Sunday, November 23, 2008

'Rachel Getting Married' is an engaging event

*** out of ****

Anyone who has been to a wedding knows the endless preparation it takes before the bride and groom say their, “I do’s.” While wedding films are hardly original anymore, Rachel Getting Married is a refreshing, and most importantly – an intimate, look at the emotions before, during and after the nuptials. Walking down the aisle with grace, Rachel gets a bit disjointed along its rocky path.

As the title implies, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt) is getting married, but that is hardly the big event. Kym (Anne Hathaway), Rachel’s sister, is back from rehab to attend the wedding and can’t help but put the spotlight on herself.

Ready to see her family, halfheartedly making amends as a part of her 12-step program, Kym seems oblivious to the toll she has made on her relatives after multiple trips to rehab facilities. Temperamental, pessimistic, narcissistic and just plain unpleasant, Kym is not easy to like. Rachel who is sensible and forgiving to Kym is reluctant about her being the Maid-of-Honor and even more nervous what could happen if she isn’t.

Carrying a burden of a dark family secret, Kym, Rachel and their divorced mother Abby (Debra Winger) and father Paul (Bill Irwin) are about to face the harsh reality of their dysfunctional lives together. Arguing, bonding and accepting, Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs) directs a gripping and binding film.

Jonathan Demme provides more intimacy to the event by filming with a handheld camera. Those scared off by this queasy camera technique should find comfort in the fact that Demme has a sturdy hand throughout the process.

The editing is done nicely, but Demme goes overboard with the toasts and wedding band montages. By the fifth toast and second dance you wonder when will they cut the cake.

Rachel Getting Married is Jenny Lumet’s (daughter of Sidney which is also the name of the groom subtlety played by Tunde Adebimpe) first screenplay. Jenny writes powerful conversation scenes that are excellently played out by the cast.

Rachel is one of those films where the performances outpace the movie itself, with outstanding acting by Anne Hathaway (Get Smart, The Devil Wears Prada), Rosemarie DeWitt (Mad Men) and Debra Winger (Terms of Endearment, An Officer and a Gentleman.)

Hathaway gives the best performance of her career as Kym. Between being steely and emotional, Anne makes Kym endearing, even though you wouldn’t want to be in the same room as her, much less a wedding.

Overshadowed by Hathaway, but nonetheless brilliant are DeWitt and Winger. Trying to be accommodating, DeWitt is not afraid to be contentious, not willing to sacrifice her big day for Kym. Debra Winger makes a welcome trip back to the big screen as the bickering girls’ passive but loving mother. Winger does have a shinning moment during a confrontation with Kym that could possibly earn both actresses Oscar gold.

Rachel Getting Married’s greatest achievement is breaking the banal dysfunctional family-wedding genre. This marriage will have a long reception with its audience.

Josh Brolin takes office in 'W.'

**1/2 out of ****

President George W. Bush is the controversial subject for Oliver Stone's pretentious, gutsy and middling biopic "W."

This film with a simple title sets out to cover Bush's college years through his first term as president. Filmmaker Stone is no stranger to politics after driving his films "JFK" and "Nixon" all the way to the Oscars.

With "W." Stone makes an energetic and entertaining film, but drops the ball when it comes to giving a full view of the man the nation elected -- twice. Rather, he and screenwriter Stanley Weiser (who previously wrote Stone's Oscar-winner "Wall Street") pick an assortment of vignettes that chronicle the president's highs (the first time he meets his wife Laura) and lows, which in this film are plenty.

Stone spices up the conventional story telling, injecting interesting imaginary sequences that Bush uses as analogies, such as playing baseball to a cheering crowd as one-time owner of the Texas Rangers.

The main draw of "W." isn't the plot or the direction, but the film's first-rate actors and their impersonations of recent historical figures. Much like the excitement of Tina Fey portraying Sarah Palin on "Saturday Night Live," the whole film feels rather SNL-ish with more moments of laughter than one would expect in a historical drama.

Josh Brolin ("No Country for Old Men") goes beyond the call of duty as commander in chief, having everything from Bush's walk to his talk mastered.

Jeffrey Wright ("Casino Royale") does an amiable job as Secretary of Defense Colin Powell, but grows affected during his long monologues. Elizabeth Banks ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin") is a standout as Laura Bush in select scenes. Richard Dreyfuss nicely plays a subdued Richard Cheney, unlike the funny-yet-over-the-top Toby Jones ("The Mist") as Bush's right-hand man Carl Rove. James Cromwell ("24") gives a zesty performance as Bush's always expecting Poppy and Ellen Burstyn ("The Wicker Man") is convincing in a hammed-up portrayal of Barbara Bush.

With the cast's fine performances, it is easy to tell that the normally elegant Thandie Newton ("Norbit") gets the lowest approval rating. Newton falls flat on her face in an over-the-top caricature of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice that leaves you cringing at her voice and facial impersonations.

It is not hard to read between the lines to figure out director Oliver Stone's less-than-favorable opinion of our 43rd president. "W." is still a moderately fair portrait of the man.

'Eagle Eye' flys high

**1/2 out of ****

What if the government is watching you read this review right now? Listening to your conversations through your phone’s speaker, looking at you from your webcam and following every move you make through your cell phone’s tracking device. This is the essence of the thriller Eagle Eye which lacks the anxiety of the idea that technology is surveying you everywhere.

Everyman star Shia LaBeouf (Transformers, Indiana Jones 4) leads; reteaming with director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives, Two for the Money) who put him on the map with the modern-day revamp of Rearview Window, Disturbia. Borrowing and modernizing elements again from Hitchcock (this time North by Northwest) and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Caruso makes a thoroughly entertaining thriller that dabbles more into action than smarts.

Jerry Shaw (LaBeouf) is a Stanford dropout who works at Copy Cabana, living in the shadow of his identical twin, Air Force Cadet Ethan (LaBeouf, again).

Getting a call from his mother that his twin was killed in a traffic accident, it isn’t long after the funeral that Jerry gets another fateful call. Coming home to find his apartment filled with terrorist weapons, Jerry gets a phone call from a mysterious woman to flee his apartment and if he doesn’t obey, he will die.

Rachel Holloman (Michelle Monaghan) is an overworked paralegal who sends her son (Cameron Boyce) off by train to perform at the Kennedy Center. Shortly after, she gets a call from the mystery woman. Rachel is told if she disobeys, the train her son is on will be derailed.

Slacker Jerry and divorced mother Rachel get paired together on the mystery adventure by the phone calls. Realizing whoever is pulling their strings somehow sees every move they make. Making traffic lights go from red to green, surveillance cameras going blank and machinery operate robotically (that’s only the tip of the iceberg).

Shia LaBeouf once again gives an outstanding performance, showing that he can carry a movie, going the extra mile to make a fully-developed character. Michelle Monaghan (Mission: Impossible III) has a motherly element towards Jerry while unselfishly going on with the requests to save her son.

Billy Bob Thorton is an FBI Agent and Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Rent), playing an Air Force Investigator, round out the talented cast, trying to track down Jerry and Rachel. Julianne Moore goes uncredited as the threatening monotone voice that stipulates the instructions over the phone.

D.J. Caruso fills Eagle Eye with edge-of-your-seat car chases and action sequences that have you enthralled. When the action stops, the plots ridiculousness seeps through and the hokey ending is disappointing for the film that started off strongly. Perhaps executive producer Steven Speilberg and the many people (John Glenn, Travis Adam Wright, Hillary Seitz and Dan McDermott) that wrote the film’s screenplay are to blame for the plot going from engrossing to unnecessarily dense.

Alive with fun, solid performances, adrenaline and intrigue Eagle Eye will certainly have your eyes glued to the screen.