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.”
I wonder if, in 200 years, aliens will study all our dead Instagram accounts to gain insight into our way of life. If so, you could forgive them if they surmised that everyone in 2017 lived perfect, #blessed lives filled with the wonders of avocado toast and gorgeous sunsets.
The perfectly curated worldview of Instagram is at the heart of Aubrey Plaza’s dark new film Ingrid Goes West. The former Parks and Recreation star plays the title character, a lonely New Yorker who befriends people on Instagram only to get upset when they don’t let her into their lives. Fixated on a Californian social media star with a seemingly perfect life played by Elizabeth Olsen, Ingrid uses her inheritance money and, as the title tells us, goes west in search of the perfect life she sees on her phone everyday.
“Ingrid is in every scene of the movie,” Plaza says, “and I’ve never been in a movie where I’m in every single scene. It was exciting to me, the idea that I would have so much time to take that character on a journey and dig really deep and peel back all those layers. I really related to the idea of feeling like you want to connect and you want someone to like you.”
Plaza is on Twitter (@evilhag) and Instagram (plazadeaubrey) but says the movie reinforced the idea that everything on social media is not real life.
“It really reminded me of how all of the perfect, beautiful things you see are not real,” she says. “They’re purposeful. The film is a great reminder that we are all flawed and we have to be careful about the stories we tell about ourselves. I think it is important to build awareness about how it makes us feel at the end of the day.
“For me, personally, I always try to be authentic in every way that I can, but it really hard on social media because you have so much control over what you can show. As a consumer of it I think the movie has taught me that it is not always what it seems.”
Ingrid Goes West has the makings of either a comedy or psychological thriller but mostly plays like a cautionary tale. As a portrait of a woman who buys into the InstaMyth of an effortlessly curated life, it’s a withering comment on the real stories behind social media’s hashtagged pictures. Unlike her onscreen alter ego Plaza understands ‘likes” do not equal love.
“I’m really interested in talking about social media and encouraging other people to talk about it and how it is affecting them and how much time they spend on it,” she says, before adding, “Personally I hope it goes away. I hope it doesn’t stick around forever. I’m sure it will change. It will morph into something else.”
The thirty-three year old actress admits social media has positive aspects but remains sceptical of its effects.
“There are people who get support there and it is a global connector so I don’t want to dismiss those parts of it,” she says, “but I think there is something so isolating about it. That is what I really don’t like. There is more value in being present and living in the world that you are in.”
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.
Last year Taylor Sheridan helped breathe new life into the western genre with the script to Hell or High Water. It was a hot and sweaty West Texas crime drama that earned four Oscar nominations. Before that he penned Sicario, the Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro drama about an idealistic FBI agent working with an elite task force to stem the flow of drugs between Mexico and the US.
His latest film, this time as both writer and director, is another neo-western but feels much different. “Wind River” is a wintry murder mystery set on a First Nations Reserve.
“They are each exploration of the modern American frontier,” he says, “a real examination of the exploitation of these areas. [They are also about] fathers managing grief and moving on or overcoming and accepting perceived failures as fathers. I had become a new father when I wrote these and obviously was terrified of the notion of failing my child. So what does a writer do? He imagines the worst scenario and writes about it.”
In the film Jeremy Renner plays Cory Lambert, a Wyoming Fish and Wildlife agent called to a reserve to track a mountain lion that has attacked local livestock. While hunting his prey he discovers the dead body of local teen. She’s miles away from the nearest house, barefoot and frozen solid. Lambert figures she died running away from something or someone until her lungs froze and burst in the 20 below weather. When FBI agent Jane Banner, played by Elizabeth Olsen, arrives the pair soon discover that mountain lions aren’t the most dangerous predators in the area.
Wind River, like his other films, explores social issues. Sicario dove into the soft underbelly of the American war on drugs while Hell or High Water was a financial-crisis drama set against a backdrop of outlaws, buddies and banks. Wind River shines a light on law enforcement’s apathy in investigating the disappearance of indigenous women. All are, as he says, “examinations of grief,” a topic he admits isn’t exactly the stuff of summer blockbusters.
“Obviously the studio system is trying to figure out what most people want to watch and make a movie that appeals to most people,” he says. “I’m not trying to do that. I’m trying to write a film that I want to go see. I assume I am not that unique about things that matter to me. That’s what I do. I can’t go into the writing of a screenplay with concerns about the audience I’m trying to reach or the expense or difficulty of making them. When I am struck with something I care about and I’m curious about the way a character might deal with this issue or that issue, then I explore. I have no regard for who is going to come see it and I can’t.”
Sheridan, who, when he isn’t directing or writing, is also a busy actor, most recently starring on the hit show Sons of Anarchy, says making Wind River was difficult but he’s happy with the film.
“The ultimate goal is to do what you set out to do,” he says, “which is make a movie that excites and entertains and has you thinking about it later. That is the Holy Grail of filmmaking. If I can do that, I’ve done my job.”
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.
A decade after the glorified PowerPoint presentation An Inconvenient Truth won the Best Documentary Oscar and opened a lot of eyes to the effects of climate change comes a follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power. The film takes a global look at climate change but we asked the film’s star, former Vice President Al Gore, to weigh in on three key issues facing Canadians. This interview has been edited for length.
Metro: What should Canadians know about the threats of tsunamis on the Great Lakes?
“Canada has more lakes than the rest of the entire world put together and the amount of fresh water here is just incredible,” he said. “Our two countries must recognize the unique and important value of the Great Lakes.
“The emergence of wind storms, winds of unusual speed and ferocity, is due to the extra heat energy being trapped in the atmosphere by man made global warming pollution. We now trap as much heat in the earth’s system every day, extra heat, as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima class atomic bombs going off every day. It’s a big planet but that is a lot of energy and with the melting of the ice cover on lakes, not least the Great Lakes, the wind picks up speed because of that too.”
Metro: Pipelines seem inevitable but what should environmentalists do, as these projects go ahead, there’s as little negative environmental impact as possible?
“I personally would like to see a much quicker transition away from all fossil fuels,” Gore said. “I’m not happy about all these pipelines in my own country as well but I recognize we’re in a transition period. Getting a price on carbon, getting a global policy in place, those are important steps now. The cost of renewable energy, not only for powering electric generating processes but also to replace internal combustion engines with EVs (Electric Vehicles), is being introduced by every car manufacturer in the world. That gives us a chance to speed up the transition in the years ahead.”
Metro: What can be done to make sure Canada’s Indigenous groups are more involved in key environmental decisions?
“As an environmentalist I will say it is striking how many environmental struggles are actually now being led by indigenous peoples. We have seen the Lummi Tribe win a huge victory to reduce carbon emissions and coal exports and the Standing Rock Sioux taught the entire world a lesson with their powerful teaching, ‘Water is life.’ There are many other examples I could cite but I will just sum up by saying there is a lot of wisdom that can be found in tribes and in the traditions and teachings of indigenous peoples that all of us would do well to heed.”
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power uses potent images, like streets melting in oppressive heat and anticipatory mass graves dug in Asia in preparation of deaths from extreme weather, to urge citizens to “Fight Like Your World Depends On It.” In our interview he gave us this call to arms of sorts.
“We’ve built a civilization optimized for the climate conditions that led to the flourishing of humanity,” he said, “and now we are destroying those conditions. We can bring it back. We can stop he worst of these consequences but we have to act.”
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power contains footage shot all over the world. In one final question we asked Al Gore and Jeff Skoll, philanthropist and producer of An Inconvenient Truth and its sequel, how they offset the carbon footprint they create jet setting around the world.
Gore: “Jeff’s company and my organization, we do a complete offset. I planted 16, 000 trees on my farm last year but we do other offsets in addition to that.”
Skoll: “All the organizations, myself and the films do something called negative offsetting. We fund these things that will take coal plants offline and put on solar plants and things like that. For every mile we fly, for every trip we take, we actually double offset. We don’t just offset the amount we fly, we do a doubling. If everybody did that we’d have no more climate issues.”
“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.