Hottie of the Day: Jessica Chastain


JESSICA CHASTAIN

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Well, I might as well get on the Jessica Chastain bandwagon. She’s the latest pick for “Hottie of the Day” and also another addition to the redhead selections that’s growing (but still not the number 1 redhead on the site).

Jessica Chastain seemed to have come out of nowhere in the last two years. While she has been acting for many years before 2010 it wasn’t until 2011’s release of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life which finally got her noticed. Since then she has been such films as Corialanus, Take Shelter, The Help, The Debt and Lawless. In each and every film she has been singled out as one of the highlight performances and from what I’ve seen she’s definitely deserving of the praise she’s been receiving.

Yet, it’s in 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty that Chastain may have finally gone from ingenue stage to full-blown star. She carries Kathryn Bigelow’s film from start to finish and all the accolades and acclaim she has been receiving for that performance may just snag her a Best Actress Oscar award next month. Even the box-office is not immune to the redhead’s growing star power as the top two films in North America for the weekend of Jan. 18-20 has her in the starring role with Zero Dark Thirty and the horror film Mama.

Born near my neck of the woods of Sonoma, California, Jessica Chastain is a graduate of the famed Julliard School in New York City and worked her way through the Hollywood system by getting supporting roles in tv series after tv series before her breakout role as the mother in The Tree of Life.

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PAST HOTTIES

The Daily Grindhouse: The Last Resort (dir by Brandon Nutt)


The Last Resort is a low-budget horror film from 2009 that tends to show up on Chiller a lot.  It’s a low-budget film about annoying people who, largely as the result of their own stupidity, get trapped in a really bad situation.  It’s a movie that many people dismiss but I’ve always found it to be a pretty effective little horror film.

In The Last Resort, Kathleen (played by Marissa Tait) is a bride-to-be who decides to go down to Mexico with her bridesmaids and have one last wild weekend for getting married.  They spend their first night in Mexico getting drunk and one of the bridesmaids, Sophia (America Olivio), leaves the group to spend the night with an American tourist named Rob (Nick Ballard).  The next morning, Kathleen and the three bridesmaids decide to take a tour of the countryside with two rather sleazy locals.  Sophia is left behind.

Not surprisingly, the two locals drive the group out to the middle of nowhere  and then rob them, seriously wounding one of the girls in the process.  Kathleen and her bridesmaids are abandoned to die in the desert but they manage to find a deserted resort where they take shelter for the night.  Unfortunately, it appears that the resort is also home to a murderous demon which proceeds to possess each of the girls, one after another.

The Last Resort has a really terrible reputation and if you happen to look it up on the imdb, you’ll come across a lot of negative comments about the film.  But you know what?  For what it is, The Last Resort is not that bad of a film.  The deserted resort is a genuinely menacing location and the director Brandon Nutt does a good job of maintaining an ominous atmosphere once the girls reach the location.  (Though it should also be admitted that it seems to take the film forever to reach that point.)

While the girls might not be memorable as individual characters, they are believable as a group.  You sincerely believe that they would not only all be friends but that they would also be the type of friends who, once they all get together, would end up spending a drunken weekend in Mexico and get stranded at a haunted resort.  In all honesty, one reason why this film resonated with me is because I’ve been on a few similar wild weekends myself.  Fortunately, neither me nor any of my friends were ever kidnapped at gunpoint but I do think that there were a few cases of demonic possession on some of those weekends.

Hey, it happens.

The Last Resort is one of those films that we tend to watch and go, “God, these people are so stupid,” but, to be honest, the stupider the characters act, the more strangely plausible a film like this feels.  The fact of the matter is that, at any given moment, 85% of the world is engaged in doing something stupid.  Smart people find themselves in stupid situations because, seriously, you don’t ever expect to find yourself being kidnapped or possessed until you already are.

That’s one reason why horror will always be a popular genre.  It’s one of the few genres that forces us to admit that, for the most part, we have no idea how vulnerable we are until it’s too late.  It’s easy to dismiss The Last Resort as being a film about stupid people making stupid decisions but, for me, it works precisely because it reminds us that we are capable of being just as stupid as the unfortunate bridesmaids in this film.

Review: Mama (dir. by Andres Muschietti)


Mama

In 2008 a young Argentine filmmaker made a 3-minute short film that caught the eye of one Guillermo Del Toro. The short film was titled Mama and it’s simple premise of ghostly mother chasing after two young girls in a darkened home was so well-received by Del Toro that he decided to produce a feature-length adaptation of the short film. He could’ve easily put himself in the director’s chair for the adaptation, but liking the work done by the short film’s original director the Mexican filmmaker gave the job to the original director, Andres Muschietti, and allowed him the freedom to make Mama the way it was meant to be made.

The feature-length version of the film works off of the screenplay written by the filmmaker Andres Muschietti and his sister Barbara Muschietti (with some help from Neil Cross) and expands on the brief sequence from the short film. We get a backstory as to the origins of the titular character and how she came to be throughout the film. We even get a much more detailed work up of the two young sisters who have become the obsession of the ghostly “Mama” and how they had gotten involved with her.

Mama opens up with a disturbing sequence where a father has murdered his partners in his company and his wife then taking his two young daughters out into the country where his grief at what he’s done leads him in an attempt to complete the cycle of becoming a family annihilator through the killing of his children then his own suicide. It’s only through the intervention of a shadowy figure in the abandoned cabin they’ve come across in the forest that this father’s plan fails. It’s a truly disturbing scene to see a father comforting his 3-year old daughter and at the same time hold a gun to her head. It’s almost a wonder that the audience feels both a sense of relief and horror at seeing “Mama” protect the young girls by killing the father.

We skip five years later as we find out that the father has a twin brother named Lucas (played by Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who has spent the intervening years using whatever money the dead brother had left in an attempt to find the two young girls. Victoria and Lilly do get found by the scouts sent out by Lucas in the very same cabin where their father had taken them earlier in the film, but what the scouts find look more like feral animals than children.

One would think that the film would be about “Mama” wreaking havoc on Lucas to try and get her young girls back, but this film is not about mother versus father but mother versus mother. We’ve already met “Mama” briefly in the start of the film. The other mama in this fight for the girls’ love and soul is Lucas’ rocker girlfriend whose attitude in the beginning doesn’t shout maternal at all. Annabelle (played by Jessica Chastain) doesn’t think it’s her job to have to raise the two girls. It’s her love for Lucas that keeps her from bolting and trying to find a common ground with the two young girls. As the film moves forward Annabelle begins to feel protective of the two young girls and begins to believe that “Mama” is real and that she has followed Victoria and Lilly back from the cabin.

To say that this film is a horror film would be understating things. While it does have some jump scare moments and some creepy and disturbing images the story itself plays out more like a dark fairy tale set in a modern setting. just like another Del Toro produced horror film from the last couple years in The Orphanage, this film uses a fairy tale template to tell the story of the maternal love mothers have for their children. It’s interesting to note that the two mothers vying for Victoria and Lilly are not their biological mother, but surrogates who have come to love and care for the two girls in their own way.

Mama doesn’t break new grounds in the field of horror. It’s liberal use of gothic horror cliches and tropes by the Andres and Barbara Muschietti detracts from some darkly beautiful visuals and imagery that the filmmaker seemed very adept in creating to build that very sense of the fairy tale. What could’ve been a “been there and done that” and “paint-by-the-numbers” ghost story gets elevated by the performances by Jessica Chastain and the two young girls (Megan Charpentier as the elder sister Victoria and Isabelle Nélisse as the younger Lilly). Chastain in particular shines in the role of Annabelle as we believe her growth from reluctant caretaker to loving mother figure to protective mama bear by the time film ends on a very un-Hollywood ending.

Mama will definitely lose some fans of the horror genre who expect gore (which the film doesn’t have a drop of) and tons of scary moments (the film has jump scares but not much). This film will attract audiences looking for something familiar but at the same time with the added visual flair of a young filmmaker who looks to have a future in the genre, if not the industry, as a new creative eye who can work with something unoriginal and give it his own spin.

While the film is not on the same creative and storytelling level as Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage it is much better than Troy Nixey’s remake of the 1973 horror film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The film does continue Guillermo Del Toro’s streak of finding new and upcoming young filmmakers in the horror genre and giving them a chance to break into the industry with him mentoring them through the process. Mama might not be a perfect film but Andres Muschietti’s work as a director shows that he has repaid Del Toro’s faith in him. I, for one, can’t wait to see what this filmmaker has up next.