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Friday, November 07, 2008

The talkies

In the course of the week's electionising, and sight-seeing and what not, I managed to squeeze in a few movies, which will be opening here in the next few weeks (except for W, which debuted yesterday). Here's my two cents...

What a bizarre movie this one is. Is it a melodrama? Satire? Parody? Comedy? Who knows! It's actually a combo of all those genres - at least I think it is - so for that reason Oliver Stone's latest presidential bio is a bit all over the place tonally, and it ultimately gives a pretty shallow and facetious, though unintentionally entertaining, look at the disastrous presidency of Bush the Younger. 

That's not to detract from the movie's biggest attraction though - the performance of Josh Brolin, who not only brilliantly mimics Dubya's mannerisms and tics, he even manages to make the man, dare I say it, likeable

Apart from Brolin, there are other performances to savour, though that's not really meant as a compliment. Richard Dreyfuss makes for a believably - but lazily - evil, shadowy Darth Cheney, while James Cromwell makes for an interesting GHWB, though the actor fails to shake that menacing demeanour that normally works so well for him.  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Wright takes on Gen Colin Powell, but bafflingly gives him a voice that sounds like Eddie Murphy's Professor Klump in The Nutty Professor

But best - and by that I mean worst - of all is Thandie Newton, who makes Dr Condoleezza Rice walk, frown and sound like Billy Bob Thornton's character in Sling Blade. Absolutely hilarious. 

This is another one that I was really looking forward to, but about which I was left decidedly ambivalent. To be fair, Angelina Jolie is phenomenal in the lead role of real life 1920s mother Christine Collins, who took on the corrupt LA police department after her son vanished and she was 'given' a replacement boy months later that clearly wasn't her child.

It's an incredible story with many extremely dark twists, turns and false endings. But therein lies the problem: the movie is simply too packed with plot. Director Clint Eastwood is a master of lean, clear-sighted film-making, but here he adopts an uncharacteristically heavy hand, undermining the story's stark power by allowing it to, at times, descend into predictable, movie-of-the-week blandness, and even cheesiness. 

Changeling looks fantastic, with some beautiful period detail, and the performances of the wider cast (John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan and the brilliant Amy Ryan) are uniformly good. I was left disappointed though. Maybe a second viewing will change my mind.

American comedian Bill Maher has made no secret of his disdain for organised religion, and in this wickedly funny and sarcastic documentary, lapsed Catholic-Jew Maher lays into all manner of faiths and beliefs, ranging from Catholicism to Scientology. Sure, he picks some easy targets (trucker Evangelicals, an actor playing Jesus at a Holy Land theme park in Florida), but it's hard to argue against the cold, rational way he debunks scripture, points out gross hypocrisies (particularly regarding the Christian response to homosexuality) and the patently absurd myths and narratives that underlie most world religions. This probably won't get a release in Ireland or Europe so look our for it on DVD.

Now we're talking: a highly anticipated movie that didn't disappoint. Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme goes back to handheld camera basics to cover a weekend in the life of the dysfunctional, multi-cultural Buckman family where the eldest daughter, Rachel (brilliantly played by Mad Men star Rosemarie DeWitt) is about to get married. The movie's drama kicks off when disruptive, drug-addict sister Kym (Anne Hathaway, as you've never seen her before) arrives home from rehab for the nuptials, stoking long-suppressed tensions and anxieties within the extended clan, leading to a series of startling, uncomfortable confrontations, home truths, and uneasy, unstable reconciliations with her loved ones, particularly her emotionally distant mother (played by 80s screen legend Debra Winger, making a hugely welcome return to the Hollywood fold).

This may sound like traditional indie movie/fucked-up-family fare, but RGM is a far more interesting, engaging and remarkably subtle entry to that ever-growing cinematic subgenre than say last year's repugnant Margot At The Wedding

There has been much attention paid to Hathaway's performance, and I must say every word of it is deserved. She is, quite simply, extraordinary in this movie: a truly career-transforming role that will lead to some major mantlepiece hardware during next year's award race. Her Kym is a profoundly, at times nauseatingly narcissistic, self-involved train wreck, yet Hathaway also manages to make her sympathetic, human and relatable. Her eyes, her voice, her very body language communicate to the audience that this is a young woman harboring enormous pain, and that is unleashed in many ways throughout, most shockingly in an absolute whopper of a scene with Winger that will be replayed as both their nomination clips at the Oscars next year.

I can't wait to see one again when it opens here. Be excited.

Let me just say this now: I loved, loved, LOVED this neo-epic, charming, exuberant, funny, romantic and moving film from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle, a real people pleaser (literally: it won the People's Choice Award at the Toronto Film festival) that is sure to become this year's Little Miss Sunshine/Juno critical darling. 

Dav Patel (known to us as Anwar in Skins) confidently makes the jump to charismatic leading man status playing Jamal Malik, a Mumbai call centre worker who makes it to jackpot question on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The uneducated street kid's success causes suspicion amongst TV chiefs and he is duly arrested. During the course of his interrogation, each of his correct answers from the famous quiz show provide a frame for Jamal's picaresque life story, covering his Dickensian life on the teeming streets of Mumbai with his hothead brother, to his quest to find his childhood sweetheart Latika (Freida Pinto). 

It may sound ludicrously contrived, but, trust me, Boyle pulls it off with panache, infusing the story with kinetic, youthful energy, aided by some fantastic performances from his childish cast, a cracking soundtrack and an unrelenting emotional oomph that will carry you through to the final credits, which, incidentally, explode unexpectedly into a Bollywoodtastic dance sequence that you will want to replicate as soon as you step outside the cinema. 

One of my favourite movies of this year, and one that I cannot wait to see again.


UnaRocks said...

I thought W was rubbish. I cringed so much. Brolin was brilliant, but what was the point of this film?

I'm looking forward to Milk more and more after seeing the trailer again.

Declan Cashin said...

I agree, Brolin was the best thing in it. I want to see it again just to laugh at Thandi though - she was appalling/terrific.

Milk looks amazing. I bought the book that the movie is based on, so it's next on the pile.

Ted Leddy said...

I liked it.
A bit pointless at times I agree but I loved the cabinet scenes. Thought they were well done and historically acurate.