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Entries in Shailene Woodley (33)

Sunday
Oct162011

NYFF: " The Descendants"

Michael C from Serious Film here with the closing night film of the New York Film Festival.

It is at times like this when I feel a pang of envy for those people out there who are oblivious to the world of obsessive cinephiles like myself.

These are the people who saw and loved Sideways in 2004 and went merrily on with their lives, unaware that there were folks like me waiting through an excruciating seven-year hiatus for Alexander Payne to settle on his next project. Film lovers like myself saw Sideways as the culmination of an incredible eight-year run of movies that positioned him to be this generation's answer to Billy Wilder, and who was basically alone out there making comedies for adults with intelligence, heart and wit in such strong measure.

So it is not exactly fair that The Descendants has to live up to that incredible weight of expectations. Taken on its own it is a fine piece of work. It is flawlessly acted, makes great use of location, and gathers a genuine emotional impact as it reaches its final scenes. But taken as a step in Payne's career this can't help but feel like a minor work. A solid double after a streak of home runs.

"You really don't get it, do you Dad?"The film hits a false note right at the beginning frontloading the story with a cumbersome voiceover narration it doesn't need. We are told Clooney plays Matt King, lifelong Hawaiian, husband, father of two daughters and trustee of twenty-five inherited acres of undeveloped Hawaiian paradise worth untold millions. As the film opens Matt is nearing a deal to finally cash in on all that land when a boating accident lands his wife in a coma from which she is unlikely to wake. Clooney is forced to try to make order of his messy personal life as he spreads the sad news to family and friends.

One thing that made Payne's previous work so memorable is that he creates lead characters so well drawn they have since come to completely define their type. Is it possible to think of ruthless ambition without thinking of Tracy Flick frantically jutting her hand in the air? Is there a more vivid portrait of flailing middle-aged desperation than Jack chasing Miles down the side of a hill, wine bottle in hand? Clooney's Matt King never pops in this way. He mostly seems like a pretty nice guy. Not husband or father of the year, but doing his best. He becomes focused on the revelation of his wife's infidelities, but since we never get a strong sense on their marriage pre-coma this doesn't have a lot of dramatic juice to it. Similarly, after a rocky start with his daughters he settles into being a decent parent. Clooney gives a characteristically strong performance, wringing as much as he can from the part, but the character simply doesn't go to any particularly surprising places. It's a very good performance, but it is exactly the very good performance we are expecting.

Sky-high expectations aside there is a lot to recommend about The Descendants, the great cast first and foremost. Shailene Woodley is every bit Clooney's equal in the role of the eldest, rebellious King daughter. I would not be surprised to hear her name among the year's supporting actresses nominees. And in brief supporting turns Robert Forster and Judy Greer nail their scenes in a big way, creating the film's strongest moments. Memo to Hollywood casting agents who didn't get it the first time Tarantino sent it in 1998: Put Robert Forster in everything.

Clooney & Screen Daughters

Even the great Billy Wilder was capable of following up the back-to-back masterpieces of Some Like it Hot and The Apartment with a turkey like Irma la Douce. The Descendants is not a mistep anywhere near that egregious. It is a good, occasionally very good, drama with some well-earned laughs and emotional payoffs that stick well enough that you forgive the film's shortcomings. Yet, nothing in the film excited me as much as the knowledge that Payne is already working on his next directorial effort, due in 2012.

Previously on NYFF
The Artist finds another mega-fan in Nathaniel.
The Skin I Live In burrows under Michael's.
Goodbye First Love whispers its pain to Kurt.
Party of Shame Nathaniel drops Fassbender's magic name.
Hugo is under construction but Nathaniel likes the blueprint.
My Week With Marilyn entertains Nathaniel only when its On Set With Marilyn. 

...and many more!

Wednesday
Oct122011

Naked Gold Man: The "Breakthrough" Business

This week, let's talk beginnings and breakthroughs.

The annual Hollywood Awards, which announced their awards and nominees on Friday (previously noted), aren't typically considered part of the Oscar race. Unofficially-officially the National Board of Review's early December announcement is still the kick-off though the Gotham Awards (late November) have been rising as an alternative "first stop" in power. Still, the Hollywood Awards are glance at in order to see which publicity teams are working overtime to gather kindling for awards fire. Of particular interest, I think, is the plethora of "breakthrough" awards that they hand out. Breakthrough Awards are nearly always more PR driven than other categories by their very nature regardless of worthiness of whoever is honored. That's not a judgement but a neutral statement.

If breakthrough awards didn't exist, it would be much harder for young talents to be competitive in an awards race. They don't come into any contest with the advantages of pre-sold media interest, critical reputation, or habitual preferencing. The only advantage newbies have each year is nascent; people of all shapes, sizes, and ages (including Oscar voters) like receiving shiny new toys to play with at Christmas. Make of this what you will but this lone advantage is quite potent for actresses and often inconsequential for actors.  

But you made me feel...
Yeah you made me feel shiny and new
Like a virgin 

If you stop to think about it from a publicity perspective, Breakthrough Awards are very much like those old Vanity Fair Hollywood covers. Yes, there were probably teams of editors or creative directors selecting the 9 to 13 cover beauties, but those same beauties were essentially culled from whichever young "up and coming" stars had management teams that were able to bend Conde Nast's ears in the first place.

Vanity Fair's 2010 "Dolls". Five of them are in awards-hopeful films this year: Carey Mulligan (SHAME), Mia Wasikowska (ALBERT NOBBS & JANE EYRE), Emma Stone (THE HELP), Anna Kendrick (50/50) and Evan Rachel Wood (THE IDES OF MARCH)

The Hollywood Awards are but the first organization of many to come to name their favorite shiny new toys of 2011. They offer up not one, not two, not three, not four but FIVE (whew) for us to play with. CONSIDER...

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Sep132011

Wooooo(t). It's Link Time.

As you know if you're paying attention (there will be a quiz) I've been offline for 72 hours. GASP! So if some of the following links are GASP 72 hours old, you will forgive. For the record I highly recommend spending 72 hours in a cabin in the woods without internet, tv or cel phones (provided there are no serial killers nearby). Highly relaxing!

Let's catch up with pieces/stories you (by which I mean "I") might have missed! 

The Film Doctor on Contagion and the "die-off" scenario.
Go Fug Yourself succinct funny snappy boring Brangelina
Blog Stage will Broadway actress Mary Farber be a new SNL cast member? 
Towleroad the continuing antics of James Franco. This time painted pink for Woooo mag. 
My New Plaid Pants Kate Winslet... and Elizabeth Taylor 
Natasha VC remember a time via Pauline Kael when Nicolas Cage was sorta wonderful. I saw Moonstruck again recently and it was just ♥♥♥♥... well that's amore!

Empire Online Hugh Grant joins the already gargantuan name cast of Cloud Atlas which, if you'll recall, already has three directors. It sounds like a mess but Empire is feeling hopeful.
Awards Daily on Oscar and sex. Do they really take issue with explicit films? (in short: yes)
IndieWire Remember when I made that brief Oscar prediction about Shailene Woodley in The Descendants and people made fun? Well, her buzz isn't boiling or anything but it is simmering ever since Telluride.
WSJ Asia Scene Deanie Ip (A Simple Life) who just won the Venice Volpi Cup for Best Actress on why she took a long break from acting...

I think nobody wants me, because I’m very difficult.

Towleroad Clint Eastwood kicks off the UnOfficial (but not for long) Armie Hammer Best Supporting Actor campaign for J. Edgar while Hammer boasts of his own chest hair
The Telegraph interviews the ascendant Ryan Gosling

If I'm still acting at 46, I'll be surprised.

Say it ain't so. Of course it isn't. I wish I had kept a spreadsheet of all the alarmist things celebrities have said over the years because no one ever remembers... including me. As I typed this sentence I was about to share this anecdote about what Matt Damon said this one time in a magazine about making ridiculous amounts of money and how that would mean he would... but I've already forgotten what he said he wouldn't do anymore. It was something about quitting or not doing any press. Something silly. Because of course he went on to make gazillions and still works in front of the camera and plays to it in interviews. 

Today's Must See Video
Madonna on the whole silly Venice Film Festival loathing hydranges "story"

There really is nothing better than Madonna with a sense of humor about herself. It's always been her saving grace and if she doesn't locate it as often as she once did, at least it's still there! And it's great timing since she's hitting the publicity circuit with such gusto. Two of my friends/acquaintances, fraquaintances? even interviewed her: Peter and Scott. I can't imagine how either got through it. Honestly, I can't. 

Finally...
if you're as interested in editing as I am, you might enjoy this very thorough analysis of a key action sequence in The Dark Knight (2008).

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

 

I highlight it because, like Jim Emerson, I have always been thrown by that film's editing (the Oscar nomination is baffling to me) as it doesn't make coherent sense, spatially or time-wise. (If you don't share this pet peeve -- I realize many people enjoy contemporary cinema's rule-free freneticism of editing -- you might not enjoy this video. This is actually the #2 most prominent reason as to why I have never been a Christopher Nolan convert. I prefer action filmmakers like James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow who never (or very very rarely) sacrifice coherency for thrills.

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