AIN'T IT COOL NEWS REVIEW Sunday, March 23, 2003
Undercover Quint at AFM sees THE BIG EMPTY!
OK, so giant lizards are finished... Let's move on to bowling ball loving aliens in dusters... And Rachael Leigh Cook being ungodly cute. THE BIG EMPTY really premiered at the AFM (despite what some other reviews and Professor Moriarty have claimed this film DID NOT play at Sundance). It centers on Jon Favreau's John Person, an out of work actor who got a tiny taste of success with a starring role on a short lived television show. He now has to run a delivery service between auditions to keep his head above water. His credit card debt is nasty, he's not getting any callbacks and he's masturbating a little too frequently. He does have a good relationship with the cutie across the hall (played by Joey Lauren Adams), but that seems to be all he has going for him at this point in his life. One day a weirdo in a neck brace pays him a visit, offering a tidy sum of cash if Favs'll courier a suitcase to Baker, California. Bud Cort plays the skittish, paranoid freakshow well. Maybe a little too over the top, but not distractingly so. What's in the case is a mystery, the man he's meeting, a trucker named Cowboy, is a mystery, but what the hell? What's he got to lose? Baker is a weird place, man.
The movie certainly takes many liberties, but I've been to Baker... Early last year I drove through Baker on my way to Vegas from LA in celebration of my 21st Birthday. I was invited to stop by the shooting of this film. I spent all of 2 hours onset, just enough time to meet up with Favs and watch him film a scene with Jon Gries, probably best known as Lazlo from REAL GENIUS (or the wolf man in MONSTER SQUAD). What I saw had me intrigued, but I never really had any real grasp on what they were trying to do. At any rate, Baker was a really weird place. A small desert town with a hint of madness lurking within. I got that from the 120 minutes I was there. God knows what the folks shooting this film uncovered in that town. If the movie is any indication of the weirdness that town has to offer I won't hurry back there any time soon... Unless Rachael Leigh Cook, wearing her low cut pants and high cut shirt, sends the invite. Grrrrrr. So, the final film feels like a mixture of REPO MAN and TWIN PEAKS with a little SWINGERS thrown in for flavor. Off the wall characters come out of the woodwork at a steady rate. The longer Favreau stays in Baker, the more insane his surrounding becomes. His near misses with Cowboy serve to complicate his life, keeping him trapped in his shitty little motel room.
Let's have a character run down, shall we? John Person - We already know about him. Hapless out of work actor thrown into this nutty world. Grace - Joey Lauren Adams, Favreau's neighbor across the hall. Is she just a friend? Could she be more? Is she involved with the mystery surrounding the suitcase Favs is transporting? One thing's for sure, she's cute as hell, as usual. Ruthie - Rachael Leigh Cook's character, a little hottie resident of Baker. She yearns to get out of town, but is tied there by her mother (Daryl Hannah) and abusive boyfriend (WINDTALKER'S Adam Beach). She's flirty yet innocent, the kind of girl you just want to get up and hug she's so cute. Her relationship with Favreau is classic and the glue that binds the film together. Good lord she's so damn hot in this movie... Stella - Daryl Hannah's character. She's the lady behind the bar, mother of Ruthie. Hannah's almost unrecognizable in the film, to the point where I didn't realize it was her while watching, even though I was looking for her. Hannah's on a roll. She's great in this film, really showcasing her talent as an actress. With this and KILL BILL, she's going to be a hot commodity.
Agent Banks - Kelsey Grammer's role of a UFO obsessed FBI agent. It's little more than a cameo, but it's still really funny. Grammer plays it over the top to perfection. His back and forth with Favreau will keep you in stitches. Elron - Jon Gries's character, the wacky motel owner who constantly forces himself upon Favreau. No, not that way... He's just one of those personalities that always needs to be talking, forcing their character on someone. Gries hits and misses with this character, but never to the point of being annoying. When he hits, he really hits. When he doesn't, it's usually just something that goes on too long. Is he an alien? Are there aliens? Would it be weirder if he was human? hmmmm...
Randy - Adam Beach playing the abusive boyfriend of Rachael Leigh Cook's character. How on earth could anybody possibly harm a hair on the head of Rachael Leigh Cook? It's like hitting a puppy. If you can hurt something that cute on purpose then you deserve a slow and painful death. Beach does a good job keeping his character sympathetic and likable when not abusing my poor little Cooky.
Cowboy - One of my favorite characters in the film. Boromir was my favorite character in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, due mainly to how perfectly Sean Bean played him. Bean shines as the duster wearing mystery man. When you see him in cowboy boots, duster and cowboy hat you can't help but marvel at Bean's persona. This man was made to be a Cowboy. He keeps his accent for this role, which works for this film as you're not supposed to know where Cowboy comes from be it Earth or someplace other. I'd love love love to see Sean Bean heading up a western. His cold, steel blue eyes shoot out like knives from under the brim of his hat. To quote Jon Peters, "He has the eyes of a fucking killer." More Sean Bean, please.
That's most of the main characters. You have some other smaller cameo characters, but I won't ruin those moments. Props go to director Steve Anderson. This movie is so all over the place it could have been a huge mess, but he was able to focus the great talents of the cast into one streamlined story. It's a wavvy line, but wavvy in a good way! So, is the movie about Aliens? What's in the briefcase? Even better, what's in the bowling bag? Could it be a human head? Who's The Cowboy really? What do those Band-Aids on the neck mean? How does Ruthie fit in? How does Grace fit in? Is this all in John Person's mind?
Some of those questions are answered in the film, some are left open for you to decide. This isn't an easy movie to describe. It's part sci-fi, part drama, part comedy, part mystery, part thriller and part what the fuck!?!? In other words, this movie has cult written all over it. There will be people who fall in love with this film and quote it on a daily basis. There will be some people who just won't comprehend the film. Will it get a release? I'm sure it will. There are too many names in the film for it to be passed up.
Will it get theatrical distribution? I think it'd be a crime if this film didn't play in art houses across the country. I'll keep my eyes and ears open for you folks and let you know when it gets picked up. I think that's about it for me on this one, squirts. I'll be back with some more coolness in the next day or two. 'Til that day, this is Quint bidding you all a fond farewell and adieu. -Quint
AIN'T IT COOL NEWS FOLLOW-UP
Wednesday, October 8, 2003
Quint has a head's up on THE BIG EMPTY for ya!
Ahoy, squirts. Quick word before I run out to interview a bad mo-fo if there ever was one, a Shaolin master of ill repute. I got a heads up about a movie I'm very fond of. The film is THE BIG EMPTY, directed by newcomer Steve Anderson and starring Jon Favreau, Daryl Hannah, Sean Bean and the yummy-yummy Rachel Leigh Cook.
It's a weird bird. I saw it earlier this year at the American Film Market (my review here!). It's one of those that belongs in the same cuckoo universe as REPO MAN. Here's what I got: Thought I'd pass on some cool news for The Big Empty, also sort of a 24 hour scoop for you if you want to get it on the site... The Big Empty will have its World Premiere at the AFI Fest on Sunday November 9th, then Artisan will be releasing the film in select cities on November 14th.
AFI is announcing their slate tomorrow. So Artisan picked it up... Well, that certainly earns them some brownie points as far as I'm concerned, however they're going to have to earn a trillion more to make up for unleashing OUTHOUSE OF THE DEAD on the masses. I don't know if enough brownie points exist for them to make up for that turd...
by Maria Elena Fernandez, Times Staff Writer November 13, 2003
Director's first time is the charm; Much to his surprise, Steve Anderson's indie 'The Big Empty' gets serious cred and a name cast
When writer-director Steve Anderson envisioned producing his first film, "The Big Empty," he pictured driving to the Mojave desert in a motor home filled with people he knew. He figured those were the only actors he could afford as a new filmmaker who was already $27,000 in debt. Four years later, as Artisan Entertainment prepares to release his multilayered noir-sci-fi-comedy on Nov. 21 in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Spokane, Anderson still finds it hard to believe that his friends stayed home while plenty of other familiar faces graced his set.
Jon Favreau plays the lead role, a sitcom actor with a stalled career and a heap of debt who is asked to deliver a suitcase to a mysterious gentleman in the small Mojave town of Baker, and winds up on a journey that transports him to another world. The well-rounded ensemble includes Kelsey Grammer, Joey Lauren Adams, Sean Bean, Rachel Leigh Cook, Daryl Hannah, Jon Gries, Adam Beach, Bud Cort, Brent Briscoe, Melora Walters and Gary Farmer. "There was a synergy about casting this movie that I haven't experienced before," said casting director Jory Weitz. "Steve writes very truthful, textured characters. The roles are so layered that, quickly, on a visceral level, you can see and feel the soul of his characters. "I don't mean to sound corny but a lot of times when you read scripts, you create these perfunctory lists of actors. Our original list was very humble. But once we landed [Favreau], who is known as the indie hipster, we were able to navigate the film on a more elevated level and go after some names."
A Peabody Award-winning cameraman, the 42-year-old Anderson has shot seven documentaries for PBS and worked mostly for CNN since he moved to Los Angeles from Rochester, N.Y., in 1989. He wrote the screenplay for "The Big Empty" in four weeks, in part because of a pact he has with himself to begin his next project the day after he has completed the last one. Shot entirely on location in Los Angeles and Baker in 29 days last year, "The Big Empty" cost $1.9 million. "It's a magical piece," says Anderson, half-jokingly over lunch at the Avalon Hotel in Beverly Hills. "I wish I could write another one just like it. I had never directed a video or a short film or anything like that. I had not even directed traffic for that matter. When you wind up with a cast like this as a first-time director, you're pinching yourself to a certain degree, but once you're on the set, it has to be business as usual because the actors are depending on you. My method was to make sure everyone was prepared and get out of the way." It was Anderson's genre-crossing, peculiar story that caught the attention of the film's stars, but it was old-fashioned networking that placed the scripts in their hands. Weitz, who has cast films for Tim Burton, Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Shelton, Stephen Frears and Kevin Costner, said it didn't bother him to "cash in chips" with his agent and manager friends "because I didn't feel like I was selling something. I really believed in this material."
"Pound for pound, this is the best cast I've ever put together," said Weitz, a former publicist for Atlantic Records who began his casting career in theater in New York. "This movie is such a hybrid that it allowed me to imbue it with my skewed sense of humor. I put more of myself in it than just making up lists. You don't replenish financially working on indie films but you replenish creatively and emotionally. Working on this was like working on rarified ground." Favreau, who co-wrote and directed the hit "Elf," said he was drawn by the unpredictability of the plot and the quirkiness of the dialogue. He knew in three hours he wanted to meet with Anderson. "I read a script until I get the sensibility of it and put it down when it's not my taste," he said. "This was the kind of comedy that I gravitate toward, a character that seems like everything is conspiring against him. It has the kind of humor that makes you cringe a little. When I met Steve, I was expecting a kid out of film school. But it turned out he was older than me and had been working for CNN for a long time, pining to be on the red carpet instead of covering it from the other side."
Covering the entertainment industry, in fact, led to a casting twist of fate. Six years ago, when Adams was nominated for a Golden Globe for "Chasing Amy," it was Anderson, working for CNN, who knocked on her door at 6 a.m. and gave her the good news. "You never know with a first-time director," Adams said. "I don't like movies that are weird for the sake of being of weird. But this script is very grounded and the fact that Jon was in it helped to make me feel secure about it. Jon called me on a Friday night and Saturday at 6 a.m. I was in Baker with Sean Bean pointing a gun to my head. I didn't know who Steve was until I got on the set. That was bizarre, that I wound up in his movie like that." Bean plays the menacing but sexy Cowboy, a part that was originally filled by Woody Harrelson, who dropped it 48 hours before shooting began. Weitz couldn't help but feel that destiny was calling again when he phoned Bean's manager on a lark and was told the British actor had always dreamed of playing a cowboy. With no time left for mailing a script to London, Bean agreed to sit by his fax machine. "The attraction and the hook to get these types of actors in these roles is the concept of reinvention," Weitz said.
"That's how it was with Kelsey and with Rachel and with Sean. They covet the chance to play something atypical. The Cowboy role beckoned for a mythical type of character. Sean had just come off 'The Lord of the Rings,' and we were so short on time that he literally sat at the fax waiting for the pages to come out. Fortunately, for us, he had a childhood thing about playing a cowboy." Bean rounded out the high-caliber cast, which collectively gave Anderson something close to urban folk-hero status in independent movie circles, Weitz said. "It's a great cast but it's still a small movie," said Anderson, who admits he has yet to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate. "It's a quirky little film that everybody put their heart into. I don't expect it to burn up the box office. Whether you like it or not, people can see we cared about it."
Maria Elena Fernandez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jory Weitz Occupation: Casting director Background: Age 45; from Brooklyn, N.Y.; holds bachelor's degree in psychology from Binghamton University, 1979 First movie: "Back to the Future" Career highlights: "Blade," "The Huntress," "Terror Tract." He also coordinated the New York casting for "Dances With Wolves." Next project: "Napoleon Dynamite"
Sage advice: "The aesthetic of independent film casting has shifted as the business has become interdependent on the world marketplace. We are all very conscious of how a film is going to pre-sell in foreign and ancillary markets now and that means everybody is covetous of the same actors now. It can be creatively stifling but that also propels you to find better products."
By Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times November 21, 2003
A light, seductive charm helps fill 'The Big Empty' An array of colorful characters and a plot with comical twists and turns keeps this romantic fable on a refreshing course. In Steve Anderson's droll "The Big Empty," Jon Favreau's aspiring actor John Person, after a decade in Hollywood, has but two commercials and three segments in a canceled series to his credit.
A sweet-natured teddy bear of a man, John nevertheless refuses to give up, but his nerdy next-door neighbor Neely (Bud Cort) has him nailed when he offers him a proposition that cannot be refused. Somehow Neely has managed to uncover every conceivable embarrassing personal thing about John to blackmail him into accepting a job that will pay him $25,000 just for delivering a suitcase to Baker, where he is to hand it over to a man called Cowboy. (Alas, John is as behind in his rent at Hollywood's landmark Alto Nido Apartments as William Holden's Joe Gillis was in "Sunset Blvd.") John pulls into Arne's Royal Hawaiian Motel in Baker, desert pit stop halfway to Las Vegas and gateway to Death Valley, only to experience the first of just barely missed hookups with the mysterious Cowboy.
This gives Anderson ample time for his shaggy-dog story to unfold one funny twist and turn after another as John encounters a series of colorful locals: the Royal Hawaiian's goofy, nosey manager (Jon Gries); Daryl Hannah's sleek, seen-it-all but warm-hearted bar proprietor; her teenage temptress adoptive daughter Ruthie (Rachael Leigh Cook); Ruthie's hot-headed boyfriend (Adam Beach); and a blue-collar guy (Brent Briscoe) who insists that the long-talked-about bullet train that would connect Southern California and Las Vegas is but a ploy to keep travelers from noticing UFO activity in the desert "the big empty," which is also a reputed dumping place for dead bodies.
Before John actually encounters Cowboy (Sean Bean), a Marlboro Man in a black leather duster, he is dismayed to find he is being tracked by a hilariously square but shrewd FBI agent, played with brio by Kelsey Grammer. In each case the casting of these roles is right on. Meanwhile, back at the Alto Nido, Grace (Joey Lauren Adams), the young woman who lives across the hall from John, is worried sick.
In his feature debut, Anderson combines a wacky sense of humor with an affectionate light touch. Surely, the desert is meant to reflect the "big empty" John feels inside himself, as does Ruthie for that matter, but Anderson refreshingly refuses to underline this notion. He does take a tack that's way, way out of left field, for which there has been some foreshadowing. "The Big Empty" has a seductive easiness (which may not be for everyone, but it works), a laid-back yet ever-so-slightly portentous score and a wonderful sense of place. This stopover town is appealingly open and casual, yet its citizens, especially bored teens like Ruthie, must envy the incessant flow of travelers heading to or from infinitely more exciting places. The filmmakers' concern for amusing detail extends right down to the faux bamboo Italian Provincial bedroom set in John's motel room. (One can only hope that it's not just a set, that the rooms at the Royal Hawaiian, a real motel, are actually furnished this way, right down to the grass-skirted hula girl lamps.) "The Big Empty" is much more a romantic fable than "Swingers," the singles comedy that established Favreau but has a similarly jovial, unpretentious charm.
'The Big Empty' MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual dialogue. Times guidelines: Some racy dialogue, four-letter words. Jon Favreau ... John Person Kelsey Grammer ... Agent Banks Bud Cort ... Neely Daryl Hannah ... Stella Rachael Leigh Cook ... Ruthie An Artisan Entertainment presentation. Writer-director Steve Anderson. Producers Doug Mankoff, Gregg L. Daniel, Andrew Spaulding, Keith Resnick. Executive producers Steven Bickel, Jeffrey Kramer, Steven G. Kaplan, Peter Wetherell. Cinematographer Chris Manley. Editor Scot Scalise. Music Brian Tyler. Costumes Kristin M. Burke. Production designer Aaron Osborne. Art director Erin Cochran. Set decorator Missy Parker. Set designer Stephanie J. Gordon. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.