When all is said and done Adam Driver will likely be remembered for playing Kylo Ren, grandson of villain Darth Vader, in the Star Wars movies. The thirty-three-year-old may be best known for the blockbuster role but it does not define his career. For the star of this weekend’s Logan Lucky, it’s all about a love of acting.
“For me the doing of it is the best,” he told me at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “The things surrounding it don’t matter. Trailers, money, they don’t matter if you get to work with really great people. Hopefully what you’re making is bigger than any one person and it feels relevant, as much as you can attach meaning to your job. The love of collaborating with people who are on the same page is really exciting.”
Perhaps his collaborative spirit came from his time in the United States Marine Corps. Driver, like many young people in the aftermath of 9/11, joined the marines but an injury during a training exercise ended his military career after just three years.
“With the military I grew up very fast,” he says. “Suddenly I was responsible for things that aren’t typical for eighteen or nineteen year olds. Other people’s lives and things like that. It ages you. I loved being in the military but when I got my freedom and could be a civilian again I was interested in perusing acting. I had tunnel vision and there was a big learning curve of learning to be a civilian again; it’s not appropriate to yell at people, people are people and I can’t force my military way of thinking on them. There were a lot of things going on. I am better adjusted now.”
Post marines Driver studied at Julliard—“Believe it or not being in the military,” he laughs, “is very different than being in an acting school.”—became one of the breakout stars of HBO’s Girls and worked on the big screen with luminaries like Steven Spielberg, the Coen Brothers, Martin Scorsese and Logan Lucky director Steven Soderbergh.
“It’s a director’s medium so if I get lucky enough to work with great directors, that’s the only thing as far as a game plan I have,” he says. “I have gotten to do that with really great people and it feels good. I’m lucky in that I get to choose things now, but choose things from what I’m offered. The scale doesn’t matter.”
Since his professional debut in 2009 Driver, who his This Is Where I Leave You co-star Jane Fonda calls, “our next Robert De Niro plus Robert Redford,” has carefully curated a career. From multiplex fare like Star Wars to art house offerings like Paterson and Frances Ha he is driven by artistic demands more than box office returns and immediate satisfaction.
“Really great movies have a longer shelf life,” he says. “You come back to them later and find new things in them. So many times you watch a movie and you’re not ready for it and you come back to it later because you’re a different person and suddenly it speaks to you in a different way. When they are well crafted they have that shelf life whereas a lot of things are made for one weekend.”
Since 2013 she’s been seen in more movies than Angelina Jolie. The films she appeared in have grossed over $1 billion at the box office. She doesn’t have much emotional range—her motions are largely confined to opening and closing her eyes—but in these politically correct times you can call her a doll and not fear sounding sexist.
She’s Annabelle, devil dolly.
The real life inspiration for Annabelle, the creepy, possessed toy from The Conjuring series, is safely locked away in ghost hunter Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cabinet of curiosities but her onscreen counterpart is back this weekend in Annabelle: Creation.
But what do we really know about the sinister plaything?
In real life the story began in 1970. A mother bought a vintage Raggedy Ann doll for her daughter Donna. Then it got weird. The doll moved around the apartment and left upsetting messages for her new owner. Freaked out, Donna called in a psychic who determined the spirit of a seven-year-old girl named Annabelle Higgins possessed the toy.
Enter the Warrens, “self-described “demonologists, ghost hunters and kooks.” After a failed exorcism they removed the doll from Donna’s apartment but the supernatural hijinks didn’t stop there. On the way home they claim the doll took control of their car, causing their power brakes and steering to fail. At the Warren house Annabelle continued to act out until they finally contained her evil in a specially built glass lock box. Currently she is on display in the warren’s Occult Museum, located in Lorraine Warren’s basement in Monroe, Connecticut.
In reel life the details are different. Movie Annabelle is a porcelain doll with a white ruffled dress, not a worn Raggedy Ann. Then there’s the invented backstory of the first prequel to The Conjuring movies. The closing credits to 2014’s Annabelle state, “The story, all names, characters and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious.”
The story isn’t true but don’t worry, she’s still the wickedest doll since Chucky.
Annabelle begins in the late 1960s with a gift from John to his expectant wife Mia. “There’s something I want to give you,” he says. “Oh no,” she laughs, “the last time you said that I ended up pregnant.” He gives her Annabelle, a seemingly harmless antique doll, decked out in a lace wedding dress. The quiet peace of John and Mia’s life is broken by a Manson Family style home invasion, and even though Mia and John survive, strange things start happening in the wake of the attack. “Crazy people do crazy things, ma’am,” explains a detective before everyone starts to realize that Annabelle has something to do with the eerie goings on.
Annabelle: Creation goes back further, digging into why and how the dolly became so disturbed and disturbing. In the new film a doll maker and his wife lose their daughter Annabelle to a car accident. Years later one of her dolls appears to have a life of its own.
The new film will likely raise the hairs on the back of more than a few necks, but one thing is certain, the original doll is still the scariest of all. Visitors to the Occult Museum who mock the doll report having accidents on the way home and Lorraine’s son-in-law Tony Spera says Annabelle is the exhibit that terrifies him the most.
Hollywood has a long tradition of bending history to suit their stories.
For instance the title of the historical disaster film Krakatoa: East of Java is a geographical head-scratcher. Krakatoa was actually west of Java. In 10,000 BC woolly mammoths are used as labour to build the pyramids in Egypt. That’s Hollywood history. Woolly mammoths weren’t desert creatures and the pyramids weren’t built until 2500 BC. Then there’s Mel Gibson’s wardrobe from the future in Braveheart. The movie is set in the late 13th century, but the kilts he wears didn’t come into existence until 300 years later.
The movie theatre is definitely not Mr. Parker’s history class.
Detroit, the new film from Zero Dark Thirty director Kathryn Bigelow, aims to bring historical accuracy back to the big screen. The movie focuses on the Algiers Motel Incident, the most infamous episode of the Detroit riots of the summer of 1967. The shocking story details how young African-American men and women sought the safety of the motel only to come under fire from police who handled them as revolutionaries. When it was done three young African-America men lay dead, shot, allegedly at close range. None of the officers charged with the Algiers murders were convicted.
“The Algiers Motel is a real American tragedy,” says Bigelow. “One of the most important aspects of preparing this movie was to spend time with the people who actually lived it.”
Filming this important slice of history brings with it the responsibility of getting it right. To that end Bigelow, screenwriter and former journalist Mark Boal and investigative reporter David Zeman, did considerable research. “My marching orders were to find as many of the principles as I could who could tell us something about their perspective on what happened,” said Zeman.
That may be so, but even the best-researched true-life drama brings with it a degree of artistic licence. Take for instance Bigelow’s last movie, Zero Dark Thirty. She called it a “reported film,” suggesting it existed somewhere in the murky middle between drama and documentary, yet it drew fire from critics (including the CIA) who felt it exaggerated the enhanced interrogation techniques allegedly used in the search for Bin Laden. So despite the opening credit claim that the movie was “Based on Firsthand Accounts of Actual Events” it may have fudged some facts.
So while there’s nothing in Detroit as egregious as Season of the Witch’s plague outbreak 76 years before the Black Death struck, it will not be a 100 per cent true and accurate representation of real life — it’s not possible. What it can do, however, is open a dialogue about the past, and in Detroit’s case, the present.
In a statement Charles Ferrell, the director of public programs of Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History said the film, “echoes the current proliferation of extra-judicial fatal shootings of African Americans by police who have been exonerated and highlights the major issue of criminal police violence and racial injustice that this nation must face and resolve through dialogue and corrective actions.”
Perhaps instead of looking at Detroit as a historical document it might be better used as a springboard for further study and conversation into the systemic racism that allowed the Algiers Motel Incident to happen and why so little has changed in the intervening years.
“I got offered a lot of stuff in action movies that was either the girl behind the computer or the wife,” says Charlize Theron.
That was then, this is now. After dipping her toe in the action genre with Aeon Flux and Mad Max: Fury Road, the South African actress is kicking butt and taking names in Atomic Blonde, a wild spy thriller Variety calls “a mash-up of The Bourne Identity and Alias.”
Based on Antony Johnston’s 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, it’s a Cold War thriller about an undercover MI6 agent sent to Berlin to investigate the murder of a fellow agent. “I didn’t just want to play a girly spy who depends on her flirty ways,” she says.
To prepare for the gruelling shoot Theron worked with eight personal trainers who taught her the stunt work.
“‘We’re going to pretend to do that, right?’” she asked director David Leitch during the preparation. “David was like, ‘No you’re actually going to throw big dudes.’ Alright, let’s throw some big dudes.”
Throwing big dudes around like rag dolls may look great on film but was a physical challenge for Theron. The Oscar winner twisted her knee, bruised her ribs and clenched her teeth so hard while shooting one of the over-the-top fight scenes she cracked two teeth, requiring dental surgery.
Theron joins a list of dangerous distaff action stars like Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Scarlett Johansson (Lucy, The Avengers), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Jenette Goldstein (Aliens), Angelina Jolie (Wanted, Salt, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider), Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil) and Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Parts 1 & 2) who give Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson a run for their money.
All of those women owe a debt to two female action stars. Pam Grier and Tura Satana were larger-than-life pioneers, opening cans of whoop-ass on screen at a time when that was primarily the purview of the boys.
Quentin Tarantino directed Grier in Jackie Brown and says she may be cinema’s first female action star. Her films, like Foxy Brown and Sheba, Baby suggest he’s right. Grier could deliver a line and a punch, attributes that allowed her to cut a swathe in the male-dominated action movie market of the 1970s.
Perhaps the wildest female action movie of all time is 1965’s “ode to female violence,” Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring Tura Satana as the thrill-seeking go-go dancer Varla.
Experienced in martial arts, Satana did her own stunts and brought her unique style — black leather gloves, Germaine Monteil eyeliner and layers of Max Factor makeup — to the film.
She also supplied some of the movie’s most memorable lines.
When a gas station attendant ogles her cleavage while extolling the virtues of being on the open road and seeing America, Satana ad libbed, “You won’t find it down there, Columbus!”
Time critic Richard Corliss called Satana’s performance “the most honest, maybe the one honest portrayal in the (director Russ) Meyer canon and certainly the scariest.”
“I took a lot of my anger that had been stored inside of me for many years and let it loose,” Satana said of her most famous role. “I helped to create the character Varla and helped to make her someone that many women would love to be like.”
Director Christopher Nolan doesn’t remember the first time he was told about the events at Dunkirk.
“Like most British people I have grown up with this story,” Nolan says.
The first minutes of Dunkirk, Nolan’s big-screen adaptation of the evacuation of 400,000 soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, sets the stage. Early on in the Second World War the German army had driven the British, Belgian and Canadian armies to the sea.
“Dunkirk is where they will meet their fate,” the opening reads. “They are hoping for deliverance, hoping to find a miracle.” Between May 26 and June 4, 1940, allied soldiers were evacuated from the beset beach in Operation Dynamo.
“The resonance of the Dunkirk story to me has always been about a sense of communal heroism,” Nolan says, referring to the “little ships of Dunkirk,” a makeshift flotilla of hundreds of fishing boats, pleasure crafts and lifeboats called into service to aid in the evacuation.
“When I think about it now I realize we live in a time that bizarrely fetishizes individuality to the extent where we don’t even require ourselves to watch the same news as other people. We just watch the news we want to watch and hear what we want to hear. That is how fragmented our society has become. This elevation of the individual has come at the expense of the community and what community can achieve. There needs to be a balance and I think Dunkirk as a story is a wonderful reminder of the power of community. The power of what we can do, not just as individuals but together.”
Best seen large and loud, Dunkirk succeeds as pure cinema with minimal dialogue and electrifying visuals.
“I love the great silent films of the past,” he says. “I think that is the closest you get to pure cinema. We are now able to use sound and music and all kinds of things to enlarge the idea of what cinema can be but I wanted to strip away a lot of the theatrics we use as filmmakers in the sound era. The reason is, Dunkirk is such a simple story. It doesn’t need to be over-explained. It doesn’t need any excess of dialogue. I like the idea of using the language of suspense because suspense is the most visually based and cinematic of the movie genres.”
Dunkirk inspired Winston Churchill’s famous, “We shall fight on the beaches,” speech, an address that describes reaching for victory, “however long and hard the road may be.” It’s a journey Nolan understands both in a historical context and in his own decade-long attempt to get this film made. It’s a movie he feels passionate about, just don’t call it his passion project.
“That makes it sound like I didn’t give a s—t about the other ones,” he laughs before adding, “I find filmmaking really difficult. Yes, it’s not coal mining but I find it tough. I love it and I love movies so I don’t ever want to do it for something that I don’t really, really care about. There are filmmakers who find it easier than I do and so ‘one for me, one for them’ works, but I want to do the film I would want to see as an audience member.”
Despite critical raves and big box-office success, Roddy McDowell wasn’t nominated for his work as the sympathetic chimpanzee Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes. Unless things change radically in the next few months Andy Serkis, star of War for the Planet of the Apes, won’t be either. He’s getting the best reviews of his career for playing chimpanzee Caesar, leader to a tribe of genetically enhanced apes in the new film, but the Academy refuses to recognize his style of acting.
Unlike Serkis, McDowell wore a rubber mask that took hours to apply, even for quick promotional appearances like his 1974 spot on the Carol Burnett Show.
Burnett introduced McDowell as “one of Hollywood’s most familiar faces,” then feigned shock as the actor came onstage in a tuxedo, but in full Planet of the Apes facial makeup. They launch into a spirited version of the love ballad They Didn’t Believe Me. By the end of the tune the audience roars as Burnett warbles, “When I told them how wonderful you are, They didn’t believe me,” as she mimes picking a bug off his lapel.
Later she thanked Roddy for undergoing the three-and-a-half hours it took to put on the makeup for that bit of funny business.
It’s not likely you’ll see Andy Serkis partaking in the same kind of promotional monkey business.
Times have changed since McDowell had to endure untold hours in the makeup chair, then smoke using an extra long cigarette holder so as not to light his faux fur on fire. “It’s about a foot long and makes me look like the weirdest monkey you ever did see,” McDowell told Newsday.
These days Serkis, who is best known for his motion capture performances of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films and The Force Awakens’ Supreme Leader Snoke, performs on a soundstage in front of multiple cameras that film his performance from every angle. He wears a body suit dotted with spots that allow the computers to register even the slightest movement. Serkis calls this “a magic suit” that “allows you to play anything regardless of your size, your sex, your colour, whatever you are.” Later, in post production the “digital makeup” adds in the costume and character details.
It saves hours in the makeup chair, but is no less a performance than McDowell’s more organic approach. “I’ve never drawn a distinction between live-action acting and performance-capture acting,” Serkis says. “It is purely a technology. It’s a bunch of cameras that can record the actor’s performance in a different way.”
Which raises the question of why the Academy refuses to acknowledge the work of Serkis and others who specialize in motion capture? The Independent calls him one of the greatest actors of this generation and the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films recognize his work but the Oscars have steadfastly ignored his specialty. It’s a slap in Serkis’ face that The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers won an Oscar for Visual Effects in part because of the genius of his performance.
Whether included in the Best Actor category or another, new grouping for Best MoCap Performance, it’s time Serkis and others were recognized for their work.
This weekend, Peter Parker swings back into theatres, but it’s not Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield behind the familiar red-and-black-webbed mask. Instead, for the third time in 15 years the web-slinging role has been recast. This time around, 21-year-old English actor and dancer Tom Holland wears the suit as the star of Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Holland’s extended Captain America: Civil War cameo in 2016 almost stole the show, displaying the character’s bright-eyed, boyish spark but this is his first outing as the title star. So far he’s getting rave reviews. After a recent critics screening the twitterverse lit up.
“Tom Holland is perfect,” wrote one poster, “He’s having the time of his life and it shows.” “I don’t want to spoil it,” wrote another, “but they found a way to make Spider-Man relatable like never before on screen, that’s where @TomHolland1996 shines.”
Spider-Man: Homecoming is poised to hit big at the theatres, breathing new life into a character we all know but it is also a shining example of the old adage, “The only constant is change.” Hollywood loves to reboot movies — we’ll soon see new versions of It, Flatliners and Blade Runner — but while the titles stay the same, the faces change.
Not everyone embraces the changes. When Garfield took over for Maguire in 2012 1234zoomer commented on The Amazing Spider-Man: “IS NOT GOING TO BE THE SAME WITHOUT TOBBY!!!,” (her uppercase and spelling, not mine), but Maguire was gracious, saying, “I am excited to see the next chapter unfold in this incredible story.”
Whether Holland acknowledges Maguire or Garfield is yet to be seen, but at least one replacement had the manners to recognize his precursor.
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, 007 No. 2 George Lazenby paid a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the original Bond, Sean Connery. After a wild battle to rescue Contessa Teresa (played by Diana Rigg) the new James Bond didn’t get the girl. “This never happened to the other fellow,” he says, looking dejectedly into the camera.
Connery went on to co-star in The Hunt for Red October with Alec Baldwin playing Jack Ryan, a character later portrayed by Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck.
In 2014 Chris Pine (who also took over the part of Captain Kirk in Star Trek from William Shatner) played the super spy in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. He admits, “We didn’t totally get that right,” but still has hopes for the series. “It’s a great franchise, and if it’s not me, then I hope it gets a fifth life at this point. I hope it’s done again and with a great story.”
The Batman franchise also has had a revolving cast. Since 1943 eight actors have played the Caped Crusader, including Lewis G. Wilson, who at 23 remains the youngest actor to play the character, and George Clooney who admits he was “really bad” in Batman & Robin.
Most recently Ben Affleck, dubbed Bat-Fleck by fans, has played the Dark Knight but probably the most loved Bat-actor of all time is the late Adam West. West, who passed away last month at age 88, admits playing Batman typecast him but says, “I made up my mind a long time ago to enjoy it. Not many actors get the chance to create a signature character.”
Ever had one of those moments where a random song playing on the radio is the perfect soundtrack for your life in that instant? Director Edgar Wright calls that a #babydrivermoment.
“I think so many times you have things in life where music syncs up with the world,” he says. “You’re sitting there and the windscreen wipers are going in time with the music and you think, ‘Isn’t life great? The world is bending to my music choices.’”
He had one of those moments 22 years ago when the idea for Baby Driver flooded into his brain after listening to The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion track Bellbottoms on repeat. In that instant he imagined the song’s choppy rhythm as the soundtrack to a car chase, filing the idea away for future consideration.
“In 2002 I felt I had potentially squandered the idea by using it for a music video (Blue Song by Mint Royale) and I was mad at myself for doing that,” he says. “Later, after Hot Fuzz I thought, ‘I still have to do something with this idea.’”
With the opening already mapped out, Wright spent years creating the film’s story of a get-away driver named Baby (Ansel Elgort) who wants out of his life of crime and into the arms of a diner waitress played by Lily James. But before they can run off to the happily-ever-after, the driver must square his debt with gang boss Doc (Kevin Spacey).
“It was a slow building up of what the movie and the structure was and finding the main theme of the main character’s relationship with music; this getaway driver who can’t drive unless he has the right music. Then it became, ‘Why is he obsessed with music?’ OK. He has tinnitus and he has to listen to music. What was an escape for him becomes an obsession.”
“A hum in the drum” is how Doc refers to Baby’s tinnitus. In real life it’s a hearing condition that causes an internal, loud ringing or clicking. As the sound can interfere with concentration, Baby plays music to drown it out.
Although it contains more music than most tuneful movies, Baby Driver isn’t a musical in the West Side Story, Sound of Music sense. Wallpapered with 35 rock ‘n’ roll songs on the soundtrack, it’s a hard-driving heist flick that can best be called an action musical.
“The strange thing is people say it is a departure from the other films,” says the Poole, Dorset, England-born Wright, whose other movies include cult favourites Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, “and it is but it is also my oldest idea. I couldn’t have made it 10 years ago. I had to live in North America a bit more. I have lived in Los Angeles and Toronto. I drove across the States twice. I also did lots of research. That all factored into bringing this dream I had when I was 21 to vivid life.”
This weekend Wright will see that dream hit theatres. “I don’t know whether to feel like a proud father or whether it is like my kid is leaving home,” he says. “I feel like when the film is out I may get empty nest syndrome. It has been with me for so long and now it is out. It is a beautiful thing and I don’t know how to describe it.”
Familiar but fresh. If you are a Hollywood executive you probably say these words a hundred times a day. In pitch meetings and story conferences those f-words are a mantra in a town that never met an idea it couldn’t recycle.
Convinced that audiences will only respond to variations on brands they are already familiar with, this summer the studios are offering freshened up versions of The Mummy, Amityville Horror and Spider-Man among others. Hollywood, the Nation’s Blue Bin. The biggest and loudest of the bunch will likely be Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth film based on the toys created by Hasbro and Tomy.
Once again directed by Michael Bay, the movie reportedly cost a budget-busting $260 million. The special effects-laden story of humans vs. Transformers and a mysterious artifact is on track to make multi-millions domestically and worldwide, one of the few aging tentpole films to beat audience blockbuster fatigue.
It’s familiar but fresh.
In the familiar department you have Mark Wahlberg as star, the return of heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime and director Bay’s trademarked bombast. He makes action orgy movies for audiences who crave a rumbling theatre seat. His Transformers films engage three of the five senses — only smell and taste are exempt — that leave viewers with scorched eyes and ringing ears and his audience eat up his gladiatorial sense of spectacle.
Freshening up the story is the addition of screen legend (and Marvel Cinematic Universe actor) Anthony Hopkins as an astronomer and historian knowledgeable in the history of the Transformers on Earth and a healthy dose of Arthurian myth woven into the story.
It sounds like the perfect mix of familiar and fresh but there are no guarantees in the blockbuster business. Recently, despite the presence of Tom Cruise and two — count ’em, two — classic horror characters, critics, audiences and the box office met The Mummy with a collective yawn. Although it has done better business overseas one pundit suggested the movie’s poor showing “stems from being an antiquated property paired with an antiquated star.”
Now there’s a statement that’ll send the collective shivers that were so sorely missing from The Mummy down the backs of studio executives. Perhaps the revamped story of an ancient malevolent evil wasn’t familiar or fresh enough for audiences. Or perhaps it’s because potential moviegoers sensed the cynicism in The Mummy. Bundling Cruise and legendary monsters in the movie with a few laughs, some typical blockbuster action and a CGI climax that wouldn’t be out of place in an Avengers movie, felt like a carefully constructed exercise in marketing first and a movie second.
The blockbuster business is a big one with high risk and reward. It didn’t work for Cruise and Co.’s The Mummy or Dwayne Johnson’s raunchy Baywatch reboot, but the Autobots have been good producers for Hollywood. Transformers: The Last Knight, wedged into a summer packed to the gills with big-budget blockbusters, likely won’t make the coin of its predecessors but Michael Bay doesn’t seem worried.
Although The Last Knight will be his last Transformers as director, he says the film lays the groundwork and backstory for 14 upcoming movies. At the rate they’re going, that’s almost 30 more years of Bumblebee and Megatron. That’s a lot of bot battles, and a lot of freshening up.