The Credits http://www.thecredits.org Celebrating Film and Television's Creative Community Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:38:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Our Counter-Programming Watch List for Thanksgiving http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/our-counter-programming-watch-list-for-thanksgiving/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/our-counter-programming-watch-list-for-thanksgiving/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:30:14 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12998 With the launch of Where to Watch, it’s now considerably easier to find and watch your favorite films and TV shows. The holidays are usually a pretty excellent excuse to spend time with your family by all sitting silently in ... Read More

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With the launch of Where to Watch, it’s now considerably easier to find and watch your favorite films and TV shows. The holidays are usually a pretty excellent excuse to spend time with your family by all sitting silently in a dark room watching a movie.

Since the Interent became a thing and then a much bigger thing, and now a sort of all-encompassing and inescapable thing, the holidays also mean holiday watch lists. Nearly every online outlet is now providing you with some kind of Thanksgiving watch list, and with nearly every one of them telling you to watch Planes, Trains & Automobiles (rightfully so), and with every outlet ready to tell you, once Christmas rolls around, to watch Love, Actually, we figured we could provide you with some counter-programming.

We wanted to put together a list that’s not necessarily about Thanksgiving, and not necessarily feel good films, but films about families, both blood related and not, coming together or coming apart, but all dealing with major issues. You can watch these films with your families, talk about them, and feel grateful, feel thankful that you’re not dealing with these issues. It’s not all easy-watching in this list below, but it’s all worth watching, the most important criteria of all.

And if things get a little too intense, you can always binge watch Arrested Development.

Alien (1979)

The 35th anniversary Blu-Ray DVD version of Ridley Scott’s classic was recently released, and while on first blush it might not feel like a “family” film, it bears a closer look. The Nostromo’s crew is certainly family-like, a bunch of blue-collar workers who happen to ply their trade on an intergalactic spaceship. Watch the way they eat together, laugh, joke, argue, provoke, and you’ll see this is sorta-kinda sneakily a film about a family. When trouble arises in the form of a face-hugging alien (this scene still terrifies), followed by increasingly desperate situations as the little alien grows up fast, it’s up to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to do her best to keep her work family alive. Definitely not a film to watch before you eat, of course.

The Big Chill (1983)

If you’re too young to know why this makes for great holiday viewing, queue this film up with your parents and watch them get misty eyed at the soundtrack alone. Writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, making the switch from a galaxy far, far away (he co-wrote The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi) to this comedy-drama stuffed with great music, great performances (Kevin Cline, who makes our list twice, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum and, in the casket and seen for about a second, Kevin Costner!) in a story about the sad reunion of college friends after one of their own committed suicide. Yes, it’s a bleak storyline, but it’s one of those films that bears repeated viewing, as the friends gather for a weekend and slowly reveal themselves, their unhappy marriages and every other ugly, understandable, human emotion that all coheres into what becomes, incredibly, a comforting film about troubled relationships.

 

The Birdcage (1996)

Revisit the work of two late, great talents in one fantastic film about the power of a family that sticks together…after the son hideously asks his father to pretend to be straight. Director Mike Nichols, who passed away last Wednesday, and actor Robin Williams, who passed away last August, delivered a touching comedy about gay cabaret owner Armand Goldman (Williams) and his partner Albert (Nathan Lane) attempting to pretend to be straight so their son can introduce them to his fiancé’s right wing parents, played by none other than Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest. Working with his longtime collaborator, screenwriter Elaine May, Nichols’ remake on the beloved French musical La Cage aux Folles has aged extremely well, filled with touching performances and hilarious moments.

 

The Ice Storm (1997)

We warned you this list wasn’t necessarily about easy watching. Set during Thanksgiving weekend of 1973, Ang Lee’s haunting adaptation of Rick Moody’s novel revolves around a wealthy Connecticut’s family slow, painful dissolution as infidelity, alcohol and misplaced affections spread across the lives of nearly a dozen well wrought characters. With a cast of world class actors, including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes, this is perhaps the most potent, painful film on our list, but it’s undeniably compelling.

 

You Can Count On Me (2000)

Kenneth Longeran’s directorial debut (he wrote the hugely successful Analyze This in 1999) is one of the best films about siblings, period. Seriously. Starring Laura Linney as Sammy, a single mother leading a quiet, sane life in upstate New York with her son Rudy, and Mark Ruffalo as her brother Terry, a self-destructive, semi-hapless lost soul who abandons his pregnant girlfriend and arrives at Sammy’s house to borrow money, Longeran’s film is filled with perfect touches that are both genuine, sad, and quietly moving. Sammy’s not happy about Terry’s arrival, both the reasons for it and the fact that it upsets her quiet, if dull, life. She’s even less happy about the bond Terry forms with her son. But, the love between brother and sister is evident throughout, and with a charming, brief cameo by Longeran himself as a pastor trying to help Sammy deal with past issues, You Can Count On Me slowly builds into a beautiful story about two siblings who, above all else, want to be there for each other.

 

A Separation (2011)

Simin (the phenomenal Lelia Hatami) does not want her daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), to grow up in an increasingly limiting Iran. What’s more, she and her husband Nader (Peyman Moaadi, equally fantastic) are nearing a separation. Simin wants to leave Iran with her husband and daughter, but Nader won’t leave behind his ailing father. His refusal to leave leads Simin to file for divorce, not a simple procedure in her country. In fact, the court says there is not sufficient reason for them to separate, and won’t allow it. Their lives are further complicated when Nader hires a deeply religious woman to help care for his father, the implications of which have unintended ripple effects for all of their lives. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation enthralled audiences in 2011, and became the first Iranian film to an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. It’s a conversation starter, an opportunity to get a real feel for life in Iran, but also, and most crucially, it’s just an excellent film.

 

Nebraska (2013)

Alexander Payne’s bittersweet, ultimately beautiful film about one Nebraska family’s struggles with their aging, gruff patriarch (a wonderful Bruce Dern) who seems to be suffering from dementia, becomes a moving portrait (and a road trip movie, to boot) of familial loyalty, resilience and love. Will Forte, June Squibb and Bob Odenkirk provide subtle, funny performances as they try to figure out how best to deal with their troublesome father and husband; a family reunion provides them an opportunity to reevaluate their relationships and rally around one another in a film that becomes, by the third act, surprisingly moving.

Featured image: 35th Anniversary of Ridley Scott’s Alien Blu-ray DVD cover.

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Ridley Scott’s 10 Commandments Making Exodus: Gods and Kings Part II http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/ridley-scotts-10-commandments-making-exodus-gods-and-kings-part-ii/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/ridley-scotts-10-commandments-making-exodus-gods-and-kings-part-ii/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:30:53 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12983 Yesterday we published part I of “Ridley Scott’s 10 Commandments Making Exodus: Gods and Kings,” looking at how the director and his team of hundreds of talented filmmakers managed to film God’s wrath realistically, on location, and without losing the very ... Read More

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Yesterday we published part I of “Ridley Scott’s 10 Commandments Making Exodus: Gods and Kings,” looking at how the director and his team of hundreds of talented filmmakers managed to film God’s wrath realistically, on location, and without losing the very human story at the Biblical epic’s core. Here, then, is Part II, beginning with Scott’s 6th commandment:

6. Thou Shalt Wear Tunics, lots and lots of Tunics.

Christian Bale (left) stars as Moses and Joel Edgerton stars as Ramses.

Christian Bale (left) stars as Moses and Joel Edgerton stars as Ramses. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Ridley Scott turned to his longtime costume designer Janty Yates to recreate the look of ancient Egypt, and once again Yates delivered. From thousands of Hebrew slaves to Ramses’ royal kin, Yates created every costume, thread by thread, after doing a deep dive into the periods’ materials, color palette and accessories.

According to Yates, Egyptian design was incredibly advanced, and she wanted the clothing to exude the intelligence, luxury and extravagance of the people. Yates used embellished headdresses, beaded wigs and eye-catching jewelry to “power dress” the royal females—showing how much control they had throughout this male-centered story.

María Valverde portrays Zipporah. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

María Valverde portrays Zipporah. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Her favorite costume? Ramses’ jaw-dropping all-gold armor. Yates stayed true to the historical context by recreating Lamellar armor, which consists of hundred of small, rectangular pieces in horizontal rows. Bonus: if you dig the ancient Pharoe’s armor, grab a plastic car bumper and start cutting. Yates used the stuff to create a lighter version for those epic battle scenes.

Rameses (Joel Edgerton) and Commander Khyan (Dar Salim) prepare to pursue Moses and the Hebrews. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Rameses (Joel Edgerton) and Commander Khyan (Dar Salim) prepare to pursue Moses and the Hebrews. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

And now, for the most important part of the costume…

7. Thou Shalt Bestow Massive Amounts of Black Eyeliner on all Cast Members, no Exceptions.

Joel Edgerton stars as Ramses, contemplating his troubles with Moses, looking good with black eyeliner. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Joel Edgerton stars as Ramses, contemplating his troubles with Moses, looking good with black eyeliner. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, and one thing that you can count on. There’s no shortage of it throughout the entire film. Frankly, it looks fantastic.

Joel Edgerton, Christian Bale, Aaron Paul…looking good, gents.

Moses (Christian Bale) prepares to lead the Egyptians into battle, with a little help from his subtly darkened eyes. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Moses (Christian Bale) prepares to lead the Egyptians into battle, with a little help from his subtly darkened eyes. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

8. Thou Shalt Have the Perfect Crocodiles

Despite 10 plagues, parting a massive body of water and shooting a sweeping, Biblical epic in 74 days, Scott says his most difficult challenge was that of a reptile.

“The hardest thing to do on this movie, for me, would be the crocodiles,” said Scott in an interview with Empire magazine. “They have to be absolutely real. That sequence is one of the first things up in the movie and I’ll be dead in the water if they don’t come off.”

We aren’t sure where these reptiles lie in the grand scheme of Moses’ story, but if they’re anything like Scott’s other visuals, like his use of tigers in that insane scene in Gladiator, we’ve never been so excited to see a croc.

9. Thou Shalt Present a New Vision of God

In movies past, God has typically been played by a man. For Scott, the idea of gender wasn’t important, it was the qualities behind the speaker that mattered. For this reason, he chose 11-year old Brit Isaac Andrews.

“Sacred texts give no specific depiction of God, so for centuries artists and filmmakers have had to choose their own visual depiction,” Scott said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “Malak exudes innocence and purity, and those two qualities are extremely powerful.”

10. Thou Shalt Trust Ridley Scott to Deliver You The Goods

Here’s one prophecy we can count on: Whether you’re a Bible believer or not, Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings is sure to be riveting. He’s one of the best in the business at synthesizing huge, sprawling films into personal stories with characters motivated by human-scale emotions we can all recognize. He knew that in Alien, what made the movie truly terrifying was how normal Ripley and her crew were; these weren’t intergalactic bad-assess, they were regular, working class folks who happened to be on a spaceship and who were eventually hunted down by a ferocious being who, it should be noted, had her own motivations (remember, the alien was a mom). In Blade Runner, Scott took Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and turned it into a film about alienation and belonging. Russell Crowe’s Maximus was a war weary veteran grieving over his dead family in Gladiator. There’s no doubt he brought the same feeling to Exodus, making this Biblical epic on a human scale.

 

 

 

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Ridley Scott’s 10 Commandments Making Exodus: Gods and Kings Part I http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/ridley-scotts-10-commandments-makingexodus-gods-and-kings/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/ridley-scotts-10-commandments-makingexodus-gods-and-kings/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 15:30:43 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12969 This holiday movie season brings us Hollywood’s next—and arguably biggest—Biblical blockbuster to date: Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Out December 12th, Scott’s rendition of the Old Testament tale chronicles the story of Moses (Christian Bale) as he leads the ... Read More

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This holiday movie season brings us Hollywood’s next—and arguably biggest—Biblical blockbuster to date: Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Out December 12th, Scott’s rendition of the Old Testament tale chronicles the story of Moses (Christian Bale) as he leads the Hebrews to freedom in a revolution against his pseudo-brother, the vengeful Rameses (Joel Edgerton). With the help of screenwriters Steve Zallian, Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, Scott brought a film as grandiose in scale as the ancient Egyptian era itself, while the star-studded cast including John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Aaron Paul and Ben Kingsley came together to give audiences a truly immersive period experience. Scott hopes to do for Moses what he did for Maximus in Gladiator; give him the big screen adaptation his heroism deserves.

Now, if you haven’t caught up on your Old Testament reading, fear not, for Scott stayed virtually true to the Biblical basics. It’s almost as if his mega-budget retelling of the story of Moses came to him in a burning bush, if you can consider the hands of producer Peter Chernin hot and fiery. As Scott puts it in an interview with 20th Century Fox, “For the most part, great scripts don’t land on your desk,” but when Chernin presented him with a sandal and sword epic to rival the likes of Gladiator, Scott “climbed” into the film.

So, how did he pack the wrath of God — 10 deadly plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, 600,000 slaves riding horseback to freedom, a brotherly bond broken (not to mention the extravagant lifestyle palaces, temples, pyramids, tunics, eyeliner) of the Egyptians) — into a mere 142 minutes? Low and behold:  Part I of our story, Ridley Scott’s Ten Commandments for the making of Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Ridley Scott reviews a scene with Christian Bale on set. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Ridley Scott reviews a scene with Christian Bale on set. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

1. Thou shalt cast Christian Bale as Moses.

6 years ago Scott and Bale decided to work together, but it wasn’t until the character of Moses presented himself that this divine collaboration would occur. “I called him and said, ‘I want you to play Moses,’ and he said, ‘Oh no,'” said Scott in a featurette, but Bale would soon fulfill Scott’s prophecy after he studied up on the story of Moses.

It’s hard to imagine Bale as a BC war hero fighting his way to freedom (tunic-clad, mind you) after his Oscar-nominating performance in his last blockbuster, American Hustle. In fact, Bale was still trying to drop a few lb.’s when working on Exodus. “I was glad for the robes,” said Bale in a recent Q&A.

Other than hitting the gym, Bale studied up to surpass his “Sunday school” Biblical knowledge. Reading the first five books of the Bible, the Koran, “Legends of the Jews” by Louis Ginzberg and Jonathan Kirsch’s “Moses: A Life,” he quickly became schooled on all things Hebrew war hero.

He also watched 1956’s The Ten Commandments for holy guidance from his predecessor, Charlton Heston, along with his favorite sword and sandal cult classic, The Life of Brian, which happened to be his “guiding light” for the performance.

All of this research led to Bale’s controversial approach to the character. “I think the man was likely schizophrenic and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life,” he said in a press conference. And some of it may have been true. Unlike Heston’s all-mighty take on Moses, Bale created a more relatable character. I mean, it’s not everyday that God comes to you in a burning bush declaring you’re “the chosen one.”

Speaking of staying true to character…

Moses (Christian Bale) displays his prowess with a bow and arrow, as Joshua (Aaron Paul, center) and Nun the scholar (Ben Kingsley) watch. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Moses (Christian Bale) displays his prowess with a bow and arrow, as Joshua (Aaron Paul, center) and Nun the scholar (Ben Kingsley) watch. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

2. Thou Shalt be as Realistic as Possible.

It’s no surprise that Scott used his fair share of VFX (approximately 1,500 shots) in the making of Exodus, but he didn’t lean on technology to conquer this colossal endeavor. Over 100 horses for battle scenes, 400 frogs for a slimy, green epidemic, and a slew of camels were employed for the Israelite’s journey, and it’s evident that when it came to creating the realistic scope of such mind-blowing manifestations of God’s wrath, Scott wasn’t horsing around. “We want a bit of insane,” he said in a featurette when describing the epicness of this flick.

“I was around a lot of horses who were kicking each other and trying to bite me and camels who, as we were crossing the red sea, like to relieve themselves a lot and you know, you just get used to less than glamorous situations, things bumping up against you, ‘What’s that against my leg? Oh that is what I think it is,’” said Bale in a press conference when describing his experience with his hump-backed co-stars.

Cast members also turned to camels for relief, comic-relief, as Bale and Edgerton would get through long takes sneaking up on Aaron Paul with a piping wad of camel droppings.

If that doesn’t gross you out, just wait until you see Scott’s take on the 10 plagues.

A shocking hailstorm plagues Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

A shocking hailstorm plagues Ramses (Joel Edgerton). Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

3. Thou Shalt Not Fear Grossing Audience Out.

It’s hard to imagine a sea of ribitting green frogs, swarms of locusts, a river running red with blood (not to mention the piles of rotting fish) or a wave of buzzing insects feeding on dead cows, but hold onto your stomachs, because that’s what Scott’s 3D depiction of the 10 plagues has in store. According to critics who’ve viewed select clips of the film, it’s gross. Really, really gross.

It’s fair to say that it can’t be easy capturing God’s wrath against Ramses on screen, but over 1,500 special effects and six 3D cameras filming throughout the entirety of every scene were used to illustrate the Pentateuch pandemonium.

That, and Scott’s knack for picking prime locations for the shoot…

Moses (Christian Bale) weds Zipporah (María Valverde) with her father, Jethro (Kevork Mailkyan, center). Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Moses (Christian Bale) weds Zipporah (María Valverde) with her father, Jethro (Kevork Mailkyan, center). Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

4. Thou shalt travel to the lands of London, Spain and the Canary Islands.

As Moses is known for freeing the Israelites from Egypt, Scott is known for his brilliant ability to transform sets into completely new worlds, and this is definitely the case for Exodus. Like many of Scott’s films (Alien, Gladiator and Prometheus, to name a few), location is crucial to his always-astounding visual landscapes. And with the help of production designer Arthur Max, Exodus transports audiences to Pharoe’s pyramids and palaces, Ancient Egypt’s bustling city of Memphis and the parting of the red sea, creating what is sure to be known as iconic imagery for the movie industry.

Filming began at Paramount Studios in London, United Kingdom. It was there where Scott captured interior images such as the royal bedrooms, the palace and the Hebrew scholars’ dwellings.

For the cityscape, the cast traveled to the Sierra Alhamilla, a largely barren and rugged terrain about 15-km northeast of Almeria city in Spain. But what really attracted Max and Scott to this location were the mountains reminiscent of Egypt. “That’s what drew us here, the texture and the color of this landscape,” said Max in a featurette with 20th Century Fox. And to establish the overwhelmingly intricate detail of the city, Scott used aerial and wide shots.

Last but definitely not least, Fuerteventura, the second largest terrain of the Canary Islands, would set the scene for the film’s largest location sequence, the parting of the red sea.

Speaking of the grand divide…

Christian Bale (on the horse in the foreground) as Moses leads the Egyptians into battle. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Christian Bale (on the horse in the foreground) as Moses leads the Egyptians into battle. Courtesy 20th Century Fox.

5. Thou Shalt Have Epic, we Mean Epic, Battle Scenes.

How does one recreate the biggest historical battle that’s ever been? Complete with 600,000 slaves and a royal army duking it out amidst waves reaching thousands of feet. It sounds like it could take a miracle, but Scott mastered God’s prophecy with the help of 700 crew members, 4,000 extras (not to mention the hundreds of horses) and some serious three-dimensional and digital goods.

“This is not going to look like a matte painting,” said Scott in an interview with Empire magazine. This is because Scott set out to build everything. From real gilded chariots, swords, shields and breast plates to digitally tiling the 4,000 extras to create a massive scale of 600,000 slaves, Scott’s hands on approach brings reality to this monumental battle.

His vision for a realistic fight had to translate to his cast, requiring them to perform the entirety of the fight scene. According to Bale and Edgerton, two minutes of filming felt like 45 when it was all said and done.

Not only was it physically exhausting for the actors, it was also the most difficult footage for Scott to shoot. “That sequence probably took more time than any other on this movie. We were mucking around on this beach, 11 miles of it, for days. It had mountain ranges behind it. That was the trickiest thing. I had to prepare plates on the assumption of the sea going back and then returning,”

And from a glimpse at the trailer, it appears as though Scott achieved his vision. As for Bale and Edgerton, shooting the battle scenes was a chance for them to fulfill a lifelong dream, all while having bit of fun.

“No matter how many films you’ve done, it never stops being so much bloody fun riding on a horse, slashing through people, having some fights; I mean that’s straight back to being 8-years old,” said Bale in a featurette. While Edgerton enjoyed the fights as “it’s a chance to play boys club and fashion yourself as the hero that you always dreamed and wished you were.”

Unfortunately, co-star Paul who plays Joshua, a friend and confidant of Moses, the experience wasn’t so exciting as he struggled to maintain his faux mustache while drive-heaving amongst camel poop.

And the best outfits for battle? Tunics, of course!

Check back in for Part II of Ridley Scott’s Ten Commandments for Exodus: Gods and Kings. 

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Remembering a Giant: A Mike Nichols Watch List http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/remembering-a-giant-a-mike-nichols-watch-list/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/remembering-a-giant-a-mike-nichols-watch-list/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 15:30:06 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12959 The passing of Mike Nichols on Wednesday, at the age of 83, brings to an end one of the most successful careers in the entertainment business, period. One of the few people to have won an Oscar, Tony, Emmy and ... Read More

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The passing of Mike Nichols on Wednesday, at the age of 83, brings to an end one of the most successful careers in the entertainment business, period. One of the few people to have won an Oscar, Tony, Emmy and a Grammy, Nichols excelled on the big screen, small screen and on the stage for more than fifty-years. He was 80 when he accepted the Tony for directing the astonishing revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 2012, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of Willy Loman.

Nichols’ ability to connect with actors is perhaps unparalleled. In comedies and dramas, on screen and on the stage, he has directed some of the landmark performances of the past half century. Take Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf from 1966; it garnered Academy Awards for Elizabeth Taylor (Best Actress), Sandy Dennis (Best Supporting Actress), and nominations for Richard Burton (Best Actor) and George Segal (Best Supporting Actor. This is to say nothing of the other three wins and six nominations it received, the latter of which included a Best Director and Best Picture nom. This was his first directing gig.

A year later, on just his second film as director, Nichols won his Best Director Oscar for The Graduate, and also managed to make a star of Dustin Hoffman in the process (Hoffman was nominated, playing a 21-year old Benjamin Braddock while he was 30-years old), pitting him against the formidable, dynamic Anne Bancroft (also nominated).

Nichols’ touch with actors was just as potent on the stage. He helped propel Whoopi Goldberg to fame by producing her one-woman show on Broadway. He directed huge stars on Broadway, including Julie Christie, George C. Scott, and Morgan Freeman. He directed huge stars off Broadway, including Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Meryl Street and Natalie Portman.

As The New York Times wrote in their obit, Nichols didn’t create a recognizable visual style like his contemporaries Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen, but he was drawn to one type of narrative more than others; the complexities of romantic stories. “I’ve always been impressed by the fact that upon entering a room full of people, you find them saying one thing, doing another, and wishing they were doing a third,” he said in a 1965 interview with the weekly newspaper The National Observer. “The words are secondary and the secrets are primary. That’s what interests me most.” As Dana Stevens over at Slate reminded us, Nichols has said there are only three kinds of scenes; “A fight, a seduction or a negotiation.” He was great at all three, and romantic dramas usually had them in spades.

So what Nichols films and shows might you watch if you want to see all of Hollywood and Broadway is mourning his loss and celebrating his life? Here’s a brief list to whet your appetite for one of the great directors, in film, the theater and television, to have ever plied his trade.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

You can’t do much better than Taylor and Burton in one of the most incendiary films released by a major studio up to that point. Burton and Taylor played the married couple George and Martha; the former’s an alcoholic college professor, the latter’s got an explosive temper with a weaponized wit. This is the viper pit their dinner guests Nick and Honey enter—based on Edward Albee’s play, Nichols first attempt at directing was an astonishing success.

The Graduate (1967)

Just his second film as director, Nichols made then what was one of the most gutsy casting decisions in film history; the short, Jewish, 30-year old unknow New York stage actor Dustin Hoffman for the role of 21-year old, Southern Californian track star Benjamin Braddock. As Hoffman told The New Yorker in 2000, “There is no piece of casting in the 20th century that I know of that is more courageous than putting me in that part.” Braddock sleeps with the wife of his father’s best friend, the finds himself falling in love her daughter. The film is a cultural touchstone.

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

Written by Jules Feiffer, Carnal Knowledge is a caustically hilarious story about the 25-year sexual education of college roommates Jonathan (Jack Nicholson) an Sandy (Art Garfunkle). Through their differing approaches to sexual and romantic fulfillment, Jonathan and Sandy’s story is an unflinching look at how you really just can’t have it all. Co-starring Candice Bergen, Ann-Margaret and Carol Kane, Nichols’ film is a fearless portrayal of men and their mistakes.

Heartburn (1986)

Nichols collaborated with the late, great Nora Ephron in 1983 for Silkwood, starring Meryl Streep, and teamed up with her again for Heartburn, based on Ephron’s novel of a marriage in trouble (widely believed to be a roman á clef about her marriage to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. Streep plays food critic Rachel, married to Jack Nicholson’s columnist Mark, in one of Nichols’ many barbed, caustic looks inside a crumbling relationship. Heartburn also features the film debut of Kevin Spacey, see if you can spot him.

Primary Colors (1998)

Back with his longtime collaborator, the spectacular Elaine May, adapted the script from the 1996 bestseller that fictionalized Bill Clinton’s first presidential run (written by “Anonymous,” also known as Joe Klein), Nichols’ film follows Governor Stanton (John Travolta) as he charms, smarms and seduces his way across America. With an outstanding supporting cast, including Emma Thompson as his smart, shrewd wife and Billy Bob Thornton as his James Carville-esque hillbilly tactician, Nichols gets whip smart performances across the board.

Angels in America (HBO, 2003)

When Tony Kushner adapted his powerful political epic about the AIDS crisis in the mid-80s, he turned to Nichols to direct the mini-series, and the results was truly transformative television. Nichols way with actors, in this case actors playing multiple roles, turned what seemed like an impossible adaptation into a triumph, with performances from Al Pacino (one of the few headline actors with a single part, playing powerful, closeted, AIDS-stricken attorney Roy Cohn), Meryl Streep (she played four parts), Emma Thompson (three parts) and Jeffrey Wright (four parts) that were nothing short of phenomenal.

Closer (2004)

Adapting Patrick Marber’s play about two couples who becoming too close for comfort, Nichols gets one of the better caveman performances of the decade out of Clive Owen (he calls himself one in the film, and he truly is), with Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman and Jude Law all becoming hopelessly intertwined.

Of course, we could have chosen an entirely different list, and merely wanted to dip into every decade and mix up the genres. We left out classics like Silkwood,  Working Girl and Birdcage, and one personal favorite from childhood, Biloxi Blues (For Christopher Walken’s performance alone is worth watching this), and Charlie Wilson’s War (Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene, per usual).

And, in a final piece of good news for soon-to-be Nichols fans (I’m talking to you, anyone under 30), former theater critic and current editor-at-large for New York Magazine Frank Rich wrote yesterday that a cut has just been finished on a documentary about Nichols he produced for HBO. Rich was hoping to show it to Nichols after Thanksgiving, along with Jack O’Brien (a close friend of Nichols and a director himself) and the documentary director Doug McGrath. “We were eager for him to see it most of all because he’d have countless ideas about how to improve it,” Rich wrote. “In that, at least, we were like everyone who came before us — delirious over the prospect of being directed by Mike Nichols.”

Featured Image: Academy Award© winning director Mike Nichols participated in a panel discussion following a screening of the restored print of his 1967 film “The Graduate”, at The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences March 6, 2005. Courtesy The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

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A Woman Goes Into the Wild http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/a-woman-goes-into-the-wild/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/a-woman-goes-into-the-wild/#comments Thu, 20 Nov 2014 15:30:47 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12949 In the search for more female lead roles in Hollywood, Reese Witherspoon provides a guide map of how to do it—all while garnering Oscar buzz. In Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallée and Academy Award nominated screenwriter Nick Hornby bring the true-life ... Read More

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In the search for more female lead roles in Hollywood, Reese Witherspoon provides a guide map of how to do it—all while garnering Oscar buzz. In Wild, director Jean-Marc Vallée and Academy Award nominated screenwriter Nick Hornby bring the true-life story of Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100 mile hike (in truth, it was more than double that with all the switch-backs) along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to through a raw performance by Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon. The film, which could put Witherspoon’s name back in the pool once again for an Academy Award nomination, takes viewers on the journey of a woman coming to terms with her past, including the death of her mother and her drug addiction, while struggling to change the course of her future. But it’s Witherspoon’s role both behind the scenes and in front of the camera that may be changing the course for women in films.

Epic wilderness sagas have been a part of our cinematic DNA for years. The one key component in that DNA has remained the same over time: a leading man. From the 1912 silent film The Conquest Of The Pole, to Robert Redford 1972’s Jeremiah Johnson, it has always been man versus nature, and in the stories of people plunging into the wild, be it the wilderness or the ocean, the tales have long traced the excursions of men and only men. Throw in Emile Hirsch in Into the Wild, James Franco in 127 Hours and Redford again in last year’s All is Lost and you can appreciate how infrequently we find a woman lost, stuck, or hopelessly swallowed up by the deep.

For Witherspoon, the task to break this particular pattern—and with force—was something that simply had to be done. In a behind-the-scenes look at Wild, Witherspoon, who also produced the film with her producing partner Bruna Papandrea, shared, “I was seeing a deficit in the market place of strong female roles and women as the lead in films, and I realized if I wasn’t going to start creating some of these opportunities for myself and other women, no one was going to do it.”

Thus began the work for Witherspoon, starting with optioning the rights to Strayed’s best selling memoir. For Strayed, her journey began back in 1995 with the passing of her mother Bobbi, played by Lauren Dern in the film, left her in need of a life change. With years of heroin addiction and a destroyed marriage behind her, Strayed set out to hike 1,100 miles from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Northwest via the PCT in search of a better self. In an adventure that helped give her a second chance at life, Strayed explains, “It was a huge physical undertaking for me to hike the PCT for 94 days, but it was also very much a spiritual journey. I turned to the trail as many people turn to the wilderness — at a time when I felt lost and desperate, when I was in a place where I didn’t know how to move forward.”

With literally one step after the next, Strayed emerged from the trek and began writing what would become a best selling novel, which was released in 2012. Shortly after that, she was contacted by Witherspoon to discuss adapting her book into a film. “I read the first half of the book on a plane and I was just in tears,” Witherspoon says. It was soon after that screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Jean-Marc Vallée, who also directed last year’s Dallas Buyers Club, came on board to capture the treacherous terrain of both the PCT and Strayed’s interior life.

Through a series of flashbacks, the audience is introduced to people in Strayed’s life, including her free spirit mother Bobbi, (Dern), her husband Paul, played by Thomas Sadoski, and hometown friend Aimee (Gaby Hoffmann). Dern’s power is such that all her improvised scenes made it into the film to help fully depict the strong mother-daughter bond the two shared, and how disorienting it was for Strayed once her mother was gone. On the trail Strayed meets a series of individuals who briefly enter her life as mirrors to help her reflect on her trip thus far.

Lauren Dern plays Bobbi, Strayed's fierce, independent mother. Courtesy Fox Searchlight

Lauren Dern plays Bobbi, Strayed’s fierce, independent mother. Courtesy Fox Searchlight

But perhaps the most important character, save Witherspoon, is the wild itself, specifically the Pacific Crest Trail where Vallée and cinematographer Yves Bélanger shot parts of the film to recreate Strayed’s quest. While the filmmakers were able to duplicate some of the locations Strayed traversed elsewhere, Other places like Crater Lake and Bridge of The Gods, were locations that, as executive producer Nathan Ross said, “You [couldn’t] double.”

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Director Jean-Marc Vallée brought his hand-held, ambient-light-only ethos to ‘Wild’ to great effect. Courtesy Fox Searchlight

To show Witherspoon’s petite figure juxtaposed against nature’s vast landscape, Vallée and Bélanger used their minimalist cinematic style of hand-held digital cameras and only natural light to make the hike feel as real as possible. With similar techniques used on the set of Dallas Buyers Club, like fluid 360 degree camera movement, Strayed noted how real the film started to become: “When we shot the scene where Reese falls to her knees and cries, I was standing behind the monitors watching her do four or five takes and I cried with her every time,” said the writer. “It was such a strange thing because I knew exactly who she was in that moment because she was me – but, at the same time, she was also Reese in her own moment where the universe has brought her to her knees.”

Another element that Vallée kept true to Strayed’s trip was the lack of music. Strayed didn’t listen to any music while hiking in 1995 and the film aimed to keep it that way. Used only minimally to fade into flashbacks and then again during the flashbacks themselves, the silence of Wild allowed Strayed’s internal thoughts—done in voiceover—to accompany her.

Strayed’s journey was far from Eat, Pray, Love and far more Hike, Hurt, Cry. With Witherspoon taking the role by force, Wild is an extremely powerful tale of love, loss, and coming to terms with oneself. As the second book Witherspoon has optioned the rights too—the first was Gone Girl—we can only hope she continues to carve out a path for herself, and strong roles for strong women, as Strayed did for herself when she took her first step on that trail almost ten years ago.

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Music for the Mind: Composer Alexandre Desplat on The Imitation Game http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/music-for-the-mind-composer-alexandre-desplat-on-the-imitation-game/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/music-for-the-mind-composer-alexandre-desplat-on-the-imitation-game/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 14:57:09 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12936 Composer Alexandre Desplat has been nominated for six Academy Awards, starting with his work on The Queen in 2006. He bookended his take on the music beneath royal narratives with his nomination for The King’s Speech in 2010. He’s also the ... Read More

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Composer Alexandre Desplat has been nominated for six Academy Awards, starting with his work on The Queen in 2006. He bookended his take on the music beneath royal narratives with his nomination for The King’s Speech in 2010. He’s also the man behind the score for franchise blockbusters (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, The Twilight Saga: New Moon), international sagas (Zero Dark Thirty, Argo, for which he earned his sixth Oscar nom in 2012) and some forty-plus other films in his long, acclaimed career.

This year alone Desplat has worked on five major films; George Clooney’s The Monuments Men, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken and Mortem Tyldum’s The Imitation Game.

It’s the latter film we spoke to Desplat about, which covers mathematician and logistician Alan Turing’s efforts, along with an assembled team of linguists, a chess master, intelligence officers and scholars to break the German’s seemingly unbreakable Enigma code during World War II. The Imitation Game also covers an ealry relationship that shaped Turing forever, and what happened to Turing after the war; namely, the way in which his own government mistreated this war hero who was partly responsible for saving the lives of millions of people.

Played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch, the film offers up both a largley unknown history of our most cinematically portrayed war and a performance that captures the brilliance, and prickliness, of a vastly misunderstood genius. Turing wasn’t just a genius under enormous pressure at the very worst part of the war; he was also a gay man living in a country that treated them little different then they did during Oscar Wilde’s days. There are three major time periods represented in the film, and they are not laid out chronologically; we start off with Turing’s interview at Bletchley Park (the United Kingdom’s headquarters for their Government Code and Cypher School, where they worked night and day to crack the secret communications of the Axis Powers), and then the film travels back and forth between the war, his dealings with the police after the war, and his school days, where he meets his first love, a sweet, protective boy named Christopher.

(L-R) Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Allen Leech star in THE IMITATION GAME.

(L-R) Keira Knightley, Matthew Beard, Matthew Goode, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Allen Leech. Courtesy Weinstein Co.

Desplat was approached a few weeks before production ended and asked to provide a score that would thread itself through these three disparate time periods in Turing’s life. “There’s just so many layers of the storyline,” he says, “it’s extremely nuanced, you follow this character on several journeys; of course there’s the war, the Enigma code, but there’s also the trauma that follows the war, and, there’s a complex structure with flashbacks and flash forwards, so the music really needed to focus on him and keep all these elements within one theme.”

One of the pitfalls of making a film about a genius is short of throwing a bunch of equations up on the screen and clogging your film with scenes of someone madly solving them on huge blackboards, it’s tough to bring across brilliance. We’re talking about Einstein-level genius here, the stuff of A Beautiful Mind and, just this year, The Theory of Everything. Filmmakers must rely on other methods for showcasing this level of intellect outside of just performance and special effects. This can be through production design, like Maria Djurkovic’s work on the electro-mechincal code-breaking machine Turing builds to break the Enigma code; it can be shown through the sequencing of scenes through the work of editor Billy Goldenberg; or, through something more emotional and ephemeral, like Desplat’s score.

“I wanted to bring out that extremely brilliant, genius brain of Turing’s, when he’s scribbling or doing equations, but not talking, and to do that we used a mix of orchestra and computerized sequences of channels,” Desplat says. “I think this mix captures his heroism and what he achieved.” Desplat went on to say that not only did Turing help break the Enigma code, he essentially invented the computer in the process.

Desplat recorded with the London Symphony, and his opening score introduces the viewer into the world of The Imitation Game in a series of descending, rippling keyboard notes that reappear throughout the film.

In tracks like “Enigma,” Desplat and his players create sounds that call to mind the pinging of sonar, which speaks to the Enigma code’s ability to keep German U-Boats hidden beneath the waves, unharassed as they sent warships and transport vessels alike to the bottom of the sea.

A track entitled “Crossword” (crossword puzzles factor crucially into the film), is a complex arrangement of instruments and sound meant to evoke Turing’s mind.

Keira Knightley is Joan Clarke, a math and code whiz who earns her way onto Turing's team by finishing this crossword puzzle in 6 minutes flat. Turing could only manage 8. Courtesy The Weinstein Co.

Keira Knightley is Joan Clarke, a math and code whiz who earns her way onto Turing’s team by finishing this crossword puzzle in 6 minutes flat. Turing could only manage 8. Courtesy The Weinstein Co.

Turing’s machine, named Christopher in the film (after that first childhood love we see flashbacks of throughout the film), based on the real life Bombe, was a musical instrument itself; upon its completion, the machine hums and pounds with an almost martial percussive beat. “When I heard the sound from the wheels turning, we added this electronic sound on top of that pounding sound,” Desplat says. “We wanted to bring excitement and suspense and danger and expectation to that sound, as it’s a very important moment in the film.”

When asked how he approached The Imitation Game versus another of his recent films about international intrigue, Argo, Desplat said that although the two share this theme of people in peril needing to be saved, Turing’s story was on a much more epic scale, yet the film really was centered on a single individual and his journey. “The Imitation Game is about saving millions of people during the war, but I had to focus on him, so the score is very intimate and follows his emotions, his journey,” he says. “The orchestra can play the larger drama of the story, which is the war, but the score really had to be focused on something very intimate within Benedict’s character. You have a man whose plugged into this crazy period.” Quite literally, in fact.

Some scores will feature a signature instrument for a character, subliminally signaling to the audience his arrival in a scene. For The Imitation Game, Turing is in just about every single scene, and Desplat steered away from giving him his own specific theme. “The only theme would be the relationship between Alan and Christopher when they’re children, the rest of the film, and the main theme itself, is about is Alan Turing,” Desplat says.

We tried to get a little scoop on Desplat’s next World War II film, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. “It’s completely different from The Imitation Game, a totally different energy,” he says. “We follow the story of the survivor [Louis Zamperini, played by Jack O’Connell], and the music is just going to give us a sense of the extraordinary power that he has as a man to survive these atrocities, these horrible wounds and horrible moments, and how he always manages to stand up. The music plays with very a powerful orchestra, without overwhelming the story. It’s a very spiritual quest and the music follows that.”

As for Cumberbatch’s Alan Turing, Desplat says, “He is the story. The war is almost a pretext to tell his story, as it encompasses what he’s doing. The way he puts his whole self into the world, how he deals with it, that’s the film.”

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Ava DuVernay’s Selma set to Stun Audiences on Christmas Day http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/ava-duvernays-selma/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/ava-duvernays-selma/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 15:30:32 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12919 Three major films about three tumultuous periods of American history will hit select theaters on Christmas Day. That two of the three films are directed by women is something to be excited about, and that one of those women is a ... Read More

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Three major films about three tumultuous periods of American history will hit select theaters on Christmas Day. That two of the three films are directed by women is something to be excited about, and that one of those women is a woman of color, and that her film is covers one of the most crucial three months in American history, marks this single day as one of the most significant of the entire year in film.

You’ve no doubt heard about Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken (covering the story of Olympian and American soldier Louis Zamperini’s imprisonment by the Japanese during World War II), and how it opens alongside of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (the story of Chris Kyle, the most prolific sniper in American history), two films already spoken about as possible Best Picture contenders. What might surprise is you they will very likely have competition from Ava DuVernay’s Selma, which follows Dr. Martin Luther King and his contemporaries in one of the most crucial periods of the civil rights movement, three months in 1965 that changed the course of American history.

Selma screened at AFI Fest, earning rapturous applause from the audience and reviews that have been uniform in their praise for a film that many filmmakers, for justifiable reasons, have shied away from making for the past fifty years. Scott Foundas of Variety writes that “DuVernay’s politically astute, psychologically acute MLK biopic makes the civil rights movement seem like only yesterday.” Stephen Farber of The Hollywood Reporter writes that “star and director triumph in this vibrant look at the civil rights movement.” From HitFix to The Wrap to IndieWire, Selma seems poised to make stars of its director and lead actor, David Oyelowo.

Starting out her film career as a publicist, DuVernay worked her way through the ranks, directing shorts, documentaries, and indie films, and now she seems ready to make the leap to bold director of major feature films by having had the courage to take on a film about a man and a movement that have been resistant to cinematic portrayals in the past (in fact, King has mainly served in peripheral roles as many writers and directors have shied away from tackling his iconic life – as Variety’s Foundas notes, the only King biopic ever attempted was the three-part 1978 TV mini series King). No one should be surprised if we have two women in the Best Director category at the Academy Awards; everyone should be thrilled.

“This project began and ended with David Oyelowo,” DuVernay said at the AFI Fest Q&A, moderated by none other than Alfre Woodard and speaking of her lead, the man who passionately advocated for the chance to play a role few people would have the courage to attempt. Oyelowo’s commitment to a project he had been thinking about for years galvanized not only DuVernay, but co-star and producer Oprah Winfrey as well. “He invited me to come on board the project,” DuVernay said, “this subject matter is nothing I’d ever thought about tackling. I’m more of a black indie hipster romance kind of gal, so trying to tackle Dr. King and deconstruct what that is, and think about what the civil rights movie genre is and has been, and why I haven’t maybe responded to it as I have other genres of films as a film lover, and how I would possibly try to make a film about that as someone who’s not usually interested in historical dramas…I don’t think I would have done it without David on board, I would have had too much fear around it.”

Left to right: David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King in SELMA, from Paramount Pictures and Pathé.

Left to right: David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King, Jr. and Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King in SELMA, from Paramount Pictures and Pathé.

The film centers on the Selma-to-Montgomery marches in 1965, where despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 which legally desegregating the South, Selma and places like it down South were still a dangerous place for black men and women. One of their most basic rights, the right to vote, was being denied by the white power structure in a variety of ways; outright intimidation, laws meant to keep black voter turnout low and attempts to make voter registration as difficult as possible. Alabama was run by the legendarily racist Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth), and it was into this maelstrom that King and his team entered.

“David is the reason I came on board, too,” Winfrey said. Winfrey not only was a producer, but plays hospice nurse Annie Lee Cooper, a woman who got drawn into King’s march. Oyelowo and Winfrey had previously worked on The Butler together, and he had told her that Selma had been a dream of his for some time, so he sent her an audition tape of himself playing King. “And I saw that tape and I said, ‘Yeah, I can see King in you, it’s not quite there, but I can see it’s on its way there. And I want to do whatever it is I can to help you get it there, so that’s what got me to say yes.’”

One part of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches that must have been extremely difficult to shoot was the bloody, game-changing confrontation between King’s marchers, led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and Hosea Williams, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Selma police, led by a Sheriff Clark, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge (for a brilliant account of this event, in all its horror, read Louis Menand’s “The Color of Law” in The New Yorker). The hideous attack by armed, gas-mask wearing police officers (some on horseback) on the unarmed, peaceful marchers was broadcast on television, forcing Americans far removed from both Selma and the struggle of black Americans to watch, right there in their living rooms, what the country’s racism really looked like. “That evening,” Menand writes, “forty-eight million viewers watching Judgment at Nuremburg on ABC had the movie interrupted for a fifteen-minute film of the attack. There was no voice-over. The only sounds were the thuds and clubs, reports of tear-gas canisters being fired, the rebel yells of Clark’s posse, and, the constant, hysterical screams of the victims.” Foundas describes the scene in the film for Variety as “an expert action setpiece in which every thud of a nightstick lands with a sickening force.”

The film also focuses on the political chess moves of King, LBJ (Tom Wilkinson) and George Wallace, as King and his allies plan another march and the rest of the country becomes much more invested in the outcome of what he, his team and the marchers. After the incident on the George Pettus Bridge, the eyes of the world seem to be on Selma.

Woodard brought up the fact that Olyweleo is an Englishmen with Nigerian roots, and asked where he connected with this huge moment in American history. “I’ve had the privilege to live on three continents as a black person. The first place was England, then it was back to the motherland, Nigeria, and now I’ve lived here for seven years. And the thing I learned living in Nigeria is exactly what Lorraine Toussaint says in the film, that we’re born of Kings. We are a people of deep pride, incredible culture and indescribable power. And unfortunately on the continents of both Europe and America, that has been denigrated over time. And I don’t think it’s any accident that somehow, this great man’s name was King. And the dots joined in that way for me, and very soon after my wife and I moved to this country, I was told, from above, that I would play this role, on the 24th of July, 2007. I couldn’t believe it, so I wrote it down, that’s how I know the date, and a process of my birth, my experiences, my faith, time and these incredible people lead me to this moment.”

DuVernay noted that there hasn’t been a feature film made from a studio about Dr. King’s life at all until Paramount backed this project, and she was careful to note that Selma isn’t about his whole story, but a slice of it. “We thought it was a great way to approach his epic story, his life, cradle to the grave, can’t be contained in two hours, so what we did was look at this incredible three months in his life where he led this campaign that changed the course of American history in Selma, Alabama. And I think it’s a great way to get inside a life that’s really too big for a two hour movie to hold. David’s an extraordinary actor and an exquisite human being, so that combination is a director’s dream. He is a very deeply rooted, you want an actor who can go really, really deep, he never does anything surface, it’s always layers and layers underneath, and for someone like Dr. King, an American icon and world leader, you need someone like that.”

Common plays James Bevel, an influential and outspoken leader amongst King’s contemporaries. “He was really a revolutionary amongst King’s team,” Common said at the screening, “he and his wife Diane Nash were like the rebels in the team. He wore this hat that looks like a kufi, so he stood out. I loved this specific story because you get to see that Martin Luther King was a part of a team, he was a representation of the people. So it’s not just that this one man did this by himself, but this one man was chosen as the voice and the face, and he had the heart and the spirit to do it, but there was so many people behind it, so many people who we don’t even remember their names, so many people who sacrificed.”

Tessa Thompson, who plays Diane Nash, said one reason she thinks the film will resonate is it covers the incredible hard fought right to vote for African Americans that it still being obstructed. “It was really important to tell that story, and I think by taking a smaller chunk you get to really look at that time as opposed to painting it in broad strokes. I think the Civil Rights movement is something we think we all know about, but this movie teaches us thing that we didn’t.” Thompson said of her director, “Ava is an incredible director, female or not, but I think because she is a woman, when thinking about telling this story she wanted to pay close attention to the women in this story and make sure that their voices were heard, and that you got a sense of the way in which women contributed to not just the Civil Rights movement, but to the fabric of America. Not that a man couldn’t have done that, but it was really great to see a woman, and a woman of color, do that.”

Featured image: Background left to right: Tessa Thompson plays Diane Nash, Omar Dorsey plays James Orange, Colman Domingo plays Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo plays Martin Luther King, Jr., André Holland plays Andrew Young, Corey Reynolds plays Rev. C.T. Vivian, and Lorraine Toussaint plays Amelia Boynton in SELMA, from Paramount Pictures and Pathé.

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Prepping You for Mockingjay – Part I http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/prepping-you-for-mockingjay-part-i/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/prepping-you-for-mockingjay-part-i/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:30:23 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12900 When it’s all said and done, Francis Lawrence will have directed three of the four films in the Hunger Games franchise. His task for the final two was not easy. As the filmmakers did with Harry Potter’s final book, Suzanne Collins’ third and final ... Read More

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When it’s all said and done, Francis Lawrence will have directed three of the four films in the Hunger Games franchise. His task for the final two was not easy. As the filmmakers did with Harry Potter’s final book, Suzanne Collins’ third and final book has been split into two films.

In the event that you have not been keeping up with news in Panem—the future America in which the Hunger Games films take place—several of the districts are now in a full-blown revolt as a result of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, as if you were unaware) once again finding a way out of the games and defying the Capital. So where are our ill-fated lovers Katniss and Peeta? What has become of Gale, our favorite and most passionate protector? And one doesn’t want to miss the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his powerful posthumous performance opposite new cast member Julianne Moore. To help catch you up, see below for where each character left off and what you can anticipate when Mockingjay—Part 1 lands in theaters on Friday, November 21.

 

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

Katniss is no longer playing nice. Courtesy Lionsgate.

Katniss is no longer playing nice. Courtesy Lionsgate.

In one of the last times we saw the ‘girl on fire,’ she was unconscious and being lifted out of the arena in a hovercraft. When she woke up, she was stunned to find her mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and fellow tribute Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) all aboard, where they explained she had been the pawn of a secret revolution to overthrow President Snow revolt against the Capital for years. Here Katniss has a bit of a meltdown (it’s understandable), so they drugged her and put her to sleep. She awakes on a hospital bed where her childhood friend from District 12, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) greets her and tells her their home of District 12 has been obliterated in an air raid. Rough news to get first thing when you wake up. Effectively turned into a refugee, the wrath of Katniss is born.

What’s next for Katniss?

Mockingjay—Part 1 has Katniss returning to the ruins of District 12. Her family now live in District 13, an subterranean enclave where her people are beginning to foment a rebellion against President Snow. Now that she’s properly furious, Katniss is willing to do whatever it takes to get Peeta back and take down the Capital for good. On reprising her role, Lawrence noted in the production notes that she “felt almost like an entirely different character because she is so stripped down and feeling so empty.” That new character is the Mockingjay—the public symbol of the revolution—as Katniss has agreed to star in a series of viral propaganda commercials that will air for all the rebels of Panem to see, to know they are not alone, to know that, finally, they have a voice in this fight.

 

Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)

Peeta's in a precarious position. Courtesy Lionsgate.

Peeta’s in a precarious position. Courtesy Lionsgate.

Katniss was always a top priority to save from the games; unfortunately the fellow tributes in on the plan were unable to save Peeta as well. His tracker was left in, and, as a result, Peeta was captured and taken as a prisoner by Snow.

What’s Next for Peeta?

Earlier this summer fans were treated to haunting posters that featured portraits of Peeta and fellow tribute Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) dressed in all white posed in statue-like form behind President Snow. The posters, which brought pandemonium to all loyal Hutcherson fans, were intended to symbol Panem’s strength despite the uprising. As prisoner, Peeta is forced to speak on camera in a series of interviews, where he warns Katniss to stop fighting against The Capital. It becomes clear these star-crossed lovers may be on different sides of the revolution.

 

Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth)

Will Gale finally be Katniss's main guy? Courtesy Lionsgate.

Will Gale finally be Katniss’s main guy? Courtesy Lionsgate.

Faithful friend and forever second in line for Ms. Everdeen’s heart, Gale didn’t have much of a presence in the first two films. What we did see of him—a dramatic torture scene with his shirt off—we were fond of (not the torture, his torso). What Gale shares with Katniss is their former home, and once District 12 is reduced to ash and rubble, Gale’s role in her life looks about ready to finally become much larger. 

What’s Next for Gale?

Prepare for lots more of him (perhaps shirtless! One can hope) in Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2. Gale’s gone underground, literally and figuratively, with the rest of District 13, and he’s officially Katniss’ partner-in-crime slash watchdog. On his character’s biggest transformation yet, Hemsworth explains, “Gale has reached the tipping point. He’s had enough as far as the Capitol’s abuse goes, so he’s not scared to stand up to it. He feels ready to go to war, in spite of the costs, to try to take down The Capitol.”

 

President Snow (Donald Sutherland)

President Snow will do whatever it takes to retain power. Courtesy Lionsgate.

President Snow will do whatever it takes to retain power. Courtesy Lionsgate.

At the start of Catching Fire, the conniving, cruel, snow-beard President of Panem made it clear to Katniss that, should she continue act out, he would make a lot more people than just her suffer. As the Mockingjay, Katniss has now made a direct enemy of President Snow, a proposition no one has survived yet.

What’s Next for President Snow?

With every Panem district in full rebellion, President Snow’s rule is being outright questioned and his ability to quell the unrest challenged. With Peeta as his prisoner, Snow knows he has one good card left to play in the game of taking down Katniss and snuffing out the revolution. In a league that includes Game of Thrones’ Charles Dance, there are few actors who command the screen as powerfully as Donald Sutherland, who brings gravitas, intelligence, and cruelty to a role he told GQ last month he petitioned for with a letter after reading the script. “The role of the president had maybe a line in the script. Maybe two. Didn’t make any difference,” Sutherland said. “I thought it was an incredibly important film, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

 

Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman)

Hoffman elevated every role, including Plutarch, Panem's hyper-intelligent revolutionary. Courtesy Lionsgate.

Hoffman elevated every role, including Plutarch, Panem’s hyper-intelligent revolutionary. Courtesy Lionsgate.

Plutarch was Head Game Maker of the Quarter Quell, but as it was revealed in the final scene of Catching Fire, the former manipulator of all things death-match had been working undercover to gain inside access to President Snow and the games and help plot the rebellion. It turned out the Hunger Games were just a front for the real game Plutarch had been designing; a revolution. Who better to play him that Hoffman.  

What’s Next for Plutarch?

Stepping into the first part of his last on screen roles, Hoffman’s Plutarch character is now the brains behind Panem’s rebellion from District 13. Mockingjay—Part 1 is dedicated to the late actor, who passed away earlier in 2014. While he had finished reprising his role for Part 1 before his death, he still had a week left on the set of Part 2 (out in 2015). Plutarch’s journey from Catching Fire to Mockingjay is about finding himself and his true place in Panem. “Phil was so great, hitting both on Plutarch’s sense of humor and his political maneuvering,” Francis said in the production notes. As the voice of reason between Katniss and President Coin (Julianne Moore), Hoffman’s indelible screen presence, truly one of a kind, stays with you long after the credits roll. He will be sorely missed.

 

[Introducing] President Coin (Julianne Moore)

Is Coin the future of Panem?  Courtesy Lionsgate.

Is Coin the future of Panem? Courtesy Lionsgate.

Julianne Moore joins the star-filled cast as District 13’s authoritarian leader President Coin. In tandem with Plutarch, Coin works to prepare Katniss for war against the Capital and readies the people of District 13 for a national revolution. While Katniss’s relationship with Coin may be a rocky one at first, Lawrence shares that she was more than excited to have Moore join the team. “When I heard she was going to play Coin, it was the most exciting, unbelievable news in the world. I think Julianne is one of the greatest actresses of all time, just absolutely phenomenal.”

You’re all caught up, now you can go join the rebellion.

President Snow's Official Portrait

President Snow’s Official Portrait

 

 

 

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Director Michelle MacLaren’s a Wonder Woman http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/director-michelle-maclarens-a-wonder-woman-herself/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/director-michelle-maclarens-a-wonder-woman-herself/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 15:30:48 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12886 It’s time to get excited about a comic-book movie that’s not directed by Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon, that doesn’t star or co-star or have a cameo by Robert Downey Jr., and that’s not centered on a brooding dude, or ... Read More

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It’s time to get excited about a comic-book movie that’s not directed by Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon, that doesn’t star or co-star or have a cameo by Robert Downey Jr., and that’s not centered on a brooding dude, or a rich, conflicted dude, or a bunch of dudes with various powers. We’re talking about a film that’s poised to make a household name of not one woman but two. Your excitement will be warranted, as it looks increasingly likely that the prolific, extremely talented director Michelle MacLaren, the woman behind some of the most relentlessly exciting television episodes of the decade, will be directing Gal Galdot in Wonder Woman. And scene.

Film geeks and TV nerds can join me in saying right on, because MacLaren is one of the best in the business at directing action. She brings to mind another woman who is one of the finest directors of action on the planet, Kathryn Bigelow, as both of them have an incredible way of making chaos coherent. MacLaren’s ability to stage and direct complicated, breathtaking sequences has been evident to television people for years. So if the news that broke yesterday holds, and MacLaren is indeed Warner Bros. choice, Wonder Woman just became an even more intriguing project than it already was.

So who exactly is MacLaren and what has she done? She’s a Canadian television director and producer with a ton of top-notch credits to her name, including three of the most compulsively exciting shows of the decade; Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. Recently, she’s won back-to-back Emmys for her work on Breaking Bad, in 2013 and 2014, directed an episode of the upcoming Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul (starring Bob Odenkirk as the lovably loathsome Saul Goodman), and also pitched in to direct an episode of HBO’s The Leftovers this past season. She’s been busy.

Let’s take a quick look at some of her past work.

Breaking Bad

MacLaren got connected to Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan after making her directorial debut on the season 9 episode of The X-Files, “John Doe,” which Gilligan wrote.

MacLaren directed eleven episodes and produced 31 (not including those she directed). She directed the powerful season five mid-season finale, “Gliding All Over,” written by Moira Walley-Beckett, which had Walter White in full Michael Corleone mode, ordering the assassination of ten inmates in three different prisons in a montage that one could argue pays gleeful homage to The Godfather II’s famous baptism by fire montage. You know the scene, the one where Michael stands there as his sister Connie’s son is being baptized while, simultaneously, we watch the murders he ordered of the heads of the five families. Naturally, the megalomaniacal Walter White outdoes him, needing to rid the world of ten men who know his identity. Luckily for us, Walter had MacLaren as his director, so the sequence of the murders made for irresistibly gruesome television.

Or take the exquisite tension she builds in the episode “To’hajilee,” the thirteenth episode of the final season. Shot (with permission) on Navajo land, “To’hajilee” is one of the most thrilling episodes of any show in recent memory. It pits neo-Nazi Jack and his gang against Hank and his partner Gomez in a massive shootout, which included exploding squibs, hundreds of actors, crew and moving parts that all cohered into a breathtaking hour of television.

The Walking Dead

RIck Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) dispatches a walker in an episode directed by Michelle MacLaren. Courtesy AMC.

RIck Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) dispatches a walker in an episode directed by Michelle MacLaren. Courtesy AMC.

MacLaren directed three episodes of the series, beginning with just the second episode of the series (and one of the best episodes of the show, period), “Guts.” Series protagonist Rick Grimes and series regular Glenn are trapped inside a department store surrounded by walkers and  are in desperate need to figure a way out. MacLaren managed to fit several of the series most iconic images into this one episode. One was the perfectly framed, utterly simple shot of Rick taking an ax to a walker’s head in the photo above. The second was Rick and Glen figuring out that the only way they’re going to survive the herd of walkers was by smearing guts all over themselves (hence the title), as well as dangle severed limbs on their bodies, so they can pass through the walkers unnoticed.

Rick and Glenn (Steven Yeun) go unnoticed by walkers thanks to the guts and limbs covering their body. Courtesy AMC.

Rick and Glenn (Steven Yeun) go unnoticed by walkers thanks to the guts and limbs covering their body. Courtesy AMC.

Game of Thrones

MacLaren has directed four episodes of GOT, and two in particular, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” in season three and “First of his Name” in season four included action sequences that stand out in a show filled with them.

In “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” MacLaren filmed a set piece that included an actual live bear. Brienne’s been thrown into a pit where she has to fight a massive bear with nothing but a wooden sword while being jeered and mocked from above by the crowd. Luckily, Jamie Lannister has come back to Harrenhal, having suffered from an attack of conscience (something new for him) for having left her, and jumps down into the pit and helps her fight off the bear and escape. The sequence is thrilling.

In “First of his Name,” MacLaren films the spectacularly gruesome demise of the psychopath Karl, a character she so memorably framed in another of her episodes, “Oathkeeper,” drinking blood from the skull of his former commander, Jeor Mormont. Jon Snow has ridden into Kraster’s camp and faces off against Karl in single combat. Karl’s gains the upper hand, and is about do Jon in when one of Craster’s wives, Sissy, stabs him from behind. When Karl swings around to dispatch her, GOT fans were treated with one of the most memorable deaths in the whole show; Jon gets to his feet and drives his sword, Longclaw, through the back of Karl’s skull and right through his mouth.

Now imagine what MacLaren will be able to do on a grander scale with Gal Godot has her muse? She won’t be asked to shock and awe us with gore, like she’s done on TV, but will put her uncanny knack for filming jaw-dropping action to use on the big screen.
Get excited.
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Top Flight Stunt & Effects Team Jacks Up Horrible Bosses 2 http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/top-flight-stunt-effects-team-jacks-up-horrible-bosses-2/ http://www.thecredits.org/2014/11/top-flight-stunt-effects-team-jacks-up-horrible-bosses-2/#comments Thu, 13 Nov 2014 15:30:01 +0000 http://www.thecredits.org/?p=12861 Horrible Bosses 2 is both a comedy and an action movie; its’ protagonists spectacularly idiotic schemes lead to all manner of mayhem. The first Horrible Bosses, bowing in 2011, was a hit, follwing a rich cinematic tradition of pitting hopelessly maligned employees against their ... Read More

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Horrible Bosses 2 is both a comedy and an action movie; its’ protagonists spectacularly idiotic schemes lead to all manner of mayhem. The first Horrible Bosses, bowing in 2011, was a hit, follwing a rich cinematic tradition of pitting hopelessly maligned employees against their superiors. Some of the more memorable horrible bosses in film history include Meryl Streep’s humiliator-in-chief Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, Gary Cole’s all to real turn as supervisor Bill Lumbergh in Office Space, and Alec Baldwin’s single, film-stealing scene as Blake, a sales “motivator,” in Glengary Glen Ross. What the Horrible Bosses writers offered it’s battered protagonists, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) was the one option so many put-upon characters have dreamed of but few have dared to try; actually attempting to carry out their wish-fulfillment fantasy of killing their tormentors. Spoiler alert; they fail.

(Editor’s note: for a pitch black ‘bad boss’ movie, check out 1994’s Swimming With Sharksstarring Kevin Spacey as Buddy Ackerman, the movie executive from hell.)

Here's a bad idea in a box. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Here’s a bad idea in a box. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

In Horrible Bosses 2, directed and co-written by Sean Anders, the boys are back and ready to take a legal, credible shot at working for themselves. They’ve got a dream in the form of a fantastically stupid product called ‘The Shower Buddy’, which aims to act as a kind of car wash for a person. The apparatus is made up of tubes and containers that fits over a person’s body, dispensing water, soap and shampoo so they don’t have do anything themselves. The Shower Buddy was conceived of by writing partners John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who hit upon the idea of coming up with a product that simplifies a process that’s already insanely simple.

In the world of the film, The Shower Buddy is a hot commodity, attracting a slick investor (Christoph Waltz) and his lunatic son (Chris Pine) who are just about to make Nick, Dale and Kurt’s lives infinitely richer and more rewarding. Naturally this can’t happen or there’s no movie, and the lengths the three will go to win back their dream of financial stability and self-rule required a team of some of the best stunt, special and visual effects professionals in the business. There’s no face that can’t get punched, no home or business that can’t be broken into, no individual who can’t be forcibly shoved into the trunk of a car, and, most spectacularly, no amount of vehicular carnage (including smashed cop cruisers, cars launching off bridges, a mishap with a train) that they won’t engage in to see their dreams become a reality. As insane as their schemes are, who can’t relate to the franchise’s core message; answering to other people sucks.

You know something's wrong when you can't even spell the name of the crime right. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

You know something’s wrong when you can’t even spell the name of the crime right. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures.

Now, about that chase scene; it involved a synthesis of stunts, practical effects and green screen. To make this work, the filmmaking team turned to the expertise of several key members, including special effects supervisor Jeremy Hays, stunt coordinator Thomas Robinson Harper, visual effects supervisor Bruce Jones, and camera car driver, Mike Majesky.

Harper knows a thing or two about complex chase sequences; he helped coordinate the bonkers highway mayhem in The Matrix Reloaded.

In order to really sell physical comedy, a man of Harper’s abilities is essential; real stunts pay off for much bigger laughs than ones fabricated on a computer. “For a physical comedy like this, it’s important to do things as real as possible because the comedy’s more impactful,” Harper says in the production notes. “You know what they say, it’s all funny until somebody loses an eye…and then it’s hilarious.”

Part of the scene’s conceit is that they guys are driving the wrong way in traffic, something Harper says is actually much more dangerous than doing a 70 mile-per-hour cannon roll flip. It took around 18 stunt people and camera car driver Majesky in order to pull this off.

Jamie Foxx, who returns as “MF” Jones, drives a vintage Ranchero in the film. The crew actually had three of them, each of which they had to completely overhaul. Harper’s team put in new tires, brakes and shocks. They also did some nifty work on the gears so that the stunt drivers could manipulate the cars in a way that would never be possible in a normal arrangement. By moving the gears into the rear, and creating a lower gear called a positive traction, Harper’s crew made it so both rear wheels turn at the same time, enabling the stunt driver to slide the car. Harper also had a hand-operated turning brake installed, complete with a master cylinder that goes to the rear brakes and locks up both rear wheels to increase the slide.

In order to protect his stunt drivers, Harper had bolts put into the floor to secure the seatbelts, and had them in state-of the-art harnesses. Large foam blocks were backed into the car’s undercarriage to absorb the punishment of repeatedly slamming into the pavement.

In order to make it look as if Jamie Foxx, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudekis were the ones driving, careening, skidding, sliding and launching themselves into the air, visual effects supervisor Bruce Jones combined the stunt footage with 360-degree background plates to the actors’ performances in a mock-vehicle on a green-screen stage. That mock car was fully gimbaled (with a set of air bags, just in case), so when they simulated banking hard to the left or right, they could drop the car quickly and the actors would cram together as if they really were flying around corners at breakneck speed.

They also had the actors in the car when it was held almost 30 feet off the ground.

“We were, I don’t know, maybe 25 or 30 feet in the air in this car, and a guy kind of buzzes over on a crane and says, ‘We’re gonna tip the car 90 degrees,’ and buzzes away,” Charlie Day said in the press notes. “Then they called action and the car just tipped over and, luckily it worked and we’re all still here but that could have been it. That could have been the end.”

The special effects supervisor had put a board where they could put their feet for support while the car was tipped by a crane, but because they were unaware of it they really felt as if they were falling over, adding credible terror to their performance. That’s movie magic right there.

Featured image: Charlie Day, Jason Bateman and Jason Sudekis star in Horrible Bosses 2. Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures. 

Horrible Bosses 2 comes out on November 26. 

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