Fair Game, directed by Doug Liman, is the cinematic interpretation of the Valerie Plame story, starring Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as her husband, Joe Wilson. The film’s flaws are many, but they share the same root cause: the film’s creators forgot to dramatize the narrative.
Scooter Libby outing Valerie Plame as a CIA agent is an amazing story in itself. In the time leading up to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration was paranoid over what might have happened in the First Gulf War had things gone differently—Saddam had allegedly been only six months away from building a nuclear weapon.
The film is partially a study of paranoia—the presence of Scooter Libby at the CIA signals that the White House doesn’t trust other departments to go about their business, and later in the film, when a former Iraqi military scientist is asked whether Saddam has or is developing WMDs, he responds in the negative, adding: “They know this. They must know,” referring to the American government. The film also features a fair amount of carefully chosen television news, including speeches by President Bush and highly pixelated clips of Al-Jazeera.
While the allusions to media saturation and paranoia are relevant, neither can make up for the lack of a dramatic plot or interesting characters. The film is set up as a thriller: from the get-go we go through successions of short cuts. Watts’ interpretation of Plame receives minimal screen time aside from her too-perfect responses to questioning while undercover and unmoving exchanges with her husband and her father.
Joe Wilson writes an op-ed in the New York Times calling out the Bush Administration for trumping up charges against Niger in order to justify the invasion of Iraq. Penn plays an outspoken, albeit patriotic man who is often telling the truth. The problem is he’s not interesting and becomes difficult to listen to over the course of the film.
Films should be evaluated on their own terms. As an adaptation of the news, Fair Game succeeds as a slow recollection of some of the hysteria that preceded the Invasion of Iraq. This will be a great film to show our children in history classes, but frankly, I’d prefer if they read about it instead. In its final act, the film morphs into a kind of patriotic-let’s-together-for-ourselves piece of American pride complete with Sean Penn lecturing passionately to a group of college students.
After Plame is outed by Libby, the CIA shuts down Plame’s operation leaving an Iraqi military scientist to die, along with practically everyone else in the young doctor’s family. When the doctor’s sister, played by Liraz Charhi, confronts Plame about the whereabouts of her family, she reacts unconvincingly with minimal emotion to the news that nearly everyone in her extended family has been butchered, completing the half-baked subplot.
Earlier in the film, Charhi’s character asks Plame how she is able to lie. Plame responds that one must always know why one is lying and to never forget the truth. Despite a valiant effort to stick to the facts, there is little truth to be taken from Fair Game.
Yes, octogenarian actor-cum-filmmaker Clint Eastwood can do it all. He’s been nominated for a whopping ten Academy Awards and won four – Best Picture/Director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. He’s directed 32 feature films and tackled westerns, wars, romance, cops and robbers, and outer space. He won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award Oscar – a lifetime achievement award – in 1994, and was nominated for seven of those Oscars after.
It’s his late-career creative renaissance that is particularly impressive, since it’s such an anomaly in Hollywood. Whereas other great directors seem to drop off as they get older (see: Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Jean-Luc Godard) Eastwood is in his prime.
In the 2000s, he’s directed the brilliant drama Mystic River; the heartbreaking character study Million Dollar Baby; a pair of impressive war films – Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, covering WWII’s Battle of Iwo Jima from both the American and Japanese perspectives; the tale of a crabby old kook who comes to terms with his closed-mindedness in the race-relations drama Gran Torino; and, most recently, the Nelson Mandela/Apartheid-themed drama, Invictus. That film introduced Eastwood to Matt Damon, whose role as South African rugby star François Pienaar earned the actor his second Oscar nomination for acting, and first, surprisingly, since 1998’s Good Will Hunting.
One of the only genres Eastwood hasn’t tackled is the supernatural thriller—enter Hereafter, Eastwood’s latest film. In the vein of The Sixth Sense, the film is centered on three people – a factory worker who can communicate with the dead (Matt Damon), a French journalist who survives a tsunami (Cécile De France), and a London boy (twins Frankie and George McLaren) who loses his twin brother in an accident – and how the people are affected by death in different ways.
MMM attended the New York Film Festival press conference for Hereafter where director Clint Eastwood and star Matt Damon dished on aging in Hollywood, an Affleck/Damon reunion, their own brushes with the supernatural, and more.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Clint, how did this project come together?
CLINT EASTWOOD: Let’s see. Where were we? Steven Spielberg called me one day and said, “I have script I’d love to send over to you,” and I said, “Fine, send it over.” He and I have worked together on a few other projects, and I read it and I liked it. So I just called him back and I said, “I’ll do it.” I didn’t realize I was last on the list, however, I said,“Yeah, I’ll do it.” So he was going through a minor divorce there with Paramount Pictures or something, so it became a little confusing as to where this would have its life, but I have a relationship with Warners so I said, “Well let me take it to Warners.” Warners liked it and so there we were. I liked the script immediately. There were a few little ideas I had but I just put those in the back of my head. I thought it was good the way it was; it didn’t need rewrites. I haven’t shot a picture with any blue pages in it in a long time; you either like them or you don’t. But I liked this one. Most religions seem to ponder the afterlife but I thought this was interesting because it wasn’t really a religious project. It had a spirituality about it but it was not necessarily tied in with any particular, organized thought. I think everybody, whether you believe in the afterlife or the chance of a near-death experience and you come back and you see some semblance of it, whether that has happened or not I don’t know, but certainly I think everyone’s thought about it at some point or another in time. And it’s a fantasy that if there is anything out there like that it would be just terrific, but that remains to be seen.
MMM: Could I ask you to talk a little bit about the conception and creation of the tsunami sequence?
EASTWOOD: Let me just regress a little bit. I thought the unusual aspect of the script was taking actual events and placing them into a fictional story. And so the tsunami of four years ago out in the Pacific was one, and then the London bombings of course. I thought that was a unique thing to do. But the tsunami was very difficult to do. I kept having fantasies of huge hoses and thousands of gallons of water running down the streets and what have you, and I figured out how to do that. I figured that would be prohibitive; where would we do that? In the old days I suppose you would have done that on the set and you would have done little set pieces and turned a lot of water loose. But with the element now of computer generated elements you could go ahead and do it, even though water is probably the most difficult thing to do in a CGI basis. I have a fellow named Michel Owens who has worked with me on “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” and back as far as “Space Cowboys,” so he kept very much hip on the technology as it has been improving over the years. We went through it and figured out what shots we would need to do live and then we did it. But it took a lot of different places. Cécile was in a tank in London for nine hours without getting out too much, and she had to have a skin replacement afterwards. But then we went to Maui and shot in the ocean and on the streets of Lahaina. We had to preplan it in order to piece all the elements together with the connective shots and what have you. If you don’t preplan CGI it’s the most expensive thing in the world, so you have to plan every single shot and that’s normally not the way I shoot, but in this thing it worked out rather well. We hired a company named Scanline and they did a terrific job.
EASTWOOD: What was the old John Ford thing; ask him a long question and he went “Cut.”
MMM: There’s a really interesting theme in your films about remaining relevant as one gets older in any profession, in things like “True Crime,” and “Absolute Power,” and as far back as “Unforgiven” really is where it starts I think. It’s just a really interesting theme that runs through your films and I was just wondering if you have any comment.
EASTWOOD: I like to think there are different themes in every film. I don’t know if there’s an ongoing theme. Is that what you’re suggesting?
MMM: There seems to be. Even as far as “Letters from Iwo Jima” there’s a real sense of people struggling for control and respect as they get older, and it’s not always an easy battle.
EASTWOOD: You know, it’s very subjective. That’s a very difficult one for me to answer. I think it would be easier for someone else to evaluate than it would be for myself because I don’t think of it in that way. Everything to me is spontaneous. “Unforgiven” is probably an example of a script where I like it right away but I said, “This is great but I’d like to do this when I’m older.” So I stuck it in the drawer for 10 years and then took it out. Other projects just come to me. “Perfect World,” or whatever, they just sort of fall. And I have no real rhyme or reason; I wish I could give you some sort of pseudo-intellectual thing that would be great, and maybe if this was a French cinema class I’d have to fake something. But I’m not really the person to ask on that. If I start evaluating myself I would be afraid that I would not be able to think intelligently about every project and the various meaning thereof.
MATT DAMON: I actually asked a similar question of him on “Invictus,” but it was about directors as they got older why was it that they historically seem to fall off? I said what is that? I remember asking him because he’s obviously completely avoided that. And he thought about it for a good 10 seconds and then just said, “I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” Because it never did to me either because presumably the older we get, the wiser we get, the more knowledge you have about filmmaking, the more different types of films you’ve made. That whole CGI thing, he kind of just plowed into it with utter confidence and that sequence is incredible. And so it is kind of mystifying to me that historically the great directors, not all of them, but many of them, kind of fell off as they got older. And it never really made sense to me so I asked that question of him.
EASTWOOD: I was always sort of shocked. I knew Frank Capra a little bit and I spent some time with him at June Lakes, where he lived in the summertime. He was always so bright I always figured why isn’t this guy still working? And I also knew Billy Wilder somewhat and he had actually stopped working in his 60s, and I thought god, that’s amazing. Here’s a guy who is bright and lived well into his 90s and didn’t work. I never could figure that. I figured your best years should be at a point when you’ve absorbed all this knowledge. Now, maybe they just didn’t keep up with the times, or they picked material that didn’t work and they have a few pictures that don’t do so well. People are very fickle, Hollywood is very fickle, and they kind of move on. There’s a Portuguese director [Manoel de Oliveira] who is still making films at over a hundred years old, and I plan to do the same thing.
MMM: Could you please talk about the two young brothers, who I feel are kind of the heart of the film, and directing them through scenes of such sadness and getting such wonderful performances out of them?
DAMON: Well he cast them, and I remember talking to him during that process. I think we were pretty resigned to the reality that we’d have probably non-actors in those roles, because it’s an 11 or 12-year-old kid you’re looking for, so you’re not going to find a Julliard graduate. And Clint just loved their faces. I remember talking to him and he said, “I think these faces of these boys are really just terrific,” and they seemed to be from the same neighborhood that these kids are actually from. They went and shot the first two stories without me, so I would get reports about how the boys were doing. But obviously the movie comes down to that scene in the hotel room, and there’s a lot made of how few takes Clint does, but he does the number of takes that are required. We both went into that day going we’re really going to have to get this from these guys. And one really smart thing that Clint did was he interchanged the twins. Even if he was only going to use one of them he let them both do the scenes. So I think that took a lot of pressure off both the boys. And it also for that scene allowed us to play them off one another. I would take one of them aside and get all of this information, like did his brother have a girlfriend or whose farts were the stinkiest, things that they would think were funny. And then when the camera was on them Clint and I would start asking them and revealing these things so that we got really real reactions from them. Little tricks like that just to help them, because movie sets can get tense and people can get nervous pretty easily. Never on his sets, but that’s all by design. And so he kind of created an environment where they wouldn’t know that they really shot a movie. I think they had a really good time and they’ll probably be surprised when they see the movie.
EASTWOOD: The interesting thing with child actors is kids are natural actors. They’re wonderful actors and most kids are acting all the time. They’re out in the yard playing and they’re imagining things happening and they can get very vivid. But unfortunately, once they’ve been organized into acting and you get a stage mother sitting there saying, “No, do it this way.” And I’ve watched many times over the years in other films that I’ve done where a director will try to undo a lot of bad habits that had been instilled. And so when I looked at people for this picture, young kids, I picked the two that were the least experienced. In fact, they had no experience; they’d never been in film before. They said they’d been in some grammar school plays but I doubted that. But they had the faces and I’m one of those guys who believes if you cast a film correctly, and that’s with professionals or with amateurs, you’re probably 80 percent there. If you cast a film incorrectly then you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. But I just figured I could pull things out of them without them knowing it better than trying to get somebody organized. And we auditioned about three or four sets of identical twins. They looked great but there was a lot of acting going on, and so I said these guys have the right face, they’re from the right neighborhood, they had certain elements that these kids needed to have built into their system, so they didn’t have to get in there and act like something else that they weren’t.
MMM: How did the film affect you? It had to raise questions in your mind or you had to feel something that you responded to because anyone in the audience has to react in one way or another.
EASTWOOD: Yeah, it raises a lot of questions, but that’s where it ends. The questions are here and you pose the questions and it’s up to the audience to meet you halfway and think about it in terms of their own lives and what their thoughts are or what experiences they might have had. There may be some near-death experiences out there and it would be interesting to see what the answers were, but they’re going to have to come up with those answers. As far as the technical thing, like doing the tsunami, I took all the imagery footage that had been shot on that particular tsunami when it was happening, we took that and used that as our influences to get going. But everything else has got to be in the imagination of the performer. Cécile talked to anchor people in French too, or what have you. Everybody has their way of preparing and I just allow everybody to do that on their own, and then if something isn’t working it’s another thing. But if you have people that do that inner research they bring that to the table. So I’m a firm believer in research, but I’m also a firm believer in utilizing the instincts that are within your soul or your body or in your stomach or wherever they reside.
DAMON: It was a terrific script, too. It was just a terrific script. It was really tight. When anybody asked me about it I said, “It’s just a really tight script.” It read like a play in a sense where sometimes when you do a play you don’t have to do anything, you explore the material and every answer you need is there. I’m somebody who does a lot of research normally on my own and I didn’t feel, for one, as Peter said, I didn’t really want to go down the rabbit hole. If somebody was recommended to me as like this guy really is fantastic, then I would have gone and spoken to him, but nobody like that came up and it was really all on the page in terms of getting ready. I had to do some forklift training; that was about it.
MMM: Have any of you experienced an otherworldly experience that you could talk about?
EASTWOOD: Everybody’s had some kind of a…I remember when I was very young my dad was taking me into the surf on his shoulders and I fell off. I can still remember today, even though I was probably four or five years old, I can still remember the color of the water and everything as I was being washed around in the surf before I popped to the surface again. But at that age you don’t think too much, I mean you’re just kind of going…well you hadn’t learned any obscenities yet but a lot of them were running through your mind. And then years later, when I was 21 years old I was in a plane – we ditched a plane off the coast of Northern California in the wintertime. And I must say that as I was going into shore I kept thinking about should I be thinking about my demise, but all I was thinking about was as I saw lights in the far distance I said, “Somebody’s in there having a beer and sitting next to a fireplace and I just want to be in there. So I’m going to make it.” And that was the determination, but there was no sense of fate out there or anything like that. I don’t think you get a chance to think that much. When you get that much of a chance to think you’re usually going to be okay.
MMM: Matt, I’ve heard it’s been reported that you’re going to reunite with Ben Affleck on a movie and that you’re going to be directing it. I wonder if there was a part for Clint Eastwood?
DAMON: What movie is this? That would be a project I’d love to do.
MMM: So it’s not true?
DAMON: No, I think he and Casey were going to write this movie and I guess he was quoted recently as saying he’d love to have me direct it, but there’s no script yet.
MMM: Clint, in terms of any films that you’ve directed what was the hardest during production and what was the easiest, and why?
EASTWOOD: I don’t know. I was thinking back on doing “A Perfect World” years ago, where I had a kid actor [T.J. Lowther] and he had some experience, but he was a kid that had great body English and everything, but kids are like animals; they’re good for one take and then their attention span, they kind of go off into another little journey in their head. But then I had professional actors working with them and they wanted to rehearse and they wanted to be organized or feel in a comfort zone, so that became a big dilemma of how to do that. So I had to cover the kid mostly by himself at the beginning or at least favored the kid, because I knew that eventually, when we got around to other coverage of the professional actor the kid was going to be bored with it all. So you have to make adjustments on every project. In this case it was no problem, and Cécile does speak English well so it was no problem. She knows French very well, too. And Matt?
DAMON: Some English.
EASTWOOD: It all just comes together. It’s amazing that any of it ever comes together; I guess that’s why I’m still doing it. I’m always amazed that this is actually kind of working. And then of course, as I’ve told Matt many times, let’s not think too much about this. Let’s just go and roar with it.
MMM: What’s the easiest film you’ve ever done that you’ve directed?
EASTWOOD: This one. Except some of the technical stuff, but it was easy because the people were all great. It was the best ensemble I’ve worked with.
MMM: When I saw the trailer I was a little disappointed that we saw the tsunami in the trailer. Did you fight the studio on that?
EASTWOOD: Well I don’t know if I want to go too far into the explanation of what it’s about and what they’ll see, but the trailer, you bring up an interesting point. Most of the time you’re fighting the studio a little bit because they want to tell the whole story in a matter of 30 seconds, and so they try to put a little bit of everything in there so you end up with a lot of nothing, really. They made some trailers that had accentuated the story and then some that accentuated the tsunami. The problem with accentuating the tsunami is all of a sudden it becomes an action movie and everybody goes there with the expectation that maybe they’re going to see two hours of flooding, and that may not be the case so much. But if you go into the stuff with the kids and you go into a lot of detail then they’ll think maybe this is a story that doesn’t have as much action-adventure.
DAMON: It’s a tricky story to sell.
EASTWOOD: Yeah, it’s a tricky story because this particular screenplay you have to flesh out all the characters and it’s tough to do. It’s tough to market a film like this.
MMM: Would you have preferred it without the wave in the trailer?
DAMON: Well any marketing department I think is always going to want to try and show the scope, right? And it’s an incredible sequence. I understand obviously you want people to be totally surprised by it, but at the end of the day they’re in that situation where they want people to come see the movie too. I remember with “The Informant!” I kind of jokingly went on David Letterman and intercut scenes from “Transformers” into the trailer to try and get people to go. Just to say, “Yeah, it’s about a whistle blower, but a lot of shit blows up too.”
EASTWOOD: Yeah I would have preferred to not show the tsunami and have it just sprung on everybody, but that’s just not the practicalities of life. You do want people to come in and see it, and hopefully they’ll enjoy it.
MMM: Have you ever gone into a project and been concerned how it would be received?
EASTWOOD: No, you try to put it on the way you perceived it when you first read it yourself, and so you get your own opinions and go with it.
DAMON: He said something interesting to me about being a director. He said, “I’m a tour guide, and I know why I’m giving the tour and you’re invited to get off the tour if you want. I’ll invite you on the next one but I’m making the tour for me.”
HEREAFTER is now playing in theaters nationwide.
This year alone, she’s played the madam of a Nevada brothel who romances a hulking heavyweight boxer in her director husband Taylor Hackford’s (Ray) film Love Ranch, voiced a CGI owl in the animated film Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and, in her latest film, the action-comedy RED, she plays a retired wetwork agent-cum-homemaker. If that’s not enough, you can also catch her later this year as sorceress Prospera in Julie Taymor’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and as a retired Mossad agent in The Debt, reuniting Mirren with her Prime Suspect director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love). Oh, and lest we forget: nude magazine cover model.
That’s a hell of a lot of work for an actress who, at 65, seems to only be getting (and looking) better with age.
Born Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov, Mirren first made a name for herself in the British theatre, while also starring in an eclectic array of films like Caligula, The Long Good Friday, The Madness of King George, and, oddly enough, the MTV aud-targeting black comedy Teaching Mrs. Tingle, opposite Katie Holmes. British audiences, however, best know her as take-no-shit Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the celebrated UK TV drama Prime Suspect.
But it wasn’t until the 2000s that Mirren became a bona fide superstar. She was nominated for her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Robert Altman’s parlor drama Gosford Park, and starred in the left-field comedy hit Calendar Girls. In 2006, Mirren won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, and was nominated for another Best Actress Oscar as the wife of Count Leo Tolstoy in 2009’s The Last Station.
RED – an acronym for “retired, extremely dangerous” – is Mirren’s latest. In the film, she plays a member of a group of retired government agents who suddenly find themselves marked for termination. Joining Mirren are Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich.
MMM attended Mirren’s press conference in New York where she talked about shooting guns, her Martha Stewart inspiration, getting naked, and her massive crush on co-star Bruce Willis.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: This movie is a lot of fun for people. How did you approach playing this woman? Was it with a sense of comedy behind her furs and her wonderful hairdo and her glamour?
HELEN MIRREN: No, I approached it very seriously, like I do everything really. It’s always great to find someone that you can pin your character on. Obviously in The Queen it was very easy to find the person to pin the character on; she’s called Queen Elizabeth. But here I was kind of looking for who this woman might be and then I had this flash of inspiration and Martha Stewart came into my mind, and I thought that’s who it is, Martha Stewart. So from that point on I based everything on Martha Stewart. The hair was Martha Stewart’s hair – the color even and the cut. The clothes were Martha Stewart. Because I thought Martha Stewart combines this perfect combination of sweetness and kindness and gentleness and unbelievable efficiency with this kind of laser like ability to concentrate and get the job done. And I thought that was the perfect thing for Victoria. So I had a picture of Martha up in my trailer in the makeup room, so everyday I could look at her and be inspired. That was just my secret story. That’s who I got inspiration from. Obviously, I didn’t try and imitate her or impersonate her, that wasn’t the point. It was getting inside of Martha.
MMM: I just recently saw The Tempest. Just before that I saw Savage Messiah, and then the ranch movie, and I think what a long, strange journey you’ve been through. What an amazingly varied number of characters. How do you make the decision to do a movie like this coming from having done The Tempest and Love Ranch?
MIRREN: I did this before I did The Tempest, I think. I can’t remember now; that’s terrible. No, maybe it was the other way around. The whole idea is to do something different from what you’ve just done. The Queen was an incredible experience for me in terms of the attention the film brought, but that sort of attention kind of sticks and I was getting a bit sick of people saying, “Oh you’re so evil. You play all these queens.” Actually, I don’t play queens; I play lots of different things. For a long time before that I was a police detective and then I transmogrified into the queen, and you just want to always try and push the last thing out of people’s minds so they can look at you with an open mind, basically.
MMM: How long ago was it since you saw Savage Messiah?
MIRREN: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Savage Messiah, actually. The day I had to do that nude scene – I have this nude scene and I have to walk completely bollock naked, as we say in England, down a flight of stairs. And it was early day and all that sort of thing and I was so mortified and embarrassed. I remember that morning looking out of my trailer, a little funky little caravan thing, and wondering if I threw myself off of the top step of the trailer if I could manage to break my leg and not have to shoot the scene. I was just so mortified and unhappy about it. So I don’t think I ever saw it, actually.
MMM: Are there similarities between the Teaching Mrs. Tingle character and your character in RED?
MIRREN: No, no, no. Mrs. Tingle was an unhappy person. Victoria’s not an unhappy person. I wanted her to be charming and nice and Martha Stewart-ish, but a charming character. Mrs. Tingle is absolutely not charming at all. It’s funny, there’s a segment of the population who usually seem to be working in the Gap, or for a while, they’ve moved on now, but who only knew me from “Mrs. Tingle.” They’d never seen any of my other work but they had seen “Mrs. Tingle,” and they were usually about 17 or 16 years old. And I’d go into the Gap and I’d be buying my t-shirt and they’d look up and they’d go “Oh my god! It’s Mrs. Tingle!” so horrified. Luckily, they’ve moved on and they’re much older now.
MMM: What were some of your favorite costumes in RED?
MIRREN: Oh I loved my white dress. My white dress was great. That was made for me and the costume designer made that and designed it and I thought she did a beautiful job. It was a brilliant dress because it was so comfortable and yet it looked so chic and lovely, and it worked for the scenes and everything. It was just like the perfect dress. I loved that dress. And I did actually rather like my snow camouflage thing as well; that was kind of cool. I didn’t realize such a thing existed in the world, snow camouflage, but apparently it does.
MMM: How was it doing action scenes?
MIRREN: Oh fun. It’s fun. It’s always great to do action scenes. They’re called action scenes because they do the acting for you. You don’t have to act in action scenes; the action does it all for you and it’s great. And I was very lucky; a lot of my action scenes were with John Malkovich, and he was just so good at that gun stuff. He was just brilliant. John, you wouldn’t believe it would you? But he was great. The difficult thing I found was not sticking my tongue out when I was shooting my gun.
MMM: Which gun was most fun?
MIRREN: I don’t like to ever say a gun is fun, but guns can be fun in the sense of target practice. Trying to hit a target carefully is interesting and I guess on that level I like the sniper gun the best. I hate to hear myself even saying that, but it’s true. The guns I found the most horrifying are these small machine guns. They’re not funny; they’re terrible, because you can cause such havoc. I could literally wipe out a whole room of people if I had one here. And I happen to have one here! [Laughs] That would be a headline, wouldn’t it? But anyway, awful, these little hand machine guns. As far as I understand, you can buy them here in gun shows; it’s dreadful. But anyway, the whole idea of targeting, careful target practice, that is interesting to me.
MMM: Is there a vision that you have of when you’re retired?
MIRREN: I don’t know. You don’t know that until it happens, I guess. I mean, as night follows day, inevitably it will happen, but I have no idea. I think we all have a dream of what it would be like not to work and grow heirloom tomatoes, and I do have that dream, it would be lovely. I do love gardening and all of that, but I do love my work. But mostly I love the people that I get to work with. In my job and all the jobs related to my job, including your jobs, you get to constantly meet and work with and be involved with clever, imaginative people who constantly surprise you and push you forward and inspire you. So I think I would miss that a lot if I didn’t work anymore. I’d miss the people that I get to meet and work with, including the press. All the elements of it really.
MMM: I read in “Bust” magazine that you said that men like to play with guns because firing one off is akin to ejaculation. What is the sexiness for women or for you?
MIRREN: Probably the same thing. Probably penis envy.
MMM: You seem to be one of these people who are fearless. What scares you today? Would it scare you to walk naked down the stairs?
MIRREN: Oh yes, I wouldn’t like to do that today. I think it’s worse when you’re young, funnily enough, because you’re more of a sex object, and then you become an object of horror or something. No, it’s never comfortable. The best thing would be if all the crew took their clothes of too and then you’d feel fine. But it’s never comfortable to be the only one without clothes on for men or women. I’ll tell you what scares me is plastic; plastic bags and plastic bottles. Why does my water have to come in a bloody plastic bottle? The landfill and the ocean; I don’t know, I’m just terrified with the proliferation of plastic.
MMM: Your background is Russian.
MIRREN: Yes, well half Russian. My dad’s Russian, my mother’s English. I always say my bottom half is Russian.
MMM: Often in films you see Russians depicted as villains.
MIRREN: Yes. And Brits. Usually Brits more than Russians, actually. The Brits are the baddies in American movies mostly. It’s very nice that I’m not playing a baddie in this one. It’s very interesting the way film culture doesn’t lead the way the world thinks, it tends to follow the way the world thinks. I did a film called 2010 in which I played a Russian. Actually, I wasn’t a baddie; I was a goodie. I remember having an argument with the costume designer because she was an American woman and she said, “She’s Russian, she would have horrible, big, ugly clothes.” No she wouldn’t. She’s a Russian astronaut; Russian astronauts have an incredibly high level. “Ah, but we can’t show that.” Russians had to be shown to be sort of funky and behind the times, and in particular, usually fat and ugly. That was the other thing: all Russians were fat and ugly. There were no beautiful Russians in the times of Communism as far as the Americans were concerned. And of course suddenly all of these unbelievably gorgeous Russian models are coming out of Russia. Where were they? It’s interesting how without really realizing it we’re constantly being fed imagery. I think the Brits are a nice, convenient target to make for baddies because you can’t be accused of racism or religious bigotry by making the Brits the baddies. America has a strange love-hate relationship with the Brits in general.
MMM: Is there an action franchise or an action film star or an action director that you would like to be a part of or work with in the future?
MIRREN: Good question. I’m too ignorant to really answer it properly. I guess John Woo. Tarantino is an incredible action director. It’s so sad that he lost his editor just very recently because his films are so brilliantly edited, and of course a director is the person who edits as well as the editor. But obviously that was an incredible marriage of minds, those two people. Very, very, very sad that he’s lost her and the movie world has lost her. But anyway, I would say John Woo or Quentin Tarantino.
MMM: Where does your passion for acting come from?
MIRREN: I wonder. I don’t know. It started early in my life. Very early. I was about 13 or 14. Originally it came through Shakespeare and I kind of discovered Shakespeare when I was about 13 or 14. Shakespeare was a channel but the thing I still love about my job is to be able to find yourself in a different world, whether it’s in the theater or on film. In each thing it comes at you in a different way. In film it’s more visceral, you can literally be in Camelot, I can literally be a sniper outside of a house in the snow, I can literally be that person. And it’s just so exciting to find yourself in these wonderful, fantastical, sometimes funny, sometimes serious, but amazing worlds, and I love that side of my job. I loved it in The Last Station I was suddenly in Russia, in the Russia of my grandparents’ photographs. I literally was suddenly in that world and that’s fantastic. When it was Shakespeare and I discovered the world of “Hamlet,” so different form my little post-war life in a dormant town in England, to go into these wonderful imaginary worlds was just so fantastic, and that’s what I love the most still.
MMM: I read that one of the reasons you wanted to do RED was that you had a chance to work with Bruce Willis and you actually had a bit of a crush on him. Could you elaborate on that?
MIRREN: Well it doesn’t really need elaborating on it, it’s all true. I do have a crush on Bruce. Don’t tell him, for god’s sake. Don’t let my husband know—oh my husband knows. I do have a crush on him. And I have two kinds of crushes on him: I have the classic fan-type crush and then I have a more aesthetic crush on him as an actress looking at an actor who I think is really a wonderful, wonderful actor. There are two Bruce’s: he’s brilliant in the action movies but he’s also this fantastic character actor, and I’m hoping we’ll see more and more of that side of him. I think he’s really, really good. So I have two kinds of admiration for him – the venal kind and then the sort of respectful kind.
RED is now playing in theaters nationwide.
At the tender age of 7, a young girl from Newton, Massachusetts, took an interest in the theater. In an effort to impress her parents, she drew her sister into stagings of children’s stories. Then, at age 9, she became involved with the Boston Children’s Theatre. She became the youngest member of Julie Portman’s Theatre Workshop of Boston at age 15, and then, in the first of many travel explorations, went to Paris to study with L’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq—all before graduating from Oberlin College with a major in mythology and folklore.
Taymor made her proper theater directorial debut with the 1986 adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” for the Classical Stage Company in New York, and, in 1991, she was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship – a.ka. the “genius grant” – for her contributions to theater. After winning a pair of Tony Awards for designing the costumes and directing the 1997 Broadway smash hit musical “The Lion King,” Taymor shifted her focus to film, directing “Titus” in 1999 (an adaptation of the Shakespeare play “Titus Andronicus”), and the biopic “Frida” in 2002, based on the life of eccentric artist Frida Kahlo. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards. In 2007, she helmed the critically acclaimed film musical “Across the Universe,” which refashioned the songs of The Beatles set against the turbulent backdrop of ‘60s America.
With her latest film, The Tempest, Taymor’s career has come full-circle. When Prospera’s (Helen Mirren) throne is usurped by her brother, she is sent off on a ship to with her four-year-old daughter. Prospera, a sorceress, ends up on a remote island with Miranda and soon butts heads with Caliban (Djimon Hounsou) over her efforts to raise Miranda. The film boasts an all-star cast, including David Strathairn (Alonzo), Russell Brand (Trinculo), Alfred Molina (Stephano), Ben Whishaw (Ariel), Chris Cooper (Antonio), and more.
MMM attended the post-screening Q&A with theater legend Julie Taymor – whose upcoming musical “Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark” is scheduled to begin previews on November 14 – as she chatted about the decision behind Prospero’s gender change, her love of Shakespeare, and being a female director in Hollywood.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Why The Tempest, after Titus? Why did you choose this as your next Shakespeare adaptation?
JULIE TAYMOR: Actually, The Tempest was the first Shakespeare play in 1986 with Theater for a New Audience, and I fell in love with the play then, and I directed it three times. And after Titus, in 2000, I decided if I were to do another Shakespeare it would be The Tempest. It’s one of his greats. I had loved it. I fell in love with it in the theater. I don’t think I’d have liked to do a Shakespeare film without trying it in a theater first because the paired down minimalism—what you have to do in a theater—you would have to really do it with the actors first. It lends itself to the cinema. It’s extremely visual, and in fact his most visual play.
MMM: Having worked on the play several times, what has subsequent readings revealed to you?
TAYMOR: One of my favorite scenes is the one where Prospera, in this version, and Ariel talk about compassion and forgiveness. She say, “What do you think spirit? Shall I forgive him?” And he says, “I would if I were human.” And I just find that compelling, both emotionally, and what Shakespeare is saying that all the joy and run of revenge is ultimately about forgiveness and making your way through that. It’s very different, and in many ways this [film] is saying some of the same things about the play, but my version in the play was a black sand ground with a white site, so the image of the clowns—the fools—was in the original production, in the silhouette. There are many things that haven’t changed, but once Helen Mirren went into the play, without changing the lines, things changed immensely. Not just because she’s a great actress but also because the dynamics were so different. In my stage version, it was a male Prospero, and a female Ariel, although it was just a floating head. Caliban was with a New Guinea mud man mask, and in the film, I didn’t want to hide Ben Whitshaw’s face or Djimon Hounsou’s face, so that brought a different sensibility to those characters as well.
MMM: What was your rehearsal process like for the film, in comparison to the stage?
TAYMOR: In the theater, you get all your actors on day one, and you get them for five or six weeks before you go into tech. Helen worked on it for four weeks. We did a reading a year in advance because it was extremely critical to both Helen and myself that this wasn’t a gimmick, that it had validity as a Shakespeare play, and it wasn’t about putting a woman in, because obviously you had to change many of the words, the he’s to she’s, the lords to what, the master to what. It’s very interesting because we kept the word master because the word mistress doesn’t mean the same thing. It’s incredible in the English language about what words change and which don’t. We used the word Mum as opposed to mother, and this process of the reading informed us about where we needed to go. We rehearsed in London with Russell Brand, Felicity Jones, Reeve Carney, and Helen, those actors for about two weeks on and off. And then in Hawaii, where we shot most of the film, I had what we called the court—David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, and Chris Cooper parts—for not very long, because these actors are very busy. But I did have Djimon, Russell, and Alfred Molina in LA for a hilarious four or five days as well. And we did rehearsals in a bare room where you can really engage with the language and the physicality of it all, before we go to shooting.
MMM: In recent years, the character that gets the most scrutiny is Caliban, for obvious reasons. Talk about your conception of that part.
TAYMOR: It was very interesting, in my other three productions, I had African Americans or Africans play that role. It is a non-white role. If you want to be technical, his father is black and his mother is a blue-eyed hag. He’s just not European in the sense of the world. This play is written in a time in which there were many explorations, many journeys to the New World. He may have been called a monster because he was a Native American, and whatever he was, he was the other. Now, in this version with Djimon, I take Shakespeare at his words, I take him literally. So when he writes, “Thou earth thou speak” or “moon calf,” all these wonderful words to describe, “thou fish thou” I incorporated. He is made of the earth. He is representative of the island because the main theme in this play is nature vs. nurture. And nature, the actual island itself, is Caliban. Is he wrong to have been attracted to Miranda when she comes of age? You watch this conflict in Prospera; she’s a monster at that point for putting Miranda on this island in close proximity with other human beings and its only natural. It’s about civilization in that sense. So it’s very touchy to put a black man into a slave role, but it felt more honest. It’s not politically correct, whatever that means, but he also has webbed fingers, he’s got a blue eye. He’s got the moon, the two-tone skin that he’s half black, and half white. He’s got this circle—even though that’s not what a moon calf means, I love the idea he looks like a calf, a cow, with these spots. So unlike the theater piece—which I put him in clay as well—he is slightly monstrous in his physical appearance.
MMM: How did you conceive of the timing and rhythm for this play for cinema?
TAYMOR: Titus was long. It was two hours and forty minutes. And The Tempest is four hours in its full, unedited, unexpurgated version. Now Shakespeare’s plays were never meant to be shown in full, and I had already cut it when I did it years ago to an hour and a half version, and this is probably a little less dialogue and a little longer because I wanted to have certain moments of breathers from the language, but there isn’t a lot. Maybe my feeling is that it is Shakespeare and knowing audience attention spans, I didn’t just allow us to go into these visual massive panoramas—although there are a few—because there is a momentum in the play. It takes place literally between 2pm and 6pm. It’s interesting because the play is very confusing because she says “Three days hence, I’ll free thee” and at other times she says in three hours. So we played with the idea in time. It was a revelation when I went back to that speech in which she says “I have bedimmed the noon-time sun” and I realized that it was a solar eclipse. So I realized that if I have an eclipse when she starts to do the dark magic on the court, we will be able to go into a theatrical, highly stylized world. It’s very hard to shoot in broad daylight all the time; you can’t control it. And we’re in landscapes where you can’t bring in lighting – we were in cliffs with winds and rain. That’s real stuff. But it was wonderful to pull this sense from the script itself and then bring it to the landscape, and then shoot in green screen or blue screen later on for the highly stylized moments.
MMM: I always thought that it was problematic that Prospero destroyed his magic and gave away his book and I know the speech says “What strength I have is now my own” and that’s the usual interpretation, but clearly the evil is still abound. Sebastian isn’t any better than what he was and neither is the brother. I wonder about your thoughts on this?
TAYMOR: I love it because Shakespeare was a realist, and he did these silly things where the bad guys are fully punished and the evil is truly gone. He is so cynical about the world and the most beautiful thing about Shakespeare is that he can be passionate, romantic, and cynical at the same time, and one doesn’t give weight to the other. He can have the most beautiful story about first love, first sight. And think about Ferdinand and Miranda—we talked a lot about the chess game, where she says to him, “You should cheat” and it’s like she already knows what’s in store for her. So what is he saying there? He’s already saying that this youth, this innocence, is already on its way to corruption.
The character of Prospero and Prospera has done everything in service of the daughter. “I do this for thee my daughter thee my loved one.” I think in this version what we feel really strong about is when Prospero gets his robes back, he just becomes the duke again. But in ours, because it’s a corset, and you go from these androgynous free clothes that you wear on an island and be comfortable, back into that severe female corset, she’s not just giving up her magic, she’s giving up her freedom.
MMM: Could you talk about the film’s aesthetics?
TAYMOR: The island of Lana’i, I don’t know if any of you have been there, but I was there ten years ago, right before I did “Frida,” and I had been thinking about The Tempest. But I went there and there’s this place called The Garden of the Gods and its where you see Caliban carrying the sticks and there were these giant red boulders, it looks like Mars, and then I saw these giant cliffs and then I saw these giant forests that look like labyrinths and its almost unpopulated. There’s two Four Seasons Hotels, which was very nice for us, and there’s a little town, but it’s so beautiful and so small that I knew it was the island of The Tempest. There’s not one palm tree in the film. When you think of Hawaii you think of Blue Lagoon or LOST, but you don’t think of what I think is the most gorgeous part of Hawaii which is the volcanic landscape. The idea of the volcano is so profoundly part of the design, not just part of the landscapes but in the costumes that Sandy Powell so magically did. That robe she wears is volcanic shards. It’s shaped like a volcano. She is a volcano. That fire in the cell is the fire of the volcano. It’s this bubbling anger, this fire inside of her that is in the landscape and the person. I always try and find an ideograph when I do theater, and film. If you just shoot in landscapes, you really have to feature the actors in the foreground because the landscape is a character.
MMM: Could you talk about your conception of Ariel?
TAYMOR: I cast Ben Whishaw. I love him, and I thought he and Helen would have this chemistry, not necessarily sexual, but there’s the tendency of the old woman with the young man and having a relationship and it seemed to me it could be very cool. The thing that happened was that Ben wasn’t available for the shoot in Hawaii, so instead of casting another actor, I took it as one of those restrictions that could be a plus, and it was an enormous plus. And had he been there, he would have been on the ground, and he would have been 5’9’’ and on the ground, and all of his shots would have been like me up here. What would we do? So the fact that he wasn’t there made me come up with a concept, and I always wanted him to be able to be transparent. So by not having Ben on location, it freed us up for allowing him to transform. He was air, he was water, he was fire, he was lava dogs, he was frogs, he was harpies. The harpies is not a visual effect either. He is with giant wings, on a glass table, in blue screen. I wanted it to be as real as possible. I didn’t want it to be a CGI character because the power comes through the actor and we, even in some of those two shots in the cell itself, we could make it transparent in post and we were able to control the corporeality of his presence. And the one scene where he’s not effected is where he says, “I would if I were human,” because he has to be there, and that’s just the real Ben, almost in the Bhutto white make-up, which helps to create this non-human androgynous figure, and we did want him to be androgynous, hence, he is. But we did want this duality there of a male-female spirit.
MMM: There are not many female directors in cinema, and did you see this adaptation as a political mission at all?
TAYMOR: Not for me. That wasn’t the intention at all. There was no mission, period. The idea of having a female wasn’t really the idea of having a female, it was wanting Helen Mirren to play Prospera. And I was going to do it with a male but I didn’t have a male in mind that excited more than the idea of working with Helen Mirren. And there are only a few Shakespeare plays, which we both agree. We had met each other, and we were talking about Titus and how few roles there are for women of her age in Shakespeare, and she said, “I can play Prospero as a woman,” and I said, “Do you want to?” because I had already been thinking about it and working on it and I wasn’t ready to offer it but at that moment I said let’s do it and she asked if it would be in the theater and I told her film. And then we had to raise money, and we casted, and we did the reading to make sure it would work. When I did the research on this, three times, the speech of Prospera where she makes the ring of fire, when she renounces the magic, that speech is a direct lift from Medea [the speech is actually by Medea in Ovid’s Metamorphosis]. Shakespeare just lifted it. And I was surprised that it was a female speech; that it comes from a sorceress originally. So when we started to look at this play we realized that it does work with a female in that role. The mother-daughter relationship is very different than the father daughter relationship. When she has the young prince Ferdinand it’s not about her competition with him, it’s because she knows her daughter can get hurt. I think that a lot of the elements come from Helen’s performance. It wasn’t because of any mission on this, it’s just one of those revelations that this works, a great Shakespeare play that works. In this day and age it shouldn’t be such a big deal.
THE TEMPEST opens on December 10, 2010.
In a field that included films from Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, Olivier Assayas, Mike Leigh and others, a documentary filmed on a $2 million budget was heralded as the best film at Cannes in a poll of 19 top film critics conducted by IndieWire. That film is Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job – a sprawling documentary chronicling the causes and impact of the global economic crisis.
Ferguson, a former political scientist and software entrepreneur, is no stranger to exposing corruption. His debut, the 2007 Oscar-nominated documentary No End in Sight, focuses on the two year period following the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and the Bush administration’s failings in the initial Iraqi occupation. Time magazine called the film “without question the most important movie you are likely to see this year.”
Three years later, Ferguson has chosen to document the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Narrated by Matt Damon, Inside Job provides a comprehensive, easy-to-follow analysis of the events surrounding the global financial crisis of 2008, which came at a cost of over $20 trillion. Meticulously researched and containing loads of interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, academics, and even a Wall Street psychologist and Wall Street madam, Ferguson’s film vividly captures an out of control industry that’s corrupted everything from politics to academia.
The film is also beautifully shot – no small feat for a film about finance – with IMAX-like helicopter shots that transport you from the luscious hills of Iceland to the picturesque Manhattan skyline. “It might well be the most important film you see this year, and the most important documentary of this young century,” said Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir.
MMM attended a post-screening discussion of Inside Job with filmmaker Charles Ferguson at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater as part of the 2010 New York Film Festival.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: One of the things that struck me about the film is what you describe is really a through-line that goes from the 70s/80s to the present and covers both Republicans and Democrats. Considering how polarized our government is, it seems this is one area where there’s a lot of agreement.
CHARLES FERGUSON: Unfortunately, yes. It makes the problem much more disturbing, and much more difficult to deal with. The fact that the problem is completely bi-partisan also makes it more difficult for the American people to understand what to do.
MMM: What happened to the whistleblowers? How do people look at them now?
FERGUSON: There was a guy who’s actually in the film, Dr. Rajan, who’s now at the University of Chicago. At the 2005 Federal Reserve Conference, there was a fete for Alan Greenspan, and he gave a paper that said, “You guys are heading for the biggest crash that there ever was,” and he laid out how, why, and when it would happen. People like Larry Summers stood up and called him names, and he was almost booed off the platform. Even now, I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for it.
MMM: Clearly, when you’re interviewing all these people, word must have gotten around that there was this guy Charles Ferguson who made a well-regarded film about Iraq and is asking a lot of questions. Was there some technique you used to nail down these interviews?
FERGUSON: I was terrified that that would in fact be a problem, and in some cases, it was. Some of the people who declined to be interviewed knew what I was doing and clearly didn’t like it. In the case of Glenn Hubbard and Frederic Mishkin, we interviewed them three days apart – Hubbard first. I crossed my fingers for 72 hours that they weren’t going to talk during that period. One thing – this is funny and it’s also not funny – that helped me in this regard, in the case of Hubbard and a number of others, they were so embarrassed, ashamed, and fearful at the end of their interviews, that the last thing they wanted to do was tell anybody what had occurred.
MMM: With the downfall of Lehman, why didn’t you look at the antagonistic relationship between Henry Paulson and Dick Fuld? Many people point to that as the reason why the government didn’t decide to save Lehman Brohters.
FERGUSON: The question of why Lehman was forced into bankruptcy is one of those questions like why the Bush administration started the Iraq War. There are 20 different possible explanations; each of them probably has some degree of truth. I would love to be Henry Paulson’s psychiatrist. Unfortunately, I am not. Let me give you the list. One is that Richard Fuld has apparently antagonized just about everybody on the entire planet just with his personality – arrogant, abrasive, etc. Second, most of the other Wall Street firms, the top management of Lehman Brothers was primarily – with just one exception, a cousin of President Bush – composed of Democrats who were substantial contributors to the Democratic Party. Third, Paulson really did care about the moral hazard argument and wanted to make an example of this company. Fourth, he didn’t have the faintest idea of how much damage Lehman’s bankruptcy would actually cause. Fifth is that Lehman had been emerging in the previous decade as an increased competitor to Goldman Sachs. Finally, there’s also the possibility that there was an ego issue; that there was no easy way for Paulson to back down, personally, when the British said that they wouldn’t [bail out Lehman] unless there was a federal guarantee. So, that’s the list. Choose what you like.
MMM: Were there things in the film that you wish you put in but weren’t able to?
FERGUSON: There are many things I would have liked to put in the film. I would’ve liked to put more in the film about the specific cases where congressional action was the result of lobbying or influence of the financial services industry. There just wasn’t time.
MMM: Did you ever think of including the Tea Party movement – who want to deregulate the economy – and Stephen Shwarzman, who has become the bête noire figure of Wall Street?
FERGUSON: Again, there are many people who weren’t in the film for time or priority reasons, basically. Scharzman would be one. Pete Peterson, the founder of Blackstone, would be another. Jimmy Cayne, the chairman of Bear Stearns, would certainly be another. We actually had him in an earlier cut for kind of black humor purposes. How many people know this? When Bear Stearns was going down the drain, Jimmy Cayne was too busy to pay attention to his company because he was playing bridge at a bridge tournament in Chicago with two Italian professional bridge players who he pays half a million dollars a year to play bridge with him. There are many stories about Jimmy Cayne – marijuana, which he consumed in quite large quantities even though he was a conservative Republican, etc. We just couldn’t include it and I do have regrets about that. With regard to the Tea Party, one reason we couldn’t include it was time since we had to finish the film at a certain point. And the other was it’s not clear to me how important that phenomenon is. It could turn out to be important and lasting in American politics, it could turn out not to be. I would say I’m agnostic about that question.
MMM: How did Matt Damon get involved?
FERGUSON: Two ways: we asked him, and he said yes. He was the only person we asked. We thought he would be better than any person we could imagine. So, why did we like him? He’s somebody whose voice and character is very well known, is known to have political concerns in an intelligent way. And why did he say yes? It turned out he made a thriller set in Iraq called “Green Zone,” and while he was preparing for the film he saw my documentary about the occupation of Iraq, and apparently liked it. He turned out to be absolutely great – not just for the narration, but he had clearly read the transcript of the entire film quite carefully, and he had very intelligent suggestions about the precise places where we ourselves regarded as problematic. We had this very clunky, convoluted ending, and the ending we have now in the film owes quite a lot to his suggestions and our discussions with him about what to do. And, needless to say, given that the total budget of this film was $2 million, he worked for substantially less than his normal rate. [Laughs]
MMM: Do you think this is essentially a film about addiction – to money, power, sex – and the refusal of recovery?
FERGUSON: That’s actually a very interesting question, and a very perceptive one. The material in the film about that is there for two reasons: I do think there’s something to what you just suggested, and the other is that that environment led these guys to be remarkably disconnected from the things that would discipline you or me if we tried to behave in a similarly egregious fashion. They had so much money and insulated themselves in this bubble. I personally find it strange that somebody who already has $400 million would be willing to risk this in order to get more.
MMM: In terms of looking forward, do you see for consumers, the appointment of Elizabeth Waren [the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau], as another case like Brooksley Born [who attempted to regulate derivatives and was stopped], and do you see Larry Summers going back to Harvard [as a professor] where we’re instilling the same type of education that’s going back up the chain?
FERGUSON: Elizabeth Warren’s appointment is probably not going to do much good. Her appointment is temporary. She has a dual appointment in reporting to President Obama and the treasury secretary [Timothy Geithner], whom she is not friends. It’s pretty clear, given the overall pattern we see in the administration, we’re not going to expect much or get much from this agency in this administration. With regard to Summers going back to Harvard, yes it is quite ironic that he’s going to do as much damage there as he did in the previous administration.
MMM: One thing I like very much is how you bring in international perspectives, the IMF, the interviews with Singapore, China. I’m wondering how your idea of bringing that aspect in, and were there more international agencies?
FERGUSON: There were many more, and that’s one of the regrets I have about length limitations on the film. There were a large amount of extremely interesting people, several of whom are about to be indicted. The former prime minister of Iceland, who I was told last night, is soon going to be arrested and tried. He was trained as an economist in the United States. [Laughs] We interviewed him, and one thing I very much regret is that I asked him if there ever been a time in economic history when an entire nation’s banking system in a five year period has borrowed 10 times its GOP. And the pained laughter of his response was just priceless. But somehow it didn’t make the cut.
MMM: One of the things that’s startling about this film and “No End in Sight” is these very public problems that are presented that have never been shown in such a way before. I wonder if you could talk about the media, which is absent from both movies, and their complicity in both Iraq and this story. Do you think they were lied to, or their interests are complicit with their subjects, and how do you see non-fiction filmmaking as a remedy for that complicity?
FERGUSON: It’s a complicated situation. On the one hand, it is certainly the case that the business and financial media did not do as good of a job as they could have done, and the nature of these problems has not been explained as widely as discussed, not as deeply investigated while they were building. It is not the case that you couldn’t read about this anywhere. There have been, actually, quite a number of good articles and books about different aspects of this subject. But, it is unquestionably true that the majority of the specialized press, the relevant specialized press—and this was also true of Iraq with our foreign policy military press—did not go as deep, did not push as far as they should have. Part of the problem I believe is the nature of access journalism, as significant measures come to be, what makes you good as a journalist is that you get an exclusive interview with this powerful guy, he gives you some fact, and you publish it tomorrow morning since you’ve got the scoop. It’s hard to practice that on a long-term basis if you are tough and critical. And perhaps because of the financial pressures on the media, or other reasons, investigative journalism is not in bountiful supply in the traditional media. And I hope and believe that the web and documentary film are taking up some of that slack.
MMM: As Elizabeth Warren certainly has Obama’s ear, are you doing anything specific to get her to see the film and make her comment in any way? And is Frederic Mishkin really back teaching at Columbia?
FERGUSON: Yes, Mr. Mishkin is certainly at the Columbia Business School, and this might stun you, but if you were to see the full interview that we did, he would look much worse. [Laughs] Actually what happened was that we had an earlier cut, and a couple people, including Michael Barker of Sony, came back and said you can’t do this, because people are going to have sympathy for him because you have destroyed him so completely. You’ve got to ease up. So we actually did. I won’t go into details. Mr. Mishkin does not come off well in the film. He and everyone else in the film have been invited to see it. He declined to come but sent a public relations executive to come report back. In regard to Elizabeth Warren, I’m sorry this might pain a number of you, and it’s somewhat politically incorrect, but Elizabeth Warren is not the solution to all of our problems. I admire her; I admire her work, but the only way she’s been able to get to where she is, is by being extremely careful not to criticize the Obama administration outside of the extremely specific issue that she is now, kind of sort of half in charge of dealing with. I spoke with her privately at great lengths, and she declined to be interviewed on camera for exactly this reason.
MMM: Were you pressured in any way to not put any of these interviews in, or was there anyone trying to influence the film?
FERGUSON: The simple answer is no—no one tried to pressure us. Several people tried to retract the permission for their interviews but we already had their signed released forms and that was that. In regard to pressure, I have to say something about the Sony guys—Michael Barker and Tom Bernard. They have been, and excuse me I’m going to be a bit vulgar to make my point, they’ve been totally fucking amazing. I was really scared when I started making this film I would get calls like this guy is my neighbor, this guy is a major shareholder, etc. Never once. Never once. And they are now supporting this film extremely strongly. I have my quibbles with the movie distribution business but they have been incredible.
MMM: When did the five-act structure of the film come to you? You obviously had a very high ratio of stuff you shot to what you actually used.
FERGUSON: I would say it’s about half and half. By the time we started editing, I had done an enormous amount of research and I knew what was in the interviews because I had conducted them. At the same time, there was an extraordinary amount of material. We filmed about 70 or 75 interviews, and most were about an hour and a half long, and some were even two or three hours long. In addition, we had an incredible mass of documentation of every kind—books, articles, lawsuits, government documents, and academic articles—huge quantity of stuff. So the editors were critical. The two editors, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt, are much more than what you think of normal editors. The structure of the film really emerged. I had about half when we started editing, and the rest emerged while working with them. And they worked really hard. The last four months, they were working 6 days a week, typically ‘til 1 or 2 in the morning. And I was typically in there with them for about 6-8 hours a day.
FERGUSON: I think we have a rough five years ahead of us, and possibly a rough generation. The American economy and American society are troubled, and there’s all of this, which is a big thing, and then there are all of the other important things that aren’t being attended to because the people responsible just don’t care about attending to them. The high school graduation rate in South Korea is 96% and in the US its 78%, that’s a problem. With regarding convictions, I think there will only be convictions if the American people get angry enough.
INSIDE JOB is now playing in select theaters nationwide.
By Felipe Cabrera
Down Terrace is a psychological crime film about a family in a rural English town. While the film lags at times due to its being set mostly in a single house and occasionally out in the country, it succeeds as a moving portrait of family succession.
Father and son Bill and Karl (real life father and son Bob and Robin Hill) have been released from jail, but with freedom comes problems. Bill questions his son’s loyalty when Karl pledges to marry his pregnant girlfriend. To make matters worse, an unidentified informant is threatening the family business.
The plot shares similarities with Scorcese’s The Departed, the key difference being the relationship between the boss character and the main underling, which happens to be a father and son in Down Terrace. Whereas in The Departed the plot thickens as DiCaprio’s character jumps through hoops to prove he’s not a rat, Bill doesn’t put as much thought to it and just starts offing people.
While this sounds more macabre, Down Terrace is actually more realistic and less stylized because these murders happen on-screen. In a memorable scene from The Departed, DiCaprio’s character visits his boss’s bar for an assignment and finds Nicholson’s character nonchalantly holding a severed hand. In Down Terrace, death isn’t loudly alluded to: the viewer sees death come after messy struggles between hoodlums. After Karl is accosted in a concrete passageway by a man with a switchblade, he wrestles him to the ground and kills him. He then confronts his father, still uncertain over who tried to off him, the blood stains on his jumper looking like a crimson Rorschach blot.
While the violence is troubling, it’s not sensationalized as in Scorcese’s film, which makes it more final. In this film, killings are plot-fueling decisions rather than opportunities for stylized violence.
The meat of this film occurs in the carefully-rendered exchanges between characters. Often we see characters speaking to one another and the camera spends an inordinate amount of time on the person listening. For example, in the beginning of the film Bill tells his son he got into the drug game because he believed it would lead to higher levels of consciousness, perhaps even some sort of transcendence.
While all of this sounds quite romantic, one can’t help but roll one’s eyes. What the viewer sees is the excellent Robin Hill playing an exasperated Karl, who is at his wit’s end with his father’s musings. Much of the tension in the film comes from Karl’s exasperation with his father’s senseless sense of cool and his mother’s ability to deal with it.
The true strength of this film is the honesty with which it articulates troubled family relations. Bill and his wife Maggie (Julia Deakin) are aging sociopaths. Karl is capable but troubled. While this film is thematically similar to the excellent Australian crime film Animal Kingdom, it is both less disturbing and less enthralling because of it.
After seeing Animal Kingdom, one has to recover from the portrayal of evil in that film. Down Terrace is different. Whereas a recurring idea in Animal Kingdom is eat or be eaten, Down Terrace is about smoothing things out between people. Karl is a tortured soul. He is on medication for mood swings and when he kills his father, he tells him it’s because he can’t “talk to [him] anymore.” If Animal Kingdom is about absolute cold-bloodedness among a family of criminals, Down Terrace is about finding a way to still be a family. Killing is justified as a way to start anew.
DOWN TERRACE is out now in limited release.
Oscar-nominated Tony Curtis died at his home in Henderson, Nevada on Wednesday evening from cardiac arrest at the age of 85, reports ABC News. Curtis, who starred in movies ranging from epics like “Spartacus” to screwball comedies like “Some Like It Hot,” passed away peacefully at midnight ET while laying in bed next to his wife. He was a major box office draw in the 1950s and 1960s, highlighted by his 1957 turn in “The Sweet Smell of Success” opposite Burt Lancaster and earned an Oscar nomination for “The Defiant Ones.” Curtis had six wives. One of his two children with Janet Leigh, his first wife, is actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Born Bernard Schwartz on June 3, 1925 in the Bronx, Curtis joined the Marines in World War II. He took the name Tony Curtis when he began his film career in 1949.
R.I.P. SALLY MENKE, TARANTINO’S EDITOR.
Sad news. Quentin Tarantino’s longtime film editor Sally Menke was found dead by searchers in Beachwood Canyon, Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. Menke, 56, received Oscar nominations for “Inglourious Basterds” and “Pulp Fiction.” She edited every single Tarantino film. The Los Angeles Times says that Menke had gone hiking in the morning, and her friends alerted police after she failed to come home. No cause of death was immediately reported, and it’s unclear whether Los Angeles’ record heat was a factor. Watch Tarantino talk about Menke below as well as the shoutouts to Sally that were done by the cast and crew of Tarantino’s Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds.
JAMES FRANCO GETS ‘D’ IN NYU ACTING CLASS.
Ha. Despite the Oscar buzz for his upcoming role in Danny “Slumdog Millionaire” Boyle’s trapped-hiker flick 127 HOURS, Franco did, in fact, get a ‘D’ in NYU acting class. “I did the work and I did well in everything else,” he confesses to Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman.
Lucasfilm Ltd. announced today that the live-action STAR WARS saga will be converted to 3D. “There are few movies that lend themselves more perfectly to 3D; from the Death Star trench run to the Tatooine Podrace, the ‘Star Wars Saga’ has always delivered an entertainment experience that is completely immersive,” said the statement. Presented by Twentieth Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd., the “cutting edge conversion” will be supervised by Industrial Light & Magic. “Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace” is expected to be released theatrically in 2012. A release date has not yet been determined.
AMC Theaters is celebrating the 25th anniversary of BACK TO THE FUTURE by holding two special screenings of the digitally remastered original on 158 screens across 40 cities. The screenings will be held Saturday, October 23rd at 12:30 p.m. and Monday, October 25th at 7:00 p.m. (the night Marty McFly went back in time). All guests will receive a full-sized poster commemorating the 25th anniversary limited release of the movie with their ticket purchase, while supplies last. Each theater will also have special movie-related giveaways prior to the movie as a part of the experience. Read more HERE.
Zack Snyder (“Watchmen,” “300”) has been officially confirmed as the director of the upcoming SUPERMAN reboot, reports Deadline. The film will move forward with a script from David Goyer and Jonathan Nolan. Christopher Nolan will “godfather” the production, aiming for a late 2012 release. “I’ve been a big fan of the character for a long time, he’s definitely the king of all superheroes, he’s the one,” said Synyder. “It’s early yet, but I can tell you that what David [Goyer] and Chris [Nolan] have done with the story so far definitely has given me a great insight into a way to make him feel modern. I’ve always felt he was kind of awesome. I’ll finish ‘Sucker Punch’ and get right at it.”
Sir Michael Caine appeared on BBC Radio 1’s “The Chris Moyles Show” on Wednesday to promote his autobiography “The Elephant to Hollywood” and talk turned to director Christopher Nolan’s third BATMAN movie. He said the movie will “probably start in May next year…” Asked if he will be part of the cast, he said, “I assume I’m there. In the movie business, you never believe anything, you assume.” He added that Chris and co-writer Jonathan Nolan are not telling anyone who the villain will be in the new film. In related news, Chris Nolan confirmed to Empire that he is indeed directing, in case you had any doubts. Warner Bros. Pictures is targeting a July 20, 2012 release date for the film.
Excellent! Following a whole mess of rumors, MTV has officially confirmed that a third BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE film is in the early planning stages with word from one of the original film’s stars, Alex Winter (Bill). “[W]e have finally hit upon an idea that we think is pretty great,” said Winter, who also revealed that original writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are currently working on the screenplay. Recently, Keanu Reeves revealed that, while he is not currently attached to the potential sequel, he’s all for the possibility of returning to the character. On the subject of Keanu, the amazing folks over at Vulture broke the news about the hilarious ‘sad Keanu’ meme to him, and he took it in stride.
Some details have been revealed regarding the Wachowskis’ (“The Matrix” films) next project, COBALT NEURAL 9, courtesy of Vulture. As was previously reported, the film takes place in the near future and deals with a homosexual relationship between a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi. Said to be shot in a Cinéma vérité style, Vulture suggests that much of the film is told through artificial news reports viewed from a narrative point a hundred years in the future. The American character is Butch, a marine who, after falling in love with the Iraqi character, conspires with him to assassinate President George W. Bush. The framework of the film, then, falls in both the future and the recent past, though apparently within an altered history. The odd title apparently has no meaning other than to derail script leaks.
20th Century Fox has acquired the film rights for the adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, to be directed by Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Tim Burton, according to Variety. The script for the 3D project was written by Grahame-Smith. The studio is planning a 2012 release. The following is how publisher Grand Central Publishing describes the book:
Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother’s bedside. She’s been stricken with something the old-timers call “Milk Sickness.”
“My baby boy…” she whispers before dying.
Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother’s fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire.
Lionsgate previously picked up the film rights to the author’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which Natalie Portman is attached to star in.
“Easy A” star Emma Stone will be offered the role of Mary Jane Watson in the upcoming SPIDER-MAN franchise reboot, according to Deadline. “500 Days of Summer” director Marc Webb’s Spider-Man movie will allegedly follow the comics more closely, introducing Gwen Stacey as Peter Parker’s initial love interest, with Stone’s Mary Jane Watson closing in on his heart later in the series. Andrew Garfield, who has earned raves for his portrayal of wronged Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin in “The Social Network,” will play the webbed crusader.
Jodie Foster will star opposite Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and Matt Dillon in Roman Polanski’s adaptation of the award-winning Broadway play GOD OF CARNAGE, according to Deadline. The movie starts filming in Paris in February, and concerns two pairs of families who must meet after one of the parents’ children is accused of bullying the other (chaos, of course, ensues). The Broadway play starred James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels, and Hope Davis.
Emma Thompson is confirmed for a role in MEN IN BLACK III. Thompson will play Oh, the head of MiB. It is unclear whether her character will serve as a replacement for Rip Torn’s Zed, who appeared in “Men in Black” and “Men in Black II.” Recent legal issues may prevent Torn from returning to the franchise. Thompson would be joining previously-announced cast members Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin and Jemaine Clement. Men in Black III is expected to go into production shortly with a script from Etan Cohen and David Koepp. Barry Sonnenfeld will return to the franchise as director. The film is being planned for release on May 25th, 2012.
COOL NEW TRAILERS.
TRUE GRIT: The Coen Brothers remake of the John Wayne-starring 1969 classic, with Jeff Bridges assuming the Wayne role. Amazing.
THE KING’S SPEECH: Directed by Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”), the Oscar frontrunner is based on the true story of the Queen of England’s father and his remarkable friendship with maverick Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue. The King’s Speech stars Academy Award nominee Colin Firth as King George VI, who unexpectedly becomes King when his brother Edward abdicates the throne. Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush stars as Logue, the man who helps the King find a voice with which to lead the nation into war. The cast also includes Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall and Michael Gambon. The King’s Speech opens in theaters on November 24.
AT THE MULTIPLEX.
Go. See. The Social Network. It’s the best. Movie. Of. The. Year. Hell, even the Facebook employees took a company outing to see the movie.
…Until next week!
Tags: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, andrew garfield, Batman 3, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Cobalt Neural 9, emma stone, Emma Thompson, God of Carnage, james franco, Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, marlow stern, Men in Black III, Roman Polanski, sally menke, Spider-Man, star wars 3D, Superman, the king's speech, tony curtis, True Grit, Wachowski's, weekly blog, Zack Snyder
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What would have happened had Emma Bovary killed her husband instead of taking her own life? What circumstances would have led her to do so? Leaving, directed by Catherine Corsini and starring Kristin Scott Thomas (Suzanne), Yvan Attal (Samuel), and Sergi Lopez (Iván), sets out to answer this second question.
Suzanne is a forty year-old housewife living in the South of France who decides to become a physiotherapist. Her husband Samuel agrees to build her an office, but before its completion she falls in love with Iván, a Spanish laborer. Complications arise when she confesses to her husband but continues to seek her Spaniard.
Thomas portrays Suzanne as an impulsive, flighty, and not altogether bright character. But Corsini forces us to take her seriously. If we want to judge her, we must empathize with her as well. In a wide-angle shot of a Spanish plaza, Iván kisses Suzanne then she walks away. In the next scene, the camera pans rightward across the windshield of Suzanne’s moving car on the trip back from Spain. Suzanne reaches off camera for what we assume is Iván’s hand: a quick, silent moment of reciprocation. The affair begins.
It doesn’t take long to realize that Suzanne’s husband actually took advantage of her when he “rescued” her from life as an au pair. Samuel is a mean-spirited, abusive creep. At the beginning of the movie, Iván is the only convicted criminal, but during the movie his conduct is the least questionable. Suzanne’s refusal to compromise and act rationally lead her to abandon her family and commit murder.
One of the film’s major themes is the relationships people have with their bodies and other people’s bodies. Suzanne is a physiotherapist: she heals people by moving their body parts through uncomfortable positions (in one not so unsubtle scene, she puts pressure on a women’s leg while repeating the French word for “push” [hint: it sounds like another word in English]). Samuel is a doctor, but we never see him heal people; he just seeks to control them, Suzanne especially. In one scene, Samuel refers to Suzanne as a “bitch in heat” before locking her in a room. And during Suzanne’s first sex scene with Iván, some creative sound editing results in some truly canine-sounding breathing.
Leaving poses some uncomfortable questions, but it ultimately comes up short. At its worst, it plays like a politically correcter (depending on your perspective) version of Madame Bovary: a modern day morality tale whose artful touches are dulled by unsubtle identity politics.
Subject matter and politics are the discretion of writers and directors, and especially writer-directors like Ms. Corsini. While she is obviously very talented, she failed to dream big with this feature. There is not enough novelty here to hold strong interest nor does the feministic element provide much intrigue. One of the major themes of the original Madame Bovary is the banality of bourgeois life, which Ms. Corsini seems to have hammered home here without saying anything new. But she doesn’t really expand upon it, which results in a pretty unsatisfying feature. As Suzanne and Iván carry on their charade, it becomes difficult not to judge them too much and to even care about them as characters. But maybe that’s the point.
LEAVING is now playing in limited release.