Tag: Olivia Williams

Monday night trailer: “Hanna,” the teenaged assassin

Director Joe Wright switches gears from his solid Brit-lit adaptations (“Atonement,” “Pride and Prejudice“) and the ill-fated “The Soloist” and gives us a bit of Luc Besson (I hope less thin than “La Femme Nikita” and “The Professional”), a bit of fairy tale and “Kasper Hauser,” a probably coincidental resemblance to a certain aspect of “Kick-Ass,” a bit of Bourne, and, I hope, a bit of Le Carre, Green and, and other classic spy writers, because we need more of that right now. Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, and Cate Blanchett star and the always wondrous Olivia Williams is also on board. Interesting cast for an action flick. This one is interesting.

H/t Cinematical.

Can Marty and Leo take the weekend without women?

That’s the question being posed by The Hollywood Reporter‘s jolly Carl DiOrio as he predicts that the latest from the team of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio will enjoy a $25-30 opening. The atmospheric Dennis Lehane adaptation, “Shutter Island” is apparently “tracking” best with older men — I’m definitely interested and by “older” I assume they mean “over 15” — and fairly well with younger men, but not so with female of the species.

Leo and friends in

DiOrio finds this surprising because of Leo’s tried and true girl appeal but it’s really not when you consider that the marketing suggests a sort of hard-boiled cop/horror combo with barely a female or any kind of love interest in site and what appears to be a lot of very male-style histrionics.  The trailer certainly emphasizes the male cast members with Michelle Williams and Patricia Clarkson making what amounts to cameo appearances.

As for the reviews, which for a movie like “Shutter Island” can really make a difference, they are okay but not too impressive when you consider that Scorsese is a long-time critical mega-favorite and easily one of the five or so most revered living directors still living. Our own Dave Medsker was notably disappointed in his mixed review and he’s certainly not alone, with only 61% of “top critics” digging “Shutter Island” according to Rotten Tomatoes. (He gets a somewhat better 67% with the critical hoi polloi.) Scorsese’s last attempt at a big time Hollywood thriller, the 1991 version of “Cape Fear,” is the only one of his film’s I’d personally dare call “bad” and I’m hoping I like this one at least a little better. On the other hand, that one made a relative mint for Marty Mr. Scorsese and his colleagues, so who cares if I like it or not?

What's-his-name and what's-her-name in As for this week’s possible #2 and #3, well, last week’s winner “Valentine’s Day” may be in there, but the question is will the critically dissed comedy have any legs now that it’s holiday is long past. Also, with a lack of competing family films, that “Percy Jackson” movie that I’m simply too lazy too type out a complete title for may do pretty well. And let’s not count out “Avatar” quite yet, either, if one of the other films takes a big dive.

Debuting in very limited release this week is what looks like a nifty little political thriller that’s getting solid reviews, “The Ghost Writer.” It stars Ewan MacGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Cattrall, and my and Max Fisher’s one-true-love, Olivia Williams. The director is Roman Polanski, so there’ll be another test of the “no such thing as bad publicity” dictum, I suppose.

Musical biopics with a difference. Maybe. Part 1

Talking with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” while promoting the very funny musical biopic spoof, “Walk Hard,”  star John C. Reilly made a telling observation. He noted that such figures as Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, and Johnny Cash were all very different people with very different lives, but the movies about them tended to be all kind of the same. This month in Europe, that proposition is being tested by two very interesting looking films about two extremely unusual musicians who were so unusual I never particularly expected to see a movie about either of them. Hopefully, both will make it stateside in due time.

The first movie is “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” about Ian Dury. Dury, with his crack back-up band, the Blockheads, was a figure in my personal favorite wing of the punk/new wave era of the late seventies that was embodied by his label, Stiff Records. He fashioned a surprisingly effective and popular combination of English music hall, “blue” humor, and Parliament/James Brown style funk and early hip-hip. Partially disabled by polio, he had the requisite difficult life and, physically and in every other way, he was born to be played by outstanding Peter Jackson stand-by Andy Serkis, for once free of make-up efx or motion-capture.

Olivia Williams (“Dollhouse,” “Rushmore”) seems to be everywhere all of a sudden, and I’m completely okay with that. And, as Dury’s son, that’s young Bill Milner from “Son of Rambow.” I do have to say the real-life Dury was slightly better at carrying a tune. Still, looks good and the reviews so far are promising.

Next: an arguably even more dysfunctional, but even more talented, French musical madmen gets his biopic.

TV in the 2000s: The Decade in Whedonism – 10 Small Screen Masterpieces from Joss Whedon

Like an awful lot of film and TV geeks, and just plain geeks, I’m a pretty big Joss Whedon fan. In fact, my devotion to his unique blend of fantasy and science fiction melodrama, sometimes arch old-school movie-style witty dialogue blended with Marvel comics repartee, strong characterization, and often somewhat silly plots has at times gotten almost embarrassing. A few years back some of my very adult friends were suggesting in concerned tones that I should really marry the man if I love him so much.


More recently, I thought my fandom was under relative control. But now, I’ve been asked my opinion on the ten best examples of small-screen work in this decade from the creator and guiding force of “Angel,” “Firefly,” the already canceled “Dollhouse,” and, of course, “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.” I only have to be thankful for the fact that first four seasons of “Buffy,” which contain most of that show’s greatest episodes, are disqualified because they appeared on TV sets before 2000. We take our mercies where we find them. (And, yes, if you’re about to catch up with these on DVD, there are a fair number of spoilers below for the various series, though I’ve tried to keep a few secrets.) One word of warning: my relative ranking of these shows is a matter of mood and borders on the random. In other words — don’t hold me to these choices!

Out of competition:

The Body” (“Buffy, the Vampire Slayer”) – This episode usually ranks extremely high when people make these kind of lists. Entertainment Weekly named it as pretty much the best thing Joss Whedon has ever done and maybe the best TV thing ever. The truth of the matter is that, yes, the episode where Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Geller) discovers the already cold body of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland, a wonderful asset to the show for the five previous years), dead from an entirely natural brain tumor, was probably one of the most remarkable episodes of television ever shown, and probably the only thing I’ve seen that comes close to capturing the essence of what it feels like when someone dies unexpectedly. The problem was, I didn’t find it depressing; I found it real. I didn’t feel any more like repeating the experience than I would the death of an actual loved one.

Whedon – who wrote and directed the episode himself – deserves all the credit in the world for the brave choices he made, including shooting the episode in close to “real time” and not using any music. If I have one complaint with , it’s his tendency to close emotional episodes with, dare I say it, somewhat drippy montages. His choice to eliminate music from the kind of “very special” show where other creators would lay in with three or four montages of Joyce frolicking in the woods or what have you, shows Whedon is, at heart, an outstanding filmmaker. I’ve never had a problem with his much-noted tendency to kill off sympathetic and/or popular characters. It might anger some fans, but especially if you’re dealing with inherently violent material, there’s something morally wrong about not dealing with the fact that good people are just as mortal as bad people. Still, I don’t enjoy watching this episode. If this were a movie, maybe I’d be more in awe or eager for profundity. However, if I’m going to be honest, I can’t call “The Body” a favorite and I can’t be sure it’s one of the “best.”

#10, Shiny Happy People (“Angel”) – Fans of the spin-off about Buffy’s ex, the vampire-with-a-soul detective (David Boreanaz), and various assembled demon-hunters and occasionally friendly demons, will be scratching their heads at this choice. It’s an unpopular episode from a widely and justly derided storyline involving a very weird affair between Angel’s unbalanced super-powered teenage son from another dimension, Connor (Vincent Kartheiser, now of “Mad Men“), and a suddenly evil Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter), a former high school mean girl turned lovably complex grown-up foil for her vampire boss. And, yeah, it was a little freaky for Cordy to give birth to a fully grown creature called Jasmine.


However, as played by the wondrous Gina Torres of the then recently-canceled “Firefly,” Jasmine was freaky in a good way. A being whose god-like ability to create an instant sense of peace, happiness, and complete obedience, is somewhat set off by the fact that she’s actually a deformed and decaying, if not entirely evil, monster who must consume people to live, she was every charismatic leader and every great screen beauty rolled into one monstrous ball. More than anything else, “Shiny Happy People” reminded me of Don Siegel’s 1956 film verson of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” It was another believable demonstration of how we humans are only too willing to surrender our our humanity to the first apparently completely beauteous and 100% wise being who comes along. You know, like Oprah, only less powerful.

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“Dollhouse” finally flicks the Awesome switch

I completely understand why my colleague John Paulsen bailed on “Dollhouse” earlier in the season. The show was running in place, a series of self-contained episodes with nothing hanging in the balance. The only takeaway from a couple of the shows was that the dolls were still remembering things after they had been wiped, and were keeping this a secret from their handlers and Topher. The subplot involving FBI Agent Paul Ballard seemed stuck as well. He knows the Dollhouse exists, but has neither the proof nor the support of the agency to pursue it. Yawn.

Then came last Friday’s episode, where “Dollhouse” creator Joss Whedon launched the show into space.

He first played with the idea that Echo, Victor and Sierra were engaged in a secret alliance with the news that Sierra had been having sex and was suddenly terrified of Victor. It doesn’t take long for Boyd, the Dixon to Echo’s Sydney Bristow, to realize that the perp is a fellow handler, and DeWitt gives the handler a choice: take out Mellie, the nosy neighbor of Agent Ballard who Knows Too Much, or get sent to the Attic. (Man, I can’t wait until they finally show us what that place looks like.) Ballard, who’s out getting takeout and realizes that Mellie is in danger, races back while making a call. We see Mellie’s phone ringing as the handler is slowly choking the life out of her. Then the answering machine picks up, and we hear…DeWitt. “There are three flowers in a vase. The third one is green.” Ta-da, instant can of whoopass. Mellie beats the snot out of the handler, killing him in seconds. Then DeWitt says, “There are three flowers in a vase. The third one is yellow.” Poof, she’s back to being “normal” Mellie.

Holy crap.

“Don’t arrest me yet. She hasn’t heard my bit about the KFC bowls, it kills ’em every time.”

This was awesome on a number of levels. For starters, I never suspected that Mellie was a doll. She doesn’t quite have the body type that the other dolls have, though that actually makes her a perfect choice for a role like this. Second of all, the dolls can be activated and deactivated by remote voice command? Again, holy crap. I’m assuming that the third flower in that metaphorical vase is red. What happens to a doll when she uses that line? Does it make them catatonic?

Whedon also pulled another neat trick in doing a story where someone uses the Dollhouse for harmless, and rather sweet, purposes. Patton Oswalt guest starred as an Internet millionaire who planned on surprising his wife with a brand new house, but she was killed in a car accident on her way to see it. So every year on the day of her death, he hires a doll to relive that moment that he never had with his wife. Awwwww, isn’t that cute? Gee, maybe the Dollhouse isn’t so bad after all, right? Mmmmm, wouldn’t go that far, but it does make the ethical aspects of programmable people slightly grayer than it would appear on the surface.

The episode’s Big Reveal, though, was the fact that there is a mole in the Dollhouse, and they used Echo to send a message to Agent Ballard that he has an ally on the inside. On the surface, it would appear that the only person with the ability to slip that kind of thing under Topher’s nose would be his underutilized assistant Ivy, but does she have access to enough information to bring the Dollhouse down, and would she have known that there are over 20 Dollhouses around the world? Doubtful, which is why my money is on Dr. Claire Saunders (my beloved Amy Acker) as the mole. She was horribly disfigured by Alpha, which gives her motive, and as their medical chief of staff, she would have access to lots of data. Plus, you have to know that Whedon isn’t going to recruit Acker for the show and then have her spend most of the time on the bench.

The problem with all this, of course, is that it’s possible Whedon waited too long to get the show rolling. The show isn’t cheap, and Fox certainly has it in its sights when time comes to trim the budget. It needs a huge spike in ratings — it actually needs a better time slot, but that’s another story — but will they get one? If Whedon delivers another episode as great as this one, that should be enough to rally the Browncoats into action. Stay tuned.

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