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.”
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.
There was a time when an interview with Wyatt Russell would take place in a locker room, not a plush downtown Toronto hotel suite.
The Goon: Last of the Enforcers star not only plays a hockey player in the film, he was once a junior league goalie who says his first vivid memory was getting a pair of skates when he was just three–years-old. Hockey, he says, “was my love, my passion.”
His promising athletic career was cut short by multiple concussions and an injury-plagued season with Groningen Grizzlies but the thirty-year-old fell right back into rink life on his first day of shooting Goon.
“We were supposed to be getting off a bus after a game to meet our family members,” he says. “I remember sitting down and being like, ‘This is what I did.’ It was actors acting, but I thought, ‘I’ve done this. I’ve already done this.’ I looked over to my left and they start filling in the bus with players that would fill out the team and there was a guy right next to me and I was like, ‘Dylan?’
“I had played with him for a little while in Brampton. After that moment it became really easy and fun to slip back into hockey and hockey terminology. It’s a world. It was what I wanted to do with my life.”
The son of actors Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell says he met many people like the violent enforcer Anders Cain he plays in the film. Cain doesn’t love the game, he loves to win, a perspective, Russell says, comes when players get jaded.
“They have a lot of talent. They’ve had a lot of talent since they were kids and there has been a lot of pressure put on them. For a lot of people there’s a breaking point and the way that usually manifests itself is through self-destructive behaviour and they don’t even know they’re doing it.”
It’s not unlike show biz.
“Every profession where people view it as larger than life,” he says, “when you start to believe that it is larger than life and you are larger than life, is where I feel the downhill skid starts to happen. When you start to see yourself as more important than the world that’s going on around you.”
He avoided those traps because, although he grew up in a show biz family, his parents were raised in “lower middle class American families that lived in Maryland, Maine and Thousand Oaks. They didn’t all the sudden forget that. That’s not who they were or who their families were.”
Now that a career in hockey is in his rear view mirror and Russell has perspective on how his new job fits into the scheme of things.
“It’s just entertainment,” he says. “Sometimes certain things can make a difference culturally. Maybe, on the smallest, tiniest, littlest scale but at the end of the day it is meant for you to go to the movie theatre and have a good two hours. You’re not curing cancer.”
It was his patents Kurt and Gildie, veterans of a combined 100 films and countless hours of television, who taught Wyatt that a life spent in front of the camera is “about bigger things than yourself. They didn’t forget and they raised us with that idea in mind.”
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.
Temperament wise, Hugh Jackman doesn’t have much in common with his most famous screen role.
As the embodiment of Wolverine — a mutant blessed with miraculous healing powers but cursed with a bad hairstyle and existential angst — Jackman is the face of the character. But off screen he is as gracious as his cigar-smoking X-Men alter ego is testy.
His Prisoners co-star Terence Howard told me Jackman was, “a sweet man,” while director Josh Rothstein said the actor “leads with smiles and warmth.”
Doesn’t sound much like Wolverine to me.
When he isn’t playing Wolverine he devotes his time to charitable causes like World Vision and Laughing Man, a coffee company he established that sells fair trade coffee and tea, products farmed using ecologically friendly methods and sold for the benefit of the farmer and consumer.
This weekend he stars in Logan, the third solo Wolverine film. In the new movie the X-Men antihero makes tracks to the Mexican border to set up a hide-out for ailing mentor Professor X, played by Patrick Stewart.
This installment marks the ninth time Jackman has slipped on the adamantium claws, and will be his swansong in the role.
Having played the character for almost 18 years Jackman owns the part, bringing real humanity to the mutant in a powerful and accomplished performance.
But, as he told me in a friendly, wide-ranging and informative interview, he wasn’t always as self-assured.
“When I started acting I was the dunce of the class,” he reveals. Success in school, he says, came because of his work ethic, a trait he picked up from his father.
“He never took one day off in his life,” he remembers. “He had five kids he was bringing up on his own. If anyone deserved a day off it was my old man, but he never did. I learned that from him.
“There’s always that feeling of, ‘I have to work harder than everybody else. I’m not born Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I’ve got to just work harder and I’m prepared to do it.”
Being the youngest of five children also contributed to his outlook.
“I always wanted to do stuff and not be left out,” he says, but adds, “I was quite a fearful kid, which I hated.
“I’ve always had a fear of fear. It’s weird to think back now but drama school is a pressure cooker situation. People get kicked out of drama school. You are constantly being judged on how you are doing; are you progressing, are you not?
“Almost everyday you had to get up and do a monologue. Sing a song. Do it in front of everybody. I noticed I was always first. I never wanted to sit there waiting. I’m not saying that out of courage. It was too uncomfortable to sit, stewing. I don’t think I’ve told anyone else that.”
Later, fear of unemployment pushed him to expand his talents.
“When I came out of drama school I was like, ‘I’m going to do anything I can just to keep working.’ In drama school you do Shakespeare to movement to circus skills to singing all in one morning. I know a lot of people hated it but I revelled in it. I loved it.”
Seems hard work and confidence is the X-factor that made Jackman the most famous — and friendly — of all the X-Men.
There are as many kinds of cinematic zombies as there are zombie movies. From George A. Romero’s lumbering brain eaters and the fast-moving fleshbags of 28 Days Later to the undead hordes of World War Z and The Crazies’ sentient creepers, the only thing that binds them is an voracious urge to eat their living counterparts and, these days, an almost unrivalled popularity with horror fans.
It seems when the world is in turmoil people turn to zombies as an outlet for their apocalyptic anxieties. A new British film, The Girl With All the Gifts, borrows from Romero, 28 Days Later and even from The Walking Dead and yet its mix of social commentary, zippy zombies and exploding skulls doesn’t feel like a re-tread.
“The zombie metaphor is humanity eating itself,” says star Gemma Arterton. “This film extends that because it gives zombies, or hungries as we call them, intelligence, empathy, love and the ability to fend for themselves in a more developed way.
“I think we are in a period of time right now where there is major despair out there about what is happening. This film is poignant now, coming out now post Brexit. It feels quite relevant.”
Arterton plays Helen Justineau, teacher of a group of children infected by a zombifying disease but still capable of advanced thought. In the search for a cure these kids are studied at a remote English army base.
Helen has bonded with one remarkable child, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a youngster as lethal as the others but possessed of superior intelligence and charm. When the base is overrun by “hungries” Helen, Melanie and two others escape but not before the child shows her true colours.
“I did something bad,” she says. “I ate bits of the soldiers.” With the help of the world-weary Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) they make their way to London.
“If you talk to Mike Carey who wrote the book and the screenplay,” says Arterton, who broke out as an MI6 field agent in 2008’s Bond hit Quantum of Solace, “you’ll find he’s not only a great raconteur but he really knows what’s going on with science and politics and he mixes the two together. It is such interesting conversation. He’s obviously a big geek but in a really factual way.”
A case in point, Arterton says, is the virus that lies at the centre of the film.
“The disease, the fungal infection is actually something that exists. There is a colony of ants in South America that have Ophiocordyceps unilateralis,” she explains, diving into the science. “It’s a fungal infection that infects them from the inside and then they sprout and turn into a different type of ant. Then those ants will eat the other ants to survive.
“These things happen in nature. Nature is such a strong force. I love that in this film you can see nature taking back the planet.
“We actually used some shots from Chornobyl as the London skyline because
Chornobyl is this abandoned city that is completely overgrown now. We might die, but nature will be fine. The world is going to keep going without us.”
Helmed by Scottish director Colm McCarthy in his first feature-length production, The Girl with All the Gifts asks difficult questions about the price of survival, capping off the story with chilling words that may — or may not — alleviate lingering zombie phobia.
“It’s not all over,” says Melanie, “it’s just not yours anymore.”
Jordan Peele learned how to scare people by making them laugh. As characters like Funkenstein’s Monster on the popular sketch show Key & Peele he investigated popular culture, ethnic stereotypes and race relations through a satirical lens.
Get Out, his directorial debut, however, contains few laughs. By design. It’s a horror film about college students Rose and Chris, played by Allison Williams and Daniel Kaluuya. Things are getting serious and it’s time to meet the parents.
“Do they know I’m black?” he asks. She assures him race is a non-issue as they head to her leafy up-state hometown to meet parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford). After a few days Chris feels uneasy, a sensation compounded by an alarming call from his best friend. “I’ve been doing my research and a whole lot of brothers have gone missing in that suburb,” he says. Chris wonders if his hosts are racist and deadly or just racist.
“It’s a horror movie from an African American’s perspective,” Peele told Forbes.com.
While working on the script Peele sought advice from Sean of the Dead director Edgar Wright and other genre filmmakers but says ultimately his career in comedy was the best training to make a horror film.
Making people laugh, he declares, and scaring the pants off them share a similar skill set. Both are all about pacing, reveals and both must feel like they take place in reality he says.
His love of horror dates back to watching A Nightmare on Elm Street as a teen. It was the first movie that really terrified him. Since then, he says the first sight of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs really frightened him.
“You come down the hallway, and he’s just waiting for you,” he told the New York Times. “It’s the protagonist in motion and something waiting for him, patiently and calmly. Those are so chilling to me.”
Get Out isn’t a typical horror film, however. Peele refers to it as a “social thriller,” a movie that veers away from the Nightmare on Elm Street thrills that made such an impression on him as a teen. Instead the main villain is something more insidious than even the slash-happy Freddy Kruger; it’s racial tension. He says the story is personal but is quick to add it speedily veers off from anything strictly autobiographical. Instead it is an exploration of racism in all its forms he hopes will ultimately be relatable for his audience no matter who they are.
He compares Chris’s anxiety to Sidney Poitier’s classic Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. In that film parents, played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, have their attitudes challenged when their daughter introduces them to her African American fiancé. He says the uncomfortable situation of meeting in-laws for the first time is universal.
“The layer of race that enriches and complicates that tension (in the film) becomes relatable,” he told GQ. “It’s made to be an inclusive movie. If you don’t go through the movie with the main character, I haven’t done my job right.”