Thursday, January 28, 2010

Sundance Day 5 & 6: The Runaways, Mother and Child, and More...

The day in which Nathaniel got sick (cough sneeze), wanted to jump on Ari Graynor (with love!), saw Paul Dano at a party (quite adorable), went to a gay party by himself (absolute torture) and saw a few movies. Which is what we're here to talk about. So here goes...

Holy Rollers
I've seen more than enough drug dramas in my lifetime but this one is about an ecstasy smuggling ring with Hasidic Jews as couriers. So ...that's new. Movies with unusual premises or angles win initial "potential" points right off the bat. Jesse Eisenberg plays Jesse Eisenberg again... only with payot. (somebody needs to start stretching. I'm just sayin'). He plays Sam Gold who, despite the fact that he's living an Orthodox life, he soon dives deep into crime with an older friend and fellow Hasid (Justin Bartha), as his guide. Ari Graynor, whom I love yet more with each new movie, plays their bosses arm candy. She enjoys torturing (i.e. flirting with) the Jewish boys and delighting me in my theater seat. There's a certain punch to a couple of the performances and the milieu is interesting, but I wish the movie were stronger. It lacks a certain urgency that's necessary for crime dramas (even non-violent ones like this) but the religious backdrop was refreshing. Holy Rollers also accepts and doesn't judge the way that people often retreat into religious ritual and habit, whenever they feel threatened by the waters they've tested outside. C+

P.S. At one point Ari Graynor offers Jesse ecstasy on her tongue. I've never done E but I've never been more tempted. I am becoming obsessed with Ari Graynor. Help me!

Mother and Child
The premise goes like so: Mother "Karen" (Annette Bening), pregnant when she was only 14, gave up Child "Elizabeth" (Naomi Watts) for adoption. Both of them live the next 37 years deeply affected by this decision. Mother spends the rest of her life thinking about this girl and who she might have become. Bening's performance, typically strong, is all brittle self-punishing defeat. Karen's anger isn't only internal, she's got enough of it to spread around, keeping potential friends and would be lovers at a (safe) distance. Bening has played icy women before but Karen feels like a fresh creation. There's no theatricality to her rudeness, no joy in her solitude.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, has become a skilled successful lawyer. Like her mother she also lashes out, only she knows she's doing it. There's an unsettling 'I dare you' challenge in her gaze and she seems to greatly enjoy undermining the happiness of neighbors and angling for power in her relationship with her boss (Samuel L Jackson). It's a difficult unlikeable character to wrap your head around. Watts is typically intense but she doesn't find a way to make the ice queen thaw feel like more than a forced screenplay choice. There's a third would be Mother in the film "Lucy" (Kerry Washington) and the film also runs into some trouble here. All the parallels and connections began to feel too schematic and less than organic.

Writer/director Rodrigo García's career from Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her through his television work and to Nine Things suggests that he loves actresses as much as I do. I thank him for that but next time I hope he loves them more spontaneously and energetically. Mother and Child has both sorrow and warmth but it needed more fire in its (pregnant) belly. C+

The Runaways
Joan Jett, Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart all came to town for the festival to promote this rock star bio film. And Sunday night Jett even performed -- she still loves rock and roll -- but I was not invited. The universe is cruel that way.


Though I had my worries about Kristen Stewart portraying this iconic 80s rock star, the mimicry seems to have encouraged her to drop some of the usual tics that she brings with her when playing fictional characters. She's fine here even though, as it turns out, she's nearly a supporting character despite her top billing. We meet Joan first but by the time Dakota Fanning takes the mic as the "ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-cherry bomb" jailbait, the catalyst for their success as the film argues, the film is hers. Or maybe it's Michael Shannon's? He gives the only comic performance in the film as their manager.

Director Floria Sigismondi has fashioned a visually exciting bio that is refreshingly punk in spirit: she doesn't shy away from the unsavory reckless behavior, the sexually fluid promiscuity (yes, Dakota & Kristen get it on), or the money-minded exploitation of underage Cherie. Speaking of: what will people make of the parallel exploitation of Dakota Fanning in this role? For all the snap of the music, the fun of the period details and the colorful aesthetic, The Runaways is hit and miss. Like many biopics, it suffers from a repetitive nature and some missed opportunities in focus and character development, particularly within the supporting cast who barely seem to exist. B

Catfish
The next day sidelined by general sickness miserabilism, I only took in one movie: the extremely buzzy documentary about... well, here's the catch. You're not allowed to talk about what it's about. I wrote a little bit more about it in my weekly Tribeca column. B+

What have you been watching this past week? Have you ever been to Sundance.
*

21 comments:

Stella said...

I've been hearing a lot about the mixed reactions of "The Killer Inside Me" from Winterbottom with Casey Affleck. Sounds intriguing. Heard anything?

monkey101 said...

I hope kristin stewart will get a oscar nomination for any of her roles.

*Hey everyone go to twiigs.com and vote on my polls look for monkey101 I will announce the winners when I can thanks.*

Wayne said...

The Runaways sounds intriguing, my Fanning aversion aside. Bening, Watts, Washington and Jackson sound like too good a combo to ignore.

Have not been to Sundance, YET, but someday I will. It's always good to have goals. :)

john said...

Yuck! I know she was at sundance (briefly) but why is there a pic of Katie Holmes on your homepage banner?!?

Anyway, so do you rate Annette's awards chances, despite the fact the film is coming out in may?

adelutza said...

I saw yesterday the premiere of Nowhere Boy at Eccles and Elton John was in the audience. Actually quite liked the film. Kristin Scott Thomas is good as usual and basically all the cast does a good job.

Jim T said...

Thanks so much!

So, in order to guess what Catfish is about I have to think of all the possible allegories? :p

And wow, you "just" found Bening being typically strong? It will be weird if she gets an Oscar but is only in your hononary mentions next year. I'm running so fast :)

jess said...

So Nat, is Benning in the position to win Best Actress next year ? Sounds like it's her Blue Sky.

Anonymous said...

I remember what Sam Adams wrote at the IFC blog regarding the performances in "The Runaways":

(about Dakota)
Losing control, however, is not within the scope of Fanning's undeniable gifts. Even when she's collapsing in the lobby of a hotel in Tokyo or slumping to the bottom of a California phone booth, she's never as unstrung as she needs to be.

(about Kristen)
Stewart, on the other hand, makes a living by being a mess on-screen. Her emotions seem to pour out of her without passing through the filter of self-consciousness, an astonishing openness that can be mistaken for a lack of technique.

I know you dislike her and all, but would you say Kristen Stewart passed this test (this movie being her first chance to play a really good character)? Is it possible she isn't the terrible, unbearable actress think (used to think?) she is?

I hope you're feeling better, and get to catch a ton of really good movies. Have fun!

gabrieloak said...

I've been catching up on PBS Masterpiece Classic. I watched 2 1/2 hours of Little Dorrit and I am hooked. How Gray Gardens won an award over this marvelous Dickens adaptation boggles my mind.

Also watched the first half of the new Emma. So good to see Jonny Lee Miller with his accent again. Romola Garai is not the perfect Emma but the adaptation is well-done and different from past ones I've seen.

I plan to finally watch Reprise which I missed last year.

Jake D said...

I watched Juno for the umpteenth time. Interesting how different parts hit me harder two years later. The first time, I teared up at Bleeker's sad-puppy "Oh shit" close-up near the beginning. This time, I positively fell apart once the nurse gave the baby to Vanessa.

Garner's performance keeps looking better and better, while Page's keeps on deteriorating, I think.

Stefano said...

Probably Annette should run in the supporting field... I think she would have more chances to get some recognition there, considering that "Mother and Child" looks like an ensemble-movie.

Simon said...

Has anyone seen "Hesher" yet? I'm pining, I tell you.

Danny King said...

Can't wait to see Stewart!

cal roth said...

OK, it seems Kerry's segment is the weak link, but is she any good in it? Love her, and still waiting for her breakthrough...

NATHANIEL R said...

Cal -- Kerry is very good. But it's not going to be the big break :(

NATHANIEL R said...

Stella -- i didn't see the Killer Inside Me but people violently hate it! apparently the violence is all too much. I've talked to a couple of people who were amused by it, and the reaction that it generally gets.

Anonymous said...

NATHANIEL R, do you think Dakota Fanning is Oscar nom worthy? How is her performance compared to Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones? I know they're not competing. But they are both arguably the most talented 15 year old actresses working today.

Mike M. said...

Do you think Bening's performance will get Oscar traction, and if so, in the lead or supporting category? Even if she's not nominated for it, it could perhaps help her gain support a nomination for The Kids Are All Right.

...Hard to tell, over a year in advance though ;)

NATHANIEL R said...

Mike -- Mother and Child will help her nominatability in KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. Oscar will always go with the film they like on other levels too so if its going to happen for her, it'll be for Kids

whitney said...

I still haven't been able to get into Catfish. Looks like I'll have to wait until DVD...bummer...but I've got to see so many cool movies, that I don't really mind.

Before you go, you should try to screen the drunk histories at the press office. Scott and I were crying laughing.

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