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, 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 - Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 7:35 PM - 0 Comments
I once asked David Cronenberg what, if anything, makes him squeamish as a movie-goer. Without hesitation, he replied: “Needles.” That’s right. The man who has made heads explode and parasites erupt from the body, is scared of needles. And I couldn’t stop thinking about that as I watched this afternoon’s Cannes press screening of Antiviral, the feature debut by David’s 32-year-old son, Brandon Cronenberg. Antiviral is a sci-fi drama set in a fame-obsessed dystopia where pathogens that have infected celebrities are purchased and injected by their fans. It gives a whole new meaning to that red-carpet phrase “Who are you wearing?” The film never asks that question, but if it did, its answer would be something like: [celebrity name here] Herpes Simpex 2. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, May 10, 2012 at 10:03 AM - 0 Comments
Money is plentiful and dramas are provocative—on TV
David Cronenberg’s next project is called Knifeman, described by his production company as the story of a surgeon who “goes to extraordinary and unorthodox lengths to uncover the secrets of the human body.” It sounds like a very Cronenbergian feature film—except it’s a TV series the Canadian director will direct and produce. The announcement just confirmed the latest trend in show business: everybody wants to make their own television show. The film industry is losing a lot of its revenue, as reported in April by Benjamin Swinburne, an analyst for the financial services firm Morgan Stanley, but TV is doing great. Swinburne says “big media companies have protected themselves by diversifying more into television, a much healthier business,” as reported by Deadline.com’s executive editor David Lieberman. And filmmakers go where the investment is going, which is why everyone—from veterans like Cronenberg to young film school graduates—is taking a close look at TV. “People who understand where the business is flowing are heading into television in big ways,” said Joe Pichirallo, a film producer (Hollywoodland) and chair of the undergraduate film and television program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
It used to be that when a major film director went into television, it was only to direct a pilot, or to put his name on the series as a producer (like the feature director McG on the teen soap The O.C.). With the exception of writers, who might have more creative control in TV, no director or technician saw TV as a first choice. “With the glamorization of the film milieu since the 1930s,” says Daniel Doz, president of the Alberta College of Art and Design, “students have often idealized working in film rather than TV.” “In the past, people were not going for television, particularly directors,” Pichirallo adds. “They were thinking, ‘I’ve got to try my luck in features.’ ”
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 8:17 PM - 0 Comments
Philippe Falardeau’s beloved Monsieur Lazhar took the Genie Awards by storm tonight, winning six of its nine nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for its French-Algerian star Fellag. The film’s Genie triumph crowns a string of honours including an Oscar nomination, the best Canadian feature prize at TIFF, and the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association.
Based on a Quebec play, Monsieur Lazhar is the touching drama of an Algerian refugee who takes over a teaching job in a Montreal classroom traumatized by his predecessor’s suicide. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 1:45 PM - 0 Comments
Café de Flore leads the field competing in the 32nd annual Genie Awards with a total of 13 nominations, including best picture and director. The film marks a virtuosic return to form for C.R.A.Z.Y director Jean-Marc Vallée after his rather subdued work-for-hire, The Young Victoria. By vaulting ahead of the pack in the Genie nominations, which were announced today, Vallée wins some vindication after being repeatedly upstaged by Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar—which won TIFF’s $30,000 award for best Canadian feature, the Toronto Film Critics Association’s $15,000 Rogers Best Canadian Film Award—and was picked as Canada’s official submission slot at the Oscars for best foreign-language film. Monsieur Lazhar ranked third among the Genie nominations, scoring in eight categories, behind David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, which received 11 nominations.
The big shock among the nominees was that Take This Waltz, the star-studded second feature from writer-director Sarah Polley received just two nominations—best actress for Michelle Williams and best make-up. That’s extraordinary given the depth of talent in the cast (Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman) and the fact that Polley’s sensational feature debut, Away From Her, won seven Genies and received two Oscar nominations. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Any film by David Cronenberg is an event. One that usually takes you by surprise When I saw A Dangerous Method amid a welter of pre-screenings for TIFF, I was shocked. . . shocked that I wasn’t shocked by a Cronenberg film. From the opening frames, a classic period sequence of a -carriage hurtling down a country road, I felt we on a strangely un-alien planet for this filmmaker. Then as the narrative unfolded with the elegant cadence of a Viennese waltz, I realized we were in a genre, but not one that Cronenberg had tried before: the period biopic. Though “biopic” seems not quite right; it’smore like a bi-biopic, a portrait of the galvanic relationship between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen).
The film triangulates the birth of psychoanalysis via their intersection with a fierce Russian named Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a volatile patient of Jung’s who who seduces both of them as she herself graduates from paranoid case study to headstrong psychoanalyst. The film is based on a play, which is based on a book—The Talking Cure by screenwriter Christopher Hampton (best known for another dangerous title, Dangerous Liasons). And much of the script is lifted directly from Speilrein’s writings, which lends the dialogue an unusually literate, essayish intelligence. This is disconcerting from a filmmaker who has specialized in serving up flesh, with sashimi acuity, as a metaphor for the unconscious—rather than engaging in intellectual discourse about the id, the ego, and the cold war between death and sex in the human psyche. Continue…
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, September 23, 2011 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
Now that the circus act has left Toronto, our critic picks the films that are bound for glory
It was celebrity gridlock. Each year the juggernaut of the Toronto International Film Festival seems bigger than ever, but with its 36th edition (Sept. 8-18), it turned a corner. Anchored by its grand new headquarters, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, the festival finally moved fully downtown. As black SUV limos lined the streets, disgorging stars into the red-carpet blaze of cameras, the city’s entertainment district turned into a glass-and-concrete answer to Cannes—with some surreal moments worthy of Fellini.
Counter-spinning tabloid gossip, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie wrapped their arms around each other in a regal show of marital bliss at the premiere of Moneyball—for which Pitt earned up to $15 million as a hero who reinvents baseball by casting low-rent players instead of high-priced stars. Fresh from her hydrangea-bashing faux pas with a fan in Venice, Madonna ran a gauntlet of critical scorn for W.E., her risible take on Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII, then denied reports that her goons told festival volunteers to avert their eyes when the Queen Mother of Pop came into view. Impresario Garth Drabinsky, on the eve of going to prison for fraud, took a hubris-heavy perp walk down the red carpet with Christopher Plummer for the premiere of Barrymore. Bono introduced a U2 documentary by comparing songwriting to sausage-making. And Neil Young did a double take when a grey-haired lady introduced herself at the premiere of his concert film—he confessed he had a crush on her in the fourth grade.
Now that the stardust has settled, and the circus has left town, all that remains of the festival are the movies. Some of them we’ll still be talking about in February. Each year TIFF launches the fall season of Oscar-pedigree films, and as the buzz merchants tried to sniff out the next King’s Speech or Slumdog Millionaire from 268 feature titles, there was no obvious champ. But some clear contenders stood out. It was above all a festival of stellar male performances—Clooney, Pitt, Gosling, Fassbender, Harrelson—even if the audience prize went to Nadine Labaki’s Where Do We Go Now?, a feel-good fable of female liberation from Lebanon.
By Andrew Tolson - Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 2 Comments
Movie stars don’t have a lot of time.
When you’re photographing them, there’s no asking about their Aunt Phyllis or how their golf swing is progressing. Yes, there’s small talk of the ‘How are you liking Toronto?’ variety, but really, they just want you to get the shot and move on. They have a red carpet to walk, scripts to read, multi-million dollar deals to sign, and, presumably, eating and sleeping to do. For the Movie Star, this is all part of their job; the promoting, the glad-handing and the quickie hotel room portraits. It’s all business.
Which is why you only have one minute to take the photograph.
For the Movie Star, there are varying degrees of involvement in the shoot. Most endure it like a grumpy kid having their picture taken with Santa Claus. Some enjoy the exercise, such as David Cronenberg, who cordially offered me his very effective Death Stare. Sarah Silverman had fun posing as if she were cramped into a photo booth. For some Movie Stars of a certain vintage, it’s about controlling their image: Juliette Binoche insisted on critiquing every frame and pronounced I “had the shot,” when I wasn’t sure I did.
(She was right. I did.)
But during that single minute I have with the Movie Star, it’s always an odd sensation, being so close to someone who is normally forty feet tall. Because after you’ve been face to face with them, in some anonymous hotel room or bland boardroom, you can’t help but feel the Movie Star seems, well, kind of normal.
Follow me: @andrewtolson @macleansphoto
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.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, August 25, 2010 at 4:14 PM - 0 Comments
Canadian director David Cronenberg is fresh back from Germany, where he just wrapped his latest feature, A Dangerous Method. Scripted by Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), it’s a period piece about the fathers of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender). Cronenberg steps into the limelight this weekend as a star attraction at FanExpo Canada (Aug. 27-29). The event, which takes place in his hometown, at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre, draws fans of comic books, horror, sci-fi, and gaming—all domains that Cronenberg has explored in his movies. I interviewed him by phone last week:
Q. So you’re going to be pressing the flesh at FanExpo. Have you done this kind of thing before?
A. I did go to ComicCon in San Diego when we released A History of Violence, because it had been a graphic novel. And it was really a lot of fun.
Q. What’s the profile of a typical David Cronenberg fan?
A. Well, it varies. Somebody who’s a fan of Eastern Promises is not going to be the same person, necessarily, as someone who’s a fan of Scanners. Even Guillermo del Toro—he’s a fan of mine in general and we’re friends, but he likes the early stuff, the horror stuff. So Guillermo could be a typical fan, if you like: he’s a large Mexican filmmaker who’s very funny and very smart.
Q. Do you actually enjoy getting out there and signing autographs?
I’m ready. I’ve been in isolation for too long. I’ve spent four months doing a movie in Germany, most of it in a studio, a hermetically sealed environment. I thought it would be fun to connect with my past—not that it’s over for me with gore and sci-fi films, but I haven’t made one since eXistenZ. And this is different from doing heavy-duty interviews when you’re selling a film. It should be looser and more fun.
Q. Tell me about A Dangerous Method. You’ve called it a biopic, which surprises me. I can’t imagine a David Cronenberg film cleaving to such a conventional genre.
A. In a way, I think of Naked Lunch as a biopic, or even M. Butterfly, or Dead Ringers—they were all based on real people.
Q. So much of your work is based on making the unconscious palpable, and here you’ve made a film about Freud and Jung, the two towering thinkers who put the unconscious on the map. Are you a fan of Freud or Jung?
A. I’d hate to choose now. My actors would be upset. [laughs] I certainly tend more to the Freud side than to the Jung side. But I did a lot of research into Jung and his relationship with Freud, and he’s really fascinating—a great, charismatic character. It filled out my understanding of the whole psychoanalytic movement. That’s the great thing about making a movie, it encourages you to do deep, deep research. When I say deep, I’m talking about the physicality, the furniture—I have a chair in my house now that’s a replica of Freud’s chair. Freud actually designed a chair for himself to sit in while he was writing. The producers bought me a replica. It looks like a human being. The back of the chair has a head and the arms are like arms. It’s quite comfortable too; it actually has lumbar support, which I was surprised to find. They presented it too me at the wrap party because they knew I admired to chair. It was made by a furniture maker who made the replica of the chair for the museum in Vienna, because the original is in the museum in London. They got him to make me one.
Q. Your films tend to produce artifacts—the flesh gun from eXistenZ, the gynecological instruments from Dead Ringers.
A. The art form is physical. The acting is physical. You’re putting light on objects and humans. And of course, when you’re doing a period piece, the artifacts are critical because it’s the only way you can take your audience back in time with you. Of course there’s some CG sleight of hand that isn’t physical. But for the actors, to put on those clothes and put on those spectacles and pick up that pen at that desk, it’s important for them.
Q. Do we see dreams being analyzed and taking on sci-fi or surreal form?
A. I would say not. But what is amazing is the way these people spoke and thought in such intellectual, learned, abstract ways, and the dialogue reflects that. It’s based on letters and recollections from the time.
Q. What trademarks of yours does the film have? Is there violence?
A. There’s a little S & M. There definitely is a little S & M [laughs]. But I wouldn’t say that’s my trademark. I would say that intellect is my trademark, and there’s a lot of that. What I loved about Christopher Hampton’s script is that there’s no compromise in terms of delivering the intellect of these characters and the way they fought, and how it flowed, and how everything became referenced to sexuality and psychoanalysis, which they thought of as a medical procedure. They were so enthusiastic about it and so protective of it, and there were such struggles. Then of course there was the great split between Freud and Jung. I wanted to bring these people back to life. I never got to talk to Freud but I got to talk to Viggo playing Freud.
Q. Speaking of Viggo, you’ve now made three movies with him, and there may be a sequel to Eastern Promises. He’s become what the French call your acteur de fetiche. Why Viggo?
A. He wasn’t our first choice for Freud. It’s not the lead role in the movie, for example. We had gone to Christoph Waltz. In fact, Christoph pursued us—because his grandfather was a student of Freud apparently, and he really wanted to play that role. Since the movie was a co-production with Germany, his name meant a lot in terms of raising money—these are really perilous days for independent film—and he copped out basically to do a Hollywood movie [Water For Elephants]. So I phoned Viggo. I said, “I know that you weren’t interested in playing Freud but it’s come up for grabs again and I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you if you wanted to do it.” He said, “Let me look at the script,” and in two days he was doing it.
Q. So who is the lead?
Michael Fassbender [Hunger] plays Jung. He’s about to do X-Men, so he will soon have genre cred. He’s a terrific actor and he and Viggo got along absolutely great. Very light, terrific tone on the set. Keira [Knightley] is a brilliant actress. She blew everyone away. I’m telling you, she’s as good as anyone I’ve worked with, including Miranda Richardson and Lynn Redgrave and Judy Davis. You don’t realize it until you start to work with somebody. It was the same with Viggo when I first worked with him.
Q. She’s got a pretty lightweight reputation.
A. She’s a heavy dude.
Q. So will there be a sequel to Eastern Promises?
A. It’s hard to say. There is a script, a really good script that Steve Knight wrote. It’s the best first draft I’ve ever read of anything. But there are financing issues, issues of Focus [Pictures] survival and Comcast buying Universal and God knows what else. So I’m not sure yet how real it can be. It’s alive as a possibility.
Q. As for FanExpo, which celebrates horror, sci fi, comic books and so on—now that comic books are Hollywood’s blockbuster staple, what does that do to an art form that draws its cachet from being outside the mainstream?
A. It depends what art form you’re talking about. It’s obvious that comics have gotten more sophisticated, more politically aware, more technically sophisticated, and the fact they they’re more attractive to movie makers has helped them become that. I can see that the comic books have gotten better. Whether the comics have made the movies better is a whole other thing. It depends whether you think Iron Man I is fabulous filmmaking, or not.
Q. You must have your own opinion.
A. I have many opinions that I don’t express. Is it top-level filmmaking, is it top-level art? My answer to that is no, it’s not. On the other hand it’s really good mainstream entertainment and it’s pretty clever and intelligent, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not the art films of the 60s, but I don’t know if we’re going to see that any more.
Q. For someone who enjoys intellect, I imagine Robert Downey Jr. would be on your wish list of actors to work with, no?
A. He has been. But I think he’s probably out of reach now. He’s got three or four franchises going for himself. And I’m not sure that’s been good for him as an actor. I don’t know why I say that because I don’t know him. But you can become glib and you can fall back on some tics, and I’m starting to see a few of those in what he’s doing. Is that because he’s encouraged to do that by his directors, or not? I don’t know.
Q. Do you covet a franchise?
A. I wouldn’t mind doing the first of a franchise that happened to turn into one by accident. The second or third wouldn’t be that interesting.
Q. Are you a Girl With The Dragon Tattoo fan?
A. I was asked about doing that. Then I went to see the movie, the Swedish movie, and I thought, “No, it really should be called Men Who Hate Women,” which was the title of the book in Swedish. Because that’s what it’s about. It wasn’t an approach that appealed to me. Every man in that movie except the lead guy is a rapist and a misogynist, if not a murderer of women. And there’s something that’s not really being dealt with. I don’t know if the novels opened that out but there was something that really didn’t appeal to me. Once David Fincher got interested, they would have gone with him anyway. But there was a time when it was an open assignment and I turned it down.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 5:45 PM - 2 Comments
Last night was the Toronto Film Critics Association‘s gala awards dinner, and I’m still buzzing. Full disclosure—I’m president of the TFCA and this soirée is my baby. With generous sponsorship from Rogers, we launched the event last year, pitching it as the Giller meets the Golden Globes on a more intimate scale. And it’s taken off. Last night the cream of Toronto’s film community, and trio of Quebec filmmakers, gathered at Toronto’s Nota Bene restaurant to celebrate a year in film. All but one of the 2009 TFCA Awards, which are voted by the member critics, had been previously announced. But last night our guest of honour, David Cronenberg, announced the winner of the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award and presented it, with a $10,000 cheque, Quebec director Denis Villeneuve for Polytechnique. The other two other finalists, Benoit Pilon (The Necessities of Life) and Bruce McDonald (Pontypool), were both worthy contenders, but Villeneuve’s film was perhaps the most ambitious of the three. If I can quote my own TFCA press release: “Polytechnique is a film of astonishing courage. Without a whiff of exploitation or crude moralizing, Denis Villeneuve brings a sensitive, unflinching eye to the 1989 Montreal Massacre – an event most filmmakers would consider untouchable. Villeneuve conveys the horrific tragedy of the event while exploring underlying issues of misogyny, male guilt and institutional circumstance. Set in a haunting silence of snow and concrete, Polytechnique’s contemplative drama honours the victims by preserving the mystery of an unfathomable crime, and never pretending to unlock the psychology of the killer. With grace, empathy and a stark, formal beauty, Villeneuve shows how a memorial can be an act of imagination.” When Rogers vice-chairman Phil Lind presented the cheque to Villeneuve, the director confessed, “I haven’t paid my Rogers cable bill.”
No one can accuse Toronto critics of being Toronto-centric. Another Quebec filmmaker, Xavier Dolan, showed up to accept the inaugural Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist, which carries a cheque of $5,000. This charming wunderkind—who wrote, produced, directed and starred in his much-acclaimed feature debut, J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother), received the award from Atom Egoyan, who was over the moon with enthusiasm for the film. For the full list of the other awards, which were announced last month, go the TFCA website.
After the presentation, I had a long and fascinating chat with Cronenberg, most of which should remain off the record. But he did point out that there was some irony in him presenting the award to Polytechnique, because after the Montreal Massacre, Toronto Star columnist Michelle Landsberg had the bone-headed temerity to suggest that the violence in Cronenberg’s movies might have contributed to the killer’s motivation.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 8:05 PM - 1 Comment
It’s not every day that I get to quote myself, but as President of the Toronto Film Critics Association, I want to pass on the news that the TFCA has voted to award its inaugural Jay Scott Prize for emerging talent to Quebec’s Xavier Dolan, the wunderkind writer, director, producer and star of J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother). The prize, which comes with a $5,000 cheque, is named for the legendary Globe and Mail writer who became Canada’s most influential film critic before his death in 1993. Rather than re-write a press release that I helped craft earlier today, I’ll reproduce it the gist of here, complete with my own quote:
“I couldn’t imagine a more worthy candidate to receive the inaugural Jay Scott Prize for an emerging artist,” said TFCA President Brian D. Johnson. “Xavier Dolan did not just emerge; he burst onto the world stage in Cannes at the age of 20, dazzling us with a daring first feature that he wrote, produced, directed and starred in. There’s no doubt that Jay Scott – who championed the deeply personal work of Québec filmmakers like Jean-Claude Lauzon would have appreciated the singular passion, flamboyant style and raw nerve of Xavier Dolan.” Continue…
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 11:00 AM - 1,001 Comments
The era of films like ‘Deep Throat’ seems as remote as that of Busby Berkeley musicals
Some years ago, at a songwriters’ get-together in New York, I found myself talking to a tanned and rugged fellow who introduced himself as Jack Wrangler. He was very informed on the subject of Johnny Mercer, lyricist of Jeepers Creepers, One for My Baby, Autumn Leaves, Moon River, and much else. I enjoyed the conversation with Mr. Wrangler very much, and said so to a friend at the end of the evening, adding: “Americans have the coolest names. I mean, ‘Jack Wrangler.’ Wow!”
My pal gave me a pitying look, and informed me that Mr. Wrangler was a famous gay porn star. Indeed, for many scholars of the form, he was the gay porn star, an iconic figure from early exposure in New York Construction Company (1970) and Junior Cadets (1970) through big parts in Kansas City Trucking Company (1976) and Sea Cadets (1978). Critics acclaimed his performance in Heavy Equipment (1977) and Boots And Saddles (1982). I don’t want to make it sound as if Mr. Wrangler was an actor of limited range. He also essayed straight porn, such as Debbie Does Dallas 2, which was awfully game of him, considering that, according to him, he’d never done it with a woman, in Dallas or anywhere else, till he was obliged to do it on the big screen.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 1:11 PM - 2 Comments
The filmmaker on selling out and auditioning for Tom Cruise
David Cronenberg seems to determined to reconcile the two solitudes of auteur cinema and Hollywood entertainment. Recently the Canadian filmmaker met with Tom Cruise at the actor’s house in L.A. to discuss a blockbuster action movie he’s planning to direct, starring Cruise and Denzel Washington (an adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s spy thriller, The Matarese Circle). Last night Cronenberg was at a very different social occasion—a penthouse reception atop a Toronto office tower, where France’s ambassador to Canada bestowed on the director his government’s highest honour: the Medal of Knight to the Légion d’Honneur. In a baroque ceremony ripe with elevated talk about philosophy and art, Cronenberg delivered an adroit speech, pondering his connection to Napoleon, and trumping the formal grandeur of the occasion with subversive whimsy:
“With this award,” he mused, “France has finally and inextricably become my partner in crime. I see this medal as a talisman, an amulet with magical powers that make it a shield against punishment—punishment for committing the crime of art. France has always understood the tension that exists between the innate wildness of art and the desired order of society. The crimes of art, the crimes of transgression, are not against the known laws of society, but against the unknown laws, the secret laws. So this medal is a kind of passport for me, a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
After the speeches, Maclean’s film critic Brian D. Johnson spoke with Cronenberg about palling around with Tom Cruise and the possibility of an entente cordiale between art and commerce.
Q: It’s paradoxical that just as you’re receiving this honour from France, where auteur cinema is a religion, you’re planning to make your first Hollywood blockbuster, with Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington.
A: At the same time, that appreciation of cinema in France has never flinched at considering genre work or commercial work if it had artistic merit. Howard Hawks, John Ford. It’s not quite the paradox you might think. Even if you look at A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, they’re more technically commercial obviously than Spider. But I felt very close to them when I was doing them, and I didn’t feel I was selling out. And God knows, I’m happy to sell out. The more money the better. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, September 18, 2008 at 6:11 PM - 3 Comments
Here we have two movies adhering to classic Hollywood genres. Ghost Town is a Capra-esque romantic comedy about the redemption of a mean-spirited misanthrope. Appaloosa is a western/buddy movie with dash of ironic romance. I saw both at the Toronto International Film Festival and found neither especially memorable. But what elevates the material in each case is the presence of actors who deserve better, specifically Ricky Gervais and Viggo Mortensen. (For my interview with Gervais in this week’s magazine, go to: They picked me for romantic lead!)
There’s no question that Ricky Gervais is one of the sharpest wits in showbiz; and for a comedian he’s an exceptionally good actor. On his hit TV shows, The Office and Extras, his comedy has always been ruthlessly based in uncomfortable realism, not clever jokes. It was inevitable that someone as talented and popular as Gervais would find his way into a starring role in a Hollywood movie. Too bad it had to be this one.
Not that there’s anything wrong with his performance. It’s letter-perfect. In fact, Gervais is quite well-cast as an awkward, unattractive English dentist in New York who loathes the world and the idiots he’s forced to share it with. But despite the fact that he plays the lead in this formula rom-com, Ghost Town is not what you’d call a Ricky Gervais movie. It fits him like a suit that’s three sizes too big. Sure, he rolls up the cuffs, and rips apart the seams of the script with improvised jags, making a credible costume out of it, but you still wonder what he’s doing in the movie in the first place. Also, you feel he’s worthy of a better straight man than the smarmy Greg Kinnear, an actor who to me always looks like someone who’s missed his vocation as a maitre d’. Continue…
Liveblogging David Cronenberg: Bill C-10 is ready for its closeup, but is the Senate Banking committee?
By David Newland - Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 5:17 PM - 0 Comments
3:56:53 PM …
Good afternoon, and welcome to a functional committee: the Senate committee on
Good afternoon, and welcome to a functional committee: the Senate committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, to be precise, which is about to hear from a real live Canadian cultural icon: David Cronenberg, director of Naked Lunch, Crash, and all sorts of other movies that leave one feeling dazzled, but in an uncomfortable way. He’s not actually here yet—when I was walking into the building, though, I passed a phalanx of cameras, so I suspect he may have been temporarily waylaid by the press. It’s so rare that we have a genuine celebrity in our midst; we get all starry-eyed and start having delusions of paparazzidom.
He’s here! “Good afternoon, Mr. Cronenberg,” says the chair. He’s probably been practicing that all week. After the usual smile for the cameras routine—and my, what a lot of cameras there are—the chair taps the gavel, and the meeting is officially underway. The chair, David Angus, welcomes senators, witnesses, the audience—on the web, on CPAC, everywhere—and introduces the whole Senate gang to Cronenberg, who smiles in a bemused, yet pleasant way. This must be the strangest experience for him—and I realize the inherent irony of saying that about a man who pretty much sets the standard as far as strange.
Cronenberg has an opening statement, but wait, breaking news: one of the Liberals, Yoine Goldstein, has an urgent point of order! Apparently, the government—or, at least, the Conservatives on the committee—tried to arrange it so the meeting wouldn’t be televised—in effect, he suggests, to censor a hearing on censorship. He thinks the people of Canada deserve to know just who came up with this dastardly scheme; he demands that the chair step aside for the duration of the meeting.
By Jeff Harris - Friday, September 23, 2005 at 3:35 PM - 0 Comments
Jeff Harris goes behind the scenes
Nova Scotia’s Trailer Park Boys can’t stop talking about “drinking, smoking” and Viggo Mortenson gets a little lesson on NHL regalia (hint: the “C” stands for Canadiens). Canadian actor / director Don McKeller had two mini-films in the festival which were both shot on a cell phone. The Toronto Film Festival celebrates it’s 30th year, and here are 30 “short films” that celebrate the festival!