Friday, September 23, 2016


Brando with his On The Waterfront Oscar
  It seems there's an Oscar statuette on Leonardo DiCaprio's mantelpiece that shouldn't be there. 
  Although the actor deservedly won a best actor Oscar last year for his role in The Revenant, in 2012 he was given one as a gift by his friends and business associates at the scandal-ridden Red Granite Pictures, who put up most of the money for his The Wolf of Wall Street.
  The big mystery is how the Oscar, which was won by Marlon Brando for 1954's On The Waterfront, disappeared from Brando's house and changed hands several times before ending up with DiCaprio via a memorabilia dealer in New Jersey. 

DiCaprio with his Oscar for The Revenant
  Now the Hollywood Reporter reports that Brando's estate want it returned and a spokesman for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences says: "Oscars shouldn't be items of commerce; it's less than dignified. We have on many occasions prevented the sale of Oscars and enforced the Academy's rights to recover the statuettes."
  Avra Douglas, the Brando estate's executor and archivist (and the star's assistant for 14 years until his death of respiratory failure in 2004 at 80), says the award disappeared while he was alive. "He was trying to track it down and kept hitting dead ends," she said. 
  For years a widely circulated rumour was that, in a fit of anger, Brando tossed the statuette out his window, after which his then-young son Christian took it up to his treehouse and, toying with it like a hammer, broke its base. Douglas calls this "undoubtedly hogwash," saying that the late Christian — who later served time in prison for manslaughter — "never had a treehouse."
  What is certain is that the statuette circulated among private enthusiasts, at one point being sold by an auctioneer out of a storefront just off Hollywood Boulevard for $13,500 on behalf of a collector in Maine.    Its whereabouts were unknown until it was reportedly acquired by Red Granite representatives in 2012 from a New Jersey dealer for $600,000 and was given to Leonardo DiCaprio. 
    Meanwhile, two of Red Granite's executives have become 
central figures in a $3 billion Malaysian embezzlement scandal that has rocked the country, implicated Prime Minister Najib Razak and triggered an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice asset-seizure investigation. The scandal also has drawn attention to DiCaprio's personal and professional ties to the pair, who are alleged to have siphoned money from a Malaysian sovereign wealth fund to enrich themselves and advance their own global business interests.

 DiCaprio, who is busy promoting his climate change documentary Before the Flood, has so far not commented on the controversy or said whether he intends to return the Oscar either to Brando's estate or the Academy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Brad and Angelina in happier times
Rumours have been bubbling for the past year that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were on the verge of splitting up but Angelina has always strongly denied them. 
  Now it turns out the rumours were true.
  I have interviewed them both several times, Angelina since 2001when she was married to Billy Bob Thornton and Brad since 2000 when he'd just married Jennifer Aniston. Over the years I have talked with them about not only their movies but also their various crises---Angelina's post-Thornton relationships and Brad's marriage and later divorce after he and Angelina got together while making Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  
  Angelina has always been far more available than Brad and ever since she adopted her first child she has always seemed an exceptionally proud mother. After she and Brad moved in together and the family grew she would talk at length about the children and what a good father Brad was. However there was rarely, if ever, any mention of love for her partner..
  Brad was less talkative and sometimes seemed downright reluctant to discuss his family life. When he did, he would talk about the children rather than about Angelina and there was never any mention of his feelings for her.
  On several occasions they both talked of the strains that filming in various parts of the world put on their family although they continued to travel, Angelina often on her own as part of her duties as a UN ambassador and Brad on charity missions and to foreign film locations.    
  When I talked with Angelina in the Mexican holiday resort of Cancun just before the release of her action movie Salt her children played happily in the pool under the strict supervision of security guards and a nanny. As was often the case, Brad was not there.
  The last time we talked was last year when rumours were rife about an impending break up. She denied them as usual but tellingly she confided: "We have fights and problems like any other couple. We have days when we drive each other absolutely mad and want space. In relationships we sometimes can't see ourselves and we lose touch and we don't know what it is that we have lost."


Sunday, September 18, 2016


  Although he has demonstrated his versatility in some 50 movies, Denzel Washington would seem an unlikely choice to play the gun-slinging Chisholm, the leader of a band of outlaws in the remake of the 1960's classic western The Magnificent Seven. 
  After all, he had never seen a western when he was growing up and had certainly never appeared in one as an adult. 

  "I was into sports, not movies," he tells me when we talk in Toronto. "My father was a minister so we grew up in a church and we didn’t go to the movies. King of Kings and The Ten Commandments--- and that was it. 

 "I didn’t grow up watching Westerns or anything like that and appearing in one wasn’t like some childhood dream. So I didn’t have any romantic ideas but I liked the script and thought, 'This is a good idea, its fun: just to shoot guns and ride horses and I knew that we were going to win," he laughs. 
  "I had never ridden that much before and I liked feeding my horse and washing him down and taking care of him and walking him around and I took care of him and he took care of me. Equine therapy is really good for the soul."

  Although the movie has some parallels with modern day corporate villainy---this time the bad guys represent a gold mining corporation---it is not something that occurs to 61-year-old Washington 

  "I didn’t think that way," he shrugs. "I didn’t read the script and go 'Oh, this is a movie against tyranny.'  It didn't get that deep. I just dug the clothes and getting to ride the horse and going around shooting."

   While the double Oscar-winning Washington is totally believable in the role originally played by Yul Brynner and Chris Pratt shines in the Steve McQueen role, the movie sadly is no match for the original. With explosions, a machine gun and an arsenal of weapons, the body count is sky-high. Although the Seven save the town they were hired to defend, it is unlikely there were many people left alive to live in it.     

Thursday, September 15, 2016


  With four months still to go before the awards season kicks off with the Golden Globes,  it is already becoming clear which movies are nominations material.  Having seen a dozen of them in the last couple of weeks, mixed with critics and filmmakers and heard the party buzz at the Toronto film festival I think have a pretty good idea of which movies are the hot tickets for awards.
  Top of the list has to be La La Land, that spectacular and exhilarating musical love letter to Los Angeles which stars the lovely Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as young hopefuls trying to make it big in Hollywood. It won the People's Choice Award at Toronto and both Stone, who took the lead actress prize at the Venice Film Festival,and Gosling, whom I have known since we breakfasted together at the Pantry in downtown Los Angeles some ten years ago, are favourites for Globe and Oscar nominations. 
La La Land's Emma Stone
   The drama Manchester By the Sea, about a man living with tragedy and which was produced by Matt Damon, has been well received  as has Tom Ford's second movie, Nocturnal Animals.
 Others likely to feature in the nominations are Lion, about an Indian man played by Dev Patel trying to find the family he lost as a boy;    Arrival, in which Amy Adams plays a linguist enlisted to find a way to communicate with alien visitors; and possibly Sully, about the landing on the Hudson River.

  There has also been plenty of talk about The Birth of a Nation, Nate Parker's historical drama about a 1831 slave rebellion which has been surrounded with controversy since new details of Parker's 1999 rape case came to light.
Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson...award worthy actors
  Although it was greeted with applause at both Sundance and Toronto, to me, it is not a good movie.
Fortunately, there are so many better ones due out soon.
  My favourite movie of the year so far has been Hell Or High Water which unfortunately is not getting the publicity and hype needed for it to be seen by enough voters.
Lion's Dev Patell
  And if there is any justice, acting honours should go to both Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkinson, who play Holocaust denier David Irving and barrister Richard Rampton QC in Denial, the true story of the libel action brought by Irving against American author Deborah Lipstadt, played by Rachel Weisz. 
  Still, who knows? This could be a season of surprises. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Crush at airport baggage claim
 The 41st Toronto International Film Festival has kicked off amid controversy and heated debate. The huge festival, which sprawls across the city, is the biggest public festival in the world and is screening more than 400 movies, with 138 world premieres.

  But the first problem facing visitors is getting out of the teeming and tumultuous airport. Thousands of people are being disgorged from planes at almost the same times and the airport has introduced holding pens where passengers are forced to wait before being allowed  in to the overcrowded immigration hall where waits of more than an hour are not uncommon.
  Once in the city visitors can join the highly charged debate and furor over Nate Parker's The Birth of Nation which has managed to overshadow much of the pop culture. The  big question is can Birth of a Nation come out as a viable awards contender and potential hit after the adverse publicity surrounding Parker's acquittal on a rape charge 17 dears ago, or will the Toronto Film Festival be the final graveyard for its chances? 
  The fast-talking Parker, who is doing the promotional rounds of parties, interviews and red carpets, is doing his best to avoid discussion of his past with evasive answers such as: "I go to God with my thoughts and prayers for support." And: "This film is about so many things that are bigger than me."

Strange sights along Festival Street
  Another film causing plenty of debate is Paul Verhoeven's provocative Elle, which stars Isabelle Huppert as a woman who appears to be violently raped at the beginning of the film, but then falls into a series of disturbing games with her apparent assailant that turn her from victim to willing accomplice----a topical and hot-button issue.

  Sex is a topic in the news in the city at the moment with sex workers furious at a website on which their customers comment on their prowess and rate their performances. As one woman writes in a column in Now magazine: "Stuff like this can be traumatizing and costly. A woman may have to completely rebrand herself to get away from these comments which are often online forever."

   But many have started to take revenge on their customers by making their own public evaluations of them on Twitter feeds. Scintillating stuff. 

   As usual the centre of the city has been turned into a massive party zone with King Street becoming a pedestrian area dubbed
Festival Street with live bands, street performers, food trucks and outdoor cafes.

 Bars, clubs and restaurants will be doing record business during the next 11 days but for those wanting something stronger than alcohol, there is a free food and drinks guide which gives the recipes for five potent cannabis cocktails inspired by films at the festival. As the guide says, "One of life's pleasures is combining marijuana with why not switch to sipping your pot as a refreshing alternative to sparking up?"

   Interesting to see what the next 11 days holds. 


  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...