Category Archives: Rants, Raves and Righteousness

The best films inspire discussion, but sometimes we’re inspired by a bunch of movies at once, and sometimes we’re inspired by something else altogether.

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

Paul Newman was a Hollywood legend who, let’s face it, deserved a whole post to himself.

Born in 1925 in Shaker Heights, Ohio, second son to Arthur and Theresa who ran a sporting goods store. His first role was at the age of 7; he played a court jester in a school production of Robin Hood. By 10 he was performing at the Cleveland Play 220px-Paul_Newman_1954.JPGHouse and was part of the Curtain Pullers children’s theatre program. He was briefly at Ohio University but war intervened (well, war, and the fact that he dented the president’s car with a beer keg). He enrolled at the Navy pilot training program at Yale but was kicked out when his colourblindness was discovered. He went on to serve in the Navy as a radioman and rear gunner. He likely would have died in the war but for the fact that on the day his unit was attacked and killed by a kamikaze pilot, his own pilot was grounded due to an ear infection. Back home, he completed his degree in drama and economics. He toured with summer stock theatre programs before putting in a year at the Yale School of Drama, which he ultimately left to go to NYC to study acting under Lee Strasberg at the famous Actors Studio.

He moved to Staten Island in 1951 with his first wife, Jackie Witte. He made his Broadway debut by 1953 in Picnic. His first credited role had come a year earlier, for a 1952 television episode of Tales of Tomorrow entitled “Ice From Space” which Paul-Newman-1112x1500obviously sounds like something I need to see. In 1954 he appeared in a screen test with James Dean for East of Eden, testing for the part of Aron Trask, the fraternal twin of Dean’s character, Cal. Dean won his part but Newman lost out to Richard Davalos. Even though it wasn’t successful, it would be fateful. That same year, Newman co-starred with Eva Marie Saint and Frank Sinatra in a live (and in colour!) television broadcast of Our Town – Newman was a last-minute replacement for none other than James Dean. Newman’s name would often come up for Dean’s roles. The roles of Billy the Kid in The Left Handed Gun and Rocky in Somebody Up There Likes Me were both ear-marked for Dean but went to Newman after James Dean died in a car crash. Although Newman’s first film for Hollywood was in 1954 for The Silver Chalice, it was a flop and he often talked about his dislike for it (he took out a full-page ad in a trade paper apologizing for it to anyone who might have seen it!). But just two years later Somebody Up There Likes Me was earning him acclaim and in 1958 he earned his first Oscar nomination, for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Also that year he starred in The Long, Hot  Summer with Joanne Woodward for which he won Best Actor at Cannes but perhaps more importantly, he won the heart of the woman he would love for the rest of his life.

Of course, Newman was still married at the time. He and Jackie had by this time had 3 kids: Scott, Stephanie, and Susan. Scott appeared in a few movies, including The Towering Inferno, but died in 1978 of a drug overdose. Newman started the Scott Newman Center for drug abuse prevention in his memory. Susan also stayed in the family business; she’s a documentary filmmaker with Broadway and movie credits – she had a starring role in the Beatles movie I Wanna Hold Your Hand, and had a small role oppose her dad in Slap Shot. But back to Woodward: they’d first met in 1953 but reconnected in ’57 on the set of The Long, Hot Summer. He divorced Jackie and married Joanne immediately. As glamourous as they were, they were among the first big Hollywood couples to move away from L.A.; they made their home in Westport, Connecticut. They stayed married for 50 years, until his death in 2008, and three daughters together, Elinor, Melissa, and Claire. Newman was of course famous for his devotion to his family, and you are undoubtedly familiar with his quip about his own fidelity: “Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?”

In 1982, he and writer A. E. Hotchner founded Newman’s Own. It started with the salad dressing of course but the grand expanded to include pasta sauce, lemonade, wine, and more. But the most remarkable thing about the highly successful company is that Newman committed that all proceeds, after taxes, would be donated to charity. To date, the company has donated $500 million. Among the recipients of his philanthropy: protection for the first amendment; land conservation; religious 518ef81826479c420eb517da72e3ad1b1c7f16b0organizations; scholarships; theatre endeavors; a residential camp which he co-founded called Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, named for the gang in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid naturally where 13 000 kids are served free of charge every year; and another of his bright ideas, the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which encourages CEOs of big companies to commit to charities – now responsible for $10 billion in corporate giving annually. Jeezum. So it’s not exactly surprising that Givingback.org would name him the Most Generous Celebrity of 2008; even since his death his foundations continue to generate good around the world.

Paul Newman was also a bit of a political activist. His support for Eugene McCarthy and his opposition to the Vietnam war meant he was #19 on Richard Nixon’s enemies list, which Newman often listed as his greatest accomplishment. Paul Newman supported gay rights, and gun control, and here’s a little factoid for you: he was at the very first Earth Day event, back in 1970.

Tireless, apparently, you may also remember that Paul Newman was a race car driver. He got into while training at the Watkins Glen Racing School for the film Winning, which came out in 1969. His first professional race was in 1972 at the Thompson International Speedway, where he entered as P.L. Newman, hoping not to attract Hollywood’s attention. He won four national championships at the Sports Car Club of America and came in 2nd at the 1979 24 Hours of Le Man, driving a Porsche 935. At the age of 70, he became the oldest driver to be part of a winning team in a major sanctioned race when he won at the 1995 24 Hours of Daytona; he would race in that again at the age of 80. The last work he ever did in Hollywood was to voice a race car named Doc in Pixar’s Cars; in fact, he’s received a credit for this year’s sequel, Cars 3, as well.

Paul Newman is one of only four actors ( with Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, and Jack Nicholson) to have been nominated for an Academy Award in five different decades. 

1958: nominated for Best Actor for Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; lost to David Niven for Separate Tables

1961: nominated for Best Actor for The Hustler; lost to Maximilian Schell for Judgment at Nuremberg

1963: nominated for Best Actor for Hud; lost to Sidney Poitier for Lilies of the Field

1967: nominated for Best Actor for Cool Hand Luke; lost to Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night

1968: nominated for Best Picture for Rachel, Rachel, his directorial debut, which starred Joanne; he lost to John Woolf for Oliver!

1981: nominated for Best Actor for Absence of Malice; lost to Henry Fonda for On Golden Pond

1982: nominated for Best Actor for The Verdict; lost to Ben Kingsley for Gandhi

1986: WON Best Actor for The Color of Money

1994: nominated for Best Actor for Nobody’s Fool; lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump

2002: nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Road to Perdition; lost to Chris Cooper for Adaptation

[Note: received an Honorary Award in 1986 for his “many and memorable and compelling screen performances” and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for his charity work in 1994.]

Paul Newman was known for his piercing blue eyes and his sense of humour. His likeness was the inspiration for the 1959 illustration of the Green Lantern. Early in his career he was often mistaken for Marlon Brando, and he obligingly signed autographs as him whenever asked. He was Jake Gyllenhaal’s godfather. When he lost $50 to Jackie Gleason in a pool game, he paid him in pennies. Turned down the lead role in Ben-Hur because he “didn’t have the legs to wear a tunic.” Turned down Dirty Harry for being “too right-wing.” Was in an epic, years-long prank war with Robert Redford. He could play blues and jazz piano. He’s been on a US postage stamp. Although Paul Newman was the actor other actors looked up to, he was also a man of many diverse interests.

Paul Newman died of lung cancer in September 2008, with family by his side.

Civil Rights & The Cinema

Viola Desmond’s name may not be as well-known as Rosa Parks’, but she took her stand against segregation nearly a decade before Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.

Viola Davis was born in 1914, one of ten children to a white mother and black father in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Growing up, she noticed an absence of hair and skin-care CNSPhoto-PARDONoptions for women of colour and decided she would be the woman to correct this. But her skin colour prevented her from beautician training at home, so she went off to Montreal and then to New York to complete her education. Returning to Halifax, she opened her own hair salon, where she would tend to a young Gwen Jenkins, later to be the first black nurse in Nova Scotia. And she didn’t stop there. She went on to found The Desmond School of Beauty Culture so black women could train closer to home. Students were taught how to open their own businesses, providing jobs for other black women in their communities. Then she started her own line of beauty products, Vi’s Beauty Products, which she sold herself.

It was on just such a work trip when she found herself in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946. Her car had broken down and was going to be in the shop overnight, so to kill time she went to see The Dark Mirror at the Roseland Film Theatre. At the box office, she asked for a main floor ticket and then took her seat, only to be told by the manager she did not have a ticket for that seat. She went back to the ticket booth but they refused to sell her a different ticket, claiming it was against their policiy to to sell a main floor seat to a black person. Desmond returned to her original seat with her original ticket, refusing to sit in the balcony designated for black patrons. She was forcibly removed from the theatre, arrested with enough violence to cause injury to her hip. She was jailed overnight without access to a lawyer or bail.

This was a private movie theatre and its segregation practises went against the law in Nova Scotia so Desmond was actually charged with tax evasion, believe it or not, for the one-cent difference in tax between the slightly cheaper balcony ticket she was sold and the main floor seat she actually occupied. One cent. She was fined $20 plus $6 in court costs; she paid and went home to Halifax. But her Minister really didn’t like how things went, and encouraged her to fight the charge. Carrie Best broke the story in Nova Scotia’s first black-owned and published newspaper, The Clarion. Best had previously written about The Roseland Theatre and was happy to take up the cause. So too was Desmond’s Baptist church and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Sadly, her lawyer made some bad decisions and they ultimately lost the case.

In 2010, Mayann Francis, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, invoked the Royal Prerogative to grant Desmond a posthumous free pardon – the first to be granted in Canada. It’s different from a regular pardon because it is based on innocence and recognizes that the conviction was in error. Francis was emotional as she signed the document: “”Here I am, 64 years later – a black woman giving freedom to another black woman.” The government of Nova Scotia followed up with an apology, acknowledging she was rightfully resisting racial discrimination.

So that’s how one small act of defiance in a rural movie theatre galvanized the Canadian civil rights movement, and it’s why Ms. Desmond will be featured on Canadian currency next year when her face graces our $10 bill. Thank you, Viola Desmond.

Harvey Weinstein & Hollywood’s Complicity

So. This is a difficult subject to broach because of its sheer scope. Unless you’ve been hibernating under the proverbial rock, you know now that Harvey Weinstein has been accused of rape, sexual misconduct, and various kinds of inappropriate behaviour that are mind-boggling in their number. Harvey Weinstein is (was?) a producer and film studio executive who co-founded Miramax, which produced several popular indies, including Pulp Fiction, Clerks, and The Crying Game, and 24th-annual-producers-guild-pga-awards-backstage-roamiwon an Oscar for producing Shakespeare in Love. He was recently ousted from his own company because of these accusations, though it should be said that it was likely a form or self-protection for the company rather than any sense of moral obligation. Indeed, many people at said company will have had knowledge of, and helped cover up, the very reprehensible behaviour that got him ousted in the first place.

We know why women stay silent – it’s the same reason the abuse took place in the first part. Men in positions of power take advantage. Weinstein is (was) a king of Hollywood. He did indeed make and break careers. To reject him is to risk your career, your whole life ahead of you. But his power continues to assert itself long after you’ve left the room. It’s something that has clearly haunted dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of women for decades, and now, because of a few brave women speaking up, it’s all come tumbling out. But Weinstein, who clearly has an M.O. as you’ll see below, cannot have done what he did without people knowing. People as in the many, many male colleagues who have attended the same meetings and events. Weinstein, for example, is responsible for the breakout success of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. He greenlit Good Will Hunting and they have remained loyal friends of his. So you know what? Hollywood’s women are calling them out.

Ben Affleck came forward to condemn him (eventually), only the second man in Hollywood to do so (George Clooney was the first). Affleck’s statement:

I am saddened and angry that a man who I worked with used his position of power to intimidate, sexually harass and manipulate many women over decades. The additional allegations of assault that I read this morning made me sick…We need to do better at protecting our sisters, friends, co-workers and daughters.

BUT a) he was then reminded of his own groping incident, for which he has since apologized; and b) Rose McGowan has reminded him that when it happened to her (when they were costarring in Phantoms), he said “Goddamnit! I told him to stop doing that!” Which, you know, kind of sounds like he knew about prior incidents on top of her own. And can I just say: stop branding us as sisters and daughters. We’re human beings and we deserve to not be sexually abused regardless of our relationship to you. You shouldn’t have to be fond of or related to someone before you don’t want to see them get raped.

But Affleck’s not the only one under fire: both Matt Damon and Russell Crowe have been accused of killing one journalist’s report of these incidents as far back as 2004. Damon claims he did call the reporter but didn’t know anything about sex-related accusations in the article, and that may be true, but it’s also sort of damning that he didn’t have anything to say about this until it was to clear his own good name. Just how many men in Hollywood have been complicit with their silence?

 

Trigger Alert: I’m including all the victims we know about so far, and the crimes that were perpetrated against them. These are just the ones we know about, and in cases of sexual abuse, that’s usually the tip of ice berg, which is disconcerting since we’ve already uncovered a land slide. Harvey Weinstein is a bad dude that Hollywood’s been covering for for far too long. And he’s not the only one.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow: recently confessed to the New York Times that Weinstein touched rs_600x600-171010105954-600.Harvey-Weinstein-Brad-Pitt-JR-101017her and suggested having joint massages in the bedroom shortly before filming Emma. She said she told her then boyfriend Brad Pitt about the incident and he confronted Weinstein [Brad Pitt has confirmed].

Angelina Jolie: Jolie told the Times she had to turn down advances from Weinstein in 1998 and chose never to work with him again, after making Playing By Heart. She has been warning other women about him ever since.

Louisette Geiss:  Called to a late night meeting with Weinstein in 2008, he emerged in a bathrobe and told her he would green light her script if she watched him masturbate. “He returned [from the bathroom] in a robe with the front open, buck-naked. He told me to keep talking about my film and that he was going to get into his hot tub which was in the room adjacent to his office, steps away. I kept talking as he got into the hot tub. When I finished my pitch, he asked me to watch him masturbate. I told him I was leaving. He quickly got out of the hot tub. As I went to get my purse to leave, he grabbed my forearm and pulled me to his bathroom and pleaded with me to watch him masturbate. My heart was racing and I was very scared.”

Judith Godreche: Weinstein tried to massage her and pull off her sweater after asking her up to his Cannes suite in 1996.

Dawn Dunning: Called to his hotel in 2003, Weinstein presented her with three scripts for his next three movies which he would let her star in, if she had a three-way with him. 

Tomi-Ann Roberts: Weinstein met her when she was waitressing as a college junior in 1984 and told her to meet him at his home. When she arrived he was naked in the bath and told her she would give a better audition if she was nude. 

Rosanna Arquette:  Claims her career suffered after she rejected Weinstein’s advances in the early 1990s – he tried to put her hand on his erect penis during a meeting.

Asia Argento: Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her when she was 21. “He terrified me, and he was big. It wouldn’t stop. It was a nightmare.” She documented the alleged attack in her 2000 film Scarlet Diva.

Katherine Kendall: Weinstein changed into a bathrobe and told her to massage him. When she resisted he returned naked and chased her.

Lucia Evans: Weinstein forced her to perform oral sex on him in 2004 at a ‘casting meeting’ in a Miramax office in Manhattan. 

Mira Sorvino: Weinstein tried to massage her in a hotel room at TIFF in 1995. He then went to her home in the middle of the night but she called a male friend to protect her. She claims turning him down adversely affected her career.

Rose McGowan: She’s been talking about being raped by a studio head for years, always keeping his identity secret. Now we know she sued him after he assaulted her in 1997 at Sundance. He paid her off, like he did many others, and she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement to close the suit.

Ashley Judd: During the filming of Kiss The Girls, Weinstein repeatedly asked her to watch him shower. She says “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

Emma De Caunes: Weinstein offered to show her a script, and asked her up to his hotel room, where he began to take a shower. He emerged naked and erect, asking her to lay down with him on the bed and telling her that many others had done so before. ‘I was very petrified,’ said de Caunes. ‘But I didn’t want to show him that I was petrified, because I could feel that the more I was freaking out, the more he was excited.’

Lauren O’Connor: A former employee of The Weinstein Company, she told executives there in 2015 of the ‘toxic environment for women at this company’ after one of her colleagues told her that Weinstein had pressured her into massaging him while he was naked.

Cara Delevingne:  Weinstein brought up sexual subjects during more than one business meeting and also tried to get Delevingne to kiss a woman in front of him.

Ambra Battilana: In March 2015 Weinstein asked if her breasts were real before grabbing them and putting his hands up her skirt during a meeting. She reported the alleged incident to police, but they did not press charges. Weinstein later paid her off.

Jessica Barth: Pressured her repeatedly to give him a naked massages from 2011 onwards.

Laura Madden: An ex-employee, Weinstein had asked her to give him massages from 1991 onwards. “It was so manipulative.”

Emily Nestor: Temping for the Weinstein Company for just one day in 2014, Weinstein approached her and offered to boost her career in exchange for sex.

Zelda Perkins: An assistant of Weinstein’s, she confronted Weinstein after she and ‘several’ others were harassed and later settled out of court. 

Elizabeth Karlsen: The Oscar-nominated producer of Carol and The Crying Game, told of an incident dating back almost 30 years where an unnamed young female executive who had worked at Miramax with Weinstein had found him naked in her bedroom one night. 

 

Liza Campbell: Weinstein summoned her to his hotel room and told her to get in the bath with him.

Lea Seydoux: “We were talking on the sofa when he suddenly jumped on me and tried to kiss me. I had to defend myself. He’s big and fat, so I had to be forceful to resist him. I left his room, thoroughly disgusted. I wasn’t afraid of him, though. Because I knew what kind of man he was all along.”

Lauren Sivan: Weinstein trapped her in a closed restaurant and masturbated in front of her to completion in 2007.

Jessica Hynes: She was asked to audition for Weinstein when she was 19 – in a bikini. When she refused she lost the job.

Romola Garai: Was already hired for a part in Atonement when Weinstein scheduled yet another work meeting in his hotel room and showed up to it in his bathrobe. He asked for another audition so she could be “personally approved by him.”

Unnamed assistant: Weinstein behaved inappropriately toward a woman employed as his assistant in 1990; the case settled out of court.

Another unnamed assistant: In 2015, Weinstein reportedly pressured another assistant into giving him a naked massage in the Peninsula Hotel, where he is also said to have pressured Barth.

Unnamed Miramax employee: At one point in the early 1990s, a young woman is alleged to have suddenly left the company after an encounter with Weinstein. Also settled out of court.

Unnamed woman: Was summoned to his hotel and raped.

 

The truth is, there are plenty more Harvey Weinsteins in Hollywood (and let’s face it- elsewhere, everywhere). Hollywood is built on sexism. It routinely treats women as inferior to men. It exploits the very young, ignores the not so young, denies female directors work, and treats its female audience like trash. Like we don’t exist, like we don’t buy movie tickets, like our stories aren’t worth telling. It’s a boy’s club that has gone on far too long. You’ve heard of the casting couch? Now think about what kind of sick euphemism that really is. And if you’ve read all this and are still wondering why these women didn’t come forward sooner – yeah, you’re part of the problem.

 

Ode To Ripley

Ridley Scott intended to kill off beloved butt-kicking hero Ellen Ripley in the very first of the Alien franchise. His script saw her harpooning the alien in her escape pod but it making no bloody difference, so the thing tears through her mask and rips her face off. Then the alien takes over the controls and sets his course – well, you can imagine the rest. The studio wouldn’t hear of it. “The first executive from Fox arrived on set within 14 hours, threatening to fire me on the spot,” Scott has said. “So we didn’t do that [ending].”

tumblr_nbwng6xMfu1rp0vkjo1_500.gifAnd this might be the first ever case of me agreeing with studio interference, purely because the world needs more Ripleys. We admire her because she was tough and she was smart. I admire her, and Scott, because Ripley cried at work and it didn’t weaken her, didn’t sap her power.

As recently as last year, the New York Post ran an article literally entitled ‘Cry At Work If You Never Want To Succeed.’ It contains helpful nuggets such as “Sure, ladies, it’s OK to cry at work. If you want every male (and female) boss to think you’re a useless little Nancy who can’t and shouldn’t be trusted with a challenging assignment again.” And evidence that writer Kyle Smith has confused women with toddlers: “Crying is an absolutely spiffing way to get what you want — in the short term. But once you’ve hosted a one-person snivel party, people tend to remember it.” Crying at work is not the same as throwing a temper tantrum. Sometimes tears are a natural (and unavoidable) reaction to anger or frustration. Some men (and frankly, some women) might take those same feelings to a bathroom stall where they’ve made an indent in the plaster punching the wall. Others might take those feelings out an on unsuspecting trash can which gets kicked and spilled all over the office floor. Doors and drawers and phones slam. Assistants get verbally abused. Half a dozen donuts get guilty devoured. Most of those are much worse than crying, but only crying gets a bad rep. “Women will be set back 100 years if they start believing it’s OK to cry on the job” Smith tells us. “But hey, OK, fine, if you just want to remain on the Girl Track for the rest of your life, by all means interrupt the weekly departmental meeting to fill your empty venti cup with your hot, salty tears.” Um, Girl Track? Fuck you, buddy.

When Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg wrote her best-seller Lean In, she wrote that it was okay to cry at work. Crying just happens, it’s part of our biology, part of our survival tumblr_nx8ebcJVP91uk3oooo1_500.gifmechanisms. For many women, and many men, it’s just part of being human, part of having emotions, and most of us do not shut those emotions off at the start of our shift.  41% of women and 9% of men said they’d cried at work during the previous year and that it had made no difference in terms of their success (note: women have six times more prolactin – a hormone related to crying – than men).

All that to say: Ellen Ripley was a force to be reckoned with. She cried at work, not to manipulate her coworkers, not because she was helpless and sad, but because she was in a tough situation and it just damn well called for it. All her male colleagues perished while she survived. She kicked alien ass so hard they brought her back for a sequel.

Trump’s Muslim Ban & the Oscars

This past weekend, Donald Trump signed a deliberately hateful and ignorant document into law, making racism and Islamophobia national policy. Critics derided it as giphy (1).gifUnAmerican, and yet it was America who voted this buffoon into presidency just a few short months ago. In the face of one man’s cowardly discrimination, however, were many more acts of love and fraternity. American citizens stormed airports with signs of welcome and solidarity. Lawyers littered the floors working pro-bono around the clock. And a group of actors at the SAG-ACTRA awards used their acceptance speeches to give voice to millions of people who say: Not my America.

Over the next 90 days, visas will not be issued to nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Existing visas will not be honoured. People who boarded planes intending to legally enter the country, even those with green cards, were detained for hours, questioned, and deported.

In the face of this injustice, it seems almost petty to talk about the Oscars, but since this is a movie review site, this is what we will do.

Asghar Farhadi is the Oscar-winning director of A Separation; it made awards history in giphy (3).gif2012 when it was the first Iranian film to win an Oscar. This year he has toured the festivals with The Salesman, and won Best Screenplay at Cannes. Iran submitted it to be considered in the foreign film category at the Academy Awards and it won a nomination. Asghar Farhadi will not be allowed to attend the ceremony because of Trump’s “Muslim ban.” This is who his ban keeps out – not terrorists, but people who come here to work, to study, to visit friends and family.

The star of The Salesman, Taraneh Alidoosti, one of the most acclaimed actresses in her country, will boycott the Oscars in order to protest Trump’s racist ban. “I decided not to go even if I could, because it hurts me deeply to see ordinary people of my country being rejected for what might be their legal right to have access to their children abroad or to their school classes as students,” Ms. Alidoosti told The New York Times in an interview.

In a statement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it was “extremely troubling” that Mr. Farhadi and the cast and crew of “The Salesman,” could be “barred from entering the country because of their religion or country of origin.” I’d say that’s a bit of an understatement.

Meanwhile, Asghar Farhadi had this to say on the subject: “I hereby express my condemnation of the unjust conditions forced upon some of my compatriots and the giphy (5).gifcitizens of the other six countries trying to legally enter the United States of America and hope that the current situation will not give rise to further divide between nations,” Farhadi said. He’s not the only one with this fear on his mind: “Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” [italics are mine]. It wasn’t Bernie Sanders or Obama who said that, it was a joint statement from two Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

It isn’t just Farhadi who will be affected by this ban come February 26th  (Oscar broadcast).

The filmmakers behind The White Helmets, a film about Syrian volunteer first responders in that country’s bloody civil war, had planned on bringing two representatives of that group to the ceremony, but Trump’s travel ban – which impacts Syria – will prevent that from happening. The White Helmets, mind you, have been nominated for a goddamned Nobel Peace Prize, and yet Trump sees fit to keep these heroes out. Producer Johanna Natasegara said in a statement “These people are the bravest humanitarians on the planet, and the idea that they could not be able to come with us and enjoy that success is just abhorrent.”

giphy-4The Syrian family at the heart of Watani: My Homeland, another short documentary up for an Academy Award, is also unable to attend the Oscars due to the travel ban, even though they are now German citizens. But movies and stories like this, and Fire At Sea, which tell the human story of refugees are even more vital at a time like this. Watani director Marcel Mettelsiefen said “We must reconnect with the common humanity of the refugee experience and we must all remember that the founding story of America is dependent upon people who have fled war, hunger and poverty in search of a better life.”

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.” These words were not spoken by “overrated” actress Meryl Streep but by Dick Cheney, who was vice president at the time of the 9-11 attacks.

Muslims are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. They may serve you street food from a food truck or treat you in your local emergency room. They’re also in movies, sometimesgiphy (2).gif entertaining us, sometimes helping to tell urgently important stories. Oscar-nominated (and best supporting actor heir presumptive) Mahershala Ali is Muslim (Moonlight, Hidden Figures). Rogue One’s Riz Ahmed is Muslim. So are Dave Chapelle, Ice Cube,  Mos Def, Amal Clooney, Omar Epps, Janet Jackson, Aziz Ansari, Ellen Burstyn, Muhammad Ali, Shaq, Kareem, and some of my favourite members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Muslims are not terrorists. Muslims are terrorized by terrorists, who use any reason, including religion (including Christianity) to do evil.

giphyTaraneh Alidoosti, an actress known to very few over here in the west, is boycotting the Oscars. Wouldn’t it really mean something if others did as well? If the Oscars had to broadcast hundreds of empty seats, each tagged with the name of a celebrity who didn’t come because the thought of Trump’s America was so unpalatable that it’s better to stay home than to schmooze and be lauded by one’s colleagues? If they stood in solidarity with fellow film makers who are just as deserving but are prohibited from celebrating just because of their religion? Now that’s a story worth telling; let’s continue to take part in it.

 

 

 

 

Bringing Movies to Life in a Whole New Way

vrAs you will have seen on Twitter (@assholemovies), I got a PlayStation Pro and Virtual Reality headset for Christmas.  Jay picked it up after I said it sounded neat but I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear a helmet to play games.  As usual, she made the right choice.  It is the greatest thing ever!  Being able to look around inside the game is amazingly immersive and I can’t get enough of it.

Currently, my gaming options include a couple of movie-themed options, namely Batman: Arkham VR and Star Wars Battlefront’s Rogue One: X-Wing VR mission.  As well, I have a few unofficial options that feel like movies you’ve already seen, like London Heist (reminiscent of every Bbatman-arkham-vrritish gangster movie) and Ocean Descent (reminiscent of every shark attack movie), both of which are included on the PlayStation VR Worlds disc.

So far, Batman: Arkham VR is the one that sucked me in the most, to the point that I punched the ceiling trying to fire my grappling hook at the Batwing.  It felt like I was right in the middle of everything, and I am amazed at how well everything links together, so that when I move, the game responds accordingly.  The motion controllers make a huge difference in that regard, as then my hand movements are displayed right in the game.  Bonus points for letting me put on Batman’s mask myself and then look in a mirror.  That was amazing, and the overall VR experience was so fun that even the inclusion of Batman’s alley origin felt fresh.xwing-vr2

There’s no shame in placing second to a game that lets you step into Batman’s shoes, and flying an X-Wing was a ton of fun.  It was especially great to be able to look left and right and see the laser cannons right there on the wings, and then to move them into attack position with the press of a button so I could take out a few cannons on a nearby Star Destroyer.

Even smoking a virtual cigar in a seedy pub was a memorable experience, especially because the game seems to know when you’re exhaling.  VR is finally here and it’s wonderful.  I’m super excited for Star Trek: Bridge Crew and can’t wait to see what other movie scenes I’ll get to experience from a first-person view in 2017 .

What movies would you like to be able to play through virtually?

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is dead at the age of 60. She drowned in moonlight, strangled in her own bra. That’s not remotely true, but it’s what she would have wanted me to say.

To most, she was their Princess, having played Leia in the Star Wars universe. To me, 978319-carrie-fisherunfamiliar with the Star Wars franchise for most of my life, she was a writer and a funny lady. She penned the semi-autobiographic Postcards From The Edge (and later, its screenplay) about her drug addiction and her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds. She was also a notorious script doctor, doing uncredited polishes on other people’s scripts, including the Star Wars prequels, Hook, Sister Act, Outbreak, The Wedding Singer, Coyote Ugly, and Mr & Mrs Smith.

Then she did a one-woman show called Wishful Drinking, which has been one of my favourites, ever. She had such a great sense of humour about herself, above all else, and a keen eye for the ridiculous. Check it out:

She actually has a new book, The Princess Diarist, out just last month, based on journals she kept while she filmed the original Star Wars trilogy. You may have heard the bomb she dropped: she and Harrison Ford had an affair back in the day.

Of course you know she’d recently returned to her Star Wars roots, playing General Leia (badass warrior princess that she was) for a whole new generation. She could poke fun at screen-shot-2015-11-13-at-10-13-52-am-pngher character and her “cinnamon bun” hair style, but she clearly also has respect for the films and their fans. She recently completed work on Episode 8 and was slated to begin filming for Episode 9 this spring. No telling how they’ll treat her death in the films but safe to say it’s a blow for them as it is for us.

You may have heard that George Lucas told her on the set of the first (fourth) film that she couldn’t wear a bra under her iconic white dress. When she demanded to know why not, he famous replied “Because there’s no underwear in space.” When pressed for details, he explained “What happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands. But your bra doesn’t—so you get strangled by your own bra.” Fisher thought it had the makings of a “fanastic obit – so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”