Over the past decade, actress Katherine Waterston has built up a solid filmography of work that had made her one of the most eclectic and reliable performers around. After years of theater work and taking meaty supporting roles in such films as Michael Clayton (her first film), Taking Woodstock, Robot & Frank (as well as a semi-regular role on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), she made an impressive showing as Shasta Ray Hepworth in writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2014 marvel Inherent Vice, which effectively opened the flood gates for Waterston to take roles in Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth, Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, and in Jonah Hill’s directing debut Mid90s, in rapid succession. But it’s her work as young witch (and agent for the Magical Congress of the United States of America) Tina Goldstein in 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and last year’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald that have garnered her worldwide attention.
Between her Potterverse obligations, Waterston has managed to squeeze in a few smaller-scale movies, including her current release State Like Sleep, from writer-director Meredith Danluck (North of South, West of East), in which she plays a woman whose actor husband (Michiel Huisman) died unexpectedly a year earlier and she is only now dealing with the emotional consequences. The film co-stars Michael Shannon as an unexpectedly helpful neighbor, and Luke Evans as her husband’s oldest friend. The piece begins as a mystery but turns into a genuinely moving film about grief and coping, and it’s these hidden themes that particularly intrigued Waterston about the role.
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When /Film last spoke with John C. Reilly, it was for the recent alternative western The Sisters Brothers, in which he co-starred opposite Joaquin Phoenix. At the end of that interview, Reilly did briefly discuss the narrower focus of his current film, the Laurel & Hardy biopic Stan & Ollie, which centers on a months-long tour the comedy team took throughout Great Britain and Ireland, transforming some of the classic bits (and some newly written ones) into live routines for the stage. By all accounts (including the movie), the tour was a rousing success after a rocky start, all of which is documented in the film, directed by Jon S. Baird.
With the impressive assistance of some flawlessly applied prosthetic makeup and a body suit, Reilly plays Oliver Hardy to Steve Coogan’s Stan Laurel, who shared a decades-long comedy partnership and friendship that was certainly tested by their failing film career and a fairly relentless touring schedule. Reilly and Coogan learned the routines, rehearsed the hell out of carefully crafted jokes, and their commitment to the performances is what raises the film above the level of the standard-issue Hollywood biography.
Reilly talked to /Film about his daily transformation regimen (marking his first real foray into acting with so much makeup), his partnership with Coogan, and what he hopes people take away from Stan & Ollie.
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There are few things more satisfying than having modern-day actors pay worthy tribute to their legendary predecessors, and the easily lovable biopic Stan & Ollie, from director Jon S. Baird, is almost nothing but that, with Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly (along with some awards-worthy makeup) portraying arguably the greatest comedy duo in film history, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.
The movie documents a period in the later years of their career, during which the two are having less success in motion pictures, so they are forced to take their show on the road, for a series of live theater performances across the United Kingdom. The tour—as well as their advanced age and failing health—takes a toll on them and their decades-long friendship, but with the help of devoted fans and their loving wives (played by Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda), the team keeps their work alive and thriving.
/Film spoke to both Coogan and Reilly recently about the grueling rehearsal and choreography that went into playing these iconic roles, as well as their deep devotion to getting these characterizations correct, especially for the benefit of the die-hard fans. First up is the Oscar-nominated (for writing and producing Philomena) Steve Coogan, who began his long career in comedy playing the sniveling radio/TV personality Alan Partridge, but maybe most beloved worldwide for The Trip series of films (three and counting), with fellow actor Rob Brydon, during which the pair drive and eat across different exotic locations in Europe, under the direction of Michael Winterbottom. Stan & Ollie has been in limited release since late last year and is now open wide.
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Peter Hedges’ career as a screenwriter began by writing his first novel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, which he then adapted into a screenplay for the 1993 film. In the years that followed, Hedges wrote more books, plays and the occasional screenplay, including the Oscar-nominated adaptation of Nick Hornby’s About A Boy. In 2003, he took his first crack at being a writer/director with Pieces of April, followed four years later with Dan In Real Life. and The Odd Life of Timothy Green in 2012.
His latest work, Ben Is Back, is particularly important to Hedges for a couple of reasons. First, he gets to work with his son, Lucas Hedges, one of the busiest young actors working today (Ben Is Back marks his third film in the last two months, after Mid90s and Boy Erased), for the first time since Lucas was a youngster. And second, he finally gets to work with his all-time favorite actress, Julia Roberts, who plays Holly Burns, the mother of Ben, a drug-addicted teen who returns home from rehab unexpectedly on Christmas Eve, setting off a series of events that put both mother and son in great danger. The entire film takes place is 24 hours and tests the patience and resolve of everyone involved, including Holly’s new husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) and Holly’s daughter/Ben’s sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton). Part family drama/part thriller, Ben Is Back gives the elder Hedges a chance to work his creative muscles in ways he hasn’t as a filmmaker to this point in his career.
/Film sat down with Hedges at the recent Chicago International Film Festival to talk about working with his wildly talented son for the first time as an adult actor, the importance of being able to cast his favorite working actress in the lead role, and the thrill of turning a simple mother-and-son story into something of a chase movie. The film is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and is set to open wide on Friday, December 14.
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As much as Roma, the latest from writer/director Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity, Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También), is a barely veiled account of his childhood growing up in the middle-class neighborhood of Roma in Mexico City, in truth, it is the story of the two most important women in his life — his mother (renamed Sofia in the film and played by veteran Mexican actress Marina de Tavira) and Cleo (newcomer Yalitza Aparicio), the woman who raised him full time while also taking care of the house and his three siblings (based on a real-life woman named Libo). Easily his most personal and most intimate work to date, Roma finds Cuarón (who also shot and co-edited the film) composing a lyrical, breathtaking look at childhood, as well as the tumultuous times in the city in the early 1970s, which are sometimes only portrayed as background to the more immediate concerns of the family, which was actively being let down and broken apart by careless men.
Mexico’s official selection (and leading contender) for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards, the stunning black-and-white epic is filled with love and chaos, measured melodrama, a spectacular soundscape, and breathtaking performances from both lead actresses, who were cast by Cuarón using a very mysterious process that even they don’t quite understand. And while one of them is a seasoned performer and the other has never acted before, both give performances that are moving and beautifully authentic.
/Film spoke to Aparicio (who spoke through a translator) and De Tavira at the recent Chicago International Film Festival to talk about working with the enigmatic Cuarón and how the realization that they were playing characters deeply important to the filmmaker changed their perception of the overall film. Considered to be one of the finest works of 2018, Roma is in select theaters now, eventually hitting more than 600 theaters worldwide (including 100 in the United States), before it debuts on Netflix on December 14.
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Chicago native Ike Barinholtz has made a career out of scene stealing, from his earliest days as an improv performer with Improv Olympic and Second City (among others) and a cast member on MadTV in the early 2000s to bigger television roles in Eastbound & Down to The Mindy Project. In more recent years, Barinholtz landed sizable supporting roles in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Suicide Squad, Snatched, the Netflix film Bright, and a very funny turn in Blockers earlier this year.
But his latest work, The Oath, not only features his largest role to date, but it also marks his debut as a writer/director of a film that is part dark comedy, part family drama, and eventually, part high-tension thriller. Set primarily over the 24-hours surrounding a Thanksgiving feast hosted by Barinholtz’s Chris and wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish, in a wonderfully dialed-back performance) at their home, the story involves the (fictional) president wanting every American to sign a loyalty oath to the country.
As the nation grows closer to the oath’s Black Friday deadline, tensions and conflicts are on the rise, and while the oath is said to be voluntary, those who refuse to sign are treated like criminals and traitors. Imagine that, and then put the pressure of preparing a meal the entire family, which includes Chris’s mom (Nora Dunn), brother (Jon Barinholtz, Ike’s real-life sibling) and his instigator girlfriend (Meredith Hagner), sister (Carrie Brownstein) and her sickly husband (Jay Duplass). The situation spins out of control when two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) arrive at the front door. The film feels timely, relevant, and works as a genuine conversation starter. More importantly, The Oath makes me genuinely interesting to see what Barinholtz does next as a filmmaker.
/Film spoke to Barinholtz recently in Chicago about The Oath and how much of it was based on real-life conversations/arguments amongst his friends and family, the inspiration behind the film “loyalty oath,” and how he made sure the film found ways to poke fun at both conservatives and liberals who watch too much 24-hour news. The film is now playing in select theaters.
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Not that I make a point of getting hung up on awards in general or the Oscars specifically, but it’s almost impossible to wrap my brain around the fact that actor Carey Mulligan’s only Academy Award nomination was for her breakthrough performances as young Jenny Mellor in 2009’s An Education. Considering her fine work in such films as Public Enemies, Brothers, Never Let Me Go, Drive, Shame, Inside Llewyn Davis (this one might hurt the worst), Far from the Madding Crowd, Suffragette, and last year’s exceptional Mudbound, Mulligan has been so reliable in so many different types of roles that perhaps we’re guilty of taking her for granted.
Debuting at Sundance at the beginning of the year, her latest movie, Wildlife, marks the directorial debut from actor Paul Dano, who also co-wrote the screenplay with longtime life partner Zoe Kazan, adapting it from the novel by Richard Ford. In it, Mulligan plays Jeanette Brinson, mother to teenager Joe (Ed Oxenbould), and the pair finds themselves living alone circa the early 1960s in Great Falls, Montana, when her recently unemployed husband Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal) decides to leave home to fight wildfires hundreds of miles away. The film is told largely from Joe’s perspective but the light it shines of Jeanette allows not only for Mulligan to turn in one of the finest performances of her career but also for her to sculpt a flawed characters put in an impossible situation, allowing her to make mistakes that she owns, resulting in one of the most progressive and provocative dramas you’ll likely see all year.
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Hilary Swank has been acting since she was a teenager, but it’s only been recently when she’s taken on the role of mother with a degree of regularity. In her latest film, What They Had, she plays mother to a troubled college student, played by Taissa Farmiga. But her real trial comes when Swank’s Bridget returns to her hometown of Chicago after a medical scare regarding her mother (Blythe Danner). Her father (Robert Forster) refuses to even acknowledge that his wife is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, while her brother (a very funny Michael Shannon, in full smarmy jerk mode) already has the paperwork ready to put both his parents in quite nice assisted-living facilities.
What They Had is about a lot of things, most of which are related to a family’s inability to talk about medical care, but bigger-picture dramas like the inability to please our parents no matter how hard we try and how we sometimes lose our voice and dreams by trying to live up to certain familial expectations. These weighty subjects courtesy of actor-turned-first-time-writer/director Elizabeth Chomko, who debuted the film at Sundance in January. The Chicago native based a great deal of the story on her own experiences returning home over the years, and Swank was especially keen on capturing that feeling of being a prodigal offspring, returning to the place that both shaped her and rejected her desires.
/Film spoke to Swank — a two-time, Academy Award-winner for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby — recently via phone about her connection to the journey her character takes in the movie, what made her trust and value her writer/director’s vision, and how great it is having Michael Shannon as your pretend brother. What They Had is currently in select theaters and will expand in the coming weeks.
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Certainly a work that will be discussed come awards season is Beautiful Boy, the latest from Belgian-born director Felix Van Groeningen, whose 2014 movie The Broken Circle Breakdown was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Beautiful Boy was adapted (by the filmmaker and co-writer Luke Davies) from the best-selling memoir of the same name by acclaimed writer David Sheff, as well as the companion book “Tweak,” by his son Nic Sheff, whose journey through drug addiction, recovery, relapse and survival serve as the basis for both works, each told from a unique perspective over many years.
Steve Carell delivers a strong central performance as David, with Timothée Chalamet (cast for this role before any of his memorable 2017 works were released) taking on the role of drug-addled Nic. The film also stars Maura Tierney as David’s current wife, Amy Ryan as his ex-wife (and Nic’s mother), and Kaitlyn Dever as Nic’s drug-buddy girlfriend Lauren, with whom he commits the ultimate act of betrayal against his family.
/Film spoke to Van Groeningen at the Chicago International Film Festival, where Beautiful Boy was the Opening Night screening. We covered such topics as how the memoirs ignited personal memories from his own life; casting Carell and Chalamet; and his warning/message of hope in the film’s final moments. The film is currently in limited release, opening wider over the next few weeks.
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It’s practically undeniable that Chicago-born actor John C. Reilly is one of the most beloved actors on the face of the earth, from his frequent character work in the early films of Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) to his more dramatic takes in The Hours and We Need To Talk About Kevin to his frequent pairings with Will Farrell, including Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, and the upcoming Holmes & Watson. Reilly is a utilitarian performer, who is impossible to typecast because he can do it all. Before the end of 2018, in addition to playing Dr. Watson, we’ll hear him as the voice of video game character Ralph in Ralph Breaks the Internet and take on one half of another great team, playing Oliver Hardy to Steve Coogan’s Stan Laurel in Stan & Ollie.
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