(Photo by New Line/ courtesy Everett Collection)
Despite his prodigious presence in the world of acting, Ian McKellen didn’t start appearing on-screen in earnest until his mid-40s, during the 1980s. Things kicked off with 1983’s The Keep, Michael Mann’s hard-to-find WWII fantasy-thriller, with subsequent highlights including early Will Smith drama Six Degrees of Separation, a 1930s-set adaptation of Richard III, and an appearance as Death in Last Action Hero, putting that theater gravitas to good use in a decidedly bad flick.
His Oscar nomination for portraying director James Whale in 1998’s Gods and Monsters brought him to international prominence, setting the stage for one of the great career turns in movie history. In 2000, McKellen became one of comic books’ greatest villains, Magneto, in X-Men. He wouldn’t re-appear until the following year, as one of fantasy’s greatest heroes: Gandalf in 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The two roles would keep McKellen sustained for the next decade and beyond, across three more X-Men movies and five more entries nestled within Middle-Earth.
Playing the legendary detective in Mr. Holmes and putting in his time as Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast are more notable recent works, along with more theater adaptations like The Dresser (opposite Anthony Hopkins, both delivering some career-best performances), as well as, er, Cats. At least he knew the nightmare cinematic hairball that was being coughed up! And now, you shall not pass until we rank all Ian McKellen movies by Tomatometer!
They’ve been a long time coming, but Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are reaching the climax with Fifty Shades Freed, opening wide this Friday. And if history is any indication (Grey and Darker are 25% and 10% respectively on the Tomatometer), Freed won’t be hitting the spot with critics, prompting this week’s gallery of the most Rotten movie trilogies ever.
Every year, the BAFTA film awards present a trophy for Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema. Introduced in 1978, the award recognises an organisation or a person’s career and influence on the British Film Industry. This year’s recipient, announced today, is Pinewood/Shepperton, two of the British industry’s most important film studios whose contribution to filmmaking has resulted in some of the greatest movies of all time. Under strict instruction not to let anyone working at the studios know about the award, RT spent a day last week touring Pinewood and Shepperton and learning a little more about these stalwarts of film.
The Orange British Academy Film Awards begin on British TV on BBC Two from 8pm, continuing on BBC One from 9pm on Sunday 8 February. A preview show featuring interviews from the red carpet will be broadcast on BBC Three from 7pm.
Our tour begins at Pinewood, and the first thing that catches your eye as you head through the main gates is 007 stage. All but two of the official Bond films have featured scenes shot at Pinewood, and the franchise is a regular cash cow for the studio.
007 stage was built in 1976 for The Spy Who Loved Me, after the production was unable to find a stage big enough to contain the Liparus Supertanker set. At 59,000 square feet it’s the largest sound stage in Europe, and has burnt to the ground twice — most recently after filming had wrapped on Casino Royale in 2006. It’s been the Louvre for The Da Vinci Code, the Chocolate River Room for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and most recently played host to desert scenes and a Persian fort for videogame adaptation Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
One of the more exciting stages on the Pinewood lot is U-Stage, built in 2005 to provide a safe, permanent and controlled environment in which to shoot underwater. Managed by a permanent team of divers and specialists who assist productions shooting underwater footage on the stage, it holds 1.2 million litres of water which is maintained at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius, 87 Fahrenheit.
Windows provide easy views underwater allowing RT to stay suitably dry for these shots as the team demonstrate their underwater camera. They wouldn’t tell us which production the boat belonged to, but we’ll know when the first of the Ant Pirates trilogy is announced any day now (probably).
From the surface, the team are able to feed into the camera from the video village. Scenes shot since the stage was built include the closing scene from The Bourne Ultimatum, Keira Knightley drowning in Atonement and the armada sequences from Elizabeth: The Golden Age.
Pinewood’s city street, which can be dressed to look like just about any urban backdrop, is a familiar sight for RT. We were here just a few weeks ago visiting the set of Kick-Ass and the production had dressed the street as New York. The two storefronts in the middle of the picture here were dressed as Atomic Comics, the comic book shop featured in the movie. The interior set was built here too.
Providing a giant blue-screen backdrop, this outdoor tank (empty in the picture, obviously) is an ideal location for any shooting designed to look like it was filmed at sea. As comedienne Dawn French sank to the bottom at the end of the French and Saunders Titanic spoof she complained of a foul taste. Jennifer Saunders explained why: “It’s the old Bond tank. Three Bonds and George Lazenby have peed in this.”
The walls of Pinewood’s main offices are festooned with production art from the many films that have passed through the studio. Icons include the Carry On series, David Lean‘s Great Expectations, Superman, The Shining, Batman and Mission: Impossible. Over the last couple of years Mamma Mia!, Quantum of Solace, Sweeney Todd, The Bourne Ultimatum and Stardust, to name a few, were shot here.
And so to Shepperton, where we’re quickly informed to keep quiet on the two big projects on the go at the studios. Signs for both litter the lot, but announcements haven’t gone out and the management team are keen to respect their tenants’ privacy. Opened in 1931 as Sound Lighting Studios, Shepperton has changed hands many times, with former owners including Ridley and Tony Scott and The Who.
Slightly smaller than Pinewood, Shepperton has played host to a slew of movies including The African Queen, The Third Man, Dr. Strangelove, the Pink Panther movies and Batman Begins. Sir John Mills worked at the studio on Great Expectations and The Colditz Story. “What has always remained with me about working at Shepperton has been the sheer professionalism of everyone, both in front of and behind the camera,” he said.
Aside from being a former owner of the studios, Ridley Scott has returned to Shepperton many times over the years, having shot Alien, Legend, Thelma and Louise and Gladiator here. “From the moment I entered Shepperton, I knew the place was special,” he says. “Anywhere that had had within its walls Carol Reed directing Orson Welles in The Third Man, was going to mean a great deal to me.”
H-Stage at Shepperton was moved from Isleworth Studios in 1948 and has played host to many of the most ambitious sets built on site. A full-scale reproduction of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ship the Tyger was built on hydraulic rams on this stage for Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and just a few years ago H-Stage housed the Batcave from Batman Begins. Built over 9 weeks, the set was 250ft long, 120ft wide and 40ft high and 12,000 gallons of water flowed through it every minute, serving a waterfall, a river and the dripping cave walls.
If you have a spare £300,000 hidden down the back of the sofa, you could spend it on your very own version of the Korda Theatre, a state-of-the-art facility for sound mixing. Named after Hungarian producer/director Alexander Korda, whose contribution to British cinema in the 40s and 50s was vast, features mixed here include Shakespeare in Love, Gosford Park and Troy.
Shepperton’s Littleton Manor, known as the Old House, dates back to the 13th Century and houses production offices and facilities. Its corridors doubled for interior shots of the hospital where Damian was born in The Omen while the grounds served as a backdrop for an encounter between Father Brennan and Damian’s father.
It may look like any other overgrown British stream, but this is a fully-fledged river that runs through Shepperton’s backlot. As hard as it may be to believe, this scene doubled as Africa for the Bogart/Hepburn classic The African Queen. One of the studios’ popular legends goes that there’s an unusually large number of parakeets in the area because they were released during the production of that movie.
Built for The Golden Compass, Shepperton now has its very own Western street on the backlot, which marks the last spot on our tour. We’re not entirely convinced the British weather is going to help to complete the Wild West look, but it seemed to be pretty convincing as part of the His Dark Materials adaptation.
Say what you like about wild man writer-director Abel Ferrara (probably still best known for The Driller Killer), but he knows how to land the talent. His 2005 picture Mary — which gets its first UK screenings, at the NFT in London as part of a Juliette Binoche season, on the 2nd and 3rd of October — not only casts the 1995 Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner (The English Patient), but finds room for 2007 Best Actor Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland) and 2008 Best Actress Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose), plus Matthew Modine (returning as a Ferrara alter ego after The Blackout) and Euro-favourite Stefania Rocca (best known for The Talented Mr Ripley).
In the past, Ferrara has managed (against the odds) to get solid work from hit-or-miss talents like Madonna (reasonably credible in Snake Eyes aka Dangerous Game), Asia Argento (outstanding in New Rose Hotel) and Ice-T (good in R’Xmas), and guided powerhouses like Christopher Walken and Laurence Fishburne (The King of New York), Harvey Keitel (Bad Lieutenant) and Lili Taylor (The Addiction) through method performances which would fill shelves with statuettes if folks in Beverly Hills paid attention to films as rough, challenging and strange as the Ferrara oeuvre.
Made partially as a response to Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ, Mary is a hard-to-categorise exercise in street theology — which touches on Da Vinci Code-ish speculations about the gospels, and wrestles with the age-old problems of faith and uncertainty in a mix of subtle character interplay and outright silent movie-style melodramatics. Tony Childress (Modine) has just finished directing and starring in a film called This is My Blood (not to be confused with There Will Be Blood), which is attracting Last Temptation of Christ-style organised protests for supposed blasphemy and anti-semitism. Marie Palesi (Binoche), the actress cast as Mary Magdalene, has been so overwhelmed by the experience of playing the role that she has opted to abandon her career and go to Jerusalem (‘what are you doing,’ Tony asks, ‘healing lepers?’) to explore spiritual pursuits and dispense enigmatic wisdom via cell-phone.
It seems that she has come to believe that the depiction of Mary as a prostitute in the gospels and as Jesus’s wife in modern fiction are both male-perpetrated myths designed to cover up the fact that the messiah chose her, not Saint Peter, as his chief disciple — this is an interesting ‘what if’ in itself, and the scenes from This is My Blood in which Mary resists being shut out of the disciples’ boys’ club have a Pasolinian vigour that bests Gibson’s Christian torture porn and at least competes with Scorsese’s It’s a Wonderful Life heresies.
A year later, with the film edited and due for release, Tony has shaved off his Jesus beard and retreated behind dark glasses while embarking on an embattled publicity tour for the film, responding to the protests with desperate aggression and hurt-little boy pride (Ferrara has been playing autobiographical games on the theme of artist as childish monster ever since The Driller Killer, and Modine enthusiastically plays up to the director’s out-of-the-room image). Ted Younger (Whitaker), a New York-based talk show host, conducts nightly interviews with theologians and Biblical historians (what channel could this possibly air on?) and Tony agrees to appear on the program (hinting that Marie might show up to solve the mystery of her disappearance) if Ted covers the scheduled premiere, which is expected to feature a possibly-violent clash with protestors (in a jarring shock scene, what seems to be a mix of hasidic Jews and a street gang attack the limo Tony and Ted are riding in).
Ted is being unfaithful to his pregnant wife Elizabeth (Heather Graham) with actress Gretchen (Cotillard), and this ‘sin’ is punished when Elizabeth gives premature birth to a baby who struggles to live (it’s probably a mercy that Ferrara uses a plainly healthy baby, though this undercuts the desperation of the hospital scenes). Just as Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutentant bared his soul to Jesus, so Whitaker’s straying commentator stops the show with an angst-driven prayer — very few actors can get away with praying on screen, especially if they have to talk out loud to God and the audience, but Whitaker is as good here as in any given Idi Amin scene.
With his spirituality completely turned around by this travail, Ted doesn’t give Tony the easy ride he expects on his show — and brings in the distant voice of Marie, who remains certain and centered as the men around her descend into mania. Like many a Ferrara film, the home stretch is deliberately chaotic and hard to follow, but a bomb threat disrupts the This is My Blood premiere and Marie takes to a fishing boat in Israel as she blends even more with Mary Magdalene. As cued by a debate in which characters (and the audience) are enjoined to ‘really think’ about the crucifixion, everyone gets a ‘big suffering scene’: Modine’s turn comes when Tony goes crazy as he works a projector, screening his film to the cops searching the auditorium for a bomb and gloating that there are ‘lines around the block in Chicago’. Only Binoche remains serene, though Marie’s abandonment of the life of a movie star for that of a saint might prompt audiences to muse that when Ferrara gives her great iconic close-ups he is turning saintliness back to old-fashioned stardom.
Ferrara has always had one foot in the grindhouse and the other in the arthouse. He even made (and starred in) a porn movie (9 Lives of a Wet Pussy), which is unusual for someone as inclined as fellow New York Italian-American Martin Scorsese to make bizarre religious films. Then again, ‘really think’ about the crucifixion, as Mel Gibson did, and you find the horror movie bleeding heart of Roman Catholicism — previously strongest in the Ferrara filmography in the revisionist vampire movie The Addiction.
Perhaps to put further distance between Mary and Gibson’s film, it inclines towards the respectable end of Ferrara’s output, which means even fans who cherish the likes of Ms .45 and Body Snatchers (on which he first worked with Whittaker) haven’t completely embraced it. Like Ferrara’s New Rose Hotel, R’Xmas, Go Go Tales and the documentary Chelsea on the Rocks, Mary has mostly screened at film festivals. Since The Blackout in 1997, even independent distributors haven’t got behind his films in the UK: they don’t even go direct to DVD, where you could find a Driller Killer 2 if any schlockmeister got the rights to it. This is the penalty for making films at a volume of eleven.
For the first time in over three weeks, things are looking up for the Writers Guild of America (WGA) negotiations. Just in time for the holidays, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the WGA are meeting today to discuss negotiations.
Both parties are hoping to make a deal in order to end the strike, which has already shut down and postponed several television shows and films. There is a news blackout in effect for today’s negotiations, so eager strike followers won’t know about the outcome for some time.
However, many industry insiders are worried about the probability of a deal being reached in the near future, due to force majeure clauses. The force majeure clause exists to protect all parties from contractual obligations in times of extraordinary circumstances (such as war, natural disasters, and strikes).
If the studios wait two additional weeks, they could invoke this clause — and drop or suspend projects of their choosing. Insiders worry that the studios could benefit from waiting until the clause is effect, in order to have control over which projects would be dropped. Force majeure also allows studios to suspend actors’ contracts. This could give the studios the early advantage of firing currently employed castmembers before the Screen Actors Guild contract expires in seven months.
Even without the force majeure clause in effect, many high profile projects have already been postponed or cancelled. Over the weekend, Brad Pitt announced he was dropping out of Taylor Hackford‘s State of Play because Universal insisted on moving forward with a script Pitt was unhappy with. Other highly anticipated films have also been delayed due to unworkable scripts, such as Oliver Stone‘s Pinkville and The Da Vinci Code prequel, Angels and Demons. Take a look at RT’s report on some of the films that have been affected by the strike.
Angels & Demons is still being targeted for a spring 2009 release.
Source: New York Post
One of the many high-profile productions being affected by the looming writers’ strike is Angels & Demons, the follow-up to The Da Vinci Code — but if director Ron Howard and his fellow filmmakers have anything to say about it, their sequel’s progress will be unimpeded.
Variety reports on the last-minute preparations behind the scenes of Angels & Demons, which will find Tom Hanks reprising his role as Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code, the $758 million-grossing adaptation of Dan Brown‘s bestselling book. Angels is scheduled to start filming in Europe next February, but with the writers’ strike coming as early as November 1, Howard’s team has to move quickly. From the article:
Producers Brian Grazer and John Calley, Columbia, Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman are seeking to finalize the shooting script before next week’s deadline. Meanwhile, the “Angels” team have begun casting around Tom Hanks, who will reprise his role as Robert Langdon.
Hanks’ character, a Harvard-based expert on religious symbols, this time sleuths a mystery that involves a secret society and a conspiracy that leads to Vatican City and threatens the future of the Catholic Church.
Variety‘s report goes on to note that, although the Angels & Demons novel was written before — and takes place before — The Da Vinci Code, the film will be a sequel.