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Everybody Wants to be Us

Graduate Student at Loyola University Chicago. Check out the blog for what I'm currently obsessed with in film and culture. Michael Fassbender, Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Winslet, Christian Bale, Jesse Eisenberg, David Lynch, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, Martin Scorsese, and Daniel Radcliffe are regulars here.

#Shailene Woodley

BEST PICTURES REVIEWED: “The Descendants”

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On the sidewalks of Chicago I’ve been seeing the word “Forgive” painted in simple white script.  All over the city on my walks, this sign reminds me of this daunting action. Humbling ourselves to ask for forgiveness is no easy task, but appears more pleasant to laying down our pride and anger to forgive another. To complicate matters, how do we forgive “those who trespass against us” especially when they neither seek nor want our pardon? In his newest film “The Descendants” the Jesuit educated writer/ director Alexander Payne explores the barriers and challenges to forgive others. With his dark comedic style and intuitive sense of character, Payne offers some great insight on relationships and forgiveness.

Payne jets to the beautiful landscapes of Hawaii for “The Descendants.” The film stars George Clooney as Matt King, a father and husband whose wife is comatose due to a water skiing accident. Matt muses on everything he wants to apologize for when she wakes. His frequent business trips have created a distance in their marriage and family that he is ready to fix. At her bedside, Matt looks expectantly at his wife, praying for a chance to make Rup for it all. Yet two powerful revelations hit Matt just as he’s preparing this full transformation: his wife Elizabeth will die soon and she was having an affair. The second piece of information comes from his acerbic eldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) after Matt brings her home from a teen drug treatment center. Torn between his distress and anger, Matt must find a way to put Elizabeth to rest and raise his two daughters alone.

Payne cleverly dramatizes Matt’s dueling emotions towards his wife through vividly drawn and brilliantly acted characters. Alex represents his impulse to hate Elizabeth and discard every happy memory. He and Alex become allies in trying to discover the full extent of Elizabeth’s infidelity. They track down and confront her lover, finding he too has a spouse and family. Matt and Alex find a new understanding in their relationship through their shared anger at Elizabeth. With Scotty his 10 year old that knows nothing but a loving and admirable woman who she hopes will wake up again, Matt tempers his anger. In Elizabeth’s father Scott (Robert Forster), Matt is reminded of the woman he fell in love with, but often neglected because of his work.

Each scene leads Matt to confront another aspect of his wife. Elizabeth, portrayed by Patricia Hestie, could almost be considered the main character. Every conversation revolves around this mute and stationary character. In her hospital room, Payne alternates between wide shots that ensure Elizabeth is in our sights and close up shots on her agape, vacant face. We see Elizabeth from about every angle a person can be judged. Yet she remains a mystery and curiosity that we are discovering alongside Matt. Spurred on by Alex, Matt rages at his wife, laying out fresh and imagined grievances, quite different from his early scenes at her bedside. Seeing Scott mourn for his daughter, Matt finds pity for her. In Scotty’s sadness, Matt feels the loss of the mother of his children. And through an unlikely stranger played by Judy Greer, Matt learns he must forgive Elizabeth despite everything.

Payne sets Matt on a journey towards forgiveness that feels full and real because of these characters and their powerfully real interactions. Even compared to his role in “Up in the Air,” this is Clooney’s best leading performance. Definitely the most emotionally demanding role he’s chosen, Clooney traverses a range from anger to tenderness expertly. In “The Descendants” even Clooney”s fans will be surprised at how this normally cool, suave, and all-knowing actor is allowed to fail, look foolish, and be pitiful. In one such scene, after he chokes out an announcement of Elizabeth’s death to her closest friends, he watches their cars drive away and simply sinks to the ground. Matt is just like the rest of us, dealing with the pressures of life that can overwhelm our ability to stand. Most times it’s the actor that illuminates the character, yet Payne may have crafted a character with Matt King that allows audiences some insight into the actor. Clooney feels set free here and takes full advantage.

Woodley and Amara Miller who play Clooney’s daughters are wonderfully cast and flank the veteran actor like expert players. Woodley, a TV star on ABC Family, handles the role of the caustic and profane older sister with skill and grace. Woodley is able to deliver cutting lines and looks without ever seeming like a brat. Woodley brings out Alex’s desire to continue hating Elizabeth, while hinting at the young woman’s love for her mother. Alex says bitterly, “I’m just like you. In fact I’m exactly like you.” She means the line to wound, but Woodley shows us that Alex’s disappointment in her mother is rooted in her admiration for the woman. Payne has found a natural talent in Amara Miller who plays Scotty. It was refreshing to see a child actor who actually fit the age of the character. Miller is able to bring some of the mischievousness of Alex, while retaining that childlike hope that draws Alex and Matt away from their anger. Miller and Woodley are fearless, holding their own with and challenging Robert Forster and Clooney. They also deliver some of the best laughs with their surprising outbursts.

Payne’s films have been called sardonic in their portrayal of small town characters. In “The Descendants” I only saw great affection for the characters and a story of family that feels universal and necessary. The laughs here never come at the expense of the characters, but out of the relatable foibles and rashes of anger. We laugh deeply because the situations feel so grounded in truth. Payne shows us forgiveness is a journey, almost literally taking us across various Hawaiian Islands as Matt contemplates his family’s future. That journey takes Matt from confusion to anger to sorrow and finally lands in love; a love for Elizabeth despite her sins and the people she’s left behind who need peace.

Hooray for the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue

With everything going digital there’s something about Vanity Fair Hollywood issue that makes it a necessary purchase. Every February I wait in anticipation for that tri-fold cover, wondering which icons and newcomers will grace the cover.  This year’s selection did not disappoint.  Many of my favorite actresses are glitzed and glammed including Jennifer Lawrence, Rooney Mara, Paula Patton, Mia Wasikowska, and Elizabeth Olsen. 

This year I have to say the cover belongs to the ubiquitous Jessica Chastain and the surprising Shailene Woodley.  Chastain embodies that Old Hollywood glamour while standing out from the rest with her flaming red tresses. Her slight smirk reminds me of the pin-ups.  Woodley steals the other panels.  I hardly recognized “The Descendants” star in her starlet finery.  Her train takes up much of the frame, almost as if she’s ascending out of a pink cloud. Woodley seems to be standing in her personal spotlight demanding your attention. 

The magazine is full of wonderful Hollywood substance and puffery.  I particularly enjoyed S.L. Price’s profile of the making and influence of Barry Levinson’s “Diner.”  The piece convincingly argues Levinson’s film about Baltimore bros inspired writers to think differently about dialogue and make movies that sounded more like how people actually talk.  Price finds traces of “Diner” in TV shows like “Seinfeld” and “Entourage” and the movies “Reservoir Dogs”, “Swingers”, and everything by Judd Apatow. Making a movie about guys talking to each other about nothing was novel then, but connected with so many artists.  Price included funny antidotes from filming, including Mickey Rourke giving Steve Gutenberg acting advice (stop wanking off to be in constant tension).

Judd Apatow also gets mentioned in James Wolcott’s piece on male nudity in cinema.  Apparently, Apatow vowed to show a penis in every one of his films after test audiences shrieked at a visible member in “Walk Hard.”  Wolcott waxes lyrically on Michael Fassbender’s anatomy and unpacks why male full frontal isn’t often shown on screen.  He makes just about every penis pun known to man, while making me feel the tiniest bit sorry for the guys.

Tucked away is a wonderful little piece on Angelica Huston and her role as matriarch to a whole new clan of Huston talent.  I’m excited to see her in a new role in “Smash” and audibly gasped when I read she’s the aunt of Jack Huston; the laconic and brilliant Richard on “Boardwalk Empire.”  No wonder he’s so talented, he’s got genius genes.

            I salute you Hollywood issue, the highlight of my magazine loving year. 

Golden Globe Predictions

I’ll be enjoying this year’s Globes with a room full of Jesuits.  Fun will be had by all. Here’s what’s nominated and what I want to win.  

Best Motion Picture — Drama

  • "The Descendants"
  • "The Help"
  • "Hugo"
  • "The Ides of March"
  • "Moneyball"
  • "War Horse"

This is a decent slate of films, except for “The Help.” I want “Hugo” to win because it has great momentum and could use a push into Oscar voting season.  

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama

  • Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
  • Viola Davis, “The Help”
  • Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  • Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  • Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin

I have not seen Queen Meryl in “the Iron Lady” so I might change my mind tomorrow, but I’m betting on Ms. Davis for her dignified and powerful performance in “The Help.” Tilda Swinton could be a dark horse for either Streep or Davis. 

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama

  • George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”
  • Michael Fassbender, “Shame
  • Ryan Gosling, “The Ides of March”
  • Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

This is also a stellar category, but Fassbender is the clear winner in my eyes.  

Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical

  • "50/50"
  • "The Artist"
  • "Bridesmaids"
  • "Midnight in Paris"
  • "My Week With Marilyn"

I’m sticking with Woody Allen this award season. “Midnight In Paris” is THE BEST FILM OF THE YEAR!  If “The Artist” wins, i will be enraged. If “Bridesmaids” wins, that will be a strong sign that the comedy will be nominated for an Oscar.

Personal Space: “The Descendants”

On the sidewalks of Chicago I’ve been seeing the word “Forgive” painted in simple white script.  All over the city on my walks, this sign reminds me of this daunting action. Humbling ourselves to ask for forgiveness is no easy task, but appears more pleasant to laying down our pride and anger to forgive another. To complicate matters, how do we forgive “those who trespass against us” especially when they neither seek nor want our pardon? In his newest film “The Descendants” the Jesuit educated writer/ director Alexander Payne explores the barriers and challenges to forgive others. With his dark comedic style and intuitive sense of character, Payne offers some great insight on relationships and forgiveness.

Payne jets to the beautiful landscapes of Hawaii for “The Descendants.” The film stars George Clooney as Matt King, a father and husband whose wife is comatose due to a water skiing accident. Matt muses on everything he wants to apologize for when she wakes. His frequent business trips have created a distance in their marriage and family that he is ready to fix. At her bedside, Matt looks expectantly at his wife, praying for a chance to make Rup for it all. Yet two powerful revelations hit Matt just as he’s preparing this full transformation: his wife Elizabeth will die soon and she was having an affair. The second piece of information comes from his acerbic eldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) after Matt brings her home from a teen drug treatment center. Torn between his distress and anger, Matt must find a way to put Elizabeth to rest and raise his two daughters alone.

Payne cleverly dramatizes Matt’s dueling emotions towards his wife through vividly drawn and brilliantly acted characters. Alex represents his impulse to hate Elizabeth and discard every happy memory. He and Alex become allies in trying to discover the full extent of Elizabeth’s infidelity. They track down and confront her lover, finding he too has a spouse and family. Matt and Alex find a new understanding in their relationship through their shared anger at Elizabeth. With Scotty his 10 year old that knows nothing but a loving and admirable woman who she hopes will wake up again, Matt tempers his anger. In Elizabeth’s father Scott (Robert Forster), Matt is reminded of the woman he fell in love with, but often neglected because of his work.

Each scene leads Matt to confront another aspect of his wife. Elizabeth, portrayed by Patricia Hestie, could almost be considered the main character. Every conversation revolves around this mute and stationary character. In her hospital room, Payne alternates between wide shots that ensure Elizabeth is in our sights and close up shots on her agape, vacant face. We see Elizabeth from about every angle a person can be judged. Yet she remains a mystery and curiosity that we are discovering alongside Matt. Spurred on by Alex, Matt rages at his wife, laying out fresh and imagined grievances, quite different from his early scenes at her bedside. Seeing Scott mourn for his daughter, Matt finds pity for her. In Scotty’s sadness, Matt feels the loss of the mother of his children. And through an unlikely stranger played by Judy Greer, Matt learns he must forgive Elizabeth despite everything.

Payne sets Matt on a journey towards forgiveness that feels full and real because of these characters and their powerfully real interactions. Even compared to his role in “Up in the Air,” this is Clooney’s best leading performance. Definitely the most emotionally demanding role he’s chosen, Clooney traverses a range from anger to tenderness expertly. In “The Descendants” even Clooney”s fans will be surprised at how this normally cool, suave, and all-knowing actor is allowed to fail, look foolish, and be pitiful. In one such scene, after he chokes out an announcement of Elizabeth’s death to her closest friends, he watches their cars drive away and simply sinks to the ground. Matt is just like the rest of us, dealing with the pressures of life that can overwhelm our ability to stand. Most times it’s the actor that illuminates the character, yet Payne may have crafted a character with Matt King that allows audiences some insight into the actor. Clooney feels set free here and takes full advantage.

Woodley and Amara Miller who play Clooney’s daughters are wonderfully cast and flank the veteran actor like expert players. Woodley, a TV star on ABC Family, handles the role of the caustic and profane older sister with skill and grace. Woodley is able to deliver cutting lines and looks without ever seeming like a brat. Woodley brings out Alex’s desire to continue hating Elizabeth, while hinting at the young woman’s love for her mother. Alex says bitterly, “I’m just like you. In fact I’m exactly like you.” She means the line to wound, but Woodley shows us that Alex’s disappointment in her mother is rooted in her admiration for the woman. Payne has found a natural talent in Amara Miller who plays Scotty. It was refreshing to see a child actor who actually fit the age of the character. Miller is able to bring some of the mischievousness of Alex, while retaining that childlike hope that draws Alex and Matt away from their anger. Miller and Woodley are fearless, holding their own with and challenging Robert Forster and Clooney. They also deliver some of the best laughs with their surprising outbursts.

Payne’s films have been called sardonic in their portrayal of small town characters. In “The Descendants” I only saw great affection for the characters and a story of family that feels universal and necessary. The laughs here never come at the expense of the characters, but out of the relatable foibles and rashes of anger. We laugh deeply because the situations feel so grounded in truth. Payne shows us forgiveness is a journey, almost literally taking us across various Hawaiian Islands as Matt contemplates his family’s future. That journey takes Matt from confusion to anger to sorrow and finally lands in love; a love for Elizabeth despite her sins and the people she’s left behind who need peace.

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