To The Wonder

Last September, Ben Affleck sat down with BOFCA members Sean Burns, Jake Mulligan and Greg Vellante to talk about ARGO. If you know us at all, you’ve probably already guessed that the conversation eventually shifted around toward Terrence Malick’s TO THE WONDER, which had just premiered to wildly polarized reactions at the Venice Film Festival, and at the time did not yet have an American distributor.

The legendary Malick’s hotly debated sixth feature finally hits theatres and VOD this week, so we thought it might be fun to revisit what could be the longest answer ever given during a roundtable interview to a single question. (And this is after some heavy-duty editing!)

Q: How does working with someone like Terrence Malick change the way you look at filmmaking?

A: Terry is an incredible guy. I really like him. He’s a really sweet guy. I don’t know why he doesn’t do interviews, he would come off great. He’s so likeable and thoughtful. Maybe it’s just cooler to be the enigmatic guy than it is to be the guy people are trying to get around to talk to Brad Pitt.

To The Wonder 2This movie that we just did together, I don’t know if any of you have seen it yet. I guess it hasn’t screened. It’s very experimental. It’s out there. You gotta want some Malick with your Malick. It’s a little bit like TREE OF LIFE, without the dialogue.

But it’s great. I just want people to really be ready. Some of the promotional art looks very conventional. Me and Rachel McAdams, looks like the sequel to THE VOW or something. It’s not that at all. It’s an impressionist movie, sort of a tone poem. It’s about this one woman that my character is kind of obsessed with, and so the camera is sort of obsessed with her. She talks in French and wanders around, and then you have Javier Bardem as a priest.

There were great performances that aren’t in the movie now. Rachel Weisz was in it, Barry Pepper did great stuff. Terry paints with his actors. Usually you show up and do your job and it’s this fixed job. With Terry you realize, he wants blue from you and red from her and green from him, and then he paints it all later. So it takes awhile, like what do you mean blue? Just blue?

To The Wonder 4Then later on you watch it. And this is kind of intense, kind of amazing. He has this theory from Chekov about relationships where one is near and one is far. I always thought it was a literary first-person device rather than a filmmaking device, but basically what it came down to was the whole movie is an over-the-shoulder shot over me and onto this woman, following her and watching her, and periodically I come into the frame and kiss her and stuff.

We didn’t have a script. We didn’t know what it was. You don’t know where you fit into this. He said this is a movie experimenting in silence, and we’d have these voice-overs occasionally but they really wouldn’t be about what we’re seeing. So I was terrified and thought, what do I do? And it was about learning to let go. You know what I mean? For better or for worse, you throw out everything you know and just jump off the thing and see what happens.

There are things I love about the movie, and there are things I still don’t understand. But I’m glad somebody’s out there making their own movies. When I make a movie I’m thinking, is the audience going to like this? Will they understand that? How will it play in Middle America? All these insecurities, I don’t think any of that shit ever crosses Terry’s mind. He just makes his own movie and you’re on for the ride.

To The Wonder 3

TO THE WONDER opens at the Kendall Square Cinema on April 12th, when it will also be available via iTunes and Video On Demand.


Winner of the Audience Award and a Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, writer-director Ben Lewin’s new movie THE SESSIONS stars John Hawkes as poet and journalist Mark O’Brien, paralyzed since childhood after a bout of polio and confined to an iron lung.  How he moves – philosophically, mentally, emotionally– from a place of exclusion to one of participation is the journey the film traces.

Lewin visited Boston last month for a luncheon promoting the film. BOFCA’s own Kilian Melloy spoke to the filmmaker about how sometimes the best reaction is no reaction.

THE SESSIONS touches upon a multitude of charged topics with maturity and sensitivity. Offered this assessment, Lewin, a kindly man in his mid-60s, answered with a self-deprecating smile, “Well, I can lay claim to maturity in any case.”

Lewin is the son of Polish émigrés who settled in Australia in his boyhood. Like O’Brien, Lewin suffered polio in childhood. He was left needing crutches, but Lewin is perfectly able to live an ordinary life; indeed, his life has extraordinary, given that the former lawyer switched careers and moved to England to become a successful filmmaker.

“I was developing this sitcom called THE GIMP that was to have some politically incorrect humor,” Lewin explained. “The main character trades the use of his disabled [parking] placard for sex!”

“I was online doing research about sex and the disabled, and kept coming up with stuff like ‘Gimp Girls Gone Wild,’ ” Lewin continued. “And then I found Mark O’Brien’s article, ‘On Seeing A Sex Surrogate.’ ” Inspiration struck, and Lewin was off and running.

In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, O’Brien conducts an interview with a wheelchair-bound woman. His attendant, Vera, played by Moon Bloodgood, runs a tape recorder as the woman rattles off a list of favorite sexual practices. Vera seems as shocked to hear about the kinds of sex this woman enjoys as she is to discover that someone in a wheelchair could be having sex in the first place.

The actress was uncertain about how to convey Vera’s responses, so “I told her to do nothing,” Lewin chuckled. “Nothing is the best reaction.”

Another fine actor featured in the film is William H. Macy, who plays O’Brien’s priest, Father Brendan. At first, Macy’s man of the cloth –who is “a Berkeley hippie priest,” Lewin notes — is deeply troubled by the idea of intercourse with a sex therapist. But as Father Brendan gazes at the crucifix hanging above the altar of his church, he seems to hear an answer from The Divine: “Go for it,” he tells O’Brien.

Cheryl is played by Helen Hunt, who is fearless about taking off her clothes for the camera. Hunt is in her middle years, with crow’s feet and fine lines and other signs of her age, but the comfortable, confident way she inhabits her skin makes her nothing short of gorgeous. Her “sex surrogate” incorporates sexual passion and clinical professionalism in equal measures; Cheryl is direct, without being crass. Similarly, the sex scenes are not explicit, but neither are they camouflaged. The effect is less erotic than tender and affecting.

Hunt “had no objections to the part in principle,” Lewin said, but “it was a process to get to a place in her head where she could play the role. She asked me how I was going to film the sex scenes and I said, ‘In the same way as the rest of the film, no special angles or techniques.’ ”

That decision underscores the naturalness of sexuality as presented in THE SESSIONS. But Hunt’s process of getting comfortable took an unconventional turn when she tried out different positions, albeit fully clothed, on her own bed at home with the film’s cameraman.

Wait — the cameraman?

“The cameraman is the closest one to the action,” Lewin explained with a smile.

THE SESSIONS opens Friday, October 26th in Boston area theatres.


After the critical success of the animated movie PERSEPOLIS, directors Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi decided to adapt their next book, CHICKEN WITH PLUMS, in a completely different direction: with live actors. There’s plenty of whimsy and clever storytelling throughout the film, but the theme of the movie is that of losing something that was deeply loved. Think of it as a live-action PERSEPOLIS for grownups, transplanted to 1950s Iran.

The two directors sat down with BOFCA member Monica Castillo to discuss cultural common ground, breaking out of animation, and problems of adapting their books.

Q: How did you decide on your style for CHICKEN WITH PLUMS? You do a very interesting mix of paintings in the background with live action in the foreground with multiple layered effects. How did you plan on using such a wide variety of techniques?

MS: Well, if you have a story that you really want to talk about, and if when you go to pitch your story about a depressed man who decides to die and eight days later he dies, it would seem like the most boring story in the world. It’s really not that exciting. So how do we make that exciting? Not only from the narration but also from the visual style. And there’s something realistic about how we remember things: it’s not always chronological and not all memories appear the same way. Some of them appear full of color and detail; others are completely blank or grey. We wanted to create that and make it exciting visually and narratively, but then how we worked it in was just the result of a lot of work. Cinema is a domain is where we don’t have to limit our imagination, so why should we? But then the big challenge is to make it not look like patchwork. So we should be able to go from one style to the next, and it should feel smooth. So we worked with our cinematographers, set designers, and costume designers to make sure we were all together to make it all one entity.

Q: So speaking about death and to a figure of death is a big part of the movie.

MS: Well of course, we all will speak to death at one point or another. I mean, we live in a society that favors the young, then we get botox to look young, and then we disappear. The reality is that you are young, you are less young, then you are old, and then you die. We are all going to meet death. The fact that we wanted an angel of death that would not be an old man or a skull, we wanted him to have a certain look but could look like a neighbor that would come and visit you.

Q: With PERSEPOLIS, it feels like there’s a bit more of a culture clash: the new school against the old school. CHICKEN AND PLUMS felt a tad more universal in that the main theme seemed to be about loss. Was there a reason behind the jump to explore that in the new character of Nasser?

VP: The reason why we made PERSEPOLIS as an animated movie was to make it universal. We were against a cultural clash, because it does not exist in reality. Cultures are too influenced by each other to really be different. We wanted to explore that in PERSEPOLIS, and we did. By making the whole movie out of drawings, we could get away with an abstract story. But CHICKEN WITH PLUMS is a love story, and that is universal anywhere, so we could just go for it.

Q: So there’s another story coming next in the series, THE ELEVENTH LAUREATE…

MS: Yes, but it is not a book.

Q: No book this time?

MS: No, because I am sick of the word adaptation. It is very boring. Economically, it is very interesting, but in reality, you have to think about the story in one way and then you have to think about the story cinematically, which is not the same at all. So it is intellectually and artistically not very interesting at all. This next one is going to be a script, not a book. Either I will make a book or make a film, but I won’t make a book to make a film anymore. It’s very boring. Why do that?

Q: How long did you work on CHICKEN WITH PLUMS?

VP: Two years and then another year after shooting. We thought, very naïvely, that after PERSEPOLIS’ Oscar nomination that people would give us money for our next film. But that does not work in the real world, when you make an animated film and don’t want to do another animated film. We had lots of time to prepare the movie.

Q: So this was your first time working with actors. How did that affect your directing?

VP: We had a wish list of our favorite choices and basically, we were lucky that almost all of them said yes. But this is one of the major differences with actors: they’ll put themselves in the story and these are things we can’t control. Our actors are very talented, so they pushed the story further. Even as a director, you become a viewer. You’re watching them react to things in the story and sometimes it was something you were not expecting.

Q: Any specific examples?

MS: Oh, it happened all the time. For example Maria de Medeiros, who plays Nassar’s wife, we had a small range of emotions for her: just nasty and bitchy. But then we understand her reasons and we feel compassion for her. She made her character sympathetic like that; because we just thought she would be bad. And then you feel really sorry for her, you feel like protecting her, you fall in love with her. That was not in the script at all.

Q: Have you returned to Iran since the success of PERSEPOLIS?

MS: I haven’t gone back in thirteen years. I have no reason to go back now. If I go, I cannot leave. I like my freedom too much.

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS opens Friday, September 21st.



Matt Bondurant’s 2008 bestseller THE WETTEST COUNTY IN THE WORLD was based on a family legend that his family never told him about. This wild historical novel chronicling Prohibition Era moonshine wars in West Virginia’s Franklin County has just been adapted for the big screen by director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave as LAWLESS, with Shia LeBeouf starring as the author’s grandfather, Jack.

Bondurant sat down a couple of weeks ago with BOFCA members John Black and Sean Burns. Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Q: Loved the book. But it’s billed as “a novel based on a true story.”  So how autobiographical –or I guess maybe just biographical– is it, really?

A: Well, there are several incidents that we know to be historically accurate that the book is sort of framed around. There’s not a lot of evidence what any of these guys were doing on any given day from 1920 to 1935, unless they show up in the newspaper. And that happens when they get shot, so that’s kinda all you have.

 Q: It was such a closed community, and these guys barely talk to each other.

 A: They’re tight-lipped people. We had a vague sense that my grandfather was involved in moonshine growing up, but nobody talked about it. It wasn’t really until about fifteen years ago we found out that he was shot, and that’s when we found the newspaper article. They’re quiet, stoic people. There’s not much of a storytelling urge.

 Q: So after all those years working on this book, what does it feel like handing it over to Nick Cave?

A: It’s very impersonal, the transaction. Your agent calls you from L.A. and etcetera, etcetera. Then you sign contracts and it kinda goes away. It’s happening somewhere else and you don’t think anything of it for a long time. And then when Hillcoat becomes attached, then Nick Cave… like a lot of people, I loved THE ROAD but I wasn’t aware of THE PROPOSITION yet. I was of course aware of Nick Cave as a musician, but not as a screenwriter. It was really cool because from the very beginning I felt like I was in good hands, with Hillcoat and Cave as a team? And Shia LeBeouf was attached, so I thought that was great because he has some weight to pull around and maybe he could make things happen. And he did. He stuck with it. Even after people came on and dropped off, and it went into turnaround and Columbia Pictures dropped it. I don’t understand how this stuff works.

Q: We were going to ask you to explain it!

A: Yeah, I have no idea. There were four or five production companies, and somehow somebody picked it up, but really Tom Hardy started the snowball effect when he signed on. All of the sudden everybody else jumped on there too. I think a lot of people wanted to work with Hillcoat and Cave. I saw a couple of iterations of the script, and I thought it was pretty cool. I don’t have much experience looking at scripts. They’re kind of weird to look at. I’m used to novels so it’s a weird sort of framework of a story and it’s all abbreviated and shortened and it seems strange. But I could tell that he had some good lines in there, and he used a lot of my lines, too – so I was really happy about that!

Q: What did you make of that Guy Pearce performance?

A: It’s pretty wild.  That’s probably the most significant change from the book. Hillcoat explained to me that they wanted to demonstrate the difference between Charlie Rakes and everybody else — bringing in an outsider from Chicago and making him more menacing. Of course, as films do, they amped him up and made him a straight villain. In the book I tried to provide a more complicated picture, that he was a person who was troubled by his own personal demons. But you can’t really do that in the film. They’re already trying to get these three brothers down, so the villain’s just gotta be the villain. It’s a crazy sort of look Guy had going on there, and apparently he came up with a lot of that on his own. Hillcoat told me Pearce just came out of the bathroom one day with this shaved line in his head. The eyebrows were gone and they were like, “Holy shit!”

Q: It looks like he’s doing PINK FLOYD: THE WALL.

A: Oh yeah! It was pretty freaky. He chews up the screen. You can’t take your eyes off him.  It seems like the reactions from audiences – they hate him, they want him dead.

Q: So back to the tight-lipped people, what does your family think of the movie?

A: My Dad’s the only living person who is in the film, and he’s that little boy sitting on Shia’s lap at the end. When I was doing this in D.C. last week he came to the screening and saw the film for the first time, then participated in the Q&A, which was pretty cool.

Q: How’d he like it?

A: My Dad’s eighty years old and hasn’t seen a movie in a theater in thirty years, easy. My Mom said she can’t remember the last time he stayed awake through an entire film. But he stayed awake through this one!

LAWLESS opened yesterday in Boston area cinemas.



Midnight movies are a cinephile tradition that spans decades, and the Coolidge Corner Theatre is keeping it alive here in Boston. Their @fter Midnite series is one of the city’s best cinematic treasures; playing both classic and new-school cult movies (everything from contemporary shockers like BRONSON and OLDBOY to grindhouse classics like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and SUSPIRIA) every Friday and Saturday night to rabid, adoring crowds.

The second part of our interview with programmers Jesse Hassinger and Mark Anastasio focuses on their midnight program, their dedication to keeping the midnight presentations exclusively 35mm, the films they have coming up in the next few months, and even their selections for this weekend. You may be skeptical, but trust us: there’s a lot of fun to be had in PSYCHO II.

Jake Mulligan: So there must be movies you guys want to show but can’t, because there aren’t prints available.

Jesse Hassinger: For the midnight stuff, now that there still are prints available, if there’s not a print available [of the specific film they want to play] then we really have to question whether to show it at all. It’s a rare occasion. Like a new-release midnight movie from IFC or Magnet, something like THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE, where they’re only making it available on Blu-ray, that is a different story. But talking about [vintage] genre films, that have prints somewhere out there, we will definitely play the print.

Mark Anastasio: BASKET CASE is one of those films that’s on the want list and there’s just no 35mm film available of it. People ask, “are you going to play BASKET CASE?” And it’s like, yeah we would…

JH: And should a Blu-ray of it ever get released, we probably will, but we don’t want to show a DVD…

JM: Right, who wants to come out at midnight and pay for something they can see out home. And I know a little while back you guys did a free showing of WOMEN’S PRISON MASSACRE after a cancellation, so at least you have an archive to pull things from in worst case scenarios.

MA: We don’t have a ton of films, but the films that we do have, strangely enough, are very rare, and they are 35mm genre films. It’s just like, we would never have an audience for them.

JH: Yeah, that [WOMENS PRISON MASSACRE] was an interesting test in my mind, I always wanted to do more European horror stuff, more European sleaze. Some Jean Rollin films, there’s a great film called POSSESSION that I want to play – it has a beautiful new 35mm print out there, but I don’t know if people would show up to see it – so that was like a test for that. We might try it some more.

JM: I remember when we talked around this time last year you said you wanted to move the midnight’s in a direction of a kind of month-by-month set of repertory series…

MA: Yeah, and we fluctuate. We started off wanting to do monthly themes, and a couple years ago we did theme months, and then we started to feel like we should get away from that. But the one we do every year is the Summer Camp stuff in June. Even though we’re kind of trying to stay away from theme months, we fall into it anyway.

JH: With August we have the “Terror-ble 2’s”….

MA: We’ve got PSYCHO II! It’s a series of worthwhile sequels. You see the title, and your first inkling is “well that must suck.” But they don’t!


MA: PSYCHO II is incredibly worthwhile. I mean, think, someone had the balls to do PSYCHO II. Someone said, “yeah, I’ll do a sequel to one of Hitchcock’s classic films.” And they got Anthony Perkins, and the woman in it is a total babe, and it actually gets you believing in Norman as like, a hero! I don’t want to give anything away, you know, but you watch the whole movie thinking “Who the hell is trying to fuck up Norman Bates’ parole? Someone is really trying to make it look like he’s an asshole again! Poor Norman!”

JM: That’s a pretty awesome set-up, actually.

MA: Yeah, it’s great. He’s playing a short-order cook, and freaking out about things. “I just saw my dead mother!” And they still don’t think he did it! That one is fun. You’ve got to come to that one. But jumping back, yeah, we really haven’t tried a lot of the more traditionally grindhouse type stuff.

JM: Well the Halloween marathon always gives you a chance for that. Last year we got SUSPIRIA, DEMONS 2….

JH: That’s a time of year where we can have fun, and with some of the secret titles we can show things we wouldn’t ordinarily show by itself. We have a captive audience. And maybe they haven’t heard of it, but, say, two years ago we ran DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE [as one of the secret Halloween titles,] and I think 2 people would come out if we ran that individually over a weekend.

MA: It’s MANIAC with a flamethrower. And sleazier. It’s been two years since we played MANIAC, can we do that again?

JH: Next year. 

The Coolidge @fter Midnight series programs classic and contemporary cult films every Friday and Saturday night. PSYCHO II and Nicolas Winding Refn’s BRONSON play this weekend, 8/24 and 8/25, at 12:00 midnight. The Coolidge Corner Theatre is located at 290 Harvard St, Brookline, MA, 02446.