Archive for February, 2014

Winter’s Tale (feat. actor Alan Doyle)

Friday, February 21st, 2014—Film

Winter’s Tale (USA 2014, Drama/Fantasy/Mystery), Writer/Director: Akiva Goldsman

Winter’s Tale is a fantastical story about love overcoming odds and overpowering evil, a story that defies the linear boundaries of time and embraces magic, miracles and the notion of destiny.

Based on Mark Helprin’s novel of the same name, Winter’s Tale features Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay as star-blessed lovers destined to find one another, and Russell Crowe as Pearly Soames, a demonic gang leader on a quest to stop them.

The film also features Alan Doyle, who happens to be the newest Kickass Canadian, as well as Great Big Sea’s frontman and a regular on TV’s Republic of Doyle. In Winter’s Tale, Alan plays Dingy Worthington, an “Irish ruffian” and one of Pearly’s lieutenants. The movie marks the third time Alan and Crowe have teamed up for the camera; Alan played Allan A’Dayle to Crowe’s Robin Hood in the 2010 Ridley Scott film, and later acted with him on an episode of Republic of Doyle.

I had the great fortune of talking with Alan about his experience making Winter’s Tale. But before we got into the movie, the accomplished musician caught me up on where his upcoming solo CD is headed, having recently returned to his St. John’s, Newfoundland home after a musical jaunt to the U.S.

“I recorded a bunch in Nashville and a bunch in Los Angeles,” says Alan. “I got to work with some old friends and some new friends. It was awesome.”

When I interviewed Alan earlier this month for Kickass Canadians, he still hadn’t decided on the direction his second solo album would take. Now, he’s a lot closer to making that decision.

“The more I think about it, the more I’m comfortable with the record being an honest representation of where my head is, which is kind of in 12 different places,” he says. “I’ve never really been afraid to have rock ‘n’ roll songs sitting next to folk songs. If the record ends up having a little section that’s very pop and another section that’s country and another section that’s rock ‘n’ roll, that’s totally fine with me.

“I’m not sure people put on records and listen to them beginning to end anymore. I think people like hearing their favourite singers sing different kinds of songs.”

Alan’s recent recordings kept him from catching the Winter’s Tale premiere in Los Angeles, but he did find time to see a regular theatre screening after its February 14, 2014 release. He was pleased with the results.

“It was really good, man,” says Alan. “I thought it was beautiful in a really classic, old school kind of way.”

For his role in the film, Alan shot about 21 days over a four-week span (the entire production took approximately two months). He says there were plenty of challenges throughout the relatively short shoot. For one thing, it was shot entirely in greater New York City during autumn 2012, when Hurricane Sandy blew through. For another, the film features plenty of busy public venues.

“There were no typical days on that shoot, because we were shooting in New York City,” says Alan. “It’s not like you’re on a sound stage for most of it, where you can just roll camera whenever you want.”

Case in point: the scenes they shot in Grand Central Station.

“Of course Grand Central Station never closes, so how do you shoot in there?” he says. “We shot those scenes one evening in between arrivals and departures of trains, so we would hold (the public) for 30 seconds and we’d shoot it one way and then we’d wait for another 15 minutes and reset and wait for the trains to leave and then we’d go again. Those are the challenges of shooting; it’s very difficult.”

I ask Alan if he found it challenging to concentrate on his performance during such trying circumstances. Impressively, the answer is “No,” but he credits his co-stars for making it easy to stay in character.

“I was always either with Russell or Colin, and they’re such pros,” says Alan. “They’ve had so much experience developing the arc of their performance in the most imperfect surroundings. That’s one of the hardest jobs an actor has, is to do all the stuff they intended to do, in conditions that are never ideal. They have to be able to deliver no matter what.”

Alan attributes this ability in his Winter’s Tale cast mates to being thoroughly prepared. For instance, he says, “there’s nobody more ready to go to work than Russell Crowe. That’s the reason why he’s been in the business for so long and remains at such a high level—because he works the hardest.”

Of course, Alan had plenty of prep work of his own to do. His character, Dingy, handles a gun, so Alan worked with a weapons trainer to get the technique down. He’d had similar training for Robin Hood, but still found it a challenge to master the necessary subtleties for Winter’s Tale.

“When you’re firing a weapon, it’s hard if you’re not used to it to not look at it while you’re shooting,” says Alan. “Without giving too much away about the movie, the character I played had shot a gun many times, but the real me, I play the mandolin!

“So it’s just another skill set, (being able to master skills you’ve never applied in real life)… It’s the skill set that separates me, a very novice actor, from the other guys who have many skills they’ve picked up over the years—whether it’s gun work, dancing, axing, all the skills that you learn on the job. They’re awesome at it.”

One of the biggest lessons Alan learned from working on Winter’s Tale had nothing to do with the action sequences. For him, it was all about stillness.

“In the film, the love story and the power of love is the central theme, and of course (characters like Dingy and the rest of Pearly’s gang) are all the antithesis of that,” says Alan. “We’re bad and we have to appear so in a very quiet way, especially when we’re in the background. So how do you do that?

“It was really a lesson for me, because I’m not usually a quiet person and I’m not usually an evil person, I don’t think, but (I had to learn to harness) the power of stillness and overcome the difficulty in doing nothing. There’s an awkwardness and uneasiness that you create when you’re just quiet and still, and it’s so powerful.”

Looking ahead, Alan is excited to apply his newfound skills and knowledge to his next acting role, as Senator Gideon Robertson (“another bad guy”) in Canadian filmmaker Danny Schur’s production of Strike!. Filming begins this summer, and the movie is slated for a spring 2015 release.

Beyond Strike!, Alan says he’d love to do something along the lines of “a weird, quirky Coen brothers movie.” He mentions the filmmakers’ latest feature, the excellent Inside Llewyn Davis, starring his friend Oscar Isaac, as a great example of what can happen when a movie plays to an actor’s particular strengths.

Oscar has sung for the movies before, including in the 2012 film 10 Years. That time, he and Alan co-wrote a song for Oscar’s character to perform, and the experience left a big mark on Alan.

“I think it would be an amazing thing to find a role where you can sing a little bit and have all your talents out there,” he says. “That would be so much fun to do.”

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Winter’s Tale is in theatres now. A big THANK YOU to Alan for making time to chat with me about it!

The Lego Movie (feat. David, Isaac, Jonathan and Sean Walberg)

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014—Film

The Lego Movie (USA 2014, Animation/Action/Comedy), Writer/Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

A few years ago, back when I had only two nephews, I was on a quest for real Lego—those loose pieces that come in all sorts of shapes, colours and sizes, the kind you could build into whatever you wanted, the kind that didn’t come with a set of instructions and a specific purpose in mind. I wanted to give my first nephews, Jon and Isaac, the kind of Lego I grew up playing with. But all I could find in my local toy stores were Lego kits, designed more for crafting predetermined ships or boats or planes than to stimulate the imagination. It wasn’t until I stopped in at Toys “R” Us in Times Square that I was able to find a box of the prized pieces.

Today, I’ve got three nephews playing with that New York City Lego (young David joined the gang about six years ago). I’m proud to say that all of them prefer making their own Lego creations to sticking with the instructions. They love the kits, too—they’re a new generation, after all—but once they’ve finished following directions, they take the finished product apart and start inventing their own versions.

As much as my nephews and I love Lego, we weren’t on board right away with the idea of a Lego movie. When Isaac and I discovered the movie’s poster during his recent visit to Ottawa (the boys live in another province), we were left wondering what on earth the plot would be about for such an obvious marketing piece.

Isaac enters the world of Lego.

Isaac enters the world of Lego.

Jon had the same doubts, although they were quickly turned around once he saw the movie last weekend. “When I started watching it, I was thinking, ‘How can a movie about Lego have a plot?’” he says. “And then after, I realized it was pretty cool how they took Lego and made it into a huge movie.”

It’s a huge movie, indeed. The Lego Movie comes from the genius writer/director team behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Here, they’ve created a brilliant, self-reflexive animated flick that, in the words of fellow Lego junkie Thomas J Bradley, “perfectly captures the ideas of Lego.”

So what is the plot? I won’t reveal the overarching premise, but the main story follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), a regular Joe Lego man presumed to be the “Special” destined to save the world from the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), who rules over all things Lego and insists that everyone always follow the instructions. Emmet joins forces with a fantastic group of rebel figurines, including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Spaceman Benny (Charlie Day) and the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). Standing in the way, alongside Lord Business, is Liam Neeson’s conflicted Bad Cop.

The Lego Movie holds together with shrewd observations about the real world and very clever plays on sayings, words and product names. It turns ideas on their heads and offers hilarious insights into the way children interpret their surroundings—all without alienating the parents in the audience.

Sean, my brother-in-law, dutifully took the boys to the movie, but he was pleasantly surprised by how much he himself enjoyed it. “There were a lot of adults laughing their heads off in the movie,” he says. “It was well done.” Sean also commented on the “nostalgia factor” the movie tapped into. For example, Spaceman’s faded logo, or his broken chin strap. “That was what would always break first on those things.”

There’s no question that The Lego Movie is an unabashed marketing campaign. The filmmakers deliver a fabulous one-two punch, targetting grown-up kids who were raised on Lego, just as much as the kids who play with it today. But they’ve also built a smart, inventive flick that shows what’s at stake when imagination is squelched for the sake of compliance, and concludes perfectly by driving home the idea that one person’s happy ending isn’t necessarily the same as everyone else’s.

More to the point, The Lego Movie is piles of fun. It’s hilarious and visually awesome, and it makes it very clear that playing with Lego (or at least being creative, taking risks and believing in yourself) forms the building blocks of a happy childhood and an accepting, inspired adulthood.

I don’t want to spoil the surprise by rattling off too many examples of what’s so funny and clever about the movie. So I’ll keep it to just a few of the best bits, according to my nephews and me.

David: “Everything is AWESOME!!! I liked the Lego lava at the beginning. It’s so cool when it boils, Lego hot stuff goes flying up in the air. They used a lot of Lego pieces for that. Except it’s not so realistic Lego. I love how that spaceship guy was screaming ‘SPACESHIP!’ the whole entire time he was flying; it was so funny. How does that work, Lego people talking? I guess people were dressing up as Lego blocks.”

David, as a tiger, going rogue with free-form Lego.

David, as a tiger, going rogue with free-form Lego.

Isaac: “I liked the rocket ship guy. And the Millennium Falcon. I thought it was funny. The ending was really funny. I don’t know what my favourite part is; I just like building Lego. I just finished building a Lego castle, it’s like six little rooms, each side of it has a roof and then a base on top. It has walls and a sniper tower. And I added more to the Lego ISS.”

Isaac working on one of his many Lego inventions.

Isaac working on one of his many Lego inventions.

Jonathan: “I really liked the part where the bad cop keeps changing into a good cop. I liked the plays on terms. And the ending was pretty funny. I read a lot about it in Isaac’s Lego magazine so I kind of knew what was coming. It was really good.”

Jon with one of the "secret" animal villages we built. No Lego involved, but each of the figurines would fit into a Lego world.

Jon with one of the “secret” animal villages we built. No Lego involved, but each of the figurines would fit into a Lego world.

Me: “I loved Batman’s song, Untitled Self Portrait: [To the barking beat of the Batmobile’s subwoofers] DARKNESS. NO PARENTS. SUPER RICH. KINDA MAKES IT BETTER.”

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Thank you to Rebecca and Sean for casting aside the instructions and putting together the best nephews an aunt could ask for. They’re colourful, animated and totally awesome.