Interview: Robert Zemeckis talks ‘Flight’

Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on the set of Flight

(L to R) Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington on the set of ‘Flight’, from Paramount Pictures. © 2012 Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Robert Zuckerman. All Rights Reserved.

This interview was originally posted on Criticize This!

From the Back to the Future trilogy to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, Robert Zemeckis is one of the most visionary and influential filmmakers of the last 30 years. He’s crafted numerous memorable characters and created pop culture phenomenons, and is up there with the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas for defining an entire generation through his filmography.

Always on the cutting edge of technology, Zemeckis took a few years off from making live action films in order to focus on motion capture, a technique that allows filmmakers to direct real actors as their movements are being captured and animated. The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol all used this method to mix reviews, with most critics complaining the characters appeared hollow.

Returning to live action with Flight, starring Denzel Washington as a pilot with a drug and alcohol problem being blamed for a horrific plane crash, Zemeckis makes it known he has not lost his touch and proves once again what a great director he is. It’s intense and exciting, and if you weren’t scared of flying before, you will be after.

Criticize This! spoke with Zemeckis about the film, what his views on remakes are, and where he sees Hollywood going in the future. Read our Q&A below.

Flight is an R rated thriller aimed at adults, something of a rarity these days. Were you influenced by films of the ‘60s and ‘70s when setting out to make it?

They don’t make movies like this anymore. They just don’t. I was influenced by everything.  I watched a lot of movies that were made before I was born. Once in awhile I’ll find myself designing a shot and I’ll be able to say “This is like that scene that Coppola did in The Godfather.” But as far as finding some sort of watershed movie as a style, I can’t put my finger on that.

For the last few years you’ve been working solely in animation and motion capture. Why back to live action for Flight?

I never swore off live action, but I do love the digital cinema. I think we’re in this digital stew and I think at some point it will gel into moving images and they’re not going to be categorized anymore, it will all be virtual. But right now everyone tries to keep everything separate. It was the screenplay which I thought was magnificent and it shouldn’t be a digital movie, it should be live action.

What made you cast Denzel in this role?

You can’t not watch Denzel. He has that great gravitas. Anything he plays in  you can’t take your eyes off him. You like him and you want to like him. He’s charming.

How much training did Denzel go through to get the pilot part down?

I don’t know how many hours he spent in a simulator. He wanted to know where all the controls are. You have to know that to perform. The hardest thing for any actor doing a pilot is the jargon. When an actor works, they present the line because they understand its meaning in the scene and when you’re talking in airplane jargon… it’s like doing a scene phonetically without understanding what you’re saying. And then talking jargon on the radio and then to the co-pilot, that’s much harder than speaking with a whole lot of people who are speaking English.

The plane crashes in Flight and Castaway are both devastatingly real. As a pilot yourself, does making these scenes ever affect you?

The pilot part keeps it from being hokey. You know what the guys on the radio are supposed to sound like and you know where the controls are and what they do. As in any action sequence, you have to give it a mini story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, but we have technical advisors. We would write the scenes and have people debunk them, tell us why this or that wouldn’t work. In this case, if you invert the airplane it will fly but the engines won’t last. The engines will burn up, put that in the movie. There is just a lot of immersion and you get yourself a lot of fodder for dinner conversation.

Flight deals a lot with morality and trust. Did you and the cast discuss that side of the film often?

Endlessly. The whole movie is about morality. That’s what attracted me to it. Every single character and incident has moral ambiguity, yet it’s dramatic. Conventional wisdom says if the villain’s not wearing a black hat and the hero isn’t wearing a white hat, there can’t be drama. You have to know who the good guys are. This obviously flies in the face of that. It worked on those levels. All the characters are broken and the most fascinating character is the Don Cheadle character who’s trying to get Denzel off the charges. You could write a whole dissertation on that. It’s kind of terrifying.

Your filmography has covered a lot of ground. Are you easily bored and Is there a genre you have yet to work in?

Restless might be the right word [laughs]. I haven’t done a musical. I think I would be bored doing the same type of film over and over. I guess I don’t want to keep doing the same type of film.

Any young filmmakers interest you?

There are a couple guys. Here’s what I’m waiting for though. I’m waiting for someone to redefine the art form. I’m looking for the guy out there — hopefully they’re out there — who is going to say “This is what we have to do now”. I don’t like the idea that the old guys are still making the movies.

When do you think the art form was last redefined?

The ‘70s. That’s when there was an old guard and all of a sudden some young guys came along and that’s what I grew up on. And the films were all good. We need another golden era.

Back to the Future, Romancing the Stone, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? have all been mentioned as potential films getting remade. What are your thoughts on remakes and would you rather do a sequel than see one of your films remade?

The only remakes you should make are of really bad movies, and then you can make them better. Why would anyone remake The Godfather? That’s like the Psycho remake. How do you do that? How? I decided not to do Yellow Submarine because I don’t want to do a remake. It would have been great, that’s a movie that should have been made using digital cinema and 3-D. Audiences have a love-hate relationship with sequels. They want them but they don’t. I would do a sequel to Roger Rabbit though. I would use hand-drawn and cell animation so it would look the same. Not computers.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I’ve never signed on to do a movie while I’m still making a movie and I consider publicity to be still making the movie. I get the movie done, get it out and start seeing what the landscape looks like. That flies in the face of conventional Hollywood wisdom, which says you’re supposed to build bridges in front of you before they burn them behind you. But I don’t care. I’m afraid I would react to what I just did. I wouldn’t have a clear mind.

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity 4

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

By now most people know what to expect from the Paranormal Activity films, and Paranormal Activity 4 is more of the same. Lots of scenes of quiet, empty rooms, a few jump scares, and not much in way of a story. But this is more about the experience and just like the other films, PA4 is a lot of fun to watch, especially in a theatre full of screaming people.

Continuing from where the second part ended, Katie and her nephew Hunter are still missing. Cut to a suburban neighbourhood with a nice, normal family who have a weird boy lingering around their house. One thing leads to another and soon the weird boy is living with them. Then strange things begin to happen and… well, that’s about all I can say unless you want me to spoil it.

I really enjoyed where directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman took Paranormal Activity 3 and was hoping this one would stray a bit and offer up something unique. Unfortunately, it seems they just went through the same motions as the first and second film and kept to the formula. While I enjoyed this one more than the first, it’s not even close to the second or third in terms of being well executed or remotely believable (the cameras recording it all really make no sense this time around).

What is better about PA4 is the acting. Kathryn Newton, who plays the daughter of the new family being terrorized, is outstanding in her role. She’s funny, sells the fear she’s supposed to be feeling, and is all around great to watch. As her best friend, Matt Shively does a great job too and is equally stellar in his part. I hope to see more of them in normal roles down the road.

If you expect something different than the previous films, or analyze every detail of it, you’ll probably be disappointed with PA4. If you go in wanting to be scared and freaked out though, and let yourself get absorbed into it, the film delivers.

Rating: *** (out of 5 stars)

Movie Review: Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation

A scene from ‘Silent Hill: Revelation’. Courtesy eOne Films.

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

Silent Hill is one of the scariest, most cinematic video game series around and I was genuinely excited to see what Hollywood would unleash when they decided to adapt it into a movie back in 2006. For a film that should have been completely chilling, like the games, it failed on all fronts and bored more often than it scared. When the sequel was announced it looked more like the Silent Hill movie I wanted to see the first time around. Did I get what I wanted? Sadly, no. I got a 90-minute Marilyn Manson-esque music video that made my brain hurt.

Sharon or Heather or Alessa (or whatever they want to call the little girl from the first movie this time) is now a teen on the run with her dad. She escaped Silent Hill and the creepy people that live there will do whatever it takes to get her back. When her dad goes missing, she packs up and heads there to find him only to end up in a never ending nightmare of madness.

Michael J. Bassett is a hack director, but a good hack director. His last film, Soloman Kane, was quite a wild ride and showed a lot of promise. With Silent Hill: Revelation he tries hard to be shocking and pushes aside story, good performances, and anything else worth getting behind. It’s as if he set the movie up as a selection of bizarre scenes and stitched them together however he felt. That said, this is one of the most atmospheric films I’ve seen in some time and the set design, visual effects, and use of 3D is all very well done.

As far as acting goes, Adelaide Clemens does a half decent job in the lead and is very likable. Everyone else should be ashamed of themselves. Kit Harington appears to be channeling John Travolta in Grease with his terrible attempt and Sean Bean, Carrie-Anne Moss, Malcolm McDowell, and Deborah Kara Unger are all laughably horrendous. Why are they in this film in the first place? Just killing time, collecting a paycheque?

Silent Hill: Revelation might be cool to look at, but it’s overall annoying and doesn’t offer up anything truly horrific. Stay home and watch a real horror movie, like A Nightmare on Elm St., and save your money for something better than this junk.

Rating: ** (out of 5 stars)

Interview: Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short talk ‘Frankenweenie’

For over four decades Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short have made careers out of portraying zany characters on television, such as the classic Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, and in numerous film and theatre productions. Their latest achievement is in Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie where the duo lend their voices to a variety of characters, including the parents of the young protagonist, Victor, who brings his dog back to life and causes chaos in the small town they live.

Bamcat got to chat with Short and O’Hara during a recent press stop in Toronto to promote the film. Read our Q&A below.

Did the two of you get to play off each other when voicing Victor’s parents or did you record your parts solo?

MS: With the parents what I think Tim wanted to do was see how they turned out, because you never know. The father could have sounded like this [puts on a deeper voice] “Oh, hey come here, Victor.” Tim didn’t want that. He wanted something real and nurturing. He wanted very believable parents, and especially given our history and that we live only ten minutes away from each other, it was easier to get us at the same time, which can be hard since I’m out of town and she’s out of town a lot. But it was always important to Tim to do the parents together. The other characters you can record in a bubble.

Since you have worked together and have that familiarity, and have both worked with Tim in the past, do you think that made you more relaxed with your work on Frankenweenie?

CO: No, I don’t think you ever go and work with Tim Burton too relaxed. And I don’t mean that because it isn’t wonderful and fun, but because he’s so great that you want to be great for him. It’s really fun, actually. I think people think he’s going to be moody or brooding or something-or-other, and he’s really quick and loose and…

MS: Playful.

CO: Yeah, playful. He’s open to ideas, but he knows what he wants and I think you want to be on your game [for him].

Does the design of the characters influence how you voice them at all?

COH: Everything really comes into play. We see the illustrations first.

MS: You see the illustrations, and then you start into it. Again, Tim has an idea of what he imagines these characters to be like, but he doesn’t know the specifics of it. So with a character like Mr. Burgermeister [the mayor of Victor’s town who just happens to be Victor’s neighbour] you might spend a whole session just trying voices with different accents, different pitches. With that character we didn’t get it on the first day. I went into the second recording session with an idea to do a voice that sounded like someone who used to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day and then decided to quit about 25 years in. That’s the kind of detail that Tim loves, so that became part of that character, and, you know, just stuff like that. But ultimately he’s the arbiter of what a character is like. It’s all as he sees it.

Having worked with Tim earlier in his career, have either of found he’s changed now that he’s a big name director?

CO: When I was working on Beetlejuice and I said I was working with Tim Burton people would say, “Who? Sorry?” Then I would just tell them to see Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and they would know who I was talking about. Now, everyone is like, “YOU’RE IN FRANKENWEEINE!?” There’s an energy around it, and the energy around him has changed, but honestly, he’s the same guy. He’s got a great sense of humour. He loves to laugh and he finds the real people around him to just be scary as can be. They are the monsters. He still loves those human beings that really need love the most. He’s just a great guy, and he’s the same as he ever was.

MS: Yeah, Catherine worked with him at the beginning of his career, and when I worked with him in 1996 he was already “Tim Burton.” I knew about him through Bo Welch, Catherine’s husband who was also the production designer for many of his films, and I knew he was a good guy, but when I finally met with him to talk about doing Mars Attacks!, I was really not so much shocked, but surprised that he was such a loose and funny guy. That’s how he was, and when we were doing that film we had people like Jack Nicholson and Rod Steiger and it might have been harder, but it wasn’t. And I see him now and it’s the same as it was then.

CO: He’s as true to himself as someone can be, and it’s so rare to work with a director who gets to be true to himself. His original illustrations are the movie. It’s literally his vision.

Frankenweenie is a film that’s chock full of references to some of Tim’s favourite monster movies. Did either of you have any personal favourites growing up?

CO: We both love Frankenstein.

MS: Particularly Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. And I loved The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad growing up. I love Them! [Turns to Catherine] Have you seen that?

CO: No, I haven’t.

MS: Giant insects. They were ants, I think.

CO: Sort of a “Monster that attacked Tokyo” sort of thing?

MS: Kinda, but you know it was all because of that there bomb… Anyway, those are mine.

CO: And mine, too.

MS: [laughs] You don’t even know Them!

CO: No, I don’t, but I do have a really cool story related to this. On my birthday when we were doing Beetlejuice, my then boyfriend and now husband threw a party for me and Tim gave me an original drawing, coloured with pencil and crayon, and he was mad because I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was something else and he said “No, it’s a monster eating Tokyo.”

MS: Did you keep it?

CO: Yeah!

MS: Have you ever thought about eBaying it?

CO: We have so many pieces from his archive, and when that touring exhibit and the MoMa exhibit were being put together they still didn’t get my drawing, which makes it even more special.


Martin, what’s it like doing these press tours after portraying Jiminy Glick?

MS: Well, you know, Jiminy Glick could have really been any moron with power, and not necessarily any sort of entertainment reporter. I was just doing a talk show and he became a vehicle for me to get more celebrities on. But really, to me what’s always funny is how you look at this guy and you have no idea why he’s in that position, but he’s got (in Jiminy’s voice) an assistant! And it would be this guy who gets terrified that he’ll screw up the tuna fish order because his boss is an idiot.

With your older work on SCTV available to more people around the world now thanks to the Internet, have you noticed an increase in your fanbase from people just coming around to the show?

MS: I’m not really aware of that so much. In Canada it’s still seen a lot more than it is in the United States, but I think in general the older you get, because of television and cable and online resources, you stay in the public consciousness longer because of what you’ve done, but for me not really so much with SCTV, I don’t think.

CO: The other day at the airport in L.A. someone did stop me and say “I grew up with you on SCTV!” It was the guy who was putting my stuff through the X-ray machine. It was so cute! He was so excited! The kids who grew up and watched it have finally gotten to the age where they feel comfortable talking to strangers!

MS: SCTV did always have – and I can’t really talk about it as much because I was kind of an interloper on SCTV – a strange connection to people who were always just discovering it. It was created with such a great passion.

CO: And that’s true because when it first started maybe only three people were watching it or knew when to find it.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

A scene from ‘Frankenweenie’. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures.

From the very first beautiful black and white frame of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie I was completely absorbed into the stop-motion world Burton had brought to fruition and was glued to it in awe like a 12-year-old watching their first monster movie. It’s dark and morbid and references campy B-movies from the past, but it’s also one of the most visually mind-blowing experiences to sit through and is by far Burton’s best film to date.

Victor Frankenstein is a smart, imaginative boy who makes 8mm movies, knows a lot about science, and spends most of his time with his dog Sparky. When Sparky is run over and killed by a car, Victor is devastated and can’t live with himself. He gets the idea to bring Sparky back from the dead, and succeeds. His friends at school find out and soon everyone is bringing all sorts of animals back to life. One thing leads to another, and the entire town finds itself under attack by wild zombie pets.

Burton originally made Frankenweenie as a short film during his early days as a Disney animator and has wanted to make a feature version of it ever since. This is his baby and every detail of it, from the story to the character and set design, has all been meticulously crafted. There are many aspects of his previous films incorporated too, and if you’re a true Burton aficionado you’ll get a kick out of finding all the hidden references.

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The black and white image might not appeal to everyone, but the contrast it has over colour really highlights the detail of the characters and the sets and is a real treat for the viewer. The 3-D works well too. This is unlike any other animated film we’ve seen and shows just what can be done with stop-motion.

Danny Elfman always seems to do his best work on Burton films and his score here is a true delight and acts almost as a tribute to classic monster movies in itself. It stands on its own and would be a great listen even without the movie, which is a true testament to how great it is.

Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short both voice multiple characters, including Victor’s parents, and really get to show off their comedic range. Winona Ryder is perfect as the girl next door, Elsa Van Helsing, and Martin Landau is hilarious as Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski. The only voice I wasn’t that impressed with was Charlie Tahan as Victor. He does grow on you, but it felt very uninspired and weak.

It should be noted that I took my 5-year-old to see Frankenweenie with me and it was a bit too scary for him at times and he had a lot of questions about death afterwards. Unless you’re prepared to deal with that I’d say eight and up is probably fine. Adults will connect with the film more than young kids anyway, as that is who Burton was making this for.

Whether you’re a fan of the horror genre, a fan of animation, or a fan of Tim Burton, Frankenweenie is a film you’ll fall in love with and cherish for years to come. Get out to see it as soon as you can.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

Interview: Emily Blunt talks ‘Looper’

Emily Blunt - Looper

Emily Blunt in a scene from ‘Looper’. Courtesy Alliance Films.

This interview was originally posted on Criticize This!

In Rian Johnson’s critically-acclaimed sci-fi thriller Looper, Emily Blunt plays Sara, a tough-as-nails woman living on a farm in the middle of nowhere trying to protect her special son. And although her character doesn’t appear on screen until the midway point, the entire dynamic of the film shifts and it becomes something so much bigger and more exciting when she does.

Blunt is at the top of her game in Looper and steals every scene she’s in with both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. In the end she delivers the best performance of her career so far and deserves a lot of accolades for her part. Criticize This! caught up with Blunt on the day Looper had its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Read our Q&A below.

What was it that initially drew you to the film and the character?

The script. It was just such a singular voice. It wasn’t derivative of anything I’d ever read and I was rather stunned by it. About 20 pages in, even before I got to my character, I called my agent and was like, ‘You need to get me into this film right now!’ I think my agent knows I don’t react like that often to a script. I finished it and REALLY wanted to be in the movie once I discovered this rather ambiguous, complex character.

How was it working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that makeup?

When I first met him no one had told me he was wearing the prosthetics. So I went into his trailer and I couldn’t understand why he had looked nothing like I had previously imagined. I talked to him for about 20-minutes and the whole time I thought maybe I was talking to the wrong person. And then I came out and everyone was like, ‘What do you think of the prosthetics?’ And I was like, ‘My god! That’s what it was!’ I guess that’s a credit to the makeup department.

Sara is a much different character than we’re used to seeing you play.

It is quite a different character for me. The way she looks, the way she is, the way she talks… that was part of the appeal of the character to me. I was so moved by the script and the relationship she has with her child. I’ve got to credit [Pierce Gagnon], the little boy who was cast as Cid, with why those scenes are so potent and loaded and moving. It was a real find discovering him and they searched high and low across the country to cast that part. I read with three other actors and the thing that differentiated him from the others was that he really understood that he was playing a character and he’s only 5-years-old. He’d do these spooky and intense scenes and then he’d go goof off.

Did you relate to her at all?

No one can break your heart like your family and no one can panic you like your family. My mom and dad have had so many sleepless nights out of fear for us… and there’s four of us! And they still go through it. I understood the fierce protection and her guilt in how she was before she arrived at the farm. There’s a certain amount of self-punishment that goes on with this character. I related to that and also to the tenderness of it and the bond that they have is so loaded and complex and he has her wrapped around his finger.

Is it a different mentality for you getting into an accent and do you find it hard to drop after using it for so long on set?

I prepared for it and worked on the accent for about a month beforehand with this amazing dialect coach Liz Himelstein, who teaches all of us Brits how to talk American. I decided to focus the accent and Rian and I decided it would be a Kansas one. Then I listened to a lot of people from Kansas, specifically Chris Cooper because I love his voice and think he has a very melancholy, emotional voice. But then on set I would try to stay in the accent to not confuse Pierce. And it was quite sad when I met him about two months after we finished shooting Looper. We were both filming in North Carolina and I called his mom to see if we could all get together for dinner and I was speaking in my normal voice and he was scared and weirded out by it and I felt really sad. And you could see his little brain was trying to compute why I sounded so weird.

Rian has a reputation of being collaborative. Did you have much say in building your character?

That’s the greatest thing about Rian is that he’s not precious at all about his dialogue. And obviously the script was so brilliant that there was no need to add or enhance anything. It was so evocative and the words were so exciting. He’s always interested in what you bring to a scene or an attitude or the reasons why you played a line the way you did and he doesn’t straightjacket you in to what he had previously imagined the scene being like. His notes are incredibly specific and I couldn’t have asked for more from a director. He’s very sure of himself and that’s what you want as an actor.

How tough was that wood-chopping scene for you to do?

This nice prop man on the movie came and delivered logs to my Los Angeles home. And they brought some axes and showed me how to chop the wood. And I practiced because I didn’t want her to be chopping wood like a sissy. Not only is she someone outside working every day, but she also is taking out frustration on this poor log. But when you shoot a scene over and over and over again… Rian said when he was editing the scene he was just winching because by the end of it I had thrown my shoulder out and I tweaked my back. That was the hardest scene for sure.

You’ve  covered such a wide range of genres in your career already. Is there one you haven’t done yet or a type of role you’d still like to play?

I’d like to be in a western. A really cool western. Obviously the Coen Bros. just did it with True Grit, and that would have been so cool to be in a Coen Bros. western. I like riding horses, but I don’t want to be the damsel in distress. I want to be the one with a gun on the horse.

Would you ever consider writing or directing a film yourself?

I don’t think so. John [Krasinski, her husband] has just been doing it and it’s been extraordinary watching him discover this new side that he’s capable of. And his movie is amazing. I’ve seen what goes into it and I knew he could do it, but I don’t think it’s something I have the fire in the belly yet for.

You’re starring in Arthur Newman this year as well. Can you talk about your role in that at all?

Arthur Newman is the polar opposite of Looper. Colin Firth and I are playing a couple of very unhappy social misfits who are trying to escape their previous identities. I think it’s a very strange, beautiful film about trying to find your place in the world. I think all of us at one point have wanted to escape and that’s what this film is a study of. It’s the most unconventional love story you’ll ever see.

Since you’ve been working in the industry have you noticed a diversity of parts for women?

I probably speak for a lot of actresses in that we get really sick of reading parts that are written for a certain gender as opposed to a character. You read a lot of parts and you think, ‘Okay, so I’m playing the girl who is at home wagging her finger and is also compassionate and emotional simply because she’s the girl.’ Don’t write me as a girl, just write me as a character. There’s still a ways to go for that in the business. One in four parts are for women, which is a pretty big gap. The thing I’ve been excited about is that certain films I’ve been a part of that are female heavy and are directed towards females, like The Devil Wears Prada or Sunshine Cleaning, are great female roles that have been universally enjoyed. I think there needs to be more films like that.

What do you do for fun when you’re not filming?

I love to cook. That’s the real passion. Obsessive Food Network watching goes on in my house. I have to be dragged from indoors sometimes cause I could watch the Food Network all day. I just love to cook and I’ve always loved it so any excuse to have a boozy dinner party is welcomed.

Movie Review: The Master

This review was originally posted on Criticize This!

Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master was my most anticipated film at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Not only because I’ve been a huge fan of Anderson’s work since his breakout film, Boogie Nights, back in 1997, but because I had heard nothing but praise for it from everyone who saw it. So when I got a ticket to the public screening on the last night of the fest I was overly excited and, needless to say, my expectations were beyond reasonable.

It’s the end World War II and Naval officer Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) is being sent home. With poor social skills and an appetite for alcohol mixed with paint thinner, Freddie doesn’t fit into the post-war world and is struggling to find his place. On one of his drunken escapades he boards a ship late at night and meets Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an author and pseudo preacher. Dodd is a charmer and a drinker, and Freddie is soon swept into his cult-like group “The Cause” and becomes his top follower and close friend.

Whether it’s Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights, Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love, or Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood, Anderson has a way of getting actors to deliver a performance as if it’s their last. The Master is no exception. Hoffman’s eloquent and passionate portrayal of a man who truly believes he is as powerful as he claims is gripping and exciting to watch. Phoenix, who went off the rails and ditched acting a few years ago, returns with a powerful, almost biographical, depiction of a disturbed man lost in the world. Amy Adams also gives an outstanding performance as Mrs. Dodd, and it would be shocking if the three of them don’t get Oscar nominations for their work.

Another highlight of the film was Jonny Greenwood’s jarring score. This is one of the best pieces of music ever put to film. It’s very front and centre and actually helps move the story forward instead of just being in the background. It takes the entire viewing experience of The Master to another level and is sure to be studied by film and music scholars for years to come.

If you’ve followed The Master in the news at all you will know it was shot in 70mm and should be viewed in a theatre that projects it in its native format, which I did at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. To my dismay I couldn’t see a big difference between it and a regular 35mm film though. That’s not to say it didn’t look amazing, because it did and Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography is gorgeous. But it didn’t shock my being the way I had anticipated it would. Maybe if I saw it again in a regular theatre I would appreciate it more in 70mm.

While there are many other things about The Master to get excited over and discuss, I found I didn’t love it the way I thought I would and I definitely didn’t connect to it the way I have with Anderson’s previous films. Yet, there is something so seductive about it that it’s hard not to be mesmerized and enthralled by it. I’m sure with time I’ll come to cherish it more and even consider it a masterpiece. Either way, it’s a solid cinematic experience and you need to see it to judge for yourself.

Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)

The Women of Batman

Anne Hathaway - Catwoman

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

This was originally posted on Criticize This!

With the addition of Catwoman in Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, Anne Hathaway (pictured above in costume) becomes the sixth actress to portray her in a live-action role. And while she may be the most popular female character in the Batman universe, there are plenty of others who have left their mark on screen over the last 69 years.

Linda Page

The very first time Batman hit the screen was back in 1943 in a 15-part serial (serials were short vignettes that would play before feature films and would usually end on a cliffhanger so people would keep going back in order to get the full story). At the time it was made, Bruce Wayne’s girlfriend in the comics was a wealthy socialite named Linda Page so it only made sense that she would be in the serials. She was played by Shirley Patterson, who went on to star in many B-movies, such as It! The Terror from Beyond Space (under the moniker Shawn Smith). While Linda appeared in the comics for quite some time, this is her only appearance in a Batman film.

Vicki Vale

Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale.

Vicki Vale

After the success of the 1943 serial, Batman returned in 1949 in the 15-part series Batman and Robin. This time his love interest was a Lois Lane-type reporter named Vicki Vale (played by another B-movie actress, Jane Adams). In the comics she would become his wife, while on screen she would be all but forgotten until Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, where Kim Basinger made her a household name. Unfortunately she did not return in Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992 or any other Batman film since.

Aunt Harriet

Portrayed by Madge Blake in the 1966 Batman film and TV series that followed, Aunt Harriet was Dick Grayson’s (aka Robin) sweet elderly aunt who loved everything about the masked duo but did not know she lived with their alter egos. Blake’s health had gotten so bad by the third season of the series that Aunt Harriet was barely in the show and the character was eventually retired for good.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.


In the comics, Catwoman is a sometime villain, sometime ally of Batman, and is by far the most popular of all the female characters. Her first appearance on screen was in the 1966 Batman film where she was played by former Miss America Lee Meriwether. When the television series was spawned from the film, however, Julie Newmar took over the role for the first two seasons until a movie commitment got in the way for season three. Eartha Kitt was then cast in the show and finished out the series. We wouldn’t see Catwoman again until Tim Burton’s Batman Returns in 1992. This time the sultry vixen was played by a stunning, vinyl-clad Michelle Pfeiffer, who set the bar very high for future actresses in the role (even Halle Berry didn’t come close to Pfeiffer’s portrayal in the 2004 standalone Catwoman film). Will Hathaway’s take in The Dark Knight Rises top Pfeiffer’s? Very unlikely, but at least Catwoman is back in action.

Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donnell in 'Batman & Robin'.

Alicia Silverstone and Chris O’Donnell in ‘Batman & Robin’.


Because Catwoman was such a hit on the 1960’s television series, and because the ratings were down for season two, the producers wanted more female characters in the show and Batgirl (played by Yvonne Craig) was introduced in the third and final season. She was the young, librarian daughter of Commissioner Gordon and helped Batman and Robin fight crime when in disguise. After the series ended there was talk about a spin-off show which never materialized. Batgirl disappeared until Batman & Robin in 1997. This time the character was Alfred’s niece, Barbara Wilson (played by Alicia Silverstone), who came to visit her uncle when he fell ill. With the help of Alfred she eventually becomes Batgirl and is soon fighting alongside Batman and Robin.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in 'Batman & Robin'.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy in ‘Batman & Robin’.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is one of the more interesting villains in the Batman comics, using toxins from plants as part of her arsenal of weapons in her battle to protect the environment. While there was a lot of potential for the character on the big screen, director Joel Schumacher camped her up in 1997’s Batman & Robin, and Uma Thurman, who played her, came across as cheesy and annoying. The character was quickly left out of any future films.

Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman in 'Batman Forever'.

Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman in ‘Batman Forever’.

Dr. Chase Meridian

Bruce Wayne’s love interest in 1995′s Batman Forever was a psychologist named Dr. Chase Meridian who was hired by Commissioner Gordon to help nab Two-Face. Played by Nicole Kidman, the character was similar to that of Vicki Vale and never really added anything to the film except for being the helpless woman.

Jim Carrey and Drew Barrymore in 'Batman Forever'.

Jim Carrey and Drew Barrymore in ‘Batman Forever’.

Sugar & Spice

The beautiful blonde Sugar and the dark, goth-like Spice were Two-Face’s lovers in Batman Forever. Portrayed by Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar, they were only there to add sex appeal and one-liners and never amounted to anything outside of the film.

Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in 'Batman Begins'.

Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes in ‘Batman Begins’.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in 'The Dark Knight'.

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes in ‘The Dark Knight’.

Rachel Dawes

When Christopher Nolan took over the Batman franchise, Rachel Dawes was created as a new love interest for Bruce Wayne and was probably the weakest link in both Batman Begins (where she was played by Katie Holmes) and The Dark Knight (where she was played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). The character died at the end of The Dark Knight and it’s probably for the best as she made way for Catwoman’s return.

Miranda Tate and Holly Robinson

The Dark Knight Rises also introduces us to Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) and Holly Robinson (Juno Temple). Holly is Catwoman’s young sidekick, while Miranda Tate is a Wayne Enterprises board member who may actually be Talia al Ghul, Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, looking for revenge on Batman for killing her father.

Who is your favourite female character in the Batman universe?

Interview: Hulking out with Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo

Mark Ruffalo at the Canadian premiere of The Avengers. Photo credit Arash Moallemi. 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

This interview was originally posted on Criticize This!

When it was announced that Mark Ruffalo was taking over the role of Bruce Banner (aka the Hulk) in Marvel’s The Avengers, I was very skeptical that he could pull it off. Unlike Edward Norton and Eric Bana, who portrayed the character in the previous films, Ruffalo doesn’t fit the superhero world. He’s a great actor and excels at dramatic roles, but to play a major comic book character? No way! But this Hulk is unlike any Hulk we’ve seen before. This is the Hulk us fans have been longing to see in a film ever since Lou Ferrigno hung up his torn purple pants back in the ‘80s. Banner is older and more aware of what he is, and when he transforms into the Hulk it gave me chills and made me giddy. And no one could have played the part better than Ruffalo. He’s believable as Banner and I was left wanting to see more of him as the character. He’s also the first actor to be able to portray Banner and the Hulk, thanks to technology.

I chatted with Ruffalo about the film while he was in Toronto for the Canadian premiere.

How did you decide to put your mark on the Hulk?

Mark Ruffalo: Joss [Whedon] and I talked a lot about it before I even took the part. We both saw it as a continuation. We leave the last [Hulk film] and he’s been on the run now for six or seven years, and we were like, ‘So what happens to him after that? Where does he go after that?’ We feel he might have some control over the Hulk, or not turning into him, at the end of that movie, and we just picked up from there. He’s older, he’s in his 40’s now, and there comes a time when you’re at that age where you start to accept your shortcomings, your gifts, and you tend to turn to face those things.

Do you relate to the Hulk or Bruce Banner more in your own life?

MR: Probably Bruce Banner [laughs]. There was a time in my 20’s where I was the definition of the angry young man and had plenty of fist holes in the drywall, but that’s not a good place to live. I’m glad I’ve been able to Bannerize my existence a little bit.

Was there more pressure on you given the previous incarnations of the character and the fanbase surrounding him?

MR: It was a weird call to get and it wasn’t an easy call to make. There’s been such great actors as Banner over the years, and because there’s so much intense interest from the fans directed at the Hulk, I was definitely a little nervous. I really wanted to know how we could add to this. The one thing that was exciting to me, that no one else had done, was play the Hulk too. The technology now is such that I can play the Hulk. The actor can impress his performance upon a CG character. I always felt that in the past movies when you get to the Hulk there’s a real disconnect and you don’t feel the human continuation. Hulk never looked like the guys playing him either and that was a fight we had with Marvel early on, to make the Hulk look like Banner. They made it a rule to never have the Hulk look like Banner. I wanted to infuse the Hulk with something that is human and Joss did too.

Were you into comics prior to being cast in The Avengers?

MR: It was so part of our culture when I was a kid. Me and my cousins were always trading them. And then there was the Bill Bixby TV show [The Incredible Hulk], which I was a huge fan of. It was the only thing that could bring me in the house. That and dinner. And then I got into Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, which was a total reinvention of the genre. I became a huge fan of the X-Men and have a signed copy of a standalone Frank Miller Wolverine. I guess I was a geek, but I was also a surfer and a jock. But I was into comics, yes.

How is it working on a film your children can see?

MR: It was really nice. My children, as you probably well know, won’t be able to see any of my movies until they’re in their 20’s. They haven’t been able to see what I do and I had been thinking it would be nice to do a movie my kids could see that isn’t a romantic comedy. Then this came along and it was a character I really loved growing up and it was with Joss Whedon, who is really smart and I knew could do this well. And they love it, they love the Hulk. They’re three little Hulk’s. My 4-year-old daughter was helping someone pick up their groceries and they turned around and told her how strong she was and she was like, ‘I’m the baby Hulk!’

Are you overwhelmed by the fans surrounding the film?

The fans in Europe were insane. When we went to Moscow there was like 3000 kids just screaming. I had a woman jump into my car! You go to Moscow as an American and they assign a security detail to you that’s all ex-KGB guys. At some point you realize they are with you everywhere you go and then you realize they’re not there to protect you, but to protect their people against you. They’re everywhere! So I’m walking to my car after the premiere and this girl busts out of the crowd, checks my publicist out of the way, and she jumps into the car with me. And the security guards don’t see it. They totally miss it. I’m trying to coax this woman out of the car and she’s holding onto this envelope in her hand. She was sweating and a little intense. I was like, ‘Hi. How are you?’ And she was like, ‘I’m fine! I must talk to you! I must give you something!’ I’m thinking this is sweet and asked what it was. She whips open this thing and it’s a drawing of Tom Hiddleston that she made. I thought it was my big fan moment and she busts out a drawing of Tom Hiddleston.

Top photo: Mark Ruffalo at the Canadian premiere of The Avengers. Photo credit Arash Moallemi. 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & 2011 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.