Tag Archives: Carey Mulligan

Interview: Carey Mulligan of ‘Shame’

In “Shame,” actress Carey Mulligan plays Sissy — the long-lost (in more ways than one) sister to Michael Fassbender’s sex addict character. Under the direction of Steve McQueen, it’s one of the year’s best supporting performances – and, as you’ll read below, one that took its toll. We spoke with Mulligan in L.A.

I always want to ask people about exactly how projects come across their bow. Do they meet with the director? Do they just have casual cocktail party chatter? Do they get sent something formal?

Mulligan: This one came to my London agent, and (director Steve McQueen) was meeting actresses, and I read it and asked to meet him. So that was fairly conventional. I didn’t end up auditioning for it, but we met and talked, and I kind of begged him to give me the job and it was good. He did.

I’m also curious if there was any sense of concern about entering such a strong working relationship between Mr. McQueen and Mr. Fassbender? I mean they had that prior film, ‘Hunger,’ which is so stultifying good. Were you afraid of being a little bit excluded from their conversations or did they open the film up?

Mulligan: No, they were very sweet and it didn’t feel like ‘boys club.’ I’ve been to ‘boy’s club'; I’ve seen that. I’ve done the boy’s club movies, where they all go off and disappear into corners and talk about things. This wasn’t that. They were so cool. Michael is such a cool — have you met Michael?

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TIFF 2011 Review: ‘Shame’

Rating: 4/5

Someone wiser than I am pointed out that the best reason “Trainspotting” worked as the greatest-ever film about drug addiction was specifically because it took great pains to convey the kick, the high and the fun alongside the crash, the low and the doom. You could argue that Steve McQueen’s “Shame” — reuniting him with Michael Fassbender from “Hunger” — does the same for sex addiction. Fassbender is Brandon, a young and well-off New Yorker whose life is controlled by sex — not just having it, but, worse, the hint of it in the air. Much like a shark can sense a drop of blood in the ocean, Brandon can pick out notes of want in the seething humanity of Manhattan.

And let us make no mistake; there is something powerful and unrelentingly cruel in “Shame.” The film begins with 19th-Century classical music, intercut with the tickticktick of a clock as time runs by fast. Brandon has a seemingly comfortable life — it’s only later we glimpse how his problems really aren’t hidden at all from anyone else in his world — that’s disrupted by the arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), just back from L.A. and looking for  a place to crash. There’s something going on between the two — some sense of past tragedy or the jagged pieces of something broken long ago  hidden under a thick woolen blanket of not talking about it — and they alternate between comforting and confronting each other.

McQueen’s “Hunger” was a completely unexpected meshing of the personal and the political; “Shame” works as an exploration of the inner and outer world. Yes, as you’ve read in the gossip headlines, there’s plenty of sex and nudity here — all of it shot and written  in a way that reminds you how most American films treat sex as if they were written by a scandalized 13-year-old boy who feels far more comfortable with murder  and violence than nudity or passion. If there’s one quibble here, in fact, it’s that at times “Shame” feels less like a cautionary tale about sex addiction and more like a seductive, superbly-shot argument for it. Fassbender is excellent, and passionate and raw, but the fact is that “The Adventures of the Good-Looking Sex Addict” is a premise lacking in a certain degree of tension; I couldn’t help but imagine a better version of “Shame” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Pau Giamatti or John C. Reilly or some other actor who could depict a more treacherous chasm to be bridged between desire and fulfillment.

Mulligan is excellent, rich and wrong in a way her normally-precious porcelain demeanor does not show, and there are standouts in the supporting cast, like James Badge Dale as Brandon’s pathetic-but-less pathetic boss and Nicole Behare as a co-worker Brandon is attracted to. (It also seems silly to single her out for praise, but Lucy Walters has two scenes and not a line of dialogue — yet makes a hell of an impression.) Cinematographer Sean Bobitt and Editor  Joe Walker return to collaborate with McQueen again, and the three craft a beautiful and terrifying film, possibly the best-shot NYC indie since Soderberg’s “The Girlfriend Experience.”

There’s something sharklike in “Shame” — its unrelenting forward motion, its dead-eyed cruelty, how its sick stiff slickness as it swims between damnation and redemption has the wet flex of cartilage and not the clean snap of bone.  McQueen is telling a story of addiction here, and rarely overplays his hand — a scene where a gay bar is presented as a new circle of Dante’s inferno is made up for by the quick-cut brilliance of when Brandon tries to throw out all of his porn in the name of getting clean with the grit-jawed determination of a junkie giving away his needles. “Shame” is tough stuff, but oddly tender — it has no small amount of sympathy for Brandon and Sissy, even while conveying the aerobic and callisthenic grind of Brandon’s futile lust and the cost of his pleasures.

“Shame” is another tough and transcendent drama from Fassbender and McQueen — and after a summer of seeing Fassbender clutch fingers to his temple and furrow his brows towards a greenscreen in the shabby, stupid “X-Men: First Class,” it’s a pleasure to watch him sincerely and actually act again. “Shame” ends with nothing promised, nothing delivered: its ideas and images even now battle in my head, lust and trust and want and worry, and for a film this good to truly look at the wonders and terrors of desire is a rare triumph worthy of recognition and appreciation.

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TIFF Review: Shame (4/5)

Someone wiser than I am pointed out that the best reason “Trainspotting” worked as the greatest-ever film about drug addiction was specifically because it took great pains to convey the kick, the high and the fun alongside the crash, the low and the doom. You could argue that Steve McQueen’s “Shame” — reuniting him with Michael Fassbender from “Hunger” — does the same for sex addiction. Fassbender is Brandon, a young and well-off New Yorker whose life is controlled by sex — not just having it, but, worse, the hint of it in the air. Much like a shark can sense a drop of blood in the ocean, Brandon can pick out notes of want in the seething humanity of Manhattan.

And let us make no mistake; there is something powerful and unrelentingly cruel in “Shame.” The film begins with 19th-Century classical music, intercut with the tickticktick  of a clock as time runs by fast. Brandon has a seemingly comfortable life — it’s only later we glimpse how his problems really aren’t hidden at all from anyone else in his world — that’s disrupted by the arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), just back from L.A. and looking for  a place to crash. There’s something going on between the two — some sense of past tragedy or the jagged pieces of something broken long ago  hidden under a thick woolen blanket of not talking about it — and they alternate between comforting and confronting each other.

McQueen’s “Hunger” was a completely unexpected meshing of the personal and the political; “Shame” works as an exploration of the inner and outer world. Yes, as you’ve read in the gossip headlines, there’s plenty of sex and nudity here — all of it shot and written  in a way that reminds you how most American films treat sex as if they were written by a scandalized 13-year-old boy who feels far more comfortable with murder  and violence than nudity or passion. If there’s one quibble here, in fact, it’s that at times “Shame” feels less like a cautionary tale about sex addiction and more like a seductive, superbly-shot argument for it. Fassbender is excellent, and passionate and raw, but the fact is that “The Adventures of the Good-Looking Sex Addict” is a premise lacking in a certain degree of tension; I couldn’t help but imagine a better version of “Shame” starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Paul Giamatti or John C. Reilly or some other actor who could depict a more treacherous chasm to be bridged between desire and fulfillment.

Mulligan is excellent, rich and wrong in a way her normally-precious porcelain demeanor does not show, and there are standouts in the supporting cast, like James Badge Dale as Brandon’s pathetic-but-less pathetic boss and Nicole Behare as a co-worker Brandon is attracted to. (It also seems silly to single her out for praise, but Lucy Walters has two scenes and not a line of dialogue — yet makes a hell of an impression.) Cinematographer Sean Bobitt and Editor  Joe Walker return to collaborate with McQueen again, and the three craft a beautiful and terrifying film, possibly the best-shot NYC indie since Soderberg’s “The Girlfriend Experience.”

There’s something sharklike in “Shame” — its unrelenting forward motion, its dead-eyed cruelty, how its sick stiff slickness as it swims between damnation and redemption has the wet flex of cartilage and not the clean snap of bone.  McQueen is telling a story of addiction here, and rarely overplays his hand — a scene where a gay bar is presented as a new circle of Dante’s inferno is made up for by the quick-cut brilliance of when Brandon tries to throw out all of his porn in the name of getting clean with the grit-jawed determination of a junkie giving away his needles. “Shame” is tough stuff, but oddly tender — it has no small amount of sympathy for Brandon and Cassie, even while conveying the aerobic and callisthenic grind of Brandon’s futile lust and the cost of his pleasures. 

“Shame” is another tough and transcendent drama from Fassbender and McQueen — and after a summer of seeing Fassbender clutch fingers to his temple and furrow his brows towards a greenscreen in the shabby, stupid “X-Men: First Class,” it’s a pleasure to watch him sincerely and actually act again. “Shame” ends with nothing promised, nothing delivered: its ideas and images even now battle in my head, lust and trust and want and worry, and for a film this good to truly look at the wonders and terrors of desire is a rare triumph worthy of recognition and appreciation. 

From my review at The Hitlist

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Ryan Gosling, Drive and Cannes

At the end of Cannes, everyone’s looking for a little bit of a release from the serious social commentary and inspirational art of some of the films — and this year, they got it with “Drive,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s crime thriller starring Ryan Gosling (“Blue Valentine,” “The Notebook”) as a driver-for-hire in both Hollywood and L.A.’s underworld. Speaking with Gosling the next day beachside, the 30-year-old actor was a little taken aback by the crowd’s reaction to the film the night before. “I was shocked. I didn’t expect people to cheer. They almost started dancing at one point toward the end. I didn’t expect it to be so much … I didn’t expect people to have so much fun. But I think you’re right: It does have a lot to do with the timing.”

I asked Gosling what it was like to do the rehearsals and run-throughs for a Cannes premiere; he smiled. “I had spent the night before — at 2 a.m. we went to the Palais …” — Cannes’ main building — “… just 5 or 6 of us, and we went and sat and watched a little bit of the print to check the color and to check the sound. Apparently they only go to 7, but we made them go up to 7.5. ”

“It was a very special experience to get to be there alone and see the film, walk around in the theatre while it was empty. It made going there the next day less nerve-wracking. Then, of course, REO Speedwagon’s (‘I Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore’ is) playing when we came down the red carpet. I was wearing a blue tuxedo, and I felt like me and Nic (Refn) were going to prom. Then everyone seemed to have so much fun in the screening. It was a magical night.”

Gosling — who hand-picked Refn to direct “Drive” — feels like the film is both a great action film and a commentary on action films, describing his character Driver as “… someone who’s seen too many movies. It feels to me like he’s someone who had seen so many movies that they began to confuse their own life for one.” At the same time, Driver’s not a traditional action-hero full of one-liners and snappy dialogue. “A lot of action movie heroes are full of bluster. The only time he says he’s going to kick somebody’s ass is when he means it; otherwise he can be a little girl. He doesn’t come on to the girl (Carey Mulligan) very hard. We never really talked about those classic archetypical characters, ‘the strong silent type.’ Every time I started talking — maybe it was just me — but it didn’t feel right.”

I asked Gosling about Driver and how the movie is short on any ‘backstory,’ for Driver, which made me wonder if Gosling thought about the character that way. He smiled. “I’m used to figuring out the minutia of the character, and Nicolas could care less. He wants to think in dream logic. The film was so freeing to think that way — that this movie’s a dream that’s turning into a nightmare, and we’re experiencing this story from inside the driver’s world. This could be his fantasy or his nightmare; it’s not literal, so we didn’t really think about those things.”

From my article at The Rundown

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Drive to Succeed — Ryan Gosling in Cannes

Working with Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, Ryan Gosling had no worries about trying to capture L.A.’s nighttime world with a foreign film maker. “I think it was a nice chemistry, because my favorite thing to do in Los Angeles is drive around at night and listen to music. I like listening to Art Laboe, who’s this guy — you know him? He does this show where families call in to their other family members who are in prison, and they dedicate songs to one another. Some woman will dedicate a song to a guy named Winky who’s getting out in six months, — ‘Stay safe and keep his head down.’ I started taking Nic into that world, which is driving around at night and listening to music and this spell that the car puts you under: You get in the car, you turn the key, and then suddenly you’ve arrived at your destination, and you don’t remember how you got there, that trance that it puts you in. And the movie became more about driving than stunts, and it became more about being in the car than the car itself.”

Gosling’s character may not say much, but the actor clearly has plenty to say about his work: “I think we tried to make a werewolf movie without the makeup. There’s a violence in (Driver) that he’s afraid of, and I think he’s in a race to try and find a good cause that he can channel it into before it turns on him.” And as for the connection his character has with Carey Mulligan’s single mom Irene, “It’s a nonsexual connection. That’s what I think is the key for us. When we took out the sexuality, it became more about that he was her knight and his duty was to serve her in any way — and to die for her — that was his destiny. She was a princess locked in the tower, and he needed to defend her and slay a dragon.”

Less metaphorically, Gosling also learned how to drive — really drive — for the film, even if he couldn’t do quite as many of his own stunts as he wanted to. “It was frustrating because I had learned how to actually do the stunts, so I wanted to do them. You have to shoot them and you have to set up rigs and lights, and that part of it was frustrating. But it does look beautiful. The process of learning how to drive was pretty exciting. Working with our stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott, we go into this church parking lot. There’d be a new Camaro or a new Mustang, and we would do stunts until it started smoking, or catch on fire. Then some tow truck would take it away and we’d go home and wait until they found us another car. I’ve never had more fun on a film — never. It’s hard because it’s a skill that you can’t use; it’s a hobby you can’t really indulge. There’s nowhere to do it.”

So, I asked Gosling, let’s suggest that this movie makes a lot of money — and someone suggests a sequel. Would he be interested at all in getting behind the wheel again? Gosling’s face lights up with a mix of enthusiasm and loyalty. “Only if Nic does. I’d never do it without him.

Look at what he did with the ‘Pusher’ trilogy; I’ve never seen anyone do that …” Gosling’s face turns into a mischievous smile as fast as a bootlegger’s turn: “Maybe we direct it together and there’s a different driver. …” “Drive” will come to theaters this fall.

From my article at The Rundown

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Cannes Review: Nicolas Winding Refn’s Low-Slung ‘80s Crime Drama Drive [A] Has A Dark Majesty

Why is “Drive”—a seemingly trivial affair about a stuntman and part-time getaway driver, played by Ryan Gosling, pulled into deep and bloody waters on the neon-and-streetlight lit streets of L.A.—even at Cannes, let alone in competition? It’s not merely because of the bloody-but-brilliant background of director Nicolas Winding Refn, whose films (the “Pusher” trilogy, “Bronson,” “Valhalla Rising”) have demonstrated both an eye for composition and a taste for the jugular. It’s not merely because of the film’s cinematic roots, with the production seemingly crafted as a clear tribute to ‘80s-era Michael Mann and other synthesizer-and-faux-leather action-crime stories. Rather, you can make a case that “Drive” is here because action cinema and genre cinema are too important—and too exciting, enthralling and, yes, artful when well made—to be merely dismissed as suitable only for hacks to make and dolts to watch. French enthusiasm for American crime cinema from the ‘40s and ‘50s gave us the vocabulary and value set to truly appreciate film noir—and anyone who can truly appreciate film noir will appreciate “Drive.”


Gosling’s nameless wheelman Driver lives in L.A., works from his car. He takes on odd jobs. He’ll wait outside of a building for five minutes while you do whatever you need to. Then he’ll drive you away from that building. He doesn’t need, or want, to know what you’re doing. He doesn’t carry a gun. He just needs to drive. And the film opens with Gosling at work, dodging the L.A.P.D. after a robbery with a series of smart moves and clever fake-outs that involve a knowledge of urban geography and human behavior to stay hidden—and then involve driving like hell once that cover is blown. Movies like the big, loud (but still excellent) “Fast Five” offer us the car chase; what’s seen here is more like car chess.

Adapted from James Sallis’ novel by Hossein Ameni (”The Wings of the Dove,” “Jude”—and, more appropriately, the Elmore Leonard adaptation “Killshot”), “Drive” is simple, steady storytelling. The opening sequence—soaring synthesizers over late-night streets, with the credits in a neon script that instantly evokes Reagan-era diversions like Mann’s “Thief” or Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in L.A.”—tells us exactly what kind of film we’re in for, and we are not disappointed. Gosling’s single-mom neighbor Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son Benicio (Kaden Leos) enter his life and his world, and he’s happy. And then her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) gets out of jail. Standard wants to go straight. Other people won’t let him. And since they’re threatening Irene and Benicio, Driver has to step in.

While Drive is indebted to Walter Hill‘s “The Driver” from 1978, the other crime-fiction forebear that comes to mind is Richard Stark‘s Parker novels, which depict the adventures of a criminal with a simple code of something like honor. Criminality doesn’t offend Gosling’s Driver; lack of professionalism does. He won’t carry a gun, but he will use one. He doesn’t start fights, but he ends them. And if you’ve grown tired of watching Gosling suffer, Christ-like, for our sins in a series of indie dramas like “Half Nelson,” “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Blue Valentine,” then watching him, for example, pulverize a man’s skull with his foot will prove remarkably invigorating.

Refn’s direction is so subtly and beautifully framed that you don’t notice how good it is until much later. A brief stolen moment on an elevator shines with amber slow-mo light. An adroit fade takes the story exactly where it needs to go. And the car matters are shot in a way that makes it clear that for Driver, a car is not an extension of muscle, but, rather, of intellect and will as well. Refn also keeps the violence quick, brisk and brutal—the people who are shot in this film do not clutch idly at a squib’s dot of blood before grunting their way to the ground, and the people who do the killing are splattered with gore—and this is as it should be.

Gosling’s work is fine and reserved (his first line of more than three words in the film is a threat), and the supporting cast clicks into place like gears in a fine-tuned engine. Bryan Cranston is Gosling’s friend and aide, Mulligan is wary and warm as the girl, and Christina Hendricks and James Biberi have sleazy snap as low-level crooks. But it’s Albert Brooks—as a Jewish made man in L.A., an ex-movie producer, and an organized-crime manager who still proves surprisingly adept at labor—who truly impresses. Some will object to Gosling’s lack of backstory or motivation for his criminal acts, but if we had to choose between a movie that leaves these things to the imagination or over-elaborates them with the rambling sweaty eye-shifting tale-telling of a bad liar, I’ll take the former. “Drive” works as a great demonstration of how, when there’s true talent behind the camera, entertainment and art are not enemies but allies.

From my review at The Playlist

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Never Let Me Go (4.5/5), MSN Movies

Staging Kazuo Ishiguro’s acclaimed 2005 novel as a series of hushed conversations taking place in dimly lit rooms or under cloudy skies, Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go” unfolds with the beautiful poisoned grace of a viper readying to strike. The film’s “twist” — revealed by both the original novel and in the trailer — has a sharp bite that will shock the unknowing, but it’s not the film’s reason for being. Instead, it’s the mood and moral slowly crafted by director Romanek and screenwriter Alex Garland (“Sunshine,” “28 Days Later“) that seep into your heart and brain drop by drop until you’re surprised by how completely they fill you.

Kathy (Carey Mulligan) works as a “carer,” helping patients transition through a special segment of the health-care system in Britain; her late-’90s life is contrasted with her childhood at Hailsham, a private school with its own secrets and rituals. We see Kathy’s regimented childhood alongside Ruth and Tommy, and we see Kathy’s silent love for Tommy drowned out by Ruth’s more loudly spoken affections in their teens.

But all of this is irrelevant, even as the teenage Kathy and Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) live and love and learn, because they were told — in violation of Hailsham policy, but told nonetheless — at a young age that their lives are not normal. That their lives are not even theirs. They are being raised solely to provide organs for donation. They are clones, kept as healthy as possible to better provide replacement materials for others until they “complete,” the program’s gentle euphemism for death.

This revelation is not the film, nor is it the launching pad for escape plots and car chases, as if Romanek were making some oak-paneled accents-and-adrenaline mix of the Merchant-Ivory canon and Michael Bay‘s “The Island.” Romanek and Garland create a world here — one step away from ours, and at the same time entirely too close — and its edge is sharp, swift and subtle as a scalpel parting flesh. Knightley gives a strong performance, making Ruth more than a plot-propelling series of sins and stratagems. Garfield finds something willful and yet weak in Tommy. And Mulligan makes Kathy more than just a central, centered narrator.

Many have already picked at “Never Let Me Go” from its brief spin on the fall film festival circuit — Why don’t the three escape? Why does nothing seem to happen? — but this is tunnel vision masquerading as perception, and a lazy failure to understand that events in a film’s plot are not the only measure of its purpose. Romanek’s vision is meticulously constructed, from props and costumes to set design and the fall of light on a quiet afternoon. The point is not to wonder why Kathy, Tommy and Ruth do not, in their short time alive, struggle to change the injustice and inequity in their world. It is, perhaps, rather that we should ask why we, in our short time alive, do not struggle to change the injustice and inequity of ours.

Romanek’s been cursed by the fates since 2002’s “One Hour Photo” — he had three films fall apart for various reasons, one after the other — but here, he’s back with a vengeance. The craft, command and care in every frame of the film is such that future generations will assuredly look at “Never Let Me Go” for a demonstration of the pure power of mise-en-scené: the harmony and energy created by every aspect of filmmaking working together in concert. Past generations, if shown the film, would be pardoned for thinking it was from Kubrick or Malick, a beautiful film about ugly truths where big ideas are expressed in small moments.

“Never Let Me Go” isn’t perfect — the closing narration is so on-the-nose it may as well be written in freckles — but the film as a whole ripples with such compassion and passion, such intellect and instinct, such delicacy and raw power — that it haunts and hurts in equal measure. The film takes its title from the chorus of a song, a lover’s plea that twists and shifts as you contemplate it, going from promise to curse and back again. In one quiet, devastating moment, the film explicitly asks if Kathy, Tommy and Ruth have souls; even more quiet, and even more devastating, is the gradual realization that it asks us the same question of ourselves.

From my full review at MSN Movies


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