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Jodie Foster (#110 of 13)

Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

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Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor
Review: Glenn Kenny’s Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor

Art-making is too often discussed in terms that implicitly liken it to magic, thusly neglecting the truth that it involves work that resembles the day-by-day toils of many other ostensibly plainer occupations. With Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor, film critic Glenn Kenny quietly pushes against that mythology. A compassionate, pragmatic anti-sentimentality, or an attempt at one, serves as the through line for his examination of one the most mythologized of all screen actors. In his introduction, Kenny writes of “De Niro’s reluctance to do interviews, and his seeming stumbling while doing them, his famous taciturnity in contrast to his preternaturally vivid presence on screen, created a mythology that itself spawned a counter-mythology. It made De Niro as famous for being an enigma, a code that a journalist or critic with just the right amount of persistence and perspicacity could crack. But what if the answer is right in front of our faces, and always has been?” The author follows that with a quote in which director Elia Kazan (who worked with De Niro on The Last Tycoon) claims that the actor is among the hardest working that he’s collaborated with, and the only one who asked to rehearse on Sundays.

In other words, Kenny brings De Niro down to earth as a working artist, which serves to somewhat ironically reawaken your awe for the actor and the profound emotional nakedness that he once achieved reliably in one performance after another. Reading this, one wonders, not why De Niro drifted toward less immersive a-job’s-a-job roles, but how he plumbed himself as deeply as long as he did. The author emphasizes detail, connecting physical gestures from one role, sometimes mercilessly, to their repetition in another film (such as the reappearance of a “shoo” motion from Goodfellas in Awakenings.) He paints De Niro unsurprisingly as a master craftsman who’s intensely devoted to analysis and rehearsal, which he, somewhat, ineffably fuses with his personality and his soul. (I’m indulging my own mythology.) Following the familiar Cahiers du Cinéma “Anatomy of an Actor” template, Kenny discusses 10 “iconic roles” in De Niro’s canon that serve to shape the actor’s career as he evolved from galvanic acting titan to controversial “sell-out” to an inevitably mellower character actor who’s still capable, nevertheless, of imbuing a questionable project or under-respected performer with a bit of prestige by association.

On Trend The Changing State of Coming Out in Hollywood

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On Trend: The Changing State of Coming Out in Hollywood
On Trend: The Changing State of Coming Out in Hollywood

She certainly came prepared. The E! correspondents may have told you that Jodie Foster wore Giorgio Armani to the Golden Globes, but her frock was more like a suit of armor, its metallic straps criss-crossing her chest as if she were bracing for impact. Amid an awards show that’s often little more than a boring, booze-soaked, wannabe Oscars, Foster—who, at 50, proved a drastically young choice for the HFPA’s career-defining Cecil B. Demille Award—provided a riveting slice of LGBT history, using the acceptance of her honorary trophy as an opportunity to deliver a coming-out speech…sorta. Everyone knows the story by now: How Foster jokingly announced that she’s “single” after a virtual drum roll of anticipation, how she thanked her longtime partner and two strapping sons, and how she professed the value of personal privacy, declaring that she’s no reality star, like “Honey Boo Boo Child.” Gawker had a particularly douchey field day with the latter portion of Foster’s monologue, viciously berating the actress for demanding privacy as a public figure in a very public forum. The contradiction at which Gawker took aim is glaringly apparent, but while celebrities may sacrifice certain libel rights and anonymous trips to the grocery store, they are not, in fact, required to divulge personal details to the masses. If there’s anything to deride about Foster’s show-stopping moment, it’s that it felt dated, dusty, even quaint.

Oscar Prospects: Carnage

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Oscar Prospects: Carnage
Oscar Prospects: Carnage

It’s hard to discuss the Oscar chances of the cast of Carnage without thinking of all four fuming co-leads as being yet more hamsters on the Academy’s wheel (a hamster, after all, ends up being one of the sharper elements of Roman Polanski’s latest). Such is not to say, necessarily, that Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz took their roles with a mind for rewards beyond the artistic (this is no blatantly baity project), but any decent thespian who signs on for an upper-middlebrow movie bound for release between October and January surely knows he’s tossing himself into a repetitive race for largely-unattainable gold. Carnage is a curious specimen in terms of Oscar probability. It has an enviable batch of top talents, and it’s attractively sophisticated, yet it bucks norms of even the talking-room subgenre in which it’s classified. Without seeing a frame of it, one might rightfully assume the film would go the way of Doubt, with all members of its actorly quartet clinching nominations for reinterpreting their stage-originated roles, but that likely won’t happen here. The already-crowded fields notwithstanding, con can match pro in the case of each performer.

New York Film Festival 2011: Carnage

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Carnage</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Carnage</em>

The most striking thing about Carnage, Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Yazmin Reza’s stiff but satisfying stage play God of Carnage, is how much funnier it is than its source material. Polanski, who co-adapted the film’s screenplay with Reza, emphasizes the absurd nature of Reza’s blackly comic moral play. His leavening of God of Carnage’s bleak sense of humor is apparent just from the way that he replaced loutish but menacing James Gandolfini with patently non-threatening John C. Reilly in the role of Michael, one of God of Carnage’s four main characters. In Polanski’s hands, what was once a brooding Pinter-esque update of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is now more like a broad comedy. Except instead of sitcom-style humor you get jokes indiscriminately lobbed at the expense of four ethically bankrupt petit bourgeois know-nothings. And these are the film’s only protagonists!

Taxi Driver, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and the Venom of New York City

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<em>Taxi Driver</em>, <em>The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975</em>, and the Venom of New York City
<em>Taxi Driver</em>, <em>The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975</em>, and the Venom of New York City

Where do collective memories come from? From faded photography, and skewed reviews? A recent meticulous restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver gives us a chance to see what the film looked like in 1976. The Taxi Driver of our memory is, according to many reports, a documentary-esque depiction of a faded, gritty New York that doesn’t exist anymore. A warped memory of an antiquated reality. The Taxi Driver of our memory is not from 1976, but from 1981 and afterward, after John Hinckley Jr. claimed watching the film 15 times in a row was the reason he shot Ronald Reagan, as “the greatest love offering in the history of the world” to Jodie Foster.

SXSW 2011: Super, 13 Assassins, Last Days Here, The Beaver, Scenes from the Suburbs, and Natural Selection

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SXSW 2011: <em>Super</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, <em>Last Days Here</em>, <em>The Beaver</em>, <em>Scenes from the Suburbs</em>, and <em>Natural Selection</em>
SXSW 2011: <em>Super</em>, <em>13 Assassins</em>, <em>Last Days Here</em>, <em>The Beaver</em>, <em>Scenes from the Suburbs</em>, and <em>Natural Selection</em>

Trying to fit in, like, four or five screenings a day at South by Southwest—a task at which I mostly failed until, maybe, my last two days in Austin, Texas—inevitably took away valuable time to write about everything I saw at the festival that I found of interest, for well and ill. So while I managed to squeeze in time to write about some of my favorites (The City Dark, American Animal, and Bellflower, especially), consider this last dispatch (from me, anyway) a run-down, with brief commentary, of a few others I saw that I either loved, liked, or didn’t like but at least found interesting enough to say something about. Oh, and yeah, Natural Selection, the big SXSW narrative feature award winner.