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Tribeca 2011: Taylor Kitsch Joins “The Bang Bang Club”

Tribeca 2011: Taylor Kitsch Joins “The Bang Bang Club” (photo)

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There’s a reason Taylor Kitsch is the first person you see in “The Bang Bang Club,” despite the fact he’s not the film’s central character. As Kevin Carter, the real-life Pulitzer Prize-winning war photojournalist who fearlessly took photos of the demons plaguing South Africa during the end of Apartheid in 1990s while battling his own internally, he has the unenviable task of playing the lone member of the group with the titular nickname (referring to the pictures they snap) to wear the weight of the tragedy of his surroundings on his face as indelibly as the tattooed outline of Africa on his arm.

However, Kitsch’s Carter could be called the film’s beating heart not only for the decency he brings to the role, but also a charisma that as anyone who’s watched him play the stoic Tim Riggins on “Friday Night Lights,” currently finishing its final, extraordinary season on NBC, could tell you can seduce you even if he’s breaking your heart. While these things come naturally to Kitsch — he exudes both in person — several other aspects on “The Bang Bang Club” didn’t, requiring two months of heavy research, practicing a Johannesburg-inflected accent, subsisting on a diet of fruit, coffee and hot sauce to lose 30 pounds, and shadowing celebrity photographer Jeff Lipsky to operate a camera properly – all ironically serving the purpose on screen of making you not notice what a deeply nuanced performance it is.

With his rugged good looks, it’s been easy to be distracted from Kitsch’s acting prowess, but with this film and two upcoming blockbusters on the horizon (Pixar’s first live-action film “John Carter of Mars,” directed by “Finding Nemo”‘s Andrew Stanton, and Peter Berg’s “Battleship”), the secret’s about to be out and recently, I sat down with the star to talk about the toll of his most demanding part to date, the importance of trusting his gut and how his days of living on subways prepared him for a career in the movie business.

You recently co-hosted a benefit [with Friday Night Lights” co-star Connie Britton] in Austin with an African children’s choir – did that actually connect to “The Bang Bang Club” and has the experience lingered on more for you than some of the other work you’ve done, shooting in Johannesburg?

[The benefit] didn’t, [but the experience] definitely did. It took me a while to come out of it and to go back to Austin, it was a big thing to just be conscious of it and allow yourself to take your time to let go of it. Being in Austin helped because you’ve got people who know you for who I was before I went away and I may see a couple of things different when I come back. They just understand and allow the process to just kind of seep out. So it took quite a while and even now, there’s still quite a few emotional triggers with [Kevin Carter]. It just took a lot of me to play him and I just wanted to do it right.

TaylorKitschBangBang_04212011.jpgSince you still have a slight Canadian lilt, you’ve never actually used your own voice on film. Does having an accent every time out help you get into character?

I think any actor has to love that. It feels funny when you’ve played something that’s really close to you because that’s when you feel like you’re acting. When you’re playing something that’s so far from who I am, it just feels like you’re more in tune with that guy. So [in “The Bang Bang Club”] when you put on the accent and you lose the 30 pounds to play him and you have a different walk and you grow the gross beard, you pierce your ear, you dye your hair, it’s like all these little things add up and they help so much.

I’ve heard you shadowed photographer Jeff Lipsky, which is something that may be evident in how you hold the camera, but not necessarily something that shows up on screen otherwise. How did that help you?

It’s so technical because obviously we don’t have point-and-shoot cameras, so to make that an unconscious trigger where if I’m in a scene playing with my Leica, I don’t want that Leica to take over the scene where I’m like oh fuck, hopefully, I look like I know what I’m doing. I need to know the shit so inside out that it’s unconscious because that’s what they did. So shadowing Jeff and having this Leica with me for months before I go to camera with it, now when I see it, it’s like this is what it’s supposed to mean to me in a scene and if I can prep and give myself the best opportunity to play it honestly, it’s a no brainer to do it, to put that time in.

Even with two months of prep, this must’ve been one of the quickest shoots you’ve done in recent years. How does that compare to some of the marathon shoots like “John Carter of Mars” or “Battleship”?

I think every journey’s so different and I love that about the projects we’ve done. Each character and the story has been so different, and I’m very thankful [“The Bang Bang Club”] was only a three- to four-week shoot because I was quite a wreck doing it. If it was two, three months, it wouldn’t have ended well. I don’t think it would’ve been good for me, just with the weight loss and where I was psychologically, so I was very grateful it was a very quick shoot. And for me personally, it allows me to just go all out. Knowing that “Fuck, Kitsch, you’ve got three weeks then you’re done? Go. See what you can do.” But if you’ve got this marathon shoot, like I did “John Carter” – 107 out of 107 shooting days, I’m in every scene, so you’ve got to pace yourself. You’ve got to shut down, relax, sleep when you can and do all this. With Kev, it felt more like all in. It’s a different mindset for sure.

I had to ask an aside about “John Carter” since I’m so curious…

Great. I just saw the trailer hours ago, by the way. [grins]

It’s one thing to act against those green tennis balls on a CG-heavy movie, but is it harder giving a performance when you don’t necessarily know how you’ll wind up appearing onscreen?

I’ll tell you something about [Andrew] Stanton – I would get his coffee tomorrow. That’s how smart this cat is and with his years of preparation, I could see where he’s going -he storyboarded and had tests of what tharks [aliens on Barsoom] look like and he showed me, so that allowed me a trust because if I’m acting to tennis balls, I’ve got to trust in post, they’re going to kill it. They’re going to fucking make this guy do everything and anything Stanton’s saying right now to me what this guy is doing. For me, it’s just an enormous amount of trust for me to just go all in and believe him. With “Bang Bang,” I have more of a gut instinct going on a scene with someone right in front of me, like “okay, I’d love to try this and that.” With “John Carter,” I was lucky to work with Willem [Dafoe] and Sam [Morton], but there’s also takes where there’s nothing there and I’m talking to literally air and in post, they’re going to put a thark in, so there’s a bit of a difference there.

Underworld

Under Your Spell

10 Otherworldly Romances That’ll Melt Your Heart

Spend Valentine's Day weekend with IFC's Underworld movie marathon.

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Photo Credit: Screen Gems/courtesy Everett Collection

Romance takes many forms, and that is especially true when you have a thirst for blood or laser beams coming out of your eyes.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a werewolf, a superhero, a clone, a time-traveler, or a vampire, love is the one thing that infects us all.  Read on to find out why Romeo and Juliet have nothing on these supernatural star-crossed lovers, and be sure to catch IFC’s Underworld movie marathon this Valentine’s Day weekend.

1. Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine, X-Men series

The X-Men franchise is rife with romance, but the steamiest “ménage à mutant” may just be the one between Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman). Their triangle is a complicated one as Jean finds herself torn between the two very different men while also trying to control her darker side, the Phoenix. This leads to Jean killing Cyclops and eventually getting stabbed through her heart by Wolverine in X-Men: The Last Stand. Yikes!  Maybe they should change the name to Ex-Men instead?


2. Willow/Tara, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Joss Whedon gave audiences some great romances on Buffy the Vampire Slayer — including the central triangle of Buffy, Angel, and Spike — but it was the love between witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) that broke new ground for its sensitive and nuanced portrayal of a LGBT relationship.

Willow is smart and confident and isn’t even sure of her sexuality when she first meets Tara at college in a Wiccan campus group. As the two begin experimenting with spells, they realize they’re also falling for one another and become the show’s most enduring, happy couple. At least until Tara’s death in season six, a moment that still brings on the feels.


3. Selene/Michael, Underworld series

The Twilight gang pales in comparison (both literally and metaphorically) to the Lycans and Vampires of the stylish Underworld franchise. If you’re looking for an epic vampire/werewolf romance set amidst an epic vampire/werewolf war, Underworld handily delivers in the form of leather catsuited Selene (Kate Beckinsale) and shaggy blonde hunk Michael (a post-Felicity Scott Speedman). As they work together to stop the Vampire/Lycan war, they give into their passions while also kicking butt in skintight leather. Love at first bite indeed.


4. Spider-man/Mary Jane Watson, Spider-man

After rushing to the aid of beautiful girl-next-door Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), the Amazing Spider-man is rewarded with an upside-down kiss that is still one of the most romantic moments in comic book movie history. For Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the shy, lovable dork beneath the mask, his rain-soaked makeout session is the culmination of years of unrequited love and one very powerful spider bite. As the films progress, Peter tries pushing MJ away in an attempt to protect her from his enemies, but their web of love is just too powerful. And you know, with great power, comes great responsibility.


5. Molly/Sam, Ghost

When it comes to supernatural romance, you really can’t beat Molly and Sam from the 1990 hit film Ghost. Demi Moore goes crazy for Swayze like the rest of us, and the pair make pottery sexier than it’s ever been.

When Sam is murdered, he’s forced to communicate through con artist turned real psychic, Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg in her Academy Award-winning role) to warn Molly she is still in danger from his co-worker, Carl (a pre-Scandal Tony Goldwyn). Molly doesn’t believe Oda is telling the truth, so Sam proves it by sliding a penny up the wall and then possessing Oda so he and Molly can share one last romantic dance together (but not the dirty kind). We’d pay a penny for a dance with Patrick Swayze ANY day.


6. Cosima/Delphine, Orphan Black

It stands to reason there would be at least one complicated romance on a show about clones, and none more complicated than the one between clone Cosima (Tatiana Maslany) and Dr. Delphine Cormier (Evelyne Brochu) on BBC America’s hit drama Orphan Black.

Cosima is a PhD student focusing on evolutionary developmental biology at the University of Minnesota when she meets Delphine, a research associate from the nefarious Dyad Institute, posing as a fellow immunology student. The two fall in love, but their happiness is brief once Dyad and the other members of Clone Club get involved. Here’s hoping Cosima finds love in season four of Orphan Black. Girlfriend could use a break.


7. Aragorn/Arwen, Lord of the Rings

On a picturesque bridge in Rivendell amidst some stellar mood-lighting and dreamy Elvish language with English subtitles for us non-Middle Earthlings, Arwen (Liv Tyler) and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) bind their souls to one another, pledging to love each other no matter what befalls them.

Their courtship is a matter of contention with Arwen’s father, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), who doesn’t wish to see his daughter suffer over Aragorn’s future death. The two marry after the conclusion of the War of the Ring, with Aragorn assuming his throne as King of Gondor, and Arwen forgoing her immortality to become his Queen. Is it too much to assume they asked Frodo to be their wedding ring-bearer?


8. Lafayette/Jesus, True Blood

True Blood quickly became the go-to show for supernatural sex scenes featuring future Magic Mike strippers (Joe Manganiello) and pale Nordic men with washboard abs (Hi Alexander Skarsgård!), but honestly, there was a little something for everyone, including fan favorite Bon Temps medium, Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis).

In season three, Lafayette met his mother’s nurse, Jesus, and the two began a relationship. As they spend more time together and start doing V (short for Vampire Blood), they learn Jesus is descended from a long line of witches and that Lafayette himself has magical abilities. However, supernatural love is anything but simple, and after the pair join a coven, Lafayette becomes possessed by the dead spirit of its former leader. This relationship certainly puts a whole new spin on possessive love.


9. Nymphadora Tonks/Remus Lupin, Harry Potter series

There are lots of sad characters in the Harry Potter series, but Remus Lupin ranks among the saddest. He was bitten by a werewolf as a child, his best friend was murdered and his other best friend was wrongly imprisoned in Azkaban for it, then THAT best friend was killed by a Death Eater at the Ministry of Magic as Remus looked on. So when Lupin unexpectedly found himself in love with badass Auror and Metamorphmagus Nymphadora Tonks (she prefers to be called by her surname ONLY, thank you very much), pretty much everyone, including Lupin himself, was both elated and cautiously hopeful about their romance and eventual marriage.

Sadly, the pair met a tragic ending when both were killed by Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts, leaving their son, Teddy, orphaned much like his godfather Harry Potter. Accio hankies!


10. The Doctor/Rose Tyler, Doctor Who

Speaking of wolves, Rose “Bad Wolf” Tyler (Billie Piper) captured the Doctor’s hearts from the moment he told her to “Run!” in the very first episode of the re-booted Doctor Who series. Their affection for one another grew steadily deeper during their travels in the TARDIS, whether they were stuck in 1950s London, facing down pure evil in the Satan Pit, or battling Cybermen.

But their relationship took a tragic turn during the season two finale episode, “Doomsday,” when the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) and Rose found themselves separated in parallel universes with no way of being reunited (lest two universes collapse as a result of a paradox). A sobbing Rose told a holographic transmission of the Doctor she loved him, but before he could reply, the transmission cut out, leaving our beloved Time Lord (and most of the audience) with a tear-stained face and two broken hearts all alone in the TARDIS.

Tribeca 2011: “The Union,” Reviewed

Tribeca 2011: “The Union,” Reviewed (photo)

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My worry about “The Union,” Cameron Crowe’s documentary about the musical collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell, was that it would be just another making-the-album documentary of the kind a lot of bands make these days to upsell Special Edition CDs and ward off piracy. And basically it is; it’s just the best possible version of that film, made with the sort of craft and heart that only a director (and music lover) of Crowe’s caliber could provide.

Elton John, you know, the prolific singer-songwriter of many hits in the ’70s and ’80s (including “Tiny Dancer” which was immortalized in a great scene in Crowe’s “Almost Famous”). Leon Russell, you might not; I didn’t. As a session musician, band leader, and piano player, he was an enormous influence on John’s life and career, maybe the biggest, according to “The Union.” At a loss for inspiration, John suddenly found it while on safari in Africa (oh, rock stars…). He would make an shared album with Russell. The final product, ultimately called “The Union,” would be split 50-50 between them, each providing vocals, piano, and songwriting. Crowe’s film is split about that evenly too, a fact reinforced by his rather brilliant use of split-screens throughout. Though John’s voiceover guides us through the story and offers insights into the songwriting and recording process, Russell’s journey and struggle is given equal narrative weight.

Crowe, the former Rolling Stone journalist turned screenwriter turned director, understands pop music better than almost any filmmaker who’s ever lived. Given his affinity for music and interviewing musicians, it’s kind of crazy that this is his first documentary about rock and roll. Not so crazy is how good he is at it. His use of technique, like those aforementioned split-screens, is phenomenal. One scene, in particular, which divides the frame between Russell playing a song he wrote for John and John overcome with emotions as he listens in the control room, cuts to the core of what the film is all about: the way the best and truest music comes from the heart and hits people in the same place. And it’s clear that John trusts Crowe — even soliciting his opinion about his music at times — in a way that makes “The Union” a much more unguarded portrait of two artists than it would have been in different, lesser hands.

Maybe the most revealing thing, and certainly most poignant, about “The Union”‘s portrait is its depiction of the artist in the autumn of his years. With “Almost Famous,” Crowe made one of the definitive movies about young rock and rollers. With “The Union,” he tackles the same subject from the other side of the hourglass. Russell is 69; in the middle of “The Union” sessions he suffers a “near-fatal health scare” that requires brain surgery. John is 64 and openly acknowledges that his days as one of the biggest rock stars in the world are well behind him (the fact that Michael Jackson couldn’t acknowledge it, he says, is part of what destroyed him).

John’s got enough money to hang out on African safari for the rest of his life if he wanted to. Rock stars at his age are supposed to settle in to full-on sellout mode. Unlike film directors, novelists, poets, whose creativity often grows with age, pop musicians’ relevance peaks around age 35. But John still has a creative fire in his belly that isn’t sated by money. So he’s still following his instincts wherever they lead, rather than following his record label’s advice to make a Motown record or a Christmas album (it will never happen, John vows). The final montage of “The Union,” set to a John and Russell song, sums it up nicely. The song is called “Never Too Old.”

Andrew Lau Extends His “Legend” and Gets Punchy With “Fist”

Andrew Lau Extends His “Legend” and Gets Punchy With “Fist” (photo)

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This article originally ran as part of our coverage of the Toronto Film Festival 2010.

When talking to Andrew Lau, one of the first things to emerge is his tendency to drop in the ba-ba-ba sound of machine gun fire or plwww of explosions into casual conversation. Maybe it’s his way of being descriptive to an American journalist when English isn’t his first language, but then again, Mandarin might even be considered a second language to the auteur who has had an international impact on the vocabulary of action cinema. First as a protégé of the Shaw Brothers before becoming a cinematographer on films such as Ringo Lam’s “City on Fire” and “As Tears Go By” and then as the director of the “Infernal Affairs” trilogy (with Alan Mak), Lau has helped define an entire era of Hong Kong cinema.

His latest, “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen,” takes one of the most famous of Chinese legends – a masked hero bent on vengeance for the death of his master that’s so enduring it’s been the basis for Bruce Lee’s “Fist of Fury” and later Jet Li in “Fist of Legend” — and reinvented it for the modern era, filming an incredibly epic war sequence, particularly for a Chinese production, that becomes one of the most memorable first five minutes in recent memory when Donnie Yen appears on the battlefield of World War I as the mysterious leader of a group of Chinese laborers recruited to fight with the Allied Forces. Needless to say, the enemies’ guns are of little use when Yen’s Chen Zhen swoops out of the sky to clutch a soldier’s head between his thighs and proceeds to twist his neck before dismantling an entire army with just the speed and power of his fists and feet. A portion of that opening is here:

During the Toronto Film Festival, I caught up with Lau to talk about reinterpreting such a beloved figure in Chinese culture, his semi-legendary temper and pulling off the film’s bravura opening sequence.

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