Helen Mirren Calls Out Sam Mendes and Hollywood’s Boys Club

Yesterday, Empire magazine held its annual Empire Awards in London, handing out honors for last year’s crop of movies. It was a typical British affair, with Skyfall winning Best Picture, Martin Freeman winning Best Actor for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (that’s a burn, Daniel Day-Lewis), and Jennifer Lawrence winning Best Actress for Silver Linings Playbook The Hunger Games. (Ha ha, what? Alright, sure. Whatever.) And it seems that two winners sparked some controversy. First, Sam Mendes picked up Best Director for Skyfall, and in his acceptance speech he gave a short list of his cinematic inspirations. Helen Mirren, who received the Empire Legend award (code for: "You’re old"), blasted Mendes and his list, complaining that he forgot to mention any women.

According to The Guardian, Mendes name-dropped four big names: Paul Thomas Anderson, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, and Ingmar Bergman. Mirren wasn’t too pleased that those names all belong to men. 

"I don’t want to unduly pick on Sam Mendes, but when he spoke about his inspirations earlier this evening, I’m afraid not a single one of the people he mentioned was a woman," said Mirren, to cheers from the audience. "Hopefully in five or 10 years, when Sam’s successor is collecting their Inspiration award, the list will be slightly more balanced in terms of its sexual make-up. In the meantime, this one is for the girls."

OH YEAH, HELEN MIRREN? NAME SOME GIRLS, THEN! Just kidding: making lists of women who should be honored isn’t the right response, because, come on, there are plenty of female filmmakers who are responsible for great movies. Of course, they tend to be overlooked for several reasons, which is a shame, especially since one could argue that Kathryn Bigelow’s work on Zero Dark Thirty was probably better than Mendes’s direction in Skyfall. Having said that: good for Helen MIrren for making a statement. Calling out the rampant sexism in Hollywood is surely seen as, well, complaining, but it’s at the same time encouraging to the women who are working hard to make excellent films and not getting the recognition they deserve.

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Rating The Plot Lines In ‘Love Actually’

It’s the day before Christmas and all through the house are the sounds of Love Actually coming from the living room, because tradition in our house is for my mother to watch that movie over and over again while I hide in my room and listen to normal music. I have seen this damn movie so many times. At first I loved it. Then I found it slightly annoying. And now I hate it. But let’s be real: it’s not all bad. Here’s a quick little guide to the best and worst story lines in this madcap Christmas romantic comedy.

GREAT: Harry and Karen

This is definitely the best plot line of the film. Can’t we all agree? First of all, of course Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson would have the best/worst marriage in cinema. It only makes sense for that marriage to be depicted in the best/worst Christmas movie ever made. But not only is this story the strongest, writing wise, it’s consistently the one that tears everyone apart. The scene in which Karen discovers that her husband is probably cheating on her with his tarty (tarty! British!) secretary and she cries along to Joni Mitchell? Don’t act like you haven’t dramatically reacted to every minor life crisis the exact same way.

AWFUL: Jamie and Aurelia

Colin Firth is all Mister Darcy over the fact that his girlfriend sleeping with his brother, so he has to run away to sunny France for Christmas so he can spend the holiday alone and write a novel on his typewriter. Who uses a typewriter?! This ain’t Brooklyn, Jamie. Luckily, he has a hot Portuguese cleaning lady who he falls in love with, and it’s an interesting take on class status in Europe. Ha ha, just kidding, but isn’t it hilarious when Jamie can’t speak Portugese really well at the end? (Nope.)

GREAT: David and Natalie

Sure, it’s kind of weird that this plot line about the Prime Minister and a member of his staff devotes a few scenes to the Iraq war and disparages the United States presidency with a composite of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (Southern, ass-grabbing) played by Billy Bob Thornton. And then, you know, the Prime Minister falls in love with someone on his staff. But he doesn’t grab her ass! Instead, he dances to the Pointer Sisters. (Ah, those Brits, always making me ask the question, “Is he gay or just English?”) But Hugh Grant is adorable as hell in this, and props to the since-unseen Martine McCutcheon for looking cute as a button and looking like a normal human woman with a real, bangin’ body.  

AWFUL: Sarah and Karl

Why does Laura Linney live in London? What is going on with her mentally ill brother? Why does he call so much? Why does she have a thing for Karl? (OK, that answer is obvious.) Why does Karl string her along? Why does Karl drop her based entirely on the fact that she has a mentally ill brother who calls her too much? I dunno, Karl, maybe you not be a dick for a second and a half and realize that maybe you could take the lady out on a date instead of just trying to bang her after the company holiday party? Or maybe Sarah should wise up and realize that Karl—his name is Karl, for Christ’s sake—is kind of a jag off and maaaaybe she shouldn’t shit where she eats? She already has enough on her plate with her brother, you know?

GREAT: Daniel and Sam

How awkward is it to watch Love Actually now that Natasha Richardson has died? Obviously Liam Neeson’s character would deal with the death of his wife by breaking the necks of a lot of evil Europeans. Or wolves, or something. Luckily, this story line focuses on the love between Daniel and his stepson, Sam. Sam, who is the most adorable child in the history of film, steals everyone’s hearts with his sad face and his mussy hair and his obsession with the American girl who is really only in this movie to remind everyone how awesome “All I Want For Christmas Is You” is. But like Harry and Karen’s story, this plot line is one of the best because it walks the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking.

THE WORST: Mark, Juliet, and Peter

Hey, Mark? If you’re in love with your best friend’s new wife, maybe you should stop hanging around them and filming their wedding and showing up at the door to profess your love to her with some silly Bob Dylan-style speech-with-cue-cards thing. ‘Cause that is some bullllllllshit. You are a terrible person. And Juliet? Don’t think you’re off the hook for kissing him. I know you think he’s sweet and everything, but you have a husband inside the house—right there inside the house—so maybe you shouldn’t participate in his terrible, evil best friend’s efforts to break you two apart because he’s kind of a selfish, sad puppy of a man. And Peter? Pull your head out of your ass. Shit is going down all around you and you’re too busy organizing choirs to sing to your wife. 

GREAT: John and Judy

Tits, basically. And Martin Freeman. So thumbs up!

THE WEIRDEST: Billy Mack and Joe

We can blame this movie for Bill Nighy’s weird career, right? But even I don’t even know what the hell is going on in this one. Sure, I’m beginning to get "Christmas Is All Around" stuck in my head for the rest of the week, and a British bromance is darling, I suppose. But nothing about the resolution of this story—basically, the image of two old Brits sitting around on Christmas eve, hugging and watching porn together—makes me want to do anything but vomit all of the cinematic eggnog I’ve willingly accepted for nearly two-and-a-half hours. 

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Ian McKellen On ‘The Hobbit,’ Stepping Back Into Those Robes, And “Gandalf The Gay”

It’s perhaps something of an indictment on the age in which we live that one of the finest stage actors of our time is best known to the general public for dressing up as a wizard and a magnetic mutant, but if such things bother Sir Ian McKellen, he’s not showing it as he seats himself across the table from a horde of journalists at a fancy uptown hotel. The great man is a suitably witty and engaging interviewee, fielding all manner of questions ("Can I put my career in two words? Well, no") with good grace and good humor.

This month finds McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of another Middle Earth-centric trilogy wherein director Peter Jackson contrives to extend a 310-page novel into a three-film epic. The story follows the fortunes of a rag-tag company—13 dwarves, a hobbit and McKellen’s elderly wizard—who are trying to recover a lost kingdom that’s been gazumped by a large, unfriendly dragon. (If you’re wondering, Jackson has leant heavily on material that author J.R.R. Tolkien added to the story in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings in his quest to expand The Hobbit from its literary incarnation.)

The film’s notable for featuring the best in suitably expensive cutting-edge visual effects, including its much-discussed 48-fps incarnation, which, depending on your point of view, either makes the film look groundbreaking or like the world’s most expensive home movie. It also finds McKellen sharing plenty of screen time with both dwarves and hobbit, all of whom were played by "normal" sized actors (including the 6’3" Richard Armitage), necessitating much cinematic trickery and the use of a new technique called slave motion capture, which apparently isn’t quite as much fun as it sounds.

McKellen cuts a suitably dashing figure in An Unexpected Journey, looming above his gaggle of pint-sized companions and brandishing both his sword and his weed pipe for all they’re worth. Read on to hear about single-set alienation, a lonely wizard on Twitter, and why a Lord of the Rings spin-off called Gandalf the Gay might just be a possibility.

How did you find returning to New Zealand?
It was just like going home, really. And also like going on a holiday, because New Zealand is such a beautiful place to live. The big difference was that this time we knew we were making a film for an audience who desperately wanted us to make it. That’s very unusual. Usually when you do a film you’re wondering if it’ll get released, and then will it get good reviews, and then will anyone come and see it. But we knew in this case that people couldn’t wait for it. So there was a slightly more relaxed atmosphere.

Did the new technology Peter was using mean that the filming differed at all this time around?
There’s a lot less green screen than you’d think. If you see Gandalf on top of a mountain, that means I was there. That’s not faked. What might happen is that when you get back to the studio, they realize they’ve missed a shot or a close-up, and you’d do that in front of a screen.

Can you tell me about the slave motion capture technique that was used to film you and the dwarves together?
There was an absolutely dreadful day, which was my first day back—I had a little rehearsal with the 13 dwarves and the hobbit in their set, which was a normal size set for them, but I had to look bigger, so I couldn’t be photographed in that set, because I would have been the same size as them. I had to go to my own little set, and that was built entirely of green so that it could be removed. I was filmed at the same time as all the dwarves, by separate cameras that did exactly the same thing at the same time. [This meant] Peter could put those two images together, take out the green and I look bigger than [the dwarves]. That’s how it works.

So you were on your own, basically?
Exactly. Me and a robot camera. I’ve only just met these dwarves and seen their faces for the first time, and so I know where to look in relation to where they actually are, they put these posts with photographs of the actors of them. Photographs of the actors, not of the dwarves. I’ve just met the dwarves, and I don’t know who the hell these people are. All I know is that whichever [post] is flashing is the one that’s speaking, and I can hear what he’s saying through an earpiece.

Yes. Wow. It meant there could be no spontaneity, because I can’t really tell what the person’s saying, or in what spirit they’re saying it, and I have to remember what we’ve just rehearsed. It’s very difficult. At the end of that day I got a bit weepy. I heard myself saying, ‘This isn’t why I became an actor!’ Unfortunately I had the microphone on, so the whole studio heard it [laughs]. That night I thought, well, if this is going to be it for the next 18 months, I’m not sure I’m up to it. I emailed Peter, and he emailed me back and said, ‘Don’t worry. We got the scene, and we’ll try to do it differently in the future.’ The next day I went in and my little tent where I get changed was decorated with bits of Rivendell scenery and little carpets and screens and lamps and fresh fruit and flowers. It was absolutely beautiful. That lasted until the flowers faded, and then it all went away and I was expected to get on with being a grown-up actor [laughs].

How much of the filming was done like that?
Peter’s the sort of person who, alert to the problem, will try to solve it. I didn’t have any further days like that—there were other ways in which we could do the scale difference. It does mean that if I was in a scene with, say, Martin Freeman, who had to be smaller than me… I was put closer to the camera, and he was further away. It’s a silly obvious trick. But it did mean that Martin couldn’t look me in the eyes, because that would make the [scale] relationship all wrong. He’d act to the top of my hat, and I’d have to act to his belt. It calls on all your technical know-how.

What’s up next for you?
I’m doing a sitcom called Vicious Old Queens with my old friend Derek Jacobi. In England? Yes, I don’t think it’s going to make it beyond England [laughs]. I was also joking the other day that we were going to make a sequel to The Hobbit called Gandalf the Gay, in which I would be very well cast. And we were tweeting yesterday! I’m not on Twitter, but we were tweeting, and suddenly a thing came up saying, "Ian McKellen is trending." So after these interviews are done, I’m going to go and trend again.

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