Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Wedding of the Year

I saw Rachel Getting Married on Sunday, and instead of sitting through two hours of actors playing parts on the screen, I felt like I sat through a weekend at someone's intimate wedding celebration. This story seemed so personal and so intrusive that I forgot I was watching fiction. I felt embarrassed, angry, sad, and overjoyed for this family. I'm sure the hand-held cameras and the minimal lighting helped, but Rachel Getting Married is more introspective docudrama than scripted drama. That's what makes it so appealing.

Kym (Anne Hathaway) is a recovering addict. She is released from rehab to attend her older sister's wedding and spend a weekend with her family. Rachel (Rosemary Dewitt) is the responsible one, of course. She's getting her PhD in psychology, and she and the new husband have their shit together--so to speak. The parents are divorced and remarried. Rachel's dad Paul (Bill Irwin) is overprotective, and her mom Abby (Debra Winger) is basically non-existent. The weekend seems like it might be as stressful as any wedding--with the sister's instantly happy to see one another, but quickly everything spirals downhill, and the old family skeletons come hopping right out of the closet.

As I said before, Rachel Getting Married is more documentary than drama, and that's not just because of Jonathan Demme's style choice. A lot must be said about the spectacular cast. Anne Hathaway may be getting all the praise for her razor sharp performance, but the rest of the cast should not be overlooked. Everyone is on...and they never stop.

Rosemarie DeWitt plays Rachel as the perfect student psychologist. She clinically analyzes her family but justifies her own behavior due to wedding stress. She obviously loves her family, but quickly the strain of dealing with Kym gets to her. Hateful things are said, and for awhile, you think that she will cause the complete downfall of the family.

Bill Irwin, who very rarely has stand-out roles, shined very brightly as the patriarch of the family. He smiles and hugs and cooks and makes jokes, but you can always see an underlying sadness in his eyes. I'm always amazed when an actor can say so much without saying a word.

Debra Winger is spectacular is her small role as Rachel & Kym's mom. She is disconnected from the family group, but there are no doubts that she did it to herself. When the daughters try to bring her in, she's hestitant and standoffish. Her performance in her first scene at the rehearsal dinner instantly raised questions in my head--making me realize there were many skeletons this family has hiding.

Anne Hathaway, as a million and one critics have said, gives an amazing performance. It's not like I ever thought she wasn't a good actress. I just always saw her as more a light-hearted type with good comedic timing. In Rachel, the gloves are off, and she wears her emotions like a crown she can't rip off. Hathaway's performance, like Irwin's, plays a lot in her face. She may be spouting one thing, but her face reads something completely different, and that's something new for her. Her past characters have never needed to be so complex, and she pulls it off brilliantly.

Through laughter, yelling, tears, and even a couple of punches, I believed that these actors were family. There are so many intimate details that most movies don't show--when was the last time you saw someone shaving their pits or taking a urine test? It just doesn't happen, but it does in this movie.

There is no question that this film will not satisfy everyone. It's not all yelling and sadness, there are some overwhelmingly happy moments as well. But their are still people who like their family dramas to stay a little glossy and produced, not in-your-face stark and unabashed. I loved it. I think it's one of the best films I've seen this year, and it deserves every accolade I hope it gets as well as some I'm sure it won't.

Friday, November 7, 2008

2008 Winter Preview

The weather is getting a little more crisp, and the crappy run of movies between the end of summer and late fall are finally leaving theatres. It's time for the awards season heavy hitters, and here is my list of what I'd like to see.

This list is coming a little late, or it would have included Burn After Reading, which is wonderfully hilarious, and Eagle Eye, which is a fun, escapist movie. I am, though, going to include a few movies that may or may not have already left a theatre near you. Look at it as a good DVD list to get started.

*Click on the titles to see the trailers.

Rachel Getting Married (October 3)
Anne Hathaway is getting buzzed by Oscar big time on this one. Even though the storyline sounds like a more serious version of Sandra Bullock's 28 Days, I really do want to see it. I'm always interested in actors breaking out of their molds.

City of Ember (October 10)
This movie is already on my Netflix list. I love family action movies, and I love fantasy movies. This is a family action fantasy movie from the director of Monster House. I'm on board.

What Just Happened (October 17)
Does anyone remember back in the day when Robert DeNiro used to act? From the looks of the preview, I think he may have just remembered those days himself. I've always liked Hollywood industry movies, so I'll probably enjoy this one. I just don't know if it's for everyone who's not "in the know."

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
(October 31)
Kevin Smith has brought us brilliance by way of Clerks and Chasing Amy. Kevin Smith has also brought us crap by way of Jersey Girl and Clerks II. Thankfully, Zack and Miri looks to be closer to brilliance with a little crass thrown in instead of the other way around. And if it's not brilliant, at least I'll have a great laugh.

Slumdog Millionaire
(November 12)
For the most part, I'm a Danny Boyle fan. (I could've done without Sunshine and The Beach.) I've also got to give credit to screenwriter Simon Beaufoy for such a fascinatingly original idea. Let's just hope the execution is as interesting on screen as it seems on paper.

Quantum of Solace
(November 14)
Of course I'm going to see the new Bond movie! Why wouldn't I? Daniel Craig is the best bond since Connery.

The Soloist (November 21)
I don't know if I mentioned that I've jumped on the Robert Downey, Jr. bandwagon, but I have. Even if he wasn't in this movie, I'd probably see it. There's a chance of a forced emotional storyline and overdone performances, but I'm willing to take that risk because it very well may be as good as the trailer makes it out to be.

Four Christmases (November 26)
Vince Vaughan makes me laugh. That's all I'll need this close to Thanksgiving.

Austrailia (November 26)
The last time Baz Luhrmann directed Nicole Kidman, it was in the genius Moulin Rouge! Now he's attacking an epic story on a very epic scale...and Hugh Jackman is there to boot. Oh yeah, I'm seeing this one.

Doubt (December 12)
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are names I like to see in the credits, especially in a meaty story like this. A rigid nun accuses a priest of molesting a boy in the school. Is she right, or is she just looking for vengeance against a man who isn't as traditional as she? The Catholic Church is going to have a field day with this movie.

Seven Pounds (December 19)
Will Smith and director Gabriele Muccino team up for the second time (the first was in The Pursuit of Happyness), and it looks fascinating. I have no idea what this movie is about. I've watched the trailer three times, and I'm still not sure. But I'm eager to see it. Whoever made this trailer should teach a clinic in proper ways to tease an audience about a movie.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (December 25)
A story about a man who's aging in reverse. If that idea alone doesn't grab you, maybe Brad Pitt being that man helps?

Frost/Nixon (December 25)
This movie is based upon a stageplay of the same name...with the same leads. The play got rave reviews in London, so I think it will be intriguing on the big screen as well. Plus, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen are fascinated character actors.

Bedtime Stories (December 25)
Say what you will about Adam Sandler, but this movie looks adorable!

Marley & Me (December 25)
Every time I'm in Barnes and Noble, the book Marley & Me catches my eye. Now, it's going to be a movie. A movie that seems more suited to Jennifer Aniston than to Owen Wilson, but as I said about Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, I'm always interested in actors breaking out of their molds.

Revolutionary Road (December 26)
I am unlike a majority of the world who absolutely adored the movie that made Kate and Leo famous, but I am interested to see them reunited on screen. Even though Titanic wasn't spectacular, the two gave great performances. Also, 11 years has made Leonardo DiCaprio a better actor which should make the reunion that much more interesting.

So what are you looking forward to seeing? What do you think can wait for DVD? Let me know!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Angelina Show

If I were handing out starred ratings for Changling, I would have given it a solid four out of five for the majority of the movie. And then yanked back one of those stars after watching a satisfying ending happen about twenty minutes after the story should've been over. Thanks to Angelina Jolie and her impeccable performance, I'm not too upset about sitting through the bloated third act.

Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single mother living in 1928 Los Angeles. She works as a telephone operator supervisor, and she cares very deeply for her nine-year old son Walter (Gattlin Griffith). One day, after an unexpected long shift at work, Christine comes home to find Walter missing. She calls the police right away, and that is where her problems begin.

First off, unlike today, the police didn't start the search for her son immediately. They had to wait 24 hours. When little Walter doesn't show up, the police come, and the search is on. Five months pass, and Captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan), the head of the juvenile department, shows up with great news. Walter has been found.

But the boy at the train station is not Walter. Captain Jones is appalled at the idea that this woman is turning down a found child, and he forces her to accept him. The police claim the search is over, and the rest of the movie becomes Christine's fight to uncover the injustice of the LAPD, prove her sanity, and above all, find her son.

There were many, many instances during the film that I was literally outraged at the police. Who would not believe that a mother wouldn't recognize her own son? But disbelieve they did, and the idea of this being based on a true story makes it all that much more aggravating.

What works in this movie, if you couldn't tell the title, is Angelina Jolie's portrayal of Christine Collins. Nearly every time she broke down crying, I felt like crying with her. The pain and anguish and frustration isn't subtle, and why would it be? Her fellow actors on screen, for the most part, did a great job, but she was definitely acting circles around most of them. I don't think I can blame this on the actors as much as the way the story was written.

This is a movie about a mother's struggle. There is police corruption, sexism, and monumental foul play, but at its core, the story is about this woman. The other characters are just icing, and I think that's what keeps this from being a five-star movie for me.

Don't get me wrong, Clint Eastwood directed a great movie. It's compelling and stark and all those gritty-type words you can use when describing Eastwood and his movies. Most of the movie had me glued to the screen--my mind reeling about the injustice and the mystery of it all-- but there was just too much detail and not enough development of supporting characters.

The last time Jolie won an Oscar, it was for playing a institutionalized girl. This time, she's going to be nominated for playing an institutionalized woman. I don't know if she'll win, but she definitely deserves the nod.