Tag Archives: Jessica Chastain

IT: Chapter Two (2019)

14 Sep

The second part of a cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s famed horror novel, IT: Chapter Two takes place 27 years after the events from IT (2017), helmed again by director  Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman who collaborated on the first film. Set in the fictional town of Derry, we see the return of our characters from part one – this time as adults in their late 30’s – who formed a bond of friendship after discovering they each had shared traumatic experiences involving an evil clown capable of manifesting their inner fears and vulnerabilities. As it turns out, the evil known as Pennywise has returned again to Derry, and has begun preying on a new round of child victims.

After marking a massive box office success two years ago, it’s safe to say part 2 of the franchise was one of the most anticipated horror films of the year. Muschietti and Dauberman have doubled down on the same formula that apparently made the first film such a theatrical hit: horrific CGI scenes of various characters’ visions of pennywise fleshed out with brief moments of levity and a small romantic subplot. While the terror factor of 2017’s IT was surprisingly effective, children swearing and making sex jokes are no replacement for emotional beats that are essential to any given story, and I found part one to be mostly a disjointed mess. Unfortunately, part two copies the same incohesive story structure which no doubt will leave audiences who haven’t seen part one or who are unfamiliar with the source novel to speculate on many details left out of Stephen King’s mythical world of IT.

Though Pennywise certainly is just as frightening here as he was in the first film (thanks in part to a particularly gruesome set of CGI eyes and teeth), the real villain of It Chapter Two is the film’s editor.  Scenes come and go in the movie without much thought of why they should be there in the first place, and the tone jumps around so often from claustrophobic moments of body horror to comedy to nostalgia without giving time for the audience to embrace any single particular mood. This is made worse by the fact that every character who encounters Pennywise is given not only their own little hallucinogenic scenes of terror, but we also see those of their child counterparts, given to us in abrupt nonsensical flashbacks at pivotal moments in the movie.

The one string of consistency providing any sense of direction in this movie comes from the character Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) who is the only one to have stayed in Derry and has spent the last 27 year reading up on Pennywise’s mythology (he has been haunting Derry for over a millennia!) and obsessing over newspaper clippings from his latest victims. Unfortunately Mike is also the only prominent person of color in the movie, and the fact that his only sense of purpose is to share expository insight on the supernatural mysteries of Derry so that the rest of the white cast can defeat Pennywise harkens back to the magical negro archetype that has existed with genre films since their inception.

The silver lining here that makes It Chapter Two better than the first lies with its great ensemble cast. Not only do they look and feel the part of their child characters from part 1, but they embody a better sense of realism which helps ground the story and creates some emotional semblance to hang on to. The scenes between Beverly, Bill, and Ben (played by Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, and Jay Ryan respectively) are mostly solid, and the dialogue here avoids the clunky bits from the first movie where these characters got involved. Bill Hader and James Ransone not only provide a good dose of comic relief but also both give genuinely good performances – especially in the movie’s later half.

Still, a stellar cast isn’t enough to make It Chapter Two very memorable, and the movie is just too messy and scatterbrained to emulate the singular vision found in Stephen King’s book.

Bottom Line: Scares run amok, but much like its 2017 predecessor, It Chapter Two suffers too much from its own shoddy editing and patchy story elements to deliver much of anything substantial. 

Rating: 5.5/10

Film Recipe: Stranger Things + The Ring + Stand By Me 

Molly’s Game (2017)

30 Dec

Entering the 2017 awards season landscape just in time this year comes the debut feature from renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin.  Molly’s Game is based around the story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a former olympic athlete who enters the seductive and dramatic world of high-stakes poker. After dropping out of law school against her parent’s wishes, Molly moves out from her childhood home in Colorado to a small Los Angeles apartment for what she terms “a fresh start” and quickly gets a job hosting a few weekly poker games. What starts out as a side gig to help make rent quickly turns into a obsession for Molly as she discovers the secret to hosting a great poker game is to bring in the game’s most elite and richest players. This includes a variety of Hollywood stars, Silicon Valley CEO’s, Wall Street investors, and – eventually – the Russian mafia. Things get messy.

Sorkin’s film is presented in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards (often narrated by Bloom), allowing us to simultaneously see the events before and after her poker-hosting career.  The narrative cuts here are fast and ruthless, keeping pace with Sorkin’s signature style of fast-talking characters. This is used to achieve a dizzying and something jarring effect, but the film has a lot of fun in letting us know we are watching a movie about a story of a true story (Sorkin’s script is loosely based off Molly’s own book).  A writer known for his impressively glib dialogue, Sorkin’s directorial skills unsurprisingly bring a sense of glitz and gaudiness to the screen. Unfortunately, having such cynically facile storytelling in the film’s first half means that scenes in the latter parts of the film don’t quite have the emotional weight behind them that they should.  Two scenes in particular (one involving a violent criminal act and the other an intimate conversation) feel so artificially shoehorned in, complete with the expected melodramatic score sounding right on cue.  At a bloated 140 minutes, Molly’s Game doesn’t feel nearly as epic as it does exhausting.

Despite it’s setbacks, the film is still a really compelling watch. Narrative moments whiz by at a TV spot’s pace and Chastain’s confidence and resolve in her character keeps you glued to the screen. Equally as good is Idris Elba as her last-resort attorney (it’s not a Sorkin script without a good legal scene in there somewhere) and the two work magic together. It may lack the emotional sincerity of other films Sorkin has penned, but it runs just as smooth and flashy.

Bottom Line: Ferociously entertaining but ultimately shallow at points, Molly’s Game is a 2+ hour onslaught of witty, compelling, and silver-tongued moments glued together by top-notch editing and solid performances.

Rating: 6.5 / 10

Film Recipie: The Big Short + A Few Good Men + Rounders

MOST ANTICIPATED FOR 2017

2 Jan

So he were are. 2016 is history and as we look back on the best films of the year, we can also look towards the future and what’s coming down the cinematic pipeline. Here are my top ten most anticipated films -(provided we make it far enough in the age of Trump to actually watch them).   You can check out last year’s most anticipated here.

 

10 – Molly’s Game 

What’s it about? A young skier who get’s her own FBI investigation after creating an international poker series.

Why is it on the list? Aaron Sorkin is stepping into the director’s seat here, adapting a memoir by Molly Bloom. One of the finest screenwriters of our time, I’m curious to how Sorkin does behind the camera. Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba costar.

Release date – Unknown 

 

 

 

9 – Annihilation  

What’s it about?  All we know at this stage is that the plot has something to do with a team of scientists heading into the jungle for a secretive experiment of some kind.

Why is it on the list? Because Ex Machina was one of the most wholly original and singular sci-fi films in recent memory and Alex Garland has teamed up again with Oscar Issac. Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Natalie Portman round out a dream team of actors.

Release date – Unknown

 

8 – Wind River 

What’s it about? A Native American reservation becomes a murder scene which prompts an FBI investigation led by a veteran tracker.

Why is it on the list? Another accomplished screenwriter making a directorial debut. Taylor Sheridan‘s scripts for Sicario and Hell or High Water were both brilliant and I’m curios to see the acting duo of Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner in a non-superhero context.

Release date – Unknown for now, but I’m hoping to catch this at Sundance.

7 – The Bad Batch 

What’s it about? A blood soaked love story of sorts set in Texas. Also, cannibals.

Why is it on the list? I wasn’t the biggest fan of Ana Lily Amirpour’s Iranian-western-vampire coming of age story A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but I was intrigued enough to see she had major directing potential. This new effort seems to have a Tarantino-influenced vibe and features a slew of great character actors including Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Giovani Ribisi, and Diego Luna.

Release date: Though it’s played a few festivals, a widespread release date is unknown.  

6 – I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore 

What’s it about? A revenge thriller about a women tracking down the thieves who burglarized her house.

Why is it on the list? Fresh from his role in Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent, white-knuckler Green Room, actor Macon Blair takes a shot at directing his own original script. The premise sounds gleefully Coen-esc.

Release date: February 24 

5 – Mother  

What’s it about? “…a couple whose relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home…” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? Because it’s Darren Aronofsky’s first film since the interesting-but-ultimately sub-par Noah.  Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Domhnall Gleeson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris star.

Release date: Unknown 

4 – Dunkirk 

What’s it about?  “Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? Christopher Nolan is one of the rare few directors who can effectively blend pedestrian blockbuster fare with an inspired artistic vision.  This has potential to be one of 2017’s biggest critical and commercial hits.

Release: July 21 

3 – Lemon  

What’s it about? A boy gets dumped by his blind girlfriend.

Why is it on the list? Though Lemon is her first feature, Janicza Bravo has one of the boldest directorial voices in indie film today mixing awkward sensibilities reminiscent of films like Napoleon Dynamite and the works of Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. Check out her short Gregory Goes Boom!  (NSFW) which also stars Michael Cera and Brett Gelman to get a taste of what we might expect from Lemon.

Release date: Unknown 

2-  Blade Runner 2049 

What’s it about? A sequel to the 1982 Ridley Scott film Blade Runner. 

Why is it on this list? Though most modern sequels/reboots don’t hold a candle to their origins, the fact that this is being helmed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Arrival) and shot by cinematographer legend Roger Deakins (1984, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall, and so, soooo many more) might be reason enough to make an exception. The icing on the cake is a top-notch cast consisting of Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling, Robyn Wright, Mckenzie Davis, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto and Barkhad Abdi.

Release date: Oct 6

1 – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

 

What’s it about? “A teenager’s attempts to bring a brilliant surgeon into his dysfunctional family takes an unexpected turn.” – IMDB

Why is it on the list? The Lobster was unexpectedly my favorite film of 2016 and, I’m itching to see what Yorgos Lanthimos is cooking up.

Release date – Unknown 

 

 

Crimson Peak (2015)

27 Oct

Crimson Peak, the new film by Guillermo del Toro, (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) feels like it has been lifted straight out of a gothic horror novel. Taking a page from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or Nosferatu, every frame of Crimson Peak overflows with a romantic longing for early 19th century horror.

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain, the film tells the story of writer Edith (Wasikowska) as she moves away from her native home in Buffalo after her father mysteriously passes. Edith grew up believing in ghosts, and has the unique gift to communicate with them on occasion. This gift turns into a curse when these apparitions visit more often in a home inhabited by her new husband Thomas Sharpe (Hiddleston) and his sister Lucille (Chastain). Soon, Edith learns a frightening revelation about her new husband and sister in law, one that might prove deadly.

Del Toro has always been one to impress when it comes to production design. A true escapist director, his films always find a way to immerse viewers into their immaculate and delicately crafted worlds. Crimson Peak is no exception; everything from the costumes to the soundtrack to the carefully-pronounciated english dialogue indulges into a romanticized gothic fantasy (nightmare?) that shows del Toro’s directorial skill and passion about the subject matter. Unfortunately, the pacing is just too sluggish and the plot developments tediously follow a familiar path.

As a film that is both thematically and literally engulfed in darkness, Crimson Peak is surprisingly spook-less, barely registering enough jump scares to call itself a “horror” film. Instead, del Toro opts to build tension out of the mystery rather than terror. But the mystery absolves itself a bit too slowly (and predictably) leaving little behind but the beautiful visuals and an overuse of graphic violence to hold the audience’s attention.

Bottom Line: With a spooky atmosphere and a gorgeous production design, Crimson Peak is a visually stunning mystery that unfortunately arrives a little shy on both scares and suspense. 

Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain. Not looking suspicious at all.

Rating: 6/10 

Film Recipe: Stoker + Only Lovers Left Alive – vampires + ghosts 

The Martian (2015)

9 Oct

So here’s the rub:

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is stuck on Mars – left for dead by his crew members during a freak sandstorm – and he has no way of making contact with anybody back on Earth. Supplies for food, oxygen, and water are extremely limited, and the next scheduled Mars landing isn’t for another 4 years. Fortunately, Watney is a highly skilled botanist (and apparently, amatuer comedian), very capable of growing his own food and creating a somewhat habitable space on the red planet – if he can summon the willpower to do so.

Based off the novel by Andy Weir and Directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator), The Martian is an inter-planetary survival story overflowing science, humor, and heart.  Unfortunately, the disjointed plot wears a little thin in lieu of it’s feel good spirit.

Scott, like some of his contemporaries Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, and Steven Spielberg, has always been a bit of populist, and here he carefully inserts his love of brainy science within a crowd-pleasing blockbuster format. It’s less ambitious than last year’s mind-melting Innerstellar, but it contains just as much optimism for the chemistry geeks who offer the most hope for humanity’s future.

While The Martian gives us enough hard science to make up an episode of Cosmos, it lacks much of the drama or narrative tension needed to sustain a film 140 minutes long. An ensemble cast that features Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristin Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Mackenzie Davis, give us little of actual characters and more of simple talking heads needed to relay technical information to each other.  Perhaps the most developed character is Matt Damon’s Mark “I’m going to science the shit out of mars” Watney. Damon has always been a likeable actor, but he is as charming as ever in The Martian with plenty of charisma and wittiness – even when he is facing death.

The little drama that exists lies with a Sean Bean/Jeff Daniels/Chiwetel Ejiofor corporate triangle, where NASA head Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) is faced with the moral dilemma of whether or not it’s justified to risk other astronauts lives at the expense of saving one. It’s a theme that’s never gets fully developed, with Scott instead opting for a style-over-substance epic that’s high on details but low on thematic material. The Martian does a good job at keeping things visually interesting, showcasing both Scott’s technical experience with tentpole films and the dynamics of (visual and interplanetary) space.

Bottom Line: With a story too simple for its lengthy running time, The Martian is a light hearted and extremely accessible crowdpleaser.

Bourne in space.

Rating: 7/10

Film Recipe: Interstellar + 127 Hours + All Is Lost

A Most Violent Year (2014)

20 Jan

Director and screenwriter J.C. Chandor reaches auteur status with his latest drama featuring outstanding performances from Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain and (should have been nominee) Oscar Isaac as a business couple facing increasing pressures during a desperate property purchase. The film marks Chandor’s third feature following 2013’s excellent survival drama All Is Lost

The year is 1981, and crime rates in New York City have just reached an all-time high. Our protagonist Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac), is the proud owner of a Standard Oil branch and he is about to close on a very important piece of property that would connect and open up his business in a new part of town. Violent attacks on Abel’s oil trucks are becoming more and more common as he is reaching a settlement with the previous property owners, creating doubt and an uneasy tension between his business’ financial investors. Adding to the mix is the local District Attorney Lawrence (David Oyelowo), who has a serious determination to prosecute Standard Oil for fraud.

A Most Violent Year is a fantastic film that deeply examines one’s determination to make it to the top. In a brilliant character display, Chandor gives his audience a detailed look at the complex frustrations that make his characters tic while under enormous amounts of stress. It’s a brilliantly written piece as well with many unexpected moments that do not distract from the overall narrative. Isaac, (who proved himself a serious dramatic actor worth keeping an eye on in last year’s Inside Llewyn Davis) returns in full force here with one of the year’s best performances. Jessica Chastain’s role is equally as impressive (a complete snub at this year’s Oscar Nominations) as Abel’s mysterious and calculating wife Anna who is in charge of the administration and financial side of Standard Oil.

As an introspective character piece that still manages to be grippingly tense, A Most Violent Year is one of 2014’s best films because of Chandler’s superb craftsmanship and his commitment to telling complex adult fare reminiscent of early Scorsese or Coppola. The fact that this film didn’t receive a single Oscar nomination still has me perplexed.

Rating – 8/10 

Similar to: Mean Streets (1973), The French Connection (1971), Margin Call (2011) 

 

10 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS 2015

2 Jan

Goodbye 2014 and hello to 2015.

 

Another great cinematic year has come and gone, and 2014 was one for the record books (you can check out my top 25 films of the year here). While we wait to see what film gets the Best Picture Oscar and who gets snubbed come February 22, lets take a look at some upcoming projects for 2015.

 

10 – Z For Zachariah 

Who’s in it – Margot Robbie, Chris Pine, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Directed By Craig Zobel.

Why? Zobel’s Compliance was one of the best micro-budget thrillers I had seen in a long time.  It looks like he is upping the ante here with some major A-list talent.

Release Date – Unknown for now, but I’ll be catching this at Sundance in late Jan

9 – STAR WARS EPISODE 7 

Who’s in it – All the original stars (Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill) along with an exciting batch of rising talent (Lupita Nyong’o, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, and John Boyega). Directed and written by JJ. Abrams.

Why? After the disappointing trilogy made up Episodes 1, 2 and 3, the pressure is on Abrams to revitalize the classic franchise and restore balance to the force (and our faith in big-budget franchises).  Besides, Hamill needs something to do with his career other than voice video games.

Release Date –  Dec 18 

 

8 – Black Mass 

Who’s in it – An ensemble cast of Johnny Depp, Juno Temple, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, and Kevin Bacon. Directed by Scott Cooper.

Why? After Cooper’s terrific but terribly underrated Out Of The Furnace, I’m extremely curious to see how he handles this FBI crime novel adaptation with such a talented cast.

Release Date – an Oscar friendly Sept 18 

7 – While We Are Young / Mistress America 

Who’s in it – Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Adam Driver / Greta Gerwig, Lola Kirk. Both films written and directed by Noah Baumbach.

Why? – Baumbach has two films in the pipeline for 2015, and they both look fantastic. While We Are Young received lots of praise after it’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September, and Mistress America is slated for a Sundance Film Festival premiere.

Release Date – March 27 / no word yet on a theatrical release for Mistress America, but I’ll catch it at Sundance in late Jan.

 

6- Everest 

Who’s in it – Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Josh Brolin, Robin Wright. Directed by Baltisar Kormakur.

Why? – The story about a group of mountain climbers becoming trapped on the world’s tallest peak during a snowstorm has me all sorts of excited. Plus, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Release Date – Sept 18 

 

5 – The Martian 

Who’s in it – Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Mara. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Why? – Besides the big-name cast and director, this adaptation about the colonization of mars could continue on the trail of smart Oscar-friendly sci-fi films like Gravity and Interstellar. Or it could be a total flop like The Counselor or Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Release Date – Nov 25

4 – The Revenant

Who’s in it – Leo Dicaprio, Tom Hardy. Directed by Alejandro Inarritu.

Why? Birdman showed that Inarritu could directed something in another genre besides the super-serious drama, and this western thriller will surely showcase the talent of two of today’s biggest actors.

Release Date –  Dec 25 

3 – The Hateful 8 

Who’s in it – Samuel Jackson (of course), Channing Tatum, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quientin Tarintino.

Why? –  Besides being one of the most recognizable auteurs among non-cinephiles, Tarantino is one of those directors that just seems to get better with age. I’m curious to see how he tackles a more traditional western post-Django Unchained.

Release Date – Nov 13 

2  – Knight of Cups 

Who’s in it – Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett. Directed by Terrence Malick.

Why? Terrence Malick’s epic made my list last year only to be shelved for a Berlin Film Festival premiere in 2015. A teaser trailer shows Malick’s typical visual style paired with an eccentric cast and wild party tone reminiscent of Spring Breakers. Hopefully, it will be worth the extra wait.

Release Date  – Unknown for now but likely to have an awards run Late October or November

 

1 – Silence 

Who’s in it – Adam Driver (again!!), Andrew Garfield, Liam Neeson. Directed by Martin Scorsese.

Why? – Scorsese’s adaptation of a Japanese novel about Christian priests enduring persecution overseas is sure to be one of his most personal and controversial films. And this is from the guy who directed Willem Dafoe as Jesus.

Release Date – Unknown, but likely sometime in November 

 

So there ya go. Good stuff on the horizon. What upcoming films are YOU most excited to see?