24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Shame

Oscar season: Some films let you make your own ending

January 2, 2012 |  2:25 pm

Woody Harrelson in Rampart
We live in an open-ended era with question marks hovering over our lives. So maybe it isn’t surprising that a quartet of current movies conclude ambiguously, leaving their characters’ fates not on the screen but in the minds of the audience.

We spoke recently to the filmmakers in question -- those behind "Rampart," "Like Crazy," "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" -- about their cryptic conclusions. Needless to say, if you haven’t seen the movies (and, really, why haven’t you?), you’ll probably want to come back to this after you’ve first formed your own conclusions.


The ending: His personal life and career in tatters, Woody Harrelson’s LAPD officer Dave Brown drives silently through the night, lost in regret.

First choice or later decision: “Rampart” originally had a substantially different ending, centering on a now-removed subplot involving bad cops, gangbangers and Officer Brown. “There was a killing spree, followed by a getting-killed thing,” Harrelson says. “When [writer-director] Oren [Moverman] first showed me a rough cut, I was a little startled.”

“No. He was shocked,” Moverman says. Midway through filming, Moverman began to feel that the dynamics of Brown’s family life were becoming the core of the movie. The shootout ending, he says, felt too “routine.”

“I felt like we had the opportunity to go deeper and shed the things more familiar from genre movies and concentrate on the interior voyage we take with this character,” Moverman adds.

Leaving the door open: “That drive is clearly a metaphor for the purgatory that he’s going to be driving in for the rest of his life,” Moverman says, “no matter if the rest of his life is five minutes from now or the next 30 years.”

“Like Crazy”

The ending: Immigration issues resolved, young lovers Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin) finally reunite. It’s not exactly magical. They take a tentative shower together at Jacob’s L.A. loft while the film flashes back to more innocent times. The final shot of Jacob indicates resignation but no resolution.

First choice or later decision: “We had an extra scene that was on top of that, kind of a double beat with Anna and Jacob in the loft space on opposite ends of the frame,” says writer-director Drake Doremus. “But the shower scene ended up being so strong that we just ended the film right there.”

Leaving the door open: “My favorite films have endings where the rug gets pulled from underneath you and you’re stuck dealing with your emotions,” Doremus says. “That’s what I wanted to do here. Love stories are too often tied up in a nice, neat bow, and that’s not my experience in relationships. Love is gray. They don’t have conclusive elements sometimes. This is my version of that.”

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”

The ending: Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) believes that members of her old cult have found her. She's on the way to New York with her sister and brother-in-law when their car nearly hits a man walking across the street. Is it the same, familiar-looking man that Martha saw watching her swim earlier in the day? Martha looks back. The man is still there. She’s frozen in fear.

First choice or later decision: “We never talked about anything else,” says writer-director Sean Durkin. “I never thought it would be so discussed. People always ask me what happens. And it’s pretty equally divided. Half believe she’s paranoid. Half think they’re coming to get her. We tried to give as little information as possible. I was far more interested in creating the moment and having it feel true.”

Leaving the door open: “It’s the honest way to end the movie,” Durkin says. “It takes years to recover. She’s always going to be looking over her shoulder, thinking someone’s following her. The goal was to put you in her shoes.”


The ending: Brandon (Michael Fassbender) spies on the subway the same sexy redhead (Lucy Walters) he noticed on an earlier commute. They again lock eyes. She seems very open to the idea of cutting her subway ride short. Do they or don’t they?

First choice or later decision: “When I came to New York to start production, I had an ending, but I wasn’t happy with it,” says “Shame” writer-director Steve McQueen. “And it was one of those things. I was always riding the subway to work every morning, and the ending just came to me. It felt right to circle back to that woman he saw at the beginning of the film.”

Leaving the door open: “Does he change or does he stay on the train?” McQueen muses. “I’m not making a Disney film where he falls into the arms of his new love and lives happily ever after. That’s just not the way it is with addiction. It’s a struggle, and I hope that Brandon fights it in some form. But I don’t know if he’ll ever recover.”


'Shame': Michael Fassbender's chameleon power [Video]

'Like Crazy': Filmmaker Drake Doremus casts his leads [video]

Golden Globes: Funny Woody Harrelson was 'liberated from concern'

-- Glenn Whipp

Photo: Woody Harrelson in "Rampart." Credit: Millennium Entertainment

'The Muppets,' 'Shame': Critics had their say--what do you think?

December 5, 2011 |  5:55 pm

The Muppets
Visitors to the multiplex this last weekend who weren't looking for vampire romance found themselves with a couple of very different options: the family fun of the Jason Segel-led musical comedy "The Muppets" and the NC-17-rated sex addict drama "Shame," starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. We're curious to hear what you think of these divergent but well received films.

"The Muppets," which Segel co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller and stars in with Amy Adams, has delighted many critics. The Times' Betsy Sharkey wrote of the film, "There are a few stumbles, but not too many, and by the time [protagonists] Gary and Walter get to a showstopping number that asks the burning question — 'Am I a man, or a Muppet?' — you are completely hooked."

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'Tyrannosaur' takes top prize at British Independent Film Awards

December 4, 2011 |  3:06 pm

 Peter Mullan in Tyrannosaur

"Tyrannosaur," a drama about a rage-filled man who finds redemption thanks to a charity store worker,  on Sunday was named best film at the British Independent Film Awards. Olivia Colman won lead actress and Paddy Considine also earned the Douglas Hickox Award for debut director for the film.

Michael Fassbender won the lead actor award for his performance as a sex addict in "Shame." 

Best director went to Lynne Ramsay for "We Need to Talk About Kevin," a drama about a woman with a troubled son.

Veteran Vanessa Redgrave was named supporting actress for her role as the lead character's mother in "Coriolanus," based on the Shakespeare classic. 

Michael Smiley won for supporting actor for the horror thriller "Kill List." And Richard Ayoade won for his screenplay of "Submarine," a comedy about a 15-year-old boy.

Best achievement in production went to the gay love story "Weekend."

 "Senna," a documentary about the late Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, was named best British documentary. Iran's "A Separation" earned the award for best foreign independent film. And Tom Cullen, who starred in  "Weekend," won most promising newcomer.

Special awards were also handed out Sunday. Ralph Fiennes, whose feature directorial debut,  "Coriolanus," opened Friday, earned the Richard Harris Award, which recognizes "outstanding contribution to British film by an actor." Kenneth Branagh, currently in "My Week With Marilyn," received the Variety Award, which "recognizes an actor, director, writer or producer who has helped to focus the international spotlight on the U.K."

Other awards handed out Sunday:

Raindance Award: "Leaving Baghdad"

Short film: "Chalk"

Special jury award: Graham Easton

Technical achievement: Maria Djurkovic for production design for "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" 

The awards were held at the Old Billingsgate Market in London.


'King's Speech' tops British Independent Film Awards

'Shame,' 'Tinker' lead British Independent Film Award nominations

-- Susan King

Photo: Peter Mullan stars in "Tyrannosaur." Credit: Stran Releasing.


'Shame' can take pride in its performances, critics say

December 2, 2011 |  3:33 pm

Michael Fassbender in Shame
Much ink has been spilled over the rare NC-17 rating of the new drama "Shame," which stars Michael Fassbender ("A Dangerous Method," "X-Men: First Class") as a solitary sex addict whose life is disrupted by the unexpected appearance of his troubled sister, played by Cary Mulligan ("Drive"). After earning praise and sparking debate on the festival circuit, "Shame" opens in select theaters Friday, and so far movie critics are calling it a compelling, if difficult film with powerful performances.

The Times' Kenneth Turan calls "Shame" "a psychologically claustrophobic film that strips its characters bare literally and figuratively, leaving them, and us, nowhere to hide." He commends Fassbender, who brings "commanding magnetism and intensity"; Mulligan, who delivers an unflinching performance; and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, whose minimalist styling complements British director Steve McQueen's vision. Though Turan finds some plot elements unclear or contrived, these are "minor quibbles." In the end, Turan writes, "'Shame' is "difficult to watch but even harder to turn away from."

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Will an NC-17 rating help or hurt 'Shame?'

November 30, 2011 |  8:36 pm


There are a number of reasons why a dark movie about sex addiction might encounter obstacles in its quest to become a broad crowd-pleaser or a popular Oscar choice. But could a severe rating be one of them?

It’s far from a hypothetical question as Fox Searchlight opens “Shame” this weekend. Steve McQueen’s drama, a movie whose artistic virtues we've been touting in this space since the movie premiered at the film festivals of late summer, tells of Brandon (Michael Fassbender) and his struggles to find emotional connection while engaging in emotionless sexual activity with seemingly every woman, real and virtual, in the New York metro area.

The movie is also rated NC-17, one of the rare films to be released with the Motion Picture Assn. of America's harshest grade. (Fox Searchlight didn’t have the option of going unrated because it’s part of the MPAA.)

Although movies like “Midnight Cowboy” and “Last Tango in Paris” kicked up a storm when they received the MPAA’s most severe rating (an X) for sexual content four decades ago, McQueen believes the issue is as out of date as the Nixon administration. Filmgoers and voters aren’t scandalized by the rating anymore, he says.

“What we did in this film is tame compared to what you can get on the Internet,” he told 24 Frames. ‘The debate [about sex] should not be about cinema.”

Of course, it cuts the other way too: “Last Tango” and “Midnight Cowboy” attracted ticket sales and Oscar heat precisely because they seemed taboo and edgy; with sexual content as prevalent as it is now, “Shame” might not be able to ride those same coattails. (There’s a certain irony in this, because one of the reasons McQueen made the movie in the first place was to comment on a world in which sex was ubiquitous.)

Still, it would be an exaggeration to say there isn’t any resistance from theater owners. John Fithian, who runs the National Assn. of Theater Owners, said that he doesn’t believe the stigma exists.  “There’s a myth perpetuated over and over again by the media that members won’t play an NC-17 movie, and that’s patently untrue,” he told 24 Frames.

But Fithian did acknowledge that a top-10 chain did have a formal ban on  showing NC-17 films. 

As my colleague John Horn reports in tomorrow’s Times, that company is Cinemark, the nation’s third-largest chain, which issued a statement in response to his query that it, indeed, doesn't play any NC-17 film as a matter of policy.

In fact, even an art-house theater owned by Cinemark near the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Ill., won't be showing it; students interested in the film will have to go to Chicago instead. (Incidentally, representatives of another chain, Carmike, declined to comment, but also did not appear to be playing “Shame” at this time.)

While “Shame” is about sex, the film’s producer  said  that he thought the way it depicted the two sides of addiction would generally strike a nerve with filmgoers. “In a sense this movie is about the drunk you have a good time with at the Christmas party,” said producer Iain Canning. “Then you see he has to drink a bottle of vodka to get through the day and it’s not funny anymore.”

And that may be the toughest issue. The NC-17 isn’t as taboo as it once was. But in the case of “Shame,” it signals a movie that could prove difficult to watch for reasons having nothing to do with nudity.


Fox Searchlight faces tough sell with NC-17 "Shame"

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender in "Shame." Credit: Fox Searchlight

'Shame': Michael Fassbender's chameleon power [Video]

November 11, 2011 |  3:10 pm


In Steve McQueen's new sex drama, "Shame," Michael Fassbender continues his streak of playing complex, even tortured types, the kind he recently brought to life in movies as diverse as "Jane Eyre" and "X-Men: First Class."

In "Shame," he stars as Brandon, a successful New Yorker who's also a sex addict who lacks anything   close to a grip on his passions.

How did Fassbender, known as a cool customer in real life, so convincingly shift into character? In a panel discussion as part of the Envelope's Screening Series at the ArcLight Sherman Oaks on Thursday, McQueen describes the secret to Fassbender's acting abilities. 


Michael  Fassbender's naked girlfriends in sex drama 'Shame'

Michael Fassbender: NC-17 rating could help Shame

'Shame' director surprised by controversy

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Michael Fassbender, left, and Steve McQueen at the AFI premiere for "Shame." Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

Michael Fassbender: NC-17 rating could help 'Shame' [Video]

November 10, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen aren't worried about Shame's NC-17 rating
About a year ago, hard-charging studio executive Harvey Weinstein was so disturbed that his release "Blue Valentine" earned a NC-17 rating that he personally petitioned the Motion Pictures Assn. of America to have the ruling changed out of a fear that it could harm the film's commercial prospects.

This fall, another film has been given the same severe rating -- "Shame," the film starring Michael Fassbender as an emotionally closed-off sex addict. But the film's star and its director, Steve McQueen, say they aren't worried about the rating affecting its potential reach at the box office. In fact, Fassbender believes, it may help boost ticket sales.

"I think it can be an alright thing. It can stimulate curiosity for sure," the actor told us on the red carpet at the AFI Fest premiere of the film in Hollywood Wednesday evening. He added, "I think it's unusual that a lot of violent films seem to pass through the system easily enough. But whenever you sort of try to question or deal with sex, it becomes something that's dirty or not to be watched -- so I find that to be confusing."

McQueen said he thought that "Shame" deserved an NC-17 rating because it's an adult movie with what he described as "responsible, serious" themes. Anyone fixated on the nudity in the picture -- in which Fassbender and costar Carey Mulligan take off their clothes -- should look elsewhere for their kicks, he said.

"To go to pay to see nude people in 'Shame' -- you're wasting your money," said McQueen.
Fassbender also shrugged off the film's nudity, saying he didn't worry about whether or not the movie would be controversial before signing on to it.

"My job is to deal with conflict and drama, and a lot of times you have to go places that are perhaps uncomfortable to have a real drama at work."


Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

Michael Fassbender's naked girlfriends in sex drama 'Shame'

Carey Mulligan: I wasn't uncomfortable being naked in "Shame"

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Michael Fassbender, left, and Steve McQueen at the AFI Fest premiere of "Shame." Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

Michael Fassbender's naked girlfriends in sex drama 'Shame'

November 4, 2011 |  8:13 am


Finding an actress who can convey nuance without uttering a line of dialogue is hard. Finding that kind of talent in someone who's also willing to take off her clothes? That's almost impossible.

“I had so many passes I couldn't even tell you,” said Avy Kaufman, a casting director who faced precisely that challenge in casting the NC-17-rated “Shame,” Steve McQueen's New York-set drama about a taciturn sex addict named Brandon (Michael Fassbender) that hits theaters Dec 2. “I was unbelievably frustrated.”

Kaufman is a veteran of her craft, having cast complicated productions such as “The Sixth Sense” and “Brokeback Mountain.” But she had a unique assignment from McQueen, who wanted top-quality performers even for tiny parts like Brandon's fly-by-night sex partners. The idea was that those partners would propel the story forward with their silence, showing Brandon's state of mind, or even  suggesting the history of their relationship with a look or a gesture. The actresses, of course, also had to meet certain physical requirements.

For more of The Times' holiday movie sneaks please visit our sneaks landing page.

Perhaps the trickiest of those castings was for the character of “Hotel Lover,” a woman summoned by Brandon to a hotel in the middle of the afternoon. In the scene, “Hotel Lover” has sex with Brandon standing up, against a floor-to-ceiling window, and utters only a quick line of dialogue afterward (about her earrings).

Kaufman — who would put prospective actresses at ease by having young, Fassbender-ish men from her office read with them — located Amy Hargreaves, a stage and screen actress who has gone on to a recurring part on Showtime's “Homeland.” She and Fassbender prepared for their scene, well, the only way one might: by smoking a cigarette and downing a shot of tequila. “I'm so proud of what we did in the film,” Hargreaves said, then added with a laugh, “Though I'm glad it's getting an NC-17 — my parents will never see it.”

Another actress, Lucy Walters, appears in the opening and closing moments of “Shame” as a newlywed with whom Brandon eye-flirts on the subway. She doesn't get a word of dialogue but manages to communicate with her looks and her gestures the arc that Fassbender's character has taken over the course of the film.

“It's super-easy to have a charged scene with someone as relaxed or as sexy as Michael Fassbender,” said Walters, who was cast after receiving a message at 11 pm to head to a club "in a dodgy part of town" where "Shame" was already shooting. “But there’s a lot more going on there than just sex."

Kaufman said she feels that Walters' performance validates the unusual casting process. "How many times are there actors you don't have one line and you remember them. I can't think of another time that's happened."


Los Angeles Times holiday movie sneaks

Carey Mulligan: I wasn't uncomfortable being naked in "Shame"

Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in "Shame"

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Michael Fassbender receiving an honor at the Venice Film Festival. Credit: Gareth Cattermole / Getty Images

'Shame, 'Tinker' lead British Independent Film Award nominations

October 31, 2011 |  7:11 am


Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John le Carre's spy thriller "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," Steve McQueen's NC-17-rated "Shame" and Paddy Considine's drama "Tyrannosaur" lead the 14th British Independent Film Award nominations Monday morning with seven each.

Those three pictures were all nominated for Best British Independent Film, along with the Formula One documentary "Senna" and Lynne Ramsay's "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

The other nominations announced Monday:

Best director: Ben Wheatley for "Kill List," plus McQueen, Alfredson, Considine, and Ramsay.

Douglas Hickox Award for best directorial debut: Joe Cornish, "Attack the Block"; Ralph Fiennes, "Coriolanus"; John Michael McDonagh, "The Guard"; Richard Ayoade, "Submarine" and Considine.

Best actress: Rebecca Hall, "The Awakening"; Mia Wasikowska, "Jane Eyre"; MyAnna Buring, "Kill List"; Olivia Colman, "Tyrannosaur;" Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin."

Best actor: Brendan Gleeson, "The Guard"; Neil Maskell, "Kill List"; Michael Fassbender, "Shame"; Gary Oldman, "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"; Peter Mullan, "Tyrannosaur."

Best achievement in production: "Kill List," "Tyrannosaur," "Weekend," "Wild Bill," "You Instead."

The awards will be handed out in a ceremony on Dec. 4 in London.

See the complete list of nominees.  

 -- Susan King  

Photo: A scene from the movie "Tyrannosaur," with Peter Mullan. Credit: Strand Releasing


Are Elizabeth Olsen and Carey Mulligan paving way for new nudity?

October 27, 2011 |  2:43 pm

Elizabeth Olsen

For the last couple weeks, Carey Mulligan was making the rounds to help publicize her soon-to-be-released film "Shame" before heading off to Australia to work on Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." In the NC-17 "Shame," directed by Steve McQueen, Mulligan plays the younger sister of a man (Michael Fassbender) with a crippling sex addiction, which seems to be the result of some shared trauma between them. In one particular scene, which audiences seem to respond to as equal parts disturbing and disarming, he discovers her in his apartment using his shower. Her bold refusal to cover up as he talks to her is a signature point in the film.

A few weeks back when Elizabeth Olsen was in Los Angeles for a whirlwind promotional tour for "Martha Marcy May Marlene," the 22-year-old perked up when a conversation turned to the 26-year-old Mulligan. (It should perhaps be noted that both "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Shame" are being distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures.)

"I've loved the movies Carey Mulligan has been in in the last year and a half or two years," said Olsen. "She's made cool choices, especially this year with 'Drive' and 'Shame.' That's amazing. Those are two movies it would be great to be a part of. I saw 'Shame' at the [New York Film] Festival. I did like 'Shame.' My personal taste, it's a little too graphic for me. I understand why all of it was there, but..."

Her response naturally (honest!) brought up the issue of Olsen's own offhanded nudity in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." In the film, written and directed by Sean Durkin, Olsen plays a young woman who is in the first stages of regaining her identity after fleeing from a cult. Certain societal norms seem for the moment beyond her, such as when she curls up on the corner of a darkened bed where her sister and brother-in-law are making love, or the way she casually shucks her clothes to skinny-dip in a lake, or unabashedly changes into a dress right in front of her sister.

Whether these high-profile actresses baring themselves marks a shift in the attitudes of young performers to nudity in the movies remains to be seen. Perhaps things are swinging back the other way from the modesty of the past few years, itself a response to the era of ubiquitous screen-capture infamy, when a moment from a film can be decontextualized to its basest, barest essentials and live forever on the Internet. While the bra-in-bed sex scene has become an accepted norm for audiences, are these few performances pointing the way to a new candor?

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