Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by:
Jenny Lumet
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Anna Deavere Smith and Debra Winger

As excited as I was about Rachel Getting Married, I was also trying not to have very high expectations. Jonathan Demme is a director whose films I don't particularly enjoy. Anne Hathaway is an actress whom I have always thought was capable of good things, even if she was never given material to display her talent. Even in great films like Brokeback Mountain, she's pretty much asked to spin gold out of small, thankless roles. This is all moot though, isn't it? Because none of that has anything to do with what she's doing in this film and how well she does it.

Jonathan Demme has spent recent years directing documentary films (Man from Plains, Neil Young: Heart of Gold). Now that he's turned his focus back to narrative features, it's fascinating that he's experimenting with melding the two styles. The film has very little unnatural lighting. It utilizes mostly handheld shots with few abrupt cuts. It's very reminiscent of The Celebration, one of the Dogme 95 films, but it stands on its own. In a lesser film, this could all serve to distract. But Demme and cinematographer Declan Quinn know exactly what they're doing here. This is a total departure for Demme and it is easily his best work in years.

The film revolves around black sheep Kym (Hathaway) being released from rehab to attend her sister Rachel's (Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. Her father (Bill Irwin) and stepmother (a wonderful Anna Deavere Smith) are clearly loving and welcoming (if cautiously so) but the rest of the family are a little more weary of Kim's antics. Rachel is tired of the way her father seems to cater to the sharp-witted, yet self-centered Kym. And their mother Abby (Debra Winger) seems removed from the whole situation (and she likes it that way). I won't reveal it in this review, but Kym did something unthinkable years ago that had pretty devastating effects on the family.

Demme's direction take you right into the thick of the wedding planning, the wedding itself and the family turmoil that ensues. The premise is not a particularly interesting or original one. In fact, to the a mere passerby, it may bear some striking similarities (only on the surface mind you) to 2007's very different and very inferior Margot at the Wedding. Two sisters fighting and bringing up past family woes on the eve of a wedding. "Oh nacht mare." Does Jenny Lumet do everything right that Noah Baumbach did wrong? It may not be that simple. But the freshman writer (and daughter of director Sidney Lumet) definitely has a better handle on creating fully formed, flesh-and-blood characters that don't feel like caricatures. It's a very common trend in films about dysfunctional families to create cut-and-paste archetypes that feel overused and stale. In Rachel Getting Married, you believe every word that comes out of these characters's mouths. Nothing is gimmick. It all feels real and incredibly heartwrenching.

This film addresses and doesn't address an issue I've noticed afoot in typical "dark comedies." That they are devoid of African-American characters who are allowed to be as intelligent or witty or even as complicatedly messed up as their white counterparts. Here there are fully-formed, believable, intelligent African-American characters (Rachel's betrothed is black) who are there and who don't wear their race on their sleeves like another character (are you listening Tyler Perry?) Anna Deavere Smith (one of my favorite character actresses) in particular is a great presence in this film.

Every actor seems to be at the top of their game here in this very impressive ensemble. Bill Irwin as Kym and Rachel's father Paul is as warm and inviting as he is sorrowful. Rosemarie DeWitt turns in a very impressive supporting turn as Rachel. She understands the character from head to toe. Every gesture, every word. She knows exactly why Rachel both loves and is annoyed by Kym. Debra Winger doesn't clock much screentime here, but she too is in top form (as always. Please come back to us). There is a particularly heartbreaking scene between Kym and Abby that allows Winger to showcase a possible Oscar clip. But a quieter, more subtle moment towards the end of the film between Abby and both of her daughters truly shows Winger's handle on the material. And finally, Ms. Hathaway. Anne Hathaway navigates the acid-tongued harshness of Kym, making her one of the most fully realized characterizations of the year. I recall a scene in which Kym is in a support group meeting and reveals the tragedy that disjointed her from her family. Hathaway never missteps, never makes the scene maudlin and never gets it wrong. She's all but assured an Oscar nomination. It angers me that Hathaway will likely be put into the "Comedy or Musical" category at the Golden Globes where she is likely to be nominated (and win, unless something very big happens in the next few months). There are funny moments in Rachel Getting Married. But this is not a comedy. It is a portrait of a celebrating, but ultimately very lingeringly sad family who happen to be intelligent and happen to say witty things. Make no mistake. Rachel Getting Married is absolutely lovely. I don't know if it will get nominated for Best Picture. It doesn't feel...big enough in the ways that a lot of best picture nominees have to be big to get nominated. Unless the Academy has a sudden bout of impeccable taste, don't be surprised if Rachel Getting Married doesn't end up on the shortlist. It deserves to be there. But if this film shows us anything, it's that life isn't always fair and for no good reason at all.

Grade: A

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Rachel Getting Married will be in my dreams tonight...

I plan to post more at great length about various topics. But it has come to pass. Rachel Getting Married is absolutely beautiful. That's it. Plain and simple. I will post a review later this weekend.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Top Ten--Things I'd Rather Do than See John McCain become President

Title is pretty self-explanatory. This list is interspersed with things that I enjoy doing and things that I would never want to do in a million years, but would still rather do than see that bloated, reductive gasbag become our next President.

10. Talk to my mom.
I think this is a no-brainer. My mom is great. She grew up in another country, so she has great stories to tell. Plus she's the woman who raised me. I'd definitely rather have a conversation with my mom than see John McCain become President.

9. Watch "Boston Legal"
Man, is "Boston Legal" ever a crappy show. Seriously. It's just the pits. And yet, if forced to choose between watching the antics of James Spader, William Shatner and Candace Bergen (three of the creepiest men on television) at gunpoint and watching John McCain win the election, I'd weigh it heavily and ultimately settle in for many hours of boring legal dramedy.

8. Dance
Now you might not think it to look at me. I'm kind of quiet, reserved. But I actually do enjoy a good dance every now and again. Mostly alone. Mostly in my bedroom. Mostly to Madness songs (very danceable music right there. Check 'em out). Dancing is definitely preferable to seeing John McCain and Klondike Barbie win the highest elected office in the country.

7. Go to Church
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm not religious. I'm a fallen Catholic. I sometimes wish I were still religious. I sometimes wish I still had it in me. But alas, I don't. I'd still rather sit through a Sunday of Catholic Mass every week until I die than see a McCain-Palin administration. But this of course requires a qualifier. That's Catholic Mass. The one that clocks in at about 70 minutes (at the longest.) This excludes any lengthy, Southern Baptist, or Black Dancing churches that seem (from what I understand) to go on for hours until somebody says "stop." I would have to reevaluate the deal in that case.

6. Watch the cinema of Meryl Streep
She's just great, isn't she? If you watch Silkwood and don't cry at the end, you might just be made of stone. I would definitely rather watch Marvin's Room or even the fun and very underrated She-Devil any day than watch McCain win the presidency.

5. Drink Massive Amounts of Campari
If one were to turn hatred and anger into liquid and bottle it, Campari would be the result. It's disgusting. It tastes like death. I have a theory that it's not even meant for consumption. And yet, I'd gladly imbibe generous helpings of it to get out of having to suffer through four years of McCain politics.

4. Go to Quebec
Real Canadians are actually supposed to despise French Canadiennes, but I don't. Despise is such a strong word. I don't like them. I think they're smelly and rude. But I don't despise them. I'd love to go back to Quebec. It would give me an opportunity to practice my French. And I would have the added bonus of being in another country within another country, should McCain take control of this one.

3. Go to Traffic Court
I've been to hell and it's Traffic Court. But I'd gladly go to traffic court than have to deal with a McCain presidency.

2. Watch The Godfather 3
It's actually my favorite of the series. Granted, I haven't seen part two, but I just love the ridiculous, over-the-top campiness of part 3. Sofia's bad performance. The crazy Vatican storyline. Fallen Catholic here. Through in a little Vatican scandal and I'm hooked. And yes, it's still much better than having to watch McCain say "my friends" a million times during his inaugural address.

1. See Barack Obama get elected.
I think this is the most important one of all, don't you?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Oscar Predictions -- Best Picture

2008 in cinema is turning out to be a nebulous one. That film has yet to come out (unless you call The Dark Knight that film--which I'm loath to) that people are certain will land on top ten lists come years end. I'm reserving my judgment until I see Rachel Getting Married this Friday (so excited). I've heard good things, but my expectations are pessimistically low. Because I also heard great things about Juno so much so that I went into it convinced I rave about it (I know, you should never do that. I'm only human). It was so disappointing that I almost failed to recognize that it is actually an okay film, so violent was my anger at all the raving reviewers and fanboys.

Here's what I see going on in the big race.

Best Picture
Still as unclear as ever. I have faith (so much faith that I'm setting myself up for heartbreak) that Australia will be amazing and it will also land Baz Luhrmann his first best director nomination. Even moreso after watching Moulin Rouge! for the first time. Each new trailer looks more promising so I'm holding a spot for it until further evidence prompts me to do otherwise. Ditto for Milk, which I have a hunch will become that film. I currently have The Dark Knight under my predics for best picture, but I'm becoming less and less confident with each passing day. I'll keep it there for now, but I dunno... Slumdog Millionaire has some serious buzz, but so does The Wrestler. Which festival darling to include? One? Both? Neither? For now, I'm saying neither and putting in Rachel Getting Married as this year's "comedy" entry. The buzz is growing pretty steadily for that one, n'est pas? I'm swapping out Revolutionary Road for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in a case of both wishful thinking and logic. Marital strife/domestic drama is so late 90s, early aughts. Sam Mendes may be invited back to the party some day, but I don't think this is the picture that will do it (though I would love for both films to get nominated). Will the Academy ever "get" David Fincher? This will be there ultimate test if Benjamin Button is even half as good as it looks. Clint Eastwood has two pictures coming out this year and it seems foolish not to include one of them, especially with his given track record. But I've heard very little about Gran Torrino and The Changeling doesn't look like it's going to be that film for him this year. Plus, he's quickly becoming the John Williams of the director set, in that he gets nominated every year he works. Is he really that good?

The Dark Knight
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Rachel Getting Married

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Girl Cut in Two

directed by Claude Chabrol
written by Claude Chabrol and Cecile Maistre
starring Ludivine Sangnier, Benoît Magimel, François Berléand

A Girl Cut in Two was pretty much just what I needed. It's deliciously campy and it knows it too. It's a sexual thriller, but it's more than that. Ludivine Sangnier plays a woman named Gabrielle Deneige who, despite what the trailers and the title will tell you, is not cut in two. Well, not until the end at least, and that's only in the literal sense, and even then not in the literal sense...I digress. She is an adult, she drives the narrative forward and she's an interesting female character who (shudder! gasp!) dares to express sexual want and desire. But alas, she's not torn between two men. She is not cut in two. For she loves one of them. And it is clear which one she loves. And everything she does, including her interaction with and even her marriage to the other man, is so that she can have the first one. Gabrielle meets Charles St. Denis (Berléand) at her mother's bookstore when he's doing a book-signing. He's a famous author. And several decades her senior. She wants him and is willing to overlook the fact that he's married, selfish, and unwilling to leave his wife under any circumstances. When Paul Gaudens (Magimel), a younger man, technically more age appropriate, meets Gabrielle at the same book-signing, he leads her to believe that he too wants her unconditionally. Despite the fact that something about him turns her off. And he leads her to believe that his love (lust?) is so pure that he is willing to overlook the fact that she's hopelessly and clearly obsessed with Charles St. Denis. Except he's not... This is not going to end well.

I can't recall a movie I've seen this year that was so much...fun. The eroticism is delightfully over-the-top, even for a film of this genre. The dialogue is biting and satirical. It plays almost like a French version of Match Point, except not nearly as heavy and self-important (not to take anything away from Match Point, which was a good film in its own right).
Ludivine Sangnier (Swimming Pool) gives one of the best female performances of the year. She knows this character from head-to-toe, and she navigates a lot of emotional terrain here. Sangnier's Gabrielle is a television personality who reads the weather on the news. You can see that Sangnier gets it. The switch that these people make from their on-air to off-air persona. How there's an inherent sadness to that fakeness. She won't be nominated for best actress, but she very well should be.

Grade: B+

Friday, October 10, 2008

What they Said and What they Meant...

What she said: "I don't have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, but I do have a problem discussing my personal life," said the 38-year-old entertainer.
-Queen Latifah this week on the ever-present gay-rumors.

What she meant: "I'm gay."
I have no problem with closeted famous people. Far be it for me to deny them their privacy/internalized homophobia. But I'm getting a little tired of closeted celebs who don't realize that any answer to the question "Are you gay?" besides "no" means "yes." That was the case for Clay Aiken. It was the case for Neil Patrick Harris. And it will be the case for Queen Latifah. That People magazine cover story is all ready to go. It's like the Pope's obituary. When she drops, it goes to the printers.

What she said: "It's all about the story. If we can't tell a story that's really worthy of an audience, then we won't do it."
Jessica Parker regarding rumors of a Sex and the City sequel.

What she meant: "Well, I did say I was done with Sex and the City in 2003. Then I tried to have a film career. It didn't really take. But now that I'm coming off the mild success of the film, I'm going to try to do it again. If it still doesn't take, I'll do another movie. The other three actresses are pretty much just my ladies in waiting anyway, right?"
Own it, Sarah. Just own it.

What he said: "That one"
-John McCain wh
en referring to Obama during the Presidential debate.

What he meant: "That one...you know, tall. Big ears. Running for President...where was I again? Oh yeah. The important thing was I had an onion on my belt. Which was the style at the time...."
Am I the only one who thinks that McCain's flub was due to general senility and not racism (or at least not mostly racism). Either way, if you still want McCain to be our next President after watching that debate, you might be retarded.

What he said: "And Sarah Palin...I mean, come on..."
-Bill O'Reilly this week "defending" Sarah Palin and responding to attack ads put out against her by the Obama camp.

What he meant: "And Sarah Palin...has a great rack. But I won't say that because I don't want to further emphasize the fact that she's not bringing much to the table elsewhere. Oh, and it's been fun to be a white Conservative male and cry sexism on her behalf during the past week. Plus, let's face it, I still have a boner for Obama after he let me yell at him for an hour on my show..."
This sums it up, doesn't it? This was the best that Bill O'Reilly could come up with in defense of Sarah Palin. This is the man who can pull a (sort of) convincing lie out of his ass on his worst day to prove himself right. I'd say that the pitbull's lipstick is starting to fade. And there's not much time before November 5th to provide another coat.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


directed by Fernando Meirelles
written by Don McKellar based on the book by José Saramago
Starring: Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael Garcia Bernal, Alice Braga and Danny Glover

Blindness is probably best viewed as an interesting, yet failed experiment. I haven't read Saramago's novel, which is the basis of the film. But from what I've gathered, it's less of a full on narrative novel and more of a meditation on a concept (that concept being Blindness). Does that make for a good film adaptation? Who knows? I think that film, as a visual medium, should be more...I dunno visual, dontcha think? I'm tired of hearing "This or that won't translate well to film." I'm not even going to give foreign films a pass when I make the following statement. All films seem to have a trouble of breaking free of traditional narrative conventions and trying to be more visually expressive. Stanley Kubrick always said that you know you have a good film if you can take off the sound and still watch it coherently. Conversely, he said that a film that you can still watch and understand without the visuals is usually a bad one. Not sure I agree with such a blanket statement. What's my point? Meirelles actually tries something here (gasp!). Does it work? Not really.

The illness in the movie that causes people to go blind is called the white sickness. Whereas traditional blindness causes people to see nothing but black, the stricken see in milky whiteness. Some reviewers are saying that the milky white cinematography is too obvious and on-the-nose. Isn't it kind of unavoidable though, as unpleasant as it may be? Just saying. The cinematography is sure to be a divisive aspect of this film. Consider the rape scene (scenes?). And although it is heavily obscured by the shaky camera work of DP Cesar Chalone, rivals the infamous Monica Belluci rape scene in Irreversible as far as how difficult it is to watch.

Narratively, this film has a lot to answer for. I really want to read the book and see if the sudden character change for the doctor's wife (Julianne Moore) is more richly earned than it is here. Watching the first moments of the film, before everyone goes blind, I sort of enjoyed watching Moore and Ruffalo's characters interact. I think there might exist a better movie about the husband and wife Moore and Ruffalo were playing at the beginning of the movie. About how there's strife and masked anguish beneath Moore's bumbling hausfrau and Ruffalo's settled masculinity. We all know that Moore does marital tension very well. Wasn't there just a hint of seething condescension when the doctor was responding to his wife's query about the etymology of the word "agnostic?" I love it. Moore was so fun for those seven or so minutes.

Also, Gael Garcia Bernal's character (none of the characters are named. More on that later) was one I had trouble believing. Yes, terrible situations often drive people to do terrible things. But a lot of what was going on with this guy seemed very unmotivated, and I could be alone here. Collecting jewelry and other goods from the ward inmates in exchange for food? I'm sorry. Even in the midst of the most powerful greed, this just doesn't make sense. Especially when everyone is blind and there's no means to trade goods in the first place. There's no use for anything. I had trouble buying his desire for (and the inmates reluctance to give up) prized possessions. The sex trade I at least understand, as deplorable as it is. But I get that.

The narrative convention of having the characters remain unnamed. Yes, that's the way it was in the novel. But here, it just seems silly and they don't nearly commit to make enough of a point of the fact that the characters are unnamed, so why bother? It's kind of like how they had the credits spoken in the old Fahrenheit 451 movie. Yeah, I get it. But that doesn't mean it works.

Not to say that there weren't aspects of the film I appreciated. I appreciated never revealing the cause of the blindness. I personally have never been one to walk out of a movie and say "Well, I don't like how they didn't explain..." I firmly believe that everything that's there is what you need. Movies (especially American movies) will forever give you more information than you need to piece something together in your mind. They never give you less. I don't want to know why the birds went crazy in Bodega Bay and I don't want to know what caused the blindness.

The film is wisely cast and acted, for the most part. Moore wades as best as possible through the characterization of the doctor's wife and its aforementioned problems and Ruffalo is serviceable as always. Bernal, a long time favorite of mine, does his best to spin gold out of his role. But the movie doesn't really know what it wants from him, and his speedy departure is a sure sign of that. And Danny Glover...I'm getting a little annoyed with the pigeon-holing of black actors into these thankless archetypes, one of which is the Nostradamus figures (tsk tsk Meirelles). All I can say is that thankfully, he's not on screen much and it's not terribly distracting. Blindness is a film I'm sure I will have to revisit again to fully form an opinion of it...but because I know what I'm in for, I'm loath to do so.

Grade: B-

A Boycott on all Boycotts...Who's with Me?

The National Federation of the Blind are protesting Fernando Meirelles's new film Blindness, stating that the film portrays blind people as "savage and animal-like." They are also calling for a boycott of the film. Yawn. No offense to any callers of boycotts or supporters of boycotts who are reading this...actually, wait. Offense is fully intended. Because if you've ever called for a boycott of anything, you are probably a moron and you need to get a life. Seriously. First of all, I've seen Blindness. I'm guessing many of the people in the National Federation of the Blind have not seen blindness for the simple fact that they are blind. I'm not being funny. I'm just stating a fact. Is Blindness a good film? Not especially. Would I ever watch it again? Probably not. Am I recommending it to people I know? Hardly. But I'm almost compelled to tell everyone I know to go see Blindness and spit in the face of any would-be protesters looking to harass.

Regarding boycotts. If something offends you, fine. As someone who is rarely offended by the things that seem to offend people en masse, it's a notion I don't really understand, but far be it for me to deny you your outrage. But aren't boycotts a little like saying "I don't like this, so you shouldn't like it either. Wah." There's something childish and vaguely fascist about that sentiment. It's like the people who called for boycotts of Passion of the Christ or later (after it was discovered beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mel Gibson really does hate Jews) Apocalypto. I don't like Mel Gibson. I thought he was crazy long before Passion of the Christ came out. And when he makes movies, I don't see them. He's not getting any of my money and that's enough. I don't care if you go see every Mel Gibson movie that comes out. And I certainly don't support a boycott of the same. When you call for a boycott of something, you're essentially trying to will it into obscurity by your sheer refusal to participate. That just seems unfair, especially since you have the power to control what you watch, listen to and participate in. If you think that Blindness looks offensive, then don't go see it. That's fine. You're probably an idiot (just saying), but don't be even more of an idiot by protesting. Freedom of speech is a two-way street people. It's not just in place to protect those who are saying things you agree with. Get off your cross, National Federation of the Blind, and get back to helping blind people.

Peace, Love and Pretension

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More to Come

I will sit down and write reviews of Blindness, Choke and Happy-Go-Lucky this week. Off to the supergames...

Also, I've taken (if you haven't noticed) to just placing my Oscar predictions on a sidebar at the edge of the page. More comments to come later. Regarding my best actress predictions, I've finally stopped resisting Kristin Scott Thomas's French language performance in I've Loved You So Long, a performance I've been hearing about for a long time. At this point, the buzz is almost deafening. I put her in over Sally Hawkins, whose performance I've actually seen and loved. But I have a feeling the Academy may take a pass on Hawkins bubbly fare in favor of something heavier. Just a hunch. Speaking of which,

(Note: I am about to do something you will probably never do again: openly call out another Oscar blogger, though I wouldn't say I'm an Oscar blogger perse. I digress...)

Over on Oscar Breach, which is a site I sometimes visit, I was struck by a rather dumb remark on the creator's page. Now, the site is run by a right-leaning Oscar prognosticator, which I initially found refreshing. Not because I'm conservative (quite the opposite), but the idea of a Republican Male who's also obsessed with the Oscars sounds completely bizarre that I had to take a gander. That being said, he's kind of a dumbass (he named Marion Cotillard one of his top five best actresses of the year last year, then stripped her of the prize for her "un-American" remarks. Because how dare a French actress be un-American).


"The trailer for I've Loved You So Long can be seen here. Some say Kristen Scott Thomas is a shoo-in for a best actress nomination, but I don't know. It's particularly difficult for foreign-language films to get recognition for their acting, especially when the film isn't that widely acclaimed or released. La Vie En Rose sort of broke that barrier last year, but I doubt it can happen two years in a row."

...Wha? What the hell is he talking about? True, Cotillard winning for her foreign-language performance was somewhat of an anomaly, but she broke no kind of barrier last year when she received a nomination. And two years in a row? I suppose he's forgetting Penelope Cruz in Volver the year before, which he very well may be. Oh, and then there's Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace... You're right Oscar Breach. It IS a rare occurrence for the AMPAS to pick a foreign language performance to fawn over. Especially in the leading actress category. Especially of late. Except...not. If you're going to have a website whose sole purpose is to write about and analyze the Academy Awards, do yourself a favor and know it, don't blow it. I would be annoyed by such patently false and unsubstantiated "analysis" if I weren't already expecting it from the same guy who named Van Helsing one of his favorite movies from whatever the hell year it came out and wrote comments like these:

"It's strange. Normally I just can't catch onto romantic films. They really are not my genre. However, for some inexplicable reason, this was different. It really got to me, and I actually felt for the characters. It really gave power to an unbreakable, yet unwithstandable bond. Very well done. (note: I am straight)."
-2005, when discussing why Brokeback Mountain was one of his favorite films of the year. Don't you love the little homophobic (Note: I am straight) at the end? Ah, masculine bullshit.

And more recently....

The trailer for Milk can be seen here. Looks like some good performances, but is it me or are all the gay characters flaming stereotypes? Is that inoffensively authentic and PC? Maybe the Academy's reaction will tell us."
-2008, when discussing the trailer for Milk. Apparently, he's one of those "I don't like my gay guys TOO gay" kind of people.

I don't know why I'm so disappointed whenever I encounter stupid Conservatives. Why can't I ever seem to remember that Social Conservatism in and of itself requires a certain level of myopic stupidity in the first place?

Peace, Love and Pretension.