The return of Star Wars: an evil empire in Jedi clothing?


Next month ensure the eagerly awaited arrival of The Force Awakens. A good moment to examine the franchises timeless mass appeal

A long time ago, when everyone was taking day trips to a galaxy far, far away, I decided to stay put on our drab little planet. For months I ignored the blis of the individuals who returned home babbling about the marvels they had witnessed. Eventually my resistance weakened: late in the summer of 1977, I decided to see Star Wars after all. By that stage it wasnt easy. Cultists were attaining multiple return visits, and tickets were scarce. But I managed to buy one for a late-night session in a London cinema, where the mood of contagious excitement erupted every few minutes into whoops and cheers. I was merely there, I sternly told myself, out of culture curiosity. Two hours later I stumbled back into the empty streets, my head reeling as I hummed the fanfare by John Williams a marching through space scored for blaring trumpets and thunderous drums that introduced a wild, unstoppable ride, a rollercoaster of giddy delights. Star Wars “ve earned it” terse, bold title: here was a cosmic carnival, a flaring light show that was violent but mercifully harmless.

I sampled other worlds, peopled by animals belonging to no known species, and I watched a blue planet like our own blow up in a re-enactment of the big bang. I also had a preview of our cybernetic future. People were redefined as digital wraiths, whose data could be loaded on to a disc and disgorged from a machine as flickery holograms. Upsetting traditional hierarchies, two metal servants the burnish, prissy butler C-3PO and his squat companion R2-D2, apparently a dustbin with a brain bossily managed the affairs of their accident-prone masters. I liked this pair so much that I even bought a poster of them, which I pinned up in my college rooms in Oxford, discreetly out of sight of the student to whom I was teaching English literature.

My enthusiasm faded soon enough, and I binned the poster. I wasnt seduced to see the sequels, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi , when they appeared early in the 1980 s; by the time the writer and director George Lucas added The Phantom Menace and two more prequels to the series between 1999 and 2006, I had made up my intellect that only adolescents preoccupied by gadgetry went to the cinema, so I left them to it. From then on, my attitude resembled that of Natalie Portman, who remembers shrugging indifferently when she was offered a role in the first prequel: I was like, Star what?

Portman, however, overcame her disdain and accepted the job, and I gradually caught up on DVD with the five episodes Id missed. Now, with the series due to resume when The Force Awakens is released next month, Im obliged to admit that Star Wars is inescapable. The New York Times critic Manohla Dargis recently called it a cradle-to-grave amusement experience, which is literally true. Soon after their emergence from the womb, toddlers can be togged out in romper suits that announce I am a Jedi, or fitted with bibs on which Yoda, resembling a wizened green embryo, deploys his usual back-to-front syntax to demand Feed me you must.

At the other end of life, a Texan cancer patient called Daniel Fleetwood, who in September was given two months to live, campaigned online to be given an early viewing of The Force Awakens , pleading that he was unlikely to survive until its opening date; the movies director, JJ Abrams, granted his wish early in November, and Fleetwood died shortly afterwards. Han Solos Millennium Falcon can whizz through wormholes to emerge in galaxies on the far side of the universe: I hope that the movie eases Fleetwoods journey to his final destination, wherever it may be.

Appearing in instalments throughout the decades, Star Wars has aged with us, and as proof of its longevity the three principal actors from the first cinema goofy, toothy Mark Hamill, sassy Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford with his sly sideways grin will return in wrinklier, more grizzled form in The Force Awakens . The series also narrates the history of the times we have lived through: not only abstruse science fiction, it is political journalism in coded form.

Over the course of the six cinemas( not in chronological order ), a libertarian republic transforms itself into a predatory global empire, much as the United States has done during the last half century. Wed like to avoid imperial entanglements, tells Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi: he is repeating a point first made by George Washington, who in his presidential farewell advised the new country to remain isolated. America kept to itself until 1945, but during the cold war it began to behave like a global bully. In 1983 Ronald Reagan deflected attention from members of the military conceit and commercial rapacity by calling the USSR an evil empire, a phrase borrowed from the synopsis of past events in the early stages of Star Wars . Reagans plan for an aerial shield of rocket deployment platforms had similar origins: it was nicknamed Star Wars because it would supposedly transform nuclear combat into a pyrotechnical blitz to be played out far above us.

When the USSR fell apart, the focus changed. The Star Wars prequels especially Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith , made after 9/11 advise about the curtailment of autonomies in fortified, permanently embattled America. Democracy cant be bothered to put up a fight: Ewan McGregor, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi when young, statements that the senators are merely interested in serving the interests of those who money their campaigns a comment that glances at Washington DC , not the far-flung planet of Coruscant. The sepulchral monarch, who, as personified by Ian McDiarmid, has skin like desiccated parchment and teeth that are lichen-crusted gravestones, virtually quotes George W Bush and Donald Rumsfeld when he explains that security and continuing stability are his regimes imperatives. As for The Phantom Menace , the title might serve as a caption for the vial of imaginary anthrax hold back by Colin Powell at the United Nation in 2003 during his speech to rally support for the invasion of Iraq. Star Wars begins by proclaiming Princess Leias determination to restore freedom to the galaxy, though its never clear just what all those twinkling starrings need to be freed from and when we do get a clue, the explanation is dismayingly banal. For citizens of the galactic republic as for those in favour of the Republican party, the sticking point is the iniquity of taxation. Turmoil resumes in The Phantom Menace because trade routes to outlying star systems are being taxed by the greedy trade federation. A pact has to be signed by the commerce guild and the corporate alliance, which are supported by the banking clan( whose representative is a corpse with a clerical collar) and the techno union( which sends a metal leviathan to the negotiations ). Until Lucasfilms sale to Disneyin 2012, Star Wars was distributed by 20 th Century Fox, so its seducing to cast Rupert Murdoch as the baleful megalomaniac monarch, keen to widen his piratical brand of capitalism into all markets. Although the Jedi master played by Samuel L Jackson insists that We are peacekeepers , not soldiers, he unsheathes his lightsaber to keep the airwaves open for the dissemination of American entertainment.

The idea of the Force, central to the fuzzy theology of Star Wars , is disturbingly equivocal. The Jedi think of it as spiritual energy, but the word also entails power, which is colder and more brutal. Star Wars catches both Americas light and dark sides, its naive optimism and its crass, domineering pursuing of earning. Whether we think it good or evil, all of us have been colonised by this empire of images.

Now that CGI effects have become so ingeniously deceptive, its odd to remember the astonishment that Star Wars provoked in 1977. We may be more sophisticated today, but what remains eye-opening about the first three films in the series is the variety of custom-made environments through which they range arid Tatooine, gaseous Bespin with its city in the clouds, or jungly Endor and the virtual zoo of so-called lifeforms they place on display.

As inseparable as Laurel and Hardy R2-D 2 with C-3PO in the original 1977 movie. Photograph: Alamy

Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia are featureless archetypes: a surfer dude, a cowboy, and a generic female who promptly strips to a tacky gold bikini. The true characters are ogres and mutants, like the jazz quartet of praying mantises we glimpse at Mos Eisleys cantina, the four-eyed Annoo-dats, the feathery four-armed Besalisks, and such gruesomely idiosyncratic freaks as the toad-faced lecher Jabba the Hutt, Watto the junk-dealing bluebottle, and the reptilian changeling Zam Wesell, who is a slinky girl on the outside and a lizard for the purposes of the scalp. In this cosmos, humankind is an endangered species.

Which Stars Wars animal are you? asks one of the epics marketing websites. Its a question that many people seem to address to themselves. Nominating their religion in the 2001 census, nearly 400,000 UK citizens claimed to be Jedis. Some were joking, but not all: the church of Jediism has 200,000 adherents around the world, and in 2009 when one of its founders was asked to leave a supermarket in Wales because his cloak and hood seemed sinister to other shoppers, he claimed to be a victim of religious intolerance. These days, admission to the chivalric order is easier than it was for Luke, who had to undergo a course of martial and mental educate before his induction: all it takes is a credit card. Tesco sells kids Jedi robes made of polyester, ideal for parties and feign play, which can be accessorised with lightsaber that are stubby battery-operated torches.

Other alternatives are available for those with less monastic savors. In an episode of Friends , Ross badgered Rachel to have sex with him while garmented or rather undressed in Leias tawdry bikini( which was recently auctioned off to a Star Wars fetishist for $96,000 ). On festive occasions gay humen have been known to armour themselves as imperial stormtroopers, exchanging black leather for white thermoplastic polymer. In a parodic Spanish cinema called Love Wars , two of these clones canoodle in a hideout on the Death Star, though their glassy vizors induce snogging awkward.

Watch the trailer for the original 1977 film.

Last month a shaggy, hulking Chewbacca was arrested in Ukraine while campaigning for a candidate in a local government elections; he was fined a minimal sum for some petty misdemeanour, but claimed he couldnt pay because his bank didnt have a branch on earth. Also in Ukraine, a bronze statue of Lenin in the grounds of an Odessa factory was lately given a makeover as Darth Vader, with a uniform specially sculpted from a titanium alloy. Unlike Lenin, the demonic lord performs a public service, which guarantees him a dedicated following: his samurai helmet conceals a free Wi-Fi hot spot. In Sweden late last month, another Darth Vader set about on a less benevolent mission. A young man with racist grudges donned a black mask before stabbing to death a student and a educator at a local school. Before the two attacks he told them I am your father, as if Darth Vader were unveiling the secret of their shameful origins to Luke and Leia.

Oddly enough, the above figures in Star Wars that seem closest to human habits and concerns are not beasts at all, but contraptions. At the start of the first movie, we are introduced to this remote galaxy by the droid C-3PO and the astromech R2-D2, partners as mismatched yet as inseparable as Laurel and Hardy or the Two Ronnies. They may be machines with product labels , not names, but they are touchingly represented C-3PO by his angular gait, his prissy concern for protocol, his showy linguistic virtuosity, and his queasy dread of flying, R2-D2 by his geeky introversion and his autistic vocal repertory of beeps and burps. Between them they point to the forking route of post-human evolution. With luck, we might develop into effortlessly superior, gold-plated intellectuals like C-3PO, who is expert at over six million forms of communication: Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, promises we will be better off when we have the benefit of an artificial brain. Or will we turn out to be unsocialised nerds, clever with instruction manuals but inarticulate? R2-D2 is likely closer to the truth: he resembles the anonymous teens umbilically linked to computer terminals in their solitary bedrooms, tubby in shape because they eat only junk food who have adopted Star Wars as their all-knowing bible.

Mistaken for a divinity by the teddy bears called Ewoks, C-3PO bleats in embarrassment that his coding does not allow it him to impersonate a deity. Nevertheless he sniffs at beings made of mere flesh and blood, and when Luke is lost in a blizzard on an arctic planet he statements Hes quite clever, you know for a human. In a humbler moment, C-3PO salutes Anakin Skywalker, who first screwed his bits and pieces together, as the maker: this is his personal version of the creator who in Genesis moulds mankind out of red clay and breathes a spirit into him. On several occasions C-3PO is dismantled, and one of the most apprehending scenes in the series comes in The Empire Strikes Back when Chewbacca variously described as a fuzzball, a mophead and a stroll carpet mutely contemplates the droids severed head, puzzles over how it fits together with his discarded extremities, and painstakingly reassembles him.

Here is an encounter between ape and angel, at the beginning and end of the our long, halting evolutionary marching. Its a little like Hamlet brooding over the skull of Yorick: human is, as Hamlet tells, a piece of work, and it might be wise to see ourselves as engines not organisms, kept going by circuitry rather than nerves and arteries. When Darth Vader chops off Lukes hand, it is soon replaced by a prosthetic manage clad in artificial skin. Thanks to biomedical technology, all of us are undergoing a redesign, and Star Wars inspires us to think about whether that means we have outgrown humanity. Revenge of the Sith concludes by balancing the bodily past against the mechanical future. PadmA( c ), played by Natalie Portman, dedicates birth to the twins parent by Anakin, who will grow up to be Luke and Leia. Fussed over by a robotic midwife in a glitter obstetric ward, she still has to deliver the infants in the customary, agonising way, and she dies in doing so. Simultaneously, as two separate climaxes are intercut, we watch Anakin being hacked to pieces by Obi-Wan, then charred by a volcanic river that singes his corpse. But a squad of Frankensteinian doctors metallise the segments of his corpse and install a wheezing respirator in his chest. With the remains of his carbonised head encased in a sleek black helmet, he rises again as Darth Vader.

Nature fails in one case, science performs a diabolical miracle in the other. Having struggled out of the swamp where the gastropod slugs slurp and gnaw on the planet of Dagobah, we are no longer animals; our next metamorphosis may demonstrate what Obi-Wan means when he says that Darth Vader is more machine than man.

Genetic replication brings its own terrors. Armies of faceless, mindless clone troopers, modified to attain them both automatically obedient and ruthless, maraud through the later films. Obi-Wan worries that droids might have the capacity to strategy and strategise, and muses that If they could think, thered be none of us here, would there? Star Wars forums online have made this into a talking point, and many commentators answer Obi-Wans topic by calling him stupid, conservative and condescending. Droids, the messages in one forum assert, are sentient, intelligent, and should not be rebuff; someone else been shown that C-3PO, for all his effete fussing, might be James Camerons Terminator in disguise, poised to eliminate the inferior race of biologicals. After all, the software innovator Elon Musk advised in a recent tweet that We need to be super careful about AI potentially more dangerous than nukes. Who is to say, as Yoda puts it, for once not jumbling the syntax, what the future holds?

Technical progress is alarming: hence the emotional appeal of regression. Now is the time to return to childhood, sighed the critic Pauline Kael, who, when she saw Star Wars in 1977 described the cinema as the equivalent of taking a pack of kids to the circus.

Feed me, you must: Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. Photograph: Cine Text/ Sportsphoto Ltd ./ Allstar

Kael had a point about the endearing but exhausting childishness of Star Wars . The other movies of its period were grim parables of psychological deviancy, social malaise and political paranoia, set in Americas hellish, festering cities Scorseses Taxi Driver , Robert Altmans Nashville , Alan J Pakulas The Parallax View , Francis Ford Coppolas The Conversation . Lucas had previously attained American Graffiti , a pastoral idyll about teens amusing themselves in a small Californian town; it ends with a fearful preview of the grown-up future one character will be killed in a automobile accident, another will go missing in Vietnam, a third will suffer the fate worse than demise by migrating to Canada. Star Wars dodgings such outcomes by reverting to infancy and regaling immature audiences with what Kael called its comic-book hedonism. Lucas came to resent such patronising accounts of his run, and favor the acclaim of interpreters like the pop mythographer Joseph Campbell, who thought that Star Wars satisfied the human need for spiritual escapade and identified its characters as Jungian archetypes: Lucass namesake Luke is the young hero on a journey towards maturity, Obi-Wan is the elderly mentor who arms him for the fray, and Darth Vader represents modern atheism, a black void whose appearance connotes, in Campbells words, that the world is run by economics and politics, which have nothing to do with the spiritual life. Flattered by such puffery, Lucas offered to redeem a secular century. It came to me, he said, that there really was no modern use of myth, which suggests that he had missed out on Eliots The Waste Land , Joyces Ulysses and Stravinskys Oedipus Rex ; he declared that his intent in Star Wars was to set standards and to fill an aching emptiness by telling us about our values, as the sacred narrations of religion are applied to do.

Hence the allegorical aspiration of the prequels, in which Anakin is hailed as a savior, the chosen one as Obi-Wan calls him in a pious whispering. The messiah may have walked on water, but the nine-year-old Anakin gives notice of his divine descent by winning a demolition derby in a turbo-driven podracer that he has cobbled together from spare parts. When the adult Anakin resignations to the dark side of the Force, Hayden Christensen tries to make his torment manifest by furrowing his eyebrows, but his posthumous transformation into Darth Vader is entrusted to surgical technicians. Lucas changes Christ into Satan by rewiring and reprogramming the manikin who acts out the idea.

At first, the languages Lucas invented for his new worlds were a kind of burbling baby talk. Hence his Wookiees and Ewoks, or the gloriously nonsensical names of characters like Grand Moff Tarkin and Wedge Antilles. In the prequels, the neologisms turn ponderous. When he situates the droid foundries in Attack of the Clones on a red, craggy planet called Geonosis, Lucas attempts a metaphysical pun: compres Genesis, gnosis and geology, the made-up term chokes on its own indigestible etymologies. For Revenge of the Sith , in which the titular dynasty consolidates its power, he strains to make up a word that would exude the sulphurous essence of evil. A monosyllable that begins with a hiss but ends with a lisp hardly has the desired rumble of spite; if you unscramble the anagram, Sith voices better as shit. Beelzebub and Mephistopheles remain unchallenged as names for our eternal adversary.

Lucas may have blathered about quests and initiatic trials, but he knew that Star Wars was actually an excuse for sons to exert their motorised playthings. The series increasingly concentrates on chases, races and aeronautical dogfights in which spacecraft are vaporized by pilots with well-oiled trigger fingers, as if the films were rehearsals for the video games spun off from them. In The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo voluntarily navigates his route through an asteroid field, dodging dust while C-3PO, in a tizz as usual, calculates that his chances of survival are 3,720 to 1. Return of the Jedi stages a version of the Ben-Hur chariot race in a wood of sequoias; in The Phantom Menace, Anakin steers his way to victory in a futuristic F1 tournament, zooming through desert crevasses and passageways of boulder as his competitors crash and burn around him, and in Attack of the Clones he wont bestir himself to rescue Obi-Wan until he discovers a vehicle with a proper cockpit and the right speed capabilities. What matters in Star Wars is velocity , not profundity. According to Wall Street calculates, the Star Wars franchise, boosted by video games and licensed merchandise, is now worth upwards of $30 bn( APS1 9.7 bn ). Amazon has a million and a half items tagged to the series for sale, while almost 900,000 are listed on eBay. Industrial Light and Magic, the name Lucas dedicated to the special effects company he founded in 1975, sums up his lucrative wizardry: the sunlight is emitted by diodes, the magic is a computerised simulacrum, and industrialisation mass-markets that visual voodoo and converts it into cash.

Watch the trailer for Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith.

Film writer David Thomson, who pays a barbed tribute to Lucass great talent for making money, describes Star Wars as the beginning of one of the great American movie empires. More than imperial, Star Wars is cosmological: it has distended to fill up what Lucasfilm calls an expanded universe. Out in hyperspace, room has been seen for an infinitude of supplementary tales. The television series Star Wars Rebels extends across 370 centuries rather than the measly two generations covered by the cinemas. A calendar has been invented for those uncharted aeons, which starts 13 m years before the first film and conscientiously fills in the blanks as if recording actual events; a Babel of spurious speeches, each with its own squiggly alphabet, has been devised for beings like the Ithorians( who have two mouths) and the Twileks( who speak by signalling with the tips-off of their tails ). Such mad elaboration induces the Bibles six days of creation sound like a lazy afternoon.

A new company put in by Disney police this Expanded Universe content, correcting errant subplots and ensuring that fan fiction does not trespass on the main narrative. Lucas himself checks the consistency of new storylines by consulting the Star Wars Encyclopedia , but he sometimes has difficulty regulating what happens on a plurality of ever more remote planets: in such an expansive world, even God observes it hard to be omniscient. In outlying galaxies, wars frequently break out between over-zealous innovators and fans who protect an orthodox version of events. There was predictable outrage when Chewbacca was killed off in a tangential fiction. Chuck Wendig has recently published another such spinoff, which contains a homosexual soldier called Sinjir Rath Velus; when readers objected that the sex dissenter was not children-friendly, Wendig answered back by re-enacting the battle in the first movie, lunging insults like the warheads Luke fires from his X-wing fighter. Youre not the Rebel Alliance, youre not the good guys, he ranted. Youre the fucking Empire, man. Youre the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. The expanded cosmo here contracts to the size of a padded cell.

I find your absence of faith disturbing, snarls Darth Vader when an imperial policeman accuses him of sorcery. What disturbs me is our excess of faith, a credulity that venerates Star Wars as a gospel, a testament, a map of the heavens. In Attack of the Clones , Anakin and PadmA( c) pause while smooching to discuss the self-sufficiency of the realm they inhabit. Anything is possible, says Anakin: he is rephrasing Lucas, who once remarked that It wasnt until we created digital cinema that I could allow my imagination to run wild. We live in a real world, PadmA( c) replies, come back to it. She has evidently forgotten that her body consists of pixels not molecules, and that the exotic scenery behind her was sketched by computers and overlaid on a green screen. Thats the paradox and the quandary of Star Wars : those who live inside the fantasy, whether theyre actors or fans, prefer their shared hallucination to the unelastic, downtrodden world of fact. With less than four weeks to go, The Force Awakens is awaited as expectantly as if it were the second coming. But the promised awakening began last September, when on Force Friday a shiny array of new merchandise apparel, Lego cruisers, cuddly toys, and an app-enabled droid shaped like a football ball went on sale in Disney stores. It remains to be seen whether the new movie will take us on an astral excursion or send us on a shopping trip. We pine for the consolation of religion, but in its absence allow ourselves to be bamboozled by technology and browbeaten by consumerism. Star Wars is irresistible because it caters to every aspect of our moral frailty.

The Force Awakens opens in UK cinemas on 17 December

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Grimsby review- Sacha Baron Cohen’s gags fall flat in cod-Bond caper

1 month ago

The Ali G and Borat creator shows little of his anarchic grandeur in this tame comedy, which is just kept from flatlining by moments of high-impact grossout

Sacha Baron Cohen brings his B-game or maybe even his C-game to this moderate new comedy that basically defeated my attempts to like it.

The film features a lairy football fan from Grimsby with Gallagher-esque hair and position, called Nobby( Baron Cohen ); he discovers that his brother Sebastian( Mark Strong, gamely playing it straight) long-lost in the foster care system, is now a sleek assassin for MI6. Of course the hapless Nobby, along with an entire barmy army of mates, is the only one who can help Strong out after get him into a terrible jam and foil a sinister eugenicist plot to rid an overpopulated world of the working classes.

Steve Coogan once toured a depict called As Alan Partridge and Other Less Successful Characters. Sadly, a less successful character is exactly what Nobby is. There is hardly a sliver of the real anarchic magnificence Baron Cohen proved in Borat, his ruined innocent from Kazakhstan, the satirical punch of his great urban hero Ali G or his Austrian fashion maven Bruno, or even his corrupted Despot from the Middle East. Nobby feelings dated and off-target. Even his northern accent often misses the mark.

For me, the best moment was a bad-taste gag set at a charity event, involving Nobby reacting to some football news just as a child with a terminal illness is brought on stage. Theres also a great line about LinkedIn. But I couldnt help hoping in vain that every line would be that good.

Grimsby has the occasional chuckle and a succession of finely wrought grossout spectaculars which are reasonably entertaining, especially the egregiously yucky elephant bukkake scene, which does deserve an awarding of some kind( perhaps MTVs WTF Moment prize ). Like a kind of high-voltage defibrillator, these touches do keep the movie from flatlining. But with its cod-Bond and mock-action material it carries a weird overall feel, like kids Tv but produced on a lavish scale with added filth. And often theres a worrying hint of late-period Carry On Britfilm sadness.

Nobby himself is a cheerfully outrageous idler and skiver who has a startling way of celebrating football victory with a firework and like Borat, he is the subject of underclass comedy though here slathered with supportive sentimentality. He occupies a bizarre ruining of a hellhole and is utterly happy in a cheekily imagined white-trash world with dozens of children and grandchildren by various partners, the most recent of whom( played by Rebel Wilson) is his devoted love.

Strong, for his part, occupies the entirely different world of the top intelligence officer, but his own lifestyle is of no great interest, and not brought into any sort of meaningful contrast with Nobbys. He merely needs a place to lie low after a hit goes bad, and is forced to settle for grim old Grimsby.

But here he observes to his horror that Nobby has been unable to keep his mouth shut about his brother being a top snoop. The fact is alluded to in the banner strung across the pub for his welcome home party. His cover, once again, is blown. From there, the action soon relocates to South Africa for some of the high-impact disgust humour, the commitment of which I couldnt assist but admire.

There is a string of supporting players dedicated little or nothing to do and no funny lines: Ian McShane and Isla Fisher in mission control; Penelope Cruz as the international woman of mystery; and down the pub in Grimsby there is Johnny Vegas, John Thomson and Ricky Tomlinson. Its possible that they improvised some great stuff which got lost in the edit. They are staggeringly underused in the end product.

Baron Cohens grandeur in character slapstick has created some glorious movies, but the character route is now coming to an end. This unique talent needs to take another direction.

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Why Beauty and the Beast isn’t the first Disney movie for LGBT audiences

1 month, 18 days ago

The studio has promised fans its first exclusively gay moment in the live-action fairytale but that betrays a history of covert messages in its animated films

Its unprecedented for a major studio blockbuster, much less a family film, to seek the LGBT audience. Gay spectators seeking mainstream self-identification in the cinema have usually had to settle for winking nuances and allusions, or at the worst, the more oblivious homoeroticism of sundry Michael Bay-style brawnfests. No more, apparently: in an age when a film as overtly queer as Moonlight can win the creation honour of a best painting Oscar, a corporation as large as Disney can also ultimately acknowledge the love that once dared not speak its name.

Well, sort of. A commotion of headlines ranging from the too enthused to the too outraged greeted Beauty and the Beast director Bill Condons announcement in Attitude magazine that the Mouse Houses live-action remake of their 1991 fairytale smash-up would boast the companys first exclusively lesbian moment. The more we heard about this supposedly startling breakthrough, however, the less encouraging it got. Historys first overtly gay Disney character, it turns out, is LeFou, unctuous manservant to preening, hyper-macho scoundrel Gaston an underling who, in Condons words, on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.

An obsequious maid who alternates between worshipping and hopelessly desiring his straight-out master? With a name that translates as madman and has also been used as a gay slur in French? In the reliably exacerbating kind of Josh Gad? Its not exactly the recognition that lesbian viewers have been waiting for, even if the finished cinema dedicates LeFou the most fleeting of clues at future romance with a kindred spirit.

Condon, a homosexual film-maker known for such intelligent queer investigations as Divinities and Ogres and Kinsey, must realise that this is no giant leap forward for on-screen representation, though credit him for stoking the off-screen conversation on the subject. This week has also considered him advancing the hypothesi, allegedly founded by the 1991 films late lyricist Howard Ashman, that the Beasts story functions as a metaphor for Aids: He was cursed and this curse had brought sorrow on all those people who loved him and maybe there was a chance for a miracle and a style for the curse to be lifted, Condon explains. The phrasing is wince-inducing its fair to say most people with Aids would prefer not to think of themselves as cursed, or indeed as animals but its a bolder way to queer the material than running a comic-relief subplot around a secondary characters sexuality.

Exclusively gay is a curious turn of phrase , not least when appealing to a community for whom inclusivity has always been a higher priority. One presumes Condons implication is that LeFous passions are unambiguously lesbian , not that theyre identifiable or relatable exclusively to gay spectators. For Disney animation has a long history of LGBT coding, intended and otherwise, that induces Beauty and the Beasts more official lesbian gestures look instead colourless.

Disney may not have awarded a lesbian identity to any of its characters prior to LeFou, but audiences have been doing so for decades. A quick graze of the internet will provide fan theories to feed any hunches youve long felt about the happy-go-lucky companionship of Timon and Pumbaa, and their effective adoption of newborn Simba, in The Lion King or indeed the foppish villainy of the same films Scar, an alpha lion “whos never” detected a mate in the pride. Same goes for Baloo, the nurturing, carefree single bear of The Jungle Book, or the coy, eyelash-batting male skunk who introduces himself to young fawn Bambi with the immortal terms, You can call me Flower if you want to. A few playful Disney animators have even teased us with queer allusions of their own: the character design of Ursula, the vampy, spectacularly tentacled ocean witch of The Little Mermaid, was famously modelled on hotshot drag queen Divine.

Speculating in this way can be superficial, stereotype-dependent fun but doesnt truly get to the essentially queer heart of so many classic Disney narrations, in which socially isolated foreigners yearn either for acceptance or transcendence. Pinocchios dream of being a real boy is a journey of self-actualisation that has inspired many a metaphorical comparison to the coming-out process; the same goes for sweet, sensitive Dumbo, whose chief phase of difference from the rest those enormous ears at first builds him a figure of fun for bullying peers, before it enables him to rise.

Photograph: Allstar/ Disney

Its not just the sons, of course. Pocahontas and Beauty and the Animals Belle are marked early on as different from the other girls. Ditto the Little Mermaids Ariel, whose desire not just to change her circumstances but change her physical kind has stimulated her an unlikely is the subject of identification among some younger members of the transgender community a girl who believes herself literally born in the wrong body.( Her ballad Part of Your World, meanwhile, is something of an all-purpose anthem for LGBT not-belongers .)

Fairytale convention may have locked these rebellious women around wholly heterosexual romantic aspirations, but Disney excitingly strayed from that rulebook in 2013 with Frozen, its record-busting rewrite of The Snow Queen. In Elsa, Frozen gave us a magically touched heroine who requires no male partner to complete her self-realisation. Fleeing the community while she independently comes to words with her difference, she belts out Let It Go, a now-ubiquitous tune that not only became an instant Disney standard, but launched a million queer readings for its celebratory revelation of a once-hidden identity: Conceal, dont feel/ Dont let them know/ well now they know the fears that once controlled me cant get to me at all.

The film didnt give Elsa a girlfriend following her arguable coming-out, though fans are clamoring for one to be introduced in the upcoming Frozen 2. But down to its same-sex spin on the hoary old true loves kiss trope yes, theyre sisters, but its freshening to ensure the supposedly all-healing properties of straight love taken down a notch its a movie fully alive to its queerest subtextual prospects. That may not make it Disneys first exclusively gay narrative, whatever that exactly means. But if were at a watershed moment regarding open LGBT representation in the multiplex, the absurd, conservative figure of LeFou scarcely deserves all the credit for the changes that lie ahead.

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Live-shooting with Woody Harrelson at 2am: ‘There’s something about the terror of it I love’

1 month, 22 days ago

In 2002, the star ended up in jail after being chased through London by police. Now hes turning that wild night into a single-take movie starring Owen Wilson and Willie Nelson to be beamed live into cinemas. What could possibly go wrong?

It is almost midnight on Monday evening and Woody Harrelson is presenting me around the situate for his directorial debut, Lost in London. An unused building in the centre of the capital has been hijacked to house assorted places including a club with burlesque trimmings where gold statues hang from the ceiling and a police station complete with cells and interview rooms.

Theres just one problem: Harrelson doesnt seem to know where he is. Hold on, he mumbles. I lost track of what floor were on. Wheres the? His bleariness has always been a considerable part of his charm: that sleepy Texan drawl, that quizzical gaze, half-amazed and half-sceptical. But padding around in tracksuit bottoms and a fleece, his eyes faintly bloodshot, the 55 -year-old actor looks positively somnambulant. He smiles as he recognises his cinematographer, Nigel Willoughby. Nigel, wheres the room where I get booked by the policemen? An affectionate chuckle: Next floor up, Woody.

No wonder Harrelson is dazed. In stimulating Lost in London, he has taken on the biggest challenge of a 32 -year career that has stretched from the sitcom Cheers to Natural Born Killers, from True Detective to the Hunger Game series. Shortly before we gratify, it is announced that he will play Han Solos mentor in a new Star Wars spin-off due next year. But tonight he cant think about anything except why he decided to write, direct and star in a movie about the worst night of his life and then shoot it all in one unbroken 100 -minute take in 14 locatings across London, complete with chase sequences on foot and by car.

So far, so Victoria. But, while Harrelson was inspired by that German reach, which used the one-take, single-camera approach to tell the narrative of a frantic night in Berlin, he also needed to go one better. That cinema is genius, he tells. Its an inspiring work of art. Ours is a different animal. Willoughby explains: It was me who told Woody we had to do it all with one camera. He told, Victoria did that. How can we improve? Harrelson then came up with the idea of blending elements of theatre and film by live streaming Lost in London to cinemas as it is being shot. Im an adrenaline junkie, he grins. Theres something about the terror of it that I love. Its maintaining me up at night.

Though the movie cant claim to be the first to be broadcast as it is being shoot that honour goes to My One Demand by the interactive-art trio Blast Theory, which was transmitted online and to a single cinema in Toronto last year it is certainly the largest-scale project of its kind; it will hit more than 500 screens in the US on Thursday evening and one in central London in the early hours of Friday morning.

I was a freaking moronic Harrelson in rehearsals. Photo: Alex MacNaughton

The film has its origins in a long, disastrous evening that Harrelson spent in Londonin 2002. It began with a spat with his wife before progressing to a raucous evening at the West End nightclub Chinawhite. It was hellish, he tells ruefully. Im never going to that club again. By the time it was over, he had smashed up a taxi and fled the scene of the crime to hail another taxi, heatedly pursued by his first driver as well as the police, who eventually arrested him on suspicion of causing criminal injury. I was a freaking moron, he told newspapers at the time.

But that was 15 years ago. As a self-professed anarchist notorious for hell-raising, he must have had other, messier nights in his life. Why did this one stay with him? I guess it genuinely was one of those nights that I would have gone to quite a lot of trouble to erase from my life. I wish to God I could excise it. But I thought about it a lot. It stuck with me. Ive been to jail many times, but this one well, it wasnt just going to jail. It was the overall night. There wasnt a tinge of witticism in it. It was a complete bummer. But afterwards I believed, Hey, this could be pretty funny. A occurrence of tragedy plus hour? Thats it! Youve got comedy. Though he doesnt want audiences to dwell too much on its factual basis, the film nevertheless begins with a cheeky title card that reads: Too much of what follows is true.

The 30 -strong cast is predominantly British but also includes two of Harrelsons friends, the actor Owen Wilson and the vocalist Willie Nelson, playing themselves. Wilson was instrumental in keeping the cinema loyal to the live-streaming idea. There was one point when the obstacles seemed insurmountable, Harrelson recalls. I decided we wouldnt go live after all but it was Owen who said, Duuude, why wouldnt you? It was a great notion! Get back to that. His mimicry of Wilsons slow-mo surfer-speak is uncannily exact.

We stroll through the club, past a statue of Christ brandishing a neon toilets sign, and Harrelson maps out the movie for me between yawns. The band will be playing here, therell has become a flamenco dancer over there and this is where I gratify my buddy Owen. Ive had this upsetting thing with my spouse and the last place I wanna be is in this Sodom and Gomorrah. He gestures to the vast frescos of pre-Raphaelite nudes. I shouldnt be confronted with these temptations considering all thats gone on with the wifey-poo.

We retreat upstairs to the production office where Laura, wifey-poo herself, is waiting with their eldest daughter, Deni, who has a small part in the film. An performer dressed as Christ is enjoying a snack from the nearby all-vegan craft services table. Oh, this is Jesus, tells Harrelson casually, then waves at another Jesus in the doorway. More Jesuses. He believes for a second. Jesii?

Duuude! co-star Owen Wilson at a read-through for Lost in London. Photo: Alex MacNaughton

Two full, filmed run-throughs of Lost in London were completed last week. The first went like a dream; the second was a nightmare, with batteries running out on some of the lightings and whining feedback ruining parts of the soundtrack. If that happens on the night, weve got problems. There are 24 people only on the audio and theyve done the Olympics, marathons, all kinds of stuff. Every one of them agrees this is the most complicated thing theyve ever done.

Matt Adams of Blast Theory believes the cast and crew of Lost in London should consider a few problems as positives. I would advise Woody Harrelson to embrace the chaos, he tells me. The adrenaline is intense for everyone including, hopefully, the audience. Willoughbys main concern, though, is extreme cold. Lenses have a tendency to fog up if you go from cold into warm, he tells, out of his directors earshot. Its all a long way from his best-known work as director of photography on Downton Abbey. As much as he loved Victoria, Woody doesnt want that grittiness. He wants it to appear polished like Downton.

During the live run-through that I watch from the control room, there is a genuine frisson of hazard and exhilaration. In the first 20 minutes alone, the camera ways Harrelson from the stage of a theater during the curtain call and into his dressing room before accompanying him to the stage doorway where he signs programmes for fans. I miss Cheers, tells one, to which Harrelson answers gloomily: Me too. Then its on to a daringly complicated sequence following the comings and goings of several characters in a eatery before the crew joins Harrelson and other casting members in a van and zooms over to the main club set to continue the action there.

I make it out on to the pavement just in time to see Harrelsons vehicle screech up to the curb, followed by two police motorcyclists who place road closed signs in their wake to prevent other traffic from cluttering up the shoot. As night bus drift woozily by, Harrelson starts singing the Cheer theme song to a bouncer in front of a giant Banksy canvas while a clubber in chunky, colourful beadings scrolls through images on Jesuss mobile phone and something Willoughby had said earlier in the evening abruptly begin to construct perfect sense: Whats Woody like? Hes a natural born nutter.

Lost in London is in US cinemas on 19 January and at Picturehouse Central on 20 January. Tickets from

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Kate Beckinsale:’ Austen’s Lady Susan is like Emma on steroids’

2 months, 18 days ago

Her second partnerships with Whit Stillman in Love& amp; Friendship has brought her the best reviews of her career

Kate Beckinsale has earned the best its further consideration of her career for Love& Friendship, an adaptation of Lady Susan, the remarkably wry and worldly novella Jane Austen wrote as a teen. The cinema, Beckinsales second collaboration with director Whit Stillman and co-star Chlo Sevigny, 18 years after The Last Days of Disco, is a comedy about a brilliant widow hoping to secure a moneyed future for herself and her daughter. Beckinsale, 43, spoke to the Guardian before picking up the Evening Standard best actress award this month.

Did the cinema change your feelings about people becoming ever more cynical as they get older?

We always think of Austen as so poised and elegant; there is a sort of rage underneath that lives in this character, which I really liked find. Its almost like she had to purge that in order to be able to write everything else. She was such a smart female facing all those social constraints, this is why it felt a bit like her running: Right, this is my darknes having a screaming. And then she went: Oh, I shouldnt do that. And set[ the manuscript] in a drawer. There is something more raw about it, which are likely is to do with being younger.

Lady Susan is said to have an uncanny understanding of mens natures. Is that still the key to social success ?

Yes, except that I believe the advent of constantly available porn, which would have frightened Austen, has changed things instead. Its simply more apparent now: mens natures had to be covered up a little more, just as womens did. I would never be able to go on a dating site, ever. I would just be expecting a murderer and a psychotic rapist. However, I do have friends that are on it, and it does seem like there is a sort of loophole for free prostitution that seems to be beneficial to the bloke. Im kind of aware thats happened.

Do women today still have to do a lot of what Lady Susan calls suffering ridiculous manhood?

No. I mean, one of the things the movie does induce you think is: my God, we have come an awfully long way. Plainly, in the light of certain political events this year, one worries those things are a bit more under threat. But “if thats” transposed to a modern define there would be no story. This is a bright woman who would probably be the CEO of a company with a ton of boyfriends. She has operate in that somewhat machiavellian style because society doesnt give her intelligence enough of an outlet.

Why are audiences so drew attention to bitches and bullies?

When we were building it, Whit referenced Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and its a very similar thing: you dont necessarily want to go on holiday with these people, or have them in your family, but its quite thrilling watching them at work.

Is the key to Lady Susans success her absolute confidence?

I think so. I think shes got an perfectly iron-clad self-belief, which I deeply envy. Her nature is unbelievably practical; theres nothing practical about self-doubt and self-loathing and self-torture. She doesnt waste any time doing anything like that. That would be fiction for me. I think we all spend far too much hour doing that.

Why do we?

Partly because were not working in a potato field and worrying our children are going to die of leprosy. Its the luxury of the middle class to have those kinds of things going on, I suppose. And also, we have so much info arriving at us now. Lady Susan would hear what was happening one county over, perhaps, but were panicking about air crashes all over the world and what kind of mosquito might bite us. Our general level of nervousnes is related to how much is going into our little brains.

Which freaks you out most?

Climate change truly bothers me, and it doesnt seem to be quite as pressing to certain politicians as it think it ought to be its pretty terrifying.

Is the real love the friendship?

I think so. The love in the title, which is not the title of the novella, is between Chlos character and mine. It was a really nice thing to revisit that. I was so rotten to her in our earlier movie, whereas this is girls complicit and battling against everything.

Do you think such bonds can be more enduring than romantic love?

I know that my oldest friends are from primary and secondary school and I dont know if I will have a relationship that has lasted or will last as long as that. Im not pressured to find friends physically attractive over several hundred decades, which is a slightly easier thing to sustain. Female friendship in movies is something that you jump at because its not every day that a director, especially a male director, wants to write a movie about pretty complicated women with the kind of love that Whit has. Ive had two characters with him who you wouldnt want to go on a mini-break with, but its so delicious to insure his real pleasure of a prickly female. And its bear out: people have loved this movie and gone to see it a lot. So, there is a place for not just the prostitute , not just the madonna, but this kind of difficult woman. Shes like Emma on steroids.

Is it rare to have a female leading who is older, cleverer and better-looking than the men shes paired opposite?

Not inevitably. I know that it exists, receiving components harder to come by but it hasnt[ happened] so far to me. Im having a wonderful time being the age I am being an actress. Its partly Whit having had the idea for me to do this when I was 22 and doing Last Disco, and him waiting for me to ripen. I didnt know that until recently and I supposed: God, thats genuinely playing the long game. You dont usually find directors patiently waiting for you to age.

Is he waiting for you to ripen further?

Im hoping. Perhaps hes got Miss Havisham in mind.

Did you find the reviews saying you were a revelation and amazingly funny patronising?

I wouldnt tell patronising. I guess people tend to remember the last couple of movies they were aware of your doing. And it depends on whats more important to you: how youre perceived or your experience of your career. Ive done a lot of films that a lot of people havent considered, coupled with films that are a bit outside my convenience zone, actually, which a lot of people have watched or certainly been aware of. And, for me, the ability to be able to kind of flit between genres that shouldnt go together and generally dont has been an incredible privilege. I dont mind pockets of day where people go: Oh, maybe shes a bimbo, because I know Im not.

It genuinely depends how much meaning exists for you in your own experience of it and what youre doing it for. If you were doing it to hear marvellous things about yourself all the time then you would stop immediately when you had a horrible review likely aged about 19. I think its important as relevant actors to have periods where youre not flavour of the month or rewarded every single period you leave your house, because it actually does build you question if its what you really want to do and how you can get better.

Beckinsale with Chlo Sevigny in The Last day of Disco. Photo: Moviestore/ REX/ Shutterstock

Do you agree with Lady Susan that facts are horrid things?

Sometimes. I generally want to get to them, but Im not inevitably pleased when I do. My favourite thing is transparency and honesty, but that can be a bit of a brutal life, it is feasible to perhaps easier to get in a little bit of a bubble. But its generally better to know what ones dealing with, I suspect.

Particularly in 2016 ?

It is a bit tricky. Both countries that I am part of are so divided, and that is a really scary thing in itself. Thats just a sign of restlessness and trouble, and its a really new and strange position to be in, to be so aware of it. I think everybody found that out twice this year, and those facts were quite horrid things.

How does Britain appear from LA?

Well, I come back eight or nine hours a year and my mums here and my best friends are here. But its weird that a country and a city moves on and grows up independently. You do have it in your intellect as staying the same and youre homesick for something that is different when you come back. That can be a little bit jarring. It seems different. The skyline is completely different. I maintain wondering where the old dames in John Lewis went.

They all had to be killed did you not hear about that ?

Yes, I knew something must have happened. The high street where I grew up seems a bit more fancy and worldly. I recollect when you spent a whole afternoon gluing a 50 p to the pavement and hiding. Children dont do that sort of thing any more. I would still blithely do it. In fact, I might my mum has got a brilliant front gate for that sort of thing.

Love& Friendship is available now on DVD and Blu-ray

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Leslie Jones tells no designers want to dress her, so Christian Siriano steps in

2 months, 20 days ago

Leslie Jones attends CinemaCon 2016 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, on April 12.
Image: Photo by Gabe Ginsberg/ WireImage

Christian Siriano is ready to create something fierce.

Leslie Jones called out unnamed decorators Tuesday for declining to help dress her for the upcoming Ghostbusters premiere.

Her remarks sparked outrage and attention, which caught the eyes of Project Runway alum Siriano, who tweeted back with a raised hand emoji, volunteering himself for the gig.

How did Jones respond? With a resounding YAS.

I love Leslie and cant wait to build her something fabulous to wear. I dress and support women of all ages and sizes, Siriano told Time in a statement. He subsequently tweeted that “nothing is confirmed, ” but they are meeting and he’d “love” to garment her.

It’s not the first time a celebrity has struggled to find a decorator. Ghostbusters costar Melissa McCarthy told two Oscars ago, she “couldn’t find anybody to do a dress for me.”

“I asked five or six decorators very high-level ones who make lots of gowns for people and theyall told no, ” she told Redbook in 2014.

In her recent CFDA Fashion Icon acceptance speech, Beyonc said she had similar conflicts when she was starting out in Destiny’s Child.

“High-end labels didnt genuinely want to dress four black country curvy daughters, and we couldnt afford decorator dress and couture, ” she says. “My mother was repudiated from every showroom in New York.”

Siriano spoke up again about the common issue, tweetingon Wednesday that it “shouldn’t be exceptional to work with brilliant people just because they’re not sample size. Congrats aren’t in order, a change is.”

And in the meantime, designers should take note Jones will not forget this moment.

Have something to add to this story? Share it in the comments .

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Paul Dano on acting, love and embarrassing parents: ‘They have way too many pictures of me’

2 months, 24 days ago

Hes known for playing misfits in There Will Be Blood and Little Miss Sunshine now the actor is turning his back on Hollywood to take on Tolstoy

Paul Dano has the kind of body language that speaks before he does. On screen, he is often twisted, lopsided, stooped, crunched or otherwise cramped in such a way that instantaneously and viscerally communicates vulnerability. Off screen, wandering into a coffeehouse in Manhattan, he is mildly diffident, like someone who might try to read a volume while strolling along. Oh my goodness! he tells vaguely as we settle in, and there is something about Danos politeness and thoughtfulness that attains one want to ring to congratulate his mother.

As an actor, the 31 -year-old brings heft to the thinnest of scripts. Dano hasnt had that many leading proportions, but he is, to a certain kind of movie-goer, instantaneously and appreciably recognisable, as John Tibeats in 12 Years A Slave, Eli in There Will Be Blood and, most famously, his almost silent appearance as Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine all cinemas in which his performance exerts a greater influence than the size of the role. Next month, he plays Pierre Bezukhov in the BBCs six-part, APS1 0m adaptation of War And Peace, a role that, before accepting, Dano put through his customary process of internal questioning in this case, reading the novel for the first time to see if Andrew Daviess script was up to snuff.

It felt like the responsible thing to do, Dano says. And had the scripts not held up after reading the book, which they did, and Andrew did as good a job as I think you can He tails off.

He would have turned it down? Maybe. I wouldve questioned it.

As Pierre Bezukhov in the new six-part BBC adaptation of War And Peace, with Rebecca Front as Anna Mikhailovna. Photo: Laurie Sparham/ BBC

Dano has travelled to Manhattan on the subway from his home in Brooklyn, where he has lived for eight years with his girlfriend, the actor Zoe Kazan( the couple co-starred in Ruby Sparks, which she wrote ). If you had to guess, youd set Dano down as a Brooklynite rather than a animal of Hollywood; he is pale and unbuffed, and his speech is riven with qualifiers. There is something nearly ecclesiastical about his manner hesitating and a little ached, without being unfriendly a deliberation one recognises from his roles. Dano is the master of the small external indicator of vast internal churn, and his characters tend towards the marginal( later in the interview, I stimulate the mistake of using the word weirdos to describe them, which upsets Dano on the basis that his characters are real people to me ). Even his biggest role to date, as Brian Wilson in Love& Mercy, the Beach Boys biopic for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, turned on the contrast between Wilsons fame and acclaim and the critical country of his mental health.

In the opening episode of War And Peace, which co-stars Gillian Anderson, Adrian Edmondson, Greta Scacchi and the reliably excellent Rebecca Front, Dano strolls into the grand ballroom in St Petersburg with a slight stoop, because, as he points out, Bezukhov is meant to be a bigger person than I am; hunching his shoulders connotes, cleverly, a man who doesnt know what to do with his height. Bezukhov is a tricky character for an actor, developing for the purposes of the narrative from awkward ingenue to a human in possession of a huge, unexpected fortune. In preparing for the role, Dano guessed long about what type of gaucheness he was trying to embody. Im more the kind of person who thinks about the room Im walking into before I do, he says. I think[ Pierre] walks into the room and realises hes there, which is kind of awkward at a high society party. Hes not innocent or childlike, but hes less calculating than the people around him. That openness is what attains him different. Its a beautiful quality.

The physical facet is one of the ways into a role Dano most savors. Its always a super-fun component. The question is: where is the energy in this person? Some characters lead from their chest or their head more, or their dick more, or whatever. It might not be something huge and noticeable.

On the evidence of the first episode, it will be a terrific series, although the filming six months through the worst of the winter in Lithuania and Russia was so penalizing that Dano still appears a little traumatised. During the shoot, Kazan came to visit him twice, but there were no visits home and, as a result, Dano felt their own lives stalling. He had never done such a long shoot before most of his movie roles have wrapped in two months and he was shocked at how everything had to be put on hold. Even if its dealing with a bill, or seeing your family, you have to learn to maintain enough life running while working. Its not fun to be away, and its a strange lifestyle. A full detox was necessary afterwards. Ive definitely tried to forget about it, merely to move on.

He looks instantly mortified at having permitted himself to say something that might be construed as ungrateful, and adds: Its also a great escapade , not only the run, but places I might not have gone to, and friends you make.

Dano grew up in Manhattan, on the East Side, and later in the suburbs. The East Side is shorthand for massive banking wealth and, yes, Dano tells, he was raised in one of those ritzy neighbourhoods, but without much money. His papa was a financial consultant, but not the 1% kind, and his mother raised Dano and his sister. We were in a one-bedroom when we lived in Manhattan, in a really nice neighborhood, but we had bunk beds and my parents were in the same room. It was a nice apartment. But to move into a bigger place would have been too expensive, so we went to the suburbiums, an hour away.

It was when they moved out of township that Dano began are active in a community theater, one of many after-school activities; at the time, he would have said that his aim was to become a professional basketball player. After being invited to appear in a regional play in Stanford, Connecticut, he started to go for auditions in New York, and in 1996, aged 12, attained his Broadway debut in a play called Inherit The Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. Im pretty sure I had to save the money, and Im also sure it was not a lot a week. It wasnt like all of a sudden I had a lot of currency.

He did, however, start to get a sense of how a career in acting might run, and how it might go wrong. As Dano began appearing in small roles on TV “hes in” a few episodes of The Sopranos, a single episode of the sitcom Smart Guy and, at persons under the age of 17, won a sizeable part in the movie L.I.E . alongside Brian Cox he started to worry about getting sucked into the celebrity rat race.

The question is: where is the energy in this person? Some leading from their head or chest more, or their dick. Photo: Benedict Evans for the Guardian

He took up a place at the New School, colleges and universities in downtown Manhattan, with the intention of staying away from acting for a few years. When I went to college, I knew I could use it as a buffer. I was very conscious at an early age of that[ celebrity] world, and what it could be. And that was not attractive to me. For some reason, I always thought that the long game was more interesting than the short game.

He majored in English, took a course in Russian literature he didnt read War And Peace, but did read some of the big ones: The Death Of Ivan Ilyich. The Brother Karamazov and Anna Karenina, one of my favourite books. At some point, the need to accrue course credits and knuckle down was beginning to rankle and it occurred to Dano that, I didnt require a certain degree for the things I might want to do. It didnt seem to make sense any more. He fell out, sadly, he says, although he believes that, even for a short time, college served special purposes, dedicating him a breather from a too-fast trajectory into working life.

Although neither of Danos mothers had an acting background the nearest anyone came to it was his papa, who, Dano recently discovered, enrolled in acting class in his early 20 s to try to meet women( I thought that was really funny) they werent overly fazed when their son fell out of college. They did wonder whether he should do something as a backup, like a business or accounting course, but, Dano says, my mum was really important in letting me follow what I was good at. Its an insane profession to advise someone to go into. I dont know that I would, but both of my parents were in the camp of You can do it.

Reading remains important; in ways impossible to measure, he feels that it feeds into his abilities as an actor. One of the reasons he likes to take the metro is that he can get a lot of reading done and now, having forensically analysed War And Peace, he wonders if its time to tackle Proust. When hes at home, he mainly watches Tv, although his choice of present depends on whether or not his girlfriend is there. If hes watching with Kazan, whom he met almost a decade ago while doing an off-Broadway play, they stick to comedy or drama. Its a relationship thing, he tells. Were sharing something and want to have a chuckle together. Mad Men is something we watched together. So it is that, although hes impatient to finish the final season, Dano has had to wait until she has time to join him. Its so inter-tangled with watching with her.

Left to his own devices, however, Dano will sit and watch back-to-back sports; it doesnt matter what: baseball, basketball, ice hockey, the best live sport. He still plays basketball at some courts in Brooklyn Bridge Park, a 20 -minute stroll from his home. In some ways, he admires professional athletes more than actors. Their work ethic is so bananas. Its super-inspiring. It is also a profession, much like Danos, in which physiognomy dictates opportunity.

The actor is uncomfortable talking about the beauty pageant component in his industry; he doesnt want to be negative. On the other hand, he has been annoyed by losing out on a role to someone chosen for the incorrect reasons. If a superficial option is constructed, then its very annoying. But of course, I feel like women have it a lot worse. Its an easy thing to overthink or get upset about, but its kind of a waste of time.

But if he loses out in a fair fighting, then so be it. As long as its a really good actor get a chance, Im super-excited for them just to insure what they do. I think its nice to feed off.( The exception to this is if the person isnt a good human being. Sometimes[ bad behaviour] get romanticised, and I dont understand that .)

Danos breakthrough role was as Dwayne, the elective-mute adolescent in Little Miss Sunshine, person with whom he empathised profoundly. I feel like I knew kids like that, he tells, and he played Dwayne tenderly, with real pathos; when the character eventually breaks his silence at the end of the movie, it is funny but also shocking. Dano says that he and his co-stars, Abigail Breslin, Steve Carell and Alan Arkin, knew when they were filming that the movie might turn out to be good, because of the fun the latter are having. We were all in that van together. And then, at our first screening at Sundance, there were many rounds of applause during the course of its film. It was one of the best screenings Ive been to.

Lots of similar roles arrived his route, roles in which he was asked to play people outside of something. He was still in his early 20 s when he was casting, at the last minute, in There Will Be Blood, opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, and too young to feel the pressure. I just had to throw myself in there and go for it, he says.

While on define, did he look to Day-Lewis for professional advice? I dont think that Ive … He lapses into a confounded stillnes and we regroup around the subject of whether having idols is desirable or necessary when planning for the future. I believe Im more concerned with the present moment , not in terms of getting rich and famous. I dont think you can calculate life. I like it when you watch a person who plainly puts themselves out there, and almost that it expenses them something. You want to feel that people really gave you a piece of themselves. Thats what I think can be really inspiring or moving.

Paul Dano with Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years A Slave. Photograph: Everett/ REX Shutterstock

Then, in 2013, arrived his role as John Tibeats in Steve McQueens 12 Years A Slave. Tibeats is the overseer who taunts the slaves early on in the story, in a scene that, as with so many in the film, is profoundly disturbing. One wonders how it felt to create a character that loathsome, given the amount of empathy relevant actors must feel for any role he is playing. Yes, Dano says. When I read that character, I didnt run, oh, yes, delicious! But I really loved the script, so you ask yourself, is this worth contributing to the tale? I looked at it that way, and I think it was.

How did he go about creating the character? I talked to Steve about it and I think that one way to come at it is to ask, what is he taking out on them? Its not about that person being bad to a slave, its about something else, and what is that something else that drives me to act out in that way towards that person?

Was it emotionally disturbing to play the taunting scene? That scene is one of the only periods Ive ever felt … Normally by that point, youve sufficiently deleted yourself. You prepare, you do your work, rehearse. But because in that scene it was a group of extras who I didnt know, a group of guys who I didnt have a relationship with, which is good for the scene, but as a person it is a little He seems stricken. Then again, everybody knew why we were there.

The difficulties Dano faced during the filming of War And Peace were less burdensome, and revolved around trying to figuring out Tolstoys deeper meaning. Tolstoy was Christian, but it feelings as if theres something almost Buddhist at work, Dano tells, gamely. How to live and how to be happy. The externals, like the wealth I dont know Tolstoy thought this organization is the answers. I think he was looking for something deeper and more meaningful. Its like Pierre gets all the externals and those are the things we think are going to stimulate us happy. And then I dont think they do. And then what? When what you thought would make you happy doesnt?

Since finishing filming, he has been more or less on hiatus, trying to catch up on their own lives. He seems, next month, in a small, striking role in an otherwise pretentious movie called Youth, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino and starring Michael Caine and Rachel Weisz, in which Dano plays against form; he is often cast as somebody hampered by his own seriousnes, but in this is a jaded movie star in a country retreat, trying to escape the trappings of his fame.

For Danos part, celebrity continues to embarrass him and he sends all his film memorabilia to his mothers house in Pennsylvania. When he first started doing this, he assumed it would all go in a box in a cupboard, but on a trip back home he discovered to his horror that it was all out on display. Theyre super-proud. They have way too many paintings and memorabilia, which I find … there was a moment when … I dont want any of that stuff. It might be nice to have some day He squirms with awkwardness.

His most recent trip home was so sweet, but frustrating. There was more food than you could my mum wants to attain my visit so good, I cannot tell you how much food she made.

Did she send you back with leftovers? Yes. Very nice as well.

Until the next project comes along, Dano will bide his time in Brooklyn, enjoying the moments of separation from acting and, as he assures it, refuelling. Its a question of what you fill up on what you read and learn.

It is also a question of recognizing also that , no matter particularities of a story or idiosyncrasies of a character, the stakes are often the same: love, sex, money, power, all the things it is Danos job to communicate. The words, or the dress, or the history may be different, but the inner life is relatable, he says. Its a beautiful window.

War And Peace starts on 3 January at 9pm on BBC1.

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Stars welcome Academy move to expel Weinstein over sexual assault claims

3 months ago

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science kickings mogul out over allegations including rape from more than two dozen women

Hollywood superstars have welcomed the expulsion of shamed movie producer Harvey Weinstein from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In an unprecedented move after a special session held in Los Angeles on Saturday morning, the Academy board said:” We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues but also to send a message that the epoch of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.

” What’s at issue here is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in national societies. The committee continues to work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all Academy members will be expected to exemplify .”

Among those who supported the decision was actor Mia Farrow, whose son Ronan write a New Yorker article in which three women alleged Weinstein raped them. She tweeted:” Proud of TheAcademy! Harvey Weinstein is out .”

Emmy Rossum, the starring of Shameless, wrote” Amen, the academy !!!” while Hellboy actor Ron Perlman tweeted:” As the states members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science I am proud of their decision to expel Harvey Weinstein .”

Weinstein, 65, faces allegations of sexual misconduct from more than two dozen women and three of rape. He has apologized for having” caused a lot of pain” but has forcefully denied all allegations of nonconsensual sex. It is believed he is currently in Arizona, receiving “treatment” related to his behavior.

In its 90 -year history, the Academy has expelled merely one other member, and merely because 83 -year-old Carmine Caridi, an actor, transgressed specific written regulations about sharing screener copies of cinemas in 2004. No member has been expelled for unethical or potentially criminal behavior, including figures such as Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby and Mel Gibson, who have had high-profile sex or domestic assault accusations made against them.

The academy’s 54 -member board of governors needed a two-thirds referendum to trigger an expulsion, according to its bylaws. It voted” well in excess” of that requirement, according to the Academy statement.

The Academy’s UK counterpart, Bafta, suspended Weinstein on Wednesday morning , calling his alleged behavior” completely unacceptable and incompatible with Bafta’s values “.

In an emotional interview with The Hollywood Reporter published on Saturday, even Weinstein’s fucking brother advocated his suspension.” I have a brother that’s indefensible and crazy ,” told Bob Weinstein, 62 and an executive at The Weinstein Company( TWC ).” I find myself in a waking nightmare. My brother has caused unconscionable suffering. As a father of three daughters I say this with every bone in my body- I am heartbroken for the women that he has harmed .”

Prior to the decision others were less sure, arguing that pushing Weinstein out might define a difficult precedent.

” For the Academy to treat Harvey as if he is the only creep in the business is wrong ,” Mitchell Block, a member of the short cinemas and feature animation branch, told the Hollywood Reporter .” The problem is far larger than just Mr Weinstein. The silence about the other sociopaths is deafening. I think the Academy should not move hurriedly and take action until it fully understands the scope of the problem and devises a clear policy .”

Weinstein has a complicated relationship with the Academy. On the one hand, according to a Quartz analysis, he is the second most-thanked person in Oscar award speeches over the past quarter-century, just behind Steven Spielberg and tied with God. His movies have been nominated for more than 300 Academy Awards. He won an Oscar himself as producer of the 1999 made Shakespeare in Love.

On the other hand, some Hollywood insiders tell Weinstein was more tolerated than loved- he has long been known for a gruff, abrasive demeanor.” He’s never been an insider with them ,” one anonymous member told Daily Variety .” They’ve never really liked him .”

Many of the Academy rules around award-season lobbying were put in place in response to the type of aggressive campaigns Weinstein was famous for mounting.

The New York Times first reported accusations against Weinstein this month. More than 30 women have now accused the mega-producer of inappropriate sexual behavior, including four who have alleged that he raped them. The most recent rape allegation was levied by performer Rose McGowan on Twitter. In a string of tweets directed at Amazon Studios late on Thursday, she wrote:” HW raped me .”

Police forces-out in the US and the UK are investigating. In a statement issued after the New Yorker detailed allegations of rape, the TWC board said it was ” shocked and dismayed” and” committed to assisting with our full energies in all criminal or other investigations of these alleged acts “.

Harvey Weinstein won an Oscar as producer of Shakespeare in Love, from 1999. Photograph: Mike Blake/ Reuters

Sallie Hofmeister, a spokesperson for Harvey Weinstein, told:” Any allegations of non-consensual sexuality are unequivocally denied by Mr Weinstein. With respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual .”

In his Hollywood Reporter interview, Bob Weinstein said he had barely spoken to two brothers in virtually five years.

” I could not take his cheating, his lying and also his attitude toward everyone ,” he told. While he said he was aware his brother was ” philandering with all the women he could gratify”, he insisted he had little notion about the alleged predatory harassment.

Weinstein insisted TWC could survive, in an interview in which, the Reporter said, he often became emotional. He and two brothers, he told, ran separate companies so many of the people Harvey Weinstein did business with he had never met.” The each member of the[ TWC] board, including myself, did not know the extent of my brother’s actions ,” he said.

Weinstein also said he was a victim of his brother’s abuse, including physical abuse.

” I do not set myself in the category at all of those women that he hurt ,” he told.” But it’s a complicated situation when it’s your brother doing the abusing to you as well. I watched it and I asked him to get help for many years. And that’s the truth. He avoided get the help. We implored him .”

His brother should never be allowed back into the film industry, he said.” He lost his rights. He didn’t lose his rights to be rehabilitated as every human being. But as far as being in this town again? I entail, give me a violate .”

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Annette Bening:’ Women don’t have to do everything’

3 months, 17 days ago

She is the ultimate 21 st century female both on and off the screen. Eve Barlow fulfils Annette Bening in LA to talk about movies, motherhood and her search for meaning

At 11 am on a Friday morning, Studio City in Los Angeles is full of mums. Mums coming out of fingernail salons, mums falling dogs off at day care, mums picking up fresh bread. Outside one deli, a local mum with cropped hair slides in through the front doorway in a camel-coloured overcoat. She moves towards a back kiosk and, complaining of a slight cold, orders chicken noodle soup. She could be any mum, but shes the mum: Annette Bening.

She seems around the 1950 s diner. I love the booths, I love the ambiance, and she smiles, pointing at portraits of stacks of salt beef and rye, I love the pictures of the sandwiches. Its a surprise, perhaps, that such Hollywood royalty can sit at a booth in an unassuming deli without anyone bothering her.

For nearly 30 years, Bening a four-time Oscar nominee, a Bafta winner for American Beauty and twice a Golden Globe recipient( for Being Julia and The Kids Are All Right ) has been bending the notions of family. At the age of 58, her latest maternal portrait in 20 th Century Women is lauded as her most electric, searching and emotionally expansive yet.

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One for the money: the great actors who slummed it in dumb movies

4 months, 5 days ago

Helen Mirrens appearance in the Fast and Furious franchise is a bit of a astound. But virtually every notable actor from Welles to Brando to Blanchett has cashed in an easy paycheque for a mindless franchise or a duffer

Helen Mirrens appearance in Fast and Furious 8 or Fate of the Furious, or whatever you want to call it is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it proves that not even dames of the British empire are impervious to the breathlessly dumb sight of a big-budget, boneheaded franchise. Second, it elevates her to the highest possible rank of actor: Thespians Who Should Be Above This But Arent.

Almost without exception, every great actor has spent at the least some time slumming it in movies that dont accommodate their talent. In fact, you could probably make a highly enjoyable movie marathon out of these appearances. Heres my suggested operating order 😛 TAGEND

Orson Welles in Transformers.

Orson Welles Unicron
Transformers: The Movie( 1986 )

Well start with perhaps the most infamous. By this phase, Welless career had spiralled down to the extent that he was primarily famous for his angry, drunk, advert outtakes. His final indignity was playing a planet-eating robot called Unicron in a feature-length toy commercial. However, this raises an important point about slumming actors: although the work is beneath them, the films are often loads of fun to watch. Compare this with any of Michael Bays movies, and Welless Transformers looks like a flat-out masterpiece.

Judi Dench Aereon
The Chronicles of Riddick( 2004 )

Dench managed to win an Oscar after is available on a cinema for only eight minutes. That movie was not The Chronicles of Riddick, in which she played Dame Judi Dench Who Can Nearly Fly But Not Quite and Also Has a Drapery Over Her Head. Its long, tedious and far too self-regarding for its own good. But, as Fifty Shades Darker ably demonstrated, at least Christian Grey was a fan of the movie. He has a poster of it hanging on his wall.

Dustin Hoffman Mr Magorium
Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium( 2007 )

A film so bad it became the punchline to Breaking Bads best gag, Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium is a prime example of all the bad things that can happen if you hire a renowned actor to star in your stupid movie. Hoffman endows his character with countless infuriating tics and oddities that would have almost definitely been beaten out of him if he wasnt Dustin Hoffman. Future Oscar-winner Natalie Portman didnt do herself any prefers, either. Unbearable.

Marlon Brando as Dr Moreau

Marlon Brando Dr Moreau
The Island of Dr Moreau( 1996 )

The narratives about Marlon Brandos antics on the decide of this doomed HG Wells adaptation are much better than the actual cinema. It is said that, rather than learn the lines, Brando simply recurred whatever was dictated to him via an earpiece; a trick that ran awry when the signal was highjacked by a nearby police scanner. He also insisted that his character should intermittently wear a bucket on his head and, although this was vetoed, that he should ultimately reveal himself to be a dolphin. The film is unwatchable.

Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe Lt Parker Barnes and SID 6.7
Virtuosity( 1995 )

Now its day for a twofer. This is the plot description from Virtuositys IMDb page: When a virtual reality simulation created using the personalities of multiple serial killers manages to escape into the real world, an ex-cop is tasked with stopping its reign of terror. The cinema, if you can believe it, doesnt even live up to this.( NB: the movies two results have three Oscars between them .)

Michael Caine in Jaws: The Revenge

Michael Caine Hoagie
Jaws: The Revenge( 1987 )

Caines one for me, one for them attitude towards filmmaking has resulted in a wildly spotty filmography. But his lowest point was the fourth Jaws movie. Roy Scheiders character has died and his( perhaps psychic) widow keeps getting chased about the place by an angry shark with a personal vendetta. Plus, said animal may or may not be controlled by a witch doctor. The movie is partly redeemed by Caines devil-may-care attitude towards its horrible reception. I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it was terrible, he once memorably remarked. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.

Peter OToole Zaltar
Supergirl( 1984 )

Supergirl is filled with weirdly mournful performances by performers who all seem fairly close to demise Peter Cooks role is especially sad. And yet it is OToole who takes the biggest hitting. Playing a Kryptonian trapped in the Phantom Zone( who however seems to have access to Bill Beaumonts A Question of Sport sweater collection ), he exudes the air of a trapped circus monkey who wont get any dinner unless he turns up and goes through the motions. Heartbreaking.

John Hurt Dr Turner
Tender Loving Care( 1998 )

Technically, Tender Loving Care might not count as a movie, as it never had a theatrical release, but it does stand out as a bizarre outlier on Hurts filmography. The movie is an interactive Hand That Rocks the Cradle-style thriller with the thinnest possible erotic undercurrent. You watch a couple of scenes, then answer an on-screen questionnaire about how it constructed “youre feeling”. Your answers dictate where the movie goes next. Hurts role was to guide spectators through these questionnaires, and then pull an interested face as they entered their answers. The role could easily have been taken by a monkey in a hat.

Faye Dunaway Elena Dubrow
Dunston Checks In( 1996 )

On the subject of monkeys, heres a film about a crazy orangutan pearl robber and his kooky adventures in a negligently run hotel. You might remember Dunston Checks In as the cinema where an ape dedicates an erotic massage to a middle-aged lady. Or perhaps youll remember it as the film where the same monkey climbs on to a chandelier and flings himself at Faye Dunaway superstar of Bonnie and Clyde, The Arrangement, Chinatown, The Thomas Crown Affair and Network who then topples into a great big cake. This was likely less slummy for Dunaway than Supergirl( in which she also seemed) but, because she looks like she is having fun in this, its still worth throwing on the bonfire.

Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko

Cate Blanchett Irina Spalko
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull( 2008 )

No matter how prestigious their stage and screen careers, all actors want to work for Steven Spielberg. Even if they end up working with him on a movie where people get attacked by giant ants. Even if that film has a sequence where the hero is catapulted to safety during a nuclear explosion by hiding in a fridge. Even if, at one point, Shia LaBeouf escapes demise by literally swinging away through the trees like a monkey. This is why Cate Blanchett appeared in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Owen Davian
Mission: Impossible III( 2006 )

At this point in his career, Hoffman was a true cinematic heavyweight. He had acted for Todd Solondz, Spike Lee and the Coen friends. He was a favourite of Paul Thomas Anderson and Anthony Minghella. He had just won an Oscar for Capote. He could pick any role he liked, and he chose to be an anonymous baddie in the second-worst Mission: Impossible cinema. It made a small amount of sense, allowing him to chew scenery at full volume for his largest audience yet. But what a weird selection to play second fiddle to Tom Cruises frenzied operating technique.

Robert Downey Jr Dr Kozak
The Shaggy Dog( 2006 )

You could argue that Robert Downey Jr wasnt slumming it by taking a reduced role in a fifth-rate Tim Allen movie. You could argue that, at this point in their own lives, he had scuppered his career so comprehensively that his appearance in this film counted as a kindness on Allens part. Even so, its jarring to see an actor so widely feted hopping around the interior of a courtroom on all fours with his tongue waggling around. Two years later, he would rehabilitate himself as Iron Man, becoming the worlds highest-paid actor in the process. But this performance remains a advising from history about all the bad things that can happen if you take too many drugs.

The entire casting
Tiptoes( 2003 )

Let us finish our marathon with an undiluted cavalcade of slumming actors. Tiptoes should have benefited from its murderers row of talent. It stars two-time Emmy-winning Peter Dinklage. It stars two-time London Critics Circle award-winner Kate Beckinsale. It stars two-time Bafta-winner Gary Oldman. It stars Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe-winning Patricia Arquette. It stars Matthew McConaughey, who won 18 awardings in a single year for Dallas Buyers Club. Tiptoes “shouldve been” unstoppable. But it wasnt because it was a weird hybrid of romcom and abortion drama in which Oldman played a dwarf. The whole thing was so offensive that it was never released theatrically in the US.

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