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Toronto 2019: Renee Zellweger gets standing ovation for Judy Garland role



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Renee Zellweger has previously starred in Chicago and the Bridget Jones films

A new film based on the life of Judy Garland has been warmly welcomed at the Toronto Film Festival.

Renee Zellweger plays the titular role in Judy, which is released in the UK next month.

Set in 1968, the film follows Garland as she was battling addiction issues and struggling financially.

“In 15 years at #TIFF I have never seen a standing ovation like the one for Renee Zellweger at Judy,” said Variety’s Jenelle Riley.

After sustained applause, Zellweger joked: “Okay quit it – you’re messing up my make-up!”

  • From Queen to Springsteen to Judy: Why are there so many music films now?

The film sees Garland launch a residency in London as she tries to get her life and finances back on track. But she was in a fragile state of mind and behaving erratically in the final months of her life – something the film does not shy away from.

Garland eventually died of an overdose aged 47, six months after her London shows ended.

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Zellweger is likely to be a contender at the Oscars in February

The film features flashbacks to her time filming The Wizard of Oz, which suggest her addiction issues started young and were not helped by those around her.

The audience response in Toronto follows warm reviews for the film from critics and is likely to put Zellweger in the frame for a potential Oscar nomination.

“Her transformation is quite astonishing here, and the extended sequences at the Palladium demonstrate her ability to recreate Garland’s physicality and mannerisms,” said Fionnuala Halligan in Screen Daily.

“The casting makes bittersweet sense,” added Guy Lodge in Variety. “A onetime American sweetheart who relinquished the burdensome title, she plays Garland, with palpable affection and feeling, as one who’s been over the rainbow and back again.”

Vanity Fair’s K Austin Collins said: “Judy isn’t visionary or perfect, but it convinces us of its ideas – and it’s a fine scaffolding for Zellweger, already a potential awards contender for reasons that seem obvious.”

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The film focuses on the year Garland was living and performing in London

Collins addsed: “What I hope doesn’t get lost in the inevitable awards melee – with the way it flattens films and actors into worthy or not, “likely” or not – is a sense of how utterly idiosyncratic Zellweger’s performance is.”

Zellweger has previously won best supporting actress at the Oscars, for her performance in Cold Mountain in 2004, but she is perhaps better known for her leading roles in the hugely successful Bridget Jones films and Chicago – which won best picture at the 2003 Academy Awards.

British actor Royce Pierreson, who has starred in Murdered By My Boyfriend, Line of Duty and forthcoming Netflix series The Witcher, plays Garland’s pianist and musical director in the film.

He told BBC News the cast tried to ignore the weight of expectation on the movie as it was being filmed.

“As it went on, you do hear buzz, and you do hear things from outside, but when you’re working on a project, everybody’s so focused on it,” he said.

“Especially here, there was so much concentration and focus on creating this world and depicting it as truthfully as possible. You kind of forget about everything else.

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Royce Pierreson plays Garland’s musical director in Judy

“It’s only when you finish and you’re away from it. You look back in hindsight and think Yeah, yeah, actually, that that was as a whole really special experience.”

Much press attention has focused on Zellweger and her tendency to stay in character while filming.

The movie’s costume designer Jany Temime told Vulture: “Renee was extremely emotionally and artistically involved in Judy. It was her film. I think she really got into Judy’s skin.”

“We didn’t call her Judy on set or anything, but she was pretty much transformed from the time we were called till we wrapped, so I rarely saw her step out,” said Finn Wittrock, who plays Garland’s fifth and final husband.

“But it was like all the great sides of Judy and none of the diva because she was kind of a social butterfly. The AD [assistant director] would come get her to take her to set, and she would stop five times because she was asking the grip [camera operator] how his dog was. That kind of person.”

He added: “She was always in the wig and had a bit of a prosthetic nose and dark contacts. It wasn’t till the wrap party that she came out and she was blonde and wearing a stunning dress, and I was like, Oh, right. That’s the movie star.”

More from Toronto:

Pierreson agrees, describing Zellweger as the “most inclusive and generous actor” he has ever worked with.

“I was lucky to have a few scenes with her. And we shared quite a lot of screen time together. And she was she was incredibly inclusive.

“When there was something not right, she would / we would find a way to get to that point without without making it untruthful. And I learned a lot from her and she stayed in character all the time I knew her. But she was still incredibly easy to connect with and learn from and ask a question to.”

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Liam Gallagher on how his feud with Noel upsets their mum




Former Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher has told BBC Radio 5 Live how he thinks his feud with brother Noel upsets their mum.

Speaking to Nihal Arthanayake, he said: “If, God forbid, something happens to my mam, and we haven’t made up by then, then there will be war.”

Click here to listen to the full interview on BBC Sounds.

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Michael Jackson estate calls Leaving Neverland’s Emmy Award a ‘farce’




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Channel 4

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In Leaving Neverland, Wade Robson (pictured) says he was abused by Jackson in the 1990s

Michael Jackson’s estate has called the decision to give Leaving Neverland the Emmy Award for best documentary a “complete farce”.

Leaving Neverland, which first aired in March, focuses on two men who claim the pop superstar abused them as children.

“For a film that is a complete fiction to be honoured in a non-fiction Emmy category is a complete farce,” the estate said in a statement.

It said there was “not one shred of proof” to support the show’s claims.

Leaving Neverland earned a total of five nominations ahead of the weekend’s Creative Arts Emmys, and it went on to win outstanding documentary or non-fiction special.

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Director Dan Reed said his film had “launched many important conversations”

The controversial film, directed by Dan Reed, includes interviews with Wade Robson and James Safechuck, who were aged seven and 10 when the singer befriended them and their families.

When the Emmy nominations were first announced, Reed said the recognition meant a great deal to all involved.

“Since Leaving Neverland aired in March, it has launched many important conversations about child sexual abuse and the grooming that accompanies it,” he said. “This was why James Safechuck and Wade Robson and their families spoke out, and why we made the documentary.

“We’re delighted that the Academy has honoured that purpose.”

But after the win, the Jackson estate said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: “Not one shred of proof supports this completely one-sided, so-called documentary which was made in secrecy and for which not one person outside of the two subjects and their families were interviewed.”

After Leaving Neverland’s premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, Jackson’s estate called the project “a tabloid character assassination” and insisted it “isn’t a documentary”.

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Muna: Saving the world, one breath at a time




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Isaac Schneider

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Muna (L-R): Naomi McPherson, Katie Gavin and Josette Maskin

“If you don’t mind, I’m just gonna take a breath.”

Muna’s lead singer, Katie Gavin, is speaking to a packed audience at London’s Village Underground to request a time out.

It’s not because she’s got jet-lag (although she has); or because she’s exhausted from leaping around the stage (she is). Instead, she’s recognised the looming symptoms of an anxiety attack.

Her bandmates Naomi McPherson and Josette Maskin rally around and, for the next 60 seconds, they slowly inhale and exhale under the spotlights. The audience joins in, too, transforming the gig into a sort of mass yoga session.

“It felt really good,” Gavin tells the BBC a day later. “I’m glad we did it – breathing is something that’s helped me with my anxiety around singing.”

Her vocal insecurities began when Muna toured their first album, About U, two years ago. Gavin developed “obsessive thinking,” fixating on unconscious mechanisms like breathing and swallowing as panic took hold.

Relaxation techniques helped her tackle the problem – hence the pause in Monday night’s show.

“It felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, except the issue is I don’t want to be out of my body, I want to be there, and breathing is something that helps me re-centre,” she explains.

McPherson, the band’s producer and musical polymath, suggests breathing exercises should henceforth become compulsory at all their gigs.

“I think it’s hard for everyone to stay in the moment at a rock show, especially now with social media and stuff, because you’re filming a lot of it. Taking a breath is like taking a moment to be present,” she says.

“I mean, music is cool, but have you tried breathing?”

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“We’ve had moments of silence at shows before,” says Gavin

The band dissolve into laughter. They laugh a lot, especially when the conversation threatens to get too earnest. But they’re also in stitches as they discuss cult comedy Derry Girls (McPherson does a terrible impersonation of the accent), and Maskin’s morbid fear of zombies.

“I absolutely hate them,” she protests. “I think about when I used to play tag or hide and seek: When the other kids came to get me, I would freeze. So if the zombies came to get me, I’d be rooted to the ground.”

“So you’re actually thinking about your own reflexes,” McPherson teases, “and that’s what scares you the most!”

‘Solidarity in difference’

That self-deprecating humour is present in the title of their second album, Muna Saves The World – simultaneously embracing their role as a queer-identifying, politically-progressive band, while recognising the inherent absurdity of that.

Gavin’s lyrics don’t serve up recipes for world peace, either. Instead she navigates weighty topics like addiction, alienation, romantic desolation and cycles of abusive behaviour.

“It’s called Muna Saves The World but it’s really about saving yourself,” she explains.

Released last week, the album has received rave reviews across the board.

“Muna’s music wonders what pop might sound like if it was made by punks, and what relatability could feel like to people who have always felt different,” wrote NPR’s Catherine Whelan. “It soars and sinks, questions and answers. Like the band who makes it, the music itself seems to find solidarity in difference.”

But the album almost never happened.

The band were still students at the University of Southern California in 2014 when they made their debut album – 12 tracks of empathetic, sinuous synth-pop that eventually caught the ear of floral trouser enthusiast Harry Styles.

The former One Direction star invited Muna to tour Europe with him, amplifying and echoing their messages of tolerance and queer acceptance at every show.

“He’s using us as a way of saying something without actually saying it,” McPherson told the BBC at the time, “which is actually very smart”.

When the tour ended in Milan, Styles gave them Gucci shoes, and they hung around in Italy to take cookery classes before heading back to LA to start their second record. And that’s when things started to go wrong.

‘Second adolescence’

Gavin fell into a long post-tour depression, while her bandmates were forced to move back into Maskin’s parents’ house. The songs weren’t coming together, either. A planned concept album about Joseph Campbell’s concept of The Hero’s Journey, was eventually abandoned.

“It was very emotionally challenging,” remembers McPherson. “I cried a lot.”

“It was hard, really frickin’ hard,” Maskin agrees. “There were points when we thought, ‘Can we do this at all?'”

Eventually, the trio realised they’d rushed into the studio too soon. The first album had changed their lives and they’d formed an inseparable bond but, emotionally, they were the same teenage students who’d recorded About U in McPherson’s bedroom. It was time to grow up.

“It was like a second adolescence kicking in,” says McPherson. “In your mid-20s you have to go through the icky growing pains all over again.”

“I think we all had to separate from each other, so we could better understand ourselves and our position in the group,” adds Maskin.

Gavin sums it up best: “It’s like, if you’ve been in a long-term relationship, eventually you realise that other person can’t be the solution to all your problems.

“You’re like, ‘I’m in love but I still hate myself – what’s up there? I’ve got to go and fix that’. So you’ve still gotta stick up for you, and then show up in the studio with love to give.”

Six months in, a break-through. Driving through California, Gavin came up with a fantastically deadpan lyric: “So I heard the bad news/Nobody likes me and I’m gonna die alone in my bedroom/Looking at strangers on my telephone.”

It became the opening verse of Number One Fan, a throbbing, Robyn-esque dance track, that’s really about battling those destructive inner voices and loving yourself. It is the story of Muna’s crisis of confidence distilled into three minutes.

The rest of the album is just as raw. Stayaway finds Gavin locked in her bedroom, avoiding anything – friends, music, drink – that might tempt her back into the arms of an ex (“every moment is a fork in the road and every road leads back to you,” she sighs).

On Taken, she’s furious with herself for tempting someone into an affair, then furious with them for agreeing to it – because it reminds her of how her father cheated on her mum: “I hate you ’cause you’re just like him.”

The idea of the hero’s journey hasn’t been completely abandoned, either. Gavin opens the album singing: “I want to grow up/I want to put away my childish things/I think that I’m ready”. By the closing track, she’s reached some sort of resolution.

Over six minutes of percolating synths, she documents her life so far – flirting with casual sex and communism, smoking cigarettes, cutting off her hair, having suicidal thoughts, forming and nearly losing a band – before looking in the mirror and declaring: “It’s gonna be ok, baby”.

“You cut so close to the bone on this record,” marvels Maskin.

Gavin prefers to recall another piece of feedback, from McPherson’s mother: “This album has a lot less pretence”.

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Sony Music

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The band are back in the UK for their first headline tour this winter

“I think about that a lot,” laughs the singer.

“I didn’t know there was stuff I was leaving off the page on the first record. Like, I don’t think I was necessarily aware of the mask I had on.

“I think that’s part of your journey as an artist, you’re just consistently sloughing off layers. And that was the hope, making this record, that I’d be able to be more honest than I was before.”

Will it save the world? Probably not. But Muna’s willingness to gouge out those deep, unwanted emotions and insist on self-preservation gives hope to anyone who, like them, has felt alone and aimless.

“I’m not the kind of person to believe in fate, but I do believe that some things are supposed to exist,” says Maskin, “and I’ve always felt that way about Muna specifically: Everything we’ve done, we were supposed to do.”

One breath at a time.

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