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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Matt Damon

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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Are Tom Cruise and Matt Damon starting to switch places?

December 28, 2011 |  7:00 am

Matt Damon in "We Bought a Zoo."
Four years ago, you would had to have been as crazy as, well, Tom Cruise on Oprah's couch to bet against Matt Damon. The Massachusetts-born actor was coming off one of the biggest movies of the year in "The Bourne Ultimatum" and was part of the reason for the blockbuster success of "Ocean's 13."

Damon pretty much had his pick of directors, and in the years that followed, he made good on that capital. He reunited with Steven Soderbergh and Paul Greengrass, this time in less commercial films, and also did turns with Clint Eastwood, the Coen Bros. and Cameron Crowe.

After all those prestige bids, it's not a stretch to say that Damon has solidified his place as one of the best actors in his peer group. But even his most ardent supporters would have trouble saying he's a commercial draw. A-listers take nondescript movies and elevate them into hits. Damon seems to forever be stuck in a middling midrange. If that.

Many of his movies over the past four years have been disappointments — "Invictus," "Hereafter," "The Informant!" and "Green Zone." And now "We Bought a Zoo" has struggled in its early days of release. We won't even get into "Margaret."

Of this recent burst, Damon had only three movies that could be reasonably called successes — and two of those ( ("The Adjustment Bureau" and "Contagion") only modest ones. A third film, "True Grit," was a mega-hit, but for all the appeal of his dandyish LaBoeuf character, Damon seemed to be riding the coattails of Jeff Bridges and the Coens.

Contrast that with Cruise. Four years ago, he couldn't have been colder. He had acrimoniously split with Paramount, then got himself involved in some Nazi-eyepatch mockery while shooting "Valkyrie." He tried going his own way when he starred as a snaky politician in  "Lions for Lambs" (a domestic debacle), and was generally seen as taking himself way too seriously, even for a messiah-esque action star. 

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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

Is Matt Damon finally regaining his mainstream appeal?

March 7, 2011 |  7:00 am


Last week on "Piers Morgan Tonight," Matt Damon quipped that he had gone from one of the most bankable actors in Hollywood just three years ago to one of its least cost-effective today. Citing a Forbes story about actors' earning power, Damon said his agents these days were doing far too good a job -- he was pulling in top paychecks despite generating only middling box office.

Damon may have been joking, but he wasn't really kidding. Until this weekend, every lead role he's tackled since leaving behind his signature Jason Bourne character in 2007 (a roster that includes "The Informant!" Invictus" and "Green Zone") was a commercial disappointment. A co-lead part last fall in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" didn't work out much better. Only True Grit" bucked the trend, and that one wasn't primarily Damon's doing.

The underwhelming reception has been a shame considering how much Damon has stretched himself. Whatever you think of any of those five movies, Damon's part in each is wildly different, both from the others and from what most big-name actors are trying these days. It's very few A-list performers who can go from a troubled clairvoyant ("Hereafter") to a dandy cowboy ("True Grit") to a star-crossed politician ("The Adjustment Bureau") in the space of five months.

Damon finally seemed to snap his losing streak this past weekend when "The Adjustment Bureau" opened to a sturdy $20.9 million, at the middle-high end of industry estimates and in a solid second place behind "Rango." It is, perhaps not coincidentally, his first film of the recent group with a heavy romantic component, which may suggest where one of his key constituencies lies these days.

If the number was a relief to fans of Damon's adventurousness, though, it also raised the question of why it took so long.

Part of Damon's slump can be attributed to the selectivity that makes him interesting in the first place. Having helped anchor major franchises such as the Bourne and "Ocean's" series, the 40-year-old is at the point in his career when he has the leverage to get trickier movies made, which almost inevitably leads to a slump. It's the self-correcting mechanism of Hollywood: Chart enough hits and you're afforded the chance to make the passion projects, which all but guarantees you won't chart as many hits.

But there's a more specific arc for Damon, who in the last few years lost the broad-spectrum appeal of his Bourne and "Ocean's" days thanks to his political outspokenness, which has drawn the criticism of the likes of Andrew Breitbart and others. Damon collaborated on a television documentary with Howard Zinn. He became an activist for causes perceived as liberal.  During the 2008 election season, he famously angered the right-wing blogosphere when he questioned whether Sarah Palin's "hockey mom" bona fides translated into an ability to govern.

It's not clear yet if the "Bureau" numbers can be interpreted as a sign that Middle America is willing to get past their suspicion of Damon and focus on his acting, which from "The Talented Mr. Ripley" to "The Good Shepherd" to his current phase has always been strikingly well-regarded.

It is worth noting that "Bureau" marks the biggest opening for any Damon movie since "The Bourne Ultimatum," and a definite improvement over the measly $14.3 million for "Green Zone" a year ago, when a confluence of factors that included the actor's politics and the movie's (perceived) ideology led to audiences largely staying away.

Damon these days is also criticizing President Obama for a lack of idealism and ambition, and though it's not exactly the same criticism you might hear on Fox News,  it lands a little differently from his candor about Sarah Palin.  And unlike Sean Penn, whose box office really does sometimes seem dinged by his outspokenness, Damon pulls off political activism with charisma and humor, even when he's talking about starchy subjects like African water shortages, or talking up "Inside Job," which he narrated.

A fourth Bourne movie currently remains on hold for Damon and director Paul Greengrass as writers try to hammer out a script. Instead, in the next 18 months Damon will offer up a Cameron Crowe movie about a Southern California father who becomes a zoo owner; a Steven Soderbergh medical action-thriller; and a Liberace biopic, in which he'll play the iconic pianist's boyfriend. The adventurousness will keep coming. We'll see if moviegoers do too.

-- Steven Zeitchik


"Rango" wins box-office shootout; "Adjustment Bureau" in second

Why "Green Zone" failed

Matt Damon gets adjusted

Photo: Matt Damon at January's Golden Globes. Credit: Paul Drinkwater / NBC / Getty Images

Matt Damon: Steven Soderbergh really does plan to retire from filmmaking

December 22, 2010 | 11:22 am

Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh 

Matt Damon has been in Chicago working on "Contagion," the pandemic thriller directed by Steven Soderbergh, and the actor said he's consciously tried to enjoy the experience because he doubts that he will have many more chances to work with the filmmaker.

"He's retiring, he's been talking about it for years and it's getting closer," Damon said of Soderbergh, whose credits include "Erin Brockovich," "Ocean's Eleven," "The Informant" and "Sex, Lies and Videotape." Soderbergh turns 48 next month, and if that sounds young, that's the point, Damon said.

"He wants to paint and he says he’s still young enough to have another career," Damon said. "He’s kind of exhausted with everything that interested him in terms of form. He’s not interested in telling stories. Cinema interested him in terms of form and that’s it. He says, 'If I see another over-the-shoulder shot, I’m going to blow my brains out.' "

Soderbergh told Esquire two years ago that he'd like to retire by the age of 51, which marks his 25th year as a filmmaker. Damon offers more specifics: “After this movie we’re doing ‘Liberace’ next summer with Michael Douglas, and then he might do one more movie after that with George [Clooney], and then after that he’s retiring."

It may sound like a hoax or gag, but Damon said he is absolutely serious -- the only filmmaker nominated twice in the same year for the Academy Award for best director (for "Traffic" and "Erin Brockovich," both released in 2000) is weary of moviemaking. Damon, who has appeared in five Soderbergh films, said it's frustrating for him to contemplate.

"After I worked with Clint [Eastwood] I went back and said, ‘Look, Clint is having a blast and he's going to be 80 years old.’ And Steven says back, ‘Yeah, but he’s a storyteller and I’m not,’” Damon recounted. "If you're an actor or a writer or someone working in film, it's such a waste. For me, I'm going to spend the next 40 years trying to become a great director and I will never reach what he's reached. And he's walking away from it."

-- Geoff Boucher

Photo: Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh. Credit: Getty Images


Why do so many older critics love 'Hereafter' while younger reviewers can't stand it?

October 20, 2010 |  4:13 pm

For a director who's known for a studied lack of sensationalism, Clint Eastwood is sure riling up a lot of people.

Eastwood's new movie "Hereafter" opened last weekend in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto, where it grossed a very strong $36,000 per screen. It will play across the country beginning this weekend. But where this unassuming spiritual drama should be doing what many movies aimed at grown-ups do -- get a finite number of people to quietly come out to see the film -- something more polarizing is happening. Eastwood, who at 80 epitomizes Hollywood restraint and politesse, is causing a ruckus.

"Hereafter" examines three geographically separate but thematically related characters, all of whom have some connection to death and the afterlife. There's a working-class London boy who has tragically lost his twin brother and wants desperately to communicate with him. There's a reluctant San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon) who would like nothing more than to stop communing with the dead. And there's a Parisian woman obsessed with what comes next after she goes through a near-death experience in the 2005 Asian tsunami.

Hereaft Eastwood's new film, it quickly becomes clear, is a bold examination of spiritual concerns that the movie business is typically too scared or too secular to explore.

Or wait, it's a warmed-over exercise in Hollywood cliche and pseudo-spirituality.

As the movie stands on the threshold between hit and disappointment (and awards contender and Oscar also-ran), critics are sharply divided. But they're not just divided in the usual way. They're divided, it seems, along generational lines.

Here's how it breaks down: Many younger reviewers -- those in their 30s and 40s, and maybe inching into their early 50s -- are coming down hard on the movie. Most of the older generation? They're  finding much to embrace in the movie.

The list of prominent naysayers reads like a who's-who of prominent younger critics: the New York Post's Kyle Smith, New York Magazine's David Edelstein, Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek, The Onion's Nathan Rabin, Time Out New York's Joshua Rothkopf and Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum. We could spend a whole post on their diatribes, but here is Rothkopf, channeling many of his contemporaries: "Hereafter" is "an undercooked slice of paranormal mumbo jumbo.... What was Clint thinking?"

Or Smith: "Clint Eastwood's 'Hereafter' brings together recent historical events, including a European terrorist attack, plus Charles Dickens and the after life without having anything to say about any of these topics. The movie drags, yet it feels like it's missing an hour."

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Matt Damon will tell the story of Lance Armstrong

October 19, 2010 |  1:35 pm














EXCLUSIVE: Matt Damon is set to play Lance Armstrong in a long-gestating biopic about the Tour de France champion that may never get made.

But he'll be connected to the star athlete in another filmic way: Damon will narrate the new documentary about Armstrong from Oscar-winner Alex Gibney.

Gibney, whose Eliot Spitzer nonfiction film "Client 9" is coming out next month (more on that in a later post), centers his Armstrong movie on the cyclist's much-touted comeback at the 2009 Tour de France.

Gibney sees in Armstrong a figure both complex and polarizing. "There is, at least from the public perspective, a big disparity of opinion on him. Some people hold him up to be a saint. Particularly if you're a cancer survivor or cancer patient, he provides enormous hope," Gibney says. "Other people see in him a kind of hypocrisy, and hypocrisy drives people crazy, particularly if they make money off it."

Damon Gibney is pulling a bit of a switch with the comeback tale. The director has often been preoccupied with powerful people brought low, as he was in the Oscar-nominated "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" and the Spitzer doc. He also directed the Afghanistan torture movie "Taxi to the Dark Side," which won the Academy Award for best documentary.

With a recognizable voice and a clear (and at times itself polarizing) interest in current events, Damon has been moonlighting as a documentary narrator quite a bit lately. He narrates the current financial-crisis doc "Inside Job" and did the same on the 2008 water-crisis doc "Running the Sahara."

Gibney says he chose the actor because he knew many cycling fans were aware of Damon's attachment to the Armstrong feature and wanted to give them another point of connection to the story. The movie, incidentally, has been in development for more than six years, with veteran producer Frank Marshall ("Back to the Future," the Bourne movies) set to direct, but at this moment the film doesn't have much, er, forward momentum.

Meanwhile, the Armstrong doc, which is set to come out next year, becomes more timely as doping scandals grow — disgraced Tour de France 2006 champion Floyd Landis has accused Armstrong and others of doping, and three-time and current champion Alberto Contador risks being stripped of his title because of a failed drug test — developments that also make Gibney's movie a moving target.

The filmmaker, who is mostly done shooting but is still talking to some subjects, says this makes for hard but necessary choices. "At some point, the only thing you can do is make up your mind on when the story ends," he says. "If you try to put in too much, the film will just go on forever."

— Steven Zeitchik


Photos: Top, Lance Armstrong. Credit:  Bradley C Bower / Associated Press. Above, Matt Damon. Credit: Peter Foley / EPA.


Preview review: Clint Eastwood finds new life with 'Hereafter'

September 14, 2010 | 10:24 am

Hereafter01 At 80, Clint Eastwood has made it clear he has no interest in repeating himself.

"At the age I am now, I just don't have any interest in going back and doing the same sort of thing over and over. That's one of the reasons I moved away from westerns," he told our colleague Geoff Boucher recently.

Case in point? Eastwood's latest film, his sixth in fewer than four years, a supernatural drama called "Hereafter."

The film -- which we get a glimpse of in a newly released trailer -- centers on three individuals with unique connections to death and what may happen afterward. There's a young boy grappling with the loss of his twin brother (Frankie McLaren), a French journalist who apparently comes back to life after dying in a tsunami (Cécile de France) and a psychic who holds the power to connect with the dead (Matt Damon).

But if you watched the trailer, you likely weren't able to tell that Damon only comprises a third of the film. He's featured prominently throughout the preview (a marketing decision that is perhaps understandable, considering McLaren is a newcomer and American audiences aren't yet all that familiar with De France).

Playing a reluctant medium struggling with whether or not to use his powers, he's inhabiting the role he's often best in -- a man who's hesitant to show his emotions.

Critics are already remarking that the film seems like a departure for Eastwood. Some of that probably comes from the triptych structure, and some of it from the instances of CG (particularly in an opening scene depicting a tsunami). While scenes like these lead us to believe the movie will be visually stunning, we're a bit worried that the movie could have a somewhat maudlin tone. We don't think anyone cracks a smile once in this trailer.

It's Eastwood and Damon, of course, so we're still intrigued. We just hope that the film doesn't rely on stale ideas about the hereafter -- and is able to deliver the emotional wallop it seems to be promising.

--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Bryce Dallas Howard and Matt Damon in "Hereafter." Credit: Warner Bros.


Eastwood and ‘Hereafter’ speak to the dead: ‘I knew right away I wanted to do it’

'Hereafter': Eastwood goes digital

With 'Hereafter,' Clint Eastwood contemplates what's next

Matt Damon gets adjusted

July 7, 2010 | 11:36 am


Poor Matt Damon. Maybe it's just that he works too hard. Last year, the Oscar winner was scheduled to bring out three movies in the fall and saw Universal move one ("Green Zone") into March of the following year. This coming fall, it will happen again.

Universal announced Wednesday morning that it was pushing the "The Adjustment Bureau," the Philip K. Dick-derived sci-fi romance in which Damon plays a politician opposite Emily Blunt's mysterious ballerina, from its initial Sept. 17 date to March 4.

Damon will instead concentrate on his two other fall films: the Coen brothers' "True Grit" remake (which Scott Rudin is producing and which will no doubt demand some serious awards-season promotion time, as Scott Rudin films are wont to demand) and the Clint Eastwood thriller "Hereafter." The latter comes out in December; the former in October.

In fact, the pattern is remarkably similar to last year, when Damon had an awards-season auteur movie (Steven Soderbergh's "The Informant") and a Clint Eastwood film ("Invictus") take pride of place over a Universal play. Damon and his wife are also expecting a child in the early fall, so he's cutting back to just two movies for the season.

Universal's "Adjustment" adjustment set off/was part of a flurry of other scheduling moves by the studio. Few others were of great consequence, though the James Cameron-produced underwater adventure "Sanctum" will now come out a month earlier, on Feb. 4, (it had been set for the March 4 slot). And the studio has moved from February to September "Devil,' a claustrophobic horror film that's produced by the company of the airbender, M. Night Shyamalan (and had been commonly referred to as "The Night chronicles," the name of a series).

Incidentally, the Damon switch means that it's the second movie of the fall-spring season about mystical events surrounding a ballerina. Darren Aronofsky follows up his tour de force "The Wrestler" with "Black Swan,' about mysterious goings-on at the New York ballet, in a likely fall release. And they say Hollywood has abandoned the highbrow.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in 'The Adjustment Bureau.' Credit: Andy Schwartz / Universal Pictures


Matt Damon gets all ugly for Oscar

Matt Damon fights for love and free will in The Adjustment Bureau

Movie Review: Green Zone

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Preview review: Matt Damon fights for love and free will in 'The Adjustment Bureau'

May 13, 2010 |  4:00 pm

Ab1 There hasn’t been too much hype for Matt Damon’s upcoming film “The Adjustment Bureau,” but after the trailer was released Thursday, it seems the Internet is abuzz over it, with bloggers and critics asking, "Why haven’t we heard more about this one?”

The movie, based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, will hit theaters in September after Universal pushed back its end-of-summer release date. The trailer begins with ballerina Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) and Senate candidate David Norris (Matt Damon) meeting each other seemingly for the first time, and it’s evident that immediately there's strong chemistry between them. Their shared glance triggers strong emotions within David — but are those feelings genuine or are they a part of some greater scheme controlled by a group of fedora-wearing men called the Adjustment Bureau?

David’s meeting with Elise was apparently not a part of that plan, and now David has to choose if he wants true love — which would mean sacrificing his political ambitions and apparently her dancing career — or to put his life back on the track it had been on.

The movie, directed by “The Bourne Ultimatum” scribe George Nolfi, seems to strike that rare but perfect balance that makes it appealing to both women and men — there’s a real, interesting romantic relationship at the center of everything that’s shrouded by a science-fiction mystery. We like the mix of flirty vignettes of the couple interspersed with the intense moments between David and the Adjustment Bureau. It also seems to have an “Inception”-esque vibe to it without getting crazily confusing.

That being said, our main qualm with the trailer is that it may give too much away — “just remember, we tried to reason with you,” one member of the bureau warns David. As the couple walks toward a blinding white light and David declares his love for Elise, it seems he opts for free will over fate.

Still, even if we have an idea of where the film is going, we’re intrigued enough to see what will happen once it gets there.


— Amy Kaufman (Twitter.com/AmyKinLA)

Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.


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