Thirty years from now, Jessica Chastain‘s lifetime achievement awards should be something to behold. The mercurial actress appeared suddenly in 2011, fully formed, and has since played housewives, Shakespeare’s Virgilia in Coriolanus opposite Ralph Fiennes, and a Mossad agent, all with fluid ease. Last year, she won her second Academy Award nomination in as many years, for her remarkable turn as a government agent on the heels of Osama Bin Laden in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. She’s been on stage with Al Pacino, starred as a nineteenth-century heiress on Broadway, and just landed the coveted lead role in Liv Ullmann‘s upcoming screen adaptation of the play, Miss Julie. Now here she is, all sleeve tattoos and Lizbeth Salander jet-black hair, dropped smack-dab in the middle of Mama, a generic PG-13 horror movie that creates plenty of mood, but generates few scares, and likely would’ve failed completely (as opposed to mostly) without her as its center.
Tags: Film, Jessica Chastain, Mama, Movies, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Review
Tags: Film, Film Review, Iron Man, Iron Man 3, Jon Favreau, Movies, Robert Downey
Iron Man 3 is a terrible movie, an experience so painful that had I been forewarned of its limitless agonies, I would have saved myself the time and money and simply punched myself repeatedly in the face. I say this with little to no hyperbole. This is a bad film, muddled and confused, full of plot lines to nowhere, uninteresting characters, muddy visuals and a villain that cannot seem to sort out the motives for his villainy. I composed the opening line of this review about halfway through the movie, but stuffed it into the closet of my memory in hopes that things would pick up in the second half. I wanted a sudden turnaround, a classic come-from-behind victory; a home run deep into overtime. Alas, things only got worse, and my mind turned to thoughts of which kind of fertilizer I should use in my garden before the final and profoundly stupid third act had even begun.
What a difference a month makes! Shortly after the holidays, I posted my list of the best films of 2011 with the caveat that I could change it at will, and probably would as some of the year’s smaller films had yet to open in my area. Today, I still haven’t seen Martha Marcy May Marlene or Coriolanus, although I look forward to both. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Shame appeared suddenly at a local theater that tends to get limited releases, but were gone in less than two weeks, so neither is included in the list of films I saw in 2011. The Iron Lady, sadly, wasn’t worth the wait, but Moneyball was. And I was blindsided in the best possible way by Drive, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and Incendies (released in the U.S. in 2011), three films that knocked others off my best-of list and into the also-ran category.
But most important is the fact that, as expected, nothing bumped Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, a movie I continue to think about, from the #1 spot. Others films switched places countless times, as I rearranged them to find the best fit. I also decided to add what I think were the best performances of the year.
So, here we go…again.
Tags: Billy Beane, Brad Pitt, Chris Pratt, Film, Jonah Hill, Moneyball, Movies, Oakland A's, Reviews
In the past year, Aaron Sorkin has written the screenplays for Moneyball and The Social Network, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Taken on the surface, no two films could be more dissimilar; one is about baseball, the other about the internet. So what would draw Sorkin to such disparate subjects, if not for the simple challenge of doing something different? Dig a little deeper, however, and you may just find that these two films are meant to serve as bookends. Both deal with men who speak a language unfamiliar to the common man. Their central characters live in sealed worlds we couldn’t possibly hope to penetrate. Neither man is motivated by money, but is in search of something greater than it. In The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg pursues a dream of creating the perfect method for human beings to connect with one another, all the while sacrificing his own personal relationships. And in Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays a man so desperate to achieve a different kind of dream, that he steamrolls everything and everyone in his way to do it. I can only imagine the sort of pleasure Sorkin must have experienced when he was approached with the idea.
Tags: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Film, Guillermo del Toro, Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes, Movies, Review
It takes a poorly executed horror movie to show its creature in full CGI glory only minutes in, but it takes a colossally bad one to not only give away its premise at the outset, but repeat that premise only moments later in writing during the opening credits. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, a film I’m hoping writer-producer Guillermo del Toro doesn’t consider a high point, does both of these things. How could a movie developed by one of modern cinema’s finest filmmakers go so horribly wrong? And how could del Toro have allowed such fatal mistakes?
Tags: Film, House of the Devil, Movies, Review, The Innkeepers, Ti West
Ti West’s The Innkeepers is a brisk, creepy little thriller, despite the fact that nothing much of significance happens for the first 90 minutes. It’s like the twin brother of West’s fascinating The House of the Devil (2009), a film that builds its scares with mood and quiet, instead of false jumps and musical stingers. Few horror movies any more have me sitting on the edge of my seat, but The Innkeepers somehow managed to do it, and do it well. I have a suspicion that, based on these two films, West may well be the new horror auteur.
Tags: Film, Midnight in Paris, Movies, Review, Woody Allen
How many of us have often wondered about the greenness of other grasses? If we’d been born into another time and place, how different would our lives have been? Gil (Owen Wilson) understands this question with a singular focus that borders on obsession. He’s having an affair that began with the suddenness of love at first sight. The object is Paris, a city so glorious in Gil’s romantic, if slightly naive, eyes, that if it were a woman, he’d probably strip and make love to it. He’s enamored with the lights and couples noodling in sidewalk cafes, and the history of his greatest idols — Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein — who haunted these streets long before they became “classics” on a Barnes & Noble bookshelf. Their lives must have been charmed, Gil thinks, creating their finest work with great skill and admiration, while bathing in Bohemian culture. What greater inspiration does he need to move away from the mundanity of writing Hollywood screenplay hack and finally pen his great American novel?
Tags: Berenice Bejo, Film, Jean Dujardin, Michael Hazanavicius, Movies, Review, The Artist
The moment George Valentin appeared on stage, mugging shamelessly for his audience, I thought I was looking at the ghost of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. With his pencil-thin mustache and row of perfectly pearled teeth, the comparison didn’t seem that outrageous. Mentally, I was aware I was watching the French actor Jean Dujardin; but the illusion, though brief, was seamless, a testament to Dujardin’s uncanny genes and the vision of writer-director Michel Hazanavicius, who brings The Artist to life as if it were straight out of the 1920s, and respects it a such from first frame to last.
Tags: Best of 2011, Film, Movies
Since I’m not a professional film critic who’s afforded the luxury of advanced screenings, I have to watch movies in a theater like everyone else. If I miss a theatrical run, the wait for Blu-ray, VOD, or iTunes can seem interminably long. Occasionally, smaller films will release early On Demand, as Melancholia did earlier this year; but more often than not, I’m searching for them in limited theatrical release. Like an idiot, I passed on Moneyball, Drive and Martha Marcy May Marlene, the latter of which I will not see until February when it releases on disc and digital; the other two I will see next month. Although The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep opens this Friday, it will only do so in a handful of theaters to satisfy a qualifying Oscar run, so God knows when I’ll get to see it. The same goes for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Shame and Coriolanus, all films I’m eagerly awaiting, but are currently in the most limited of limited release. As far as foreign films and documentaries go, forget about it; I’m lucky if I can catch them on Netflix before the year is out.
Tags: Andrew Haigh, Chris New, Film, Movies, Review, Tom Cullen, Weekend
The year is coming to a close faster than I’d like and I still have quite a few movies to see. But I can’t imagine anything else affecting me the way “Weekend” did. If “The Help” and “The Tree of Life” moved me, and they did, then I must have responded to this movie on a spiritual level. This is a profound work of art that builds not on plot, traditional narrative, or any real discernible structure, but the full and complete development of two of the year’s most memorable characters. What happens here unfolds so organically, over the course of two days, it’s like watching real life happen before your eyes. And it contains stretches of dialogue so riveting and honest, I felt like the guy standing on the other side of a wall listening to an intensely personal conversation.