Rachel Getting Married (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
It’s definitely refreshing to see Anne Hathaway play a sarcastic and narcissistic character because I’m so used to seeing her as sugary and sweet like in “The Princess Diaries,” “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Ella Enchanted.” Although she’s had her share of darker characters such as in “Havoc,” it’s in this film that she truly shines and showcases her potential as a serious actress capable of carrying roles that have a certain resonance. Although the backdrop of the film is Rosemarie Dewitt’s wedding (as Rachel), the film is really about Hathaway’s inner demons as she tries to recover from addiction to drugs (and negative self-talk regarding herself, the world and the future). I must give kudos to the director (Jonathan Demme) and the writer (Jenny Lumet) for their sublime way of telling the story and how certain characters would crash onto one another. Although the arguments between DeWitt and Hathaway are truly scathing, I still felt an undeniable love between them because of the things they’ve been through. Some of those things are explored in the picture in insightful and meaningful ways so the audiences truly get to appreciate the main characters. I loved Bill Irwin as the father who mediates between the two daughters. Even though he strives to play the middleman, after certain fights, it’s noticeable that it pains him to see his daughters fight. My main problem with the film is that it lost some of its momentum especially toward the last twenty minutes. The movie started off so strongly because we really get to experience Hathaway’s frustration, sarcasm and rage but I felt like those attributes were missing in the end. Yes, I get that Hathaway’s character wanted her sister to have a nice wedding so she tries to hold her smart remarks but I still wanted more. However, I believe this is a strong film because I felt like I was really there with the characters; from the rehearsals to the actual wedding, it made me miss my own family and relatives when we would gather and everyone would act crazy. In a way, I could relate to Hathaway’s character because I consider myself the black sheep in the family (minus the drugs). I also enjoyed the multicultural cast and the fact that the issue of race was not brought up. The main critique I’ve heard from audiences prior to watching this movie is the somewhat shaky camera. I thought it was utilized in a good way in here because it added to the sense of realism. Not everything has to be perfect especially in a film with a very flawed lead character who wants some sort of closure in order to be able to move on with her life.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is one of the most important and best told movies ever made and I do not say that lightly. Every scene is memorable and presented in such a sensitive way, but it’s never judgmental because it lets the images speak for themselves. There’s a scene in this film involving Ralph Fiennes’ character (Amon Goeth) about removing or changing a certain part of history; this movie is a perfect example why that character cannot be any more wrong. Liam Neeson is tremendous as Oskar Schindler because he is able to effectively show Schindler’s evolution as a businessman-turned-humanitarian. Fiennes is also amazing in this even though his character is a monster. Both actors share a certain complexity that is extremely difficult to come by nowadays. As for Ben Kingsley, at first I didn’t recognize him but after trying to figure out what his character was all about, I realized that he really looked familiar and recognized him after about five minutes of contemplation. If that isn’t a mark of a great actor, I don’t know what is. Many consider that this as Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece (among many) and I cannot agree more. Even though it spans for about three hours and fifteen minutes, I didn’t feel like I was watching it for that long. In fact, I felt like I was watching a documentary because of how real everything looked and felt; I felt like was really there. Spielberg’s decision to show this movie in black and white is nothing short of perfection. It allowed me to notice Spielberg’s techniques, such as presenting two completely different factors when something is apart but when those two are put together, they seem to complement or go with each other. Aside from the use of black and white, other examples include Schindler and Geoth’s personalities and ideals; one train heading toward a safe haven while the other heads toward hell; fusion of two, or sometimes even three, different scenes–one showing pain and misery while the other one showing happiness and celebration. The craft alone is enough for me to give this film a four-star review, but it managed to go beyond that. The one scene that really made me want to cry was near the end when Schindler regretted not selling his car or his valuable pin in order to save more lives in front of more than a thousand Jewish people he saved. It really got to me because he lost everything he had yet he was still sorry he couldn’t have done more. I remember watching this film back in high school but I didn’t understand and did not appreciate it as much. In my opinion, this is the kind of movie that should be required to show in schools when the students are learning about World War II. Spielberg has given the world a gift–a reminder of one of the darkest times in history and why we should prevent it from happening again. “Schindler’s List” is one of the reasons why movies are made.
Smiley Face (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
This movie is a smogasboard of cameos ranging from the most familiar names and faces–Adam Brody, John Krasinski, John Cho–to those whose faces are familiar but their names give us a hard time recalling–Jayma Mays, Marion Ross, Rick Hoffman. But this movie would’ve been a complete mess without Anna Faris. She once again proved to me–twice to this year along with “The House Bunny”–that she can elevate an average movie into a pretty good one. For me, Faris is like Steve Carell: both can stand in one place and not do anything but they never fail to make me laugh out loud. I was shocked when I found out that Gregg Araki directed this stoner comedy. It’s the complete opposite of the moody, serious, and masterful “Mysterious Skin.” What I like about this film is that it’s so random and pointless to the point where it got me thinking. I know it may sound weird but I thought this picture had something to say about the way we live our lives; how random it is, how things don’t quite go the way we expect them to be. When such disappointments happen, we may feel angry or sad or both, but by the end of the day, we should just be thankful that we’re alive–that we are able to feel these emotions and (possibly) learn from our experiences. Araki really shows his talent during some silent but exquisite scenes, especially that one scene when Faris was sitting on the beach, facing the wind and the sand as the sun sets. I’m really glad that a friend recommended this to me (he’s a big Anna Faris fan) because I decided not to add this movie to my Netflix upon its release since the premise sounded lame. Yes, it’s stupid and can go in a million different directions, but I learned to embrace its positives. It’s funny, the performances are pretty good (especially Faris), and strangely thoughtful.
Boy Culture (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
This surprised me because it looks like a typical indie LGBT movie but it manages to rise above its clichés and tell a meaningful story about three roommates who genuinely love each other despite their differences. Derek Magyar is a male hustler who is self-deprecating but sensitive, Darryl Stephens wants to sleep around more but is anxious whenever he has to visit his family because they are not aware of his sexuality, and Jonathon Trent is pretty much like Magyar and Stephens’ kid because they took him in when he has nowhere else to go. The way this film played with the dynamics of the three characters made me care for them at their worst and laugh along with them when whenever they’re put in awkward or embarrassing situations. There are barely any sex scenes, a quality I like in LGBT films, because the focus is more on the characters’ emotional motivations than their physical yearnings. It’s very easy to shed one’s clothes but very difficult to shed one’s soul. As for the hustling aspect, I didn’t care much about it except for when Magyar’s most recent customer told his story regarding his first love. Those moments were touching because Magyar learns from an older person and applies the story and its lessons to his own life. Even though the characters do stupid things sometimes (like most people), they’re smart in their own way and insightful when they need to be. With a higher budget, I think this would’ve been something better because the script is already interesting. I applaud Q. Allan Broca (who also wrote and directed the hilarious “Eating Out”) because he was able to shape the story into something that the audience can really connect with.