By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4)
The Austin Film Festival has continued their post-festival film series showcasing the Audience Award winners from last year. At the 2012 festival, Kevin Hamedani’s Junk took home the audience’s choice for best film in the Narrative Feature category. On April 1, AFF screened the film with writer/director/star Hamedani in attendance. His movie is loosely based on the experiences of him and his creative partner Ramon Isao when they attended the 2009 Austin Film Festival where they presented their first feature, ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction.
Hamedani and Isao portray Kaveh and Raul, who essentially are fictional versions of themselves. After an awkward breakup with his girlfriend, Kaveh feels lost and depressed. His agent informs him that his bad Arabsploitation film, Islama-Rama 2 has been entered and accepted to a modest Seattle film festival. His agent demands that Kaveh reconcile with Raul as the two filmmakers had a huge falling out and haven’t spoken for years. While attending the festival, Kaveh and Raul encounter an assortment of hilarious characters in the film industry and have several wild ideas, including Gremlins 3, that they wish to pitch. They attempt various cons and stunts to score a meeting with Asian exploitation producer Yukio Tai (James Hong).
Hamedani and Isao have made a spot on satire of the film festival experience. Anyone who has attended film festivals will be able to relate to the various scenarios and characters. Granted, a few of the characters do come across as caricaturesque, but absolute realism is clearly not what Hamedani and Isao have intended. The film plays out like a satire that delves into spoof territory. This is especially true when it comes to the uproarious film pitches and ideas the lead characters have. The film does have a few silly and somewhat ridiculous scenarios which fell a tad flat, but overall, the jokes and humor work quite effectively. I particularly enjoyed Kevin Hamedani and Ramon Isao in the lead roles. Their friendship and natural chemistry shines through. I also loved the performances of Cooper Hopkins who portrays Islama-Rama 2 star Connor and Brett Davern who plays the devout Christian festival rep Billy.
After the screening of the film, I had a most enjoyable interview with Kevin Hamedani who has a genuine, down to earth, witty personality and an obvious love for horror, exploitation and grindhouse cinema. So naturally, we got along quite well.
Mark Saldana: Were all of the movie and pitch ideas created specifically for Junk?
Kevin Hamedani: Gremlins 3 was actually something Ramon and I would dream and kill to do. We always talked about it and we know that there is no way in chance that it will ever happen. So when we were writing this film (Junk), we thought, “Oh my God! We can do it.” The other ones we wrote for Junk.
M.S.: What were your pitch ideas during AFF 2009?
K.H.: We had a zombie/western called Dead Lands which has helped our career in the industry quite a bit. We thought this will never get made, but we thought Michael Keaton would be excellent for this western.
M.S.: If you could remake any film, which one would you do?
K.H.: The real remake we pitched was Waxwork and we got pretty far with that pitch, but Lionsgate didn’t like the idea of making another “wax” movie after House of Wax.
M.S.: So if you could remake any movie, it would be Waxwork?
K.H.: You have to remake something that sucks. You don’t want to remake Gremlins because it is so perfect. Or Gremlins 2 either
M.S.: Your first film was ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction. So you’ve gone from zombies to a story about a film festival. What’s next?
K.H.: Might sound cheesy, but a family drama. Not absurdist. We also wrote a very absurd big comedy. For that, we are looking for a big director. But, we also wrote a drama. We like all kinds of movies.
M.S.: First of all, I want to say that I really like your sense of humor. You’re not afraid to challenge conventions and you pull few punches. Have you received any backlash from anyone offended by your brand of humor? You do like to send up terrorism and Arabic stereotypes.
K.H.: Well, so far so good. I am surprised, but I have mostly received positive responses.
M.S.: Recently, I rewatched the movie Swingers on television which Jon Favreau based on his experiences in dealing with a breakup. Was your film inspired by a real breakup you went though?
K.H.: We are definitely influenced by Swingers. It was sort of a combination of my breakup and breakups of people close to me. I know it may be cliché to do breakup, but when you have a Raul character to make fun of it, it works. That was the only reason we thought it would work, if we make fun of it.
K.H.: In your film, you have appearances by James Hong and Jake Johnson. How did you get them involved?
M.S.: Our casting director called his agent. He has family in Seattle and wanted a trip there. We gave him a good deal. It’s that simple. There are a lot of people who just want to work. As for Jake Johnson, I am friends with Nick Jasenovec who directed Paper Heart. (Jasenovic also appears in Junk.) So then I asked if he would mind calling Jake and if he would be interested in playing Nick Jasenovec. So he’s reprising his role as Nick from Paper Heart.
M.S.: Where does the title Junk come from?
K.H.: We never put it in the script, but when Ramon and I would write and bust each other’s balls, I’d always say we’re like The Beatles and you’re McCartney. Ramon would say, “No. you’re McCartney. I’m Lennon.” Everyone wants to be Lennon. When he called me McCartney, I said, “At least he made ‘Junk’!” which is one of the best McCartney songs ever. That was always on the brain, ‘Junk’. We also thought, “Junk Cinema” because I didn’t want to do “Trash” as in trash cinema because that was too obvious. And it’s all about men and their junk. (laughs)
Kevin and Ramon are currently talking to a few different companies for distribution. Let’s hope that they get a great deal, because this comedy deserves a much larger audience.
For information on the Austin Film Festival and their events, including the Best of the Fest series, go to http://www.austinfilmfestival.com/ .