Tuesday, November 25, 2008

November's Film Round-Up

The following appeared in the November issue of ICON and is reprinted with permission. (Thanks, Trina.)

It's been a couple of months since we've posted an Anne Hathaway photo, so why don't we post another one. Man, the things I do to drive Internet traffic. I'm shameless.

By the way, have you seen the coming attractions for Hathaway's latest, Bride Wars? Good lord. From what I can gather, it consists of Hathaway and Kate Hudson acting like combatative shrews for 90 minutes. And, guess what, guys? It's packaged as a date movie!

Pity the poor bastards who are dragged to see this, and shame on Ms. Hathaway for forgetting that Hudson's resume since Almost Famous has been execrable.

Rachel Getting Married (Dir: Jonathan Demme). Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Debra Winger, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe. Kym (Hathaway) is a recovering drug addict and perpetual screw-up who leaves her latest treatment center to attend her sister's wedding. While Kym adjusts to a series of life-shifting events involving sister Rachel (DeWitt), the family has to deal with Kym's attention-grabbing, 12-stepping antics and the destructive memories she represents. Movie starts out like a house on fire, but Jenny Lumet's script presents her characters' motivations too soon; the upper-class dysfunction soon becomes repetitive, and eventually stifling. And though I realize Demme wanted to go for a ragged, cinéma vérité look, the extensive footage of Rachel's rehearsal dinner and wedding reception is self-indulgent and deadening. Too often, Rachel Getting Married captures the most annoying aspects of what gullible audiences think is award-winning filmmaking--showy dialogue coupled with suburban, real person struggles--and hopes we won't notice that it's not really about anything substantial. This movie isn't about the story or the characters; it's really about forcing technique down our throats. Hathaway, as usual, is terrific. R *

What Just Happened (Dir: Barry Levinson). Starring: Robert De Niro, Catherine Keener, John Turturro, Bruce Willis, Stanley Tucci, Michael Wincott, Robin Wright Penn, Kristen Stewart, Sean Penn. Things aren't going well for big shot Hollywood producer Ben (De Niro, actually looking like he cares for once). The director (Wincott) of his Cannes-bound movie refuses to cut a controversial, audience-hating ending; Bruce Willis' commitment to his shaggy beard over an upcoming movie is a big problem for the studio; and Ben's beloved second ex-wife (Wright Penn) may be sleeping with a married screenwriter (Tucci). Satirical look at the movie industry has its moments, with Turturro funny as a petrified agent who drives De Niro nuts, and Wincott a scene stealer as the recalcitrant director. What dooms What Just Happened, aside from its innumerable, incomplete storylines and interminable length, is that it offers no new insights into the Hollywood lifestyle. Skip the movie (based on veteran producer Art Linson's book) and either rent the HBO series Entourage or read The Devil's Candy, Julie Salamon's account on the making of The Bonfire of the Vanities. R *

The Elephant King (Dir: Seth Grossman). Starring: Tate Ellington, Jonno Roberts, Ellen Burstyn, Josef Sommer, Florence Faivre. A young anthropologist (Roberts) was supposed to go to Thailand for research. Instead, Jake is blowing his grant money on booze, women, and drugs, much to the anger of his mother, who recruits her younger son, the shy Oliver (Ellington), to bring the hedonistic scholar back to the states. The rescue mission looks doomed when Jake refuses to leave and Oliver falls in love with a gorgeous, money-loving bartender (Faivre). Writer-director (and Princeton grad) Grossman captures the whirl of debauchery that is Thailand nightlife and how it holds the two brothers captive. Stretching out that idea for 90 minutes makes for boring, repetitive viewing. The Elephant King would have been far more compelling if Grossman had given ace veterans Burstyn and Sommer (Witness), playing Oliver and Jake's concerned parents, substantial screen time. More scenes involving the distressed couple would have provided a complete portrait of a family flirting with disaster. Instead, we only get a glance. R *

Who Does She Think She Is? (Dir: Pamela Tanner Boll). Enlightening documentary profiles mothers who are artists and the difficult time these women have in fulfilling both roles. Among the more interesting subjects: Maye Torres, who raises two kids on her own in New Mexico on just her income as an artist; Janis Wunderlich, a sunny Ohio mother of five who works frantically on her dark, highly personal sculptures so her younger kids don't damage them; and, perhaps the most fascinating subject, Angela Williams. She's a Rhode Island mother of two (with a booming voice) whose pursuit of an acting career puts her family life at risk. Tanner Boll does examine philosophy and theory surrounding the motherhood/artist paradigm, but her movie never feels like a lecture. In showing how these women live, the director demonstrates the struggles of balancing two misunderstood, underappreciated professions, while showing that women shouldn't be defined in any one way. Regardless of your politics, this is a film with a giant heart and inspirational, sympathetic subjects. Unrated ****

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