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Posts Tagged ‘opinion’

Doubt: Titans Clash Over Sheer Intensity

Posted by goldwriting on January 16, 2009

doubt I was told by a reliable source that black is the new black this year.

Rating: 7 out of 10

There are numerous ways to tell a story. You can paint a picture which conveys one image, but a library worth of emotion. You can write a piece of music which seeps in behind the eyes and speaks even more directly to the heart. Hell, some people can even tell a story through the presentation of a seven course meal with a well thought out menu. Yet two of the most popular ways to tell a story are on stage and on screen and every now and again one story takes that perilous walk from one to the other. Sometimes the results can be fascinating, like opening up a whole new way to think about the characters and the story as a whole, but on other occasions all you do is sit back and wish you’d seen it in its original form. Sometimes, just sometimes, where you’re born is where you’re meant to stay.

As you might guess, that is how I feel about Doubt.

Doubt is a story about a power struggle between Sister Aloysius Beauvier, an overbearing, discipline-driven nun and Father Brendan Flynn, a younger, more socially-forward pastor that the Sister unwillingly works for. Sister Aloysius is alerted to a possible inappropriate situation going on between Father Flynn and a young boy in the church and she goes on a hell-bent tirade to root him out, no matter what the cost or the complete lack of proof she has. With conviction and passion on her side and logic and the absence of proof on his side, these two deeply entrenched personalities battle over truth, what you are allowed to do to get it and finally, if you really need it at all.

The story originated as a play written by John Patrick Shanley and he went on to write the screenplay and direct the film himself. In most cases you don’t get that lucky, to have the original creator still in such control over the new permutation, but Shanley made sure he kept the tone and power of the story intact during its newest transformation. In a certain respect that might be part of the problem. In the original play only four characters were in it: the nun, the father, the younger nun and the mother of the boy in question. With the film, many more people had to be created to fill out the world they lived in and on occasion it worked perfectly, creating fluid movement between the scenes with the major characters, but every now and again you could feel the presence of a band-aid type of moment, only there to hold things together while we got to something actually important. Also, I haven’t read the play or ever seen it on stage, but the character of the boy’s mother only has one scene in the film, albeit an incredibly powerful one, and it feels like she could have been made much more integral to the film. The dialogue is intense, pointed and incredibly crisp, but that much is to be expected coming from such an accomplished playwright as Shanely. As a play, Doubt had already taken home the 2005 Drama Desk Award, a Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Not too shabby.

In some of the transfers from stage to screen, the studios and directors will reach out to those actors already familiar with the material and bring in the original cast members (as was done with Frost/Nixon with Langella and Sheen), but Shanely made a specific choice to not invite his stage cast into the film project because he knew with the growth of the world he had to create for the film, those actors would have a harder time adapting to the new version of the story and they would feel out of place with the rest of the cast. So he brought in new blood to the project and I can truly say he chose incredibly well. Philip Seymour Hoffman took on the role of Father Flynn and he attacked it with the passion and sensitivity we have all come to know and expect from him. There is an honesty about him, even when he is playing a villain, that makes the audience side with him on nearly anything. Standing across the religious ring from him was Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius. She channeled every child’s worst nightmare of their Catholic school upbringing into this devout and devious despot. From the moment she lets her brain lock onto the possibility of Father Flynn’s misdeed, she tenaciously grabs hold, sets her head down and barrels over anyone and everything in her path. Like most movies born on the stage, this has some truly amazing scenes and one particular fight between Hoffman and Streep is stunning in the level of intensity, power and outrage they both escalate to. Shyly trying to not impede on the performances of her cast mates is Amy Adams as the young and innocent Sister James. She has the unwanted joy of lighting the match which burns through this entire piece and the second she lights it her face and heart drops knowing it will lead to something awful. Adams is still climbing the ladder of her already illustrious career and few are doing it with such variety and skill as her. It’s understandable that she would feel somewhat intimidated by tangling with Hoffman and Streep, but her talent holds up quite well in such company. Rounding out the original four characters is Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller. Davis only gets one scene in the entire film, so maybe it was the knowledge of that which made her decide to knock it completely out of the park. She shared time in that scene only with Streep, but instead of letting the audience revel in Streep’s already well-known talent, Davis injects herself with bravado, self-righteousness and gives Streep her only ass-whooping of the film. With only words, Streep looks like she has been bowled over by a cement truck by the end of a scene where the two characters simply walk down a small path. Davis went along to be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama and it was well deserved.

In the end my reason for thinking it most likely works better on stage is due to the rest of the world feeling somewhat forced. The original four are still the only truly interesting characters and when we are away from them, we just end up wondering where they are. Also the tone and pacing is still very much that of a play and the film runs incredibly fast, so the ending feels a touch abrupt in my book. Shanely also mentioned in an interview that he wanted to make sure the audience left with a sense of doubt about whether the alleged event of Father Flynn ever really took place. Unfortunately for me, Hoffman’s performance never gave me too much feeling on his guilt and Streep’s inability to see any logic outside of her own made her seem too oblivious and misguided to be on the right side of the argument. There were some quick shots later referred to in an effort to shed a cracked light on Father Flynn, but it was too little too late for me.

Recommendation: This particular film with lose nothing in the shift from big screen to TV, so feel free to wait on that account. If you are a connoisseur of acting, this is a great example of some true pros at work, but if you’re looking for a more well-rounded plot, this might not fit the bill.

Reviews Coming Soon: Seven Pounds, Yes Man, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and many more…

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Frost/Nixon: Bringing the Fight to the People

Posted by goldwriting on December 7, 2008

frostnixonmovie Did I have your phone tapped? Your voice sounds so familiar…

Rating: 9 out of 10

There are few things in life as exciting or exhilarating as watching a good fight. Maybe it’s the primate in us, a deep evolutionary need to see two people beat the piss out of each other in order to prove dominance. Maybe it’s the need to see a champion, someone we can look up to and model our own lives after. Or, on a slight chance, it’s the glimmer of hope we huddle around to keep us warm and keep our dreams from fading away, the dream that one day someone will topple the champ and change the world forever. Now you might think those emotions only get woken up during a purely physical battle, but if so, you are truly missing out on some of the best battles in human history. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas debated seven times in 1858 for control of the Illinois legislature and those verbal fencing matches were a preview of the power and eloquence with which Lincoln would bring to bear in his time as President. Almost exactly one hundred years later, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon took to the airwaves for the first ever televised debate between Presidential candidates. Those four on-air matches drew numerous comparisons to their predecessors of nearly a century before. Even in our latest election a highlight truly arrived during our one and only debate between Vice-Presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. While it might not have been the intelligence and skill in the fight we were all watching for, it still made for captivating television.

Yet one thing all those previous moments lacked was the dark cloud of obvious guilt and shame hanging over the head of Richard Nixon after he resigned the Presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. A man who achieved amazing and brilliant things during his time in office was forced to step down and hang his head for something he was arguably not the first to do, just the first to get caught red-handed. I’m not defending Nixon, but in the context of political history, including any number of the documented and undocumented crimes committed by our still reigning President, Nixon was a lightweight. But for the American people of the 1960’s, his betrayal of the public office was the lowest they had seen a President stoop to and they demanded action. After newly sworn-in President Ford issued a complete and unequivocal pardon of Nixon, it seemed as though the American people were going to have to drink and eat whatever they could get their hands on to cover up the bad taste. But then one man stepped up to the plate, determined to give the people exactly what they wanted.

This is not just a history lesson; this is the premise and plot of Ron Howard‘s new film, Frost/Nixon. David Frost was a British talk show host who came up with the idea of interviewing Nixon after his resignation, but his original motives were not entirely altruistic. Mainly, he was a master of television audiences and he could feel the ratings he would get for such an interview would be outrageous. Once he locked the interview in place however, it became a monster he almost couldn’t control. The film is incredibly small in scale, beginning the year where Frost came up with the idea and ending within days after the interview was concluded. We get to see the build up to the big interview, but the actual recorded and tastefully lit chat between the two characters is really the lynch-pin on which the whole film rests. Thinking about the premise beforehand, it’s hard to imagine there being an incredible amount of tension in the movie-going audience, especially since we know what happens, but quality filmmaking and intelligent storytelling can make any old story seem new once again. By the time Frost and Nixon sit across from each other, microphones pinned to their lapels, handkerchiefs folded and makeup invisibly applied, the intensity is palpable. It was akin to watching a heavyweight boxing match, except one contender had never really felt the blow of a well-landed punch before. Once he does, the fear in his eyes truly brings the audience into his mindset. Luckily for us, both in the theater and in history, fear that might make some men run will make others fight all that much harder.

Ron Howard has been making movies for a number of years now and won a number of accolades and critical acclaim, but Frost/Nixon might end up topping them all. With a very simple story he found a way to display two very non-simple people. There is tension, anticipation and weight all brought to bear on a simple interview which ended up changing the lives of not only the people in the chairs, but the worldwide audience as well. Howard also got his two lead actors gift-wrapped, Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. Both actors originally played their roles on stage to massive acclaim, so heading into the movie, they had these characters down cold. There is definitely a difference between playing a role on stage and playing it on film, but the internal work and preparation by these actors is a virtual treasure chest in comparison to what you get on most film sets. The moment they appear on screen, you can feel the depth and skill both actors gained from all their time put in. Frank Langella disappears into Nixon, truly embodying Nixon’s confident walk and sweeping movements of his arms, his imposing intrusion into people’s personal space, and finally the stoop — which on anyone else would have made them look old, but with Nixon is just made him look dangerous and determined. On the other side of the ring, we have Michael Sheen, who shined as David Frost, the plucky and charming television talk show host. There are some moments where Sheen is just listening to Langella rant on and on and Sheen displays an amazing level of intensity, fear and nearly overwhelming nervousness just by using his eyes. He doesn’t even have to move to show the wave after wave of emotional turmoil this man goes through while trying to go toe-to-toe with “Tricky Dick”. Both actors are strong contenders for nominations in the award season.

Beyond the powerhouse duo in front, there is a wealth of strong supporting cast. Sam Rockwell, one of Hollywood’s best go-to character actors, delivers an impassioned performance as James Reston Jr., one of the researchers on Frost’s team. He is the emotional anchor for the team, representing the anger, fury and bitter disappointment of the American people, and if there is one thing Rockwell does better than anything else, it’s playing disappointment and disdain (try poking your head into almost any scene in Choke). Right alongside Rockwell is another amazing talent, Oliver Platt, who plays Bob Zelnick, the more political structure based portion of Frost’s team. Platt continues to do his thing with great talent and shine without ever stealing scenes or trying to make the moment about him. He can be the star of the show if cast that way, but his true talent is blending into an ensemble and making everyone around him better for it. If you’ve never really experienced Platt, I would happily and heartily suggest Casanova and The Three Musketeers, both brilliant comedic performances. A little on the lesser-known side is Matthew Macfadyen, who plays John Birt, Frost’s manager, who continually rallies the troops and sticks by his side even when things are at their most bleak. Macfadyen brought a great sense of strength and loyalty that kept the audience in check and never giving up on Frost and his ultimate goal. As if we needed another name to add to the list, this will benefit all those addicts of the “Six Degrees” game, Kevin Bacon plays Jack Brennan, Nixon’s Chief of Staff and most devoted servant. Bacon lays it on thick, the dogged determination and defense of Nixon, even in the final moments when it all is slipping away. A solid job from an incredibly consistent actor.

Recommendation: If you like movies about important moments in American History, you should like this. If you like Ron Howard films, you should like this. If you like purely character pieces, you should like this. If you are looking for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, you might wanna move on by. Lastly, if you are like me and try to watch everything on the Oscar nominated list, I’m putting good money this film will end up on there somewhere, whether for acting, directing or writing. Save yourself the rush of trying to track it down during awards season and catch it now.
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Bolt: Some Sizzle, Yet No Spark

Posted by goldwriting on December 1, 2008

bolt Do you know how close that place is to the ocean? Do you realize how much water that is?!

Rating: 6 out of 10

We sometimes cast a wistful gaze back into history and remember all the purely magical moments of our childhoods: learning to ride a bike, dumping out the first bag of Halloween candy after a monster haul, or playing with the first new family pet. All of these things hold a special place in our hearts and right alongside those for most of us is the memory of watching our first Disney film. Whether it was Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Steamboat Wille or Aladdin (had to mention it since it is still my reigning favorite from ‘The House of Mouse’), those magical cartoons had a profound effect on several generations and for that, Disney deserves a certain amount of credit. Yet, today things are slightly different. In the world of animated cinema Disney is scratching for third place on the totem pole, underneath the powerhouse studios of Pixar and Dreamworks Animation. It’s true, it can be argued Disney is on top of the pole since they own Pixar, but Pixar operates very much as a separate company and they gained their early success and prestige before Disney made the purchase. Disney is merely the distribution chain for the wonderment emanating from the minds and dreams of the Pixar creative staff. So the question becomes, does Disney still have the chops to compete in the animation circuit?

Yes, they do, as long as they are satisfied with coming in third.

Disney’s latest contribution is Bolt, the story of a dog who doesn’t know he’s an actor on a television show and ends up lost in the real world trying to find his owner, who was fake-kidnapped on the show. Along the way Bolt captures an alley cat in an effort to force her to lead him to the Green-eyed Man (his TV arch-nemesis) and also picks up a hamster that happens to be a fanatical fan named Rhino. Their cross country journey is full of adventures and mishaps, all in an effort to lead Bolt home and back to his owner. The journey is also an internal one for Bolt as he struggles with the realization that he is a normal, non-superhero type dog.

Bolt is a charming movie and should be enjoyable to most young kids out there, but the modern day marker for true success in this genre is how many adults can you attract without their children in tow? For that crowd, Bolt doesn’t offer a whole lot. The trailer was incredibly well-designed and caught a good deal of the highlights in the film, mainly showcasing the role of Rhino the hamster, who stole most of his scenes and felt light in the overall scope of the film. Boosting up his role might not have fit in the structure of the story, but it certainly would have brought up the laughs. Another point in which I think the movie fared really well was the depiction of the pigeons, both in New York and in Los Angeles. The movements and seemingly spastic thought processes in those birds were amusing no matter what they were talking about. Those animators really captured a brilliant idea of what it could be like to listen to their thoughts. The Los Angeles based pigeons…well, those were hilarious for a whole different reason, which I won’t go into for the sake of not ruining the scene. (The only pitfall here is it might only be funny to people who live out here and work in the entertainment industry. Even so, I’m lucky because I do live here and I did think they were the high point of the flick.) As for the main characters, Bolt made sense throughout the film and always stayed on a strong motivated course, but I just wasn’t endeared to him. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but something lacked in making Bolt stand out amongst the cadre of side characters and he ended up being only a lynch pin instead of driving force for the story. The alley cat, Mittens, played well off Bolt and acted more like the Chorus in Greek and Roman theatre, providing the reactions of the common audience member, since Bolt’s own worldview was so skewed. Mittens continually reminded us that what was happening was more-or-less insane, but in the end also showed us what was most important. Surprising to me, Mittens felt more like the heart or emotional center of the film over Bolt.

With animated features another big hurdle is to find a cast of voices that not only fits the characters, but also doesn’t overshadow the movie itself. John Travolta provided the voice of Bolt and admittedly when the movie began I felt his voice was too old for the character and too aware of himself, but as it went on I felt Travolta settled into it more and became more attuned with the character. On the other hand, Miley Cyrus was not a terribly good choice as the voice of Penny, Bolt’s real life and on-screen owner. She was certainly picked for star power and to further connect the movie to the teen-and-under audience, but Miley’s voice is raspy, bordering on smoky at times and while that might work for her pop star image, it didn’t play coming from the mouth of a young, innocent looking girl.

One last interesting tidbit is Bolt was actually executive produced by John Lasseter, one of Pixar’s creators who now works for both companies. He was brought onto Disney Animation to help bring them back into the forefront of the animation world, but I can’t say I really felt that Pixar spark inside this movie. I have no doubt Disney will continue to move forward and fight their way onwards and upwards, but so far it has been a slow crawl for them.

Recommendation: If you have young children, jump on in, but if you’re heading out on your own, you better be a die-hard fan of children’s movies. Also, this is being offered in 3-D at some theaters, but feel free to skip that option. I saw the 3-D version and there wasn’t anything really worth the hassle of wearing those glasses and possibly fighting off the resulting headache.
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Slumdog Millionaire: Rising From the Ashes

Posted by goldwriting on November 27, 2008

slumdog-millionaire You gotta get on that train, kid. Trust me. It was in a movie much older than this one.

Rating: 9 out of 10

The last two months of the year always bring out the heavy hitters from both the studio pipeline and the independent circuit. It can almost become a test in itself to keep perspective about what constitutes a good or possibly great film. The bar of quality can get subconsciously raised so high that everything starts to either blend together or pale in comparison to one overwhelmingly powerful piece of cinema. Yet no matter how hard the struggle may get, everyone wins in the end because the audience is presented with a plethora of great films to enjoy.

I’m sure you see where this is going in terms of how I feel about this next movie. If not, please go back and read the first part again. Slowly this time.

Slumdog Millionaire is the story of Jamal, a young boy growing up in the poverty stricken parts of the big cities in India. Through a twisting and winding series of events he finds himself as a contestant on their country’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. His fame and wonder grows as he answers question after question correctly until he is on the brink of completing game and winning the grand prize. As most good stories do, this film begins with a question; how does he know all the answers? Is he cheating? Or is it written?

Simon Beaufoy, the writer of the screenplay, got the story from a novel called Q&A by Vikas Swarup. It’s true I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how close the movie follows along or how much was creative license, but either way, the structure of the film is a beautiful example of intelligent and well-planned storytelling. Each question in the movie leads to another flashback, a new vignette into the history of where Jamal came from and the struggles he went through to get where he is. It allows the audience to get pieces of information that are only pertinent to the scene in front of it without having to wallow through sixteen years of a childhood. It also breaks the film up nicely and serves as a nice reminder when the footage you are watching is particularly harsh that he does make it through somehow, since we see him on the game show. The true power of the story is the celebration of love, destiny and the belief it is still possible, no matter what the costs. As mentioned previously, some of the footage, mostly in the first thirty minutes, can be very hard to sit through due to a few scenes of child abuse, alluded to and shown. The tolerance level gets pushed nearly too far, but at the last possible second the film turns the corner and those previous scenes now become the anchor to where it goes from there.

Danny Boyle, who directed this fine feature, is no stranger to telling love stories in the most chilling or tragic of circumstances (take a glance back at The Beach) or pushing cinema to new levels of uncomfortable (try some of the key scenes from Trainspotting or 28 Days Later). No matter if it’s love or death, Danny Boyle always comes to the plate with something visually interesting and compelling, never failing to leave a lingering impression which sparks conversation even weeks afterward. Beyond those intense scenes in the beginning, there are numerous moments throughout the film which stand out. I won’t go into them all here for the sake of saving surprises for the theater, but believe me, they are there. Another talent Boyle has is working with the actors, which should always be the main role of the director. The performances here from Dev Patel, who plays our lead Jamal; Freida Pinto, who plays the romantic interest Latika; and Irfan Khan, who plays the police inspector, are all incredible and worthy of mention. Dev is definitely the heart and soul and drives the film, but his skills are only exemplified by the support he receives in each and every scene by the other cast members. Dev has only one credit outside of this film, but I have no doubt it will be filling up nicely after this film makes the rounds. The same holds for Frida, who actually only has this single credit to her name, but with her presence, talent and striking beauty, she will be gracing the silver screen for years to come, if we’re lucky. Irfan was quite busy before this movie came along and that doesn’t look to be slowing down for him any time soon.

Now although everything up to this point has been glowing and full of praise, this film not perfect. I had one main issue coming out of the theater and it has to do with the character of Salim, Jamal’s older brother, played by Madhur Mittal. There is an obvious triangle in the film between Jamal, Salim and Latika, but even before that appears, Salim constantly jumps back and forth between an undying loyalty and love to his younger brother and in the next scene betraying him in the worst ways imaginable. Some might argue it is an issue of control and Salim’s constant battle to keep it over Jamal, but I’m not sure it is supported by the story. Whatever the case may be, the audience is never granted with any explanation of Salim’s motives and I feel it harms our ability to emotionally connect with his character. It is not a deal breaker by far in this film, but since everything else in the movie was done so well, this little fact stuck out for me.

Recommendation: This is a true must-see film. If you miss it in the theater or it doesn’t play anywhere near you, rent it the first chance you get. Strap yourself in and ride out the tougher stuff in the beginning of the film, you will not be sorry. Also, not to plug another film, but if you like great films with themes of undeterred love, check out Brick; it’s in my Top Ten Movies of All Time. Lastly, if you’re a fan at all of Danny Boyle, I would be remiss in forgetting to mention the under-appreciated and terribly under-marketed Sunshine, which was without a doubt one of the best Sci-Fi films of last year, if not the last five years.

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The Visitor: Finding the Beat of Your Heart

Posted by goldwriting on November 1, 2008

Can you teach me something by Journey?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Taking the ordinary and introducing it to the out-of-the-ordinary. That’s what Thomas McCarthy said about his films and their underlying stories. Actually, he probably put it a little more eloquently, but you catch the drift. This is indeed the core of nearly all filmmaking and good storytelling. It brings out the eternal question; What happens when the normal world is shifted, knocked askew by any number of forces and how will the people of that world react? Will they run? Will they freeze? Most importantly of all, what would we do in their shoes? Now before you apply these new questions to such deep and powerful films like Beerfest and Breakin 2: Electric Boogaloo, let’s start out with something a bit clearer.

The Visitor tells the story of Walter Vale, an economy professor listlessly wandering through his days pretending to be busy so he can negate any chance for human contact since the loss of his wife. He reluctantly makes a trip to New York for a conference and finds a young couple illegally renting his apartment in the city. Being a decent person, he allows them to stay while they look for a new place, but in return he gets much more than new roommates, he finds the doorway to a life which has been passing him by.

Thomas McCarthy creates a wonderfully simple and beautifully timeless world for us so we can bear witness to one of the great abilities in human nature, love. You can break almost any story down into a love story, but The Visitor is one dealing with numerous types of love in one tale. There is the love of music, shown when Tarek, the young man living in William’s apartment, teaches William about the African drum. Through this new musical outlet, William grows not only as a drummer, but as a person as well, allowing himself to open up to the world walking by him and becoming a participant instead of an invisible observer. There is the love of a young couple, shown by Tarek and Zainab, his girlfriend. They are both living in the country under constant fear of deportation, ignorant retaliation and learning to do what they can to get by, but their love for each other keeps them together and puts smiles onto their faces in even the darkest of moments. There is also the love of a mother for her son, shown through the brave journey of Mouna, Tarek’s mother who travels to New York after five days of not being able to reach her son on his cell phone. Sure, that could sound a touch paranoid, but it was the reality this family was living in which made her so concerned. Lastly, just to top off the love-fest, this also tells the story of love coming again to those who have closed themselves off to the idea. No matter what the circumstances, no matter how long it has been, love can always breach those defenses and wake up the heart once more. All these different versions of love are delicately woven together and paired up with a powerful political sentiment around our broken immigration policies and treatment of illegals. Coming off heavy handed is dangerous when dealing with these themes, so subtlety is the name of the game here and McCarthy handles it with the same skill and honesty he showed us before in The Station Agent. As a writer/director his record is incredibly strong, so I recommend keeping an eye out for anything bearing his name.

As with most small stories like this one, much of the weight and success falls on the shoulders of the actors and their ability to deliver realistic, believable and truthful performances. Casting becomes a type of “make-or-break” decision for the project and Thomas McCarthy came well prepared to the table. He had Richard Jenkins in mind for Walter Vale from nearly the beginning and stuck with him even after Richard told him that he would love to play the character, but the movie would most likely never get made with him as the lead. Richard wasn’t saying this out of any type of martyr complex, but he has been a character actor for a great many years without a starring role and he knew his name would not carry much weight on the playbill, yet even with that fact staring him in the face, Thomas stuck to his guns and fought for Richard. After winning all necessary battles, Richard walked into the role with such amazing depth and sensitivity garnering him incredible buzz and murmurs of Academy nominations. If he doesn’t reach the heights of the golden statue this time, he shouldn’t be too heartbroken because I have no doubt a number of the independent awards and smaller organizations are going to give notice and heap praise. There were such small and nuanced details to every moment he portrayed, it was impossible not to feel for him during this journey. From platonic caring to romantic longing, Richard proved once and for all he is a lead actor and one to be learned from. Also involved from near the inception of the story was Hiam Abbass, who played Tarek’s mother, Mouna Khalil. She really fit perfectly with the style and grace of Jenkin’s performance, showing a quiet, reserved, yet insurmountable strength which propelled her character to do absolutely anything to be there for her son. As for the young couple, Haaz Sleiman played Tarek and Danai Jekesai Gurira played Zainab. Both were quite good and held up the incredible level of commitment and quality already being displayed in the film. Haaz boldly followed his ark of being hopeful and optimistic about life in America to barely contained rage over his mistreatment from ignorance and fear. Danai displayed the other side of being a foreigner in this country, the side where they try as best as they can to keep to themselves and not interfere or be noticed for fear of being deported. Her struggle displays one of the true tragedies of the story, where the yellow brick road leading many immigrants to our shores and streets ends on cracked pavement and broken promises.

Recommendation: The Visitor is an amazing film which really brings out the depth of feeling we yearn for from independent cinema. It has had a long and slow burn on the film circuit and at this time can already be found on DVD, so do yourself a favor and buy, rent or borrow this movie as soon as you get the chance. If you’re lucky, the story of Walter Vale might even inspire you to continue on your own journey, wherever it may lead.

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Rachel Getting Married: Performances Outpace Story

Posted by goldwriting on October 4, 2008

I remember what it was like to blink. Those were good days.

In every actor’s career there comes a moment where the critics and audiences rally around jumping for joy about how they’ve just witnessed a breakthrough performance. As stunning as these performances are, the term “breakthrough” always felt a little out of place to me since it’s only on rare occasions the actor in question is relatively new. Most times they are people who have been pounding the boards and scraping the screen for years. In those terms, the breakthrough is nothing more than a large group of people seeing that actor in a new light for the first time, mostly in something they never imagined before. Now the newly colored spotlight falls on Anne Hathaway and her powerful turn as Kym in Rachel’s Getting Married.

The film is a slice of life piece detailing a small space of time, only a few days, where Kym returns home from a rehab clinic just in time for her sister Rachel’s wedding. Anyone who has ever taken part in arranging a wedding, especially one taking place in the family home, knows the extreme stress already present, so toss a young, partially unstable girl into the mix and top it off with a nice coating of family denial and dark skeletons in the hallway closet, then you get the full picture of this film. Relationships are strained, ties pulled so tight and taut they could snap and still they try to work it out through screaming, laughing and crying (not necessarily in that order). After all, it’s about a wedding, who’s not happy at those?

Before giving Anne her due credit, let me shed some light on someone most people won’t know off the top of their heads. Rosemarie DeWitt plays the title role of Rachel and she does it with the utmost tenderness and subtlety. What she brings across is the inherent hatred, resentment and unending compassion sisters can feel for each other, even through the worst of storms. With a film more comfortable in the category of “ensemble piece”, Rosemarie is the catalyst and pushes the energy along, changing and charging every one of her scenes. But the light shines brightest on Anne Hathaway as Kym, the ex-junkie, ex-alcoholic, ex-return rehab patient bordering on becoming an ex-family member. Audiences claim this as a breakthrough performance because they fell in love with Anne in The Princess Diaries movies, Ella Enchanted and the wonderfully wicked The Devil Wears Prada. Yet what they might not remember is she’s played rougher, tougher roles in Havoc and Brokeback Mountain, showing the more mature and adult side of her skills. So I wasn’t all that shocked to witness the brilliance she brought to this film, but I will celebrate it all the same. Anne jumps in and exposes a vulnerability, a cavern of pain and lost love, which drives the emotional core of the picture. From opening credits to the closing moment, she is the elephant in the room everyone must deal with and the magical point is this is the first time where the audience can begin to empathize with the elephant and not the onlookers. I can’t end the acting portion of this review without bringing up Bill Irwin and Debra Winger as well. Bill plays her father and churns out a tenderness only an accomplished actor such as himself could generate. There are such small moments, such tiny fractures in his facade which allow you to peer into the heart of a man trying to choose between his greatest love and his greatest loss. On the other side, Debra Winger plays her mother, who has chosen to block out the pain in her past and skate by the rest of her life, allowing the blackness and hurt to fester and suffocate any chance at a real connection with her daughters. As you can read, the acting on display here is sensational and will undoubtedly be remembered during awards season.

As a total film, I’m not sure the story reaches the same heights. A lot of great scenes and spectacular moments are created, but the story lacks cohesion. A particular subplot about the family and its deep love for music is mentioned and referred to over and over, but never fully explained or explored, which weighs down later scenes during the wedding celebration and the overlong musical sequences. During most of the musical moments, all I really wanted was to get back to the story, back to the family and to Kym. Also, the connection between Rosemarie and her soon-to-be husband Sydney (played by Tunde Adebimpe) never quite comes across. There is a wonderful moment during their wedding vows, but it could have been helped even more if their relationship had been more centered earlier on.

On the directing front, Jonathan Demme, with the assistance of a touchingly tender script from Jenny Lumet, helps craft a reality we can all believe in, a home we can all feel we’ve been to before. Much of this intimacy and nuance came from the free form style of camera movement, with the actors never knowing where and when the camera was going to appear on them. Everyone was basically playing everything from the moment he yelled action, so there were emotional surprises around every pan of the camera. That technique gave the movie a certain level of improv or even documentary feeling, like the audience was the most silent of voyeurs.

Recommendation: A powerful series of moments, filled with terrific acting, that don’t quite come together as a film. Certainly has great value to witness, but the theater experience might not be necessary. Also, this really is meant for those viewers not afraid to open themselves up to it.

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Eagle Eye: I Think I’ve Gone Blind (SPOLIERS)

Posted by goldwriting on September 28, 2008

What do you mean those Indy fans are still pissed off? Man, they are persistent.

Shia LeBeouf is the boy with the golden ticket. We’ve watched him rise from talent on the TV screen in Even Stevens, make a breakthrough performance in The Battle of Shaker Heights (one of the winning films from the ambitious Project Greenlight) and land squarely in the middle of some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and Transformers. His star is shining bright in the Hollywood skyline and nothing seems to be slowing him down…

except for the fact his acting skills are getting completely lost in terrible, and I mean truly terrible, scripts. Let’s give his newest visual extravaganza a look see.

Eagle Eye is the story of Jerry Shaw (LeBeouf), a young, brilliant son who never applied himself to anything and is scraping by in a droll existence dodging his landlady and bluffing money in poker games in the back room of his copy store job. This is also the story of Rachel Holloman (played by Michelle Monaghan), a pretty, young and bitterly divorced woman who’s trying to vicariously live out her wild youth through her friends, while dedicating her only strength and passion to her young son. These two seemingly total opposites are “activated” and sent kicking and screaming through a dangerous series of hoops by an unknown voice on their phones, who can seemingly track them absolutely anywhere. Jerry is forced into it because he’s been framed as a terrorist, while Rachel runs the gambit to save the life of her son. Together they try to stay alive long enough to figure out what it is they are supposed to accomplish.

*There you have the basic set up. From this point on, there are spoilers because it is impossible to write about the issues with this film without giving away the plot twists. You’ve been warned.*

There is no person on the other end of the phone. It’s a computer called Aria who was designed and built by the Department of Defense and is now on the warpath to eradicate the chain of command, all the way up to the President, because they disobeyed a tactical recommendation she gave them. So after all the hype and excitement around the movie, it turns out to be nothing more than a poor remake of WarGames. This is only made more offensive by the fact that I loved WarGames as a kid and amazingly enough the film still holds up today, which many from that time period don’t, especially when they have to do with computer technology.

The film pretty much unravels from the moment you are told everything is being run and designed by a rogue artificial intelligence. The trailers were specifically designed to hide this fact, giving off more of a “big brother” fright tactic, and I applaud that marketing plan, except the only time that works is when the true plot twist in the theater is more interesting than the one we already imagined. This is not the case with Eagle Eye. No computer system would ever create such a convoluted and hole-ridden assassination plot. Computer systems are based on logic, even the ones we give personalities to, but Aria decides to make Shia and Michelle run rampant through downtown streets in numerous cities, dodging death and destruction at every turn, only so they can get into Aria’s control panel and undo a biometric lock put in place by…wait for it…wait for it…Shia’s twin brother, Ethan Shaw. We’re supposed to believe that once this lock is removed, Aria can proceed with her plan to destroy the chain of command. Not bad, as long as the audience chooses to notice that by this point in the movie the plan had no way of stopping, even if the lock was still in place. All the pieces were already in motion and Aria was pretty much unnecessary to the assassination.

Seriously, I could go on and on about the plot holes and logical misfires in this script. They range from a cell phone which can be triggered to only light up in short bursts and used to relay Morse code (I don’t know about you, but one click on mine and it stays lit for at least three seconds, no matter what) to the fact that only one mini-mart shop in all of Washington D.C. has a security camera not hooked up to any external network. The amount of disbelief needed in this film to make it enjoyable is staggering, almost more than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Transparent Ego Issues. No one actually tried to make sense of anything in the film and it runs on the belief if you move the camera around fast enough no one will notice. Well I noticed and I’m nowhere near the only one.

D.J. Caruso, the director of this silver screen misfit, is teetering on the brink of becoming Michael Bay, which I’m sure to some people is not a bad thing. He could follow this path and keep making bigger and bigger movies with less and less attention paid to the story or plot, but there’s a certain amount of respect traded to the devil of special effects and deep pocket budgets. He won a ton of people to his side with his Rear Window homage, Disturbia, and gained Shia as his modern male muse, but this recent visual splatterstorm of nonsense has brought him back to square one. The cast of the movie, which also included Billy Bob Thornton and Rosario Dawson, kept up their end of the bargain, but no one could perform their way into anything meaningful inside the web of failed logic and shark jumping. The blame firmly rests on the shoulders of screenwriters John Glenn and Travis Wright, which is frightening since these two are currently writing the remakes of Clash of the Titans and The Warriors. If there is justice in the film world, let their directors know how to rewrite on set.

Recommendation: If you’ve read the whole review to this point, this part should be fairly clear. Feel free to make up your own mind, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’m a writer myself and I know this review was rather harsh, but I call it like I see it, what I saw was a total mess.

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