Tag Archives: Aunjanue Ellis

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet 2022

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, each spring we get to dig around Oscar nominees’ closets to find the bad horror lurking behind those glittery ball gowns. And this year it’s a fine season!

Here are five of our favorite bones from Oscar nominee skeletons.

5. Aunjanue Ellis (Best Supporting Actress, King Richard): The Resident (2011)

Ellis alone is reason to see King Richard. She’s breathtaking. But she hasn’t always had such luck with roles. In Antti Jokinen’s lifeless voyeur horror The Resident, she gets little to do but be the supportive bestie while a slumming Hilary Swank struggles with her new landlord.

Christopher Lee makes an appearance in what might be the only interesting thing about the film – not his performance as much as his presence. This was one of Hammer Studios modern releases, reuniting Lee with the studio that made him (or was it Lee who made the studio?).

Other than that, Jeffrey Dean Morgan misses the mark, Swank degrades herself and Ellis goes underutilized.

4. Ciarán Hinds (Best Supporting Actor, Belfast): The Rite (2011)

Veteran character actor Ciarán Hinds gets his first Oscar nomination this year for Belfast. No stranger to horror, Hinds has starred in the good (The Woman in Black), the bad (Mary Reilly) and the underseen (The Eclipse).

He does what he can to class up Mikael Hafstrom’s pedestrian 2011 possession flick The Rite.

Hoping to help a seminarian find his faith, Hinds’s Father Xavier sends him to learn exorcism from the best: Hanibal Lecter. No, it’s Anthony Hopkins as Father Lucas Trevant, but they know what you’re thinking.

Hopkins hams it up, trying to resuscitate Michael Petroni’s script with as much bombast as he can muster. It doesn’t work. Hinds is wasted, but so too are Rutger Hauer, Alice Braga and Toby Jones.

3. JK Simmons (Best Supporting Actor, Being the Ricardos): The Snowman (2017)

If we were weighing by disappointment, The Snowman would be #1. Tomas Alfredson followed up Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with this Norwegian crime thriller and he packed his cast with heavy hitters: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny, and 2022 nominee for Best Supporting Actor in Being the Ricardos, JK Simmons.

Why does it feel like there are gaping holes in the plot? Because the film was released, but they didn’t shoot the entire script. Who needs all the pieces to a mystery, anyway?

The actors do what they can, but the source material trades in darkness for misogyny and nonsense. Gainsbourg, Sevigny and Ferguson all play thankless roles while Simmons’s character appears, seems like a bad guy, disappears and never makes a dent in the storyline.

Nonsense.

2. Kirsten Dunst (Best Supporting Actress, The Power of the Dog): The Crow: Salvation (2000)

Sure, we could have gone with fan-favorite Interivew with the Vampire because, after all, it was not very good. Kirsten Dunst, Oscar-nominated this year for The Power of the Dog, was great in it, though.

She’s the best thing bout The Crow: Salvation, too, but that’s not saying a lot.

The third installment sees a surprisingly stacked cast (including Walton Goggins and Fred Ward) conspire to let a scapegoat die for their sins. He comes back as the single blandest Crow ever.

Dunst is the victim’s sister and she does what she can, but the writing is god-awful, the makeup is laughable, the staging, action, set design and direction are all just sad. It made us sad she took the role.

1. Kristen Stewart (Best Actress, Spencer): Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012)

Before we start, we want to point out that, like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Kriten Stewart has proven to be a dependable, remarkable talent. She’s shown adaptability and range across a ton of great indie films, some of them very solid genre efforts. We were thrilled to see her nab her first nomination for Spencer.

But before all that, there was Twilight. This series could be the whole podcast. Do you know why? They SUCK. Shiny vegetarian vampires? Mopey, special teens? YA fodder with the most profoundly backwards, disempowering message? Yes to all four films, so which is the worst?

The last one is the worst one because of 1) that creepy baby, 2) the imprinting. The CGI on that fast-growing Renesme is diabolically bad, but not nearly as heinous as the plotline where a grown man chooses an infant for his future spouse and that infant’s parents are good with it. So wrong.

A Pair of Aces

King Richard

by George Wolf

You know how many parents are convinced their kid is destined for athletic greatness? Quite a few, and that’s just in your neighborhood.

So how – and why – did Richard Williams’s predictions for daughters Venus and Serena come so incredulously true?

That’s a compelling story, one that King Richard tells with enough restraint and humanity to sidestep most sports movie cliches and find layers of true inspiration.

The Williams family – Richard (Will Smith), wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), Venus (Saniyya Sidney), Serena (Demi Singleton), and three additional daughters from Brandi’s previous relationship – weren’t exactly welcomed into the L.A. tennis community when Richard put his master plan in motion.

Tennis was a sport for the rich and the pale. They were a Black family from Compton, often dodging gang activity for a chance to practice on run down community courts. Richard was dogged in his search for a coach, first landing Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) before Venus earned the entire family an invite to Rick Macci’s (Jon Bernthal, playing delightfully against type) exclusive training center in Florida.

In his debut screenplay, writer Zach Baylin follows a fairly standard biopic formula, but manages to weave in necessary layers of nuance. While we see that the doubt Richard encounters about his daughters’ future greatness is understandable, the added barrier of racism is understood without an overplaying the hand. In fact, Baylin’s script (or the editing bay) occasionally downplays obstacles that the Williams’s surely encountered all too often, seemingly mindful of the film’s 138 minute running time.

But director Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men) has a good feel for pacing, with well-placed bits of tension, humor and impressively-staged tennis sequences that never let the film feel sluggish.

And while you can hardly be blamed for detecting the whiff of “Will Smith Oscar bait” in the air, don’t be surprised if he lands his third nomination. The film is an inspirational crowd pleaser that steers refreshingly clear of pandering, and Smith responds with a performance that leans into the colorful personality of Richard Williams while checking his penchant for heavy-handed mugging.

It helps that Smith is constantly elevated by Sidney and Singleton, the two wonderful young actresses playing Venus and Serena, and the always amazing Ellis (Lovecraft Country, Ray, The Help). Though Brandi’s character is often strong and silent, there are fine moments that prove just how vital she is to the Williams plan. And by the time Brandi is dressing down Richard as just another man that won’t admit he’s scared, it’s clear how vital Ellis is to the film’s resonance.

Though Venus and Serena get Executive Producer credits, the film doesn’t ignore some problematic areas in Richard’s personality, and Smith makes the mix of crazy-like-a-fox determination, gentle humor and hidden scars one that -like Smith himself – is hard to dislike.

As the older sister and the first to find success on the tour, it is Venus that gets much of the film’s focus. But Richard’s prediction for Serena (“the best ever”) serves as a natural pivot to send us home with a reminder about how lucky we’ve been to witness their greatness.

And as the best sports movies always do, King Richard scores often enough to land its message past the fault lines. The Williams plan may have been heavy on tennis, but it’s anchored by life lessons that not only benefitted all of Richard and Brandi’s children, but would undoubtedly be an asset in any arena.

So what made Richard’s vision so much clearer than every other parent in the stands?

Just some unending determination and confident stubbornness. Plus two daughters with once-in-a-generation gifts, the passionate drive to excel, and the desire to make the road a little smoother for the next young phenom that isn’t white or wealthy. That helps, too.