Tag Archives: kristen stewart

Review: ‘Underwater,’ Kristen Stewart Gets Wet

Kristen Stewart, Jessica Henwick, John Gallagher Jr. and Vincent Cassel star, directed by William Eubank. 

By plunging the audience directly into a crisis, Underwater immediately sets itself apart from standard-issue thrillers. 

It’s a welcome, yet risky move. Rather than waste its first act establishing a stock set of relatable characters, most of whom will be disposable anyway, the film races to show that the situation itself deserves immediate empathy. After all, imagine if it were you or your friends who were stuck at the bottom of an ocean in an underground science station that suddenly went ka-boom! 

You’d be freaking out, too, no matter if you were Kristen Stewart or not. 

The actress portrays Norah, a scientist who is quick on her feet and even faster with her  thinking ability. She survives the initial disaster, which strands her and a few other lucky (?!)  survivors in an untenable position. Most of the crew has already evacuated the station, leaving Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) straining to rescue the few newbies who were stuck further away from possible escape, and didn’t act quickly enough to get away. 

Their only remaining option, he explains with great urgency, is to walk across the floor of the ocean to another submerged station, where they can radio for help. That sounds daunting enough, but then they all become aware of even more dangers in the deep dark depths.

Directed by William Eubank (Love, The Signal) from a screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad, Underwater is a terse and tight thriller that benefits from actors who are willing to show their sheer fright at the situation, which goes a long way toward enhancing the feelings of claustrophobia that predominate. Kristen Stewart, who once upon a time portrayed a trapped, yet steely-nerved young woman in David Fincher’s Panic Room (2002), here plays a trapped, yet steely-nerved woman who is determined to do everything within her power to survive. 

She is aided and abetted by costars, including Vincent Cassel as a courageous leader, John Gallagher Jr. as a knowledgeable sort of klutz, Jessica Henwick as a resilient woman who is scared out of her mind, and Mamodou Athie as a brave and determined scientist. T.J. Miller is also present, perhaps intended as comic relief, which he can supply only on an occasional, sporadic basis. 

Mostly, Underwater just flows in a madly-dancing current of charged electricity and constantly firing live wires that work constantly to shred nerves. 

The film opened in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on January 10, 2020. It is now available to watch via a variety of VOD platforms, including FandangoNow. For more information, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Personal Shopper’

dfn_PersonalShopper_300A transfixing experience, Personal Shopper captures the elusive, haunting essence of loneliness in an oddly compelling manner.

Kristen Stewart stars as Maureen Cartwright, a woman who is almost always in motion. She lives in Paris, but just barely; she spends nearly every waking hour as a personal shopper for a busy, busy celebrity she rarely sees. The celebrity needs her wardrobe to be constantly refreshed and so Maureen hops around the city on her motor scooter, whirling from one exclusive shop to the next, picking out expensive clothing and other personal items and then delivering the items to the celebrity’s apartment.

Maureen has long tired of any supposed glamour associated with the freelance gig, but she needs the money to pay for her apartment, and she needs the apartment so she can remain in Paris until she is contacted by her twin brother, who recently died.

It turns out that Maureen is a medium. Her brother was also a medium. Long ago, they resolved to make contact if either of them died, and her brother died, so now Maureen is waiting with as much patience as she can muster to hear from her brother.

Self-employed as she is, and constantly moving around Paris and between France and England, she has become increasingly lonely, and haunted, not only by the loss of her brother but by her own demons. There are clear signs that she is suffering from deep, probably clinical, long term depression.

The only ray of light that enters her life arrives in the form of a mysterious text message, which then leads her on a journey that may lead either to personal enlightenment or authentic danger.

Collaborating once again with writer/director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria), Stewart gives an absolutely spellbinding, extremely low-key performance. It’s genuinely affecting and strikingly emotional to watch Maureen endeavor to cope with her troubles, and to see how she subtly changes throughout the narrative.

Despite subject matter that might sound dour or off-putting, Personal Shopper is entirely engaging. Stewart’s quiet fortitude gradually forms Maureen into a heroine of epic proportions, an imperfect human doing battle with forces that are beyond her control, yet desperately seeking, somehow, to survive and fight back.

Assayas displays steady command of the material and the pace never slackens. Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (A Bigger Splash, Only Lovers Left Alive) does a magnificent job of making the gloomy darkness that surrounds Maureen come alive when needed.

This is a ghost story as personal drama. It’s impossible to take your eyes off the screen.

The film opens at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano on Friday, March 24.

Review: ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’

dfn-billy_lynns_long_halftime_walk-300Much ballyhooed for director Ang Lee’s fight to shoot it at the high frame rate of 120 frames per second in 3D at 4K, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk arrives in Dallas movie theaters at the standard 24 frames per second in 2D. (* Except at one location in Addison; see below.)

As things worked out, only a few theaters in New York and Los Angeles are set up to present the film as Lee desired, so for those of us who live elsewhere, we must wrestle with it as it is: a major disappointment that looks very much like it was made for television. In 2D, all its shortcomings are plain to see.

The anti-war storyline, adapted by Jean-Christophe Castelli from Ben Fountain’s award-winning 2012 novel and set on a single day in 2004, is entirely conventional. Specialist Billy Lynn (newcomer Joe Alwyn) is a soldier in Iraq who has gained fame because a news photographer captured a moment when he came to the aid of a fellow soldier. Lynn and his fellow Bravo Squad members are sent home for a two-week press tour, culminating in a presentation during halftime of a football game in Dallas on Thanksgiving Day.

Lynn is suffering (most likely) from post-traumatic stress syndrome, and so are most of his fellow soldiers. They are spooked by any sudden or loud sounds and react as they would on the battlefield. Lynn’s sister, Kathryn (Kristen Stewart), has planted the idea in his head that he should remain home, rather than returning to Iraq, and so he is wrestling with that as well on the final day of Bravo Unit’s leave.

Ang Lee established himself in the 1990s with a series of films — from Pushing Hands through The Ice Storm — most notable for their convincing characterizations. Beginning with Ride with the Devil and quickly cresting with the elegant Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Lee sought to expand his horizons, sometimes reaching bruising personal heights (Brokeback Mountain) and sometimes allowing visual ambitions to overwhelm all else (Hulk, The Life of Pi).

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk feels like the latter type of ambitious failure. Presented in 2D at 24 frames per second, one is struck by a surfeit of close-ups, often featuring the characters looking straight at the camera. The profusion of talking heads resembles how a documentary filmmaker might approach the material. Combined with a reliance on lighting that looks overly bright on a movie screen, it looks more like it belongs on a small screen.

None of that would matter as much if the characters were more distinctive or if the narrative weren’t so well-worn. Some of the plot devices are tiresome. The unit has hired an agent (Chris Tucker) to try and sell the movie rights to their story, demanding that it be accomplished during their brief trip to the U.S. The football team owner (Steve Martin) is a fatuous representative for all clueless business people who know nothing of war.

Just to make sure we get the point, another fatuous businessman (Tim Blake Nelson) tries to strike up a conversation with the unit, a representative for all clueless business people who know nothing of war but don’t own a football team. Billy Lynn catches the eye of a fatuous cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) who immediately falls for him and wants to make out with him. Oh, Billy is a virgin, too, and thus (presumably) pure of heart.

Despite its anti-war inclinations, the movie is respectful toward all military personnel, as opposed to the often dumb and insulting civilians who dare to mouth off to them. Once the rusty plot engine cranks up, though, piloted by well-meaning and entirely heroic soldiers like Billy, Dime (Garrett Hedlund) and Shroom (Vin Diesel), the narrative putters along like a golf cart in a cornfield before harvest.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk fails to engage at the most basic levels, pushing away rather than intriguing or enveloping audiences in its message.

The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, November 18.

* Late word is that the film will screen in 120fps/Dolby Vision 3D at the AMC Highland Village on the Parkway 9 in Addison.

Review: ‘Certain Women’

dfn-certain-women-720The sky reaches forever, the distant mountains beckon, and the roads stretch ever onward. This is Montana, as presented in Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, and it’s as much a character as the women who populate it.

Reichardt sets loose her characters like intelligent wind-up dolls, which makes them immediately familiar. Like everyone else on the planet, Reichardt’s women cope the best they can with their lives, imperfect as they may be. They are the the type of women we rarely see on the big screen: women who are willing to take risks and accept the consequences.

They are, in essence, just like Montana, defined as skies and mountains and roads that will not be easily defeated nor call attention to themselves.

Laura Wells (Laura Dern) is a lawyer vainly trying to help her client Fuller (Jared Harris), a power lineman who suffered a calamitous fall but naively signed away his rights to sue. Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams) is a business owner working to build a new home for her family while also navigating the emotional minefield of her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier). Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is an extremely shy ranch hand who is attracted to preoccupied new evening-class teacher Beth (Kristen Stewart).

I’ve seen four films by Reichardt over the past 10 years — Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves — and what they hold in common is a reliance on the characters to tell the story quietly through their personalities. Despite the restraint they exercise, their individual strengths always bleed through and inform what happens.

Certain Women reminded me quite a bit of Old Joy, which followed two old friends on a camping trip and somehow managed to detail both their past and future lives merely by the power of casual conversation. The contrast between the beautiful yet restrictive forest in rural Oregon where the men traveled and the wide open spaces of Montana where Certain Women unfolds is striking.

The lead characters will not allow others to limit them. Laura Wells wants to help Fuller but she will not let him dictate her actions. Gina Lewis wants her family to be happy, but she will not let them restrict her movements. Jamie wants Beth to respond to her, but she will not force her to do so.

The performances are marvels of minimalism, with no one overplaying their hand. Only small touches are needed to flesh out the words that Reichardt has written, based on stories by Maile Meloy. The unhurried approach is complemented by Chris Blauvelt’s artistry as director of photography and Reichardt’s own talents as film editor.

Certain Women establishes its leisurely pace early, but it’s simultaneous with the introduction of people of interest who compel attention. The film lingers in the mind, not so much as a collection of stories but as a reminder of individual faces; there’s nothing so beautiful as someone who is determined to make the best out of life.

The film opens on Friday, October 28 at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano.