Michael Arbeiter
Staff editor Michael Arbeiter’s natural state of being can best be described as “mild panic attack.” His earliest memories of growing up in Queens, New York, involve nighttime conversations with a voice from his bedroom wall (the jury’s still out on what that was all about) and a love for classic television that spawned from the very first time he was allowed to watch “The Munsters.” Attending college at SUNY Binghamton, a 20-year-old Michael learned two things: that he could center his future on this love for TV and movies, and that dragons never actually existed — he was kind of late in the game on that one.
  • How 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Changes Up Gwen Stacey and Harry Osborn
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 02, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Although Spider-Man comics have been around for decades, and a whole trilogy of films was delivered just a few years back, there are still opportunities to handle the characters and stories in new ways. Emma Stone's take on Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an example of that. The talented Stone manages to give us a far more developed, substantial, and progressive version of the traditionally slighted "superhero's girlfriend figure." Meanwhile, Dane DeHaan is offering a version of Harry Osborn that he and Jamie Foxx think could never have existed before. Producers Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach on how Emma Stone helped to create a stronger, more substantial Gwen Stacey for the modern era: Avi Arad: "When you have a great actress, and you give her the proper material, now you have a real scene. You don’t just have someone screaming. It’s important that you noticed it because when the comics were written in the ‘50s and ‘60s, women didn’t really have a role in comics. They were supposed to look good, stay on the side. We’re all very proud that we were able to change completely… there was source material that was changed completely. It’s the way we approached everything, as far as where we are today. And we just love the fact that we had this opportunity to make Gwen a true partner. As a matter of fact, the tragedy of it is that these two should be together forever. The fact that she’s more intelligent than him — way more! — and more mature… to me, the moment where she says, “I’m breaking up with you,” It’s such a change in any time in Marvel’s history. It’s never happened before."Matt Tolmach: "You know who wrote that line? Emma Stone. True story… Now I’m going to get an angry call from the writers."Emma Stone: "My agent is like, 'Where’s the writer credit?!'"MT: "That was your instinct."AA: "These are the little victories of time, when you can take comics that were written so long ago and bring it to our world. Again, when you have someone like that, you better make it a two-person act."MT: "We spent a lot of time over the years working on Spider-Man movies, asking the question, “What’s happening with Peter Parker? Where’s Peter Parker? Where’s Peter Parker?” as they sort of follow the bouncing ball narratively. And it is really smart of you to pick up on that on sight, because, the truth is, she’s driving the story. She’s the one who’s making decisions, she’s going to England, she’s making choices. Peter is trying to keep it all together. That’s his struggle. Gwen is somebody with a real sense of who she is and what she wants. It’s not that that isn’t complicated, but it’s incredibly empowering in a character."AA: "To tell you how much it became a part of everybody’s life, there’s a great scene where he webs to the taxi cab, and you [Emma] go “Peter!” It was not in the script..."MT: [Joking:] "We actually never had a script."AA: " was awesome and thankfully we shot it." Dane DeHaan and Jamie Foxx on the evolution of Harry Osborn from the comic books to James Franco in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy to The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Dane DeHaan: "Harry Osborn is a character that’s been around for 50 years. There’s been many incarnations of him, whether it be in comic books or cartoons or movies, or whatever. The main difference now is that there’s never been a Harry Osborn of today. And there’s never been a Harry Osborn in today’s culture. So what I tried to do was look at who Harry has always been in the Spider-Man universe, but then find out where that fits into today’s culture. I think that there’s this whole kind of trust-fund baby, hipster culture today that hasn’t ever really existed in that way. To me, that was just the most natural fit for Harry. And I think that it’s only different because it’s a different time." Jamie Foxx: "That’s what’s interesting ... I’m looking at a kid in a room who is seeing me for the first time as Electro. Doesn’t know anything — I think maybe they knew, maybe, about Django. It’s too young. It’s interesting how we will ask questions about the older Spider-Mans, but when you think about it, the kid that’s 12, 15, he probably wasn’t even around! Maybe he saw it on [TV]. I think that [we’re] able to get a fresh start, in a sense. I’m opening up to a whole different audience, as well as Dane. They’ll know Dane ... We’ve got this thing on Twitter now called 'the Dane Train.' I was like, 'Get on the Dane Train!' There’s a difference, for me, looking at the perspective of James Franco and looking at [Dane]. Dane has this thing, this sort of like cool… like that line where you say, 'Isn’t that the question of the day?' That line in the movie — I had my hoodie on in the theater, seeing what people respond to, you see little girls [get excited] because there’s a certain fly coolness to it, the same with Andrew. There’s a certain… these guys jump outside of these characters and they’re on the red carpet like sex symbols, in a sense. People are looking at them completely different. I think that’s the difference, to me, in how the characters are being played. There’s a certain 'today' flyness to it." More Amazing Spider-Man 2 interviews: Read about Stone and Andrew Garfield bringing real-life romance to the screen, and the creation of the sets and villains in the film. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Building the World and Villains of 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 02, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection Even if you've only seen trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you know that the latest film from Sony must have entailed a hefty sum of effort in the design of sets and characters alike. One scene in particular showcases an electrified Jamie Foxx wreaking havoc on Times Square — no mean feat for even the most able-bodied of production teams. Check out a few remarks from director Marc Webb and stars Foxx, Dane DeHaan, and Emma Stone to hear about all the work that went into creating the world of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the villains who inhabit it. On the mammoth Times Square scene: Marc Webb: "We shot for only one or two nights in the actual Times Square, and then we built and entire version of Times Square out in Long Island. Simply because the logistical obligations of that scene were so complex that we had to... and we could, amazingly. I remember that scene came up in the script and we worked on it a little bit, and I was denying myself the pain and fear of thinking about how I was going to [do it]. Like, 'Oh, that’s so cool.' I was like, 'I don’t know how the f**k I’m going to do this.' And then I was like, 'Well, we’ll just build part of Times Square.' They’re like, 'Okay.' I kept on waiting for someone to be like, 'Are you insane?' But they were just like, 'Oh, okay, yeah. We’ll just do this here…' But it ended up being a logistically very difficult thing, just in terms of bringing the amount of lights that were required and the amount of cement that was required. Marc Friedberg, our production designer, did a really extraordinary thing, and there’s a huge spectacle, of course. There’s lots of explosions and extras and all that stuff, but really it’s a very important scene for Electro. Spider-Man’s biggest fan becomes his biggest foe, and there’s an emotional texture that has to ring true." Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection The actors talk how costumes and makeup helped to bring their characters to life: Dane DeHaan: "My makeup took three and a half hours for the Goblin. And then it was another hour just to get into the suit. I literally had four people using screwdrivers and wrenches getting into that suit." Jamie Foxx: "Mine was like taking me and dipping me in blue candlewax for like four hours. And then I’d come out, and then the CGI guys would be there, and they’d look at me, take pictures, and say, 'Stand this way, say this, laugh.' [Performs evil laughs and grunt] All these things. It was really fun. It’s like you were back at your crib, where you’re looking in the mirror, practicing how to act. Then when I looked at it and saw what they did with the CGI, it was incredible. Because people don’t even know that that’s actually me. They think it’s all CGI." "We [spent] 16 to 17 hours on finding the right suit to wear, or the right makeup. And they took it from there. These guys are geniuses at what they do. The guy that was the head of the CGI department, he was like, 'We got it. We know what we want to do. We want to make a thunderstorm inside your body,' and all these other different things. It was great to see it all work."   Emma Stone: "I had input [on Gwen's wardrobe], but [Deborah Lynn Scott] was the costume designer and she’s a genius. She made Marty McFly Marty Mcfly. So there was no trouble there. She really understood..."Producer Matt Tolmach: "Those Nikes."ES: "That puffer vest. She did Titanic."MT: "Originally in this movie you were wearing those Nikes."ES: "I was wearing those Nikes and I was wearing Kate Winslet’s really tight corset."MT: "It was an homage."ES: "I bridged the gap between that comic book fantasy wardrobe and real life in a really beautiful way." When asked if she was able to take any pieces of Gwen's wardrobe home with her: ES: "No you have to keep everything in a Sony vault in case you have to reshoot."MT: "She tried, it got really awkward."ES: "Got super uncomfortable."MT: "Security."ES: "Arrests." Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • How Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield Brought Genuine Romance to 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2'
    By: Michael Arbeiter May 01, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection It's always risky when two costars spark up a romance behind the scenes (even riskier when it's more than two), but some of the greatest onscreen love affairs have been born from the practice. After playing a couple in 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, the first chapter of Sony's ever-growing film series, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone ventured into the tempestuous waters of real life dating, sustaining their relationship into and beyond the production of their Spidey sequel, which hits theaters this week. As such, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 showcases a notable spike in the duo's screen chemistry: as director Marc Webb, producers Matt Tolmach and Avi Arad, and Garfield and Stone themselves seem to feel, the second chapter of Peter Parker's story is where his love story with Gwen Stacey really blossoms into that special kind of love we only find around holidays, airport pickups, and cinema. Stone and director Webb both chimed in about how much Peter and Gwen's relationship has grown since The Amazing Spider-Man: Emma Stone: "I loved the way their relationship evolves in this second movie. The clarity and maturity that Gwen has achieved in this second movie [is] I think because of the death of her father, honestly. I think it’s brought her life into sharp focus, and so she’s really following her destiny. I think that’s one of the most inspiring parts about their relationship, is that it’s two incredibly equal parties." Marc Webb: "I think their relationship has matured, but what both those characters are dealing with in at this point that they weren’t dealing with last movie was self-actualization. Gwen in particular is finding her own path and her own destiny. Peter Parker starts the movie kind of having an idea of who he is on the inside, and Gwen is going to go to London, she’s going to have a career, she’s going to be a doctor, she’s going to study molecular medicine, she’s going to save people in her own right. That independent spirit, that pluck, that Nick and Nora, that Thin Man, Tracy/Hepburn dynamic that began in the first movie where each of them are giving each other s**t is emblematic of their independent spirit. Which is the thing that draws them to each other, and it’s the thing that going to pull them apart. Anyone that’s been in love for the first time, you know what that feels like. I think that’s a different texture that we haven’t seen before." Columbia Pictures All parties seem to agree that the sweeping Union Square scene is where that affection is showcased in earnest: ES: "My favorite scene is [Peter and Gwen] reuniting after a year, in Union Square. That’s pretty definitive of what Gwen and Peter do for each other. No matter how much hardship is happening in their lives, they tend to bring out the best in each other ... and they just have some undefinable quality of magic between them, and love. That night and that scene." Matt Tolmach: "Can I tell you something about that scene? We were in the middle of Union Square — Avi and I have said this over and over: we love shooting in New York, this movie is a love letter to New York, but you guys have got to change the weather. We were in the middle of Union Square and it was freezing, and it was the middle of the night, and I’m sure it was raining and snowing and all that stuff, and there were bags of garbage, and whatever, I’m going off on a tangent. And this scene was being shot and Marc made a decision, and a very smart one, to allow Andrew and Emma to have the freedom to play with the scene. We were huddled around these little heaters in our protective tents and everything and all of a sudden you just forgot everything. There was a magical quality to what happened that night in that scene. It’s not a coincidence, I guess, that it shows up that way in the movie. There was something really incredible about these two actors, and that scene and what it meant in the movie. It was sort of spectacular."Avi Arad: "When you have a great actress, and you give her the proper material, now you have a real scene." MW: "In terms of things that were fun to play, that scene that started off in Union Square, I remember I got a deep case of the feels when I was watching those guys do that scene. They hadn’t seen each other in a year, and it just felt so innocent and so pure. It was so weirdly simple, but I think it gives the relationship a really palpable foundation. [to Andrew Garfield:] I don’t know what it was like to shoot for you guys…"Andrew Garfield: "It was great, it was fantastic. Because she’s such a great actor and you created a great space for us to breathe and really see each other, as opposed to being obligated to try and get anywhere. I felt like that was a really great night, because we were allowed to see where the scene went, so that was really exciting. I really like the crossing the street [shot]..."MW: "That was your idea."AG: "But the way it was executed was really fun."MW: "You had an idea for the music... Garfield was describing that moment when he sees her. He’s just walking through the street, totally oblivious to the traffic..."AG: "As if my body was taking over. That was exactly how survival goes. My brain just goes, [robotically:] 'I have to be with that person.'"MW: "And he talked about cartoons and how when the skunk gets a smell and just floats across. It was that kind of idea. But you had a very specific piece of music in your head from Punch-Drunk Love, the theme from Punch-Drunk Love. But that was really beautiful. Every once in a while when you’re doing the movie, so many of the scenes are about building, the action in particular, it’s about finding little moments, but creating them is not as pure as moments like that, where you’re just like, 'Oh, this is cinema...'" Catch true romance (and also a whole bunch of other bonkers things) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, hitting theaters Friday. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Why Bob Hoskins Is the Best Part of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 30, 2014
    Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection In a movie filled with rocket-fueled cartoon high jinks — babbling rabbits dodging armies of merciless kitchenware, motormouth cabs zooming through (and over) the streets of Los Angeles, stray bullets arguing over the whereabouts of their desired target, piano duels that devolve into feather-flying donnybrooks — it says quite a bit that the scenes driven by a non-animated sourpuss in his mid 40s don't drag in the slightest. In fact, some of my favorite material from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a movie that enjoys a permanent home in my top five, is that of Bob Hoskins' curmudgeonly detective Eddie Valiant. Today, the role in a film like this (as if a film like this could really be made today) would be given to someone like Ryan Reynolds — handsome, goofy, capable of matching his hand-drawn sidekick in family friendly slapstick. But the Valiant we got in '88 had to play down the loony and up the humane. Not only is it called for on a narrative level (he hates toons), but also in the management of the film's unbelievable gravity. Thanks to wily Roger and his propensity for withstanding any number of refrigerator-based head injuries, Robert Zemeckis' first foray into the world of animation is not stingy with the hysterics. But on the other side of the Toontown tunnel, we find a glimmer of the real world: Hoskins, playing a prickly, dejected has-been committed to slathering all memories of a happier time in a thick coating of whiskey. Buena Vista Pictures via Everett Collection Without Hoskins' earnest, earthy approach to the character — playing him with the cranky determination you'd find in the leading men of John Huston or Roman Polanski — Who Framed Roger Rabbit would be little more than an impressive technical feat. In Valiant, we're grounded to the tenets of adulthood: pragmatism, prejudice, and gloom, played against the impossibly impenetrable childhood of Roger. Though most of our laughs come from the bowtied showman and his colorful ilk, we need to experience their story through Eddie, to channel these nutballs' hidden humanity through the lens of Hoskins' reluctant hero. Luckily, Hoskins gives us that chance, creating an Eddie Valiant that ushers us seamlessly from a recognizable world into the bizarre but (thanks to Bob) shockingly inviting neo-noir of the '47 L.A./Toontown border. Not worried about getting his solo in the showstopper and concerned only with telling a terrific story, Hoskins still manages to give Who Framed Roger Rabbit some of its most winning scenes, and incredible feat accomplished by not vying toward the sky-high mania of Roger but in helping to anchor the character and his elastic brethren down to our own terrestrial homestead. Hoskins shoulders the responsibility of making not just Eddie but the world around him feel real, palpable, and worthwhile. And whether he's drowning his own malaise, casing back alleys, and struggling to restrain a compulsively wacky cartoon rabbit, he — just like his grumbling private eye — gets the job done.  Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • A Complete Rundown of the 'Star Wars: Episode VII' Official Cast
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 29, 2014
    20th Century Fox Film Hi, Nancy.Hi, Helen.What's the story, morning glory?What's the word, hummingbird?Have you heard about Hugo and Kim? They were cast in Star Wars: Episode VII, although there's no confirmation just yet. I think Kim's playing Bib Fortuna. That's pretty much what the last year and change has felt like — rumors upon rumors upon rumors of who might be cast in J.J. Abrams' upcoming addition to the Star Wars series. We've heard tell of Clone War veterans reuniting for the film, blockbuster fixtures like Gary Oldman and Andy Serkis, rising indie mavens drawing notice from their turns in Coen Bros dramas and HBO series. But the waiting is over. Courtesy of TheWrap, we have official news of the 12 performers cast to headline the next Star Wars movie. Here's who they are, where you might know them from, and what we can expect from them in the new film. Mark HamillBest known as: Luke Skywalker, power converter spendthrift and daddy issues-haver.Age: 62.In the new movie: We know very little of what Hamill will be brought on to do in the upcoming film, though with his standing as the Original Trilogy's central hero and his family rallied at the head of this story (presumably), we imagine that Hamill will have a good amount to do. Carrie FisherBest known as: Princess Leia Organa, rigid adversary of the nerf herder lobby.Age: 57.In the new movie: We've been told, in only the most tenuous terms, that Star Wars: Episode VII will focus on Han and Leia's kids. So even if she and Ford are sidelined as the parental figures who've seen it all before (hey, it's kind of like that new Boy Meets World spinoff), then they'll likely be around for a healthy sum. Harrison FordBest known as: Han Solo, alleged Kessel Run record holder and reformed atheist.Age: 71In the new movie: On top of the above, new rumors allow that Ford will have a pretty significant role in the new film. Considering his latter days screen presence, we imagine something in the vein of an extended carbonite nap. A few are actually predicting that Han might bite the dust in VII.  Peter MayhewBest known as: Chewbacca, devoted Life Day celebrant and family man.Age: 69 (though that's only like, 14 in Wookiee years).In the new movie: Some people are already pretty livid that Chewbacca's in the film at all, considering his death in the Expanded Universe, but you don't bring out the Wookiee suit just to have him play canasta. Anthony DanielsBest known as: C-3PO, buzzkill.Age: 68.In the new movie: I don't know, probably a lot of kvetching. Kenny BakerBest known as: R2-D2, frequent film extra and Robot Hall of Fame inductee.Age: 79.In the new movie: Doot beep beeeooo doot. Oscar IsaacBest known as: The titular misanthropic folk musician in the Coen Brothers' 2013 film Inside Llewyn Davis.Age: 35.In the new movie: Isaac's role is anyone's guess at this point, although two call-outs in a casting release from last year speak to his nature. He might be playing "a late 20-something male. Fit, handsome, and confident," or, more likely, "a 30-something male, intellectual. Apparently does not need to be fit."  Adam DriverBest known as: Adam, the Lena Dunham's oddball love interest on the HBO dramedy Girls, or the space cowboy from Inside Llewyn Davis.Age: 30.In the new movie: Rumors surrounding Driver's initial mention in regard to the film had him pegged to be the villain. We had some fun with that one. Andy SerkisBest known as: Gollum from The Lord of the Rings movies.Age: 50.In the new movie: Considering his mo-cap history, Serkis is probably playing an alien. And that's awesome. Max von SydowBest known as: Blofeld in Never Say Never Again, the older priest in The Exorcist, or the guy from all those Ingmar Bergman films.Age: 85.In the new movie: Last fall's casting call advertised the film's search for "a 70-something male with strong opinions and a tough demeanor," exempting the necessity for physical fitness. We can't get more specific than this but it seems like von Sydow is going to be taking on some kind of authoritarian position. Maybe at the Academy (training the Solo kids, per chance), or as the penny-pinching new owner of the Cantina. Domhnall GleesonBest known as: Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movies, or the fellow from About Time.Age: 30.In the new movie: Gleeson could rival Isaac in either of the character descriptions mentioned above, though he does seem more the intellectual type (if only for the British accent). John BoyegaBest known as: The kid from Attack the Block.Age: 22.In the new movie: Boyega could be playing the character Thomas that was advertised in a casting call last year:  "Young man to play 19-23 years old. Must be handsome, smart and athletic. Must be 18 or over. Has grown up without a father's influence. Without the model of being a man, he doesn't have the strongest sense of himself. Despite this, he is smart, capable and shows courage when it is needed. He can appreciate the absurdities in life and understands you can't take life too seriously." Daisy RidleyShe's pretty new.Age: I don't know — 20? In the new movie: Could be Rachel, who was introduced in the same casting call: "Young woman to play 17-18 Years old. Must be beautiful, smart and athletic. Open to all ethnicities (including bi- and multi-racial). Must be 16 or over. Was quite young when she lost her parents. With no other family, she was forced to make her way alone in a tough, dangerous town. Now 17 she has become street smart and strong. She is able to take care of herself using humor and guts to get by. Always a survivor, never a victim, she remains hopeful that she can move away from this harsh existence to a better life. She is always thinking of what she can do to move ahead." So there you have it: still a whole lot of grey area! But at least we know something! Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Review: 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Has Too Much Junk Going On
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 28, 2014
    Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection As grand as the themes of good and evil, needs and deservings, power and responsibility and such forth are, superhero movies are generally pretty straightforward in premise: hero stops villain from wreaking havoc. As off-putting as this kind of simplicity might sound, it's usually the right way to go. If you pack enough substance into your characters and adhere your plot to these linear margins, you can actually wind up saying a healthy amount (and having a lot of fun). The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gets half of this formula down pat. Although Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker is still a moreover undistinguished identity, his emotional magnitude (re: his relationship with Gwen Stacy) is enough to keep him valid through the storm of lunacy that is his second feature. And it's not even that lunacy that holds him back. The problem isn't how wild his conquests are, how silly some of the action sequences feel, or how absolutely bonkers his villains turn out to be. It's all the other stuff (and yes, if you can believe it, there's a ton more going on in this movie than what I've already mentioned — that's the issue). All the plot twists, tertiary mysteries, ominous flashbacks, abject reveals, and weightlessly sinister pawns in this brooding game that, save for its fun with the baddies, takes itself way too seriously. All that stuff that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 thinks is necessary to make Peter Parker matter? It actually does just the opposite. Peter is at his best when he's playing Tracy and Hepburn with the girlfriend he's perpetually disappointing (the eternally charming Emma Stone), or trying to win back the favor of the only remaining parental figure from whom he's rapidly slipping away (Sally Field, reminding us why she's a household name), or angling to connect with the mentally unstable engineer who just wants people to notice him (Jamie Foxx working his comic shtick with a frightening zest). We have the most fun with Peter when he's playing the simplest games, and we connect best with him on similar ground. But Peter and company, at the behest of The Amazing Spider-Man franchise's Sandman-sized aspirations, spend so much time exploring new avenues: the secrets surrounding the death and work of Richard Parker, the behind-the-curtains operations of OsCorp, the nefarious goings on in the waterside penitentiary Ravencroft. Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection As a result of the grand stab at world building, there is just so much stuff that Peter has to wade through in this movie, dragging the likes of Gwen and his boyhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan, mastering angst, menace, and upper-class privilege all at once) into the dark crevasses of narrative waste. With so many diversions into the emotionally vacant, deliberately joyless explorations of Parker family origin stories, secret brief cases, and underground subways — The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rivals Captain America: The Winter Soldier in complexity, but forgets the necessary ingredient of fun — we barely have enough energy left when the good stuff hits. And in truth, the good stuff isn't really good enough to sustain us through all the duller periods. Garfield and Stone do have laudable chemistry. Foxx is a hoot as Peter's maniacal new foe, especially when paired with the grimacing DeHaan. And the action, while often straying from any aesthetic authenticity, is nothing shy of neat-o. It's all passable, occasionally worthy of a hearty smile, but rarely anything you'll be definitively pleased you took the time to see.   But beyond coming up short in the micro, the film's regal downfall is its scope. With so much to do, both in accomplishing its own necessary plot points and setting up for those to come in future films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't seem to take time to make sure it's having fun with its own premise. And if it isn't having fun, we won't be either. 2.5/5 Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • 'Mad Men' Recap: Don Says 'Okay'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 28, 2014
    AMC I manage, with the same measure of denial that forced down Don Draper's marauding self-hatred for the better part of his adult life, to forget again and again that he and Peggy are no longer on very good terms. So it all but guts me entirely to watch her face his return to Sterling Cooper & Partners with a vicious affirmation that she hasn't missed him a bit. Sure, she's in denial, too, blaming everyone else for her stunted personal and professional successes, as if Shirley in fact robbed Peggy of her reception of Valentine's Day flowers, or Ginsberg of her well-deserved CLIO nomination. Don tops the list, representing to Peggy the architect who designed a glass ceiling so firmly unbreakable, never hesitating to tapdance atop in a gallant display of everything availed to those in the penthouse suite. But Don has fallen quite a few stories from his skyline view, desperate for everything from his L.A.-based wife's sustained belief that he's still gainfully employed to after-work visits from his ad hoc assistant Dawn Chambers. He swells in fierce agitation when both of these systems shatter this week, ostensibly losing that veneer of validity in the eyes of two more former secretaries: Dawn's priorities lie with her actual boss now (to think!) and Megan is up-ended by the revelation that he's been lying about his professional leave in order to keep from moving out to California to be with her. Adding to a list already occupied by Peggy, Allison, and let's count Ida Blankenship (whose Mad Men Wiki page is written with quite the comically sardonic tone, by the way), and we've got a pretty poor track record for Don re: the long line of mistresses/daughter figures he kept at his front desk. With the last pieces of his old life lost after the shifts in his relationships with Dawn and Megan, Don has no other choice but to move on... back to his old life, that is. And so we're treated to a sequence as surreal as Roger's LSD trips, as viscerally disconcerting as anything involving Glen Bishop: Don's trip back to the office. Passing over an an offer at a rival firm that would have beckoned him as a royal ambassador, Don instead shows up unannounced at Roger's apartment, barking rhetorical questions about friendship and loyalty. Roger, seizing the opportunity to reupholster his shrinking office team, tells Don to show up the next morning... something that, upon arrival, Don realizes nobody else in power has been briefed on. AMC Don's morning at SC&P shows us more of Dick Whitman than we've seen since his wartime flashbacks: the fear that Don works so hard to not only hide but divide from is expertly executed in a scene that feels nauseatingly eternal... in a good way. Even as Don collects encounters, both soothing and innocuously awkward, with the gaggle of creatives whose admiration he still holds tight, we see the battlefield terror sneak back into him — a resentful Peggy isn't the only party unnerved by his return: obsessively pragmatic Bert Cooper and Senior Partner Harry Hamlin are thinking business; Joan knows that her all too delicate grasp of power would disintegrate with a reversal of latitudes that Don's return would bring; Lou Avery is just mad as a nag in heat, confound it! And with all this bad blood, and the board's insistence on a league of belittling professional conditions, you'd think the very same Don who, at the head of the ep, was so obsessed with his image as to berate his old secretary for making him feel like a second priority and lie to his wife for months about his job, would opt out of the deal. But desperate, defeated, and longing for the only place he's ever known to be a home, Don ushers in this new chapter: "Okay." Intercutting scenes of Don's stimulating professional ascension/degradation is a far weaker storyline, if only for that we've seen it so many times before: Betty Draper, making her first appearance in Season 7, rehashing the same old Betty Draper story. Prompted by her scorn of an impressive working mother, old fashioned Betty accompanies Bobby on a field trip to a local farm, spending her time boosting her own self-image with vacant conversations about the Wolfman and Dracula, sips of fresh-from-the-cow milk, and quips about the revealing dress of the farmer's daughter. But one foul-up by doe-eyed Bobby (who trades her sandwich away because he "didn't know she was going to eat" — that should tell us something about Betty's post-weight loss dietary habits) is enough to remind Betty that she really can't stand her kids. Having seen the same territory tread with January Jones' character since Season 1, in which she treats everyone in her life to a cold hostility and victimizies herself all the while, we should expect this final season to treat us to something knew, or at least conclusive. But her misanthropy is in its usual form, her self-pity is operating at normal speeds... her trip to the farm gives us nothing new in the Betty department. Thankfully, we have gold in the Don department this week, especially in his reunion with Peggy's in the penultimate scene of episode. She waits the duration of "Field Trip" to catch the anxious Don alone in the break room in order to deliver her unforgiving salutation, which bites like the dickens: "I can't say that we've missed you." But in terrific form, the unsolicited jab finds itself sandwiched between two instances of much greater mutual favor for the longtime colleagues. With Don's barely shielded pain, we rush immediately back to his soft-eyed kissing of her hand at the close of Season 5, the moment he was forced to acknowledge that his daytime daughter figure was graduating beyond his hold. The second moment illicited by Ms. Olson's harsh proclamation is one that we haven't seen yet: the ultimate reunion — be it charged by a newly leveled playing field for the pair, a joint derision of the powers that be, a refurbished drive to make something of value of themselves, or just your plain old realization that they might be all each other has — of Don and Peggy, and their good graces. In her insistence in assuring Don just how little he means to her, Peggy shows us just how much he does. And in the childlike wince he can't work hard enough to mask, he returns that favor. So now it's only a matter of time. Episode grade: B+, with bonus points for Bobby Draper's proud proclamation: "We were having a conversation!" Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • An Irish History Lesson, the Evolution of Masculinity, and Lots of Jokes in Our 'The Bachelor Weekend' Interview
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 25, 2014
    Tribeca Film One of Tribeca Film Festival 2014's more lighthearted pieces is The Bachelor Weekend — titled The Stag in Ireland, its country of origin — a comedy about a collection of "modern men" who take to the countryside for the main character Finoon's (Hugh O'Conor) bachelor party, only to clash with an unwanted tag-along oozing alpha male bravado: Finoon's future brother-in-law, known only as "the Machine" (Peter McDonald, who also co-wrote the film). Whereas many a comedy film in the "one last hoorah" genre would go for big, broad laughs and wacky antics at the expense of the plot and characters, director John Butler's Bachelor Weekend instead uses its fun premise to explore the nature of the folks at the center — a collection of guys that Butler and McDonald affirm are based on their friends. This kind of friendship is vivid from the way that they and O'Conor all riff on one another, managing to cover situations as grave as the evolution of masculinity over the course of the last 50 years and the national psyche of present day Ireland all the while cracking a few jokes about O'Conor jumping out a window. My chat with Butler, McDonald, and O'Conor does contain a few major spoilers for The Bachelor Weekend, so be warned. But those who have seen the film, and who are hankering for a quick insight into the human ego, that breed of really bad bachlor parties, and director Butler's mid-morning hallucinations, enjoy. We’ve got a whole line of bachelor party movies in America — I’m sure you guys have seen plenty of them. A lot of them are very funny, but I was pleasantly surprised by how different Bachelor Weekend is in a lot of ways. Were you trying to bring something new to the genre specifically? John Butler: Definitely. We like those films. Some of them are fantastic. One of the things that we thought we might like to try with our film was to create a real investment in the heart of the story, so that you really care for the characters and the emotional arc wasn’t tacked on to serve the jokes. We wanted to write it inside out so that you really felt for these people, while also serving up to jokes that worked. So that was important to us, I think. A comedy film with heart. The films that we might have mentioned in relation to that in the course of writing it would be things like Sideways, or… Peter McDonald: Diner. JB: … Diner, or Swingers. You know, films that don’t shortchange you emotionally but still serve up good jokes. So that was part of the inspiration. PM: It was kind of sitting there waiting for someone to make it. So many films around the event of the wedding have been made. If not the wedding itself, it’s the bridesmaids, or the guys, or whatever. And we love those films, they’re really funny. And they are bigger films. So in that marketplace, it’s a comedy film, [snaps] we need 20 gags, so that’s what they’re going to make. So that’s totally understandable. But so many people go on stags! This is something that they can relate to, so why not have a film that has the comedy but also has the investment in the characters? JB: We don’t know any of those "bros" that go on and devour stag weekends. That’s not really a familiar type to us. It’s more interesting to write about real guys who go on stags for reasons out of their control. Pushed out of their comfort zones. Not the guys who really love it, the kind of spring breaky types. PM: Lots of guys go on stags just because that’s what you do. It’s just a ritual that everyone engages in. So [we wanted] to have a look at what place that ritual has in relation to guys and masculinity. Because The Machine is so different from the other guys, that no-man’s-land there is an interesting area. JB: You show up on those stags, you’re not going to want to be drinking Jäger bombs with 20 strange men in four hours’ time. It’s such a surreal… Hugh O’Conor: When you go to the West of Ireland a bit, it’s always that kind of — which is lovely! — but you’re away from what you’re used to… PM: You get up the morning after the first night, and you’re like, “I have to hang out with these guys again?” JB: And I have to drink! HO: Yeah, the drinking… PM: Then you show up to the wedding, and you’re like, “You’re such a tool. I’ve experienced you, and you’re the worst person.” You’ve seen their true colors. [Everybody “yeah”s] JB: Have you been on many stags? No, I’m going on my first one in a couple of weeks, actually. JB: What’s the deal? What’s the setup? It’s a high school friend of mine. These guys are probably more along the lines of the Machine than the other guys. PM: Hookers and blow. [Everybody laughs] I’m more of a Finoon, so I’ll be reading in the back room. JB: Team Finoon! [More laughter] Yeah, we’re going down to the Dominican Republic. JB: Oh nice! PM: All right! DR! That sounds like fun. Yeah. I’m sure it will be. PM: That sounds a lot more fun. HO: That actually sounds good! PM: I’ve got to say, though, I’ve had some killer times on stags. Oh yeah? PM: Absolutely. I’ve had some really great times with my best friends on their stags. HO: Not yours. [Laughter] PM: So I think it’s also a celebration of that. And, if anything, [the movie] says stags are a good idea because they all get something out of the weekend. That’s the genre it’s in. It’s not going to have a downbeat ending, this story. HO: There is that line you have in the scene with the campfire where you say, “You couldn’t put a price on this.” And you kind of go, “Wow, they did get there.” PM: They did get there! HO: It’s nice that they got there. Despite everything. [“Yeah”s all around] JB: Every experience, obviously, has value. It’s just that sometimes they’re set up the wrong way. You know what I mean? Sometimes the approach is wrong. Definitely it’s great going away with some friends. There can be great stuff in it. But the bad ones are bad… Tribeca Film I like that you bring up masculinity. It’s a very clear theme in this movie. You have the wedding planner in the movie challenging Finoon’s masculinity, then the idea of his father disapproving of Finoon’s brother Kevin and his boyfriend [played by Michael Legge and Andrew Bennett, respectively]. Did you approach this movie wanting to discuss masculinity, or did it come about organically? JB: We wanted to write about people that we knew, so it started with the characters. And then, obviously, the themes start to emerge from that. In our case, if we started to write about the men that we know, and put them in the context of the story, those themes start to emerge. Because what the masculine ideal these days? Certain traits that we might consider, traditionally, to be feminine — being in touch with your emotions, and crying — that’s a form of strength! And that’s something, maybe, that modern masculinity is supposed to embody. So yeah, it was fun to play around with that stuff, but we always approached it from the point of view of the characters. [Peter receives a glass of milk] PM: Kumbaya! JB: We need milk and cookies every half an hour. PM: I’m a cookie monster! Milk, cookies… JB: [Pointing to the corner of the room] Did you see something move there? I don't think so. JB: I saw something move there, I thought I saw something move there… PM: John drinks a lot of alcohol. [Laughter] PM: By this time of the morning, he will start to see things. JB: I genuinely thought I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. I just realized… PM: He’s got the heebie-jeebies! [Laughter continues] PM: … and an epic hangover. JB: But no, we definitely don’t go, “What’s the theme?” and then try and write a film. It’s, “Who are the people?” And then we take it from there. PM: Yeah. And there’s something about [the question], “What is it to be a man?” Any rational person knows — especially now, seeing the changes in the last 50 years for masculinity and men — that question has no meaning whatsoever. It’s always changing. But it’s interesting when you have such changes in masculinity over the last 50 years but, yet, our idea of what it meant to be a man in the ‘50s and ‘60s is still present to us in our generation So when you have a bunch of modern men engaging in a ritual that they’re very halfhearted about, and on that ritual a guy turns up who is like, “I’m a f**kin’ man!” Like, “I know exactly that I’m…” It’s not even a question for him. He’s so the opposite to them. And he’s almost oblivious to how awkward he can be. He’s just one of those people. So it busts it open for the other guys in terms of their identity. They’re guys who, in their initial exchange with The Machine, if they were to rewind and replay it, they’d just go, “Look… whatever your real name is. This isn’t gonna happen!” Do you know what I mean? But we know that when you’re with somebody that’s that intense you don’t say the things that you actually want to say. You’re kind of like, “I… I guess… yeah… okay, I’ll have another drink.” Do you know what I mean? You’re ripped out of your element. PM: You’re ripped out of your own thing! And the one thing he does immediately when he arrives on the scene, he totally splits them as a group. They’re immediately infighting and backstabbing each other, and saying, “I’m going to go home,” and blah blah blah. It’s the cat amongst the pigeons of masculinity. But we didn’t know that that’s what we were sitting down to write. It was only as we explored the characters… HO: I suppose, as well, that you can still be a more modern man, like our characters are — me, [Andrew Scott's character] Davin — you can be more in touch with your feelings and be open and talk about things and still be really stupid about stuff. JB: Oh God yes! HO: It doesn’t mean that just because you’re in touch with your feelings that everything is okay. I think that was kind of fun to play. Me and Davin both have loads of issues, still. Even though we’re both comfortable, in touch with stuff, we’re still idiots about a lot of things. Which is exactly like real life. PM: And that, really, is the arc of the story — that these two modern men are engaged in a locking of horns. The same as two old school guys would be doing, in a very different way. But their cultural competitiveness is playing out a deeper unspoken argument. Their words and irony are their weapons. HO: Yeah. PM: And the deeper they go into the woods, the more they’re stripped of all their accoutrements. The more pared back the music gets, and the more naked they get, the less value their words have to them. They can’t protect themselves anymore. HO: Your contact lens falls out! PM: This guy needs to punch Davin. That’s what needs to happen in the story. That’s when he becomes connected to exactly how he feels. JB: And Davin, most importantly, needs to tell him that he was so cut up at the time when [he and Ruth, Finoon’s fiancée, played by Amy Huberman] broke up, he felt so vulnerable that the last person he could turn to was his best friend. PM: Sometimes you don’t turn to the people who are closest to you in those situations, because it reflects you so nakedly. [Hugh feigns crying, the other two laugh] JB: That window is shut! HO: It can be opened! JB: We just look over and Hugh’s gone. [Laughter continues] JB: All we see is that lavenir jacket just kind of fluttering… PM: Fluttering in the wind! And we hear from the street, very distantly, “Oh my God!” JB: It’s Finoon! PM: It’s Finoon! JB: Can he fly? No. That’s all in the sequel. [“Yeah”s all around] Arrow Film Distributors via Everett Collection But that actually reminds me — even though there’s a lot of comedy in this movie, it doesn’t get as broad, even in its funnier moments, than a lot of other comedies in this genre. When you guys destroy the memorial, no policemen come and throw you in jail. Or when you take MDMA, you go for a little run, but nobody freaks out and jumps off a bridge or anything like that. I guess I was wondering if there was a specific drive to keep the comedy grounded, or if this is just the style of humor that you guys find funny? JB: I think that’s a conscious instinct. Particularly in terms of direction, that’s a very conscious decision. At the writing stage, it’s very conscious, too — you have to root the story, and once you commit to that, you have to sacrifice the idea of a sufficiently bigger joke that might derail the tone of the film. But then when you direct the film you have to police that tone, too. Make sure it’s rooted. There is a kind of world you have to create that’s consistent. I think when you try to write characters inside out in that way, that’s always what you’re going to end up with. The films that we love that we mentioned before, the comedy films that work best are the ones that have a consistent tone. Yeah, that’s definitely the approach. PM: And also, the overriding policy all the way through is character development. What’s going to happen to these guys? What is going to happen to their relationships? That’s what the audience should be invested in. If you invest the audience in the fact that they’re going to have a laugh every three minutes, like a big laugh, and then you stop doing that, they’re going, “You started off as one film, and then you’re becoming another.” Whereas you have to do that slowly with a film like this. So you get into a place where there aren’t any laughs for like five minutes, 10 minutes, in this film at one stage. Well, maybe five minutes, whatever. For that to work, the audience has to be… you have to hook them in on the character development. If you put in gags that step outside of the character development, you might get a laugh out of them, but there’s no going back. You’ve already cheated the reality of the world that John is creating as a director. JB: And it’s an American common tradition that we’re working in. That’s the thing that we totally respect and acknowledge as people who watch films. Since it’s an American tradition, the best comedy films come from that tradition. PM: Yeah, yeah. JB: Those are the rules of the genre. I think if there’s any little reinvention or anything that’s going on in our film, I think it’s subtle. PM: I think there are English examples, like Withnail [and I], which is such a brilliant film. There are films like that in the British comedy tradition as well. And that is a shining example of British comedy at work, because it’s such a funny film but it’s about two guys going to a cottage in the middle of nowhere. Two actors who are broke, going to a cottage and having an encounter with the gay uncle. And it’s all dialogue-driven. But the whole thing about that film is that you get so invested in their relationship and their friendship that the end of the film is actually a very downbeat ending because it’s so sad. [Bruce Robinson] is a great writer. It’s a pity he hasn’t made more films in the last few years. But you can just tell when there’s a gag there that’s there for getting a gag. HO: We had some in there. PM: We did. We got rid of them. And also, when you’re working with good actors, right off the bat they’ll go, “Why is he doing this?” if that’s happening. Do you know what I mean? If they’re being rigorous in how they’re approaching the part… HO: I said that a lot. “Why is this happening?” [Laughter] I did want to ask you, Hugh, about that. Finoon is a tricky character. He’s a very serious person, but he’s a funny character. I would like to hear about making this serious, straight-laced guy fun to watch. HO: Obviously, the guys had thought about it a lot beforehand, so they knew what to do with it. Like I said before, I was pretty much just being myself. [Laughs] And let that ridiculousness come through. I could sort of see his points on all sides. I think you can never really judge… if you start judging the character you’re playing, it’s a really bad thing. You have to just go with what he’s experiencing. I think he’s right about everything. If you don’t control the flowers… I can’t trust [the wedding planner]. What has she done before, exactly? Give me a list! This is important to me. This is how it works. I’m stupidly anal about things like that myself. In terms of what you’re interested, in you’re really controlling. So he needs to get out of that a bit. PM: That’s so true. Finoon and all the characters are written from a place of absolute empathy. We’re on the ground floor with them. There’s no standing in judgment over them. They’re us. Probably the only part where there’s any judgment cast is when Brian Gleeson’s character Simon admits he doesn’t like U2. JB: Yes! You get the feeling you’re saying, “Well, you should like U2!” [Laughter] PM: But loads of Irish guys don’t like U2. Oh of course. JB: But he cries at the end [during “One Love”]. PM: So he’s a liar! [Laughter continues] Speaking of that, there are a lot of specific references to Ireland and Irish pride, mostly from the Machine. Were those just sort of ways to play with the character, or does this movie say something specific about Irish culture? JB: I think the idea in place, that’s the Machine’s expression of his national pride rather than our expression of our national pride. It all emerges through these characters. The Machine makes the decision to make that speech about the state of the nation, and to sing that song. He’s the kind of person who — Peter could probably say this better than me — if he’s given the mic at a wedding, he’s not going to not do that. And that’s a decision that the character makes. And you’re just holding the pen. That’s what he does. PM: The thing about the Machine, and we said this very early on when we started writing the film, is that he has absolutely no ego. [The others] are all totally weighed down by their egos. And that’s why there has been such a problem in their friendship, because they haven’t been able to be honest with each other. An ego in that... I’m saying something to you right now and I’ll be editing it. Sometimes you might edit: “Well, I can’t say that. He might think that I’m a bit of a dick if I say that.” Whatever. You’re protecting people’s perception of you. That’s ego. The Machine, he’s just one of those people where that doesn’t even enter into his head. He’s just raw product all the time. And it’s just coming out. The thing about that character is, while he’s incredibly overbearing, and very funny to start with — actually, when he arrives in the film, he’s a total nightmare — but it’s so liberating to be like that as a person. Because you’re not going around going, “Did he think when I said that…” or “Maybe I shouldn’t have…” He’s just moving forward in life all the time. So at the end, when he expresses national pride, it’s totally uncomplicated for him. And his view of Ireland is that the thing that matters in a country, which is probably what we all feel, is the people. And that’s obviously a very democratic notion, and all that. But because — and I can only speak for myself here — we had a lot of economic troubles recently, like a lot of the world. America is going through terrible problems at the moment. But for a small country like Ireland that doesn’t have great natural resources, our greatest product or resource is the people of the country. I think there’s a little bit of that in there, as well. JB: A young country as well. A hundred years old. PM: Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s an ancient culture, but as a democratic state it’s a very young country. We’ve only had the reins for a hundred years. And I think because of all of our history being colonized, the power the church had — all those kinds of things — pride and shame are two of the strongest ingredients in our national psyche. But they can be very divisive. JB: We’re proud of ourselves and we’re ashamed of Hugh. PM: Exactly. We’re proud of ourselves, but then we almost don’t want each other to succeed. HO: [John] keeps staring at me. PM: But it’s so liberating for a character like the Machine. That’s irrelevant to him. It’s just a positive message that comes out of him. And it’s not weighed down by those larger psychological chains that we wear in general. Over the last hundred years. So that was unconscious on our part, but I only say that looking back on the film. Does that make sense? HO: You’re going to have an essay. PM: Yeah! I’ve just given you a big hunk of bulls**t. [Laughter] PM: And also, it’s the Machine. It’s a character talking. Well, I got the wrap up signal… JB: Did you? That s**t is subtle! …so the final question I need to ask is: Do you guys have an idea of why he is called the Machine? JB: Yes. But you won’t tell me, I take it. PM: It’s up to the viewer. JB: It goes to the grave. PM: Yeah, it goes to the grave. Absolutely. The Bachelor Weekend is available on Demand now. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Tribeca Film Festival's 'Bright Days Ahead' Director and Star Discuss the Rarity of Love Stories About Marriage
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 24, 2014
    uniFrance Films Hollywood treats its audiences to so many love stories every year, but few quite like Bright Days Ahead: a movie, from French director Marion Vernoux, that touches on the enchanting pull of new love, but also those in a longtime marriage. Vernoux tackles the difficulties inherent in sustaining a relationship over a lifetime, bringing to light in her film just how much more valid a romance about a mature woman like her hero Caroline (played by Fanny Ardant) can be.  Speaking to Vernoux and Ardant, we tapped into what separates "authentic" love from that we often see in cinema and the true nature of love as it grows and changes over the course of one's life. I can't remember the last time that I saw a movie that approached romance so honestly, in a way that actually felt like it would happen in real life. Was the specific intention to approach romance in a way that you don't often see in the movies? Marion Vernoux: I didn’t deliberately set out to make this kind of different film. I wasn’t thinking of that as my approach. But I’m very glad you see it that way. For me, as Fanny has often said, too, I didn’t want a film that would have this layer of romanticism on top of it. I wanted it to seem believable that two people could get together and there could be this spark between them, but without having it be the usual overboard kind of reaction between them. To make it seem like it was something that could of actually happened. Was there something specific about the character that really rang true? Fanny Ardant: One part of the character of Caroline: she’s not easily bound. She likes her freedom. She’s not a conformist. I feel at ease with this character. It’s like a part of myself. The rest is cinema! MV: For me, it was almost sort of an equation. I wanted to make a film that showed that when you fall in love, you don’t always fall in love the same way all the time. It’s not always the same. I wanted to show that how you fall in love and falling in love is something that can evolve. It evolves with you as a person based on your experience, based on your age, based on the life that you’ve lived. I have this fantasy that the older you get, the more experienced you get, the better you are at loving and being loved. That, for me, was what was important. That as you mature, you can progress in love. That brings up something that I think is very interesting. I wonder why most romantic movies are about people in their 20s or their teens, not about mature women, who have had legitimate life experience. What do you think people in Hollywood are afraid of? And what value do movies about these women have that the usual products do not? FA: If you look carefully at the literature — French, Russian, English — it was a long time ago that they started to speak about love affairs with older women. At that time, when you are 40, it is like now when you are 60. Because the population is becoming older and older. It was always in the humanity. Maybe cinema, because it is a picture, the director or the cinematographic industry thinks you [need] sex appeal. So they put a beautiful face, a beautiful body, and they forget the true feelings. As you said, you can be in love like Romeo and Juliet at 20 or 15, or at 80, like Henry Miller. I think because it’s a picture, the representation of love belongs to the beauty. The perfect body, perfect face. I think from the beginning of humanity, love affairs were always at every age. MV: That's very true. Splash News I agree! Were there any other specific films or pieces of literature, like you mention, that helped to shape your ideas about how real, legitimate love stories should be handled in art? MV: One of the most important films for me was The Graduate. It is one of my favorite films because it shows things just how they should not be. What you have there, the older woman is shown as the predator, and she’s got him in her clutches. And he’s this young guy, he’s still a virgin, she deflowers him. It’s all these stereotypes. And even as a teenager — this is the kind of movie that made me want to live and made me want to make films — but it’s also to show you that Ms. Robinson is the exact antithesis of what Caroline is in the film. It’s also why I included a tiny little reference in the film, pulling out the stocking. Yes! I noticed that. FA: Do you remember this movie, an American movie, about a love affair with an older woman, Terms of Endearment? I remember this movie. That was no problem. Do you remember the lady? [Shirley MacLaine]. With Jack Nicholson. It was strong because you believed this love affair between them and in the middle of the drama — MV: Who was the director? James L. Brooks? FA: So maybe, for [those] reasons ... it succeeded. Sometimes you have that kind of movie. It's not all the rubbish things that pass. You had Romeo and Juliet once. But you try to do the same, it's very difficult. With so many love stories in film, very few of them that I've seen are actually about marriage. Usually they're about people who meet and fall in love for the first time. FA: We have this sentence in French: "Happy people have no story." It’s true. You are not going to speak about happiness. MV: But it was important for me to speak about this marriage. I thought it was really important to show in a film, what do you do when you’ve lived together as a couple for such a long time? How do you survive those moments that are difficult? The times when you come out of sync with each other, and you’re just not on the same wavelength. But then manage to bring yourselves back into sync with each other. So I thought it was important to show that. But do you both think there are so few movies about marriage because of that saying, "Happy people have no story"? FA: No, because there's [also a saying], "A comedy finishing with a wedding is a tragedy starting."  [Laughter] FA: Excuse me. That is the French mentality.  Even though this movie is very authentic and grounded in reality, it's still a very enchanting movie, and delightful, romantic love story... FA: When you are the spectator in the dark room, every time, a piece of life is caught. You never know. It’s not like the classic movie where part of the pleasure is knowing where it’s going to end. You never know. You are waiting for something, but you never know. [The viewers] don’t even know what they want. Because some people want that she stays with the lover, other people want her to go back to the husband. So, I think it's a movie made by that flash. You are in front of reality in real life. You have no time to think about reality. Reality, at the same time, for me, doesn’t exist. Reality is a vision that you have. MV: I think it’s also Fanny's presence in the film that adds to that sensation you have of it being real but enchanting. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com
  • Director David Mackenzie Talks His Tribeca Film 'Starred Up'
    By: Michael Arbeiter Apr 24, 2014
    Tribeca Film One of the most interesting films to premiere at Tribeca Film Festival 2014 is director David Mackenzie's movie Starred Up, a drama about a young man who is committed to a London prison where he reunites with his convict father for the first time in years. Aside from subverting expectations about the idea of the "prison movie," Starred Up also treats viewers to a new kind of father/son story, and a far more realistic portrayal of therapy than cinematic audiences are accustomed to. Written by a Jonathan Asser, a therapist who pioneered a form of counseling for violent inmates, the film depicts group sessions that cut to the heart of the emotionality behind the prison experience for those serving time. Speaking to Mackenzie, we got to discuss how Starred Up offers something new in each of the subjects that it brings to the table. As someone who is a little bit skeptical about prison movies in general, personally, I was wondering if you approached the film wanting to take on the genre for any specific reasons? No, I responded to the material. The script seemed to be an interesting opportunity to make a film that was very detailed and had a bit of truth to it, and a vine of authenticity to it about, particularly, London prisons. But it wasn’t my intention to kind of make a kind of critique of the genre. It’s actually the first genre film I’ve ever done. I’ve made many movies, and I’ve always been trying to slip in between these things, but this is actually inescapably just a prison movie. But I hope that we did it in a way that avoids stereotypes, in a way that allows other elements to sort of enter into the genre. And that we made something that stands up in its own right, irrespective of the genre, really. That’s my desire. I thought there was an opportunity to make a film that somehow had smuggled in some emotion and tenderness and sort of things into a genre that you weren’t expecting them to be in. That felt like an interesting challenge. There are definitely many points in the movie where I expected it to go in one way more traditional of the genre, and I was surprised to see it take another direction. That was kind of interesting. By taking on something like this, it struck me that my sensibility... I’m not the genre person in general. I’m looking for the truth and the humanity and sometimes the kind of poetic beauty in the subjects that I’m dealing with. And it’s quite nice to have something that’s hard, and that there are expectations with. Just by being a bit more honest with the material, you can end up avoiding [that]. Did you do a lot of research about prisons? Well, Jonathan [Asser], the writer, was a major resource. We needed to be below the radar, because I didn't want to be closed down. I couldn’t really get into open prisons, existing prisons, very much. But just a combination of the research with [the fact that] we found a jail that had been closed down for 10 years, but was completely in tact. And prison officers who worked in it when it was there, and they were helpful in terms of the rhythms of what the officers would have to go through. We encouraged them to sort of push the prisoners around a bit, so that they’re less in control of themselves. And we had a few ex-prisoners who were advisors, and one or two actually had small parts in the movie. Did anything come organically from their experiences? There's a lot of improvisation in the movie. You know, respecting the script, coming in and out of the lens of the script, but I tried to encourage a sense of freedom among the actors. Particularly in the group [therapy] scenes, just to feel like it was lively. So there’s stuff that’s allowed to breathe... But always, Jonathon, the writer, was on set the whole time, and so were kind of. The script was like our lens that we passed through all the time. Since you bring up group, one thing that I'm even more wary about in cinema is movies about therapy. You see a lot of movies that just ham it up. Was there anything specific that you wanted to make sure you avoided, or that you wanted to make sure you got right? Well we had a great asset, again, with Jonathan, the writer. [He] is a prison therapist who has evolved the system quite weirdly by taking the most violent prisoners, for whom there is no official therapy apart from what he was doing. Because there's this weird contradiction: you have to prove yourself to be violence-free before you can get official treatment for your violence. It’s bizarre. And part of his method is to take guys who clearly had a problem with anger and encourage them to get angry. And then encourage them to learn how to deal with that and learn how to de-escalate. One of the scenes we actually shot, which is a scene where it nearly, nearly gets very dangerous, and then it de-escalates, it was actually a late addition to the script, and it came form an experience in the rehearsals that we had with a couple of ex-prisoners and the actors and Jonathan. And things got very heated. And it de-escalated. And just to watch the de-escalation... it’s not like it’s a slow deflation, it’s jagged. It goes up and down and up and down — felt so dramatic to me that I asked him, “Can we write a scene like that?” It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie. You see escalation all the time, but we hadn’t sort of tuned in to de-escalation. And his therapy is fresh. In the four or five years of doing that, there were no contact violence issues with any of the people he was working with, either in the group or on the wing afterwards. So he pioneered the technique and it was very successful. So you’re just tuning into that, and letting that breathe and letting the actors go with that and also improvise around it. I felt like my cliché alarm wasn’t going off at any point in the therapy scenes. So I felt we avoided that problem. Getty Images That is far and away my favorite scene in the movie, too. Was it this approach to the inmates' emotionality that specifically attracted you to the script? When I found the script, it was underdeveloped, but there was something that felt like an interesting thing to me. Obviously criminality often runs in families. There must be plenty of people who meet their father in jail, but there doesn't seem to be a movie specifically about that. Actually, Jonathan has strong feelings about his father and his relationship with his father, so it was probably not that tuned into tenderness, all those sorts of things. But I thought there were opportunities there to have these two sort of awkward characters, both emotionally locked down and very hard on themselves as well as other people around them, try to kind of reach out and connect with each other. And that felt there was something in that that was really, really strong. It was there in its nascent form in the very first draft, and we sort of evolved that together. One of the things I learned in the process was to try and create lines of tension. If you set up something and you don’t let go of it, it becomes kind of relentless until you’re allowed to breathe... The consequences of one thing keep it going, a chain of consequences, until it’s almost unbearable, and then it’s resolved and then you move on. Actually, the film has not that many of those beats, but they last quite a long time. It’s a really interesting approach because it’s a hostile environment. You know that something’s gonna kick off, there’s a constant tension. For me, when I was editing it — which was very short edit — I knew the material, I’d still find myself tense. Which is great! It enabled the slightly Hitchcockian filmmaking that came from it, which is really interesting for me. Definitely! There's not a lot of relief sustained. There's always that fear. But there are moments where it’s light. There are moments where it’s funny. I agree, the actors are very charming, and the material is very charming. On the father and son relationship, so much of this movie is about the idea of masculinity. You have very interesting representations of masculinity. The father is in a homosexual relationship, which is not typically how movies depict masculinity. The intellectual chess player is the prison kingpin. The intimidating inmates in group are really sensitive and thoughtful. So I was wondering what you were hoping to say about masculinity with this film. Those kinds of questions I find quite hard to answer. It’s a very masculine environment, and it’s the sort of crucible of masculine tension. But what it’s actually saying about it? I don’t really know how to answer it. The whole film is kind of about that, so this specific point is... everything about the film is sort of moving in the direction of trying to answeri that question, and so I can’t really articulate it in a quick way. That's fair. But honing in on the father and son relationship, we talked about how the father and son were used to show this prison story, but the prison is also used to tell a father and son story. Do you think there was something unique in the relationship between the two characters here that you haven't seen in films about fathers and sons? What was interesting about it, in a normal kind of father and son relationship, they’re usually better equipped and more able to deal with concepts of love. Their characters' name is Love, and that was very conscious from Jonathan. These are people who know very little about love and their names are ironically that. And so it’s some kind of base instinct there, but they don’t really know how to deal with it. And I don’t think I’ve seen that before. I don’t think I’ve seen two such disconnected characters having to reach out together, in a father and son kind of thing. And I think that’s interesting. With those two actors are both sort of powerhouse actors in their own way, [they’re] very different: Ben [Mendelsohn] is very precise. Jack [O'Connell] is young, he’s go so much energy, and he’s just everywhere. And I mean that in very much the best way. It’s just incredible to see an almost a sort of animalistic thing. There were times when we were almost trying to cut the thing like a nature film, just to go with the gestures, the physicality, which is interesting. I like that you say "like a nature film." The way the film is shot feels like that, when you follow the characters going up and down the stairs of the prison, watching these guys interacting. Was that the aesthetic you were trying to evoke? We shot it beautifully in widescreen and off of lenses and it was nicely lit, and the environment was very cinematic: long corridors, and frames within frames. There’s plenty of opportunities for some quite strong imagery, but I said to Michael [McDonough, cinematographer] I wanted the performance to dictate the camera rather than the camera dictating the performance. The actors didn’t have any marks, they just did what they wanted to do, and we have to follow them. And that was the first time I had ever done that, and I think the combination of the good instincts of Michael, and hopefully of myself, and the environment gave us enough of the visual style. And then just being able to follow in a much more — I had to use the word — much more "documentary" kind of way, just letting it happen and where people move is where you follow the camera to. It helped with A) the performance, and B) with it just being what it was and so there’s not that kind of reserve of a framed and stylized image. There's one line that really stuck out to me. In a group scene, the inmates were talking about different prisons in different parts of the world, and they were arguing over which country had the worst prisons. There was a line, "American prisons are the worst prisons" ... That was a riff. There is a sense that you have an awful lot of people in jail in America, a very, very high prison population, and a lot more people in solitary confinement. I read a New York Times article last year or the year before, people likened solitary confinement to a form of torture. And yet, you’re building super mass jails where people are deliberately in solitary confinement. But that’s me applying that. The line is a sort of throwaway line about Morocco, or... I didn’t want it to be, and I don’t think Jonathan wanted it to be either, two developing country prisons. I just felt it was a like banter. Not particularly aimed to criticize the American thing. But it is extraordinary how many people are in jail at the moment. Follow @Michael Arbeiter| Follow @Hollywood_com