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Denis Villeneuve receives an honorary degree

PREMIERE SHOWING

JOHN MAHONEY

Quebec filmmaker Denis Villeneuve receives an honorary degree from Université du Québec à Montréal rector Robert Proulx on Tuesday. ‘I’m a professional dreamer,’ Villeneuve told the graduates at his alma mater. ‘To earn my doctorate, it took me 30 years.’

Denis Villeneuve pulled out two speeches, as he took the podium at Place des Arts’ Salle WilfridPelletier, Tuesday morning.

The acclaimed filmmaker is, of course, no politician. He was not holding a victory speech and a concession speech, but rather two versions of his advice for graduating students of his alma mater, Université du Québec à Montréal’s (UQAM) communications program.

Clad in a long black robe and sporting a bashful grin, Villeneuve was there to receive an honorary doctorate. He began with a story.

“A few years ago, I had the pleasure of adapting a novel by José Saramago, The Double, which became my film Enemy. The film tells the story of a history professor, who is intelligent but timid, and is obsessed by the cycles of repetition of humanity. One day, he meets his double, who is vain and narcissistic, and one tries to eliminate the other. But the forces of the unconscious are much stronger than the professor believes, and the spider (a recurring, nightmarish vision in the movie) is reincarnated. It’s not my best film, but it’s my most honest.

“It’s no coincidence that I have two speeches. I won’t read the first, which I’m very proud of. I wrote it a while ago. But I woke up in the middle of the night and realized I had it all wrong. I wrote this second speech for you graduates. I wrote it at dawn, when most of you were negotiating with strange images troubling your unconscious.”

Villeneuve joked that he is no example to follow.

“To earn my doctorate, it took me 30 years,” he said, “and more than $300 million,” the latter number a reference to the combined budgets of his films including Blade Runner 2049, Arrival, Sicario, Prisoners, Incendies and Polytechnique.

“Time doesn’t have the same value for you as for me,” he admitted. “That took me an eternity to understand. I like to watch the trees grow. The force to accelerate requires enormous energy. The only thing that gets me moving in life is the explosion of cinema.”

He had no wise words on this day, Villeneuve insisted. But he did share a key tool to his artistic development, which he wished someone would have let him in on a long time ago:

“Therapy,” he said. “I have a warning, and I hope that it is completely useless. I imagine you’re all very serene and free of the shadows of your genetic heritage. But if you’re like me, and know nothing of Socrates and his understanding of the self, I offer you this warning.

“I’m a professional dreamer. My job is to build bridges between dreams and reality, and they pay me well to do so. I travel often into my own subconscious. I’ve met very few adults in my life who have conquered their shadow. If you’re like me, and like most decision-makers today, find a good therapist. They’re very rare, but they exist. It’s really the best advice I can give you today. With all my affection, I wish you luck, and beware of spiders.”

Following the ceremony, the director confided that the timing of the honour couldn’t be better.

“It touches me profoundly,” he said. “And it comes at a moment in my career when I feel I must take a break. I have to reflect on how I will evolve as a filmmaker, how to renew myself.

“And to receive recognition from my alma mater, the university that formed me, teachers who radically influenced me in my development — it’s here that I learned the ABCs of cinema and cinematic language — is a nice coincidence.”

Having just finished the first round of Oscar campaign appearances for Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve is hard at work on the script for his next film, adapting another sci-fi classic, Frank Herbert’s Dune. “I’m renewing with an old pleasure that I hadn’t felt in a long time,” he said. “I hadn’t returned to writing since Incendies. I’ve worked on the scripts for my last four films, but they were all quite far along.

“I’m going back to my early days as a filmmaker, working with a writer I admire, a master who inspires me a lot. Writing gives me energy. Dune will be a long adaptation. It’s going to take time to write; it’s hard.”

Though he has achieved success in Hollywood, Villeneuve insisted that his creative journey is not a blueprint budding directors should feel pressured to follow.

“The objective is not to go to Hollywood,” he said. “The objective is to try to make films that are our own. Myself, as a filmmaker, the cinema I wanted to make is closer to the cinema south of the border. But a whole important cinema has to be made (right here). I hope UQAM graduates have the chance to make their films.”

In lieu of celebrating his newly minted degree, Tuesday evening, Villeneuve was preparing to fête the cinematic accomplishment of someone close to him.

“My daughter is studying cinema, and it’s the first screening of her short film,” he said, beaming.

Like father, like daughter. Yet Villeneuve’s offspring is already showing a rebellious spirit. She’s at Concordia.

Disney/Pixar worked with Mexican consultants on Coco

Shamelessly lifted from File 770:

SEEKING AUTHENTICITY. The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna, in “How Pixar’s ‘Coco’ became a huge box-office hit”, looks at the ways that Disney/Pixar worked with Mexican consultants on Coco, which not only solved cultural sensitivity problems, but made for a better story.

The company was about two years into the making of “Coco” when it committed a significant PR blunder. For its marketing, Disney in 2013 applied to trademark “Día de los Muertos” — the Mexican holiday the movie centers on — sparking a backlash from prominent Latino voices.

Mexican American cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz (“La Cucaracha”) helped give image to the outcry. Alcaraz, who had tweeted that trying to brand the holiday came across as “awful and crass,” created the Mickey Mouse-spoofing cartoon “Muerto Mouse,” with the caption: “It’s coming to trademark your cultura.”

According to Jason Katz, the story supervisor on “Coco,” the backlash to the Southern California parent company’s trademark attempt was tough to take in the Bay Area, where Pixar’s Emeryville studio is located.

“Working at Pixar, you’re in a little bit of a bubble. We’re removed from the machine to a certain extent,” Katz told The Post’s Comic Riffs while in Washington. “[We were] trying to be as genuine and authentic as you can. It wasn’t something we were expecting. We were all just disappointed and sad.”

The incident, though, led to a realization. “We needed to make sure that even though we were reaching out to folks, we needed to make this movie differently than any other movie we’d made…”

 

VILLENEUVE ISN’T FLOPPING

Blade Runner 2049 profitable despite low U.S. sales

PIERRE OBENDRAUF Blade Runner 2049 “was made intentionally with an art-house quality,” says Denis Villeneuve, pictured in Montreal in September. “It’s kind of an anti-blockbuster.”

For a man who just directed a $155-million flop, Denis Villeneuve was remarkably calm.

On the phone from Los Angeles last week, the Quebec director was philosophical about the highs and lows of his latest film, Blade Runner 2049.

Villeneuve has been hailed as an artistic genius in response to his nearly three-hour epic, which expands on the iconic vision of Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, a dystopian reverie starring Harrison Ford as a state-sanctioned hunter of android “replicants.”

Blade Runner 2049 — which features Ryan Gosling, Ford, Ana de Armas, Robin Wright and Sylvia Hoeks — is all but guaranteed a spot near the top of any selfrespecting film critic’s year-end Top 10, but has fallen well short of expectations at the box office.

It’s on course to pull in about $250 million. After marketing and other expenses, that will leave producers Alcon with a debt in the neighbourhood of $80 million, according to the Hollywood Reporter — light-years away from the expected earnings for what was touted as one of the year’s most anticipated movies. (Sony will make back its $110-million investment, in accordance with the deal it negotiated to be reimbursed first in exchange for a lower percentage of any profits.)

So, which is it? A masterpiece or a flop?

Are the two mutually exclusive? Or, in an era in which blockbuster is equated with brainless bombast, are they ultimately synonymous? Are artistically ambitious works bound to fail? And if so, where does that leave an uncompromisingly creative director of Villeneuve’s calibre?

Before we start throwing around the F-word, let us weigh all factors in this complex equation. While money is generally the bottom line in Hollywood, Villeneuve appears once again to be breaking the mould, somehow remaining in everyone’s good books as his market value continues to grow.

“My job is to make movies, not sell movies,” the filmmaker said, adding “Sony is very happy.

“The film is a success outside the U.S., especially in Europe. Around the world, results have been very strong. The campaign in the U.S. was done differently.”

Perhaps he is referring to the wham-bam trailers, which made Blade Runner 2049 out to be an action-packed roller-coaster ride — a far cry from the existential dreamscape Villeneuve created, in bold defiance of big-budget conventions.

“The film was made intentionally with an art-house quality,” he explained. “It was conceived to be part of a continuum with the original. It’s kind of an anti-blockbuster. So in that sense, perhaps I went looking for (the disappointing box office). But then there’s the marketing. The studios underestimated how well people knew the first film. There were many other factors.”

Although it has become a cult classic, the original Blade Runner also initially bombed at the box office, making for another way in which Villeneuve has stayed true to the original. And with Oscar nominations coming up in the new year, redemption may yet be forthcoming.

But why and how all that cinematic expertise, marquee talent and hefty promotional allowance did not translate into ticket sales remains a question Villeneuve and his producers are at a loss to answer.

“It’s a mystery,” he said. “All the indexes and marketing tools they were using predicted that it would be a success. The film was acclaimed by critics. So everyone expected the first weekend’s results to be impressive, and they were shocked. They still don’t understand.”

It’s all relative, of course. Having just made a film that will bring in more than $250 million, Villeneuve is enjoying “the biggest box office of my life.”

What’s more, it’s not just the critics who are raving. Blade Runner 2049 has garnered positive reviews from those who have ventured out to see it, earning an A- from audience polling service CinemaScore.

“I’ve never had scores like this,” Villeneuve said. “It’s very curious (that it hasn’t translated into ticket sales).”

So what’s a guy to do? Well, if you’re Denis Villeneuve, you keep doing what you’re doing. The director has built his fast-rising career on his identity as an unflinching auteur, imbuing every project he approaches — from his 2010 Oscarnominated breakthrough Incendies to the thrillers Prisoners and Sicario and the sci-fi mystery Arrival — with his inimitable ability to slow down time, build tension and reveal the profound emotional truths of any dramatic situation.

The film is a success outside the U.S., especially in Europe. Around the world, results have been very strong. The campaign in the U.S. was done differently

“The moment filmmakers start trying to control the (financial) outcomes of their films, it’s the end of cinema,” he said. “You can’t change your way of working. I tried to make the best film possible. I don’t know anything about promotion or marketing. I don’t know what I could have done differently.”

He may not have to change anything at all. Alcon, the independent production company that worked with Villeneuve on Prisoners and was set to make its definitive leap into blockbuster territory with Blade Runner 2049, is standing by the director.

“They’ve been complete gentlemen,” Villeneuve said. “They’ve repeated how proud they are of the film. Artistically, for them, it’s a success. They’re very disappointed with the American box office, and they might have changed their approach strategically if they had a crystal ball. But they can’t wait to work with me again. I’m sincerely sad about them losing money on their investment, but they’ll get through this and they’ll keep making films.”

As will Villeneuve. The filmmaker’s dance card is overflowing. Already signed on to direct the reboot of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune, this week he announced he was withdrawing his name from the short list to direct the next James Bond film, Bond 25. He had met with actor Daniel Craig and series producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, and was reportedly Craig ’s preference to lead the project, but it all came down to timing.

Villeneuve has also been in talks with Sony to direct its long-awaited Cleopatra remake. In other words, far from hindering his career, Blade Runner 2049 has propelled Villeneuve to the next level of his craft.

“The film was extremely well received by the cinematic community,” he said. “People really, really like the film. The truth is that I’ve had more offers than ever. This proved I’m able to work in that range.

“But the truth, between me and you, is I can’t permit myself to make three films like this. Films are expensive. Since it’s my first time, it’s allowed, because the film was very well received; but I can’t do that every time.” Nor would he want to. “I can’t live with this pressure,” he admitted. “I can’t predict whether a movie will be a success at the box office or not. People think it’s a science, but it’s art. You never know what will connect with people. I was just talking with Emma Thomas, the producer of (Christopher Nolan’s) Dunkirk. They thought it would tank, but it was a success. These things are tough to call.

“I will keep making films the best way I can. The rest is up to the cinema gods.”

Montreal Gazette review of THOR: RAGNAROK

HAMMER AND SNICKER

Thor shows his wisecracking side

PHOTOS: MARVEL STUDIOS Chris Hemsworth has a rough ride in Thor: Ragnarok — he loses his hammer and, among other things, is forcibly barbered. But he does gain a sense of humour.

THOR: RAGNAROK

★★★ out of 5

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson Director: Taika Waititi

Duration: 2 h 10 m

In Norse mythology, “Ragnarok” refers to an end-of-days cataclysm, like Armageddon, doomsday or Zac Efron films. But in the Marvel universe it may mean something akin to embarrassment or humiliation. In this movie, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) gets tied up, locked up, teleported, electric-shocked, captured, dumped, Hulked and forcibly barbered. He even loses his hammer, leaving him looking like a traveller whose Uber app just failed.

But somehow, he comes out of it all with a sense of humour, which is even more amazing when you recall that he didn’t go in with one. In other stand-alone outings, 2011’s Thor and 2013’s The Dark World, as well as various ensemble pictures, he’s the least jolly Avenger. Now he quips like he’s been taking lessons from Iron Man.

It’s hard to know which writer to praise for this — Ragnarok has three, as well as the various “based on the comics by” credits — so I’m going to suggest we all hail Taika Waititi, the New Zealand director of such fun low-budget buffoonery as Eagle vs. Shark, What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Not only has Waititi made an impressive leap into the almost giga-dollar budget range (those other movies were made for about $5 million, combined), but he also appears as Korg, the deferential dungeon master on planet Sakaar, where the de-hammered Thor is taken to participate in gladiatorial games. Running the show there is Jeff Goldblum. He calls himself Grandmaster, though I don’t think he has the mental chops for chess. In fact, his greatest skill seems to be that of trailing off in mid-sentence, a talent he takes to new …

Anyway, Ragnarok is just the latest in 2017’s bumper crop of superhero flicks, which includes Marvel’s Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming; DC’s Wonder Woman and the upcoming Justice League. Not to mention (do we have to?) the underwhelming Dark Universe curtain-raiser that was The Mummy.

And while I know these movies are planned out years in advance, it feels like Thor’s newest has lifted a page from Wonder Woman’s playbook, with the inclusion of Tessa Thompson as SR-142, a hard-drinking Valkyrie from Thor’s home world. Not only that, but Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, used in two separate battle sequences, sounds a lot like a certain Amazonian princess’s theme music.

Ragnarok also introduces that Marvel rarity, a female villain, although Cate Blanchett’s Hela looks to have built her wardrobe and decorating choices on those of Angelina Jolie in Maleficent — same basic costume with a bigger rack of antlers. She’s Thor’s twisted sister, but can’t really compete with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, back from the dead and proving once again that if duplicity were a sport he would somehow both win and lose while cheating, playing by the rules and also making up his own.

Hela is the main plot driver, arriving on Thor’s planet and threatening to take over, even as another more computer-generated baddie prepares to destroy the whole place. Thor has to get home and stop them.

All this and I haven’t even gotten to Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Hulk, who like Thor gets to be more loquacious and wittier within Ragnarok’s shambolic buddy-picture framework.

He does not, alas, get to say: “Hulk more loquacious and wittier!”

Waititi snags most of the best lines for his own character, including a naughty joke that will sail over the heads of any youngsters not versed in New Zealand or British sexual slang, and this lovely little axiom: “The only thing here that makes sense is that nothing makes sense.” That’s Ragnarok in a nutshell. Put your brain in neutral and enjoy!

first official look at STARGATE: Origins

Just unveiled at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, this special Behind the Scenes reel is your first official look at STARGATE: Origins. From now until its release, Stargate Command will be providing unprecedented Behind the Scenes access to the STARGATE: Origins production. From interviews with the cast and crew, to tours of the sets themselves, this is your chance to start diving into this amazing adventure before it even premieres! For hundreds of hours of favorite STARGATE moments head over to: https://stargatecommand.co/

BLADE RUNNER A CUT ABOVE

BLADE RUNNER A CUT ABOVE

More spiritual successor than sequel

PHOTOS: WARNER BROS. Ryan Gosling, left, and Harrison Ford meet up in the final hour of Blade Runner 2049, and Ford’s character is crucial to the plot.

The term “sequel” has been sullied by a century of second, sixth and seventh parts. So let’s not call Blade Runner 2049 a sequel. Call it the spiritual successor to one of the greatest science-fiction stories ever told. And it lives up to that billing.

It is set not 32 years into our future, but 30 years into the future of the original Blade Runner, from 1982. That one took place in a 2019 with flying cars and robot “replicants” but without cellphones or the internet, and with a decidedly retro sense of fashion. In Blade Runner’s future, there is still a Soviet Union and Atari has an advertising budget big enough to buy the side of a skyscraper.

Some of that fictional 2049 may yet dovetail with our own. The weather continues to worsen — the omnipresent rain of Los Angeles occasionally cut with sudden snow squalls — and rising ocean levels mandate a huge seawall on the west coast.

But that’s just window dressing. The story this time involves a next-generation blade runner (Ryan Gosling) with the utilitarian name of K. Like Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard from the original, he’s part of LAPD’s “retirement division,” tasked with killing older-model replicants that are trying to pass as humans.

The latest model, called a Nexus-9, has been created to be unswervingly obedient, although that’s a bit like saying your car’s GPS is unswervingly accurate. To err is replicant; to forgive, machine.

In the opening scene, K retires a Nexus named Sapper Morton (Dave Bautista). Before the replicant expires, it talks about having “seen a miracle.”

Continue reading BLADE RUNNER A CUT ABOVE

Denis Villeneuve and Blade Runner 2049

Today’s Montreal Gazette has Blade Runner on the front page, and more inside.

Below, the interview with Denis Villeneuve.

Click here to read an interview with Festival du nouveau cinéma  co-founder, Claude Chamberlain speaking on how Denis Villeneuve helped get one of the two premieres of  Blade Runner 2049. It’s on Wednesday, but by  invitation only. And we weren’t invited, sigh.

ON THE CUTTING EDGE
How do you follow in the footsteps of a sci-fi masterpiece? Montreal director Denis Villeneuve says he’s ‘serene’ now that Blade Runner 2049 — perhaps the most anticipated release of the year — is done. And he’s happy its Canadian première will be at the FNC.

WARNER BROS. WENN.COM. On the set of Blade Runner 2049: “One thing that’s important, and I don’t say this lightly, is that Ridley Scott liked the film, and Harrison Ford, too,” Villeneuve said. “The two fathers (of the original) liked the film. From the moment (I heard that), I was OK.” Below: Ryan Gosling, right, in a scene from the stylish, esoterically paced noir Blade Runner 2049.

Blade Runner 2049 opens the Festival du nouveau cinéma at an invitation-only screening on Wednesday, Oct. 4 and previews in theatres on Thursday night before opening wide on Friday.

Denis Villeneuve was in a good place Thursday morning — and not just because he was home in Montreal.

He seemed remarkably calm less than a week before the world première of the biggest film of his career — the long-awaited sequel of one of his all-time favourite movies and perhaps the most anticipated release of the year: Blade Runner 2049.

“I feel serene because the movie is made,” he said, sitting on a couch on the top floor of an Old Montreal boutique hotel, clad in a smart black suit, speaking just above a whisper.

“From the beginning, I made peace with the idea that my chances of success were very small and that I couldn’t make this film expecting results or the approval or affection of the film community or the public.

“I had to make this film only as a gesture of creation.  If not, if I had put pressure on myself linked to the fact that (the original) is a masterpiece, I wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t have found freedom or joy.  When you make cinema, there’s a profound joy of creation, which you have to be in touch with.”

Villeneuve’s freedom is on full display in Blade Runner 2049, a visually spectacular, tonally haunting, dream-like epic that conforms only nominally to Hollywood norms. Continue reading Denis Villeneuve and Blade Runner 2049