The Marvelous Brie Larson — #4

Welcome back to another edition of my latest Actor Profile, The Marvelous Brie Larson, a monthly series revolving around the silver screen performances of one of my favorite actresses. If you are a newcomer to this series, the idea behind this feature is to bring attention to a specific performer and their skill sets and to see how they contribute to a story.

As I mentioned in my opening comments on the first edition of The Marvelous Brie Larson (you can find that here) watching an actor you really like take on a character or be involved in a movie that, for whatever reason, doesn’t end up working for you can be an interesting experience in itself. I find myself in that very position with this fourth installment.

The movie I’ve decided to talk about this month, Unicorn Store (on Netflix), has the added bonus of being the directorial début of Brie Larson so, really, how could this feature go without it? We might debate the meaning of the movie’s underlying metaphor, or how well it’s served by the film’s super-flowery style but what’s undeniable is how much of a passion project this was for her. In an interview with IndieWire she describes Unicorn Store as “such a weird abstract portrait of myself. It feels like the most vulnerable I’ve been with this quirky, fun, lighthearted comedy.”

While Unicorn Store has always been a project associated with words like ‘quirky,’ ‘imaginative’ and ‘colorful,’ it hasn’t always been specifically a Larson-centric film. Circa 2012 Australian actress Rebel Wilson was cast as the lead and Miguel Arteta (Youth in Revolt; Cedar Rapids) was going to be the director. Larson had auditioned for a part but the production never got underway. An Oscar win for her dramatic turn in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room (2015) changed her fortunes. She was approached by the right people at the right time to not only play the lead but direct something that would turn out to be more of a personal journey of discovery.

Brie Larson as Kit in Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy/drama/fantasy

Premise: A woman named Kit receives a mysterious invitation that would fulfill her childhood dreams.

Character Background: Larson oscillates between gratingly infantile and winsome in the lead as Kit, an emotionally immature twenty-something who drops/fails out of art school and is forced to reassess her dreams of making it as an artist when she has to move back in with her parents. It’s a tricky balancing act that the seasoned actress for the most part pulls off, though there are moments when her acting feels a little forceful and stilted. Kit’s a millennial with a sense of entitlement, natch, but she’s also completely relatable in her fears of failure and disappointing the people she cares most about. I have to be completely honest and say this isn’t among my favorite performances of hers, but Larson always remains sincere in the role — one of the qualities about her acting that has always kept me coming back. She’s not quite as natural in this movie as she is in, say, Room or Short Term 12, but there’s a playfulness to this character that I really enjoyed.

Marvel at this Scene: 

This scene is not only an encapsulation of the awkwardness of Larson’s character (and the movie as a whole, actually), but it merges together perceptions in a brilliant (if cringe-inducing) way: the reality vs the fantasy. What we picture happening in our heads so often doesn’t work out that way in practice. Larson plays this off to great comedic effect. I love this scene. It’s so incredibly awkward.

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 

 


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JCR Factor #8

Welcome back around to a new edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. If you’re looking for more posts just like this, be sure to visit the Features menu up top and check out sub-menu, John C. Reilly!

This eighth entry comes a bit later in the month than usual, but better late than never, right? Anyway, today we have yet another small bit part in a movie from last year that had everyone and their mother talking about how great it was. There was a great deal of analysis provided for this film as well as passionate essays about how incredibly well this particular gamble paid off for Marvel Studios. The five main characters have certainly enjoyed their time in the spotlight, and I think it’s time now to turn it to one of the supporting players who managed to contribute to the fun of this movie in a cameo. Sure, this is minor stuff when compared to Mr. Reilly’s other contributions, but hey — it still counts.

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John C. Reilly as Corpsman Rhomann Dey in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: action/adventure/sci-fi/fantasy/comedy/ridiculous

Character Profile: Corpsman Dey is one of many who belong to planet Xandar’s highly-regarded Nova Corps, the high-tech gizmo-obsessed intergalactic police force. As Corpsman, he has achieved the highest rank within the force. He has much to be proud of. Dey is also an old acquaintance of Star-Lord (a.k.a. Peter Quill), having previously arrested the rebellious Earthling-turned-Ravager for petty theft (not shown in the 2014 film). He again runs into Star-Lord following an altercation involving him, Gamora, Rocket the Raccoon and Groot on Xandar, arresting them all and bringing them in for questioning during which they learn little beyond what Dey had already known: Peter Quill is one sarcastic dude and has a chronic inability to take anything really seriously. Dey has a wife and a child who narrowly escape death thanks to the efforts of Rocket in a major attack sequence involving Ronan the Accused. Though Dey warns the Guardians that future criminal activity won’t be tolerated, he gives the ragamuffins a full pardon in light of their valiant efforts in defeating the least charismatic villain you’ll find in almost any film.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: a fairly humorous interrogation scene. Granted, this scene would have happened anyway, but oh boy does Mr. Reilly add a layer of deadpan humor to proceedings. While relegated to a glorified cameo part in this massive cast of characters, he manages to remain memorable. Reilly’s sense of humor and ability to deliver with a dead-serious face adds another layer to a film already deep in its comedic sensibilities. He also manages to bring about an affability that makes it very easy to cheer for him as the events of the film build towards a ridiculous intergalactic battle. It’ll be nice to see if he makes a return in Volume 2.

That’s what he said: “He said that he may be an . . . ‘a-hole.’ But he’s not, and I quote, ‘100% a dick.'”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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JCR Factor #6

Greetings one and all. Thanks for joining Mr. Reilly and I for another edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. We move into September and back into drama with a look at a character I’ve only very recently been introduced to.

This month, I have to be honest, is a rather random selection. I’ve been patiently waiting for an opportunity to get to some of his bigger roles, like the glaring omission I still have in the form of his part in Gangs of New York. Perhaps there are other roles he has that I haven’t seen that are a bit more substantive than the last couple I’ve focused on. If anyone has suggestions, I’d glad to hear them and see where I can go next month. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

John C. Reilly as Dan Brown in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Dan Brown fits the profile of a typical 1950s husband. The sole breadwinner of the household, he goes off to work each morning at 8 to come home to a wife and child around 5. Soft-spoken, polite and generally easygoing, he seems a perfect gentleman. But beneath the surface there’s an emotional coldness about him, as Dan has been maintaining a distance between himself and his wife for some time. It has gotten to the point where he’s oblivious to his wife Laura’s increasing dissatisfaction with her lot in life as a housewife. On the occasion of his birthday, all Dan can say is how thankful he is of having a loving, caring wife. Whether he’s aware of quite how disturbed Laura has become being left alone at home all day every day, isn’t very clear. But if Dan says he’s happy then that’s all that matters, right?

If you lose JCR, the film loses: . . . not much. I don’t want to say Reilly is miscast here but he could certainly be replaced by just about anyone in this role. Dan is so peripheral he almost doesn’t matter. I watched this movie with the impression he had a much bigger role to play but this particular character simply does not bear much weight on the overall narrative. And it is certainly not a knock against Stephen Daldry’s drama. His film relies far more on the strengths of its female leads than those of the males, hence Reilly’s skill set isn’t really ever put on full display.

That’s what he said: “The thought of this life, that’s what kept me going. I had an idea of our happiness.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Dope

Release: Friday, June 19, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Rick Famuyiwa

Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa

Rick Famuyiwa’s Sundance darling isn’t particularly revelatory filmmaking, but it’s much more intelligent than its dopey title suggests, rejecting racial stereotypes and erasing cultural gaps as confidently as it embraces its young leading trio as a righteous symbol of individualism.

Dope channels an infectious spirit à la executive producer Pharrell Williams’ hit single ‘Happy’ via a cast brimming with fresh, relatively undiscovered talent, evolving its giddy comedic approach through a series of misadventures experienced by three geeky teens growing up in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood referred to as “The Bottoms” — translated geographically, Inglewood.

There’s Malcolm (newcomer Shameik Moore), who’s trapped in the ’90s with his flat-top haircut and loud clothing; Diggy (22-year-old Kiersey Clemons in her first big screen role), a lesbian who cares not for what anyone thinks about her preference for dressing a little differently; and Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s very own Tony Revolori), who may seem like a misfit but his 14% African blood speaks for itself, thank you very much. The threesome jam in a punk-rock band and are very close, but the film places extra emphasis on Malcolm as his investment in academics and in trying to get into Harvard make for a character that shames most archetypal movie teens. He’s focused on what’s most important to him, while trying to avoid ending up on the wrong street corner at the wrong time.

One afternoon he’s not so lucky, targeted by A$ap Rocky’s Dom as he bikes home from school down a particularly dangerous street. The encounter introduces Malcolm to a whole new world he’s woefully ill-equipped to deal with, a world where drugs, violence and gang affiliation reign supreme. When his delicate flirtations with Dom’s former flame Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) grant him admission into a club party, he ends up with some precious cargo in his school bag, subjugating him and his friends to the kind of sudden attention no one wants or needs.

Dope is sheltered comfortably under the ‘coming-of-age’ umbrella, making quick work of establishing an environment which its oddball characters desperately need to outgrow and move away from. Contrary to the relationship Malcolm shares with his geeky friends, it is with Nakia whom he chases the same light at the end of the tunnel. They both are college-bound hopefuls, though unfortunately Nakia’s aspirations hardly take center stage or much of the stage at all. The negligence doesn’t come at the cost of the film’s enjoyability, though Dope‘s failure to fully develop Malcolm’s female equivalent is a backwards step given its adherence to creating real people in real environments. Ultimately, Kravitz fulfills the requirements of a slightly less obvious token girl, one whose preference for book-smart boys rather than the street-wise thugs she’s surrounded by isn’t enough to escape cliché.

Nonetheless, and despite strong supporting performances, Moore’s fish-out-of-water remains the driving force behind Dope‘s emphasis on individuality. Malcolm, determined to put “The Bottoms” behind him, ironically turns to dope-dealing as a way to rid himself of the contents of his bag. Handing the bag over to the proper authorities is obviously out of the question. The narrative devotes most of its time to the boy desperately attempting to dispose of the stigma of a misled youth possessing illicit drugs and weapons. One scene in particular brilliantly showcases how close Malcolm comes to succumbing to stereotypes. Fortunately, the incident is a rare blemish on an otherwise thoroughly endearing character.

It’d be more accurate to describe the moment as Dope‘s most piercing truth about human nature, on how certain societal pressures render even the most strong-willed susceptible to change. Malcolm, even with his myriad rare qualities — you know, the kind that afford him a daily ass-beating in school hallways — is far from a role model. One of the more ridiculous but oddly satisfying cultural probes is this group’s fascination with talking as though they were from the street. They constantly refer to ‘bitches’ and ‘dope’ despite their physical appearance indicating they’ve rarely (if ever) been in tough circles, at least up until this moment wherein they’ve been forced to conform to them.

Dope‘s vibrant characters brushing shoulders with the brutal realities of street life in particularly impoverished communities like “The Bottoms” makes for surprisingly entertaining viewing. The title may betray Famuyiwa’s seriousness of purpose, but there’s no denying the dynamic energy and off-beat, charming performances from his young stars do its coming-of-age themes justice.

Recommendation: To belabor the point, the film’s title is unfortunate. It’s likely going to have a negative effect on attendance. Although, its wide release is exciting and the sharp wit and incredibly fun characters deserve to be seen by far more than those who are actually going to spend the money on a theater viewing. Anyone up for an alternative to this weekend’s major Pixar release ought to take a chance on this one.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

Quoted: “Some brother really needs to invent an app like Ways to Avoid All These Hood Traps.”

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JCR Factor #3

The month of June brings you the third edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

Part of the fun of creating this feature is getting to prove the versatility of this particular performer. There’s a reason I went with JCR and today’s edition proves it. We leap from drama to comedy here. I hope you enjoy.

John C. Reilly as Dale Doback in Adam McKay’s Stepbrothers.

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Comedy

Character Profile: The dictionary definition of ‘man-child’ has a picture of Dale Doback beside it. Dale is in his forties and living at home with his father, refusing to accept growing up as a part of life. He’s immune to getting a job as well as a haircut or a girlfriend or anything resembling responsibility. His life is upturned when his man-child equal in Will Ferrell’s Brennan Huff moves into his home after both their parents marry.

If you lose JCR, the film loses: the comedic chemistry that gives the film a purpose. Will Ferrell is good but the film wouldn’t be as funny if he were paired with someone else. Stepbrothers isn’t a career highlight for a man who can move in and out of genres without effort, though it stands to reason John C. Reilly showed up on set and dedicated himself to Adam McKay and company, issuing forth a suitably ridiculous performance that champions the apathetic’s fantasy of floating through life aimlessly. Together, he and Ferrell make an adopted sibling duo that’s at once completely over-the-top and strangely realistic. When the going gets rough, the inane get going (at each other’s throats). McKay’s story is funny, sure, but it’s Reilly’s chemistry with Ferrell that makes Stepbrothers memorable at all.

That’s what he said: “Dad, we’re men. That means a few things. We like to shit with the door open; we talk about p*ssy; we go on riverboat gambling trips; we make our own beef jerky. That’s what we do, and now that is all wrecked!”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Photo credits: http://www.pandawhale.com 

The Franco Files #10

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Welcome to November, and the second-to-last edition of The Franco Files!*

You know what? I’ll just spare you the time of looking around on the page for an explanation for that asterisk that sits naggingly in the previous sentence and just explain right here: it basically indicates that this is pretty much the end of TFF in the form we currently know it. I am still not yet sure what I will do after this or with what actor/actress I might go with. In fact I’m thinking of drafting up a list of five to ten people and letting you guys decide who I should shine the spotlight on next.

I’ve really enjoyed doing this feature and hope you have enjoyed reading along. I probably haven’t said much about Franco that you haven’t known already, but maybe. . .just maybe. . . I have drawn attention to some of the things he’s helped create that some of you may not have known about before. And if there’s any justice in the world of movie blogging, this feature has served its purpose thus far; it should now be abundantly clear to my readers that I dig what Franco has been doing and hopefully will continue to do with his career.

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Francophile #10: Mr. B, Palo Alto

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Everyone loves Coach B. Well, a lot of the girls on the Palo Alto High varsity soccer team do, anyway. He’s a nice guy and more than a little flirtatious with a few of them, in particular the pretty but ambivalent April (Emma Roberts). His laid-back attitude and nonchalance about his inability to separate professional and personal capacities will envelop him in a dodgy, clandestine relationship with a student. Mr. B is a shady character whose personality allows him to stay just on the periphery of being unlikable. 

If you lose Franco, the film loses: Franco’s somehow-charming sleaziness. It works wonders with this morally questionable school employee, a role in which he’s never actually considered himself fit to play. Trust me when I say that this is the kind of role tailor-made for those lining Franco up in their crosshairs, ready to snipe criticism at him left and right for exhibiting a school notebook’s worth of despicable character traits. All formal complaints leveled against his character’s actions and decisions are understandable, but if you were to ask this reviewer no one else could do Mr. B better than James Franco.  

Out of Character: “I had just assumed I wasn’t going to be in it. [Gia] had been talking to me about other actors for the role of Mr. B. And then after talking to me about other people for about a month, running names by me, she finally said to me, ‘You know I’ve always wanted you to be in it, you’ve been one of my favorite actors since Freaks & Geeks,’ and I thought maybe she’s just buttering me up to play the slimeball. Up to that point I’d done everything possible to help them make the movie, including helping them find financing and everything, so I wasn’t going to say no, I’m not going to be the bad guy. Also, I wasn’t ignorant of the fact that she comes from a Hollywood family, and probably in the back of my head I thought that if anybody has film-making in her blood, it’s gotta be Gia.” 

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 

3-5


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Photo credits: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com

The Franco Files #9

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Welcome to October, and the ninth edition of The Franco Files! I suppose now would be a good time to make the announcement. I have decided that I will officially end this thread in December, effectively concluding this feature as we currently know it with 11 entries on December 10. I would continue into next year, but there are a few reasons I’d like to bring this to an end.

First and foremost, I have covered a good bit of ground with James Franco already. At this point I think most of the entries are going to be turning towards discussing new roles (there are a few old ones I would have probably overlooked), so I think it’d be best to keep this as a look back at what he’s done, rather than a constant update on his new stuff. There are regular reviews for that. 🙂 Secondly, there are too many other actors/actresses I would like to shine a spotlight on as well so unfortunately James’ time in the light must come to an end. Third, I think finishing this particular thread in December just makes the most sense. My only regret is not starting it off in January, so that way I would have had a full year dedicated to this. Still, 11 months ain’t bad.

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Francophile #9: Will Rodman, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Drama/Sci-fi

Character Profile: Will Rodman is a scientist at the Gen-Sys labs, five years into a project aimed at curing Alzheimer’s, which his father tragically is succumbing to. He’s a hard-working, good man whose work ethic dictates decency, even if his experiment would ultimately lead to a global catastrophe in the form of the simian flu (code-named ALZ-112 in the lab). Under Rodman’s direction, an ape imported from Africa is injected with the virus to ascertain if the brain really does heal itself. When it’s later discovered in another ape — a baby chimp Will takes home — to actually do just that, plus generate increased levels of intelligence and awareness, the next logical step is to apply it to the human brain. Will concocts a stronger version of the 112 formula and labels it 113, and then injects his increasingly despondent father with it, with disastrous consequences. With Will there are many questionable tactics used but ultimately, and given everything that goes down in Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ brilliant sequel, of course we know that he didn’t mean for any of this to happen. As his bond with Caesar (the baby chimp he saved from death at the hands of scientists wanting to shut down the experiment at Gen-Sys) matures and evolves to the point of a heartbreak, we know this to be true.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: the reason why we care about Caesar in this film. Mr. Franco puts in some hard work to effect a strong relationship forged between man and ape, and in writing that sounds ridiculous but on-screen Franco, man oh man does he sell it. While it really is more about how Andy Serkis is able to capture our hearts that makes the film such a unique experience (that and the top-grade CGI), the basis for Caesar’s ultimate trajectory stems from how he was treated before he truly knew what and who he was. We have to thank Franco for giving Will Rodman enough gravitas to care about him as well as the ape. 

Out of Character: “While we’re acting, [Andy]’s not in an ape suit, he’s in these gray pajama-looking things with censors all over his body and these dots on his face that will help the effects team read his expressions on the computer, so that everything that Andy is doing is captured. So you would think that acting opposite someone like that and trying to think of them as a chimpanzee would be difficult. But, from the first scene we had together on, it[s] easy, because Andy is so good at the behavior and he’s so connected to what he’s doing and — you know, the other actors — that he allows my imagination to take over, and I really can treat him as if he were a chimpanzee.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

3-5


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