Interview: Peter Berg on The Kingdom

September 7, 2007

With the country now in its fifth year of a war against Iraq, filmgoers have shown more interest in documentaries about terrorism than features. Films like Syriana and United 93 received strong reviews, but failed to find an audience. The Kingdom, a Universal release directed by Peter Berg, approaches the subject from a more commercial angle. Scripted by Matthew Michael Carnahan, the story follows a team of FBI agents investigating the bombing of an American base in Saudi Arabia.

“We wanted it to be a different experience,” Berg says by phone from his office in Los Angeles. “We wanted to make a more accessible story about the Middle East, to not overly politicize or intellectualize the situation there. First and foremost, lead with strong action.”

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Interview: John Dahl on You Kill Me

June 26, 2007

Director John Dahl established his career with low-key but razor-sharp thrillers like Kill Me Again and Red Rock West. With The Last Seduction, about a femme fatale who pockets the proceeds of a drug deal, he fashioned one of the most precise and cunning film noirs in the modern era. After a series of studio films, You Kill Me marks Dahl’s return to his earlier style of low-budget, independent filmmaking. Starring Ben Kingsley as an alcoholic hit man going through rehab and Téa Leoni as the slightly neurotic businesswoman who falls for him, it meshes perfectly with Dahl’s strengths as a director.

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Profile: Barbara Stanwyck Centenary

June 4, 2007

What made Barbara Stanwyck a star? Her looks helped, of course, but there were scores of beauties who never got out of the chorus line. She could sling it as well as any other sexpot, but even in her loosest roles she held something back from her costars, and from her customers. She tapped into the neuroses that helped define film noir, but she played her most famous femme fatale as an icy blonde who was as dismissive of her new lover as she was of the victim he was replacing.

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Interview: Johnnie To on Election and Exiled

June 1, 2007

Since the handover in 1997, no Hong Kong filmmaker has been as consistently successful and influential as Johnnie To. An increasingly prominent figure on the festival circuit, the fifty-three-year-old To has had trouble cracking the United States market. But the release this spring of his three most recent films, Election, Triad Election, and Exiled, may finally bring him the recognition he deserves.

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Interview: Luc Besson on Angel-A and Arthur

June 1, 2007

Luc Besson, one of the most powerful figures in French cinema, once told a reporter he would quit directing films after he completed ten features. Now, with the release of the animated Arthur and the Invisibles and the opening in the United States of Angel-A, the director has reached his limit. Picking at a plate of berries and crème fraîche in a hotel bar overlooking Battery Park in downtown Manhattan, Besson chooses his words carefully when talking about his future.

“I’m finished,” he starts. “I’m scared of saying the same things over and over, and at the same time I have less ambition or passion. Even athletes have to accept that one day they can’t keep beating their records.” Besson has worked almost non-stop for thirty years, and collapsed twice on the set of his previous directing effort, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. He claims to be satisfied just writing and producing films for his EuropaCorp production company. Then he offers a qualified hedge: “If tomorrow I fall in love with a script, if I have a new purpose, if I have something fresh to say, if I can take on another three-year project, then maybe I will decide to direct again.”

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Interview: Eric Roth on The Good Shepherd

December 4, 2006

In the aftermath of World War II, members of the OSS, the Office for Strategic Services, convinced the White House that the United States needed a formal espionage program. How the Central Intelligence Agency was formed is the subject of The Good Shepherd, the second feature to be directed by actor Robert De Niro. Starring Matt Damon, and with a cast that includes De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Joe Pesci, Billy Crudup, John Turturro, William Hurt, and Michael Gambon, the film covers some twenty-five years, from a time when ethical choices seemed clear cut to a decidedly more ambiguous post-Watergate climate.

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Interview: Richard LaGravanese on Freedom Writers

November 27, 2006

When Erin Gruwell began teaching high school in Long Beach, California, in 1994, she faced a class of black, Latino, and Asian gang members seething with anger. These were the “unteachable” students, the ones who had been abandoned by the education system, the ones beset by violence and abuse before they even entered a school building. The Rodney King riots had just taken place, and the novice teacher quickly found herself stripped of her idealistic attitudes about how to best instruct her class.

Gruwell’s struggle to connect with her students forms the basis of Freedom Writers, a Paramount feature written and directed by Richard LaGravenese. He first learned about Gruwell’s program after watching a “Primetime Live” segment about the teacher. When he read Freedom Writers Diary, a book published as a result of Gruwell’s class, LaGravenese told his producing partners that it was a story that needed to be filmed.

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