By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, November 7, 2012 - 0 Comments
I saw Skyfall at a press preview in Manhattan, before the Flood, back in mid-October, when I also had the pleasure of interviewing Daniel Craig. I can’t remember the last time that my excitement to see a much ballyhooed Hollywood blockbuster was so richly rewarded. I came out of the screening thrilled by what I’d seen and immediately tweeted that Skyfall is “the best Bond movie ever—and that’s not hype.” Which drew a startled response. At least one journalist asked if I wasn’t worried I might want to recalibrate that superlative in the cold light of morning. But I had just re-watched all my favorite Bond films while researching an epic essay on the franchise for the Maclean’s special issue commemorating 50 years of 007. So I felt confident making the claim.
However, as Skyfall finally hits theatres this week, I have no desire to review it. As a film critic, I have the privilege of being able to see a movie fresh, before people like me ruin it with a lot of clever opinions and observations. With most Bond movies, there’s not much to spoil: Bond infiltrates megalomaniac’s lair, gets captured, stops world from ending, escapes with the girl. But Skyfall has a story that’s stronger than most of those dreamt up by Ian Fleming, and it has some serious surprises. So I’m not going to offer a shred plot summary—there’s more than enough in the trailer. Instead, let me spell out with a few broad strokes why Skyfall is the best Bond film ever.
Sean Connery originated the role and will always be the quintessential Bond. But Craig is the first actor to really wrestle with the tormented psychology of the character Fleming created. He’s also the first actor who does not seem trapped in the role. As Craig pointed out in his interview with me, having a strong measure of creative control was an essential part of his deal when he was cast for Casino Royale. He took that one step further by personally recruiting an Oscar-winning filmmaker, Sam Mendes, to direct Skyfall, and with him came a prime echelon of Oscar-pedigree talent like no Bond film has ever seen—notably Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, and the promotion of Judy Dench’s M into a much meatier role.
Mendes, meanwhile, recruited cinematographer Roger Deakins, the Coen brothers’ go-to DOP, whose influence cannot be overstated. Bond movies tend to revel in eye candy, but none has been so uniformly gorgeous as Skyfall, which unfolds as a suite of stunning visual compositions, from the neon aquarium of Shangai to the moors of Scotland. Deakins has nine Oscar nominations for pictures ranging from The Shawshank Redemption to No Country for Old Men; it would be cool to see him finally win for a Bond movie.
Skyfall elevates the Bond genre to a new level of A-list refinement. But it’s a game-changing movie in more ways than one.
Casino Royale smartly rebooted the franchise, which had been languishing in overblown spectacle and campy farce. Craig slammed it back to earth with a vengeance and more than earned his license to kill, and to shag. It was a movie that had a lot to prove. Then, with a script hobbled by a writers’ strike and a miscast director (Mark Forster), the follow-up, Quantum of Solace, turned out to be a mess. With Skyfall, Craig no longer looks like a guy trying to prove himself. He’s supremely comfortable in the role. And the movie reconnects his character to the franchise by embracing, and deflecting, its classic tropes with a deft wit. But it goes beyond Bond, and takes him places that Fleming never dreamt of.
The result is a rather belated coming of age for the most successful franchise hero of all-time. Coinciding with the golden anniversary, it’s something to celebrate. If you wait long enough, retro fashion eventually comes back into vogue—as a new generation discovers 007, Bond hasn’t been so cool since the 1960s. Enjoy it while it lasts.
For Brian D. Johnson’s video montage of 007 through the ages, go to: Best of Bond.
Daniel Craig on riding atop a train in Turkey, drunkenly choosing his own director and making the best Bond
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 10:16 AM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Brian D. Johnson
On the golden anniversary of the 007 franchise, Daniel Craig, 44, makes his third outing as James Bond in Skyfall, which opens in theatres Nov. 9. Shot on location in Turkey, Britain and China, the story begins with Bond surviving a near-death experience. The plot is driven by a cybervillain named Silva (Javier Bardem), who hacks the identities of MI6 spies, targets its London headquarters and compromises the credibility of M (Judi Dench), whose role is greatly expanded. With Q recast as a young computer geek (Ben Wishaw), Bond’s mission takes him to Shanghai, Istanbul, and back to his childhood roots in Scotland.
Directed by Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty), with cinematography by nine-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins and a cast that features two Oscar winners (Bardem and Dench) plus Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney, no Bond movie has been so loaded with talent. Even one of the film’s two Bond girls, Naomie Harris, is a Cambridge-educated, classically trained British stage actress. Skyfall is a game-changer, and Craig is clearly more player than pawn.
Q: I was blown away by Skyfall. I think it’s the best Bond film ever. And what really sets it apart is the pedigree of the cast and the filmmakers. Bond has always been a guy with class, but the franchise hasn’t always been worthy of him. Was this a deliberate attempt to turn it into more of a class act?
A: The short answer is, yes, it was. It was to make literally the best Bond we could. We had a lot of criticism about the fact that we’d taken the ‘Bond-ness’ out of Bond. After a four-year hiatus, I felt we could rediscover it. In the other two movies [Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace], there wasn’t time to do that—the first one especially, the second one because we had a writers’ strike and we were struggling a little bit. But this one we had the time, and Sam coming in tempted a lot of people to get involved. It doesn’t always work when you throw a ton of talent into a room. Sometimes it can really go wrong. But it seemed to come together. People were really up for it.
A: Because I asked Sam to do it when I was drunk at a party so they kind of didn’t have a choice [laughs]. I phoned up Barbara and Mike and said, “I might have overstepped my job description slightly: I’ve asked Sam Mendes.” And they were very excited. They felt—and I certainly felt—that Sam was ready. His pedigree is that he ran a theatre in London, he directed major musicals, major theatre events, and films, obviously. He’s got great skill at pulling huge amounts of people together. I thought the action sequences, they don’t take care of themselves, but he’ll understand them, and he’s a Bond fan.
Q: The fact you chose the director—it seems you own Bond in a way your predecessors didn’t. Do you have more clout?
A: I’ve been very lucky. Michael and Barbara have given me room to express myself. I asked them flat out when they offered me the job: “You need to give this to me, the ability to be involved. Even if you’re pretending, just let me feel like I am.” Because this is a big acting job for me. I’m not this guy by a long stretch of the imagination—I’m as far removed from James Bond as anybody. It’s a push. Anyone will tell you.
Q: But you do like a drink from time to time.
A: [laughs] Coming from a Canadian, I think that’s pretty rum, to use a bad pun.
Q: Anyway, I get your point: the job requires a lot of acting. But do you ever feel you’re playing an actor? I mean, Bond never actually pretends to be somebody else—that’s sort of the kind of spy he is—but his style and bravado are a construct, even for him.
A: I think that’s interesting, and that’s what has always appealed to me about him. Most people who behave in a macho way, it’s bluster. Most of the time we’re all bulls–tting our way through life. There are strong people on this planet, but it’s all the swan technique: it looks beautiful on top and the legs are going like this underneath, you know? We’re all like that, and anybody who thinks differently is full of s–t as far as I’m concerned. Someone like Bond is, it’s 90 per cent confidence. And that’s an interesting place to play when that gets knocked, and how he gets up and then succeeds. If you have a superhero who, in the first frame is going to save the world, and then in the last frame he saves the world, it’s like, who gives a f–k what happens in between? And I’m not talking, as someone said the other day, “Oh, it’s the Dark Knight of the Bonds.” I’m like, “Oh, f–k off.” Everybody has to compare it to something else. I’m a big fan of Dark Knight, don’t get me wrong. But all we’re trying to do is tell good stories.
Q: Is it hard to make Bond real with all the iconic baggage he brings?
A: For sure, but also you’ve got to celebrate that, because it is good baggage. It’s nice-looking luggage.
Q: You almost seem to deflect the tropes in this film by delivering them in a backhanded way, whether it’s the classic martini or the classic Aston Martin.
A: It’s introducing it without commenting on it. What I love about the script is there’s a lightness of touch that allows laughs to happen. It’s not that [screenwriter] John Logan sat down and wrote a page full of gags and went, “Yuk yuk, this one’s a good one.” The gags came out of the situations and we improvised. Some of the lines just came up on the day, and hopefully they allow the audience to sort of get some relief out of the tension.
Q: But to be fair, there’s a lot more tragedy than farce.
A: That’s for sure, yeah.
Q: It seems every generation gets the Bond it deserves. Connery was a rogue, saying ‘damn the consequences.’ You’ve given us an existential Bond—he’s so conflicted.
A: But you read the [novels by Ian] Fleming, which I do, and the conflict is through every book. He doesn’t want to do this job, and Fleming put his own angst into the character. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it—it’s Fleming’s fault!
Q: The complexity of your character is rooted in the relationship with Judi Dench’s M, especially in Skyfall. What’s that all about?
A: It’s Psychology 101: she’s his mum. But we hinted at that in the last two films, and in this one with Javier’s character—he’s the prodigal son. There’s a love there.
Q: Is M the ultimate Bond girl?
A: I think so. She’s the one woman who held his heart in a way that no other woman did.
Q: She’s Mother England, as well. Not unlike the Queen, if I can segue to . . .
A: Please. Beautifully done!
Q: So what was it like playing that scene with Her Majesty for the opening of the Olympics?
A: It was surreal, to say the least. It was a day off. I was right in the middle of shooting, and suddenly it was like, “Oh, God, we’re doing that thing on Saturday.” Got in the car and drove to the palace and sat around a bit, got into my tuxedo, and there she was. She was more than happy to be there, more than happy to be involved, was loving every second of it. Danny Boyle [director of the Olympics opening ceremony] is a genius. He came up with this and came to visit me on set. I went, “Oh, f–k off. Are you visiting someone else and coming here to wind me up?” He said, “No, this is what we want to do. She’s really into the idea. She thinks it’s great.”
Q: Did you make any small talk with the Queen?
A: A little, yeah. I mean, as much as it’s possible to have small talk with a head of state. She was very relaxed.
Q: What did you talk about?
A: Please, come on! Now you’re crossing a line. The weather, the flowers in the back garden: “They look great . . . ”
Q: Hey, at least I’m not asking personal questions about your relationship . . .
A: With the Queen!
Q: Then let’s talk about your relationship with Javier Bardem. This film is full of plot points that I wouldn’t want to spoil—and this may be one of them—but there’s an amazing 6½-minute scene between you and Bardem. You’re tied to a chair, like in Casino Royale, but different.
A: I’ve got my clothes on.
Q: And he’s not beating your genitals with a rope; he’s flirting with you. Was that in the script?
A: It was Javier’s instigation. He said, “We have to push this.” Sam came to me and went, “I think he really would like to push this physical-contact thing,” and I went, “Just tell him to knock himself out.” It’s very funny, and very Bond in the modern way. Lots of people suggested to me that [Bardem's character] is a homosexual. I don’t think he’s homosexual—I just think he likes f–king things.
Q: While we’re on the subject of vices, Bond has addiction issues in Skyfall. That’s new.
A: It is, but I like it because Fleming drank a bottle of whatever a day and had a bottle of very special pills that sat next to his typewriter that he popped all day, and smoked himself stupid all day. I’m not a condoner of alcoholism, or smoking, or any of these things. But he has a troubled mind and he’s in a lot of pain, emotionally and physically. It’s a very simple way of dealing with it, but it’s sometimes quite successful.
Q: The sexual politics of the Bond character have fluctuated to reflect the times. Traditionally he’s been able to separate sex and emotion quite efficiently. He’s having more trouble doing that these days.
A: I don’t think he has trouble with it—it just affects him more. It’s kind of nice to watch it affect him as opposed to him just being dismissive. Sexual politics has come a long way since ’62, unless you want us slapping ladies on the ass and telling them to go and wait in the other room because the men are talking and that kind of stuff. Bond remains a little bit of a chauvinist, which I think is good, because it means if you stick strong women in front of him, then s–t happens. It doesn’t take the sexiness out of it. The fact is he could die at any minute, and therefore he might as well jump into bed with somebody. In this movie, he’s more prepared to say, “Look, let’s have a drink and a good time because tomorrow I might be out of here.” That’s a Bond movie.
Q: What’s the toughest thing about playing Bond? Is it physical or mental?
A: A bit of both. They’re unusually long shoots—six, seven months—or more like nine because I start prepping before the shoot. We’re doing six-day weeks and the seventh is usually a day of meetings. I’ve got people around me feeding me energy bars, but it gets quite exhausting.
Q: The potential bankruptcy of MGM delayed Skyfall, but that gave you and Mendes a lot more time to prepare the script.
A: To rethink. To actually think it through. Yeah, you’re right. But I don’t want it to be four years before the next one. I’m going to be way too old then.
Q: What’s the most fun you had making this movie?
A: The collaborative process. Everything from the fact that you’re on set with this incredibly talented bunch of people, feeling the need to up your game; to the pressure relief when we can hold a party and all get smashed and just enjoy ourselves, to celebrate that we’re doing a Bond movie and it’s all going okay. But riding on the top of a train through the Turkish countryside, that’s quite exciting.
Q: Not scary?
A: At first it was, but you get blasé. I don’t recommend it.
Q: A lot of the movie is set in Britain. And no Bond film has championed English heritage like this one. A Turner painting is referenced and Judi Dench recites a Tennyson poem.
A: There was a financial issue attached to this one—we were tied into shooting in London, but it really worked out well. We got to film in places you normally don’t get the chance to film in, so we could show London in a cinematic way. It couldn’t get much more British than running down Whitehall with Big Ben in the background—it’s ladling it on. I love the Tennyson. I was nervous about it, but when you have Judi Dench reading it, the poem’s very clear. It’s about [how] we need heroes, and let’s hope they’re out there. But not in any kind of jingoistic way. Being secretly patriotic is very British.
Q: Your character has aged since Casino Royale. He’s battered and bruised and he’s told that, at 44, maybe he should get out of the game.
A: There are a number of reasons. He gets shot and seriously injured, and how he survives a 300-foot drop, we’ll never know. The other thing is the clash of the old world and the new politics. The way wars are fought through drone technology and spy satellites, you don’t send men out there because it’s risky and costly. He’s of the old school, and that sort of clash is something we play with in the film. Hopefully by the end of it, we feel like he’s fixed. I don’t know—I’m contracted for two [more Bond films]. We’ll see.
A: I hope I’ll jump out before I feel like that. That’s always been my instinct in situations—last to arrive at the party, first to leave. It doesn’t always work out like that, but that’s the credo I try and live by.
Q: Well, congratulations. I predict it will be the first Bond film to get at least one Oscar nomination in a major category. I’d be very surprised if Javier doesn’t get one.
A: Right. So would I. Bastard!
AVAILABLE NOW: The best of Bond
To commemorate 50 years of James Bond—from his screen debut in 1962 in Dr. No to next month’s hotly anticipated Skyfall—Maclean’s presents a special edition of pictures and stories about the villains, the guns, the gadgets and the girls that crossed paths with secret agent 007
Available on newsstands or at www.macleans.ca/bond
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, February 11, 2011 at 10:37 AM - 2 Comments
Boys will be boys. And what a crazy bunch are on offer this weekend. Adam Sandler, Hollywood’s perennial middle-aged child, takes his singular mix of narcissism and self-loathing to new heights in Just Go With It, a formula romcom composed of funny gags, toxic stereotypes and an unearned romance, with Sandler cast as a skirt-chasing plastic surgeon who persuades his assistant (Jennifer Aniston) and her two kids to masquerade as his fake family. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never documents the amazing phenomenon of Canadian teen heartthrob Justin Bieber, a savvy innocent who—at 16—seems positively mature in matters of the heart compared to Sandler. And a gormless Tatum Channing stars as a Roman soldier in The Eagle, a richly crafted Roman epic with a dumb-ass script that glorifies Rome’s imperialists as the good guys and portrays the aboriginal Britons as dirty savages.
But if you live in Toronto or Ottawa, the hot ticket is Biutiful, which begins its Canadian roll-out in those two cities this weekend. If you’re looking for subtlety, you won’t find it the films of Mexican filmmaker director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Babel). And his latest is no exception. But you won’t find a more powerful performance by an actor this year than the one given by Javier Bardem, who won Best Actor in Cannes and an Oscar nomination for his bravura turn in Biutiful. On the page, the narrative might seem over-ripe, but the cinematography, editing and acting are so breathtaking, this visceral melodrama comes across as pure verité. Bardem stars as a former drug dealer in Barcelona who brokers black-market jobs for illegal Asian immigrants while struggling to contain his bi-polar prostitute girlfriend and come to terms with his own terminal illness. He’s also a clairvoyant who talks to dead people. As usual, Iñárritu overloads the plot and the pathos, which may aggravate the sensibilities of more refined cinephiles, but Bardem’s emotional depth and the raw frisson of the filmmaking make Biutiful a must-see. And for Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve, director of the Oscar-nominated Incendies, this heavyweight contender is the one to beat in the Best Foreign Language Film category. For a more detailed look at Javier Bardem, go to my recent piece in the magazine: The Incredible Hunk. Now for the wide-release fare . . .
Just go With It
Ever since Judd Apatow cast Adam Sandler as a selfish, mean-spirited comedy star in Funny People—a nervy performance that came across as a devastating self-portrait—it seems there’s no going back. (Like seeing Jerry Lewis more-or-less playing himself in The King of Comedy.) I now find it impossible to buy Sandler as a lovable jerk. In Just Go With It, he’s just a jerk.
Sandler stars as Danny, an obscenely successful plastic surgeon who is single, but discovers that wearing a wedding ring helps him bed young women for meaningless flings. When Danny actually falls for one of his conquests, a 23-year-old babe named Palmer—played by Sports Illustrated swimsuit-issue cover girl Brooklyn Decker—he has to spin an elaborate web of lies about the fake wife he’s on the verge of divorcing. Danny then persuades his long-suffering assistant, Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) to pretend to be his wife. Pretty soon Danny is cutting pricey deals with Katherine’s two kids to pretend to be his children, and the whole gang ends up taking a vacation in Hawaii with his fake ex-wife’s fake new boyfriend (Nicholas Swardson). There, Katherine meets up with her high school nemesis, played by a slumming Nicole Kidman, which requires yet another charade. And what is Nicole Kidman doing in an Adam Sandler movie? We’re just getting over seeing Natalie Portman play Ashton Kutcher’s playmate in No Strings Attached (another romcom with a cliché for title).
Directed by Sandler’s longtime cohort, Dennis Dugan, Just Go With It is actually a loose remake/desecration of Cactus Flower, which won an Oscar for Goldie Hawn. The shenanigans produce a few laughs. But this cynical farce is a rummage sale of gross stereotypes, from gay sailors to a negligent Hispanic nanny. It’s also a transparent vanity project for Aniston, who struts her gym-toned bod in a bikini competition with this SI Swimsuit model who’s half her age. The whole post-Brad campaign to prove Aniston’s hotness is getting very tired.
As for the story, it holds no surprises. It doesn’t deviate from the inevitable outcome that Danny will eventually dump the pretty young thing for the MILF helpmate sitting under his nose. And as Sandler’s soul undergoes the requisite cosmetic redemption—transforming him from heartless cad to devoted suitor and loving stepdad—we don’t buy it for a second.
Adam Sandler should just give up making romantic comedies, even though they make scads of money. He should start making an honest living—playing villains in Bond movies. He could stroke a white Persian cat, do squeaky voices and give full reign to his evil inner child. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 12:55 PM - 3 Comments
The universe unfolded as it should, more or less, with this morning’s announcement of the Oscar nominations. Predictably, The King’s Speech led the field with 12 nominations. And why not? As a universally loved period piece that’s about royalty and disability, it could not be closer to Oscar’s heart. What may have surprised some observers, especially those who look to the Golden Globes as a predictor, is that the Coen brothers’ True Grit (entirely snubbed by the Globes) is in second place with 10 nods, edging out The Social Network, which tied Inception with eight nominations (though most of Inception‘s honours are in technical categories). In the acting awards, the one surprise is that Javier Bardem snared the fifth nomination for Biutiful, one that might otherwise have gone to Canada’s Ryan Gosling for the equally melancholy Blue Valentine.
But Canadians can rejoice in seeing Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies score Quebec’s first nomination in the foreign-language category since Denys Arcand won for The Barbarian Invasions seven years ago. I think Villeneuve’s main competition will be Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful. Both films are family dramas powered by exceptionally intense, and complex, narratives. And both, are distributed in the U.S. by Sony Classics, which puts that company in a curious position. Presumably there will be more weight behind the Biutiful campaign because it also has a Best Actor nomination for Bardem, who has the heft of Hollywood stardom (and Julia Roberts) in his corner. But Biutiful is the story of a petty criminal who’s dying of cancer in Barcelona, and Academy members might have a closer affinity to Incendies, which resonates with current politics, and connects an immigrant family in North America to the scars of war in the Middle East.
As for the Best Picture category, ever since the Academy expanded it from 5 to 10 spots, it has become less compelling. They should call it the Good Picture category. It includes all the obvious contenders. Yesterday, for the record, I sent a list of my Best Picture predictions to the producers of CBC Radio’s Q, which had me on a panel this morning. And I’m not very proud to say that, by omitting some of my favorite films (such as Never Let Me Go), I predicted 10 out of 10. The Academy recently enlarged that category to make room for more blockbusters. The positive flipside of that, I suppose, is that there’s also more room for small gems such as Winter’s Bone, this year’s designated indie darling (it also got two acting nods and a screenplay nomination). For the “real” Best Picture nominees, however, go to the movies named in the Best Director category: Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky), The Fighter (David O. Russell), The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper), The Social Network (David Fincher) and True Grit (Joel Coen and Ethan Coen).
In the Best Actor race, it looks like it will be a coronation for Colin Firth, though one could argue that Eisenberg’s pitch-perfect, not showy—almost invisible—performance in The Social Network was better. But for my money, Bardem’s work in Biutiful is the most impressive of the lot. Other nominees are the crustier-than-ever Jeff Bridges for True Grit, and the chameleon-like James Franco for his virtuoso one-man show in the under-nominated 127 Hours.
Natalie Portman should have a lock on Best Actress for her bravura performance as a psycho ballerina in Black Swan. But don’t underestimate Hollywood’s love for Mrs. Warren Beatty, Annette Bening. Also, though The Kids Are All Right is a small, non-studio film, it does takes place in the Hollywood heartland of contemporary Los Angeles, and unfolds as an actor’s dream, ripe with juicy relationships. Also nominated are Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone), and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).
For Best Supporting Actor, expect a cage match between Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) and Christian Bale (The Fighter). Best Supporting Actress is a bit harder to call, with Melissa Leo and Amy Adams competing against each other (for The Fighter), and young Hailee Steinfeld having a real shot for True Grit. She could win. Why? Three reasons: 1. She’s being honoured in a diminutive category for what is actually a substantial lead performance—she carries the movie. 2. The Academy may find this is the only major category in which it can express its obvious affection for the film. 3. Throughout the Academy’s history, Best Supporting Actress could be easily renamed Best Newcomer.
Expect David Fincher to win Best Director for Social Network, and the film’s writer, Aaron Sorkin, to win Best Adapted Screenplay. Original Screenplay will no doubt go to David Seidler for The King’s Speech, in part because the epic saga of creating the script (and waiting for the Queen Mother to die) was almost as compelling as the film itself. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 1:01 PM - 2 Comments
How could the Hollywood Foreign Press snub Javier Bardem?
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, January 7, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 4 Comments
Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney? Milquetoast.
The hottest actor on the planet is Javier Bardem.
Hollywood is thick with fine actors and glamorous stars, but there’s one thing that’s even rarer than a good original script: the kind of strong leading man who takes your breath away. One contender after another has proved lacking. Tom Cruise has become a freak, a machine-like movie star whose vanity overrides his sex appeal. Johnny Depp is adorable, but seems content to play a pirate for life, and when given a shot at cracking Angelina Jolie’s cool in The Tourist, he looked like he couldn’t wait to get back to his ship. Jolie’s mate, Brad Pitt, seems strangely neutered. Canada’s Ryan Reynolds inherited the title of Sexiest Man Alive, but he has yet to prove it onscreen, and now even Scarlett Johansson isn’t buying it. Leonardo DiCaprio shook off his stigma as Titanic’s teen heartthrob, and matured into a formidable actor, but he seems allergic to romantic roles. Same deal with George Clooney. For a while, he appeared to be the Great White Hope, so boldly debonair and adult, until we began to notice that his career was virtually devoid of love scenes.
By Brian D. Johnson - Sunday, May 23, 2010 at 3:22 PM - 2 Comments
It was a victory of dream over reality. At the closing ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, a jury led by Tim Burton awarded the Palme d’Or to the most surreal of the 19 features in compeition: Lung Boonmee Raluek (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives). Directed by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady), it’s Thailand first film to win the top prize in the 63-year history of what amounts to the Olympics of world cinema. The runner-up Grand Jury Prize went to Des Hommes et des dieux (Of Gods and Men), directed by French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois, based on the true story of the 1996 murder of seven Christian monks in Algeria by Islamic extremists. The unofficial prize for the competition entry that received the most critical acclaim yet was competely snubbed by the jury goes to Mike Leigh’s Another Year, a masterpiece of domestic realism.
I didn’t see it coming, but in retrospect it makes sense that Burton would annoint a film about magic, populated by phantoms, forest creatures and spirits. In accepting the Palme D’Or the Thai director inverted Oscar protocol: instead of thanking God, he thanked “all the spirits and all the ghosts in Thailand–they made it possible for me to be here.” (In fact, as I noted in a previous blog, the director’s visa was trapped in the red zone of Thailand’s civil war. I’m not sure which ghost released it, but at one point Cannes executive Thierry Fremault asked one fo the producers if he’d like him to phone President Sarkozy. ) And at the dinner where the producer regaled us with that anecdote, he seemed strangely confidant that his film would, in fact, win the Palme. It certainly will need all the help it can get to find an audience in North America. The Thai movie unfolds as a slow-paced, animist hallucination–challenging art house fare of the first order. What did I think of it? Well, it’s the kind of film I would love to like. But while I was impressed by its rigour, ambition and beauty, it left me unengaged. Just not my cup of Thai.
Burton’s jury, meanwhile, split the Best Actor award between Javier Bardem for Biutiful directed by Alejandro GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU and Elio GERMANO in La Nostra Vita (Our Life), directed by Daniele LUCHETTI. Which is mystery to me and an insult to Bardem. Although not everyone was a fan of Biutiful, it’s a virtuosic display of talent. Like a lot of critics, I thought Our Life was dreadfully mediocre, and Germano’s acting simply wasn’t in the same league as Bardem’s towering performance. But the highlight of Bardem’s acceptance speech, and of the night, was his passionate valentine to Penélope. Calling her “my friend, my love,” Javier finally made it official as Cruz watched beaming from the audience, controlling her tears.
The prize for Best Actress went to Cannes royal Juliette Binoche–her photograph adorns the festival’s official poster this year. Binoche won it for her performance in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy , which was indeed quite the feat. As she told me in an interview a couople of days ago, she felt she was driving the whole film. And no wonder. Her Iranian director didn’t speak English (the language of the script) and her co-star in this walking-talking two-hander had never acted before. Like several others at the Cannes podium, Binoche produced a card bearing the name of Kiarostami compatriate filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who is in the ninth day of a hunger strike in an Iranian prison.
Among the other awards, the best director prize went to Mathieu AMALRIC for TOURNÉE (On Tour), who directed his own starring role as a French impresario who takes an American burlesque troupe on raod in France. Giving his cast credit for co-directing it, he brought five of these Felliniesque women onstage to share the honour. The second runner-up Jury Prize went to the first movie from Chad ever to play in Cannes, Un Homme qui crie (A Screaming Man) directed by Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN.
The stagecraft of the awards presentation–unlike the rest of this elegant festival–is always charmingly awkward, a spectacle of missed cues and bumbling exits. Bilingual host Kristin Scott Thomas, a Cannes regular, presided over the ceremony. And one of the funnier moments occurred as Atom Egoyan, chair of the Cinefondation short film jury, waited to announce the prize with co-presenter Michelle Rodriguez. As Rodriguez rattled on semi-coherently about this and that, beginning with a reminder that she was the helicopter pilot in Avatar–”You probably caught a glimpse of me in this 240-minute short film set in Pandora”–Egoyan looked on with an increasingly perplexed expression on his face, before finally getting his chance to launch into French and announce the winners.
For the complete list of Cannes winners, go to: 2010 Cannes Awards.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 7:50 AM - 0 Comments
Penélope Cruz cut short her visit to Cannes in yesterday. She cancelled an entire day of media interviews for Broken Embraces, her new movie with director Pedro Almodóvar, which premiered in competition here Tuesday. On Monday Cruz had cancelled out of a party to promote her upcoming musical, Nine, complaining of food poisoning. By the time she got to the press conference for Broken Embraces the next morning, she had upgraded her condition to the flu—although she hastened to add it was just a “normal flu.” Then yesterday she fled Cannes two days ahead of schedule, which led one industry insider wondering if she might be pregnant. We don’t want to start any unfounded rumours. There has been Internet chatter about her being pregant before—three years ago, when Internet star-watchers detected a “baby bump” in photographs. And last year, Cruz, who’s involved with Vicky Christina Barcelona co-star Javier Bardem, had mused publicly about her desire for a family. So there you have it—a heap of unsubstantiated celebrity gossip. So don’t ever say it’s all high art and film criticism at BDJ Unscreened. . I’m just trying to do my bit.