Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rainy Saturday in LA

This past Saturday, I finally was in the mood to get to the movie theatre, especially with a plethora of movies on the slate that I wanted to see. With some careful planning, I was able to hit three features in a row AND with some luck, it actually rained in LA, so it made the atmosphere even better.

(I must rant quickly - while I LOVE assigned seating, which both the Landmark and the Arclight offer, having to deal with the elderly folks who can't figure it out immediately cancels any good that it causes. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I was told I was in the wrong seat, proceeded to just stare at the elderly person until they figured out their own mistake and then turned back my attention. One more quick rant - before my first movie started, I had to text my friend that I had left her ticket at the concierge, because she was running late. No sooner do I sit down and send this message, during the fully lit previews, mind you, the elderly lady next to me immediately snides "You're not gonna do that all movie are you?" SERIOUSLY? Forgive me for sending one text during the first minute of previews WITH THE LIGHTS on. I then had to listen to the old bag loudly chomp on her popcorn and struggle to breath. If you see me in a movie theatre, don't talk to me.)

Anyways, the first film I caught was Jonathan Demme's new flick, Rachel Getting Married. This has been pegged already as Oscar fodder for Anne Hathaway's performance, which is actually truly deserving. The film revolves a New England family gathered together at their home for their eldest daughter's (Rachel, played by RoseMarie DeWitt) wedding. Hathaway plays the younger daughter, Kym, who has released from rehab (for all drugs imaginable) for the weekend. Rachel is marrying Sidney (blandly played by Tunde Adebimpe), a musician-type with a large following of family and friends. While rehearsals and preparation surround the characters, Kym struggles to fit back into her old life and refind herself amongst this new dynamic.

What I found most interesting about this film is the strong performance of the ensemble versus Hathaway carrying it. We meet Kym first and watch her gradual "release back into the wild," as she so aptly states, but we then shift focus all over the family. We immediately sense frustration and even a hint of hostility from those at the house, which we eventually learn is deserved. After Hathaway establishes herself back in the house, we follow the supporting members through their routines - DeWitt as she and her controversial maid-of-honor and best friend Emma (Anisa George) perfect the smaller details and her father Paul (incredibly performed by Bill Irwin) as he basks in the bread-winner role. Hathaway graces the screen every so often immediately drawing the attention back to her character, which is what essentially has the family so on-edge with her. Past her verbose and stone cold self-deprecating character, we see the fragile outsider that she truly is during her rehab group visits. (In the movie's most touching moment, and by far Hathaway's best take, we learn why the family dynamic is the way it is and why her character is so self-deprecating. We never really feel bad for her from then on and tend to side with her in most situations.)

The film has a definite rapid stream of consciousness, scene-to-scene feel, paying homage to the late Robert Altman, and even Sidney Lumet, whose daughter Jenny, wrote the script. While the film is bogged down a bit in the third act by Demme's reluctance to trim the edit room, I can understand where is coming from, wanting to show as much of the wedding as he can since we've seen all the preparation. The performances throughout are truly amazing, going the entire range of personable to humiliating to heartwrenching. Hathaway does not steal the show, which I'm not saying with denotation, but rather, as a kudos to the rest of the ensemble. (Totally unmentioned thus far is Debra Winger's performance as the girl's divorced mother, who is absolutely commanding during her screentime.) This is a definite must see for all when it opens wider.

I then sat around for a while, grabbed a coffee and eventually made my way into Choke, a favorite at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Choke is the second major MP based upon a Chuck Palahniuk novel (Fight Club being the first). In helmer Clark Gregg's directorial debut, Sam Rockwell stars as the sex-addict, yet lovable loser Victor Mancini, who suffers from a definitive Oedipan complex with his mother (played by Angelica Huston). While he spends most of his time with her in the hospital (she suffers from Alzheimer's), he also works as a "historical re-enactor" at a local Pilgrim plantation. He then falls for his mother's doctor and must comes to terms with his muddled past and intricate relationship with his mother in order to finally be in control of his own life.

Rockwell truly carries this film, as every other character is simply a player in the theatre that is his day-to-day life. Gregg, who also wrote the script, lets Palahniuk's character shine through most lucidly and does not get tricky with the camera, letting the dramedy play out. We feel for Rockwell and his trials, though we enjoy the voyeurism a great deal as well. When this chapter of his life ends, we're not sure if he's any different than when he started, but we're glad to have been part of the experience. Overall, I didn't see this film as anything great, but was appeased and found myself laughing at several moments. I won't fully recommend it, but I won't tell people not to see it.

Lastly, having to drive across town for free tickets (a perk, I know..), I saw Fernando Meirelles' new flick, Blindness, which I read way when it was making the initial rounds. Reading it then, I loved the script - I loved its originality and courage to make assertions about today's society, I loved its grittiness and especially its third act, which I won't reveal. When Meirelles attached himself, I felt even more drawn to this, knowing he would kill it visually, as his last two features are two of the most beautifully shot films I've seen.

With all this said, I wasn't pleased with the film. The story follows a couple, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, who are put in a containment facility along with hundreds of others that are suffering from an epidemic that has caused white blindness. Moore's character is not blind, but lies to all others so as to not to create a stir. When the facility becomes overrun and supplies run low, the prisoners become hostile and all societal rules vanish. When I mentioned earlier that I loved the grittiness, I guess I loved reading it, but I certainly did not love seeing it. The environment, both in mood and visuals, that Meirelles creates becomes almost unbearably unwatchable. Many audience members were disgusted, and rightly so, but this is not a fault, just something that is staying true to the detail given in the pages.

Visually, this was tough to watch as well, as Meirelles intentionally overexposed the film to accentuate the whiteness and blinding nature. What this creates is an experience for the audience who must continually refocus their eyes in order to avoid blindness themselves. I totally understand Meirelles decision to do this - you can either have the audience experience what the characters are to a degree, or sit there and just watch the characters struggle being blind.
While the film still captures many of societial reflections put forth in the script, the film begins to feel a lot more like I Am Legend towards the end than what it read like. The performances are decent, maybe a little above average considering the task of almost all the actors playing blind.

I don't want to recommend this film to the masses due to its content and more so, the fact that it's just not the terrific story I initially read.

For this week, I'm going to attempt to see Keira Knightley as The Duchess, Vantage's peroid piece and maybe Happy-Go-Lucky. We'll see.

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