April 18, 2014

Articles By: Sean O'Connell

Sean O’Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print (‘The Washington Post,’ ‘USA Today’) and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN’s Citysearch) since 1996. He’s a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O’Connell Association (SEFCA).

George Clooney “lucky” for roles like “The Descendants” – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: If the 2011 Oscar race needed to be described in one word, I’d choose, “Uncertainty.” Despite strong showings by a handful of films – from “The Help” and “The Artist” to Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball” – no film has grabbed the proverbial brass ring and declared itself a frontrunner.
Last year at this time, Oscar pundits were debating “The King’s Speech” versus “The Social Network” (and both films, by this point of the race, had screened for critics). This year? Some are still holding out for the largely unscreened triumverate of “War Horse,” “”Extremely Loud and Dangerously Close” and David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
But George Clooney’s performance in Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” has stood above the fray from the minute this rewarding drama world premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September.
“There’s plenty to chew on regarding family connections, heritage, loyalty to one’s location in life, the cycles we go through when confronting death, and the challenge of being a stable force during trying times,” I wrote from the Toronto International Film Festival after seeing Payne’s film. “But Clooney’s an outstanding guide on this journey, and I’m confident we’ll see his name in the Best Actor race as the marathon continues.”
And so we reach the point where you can see what so many of us have been talking and writing about for months. “The Descendants” opens in theaters. It’s a special film. An honest film. It addresses personal issues, and offsets them with Payne’s quirky humor. And it boasts a jaw-dropping performance by Clooney, who somehow ignores every trick in his acting arsenal yet still wins our heart with a vulnerable side that solidifies him as one of our strongest working actors.
If you ask him, though, he’s just lucky.
That was Clooney’s message when he accepted the Hollywood Actor Award for his “Descendants” performance last month. It’s an extremely humble speech, one laced with wit and self-awareness. Just like the man, himself.
Here’s exclusive video of Clooney from that gala, as his latest film, “The Descendants,” opens in theaters. Could it be the first of many acceptance speeches he makes as the awards season rolls on?

In addition, we have “Descendants” interviews with Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, and the kid co-stars of Payne’s Oscar-worthy drama. It opens in theaters today, so be sure and check it out.
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Judy Greer talks “The Descendants,” Alexander Payne and the “crapshoot” of moviemaking – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: It’s not the amount of screen time an actor is given, but what he or she does with it that matters. Ask Judy Greer, who doesn’t show face until the third act of Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” but walks away with the drama tucked neatly under her arm.
And yet, I’m struggling to even tell you how Greer factors into Payne’s equation without diminishing some of her character’s impact. And it’s with that difficult dance – of what to reveal and what to protect – where Greer and I began our recent conversation on behalf of Fox Searchlight’s “The Descendants,” which has opened in theaters. Here’s Judy Greer:
HollywoodNews.com: I’m wrestling with how much we can talk about your character without ruining the bulk of the film.
Judy Greer: I know! And I just realized during my lunch break that I’ve been talking all morning, and now I’m wondering if there are things I shouldn’t have been mentioning. I don’t know! No one told me not to.
HollywoodNews.com: I mentioned something in my review from the Toronto International Film Festival about [George] Clooney’s wife being in a hospital bed, and was chastised for not including spoiler alerts in the piece. So let’s stay vague, and yet attempt to be precise. Tell me what you saw in the script that made you realize you wanted to do “The Descendants.”
I just wanted to work with Alexander, honestly. It could have been anything. It could have been a car commercial and I would have been excited. He was the main draw. The script was so intricate. I felt like it was a story I hadn’t heard before, and I thought that the way he adapted it from the book was seamless.
HollywoodNews.com: When you say Payne was the main draw, is that because of the voices that he gives his characters? Is it his sense of humor?
I just think that he makes subtle, well-rounded films. I’ve been a true fan of his since “Citizen Ruth,” which I saw in college. The stories he tells are quirky but real. They’re grounded. They are voyeuristic without being like a Dogma movie. There isn’t a handheld camera, but you do feel like you are in the world of these people.
HollywoodNews.com: I also feel that there are moments where his characters head down different directions and you almost wish they’d stop.
Yeah, [...]

“The Descendants” co-star Matthew Lillard on Hawaii, efficiency and the “hype” of the Oscar race – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: He’s the “other man,” the guy we are instructed for the bulk of “The Descendants” to hate. (I can’t really tell you why, because to reveal too much would be to spoil.) And yet, in person, Matthew Lillard couldn’t be nicer. The guy who’ll always be Shaggy bulks up for a dramatic role in Alexander Payne’s new dramedy, where he faces off with George Clooney over … well, see for yourself.
I was lucky enough to interview Lillard on behalf of Payne’s “The Descendants,” which is in theaters now. Here’s Matthew Lillard:
HollywoodNews.com: The movie has a staying power. It is impacting audience members, and they’re left pondering the film’s impact for days. I’m wondering why you think that might be.
Matthew Lillard: I saw it for the first time two nights ago. And it’s been nice because we’re at [the New York Film Festival], and so I’m inundated with it. It’s so nice to be a part of something that you respect and love. And I think people are responding to it because it’s true. It’s honest. It blasts through the clichés of traditional moviemaking. And Alexander gets such amazing emotional results without abusing emotional moments.
And I don’t think you see that very often. No studio in the world wants to go out and make a movie about a mother of two children dying, with a backdrop of a Hawaiian land deal! [Laughs] Those are the subplots. That just doesn’t get made! So when you see something different, something original, and it speaks to you … all of those things vibrate.
HollywoodNews.com: Your co-star, Judy Greer, was telling me that even in the moments of filming “Descendants,” she couldn’t tell whether it would connect with audiences. And we started talking about how you might think a project is going to resonate, and it comes and goes with nary a blip. When you finally caught up with “Descendants,” were you surprised at how the threads meshed.
Yes, but with this, I was amazed about how Alexander was able to intertwine the comedy and the drama seamlessly. Nothing surprised me because I don’t think there’s a word in the script … he’s very judicious when he writes, and I think he shot everything that he wrote. And most of it is in the film. Very few scenes are cut. … He’s so clear with what he wants [...]

Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” picked to open the Plus Camerimage – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: Organizers of the 19th Plus Camerimage film festival – held each year in Bydgoszcz, Poland – have selected Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” as their opening night film. The adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning stage play, will kick off the fest on Nov. 26.
Polanski’s uncomfortably comedic drama stars Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and John C. Reilly as parents trying to smooth things out following a physical altercation between their adolescent sons. The Camerimage fest places its focus on cinematography, so expect Polanski’s cinematographer – the great Pawel Edelman (“The Pianist,” “Ray”) – to be recognized for his accomplishment in containing the “Carnage” action to one cramped, sun-drenched New York apartment.
In addition to “Carnage,” this year’s fest will screen Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” Steve McQueen “Shame,” Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights,” Ralph Fiennes’ “Coriolanus,” and the period rom-com “Hysteria” … all recognized for their striking visuals.
From the international circuit, Plus Camerimage plans to screen Asghar Farhadi’s “A Separation,” Agnieszka Holland’s Holocaust drama “In Darkness,” Aki Kaurismaki’s “Le Havre” and Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia.”
starring Kirsten Dunst.
The 2011 Plus Camerimage runs through Dec. 3. For a full schedule, visit the official Web site.
For complete Oscar and film festival coverage, visit our awards alley for the latest news items, reviews and interviews all season long.
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“Mirror Mirror” trailer takes comical approach to Snow White

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Once upon a time, rival Snow White pictures race toward theaters to capture audiences’ attentions with their unique spins on a classic fairy tale. A-list talents – from Julia Roberts to Kristen Stewart – lined up to participate. Which effort would be the fairest of them all?
Days after Universal’s “Snow White and the Huntsman” — starring Stewart, Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron – revealed its first action-packed trailer, Relativity’s planned “Mirror Mirror” answered with a clip that suggests broad comedy … particularly from its seven dwarves.
We have it below.
In “Mirror,” director Tarsem Singh (“Immortals”) focuses on an Evil (and jealous) Queen (Roberts) who sets out to drain Snow White’s lifeblood through what appears to be Bollywood song-and-dance routines. Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane provide broad comic relief as a prince and royal servant, while Lily Collins of “The Blind Side” plays the maiden Snow White.
Singh’s visual inspiration, according to this clip, falls somewhere between Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. But the tone of “Mirror Mirror” is completely different than “Huntsman” … and that might be good for both films.
“Mirror Mirror” will be in theaters on March 16, 2012. Here’s the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpLVO396eHs
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Kristen Stewart offered female lead in “Akira”

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: If I had to make a bet, I’d put money down that the live-action remake of the anime classic “Akira” will never reach theaters. Too many chefs have been jamming into the kitchen for years trying to improve on a perfect dish. Why bother?
But if it happens – and I say that’s a mighty big “if” – it might have “Twilight” starlet Kristen Stewart in the female lead. Twitch reports that Stewart, who’s still busy filming “Snow White and the Huntsman” with Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth, would play Kei, love interest of Kaneda, in Jaume Collet-Sera’s planned remake.
The site, which appears to have a source buried deep in the production, also says Gary Oldman, Helena Bonham Carter and Garrett Hedlund have been offered parts in the film, currently set up at Warner Brothers.
The actress has said time and again in interviews that she’s anxious to find a new, fresh franchise after playing Bella Swan for years. Yet as Twitch points out, few in the “Twilight” love triangle have been able to find a project that comes close to the mass appeal of Stephenie Meyer’s series.
Could “Akira” put Stewart over the top? Or will she already be flying high on “Snow White,” which reaches theaters next summer?
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Charlize Theron glares in latest “Young Adult” poster – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: Any time you’re able to make Charlize Theron look marginally ugly, it’s newsworthy. In fact, the last time she attempted it, she won the Academy Award for the hideous transformation in the serial-killer drama “Monster.”
Theron’s character doesn’t murder anyone in “Young Adult” (at least, I don’t think so), but she gives a glare that positively kills on the film’s new poster, which Paramount just put out (via InContention). We have it below.
The studio has been making the rounds with the picture, which reunites director Jason Reitman with his “Juno” screenwriter, Oscar winner Diablo Cody. It stars Theron as a self-centered princess who heads back to her small home town to win back her ex, even though he’s married with a child.
The story swirling out of the “Young Adult” screenings is that co-star Patton Oswalt delivers a jaw-dropping performance that completely goes against type. I see the film this weekend in New York City, and will be bringing you interviews with the entire cast and crew.
In the meantime, here’s the poster. “Young Adult” will be in theaters on Dec. 9, expanding to more theaters on Dec. 16. Bring baggage.

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Can Occupy Wall Street help “The Help”? – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: Reading stories this morning of the NYPD’s efforts to extinguish the Occupy Wall Street movement in downtown Manhattan, my mind turned to the ladies of “The Help.” The messages of the OWS movement might not be as unified as organizers hoped, and the causes have fractured to include too many personal agendas over the last few weeks. But the one thing that never wavered was the desire of the protestors to have their voices be heard.
Reflecting on the grassroots sit-in, which started in New York and spread across the country, I thought of Octavia Spencer’s character, Minny Jackson, who wanted little else than the basic human right to use a toilet. I thought of Emma Stone’s Skeeter, a person sitting in a position of power who heard the requests of the minority and decided to take the difficult road by doing something about the injustice. Skeeter’s hardly the 1%. But Stone, director Tate Taylor and novelist Kathryn Stockett made her something far more important than that. They made her a decent human being.
Can the Occupy Wall Street movement help “The Help” during this Oscar season? It’s possible. The film has what it takes from a critical and commercial standpoint to get into the race. And based on today’s actions in New York City, I’d argue it has the cultural relevance to make some noise in the ongoing awards marathon.
Taylor told me he never intended his film to be a Civil Rights picture. But “The Help” does shine a light on a period in our history where the culture was imbalanced, and a few people on one side of the equation risked a lot to tilt things back toward the center.
According to a recent poll on Gold Derby, the frontrunners for Best Picture currently are Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” and Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist.” Two worthy films. But step back for a minute. Payne’s film, in part, centers on a Hawaiian landowner (George Clooney) wrestling with a million-dollar property deal. And “The Artist,” while excellent, tells the story of a top-of-the-world silent film star (Jean Dujardin) who might have to move out of his palatial Hollywood mansion and stop dining in Los Angeles’ finest restaurants because the “talkies” are squeezing him out.
Can you relate? Can Academy members? When it comes time to vote. Films are going to need No. 1 votes from Academy [...]

Felicity Jones cast in Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Felicity Jones gives a raw, heart-on-her-sleeve performance in Drake Doremus’ Sundance hit “Like Crazy,” one which has triggered a breakthrough year for the young actress. While she has stayed busy acting prior to “Crazy,” the young-lovers drama is kicking open new doors for the fragile actress.
Warren Beatty, for example, has cast Jones as the female lead of his planned Howard Hughes biopic, Deadline reports. The Hollywood icon will direct the as-yet-untitled biopic from a screenplay he wrote. Jones reportedly will play a young woman who falls for Hughes’ driver before eventually moving on to the eccentric millionaire.
Deadline says that Beatty’s deep into the casting process, and might be considering Justin Timberlake for the role of Hughes. They also add that parts could be carved out for Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin and Owen Wilson, to name just a few.
Beatty’s film would begin shooting next year. Jones, meanwhile, recently wrapped filming another film with “Crazy” director Doremus. And she’s hoping to get some traction in the ongoing awards race for her tender, vulnerable “Crazy” turn.
Here we have exclusive video of Jones accepting the New Hollywood Award from Doremus at the Hollywood Film Awards, held last month at the Beverly Hilton.

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Meryl Streep is “astonishing” in “The Iron Lady” – AWARDS ALLEY

By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: British press who got their first look at “The Iron Lady” yesterday are praising Meryl Streep’s performance as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher while gently condemning the movie, as a whole.
Writing for The Guardian, chief critic Xan Brooks says Streep “is the one great weapon of this often silly and suspect picture. Her performance is astonishing and all but flawless; a masterpiece of mimicry which re-imagines Thatcher in all her half-forgotten glory. Streep has the basilisk stare; the tilted, faintly predatory posture. Her delivery, too, is eerily good – a show of demure solicitude, invariably overtaken by steely, wild-eyed stridency.”
No surprise. Sight unseen, Streep was determined to be the cream of this film’s crop, if only because you largely can say that about EVERY Streep film.
Most of us paying attention to Phyllida Lloyd’s pending biopic wondered if it had the weight to compete in additional categories outside of Best Actress. Is it a Best Picture/Director combo? Can Jim Broadbent work his way into the Supporting Actor race for his portrayal of Denis Thatcher?
It’s unclear at this point. All we know is that Brooks calls it “a movie that gives us Thatcher without Thatcherism. ‘The Iron Lady’ … opts for a breezy, whistle-stop tour through the unstable nitroglycerin of Thatcher’s life and times. The tone is jaunty and affectionate, a blend of ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘The King’s Speech,’ fuelled by flashbacks that bob us back through authorised history.”
“Breezy” and “jaunty” don’t suggest Best Picture contender. We shall see.
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