Tag Archives: kristen stewart

Certain Women

Laura (Laura Dern) is a lawyer in smalltown America. She has a client who got a raw deal from his work after an injury. But since he took their initial offer of compensation, there’s not much she can do. Of course, for months he’s refused to believe her, and only hearing the same words from a man seems to do the trick. That is, until she gets a call  in the middle of the night that he’s taken someone hostage and thanks to an ineffectual crime response in Montana, it falls to her to defuse the situation.

Gina (Michelle Williams) and her husband are trying to build their dream home. AMV5BMjE4MDE3NzA3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA5OTA1NzE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_ conversation with an elderly gentleman who may or may not have some soapstone to sell exposes some cracks in the foundation of her marriage. Are they even on the same page?

Fresh out of law school,  Elizabeth couldn’t bed certain she’d land a good job so she started taking anything she could get. That’s why, despite landing a position with a law firm, she’s also driving 4 hours each way twice a week to teach an adult education class where the students don’t seem to quite appreciate what they’re doing there. Her only real connection is with an unenrolled student, a ranch hand (Lily Gladstone) who’s just wandered in off the street, curious. Curious about people, not the subject. The rancher and the teacher will converse over greasy spoon fries after class.

These three stories only intersect in the vaguest, merest of ways. Certain Women is more about the female experience in this tiny town, and what it’s like to be breaking new ground, literally and figuratively. Director Kelly Reichardt gives us these stories like she’d give a gift. She has uncommon skill at finding compassion and nuance in the smallest of everyday stories. We feel like we know her characters. There aren’t a lot of big, bold happenings, but the attempts at connection, and in fact, the missed opportunities left me bereft. Certain Women tugs so subtly at your heart. It’s full of tiny moments that you can hoard and love in whatever capacity you feel best.

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TIFF18: Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy

If you were present in the literary world of the early 2000’s and you have a sharp memory, you may remember JT (Jeremiah Terminator) LeRoy as the author of a New York Times best-seller, Sarah. That is a true thing that happened.

Now here’s where it immediately gets messy. JT LeRoy was a teenage truck stop prostitute who idolized his mother Sarah, also a hooker. Except JT wasn’t actually a real person, he was just an “avatar” used by the book’s real author, Laura Victoria Albert, who developed the pseudonym in the 90s while calling suicide hotlines. She found it easier to talk about her pain if she attributed it to someone else, and she MV5BZjI3NDk1NWUtMmQ4NS00MWMzLTljMmQtZjBhNWU0NWU0ZDFjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzI0MTEwNTY@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_found male identities received more sympathy. Eventually she found a way to turn it into art, and several stories and books were published under the name. She wouldn’t be the first writer to write under an assumed name, but she might be the first to have gone to such great lengths to present a pseudonym as a real person. She recruited her boyfriend’s androgynous sister Savannah to “play” JT in person, granting interviews and posing for pictures as him – even signing the rights to a movie contract. Of course, when the truth comes out, as it nearly always does, the world was kind of mad about being duped, and there was a big backlash.

So that’s the true, and truly weird, story explored in the film, where Laura is played by Laura Dern and Savannah/JT is played by Kristen Stewart. Laura does all the talking over the phone (as a phone sex operator, she has a knack) and Savannah plays it cool and quiet in public. But both of them grow increasingly attached to the character and are possessive of him – particularly when a beautiful actress/director gets involved (Diane Kruger). Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there. Laura develops other personas, like Speedie, JT’s obnoxiously British manager who mysteriously and confoundingly does a lot of his talking for him during interviews.

Every year at TIFF, there are certain themes that pop up. This year it’s addictions, and also cops killing black kids. But a third, and quite odd theme, is literary hoaxes. Melissa McCarthy plays a forger in Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays controversial memoirist James Frey in A Million Little Pieces. Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy provides two very juicy roles for Dern and Stewart, and the tension it creates between them is pretty addictive in itself. Stewart is cast to perfection and in JT’s gender-neutral shoes, themes of sexism and identity leap out so easily. Laura Dern is similarly well-matched, and she somehow makes the juggling of personas look easy. We get the sense that Laura feels her limitations in the field keenly, while Savannah embraces this shadowy second life, perhaps feeling a bit freer in a wig and dark glasses.

I thought Laura deserved a bit more from the script, and the end in general needed a little more oomph in order to match the intensity that comes before it, but this is an interesting story you have to see to believe, with 2 out of this world performances. You should take all of your personalities to the cinema to see this one.

Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart, I’m sorry honey, I didn’t really know you could act. You seemed up until now to have two settings: eyebrows and lip biting. Yet here you are, quietly impressing me.

Maureen (Stewart) is indeed a personal shopper. She picks up the glamourous clothes and accessories her celebrity client can’t be bothered to. Maureen despises Kyra but the MV5BOGFiY2U2ZTYtOTRmMS00MTY2LWE1OGEtZDUyNTI4N2I4YWUwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjcwNzI4MzE@._V1_money’s good enough to pay the rent in Paris, which is important to her. She’s in the city and won’t leave until she hears from her brother. Her dearly departed brother. Which is an obstacle of course. But she and her recently deceased twin brother are\were both mediums with a genetic heart defect, and they’d promised each other that whoever died first would signal the other from beyond, if such a thing existed.

But when contact IS made, how sure can Maureen really be that it’s her brother and not some creep? Or some other ghost? She wants SO badly for it to be him, but her skeptical nature can’t help but vacillate. This makes Personal Shopper a film that’s hard to pin down. It approaches grief in a way we’re unaccustomed to, but it’s also part ghost story, part coming of age, part mystery, part spiritual discovery.

Personal Shopper compels even though it’s largely about mournful solitude. Director Olivier Assayas, who previously got an excellent performance out of Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria, creates an ambiance that pulls you in as much as it creeps you out. But he doesn’t overdose on the ghost story stuff, he knows it’s scarier and more effective to dole it out in small measures.

It probably helps that Assayas wrote Maureen specifically for Kristen Stewart; she’s actually meant to be taciturn and moody. But the character ultimately lacks depth, which is pure laziness since we spend pretty much the entire movie with her. It’s still a good movie though, with an atmosphere that won’t quit and a solution that begs to be found, even if we think we already know it.

Cafe Society

I wanted to crawl right into the very first frame, so luscious and drenched with colour it was. If I had turned it off right then and there, I may have dreamed in technicolour and sung the film’s praises. I didn’t.

Cafe Society is a beacon of hope to all the men who have been friend-zoned. Stick around for long enough to provide the shoulder to cry on when she eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, who is cooler, more interesting, and more wasp2015_day_21-0031.CR2successful than you, and you might actually find her vulnerable enough to prey on her heartbreak and win. For a while. But since you’re still nerdy old you she’ll eventually wise up and leave your ass, potentially even for the ex who doesn’t deserve her, and you’ll have to content yourself with second place. If second place always looked like Blake Lively you might thank your lucky stars, but Woody Allen is an idiot, so here we are.

Bobby is the Woody-Allen-stand-in in this case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an inspired choice because he’s already got the annoying neuroticism and concave chest. He’s not content with the similarity though, he goes full-on chanelwa15_d21_00172-h_2016_0impression, right down to the self-conscious body language and flighty hand gestures. Bobby moves to Hollywood, trying to escape the family business. He goes to his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), an important guy at a big movie studio, who barely makes time for him, and pawns him off on his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Eisenberg and Stewart have a twitchy chemistry that works well, but it does mean you’ll have to watch the two most high-strung performances in Hollywood today. Simultaneously. In a Woody Allen movie.

Steve Carrell is the best thing about this movie, and he wasn’t supposed to be in it. He replaced Bruce Willis well into filming after Brucie was fired for being a diva and not learning his lines. The costumes are also divine. ‘Cafe society’ was coined to describe the beautiful people hanging out in night clubs, and all those beautiful people are prettily dressed and on sumptuous display. This is Woody Allen’s first digitally captured movie, and his first collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro – if he’s smart, it’ll be the first of many, because this film is gorgeous if nothing else. And yeah – nothing else. It feels like two different stories stitched inexpertly together (Allen provides the stitching – he narrates the thing, cause he just can’t keep his wrinkly hands OFF). Despite the window dressing, Cafe Society is a love story at its core, but a love story between two people you don’t really care about, and you don’t even like. The end.

Social Anxiety & Celebrity

Sean and I watched Neal Brennan’s stand-up special 3 Mics on Netflix earlier this week. Neal Brennan was the co-creator and co-writer and co-everything else on Chappelle’s Show, which meant a whole lot of success all at once, and then even more abruptly, nothing at all. He has since reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian, but what you get from watching 3 Mics isn’t your typical routine. It’s got plenty of laughs, particularly from the “one-liners” mic, but he’s most riveting when he’s at another mic, a less funny mic, the one where he talks about  “emotional stuff.”

He talks candidly about his depression, his childhood, his career, his father’s alcoholism and emotional abuse. He talks about the void where self esteem usually goes, and how he spent many years all too happy to hide behind his more gregarious partner, Dave Chappelle. Still fighting his demons, he is nonetheless up on the stage, and he’s getting very honest about how hard it is for him to be there, and why it’s so important that he stay.

Which set me to thinking a couple of days ago when I was at a USS concert. Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker is the best band you’ve never heard of, an electronic-based alt-rock duo (comprising a singer-guitar player named Ash and a hype man called Jason) who describe themselves as “camp fire after-party” and sound kind of like if kurt cobain and kanye had ever met and made an album – only not, it’s way more unique than that, and so, so listenable. Singable. Danceable. Turn-uppable. Bliss outable. And it just so happens that the singer-guitar player dude, Ashley Buchholtz is a notoriously shy “hyper-introvert” who’s battled his own demons, struggled with self worth, and even now, to a crowd of adoring fans, admits that singing the songs we paid to hear is hard for him – his greatest fear, actually.

So that made me think about how we view performers as people who are outgoing, and who seek the spotlight, even though that’s not always the case. And as I read up on actors I’d heard were particularly shy, I heard over and over that performing was a way to overcome shyness, but for a lot of people, it’s never completely overcome. Carol Burnett felt she could only perform “in character” and would clam up if she was just being herself. Barbara Streisand rarely performs live because even after decades of super-stardom, she’s still a pack of nerves before every show (so, reportedly, is Adele).

Adam Sandler is so shy he rarely does press and when he does, it’s almost always in character. You’ll notice that when he sings, it’s almost always in another voice; funny accents help him overcome his nervousness.

Kim Basinger struggles so much that when she won her Oscar in 1997 (best supporting actress – L.A. Confidential), she was hardly able to speak. She has agoraphobia, panic attacks, and social anxiety: some days, leaving the house is more than she can bear.

Kristen Stewart has a reputation for being cold and distant, but the true source of her reserve is crippling shyness. She worries so much about what others think of her, she can barely stand to talk about herself, and comes off guarded and sullen in interviews.

Nicole Kidman has overcome the stutter that made her so shy as a child, but even now there are days she can’t stand to walk into a restaurant or a party alone. Richard Gere was so shy as a child that his parents wondered if he could even speak. Evan Rachel Wood was too shy to even order a pizza.

Courtney Cox has said that her shyness has limited her career. Being too nervous to audition, to risk rejection, she hasn’t pursued a movie career like other Friends.

Mark Ruffalo describes himself as an introvert and a bit of a “depressed person” who negotiates happiness for himself on a day to day basis. Director Tom Ford thinks of himself as a loner, and  “Very introverted. I’m very shy. I’m very emotional.”

Of her anxiety, Jennifer Lawrence says “I have a prescription.” She doesn’t think it’s likely to get any easier, either: “No, I’m always just very nervous. I never feel like, ‘I’ve got this.’ I’m always very nervous and aware of how quickly people can hate you and that scares me.”

Sarah Silverman adds “People use “panic attack” very casually out here in Los Angeles, but I don’t think most of them really know what it is. Every breath is labored. You are dying. You are going to die. It’s terrifying. And then when the attack is over, the depression is still there.”

Emma Stone’s panic attacks were so intense when she was little, it led to agoraphobia. She manages them better today, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t get them, it just means she’s learned some ways to cope. The red carpet life must be extra-stressful for anyone who suffers with social anxiety. I think it’s really cool to pursue your passion even when it butts heads with your fears. I applaud anyone who has to work hard just be among people, and I’m even more impressed with those who find a voice with which to speak out, and to remind us that we’re never alone. Someone else is feeling it too.

Words of wisdom from USS: Chill out. Be easy on yourself.

The Runaways

The Runaways is a biopic-ish film about the rise and fame of all-girl rock group of the same name. The film’s script is based on Cherie Currie’s memoir, and is produced by Joan Jett. Unsurprisingly, the film mostly focuses on these two women, Currie on the mic and Jett on rhythm guitar. Lots of other ladies came and went – most wanted nothing to do with the movie, and their parts are fictionalized.

Curie (Dakota Fanning) and Jett (Kristen Stewart) were pioneers, therunawaysand came together under the influence of scuzzy manager Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). Like any respectable rock band of the era, they eventually combusted, but not before releasing four albums in as many years. They never made it huge in North America but had some crazy success in Japan for a while, where their sound and aesthetic were appreciated.

The movie is just okay. The leads are phenomenal, stylish and electric performances from both Stewart and Fanning (and Michael Shannon is stellar, as always). But the “biopic” aspect is less bio,832729701403947af2c28f14dac46933 more pic. It barely scratches the surface. We don’t get to know anyone, and at any rate, Joan Jett’s post-Runaways life and music is where the real meat is. That said, it’s a clichéd ride about sex, drugs, and rock & roll, but it’s one worth watching to see Dakota Fanning get salty and Stewart own the role of rock’s first goddess. But it’s a condensed version featuring some character composites. The only member of the band besides the two front ladies that is touched upon is that of Sandy West, the drummer, but by the end they don’t give a shit about her, forgetting her in the title cards. She’d died before production began. Pesky cancer. The Runaways were revolutionary, a band about self-empowerment, but not all selves are created equally.

Clouds of Sils Maria

To be honest, I watched this movie some time ago, it’s just that writing about it in any meaningful way was a little daunting.

It’s about an actress, Maria (the fabulous Juliette Binoche), who has had a CLOUDS OF SILS MARIAlauded career after being launched in the theatre playing Sigrid, a sizzling ingénue. Now, years later, the playwright and her mentor has died, and there’s interest in re-staging the play, and Maria is approached to star. The catch? This time she’d of course be playing the role of the older woman, Helena, in a complicated May-December lesbian office unrequited romance (whoa, that’s a mouthful).

Should Maria take the role? Initially she declines. She finds the older character to be a bit pathetic, too much of a doormat. But the director is tenacious and Maria is not exactly afraid of a challenging role, so she accepts. She retreats to a remote chalet with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) and they begin rehearsing the play, only in the rehearsing, Maria again grapples with her distaste for the weakness of the character, and must face her own feelings about aging.

Chloe Grace Moretz floats in as the scandal-prone Hollywood It Girl who is to play the younger woman. She flatters Maria with fandom but ultimately plays the role much differently than Maria did, which further drives Maria to feel obsolete, and to wonder if this older character is perhaps an uncomfortable reflection of herself.

Clouds-of-Sils-Maria-14I didn’t find the story-telling in this movie to be quite satisfactory, but the performances were top-notch. There’s an intense, almost sexual chemistry between Binoche and Stewart that makes their rehearsals a rare treat to watch. Not often are two such strong female characters allowed to shine on the screen together with such naked feeling.

Binoche loved the idea of this movie so much that she approached director Olivier Assayas with it and convinced him to write the script as well. In a funny meta twist, Assayas co-wrote the script of Rendez-Vous, which was the film that helped make Binoche a star. Binoche claims she strove for such authenticity that she accepted a brief role in Godzilla just so she could o-CLOUDS-OF-SILS-facebookbelievably deliver a line about acting in blockbusters.

Chanel (the fashion house) stepped in not only with wardrobe but with financing so that Assayas could film in 35mm. The movie does in fact look totally gorgeous, not least because it’s filmed on location in Sils Maria, Switzerland. And Binoche reins over this film with stately grace, simmering jealousy, raging insecurity – every bit of it layered and nuanced to perfection. Maria is dealing with a changing industry and a role that requires alarming introspection, but what Binoche and company accomplish is to make us ask ourselves – are we Sigrids, or are we Helenas?