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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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Entries in film critics (124)


YES, NO, MAYBE SO: Anomalisa

Coco here, ready to talk about the trailer for Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa


- Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine... Even if you don't love Synecdoche New York, a Charlie Kaufman project deserves enthusiasm.
- We don't get enough stop-motion animation in our screens, and even fewer animated movies aimed at adult audiences.
- In a sea of computer generated mediocrity, it's always nice to see a strong voice be inspired by the medium of animation, which seems to be a good way for auteurs to find revitalizing force. Think, for example, of Wes Anderson's wave of success after Fantastic Mr. Fox. 

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"Suffragette" Shoulders into the Oscar Fray

Is “Suffragette” faltering under the weight of overly high expectations?  With its impressive pedigree and unimpeachable subject matter, Sarah Gavron’s historical drama about the militant wing of the British suffragist movement seemed poised to be a strong Oscar contender for this fall.  Now, as we move towards the holidays, its status is looking uncertain: reviews have been mixed, and it’s drawn criticism for everything from its limited narrative focus to the limited screen time of Meryl Streep, who receives top of the line billing for a role that’s essentially no more than a cameo.  

If there’s a common trend to the criticism, it’s that the critics seem mostly preoccupied with what the movie doesn't do rather than what it does.  “Suffragette” is less a historical chronicle of the suffragettes than a snapshot view through the eyes of one (fictional) working class woman who’s accidentally and at first reluctantly drafted into their ranks.  It’s a study of what circumstances would drive such a woman to join a movement that would seem to hold no immediate benefit or attraction for someone in her position.  [more...]

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Q&A: Friday Nights, Voice Work, Underseen Gems

You asked some questions. I'm finally answering them. You know how this works. Please do chime in in the comments. The whole reason we do the column is for participatory flavor and that includes a pinch of you! Our Question of the Week which is Friday Night Lights themed is, annoyingly, from "Anonny" (how about a name?) so he/she gets to choose our next banner topic! (And how about our current "joy" banner. I put Jessica Lange in it for the first time and no one notices!?)

What is it, a crime? Is it a crime to look at Lange?

Pat Carroll recording UrsulaJAMES: Does the trend now that animated films only use "names" for voice work mean that we'll never see the likes of Pat Carroll again?

That would be among the greatest of cinematic tragedies. Unlike seemingly many TFE readers, though, I don't actually share an interest in voice actors getting Oscar nominations. But as with motion capture and the much discussed pioneering case of Andy Serkis, I do think this is where Oscar is really dropping the ball in terms of never giving out special achievement statues. I can't even remember when the last one was -- was it for Toy Story (1995) before there was the Animated Feature category? Pat Carroll's work as Ursula is the single greatest voice performance in the history of animation. (Team Experience shamefully put her in only 3rd when we took a poll)

The days of specialized voice talent getting prime opportunities like that are gone but there is hope: Pixar uses celebrities sometimes but they don't rely on them exclusively the way Dreamworks and other lesser studios do. And sometimes their "celebrities" aren't exactly household names so they aren't using them for advertising purposes, but because they genuinely love the voice. Wasn't Richard Kind a great choice for "Bing Bong" in Inside Out

DEBORAH: If you could choose one lesser-known movie each from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that everyone should see, what would they be (and why)?


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Inside Out at Cannes: the critics approve

We have a new Pixar film!

Two years after Monsters University failed to actively offend or actively entertain most of the world, the studio's 15th feature, Inside Out premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival today. The consensus of critical opinion is that it's a strong work if not quite among the studio's best. While nobody I've found has tried to compare it to the recent run of not-that-greats including Cars 2 and Brave, it seems fair to assume it's a return to form.

Here's a quick tour of some of the reviews so far, in descending order of enthusiasm:

"...promises to forever change the way people think about the way people think, delivering creative fireworks grounded by a wonderfully relatable family story."
-Peter Debruge, Variety

"This is a humane and heart-wrenchingly beautiful film from Docter; even measured alongside Pixar’s numerous great pictures, it stands out as one of the studio’s very best."
-Robbie Collin, The Telegraph

"It hasn’t anything as genuinely emotionally devastating as Up, or the subtlety and inspired subversion of Monsters Inc. and the Toy Stories which it certainly resembles at various stages. But it is certainly a terrifically likeable, ebullient and seductive piece of entertainment."
-Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

"It can feel didactic in a way that the let-the-pictures-tell-the-story elegance of "Toy Story" and Docter's own "Up" never did... However, once the gigantic machine is up and running, these issues mostly fall away like booster engines from a space rocket."
-Jessica Kiang, Indiewire

"It’s an audacious concept, and Docter’s imagination, along with those of his numerous collaborators, is adventurous and genially daft enough to put it over."
-Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

Those of us stuck hundreds of miles from the Croisette have to wait a while yet to make up our own minds - Inside Out hits the States on June 19. These early reviews have done a mostly good job of calming down the little voice inside my own head that's been terrified that Pixar would be stuck in a gear of high-achieving mediocrity for the rest of time, though "hey, this is a fun and good movie!" isn't quite the overriding level of passion that the studio used to produce from film after film after film.

The Voice Cast in Cannes

Still, it augurs well that, at a minimum, we're going to have a pretty snazzy piece of creative and moving entertainment at this time next month. It's a great feeling to actually be looking forward to a Pixar movie for a change, and not nervously counting down to the release date while praying "please don't suck". "Not one of their all-time masterpieces" will be good enough to get through these last few weeks of waiting!


'Cate Blanchett Will Slay You'

Next Season on the WB This Season at Cannnes: Cate, the Cinephile Slayer

It's not really "news" per se to share the information that Cate Blanchett has won another round of extravagantly positive reviews for a performance; that's kind of her thing, and habitual happenings aren't news. But the early round of Carol reviews are in and everyone loves it. 

 The adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel "Carol" (or "The Price of Salt" depending on when it was published) about a married woman (Cate Blanchett) carrying on with a younger shopgirl (Rooney Mara) has been our Most Awaited feature for two years running in our annual We Can't Wait series. It's been EIGHT YEARS since Todd Haynes had a movie out. To prevent overhyping, I'm not going to fully read any reviews but here are some blurb whore quotes that could sell tickets whenever they decide to release the movie.  My gut says December and I'm not happy about waiting that long:

And the acting slays you: Cate Blanchett, especially, somehow leaps over her own highest standards with a subtlety that’s little short of phenomenal.
-The Telegraph 

A superbly realised companion piece to his 50s Sirkian drama Far From Heaven... creamily sensuous, richly observed."
-The Guardian

The success of the material ultimately rests on the formidable strength of its actresses, both credibly buried in their roles."

Carol is both a beautiful miniature and a majestic romance"
-The Wrap 

Oscar Trivia For the Road...
The last time Cate indulged in the lesbian angst subgenre she was the younger woman and she and her co-star were both Oscar-nominated as were the Screenplay & Score. Coincidentally the last time Todd Haynes had a real Oscar hit, the film also received 4 nominations and also lost each of its categories. Will history repeat itself? Against my better judgment I skimmed several reviews and frequent mentions of the films "quiet" and "restraint" and "careful pacing" don't make it any kind of Oscar slam dunk, but then again Oscar is only icing. What's more important is this --  new Todd Haynes cake! 


Links on the Bubble

Variety Baz Luhrmann has found his lead for his Netflix music series The Get Down. It's an unknown singer songwriter named Herizen Guardiola 
THR 13 shows on the bubble. They'll be renewed or cancelled by early May. I'm rooting so hard for Agent Carter but you never know
The Guardian Matthew Vaughn (The Kingsman) to reboot Flash Gordon. Oh dear
/Film that was quick - Daredevil (Charlie Cox) will officially be in Avengers: Infinity Wars movie in some capacity. But that's like a billion superhero movies away so we'll see if it comes to pass

Awards Daily Meryl Streep does everything: she's now written a foreword to a new cookbook
THR industry folks rank New York's film critics 
Variety rave reviews for Imelda Staunton's Mama Rose in London's current revival of Gypsy
Comic Alliance the Wonder Woman film lost its director (Michelle McLaren) and now has a new one Patty Jenkins -- the same Jenkins who was supposed to do Thor and didn't. Ah musical chairs
Time the list of 100 Most Influential People is out. Movie peeps that made the list: Richard Linklater, Julianne Moore, Bradley Cooper, Chris Nolan, and Chris Pratt 

LGBT Interest
Out also has an annual power list out. While most of the showbiz entries lean heavily towards TV there are a few movie players: Megan Ellison, Scott Rudin, Lee Daniels (though he surely made the list due to Empire), Dustin Lance Black and Ellen Page.
New Now Next the 13 greatest sissies of all time from Quentin Crisp (you must read his writing about movies) to Liberace

SJP a few days ago in NYC

MNPP Rock Hudson's ex lover speaks
The New Civil Rights Movement (long read) "Maybe Yesterday, But Not Tonight" on gay marriage and the inner and outer turbulence of our changing world

It's not news per se since we've known about it for a long time but it's now official that Sarah Jessica Parker is returning to HBO Comedy series stardom with Divorce. SJP is fearless. Think of the way people treat Madonna. Once women are past a certain age people want them to disappear. Only the brave soldier on so I hope this series is brilliant and all best wishes her way. But can we talk about how rude it was for Gothamist to illustrate the news of this series order by HBO with a photo of Sarah caressing her husband Matthew Broderick's face? 


Q&A: TV Queens, Musical Divas, and Bad Work by Great Actors

Time for more Reader Questions. Thanks for asking them. Only six this time and they're nearly all actressy (next week something differentd) but the answers are lengthy.

TROY: A performance by an actress in television -- either episodic, movie, or miniseries -- that could stand alongside the best of the best work of Oscar-winning divas.

NATHANIEL: This is an unfair question since the reason people have such affection for television performances from the miraculously good ones to the just competents ones is that the actor in question has had literally hours and hours of time to develop that character and the viewer has had hours, months and sometimes even years in which to fall in love with the role itself (and sometimes the actor, too). Different mediums, agendas, ways of becoming iconic. Apples / Oranges. But of TV-centric actresses that repeatedly deliver A grade awards-quality work no matter the show or character they're working with (an important distinction) my vote for the best television actresses ever are Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Edie Falco... Claire Danes for the bronze should she add a third performance as impressive as Angela Chase and Carrie Mathison to her series-ography (wait what do you call a television resume?).

Three final notes on this TV actress question. Movies no longer really have an equivalent to the kind of broad near slapstick comedy that TV often specializes in but literally no one makes me laugh harder than Jane Krakowski (Ally McBeal / 30 Rock / Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and I have a rage stroke every time I remember that she's Emmy-less. Three recent singular TV performances I think of all the time for hitting every possible pleasure spot in terms of delivering both great actressing and nuanced TV characterizations without ever starting to feel stale (the danger of long term work) are Connie Britton in Friday Night Lights, and Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks from Mad Men.

Finally, though I know it's not a popular opinion critically speaking (even though the show is historically very popular) I absolutely proclaim Sarah Jessica Parker a true genius for her work on Sex & the City. Gee-nee-us. Like Meg Ryan / Julia Roberts / Sandra Bullock / Goldie Hawn at their peaks rom-com perfection but for the small screen.  'Your girl is lovely, Hubble Sarah.' 

BENJI: What is your favorite silent movie/star+performance?

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)

NATHANIEL: Maria Falconetti is unforgettable in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) which I'd also call the best of the silents. But... Best is different than Favorite. And that masterpiece has a kind of fetishized suffering, like a Von Trier without the childish pranking, that you really have to be in the right mood for. So the truer answer to your question is Louise Brooks in Pandora's Box (1929). That's my favorite silent ever (which is saying a lot because I love so many of the ones I've seen) and I also think she's great in Diary of a Lost Girl... though that movie isn't quite at her level the way her best known film is. I love all the usual stars (Gish, Garbo, Valentino) but it's Brooks that does it for me the most.

Laika: Hollywood is calling. They NEED YOUR ADVICE. They are making an Avengers -style superhero-teamup film about the divas of musical theatre, but they are having difficulty casting key roles: Liza Minnelli. Carol Channing. Elaine Stritch. Ethel Merman. BARBRA. Some people are pushing to cast Blake Lively as Bernadette Peters! Who could they cast as these inimitable women?!


Only the originals will do. So think Expendables instead but with the budget and the quality of a Marvel Studios film like The Avengers. I've mocked up a dream cast list but perhaps you have different ideas?

Half of the budget is for the lawyers because trying to decide who gets top billing would be A NIGHTMARE. Maybe you can try to decide who gets top billing in the comments, but I fear the wrath of all of them if I place them in order.

TD: Least favorite performances by favorite actors?

NATHANIEL: This topic probably deserves a whole big post but then we'd have to dwell in disappointment and who needs that? So let's just throw a quick list out there. Let's start with a few actors that are actressy according to Nathaniel (i.e. great / obsession worthy). I don't really get what Fassbender in Dangerous Method or Jude in Contagion were going for or I do but I don't like it. Jeff Bridges has been phoning it in since the Oscar win which is a shame. Okay enough men. The women.

Hathaway is bad in Eyesore in Wonderland (but, then, who isn't? I mean, besides HBC). Streep is terrible in The Manchurian Candidate, overplaying everything. Chastain in Miss Julie, same thing. Too much too much. Modulate girl, you're so good at that in other films. I didn't understand what the hell was going on with La Pfeiffer in Up Close and Personal, did you? In regards to my idol, I praised her at the time as an obsessed fan, but I must accept in retrospect that her double 1999 star turn in The Deep End of the Ocean and The Story of Us (which I always think of together) are, like Streep's in Doubt, a strange mix of irritatingly off key and really great. Whenever that happens I wonder if the star is distracted by something we'll never know about on set or at home or in their heads... or if it's director or production problems that have worked their way into the editing bay.

Julianne Moore? Hmmm. Well, actually take a look at this image.

I meant to share this chart a few months ago when I first looked at it. This is a table of the biggest box office hits of Julianne Moore's career. Looking at it I suddenly realized why non-fans have sometimes had bizarre notions about the level of her talent. If all someone had seen was a handful of these and that handful didn't include both The Hours & Boogie Nights the casual moviegoer may have regarded either as flukes and been reasonably been misled into thinking that she wasn't that special and not understood the fuss. Not that she's bad in these movies but Julianne is a Kidman in the way that her best work is almost always in the most complicated and weirdest movies. i.e. the ones people have to be convinced to see either by nominations for awards or critics never shutting up about them. I've only thought Julianne was actively bad a few times. Let us never speak of Freedomland or Evolution or that scene in Laws of Attraction where she eats junk food again. Don't Speak! 

BRIAN: How do you feel about the word pretentious when used by film critics?

NATHANIEL: I hate it. Charitably it only means 'I don't like this person's ambitions,' whatever they may be. Uncharitably it can mean "I didn't understand this movie." It's as useless as the word "unforgettable" in film reviews. Real talk, film critics: We know you JUST walked out of that movie and are writing this for publication deadline tonight or tomorrow. Half the movies in existence are unforgettable for at least a good half hour after watching them. Save that word for a few months later at least so that it means something.

DANIEL: Did the work of Hilary Swank in The Homesman make you appreciate her more as an actress, or is she still hand in hand with Renée Zelwegger in your nemesis path? In terms of career which do you prefer ? Love from Brazil...

NATHANIEL: Big love right back at Brazil. The site has always had a big following in Brazil -- not sure why that is apart from Brazilians being awesome.

I made kind of a big deal about these two as my nemeses (I know some people think it's childish but it's like an internal barometer corrector since I'm The Man Who Loved Actresses Too Much.) but I don't deny their gifts. There are actresses I think are far less talented than either Hilary or Renee that are famous but they don't annoy me as much, largely I think because they don't appear in the type of films I am otherwise drawn to. I was actually a huge fan of Renée's from Jerry Maguire (1996) through Bridget Jones (2001) but irreconciliable differences; we had a brutal divorce soon thereafter.

I've never been a "fan" of Swank but I think she's just great in Boys Don't Cry (I have eyes) and she really is very good in The Homesman (2014), which I'd easily call her second best. Even in scenes that don't directly address it, unlike that touching faux-piano scene which does, she just comes across as ineffably sad but determined to march on. I think she could have made a real run for a nomination if the reviews had been better and if it had been a more straightforward film about her character rather than the shapeshifter movie that it was. 

Please chime in on my responses or with your own in the comments.