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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

The mother of all roles for Allison Miller

Posted: 22 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Actress Allison Miller had fun starring in the scary movie Devil's Due.

Allison Miller wasn't doing anything scary when she first read the script for the movie Devil's Due. She was working on an independent film, There's Always Woodstock, that had her writing and performing music and appearing in every scene.

But there was something about the Devil's Due script that stuck her: A young woman in the throes of wedded bliss discovers that with her first pregnancy, she is carrying the spawn of Satan.

"It feels like you know these characters," says Miller, 28.

"They seemed like people who could be my friends, or maybe me. I had just gotten married, and we hadn't been on our honeymoon yet, so reading about that was very fresh to me.

"Then, getting into the pregnancy, I have always had some fears and hesitation about that for my own personal reasons, and when it starts going that bad, it really got to me."

The demonic child begins to take over his mother and their surroundings.

"I was really the scary thing," Miller says. "I'm the one making you jump. When I was doing it, it was very fun. But now, it's like watching a different person."

The experience of seeing a scary movie and being in one is different, Miller says.

"A lot goes into it, and there are all sorts of people standing around to make sure the elements work, so it's never actually scary," Miller says.

"I was never scared making it."

But she does get to have fun hamming it up as her character, Samantha, becomes more demonstrative as the pregnancy progresses.

"Someone was telling me they were watching a documentary about the making of The Shining, and there was this really intense scary scene and they yell cut, and Jack Nicholson just starts giggling," Miller says.

"That's exactly what it feels like: This is so ridiculous. I'm totally believing it and invested in it while it's happening, but then, when it's done, I'm like, 'I just screamed like an eight-year-old kid'."

The film's plot has been widely discussed as being similar to the 1968 horror classic Rosemary's Baby.

"I love Rosemary's Baby," Miller says. "We talked about it a lot during the shooting because there are a lot of components that are very similar. I didn't want to watch it while we were shooting because I didn't want to wind up imitating anything, and I knew I could never live up to Mia Farrow's performance."

Miller says there are stark differences from Rosemary's Baby and says that "it's not a remake, more like an homage."

It is also a different type of project for Miller, whose credits include the 2011 Fox television series Terra Nova, which was executive produced by Steven Spielberg but cancelled after one season.

Though she is busy in California, Miller goes back to her hometown in Kentucky to see her family.

She got married in the summer of 2012.

Devil's Due is her debut as a leading actress in a feature film, although she was also the lead in the indie There's Always Woodstock, which has started to be submitted to the festival circuit.

During a Wednesday afternoon interview, Miller says she was scheduled to see the completed Devil's Due that night.

"We'll see," she says, "we'll see if I scare myself." – Lexington Herald-Leader/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Devil's Due is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.

Kenneth Branagh strives to be picture perfect

Posted: 22 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Kenneth Branagh not only stars in action movies, but is directing them, too.

Some Kenneth Branagh fans are still recovering from the shock of finding out that their beloved Shakespearean actor was responsible for Thor, the 2011 movie based on the hammer-wielding Marvel comics superhero. But those who recognise the 53-year-old Irishman in the new spy thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, where he plays the villain, are in for another surprise when the credits roll: he directed this big action flick, too.

Speaking to reporters at the Montage Hotel in Los Angeles recently, Branagh staunchly defended what has become something of a pet thesis for the actor-director ever since he began doing more mainstream commercial fare, even though he remains best known for his film adaptations of the Bard.

"I haven't really quite accepted that there's any particular divide or barrier between so-called high culture and low culture," he says. "There's only good culture, whatever that is. So whatever the genre is, there are good and bad examples of all kinds."

Thus, he does not distinguish between a film such as Henry V, which he adapted, directed and starred in to a great reception in Hollywood in 1989, and his latest effort, inspired by Tom Clancy's novels about the reluctant spy Jack Ryan. This, despite the fact that his forte has been dialogue-driven dramas in television, theatre and film, the latter including such movies as Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996) and As You Like It (2006).

In fact, Branagh can draw a line directly from Henry V to Jack Ryan, which also stars Chris Pine and Keira Knightley and features numerous and complex action sequences.

"Certainly, trying to explore it cinematically and make it as interesting and original as possible, that was all new. But, at the same time, I feel as if I started as an action director. Because although Henry V was full of dialogue, actually, you end up with the Battle of Agincourt.

"And I remember one autumn day in October 1988 with Vic Armstrong – the legendary second-unit director who worked on Jack Ryan and Henry V. He and I were standing there going, 'How do we make all these guys firing arrows look interesting, how do we do the French outnumbering the English?'

"And 25 years later, we're on a highway in New York saying, 'So, Jack's on a motorcycle, he has to save the world, how do we make that interesting?'

"So in a bizarre way, action's run right through my career, but often mixed up with a lot of words. Which leads me to believe that action and words can co-exist."

For Branagh, more important than a movie's genre or approach is whether it is well-executed.

"If it's a broad comedy, it's either good or it isn't. When the good ones are good, they're fantastic and take your breath away. I also admire artistry, skill and technique. And when things appear to be effortless."

He cites the work ethic of legendary ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov as an example. Baryshnikov has a supporting role in Jack Ryan and two small scenes with Branagh's character, yet wanted to rehearse "more than any actor I've ever come across" in order to make everything look effortless and natural.

And that perfectionism "can apply anywhere – it doesn't matter whether you're making Dumb And Dumber 3 or King Lear. To do something well requires concentration and focus, and it can be valuable and rewarding and entertaining".

"The idea that one dismisses something because it's low brow and common, or high brow and too pretentious, need not be the case."

Branagh was drawn to Jack Ryan because of a childhood fascination with classic political and action thrillers from the 1970s.

"When I started going to the pictures properly, I was watching films such as Three Days Of The Condor, The French Connection, The Parallax View and All The President's Men.

"So the conspiracy, paranoia, thriller element of (Jack Ryan) – the idea of making a film where there's a secret drop in a cinema, where two men meet on a bench at night in Moscow, where there's a threat to the world's security at the end – was all that I was excited to do.

"And I think, sometimes if you're lucky, you often end up working on films that made a profound impression on you as a kid. All the things that stamped themselves in your memory from about seven to 17 are the ones that come back to you, I think." – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network

Related story:

The many faces of Jack Ryan

The many faces of Jack Ryan

Posted: 22 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

Like James Bond and Batman, the character Jack Ryan has been played by more than one actor.

He sprang from the imagination of author Tom Clancy and started on the screen as Alec Baldwin, aged into Harrison Ford and did a Benjamin Button act and peeled away the years with Ben Affleck.

Now, Chris Pine – who knows a little something about two or more performers playing the same signature role thanks to his inheritance of Captain Kirk and Star Trek – is taking over in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.

It's an origins story, introducing the character as a student at the London School of Economics who is motivated to join the American military by the 9/11 attacks. He is severely injured in Afghanistan, struggles to regain his health and lands a desk job on Wall Street that's a cover for the CIA.

When sent to Moscow to investigate some suspicious financial data, he faces mortal danger to himself and his fiancee (Keira Knightley) in the film featuring Kevin Costner as Ryan's mentor and director Kenneth Branagh as a Russian villain, complete with accent and a penchant for vodka.

Here's a look at the other Jack Ryans of yore:

The Hunt For Red October (1990)

The story: Moscow, Washington and a low-level CIA analyst named Jack Ryan track a renegade Soviet captain (Sean Connery), commanding the most sophisticated sub on the planet. Is he planning to defect to the United States or obliterate it?

Jack Ryan: Alec Baldwin (pic), 31 years old at the time.

Oscar love: Won for sound effects editing, and also nominated for film editing and sound.

Bonus fact: President Ronald Reagan received this book as a Christmas gift and quipped at a dinner that he was losing sleep because he couldn't put it down, an endorsement that boosted the novel to The New York Times best-seller list.

Patriot Games (1992)

The story: Jack Ryan, now an ex-CIA analyst, finds himself and his family targets of an extremist offshoot of the IRA, seeking vengeance for a thwarted assassination plot in London.

Jack Ryan: Harrison Ford (pic), then age 49.

Oscar love: None.

Bonus fact: When Paramount delayed shooting, Baldwin was forced to choose between this thriller and playing Stanley Kowalski in a Broadway revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. He opted for the stage and earned a Tony nomination while Ford scored a deal to play Ryan in three movies but would do only two.

Clear And Present Danger (1994)

The story: CIA agent Jack Ryan investigates the murder of a US president's friend, a businessman with secret ties to Colombian drug cartels.

Jack Ryan: Ford, 52 at time of release.

Oscar love: Nominated for sound and sound effects editing.

Bonus fact: Highest grossing, to date, of the Clancy adaptations and the one that forced peace between the author – who thought Ford too old and also didn't like the way Hollywood tampered with his plots – and Paramount.

The Sum Of All Fears (2002)

The story: A terrorist group tries to ratchet up tensions between America and Russia while it smuggles a nuclear weapon into the US that it plans to detonate at the Super Bowl in Baltimore. Jack Ryan and his CIA colleagues, led by the director (Morgan Freeman), must figure out what's going on and try to stop the unthinkable from happening.

Jack Ryan: Ben Affleck, 29 years old.

Oscar love: None.

Bonus fact: Director Phil Alden Robinson had finished his first cut of the film before Sept 11, 2001, and said he didn't have to make any changes in reaction to the attack. He told the Post Gazette he tried to make "an anti-war, anti-violence movie", one in which the proper response to terrorism is "that you don't rush headlong into violence. You get the facts." — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Related story:

Kenneth Branagh strives to be picture perfect

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