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Entries in The Help (38)

Friday
Dec302011

A Raggedy Oscar Podcast Reunion

Surprise! The old team is back together momentarily. Clearly we need more time than 40 minutes to get into everything that's going on in the Oscar race so this one is a totally raggedy conversation... a la Margaret and Rampart, two films that are discussed.

So welcome back to Katey, Joe, Nick from Nathaniel, your host here at The Film Experience.

UPDATE: The entire podcast is embedded below but it is having some trouble playing all the way through with Google Chrome. Works perfectly in Firefox or download from iTunes

Topics include but are not limited to:
• Cooking tips from The Help
The Iron Lady and Streep's hard sell for the third Oscar
• Team Margaret and Team Rampart, two wildly underseen movies that share some intuitive storytelling and vivid ensemble work.
• Critical advocacy in the age of consensus
• The silly battle lines drawn between Hugo & The Artist
• Shailene Woodley and Nick's Descendants agnosticism.

A Raggedy Oscar Reunion

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

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