By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 17, 2013 - 0 Comments
There’s been gunfire and a jewel heist at the Cannes Film Festival, and they did not happen onscreen. Friday evening shots rang out as actors Christoph Waltz and Daniel Auteuil, both member of the festival jury, were taking part in a live interview on the outdoor 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 wide-open and 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 out to stars walking the red carpet. The thieves ripped the safe off the wall and simply 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 been pretty exciting too. 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 one 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.
Composed with a poetic eye, Heli is a potent drama of random cruelty. Too bad its merits will be forever upstaged by the horror show of a man’s burning junk. The gratuitous killings of two dogs, which prompted walk-outs earlier in the film, seemed mild compared to this–a provocation from a young director showing us something we’ve never seen before. Most likely it’s based on a real incident; you don’t have to make this stuff up in Mexico. But as the camera lingers on the poor man, you’re yanked out of the movie. You can’t help wonder how it was done, because it’s clearly not a digital effect. And you wonder what Steven Spielberg, the president of the jury will think. The Cannes competition is like that: at every movie, it’s as if you’re watching it with an invisible date, or dates, as you try to imagine what it will look like through the eyes of a Spielberg, a Nicole Kidman or an Ang Lee.
So why was I watching a movie in a damp tux? Because my next stop was the festival’s opening night dinner for The Great Gatsby, a glittering soiree held under a vast tent with a level of glamour worthy of one Gatsby’s own parties. Sitting next to festival director Thierry Frémaux, DiCaprio held court at a long table with the Gatsby cast and the film’s director, Baz Lurhmann. It’s strange how this actor, who once struggled to shake his image as Titantic‘s boyish heartthrob, has morphed into a patrician. Incarnating a series of uber-powerful men, from Howard Hughes to J. Edgar Hoover, he has become deeply invested in his own gravitas. And he owned the room.
Next to his table sat the jury. I chatted briefly with Spielberg, who was about to dig into his appetizer of sweet onion mousse with bergamot, caviar and peas. I mentioned that at the afternoon’s press conference he seemed to be approaching jury duty with a huge sense of fun. “The great thing is, nobody’s on trial for their life here,” he said, grinning. Later I ran into his fellow juror Ang Lee, who still seemed to be weighing his responsibility with a heavy heart—”it’s my duty, I have to do it,” he sighed.
Oh yes, and there were stars. Carey Mulligan and Nicole Kidman and Elizabeth Debicki all sheathed in creamy white evening gowns. Standing next to Kidman, she seemed taller than me (I’m 6′), but I guess it was just the heels and the sculpted hair, because Google says she’s just 5’9″. Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, jury member, was the shiniest man in the room, a vision of black sequins. And Harvey Weinstein . . . well, he looked like Harvey Weinstein.
Quebec’s Denise Robert, producer and partner of Denys Arcand, eagerly pointed out legendary shoe designer Christian Louboutin, who she considered to be by far the most desired man at the dinner. More than any movie star. He was wearing pearl-tassled patent leather shoes with red soles. I know nothing about fashion. But I ‘m learning. I just saw Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, based on a Vanity Fair article about a gang of teenage girls who robbed the homes of celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom. The title of the article: ‘The Suspects Wore Louboutin.’ More on that later . . .
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 Jessica Allen - Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 1:30 PM - 0 Comments
Jessica Allen on the orgy of merchandising for a film based on the loneliest book ever written
Turn on a television, pass a shop window or a bus shelter these days, and you are engulfed by the opulence of the Roaring Twenties, the bold, clean angles of art deco design, and the jauntily attired figures of Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan—the stars of Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel. If The Great Gatsby ever went away, it’s unavoidably back. It’s now the fourth-bestselling book on Amazon, 88 years after it was first published. And the film’s partnerships with Tiffany & Co., Brooks Brothers and Moët & Chandon hope to resurrect other Jazz Age gestures: two-toned brogues, bow ties, a 5.25-carat flower-shaped diamond ring (price tag $875,000).
The film, which opens May 10, promises to be an over-the-top hyperactive kaleidoscope of colours, with a hip-hop-infused soundtrack produced by Jay-Z—all in 3D, and none more so than the merchandizing collaborations, which we’re told all make sense. “[Fitzgerald] went to Brooks Brothers and Tiffany, which was of course the jeweller of the Jazz Age, and drank Moët,” fashion editor Marion Hume told the Australian Financial Review. The Plaza Hotel in New York, the setting for a climactic scene in the novel, has also capitalized on Gatsby’s popularity. For about $2,800, guests can book a night in the Fitzgerald Suite, have the “Moët Imperial Gatsby” champagne cocktail in the hotel’s Rose Club, or enjoy “Caudalie Grape Gatsby Treatments” at the Plaza’s spa.
That’s a great deal of hoopla for what many consider to be one of the loneliest books ever written: it may be filled with revellers, but they’re all strangers. The aloneness is best exemplified by its protagonist, Nick Carraway, the Midwesterner who comes east and finds himself a secondary character in the drama of his own life, and of the figure of Jay Gatsby himself, who desires to create a moment of affection from his past while hiding his working-class origins. It’s also a lot of expensive stuff hitched to a story that is in part about what money can’t buy.
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 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 Jessica Allen - Monday, April 22, 2013 at 3:33 PM - 0 Comments
Film Society of Lincoln Center to celebrate singer/director/producer/writer/actress
Although Barbra Streisand’s proverbial popularity has never been far off the Hollywood radar, the star is enjoying a renaissance, of sorts.
The two-time Oscar winner performed at this year’s Academy Awards–something she hasn’t done in 36 years. Last year in her hometown of Brooklyn she performed two sold-out shows at the Barclays Center. For an upcoming summer concert in Israel, the 70-year-old singer had to add a second show after the first sold out in roughly 24 hours. And she starred in her first film since 1996′s The Mirror Has Two Faces when she appeared last year alongside Seth Rogan in The Guilt Trip. Seventeen years ago was also the last time she directed: though she’s slated to direct an as-yet untitled love story based on the relationship between photographer Margaret Bourke-White and author Erskine Caldwell.
And tonight, Bill Clinton will present Streisand with the Chaplin Award from the Film Society of Lincoln Center for lifetime achievement. The society honed in on Streisand’s role in Yentl, the first film to credit a woman as director, producer, writer and star. She’s in pretty good company, too: past recipients include Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep.
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 Jessica Allen - Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 3:30 PM - 0 Comments
Jessica Allen on the awesomeness of Superman and the revival of Kevin Costner’s career
Well, that was pretty much a perfect way to spend three minutes.
The folks over at the Atlantic agree, too.
Earlier today they wrote, “We’ve been a little cold on Zack Snyder’s heavenly, heavily therapeutic Superman adaptation, Man of Steel,” referring to the already released wistful, Terrence Malick-like trailers, “but we’re starting to change our minds with the fabulous new trailer that debuted last night—hell, everyone is.”
As luck would have it, I recently re-watched the 1978 Superman, directed by Richard Donner, written by Mario Puzo and starring a then relatively unknown Christopher Reeve. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this film as a kid. It had everything: action, suspense, romance–and it was hilarious to boot! The music alone, by John Williams (obviously), was enough to send me and my brother into hysterics. I get goosebumps just thinking of it. And while it’s true that some of the special effects and set design haven’t lived up in the same way those from other films of the era have (when Krypton begins to fall apart, for example, you get the feeling the set is made of spray-painted light-weight styrofoam), they weren’t as distracting as I assumed they might be. (OK, the iridescent Krypton jumpsuits were slightly distracting. But Lex Luthor’s subterranean lair? Come on!)
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 Jessica Allen - Friday, April 5, 2013 at 1:05 PM - 0 Comments
Jacob Bernstein, Nora Ephron’s son from her second marriage with journalist Carl Bernstein, will…
Jacob Bernstein, Nora Ephron’s son from her second marriage with journalist Carl Bernstein, will direct and produce a documentary for HBO about his mother, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The “intimate portrait” of the woman who was a jack of all writerly trades–journalist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, novelist and blogger–is called Everything is Copy and will be executive produced by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.
Ephron, who wrote the Academy Award-nominated screenplays for Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally and wrote and directed Sleepless in Seatle, You’ve Got Mail and Julie and Julia, among many others, passed away last June at the age of 71 from pneumonia, a complication arising from acute myeloid leukemia. Ephron first learned of the condition in 2006 but kept it hidden for many years from both family members and friends.
Her son Jacob recently wrote a touching tribute in the New York Times called, “Nora Ephron’s Final Act” where he recounts his mother’s final moments and the innumerable way he’s missed her since.
And if you haven’t seen Ephron presenting Meryl Streep with the AFI Life Achievement Award in 2006, you must:
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…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 4:15 PM - 0 Comments
Terrible news for anyone who loves movies, or reading about movies, or hearing about movies: Roger Ebert has died.
He was only 70, and it was an inspiration to all of us that he had overcome so much bad luck – the cancer that finally killed him, the loss of his speaking voice – and continued to use the power left to him, the power of words and the ability to communicate with an audience through his writing. Two days ago, he announced that he would have to curtail his writing due to his health. So this wasn’t unexpected, but it was still a shock that it happened so soon. We’re all going to have to get used to being without his prolific writing and formidable knowledge of film. And how many film critics were so famous and respected that their deaths rated a statement from the President of the United States?
For Ebert at his best, I would recommend getting a DVD or blu-ray of Citizen Kane and listening to his audio commentary on the film. This is a picture whose importance everyone acknowledges, but before Ebert, it was sometimes hard to explain why it was such a staggering technical achievement, or how Orson Welles did what he did. Ebert spends 120 minutes explaining, in clear but uncondescending terms that laymen can understand, all the special effects that went into the film (“It has as many special effects as Star Wars,” he famously says), the deep-focus shots, the way the characters are placed within the frame and why. It’s partly a master-class in film technique, but more importantly it’s a lesson in how technique informs storytelling; the why of the technique, as well as the how.
There are so many aspects to his career that you could write pages on each one: the young film reviewer, able to relate instinctively to the new American cinema of the late ‘60s and ‘70s in a way that older Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 12:30 PM - 0 Comments
Brian D. Johnson on the onscreen chemistry between incendiary young women in film
Soon enough the boys of summer will invade the multiplex. In blockbusters like Man of Steel and Iron Man 3, superheroes will clash with arch-villains in heavy metal duels while the fate of the planet, and the box office, hangs in the balance. But before the onslaught, look out for the girls of spring—led by the bikini outlaws of Spring Breakers, who seize the amoral high ground from the boys in a poolside delirium of sex, drugs and guns. It’s just one of five new movies about intrepid, uncontainable young women opening in Canadian theatres in the next two weeks—along with The Host, Ginger & Rosa, The Sapphires and Beyond the Hills. Running the gamut of genres, from sci-ﬁ romance to high tragedy, these are radically different films, but they’re all, on some level, tales of girls gone wild. And each is fuelled by the volatile chemistry of female friendship as it undergoes a cataclysmic trial by fire.
At a time when Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls has lit up the zeitgeist—exploding stereotypes with its raw portrayal of twentysomething girlfriends scrambling to have a life—we’re witnessing a rare convergence of movies about gloriously messy female relationships. “It’s about time,” says Sally Potter, the British writer-director of Ginger & Rosa. “There’s been a tendency for them to be portrayed in films as either sweet and lovely—the sentimental sisterhood—or mean and nasty vixens at each others’ throats.”
By far the most incendiary attempt to subvert the girl-movie formula is Spring Breakers. Already a hit in the U.S., this R-rated rampage follows four bored college girls who bankroll a Florida bacchanal by robbing a fast-food joint—waving guns and wearing pink balaclavas reminiscent of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. With candy-coloured vistas of massive bongs, slo-mo boobs and fountaining beer, the movie plays like a cross between Natural Born Killers and a Britney Spears video—call it Apocalypstick Now! With a cocktail of titillation and nihilist satire, director Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers) cannonballs from the art-house fringe into the shallow end of the mainstream, corrupting two wholesome Disney kids, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, while he’s at it.