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Posts Tagged ‘Elisabeth Moss’

Michael Stuhlbarg, Elisabeth Moss

“SHIRLEY” My rating: B- (Now streaming on Hulu)

107 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Shirley” is a fairly unpleasant viewing experience made mandatory by yet another jaw-dropping Elisabeth Moss peformance.

In Josephine Decker’s film (adapted by Sarah Gubbins from Susan Scarf Merrell’s novel) Moss plays Shirley Jackson, the modern American master of the macabre (among her works were the novel The Haunting of Hill House and “The Lottery,” described here by Jackson as “the most reviled short story in the history of The New Yorker” ).

Set in the late 1940s in North Bennington VT, where Jackson’s husband Stanley Hyman was on the faculty of the then all-female Bennington College, the film catches the author in one of her periodic depressive phases, unable to write and terrified to leave her house.  At the time Jackson would have been in her early 30s, but for dramatic purposes (the film is more a fantasia than an historic recreation) she here appears to be in late middle age — bloated, blotchy, hair atangle.

It’s an impressive physical transformation Moss gives us; equally daunting is the personality she offers, a brilliant mind given to moody terrors but still capable of eviscerating anyone who rubs her the wrong way or fits her parameters for intellectual mediocrity.

We explore Jackson through the fictional Rose (Odessa Young), who has come to Vermont with her husband Fred (Logal Lerman). Fred is to be a teaching assistant to Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg).  The young couple’s arrival coincides with the departure of the Hymans’ latest housekeeper, and Stanley coerces Rose into taking on the job.  The kids will get  room and board; Rose will cook, clean and be Shirley’s companion.

And whipping boy.

“She’s a fucking monster,” Rose protests of her new employer, whose madness most often manifests itself in meanness.

Shirley, meanwhile, is perennially being cajoled by Stanley — the very embodiment of professorial pomposity — to get out of bed and start writing.

“I’m going to get better,” she promises. “Starting tomorrow.”

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Lupita Nyong’o

“US” My rating: B+

117 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Humor and horror are strange bedfellows. Usually one negates the other.

But in “Us,” writer/director Jordan Peele’s followup to the spectacular “Get Out,” finds just the right balance between the goofy and the ghastly. The result is a horror movie quite unlike anything we’ve seen, one that mixes a family survival tale with supernatural elements and wraps it all up in a mind-boggling apocalypse.

All while leaving you chuckling.

The story begins in the mid-80’s when little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders away from her parents at a beachside amusement park in Santa Cruz. She finds her way to a creepy mirrored funhouse where she encounters her own doppleganger…a little girl who looks exactly like her.

Jump to the present, where the adult Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is vacationing with her family — husband Gabe (Winston Duke), teen Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and little Jason (Evan Alex) — at her late grandmother’s semi-remote house in the forest outside Santa Cruz.

After the creepiness of the prologue Peele plunges into a family comedy.  Dad is a big friendly doofus, the sort of guy who is always humiliating his adolescent daughter, who rarely looks up from her smart phone. Little Jason is a weird kid who goes through life wearing what looks like a snarling gorilla mask.

As for mother Adelaide…well, she does the usual mom stuff. But being so close to the scene of her childhood trauma — after which she didn’t speak for months — has her cringing.  A trip to the beach finds her suppressing hysteria despite the presence of old friends Kitty and Josh (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker) and their twin teen daughters.

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Annette Bening

“THE SEAGULL” My rating:B-

98 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the new movie version of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull”…save that it is a movie.

Call me old-fashioned, but I believe Chekhov was meant to be seen on the stage, where the only thing between the audience and the storytellers is air.  By its very technological nature, film has a way of distancing us from the immediacy of Chekhov’s characters.

That said, this “Seagull,” directed by Michael Mayer and featuring an impressively strong cast, will serve as an introduction — a  limited introduction that hints at the greatness revealed when one views this play in the flesh.

Set on a wooded Russian estate at the turn of the last century, Chekhov’s tale studies a handful of individuals engaged in a round robin of romantic frustration.

Irina (Annette Bening) is a famous stage actress whose current lover, Boris, is a rising literary star a couple of decades her junior.  Vain, pompous and absolutely terrified of aging, Irina is nearly undone by Boris’ obvious attraction to Nina (Saoirse Ronan), the fresh-faced daughter of a nearby landowner who has her own thespian ambitions.

Nina, meanwhile, is loved by Irina’s neurotic son Konstantin (Billy Howle), an aspiring playwright and short story writer so sensitive that he appears to be in a constant state of depression or anger.

Konstantin is worshipped from afar by Masha (Elisabeth Moss), who wears black because “I’m in mourning for my life” (she’s a real barrel of monkeys) and nips steadily from a tiny flask.

Masha is loved by Mikhail (Michael Zegen), an impoverished local school teacher.

Then there’s the good-hearted Doctor Dorn (John Tenney), who has long carried a torch for Irina; he’s the unattainable love object of the housekeeper Polina (Mare Winningham).

In other words, just about everyone in sight is in love with someone who doesn’t return the sentiment.

There are other characters blessedly free of the these romantic entanglements, especially Irina’s aging bachelor brother Sorin (Brian Dennehy) and the chatty estate foreman Shamrayev (Glenn Flesher). (more…)

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Claes Bang

“THE SQUARE” My rating: B 

145 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“The Square” is the equivalent of one of those modern art installations where you wonder if the “artist” isn’t pulling everybody’s chain.

The winner of the  Palm d’Or at Cannes, this comedy from writer/director Ruben Ostend is so dry and droll that it’s often hard to know if we’re actually meant to laugh.

Our “hero” is Christian (Claes Bang), the director of a contemporary art museum in Stockholm that features shows with titles like “Mirrors and Piles of Gravel.” Prominent in the fiftyish Christian’s skill set is an ability to explain far-out conceptual art to the old rich folk who keep the museum afloat. He’s pretty good at schmoozing and coming up with deep intellectual underpinnings for the goofy displays his institution embraces.

The film follows Christian over several days during which he’s dealing with a new installation. “The Square” is just that…an illuminated square set in the cobblestones of the plaza in front of the museum. A plaque embedded in the courtyard describes the square as “a sanctuary of trust and caring”; it’s meant to be a place where the city’s homeless (and Stockholm apparently has an unlimited supply) can take shelter and interact with their more privileged brethren.

This project is more idealistic than realistic…most of the homeless people we encounter are surly and demanding and in their own way as entitled as Christian’s wealthy patrons.

There’s no real plot here, just a series of abusrdism-soaked vignettes depicting Christian’s professional and private life.

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Liev Schreiber as boxer Chuck Wepner

“CHUCK” My rating: B

98 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Watching a familiar actor utterly lose him/herself in a role is one of the deep pleasures of moviegoing.

Liev Schreiber makes that transformation in “Chuck.” But then so do Naomi Watts (a.k.a. Mrs. Schreiber), Elizabeth Moss, Ron Perlman and Jim Gaffigan.

The subject of director Philippe Falardeau’s bracing little film (the screenplay is credited to Jeff Feuerzeig, Jerry Stahl, Michael  Cristofer and Schreiber) is Chuck Wepner, the  New Jersey club fighter known affectionately/sardonically as the “Bayonne Bleeder” for his willingness to be beaten to a pulp.  (In fact, “Chuck’s” original title was “The Bleeder.” Wish they’d stuck with it.)

In 1975 the virtually unknown Wepner got a crack at taking away Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight belt in a bout conceived and advertised by promoter Don King as a blatant racial  confrontation.

Werner’s fight strategy was pretty simple: “I could’t hit  him. I figured I’d wear him down with my face.”

Wepner didn’t win, but he lasted for more than 14 bloody rounds against the world’s best, sending the champ to the mat once and losing by a TKO with only 19 seconds left in the fight.

Out in Hollywood a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone was so inspired by Wepner’s David-and-Goliath story that he wrote a screenplay called “Rocky.”

“Chuck” isn’t really a boxing film. Rather, it is simultaneously a fact-based yarn about the ever-widening fallout from the Ali-Wepner fight and a character study of a Palooka whose a brief brush with fame went straight to his head.

Schreiber’s Chuck, who narrates his story, is by most accounts a pretty average guy. He worked as a nightclub bouncer and as a debt collector for a loan shark, though his heart wasn’t in it. (“I was never good at roughing guys up. Too nice.”)

His wife Phyllis (Moss) is the family breadwinner, thanks to her gig with the U.S. Post Office. Chuck shows his appreciation by writing heartfelt doggerel about her virtues.

Eventually an admirer lands Chuck a liquor distributorship.  It’s an OK living, but it provides way too many opportunities to hang around bars and pick up other women. (It also provides an opportunity for a soundtrack filled with disco hits.)

The Ali fight provides Chuck with bragging rights and celebrity status.  Once “Rocky” becomes an Oscar-winning phenomenon, everyone assumes he must have sold his story to the  movies for big bucks.  In fact, Chuck didn’t earn a cent off the film.

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Tom Hiddleston

Tom Hiddleston

“HIGH-RISE” My rating: C+

119 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Duration is the enemy of allegory.

At 50 minutes Ben Wheatley’s “High-Rise” would have been a stunning achievement — a vicious, snarling, breathless satire of class warfare and social apocalypse.

At two hours, though, it’s a slog, one that very nearly wears out its welcome and ends up repeating itself like a 33-record with a track-skipping scratch.

Screenwriter Amy Jump’s adaptation of the 1975 novel by J.G. Ballard (Crash) bears more than a few  similarities to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and especially to the the recent cult hit “Snowpiercer.”  Just replace the hermetically sealed high-speed train with an equally isolated high-rise apartment complex.

We are introduced to this modern Tower of Babel through the new tenant, Liang (Tom Hiddleston, who seems to be everywhere nowadays: “I Saw the Light,” TV’s “The Night Manager,” Marvel movies).  An unmarried M.D. with more money than he knows what to do with, Liang takes an apartment about halfway up the 30-plus story edifice.

The tower has all the amenities of a decent-sized town: health spa, swimming pool, school, a traditional English garden on the rooftop complete with livestock. There’s even a grocery store that sells only generic products (“Thank you for shopping on floor 15”). Alas, the place is chilly and sterile, all poured concrete and glass. Which is fine with Liang, who has no furniture and never gets around to unpacking his boxes.

It quickly dawns on the newcomer that the building has a social pecking order.  Towering over everyone else in his penthouse is the symbolically named Royal (Jeremy Irons), the architect who designed the building and is forever tinkering with improvements meant to validate his experiment in social engineering.

Just below Royal are the wealthy aristocrats embodied by the sneering, pompous Pangbourne (James Purfoy).

Then come the mid-level residents like Liang and Charlotte (Sienna Miller), the salacious single mom whose bright young son (Louis Suc) is building what looks like a homemade bomb.

Below Liang are residents like Wilder (“The Hobbit’s” Luke Evans), an aggressive and rabble-rousing documentary film maker, and his ever-pregnant wife Helen (Elisabeth Moss). (more…)

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Elisabeth Moss

Elisabeth Moss

“QUEEN OF EARTH” My rating: C+ (Opens Sept. 11 at the Screenland Crossroads)

90 minutes  | No MPAA rating

The first shot of the ironically titled “Queen of Earth” pretty much sums up what we’ll be getting for the next 90 minutes.

The face of actress Elisabeth Moss as Catherine fills the screen in massive closeup.  Her mascara is smeared, giving her a raccoon-ish look. Her nose is red from crying. Her hair is wet and stringy.

And she’s angry/wheedling/pathetic as she hurls insults and accusations at her offscreen lover, who is in the process of dumping her.

Moss may be best known for playing Peggy, the office girl-turned-account executive in cable’s “Mad Men” but — as shown by her work in the miniseries “Top of the Lake” and indie films like “The One I Love” — she’s a fiercely adventurous actress willing to go out on the edge.

In writer/director Alex Roth Perry’s “Queen of Earth” she starts on the edge and swings wildly into the “out there.”

Emotionally bruised and battered, Catherine turns to her oldest and best friend, Virginia (Katharine Waterston), whose parents own a ritzy vacation lake house. The two women will share the idyllic place while Catharine tries to get her head together.

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