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Technically, I am a teenage girl (though I won’t be for much longer…The “teenage” part, I mean. Not the “girl” part.) So therefore, I suppose I am in the target demographic for Water for Elephants. Overall, though, my hopes for the film were not especially high, since it looked like a somewhat melodramatic love story, and I’m not a huge fan of those types of films. However, it wasn’t quite what I expected…
Water for Elephants is based on the 2006 debut novel by Sara Gruen. It tells the story of a young man, Jacob (Pattinson), in depression-era America who hops a train that turns out to be home to a travelling circus. After joining on with the band of misfits, Jacob begins to fall for the show’s mysterious star attraction, Marlena (Reece Witherspoon), who is married to the eccentric ringmaster and Boss, August (Christoph Waltz).
It sounds like a pretty standard “forbidden love” story, right? Well, in some ways it is. But Water for Elephants is also incredibly entertaining. I found the story entirely compelling, and it moves along at a brisk enough pace to prevent Twilight-esque scenes of endless, longing gazes. It puts the characters in peril, and even though the film becomes increasingly melodramatic, it also becomes exciting and tense. I actually cared about what happened to the characters, and director Francis Lawrence built suspense very effectively.
The standout of the cast for me was definitely Waltz. Borrowing from his Inglourious Basterds role, he teeters between disarming calm with hysteria, and he makes for a pretty sinister and unique character. He, like all of the leads, seems to get more comfortable as the film goes on, and he’s magnetic on screen.
Witherspoon also does a very capable job as Marlena, but the surprise for me was Pattinson. He turned in a solid performance, and it’s easily the best I’ve seen him on screen. It’s a role that demands a lot more emotional range than he’s previously shown, and he’s up to the task. There is still some affectation in his performance and certainly room for improvement, but he finally convinced me that he has the potential for some interesting performances after Twilight.
Water for Elephants is also a very elegantly shot film. It basks in its smoky, nostalgic 1930′s backdrop, and it also captures the “magic” associated with vintage circuses. The costumes and art direction are beautiful, as well, and I challenge anyone to watch this film and not have the slightest pang of wanting to join the circus.
As well, Lawrence gives us some breathtaking shots that reinforce the monotony of the nomadic lifestyle. There’s an almost Groundhog Day-like
quality to setting up the tents and animals at each stop, only to pack everything up a day or two later and do it all again.
But while the film does give us an interesting look at the circus lifestyle, the romance is ultimately at the heart of Water for Elephants. And while I don’t know if it fully articulates the process of Jacob and Marlena falling in love, once they are in love and trying to be together, I believed it, and I was along for the ride.
I’ve seen a lot of people compare this film to The Notebook, which in some ways is valid. But speaking as someone who never liked The Notebook, I think that Water for Elephants is much more effective and tells a more interesting story. I don’t even think that the love story overwhelms in Water for Elephants, and between the circus plot and surprising amount of “action” scenes, it’s not strictly a chick flick. (For what it’s worth, the guy friend in our group really liked it.)
Water for Elephants is a little sappy at times, but overall, it’s a really fun cinematic ride. Though it comes just short of being a “great” film, it’s one of the best romance movies I’ve seen in a while, and I could even see it becoming one of those love stories that lives on, for better or worse (think The Notebook, Titanic, Love Story, etc.) It won’t please everyone, but if you get swept up in the story like I did, you’ll probably have a pretty good time.
Win Win tells the story of Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti), a down-on-his-luck lawyer who becomes the legal guardian of one of his aging clients. However, he gets more than he expected when the client’s estranged grandson Kyle (newcomer Alex Shaffer) shows up in town as a runaway.
The idea of Paul Giamatti starring in an indie dramedy as a schlubby middle class guy is not exactly groundbreaking, but that hardly matters, because Win Win is so good. No, it may not offer anything new to the genre, but it’s a quietly funny, heartfelt tale that barely ever hits a false note.
Everyone in the cast is good. Giamatti, as always, brings the perfect combination of neuroticism and charm, while Amy Ryan shines as his tough-talking wife with a big old soft heart. To me the real standout was Bobby Canavale as Mike’s divorced, aimless high school buddy, Terry. Canavale is hilarious, and he brings energy to a film that could otherwise feel a bit too low-key. Terry’s charismatic, but he’s also a douchebag, and Canavale deftly brings out both sides in equal measure.
The story is simple and slow, but that definitely works in the film’s favour. Every character seems fully fleshed out, and as a viewer, you feel totally immersed in Mike’s world. My only complaint is with a character who doesn’t show up until part way through the film (I don’t know if revealing that character would qualify as a spoiler, but I like to err on the side of caution). Their presence seems to interrupt the flow of the story a bit, and while that’s the point, I feel like that character is painted a tad too one-dimensionally in order to move the plot along.
That said, though, Win Win, is an expertly constructed, well-acted film. When done well, I really enjoy character studies, and this is a great one. It’s kind of like Greenberg without some of the hints of pseudo-intellectual quirk, and Up in the Air without some of the glossy finesse.
Somehow, Rio is the first movie from 2011 that I’ve seen. So I figured that I’ll try to write up little reviews for every 2011 film I see. I don’t know how long that’ll last, but I’d like to at least get a few thoughts about each one.
There are always a lot of animated kids movies in theatres, but it seems like there’s been a new one out each week lately. But between Mars Needs Moms and Gnomeo and Juliet, a lot of them seemed a bit too juvenile for adult audiences. So of course my pretentious sensibilities gravitated to the one starring Jesse Eisenberg (who would probably be terrified of children, in actuality). A neurotic bird who can’t fly has to be comedy gold, right?
Well, kind of.
At its base, Rio is a movie for kids. This shows in some of the humour that relies on tame puns, and in the sometimes weak script. You don’t get the sharp humour of Tangled, the heartfelt dialogue of Toy Story 3, or the simple visual emotional heft of How to Train Your Dragon.
But Rio is still a very cute movie. To begin with, the animation is lovely. The film mostly takes place in Brazil, where the domesticated main character, Blu, is brought to breed with the last remaining female of his species. And with this tropical setting, the animators bring virtually every possible colour to life on screen. From the various birds to the sprawling rainforest, everything feels so vibrant. And while less of the film takes place in natural settings than I had expected, the film finds just as much energy in the city of Rio de Janeiro itself. The cityscape is unique, and the film actually does a great job of showing the scope of the area’s architecture and living conditions. They even integrate the towering presence of the city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue (which always makes me think of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet). Maybe this whole film is some kind of cleverly-constructed tourist advert for Brazil, because I spent a good portion of the film thinking about how I suddenly want to visit Rio.
But the exotic setting is not the only thing working in Rio‘s favour. Despite a lot of kid-oriented humour, there is still plenty for adult audiences, too. Tracy Morgan’s salivating bulldog is the source of a few solid laughs, and Will.i.am and Jamie Foxx are surprisingly funny as an odd-couple pair of bird sidekicks. One especially funny scene comes when the two of them try to serenade Blu and his female counterpart, Jewel (Anne Hathaway). (Even if, as my friend pointed out, it is kind of reminiscent of the “Kiss the Girl” scene in The Little Mermaid.)
Jesse Eisenberg also does a fantastic job of elevating the material with his dry wit. His mere presence automatically makes the film seem a bit more “mature”, and he gives a really spectacular vocal performance. He’s funny and sarcastic when necessary, and he also excels in the film’s more subtle, tender moments.
Anne Hathaway is also good, though she is given less to do. One of my main complaints with the film is that her character, Jewel, felt rather underdeveloped. She’s a strong female character, but we never learn much about her. I think the romance between the two leads would have been far more impactful if we knew more about her character, and understood better why the two of them would fall in love. Their romance feels slightly rushed, as does the ending of the film.
Overall, Rio is a fun time at the movies. The film, while nothing groundbreaking, is greatly helped by Eisenberg’s performance, the beautiful animation, and a couple of expertly placed musical numbers throughout. If you’re looking for a cute diversion, you could do a lot worse.
To me, Luke Wilson is an underrated actor. Because even though he rarely gets showy roles, he’s good in everything that he does get. Be it comedy or drama, he can do it. And even though his brother Owen is the more charismatic and popular actor, Luke has an understated presence that I always enjoy. It’s a shame that he’s been relegated to TV commercials recently.
Here’s a look at my five favourite performances of Mr. Wilson’s. I plan to make this into a regular feature about different actors.
1. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
As Richie Tenenbaum, a failed tennis prodigy, Wilson is put through the ringer in what is arguably Wes Anderson’s most beloved film. And he nails every bizarre, twisted emotion perfectly. To me, Richie is the heart of this film. While sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the most overtly morose and brother Chas (Ben Stiller) is the most overtly neurotic, Richie is a beaten-down, strangely sympathetic character. Wilson also provides the film’s emotional climax with a particular memorable scene taking place in the bathroom.
2. Henry Poole is Here (2008)
This is not an especially great film, but Wilson is quite good in it, I think. His character is very repressed (some would say mopey), and Wilson brings the perfect combination of depression and guarded hopefulness to this quietly desperate character. Some of the other characters descend into caricature, but Wilson keep his Henry Poole grounded. He’s the only thing I remember about the film, to be honest (well, him and the impossibly cute little girl).
3. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Though I liked Bottle Rocket, I didn’t love it quite as much I wanted to. But for me, the real reason to watch it, rather than story or direction (sorry, Wes Anderson) is to see the Wilson brothers in their very first feature film roles. Once again playing a repressed foil to Owen’s vivacious charmer, Luke plays a man recovering from a nervous breakdown. However, Bottle Rocket is less heavy-handed than the first two films on this list. Director Wes Anderson’s signature “quirky” style was already very present in this first film of his, and the Wilson brothers both play off it very well.
4. The Family Stone (2005)
Luke Wilson is often good at elevating the material of his films, which is lucky, considering a lot of the questionable movies he’s appeared in. One of these was The Family Stone. Mind you, I did not dislike this movie as much as a lot of people did, but it was a pretty rote rom-com, with one of those annoyingly high-profile casts. But while some seemed to be phoning it in (Dermot Mulroney, Diane Keaton), Wilson made the best of the trite material and turned in a highly charming performance as the goofy slacker Ben.
5. Legally Blonde (2001)
Wilson plays the straight man to Reece Witherspoon’s bubbly Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, and he does it very well. He is low-key enough to let Witherspoon shine (since it is her movie, after all), but he also brings enough charm to prevent his character from becoming completely flat. There’s nothing wrong with a suave, likeable leading man in a romantic comedy sometimes, and Wilson does the job beautifully.
Yet to See: Idocracy, The Wendell Baker Story, Old School, Middle Men, Vacancy
Here’s a new feature that I’m calling The Friday Five. It’s basically just a list of five things that I’ve been into the past week. I think it’ll be a good chance for me to talk about things that I might not otherwise discuss on here (and some things that I definitely would). I’m hoping to make it a weekly thing, so here’s the first one!
1. Friday Night Lights Season 2
(*SOME SPOILERS ABOUT SEASON 2 AHEAD*)
From what I understand, some Friday Night Lights fans have a beef with the show’s second season, but at the halfway point, I’m enjoying it so far. The whole murder (or manslaughter, I guess?) storyline is kind of ridiculous, but to me, FNL has walked a fine line between drama and melodrama several times before. And while it’s not where I would have wanted Landry’s character to go, at least he’s getting more screen time.
Julie’s storyline seems pretty natural to me. She was always a self-involved brat, so I’m totally not surprised to see her “acting out” more this season. I’ve never really liked that character (and I don’t Aimee Teegarden is a very good actress), so at least it’s something more interesting for her this season.
I also have to give them a lot of credit for where they’re going with Jason’s character. Because literally just at this point (I’m at the point in the season where he just got back from Mexico) I’m starting to care about his character. I’m not exactly sure why, but I never connected with him much before. But whenever you throw Jason Street and Tim Riggins together, I’m probably going to like it. Actually scratch that – whenever you put Tim Riggins with ANYONE, I’m bound to like it.
My hopes for the rest of the season are that they focus more on Matt, and that they find more excuses to put Coach Taylor in a suit.
2. The Head and the Heart by The Head and the Heart
Hey, do you know what the world needs? Another bearded folk-rock group from Seattle on the Sub Pop label.
Seriously, though, these guys are good. The lead single from the album, “Lost in My Mind“, is a hushed, harmonized stunner, and the rest of the album lives up to it. If you like bands like Mumford & Sons, and yes, Fleet Foxes, be sure to check these guys out. They released this debut album independently at first, but it was recently reissued on Sub Pop.
3. Taran Killam on Saturday Night Live
All four of this season’s SNL newbies (Paul Brittain, Vanessa Bayer, and Jay Pharoah are the others) have had really funny moments, but for me, the one that’s really standing out is Taran Killam. He was woefully underused at first, but after shining in the Unstoppable trailer spoof, delivering a spot-on Eminem impression on Weekend Update, and writing the off-beat-but-strangely-awesome “Les Jeunes de Paris” sketches, he’s getting more airtime (especially in the last two weeks). His best moment yet was in the Elton John episode, when Killam and John played a gay couple hosting their own show on the LOGO network. It’s a fine line to play a stereotypically gay character, but Killam’s performance was entirely sweet and affectionate. He played off Elton John perfectly.
4. “Fragile Bird” by City and Colour
Dallas Green used to be best known as the guy who sings the melodies in Alexisonfire, but thanks to two solid albums, he’s getting tons of praise for his solo work, too. Three years after his last album, we finally get to hear some new material, and it doesn’t disappoint. “Fragile Bird” is one of his strongest melodies yet, and Green’s voice sounds prettier than ever. There’s an electric element that might not sit well with some fans of his usually acoustic fare, but I personally really like the evolution in sound. It sits nicely between Alexisonfire and his earlier solo stuff. The only downside is that we have to wait until June 7 for his next album, Little Hell.
5. Modern Family
I know I’m late to the game on this one, but isn’t Modern Family such a nice little show? I’m halfway through the first season, and it’s totally living up to my expectations. I loved the episode where they throw a birthday party for Luke, and the one after that, where the Dunphys cancel Christmas.
Everyone is good on the show, but the immediate standouts for me were Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell. Ferguson plays Mitchell (half of the show’s same-sex couple), and aside from the fact that I can relate to that character to an extent that slightly frightens me, Ferguson just has such an easy, wry sense of humour. As for Burrell (who plays bumbling father of three Phil Dunphy), his physical comedy is absolutely fantastic AND he’s totally charming. He’s like some wonderful Chris Farley/Robert Downey Jr. hybrid. And he’s not bad to look at, either.
Last night on Idol, the contestants sang songs from the movies. And didn’t they choose the most random movies? I mean, I get that they just picked whatever song they wanted, and then found a movie that featured said song. But it didn’t seem like any of them had even seen the movies that they picked the song from.
But anyways, they probably should have just renamed last night’s show “‘Isn’t Jimmy Iovine an Idiot?’ Night” because no one had any love for the show’s creepy mentor. Even Will.i.am (did I miss the part where he became a permanent fixture on American Idol?) shot down most of Jimmy’s suggestions. When Jimmy told Paul that he should add beatboxing to the middle of “Old Time Rock and Roll”, Will was quick to (correctly) point out that drum machines and “old time rock and roll” don’t mix. Then when Jimmy told Lauren that she should try and “steal” votes from ex-Pia fans, Mr. I.am made Jimmy look like a heartless bastard, and suggested that Lauren should rather “invite” the new votes. Jimmy got all huffy, grumbling about “semantics”.
But Jimmy’s biggest trouble didn’t come for a Black Eyed Pea this week. Rather, it was the idols that got lippy on more than one occasion. And I can’t really blame them, because Jimmy seemed completely out of touch when making suggestions for what songs they should sing. Granted, he was probably right about Jacob, who originally planned to sing “Impossible Dream”, and was instead given the much less dreary “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
But I was ready to hurl things at the television during Casey’s pre-performance package when Jimmy tried to stop him from singing “Nature Boy”. Because while Jacob’s original song was quiet in a boring, old fashioned way, “Nature Boy” is the kind of quiet song that someone with Casey’s chops can kill (more on that in a second). Wisely, Casey defied his mentor, as did James and Scotty. Stephen Tyler seemed to love the rebellion, and it was one of the few things that perked him up during the telecast. (The other thing was Haley Reinhart’s outfit).
Here’s my ranking of the performances:
1. Casey James (“Nature Boy”)
I’m so glad Casey stuck to his guns on this one. It was the closest to his original style from the auditions that we’ve seen on the live shows, and he nailed the cool, jazzy feel. The bass was awesome, and thanks to the stripped-down arrangement, we could hear it loud and clear, unlike last week. The vocal was not perfect, but there were some beautiful moments (the first “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn…” refrain and the second-to-last run in the song were the highlights for me). After a shaky start to the live shows, it seems like Casey is finally finding himself again. (And even though it’s crazy that Pia went home last week, I’m still really glad that they used the save for Casey.)
2. James Durbin (“Heavy Metal”)
James also gave Jimmy Iovine the (figurative) finger, and stuck to his roots with a song from the aptly titled film, Heavy Metal. And this was probably the best performance James has ever given on the show. He seemed completely comfortable, and he was clearly just having a blast. He slipped in some requisite screams that were nice, and he always kept the energy level high. He does have some obvious similarities to Adam Lambert vocally, but it’s when he gives these kind of high-octane performances that he really stands out on his own.
3. Scotty McCreery (“I Cross My Heart”)
Scotty is always reliable, and this week was no different. To me, it sounded like most of his other performances, so I don’t have much to say about it. Just get this guy a record deal already.
4. Haley Reinhart (“Call Me”)
Her take on the Blondie tune wasn’t up to par with her past two performances, but I thought the judges were unnecessarily harsh on her. (Actually, they probably were suitably harsh. But when they give zero negative comments to anyone else, Haley’s critiques become disproportionate.) It was a fun performance that lost a bit of steam in the middle section, but Haley’s proving that she still deserves to be there (and she toned down the growling this week!). I never thought I’d be saying this three weeks ago, but I really hope she sticks around, and that a guy finally goes home.
5. Paul McDonald (“Old Time Rock and Roll”)
Paul broke out the tambourine and his finest bedazzled rose-covered suit for this song from Risky Business. It was fine, but it seems like Paul has been favouring “fun” over “singing” for the past two weeks. Because even though it seems like he’s gotten most of his pitch issues under control, it might only be because he’s picking songs that require very little actual singing. There’s lots of speak-singing and hopping around, but I miss performances like “Tracks of My Tears” that were actually vocally dynamic.
6. Lauren Alaina (“The Climb”)
Ugh, I guess this was a really good song choice for Lauren, but her performance was just so boring. Call me crazy, but I like it better when Miley does it. Sure, Lauren sang it well, but despite talking about how much she connected to the song, there didn’t seem to be much gravitas behind what she was singing.
7. Jacob Lusk (“Bridge Over Troubled Water”)
Judging by his stint in the bottom three last week, America seems to be getting sick of Jacob Lusk’s gospel stylings (and were probably confused by his possibly arrogant comments last week). And I have to say, I kind of agree. I mean, I was never a huge fan to begin with, but what used to seem impressive now seems standard. His performance last night was mostly nice (though not without some pitch troubles), but it didn’t leave me with much.
8. Stefano Langone (“End of the Road”)
Can this guy just go home, please? He’s technically proficient, but there is never any genuine emotion. And singing a Boyz II Men song might not have been his smartest move, because it only reminded me of how perfect this lil’ guy would be in a boyband.
Bottom Three Prediction: I’ll guess Paul, Stefano, and Haley, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jacob there, either.
Last year, I posted a list of 10 up-and-coming actors to watch. That was mainly a list of under-appreciated actors that I thought more people should know about. This time, I’ve assembled a group of nine lesser-known actors who I think will make a serious splash in 2011. I tried to avoid actors who have already had a big “breakthrough” role. For example, Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) and Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) may not quite be household names yet, but they’ve already had the roles that are going to help them get work in the future. These nine actors are ones who I believe have those roles coming up later this year, or who are poised to build a name for themselves in a slower way.
Juno Temple – Little Birds
You’ll also see her in: The Three Musketeers, Killer Joe, Dirty Girl, Jack and Diane, Kaboom
If you ask me, Juno Temple is THE young actress to watch right now. She’s already made a decent name for herself in a few short years (you may remember her from supporting roles in Notes on a Scandal, Atonement, Year One, and Greenberg). And you’ll be seeing plenty of her this year, seeing as she has six movies slated for 2011 release.
Her most interesting upcoming project is Little Birds, which played at this year’s Sundance festival. In the film, Temple and Kay Panabaker (No Ordinary Family, Fame) star as two girls on the run to L.A. While the film received somewhat mixed reviews, Temple is garnering plenty of praise for her performance in this coming-of-age drama.
Three of her other films, Kaboom, Jack and Diane, and Dirty Girl are cut from the same indie cloth, and all of them sound like potentially interesting projects. Dirty Girl is another teenage runaway movie for Temple, this time co-starring Milla Jovovich and William H. Macy. Jack and Diane is the “lesbian werewolf” movie that went through so many casting changes a couple of years back (Ellen Page was slated to star originally). Meanwhile, Kaboom is Greg Araki’s follow-up to Mysterious Skin, and this tale of sexual liberation has already seen a limited release and will be coming to DVD in May.
In terms of higher-profile projects, Temple will take a supporting role in Paul W.S. Anderson’s 3-D extravaganza, The Three Musketeers. She’ll also team up with Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, and Thomas Hayden Church in Killer Joe, a dramedy about a man who puts a hit out on his own mother.
All this comes on the heels of rumours that Temple has been cast in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. She joins a growing cast of newcomers to the franchise which includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, and Tom Hardy. I could see Temple having the same kind of year that Andrew Garfield did last year. Like him, she’s got a few big roles in a mix of smaller and high-profile projects, which will help get her name out there before she jumps to the world of the superhero franchise.
Felicity Jones – Like Crazy
You’ll also see her in: Hysteria, Page Eight, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, Chalet Girl
England seems to be pumping out one new “It Girl” after another, and now it’s Felicity Jones’s turn. Jones starred in the British TV adaptation of Northanger Abbey back in 2007, and since then, she’s appeared in films such as Brideshead Revisited, Cheri, and Cemetery Junction (which I thought was an incredibly charming little film).
But where she really made waves was at this year’s Sundance festival, where her new film Like Crazy, debuted. The film itself received plenty of love from the critics (and went on to win the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), but when Jones won the festival’s award for acting, her status as possible Oscar contender was cemented.
Her other upcoming films stick closer to the British fare that Jones was previously known for. Hysteria tells the sure-to-be colourful history of the vibrator (it also stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy), Page Eight is a BBC spy thriller with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, and Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a dramedy with Elizabeth McGovern. And there’s also Chalet Girl with Ed Westwick…but by the looks of things, the less that’s said about that, the better.
Joel Edgerton – Warrior
You’ll also see him in: The Thing, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Say Nothing
This 36-year-old Australian is hardly a newcomer to Hollywood, but it seems like 2011 might finally be his breakthrough year.
Edgerton has appeared in King Arthur, Smokin’ Aces, Star Wars Episode II & III, and the Australian cult favourite, The Square, but oddly enough, it was last year’s Australian indie Animal Kingdom that earned him the most attention yet. Though Jacki Weaver was the only actor from the film to receive a very well-deserved Oscar nomination, many viewers (including myself) seemed to latch onto Edgerton’s charismatic, comparatively gentle (though that’s not saying much for that film) character of Baz.
After that, offers started to pour in. And Edgerton seemed to embrace his newfound Hollywood clout, because he’s got starring roles in a ton of big project coming up. The most high-profile of all is the Fighter look-a-like film, Warrior, which co-stars another up-and-comer from last year, Tom Hardy. The trailer looks like it’s full of sports movie clichés, but early word from advanced screenings has been decent so far.
Edgerton’s also got a pair of thrillers lined up. Say Nothing is an Australian vacation-gone-wrong mystery with Teresa Palmer, while The Thing is a good ol’ fashioned alien horror film with Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
Perhaps most interesting of all is the fantasy film The Odd Life of Timothy Green, with Jennifer Garner, Dianne Wiest, and Rosemarie DeWitt. The director, Peter Hedges, made Dan in Real Life and Pieces of April, which were two flawed but interesting films.
Rooney Mara – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the only film that Mara has lined up for 2011, but I think that’s all she really needs. While fans of The Social Network (and there are many on the internet) know perfectly well who Mara is, most people don’t, and this is a massive enough project to change that. Not only is it based on the biggest book phenomenon since The Da Vinci Code, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is directed by David Fincher, who has become one of the most respected directors in Hollywood. (If you ask me, losing the Best Director Oscar to Tom Hooper might be the best thing that’s ever happened to Fincher’s career.)
There’s already plenty of buzz for the film, and Mara has already posed in costume for several photoshoots. People seem to already like her even though most have only seen her in The Social Network (her few other past credits include A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Winning Season, and Youth in Revolt). Talk of an Oscar is already floating around, but with the slew of young actresses in meaty roles this year, it’s going to be a tough fight for everyone.
Sam Riley – On the Road
2007′s Control was supposed to be the movie that made Sam Riley a star. And his performance in that film as Ian Curtis was so searing and deft that it was hard to believe that it was his first movie. Yet even though Riley had a small string of projects afterwards, all of them ended up in distribution purgatory. Franklyn never made it out of the UK, while 13 fell prey to poor reviews and, despite offering a poster and trailer, still doesn’t seem to have a U.S. release date. Even Brighton Rock (Riley’s most promising project after Control), which played at TIFF, doesn’t seem to have plans for a proper North American release.
But hopefully, all of that is going to change with On the Road. It is, of course, an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s famous 1955 novel, and when you combine that with co-stars of Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart, it’s a recipe for the attention that eluded Riley’s previous films. And considering that director Walter Salles directed The Motorcycle Diaries, there’s a good chance that On the Road will capture the free-wheeling, open-road spirit that is necessary. This guy needs to get more work, and I think this might be the film that helps him do it. Sometimes I like to keep my favourite actors a secret (it’s a strange, contradictory feeling that a lot of people seem to have), but I’m excited for Riley to reach a bigger audience.
Jessica Chastain – The Tree of Life
You’ll also see her in: The Help, The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Fields, Wilde Salome
If you’re a fan of thoughtful movies, get ready to see Jessica Chastain everywhere. Because she has SEVEN films lined up for 2011. (I think she wins for sheer volume.)
The thirty-year-old beauty is a relative newcomer with only two theatrical films previously to her name. But she’s making up for lost time, and she’s starting off with a biggie.
First up (I think) is Terrence Malick’s ridiculously anticipated The Tree of Life, which comes out in May. She’ll play a wife to Brad Pitt and a mother to the future Sean Penn, and I’m already bewitched by all three of them just from the beautiful trailer. She’s already gaining Oscar buzz simply because of the calibre of the film.
Chastain also has a couple of big, lighter summer releases. The Help is based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel (I’ve worked in a bookstore for almost a year, and that book has been on the bestseller wall the whole time), and it stars Emma Stone and Viola Davis. She’ll also appear in The Debt alongside Sam Worthington and Helen Mirren. The film was supposed to get a late 2010 release, but has been pushed back, though, which is never a great sign.
She’ll also go small with apocalyptic thriller Take Shelter, which was a favourite at Sundance that’s already earning Michael Shannon praise from critics. As well, Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus is a star-studded period piece that offers Chastain a supporting role (stars include Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, and James Nesbitt).
Then you’ve also got The Fields, which is a crime thriller with Sam Worthington (again!), Chloe Moretz, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. There’s also Wilde Salome (directed by and starring Al Pacino), where Chastain will take the title role in a story based on one of Oscar Wilde’s most controversial works.
Despite this hugely impressive list of projects, I’m not sure that Chastain is going to become a “movie star” this year. I think she’ll gain a lot of respect as an actress, but I don’t see her starring in any rom-coms alongside Ashton Kutcher in the near future. But to me that’s a good thing, because it’s always interesting when an actress quietly becomes famous for quality work, and it’s surprisingly rare. Marion Cotillard did it, Rebecca Hall did it, and Jessica Chastain might just do it this year.
Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene
You’ll also see her in: Silent House, Peace Love & Misunderstanding
No, your eyes are not deceiving you, because that is indeed the younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Just when a couple of Olsen sisters become completely irrelevant, you get a new one to shake things up.
And shake things up she did at Sundance this year. Making her film debut (well, unless you count a couple of Olsen twins TV movies from the mid-90′s…which I don’t), Olsen won critics over with an apparently searing performance as an abused young woman in Martha Marcy May Marlene (which also stars Sundance god John Hawkes). It seemed like she and Felicity Jones were on every blogger’s lips (or fingertips) during the festival this year. Some are predicting a Jennifer Lawrence-like rise to prominence for Olsen thanks to the film.
Olsen appeared in a second film at Sundance with the horror film Silent House. Though not as buzz-y as MMMM, I got a sense that most critics liked her in both films. She’ll also hit the big screen in Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding. With an impressive cast that includes Jeffrey Dean Morgan (curiously enough, it’s his second Woodstock comedy in three years), Catherine Keener, Chase Crawford, Jane Fonda, and Rosanna Arquette, it could turn out to be a crowd-pleaser.
Dominic Cooper – The Devil’s Double
You’ll also see him in: Captain America: The First Avenger, My Week with Marilyn
You probably know who Dominic Cooper is. After all, he’s appeared in films like Mamma Mia, The Duchess, and An Education. But there’s a good chance that you don’t know his name, because he never seems to get the credit that he deserves. He was fittingly unreadable in An Education and he showed off his rowdy, charming side in the very underrated 2007 coming-of-age dramedy Starter for 10 (which also stars James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall). And now that he’s slowly worked his way up, it seems like it might pay off in a big way this year.
In a rare leading role, Cooper will play Saddam Houssein’s son (he will also portray the man forced to become the son’s double) in The Devil’s Double. The film’s director apparently had to tone down some of its more extreme torture scenes, so you can be sure it will be an intense viewing experience. Coming out of Sundance, many reviewers praised Cooper, and the film got decent reviews.
While The Devil’s Double is bound to earn Cooper much more respect as an actor, I don’t see the film being much of a commercial success. But Cooper seems to be compensating for that in a big way by taking a major role in the highly anticipated (but not by me) Captain America movie. He’ll also appear alongside Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn.
Sam Claflin – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
You’ll also see him in: United
Claflin made minor waves a few days ago when he reportedly beat of the likes of Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four, Beastly),
James Frecheville (Animal Kingdom), and Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class) to land the lead in the upcoming film The Seventh Son. It’s based on a teen book series by Joseph Delaney, and the film (currently scheduled for a 2013 release) also stars Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore.
But that’s a ways off, so let’s talk about Claflin’s more imminent films. He’ll take a supporting role in this summer’s tentpole blockbuster, Pirate of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (he appears briefly in this trailer). And even though the Pirates movies are all about Johnny Depp, I wouldn’t be surprised if the handsome Claflin catches the eye of a few young moviegoers.
Appearing in what will likely be the year’s highest grossing movie certainly isn’t a bad way to break into Hollywood, especially for someone who only has a handful of British television credits to his name (though, to be fair, one of them is the highly acclaimed Pillars of the Earth mini-series…Between him and Eddie Redmayne, I think I should check that thing out.) He’ll also star alongside Doctor Who himself, David Tennant, later this year in the British sports drama, United (though I feel like that will be one of those British movie that makes ZERO impact in North America).
Be sure to check out more of my lists of up-and-coming actors!
News broke this morning that legendary director Sidney Lumet passed away from lymphoma at the age of 86.
Lumet was best known as the director of films such as 12 Angry Men, Network, and Dog Day Afternoon. But he remained active later in life, too, directing Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) in 2007, which would become his last film.
Lumet was nominated four times for Best Director at the Oscars, but never won. He was awarded an Honorary Award at the 2005 ceremony. As well, Network (which lost Best Picture and Best Director to Rocky in 1977) became the second film after A Streetcar Named Desire to earn three acting awards at the Oscars (Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and Beatrice Straight were all recognized).
Personally, the only two Lumet films I’ve seen are 12 Angry Men and Running On Empty, which earned River Phoenix his only Oscar nomination. I enjoyed both quite a bit, and 12 Angry Men has become one of my favourite films. Lumet has a great knack for getting down to the bottom of humanity and exposing his characters’ morals in a way that few directors can. Both Henry Fonda and Phoenix’s characters in their respective movies are highly memorable characters, even though neither are typically showy “leading men” characters.
Lumet may not be as well-known as some of his contemporaries, such as Scorsese, but he had a highly prolific career filled with highlights. His work has left an indelible mark on cinema.
There have been a crapload of trailers released in the past couple of days, so I thought I’d give a quick rundown on my thoughts about a few of them. (You can also check out my take on the Crazy, Stupid, Love trailer – with a bonus mini-career retrospective on Ryan Gosling – here, if you’re so inclined.)
I’ll admit it: I’ve never seen a Lars Von Trier film. But I’m now quite excited for Melancholia, because this trailer is GORGEOUS. I love Charlotte Gainsbourg, and she looks great here, but the standout, surprisingly, is Kirsten Dunst. It’s hard to tell from a trailer, but this looks like quite a demanding and impressive performance from her.
The whole thing intrigues me, from the intimate human drama to the sweeping sci-fi elements. The cinematography looks beautiful, too (between this and The Tree of Life, it seems like film fans will be salivating at the theatre this year). I’ve gotten chills both times I’ve watched this trailer, and it leaves me with a very unsettled feeling by the end.
Consider that Roland Emerich’s last three films were 2012, 10,00BC, and The Day After Tomorrow, I was pretty surprised to hear that his upcoming project is about Shakespeare. Anonymous explores the accusations that William Shakespeare did not actually write his works, which is an interesting concept. I was confused by the modern-day setting at the beginning of the trailer, and not sold at first, but it kind of hooked me by the end. The use of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place”, while not time period appropriate, is very effective, and this is one of those trailers that will probably end up being more exciting than the film itself. Nonetheless, the fast editing and drama got me.
Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton were two of 2010′s breakout actors, so it makes sense that the two buff young actors would play brothers in a film. And it makes even more sense that they’re playing mixed marital art fighters. But unfortunately, it all seems a bit too tidy and predictable in this trailer. Warrior looks like every sports movie ever made, and not an especially great one at that. The dialogue is hammy and the plot is predictable. Edgerton looks really good here, though (I thought he was fantastic in Animal Kingdom), as does Nick Nolte. But to be honest, I’m still not totally sold on Tom Hardy. To be fair, all I’ve seen him in was Inception, and he was charming in that, but I need to be convinced. Maybe I need to check out Bronson from a few years back.
I didn’t know much about this film, other than that it stars a few people who do not excite me (Selena Gomez and Leighton Meester) and one that somewhat does (Cory Monteith). And at first while watching the trailer, I thought, “Oh, this looks like a harmless enough little movie about some girls who go to France”. But then the identity-switching started, and I nearly vomited. It looks like The Parent Trap, She’s the Man, and every Shakespeare comedy ever written. Except much, much worse. And to add insult to injury, Cory Monteith was only in the trailer for about two seconds.
It seems like I’ve been hearing about Hesher forever (probably because it played at last year’s Sundance), but I guess it’s finally coming out. However, this is a rather strange trailer that tells us virtually nothing about the movie. But hey, Joseph-Gordon-Levitt, Natalie Portman, and Rainn Wilson are in it, so it must be good…right?
I just finished the first season of Party Down, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a pretty fantastic show. This kind of offbeat, often crude, sometimes mean-spirited humour would never make it onto network television, so I have to give Starz a lot of credit for allowing a show like this to exist. It’s got really distinct, funny characters, and the humour is so consistently sharp.
For those who don’t know, the show follows the lives of six people who work for a catering company in Hollywood called Party Down. The boss, Ron (Ken Marino), is a reformed party animal with aspirations of owning a “Soup R Crackers” franchise. So when his old friend, Henry (Adam Scott), comes looking for a job after his acting career permanently stalls, Ron hires him on. The other employees include an aspiring comedienne (Lizzy Caplan), a struggling actress (Jane Lynch), a delusional young actor (Ryan Hansen), and a sci-fi writer (Martin Starr). Each episode takes Party Down to a new location, and increasingly ridiculous and irreverent situations ensue.
With the different locations of each episode, it makes each instalment somewhat self-contained. Of course, there are character arcs that develop over the season and running jokes throughout, but it all happens in front of ever-changing backdrops. Since there were only ten episodes in the first season, let’s break the season down one episode at a time (Spoilers ahead, obviously, so if you haven’t watched the season, I don’t recommend reading this).
Episode 1 – Willow Canyon Homeowners Annual Party
The catering crew works a party in a repressive housing subdivision. As in most television pilots, the plot here takes a backseat to introducing the characters. But this pilot did succeed in making me laugh out loud twice (a rare thing). The “helpful gay pirate” exchange between Henry and Casey (Caplan) got me, as did this:
Casey: Thanks, new guy…I totally forgot your name.
Henry: That funny, because people usually remember it.
Casey: Why’s that?
Henry: It’s Scrotum Phillips.
Episode 2 – California College Conservative Union Caucus
While hosting a young republicans convention, Ron learns that Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to appear, and that he is in charge of the gift they plan to give him. Unsurprisingly, things go horribly wrong with said gift. Things got a little bit too manic and over-the-top for my liking in episode two. Ron’s desperate need (and failure) to be perfect is a running theme, but here the series of unfortunate events during the party (ending with the utter desecration of an American flag) seemed a little too crazy for a show that can pull off some truly witty low-key humour.
Episode 3 – Pepper McMasters Singles Seminar
The crew works at a seniors self-help seminar where Constance (Lynch) runs into an old flame (Ed Begley Jr.). It’s not the most memorable episode overall, but the whole subplot of smoking weed in the bathroom was pretty hilarious (“Pot made his foot fall off?”). We also get the beginnings of the Henry/Casey romance in an unexpectedly unromantic way.
Episode 4 – Investors Dinner
This is definitely one of my favourite episodes. While working a party for potential big-wig investors, the crew realises that the host is planning to swindle all of his guests, and Ron. The way that they discover this is really clever, and the resolution is silly without going too over-the-top. I also really like the storyline with Kyle (Hansen), who ditches his newfound friend after seeing him being rude to Constance. The characters on Party Down can be pretty unlikeable, but it’s the little moments like this and the friendships between them that make you care about them in the end.
Episode 5 – Sin Say Shun Awards After Party
This episode relied a bit too heavily on its premise – catering the after party for an adult entertainment awards show. Ron getting caught up in some skeevy porn deal was kind of funny, but I mostly felt bad for him. I think that’s my problem with some of these episodes. Ron is a character who is relentlessly beaten down, and unless he gets some kind of vindication (which he does in some situations), I have trouble finding his humiliation funny.
Episode 6 – Taylor Stiltskin Sweet Sixteen
Probably the best episode of the season. There’s a lot going on here, but it all works, somehow. You have J.K. Simmons guest starring as an abrasively foul-mouthed father, Henry’s awkward dancing, Breckin Meyer (I really liked Josie and the Pussycats back in the day, alright?), and even a warm-hearted message about being popular (which, in true Party Down style, gets dashed by the end of the episode). Ron finally finds some friends in pot-smoking rappers, and Henry and Kyle both miss out on acting opportunities, but it all comes together and makes the Party Down crew an even more likeable rag-tag group.
Episode 7 – Brandix Corporate Retreat
It’s trouble in semi-paradise for Henry and Casey thanks to a surprisingly funny Rick Fox playing himself (is it sad that I only know who he is because of Dancing With the Stars?). We finally see Roman’s (Starr’s) crush on Casey reach a boiling point, and he teams up with Henry to get to the bottom of her possible fling with Rick Fox. Her and Henry’s affair is revealed to the rest of the crew, making things awkward between her, Henry, and Roman. It’s not the funniest episode, but it does offer some nice character development.
Episode 8 – Celebrate Rick Sargulesh
The plot here is a bit similar to “Investor’s Dinner”, but it works nicely. The crew discovers that the man whose party they are catering has been acquitted for murder, but suspect that he might have a hit out on one of the other guests. Meanwhile, Constance finds her one and only fan in the possible victim, while Henry tries to avoid ruffling feathers after making out with the murderer’s girlfriend. I really like how Henry and Casey semi-resolve their issues, and all of the storylines work together really nicely.
Episode 9 – James Rolf High School Twentieth Reunion
It turns out that Ron is both catering and attending his high school reunion, which faces him to come to terms with some memories and friends from his past. One friend, Donnie (Joe Lo Truglio, who is hilarious here) also serves as a cautionary tale for Henry, who is thinking about moving back in with his parents. I loved the Casey/Henry stuff her, and the way that she asked him to stay felt very realistic for their relationship. But this episode also featured a lot of Ron-beating, and his explosive return to drinking at the end was mighty uncomfortable to watch. I understand that’s partially the goal, and watching the other crew members react to the debacle was surprisingly sweet, but it’s still not my favourite direction for the show to take.
Episode 10 – Stennheiser-Pong Wedding Reception
With Ron off the wagon, Henry has to take charge at a gay wedding run by a rival catering crew. Adam Scott has some great acting moments here, and he’s proven to be a very capable dramatic actor during brief moments all season. When Casey leaves at the end of the episode, you feel Henry’s pain. But that pain is eased by Kristen Bell, who guest stars as the leader of the rival crew. I’ve never been 100% convinced about Bell, but I guess the fact that Craig Ferguson likes her should have been my hint. Because she is hilarious here. I hope she comes back in the second season.
And so ends season one. Despite a few quibbles, it was a really strong ten episodes of comedy television. I’m starting season two soon, and even though I know there are some changes (Megan Mullaly replaces Jane Lynch – who, to be honest, never totally worked for me in the first season, anyways – Henry’s in charge, and Lizzy Caplan gets a bad hair cut), but I’ve heard that it’s just as good as season one. Are we having fun yet?