Tag Archives: Elle Fanning

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Benjamin Button was born a little boy who looked like an old man; baby Benjamin suffered from old age ailments. He had a disease that made him age backwards. His mom dies in childbirth and his dad abandons him post haste, so little Benny Button is left on the stoop of a nursing home to be raised by the good-hearted Queenie. Benjamin first meets the love of his life, Daisy, when they are 7 years old. She’s a little ballerina, but he’s a wizened old man in a wheel chair. They’ll meet on and off again throughout all the years of his life, and make a little family when they overlap in middle age, but it doesn’t last long. So when Daisy’s on her death bed she tells this story in its entirety to her daughter Caroline, who learns for the first time who her father was.

MV5BMTI1MjY5MzY4Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTU1OTUxMg@@._V1_The film was among the first to film in New Orleans after Katrina, enticed by tax savings that made up a good chunk of their budget. Director David Fincher praised the city’s rehab efforts and filmed in both rural and urban settings. The film pays tribute to Katrina by having the flood threaten just as Daisy lays dying.

Someone’s been wanting to make some version of this film since before I was born. In the mid-80s, Frank Oz was sough to direct, with Martin Short as its possible star. Later, Spielberg was keen to direct, and Tom Cruise slated to star. Then Ron Howard thought he might have a go, with John Travolta in the lead. Can you picture any of those?

Brad Pitt could spend upwards of 5 hours a day in the makeup chair. Even so, they had to resort to hiring child actors to portray the younger-looking versions of Benjamin – not because the makeup and effects teams couldn’t handle it, but simply because the budget was totally depleted. Cate Blanchett plays Daisy and had some young actors to cover her character as a child as well – including a very young Elle Fanning. Julia Ormand plays their daughter Caroline, but her younger self is covered by none other than 2 year old Shiloh Jolie-Pitt.

Since Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment, we may swing by the Nolan house at 2707 Coliseum St., where lots of the filming took place, in virtually every room of the house. With 6 bedrooms, it was home to 3 generations of Nolans, one of whom played a doctor in the film. Fincher knew he wanted this particular house, benjamin-button-house.jpgwhich would serve to ground the fantasy, but it wasn’t an easy get. The owner had evacuated for Katrina, and had refused every previous request by movie crews. She turned down Fincher too – twice. Fincher combed over 300 other locations and ruled out every one. Finally the owner relented, and she moved into a condo so her home could be made to fit the period. She never did move back in: she evacuated again when hurricane Gustav threatened, and while away she passed, without ever seeing the movie filmed in her home of over 60 years.

 

 

 

If you want to keep up with our New Orleans exploration, visit us on Twitter @assholemovies

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20th Century Women

1979: three women. Dorothea (Annette Bening) is an older single mother of a teenaged son who she fears is missing out on some seminal influences, so she enlists his precocious friend Julie (Elle Fanning) and her free spirit\punk photographer tenant Abbie (Greta Gerwig) to “it takes a village” him.

If 20th Century Women isn’t as concerned with being an accurate reflection of the times, it’s a fucking brilliant portraiture. The characters, expertly drawn by writer-director Mike 20th-century-women-annette-benningMills, feel very much like real people because their problems are so distinct. The women don’t bleed into each other; they are each accorded with specific neuroses, anxieties, passions, and influences. We know a little about how they were born, and how they will die, but mostly we know how they are living. 20th Century Women is not plot-driven; nothing “happens” except truth is revealed through meticulous character study.

It helps, of course, to have Annette Bening on board. She’s the reason we’re watching. Her performance was nominated for a Golden Globe. I have been rooting all awards-season long for Natalie Portman in Jackie but having seen this, it will be difficult to go back. Bening treats this movie like a masterclass in acting. Nothing is showy or extraneous. In fact, some of her most brilliant times on screen are in perfect silence, with just the wrinkle of her brow or the droop of her shoulder or some awkward middle-aged dancing communicating all we need to know. Fanning and Gerwig are really quite good as well, but I only know that from the scenes which Bening sits out. If she’s onscreen, my eyes are glued to her. She’s always been this watchable, it’s just been a while since she’s had a role that was equal to her.

Mills’ affection for his characters is evident in their quirkiness. 20th Century Women is funnier than it has to be. Since I’m a strict non-talker at the movies, I tend to communicate approval through hand squeezes. I felt like I’d done a lot of squeezing by the end of the movie, even a little eye-catching and eyebrow lifting, which is probably moot in a dark theatre, but I was feeling magnanimous!  Sean concurred, which I think is an even thumbnail_25085better endorsement for a film that couldn’t be further from his own experience. And that’s what’s so remarkable. Though its genius is in the details, the specificity of the characters, it’s all somehow very relatable. And any movie that’s also a mirror is definitely worth its salt.

 

Live By Night

It’s possible that Live By Night will give hope to mopey gangsters everywhere by raising awareness of their difficult, stressful lives. It can’t be easy making money hand over fist by preying on the working class, especially when other bad guys are constantly trying to pick fights with you. In that small way, Ben Affleck (a.k.a. the director of Argo and the Town) has done those poor souls a great service by finally addressing this important topic and bringing their suffering to light.  screen_shot_2016-09-08_at_4-54-03_pm

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It’s clearly long past time for Matt Damon to stage an intervention. Affleck has lost his way and next on his list of mopey outlaws is the Batman. There can now be no doubt that Affleck will use that movie like he used this one, to share his people’s plight by bringing more one-percenter depression to the silver screen.  I can neither tolerate another bad Batman movie nor refrain from seeing whatever schlock is put onscreen starring a comic book character (I am so far gone I thought the Logan trailer looked good). Help me, Matt Damon, you’re my only hope!

Putting aside my Batman-related angst and focusing on Live By Night, Affleck is the core of what is wrong with the movie, which I suppose is inevitable since he directs, stars and wrote the screenplay. I suspect he’s even disappointed in himself. He should be, becauslead_960e if nothing else the role he has created for himself is a terrible one. The lead character is remarkably unsympathetic and no amount of teary-eyed inner conflict or monotone monologuing in voiceover form (because this character doesn’t like to express feelings aloud) can change that. On top of that, his hats make him look ridiculous, and there are so many hats.

Affleck the writer/director also does himself no favours by all but omitting action scenes from this gangster tale. Worse, the film’s few action scenes are as a jumble of tommy-gun-wielding m_8e517450-d96c-11e6-a260-7aa04c68bc63aniacs shooting at each other that leave the viewer unclear as to who’s on whose side (spoiler alert: the guys doing the killing are the ones on Affleck’s character’s side). Affleck also completely wastes Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Elle Fanning, and most egregiously Agent Coulson (though Jay took Chris Messina’s bad teeth and pot belly hardest but at least Messina got a decent amount of screen time).

In case you can’t tell by now, Live By Night is not a good movie, not by a long shot.  I should have seen Patriots Day instead. Did you hear that, Affleck? I should have seen a Mark Wahlberg-Peter Berg joint rather than this mess. You’re an Oscar winning writer, dammit! Go think about what you’ve done and get your shit together before you ruin Batman too.

Neon Demon

A plot? You want a plot? Try this: Elle Fanning is young. Elle Fanning is blonde. Elle Fanning is pretty. She knows it, she likes it. But it’s when she the-neon-demonstarts believing it, truly believing that her beauty is important and holds power over other people, that’s when things start to bubble.

Elle (she has some other name in the movie, probably) has recently arrived in L.A., the city one goes to when one has legs for days. She’s ripe for the picking. When things come easily for her, she buys into it. As you can imagine, this makes for lots of pretty enemies. Pretty, but not pretty enough. They’re no longer the Pretty Young Thing of the moment. She is, so she becomes their hate suck. Luckily, model types excel at verbal abuse but are just too weak from hunger to be much of a threat.

This movie is by Nicholas Winding Refn, the sick and twisted dude who came 54800_100.jpgup with that head-stomping scene in Drive. And all the other scenes in Drive. I described Neon Demon to Sean as “less plot than Drive, and with super models” and also as “this year’s weird movie” to which he replied “Beasts of the Southern Wild weird?” and I answered “No, more like High-Rise weird.” More like weird weird.

This is a polarizing movie that you’ll either love or hate. Or, if you’re like me, the-neon-demon-2016-elle-fanning-bella-heathcotenot really either of those two things. Surprise third option! I definitely didn’t hate it. Lord it has some of the coolest images I’ve seen in a film, ever. Gorgeous. Stunning. It’s one of the boldest things I’ve ever seen on film and I’m giving lots of credit to Refn’s cinematographer Natasha Braier (what! a female cinematographer??) Together, Refn and Braier create an unforgettable world that is hyper-real, extreme in both its beauty and its grit. The colour palette tells a story all on its own, progressing seamlessly from beginning to end.

And I don’t really mind it being plotless. The sparse storytelling just mimics the vacuousness of the girls. But it’s not just symbolically shallow;  I just also ellefound it to be kind of empty. Like there’s obviously an allegory here, about our culture’s emphasis on female beauty, and on a certain kind of white girl skinny beauty in particular. And the dangers of narcissism. And female cattiness, which I almost hate just on principle. But this movie didn’t make me think. Like, at all, beyond “Oh, that’s gross.” So treat it like a high fashion magazine with pretty pages to flip through. I just can’t give it much more credit than that.

TIFF 2015: About Ray/3 Generations

about ray

I was absolutely blown away by the trailer for Gaby Dellal’s new family drama about a teenager (Elle Fanning) who seeks signatures from both parents allowing her to begin the process of sex reassignment surgery. My only concern going in was how the currently trending topic of anything trans would be dealt with. Would it be sensationalized or exploitation? Would it struggle so hard to stay PC that it wouldn’t say anything at all? Would Dellal take advantage of all the press surrounding the subject matter to produce shameless and obvious Oscar bait?

All my fears were laid to rest almost immediately. Dellal introduced the film saying that About Ray was not a story about someone who was transgender. It’s a story about family. This turned out to be absolutely true. The three leads (including Naomi Watts and Susan Sarandon as Fanning’s mother and grandmother) don’t play one-dimensional symbols of courage. These characters- as well as their house-  look completely lived-in. Having to adjust to thinking of their (grand)daughter as a (grand)son is only a small part of the story of this family’s bond and conflicts. Fanning, Sarandon, and Watts are more than up for the challenge. They even look like a family.

About Ray is complex and always entertaining (eliciting laughs from Sunday morning’s audience in almost every scene) and never preachy. See it.

 

Note: when we saw this movie at TIFF, it was called About Ray. Now that it’s finally hitting theatres May 5, it has been renamed ‘Three Generations.’