Monday, October 30, 2006


Neil Burger's sleeper hit The Illusionist and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige have more than their Victorian era settings and magician heroes in common. Both pictures have Ricky Jay -- the sage prestidigitator and magical arts historian -- onboard in key capacities. For The Illusionist, director Burger hired Jay and his consulting firm, Deceptive Practices (providing "arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis"), to give Edward Norton's sleight-of-hand act just the right authentic air.

Before Burger embarked to Prague, where The Illusionist was shot (subbing for Vienna), he met with Jay. "I worked with him for about a week," Burger recalls, "to fill in some holes in the illusions themselves, and there were certain things that I wanted slightly different takes on. I just had a lot of questions for him about the period and how the magicians conducted themselves and what they thought of themselves.... But in a sense the best thing that I got from him was his blessing -- that he loved the screenplay, loved the spirit of the film....

"And then he also worked for a week with Edward Norton, teaching him the tricks. Everything that you see Edward doing in the movie he’s really doing -- no hand doubles or anything like that."

For The Prestige, Jay -- a familiar face to anyone who's seen a David Mamet movie (he's had a role in nearly every one) -- appears as Milton, a music hall illusionist who employs both Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman's characters as ringers, fake audience members.

Jay has a cool official website,, which, although it isn't terribly up-to-date (the most recent film credit is Last Days, from 2005) includes a link to a Mark Singer-written New Yorker profile, "Secrets of the Magus." Worth checking out.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Writer/director Philip Haas' 1995 gem, Angels and Insects -- adapted from A.S. Byatt's novella, Morpho Eugenia -- is a sumptuously creepy tale of class conflict and sexual goings-on in Victorian England. Mark Rylance, playing a down-on-his-luck entomologist, becomes involved with a pale and delicate young upper-cruster (Patsy Kensit), and gets in a complicated tangle with her wealthy family's intellectually formidable nanny (the great Kristin Scott Thomas). Then stuff happens -- bizarre, beautiful stuff.

Haas, whose credits include Up At the Villa (also with Scott Thomas) and the Paul Auster adaptation, The Music of Chance, will screen Angels and Insects Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Drexel Univeristy, with a discussion to follow. The filmmaker is spending a week at Drexel's Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, conducting classes, critiques and screenings as the Majorie E. Rankin Scholar in Residence.

The screening of Angels and Insects is FREE and open to the public. Facts: Monday, October 30th, 7 p.m., Stein Auditorium (Nesbitt Hall - 33rd & Market Streets).

Monday, October 23, 2006


Amy Berg's searing documentary about ex-priest and convicted pedophile Oliver O'Grady, Deliver Us from Evil, doesn't open at the Ritz theaters until Friday, October 27, and I fear some readers may have misinterpreted Sunday's "On Movies" column in the Inquirer. Berg's powerful doc is as much about the victims of Father O'Grady's 20 year run of serial molestation and rape as it is about the perpetrator himself. And the film is in no way an apologia for his despicable deeds. It honors the victims and their incredible bravery in coming forward, and captures the shame, suffering and pain they've endured since childhood.

Says Berg, from her interview with me at the Toronto International Film Festival: "How amazing are they? I mean, they talked to me after I interviewed their perpetrator. They were able to trust me... And they all really like the film. I’ve never done a story where the victims were happy with the outcome.... They're so real and raw [in the filmed interviews]. And then to be happy and proud of me and proud of themselves for doing it -- it's an incredible accomplishment."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The heat-seeking fake doc Death of a President, opening Friday Oct., 27 (not via any of the big chains, though), isn’t the only picture out there with assassination on its mind. An audacious, bad-taste speculative scenario in which George W. Bush is gunned down on a Chicago sidewalk, the British-made telefilm seems to have anticipated a spate of fictional kill-the-prez productions.

Vantage Point, from the UK director Pete Travis (Omagh), is a Rashomon-like drama in which William Hurt plays a Clinton-esque Commander In Chief who becomes Target One on a state visit to Spain. Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Saïd Taghmaoui, Zoe Saldana and Eduardo Noriega also star in the 2007 release.

And in Shooter, which just wrapped production in Vancouver and Philadelphia, Antoine Fuqua runs Mark Wahlberg and Danny Glover through the hoops. The suspenser's about an expert marksman called out of retirement to track down a would-be presidential killer. Washington Post movie crit Stephen Hunter wrote the bestseller, and the screenplay. Big question: Is Wahlberg, who plays the marksman, going to keep that Gumby-ish Departed hairpiece, or did he leave it in Boston?

Monday, October 16, 2006


Forest Whitaker's performance as Idi Amin, the late and infamous Ugandan dictator, is one of the most stunning turns in this great American actor's estimable career (think The Crying Game, think Ghost Dog). To get the African ruler down, Whitaker studied films and books and watched old TV interviews of Amin, whose violent reign over Uganda lasted for most of the 1970s. But Whitaker credits Général Idi Amin Dada: Autoportrait, the 1974 documentary by Barbet Schroeder, as the single most important resource. (The DVD is available from Criterion,
"I definitely studied that documentary intensively," Whitaker says, interviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. "It showed him in every situation. It's unusual in its candidness, and it captured some moments that helped me key in, like his eye movement in his episodes of extreme paranoia. When he’s talking to the doctors... you can see that he’s nervous, agitated… and then he tells a joke and all of a sudden people laugh. You see him exhale this sigh of relief, and relax."
Whitaker, a sure bet for an Academy Award best actor nom, says that playing such a rich, richly tormented and tormenting character required lots of modulation, and a certain moderation, too.
"I tried to find the character, play each scene honestly, and that was it. I wasn’t trying to build the insanity, because the film builds the insanity on its own. I knew that he had a sense of humor, I’d seen it in all the tapes, so I let him have the largeness, and tried to figure out what his passions were, and by that [the performance] would modulate, or at least shift gear, depending on what his mood, his temperment, was. Because he was very singularly focused about whatever he was doing at the moment."
Whitaker, who's been on an intensive work jag for the last year, plays another big and woolly character in Spike Jonze adaptation of the Maurice Sendak kid-lit classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Whitaker provides the voice for one of the titular Wild Things in the animated feature, due in 2008. Other cast members: Paul Dano, Catherine Keener, Catherine O'Hara, and Michelle Williams . Maverick novelist and McSweeney's publisher Dave Eggers had a hand in the screenplay.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Philadelphia-based author Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia has been optioned by Brad Pitt's Plan B production shingle, and Julia Roberts has signed to star. A travel memoir about a woman who, in the wake of a nasty divorce, goes on a year-long sojourn, Gilbert's tale ventures first to Rome (to feast), then to an ashram near Mumbai (to meditate) and on to Bali (for "balancing").
Gilbert's agent, Sarah Chalfant, confirmed the deal via her BlackBerry. Gilbert's website,, boasts a photo of the author that has a wee bit o' Julia Roberts-ness about it.

There are four films out now, or coming between now and December, that have Kate Winslet in them: the unfortunate All the King's Men, the sublime and startling Little Children, Aardman Studios' animated rodent yarn Flushed Away (Winslet's the voice of the heroine, a punky-cute London rat) and the holiday-season romantic comedy The Holiday , opposite Jack Black, Cameron Diaz and Winslet's All the King's Men colleague, Jude Law.
So, now, apart from a few days of press to promote the respective projects, Winslet has decalred herself on extended leave.
"From the beginning of last year until May of this year, I did three films," reports Winslet, who lives in New York with her husband, director Sam Mendes, and their two kids. "I wouldn’t usually do that many. But these were all amazing opportunities. So I'm taking a year off now. I’ve been off since May, and I’m probably not going to work again until next summer, because my daughter’s just started kindergarten, my son’s started preschool, and I don’t want to be pulling them out to go off to wherever and work....
"It’s been a busier time, which on the one hand has been absolutely amazing, but on the other one I’ve just run out of stuff now -- you know, run out of stock, just things, to throw into [the] characters."
So, no matter what comes along, Winslet's steadfastly maintaining her unemployment?
"Yes. Absolutely. And there have been things that have come in. And I’m reading, I am, I love reading scripts anyway. You can’t stop me from doing that!
And there have been some things that have come along that I thought, 'Oh, hell,' but then I thought `No, no.' And it’s no hardship saying no, when what I’m actually saying yes to is just being completely, consistently around and in one place with my children."