Tag Archives: Hailee Steinfeld

High School Confidential

The Edge of Seventeen

by George Wolf

Even if you had a good time in high school, let’s be honest. Would you really want to go back?

Doubtful. And The Edge of Seventeen is another reminder that one time through a battlefield littered with drama, hormones, benzoyl peroxide and general awkwardness is plenty, thanks.

Oregon teen Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is navigating that struggle with a standard mix of panic and self-absorption. She feels like a social outcast, is convinced she’s an old soul, resents the golden boy status of her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) and has one real friend in Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). Just as Nadine is plotting a strategy to catch the eye of her crush Nick (Alexander Calvert), she catches Krista and Darian canoodling, and dramatically issues the “him or me!” ultimatum.

It doesn’t go well.

In her debut as writer/director, Kelly Fremon Craig crafts a “Nora Ephron for teens” type of vibe, and buoys Steinfeld’s terrific lead performance with just enough refreshing frankness to offset the standard teen cliches.

We get voiceover narration, forced quirkiness and the nice boy who waits while Nadine chases the bad boy, but we also get commitments to a layered main character and complicated relationships. Nadine doesn’t give us many reasons to like her, and though you know this is going to change, her journey to the edge of maturity feels more real than most.

Her theatrics are undercut by the amusing reactions of Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson), a history teacher who’s seen way too much of her kind and is more concerned about Nadine’s run-on sentences than her latest social suicide. After dismissing Bruner as an out of touch fogey, Nadine’s peek inside his home life is an effectively subtle wake up.

Even better, Fremon Craig uses the friction between Nadine and Krista as a nice metaphor for leaving childhood things behind and moving on.

The Edge of Seventeen is not without its own growing pains, but much like Nadine, it accumulates enough moments of depth for a well-earned resonance.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

 

Not So Happy Trails

The Homesman

by Hope Madden

In front of the camera, Tommy Lee Jones is a world-wearied, direct and laconic actor, but there’s a cowboy poetry about him. He’s no different behind the camera, as his second feature proves. The Homesman brims with the lonesome, brutal beauty of the frontier, but thanks to Jones’s capable storytelling, it offers more than that.

Jones plays George Briggs – if that is the real name of the claim jumping low life who finds himself at the end of a rope and the mercy of the upright Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). A prosperous but “uncommonly single” lady on the frontier, Ms. Cuddy has volunteered her services for a particular journey and will oblige Mr. Briggs to accompany her or remain in his predicament.

What unfolds is a wagon wheel Western of sorts, replete with stunning images of the prairie, beautifully framed by the director. Swank – who can be counted upon to create a vivid if one-dimensional character – can’t help but bring to mind the Mattie Ross role from True Grit. It appears Jones (and Swank) are intentional with this, as Hailee Steinfeld (of the Coen remake) has a late supporting role.

It suggests that Jones is retelling our sentimental Western favorites with a lonelier, harsher but hauntingly beautiful tone.

The journey meets expectations and then subverts them, filling the screen with surprises – some fun, some bitter, all a bit melancholy. And yet there’s a black but entertaining humor in many scenes. The swings in tone, on the whole, are capably handled by a director who mined somewhat similar styles in his underseen 2005 first feature as director, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.

Peppered with fascinating if jarringly brief cameos, Jones’s film keeps your attention as it journeys slowly East, making a statement about the hard realities of frontier life as well as the more universal ache to be loved.

The territories of the American West have filled our imaginations for more than two hundred years and it can be tough to find a new approach. Jones succeeds in using that same dusty path across the frontier we find so familiar, and even populating the trip with characters we almost remember, yet somehow he tells a truly new and memorable tale.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

There Are Better Ways to Spend Your Days

3 Days to Kill

by Hope Madden

Remember when the first Charlie’s Angels movie came out, and it was much less terrible than we’d all expected – mostly thanks to Bill Murray? So much so that people marveled? Who’s this McG person, I’m sure someone said of the newcomer director. Look at his loose comic style and action movie flair.

Well, five tired films later, not that many people are still buzzing about McG, and his latest, 3 Days to Kill, isn’t likely to change that.

Kevin Costner stars as Ethan Renner, an aging CIA assassin with a bad doctor’s report who wants to spend what little time he has left in Paris with his estranged family. But a mysterious upper level agent (Amber Heard) offers him an experimental drug in exchange for one last assignment.

Little more than another riff on the old stand-by Luc Besson tale (who produced and co-scripted), the film feels worn out before it even gets started.

Costner’s casually humorous presence gives the movie some heart and McG coordinates some car sequences with a panache reminiscent of his earlier work, but otherwise you can expect a mishmash of every theme, scene, lesson and cliché in Besson’s arsenal.

Heard proves again that she doesn’t have the chops to act her way out of one-dimensional roles or the charisma to leave a mark within them. Hailee Steinfeld, playing combustible teen Zooey, does not use this particular project to live up to the promise of her spectacular performance in True Grit. Connie Nielson is wasted as her mother.

The subplot with a family of squatters in Ethan’s apartment is almost offensively clichéd. (Thanks, you noble clan, for teaching Ethan a thing or two about family!)

A blandly derivative middle age fantasy, 3 Days is about on par with everything else Besson, McG, Heard or Costner has done in the last few years.

Maybe we can still hold out hope for Draft Day?

Verdict-2-0-Stars

 

Weekend Countdown: Best Young Actresses Not Named Jennifer Lawrence

Shailene Woodley, the 21-year-old who stole scenes from Clooney in The Descendents, finally returns to the big screen with another awe-inspiring turn in this week’s The Spectacular Now. Woodley is part of a remarkable wave of young female talent worth celebrating. Therefore, this weekend’s countdown: 9 brilliant young actresses not named Jennifer Lawrence.

Quvenzhane Wallis

This nine-year-old boasts an Oscar nomination, a forthcoming historical drama co-starring Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, and the lead in the next silver screen version of little orphan Annie’s scrappy story. Her cherubic face and startling talent offers hope for the future of the industry.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF7i2n5NXLo

Kara Hayward

Fourteen and brilliant (honestly – she’s a member of Mensa), Hayward made an impression as the heavily eye-lined lovestruck teen in Moonrise Kingdom. Let’s hope Hollywood knows how to make the most of her deadpan genius.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfBPjbvr1BU

Chloe Moretz

Sure, Kick-Ass 2 disappointed, but the hard-working Moretz doesn’t. Now 16, she has more acting credits than everyone else on this list combined. She’s played disdainful, vulnerable, mean, sweet, blood sucker and victim, and soon she’ll reprise the role Sissy Spacek made infamous. We can’t wait to see what she can do at the prom.

Elle Fanning

The touching, versatile younger sister in an acting clan, this 15-year-old may be the most impressive talent on the list. She has a quiet reserve that draws comparison to Meryl Streep – heady company, but Fanning may just be the one who can live up to it.

Rachel Mwanza

You may not know this impressive talent, but her first professional work in the Oscar nominated War Witch proves her uncanny natural ability. Her devastating, understated performance marks the work of a natural artist and we are eager to see her follow up.

Hailee Steinfeld

She received her first Oscar nomination at 16 for a powerhouse performance that stood up to the likes of Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges in True Grit. She’s been quiet since, but she’ll churn out an impressive number of films in the next two years, including a starring role in Romeo and Juliet this February.

Saoirse Ronan

Oscar nominations, action flicks, period piece drama, teen angst pics, accents aplenty – this chameleonic 19-year-old can seem to handle anything. She’s been an international acting force since childhood and we are eager to see what adulthood brings.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anqgem9eN38

Saskia Roendahl

Another unfamiliar name, perhaps, but 20-year-old Roendahl made the world take note when she brought tender resilience to the devastating war pic Lore. Like Fanning and Mwanza, she suggests a quiet, wary wisdom with her performances that should help her carve out a brilliant career.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XBsT3iafl0

Shailene Woodley

And back to Woodley, 21, a refreshingly natural performer whose choices mark someone who wants to act rather than someone who wants to be a star. Like her impressive colleagues on this list, she offers hope to those of us who love movies and thrill to see the next generation of Streeps, Blanchettes, Winslets, Moores and Closes begin their cinematic takeover.