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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mark Ruffalo

Anna Paquin on the unlikely resurrection of 'Margaret'

January 13, 2012 | 11:14 am


When Kenneth Lonergan's "Margaret" was quietly released last September, it seemed the end of a very, very long journey for a film caught up for years in post-production problems and various legal disputes. Although very few people saw the movie during its brief theatrical run, a vocal group of critics began to lobby on its behalf -- the unusual groundswell of support prompted in part by the year-end awards season crush and in part by a desire to simply be able to see a movie that had not played in their towns.

"Margaret" has since been inching its way toward reassessment and in some sense resurrection, to the point where there is now an undercurrent of backlash from those who feel its movie-you-can't-see mystique is too much a part of its appeal.

In the film, Anna Paquin plays an Upper East Side teenager named Lisa Cohen -- in one of the movie's signature quirks, "Margaret" has no character named Margaret -- who feels in part responsible for a bus accident that claimed a woman's life. This leads to a portrait, at once nuanced and raw, of dealing with grief and moving forward with life. The film features a deep bench of supporting performances from Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Jean Reno, Allison Janney, J. Smith-Cameron, Matthew Broderick, Kieran Culkin and Jeannie Berlin.

"Margaret" is going to be playing for one week at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles starting Jan. 27, giving local audience another chance to see for themselves whether this most singular film lives up to its legend. Paquin, an Oscar winner and now the star of HBO's "True Blood," rather suddenly made herself available to a few press outlets just this week to talk about the film.

How weird is it to be talking about a film you shot in 2005?

I could not possibly have loved that script or loved doing that movie any more. It was one of the most incredible professional experiences I've ever had, and, you know, movies all have their own path to being seen by people and some of them are long journeys and some are really quick. And this one's just been a bit longer. I'm just pleased that people are watching it now.

When you were shooting the film did you have any idea it would become the problem child it turned into?

No, actually. The shoot was extraordinarily smooth. Everything kind of ran perfectly. It was a sort of long script, so obviously if you shoot all of a very long script there's just going to be a lot more material to play around with when you're trying to put the movie together. Which ultimately, as an actor, is not something that I really worry myself about. That's kind of, thankfully, somebody else's department. I'm just like sweet, I will shoot all one-hundred and sixty, seventy, whatever-it-was pages of incredibly well-written, beautiful scenes with incredible character work.

Did you ever reach a point where you thought the movie would just never come out?

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'Margaret' growing on critics, but will audiences find it?

October 10, 2011 |  1:43 pm

Margaret - Matt Damon, Anna Paquin

The film "Margaret" opened two weekends ago in Los Angeles and New York with little advertising or fanfare. Shot in 2005 and embroiled in a years-long post-production mess of conflicting cuts and legal imbroglios, the film became something of a mythic creature, with many wondering whether it would ever come out. So, its quiet release didn't seem that distributor Fox Searchlight Pictures was dumping the film so much as just trying to get it over with.

Written and directed by playwright Kenneth Lonergan as a follow-up to his acclaimed debut feature, "You Can Count on Me," "Margaret" was met with tepid reviews from the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter that mostly portrayed the film as a muddled victim of its backstage dramas. The film's fate seemed sealed. Except more people started seeing "Margaret." And they can't seem to stop talking about it.

In part because of its expansive ambitions, the film is a conversation piece as much as a self-contained work. Somehow at once novelistic and operatic, it is as much about the personal growth of one specific New York City teenager as it is an essay on the city's post-9/11 hangover of grief, uncertainty and self-examination.

Having witnessed (and in small part causing) a fatal bus accident, high school student Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin, looking softer and younger than she now does on TV's "True Blood") struggles with reconciling her feelings of responsibility with somehow making things right, whatever that may mean, and in turn moving forward. The film's supporting cast includes the impressive roster of Matt Damon, J. Smith-Cameron, Allison Janney, Keiran Culkin, Jean Reno, Jeannie Berlin, Mark Ruffalo, Rosemarie DeWitt and Matthew Broderick. Olivia Thirlby and Krysten Ritter, relative unknowns at the time, pass by in small roles. There is no character named Margaret.

Dealing with big themes and big emotions and with a running time of 2½ hours, there is something overwhelming about "Margaret," which has made it tantalizing fodder for movie folks on Twitter, where people often love to champion an underdog or proclaim their passion for films being overlooked and underseen. As "Margaret" expanded in its second weekend to cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, and more people have been catching up with and talking about the film even in N.Y. and L.A., writers such as Wesley Morris, Carrie Rickey, Ben Kenigsberg, Karina Longworth, Alison Willmore, Matt Singer, Mike D'Angelo, Vadim Rizov, Glenn Kenny and Richard Brody (as well as myself) have all taken to voicing support for the film either through reviews or on Twitter. There is no small undercurrent of simply trying to encourage awareness of the film, hoping audiences know it's out there before it's gone from theaters.

In a post at Yahoo's The Projector blog, Will Leitch did the math to surmise that the film was seen by only 624 people in its first weekend. The film expanded to 14 cities this past weekend, and its box office went up by 70%, for a per-screen average of around $900 and a new total nearing $25,000.

In Los Angeles, the film opened at the Landmark, one of the city's top-grossing theaters; for its second week, it moved over to the second-run Culver Plaza. (Even getting that second week at all could be considered a victory for the film.) Audiences that want the chance to join in the conversation and see for themselves what has critics a-Twitter had better try to find the time to meet "Margaret" before the last show on Thursday. 


After six years 'Margaret' finally arrives in theaters

The week in film: '50/50,' 'Margaret' and 'What's Your Number?' (video)

-- Mark Olsen


Photo of Matt Damon and Anna Paquin from "Margaret." Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

'Kids Are All Right' director Lisa Cholodenko: Not all lesbian love scenes are created equal

November 17, 2010 |  5:53 pm

Getprev When "The Kids Are All Right" was released this summer, there was little fanfare about a lesbian sex scene between the film's stars, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening.

But in advance of the December premiere of the dark ballet thriller "Black Swan," there's been a lot of attention focused on a racy same-sex scene between the movie's leads, Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis.

So why is the scene in "Black Swan" a bigger deal?

Filmgoers will have their own hypotheses, but Lisa Cholodenko, who directed "Kids," has her ideas.

Cholodenko has yet to see Darren Aronofsky's latest movie. When questioned about the difference between the sex scenes in both films, she asked reporters at an awards luncheon for "Kids" on Wednesday to describe the "Black Swan" scene. Upon hearing the description, she said it seemed the film could have done without the Kunis-Portman scene. "It sounds like the kind of subplot that could have not been in the movie," she said.

On the other hand, she continued, "Ours was done with humor. It wasn't languid sexuality. And in the tradition of lovemaking scenes, it's harder to sell ours -- the more awkward, interrupted sex scenes."

That's not to say Cholodenko hasn't taken heat for the way she treated sexuality in the movie. Many in the "lesbian right wing," she said, took issue with the fact that Moore's character cheats on her female partner and decides to sleep with a man, played by Mark Ruffalo.

"They say, 'Why did she have to stray with a man?'" the director said. "And that just feels very narrow to me. Sexuality is fluid. Not everyone lives on the lesbian reservation."

-- Amy Kaufman


Photo: Top, from left, Mia Wasikowska, director Lisa Cholodenko and Julianne Moore on the set of "The Kids Are All Right." Credit: Focus Features.


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LAFF 2010: The cast of 'The Kids Are All Right' goes downtown (VIDEO)

LAFF 2010: The cast of 'The Kids Are All Right' goes downtown (VIDEO)

June 18, 2010 |  1:58 pm

Kids Before the Lakers-inspired bedlam erupted Thursday night in downtown Los Angeles, an eager crowd gathered at L.A. Live's new Regal Cinemas to kick off the opening night of the Los Angeles Film Festival. The 10-day event launched with a screening of Lisa Cholodenko's family dramedy "The Kids Are All Right," the Sundance hit about a lesbian couple (played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) whose two teenage kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) decide to track down their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo).

The gang was all there Thursday, minus Bening, who bowed out for personal reasons. We caught up with the cast on the red carpet, where everyone seemed excited that the LA-centric film (shot largely in Venice and Echo Park) was premiering in the City of Angels.

"This movie, I think, is the exact perfect movie for the L.A. Film Festival," said Ruffalo, who had wife Sunrise Coigney by his side. "It’s a really great script. It’s a difficult script. Really well-polished. It has a lot of great humor in it. And it’s done for nothing. We worked very quickly with a very small budget. And I think that’s what the L.A. Film Festival is all about, at its best. [Film Independent head] Dawn Hudson, I know -- that’s what she has in mind by creating this festival."

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Preview review: 'The Kids Are All Right'

April 12, 2010 |  6:23 pm

6a00d8341c630a53ef01287721d7ca970c-500wi Coming off a much-buzzed about Sundance run earlier this year, Lisa Cholodenko's quirky family dramedy "The Kids Are All Right" seems to have a lot of hype to live up to.

Last week in his Word of Mouth column, our colleague John Horn said the film "is a favorite to become the summer's standout specialized release."

So it was with charged trepidation that we watched the newly released trailer for the film, out in July, about a lesbian couple (played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening) whose two teenage kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) decide to track down their sperm-donor dad (Mark Ruffalo).

We like the easy tone the trailer sets, much of which is due to the bouncy music used, like Madness' "Our House" and Vampire Weekend's "Cousin." The trailer seems to be marketed toward audiences that embraced "Little Miss Sunshine" and are looking for a smart take on the ever-changing modern family -- albeit one that seems to live in a bourgeois Nancy Meyers-esque home.

And the casting of Ruffalo as a drifter sperm-donor dad Paul seems spot on here.

"Right on, cool. I uh ... I love lesbians," he says when learning of the news that he's fathered two children.

Ruffalo always comes to life in small parts in indie dramas, but he's at his best when he plays the aloof spacey guy. We also like what we're seeing from newcomer Wasikowska here, who seems right at home as the family's inquisitive, emotional teen. As we've seen in her past films "High Art" and "Laurel Canyon," Cholodenko certainly has a way of telling unexpectedly moving tales about modern relationships. As for the dynamic between Bening and Moore, we're hoping their relationship will prove to be more comical than overwrought. Regardless, there's more than enough here to pique our interest in the film.

-- Amy Kaufman

Photo: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wasikowska star in "The Kids Are All Right." Credit: Focus Features.

Sundance 2010: Sympathy for Ruffalo? How to go from zero to hero at the same festival

January 29, 2010 |  1:19 pm

Exactly 10 years ago, Mark Ruffalo became the toast of Sundance when "You Can Count on Me" won the Grand Jury Prize for drama and went on to become one of the year's biggest indie hits. His career took off from there, with roles in indie classics such as  "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" to go along with the occasional studio paycheck (including this February's "Shutter Island" directed by Martin Scorsese).

Ruffalo A decade later, the actor was again back in Park City as a lion of the festival -- and, briefly, as its punching bag.

Sundance fortunes rise and fall, but rarely do they rise and fall so quickly. Last Saturday, "Sympathy for Delicious," Ruffalo's passion project and directorial debut involving a rock band and paraplegic faith healer -- a movie that ran a gantlet of obstacles even to get made, including production delays due to the death of Ruffalo's brother -- premiered to some of the festival's most tepid responses. 

"There's a lot of spirit of rock 'n' roll in it," Ruffalo said in a interview at the Bing Bar in conjunction with the movie's premiere. But many moviegoers heard only elevator music. Several people we spoke to who saw "Sympathy" found the band aspects inert, and were also put off by the strange premise and unconvincingly dour tone. So far, the film (in which Ruffalo also costars) hasn't found any buyers. It could sit on the shelf for a while, actually, especially as some of even the better-received titles still search for distribution.

But barely 48 hours later, Ruffalo went from zero to hero when "The Kids Are All Right" played to some of the warmest responses of the festival. Ruffalo's turn in Lisa Cholodenko's dramedy, as a sperm donor for a lesbian couple who comes back into the lives of the pair and their now-teenage offspring, drew immediate award talk and was one of the key reasons buyers chased the film.

"What he does that's so extraordinary is he makes the character so sympathetic," says Mandalay Vision executive Celine Rattray, a producer on "Kids." "He's an outsider and you're not supposed to root for him. But you totally do."

"Kids" offered a bookend of sorts to "You Can Count on Me" that was hard to ignore. Here, as in that movie, Ruffalo was playing a likable drifter who, after years away, arrives back on the scene to see what he'd sowed (and create a few new problems).

Ruffalo declined through a representative to comment for this piece. But the ability to find redemption with "Kids" had to feel a little weird, for a simple reason: He nearly didn't star in the film. The actor turned down the role several times -- because, of all things, he was editing "Sympathy." (He was finally persuaded just a short time before production started this past July. (In another moment of star alignment, the film wasn't even supposed to come to Sundance -- it arrived as a last-minute, uncataloged addition after organizers coaxed filmmakers to finish it in time.)

For all of its drama, Ruffalo's phoenix act may say more about the unique micro-climate of Sundance than it does about him. The cool response to "Sympathy" points up the strict standards of the indie crowd, unwilling to forgive artifice even -- or especially -- when it come with a movie that sits in Sundance's quirky-drama wheelhouse.

But the reception Ruffalo drew for "Kids" shows that the Sundance audience is also a comeback-loving group. You can commit a sin with with them, but return with a good performance several days later, and that same audience will tell you that it's all, well, all right.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Mark Ruffalo. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Sharkey on Sundance: Punk saviors

January 24, 2010 |  8:33 am

If there is a collective vision emerging out of the films in the Sundance dramatic competition it is this: The punks will save you. 

Profane, tattooed, with dark eyes and darker lives, all a little crazy, in some cases a lot crazy, living on society’s margins – in three of the festival’s contenders, these rebels come into the lives of ordinary folks and proceed to turn things upside down in ways that heal whatever ails them.

While the films work to greater and lesser degrees, it’s the narrative stream that makes it worth exploring since Sundance has a way of picking up on new creative thought streams bubbling up in the film world before they become widespread. So consider this a glimpse at the future.

Kristen-stewart-welcome-to-the-rileys-2 Let's start with two films that premiered Saturday, “Welcome to the Rileys,” starring James Gandolfini, Kristen Stewart and Melissa Leo, and Mark Ruffalo’s directing debut, “Sympathy for Delicious.”
“The Rileys” marks the feature directing debut of Jake Scott, who comes out of a creative thought stream of his own with father Ridley Scott and uncle Tony. Leo and Gandolfini play a Louisiana couple, Doug and Lois, whose teenage daughter was killed in a car accident. They have not done well with the grieving and now four years in, Leo’s character can’t leave the house and Gandolfini's is mourning another loss, this time his mistress felled by a heart attack.

A trip to New Orleans changes all that. Kristen Stewart is a teenage runaway, paying her way stripping and hooking when Doug stumbles across her. In a flash, his midlife crisis turns into a mission – if he couldn’t save his daughter, maybe he can save someone else's – and then the hard-as-nails young stripper turns out to be a catalyst for changing his.

Jake Scott has been shooting commercials (the starting point for dad and uncle as well) for a while, so he brings a polish to the work, and Gandolfini remains one of the most interesting actors to watch today. Stewart, what with the vampires and a turn as Joan Jett in "The Runaways" coming later today, is turning into a force on her own.

Meanwhile out west on the mean streets of L.A., Ruffalo is a priest ministering to the homeless and that includes a wheelchair-bound DJ dubbed Delicious, a scratcher extraordinaire now unemployed and living in his car after a freak accident left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Christopher Thornton, the film’s screenwriter and star who himself was paralyzed at 25 in a rock-climbing accident, is the film’s dark savior with Orlando Bloom and Juliette Lewis as the main rock star sinners. Turns out there’s nothing that will broaden the rocker crowds quite like spontaneous healing, even when the guy doing it looks like he could have played with Metallica. Like a lot of actors when they try their hand at directing, Ruffalo lets his actors, including himself, ramble on, but the underlying story of faith, hope and disillusionment is nevertheless a compelling one.

Finally, director Spencer Susser’s “Hesher” is the darkest of the bunch, with baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an insane, homeless druggie with a giant finger flipping off the world tattooed on his back, Jesus hair and a messiah complex. Hesher literally moves himself in with a family so destroyed by a car accident they're not really paying attention. He sets about saving them by wreaking havoc thanks to a bad temper with a very short fuse – a sort of no pain, no gain approach with cars set on fire, noses clipped off, houses destroyed, and that’s on a good day.

The central issue though is the same, that we the people have lost our way and are in search of someone to guide us out of the morass and the mess. And the message running through all three films is the same too, that the rebels, the misfits, the outcasts will be the ones to save a desperately floundering mainstream America. It feels like the surface-scratching beginnings of a significant conversation, still raw and evolving, but a beginning, one we're likely to look back on years from now and say it all started at Sundance 2010.

-- Film critic Betsy Sharkey

Photo: Kristen Stewart in "Welcome to the Rileys." Credit: Argonaut Pictures.

Mark Ruffalo and Christopher Thornton pull a Matt & Ben

January 23, 2010 |  8:00 am

Mark Ruffalo

Back in 1997, when Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were going from unknowns to Oscar winners, two struggling actors watched the success of the "Good Will Hunting" writers and felt motivated.

One of those actors, Mark Ruffalo, wound up breaking out in the 2000 indie darling "You Can Count on Me" and went on to star in such films as "Collateral," "Zodiac" and the upcoming "Shutter Island." The other was Christopher Thornton, Ruffalo’s close friend from their days as students at the Stella Adler Conservatory in Los Angeles. Thornton's career had been significantly derailed by a climbing accident in 1992, which left him in a paraplegic.

The two have now collaborated on a new movie, "Sympathy for Delicious," which debuts at Sundance tonight. (See more on the film here.)

Directed by Ruffalo and written by Thornton, it centers on an angry and homeless paraplegic disc jockey named Delicious D (Thornton) who discovers he has the ability to cure illnesses with his hands. He can’t cure himself, however, and instead allows his skills to become the centerpiece of a punk rock act. “The band’s leader is, like, it would be cool to bring it onstage, man. Just as a little sideshow. And what happens is it’s a sensation, and he becomes huge from it, “ says Ruffalo, who also acts in it, playing a priest working with the homeless.

As for the tone of the film, "there is definitely satire," says Ruffalo, noting that the frenzy of rock 'n' roll often mirrors the frenzy that surrounds faith healers. It's a practice that Ruffalo, who recovered several years ago from a brain tumor, doesn’t believe in. "The whole movie, there’s people battling against reality," he says.

-- Rachel Abramowitz

Photo: Mark Ruffalo on the set of "Sympathy for Delicious." Credit: Gary Friedman


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