One day someone may write about Emma Watson without mentioning the Harry Potter franchise, but today is not that day. Few child stars have faced the glare of the spotlight as acutely as the core Potter cast and the fame that came along with playing Harry, Ron and Hermione will likely follow them around for as long as Potterheads roam the earth.
It’s not like they are crying over spilt potion, however. On screen Daniel Radcliffe takes on demanding roles that give him the chance to distance himself from Harry and, apparently, show his bum at every opportunity. Rupert Grint has kept a lower profile, starring in a few independent films and playing an upper-crust criminal on the television adaptation of Snatch.
Of the three Emma Watson has maintained the highest professional profile. Whether addressing the United Nations or starring opposite a heartbroken furry beast or accepting British GQ’s Woman of the Year Award she has rarely been far from view.
This weekend she follows up her biggest post-Potter hit, starring as Belle in the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast, with the high-tech thriller The Circle. Appearing opposite Tom Hanks she plays a young woman hired at The Circle, America’s most influential and possibly dangerous tech company.
She says, “I pick movies, not roles,” and has amassed a carefully curated IMDB page—including everything from This is the End’s axe wielding version of herself to Noah’s adopted daughter—designed to challenge an audience used to seeing her as Hermione and showcase strong and independent characters.
A year after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 she surprised fans by playing a wise-beyond-her years free spirit in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “If you had told me that the first movie I was going to do coming out of Harry Potter was an American high school movie,” she told the Hollywood Reporter, “I would have laughed at you.”
Based on a popular junior adult novel, it uses one of the building blocks of teen drama—the friendless teen trying to navigate high school in his freshman year—but layers in equal amounts of teen angst and exuberance before the final class bell rings. Watson is terrific, avoiding the square-peg-in-a-round-hole clichés that could have dogged her character.
Her next starring role silenced Hermione comparisons forever. The Bling Ring plays like a Law & Order episode of The Hills. Based on actual events, it centers on a group of narcissistic Los Angeles teenagers who track the comings and goings of their favourite celebs on the internet. While one-named millennial stars like Paris, and Lindsay are out on the town the Ring “go shopping,” breaking into their homes, helping themselves to jewels, designer clothes and loose cash.
Watson’s performance nails the vapidity that made the robberies possible. Dead eyed, with a bored infliction on every word she mispronounces, her take on Nicki shows there’s more to her than being a wizard’s sidekick.
“I am aware I have a long way to go,” she told Elle UK. “I am not sure I deserve all the respect I get yet, but I’m working on it.”
The twenty-seven-year-old may have a long way to go, but one thing is for sure, if she continues to choose daring and exciting roles, she’s not going anywhere.
“I understand some people are angry at the silly elements of the film,” says Colossal director Nacho Vigalondo, “but I’m a comic book guy and those are for me a way to re-enact the golden age of comic books on screen. I’m OK with superhero films not being afraid to be silly sometimes.”
His film may have the year’s strangest premise. He takes a basic rom com format—woman in trouble returns to hometown and strikes up a friendship with a former schoolmate—and turns it upside down. And inside out. And flips it on its head. He simultaneously reinvents and destroys the form in a movie that might be best referred to as a rom mon.
“Colossal is an original idea,” he says, “and you have to be careful with original ideas. A movie doesn’t make it on originality alone, you need something else.
“If you were writing this film as a romantic comedy and you are in the third act of the movie and suddenly you have opposing monsters in it? That is impossible. You have to do it the other way. I started with a silly and dark premise of this woman affecting the monsters on the other side of the world but it didn’t become a real film until I found the characters.”
Anne Hathaway stars as Gloria, an unemployed Manhattanite who fills her days—and most nights—with booze. As her life falls apart she returns to her small hometown a broken, drunken wreck. On home turf she reconnects with Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis, a childhood friend, now owner of the local bar and possible love interest. So far it sounds like the set up for an unconventional rom com.
She takes a job at the tavern, earns some spending cash and access to after hours booze. Then things take a weird turn.
One afternoon she wakes up with the forty-ounce flu to the news that a giant monster has attacked Seoul, South Korea. It soon becomes clear to Gloria that she is somehow related to the mysterious attacks. It sounds outrageous, like the ramblings of a drunken sot, but when she takes Oscar to the sandbox in the local playground, the monster suddenly appears on the other side of the earth, mimicking her every move. When her actions cause havoc in Seoul she is forced to confront the monster within, her addiction.
Colossal is the kind of script most Rom Com Queens would toss in the trash by page 11. Hathaway, however, throws herself at it, relishing the off kilter and dowdy character. This may be a monster movie, but the real monster is her alcoholism not the foot stomping Kaiju.
“When Anne Hathaway said she wanted to play this role that was probably the biggest turning point in my whole career. If I had a list actors in mind I would have been the crazy guy on the block. Let me put it to you this way. Let’s fanaticize, if this movie becomes an Oscar winner for Best Picture, that would be a lesser jump than these actors wanting to be in this film.”
Colossal isn’t exactly a monster movie or a Jennifer Aniston-esque rom com. It is something else, something original and that is its beauty. It’s a reinvention, for both Gloria and its genres.
It’s Canadian Film Day, a time to celebrate our films and filmmakers and have a hard look at our home-grown industry. I asked some of our brightest and best three simple questions: What is the state of the Canadian film business this year? Is it better or worse than a year ago? What is the future of the biz? From Bonavista to Vancouver Island, from the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters the responses were uniform: Act local, think global and get ready to stream.
“One thing for sure is on demand and very targeted content,” says director April Mullen on the future of CanCon film. “Basically, audiences are dictating which platform they want to consume content on and the immediacy of watching that content is surging.”
“The future,” says John Barnard, a Winnipeg based director whose film Menorca opens April 21, “holds the possibility for more and better streaming options that pay for content and are reliable enough to be bankable. People have been saying this for years but now everyone actually has the box attached to their TV.”
“Filmmakers need to abandon the idea of, ‘I want my film in the cinema,’” said Amal director Richie Mehta. “When I first started making feature films I got my films into the cinema and it was an amazing feeling. I got the tail end of that in a way. Now I’m very comfortable if I make a film and it goes straight to VOD and it is available in livingrooms the day we release it. If somebody asks, ‘How do I see it?’ I say, ‘Watch it happily in the comfort of your own home.’”
Along with a changing distribution system comes a new attitude expressed by Montreal-born The Other Half director Joey Klein. “People are making films more on their own terms now and less about the idea of what a movie should be per our neighbours to the south and more what a film could be given the resources we have.”
Streaming and VOD can expose domestic films to potential new audiences here in Canada and worldwide, offering up new metrics in determining a movie’s commercial value.
“At an information session this month, Telefilm staff said they will be placing less emphasis on box office as a measure of success,” said Maritime filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald. “It will be interesting to see how policy catches up to technology and viewing habits.”
Mullen, whose film Below Her Mouth hits theatres and VOD simultaneously on April 28, says while the digital platforms are “not as profitable as I’m sure they might be in the future,” she’s adds that, “there’s always room for innovative content, in all forms, and so much is possible for storytellers to breakthrough with the technology available nowadays.”
Mehta notes the scope of Canadian film has expanded. “Canadian films are being done and they are being done all over the world,” he says. “In India, China, Latin America which is really exciting because there is more diversity in the expression.”
That globalization and the accessibility offered by VOD technology has created a borderless audience for our films.
“Because there is diversity in the expression and films are being made in different languages around the world,” says Mehta, “I’m not sure that people around the world know they are watching Canadian films. Which is kind of interesting because people are watching them.”
A movie star is someone who can carry a movie, a person audiences will line up to see no matter what the film. There’s no formula, just equal parts talent, charisma and staying power.
For years Tom Cruise and Will Smith ruled the Hollywood roost, but Cruise’s couch jumping tarnished his star (unless he’s headlining a movie with the words Mission Impossible in the title) and Smith has hit a box office rough patch.
These days Hollywood’s biggest movie star—both physically and metaphysically—is a former wrestler who made his acting debut playing his own father on an episode of That ’70s Show. Since then Dwayne Johnson’s paycheques have blossomed along with his popularity and in 2016 he was the world’s highest-paid actor, in part due to his reputation as “franchise Viagra.”
It’s a simple formula. Take a flagging franchise; add Johnson and flaccid box office numbers suddenly grow. Case in point, the Fast and Furious series. Johnson signed on for the fifth instalment, playing Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs, helping that movie make north of six-hundred million dollars. His over-the-top presence—who else could remove a cast from his broken arm simply by flexing his oversized biceps?—drove the grosses of the next two F&F movies to the stratosphere. This weekend’s The Fate of the Furious is poised to shatter even more records.
His is a varied filmography—a resume containing everything from the hi brow, abstract sci fi of Southland Tales and the bloody b-movie Walking Tall to the family friendly Tooth Fairy and the pedal-to-the-metal Fast & Furious flicks—bound together by one thing, his innate star power.
Haters, like a recent commenter at Variety.com, who complained that Johnson, “has never done a compelling complex character, only mindless good vs evil roles,” miss his populist appeal. Despite his Greek God physique, he’s an everyman, a charismatic crowd-pleaser with a cocked eyebrow.
His appeal continues off screen as well. He’s a big deal now but that wasn’t always the case and he’s positioned himself as an inspirational figure, a muscle bound Tony Robbins. “I started w/ $7 bucks. If I can overcome, so can you,” he tweeted when he was crowned the World’s Highest-Paid Actor.
“I have enjoyed a good amount of success and I’m very grateful for everything I have,” the bulky actor told me a few years ago.
“I’m very grateful for being who I am. I make sure to approach every project and everything I do as if it is going to be my last.
“There was a time when I was in Canada, playing for the CFL and sleeping on a mattress that I got from the garbage of a sex motel. I’ll never forget it. True story. So, for me, those times are kind of in the forefront of my mind. The wolf is always scratching at the door. It’s good to remember that. It’s important.”
Johnson is Hollywood’s biggest earner but a recent viral video shows his core connection to his fans. Dressed as mascots of themselves Jimmy Fallon and the artist formerly known as The Rock photobombed folks at Universal Studios in Orlando. One man, with a tattoo of Johnson on his leg, was brought to tears when meeting the hulking actor. “Stuff like this will always be the best part of fame,” said Johnson.
The all-animated Smurfs: The Lost Village aims to reintroduce the little blue creatures of Smurf Village to a new generation. It’s the first time more than one female Smurf exists in the community.
Featuring the voices of Demi Lovato, Joe Manganiello and Michelle Rodriguez, it trades on its inherent cute factor and nostalgia for much of its appeal. There are some good messages for kids woven in and the animation is relentlessly adorable but is there anything here for anyone over the age of five?
In what may be the most adult plotline in Smurf history, it’s a hero’s journey, a character’s search for purpose. It’s Joseph Conrad via Smurf Village. Smurfette’s Heart of Darkness.
As voiced by Lovato, Smurfette ponders her place in the world. All the other perky pint-sized blue creatures have descriptive names — Clumsy Smurf (Jack McBrayer), Jokey Smurf (Gabriel Iglasias) and Baker Smurf (Gordon Ramsey) — but what exactly, she wonders, is ‘ette’ supposed to mean?
Smurf aficionados will know she is the only female Smurf, created by wizard Gargamel to sow the seeds of jealousy in Smurf Village. With the help of Papa Smurf she became a beacon of sweetness-and-light and the love interest of Smurfs everywhere.
That’s quite a backstory and her quest for purpose is certainly noble, even if her beginnings weren’t. The character was first introduced in Franco-Belgian comics magazine Spirou in 1966 as a marketing tool. According to writer Hal Erickson the comely Smurfette was created as a means to “bow to merchandising dictates” and “appeal to little girl toy consumers.”
It worked and in the decades that followed Smurfette became the most sought after toy from Smurf Village.
The Smurfs are big business, in addition to this weekend’s big screen animated feature, the “three apples tall” characters have been translated into 30 languages (en français: Les Schtroumpfs, in Dutch: De Smurfen) to create an estimated worth of $4 billion, but not all Smurf related marketing has been successful.
Remember Smurf-Berry Crunch? At the height of 1980s Smurf mania Post Cereal released a sugary breakfast cereal they claimed tasted, “like crunchy Smurf Berries… In berry red and Smurfy blue.” To ensure the Smurfiest experience possible Post added little blue corn puff berries laden with food colouring to the mix.
Unfortunately the blue additives weren’t easily digestible by the body, leading alarmed parents to report cases of blue and strange coloured poop after breakfast time. According to poopreport.com, “when metabolized in sufficient quantity, the blue dye combines with bile,” to form a rainbow effect at potty time. The problem was fixed with the release of Smurf Magic Berries, which contained smurfberries made of yellow corn puffs and marshmallows.
For Jack Black Smurf-Berry Crunch also brings back some bad memories. The Kung Fu Panda actor remembers his second professional gig, a breakfast food commercial. “Being in a Smurf-Berry Crunch cereal ad and being pulled along in a red wagon…?” he says, too humiliated to finish the sentence. “My stock plummeted at school.”
I was a bit too cynical to buy into the North American Smurf craze of the 1980s — they were so popular one writer called them “kiddie cocaine” — but now in 2017 I see them as something other than an hour-and-a-half advertisement for Smurfs Are Us.
The new incarnation is a sweet kids movie designed for little ones but with just enough grown-up material to keep parents interested.
In the movies anything is possible. Superheroes routinely save the earth, regular folks can afford to live in fancy New York apartments and infants can talk.
This weekend Alec Baldwin lends his distinctive, raspy voice to the title character of The Boss Baby. Based on a 36-page book by Marla Frazee, it’s a feature length riff on Look Who’s Talking as imagined by Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin.
“I may look like a baby but I was born all grown up,” Boss Baby boasts as he drops into the Templeton family, upsetting only child Tim’s carefree life. Wearing a suit onesie, BB carries a briefcase and speaks the language of the boardroom.
Seems he’s from a purveyor of fine babies, a company that supplies tots via a chute. Those who giggle when tickled are placed with families, those who don’t, like Boss Baby, are sentenced to a Kafka-esque, humourless life in BabyCorp management, kept infant-sized by special formula.
With lines like, “You know who else wears a diaper? Astronauts.” Boss Baby has the movies’s best lines, expertly delivered by Baldwin but he’s not the first talking baby to grace the big screen.
Leone LeDoux was an actor who, when she wasn’t voicing Minnie Mouse in cartoons of the 1930s and 1940s, made a career out of supplying baby vocals for movies. Some, like her work in the short Water Babies, involved creating childlike sounds for on screen infants while others were more involved. In The Reluctant Dragon she gives voice to child genius Baby Weems.
“You’re a quiet little fellow, aren’t you?” coos the nurse.
“Well, there really isn’t much to talk about,” replies Weems.
Other movie babies have had more to say.
Amy Heckerling came up with the idea for the Citizen Kane of talking toddler movies, Look Who’s Talking, when she and screenwriter husband Neal Israel were playing with their new baby. “My husband and I started to put words in her mouth,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “what she might be thinking based on her expressions.” The playful game blossomed into a film starring Kristie Alley, John Travolta and Bruce Willis as the voice of talking newborn Mikey. Heckerling notes that Willis frequently went off script, improvising X-rated lines that couldn’t be used in the film.
The movie gave Travolta’s career a shot in the arm—he hadn’t acted in five years—and started a talking baby trend in pop culture. The next year the sitcom Baby Talk starred the vocal stylings of Tony Danza as Baby Mickey, son of single mom Maggie.
More recently the baritone voiced E-Trade baby, frequently voiced by comedian Pete Holmes, looked to Heckerling’s movie for inspiration. From 2008 to 2014 Elayne Rapping, professor of American Studies at SUNY/Buffalo says the spokesbaby “humanized the whole business of trading. While other babies are just pictures, this one has a personality that is pure pop culture.”
Finally, back on the big screen Baby Geniuses sees Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd as scientists who think that babies are born knowing the secrets of the universe. To learn those secrets they try to decode goo-goo-ga-ga baby talk. Roger Ebert put this movie on his “Most Hated” list and the Stinkers bad Movie Awards nominated Leo, Gerry and Myles Fitzgerald, the triplets who played Sly, the baby genius, as Worst Child Performer.
What do Point Break, Independence Day and Beauty and the Beast have in common? All are movies released in the 1990s and all have been remade, re-imagined or rebooted in recent years.
Brand happy Hollywood is in overdrive repurposing Saturday morning superhero cartoons, big screen hits and other touchstones of 90s pop culture and audiences have mostly lapped up the nostalgia from the Clinton years. Independence Day: Resurgence and Point Break tanked but Beauty and the Beast, to use a 90s term, was all that and a bag of chips box office wise.
Soon we’ll see a live action Lion King, a new Jumanji and even more Bad Boys. This weekend it’s morphin time once again as the Power Rangers are resurrected for the big screen.
Featuring familiar characters but an all new cast, Power Rangers sees the helmeted heroes rescue the world from a powerful witch, an army of stone golems called Putties and Goldar, a giant golden monster born on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
It’s a blast from the past designed to draw in new fans while appealing to grown ups who came of age in the 1990s but is it possible to feel nostalgia for four actors in plastic helmets?
The dictionary tells us nostalgia is “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.”
Science tells us more.
As a recent study showed when we get bad news or are feeling down nostalgic, misty memories of a simpler time almost automatically kick in. Call it protection. Call it wistfulness. Call it whatever you like; Hollywood calls it money and exploits it ruthlessly because movies are a natural nostalgic go to. It’s their very essence, that dreamlike quality that takes root in our subconscious, swirling around our brains to create happy memories. They are the stuff from which dreams are woven and the feelings associated with them can give us comfort when the going gets rough.
We now live in unsettled times so perhaps the neo Power Rangers will bring back recollections of carefree Saturday mornings spent watching the TV show. Or mom and dad buying candy at a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie matinee in 1995. Or a long ago Halloween costume inspired by Amy Jo Johnson (the popular Pink Ranger) but at the rate Hollywood is recycling ideas we’ll soon run out of things to get nostalgic about. Can you be nostalgic for nostalgia? We’ll find out in the years to come when another generation gets sentimental about the remake of the reboot of Power Rangers.
As I see it nostalgia is bad for the movies. It encourages lazy re-treads and reimaginings, not innovation and originality. If we demand new films to make memories with, to fall in love with, then Hollywood’s raiding of pop culture brands must stop. Romanian-American poet and novelist Andrei Codrescu says that in the grand collage that is art the “past and future are equally usable.” I’m just wishing Hollywood would look to the future more often.
To a degree all art is a combination of everything that came before, but interesting, original films like Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea and Get Out give me hope that some filmmakers have their eyes facing forward and aren’t simply wallowing in nostalgia.
Poet Paul Éluard said that to understand Jean Cocteau’s 1946 version of La Belle et la Bête — Beauty and the Beast — you must love your dog more than your car. His comment is baffling only if you haven’t seen the movie.
Once Cocteau’s film is seen, it’s apparent that what makes his version rewarding is that it values the organic over the mechanical — even the special effects are handmade. It refuses to allow the technical aspects of the film to interfere with the humanity of the story.
This weekend Disney will have their collective fingers crossed that audiences will favour their poodles over their RVs as they release the big-budget, live-action version of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson.
Director Bill Condon says the animated 1991 Disney classic was an inspiration for the new film, but adds he also drew from everything from Twilight and Frankenstein to a 1932 musical comedy called Love Me Tonight when creating the look for the new movie.
He also mentions La Belle et la Bête. “A film I really love.” His take on the Beast looked back to the movie, cribbing the character’s combination of ferocity and romance from Cocteau.
Before taking in the new version this weekend, let’s have a look back at the little-seen 70-year old Cocteau classic.
Loosely based on the timeless Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale, the action in La Belle et la Bête begins when a poverty-stricken merchant pilfers a rose from a grand estate owned by a strange creature. The Beast strikes a deal with the man.
He’ll spare the life of the merchant in return for the hand of one of the man’s daughters. Reluctantly the merchant offers Belle, a beautiful girl who had been courted by the oafish Avenant.
At first she is repulsed by the Beast, who looks like the love child of the Wolf Man and Mrs. Chewbacca, but over time his tender ways and nightly offers of marriage warm her heart and she learns to love him for his inner beauty.
Cocteau’s version strays from the original story and Condon’s adaptation with the addition of a subplot involving Avenant’s scheme to kill the Beast and make off with his treasures and an unexpected magical personality switcheroo.
It’s meant to be a happy ending, but not everyone loved the new coda. When Marlene Dietrich saw an early cut of the film at a private screening, she squeezed Cocteau’s hand and said, “Where is my beautiful Beast?”
Other audiences embraced Cocteau’s vision. In his diary the poet wrote of a test screening held for the technicians in the Joinville Studio were the film had been made. “The welcome the picture received from that audience of workers was unforgettable,” he wrote.
Others criticized La Belle et la Bête for its straightforwardness, complaining that the characters are simply drawn, the story one dimensional. Taking that view, however, misses Cocteau’s point.
At the beginning of the film he asks for “childlike simplicity,” inviting the viewer to connect with their inner child, eschew cynicism and embrace naiveté for the film’s 96-minute running time.
In 1946 the request was meant as a salve for a post-occupation France that was still dealing with the aftermath of a terrible war.
Today, in an increasingly contemptuous world, the message still seems timely and welcome.
Only two things are sure about Skull Island. First, it is home to Megaprimatus kong a.k.a. King Kong and a menagerie of prehistoric creatures. Second, as Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) says in this weekend’s Kong: Skull Island, “We don’t belong here.”
The latest adventures of King Kong take place almost entirely on the island but what, exactly, do we know about the place?
Not much, because Skull Island is uncharted and changes from film to film.
In the new movie, a digital map image suggests the island derived its intimidating name from its gorilla skull profile shape but originally the isle wasn’t called Skull Island. The best-known versions of the Kong story, the original 1933 Merian C. Cooper film and the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production, never mention Skull Island.
The first movie and its subsequent novelisation describe a “high wooded island with a skull-like knob” called Skull Mountain while the ‘76 film refers to Beach of the Skull. It wasn’t until 2004’s Kong: King of Skull Island illustrated novel that the name was first used. Since then the moniker has stuck.
The same can’t be said for its location.
Over the years it’s been pegged everywhere from the coast of Indonesia and southwest of Central America to the Bermuda Triangle and the Coral Sea off the east coast of Australia.
In reality many places have subbed in for the island. In 1933 several locations were pieced together to create Kong’s home.
Outdoor scenes were shot at Long Beach, California and the caves at Bronson Canyon near Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Everything else was filmed on a soundstage in Culver City using odds and ends from other sets. The giant Skull Mountain gate was later reused in Gone with the Wind’s burning of Atlanta sequence.
De Laurentiis spared no expense bringing the island to life in 1976, moving the entire crew to the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
The shoot began at the remote Honopu Beach, a place the crew were told was deserted. Arriving in four helicopters laden with equipment they were greeted by a honeymooning couple who, thinking they had the place to themselves, had slept nude on the beach.
The impressive stone arch seen in the film — “Beyond the arch, there is danger, there is Kong!” — was natural and so huge years later when an episode of Acapulco Heat was filmed there a helicopter flew underneath it.
Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong reboot used a combination of New Zealand’s picturesque Shelly Bay and Lyall Bay as Skull Island’s “jungle from hell.” In the film’s closing credits the director paid tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the stars of the 1933 movie, calling them, “The original explorers of Skull Island.”
This weekend’s installment was shot in Vietnam, Queensland, Australia and Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, where giant sets were built near where Jurassic World was filmed.
The scenery, as John Goodman’s character says, is “magnificent,” but there was also a practical reason to shoot in these exotic locations. The Hollywood Reporter stated the production shot in Australia to take advantage of a whopping 16.5% location offset incentive — i.e. tax break — offered by the Australian government.
Kong: Skull Island describes the isle as “a place where myth and science meet.”
On film though, it’s a spot where the imaginations of Kong fans run wild.