Tag Archives: Emily Blunt

Interview: Director Nicholas Stoller and Producer Judd Apatow of ‘The Five-Year Engagement’

Confronting the press like a well-timed comedy double-act — which, in many ways, they are — director Nicholas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow spoke with MSN Movies (among other reporters) about their new film, “The Five-Year Engagement,” which depicts the loves and challenges of Jason Segel’s Tom and Emily Blunt’s Violet, a couple madly in love but still confronted by very real problems. Director Stoller spent most of last year celebrating the success of “The Muppets,” which he co-wrote with Segel; Apatow, of course, has done more to define comedy on film in the past 10 years than perhaps any other director or producer.

The films made under your name, Mr. Apatow, they’re like these really well-marbled steaks — the fat is the flavor and there’s really no clear place to cut. How hard is it when you’ve got all these talented people, working on this very smart script, given room to play, to make the final assembly cut? How much of that is you in some advisory role going, “No, you have to make it tinier” or “No, no. Leave that in …”?

Apatow: That sounds really good. I want a steak now. I’m always going, “Keep it longer.” I’m the worst person for that. I try to just save a fresh clear head for whoever I’m working with, so hopefully its helpful that there’s someone who doesn’t have to sit in the editing room twelve hours a day and who’s blinded by the massive footage and options that they have. So that when Nick is happy with a cut, and I see it at the previews, I’ve just been at the tanning salon all day, fresh as a daisy.

Stoller: He’s very tan when he comes to the first take.

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‘Salmon Fishing’ a Decent Rom-Com Catch

Directed by Lasse Hallström, who has mined similar fields with films from “Chocolat” to “The Shipping News,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” feels like three partial films jammed into the space one would normally allot for a full one. There’s the romance, between Ewan McGregor‘s fisheries expert and Emily Blunt‘s high-end PR miracle worker. There’s the culture-clash comedy of Blunt’s sheik employer Amr Waked trying to import salmon fishing from the rivers of England and Scotland to the low-level rivers of the Yemen, in the Middle East. Finally, there’s the political satire and comedy resulting when the salmon-in-Yemen exercise, improbable as it is, becomes a priority for the government so officials can point to England improving parts of the Middle East instead of, you know, only dropping bombs on other parts of it, with Kristin Scott Thomas‘ iron-fisted press secretary orchestrating all from behind the scenes.

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Toronto Film Festival 2011 Preview

With 268 feature films, including 123 World Premieres, the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, set to begin on September 8th and to close on the 18th, seems too daunting for any one person to handle. And that initial impression, according to Toronto Star Movies Editor Linda Barnard, is definitively the case. “It is impossible to see everything — there’s no question it’s impossible. The festival, as far as I’m concerned, ‘blames’ great filmmakers. That’s why it’s getting so big, because it’s an embarrassment of riches, and you will see at this festival probably 90 percent of the Oscar winning films; you’re going to see without question all of the films that will be nominated for Best Foreign Film.” 

For Mark Duplass, who’ll be attending TIFF as an actor in “Your Sister’s Sister” alongside Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt and as the co-writer of the Jason Segel and Susan Sarandon comedy “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” it’s a quantum leap from the more familiar territory of the smaller, more intimate Sundance Film Festival. “I’ve had heads-ups (from) people who know that I am used to Sundance. They’ve warned me that there are three times as many films there, it feels very big, and you should not feel slighted if your movie isn’t being talked about in every single corner.”

In the mood for an old-fashioned ’70s-styled political drama with movie-star power? George Clooney‘s second directorial effort, “The Ides of March,” has Ryan Gosling as a young political operative whose support for a presidential candidate (Clooney) turns into a raw, rough game of tricks and truths. Looking for historical dramas seething with modern subtext? David Cronenberg‘s “A Dangerous Mind” gives us Kiera Knightley as the patient whose madness and desires fascinate Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Jung (Michael Fassbender), or you can take in Andrea Arnold’s version of “Wuthering Heights,” with Heathcliffe and Cathy on the moors seen through the eyes of the talent behind “Red Road” and “Fish Tank.” Genre fans can bite into “Extraterrestrial,” the one-night-stand sci-fi follow-up from “Timecrimes” director Nacho Vigolando, while those looking for slightly more realism can choose Sarah Polley’s “Take this Waltz,” a bruising drama of desire and fidelity with Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams. Or perhaps you’d like to see the toast of Cannes , like “The Artist,” Michael Havanacius’s love letter to old Hollywood with a star turn by Jean DuJardin, or the Dardenne Brothers’ wrenching “The Kid with a Bike.” And take in the breakout hits of Sundance, like the powerful coming-of-age story “Pariah” or the broodingly beautiful “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” 

That only leaves you with 259 feature films left to see. Matt Price, a film lover and co-host of the Mamo Film Podcast who’s attended TIFF for 20 years (this will be his 19th Festival ) has seen TIFF change from a follower of other film festivals to a leader in its own right: “The biggest change was that it went from being a greatest hits of other festivals to (being a) juggernaut programming force (so) that other festivals now pay attention to what Toronto picks. The original intention of the festival was, ‘Let’s find out what everyone else thinks is good, and just play that.'” Now, according to Price, the Toronto Film Festival’s higher number of premieres and higher rate of social-media chatter mean that, combined with the Festival’s change from an early all-access pass to individual tickets, the chances to respond to buzz during the later days of the Festival are tougher and tougher to manage.”A lot of stuff does sell out, and it is hard to course correct midway through. It’s more like a big boat now instead of a little skiff, and you can’t really turn the big boat.”

For Duplass, the hope is less about catching buzz than building it, with the cosmically random deadpan big-name comedy of “Jeff” and the rough-and-tumble “Sister.” “These are two of my favorite movies that I’ve worked on in the last five years. ‘Jeff Who Lives at Home,’ for me … you never want to be this guy, but it basically encapsulates what (brother and co-writer) Jay (Duplass) and I are into and about, and we got to make our favorite movie. With Lynn Shelton’s movie, ‘Your Sister’s Sister,’ it was the chance to make one of our smaller-style movies and bring some movie stars into the process. They were both epic for me.”

On the other side of the equation, Barnard notes that the festival can be a grind for press, with a majority of big-star premieres and interviews scheduled the festival’s first week, and hopes filmmakers can have a little sympathy for the devil. “Try and understand that there are more than 300 movies and there’s only a relative handful of us. If we can’t spend time with you or spend time with your movie, it’s not that we don’t love you; it’s just that it’s impossible. If you please come back to Toronto, if you please think about doing media in the future with the film, if you give us another chance, if you give us a phoner, give us another opportunity, because we hate to miss.”

As Price notes, the sizzle and spark of the fest has, in recent years, gone from being driven by the Festival’s programmers and the media to the fast-moving world of instant communication, as well as the old-fashioned method of keeping your ears open as you wait in line. “The first phase was where you learned everything about the movies from people standing beside you in line… now I feel like we’re in (the) phase (where) I learn almost everything … from social networking and Twitter, in terms of what to see.” Price laughed: “It’s a light year this year, (with) only 50 films this year for me. Granted, one of those films is 15 hours long, but still …” (No, that isn’t a mistake or hyperbole; director Mark Cousins’ “The Story of Film” is 900 minutes, shown broken up over several days of the Festival. As Price says, “when else am I going to do that? That to me is why people have film festivals, so I can do that.”)

But as Barnard points out, the public’s opportunity to enjoy chance discoveries is predicated on the TIFF programming staff’s willingness to take chances. ‘The programmers for this festival and … certainly the main players of Piers Handling and Cameron Bailey, they really know what they’re doing. They tend to bring very good movies here.” At the same time, as Barnard notes, there are plenty of places for the less-star driven films to find an audience, from the Vanguard narrative selection’s stories lost souls, strangeness and shattered lives redeemed by grace to the more lunging thrills offered by the Festival’s latest-starting set of screenings, Midnight Madness: “Toronto always aims to start a conversation and to get people talking about movies and to try and program things that are impactful and frightful, things that will get people talking. The Midnight Madness program is a classic example of that: The best of offbeat, quirky, art house horror. Where else are you going to see a movie about killer, blood-sucking sheep?” (That film, the 2006 Midnight Madness offering “Black Sheep,” also let Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes indulge his inner P.T. Barnum, with a red carpet featuring livestock for atmosphere along the filmmakers.)

That kind of showmanship isn’t just about fun and games, though –it’s also about Toronto’s role as a major acquisitions market, where independent films hope to find distribution. Duplass’s “Jeff Who Lives at Home” may be a Paramount release (as he charmingly notes, “Yes, we are a Paramount movie and the mountain does appear before our movie starts, but it was made quite independently, actually …”), but “My Sister’s Sister” will be looking to make a deal. “Toronto will be the big sale for it. We made the film with private equity, completely independently, and we’re taking it out to sell.”

And as Barnard notes, the whispers of backroom deals are nothing compared to the roar of the crowd in Toronto’s theaters. “I have to say that I always live in fear that I’m going to miss that great movie, and you do. You just have to accept that that’s going to happen: You’re going to be stuck somewhere else, a movie’s not going to get on your radar, and you have to let it go with regret and accept that you missed that great moment. I’ll always be grateful that I was sitting in the Ryerson theatre the night that ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ premiered. To be there on the ground for that was really thrilling.” For Price, the constant balance of finding something amazing versus missing something rumored to be even more so is what Toronto’s all “I would say that without a doubt, the thought that I might see or experience something that I am absolutely not expecting and that it might actually go to my core and rewire my brain a little bit? The excitement of thinking that might happen is the best part about this.” Even Duplass isn’t immune. “There are bazillions of films that I want to see.” Fortunately for him, and fortunately for everyone who loves movies, that’s exactly what the Toronto International Film Festival offers.

From my article at MSN Movies

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The Adjustment Bureau (2.5/5), MSN Movies

Roughly inspired by a 1954 short story from the same writer who had his works turned into the films “Blade Runner,” “Total Recall” and “Paycheck,” “The Adjustment Bureau” offers what science-fiction fans will recognize as Philip K. Dick in a box: conspiracy, reality-bending, big brainy questions and little weird details. Senatorial candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) is preparing a concession speech when he meets ballerina Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt), and the connection is immediate. Nothing could keep them from pursuing each other … aside from a mysterious conspiracy of retro-stylish men with knowledge of some grand plan that must be kept to themselves, and that doesn’t include room for love between David and Elise.

Written and directed by George Nolfi, the film follows a fairly familiar set of rules and delivers a fairly familiar set of images and ideas. Imagine if “The Matrix” was not crafted to satisfy someone who watched Bruce Lee movies and read comic books while procrastinating on a computer science degree, but instead made for the enjoyment of someone who watched Douglas Sirk melodramas and read Harlequin romance novels while procrastinating on a theology degree. You get the same concerns — What’s real? Do we have free will? Can anything stop love? — but with foot chases instead of gun battles, discussions of divine grace instead of robotic evil, and love, not kung-fu, conquering all.

As David pursues Elise, he keeps on encountering roadblocks thrown up by the Adjustment Bureau, nattily dressed functionaries who talk like organization men but seem just a touch more-than-human. They have neat Moleskine notebooks that open up to display animated maps of the workings of the universe and a neat knack for opening a door in one place and stepping out through it in another place blocks or miles away. The neatest thing about these functionaries — played, moving up the ladder of management, by Anthony Mackie, John Slattery and Terence Stamp — is that they do have a ladder of management, and they sound like they’re out of “Office Space,” not some boil-in-bag cliché sci-fi film. Slattery, exasperated by David’s persistence in the face of warnings and obstacles, notes, “I just can’t catch a break on this case,” and you actually feel for the bad day at work he’s having.

To director Nolfi’s credit, he gets a substantial amount of chemistry out of Damon and Blunt — their initial meeting throws so many sparks off the screen it might as well be in 3-D — and he takes advantage of cinematographer John Toll (who shot the not-dissimilar “Vanilla Sky“) and New York’s shooting locations to terrific effect. It’s his directorial debut, and after writing for Damon in both “The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Ocean’s Twelve,” Nolfi has a good sense of how to best use the actor’s charisma and skills.

If one thing damages “The Adjustment Bureau,” it’s how it literally talks itself out of being really good, the energy of the final chase (full of space-shifting special effects shots so casually delivered it takes a few moments to realize how well-done and well-executed they actually are) diluted and undercut by a lengthy overexplanation of the film’s metaphysics by Mackie. The Bureau is such an interesting idea — capable of minor miracles and with the kind of gift for timing that when you imagine the metaphorical angels dancing on the head of a pin, these are the guys doing the choreography — that Nolfi’s need to answer every question in the last reel is more exasperating than enlightening.

Do Nolfi, Damon and Blunt create an instant classic of the emotional sci-fi subgenre like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Solaris,” where the big pseudoscientific idea in the film is just an excuse to explore philosophical ideas about love? Not quite. It’s a hyper-adrenalized date movie, one that owes far more to Nicholas Sparks than Philip K. Dick. (Getting the squirrely, speed-freak ideas of Dick’s wired, weird stories and novels on the big screen involves so much money and effort that the weirdness is often the first thing to go, as if the Philharmonic tuned up for needlessly large, elevator-music versions of Clash songs.) It’s too bad that Nolfi couldn’t stick closer to the cold bizarre brilliance of Dick’s work in his film. The sentiment of “The Adjustment Bureau” isn’t necessarily what sinks it, but the overexplained softened edges of the story turn what could have been an exceptional brain-bender into a good, but fairly standard-issue, heart-warmer.

From my review at MSN Movies

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Gulliver’s Travels (1.5/5), MSN Movies

You may not recall much of “Gulliver’s Travels,” the 1726 fable by Jonathan Swift. Maybe you can see, in your mind’s eye, shipwrecked traveler Lemuel Gulliver on the beach, bound by hundreds of the tiny Lilliputians, residents of the first strange shore he washes up on. Or perhaps you see Gulliver, now himself small, among the giants of Brobdingnag. You don’t really have to recall much more than that from your long-ago slog through the book in high school or from one of the many filmed versions; the people behind this new 3-D version, modernized and starring Jack Black as Gulliver, certainly don’t bring much more than those two images from the book to the table. Instead, “Gulliver’s Travels” is an incredibly costly, special effects-laden plotless muddle of a film that might as well be called “In the Name of Jesus, Doesn’t the Prospect of Leaving the House and Not Having to Talk to Your Family for 90 Minutes During the Christmas Holiday Sound Appealing?”

Directed by Rob Letterman (“Monsters vs. Aliens,” “Shark Tale“), “Gulliver’s Travels” casts Black as Lemuel Gulliver, a mail room employee at a New York newspaper, who, desperate to impress comely travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), fibs and plagiarizes enough of a writing career to get an assignment to investigate some phenomena near the Bermuda Triangle. Adrift — literally, once he gets aboard a boat — and unprepared, Gulliver is picked up by a waterspout that deposits him in Lilliput, where everyone is one-twelfth the size of a normal human and yet 100 percent as worthy of consideration and the truth.

Neither of which Gulliver extends, fibbing himself into heroic status and saving the day in several unlikely ways. This impresses the King (Billy Connolly) and his daughter Mary (Emily Blunt) and the lowly worker Horatio (Jason Segel) he befriends; it does not impress Gen. Edward (Chris O’Dowd), the leader of the Lilliputian armies, and a bit of a blowhard and a boor. O’Dowd is a very funny actor, and his general is a fairly funny performance — imagine Michael Caine from “Zulu” as a John Cleese character — and any time O’Dowd, or anyone on-screen, does anything you might want to watch and enjoy, the film gets self-conscious and hurries to provide another pee, butt or belly joke.

Which is the strangest thing about watching “Gulliver’s Travels”: Everyone in it is really good. Connolly, Peet, O’Dowd are all comedic talents. Blunt has a real presence. Segel is somehow charming and yet foolish, silly and sincere. And while a little of Black’s boastful bragging and rubber-faced clowning goes a long way, they are hardly the worst thing in the world to watch. Nicolas Stoller and Joe Stillman have written a script full of tiresome platitudes and special effects-aided urine jokes, each there solely to move toward the closing dance number and credits with a minimum of fuss. The message of “Gulliver’s Travels” is, apparently, “Just be yourself” and “Don’t lie.” Considering that the budget for this film is tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars, I would like to let 20th Century Fox know that I will tell kids “Just be yourself” and “Don’t lie” for half of what they spent on this film and its green-screen effects and marquee-name musical numbers.

The great irony is that Swift wrote “Gulliver’s Travels” to satirize the social order of his day. Now, this 2010 version, bloated with pixels and hurling itself off the screen in 3-D, feels like an unintentional satire of modern kids-movie excesses and banality. When the film needs to end, it’s not the culmination of several plot threads; it’s a musical number, a happy sing-along version of a song released in 1969. A “giant” Lilliputian robot is added for ostensibly comedic effect. Gulliver’s journey to Brobdingnag gets short shrift. And again, the traditional problem of big-budget family entertainment arises, where the grown-up jokes are too grown-up for the younger kids in the audience and the jokes for kids are too insipid and simplistic to appeal to grown-ups. It’s as if Stoller and Stillman wrote some billboard-ready, poster-ready and trailer-ready scenes for the marketing department to use and then stopped. Like I said, you probably don’t recall much of the original “Gulliver’s Travels.” The good news is that even if you get dragged to this big-money modernization of the tale, you won’t recall much of this version, either.

From my review at MSN Movies

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The Rundown Feb. 10, 2010

“The Wolfman” Cast Howls, “Percy Jackson”‘s Star and Director Enlighten us, and Oscar’s Coulda-Shoulda-Woulda-Second-Guesses

“Last weekend, the cast and crew of “The Wolfman” sat down to talk about their new film. Though inspired by the original 1941 film, “The Wolfman” includes some unique new choices to alter the feel and the shape of the material, including setting the film in Victorian England.

The film’s settings are all stark moors and glorious country estates, and this, according to Sir Anthony Hopkins — “Call me Tony,” Hopkins says, with the charming grace of someone giving you permission to not call him by the title the Queen bestowed on him — was actually the best possible preparation for his performance: “When you’re working on a big set you don’t have to act; you don’t have to do much. It’s like John Wayne said: ‘When you’re in Monument Valley, you don’t have to be bigger than Monument Valley.’ The great American actors, like John Wayne and Gary Cooper … they didn’t act; they just did. That’s the best kind of acting. When you’re in the middle of Old England in the old manor house … you don’t have to act. You just meld in with the place, and the sinister beauty.”

Emily Blunt also had thoughts on the setting and how it informed her work as Gwen, who feels an undeniable attraction to Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro), the brother of her dead fiancé. When I mention that the Lawrence-Gwen relationship feels like something out of “Wuthering Heights” dipped in blood, she laughs. “It’s so weird because I read ['Wuthering Heights'] around when we did it, and ‘Hound of the Baskervilles,’ and those books that were relevant to that time period,” Blunt says. “And I think that’s what we wanted to create: something that had tension, and suspense, but was gothic with something repressed about it. And I think setting it in Victorian times is cool because it was a superstitious time … And I think that’s what’s part of this movie, because it was a time when village gossip ruled the world, and I think that was a good backdrop for the film. ”

Of course, some actors got to walk in that world, and some had to wear it; I asked Hugo Weaving, who played Police Inspector Aberline, if his elaborate period facial hair made him think, each time he saw it in the mirror, about his character and the film. “It was a four-month shoot,” he said, “and every time I looked in the mirror I thought, ‘Why did I make this stupid decision?'”

Period ‘stache-sideburns combo aside, Weaving also talked about his character as the voice of Victorian reason and as an anti-villain to Del Toro’s anti-hero: “I think what’s interesting about Aberline is that in many ways he’s your eyes as you’re watching the film; he represents that view of life: ‘There aren’t werewolves. Of course there aren’t. Superstitious people abound, but you can’t take them seriously.’ … And then he has to see a transformation in front of his eyes and has to completely change his worldview and jump into action.” ”

— From The Rundown, MSN Movies

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