House Logo

Jessica Chastain (#110 of 28)

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

Comments Comments (...)

Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie
Toronto International Film Festival 2014: The Look of Silence, The Face of an Angel, & Miss Julie

For all its acuity and innovation, The Act of Killing always risked emphasizing its groundbreaking method—crafting a psychological profile of two Indonesian mass murderers by making them reenact their crimes—at the expense of its most critical message: that the killers profiled in the doc were not only free men, but celebrated heroes in a country still run by people who, shortly after a 1965 military coup, helped murder somewhere between 500,000 and a million Indonesians accused of being communists. With the equally brilliant The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer risks no such misplaced focus.

The Velocity of Autumn Interview with Estelle Parsons

Comments Comments (...)

The Velocity of Autumn Interview with Estelle Parsons
The Velocity of Autumn Interview with Estelle Parsons

Estelle Parsons has always found something interesting to do. Eighty years ago at her local community theater, she starred as a boy who’s transformed into a princess. Now in Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn, she’s playing a woman who threatens to blow up herself and her entire Brooklyn block if she’s not allowed to live and die as she pleases. In between, Parsons “showed up on time and ready to work.” That’s about as much credit as she’ll take for her success. She’s got a New Englander’s distaste for self-aggrandizement, or as she says: “I’m repressed.” The 86-year-old may not admit it, but she’s a trailblazer.

Parsons was one of only two women in her class at Boston University Law School and was in the first group of women to be accepted to Harvard Law School. At 21, she was the youngest person, and first woman, to be elected to the Marblehead Planning Board, and as the first “Today girl,” she was also television’s first female political reporter. In film, she won an Academy Award for her first major role in Bonnie & Clyde, and was nominated for her subsequent film, Rachel, Rachel, though cinephiles may also know her as much for her BAFTA-nominated turn in Melvin Van Peebles’s groundbreaking The Watermelon Man.

Before The Velocity of Autumn went into previews at Broadway’s Booth Theatre, Ms. Parsons spoke with me about her work, what drew her to acting, and retirement.

New York Film Festival 2013: Captain Phillips Review

Comments Comments (...)

New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Captain Phillips</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Captain Phillips</em> Review

The more movies he makes, the more Paul Greengrass’s have-it-both-ways m.o. as a filmmaker becomes clearer, aiming to craft high-octane action spectacles that also thoughtfully address topical events and current sociopolitical realities without becoming overly didactic. Some, of course, will object on principle to the mere act of turning events such as the Iraq War and the 9/11 attacks—two of Greengrass’s previous subjects—into pulse-pounding thrills in the first place, arguing that he’s exploiting real-world trauma for the sake of shallow entertainment. If nothing else, though, his latest film, Captain Phillips, reveals, perhaps with even more clarity than before, Greengrass’s well-meaning rationale behind his methods—and with it, their imposing strengths and troubling limitations.

Understanding Screenwriting #107: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, & More

Comments Comments (...)

Understanding Screenwriting #107: <em>Quartet</em>, <em>Tabu</em>, <em>56 Up</em>, <em>The Gatekeepers</em>, <em>Cat Ballou</em>, <em>The Americans</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #107: <em>Quartet</em>, <em>Tabu</em>, <em>56 Up</em>, <em>The Gatekeepers</em>, <em>Cat Ballou</em>, <em>The Americans</em>, <em>30 Rock</em>, & More

Coming Up In This Column: Quartet, Tabu, 56 Up, The Gatekeepers, Cat Ballou, The Americans, 30 Rock, but first…

Fan mail: The main bone of contention among the folks who wrote in about #US106 was that I had missed the point in Zero Dark Thirty—that, as Bill Weber wrote, it’s “supremely clear in ZDT that information INDIRECTLY leads” to Osama bin Laden. “Carabruva” agrees with Bill. I didn’t miss that point when I watched the film, since I was looking very carefully for any connection. What I didn’t do, unfortunately, was make mention in the item that it was very, very indirect and nowhere close to the “big break” that critics of the film were claiming. I fear both Mark Boal and I were nodding a bit on this point.

Some of the most interesting comments on the Zero Dark Thirty item came off the record from some of my “acquaintances.” I’d emailed them with a link to the column, and one of them replied, “I do not know if torture worked or not, but I am appalled by the fact that any senior officer or congresswomen would agree to it. However, one DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] felt it was important, and another does not. Most intelligence officers I respect felt that the producer wanted it both ways: torture sells and (gasp!) torture is bad. They were more amused by the portrait of the analyst. She is a composite of women in the Bin Laden cell, all of whom were strong, bright, and opinionated. But C.I.A. is a paramilitary organization. You simply don’t talk to superiors the way our hero did.” As for my feeling that the “I’m the motherfucker” line was the best line in the film, it was even if it was not “accurate,” but hey, we’re making movies here. By the way, I later heard from another “acquaintance” that the real person Maya is based on is even better-looking than Jessica Chastain. I doubt that’s possible, so that may just be more C.I.A. disinformation.

I spent some time in the item whacking Boal and the film’s team for not responding better, especially to the complaining senators. An article in the Los Angeles Times that appeared the day after my column was posted nicely covered what happened at Sony and why they took the road they did. I understand their point of view, but I think they were wrong. The article was a Link of the Day, and if you missed it, you can read it here. The article included a great comment from Boal, and since I’ve been beating him about the head and shoulders, I feel obligated to quote it, since it nails down what happened. He said, “We made a serious, tough adult movie and we got a serious, tough adult response.”

Quartet (2012. Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on his play. 98 minutes.)

The Best Exotic Marigold Musicians Retirement Home. The first thing I loved about this movie is that it’s short. One of the downsides of having to slog through all those two-and-a-half-hour-plus end-of-the-year films is that they cost you money to park. In Los Angeles, the tradition is that at indoor malls that have multiplexes, the first three hours of parking are free, and then you have to pay through the nose for anything beyond that. By the time you get from your car to the theater, get your tickets, sit through 20 minutes of trailers and the film, and get back to your car, you’re probably over three hours. Some, all right, a few, films are worth the extra cost. So I went into Quartet happy knowing it was not going to cost me any more than the ticket price.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actress

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actress
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Actress

Unlike Anne Hathaway, who’s probably even sidestepping sidewalk cracks lest she break some old Academy member’s back, and perhaps jeopardize her inevitable Fantine-quoting speech (“Life hasn’t killed the dream I dreamed!”), Jennifer Lawrence is taking a page from Mo’Nique’s book and playing the campaign game by her own rules. With Hollywood’s hottest new franchise already cranking up her star wattage, the on-fire frontrunner has, without denying her desire for victory or tainting her “It Girl” image, shown a refreshing, and even alarming, awards-season irreverence, such as in that little SNL intro bit, or her recent howler of an interview with EW. The lack of formality may prove off-putting to some, who prefer, say, an Oscar angel like Natalie Portman, but odds are Lawrence still has this win in the bag, as further evidenced by her precursor record and the sheer influence of Silver Linings Playbook producer Harvey Weinstein.

Oscar 2013 Nomination Predictions: Actress

Comments Comments (...)

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.

Oscar Prospects: Anna Karenina

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar Prospects: Anna Karenina
Oscar Prospects: Anna Karenina

Any major-race hopes that Focus Features may have had for Anna Karenina were basically dashed this week, as the film failed to place in any top categories for the SAG, Critics’ Choice, or Golden Globe Awards. The virtual shutout is a particularly nasty blow for Keira Knightley, who began the season as a formidable Best Actress contender, only to fall behind amid the rush of love for competitors like Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Emanuelle Riva, and Naomi Watts. It’s a good thing Knightley is reportedly breaking away from her comfort zone of period romance. As fetching as the British beanpole looks in a tight corset, and as fine as she is in her third—and arguably best—collaboration with director Joe Wright, viewers of all walks seem slightly fatigued of her penchant for acting in age-old regalia. She couldn’t even drum up love for her work in 2011’s A Dangerous Method, which showed off the actress at her fierce, feral best, but, again, in ruffles and lace. With only a Satellite nod for her turn as Leo Tolstoy’s ill-fated antiheroine, Knightley needn’t fret too much about what to wear to the Oscars.

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty
Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was certainly made to seem special, kept under tight lock and key before being slowly, strategically unveiled at year’s end, but few pundits likely predicted the gravity of the film’s Oscar potential, and that Bigelow may well have another winner on her hands. As 2012 winds down, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when The Hurt Locker stormed ahead as the little contender that could, and sat poised to not just claim the Academy’s top prize, but make Bigelow its first female Best Director. If you want to go by precursor buzz alone, Zero Dark Thirty has now stepped ahead of Lincoln as this year’s Best Picture frontrunner, claiming top kudos from The New York Film Critics Circle, and topping the 10-Best lists of early-out-of-the-gate critics like David Edelstein and Lisa Schwarzbaum (Owen Gleiberman and Richard Corliss, who also revealed their lists, included it among their picks as well). For whatever it’s worth in this early stage, the film also picked up five nods from the International Press Academy, landing Satellite nominations for Picture, Director, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Editing (Dylan Tichenor). And as of this very writing, the National Board of Review has named Zero Dark Thirty its Best Film of the Year, with Bigelow taking the Director trophy. It’s more than safe to assume that the movie has an ironclad slot in Oscar’s top race, if not a damn good shot at ending up ahead of the pack.

Oscar Prospects: Silver Linings Playbook

Comments Comments (...)

Oscar Prospects: Silver Linings Playbook
Oscar Prospects: Silver Linings Playbook

It’s certainly easy to accuse David O. Russell of becoming a serial Oscar courter. Having clearly enjoyed the awards love showered upon The Fighter, Russell’s gone on to adapt and direct Matthew Quick’s Silver Linings Playbook, packing about five baity movies into one big crowd-pleasing quirkfest. Those who’ve followed Russell’s career will say he’s always padded banal substrates with the bizarre, but the filmmaker’s new run of Academy-friendly fare is still worlds away from his former curios, like I Heart Huckabees or Spanking the Monkey. He’s embracing the practice of bringing his gonzo tendencies to the mainstream, and if he’s indeed hoping to woo Oscar voters in the process, the plan is working. With Silver Linings Playbook, viewers are gifted a buffet of cheer-worthy tropes, all stretched along a simple narrative track and dressed with Russellian weirdness. A mental illness dramedy that deals with sports, dance, romance, and lovably grotesque relatives, it manages to feel fleetingly fresh while recalling Rocky, As Good As It Gets, Dirty Dancing, and even The Fighter too. If there’s anything especially adept about the storytelling, it’s its ability to trick an audience into buying its faux newness, and even if voters don’t fall for the recycling, they’re still liable to take the movie’s bait. With a thin batch of comedic contenders, its Best Picture nod is secured, as may be the nods for Russell’s Direction and Adapted Screenplay.