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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

SXSW Dispatch: Brüno and Drag Me to Hell

Tonight at SXSW brought two treats: a sneak peek at Sacha Baron Cohen’s new film, Brüno — aka … “Brüno: Delicious Journeys Through America for the Purpose of Making Heterosexual Males Visibly Uncomfortable in the Presence of a Gay Foreigner in a Mesh T-Shirt,” and a “work-in-progress” cut of Sam Raimi’s return to the horror genre with Drag Me to Hell, starring Alison Lohman and Justin Long.
With Brüno , Cohen continues to push boundaries in exposing the raw, honest societal truths through subversive comedy. Based on the twenty or so minutes of footage we saw tonight, it looks like Bruno could, perhaps, be even more shocking than Cohen’s previous film, Borat, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, and once again it’s the responses of the people Cohen’s character interacts with that elicit reactions that are painful in their honesty.

This time around, Cohen tackles issues around racism and homosexuality as Brüno , in homage to Madonna, adopts an African baby as a publicity stunt and then interviews a series of parents whose toddlers are up to be cast for parts in a photo shoot with his adopted son — photos that, he tells them, might include the African baby on a crucifix or a toddler dressed as a Nazi pushing another dressed as a Jew in a wheelbarrow. All in the name of art, of course.
What’s most shocking is how all these parents blithely answer yes to Brüno’s questions of whether their child could be dropped off a four-story building, exposed to snakes, Komodo Dragons, and amateur scientists, and even whether a mother would be willing to force her 30 pound toddler to drop 10 pounds in a week or have kiddie liposuction. (Answer: Sure, if that’s what it takes to get her the part.)
Things really get hairy when Brüno appears on a talk-show packed with African-American audience members with his adopted African baby dressed in a leather bracelet and a t-shirt emblazoned with the word “gayby,” and I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the audience storm the set and tear Brüno limb-from-limb.
The most cringe-worthy clip, though, was when Brüno , having now remade himself as the straightest man on the planet, appears at a live cage-fighting event in Arkansas, riling up the crowd with anti-gay speeches; it’s rather frightening how easy it is for Brüno to work the crowd into a near-riot frenzy against homosexuals, only to turn things around with a hot make-out session in the ring with a guy who starts out heckling Brüno and then came into the ring to fight him. It’s scarier than any horror flick to witness the groupthink and rush to violence on display here.
The crowd cheers for Brüno and berates the heckler when they think Brüno’s going to beat up this man for being gay, but when fighting gives way to loving it gets scary in a hurry. The reaction of the people at the fight to two men kissing and stripping in the fight ring was horrific in its ugliness, so much so that many of us after the screening expressed surprised that Cohen made it out of there alive.
I laughed out loud, a lot, but I also cringed a lot and even buried my head in my hands in disbelief over how far Cohen is willing to go to make his points.Of course, we only saw 20 minutes worth of clips of the film, but if the rest of the film is as shocking — and at times, shockingly funny — as what we saw in the preview, it’s going to be interesting to see how audiences react. Folks certainly bought into Borat, though, and Cohen’s going after very similar things with this film, so I’d expect that most people who liked Borat will find Brüno very much in the same vein.
Following the Brüno clips, press was shuttled back over to the Paramount for a screening of the work-in-progress cut of Drag Me to Hell, director Sam Raimi’s hotly anticipated return to the horror genre. Raimi was on-hand to intro the film, which blends horror with slapstick comedy in a film about a young woman (Lohman) who finds herself the target of an gypsy curse that conjures an evil spirit to take her soul to hell for all eternity.
The film looks pretty close to done now, though I’m not sure if the version we saw tonight would quite get a PG-13 rating; there are some pretty intense and bloody moments scattered throughout the film. Lohman and Long both give strong performances, and Raimi knows just how to blend tension, fear and humor to keep an audience engaged in what might, in less capable hands, be just another story about an evil gypsy curse.
The packed house seemed thrilled to be a part of getting the very first look at Raimi’s film, and gave Raimi a standing ovation when he came out to intro the film. Crowd response post-screening seemed quite positive; I’ll have some video footage up of the responses of some folks at the screening tonight up as quickly as I can.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon