Blu-ray Review/Interview: 'Burning Palms' Director Christopher Landon Gives Us Commentary!
A new five star flick on Blu-ray with no features, extras or insightful commentaries of any kind – Starpulse has got you covered! Inspired by the amazing, original and totally shocking new anthology film "Burning Palms" (out on DVD and Blu-ray on May 24 from Image Entertainment!), we at Starpulse were fully prepared to give the movie a glowing review. But the DVD and Blu-ray of the flick had not a single extra feature on it (trailers do NOT count folks!), so in our quest to keep the film at five stars we decided to get creative. We reached out to writer/director Christopher B. Landon (yes, Michael Landon’s son!) to help rectify the glaring home release omissions thus keeping the high rating and he was more then happy to oblige. So following the well deserved full marks review of the picture, we present an EXCLUSIVE one-on-one Starpulse Q&A with Landon, that can also be read while watching or after viewing each of the various stories in the film. (Think of it as a missing full-length commentary track – and you’re welcome!) And the screenwriter behind such memorable works as "Dirty Sexy Money," "Disturbia" and "Paranormal Activity 2" and upcoming 3 (who makes his impressive directorial debut here!) doesn’t shy away from providing some refreshingly honest and candid chat on everything from the origins behind his delightfully twisted stories to audience reactions to his controversial film. Strange father/daughter relationships, shocking sex acts that lead to insanity, unusual human accessories, kooky kid trials and a gal with an affinity for the rough stuff – welcome to "Burning Palms."
Title: "Burning Palms"
Cast: Dylan McDermott, Jamie Chung, Zoe Saldana
Director: Christopher B. Landon
Runtime: 112 minutes
Release Company: Image Entertainment
The Flick: Ever wonder what "Creepshow" filtered through the mind of Todd Solondz would look like? It’s the original outing "Burning Palms," a sick, sinful, scandalous and often extremely hilarious look at various guises of LA life behind the glitz and glamour. Told as a series of five stories, each one hits a various taboo more shocking then the next. (And they’re all the things your mom told you to never discuss!) Like the yarn of a daddy who has a very close relationship with daughter (much to the dismay of his new fiancée!), the disturbing story of a gal who gets a psycho case of stink finger, a look at the craze of foreign adoption gone horribly wrong, things to do when you’re a neglected kid (hold a trial!) and what would happen if you got raped by a stranger…and then found his wallet on the floor. Yes, these tales from the underside of the crypt, but anyone who says these go too far isn’t getting the spirit of the Palms. Writer and director Christopher Landon keeps an equally frightening and fun tone threaded throughout and with the help of an amazing cast - Dylan McDermott’s dad is awesome, Emily Meade’s daughter dangerous, Jamie Chung’s finger gal frightening and Nick Stahl and Zoe Saldana equally devastating as rapist and victim – the film hits all the equally right and wrong marks with gusto. Burning hands be damned, this is one anthology of twisted tales you won’t be able to put down.
Best Feature: No features – BUT see the said commentary below!
Best Hidden Gem: Lake Bell, who can sometimes be downright annoying, is pitch perfect as the flaky sister in the story Kangaroo Court – her best work by far.
Worth the Moola: For the flick alone – damn right! Blu-ray or DVD, run and get this one.
So need more info on what the heck is going on behind five stories that will mess you up for life? (Us too!) Then check out our full-length one-on-one quasi-commentary (meaning read this one AFTER seeing the film for maximum effect!) Q&A with "Burning Palms" filmmaker…
WRITER/DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER B. LANDON!
What was your overall influence for making the film and why did you ultimately set it in Los Angeles?
Christopher Landon: I grew up in LA – I was born and raised here. So that was an obvious thing, it was just my experiences living there. Some of the stories are somewhat personally connected to me and others are just stuff I made up. But I think overall what I really wanted to do was something that was like Todd Solondz. And I’m a big fan of short format; I love anthology, I love short stories and I think it’s a very under serviced format. I grew up watching "Creepshow" and Altman’s "Short Cuts" and all that kind of stuff was very present in my mind when I was writing this. It’s just a movie that’s unique and fun and as my first feature I just didn't want to do the obvious. The obvious was I should go make a low budget horror movie or I should do a thriller because that’s what everybody wanted me to do - this is my way of just completely stepping out of the box entirely.
It’s funny that you mention those references, because I called it "Creepshow" filtered through the mind of Todd Solondz in my review!
CL: On set we called it "Creepshow" LA! (Laughs) It was fun.
Out of your amazing cast – Dylan McDermott, Zoe Saldana, Nick Stahl, Rosamund Pike, Jamie Chung, ect. – who was the hardest to convince and to get to do the film?
CL: Well, the first thing I’d say was all the actors were shockingly brave and game to tackle these roles. I was really surprised the way that some actors came in - for instance Zoe. When I met with Zoe she came in and she’s like, “This role terrifies me, some of it repulses me, but it’s not even a question of do I want to do this movie – I feel like I have to do this movie.” That alone inspired me so much because she really understood the character and understood what I was going for. All the actors really jumped into it and I think they were all really excited to be able to play these characters that I think they would never otherwise play – it’s just not the typical kind of thing that these actors get exposed to. I think that it’s uniqueness and just the daringness of it all really attracted them. I think the one actor…and it’s not that he was reluctant to get into the part or get into the movie, but Dylan McDermott had concerns about his relationship with his daughter in the story. It wasn’t until I really sat down with him and walked him through it and said, “It’s going to look like the story is being told through the eyes of Dedra (played by Rosamund Pike) and she is filtering everything through her own insecurities and jealousies and so forth.” But also what I said was, “What I want you to remember as we’re making this movie is your dynamic with your daughter is such that you actually see her as a boy – so she’s your teenage son.” So when you go back and watch the story they are very competitive, they play games, they play poker, they play air hockey , they talk dirty to each other, they have trucker mouths. So suddenly when they’re on the roof and she’s topless, it’s not sexualized, it’s just it’s a boy. And the whole idea is that he’s a single father who raised this girl and kind of raised a very beautiful tomboy. So once he was able to get that and understand that he wasn’t actually molesting his daughter (laughs), then he was very comfortable with the role and really delivered.
Let’s take each story one at a time. The Green-Eyed Monster – what was the influence behind writing that story?
CL: That story was inspired by someone I knew a long time ago. It was a friend of mine and she had a very unique dynamic with her father and they were best friends. And I found that when we would all hang out together I was so fascinated by it because I had so much respect for it. I loved the fact that they had this banter and they would go to gallery openings together – it was this very close bond. That really was the jumping point for me because I was imagining what would happen if someone came in from the outside. If he got married or was dating someone, how would that change the dynamic? And I really kept thinking that the girlfriend or the wife or whoever, they would be the third wheel. Because sometimes I would feel like the third wheel in their presence - and I was. That’s really where that whole story started and throughout the film there’s this thread of loneliness and detachment and how it reveals itself in different ways. And I just fell in love with the Dedre character because she’s so desperate for acceptance and really wants this whole situation to work out so badly. But more often then not like so many of us we’re our own worst enemy and the endless trail of self-sabotage that she leaves in her wake is just very honest.
As the writer what do you really feel was the true nature of the relationship between father Dylan McDermott and daughter Emily Meade?
CL: I really think still that it was a relationship that by conventional terms pushed certain boundaries that would make most people uncomfortable, but as I was writing it I was very conscious that this was a relationship that never crossed the line. That never became something illicit or inappropriate to me. I just felt like it was a man and his teenage son who were incredibly close and have shared each others lives and had been very insulated too – that was a big part of it - but they were always kind of a team. And he was sort of a womanizer, that he had women coming in and out, but no one permanent. Finally he has decided I’m getting older, I need to settle down a little bit and he meets this woman. So it never crossed that line for me. And when you get to that scene where there’s that club scene and Dedre is watching them dancing and everything slows down and his hand rubbing her leg and all this stuff, if you go back and watch it again that is what is happening inside her head. Because when we cut out of it, they’re just dancing, it doesn’t look anything but just them having a good time. It really is about going inside of Dedre’s jealous mind and seeing how that paranoia completely unravels her.
Next up This Little Piggy – one of my favorites! I love the iconic shot of Jamie holding up a finger in the mirror!
CL: (Laughs) Everyone just talks about that one the most and in the times from the premiere to a couple of the screenings it became a running joke between friends if they’ve seen the movie where they would smell each others fingers and make jokes about it! (Laughs)
Again, what were the influences behind this story?
CL: Inspiration behind that story is I kind of wanted to have fun with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart and that was my contemporary crack at that story. It’s a story about guilt really and (laughs) it’s one of those things where I had the image before anything else. I had this image of after she had been with her boyfriend, that image of her rolling over in her sleep and her finger landing on her face and her smelling it for the first time. That was really the jumping point and I started writing from there. And I started figuring out I loved the idea of a girl, a sort of first generation American-Asian girl who comes from a very different, very strict, somewhat repressed background and her deep desire to become – for lack of any better term – a white girl. And how she in a sense is betraying her ancestry and trying to fit in to this other thing and that insecurity drives her to a place to do something that she’s not comfortable doing. Just the idea that ultimately the story is a one trick pony, it really is the same joke over and over and over again, and for me it was such a fascinating exercise to see how you can make one joke work over and over. Plus it has a very Hitchcockian tone to it. If you notice my composer Matthew Margeson who’s unbelievable, he can do anything and I love that he really brought this Bernard Herrmann-esk score to that piece – it was classic. It’s definitely one of the most out there stories I could have done.
The segment walks a fine line of outrageous comedy and serious horror – was it hard to keep the right balance of both?
CL: I found, to be honest, the whole movie is kind of a high wire act. The tone - I’ve even taken a bit of a drumming from some critics about the tone of the movie. But for me where it might seem like the tone shifts and the movie gets darker and lighter and moves around, it’s all still very much in the realm of the absurd. All of the stories in a sense border on parody and stuff that is beyond ludicrous, but at the same time I still feel like all the characters to a degree are recognizable people and for me that was what makes it work. And in that particular piece it is a juggling act, but for me it goes back to my appreciation for dark humor and for black comedy. I like my humor served with stuff that is just shocking and there’s just something about…(laughs)…people are very uncomfortable about the ass! (Laughs)
How about Buyer’s Remorse – influences?
CL: Buyer’s Remorse was inspired by…it’s a very reactive story. I’m gay and I have a ton of gay friends that are adopting kids and having babies and having twins – I feel like every person I know is having twins! And ultimately for me I just like to make fun of my own people, you know?! (Laughs) It’s a lot of fun and I think you have to be able to do that. Part of this was a reaction to the idea that it doesn’t matter of you’re gay or you’re straight, if you’re unqualified and unfit to be a parent you’re gonna f*ck it up! I had a great deal of fun watching the two most irresponsible gay men on earth adopt a child that they had no business caring for. At one of our screenings we did a Q&A and there was a woman in the back and she was like, “You’re homophobic – what’s wrong with you? How could you make something like this?” And there was a lot of that by the way. For the record, I had people say you’re misogynistic, you’re homophobic, you’re a racist, it was like that constant thing. I kept wondering to myself do people not get that I’m taking what I call the South Park clause here – all bets are off. Everyone is game in this movie and what’s interesting to me is that when people single out minorities like black people or Asian people or gay people I was fascinated that nobody thought to look at the first story and say I’m making fun of white people too! (Laughs) I’m making fun of everyone because that’s my coping mechanism in life. That’s how I get through life. I think you have to laugh at everything and everyone and so for me the gay story is really, really funny. My mother thinks I took it too far on that one! (Laughs) My mom is very conservative and very religious and she saw the movie and that was the one story where she was like, “It was so funny – but you took it TOO FAR!”
You can never go too far!
CL: (Laughs) That’s exactly what I said! I said, “Mom, it’s a movie!” I really wanted to see how many buttons I could push and how people would react to it and the beauty of the movie for me – whether you love the movie or you hate it – is that every time we’ve screened it people talk about it. You don’t walk out of the movie and dispose of it.
It’s a segment that didn’t seem to be afraid to have its comedy go over the top – was that a conscious decision for you from the beginning?
CL: When I was writing it I was a little more restrained and somewhere in the middle of it I was like f*ck it, let’s just go for it. Almost to the point of it being sitcomy in a way, but obviously just uber, uber-dark. And for me that was the fun.
What about Kangaroo Court – influences?
CL: Personal. The most personal of all the stories – that was actually based on my childhood. (Laughs) Not to that extent! I grew up and there was a period where both my parents were very active and gone and busy and off in the world doing things and my sister and I were left at home with a nanny and the housekeepers. And we had this weird kind of dynamic like a little motley crew in our house. One of our housekeepers her baby lived with us and she kept her babies umbilical cord in a jewelry box. It vanished and she freaked out and my sister and I decided to launch…we didn't do a trail, but we did an investigation and put on our little trench coats. So that’s where that story came from. But again going back to the theme of loneliness and detachment, the Nicholas character is really the center of the story. He’s a kid who feels that he’s been abandoned by his parents and is reacting. Also I really wanted to, from a structural narrative point of view, I wanted to poke fun at the courtroom drama and also infuse it with a slight tella novella kind of vibe. Because there’s that scene in the story where he’s watching a Spanish soap opera with his housekeeper and he speaks fluent Spanish. When I was a kid I used to watch those shows with my housekeeper and I loved them. They were ultra-violent and and uber-dramatic and I just thought they were amazing. So the whole courtroom scene, especially when Blanca actually takes the stand, that becomes a tella novella.
I will say that there’s a lot of stuff – which I don't know why we didn't end up using these as DVD extras – before we were able to really cut it down that was the longest story. In our rough cut that story ended up being almost thirty-five to forty minutes. It was so long because the original as scripted court room scene was so long and it was so funny that it just ended up killing the pace. So we had to cut so much down, especially there were some absolutely priceless Lake Bell moments…
I was gonna say – this is her best work in this film!
CL: She’s amazing – she’s great! The only other thing I’ll say about that one piece, because I’m not afraid to talk about the flaws in the movie, is that every time I watch that piece I get a pang of complete disappointment. When we shot that story in Baton Rouge – we shot half the movie in LA and half in Louisiana – we had a spectacular mansion that we were going to shoot at. It was just the perfect house, really rich, oak panel walls that felt like the Playboy Mansion and had that old money vibe. Our location manager at the time without our permission gave the script to the family that lived in the house and they sh*t a brick when they read it. And they were like, “You are not filming that movie in our house!” We lost the location literally a week before we were supposed to start. So we were left scrambling and the house that we ended up with was a nice house, but it was entirely white. Which left us with nothing but these big white walls everywhere and so being a stickler filmmaker it always disappoints me to watch that story because we were so limited.
Finally, Maneater – influences?
CL: Okay, I was at a dinner at a friends’ house and I sat next to a psychiatrist whose specialty if you will was he treated rape victims. We got into a very long discussion about it and somewhere in the conversation – and this is might sound really gross – but somewhere in the conversation he brought up the fact that a lot of the women when they were raped experienced orgasm and they felt unbelievably betrayed by their bodies. And would often emotionally and very physically shut down – they would stop dealing with people of the opposite sex. To me that was the ultimate nightmare for your mind and heart to be saying this is awful, I’m dying and your body to be saying I like this. That fascinated me. That whole internal dynamic fascinated me and I started writing this story about this girl who presumably had been abused by her father and how she had created this completely insulated life where she had this job and she went home and she had her television schedule and her TV dinners and she’s very lonely. Then one night her world changes and how that affects her.
It’s funny because again it was one of those stories where a lot of people went on the attack – specifically that one because they felt that the misogyny was so deep. What I had to try and get people to understand is that it’s almost in a bizarre way very pro-feminist. In that ultimately even though it’s a story about a girl who is trying to get raped again, for me the whole point of that story is about power dynamics. And how in the process of pursuing this guy and confronting him with the act that he forced onto her, she castrates him. He’s completely incapable of doing anything to her and it’s such a weird story because as you’re watching our victim start to victimize her rapist you start to feel sympathy, you start to forget what he did to her. But then you reach the very end and she has that breakdown where you realize she’s broken. She was broken before, but she’s even more broken now - for me it's the darkest of all the stories. When I wrote the story it was at the top of the script and when we started testing and screening the movie we realized it was took dark to start there – we couldn't recover. It was the story that I wanted to go out with because I feel it delivers a punch to the gut and leaves really leaves a mark on people. Everyone goes into it expecting the Jodie Foster version where she’s gonna go out and waste him and that’s too easy and I don't feel like that’s real. It was the most controversial of the five stories, but it’s also I think my favorite.
I was very curious about the Christmas setting and especially the use of an upbeat version of Jingle Bells (very Clockwork Orange) over the seriously dark act of rape – what were your thoughts behind the choices?
CL: The funny thing is that no one will ever see it and I really didn't care if people knew this or not, but there’s a calendar on the wall in the kitchen and if you look at the calendar it says March – it’s not even Christmas. She’s a child. After the sexual abuse that she endured from her father, there’s an arrested development. So it was such a character thing for me that she felt like she wanted it to be Christmas everyday. And the Christmas song that I always had wanted was the Barbara Streisand version of Jingle Bells, which I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it, but it’s bat sh*t crazy! It is the most insane version of Jingle Bells ever! We had to go back because we couldn’t get clearance on the song, it was way too expensive. I’ve always found Christmas music and the whole motif to be slightly eerie in nature anyhow, but just having that contrast, having that happy time song that is juxtaposed with the most awful act you could watch makes it impactful and hard to forget.
Lastly, will there ever be a second film or more importantly – since there is a comic book version of "Creepshow" – will there be any kind of graphic novel adaptation of this film or future stories to keep eager "Burning Palms" fans happy? These are great stories!
CL: Look, I could write these until the day I die! I actually keep a little file of other stories I want to do. Because I think that’s the thing too - sometimes you don't need an hour and half or two hours to tell a good story. Some stories are just meant to be short and my ultimate dream I wish we could be a series. That would be amazing because then you could have different directors, different paths, you could have this constantly evolving but always fascinating type of show, but I don't know. I think we’re all waiting to see what kind of a life this has on DVD and VOD and Blu-ray, hoping that it finds it’s audience because this is obviously not for everyone. So I think that’s the first thing, but if people want more I would love to give them more because I had an absolute blast doing it.
And I had a blast watching it and talking to you – five stars all the way!
CL: Appreciate the support!
So check out the DVD/Blu-ray release of "Burning Palms" hitting shelves May 24 from Image Entertainment – viva great original work!