Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Actress Games

One of the weird aspects of my movie fandom is that I end up really attached to actresses whose career struggles affect me on a very personal level. Not that I'm actually harmed, but I just want them to succeed SO MUCH, and when they take roles that will obviously not help their careers progress (hey, Rachel McAdams in Sherlock Holmes; talkin' to you, Jennifer Garner in The Odd Life of Timothy Green), it makes me so frustrated! I've joked before about how I just want to sit down with them and discuss their choices. Anyway, tonight, I was hurricane-bored, so I went on IMDb to check out what some of these women will be up to next year and beyond and see what kind of headaches I'm in for. Some of their schedules fare better than others.

Rachel McAdams
Last Good Role: You probably have to go back to The Family Stone in 2005. Since then, she's had a lot of roles that probably looked good on paper: Iraq War vet coming home, from the director of The Illusionist (The Lucky Ones); the Kelly MacDonald role in the State of Play remake; I could even see how the lead role in Morning Glory might have looked like a mainstream crowd-pleaser.

Excuse-Making: In Rachel's defense, The Time-Traveler's Wife was a very popular novel; who knew it would be such a non-event of a movie? And even if you get offered the worst role in a Woody Allen movie, you probably have to take it. And actually, The Vow was very watchable and she got to be around a naked Channing Tatum a good bit.

Coming Up: Well, she's in the new Terrence Malick movie, To The Wonder, but even Malick fans are calling that one a slow, ponderous bridge too far. And the new Brian DePalma film, Passion, which is supposed to be AWFUL, so that's two strikes right there. But in 2013, she's got About Time, from writer/director Richard Curtis. Yes, it's another movie about a time-traveling hero, and sure, Curtis didn't exactly make a splash with Pirate Radio, BUT he gave us Love, Actually and thus bought himself a lifetime of credit. AND, she'll star opposite Domhnall Gleeson, who is set to break out any day now. And she's currently filming A Most Wanted Man with director Anton Corbijn, based on the John LeCarre novel. Now, the few people who saw Corbijn's The American really respected it, and LeCarre adaptations are super hot right now, so there's good hope for this one.

Reese Witherspoon
Last Good Role: I mean, an argument could be made that her last good role was when she won the Oscar for Walk the Line. Just Like Heaven and Four Christmases were crowd-pleasers that pleased no crowds; Rendition was a giant bomb; This Means War got massacred by critics; and not even Robert damn Pattinson could make Water for Elephants happen (plus, as I said before, don't set yourself up for teenage girls to call you "that older lady who doesn't deserve Rob").

Excuse-Making: Penelope is underrated and Reese's cameo in it is kind of fun; Monsters vs. Aliens was a good little movie, even if voice work doesn't count in a study like this. I'm one of the very few people who thought How Do You Know had redeeming qualities, though I admit that Reese didn't exactly blow the doors off anything in it.

Coming Up: Reese has her own production company, so she's attached to a BILLION projects -- including The Beard, where she plays a beard to a gay dude -- but I'm limiting this to just the ones listed on IMDb proper. The best looking of these is Devil's Knot, the first non-documentary film about the West Memphis Three, directed by Atom Egoyan (returning to the theme of small-town tragedy that worked out so well for him in The Sweet Hereafter). Reese plays the mother of one of the victims and married to Alessandro Nivola, whose character eventually becomes a suspect (though I think that happened after the book Devil's Knot was published, so no idea if the film touches that). Reese heads a really rather dynamite cast here, including personal pet faves Collette Wolf and Dane DeHaan. Really looking forward to this. Less excited for: Big Eyes where, yes, Reese Plays a famous painter, but it's from the writers of Agent Cody Banks and the writer/directors of Screwed (though, fine, they also wrote Man on the Moon and The People vs. Larry Flynt and Ed Wood; but Screwed! With Norm McDonald!); and Wish List, which (good news) is directed by Bridesmaids' Paul Feig, but (bad news) is about how "life changes for a thirtysomething career woman when a coin she threw in a magic fountain as a girl finally reaches the bottom." The less said about Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus the better.

Jennifer Garner
Last Good Role: Garner has the most recent good role of all three women here, but it was still five years ago when she was Oscar-worthy (YES) in Juno. Whoever was running that Oscar campaign for Searchlight should be ashamed that they didn't make a bigger push for her. Since then, it's been the hugely regrettable Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, which will probably serve as rock-bottom for all the puff pieces written about Matthew McConaughey's career at year-end. Then two spectacularly bad decisions in taking role of an unsympathetic love interest in Ricky Gervais's smug The Invention of Lying and an unsympathetic non-love-interest in the Arthur remake. Then there's The Odd Life of Timothy Green which ... yeah.

Excuse-Making: Full disclosure: I have yet to see Butter, currently available on Video On Demand, but it is lighting absolutely no one on fire. I am an apologist for Valentine's Day, and I think Garner is perhaps the best part of that not-so-terrible movie.

Coming Up: Nothing. NOTHING! It's the greatest tragedy in movies today. I don't know whether she's taking a break from acting to raise her little Affleck-spawn or if she's being exceedingly picky or what, but there is not one project in the works for her, at least according to IMDb. Compounding this is the fact that her husband is going to be at every award ceremony this winter for Argo, probably on track to win Best Director, and she's going to be there, on his arm ... with nothing to promote. No project to transfer that bounce in visibility to. I guess it's not too late to sign on to SOMETHING in the next two months. But time's a-wasting, girl! Get on this!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Four Score and Seven Years in Line

I got to see two pretty good movies tonight at the New York Film Festival, and it's nice to remind myself of how much my 20-year-old self would shit if he knew I'd be able to have nights like this.
First up was the Secret Screening, which everybody knew was going to be Lincoln, not that I wasn't holding out hope until the very last that it would end up being something riot-inducing like Breaking Dawn Part II or the one with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler. The situation at Lincoln Center was bedlam and stupid and we waited forever for them to seat anybody, and since I knew they were confiscating phones at the door, I left mine in my office, and the stark realization that I had NO WAY OF CONTACTING ANYONE IF I HAD TO made my blood run cold. But eventually we got seated, right in front of Scott Rudin, which was exciting even though he didn't threaten to break anyone's arms or anything. But Whoopi Goldberg DID come by his seat to say hello. Also, I was certain that the old lady who took approximately 20 minutes to walk past half our row to get to the bathroom was Joan Didion, but no one will back me up on this. Anyway, that was the celebrity portion of my evening.

Lincoln was ... interesting, which I mean as a compliment. It means well, and it tries to tell an American story that has calcified into legend in a way that engages the brain (in many ways it plays like an 1860s The West Wing, which will frustrate some viewers more than it did me) and the heart. The latter is only sporadically successful. I liked the way Spielberg balanced the passion of those seeking to abolish slavery while acknowledging that this was still a battle fought by white men whose concern for actual black people was outweighed by politics and a desire to end the war. It's a worthy avenue to go down, and the movie is strongest when it keeps this in mind.

But this is also the real world and a movie about Abraham Lincoln by America's preeminent crowd-pleasing storyteller, so obviously political strategy wasn't going to be allowed to stand on its own. Unfortunately, all the Lincoln At Home scenes fall flat, particularly the ones with a flailing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Lincoln's son. Meanwhile, Sally Field gives a schizophrenic performance that maybe suits Mary Todd Lincoln if you want to be generous about it. She has one highly entertaining scene with Tommy Lee Jones, but everything else is dripping in melodrama. (Tommy Lee Jones, by the way, is the star of the show, serving Grumpy Old Man perfection and earning a mid-movie ovation from the audience. Supporting Actor nomination for sure, and he could even win in a weak field.)

If I haven't mentioned Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln yet, it's because he's easily the fifth or sixth thing that stands out about the movie. It's a strong performance that carves out a well-defined Lincoln -- folksy storyteller, shrewd politician, unavoidably aloof on the home front -- and the voice becomes a total nonissue right from the beginning. It's also exactly as expected. It's a problem with the movie, too -- it's so certain of its own outcomes, both historically and narratively. Everybody in the movie acts with full knowledge of the historical import of their actions. Which is a fully supportable take on a time period where it's not that hard to imagine people would have an idea that they were living in legendary times. But if the audience is already fully aware of the result, the interesting part becomes the HOW, and too often, Speilberg feels the need to goose the WHAT of it. We can't possibly be asked to sit in suspense at the roll-call vote for the 13th Amendment as if we've all got our fingers crossed it'll pass.

After the Lincoln obstacle course, I stuck around for Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa, starring Elle Fanning, a puzzlingly-accented Christina Hendricks, and Jane Campion's daughter who looks like my favorite girl from Bunheads. The movie is a pretty standard soap plot, glazed with some period-specific Cold War anxiety, but the performances (Fanning especially) pull it across the finish line. Also, I guess Annette Bening is just going to keep playing these broad, crowd-pleasing side characters until she decides to go for another Oscar, huh?