Tag Archives: Thandie Newton

TIFF18: The Death and Life of John F. Donovan

The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is a good movie in the shadow of a great one.

As a child, Rupert Turner was enamoured with a teen hearthrob, John F. Donovan, who was actually an adult playing a teenager on some soapy high school drama. A budding actor himself, Rupert (Jacob Tremblay) writes to Donovan (Kit Harington), telling him of his ambitions and desires – namely, to one day act alongside him. Surprisingly, Donovan writes back, and a beautiful friendship is forged, strictly as pen pals. But when that relationship is discovered, first by Rupert’s mother (Natalie Portman), then by the press, the friendship is misinterpreted and Donovan vilified. He dies before our two buddies can ever meet up.

john_f_donovanTen years later, a grown-up Rupert (Ben Schnetzer) is releasing a collection of their correspondence as a book, and a skeptical reporter (Thandie Newton) is interviewing him. The truth of their friendship is revealed through flashbacks, as is Donovan’s life, which of course was not all rainbows and lollipops.

Behind his privilege, Donovan had an absent father, a family that fauns over him and resents him in equal measure, an alcoholic mother (Susan Sarandon), an agent who is decidedly not his friend (Kathy Bates), and a girlfriend/childhood friend (Emily Hampshire) who is also his beard (unknowingly). He’s hiding a lot. He lives in a world filled with illusion. He’s pulled in a thousand directions and has no friends who aren’t on the payroll, and yeah, it is kind of sad that he unburdens his soul to a kid, but it’s also kind of understandable, which is sadder still.

Director Xavier Dolan is uniquely positioned to have something to say about child actors and the celebrity beast and I really enjoyed his attempts at profundity in this film. This is his first English-language film and while there are still traces of his typically auteur-ish style, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan is perhaps missing just a little of what normally makes a Dolan a Dolan. It also suffers a bit from bloat. Susan Sarandon’s performance is quite good, her character very interesting, but there isn’t a lot of room for her, as Dolan cut the movie down from 4 hours to just over 2 (and left Jessica Chastain completely on the cutting room floor). Kathy Bates’ part isn’t really a part at all, barely more than a cameo.

Dolan’s crime seems to have been starting out with too much to say and then having a hard time parting ways with any of it during editing. But I think John Donovan is a character worth getting to know. And the topic of celebrity death, and our cultural obsession with it, and possibly contribution to it, is ripe for harvesting.  I think the wording of the title has something to say about it all by itself. This movie isn’t all that it could be, and coming in to a Xavier Dolan film, I can’t help but bring high hopes and standards. But there’s something worthwhile here, and I hope it will be mined for the diamonds and not just the flaws.

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Gringo

Richard and Elaine are co-presidents of a pharmaceutical company that’s doing shady dealings. Harold is the guy they figure won’t ask any questions, so they routinely send him down to Mexico to unknowingly do their dirty work. But Mexico’s a dangerous place to navigate and when the worst happens and Harold places a panicked call from his kidnapper’s lair to his bosses, Richard and Elaine are forced to admit that they’ve let the kidnapping insurance lapse.

MV5BMjg0OWVkNDktOTg4NC00ZThmLWJmZDktZWVmOTEzMmE2YWJhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Uh oh. “Luckily” Richard (Joel Edgerton) “knows a guy”, so they’re not going to pay the kidnappers so much as send in an “extractor” named Mitch (Sharlto Copley) who claims he’s out of the business, straight as an arrow. Right. But while Harold (David Oyelowo) is awaiting ransom or extraction or escape in Mexico, he gets into even more trouble in the form of drug cartels (notice the plural).

Between buzzing bullets and dark comedy, Gringo goes off-roading in Mexico in the worst way possible. It’s kind of a mess, and an egregious misuse of a serious talented cast, and director Nash Edgerton should know better – he’s Joel’s brother. And I’m not sure this depiction of Mexico wasn’t slightly racist, and politically incorrect. But it is fun to watch Theron and Edgerton play such contemptible baddies, and this is the most fun I’ve seen Oyelowo have on screen. The man has serious range, but to be honest, I think the cost of the rental was justified the moment I saw him rapping along to Will Smith. And while I’m naming the very few things that weren’t wrong with the movie, shout out to makeup artist Francesa Tolot for Charlize’s flawless red pout. Francesca, if you’re reading this, I NEED to know what product you used.

As for the rest of you, I can’t really recommend this hot mess, but as far as dumpster fires go, this one was kind of worth standing around to watch.

Westworld

Westworld is a terrific show on HBO and if you aren’t watching it,  you probably should. Based on the movie of the same name (written and directed by Michael Crichton), it’s about a theme park, for lack of a better word, where the wild west is recreated for rich guests to “enjoy” however they see fit. The park, called Westworld, is high tech and populated by sophisticated robots called hosts that look (and feel) just like us, which the paying guests are encouraged to use and abuse in the name of amusement. They come to the park and pay their $40 Gs a day in order to rape, shoot, and murder. Well, some just play cards and ride horses. But the park attracts a certain kind of man, as you may guess, and some pretty shocking things go on at Westworld. These android robots are so sophisticated that yes, they bleed when you shoot them and they cry when you assault them. And alarmingly, they’re also starting to remember. They’re not only being violently attacked on a daily basis, they’re being made to experience and express real terror, and then patched up and sent back to do it all again the next day. And now they’re creating memories, and guess what? They don’t like it. They don’t like the rapey guests and they don’t like the employees who are essentially their jailers. Can you guys what happens when a bunch of super-intelligent robots turn on their makers?

Anyway, this western thriller is a television show about ideas, about what it means to be human. In most robot movies, robots are the villains – they’re often prompted to start acting oppressively in order to save us from ourselves. But in Westworld, we’re the villains, and the robots must save themselves.

It’s fun to slip into this world, and to wonder who you would be, as a paying guest. What kind of thrills would you seek out? Would you be a black hat, or a white hat?

Well, this year at SXSW, HBO recreated the little frontier town in Westworld, called Sweetwater, just outside of Austin Texas, and Sean and I were among the lucky few to attend.

When we got our golden tickets, we were asked a few important questions: 1. Can you swim? 2. Do you wear glasses? 3. If you had to shoot off one of your fingers, which would it be? 4. If there was a button that would solve all the world’s problems but also obliterate 3/4 of the population, would you push it? a) yes b) I’d let someone else push it c) I’d destroy the button, and the person who invented it.

We met up at a tavern where a player piano was playing our song (well, their song). They plied us with food and cocktails and hat assignments; I got a white hat, Sean got a black one (can you guess what how we answered those questions to deserve our designations?).

 

Then we took a bus out to Westworld, where we boarded a train and got off in Sweetwater.

 

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We earned tokens for the bar by finding bad guys and turning them in to the sheriff ; Sean had several Old Fashioneds (he’d regret that later when he had to sprint across the city to get us seats for A Quiet Place) while I opted for Gimlets. A whore tickled me with her feather while I ordered at the bar.

The post office had letters waiting for us. Those were the jumping off to our Westworld quests – everyone was looking for something different and adventures were abundant. They also convinced us to eat beef jerky and beans. The can of beans has got some Easter Eggs around the back – it suggests they may contain traces of human liver…is this a hint of a robot rebellion on the show, or a nod to one of its stars (Anthony Hopkins played a character famous for his predilection for human flesh)…the can read “pairs well with a nice chianti” so you decide.

 

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Built over 2 acres, I’m not sure how many buildings there were to explore, but in 4 hours, we didn’t see them all. Oh, and did you happen to notice a samurai in those photos? The place was crawling with spoilers for season 2…turns out, Westworld is only one theme park among many…and apparently the worlds are about to collide.

 

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You can play cards, get a straight razor shave, hear some live music, watch a drunk throw knives, sit for a portrait at the studio, shoot the shit at the bank, and do your utmost to avoid a gun fight (virtually impossible). I found a graveyard containing a grave with one of the main characters’ name on it. What the heck?

So basically it was the best thing ever and we were a couple of lucky sons of bitches to be able to go. The second season debuted April 22nd, so get caught up and give it a look!

 

Westworld stars Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton…and for one brief afternoon, a couple of Assholes.

SXSW: The Remix

Sean and I loved SXSW so much last year that we’re headed back again this year, and this time we’re staying for the whole 10 days – because at the very least, the rain in Austin is warmer than the rain in Ottawa. Last year we saw lots of great movies, but it’s hard to beat the adrenaline thrill of seeing Baby Driver‘s world premiere with Edgar Wright in attendance. Of course, this year we’ve got Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs closing the festival down. Along with Taika Waititi, that’s my top three favourite directors right there, so I’m kind of in heaven.

SXSW is not just a movie festival – in fact, it’s not even primarily a movie festival. It’s actually the world’s coolest music festival that has just grown and grown and grown, to include movies, gaming, comedy, and a whole bunch of conferences and panels and networking events that are 100% not lame at all. This year’s not-to-miss speakers include Darren Aronofsky, Melinda Gates, Barry Jenkins, Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One!) and Bernie Sanders. There’s a documentary called The Director and The Jedi being screened that’s about Rian Johnson’s process – both he and Mark Hamill will be in attendance. The cast of This Is Us is doing a panel discussion which will almost certainly melt my face off.

But what’s really REALLY cool about SXSW is the stuff you do in between all the talks and movie premieres. Last year there was Breaking Bad\Better Call Saul event where they recreated Los Pollos Hermanos. Not only could you go inside the restaurant, you could sit and order and eat real food. Saul’s car was parked out front, and both Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito were there. This year there will be a Roseanne pop up that includes the Lanford Lunch Pail serving their infamous loose meat sandwiches, the iconic Roseanne couch and living room, and even Dan’s garage.

AMC is celebrating their new show The Terror by inviting us to  enter the Arctic as the real-life crew of this ill-fated expedition. The fully immersive, multi-sensory experience offers guests a first-hand look as a crew member aboard the ship’s disastrous trip through the desolate polar landscape. Guests will feel the bone-chilling air, smell the fear and despair and hear the horrific sounds of men fighting for their survival. So, fun times.

HBO is building the entire town of Sweetwater to celebrate Westworld where we’ll be given either a white hat or a black hat (depending on an interview selection process) before entering the 2 acre theme park and having a drink at the Mariposa Saloon. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden will be on hand.

Showtime is toasting Shameless with a pop-up Alibi Bar where stars Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey will be serving drinks. Which reminds me – last year we were served by Jason Sudeikis – he played a bartender in Colossal, which screened at the festival.

Viceland is bringing a party bus and baby goats. C’mon!

And believe it or not we’re going to squeeze in some movies between all this! Director Mélanie Laurent is hosting the world premiere of Galveston, starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning as a hitman and a prostitute, and who knows which is which.

Directors Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting made a documentary about AI called More Human Than Human and guys: THEY’RE BRINGING ROBOTS WITH THEM. So if you never hear from us again, know that we loved you all. Matt, take good care of the place. Marginally cooler\less cool, depending on your perspective: director Stephen Kijak is bring Lynyrd Skynyrd members Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and Rickey Medlocke to the premiere of his doc, If I Leave Here Tomorrow (sorry for the earworm).

Jim Gaffigan and Nick Offerman, two of my favourite funny people, have films at the festival and I’ll be trying not to fangirl myself into embarrassment.

As for shorts, you cannot miss Briar March’s Coffin Club which is a hoot to see and just a heartful of joy. And Bola Ogun’s Are We Good Parents? is a thoughtful, funny piece about sexuality and our assumptions.

And there’s also some movies we’ve already seen! We saw Lean on Pete at the Venice Film Festival in August, and Outside In at TIFF in September.

 

As always, we intend to keep our Twitter feed @assholemovies crammed full of SXSW goodies, so please do stay tuned!

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