Jessica Chastain is celebrating a decade in cinema. “Can you believe it?” she asks from a hotel room in María Cristina Hotel in San Sebastián in Spain’s Basque Country. “Do I get a cake? Because this is a celebration…,” she says pointing to her green detox juice and the two identical glasses on the table (the second one has just been brought in without a word about what was wrong with the first). Among other things, Chastain has spent the decade trying to get a movie made about televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker.
During the 1980s, Bakker and her husband Jim built a Christian-Evangelical empire – one that included a television channel and a theme park. When she was arrested for fraud and conspiracy, the media turned her into a national joke for her excessive naivety, enthusiasm and makeup. In The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Jessica Chastain retells her story – a role that has landed her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Chastain also produced the movie. But this is not the first film this year in which the 44-year-old has acted and produced, she also wore both hats on The 355, a movie about a group of international super spies, which also stars Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing. This year, Chastain is taking center stage.
The world first discovered Chastain at the premiere of The Tree of Life (2011) at the Cannes Film Festival, when she walked the red carpet with Brad Pitt on one side and Sean Penn on the other, evoking classic Hollywood glamor. In reality, she gripped on to them because she was worried her legs would give way. “I didn’t feel anxiety about connecting to other artists and getting to work with people I really admire, I more felt anxiety about the media,” she explains. “This is the first time I’m realizing this as I’m talking. In the same way that the media devoured Tammy, there’s a sense of devouring women, treating them as commodities.”
People were so upset that my character didn’t have a love story in Zero Dark Thirty. Journalists and critics would ask me about things like that
In 2011, another five films were released that starred Chastain. In the space of one year, the actress – who gets embarrassed when people sing Happy Birthday to her in public – found herself presenting a film in Berlin, another in Toronto, two in Cannes and another two in Venice. Movies such as Take Shelter, The Help and The Debt showcased her versatility and she began to be lauded as the “best actress of her generation,” or as in the words of Al Pacino – who picked her for the docudrama Salomé – “the next Meryl Streep.” But Chastain felt that it was just a matter of time before she disappointed everyone. “I’m the unknown everyone’s already sick of,” she said at the time.
When she won a Golden Globe for her role in Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain said in her acceptance speech that she had worked very hard to get where she was. The magazine Variety later published an anonymous statement from a Hollywood public relations agency that warned that these kinds of statements do not tend to go down well. Meanwhile, everyone was talking about the new rising star, Jennifer Lawrence, who was admired by all. This is when the rumors began that the two actresses couldn’t stand one another. But instead of ignoring the rumors, Chastain dismissed them in a message on Facebook – a move that was not common back in 2013. Since then, she hasn’t stopped speaking out.
“People were so upset that my character didn’t have a love story in Zero Dark Thirty. Journalists and critics would ask me about things like that,” she says. “I constantly said ‘I am playing a woman who isn’t defined by the relationship in her life, she’s defined by her work.’ And it’s a very shocking thing for society to acknowledge because it’s a reality – but it’s not the media’s reality of what a woman is. So that’s when I started speaking up about it.” Without looking at the face of her publicist, she adds: “I absolutely have people in the industry who are dear friends, who I know care about me and love me, tell me to stop talking. It’s like ‘be careful’ of saying too much, because they wanted to make sure that I would have a long career.”
Chastain’s background is in theater. At 21 years of age, she won a scholarship to The Juilliard School, the most prestigious performing arts school in the United States, which allowed her to become the first member of her family to receive a university education. She learned how to play complex female characters, but when she arrived in Hollywood, she realized that the film industry had little to offer her. Not even after two consecutive Oscar nominations. So in 2016, she founded production company Freckle Films. “I wanted to use my career and my work as political filmmaking in terms of how we as a society view gender, race, class, sexual identity and sexual preference.”
But Hollywood has changed over the past decade, and Chastain is now one of the most visible faces of this new shift. In 2017, she called out filmmaker Bryan Singer on Twitter, sharing an article that highlighted the sexual assault allegations against the director of X-Men-Dark Phoenix. When asked about actor Johnny Depp’s preference for working with an earpiece so as not to have to learn his lines, she said she preferred to be “professional” and learn the script. And she has also become a vocal advocate for equal pay, helping actress Octavia Spencer, her co-star in The Help, negotiate a salary five times her initial pay for a film together.
“There was that moment in Cannes… I was not planning on saying that. It went viral.” Chastain is referring to a press conference at the end of the 2017 festival, which she had participated in as a jury member. During the conference, she confessed that she found the representation of female characters in the official selection “disturbing.” Chastain argued that if there were more female directors, there would be more diversity in the female characters in films of the official selection. “After I said that, I went, ‘Oh did I just hurt a festival that has been so generous with me?’ The reality was very sweet. Thierry Fremàux [the director of the Cannes Film Festival] a year later in press said that he was so grateful that we had talked about women in the festival and that they had made changes because of that.” She herself has seen those changes: “I don’t think about something before I say it, I just say it.” Although she confesses: “There are times when I go, ‘Oh gosh, now it’s going to become a huge thing’.”
Another challenge has been balancing the roles of actor and producer. She explains: “The producer wants to get the movie made, the actor wants more time.” This conflict can cause tension, especially when it comes to a character that requires as much preparation as Tammy Faye Bakker, someone who can easily fall into caricature. “I had to just completely embarrass myself in this part, which is not a fun thing to do,” she explains. “I thought for my whole life, they could go, ‘Oh God Jessica’s Tammy was crazy.’ That could be the joke that follows me for my whole career. And I had to be okay with that.”
But The Eyes of Tammy Faye does not descend into caricature because it treats the character with tenderness. That’s not to say it ignores her eccentricity, but instead of parodying her as the media did, the movie portrays her as a woman who triumphed in a man’s industry.
After the scandal of her divorce, Bakker became a hero of the gay community. She said that when everyone turned their back on her, it was the LGBTQ+ community who came to her aid. “And I will always love them for that.” A 2000 documentary about Bakker, titled The Eyes of Tammy Faye, was narrated by drag queen RuPaul, and serves as the basis for Chastain’s movie.
“Tammy was fabulously camp, but you also don’t want to do something that’s just that. She would have fun and make people laugh, but I always saw loneliness in everything she did. Even when she was being funny. To me, she was so innately lonely. And that’s why I think she desperately wanted to love people, people who felt different, on the outside, because she felt on the outside.”
As a producer, Chastain believes that the best strategy is to alternate “grown-up” movies such as The Eyes of Tammy Faye with more commercial fare such as The 355. The idea for the latter project came about at the 2017 Cannes festival. She explains how she felt “a certain… sadness” at the sight of so many film posters with male casts, which were seeking financing. She asked her agent: “Why are they all men?” Her agent replied: “I think you will have to find a way to do it yourself.” The end result is a movie produced via a kind of cooperative: the five female stars will be the owners of the movie and will split the profits. A number of Hollywood studios tried to buy it, but they turned them down. “They already had the chance to make this film,” she states.
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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