Tag Archives: before they were famous

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

If you want to keep up with our New Orleans exploration, visit us on Twitter @assholemovies

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Interview with the Vampire

It’s that time of year again: Sean and I have fled cold, snowy Ottawa to celebrate his birthday in warmer or at least more exotic climes. Last year we were in Hawaii but this year we’ve set our sights on New Orleans, so you can count on the next several reviews carrying on in that theme.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles came out in 1994, which means it may be older than some of you. Based on the best selling novel by Anne Rice, herself a New Orleans native.

So the premise is this: a reporter (Christian Slater) is interviewing a 200 year old vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt). He was formerly a plantation owner who lost his wife in childbirth, which threw him into a depression. This is when he met a vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise), who turned him and taught him vampire ways.

Tom Cruise was not supposed to have been cast; when Rice wrote it in 1976, she had  Rutger Hauer in mind. The book was optioned a few years later with John Travolta attached but a glut of other vampire movies (Dracula, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Love at First Bite, all in 1979) put the project on pause. When the wheels started turning again, Travolta was deemed too old. Rice met with Tom Hanks instead, but interview-with-the-vampire-kirsten-dunst-brad-pitt-hughe turned it down for Forrest Gump. Daniel Day-Lewis was cast but then dropped out just weeks before filming. Then it was offered to Johnny Depp, who turned it down. And finally it went to Tom Cruise, which made Anne Rice livid, certain he could not handle the part. Of Cruise’s casting, she said “it’s so bizarre; it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work” and “the worst crime in the name of casting since The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Rice recused herself from the production but when she eventually forced herself to watch it, she was so impressed by Cruise’s performance that she wrote him a letter of apology.

Jeremy Irons had also turned down the part because he didn’t want to spend hours in the makeup chair again, and he wasn’t wrong. The vampire makeup took hours to do, in part because the actors were required to hang upside down for up to 30 minutes at a time, allowing the blood to rush into their faces, making veins bulge out. The makeup artists would then trace the veins to create the vampire’s look. But then the blood would disperse and the process would have to be repeated several times. To keep the vampire look secret, Tom Cruise ordered the set to be completely private, necessitating tunnels to be built to shuttle the stars to and from the set.

Makeup is not the only reason Brad Pitt was completely miserable on the set and tried his darndest to get out of the contract. He also hated his costumes and coloured contacts, but most of all he hated playing second fiddle to Tom Cruise – ahem – both on and off the set.

Christina Ricci, Julia Stiles, Evan Rachel Wood, and Natalie Portman all tried out for the part of Claudia but it was a young Kirsten Dunst who won the role. She had her first on-screen kiss in the film – her 12 year old self to Brad Pitt’s 30 years. She wasn’t even allowed to watch the film when it came out; it was R-rated, and her parents thought her too young.

Speaking of age discrepancies, there was also a height discrepancy, and it forced Tom Cruise to act atop crates to try to appear level with the other vampires. Cruise has said that he watched videos of lions eating zebras to prepare for the role. In unrelated news: Tom Cruise is a strange man.

Christian Slater took over the role of Malloy upon the death of River Phoenix. In his honour, Slater donated his salary to two of Phoenix’s favourite charities. The film has a dedication to him at the end of the credits.

Rice was originally worried that the movie would never get made because the novel contained allusions to a possible sexual relationship between Lestat and Louis. Not only was she prepared to write this out of the script completely, for a while she even turned the part of Louis into a woman, and had Cher in mind to play her. Ultimately the two roles remained male, and Cruise and Pitt earned a Razzie for worst screen couple. Conversely, the movie was also nominated for two Oscars, but lost those – Best Art/Set Direction went to The Madness of King George, and Best Original Score went to The Lion King. Cher had actually written a song for the movie, called Lovers Forever, but because of that dicey word Lovers, it was rejected – but eventually appeared on an album of hers in 2013!

The film supposedly inspired a real life crime shortly after the film’s release. On November 17, 1994, Daniel Sterling and his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen watched the film together. The next day, Sterling stabbed Stellwagen seven times in her chest and back and sucked the blood from her wounds. Stellwagen survived the multiple stab wounds and Sterling was arrested. He claimed the film influenced his plan but the jury convicted him of attempted first-degree murder, among several other charges.

Lots of the 1700s vampire stuff was filmed in and around New Orleans. River scenes were fudged by removing modern items like the Greater New Orleans Bridge and surrounding radio towers in post-production. The Old Coliseum Theatre was used for on-location shooting but sadly burned down in 2006 so Sean and I won’t be able to visit. The city and the businesses were quite cooperative to the film crew – they agreed to turn out their lights for the duration of the filming to preserve the illusion of the film’s time period.

You may recall that the film ends up in San Francisco, where Malloy drives across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sean and I are not visiting that esteemed city this trip but we have before, and reviewed the movies to prove it. The crew received permission to shut down 2 lanes of traffic on that bridge, which is reportedly very hard to get.

 

Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your favourite spots? Any favourite movies set in the city? Predictions as to what I’ll review next? Be sure to check our Twitter feed for updates from the city – @assholemovies

Los Angeles, I’m Yours

Today we’re exploring the big beautiful city of Los Angeles, and to prepare I’ve cycled through several films that have given me invaluable insight on what we might encounter:

boyzBoyz N The Hood: Luckily our hotel is on Hollywood & Vine rather than in the ghetto. Ice Cube and Cuba Gooding Jr play boyhood friends who are just barely surviving the gunfire in their neighbourhood. Bullets and helicopters are the film’s soundtrack. John Singleton paints a pretty bleak outlook for these kids without the benefit of options, futures, or even fathers. Lessons learned: watch out for rival gangs and street racing, and eat  your french fries indoors.

Fletch: Chevy Chase plays an investigative journalist a little too comfortable going undercover as a bum\new age guru. Fletch is looking into the booming drug trade on the beach when fletchapproached one day by a wealthy man who asks him to be the homeless man who shoots him dead, bypassing cancer and netting his wife the insurance. But Fletch isn’t really a bum and the guy isn’t really dying of cancer. Lessons learned: watch out for rollerskaters on the boardwalk, bums and new age gurus are practically indistinguishable, the people are rude to waiters, LAPD is useless.

LA_Story_5594L.A. Story: Steve Martin is a weather guy in sunny and 72-degrees Los Angeles. He resorts to hijinks just to make his broadcasts interesting. Then he meets a girl, and that’s when this satirization of the big city really starts to zing. A freeway signpost starts to talk to him, and he begins to listen. Lots of celebrity cameos ensue. Lessons learned: the traffic is so bad you may as well take love advice from it

Less Than Zero: Andrew McCarthy is back from college for the holidays and Less_than_zero_1987_posterfinds his girlfriend hooking up with his best friend, the drug addict (Robert Downey Jr – kinda tough to watch him like this all things considered). It’s a real testament to crazy L.A. decadence. Then James Spader makes RDJ become a whore, and things really get interesting. Lessons learned: the girls are loose and the drugs are abundant – just my kind of town!

Collateral: Jamie Foxx has cabbie good luck (hot lady fare, Jada Pinkett Smcollateralith, gives him respect AND her number) and cabbie bad luck (hit man, Tom Cruise, takes him hostage); just a typical day driving around L.A. I guess! He’s forced to drive around while Cruise assassinates various names on a list of witnesses – the last of which of course turns out to be previously mentioned hot lady. Lessons learned: watch your bags at the airport, doormen are for shit, maybe take the bus? Although Lesson learned in Speed: DO NOT take the bus!

If you’d like to find out whether we’ve taken the bus or a taxi, follow us @assholemovies – we’re updating our California adventure daily!

Trash We Watched on the Weekend

It’s fairy-tale week here at Assholes Watching Movies. Tomorrow night we’re taking our grumpy butts over to the Coliseum to watch Cinderella, live-action in all her glory.

Our friend Wanderer challenged us this week to name our favourite live-action fairy tale adaptations. As usual, we Assholes like to do our homework, so this weekend Matt, Sean, and myself made several pitchers of martinis and settled in for some “classics.” For those of you with strong stomachs, we live-tweeted the experience @assholemovies . For the rest, here were our thoughts:

The NeverEnding Story (1984): Turns out, Matt and I have not seen this one; we were thinking of the sequel the whole time. We had to pause the movie 4 minutes in to have a lengthy discussionuntitled about Jonathan Brandis. Anyway, the first one is about a little boy who hides from the world (and his bullies!) and reads the day away, becoming involved in this magical book. The story follows Atreyu, another little boy, but also the brave warrior who must save The Childlike Empress of fictional Fantasia and gets to ride a dragon who looks like a dog named Falkor while doing (fair trade though, he did lose his horse, who Matt felt was a better actor than the kid). Sean, who is much, much older than Matt and I,  still considers this a beloved film from his childhood (he probably watched it on a projector while eating the lead paint chips from his crib) and can still sing the theme song (rather badly, no many how many martinis he’s had, or we’ve had). There were big stone boobs in it though, so you can’t really blame the guy: it’s probably where his little fixation started.

LadyHawke (1985): I still have no idea why it’s called Ladyhawke and not Manwolf, because this tale is about both. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as the eponymous lady who turns into a hawk, cursed by an angry bishop to be forever separated from her lover, who happens to turn into a wolf just ladyhawkeas she takes human form. But don’t worry, bumbling, baby-faced Matthew Broderick doing a terrible Middle Ages accent to the rescue! In this movie, Matt was more critical of the animals’ performances. He really felt that the birds all seemed downtrodden and perhaps just too starstruck to turn in good work – and it turns out, he was right! An animal handler said they actually had to replace one hawk because he was so chuffed about sitting on Blade Runner’s arm, he ruffled his feathers and looked more like a chicken. So: score one, Matt.

Freeway (1996): The movie Reese Witherspoon is trying to get expunged from IMDB. It’s supposedly a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, where Red belongs in juvy, her mama’s a 16grandma17whore, her grandma lives in a trailer park, and “Mr. Wolverton” (Keifer Sutherland) is a serial killer with a preference for spilling white trash blood. It’s so crude and crass it carried an NC-17 rating – and really fouled up our Twitter feed! Still debating who had the better line. Reese: “My ex-husband’s parole officer hasn’t even been born yet” or Keifer: “Don’t be offended by my next question, but did your stepfather ever molest you?” You can’t make this stuff up!

Kinky Boots

The first time I watched Kinky Boots was before Joel Edgerton was Ramses and Chiwetel Ejiofor was a slave. It was a humble little Britcom about a drag queen who helps a man save and diversity his shoe company when his father dies suddenly and leaves the insolvent mess in his unwilling hands.

kinky-boots-8It’s not a particularly inspired movie, quite formulaic in fact for something developed from a “true story.” Ejiofor sparkles, of course, in a big wig and even bigger heels. One of his five Golden Globe nominations comes from this film, and it’s worth seeing just to watch this handsome Oscar-nominated man dance about in a skirt like he means it. The movie’s best line, delivered by none other: Please, God, tell me I have not inspired something burgundy.

Have you ever rewatched an old movie only to “discover” someone famous in it? I can’t quite remember when it first dawned on me that the girl from that silly Labyrinth movie I was obsessed with as a kid was actually Jennifer Connolly. Matt recently spotted Daniel Day-Lewis hamming it up in Gandhi. How about you?

Following

Everyone has to start somewhere, and for genius director Christopher Nolan, that movie was Following.

Shot in stark, black and white 16mm stock, Nolan sets the stage for a modern film noir Film_638w_Following_original(postnoir?). Bill, between jobs, starts following people in the street. He starts out innocuously, restrained by a code of strict rules, but then begins to take risks when a well-groomed man piques his interest. This man, Cobb, confronts him, and soon the two partner up in Cobb’s break-ins. The burglaries are interesting because Cobb seems more interested in learning about and fucking with the lives of his victims than with stealing their stuff. Bill is seduced by this mysterious and glamorous lifestyle and is soon acting without his mentor. This of course leads him down an even more dangerous path of crime. The movie ends abruptly, I felt (I had to check of maybe it was a two-parter), after a quick 70 minutes.

Do you see a lot of Chris Nolan in this film? Initially I thought no. I’m used to his big, cinematic scapes, whereas this movie has a lot of very tight, close shots. But the story is told out of polaroidmomentosequence, keeping us off balance, reminding us that we don’t know as much as we think we do – and that non-linear kind of story-telling is, as you know, very Nolan. To attempt this on a first feature, with no budget, took a whole heap of faith. It marked him as a director with a lot of imagination and a meticulousness for details – both of which helped qualify him for his astonishing follow-up, Momento.

He shot Following just on weekends because his actors and crew all had full-time jobs. He used film conservatively to keep costs down and usually only managed to capture about 15 minutes a Batman-Writers-Chistopher-Nolan-Best-Movieday. At that rate, it took them a year to film on a no-budget of just $6000. Nolan wrote, directed and filmed his baby, and helped to edit it too. His friends gave up their apartments for locations and his Mum made sandwiches for the cast and crew. This is obviously not his great oeuvre but it does show a confident young man and tonnes of promise. A tidy little movie that still manages to include a cross, a double cross, a tripe cross – maybe this film isn’t quite so far off the Nolan mark as I first thought. The characters are brooding and enigmatic. The look of the film achieves something atmospheric despite the absence of movie lighting. And the over-arching theme of obsession? That’s pretty familiar Nolan territory.

So I suppose we can watch this decent little indie flick and see hints of coming greatness. inceptionCertainly it’s a step in the direction of darkness – and Mr. Nolan is known not just for reviving the Batman franchise but for injecting the whole superhero industry with a trend toward darker reboots. He can be demanding of his audience and he can infuriatingly reward us with an ambiguous ending – but isn’t that just the Nolan charm?

 

What’s your favourite Chris Nolan?

 

Almost Famous

I’m watching Almost Famous and I know you don’t need to be sold on it. It’s terrific. But sometimes, between viewings, you forget how terrific. I’m just eleven minutes in, at the part when the sister, played by Zooey Deschanel, leaves and she bequeaths her record collection to almosther little brother. He flips through those albums (actual saved albums of director Cameron Crowe) and dreams are born. Just watching him discover music that will open up his world wakes something up inside me, like the infinite possibility of childhood. Like you could fall in love with anything, any time.

Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a great performance; this is the first time I’ve watched a movie of his since his passing and really felt his loss. Frances McDormand can’t help but be excellent. Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson give star-making performances (even all this time later, seeing him on screen in Gone Girl still prompted the whisper, isn’t that the kid from Almost Famous?). Rainn Wilson, Jay Baruchel, Nick Swarsdon, Eric Stonestreet and Mitch Hedberg all make “before they were stars” appearances, solidifying Crowe’s casting genius.

Almost Famous had triple the music budget of the average movie, and it was worth every penny. Peter Frampton was onboard to write music for the movie’s fictional band, Stillwater. But ultimately this movie hits home for a lot of us because it’s about discovery. Do you remember the first album you ever bought? Listening to a track obsessively? Memorizing lyrics? Calling in to your favourite radio station? Pouring over the liner notes? Music is the gateway to our growing up, and to witness William naive and wide-eyed bumping up against the most cynical of industries is a little like watching ourselves encounter the big bad world for the first time.

 

Mixed Nuts

 

 

A small group of dedicated counsellors are working a crisis line on Christmas, even though they’re about to get evicted. It features an all-star cast: Steve Martin,  Rita Wilson, Madeline Kahn, Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Anthony LaPaglia, Juliette Lewis, Rob Reiner, Joely Fisher, and Garry Shandling. Victor Garber lends a voice, tiny Haley Joel Osment can be spotted, and Jon Stewart and Parker Posey play yuppie rollerbladers who are comparatively not worthy of top-billing.nuts

I watch this movie without fail, every year. Admittedly, this is in part because for the past 7 I have found myself working at a crisis line on Christmas.

Now, the thing that you must understand about this movie is that it is bad. Quite bad. But lovable.

Rita Wilson is a goofball who probably shouldn’t be in movies. She’s way too earnest and tries too hard. She seems to mistake acting for clowning and all her lines are shouted, all her gestures hammy and over the top. But writer\director Nora Ephron had just finished making Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks, and may she owed him one (Wilson is his wife).

But just so that Wilson doesn’t feel left out, the others join in on the sub-par acting. Steve Martin resorts to slap-stick. Adam Sandler does a bit with a ukelele that feels like an SNL sketch just wandered randomly onto the set. Juliette Lewis, never the last to board the crazy train, goes balls-deep in the fruitloop department. She delivers her lines as if she’s reading a book to a group of small, not very brightl children. Maybe they’re all just trying to get noticed? Too many cooks in the kitchen? Tooo many clowns at the circus?

This movie is SO bad that it actually uses a recording of the Jingle Cats doing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Fruitcakes are abundant, both literally and figuratively. Liev Schreiber wears a dress and does a fierce tango in his feature film debut – oh what a career that man could have had!  And by the way, who taught Juliette Lewis how to empty a gun?

But to me, all the bad pieces add up to a silly, fun movie, exactly the kind of thing I need in between depressive, suicidal callers when I’m at work early on Christmas morning. Madeline Kahn is perfection, and Rob Reiner, as the straight man, is pretty fun too. And despite the many problems, Nora Ephron is still Nora Ephron, and this movie is full of quotable lines. Is this required Christmas viewing? Certainly not. But if you’ve got a dearth of Christmas cheer, or hours to fill at work over the holidays, then give it a try. You may even find it becoming a Christmas staple.

 

Don’t forget to vote for your favourite Christmas movie!

Gandhi

I spend a lot of my movie-watching time with old movies- “classics” as most DVD rental stores call them, so I thought I would post some online reviews of films that have been around longer than online reviews to see how well they hold up. This week I rented Richard Attenborough’s 1983 Academy Award for Best Picture Winner Gandhi, a movie I’ve always meant to see because I thought I “should” but never got around to. Maybe it was it’s 190 minute running time. But I sat through Interstellar twice over the last two weeks so I decided I was ready.

This is, of course, the story of Mohandas K Gandhi, who I’ll assume needs no introduction, beginning in South Africa in 1893 until his death in 1948. So, 55 years of history over 3 hours. Get comfortable.

What it’s lost with age. Or maybe this was always a problem. I was a year old when Gandhi was originally released and my parents wouldn’t take me to see it at the time as much as I begged. Watching it today though, I thought Attenborough’s perfectly understandable reverence for his subject might have gotten in the way. Gandhi is potrayed more as saint than complex human being and we never really understand why he did the things he did. I’m not usually one to complain about length but it is tough to hold an audience’s attention for three hours when the main character does nothing but humble and self-sacrificing things.

What still holds up. Gandhi is played by Ben Kingsley (Sir Ben now but back then I think it was just Ben). Ben won a well-deserved Oscar for the part, beating out Tootsie’s Dustin Hoffman who ironically turned down the chance to play Gandhi, making me shudder to think how bad this movie could have been. As both the young hopeful Gandhi and the exhausted and starving older one, Ben’s eyes, voice, and posture are almost perfect. His performance is by far the best reason to see this movie.

Nice surprise for modern audiences. Early in the film, Gandhi is stopped on the street and mocked by three young punks (although they probably wouldn’t have been called that in the 1800s). My first thought was “These guys are so over the top. They have to be the worst actors in the entire movie”. My second thought was “Is that Daniel Day-Lewis?” It was. I guess everybody has to start somewhere.

Bottom line. When I’m watching a movie about a real guy, I tend not to like movies that try to cover too much. 55 years is a lot and I would have liked a movie that focused on a smaller, more manageable window in greater detail. Still, the old school production (real human extras instead of CGI ones, for example) give you that “they don’t make ’em like this anymore” feeling. And then there’s those performances. Ben Kingsley at his best, Daniel Day-Lewis at his worst. Who could ask for more?