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Articles on this Page
- 01/21/09--22:29: _HBO’s ‘Big Love’ Lo...
- 01/11/10--08:04: _TV Review: ‘Big Lov...
- 04/14/10--09:04: _‘My Son, My Son, Wh...
- 10/05/10--12:24: _HollywoodChicago.co...
- 01/15/11--08:33: _TV Review: Stunning...
- 12/09/11--14:32: _DVD Review: Dramati...
- 07/11/12--11:10: _TV Review: Chloe Se...
- 10/17/12--06:41: _TV Review: Take Har...
- 05/17/16--13:53: _Interview: Director...
- 05/07/17--19:28: _Film Review: Life R...
- 10/16/17--07:42: _HollywoodChicago.co...
- 10/22/17--18:47: _Film Review: Stella...
- 01/21/09--22:29: HBO’s ‘Big Love’ Locks Viewers in For Season-Three Family Drama
- 04/14/10--09:04: ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done’ Inspires Genuine Head-Scratching
- 12/09/11--14:32: DVD Review: Dramatic Depth of ‘Big Love: The Complete Collection’
- 07/11/12--11:10: TV Review: Chloe Sevigny Stars in Daring ‘Hit and Miss’
- 10/17/12--06:41: TV Review: Take Harrowing Trip to ‘American Horror Story: Asylum’
- 05/17/16--13:53: Interview: Director Whit Stillman Celebrates ‘Love & Friendship’
- 05/07/17--19:28: Film Review: Life Reveals Itself Through Courses in ‘The Dinner’
- 10/22/17--18:47: Film Review: Stellar Cast & Director Fail to Build ‘The Snowman’
Television Rating: 4.5/5.0
CHICAGO– How does Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) do it on HBO’s “Big Love”? He has three beautiful wives, a sea of children, parents at war with each other, politics with a polygamist prophet and big business to control. And that’s just the beginning.
While several plots continue from season two and some are completely new in the third season, the plotlines that resurface make for especially compelling TV.
Guess who’s back? Ana (Branka Katic) – the love interest of Bill and Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) from season two – is all of a sudden dating the Henricksons and now Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) is the one encouraging it. Barb’s feeling change when she realizes what a new wife will mean for growing her family and how to do things on her terms.
Photo credit: Lacey Terrell
Margene really steps up the game in season three. She’s working with Bill on his Weber Gaming business, just had the newest baby, is pushing Ana through her polygamist fears and working through issues about her mother. She fully accepts the polygamist lifestyle with love and passion. The love she feels for her family glows.
With Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton) in prison, polygamists are all over the news.
This not only puts more pressure on the Henricksons to take extra precautions but especially forces Nikki (Chloë Sevigny) to look at her family. While she loves her parents, you can also start to see her struggle with how she grew up. Always sneaky, the pain and love pulls Nikki away from the Henricksons to her father’s assistance and then back again when she’s afraid she might hurt the family she loves because of who she is.
Everyone in season three is hiding. As usual, the family is hiding its polygamy, but they are also hiding from each other. Why is Barb in the hospital? Who does Nikki’s job really help? Where is Sarah going to school? Why is she crying alone? How does this all impact the kids?
Photo credit: Ron Batzdorff
The pressures of friends, neighbors and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) really come into play. The church separates the Henricksons with a map of the neighborhood. The Henricksons are listed as “inactive” while Nikki’s house is completely greyed out. Some of the neighborhood parents keep their kids away from the Henrickson kids and Nikki’s house gets TPed.
The story continues to enthrall with deep tension and seemingly never-ending plotlines. The real grab with this series is the push-pull the characters have with their lifestyle.
They bring you into a loving family that you root for even while you question it. You understand why they love and yet sometimes resent their situation. They see the pain that polygamy has caused so many in their family and yet they are also a part of it. You find yourself agonizing over their fears while being scared that their children will follow in their footsteps.
With brilliant acting, a rich story line and enough tension to keep you on your seat, it’s surprising “Big Love” has only been nominated for various Golden Globes and Emmy Awards with only one win from the BMI Film &TV Awards. Many have never seen this type of family story in any entertainment form. It’s fresh and still leaves you with a feeling of a normal family just trying to survive.
Photo credit: Lacey Terrell
If you have been watching the last two seasons, you can understand all the plot points and how they skillfully fit together. But if you’re just now tuning in, you may find yourself wondering what on Earth is going on. The writing and acting pull you into the story quickly, but with so many plotlines, you may need to go back to the beginning of season two to fully grasp the family’s situation.
One particularly compelling message the show conveys is how every situation your family finds itself in can lead to the same feelings the Henricksons find with themselves. Every society tries to conform, control or restrict how you may want to live. Bill left the rules and regulations of the compound only to make a family that’s not as strict but still with a very ridged structure.
If the kids decide not to follow that path, they may find themselves in a religion that points out their flaws for the whole neighborhood to see. While everyone judges everyone, we all want to fit in and belong to something larger than ourselves. We all have to decide what we’re willing to give up to fit in. How much does our family mean to us? We all hide who we are sometimes. Out of love, many of us choose the path that isn’t necessarily the best on paper.
“Big Love” is themed around a feeling that it’s almost impossible to get out. The HBO show never leaves the Mormon community. While you see the positive parts of being in the community, you can also feel the pressure that you cannot leave. In much the same way the characters in “Big Love” feel trapped, so will its viewers feel locked into riding out the entirety of season three.
CHICAGO– It took me some time to get on the “Big Love” wavelength. HBO’s controversial show hasn’t really been on my radar since its debut season, one that I thought featured a great cast but underdeveloped dramatic potential.
A few seasons later, with the fourth season debuting on HBO and the third just released on DVD, “Big Love” has found its footing and become one of the most intriguing and captivating dramas on television.
Television Rating: 4.5/5.0
With each passing season, the characters and writing as a whole of “Big Love” has become more confident and emotionally resonant as the characters have escaped the sensational trappings of the concept to become three-dimensional people. For the better part of two years, “Big Love” was “the polygamy show”. While the lifestyle of the Henricksons is still a major part of the show, the relatable human emotion has transcended it.
Photo credit: HBO/Lacey Terrell
Like a lot of HBO programming, “Big Love” is incredibly layered with characters but the focus is on Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) and his three wives Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), Nicky (Chloe Sevigny), and Margie (Ginnifer Goodwin). Just the extended Henrickson family, including daughter Sarah (Amanda Seyfried), son Ben (Douglas Smith), and Bill’s lunatic parents (Grace Zabriskie & Bruce Dern) would make for enough family drama for several broadcast network series.
Photo credit: HBO/Lacey Terrell
But the Henricksons are often the calm in the center of a religious storm sparked by the more old-fashioned religious followers of Juniper Creek, the compound where Bill was raised. Much of their life has been turned upside down by prophet Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), who also happens to be Nicky’s father, and his son Alby (Matt Ross).
Even that’s just the beginning with Bill’s brother Joey (Shawn Doyle), Nicky’s mother Adaleen (Mary Kay Place), Nicky’s recently returned daughter Cara Lynn (Casse Thomson), Nicky’s first husband JJ (Zeljko Ivanek), and Sarah’s boyfriend (Aaron Paul) playing major roles in just the first two episodes of season four.
At its best, “Big Love” is a brilliant blend of secrets and revelations. Like every family, the Henricksons have their secrets and the show seems to have become one about what can be forgiven. Who does the forgiving and how do we move forward? Bill is always trying to keep his family together against both internal and external forces trying to tear it apart. He uses ritual and sense of purpose to try and do so. A key exchange between Bill and Roman near the end of season three says a lot about the overall themes of “Big Love”:
“I’m doing this for the greater good.” - Bill
“As if there were such a thing.” - Roman
Photo credit: HBO/Lacey Terrell
Bill honestly believes that he is driven by higher purpose to keep family and his own set of rather traditional values alive against an onslaught of public condemnation and internal strife. Unlike a lot of people who talk a good game, Bill honestly believes that he acts in pursuit of a greater good.
That belief will drive Bill to make a drastic decision in season four - to run for the State Senate despite the fact that he lives an illegal lifestyle. While being pressured to take a more internal route to leadership within his sect, Bill realizes that he’s tired of living in the shadows and plans to hide his polygamous lifestyle until he wins the election and then break down the walls between his life and “normal society”. It should make for riveting television.
Meanwhile, the lives of the Henrickson wives are in tumultuous change. Margie has grown new confidence due to her successful business and Nicky’s life is still upside down, dealing with the return of her daughter and other drastic family changes.
The plot of “Big Love” is incredibly layered and dense but the show went from interesting to great in season three by giving the characters room to breathe and develop into believable people. And the actors were more than up to the challenge. Paxton is great and Sevigny often steals the show. The entire ensemble deserves praise with some episodes featuring a remarkable number of excellent older actors like Dern, Zabriskie, Stanton, and Ellen Burstyn. The young cast is just as good with Seyfried being an interesting enough actress that she could carry her own show.
Photo credit: HBO Home Video
But here she’s just part of the fabric of “Big Love”. And that’s what I love about it. Like the best of “The Sopranos,” it’s never too clear who will come to the forefront next. I expect interesting developments in the arc of Joey and his wife Wanda, JJ and his daughter, Sarah and her boyfriend, and, of course, Bill’s pursuit of leadership, but the writers of “Big Love” have pulled off the remarkable trick of truly memorable shows - being completely unpredictable and yet also believable. It’s easy to pull a plot twist out of thin air, but it’s incredibly difficult to draw characters so completely and believably while you do so. “Big Love” is one of the best written and performed shows on television and, after a real improvement in season three, I feel like it’s only going to get better in season four. Don’t miss it.
If you need to catch up, HBO recently released the third season of “Big Love” on standard DVD in a decent-but-disappointing box set. HBO Home Video led the way for so many years that it’s downright disconcerting how little they seem to care about the HD movement. Why not release “Big Love” on Blu-ray? And, if you’re not going to release it in HD, why give it such a lackluster standard release?
Of course, with only two to three episodes a disc, the actual transfer looks spectacular, but the four-disc set is shockingly light on special features without a single commentary track or extensive behind-the-scenes featurette. I understand letting a show speak for itself but this is extreme. The show is spectacular, the DVD set is so-so.
CHICAGO– When David Lynch came to Chicago for an “Inland Empire” screening back in 2007, he offered memorable advice to a moviegoer baffled by his work. He said that his audience should meditate not on the “intellectual experience” provided by his films, but the emotional ideas that they conjure. Meditating on anything else would prove useless because, as Lynch put it, “If you meditate on buttermilk, you’ll end up going to the dairy.”
Such advice may prove useful to adventurous moviegoers eager to get their minds warped by “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” a truly bizarre experiment forged by two of our greatest living filmmakers. It was executive produced by Lynch and directed by Werner Herzog as a sort of riff on Lynch’s work, while also delving into his own trademark obsessions. It’s as much a work of free association filmmaking as Lynch’s “Empire,” using the basic scenario of a true-life crime as its jumping-off point for exploring the human psyche. Yet while “Empire” was anchored by the emotional reality of Laura Dern’s central performance, “My Son” is populated merely by impenetrable curiosities.
|Read Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” in our reviews section.|
The plot is loosely based on a 1979 matricide committed by 34-year-old Mark Yavorksy, a San Diego man who excelled in both sports (particularly basketball) and theatre. His unstable behavior caused him to get kicked out of a UCSD production of the Greek tragedy “Orestes,” in which Yavorsky was cast as a son who slays his mother to avenge his father’s death. The line separating reality from artifice may have become hopelessly blurred in his head on the day that he stabbed his mother to death with an antique sword. Herzog interviewed Yavorsky before his death, and it’s a shame that he didn’t simply make a documentary about him. The auteur’s “nonfiction” work over the last couple decades has often been far more compelling than his fictionalized narratives (I vastly prefer “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” over “Rescue Dawn”).
Instead, Herzog imposes his own themes and beliefs on Yavorsky’s story, resulting in a picture that somehow feels both derivative and perplexingly abstract. Herzog has always had a boundless interest in dissecting the minds of men spiraling into madness, yet his characters’ motivations have rarely felt as tacked on as they do in “My Son.” His version of Yavorksy, Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon), is yet another Herzogian basketcase whose descent into insanity has been caused by his mysterious experience in nature. On a trip to Peru (the infamous location of “Fitzcarraldo”), a voice inside McCullum’s head tells him not to join his friends on their doomed kayaking expedition. After they perish, McCullum becomes hypnotized by his inner voices, and returns to America a changed man.
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?
Photo credit: Unified Pictures
CHICAGO– In this edition of the HollywoodChicago.com Hookup: DVD, two lucky winners will clean up with two DVDs from Magnolia Pictures for the movies “The Great Buck Howard” and “The Answer Man” plus a full-size poster for “Barry Munday” signed by Patrick Wilson, Judy Greer and director Chris D’Arienzo!
“Barry Munday” stars Patrick Wilson, Judy Greer, Chloë Sevigny and Mae Whitman and opened in theaters on Oct. 1, 2010. “The Great Buck Howard” stars Tom Hanks, John Malkovich, Colin Hanks, Emily Blunt and Steve Zahn. “The Answer Man” stars Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings.
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Image credit: Magnolia Pictures
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With this being Barry’s last chance to ever be a father, Barry reaches out and embraces the journey of parenthood and the onslaught of bumps that face him along the way. Filled with an ensemble of unusual characters, “Barry Munday” is the surprisingly heart-warming tale of a guy who finds it took losing his manhood to be a better man.
The movie trailer for “Barry Munday” can be watched now below.
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CHICAGO– As the credits for the premiere of the fifth and final season of “Big Love” started, I wondered exactly what I wanted from this year. Like Chloe Sevigny and most fans of the show, I agreed that season four was a serious disappointment, especially after the spectacular third outing.
Unlike the desire of most shows to go “over the top” in their last year, I realized that I wanted “Big Love” to come back down and focus on the central quartet of characters that make the show work. I am critically ecstatic to report that the season premiere of “Big Love” gave me everything I wanted and more.
Television Rating: 5.0/5.0
Season four of “Big Love” was cluttered, in large part due to an abridged season that forced the pace of the show off its rhythm. The result was closer to a soap opera than an HBO drama as every other scene demanded a major revelation because there was no time to waste. The writers never figured out how to balance guest stars like Sissy Spacek with uninteresting plotlines like Native American casinos and 12 episodes of action in 9 hours left no room for subtext.
As Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) says in the premiere, “It’s the moment we turn the corner.” Naturally, the premiere is about the aftermath of Bill’s decision at the end of season four to reveal his lifestyle to the world after winning a Utah State Senate seat and introduce his constituency to his three wives. If you thought that decision might end in acceptance, think again. In fact, the revelation first sends the family on the road into tents to avoid the scorn of the public and the press inquisition into “the infamous lying polygamists.”
Photo credit: HBO/Lacey Terrell
Once the tabloid storm blows over, Bill and his family return home to find anger turned to bitterness. Neighbors, business partners, and family members: No one seems happy about Bill’s decision, including both fellow polygamists and colleagues at the Senate, where he can’t be impeached or recalled but he sure can be ostracized and ignored. Life is a general mess for the Henricksons. The dramatic edge is that while most of us would probably write off a real-life Senator with three wives, we feel for Bill and his family and want them to find some sort of peace and happiness.
The three Henrickson wives respond to their new-found fame with different emotions. Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn), always the rock of the family, seems resigned to deal with whatever may come but hides a secret desire to rebel and break out of her routine by doing things like (gasp) drinking red wine. Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) has arguably the most-fascinating response, falling to anger at her family’s predicament, hysterically retaliating against a school bully who torments her son and throwing out wonderful lines like “I’m a bigger person now and I won’t go back to being small.”
Photo credit: HBO/Lacey Terrell
Of course, the always-riveting Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin) emotionally falls apart. It starts with deep sorrow over losing everything she worked for in her sales career and eventually becomes something closer to manic depression. Even Bill has a predictable-but-rewarding response, continuing to drive forward, speaking of things like a “reservoir of goodwill” that clearly isn’t there. Unlike so many TV characters, Bill rarely wavers in his beliefs. You may not agree with him, but TV doesn’t often present characters with such confidence.
The season premiere of “Big Love” is a thing of beauty. It is simply spectacular in its pacing, writing, structure, and every single performance. The writers wisely focus on the four central characters and the actors rise to the challenge. Sevigny, so great in season three, seems reinvigorated after a lackluster season four. Her misguided attempts to parent her blossoming daughter are fascinating given that Nicki is something of a child herself. Sevigny could be on her way to an Emmy. And Tripplehorn clearly relishes getting more to do than manage a casino. She’s always been underrated and particularly shines in episode two opposite living legend Ellen Burstyn.
Sissy Spacek is one of our best actresses, but she wasn’t quite the right fit for “Big Love” last season and the guest stars like Grace Zabriskie, Bruce Dern, and Zeljko Ivanek often stole the show from the central cast. The balance has returned this year with fantastic supporting turns from the great Gregory Itzin (“24”), Ellen Burstyn (“Requiem For a Dream”), Robert Patrick (“T2: Judgment Day”), and from familiar faces like Zabriskie, Matt Ross and Mary Kay Place in the first few episodes.
Very few programs have returned from a season as disappointing as four. The quality of most programs can be graphed as a peak and a steady decline. The thought that “Big Love” has another peak before we say goodbye to the Henricksons forever is a TV fan’s greatest dream come true.
As much as I’ve expressed my disappointment in season four, you’ll now have to see it more than ever since season three is simply one of the best of the ’00s and this one looks so promising. You’ll need to see the connective tissue and it was just released on DVD from HBO Home Video and Warner Brothers.
The nine episodes are included on three discs with typical HBO video quality yet one still has to wonder why shows broadcast in HD are EVER not available on Blu-ray. Hopefully, HBO won’t make “Big Love” fans waits like those who still dream of “The Sopranos” on the format and release the inevitable Complete Series set on Blu-ray, maybe even by the end of the year. It could be a great one for “Big Love” fans.
CHICAGO– HBO’s “Big Love” never quite got the attention it deserved. It’s the bridge from the “Sopranos” era of HBO to the “Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones” one that we live in now and the rollercoaster of quality in terms of seasons never allowed the program to really find a groove. I’m happy it existed. And I’m even happier to own “Big Love: The Complete Series,” a volume of quality drama to which history will be very kind.
DVD Rating: 4.0/5.0
The fact is that, outside of HBO, AMC, FX, and Showtime, you simply don’t see a lot of room for character depth of the kind crafted by the ace writing team behind “Big Love,” including Oscar winner Dustin Lance Black (“Milk,” “J. Edgar”). Quality writing is nothing without the performers to pull it off and not only did Bill Paxton, Chloe Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and especially Ginnifer Goodwin never get the appropriate critical or Emmy recognition but the extended ensemble proved invaluable over and over again with great turns by Bruce Dern, Graze Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton, Amanda Seyfried, and many more. This was a true ensemble, bringing to life complex, well-written characters. A truncated fourth season caused a dip in quality from the series-best third but there was something of value every single year. For TV fans in your family, this would make a stellar holiday gift.
Note: The fifth season was also released this week stand-alone for the people on your Xmas list who already have the first four. This set offers nothing new outside of what the five individual seasons provided in terms of special features other than a nifty slip case.
Big Love: The Complete Collection
Photo credit: HBO Pictures
Big Love: The Complete Collection brings together the series’ uniquely crafted story arc about modern day polygamists Bill Henrickson, his three wives (Barb, Nicki and Margene), and nine children as they struggle to overcome the myriad of challenges brought about by their beliefs, lifestyle and Bill’s entrepreneurial and political ambitions. The complete collection includes all 53 episodes from all five seasons, plus all of the extra features from the individual releases that offer additional insight into the Henrickson family dynamics. Features include “Inside the Episodes,” “Their Stories So Far,” “Big Love: A Balancing Act on Ice,” “Big Love: End of Days,” three pre-quels, three mini-episodes and audio commentaries.
CHICAGO– It’s difficult to describe “Hit and Miss,” debuting tonight on The Audience Network after the season premiere of “Damages,” exclusively on DirecTV, without it sounding horrendously cliched. Even the title is a pun on the double meaning of the final word. You see, Mia (Chloe Sevigny) is a hit woman, a hired killer. She also happens to be undergoing a male-to-female sexual transition — becoming a “Miss” if you will.
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
And as if the concept of a transgendered Irish assassin doesn’t sound bizarre enough, the show is more about family ties than mob ones. With all of these unusual ingredients, it makes sense to expect a tonally inconsistent disaster. That’s not what you’ll get with this smart program, driven by another great performance from the stunning Sevigny, doing her best work since the incredible turn she gave on the third (and best) season of “Big Love.”
“Hit and Miss” opens with a murder. The killer returns to her home after the assassination to change clothes and shower, which is when we notice that this unique-looking woman still has a penis (Sevigny bares all and was forced to wear a prosthetic male appendage). Just when you think that “Hit and Miss” is going to follow a unique character into the underworld of murder for hire, the show turns a corner and becomes, believe it or not, kind of a family drama. Mia learns that she has a son. And that her child’s mother has passed away, willing that Mia take care of not just her biological son but his three other siblings, who are not happy to have a new guardian.
Hit and Miss
Photo credit: DirecTV
It certainly sounds ridiculous — A killer trying to be a mother who not only fails to disclose that she’s an assassin to her new brood but also hides from most people that she used to be a dude. While it sounds like a concept that other writers and actresses would have driven into the ground, Sevigny actually finds the subtlety within this complex character. She’s fantastic, never allowing the melodrama to overtake the character. Every time the show threatens to get boring or cliched, Sevigny does something that doesn’t just keep your interest but surprises you. She’s the reason to watch — an actress who always seems completely believable in the moment, even when she’s wearing a prosthetic penis.
“Hit and Miss” runs six episodes stateside and there have been rumors but no confirmation yet of a second season. Take this chance to check out not just the most unique new character of the season but one of TV’s best performances of Summer 2012.
CHICAGO– When we got to the end of FX’s excellent “American Horror Story” and nearly all of the characters were dead, a natural question arose — what the Hell do they do for season two? Welcome to “American Horror Story: Asylum,” a completely new tale with some of the same ensemble from the first season but a new setting, new characters, and new story but the same goal — to rattle your senses and put you on edge in the middle of the week.
The first two episodes of “Asylum” are just as confident, fascinating, and startling as the first two episodes of “AHS” last year. Sure, I miss Connie Britton & Denis O’Hare but the new cast members click immediately and, most importantly, the creative drive here seems the same, arguably even more determined to give viewers a ride they won’t find anywhere else.
Television Rating: 4.5/5.0
My biggest concern about “Asylum” was that the show would lose one of the thematic elements that I loved the most about the first season — the emphasis on ALL three words in its title. People who don’t get “AHS” don’t understand that Ryan Murphy wasn’t just making a “Horror” movie. He was playing with “American” urban legends, the kind of stories passed down through the years in the Hollywood pipeline; the tragic tales that turn into Tinsel Town Murder Tours. Murphy used the history of a town in which men and women would betray each other on a dime for love or career and turned it into a new urban legend.
American Horror Story
Photo credit: FX
With “American Horror Story: Asylum,” Murphy seems to be delving even deeper into Americana by taking his story not only to the heartland but through several issues that defined this country at the turning point of the ’60s, including mental health care, reports of alien abduction, civil rights, gay rights, religious freedom, and the emergence of the serial killer. He weaves fascinating themes through a fabric of pure nightmare and does so in a way that those who can appreciate the thematic intent can enjoy it but no more than those who just want to see someone’s arm get ripped off in a story that features a character named “Bloody Face.”
American Horror Story
Photo credit: FX
“American Horror Story: Asylum” may open in present day as a pair of horny tourists descend on a rundown mental hospital to try and scare up a few of its ghosts with their lovemaking but most of it takes place in the ’60s, when the asylum was up and running and doing its evil best. Keeping the viewer off-guard immediately, the season premiere jumps from its startling open (featuring Adam Levine of Maroon 5) to a scene of a mechanic named Kit Walker (Evan Peters, who played Tate in season one) who has been forced to hide his love of his new African-American wife from a racist community. Before you can even imagine how this story will tie back to the asylum, Kit has an event that he thinks is an alien abduction and ends up being told that he’s not an average blue-collar guy but a serial killer of women named Bloody Face. He’s going to the asylum.
His arrival there brings a reporter named Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson), who wants his story and quickly discovers that things at this hospital are far from normal and her partner (Clea DuVall) becomes concerned for her safety. Patients like Shelley (Chloe Sevigny) are under complete control of Sister Jude (Jessica Lange), who runs the place with a fascinating combination of sexual repression, mental torture, and physical violence. The church, led by Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), have forced a sadistic physician, Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell), on the building as well. Most of Arden’s patients/experiments end up dead. Meanwhile, another sister (Lily Rabe) hides some dark secrets while another inmate (Lizzie Brochere) tries to be a friendly voice in the cacophony of misery. And, all of this hides the interesting fact that Zachary Quinto is billed as the lead but doesn’t even appear until week two as a seemingly noble doctor.
American Horror Story
Photo credit: FX
If “American Horror Story: Asylum” has a problem in its first two episodes, it’s a lack of a focused protagonist. Dylan McDermott & Connie Britton were our undeniable leads in the first season as the couple trying to mend burned bridges by moving to a house designed to keep embers aflame. This year’s show is all over the map as Peters first seems like the lead, then Lange, then Paulson, and then Quinto in week two. I have no problem with ensemble pieces but a show like this needs to give viewers a set of eyes into the madness, “good guys” to root for and identify with on our journey down the bloody rabbit hole. Luckily, I like all of these potential leads and so the narrative flip-flopping isn’t as much of a concern. Still, if it keeps up too long, the show could go from “layered” to “unfocused.”
The production values are, once again, simply stellar. “American Horror Story: Asylum” really looks like a feature film. Actually, I take back that faint praise that has been a common one in TV reviews for so long. The production values here are MUCH higher than most feature film horror junk like “The Apparition” or “The Devil Inside.” This is a show made by an incredibly talented team of technical experts from the design of the asylum to the editing that always keeps the viewer on edge.
And then there’s the cast. Jessica Lange won an Emmy for the first season and it seems likely that there could be another award winner in this bunch. Sarah Paulson, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, and Lange are the early stand-outs but there’s not a single character that feels miscast. I simply love the idea of a troupe of actors like this taking different roles and telling different stories every year with one singular focus — to show you something horrifying that you won’t soon forget. I won’t miss a single minute.
CHICAGO– Say the name Whit Stillman in certain cinema circles, and a rush of admiration soon follows. The director made a name for himself with his debut film “Metropolitan’ (1990), and followed with the same emotional pallette in “Barcelona” (1994). He is back with an adaptation of a Jane Austin novel, entitled “Love & Friendship.”
The title is taken from one of Jane Austin’s short stories, but the narrative is from her novel “Lady Susan,” published 60 years after her death. It involves the title character (portrayed in the film by Kate Beckinsale), a widow without fortune, who is looking to marry again to wealth, and wishes the same for her daughter. She visits the estate of her sister-in-law and brother-in-law – Charles and Catherine Vernon – in the hopes of making a match for her lovely child Frederica, or at least herself.
Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in ‘Love & Friendship’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions
One of the reasons Stillman’s film “Metropolitan” struck such a chord, is that it was a glimpse into the young society types that he knew in New York City. His ancestors were historically significant, and his politically connected father served in the John F. Kennedy administration. After graduating Harvard in 1973, Stillman worked in journalism and film distribution, representing Spanish language films for the U.S. markets (experiences which were later woven into “Barcelona”). After “Last Days of Disco” in 1998, it wasn’t until 13 years later that “Damsels in Distress” was released. “Love & Friendship” is his fourth film, and his first adaptation from another source.
Whit Stillman was interviewed by HollywoodChicago.com last month in anticipation of the Chicago debut of “Love & Friendship” on May 20th, 2016. The eclectic and mysterious director is as smart and philosophical as his quick-witted films.
HollywoodChicago.com: This is a comedy of manners…
Whit Stillman: I have to stop you right there. We had [actor] Stephen Fry on the set for one day, when he did his role, and he agreed to sit down for an interview about Jane Austin. He finally solved this terminology regarding ‘comedy of manners.’ He said it came from Latin, and the word is ‘moralis.’ So appropriately, it’s a comedy of morals. The word manners, for our culture, has been ruined by Emily Post – we think of manners of folding napkins, or which fork to use. So I like the term ‘comedy of morals’ better.
HollywoodChicago.com: Okay, that’s been a theme in your previous films. What fascinates you about the notion of clinging to something that people think defines their civilization?
Stillman: I’m for people clinging. I’m pro-clinging. [laughs] Our roots are clinging, we shouldn’t knock down so many old ‘buildings.’
HollywoodChicago.com: Often when people hear the name ‘Jane Austin’ they immediately thing of something that is outside their realm, or stuck in another time they don’t understand. How did you want to revive her, especially in the emphasis on her humor?
Stillman: She is brilliant, and her work is timeless. She was at the beginning of something, and when that happens I think the work tends to be more timeless. She began the novel as we know it, and somehow her novels are enduring, more so than subsequent novels of the same era. For example, I think Austin is read more now than Charles Dickens, and Dickens was much more popular in his day. She endures because of her classicism.
What I noticed when I adapted her works, is exactly what you see in the surface of her novels – the delightful delineation of characters and situations – but I also think in her work there are deep currents of story that are everlasting, and really work. In adaption, I found a strength and power that was really surprising. It was great to be able to work with what she created.
HollywoodChicago.com: One of the careful considerations for this film was casting. You cast two of the actresses from ‘Last Days of Disco,’ that you produced 18 years ago. What did you find out about Kate [Beckinsale] and Chloë [Sevigny] as actors that you didn’t see in the previous production?
Stillman: They have both become superb professionals. I did have a great experience with them in ‘Last Days of Disco,’ but for ‘Love & Friendship’ they were sensational. We had to work very quickly, but finished in 26 days on a 27 day schedule, because they – and everyone else – was so dedicated and so prepared when they came on the set. It was marvelous.
HollywoodChicago.com: You mentioned that this was the experience of all the actors?
Stillman: Yes. One of the problems of a director on the set is that we become overwhelmed by all the factors and threads of production, that sometimes we can’t focus on our main job, which is steering the performances to create the whole film. I remember watching an early scene, with Sir Reginald [Xavier Samuel] and Lady DeCourcy [Jemma Redgrave], and they crossed over and held hands. That was a total surprise to me – it’s the great stuff that actors add that I’m barely aware of on set. Experienced actors take the reins, and do what those characters do.
The overall reaction afterward was they enjoyed the shoot, because with a 26 day schedule, we were racing through these scenes. It becomes a lot better for the actors when we’re ‘shooting, shooting, shooting,’ instead of waiting around in a trailer for something to happen.
Kate Beckinsale is the Sensible Schemer in ‘Love & Friendship’
Photo credit: Roadside Attractions
HollywoodChicago.com: What was most daunting about keeping the story true to its period – even though this was stuck in certain era, it felt modern. What was the challenge of keeping the powdered wigs, horse-drawn carriages and excessive fashions in the background of the story, while maintaining the character of the era?
Stillman: It does seem daunting, doesn’t it? People talk about that all the time, and yes, hair and wigs were really worrisome. But everything else was fairly easy to solve and fix. There are tons of professionals to help out, and everybody is geared up to do their best job. It fell into place easily, and gave me a wonderful visual texture. It was a lower budget film, but we had a location where every room already looked great.
HollywoodChicago.com: At this point in your life, what is you feeling about your family’s connection to politics and history. What was your father’s attitude, for example, on the assassination of his friend and colleague John F. Kennedy, and how did it affect his worldview, and thereby your worldview, afterward?
Stillman: It was devastating for my father, and I think it eventually broke up my parent’s marriage, which led to a bad period for my family. It killed my father’s political ambitions. He tried to continue after the assassination, but Lyndon Johnson eventually got rid of all the Kennedy people. It was very depressing for him, because no one would tell him why he didn’t have a job.
It was short-sighted on Johnson’s part, because he disenfranchised all the Kennedy-ites and East Coast liberals, so when [Senator] Eugene McCarthy challenged his presidency regarding the Vietnam War, there was all this dry tinder of disenfranchised Kennedy people, and they all joined the 1968 Bobby Kennedy campaign.
HollywoodChicago.com: And that campaign was over when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.
Stillman: 1968 was a very bad year, with Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby’s assassinations, it was nightmare. My father and I came to Chicago for the Democratic convention, because he was an alternate delegate for Senator George McGovern. We were staying at the Hilton Hotel, and all the violence was outside the hotel. It was an emotional experience.
HollywoodChicago.com: What do the John F. Kennedy insiders think about the various theories on his assassination?
Stillman: We hate it. We hate all the nonsense. I was outraged by the Oliver Stone film, which is a horrible travesty. Everyone that was a Kennedy insider hated that film. I think it also affected my professional career. At one point I was thinking of casting Helena Bonham Carter in a film, and she had just portrayed Marina Oswald [wife of Lee Harvey] in a TV movie, and she was filled with all the conspiracy theory nonsense. I felt shy and nervous around her anyway, and I thought a way to get around this was to get into a tense debate with her about the JFK assassination. A nightmare like that leads to so many nightmares. It doesn’t end, it had so many consequences.
HollywoodChicago.com: Besides the Kennedy connection, do you have any anecdotes that illustrate your father’s interaction with U.S. History?
Whit Stillman, Director of ‘Love & Friendship’
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com
Stillman: I was just thinking about my favorite story this morning. It was about Adam Clayton Powell Jr. [the fourth African-American in history to be elected to Congress]. My father ran his congressional campaign in 1960. Powell came up to my father at some state convention and said, ‘John, you and I, as minorities, should stick together.’ And my father was a bit taken aback and asked, ‘what minority is that?’ And Powell replied, ‘The Protestant minority in the Democratic Party.’ [laughs] In New York State in those days, all the Democrats were Catholic or Jewish.
HollywoodChicago.com: One of the true fascinations for me, in regard to your film ‘Metropolitan,’ was its glimpse into a world that I knew existed, but never understood. In the process of building that story, what did you begin to understand about your life at that time that seemed so simple, but was clouded when you actually went lived it in the era?
Stillman: I don’t know if it became clear to me while I was building the film, but it has become clear in the years since its release. It was just that I happened to fall into a group of very funny people. It was a bit like living in a funny Jane Austin novel, I was given funny material.
The real person who inspired Nick Smith [Chris Eigeman] in the film, he subsequently became my favorite newspaper columnist in New York City. In the New York Times, he did an architectural column called ‘Cityscapes.’ It was a column about the history of New York buildings, and it just was the most interesting column. Since then, I found that many of the things the people in the film were talking about, they later became. I was lucky to have known them.
HollywoodChicago.com: You had a period between ‘Last Days of Disco’ and ‘Damsels in Distress’ in which your screenplays were not being produced. What was the most difficult time during that period, and when were you able to take the bull by the horns, which led to ‘Damsels’?
Stillman: I don’t know what happened to me in my London period. I had this notion that I could live in Paris, and take the train to London to produce my films. In many ways, especially critically, I was treated well in London, and I would get these commissions to develop scripts. But I couldn’t get the films off the ground, and there were a lot of humiliations, and a lot of things turned bad at once.
It took coming back to Los Angeles, and talking to my friends at Castle Rock [production company of Rob Reiner], and at the time it was run by Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer. I told Liz about this idea of girls with floral names at a mythical college, trying to find the right perfume. The loved the idea, and gave me the commission. This was right in the midst of ‘mumblecore’ [independent film movement], and when they produced it, it became a way to get my feet back on the ground.
HollywoodChicago.com: How did you get Greta Gerwig involved?
Stillman: Actually it was the Criterion Collection [art film DVD distributors] that helped me a lot. They had Chloë, Chris and I do the narration for the narrative track for ‘Last Days of Disco.’ Thanks to them, the Lincoln Center programmed a screening of the film at their theater. Greta Gerwig came and saw it, and became a fan. So when we were casting ‘Damsels in Distress,’ she was really interested in the project, thanks to that screening. It was one thing that led to another.
HollywoodChicago.com: Since you’ve commented on your era so profoundly, what do you think people born in the early 1950s learned about American that people born in subsequent decades never have learned?
Stillman: I don’t think so highly of my generation, so I’m not really sure about that question. We learned some bad things, and the Vietnam War led to some bad conclusions. We’re not the greatest generation, that’s for sure. In my father’s time – he was in college during many transitions in the late 1930s – they had great institutional loyalties…to his college, eventually the navy, the Democratic Party and certain ideals of our country. Those are the things that became broken with my generation.
CHICAGO– There is a peculiar and particular morality in the maneuverings of “The Dinner,” a multi-course meditation on how a tragic incident can split both opinion and family. Everything in the present situation has a below-the-surface past that festers like an unhealed wound, constantly causing pain.
The Dinner of the title is actually a meeting, about a secret that is being held together by the two couples and their children. Throughout the evening, the truth and sources of the secret breaks down, and is stripped away to an essence that is common to all families. The inhumanity contained in the situation is contrasted with the snooty restaurant, where the food is presented and narrated like it’s the last supper before the end of the world. But in a way, this hype is necessary to detach from the stark considerations the two couples face, and this pretentious dining absurdity creates a fake importance around the life-and-death heaviness that the past foundations of the family cannot support. In essence, the film gives everyone a chance to ponder it all, both the characters and the audience.
Paul (Steve Coogan) is dreading attending a dinner with his congressman brother Stan (Richard Gere), along with Paul’s wife Claire (Laura Linney) and Stan’s wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall). There is an incident that is between the two families, having to do with an incident on a party night between their kids that ends in a tragic circumstance.
As the dinner commences, each course is another stage of finding out about the relationships of the brothers, the couples and their families. Paul is particularly having problems with the evening, with his wife Claire acting as negotiator between the siblings. Bit by bit, the truth of the circumstance is revealed, which has repercussions for their careers and lives, which are unraveling during a meal costing over a thousand dollars.
Two Couples Meet in ’The Dinner’
Photo credit: The Orchard
CHICAGO– In the latest HollywoodChicago.com Hookup: Film, we have 50 pairs of advance-screening movie passes up for grabs to the new horror film “The Snowman” starring Michael Fassbender!
“The Snowman,” which opens on Oct. 20, 2017 and is rated “R,” also stars Rebecca Ferguson, Chloë Sevigny, Val Kilmer, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Toby Jones, Jamie Clayton and James D’Arcy from director Tomas Alfredson and writers Hossein Amini and Peter Straughan. Note: You must be 17+ to win and attend this “R”-rated screening.
To win your free passes to “The Snowman” courtesy of HollywoodChicago.com, just get interactive with our social media widget below. That’s it! This screening is on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. in Chicago. The more social actions you complete, the more points you score and the higher yours odds of winning! Completing these social actions only increases your odds of winning; this doesn’t intensify your competition!
Deadline: Entries can continue being submitted through Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 at 10 a.m. CST. These Hookup winners will be awarded via e-mail on that date.
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Here is the synopsis for “The Snowman”:
Michael Fassbender (“X-Men” series), Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation”), Charlotte Gainsbourg (“Independence Day: Resurgence”) and Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”) star in “The Snowman”: a terrifying thriller from director Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) based on Jo Nesbø’s global bestseller.
When an elite crime squad’s lead detective (Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter, he fears an elusive serial killer may be active again. With the help of a brilliant recruit (Ferguson), the cop must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall.
“The Snowman” is produced by Working Title’s Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner (“The Theory of Everything,” “Les Misérables”) as well as Robyn Slovo (“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”) and Piodor Gustafsson (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”).
A Working Title Films production in association with Another Park Film, the thriller is executive produced by Nesbø, Niclas Salomonsson, Martin Scorsese, Alfredson, Liza Chasin and Amelia Granger. The film was shot entirely on location in Norway in the cities of Oslo and Bergen and the area of Rjukan.
Image credit: Universal Pictures
This HollywoodChicago.com Hookup is simple! Just get interactive in our social media widget above. We will award 50 admit-two movie tickets based on social entry numbers and/or randomly via e-mail for our “The Snowman” Hookup. Good luck!
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CHICAGO– The biggest mystery in “The Snowman” is what in the world talented actors like Michael Fassbender, Chloe Sevigny, Toby Jones, and Val Kilmer are doing here in the first place. Fassbender’s character’s name alone should have sent off alarm bells. This is based on a series of detective novels featuring detective Harry Hole, and characters have voluminous opportunities to repeat it, although with nary a snigger.
Hole (giggle) is on the trail of a serial killer who strikes at first snowfall and makes a habit of dismembering his victims and turning them into SNOWMEN. It’s not that disposable pop pulp like this can’t be well made, it’s that it’s rare to see such a cornucopia of awfulness all in one place. Fassbender’s detective is supposed to be one of those brilliant alcoholic legends, but we aren’t treated to much in the way of brilliance. Instead, he seems to disappear on benders for weeks at a time and makes a regular habit of getting falling down drunk in ditches and bus depots. When he complains to a superior that he needs a case, the captain responds with a joke about Norway’s boringly low murder rate.
The Title Character is a Bit Frosty in ‘The Snowman’
Photo credit: Universal Pictures