John Hanlon Interviews the Producer of “A Wrinkle in Time”
Posted on March 15, 2018 at 2:48 pm
My friend and fellow critic John Hanlon spoke to Catherine Hand, who decided when she read A Wrinkle in Time at age 10 that she wanted to make it into a movie and has devoted her life to that one goal. Perhaps the most remarkable part of the story is that she actually did get the movie made once, for television, which everyone agreed was inadequate, and true to the spirit of the book, she did not give up. She produced the new version directed by Ava Duvernay as well. Here’s a look at the earlier version:
You’ve been working to adapt this novel for the big screen for a long time. What was the greatest challenge you faced?
I’ve been asked that question and there’s so many different answers but I will tell you A Wrinkle in Time is the quintessential heroine’s journey — which is different than a hero’s journey — and the industry was just not as open to telling that story. It was really when a whole new generation of executive producers, writers, directors rose up and the book —while it may have seemed daunting for many years for a lot of people — I think this new generation of creative individuals in the industry embraced it and I think that at the end of the day, it’s so much about timing and I think as you said earlier its themes are universal and timeless.
Interview: Armando Iannucci of “The Death of Stalin”
Posted on March 15, 2018 at 2:29 pm
“The Death of Stalin,” based on the graphic novel by Fabien Nury, is a scorching satire about the flurry for succession following the unexpected totalitarian leader of the Soviet Union. For rogerebert.com I spoke to co-writer/director Armando Iannuci about the parallels between this film and his HBO series, “Veep,” about the accents of this actors and the only one to change his accent to suit the character, and about what the movie has to say about today’s politics.
Do you see the story as something like “Veep” with guns? I get the feeling that if the characters in “Veep” had the chance to kill people, they would.
You might think that at the start, but once there’s a threat of being killed, it just turns into something else. The comedy is more based in paranoia, craziness. In “Veep,” the characters’ biggest worry is being found out. The worst that can happen to you is maybe they will be embarrassed or you may lose your job and go into lobbying. It’s temporary. But for these characters it is “if you are found out, you will be dead,” and it turns them into gibbering, frozen with fear, paranoiacs, every one of them. It turns them into stories that are timeless like ancient Rome or Shakespeare’s history plays or “Game of Thrones” or “The Godfather.” It’s the war for succession, kill or be killed. You have characters who tell themselves, “I’m good, but I may have to kill people so that my goodness can survive.”
The Looming Tower Explores the FBI and CIA Before 9/11
Posted on March 8, 2018 at 10:32 pm
Hulu’s new series, “The Looming Tower,” is based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction book about the US intelligence agencies in the years before 9/11. His focus is on the rivalry between the heads of the FBI and CIA operations investigating Osama Bin Laden and the rise of Al-Qaeda and how their unwillingness to share information made it impossible to prevent the attack. In the series, adapted by “Capote” screenwriter Dan Futterman, Peter Sarsgaard plays CIA Analyst Martin Schmidt, a fictionalized character, and Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism operation, who was killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center.
The movie places an African and an African-American in opposition. “I’m an African-American male born in the 1980’s in Oakland,” he said, “and there’s a dynamic between being African and African-American that’s very interesting.” This is a key element he explored in the film, with African characters from the fictional country of Wakanda, which has never been colonized or even had any trade relationships with western countries, and African-American characters, who reflect the stress of living in a country still confronting racial divides.
“The question for me is what does it mean to be African? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since I first knew I was black, since my parents sat me down and said, ‘You’re black and that’s what this means. You’ve got to navigate the world in a certain way.’ That’s the conversation every person has had to have because of the way the world works. If you don’t have that understanding you could be in a situation that costs you your life,” as Coogler’s first film, the fact-based “Fruitvale Station,” showed. “Nobody who was telling me what being African means had ever been there. My parents had never been, my grandmother had never been.” So it was essential for him to spend time in Africa, researching the cultures that Wakanda would represent.
“The African culture the world knows best is the African-American culture,” he said, citing the worldwide dominance of hip-hop. But working on the film and spending time in Africa helped him realize that the African culture he thought was erased by bringing Africans to the United States as slaves was much more intact than he thought. “I grew up thinking the African culture had been taken away from us, that it was lost. But the truth is, we didn’t. We hung onto it.”
And as the mother of a costume designer, I was especially excited to speak to Ruth Carter, whose costumes play such an essential role in the film. She talked about the African inspirations for the traditional tribal attire of the Wakandans, and the way African patterns are even reflected in the iconic superhero suit.
Actual African fabric as we know it is Dutch and Dutch-inspired and brought to Africa. Africa liked it and adopted it so all of their African fabrics come from Holland or from China. Wakanda was never colonized, so I didn’t want to use them. Every time I started to use the African fabrics I felt like it was not this movie so I created my own fabrics, based on the sacred geometry of African art. Usually it’s a checkerboard or it’s pyramid shapes or it’s striations of horizontal and vertical strikings so I use that and we created prints. Lupita’s green dress in the casino is one print that we created based on the Nigerian kente cloth. We just extracted the line work and we printed the fabric the same way we printed T’Challa’s superhero suit.
Once I get the illustration of the super suit I can’t change it; I can’t give him a Shaft coat, all of a sudden. I have to stay within those confines because they have already been working with merchandisers and all kinds of other people. The one thing that I did do which was my contribution was the Okavango pattern, a triangle shape.
That fabric is completely made up. The triangle is definitely a big part of African artistry. It’s a mystery within the African culture what that triangle shape actually means and everybody has their own theory. So the panther suit was printed with that triangle shape all over it so that when you’re looking at it, it’s this superhero suit that has this Wakandan language traveling through it; veining throughout it, and you also see an Okavango pattern and which makes it feel like he’s in the place of Wakanda, he’s in Africa and he’s an African king and gives it texture.
Vanity Fair posted a scene analysis with Coogler explaining what was going on in one of the film’s striking action sequences.
More commentary about this brilliant, groundbreaking new film coming soon.
Interview: Charlie Plummer on “All the Money in the World”
Posted on January 4, 2018 at 4:10 pm
Charlie Plummer stars in “All the Money in the World” as John Paul Getty III, grandson and namesake of the wealthiest man in the world. When Getty III was kidnapped at age 16 in 1973, his grandfather refused to pay the $7 million ransom. In an interview, Plummer (no relation to Christopher Plummer, who plays the flinty oil baron), talked about the challenges of the role and what he learned from director Ridley Scott.
For a story like this, based on a real-life incident, is your performance based exclusively on the script or do you do outside research about the people and the times?
I did do outside research. I don’t have a lot of experience and this is certainly the first time I played a character who was at all based on a real person. So I did take full advantage of that and I did do as much research as I could. But I also didn’t want to overwhelm myself with research because I wanted to do my own interpretation. I thought if I was going to do it, it would really have to come from who I am as well. I then spoke to Ridley to really see his vision of the character and who this person was at this time in his movie; that was also really important for me. So I think all of those components really made up what my performance ended up being like.
Your character is somebody has had great wealth around him but he himself has not been super privileged because his grandfather would not give his mother any money. How did that affect him?
That was one thing that I think really sparked my interest. This guy who has this status, this name and what that means and when he walks into a room he knows that all people are talking about him is if he’s this person but then he goes home and he doesn’t have all of that wealth. By the end of the film you see who he is when he does have all this wealth.
What’s interesting for me is at the start of the film where he doesn’t have it, though. He just has the name, the status. And so there is that emptiness inside of him. He had a certain emptiness in him and one that couldn’t be filled by status or wealth . John Paul Getty III got into this argument with a friend of his, actually the night he got kidnapped. He was drunk and they were fighting and the friend said “You’d be nothing without your name. No one would even care about you.” I think that that really does weigh on him in terms of who he is as a young person. At that age he was surrounded by these accomplished people, whether they were in politics or the arts, and really the reason why he was in those rooms was because of his name.
What was it like to inhabit the 70’s and what surprised you about that era?
Ridley is such a master for so many reasons and he had such a point of view on this decade and on this time. Janty Yates who did the costumes for the film and Ferdinando Merolla did the hair — all of that makes it a lot easier to slip into who that character was at that time. Janty was really the first person other than Ridley that I got to share ideas about the character with and so that was such an important relationship throughout. When that’s the first thing you see, it does have an effect on how the audience receives him and what they think his life has been like and so it definitely had an effect on my whole process. When you’re walking around and you see all the cars and the clothing and and it it all so iconic and it’s right at your fingertips — it really helped me slip into what that character was going through. At the end of the day it is not about the era. It is really is just about these people and what’s going on internally for them and that is certainly what it was for me.
What did you learn from your director, Ridley Scott?
I learned so much from him. Just being around him you learn so much and that was certainly the case for me getting to just be on set with him you and seeing how he speaks with people and how he works in his own environment I think was such a learning experience. Every time I see him he always asks what I’m doing and what I’m working on next. The way he is so interested in everyone and everything and the way that at age 80 how he’s still working as much as he is. I just saw him and immediately he started talking about the next thing he’s doing. For a young person especially that is such an important lesson to always keep moving forward and always keep fighting to learn and grow. He is such a good example of that.