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Rachel Weisz (#110 of 11)

Cannes Film Festival 2015 The Lobster

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Cannes Film Festival 2015: The Lobster
Cannes Film Festival 2015: The Lobster

Yorgos Lanthimos’s films live and die by their concepts—or gimmicks, depending on your outlook. But while the conceptual framework of his fourth feature, The Lobster, shows little sign of innovation, the size of the canvas most certainly does. Working outside Greece for the first time, and with the potential pitfalls of a larger budget and a star-studded cast, Lanthimos navigates the tricky task of upsizing with aplomb, even if the felicitous expansion can’t quite mask the whiff of over-familiarity.

A wonderfully deadpan Colin Farrell leads the viewer into the high-concept arena step by step so that the proliferation of puckish parameters doesn’t get out of hand. His paunchy sad-sack David has just been left by his wife of 12 years, with little time being wasted before he’s rounded up and taken to the Hotel. Once there, he and the other singleton guests must meet and fall in love with someone new within the first 45 days or face being transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into the unforgiving Woods outside. The stately, exclusive, yet still oddly dowdy Hotel exudes much the same feeling of quiet despair and bygone glory as its hapless inhabitants, though beneath the brown furnishings and fussy decor lies steel. Rules pervade every waking moment, proselytizing seminars extol the virtues of coupledom, and infractions of any kind can and will be punished. Aside from finding the “one,” the only hope of prolonging this hushed agony is to perform well in the nightly hunts in the Woods, where knocking out one of the Loners, an equally regimented group committed to total chastity, will gain you one extra day of freedom.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress

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Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress

Compared to most of the season’s races, Best Actress has remained somewhat open, with only two gals firmly secure in their nominations, and at least five more boasting realistic chances. The two locks in question are, of course, Zero Dark Thirty lead Jessica Chastain and Silver Linings Playbook star Jennifer Lawrence, a pair whom most believe will duke it out for the win. Coming off of one of the most impressive breakthrough years of any actor in memory, Chastain took top billing in a film that never tried to promote girl power, but nonetheless emerged as a battleground riff on any number of feminist dramas, with a can-do female fighting powers that be to see justice done. Historically, it’s the sort of performance the Academy lives to reward, right up there with the dead-on mimicry of late icons. Lawrence, meanwhile, used her turn in Silver Linings Playbook to cement her career longevity, which has been hinted at since Winter’s Bone, the last film to land her a nod in this category. Far from a flash in the pan, Lawrence has that rare gift of deeply understanding the women she portrays, and her bone-deep grasp of unhinged widow Tiffany is the highlight of David O. Russell’s flawed dramedy.

Poster Lab Oz: The Great and Powerful

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Poster Lab: Oz: The Great and Powerful
Poster Lab: Oz: The Great and Powerful

A swirling storm is the proper framing device for Oz: The Great and Powerful’s first poster, which heralds its film by tossing trademark elements into a kind of artful rinse cycle. Set for a 2013 release, this Sam-Raimi-helmed Wizard of Oz prequel appears devoid of Dorothy, yet packed with evidence of L. Frank Baum’s brand.

Seeming both introductory and contradictory to its immortal predecessor, the movie tells of its titular wizard’s rise as a magician and a man, promising an arc of self-discovery that doesn’t quite jell with the arc of Frank Morgan’s fraud behind the curtain. But, don’t fret, kids: there’ll still be a poppy field’s worth of faithful stuff to keep you comfy, and it’s presented here in a yin-yang approach that matches dark drama with glittering fantasy. The Yellow Brick Road, the Emerald City, a swarm of tornadoes, and one integral hot air balloon fill this well-executed design, teasing a new adventure with unmistakable imagery. In another poster, the title almost certainly would have been made more centrally visible, but in this case, it’s hardly necessary. If the main man’s mode of transportation doesn’t wrangle fans, the gleam of all that Oz-ian architecture will, suggesting classic whimsy amid a tumultuous scene that also features some Avatar-esque landforms. The image invites viewers to return to a place they know while still being strangers in a strange land.

Poster Lab: 360

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Poster Lab: <em>360</em>
Poster Lab: <em>360</em>

Estamos todos connectados,” reads the tagline on the Brazilian poster for Fernando Meirelles’s 360, its English translation, of course, being, “we are all connected.” To this, a filmgoer’s first reaction may well be one of shock, particularly over Meirelles’s sheer audacity. Is there really anything new to be brought to the hyperlink-narrative subgenre, wherein characters’ overlapping and interlocking stories ultimately reveal their common humanity? As evidenced by dreck like last year’s Answers to Nothing, it’s a cinematic dead zone, whose knell rang out around the middle of the Aughts. Is Meirelles that deluded and out of touch, or is he a savvy resurrectionist with fresh tricks up his sleeve?

In his corner is tony English scribe Peter Morgan, whose credits include the screenplay for The Queen, and whose new tale seems to stitch together the requisite pieces: dark pasts, lies, secrets, and feigned emotions. Paired with the concept of universality, that patchwork approach is what fuels the Brazilian design, a freaky collage that literally fuses the faces of four stars, driving home the notion that all are more alike than different. In the film’s (rather benign) trailer, we learn that each aching soul is searching for something, be it an old man (Anthony Hopkins) searching for his daughter, an ex-con (Ben Foster) searching for redemption, or a wife (Rachel Weisz) searching for satisfaction her husband (Jude Law) can’t provide. Again, despite an enticing international cast (co-stars include Maria Flor, Jamel Debbouze, and Dinara Drukarova of Since Otar Left), this all seems drastically familiar, as if Meirelles felt the need to tip his hat to Mexican peer Alejandro Gonález Iñárritu, who helped bang the coffin nails into this brand of storytelling.

San Sebastián International Film Festival 2011: The Sleeping Voice, The Double Steps, I Wish, & More

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San Sebastián International Film Festival 2011: The Sleeping Voice, The Double Steps, I Wish, & More
San Sebastián International Film Festival 2011: The Sleeping Voice, The Double Steps, I Wish, & More

When Billy Wilder was once asked if he was ever going to retire, he replied, “Directors who retire end up on the jury of the San Sebastián film festival.” None on the international jury of this year’s festival, which included Frances McDormand, Bent Hamer, and Alex de la Iglesia, seems ready to retire, and I can think of worse tasks than judging films in the elegant Basque city of San Sebastián, known as Donostia to the locals. The jury, of course, is too busy watching the 17 films in the main competition to follow some of the other sections such as “New Directors,” a complete retrospective of that whimsical purveyor of modern fairy tales, Jacques Demy, and “The American Way of Death,” a vast program of 40 crime movies from 1990 to 2011. However, the title of the latter program took on a new meaning as news of the execution of Troy Davis came through.

Toronto International Film Festival 2011: ALPS and The Deep Blue Sea

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Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>ALPS</em> and <em>The Deep Blue Sea</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2011: <em>ALPS</em> and <em>The Deep Blue Sea</em>

ALPS: A Golden Novak Djokavic, in recognition of otherworldly improvement in 2011, goes to Giorgos Lanthimos for ALPS, his follow-up to the wildly overpraised Dogtooth. This change for the better comes mainly as a result of Lanthimos’s willingness to treat his formidable visual prowess as a means for complicating his story, a reversal of the near identical match between form and content that rendered Dogtooth a numbingly efficient idea-delivery machine. It also helps that the ideas here, concerning not only grief, but the entire process of the cinema itself as a location for the projection and consumption of desires and the danger of these processes, are both richer and more specific than the powerfully vague critique of authoritarianism offered by Dogtooth. A number of the film’s detractors thus far have complained that Lanthimos’s expansion of the stylized deadpan of Dogtooth’s sealed unit into ALPS’s open world somehow makes the latter less believable, which seems roughly the equivalent to me of faulting The Band Wagon because it’s unlikely that a perfectly choreographed number can break out inside a barbershop.

2011 Theater Fall Preview

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2011 Theater Fall Preview
2011 Theater Fall Preview

With Labor Day, summer vacations, and weekend getaways behind us, it’s time again to tune into the city’s arts and culture vibe. The House checked out the wide variety of theater offerings for Broadway and beyond this fall and made a few selections to put on your calendar:

New Plays

This season is notable for the number of women playwrights with new plays on Broadway. One of them is 29-year-old Katori Hall, who makes her Broadway debut with The Mountaintop (from September 22 at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater). In her fictional account, which takes place in 1968, on the night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in her own home town of Memphis, the playwright imagines a late-night encounter between King and a mysterious woman. Movie and television star Samuel L. Jackson plays the great civil rights leader and Angela Bassett the nocturnal visitor. The production is directed by Kenny Leon, who received a Tony nomination last year for directing Fences. Leon also helms the production of Stick Fly (from November 18 at the Cort Theater), which marks the Broadway debut of another African-American female playwright, Lydia R. Diamond. Stick Fly is a comedy of manners about an affluent black family spending a summer weekend at their home in Martha’s Vineyard.

Adam Rapp is well-known for not pulling his punches, so brace yourself for his latest, Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling (starts September 13 at CSC), a surreal play that promises to “lift the veil on the lives of two wealthy American families” in Connecticut. The Atlantic Theater Company production features a dream cast which includes Christine Lahti, Cotter Smith, Katherine Waterston, and the incomparable Reed Birney.

The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

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The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai
The Conversations: Wong Kar-wai

Jason Bellamy: “When did everything start to have an expiration date?” That’s a question posed by a lovelorn cop in Wong Kar-wai’s 1994 film Chungking Express, and in a sense that line is a snapshot of what Wong’s films are all about. In the 20 years and change that Wong has been directing, he’s developed several signature flourishes that make his films instantly recognizable—from his striking use of deep, rich colors, to his affinity for repetitive musical sequences, to his judicious use of slow motion for emotional effect, and many more—but at the core of Wong’s filmography is an acute awareness of passing time and a palpable yearning for things just out of reach. In the line above, the cop in Chungking Express is ostensibly referring to the expiration dates on cans of pineapple, which he’s using to mark the days since his girlfriend dumped him, but in actuality he’s referring to that failed relationship, to his (somewhat) fleeting youth (he’s approaching his 25th birthday) and to the deadline he has created for his girlfriend to reconsider and take him back. In the cop’s mind, at least, whether they will be together has as much to do with when as with why. Or put more simply: if timing isn’t everything, it’s a lot of it.

That theme pops up again and again in Wong’s films. Roger Ebert zeroed in on it in his 2001 review of Wong’s In the Mood for Love when he observed of the two lead characters, “They are in the mood for love, but not in the time or place for it.” While that’s particularly true of Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chan, it could readily be applied to almost all of Wong’s lead characters. In this conversation we’re going to discuss Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express, In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) and My Blueberry Nights (2007), and over and over again we’ll see characters united by emotion but kept apart by timing. So I’d like to open by asking you the following: Do the recurring themes of Wong’s body of work strengthen the potency and poetry of the individual films or water them down? Put another way, are Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express enhanced by In the Mood for Love and 2046 or obliterated by them, or are they not significantly affected one way or the other?

A Movie a Day, Day 17: Agora

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A Movie a Day, Day 17: <em>Agora</em>
A Movie a Day, Day 17: <em>Agora</em>

Agora is an odd duck, a cautionary tale for our fundamentalist times disguised as a swords-and-sandal epic. It’s also a defense of science and rational thinking that uses simplification and soundbites to make its case. The setting is Alexandria, Egypt, at the end of the 4th century A.D., just before and after the destruction of its great library by a rampaging Christian mob. At the start of the story, Christianity is on the rise and the Pagans have become a smaller minority than they realize, though they still hold the reins of power. Over the next few years, the Christians gain ascendance, trashing the library that was also the Pagan’s temple and converting nearly all the Pagan holdouts or intimidating them into submission.

One of those holdouts is the movie’s heroine, Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), a brilliant young philosopher and astronomer who has taught some of the city’s most privileged young men. Hypatia’s students adore her, of course. Her mind is part of the attraction, but it’s not the whole thing, any more than people used to read Playboy for the articles. A light-bathed, large-eyed beauty, Hypatia is another of the saintly objects of desire Weisz specializes in, and the camera indulges in a fair amount of ogling, including a shot of her emerging from her bath like Venus on the half shell.

Luminous Being: My Blueberry Nights

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Luminous Being: <em>My Blueberry Nights</em>
Luminous Being: <em>My Blueberry Nights</em>

Wong Kar-wai’s films aren’t just intoxicating; they’re intoxicated. They deploy slow motion, fast motion, freeze-frames and other visual flourishes not to highlight pivotal narrative moments, but to italicize feelings—some sorrowful or profound, others fleeting, playful, sensual. His frames are packed with chromatic and textural details and often separated from the viewer by environmental scrims (curtains, door frames, windowpanes, human blurs of foreground motion). Wong compounds disorientation by layering images atop each another in a series of luxurious dissolves. He glosses over dramatic housekeeping and fixates on tremors of emotion. His films seem to be struggling to remember themselves.