Helena Bonham Carter joins Terminator 4!

The Hollywood Reporter, via Reuters, is spreading the news:

The British actress is in talks to board “Terminator Salvation,” the fourth installment in the franchise kicked off by James Cameron in 1984. Roles in the new film have been kept under wraps, but insiders described the Bonham Carter role as small but pivotal.

This brings the number of Terminator 4 actors that I have interviewed up to two, now.

I met Christian Bale, who plays John Connor in T4, on the junket for The New World (2005).

And I interviewed Helena Bonham Carter for the student newspaper The Ubyssey when she came to Vancouver to promote Margaret’s Museum (1995); see page 3 of this PDF file.

I have very fond memories of her cradling my tape recorder in her lap — most interviewees tend to ignore the thing — and at one point, I believe she took it with her into her bedroom while she went to fetch something, talking and continuing to answer one of my questions all the way.

I also recall the sympathetic look she gave me when I tried to take her picture and something went wrong with my camera. Oh well, with any luck, I can try it again, one of these days.

Shyamalan’s cinematic magic no longer Happening

IT’S a common mistake, but still worth noting: Contrary to what many people seem to think, The Sixth Sense was not M. Night Shyamalan’s first movie.

It was, in fact, his third. But virtually no one had seen his first film, Praying with Anger (still not available on DVD), or his second film, Wide Awake (with Rosie O’Donnell as a nun who really likes baseball).

So when The Sixth Sense came out in the summer of 1999 and wowed audiences with its deeply felt drama and its shocking twist ending — becoming such a big word-of-mouth hit that, for the next couple years, it was one of the top 10 films of all time at the North American box office — it was easy for many people to treat the film as though it marked the debut of a brilliant and brand-new talent.

[Read more…]

Movies that taunt their audiences.

He’s only got two examples so far, and normally you need three to make this sort of pronouncement, but Glenn Kenny says he detects a trend anyway:

  1. In Jumper, Hayden Christensen plays a guy who can teleport to any place in the world — or at least any place that he can remember being to before — and in one of his voice-overs, he declares: “I wasn’t always like this. Once, I was a normal person. A chump, just like you.”

  2. In Wanted, which is turning out to have one of the biggest opening weekends of any R-rated film ever, James McAvoy plays a superpowered assassin who can make bullets curve around obstacles to reach their intended targets — and in one of his voice-overs, he declares: “Six weeks ago, I was ordinary and pathetic, just like you.”

The headline that Kenny gives his musings on this trend-in-the-making — “Contempt for the audience!” — brings to mind, for me, recent accusations by a handful of critics that WALL*E, which depicts the human race of the future as a mass of fat and lazy consumers, and which is also doing phenomenal business this weekend, is also “an insult to its customers.”

I have not yet seen WALL*E, so I cannot say whether it merits this criticism or whether it merits being lumped in with these other films — though from what I hear, it at least tries to go someplace redemptive with its satirical set-up. I have, however, seen the other two films, and I think one could point to significant differences between them, too, if one wanted to.

For one thing, the Christensen character makes his statement at the beginning of Jumper, when he is callow and arrogant and unaware of the larger forces that are about to intrude upon his life; he makes his statement, in other words, before the story has given him any opportunity for redemption. (Whether he takes full advantage of that opportunity is another subject for another time.)

The McAvoy character, on the other hand, makes his statement at the end of Wanted, after he has passed through all the training exercises and narrative curveballs that transform him from a wussy office drone to a superpowered hitman. So in his case, the arrogance is something that he seems to earn over the course of his self-actualization, whether you agree with it or not.

This movement towards arrogance on the part of McAvoy’s character is certainly one of the more problematic aspects of Wanted — which is, in many ways, kind of like David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999) but without the clear critique of the characters’ own fascist tendencies. But I actually kind of like this problem.

To bring in another Edward Norton movie, the final moments of Wanted are kind of like the final moments in The Incredible Hulk, inasmuch as they show a character finally taking “control” of his life, but they leave you wondering whether he will use this control to remain a hero or become a villain.

They highlight, in other words, the value of autonomy and self-determination, but also the risks that come with those things. Without free will, we couldn’t be good, not in any meaningful way — but without free will, we also couldn’t sin or do evil. So is the risk of sin and evil worth the free will? That sort of thing.

Do I think we should all try to be more than ordinary in some way? Yeah, absolutely. Do I think extra-ordinary people face the temptation to lord it over the ordinary people, and to think that they are better than they really are? Yeah, absolutely. Do I think McAvoy poses a legitimate challenge to the audience, even if he personally seems to represent something that we should try to avoid in our own lives? Yeah, absolutely.

So a part of me likes that tension at the end of Wanted — even if it seems to lend some validity to McAvoy’s claim that he is no longer “ordinary and pathetic” like the rest of us.

Frankly, if it weren’t for Kenny, I never would have made any sort of connection between this film and Jumper. The film that I was reminded of, at the end of Wanted, was Trainspotting (1996), which famously concludes with Ewan McGregor telling the audience that he’s going to blend in and become a part of society, just like the people he mocked at the beginning of the film, and just like the sorry lot of us sitting right there in the theatre.

Maybe it’s because McAvoy and McGregor are both Scottish, I dunno.

His Dark Materials — still not dead yet?

Believe it or not, the newest Variety story on the comings and goings at New Line Cinema includes these sentences:

There are also the two “Hobbit” films and a possible sequel to “The Golden Compass.” The question is how much Warner Bros. will get involved in those tentpoles.

Has Compass been doing really well on DVD or something?

We are all robots in need of love.

WALL*E director Andrew Stanton has insisted for a while now that he never intended his film to be a political parable — that he meant to tell a love story, and all the seemingly pro-environment and anti-consumerist stuff was put there just to further it along — and critics such as Devin Faraci and Jeffrey Wells have questioned Stanton’s sincerity and honesty in reply.

I have not yet seen the film for myself, so I cannot say how I would interpret it, yet, but today I came across another Stanton interview, this one done by my colleague Megan Basham, in which he articulates possibly the best — or, for me at least, the most appealing — version of his self-defense yet:

WORLD: How does WALL•E represent your singular vision?

STANTON: Well, what really interested me was the idea of the most human thing in the universe being a machine because it has more interest in finding out what the point of living is than actual people. The greatest commandment Christ gives us is to love, but that’s not always our priority. So I came up with this premise that could demonstrate what I was trying to say—that irrational love defeats the world’s programming. You’ve got these two robots that are trying to go above their basest directives, literally their programming, to experience love.

With the human characters I wanted to show that our programming is the routines and habits that distract us to the point that we’re not really making connections to the people next to us. We’re not engaging in relationships, which are the point of living—relationship with God and relationship with other people.

So the film is saying that people are like robots that need to rise above their programming to be truly human — to experience love and the “I-Thou” of interpersonal relationships? And all the rampant “consumerism” depicted in the film is not there to make a political statement so much as it is to make an existential statement about our enslavement to our basic, mechanistic, animalistic impulses — our enslavement, in other words, to “the flesh”? (Or to our “passions”, as the Fathers might say?)

Yeah, I can dig that. I can totally dig that.

And now I have to provide links to a couple of my earlier posts on robot-themed films like Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997) and A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001). If this film proves to be in those leagues, thematically, then that would be very cool indeed.

Hancock — a parable about America?

What some intend as parody, others intend as, um, contrarian thinking, or maybe even no-really-I’m-serious analysis.

Three days ago, Will Smith appeared on The Colbert Report to promote his dysfunctional-superhero movie Hancock. (Click here to watch that episode in the States, and here to watch it in Canada.) And somewhere in there, the always-ironic Stephen Colbert asked a question that left the normally chatty Smith speechless:

The superhero who uses his power and people get mad at him — this is not a metaphor for America, is it? This isn’t one of those Hollywood-elite-attacking-America things where America uses its superpower and everybody gets mad at us?

Today, conservative film critic Kyle Smith had this to say about the film:

“Hancock,” directed by Peter Berg, who also made last year’s pro-America Middle East crime drama “The Kingdom,” is superficially a blockbuster aimed at the masses who like to see cars thrown around and wish they could fly, but for those who read into a film it’s a sly allegory about America’s place in the world today. . . .

Hancock is a guy whose symbol is the eagle. He’s the “only one of my kind,” a lone, lonely superpower. He’s unpolished, maybe even swinish. He does the right thing (in Winston Churchill’s words) only eventually. He whales on pissy little Frenchmen named Michel and his name, of course, is in a sense the name of the first American. (When else should his story be told but on the Fourth of July weekend?)

Hancock didn’t ask to be the most powerful force in the world, and after taking a lot of abuse about his methods he is having trouble coping with himself. You might say his personal sense of whether he’s headed in the wrong direction or right direction is at an all time low. He sleeps the days away on benches with a bottle of booze.

When roused to duty he calls to mind Colin Powell’s remark that America didn’t ask to be the world’s policeman–but who else can you call when you need a cop? . . .

The point of Hancock is that though he keeps saving the lives of the citizens of L.A. from the criminals who bedevil them, everybody hates him. He can’t just apprehend a bad guy by reading him a sternly-issued statement; he has to throw the scumbag’s car through a skyscraper. Of collateral damage there is much.

But sometimes Hancock has no choice but to overreact, and sometimes he’s just careless and sloppy about the details, even as he manages to leave things much better than he found them. Hancock’s m.o., in other words, is Berg’s defense of the American war-making apparatus: taking care of business with the world’s supervillains but often creating a mess in the process. . . .

What if Hancock made an effort to be something other than the coarse bully who ignores the advice of others? Witness the Wussification of Hancock. Do we want a hero who submits mewling to censure from authorities (Hancock allows himself to be arrested)? Do we want a Hancock tied up in group therapy that looks as dull and pointless as a UN hearing? . . .

And so on, and so on. Make of all that what you will.

For now, I can spot at least one element that complicates Smith’s thesis: the eagle which adorns Hancock’s uniform, and which Smith sees as a good thing, is put there, as is the uniform itself, by the PR guy who begins the very process of “Wussification” that Smith sees as a bad thing. So it would seem that Berg is either tweaking the use of such patriotic symbols, or — if we must pursue the political analogy — he is not defending America’s recklessness but suggesting that true patriotism reins in a nation’s bad habits. Or, of course, he may be doing both. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

By the way, speaking of The Colbert Report, the first episode I ever watched all the way through aired last week, and it featured interviews with Bishop N.T. Wright, one of my favorite religious historians — I interviewed him a couple of times in the mid-1990s, and have written other stories on him besides — as well as the Cookie Monster. Yes, the Cookie Monster. I loved it. (Click here to watch that episode in the States, and here to watch it in Canada.)