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Antihero Awesomeness at the Hero Complex Film Festival

On a bright, sunny Saturday, I headed downtown to spend a day celebrating mentally damaged, borderline fascists whose brains have been tampered with.

Relax; This is not a finger pointed at any real, living individuals. It’s just a testament to the joys of spending the day with Robocop, A Clockwork Orange, and Super at the Hero Complex Film Festival. The night before – Friday – a doubleheader of Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead had seen Robert Kirkman fail to either draw any Superman tidbits out of Zack Snyder or persuade the “visionary director” (as all the trailers always call him) to do an episode of The Walking Dead. Perhaps if the show were renamed The Sprinting Dead, he’d have said yes. Oh, and some guy named Simon Pegg dropped by too.

Robocop is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I was concerned I might find it would have dated horribly – thankfully, that’s mostly not the case. Yes, as with any futuristic sci-fi movie, the filmmakers woefully underestimated our real-life advances in TV technology (seen the Fahrenheit 451 movie lately? Their “walls” of TV are smaller than my hi-def). Indeed, some hairdos just don’t look right, and you can pick out the matte shots if you have a good eye. The ED-209 stop-motion is forgivable, I think, as it always was. It was more gratuitously gory than I remember; turns out this was the director’s cut we were watching, in which Peter Weller’s arm gets blown off after he loses his hand. But it’s still great: the social satire is sharp, the subjective POV shots from dying Murphy to reborn Robocop are wrenching, and the world-building (including TV shows, commercials and fictional products) is well-thought out. The gradual reveal of Robo in full is a wonderful tease. I had forgotten how much they hammered in a running gag about the hot new car called the 6000 SUX. I’d buy it for a dollar!

So, still classic. Peter Weller, on the other hand, has aged significantly (he’s going to be 65 soon), looking and acting at times like an insane monk. Showing up fresh off a plane ride, he proceeded to unleashed one hyper-monologue after another for about an hour, as host Geoff Boucher basically stayed out of his way. We did learn that the last time Boucher and Weller met was on the set of the upcoming Star Trek sequel, which Weller won’t say anything about, since he was reprimanded by Paramount after telling a fan who asked if he would be an alien, “Do I look like an alien?” (Yes, 100% you do.)

A few of the other topics touched on by the ex-Robo:

Robocop was sent back by the MPAA 17 times – a record in its day – before getting an R-rating. Weller’s favorite scene is the first kill by ED-209, and notes that it’s much longer and bloodier in the director’s cut, which pushes things into parody; by cutting it short, it’s just brutal. “The longer that machine gun blasts him all over that city thing, it’s funny…It’s paradoxical: the longer version is funnier, the shorter version is more violent.”

– He’s a Ph.D candidate in Renaissance art history, a topic that would be returned to frequently.

– Watching Robocop three weeks ago in Dallas was “the first time I had gotten past the hoopla surrounding this film and was genuinely proud.” He’s been directing TV a lot, and says that he got advice from someone great (Boucher said “Clint Eastwood,” and Weller didn’t deny it) that directing yourself is “just one less asshole to talk to.”

Robocop was “the most disciplined experience I’ve ever had doing anything.” He trained in movement for 6 months in preparation, while also preparing to run a marathon. He advised actors, “don’t reveal your secrets to the director.” He never consulted Paul Verhoeven on his choice to soften Robo’s voice once the helmet comes off… and has noticed that none of the voice-over actors in dubbed versions ever do it.

– For the unmasked scenes (27 days total, not in sequence), it took six and a half hours to get the face made up. One and a half hours to put on the suit, but it took a whole team. He said of being made up, “We were going out to work when the crew were coming in from drinking… around 1 a.m.” It took one hour and fifty minutes to take the face off, after which “my face looked like a giant zit for about 72 hours.”

– He’s not a particular fan of sci-fi, just Philip K. Dick. This led into a mini-rant about the eastern concept of how when you create something, it is you. “That’s why the East holds us responsible for fucking up a lot of things.” He insisted Blade Runner was based on the Nat Turner diaries. “It’s about SLAVERY! It’s not about Harrison Ford and the girl. Anybody GET THAT?”

– He loves the scene where Robocop goes back to his old family house. “I had to avoid playing into the sentimentality of it.” Calling “the crybaby thing” a “big mistake of acting,” he noted (and I agree) that “you gotta allow the audience to have that moment, and not steal it from them.”

– In 1971 New York, gay couples got busted for holding hands. This was part of a segue into discussing Antonioni, and how L’avventura is really “science fiction, man” in its depiction of the unknowable gender gap. “The only way it’s beautiful is if you leave it alone.” – Cinematographer Vittorio Storrare told him that if he didn’t go and see the Giotto fresco in Padua, Italy, they would never speak again. He said it’s the first narrative art story, and basically the first movie. More Renaissance talk.

– Boucher: “They’re making another Robocop.” Weller: “I could give a shit! The morality that’s endemic to the movie you just watched – it’s hard to replicate. Good luck to them. They’ll never do it.”

– After realizing that students in one of his art and film classes had mostly never seen Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, or Robert Shaw movies, he realized being long-remembered wasn’t too likely, so now his goal is to just “enjoy the damn movie set.”

– He hopes somebody can explain Buckaroo Banzai to him one day. Ed Begley Jr. gave him the Blu-ray as a birthday present; Apparently, a tic of Ed’s is to give actors movies that they star in as gifts.

– One final grand tirade was on the subject of physical activity while acting. “Physical life – called ‘business’ by mediocre actors.” He loves how in Bonnie and Clyde, Warren Beatty is really driving. He despises – and starts yelling about – process trailers, which put the car up on a trailer as the actor pretends to drive. Refers to “the Denzel Washington Award for NEVER DRIVING A CAR… He’s looking at Ethan Hawke for 90 SECONDS!” Weller says that even his wife, a non-actor, wondered how many pedestrians would have been hit in Training Day with a real-life driver looking away as much as Denzel.

After Weller, Makeup maestro Rick Baker was supposed to be a surprise guest, but Weller had repeatedly ruined that surprise already by name-checking him, so we got a big-screen look at that MIB 3 featurette on the makeup that’s making the rounds. Baker came out afterwards and talked not remotely as long as Weller.

– There are 127 aliens in MIB 3. He brought one of them as a head in a bag.

– When he was 16, he bought a very expensive for the time ($16) pair of barber shears. He has never sharpened them and still uses them on everything with hair.

– If he could be on any set in any time period, he’d visit the Universal monster movies from the ’30s and makeup legend Jack Pierce. Pierce’s monsters saved the studio, but his techniques didn’t keep up with the times and they fired him a decade later. From that, Baker has determined that he needs to stay current.

– In the makeup chair, “actors are such pussies! They talk about having straws up your nose… We never put straws up your nose!” Boucher says he knows a few actors who put straws in their noses. About half the audience gets the joke. Baker: “I feel like a dentist – people look at me and think of pain.”

– After An American Werewolf in London, people thought Baker could do anything, so they’d send him scripts with effects that weren’t possible. Initially he had no idea how to do Videodrome, but he and David Cronenberg worked around some of the more out-there ideas. Says James Woods was so neurotic that you could tell him he looked a little pale, and by the end of the day, he’d be certain he was ill.

– His favorite creature he has made is Harry from Harry and the Hendersons, which he thinks holds up today. His favorite that others have done is Rob Bottin’s work in The Thing, “the quintessential makeup effects movie.”

After a break of maybe 45 minutes, it’s time for Malcolm McDowell to introduce A Clockwork Orange. And by “introduce,” I mean talk for over half an hour. This is great fun, but it also allows very little time in the day for food and bathroom breaks. He has been touring with the movie for its 40th anniversary, starting at last year’s Cannes.

– How excited was he to be working with Kubrick? “I’d be more excited now. The brashness of youth – who’s next? At first I thought it was Stanley Kramer I’d be working with.” He’d only seen one Kubrick movie – 2001 – and while he loved it, “I don’t think Stanley really knew how to finish it; certainly, subsequently talking to Keir Dullea [bears that out]” Says all sci-fi cinema owes a debt to Kubrick, even The Avengers: “They do owe Kubrick something – god knows what.” His opinion of Avengers? “It’s just sort of mindless crap, really, but fun.”

– Kubrick “took on every genre and made it a masterpiece – which must have pissed off his contemporaries.” What was it like to work with genius? “I never could consider him to be a genius – how can you work with a genius? You can’t. I’d only seen one (film of his).”

– He talked about how Peter Sellers was a manic-depressive who, at dinners, would spend the first half of the evening with his head face-down on the table, then perk up later. They became friends both because they had both been Kubrick leads, and because Malcolm didn’t mind his odd dinner behavior. At one dinner party, his head was down when a woman suddenly stood up at the table claiming to have lost her diamond earring. Sellers immediately perked up, then proceeded to interrogate everyone as Inspector Clouseau for 25 minutes.

– An early career setback was the 1973 oil crisis; the U.K. film industry collapsed when all the American producers went home.

– Asked about how Trekkies react to him being the killer of Captain Kirk, he said, “Actually, I did them a favor! We’ve released them, and J.J. Abrams has gone on and made some actual good ones!” He added that watching Patrick Stewart talk is like watching paint dry, then realizes that line will get around. “I keep forgetting about this fucking internet.”

– Tells a story about meeting Gene Kelly at a Hollywood party soon after A Clockwork Orange, at which Kelly simply made a face and turned away. “I destroyed his moment.” Years later, Kelly’s widow came up and said, “He wasn’t pissed with you, her was pissed with Stanley. Because he wasn’t paid.”

– The famous line about his Durango ’95 was delivered as if he were the pitchman in a soup commercial. When he toasts the camera with his milk at the beginning, he’s telling the audience to come on a ride with him. Kubrick liked both improvisations once they were explained to him. In the final scene, in which he’s doing word association, that was one of the later takes where he want off-script and said the actual things that came into his head.

I don’t think there’s much need to discuss the movie itself here – many before me have. But watch for the cameo by Dave “Darth Vader” Prowse as the scantily clad assistant to the handicapped writer.

The final show of the night was Super, a movie we at Nerdist News are big fans of (check out my Rainn Wilson interview at Nerdist News from back when the movie was in theaters). Let’s go straight to the highlights of the post-show James Gunn and Rainn Wilson Q&A.

– Geoff Boucher: “What’s it like to have your brain touched by the hand of God?” Rainn: “Do you know what an orgasm feels like?” Boucher: “No, I don’t.”

– The scene where Rainn Wilson’s brain gets touched by God was a whole day of just sitting on a bed making faces. His face hurt at the end of the day.

– When Gunn had the script ready to go in ’02, he thought of John C. Reilly for the lead. At that time, the studio said he wasn’t a bankable star. Gunn made Slither instead.

– The death of Boltie is a big shock in the movie. Gunn says fans get mad about it, but that he’s doing them a service – now there’s more tension when they watch movies because they realize their favorite characters might die.

– Wilson’s fond of the scene where he prays for a sign from God – says if you can relate to that moment, you’ll be with Frank when he does the crazier stuff later.

– Gunn: “We mix tones within the same scene.” Wilson: “I think that’s why we had trouble finding an audience.” Gunn says tonally the closest thing to Super is Asian movies like The Heroic Trio.

– Gunn: “We knew from the script stage that Boltie was the best character.” He wanted an Ellen Page type, and had put out an offer… which he had to rescind after Rainn Wilson, who had Page’s email from Juno, sent her the script and she agreed.

– Liv Tyler’s presence got them the financing. She also got Cheap Trick to donate a song cheaply, after going backstage at one of her father’s concerts to show them the scene it would play under.

– Wilson says the hair helped him find the character – “extreme and very controlled, but not Dwight-ish.”

– Gunn spends more time with comics than any other entertainment medium. He reads most that come out, even the bad ones. He was email buddies with Mark Millar, and knew they were developing similar concepts at the same time. He has still never seen Kick-Ass, but thanks Millar for being very supportive of Super.

– Regarding criticism of Roger Ebert’s spoiler review, in which he gave away in the first sentence that Page gets a third of her head blown off, Wilson suggests that Ebert is overly sensitive because he has half a face. Got a huge-yet-uncomfortable laugh.

– Gunn: “I knew it was not a movie for everybody, and I feel really good about it.”

And that was Saturday, folks. Sunday featured the odd pairing of Wall-E and Serenity, and one can only imagine what next year will bring.

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