Zoolander 2

Really, really, ridiculously disappointing.

The Assassin

There are martial arts movies and there are martial arts movies. The Assassin isn't either.

Batman v Superman

A bold, mature exploration of myths and epics - followed by a two-hour mess.

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Home Interviews Brief Encounters
Brief Encounters
London Film Festival: Some Enchanted Evening Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 19 October 2007 00:00
altThe Times BFI 51st London Film Festival continued in swinging style last Saturday with the premiere of Disney’s latest film, Enchanted. It tells the tale of Giselle(Amy Adams), who is to be married to the dashing (and dumb) Prince Edward (James Marsden). But evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon) is none too happy with the match and sends Giselle far away, to a place where there are no happy endings... No, not Birmingham, New York.

Switching from 2D animation to live action, we see the stranded Giselle a long way from home. Struggling to survive in a strange city, she meets divorce lawyer Robert (Patrick Dempsey). When Edward follows her into the real world, she faces a difficult choice between her two suitors. Will she ever find her happily ever after?

The central idea behind this often hilarious parody of Disney tradition is both witty and clever. But in the bright lights of Leicester Square, director Kevin Lima tells me that it wasn’t actually his: “The idea wasn’t mine. It came from a screenwriter about nine years ago. The studio was working on it for a long time, trying to work out what the tone should be.”

On composition duty is Alan Menken, the eight times Academy Award-winning Disney legend. Partnered with Stephen Schwartz for Enchanted, what is his secret to success? “I try to get out of my own way and just channel myself into the story and the characters. It’s not Alan Menken but the characters that people want to hear.” With such a strange concept, the jump from animation to real life poses a big challenge. Alan Menken, though, is prepared to face it: “You have to find a way that the audience will find it easy to buy what happens. Here, we have a leg-up from the animation before live action, so we’re already in the world of musicals.”

In the lead role is young Amy Adams. Gorgeous and red-headed, her natural Disney Princess (TM) rival is of course, Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Is she scared of the competition? Surely she could just drag the fish-girl onto dry land and take care of her? Amy remains calm. “No, I’m not scared. She seems sweet.”

Speaking of animation, how did she find the bizarre mix of mediums? “Well, it’s the same character throughout, so it’s just a matter of taking the journey with them. It was really fun to do the voice for the character. We did it before we started filming so it helped me get in touch with her.” Perhaps she is upset with her animated self, with its flawless skin and big eyes? Apparently not: “It was very flattering! They took some of my better features and made them even better, I was very flattered.”

So far, everything seems happy. This makes Ivan angry. Desperate for scandal and drama, I turn to another potential source of rivalry: the singing, James Marsden duets with Amy in the film’s opening number, True Love’s Kiss. It may be a song about love and harmony, but I’m interested in one thing – who was better? Amy smiles. “James.”

Marsden, star of X-Men , laughs and confirms this revelation: “Yes, I was better, I’ll endorse that!” Given his vocal talent, I ask about his career. After Hairspray and this, when will the solo album be released? “It’s already out! (Laughs) No, I don’t want to force-feed myself to everybody! It was a coincidence that these two films came along and both involved singing. It’s nice to see Hollywood embracing the genre again, but I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome!”

This was all well and good, but what of Patrick ‘McDreamy’ Dempsey? Well, he was too busy enjoying the relaxed pace of cinema compared to TV’s Grey's Anatomy: “You only do 2 or 3 pages a day instead of 5 or 6. You get more time to enjoy the composition.” Looking consistently hot throughout the night, Paddy also confirmed his natural ability to look gorgeous. How long did it take him to get ready? “About twenty minutes!”

Needless to say, I was jealous. However, my mood soon changed because, despite the awful trailer, Enchanted was surprisingly good. Romantic and fuzzy yet packed with cynical swipes, I look forward to seeing this post-modern Disney flick again at Christmas.
Brief Encounters: A Legitimate Success Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 12 October 2007 00:00
An interview with the director of The Counterfeiters, Stefan Ruzowitsky.

How did it come about?

It was a strange coincidence; two producers within two weeks approached me with the same story. I thought "this is destiny" and introduced them to one another. I was intrigued by this unheard story about the counterfeiter in the concentration camp.

Do you think too many films could ever be made about WWII? Yours is quite distinctive from the existing canon...

There were a lot of people who said "oh, another movie about the Holocaust..." When
researching, I found so many incredible stories of people making decisions between life and death; I think there have been and there will be many more movies taking place within that period.

One of the characters says: "I'd rather live to be gassed tomorrow than be shot for nothing today". Can we identify with the conflict they face?

I tried not to make it a history lesson and bring up universal questions that we can relate to; moral, ethical issues relating to idealism and the privileged situation
the counterfeiters found themselves in. We live in rich countries while people are living in great misery and poverty elsewhere - should we just give money once in a while or are we allowed to enjoy wealth?

The film is a mix of genres; the soundtrack is at once sad then almost jaunty and adventurous...

The audience I'm talking to are not the people who committed these crimes. It wouldn't make sense to accuse them of anything. I tried to invite them to be interested, to use all my skills as a filmmaker, to make this a compelling thrilling, interesting, emotional movie. The soundtrack is part of that. The tango was the pop music of that time, especially for the crooks and prostitutes. Emotionally, it's perfect for my main character; there's a lot of sadness, but at the same time, passion and energy.

The film’s perspective is very much behind the closed doors...

I told the story completely from Sally's perspective: there's not one scene without him. We avoided master shots that were panoramic wide shots, instead keeping the camera by his side; you are forced to identify with him, even though he is a criminal.

When writing the screenplay, did any actors come to mind, or was it only later that you thought of August Diehl and Karl Marcovics?

I've never had such an intelligent cast with so many ideas. Especially August, he would say "we could do this or that" and the ideas were so insightful and true for the character. We rehearsed for a month as an ensemble, which really helped to work on the script.

Does a particular theme appeal to you? Your next film is for children - a complete contrast to The Counterfeiters. Do they have anything at all in common?

(Laughs) I made the children's film because I've got two kids; they are important to me. But my Nazi grandparents are a big part of my life too. Also, as a craftsman it's
interesting to experiment between genres.
Directing Atonement: A Wright of Passage? Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Monday, 10 September 2007 00:00
altJoe Wright’s Atonement has had a strong reception from the country’s critics. A highly literary subject matter, translating the novel to a visual medium is an impressive achievement. The director, though, seems undaunted: “When I read it, I thought, “This is a fantastic film.” I mean, the fact that it deals so much with time and playing with chronology and playing with linear time, or non-linear time rather, that’s its main substance. Time, makes it cinematic.”

Adaptation always involves changing or removing elements of the text. From A Clockwork Orange to One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, many authors have been offended by the process. “I was very nervous the first time I went in to meet Ian McEwan because he is a very clever man, and I’m not sure that I am. Ian is someone who really understands the craft of filmmaking and also really understands the business of it. So he understood that there were some things that would be altered, but I wanted to be as faithful to the book that happened in my head as I read it. He was quite surprised in the end by how faithful we had been.”

The casting of the three lead characters was central to the film’s success. Though often slated, Keira Knightley was once again Joe Wright’s choice female: “I think she is an exceptional actress. We have a wonderful, collaborative, open channel of communication — we kind of almost read each other’s minds now. It’s important to really understand your actors, because it’s only them that you can get performances from.”

Opposite Keira was James McAvoy, the hot rising star who caught Joe’s eye a few years back: “I first saw James in a play which Kathy Burke directed which was his first job in London and it was a play called Out In The Open by Jonathan Harvey in which he played a young, gay rent boy. And he threw himself for that role with tremendous force. He is an incredibly committed actor; every single line, every movement, every gesture. I think he is going to be an enormous star, he will really go the distance.”

The third key character – the most important, in fact – is Briony. The time span of seventy years meant that several actresses were needed to share the role. Together, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave create a brilliant sense of continuity as her character grows and matures. “I cast Saoirse first and then built Briony from there. I liked the idea of Briony being blonde and blue-eyed so that she’d look sweet and innocent and could actually be quite dark, difficult and complicated. And then I learned the trick from Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table which put a very distinctive hair-style on each one of them. So Briony has the outstanding accomplishment of having never changed her hairstyle for 70 years.”

The movie’s outstanding moment is the lengthy tracking shot on the beaches of Dunkirk. Doing a Scorsese, though, wasn’t always Joe’s initial choice. “It came from a concern that we only had a day to shoot this montage and I wasn’t sure that we’d be able to get it all shot. Also, the light would all be different over the day. One day, I decided to just do it all in one Steadicam shot and everyone’s faces looked back at me in horror. I though it was quite funny the way everyone was so horrified by this so I carried on kind of flippantly going, “No, come on, it’ll be great! It’ll be fun, look. We can do this!” Until everyone began to take me seriously and then I started to really panic.”

Was it simply a case of showing off to compete with grander projects from across the Atlantic? “Of course it’s showing off. I think it’s a good thing, I think we should all show off a lot more. It’s a very anti-English thing to show off. I think the Americans are showing off all the time — perhaps too far. But no, it was a challenge to me and a challenge to the crew and an adrenaline kick as well.”

As the BBC has recently reminded us, there is a strong heritage present in British film. When continuing the tradition forward, it can be useful to look back for inspiration. “We always reference stuff. I watched The Great Gatsby, which perhaps isn’t an entirely successful film but certainly conveys that sense of heat and laziness. I watched Elem Klimov's film Come And See. I obviously watched Brief Encounter and In Which We Serve for the way people behaved in those times. And also, kind of bits of Powell and  Pressburger as well. I love that period of filmmaking. It’s one of my favourite that I was brought up with. My surrogate grandmother used to sit me down and play me these films that just blew my mind. “

With people already mentioning next year’s Oscars, the offers will surely start to pour in for Atonement’s talented director. After two literary adaptations, are there any other novels Joe Wright would like to work on? “I do love the book The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon about the experience of the Wind Rush generation coming from the West Indies to Britain in the 1950s. That’s a topic I’d like to look at.”
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