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And now, part three of Ian and Jared’s fantasy Sundance draft.  If you missed it, check out part one for scoring and the first four picks and part two for picks 5 through 8.

With the ninth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

Camp X-Ray

Jared: When Sundance announced the movies playing the festival this year, many (if not most) of the headlines touted Kristen Stewart, who stars in this film.  I get the feeling Twilight has made her a divisive figure, but if you’ve only seen her or heard of her in those films, I think you’ll be surprised at her acting ability.  The film tells the story of a burgeoning friendship of a guard (Stewart) and a detainee (Payman Maadi) at Guantanomo Bay, and the combination of an intense character study coupled with the morals and politics involved with Gitmo could mean this film has the potential to play well to this audience.  Writer-director Peter Sattler went to college with David Gordon Green and did some work on his films, and Green returns the favor here as a producer.  Also producing is Sophia Lin, who has producing credits on lauded films Take Shelter and Compliance.  And I wouldn’t want to leave out that she was production manager on The Baxter, a film I know Ian and I both love.

Ian: You’ve mentioned a lot of things that I love more than the world at large in that writeup, but I’ll focus on KStew first. I’m with you, if you only know her as tabloid fodder and a Twilight star, you’re missing out on great performances in The Runaways or Adventureland in particular. And if Peter Sattler has any of the eye for detail of his NCSA compatriots like David Gordon Green or Jody Hill, there’s probably going to be a sensitivity to the subject matter. And yet, reading this, I wonder if KStew can take on such a major focus, and whether the subject matter can be told without being either didactic or mawkish. Like most of our midpack films (and, let’s face it, the entire lineup as far as we know), this one has some boom/bust potential.

With the tenth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Song One

Ian: Camp X-Ray was the last film remaining for me that had over a one-in-three chance of scoring. I think there’s a little bit of a gap here. The big draw for Song One is probably getting Anne Hathaway to come to Park City, but Hathy doesn’t seem like the kind of actress who the jury would feel compelled to give a Special Jury prize. The rest of the movie…well, it sure feels like Once in Brooklyn, doesn’t it? Once was obviously a shoo-in for the Audience Award back when it was in competition. While Jenny and Johnny don’t write songs with the same kind of naked emotional hooks as Glen Hansard does, I could see an affecting musical performance in a romantic weeper having much the same effect upon audiences. My biggest concern is the director, Kate Barker-Froyland’s pedigree. Sure, she seems prepared, but can she overcome her roots going to some state school in the midwest?

Jared: All Anne Hathaway does is win awards.  She’s got around 26 credits on imdb, and I believe she’s garnered at least a nomination for over half of them.  Or didn’t you realize she has an Emmy for voiceover work on The Simpsons, a British Independent Film Awards nomination for Becoming Jane, and a Young Artist nomination for Get Real?  So yeah, I’d say she’s in the running for playing the lead in an Sundance film.  She’s also a producer on this one, as are veteran producers Marc Platt and Jonathan Demme, so the film has some definite oomph behind it.  And to flesh out Ian’s joke, along with writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland, we are proud graduates of the University of Chicago.  Or graduates, at least.  So as fellow Maroons, we wish nothing but the best for Barker-Froyland.  Though I do question how anyone can escape that institution and be mentally stable enough to direct a feature-length movie.

With the eleventh pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Ian takes…

Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

Ian:  If Bunzo the rabbit does not win some sort of award, I am boycotting the festival next year. If I can give a little bit of a fantasy Sundance tip from an expert: I think once you get past the top picks (or if there are no top picks), you want to look for the best hooks for an award. Here, I could potentially see a potential award path for Rinko Kikuchi, in an All is Lost way, and the visual depiction of loneliness may also lead to some challenging direction or scenework. The Zellner brothers also have a pedigree of getting recognized, at least, so they may be building to a coming out party. I think I’m less enthused with the pick than I was when I made it, though, and this may be an overdraft, even here towards the end of the competition.

Jared: Yeah, I had this one near the bottom of my rankings.  The brothers Zellner are well-regarded Sundance alums, and Rinko Kinkuchi does have an Oscar nomination, sot here are a few things working in its favor.  But while I’m definitely curious about the film, the descriptions I’ve seen don’t scream out “Awards bait” to me.  And while I like Kinkuchi, sure seems like Hollywood hasn’t really figured out what to do with her since Babel.

With the twelfth pick of the 2014 Fantasy Sundance Draft, Jared takes…

The Skeleton Twins

Jared: Most importantly, one of the executive producers of this film is named “Jared Ian Goldman”, so I think we have to be rooting for this one.  I’ll grant that co-writer/director’s mumblecore heritage (this film was produced by the Duplass brothers) and stars Kristin Wiig and Bill Hader are not necessarily the stuff on which awards are built.  But to counter the latter, I’ll note that Nebraska, which co-stars Will Forte, seems to be doing pretty decently for itself.  And I’ve heard some incredibly premature buzz that Wiig and Hader are quite good in the roles, not really surprising giving their talent and how much people seem to generally like them.  Co-screenwriter Mark Heyman has a credit on Black Swan, for whatever that is worth.

Ian: I was deciding between The Skeleton Twins and Kumiko, and in the cold light of Sundance day, I think I made the wrong choice. (There are few sins less forgivable than making a poor fantasy Sundance draft decision.) I agree with both sides of your argument: the pedigree of the movie is enough to drop it towards the end of the draft, and Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader are probably enough to make the movie a value pick here. Wiig and Hader play well together (second shoutout to Adventureland in one writeup!), and they’re both capable of quiet nuanced performance when away from the Groundlings character-first influence. I do wonder somewhat which of the awards this movie could possibly contend for, but that’s what made it available here in the first place.

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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.

#90.  For a Good Time, Call…

Well, I certainly had higher expectations for this one.  The story was undercooked and the jokes not frequent or funny enough to compensate.  I probably lean on this comparison too much, but it felt like a TV pilot.  For a good show, I mean, Lauren Miller and Ari Graynor running a phone sex line with Justin Long as the flaming best friend and Mark Webber as a boyfriend is something that would get a Season Pass on my brand new Genie.  On its own, though, the film isn’t terribly satisfying.

#89.  Return

I know this wasn’t supposed to be my takeaway, but you know how Michael Shannon is pretty much the creepiest actor ever?  Perhaps the most unsettling role I’ve seen him play is here, where he’s just an ordinary, loving, dad.  Like, I kept waiting for some twist where he went crazy or started killing people or something.  But it just never came.  Anyway, Linda Cardellini nabbed a Spirit Award nom for her role here.  Which is cool, because Linda Cardellini is great.  Not just for Freaks and Geeks, because don’t forget about her arc on Boy Meets World.  Her performance here is a lot more understated than I would have expected for a nominated role about a war veteran returning home and dealing with getting her life back to normal.  Which doesn’t make it any less unnerving, there just weren’t really many Oscar (TM) scenes.  Unfortunately, the story itself isn’t terribly gripping.

#88.  Snow White and the Huntsmen

#87.  Mirror Mirror

I did have these two movies next to each other on my list, but I’m sure that was at least subconsciously on purpose.  i do think it is fascinating to compare them, though.  Snow White and the Huntsman falls squarely in the Hollywood trend of making everything gritty.  Which sure seems like it is played out.  But economics aside, I think it was a poor choice here, because the Snow White story held the film back, restricting the creative choices allowed by needing to remain at least somewhat faithful to the fable.  For example, the odd decision to cast people like Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Eddie Marsan, and Toby Jones as dwarves.  I think the movie would have been significantly better if it weren’t a Snow White story.  Mirror Mirror, on the other hand, fell into the Tarsem trap of a lush-looking film without much of a script to prop it up.  Sometimes it feels like he prefers weak scripts so he has more room to do his thing.  The lead actresses also offer an interesting duality.  Kristen Stewart is an underrated actress, I think.  in particular, she’s quite adept at the action scenes.  Lily Collins, on the other hand, is a lovely princess.  But she does the action scenes like a lovely princess.  The male love interests were pretty well-cast.  Chris Hemsworth basically is the bastion of masculinity that is the huntsman and Armie Hammer has the more goofily refined nature to play a prince.  Charlize Theron and Julia Roberts were both interesting choices for evil stepmothers, I sorta wish the characters could have been even more than what they were.

86.  The Raven

I dunno, Edgar AllIan Poe fighting crime actually sounds interesting to me.  Or, at least, as a big fan of Poe’s writing, I was intrigued by a story which captured his cleverly plotted murders.  This one wanders too much, with an unsatisfying reveal. plus it wastes Brendan Gleeson.  John Cusack as Poe worked for me, I thought he was a good fit for the character and that filmmakers made the character halfway compelling.  As mentioned elsewhere, I love me some Alice Eve and hope she finds her way into some better roles, because I’m fairly certain in an earlier draft of the screenplay, her character’s name was Heaving Bosom.

#85.  Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World

If I’m being honest, Google Docs won’t let me unhide row number 86 (which has my #85 movie).  When trying to get the spreadsheet to work, I noticed elsewhere on it that I had listed this movie, which I’m 95% sure I saw, but forgot to add it to my list.  So let’s make life easy and put it here.  I mean, it probably deserves a little better rating, but it has been over a year since I saw it in theaters, so maybe not.  Like most movies, it needed more Connie Britton.  Actually, there are a bunch of fun cameos: Gillian Jacobs, Jim O’Heir, Amy Schumer, T.J. Miller, William Peterson, and more.  Which is how a good road trip movie should be.  The pairing of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley is actually kind of brilliant, and works a lot better than I thought it would.  The film has some problems establishing a tone, but I respect the ending.  (Though I sense the two are related.)

#84.  Cloud Atlas

A noble failure.  I respect the heck out of the ambition of the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, but this one just didn’t quite work.  The individual segments were all fine.  None of them were boring, but not really sure I needed to see any more of any of them.  It was neat seeing the actors take on a bunch of wildly different role, but I’ll confess I didn’t really see the point.  Which may have been my problem overall with the film.  It seemed like it was maybe trying to make a point or have a message, with the various storylines and actors in multiple roles and vaguely philosophical underpinnings.  But I didn’t see one.

#83.  Damsels in Distress

My first Whit Stillman film, and I was not impressed.  To me, it felt like Greta Gerwig’s character was out of a Wes Anderson film, and that’s not a compliment.  Most of the other characters were somewhat less twee, but still pretty unbearable to watch.  That said, I do kinda wish there was someone around who would appreciate if it I started calling things a “playboy” or “operator” move.  Partially because she’s great and partially because hers was the only character I could recognize, but the standout to me was Analeigh Tipton.  Curious to hear John’s thoughts on the Sambola! and if it deserves to be an international dance craze.  Also, it was odd to see Aubrey Plaza in a world where her shtick feels like normalcy.

#82.  The Sessions

Talked about this one in various awards wrap ups.  The main acting performances were top notch.  Helen Hunt certainly deserved her Oscar nomination.  And John Hawkes probably was robbed of his.  Hawkes’s performance, I’d argue, is kinda sneaky good.  For an awards baity movie about a guy with a serious medical condition, there are a surprisingly few number of baity-type scenes.  Instead, Hawkes somehow imbues his character with such depth while only moving his head.  It is really impressive.  The story was a little weak, though.  In particular, the relationship between the characters never felt justified.  Hunt and Hawkes only meet for a few times and while I realize spending a lot of time together is not a prerequisite to feeling a deep connection, I think it is on the film to show how and why their relationship is so strong.

#81.  Brave

There were some funny bits.  The triplets. for example, were quite amusing.  And the clans fighting was a great scene.  Actually, you know, the clans fighting probably should have been the movie’s focus.  Because Merida’s story was second-rate.  Just felt uninspired.  And I don’t think that’s me holding Pixar to a higher standard, I think that’s me holding it to the same standard I would any other movie.

I know 2008 is a distant (bad) memory, but much like last year’s Margot at the Wedding diatribe I wanted to circle back and get a few things off my chest. It’s funny how it worked out- this site managed five posts dedicated to the entire Best Picture slate (and none for The Reader or Benjamin Button) but got up multiple posts for films like The Wrestler, Happy-Go-Lucky, and The Visitor. We know how to be relevant, eh?

The Reader‘s big category nods still bother me (to the extent that one can still be bothered by Oscar nominations in May), especially if it was at the expense of The Dark Knight or The Wrestler. It’s still a decent film but not all that effective at what it sets out to do.

Plus Kate Winslet is going for her third major award for her work in this film, as she is up for an MTV Movie award! And she’s competing against some familiar 2008 Oscar faces! She’s taking on Anne Hathaway again, though for Bride Wars instead of Rachel Getting Married. And Angelina Jolie- but for Wanted. Oh and Kristen Stewart for Twilight! Taraji P. Henson (Button) rounds out the list.

But let’s step back and reflect on this again: The Reader has been nominated for an MTV Movie award (but will lose to Twilight)! Its themes clearly resonate with the tween set.

ANYWAY

To me, the film has three distinct elements: the relationship between Hannah (Kate Winslet) and Michael (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes), the implications of Hannah’s involvement in the Holocaust, and the power of literature. Apparently the Weinsteins tried to play down the pedophiliac aspect but to me it was the best part of the film. Their awkward relationship, the way he becomes totally involved in her, and the repercussions that last for decades all really grabbed me. A sexual relationship with an older woman at the age of 15 isn’t going to affect every kid for the rest of his life but it’s entirely likely that it could. By young adulthood Michael is distant in all his social relationships. And when he is unexpectedly confronted with Hannah’s past it’s devastating.

The Holocaust elements have some good ideas. Who do we blame individually when a whole society commits and atrocity? And how does that society move on? It’s a fascinating question that helps propel the film even when it falters. The line from Michael’s classmate about how Hannah’s trial is proceeding only because a victim wrote a book about her crimes – that this is selective prosecution – is brilliant and I was dismayed when the film didn’t dig much deeper. But then Michael’s trip to a concentration camp completely crosses the line into Holocaust porn, one of the most egregious examples I’ve ever seen.

And then there’s the whole message about literature and literacy that couldn’t have fallen more flat. My discussion about this will go at the end due to spoilers, but suffice it to say it nearly entirely killed the movie for me. I couldn’t have cared less about the bond of literature between Hannah and Michael.

Quick Oscar notes. Kate Winslet is terrific and it’s nice she finally got her win. She’s excellent here though I wouldn’t have voted for her. I hope her win doesn’t go down as one of those “make up” or “lifetime” Oscars but it may since she was better in every other film I’ve seen that she’s been nominated for. I loved David Kross, who learned English for the role. He would have made an excellent supporting actor nomination. The picture, director, and adapted screenplay nominations are all hogwash. Cinematography is a fine nomination, especially since Roger Deakins needs a nom every year, right?

The end here is spoilery, but let’s face it if you haven’t seen The Reader by now you aren’t going to. You probably forgot about its existence.

It’s amusing that the “big secret” of the film is not that Hannah was involved in the Holocaust, as I had assumed walking in (in which case it would have been a horribly kept secret). Instead it is that she is illiterate. So. What. The film has gall to try to explain some of Hannah’s crimes using her illiteracy: note how she never would have taken the job with the SS if she hadn’t have been promoted at an earlier job to a position that required reading skills. If you want to make a film about an individual’s culpability in the midst of a civilization committing a terrible atrocity then do it- it could be very interesting. But literacy couldn’t be more irrelevant. Does her inability to read mitigate or exacerbate Hannah’s crimes in any way? Of course not.

And then she learns to read! Hooray! What redemption! Except that it matters not at all. Y’know, because of the Holocaust and all. Here’s a hint: if you’re going to make a film about the redemptive power of literature, DON’T REDEEM THE HOLOCAUST! Redemption from Holocaust requires a lot more than reading.

But Hollywood is self-centered likes to be reminded of the Importance of Art so it ate this film up. And I’ll stop before this turns into a post appropriate for the mouth-breathers at Big Hollywood.

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