Tag Archives: brad pitt

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

War Machine

This movie intends to satirize the American war in Afghanistan and I suppose it manages to land a few punches, but it’s so cartoonish the film gets bled of any real bite. Brad Pitt plays ‘Obama’s General’, 4-star Glen McMahon (a placeholder for Stanley McChrystal), the guy brought in to win a war his own country started, so of course when things to go to shit, he gets a disproportionate amount of the blame.

War Machine reminds us that war is won by men, but it’s the men in suits who run this MV5BMjQzMzUzNzY3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA5ODI0MjI@._V1_CR0,59,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_war, not men in uniform. Politicians run things but don’t bother to check in with the men on the ground, who are operating on the basis of “counter-insurgency”, a losing proposition each and every time. The soldiers can’t distinguish between the enemy and the people they’re trying to protect. The war is a clusterfuck but so is this lazy attempt at satire.

It looks like it was filmed with a $400 budget and the same can-do American spirit that kept sending more troops to an unwinnable war (at two hours, it’s much too long to have said so little, and not long enough to have left any impression). The voice-over is straight out of a Lifetime movie (it’s meant to be the Rolling Stone journalist who got poor McMahon fired in the end – an unnecessary and cheesy device). And Brad Pitt is doing an awful voice like he’s trying to convince you it’s not really him. It feels like a gross miscalculation on Pitt’s part: the weird growl, the caricature-ish squint, it’s all a little too much to make the General feel flesh and blood.

The script isn’t smart enough and the film offers no insight. And even though it’s a mess, it makes 2009 look kind of quaint compared to 2017, which is the most depressing sin of all.

 

Allied

It’s awfully boring for a spy movie. Allied would be a better film if it could decide whether to be a wartime espionage film, or to just embrace the wartime romance. Instead it tries to be both, and in trying, fails to be much of either.

Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play undercover spies who meet for the first time pretending to be spouses. Some dead Nazis and some illicit sandstorm sex later, they ALLIEDdecide that since they’re so good at pretending, they may as well get married in real life too. They’re warned that “field romances” rarely prosper, but critics be damned, they marry anyway, with London blitzing away in the background.

Marion Cotillard is full of sparkle, but Brad Pitt just flubs this six ways to occupied France. He has his moments, I suppose, but watching him struggle, try too hard, and come in rubbery is just embarrassing. Why has director Robert Zemeckis allowed such mediocrity? Possibly because he knew the material didn’t warrant much more. Brady Pitt is hardly the only problem, only the most surprising. The script is limp, indecisive. Nothing juicy happens until an hour in, the action comes in very, very small bursts with lots of passing the time in between. And at least one of the lead actors, perhaps even both, are outshined by Cotillard’s wardrobe, which may be a bit sumptuous for 1940s London, but who’s counting. Costumer Joanna Johnston nabbed an Oscar nom for her work but probably stands very little chance of actually winning. And frankly, I’m perfectly okay with this Oscar baity movie coming away with no Academy Awards whatsoever.

TIFF: Voyage of Time

Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience is the 45 minute version of Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, written and directed by Terrence Fucking Malick; a 30 year labour of love.

We watched the shorter version in the IMAX theatre where Sean watched Spiderman 2 with a girl named Tall, Stupid Rebecca. Did you guys know Sean dated other women before me? How rude. But he did, apparently, when he used to live in the fine city of Toronto (and voyage-of-time-copertinaby the way, I also lived here at the time, and yet: Rebecca BitchFace. I’m sure she’s a lovely girl.) Where was  I? Oh yes.

It takes a special brand of masochism to attempt a Terrence Malick flick as your fourth film of the day, and yet there we were, sitting in the same seats where Sean once fumbled an “accidental” boob graze of another woman’s tit. I KNOW YOUR MOVES, SEAN. Ahem. I digress.

Voyage of Time is billed as an examination of “the origins of the universe, the birth of stars and galaxies, the beginning of life on Earth and the evolution of diverse species” but that’s COMPLETE HORSESHIT. Calling it a documentary at all feels like a stretch. Or, you know, a flat out lie. But it is the movie Terrence Malick was born to make. His feature films tend to be languorous, dreamy imagery interspersed with the vaguest tendrils of plot. Voyage of Time is all the imagery and none of the plot. It’s loaded up with his signature “sun flares through a leafy tree” but these alternate between CGI renderings of what Terrence Malick thinks the beginnings of life might have looked like. Terrence Malick is many things, but: astrophysicist? Nope. He’s definitely got some scientific advisers on tumblr_o9l8rnmwj61r5ixiao2_540board but the result isn’t science at all. It’s conceptual; more contemplative than comprehensive. No science teacher will ever show this in class – but a yoga teacher might. Getting the gist? It’s a thing of beauty, often thoughtful, but far from educational.

Brad Pitt narrates, often in such a way that you can hear the italics in his voice. It’s like he’s reciting poetry with his eyes closed (Cate Blanchett narrates the longer version, for some reason). I tried very hard not to snort because the director of photography was sitting directly behind me, and that’s a lot of pressure. I felt sometimes that I should sigh appreciatively just so that he didn’t get a complex. Or lean back for a high five every time there was a sun-dappled field or rays of sunshine peaking from between limbs of a majestic tree.

It’s obvious even from Malick’s narrative films that he has a thing for nature and philosophy and theology, for lack of a better word. The pace of the movie is soulful, at the rate of about 1 fact per 1-2 minutes of silent reflection.

Did I enjoy it? Well, fuck. It is an experience. Plus, making it to the end of any Malick movie is an accomplishment, almost equal with having climbed Everest. It’s definitely CV-able. And he did raise a question I’ll be chewing over for days to come. Most documentaries in the vicinity address life – what, where, when, why. But Terrence asked about death – when did death first appear? And you know what? Not only do I not know the answer, I didn’t even know to ask the question. We think of life and death as inseparable, but who’s to say?  Life’s first ambition is to go on living, and maybe that’s exactly what it did. Until. Until what? I don’t know. Neither does Malick, but at least he’s asking, and you know he’s asking in the most magical way he knows.

 

The Las Vegas Chronicles: Ocean’s 11

When Danny Ocean (George Clooney) puts together his 11-man team of thieves to pull the ultimate heist, he’s got some iconic Las Vegas locations in mind: the Bellagio, The MGM Grand, and The Mirage.

The main action takes place at the swankiest of the hotels, the Bellagio, home of those famous fountains. The Bellagio gave the crew unprecedented access, and even closed down their valet parking during filming, forcing even the high rollers to use underground parking (egads!). When Julia Roberts makes her entrance, it’s  down the beautiful staircase in the Bellagio Conservatory but no, you can’t recreate that scene, because the stairs were soon torn down to make room for a spa wing. The biggest stars all stayed at the Bellagio too, and gambled during their down time. George Clooney says Matt Damon won the most money, while Damon insists it was Brad Pitt. The only thing the whole cast agrees on is that it was George who lost the most: he managed to lose an astonishing 25 hands of blackjack in a row.

We’re writing about movies set in Las Vegas this week because that happens to be where we’re hiding out. It’s often called sin city, and I can only assume that sin is gluttony. Las Vegas is home to some of the most fabulous eateries in the entire world. You could easily find a different 12-course, $1200 meal every night of the week, or, alternatively, you could do all-you-can-eat shellfish for $12.99. Brad Pitt’s character is always taking advantage of Las Vegas’s fine foods – in one scene where he’s spying on Julia Roberts, his character is eating shrimp cocktail, and filming went on long enough that Pitt ended up eating 40 shrimps, which is maybe not all you can eat, but definitely more than you should.

In the movie, the script called for the blowing up of hotel New York, New York. However, in the wake of 9\11, it was thought that this image would be too disturbing, and a fake hotel, the Xanadu, stood in. The Xanadu never exited but it was planned to be Vegas’s first mega-resort in the 1970s. Disputes over sewage disrupted plans and it was never built.

And how can we talking about Vegas without talking about Elvis – or talk about this movie without mentioning the song that was remixed and used so successfully? Producers wanted to stay away from the obviousness of “Viva Las Vegas” so they used Presley’s A Little Less Conversation instead, giving it a modern mix. It soon found traction on the radio and became a hit, decades after it was originally recorded. The King is alive and well.

Ocean’s 11 closes with that shot in front of the fountain. The characters saunter away a little mournfully, one by one – a shot that had to be orchestrated for the movie and wouldn’t be possible in real life. They had to drain one of the fountains so the guys had somewhere to go. In the original Ocean’s 11, the men walked away from the Sands casino, which is where many members of the rat pack were performing at the time (in fact, most of the movie had to be filmed in the mornings since the guys sleep in the afternoon, perform at night, get hair and makeup done in the wee hours, and show up to set as the sun rose). Sammy Davis Jr. was not allowed to stay on the strip with his cast-mates and had to be shuttled to a “colored” hotel, and this man was a bona fide player and Vegas mainstay. Sinatra had to appeal to the casino owners for special dispensation to break the colour barrier. How’s that for some warm and fuzzy Vegas nostalgia?

 

We’re traipsing around Vegas this week, so be sure to follow our adventures on Twitter (@assholemovies) – shenanigans guaranteed.

 

The Mexican

It’s been a long road back from back surgery, and I’m not out of the woods yet, I still have IMG_7429.JPGhealing to do, but the minute I had the tubes finally detached from me and I tasted a little freedom, Sean and I were leaving on a jet plane, headed for sunny Mexico.

One of my favourite offbeat comedies is The Mexican – totally incidentally, I’m sure. In it, Brad Pitt has shit luck. He’s the lowest rung of organized crime and is being sent to Mexico, against his will, “for one last job” to pick up a beautiful antique gun that just happens to be cursed. His girlfriend, Julia Roberts, is tired of this shit. She’s tired of her relationship going according to some mob boss’s whim. So they break up, profusely. He goes to Mexico and puts on a pretty good gringo act, and she drives to Vegas in her Bug, a woman scorned. Until she meets James Gandolfini, who kidnaps and holds her ansom for the ancient pistol.

I’m totally charmed by this movie every time I watch it. I love how Brad Pitt and JK Simmons are openly mocked by the Mexicans. I’m positively tickled by it. And I adore the chemistry between Roberts and Gandolfini. It’s not to be missed.

The Mexico in The Mexican is not the one tourists normally see. It’s dirt floors and seedy bars and low riders. It may be a Mexico that only exists in movies. Sean and I were in need of some rest and restoration, so opted for the good old all-inclusive resort side of Mexico (which is not real Mexico either, but it sure tastes pleIMG_7548asant), with the cheerful Mariachi bands and the frozen margaritas with salty rims.
We stayed on the Mayan Riviera and sunk our toes into the hot, white sand. We got uneven sunburns from underneath palapas. We renewed our vows beside an ancient temple, a ruin on a rocky island just metres from the beach. It was beautiful, as Mexico always is.

 

One Floor Below

This summer, I wrote a little about my appreciation for some harmless eavesdropping. Not in a creepy way. But if you’re having a conversation while I’m in earshot, I’m listening in. For instance, just a moment ago, I overheard one colleague saying to another “I brought soup for supper tonight but will go out to get some salad so I can get my vegetables too. Not that salad is vegetables”.

The comments from some of our readers could not have been more validating. Who would have thought that so many bloggers loved to watch out of the corner of their eye as strangers live their lives? I’ve never felt better about not minding my own business.

The response I got was a little surprising. It seems to contradict my favorite Morgan Freeman speech of all time, where he tells Brad Pitt “In any major city, minding your own business is a science”. This line from Se7en, despite being delivered with the conviction of a great actor in his prime, may seem a little strange given our obsession with office gossip and the private lives of celebrities. Of course, this isn’t what Freeman was talking about. What if the person you’re watching happens to need your help? Suddenly, it can be quite tempting to play the “Hey, this is none of my business” card.

So it goes with Patrascu in One Floor Below, a Romanian thriller from director Radu Muntean. Climbing the stairs to his apartment, Patrascu can’t help overhearing, especially since he stops for a moment to listen in, a scandalous argument between two lovers in an apartment one floor below. From the sounds of it, the heated discussion quickly escalates into a case of domestic violence, at which point the middle-aged husband and father decides “Hey, this is none of my business” and moves on. The next day, he learns that the young woman one floor below has been murdered.

Why introduce my review with three paragraphs of questionably relevant references to eavesdropping, salad, and Morgan Freeman? Well, I had to talk about SOMETHING! What do you say about a movie where nothing much happens? However thought-provoking Patrascu’s moral dilemma, Muntean makes his point in one or two short scenes, leaving very little to talk about for the rest of the movie. The ambitious director struggles to find drama in a murder case where the main character makes no effort either to investigate or find justice (in fact, he lies to the police to avoid getting involved).

Muntean asks some good questions and makes some unsettling observations in One Floor Below but there aren’t enough of them- and not nearly enough plot- to fill 93 minutes. I admire the restraint with which he tells a story that could have so easily given in to melodrama. I couldn’t help feeling like I really should be liking this movie. But it really couldn’t hold my attention. And this coming from a guy who is captivated by two colleagues talking about soup.

The Big Short

If you were one of the many Ron Burgundy fans who felt let down by Anchorman 2, the movie to blame is finally here. Adam McKay, Head Writer at Saturday Night Live during the late 90s and the director of all the most Will Ferrelly of Will Ferrell movies, was not the obvious choice to adapt such a serious book as The Big Short and reportedly only agreed to write a second Anchorman to sweeten the deal.

The Big Short, which I have not read, was written by Michael Lewis and documents the story of the big short 2the small group of people who foresaw the collapse of the housing market in 2007 and took a giant gamble by betting against the banks. Now, I’ve seen Inside Job, 2010’s Oscar-winning documentary about the financial crisis and I’ve seen Wolf of Wall Street but still manage to get my dividends and my CDIs mixed up. With Inside Job going so far over my head, I couldn’t help but wonder how a writer best known for “Go fuck yourself, San Diego” would handle such potentially confusing material.

the big short 3It turns out that Mckay is the right guy to make a financial crisis movie for someone as financially illiterate as I am. He consistently finds creative ways to pause to explain the trickier concepts, often by breaking the fourth wall with outrageous celebrity cameos of which I wouldn’t dare spoil the surprise. There are enough jokes, often poking fun at the conventions of movies that are “based on a true story”, to hold our attention better than Inside Out or Wolf or Wall Street could hope to without ever abandoning the appropriate level of outrage at how so much greed could cause so much suffering.

How Hollywood could make a movie- a comedy no less- from Lewis’ book wasn’t the only reason to be curious about McKay’s film. It also boasts one of 2015’s most intriguing casts. Brad Pitt, one of The Big Short’s producers, has the smallest role of the four names above the title but stands out for his uncharacteristicallyy understated performance. I didn’t even recognize him in the preview. (I thought he was Peter Dinklage).  I couldn’t help noticing though that casting himself as the one guy who gets that “this is just not right” is becoming a bit of a self-serving the big shorthabit of his. (See: 12 Years a Slave). Ryan Gosling, last seen in 2013’s Only God Forgives, makes his triumphant return to the big screen. As Jared Vennett, he channels all the handsome-and-he-knows-it smugness that we saw in Crazy Stupid Love and The Ides of March. Come to think of it, he’s versatile enough to have played pretty much any of the major characters so his talents may have been better served with a better part but he plays it well and has some really funny lines.

Christian Bale and Steve Carrell- believe it or not- are competing for the Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical Golden Globe. Bale plays Michael Burry, the brilliant hedge fund manager with Asperger’s who loves to air drum. He’s good but has been better. He plays the eccentric genius a little like he did the eccentric in American Hustle but he has some strong scenes, especially when he starts to let his humility show towards the end. It’s Carrell, though, who steals the show. With the other characters so impressed with their own coolnees or brilliance and so focused on how much money they’re going to make if their gamble pays off, Carrell brings the humanity. He plays money manager Mark Baum, based on Steve Eisman. He’s had it out for the banks ever since his brother lost all his money and jumped off the roof of a highrise. (I’m not sure if that happened to Eisman or not). His shock and anger is palpable in every scene. Because he’s played by Steve Carrell, he’s still funny. But McKay counts on him to remind us that, while laughing at the stupidity and recklessness of Wall Street can be a lot of fun, a lot of real people got hurt.

I’ll be cheering for him on Sunday.