By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 0 Comments
Thursday was Seniors Day in Cannes. It began bright-and-early a screening of Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, a bittersweet road movie starring Bruce Dern as deluded old coot chasing a black-and-white rainbow to pot of gold. And it climaxed with a royal visit from one of France’s most venerated Americans, Jerry Lewis, who’s playing a widowed grandpa in Max Rose who begins to wonder if his marriage had been a sham.
We’re witnessing a bizarre cultural divide here. On the one hand, a stubborn pack of old American stars are storming the festival: Behind the Candelabra‘s Michael Douglas, 68; Dern and All is Lost‘s Robert Redford, both 76; and Lewis, 87—who had a festival press conference in hysterics with a deadpan wit that hasn’t lost any of its edge of the years. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 12:45 PM - 0 Comments
Spielberg may be heading the festival’s jury, but the A-list stars, and the action, are very far from L.A.
A vicious storm was blowing in from the Mediterranean. Bulldozers were at work to save the beach from being washed away. And France had just officially slipped back into recession. But under a vast seaside tent battered by torrential rain, the royal court of Cannes was in session, and blissfully immune. Nicole Kidman and Carey Mulligan, ethereal in sculpted hair and ivory gowns, glided through a sea of stolen glances. A goateed Leonardo DiCaprio—star of what the French call Gatsby le magnifique—wore the air of a heartthrob who has graduated to patriarch. Women swirled around French shoe designer Christian Louboutin, whose footwear makes ﬂashy cameos in Soﬁa Coppola’s The Bling Ring, about the gang of teenage burglars who made a habit of looting Paris Hilton’s closet. (He wore black loafers with pearl-strung tassels and his signature red soles.) Nearby, as if probing an alien life form, Steven Spielberg poked a spoon into an isle of white-onion mousse on a caviar crust circled by a moat of chilled petit poissoup.
At the opening-night dinner of the 66th annual Cannes International Film Festival, the king was clearly Spielberg, president of the powerhouse jury that will rule on the latest fashions in ﬁlm on May 26 when it awards the Palme d’Or to one of 20 movies in competition. Its nine members, who include Kidman, actor Christoph Waltz and director Ang Lee, own a collective haul of eight Oscars. For Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker—who launched his career in Cannes with The Sugarland Express in 1974, and blew the roof off the Palais in 1982 with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial—it was a triumphant return; his $200-million mega-yacht, Seven Seas, was moored offshore.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 at 8:48 PM - 0 Comments
In Cannes, jury president Steven Spielberg’s idea of a hotel is his own private mega-yacht, a $200-million, 284-foot vessel named Seven Seas, which is moored offshore. But he’s going to need a bigger boat if he wants to make room for Richard Dreyfuss, who is visiting Cannes for the first time since he was eight years old.
“I asked him if we could stay on the yacht,” Dreyfuss told me yesterday, at the Canadian pavilion on the beach. “At that moment I didn’t have hotel. He said he’s bringing the whole family so I can’t.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t want to be on a boat with you?” I ventured, only half-joking. “Did that ever occur to you?”
“No. He’s got a big family—seven kids. He was filling up all of the staterooms.”
Dreyfuss, 65, was a guest of the festival, along with Canadian director Ted Kotcheff, for last night’s Cannes Classics screening of a restored version of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz —Kotcheff’s 1974 film of the Mordecai Richler novel that gave Dreyfuss his first lead role. The brash young actor went on to star in three Spielberg movies: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Always. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at 10:53 AM - 0 Comments
Steven Soderbergh ignited his career in Cannes 24 years ago by winning the Palme D’or with his first feature, Sex, Lies and Videotape, a low-budget gem that set a new template for indie cinema. Today, with the premiere of Behind the Candelabra—which Soderbergh says may be his swan song—the Oscar-winning American director has framed a miraculous comeback performance by Michael Douglas after his recovery from stage IV throat cancer.
As piano legend Liberace, the most flamboyant showbiz queen never to come out of the closet, Douglas sinks his teeth into a role rich in theatricality. But much of the movie unfolds as scenes from a marriage, Vegas-style. Based on a memoir by Scott Thorson, Liberace’s longtime lover (played with deadpan aplomb by spray-tanned, Brazilian-waxed Matt Damon), the film is the most explicit gay love story ever performed by A-list Hollywood actors, with ample smooching. Funny and tender, flashy and fascinating, it gives Douglas the opportunity to pull off the kind of bravura performance that wins Oscars. But that won’t happen. Behind the Candelabra, which is in competition for the Palme D’Or, was financed by HBO, after every Hollywood studio had rejected it as a risky proposition that wouldn’t get an audience beyond the gay community. Dumb. It will air May 26 without an Oscar-qualifying theatrical run.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, May 20, 2013 at 5:52 AM - 0 Comments
I tend to approach a new Coen brothers movie with the wariness that comes from being a fan who’s been burned too often. In their lesser films, such as Burn After Reading, their wit can curdle into smugness. But when the brothers let their passion override their reflexive cynicism, they’re amazing. In No Country for Old Men and True Grit, they graduated to an epic scale with an emotional maturity and lyrical grandeur they’d never attempted before. Now with Inside Llewyn Davis, which premiered in Cannes yesterday, the Coens retreat to a smaller canvas. But without softening their signature edge of sardonic humour, they strike a chord of unprecedented tenderness. This is the Coen brothers unplugged, and it’s a slice of pure heaven. I didn’t want it to end, something you can’t say about many films in competition at Cannes. And I’m not alone. Inside Llewyn Davis arrived as an exhilarating tonic amid the visions of violence and angst that tend to be the red meat of a Cannes competition. Finding the sweet spot between droll humour and bittersweet emotion, it was universally embraced by critics as a rare treat—a Coen brothers comedy with a heart of gold.
Loosely drawn from The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a memoir by folksinger Dave Von Ronk, the movie features a breakout performance by Oscar Isaac, whose first name could be prophetic. He’s a riveting presence as both an actor and singer. A Julliard-trained musician, Isaac performs several of Van Ronk’s ballads under the musical direction of Coen brothers veteran T-Bone Burnett. The songs are sparsely measured out, but they play in their entirety as high points of the drama, making time stop with an uncanny intimacy. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 17, 2013 at 7:42 PM - 0 Comments
There’s been gunfire and a jewel heist at the Cannes Film Festival, and they did not happen on screen. Shots rang out on Friday evening as actors and jury members Christoph Waltz and Daniel Auteuil were in a live interview on the beachfront set of a French TV news program called Le Grand Journal. The crowd scattered, the actors were rushed to safety, and there was chaos among the crowd of onlookers. The police then arrested a man who was reported to be firing blanks and carrying a dummy grenade. Although no one was hurt, the incident brings to mind just how exposed celebrities are in Cannes, where thousands jam the Croisette promenade each evening to get a glimpse of the stars.
The previous night, thieves broke into a hotel room and stole an estimated $1 million in jewels, which were being held in a safe by Chopard to be loaned to stars walking the red carpet. The thieves ripped the safe off the wall and carried it away. It’s as if they were paying homage to Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, which premiered that same evening—it’s based on the true story of fame-obsessed teenage burglars who broke into the homes of Hollywood celebrities. Chopard, a sponsor of the Cannes festival, also designed the Palme d’Or. Let’s hope it is sitting in a safer place.
The movies have also been pretty exciting. There’s been plenty of violence onscreen, beginning with harrowing tortures in the Mexican drug war drama Heli. And right before seeing The Bling Ring, I screened François Ozon’s Young and Beautiful, a French movie in competition about teenage delinquency of a quite different kind. It’s the sexually explicit tale of a stunning 17-year-old schoolgirl (Marine Vactch) from a nice middle-class home who leads a double life as a prostitute. She also smokes cigarettes and looks like she was put on earth to be a movie star. French films do not get more French than this. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
Cannes can always be counted on to deliver surreal contrasts. As a fierce rainstorm swept the Croisette, Leonardo DiCaprio and the gang from The Great Gatsby climbed the red stairs of the Palais, umbrellas in hand, for the premiere of a movie based on the novel that F. Scott Fitzgerald had written just a few miles away while his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald, was having an affair on the same strip of beach where the Palais now stands. I’d already seen Gatsby. So as that lavish melodrama played in 3D, I sat in a wet tuxedo in the theatre next door, watching Mexican gangsters suspend a man from a ceiling of a family home in the desert and set his genitals ablaze while their children watched. The first of 20 features to be shown in the festival’s main competition, the movie was Heli, by Mexican director Amat Escalante–a grimly realist portrait of how the drug wars ravage innocent lives in his country. It was like igniting the battle for the Palme d’Or with a Molotov cocktail.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 12:21 PM - 0 Comments
For Steven Spielberg, president of the Cannes jury, “it’s such a relief” to be judging movies for once, rather than being judged. But his co-juror Ang Lee seemed stricken by the prospect, confessing he is “afraid to judge people’s work in public.” Those two eminent directors were fielding questions with the rest of the nine-member jury that will award the Palme d’Or to one of 20 features in competition here. It was only three months ago that Spielberg and Lee emerged from a marathon Oscar campaign with a surprise ending. Both were nominated for Best Director, but Lee won for Life of Pi over Spielberg, who was favoured to win for Lincoln. So at the jury press conference, I asked them both how it felt to now be sitting on a jury together, and how they would compare the Palme d’Or with the Oscar.
“After you,” demurred Spielberg. Lee agonized over the question. “Cannes is a prestigious film festival,” he said. “It’s full of opinions. It’s artistically driven, more highbrow. Oscar is a competition of a group with 6,000 Academy members. It has an element of popularity. It’s work. You don’t know how the wind blows. Of course, any competition is prejudiced. It’s someone’s opinion.” Clearly not one to relish conflict, Lee added, “I hope there’s something that wows us, something we cannot even verbalize, and we all look at each other like, ‘Oh my God, that’s the Palme d’Or!’ I pray that happens . . . Hopefully we won’t have to argue that fiercely.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Director J.J. Abrams goes where no fan has gone before
The voice on the phone from London, a few days after the world premiere of Star Trek Into Darkness, speaks in a stream of staccato phrases, a brisk torrent of ideas that have no time for commas. When you talk to director J.J. Abrams, you can almost hear the universe expanding. Officially, he’s promoting the sequel to his triumphant 2009 reboot of Star Trek. Now George Lucas and Disney have placed Abrams at the helm of Star Wars: Episode VII, so this prince of geeks—who had his first encounter with Hollywood at 16, when he was hired to edit Steven Spielberg’s teenage Super 8 archive—is poised to inherit Spielberg’s mantle as Hollywood’s master of the extraterrestrial universe.
According to the laws of fanboy physics, it should not be possible that one man could command both Star Wars and Star Trek—two heritage franchises from rival sci-fi galaxies as distinct as church and state. You’d almost expect it to cause a rupture in the space-time continuum. “There’s no meta strategy to this, no Machiavellian plan,” says the 46-year-old Abrams. “It was simply two opportunities to get involved in two disparate film series that are bigger than all of us. I don’t feel any kind of Coke vs. Pepsi thing about it. It seems there’s enough bandwidth for both of these very different stories to coexist. I feel incredibly lucky to be involved in either of them.”
Spoken like a Starfleet ambassador. The moral and aesthetic hemispheres of Star Trek and Star Wars are, of course, polar opposites. Spun from the DNA of the late Gene Roddenberry’s cult TV series, Star Trek is a secular, open-ended franchise fuelled by the comic friction of an interspecies ensemble, the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Star Wars is a closed universe, a generational saga on a Wagnerian scale, rooted in myth and mystical forces.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 11:31 AM - 0 Comments
In an age when Hollywood has turned the movie biz into moneyball—an escalating numbers racket of sequels, franchises, reboots and spin—those of us who watch films for a living feel we’re caught in an endless loop, a Groundhog Day of déjà vu. As marketing and movie-making become indistinguishable, opening weekend is just another iteration of something we’ve seen before.
That’s why Cannes is a thrill. It’s a place of cinematic privilege where the usual rules don’t apply. Every year we make the pilgrimage to the French Riviera not knowing what to expect. Well, with one glaring exception. The festival’s May 15 opening night gala, The Great Gatsby, is by now old news. Weird. I’ve been coming to Cannes for 14 years, and it’s unheard of for the festival not to open with a world premiere. But almost a week after Gatsby’s North American debut, Warner Bros. will use Cannes for its European launch. One can only assume the festival was desperate to have the stars on its red carpet but didn’t have the clout to the force the studio to hold back its North American release. That’s an indication of how regimented global distribution has become. But it also doesn’t bode well for the regal status of the world’s most prestigious film festival.
On the other hand, opening night has always been largely ceremonial. More often than not, Cannes opens with Versailles-scale confections that turn out to be duds; and The Great Gatsby—which few critics have deemed good, never mind great— should at least serve as fodder for a lavish party. Besides, we don’t really come here to see Hollywood movies, but to get away from them. This, after all, is the Olympics of world cinema, and for those who like that sort of thing, nothing rivals the anticipation of watching the Cannes competition unfold from one day to the next. There tends to be refreshingly little advance hype about the films, so each time the lights go down it’s a journey into the dark on every level.
There are 20 features vying for the Palme D’Or this year. As we watch them, we’ll be second-guessing a heavyweight jury chaired by Steven Spielberg, whose eight cohorts includes Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Life of Pi), and Oscar-winning actors Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 9:23 AM - 0 Comments
It’s a matter of taste. And expectations. If you are looking for a film that’s faithful to the spirit and tone of F. Scott Fitzergerald’s legendary novel, Baz Luhrmann‘s vulgar, opulent 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby will come as a disappointment. It seems as desperate to be adored as Jay Gatsby himself, and it’s suffocated by delusions of grandeur on a comparable scale. In fact, Luhrmann’s extravagant, outsized relationship to the novel mirrors that of Gatsby to the book’s modest narrator, Nick Carraway. As iconic as the novel has become, it’s a slender narrative that evokes a glittering world with subtle, glancing prose. It’s more about character than decor. The story’s most dramatic incidents are glided over, reported without embellishment or fanfare. It takes place in the Jazz Age, in the early ’20s, which is when it was published: it was a contemporary novel, and to read it now, it still feels contemporary and timeless, not a period artifact. The movie, however, is a grandiose costume drama that revels in nostalgia, and lurches from high camp to high melodrama. In every respect, it’s a wild departure from the novel, although it has embalmed Fitzgerald’s story and his writing with faithful an eye to detail.
But what else would you expect from Baz Luhrmann, the man who gave us Moulin Rouge? In fact, after everything I’d heard about his Gatsby—with Jay Z serving as a producer, André 3000 and Beyoncé covering Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, and Jack White doing U2—I was bracing myself for a musical. But despite some sensational production numbers, it’s not a musical at all. It’s a movie that wants to be a play, a Broadway play with fabulously fake sets and archly theatrical performances. It’s not a travesty. It’s a hugely ambitious, Gatsby-esque attempt to construct a mansion-like monument to the book. But amid all the conscious contrivance and ornate eye candy, the drama at the heart of it feels strangely lifeless, frozen in aspic. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Last night I mixed with a host of iconic celebrities at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. Most of them were not present in the flesh but on the walls, as portraits in Macleans: Face to Face, an exhibit of 50 photographs from the magazine’s archives that’s part of the Scotiabank CONTACT photography festival. Extraordinary images: Pierre Trudeau, Sarah Polley, Stephen Harper, Justin Bieber, Johnny Rotten, Henry Kissinger, June Callwood . . . and David Cronenberg, who attended last night’s opening reception for the show with his wife Carolyn. It provided a rare chance to have a casual chat with Canada’s most engaging filmmaker outside the usual strictures of the publicity mill.
He seemed to be in a good mood. A few days earlier he had just completed his first novel and had sent the manuscript off to his publishers, Penguin Canada and Scrivener in the United States. Working with star New York literary agent Andrew Wylie—whose clients include Elmore Leonard, Martin Amis, Philip Roth and Salman Rushdie—Cronenberg says he secured an advance to write the book four years ago, based an outline and a sample of writing. But then the business of making movies got in the way, and two films later (A Dangerous Method, Cosmopolis) he resumed the manuscript. He said it was strange reading what he’d written years earlier and trying to re-inhabit the voice—”it was as if it had been written by someone else.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 9:43 AM - 0 Comments
The Chinese are unhappy with the Chinese version of Iron Man 3. But not for the usual reasons. Unlike Skyfall and Cloud Atlas, this Hollywood blockbuster hasn’t been cut by Chinese censors. On the contrary, it runs longer than the version released in the rest of the world, embellished with four minutes of extra scenes. One features a couple of Chinese movie stars demonstrating the superiority of Sino surgery on Tony Stark, and another sells a clunky product placement for a local milk drink with the line, “What does Iron Man rely on to revitalize his energy?” The scenes, shot in Bejing by a Chinese studio, annoyed China’s critics. (Yes, even in the land of muzzled, state-owned media, there are film critics.) But China was also miffed that China’s stars were cut from the movie the rest of the world will see—Wang Xueqi, who plays Dr. Wu, has 10 seconds of screen time in the international version.
Having seen the (non-Chinese) Iron Man 3, in 3D, I’m now wishing the studio had created yet another version of the movie. One with no action, just acting.
An action movie with no action? Yes, I’m being facetious . . . but only up to a point. My enjoyment of the film did seem to run in inverse proportion to the volume and intensity of the CGI action scenes. With each sequel, there’s seems to be a need to escalate the special effects and high-tech wizardry. Now, when Tony Stark puts on the full metal jacket, its modular pieces comes flying at him from a great distance like drone projectiles.
But the strongest asset of this franchise is still the switchblade repartee of its star, Robert Downey Jr., so immaculately cast as a playboy smartypants armoured in hubris. And in Iron Man 3 Downey Jr. is given lots to work with. It’s a better, smarter movie than the previous sequel, which played like a gladiatorial monster truck rally. Yet it’s not as strong as the first movie in the series, which was terrific. Iron Man 3 is still marred by that disconnect between the subversive wit of Stark’s dialogue and the clichéd tedium of the action. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 4:38 PM - 0 Comments
As expected, the April 30 Hot Docs world premiere of Unclaimed—a Canadian documentary about a man emerging from the Vietnamese jungle claiming to be a U.S. soldier given up for dead in 1968—has ignited a firestorm of media controversy. In a Maclean’s story last week, I explored the film in detail, and conducted the first media interview given by Alabama’s Gail Metcalf, the niece of MIA John Hartley Robertson, and his family’s official spokesperson. After a cathartic reunion with the self-proclaimed MIA in Edmonton, which stretched over five days, Metcalf and her family—including Robertson’s sole surviving sibling, Jean Robertson Holley—were utterly convinced the man is their “Johnny.” Meanwhile, the movie’s Alberta director, Michael Jorgensen, has had dealings with the the U.S. military that point to a possible cover-up. He said he met with one official who lied to him that Robertson’s brother (now deceased) and his sister, Jean, had cooperated with the military and provided DNA—which the family denied.
Immediately after news reports of the film’s sensational discovery went zinging around the globe, came an equally sensational backlash—a rash of headlines declaring that the man claiming to be Robertson was in fact a “slick fraudster” whose “hoax” had already been uncovered by the U.S. military. The news originated from a U.S. military memo that was fed to the U.K.’s Daily Mail website. According to a 2009 memo from the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) that surfacedMailOnline, the man, Dang Tan Ngoc, came to the attention of U.S. personnel in Vietnam in 2006, claiming to be Sgt. John Hartley Robertson, reported killed in action during a special forces mission over Laos in 1968. The memo states that, under questioning, the man admitted that he was not Robertson, but that he tried to pose as him again in 2008, and was fingerprinted at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh—and that the FBI reported his prints did not match those in JHR’s records.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 1:34 PM - 0 Comments
Canadian doc ‘Unclaimed’, premiering this week at Hot Docs, finds a lost American soldier with almost no memory of his past
John Hartley Robertson was a ghost of history, an American soldier who vanished in a war that was not supposed to exist. And for 44 years, neither did he. Robertson was shot down over Laos on May 20, 1968, as part of a mission by a special forces unit waging a secret war beyond the borders of Vietnam. The U.S. military listed him as MIA, then in 1976, presumed dead. But a Canadian filmmaker and a Vietnam vet tracked down a man living in a remote Vietnamese village who claims to be Robertson, though he has virtually no memory of his former life, has lost his ability to speak English—and is now married to a Vietnamese woman who rescued him, gave him the identity of her husband, a slain South Vietnamese soldier, and bore him four children.
With Unclaimed, an astonishing documentary that premieres this week at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, Emmy-winning Alberta director Michael Jorgensen follows a bizarre trail into a modern-day heart of darkness, guided by Michigan’s Tom Faunce, a traumatized Vietnam War vet obsessed with leaving no man behind, even decades after the war. It climaxes—spoiler alert—as the self-proclaimed MIA is flown to Edmonton for a rendezvous with the sole survivor of Robertson’s four siblings, Alabama’s Jean Robertson-Holley. (He was unable to enter the U.S.) She instantly confirms he’s her brother in a cathartic, tearful reunion.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 5:31 AM - 0 Comments
I’ve had an eye infection this week. I’ve been waking up with my eyelids glued shut. No wonder. Given some the movies I’ve been forced to endure lately, my eyeballs are finally saying, “Enough! Enough with the crap!” Can’t say I blame them.
This weekend’s box-office becomes a limbo-style race to the bottom as Pain and Gain and The Big Wedding compete to lower the bar for screwball comedy. And you know the wheels have come off Hollywood when you find yourself enjoying a Michael Bay movie about a trio of dimwit bodybuilders more than an all-star romantic comedy featuring Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams, Katherine Heigl, Amanda Seyfried and Topher Grace.
More about the big fat wedding later. First let’s look at Michael Bay’s attempt to make something—everything—other than a Michael Bay movie.
With Pain and Gain, Bay, the architect of such monumental shlock as Armageddon, Pearl Harbour and The Transformers franchise, takes a walk on the wild side. Working with a paltry $25 million budget, he is virtually slumming. And he’s made what for him amounts to a personal film, or at least a personal attempt to make the kind of film he hasn’t had time to make while destroying the world. The kind not ruled by robots or special effects. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 7:08 PM - 0 Comments
Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, with 205 films from 43 countries showing April 30 to May 5. I’ve been screening them over the past few weeks. Though I haven’t seen nearly enough to provide a definitive list, here’s what I’ve found to be the most compelling so far. As I see more, the list may expand . . .
1. Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer If you think you know about this feminist punk group from the media coverage of their trial, and Madonna’s flashes of solidarity, that’s not the half of it. Filmmakers Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin, who won a special jury award in Sundance for this documentary, have forged a riveting account of the court case. But most of all, they have composed an fascinating and credibly heroic portrait of the three Pussy Riot members who go to trial. For all their collective bravado, they emerge as distinct and formidable personalities, who seem to be undergoing a personal transformation as the camera rolls—especially the mesmerizing Nadia (Nadezhda Tolokonnikova), who combines movie-star magnetism with insouciant wit and a sophisticated view of conceptual art. The film includes video clips of the the group’s hit-and-run performances, and interviews. But their most revealing moments come from their candid conversations as prisoners behind the glass of the court’s media scrum. Like animals in a zoo, surrounded by a phalanx of cameras, they use their trial as a stage for impromptu performance art. Supporting players range from biker-like militants of the Orthodox church to the girls’ anxious but tolerant parents—notably Nadia’s father, who co-wrote lyrics for the punk anthem that landed them in jail after its fleeting performance in the church.
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 11:26 AM - 0 Comments
He is the essential all-American movie star. California-bred as a delinquent jock and bohemian painter, he was discovered by Broadway, honed by Hollywood, and became the Great Gatsby, the Sundance Kid and the Horse Whisperer. Loveable rogue, charming outlaw and cowboy sage, he put the swagger in The Sting, exposed Watergate in All the President’s Men, and wielded a magic bat in The Natural. As the godfather of Sundance, indie cinema’s home on the range, he is also Hollywood’s frontier patriarch. Actor-director Robert Redford has put every conceivable spin on the American Dream, onscreen and off. But the thing is, he doesn’t believe in it. He talks about America with the dismay of man recalling a lover who cheated on him long ago. As for Americans, he wishes they were more like us.
Interviewed before last fall’s TIFF premiere of The Company You Keep (which opens in Toronto April 26), Redford raved about Canada. “I do love this country,” he said. “One of the things I like about it, aside from the fact that people seem to look north, is that there’s more respectful behaviour. We just don’t have it anymore. America did once, 50, 60 years ago. We were like Canadians are today. I remember that as a kid. And it’s gone.” Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
A Hot Docs film details how Google and Facebook serve up reams of private data to the CIA, FBI and others
Leigh Bryan, a 26-year-old bar manager from Coventry, England, had booked a hotel on Hollywood Boulevard and was looking forward to some wild times in California. Instead, after showing his passport at the L.A. airport, he was taken to a holding room, questioned for five hours, then handcuffed, jailed overnight and flown home the next morning. U.S. authorities had red-flagged Bryan because of tweets he’d sent to a friend in Britain three weeks earlier. One read: “Free this week for a gossip/prep before I go destroy America? X.” Another message, referencing TV’s Family Guy, said he’d be “on Hollywood Blvd and diggin’ Marilyn Monroe up!” At the airport, Bryan tried to explain that “destroy” was English slang for drunken partying, and that he had no intention of disinterrring a screen legend, but U.S. officials didn’t buy it.
Bryan is not alone. In Terms and Conditions May Apply, a documentary feature showing next week at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, his case is one of several absurd stories about innocents targeted by police or government agencies trolling personal Internet accounts. This witty yet chilling film presents a dire portrait of how, with just a few keystrokes, we surrender our privacy to a brave new world of state surveillance beyond anything George Orwell ever dreamed of.
We all do it routinely. You download an app, upgrade some software, register on a website and up comes that mass of fine print called the “terms of service” contract. Without reading it, you scroll to the bottom and click on “I agree.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, April 23, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
A veteran character actor has his day in a tale of a Maritimer crushed by city hall
In a career spanning four decades, James Cromwell has appeared in 50 movies and more than 100 TV shows, playing everyone from mad scientists and American presidents to Prince Philip and Pope John Paul II. But he’s more familiar as a face than a name, and has never had a lead role, until now. He doesn’t count the movie he’s famous for, co-starring with a pig as farmer Hoggett in Babe (1995). Back then, the studio tried to submit his name to the Academy Awards as Babe’s lead actor, he recalls. “They said, ‘Your name comes first.’ I said, ‘Yeah, because you couldn’t say: starring the pig. I have 16 lines! The pig is the lead!’ ” Cromwell got his way, and an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor—the tallest actor ever so honoured. Standing six foot seven, his is an imposing presence; even at 73, he looks like a guy you don’t want to mess with, especially when he raises his voice.
As the stoical hero of Still Mine, a lovely Canadian movie set in New Brunswick, this yeoman actor has finally found a leading role commensurate with his stature. The film is based on the true story of Craig Morrison, who became locked in an epic feud as provincial bureaucrats tried to stop him from building a house on a parcel of his own land in St. Martins, overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Morrison was a master carpenter and sawmill operator, but because his hand-milled lumber was unstamped and his materials didn’t conform to the building code, the province tried to block construction, then threatened to bulldoze the house. After six court appearances and a front-page story in the St. John Telegraph Journal, Morrison eventually won his battle three years ago at age 91.
The movie is an octogenarian romance: Morrison builds the house to give his wife, Irene, a room with a view as she succumbs to dementia. Writer-director Michael McGowan (Score: A Hockey Musical, One Week) found the story’s Capra-esque elements irresistable. “You find out he’s doing it for love. Then you fly out there and see how beautiful St. Martins is, and when you meet him, he says, ‘By the way, I got this baseball I got signed by Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth when I was 10.’ ”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 7:34 AM - 0 Comments
Wonders never cease. This week we have two new movies that are out of this world. By that, I mean they’re not of this world. They are cosmic odysseys, to opposite destinations.
After bombing as Jack Reacher, Tom Cruise bounces back as Jack Harper in Oblivion, a space opera that’s got more going for it than the title suggests. Also opening this week is To The Wonder, the latest transcendental opus from Tree of Life’s Terrence Malick. Oblivion is a blockbuster sci-fi spectacle with a labyrinthine plot. To the Wonder is an almost plotless meditation on spirituality, the beauty of dust motes and the quiet desolation of the American Dream. Both are visually enchanting but in utterly different ways—Oblivion is a remarkable feat of computer-graphic design; To the Wonder tries to photograph the tangible divinity of natural light. Strangely, they both feature rising star Olga Kurylenko, the Ukranian-born model and Bond girl (Quantum of Solace).
I interviewed Kurylenko at TIFF last year. For an otherwordly beauty she’s also something of a rocket scientist: an intelligent, cultivated artiste who speaks English, French and Russian fluently.
But in To the Wonder, she doesn’t get to do much talking—Malick’s not big on dialogue. And in Oblivion, she barely gets a chance to act: her most expressive moment comes in her first few seconds onscreen, when she awakes, gasping and coughing, from a 60-year “delta sleep” in a NASA space pod. As for Cruise, he keeps his head down and the gets the job done. Continue…
By Bookmarked and Brian D. Johnson - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 10:55 AM - 0 Comments
Poets must envy her. A typical poet, if there is such a thing, does not win a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant, and become the subject of a feature profile in The New York Times Magazine. Especially one as audaciously avant-garde as Anne Carson. This Canadian-born enigma, who teaches ancient Greek, paints volcanoes, and is adapting a sonnet cycle as a choral dance spectacle, is the Robert Lepage of poetry. To read her is a challenge and a thrill. Red Doc> arrives as an orphaned sequel to Carson’s crossover hit, The Autobiography of Red (1998), which recast Geyron, a winged red monster from Greek mythology, as a contemporary gay teen. Now called G, he lives in a red hut by a freeway underpass, reading Proust and tending a herd of musk oxen.
Red Doc> defies plot summary, but as Carson plunges down black-diamond couloirs of narrative freefall, there’s nothing abstract about it. Her writing is intensely cinematic. G embarks on a surreal road trip with Sad, a traumatized war vet, and drives north past “panels of a torn planet,” “black chunks of lava” and “cliffs with white shocks of waterfall.” They park in a glacier cavern where G tests the ice like a trampoline and drops through a fault, seduced by hypothermia, “that old cliché of polar adventure fatigue flooding his body in waves, silver ebbing and ﬂowing.” And when G ﬂies free—“Wings wildawake. Front body alive in a rush of freezing air . . . the ancient smell of ice floods every corner of his skull”—it’s like an action scene from an icy Avatar .
A verbal acrobat and compulsive inventor, Carson dreams up words like “warplay” and creatures called “ice bats” who dwell in Batcatraz. Vaulting genres, she’ll steer a car toward a lava flow or have a riot interrupt a play called Prometheus Rebound staged in a psych clinic. She’s a dramatist with an ear for domestic dialogue, and an eye for intimate detail. After a tryst in a laundry room, sex is “like pie without a fork” and love is “a big bunch of grass that grows up in your mind and makes you stupid.” Carson messes with our heads and makes us wish we were smarter; it’s huge fun just trying to keep up.
Visit the Maclean’s Bookmarked blog for news and reviews on all things literary
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 8:12 AM - 0 Comments
Despite the fact that Hollywood has harnessed its fortunes to the blockbuster engine of sci-fi futurism, our love of the movies is fundamentally a romance with the past. The Dream Factory traffics in memory and myth. Sometimes a film feels like the fabric of memory itself.
Opening this week are three films of radically different genres that frame the past: 42, which enshrines baseball legend Jackie Robinson; The Place Beyond the Pines, a tale of crime and punishment that bleeds through generations; and Trance, a riddling intrigue of amnesia and mind control. Maybe I’m feeling especially charitable to movies that are not about heavily armed Americans saving the world from foreign megalomaniacs bent on world domination, but I happen to like all three of these films—up to a point.
This inspirational story of Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in the major leagues, does justice to one of America’s most beloved and essential heroes, a heroic athlete who became the lead-off hitter for the civil rights movement. It’s styled as a history lesson wrapped in an old-fashioned Hollywood motion picture, a moral drama that swings for the fences in big, broad strokes and hits the message right out of the park. And the style feels utterly appropriate. With a subject so deserving of mythology, a figure plucked by history to be a hero in a brutally uncomplicated era of black and white conflict, it’s a movie that makes us want to cheer. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 5, 2013 at 7:47 AM - 0 Comments
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 8:27 PM - 0 Comments
It came as such a sad shock. Only yesterday, coining an original phrase with his last words, Roger Ebert tweeted that he was about to take “a leave of presence.” The tweet linked to a piece he had published just the day before in the Chicago Sun Times, the newspaper where he worked as a film critic for 46 years. With his customary eloquence and modest grace, Roger explained that, because his cancer had returned, he would be scaling down his activities. He usually knocks off about 200 reviews a year. But last year, despite his health issues, he said he wrote 306 reviews, more than during any year of his career, along with various blogs and articles. He then went on to map out the myriad projects he was looking forward to in the coming months of his new, scaled-down career—including the Apr. 9 launch of Ebert Digital, an interactive website that will be, among other things, a home to his archive of more than 10,000 reviews.
“What is a leave of presence?” he wrote. “It means I am not going away.”
Roger was such a prolific, essential and indefatigable critic, I couldn’t imagine him going away. It would be out of character. Continue…