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Entries in Jessica Lange (16)

Sunday
Nov162014

AFI Fest's Gala Premieres: 'The Gambler' and 'The Homesman'

Margaret here, reporting from the LA festival beat with short takes on some would-be Oscar contenders.


The Gambler
Screenwriter William Monahan (The Departed), director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), and star Mark Wahlberg joined forces on this remake of the 1974 James Caan movie of the same name, and the result is certainly stylish. It's well-shot, coolly assured, and smartly paced. Wahlberg leads the movie capably as Jim Bennett, a man from a rich family with a solid career who has nonetheless dug himself to rock bottom with extravagant compulsive gambling. 

The film is at its best when it engages with the question of why someone whose life is granted so much privilege so systematically pisses it all away. John Goodman, typically scene-stealing as a dangerous loan shark, makes many salient points about Jim's decisions, which are either self-destructive or indefensibly stupid.  To its detriment, the film ultimately succumbs to the impulse to romanticize its protagonist, asking the audience to cheer and respect him when he  finally makes his first sound decision.

The supporting cast is largely excellent; it will surprise no one that Jessica Lange wrings every ounce of personality, pathos, and curdled maternal affection from her few minutes of screentime. Even so, she makes little impact on the movie because, like the protagonist, it brushes her away. The Gambler can claim the dubious achievement of completing the Stock Female Character hat trick: (1) a maternal figure who exists to thanklessly prop up the male lead, (2) a pretty young thing (Brie Larson) who we're told is a stone-cold genius, but is given no development arc and has inexplicable romantic interest in the lead, and (3) a passel of nameless and faceless strippers. Slow clap. 

These are not deal-breakers for every moviegoer, but they're emblematic of the film's general reliance on familiar beats instead of showing us something new.

 

The Homesman
BREAKING NEWS: Tommy Lee Jones smiled upwards of twice when introducing his newest film at AFI Fest. He had glowing things to say about the whole cast, particularly  "the miraculous Hilary Swank", who more than earned her praise. The Homesman is a stubbornly unromantic and prickly western, but Swank anchors it with a very fine, emotionally vivid performance.

The Homesman's portrait of life in the Nebraska Territory is bleak; life is hard, and heroism a luxury. When a town meeting is called to order the transport of three mentally ill women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, and Sonja Richter) back to family in Iowa, their husbands shrink from the task. The staunchly moralistic Mary Bee Cuddy (Swank) takes on the assignment, knowing it will be a miserable and dangerous enterprise, because no one else will do it and she knows it must be done. Upon acquiring a traveling companion in a self-interested claim jumper who may be named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), she sets off with her dead-eyed charges.

There are many well-conceived notes in the movie. A knife fight over a disinterested captive, Mary Bee silently playing an embroidered set of piano keys for lack of a real instrument, a flashback to a passenger's slow break from sanity-- each hints at a poignancy that never feels realized in the film as a whole. The tone occasionally veers into incongruous places-- Tommy Lee Jones' introduction is oddly slapstick, and there's a vengeful sequence in the third act that would have been more at home in Django Unchained-- and while the story doesn't conform to any expected trajectory, neither does it end as strongly as it began. 

The movie didn't leave me sure exactly what story its makers wanted to tell, or at least, it never convinced me of why they were telling it. Even so, it's at times both moving and starkly beautiful, and will not be easy to forget. 

Saturday
Nov012014

AHS: Freakshow "Edward Mordrake Pt. 2"

I apologize for the lateness of this piece! AHS's two-part Halloween episode was structured around green smoke spewing evil spirit Edward Mordrake's search for another soul to add to his collection of dead ghouls. This search was something like a B story entirely made up of SAG Ensemble clip reel auditions with several actors getting their own "darkest hour" backstory to tell. I loved the Illustrated Seal's (Mat Fraser) clip reel about his "handsome face" and am pleased to have read that Ryan Murphy, recognizing his talent, wants to give him a non-freak role somehow in a future season, despite his deformed hands and arms.

After completely the sad story roundup, Mordrake decides to take Elsa (Jessica Lange) with him into the afterlife following her grisly tale of her Weimer Era Germany sex club stardom ends in the grisly chain-sawing of her legs. (Yuck -- and that isn't even the grossest image in her story). But, Mordrake stops when he hears distant music.

Where is it coming from?

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Oct232014

AHS: Freakshow "Edward Mordrake Pt. 1"

AHS rips its own plotlines off for this new episode (guest starring Wes Bentley)How do you make an episode in which almost nothing happens almost half-again as long as episodes where lots of things happen? I know not but Hollywood is getting very good at it lately what with all their supersized TV episodes and two part movie finales for quadrilogies where a trilogy (or less) would do.

In "honor" of the bloating, we're going svelte with a briefer rundown . 

Plot: A con artist and his protege arrive at the freakshow with nefarious plans. Bette and Dot still hate each other. Bearded Lady gets bad news. And, finally, ripping itself off completely Freakshow reboots Coven's Danny Huston plotline about a ghostly mass murderer from the past being unintentionally summoned to visit our makeshift family of weirdos.

Episode MVP: Kathy Bates. Ethel visits a doctor and learns she only has a year to live. Immediately gets hammered and then recalls her tragic story of exploitation. Special shout out to Kathy Dietch, the actress playing Ethel's younger self in flashbacks who's done a great if thankless job this season.


Musical Break: Jessica Lange sings after being conned by the newly arrived "spiritualist" Esmeralda (Emma Roberts) into believing there's still a chance for stardom. Lange has now sung twice in a season in which they've hired Patti Labelle and given her zip to do. Now, that's freaky.

Body Count
: Unknown. Edward Mordrake (Wes Bentley), a man with two faces, massacres an entire circus freakshow in old timey flashback before hanging himself. And a group of birds are decapitated to piss me off on my couch. Enough with the decapitated birds Miss Julie Ryan Murphy!

Movie Reference
: A visual homage to a classic moment from John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) via Twisty the Clown.

Episode Grade
: D+

That's it for this week but for a NSFW bit after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Oct082014

AHS: Freakshow "Monsters Among Us"

The shadows that had sheltered me were banished by the blinding light of scrutiny. I knew I was about to enter the gates of hell but like the inescapable pull of gravity there was nothing I could do about it.

Sarah Paulson's opening monologue to the fourth season of American Horror Story: Freakshow is rather how I feel about AHS itself. It's hellish, purposefully, and I feel a gravitational pull to watch even though I never love it. Grande Dame Guignol (also known as Hag Horror), a wonderfully stylized actressy subgenre of horror, was dead until Ryan Murphy revived it but his take on it is way too fused with the Slasher, the grossest and most obvious subgenre of horror that refuses to die. 

This first episode of Season 4 begins promisingly enough with a patient average shot length and plentiful mood, though did we have to lift the Under the Skin score wholesale for what appears to be Elsa's (Jessica Lange) actual theme music this season? (I know the world is in love with Jessica Lange right now but Scarlett's ___ might well devour her whole.) Elsa recruits Siamese Sisters (Sarah Paulson as Dot & Bette) who murdered their mother. Meanwhile a scary clown with Leatherface like add-ons to his face (g-ross) in what appears to be a costume that hasn't been washed in years starts stabbing people gruesomely. He doesn't seem to belong to the actual Freakshow. We meet a wide cast of characters but Angela Bassett and her three breasts, Michael Chiklis as the Strong Man and Denis O'Hare as someone are as yet unseen. [More...]

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Friday
Aug292014

Thoughts I Had... on a bunch of new posters

We've neglected to share new posters so, let's do. A few brief thoughts, in the order they came, after each poster: Starred Up, Whiplash, The Seventh Son, Theory of Everything and American Horror Story: Freakshow.

Discuss!

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Friday
Feb282014

"Is it a crime to look at Lange?"

Jessica Lange is now the face of Marc Jacobs Beauty line at 64, photographed by David Sims below. (Take that previously daring Lancôme with Isabella Rossellini as their international spokesface until she was in her dotage at 44). 

What a second act Jess's career! After a very long rough stretch (approximately 1996-2008 which saw the likes of Hush and Bonneville and a couple of barely released movies) she's really on top of it all again... except the movies. What can we trace the revival back to? Many of you would shout "Grey Gardens!" from 2009, but I think the secret might be her honorary place in David O. Russell's I ♥ Huckabees with its Jessica Lange photo fetish.

Is it a crime? Is it a crime to look at Lange?!

Question: If she made Titus (1999) or Big Fish (2003) now, and gave the exact same performance she gave then, post career resurgence, do you think she'd get a Supporting Actress nod? With Oscar, timing is often everything. 

Friday
Jan312014

GALECA & GLAAD: Gay 'Best of the Year' Honors

Though I complain about the proliferation of awards groups some of them serve more of a purpose than others, even if they're also lining up to honor the same things as every other group. Like AIDS related Best Picture nominee Dallas Buyers Club twhich some gay critics don't like at all and on principal but which factors into both of the gay-specific awards recently announced.

Now, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has made really suspect endorsements over the years (Let us not speak of I Know Pronounce You Chuck & Larry) but they've also highlighted and fought against a very real problem so you have to respect their greasy wheel existence if not always their execution of message. 

As per usual, GLAAD will hold a bicoastal bifurcated awards ceremony, first in Los Angeles in April and then in New York in May, long after Oscar season is over. GLAAD's film (and other medium) nominees as well as the nominees and winners of GALECA (the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association) are after the jump with commentary and in some cases links. It's always bugged me that when magazines, blogs, and web articles are nominated for prizes the nominations list rarely have an easy way to check out the nominees so I figure I'm doing a public service by including them. You're welcome. 

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