Archive for November 2010
An oldie, from Clash in December 2006 or January 2007. What happened to that Iggy Pop biopic that he was meant to be in?
As Elijah Wood welcomes Clash into his hotel room, it’s striking that his famously soft features and piercing blue eyes have been offset by a layer of facial hair that’s not quite stubble and not quite beard. Indeed, with a tie adorning his otherwise casual attire, Wood’s overall appearance is more British indie guitarist than it is bona fide American movie star.
The primary purpose of Wood’s visit to London is to promote Happy Feet in which he provides a voice to Mumbles, a penguin whose dire singing voice is compensated for by his amazing tap dancing ability. Cute though that is, Clash is more interested in his role in Emilio Estevez’s Bobby which focuses on a group of people based in the Ambassador Hotel on the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot. In a typically strong performance, Wood plays William Avary, a young man set to marry Diane (Lindsay Lohan) in order to change his draft classification and thus avoid being sent to Vietnam.
When asked if he can identify with Avary, Wood is fairly non-committal; it’s a situation that he considers himself lucky not to have experienced. His reaction when asked if he’d do the same is more intriguing; after all, when faced with a potentially controversial question, most interview subjects remain guarded or offer a stock answer. Wood, conversely, is happy to elucidate his opinions in detail, meandering between outlooks to finalise an answer opinionated yet ultimately safe.
“I think so. I don’t know if I could bring myself to go to war for something I didn’t believe in, I think I’d find that very difficult… and the interesting thing about that is that you risk not being sympathetic or understanding of those who are at war and are risking their lives for their country,” he says with concentration etched on his face. “Do you go based on your belief system or do you go based on blind belief in the country? Why die for something you don’t believe in? Even if it’s something your country is messed up in, it’s not like it’s a decision you’ve made. I do believe in fighting for the country and a certain amount of patriotism as long as it’s reasonable and makes sense.”
Clash suggests that the essential problem with patriotism is that is often oversteps the mark.
“Patriotism tends to be blind; patriotism without questioning is when it gets dangerous to me,” he concurs. “I’m all for being patriotic and for believing in your country, but I don’t believe in blindly believing in your country without questioning why we’re in the situations we’re in and why we’re going to war, that’s foolish. The country has to be held accountable for its mistakes too.”
What makes Bobby such a success is how Estevez not only uses the Ambassador Hotel as a microcosm for issues in late sixties America as a whole, but also how he weaves the strands of this all star ensemble cast (Anthony Hopkins, William H. Macy, Heather Graham and Christian Slater are amongst the many famous names) into the inevitable finale. As Wood agrees: “The first time I saw it I was blown away at how well all of those were fused together without feeling it was a collection of small stories… A lot of people say that America’s innocence died with Bobby Kennedy. I don’t think it’s that extreme, but our hope did – we didn’t have anyone to invest in after that.”
Bobby is Wood’s latest venture in a string of interesting roles since making his name in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The likes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Everything is Illuminated and Sin City have established him as a character actor rather than someone who would be content doing little more than reprising his most famous role in LOTR approximations. “It’s been a conscious decision to try new things, but you’re also at mercy as to what you read too. A lot of the films I’ve done have been smaller which is not exactly a choice, it just happens to be that the films that I find I’m passionate about have been smaller movies.”
It’s a philosophy that spreads to his upcoming work as the lead in the Iggy Pop biopic The Passenger. How does he feel about the prospect of portraying Iggy?
“Scary as shit!” he laughs wholeheartedly. “I’m a huge fan and a huge, huge fan of The Stooges too. It’s been in the pipeline for a while. In independent cinema it takes a long time for things to get made and financed properly. Iggy read the script and really liked it. But it’s totally daunting; it’s a huge responsibility and it scares the shit out of me. Part of me doesn’t want to do an impersonation; the thing about Iggy is that he’s got a very deep voice and physically I have to change myself and I feel that is going to establish the vibe and the look of who he was. And a lot of it is his performance and how he moves.”
The Passenger isn’t his only music-related project; a long-term music obsessive, Wood has formed his own label, Simian Records, which will debut with the release of Apples In Stereo’s sixth album New Magnetic Wonder. An innovative collision of contemporary indie and retro-psychedelia, the album is expected to receive a UK release in March. Wood couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s great! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” he glows with a sense of contagious enthusiasm. “I met the Apples about four years ago at SXSW and our paths crossed again about a year ago when they were looking for a label. At the time my label hadn’t really been fully formed, so it wasn’t the right time as they were finishing their record. They ended up signing to Yep Roc and now Yep Roc and my label will put it out as a co-release to effectively get my label started with a band I’ve loved for years.” It has since been reported that Simian has added Brooklyn’s Heloise and the Savoir Faire to its roster. “I just want to put out music that I believe in,” he concludes.
From Clash, May 2010.
It’s early o’clock on a Sunday morning, yet Tahar Rahim is already in fine spirits. With a broad gravitational grin, the tactile actor flirtatiously grabs his semi-redundant translator’s leg, rubs my back like an old buddy and repeatedly bursts into performances of Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling. Sure enough, the night did indeed turn out to be a good night as less than twelve hours later A Prophet was awarded the BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English Language.
The real Tahar Rahim is a far cry from his brilliant performance as the film’s lead character Malik, a prisoner dehumanized into violence by his status as an incarcerated outsider. But Malik isn’t a generic antihero. As A Prophet unfolds, he embarks upon a journey of development with elements of morality and redemption that conflict with his often violent actions.
“What’s incredible about this character is the way he thinks. When things happen, he knows the solution. He’s got head and balls,” explains Rahim, pausing only to chuckle at the absurdity of his simile. “He’s courageous and smart. It’s rare.”
The finer details of Malik’s life prior to imprisonment are only hinted at. “You see the scars on his back during the shower? That’s his past. Maybe his parents have beaten him, we don’t know. You can imagine what you want, but we know that he left school at eleven and became a delinquent.”
Rahim’s research for the role included interviews with several convicts. “They’re interesting because they don’t talk,” he intones. “They choose their words. When they talk, they’ve really thought about what they’re going to say.” That mannerism is reflected throughout the film. Upon Malik’s arrival, the power is centred around characters that are firm and near silent. As Malik ascends this unsettlingly confined hierarchy, he too becomes enshrouded in such behaviour.
Full of memorably visceral scenes, A Prophet’s intelligence is watermarked in a seemingly innocuous scene. After Malik passes through an airport’s metal detector and prepares for a search, he unconsciously signposts his institutionalism by poking out his tongue – for the prisoner, a daily routine used to detect concealed weapons – and inadvertently duplicates his internal existence in the wider world. “It’s a very important scene in the movie,” he says, slowing his speech to underline the point. “Outside is like inside. What you learn in jail, you do on the outside.”
As for the importance of the film’s success on his own career, Tahir remains grounded. Success, he says, has come as a big surprise. “I don’t know if when I’m sixty I’m still going to be surprised,” he concludes with that beatific grin radiating once more. “For me right now, it’s still a big surprise.”
A short DVD review from Clash, June 2010
Given the perfect pitch of Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson should’ve been the ideal director for this take on Alice Sebold’s novel. Unfortunately, Sebold’s story of a murdered teenager is completely unsuited to Jackson’s attempt to make a film that could be marketed to a young teenage audience; the innocence of film’s colourful palette and fantastical sequences clash caustically with the essence of the plot. Fans of the book have generally been disappointed and it’s no more engrossing for newcomers either.
I’m not a huge fan of constructing a feature from a press conference, but they generally works out fine for these 400 word features – and this was too good to pass on. My single serving friend on this occasion was from a Danish newspaper and had flown to London just for the event, and was due to fly back home immediately. After telling me this, he asked how I was getting home: “Well, it’s about eight stops on the Central line.”
With his straggly shoulder-length hair, director Paul Greengrass offers a neat visual contrast to the Hollywood looks of Matt Damon, the man who he describes as “the greatest movie star in the world.” Seated together to discuss their work together on Green Zone, the rapport that they’ve built from their work on the Bourne trilogy is immediately apparent.
In Green Zone, Damon plays Roy Miller, an officer sent deep within Iraq on the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. After intelligence repeatedly leads his team to dead ends, he sets out to discover the truth for himself. The character of Miller is based on the film’s military advisor Richard “Monty” Gonzales who has since expressed discomfort about the perception that the film as being based on real events. Nonetheless, he provided Damon with inspiration.
“I asked him why he was participating in this experience,” recounts Damon. “And he said, ‘We’ve lost our moral authority.’ That was the first thing he said to me.”
“After The Bourne Supremacy, I wanted to do a film about 9/11 and a film about Iraq because they seemed to be the things that were guiding our world,” explains Greengrass. “Also, it seemed like those were the events that were driving the fear, paranoia and mistrust that was coursing around both the US and the UK in the wake of those events.”
“It seemed like such fertile ground to make a film about,” continues Damon. “Once we read Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s book [Imperial Life in the Emerald City], even though we didn’t know what the film was going to be, there was so much there that was really interesting.”
Both Damon and Greengrass agreed that reaching a mass audience was vital. “It’s important that cinema remains alive and engages directly with the world we live in,” affirms the director. “I’ve always believed in the possibility of good films in the mainstream, but you have to be offering a broad audience an identifiable experience that they can understand and that will offer them a rewarding cinematic experience.”
With visceral action abounding, Green Zone plays like a cerebral counterpoint to Bourne’s more fantastical thrills. As Greengrass summarises, “It’s a step into more difficult territory because it’s a real world. When people see this film they’ll be rewarded for taking that step, but also I think it will make people talk and that’s part of what popular cinema can do.”