By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 0 Comments
TIFF announced Canada’s Top Ten list of features and shorts tonight at a Toronto event hosted by actress Sarah Gadon and filmmaker Don McKellar. The list of feature directors offers mostly familiar names—David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley, Deepa Mehta, Peter Mettler, Michael Dowse, Xavier Dolan and Michael McGowan—along with lesser known filmmakers such as Nisha Pahuja and Kim Nguyen. The cultural balance is unusually tipped toward English Canada, with only two Quebec directors in the mix. (Denis Arcand, Denis Villeneuve and Philippe Farardeau didn’t release movies in 2012.) Four of the 10 features are set in foreign countries. Noticeable by its absence is Picture Day, which just won the Whistler Film Festival’s $15,000 Borsos Prize for best Canadian feature.
Canada’s top 10 features, ordered alphabetically:
Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg (Entertainment One Films)
The End of Time, Peter Mettler (Mongrel Media, National Film Board)
Goon, Michael Dowse (Alliance Films)
Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan (Alliance Films)
Midnight’s Children, Deepa Mehta (Mongrel Media)
My Awkward Sexual Adventure, Sean Garrity (Phase 4 Films)
Rebelle, Kim Nguyen (Mongrel Media)
Still, Michael McGowan (Mongrel Media)
Stories We Tell, Sarah Polley (Mongrel Media, NFB)
The World Before Her, Nisha Pahuja (KinoSmith)
The top 10 shorts:
Bydlo, Patrick Bouchard (NFB)
Chef de meute (Herd Leader), Chloé Robichaud
Crackin’ Down Hard, Mike Clattenburg
Kaspar, Diane Obomsawin (NFB)
Ne crâne pas sois modeste (Keep a Modest Head), Deco Dawson
Lingo, Bahar Noorizadeh
Malody, Phillip Barker
Old Growth, Tess Girard
Reflexions, Martin Thibaudeau
Paparmane (Wintergreen), Joëlle Desjardins Paquette
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 8, 2012 at 12:01 AM - 0 Comments
The Greek economy may be failing, but the Greek language has never had such cachet, at least at the movies. This week marks the Canadian release of Cosmopolis and Prometheus—two films that have more in common than just the Hellenic ring of their titles. Both are slow-boat odysseys to nowhere aboard luxuriously insulated crafts that get stalled in hostile, deeply misunderstood environments. In Cosmopolis, a billionaire’s white stretch limo idles in Manhattan gridlock as anti-capitalist rioters roll off the windshield. In Prometheus, a space ship sits parked on an alien planet, as tomb raiders muck around in a mass grave that doesn’t like to be poked.
Talk about an unfair fight at the box office. These are two pictures made on a vastly different scale. David Cronenbeg’s Cosmopolis is a Canada-France co-production shot for one tenth the budget of Sir Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, a 3D studio blockbuster that cost about $200 million. Yet they feel weirdly akin. Both stories are driven by entitled analysts who venture into the heart of darkness, coolly examining barbaric forces that are intent on destroying them. Unlike Prometheus, Cosmopolis is not science fiction, but its rarefied atmosphere is at least as strange, and claustrophobic, as the air-locked interiors of Scott’s space opera. Also, Scott owes a certain debt to Cronenberg’s legacy of biological horror. Prometheus is a lavish reboot of the Alien franchise, whose core concept—a vicious parasite erupting from the flesh—was pioneered by Cronenberg in Shivers four years before Scott directed the original Alien in 1979.
Prometheus revives the moribund Alien legacy with impressive verve, although it’s an independent property, with no overlapping characters. Scott built his reputation on science fiction, but hasn’t made a sci-fi movie since 1982′s Blade Runner. Here he seems to be making up for lost time with a spectacle that pulls out all the stops, and leaves no trope unturned. Prometheus is an extravagant pastiche, an epic that starts out weaving elegant DNA strands from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia, that eventually culminates in an intestinal orgy of slithering demons. Cronenberg, meanwhile, seems to be voyaging away from the viscera that made him famous, as he ventures into the deep space of ideas and intellectual discourse. Last year, he gave us A Dangerous Method, a stately period piece that plumbed the psychoanalytic divide between Jung and Freud. With Cosmopolis, moving from Freud to Marx, he strip-mines brainy dialogue from Don DeLillo’s Ulyssean novel to forge a dramatic essay that personifies the existential crisis of capitalism. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, June 1, 2012 at 11:37 AM - 0 Comments
The Canadian actress, cast in three Cronenberg films in a row, hates cutesy roles
It was Sarah Gadon’s Cinderella moment in Cannes. She was dressed as a boy, doing a playful photo shoot with David Cronenberg’s daughter, Caitlin, when she realized she’d left her phone in her room. It was loaded with frantic messages: legendary fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh was waiting to shoot her for the New York Times. “It’s like, ‘Where are you?’ and I don’t even have a dress!” she recalls. “We raced down to the beach. Hair and makeup did me very fast, and I’m in this Stella McCartney white pencil skirt and amazing shirt and my hair is all flying and Peter Lindbergh is shooting me. It was so wild.”
Canada’s hottest rising star, who is about to shoot a movie with Jake Gyllenhaal, is not what you’d expect from her work. David Cronenberg, who ignited Gadon’s career, cast her as an icy blond estranged from her husband in two successive films—as Carl Jung’s betrayed wife in A Dangerous Method, then the frigid bride of a Manhattan billionaire (Twilight’s Robert Pattinson) in Cosmopolis, which had its premiere in Cannes. In both cases, she’s a model of composure. And as an airbrushed celebrity icon in Antiviral—the Cannes debut by David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon—she’s beyond composed: her character lies comatose for most of the film.
But in person, the 25-year-old Toronto actress shows not a trace of reserve. Sitting on a Cannes balcony in yoga pants, still giddy from the red-carpet rush, she could pass for a student—which she is, studying part-time to complete an honours B.A. at the University of Toronto. “It’s been a real trip,” she says. “You’re talking to the editor of Finch’s Quarterly and Adrien Brody is beside you and you meet Terry Gilliam and there’s Roman Polanski, and they’re giving away watches! It’s like, where am I? How did I get here? I just finished my exam three weeks ago!”
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, May 27, 2012 at 4:22 PM - 0 Comments
Nanni Moretti’s Cannes jury loves l’Amour, a movie about love and death. It awarded the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or, to Austrian director Michael Haneke for his tender, palliative chamber piece about an elderly French couple living out their final days in a Paris apartment, as the husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) copes with a debilitating stroke suffered by his wife (Emmanuelle Riva). It’s Haneke’s second Palme, after The White Ribbon (2009). His movie is not a marvel of direction so much as acting. Speaking to the press after the ceremony, jury president Nanni Moretti pointed out that Amour‘s elderly thespians also deserve credit, but the jury is not permitted to give other prizes to the Palme winner.
The best actor prize went to Mads Mikkelsen for his intense, finely calibrated performance in The Hunt, as a divorced man whose life is ruined after a young girl falsely accuses him of sexual abuse. Upsetting speculation that the best actress award would go to Marion Cotillard for her role as a legless amputee in Rust and Bone, it instead was shared by the actress duo in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan)–for their roles in the harrowing true story of an exorcism performed on a young woman who tries to liberate a nun from a monastery. Mungiu, a former Palme winner for 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days, also won the screenplay prize. Pointing out that his film was non-fiction, he said, “People have really suffered. I don’t think we can fix the past with our films but hopefully we can make the future a little better.”
David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis was shut out of the awards. But if it’s any consolation, with 22 features in the main competition, all of the seven North American entries were snubbed by the jury. With the strong North American presence this year, the festival seemed keen to lure stars like Brad Pitt, Robert Pattinson and Nicole Kidman to the red carpet, but honouring their work seems a bigger stretch. American director Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, a powerful drama about flood victims in the Louisiana bayou, won the Camera d’Or for best first feature. However, it played outside the competition, in the Un Certain Regard sidebar. Zeitlin said his movie was “the first film of almost everyone who worked on it. It’s an award for courage and faith as much as skill.” Effusively grateful about being recognized at the high altar of world cinema, he added: “Cannes is the temple. This is a wild movie, and you never know if you’re going to be allowed to dance in the temple.” (It was announced earlier that Suzanne Clément won the Un Certain Regard best actress award for Quebec director Xavier Dolan’s Laurence, Anyways—the only prize going to a Canadian in Cannes. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 25, 2012 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
David Cronenberg never fails to surprise us. This morning in Cannes, we saw Cosmopolis, his keenly awaited adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel—a 24-hour odyssey starring Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson as a Eric Packer, billionaire playboy who cruises Manhattan in a limo, looking for a haircut as riots erupt in the streets and his wealth evaporates in the twinkling of a bad gamble on Asian currency.
But we knew that before going in. Here’s what we weren’t expecting.
This is a road movie that barely moves. Most of it takes place inside an opulent white stretch limo, which crawls through the clogged streets like an urban space capsule. It’s a vehicle of stopped time. Outside rioters rock the car, paint it with graffiti and bounce off the windshield, but inside it’s so eerily silent that the commotion barely registers. The car has been “Prousted,” insulated with cork—a DeLillo detail that Cronenberg has taken to heart. Although the dialogue rarely lets up, this is one of the quietest films I’ve ever seen. It’s like a submarine movie. In fact at the press conference following the morning screening, Cronenberg referenced the German U-boat classic Das Boot.
He also recalled with perverse glee that his sound editors worried the movie was too quiet, and kept asking if he didn’t want more noise bleeding into the limo from the street. But no, he wanted to keep it Proustian. Which is disorienting, because we’re not used to watching movies without being manipulated by prominent sound design. Even The Artist, with its brash, driving score, seemed louder than Cosmopolis. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 25, 2012 at 10:37 AM - 0 Comments
Superheroes save the world at home, but anti-heroes are the avengers in France
Brad Pitt was talking about his role as a conscientious hit man who likes his victims to be as comfortable as possible when he shoots them in the head. But as he held court in Cannes this week, Pitt sounded more like a statesman than hit man, discussing “the toxic divide” of his country’s political landscape and need to protect “the idea of America: innovation, fairness, integrity and justice.”
It was an odd way to promote a profane, viciously dark comedy about low-life gangsters. But Killing Them Softly, which Pitt produced, takes place against the backdrop of the U.S. financial meltdown and the 2008 presidential election. In the opening scene, as the litter blows through an urban wasteland of boarded-up houses, the first voice we hear is Barack Obama rhapsodizing about “the promise that sets this country apart.” Speeches by Obama and George W. Bush play as a soundtrack to the film, which reaches a crescendo when Pitt’s hit man calls Thomas Jefferson a slave-owning wine snob and says, “America’s not a country. It’s a business.”
In a season where American gladiators are saving the world with stunning predictability—in The Avengers, Battleship, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man—the stars of the Festival de Cannes seem intent on exposing the bankruptcy of the American dream. Seven of the 22 movies in the festival’s main competition hail from North America. They’re all tales of desperation, rebellion and outlaw romance. And they add up to one of the fiercest waves of renegade cinema to wash up on the French Riviera since the 1970s.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 7:17 PM - 0 Comments
The Cannes clock is winding down. The final entry of the 22 features in competition, Jeff Nichols’ Mud, premieres Saturday. But it’s unlikely to have the high-octane impact of David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which seems strategically placed to climax the festival Friday. I’ll see the movie early that morning at a press screening. But before trying to log a few hours sleep, some observations on where the race for Palme d’Or now stands:
In a freakish twist of synchronicity, two of the most buzzed contenders for the Palme are both odysseys about a day in the life of a man on an obsessive mission cruising a major city in a white stretch limo. One of the films is Holy Motors, by French writer-director Leos Carax, which premiered Wednesday. The other is Cosmopolis, based on Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel and set in Manhattan. Until we see it Friday, it remains an unknown quantity.
The level of coincidence between these two movies is uncanny. Though I haven’t seen Cronenberg’s film yet, from reading the novel I know that the narrative culminates in a vast limo garage. So does Holy Motors, as the photo opposite shows. (It makes you wonder if Carax borrowed from DeLillo’s novel.) Cronenberg’s film is the bigger production, with serious stars (Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche) and it’s a straight-ahead narrative turbo-charged with elements of genre.
Despite Cronenberg’s reputation, it’s hard to imagine that his movie is more avant garde, or innovative, than the Carax film. Holy Motors is hard to describe. It’s a riddle of narrative that follows a mysterious character as he travels around the city by limo, being dispatched on hit-and-run assignments of Mission Impossible performance, art that involve costume, make-up, martial arts, murder, abduction, and so on. He assumes a repertoire of disguises, from ghoulish monster to motion capture acrobat. He’s like a cross between a mystery hit man and a one-man Cirque de Soleil, and seems to be making a movie with no cameras—aside from those employed by the movie we’re watching. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, May 15, 2012 at 3:16 PM - 0 Comments
CANNES — It’s quiet today in this town on the French Riviera. But on Wednesday, in a country where cinema is a virtual religion, thousands of fans will line barricades along the Croisette for the gala opening of the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival. The event kicks off with Moonrise Kingdom, the latest picture from the idiosyncratic Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums). It stars Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Ed Norton and Tilda Swinton, but the movie’s romantic leads are a couple of kids, playing 12-year-olds in 1965 New England who fall in love and run off together into the wilderness.
Cannes, world cinema’s high altar for auteurs, worships age almost as much as beauty. And this year’s program honours old masters ranging from Bernardo Bertolucci, 72, to Alain Resnais, who turns 90 next month. But many of the most buzzed about films awaiting festival-goers feature considerably younger talent. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Hollywood’s de facto royal couple, will grace the red carpet, but so will twentysomething sweethearts Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
The Twilight kids are both coming of age in Cannes, starring in movies that look more risqué than the vampire romance that made them famous. Stewart plays a nude scene in Walter Salles’ On the Road, adapted from the Jack Kerouac novel, and Pattinson takes a sex-and-death limo odyssey through Manhattan in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, adapted from the Don DeLillo novel. Meanwhile Cronenberg’s 32-year-old son, Brandon, makes his feature directing debut in the festival’s sidebar program Un Certain Regard with Antiviral, a sci-fi story about a clinic that sells live pathogens from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. (Clearly the worm-riddled apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
Also screening in Un Certain Regard, is 23-year-old Quebec wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s third feature, Laurence Anyways. The nearly three hour opus is about a romance that is complicated when a man reveals to his fiancée that he wants to become a woman. Dolan has expressed disappointment that, on his third Cannes outing, he hasn’t made it into the main competition. But he’s still very young; there’s lots of time to play with the big boys. This, by the way, is an unusually strong year in Cannes for Canadian directors; there are six of them with films spread across every official program—the Competition, Un Certain Regard, the Palme D’or shorts competition, the Critics’ Week, and the Directors’ Fortnight.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, January 11, 2012 at 11:33 PM - 0 Comments
I must be the last journalist in town to blog last night’s 15th anniversary awards gala of the Toronto Film Critics Association. That’s because I’m TFCA prez, and thousands of small details have forced me to neglect the blogosphere and the tweet box for the last few weeks. We ramped up the TFCA Awards a notch this year, moving our champagne gala to the august art-deco Round Room of The Carlu. For the movie biz, it’s still an unusually intimate evening, with about 230 folks attending—the cream of Toronto’s film community. We consider it our annual truce between the critics and the industry. The presenter of our flagship prize, the $15,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award, fell sick at the last minute. But Andrea Martin—Emmy-winning SCTV legend and Tony-winning Broadway star—stepped in like the trooper she is to present the Rogers Award. It went to Quebec director Philippe Falardeau for Monsieur Lazhar (also Canada’s official Oscar entry in the foreign-language film category), edging out the other two finalists, Jean-Marc Vallée’s Café de Flore, and David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, February 18, 2011 at 10:46 AM - 12 Comments
Robert Pattinson is about to enter a new kind of Twilight Zone, courtesy of David Cronenberg. It was announced today that the Canadian filmmaker has cast the vampire heartthrob as a bloodsucker of a different colour—a multi-billionaire hedge fund manager in Manhattan who squanders his fortune betting against the survival of the world economy. The movie is Cosmopolis, a Canada-France coproduction based on the 2003 nouvella of the same name by award-winning American writer Don Delillo. Pattinson is set to co-star with Paul Giamatti (Barney’s Version), Juliette Binoche (The English Patient), and Matheu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).
Cronenberg appears to be on a roll. After the success of The History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007), two Oscar-nominated hits, he has been creeping ever closer to mainstream acceptance, without compromising his singular vision. He recently completed A Dangerous Method, a German co-production about Freud and Jung, starring (in his third role with director) Viggo Mortensen—it will likely open next fall after a festival premiere in Cannes, Venice or TIFF. It’s always a good sign when a filmmaker has another movie on the go before his last one has hit the screen.
Landing a Cronenberg role is a savvy move for Pattinson, who needs to make the leap from the matinee idol ghetto of Twilight to more mature roles. His is not unlike the dilemma faced by an aging child star. In his previous non-vampire outing, the romance Remember Me, Pattinson showed the promise of a serious actor, but the film was a dud. Cronenberg is always a class act, and (despite his image as a horrormeister) he’s very much an actor’s director. Colin Farrell had originally been tapped for the Pattinson role, until he opted to star in a remake of Total Recall. And earlier candidates attached to the role of the female lead included Marion Cotillard and Keira Knightley, who stars in A Dangerous Method.
Cronenberg wrote the script for Cosmopolis, which is described as a “thriller.” In the director’s previous adaptations of fiction—notably Naked Lunch, Dead Ringers and Crash—he has played fast and loose with the source material, bending it to his own vision, so don’t expect Delillo’s work to be transposed too literally. I haven’t read the book. But it appears to have some classic Cronenberg elements, including some glimmers of Crash. Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the plot:
“Cosmopolis is the story of Eric Packer, a 28 year old multi-billionaire asset manager who makes an odyssey across midtown Manhattan in order to get a haircut. The stretch limo which adorns the cover of the book is richly described as highly technical and very luxurious, filled with television screens and computer monitors, bulletproofed and floored with Carrara marble. It is also cork lined to eliminate (though unsuccessfully, as Packer notes) the intrusion of street noise.
“Like James Joyce‘s Ulysses, Cosmopolis covers roughly one day of time and includes highly sexed women and the theme of father-son separation. Packer’s voyage is obstructed by various traffic jams caused by a presidential visit to the city, a funeral procession for a Sufi rap star and a full-fledged riot. Along the way, the hero has several chance meetings with his wife, seeing her in a taxi, a bookstore, and lying naked in the street, taking part in a movie as an extra. Meanwhile, Packer is stalked by two men, a comical “pastry assassin” and an unstable “credible threat“. Through the course of the day, the protagonist loses incredible amounts of money for his clients by betting against the rise of the yen, a loss that parallels his own fall. Packer seems to relish being unburdened by the loss of so much money, even stopping to make sure he loses his wife’s fortune as well, to ensure his ruin is inevitable.”