Few modern directors raise the hair on the back of your neck like Guillermo del Toro. From the eerie Pale Man character in Pan’s Labyrinth to the deadly mechanical scarab of Cronos, he has trained viewers to expect the unexpected.
His latest, Crimson Peak, is a spooky thriller starring Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Tom Hiddleston that del Toro describes as an “almost classical gothic romance ghost story,” before adding, “it has two or three scenes that are really, really disturbing in a very, very modern way.” Also expect a fest for the eyes. “I’m not giving you eye candy,” he says. “It’s eye protein.”
Films like Pacific Rim, The Devil’s Backbone and Hellboy have made del Toro a fan favourite but for every film he makes there is Internet buzz about the movies he didn’t make.
“I’m famous for the ones I turned down,” he told me a few years ago in a candid conversation on my radio show.
Indeed a quick Google search reveals a list of hit films he said no to.
The script for Se7en came his way but was judged to be too cynical for del Toro’s tastes. Horror hits Blade: Trinity and AVP: Alien vs. Predator went to directors David S. Goyer and Paul W.S. Anderson respectively when Guillermo declined because he was too busy getting his version of Hellboy to the screen.
I asked him about that period. “To get Hellboy made you turned down…” “A lot,” he said, finishing my sentence.
More recently he walked away from The Hobbit, a decision he called “extremely painful,” and took a rain check on Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens because “basically I have so much stuff already of my own, and I’m pursuing stuff that I’m generating already.”
One project has kept the del Toro fan base purring for years, a proposed version of Frankenstein.
“This is the one that I pursue and drop. It’s daunting. This is the most important story in the history of narrative. The most important book in my life is Frankenstein and the most important movie is James Whale’s Frankenstein.
“It’s like that girl you have been dating for 35 years and you can’t say, ‘Would you marry me?’
“I read the book and realized nobody has done the book. It is amazing to me that nobody has done the emotions that are in the book. The way I want to treat the one I do is not to be slavish to the book but create the same effect the book has which is the incredible journey of the creature.”
I ask if he has any second thoughts about the films he turned down.
“Every movie I have left behind or not done I don’t regret at all but there’s one that I can’t help but wonder (about), Prisoner of Azkaban. I really loved the books. I don’t love all the movies but at that stage I saw the first two movies and they were a little too happy for me. I thought, ‘Do I really want to go on and try to change the entire universe like that?’”
The job of directing the third Harry Potter movie eventually went to one of del Toro’s friends, Alfonso Cuarón. “When I saw that movie I told Alfonso, ‘I love you and I hate you. You made a great movie.’ That’s the only one that went away that I will always wonder about.”
The internet helped Ben Affleck land the role of Nick Dunne (Affleck), the prime suspect in his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) disappearance, in this weekend’s mystery thriller Gone Girl.
Director David Fincher told Playboy he’s very concerned about what facial expressions actors can bring to his movies so when casting Gone Girl he imagined a scene where Nick Dunne smiles while standing next to a poster of his missing wife.
“I flipped through Google Images and found about 50 shots of Affleck giving that kind of smile in public situations,” Fincher told writer Stephen Rebello. “You look at them and know he’s trying to make people comfortable in the moment, but by doing that he’s making himself vulnerable to people having other perceptions about him.”
There is already Oscar buzz surrounding Gone Girl’s actors. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly called Affleck’s work “the most natural performance of his career,” while Digital Spy’s Simon Reynolds said Pike’s performance, “should bag her an Oscar nomination come awards season.”
Fincher’s careful casting has bagged Oscar nods for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson, Rooney Mara of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network.
The director has an unerring eye when it comes to casting, but it’s not always a smooth process. When he signed on to direct The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo he had actress Rooney Mara in mind to play hacker Lisbeth Salander. She won the role, but not before auditioning five times and beating out better known hopefuls like Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence. “We didn’t make it easy for Rooney, and there was no way to dissuade her.”
Recently Fincher walked away from a big budget remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when the studio rejected his casting choice Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum in favor of Chris Hemsworth.
One of the director’s best-known films, Se7en, starred Kevin Spacey as serial killer John Doe who offed his victims in the order of the Seven Deadly Sins. He’s fantastic but he wasn’t Fincher’s first choice. The director wanted Ned Beatty, a shorter, rounder character actor who starred in Deliverance and Nashville. “He should look like a postman,” said Fincher. Beatty turned down the role—“This is the most evil thing I’ve ever read,” he said.—opening the door for Spacey. Trouble was, Spacey wanted too much money. It wasn’t until star Brad Pitt intervened and called the studio to ask that Spacey be hired. The moral of the story? “It pays to be blond,” says Fincher.
There was a time when serial killers ruled the movie theatres. Movies like “Kiss the Girls,” “Se7en” and “Silence of the Lambs” were big hits and law enforcement types like Alex Cross and Clarice Starling were big draws. Now those stories have been moved to the small screen and television shows like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds” track down the kinds of killers their big screen counterparts used to stalk.
“The Calling” is a throwback to the type of 90s thrillers that made Ashley Judd a star and kept audiences on the edge of their seats.
Drawn from the pages of Inger Ash Wolfe’s mystery novels, Susan Sarandon plays pill-popping Detective Hazel Micallef, a world weary small town Canadian cop just a drunken whisper away from unemployment. The sleepy little town of Fort Dundas doesn’t offer up much in the way of major cases until a string of grisly murders—slit throats and organ removals—forces Micallef to dust off her detecting skills and track down a killer with driven by fanatical religious fervor.
First time director Jason Stone ratchets the bleak atmosphere up to Creep Factor Five in this eerie character driven mystery. There’s a little bit of “Fargo” in the mix, with some dark humor—“I just found the guy’s stomach!”—and disquieting imagery, but the real draw is watching the characters navigate through the film’s unsettled but strangely familiar world.
Sarandon is terrific as outwardly tough detective with a self-destructive center, while Sutherland brings his patented gravitas to the role of a priest who knows more than he is willing to let on. They, along with Grace, Burstyn (who isn’t given enough to do) and Gil Bellows as a no nonsense detective, temper the story’s more outrageous holistic killer Catholic elements.
“The Calling” could have snapped up the pacing a bit, but the slower tempo gives us more time to sit back and enjoy the performances.