Revisited: The Good Girl

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I remember seeing The Good Girl in the cinema in 2002 and being really struck by it. It’s a quiet, odd little film. Nearly thirteen years later since I’ve seen it, I’m surprised that I actually purchased it.

I don’t know whether a lot of people have seen the film. I probably went to see it because I had heard some great buzz about it, and because I am a Jennifer Aniston fan.

Watching the film again showed me a few things:

1) When given a great project, Jennifer Aniston can really surprise you. This film was released towards the end of her Friends phase of her career. If you remember, the first few movies she made once she hit it big were marketed around her looks, her “Rachel” persona and nothing substantially more than that. The Good Girl completely goes against any of that. (It’s unfortunate to me that she has kept doing some dreck films since, with the occasional mainstream success.  I’m glad that she’s getting recognized for a film like this year’s “Cake” which seems to again be showing her range).

Her character is flawed. That’s what separates it from her other performances. And when you play a flawed person, you then have a wealth of places you can go to.

2) Every character in this film is lost in some way. I don’t think I got a sense of that when I saw it the first time. Interesting.

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Jake Gyllenhaal is also really impressive in one of his first roles as well. He plays angsty and tortured Holden quite well. His character is a bit cookie cutter in that he exhibits all of the standard traits of misunderstood youth, but his sensitivity comes through nicely.

In a funny small role, Zooey Deschanel is great as a no filtered, tells it like it is character. Her scenes are really funny subtle. John C. Reilly as Justine’s pot smoking, clueless husband is also very good in his small role.

Definitely enjoyed watching this again.

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Revisited: Walk The Line

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Give me a good music bio film and I’m there hook, line and sinker. I hadn’t known the nitty gritty details of the love story of Johnny Cash and June Carter. I knew that the two of them died months apart of each other in 2003. (You know when you hear that happening with couples, you truly know that they were meant to be together and one couldn’t live without the other.) But I was anxious to know more him and his life and his music.

I loved Walk The Line immediately when I saw it in the theatre. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon are fantastic in their roles. Their commitment to their characters (knowing of course that Cash and Carter are real people with a rich legacy) went beyond acting as each of them sang all of their songs as well as learned their respective musical instruments to play authentically. They really upped their game with these performances.
It’s been about 5 years since I saw the film last and a few new things struck me this time around.

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1) Their love story is so unbelievably compelling. Married to other people, but drawn to each other. Realizing the responsibilities that they have as parents. Fighting to do the right thing but realizing that some things you can’t control. The scene at the very end when Johnny proposes to June at their concert; damn if i don’t cry every time I see that part. It’s such a vulnerable scene that is beautifully executed.

2) Johnny Cash’s wife Vivian (played by Ginnifer Goodwin) is depicted as a really volatile woman. I remember reading something from Roseanne Cash (Johnny and Vivian’s daughter) saying she objected to the film’s depiction of her mother as this unstable, jealous woman. I admit to not really catching it the first time I saw it, but I felt it watching it this time around. I felt for her struggle of knowing her husband was in love with someone else, but I think there’s a bit of a flatness to how her role is written as after reading up on her a little, I saw that she was quite an understanding person.  John Carter, Johnny and June’s son has stated that the film is meant solely to focus on his parents’s love story so perhaps there is a reason that Vivian is not developed as strongly as she could have been.

3) Random lines are said between Johnny and June at times that serve as the impetus for their songwriting. Some of these moments work (June writing Ring Of Fire in her kitchen) and some do not (June shouting at Johnny saying “I don’t walk no line!”…ding ding ding! Let’s write a song!)

It’s always important to remember that with any bio film that you see that it’s a film and not entirely made up of moments that actually happened. Scenes have to be heightened because of general film structure to keep an audience’s attention.

Walk The Line, for me, remains a great music film. The performances are strong, the story is so beautiful. I love that idea of characters who are flawed but then find their way. It may not be the traditional route that most people tread but that’s what makes a life. Still a keeper.

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Revisited: Dan In Real Life

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I love Steve Carell. From the moment I saw him as Brick in the first Anchorman, I totally felt like a great comic actor was on our hands. And then with The 40 Year Old Virgin, he cinched the deal. His funny performances are always honest, never biting, always heartfelt.

(His current buzz with his dramatic role in Foxcatcher is further proof that he has great range and that there’s more that meets the eye.)

I immediately fell in love with Dan in Real Life from the first time I saw it. For me, those opening moments of Dan getting the lunches ready for his daughters for school really affected me. I love seeing Dads on a film screen…being Dads. So I knew that the film had me from the get go.
This is a pretty recent film so it’s only been a few years since I hadn’t seen it.

Peter Hedges is a wonderful director. His films are always about the human experience and the inner trials that one can go through. Most people have seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (featuring Leonardo Dicaprio’s star making first role) but I highly suggest seeing his film Pieces Of April with Katie Holmes and Patricia Clarkson. It’s a wonderful, simple film that hits all of the right marks.

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Dan In Real Life allows the audience to see just how much range Steve Carell has an actor. He plays a widower looking after his three daughters and fumbling at it a little. When he goes home for a family weekend, he falls for his brother’s girlfriend, played by Juliette Binoche. Two very unlikely actors, but their chemistry is perfect together.

Always neat to see actors in a film who, at that time were not known just yet. In this case, Matthew Morrison from Glee has a bit part as a police officer.

Another strange moment: in the talent show scene with the family, you see some of the younger family members doing a routine with some cups…which reminded me of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” song from Pitch Perfect.  Clearly that cup rhythm has been around for a bit.

This movie is still a keeper, and a great film about finding love in the most unlikely of places.  And it’s about second chances, which I adore.  Highly, highly recommend this one.

Revisited: Go

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Go was released in 1999 and to me was always seen as Pulp Fiction lite as its plot device is intersecting stories. While Pulp Fiction may have been the standard where the independent film movement was concerned in the early 90s, Go was like a real 90s kid’s flick with its rave soundtrack, its straight out of the WB cast and its snappy dialogue.

For this one, I probably haven’t seen it since about 2001 I’d say (which was when I got my first DVD player) so it was like visiting an old friend in some regards. But a lot has changed.

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I was obsessed with Go back in the day. Having Sarah Polley and Katie Holmes in the same movie was like some sort of ecstatic 90s dream come to life. I watched this one over and over again.

All in all, the film is still pretty entertaining. The intersecting stories are still woven quite well and it’s continuity is good.

It’s also funny watching this film where Katie Holmes is concerned. At that time, she was on the cusp of an interesting film career, making quirky choices.

There are four stories here that merge: Ronna (Polley), Simon (Desmond Askew), Adam and Zack (Jay Mohr and Scott Wolf…how more 90s can you get!) and Claire (Holmes). The film also has some cameos including Jane Krakowski (star of Ally McBeal, and pre 30 Rock), William Fichtner and quick bit from Melissa McCarthy (forgot about that one!).

(Side note: with McCarthy and Polley, who would have thought that Go would boast two actors who would go on to be Oscar nominees?!)

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So watching it again was a fun revisit down my own past, but I was struck at the film’s misogynistic and homophobic undertones. I get the context with which the film had come out but as a viewer today, my radar was going off a lot. Generally the women in the film, while they are funny and smart, are generally seen as purveyors of blow jobs or objects meant to be “fucked”. Nearly every male character in the film treat women as sex objects. I guess back then, this way of thinking was more even more embedded in the popular culture. Perhaps we were less aware ( or maybe I just was).

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The Adam and Zack storyline (soap stars who are closeted gay actors towards the media) has its moments of fun, but ultimately their relationship is just played for laughs. In a way their storyline is a little out of left field considering all of the other characters are a bit younger than them.

For me I think while the film still has its charm, I think as time goes on this one will be one of those movies that people will vaguely remember.

 

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Revisited: When Harry Met Sally…

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Nothing beats a film where the words just effortlessly come out of the actors’s mouths and it makes you wonder “How has this not been committed to film before this?!”.  That’s a sign of a great script.

When Harry Met Sally, I think, is still one of the greatest scripts ever written for film, and it is one of my most favorite films of all time. This is actually an interesting one, because I’m pretty sure the first time I ever saw this film I was 15 years old and yet I still somehow connected with it in some way.  Watching it today, I connect to it on a myriad of other levels completely, but I wonder what it was as a teenager that made me fall for this film.

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I watch this film now and it’s basically so true, so spot on in its depiction of men and women.  It’s epic Nora Ephron at work here.  The laughs are so genuine and not forced.  I just sit there and it’s like an out of body experience – I see myself just feeling through the entire film with a smile on my face for all of its honesty, its warmth and its love.

Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan.  Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. That’s all there is to say.  The way they work off of each other. The way that it’s not one actor upping the other – it’s an equal playing field when they are both together, which is a testament to Ephron’s superlative writing, and the actors themselves.  The material is so damn good, and you can tell them wanted to do justice to its genius.

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Whenever one thinks of When Harry Met Sally, what’s the first scene that comes to mind? Of course, you know.  It’s the diner orgasm scene, containing one of the funniest lines ever put to film (said by director Rob Reiner’s own mother – “I’ll have what she’s having.”).  The scene is genius – you literally watch that and realize that nothing before it or after can ever duplicate its truthfulness, and its sheer hilarity.  Nothing.  Its infamy however bothers me a little, because I find that the film is so much more than that scene.  I do think the film needs to be revered and remembered always, so if that is its calling card for life then so be it.

But, it’s Harry speech to Sally at the New Year’s Eve party at the end of the film which completely leaves me breathless and teary eyed.  My mouth waters at how the writing of that scene is so pitch perfect and beautiful.  That scene blows my mind every time I see it.

I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

I’m so glad that I got to watch the entire film again now after so long.  When Harry Met Sally is a film that will always have an audience that will connect to it.  And because it is basically about the human experience, this film will also never go old.

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Revisited: E.T. : The Extra Terrestrial

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I have a lot of emotional ties to E.T.  It remains one of my favorite movies ever made – and it has the distinct honor of being the first movie I ever saw in the theatre. I was 6 years old when it came out, and I seem to remember seeing it at least twice while it was playing.  E.T. represents a lot of first for me: I believe it’s probably the foundation from where my love of film began.  It’s also the first film as a kid where I remember feeling extreme emotion while watching.  I remember crying at parts watching it.  Yeah, E.T. is a big one for me.  Always will be.

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I hadn’t seen it in its entirety in about 14 years I’d say.  In 2002, a commemorative DVD was released for its 20th anniversary and I immediately snatched it.  I probably watched it then but never since.  Until today.  I wondered if it still held the same emotional impact as it did back in 1982, or even 2002.

I’m happy to say that it has.  It still holds up and it’s still just as magical as it was back when it was released.

I am struck by a few things about it, but mostly how the film itself is propelled by the action of all of the children in the film. Every single one of the young cast move the story with their choice to be proactive, to be completely of themselves without compromise and, with a few exceptions, outsmart and outwit all of the adults.

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I think this is probably why it struck such a nerve in me as a kid.  Watching it now in 2014, I can’t think of another film where all of the kids are so multi-faceted and so brutally honest.  Steven Spielberg, as his career would go on, would show that he has a real knack for working with child actors.  His continuing themes that he likes to explore in his films include family and the strength that lies in keeping said family together.  E.T. would be the first film where he would explore this theme.

You have Elliott, Michael and Gertie: three children living with their single mother, whose father has recently left them. They are all reeling from this, and within each of their performances, their raw emotional connection to their loss is so palpable and real.  Elliott, our hero of the film, is probably the one with the largest void, so of course once he meets our new alien friend, his relationship with him would fill that void that was clearly vacated by his missing father.

But, you know the story, I don’t need to rehash it.  I only mention this now because watching the film over 30 years later since its release, those themes are still ones that are as pertinent and strong as ever.  Which is why the film hasn’t aged.

John Williams’s score still to this day makes my heart swell.  That famous overture of his once the bikes take off into the sky, still makes my heart fall into my mouth, and tears well up in my eyes.  His score is also just as magical in this film.  It’s beautiful, it’s majestic and it’s perfect.  To this day, if you heard that piece of music, you can easily identify exactly where it came from.

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Can I discuss Drew Barrymore for a second?  She is so damn cute and so so vulnerable in this.  She steals every single scene she’s in.  I am convinced that she is not acting in this film at all but rather feeling everything so strongly in those moments.  You can’t act that – that’s the reason why her part is so perfect.  She may be a child, but her reactions to every beat in this film are relatable for pretty much anyone – young or old.

I was also struck by Robert MacNaugton as well who plays Michael.  There’s definitely a layer in his acting that I clearly would not have seen as a 6 year old watching the film.  Caught between being a young teenager, and being “the man of the house” since his father’s departure, he really infuses a lot of emotion in his moments where he doesn’t speak but just gives a look.  Really amazing.

The other thing that was a great wink to the film climate when E.T. had come out were two obvious references to Star Wars: one where Elliott is explaining to E.T the names of all of his toy figurines in his room (“That’s Lando Calrissian”), and the other when on Halloween, E.T. (disguised as Gertie. disguised as a ghost) sees a kid dressed as Yoda and says “home!” – funny.  And even funnier in this day and age knowing how embedded Star Wars is amongst general pop culture.

I may have been the same age as Gertie when the film came out, but everyone connects with Elliott, and Henry Thomas’s every movement: his levity, his tears, his laughter…every SINGLE moment he gives to this character remains so unacted as well.  It’s really remarkable watching.

There’s a real dearth of films for young people these days.  You watch E.T. and you can see all of the layers that are taking place with each of the kids.  Those roles don’t really exist anymore in the current state of cinema.  It’s really too bad if you think about it.  I think current filmmakers wanting to write films for young actors could take a lesson from E.T.

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You never forget the films that really were the ones that made you stop in your tracks, and struck a nerve in your heart. E.T. is that for me.  I’m so glad I rewatched it again.  I wondered if TWTB clamored Spielberg asking him to make a sequel. I am happy that he never caved to that pressure, because I think a part of my soul would have died if he had done so.

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A thirteen year old knows a lot but doesn’t know a lot. Their world is pretty sheltered and box like for the most part so the things that enter said thirteen year old’s point of view are limited, not so big, pretty manageable.

As a thirteen year old, I was pretty sheltered. I remember moments of pre pubescent ridiculousness, of being in love with Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul at the same time, of silly, simple things.

A thirteen year old knows a lot but doesn’t know a lot.

I was thirteen on December 6,1989. I may not have known a lot but the events of that horrible night and reading the news the next morning..I knew something was deeply wrong.

There was a picture specifically of Geneviève Bergeron that circulated during that coverage. It was a picture of her laughing. Like a wide mouth beautiful laugh. The picture was taken in a genuinely candid moment with her. I remember that picture. Something ached in the pit of my stomach saddened at the thought that that person was extinguished.

14 lights extinguished.

The next day, my principal asked for a moment of silence at 10am. Wherever we were, we had to stop what we were doing and remain still. I was in mid walk to my next class so I remember standing in an open stairwell, holding my binders and textbooks and trying to remain as quiet as I had ever been in my life.

I remember seeing the older students who were statues along with me in that stairwell. I remember some girls wiping tears from their eyes.

The minute ended and everyone resumed with their routines and everything went back to normal.

I’m an emotional person. But was more so as a thirteen year old. Some things never went back to normal after December 6, 1989.  From that day onwards I always remember.

There was something heavy in the air that holiday time. I knew nothing of what the entire country must have felt , but even as a thirteen year old living in Montreal you could feel that Christmas that year was going to feel different for so many people.

I thought about the parents of these women. I thought about how their holiday would permanently never be the same anymore.

I’ve always had moments of random thinking even back then. I remember how the Christmas record du jour at that time was “A Very Special Christmas” (even though by that point it was two years old) but radio was still playing tracks off of it.

The Eurythmics’s masterful version of Winter Wonderland reminds me of that time. To this day whenever I hear it, it takes me back to that dark moment. It takes me back to that picture of Geneviève Bergeron, to those parents waiting for news of their children, and to everything around that event.

That’s what a thirteen year old does. Connecting moments together to somehow make sense of things that quite frankly, you will never be able to make sense of.

As I write this, 25 years later, my daughter is lounging on me. I have many lights that guide me in my life, but without a doubt, she will never know just how much her life fuels my own.

If my feminist roots started in that stairwell twenty five years ago ( or maybe before that), my daughter is the flower that brings it all back.

That pain is woven into the fabric of this city, of this country.  Nothing can completely take it away no matter how much time goes by.  All we can do is make our movements, whether they be small or big, veer towards positive change.  I still remain hopeful.