Aniston of the week: Life of Crime

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. Having been utterly depressed by the truly reprehensible Horrible Bosses 2 last week, we turn to a lighter and much easier watch in the form of Life of Crime.

FILM: Life of Crime Jennifer-Aniston-in-Life--011
DIRECTOR: Daniel Schechter
YEAR: 2013
SCREENWRITERS: Daniel Schechter, Elmore Leonard
CHARACTER NAME AND PROFESSION: Mickey Dawson, full time Mum.
PLOT SUMMARY: In 1978, Mickey is the unhappy wife of corrupt real estate developer Frank Dawson (Tim Robbins) who has millions embezzled in shady deals. When Frank goes out of town for business, Mickey is kidnapped by Louis (John Hawkes) and Ordell (Yasiin Bey) who take her to the home of Richard, (Mark Boone Junior), who proudly displays his Nazi paraphernalia. Mickey can tell that Louis and Ordell don’t have much experience with their enterprise due to the haphazard way they try to protect their identities and their lack of detailed information about her husband. When they demand one million dollars for Mickey’s safe return, Frank – alongside his mistress Melanie (Isla Fisher) – prefers to call their bluff, as he was planning to divorce Mickey anyway. After their demand fails to provoke action in Frank, Ordell travels to where he an Melanie are staying in Florida, only to have Melanie switch allegiances when she sees a way to save herself and make money. Meanwhile, the plot to have Mickey killed goes awry, when Louis catches Richard trying to rape her – instead he saves Mickey and returns her home. The whole thing appears to go back to ‘normal’ when Frank returns from his trip. Mickey, furious that Frank bet her life to save a million, visits Louis where they plot with Ordell to kidnap Melanie.life-of-crime
CHARACTER TRAITS: Exasperated, sad, kind, intelligent, defiant.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE: Aniston doesn’t really get to do much here other than play a straight victim role, plus her face is hidden under a balaclava for a large part of the film’s first half, so her impact on the film overall is limited. Aniston’s usual knowing looks and wit – her habit of being the most intelligent or sensible person in a film – are used here to good effect in that her kidnappers are demonstrably inept, but beyond that she’s not driving the plot here. Rather, she does convey a subtle sadness that Mickey has that’s not just due to the situation at hand, but a general melancholy with the status quo.
NOTES ON FILM: This is a film with only two female roles, which essentially depict a Madonna/whore binary, so it’s not particularly nuanced or conveying any depth or meaning. Having said that, it appears to doing something a little more thoughtful with its Elmore Leonard source novel than a simple crime gone-wrong plot, and the casting and pace certainly supports that, allowing as it does, moments for Yasiin Bey and John Hawkes to emote impulsive and sensitive aspects of their characters respectively. Early in the film, Aniston’s character is introduced as having an alternative romantic partner in the form of Will Forte’s Marshall, suggesting that she’ll be saved and re-coupled by the film’s end. That she ultimately rejects his ineffectual concern to stride towards an alternative new beginning is at least a happy end for Mickey.
CONCLUSION: A perfectly pleasant, if inconsequential Aniston outing.

 

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BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Aside from the return of Aniston of the week, and September’s short essay on the wondrous experimental films of Dana Burman Duff, this site has been somewhat neglected of late. Programming, rather than writing has been my main occupation. Behind the Curtain is a project that was in the concept stage for a long time. The initial idea was to find a way to share with audiences, films which represent the eclecticism of my taste in cinema, so there’d be documentaries, and comedies and experimental works and more.

What came to fruition is a project that is quite close to that ideal, but with the added theme of a feminist film club. As I developed the idea, what became important was to show a cinema that is representative of all the different perspectives and creative practices of a variety of filmmakers. Behind the Curtain exists to support women filmmakers, queer cinema, filmmakers of colour and d/Deaf and disabled filmmakers – it is therefore by this very nature a feminist project.

With funding from Film Hub Scotland and in partnership with Alchemy Film & Arts and Moving Image Makers Collective, I programmed and produced 7 screenings from September – December 2017 here in the Scottish Borders, where I’m based. The feminist film club theme ran most obviously through five of the screenings, with films touching upon subjects such as the construction of gender in relation to female reproduction (Maja Borg’s Man, Anna Linder’s Spermwhore), the intersection of race and gender (Cecile Emeke’s Strolling episodes 1 and 7), inequalities of gender in colonialism (Onyeka Igwe’s We Need New Names), female power, both physical and intellectual (Evi Tsiligaridou’s On Your Feet, Woman!, Vēra Chytilová’s Daisies), inherited oppression in mother-daughter relationships (Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie), the problematics of radical feminism (Bruce LaBruce’s The Misandrists) and narcissistic feminism (Anna Biller’s The Love Witch).

Each of theses screenings inspired thoughtful conversations with the audience, especially the occasional opportunity to address a film’s relevance to feminism and the important intersections of other inequalities with that of gender.

Other film’s in the season were John Paizs’ Crime Wave, the cult, underappreciated Canadian comedy programmed by Glasgow’s Matchbox Cineclub, which depicts with a somewhat tender absurdity, the tribulations of the writing process. I also screened Further Beyond, the first feature documentary by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, aka Desperate Optimists, which uses essayistic approaches, reflexive use of voice over and reconstruction to tell the story of Ambrose O’Higgins.

The intention is for Behind the Curtain to continue in some form, though I’m flexible as to what form it might take. Rather than have a fixed idea of programmes and projects I’d rather respond to the specific context here in the Borders, taking screenings to locations where there’s a shared interest in all the possibilities of an eclectic, feminist cinema.

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.