Rachel Getting Married

This is a fine drama about a recovering addict coming home that avoids the cliches such stories usually include, and contains some of the strongest performances of the year. Anne Hathaway nails Kym, the sister who’s been in and our of rehab for 10 years; the self-absorbed sibling rivalry with her soon to be wed sister is spot on. Rosemarie DeWitt is more subtle as Rachel, and the rest of the cast may not be unknowns, but are masterfully put together as an ensemble of characters we know but won’t recognize. You really sink into the wedding and begin to feel like a guest.
But as Demme and his cinematographer plunge us into this familiar yet diverse family gathering, we get a little lost. A scene where the groom-to-be and his future father-in-law have a good-natured duel over who can load the dishwasher faster is way too banal to keep our attention for 5 minutes. There are too many crowd shots to make us recall what it’s like to wander through a vibrant party where families are meeting for the first time. It’s effective, but distracting. Ebert gave it 4 stars and said the movie’s “true message” was the diverse marriage ceremony. I think he took an extra painkiller that day. The movie nails the relationship dynamics of a family with an addict, a tragedy, and a divorce without ever being hackneyed. Debra Winger- the girls’ mother- has an importance belied by her short screentime, and the nature of Kym’s supposed redemption is easy to miss. I enjoyed it much more than Revolutionary Road, and while Kate Winslet may have out-acted Anne Hathaway, Jonathan Demme could teach Sam Mendes a thing or two about subtlety.
It will probably be snubbed for being released too early in the Oscar season, but this is one of the year’s best dramas. It’s not as fresh as Slumdog or as perfect as The Wrestler, but it should not be overlooked, even though it stars an ex-Disney girl everyone would like to see fail.

I Am America (and so can you)

I’ve been a proud member of the Colbert Nation since Stephen broke off from that commie John Stewart and forged out on his own. So it’s only natural that I would read his book. I’m about a year too late to give it a prescient review, but if you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s definitely worth a read.

Stephen rehashes some of the best parts of his show, but there’s a lot of fresh humor here. He gives us his opinion on everything from sex to the elderly to sex with the elderly, thankfully that part is without illustrations. He’s not afraid to stoop to using a poop joke or to reference an obscure philosopher that may have you rushing to wikipedia. Much of the book is padded with visuals and charts, so it’s a quicker read than its size might lead you to believe. Still, it’s also padded with funny bonus items like stickers and cut-outs, so you get a bit of a bargain for your hardcover price.

If you’re a fan of the show, he treads a lot of familiar ground, but he can go a lot further than Comedy Central will let him. There are a lot of laughs in the book, and I annoyed the hell out of my friends and family by pausing every few paragraphs to read aloud. Some things just can’t be explained, but when you meet Cave Jesus I assure you, you’ll understand.

He ends the book with the text of his infamous White House Correspondents Dinner speech, which really shot him onto the national stage as having enormous cojones. Move over Al Franken, the new political comedian is Stephen Colbert. No offense to Jon Stewart, I enjoy his show, but there’s a reason you get chosen to host the Oscars a second time- you’re funny, but also inoffensive enough to not really shake things up. That’s why we won’t see Chris Rock up there again.

I enjoyed this much more than Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot, which helped open the gates for offensive political humor again. Who did we have before that, P.J. O’Rourke? He can write well, but his heyday is past, if he ever had one. The book also manages to mimic the show visually, by using red text in the margins in place of The WØRD subtitles that riff off what Stephen’s saying. It must have been a blast or a nightmare for the designer and the publisher. Hopefully Mr. Colbert will have enough material for a few more of these, because mocking O’Reilly and Coulter is a worthy pursuit, and he’s really good at it. I can enjoy Bill Maher, but sometimes when your political opponents paint themselves in such broad strokes, you don’t need to bother refuting them. Using their own words against them is enough, and Colbert is the master of that.

Rating: 3 American flags and half an apple pie.

Honest to Blog – the rage against Juno

You’ve probably heard about Juno. It’s garnered a lot of Oscar buzz, Ebert gushed that it is the best film of the year, and it has a 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ve seen it twice, once at a preview and once on a screener, and I liked it very much. It does have problems, and like anything overhyped, it can disappoint you if you expect too much. The first half hour is a well-planned patchwork quilt of quirkiness, which even soured me on the film on my first viewing.

Juno trailer

Riann Wilson of “The Office” has his small part in the very beginning, when Juno is using pregnancy tests in his convenience store bathroom. He gets the bulk of some stilted hipster dialogue that gets spouted as “unrealistic” when the film is pilloried as pap. I liked the scene, as showing where Juno is headed if she stays in her hipper than thou little high school world. I was that sort of kid in high school, I wore my torn up Army jacket slathered with slogans. If I went back to school like Billy Madison I’d probably beat my old self up.
The screenplay isn’t pure unadulterated genius, but it is clever and does not put Juno on a pedestal. She is definitely glazed with a bit of nostalgia, and Diablo Cody (how I hate that pen name) seems to be looking back on her younger self and high school friends fondly and giving her the lessons she wish she had, not about pregnancy but about being yourself.

What I think the film has going for it is its mood, and several strong performances. I hated the opening credits with the animation, and the Moldy Peaches songs that litter the soundtrack. I was prepared the hate the movie until Juno told her parents that she was pregnant, and they didn’t fly into the normal Hollywood Parent Rage. That sold me. J.K. “White Supremacist Guy from Oz” Simmons is great as her Dad, he’s sort of clueless and knows it, and he knows more about machines than people. He’s fleshed out and doesn’t just show up when they need tension, which is what parents usually are in movies of this sort, plot devices. Her stepmother, played by Allison Janney, is equally tangible and has two scenes, one where she defends Juno and another where she puts her in her place, that are integral to the film’s success.

Michael Cera plays his usual role, but he’s used very well. A lot of people on the forums I frequent were disappointed that his part wasn’t bigger, and that Juno treats him badly; he’s the father of her child, and she says she doesn’t love him in the first 5 minutes. Well, we aren’t all that good with accepting our emotions at that age, and by the end of the film it’s pretty obvious that Cera isn’t just here to be the wishywashy punching bag he was so often in “Arrested Development.”

Ellen Page herself puts in a strong performance and deserves a lot of praise. I liked her a lot better here than in Hard Candy, where she was still good but was written in one strident note. She gives the character strength but it’s best during the key scenes when she drops her quirky facade to show a bit of weakness and confusion.

Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman play the adoptive parents, and both are great. Bateman has a thankless role as yet another warning post for what Juno could become, and Garner has a touching scene where she talks to the baby in Juno’s belly, that proves that if she avoids crap like Elektra she can have a fine career.

I actually liked this more than Little Miss Sunshine, and think it has a better chance of nabbing some Oscars. Sometimes the nomination is enough, and for Jason Reitman and Ellen Page to get the big nod this early in their careers is award enough. It might get lucky if there’s enough of a split between No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, and Michael Clayton. All excellent movies and more deserving in many ways, but drama always gets more credit than comedy.

A lot of internet nerds hate the movie for its dialogue and Page’s character. I’m sorry she played a castrator in her last big role, but she’s a hell of an actress. Not enough Michael Cera? It wasn’t his movie, but he was still well utilized. The dialogue? Honest to blog, I hated the famous Pulp Fiction dialogue until I’d seen it three times. Wizard.

The end of the movie. Too much twee, but it fits.