Archive for the ‘Film’ Category
February 3rd, 2012 by Donna White
“The Woman in Black” succeeds in part, but doesn’t quite live up to the scares promised in the trailer.
Daniel Radcliffe plays Arthur Kipps, a widower whose wife died while giving birth to their adorable son. He’s given the impossible task of settling the affairs at Eel Marsh, an aptly named spooky manor that is inexplicably located so far into the marshes that it’s only available by horse or motor carriage when the tide goes out. When the tide is in, the only road to the home is underwater, which of course leaves any inhabitants stranded until the tide goes out again. While the lonely mansion afloat in the marsh makes for an effective and creepy visual and serves a contrivance in the plot (one can’t merely decide to leave when the going gets spooky), it defies logic. Who would build a home that far beyond the tide? Who would live there? And how could the home ever be sold (even if it wasn’t ghost-ridden?)
Needless to say, this isn’t a job anyone would want, but Kipps is given little choice and his son depends on him.
When he arrives in town, the requisite mysterious and unfriendly reception he receives by the locals lets us know that something isn’t quite right at ol’ Eel Marsh. But determined he is, and off he goes. Read the rest of this entry »
January 23rd, 2012 by Russ
DAMN IT TAKES ME SO LONG TO FOCUS. HERE ARE MY PICKS from what i saw. SOME OF ThEM MATCH THE CRITIC’S picks & SOME DO NOT. THESE ARE THE FILMS THAT I REMEMBER DIGGING. EACH OF THESE I WILL RE-WATCH OVER AND OVER. I SEE many FILMs A YEAR BECAuSE OF THE PAPER. THANKS TO TIM AND HARRY(fantastic fest), I HAVE LEARNED A GREAT WAY TO EXPERIENCE FILMS, and that is to do no research, thereby to make every screening a “secret screening.” I see some bombs this way but when I see something great it is an electrifying jolt of awesomeness. This usually only works in the festival setting. Here we go, in no order (if here I liked it.)
1. SUPER - i had a great time with this one at sxsw. the crimson bolt! i was sure this was gonna be huge. It died quickly. it is extreme, brutal and very harsh. I dig it
2. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS - My favorite film of year. Woody is back. this is a love letter to Paris. very similar to MANHATTAN, which is probably my favorite film.
3 TREE OF LIFE - floored by this film i was. The imagery was in my mind for weeks. Mallick has created the feeling of a memory here. it is affecting
4 THE DESCENDANTS - blown away by this.. everything worked. Clooney deserves the best actor oscar. The screenplay was so well done
5 HUGO – Scorsese fills me with wonder
6 EXTRATERRESTRIAL - Nacho blends genres here in a wonderful way. awesome
7 I SAW THE DEVIL - the hunter becomes the hunted
8 SUPER 8 - movie magic made me feel 12 years old again
9. 13 ASSASSINS - well done remake of ” 7 samurai”
10. BRIDESMAIDS - avoided this forever.
January 15th, 2012 by Donna White
Apples and oranges. You can’t compare’em. Just like you can’t compare Woody Allen’s quaint “Midnight in Paris” with Terence Malick’s sprawling “The Tree of Life.” So instead of ranking the best films of 2011, I’ll simply list them in alphabetical order. Suffice to say, each in its own way has left an indelible mark on the art of film. My personal criteria for making such a list is as follows: artistic and technical merit, the likelihood that it will stand the test of time, the number of truly memorable scenes it contained, and the degree to which it achieved its aims in moving the audience.
The Artist – A toe-tapping, heart soaring delight that celebrates the art of silent film.
The Descendants – Alexander Payne’s layered and humanistic comedy/drama about loss and family.
Drive – An exercise in retro cool that solidifies Ryan Gosling’s ever increasing status as a badass.
Hugo – Martin Scorsese’s masterful homage to early cinematic innovation.
Midnight in Paris – Woody returns to form, still making us laugh and think after all these years.
Moneyball – Who’da thunk a movie about baseball statistics could have so much heart?
A Separation – An enthralling drama from Iran about a broken family. Foreign yet painfully familiar.
Take Shelter – An exercise in true suspense that heralds a storm, and the coming of director Jeff Nichols.
Tree of Life – Terrence Malick’s sweeping symphonic masterpiece about God and Man.
War Horse – Steven Spielberg’s old-fashioned epic about humanity amid the inhumanity of war, and a horse who finds his way home.
January 15th, 2012 by Donna White
“The Artist” is a delightful confection that resurrects the art of silent film for a modern audience. Let’s call it “neo-silent,” if you will, as sound does play a role in the movie, though used only sporadically and to clever effect.
Meet George Valentin. He loves himself, and why shouldn’t he? He’s a huge star, he has a loyal dog who is his constant companion in life and onscreen, audiences adore him and his existence is almost perfect except for his sour-puss wife. Jean Dujardin’s portrayal of Valentin is simply splendid. His remarkably expressive, handsome face calls to mind Gene Kelly in “Singing in the Rain.” That smile could light up the world! And like Kelly, he tempers the character’s ego with an easy charm and gentle wit that makes it impossible to hold his conceit against him.
A cute mishap on the red carpet serendipitously thrusts the unknown Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) into the spotlight alongside Valentin and a star is born. Bejo’s delightful every-girl quality is infused with infectious joy and energy that befits the old-fashioned stage name to perfection.
Problem is, while Peppy’s on the way up, Valentin is on the way down. Silent films are falling out of vogue and talkies are the rage. Peppy is the new poster girl of the now and the wow. Valentin is a dinosaur. As his life disintegrates into ruins, he’s forced to watch from afar as Peppy’s star rises. What he doesn’t know is that she hasn’t forgotten him, and it is this aspect of the story that gives the film its heart.
Peppy keeps tabs on Valentin. One can attribute her motivation to several factors: 1) She is loyal to the fact that he discovered her, 2) She realizes that her own fame won’t last forever and one day she’ll be in his shoes, and 3) She’s been in love with him ever since they first bumped into each other in front of the flashbulbs.
Peppy becomes a sort of secret guardian angel for Valentin as the life he once knew slips further and further away. Through her, and with some help from his loyal canine companion, Valentin must find salvation. The storyline tips its hat to both “A Star is Born” and “Singing in the Rain.” It’s sweetly and unashamedly old-fashioned; an exercise in anti-cynicism that will open your heart wide if you let it.
“The Artist” gets everything just right on a technical level, thanks to director Michel Hazanavicius and his entire team. The recreation of film style from that era is phenomenal down to every detail including the saturation in the black and white, the framing and blocking of scenes, the Art Deco environs, and of course the charming fashions. But this film is more than a technical triumph, and more than homage. It’s a rousing escape to another time and place that leaves your heart lighter than when you came in.
Quite simply, it’s the feel-good movie of the year.
5 of 5 stars
January 13th, 2012 by Donna White
George Smiley never smiles. In fact, it’s hard to know what he’s thinking or feeling behind a carefully measured gaze which one must surely learn during the course of a lifetime of service to British intelligence. It’s likely you’re hearing Gary Oldman’s name a lot lately due to richly deserved award nominations. The great challenge in this role is to allow the audience to track Smiley’s arc and thought processes without giving it away to those around him. It’s a complex and sad performance that Oldman wears like an old suit. The furrowed lines on his face tell the unspoken story of the sacrifices that one makes in the personal realm when opting for a life of service to country.
John LeCarre’s classic spy novel has a loyal fan base that will likely be pleased with the film. It doesn’t have the time to explore the complexity of the relationships of the four spies in the same way the British mini-series was able to, but it captures the deeply layered essence of the book as well as can be expected in its 2 hour running time.
“There is a mole.” The words are spoken ominously by John Hurt who plays the character simply named “Control” with the sort of world-weariness one might expect from the head of British intelligence. It’s the 70s. The Cold War is raging. And it seems that someone in the higher echelons of her Majesty’s government is working for the other side. George Smiley is tasked with investigating this convoluted web of double agents and deceit. Read the rest of this entry »
January 13th, 2012 by Donna White
“The Devil Inside” is a crass attempt to cash in on the “found footage/fake documentary” horror craze that requires only a few good moments to be culled for the trailer in order to make millions of dollars on opening weekend. Never mind that the film is actually a stinker with bad acting and every cliché in the book (not the Bible, the other book – The Book of Better Film Rip-Offs). Once word gets out, Paramount will have made their money. They won’t care that they foisted a sub-par product onto the public. They won’t care about the negative reviews. They got what they wanted. The shame here is not how bad the movie is (it happens), but how small the ambitions are (we’ll make a buck before they know what hit’em). Cue sad film critic shaking her head in disgust.
The film opens promisingly enough. We watch what appears to be police footage of a crime scene in which several people were brutally murdered during an exorcism. The woman is tried, found insane, hospitalized, and then moved to a hospital in Rome. Yeah… that last bit sounded unlikely to me, too. This was the first red flag. See, I’m just not sure the government of either country would agree to such a thing or that it’s even legal, but okay… moving on. Read the rest of this entry »
January 13th, 2012 by Donna White
“Young Adult” feels like revenge, sweet revenge against the popular kids who grew up to be losers and spend their time wallowing in former glories and wondering why the rest of the world doesn’t understand that they are awesome.
Meet Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron). She writes “YA literature” (young adult novels) about catty school girls who relish their popularity, wallow in shallow pursuits, and thrive on gushy romantic foolishness. In short, she writes about herself. Problem is, she’s pushing 40. Mavis is very proud of her success as a novelist – though in truth she’s only the ghost writer of a formerly-successful series that is now being discontinued. Think “Sweet Valley High” for total bitches.
Early on we’re given glimpses into her life which involve lots of alcohol, meaningless sex, a very unkempt apartment, and lonely days of writing insipid dreck for an impatient editor. When she meets a friend for lunch, it’s at McDonalds (hardly fabulous) and the topic of discussion is her high school sweetheart’s recent email announcing the birth of his child. She carries on a lot about how lucky she is to have “gotten out” and how sorry she feels for the folks back home.
Pretty soon, she packs her bags and heads home to win over said high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), despite his wife and new born baby. Once in town, she heads directly to a bar in order to torture her liver as much as possible. She meets Matt Freehauf, a chubby nerd she went to school with but knew only as “The Hate Crime Guy” due to a gay-bashing incident that rendered him crippled for life (never mind the fact that he isn’t gay.) Matt is played by Patton Oswalt in a performance that almost saves the film. He sees right through Mavis and isn’t shy about telling her so. His dry, comic disdain for Mavis infuses their scenes together with a weird chemistry. For some reason, perhaps boredom and curiosity, he allows himself to be dragged in to her shenanigans. They have one thing in common: their lives have been crippled by the past, but in very different ways. Read the rest of this entry »
January 13th, 2012 by Donna White
“Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” is an exercise in style. Either you enjoy Guy Ritchie’s irreverent take on the Arthur Conan Doyle classic or you do not. With the first offering in 2009, it was clear this rendering would be quite different than the more staid versions of the past. This Sherlock is decidedly flamboyant, in more ways than one.
In this sequel (hopefully one of many), Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes again employs his method of madness to foil a plot by the nefarious Professor Moriarty, played with sinister calm and confidence by Jared Harris (son of Richard) who seems to delight in making pretty boy Holmes squirm. The word “plot” is used loosely here, as it’s really all just an excuse to watch thrilling action sequences, delight in Downey’s wonderfully bizarre and daffy performance, and enjoy the… let’s call it camaraderie… between Downey and his leading man, Jude Law.
What was hinted at in the first installment is writ much more large in the sequel. Frankly, Holmes loves Watson so much that his jealousy of the fair fiancée cannot be contained. The Holmes/Watson repartee reflects not only a long-time collaboration of clever detecting, but a weary marriage of sorts between a couple who’ve grown accustomed to each other’s peccadilloes. The humor inherent in this situation is played to sublime perfection by these two larger-than-life movie stars who wink at the audience like the good-natured gents we hope they are.
Downey’s demented take on Holmes, the chemistry between our adventuring cohorts, the steampunk look and feel of the era, and a jaw-dropping action sequence in a forest are the film’s highlights. The thin plot is the dubious and forgettable string that ties these delights together. It’s better than the first, and tons of fun.
4 of 5 stars
January 13th, 2012 by Donna White
“Carnage” opens in a park with a group of kids taunting one lone boy who walks ahead, trying to get away from them. He takes their crap for a bit, then picks up a stick and swipes the leader of the pack in the face with it. Cut to:
Four tight-jawed parents are crammed awkwardly in a home office awaiting the final printing of a document they’ve agreed upon, which puts the responsibility of the incident squarely on the stick-bearing boy, and leaves the bully blameless. The elephant in the room being that this is the most expedient way to avoid a lawsuit.
The mother of said stick-bearer is played by Kate Winslet, who is ever so apologetic and says all the right things with such precision and care as to make it abundantly clear they were rehearsed, probably in the car on the way over with her spouse (Christoph Waltz), who has a harder time concealing his contempt for these proceedings. Jodie Foster plays the mother of the boy who was struck in the face, an unbearably strident woman who takes every opportunity to blow the incident out of proportion while her affable husband (John C. Reilly) goes out of his way to smooth things over with his aw-shucks good-natured demeanor.
What follows is an afternoon of tea and crumpets (so to speak) that devolves in ways I wouldn’t dare give away. Suffice to say the following: you’ve never seen Kate Winslet do THAT before. Read the rest of this entry »
December 1st, 2011 by Donna White
There is very little one can say to truly capture the visual splendor of Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo.” It is a breathtaking masterpiece, at once homage to early cinema innovation, and at the same time a harbinger of the vast possibilities still ahead of us.
“Hugo” is about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives within the walls of a train station, winding the clocks so no one will notice that his alcoholic uncle caretaker is no longer around to do the job. His troubles include a nosy, orphan-hating station captain played with pitch-perfect wit by Sacha Baron Cohen, an angry toy shop clerk played with sad subtext by Ben Kingsley in what should be an Oscar nominated performance, a pretty girl with an affinity for literature played with plucky charm by Chloe Grace Moretz, and a mystery to solve which involves an automaton that Hugo and his father (Jude Law) were repairing before his dad’s untimely death. The mystery that unfolds leads the story into unexpected territory: the genius of a forgotten early cinema pioneer.
In this tale of artistry and craft, Scorsese uses 3D technology to highlight the themes of the film, rather than cheap gimmickry (as is so often the case with 3D.) The beginning sequence is so breathtaking that the audience literally gasped when the title “HUGO” finally appeared in large letters on the screen. One wonders, if that’s just the opening sequence, what can we be in store for next? A lot.
The beauty of the Paris train station circa 1930s and its quaint shops are captured with such grace and charm that one feels transported. The tracking shots inside the inner workings of the clock tower gears and the gritty walls where Hugo resides juxtapose a darker, less colorful world. The detail with which Scorsese handles scale is mind-boggling. For example, the angles of the Eiffel Tower are spatially accurate according to Hugo’s position in the tower and the city. The loving care given to every detail in the film is enough to bring tears alone. But it’s in Scorsese’s homage to the pioneers of cinema that the film really finds its heart. These sequences are shared with such childlike awe and whimsy, that only the coldest of hearts could remain unmoved.
Mr. Scorsese has some fun with the audience, too, by introducing classic scenes from early cinema and (lest we feel superior in our modern sophistication) recreating them within the story itself using current technology to illustrate how effective those scenes still are. We really aren’t all that different from audiences who were privileged to experience cinema in its infancy, and thanks to Mr. Scorsese, we are now able to experience some of that awe and wonder today, as if watching a movie for the first time.
I’m a purist. An avid 3D hater. And yet I beseech you to see this film in theaters in 3D. Do not wait for the DVD. It will not be the same film. This movie deserves to be seen as the artist(s) intended, in all its fanciful, ambitious glory.
“Hugo” is a spectacular masterpiece for all ages and forever.
5 of 5 stars
December 1st, 2011 by Donna White
“The Descendants” gives us George Clooney’s best performance to date. Let’s just get that out of the way. I had grown weary of Mr. Clooney’s most-frequent on-screen persona of the uber-competent man thrust into a morally compromising dilemma. I had also grown weary of watching those very similar performances gain Oscar nominations. Here, he’s doing something different, and it’s more than just refreshing. There’s something deeply satisfying in the wide-eyed, what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do-now expression he adopts throughout much of the film, particularly in response to his errant daughters. It’s relatable (to be sure), comic (certainly), and touching (most of all.)
It was a smart move to turn himself over to Alexander Payne, a director known for stretching A-list actors (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt,” “Election”). Mr. Payne has a knack for stories which mine life’s awkward moments to find both the comedy and drama in them, and here he’s given us his most accessible film. The Hawaiian views are spectacular, the locale and culture are captured with detail and specificity, the family dynamics feel alive with depth and sincerity, and the emotional catharsis is powerful.
“The Descendants” deals with the inevitable death of a coma patient whose secrets are revealed before she breathes her last, leaving her confused and grieving soon-widower (Matt King, played by Clooney) with a mix of emotions in extreme degrees. She’s also about to leave behind two daughters, Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scotty (Amara Miller), who are seriously lacking in parental supervision and respect for authority. There’s a mystery of sorts (which I won’t give away) that thrust father and eldest daughter on an adventure together. It is this relationship that flavors the film with delightful surprises. Read the rest of this entry »
November 18th, 2011 by Donna White
Here’s a pitch for a film:
Americana, desolate small town life, a mom baking cookies, a heinous crime, a honky tonk in a neighboring town called “Cut and Shoot,” a petty criminal who learns to read in prison, an obsession with a red sports car, a chase, a shoot-out, a fleeing felon yelling “balls to the walls!” as the bullets fly, victims left glaze-eyed in the wake of tragedy, an inmate’s wife impregnated in vitro style via contraband, a death house captain’s conversion experience, an incarcerated father who finds a way to save his son’s life.
Sound like too much? No one would believe it.
But this film is not fiction. It is documentary. Lord Byron was right about truth being stranger than fiction. It’s also more fascinating.
To look at the world through Werner Herzog’s eyes is to view human nature with insatiable curiosity. Indeed, the auteur has set his particular genius upon this task more times than we can list here, but some highlights include “Grizzly Man,”, “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” and “Stroszek.” With “Into the Abyss,” he has wrought something unique and penetrating, yet again.
The documentary explores the aftermath of a tragic and senseless crime that took place in Conroe, Texas in October 2001. Two teenagers murdered three people for the sole purpose of joyriding in a shiny red car. The stupidity and cruelty of this act is impossible to measure (hence: the abyss), but Herzog does a good job of trying by interviewing the family members of the victims, who are heartbreakingly sincere and generous in sharing their pain.
This crime and its aftermath, though, serve as the backdrop to a larger discussion about the death penalty. This is not an activist film. It does not seek to exonerate the perpetrators; they are clearly guilty and the film wastes no time arguing otherwise. Instead, the point here seems to be simply to look and listen and learn what we may about a culture that breeds Michael Perrys and Jason Burketts, then kills them in the bizarre ritual known as state executions. Read the rest of this entry »
November 10th, 2011 by Donna White
“J. Edgar” is a glossy bio-pic of the infamous founder of the F.B.I., directed by Clint Eastwood with his familiar no-frills style that allows the subject matter and the performances to do most of the shining.
The film begins quite slowly, unless you’re particularly interested in watching a very uptight young man work his way up in government. It doesn’t really have an emotional hook until the moment that Hoover (Leo DiCaprio) meets Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), which felt to be 30-40 minutes in. Finally, there is some emotional conflict that one can latch onto: It’s love at first sight, which would be complicated enough in those times, but it’s particularly untenable for Hoover. He is, after all, the face of law enforcement, a terrible prude, and an utterly judgmental jerk. Also, a homosexual, drug-addicted, cross-dresser. Go figure.
In fact, it is here that the central theme of the film begins to take hold: is it simple irony that a man with so many secrets spent his life digging into the personal lives of others? Is it irony that he chose to lord their secrets over them in the form of threats and blackmail (something that surely would have struck fear into his own heart had the tables been turned)? Or is there a more direct cause-and-effect between his shame and repression and this mode of gaining power?
It’s hard to feel sympathy for such a fellow, and yet Eastwood and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black find a way to make us feel, if nothing else, pity for this “fussy little man” (as Lindbergh called him) who desperately needed respect and admiration – so much so that he concocted stories out of whole cloth to put himself in a heroic light.
Judi Dench plays Hoover’s Mom with the kind of quiet control that gives one a chill, and provides more than a bit of sympathy for Hoover’s dilemma. She also loved her son (in her way) and he lived with her until she passed away at a very old age. By then, a warm and lifelong companionship had formed with Mr. Tolson. Hoover never married (not even for appearances sake) and made arrangements so that Tolson could always travel with him. In the end, Tolson was the sole beneficiary of his estate. Read the rest of this entry »
November 10th, 2011 by Donna White
You are either a fan of the audacious filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, or you are not. For the uninitiated, this is as good a place to start as any. “The Skin I Live In” is beautiful, grotesque, sly, melodramatic, and altogether unsettling.
Antonio Banderas plays Robert Ledgard, a well-meaning plastic surgeon, who becomes tortured and obsessed by tragedies that lead him on a path of medical experimentation. He creates a tough, human-animal hybrid skin that can withstand injury. Such a medical wonder needs a human guinea pig, and he just happens to have one: a beautiful woman being kept prisoner in his home (played by Elena Anaya). Who is the prisoner and what is her relationship to the doctor? I promise, you’ll be surprised.
“The Skin I Live In” takes more than one twist and turn and always keeps you guessing, intrigued, engrossed, and frankly, a bit queasy. In fact, the more that’s revealed about what’s really going on in the doctor’s sprawling home, the more creeped-out you get.
The entire cast performs admirably, particularly Marisa Parades as housekeeper, Marilia. She has plenty of her own secrets, and her misguided loyalty to the doctor makes her the Igor to his Dr. Frankenstein.
The unspeakable acts are happening on gloriously beautiful grounds. Vibrant colors and lush scenery abound. There is a universe within and a universe without; a beautiful exterior, and something else entirely going on inside, beneath the surface, behind closed doors. A good director and his crew know how to use surroundings as a metaphor for the story’s central theme.
Almodovar is at once a fan of old-fashioned filmmaking (those lost stares into the distance as the scene fades into flashback, the detailed extravagance of sets, knowing looks and mysterious glances), but he’s also an innovator, playing with timely ideas: Who are we inside of our skin? How much of our exterior defines us? How much of our exterior dictates how others relate to us? What are the limits of science, and to whom do we entrust them?
The look of the film, the thought-provoking themes, and the stomach-turning plot twists are worth the ticket price. Think “Frankenstein” with weird sexual twists and you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for. If you love Almodovar, you’ll love this one. If you hate him, you’ll hate it. If this is your first Almodovar experience, you’ll come away knowing without a doubt which category is yours.
4 of 5 stars
November 9th, 2011 by Donna White
Falling in mutual, unrestrained, like-crazy love feels like falling into a soft-cotton cloud of bliss. The magic of not only being accepted, but cherished and adored… no other experience in life can touch it. It feels as though nothing can penetrate that “us-ness”. Every moment is a secret. No one else knows. You’ve found the key.
“Like Crazy,” directed by Drake Doremus, captures something fleeting and indefinable with dream-like specificity. Every moment is like a cherished postcard. The point-of-view angles, the colors (whites and grays and pale blues like early morning), and the spontaneous performances of the two winsome leads (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin) capture intimacy in a way perhaps no other film has. We fall in love right along with Jacob and Anna. The film takes you to that place, not with cheesy rom-com cliché, overwrought plot machinations, or arty love scenes. Rather, we spend time with them and see in each character what the other sees – their beauty, humor, talent, quirks, flaws. It feels real and it creates a bond with the audience.
That’s what “Like Crazy” does right.
The story involves a young couple who meet in college, fall in love, but then are separated by circumstance, namely that she is in the U.S. on a student visa from England. In a moment of romantic idealism, she thwarts the law and does not go home when her visa expires. This violation later heaps complications on the young couple as she is deported and banned from returning. His successful furniture design company isn’t the sort of thing one can simply uproot elsewhere. She becomes a journalist in London. They are successful, but apart. The times they manage to spend together become fraught with insecurities and resentments. Read the rest of this entry »
November 5th, 2011 by Donna White
You may not know her name but you most certainly know her face. Margo Martindale is perhaps the hardest working woman in show business. With a career spanning over 20 years in film, television and theater, she’s Hollywood’s go-to gal for memorable supporting roles. She’s been able to make her mark standing next to some of the brightest stars in Hollywood in such films as “The Hours,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Secretariat.” She was nominated for a Tony in 2004 for her turn as Big Mama in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, and she’s conquered television in “Dexter”, “Mercy”, and “Justified” for which she won an Emmy this year. The New York Times Magazine named her one of the “8 Actors Who Turn Television into Art.”
Ms. Martindale has now turned her talents to a low budget indie thriller called “Scalene,” playing the lead role of Janice Trimble, a mother who takes revenge when her mentally challenged son is accused of rape. The word ‘scalene’ refers to a triangle with three different angles, and such is the nature of this film; director Zack Parker and co-writer Brandon Owens have skillfully crafted an intricate look at three different perceptions of a singular event. The film is structured in reverse order, beginning with the climax and working its way back to a pivotal moment for Janice Trimble.
With a meager budget of only $150,000 (less than some blockbusters spend on craft services alone!), the film could easily have fallen into the pitfalls seen so frequently in low budget thrillers, but that’s not the case. Concerns about quality dissipate quickly as the story sucks you in. By the end, one is astounded at what has been achieved with such limited resources.
“Scalene” co-stars Adam Scarimbolo (“A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints”) as Janice’s handicapped son Jakob, and Hanna Hall (young Jenny in “Forrest Gump”) as Paige, the college student who becomes his part-time caretaker. Both young actors impress in these roles, but this is really Ms. Martindale’s tour de force.
I had a chance to ask Ms. Martindale about her career and what it’s like to play an unhinged mom bent on violent revenge. Read the rest of this entry »
November 4th, 2011 by Donna White
Jennifer Garner in "Butter"
The satirical comedy “Butter” screened at the 2011 Austin Film Festival to raucous laughter and exuberant applause. I was amongst those laughing out loud in giddy delight at the ballsy political incorrectness of it all. Its unabashedly R-rated sensibilities add to the feeling that the whole thing might ride off the rails at any moment, and sometimes it does go too far with mean-spirited jabs. But for the most part, the film is consistently funny.
Jennifer Garner plays the strident and wholly unlikeable Laura Pickler with hilarious conviction. She’s the wife of the town’s butter carving champion who gave admiring fans such works of genius as the life-sized Last Supper (sculpted entirely out of butter) and other remarkably intricate displays of butter carving prowess. But just as she’s sure they can parlay this notoriety into a bid for political office, the competition committee decides that her hubby (Ty Burrell) has won too many years in a row and should step aside to give others a chance. He humbly accepts this as a fair and inevitable turn of events, but plucky Mrs. Pickler decides she’ll take up carving herself thereby ensuring the Pickler name remains in the spotlight.
Across town in a less affluent neighborhood, a nice couple (Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry) adopt an adorable African-American girl named Destiny who’s been shuffled from foster home to foster home. Destiny (played with charm and intelligence by Yara Shahidi) has a healthy cynicism toward well-meaning white people, but she settles in comfortably. One day she happens to catch Mr. Pickler’s carving exhibit and is inspired to make the unlikely decision to give this “rednecky” (as her adoptive mother puts it) hobby a whirl. Read the rest of this entry »
November 1st, 2011 by Donna White
“Margin Call” takes place within the 36 hours leading up to a major Wall Street investment firm’s collapse. We’re never given the name of the firm, but the CEO is named “Tuld” and the CEO of Lehman Brothers in reality is named Fuld, so you be the judge.
It all starts with some lay-offs. Stanley Tucci passes off a thumb drive with some valuable information on it as he’s being booted out the door. The young analyst who receives it (Zachary Quinto) does what a good analyst should – he analyzes it. What he finds is that the firm has been operating way outside of the acceptable bounds of risk for some time, and the proverbial shit is about to hit the proverbial fan. He kicks this info up the chain of command, and pretty soon the top dogs (Kevin Spacey, Demi Moore, Paul Bettany, Simon Baker) are pulling an all-nighter trying to determine what options might possibly exist that would allow them to save the company. They come up with bupkiss.
“Tuld”, played with an almost gleeful snarl by Jeremy Irons, shows up and tells them exactly what to do: Fire sale! Dump the junk! Fire everybody after they’ve spent the day dumping the questionable “assets”, and what’s left will be… well, the people most responsible for the meltdown in the first place, with the exception of one lone head on a pike which they must offer up to the board.
Sam Rogers (played with a good deal of sympathy by Kevin Spacey) wonders aloud how Tuld can be so calm throughout all of this. He muses, “Clearly, you know something I don’t.” And the audience knows it too: Tuld’s pals in Washington will see to it that the company stands, and you and I will foot the bill.
“Margin Call” does a good job of illuminating some of the murkier ins and outs of Wall Street shenanigans by taking us into the lair, so to speak, but it’s hard to muster much empathy. Read the rest of this entry »
October 25th, 2011 by Donna White
“It will be a voice made of ink and rage,” Johnny Depp intones as Paul Kemp, erstwhile alter-ego of Hunter S. Thompson in this semi-autobiographical account of his pre-Gonzo early days as a journalist in Puerto Rico circa late 1950s.
“The Rum Diary” is a wild, scattered, hilarious, heartfelt homage to Thompson. Depp’s love for his old pal is evident in every frame. The two met in the late ‘90s when Depp was preparing to play Raoul Duke (Thompson’s most iconic alter-ego) in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Thompson so approved of Johnny Depp playing him that he allowed the actor to live in his basement for a time. It is said that Thompson himself shaved Depp’s head in his kitchen when it came time to adopt Duke’s receding hairline. During this time, Depp discovered an unpublished manuscript lying around the basement at Thompson’s Colorado ranch. It was a novel written by Thompson when he was a mere 22 years old, but left to collect dust after multiple rejections from publishers. The two men made a pact to get it published and see it to screen. Thompson died in 2005 before this dream was fully realized. It was Depp who saw to Hunter’s last wishes: he had a 150 ft. cannon built in the shape of the “Gonzo Fist” and blew his ashes to the high heavens along with explosions of fireworks. A more fitting farewell to the Madman of Truth there could never be. And Depp kept another promise as well: he produced “The Rum Diary.”
The film begins as Paul Kemp awakes from a night of who-knows-what debauchery and attempts to ready himself for a job interview. He’s hung over, sporting chic shades and a grim demeanor, with a bogus resume in hand as he tentatively enters the office of surly editor-in-chief Lotterman, played by the always-reliable Richard Jenkins. Lotterman runs a paper called the San Juan Star which caters to upper middle-class white people living the easy life in Puerto Rico, and employs a rag-tag bunch of burnt-out journalists whose ideals were long-since drowned to death with booze and bitter disappointments. Among the fringe elements at the paper are Sala, a seasoned journalist and champion imbiber played with good-humored buddy-essence by Michael Rispoli, and Moburg, a chemically-altered scribe who collects vinyl records of Hitler speeches, suffers serious hygiene problems, and only stumbles in to work on Fridays for his paycheck. Giovanni Ribisi’s straight-faced portrayal of this completely unhinged character is so riotously funny that every moment he appears on screen is a treasure. Read the rest of this entry »
October 24th, 2011 by Donna White
October 21st, 2011. It’s Day Two of the Austin Film Festival and Caroline Thompson is in town to receive the Distinguished Screenwriter Award for a career of achievement including “Edward Scissorhands,” “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Black Beauty,” “Corpse Bride,” and “City of Ember.”
As we sit down for a chat in the comfy lounge of the historic Stephen F. Austin Hotel, I’m struck by Ms. Thompson’s confident yet unassuming demeanor. Sporting geek-chic glasses and a jaunty muave scarf, she is not only friendly and approachable but eager to share. This is “the screenwriter’s festival”, after all, and it is (sadly) rare that writers in the film industry receive the level of attention and respect they are given at AFF.
After a brief chat about our fair city, the beauty of the Paramount Theater, and some fun around town, we jump right in to a conversation about the work, the wisdom she’s earned along the way, and the whimsy she’s given us all.
DW: First off, congratulations on your award.
CT: Thank you. It’s kind of a treat out of nowhere.
DW: In addition to the awards banquet, there’s a screening of Edward Scissorhands tonight so I thought we’d start with him. It’s 20 years later…
CT: 21 years. Edward came of age this year. (laughs)
DW: What does it feel like to have your first screenplay become a beloved classic? Would you ever have guessed that it would happen that way? Read the rest of this entry »