Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spoiler Guys: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

After my exciting trip to Hobbiton it's time to come down to earth for the Spoiler Guys session on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

You'll hear us disagree, you'll hear us shamelessly namedrop, and you'll hear Marc sounding like he's in Gollum's cave (apologies). But hopefully you'll still enjoy what I found to be a fascinating chat about Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth.

Please subscribe to us in iTunes, download here, or stream below:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

TheVine: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It’s unspeakably wonderful to see The Shire safely back in Peter Jackson’s hands. The knighted director ventures back to Middle Earth, 60 years prior to The Lord of the Rings, to bring us J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved tale of dwarf-sized derring-do. 

The story, is surely familiar by way of cultural osmosis and/or school-time reading requirements. Our titular hero Bilbo Baggins finds himself in a company of 13 exiled dwarves, all of whom are determined to conquer Smaug, the gold-snavelling dragon who has driven them from their Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Yes, dragon wrath notwithstanding, it’s a far more modest story than the end of the world antics of The Lord of the Rings. But that hasn’t stopped Jackson and his team from adapting Tolkien’s trim, 300-page novel into a blockbuster trilogy. But check your incredulity at the door, for if this first installment is anything to go by: then by Zeus we’re in for a good time! 

That is, you’ll have good time if you can handle the newfangled 48 frames-per-second (48 fps). Jackson is taking a gamble on launching this new technology on such an epic stage. The disarmingly clear, hyper-real quality of the 48fps requires an almost bodily adjustment. The characters are so precisely defined from their backgrounds that they look stuck on; aliens in their surroundings. Their movement often feels akin to a video game, which can threaten to jolt you out of the cinema experience, particularly in the daytime scenes. With 1000 of the 25,000 worldwide screens projecting the movie at 48fps, debate will no doubt ensue over the technology's successes and shortcomings. For this cinema-goer, the jury is still out.

Setting aside technological considerations, The Hobbit is nothing short of a joyous homecoming. Jackson and his screenwriting team—Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro—cleverly serve up the familiar faces of Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) in a prologue that neatly interlaces with the opening of The Fellowship of the Ring. We are then whisked back 60 years to meet young Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who is singled out by Gandalf (the onscreen treasure that is Sir Ian McKellen) to assist the dwarves in their quest to reclaim their homeland. 

Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo: the big-hearted homebody, who fusses over his plates and his pantry as the dwarves descend upon Bag End; later, the extremely averse adventurer who asks the company to turn back because he forgot his handkerchief! Freeman’s familiar traits as the stoic Dr. Watson in Sherlock, longsuffering Tim in The Office, or even the endearing amateur porn stand-in from Love Actually all find their natural home in a pair of hairy hobbit feet. And considering the film’s comparatively lighter, more comedic tone than it’s Lord of the Rings sibling, Freeman’s understated blend of heart and humour proves a galvanizing force throughout the film. 

Indeed, while Jackson clearly relishes the dark and dangerous forces at work against his pint-sized company, he is also keen to share some laughs. Moreover, burdened with the task of sharing screen time with thirteen hirsute dwarves, Jackson often uses humour as a means to individuate.  James Nesbitt’s larikin Bofur leads the way, mostly at portly Bombur’s (Stephen Hunter) expense. This distinguishes them from the so-called ‘hot dwarves’ Fili (Dean O'Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner) and of course the company’s illustrious leader, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). 

This reviewer’s heart will forever belong to Aragorn, but Armitage has got some game. He and Freeman admirably lock horns over Bilbo’s inclusion in the company, but Armitage really comes into his own in the ‘hero shot’ stakes: with flowing locks and a steely gaze, he gives us Braveheart by way of 300 – epically cool. 

Another cracking turn comes from Barry Humphries. Unrecognisable, yet quintessentially ‘Barry,’ he voices the Great Goblin: a hulking, grimy, goiter-jiggling feat of fantastical CGI from that impossibly talented bunch at Weta Digital (though Guillermo Del Toro’s style seems evident here too). Cate Blanchett may make a rousing, unearthly return as Galadriel, but it’s the goblin underworld that steals the show. 

This couldn’t be truer in the case of Gollum. Gliding straight over any “uncanny valleys”, Andy Serkis makes a triumphant return as our precious antihero. Serkis not only reassumes his groundbreaking performance-capture creature in effortless fashion, but proceeds to outdo himself in a jaw-dropping showdown with Bilbo. 

Rehearsed as a theatrical chamber piece, the famous ‘Riddle Game’ gives goosebumps; Serkis and Freeman are superlative together in this battle of wits, where the laughs stemming from Gollum’s frayed psyche somehow manage to both relieve and amplify the tension. Jackson matches these stellar performances with superb editing, cinematography and that impossibly impressive CGI, in what will surely become a classic scene in cinema. 

With so much action and so many moving characters/pixels, the simplicity of this two-hander comes like a breath of fresh air. Which is not to say the adventure elements are found wanting. On the contrary, the stone-soldiers battle and the goblin shantytown are just two standout sequences that use 3D to beautiful and hair-raising effect. However, the tale’s gormless trolls—Bert, Tom, and Bill—probably galumph around too long, stretching the laughs a bit too far. Then again, that scene should play very well with kids. 

For ultimately The Hobbit is a children’s story. And Jackson et al have done a masterful job of bringing life, depth and impossibly intricate detail to Tolkien’s fantasy world.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 26 December 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a very merry Santa Day!

Totally un-cinema related: here I am proudly holding aloft my Xmas pudding - which I baked from a recipe handed down from my great-grandmother. I love how the holiday season brings families and memories together. I hope you're all having a wonderful time.

Boxing Day movie madness to follow*!

*In fact it's kicked off early over on The Spoiler Guys

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spoiler Guys: Pitch Perfect

That's right! The Spoiler Guys are in session and this time we're singing along (badly) with the a capella comedy Pitch Perfect.

Tune in below or, better yet, please subscribe to us in iTunes!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hobbiton on The Film Programme

If you follow me on Twitter, you'll be well aware that I made the trip to New Zealand for the world premiere of The Hobbit. And aside from live tweeting the press conferences and the red carpet (where I  quickly became familiar with Richard Armitage's adoring Twitter fan base!), I was also let loose on Hobbiton!

The giddy smile on my face above should help you gauge my excitement level!

Now you can hear me discuss my adventures with the wonderful Francine Stock on this week's episode of BBC Radio 4's The Film Programme. You can download the podcast here, or subscribe via iTunes.

I am beyond delighted to have been invited back on the show (you can read about my previous appearances here and here) - especially seeing as Australian audiences still have to wait until Boxing Day to meet The Hobbit! Sigh...

But if you're keen to read my review beforehand, please head over to TheVine. And if you have any questions, I'll be over here...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

TheVine: Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s hard not to psyche yourself out before an audience with Paul Thomas Anderson.

One of the most intriguing and talented contemporary American auteurs, ‘PT’ Anderson (above left, with Joaquin Phoenix on the set of The Master) is understandably adored for bringing audiences modern classics like Boogie Nights, Punch Drunk Love, Magnolia and of course, There Will Be Blood. His rich characters and striking formalism are embellished with stunning aural and visual sequences. This filmmaking alchemy continues in his sixth feature, The Master, which draws on the history of L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology as the settling for a truly spectacular character study of a drunken, damaged soul, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and his friendship with his titular ‘saviour’ (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

As TheVine sat down with the director in Sydney one recent sunny afternoon – Anderson apologetically struggling with jetlag, and weighing up his options now coffee had ceased to have any effect (“do you try a white wine?”) – life was definitely imitating art in the idolatry stakes. And yet humble and softly spoken, Anderson quickly transforms from a filmmaking god into a considerate cinephile; someone who admits that such hero worship gives him a ‘stomachache’.
I wanted to start with saying welcome to Sydney, where your film career began, if only in name [PTA's first film, the crime thriller Hard Eight, was originally titled Sydney].

They wouldn’t let me call it that because they thought people would think [the film] was about Sydney Australia. I thought that was ridiculous. 

We gamble here too!

There’s casinos here, right?

There sure are. Congratulations on The Master - your sixth feature and your fifth collaboration with Philip Seymour Hoffman – can you two still manage to surprise each other after all these years?

Good question. Yeah, yes! And we wouldn’t be doing it if…yeah, great question! I hadn’t thought of it that way. We wouldn’t be doing it if [that wasn’t the case]. I can only speak for my point of view, [but] he does still surprise me and he makes me hungry to work with him and see what he does and comes up with. [The Master] was something that I came up with because I wanted to spend more time with him. We’d worked together a lot, five times. But it was never enough. It was a supporting part or something like that. It never felt like we’d gotten super dirty enough together. And probably in some selfish way, if your best friend is an actor, they’re elusive because they go off to work and he lives in a different city than I do. So I wonder if, underneath, it was just a way to grab hold of him and be closer to him for a period of time. 

Well you also succeeded in getting [Philip Seymour Hoffman] to sing again (after Mangnolia) – is that how you get him out of his comfort zone?

No! I like him in his comfort zone. Because he takes care of pushing himself out of his comfort zone. Usually invading somebody’s comfort zone is an exciting thing with another actor; it’s not something that a director should do. It’s like getting into a position with Joaquin where you know you’ve gotta concentrate; you have to pay attention, you have to be listening closely. At its best, you’re going to do something that feels very, very, very intimate.

This is your first collaboration with Joaquin, though I understand you’ve been wanting to cast him for years. What won him over this time?

Probably it was the part. The part was right and it was the right time in his life. Joaquin is a good actor in that way; he does make choices based on his life and what’s good for him, not just like what’s a good career move. So this was just the right time.

These are two powder keg lead performances -- in that regard, do you consider yourself an actor’s writer? You consistently give rich characters over to the actors.

You know, when I started writing, when I was making a short film, I had John Reilly and Philip Baker Hall and I kinda learned from them, because they both taught me that actors don’t read any of the writing in scripts, they just read their lines [laughs]. And I remember thinking, “OK, so in other words, don’t just write a bunch of stuff. Be very economical. Don’t write what they’re feeling. Don’t try and pretend like it’s a novel. Just give them very simple things so that they can do work.” That was good advice that I’ve tried to follow. So sometimes, the less writing you can do, the better. 

Phoenix and Seymour Hoffman

Amy Adams’ [playing Master’s wife Peggy Dodd] is astounding as almost a Lady Macbeth figure. What did you give over to her?

It’s like, the distance between here and there is huge; between what you write down and what they do. 

Is that exciting as a writer/director?

Very! Very exciting. Especially if it’s good; what they’re doing is right. And sometimes it can’t be so clear right away. You shoot films out of order – you start with the end at the beginning and weird things happen like that – but you kinda know it, you know? Like when you see somebody in a costume when they’re standing there and doing something and you kinda know when it feels pretty good. 

There’s alchemy at work.


There’s a skepticism about Scientology which some people will bring to this film no doubt, but what struck me is that you take a more historical view of Dianetics. What was it that most grabbed you in your research of those early years?

Just the way it was formulating, the way that it was building. The idea they had – it’s not a particularly new one – but just that the problems you might have in your life may not just be about this life [but] possibly another one. I liked that. I liked…the beginning of anything is always really interesting because it’s the start! You feel everybody is excited about possibilities, hopeful and optimistic and everything feels like a discovery. 

There’s a real energy….

Yeah, absolutely! 

It struck me that the time travel and the past lives aspect is a perfect analogy for a filmmaker. In your films you’ve traveled through time to create these amazing characters. Is that something that you brought to the project?

Yeah for sure. When people start talking about time travel it doesn’t feel that far off, because if you’re making a film about another era, you’re trying to do the best you can. You’ve got to reach back and put yourself in that time. Who says time travel is impossible? It’s like, it is, until it isn’t! You know?

I was remembering Tom Cruise character Frank Mackey in Magnolia – infamously calling for people to “Seduce and destroy.” I wonder if you consider same holds for your characters here – is it a leitmotiv?

No. I think that’s different. I do. I don’t see Master that way at all. Master seems – at least in our time of the film – much more open to learning and discovering. [Dodd] seems less cut and dry about what he thinks. Maybe as he goes along and faces more opposition, he has to shore up and become more rigid in what he thinks. Maybe in the sequel he’d end up more like [Frank Mackey]. 

How you like to consume films: do you like watch them multiple times? 

I’m terrible. The ones that I like I watch over and over and over again. Yeah. I don’t see as much new stuff as I should. 

Any favourites?

Bad Santa. I must have seen Bad Santa more times than anybody should. The Big Lebowski. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Surely there are those who have drawn the life-imitating-art comparison with Master, and the fealty that your fans feel towards you and your work. Is that something you’ve reckoned with?

It’s not lost on me the similarities between being a film director and what the Master is going through. You’re convincing somebody to come along on some crazy thing that you’re going to do for three months, and you have no idea what you’re doing. You’re going to pay them not that well; you’re going to feed them not that well, but hopefully you’re going to have fun. Yeah, you have to kinda kick yourself up into a state of frenzy and hopefulness that you’re going to get something good. Yeah, it’s very similar. 

But that’s with your filmmaking compatriots. What about your fans worshipping at the altar of PT Anderson?

Well there was a review [where] Peter Travers said that. Ohhh! I know what he meant, but it kind of gave me a stomachache! [Laughs]

I understand you sat at the foot of your own master– Robert Altman in A Prairie Home Companion.  What was that experience like?

That was sort of one of the best summers of my life. For a number of reasons. My girlfriend was pregnant with our first child, and we were making this film, and Bob was sick…

Are you just a sponge in that situation?

You definitely shut up and [laughs]. You definitely don’t talk more than you need to, for sure. But he was pretty frail at the time. That said, I was there just in case anything happened, and he was getting chemotherapy on Thursdays. So everybody kind of expected Friday would be a tough day, [but] he never missed a day; he never missed a moment. So yeah.

Wow. If that’s not a lesson in tenacity…


Sonically your films have always been really intriguing, but this ongoing collaboration with Jonny Greenwood especially so – how are you two developing?

[Laughs] You know he’s coming here? Yeah, Radiohead is coming down here. Gosh, I don’t know, I’m trying to think.

Have you been worshipping at the altar of Jonny Greenwood?

I definitely have! For sure! It’s hard to be his boss. [Laughs]

How so?

Well, he only looks like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. [Laughs] He’s so great. He’s so great! 

When I grew up making films, John Williams’ music for Steven Spielberg’s stuff or Bernard Herman – they went hand in hand. And I loved that, and I always thought that’s how a film should be. So having Jonny’s sounds over our films…every time his music comes on I’m incredibly proud and excited. It’s still something to be proud of when I watch the film. It’s hard to stay excited about what you’ve done – maybe the way you’ve lit it or something like that – you sort of get slightly nauseated by it. But when Johnny’s music comes on, I still get excited. It’s a kid kind of feeling. 

Published on TheVine

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Giveaway: Liberal Arts

School might be out for summer, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't take a cinematic trip back to college with Liberal Arts

Thanks to the lovely people at Icon Films, I have ten double passes to give away to Josh Radnor's nostalgic romp, which also stars the luminous Elizabeth Olsen - if you haven't already been totally gobsmacked by her talent in Martha Marcy May Marlene, then her easy charm here will surely win you over. 

To win one of ten double passes simply email me (subject: Liberal Arts) with your name and address (Australian residents only - sorry!). Winners will be notified by reply. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Spoiler Guys: SKYFALL

I'm extremely excited to introduce you all to my latest film project: The Spoiler Guys. I've teamed up with my movie buddies Marc Fennell and Giles Hardie to create a podcast that captures the frenetic film chats we have as we walk out of our media screenings.

When you constantly have to watch your words reviewing films without spoilers, it's unspeakably fun to finally have free-reign to critically discuss cinema including the film's twists and turns!

Of course I feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of the fabulous Dana Stevens, whose Slate Spoiler Specials set a very high benchmark! If only the time difference between here and New York wasn't so punishing!

Well, without further ado, I'd like to encourage you to head over to The Spoiler Guys to download the debut episode on the spoiler-tastic Skyfall. Or you can stream below:

Enjoy! And please do let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Vine: Billy Connolly interview

With the beautiful Brave out on DVD today (just in time for Thanksgiving!), I thought I'd post my interview with the delightful Billy Connolly.

You might also like to revisit Marc, Giles and I discussing Pixar's first princess over on The Movie Club

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Vine: Savages

Prepare to pass the Dutchie; Oliver Stone has some mellow cinematic thrills for you. The operative word being "mellow".

Yes, the lauded director has shacked up on Laguna Beach and surrounded himself with pretty young things in his adaptation of Don Winslow’s drug-fuelled and adrenaline-packed crime saga. The story follows the fate of philanthropist pot grower Ben (Aaron Johnson), his ex-military muscle partner Chon (Taylor Kitsch) and their shared slice of sunshine, the ominously named Ophelia (Blake Lively). The trio are living the, ahem, high life, basking in their glorious ganja and the fabulous, organic life it affords them. That is until the vicious Mexican Baja Cartel decides they want more than a joint venture (sorry), and kidnap ‘O’ as part of their hostile takeover. Cheech Ben and Chong’s crooked cop friend Dennis (John Travolta) can’t offer much help, so they’re obliged to suit up their inner savages.

Where Winslow opens his book with a simple: “Fuck you,” (really), Stone opts for flashes of chainsaws and carnage. Nice.

But then begins Lively’s turgid voice-over. Now I’m all for an unreliable narrator, so her sultry declaration – “Just because I'm telling you this story... doesn't mean I'm alive at the end of it,” – proves intriguing. Too quickly, however, the narration turns laughable, and not in a good way. Case in point: when describing the men in her ménage-à-trois, she reveals of Chon:

“I have orgasms; he has ‘war-gasms’.”

There are no words.

Indeed, Savages struggles with its young cast. Kitsch’s battled-hardened warrior can’t quite manage to land a line, Johnson is given precious little to do except shake his dreads, and Lively limps along like Gossip Girl in lock up – never given the depth to consolidate her scene-stealing, skanky turn in Ben Affleck’s The Town. Thankfully Stone has more luck with his veteran cast, with John Travolta, Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek lending some sorely needed colour and pulpy fun to the film’s bloated 131 minute running time.

If any savagery is to be found in this all too tame effort, then Del Toro and Hayek are it. Part Grim-Reaper, part chastened cartel lackey, Del Toro wields a chainsaw and whips up some menace through sheer force of will. And when Lado is onscreen with Hayek’s Queen-pin Elena—all fierce fringe and fiercer temper—the film finally sparks into life. Together they strike the right balance of high stakes and histrionic humour. The same goes for Travolta, whose daffy DEA agent Dennis adds a frisson of Pulp Fiction fun to proceedings.

Which brings us to the Quentin Tarantino-shaped elephant in the screening room. One can only wistfully wonder what might have been if Tarantino had taken a pass at the script. Perhaps a more assured mix of ultra-violence and hijinks? The closest Stone gets is the film’s heist set piece, which impresses with its tense and kinetic brutality.

The rest of Savages, alas, is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. I won’t spoil the Calvin Klein ad of a coda, other than to underscore the schism between such an ad and the film’s title, which nicely illustrates Savages’ fatal flaw. This film goes about as deep and dark as a summer high. Sure there are flashes of mexploitation fun, but ultimately it’s just way too mellow, man.

Published on The Vine
Read my interview with Benicio Del Toro HERE.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Vine: Benicio Del Toro interview

Benicio Del Toro is a fan.

He’s a fan of fellow actors, a lifelong fan of James Bond, and a fan of playing baddies. He’s even a recent convert to the wonders of the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb. Visiting our fair shores to promote his latest dastardly turn as Mexican drug thug Lado in Oliver Stone’s pulpy crime thriller Savages - in which he shares the screen with Salma Hayek, Blake Lively and his childhood idol John Travolta - Del Toro muses on playing hard to get, and about finding the colour and the comedy in villainy. He also calls out the directors he’s still hoping to work for, as well as revealing his own filmmaking ambitions.


Welcome to Sydney! Has it been a whirlwind tour?

I was in London, Spain, then went back to LA, then I came here for the first time. I climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It’s pretty wicked isn’t it?

It’s pretty amazing. Very exciting. It feels like you’re doing something wrong, like you’re not supposed to be there. But what a great idea!

Now, I imagine it’s every actor’s dream to get the phone call from Oliver Stone.


So walk me through it, what happens when Oliver Stone calls. You run?

Actually it was a friend of Oliver Stone who gave me the heads up that he was going to call. I think I met him at his office and he gave me the script and it was almost 90% that I was going to say yes to it.

Wait, almost 90%? Not an easy 100%?

He might have just wanted something that you go, “Well, I don’t know if I want to do that.” There’s a chance you can say no even to the great filmmakers. Listen it would have been 100%, but you have to play hard to get! You have to have a little bit of pride, so that’s why I didn’t go 100% right away. I said, “Well let me think about it. I’ll have a read and let you know.”

I like it! Keep him guessing.

I mean it’s been many years as an actor, when you’re always hearing, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” So once you get a chance like that, you’ve got to play hard to get a little bit.

So once you’ve accepted the role, I have to ask you about your character’s brilliant moustache. It’s very impressive. What kind of prep are we talking about here? A phone call to Tom Selleck?

I don’t know. I talked to Oliver about it, and we had like a goatee and I said, “Why don’t we take off the bottom part?” And the moustache was there and we liked it. I don’t think I’ve done a movie with a moustache…well, actually I did, I actually did in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I had a moustache in that. So anyway we decided to go with it, and people do talk about it. It’s funny.

Well what struck me post about the film is it’s tongue-in-cheek tone. Was that important to you in terms of approaching an archetypical Mexican drug thug?


So is that something you developed in the character?

Tried to. You’re really working with stereotypes so you just make those stereotypes colourful. I think that Oliver, like myself, [saw that if] there was a chance get a laugh without pushing for the laugh, [he would] allow it to happen. I think especially my character, but a lot of the characters have that tongue-in-cheek kind of thing. Because otherwise I think if you make this movie really hardcore, I think it would be a little bit hard to take.

You still get a chainsaw though!

There’s a chainsaw, yeah and there’s torture. There’s a lot of killing. But I know this isn’t the first movie that tries to [balance violence and comedy] and I know it’s not going to be the last. So there’s that element that if there was could be a laugh, I think that [Oliver] in the editing room kept it, and if it was happening [on set] he would encourage it.

You’ve walked that line before with films like The Usual Suspects and Snatch

Definitely Snatch. And Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Of course! So you like to find the comedy amidst the killing?

I like to laugh! I don’t know. In some movies it’s fun to get a good laugh. If it’s not too pushed. If it is too pushed – and I’m not saying…maybe some of it is pushed in Savages – but you hope it’s subtle. It’s a thin line; it’s a narrow line that you have to walk with your interpretation.

Some of my favourite scenes in the film are with you and Salma Hayek. Talk about establishing that onscreen power play? It looked like too much fun.

Yeah. It was kind of like she’s the boss; she’s a woman, and I am (my character) is a male chauvinistic pig who is working under this beautiful woman – who I think at some point he probably wanted to sleep with her, and she turned him down. He’s got a huge ego; he’s that kind of guy, [a] disgusting guy that you don’t want to hang out with. And then she’s the boss who treats my character…condescends my character. In a way she was kind of like the mother and I’m kind of like the child who is fed up with being told what to do all the time. And I just don’t like being in that position and I am totally condescended.

Things [between our characters] show up in the movie [as] kind of funny, and I didn’t even think about it. There’s a moment that she yells at me and I make some face. I didn’t even think about that face, it was just like, Salma, when she lets it go, she can let it go!

Now I’ll be betraying my age here, but before my brothers introduced me to Fred Fenster in The Usual Suspects, I first came across you in Excess Baggage with Alicia Silverstone. That made me wonder, do you find fans’ reactions are coloured by the character of yours that first captures them?

Yes they are, because I’m a fan too. It was like when I saw John Travolta for the first time when I was doing Savages, I went into the make up trailer and there he was, sitting there and my brain just went straight back to when Grease came out and I saw Grease in the movie theatre. I went to see Grease, I don’t know, a bunch of times, and [seeing] John Travolta, it was incredible. It was like seeing a family member, who I hadn’t seen for a long time.

So I’m sure that it does [happen that way with fans], because it’s happened to me and it happens to me with actors and actresses that I see. Or it even happens with music, or books. I think when it becomes your own; when it becomes part of who you are…it’s just you, it’s personal.

I love it. You had the Grease reaction. 

I had the total Grease reaction!

Well in Savages John Travolta is obviously playing the crooked cop, while you’ve made a career of portraying the drug trade in many ways, shapes and forms – including your Academy Award winning turn in Traffic – so I’m curious which side of the law is more fun to play?

Well it’s a lot of fun playing the other side of the law because you get to do things that you would never do. For this role you can use your imagination. You can invent stuff. You can invent: from the look, the physical – yes the moustache – the hair, whatever, to the deliver of the lines, to everything. You can create; you can use your imagination. You’re freer with the baddie than with a good guy in a way. I mean, you can also [use your imagination] with the good guy, but there’s something about the bad guy where you can get colourful. I think the pallet of colours, it’s wider, to use when you’re doing a bad guy. I’m not saying it’s easier, but it can be more maybe fun, more colourful.

I like that analogy of colours; you have more shades to play with.

Yes, from the superficial, to the interpretation of the character.

Well speaking of colourful baddies, seeing as we recently celebrated 50 years of Bond, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to reminisce about your turn in License to Kill. How cool it to have a Bond villain on the CV?

It doesn’t compare to the fact that [when] I grew up, in my room in San Juan in Puerto Rico, I was a James Bond as a kid and I had this lobby card of Thunderball that was on my wall. And I never even dreamt that I was going to be an actor. And then I finished high school, then I decided to become an actor, then maybe three or four years after I’m in James Bond movie! It was kind of mind-blowing. When you look back, it’s really like, “that’s wild!” So that was pretty cool, to be the kid who’s growing up with Roger Moore and Sean Connery on his wall, and the toy cars, and The Spy Who Loved Me, and all that stuff, and then suddenly here I was having an audition with [James Bond producer Albert] “Cubby” Broccoli and working with Timothy Dalton on a Bond movie and travelling the world as an actor!

You’ve got to pinch yourself.

It was really bizarre. I actually saw a piece of the movie not to long ago. Boy! I’m a kid. I was a real kid. I think I was 20 or 21.

I think I read that you were the youngest Bond villain…

I heard that too.

That’s a claim to fame.

That’s a claim to fame! That’s something to put up on the board.

Well from Bond to the rest of your enviable filmography. You’ve worked with a who’s who of directors – from Steven Soderbergh, Guy Ritchie, Robert Rodriguez, Terry Gilliam, Alejandro González Iñárritu and now Oliver Stone – what’s the key to a great collaboration?

I don’t know. I didn’t think I was going to be retrospecting [sic] here today sitting on Sydney Harbour!

I have to say there’s been a lot of work, there’s been a lot of luck, and there [have] been a lot of good people around – which could be part of luck. It’s about having a lot of good people around you, helping you in different phases of your career. You really have to share [your success] with the people around you.

I remember doing a movie and feeling like an outsider during the filming of the movie. And I remember the guy who was the caterer in charge of the food, I don’t know, he came in one day and said, “I really like what you’ve done! I just saw a little clip and it was so good!” And from that - a little moment that boosts you up to dare again, to challenge yourself, to solidify your instincts – so from that to a manager and agents who have helped along the way, then to teachers, to other actors, and then you go to the filmmakers. I’ve had a chance to work with…it’s amazing really…I’ve managed to work with some of the best, [but] there are still a lot of good ones that I haven’t worked with.

Yes? Anyone you’d like to shout out to?

Well, there’s always the Coen Brothers. There’s always Woody Allen. But I’ve been very lucky. And as I get older [I think] I’d like to direct.

Well you have recently with 7 Days In Havana.

I did a little thing in 7 Days in Havana, which is like a short. And it was a script that was given to me and an opportunity to get behind a camera and to do that story, and I said, “yes,” and it was a great experience. But I feel like there’s this thing in me that wants to take that extra challenge, or new adventure, which would be getting behind a camera and telling a story that I want to tell. And I’ve gone to the best film school anyone could have hoped for. I’ve worked with some of the best actors in business, some of the best filmmakers in the business, some of the best at everything in the business…

And you’re just like a sponge?

Inevitably! I don’t think when I [started] this career I would be directing, or telling my own story, but it’s something that is brewing in my head and I’d like to give it a shot because I think there is a real excitement to that unknown, and the possibility of doing something new, and the possibility of failing something.

Well you’ve already stepped up to be the producer on Che. Are there any other stories you’re keen to get up on the big screen?

Well yeah. I think it’s a lot of fun to go out, and you do a movie as an actor and you’re invested to an extent. But when you’re involved as a producer, when you’re involved as a director, or the only actor in the movie, then it becomes really intense. [In] Savages, I share, we all share with Salma Hayek, with Blake [Lively], I share it with all the other actors. But when you do something as a director it becomes - I don’t know how to explain it - it becomes almost personal. And you have the possibility of getting hurt, but also there is an intensity to protecting and to the commitment to that piece that is really intense.

Like with Che, being involved with it, and it was a difficult movie to make, a difficult movie to sell, a difficult movie to show. But we were walking around basically with the movie in our backpacks putting in it on the table in movie theatres. And there’s something hands on when you’re involved like that and I’d like to do it again. I just find it fun. It’s exhausting! So I’ll keep doing it as long as I have the energy to do it, and if not I’ll just start painting on a canvas behind a palm tree somewhere.

Well finally, much has been made about Oliver Stone returning to U Turn vibe, but considering his work as a cinematic historian, I wondered if you also bonded over history – given your experiences in Che.


That’s my geek question.

Well it’s not a geek question; it’s the question! Oliver Stone is perhaps the only guy – it’s amazing what he’s done. I feel American, but I very easily because of my Latin American roots, my blood and my upbringing, and where I come from, I [feel] like I’m American but I’m also Latin American, [so] I can step outside and look at the US, look at cinema in the US. And one thing that I find really amazing is that Oliver Stone, whether you like his movies or not, he’s managed to do something that I consider unique, which is: as an outsider looking into the cinema of the United States, Oliver Stone has shown the world [about] freedom. That he can auto-criticise his own government, and show the world that it’s ok to auto-criticise your own government and it’s not a condescending thing, it’s not a negative thing, it’s part of freedom. Part of being American is being able to criticise the system and Oliver Stone has managed to do that and when you are an outsider and you look at American cinema and Oliver Stone movies are always going to be there. Then you can say, “look at America, look at Hollywood cinema: it can auto-criticise the government, and still make it art at the highest level.”

You can take a filmmaker like Ken Loach – a master of British Cinema – and he also does it, but that Hollywood does it too, and that Oliver has managed to allow that to come from Hollywood…he’s got to get a lot of credit for showing the world that Hollywood can also auto-criticise the superpower system somehow. He’s not the only one, but as an outsider you look at Hollywood, and if you see and Oliver Stone movie you go, “[He made] JFK, and he’s still making movies?! He’s still allowed to make movies?!”

And that is healthy. There might be a kid in Italy that one day will make a movie about something in the system of Italy and it’s going to be influenced by Oliver Stone.

Published on TheVine

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday on My Mind: It's a wrap!

Friday on My Mind at AFTRS is capping off the year with a fun final session celebrating the best on screen! I'm spoiled for screen expertise and comedic choice with my panel for this evening: Dan Ilic, Giles Hardie, Lee Zachariah and Marty Murphy.

So come along at 5pm and join the party!

Friday October 26: It's a wrap. The Best of Screen 2012 
Join us for a fun, off-beat and irreverent investigation of the best of screen for 2012 as we conclude the 2012 series of Friday on My Mind with a light-hearted and interactive panel discussion/debate as to what the best three movies, best three TV shows and best three webisodes were for 2012.

There will be prizes up for grabs and some laughs along the way.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cockatoo Island Film Festival

Today marks the launch of Sydney's newest film festival - and this one is on an island! Yes I will be amongst the many cinema loving guests to be transporting ourselves to the Cockatoo Island Film Festival over the next five days (October 24 - 28).

There's so much on offer to ruffle your cinematic feathers (in a good way):

- The opening night gala screening of The Master, with Paul Thomas Anderson in attendance!
- The Dramatic Competition featuring some intriguing world cinema offers, including Tony Krawitz's Dead Europe 
- A great line up of non-competition films - I can recommend Robot & Frank, The Sessions, Lore (natürlich!), and after chatting with Benicio del Toro recently, I'm keen to see his directorial turn in 7 Days in Havana
- The Documentary Competition, including this must see for 007 fans.
- Some truly amazing master classes with the likes of Peter Weir, Gregor Jordan, Gillian Armstrong, Jane Campion, and Don McAlpine. The Rake, and 3D seminars look like fun too.

This looks set to be event cinema at its finest, or at least at its most 'transportive'! So take a look at the programme, hop a ferry from King Street Wharf and sail into some seriously good cinema.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Giveaway: Hola Mexico Film Festival

My love of tacos and tequila knows no bounds, so throwing cinema into that cocktail is a sure fire win. And that is exactly what the Hola Mexico Film Festival is set to do, as it cruises into Sydney this Thursday with a clutch of Mexican cinematic gems in tow (not to mention the promise of tacos and tequila on opening night!).

Some festival highlights include:

Demian Bichir's Oscar nominated performance in Una Vida Mejor (A Better Life), directed by About a Boy's Chris Weitz 
Andy Garcia, Oscar Isaac, Peter O'Toole and Eva Longoria in Cristiada (For Greater Glory) which chronicles the 1920s Cristero War 
- Opening night's Mariachi Gringo, which looks like a whole lot of fun, especially if you're a fan of X-Men's Shawn Ashmore
- Miss Bala - a beauty queen meets organised crime, and an Oscar Nomination - what's not to love?

The Hola Mexico Film Festival's Sydney season runs from October 25 - November 4 and thanks to the festival team, I have two double passes to give away to any session, including opening night!

To win one of two double passes simply email me (subject: Hola Mexico FF) with your name and address (Sydney residents only, please). Winners will be notified by reply. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Movie Club: Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed)

Back in June, director Colin Trevorrow was in town to screen his marvellous film - Safety Not Guaranteed - at Closing Night of the Sydney Film Festival. During his visit Colin also took the time to join the Clubhouse, sitting down with Oscar and I to reveal how a survivalist advert spun into an endearingly off-kilter comedy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday on My Mind: Amiel Courtin Wilson

I'm absolutely thrilled to be sitting down with Amiel Courtin-Wilson for tonight's Friday on My Mind session at AFTRS. His searing, critically acclaimed feature Hail is opening in limited release next week (October 25th), so our session will be a timely primer!
Friday October 19: Amiel Courtin-Wilson - Re-imagining cinematic boundaries 
Amiel Courtin-Wilson is making waves as one of our most exciting upcoming directors and  having started his filmmaking journey at the tender age of nine has crafted 15 short and three feature documentaries including the award winning Chasing Buddha and Bastardy.

With an unusual career trajectory that includes exhibiting his video art internationally; presenting guest lectures at the likes of UCLA in California; working with: Opera Australia, Chunky Move contemporary dance company and musical artists such as the Avalanches and Mix Master Mike, Amiel is also a regular contributor to national and international film and art magazines and journals.
Amiel will discuss his maverick directorial style and his left of field approaches to narrative exemplified by his short film Cicada and Hail which Hugo Weaving has described as, "A terrifyingly powerful composition which disturbs and re-imagines cinematic boundaries."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Limelight Magazine: Killing Them Softly

Killing people can be a “touchy feely” business. So opines professional enforcer Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), whose endeavours to murder from a distance never quite keep him safe from the sob stories. But watching him try makes for a brilliant twist on the gangster genre. 

Writer-director Andrew Dominik has reinterpreted George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade to fit America’s contemporary economic woes. Money is tight so when two punks knock over a mob-run poker game, Cogan is brought in to clean house. But between reckoning with middle-management (Richard Jenkins) and controlling his boozy gun-for-hire (James Gandolfini), Cogan reveals that murder by committee is no easy affair.

Surprisingly wordy and sedately paced, Killing them Softly is spun out through a series of yarns that may prove too long-winded for some. Yet they are punctuated by moments of intense violence. With Pitt in peak form, Dominik delivers a sublimely sardonic portrait of capitalism couched as a gangster thriller. It’s dark, it’s smart, and it’s destined to become a classic piece of cinema.

4 1/2 Stars
Published in the November 2012 Issue of Limelight Magazine
Watch The Movie Club review here

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sponsored Video: Les Misérables featurette

So I was at a media screening of Pitch Perfect the other night (just quickly; it's a riot. Mandatory viewing for Gleeks!), which was preceded by the new trailer for Les Mis. And boy oh boy was I blown away! Anne Hathaway has her hair lopped off and absolutely sings her heart out in a spellbinding performance that promises a gobsmacking film.

Now, perhaps I've been under a rock, but I hadn't realised the cast in Tom Hooper's sumptuous looking adaptation have been recorded singing live - without any post-dubbing. Now that will be a sight to see!

In fact, take a look:


Les Misérables is the motion-picture adaptation of the beloved global stage sensation seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries and in 21 languages around the globe and still breaking box-office records everywhere in its 27th year. Helmed by The King’s Speech’s Academy Award®-winning director, Tom Hooper, the Working Title/Cameron Mackintosh production stars Hugh Jackman, Oscar® winner Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Aaron Tveit, Samantha Barks, with Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Set against the backdrop of 19th-century France, Les Misérables tells an enthralling story of broken dreams and unrequited love, passion, sacrifice and redemption—a timeless testament to the survival of the human spirit. Jackman plays ex-prisoner Jean Valjean, hunted for decades by the ruthless policeman Javert (Crowe) after he breaks parole. When Valjean agrees to care for factory worker Fantine’s (Hathaway) young daughter, Cosette, their lives change forever.

In January 2013, the world’s longest-running musical brings its power to the big screen in Tom Hooper’s sweeping and spectacular interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale. With international superstars and beloved songs—including “I Dreamed a Dream,” “Bring Him Home,” “One Day More” and “On My Own”—Les Misérables, the show of shows, is now reborn as the cinematic musical experience of a lifetime.

Australian release date: 26 December 2012
Sponsored by Universal

Monday, October 15, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday on My Mind: Anupam Sharma

Image: Anupam Sharma

Feel like dancing your way into the weekend? Then come along to Friday on My Mind at AFTRS this evening to hear all about Bollywood from Anupam Sharma, then stick around for a free screening of From Sydney with Love!  
Friday October 12: Bollywood Dreams: Anupam Sharma
Producer, director and Indian cinema academic, Anupam Sharma is intent on bringing Bollywood to Australia.

As the managing director of the Films & Casting Temple, Anupam specialises in casting, consultancy and film production between India and Australia, with over 191 projects including feature films, music videos, and TV serials to their credit.
A judge on SBS's recent Bollywood Star - a four-part reality TV series that gave Australians a chance to launch their Bollywood career - Anupam is currently developing feature films with Bill Bennett and John Winter.

Bollywood produces 800 films per year and is twice the size of Hollywood. Each day, 14 million Indians go to the movies. As a calling card for the potential for Australia/Indian co-productions From Sydney with Love - the first Bollywood movie with Sydney in its title - will be explored in all its singing and dancing glory as Anupam shares his thoughts on the possibilities for Australia/India co-productions, and what it means to be "junoon" or 'possessed' by Bollywood.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Limelight Magazine: Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte’s brooding love story is given a starkly neo-realist overhaul by British auteur Andrea Arnold, to haunting effect. Following up her bleakly beautiful Fish Tank (a doomed love story of a very different kind), Arnold continues her intensely raw approach to storytelling and sets it atop the windswept Yorkshire moors.

Preferring lashings of rain and mud to stuffy period film production design, Arnold’s bracing trip to Wuthering Heights feels more akin to documentary. Almost entirely devoid of dialogue, the camera trails around the Earnshaw family home, where dirty young foundling Heathcliff (Solomon Glave then James Howson are the first black actors to play the role) is unceremoniously introduced and told to pull his weight. But he and foster-sister Cathy (Shannon Beer then Kaya Scodelario) instead run wild in their stark surrounds, their friendship growing more intense by the day. Yet as they come of age, the pull of responsibility sets in, and Heathcliff becomes undone when Cathy accepts a marriage proposal from their rich neighbour Edgar Linton (James Northcote).

Many will know how the tale proceeds, but through Arnold’s eyes the story feels immediate and visceral. Once again displaying her skill with non-professional actors, Arnold’s version of Wuthering Heights is palpably, powerfully emotive.

4 Stars
** Win a copy of the film's beautiful poster HERE

Giveaway: Wuthering Heights

You know I love a good poster, and this one for Andrea Arnold's superb Wuthering Heights is certainly a new favourite. Simple, stark and absolutely striking, with the yellow titles and modern font hinting at Arnold's sensibility. Yes she's doing Brontë, but it isn't a gussied up period piece!

Thanks to the lovely folks at Paramount Pictures, I have ten posters to give away. See below for details.

Here's the trailer:

To win one of ten posters simply email me (subject: Wuthering Heights) with your name and address (Australian residents only, please). Winners will be notified by reply. 

Australian release date: 11 October 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Movie Club: Mental

Over on The Movie Club, Giles and I sat down with the outrageously fun PJ Hogan to talk about his new film Mental. It's a pretty crazy chat - I'm not entirely sure I get a word in edgewise, but it was a lark.

Oh and yes, as you can see The Movie Club is now on YouTube! Please subscribe and help us spread the word.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Limelight Magazine: Lore

The German word Vergangenheitsbewältigung, meaning “coming-to-terms-with-the-past”, reverberates throughout Shortland’s beautifully assured film.

Taking a fairytale trope of the trip to Grandma’s, and relocating it in the final days of the Third Reich, Lore is at once a mesmerising and haunting ordeal. Telling this German tale is Australian Cate Shortland, who returns to the silver screen eight years after stunning critics with her debut Somersault

Adapted from a story within Rachel Seiffert’s 2001 novel The Dark RoomLore is named after its lead character, a teenager and eldest child (a spectacular debut by Saskia Rosendahl). Lore is entrusted with the safety of her four siblings (one still a babe-in-arms) after their SS Officer father (Hans-Jochen Wagner) disappears and their mother (Ursina Lardi) prepares to be incarcerated by the approaching Allied forces. On their perilous journey across the newly conquered Germany to “Oma’s”, the children meet curious stranger, Thomas (Kai-Peter Malina), and their fates become intertwined. 

Shot by Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom) in a stunning series of tableaux – romantic, eerie and breathtaking in turn – the film’s visuals match its thematic heft, held aloft by Rosendahl’s stoic grace. The result is an unforgettable journey into the heart of Germany’s dark past. 

4 1/2 Stars

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