5 PHENOMENAL ACTRESSES TO WATCH OUT FOR

Movies have always been blessed with an assortment of wonderful actresses and it’s no different now. Amazing acting talents are springing up and making names for themselves. I thought it would be fun to consider 5 Phenomenal actresses that you should keep your eye on. These ladies aren’t exactly “seasoned” in the traditional sense but they have enough on their resume to prove that they are remarkable performers. Now I didn’t want this to be an up-and-coming list. Instead I’m wanting to give props to five ladies who I think have huge careers ahead of them. Now as always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 actresses to watch out for are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – MIA WASIKOWSKA

At only 22 years of age, Mia Wasikowska has already tackled a variety of great roles. She’s shared the screen with big names such as Johnny Depp, Michael Fassbender, Glenn Close, and Daniel Craig and she’s more than held her own. She’s made some great film choices and the future looks promising. She’s already lined up to be in “Lawless”, a film where she will co-star with big names such as Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, and Guy Pearce.  Wasikowska is never overpowered by the material and her ability to handle challenging roles at such a young age is very impressive. Expect to see a lot from this phenomenal young talent.

#4 – EMILY BLUNT

Emily Blunt as an example of a very talented actress who is still looking for that one big role. She starred in several films that I’ve enjoyed and several that I haven’t but yet she’s always delivered a strong and steady performance. She’s clearly comfortable with comedy or drama and her assortment of films show that to be true. She was in several smaller but entertaining films before really drawing attention for her work in “Young Victoria”. From there she has starred in everything from family films, quirky British comedies, sci-fi thrillers, and romantic comedies. Through them all she has shown an amazing range and an ability to handle any material she has given. She’s a magnetic actress who will be around for a long time.

#3 – SAOIRSE RONAN

An even younger but equally talented actress is Saoirse Ronan. At 18 years of age she has steered clear of some of the movie traps that many young performers fall into. She first gained major attention for her wonderful work in “Atonement”, a performance that earned her an Academy Award nomination at the age of 13. She was also very good in Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones”, a film that doesn’t hold up well despite her fantastic performance. I was really impressed with her work in “The Way Back”, a very underappreciated film. And in 2011 she showed what kind of range she has by playing a trained assassin in “Hanna”. Ronan has a wonderful screen presence and has grown with each performance. She’s certainly one to watch.

#2- JENNIFER LAWRENCE

While her resume may not be as plump as the other actresses on this list, Jennifer Lawrence has blown me away by her work so far. Lawrence has never been to acting school or taken an acting class yet she has what seems to be a natural ability. It was her starring role in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone” that immediately caught the attention of the movie world. She gives a tough and gritty performance that earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination. It was a performance that still amazes me today. She had a great role in “The Beaver” and she was also very good in “X-Men: First Class”. Most recently she’s been seen starring in a little movie you may have heard of, “The Hunger Games”. The movie has catapulted her into the more mainstream spotlight. And while the film isn’t perfect, there’s no denying that Lawrence is brilliant in the lead role. She has several projects in the works and, of course, more Hunger Games sequels. Expect to hear Jennifer Lawrence’s name for a while.

#1 – JESSICA CHASTAIN

2011 can officially be called a break-out year for Jessica Chastain. After a small career in television, Chastain made her feature film debut in 2008. But it was last year that she truly made her mark on the film industry with some amazing work. She was really good in “The Help” and received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance. But that wasn’t even her best work of the year. She was mesmerizing in Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”. She was even better alongside Michael Shannon in the underappreciated film “Take Shelter” and it’s there that she gives what I felt was the best supporting work of the year. She was also fantastic with Ralph Fiennes in “Coriolanus” and this year she will be in the above mentioned “Lawless”. Chastain has a grounded and almost natural grace about her and it translates so well on screen. With all of the attention she’s getting for her recent work, you can count on good director’s wanting to work with her even more.

And there they are. Do you agree or disagree with my list? Do you know of someone I missed? Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

“LA VIE EN ROSE” – 4 STARS

Edith Piaf was a brilliant young singer who had a life filled with joy and tragedy. She was born in the Belleville district in Paris, France and survived a difficult childhood to become one of France’s most beloved singers and a national icon. But her life was a constant struggle even in light of her huge success. “La Vie en rose” is a French biopic about the life of Edith Piaf from director and co-writer Olivier Dahan. Marion Cotillard stars as Piaf and delivers a brilliant performance that earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. This was also significant in that it was the first time an Oscar was given for a French language performance.

The story of “La Vie en rose” is told in a very unconventional way. There’s no straightforward chronological narrative. The movie jumps back and forth between different periods of Piaf’s life. Sometimes this storytelling method works while other times it seems to shift between time with no cause or reason. There’s one particular tragic event that happens early in Piaf’s life but we never know anything about it until close to the end of the film. There’s no real structural reason that would cause it to be incorporated into the story at that time but nonetheless it is. I’m assuming the non-linear approach was an attempt to make it feel more unique and different from other biopics. This isn’t a bad approach but I still would have preferred a more straightaway mode of storytelling.

While the movie does frantically hop around, it does keep most of her childhood together at the start of the film. It’s very effective in conveying the reasons for her lifetime of trouble. The film shows how she was abandoned by her parents. We see how she is raised for several years in a Normandy brothel. We also see her spending time confined to a struggling traveling circus with her father. As a teenager she’s forced to sing on the streets to survive until she is discovered by the owner of a small nightclub. All of these things lay the groundwork for what was a complicated and often times hard life and her personal hardships often times overshadowed her incredible talent.

One of the main reasons to see “La Vie en rose” is for Marion Cotillard’s wonderful and mesmerizing performance. Cotillard spent a lot of time listening to, watching, and studying inteviews by Edith Piaf and it really pays off. She completely loses herself in the role and at times she’s almost unrecognizable. The story required Cotillard to play Piaf at different ages and in different stages of health. I was amazed watching her capture the energy and exuberance of a young 18-year old girl as well as the fraility and emptiness of a 47-year old on her death bed who looks twenty years older than she really is. Cotillard’s Oscar win is completely justified and she takes this role of a lifetime and makes it unforgettable.

The life of Edith Piaf was filled personal highs and devestating lows. “La Vie en rose” shows it to us through it’s truly enthralling and heart-breaking presentation. It captures the special spirit of this larger-than-life personailty which makes watching her troubled life unfold all the more painful. It does require an unneccisarily high level of concentration due to the fractured narrative which really adds nothing to the film. And while it still uses some of the same conventions that we’ve seen in other biopics, its still a powerful story. This isn’t a flawless film but I found myself totally involved right from the very start.

REVIEW: “In the Heat of the Night”

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“They call me Mister Tibbs.” When Virgil utters this classic line to Chief Gillespie in 1967’s “In the Heat of the Night”, the racial tensions have already been well-defined. And while the movie is a police drama/murder mystery, it’s the racial contention between a black Philadelphia police detective and the small Mississippi town that makes the film truly memorable. “In the Heat of the Night” won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and inspired two sequels and a popular TV series. But it’s the movie’s statement on 1960’s Southern racism and it’s strong black lead character that causes it to be recognized as a ground-breaking film.

The movie takes place in the small fictional town of Sparta, Mississippi. While out on patrol a deputy comes across the body of a wealthy business man. After ruling that the man was murdered, Police Chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger) sends a deputy to look around town. While checking out the train station, the deputy comes across a black man sitting inside. Unjustly assuming the man is the killer, the deputy arrests him and brings him to the station. The man informs Chief Gillespie that his name is Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) and he’s a homicide detective from Philadelphia. Virgil’s captain back in Philly recommends that he stay in Sparta and help with the murder investigation. Neither Virgil or Gillespie like the idea yet they both agree.  But the case may never be solved due the incompetence of the police department and the numerous racial barriers that keep Tibbs from accomplishing anything.

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Even though this is a crime drama, the murder mystery itself never feels all that important. The investigation spends most of its time looking in the wrong directions and when the killer is finally revealed it feels too convenient. This is the movie’s one significant shortcoming. A tighter more engaging mystery would have added another intense dimension to the story. But it could easily be argued that the murder mystery is simply a backdrop to the greater story of a small town police chief and a big city detective breaking down the walls of racism while dealing with their own personal biases. Steiger and Poitier are great together and watching their complex and often times abrasive relationship unfold provides us with the movie’s best moments.

The great attention given to the town and its citizens is another thing that makes the movie work. The small town South is perfectly captured and there was never a time I questioned its genuineness for a second. From its assortment of main street stores to its rundown parts of town, the film succeeds in providing the perfect setting. But while we saw the current day South we also catch a glimpse of the old South during a scene in which Gillespie and Tibbs go to question a rich plantation owner named Endicott. The drive up to the main house is lined with cotton fields filled with black workers and it almost feels as though the movie has moved back in time. This also leads to the famous scene where Endicott slaps Tibbs once he realizes he is being questioned for the murder. Tibbs slaps him back, something unheard of in that day. Tibbs’ physical retaliation drew attention from around the country once the movie was released and it marked an interesting turn in the way many movies treated black characters.

“In the Heat of the Night” certainly gets points for its head-on approach to the topic of racism. It also manages to keep the audience engaged by first getting us invested in Virgil Tibbs, then showing us the racially fueled obstacles and dangers that he was up against in Sparta, Mississippi. We also get a fantastic character in Chief Gillespie and it’s fascinating to watch him evolve as he fights with the community expectations and his own inner struggles. The small town vibe permeates every single scene and the hot and humid Southern summer makes everything sweatier and grimier. It’s just unfortunate that the murder mystery never feels as serious or as threatening as it should have been. That’s the only thing holding down “In the Heat of the Night”. But it’s something that did make a difference for me.

VERDICT – 4 STARS