By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, April 19, 2013 - 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 Emily Senger - Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 11:36 AM - 0 Comments
The Academy Award-winning best picture Argo is about to be slapped with a lawsuit,…
The Academy Award-winning best picture Argo is about to be slapped with a lawsuit, at least according to reports in Iranian state media.
Apparently, Iran didn’t like its “unrealistic portrayal” in Ben Affleck’s film, which is based on a true story and chronicles the rescue of American hostages during the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Several Iranian news agencies are reporting that French lawyer Isabelle Coutant-Peyre is in the country and is talking with officials about how to proceed with legal action, says Al Jazeera.
“I’ll be defending Iran against films that have been made by Hollywood to distort the country’s image, such as Argo,” Coutant-Peyre reportedly told Iranian media.
Notably, Coutant-Peyre is married to Venezuelan-born convicted terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, who is better known as “Carlos the Jackal.” She also represents Sanchez, who is serving a life sentence in a French prison. Iranian media have referred to her as an “anti-Zionist” lawyer, reports The Guardian.
Now, in a strange way, Iran and Canada can share in their concern over how they were portrayed by Affleck in Argo.
Though, Canadian Ken Taylor, who was Canada’s ambassador to Iran during the actual hostage situation, made his displeasure known during a series of media interviews, in which he politely disagreed with Affleck — not with a lawsuit.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, February 25, 2013 at 2:45 PM - 0 Comments
Right off the top, you knew something fishy was going on when Canada’s own William Shatner, in full Captain Kirk regalia, loomed above Oscar host Seth MacFarlane as a retro patriarch from the future, putting that young upstart in his place. Sure, the 85th annual Academy Awards belonged to Hollywood, and to America—right down to Michelle Obama announcing Best Picture from the White House. But Canada was the surprise winner in this strange spectacle, as the Great White North kept usurping the limelight throughout the evening.
Spielberg’s Lincoln led the pack with 12 nominations, but it won just two of them, for Production Design—shared by B.C. set decorator Jim Erickson—and Best Actor. (Spielberg got more notice from the orchestra, which used the theme from Jaws to amputate acceptance speeches). In the end it was Life of Pi, based on the novel by Saskatchewan-based author Yann Martel, that won the night’s biggest haul with four Oscars. They include Best Original Score for Canadian composer Mychael Danna, and a Visual Effects Oscar for Vancouver-based Guillaume Rocheron. And when the film’s director, Ang Lee, accepted his Best Director prize (favoured to go to Spielberg), he said “I need to thank Yann Martel for writing this incredibly inspiring book.” Ang also took care to thank his Canadian crew—most of the movie was shot on a Montreal soundstage. Continue…
By Emily Senger - Monday, February 25, 2013 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
Film’s win is part of White House and CIA plot, says state radio
It turns out Canadians aren’t the only ones upset with the fictionalized content of the Ben Affleck’s film Argo, which won best picture at the Academy Awards.
Iranian news agencies are also panning the content of the film, which tells the based-on-a-true story of American diplomats being rescued from Iran during the country’s revolution.
“The Academy Awards ceremony to present the Oscar for the best picture Argo by Ben Affleck revealed that Hollywood insiders are sacrificing quality and artistic cinema to political slogans and distortions,” wrote state news agency Meher News. The award for best film was presented, via video link, by First Lady Michelle Obama, which Meher News also took issue with, calling the award “most political.” Continue…
By Luiza Ch. Savage - Monday, October 22, 2012 at 11:06 AM - 0 Comments
His new film, Argo, may not give Canadians all the credit, but the Hollywood star smooths things over.
Ben Affleck’s new film, Argo, recounts the joint Canadian-U.S. effort to rescue six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. Yet Affleck, who co-wrote and directed the movie, has been accused of understating the role of the Canadian government and then-Canadian ambassador to Iran, Ken Taylor. In an exclusive interview after the movie’s premiere, Taylor told Maclean’s, “We’re portrayed as innkeepers who are waiting to be saved by the CIA.”
By last week any hard feelings appeared to be smoothed over. On Oct. 10, the Canadian Embassy in Washington hosted an elegant reception for Affleck and the cast of Argo—including Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and John Goodman. Ken Taylor and his wife, Pat, also attended, as did several of the U.S diplomats portrayed in the film. It helped that before the movie hit theatres, Affleck had asked Taylor to rewrite the postscript.
After the event, there was a screening of the movie at a downtown theatre. There, Affleck took a moment to address the audience. While noting that the movie tells the story of the rescue through the perspective of CIA agent Tony Mendez, Affleck praised the Canadians for their role. “There were folks who didn’t want to take in our people,” he said. “Governments, some friends of ours said, ‘You know what, this isn’t appropriate for us. We don’t want to absorb this risk.’ But the Canadians did absorb the risk. And when they did, there was a man who was the ambassador whose name was Ken Taylor. And Ken allowed folks to come stay, putting himself at great risk. And his wife also agreed, putting herself at great risk.
“It demonstrates the danger our diplomats put themselves in for our lives every day. We were reminded of that tragically in Benghazi, and this is yet another reminder.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM - 0 Comments
Deconstruction is the style du jour this weekend, with the release of five wildly diverse movies that all just happen to be about the artifice of filmmaking or the mirage of celebrity. Three are of special interest to Canadians: Ben Affleck’s Argo, a Hollywood satire/suspense thriller about a fake movie that served as a CIA cover for Canada’s 1980 rescue of Americans in Iran; Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley’s stunning home movie memoir about the mystery of her parentage; and Antiviral, Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg’s morbid sci-fi vision of a world where fans pay to be injected with patented viruses that have infected celebrities. The other two are Seven Psychopaths, a pulp comedy about a screenwriter making a movie called, uh, Seven Psychopaths; and Nobody Walks, an erotically charged diversion co-written by Lena Dunham (Girls), about a promiscuous young artiste who cuts a carnal swath through a family while finessing her experimental film with the man of the house. I’ve already written extensively about Polley’s gripping documentary, and interviewed the director. Somewhere in our trail of coverage, I even called it a masterpiece, not a word I’m inclined to sling around. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 3:12 PM - 0 Comments
The stranger-than-fiction tale of Argo, has taken yet another bizarre twist. Ben Affleck, the movie’s director and star, has extended an olive branch to Ken Taylor, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, who was distressed that Argo belittled the role that he and Canada played in the rescue of six American diplomats hidden in Tehran’s Canadian embassy in 1979. In an exclusive Maclean’s interview published after the film’s TIFF premiere, Taylor condemned the movie for rewriting history and giving CIA spy Tony Mendez most of the credit. He had not yet seen the movie—the filmmakers never contacted Taylor during production and he wasn’t invited to the premiere. But he’d gleaned enough from media reports and friends who saw it to become concerned. And his comments prompted Affleck and Warner Bros to do some major damage control.
Taylor told me he was surprised to pick up the phone at his Manhattan residence last week and hear: “Hello Ambassador, it’s Ben Affleck.” Warner Bros. then flew Taylor and his wife, Pat, to Los Angeles to see the film, meet Affleck and contribute a commentary to the DVD. “The movie is made and Tony Mendez dominates it,” says Taylor, well-aware that can’t be changed. But the ex-diplomat did succeed in making one crucial change to the film—replacing what he calls an insulting postscript that, as he says, “suggested the Canadian embassy received citations when really it was all the work of the CIA.” He says Warner Bros. agreed to remove it. “They said, ‘It’s expensive but we’ll take it out—why don’t you write something?’ ” So Taylor ended up scripting this new postscript that will appear at the end of the movie: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.”
A character in a political thriller getting to rewrite the final words of a Hollywood movie—that must be a historic precedent.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 8:38 PM - 0 Comments
A thriller about the 1980 escape of six Americans from the Canadian embassy in Tehran lands with uncanny timing
On Day 2 of TIFF, movies are spinning like wheels in a slot machine and producing some startling match-ups. At last night’s party hosted by the Toronto Film Critics Association I tried to keep my end up a conversation with the Globe and Mail‘s Johanna Schneller and the Movie Network’s Teri Hart, who were amazed at the number of hand jobs they’d seen in movies at the festival. Between them, they’ve counted four, including scenes in The Master and Picture Day, which I haven’t seen yet. But I’ve witnessed a couple—one in Hyde Park on Hudson that’s powerful enough to the rock a parked car occupied by the polio-hobbled Franklin D. Roosevelt (Bill Murray); and in The Sessions, during a lesson from a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) treating a man paralyzed by childhood polio. Two hand-job polio movies in one festival—what are the odds? Then again, as I noted in an earlier blog, this is also a festival with two films about aging musicians losing their grip, A Late Quartet and Quartet.
In other news, tonight actor-director Ben Affleck premieres Argo, the stranger-than-fiction story of a fake Canadian sci-fi movie that was cooked up as a cover to facilitate 1980′s Great Escape of six Americans hiding in Iran’s Canadian embassy. Even stranger, just hours before the premiere Canada announced that it has closed that very same embassy in Tehran.
I saw Argo last night. It tells an extraordinary story about an operation that the C.I.A. had to keep under wraps for two decades, while then-Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor received all the credit. It starts as a comedy that unfolds like a real-life Wag the Dog, with a priceless, Oscar-worthy performance by Alan Arkin as the Hollywood producer who mounts the fake movie, lying through his teeth in a town where lies are hard currency. But then it morphs into a white-knuckled thriller, which—not unlike Apollo 13—keeps us on the edge even though we know the ending in advance.
The movie’s pulse is juiced by a lot of obvious fictional embellishment. It’s a caper movie, not a docudrama, which brings the Hollywood fakery of the original ruse full circle. It’s a good ride. Starring as the heroic C.I.A. officer, Tony Mendez, a bearded Ben Affleck keeps his head down and delivers a tight, modest performance. But as a director he’s impressive, expanding on the promise he showed in Gone Baby Gone and The Town. He’s adopted a much lighter style for Argo, with a zippy curve-ball narrative spins from wit to suspense. It could be this year’s Moneyball.
The film, meanwhile, is jammed with references that will tickle local audiences, ranging from the observational detail that Canadians don’t pronounce the second ‘t’ in ‘Toronto’ to a mention of the now-defunct Canadian Film Development Corporation—which financed more than its share of tax-shelter movies that were scams of one sort or another. There’s far more Cancon in this Hollywood picture than the two officially Canadian movies I saw today, both stories of foreign characters in foreign settings—Midnight’s Children (set in India) and Rebelle (set in Africa).
With its flamboyant mix of Canadiana and Hollywood self-satire, Argo would have made an ideal opening night film for TIFF. Looper, the sci-action movie that did kick off the festival, was an adequate choice but nowhere near as ironically appropriate. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes. But one can only assume that Warner Bros. did not want that somewhat stigmatized opening night slot, and opted for the hotter showcase of Friday night.
By Sonya Bell - Friday, September 7, 2012 at 10:17 AM - 0 Comments
Ben Affleck, who directs and stars in Argo, isn’t the only one in Hollywood to double dip
Pop quiz: Name the two actors who directed themselves to Best Actor Oscars. If you knew it was Laurence Olivier and Roberto Benigni, you know a lot about the arts and probably don’t need to keep reading this list.
The idea of pulling double-duty seems as ill-conceived as the second Sex and the City flick, at first. But many actors dreams of directing, and three highly anticipated movies at TIFF this year are directed by the actor. Or is it that they star the director? Ben Affleck does it in Argo, Robert Redford in The Company You Keep and Billy Bob Thornton in Jayne Mansfield’s Car.
Here are five (other) actor-directors who have cast themselves with outstanding results.
(Though, further to the pop quiz, no one has ever won the Best Director and Best Actor Oscars for the same movie.)
5) Mel Gibson – Braveheart. The Man Without a Face.
4) Warren Beatty – Dick Tracy. Heaven Can Wait. Reds.
3) Woody Allen – Annie Hall. Manhattan. Hannah and Her Sisters.
2) George Clooney – The Ides of March. Good Night and Good Luck. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
1) Clint Eastwood – Million Dollar Baby. Unforgiven. Space Cowboys. Mystic River.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, September 17, 2010 at 6:37 PM - 0 Comments
The director/movie star is an exalted pedigree. It requires a talk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time talent that always seems a bit miraculous and requires an old-school Hollywood chutzpa that seems to be a thing of the past. After all, Kevin Costner is off touring with a band and Warren Beatty is raising kids. That leaves three legendary actor-directors who are still hard at, and all of them showed up to unveil new films at TIFF: Woody Allen (You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger), Robert Redford (The Conspirator), and Clint Eastwood (The Hereafter). But none of them appeared on screen. And none of their films really set the festival on fire. Allen’s comedy was perfectly enjoyable and replete with delicious performances, but it didn’t add up to much; this was Woody on cruise control. Redford’s resonant courtroom drama about the military abuse of justice in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was fascinating but stodgy. And I never did get to see The Hereafter because Warner Bros. did such an immaculate job of burying it—violating TIFF protocol by allowing it to be shown just once, at the premiere, with no press screening and no repeat screening.
But one emerging double threat who confirmed his talent in a big way was Ben Affleck, who’s both the star and director of The Town, a gripping heist movie. Based on Chuck Hogan’s novel The Prince of Thieves, this is the second feature Affleck has directed, after making a promising debut with Gone Baby Gone (2007). It’s another complicated crime thriller set in Boston. But the story, which has a locomotive momentum, is much less circuitous. And Affleck considerably expands his palette, showing a flair for staging gritty action sequences, including a chase scene that uses the narrow streets of Boston the way the The French Connection used New York. The car chase has become such a cliche that it takes some originality to get me excited by vehicles smashing into each another. But this one is an exception.
The film also balances the fireworks with some rich character drama. Doug MacRay (Affleck) belongs to a hardened crew of bank robbers who pull off elaborate, heavily armed bank jobs in Hallowe’en masks. During the robbery that opens the story, they take the bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage. Then, after releasing her, they worry she may incriminate them as a witness, so MacRay stalks her, and strikes up a relationship that, against his better judgment, turns intimate. As we wait for her to discover that he was one of her abductors, MacRay starts think that he should quit robbing banks while he still can, and run off with the girl of his dreams. But he’s under pressure from a hard-core confederate name Jem, who is played by Jeremy Renner with the same cowboy machismo he displayed in The Hurt Locker.
Complicating the plot on the personal front is a family scenario that involves McRay’s father (Chris Cooper), a ghost-like figure serving hard time, and a drug-addicted single mom play by Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) who is Jem’s sister and MacRay’s ex. Meanwhile an FBI squad led by John Hamm (Mad Men) is closing in, and the crew’s sadistic boss, a florist played by Pete Postethwaite, is threatening to prune MacRay’s manhood with his gardening shears if he so much as thinks about early retireent. That’s a a lot of, uh, balls in the air. But to Affleck’s credit, he keeps the action running smoothly, and the suspense ratcheting up, all the way to climactic heist in Fenway Park. He also elicits excellent performances from his ensemble, notably Lively and Hall, who both more than hold their own in this cops-and-robbers clubhouse.
Hopefully after this effort, Ben Affleck won’t have to star in a dumb romantic comedy ever again.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 1:24 AM - 0 Comments
Today, for the first time, you could feel TIFF hysteria begin to subside. The festival is heavily front-loaded, with meat market of stars and press junkets jammed into the first few days. Now it’s suddenly quieter. Which is fine by me. At this point, it’s still hard to get a fix on the buzz. No obvious Slumdog Millionaire has emerged from the fray as a contender for the audience award, and there’s no indie sensation that’s come out of nowhere to take the festival by storm. But perhaps it’s just that people like me (the media) have been so intensely preoccupied mainlining movies and interviews that we haven’t found the pulse of the festival. One clear trend is the program’s wealth of sensational female performances—by Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go), Hilary Swank (Conviction), Yun Junghee (Poetry), Rachel Weisz (Whistleblower), Rebecca Hall (The Town), Rosamund Pike (Barney’s Version)—and above all by Natalie Portman in Black Swan. I expect hers will be the act to beat at the Oscars. And of all the major films, Black Swan seems to have had the most electrifying impact so far, though it’s not the sort of heartwarming triumph-of-the-human-spirt stuff that wins audience awards. As a hallucinatory melodrama, it’s also an anomaly at this year’s festival, where many of the more compelling films are reality-based—from non-fiction dramas like Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and Steven Silver’s The Bang Bang Club to documentaries such as Waiting for Superman and Errol Morris’s Tabloid. (Though to be exact, Tabloid is about a real-life soap opera that takes on surreal proportions.)
Some biggest names at TIFF have, been on hand to promote documentaries—Bill Gates, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Nash. Unlike those heavyweights, the star of Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer didn’t brave the red carpet, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had. Client 9 is no puff piece, but it’s crucial step in Spitzer’s road to redemption. Spitzer, the so-called Sherriff of Wall St., comes across a ruthless but heroic gunslinger saddled with a tragic flaw and a monumental case of hubris. Long before the economic collapse, he declared war on the fraudulent profiteering of the financial industry, targeting AIG’s insurance scam in his role as New York’s attorney general, then going after state corruption as the state’s governor. For casual observers, who may have only discovered him when the sex scandal broke, the film illustrates how big a superstar he was on America’s political landscape.
Like Inside Job, another powerful documentary at TIFF, Client 9 sets out to expose the financial system that robbed America blind. Much of the narrative is devoted to Spitzer’s combative campaign—and to showing how his enraged enemies manoevered to take him out. His interview subjects include a contrite Spitzer, who’s reluctant to delve too deeply into his own motives, and the rogues’ gallery of Wall St. tycoons who rejoiced at his downfall. Although the film does not dig up any new earth-shattering evidence, it pulls the story’s elements together to make a compelling case that the FBI went out of its way to target him for political reasons—the federal government is not usually in the habit of pursuing johns. Of course, Spitzer was guilty of outrageous hypocrisy, and being a creep. But the film compares that to a much larger atrocity—suggesting that paying for some high-priced sex is no crime compared to destroying America’s economy and defrauding millions of innocent investors.
Ironically, however, the allure of this film lies in the salacious details of the sex scandal that furnished Spitzer’s enemies with such lethal ammunition. Director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) frames his hard-hitting exposé with erotic eye candy and a nightclub beat, as images of seductive models and Spitzer’s campaign swim through the neon wallpaper of Manhattan. As the camera scans the website ads of the Emperor’s Club, the escort service where prices start at $1,000 an hour, Leslie Feist purrs Secret Heart on the soundtrack. Even Spitzer’s enemies, the fat cat businessmen who want his blood, are gorgeously photographed. Every frame of this movie reeks of money and sex and gleaming opulence.
Neither Spitzer’s wife nor the spotlight-craving Ashley Dupre, his celebrated one-night stand, are interviewed. But a giggly manager of the Emperor’s Club regales us with tales of his paranoid phone calls. And an actress re-enacts transcripts of the filmmaker’s interview with “Angelina,” his favorite escort, who would not appear on camera. On their first date, she says Spitzer didn’t want to waste time talking: “I hate to put this crudely, but he was a trying-to-get-his money’s worth type of client and I said I don’t want to see this person again.” But she did. Spitzer himself, despite his valiant crusade, comes across as a nasty sonofabitch, a man with a mean streak. Unlike Bill Clinton, this is not someone you warm to, and camera doesn’t either. But you do feel that America would be a lot better off if this trigger-happy enforcer hadn’t lost his gunfight with Wall Street by indulging his own reckless sense of entitlement.
By Tom Henheffer - Wednesday, September 15, 2010 at 10:21 AM - 0 Comments
Before the TIFF premiere of ‘The Town’ at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall
Ben Affleck’s sophomore film, The Town, is a gritty crime drama about four bank robbers in Charlestown, Massachusetts—a Boston neighbourhood and the world capital for bank and armored car heists. The script is based on the book Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan and tells the story of Doug (Affleck), a professional thief who falls in love with the manager (Rebecca Hall) at a bank hit by his crew. As the FBI, led by special agent Frawley (John Hamm), closes in Affleck’s character realizes he wants out of the game, but he may have already turned down his only chance at redemption. Chris Cooper shows up as Doug’s career-criminal, absentee father. Maclean’s caught the stars as they walked down the red carpet for the film’s premiere at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall.
By Stephanie Findlay - Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 4:31 PM - 0 Comments
Who’s manscaped, who thinks his movie star days are numbered, and is there depth to this starlet?
I think I’m getting the hang of this TIFF stuff. It’s a steep learning curve. Yesterday, there were a lot of firsts. First interview. First red carpet. And first big stars: Will Ferrell, Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, and Blake Lively. But first, how I got there.
My day began slowly, as it does when you’ve slept only four hours. Around 1 p.m. I got a call from Brian Johnson, Maclean’s film critic, who asked me to do a round table interview with Will Ferrell in about an hour.
Yikes. Here I was, standing on Queen West, in half of my pajamas (a pair of black tights I wore to sleep), no makeup, my breath smells like death and I’m supposed to interview Will Ferrell. I had no time to go home and spruce up, so off I biked to the Intercontinental on Bloor. I arrived just 10 minutes before the interview a sweaty mess. Great.
No matter, I was able to cool off because when you’re dealing with “talent” (aka actors) it seems like you have to wait around a lot. One journalist grumbled about the hotel, saying she wished she was at another one where “the internet is free and it smells better.” First up was the interview with Everything Must Go director Dan Rush, and then 20 minutes with Will Ferrell, the movie’s star.
Rush was was articulate and kind. It was his first group interview he said. (Mine too, I thought. But I didn’t want him to know that). Will Ferrell very articulate as well, but he was also comfortable—which makes a difference. He had control of the conversation at all times and dictated its direction. Physically, he is very tall and is immaculately groomed, his eyebrows and sideburns especially. Manscaping does wonders. He had a pair of retro ’70s style sunglasses that he rested on the table. I thought he looked expensive.
He was fun to speak with, even in our group of about eight. Not everyone asked questions, but for those that did, Ferrell gave detailed, professional responses. I asked him whether or not his children cared that he worked with another child actor. He said that it’s only been recently that his six-year-old son has deduced that he’s a movie star. (He told that story in much more interesting way than I just described it and the whole table laughed, though just a little bit too loud).
When our 20 minutes were up, I wandered to the second floor of the hotel to rest and find some food. I wandered into a lounge that had popped up on the second floor to get recharged. They were doing hair and makeup, so I figured why not? Then, I got my hair styled by not just one but two beautiful men. They were on either side of me twisting, teasing and pulling at my hair, while quietly talking back and forth. They were basically finishing each others’ sentences. “Should we do it…”
“And add some wave….”
“I’ll tease it…”
The final product was a high up do that was “rocker chic.” Then I got my makeup done. Hanging out in the film world you sort of get primped and polished just by osmosis because there are so many stylists and makeup artists in the vicinity. I’d come in an ugly duckling and left a not-so-ugly duckling. I went home to eat soup. And I ate it out of the can because I had 20 minutes to get changed and head over to my first red carpet event ever: The Town, starring Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm and Blake Lively. The red carpet was held at Roy Thompson Hall. If you’re media you hang outside in a sort of corral to wait to enter and take your place on the red carpet. It’s very unglamorous. My colleague Tom and I eventually got assigned our spots, and then we waited. As I mentioned before, the talent makes you wait. Forty minutes later I heard blood curdling screams. The talent also makes people go nuts.
We saw Jennifer Garner, Ben Affleck’s wife first. She literally ran down the carpet. She was all dolled up and jubilant, but maybe that’s cause she wasn’t talking to anyone. Then there was Chris Cooper. Then I talked with Ben Affleck and Tom talked with Jon Hamm. Affleck is tall, and when you’re crammed on the on the red carpet it’s uncomfortable having someone six foot four just a foot away from you, even if they’re a star. I asked Affleck about interviewing people in prisons for research about his movie. Tom asked Hamm about having a rough start in the industry. Whereas Affleck seemed like he was on autopilot, Hamm genuinely replied that he’s spent more time as a waiter than an actor and said something along the lines of this too shall pass, with respect to his current fame. Oh Hamm, you dreamboat.
Then Blake Lively came down the carpet. I could hear the media in line ahead of us asking about her clothes. I got frustrated by that. Sure, she’s known for her boob-baring, leggy outfits, but she’s gotta be something more than a hot bod and a fresh face. She’s the star of Gossip Girl, one of the most successful shows on television right now, she has many projects in the works, and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour thinks she’s something special. And I haven’t seen a train-wreck photo of her coming wasted out of a club a-la-Lohan on celebrity tabloid gossip sites, which means she’s got her act together. I asked her about playing a woman in a male dominated movie. She responded with something generic about strong women. Obviously the red carpet isn’t the place to discuss serious questions. When she passed the next group a women gasped and cried out “Look at your shoes, how do you walk in them?!”
And then it was over. Celebrity mania is overwhelming. On one square metre of the red carpet you can have so many degrees of influence—the stars, their publicists, reporters, fans, producers, event staff—and everyone subscribes to the structure in the interest of making money, and maybe art, sometimes. But before I started ruminating on that thought, I had to refocus and get to the next party, the OneXOne Haiti fundraiser that Frank McKenna and Matt Damon were promoting during the day, held at the Bisha Hotel & Residences Presentation Centre. I came in just to catch the last couple songs of an intimate performance by John Legend. He was playing some low key songs, which I assume was for the sake of the older, well-heeled crowd. One of the event staff said to me that she thought his performance was a “bit arrogant,” because he kept telling the crowd to keep it down so he could play.
I didn’t stay there long, I wanted to check out another fundraiser at PEARS in Yorkville that director Paul Haggis, James Franco and AnnaLynne McCord (90210) were hosting. But by the time I got there, only Annalynne McCord was left. (Note to self: I need to start showing up on time for these things). I had planned to attempt to crash the Vanity Fair party, but couldn’t bring myself to give it a go, I hated to admit it but I was losing steam.
However, when I got home I was unable to sleep. I blame my TIFF diet: adrenaline, lattes and canned vegetable soup.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 6:15 PM - 0 Comments
The newspaper is dead! Long live the newspaper! That message that rings as loud and clear as a banner headline in two new movies that make heroes of crusading newspapermen: State of Play and The Soloist, both opening this month. In the real world, everywhere you look, daily papers are ailing, expiring, or making a calculated leap from the burning building of newsprint into the safety net of cyberspace. But that hasn’t dimmed Hollywood’s faith in the hoary romance of the noble reporter. You’d think it would start to wear thin. But in fact, the endangered status of print only seems to have enhanced the glory of men who dispense the kind of noir truth that rubs off on your hands. The heroes of both State of Play and The Soloist are old-fashioned journalists, i.e. hard-working cynics with hearts of gold, who feel their serious talents are being passed over by a new media industrial complex, which cares only for celebrity gossip while pandering to a readership that does not read. State of Play is a conspiracy thriller starring a grungy, plumped-up Russell Crowe as the last good investigative journalist in Washington; Rachel McAdams gives Lois Lane a cyber makeover as a frisky online blogger who becomes his cub reporter; and Ben Affleck is surprisingly well-cast as a well-coiffed, weak-willed congressman who’s plunged into a sex scandal, a murder and a multi-billion-dollar military boondoggle. The story is fiction and it behaves like it: it’s ferociously entertaining and wildly preposterous, as it tries to compress the eight-hour Brit miniseries on which it’s based into a two-hour thriller.
The Soloist is based on a true story, about Los Angeles times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) who types to the rescue of Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless, schizophrenic, classically trained street musician.The filmmakers can’t resist fictionalizing Lopez to make him conform to the Hollywood stereotype of a hard-bitten newspaperman (the better to redeem him with), so the drama is not strict realism. But it comes by its inspirational message more honestly. To read my piece in this week’s magazine about The Soloist, which includes an interview with director Joe Wright, go to: Writer discovers homeless virtuoso.
Both these movies are rather high-minded. There are plenty of ideas being flung around about the world (and the press) going to hell in a hand basket—driven home in snatches of dialogue that play like screenwriter solos. But in both cases, the film’s real crusade is over the fate of the writer, the old-school journalist defending the embattled virtue of a good story. And in that sense, Hollywood’s revival of the newspaper romance is perhaps just a thinly veiled revival of Hollywood’s romance with its own mythology.
State of Play
Unlike at least two editors at this magazine, I haven’t found the eight hours to watch the British mini-series on which the movie is based, but I’m told it’s terrific. Had I seen it, I would probably have a more jaundiced view of the film than I do. You can see certainly glimmers of a larger story behind through the narrative freight train of this compressed version, which barrels along at a relentless pace, freighted with more story than the frame can bear. Along the way, some of the plot shifts are too quick and crisp, and credibility gets derailed. On the whole, however, screenwriter Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Ultimatum) has written a smart, pithy script, and director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void) injects every scene with a fierce, kinetic tension. And despite the eye-rolling newspaper clichés, or to a perverse measure, because of them, I enjoyed myself immensely. But then I have some nostalgia for the genre, even when it doesn’t correspond to reality. I cut my teeth in a ’70s newsroom, pounding out triple-spaced stories on flimsy green sheets of carbon-layered paper, which an editor would mark up with a pencil like a tailor hemming a suit, then hand to a copy boy, who would roll it into a pneumatic tube that would rocket to the composing room through a pipe, sealing the end of my daily mission with a satisfying suuuuuck. It was like working in a submarine. Crowe is . . . well, younger. Sure, he plays a caricature of a journalist from the Rolodex age, a sleuth who knows all the cops by their first names and works in a rat-pack hovel of paper debris, a mickey of scotch at the ready in his desk, but his most arcane affectation is that he still uses a clunky old computer with a flashing cursor.
In this man’s world, the female characters are rather thinly drawn, although Helen Mirren makes a meal of her role as the editor-in-chief trying to impose her corporate bosses new world order on her stubborn star reporter. She’s like Judy Dench’s M wrangling James Bond. As the online firecracker, McAdams comes on strong at first, like a Washington version of our own Kady O’Malley. As Mirren’s character describes her, “She’s young, she’s cheap and she turns out copy every hour.” Unlike Crowe’s veteran, who describes himself as “overpaid, old and slow.” Ouch. But the stand-off between hard-hitting print journalism and blog gossip doesn’t last long, as McAdams soon falls into line, serving as handmaiden to the paternalistic Crowe in the big boys’ clubhouse. “This is a real story,” he tells her. “It’s not open to opinion.” And he’s the one who types the final draft of the big scoop on an absurdly over-extended deadline, while the others actually watch him work—as if he’s engaged in a piece of performance art. By the end, and I’m not giving anything away, any semblance of journalistic reality has been jettisoned. He pushes the send button on his keyboard, and off the story goes to the press, without an trace of editing. A writer’s wet dream; or worst nightmare.
I know it sounds like I’m trashing this movie, but the story has real juice and complexity, the performances have muscle, and the political backdrop is ripped from the headlines. I wasn’t bored for a second. I even stuck around for the closing credits, which roll along with the most rhapsodic sequence of newspapers rolling through a printing press that’s ever been filmed—consummating a retro romance between the big screen and the front page.
I’ll review The Soloist online when it opens next week.
By Jeff Harris - Friday, September 14, 2007 at 5:23 PM - 0 Comments
The stars just seem to shine brighter north of the border. Exclusive pictures of…
The stars just seem to shine brighter north of the border. Exclusive pictures of celebrities on the red carpet and in their own habitat (aka hotel rooms) at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival. Check out Matt Damon, Jennifer Garner, George Clooney and Brad Pitt — erm, with an itchy nose.