Jessica Chastain

REVIEW: The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021)

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Tammy Faye Bakker (Jessica Chastain) and her husband Jim (Andrew Garfield), rise from humble beginnings to create the world’s largest religious broadcasting network and theme park. However, financial improprieties, scheming rivals and a scandal soon threaten to topple their carefully constructed empire.

Personally, I had never heard of evangelicals Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker before hearing about this film. It is about people and events that were before my time and I’m pretty sure we didn’t have any kind of religious broadcasting channels here in the UK – personally my family didn’t get Sky and therefore more than the standard four channels until I was about fourteen and that was in the mid-2000s. But I like Jessica Chastain a lot and got the chance to see The Eyes of Tammy Faye at a local film festival months before it’s released in the UK so thought why not.

I’m very glad I gave this film ago. It is a bit unsure at times whether it wants to be a standard biopic or lean into the over-the-top almost satire of these people’s situation but Chastain’s performance guides you through any shaky moments. It also works best when it leans into the absurdity.

The costumes are stunning and are so very ‘80s and it’s hard not to get swept up in the glamour of it all. The religious songs Chastain sings are also super catchy as well and the whole package that Tammy Faye presents to their audience is bold and energetic. How this then contrasts to her at home, when she feels neglected by her husband makes events even more affecting.

Truly Chastain is fantastic in The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Often, she’s unrecognisable thanks to the hair, makeup and prosthetic work she has going on but equally her performance is stunning too. Over the course of the film, she goes from being bubbly and full of life to disconnected and close to depressed as all her hopes and dreams come crashing down around her. She plays all the aspects of Tammy’s personality so well and it’s kind of sad sometimes because Tammy appears to be a woman who loves people, loves God, and to her detriment, loves her husband. She is full of love and is far more accepting than any other evangelical preacher seen in The Eyes of Tammy Faye – Vincent D’Onofrio plays Pastor Jerry Falwell who is the most pious of the religious figures that surround her.

While Chastain and Garfield are both great, Cherry Jones who plays Tammy’s mother Rachel steals just about every scene she’s in. Her scathing line delivery is hilarious and her presence is felt even when she’s not on screen. She’s the one person Tammy wants to impress and be proud of her, while Rachel is more suspicious of her daughter and son-in-law’s careers. Rachel is a religious woman but doesn’t see how people sending their money to the network is something God would condone.

Honestly Andrew Garfield is great as the weaselly Jim Bakker. He can be both cruel and charismatic and as the viewer you can see the things that Tammy is oblivious to and how while she did things with often the best intentions, he did them to further his life. Like honestly, the man was awful and both Garfield and Chastain did such good jobs in their roles that I was mad at him for hurting her – even though if she’d been a little more present in the running of the network, she wouldn’t have been so blindsided by her husband’s lies.

Speaking of Garfield, at the beginning in the 1960s when Jim and Tammy meet at college there is some weirdness going on with Andrew Garfield’s face. I’m not sure if it is the de-aging CGI that we’re often seeing in films nowadays, the makeup or a combination of the two but I’ve never seen a man with such a smooth face. He looked like a Ken doll in those scenes. Once the narrative had moved on so he was playing a Jim that was closer to his age (Garfield is 38) this stopped and he looked a lot more normal.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye is a funny and at times almost surreal biopic. The performances are all fantastic and it’s hard not to feel sympathy for Tammy Faye as it really does seem like she was an enthusiastic and caring woman. But, due to her trusting nature and her faith she was easily led and betrayed. 4/5.

REVIEW: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

After an accident on a space mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) begins to develop powers beyond her control. Her fellow X-Men fight to help her while other forces seek to either destroy or control her.

Oh boy is X-Men: Dark Phoenix a mess. It looks and feels like everyone involved didn’t really care much anymore. For all we know that may have been the case as Disney had bought Fox during the films production or post-production, so it was pretty much presumed that this was likely to be the last X-men film with these characters and actors. The special effects aren’t great, and the makeup and prosthetics are even worse. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a horrible shade of blue and looks far worse than she did in the previous three films Lawrence played the character in.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg who is better known as a writer and producer. In fact, Dark Phoenix was his directorial debut and it wasn’t particularly well directed to be honest. In action sequences they are either incredibly static and not interesting or they’re more chaotic and you have little idea of the space these characters are fighting in relation to one another.

The characterisation of some of the characters in this film is awful, if they are even given much to do. Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are often side-lined, while Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) loses his dorky innocence and becomes a coldblooded killer, not dissimilar to the mind-controlled version in X2 and it’s incredibly jarring. The biggest character assassination is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). He is the absolute worst in this film. He’s self-absorbed and almost power-hungry before things go wrong and when you learn of his involvement in Jean’s trauma it makes him look even worse. While Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is hardly doing anything new – trying to live the quiet life but then gets pulled into a conflict – as least Fassbender actually gives a good performance which is more than a lot of his co-workers did.

I’m a big fan of the found family trope (there’s a reason why the Fast and Furious films are some of my favourites) and even how they shoehorned that idea into the climax of this film couldn’t save it for me. Speaking of the climax, it happens on a train and is one of the most visually uninteresting sequences ever.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a sour note to potentially end this X-Men franchise on. The dialogue is bad with some really cringey lines, the plot is barely there and there are so many factions going after Jean that while I believe it to be comic book accurate, the addition of Jessica Chastain’s undeveloped character and compatriots feels unnecessary and there’s enough going on that it might’ve been a better film without them. I’d prefer to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine than this. 1/5.

E is for Elizabeth Sloane

Miss Sloane is one of my favourite films of recent years and that’s mainly down to the titular character, Elizabeth Sloane, and Jessica Chastain’s performance as her.

Elizabeth Sloane is a cutthroat lobbyist and isn’t a particularly nice person a lot of the time. She will use and manipulate people in order to get the results she wants. She’s not afraid to bend or break the law either. There are moments where it seems like she is making genuine connections with people but you’re never really sure of her motives or how genuine she actually is.

Elizabeth Sloane is one of my favourite types of character. She is incredibly smart and forward-thinking. She’s the kind of person who treats her job and her goals as a game of chess, always looking three moves ahead and setting out plans to counter her oppositions possible actions in anticipation of whatever they might to next. She can predict peoples reactions so well that a lot of the time she’s in complete control, or if she’s not she soon will be. She has plans and backup plans and hardly ever lets anyone in on her schemes because the less people know, the more likely she can herd them in the direction she wants.

On a more superficial note, I absolutely adore the costuming in this film and every single one of Elizabeth’s outfits is incredible. They are the perfect example of office chic and the way she is dressed just exudes power and competence.

REVIEW: Ava (2020)

Ava (Jessica Chastain) left her family behind years ago after becoming a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organisation. As Ava tries to reconnect with her mother (Geena Davis), sister (Jess Weixler) and ex-fiancé (Common), the repercussions of a job gone wrong make themselves known, she is forced to fight for her own survival.

Ava is a combination of two different genres – family drama and action thriller – and it does neither well. The family drama aspect is dull and while the thriller part is more convoluted with Ava’s mentor (John Malkovich) and employer (Colin Farrell) fighting over if she’s still capable at her job. By blending the two genres and plotlines, neither aspect is given the development it needs to be compelling. The family drama stuff drags, and the conflict between members of the black ops organisation feels out of place.

I’m a person of simple tastes and I’ll always like seeing actresses fight, and beat, guys in hand-to-hand combat, however a film isn’t a good film simply because it has that. The fight scenes are brutal, and Chastain often does end up covered in blood and bruises, but the sequences are so badly edited that they are neither easy to follow or engaging.

So often this films just seems to be going through the motions; Ava gets betrayed by her employers, she argues with her family, she gets in a fight or a shootout. It’s like the script was full of tick boxes of action or narrative beats but few of them connect with each other, so the overall plot isn’t cohesive or entertaining.

Ava is dull and generic, so if you like some mindless 90-minute action film then this would suit but it’s not memorable at all. Even though the scene with Chastain taking down a bunch of guys while wearing a backless red dress is pretty cool. 1/5.

REVIEW: Woman Walks Ahead (2017)

Catherine Weldon (Jessica Chastain), a painter from 1980s New York, travels to Dakota to paint the portrait of Sitting Bull (Michael Greyeyes) and becomes invested in the Lakota peoples’ struggle to keep their land.

The direction and script hit all the usual biopic buttons but it’s the relationship between and performances from the two leads that really stands out in Woman Walks Ahead. Jessica Chastain is brilliant as Catherine Weldon, she’s a determined woman but she also has her fears and makes mistakes as she attempts to learn about the Lakota people. Michael Greyeyes’s is steely and calm as Sitting Bull but there’s also a wit to him. There’s a surprising amount of amusing moments between Sitting Bull and Weldon as they get to know one another. Their relationship is one of deep friendship, but there’s also those hints of something more, if life was kinder.

The wide-open spaces of Dakota’s plains and the ever-changing sky is both harsh and beautiful. It’s a fitting setting for this story as Catherine see’s the beauty in things that most people would not, and the story of the Lakota people’s struggles is one that’s deeply tragic and the film never shies away from the atrocities committed.

As the focus is so much on Weldon and Sitting Bull, the military personnel who are all the villains of the piece, are largely cardboard cut-outs of characters. Though Sam Rockwell’s Colonel Silas Groves is an intriguing character, the reveals about his backstory comes too late to have a lasting impact. Groves and the other military men are deeply racist and when the film attempts to show Groves in a better light, it ultimately falls flat.

Woman Walks Ahead is based on a true story about an unlikely and touching friendship. The performances and cinematography are both beautiful and often haunting, but unfortunately they don’t quite elevate this film to greatness. 3/5.

REVIEW: Molly’s Game (2017)

The true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a self-made woman who ran the most exclusive high-stakes poker games in America, attended by film stars, musicians, businessmen, and unbeknownst to her, the mob, and the subsequent court case when she becomes an FBI target.

Molly’s Game is a fast-paced film, with rapid quick-cut editing and a voiceover from Bloom throughout. This voiceover adds details such as she was thinking and, when it comes to the poker games, explains some of the slang terms for hands and cards. While the film does offer these moments of explanation, there’s a lot to take in and it might have been easier to follow, and perhaps that bit more enjoyable, if you have more of an understanding of poker. It’s still an engaging film though, there’s just a lot of information being giving to you almost constantly through the voiceover.

The script is razor sharp, which is unsurprising really as it’s penned by Aaron Sorkin (writer of The West Wing, The Social Network and many other shows and films). The dialogue is funny and lively, and the scenes jump between the present and Bloom’s court room battle, and her rise and fall in the world of poker.

Jessica Chastain gives another stellar performance here. She’s commands every scene she’s in and outshines just about any other actor she’s on screen with. Idris Elba plays Charlie Jaffey, Bloom’s lawyer, and their verbal sparring matches as they slowly begin to understand one another are electric.

Molly’s Game is an entertaining film, albeit perhaps a bit overlong, with great performances, some laughs and high-drama. 4/5.

REVIEW: Miss Sloane (2016)

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is the most sought after lobbyist in Washington D.C. But when she turns down the job of working against a gun control bill and instead joins Rodolfo Schmidt’s (Mark Strong) firm which is working to ensure the bill passes, she finds herself against her most powerful opponent.

Miss Sloane is a gripping political thriller. While it does feature the hot topic of gun control and putting restrictions on who can go and buy a gun, the film uses that to show the tactics lobbyists use to get congressmen onside, and how politics can be corrupted. It’s a fascinating look behind the curtain of American politics and while this story is fiction, it is an interesting look at how bills can succeed or fail.

Elizabeth Sloane is amazing. She’s one of those characters who isn’t a nice person at all and will happily use people to get the result she wants but there’s something about her that pulls you in. She is a master tactician and a thing the film does really well is it not only has multiple characters say how smart and formidable she is, but actually shows you how smart and formidable she is. Jessica Chastain knocks it out of the park in this role, showing there are some very hidden layers to Elizabeth and she has no problem with who she is.

While Chastain stills the show, the whole cast is truly brilliant. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sam Waterston, Alison Pill and John Lithgow all deserve a mention as they all give great performances.

The music and set design make everything about the world these politicians work in look clean and perfect but it really helps hide the truth that there is shady business going on in politics every day. All the costumes are great, with suits and office attire adding another facet to each character.

Miss Sloane is a brilliant film that will have you rooting for the underdog. Jessica Chastain is amazing in the role and it’s a film I can’t stop thinking about. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)

The true story of Antonina (Jessica Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), keepers of the Warsaw Zoo, who helped saved hundreds of Jews during the German invasion.

The Zookeeper’s Wife is a beautiful looking film. So bright when the zoo is open and thriving, it’s almost idyllic before the Nazi’s invade, Antonina cuddles lion cubs and her son Ryszard (Timothy Radford and Val Maloku) has a pet skunk. Living and working in a zoo almost seems utopian until it’s suddenly and violently attacked. The juxtaposition of the innocence of animals to the cruelty of people can be a little heavy handed at times but there are certain moments of brilliance, like when tigers and lions walk down the bombed streets of Warsaw.

There’s a throbbing sense of foreboding once Antonina and Jan decide to try and help the Jewish people who had been rounded up into a ghetto. Every person is a potential threat from the cook, to neighbours and of course the German soldiers who are always on patrol. They have a plan and a system in place but there’s always the threat of discovering hanging over their heads like a guillotine.

The Nazi occupation is personified by German zoologist Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl) who is forever a lurking and watching the Zabinski’s. It begins as a mutual love of animals but his interest soon turns to Antonina causing an extra thread of tension to grow not only between the two of them but also between Antonina and Jan.

The themes of love, friendship and loyalty in the face of hatred, which are so often seen in films set in this time period, are no less affecting. This is down to great writing and brilliant performances from all involved. The Zookeeper’s Wife is sometimes a brutal and upsetting experience but there is still hope in the way Antonina and Jan resist the Nazi occupation and their ideologies. 4/5.

REVIEW: Crimson Peak (2015)

crimson-peak-poster-elenasquareeyesAspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) is enchanted by the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston). Leaving everything she knows behind including her childhood friend Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hunnam) Edith moves to the old mansion where Thomas lives with his sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain). The house holds many secrets and ghosts, and slowly Edith begins to realise there’s something very wrong about the place.

Crimson Peak is beautiful. It’s the epitome of gothic romance, a genre which suits director Guillermo del Toro perfectly. The set design and the costumes add so much to the atmosphere of the film and as the film goes along the house begins to feel like it’s alive.

The story of Crimson Peak is pretty simple really but it’s the performances and chemistry between the characters that sucks you in. Also it isn’t really a horror film even though it has ghosts and some gruesome moments – like Edith said herself at one point, it’s not a ghost story but a story that has ghosts in it. The ghosts themselves are still very creepy and unsettling and they help put the audience and Edith on edge as you both try and figure out what they are trying to show her.

Besides from the gorgeous set design, the memorable thing about Crimson Peak is the performances. Wasikowska is the damsel in distress but she’s still smart and resourceful and her ability to see ghosts, while slightly terrifying, is what helps her in the end. Hiddleston is great as the charming but sensitive mystery man, but it is Chastain as Lucille who is distant but cunning that really steals the show. She gives an unsettling performance and she commands the attention of both the viewer and Thomas and Edith whenever she’s in the room.

Some may find Crimson Peak boring as it is not really the horror film it has been marketed as, it has very few jump-scares, in fact it is more eerie and atmospheric than frightening. If you can look past the marketing campaign you will find a film that is gorgeous yet deadly, full of amazing performances and an unsettling amount of tension.

Crimson Peak is beautifully dark and creepy and while it may not have many surprises, it’s still captivating. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Martian (2015)

the martian elenasquareeyesDuring a manned mission to Mars a fierce storm hits and the crew must evacuate. In the chaos Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and presumed dead by his crew. Little do they know, Watney survived but now he has to find a way to live on Mars and contact NASA to let them know he’s still alive.

Directed by Ridley Scott and with a screenplay by Drew Goddard The Martian is ridiculously fun. It blends the visuals of Gravity, with the drama of Apollo 13 and the science of Interstellar without it getting bogged down or boring. The way in which the film juggles multiple characters is to be commended. Not only does it have Watney “science-ing the shit” out of his situation all alone on Mars but it has his crew in orbit on a space station and the people of NASA back on Earth struggling to figure out a way to bring him home.

Each character gets their moment to shine and the way characters are introduced often gives a quick insight into what sort of person to shine, my favourite character introduction was Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) and all his scenes were great, especially as you slowly see what he’s up to before he meets everyone else. (more…)