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Entries in The Help (38)

Tuesday
Dec272011

Interview: Jessica Chastain's Big Year / Big Future

Jessica Chastain was in Morocco when we spoke, jurying on a film festival. Or was she in Toronto filming a movie? No, maybe she was right here in New York City or in Los Angeles for a premiere or event? Who can say. It's been a dizzying year. Her definition of "staying put", I quickly discover, is staying in one place for a whole week. "I don't think this is a normal year for an actor," she says understating the case.

Chastain reigns over 2011's movies

She sounds bright and cheerful and ready for more movies, believe it or not, though she admits that the year has been tough on her personal life. This past summer she starred in two of the most talked about films of the year (The Tree of Life and The Help) and in the fall she was doing press for four more (The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Texas Killling Fields). 

Though her characters are already multiple, she is but one woman. The movies we're seeing all at once she made over the span of a few years and she helpfully provided the order when asked:

  • Wilde Salome ("My first film. It hasn't come out yet")
  • Jolene 
  • Stolen ("very small role")
  • The Tree of Life
  • The Debt
  • Coriolanus
  • Texas Killing Fields
  • Take Shelter
  • The Help ("I went straight from the set of Take Shelter")

I figure her sudden ubiquity is a good place to start the conversation...

"I'm fine right here" 

Nathaniel R: It's almost like you've sprung full grown from the head of Zeus for moviegoers.

JESSICA CHASTAIN: Which is so funny because I've been working so long!  But it does feel like this year with people starting to see my films they're asking "Where did you come from?" Well, I trained. I have been working for a long time.  You guys are just getting caught up . I didn't come out of nowhere.

NR: It just feels that way for us! I want to ask you about Take Shelter first. Long suffering wives of male leads -- how shall I put this? This type of part always runs the risk of feeling like a thankless stock role. How did you make it feel as specific as it does? That marriage is so vivid.

JC: It's funny. I think I teased Jeff [writer/director Jeff Nichols] quite a bit when we first started working together. I'm sure they were like "oh no…" because I do a lot of work before i show up on set. My script, it's not necessarily filled with answers but there are a lot of questions that I write down. In a scene in Take Shelter I might write down 'When's the last time he told me he loved me?'  Something like that which gets me thinking 'hmmmm, okay...'

For that movie I did that throughout the whole script. I had to make it so specific because my entire subtext in that film is "what's wrong with you?" but I can't say that the same way in every scene so I had to look for what's happened before each scene to make it as specific as possible. I really wanted to grasp it so much that on our first day I really embarrassed Jeff and Mike [Michael Shannon]. We're at lunch. The three of us sat down and I've got some questions. I looked at Jeff and said 'When do they have sex? I just wanna know.' Mike's mouth opened up, Jeff turns beet red.

'what's wrong with you?' Now, ask it in multiple unspoken ways.

[The Help, The Tree of Life and Chastain's future plans after the jump.]

Click to read more ...

Wednesday
Dec212011

Utah Picks "Drive", Black Film Critics Love "Pariah", And More...

Well, look at that!

Critics group finally veered off the three well paved roads of Best Picture honors (The Artist, The Descendants and The Tree of Life were the only previous films named "Best Picture" by a US critics group. No, the NBR is not a critics group). Utah named Drive the Best Picture of 2011 and the Black Film Critics Circle went for The Help

Their love for the film which earned two additional prizes also broke up the clean sweep by The Tree of Life in cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki's god like talents are truly majestic (and have been jaw dropping for a long time prior to The Tree of Life) but it's nice to see another artistic photographic achievement honored, in this case Newton Thomas Sigel's evocative night time cityscapes and theatrically dreamy interiors. Sigel has done rich work before, particularly on X2: X-Men United and Three Kings, but nothing as fine as his work on Drive. He's never been honored by his own guild or Oscar so hopefully that'll happen for him this year since he's done his best work ever.

Consider this prize a wee detour as there are more honors to come for Lubezki, though, surely. Lubezki might actually win the Oscar this year... though I'm trying not to hope for it too emphatically as Oscar has a way of ignoring his genius.

 

Full list of Utah's prizes and two more critics groups after the jump...

Click to read more ...

Monday
Dec122011

Box Office: "New Year's Eve" Drops Its Ball & a Milestone for "The Help"

Despite overloading with stars, some more bankable than others, New Year's Eve didn't exactly get moviegoers partying. Might this be an end to Garry Marshall's holiday franchise. Since he's working backwards chronologically given that he started with Valentine's Day, one supposed Christmas was going to be next.

Trivia Note: This is Michelle Pfeiffer's second "Ingrid". One assumes the first one (White Oleander) wouldn't like this mousy character too much!Box Office (U.S.) Baker's Dozen
01 NEW YEAR'S EVE new $13 
02 THE SITTER new $9.8 
03 THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART 1 $7.8 (cum $259.4)
04 THE MUPPETS new $6.9 (cum $65.7)
05 ARTHUR CHRISTMAS new $6.5 (cum $33.4)

06 HUGO new $6 [Scorsese & Team] (cum $33.4)
07 THE DESCENDANTS $4.3 [Michael's review] (cum. $23.6)
08 HAPPY FEET TWO $3.6 (cum. $56.7)
09 JACK AND JILL $3 (cum. $68.5) 
10 THE IMMORTALS $2.4 (cum. $79.8) 

11 TOWER HEIST $2.3 (cum. $74.1)
12 PUSS IN BOOTS $1.6 (cum. $141.8)
13 J EDGAR  $1.1 [Nathaniel's review] (cum $34.7)

Talking Points
Young Adult and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy started off in teensy-tiny release (sigh. why must so many movies do this?) garnering solid per screen averages... especially Tinker Tailor. That fake out release for We Need To Talk About Kevin (Oscar qualifying) also had fairly full houses though it'll be removed from theaters next weekend just as its gaining steam. Sigh.

• The Weinstein Co is obviously keeping The Artist very close to their vest grooming it for an Oscar explosion. Despite promising first two week numbers it added only 10 new screens and is inching towards $1 million. Will the caution pay off or smother its ignitability with crowds?

• Despite a good week of awardage, Margin Call seems to be on its last legs creeping towards a $5 million gross in its 8th weekend.

• And believe it or not, The Help -- currently in the thick of Oscar campaigning and DVD releasing -- finally crawled past Bridesmaids this weekend to become the single biggest unexpected blockbuster of the year, 11th for the year overall and the 2nd biggest female led film (after Bella's wedding of course).

Sadly, The Helps #11 finish means the top ten this year is ONLY franchises. All original films were shut out which is basically the movie version of coal in the stocking of future moviegoers. Alas, we do it to ourselves! Such is the stagnating power of habit and pre-sold entertainments. No originals? DANGER. DANGER. Stop sending this message to Hollywood. If a franchise is getting weak, skip its next installment! Wait for the DVD.

Sunday
Dec042011

Parties: "The Help" Are Singing a Happy Tune

This year I've had the pleasure of attending a few celebratory events for movies. At these luncheons or cocktail parties the filmmakers mingle with media types and Academy members. The most recent was a lunch for The Help held at Desmond's which is quite rectangular like a railroad apartment albeit one with very high ceilings. This gave the event a distinct bottleneck frenzy feel once Oscar buzzing actresses Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer were making the rounds... or in this case walking the aisle. Conversation became next to impossible. After a quick exchange with Octavia (in very high spirits) we both did a double take of mutual fandom; the hilarious Anna Deavere Smith (Nurse Jackie, Rachel Getting Married) was squeezing past us saying a string of goodbyes. By the time I was face to face with Viola Davis, utterly gorgeous and much younger looking in person, she was ending a conversation with a time-hogging reporter in which she was trying to work her way around and straight out of a Meryl Streep as Competition' question. (Viola's take: It belittles the work to view it like that.) I was flustered and not uttering coherent sentences when it was my turn for "hello".

Octavia & Viola speaking to the crowd © Nathaniel Rogers

The highlight of the event found Viola and Octavia and the art direction team addressing the crowd (which included André Leon Talley of Vogue fame - a fan of the movie. who knew?!). There was an awkward moment of silence as they lined up as if on stage. Octavia Spencer broke the tension quipping "We've prepared a song for you" and started humming to tune them which sent Viola into peals of laughter. Then they were off, talking about the expectations placed on them, their nerves about the movie -- you never know if people will end up appreciating your work -- and their eventual joy at being a part of the phenomenon, which one executive called "the gift that keeps on giving". (The Help is still in theaters after 17 weeks and the 11th highest grossing film of the year). 

Viola: What we ultimately saw was something that made us so proud. It's something unlike anything else that's out there. [Pause] Just in the hues of the people! [Crowd laughter]
Octavia: [Posing] And the size!

There were two other very funny bits.

First, a guest asked them how they stopped themselves from killing Bryce Dallas Howard on set. "Well, we did beat the crap out of her one night," Viola said, with mock seriousness to more big laughs. But they quickly launched into a heartfelt discussion of how sweet she is in real life and they thought it would be hard to hate her onscreen. Second, another guest dared asked about the negative response from some pockets of the African American community. There was a beat of silence before Viola stepped to the side with a deadpan "Octavia..." handing her the hot potato question. The two actresses are born entertainers off screen as well. Ultimately they said they were proud that the movie had sparked so much discussion and that discussion was important.

As it turns out the Production Designer Mark Ricker and Set Decorator Rena DeAngelo of The Help were seated directly opposite me at lunch and fun to chat with. Rena had done the pilot for Mad Men (I restrained from freaking out about this reveal but damn). To my amusement, they revealed that they knew their way around online Oscar charts (hey, they brought it up, not me!). As a moviegoer you don't often think about the experience of movie crews leaving one set for another but it was  interesting to hear their relief at how much period fun and color they could bring to The Help after all the time spent with grey sterile interiors for You Don't Know Jack. I told them my favorite set was Celia Foote's (Jessica Chastain) house. They stripped that house bare to decorate it for Celia's tastes and said that Jessica was constantly downing soy milkshakes (she's a vegan) to gain curves for the role.

Ms. Chastain was not in attendance but when the waiters came round to ask if we had any dietary restrictions, I spared a thought for Jessica's soy milk and Celia's limited oeuvre in the kitchen.

Related: The Help review | Best Picture | Visual Oscar Categories | Best Supporting Actress | Best Actress

Sunday
Oct022011

Naked Gold Man: War Horse Un'Lock'ed & Oscar Vote Theories

Weekly Column! Just in time for weekly chart updates. You heard me!

Let's start with an oft-forgotten fact: there are no "locks" until films are open and seen by the Academy. Even then, positive reactions don't always translate into votes. War Horse would be the right example. It feels like a winner by way of pedigree (Spielberg and Team), topic (World War), intangibles (the Broadway play on the same topic is a hit!) and early peeks (the trailer), but until voters are actually watching any movie from start to finish, you can't know.

Until you have seen a movie there is no way to consider how it tugs at your own heart (or doesn't), how it seizes your imagination (or doesn't) and how your instant reaction sizes up with general consensus. Instant reactions do not happen in lockstep with voting (at least not usually) and consensus --  which is say the wisdom of masses, media favoritism, and opinions from one's own social circle  -- absolutely affects individual response though people regularly feign otherwise.

Seeing the pictures is key and without the keys, aren't locks mere abstractions?

J. Edgar is another prime example. It's got the pedigree team, the baity topic and genre, but the second people are watching it things will change, for better or worse. I can't say that I'm hopeful after seeing the dull musty trailer, which plays more like the zombie corpse of an Oscar contender rather than a lively shiny hopeful. But then, I didn't get the Clint Eastwood Appreciation Gene so I readily admit that I am no representative sample.

To win nominations a film (or performance) must not only win hearts, minds and imaginations but it must stack up favorably against its competition. In other words "locks" for films or actors no one has seen are an absurd notion. Take War Horse again... will its message resonate with voters as much as The Help's? Will the young male lead (no, not the horse) inspire them or make them feel as protective as his counterpart in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close might? Will anything within War Horse, stimulate like the wit and adult soul of Moneyball? Does the equine war drama have any lighter moments and are they as effervescent or charming as the best scenes from The Artist or Midnight in Paris

If nominations were held RIGHT NOW, right this second, and all films that have been seen by a lot of people -- i.e. multiple festivals (whether they're technically open yet or not) were eligible these would be your only "Locks"

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Oct022011

Box Office: Family Fare Wins Again

Given the ease with which family fare always tops the charts whether animated or live action -- this time the story of a dolphin with a prosthetic tale (?) flipper (?) fin (?) I don't know these terms -- you'd think taking the family to the movies didn't cost as much as people always claim it costs when they complain about how much it costs (whew): parking, food, multiple tickets.

Also: Dolphins are cute and all but I'm only seeing Dolphin Tale if you can promise me that it contains a musical sequence in which Olivia Newton-John reprises her treacly "Promise (The Dolphin Song)" from the 80s.

With Morgan Freeman on back-up.

Anyway, don't mind me. I'm just bitter because I'd prefer it if adults went to movies for adults in droves. That way TV wouldn't be able to hog all the entertainment intended for adults. (Moneyball is doing well but people really should be queuing up in droves, you know?)

Box Office (U.S.) Baker's Dozen -estimates
01 DOLPHIN TALE  $14.2 (cum $37.5)
02 MONEYBALL [review] $12.5 (cum $38.4)
03 THE LION KING 3D [review] re-release $11 (cum $408.1)
04 50/50 [review] new $8.8 
05 COURAGEOUS new $8.8 
06 DREAMHOUSE new $8.2 
07 ABDUCTION [review] $5.6 (cum $19.1)
08 WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? new $5.6 
09 CONTAGION $5 (cum $64.7)
10 KILLER ELITE $4.8 (cum $17.4)
11 DRIVE [review] $3.3 (cum $27)
12 THE HELP [review$3.0 (cum $159.3)

Michael Shannon Sees Storms ComingTalking Points
In limited release land the apocalyptic visions of Michael Shannon in TAKE SHELTER had the best opening weekend at just 3 theaters but with a sturdy $18,000 per screen (in other words the houses were four times as full as those of the top films in wide release). The extremely well reviewed gay romance WEEKEND did a tiny expansion from 1 theater to 6. It also became available On Demand so one suspects it'll make a hefty percentage of its revenue there.

• The Help finally left the gold-lined interior of the top ten list in its 8th week, falling just short of Bridesmaids staying power (which fell the same distance in its 9th week). The sole advantage of The Help (#12 of the year right now) if it hopes to topple Bridesmaids (#10 of the year) for bragging rights of "Highest Grossing Non-Franchise Film of 2011" is that it's in more theaters than Bridesmaids was at this point. The Help is still $10 million behind. It might be a squeaker or it might be all over if Real Steel and The Ides of March rip most of its screens away next Friday.

•Somehow Dream House opened to $8.2 million even though you can see the whole movie from start to finish in the trailer. If people keep buying tickets to movies whose trailers reveal every detail, Hollywood will keep making trailers filled with more egregious spoilers than even the laziest and most bitter critics would dare type. Sigh. At least Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz found each other in the process. 

•I don't want to make too much of a point about what could merely be a coincidence but Contagion's numbers week to week are very similar to Crazy, Stupid, Love.'s numbers (to the point where they both hit $64 million on the 4th weekend!) Will their twin performance be the new standard for what happens when you just cram your movie full of multiple well-liked stars who aren't always bankable on their own?

What did you see over the weekend?
If it wasn't Dolphin Tale, what could convince you to see that movie?
If it wasn't Moneyball what are you waiting for?

Monday
Sep052011

Box Office "The Help" Still Gainfully Employed. 

The stars of The Help are actually in France at the moment (Venice isn't the only festival happening as I type: Telluride and Deauville are also attracting celebrities). They've been posing with a champagne bottle. Corporate sponsorship sitch aside, they have every reason to break out the bubbly with the longest time lodged at #1 since... Inception (!!!) With a budget of only $25 million, The Help is going to prove hugely profitable for all involved. So congratulations to Tate Taylor and team.

The movie shows no signs of slowing down, dropping only 2% this week while most movies fell about 25% (everyone got a small holiday boost). It might end up outgrossing pre-sold brands like The Smurfs and god knows what other huge budgeted would-be blockbusters when it's done. Maybe that Best Picture nomination could actually happen after all. [Please note: I'll be updating all the charts on September 13th... to kick off our busy season. And given what's happening at Telluride and Venice, there's a lot of changes to be made.]

Box Office (U.S.) Baker's Dozen -actuals
01 THE HELP [review] $14.6 (cum $118.9)
02 THE DEBT new $9.9 
03 APOLLO 18 new $8.7 
04 SHARK NIGHT 3D new $8.3 
05 RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES [articles] $7.9 (cumulative $160.1) 
06 COLOMBIANA $7.4 (cum $22)
07 OUR IDIOT BROTHER [review] $5.4 (cum $15.7)
08 DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK $5.1 (cum $16.5)
09 SPY KIDS: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD $4.8 (cum $29.2)
10 THE SMURFS $4.1 (cum $132)

11 CRAZY STUPID LOVE [thoughts$3.3 (cum $74.5)
12 HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART TWO $2.4 (cum $374.6)
13 CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER [review]  $1.9 (cum $171.6) 

What did you see over the weekend?
Did you love it?