Tag Archives: Angelina Jolie

TIFF: First They Killed My Father

Angelina Jolie first visited Cambodia in her mid 20s to film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She fell in love with the country but having to dodge landmines made her realize how much about world history she hadn’t been taught in school. While there, she bout Loung Ung’s memoir for $2 on the street, and it changed her life.

She went back to Cambodia two years later in 2002 for her work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She spent time with local schoolchildren and realized that her son was in this very country. She adopted Maddox there that same year. The book she’d read always stuck with her, and she knew it was the story she wanted to tell in order for her son to know what his countrymen were like.

Loung Ung is a survivor of what we now call the Cambodian genocide. She was just a child during the deadly rule of the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot. 25% of the MV5BYmI4YzY3MTAtZjk1My00NmYwLTg4MTgtMDdlZjFhZjQzM2NlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_Cambodian population died from malnutrition, forced labour, and mass murder in the time period between 1975-1979. Almost all Cambodian artists, actors, and film makers were killed during this regime, so getting the story out has been a difficulty. Cambodia’s film community had all but expired and is only now starting to recover. With Netflix fronting $24 million for this film, First They Killed My Father is the biggest movie shot entirely in Cambodia, and director Jolie was careful to use as many Cambodian cast and crew as she could (she herself in a Cambodian citizen since 2005). Some of them are genocide survivors themselves (such as producer Rithy Panh), so therapists were on standby on the set to avoid re-traumatizing the people who’d already lived through events depicted in the film. Jolie’s son Maddox worked on the film as well.

Though the film avoids showing us the worst of the gore, the threat and undercurrent of violence is still there. It sits quite heavily as we watch a young family try to survive the unimaginable, with constant reminders that death isn’t even the worst of it. But the camera lingers on the beauty of Cambodia too – particularly the lush greenery. The cinematography is pretty stunning.

Little Ung was only five when the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and all of sevel whens he made it out, and the film reflects her child’s eye view. Although there are plenty of emotionally powerful moments, there are also times when we struggle to MV5BZDcyYmUyZjItYmUyNS00OWIyLWIwZTQtOTllYWE2MDEyY2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_adsorb all that is happening around her, like she herself must have been at that young age. The film also engages our inner protectors: watching this little girl plant land mines and fire guns is just too much to process.

For the most part, the film’s most tragic scenes are deliberately underplayed, almost but not quite detached, because we come to understand that this story is being told in retrospect. There is a greater context but mostly the film is not so much interested in the historical facts as it is in giving the genuine experience of what it felt like to live (or die) through it. There’s no triumphant spin, no big, redeeming moment. It was a bleak time and it is painstakingly recreated through the camera’s lens. Jolie avoids any typical Hollywood ending and keeps our focus right where it belongs: on a little girl who surived.

 

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The Breadwinner

Not all men are bad, not even all Afghan men. That’s important to remember. Not all of them want to treat women like garbage, but the taliban sure does. It’s not enough to cover women head to toe in burqas, but new rules in Afghanistan prohibit them from leaving the house at all, except in rare cases when accompanied by a father, husband, or brother.

Parvana’s older sister hasn’t left the house in so long she’s forgetting what it was like. Parvana is “lucky” because her father lost his leg in the war and his livelihood more recently, so she assists him down to the market where they try to sell their possessions in order to eat. Her father respects his daughters, educated them, and wants better things for them, things he can no longer give them with the oppressive taliban regime patrolling with guns and indignation. When the taliban inevitably hauls him off to prison for no reason, suddenly the family is left without an escape clause. Parvana’s mother andMV5BMDg0ODM5NTYtMjNkMS00NDQ3LWI5MGYtMDg3ZTQ5MDE0OTRlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjQ1NjA0ODM@._V1_ sister and baby brother could literally starve to death waiting for a man to come release them from their own home so Parvana does the only thing she can think of to save them: she cuts off her hair, wears the clothes of her dead brother, and to taliban eyes, becomes a boy.

You may recognize The Breadwinner as a recent high-profile screening at TIFF; Angelina Jolie is a producer and her red carpet appearance really shined the spotlight on this important film. People were equally excited to celebrate it at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. It played to a packed house and I imagine it will again on Saturday so if you haven’t got your tickets, get on it!

The Breadwinner’s animation is stunning.  Stunning. Like, I want to get tattoos of it on my body. That’s really the highest praise you can give, or that I can give, an animated movie, a compliment I haven’t given before or even thought to. The story is kind of perfection. It’s by no means an exact replica of the book. It diverges significantly from it but still feels like an authentic and spiritual distillation of it.

If The Breadwinner isn’t talked about come Oscar time, I’ll be shocked and outraged. Not taliban guy seeing a woman “calling attention to herself” by merely being outdoors outraged, but outraged. It’s a great story coupled with the most amazing animation but it also could not be more essential viewing at this moment in time.

Child Actors

You probably heard the controversy surrounding Angelina Jolie’s new movie about Cambodia. In a recent article in Vanity Fair, she admitted that in order to find a Cambodian child who could play a large role, the casting directors set up a game. They put money on the table and asked the kids to think of something they needed money for, and then to snatch it away. Then the director would pretend to catch the child, and the kid would have to come up with a lie. The little girl who ultimately won the part, Srey Moch, distinguished herself by being the only kid to stare at the money for an extraordinary length of time. Jolie said: “When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back. When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.” You might think that’s a clever way to see a child’s range of emotions, or you might think it cruel to go into a third world country and taunt children with money. The internet seems to favour the latter.

It got me thinking though – what DO auditions look like when you’re casting a kid? Typically, not like that. Even for small children, casting directors will typically work off a script.

Something in the neighbourhood of 40 000 kids auditioned for the part of Harry Potter. Steven Spielberg had wanted Haley Joel Osment for the part and backed out of directing the project when he clashed over this with JK Rowling. Daniel Radcliffe landed the part: “My mum sent in a Polaroid of me to the BBC, because I’ve always wanted to act since I was five. My mum and dad never thought it was a very good idea. I went for about five auditions and then I got the part. The best thing about filming is going to all the different locations and staying in hotels. They have Sky and I haven’t got that at home.”

922af5a6afe0a38af48e22b17347eb8c--drew-barrymore-young-celebrity-kidsSpielberg lost that battle but he normally has a pretty keen eye for casting the right kid in his movies. Drew Barrymore recalls auditioning for him for Poltergeist: “lied my face off. I told him I was in a rock ‘n roll band. I was a drummer, of course, because drummers are the coolest, and that I was a cook.” He didn’t think she was right for Poltergeist but kept her in mind for something else…and that’s how she landed E.T.

Haley Joel Osment also went on to star in a Spielberg film – A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Osment’s acting career started by accident at the age of 4 when he and his Mom randomly ran into a talent scout at IKEA. When he got called in for his first audition, he was asked to describe the biggest thing he’d ever seen. Osment talked about seeing a movie in IMAX, and that’s how he got cast in a Pizza Hut commercial for their “Big Foot” pizza. The rest is history.

 

 

“What’s interesting about casting children is, some children understand instinctually how to be still in front of a camera,” casting director Fiona Weir explains. “That isn’t something you can teach kids; it’s something they understand or not. Acting on-camera is b0d3c2e59c77845d83baab01078af08fabout being, not about performing, the way that children often do in school plays, making something bigger. It’s not always the noisy kids that we’re looking for; it’s the quiet kids at the back.” That was very important when Weir  was casting for Room, in which a 5 year old boy and his mother escape their rapist-captor. One of those quiet kids was 7-year-old Jacob Tremblay, who caught her attention fairly early in the casting process. He had the interiority Weir and director Lenny Abrahamson wanted to see. “It was very evident how gifted Jacob was,” Weir says. “He’s a really bright and inventive child.”

Kirsty McGregor had a grueling search of her own when it came to casting the part of the young Saroo Brierly, the child from Lion. She scoured schools in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Calcutta, and spent months watching 2,000 taped auditions, conducting 200 in-person workshops, and coordinating callback after callback to get the right young Saroo for the movie. She culled the prospects from 2000 to 200 and flew to India to see them in person, with director Garth Davis. “We’d start in larger groups of 10, and we’d do workshops and rs_634x1024-170226153353-634.Sunny-Pawar-Oscrs.ms.022617play games, and we took our acting coach Miranda Harcourt, who’s amazing with kids, with us. We had an interpreter, obviously, and from those groups of 10, we narrowed it down to the final list and called them back again. It was a very thorough process. It was about four months from the time they started putting people on tape in India to when they started doing callbacks, and it was long and very intense every day, with another 100 or 200 tapes coming in. You can’t miss anybody.” Eventually they paired their top two youngsters with the top two adolescents would would play the older brother, and found the right chemistry. Anyone who’s seen Lion will know that little Sunny Pawar was a particularly bright spot in the film and he really livened up the red carpets during awards season, just as Jacob Tremblay had done the year before.

 

Have you heard any juicy stories about kids auditioning for parts? Ever auditioned for anything yourself?

 

 

A Birthday Salute to the Bikini

The bikini turned 70 this week. It was apparently born when a a WW2-era fabric shortage led designers to reimagine styles with a little less substance to them. The French took over, and inspired by seeing women on beaches rolling up their swimwear for better tans, Louis Réard called his lingerie-inspired concoction “the bikini” and unveiled it on July 5, 1946, just five days after he first testing of a nuclear device was held in Bikini Atoll, and likening it to an ‘explosive commercial and cultural reaction’. It was.

To celebrate, I’m putting together a little list of even littler swimsuits from our favourite movie scenes. This isn’t going to be exhaustive by a long shot so if I’ve missed your favourite bikini scene, please let us know.

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Blake Lively is swimming bikini-clad in a theatre near you in a thriller called The Shallows. She worked out extra hard so she’d look good clinging to this buoy but apparently also remained appetizing to the shark. Jessica Alba put her bikini body on the map in a movie called Into The Blue. A stunt double filmed images.jpgscenes for her behind her back, forcing Alba to keep the bikini thing going for far longer than she was comfortable with. The gimmick worked though, and her bikini isuntitled.png what people remember most about the movie. Kate Bosworth made her bikini mark in Blue Crush, a movie about “girl surfers” with an impressive amount of wardrobe changes. Bosworth wasn’t the only one turning heads – her whole crew, including Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake, looked equally fabulous wearing not very much.

A bikini often signals The Temptress and I’m not sure if there’s recently beenthe-other-woman-kate-upton.jpg a better example than Kate Upton bouncing around in The Other Woman. Who else are you going to get M0000733.jpgo make Cameron Diaz, an honest-to-god-Charlie’s-Angel, to feel vulnerable? (Sidebar: who among us could forget when a 40&fab Demi Moore strutted around in her bikini, putting those Angels to shame?) Meanwhile, Brooklyn Decker was on hand to heat things up in Just Go With Itarticle-1355072-0D122FC5000005DC-386_634x394 and did a mighty fine job of it until her co-star Jennifer Aniston took off her own clothes revealing that “sneaky hot Jennifer-Aniston-Just-Gobody” (and then had a coconut-bikini-off with Nicole Kidman, just to keep things classy). And I can hardly write a bikini post without mention of Bunny Lebowski (Tara62 Reid) in her lime green bikini (and matching scrunchie!) asking for her toes to be blown on. The 90s were a fabulous time. Just two years later, another bikini was making an impression on me: Virginie The-BeachLedoyen was looking fine in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. Oh to be the sand upon which she lays. The bikini, by the way, has a great built-in sand disposal unit. It has nowhere to hide! And how can we forget Salma Hayek revealing herself to 489973English-speaking audiences in a daring little bikini (boldly accessorized) in From Dusk Till Dawn. She owned that thing like she owned us. Also 389b5cae16b185ee11268ffa8a31d494sealing sex symbol status in bikinis: Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. Not that her usual Lara Croft attire left much to the imagination, but fan boys like skin and she was prepared to flash it, as long as she could still strap onuntitled.png her weaponry. Margot Robbie, however, didn’t need knives, because she’s got killer curves and puts them to devious use in Focus.

Of course, bikinis weren’t always so itsy-bitsy. When Annette Funicello first hopped her way on to beach blankets, her bikini was anything but skimpy. It still infuriated Disney (she was a annette-funicello_l.jpgMousketeer, the epitome of wholesomeness) so you could say that it was her rather dowdy swimsuit that helped pave the way for newer generations of Disney stars gone sexy, like Selena Gomez in Spring Breakers.

Also on the bikini shit list: Raquel Welch, who inspired a untitled.pngpin-up-worthy movie poster for One Million Years B.C. in which she wore a bikini made of animal skin, infuriating PETA. Sorry PETA, but I think it’s clear that Raquel wins.

062510-Pam-400Another dubious choice for bikini material: Pam Grier’s crocheted bikini. I don’t want to think about what it looks like if you get it wet, but here’s the thing about Pam Grier: she makes everything look cool. And speaking of bikinis you wouldn’t want to get wet, how about that m6etal slave bikini that Leia wears in Star Wars at the insistence of creepo Jabba the Hutt? Metal rusts when it gets wet, and would also probably weigh you down if there was enough of it (which there isn’t). Carrie Fisher actually had two bikinis – a real metal one she wore while lying around and a lighter-fabric replica when she needed to move around. Either way the bikini was Jabba’s undoing – didn’t she choke him out with her own chains?

u4ggTHBThis list wouldn’t exist without Bo Derek. She has proven over and over to be a perfect ’10’ and has more bikini looks than I can count. I might be slightly partial to this one. Brigitte Bardot has also earned herself multiple entries onto this list and actually starred in a movie called The Girl in the Bikini, although she’d popularized maxresdefaultthe look as far back as 1956 in …And God Created Woman. No matter when or where, she’s always doing it justice.

And finally: Every Bond Girl Ever.

Y7_rAER3svlqH58kuaB7Ima-1sEOko2WnZcwZIJGa2cGloria Hendry is to be applauded not just for sporting a bikini while kicking ass in Live or Let Die, but for successfully accessorizing it with a machine gun. She’s tough and fit but proves she’s also sassy and feminine in her swimwear. James Bond never stood a chance.

Halle Berry turned his head in this orange number from Die Another Day, now an iconic Bond Girl look, with a knife strapped to her thigh. This particular bikini was of course a Halle-Berry-bikini-Bond-Girlsend-up to an earlier Bond Girl: Ursula Andress 40 years prior in Dr. No. She too appeared from the sea in bikinis_01.jpgnothing but a bikini and a blade. The copycats don’t end there: you may remember that Heather Graham sported a similar look in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. 6657c5216cf680dee58ba019435713a1

And just so as not to end this post on Heather Graham:

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Claudine Auger from 1965’s Thunderball in a black and white bikini and an even nicer acce2DAA8CD500000578-3284481-image-a-77_1445591635869ssory: Sean Connery.

Mie Hama from 1967’s You Only Live Twice in a familiar-looking white bikini.

 

2D35473F00000578-3284481-Named_after_her_birthplace_luxury_jewellers_Tiffany_Co_Tiffany_C-m-14_1445597551114Diamond-smuggling bad girl in a hot bikini: Tiffany Case (Jill St John) from 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever.

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Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight in a very 1970s print bikini in The Man With The Golden Gun (1974).

 

2D3C037400000578-3284481-image-a-21_1445598307023Caroline Munro throws a kimono over her bikini in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me.

And here’s Caterina Murino riding a horse in a bikini (no mention of chafing) in Casino Royale – a sequined La Perla bikini. You know, La Perla, the lingerie store. In case you had any illusions. They no longer have this for sale, but they do have it, along with Daniel Craig’s tiny trunks, on display in their Beverly Hills location.fhd006VLR_Caterina_Murino_001

Kung Fu Panda 3

In Xmen: Apocalypse, Cyclops convinces Nightcrawler to have a regular teenaged afternoon-about-town. They stop in at the mall, cruise downtown, and go to the movies, where they happen to catch Return of the Jedi and note that the third one in any trilogy is “always the worst.” Ahem.

Kung Fu Panda is Kung Fu-cked up. Well, maybe it’s not terrible, but it IS boring and useless. The animation is kind of beautiful at times, and it takes stabs at being heart-warming, but by the third installment, this franchise just feels washed out, and I was never its biggest fan to begin with. The plot is a barely-there mishmash of eastern and western tropes and while it says the right things, it fails to engage.

You may know from previous films that Po the panda (voiced by Jack Black) is kung-fu-panda-3raised by a restaurateur goose in a village with no other pandas. There is, however, a Kung-Fu master (Dustin Hoffman) and his protégés (Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Lui) which soon includes Po, as improbable as it seems. In this movie, Po’s biological father (Bryan Cranston) shows up in the noodle shop looking for his long-lost son and is thrilled to find that his son is now a dragon warrior because that’s just what his village needs to be saved from the evil villain Kai (J.K. Simmons). But Kai is a super villain and only a master of chi can possibly stand a chance. And rather than mastering chi, Po’s fucked off to magical Panda village where’s fluffing around with the other pandas, stuffing his gourd and rolling about like a big dumb animal.

Don’t worry, it’s a kids’ movie, so everything goes exactly as it should: learn lessons, make fart jokes, yadda yadda yadda. Nobody gets beheaded. Nobody’s femur snaps like a twig. Nobody’s silky soft fur gets worn by a callous victor like a cape. It’s all very, well, PG. Nothing unexpected happens. The plot feels very derivative of the first film’s, and come to think of it, the second’s. No kung-fu-panda-3_640x480_71452230774matter how much kung-fu we learn there’s always another threat to vanquish – both the physical ones, and the ones inside our head (cue soft pan-pipe music). God I hate cartoons with morals.

This one just felt strained to me. Strained like trying to take a giant panda poop on a steady diet of white rice and cheese. Strained like the look on your adopted father’s face when your “real” dad shows up for #3. Strained like that feeling in your groin when you execute a kung fu thrust kick without first stretching your hammies. Strained like a fourth simile would be. This one’s just not working for me.

Unbroken

I was cynical about this movie because critics told me to be. “It’s bad”, they wrote, “don’t bother.” But I watched it and thought: it’s not so bad. Good, even, in some parts. Basically redundant I suppose, but not bad. So why then was it panned? And why then did I feel much the same way upon viewing The Monuments Men, also derided by critics – maybe it wasn’t great, but it also wasn’t the disaster I’d been lead to believe.unbroken-movie-angelina-jolie

So now I’m worried that critics are taking pot-shots at “celebrity” directors. There’s almost nothing conventionally roastable about George Clooney, yet Tina Fey and Amy Pohler still found a way to mock him for making what I thought was a decent movie. He pretended to be a good sport about it, but they hit him where it hurts. If Kim Kardashian was standing behind the camera, fine, open season. But Angelina Jolie has paid her dues and proves it with a movie that is technically sound, and both made movies this year that contribute to a proud historical record for their country. Clint Eastwood, another actor-turned-director did the same with American Sniper, and though I’d say it’s the weakest of the three, it’s being hailed (although not uniformly) as the best.

UNBROKENUnbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a true tale that’s been simmering in different Hollywood pots for the past 70 years. He was an Olympic runner who competed in the Berlin Games and then joined the army just a few years later after the Pearl Harbour attack. As a bombardier in world war two, he and his fellow crewmates were sent out on a search and rescue mission on a plane that couldn’t hack it, and went down due to mechanical failure. One of only three survivors, he then spent more than 6 weeks at sea, barely surviving only to be washed onto Japanese soil where he brutally treated as a POW for the remainder of the war.

You can see why people thought this would make a good movie; it moves episodically from one unbrokenmoviehuge hurdle to the next, a great showcase for the human spirit (and for American spirit in particular). In fact, it’s a relic, the kind of war movie that casts the Japanese as “the enemy” pure and simple, and its indomitable American protagonist as the uncomplicated hero. But what should have been great turns out merely to be good. It’s beautifully shot but generic – we’ve seen the castaway thing a million times, and the POW thing a million more. Jolie adds nothing of her own to these events.

Jack O’Connell impresses again in a physically demanding role (he’s even better in Starred Up) and the cast is strong, but no one is given much more than the standard paces to work with, the unbrokenscript being surprisingly traditional after a Cohen brothers treatment. The movie opens with some nerve-wracking battle scenes in the sky, but from the moment the plane splashes down, we’re drowning in misery and degradation.

While Zamperini’s story is one of redemption and forgiveness, Unbroken shows only despair. Zamperini’s character is lost, a sense of triumph unearned, and the movie stirs emotion only by default.

 

 

Shark Tale

You know how movies always come in pairs? White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen: same basic film. Dante’s Peak and Volcano: twins! Armaggeddon and Deep Impact: same damn thing. Antz and A Bug’s Life: why the hell not. Infamous and Capote: nominally two different films. Turner & Hooch\K-9. Platoon\Full Metal Jacket. The Truman Show\Ed TV. The Prestige\The Illusionist. No Strings Attached\Friends With Benefits. I could go on and likely so could you. Are the movie studios hoping you’ll see one instead of the other, or are they banking that if you liked one, you’ll like the other?

Or did Jeffrey Katzenberg steal an idea and take it with him when he left Disney? He’s been shark-taleaccused of that more than once, and that’s the theory behind Shark Tale conveniently riding on Finding Nemo’s coat tails. Both are animated movies dealing with outcast sharks befriending fish. Doesn’t that seem like quite the coincidence?

DreamWorks Animation has often been a step behind animation powerhouse Pixar, and in this case, Shark Tale isn’t exactly a bad movie, but it is the inferior one.

Oscar (voiced by Will Smith) is a small fish who dreams big. When a shark turns up dead at his feet (fin?) of course he takes the credit, and then the money and the fame that come along with being The Sharkslayer – everything he’s always wanted. Until some real sharks start threatening his reef and he’s the one that’s supposed to stop them.

There’s a tonne of voice talent on hand: Renee Zellwegger, Angelina Jolie, Jack Black – butGang001.jpg my favourites were Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, who recorded their lines together, and if you look carefully at their characters, you’ll see some tell-tale eyebrows and a distinguishing mole.

So why is it that this movie fails? Story, mostly. Pixar has this magical formula for making a children’s movie that still appeals to adults, and I think in striving for it, Dreamworks failed to hit either target. It’s fast and it’s colourful but it doesn’t seem to captivate kids the way that Finding Nemo did. And there’s no underlying truth and sweetness, so no reason for adults to really watch, except for the sharks-as-mafia bit that’s kind of a tired joke, and got the Italic Institute of America all riled up. But that’s not the only organization they pissed off: the Christian wackos over at the American Family Association (a nice euphemism for spouting pure hatred) decided 1that Lenny the Shark was a bad example to kids because his VEGETARIANISM was an allegory for HOMOSEXUALITY. Um, no comment.

The one thing this movie does get right is its soundtrack. But everything in between is forgettable and derivative. Even the animation doesn’t live up to the standard they set with Shrek. There’s no charm, and no whimsy. Would this movie be as ugly if it wasn’t always being compared to the pretty twin, Finding Nemo? Who knows. But it’s just not interesting enough for me to care.