Laura Linney

December 16, 2012

Happy Holidays: Love Actually

WARM

Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of the holiday season.  I pretty much peter out after Thanksgiving and pray for New Years to start.  Pretty sure me and the Grinch are cousins.  Full disclosure.  I’m not the biggest fan of romantic films.  They are generally very color by numbers predictable or tragic for tragedy’s sake.  So, imagine my surprise when a film came along that combined both of my dislikes and still managed to knock my socks off.  Love Actually is that film.  For years I’ve held it up as my favorite, most watchable chic flick and my second favorite Christmas movie.  I’ll get to the first later.  No matter how many times I watch it, I’m left with a WARM feeling that actually gets me in the holiday spirit…if only for a little while.

Love Actually comes to us from writer and, then, first time director Richard Curtis of Bridget Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral fame.  The film is a collection of interwoven stories that explores the different aspects of love during the Christmas Season.  The stories range from slapstick comedy to heartfelt drama.  Some are hit and some are miss.  As a whole, however, they all compliment each other perfectly.

Love Actually set the ensamble films bar too high for puke inducing copycats like He’s Just Not That Into You, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve to come close to reaching.  Ggack!  Just reading the titles of those films almost made me throw up a little.  You might think Love Actually out does those films because the quality of actors in it are amazing.  Liam Neeson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Martin Freeman, Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Rowan Atkinson and many more.  However, I think its because Curtis just knows how to use his talent in the proper way.  Each actor is the right fit for their roles.  They aren’t haphazardly thrown in to parts that we’re forced to accept because they’re Zach Efron or Taylor Swift.  If each side story were a full length film, the actor in place would still be properly cast.  The film, as a result, thrives because of these performances.  Especially those by Neeson, Rickman and Thompson.

Neeson’s story about a suddenly widowed husband and his stepson is the most dramatic driving force in the film.  It is an almost frightening coincidence that this scenario would actually happen to Neeson later in life.  The story is extremely well done and has a rare great child actor performance in Thomas Sangster.  Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson’s tale about a waning marriage and infidelity always evokes a different feeling in me every time I watch it.  You should really hate Rickman for straying from his wife.   However, Curtis presents the circumstances in such understandable way that you’ll find yourself sympathizing.  Though, the tale that is sure to put a smile on your face has to be the one about Bill Nighy’s aging rock star Billy Mack.  Of all the stories that I wished had a full length film or sequel, it would be Mack’s.  Nighy’s obvious nods to Mick Jagger and his brazen attitude toward those around him are easily the comedy high points of the film.

Love Actually is a great film to see if you want to feel good about Christmas but avoid the overly cliched shlock we’re usually bombarded with.  I’ve made a habit of watching it every year.  I, then, immediately plop on Die Hard right after in order to keep my man card.  What?  Its my favorite Christmas film.  Don’t judge me.  Watch it…watch your heart grow three sizes that day…plop on Die Hard after just to be safe…then tell me I’m wrong.

October 24, 2012

31 Nights Of Halloween, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose

INDELICATE

As I’ve stated before, you gotta bring something different to the table in order for your horror film to pique my interest.  Stereotypical slashers bore me to tears.  Found footage ‘Paranormal Witch Projects’ are just poorly shot films with the same cheap scares as a haunted house visit at Halloween Horror Nights.  And torture porn.  Don’t get me started on torture porn. You want to scare me to my core?  Give me a film that grounds the supernatural element you are playing with in reality.  Write characters that aren’t “Lets go investigate” idiots that I can’t relate to, let alone, root for.  And an occasional loom of the prince of darkness doesn’t hurt either.  The Exorcist was that for me.  It was the benchmark for the best the horror genre had to to offer.  I’d swat away any comers trying to claim supremacy over it like an old man asked to indulge in some newfangled fad.  The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is the newfangled fad the grandson of that old man forces him to try or else he’ll ship him away to a home.  Somewhere an AARP member just sh*t their pants…um…uncharacteristically.

Now films love to slap the “Based On A True Story” label on their films.  Mainly, for the reason I stated before. Ground your film in reality and it immediately becomes much more interesting.  Sometimes, however, it only serves as an unnecessary distraction.  You get so wrapped up in if it is actually true or not. Especially, the more fantastical the film gets.  The Coens caught some flack for saying Fargo was based on a true story when it wasn’t.  The claim distracted critics from the point of how great a film it was.  You can make your film feel real without reassuring us.  But I digress.  The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is a story loosely…and I mean loosely based on the real life exorcism of German born, Anneliese Michel.  See?  I just did it.

The one thing I really liked about The Exorcism Of Emily Rose is that it is a postmortem.  Whatever the traumatic event that happened to this girl has already happened by the start of this film.  We learn about the specifics mainly through flashbacks and testimonials.  This, to me, puts the audience in the mind of the skeptic.  As the film goes on we are put in the position of either being doubtful of what we’re told happened or convinced.  Because make no mistake, this is a film about belief.  An interesting approach to the material that had the potential to make an interesting film.  But what was the operative word I just used?  It was ‘had’.  This film’s INDELICATE, rushed, stomping through the material makes it a marginal effort at best.   A film of this ilk is more effective when handled with more subtlety.  Director Scott Derrickson actually shoots the one exorcism scene in this film more like an action scene, tossing all intensity out the window…literally.

Another miscalculation The Exorcism Of Emily Rose has is the numerous divergences from what makes it good.  The film is mostly set in a courtroom, pouring over the facts of what actually happened during the exorcism.   Was this young girl taken over by demons or did her priest criminally harm her?  However, it tries to slide in some suspense with a pointless subplot involving star Laura Linney being accosted by dark forces.   It feels totally out of place and stops whatever momentum the film has built up.   I am convinced these scenes were jammed in because of studio pressure for more jump scares and exciting moments.  You see, studios hear subtlety and automatically think boring.  Their low respect for the audiences they constantly pander to usually short circuits modern horror films.

Jennifer Carpenter, from Dexter fame, does most of the heavy lifting in this film.  Now, I won’t go into comparisons of scary between her in Linda Blair.  However, I will say I was more impressed by Carpenter’s terrified Emily than her possessed one.  Tom Wilkinson is great as usual, though underused.  Laura Linney is nothing special but is still solid.  The only really poor performance that sticks out to me is given by Campbell Scott.  I’ve seen him before on the television show Royal Pains and a short bit as Peter Parker’s dad in….(Rolling Eyes With A Wanking Motion)…The Amazing Spider-Man.  In those parts, his super stoic delivery, nature, and overall presence didn’t particularly bother me because they’re small.  In this film, Campbell Scott is tasked with carrying a significant part of the film.  He is the voice of the doubters.  He is, in actuality, the secondary villain of the film.  And he has about as much personality as a creaky ironing board.  A great character actor like Victor Garber or John Noble could have put some heft to that part.  Instead, we’re left with a walking talking popsicle stick.

So, yes.  I tried another one of these fads.  But after watching The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, it might have been a better choice to just get shipped to the home.  If the power of Christ compels you…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

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