Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What Happened to "Rachel Getting Married?"

I know the 2008 Oscar season is long behind us. But the lack of awards attention for Rachel Getting Married outside of the Indie Spirits still baffles me. I have the DVD, which I've watched several times. The movie rewards repeat viewings and I'm now convinced more than ever that it will become one of my favorite films of this decade. But I have tried to analyze in my head exactly what went wrong here. It had an Academy-Award winning director at the helm (Jonathan Demme), a bonafide star headlining the cast (Anne Hathaway) and it was written by the daughter of a Hollywood legend (Jenny Lumet, daughter of Sidney Lumet). But the more one watches the film, and observes trends, it becomes slightly less confusing, if still baffling in the end.

1. Release date.
Rachel Getting Married got an October release date. Most of the time, films are released too late (Che, Revolutionary Road, and Children of Men being a few recent examples), but the October release date probably led to it being lost in the shuffle.

2. Law of averages.
2007 boasted one of the best (if not the best) Oscar best picture shortlists of the decade. It's a little unrealistic to expect two great years in a row. Once I saw how good 2007's shortlist was, I actually said to myself "Ooh...but this means 2008's shortlist is going to suck," which it more or less did, with a few exceptions. The best film of the year was left off the list. It happens sometimes.

3. Debra Winger.
Maybe people do still hate her...

4. It's not a tidy film.
There's no caption at the end that reads "Kim goes back to rehab was written." The movie is wrenching, it's uncomfortable and often times, it's downright grating. Oscar is usually less forgiving of films such as these when they are...

5. Female-centered.
Oscar likes its complex men, but it doesn't like its complex women for the most part. So many layered and complicated women. And written by a woman. Juno was a bit easier to digest.

6. The dishwashing scene.
While I didn't hate it, I could definitely see how it would lose some people, and turn them against the movie if they were riding the fence. One of the people I saw it with said "All of that just so the father could find the plate? It seems a little bit roundabout." And maybe they were right.

7. I've Loved You So Long
Sony Pictures Classics put all of their steam behind this train early on in the year, especially when there was talk of Kristin Scott Thomas possibly WINNING best actress (she wasn't even nominated.) It was clear that this was the pony they were betting on. By the time Anne Hathaway emerged as the one more probable to get a best actress nomination, it was kind of too late to mount a serious, tasteful campaign for the entire film. Speaking of which...

8. The National Board of Review
Although they did name Anne Hathaway as their best actress, the absence of the film from their top ten list (especially since non-starters like Changeling, Gran Torino and Defiance made the list) suggested that the film was an awards vehicle for Hathaway and nothing more. Since NBR is first out of the gate and rarely makes inspired choices, they're fun to blame.

9. Lack of starpower.
Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger are the two biggest names in the film. Winger, while an accomplished actress took long absences from the screen and is not exactly what you'd call a "movie star." Hathaway, while definitely famous, is not an actress who has typically been associated with good acting in serious drama. For those who were paying attention, the greatness she accomplished here was hinted at in the past. For others, it wasn't so obvious and her name alone may have steered a few moviegoers and Academy voters alike. You wouldn't believe the number of people I've spoken to who won't see the movie because they "don't like Anne Hathaway."

10. The multiculturalism.
A friend of mine said she was put off by the "kumbaya" aspect of the film, which she (as a black woman) read as inauthentic. This has been discussed ad nauseum, but some people feel it's a valid concern. I disagree.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

TV Season Retrospective

Big Love
Man. What a great season. It dared to go places that previous seasons wouldn't, but not in gimmicky or attention-grabbing ways. It's kind of sad that it seems like they're running out of things to do with Sarah, as witnessed by her engagement to Scott, but I love the way Sarah's pregnancy/miscarriage was handled. Usually miscarriages for television characters who shouldn't be having children feel like copouts, but there were some hardfelt consequences and issues that arose as a result. Also, Nicki continues to both reveal and conceal more of her hand as Bill struggles between trying to hold on to her with all of her faults, or letting her go with dignity. Chloe Sevigny deserves an Emmy nod for how she handled such a complex character. She kept track of so many different things--Nicki's devotion to her family, which is genuine I believe. The lies, the selfishness and the lies to cover up more lies. Also, the revelation of her daughter. Is she earnestly trying to atone? Or is it a clever ploy to worm her way back into the sympathies of her husband and sister wives? Isn't it funny that season 2 dealt with how Barb was slipping away from him. Season 3 dealt with Nicki finally putting her resentments toward Bill on the table. And with Margene's new business ventures rearing their head, I think we'll see her slipping further away as well. I can't wait and I'll be back for Season 4. I just hope that Roman is dead for good this time.
Season Grade: A

Brothers and Sisters

I'm mostly pleased with season three of this show, which continues to be watchable, even in its more ridiculous moments (most of which involve Sally Field in some way). I was interested to see how they would handle the possible shark-jumper that was Rebecca not being a Walker and her romance with Justin, but they did about as well as expected. For the most part, the lack of chemistry between Dave Annable and Emily Van Camp isn't too distracting. My major criticism of season 3 was the ponderous way in which they handled Tommy's exit. I get that Balthazar Getty was causing shit on the set, and with his recent affair, they wanted him gone (which is fucked up, I think. I don't condone cheating on your wife, but it shouldn't get you fired). But both the setup (his embezzlement) and the result (Tommy working on some compound in Mexico to "find himself") feel contextually ridiculous and unsupportable. But I'll be back for season 4. Tommy's exit not only got rid of the least interesting character, it got rid of the second least interesting character (his wife. What's her tits? It doesn't matter).
Season Grade: B

Grey's Anatomy
Yes, I still watch this show. Shut up. This season was a mixed bag that had trouble finding its footing from the get go. Everything felt ponderous. Callie's lesbianism, Cristina's sexual frustration, Meredith and Derek dancing around the commitment issue. And of course, there was the whole "Izzie fornicates with a ghost" storyline that was...pardon my french, fucking ridiculous. But there was some good here too. Meredith has really come into her own as a doctor and a person, and is really a more likable character because of it. I loved the way she stood up to the chief this season on several occasions. Dr. Weber is my least favorite character on the show and his self-righteousness and pushiness (particularly where issues with Meredith and her mother are concerned) make him impossible to root for. I'm glad Lexie and George didn't hook up. I'll say that even though the writers would have us think differently, George is one of the bigger assholes on this show and I wouldn't be terribly upset if he's as dead as the last episode suggested. The Izzie/cancer storyline was also compelling, though I hate that people call Katherine Heigl a bitch for wanting to abandon "Grey's Anatomy." Yes, she's a bitch. Obviously (have you read any interviews with the woman?) But wanting to abandon a show that's probably on its downslope doesn't make her a bitch. Why should anyone participate in anything that they don't want to? It's like the people who want to drag Michael Cera kicking and screaming back to "Arrested Development" for a movie that may not even be necessary. I love that show, but a movie? Do we really need it? The show ended on such a perfect note. I rarely defend actors, but this ownership that fanboys/girls declare over stars is a little strange. Like any other profession, hell like anything in life, you shouldn't pursue endeavors that you aren't fully invested in. I don't know that I'll be back for all of season 6.
Season Grade: C+

Parks and Recreation
I initially had a lot of misgivings about this show, but like "30 Rock" it improved exponentially from its first episode. Amy Poehler is very funny here. I think some of the very early problems in the show's timing, etc. stemmed from the writers not sure what to do with Leslie Knope as a character. The comparisons to "The Office's" Michael Scott are obvious, but they managed to make her inept in a way that's totally unique and not just a Michael Scott retread. The supporting cast here is pitch-perfect, although maybe I'm just giddy because I get to see Aziz Ansari, Rashida Jones AND Paul Schneider in the same place at the same time. Chris Pratt is also hilarious. Of the supporting players, Aubrey Plaza is a standout as bored college-aged intern
April. The restaurant where I work is right near the Emory University campus and I'm telling you that Plaza has purposely captured the unique mix of stupidity, apathy and entitlement that many college-aged girls exhibit. I'm very glad this show has been renewed for a second season and I will be watching.
Season Grade: B+

30 Rock
The most consistently funny and watchable show on television, even if I don't consistently watch it. I have no excuses, other than I work most Thursday nights. Plus, I love letting them build up, then watching them in a big hilarious laugh-my-ass-off block on my days off. Jane Krakowski is a comedic genius, not to undermine Tina Fey of course. But it needs to be said. Very loudly, and preferably in front of Emmy voters. Even Salma Hayek, who isn't funny or even a particuarly good actress IMO (yes, I saw Frida. It was a hot mess) didn't bog down the show's whip smart writing and great pacing. Of course I will be back for season 4.
Season Grade: A-

The Office
Man, this season was kind of uneven. There were high points and low points. A lot of interesting stuff, sure, but man it all made for a serious lack of connectivity overall. The show is still funny, of course (that's never been the problem). But it feels like it's on its downslope. I think the problem is that ever since Jim and Pam got together, the writers are struggling with what to do with these characters, since so much of the drama involved them not being together and the awkwardness therein. I was really annoyed that after Pam failed out of art school, that was the last we heard of it. One would think that her having to return to Dunder Mifflin after getting a taste of art school would stir up restlessness and more resentment of the paper business, Scranton and Jim (by extension). It may seem like a predictable direction to go, but based on everything we've seen thus far, I don't buy Pam NOT being restless. And now with the implied pregnancy at the end of the season...oy. I'll be back for season 6, of course. But I'm a little curious/pessimistic to see how long they can keep the show interesting.
Grade: B-

Comprehensive Movie Reviews

Adventureland of the most advantageous things a filmmaker can do for his/her film is decide what kind of film it should be. Had writer-director Greg Mottola gone with just one of the dozen movies puttering around in this hackneyed retread, it'd correct a serious lack of connective tissue. We can't be all things to all people. It wants to be a filthy sex romp a la Superbad. It wants to be a sappy/angsty romance a la Garden State. It wants to be make a profane yet profound(?) statement about the world of amusement park employment, the same way some people think Waiting... unmasked the seedy server culture. And there's a bit of The Graduate thrown in there too, because when you're being a total hack, why not reach for the stars? I may have listed some interesting titles, but don't be mistaken. Adventureland certainly doesn't combine the best elements of these films, and what it does combine doesn't really come together. I think the publicity team behind Kristen Stewart wants us to think she's this angsty, alternative queen of the weird. But in films and interviews, she just comes off as entitled and an asshole. And she seems stupid, which means she probably really have the right to be either. Jesse Eisenberg isn't nearly as cute as Michael Cera, and I don't think Michael Cera is that cute. Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, is every bit as cute and charming as he thinks he is and can kind of do no wrong. Seriously, does Hollywood not see that Reynolds is capable of much more than the projects he typically participates in? Oh, and Bill Hader is awesome (though it's not as if he needed to participate in this film to make that known).
Grade: C

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

What an absolute waste of time. More obnoxious were the fanboys and their exasperation with this movie. The same people who complained about how much the first three X-Men movies sucked were shocked and offended when this one (wait for it...) sucked. It's amazing how people get selective amnesia about these things, and all it takes is a flashy trailer with a helicopter. It bears repeating: What an absolute waste of time. Except Ryan Reynolds. It bears repeating: He can do no wrong.
Grade: D

Star Trek
Surprisingly enjoyable, which is saying a lot for me as I have little or no connection to the franchise. The cast are all positively inspired choices and it's not overlong (which is usually the case for films of this genre). The movie is smart because (unlike the Wolverine movie) it seems to start from the premise of "Okay...everyone knows we don't need another Star Trek movie. What can we do to get around that?" Very smart. It's tongue-in-cheek when it needs to be, with well choreographed action-scenes and a tight script. As far as loud, summer fare goes, one could do a lot worse.
Grade: B

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wow...It's been a while...

I have not blogged in over TWO MONTHS. This is inexcusable (though I do have a few excuses). I'm currently working on editing the feature film I'm which, I mean I'm supervising the very awesome, very cool and very skilled person who I'm paying to edit my movie (I wouldn't want me editing any projects.) I'm preparing to go to grad school at AFI in the fall (yikes...I've got to get ready) and I've been working a lot and saving money.

Waiting tables is kind of addictive If you work in a steady, busy restaurant like the one where I work, you get addicted to the cash in hand and the temptation to work double shifts is very looming. I can easily break $250 ($300 on a really good day) working a weekend double shift. You also get addicted to the cash-in-hand every day. The downside: I think that I've lost all faith in humanity. I don't know if it's really that most people are stupid assholes, or if going out to eat turns people into stupid assholes. I wager it's some combination of the two. A man at one of my tables today literally smacked my arm to get my attention today. This is after his mother ate her entire entree, and wanted a refund because she "didn't like it" (she was licking her fork as she told me this). Or I had another table move because a party of five black women sat next to them. It's shit like this that makes me think there's no hope for us. So much so that when customers are actually pleasant/cool, it throws me off my axis. Said party of five black women were there for a birthday party and their glee/joy was infectious. The woman whose birthday it was hugged me and told me I'm a great server. They were the last table of my shift and a great way to end the day. That kind of courtesy takes NO EFFORT at all, yet really makes a different. Showing that you think about the thoughts and feelings of someone other than yourself is one of the best first impressions you can make. I've learned that. Also, as Ryan Reynolds said in Waiting..."don't fuck with the people who handle your food."

On a more personal note, I've recently finished another screenplay which is probably the most personal thing I've ever written. It was at once incredibly difficult and incredibly therapeutic.

Peace Love and Pretension