- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
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Tag Archives: Julia Roberts
“Mirror Mirror” — director Tarsem Singh’s fast, stylish and family-friendly re-invention of the Snow White story, with martial-arts dwarves and Julia Roberts as the wicked queen — opens in theaters tomorrow. At the film’s press conference, though, we were not just in the presence of Roberts — whose very gaze can, as you’ll see below, make journalists and others shudder in their seats — but also Singh, whose refreshing frankness indicates far more time making movies than, say selling them, plus ingénue Lily Collins, who plays Snow White herself. Here’s what we learned at the press conference:
1) Julia Roberts Does Not Take Questions Lightly
Asked at one point if she got in touch with ‘the fairy queen inside you,” Roberts was, understandably, less than eager to play along: “Well, I’m happy to announce, she is not inside me. Without naming names, I drew from a couple of people I know better than I wish I did, and found it very fun and helpful.” Has Roberts always wanted to do a traditional fairytale? “No, and nor did I have interest in this one really, until Tarsem lured me, in his luring way, and my looking at the script and realizing that there was really something here. Just the one sentence pitch of it on the phone, ‘Hey, they’re doing this “Snow White” adaptation,’ that didn’t grab my attention.”
Last June, a group of journalists were invited to the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills just outside of L.A. to visit the set of a film from a second-time director. Of course, that second-time director happened to be Tom Hanks …
With Hanks both behind and in front of the camera, “Larry Crowne” is the story of a man who’s lost almost everything — his job, his marriage, his sense of self — and finds a new kind of, yes, community at community college, falling in with a scooter gang led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. On the day of the set visit, the scooter crew was filming a brief discussion where Mbatha-Raw offers Crowne’s bona fides to leader Wilmer Valderrama and then rolls out. Hanks was asked if he was doing his own stunt scooter-ing.
“Well, I get to brag about it now. ‘Yeah, I did my own stunts,’ he said. “Most of the time doing your own stunts means that you fall and you look bad. You get to jump across a creek or something like that. We roll pretty dangerously here. But, yeah, you know. You have to be careful.”
I asked if the insurance company representative goes off-white when told the director-star has to be signed up for stunt insurance. Hanks laughed. “You know, we’re so low-budget, I don’t know if we have insurance,” he said. “My brother doubles me in a couple of things that we’re doing off somewhere else. And we do have a couple of stunt drivers for when we have a really, really big pack. Because we have, at most, I think close to 30 scooters going at the same time in some of the stuff. But everyone’s an experienced scooter driver, or at least wrote down on their resume that they are experienced scooter drivers. One of our girls, I think, got her license the day before. So she was a liar, but we let her keep her job anyway. But it’s fun. There’s no way around it. ”
For Hanks, “fun” seems to be a big part of doing “Larry Crowne.” “We’ve been talking about this for the last four or five years, and the idea has just been stewing after the really kind of big, massive, huge-scope projects like ‘The Pacific’ and the ‘DaVinci Code’ movies. The idea being just to do a run-and-gun smaller film that I had in my head. No one is making movies like this right now. No one gets laid. There’s no gambling or tigers involved. Nothing explodes. No one gets punched in the face. It’s almost like you just take the rock and roll sequences out of ‘That Thing You Do.’ So it’s a character analysis as well as a situational one.”
So, I noted, Larry loses his job, he goes back to school, he joins — and here I nodded to the scooters while referencing the 1957 Brando biker pic “The Wild One” — the mild ones … Hanks looked at me askance: “You just coined that phrase? ‘The Mild Ones?'” Mockery aside, I continued, how hard is it for Hanks to get in touch with that kind of life change? “I’m pretty successful. I don’t have quite those pressures,” he said. “Well, it is all relative. That is one aspect of it. And, look, all these things are biographical somewhat. I remember losing a job and feeling horrible about it. I remember very well the anxiety of not being able to pay your rent and trying to make a plan over a long course of time. And also, quite frankly, public education — specifically junior college — changed my life. Now, I wasn’t 53, but the atmosphere that I remember is distinctive and still pays off now. And I think that whatever motion picture you’re doing, whether it’s a huge budget that opens day and date nationwide on 60,000 or something like this as well, it still has to hold the mirror up to nature.”
Hanks is also diving into social media and was asked about his own tweeting, under the name @tomhanks. Does he enjoy it? “Yeah. I’m gonna tweet you guys right now. Lemme get a picture of you. I’m gonna call you guys ‘The Mild Ones’ …”
We’ll have more from the set of “Larry Crowne,” with Hanks, Mbathaw-Raw and Valderrama, closer to the film’s July 1 release.
The Rundown at MSN Movies: Eat Pray Love With Roberts, Ryan and Bardem; Five Minutes With Hugh Hefner; and the Man Behind the Middle Men
At a private home in the Napa wine country that’s, for one day, been converted into a makeshift production facility and press area for “Eat Pray Love,” Julia Roberts sits in a shaded room overlooking the fields with a look of beatific calm that’s only slightly out-of-place with the hustle happening all around.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” may be a beloved book, but playing Gilbert is Roberts’ biggest on-screen role since 2000’s “Erin Brockovich.” Did she worry about taking such a large part for the first time in a long time? “I took a lot of deliberating to come to a decision, because it was such a big workload,” she says. “When I did ‘Erin Brockovich,’ I packed my little bag and drove to Barstow. That was an easy decision to make. This was a decision that we had to make as a family, and all of us really be committed to and invested in, because it was a long shoot, there was a lot of traveling and I worked every day.”
And, it should be noted, worked with Ryan Murphy, a director with only one other feature film to his name. To Roberts, that seemed appropriate. “I thought, well, it’s a leap of faith, which is really what a lot of the movie’s about, and I just had to put all my trust in Ryan and say, ‘Well, let’s go and see what happens.’ And I just got really lucky that he stayed true to who I thought he was in the beginning up to the very last moment. I’m just so in awe of what he did as his second movie. Are you kidding? As his 20th movie it would still be an accomplishment.”
Roberts also had to play two sides of the same character — not just Gilbert’s observational, dry, detached voice as a writer, but the slightly more immediate reality of the confusion and chaos of Gilbert’s actual life. Was that an appealing part of the role? “Utterly appealing,” she says. “Anytime you can play messy or crazy, it’s just fun as an actor. But she’s so smart, and she does have a very great, clear description and depiction of things, so it was nice to be the voice of that side of her.”
Finally, ask Roberts about the best meal she enjoyed during the whole globe-spanning production, and her answer’s as carefully thought-out as it is culinary: “I don’t know — everybody’s so taken with the spaghetti that I ate in the movie. It was really delicious, so I should probably — since we are promoting the film — stick with that bowl of pasta.”
“Imagine briefly that some island castaway lives in isolation, having never met or spoken to an actual human being. The only cultural artifacts to divert the solitude are a copy of Richard Curtis’ 2003 London-set Christmastime ensemble comedy “Love Actually” and a map of Los Angeles. This person then writes a movie. That movie is “Valentine’s Day.” As a friend of mine noted, shell-shocked after the press screening, “I kind of like ‘Love Actually’ as a guilty pleasure, but compared to that, it’s ‘Nashville.'” That’s a convoluted set of analogies, but, trust me, they offer you far more mental stimulus than all of the sloppy, shabby, sentimental, shot-through-dishwater 125 minutes of “Valentine’s Day.”
Directed by Garry Marshall, whose slight, shameless “Pretty Woman” looks like “The Apartment” in comparison to the candy box of sticky-sweet sappiness and frothy-light nougat chunks of empty ethical dilemma of “Valentine’s Day,” the movie follows a group of Los Angeles residents through, yes, Valentine’s Day. The young florist (Ashton Kutcher) who’s just proposed to his flinty, all-bidness girlfriend (Jessica Alba). The teacher (Jennifer Garner) whose too-perfect doctor boyfriend (Patrick Dempsey) is just that. The lifelong lovers (Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine) who still have surprises for each other. The young lovers whose two-week-long budding dating is disrupted when he (Topher Grace) forgets the big day and she (Anne Hathaway) hides her work as a phone sex operator. The soldier (Julia Roberts) seated next to a suit-clad smoothie (Bradley Cooper) on a flight back to Los Angeles. The randy teens (including Taylors Swift and Lautner). The anti-romantic sports reporter (Jamie Foxx) working with the romance-hating publicist (Jessica Biel) as an NFL quarterback (Eric Dane) makes an important decision. The towheaded kid (Bryce Robinson) whose somber circumstances have made him need to believe in love to a degree far beyond his years, just like Thomas Sangster in “Love Actually,” right down to the haircut.”
I didn’t leave Charlie Wilson’s War, the new film from director Mike Nichols, dissatisfied or unamused. I walked out of Charlie Wilson’s War angry. No reasonable person expects a film — any film — to capture the complexity and scope of real events with absolute precision; adaptations are translations, and as the old Italian saying goes, “The translator is a traitor.” It’s one thing to compress, combine and fictionalize a story to fit the sprawling, ugly mess of it onto the big screen; it’s another to take only the best, shiniest parts of a real, ugly story and turn it into a feel-good comedy. Translation may be traitorous, but Charlie Wilson’s War feels like a conscious act of treason against reason itself. As film critic David Thompson has said, “We learn our history from movies, and history suffers ….” Charlie Wilson’s War isn’t just bad history; it feels even more malign, like a conscious attempt to induce amnesia.
Based on George Crile’s 2003 book of the same name, Charlie Wilson’s War follows the exploits of Charlie Wilson, a Democratic Congressman from Texas who, during the ’80s, had as much fun with his position as you could, which was a lot. As Charlie Wilson’s War opens, we see Charlie hot-tubbing in a Vegas hotel suite; the room’s full of booze, broads and blow. But Charlie, played by Tom Hanks, can’t look away from the news; as one of his new acquaintances notes her apathy to world events, Charlie boils it down: “Dan Rather’s wearing a turban; you don’t want to know why?” Dan Rather’s in a turban because Dan Rather’s in Afghanistan, among the Afghan mujahideen — the Islamic rebels trying to drive the Soviet Union out of their country by any means necessary. This sight sparks something in Charlie, so he sets out to increase the C.I.A.’s funding for the Afghan rebels — from $5 million a year to 10. It’s a lot of money. It’s going to be much more.
Charlie’s desire to help puts him in contact with other like-minded Americans — like Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts), a Houston socialite whose born-again Christian beliefs mean she’ll support anyone against the Godless communists, and Gust Avrakotos (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a C.I.A. man who’s not a company man. Joanne and Gust can’t imagine anything worse than the Soviets capturing Afghanistan, and they work with Charlie — funneling money and arms through Pakistan, working with a motley crew of arms dealers, spies, Saudi billionaires, Pakistan’s military dictator and other interested parties. Eventually, the covert funding to help the mujahideen — with no Congressional oversight outside of closed committees — was as high as a billion dollars a year in the name of expelling the Soviets from Afghanistan.
And Charlie Wilson’s War makes all of that look like great fun — hard-drinking, glad-handing, sneaky spy stuff. What isn’t on screen in Charlie Wilson’s War — but is, interestingly enough, in Aaron Sorkin’s script — is any mention of the fact that the Afghan mujahideen became the Taliban, or how the Afghan mujahideen were helped in their cause by the “Afghan Arabs” who later became Al-Qaeda. Sorkin’s original script closes with an older, wiser sober Charlie on a Washington morning shattered by a sudden loud noise; something’s burning at the Pentagon. His phone rings, and Charlie’s wife says “It’s Gust. He says to turn on the TV.”
In the version of the film actually shot, our finale is a closing quote from Charlie, noting how his team got the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but ” … we f***ed up the endgame.” And no, I am not saying that Mr. Wilson’s actions led to 9-11; but I am saying there’s a link, and any reasonable student of history would agree. But there are fewer and fewer students of history nowadays; more people will see this film than will ever read Crile’s book. And rest assured, I hate the “‘Blame America First” crowd as much as anyone; the only thing I hate more, in fact, is the “Blame America Never” crowd. Yes, Charlie Wilson’s War notes that Wilson and his crew goofed up the ‘endgame'; what it doesn’t quite acknowledge is that to thousands of Afghans who suffered under the Taliban and the armed forces of America and her allies in Afghanistan, it wasn’t, and isn’t, a game.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a brutal violation of international law; a grown-up would nonetheless ask if our cure was in fact better than the disease. Charlie Wilson’s War doesn’t. (Again, a line in Sorkin’s script — but not in the final film — has Avrakotos noting “Remember I said this: There’s gonna be a day when we’re gonna look back and say ‘I’d give anything if (Afghanistan) were overrun with Godless communists.'”) There is one scene, at the climax of the film, where Gust confronts Charlie at their victory party — about declaring Afghanistan in safe hands, warning him that there may be unintended consequences of their efforts, even slapping the drink out of Charlie’s hands — so you know Gust means business. As Wilson thinks, the soundtrack offers the slow, droning roar of a low-flying plane. And that choice can’t be accidental; it has to be a 9-11 reference, but at the same time, plenty of critics I’ve talked to (including a 20-year veteran of the field) literally didn’t notice the sound effect. There’s subtlety, and then there’s invisibility. Nichols offers us champagne-sparkle charm and whimsy and aw-shucks hijinks; if a film really wants to tackle the covert actions of the Cold War and their long-term consequences, it needs to provide short sharp shots of truth as raw as whiskey, one after the other. We get the buzzy, boozy, bonhomie of Charlie’s crusade; what Nichols has done is eliminated the historical hangover of unintended consequences. Charlie Wilson’s War is timid where it should be reckless, clever where it should be cutting, funny where it should be fierce.
I haven’t really spoken about the performances in Charlie Wilson’s War, because they’re largely irrelevant. Hanks is mis-cast as a Texan; Roberts is, as always, herself; Hoffman gets to rage and chew scenery, but his character’s deeper doubts are shoved off-screen for wacky globetrotting adventures and well-dressed pluck on the part of Hanks and Roberts. Reading Sorkin’s script, I couldn’t help but think that again, big Hollywood had turned a sharp-toothed, snarling real story into a neutered, nuzzling housepet. Charlie Wilson’s War offers the bright glare of star power instead of any real illumination; it’s a historical-political comedy without any history or politics. Nichols’s cut, gutted version offers a few cheery, breezy moments of rat-a-tat comedy, but Charlie Wilson’s War stops being funny when you realize we’re living in the sequel.