September 26, 2008

Does Loretta Sanchez speak Spanish? I know Jessica Alba doesn't. Does it matter?

Today was a really, really good day. Starting from when I woke up there was a constant flow of positive things happening.
In chronological order:
1. There was this awesome, thick fog covering everything when I got up this morning! It's so great to live next to a canal because they overflow with fog like they're filled with dry ice. Love it.
2. I was wearing a shirt that made me look fantastic all day, it was really rather incredible. It didn't get wrinkly or too hot (temperature, not attractiveness... though it could've actually made me more attractive as the day wore on - it was that good.) Hope Danielle doesn't notice that it was gone all day.
3. I got Starbucks before going into the lab, which I never have time for anymore; Pumpkin Spice Latte = Fall has ARRIVED.
4. My classics teacher was hilarious ("Before we begin, I should tell you all something - in case you can't understand me, it's because I have a disease... it's called an accent. You catch it if you move somewhere after the age of 4.")
5. Connie is back from San Francisco so she, Johnny, and I got to laugh for a good hour when I came into the lab between classes which was funnn. Plus, Johnny told me he thought I was getting smarter!! Yes!
6. It seems like Emily finally got the Bari! Yay! So we might just practice this weekend!
7. I saw Bettina for the first time in forever (she's really busy - sorority, RA, lab, work... she's crazy); hopefully she'll be my Cell Bio buddy and we can laugh at the other students during lecture
8. I am going to officially join MBRS next week where I'll get paid to work in the lab, PLUS Marlene loved me! Hopefully I'll be able to do research in a lab abroad for free!
9. I got my shirt in the mail.
10. Obama is gonna school McCain in the debate tonight.
11. I'm going to a football game with some friends.
12. I got $25 gift card to B&N from my Aunt and Uncle.
13. I got a raise from Maya because gas prices have gone up.
14. Dark Chocolate Orange muffins.

September 13, 2008

Inventing the Abbotts

Continuing on the Jennifer Connelly film list, I rented Inventing the Abbotts; firstly because I love period films (uhh... the music? the dialogue? the clothes?!), and secondly because I love Joaquin Phoenix. Little did I know that Ms. Connelly was not a central character (she gracefully exits the film halfway through and makes a brief appearance near the end), so I guess this isn't "technically" a Jennifer Connelly film, but no matter.

Inventing the Abbotts is about so many different and complex emotions and situations that it's hard to categorize it as a film about " __ ".
It could be about Doug's (Joaquin Phoenix) semi-worship/ semi-disgust of his older brother, Jacey (played, phenomenally, by Billy Crudup). It could be about Jacey's unhealthy obsession with his mother's fidelity 20 years prior or how his vengefulness manifests itself as a sort of sexual predatorism. It could be about how Doug doesn't want to be like his family in the same way that his neighbor Pam (Liv Tyler) doesn't want to be like hers or how it's hard for them to recognize that desire in each other. It's hard to summarize because it's about all of those things and more. Almost to the point where I started to wish they'd found a way to cut some of it out, expand on certain things and compress others. You start to get into a story line and then suddenly the whole tone of the movie just changes.

In short, this is a coming of age story. Doug and Jacey Holt are two brothers, the sons of a single mom, Helen (Kathy Baker=Brilliant!) whose husband died when they were kids. As the story goes, their father drove his car across a frozen lake (because of a bet he had with a coworker, Lloyd Abbott) and his car crashed through the ice. After the accident, Lloyd would come by to see his widow, Helen, after work and... well, people got to talking. Including Lloyd's wife. Jacey grew up thinking that his mom had had an affair and that seems to be where all of his anger and vengefulness stems from. In Doug's words, Jacey started out wanting Eleanor Abbott, but he ended up trying to destroy their whole way of life.

Across town from the Holts, the Abbotts aren't exactly the perfect family that everyone assumes they are. As Pam explains at the beginning, "Alice is the good daughter, Eleanor is the bad one, and I'm the one who just sorta gets off the hook". Of all of his daughters, Eleanor (Connelly) is the one that Lloyd Abbott has the most trouble with (at least during her teenage years). She sees the tremendous influence that her father has on everyone and doesn't want to be just another pawn, so she rebels. And the more he tries to control her, the more outrageous her behavior becomes. Unfortunately. So, since her dad doesn't want her to, she starts seeing Jacey Holt.

And after Eleanor gets a little too frisky with Jacey, the parentals decide it's time to send her away. That's all anyone ever gets to find out - that she went "away". She just disappears one day. But people have their theories. Personally, I felt that it was just bizarre how Pam acted when Doug asked her about Eleanor... she always replies "she's not here" or "she's out right now", but it's really obvious that she doesn't live in the same house, or even the same state, anymore. She could've been pregnant, she could've just been sent to live with relatives, she could've gone to some sort of private school... I guess we'll never know.

Running sort of parallel with the Jacey/Eleanor/Lloyd Abbott story is the Doug/Pam story, which, frankly, is such a relief from the drama of the Abbotts.
What I ended up loving about Pam is that she is just so not an Abbott. She's not deceptive, she's not selfish, she's not crazy.

Well, that and the fact that she and Doug are so cute together.

The strongest point of this film is definitely the the actors. They are really great, really solid. But, when I think about the movie as a whole I still feel a little shorted. There were just too many different stories... Jacey is dating Eleanor (who has major daddy problems, which the film never really explores), she leaves, Jacey starts seeing Alice (who has major husband problems, which the film never really explores), but her parents put a stop to the relationship, and in his final act of revenge Jacey sleeps with Pam (whom Doug has been in love with for a while, which the film does explore) which destroys the relationship he has with his brother...
See? Just... too much. And the main story is supposed to be about Doug and Pam anyways...

One thing I will say, though - Pam and Doug say some really funny lines to each other... or maybe it's more about the delivery.
There's a scene where when Pam finds out about Jacey and Alice she runs out of Doug's house. He asks her what's wrong and she says something along the lines of, "You don't know Alice! - she's just like my mom, they get hurt so easily... they're like turtles without shells!"

September 1, 2008

Waking the Dead

There was an expectation upon my first viewing of Waking the Dead. I'd read a fantastic, in-depth analysis of it and was prepared to pick up on all of the little nuances that I'd pocketed from the review. However, once I started watching it, I found that the small things, the nuances, the things that only another actor can pick up, weren't as important to me as I thought they'd be. The how had suddenly become completely irrelevant; the why and the what of their actions became the ultimate focus.

Not a spoiler: The beginning of the film takes place on the night that Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly) is killed in a car accident.

She'd been with an activist church group in Chile trying to help refugees escape from their repressive government when the car exploded. The first image that we get is her boyfriend (I hesitate to use that word. These two characters just don't seem the type to refer to each other that way, but, for lack of a better word...), Fielding (Billy Crudup), watching images of the flaming car on television and clutching his head. His posture is just so broken in those first few scenes... you know that whatever sort of relationship they'd had, under whatever kind of circumstances Sarah had left for her trip, this is the absolute WORST thing that could have happened to Fielding. Ever.

After this first scene, the film starts to cut between the present (1982) and the past (period of time between their first meeting in 1970 and when Sarah is killed in 1974). Fielding now has the opportunity to run for Congress. The current House representative was caught in an illegal situation, and Fielding has a very time to campaign before the special election. After a meeting one night, he hears Sarah's voice as he is walking down a snowy street. He is stopped dead in his tracks by the sound and he calls out her name to no response.

The moment out in the snow is the first of many experiences that Fielding has with what he hesitatingly thinks is Sarah's ghost. There are a few terribly sad scenes when Fielding begins to think that he's literally going crazy. Once, when he's walking down towards the subway, he thinks he sees Sarah in a brown poncho. He turns to look and it's not her. But as he's looking suddenly someone who looks like Sarah walks by in his peripheral. Everywhere he turns he sees her, and even for the viewer it's painful because sometimes it actually is her momentarily, but then when you glance again she's gone.

The premise of their love story seemed pretty cliché to me at first. Sarah is a bra-burning, civil rights demanding, church-going, far-left idealist who often doesn't shave her underarms and Fielding is a Coast Guard-joining, America-defending, blue-collar Democrat who is often times blinded by his ambition. At first I wanted to say, "Oh, it's one of those..."

But they way that it's filmed, and the circumstances of their conversations and, often, arguments, make the oppositeness of their convictions not cliché at all. You don't just root for one character because you disagree with the other one. The most compelling part of this film for me was that I can see a lot of myself in both of these characters. I want to be Sarah Williams because I want to be able to know that every moment of my life I'm able to say what I mean and mean what I say. I want to be an idealist, I want to work for a charity and not have to worry about money, I want to love what I do and know for a fact that I, personally, am helping to make the world a better place. I want to, but I don't know that I'll ever have her courage.

But I also want to be Fielding Pierce - he knows what he wants, he's ambitious, and he's willing to do what it takes to get to where he wants to go. If there's one thing about American Politics that Fielding and I definitely agree on, it's that in order to change something, you really need to be in it. There's a lot to say for having the guts to get out there and protest, to take stance as an American citizen; but there's also a lot to say for getting elected and changing it yourself.

Fielding's ambitions are high. Sarah asks him on their first date where he got the idea that he wanted to be a Senator. He pauses for a moment, looking very serious, and says, "That's not actually what I want... I want to be the President." Then, she just gets this look on her face and smiles. Fielding asks her why she's smiling, and she responds, "Because you mean it." Sarah just gets Fielding; they don't always agree, but she understands that he has a sense of destiny just like she does. There's actually quite a funny scene where he asks her what her sense of destiny was; she responds, "When I was a little girl I wanted to be a nun." He asks her what stopped her from doing that. She laughs a little and says, "Puberty."

I think that the most interesting aspect of their relationship isn't the fact they are two people who have completely different ideologies; I mean, they do, but they don't go back and forth between making love and arguing. There's more to them than that; it's not just a physical thing - they really try to understand one another. On the one hand they are both frustrated by one another's convictions, but on the other hand they are both incredibly attracted by the fact that the other has convictions.

There are a lot of contrastingly juxtaposed scenes in this film, and an interesting one takes place at one of Fielding's political parties, where Sarah's loses her cool with a congressman who's written an article in support of the Chilean government (which Sarah vehemently opposes). Fielding and the man are talking, with her standing to the side, and you can see this absolute rage start to boil under her surface. Sarah already has enough trouble keeping up at these parties - she tries to wear nice clothes (unlike her normal, groovy 70s knitwear), puts her hair up, attempts to wear makeup and pretends to like all of the people that Fielding admires, just so that he can move up the social ladder - and she does it all, because she loves Fielding. But, seeing Fielding talk to this man who's written something that promotes actions that are so far out of her range of moral and ethical behavior pushes her over the edge. She creates a bit of a scene that's embarrassing for Fielding, but is truly revelatory of her character.

After the party, they get on the subway to head home and she confronts him with his actions. She has no trouble (as she's shown us) saying exactly what she wants, whenever she wants. When she looks at Fielding, though, she just doesn't understand what he's doing. She feels like he's being drawn deeper and deeper into a group of manipulative liars and she's scared.
"I don't want to see you turn into a cog in their machine," she tells him. They argue, and she ends up slapping her knees, yelling at him, "It is so infuriating loving you sometimes!"

One of the things that I noticed (it was hard not to) was not only the contrast between Fielding and Sarah, but the contrast between Fielding with Sarah and Fielding without Sarah. This story is, after all, about Fielding. But the brilliant way it was directed makes her omnipresent; he's the one in every scene of the movie, but she's impossible to ignore. He really did think that he was going crazy, which meant that she could be anywhere; and the fact that she could be anywhere meant that she was everywhere. The dialogue and acting were enough for me to get the point, but the director took it further and made the atmosphere of either time period radically different. The apartment that they shared had a warm, snug, delightfully cluttered feel to it; his present home, decorated by his equally dull girlfriend, is full of minimalist furniture, with touches of cold steel everywhere. I never noticed it before I put these two pictures together, but the staging of both of them is very similar; I think they make great contrasts.

Billy Crudup, in this film, is as good as I've ever seen him. He is alone in many of the scenes and he is absolutely captivating. There are times when he is so lost for words, so confused and scared and angry that you fear he might actually have forgotten the lines. But that's how pain is, it's not easy to express. In one scene at a restaurant, he essentially spews out all of his fears and anxieties and paranoias at his family while trying not to cry. I actually found myself holding my breath.

As good as Billy Crudup is, though, Jennifer Connelly is a revelation. It's been said before (and better said), but I'll say it again. I simply can't imagine anyone else playing this part. She's young and idealistic, with her convictions and bushy eyebrows. But as confident as she is, she's also scared that she's too forceful. She wants to do the right thing, but she also wants Fielding to be happy and she wants him to stay with her. There's a scene at the end where she gives a phenomenal performance. Some of the pain that she had to go through. Like acid in the pit of your stomach, it hurts so much to think about it.

Beyond being an apt commentary on political tensions during the early 70s, this film was a particularly poignant reflection on our view of love after death. There is a scene near the very end of the movie which literally knocked me flat on my back. Fielding had already been having serious thoughts about whether or not Sarah had faked her death, but this scene provides the material for an affirmation. Personally, I think that yes, she is still alive. I know that probably a lot of other people may feel otherwise, but it's my opinion. The film left this aspect of her life open for discussion.