24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Steve McQueen

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received the MPAA’s most severe rating (an X) for sexual content four decades ago, McQueen believes the issue is as out of date as the Nixon administration.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 signs on to McQueen's 'Twelve Years a Slave'

October 11, 2011 | 12:52 pm

Michael fassbender

Michael Fassbender and Steve McQueen will be cementing their already strong actor-director partnership on McQueen’s next movie, “Twelve Years a Slave.”

Chiwetel Ejiofor (“Inside Man”) stars in the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who became enslaved, from a script by McQueen and John Ridley (“Red Tails”). Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment is producing the film, scheduled to start shooting in early 2012. The news of Fassbender's casting was first reported in Variety.

The details of Fassbender’s “Twelve Years a Slave” role are being kept under wraps, but if the actor’s prior collaborations with McQueen are any indication, he’ll play a character with complex morals.

Fassbender was Irish Republican hunger striker Bobby Sands in McQueen’s 2008 movie, “Hunger,” and stars as a sex addict in the buzzed-about festival title “Shame,” due in theaters in December.

Fassbender also starred in this year’s “X-Men: First Class” as a Nazi fighting mutant and was Mr. Rochester opposite Mia Wasikowska in "Jane Eyre" last spring. He plays a conflicted Carl Jung in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” which opens in the U.S. Nov. 23.


'Shame,' Fassbender ride hot, kinky buzz out of Venice, Telluride 

Toronto 2011: Michael Fassbender says 'Shame' is a social critique 

'Prometheus': Michael Fassbender on Ridley Scott's 'breathtaking project

-- Rebecca Keegan


Will color return to this year's Oscar season?

September 21, 2011 |  8:31 am


When Oscar nominations were announced earlier this year, it was impossible to avoid this unsubtle fact: All of the major nominees were white. And when the presenters had all taken their turn on the Kodak Theatre stage, not a single black man was among them, a fact that Samuel Jackson noted tartly in an email to a Times reporter.

It was a sharp turn from the 2009-10 season, when “Precious” and "The Blind Side" drew numerous accolades, and there were black nominees for best director, best picture and best actress (and black winners for best supporting actress and best adapted screenplay).

For anyone concerned about which way the Oscars could go this year, there's reason to take heart. As a new season gets underway, there are signs the Oscars could return to the diversity of two years ago. In fact, the show this year could match and even surpass those landmark events -- and not only because Eddie Murphy is presiding (the first black host since Chris Rock in 2004) or because Oprah Winfrey will be given the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award,  the academy's honorary Oscar. It's the potential nominees themselves who offer the prospect of a more diverse Oscars.

And it could happen, notably, on the basis of more than just  one or two films -- and without the help of Oscar stalwarts such as Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Halle Berry or Will Smith, none of whom have new movies this year.

Driving the expectations, of course, is the Southern drama "The Help." Oscar handicappers are already predicting a best actress nomination for Viola Davis, while Octavia Spencer could be in the mix too, likely in the supporting category.

There's also T.J. Martin, co-director of the documentary "The Undefeated,” which was a hit at the South by Southwest festival in March and wowed crowds at the Toronto Film Festival last week. A football documentary about a black high school in Memphis, Tenn., the movie is getting a release from Weinstein Co. and has a solid shot at a doc nomination. Martin would be only the second black director ever to be nominated in the documentary category.

But it's hardly just those films, or even race-themed movies in general, that could color in the Oscars. Steve McQueen, director of "Shame" (about a sex addict and dysfunctional sibling relationship, not about race at all), generated buzz at early fall film festivals and is shaping up as a strong contender this season. If the sophomore filmmaker lands the nomination, he would become only the third black director to ever be nominated.

(Asked about the subject of race and the Oscars in an interview with 24 Frames, McQueen said he wanted to think about it a little more before answering and would get back to us later in the season. The BAFTA winner did note that he believed racism, both in the entertainment business and society at large, was far worse in his native Britain than the United States.)

Joining these Oscar hopefuls is director Dee Rees and the actors of "Pariah," a favorite from this past year's Sundance Film Festival that features an almost entirely black cast and deals as much with themes of sexuality as with race. Focus Features is releasing the micro-indie and is expected to give it an awards push.

Davis may also have a shot at a supporting actress nomination with her part in Stephen Daldry's much-anticipated (though so far unseen) 9/11-themed literary adaptation "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."

At a time when black actors say there's a dearth of meaty parts, it's hard not to find at least some encouragement in all of this. A new class of black actors is getting a bit more of a toehold in prestige movies -- witness Davis springboarding to these parts from her role in "Doubt" a few years back.

Hollywood still makes fewer serious movies than it has in a long time, and minorities struggle to land parts in those films. But the early indications, at least, are that the Oscars this year look a little less like the rest of Hollywood and a bit more like the real world.


'Shame' director surprised by controversy

Does Hollywood discriminate against young black actors?

'The Help' is fine, but is Hollywood ignoring modern black life?

-- Steven Zeitchik


 Photo: Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help." Credit: DreamWorks

'Shame,' Fassbender ride hot, kinky buzz out of Venice, Telluride

September 5, 2011 |  6:00 am

If there’s one film coming out of this weekend’s film festival screenings in Venice and Telluride, Colo., with white-hot award season buzz — not to mention racy details sure to stir box-office interest and problems — it must be “Shame,” British director Steve McQueen’s sophomore film, starring Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a sexually obsessed man in New York.

Just when general audiences will get a look at “Shame” remains to be decided — it’s one of the hottest acquisition titles heading into this week’s Toronto International Film Festival, assuming it doesn’t get snapped up before then. When it does hit U.S. theaters, it seems almost certain the MPAA will stick it with an NC-17 rating. (Brandon’s workplace computer and his Manhattan apartment are jammed with porn, and within the film's initial minutes Brandon — with a courageous performance by a full-frontal Fassbender — has slept with a hooker and masturbated in the shower. And then things get really kinky.)

Writing for the Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy says it’s amazing that it has taken Fassbender — who starred this year in “Jane Eyre” and “X-Men: First Class” in addition to having the lead in another festival title, playing psychoanalyst Carl Jung in “A Dangerous Method” — this long to be fully recognized.

“He’s got it all: Looks, authority, physicality, command of the screen, great vocal articulation, a certain chameleon quality and the ability to suggest a great deal within while maintaining outward composure, just for starters,” McCarthy said in giving a hearty review of “Shame.” “Whether he becomes a real movie star is another matter, but when it comes to pure acting skill and potential, it’s possible that Daniel Day-Lewis now has a young challenger.”

Oliver Lyttelton of IndieWire notes that Fassbender couldn’t be any more different in “Shame” — where he plays opposite Carey Mulligan — than in he is in David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” which also explores sex and the psyche, albeit from a much more reserved, period viewpoint.

“While he was all stiff repression as Carl Jung, here he’s all id, constantly pursuing some itch that he can never quite scratch. Going by the idea of orgasm as ‘la petite mort,’ a brief taste of nothingness … [his character is] unable to link the idea of someone he genuinely likes to what he sees as the violence of sex, and the tension, the division is clear from Fassbender’s performance. But crucially, he’s deeply sad and deeply human, never shutting the audience out, which prevents the film from being as chilly as it could have been.”

Variety’s Justin Chang calls “Shame” a “mesmerizing companion piece” to McQueen’s 2008 debut, "Hunger," but says it’s “more approachable.” Like “Hunger,” it “fixes its gaze on the uses and abuses of the human body, as Michael Fassbender again strips himself down, in every way an actor can, for McQueen's rigorous but humane interrogation,” Chang says. He adds that “Confrontational subject matter and matter-of-fact explicitness will position the film at the higher end of the specialty market, but it's certain to arouse critical acclaim and smart-audience interest wherever it's shown.”

The Guardian’s Xan Brooks was equally enthusiastic: “This is fluid, rigorous, serious cinema; the best kind of adult movie. There are glimmers of American Gigolo to its pristine sheen and echoes of Midnight Cowboy.”


Hot films Up for grabs at the Toronto Film Festival

Telluride: Michael Fassbender exposes more than skin in 'Shame'

Venice Film Fest: Buzz (good and bad) for Keira Knightley in 'A Dangerous Method'

 — Julie Makinen

Photo: Carey Mulligan and Michael Fassbender share a rare smile in "Shame." Photo: See-Saw Films.








Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: