Playing a character based on a real person is never easy, but it's even tougher when the real person is a sociopathic hit man who's claimed to have murdered more than 100 people. That's what Michael Shannon does in The Iceman, the new film from director Ariel Vromen, which opens Friday, May 17, at Hillcrest Cinemas. Shannon plays Richard Kuklinski, the East Coast contract killer who was arrested in 1986 after committing a long string of murders.
"The trick about playing Kuklinski is that no matter how many books you read or how many articles you read or how many interviews you see, he's an enigma," Shannon tells CityBeat. "It's really hard to know what's actually true and what isn't. This guy says he killed somewhere between 100 and 200 people. That's kind of like saying, 'Yeah, I bat somewhere between .300 and .400,' you know?"
In the movie, Kuklinski lives an average life with his wife (Winona Ryder) and their two daughters, and his family has no idea what he does for a living. Shannon says the real Kuklinski was obtuse and secretive.
"I watched something like 21 hours of interviews with this guy, and I still felt like I hardly knew him," he says. "There was definitely a persona that I could latch onto, but I felt like, at the end of the day, he was still keeping a lot of secrets."
Much of what you see in The Iceman is filmmaking that you've seen before. But Shannon, who has a long history of playing people with mental disabilities, is the reason to watch. And, he says, though he's nothing like Kuklinski, he feels for the man he's portraying.
"I think he's a very emotional person," Shannon says. "He has a great reserve of sadness in him that's beyond simply shedding a tear and having a little depression. The sadness and the pain that he endured in his life was so gargantuan that it turned him into who he is. There's some kind of pain that people experience that is overwhelming and not solved by Prozac or long walks in the park or Tai Chi."
Shannon himself is an "incredibly non-violent person," he says. "I could never in a million years fathom doing any of these things that he did, these killings. People think, 'Oh, Mike does these parts; this is what he does.' To me, part of the reason I take a part like this is because it is so far away from who I am. The longer that journey is, usually the more interesting it is to perform."Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.
33 Postcards: When her choir travels to Australia, a 16-year-old Chinese orphan looks up the man (Guy Pearce) who sponsors her, only to find that his dream life isn't as idyllic as she pictured.
Black Rock: Three childhood friends—Kate Hudson, Lake Bell and Katie Aselton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mark Duplass—find themselves fighting for their lives during a weekend on a remote island.
The Brass Teapot: Michael Angarano and Juno Temple are a young couple with money problems. When they find a magic teapot that'll offer up cash whenever they get hurt, they have to decide how much pain the can withstand to get the stuff they really want. More Earl Grey, please. Screens through May 23 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Charge: This documentary about green motorcycles is narrated by Ewan McGregor. Opens Tuesday, May 21, at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Kiss of the Damned: A sexy vampire tries to act normal for her human boyfriend, but things get out of hand when her sister, also a vampire, stops by for a visit. Screens for one week at the Ken Cinema.
Pieta: Korean film about a loan shark who has to take a hard look at his lifestyle when an older woman claiming to be his mother arrives.
Star Trek: Into Darkness: The sequel to J.J. Abrams' rollicking reboot feels more like a summer blockbuster than a vital part of the Trek universe. Still, it's always good to see Benedict Cumberbatch on the big screen. See our feature on Page 30.
Stories We Tell: Actor-turned-director Sarah Polley points her camera on her own family, exploring her history and what makes her and her relatives so creative.
Wild and Scenic Film Festival: Julian's environmental film festival runs Friday, May 17, through Sunday, May 19, in, um, Julian. Details are at julianfilmfestival.com. Enjoy some pie while you're there.
One Time Only
Almost Famous: Cameron Crowe's memoir still rocks. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Up&Coming Student Film Festival: The UCSD event has expanded to include two nights of films and filmmakers. Check 'em out at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, May 15 and 16, at the CalIt2 Auditorium and The Loft, respectively, at UCSD. Details at artpwr.com.
Pulp Fiction: Still Tarantino's best. By now, you should know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France. Screens at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16, through Saturday, May 18, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Sentire L'aria (Feeling the Air): Documentary about a 15-year-old Italian boy who gives up his comfortable lifestyle to become a shepherd. Presented by the San Diego Italian Film Festival, it screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 16, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park.
Zero Dark Thirty: Controversy kept it from winning at Oscar time, but Kathryn Bigelow's film about the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden is one of 2012's best films. Screens at 2:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, at the Central Library, Downtown.
Drive-By Cinema: Pac-Arts, the folks behind the San Diego Asian Film Festival, present their latest mystery film screening at around 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 17, at Route 44 Skate Shop in North Park, followed by additional screenings and an after party at Live Wire bar in University Heights.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: You don't have to pitch a tent to get your dose of camp. Screens at midnight, Saturday, May 18, at the Ken Cinema.
Carnival of Souls: Classic creepshow about a woman who finds herself drawn to a decrepit carnival after a car accident. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 21, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
The Hangover: Some people never learn. Hangover 3 is coming soon enough. Consider this one the hair of the dog at 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 22, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Go Goa Gone: Bollywood zombie movie!
Aftershock: Eli Roth plays an American tourist in Chile who escapes a devastating earthquake only to find out that the neighboring prison has collapsed and all the convicts are on the loose.
The Angel's Share: The new one from Ken Loach is about a miscreant who tries to change his ways by stealing and selling a priceless cask of whiskey. Ends May 16 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Aquí y Allá: This small movie, about a Mexican man who reunites with his family after working for years in the U.S., speaks volumes about the immigration debate without speaking about it at all. Ends May 16 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Fruit Hunters: This documentary about nature's candy spends some time exploring the country garden created by actor Bill Pullman. Ends May 19 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
The Great Gatsby: Baz Luhrmann, who made Moulin Rouge, takes on the American literary classic. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jay Gatsby in this tale of class warfare.
Hava Nagila: Documentary about the instantly recognizable song and how its history is intertwined with that of the Jews.
Love is All You Need: A Danish hairdresser (Trine Dyrholm) who's lost her hair to cancer travels to Italy for her daughter's wedding, where she meets Pierce Brosnan, an angry widower and the father of her soon-to-be son-in-law.
Peeples: Craig Robinson crashes the reunion of a wealthy African-American family to ask for Kerry Washington's hand in marriage.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist: A Pakistani man tries to climb the corporate ladder in the U.S., but his family and violent events in the Middle East keep bringing him down.
Shootout at Wadala: Mumbai's police force engages in epic gun battles with gangsters, earning it a reputation for brutality and violence.
Something in the Air: French film about a bunch of counter-culture Europeans trying to keep the social revolution going in 1968. Ends May 16 at the Ken Cinema.
In the House: French film about a 16-year-old boy whose work in a literature class has a profound impact on the teacher and his fellow students.
Iron Man 3: The summer blockbuster season kicks off with that snarky Tony Stark saving our ungrateful hides once again.
Kon-Tiki: New film about Thor Heyerdal's 1947 ocean adventure, in which he sailed across the ocean on a balsa raft to prove that South Americans were able to cross in pre-Columbian times.
Arthur Newman: Colin Firth plays Newman, an unhappy divorcé who stages his own death in hopes of starting over.
The Big Wedding: Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton are a long-divorced couple who must pretend to be married at the wedding of their adopted son.
Mud: Matthew McConaughey continues to deliver the emotional goods in this coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old boy who idolizes a drifter with a violent past.
Pain and Gain: Michael Bay's new one stars Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and Anthony Mackie as Florida bodybuilders whose kidnapping scheme goes awry.
Renoir: French biopic about the impressionist painter in his twilight years.
Upstream Color: The new feature from Shane Caruth, whose 2004 film Primer was smart and inventive, is another serious sci-fi mind trip.
Disconnect: Henry Alex Rubin's new film focuses on people having a hard time communicating despite being wired in. It stars Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Michael Nyqvist and designer Marc Jacobs in his acting debut.
Filly Brown: A young female hip-hop artist has to decide if she wants to water down her music to sign a big record deal.
Home Run: Cinematographer-turned-director David Boyd's debut is about a Major League baseball player with a substance-abuse problem who's reduced to coaching Little League to remember what he loved about the game.
Oblivion: Tom Cruise plays a spaceman sent back to pull the last few remaining resources out of a depleted Earth.
42: Biopic about the baseball player who wore that number, which has been retired by every single Major League team. Spoiler: It's Jackie Robinson.
The Company You Keep: Robert Redford directed and starred in this drama, playing a former '60s radical whose hidden past is uncovered by plucky young journalist Shia LaBeouf.
Scary Movie 5: In our most recent issue, we reported that Scary Movie 5 was opening last week. We were wrong. The fact that you're reading about it twice must be terrifying.
Evil Dead: The updated version of Sam Raimi's classic is a serious gore-fest.
Jurassic Park 3D: Now with more velociraptor!
The Place Beyond the Pines: Ryan Gosling re-teams with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, playing a motorcycle daredevil who starts robbing banks because he's got a kid on the way. Bradley Cooper is the lawman on his trail.
The Sapphires: Though it's standard stuff, this story of four young Aboriginal women who go to Vietnam with their obnoxious Irish manager (Chris O'Dowd) wears its heart on its sleeve. Loosely based on a true story. Ends May 16 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Channing Tatum returns as Duke, and this time Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis join him in blowing things up.
The Host: The new movie from author Stephanie Meyer—aka the woman who wrote the Twilight books—stars Saoirse Ronan as a teen trying to save the world from some bodysnatching aliens.
Admission: Tina Fey plays a Princeton admissions officer who could blow her career by accepting a student who just might be the kid she gave up for adoption 18 years ago.
The Croods: Animated caveman movie featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and Emma Stone.
Olympus Has Fallen: Terrorists take over the White House and take the president hostage before being killed by disgraced Secret Service agent Gerard Butler. It's ludicrous, for sure, but pretty enjoyable as R-rated action films go.
Oz: The Great and Powerful: Sam Raimi directs this big-budget prequel. James Franco, Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis are all off to see the wizard.
Rocky Mountain Express: The IMAX theater at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center was recently overhauled. This latest entry takes viewers through the Canadian Rockies without leaving San Diego.
Side Effects: This thriller is rumored to be Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical release. If so, he's going out on top with this one, about a woman (Rooney Mara) whose shrink (Jude Law) prescribes her anti-depressants that end up plunging both of them down a rabbit hole.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
Silver Linings Playbook: Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar guy from Philly who's just out of the mental hospital, having lost his job, his home and his wife. He moves in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro) in hopes of regaining his marriage, but things are thrown askew by Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has problems of her own.
Flight of the Butterflies: It turns out Monarch butterflies are much like SDSU students—every year, thousands of them head to Mexico. This IMAX film captures their beautiful trip. The butterflies, that is.
Flying Monsters 3D: No, it's not a crappy studio blockbuster—this one is all about dinosaurs and was written and directed by Richard Attenborough, using Avatar-like technology, and plays the San Diego Natural History Museum in Balboa Park.
To the Arctic 3-D: Cute-animal-movie alert No. 2. Meryl Streep narrates this new IMAX movie about a mama polar bear and her two cubs.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.