhead”‘s director and star steer the conversation

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The race for the Academy Awards is a high-stakes, high-pressure game. But Michael R. Roskam and Matthias Schoenaerts, the writer/director and star of “Bullhead,” a brutal and beautiful nominee for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film, seemed downright relaxed as we chatted in their New York hotel room three weeks before the big show. The Oscars, Roskam explained, are gravy. As far as he was concerned, they’d already won.

“Buzz is good,” Roskam told me, “but if you can’t see the movie, you can’t decide whether it’s good or not. So it’s all about making as many people see the movie as you can. That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we’re going to keep doing, whatever happens at the Oscars. That’s the rewarding part. If we win, it’s just an extra award.”

If Roskam wins, it won’t be undeserved. “Bullhead” is an unforgettable crime drama built around a remarkable performance from Schoenaerts. He plays Jacky, a Belgian cattle farmer with a dark secret. Through years of steroid abuse, Jacky has transformed himself into a massive mountain of a man; as the film begins, he enters into a deal with a shady meat trader to pump his livestock full of similarly illegal, similarly anabolic substances. When Jacky’s new business partners murder a cop investigating their so-called “hormone mafia,” he’s threatened with the loss of his business and the exposure of his secret, thanks to the return of a childhood acquaintance he hasn’t seen in decades.

Like the brooding, burly man at its center — Schoenaerts spent a year bulking up for the role — “Bullhead”‘s hard exterior hides a vulnerable core; the film is as moving as it is monstrous. “It’s not about the bad guys against the good guys,” Roskam said. “Everybody is a bad guy, in a way. But there’s good parts in a bad guy. It’s not black and white.”

During our conversation, I was curious where this morally murky story came from and how Schoenaerts prepared for his role beyond his obvious physical transformation. We also talked about Jacky’s connection to Frankenstein and why you could never remake “Bullhead” in the United States. Roskam and Schoenaerts were charming, funny, and totally at ease throughout, like a couple of guys with nothing to lose.

Where did the project begin, with the idea of this character or with the story of this Belgian hormone mafia?

Michael R. Roskam: Let’s say that the themes, like destiny, loyalty, impotence, powerlessness, manhood —

Matthias Schoenaerts: — redemption, revenge —

MRR: — redemption, revenge, those themes were already in my system as a writer. I was working with them in my short stories and short films. That’s one part. Then in 1995, we had this hormone mafia situation. They killed a very honest veterinary inspector of the Food and Drug Administration in Belgium. He was an Eliot Ness kind of character, doing his job, by the book, while all his colleagues were corrupt and part of the scam, this whole illegal network of trafficking and illegal hormone use. We woke up one day with the knowledge that some of our farmers were gangsters, which is very original and even exotic in a way. And then of course I wanted to make this kind of film noir movie, and you need two things for a good film noir: a crime scene and a tragedy. I knew that this hormone mafia would give me a good opportunity to charm people or intrigue them.

I did some research on the meat industry and the agricultural economy, and I found out lots of things and some of those things directly inspired things that I used in the film. It’s chemistry: things start to dance and connect and the process brings you to ideas that surprise you.

Matthias, obviously your role called for some serious physical preparation. What else did you have to do to get ready to play Jacky?

MS: Well, we had six years to work on it because Michael pitched me the part six years before we shot it. After I read the first draft of the script, I had this image of a half-man, half-bull kind of figure. So I thought his physical appearance was very important in evoking a lot for the spectators, to make them see this kind of Frankenstein being. And at the same time, I knew that once I got his physical appearance I could focus more on the vulnerable part of the character, which to me was more the core. I think Jacky moves through life through a deep existential pain and that to me was the most important thing.

It’s interesting that you mention Frankenstein, because as I was watching the film — particularly during the final act — I really began to think of that story. Michael, is that a text that really resonates with you?

MRR: The archetypes of the monster and the freak, you can apply it very much to this character. Beauty and the Beast. King Kong and the girl. Even Batman. Batman is traumatized as a kid by bats, so he becomes a bat.

On a Freudian level, Jacky becomes his bully. He’s attacked by something that is bigger than him; even though it’s just another kid, he’s huge compared to him. It was a force he could not resist. So to deal with his own trauma, he also becomes a force you cannot resist, in a physical way and a psychological way. And it’s something that protects him. His body, this incredible mass of meat —

MS: — It’s like a fortress.

MRR: Yeah, and that’s why I deliberately chose not show any other interiors in his farm beyond the bathroom. There’s nothing else. We always stayed outside. The bathroom was like his Batcave. That’s the place where he can lay down in the shower and be alone and be himself and vulnerable again. He is like Frankenstein — not knowing how strong he is, being naive and even childish.

The character has such a unique onscreen presence, and he exhibits both human and animal characteristics. Even his breath, the way we constantly hear him huffing, he almost sounds like a snorting animal. Matthias, was that in the script, or was that an idea you guys collaborated on together?

MS: That’s an example of things happening while you’re playing. It was just a very natural consequence of what happened to me. I gained an enormous amount of weight and I just felt heavy, and I was breathing like a whale.

MRR: If he would try to sneak up on you, you could hear him coming.

MS: [laughs] I was snoring so badly when I slept, it was crazy! I couldn’t avoid it. It would have been harder if someone had told me “Can you please not breathe like that?” I would have been in trouble.

Your character delivers some incredible looking headbutts in the movie. They look very real and very painful. What’s the secret to delivering a good on camera headbutt?

MS: You just shoot it on the day that it’s the other actor’s last day on set, and you do it for real.

MRR: [laughs]

MS: No, no that’s not true.

MRR: The actors are pretty trained but there was physical contact.

MS: We have a stunt coordinator who sets it all up with the camera. But the headbutts, that was also something that just happened during shooting too. It felt natural at points in certain scenes, instead of pushing someone, to just go at them with my head. It just happened naturally, it wasn’t conceptualized. The first time I did it we realized we had to do it again somewhere else in the film.

There’s a lot of discussion in “Bullhead” about coincidence: one character says they don’t believe in it, but there does seem to be an awful lot of coincidence in the film. Michael, I’m wondering where you personally stand on that issue.

MRR: I’m intrigued by destiny and coincidence. It’s a big subject in my short films as well. In the Greek tradition, if destiny exists, there is no coincidence. If you don’t believe in destiny, you have to accept that it’s coincidence. But it’s very hard to deal with that because it takes the purpose out of life, that you can’t control it. So if you control it, then you might control your own destiny, but then you believe in it, which you can’t. I love to play with that. It’s the roots of religion, what we’re doing and where we’re going. Is someone taking control of this or are we doing it ourselves? Or is it both? Sometimes people protect themselves by saying “I don’t believe in it.”

MS: Basically, you believe in it when it suits you. When it doesn’t suit you, you stop believing it.

All right, last question: has making this film exposing the corruption and dirty practices in the meat industry changed your own meat eating habits?

MRR: I just keep eating meat. The whole growth hormone discussion is a difficult one. In Europe, it’s illegal. In America, five types of growth hormones are legal to be used on cattle. Sometimes I think I’d rather eat meat and know exactly what chemicals are in it than eat so-called “hormone-free” meat, and not being truly sure.

MS: Basically nowadays everything is so manipulated. Fish is manipulated. Vegetables, fruit, everything.

Michael, you said there’s five hormones that are legal to use on cows in the United States. It’s suddenly dawning on me that this whole story about deceit and violence and death would have never happened in the U.S. because you could just put these hormones into the cows.

MRR: Yeah. That’s an important thing: you can’t remake this movie in the States.

[laughs]

MS: You’d have to make it about chemicals in vegetables.

MRR: Right. The legume mafia.

“Bullhead” opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, and Austin, TX. If you see it, let us know what you think. Tell us in the comments below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bill and Ted Bogus Journey Wyld Stallyns

We Salute You

11 Movie Bands That Rocked

Rock out with the Bill & Ted movies this week during IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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It is the rare film that succeeds in creating a fictional band that taps into our primordial need to bop our heads and for a brief moment in the theater, live out our teenage rock n’ roll dreams of groupie chasing, hotel room trashing and agent firing. In honor of those Wyld Stallyns Bill & Ted kicking out the jams during IFC’s Rotten Fridays, check out some fictional bands who rock hard enough to earn being on a list that — like Spinal Tap once said — goes to 11.

11. The Lone Rangers, Airheads

20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox

The former high school burnouts/metal heads/wannabe rock stars who take over the radio station in Airheads definitely have the proper reverence for the metal god that was Motorhead frontman Lemmy. In fact, Lemmy actually has a hilarious cameo as part of the crowd of metal fans waiting to see the Lone Rangers play. Brendan Fraser had more than his share of goofy performances in the ’90s, but he looked the part as the Lone Rangers frontman, which also consists of Steve Buscemi on bass and Adam Sandler on drums. You have to like any movie that casts Joe Mantegna as a Dr. Johnny Fever-type DJ who delivers the prophetic line about rock that, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”


10. Steel Dragon, Rock Star

Based on the true story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, a singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who went on to replace Priest frontman Rob Halford, Rock Star tells the epic tale of a fan of fictional ’80s metal band Steel Dragon who gets a shot at playing with his idols. In a memorable scene, Mark Walhberg’s Chris Cole auditions for the Steel Dragon members, including founder and guitarist Kirk Cuddy (Dominic West). Cole rocks out the Steel Dragon tune “We All Die Young,” a song written and performed by real life metal band Steelheart.


9. Aldous Snow and Infant Sorrow, Get Him to The Greek

Universal Studios
Universal Studios

Despite being fictional, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) is the quintessential British rocker. He’s got loads of charisma, and an impulsive personality mixed with an inclination for heroin, awkward threesomes and putting his record company rep (Jonah Hill) in uncomfortable positions (like sitting in an airplane with heroin stuffed up a body cavity). Brand was the perfect choice to make Aldous Snow a pompous rock star who performs songs like “Bangers, Beans & Mash,” “The Clap” and of course “Furry Walls.” Brand stole all his scenes in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and this spinoff film tells Snow’s rock star story as Jonah Hill’s Aaron Green has to get him to The Greek theater to perform. In the end, both Aldous and Aaron learn the important life lesson that “when the world slips you a Jeffrey, stroke the furry walls.”


8. Citizen Dick, Singles

Singles didn’t just try to reflect the Seattle grunge rock scene of the ’90s — it was at the forefront of a new rock explosion that was taking hold with music fans ready to embrace bands that rocked without hair spray. Several of the biggest Seattle bands of the time were not only on the soundtrack but appeared in the movie, including Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. The plot of Singles revolves around a group of Seattle twentysomethings experiencing life and love in flannel shirts, all while being lucky enough to go out to shows in a city where Alice in Chains just happens to be playing their local bar. Sure, Citizen Dick frontman Cliff Poncier (Matt Dillon) might have been too wrapped up in his music to say “Bless You” when his girlfriend Janet (Bridget Fonda) sneezed, and he might have earned less stellar reviews than his bandmates (including drummer Eddie Vedder), but he did lead the group to huge acclaim in Belgium.


7. Cassandra and Crucial Taunt, Wayne’s World

“And her name was Cassandra,” sang the smitten Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers). There’s good reason that Wayne heard the song “Dream Weaver” the moment he saw Tia Carrere bring out her inner Joan Jett onstage as Cassandra Wong. She was not only a “fox” but she wailed as the lead singer and guitarist for Crucial Taunt. Sure, Crucial Taunt may not have the bizarre historical knowledge of Milwaukee that Alice Cooper displayed but they certainly rock harder than The Jolly Green Giants and “The Sh—y Beatles.” There may be have been two Darren Stevenes on the show Bewitched but there was only one Cassandra to rock Wayne’s world.


6. Wyld Stallyns, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

The Wyld Stallyns are Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan and if you read this in the year 2668, you would totally know both dudes since the music that Bill and Ted created became the foundation for a world that lives in peace and harmony. In Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the duo, played by Alex Winter and someone named Keanu Reeves, travel in a phone booth time machine to retrieve historical figures (and some princess babes) who they bring back to San Dimas to help them with their rockin’ history presentation. By the end of the sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the dimwitted boys can finally play their instruments, and are joined by Death, Rufus (George Carlin), some aliens and their robot doppelgangers for an epic concert performance.


5. School of Rock, School of Rock band

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

The kids are more than alright in the musical comedy School of Rock — in fact, it’s their teacher who’s a mess. Jack Black is at his animated best as Dewey Finn, a failing rocker who pretends to be his roommate in order to take a substitute teaching job. Under the initially misguided tutelage of Black’s substitute teacher, the class of private school fourth graders come together to form a kickass rock band that embraces breaking the rules and learns to “get mad at the man.” They also piss off their uptight principal, played hilariously by Joan Cusack, who lets her inner Stevie Nicks loose in a classic scene. Of course the School of Rock band wins over the crowd at the Battle of the Bands, with an amazing lead guitarist, a tight group of backup singers and a sufficiently snarky manager.


4. Sex Bob-omb, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Universal Studios
Universal Studios

“We are Sex Bob-omb. 1,2,3,4!” Sure Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) plays a mean bass and is dorky cool (for a Canadian) and Stephen Stills (Mark Webber) is the front man with “the talent,” but even Sex Bob-Omb’s two hardcore fans know that the ferociously angry drumming of Kim Pine (Alison Pill) is what gives the band its punk/garage rock edge. Most of their shows are interrupted by fights, except it’s not the music that instigates the aggression. As Scott shows off his video game martial arts skills to battle Ramona Flowers’ (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil exes, the band continues to play hard and fast on songs that “make you think about death and get sad and stuff.”


3. Stillwater, Almost Famous

Stillwater runs deep and so does director Cameron Crowe’s love for music. Almost Famous is Crowe’s love letter to his experience as a young rock journalist in the 1970s. Watching the film through the eyes of William Miller (Patrick Fugit) will make anyone wish they could have toured with the likes of Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers Band. The actors portraying the fictional ’70s hard rock band Stillwater don’t just look the part — Crowe made sure they could play together as a band before filming. 1970s guitar superstar Peter Frampton served as a technical consultant and Crowe’s wife at the time, Nancy Wilson of Heart, co-wrote some of Stillwater’s songs. “Fever Dog” has an authentic classic rock sound and all the songs in the movie will take you back to a time of bellbottoms, vinyl records and groupies loving a band so much “it hurts.”


2. Tenacious D, Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny

The comedy/guitar rock duo of Jack Black and Kyle Gass get their feature film debut in Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny as their epic story is told in the form of a rock opera with songs that will make you bang your head and laugh your ass off. JB and KG have always paid homage to the gods of metal in their songs and sketches and their love of all things thrash is in full display in the song that tells the origin of KG’s path to rock greatness. Not only does Meatloaf play JB’s Bible-thumping father but legendary Black Sabbath front man Ronnie James Dio emerges from a poster on the wall to send him on his journey to Hollywood. JB and KG team up to form “The D” and embark on their quest to pay the rent and defeat the Devil himself (Dave Grohl) in the rock-off of all rock-offs. (Catch Tenacious D at the 2016 Festival Supreme on October 29th in Los Angeles.)


1. Spinal Tap, This is Spinal Tap

MGM
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Embassy Pictures, StudioCanal, MGM Home Entertainment

If there was a heavy metal Mt. Rushmore, Spinal Tap would clearly be on it. (Or at the very least, they would have a tiny 18-inch version of it next to the real thing.) David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) need no introduction to hardcore rock and comedy fans. The groundbreaking mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap follows the fictional veteran rockers as they promote a new tour, discuss amps that “go to 11” and get lost inside of a concert venue. Spinal Tap’s performances are so loud that their drummers tend to explode although it may not be related to drumming, as “dozens of people combust each year. It’s just not that widely reported.”

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Politics Now!

10 Hilarious Political Documentaries You Need to See

Documentary Now! gets political with "The Bunker" premiering September 14th at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: ©Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett Collection

Who says political documentaries can’t be hilarious? The best political docs — like The War Room, the 1993 depiction of the Clinton presidential campaign that Documentary Now! pays homage to with “The Bunker” — have plenty in them to make you laugh. Here are 10 political documentaries that will elicit more than just bitter laughter.

1. The Yes Men

Activist duo Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos are responsible for not just one, but three funny and scathing political documentaries: The Yes Men (2003), The Yes Men Fix the World (2009) and The Yes Men are Revolting (2014). The pair impersonate bad guys from the worlds of business and government, and often end up fooling the media. They also stage elaborate pranks like having dozens of people don inflatable ball outfits called SurvivaBalls to help survive catastrophes resulting from climate change. Along the way they’ve racked up numerous awards and almost as many arrests.


2. Weiner

“Hilarious…like a Spinal Tap of politics,” said the New York Post about the doc Weiner, of course adding, “…it’s the full package.” This doc follows the disgraced Congressman, who had to resign due to a sexting scandal, in his quest for a comeback, running for Mayor of New York City. Incredibly, yet another sexting scandal explodes during the course of filming. You’ll laugh, you’ll cringe, as the whole sordid story unfolds before the cameras, featuring Weiner and his wife, longtime Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. It’s the film that puts the (Carlos) “danger” back in politics.


3. Please Vote for Me

Politics on a scale much smaller but just as riveting are on display in this 2007 documentary. A third grade class in China is given the task of holding an election for class monitor. The resulting web of intrigue, dirty tricks and bare-knuckle politics among this group of 8-year-olds are reminiscent of something Karl Rove or Lee Atwater would come up with. And the parents are worse. A fascinating look at the roots of democracy, with a touch of Lord of the Flies.


4. Roger & Me

Filmmaker Michael Moore could have any one of a number of his movies in this list (his is the first name most people think of when the subject of funny political docs comes up). But his first doc, Roger & Me, remains one of his funniest and — with its focus on the economic impact of globalization on American workers — still remains one of his timeliest. The film centers around Moore’s attempts to confront then CEO of General Motors Roger B. Smith. Moments from the film including scenes with former game show host Bob Eubanks and another with a luckless rabbit have become iconic.


5. Bronx Obama

The first feature-length documentary from filmmaker Ryan Murdock, Bronx Obama follows the story of Louis Ortiz, a lifelong resident of the South Bronx. Unemployed and with a young daughter, Ortiz is told by a friend in 2007 that he looks like a rising young politician. Before long, he’s making a living as a Barack Obama impersonator. The award-winning doc shows many hilarious moments intentional and otherwise as Ortiz comes to grips with his new life over the course of three years during Obama’s first term and deals with an unscrupulous manager.


6. Religulous

Bill Maher brings his scathing satire of organized religion to his 2008 documentary Religulous. In the course of the film he travels to The Wailing Wall, The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and The Vatican, among other places. But some of the best scenes are in cheesy locales like The Creation Museum and a Christian theme park in Orlando called Holy Land Experience. He even finds a Muslim gay bar in Amsterdam. Maher is merciless in his mockery of the main Western religions, but even if you disagree with his viewpoints, his comedy is always spot on.


7. Al Franken: God Spoke

From the makers of The War Room, this doc shows the evolution of Al Franken from comedian to political pundit during the first term of George W. Bush. We see Franken touring in promotion of his book Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, broadcasting at Air America Radio and touring with the USO in Iraq. The most memorable encounters in the film are clashes with right-wing pundits like Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity. It’s a funny look at a man on a journey from SNL to the US Senate.


8. Journeys with George

In the year 2000, Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi) was covering the presidential campaign of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush for NBC. For 18 months, she also used a handheld camcorder to record Journeys with George. The result is a remarkably warm and funny portrait of a somewhat goofball politician. Pelosi went on to become a filmmaker. Bush went on to bigger things as well. From the vantage point of 16 years later, the big takeaway from Journeys with George is that George W. Bush seemed a lot funnier before we had eight years of him as president.


9. Mitt

You may have suspected that George W. Bush could make a goofily entertaining subject for a documentary. What you never suspected was that Mitt Romney could ever be anything other than stiff and robotic. For the film Mitt, documentarian Greg Whiteley was given unprecedented access to Romney in his runs for president in both 2008 and 2012. What emerges is a surprisingly human portrait of Romney and his family. There’s an amazing scene in the hotel on the night Mitt lost to Barack Obama revealing that he never even contemplated the possible need for a concession speech.


10. Sarah Palin: You Betcha!

No list of things both political and funny can avoid having at least one entry about Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin: You Betcha! is from noted British documentarian Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney) and should not be confused with the fawning Palin doc The Undefeated. In 2011, after she had become a conservative icon, Broomfield went to Alaska and documented his attempts at getting an interview with Palin in a Roger & Me-esque pursuit. In interviews with Palin family, friends, fans and foes, Broomfield manages to make the self-described “mama grizzly” seem both dangerous and ridiculous, both of which are undoubtedly true.

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Die Laughing

5 Depictions of “Death” in Comedy

Catch Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey this week on IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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With Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey airing as part of IFC’s Rotten Fridays, we got to thinking about how exactly the character of Death made his way onto the screen – and onto the poster – of a 1991 comedy sequel.

Ingmar Bergman’s depiction of Death in his 1957 classic The Seventh Seal set the tone for how most people think of The Grim Reaper. Portrayed by Bengt Ekerot, Death was a chess-playing philosopher, answering deep existential questions while capturing your rook with his knight. In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Death is partial to board games.

Here then is the journey of Death in movie comedies, from Bill & Ted to Whoopi.

1. The Dove / De Duva (1968)

Three years after The Seventh Seal hit theaters, this short film parodied as much Ingmar Bergman as could fit into 14 minutes. The centerpiece is of course the pale-faced and shrouded Death, challenged this time in a game of badminton. It’s also the film debut of Madeline Kahn, who would go on to become the queen of parody with Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety and Blazing Saddles.


2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail trailer (1975)

One of the greatest comedies of all times parodies one of the greatest movies of all times –- but only in the trailer. Referring to the director and title by name, this preview promises something “all rather silly” when compared to The Seventh Seal. To wit: Death takes a pie to the face.


3. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Bill and Ted
Orion Pictures

If Death can play chess, then why not Twister, Clue and Battleship? Of all the comic portrayals of Death in movies, this is the one that holds up best. William Sadler brings a vulnerability to the role while never losing Death’s sense of menace. Like the Bill & Ted movies, it’s brilliantly smart and stupid all at the same time.


4. The Last Action Hero (1993)

"Ian
Columbia Pictures

This action-comedy-trainwreck acknowledges The Seventh Seal as a movie and then takes a big leap as the character of Death leaves the land of Ingmar Bergman and jumps into the world of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ian McKellen (the Bengt Ekerot of our day) takes over the role and wreaks havoc in 1990s America.


5. Monkeybone (2001)

Monkeybone
20th Century Fox

Whoopi Goldberg plays Death in this bizarre 2001 comedy, where Brendan Fraser’s comatose cartoonist must get an “exit pass” from Death in order to return to the land of the living. Also, Death has a giant robot. It’s a weird movie, folks.

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