Tag Archives: Kristen Stewart

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.

The English Way

Spencer

by George Wolf

The opening credits of Spencer include a declaration that the film is “a fable from a true tragedy.” Indeed, it is a story draped in sadness and longing, but one that uses what you already know about its subject to its advantage, completely enveloping you in an otherworldly existence.

Much like 2016’s Jackie – his compelling take on Jackie Kennedy – director Pablo Larraín has no interest in the overreaching realism of bland biopics. Here, he chooses to dissect a few precious days over the Christmas holiday, roughly ten years after Diana Spencer (Kristen Stewart) married Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and became Princess Di, worldwide obsession.

Diana is late arriving at the family gathering on the sprawling Sandringham estate in Norfolk, and this, like so many other aspects of her behavior, simply will not do. Diana and her two young sons often complain about feeling cold, and though she wonders why they can’t just “turn up the heating,” screenwriter Steven Knight isn’t just referring to the thermostat.

Through evocative visual storytelling and restrained, insightful dialog, Larraín and Knight set clear parameters for the haunting pressure of Diana’s daily life.

A new head of security (the great Timothy Spall) seems to lurk around every corner, reminding Diana of expectations and missteps. Her dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins, perfect as always) has been sent away, apparently for the crime of being Diana’s one true friend. And as Charles’s longtime affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles becomes impossible to ignore, unsettling visits from Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson) make their way into Diana’s dreams, reinforcing her belief that past and present have conspired to deny her a future.

If you haven’t been keeping up with Stewart’s string of fine performances since the Twilight films, don’t be surprised when she starts collecting the award nominations this performance richly deserves. Yes, she has the mannerisms (shoulder turns, head tilts), the lithe movements and even the voice and accent down, but Stewart carries this film by completely embodying the quiet desperation (“the English way,” as Pink Floyd famously dubbed it) of a woman suffocating in real time.

Jonny Greenwood’s score should also be an Oscar contender, as his cascades of alternating strings, organs, drum rolls and a solitary horn give Larraín a major assist in setting a disorienting, almost Hitchcockian mood.

Diana must work hard to enjoy even a few moments of happiness, like a beach stroll with Maggie or eating KFC and singing along to Mike + the Mechanics with her boys. But when Charles admonishes Diana for forgetting that public persona always trumps whatever the heart might crave, the true weight of her crown is finally felt.

Spencer approaches Diana’s story from perhaps the only angle that fits such an icon. The goal here isn’t to tell her life story, but instead to reimagine it, and rethink what it may have cost – and Larraín is clearly unconcerned with any cost from alienating Royal Family fans. He chooses the word “fable” at the start for a reason. This film is no fairy tale, but Larraín’s committed vision and an achingly poetic turn from Stewart make Spencer a completely fascinating two hours of story time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20BIS4YxP5Q

Attention Getter

Seberg

by George Wolf

Another film on the blonde 60s starlet who died far too young, and under mysterious circumstances? Yes, a starlet, but not Monroe.

She may not have been the icon Marilyn was, but Jean Seberg’s celebrity life and tragic death had its own “Candle in the Wind” comparisons, all embodied with beguiling grace by Kristen Stewart even when Seberg falls back on superficiality.

Seberg’s breakout in 1960’s Breathless made her a darling of the French New Wave, but Jean was an Iowa native. As the winds of change in her homeland began raging, Seberg took an interest in the counter-culture that was strong enough to make her a target of the FBI.

Director Benedict Andrews anchors the film in Seberg’s involvement with the civil rights movement, and her relationship with activist Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie). Two FBI agents (Vince Vaughn and Jack O’Connell) report Seberg’s status as a “sympathizer,” and the increasing surveillance throws her life into turmoil.

Andrews, a veteran stage director, seems most at ease recreating Seberg’s glamorous life, enveloping the film in an effective old Hollywood gloss and Stewart in consistently loving framing. She responds with what may be her finest performance to date.

We meet Seberg when she is already a star, and Stewart conveys a mix of restlessness, conviction, selfishness and naivete that is never less than compelling. In just over an hour and a half, Stewart takes Seberg from confident fame to paranoid breakdown, and the arc always feels true.

O’Connell leads the strong supporting cast (also including Stephen Root, Margaret Qualley and Zazie Beets) with a nuanced performance as the young agent with a nagging conscience. But while the script from Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (The Aftermath, Race) wants to draw comparisons with more recent government overreach, Andrews has trouble meshing the FBI thriller with the introspective biography.

Too much of the spying agenda (“This comes from above!”) seems paint by numbers, but it never sinks the film thanks to Stewart’s command of character. Much like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Stewart has followed her blockbuster fame with a string of challenging projects and impressive performances.

In case you’ve missed any, Seberg is a good place to start catching up.

Angels Assemble

Charlie’s Angels

by George Wolf

We’ll know soon enough if there was high demand for a new Charlie’s Angels film. But 16 years after the close of the Drew Barrymore version, Elizabeth Banks apparently thought she could bring the franchise a welcome freshness.

She was right, mostly.

As writer, director and co-star, she’s a Banks of all trades, and just one of the Bosleys assisting a team of Angels. In this Charlie universe, “Bosley” is a rank, not a name, with famous faces such as Patrick Stewart, Djimon Hounsou and even Michael Strahan as some manner of Boz.

But it is Banks’s Bosley that is on the case when Angels Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Balinska) must protect Elena (Naomi Scott), a brilliant systems engineer who stands between bad guys and some lethal new technology.

Even with its updated vibe, Banks’s vision seems more in line with the original TV series (12 year-old me was a big fan). Barrymore’s films did bring some charm, but too often treated style as weapon of submission. The feeling this time is more of an easygoing wink-wink, with plenty of callbacks to franchise history and some well-staged battle angel set pieces.

There’s plenty of girl power, too, and while these Angels aren’t first to that party, they fit in quite nicely. They value friendships, they own their sexuality without being sexualized, they’re skilled, strong and always ready to rib each other about awkward flirting or a love of cheese.

Even with the surprises and fake outs it holds, the spy story is a bit too slight to support a full two hours. But, no surprise, it is worth staying for credits that offer plenty of smile-inducing cameos.

Banks deals plenty of hands with Charlie’s Angels, overplaying none but the running time. So while it’s not a laugh riot, it is self-aware and amusing, its action heavy without undue disbelief and it feels like a reboot we needed, whether we realized it or not.


I’ll Be You

JT LeRoy

by Hope Madden

Do you remember the JT LeRoy hubbub? Maybe you confuse it with the similar hullaballoo surrounding James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, the memoir that turned out to be highly fictional?

Please don’t. LeRoy’s bizarre fake nonfiction and ensuing scandal is so much more interesting.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy is a hoax perpetrated on an almost grotesquely willing public. Laura Albert, a frustrated writer, master manipulator and likely sufferer of mental health issues, invented LeRoy.

More than the nom de plume used to pen Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, LeRoy became Albert’s literary persona. Albert herself didn’t exist in this world. She became LeRoy, the writer of lurid “autobiographical” pieces that, together with a mysterious nature, won the hearts of readers, media and celebrities alike.

In fact, Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy became so popular that he had no choice but to show his nonexistent face.

Enter Albert’s sister-in-law, Savannah Knoop.

The weird true-life tale of LeRoy’s fake-life tale has been documented twice in works of nonfiction (the documentaries The Cult of JT LeRoy and Author: The JT LeRoy Story, both worth viewing). Director Justin Kelly is the first to make fiction of the fiction with his aptly cast film, J.T. LeRoy.

Though the film doesn’t offer a great deal of insight beyond what you can glean from the two documentaries, it takes Knoop’s point of view for a refreshing change of pace. But its real strength is the film’s cast.

Kristen Stewart makes the ideal choice to play Savanna/JT. Effortlessly androgynous, moody, sensual and conflicted, Stewart gives the character a vulnerable center, balancing Knoop’s motivation between a sense of duty to Albert and a personal longing for artistic expression.

Naturally, Laura Dern shines, stealing scenes and oscillating between free spirit and opportunist. She does a fine job of illustrating Abbot’s view of creating this other personality who can take on her own pain, can amplify that pain and turn it into both an escape and art. At the same time, Dern’s the schemer, the survivor manipulating those around her. It’s interesting the way the veteran character actor weaves between artist and manipulator in a context that questions the difference between fiction and fraud.

The two leads become a great point/counter point and the film is strongest in their shared scenes. When JT wanders off alone, burdened by puppy love or struggling to keep up a persona of another’s creation, a certain spark goes out.

That’s not to say that the balance of the cast falters. Diane Kruger is particularly slippery as Eva, a thinly veiled version of Asia Argento. But as intriguing as her interplay is with JT, you miss the constant push and pull of wills when Stewart and Dern work off each other.

40 Whacks

Lizzie

by Hope Madden

Screenwriter Bryce Kass has some interesting thoughts on the case of Lizzie Borden, the American woman suspected in the 1892 ax murders of her father and stepmother. In director Craig William Macneill’s hands, those intriguing ideas receive a proper, historical treatment.

Whether they have merit or not is mainly beside the point.

Lizzie (Chloe Sevigny) was a spinster of 32 when her parents died. She was home at the time, as was the family’s Irish immigrant servant, Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart).

The film does not create a whodunit atmosphere, instead painting a historically realistic picture of some of the details that may have driven Borden to commit the crimes—likelihoods that wouldn’t have been considered in 1892 and have, therefore, rarely been taken into account over the years.

The struggle facing a single woman—economic and otherwise—is handled throughout this film with a desperate grace that elevates most scenes. Sevigny’s wily, lonesome outsider role plays to her strong suit. She shows here, as she did in 2016’s Love & Friendship, a capacity with the delicate language of the entitled.

Kristen Stewart continues to impress, even with a brogue. Yes, she is again morose, conflicted and put-upon, so maybe her range isn’t as strong as I’m suggesting, but she really knows her niche.

The way Macneill and Kass piece together the well-known pieces to this puzzle, this time considering how each may impact and be impacted by the fact that Lizzie was an unmarried woman, is consistently compelling.

Do the filmmakers take their somewhat subversive approach a step further than necessary, moving from honest if overlooked likelihood to vague possibility to “are they doing this just to be lurid”?

They do.

It doesn’t sink the film, though, mainly because Stewart and Sevigny commit to the direction and keep it from feeling exploitive. Plus, it is a fresh and believable take on a very old, oft-told story, so that counts for something.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwgtDHISXtQ





Portraits and Landscapes

Certain Women

by Hope Madden

Writer/director Kelly Reichardt sees something extraordinary in the simple daily struggle of ordinary people. Her latest film, Certain Women, again observes with genuine interest the (mostly) routine choices and sacrifices that quietly shape lives.

Weaving together three separate tales, each with just a whisper of a connection to the next, she tells of the isolation and disappointments coloring the lives of certain small town women.

Laura Dern stands out, exasperated but compassionate, as a rural Montana lawyer contending with a confused and obstinate client (Jared Harris, wonderful). Their story crescendos with uncharacteristic (for Reichardt) drama, but even here, the intimacy and understatement highlight something far more human than the tale itself predicts.

Reichardt regular Michelle Williams leads the second story, one full of understated moments echoing with regret and longing. The third, starring Kristen Stewart as a new lawyer teaching a class and Lily Gladstone as the desperately lonely ranch hand she befriends, is the most hushed and heartbreaking.

Stewart, who’s been so strong in recent roles (Clouds of Sils Maria, Still Alice, Equals), falls back a bit on her trademark angst, but Gladstone’s aching loneliness balances it out.

It isn’t simply the characters, beautifully wrought as they are, that carry these loosely braided tales. Reichardt’s eloquently captured Montana landscape, lovely but hard, both informs and reflects each of the leads.

She’s working again with regular collaborator, cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt, and together they let the rugged landscape speak as loudly, or as quietly, as the cast.

Few filmmakers – if any – can create such texture in a film. Reichardt rushes nothing, letting every scene breathe, every performance matter. There’s no shorthand here, and viewers thirsting for clear-cut drama and momentum may be uncomfortable with her choices. But those familiar with her work – Meek’s Cutoff (2010) and Wendy and Lucy (2008), in particular – will embrace the quiet intimacy of the portraits.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Bourne and Chong

American Ultra

by George Wolf

Here’s the pitch: what if Brad Pitt’s Flintstones-watching stoner from True Romance was actually a highly trained government operative who can kill you with nothing but a spoon and a cup of soup?

Intrigued? Me, too.

So why can’t American Ultra fully capitalize on that promise?

Okay, its not really Floyd from True Romance – he’s baking comfortably in the stoner Hall of Fame – it’s Mike (Jesse Eisenberg) from the Cash and Carry mini-mart in Liman, West Virginia. Mike plans to propose to his live-in girlfriend Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) during a romantic trip to Hawaii, but they never make it on the plane.

Mike suffers strange panic attacks anytime he’s about to leave town, but that seems like a minor problem once CIA agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) visits Mike at work and keeps repeating a strange phrase. Turns out Mike is really a sleeper agent who’s been suddenly branded a liability, and Victoria needs Mike to wake up before he’s taken out.

Writer Max Landis, much as he did with Chronicle, pieces together a winning premise from parts of differing genres. We think we know what to expect from weed-soaked characters, but breaking out the MacGyver shit to bust open some heads is not on the list. Throw in plenty of spy game skullduggery, and there’s ample opportunity for black comedy that the film only partially explores.

Director Nima Nourizadeh (Project X) seems equally caught in a pattern of two steps up and one back. He unleashes stylish, well-paced bursts of action, followed by slow-moving exposition and then back again, sometimes punctuated by isolated bits of sharp comedy just looking for a home.

On paper, Eisenberg seems miscast, but he’s able to make both extremes of Mike’s character blend surprisingly well. Stewart continues her recent winning streak in the film’s early going, excelling as Mike’s sweetly sympathetic love. Once Phoebe’s true motives come to light, though, it’s back to the well worn K-Stew pained expression once too often.

A little too slow to be action packed, a bit too nasty to be fun-filled, American Ultra seems held back in a familiar haze. It’s got plenty of good ideas, but just when they really start to gel, it decides to just watch some cartoons instead.

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

 

 





A Maria Full of Grace

Clouds of Sils Maria

by George Wolf

Somewhere between Twilight and the tabloids, Kristen Stewart began doing some real acting. She’s better than ever in Clouds of Sils Maria, and though hers is a supporting role alongside one of the screen’s major talents, Stewart pulls plenty of weight in a terrific drama with much to say.

Juliette Binoche is customarily excellent as Maria, a famous actress returning to the stage in a revival of the play that launched her career twenty years earlier. This time, though, she’s playing the older female lead, while a Lindsay Lohan clone named Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz, striking just the right tone of clueless entitlement) is taking the role Maria originated.

Stewart is Maria’s ever-present personal assistant Valentine, who not only runs both errands and lines for Maria, but serves as her bridge to a younger generation.

Writer/director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours) takes the intimate psychological playground of Polanski’s Venus in Fur, and laces it with the pop culture commentary of Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Binoche and Stewart swim gracefully inside the play within a play setup, slowly moving Maria and Valentine in directions that mirror the script both characters are reading.

The actresses display an easy chemistry, never more apparent than when Valentine is trying to sell Maria on the merits of young Hollywood. In the film’s most deliciously meta moment, Stewart might just as well be telling all of us Twilight haters to get over it already.

Assayas’s script is sharp and his camera is fluid, effectively blurring the line between onstage and off. Revisiting the play forces Maria to confront her past and question her present, and Binoche reveals the various layers with a gentle, masterful touch.

The beauty of Clouds of Sils Maria lies in its subtle complexity. It offers sly insights that sneak up on you, and an exceptional cast to make them stick.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars

 





Finally Julianne

Still Alice

by Hope Madden

Unless something goes terribly amiss Julianne Moore will finally win an Oscar this year, and that’s simply good news. She probably should have won one for Savage Grace, Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Far From Heaven, Safe and maybe half a dozen other films. Moore is among the most versatile and talented performers of her generation, and Still Alice represents that talent well. Too bad it’s just not that great a film.

Moore plays Alice Howland, a psychology professor at Columbia University who suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s.

Perhaps the best film on Alzheimer’s is Michael Haneke’s brilliant and devastating Amour, a breathtaking journey into one couple’s struggle with the disease. By comparison, Still Alice feels under developed and tidy, particularly as the disease affects the minor characters in the piece. Alec Baldwin, in particular, is hamstrung with an underwritten role as Alice’s husband. Only Kristin Stewart manages to uncover a real character arc as Alice’s daughter, much thanks to an intriguing chemistry with Moore.

The film too often feels like a made for television tragedy, with the only really interesting choice being the decision to make the victim of the disease the point of view character. In Amour as well as Away From Her and other films treading similar ground, our vehicle into the medical tragedy is a loved one. Still Alice wants to give us the first hand sense of what it is like to watch yourself disappear.

It’s a risky choice, but thanks to Moore’s impeccable, understated handling of the role, Still Alice avoids a maudlin, self-congratulatory or sentimental fate. She’s more than up to the challenge.

Moore establishes a character that is more than the irony and heart tugging on the page. Characteristically nuanced and honest, it’s a performance that makes up for many of the weaknesses in the rest of the film.

Moore’s understatement keeps the film from melodrama, but unfortunately, everything else about the movie needed a bit more drama. It’s a superficial tale with contrived bits of tension that end in uninspired resolutions. The lack of insight into the marriage itself is probably the film’s most noticeable failing, but aside from Moore’s ability to show us how the disease ravages a once sharp mind, we don’t get to know Alice – her relationships, her past, her passions – well enough to really understand what she’s losing.

 

Verdict-2-5-Stars