“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.”
In Maudie, a biopic of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis, Ethan Hawke plays Everett, the artist’s brusque husband. “You walk funny,” he says when he first meets her. “You a cripple? You sick?”
In other words, he’s not exactly a charmer.
“It’s always fun and such and such a great experience to get to play a character that audiences love,” says Hawke. “It feels really good but often to tell a really interesting story you have to play people who are badly behaved. I feel that as gruff and as unacceptable as a lot of Everett’s behaviour is, it is not uncommon at all of men of that time period. I remember my grandmother always accusing my grandfather of not wanting a wife but a maid. He’s somebody that in the course of that relationship learns how to love.”
As romance blossoms between them Maud’s art—handmade postcards, paintings—slowly gains fans, including Vice President Richard Nixon who purchased a landscape by mail. As Maud’s increasing recognition threatens Everett’s simple way of life their union becomes strained.
“I found that story really surprising and the subtle details of their internal power shifts, I thought, were really true to life. All long term relationships have strange power dynamics and the behaviour within the couple is always shifting about who’s in charge and in charge of what, and what that does to their love and how that changes.”
The couple is, as Maud says, “like a pair of odd socks.”
“I thought it was a beautiful journey to go from someone who was abusive to somebody who knew how to love and care for another person. That’s an interesting character to get to play.”
The script caught his eye not only because of the chance to play a complicated character but also because of his affinity for Nova Scotia.
“I bought a place in Nova Scotia probably in the late nineties. I’ve been going up there once or twice a year every since then. I love it up there.
“Through a friend of a friend they thought I might like the script just because I like Nova Scotia so much. They were right. Of course then they tricked me and the shooting ended up being in Newfoundland. I thought I could shoot this movie and live in my house, but I couldn’t.”
Maudie is a movie about small moments, an exchanged look, a caress. Like its real life inspirations the film is unpretentious, occasionally gruff but always honest and truthful.
“Most of us aren’t in giant espionage battles or helicopter chases. Most of us don’t need a superhero,” Hawke says. “For most of us the real events of our lives correspond around love. The losing of it, the gaining of it. How we feel about any given time period of our life has to do with that and I think it is very difficult to make love stories for adults because they’re very complicated.
“Arthur Miller has a great quote about how everybody is interested in stories about falling in love and getting married, or stories that start with a break up but end in somebody finding resolution but what is very difficult to do is show the actual relationship and I love this story for the messiness of the real life in it.”
“Success is counted sweetest, By those who ne’er succeed,” wrote Emily Dickenson in one of the seven poems she published during her lifetime. Those lines must have played on the minds of the filmmakers behind A Quiet Passion, a biopic of the reclusive nineteenth century poet, who suffered setback after setback while bringing the story to the screen.
Five years after being offered the role Cynthia Nixon said, “I never thought it would come together. I thought, ‘Thank you for thinking of me, it is a good part for me but I don’t see how you are going to get this made.’”
The former Sex and the City star often thought about the project but claims she was never impatient at the film’s lack of progress.
“I started acting as a twelve year old and I went to a very tough school and what that taught me was that when I was up for a job that I really wanted and I didn’t get, I would think to myself, ‘At least I don’t have to do double duty. I don’t have to do school and work.’ Now I have three children and am married. I run a household so when I am not working I feel it less than other people.
“If you are in something for the long haul you are not constantly taking its temperature.”
It took years but Nixon and director Terence Davies succeeded in telling Dickenson’s story, bringing to cinematic life not only the facts—she was reclusive and never married—but also the essence of a person with an insatiable need to question societal norms.
“The questions she is asking as a person and as a woman,” says Nixon, “they are big questions. How do I deal with all this love I feel? What does it mean to be intimate with another person? Will I lose myself and do I want to lose myself? I think she was so ahead of her time in thinking these things were an option, like whether she would marry or not. For her that was a question. It wasn’t like she was dying to get married and didn’t. She chose not to. Whether she was going to be a mother or not. These are questions that women today deal with as a matter of course but most nineteenth century women would not have even stopped to consider.”
Nixon says Dickenson’s ideas and words have been a constant in her life. “We had a record at home of Julie Harris reading some of the poems and the letters. I would listen to them again and again so some of the better-known poems and letters I learned by heart.”
Dickenson died 130 years ago but Nixon feels there are timely elements in A Quiet Passion for today’s audiences.
“If you think about the mid nineteenth century in America and you think about the issues we were dealing with in terms of women, it is a straight line from there to here. We’ve obviously come very far but it is exactly the same issues. Are women going to be treated equally? She saw the jump between the way things are supposed to be and the way things are, and she didn’t try to wallpaper over anything.”
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.
Ghostbusting is supposed to make you feel good. If that’s true, why does Personal Shopper’s Maureen (played by Kristen Stewart) appear so miserable all the time? Perhaps it’s because the spirit she is trying to bust is that of her brother Lewis, a twin who died of a heart attack in a rambling, old Paris house.
In her second film with French director Olivier Assayas, the Twilight star gives a career topping performance, brittle yet calm in the face of mounting terror. There is a detached feel to the performance that recalls the remove Hitchcock’s leading ladies often projected as she navigates through personal tragedy and supernatural mystery.
“Kristen is the great actress of her generation,” says Assayas. “I feel very privileged to have this connection with her. It is miraculous to work with a young actress who realizes there is no end to what she can do. You tell her, ‘You can fly,’ and she doesn’t believe it and then she does it.
“I have always loved to work with young actors and actresses. You catch them at a moment when they are transforming and opening up. I think it is always interesting to work with actors when you can give them something. When you work with great actors who have done it all, it is very difficult because you give them something that they have already done better in another movie ten years before. “
Their previous collaboration, Clouds of Sils Maria, earned Stewart a rare honour. She was the first American actress to be nominated for and win a best supporting actress César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.
“She is obsessed with breaking anything that could feel like routine,” he says. “She gives herself this rule of not doing what she would instinctively do. When you do a scene there is an obvious starting place. She never takes it. That’s what I love. As a writer I don’t want to see what I imagined, I want to see an actor who takes it, who appropriates it and does something else with it. That’s when it becomes real and human.”
“Usually I work with actors once, twice and after a while I realize we’ve gone all the way. With Kristen I think I could go on and on.”
Personal Shopper is a ghost story, so things take a strange turn when Maureen’s phone lights up with mysterious texts while she’s on a quick Chunnel trip to London. “R U real? R U alive or dead?” she writes, replying to the Unknown texter. “Tell me something you find unsettling,” comes the response, opening the door for Maureen to begin exploring her fears, phobias, digging deeper than she ever has.
“I don’t believe in the supernatural but I believe there is more to life than the material world. Science kind of proves it. There is so much going on that we can’t see because it is too small or too big or whatever. We have our own relationship with some invisible world. Each of us has his own version of it. You end up living with the departed. Each of us has an inner world which is much more complex than the material world. It’s much more fascinating in terms of cinema. I don’t think it is bizarre to try and connect with that.”
Judy Greer wrote a charming, self-depreciating book called I Don’t Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star that chronicles her busy career as the second lead in dozens of movies and television shows like Jurassic World, Ant-Man, Arrested Development and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
She is, as her twitter bio reads, “that girl from that movie/tv show,” a familiar face on screens big and small. If you can’t place the face, perhaps you’ll recognize the voice. One of her longest running roles has her voicing the clingy and emotionally fragile Cheryl Tunt on the wildly popular adult animated spy sitcom Archer. For Greer herself the show has provided a career highpoint.
“I got to sign someone’s boobs at Comic-Con last year,” she says. “I think you’ve really made it if you have your own action figure and people want you to sign their boobs.”
There are other perks as well.
“I went to a dinner party recently, now I’m about to name drop, and Jon Hamm was there. He played a role on Archer but we don’t record together so I never get to meet anyone who does it. When I saw him he said, ‘God, I love your work on Archer and I love Archer so much I just wanted to be in it.’ That was so cool. That was a highlight. Jon Hamm and the boob signing. They work well in tandem. Maybe I’ll sign Jon Hamm’s boobs sometime!”
Her latest film, Wilson, gave her the chance to meet another of her favourite actors.
“I’m looking to work with people who inspire me. I’m pretty happy with the roles I‘m getting and I just want to work with more of my idols. I definitely checked that box with Woody [Harrelson].”
In the film Greer plays Shelly, a dog sitter who is one of the only people who finds the offbeat title character charming.
“There are a handful of actors who couldn’t play this role because you would hate them all the way through to the end. Woody himself is so lovely and wonderful that in the beginning when Wilson is kind of terrible Woody makes you root for him.
“After I saw the movie I found myself wanting to spend more time talking to people who irritate me,” she says. “Maybe that person is a Wilson and Wilson is great. I would want to hear Wilson’s opinion about things. Maybe I’m shutting people down too quickly. Maybe I need to give people who have strong opinions a little bit more of a minute in my life. Maybe there is something to be learned from them.”
The effervescent forty-one-year-old, who will next be seen in War for the Planet of the Apes, laughs when she says, “I felt strongly that [director] Craig [Johnson] would be making a huge mistake by not casting me.”
“Sometimes when I read something I fall in love with the character I’m going to play and sometimes I fall in love with the movie itself. In this case I fell in love with the whole movie, the script itself. I had to see this movie pop up for years to come and be so proud that I had a small piece of it. I wanted to do what I could to help Wilson and his story.”