Aniston of the week: We’re the Millers

Jennifer Aniston – an actor seen frequently doing great work in poor films, sometimes excellent work in good films, and occasionally, amazing work in excellent films. How are we to know this prolific and skilled artist’s full range? We’ll just have to watch all of her films. After a hiatus, Aniston of the Week is back, and this time, it’s We’re the Millers.

FILM: We’re the Millers
DIRECTOR: Rawson Marshall Thurber
YEAR: 2013
SCREENWRITERS: Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: ‘Rose’ aka Sarah, stripper.
WE-RE-THE-MILLERS-Red-Band-Trailer
PLOT SUMMARY: Rose works as a stripper and lives in the same building as weed dealer David (Jason Sudeikis). He has all his money stolen when his other neighbour, Kenny (Will Poulter) chases off some thugs from Casey (Emma Roberts) and David attempts to help. Now owing his supplier Brad Gurdlinger (Ed Helms) money, he agrees to go to Mexico to smuggle back an enormous amount of weed, and persuades Rose, Casey and Kenny to come with him, posing as a family in order to avoid suspicion. Rose only agrees to accompany David on the trip because the club she works as starts insisting the strippers also prostitute themselves, and she demands $30,000 from David. They get into Mexico easily, but have ever-elaborate ways of avoiding suspicion when they meet the Fitzgerald family – Edie and Don (Kathryn Hahn and Nick Offerman) – the latter turning out to be a DEA agent.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Caustic, intelligent, resourceful, witty, compassionate, creative.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Aniston convinces as a disgruntled stripper, one who has no enthusiasm left for her job and therefore gives a low-energy performance, and her grumpy, quick-witted persona works well in scenes riffing off the smug Sudeikis. It therefore doesn’t convince at all when she suddenly offers to strip to appease the real criminals who are threatening their lives. A to-camera shrug from Sudeikis simply confirms this is just an excuse to objectify Aniston and that makes the scene ultimately really sad.
NOTES ON FILM: Well, it’s total trash. Produced and written by a band of talentless men, this shows on screen. Broad strokes, an excruciatingly lame plot, total lack of humour, stereotypes instead of characters, and infuriatingly, I actually watched the extended cut by mistake – why anyone would want two whole hours of this film on purpose is baffling to me. Real low point.
CONCLUSION: It has come to my attention that there’s a We’re the Millers 2 in the pipeline. Save us all.

 

Advertisements

Aniston of the week: Mother’s Day

Jennifer Aniston – an actor seen frequently doing great work in poor films, sometimes excellent work in good films, and occasionally, amazing work in excellent films. How are we to know this prolific and skilled artist’s full range? We’ll just have to watch all of her films. After a hiatus, Aniston of the Week is back, and this time, it’s Mothers Day.  

FILM: Mother’s Day FeatureMothers-Day
DIRECTOR: Garry Marshall
YEAR: 2016
SCREENWRITERS: Anya Kochoff, Matthew Walker, Tom Hines
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: Sandy, Interior Designer.
PLOT SUMMARY: Sandy is divorced from her husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) with whom she amicably splits custody of her two sons. Sandy thinks there might still be a spark between them, but is surprised when Henry wants to talk and rather than expressing a desire to start again, he announces he has married a much younger woman called Tina (Shay Mitchell). Meanwhile, other characters such as Jesse (Kate Hudson) and her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) have secrets about their relationships that they’re keeping from their parents. Plus Kristin (Britt Robertson) won’t marry her boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) because she’s adopted and doesn’t know her birth mother, and of course they all actually know each other or meet each other in the course of the film. Oh and Jason Sudeikis plays a man called Bradley whose wife died and he’s trying to raise two daughters.
CHARACTER TRAITS: Patient, kind, funny, anxious, frustrated.
Jennifer Aniston Mother day with sons
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: The usual poise, handling of pratfalls with ease and a familiar gently flustered frustration or being comically irate, or sweet and self-deprecating and making it all look easy, almost as if she doesn’t have to try. Aniston isn’t exactly being tested by the script though, which is very basic, moving through plot points as if it’s in a rush.
NOTES ON FILM: Well, it’s brilliant to see Aniston being a bit of goofball, expressing natural female rage and vulnerability, but the film is utter nonsense and frankly, racist in places. Kate Hudson’s husband Russell (Aasif Mandvi) is Indian, and her parents don’t know she married him because they’re racist, so how does the film deal with this? They make Russell’s Mum racist too, of course, so that’s all right then and we can all just get along and not really confront prejudice. Apparently the cast mainly signed on to do the film just for the chance to work with Garry Marshall (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Pretty Woman) so they probably didn’t even see a script.
CONCLUSION: It looks as if Aniston liked this role for the opportunity to show vulnerability and anxiety, and issues of aging, and perhaps didn’t think about how the rest of the film is rubbish. An edit of just her scenes would be great, thanks.

 

Catalogue films by Dana Berman Duff

Recently I was asked by filmmaker Dana Berman Duff to write a programme note for her upcoming screening at Echo Park Film Centre in LA. I love Dana’s films so it was easy to say yes, and a pleasure to write the below piece. I last saw Dana (and her films) when working for Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival in March 2017, when we invited them to be part of the programme. The EPFC screening is on Sat 30 September at 8pm.


I saw Catalogue first at Edinburgh International Film Festival’s experimental Black Box strand in 2014. I hadn’t seen anything that quite grabbed me the way Duff’s silent, black and white 16mm work did – I thought I knew what I was seeing, that I understood the cinematic language at play – then suddenly, a reveal that turned all those perceptual assumptions on their head.

That first Catalogue was an experiment in the time it takes to look at desirable objects – or rather – the images of objects found in mainstream furniture catalogue Restoration Hardware. Duff’s wit is in presenting such images with all the suspense of a Hitchcockian film set, as she holds a shot of an empty interior, waiting for something to happen within it. The reveal is that of the image making itself, that we are not within the space of a horror film, but contemplating the fake versions of designer furniture, indicated subtly by a page’s fold.

Duff described to me following that Edinburgh screening, that she had discovered the narrative of Catalogue only in the experience of viewing the film with an audience, a narrative that wasn’t intended in the making of the film. The apparently simple pleasure of looking at beautiful images, the duration of a lingering look at one thing, then another thing, had revealed a familiar dramatic/comedic plot structure. We had all sunk into the rhythm of gazing at some flickering beauty, and then had its artifice become the punch line.

For Duff this made clear the separation between the film as a thought experiment and as a work of magical cinema. That Restoration Hardware sells furniture en mass copied from unique designer pieces, which are then made into an image within a magazine, then filmed by Duff, is the film’s critique of the copy. That we can still forget – or be unaware – of this idea and enjoy the film’s visual pleasure gives Catalogue its emotional heart and the affirmation of having that critique played out by an audience.

Dana Berman Duff_CatalogueVol.2_1
Catalogue Vol. 2

Duff’s continued fascination with Restoration Hardware has evolved to incorporate sound into the world of the lingering look. In Catalogue Vol. 2 the ambient sound of Duff’s studio as she shoots the pages of that tome, are heard throughout, while rugs and carpets provide the visual texture of the film. As with any sequel, Catalogue Vol. 2 can abandon the ‘set-up’ – in this case the revelation of the image’s source – and instead, the effect is mesmeric as the relation between images – of one floor covering dissolving into another – is like a surrealist dream punctuated by ‘real’ sound.

Duff’s further experiments have explored the tension between interior and exterior worlds. In Catalogue Vol. 3 a chair from within the furniture catalogue literally plummets into the sea, in Volume 4. and Volume 5. extreme close up is used to reveal the texture of the printed page, shifting the series deeper into its haptic qualities, as the layers of film grain express a corporeal beauty.

When viewing Catalogue Volume 6. (Haunted House) there’s a sense of that initial audience reaction most obviously seeping into the making of Catalogue as a series. The interiors are dark spaces – under a table or an armchair – and thresholds such as a window, or wardrobe door, or an ominous painting on a wall – full of possibility, full of anticipation. Duff brings in cinematic sound, sampled from movies – of eerie laughter, anxious proclamations and a tense string score. The 16mm flicker and the minute camera movements make the images appear to move, but rather than enforce the narrative that we might now expect from Duff’s work, attempts to form an arc are cut through with each jolting edit, and then, almost cathartically exclaimed “Now I know where I’m going, I’m disappearing inch by inch into this house!”