A roundtable chat with Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson of “Made in Dagenham”

As the press day began for director Nigel Cole and writer William Ivory’s amiable historical comedy, we assembled entertainment writers believed we’d be doing separate roundtable interviews with the film’s best known actresses. When Sally Hawkins and Miranda Richardson entered the room together to promote “Made in Dagenham,” about a 1968 strike by female workers at a Ford plant located in a grimy London suburb, however, it was easy to be a little overwhelmed. Either one of them is worthy of a Russian novel’s worth of questions and our time would be limited.

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Like so many first-class English actors of her generation, Miranda Richardson is known for her ability to play all ends of the dramatic spectrum. In England, and certain geekier quarters of the U.S., she’s still extremely well known known for her work alongside Rowan Atkinson and Stephen Fry as “Queenie” (i.e. Queen Elizabeth I) and assorted other characters on Richard Curtis and Ben Elton’s historical cult-com, “Black Adder.” Younger geeks, however, might know her better as magical tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter in the Harry Potter films. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, she has also done magnificent work playing a ruthless IRA operative in “The Crying Game,” a maltreated housewife in an Oscar-nominated role in Louis Malle’s “Damage,” a widely praised turn in the Oscar-winning “The Hours,” and a widow investigating her husband’s death on AMC’s recently canceled suspense drama, “Rubicon.” On the other hand, she’s also portrayed the character of Mrs. Santa Claus opposite Paul Giamatti‘s Santa in “Fred Claus.” Despite some resemblance, both physically and in terms of talent, she is not part of the famed Redgrave acting dynasty and no relation to the late Natasha Richardson. She is, in fact, the only actor in her family, which perhaps makes her all the more impressive.

Although Sally Hawkins has appeared in some 34 movie and TV productions since 1999, she broke into the consciousness of most of her fans with her Golden Globe winning performance in Mike Leigh’s 2008 “Happy-Go-Lucky,” in which she dominated the film as a relentlessly happy and, strangely enough, rather bright, elementary school teacher. It was probably an ideal role for a woman who really does come across as cheerful in person, with an approachable demeanor that certainly seems to fit the child of two children’s books authors. Currently starring on Broadway in a new production of George Bernard Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” Hawkins has continued to mix starring roles with a number of smaller supporting appearances, including a turn in Cary Fukunaga’s highly-anticipated new version of “Jane Eyre.” Her next leading role is as Irish radical politician and activist Bernadette Devlin in “The Roaring Girl” — assuming the real Devlin is not successful in her efforts to prevent the film from being made.

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Weekend boxoffice: Ben Affleck steals the weekend, but “Easy A” hangs onto to its virtue

A surprise this week. A film that seemed to skew towards an older and more male audience actually grabbed more box office lucre than a high-concept comedy aimed largely — albeit on a weekend where no one made anything close to a cinematic mint.

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He might look down in the pic above, but Ben Affleck — whose taken his share of sometimes deserved and sometimes not so deserved lumps as an actor over the years — has something to celebrate today. To be specific, the cowriter-director-star’s heist drama, “The Town,” swiped an estimated $23.8 million for Warner Brothers according to Box Office Mojo’s weekend chart. I’m guessing that the film got a boost from pent up demand for a the kind of plot-centric thriller we adult males seem to crave, as well as the budding  potential superstar presences of Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, and Blake Lively, not to mention female lead Rebecca Miller. Since older people usually pay a bit more attention to critics, it’s actually possible that the unusually good reviews helped here.

If Cinemascore means anything — and I’m not all that sure that it means all that much — “The Town” might have also gotten a boost from word of mouth, since Anne Thompson tell us it got a better than average B+ all around. Thompson also quotes Warner’s distribution chief Dan Fellman, saying that the studio is looking ahead to award season for the thriller. Moreover, Fellman also reminds us that the film is the largest September opening in Warner’s history (that is to say, September kind of sucks for box office). Though it’s not the kind of movie that usually wins Oscars, the loosened up Best Picture category certainly helps a well-reviewed and reasonably popular film’s chances.

Emma Stone in The PG-13 not-having-sex high school comedy with promising youngster Emma Stone,Easy A,” which was supposed to be #1 as of Thursday night, didn’t quite get there. However, seeing as its budget is reportedly $31 million less than the actually rather modestly budgeted “The Town,” it is by far the most profitable film of this frame with  respectable estimated receipts of $18.2  and an extremely respectable $8 million budget. It’s another fiscal win for Sony/Screen Gems, which has been on a sort of hot streak of late.

The M. Night Shymalan-produced “Devil” took the hindmost of the top 3 with a less than spectacular $12.58 million for Universal, which by now is used to disappointments. Though not directed by Shymalan, the PG-13 film was promoted as if it was and Uni and the man they call “Night” may finally be paying the price for all the almost universally disliked but oddly successful films that bore the once hugely promising filmmaker’s name. Anne Thompson wonders if the two other scheduled films drawn from stories by Shymalan to be directed by up-and-comers on low budgets, “The Night Chronicles,” will happen now. Mr. S., I grew up watching Rod Serling productions, I know Rod Serling’s work. You’re no Rod Serling.

The weekend’s other new release proved that audiences can spot a cheaply made 3D animated family film rather easily for something that is likely a far, far cry from Pixar or Dreamworks Animation. “Alpha and Omega” came in below the predictably sinking-like-a-stone-in-week #2 “Resident Evil: Afterlife” with an anemic $9.2 million.

A number of new films came out in limited release this week. The most impressive per-screen average of the week was $30,000 for the Kazuo Ishiguro adaptation, “Never Let Me Go.” The British science-fiction romantic drama earned $120,000 on four screens for Fox Searchlight, though it’s muted reviews may dim its Oscar hopes, which is really the only root to major success for a film like this at present. The highly buzzed, probable documentary (there are doubters, though everyone agrees it’s no “I’m Still Here“), “Catfish,” may have better Oscar hopes if it reassures the Academy that it really and truly is a documentary. It did well this weekend for Rogue with a $255,000 in only 12 theaters.

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Meet your new Spider-Man

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I was just about to start get down to business on this week’s already quite late box office preview — which you’ll now be seeing here tomorrow morning — when I saw the bombshell, though not really surprising, press release posted over at Deadline.  26-year-old Andrew Garfield has already been mentioned several times as a possible choice for the Marc Webb Spider-Man reboot (remember when you had to wait at least a decade for those?), and I think it’s probably a good, perhaps better than good, choice, though he’s slightly grown-up if they really do intend to make him a high school kid.

As per Wikipedia, Garfield was born in my hometown of L.A., but raised mostly in Surrey, England, which I imagine is a somewhat different atmosphere. On the other hand, I guess you can take the boy out of Hollywood but you can’t entirely take Hollywood out of this boy. He has one of the two lead roles, alongside Jesse Eisenberg in David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming “The Social Network,” not to mention the science fiction drama/love story “Never Let Me Go.”  He’s also appeared in “Lions for Lambs,” and “The Other Boleyn Girl.” In less mainstream fare, he’s also had in the lead role of the first film in the “Red Riding” trilogy of made-for-British-TV thrillers, a huge critical smash last year which had a limited theatrical release stateside. He’s also done more than his share of stage work and has won a BAFTA (British Oscar) for the low-budget British drama, “Boy A.” In other words, he’s doesn’t seem to be a lightweight.

As far as his box office potential goes, who knows? However, the dual-passport holding American-English-Jewish Garfield, who despite his cosmopolitan background made his success without any apparent industry or artistic connections, is just geeky enough to be relatable for boys and believable as a bit of an outcast, but, I’m guessing, also quite handsome enough to make girls swoon a bit. (He’s already been an MTV “hump day hottie,” so I guess there’s my proof.) The only aspect I’m unsure of is the whole vague “star power” thing. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Garfield has came up on my radar, however, because of his surprisingly good work in a hugely problematic role in “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnussus.” The uneven Terry Gilliam fantasy saddled him with a badly muddled character in which we were supposed to still kind of like him despite the fact that he was being persistently mean to adorable Lily Cole. Garfield wasn’t entirely successful in making his character work the way it should have in the film’s story, such as it was, but he impressed me by keeping things about as believable as I can imagine under the circumstances. Making Peter Parker come to life after that should be a comparative breeze.  Let’s just see how he handles the clear potential for A-list status here.

Anne Thompson has some more.

  

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Midweek movie news, and then…

After tonight, I’ll be taking a break from the daily blogging grind for just a bit. That means I’ll be out completely for a couple of days at least and then you may see a post here and there and then, suddenly, I’ll be back like I was never gone in the first place, probably towards the tail end of the month. So, this will have to hold you for a little while.

* As of tonight, corporate raider Carl Icahn appears to be a majority stockholder in Lionsgate.

* I’ve never been a fan of the seventies movie of the silly seventies film version of “Logan’s Run,” but with Carl Erik Rinsch directing, my interest in the new film perked up considerably. Now, Alex Garland — who wrote and produced the not-entirely-unrelated upcoming version of “Never Let Me Go” which I discussed yesterday — has jumped on board, making it even more interesting. Better, they’re approaching it as a new version of the book, not a remake of the film. In the 1976 film, by the way, no one in the futuristic society was permitted to live past 30. In the novel, it was 21.

* Sam Raimi has been confirmed as the director of “Oz: The Great and Powerful.” Apparently Robert Downey, Jr., who just formed a new company with his producer wife, Susan Downey, is the most likely Oz at this point.

* Be sure and check out Will Harris’s terrific interview with one of the best, Isabella Rossellini. Easily one of the most fascinating  actresses of the last thirty years or so, with quite a backstory behind her. Don’t miss it.

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*Though Ms. Rossellini seems perfectly at home in a very humorous way with her fifty-something status, that is not really always the case for actresses. This month’s conversation between Jason Bellamy and Ed Howard at the House Next Door underlines that point as the cinephile thinkers discuss two of Hollywood’s greatest show-biz based films, “Sunset Boulevard” and “All About Eve,” both released in 1950 and both dealing with actresses who struggling with this whole passage of time thing.

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Sometimes feel like the deck is stacked against you? The “Never Let Me Go” trailer might put that into perspective for you

Think you’re in a pointless, no-win situation? Did you feel at school like you were just being prepared to put into the human meatgrinder we call the rat race? Well, you’ve got it easy, kid, compared to the strangely acquiescent students and alumni of Hailsham. I’d tell you more but I understand via Cinemablend’s Katey Rich and the novel’s very spoilery wikipedia entry that the arguably science-fictional premise of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker Prize short-listed 2005 novel is kept somewhat hidden for a significant portion of the book. (It was revealed to me years ago, however, via book reviews and author interviews.)

That premise will also be revealed to you if you watch the intriguing trailer so, if you plan to read the book (which I think I might try to do myself, anyhow) you might want to hold off. I will say that the Japanese-English Ishiguro wrote the very non-genre “The Remains of the Day” and history and frustrated love seems to his favorite topics. This time, though, the history hasn’t been written yet.

Even aside from Ishiguro, this one has an intriguing pedigree. The adaptation is by novelist Alex Garland, who recently has turned to screenplays with “28 Days Later” and “Sunshine,” both directed by Danny Boyle, and the director is Mark Romanek. For some reason, I felt compelled to avoid his highly divisive 2002 thriller “One Hour Photo,” but he’s made some of the best videos of all time as far as I’m concerned, including the amazing and ultra-creepy “Closer” for Nine Inch Nails, the memorable “Criminal” for Fiona Apple, and “Hurt,” Johnny Cash’s moving cover of a song by Trent Reznor. And, oh yeah, Carey Mulligan is in it. Does anyone not like Carey Mulligan?

  

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