Javier Bardem is at the center of the latest Hollywood controversy due to the inappropriateness – in the eyes of some at least – of the Spanish actor portraying a Cuban character, Desi Arnaz, in Being the Ricardos, the story of American comedian Lucille Ball and her husband and co-star on the sitcom I Love Lucy. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Bardem played down the issue: “I’m an actor, and that’s what I do for a living: try to be people that I’m not,” said the Oscar winner. Bardem also alluded to the problem being based on “accents” – that there tends not to be any furore over English-speakers giving a foreign tongue a go. “Where is that conversation with English-speaking people doing things like The Last Duel, where they were supposed to be French people in the Middle Ages?” he wondered.
In the interview, Bardem joked about the prevailing debate on representation and casting: “We should all start not allowing anybody to play Hamlet unless they were born in Denmark.” The issue tends to surface most around the awards season – the issue of diversity has more or less finished off the Golden Globes – and the decision by director Guy Nattiv to cast English actress Helen Mirren as former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir has recently been making headlines. Jewish actress Maureen Lipman criticized Mirren’s involvement in the movie Golda a few weeks ago, stating that the “the Jewishness of the character is so integral.”
“My opinion, and that’s what it is, a mere opinion, is that if the character’s race, creed or gender drives or defines the portrayal then the correct – for want of an umbrella [term] – ethnicity should be a priority,” The Pianist actor told Variety.
The days when a director had the option to skirt the industry’s norms and cast an actor not only against race or creed, but gender, seem long distant but that is exactly what Peter Weir did in 1982 when the man behind the camera on Dead Poets Society (1989) and The Truman Show (1998) was casting The Year of Living Dangerously, a romantic tale set against the backdrop of the overthrow of President Sukarno in Indonesia.
Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver were on board, but Weir had difficulty finding an actor capable of playing the role of photographer Billy Kwan, a charismatic character who would serve as the moral compass of the movie. Weir had settled on Australian dancer David Atkins, but a clash of personalities with Gibson led him to leave the production after filming had begun. That was when a member of the casting department suggested Linda Hunt.
“The sets were being built in Manila and time was of the essence,” Weir said in an interview with The New York Times in 2019. “The casting agent said he had a possible Billy Kwan called L. Hunt. Later it was revealed she was a woman. We were desperate, we gave her a shot and it was brilliant.” Hunt, who had enjoyed a solid career in theater to that point but was far from a household name, was more surprised than anyone by the decision. “I didn’t quite understand what I was there for; I talked to the casting director about it and he just said, ‘This would be a part that you would play as a man,’” the NCIS: Los Angeles star told The Daily Beast. “I said, ‘Holy shit,’ and laughed.”
Hunt attempted to change Weir’s mind but without success. “Can you rewrite it for a woman?” the director recalls the actor asking. “I said this would change the entire story and there was a silence,” he recalled. “‘Could you play a man?’ I asked her and there was a longer silence. ‘Only if you believe in me,’ she replied.”
When Hunt went for the first screen test they put her in a wig, a mustache and placed pieces of rubber over her eyes to give her a more oriental appearance. She looked in the mirror and said to herself: “Let’s take all this shit off and let me do it.”
I didn’t try to pass myself off as a man; the movie wasn’t about that
Actress Linda Hunt
“I didn’t try to pass myself off as a man; the movie wasn’t about that,” Hunt told the New Straits Times in 2016. But she had to make the audience believe that she was a man. To achieve this, she cut her hair short and dyed it, and shaved her eyebrows. The result was so convincing that waiters would call her “sir” even when she was wearing a dress.
Hunt, who despite playing a Chinese-Australian in The Year of Living Dangerously, is white and was born in New Jersey in 1945, was diagnosed with hypopituitary dwarfism as a teenager, which made her adolescent life difficult. “When I was growing up, particularly during puberty in my teen years, I was so miserable because I elicited so much teasing and meanness from my teenage cohorts,” she told The Daily Beast. She first felt the call of acting in a production of Peter Pan – a role traditionally played by women in the theater – but due to the reaction among the producers to her physical appearance, she decided to concentrate on directing. “Until I got to New York and saw the stupidity of that idea. If it’s hard to get into acting, what is it like for a woman to become a director?”
The Year of Living Dangerously was Hunt’s first major movie role following her debut in Robert Altman’s Popeye, which was roundly panned by critics. As such, in 1982, Hunt’s extraordinary talent was a secret beyond the theaters of Broadway. After the movie was released, it would never be a secret again. Spectators stayed in theaters for the credits to roll to find out who the actor playing Billy Kwan was and were surprised when it was revealed to be a woman. “Linda Hunt, a New York stage actress who enters the role so fully that it never occurs to us that she is not a man. This is what great acting is, a magical transformation of one person into another,” wrote movie critic Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times: words that echo Bardem’s in The Hollywood Reporter. Her portrayal of Billy Kwan even won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1983.
Hunt’s performance as Kwan is not one of cinema’s greatest whitewashing moments – see John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror or Mickey Rooney playing Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s – but in 2018 there was a considerable backlash when an image of Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously was shown at the Oscars during a montage of past winners. Critics said her inclusion detracted from what was an important year for minority representation, explained Teen Vogue.
Despite the controversy, a few months after the gala Weir told The New York Times that he did not regret the decision to cast Hunt. “Casting is fundamental and it should not be influenced by any trends.” Tell that to the Golden Globes.
U2 concert uses stunning visuals to open massive Sphere venue in Las Vegas | Culture
It looked like a typical U2 outdoor concert: Two helicopters zoomed through the starlit sky before producing spotlights over a Las Vegas desert and frontman Bono, who kneeled to ground while singing the band’s 2004 hit “Vertigo.”
This scene may seem customary, but the visuals were created by floor-to-ceiling graphics inside the immersive Sphere. It was one of the several impressive moments during U2′s “UV Achtung Baby” residency launch show at the high-tech, globe-shaped venue, which opened for the first time Friday night.
The legendary rock band, which has won 22 Grammys, performed for two hours inside the massive, state-of-the-art spherical venue with crystal-clear audio. Throughout the night, there were a plethora of attractive visuals — including kaleidoscope images, a burning flag and Las Vegas’ skyline, taking the more than 18,000 attendees on U2′s epic musical journey.
“What a fancy pad,” said Bono, who was accompanied onstage with guitarists The Edge and Adam Clayton along with drummer Bram van den Berg. He then stared at the high-resolution LED screen that projected a larger version of himself along with a few praying hands and bells.
Bono then paid homage to the late Elvis Presley, who was a Las Vegas entertainment staple. The band has rocked in the city as far back as 1987 when they filmed the music video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the Strip during a tour in 1987.
“Look at all this stuff. … Elvis has definitely not left this building,” he continued. “It’s an Elvis chapel. It’s an Elvis cathedral. Tonight, the entry into this cathedral is a password: flirtation.”
U2 made their presence felt at the $2.3 billion Sphere, which stands 366-feet (111 meters) high and 516-feet (157 meters) wide. With the superb visual effects, the band’s 25-show residency opened with a splash performing a slew of hits including “Mysterious Ways,” “Zoo Station,” “All I Want is You,” “Desire” and new single “Atomic City.”
On many occasions, the U2 band members were so large on screen that it felt like Bono intimately sang to audience on one side while The Edge strummed his guitar to others.
The crowd included many entertainers and athletes: Oprah, LeBron James, Matt Damon, Andre Agassi, Ava DuVernay, Josh Duhamel, Jason Bateman, Jon Hamm, Bryan Crankston, Aaron Paul, Oscar de la Hoya, Henrik Lundqvist, Flava Flav, Diplo, Dakota Fanning, Orlando Bloom and Mario Lopez.
After wrapping up The Beatles’ jam “Love Me Do,” Bono recognized Paul McCartney, who was in attendance, saying “Macca is in the house tonight.” He acknowledged Sphere owner James Dolan’s efforts for spearheading a venue that’s pushing forward the live concert audio landscape with 160,000 thousands of high-quality speakers and 260 million video pixels.
The Sphere is the brainchild of Dolan, the executive chair of Madison Square Garden and owner of the New York Knicks and Rangers. He sketched the first drawing of venue on a notebook paper.
“I’m thinking the that the Sphere may have come into existence because of Jim Dolan trying to solve the problem that The Beatles started when they played Shea Stadium,” he said. “Nobody could hear you. You couldn’t hear yourselves. Well, the Sphere’s here. … Can you hear us?”
Bono pointed into crowd and shouted out Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Jimmy Iovine – who took in the band’s spectacular show. At one point, Bono became emotional when he dedicated a song to the late Jimmy Buffett’s family who attended the concert too.
Afterwards, Bono spoke about performing on stage for the first time without drummer Larry Mullen Jr., who is recovering from back surgery. He acknowledged Dutch drummer Bram van den Berg’s birthday and and filling in for Mullen.
“I would like to introduce you to the only man who could stand, well, sit in his shoes,” said Bono, who walked toward Berg as some in the crowd began to sing “Happy Birthday.” He handed the microphone to Berg, who offered a few words.
“Let there be no mistake, there is only one Larry Mullen Jr,” Berg said.
As U2 wrapped up their show, a bright light shined from the ceiling and the massive screen began to fill with images of birds, insects and reptiles above a lake. The band closed its first Sphere concert with “Beautiful Day,” which one three Grammys in 2001.
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Star Wars: Whiny fans, nostalgia and streaming saturation: ‘Ahsoka’ and the most complicated moment of the ‘Star Wars’ universe | Culture
Satisfying the unrepentant, noisy, veteran fan, has become an insurmountable obstacle for the oldest money-making machine in cinema. Star Wars lives in constant fear of offending them. Their requests are long and obsessive. Don’t change the actors (better to rejuvenate them with artificial intelligence, instead – where will it end?), don’t alter the legacy of what they understand by “Jedi” and, above all, take note, don’t include too many women or racialized people. As everyone knows, there are only white men in this galaxy far, far away. This is ours and nobody else’s, those “true fans” seem to say.
That impossible balance between satisfying children (for whom Star Wars was always intended) as well as the most conservative followers has become a curse for Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and the entire Disney factory. But there is a guy who has known how to ride the wave and make everyone happy. His name is Dave Filoni. In his hands, even the concept of once again passing the force to the proletariat that those followers criticized in Rian Johnson’s magnificent and vilified The Last Jedi is applauded. He does it again in Ahsoka, the epic Disney+ series in which Filoni resorts to the characters of his animated series to delve into a space odyssey that is more fantasy than science fiction. The series appeals to the nostalgia of those prequels with which George Lucas returned to the saga in 1999, but at the same time it rewrites the mythology and its rules.
A quick refresher: Ahsoka Tano is Anakin Skywalker’s padawan (Jedi apprentice) before the ill-fated hero became Darth Vader. This brave, wild teenager was created by Filoni and George Lucas in 2008 as an entry point for kids (especially girls) to the film and animated series The Clone Wars, an anthology of the conflict that overthrew the republic to give way to the empire. Lucas, thinking about his own daughters, wanted to appeal to the female audience whose interest Star Wars had not always caught. In the process, they gave depth and responsibility to Anakin (a Hayden Christensen today redeemed by nostalgia) in his passage to the dark side.
The critics first said that she was nothing but a half-naked girl designed to be adorable without much more depth, but, little by little, Ahsoka became the company’s newest toy (literally), a character that motivated women to join the club. Lucas was always clear that the secret was to convince the children, not so much the veterans. Girls around the world began to replicate her orange hue and alien pigtails, and her rebellious nature won over the fans – new and old – with a stroke of modernity. In the series, she even turned her back on the Jedi religion by throwing away her lightsaber and confronting them directly: you are a bunch of squares, you don’t understand the new times. Ahsoka was those new times, and her message was that the sect of monks was not as good as they thought they were. Thanks to her evolution, the young woman was already a Star Wars classic. Her story kept growing in books and comics.
But how come we knew nothing about her before that moment? Did she die in battle? That was out of the question due to her growing popularity, so Filoni created a strategy for her to join the rebellion, but always in the shadows. Her journey continued in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as a veteran, less impulsive force, and the plots and relationships that became established there continue in the current live-action series (with the hero embodied by Rosario Dawson) after her encounters with the Mandalorian and Boba Fett. She is a modern-day Princess Mononoke, an unaffiliated Jedi Master. She is the perfect meeting point for the ocean of Disney+ content.
After paying homage to the western genre in The Mandalorian – also created by Filoni with Jon Favreau – Ahsoka’s own series explores the most magical side of the universe: flying whales that teleport, witches, prophecies, dreams of the afterlife and hero’s journeys. Doors that the franchise sometimes has had trouble opening, even if magic was one of the many pulp subgenre elements that Lucas put in the mix of his original idea.
That layer of fantasy is one of the breaking points within the canons. The other is the concept of the force. What are the Jedi? Are they born or made? That is one of the debates that the repudiated Rian Johnson film put on the table: not only a family can inherit the force, it can also arise in peasants and commoners, in people who learn it. Filoni has always had this in mind with Ahsoka, the most rebellious among those decimated samurai monks, who, as in the classic film Harakiri, hide questionable rules and commands under a veil of honorability. In her new mission, she takes her legacy one step further: we can all learn from the force, giving more power to the people and to learning than to consanguinity, she tells her apprentice, the true protagonist of the series.
This mentoring work will be key in an adventure triggered by something as simple as the search for the missing protagonist of Rebels. A small but crucial discursive break that preserves the spirit of what Lucas started in 1977. And, yes, all the protagonists are women again, just like the president of Lucasfilm. In that sense, it is not far from some of the deepest messages of Andor, the most revolutionary Star Wars series and the best work to come out of this universe in decades, one that was truly groundbreaking and that could not reach all the fans it deserved.
A franchise that lost its way
Meanwhile, Star Wars continues to put filmmakers through the meat grinder. Many creators have recently abandoned their projects, frustrated by the lack of development of their ideas: Guillermo del Toro, Taika Waititi, Damon Lindelof, Rian Johnson, Patty Jenkins, the Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss… they are the creative corpses of a lost franchise that is not sure what its followers want in the theater and is saturated by the excessive costs of the series (it is estimated that Obi-Wan Kenobi cost about $90 million and Ahsoka more than $100), created to fill a streaming offer that does not yield the anticipated benefits. A product that does not convince neither children nor veterans.
Considering that excessiveness, Ahsoka is at least an entertaining, satisfying product (it never stops being a product, one that does not reach the levels of Andor or The Mandalorian). That is more than can be said for contents as emotionally and narratively empty as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Boba Fett, which rely on nostalgia, are structurally rotten and have no soul or entertainment value whatsoever. Unfortunately, the context will not make it easy for Ahsoka to capture anyone outside the die-hard fans. Perhaps the Hollywood strikes will be good for the empire. A much-needed pause to become culturally relevant again.
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Revitalizing Fall Cinema As New York Film Festival Takes Center Stage
By Cindy Porter
Hollywood’s luminaries have been notably absent from red carpets, leaving an air of dormancy since the heady days of Barbenheimer.
However, as the 61st New York Film Festival kicks off, there’s a palpable sense of awakening.
Labor disputes are inching toward resolution, hinting at a resurgence in the industry. Considering this, the festival promises to deliver an exceptional array of films, showcasing some of the year’s finest cinematic offerings.
The Festival Lineup
Dennis Lim, the festival’s artistic director, expresses optimism despite industry uncertainties, affirming that cinema’s vitality endures.
The opening night feature, Todd Haynes’ “May December” introduces a playful yet poignant narrative led by Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore, and Charles Melton. It sets the stage for a festival packed with noteworthy films.
Highlights at the Festival
Yorgos Lanthimos’ Venice sensation “Poor Things” starring Emma Stone, offers a compelling blend of wit and intrigue.
Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla” with Cailee Spaeny portraying Priscilla Presley, promises to be a captivating exploration of a legendary figure’s life.
Bradley Cooper’s “Maestro” brings Leonard Bernstein’s story to life, adding another layer of significance to its North American premiere.
The festival’s closing feature, Michael Mann’s “Ferrari,” emerges as a masterpiece.
Starring Adam Driver as Enzo Ferrari, the film delves into a pivotal period in the auto maker’s life, culminating in the high-stakes Mille Miglia race.
Mann’s signature intensity permeates every frame, depicting the relentless pursuit of victory against the backdrop of impending peril.
Exploring Depth in Documentaries
The festival also showcases immersive documentaries, including Wang Bing’s “Youth (Spring)” Steve McQueen’s “Occupied City,” and Frederic Wiseman’s “Menus-Plaisirs Les Troisgros”.
These monumental works, clocking over 200 minutes each, delve into diverse realms, offering profound insights into the human experience.
Wang Bing’s “Youth (Spring)” unveils the lives of young migrant workers, toiling tirelessly in textile factories near Shanghai.
Their hands move with frenetic speed, a testament to the demands of their low-paying occupations.
Considering this, Wang delicately unravels their personal stories of love, heartbreak, and aspirations, painting a poignant portrait of resilience.
“All of Us Strangers”
Andrew Haigh’s “All of Us Strangers” unfolds within the confines of a near-empty apartment building. Andrew Scott’s portrayal of a screenwriter, Adam, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, triggered by an unexpected encounter with Harry (Paul Mescal). Through intimate dialogues, the film navigates the complexities of memory, companionship, and the power of storytelling.
The New York Film Festival shines a spotlight on films that transcend the boundaries of time and space.
Its dedication to authentic cinematic experiences, unburdened by distractions, reaffirms the enduring power of storytelling.
Films like “Janet Planet” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker transport audiences to specific moments in history, immersing them in a world where silence and nostalgia take center stage.
As the festival unfolds, it offers a resounding testament to the indomitable spirit of cinema.
We Can’t Thank You Enough For Your Support!
— By Cindy Porter
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