“It became a nice combination of all these people from different backgrounds all trying to achieve the same goal.” Brad Anderson Interview, ‘The Negotiator’ (THN)

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Out today is The Negotiator starring Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike. Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a former diplomat confronting his demons in 1980s Beirut (the city the film was originally named after). Pike is CIA agent Sandy Crowder, joined by an impressive line up of Dean Norris, Shea Whigham and Larry Pine.

Brad Anderson (The Machinist, DC Universe’s Titans) directs from a script by Tony Gilroy (acclaimed writer of the Jason Bourne franchise). Anderson’s career has covered many genres (his CV includes Transsiberian and Stonehearst Asylum), and when we sat down to chat with him that diversity seemed to be a great place to start…

THN: This is your first time making a political thriller. How did you find the experience?

Brad Anderson: Basically all the films I’ve done over the years have been different genres, from a horror movie to a drama to a period thriller. I like mixing it up a bit for myself, it keeps me on my toes. I had a great experience with this, mainly because of the script that Tony Gilroy had written. He wrote it over 20 years ago in the early ‘90s, it was one of his first spec scripts.

The idea of doing a movie set in an exotic location, in a time period that was far enough away so you could create a different world, but also was – for me anyhow – a familiar timeframe of the ‘80s, which was a really interesting time for me. To capture the vibe of that world again. And also the characters and the story itself… a central character who’s fallen off the wagon and who’s struggling to redeem himself. He returns to save a friend. To me these were all big draws.

The political aspects of it were interesting. I’ve always had a fondness for those John Le Carré-type political thrillers, I think they’re really compelling. But that was a less of a draw for me than the chance to create this world in Beirut, a city torn by this endless civil war. It felt very topical, a story that was resonating in the headlines again with all the violence in Syria and neighbouring countries. For all those reasons it felt like a good fit, so I jumped on it.

Did the script have to be changed from how it was written back in the ‘90s?

Tony did a pass on it, but it didn’t change much because the story is locked in that period. We changed certain things in order to adapt it to the budget level that we had. The logistics were complicated. Originally the movie was meant to be a studio movie, but we did it independently so we had less money, less time. That was really it, much of it was the original script Tony had written.

You’ve got Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike in the cast. They’re both similar in that they look like movie stars but they’re drawn to challenging subject matter. How was it working with them?

Both of them are great. Jon dived into this role. Outside of Mad Men he’d not done a lot of dramas, he’d veered more into doing comedic movies, so this was a chance for him to play a straight out dramatic role, he really responded to Tony’s script. And he’s just a wonderful guy to work with. He’s one of those guys that, despite the difficulties of making a movie on a low budget, and all the problems that come with that, he’s gung ho. He’s not a person who complains, he isn’t a prima donna by any stretch.

Similarly with Rosamund, she was excited to work with Tony and Jon as well. She had a smaller part but she does her research. She researched how the character would look, how they would dress, all the period details. Also she did her interviews with some CIA operatives to get a little background, so she was totally great, really professional and excellent to work with.

You also worked with Dean Norris and Shea Whigham, two of the great supporting actors from Breaking Bad and Boardwalk Empire.

I worked with Shea before, I always wanted to put him in a movie, going back to my movie Session 9 which I tried to cast him in. I’ve always loved his work, it was exciting to be able to put him in the film. He totally jumped at the chance, he’s great. He is a real character in real life! That’s the thing with these guys, they’re character actors because they are characters. He and Dean and Larry Pine and the supporting cast made this a fun experience.

You mentioned logistics before. Was there anything that was especially tough to film?

We shot the movie in Tangier in Morocco, which turned out to be a very good location, looking like what Beirut may have looked like back then. So the production design was largely taken care of before we started working. I think the issues were we were shooting the movie in the middle of Summer during Ramadan. It just happened to time out that we started rolling cameras on the very day Ramadan started, the Muslim holiday where Muslims can’t eat or drink between sunrise and sunset. So for the entire length of the production all our Muslim crew were suffering badly!

It was a challenge trying to keep everyone content, but in some ways the difficulty of that made everyone rise to the occasion. The non-Muslim Americans, the European crew really helped the Moroccans when needed and vice versa so it became a nice combination of all these people from different backgrounds all trying to achieve the same goal. There’s a lot of infrastructure in Morocco for movies and TV shows, so it’s not like they’re unaccustomed to the process.

You’re also a TV director (Boardwalk Empire among others). Tell me a bit about Titans, which you’ve been making for DC Universe.

Just like I’d never done a political thriller, I’d never done a superhero show. It was new to me as well, but they wanted to reinvent it a little bit, make it darker and more dramatic. Not make it so effects-driven, which was interesting to me. I did the first two episodes and my job was to create the look and the feel of the show and set it up.

It was a good experience, it’s definitely different when you’re working with a network and a well-established canon. I’m not a big comic book person so I’m not really familiar with that world which was a disadvantage but also an advantage because I came at it from the perspective of someone who’s not a fanboy, from the perspective of trying to make a really good story. And I think the producers wanted that as well.

 

This interview first appeared on THN.

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Batman: The Killing Joke DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

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DC’s Cinematic Universe is getting a rough deal with critics, but the brand can take solace in the fact its animated division is a runaway success story by comparison. From Batman: The Animated Series onwards, they’ve maintained a consistently high standard and it made sense for the company’s best-loved graphic novels to start getting the adaptation treatment.

Classic Joker tome The Killing Joke had everything going for it on paper: innovative writing, striking art and a definitive stand off between two iconic characters. Unfortunately for movie producers the book is on the slender side. In attempting to expand it to feature length director Sam Liu and writer Brian Azzarello wind up hitting some obstacles.

Overall the script captures the main and somewhat controversial events of the source material. Following an uninteresting additional segment in which Batgirl attempts to earn her stripes alongside the Dark Knight, we get to the meat of the matter – the Clown Prince of Crime’s diabolical and kinky plot to unhinge Commissioner Gordon as a fatal blow against his mortal enemy.

In what is seemingly his swan-song as the animated Joker, Mark Hamill bows out in customary style. His voice has notably aged, giving the villain’s machinations a rich and deeply sinister quality. He’s by far the strongest element of a production that is seriously close to the bone by Saturday morning cartoon standards. However in presenting the tale within the awkward framework of a tinkered narrative Azzarello and Liu highlight the film’s main flaw: the story works much better on the page. The tragedy of the Joker’s past and the ruminative nature of his “final” confrontation with Batman is perhaps best appreciated in pencil and ink, where comic writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland‘s masterpiece could be absorbed at a slower speed. Here they’re brief and intriguing but nothing like as powerful.

Fans of the novel might also be disappointed that Bolland’s work is paid lip service only, replaced by a standardized animation style that doesn’t make an impact outside of the odd intricate backdrop or movie reference (if you liked Christopher Nolan‘s take, there’s a brief moment that’ll tickle you).

Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Tara Strong) is given more to do, but the development tails off, with an epilogue of sorts tacked onto the conclusion and arguably fudging it. The famous ending is recreated from the book whilst also cutting through its ambiguity.

I’m really not sure what the character of bog standard Romeo gangster Paris Franz (Maury Sterling) was supposed to bring to proceedings. He merely adds to the icky atmosphere of sexual violence that wasn’t strictly required. Kevin Conroy goes gravelly as Batman, though disappointingly the cowled hero fades into the background for this outing. Twin Peaks legend Ray Wise voices the Commissioner – while Wise is a great actor his performance for me was too genial. I’d’ve paid good money to hear his version of the Joker though!

The result pales next to the original, but then that was always a safe bet. Reworking Moore (uncredited as usual) showed a level of insanity befitting the movie’s antagonist and a straight and shorter translation of the text could have hit home harder. Despite this, The Killing Joke gives an impression of the pitch black innards of the novel, and for that at least it deserves some praise.

This review first appeared on The Hollywood News

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Skinny

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As a single man with too much time on his hands, it’s almost my duty to notice women in popular culture. Be they on the internet, magazine covers, TV shows or movies, the reliance of the media on attractive faces and physiques is always going to be a draw for the average testicle-laden consumer.

While I share the world’s concerns that undernourished girls create a terrible impression for young audiences, I don’t find anything objectionable about being skinny per se. Just as some like to eat and be plump, others shun sustenance and shed the pounds. However something is happening in the film franchise world that’s so obvious even an easily-distracted lunkhead like me can see it.

It started when pictures began emerging from the set of Baywatch. Now I’m approaching forty and back in the day there was one reason we bothered with Baywatch, and it wasn’t to do with Hasselhoff and his barely-controlled pecs. It was good-looking girls in swimsuits, the most famous of which was curvy campaigner Pamela Anderson.

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Fast forward a couple of decades and Dwayne Johnson wants to have some fun reviving the saga of spume and slow motion. A driving force behind the release, he’s clearly having a blast but he’s getting something wrong. Two beautiful actresses have been cast – Alexandra Daddario and Kelly Rohrbach, the latter inheriting the boob-tastic mantle from Anderson as CJ Parker. But they’re way too thin. Reflective of the times, they’re sporting lean physiques which err on the side of dietary concern.

Now you could argue this is an update and that lifeguards would find bearing their own hefty flotation devices impractical. Okay. One problem – it’s a tribute to Baywatch, not reality, and I find it disappointing they didn’t honour the fuller frames of the past, choosing to equate weight loss with desirability.

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Gal Gadot is about to power onto movie screens in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She’s playing Wonder Woman, the Amazonian ass-kicker with the gold lasso and thighs you could crack walnuts with. Gadot’s certainly put herself through her paces but for my money she’s too slight. The spirit of Lynda Carter‘s Seventies incarnation lives on it seems, and again a particular body image is going to be everywhere for young girls to see.

Guys, this is a guy talking! I’m not going to shout too loudly if you’re squeezing Daddario into a barely-there ensemble. Try however to understand that you’re unleashing these movies on the (Daily) planet, not just a clutch of randy dudes with inky fingers.