Tag Archives: Jennifer Lopez

Actor’s Spotlight: Nate’s Top Ten Jennifer Lopez Performances

Jennifer Lopez has long been a powerhouse across many different genres, mediums and forms of artistic expression. Her gritty urban vibe laced with an angelic tenderness always rules the screen whenever she shows up in cinema, as well as a heaven sent singing voice, unbelievable dance skills and charisma for days. I’m not altogether familiar with her music career but I’ve greatly enjoyed her work in film for decades, she’s intense, varied, heartfelt and always completely focused. Here are my personal top ten performances:

10. Gabriela in Bob Rafaelson’s Blood & Wine

Essentially a thankless side chick role, she expertly plays demanding mistress to Jack Nicholson’s narcissistic petty thief in this pitch black crime drama that’s filled to the brim with contemptible characters. She makes the most out of an early career turn here and makes as vivid an impression as the rest of the prolific cast, almost all of which are cast against type.

9. Grace Santiago in Joseph Ruben’s Money Train

This is a terrific buddy action flick that sailed right under everyone’s radar and these days remains overlooked. Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson are the two cops, also adoptive brothers and Jennifer is the fellow officer caught between them. It’s interesting because both the script and her performance shirk the usual love triangle tropes and although there is romantic interest, she serves a much more functional part in the story than just that and ends up being smarter and tougher than both of them.

8. Harlee Santos in NBC’s Shades Of Blue

Many of the cop shows these days blur together, don’t last long or just aren’t all that memorable but this was something special due in part to Lopez and costar Ray Liotta, whose chemistry is incredible. She plays a big city cop who gets deep into corruption almost by accident with her trouble prone, hotheaded boss, friend and mentor (Liotta). It’s a tricky wade through urban quagmires of moral distress and bad decisions, she anchors it beautifully with a performance that elicits sympathy despite the crimes committed and has you feeling like you’re right there beside her.

7. Teri Flores in Luis Llosa’s Anaconda

Ahh, one of the ultimate 90’s nostalgic B movies. JLo plays it sexy and dangerous here in high adventure mode, holding her own against tough guy Ice Cube and creepy poacher Jon Voight. There’s been so many horrendous TV movie creature features in the last ten years (Pirahnaconda comes to mind as some bastard offspring of this) that people forget how legitimately fun this one is. J makes it so too in a performance that’s never too campy and never to straight faced.

6. Slim Hiller in Michael Apted’s Enough

A royally abusive, psychotic husband (Billy Campbell) gets an epic beatdown from Lopez’s Slim, the battered housewife and mother who has had, you guessed it, Enough. This film gets a bad rep but fuck the people, it’s a terrific star vehicle, effective thriller, stunt showcase and cathartic revenge story that is engaging, affecting and re-watchable. Jen makes a dynamic, sympathetic lead and you really feel every punch and kick when she fights back. Supported by an eclectic cast including Juliette Lewis, Jeff Kober, Noah Wyle, Dan Futterman, Bill Cobbs and Fred Ward, this has always been one of my favourites and stands as an example of how good Lopez is in a starring role.

5. Jean Gylkyson in Lasse Hallström’s An Unfinished Life

Maybe the most complex performance on this list sees her yet again play a victim of abuse, on the run from her nasty ex husband (Damien Lewis). She takes refuge on the ranch owned by her estranged father (Robert Redford) and their complex, stormy past relationship is explored meditatively by both as well as director Hallström who always has a way with challenging dramas. Jen really shows the deeply etched hurt and regret in her work here, one gets the sense that she maybe blames herself for certain things, the fascination is in seeing a slow but steady recovery and reconciliation for her as well as Redford.

4. Selena Quintanilla in Gregory Nava’s Selena

She brings light, warmth and beauty to an inspirational yet heartbreakingly tragic true life story that earned her a Golden Globe nomination and established her as a force to be reckoned with as both an actress and singer. The real life Selena rose to chart topping levels almost overnight and delivered a knockout solo performance at the Houston Astrodome, and here JLo paints a breathtaking picture of these events and embodies the artist with grace and charisma to spare.

3. Grace McKenna in Oliver Stone’s U Turn

Here she plays the only First Nations femme fatale on record (or at least the only one that comes to mind) in Stone’s wild, edgy and ultra violent sun soaked neo-noir. It’s the tale of one one wayward man (Sean Penn) who comes to town and wishes he hadn’t as it seems every local, yokel and their mothers all have it in for him. Grace is a manipulating, slutty, sociopathic, dangerous little brat who plays him and her tyrannical husband/stepfather (Nick Nolte at his slimiest) against each other to deliberately cause chaos for everyone. There’s a wounded bird vulnerability she displays as a lure that switches into conniving mind games before her targets can even react, it’s a deadly piece of work from Lopez that nails both the past trauma in this damaged girl’s psyche and the hard, amoral edge that it has cultivated in her.

2. Karen Sisco in Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight

She rocks the Elmore Leonard dialogue like no other as smart, sexy and uncompromising federal marshal Sisco, who becomes conflicted when her feelings for slick ex-con Jack (George Clooney) threaten to derail her job. This is another performance that shows off her toughness and vulnerability, sometimes in the same scene. There’s one part where she’s sitting quietly having a drink in an airport bar, minding her own business. A couple hapless businessmen take turns trying to pick her up with increasingly pathetic tactics, and it’s a joy to see her firmly shut each one down with equal parts class, stealth and just plain magnetism. Don’t even get me started on the multitude of scenes between her and Clooney, they’re pure magic.

1. Catherine Deane in Tarsem Singh’s The Cell

A child psychologist who enters people’s dreams to learn about their mental state and help them, she’s forced to navigate the subconscious of a comatose serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio) and find hidden truths in his threatening world. Jen finds the complexity and compassion in this character, it’s her innate empathy with the human beings around her that drives the work she does, and she radiates light and resilience. As the cops around her express judgment when she adopts the killer’s dog when all is said and done, you can feel that a combination of seeing people’s private worlds inside their minds and her intuitive nature has made her this way, and the performance from Jen to back that up is remarkable.

Thanks for reading!

-Nate Hill

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Oliver Stone’s U Turn

Ever had one of those days where literally everything seems to go wrong and there’s some kind of invisible cosmic force aligned against you? Sean Penn’s Bobby has one of those in Oliver Stone’s U Turn, a deranged, sun drunk parable by way of neo-noir and near Boschian displays of brutal human behaviour punctuated by pockets of the blackest comedy one can find. This is a deliberately, brutally unpleasant slice of nihilism that wouldn’t be easy to swallow were it not so fucking funny, so gorgeously visual, so perkily acted by the knockout ensemble cast and so beautifully scored by Ennio Morricone. Penn’s Bobby has the rotten luck of breaking down in the one horse town of Superior, Arizona, where bumpkin mechanic Billy Bob Thornton takes his sweet time patching up the rig, leaving him to drift about town and get in all sorts of trouble. There’s a rockabilly maniac named Toby ‘TNT’ Tucker (Joaquin Phoenix) who wants Bobby’s head for ‘making time’ with his girl (a loopy Claire Danes). The menacing local Sheriff (Powers Boothe) seems hellbent on doing anything other than protecting and serving. Jennifer Lopez is sultry babe Grace, who snares him up in a dangerously lurid love triangle with her husband Jake (Nick Nolte at his utmost Nick Nolte-iest), who also happens to be her stepfather (!). This all boils into a mucky miasma of murder, violence, sex games, insurance fraud, gas station robberies, betrayal, severed limbs, manipulation and any other noisy calamity you could think of to befall a small town in Arizona that the rest of the world has seemingly forgot. Bobby is on the run from a scary Vegas loan shark (Valery Nikoaelev), but nothing he can do compares to the level of hurt these warped townsfolk inflict upon him, so it’s kind of an out of the frying pan into the fire type scenario. The thing is, Bobby himself is something of a reprehensible scumbag anyways, so there’s a cheeky masochist edge in watching him traverse this dusty, 9th ring of Americana hell and circle an ending of inevitable doom. ‘Treat others how you wish to be treated’ is an adage that almost every single character in the film seems to have sadly forgotten or chose to ignore except one individual, a blind old native man played with disarming truth by Jon Voight. Bobby has several encounters with him, and he’s the only one who isn’t after something, doesn’t display hostility or unkindness, he speaks plainly and offers Bobby bitter pearls of wisdom that ultimately go unheeded. Stone employs the same type of jittery, whacked out visual surrealities he used in Natural Born Killers, a deeply saturated colour palette, tumble dry editing techniques and more breathe life into this vivid version of curdled small town life in the vast, lonely desert. Morricone’s score is a spring loaded jack-in-the-box in areas and a melodic, melancholic lullaby in others, an underrated composition that gives the film an eerie sadness and zany vibration all it’s own. There’s more going on than meets the eye here; at surface level it’s a dark crime comedy with a quirky edge, but both Voight’s character and a few mysterious hints at Lopez’s backstory with the tribes in the region hint at a deeper, darker sense of malice lurking out there with the coyotes, suggestive of an almost mythic aspect. Stone gets high praise for his political dramas, but I’ve always loved him best when he’s doing genre stuff, he’s such an expressive storyteller and the real fruit of his imagination comes out when he’s turned loose. For me this is his second finest work after Natural Born Killers and before Savages, the three films that seem most genuine and celebratory of the medium. In any case, U Turn is a southern fried, asphalt laden, angry, sexy, perverse road trip to sunny noir heaven or hell, and a masterpiece. Watch for neat cameos from Laurie Metcalf, Bo Hopkins, Brent Briscoe, Julie Hagerty and Liv Tyler.

-Nate Hill

Bob Rafelson’s Blood & Wine

Bob Rafelson’s BLOOD & WINE operates as the capstone at the end of a neo-noir resurgence in the 90s. Cut from the same whiskey and blood-soaked cloth as James Foley’s AFTER DARK, MY SWEET and CITY OF INDUSTRY the hard-lined revenge vehicle for Harvey Keitel; BLOOD & WINE is about lust, greed, and revenge set in the smoky backrooms and emptiness of decaying wealth.

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Rafelson assembles a marvelous cast that is able to navigate in and out of the faux royalty and seedy underbelly of Miami. Jack Nicholson, in his fifth and more than likely final collaboration with Rafelson, plays Alex who is a high-end wine salesman with maxed out credit cards and a marriage that is imploding. Nicholson brings gravitas and menace and he transitions it in a very low key way, he’s a stalled out businessman and worn out salesman who is looking for a way out.

Stephen Dorff and Judy Davis are his packaged deal, makeshift family. Dorff as his stepson, and Davis his codeine induced wife who is self-medicating her way through the last rung of their marriage. Jennifer Lopez, in one of her earliest performance, plays the love interest to both Nicholson and Dorff, which creates a rather rich and perverse subplot.

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Michael Caine gives one of his most underappreciated performances as Victor, a tuberculosis-ridden master thief who pairs with Nicholson to rob his most affluent wine client. Caine is remarkable in this picture, playing a man with little left to lose, who springs to life with terrifying intermittent bursts of rage who refuses to die without pulling others down to Hell with him.

Rafelson, whose career never quite rebounded from his landmark 70s pictures, constructs a very moody and treacherous film that lives in a world of double and triple crossing, a film plentiful of smoke absorbed pastels and cutthroat men navigating a world that has left them behind. The film can be frustrating for some because the ax never falls from the shadow, it stays in its place the entire film, even though the final frame. Which is the trick of the film, the ax doesn’t fall, it stays tightly in its place, and allows the story to continue even after it is over.

Michael Apted’s Enough

I’ve always liked Michael Apted’s Enough, a slick, scary girl-power flick that’s given heart and personality by Jennifer Lopez, who brightens and classes up anything she headlines. It’s also got a subtly eclectic supporting cast of ice cool character actors/actresses and uses them to great potential too. Despite being predictable (a story like this usually will be in Big Hollywood), the motions it goes through somehow just feel fresh and engaging in ways that not all films like this might be able to whip up. J-Lo plays Slim here, a battered housewife who has the misfortune of being married to Billy Campbell’s Mitch, a terrifying sociopath who beats her senseless. Worse still, he’s a rich and powerful dude with a lot of high profile connections, which makes escaping his tyrannical dominance a tad tricky. She’s got a young daughter (Tessa Allen) who’s caught in the crossfire, and for Slim, enough has become enough. On the run, changing her name and decking herself out with some gnarly hand to hand combat skills are all part of a journey to both freedom and empowerment, an arc that Jennifer makes us believe with her soulful conviction and bruised spirit. Juliette Lewis is a low key scene stealer as her good friend who aids in the escape. Fred Ward does a quietly anarchic turn as her somewhat neglectful father Jupiter, who is clearly not the most compassionate fellow but does his best to right the wrongs of yesteryear with his considerable wealth and resources too. Noah Wyle does a charming scumbag shtick as a dirty cop in Campbell’s pocket who hunts her like a wolf, Jeff Kober is cheerfully menacing as one of his gung ho faux FBI Agent lieutenants, and watch for work from Dan Futterman, Brent Sexton, Michael P. Byrne, Bruce A. Young and Bill Cobbs too. The training J-Lo uses is Krav Maga, a viscerally intense martial art that’s taught to Israeli special forces, and it’s a rush to see her beat the absolute fucking shit out of her shitty asshole husband with it in some close quarters, emotionally charged bone breaking and appliance slamming beatdowns. Her and Campbell have some warped, freaky chemistry too, he’s like some demon who’s been imprisoning her and her the dark angel who strikes back fiercely. Great flick.

-Nate Hill

Anaconda

Anaconda is great stuff, no matter what anyone says. Revered as a B Movie cheese-ball, it holds up far better than anyone remembers, and there’s a lot to love about it. Reminiscent of creature feature stuff like James Cameron’s Piranha 2, Lewis Teague’s Alligator and Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, it carved out its own nasty little adventure/horror story with neat characters, impressive effects for the snake and a knowing sense of fun. It sets the tone with a suspenseful prologue that sees poor poacher Danny Trejo stalked, attacked and killed by an unseen serpent, before the title card marches gloriously across the screen in true horror form. Then it follows a national geographic film crew led by intrepid Jennifer Lopez, whilst Eric Stoltz, Jonathan Hyde, Vincent Castellanous, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson and sexy Kari Wuhrur tag along, pretty much for snake bait and for us to place drunken bets on who’s gonna get nabbed by the beast first. Along the way they meet the most engaging character of the film, a whack job big game hunter played to cockeyed perfection by Jon Voight and his greasy ponytail. Sputtering out ominous warnings in a warped, tailored South American accent, willfully misleading their party into danger and staring creepily at anyone in his scope of vision, he’s hilarious and clearly knew the right recipe of branded camp and genuine menace to put into the work. It’s a glorified B Flick for sure, but one that knows its place, showcases a big old fashioned movie monster and whisks the viewer away for some solid gold escapism. Do avoid the sequel though (Hunt For The Blood Orchid), it’s about as interesting as cardboard.

-Nate Hill

Steven Soderbergh’s Out Of Sight


No one does the breezy, goodnatured crime drama like Steven Soderbergh, and after rewatching his 1998 romantic caper Out Of Sight, I’ve realized it’s my favourite of his films by a mile. The easygoing love story between George Clooney’s hapless career criminal Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez’s feisty federal Marshall Karen Sisco is a pairing for the ages, and the two not only smoulder up the screen with their obvious presence, but have effortless chemistry in spades and know how to sell the romance until you feel that tug on the ol’ heartstrings when the stakes are raised. It doesn’t hurt that cinematographer Elliott Davis beautifully frames each encounter with them, the best being a gorgeous airport dinner where the two croon out Elmore Leonard’s savoury, measured dialogue against a snow laden Tarmac outside, the perfect romantic ambience. Foley is a trouble magnet, embroiled in scheme after scheme with his older, wiser partner Buddy (Ving Rhames). After their dipshit pal Glen (a stoned Steve Zahn) gets them mixed up in a plot to rob a pompous Wall Street millionaire (Albert Brooks) via some truly nasty jailbird thugs from their collective past (Don Cheadle provides the film’s only true dose of menace amongst the charm), all hell breaks loose and against odds, Jack and Karen find themselves falling in love. Elmore Leonard’s scripts always seem to find their way to great directors (Barry Sonnenfield made magic with Get Shorty), richly varied casts (Jackie Brown is an ensemble for the time capsule) and end up as films that are simply timeless. Dennis Farina mellows out as Karen’s concerned ex-cop father, Luis Guzman does his grimy cholo rat shtick, and watch for Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Isiaah Washington, Paul Calderon, Viola Davis, an uncredited Michael Keaton playing none other than his Jackie Brown character (an Elmore Leonard cinematic universe!) and a surprise cameo right at the end that I won’t spoil except to say it sets up any potential sequels nicely. The whole deal rests on Lopez and Clooney’s shoulders though, and they’re nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a rag tale romance, classy but down to earth, two beautiful souls from very opposite sides of the tracks who generate sparks and circle each other like cosmic magnets. Stuck together in the trunk of a speeding car, they discuss life, love and films, reminding us that no romance is alike to another and the best way to start off something like that is perhaps on the wrong foot and in the least imagined circumstances possible. Like any love story it knows that a pinch of sadness is necessary to balance the bittersweet recipe and tweak our emotions just right. A career best for George, Jennifer and Steven and a film worthy of classic status. 

-Nate Hill

OUT OF SIGHT – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

“It’s like seeing someone for the first time. You can be passing on the street and you look at each other and for a few seconds there’s this kind of recognition. Like you both know something, and the next moment the person’s gone. And it’s too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there and you let it go. And you think to yourself, what if I stopped? What if I said something? What if?” – Jack Foley

This bit of dialogue from Out of Sight (1998) perfectly captures the essence of the relationships between the characters in this film. It is about the what ifs and the what could have beens. What the characters do and, more importantly, what they don’t do that directly determines their fate.

As the film begins, Jack Foley (George Clooney), a career bank robber, escapes from a Florida prison with the help of his loyal accomplice Buddy (Ving Rhames). In the heat of the moment they kidnap a beautiful Federal Marshall named Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez). She and Jack are stuffed in the trunk of her car as they make a hasty retreat. Trapped in such a small, confined space Jack and Karen have nothing to do but engage in idle chitchat. Even though they are on completely opposite sides of the law there’s a spark, an initial attraction that blossoms into something more as the film progresses and their paths inevitably cross again.

Out of Sight
is based on the book of the same name by Elmore Leonard. He had wanted to do a bank robber story for a long time. Several years ago, he saw “a picture in the Detroit News of an attractive young woman who was a Federal Marshal standing in front of the Federal Courthouse in Miami. She held a shotgun which was resting on her cocked hip and as soon as I saw that picture, I knew it was a book.” Danny DeVito bought the rights to a previous Leonard book Get Shorty for his production company Jersey Films. After the success of that film, he bought the rights to Out of Sight.

The film came to George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh at a time when both of their careers had reached a critical junction. Clooney was coming off the commercial and critical train wreck known as Batman and Robin (1997). Soderbergh had completely shunned the mainstream with the one-two punch of Gray’s Anatomy (1996) and Schizopolis (1996). Both men were looking for a hit that would put them back on the map. Soderbergh had already made two films for Universal and one of its executives, Casey Silver, offered him Out of Sight with Clooney attached. Soderbergh was close to making another project and was going to pass but Silver told him, “These things aren’t going to line up very often, you should pay attention.”

Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Frank achieve a perfect mix with Out of Sight. The film’s pace moves with effortless ease and self-confidence. They know when to slow things down and savor the moment as well. As Frank proved with his excellent screenplay for Get Shorty (1995), he perfectly understands Leonard’s distinctive cadence and the speech patterns of his characters. Cinematic adaptations of books are almost always inferior because so much has to be cut out or changed to fit into a two-hour film. However, Leonard’s books are tailor-made for movie adaptations because they are very visual and almost entirely dialogue and character-driven — ideal for the screenplay format. Out of Sight is one of those rare movies that is actually better than the book.

Soderbergh and his cameraman, Elliot Davis (White Oleander), paint their film with a specific color code. The bright colors of the Florida scenes — especially the prison sequences with vibrant blue and the bright yellow prison uniforms worn by various characters — provide a nice contrast to the second half of the film, which consists mainly of a gun-metal blue color scheme. The Detroit scenes have a cold, metallic feel to them and this really comes out. David Holmes’ catchy R&B score comes in and instantly transports the viewer into this world. He mixes in his own brand of funky electronica with old school tunes from the likes of the Isley brothers and Willie Bobo. From the atmospheric noises in the background to Holmes’ superb trip hop beats, this is a great sounding film.

After a string of so-so films, George Clooney finally found the right project that suited his particular talents with Out of Sight. With his movie star good looks and suave charm, he is perfectly cast as the smooth talking criminal. This may be his finest performance to date. For Clooney what attracted him to this role was the chance to play a character that evoked his cinematic heroes of the past. “When I was growing up the heroes for me were the bankrobbers — you know, the Cagneys and the Bogarts, Steve McQueen and all those guys, the guys who were kind of bad and you still rooted for them. And when I read this, I thought, This guy is robbing a bank but you really want him to get away with it.” Clooney’s style of acting is perfect for this role as he plays Foley with the right amount of laid-back charm. This is typified by his character’s introduction — the most pleasant, non-violent bank robbery ever committed to film. Clooney has such a likable screen presence that you want to see his character succeed.

Conversely, Jennifer Lopez is his perfect foil as a smart, tough law enforcement officer who can’t help but fall in love with this charismatic criminal. She is a very attractive woman but not above wielding a shotgun to apprehend a fugitive. There is a genuine chemistry between the two actors that makes their romance work. And it is this relationship that gives Out of Sight its depth. There is more to this film than snappy banter and a hip soundtrack. Incredibly, Sandra Bullock was originally considered to play Karen Sisco opposite Clooney, however Soderbergh said, “What happened was I spent some time with [Clooney and Bullock] – and they actually did have a great chemistry. But it was for the wrong movie. They really should do a movie together, but it was not Elmore Leonard energy.” Someone must’ve listened as the two ended up acting opposite each other years later in Gravity (2013).

A killer cast supports the two lead actors. Steve Zahn, an underrated character actor, is perfect as Glen, a stoner screw-up who looks up to Jack but is a royal pain in the ass. Dennis Farina plays Karen’s laid-back dad who buys his daughter a handgun for her birthday and just wants to see her married to a lawyer or a doctor. Albert Brooks is Richard Ripley, a bumbling white-collar criminal type who is in way over his head and sports a truly awful toupee. Don Cheadle plays “Snoopy” Miller, a tough guy-wannabe that is a classic schoolyard bully. Rounding this cast out is Ving Rhames, Jack’s tough, God-fearing partner in crime who always has his friend’s back.

Despite its lackluster performance at the box office, Out of Sight received widespread critical praise. It was clearly a career turning point for both Clooney and Soderbergh. The actor said in an interview that “Out of Sight was the first time where I had a say, and it was the first good screenplay that I’d read where I just went, ‘That’s it.’ And even though it didn’t do really well box office-wise — we sort of tanked again — it was a really good film.” Clooney went on to success with O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001). Soderbergh saw Out of Sight as “a very conscious decision on my part to try and climb my way out of the arthouse ghetto which can be as much of a trap as making blockbuster films. And I was very aware that at that point in my career, half the business was off limits to me.” The film’s critical reaction gave Soderbergh a foothold in Hollywood that led to the commercial success of Erin Brockovich (1999) and Oscar gold with Traffic (2000).

Out of Sight
is a film about making choices and taking chances despite the sometimes inevitable, painful consequences. It is also an entertaining look at a collection of colorful characters and the exciting world they inhabit. This is a smart, sexy and wonderfully stylish crime thriller that was ignored by audiences (due to lousy advertising and an even worse release date) but garnered strong critical reaction (winding up on many Best Of lists that year). Fortunately, Out of Sight has been re-discovered on home video and recognized as one of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations ever put to film.