Tag Archives: Julia Stiles

State and Main (2000, David Mamet)

Something unfortunate happens during the last third of State and Main… Mamet realizes he needs a story.

He goes so long without traditional narrative elements—the film has, at best, a roaming protagonist and Mamet doesn’t do much establish the ground situation as hint at one for smiles. Mamet doesn’t go for belly laughs in the script, he goes for nods and smiles. It works better, since he’s dealing with cynical Hollywood types in small town America.

Of course, it’s small town New England, so he can make sure the town’s residents are all quite literate.

For the most part, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s independent playwright turned Hollywood screenwriter is the protagonist. State and Main, the non-comic parts, is about his relationship with townsperson Rebecca Pidgeon. It’s a good on-screen romance… very classical. Mamet doesn’t know how to really finish it, turning Pidgeon into a nice Lady Macbeth at one point, but it’s otherwise excellent. Both Hoffman and Pidgeon are great.

But there’s no bad acting in the film. William H. Macy’s, Alec Baldwin, Julia Stiles, David Paymer, Lionel Mark Smith, Patti LuPone… everyone’s great. Mamet—doing a really mellow story—does exceeding well directing his cast.

Oh, and Sarah Jessica Parker? Great. I always forget she can be really good.

Clark Gregg’s small town slime bag’s fun too.

Very appropriate score from Theodore Shapiro.

The only complaint, besides the finale, is Mamet’s lack of establishing long shots. He never sets up the small town besides on street level.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by David Mamet; director of photography, Oliver Stapleton; edited by Barbara Tulliver; music by Theodore Shapiro; production designer, Gemma Jackson; produced by Sarah Green; released by Fine Line Features.

Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (Joseph Turner White), Rebecca Pidgeon (Ann), William H. Macy (Walt Price), Clark Gregg (Doug Mackenzie), Sarah Jessica Parker (Claire Wellesley), Alec Baldwin (Bob Barrenger), Julia Stiles (Carla), Charles Durning (Mayor George Bailey), Patti LuPone (Sherry Bailey) and David Paymer (Marty Rossen).


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O (2001, Tim Blake Nelson)

The actor playing Josh Hartnett’s mother (and Martin Sheen’s wife) doesn’t get a credit in O. She doesn’t have any lines, doesn’t really make any noise, just looks down at the dinner table during a scene. But she’s a perfect example of how Nelson paints subtlety and sadness into the film’s canvas. She’s mentioned once more later, in this very deliberate scene showcasing Sheen’s emotional abuse of Hartnett. O has a lot of teenagers–in a boarding school–acting adult, but this scene with Hartnett and Sheen (Sheen barely has a visual presence and Hartnett has only one line), reveals these “grown-up” teenagers as the children.

While second-billed, Hartnett is the film’s protagonist. The point of Othello, as a character, is how uninteresting he is when compared to Iago. That observation should not discount Mekhi Phifer’s performance as the Othello analog, however. Phifer’s transformation into a jealous lover is all played onscreen in O… Hartnett’s just a psychopath who finally gets to express himself. Othello has to be a tragedy; even when Phifer lashes out, he maintains sympathy. Some of it works because Hartnett’s a great villain, but most is because of Nelson’s careful direction.

Julia Stiles, as Desdemona, doesn’t have the range Hartnett and Phifer do, but she’s quite good. Her death scene’s extraordinary.

Also essential, in a small role, is Rain Phoenix.

Nelson, cinematographer Russell Lee Fine and composer Jeff Danna create an amazing film. Nelson puts the responsibility for its success on Hartnett; Hartnett excels.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson; screenplay by Brad Kaaya, based on a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Russell Lee Fine; edited by Kate Sanford; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Dina Goldman; produced by Daniel Fried, Eric Gitter and Anthony Rhulen; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Hugo Goulding), Mekhi Phifer (Odin James), Julia Stiles (Desi Brable), Andrew Keegan (Michael Cassio), Rain Phoenix (Emily), Elden Henson (Roger Calhoun), Martin Sheen (Coach Duke Goulding) and John Heard (Dean Bob Brable).


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The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, Paul Greengrass)

The only good thing about The Bourne Ultimatum, besides Joan Allen, who can apparently survive (and fluorish in) anything, is how rabidly anti-Republican the film’s details get. The film’s CIA bad guys in this one are using the “war on terror“ to assassinate US citizens. I haven’t read an outcry about it, so I imagine it isn’t my being more adept at recognizing the parallels (or propagandizing), but rather the stupidity of American filmgoers.

But besides that aspect, Ultimatum is a heinous piece of work. For the first half, while nothing happens except a travel video, I kept thinking about Paul Greengrass’s attempt at cinéma vérité, specifically–if it’s supposed to be ultra-real, why is there a musical score blaring the entire time. I mean, it must have occurred to someone, right? I can’t imagine sales of The Bourne Ultimatum score are profitable enough to excuse an enormous conceptual mistake.

It soon becomes clear Ultimatum is following all the set pieces of the second movie (I can’t remember the title right now), only with different details. There’s even the part where the girlfriend’s going to die, only with minor deviations. Then Bourne gets to New York and there’s a neat tie-in to the end of the second movie and then it’s over after a chase scene. It’s not just absent any character development, it’s absent any palpable content.

Watching the film, having seen Matt Damon most recently acting well in Ocean’s Twelve and even better in Syriana, I realized this Bourne performance–absent any humanity–is really a Marky Mark impression. But not Marky Mark in actual films, rather Marky Mark in previews to his films. Or it’s Damon’s audition tape for Terminator 4. After the first half hour or hour or three days, however long the film goes before they get to New York, I kept waiting for Damon to act. And I’m still waiting.

Like I said, Allen is good. I agreed to see the film because David Strathairn’s probably never been bad. And now I can’t make that statement anymore. It’s not his fault; he’s just playing a Republican, so he too is absent any humanity. I felt really bad for him, it’s a considerable slight against his body of work. Albert Finney’s pretty lame too, but his quality resurgence is recent; there have to be some real stinkers in there over the course of his career. Allen and Strathairn really deserve a good movie (a good John Sayles movie maybe). Julia Stiles shows up for a bit and she’s okay. The character revelations about her and Damon are probably illegal but who cares. Scott Glenn has a small role and he’s awful. Greengrass appears not to care whether or not his actors act well. But if he’s missing the thing about there not being a musical score in real life, worrying about acting is a bit too much to ask.

The action scenes are generally terrible. There’s a car chase identical to the one in the second movie, there are some fight scenes (again, probably identical, I wasn’t paying attention–they’re trying to endure). The script’s not simply unimaginative, it’s particularly terrible. It’s obvious and predictable, with terrible dialogue and ludicrous character developments and reactions.

I didn’t expect it to be so boring, but then I didn’t expect it to be a rehash of the second movie either.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Greengrass; written by Tony Gilroy, Scott Z. Burns and George Nolfi, based on a story by Gilroy and the novel by Robert Ludlum; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Christopher Rouse; music by John Powell; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley and Paul L. Sandberg; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons), David Strathairn (Noah Vosen), Scott Glenn (Ezra Kramer), Paddy Considine (Simon Ross), Edgar Ramirez (Paz), Albert Finney (Dr. Albert Hirsch) and Joan Allen (Pamela Landy).


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