IN THEATERS NOW Source Code & Win Win

Interviews with filmmakers Duncan Jones (of Moon fame) and Thomas
McCarthy (
Up, The Station Master, The Visitor) who talk about their new, buzzed-about projects.

 

BY A.D. AMOROSI  

 

 

 

SOURCE CODE

 

Duncan Jones is an amiable chap.
When the question and answer session following the Philadelphia theatrical screening for his new
film, Source Code (Summit
Entertainment), had a microphone malfunction, the director quickly went
into “town hall” mode and did it without a sound system. When I interviewed him
the next day at the Four Seasons Hotel and told him that I couldn’t stand Source
Code
star Jake Gyllenhaal (who was attached to writer Ben Ripley’s script
before Jones got on board) until this very film, the bearded director smiled
and said, “That’s alright. I liked him just fine.”

 

It is perhaps his genial
steadiness and humor that makes Source Code what it is – a colorfully
future-forward and frenetic Hitchcock-like conceit (with hints of Memento and Groundhog Day) where the mega-watt action and vivid effects never
overwhelm the romantic back story or the comedy of it all.  That and the fact that Jones was a philosophy
major in college (“I could’ve reasoned my way through this film,” he laughs), a
director of commercials in Britain (ads for Kodak and French Connection were
his claims to fame) and a hardcore video gamer who makes mention of Grand
Theft Auto
as inspirational to the hyperactive heft of Source Code.

 

Then there’s this. When I tell
Jones that I’ve interviewed his father, David Bowie, on several similar
face-to-face situations, the director laughs and asks “Are we so very alike?”
When I tell Jones that I got his pop angry throughout several questions during
our interviews, he laughs again. “Well, he takes things so much more personally
than I do. Much more to heart.”

 

With that, Jones wasn’t looking to
repeat the minimalist sparseness that was his self-penned Moon, his airy
2009 Sundance Festival hit that starred Sam Rockwell. For a director so rooted
in retinal-searing science fiction and the tech of it all, Jones digs his
actors and never leaves them in the cold. “I love acting and thrive on that
sense of collaboration,” he says. “I trust my actors.” Jones didn’t want to
repeat himself or take the easy road. Word has it that he turned down the
re-boot of the series of Judge Dredd comix flicks. Besides, he waded
through filming “too many commercials so I could afford to shoot what I wanted
to” he says, regarding what was supposed to be his debut, the Blade Runner-like
Mute, that he’ll take on next.

 

Jones wanted to do something
ultra-vivid with multiple moving parts like Source Code, something where
he could make grandiose special effects an intimate escapade and toy with
up-to-the minute effects like “virtual stuntman,” that allowed Gyllenhaal’s
“Army Capt. Colter Stevens” to leap from a moving train, roll, then return to a
standing position with the grace of a gazelle. Beyond the technological puzzle
that Jones was happily engulfed in solving throughout Source Code was
the question of how to make the eight minute intervals that “Stevens” had in
which to solve the crime, a different vibe for each of his actors.

 

“I’m a problem solver,” says
Jones, succinctly.

 

If the problem is how to turn what could’ve been bland
mainstream fare (another smug sci-fi thriller, with Jake G yet) into something
inventive and bold, Jones is the man for the gig.

 

***

 

WIN WIN

 

 

Win Win (Fox
Searchlight) isn’t just a subtly poignant, deeply funny and uniquely literate
film about high school wrestling, poor choices, lost love and irksome
adolescence starring Paul Giamatti, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Ryan and young Alex
Shaffer. It’s the newest film from writer/director Thomas McCarthy. Like
Shaffer’s wrestler in Win Win,
McCarthy was a young mat hugger in New
Providence NJ. Unlike
that same character, McCarthy is an Oscar nominated screenwriter (the animated Up) who has directed his scripts for The Station Agent and The Visitor as well as being a memorable
character actor with titles such as The
Wire, Little Fockers, The Lovely Bones
and Syriana to his credit.

 

 

Let’s rock this….

 

BLURT: You’re a NJ guy. Care to weigh in what the state has
become without you? Tom. It is not pretty.

THOMAS MCCARTHY: (Laughs) Thanks. But no.

 

Should we consider this at all autobiographical since the
film is set at New Providence high school
where you went and had something to do with the wrestling team?

Not really autobiographical, no. There are personal elements, yes, from my
history that I drew upon. I grew up there.  I know a little about the high
school wrestling team.

 

What elements in particular though Tom are yours? What is
closer to you?

Certainly reflecting upon our
wrestling experiences and some of the things we went through as kids and with
other kids. What the matches felt like.  I was a mediocre to bad wrestler,
so that helped.

 

All of the male leads in all of your films – The Station Agent, The Visitor, Win Win – they all seem put out, very put upon. Even when the best of luck is theirs,
they don’t seem easy about having it.

You wouldn’t be wrong. I don’t set
out that way. Some of them had good lives cut out for them to start. Maybe
things didn’t wind up good in the end. Now Paul’s character in Win Win: He loves his life. He’s built
that life. He likes his practice, his house. He’s trying to live his American
dream. But then he commits this act under an enormous amount of pressure that
invites the put-upon-ness you speak of. He’s a really good guy who made some
bad choices and now he has to pay for them. That’s what I was trying to
explore. Paul and I talked a lot about this. He didn’t want to play people he’s
been before. His character here is different than the ones he’s worked on
before. In fact this guy is quite content and happy in his life. It’s just that
in this moment in time – it ain’t working.

 

And laughs ensue. Next time, I will preface any queries
about being put out with “Willie Loman” level put out versus the lesser sort.

(laughs) That’s a whole different level of pain.

 

What made you want to do this film at this point in your
career?

It was gradual. I didn’t have a
eureka moment, in fact, I had the idea in my head for over a year before I
committed to start writing it. I had it. Laughed a lot about it. Then I fell in
love with the characters and the story. I do that with a lot of scripts. See
the merit as the passion grows. Plus it had something to say as well as had
heart. The characters, at first blush, are quite conventional – who they are,
where they live in small town New Jersey.
It was a challenge to make these characters sing. I loved that challenge.

 

Your characters are truly lit from within. Did you get into
this business with an ability or a mindset to one of these things better than
the other – act or write or direct? One that you wanted to do more?

I did see my self as actor first
even though I entered this business late. Right after college. That was a big
jump to start. Hey, I want to be an actor. But as I was achieving THAT – hey I’m being taken seriously, this must be
a mistake
– I just found myself writing. After I had a few movies under my
belt where I started portraying the same guy, 30-something, not married, but
trying – I thought about what to do. Should I sit around and complain and do
the same part, or do I write? As I was writing The Station Agent, I began to think that I would love to direct
this.

        It was a very organic process,
honestly. My life and career shifted. It had options. I had options. Suddenly
there were a few different things that I could do. I didn’t see why I shouldn’t
be allowed to do all three. I will continue to do as such until someone asks me
to stop.

 

 

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