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51 posts categorized "Film"

January 08, 2008

Recommended reading

Chalmers Johnson pans Charlie Wilson's War (IMDB).

Dana Goldstein describes how an Iowa Caucus plays out on the ground. It's funny how much "coverage" the Iowa Caucuses you can read without actually getting a sense of what the process is like. Dana does an excellent job supplying the nitty gritty details that put the hand wavey strategic talk in context.

Fun facts about today's New Hampshire primary.

Brian Beutler on what's next for FISA.

December 10, 2007

Viacom lobbyists hired CIA torture team leader for "Kite Runner" movie

[Majikthise Exclusive]

A retired CIA agent who led the team that waterboarded terror suspect Abu Zubaydah went on to work as a security consultant for the film adaptation of The Kite Runner (2007).

Lobbyists for Viacom helped the producers of the film retain retired CIA agent and "countererrorism expert", John Kiriakou, according an Oct 4 article in the International Herald Tribune--before Kirkakou went public about his career as a torturer.

The producers of Kite Runner realized belatedly that the film's release might put movie's child stars in serious danger:

In late July, with violence worsening in Kabul, studio executives looked for experts who could help them chart a safe course. Aided by lobbyists for Viacom, Paramount's parent company, they found John Kiriakou, the retired CIA operative with experience in the region, and had him conduct interviews in Washington and Kabul.

"They wanted to do the right thing, but they wanted to understand what the right thing was," Kiriakou said. [IHT]

The Kite Runner is an adaptation of a Khaled Husseini novel that touches on ethnic tensions in Afghanistan, rape, and the Taliban. The release of the film was delayed for several weeks because the boys were getting threats and the producers needed time to get them out of Afghanistan.

On Dec. 5, the IHT reported that four young actors and accompanying adult relatives had been whisked off to the United Arab Emirates for their own protection:

Months of spadework by at least 20 studio executives, relief workers, diplomats and even a former CIA counterterrorism operative culminated last week when the boys, who were in the midst of final exams, obtained visas and boarded a plane for the United Arab Emirates. [IHT]

The film opens on Dec. 14.

Majikthise is first publication to report on Kiriakou's work as a security consultant in light of his torture revelations.

July 27, 2007

Helen Mirren is a goddess

What Wolcott said.

July 15, 2007

John Travolta: The best part of playing a woman is the groping!

Hi all!  My new blog, Kindly Póg Mo Thóin, is up and running.  Come on by!  Here's one of my first posts:

Take a gander at what John Travolta had to say about playing a woman, Edna Turnblad, in the new movie version of Hairspray (based on the stage musical, which was based on the original film):

He had to spend up to five hours a day encased in a full body suit weighing more than 30lb with five separate gel-filled silicone prosthetic appliances for parts of Edna's face. But it had its compensations.

"I'm happy to be a man, but I miss being groped," he says, laughing. "Everybody tried to grope me all day. Suddenly having breasts and a big bottom gained me so much attention. Men and women wanted to feel my breasts and feel my bum. I must be a slut because I didn't care. Men were flirting with me and I was being given power I never had before. I found it fascinating. Women have power I didn't know they had."

Gosh! Being groped is actually empowering! Who knew? All this time I thought the power belonged to the groper, the person who was invading your space and putting his hands on your body, whether you wanted him to or not. Turns out that gropers are actually powerless at the sight of breasts and a big bottom! Ladies, stop complaining -- you really enjoy lording it over those helpless, helpless men!

Jesus. Gosh, John, did you ever think that maybe the reason you're enjoying getting groped is that you're on a movie set, you know the groping's all in good fun, and everyone else knows this is a woman-suit, and everyone knows that not only can you not actually feel the groping, but that you're a big star with a lot of power already, and you can take off the prosthetics at the end of the day and go back to being John Travolta?

Not exactly getting your tits squeezed by some asshole on the train, when you can't get away. Not exactly getting your ass goosed by your boss and having to take it because you need the job.

As offensive as *that* is, and oh, it is -- there's more.  More...Check out the male anxiety on display here:

When you've been a sexy teen idol, a tough action star, danced with Diana, Princess of Wales and been nominated for two Oscars, you think long and hard when someone asks you to put on a dress and portray an outsized, overly protective mother.

And here:

"When they asked me to be Edna Turnblad I said, 'Gee, 32 years as a leading man… why me? What makes you think I'd be the perfect woman?'

And let's talk about what John thought about being the "perfect woman." Edna Turnblad is a lower-middle-class housewife who takes in laundry and is married to a man who owns a joke shop. She wears housedresses, and doesn't go out of the house much. Both Divine and Harvey Fierstein, who originated the Edna role on Broadway, played Edna as a frumpy woman who'd given up on trying to be pretty and didn't quite believe her husband found her beautiful. Part of her anxiety about Tracy getting on the Corny Collins Show was that Tracy would be laughed at for trying to fit in because she was fat. In other words, Edna was projecting her own anxieties about being fat and feeling worthless onto her daughter, who -- unlike her mother -- didn't have a demoralizing inner critic. And part of the fun of both the original movie and the stage version was seeing Edna's rejecting the voice of that inner critic and following her daughter's lead into fabulousness. Indeed, Edna's transformation from "greasy Gorgon" to Edna! Turnblad! Diva! Extraordinaire! occurs in the stage musical during "Big, Blonde and Beautiful," with Motormouth Maybelle (played in the original movie by Ruth Brown, and in the new movie by Queen Latifah, which tells you a little about how glammed-up the new movie is. Motormouth Maybelle is supposed to be a woman who's not innately glamorous but has made herself that way).

Oh, but Travolta was having none of that.  No frumpiness for him!

He was so determined to create the Edna he wanted that he rejected several versions of the fat suit designed for him until he was given one he considered made her suitably curvaceous and voluptuous.

"It wasn't real to me to make her like a refrigerator," he says. "I said, 'Make her as big as you want as long as you give her a waist and make her pretty because it will be more interesting, more appealing and more entertaining.' I wanted people to enjoy looking at her, because if she's grotesque, it's not fun."

"My challenge was making sure I was convincing as a woman, so I drew on a library of memories of watching great female performances in the theatre and on film and in my family, and I used role models like Sophia Loren, Anita Ekberg, Elizabeth Taylor… these women with voluptuous shapes."

Yeah, who wants to see a frumpy Edna Turnblad? Too bad nobody saw the original movie or the stage version, both of which featured a frumpy Edna Turnblad. And why the voluptuous shape (from the NYT)?:

Having grown up the youngest of six children in a bohemian working-class family in Englewood, N.J., he modeled his idea of a watchable woman on his “very sexy mother” (Helen Travolta was a high school drama teacher and sometime actress) and on the bombshells in the European movies they enjoyed: Ms. Loren, Anna Magnani, Anita Ekberg. “I’m not as beautiful as any of those people,” he said, “but I’m not unpleasant to look at, and I thought: ‘This is my library. Not grandmas or Aunt Bee from Mayberry, but the kind of person a blue-collar woman would aspire to be if she had money. What if that kind of woman had gone to flesh?’ ”

Divine (post-Mr. Pinky makeover) and Ruth Brown in the original movie: glammed-up versions of not-terribly-good-looking-to-start-with blue-collar women in the early 60s. Real-looking, in other words, which was part of what was wonderful about that movie and the stage version: these were not "Hollywood fat" or "Hollywood ugly" people who removed the glasses and shook out their hair and were gorgeous! but people who looked like they belonged in 1960s Baltimore and were maybe beaten down by life and by their circumstances (or their inner critics), but embraced glamour to the best of their abilities and budgets. The results were not sleek, or perfect, but a little outrageous and even a bit tacky. But that was part of the realness of the movie. Now you've got gorgeous Queen Latifah and John Travolta in pretty drag running around a blue-collar 1962 Baltimore.

Travolta, though -- he can play a woman, he can even play a fat woman, but godDAMNit, she's got to be a pretty, voluptuous fat woman. Not a "refrigerator."

And campiness?  None of that!

“Playing a woman attracted me,” Mr. Travolta said. “Playing a drag queen did not. The vaudeville idea of a man in a dress is a joke that works better onstage than it does on film, and I didn’t want any winking or camping. I didn’t want it to be ‘John Travolta plays Edna.’ That’s not interesting. It had to be something I could go all the way with, disappear in, like I did in the Bill Clinton role in ‘Primary Colors’ or in ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ ” And here he got up and instantly incarnated those characters with a quick redeployment of his weight and posture.

Because, you see, camp might be fun, it might be in the spirit of a John Waters movie, and it might win you a Tony, but it doesn't pay off at the Oscars:

There was no film precedent for this approach to Edna. Though Dustin Hoffman in “Tootsie” and Robin Williams in “Mrs. Doubtfire” did well donning drag, they were playing explicitly male characters who for plot reasons needed to dress as women. Edna is something much rarer: a female character whose DNA, as the stage director Jack O’Brien put it, requires that she be played by a male — the cosmic opposite of Peter Pan. Divine, whose real name was Harris Glenn Milstead, didn’t so much act Edna as perform a variation on his usual camp persona. What Mr. Travolta wanted was a seamless transformation; it was not lost on him that the last time such a cross-gender feat had been seriously tried — in “The Year of Living Dangerously” — it had won Linda Hunt an Oscar.


February 16, 2007

Constantly move forward

Silkies Below, originally uploaded by Steven Trainoff Ph.D..

Today's FlickrFind: Constantly moving forward...

Check out the rest of this photographer's photo stream. He's one of the most talented underwater shooters on Flickr.

Update: Mom just emailed to ask why I have a link to a page of memorable quotes from Annie Hall. That's a good question. Here's the quote that I was referencing with the title of the post... Alvy Singer: A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.

Update 2: In other shark news, man grabs shark with hands, blames vodka...

November 17, 2006

3 Angeline Jolie bodyguards arrested for assault

Three of Angelina Jolie's bodyguards were arrested for allegedly assaulting parents and students at a school in India:

MUMBAI, India (AP) -- Police on Friday arrested three British bodyguards working for Angelina Jolie after they allegedly roughed up parents and students at a Mumbai school where the actress was filming scenes for ''A Mighty Heart.''

The fracas took place Thursday afternoon when the gates of the Anjuman-e-Islam school, which had been locked during filming, were opened to let parents pick up their children.

M.H. Belose, additional chief metropolitan magistrate, later Friday freed the three bodyguards on bail and asked them not to leave the country for one week. They deposited bail guarantees for $545 each.

If convicted, the three can be jailed for up to three years.

Witnesses said the bodyguards pushed and shoved some of the parents. Police prosecutor N.C. Tambe told the court that the three had upset people by calling them ''bloody Indians'' and ''bloody Muslims.'' [AP]

Jolie denied that her guards acted violent or racist. She blamed the melee on photographers:

Jolie was critical of the media and blamed the large number of photographers and cameramen for the scuffle at the school. ''It is not surprising that the press involved failed to mention their share of responsibility in the chaos.'' [AP]

If so, why did the parents get beat up, rather than the photogs?

November 14, 2006

Romanian villagers up in arms over Borat

The citizens of Glod, Romania say that the makers of the Borat movie tricked them into acting like hicks on camera:

GLOD, Romania (AP) -- The name of this remote Romanian village means "mud," and that's exactly what angry locals are throwing at comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.

Cohen used Glod's Gypsies as stand-ins for Kazakhs in his runaway hit movie, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." Now offended villagers are threatening to sue the film's producers for paying them a pittance to put farm animals in their homes and perform other crude antics.

If someone hires you to put an animal in your home, and you accept the sum offered, what difference does it make whether they're making a documentary or a feature film? Were they offering some kind of implied educational discount for putting livestock in their living rooms?

[A villager] accused the producers of paying locals just $3.30-$5.50, misleading the village into thinking the movie would be a documentary, refusing to sign proper filming contracts and enticing easily exploited peasants into performing crass acts.


"These people are poor and they were tricked by people more intelligent than us," he said. "They took one of our 75-year-old ladies, put huge silicone breasts on her and said she was 47. Another man they filmed to look like the poorest person in the world, and one of our men who is missing an arm had a plastic sex toy taped to his stump."

"We are suing because they were not truthful," added Staicu, who said he saw parts of "Borat" and was disgusted.


The mood in Glod, meanwhile, was tense and volatile, with crowds of angry, shouting villagers repeatedly gathering around reporters.

One man was seen slapping his sister, who had appeared in the film, and slamming the gate to his ramshackle home shut to keep her from being interviewed. At another point, a resident threatened news photographers with a stick, and another pelted their car with rocks.

I don't approve of employers who pay lousy wages, but the villagers really can't complain about "accuracy"--either they thought they were being bribed to fake documentary footage, or they realized they were being paid (albeit badly) to be extras in ridiculous roles.

September 14, 2006

Majikthise interviews Al Franken

My interview with Al Franken is up at AlterNet.

September 07, 2006

Orleans Parish Prison documentary


Here's a link to a remarkable BBC documentary, Prisoners of Katrina, available in full online.

[Hat tip to Brownfemipower.]

August 15, 2006

Confessions of a junket whore

Eric Snider went on a press junket for Stone's "World Trade Center" and pulled no punches with his write-up.

Snider figured that, at worst, Paramount wouldn't invite him to any more press junkets. Actually, his "punishment" was considerably more severe. Paramount banned Snider not only from all future press junkets, but from all Paramount press screenings. Allied Advertising, the company that runs Parmamount screenings in Snider's area has also banned him from all of their other press screenings as well.

So much for PR.