2011 YEAR IN REVIEW: BREAKTHROUGH ACTRESS JESSICA CHASTAIN

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Is it just me or was Jessica Chastain in every other movie that was released this year?  In 2011, the once unknown actress graced us with The Tree of Life, The Debt, Take Shelter, The Help, Texas Killing Fields, and Coriolanus!  To put the proverbial icing on the cake, Chastain received a Golden Globes and Critics Choice Award nod for her work in The Help.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chastain as she promoted The Tree of Life and, later in the year, The Debt. My favorite story from the two interviews came from Chastain’s recollection of almost introducing herself to Robin Williams. Thanks to the Oscar winning actor, Chastain’s Julliard School education was funded by Williams.

Click on the media bar and listen to Chastain talk about her synchronistic encounter with Mr. Williams:

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Chastain will be seen in 2012 with Shia LaBeouf and Tom Hardy in director John Hillcoat’s (The Road, The Proposition) latest drama, Wettest County.

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JESSICA CHASTAIN’S TOUGHEST CRITIC FOR ‘THE HELP’ – HER GRANDMA

jess1It’s been a huge year for Jessica Chastain, who starred opposite Brad Pitt this year in the epic drama The Tree of Life. With her latest film The Help, Chastain gained 15 pounds to play curvy blonde Celia Foote.

During a recent interview, the actress admitted that her grandmother, who’s a huge fan of the Kathryn Stockett novel, was surprised the actress landed the part of Celia.  Grandma, however, gave Chastain high marks for her performance.

Click on the media bar and listen to Chastain, whose next film The Debt opens August 31st, talk about her grandmother’s response to The Help.

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JESSICA CHASTAIN RECALLS AUDITION PROCESS WITH TERRENCE MALICK

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Jim Caviezel’s career took off thanks to his work in director Terrence Malick’s epic World War II film The Thin Red Line, and one can expect a similar trajectory with Jessica Chastain, who plays a 1950s Texas homemaker in Malick’s latest picture, The Tree of Life.

To watch a Malick film one must be open to stories that don’t conform to a predictable linear narrative, and many of his character’s hopes and dreams are expressed through their innermost thoughts (via Malick’s frequent use of voiceover).

“It was an incredible emotional journey for me,” says Chastain, who will be seen later this year in The Debt.  “To play this woman, it’s like I got to enrich this small kernel of grace in myself and live this life exploring compassion and gratitude and cultivating joy.  And I’ll always take that with me.  (Terrence Malick) also taught me about living in the moment and not planning anything.  And I’ll take that with me in my life, and also in my acting.”

Click on the media bar and listen to Chastain talk about her long audition process for The Tree of Life

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Over the Memorial Day Weekend, The Tree of Life took in over $488,000, as it played in just four theaters (the film will expand to eight new markets this weekend).

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posted by Greg Srisavasdi

SEAN PENN REMEMBERS GOOD TIMES AT FAST TIMES

1-225The classic 1980’s comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High starred Academy Award winners, Nicholas Cage, Forest Whitaker, writer/director Cameron Crowe, and two time Academy Award winner Sean Penn (who played the loveable stoner, Jeff Spicoli). 

While the film came out 29 years ago, Penn still has good memories about the classic comedy. (Click on the media bar below to hear Sean Penn)

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Sean Penn can currently be seen in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which is now playing in theatres in limited release.
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‘THE TREE OF LIFE’ DELIVERS A RESONANT, AMBITIOUS TALE OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT

treelife1There are few filmmakers who have the guts to search inside the recesses of the human soul and deliver a story that doesn’t reek of pretension.  Terrence Malick reigns supreme on that list, and his latest picture, The Tree of Life, continues his exploration of the primal and emotional complexities of humanity.  At 138 minutes, The Tree of Life covers the birth of the universe, the fragmentation of a Texas family in the 1950s, a dispirited modern day architect (Sean Penn) haunted by his past, dinosaurs, and, for good measure,…the afterlife.

Detractors will complain about the film’s lack of dialogue, plethora of hushed voiceovers, and what they perceive as an arbitrary succession of nature shots.  Intellectuals will revere Malick’s brilliant and innovative mise en scene, which includes his work with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, collaboration with visual effects consultant Douglas Trumbull (2001, Blade Runner, and director of Silent Running), and his use of composers Gustav Mahler, Henryk Gorecki and Mozart (the score was composed by Alexandre Desplat).  Film, as with anything, is a subjective experience, and I approached the film mainly from an emotional vantage point.

Amidst these huge themes of creation, death, love, and inevitably, grace, Mr. Malick presents us with the theory that the universe actually begins and ends within the construct of our family (in the final moments of The New World, Pocahontas, as she chases her young boy amidst the grass, says in voiceover: ‘Mother, now I know where you live.’).

Brad Pitt is Mr. O’Brien, a stern family man who lords over his three sons as if they were his subjects.  He teaches them how to fight, believing sheer aggression, perseverance, and domination are the keys to a man’s success.  When his career languishes, Mr. O’Brien is presented with his own failures as a father and a man, and Pitt effectively captures a person burdened by his own grandiose notions (Mr. O’Brien had designs of becoming a musician). His wife (Jessica Chastain) is Malick’s true hero, a strong, loving person who is, like all great mothers, a true nurturer.  Newcomer Hunter McCracken is Jack, the eldest child who inherits the violent tendencies of his dad and takes out his aggression on the middle sibling.  Sean Penn plays the present day Jack, who is still torn apart by his brother’s passing (Malick never specifies which sibling dies) and is undergoing his own spiritual crises.  Intersperse a long sequence on the universe and you have a non-linear journey which will either confound or inspire moviegoers.

To love a Terrence Malick film requires viewers to see stories beyond a superficial level and enter a story with their eyes and hearts completely wide open.  We may never fully understand what drives Malick (he still refuses to do interviews), but maybe that’s not the point.  Every individual wages their own war of the human spirit, and like The Tree of Life, many of our questions go unanswered.  Someone smarter (and pithier) once told me that “the journey is the destination.”  One hopes that for Malick, with five sublime and transcendent films under his belt, that journey is far from over.

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posted by Greg Srisavasdi