Tag Archives: Tilda Swinton

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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Okja

The new CEO of Mirando, Lucy (Tilda Swinton), announces that her company has made a discovery that will rid the world of hunger: a super piglet that looks like a cross between a rhino and an elephant that we’re assured tastes really fucking good. 26 super piglets are distributed to farmers around the world to be cared for over the next decade. In 10 years, popular TV veterinarian Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) will judge them and declare one ‘the best.’

Cut to: 10 years later, Wilcox hikes up a remote Korean hillside to visit Okja, a prized super piglet raised by Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her father. Raised on love and freedom, Okja is objectively the best of the bunch, but that means this beloved pet must go to NYC okja-creature-littlegirl-woodsto be paraded around by its parent corporation (to disguise the secret testing) – unless of course she’s kidnapped by the Animal Liberation Front headed by Jay (Paul Dano), “not a terrorist,” along the way. And the ALF is only the first group of people Mija will come across that want to control the fate of her large friend, Okja.

Co-written and directed by Snowpiercer’s Bong Joon Ho, you can bet he’s got some interesting thing to say about these events: GMOs, image-obsessed corporations, eco-terrorism. But he cleverly brings it back to one of the most basic relationships to remind us of what’s important: the one between a girl and her best friend, the family pet. Here in North America, not only can we not imagine eating dogs, we object to it morally. Here, we name our dogs, we sleep curled up beside them, we feed them table scraps from our fingers, we look into their sweet faces and tell them they’re good boys, very good boys. If we accorded all animals the respect we give our pets, it would change the food industry okjaas we know it. This is the way Bong Joon Ho choose to frame Okja’s predicament.

Tonally, Okja is very different from Snowpiercer. If the score doesn’t alert you to its farcical nature, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s voice doesn’t do it, then the unconvincing CGI will likely push you in that very direction. But Bong Joon Ho’s skill as a director means that he juggles these switchbacks in tone very carefully, and Okja’s whimsy never fails. Yes, it’s a completely weird movie, one that can feel like a cartoon and a horror at the same time, that can make you laugh amid the darkest of scenes. I realize this movie won’t be for everyone, but I found it profoundly interesting. Tilda Swinton is excellent, and Gyllenhaal does something we’ve never seen from him before. But it’s Seo-Hyun Ahn who steals the show, her bond with Okja and her purity of heart that elevate this movie from fantasy to fable.

 

 

 

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.

 

Doctor Strange

strangeMarvel did it again.  They took another obscure supporting character, built a movie around him, and made me eager to see his next appearance in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe.  This time, that obscure character was Doctor Strange, Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.

Anyone who’s read Marvel comics even sporadically knows who Doctor Strange is, because every so often he’d randomly pop up in your favourite hero’s comic to provide assistance or a few words of wisdom or encouragement.  As you may already know, my favourite hero was (and is) Spider-Man, and every ten issues or so I could count on Doctor Strange appearing through a portal, sticking around for 10-12 panels to move the story along, and then exiting as quickly as he entered.

strange-2But in this movie, because Doctor Strange is the star, we get to follow him through those portals and see what happens next from his perspective.  And it’s a hell of a ride.  Naturally, I could have done without the origin story but fortunately it’s injected with a welcome dose of humour that makes it speed by.  It helps that the opening scene features a battle that will leave the viewer wanting more and provides purpose and urgency to Strange’s magical training.

The special effects are spectacular and the visuals are glorious in IMAX 3D, just as last month’s sneak peek led me to believe.  It’s probably also tolerable in regular 3D or god forbid, stupid boring flat 2D, but I’ll never know, at least not until the movie comes to Netflix and I half-watch it while folding laundry.

The icing on the cake is that Marvel has assembled some first rate on-screen talent to supplement those trippy visuals, led by the Doctor himself, Benedict Cumberbatch, who is perfectly cast and does his usual baritone voice/good acting thing featuring a solid American accent.  If only I could do a British accent half as well (preferably cockney but I’m really not picky). Taking in a few more episodes of Sherlock can only help, right?

Add some Canadian flavour in Rachel McAdams, doing her regular accent as far as I know (honestly, if we don’t say “about” can you even tell we’re not American?), and a few more Brits in Chiwetel Ejiofor and Tilda Swinton (also both doing American accents even though their characters are worldly people currently living in Nepal), and by my count you’ve got one Oscar winner and three other Oscar nominees, whose talents really help sell silly comic words like Agamotto and Dormammu.  We’ve come a long way since the Stallone-Schneider superteam in Judge Dredd!

Doctor Strange is pure comic book joy.  It’s a welcome November blockbuster that will keep you entertained from start to finish.  I give it a score of nine spiritual goatees out of ten.

Doctor Strange: IMAX 3D Sneak Peek

Last night I got to see what amounted to an extended trailer for Doctor Strange, in IMAX 3D.  At one time not too long ago, 3D movies were a real draw to me.  I remember dragging Jay to several 3D re-releases of movies we’d seen a million times before (but only in boring old 2D).  After intensive therapy (mainly arm punches from Jay), I’m mostly over that phase.

strangeeye

Nowadays, I usually see movies without the dopey extra glasses, but after last night’s sneak peek I am convinced that I should see Doctor Strange in 3D, punching be damned.  The visuals are trippy enough to live up to Steve Ditko’s acid trip 60s backgrounds, depicting all the crazy dimensions that Doctor Strange passed through on his adventures, and that’s a high bar!

The preview’s centrepiece was an absolutely incredible city chase sequence, with gravity changing constantly, New York City collapsing onto itself, and destruction raining down on all sides as copies of buildings collide with each other.   Other scenes included nightmare dimensions full of grabby baby hands, fractal patterns expanding and contracting as Doctor Strange plummets through them, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t even begin to describe.  doctor-strange-comic

Marvel has done a great job of translating its characters to the screen while retaining the soul of the comic, particularly for second tier characters (with Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy being the best examples).  Doctor Strange seems set to follow that same path and with those other movies having paved the way, seems destined to depart at least a bit from the tried and true formula that we have seen way too often.

Whether the movie actually ends up being worthwhile is yet to be determined, but with a stellar cast (including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelson), an hour of IMAX-specific footage, the report that Marvel had to adapt the visuals to make the 2D version make sense, and the amazing effects in the preview, IMAX 3D is the clear platform of choice to view Doctor Strange’s adventures when the film opens November 4th.

 

Hail, Coen Brothers!

Joel and Ethan Coen are at it again – the two wacky guys who brought us Fargo, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men have a new insta-classic to add to the list and it’s called Hail, Caesar!

coensThe Coens are brilliant. I have no qualms about using that word, and I think their resume speaks for itself. Their names are already on this year’s Oscar ballot for having written the stirring screenplay for Bridge of Spies, an underrated but totally worthy movie that feels nothing like a Coen Brothers film, and isn’t one. They wrote it, and can write anything, but when they’re sitting in the director’s seat, they seem to prefer larger than life stories they can have a little fun with.

The Coens don’t chase box office success, but they do make the kind of movie that film buffs love to obsess over. I’m already obsessing over this one, which has been deemed by lesser souls to be of “limited appeal,” but dollars to donuts (yes I’m using that wrong and no I don’t know what it means) it’s the most fun I’ve had in a movie theatre in a good long while. This was at the expense of my fellow movie goers since I’m perennially sick and every fit of giggles dissolved into a fit of coughing. Coughing is the new clapping. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There was lots of coughing. I mean lots of laughing!

images8VQAQCFTThe plot: Edward Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a honcho at the Capitol Pictures movie studio. He’s a fixer. He doesn’t own the place, but he does make it run. We follow him for about 27 hours, a day in the life as it were, and there are no less than 4 movies being shot on the studio back lot: the first, their blockbuster Hail, Caesar!, starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) as a Roman soldier who encounters Jesus Christ; the second, a movie musical currently shooting its aquatic spectacle with its newly and scandalously pregnant star (Scarlett Johansson); the third, a drama period piece set to star a spaghetti western crossover, Hobie Doyle (Alden Hail-Caesar-(2016)-posterEhrenreich) much to the consternation of finicky director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes); and the fourth, a comedy starring sprightly song and dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). Poor Eddie has a lot to contend with – fixing stars up on dates, rescuing starlets from French postcard situations, making good on his promise to his wife to quit smoking, and fending off twin sisters and rival gossip columnists, both played by Tilda Swinton – and that’s before he realizes that his biggest star, Baird Whitlock, has been kidnapped!

There is much (too much) to say about this film. First off, the cast was excellent. Of course it was excellent. The Coens have been in the biz an awfully long time and they’ve got a george-clooney-gets-kidnappedlaundry list of Hollywood A-listers who beg to be in their films. George Clooney, for example, has worked with them three times before – Brother, Where Art Thou, Intolerable Cruelty, and Burn After Reading – all movies that I like, though I confess a particular burning love for Intolerable Cruelty especially. The Coens have great faith in Clooney’s comedic timing and treat us to a whole reel of his best reaction shots. It’s down right gluttonous – almost as sinful as that Roman costume they’ve got him strutting around in, showing off leg like you’ve never seen from him before. And my they’re nice legs. In fact, is there a human being on this planet who’s not a little in love with George Clooney?

Josh Brolin continues to ride this incredible surge in his career and proves a worthy choice. This is Brolin’s third Coen movie (after No Country for Old Men and True Grit) and he pulls this one together so tightly, so adroitly, you know he’ll be around for more. New comer Alden Ehrenreich impressed me immensely. IMDB assures me I’ve seen him before (in hail-caesar-featurette-the-cowbo-810x456Blue Jasmin) but this is the first that I’ve noticed him – and he almost stole the show! Tilda Swinton, who is great in everything, is great again here, only doubly so since she’s handling twin duties and it’s uproarious. Heather Goldenhersh, as Mannix’s hard-working secretary, is pivotal and delightful, and I must say, this woman deserves to be fucking famous already. But even small roles are peppered with famous faces – the study group alone, from Fisher Stevens to my beloved David Krumholtz, is worthy of its own spin-off. And no Coen Brothers movie would be complete without at least a brief appearance by my spirit animal, the fabulous Frances McDormand. The reigning Coen Queen, this is her 8th film of theirs, although it’s not exactly a fair fight as she’s married to Joel (not that her oodles of talent require any nepotism). Her role is brief but watch for it, it’s a scene stealer.

So: the Coens know how to write. And they sure as hell know how to cast. And bringing back cinematographer Roger Deakins and convincing him to shoot in film again (as img5opposed to his preferred medium, digital) was exactly the right thing for this ode to old Hollywood. Even though your eyes see Channing Tatum in a sailor suit, your mind is steeped in 1950s glamour (which is actually much grimier than the usual coating of nostalgic veneer would have us remember). As usual with the Coens, what you see is only half of what you get. There’s a lot of layers to this seemingly lighter fare, from God and Commies, to pop culture and hydrogen bombs. I was charmed and tickled from start to finish and I’m going to find it awfully hard to buy tickets to Deadpool when what I’d really like to do is see this one again. And again. And probably again.

 

Snow Piercer

An experiment to save the world actually destroys it, sending the world into a deep freeze. The few survivors board a train that constantly whizzes around the globe, smashing through ice and snow, in perpetual motion. The train is strictly divided according to class, with the very rich poshly appointed in the front and the poor kept in dismal conditions in the back until cryptic messages filter through to them, inciting them to rebellion.snow

Curtis (bushy bearded Chris Evans) is the reluctant leader of the great unwashed in a brutal, gruesome battle toward the front, and the train’s inventor\conductor, Wilford. Wilford sends his minions to do his dirty work, including a nightmarish Tilda Swinton.

I heard about this movie from several sources in late spring of 2014 and looked forward to finding it in theatres, though I never did. Why did such a fascinating movie disappear? It’s because of a little dick named Harvey Weinstein. The Weinstein Company owned the rights but didn’t believe that North American audiences were smart enough to “get” the movie, insisting on a 20-minute slaughter of the film, as well as the addition of opening and closing monologues. To punish director Bong Joon-ho for sticking up for his movie, Weinstein buried the movie. But guess what? We found it, lots of us did, and you can too.

This movie works on many levels – as an allegory, as social commentary, as an action flick, as an intense, thrilling drama.  I love how the progress of the underclass from the back of the train to the front is literally transformative, from the darkest quarters, to bright, lush, and sumptuous toward the front, with devastating frosty beauty outside the windows. This film is visionary, but it declares a certain urgency in setting year 0 at 2014. The editing is tight, it keeps the motion pressing forward, keeps the pace brisk  and exhilarating (and sometimes terrifying). This is a real trick of cinematography, to use the train’s inherent claustrophobia as an asset, and to use the momentum as a character and not byproduct of the plot. The scenes are literally compartmentalized but they fit together to make a really  nice, fluid picture that you’ll enjoy watching, enjoy rewatching, and really enjoy discussing.