Tag Archives: Kristen Stewart

David Fincher’s Panic Room

You know a thriller is gonna pack some torque when the opening credits are emblazoned boldly against the skyline of a huge metropolitan city. Well, not necessarily, but it’s a nice urban atmospheric touch, and David Fincher’s Panic Room employs the tactic before it unleashes an unholy, seriously suspenseful bag of tricks on Jodie Foster and her young daughter (an androgynous looking Kristen Stewart). Recently divorced and poised to move into an airy, gorgeous NYC brownstone, she quite literally walks into the perfect setup for a thriller that Fincher milks for all it’s worth and then some. As the real estate agent (Ian ‘Dick Tremayne’ Buchanan) theatrically informs her, this townhome comes with a fortified Panic Room, a steel box installation in which one may safely hide from any and all intruders. That safely part gets shot to shit when three burglars bust in on their first night staying there, and turn it into one of those real time ‘one long night from hell’ motifs. Aloof, slightly compassionate Forest Whitaker, sketchy, strung out Jared Leto and vicious psychopath Dwight Yoakam are a hectic mix, but the chemistry is there and they’re all freaky in their own way, like wayward trick or treaters who grew up and graduated into petty thievery. They’re after something that’s only accessible through the panic room, but Jodie and Kristen won’t let them inside, which prompts the ultimate siege game of cat, mouse and upper class NYC mom that goes into the wee hours of a typically rainy night. Fincher could be considered the crown prince of the big budget, R rated Hollywood thriller, and he absolutely goes for broke in every department here. He’s got two mad dog cinematographers in Darius Kondji and Conrad W. Hall, who prowl the apartment like panthers and achieve some truly great WTF shots, turning the home into an elongated nightmare of barren hallways, rain streaked bay windows flickering surveillance cameras. Musical deity Howard Shore composes a baroque, threatening piece that practically booms across Central Park and echoes through the adjacent skyscrapers before it whistles through the steel rivets of the panic room like the dangerous propane that Whitaker maniacally tries to smoke them out with. Originally written with Nicole Kidman in mind (she has a super quick cameo), I think Foster is a better suit for the role with her narrow eyed, breathless intensity and lithe, lynx like physicality. Things get satisfyingly brutal later on, with some shocking violence when mommy grabs a sledgehammer and starts bashing heads in. The suspense here is real, it’s tactile, tangible, earned tension, the kind you can’t just fake or stage every other scene without detailed setups to catalyze the payoff. This isn’t Fincher’s first rodeo, and he rides this thing in the captain’s chair all the way to suspense nirvana. One of the best thrillers out there.

-Nate Hill

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Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor

Mike Figgis’s Cold Creek Manor is one of those lurid thrillers that got absolutely shit on by critics, but I’ve always enjoyed its steely, mean spirited edge and nasty central antagonist performance from Stephen Dorff. There’s also the atmospheric locales of rural Ontario that add to the vibe, as well as the high pedigree class of actors you wouldn’t normally see in something this knowingly low brow. Dennis Quaid plays Cooper Tillson, a family man forced to move to the sticks for work. He buys up an ancient house in the woods with a lot of history behind it and some psychological baggage that’s not forgotten so easily. Dorff is Dale Massie, previous inhabitant and local roughneck who hates the idea of big city boy Quaid and his clan taking up roost in his former digs, probably because it stirs up past trauma for him and induces the scary, pissed off state he spends most of the film in. Quaid’s wife (Sharon Stone) and kids including a very young Kristen Stewart, start to get routinely creeped out when Dorff shows up more and more, insinuating his way into their collective idyllic country lives, until he gets downright violent and Quaid is forced to unlock the secrets of the manor to protect his family. Christopher Plummer has a barely coherent appearance as Dorff’s bedridden, dementia addled father, a deeply unnerving cameo if I’ve ever seen one. Spunky Juliette Lewis plays the local hoe-bag who openly mocks Quaid & Clan too. Ultimately this is glossy trash and they marketed it with trailers that made it seem like a straight up horror or supernatural thing, when in reality it’s much more of a stalker thriller, which is alright too, if you have a villain as intense as glowering, seething Dorff. It certainly doesn’t warrant the shit storm of bad reviews it’s amassed though, there’s fun to be had if you approach it with a popcorn movie mindset, and with that cast alone at least you get to watch them do their thing. Hey, at least it’s light years better than that fucking Dream House thing with Daniel Craig.

-Nate Hill

ADVENTURELAND – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Summer jobs are usually the bane of a young person’s existence. They are what you slog through so that you can afford to go to school. They are the drudgery you endure while daydreaming of going to the beach, hanging out with your friends or going to see your favorite band – in other words, pretty much anything else but work. Summer jobs are a necessary evil and no one understands that better than filmmaker Greg Mottola who has masterfully encapsulated these feelings in Adventureland (2009), his follow-up to the popular hit Superbad (2007).

The film opens to the strains of “Bastards of Young” by The Replacements and right away you know you’re in good hands. The year is 1987 and James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) has just graduated from college. He is planning to go to Europe for the summer with his buddies; however, his folks can no longer afford to help him pay for it or for grad school at Columbia University in the fall where he hopes to study journalism. James makes some calls, does some legwork and realizes that, with his academic background and a resume with a severe lack of work experience, he’s not qualified for manual labor.

Faced with no other options, James decides to apply at Adventureland, a local amusement park. Much to his surprise, he’s hired right on the spot and put in charge of various games booths. He’s shown how everything works by Joel (Martin Starr), a terminally bored co-worker who’s clearly done this song and dance routine way too many times, telling James at one point, “So, your life must be utter shit or you wouldn’t be here.” While working at the theme park James meets Em (Kristen Stewart), an attractive co-worker with excellent taste in music, and whom he develops a crush on. He also befriends Connell (Ryan Reynolds), the park’s maintenance man, and who is in a local band in his spare time, claiming to have once jammed with Lou Reed. James spends the summer hanging out with Em and his fellow co-workers and learns that if he wants to be a good writer he needs to have some life experiences under his belt.

Adventureland accurately portrays the thankless slog of a minimum wage job (“We are doing the work of pathetic lazy morons,” Joel deadpans) with repetitive tasks, annoying customers, and crap pay. The only thing that makes it remotely bearable is the people James works with – after all, misery loves company. Mottola includes all sorts of nice touches, like the cheesy Foreigner cover band that plays at the local bar, or the mixed tape of music that James makes for Em, which gives the film a more personal feel. This is helped considerably by a great soundtrack that features the likes of Big Star, Crowded House, Husker Du, and The Jesus and Mary Chain – bands responsible for some of the best alternative music of the 1980s. Like the way music was used in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (1993), the music in Adventureland transports you back to another time and immerses you in it.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have excellent chemistry together and do a good job of playing two young people that want different things out of a relationship. She has her own issues and they keep James always slightly at arm’s length. One hopes that despite the success of the Twilight films, Stewart will continue to make small, more personal films like Adventureland. Eisenberg nails the awkwardness of someone who’s had very few life experiences, especially in the romance and relationship department.

Mottola does a good job of portraying the brief flings that happen over the course of a summer. They are intense while they last even though they rarely do. He also accurately depicts how messy they can be, especially when you’re at that awkward age – your twenties – and are still trying to figure things out. Adventureland has an authenticity in how it feels to be in your twenties and to fall in love for the first time, stumbling through things, learning as you go. Whereas Mottola was basically a hired gun on Superbad, Adventureland comes from a very personal place and has much more heart while still being very funny and entertaining.

Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened: A Review by Nate Hill

  

Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened is an unfairly overlooked little Hollywood satire, a little less bombastic than his excellent Wag The Dog, but no less biting. It’s like Entourage on Zanax, a surprisingly laid back entry into an oeuvre that is usually foaming at the mouth with frenzy. Robert De Niro plays Ben, a very stressed out movie producer who is dealing with a zillion different things at once, most of which are going wrong. The character is based partly on real life Hollywood producer Art Linson, and his book. Ben has a lead actor (Bruce Willis playing Bruce Willis) who refuses to shave his bushy beard for a film. Anyone who remembers the film The Edge with Alec Baldwin and how big his beard was in that, well, that’s where the idea came from. That’s just a taste of how many weird things that both Hollywood and his personal life toss at Ben. He’s also in post production on a Sean Penn film (Penn also plays himself) with a very stubborn and flamboyant director named Jeremy (Michael Wincott) who refuses to cut the film in accordance with the studio’s wishes (here manifested by an icy Catherine Keener). Ben’s daughter (a weepy Kristen Stewart) is going through personal crisis, he’s also got a bitter rivalry with an obnoxious writer (Stanley Tucci) and has to babysit an anxiety ridden agent (John Turturro). It’s all a lot for him to handle and we begin to see the turmoil start to boil under Ben’s cool exterior. The cast is beyond ridiculous, with additional work from Moon Bloodgood, Peter Jacobson, Lily Rabe and Robin Wright as Ben’s estranged wife. Standouts include Michael Wincott who is a comic gem and gives the film it’s life with his pissy, enraged and altogether charming performance. Willis is also priceless as he ruthlessly parodies himself to the hilt. It’s slight, it’s never too much and is probably a bit too laid back for its own good, but I had a lot of fun with it, and it’s always cool to see meta movies about the inner workings of Hollywood. 

ON THE ROAD – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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For years, Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road had been considered unfilmable. That hasn’t stopped people from trying ever since it was published in 1957 with Kerouac himself sending a letter to Marlon Brando asking the actor to star opposite him in a film version. It isn’t the style or the structure that makes the novel difficult to adapt but rather its iconic status as one of the signature books of the 1950s. Even more daunting is its status as a book that millions of people grew up reading, like The Catcher in the Rye. As a result, it has become a much beloved and cherished book for generations of readers. Anyone attempting to adapt Kerouac’s novel into a film faces the intimidating task of living up to the impossible expectations of legions of fans, not to mention somehow making people forget the equally iconic people the characters are based on – Kerouac and his famous friends, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.

The path to an On the Road film has been littered with failed attempts from the likes of Francis Ford Coppola, Joel Schumacher, Brad Pitt, Billy Crudup, Colin Farrell, and Gus Van Sant, who were all attached at one time or another. Of all the people linked to the project, it was Coppola who has remained a constant over the years. He bought the rights in 1979 and has managed to steer it clear of Hollywood interference, finally picking Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) to direct. He saw it through a turbulent period where financing fell through and actors dropped out. He finally made and released the final product in 2012 with up-and-coming actors Sam Riley and Garrett Hedlund, and, oh yeah, a young actress you might have heard of – Kristen Stewart. On the Road debuted to a lackluster reception at the Cannes Film Festival prompting Salles to cut 13 minutes from the film in an effort to tighten things up and focus more on the two main characters – Sal Paradise (Riley) and Dean Moriarty (Hedlund).

On the Road
is a fictionalized account of Kerouac’s numerous journeys across the United States between 1947 and 1950 when he met Neal Cassady, who would become the mythical character Dean Moriarty in the book. The film begins, literally, on the road with a shot of Sal Paradise’s feet walking on several different roads both during the day and at night. Rather interestingly, Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera’s angle with their adaptation is the theme of absent fathers and Sal and Dean’s yearning for theirs. Sal’s father dies before he first meets Dean and Dean’s elusive father is a semi-famous hobo in Denver who abandoned his family when his son was very young. So, the two men bond over a common missing element in their lives. This is established early on with Sal’s opening voiceover narration that quotes Kerouac’s original scroll manuscript before it was edited into the book most of us know and love: “I first met Dean not long after my father died. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had something to do with my father’s death, my awful feeling that everything was dead.” By choosing to quote the scroll instead of the novel, Salles and Rivera are letting fans know that they’ve done their homework and understand the source material.

Sal meets Dean and his beautiful young wife Marylou (Stewart) as the dynamic couple land in New York City to meet a mutual friend. Sal is captivated by Dean’s infectious energy and considerable charisma. Garrett Hedlund does a fantastic job of conveying Dean’s insatiable hunger for learning and for experience. He’s willing to try almost anything once if only for the experience. The actor captures the mischievous glint in Dean’s eye. You can see why he is so initially attractive to people with his dynamic and fascinating personality. However, there are hints early on that he may not be all he’s cracked up to be, like how he glosses over breaking up with Marylou, which was so bad that she called the cops on him.

I will admit that when I first heard of Hedlund being cast as Dean I wasn’t sold on the idea, but after seeing him in the wildly uneven Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Country Strong (2010), I could imagine him in the role. He was by and far the best thing in that film, bringing a natural charisma that made you want to watch him every time he came on screen. He brings that quality to Dean in On the Road.

Once I got past the fact that none of the actors in the film look like their real-life counterparts, I was able to settle in and enjoy the experience. Salles wisely did not try to go for people who resembled Kerouac and his friends (an impossible task) but rather actors that were able to capture the spirit of the characters in the book. Sam Riley, who was so good as Ian Curtis in Control (2007), is fine as Sal but plays him a little too passively than he comes across in the book. This is due in large part to the fact that Riley is often overshadowed by the more dynamic Hedlund.

For those worried about the presence of Twilight’s Kristen Stewart, you have nothing to fear. Given the strong material and an equally strong director guiding her, the actress sheds her trademark acting tics and affectations and disappears into her character. Freed from not having to carry a massive cinematic franchise, Stewart allows herself to have fun with the role. She is cast wonderfully against type as the sexually hungry Marylou. Despite her movie star status, Stewart only has a supporting role but she makes the most of it and one hopes that a part like this is a sign of things to come for the talented young actress.

While the film is mostly about Sal and Dean, a few of the supporting characters get their moments, chief among them is Carlo Marx a.k.a. Allen Ginsberg (Tom Sturridge) and a memorable extended cameo by Old Bull Lee a.k.a. William S. Burroughs (Viggo Mortensen). A perfectly cast Viggo Mortensen eerily channels Burroughs’ distinctive voice including his trademark drawl as he dispenses pearls of paranoid wisdom to Sal and Dean while Amy Adams grunges herself down as Bull Lee’s equally cryptic wife Jane. They play well off each other and leave us wanting to see more of this odd couple.

To say that On the Road plays like a collection of highlights from the book is not a criticism as the source material is episodic in nature. That being said, Salles’ film is made by and for fans of Kerouac’s novel, possibly alienating the uninitiated. For fans of the novel, your enjoyment of the film will probably be based on how many of your favorite passages made it into the final version as the ones that do are translated quite faithfully with significant chunks of Kerouac’s prose spoken verbatim in the frequent voiceover narration.

For me, it was great to see some of my favorite passages from Kerouac’s novel realized in the film, like Sal’s ride to Denver on a flatbed truck with a hobo by the name of Mississippi Gene and a hitchhiker named Montana Slim that is pretty much the way I imagined it, right down to Gene singing that great little blues song with everyone joining in all photographed during dusk by cinematographer Eric Gautier. None of these characters are identified in the film but fans of the book will recognize them immediately. This scene shows the camaraderie among fellow travelers. Another favorite bit is a brief scene that demonstrates Dean’s amazing ability to park cars on a dime while living in New York. Salles also manages to capture the energy and vitality of be-bop jazz in a sequence early on where Sal and Dean go see a jazz saxophone player in action (Terrence Howard) and we see Dean lost in the music, lost in the beat.

Salles’ film accurately depicts the initial rush of excitement that most of the characters experience with Dean and how this eventually gives way to anger and disappointment when he invariably lets them down in some way. For Sal, it’s disillusionment as Dean turns out not to be the mythic Western hero figure he had imagined but an irresponsible man who does what he wants, oblivious of how it might affect those around him and yet he still loves him like a brother because of the intense bond they developed on their adventures crisscrossing the country. Jose Rivera’s screenplay doesn’t shy away from showing Dean’s poor treatment of women, like how he neglects his wife Camille (Kirsten Dunst) and baby for trivial “kicks,” going out to a jazz club with Sal. The film also shows how he repeatedly cheats on her with Marylou and vice versa, eventually abandoning both. On his path for the ultimate thrill, he leaves a path of failed marriages and destroyed friendships. For Dean, nothing must get in the way of his voracious appetite – be it drink, drugs, women or the open road. He is the quintessential free spirit, a restless soul that burns like the roman candles Sal compares him to.

As far as films directly about the Beat Generation go, On the Road is best one to date. That’s not saying much when its competition consists mostly of failed efforts like Heart Beat (1980), The Last Time I Committed Suicide (1997) and Neal Cassady (2008), which were made by people who understood little about the Beats. Sure, there have been the rare exceptions that got it right, like Naked Lunch (1991) and Howl (2010), but I’ve always felt that the two best unofficial Beat Generation films were Robert Rossen’s adaptation of The Hustler (1961) and Gus Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho (1991). The former managed to capture the run down, “beat” feeling that is often conveyed in Kerouac’s novels, while the latter brilliantly captures the allure of the open road and the search for a missing parental figure, in this case a mother. At that point in their respective careers, Rossen and Van Sant would have been ideal directors to tackle On the Road.

The attention to period detail is fantastic, from recreating 1940s New York City to the famous ’49 Hudson that Sal and Dean drive across the country. Right from the get-go, Salles immerses us in this time period with the help of jazz music from the likes of Slim Gaillard, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. The sets, locations, outfits and music all work together to provide us with a glimpse of that time as seen through Kerouac’s eyes. Rather interestingly, Salles and Rivera don’t shy away from the sex in On the Road as we see Dean with a variety of sexual partners over the course of film as does Sal, which includes his brief relationship with Terry, (Alice Braga), a beautiful Mexican woman he meets in California. The Beat writers were very passionate people and this included their sex lives.

The care and detail applied to every scene clearly demonstrates that this was a passion project for everyone involved. On the Road is not some sterile, impersonal studio film, but rather one made by people with a real affinity for the source material. Salles’ film captures the energy and excitement of Kerouac and his friends who shared a passion for literature and jazz. They lived for the moment, giving into their wildest urges as one sometimes does at that young age where you have your whole life in front of you and feel indestructible. They are the “mad ones” as Kerouac calls them in his book. This is certainly not a film for everyone and rightly so. What it does is perfectly capture the essence and spirit of the novel. It does this so faithfully that it may alienate the uninitiated but so be it. At least Salles has the conviction to pick a specific angle and go for it, making definite choices along the way instead of playing it safe.