By Aaron Hutchins - Monday, January 14, 2013 - 0 Comments
What just happened? Some highlights via Twitter
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, December 16, 2011 at 3:15 PM - 0 Comments
This is a week of movies messing with our expectations. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol defies the odds, breathing fresh life into a flagging franchise. Conversely, Young Adult, the fourth feature from Jason Reitman—the Canadian director who could do no wrong—turns out to be a surprising disappointment. Reitman has had a charmed career. His first three movies— Juno, Thank You For Smoking and Up in the Air were all critically acclaimed hits. Each had a dark edge of satire, and potentially unlikeable characters managed to win our affection with appearing to make an effort. With Up In the Air, Reitman graduated from glib, and ventured into more mature territory, opening a chink in George Clooney’s emotional armour that Alexander Payne would blow wide open in The Descendants. For Young Adult, Reitman has re-teamed with Juno‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody to create a movie that is as perversely self-destructive as its heroine.
Charlize Theron gives a raw, outrageous, multi-faceted performance as Mavis, a burnt-out writer of young adult novels who decides to win back her old boyfriend, Buddy (Patrick Wilson)—although he’s newly married with a baby. Carrying her miniature poodle in a pink shoulder bag, she waltzes into her the small Minnesota town she once called home, expecting Buddy to fall at her feet after a couple of drinks. Needless to say, things don’t turn out as planned. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 7:46 PM - 3 Comments
Each year we come to Cannes, hoping to be shocked, surprised, possibly blown away—but expecting at the very least to see the values of conventional cinema turned upside down. That usually happens here, up to a point. In Cannes, high art is placed on an Olympian altar, while Hollywood fare provides the tacky floor show, safely sequestered out of competition. But one area where Cannes has too often fallen into lock step with Hollywood is in its deference to the pantheon of Male Genius. Last year there was not a single female director in the main competition. Ah, an oversight, no doubt. This year, as if to shake up the optics, if nothing else, the competition has opened with three movies in a row from female directors—Sleeping Beauty, We Have to Talk About Kevin, and Polisse—each of which throws down a provocative gauntlet to conservative notions of motherhood and sexuality.
And we’re not even counting The Beaver, Saint Jodie Foster’s ritual cleansing of Mel Gibson, which is programmed out of competition. Or Kung Fu Panda 2, which DreamWorks showcased in Cannes this week, even though it’s not even dignified by an out-of-competition slot in the official selection. It, too, is directed by a woman, Jennifer Yu, and marketed by the unparalleled celebrity of Angelina Jolie.
Cherchez la femme. At the end of Day Two, that could be the rallying cry of Cannes. Last night I collared festival director Thierry Frémault at the opening night party at the Majestic Beach for Midnight in Paris. I asked if he was making a statement with this opening fusillade of films by women. It was midnight, and Frémault—in a hurry to get to the VIP area, where Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen were exchanging fond looks—seemed as if like he was about to brush me off. Then he shrugged, grinned and said, “Oui, un peu!”
The trifecta of women’s films kicking off the festival are attention-getting. Sleeping Beauty, a feature debut by Australian writer Julia Leigh, is an erotic/narcotic, fable that doubles down sexual taboos by exploring a pedo/necrophilia demimonde. An endlessly naked Emily Browning stars as a twentysomething waif who looks 15, in a Story of O/Belle de Jour tale of a university student who is paid to be drugged unconscious and ravished by filthy rich dirty old men. (If a male director, like Atom Egoyan, had made this film, he would have been crucified.) Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, adapts Lionel Shriver’s prize-winning novel about the tormented mother of a demon-seed boy whose idea of high school excellence is mass murder. And Polisse, by French actress-director Maiwenn is about a raucous squad of child services police in Paris who investigate pedophilia while negotiating their own torrid relationships. (I could have done without the lingering shot of the teenage rape victim’s stillborn baby.)
At a press conference for Sleeping Beauty, Browning, 22, said she had no problem whatsoever with being naked on screen, as if it barely warranted talking about—although the film has fetish gear to rival Eyes Wide Shut and more arty nude tableaux than anything by Peter Greenaway. I asked director Julia Leigh a question about the the male gaze, and how her film tried to redirect that, which she never quite answered. Midway through, Leigh pointed out that Browning’s mentor, Australian director Jane Campion, was sitting among the journalists. Later she told me that even though this was Leigh’s first film, she’s an ardent cinephile and knows way more about movies than herself.
This morning, I was forced to choose between the Panda 2 press conference and one for We Need to Talk About Kevin, featuring the lethally articulate Tilda Swinton as the mother-in-hell. I thought the latter would be more interesting, but like any self-respecting media slut, I obeyed the summons of Hollywood royalty and headed down to the Carlton Hotel to pay homage to Queen Angelina, who was flanked by competing jokers Jack Black and Dustin Hoffman. Continue…
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:54 PM - 5 Comments
Somehow I’ve managed to escape the blockbuster wrath of Thor. Sorry, but I wasn’table to attend the one preview screening. So you’re on your own with that one. But I’m counting myself lucky. Although I’m not in the habit of checking out the competition, I couldn’t resist looking up some of my colleagues’ dispatches. They’ve been talking about the Thor experience like groggy war correspondents crawling from the rubble of a carpet-bomb raid. Gotta love A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times, which starts like this: “As I stumbled out of the Imax multiplex all-media advance screening of “Thor,” depositing my 3-D glasses in the appropriate bin, I thought of seeking shelter: in a nearby bar; under a passing bus; in the velvet shadows of an art house playing the longest, slowest, most obscure movie imaginable. But when something like “Thor” comes to town, there is really no refuge to be found in drink, death or subtitles . . . ”
I have, however, seen The Beaver and The Bang Bang Club, two titles that could compete for the Best Unintended Double Entendre Award. The Beaver, which could be called The Penance of Mel Gibson, is an earnest drama that stands as a monument the undying loyalty of Gibson’s friend Jodie Foster, who directs the film, co-stars as his wife, and has been burning up the promo circuit defending the disgraced actor. (There must be a special VIP room in heaven for this kind of extreme self-sacrifice). The Bang Bang Club is a Canadian co-production based on the true story of four fearless combat photographers who documented a hidden civil war in South Africa during the early 1990s. Believe it or not, watching Mel Gibson’s powerful yet cringe-worthy performance as a toy executive trying to bluff his way out of depression with a hand-puppet is more painful than seeing a man set ablaze with gasoline and attacked with a machete in The Bang Bang Club. Unless you’re the kind of person who likes to slow down and gawk at a grisly accident site, I suggest you take a pass on The Beaver. The Bang Bang Club has bracing scenes of graphic violence, but it’s a highly watchable, entertaining story of old-school combat photography, with an eye to authenticity, even if the story’s political context gets lost in the dust. I like films about photographers; they make more visual sense than films about writers. And this one is beautifully shot and well acted—rising start Canadian Taylor Kitsch gives an especially strong performance. For more a more detailed look at The Bang Bang Club, go to my piece in this week’s magazine: Sex, drugs and combat photography. For my interview with Beaver director Jodie Foster, go to: Jodie Foster on the ‘broken’ Mel Gibson. And for the full transcript of that interview, click on: Foster transcript.
By Brian D. Johnson - Friday, May 6, 2011 at 9:25 AM - 4 Comments
The director for ‘The Beaver’ explains why she stands by her shattered star
Jodie Foster knows that you can’t talk about The Beaver without addressing the elephant in the room: the unholy mess of Mel Gibson. In the movie, which Foster directed, he plays a walking disaster whose manic bid for redemption, via a puppet, makes his family, and viewers, cringe. There’s no disputing the scary power of his performance. But you can’t watch it without being reminded of Gibson’s own demons, and his need to salvage a ruined reputation—especially with lines like “people seem to love a train wreck.” Foster won’t deny that Gibson’s story upstages the one in the movie. “And is that a bad thing?” she asks rhetorically, sitting down with me in Toronto last week. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. But I don’t know.” Then the 48-year-old Foster, crisply attired in pale blue shirt and black slacks, just laughs. “I don’t have any choice. The good news is that I’m not the distributor. It’s not my job to market the film.”
Well, in a way it is. Foster, who plays Gibson’s distraught wife in The Beaver, has been busy burning up the promotion trail while her star lies low. Gibson, who is locked in a custody battle with ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva over their daughter, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanour battery charge and was sentenced to three years’ probation and a year of counselling. That was in March, days before Foster attended The Beaver’s South by Southwest festival premiere without him. After its release was postponed three times, the film finally opens here this week. And it’s likely Gibson will brave the red carpet for a Cannes premiere this month. “I think Mel’s going,” says Foster. “The French love him. They were like, ‘Did he have a scandal?’ They don’t know. They honestly don’t know.”
A family drama spiked with dark comedy, The Beaver is the story of Walter Black (Gibson), a severely depressed toy executive, whose wife and teenage son (Anton Yelchin) have abandoned him as a hopeless case. After hitting bottom with booze and pills, and making a pathetic attempt to hang himself from a shower rail, Walter gets his mojo back via a bossy alter ego—a beaver hand puppet with a cockney accent. Eerily empowered, Walter charms his younger son with a new-found passion for woodworking, and rejuvenates his sex life and his company. But there will be blood before bedtime.
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, May 5, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
What follows is an edited transcript of my interview with Jodie Foster in Toronto April 28, 2011. Foster was here to promote The Beaver, her third movie as a director. She also plays the distressed wife of Walter Black (Mel Gibson), a severely depressed toy executive who embarks on some last-ditch therapy via a beaver hand puppet that speaks with a cockney accent.
Q: So you will be heading to Cannes with The Beaver. Is Mel going?
A: I think Mel’s going. The French love him. It’s like “Did he have a scandal?” They don’t know.
Q: Right. They didn’t care about Woody Allen’s scandal either. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go directly to the Elephant in the Room. There’s no question Mel gives a powerful performance in The Beaver, but no matter how deeply he’s immersed himself in this role, everyone in the audience will conflate the story of the character’s bid for redemption with the actor’s. Continue…
By Lianne George - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 9:30 AM - 1 Comment
Newsmakers of the week
Kim Jong Ill?
So much mystery attends North Korea, Asia’s only Communist dynasty, and so fraught are the geopolitics of the region, that the merest sign of health trouble for its Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, sets off international alarms. So it was this week when South Korea’s YTN television, citing Korean and Chinese intelligence sources, reported that the 67-year-old has pancreatic cancer and, at best, ﬁve years to live. In his recent appearances, Kim has looked gaunt, with thinning hair, a limp and an asymmetrical bent to his mouth, indications he’s not entirely recovered from a stroke last year. Renewed fear that Kim is not long for this world caused Seoul’s main stock index to plummet, so vexed are the markets by what his death could mean. Though he is said to have named his youngest son, the Swiss-educated Kim Jong Un, as his successor, there’s concern the installation of a weak leader still in his mid-20s will destabilize the regime and the region.
What’s wrong with being sexy?
Shannon Tweed, the Canadian adult-film star, has been denied recognition for such contributions to world cinema as Hard Vice and Indecent Behavior 3. But the acting mayor of Ottawa, Doug Thompson, issued a proclamation that this Wednesday would be “Shannon Tweed Day,” to celebrate the blond bombshell’s visit to the city where she lived in the 1970s. He soon rescinded the proclamation, however, admitting sheepishly that he “spoke to the media before the item had been fully vetted.” Tweed told the Ottawa Citizen that she had “no hard feelings” about the rejection, but bristled at a councilwoman’s suggestion that she is a porn actress: “I’ve done movies with love scenes,” said the star of Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, “but I’ve never had real sex on camera.” Oshawa, which recently finished first in an online contest hosted by KISS, doesn’t care either way. Oshawa city councillor Robert Lutczyk, who headed up the spring contest effort, promised a “Shannon Tweed Day” in Oshawa if she and the band come through town this fall. “I’ll be there,” said Tweed. “I’ll be there.” Continue…
By Jeff Harris - Friday, September 14, 2007 at 5:23 PM - 0 Comments
The stars just seem to shine brighter north of the border. Exclusive pictures of…
The stars just seem to shine brighter north of the border. Exclusive pictures of celebrities on the red carpet and in their own habitat (aka hotel rooms) at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival. Check out Matt Damon, Jennifer Garner, George Clooney and Brad Pitt — erm, with an itchy nose.