Like any other year, 2023 has brought with it a lot of exciting news about the many movies coming our way very soon. But news of one movie really piqued my interest, and that was of A24 acquiring the worldwide rights to the classic 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense.” directed by the late, great Jonathan Demme, it is set to be remastered in 4K and will be released in theaters sometime before the end of the year.
A24 has since premiered a promo trailer for the film’s re-release which features David Byrne showing up at a dry cleaner establishment to pick up a piece of clothing which sure enough turns out to be the big suit he wore in the latter half of the concert, starting with the song “Girlfriend is Better.” He is pleased to receive it and is quick to put it back on once he arrives at his apartment. To see that it still fits is not a surprise in the slightest and, like everyone else, I look forward to see him rocking and rolling in it yet again.
The only thing which bothers me about this rerelease trailer is that it does not feature the other members of Talking Heads: Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth. Surely, they too are excited about this classic concert film, right? The likelihood of these four ever reuniting remains astronomical, but it would have been nice to see these three featured in this trailer as well even if they were forced to film their appearances separate from Byrne’s.
What I love about “Stop Making Sense” is that it is a motion picture you cannot watch sitting still. Whether you are viewing it on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, your local theater or in 4K, Demme makes you feel like you are watching the show along with those lucky patrons at the Pantages. I did get the chance to see on the silver screen at an arthouse theater in Orange County while I was a student at UC Irvine. The crowd in that theater, however, was quite small, so I hope the next crowd I see it with when it arrives back on the silver screen before the end of 2023 is much, much bigger. Seriously, this film is a great and exhilarating experience to take in with groups of people, and I cannot wait to do so in the near future.
I made it back to Los Angeles the day before, but I still had to make some money as bills will never pay themselves like they should, so I didn’t get as much sleep as I should have for this Saturday’s run. Nevertheless, I managed to wake up before 6 a.m. before the alarm on my cellphone went off. However, I did get a bit distracted by the late Jonathan Demme’s “Married to the Mob” which was playing on television, and it remains one of my favorite movies of his. Michelle Pfeiffer was sheer perfection, Dean Stockwell played one of the few likable mob bosses in cinematic history, and Mercedes Ruehl stole every scene she was in.
Anyway, I arrived at Griffith Park in Burbank just as my fellow Pablove runners were beginning their warm-up exercises. These exercises seem simple in design, but they usually serve as a reminder of how my core muscles need to be strengthened more than I bother to realize. It’s all about the cores people, trust me.
This run had us full marathoners going 8 miles, and it took us up and down the backside of Griffith Park. This of course meant we had to run up that never ending hill which never ceases to punish those who ascend it. It doesn’t matter how good of a runner you are. Going up the backside always sucks the wind out of you. We were encouraged to shuffle up it, but even shuffling had me winded to where my walk breaks lasted longer than my time running.
When I came up to the one-mile sign, I wanted to curse it. This sign never comes soon enough on a run, and when I finally reach it, it looks like it is there just to laugh and sneer at me. There are runs where I feel like I have just completed 3 miles, and the one-mile sign shows up as if to say, “psych!” Damn you, one-mile sign! DAMN YOU!!!
But then, upon closer observation, I realized the sign didn’t have the number one on it, but instead an up arrow. The arrow served as a reminder of the direction we needed to run in, as if it were not already obvious. Naturally, I felt like a schmuck for not noticing this at first glance. We all make mistakes and we are never perfect, and it could have been worse; I could have gone in the wrong direction. All the same, DAMN YOU ONE-MILE SIGN!!!
After finally reaching the top, I kept my speed in check as I descended down the other side. For a moment, I wondered if I was running in the wrong direction as Griffith Park became a little too silent for my taste. The drums of Robin Russell really would have been welcome at this point, but I guess he had a gig elsewhere.
Thankfully, Coach Lourdes was there to assure me I was going the right way. And yes, I did pass my fellow runners as they made their way back to where we started. As I made my way back, Lourdes became a bit concerned as I was coughing quite a bit. She asked if I was sick, and I replied I was not but that my allergies were having their way with me to where I wonder why I keep forgetting to invest in the Kleenex company. Maybe the air was dry or dusty. Lord knows the air quality in Los Angeles is never great, and those devastating wildfires have certainly made it even worse.
I have been thinking a lot about getting one of those Navage nose irrigation devices as I feel it will flush out all of my allergies to where my trash cans won’t be filled to the brim with used facial tissues. The only problem is the device costs $90 dollars, and this is a tiny bit more than I want to spend. Any suggestions? Would this be worth increasing my credit card debt for?
I made it back to where we started in one piece, and I was thrilled to see some of my fellow runners were still hanging around when I arrived. Typically, they are pretty quick to get in their cars and speed off, but I guess including the Hall & Oates song “Wait for Me” in one of my previous articles was enough to guilt trip a few Pablove runners into seeing me cross the finish line.
Regardless of my occasional cough, I came out of this run feeling good to where I felt the need to reward myself with a Sausage McMuffin with Egg sandwich at McDonald’s. As much as I should be avoiding fast food restaurants at my age, the breakfast meals at McDonald’s remain infinitely delicious after all these years. Even my dad loves their breakfast sandwiches, and he hates McDonald’s.
To be honest, this training season for the LA Marathon is going better than I expected. Hopefully I am not getting overconfident here, but I came into this season thinking I was not entirely ready to start training. I was hoping to start training more extensively before the Pablove runners met up for their first run, but balancing out running with making a living is always challenging as the latter wins out more often than not. But this time I want to burn the fat off my belly more than ever before. Here’s hoping I will once again look as svelte as I did back in high school. Anything is possible. Anything.
Once again, I implore you to make a tax-deductible donation to The Pablove Foundation which I am running this LA Marathon in support of. They are dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer, and while millions of dollars are spent by our government each year on cancer research, only a tiny portion of it goes towards pediatric cancer research. This disease will not cure itself, so please lend a helping hand.
2008 was a year more memorable for those who died as opposed to the movies which were released. We lost Heath Ledger, Brad Renfro, George Carlin, and Paul Newman among many others, and their individual deaths spread through the news like an uncontrollable wildfire. Their passing left a big mark on us all. When we look back at this year, I think people will remember where they were upon learning of their deaths more than anything else. Many of us will remember where we were when we got the news that Ledger died, but they will not remember how much money they wasted on “Righteous Kill,” the second movie featuring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro sharing the screen at the same time.
2008 did pale in comparison to 2007 which saw a wealth of great movies released. Many said this was a horrible year for movies as high expectations ruined some of the big summer tent pole franchises, and that there were too many remakes being made. The way I see it, 2008 had a lot of really good movies, but not a lot of great ones. There was a big drought of good ones worth seeing at one point in this year, and I started to wonder if I would have enough of them to create a top ten list. If it were not for all those Oscar hopefuls released towards the year’s end, I am certain I would have come up short.
So, let us commence with this fine list, if I do say so myself, of the ten best movies of 2008:
I had to put these two together for various reasons. Of course, the most obvious being Kate Winslet starred in both movies and was brilliant and devastating in her separate roles. Also, these were movies with stories about relationships laden with secrets, unbearable pressures, and deeply wounded feelings. Both were devoid of happy endings and of stories which were designed to be neatly wrapped up. Each one also dealt with the passing of time and how it destroys the characters’ hopes and dreams.
“The Reader” looked at the secret relationship between Winslet’s character and a young man, and of the repercussions from it which end up lasting a lifetime. There is so much they want to say to one another but can’t, as it will doom them to punishments they cannot bear to endure.
Speaking of escape, it is what the characters in “Revolutionary Road” end up yearning for, and the movie is brilliant in how it shows us characters who think they know what they want but have no realistic way of getting it. Each movie deals with characters who are trapped in situations they want to be free from but can never be, and of feelings just beneath the surface but never verbalized until too late.
Both Stephen Daldry and Sam Mendes direct their films with great confidence, and they don’t just get great performances from their entire cast, but they also capture the look and setting of the era their stories take place in perfectly. All the elements come together so strongly to where we are completely drawn in to the emotional state of each film, and we cannot leave either of them without being totally shaken at what we just witnessed.
Looking back, I wondered if I was actually reviewing the play more than I was John Patrick Shanley’s movie of his Pulitzer Prize winning work. But the fact is Shanley brilliantly captures the mood and feel of the time this movie takes place in, and it contains one great performance after another. Meryl Streep personifies the teacher you hated so much in elementary school, Philip Seymour Hoffman perfectly captures the friendly priest we want to trust but are not sure we can, and Amy Adams illustrates the anxiety and confusion of the one person caught in the middle of everything. Don’t forget Viola Davis who, in less than 20 minutes, gives a galvanizing performance as a woman more worried about what her husband will do to their child more than the possibility of her child being molested by a priest who has been so kind to him. Long after its Broadway debut, “Doubt” still proves to be one of the most thought provoking plays ever, and it lost none of its power in its adaptation to the silver screen.
This is the best Woody Allen movie I have seen in a LONG time. Woody’s meditation on the ways of love could have gone over subjects he has long since pondered over to an exhausting extent, but this is not the case here. “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a lovely and wonderfully character driven piece filled with many great performances, the best being Penelope Cruz’s as Javier Bardem’s ex-wife. Cruz is a firecracker every time she appears on screen, and she gives one of the most unpredictable performances I have seen in a while. Just when I was ready to write Allen off completely, he comes back to surprise me with something funny, lovely and deeply moving.
One day, I will be as sexy as Javier Bardem. Just you wait!
Danny Boyle, one of the most versatile film directors working today, gave us a most exhilarating movie which dealt with lives rooted in crime, poverty and desperation, and yet he made it all so uplifting. It is a love story like many we have seen before, but this one is done with such freshness and vitality to where I felt like I was seeing something new and utterly original. Boyle also reminds us of how “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” was so exciting before ABC pimped it out excessively on their prime-time schedule. “Slumdog Millionaire” was pure excitement from beginning to end, and it was a movie with a lot of heart.
Ron Howard turns in one of the best directorial efforts of his career with this adaptation of Peter Morgan’s acclaimed stage play, “Frost/Nixon,” which dealt with the infamous interview between former President Richard Nixon and TV personality David Frost. Despite us all knowing the outcome of this interview, Howard still sustains a genuine tension between these two personalities, one being larger than life. Howard also has the fortune of working with the same two actors from the original stage production, Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. Langella’s performance is utterly riveting in how he gets to the heart of Nixon without descending into some form of mimicry or impersonation. You may think a movie dealing with two people having an interview would be anything but exciting, but when Langella and Sheen are staring each other down, they both give us one of the most exciting moments to be found in any film in 2008. Just as he did with “Apollo 13,” Howard amazes you in how he can make something so familiar seem so incredibly exciting and intense.
Jonathan Demme’s “Rachel Getting Married” had a huge effect on me with its raw emotion, and I loved how he made us feel like we were in the same room with all these characters. When the movie ended, it felt like we had shared some time with great friends, and Demme, from a screenplay written by Jenny Lumet, gives us a wealth of characters who are anything but typical clichés. Anne Hathaway is a revelation here as Kym, the problem child of the family who is taking a break from rehab to attend her sister’s wedding. Kym is not the easiest person to like or trust, but Hathaway makes us completely empathize with her as she tries to move on from a tragic past which has long since defined her in the eyes of everyone. Great performances also come from Bill Irwin who is so wonderful as Kym’s father, Rosemarie DeWitt, and the seldom seen Debra Winger who shares a very intense scene with Hathaway towards the movie’s end. I really liked this one a lot, and it almost moved me to tears.
Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” has grown on me so much since I saw it. While it may be best known as the movie in which Mickey Rourke gave one hell of a comeback performance, this movie works brilliantly on so many levels. To limit its success to just Rourke’s performance would not be fair to what Aronofsky has accomplished as he surrounds all the characters in the bleakness of the urban environment they are stuck in, and he makes you feel their endless struggles to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. “The Wrestler” succeeds because Aronofsky’s vision in making it was so precise and focused, and he never sugarcoats the realities of its desperate characters. Rourke more than deserved the Oscar for Best Actor, which in the end went to Sean Penn for “Milk.” Furthermore, the movie has great performances from Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood as those closest to Rourke’s character, and who look past his faded fame to see the wounded man underneath. The more I look at “The Wrestler,” the more amazed and thrilled I am by it.
Tomas Alfredson’s film of a friendship between a lonely boy and a vampire was so absorbing on an atmospheric level, and it surprised me to no end. What looks like an average horror movie turns out to actually be a sweet love story with a good deal of blood in it. Widely described as the “anti-Twilight,” “Let the Right One In” gives a strong sense of freshness to the vampire genre which back in the early 2000’s was overflowing with too many movies. The performances given by Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli are pitch perfect, and despite the circumstances surrounding their improbable relationship, I found myself not wanting to see them separated from one another.
Pixar does it once again and makes another cinematic masterpiece which puts so many other movies to shame. With “Wall-E,” director Andrew Stanton took some big risks by leaving a good portion of the movie free of dialogue, and this allowed us to take in the amazing visuals of planet Earth which has long since become completely inhospitable. Plus, it is also one of the best romantic movies to come out of Hollywood in ages. The relationship between Wall-E and his iPod-like crush Eve is so much fun to watch, and the two of them coming together gives the movie a strong sense of feeling which really draws us into the story. The fact these two are machines quickly becomes irrelevant, especially when you compare them to the humans they meet in a spaceship who have long since become imprisoned by their laziness and gluttony.
I gave the DVD of this movie to my mom as a Christmas present, and she said you could do an entire thesis on it. Nothing could be truer as it is such a brilliant achievement which dazzles us not just on a visual level, but also with its story which is the basis from which all Pixar movies originate. “Wall-E” is the kind of movie I want to see more often, a film which appeals equally to kids and adults as this is not always what Hollywood is quick to put out.
The biggest movie of 2008 was also its best. I was blown away with not just what Christopher Nolan accomplished, but of what he got away with in a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. “The Dark Knight” is not just an action movie, but a tragedy on such an epic scale. Many call it the “Empire Strikes Back” of the Batman series, and this is a very apt description. Many will point to this movie’s amazing success as the result of the untimely death of Heath Ledger whose performance as the Joker all but blows away what Jack Nicholson accomplished in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” but the sheer brilliance of the movie is not limited to the late actor’s insanely brilliant work. Each performance in the movie is excellent, and Christian Bale now effectively owns the role of the Caped Crusader in a way no one has before.
Aaron Eckhart also gives a great performance as Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, one which threatened to be the most underrated of 2008. The “white knight” becomes such a tragic figure of revenge, and we come to pity him more than we despise him. The movie is also aided greatly by the always reliable Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Everyone does excellent work here, and there is not a single weak performance to be found.
Whereas the other “Batman” movies, the Joel Schumacher ones in particular, were stories about the good guys against the bad guys, “The Dark Knight” is a fascinating look at how the line between right and wrong can be easily blurred. Harvey’s line of how you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain perfectly personifies the dilemmas for every character here. To capture the Joker, Bruce Wayne may end up becoming the very thing he is fighting against. I can’t think of many other summer blockbusters which would ask such questions or be as dark. “The Dark Knight” took a lot of risks, and it more than deserved its huge success. It set the bar very high for future comic book movies, and they will need all the luck they can get to top this one.
One of the many things I have discovered about life is it is really easy to hate someone or be angry at them. As negative an emotion as it is, there is an unmistakable power from it which really makes you feel alive. At the same time, it is much harder to forgive that person for what they have done to you. You get so sick of someone getting the best of you to where you desperately don’t want to look like the fool. But eventually, it should become clear that the one person you really need to forgive most is yourself. This can be much harder than forgiving someone else, but it is necessary as it keeps you from sinking into the hideous swamp of bitterness which can eat you up. But can you forgive yourself when you have done something horrible and can’t you wipe away the cloud hanging over your existence because of what you have done? I would like to believe the answer is yes, but others may disagree.
“Rachel Getting Married” is a movie about forgiveness, and the rough road people travel to get to it. It is also a movie about family and togetherness, and the joy of life. It almost moved me to tears the same way “Lars and the Real Girl” did as it deals with the saddest of things while surrounding itself in an atmosphere of love and much-needed togetherness. This is one of Jonathan Demme’s best movies as well as one of the very best of 2008. I really loved “Rachel Getting Married” and found myself wanting to hug all the characters in it. It is a movie of raw emotions, and I love seeing movies with this kind of power more often than not.
Anne Hathaway gives a phenomenal performance as Kym, the wild child of a Connecticut family who gets a vacation break from her current rehabilitation facility to go home for her sister Rachel’s wedding. It doesn’t take long to get an idea of how much of a “bad egg” she appears to be to everyone around her. As she goes into a convenience store to get a Pepsi, the female cashier behind the counter says, “Didn’t I see you on ‘Cops?’”
Kym is a full-blown drug addict and has been for several years, and while her family is happy to have her home, there are also raw emotions simmering just below the surface and waiting to come out into the open. We feel this tension from the very start, and it is illustrated in Hathaway’s face as we see her feeling like the wallflower at a party. While everyone is happy for the bride and groom, she is sullen and lost in a moment she cannot escape from. As the movie goes on, we come to see the reason for her self-destructive behavior and why she acts the way she does. I will not mention what it is here as it might take away from the emotional impact you will experience watching this movie.
This movie feels a lot different from others Demme has made in the past. He filmed the movie with high definition cameras to capture the movie on a more intimate level, and it feels like he really let the actors loose from start to finish. It is handheld camerawork going on here, so this will probably drive those who couldn’t stand all the shaky camerawork in “The Bourne Ultimatum” or “Cloverfield” crazy. While some people may experience motion sickness from this, I had no problem with it as the camerawork helped illustrate the emotionally fragile ground the characters are walking over, and how easily everything could come tumbling down.
What is so great about Demme’s direction is how he makes us feel like we really are attending the wedding along with these characters and sharing in the joys and sorrows of everyone involved. These characters feel so real, and it is so great to see no Hollywood artifice on display here. There have been so many big Hollywood movies dealing with families and marriage, and I find myself increasingly avoiding them. But the actions in “Rachel Getting Married” never felt staged for a second, and I loved that. Everyone in this movie feels like people we know from our own lives, and it connects us all the more strongly to what they go through.
“Rachel Getting Married” also, like all of Demme’s movies, has a very eclectic mix of music in it from the offbeat to the international. His movies don’t just have their own signature look, but their own significant sound. One character makes beautiful use of a Neil Young song as he sings it to another person. The audience I saw this with at Landmark Theaters in West Los Angeles were as silent as the characters onscreen during this moment, and I’ll never forget that.
I also loved how the soon to be married couple is an interracial couple, and no one ever brings this up at all. I guess none of the characters see it as an issue worth addressing. Hallelujah!
The script was by Jenny Lumet, and she gives her characters a vibrancy which elevates it from the couples we usually expect to see in movies like these. Her screenplay does tread familiar scenarios and storylines of the addict trying to go straight, but it finds its own voice and way of saying things to where everything feels fresh and new.
Demme always brings out the best in all the actors he has ever worked. There are many great performances to be had here, not just Hathaway’s. Rosemarie DeWitt plays Rachel, and she is a wonderful and real presence to be had in this movie. She goes from being so happy to seeing her sister Kym to being utterly exasperated and strung out that she is at home. It is clear that Rachel wants Kym to be well, but she constantly worries Kym will ruin the wedding in one way or another. Both Hathaway and DeWitt work really well off of each other as two sisters desperate to connect with one another despite the emotional damage between them. There’s a touching moment where Kym comes back from a rough night, and Rachel washes her clean in the shower as if she is washing her sins down the drain.
I also really liked Bill Irwin as Paul, Kym and Rachel’s dad, who is so happy to see his daughters under one roof, while at the same time harboring scars which will never fully heal. We also have Debra Winger, an actress we don’t see much of these days as the girls’ mother, Abby. She has great scenes with both daughters as she allows us to see beneath her seemingly calm exterior to the distrust she has had for Kym after all this time. The big scene between Hathaway and Wagner where the truth comes to a head is riveting and painfully raw as they each try to come to grips with the tragedy they both had a part in but are hesitant to take full responsibility for.
“Rachel Getting Married” is not just a triumph of acting, but also of writing and direction. All three elements come together to create a powerfully moving film about the flawed and fragile nature of humanity, and of the struggle for forgiveness. The movie has a very improvisatory feel to it and, despite the serious nature of the film, you cannot help but feel everyone had such a great time making it. You feel like you are with these families every step of the way, and you revel in their celebration of two families coming together as one. The reception near the end of the movie is one of ecstatic joy and happiness, even while some have wounds which take them out of the present.
But the person who carries this movie from beginning to end is Hathaway. Many see this as her escape from those “Princess Diaries” movies as she rids herself of the ever so clean image we have had of her. Truth be told, she has been doing this already with “Brokeback Mountain” and “Havoc,” but this should fully complete her transition to becoming an adult actress. All the Oscar talk she has been getting is justified. Kym is not an easily likable character, but Hathaway gives her a heart and soul and makes you care deeply about Kym all the way through. The moments where Hathaway does not say a word, her face does the acting and reveals a very uncomfortable soul trying to fit into a place which was once her home. She does brave and amazing work here, and she proves to be a dramatic force to be reckoned with.
“Rachel Getting Married” further shows how brilliant Demme is in getting to the wounded humanity of all the characters he observes. There is not one moment which feels faked in this movie, and it never really falls victim to any clichés that could easily tear it apart. This is another movie you don’t watch as much as experience, and I am always on the lookout for those. It also kept reminding me of the song “To Forgive” by The Smashing Pumpkins which kept playing in my head throughout:
“Holding back the fool again
Holding back the fool pretends
I forget to forget nothing is important
Holding back the fool again.”
Funny, I thought Billy Corgan was saying “forgive” instead of “forget.”
I got to revisit “Something Wild” recently at New Beverly Cinema, and it quickly reminded me of what a unique filmmaker Jonathan Demme was back in the 1980’s. He had a wonderfully offbeat approach to making movies few others did at the time, and they functioned as parties he gleefully invited us to time and time again. This style of filmmaking disappeared in the 1990’s when he made “The Silence of the Lambs,” and while it is one of the best movies ever made, it marked the beginning of his work having a darker and less playful look to them. This is not to take away from his resume since as it includes such great movies as “Philadelphia,” “Rachel Getting Married” and a number of Neil Young documentaries, but watching “Something Wild” made me realize how much I miss Demme’s earlier style of filmmaking as it was more joyous and anarchic than much of what he has made since.
Jeff Daniels stars as Charles Driggs, a conservative looking banker whose wife and kids have since left him. We catch up with him while he is eating at a diner in the urban part of New York, and he suddenly decides to leave without paying his check. However, he is caught in the act by Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who confronts him about his felonious act and sees a rebellious side in him she is eager to exploit. From there, she offers to drive him back to his office and ends up kidnapping him on an adventure which flies in the face of everything considered conformity.
When Lulu gets a hold of Charles’ pager (yes, this movie was made a long time ago) and throws it out her car window to his utter shock, we are along for the ride as she brings out a side of him he has not exercised for quite some time. What I love about “Something Wild” is that, while Lulu essentially kidnaps Charles against his will, it tapped into something deep within me to where I would be open to her taking advantage of me. What Lulu does is force Charles to abandon his normal lifestyle and engage in something adventurous, and there’s a point in all our lives where we want to break out of a lifestyle which eventually becomes much too stifling for our own good. Granted, common sense usually kicks in as we can’t afford to get into the kind of trouble they get into in this day and age, but this is why we go to the movies: to experience things we have the knowledge to avoid in real life.
We are with Charles as Lulu takes him on an adventure no one could easily prepare for, and it makes what we watch in “Something Wild” all the more exciting. The movie digs into our deepest desires as these two engage in an unexpected road trip which has the two of them falling in love. Things, however, take a sharp turn when Lulu’s husband, Ray Sinclair (Ray Liotta), comes back into the picture and threatens to destroy their newfound coupling with his Svengali and violent ways.
It’s fun to watch Daniels in this role as he makes the squarest of human beings appear more charismatic than what was on the written page. This could have been a thankless role in the hands of another actor, but Daniels makes Charles’ transition from a conventional banker to a love-struck man determined to save the woman he has fallen in love with very believable to where we are with him every step of the way. Daniels’ career had nowhere to go but up from there as he went on to deliver brilliant performances in “The Squid and the Whale,” “Steve Jobs” and “Dumb and Dumber.”
Griffith’s career was at its height in the 80’s as her performances in “Working Girl,” “Body Double” and “Stormy Monday” showed us she was an actress who did not back down from a challenge. Her performance as Lulu, who is later revealed to be Audrey Hankel, is one of her best as she fearlessly portrays a character who is as free-spirited as she is reckless in her law-breaking ways which allow her to live life on the edge. At the same time, Griffith gives Lulu/Audrey a vulnerability which makes her performance all the more fantastic as even she comes to see her fling with Charles has become much more than that.
But then along comes Ray Liotta as Audrey’s violent ex-husband, Ray Sinclair, who steals the show. The audience at New Beverly Cinema applauded loudly when the actor made his first appearance in “Something Wild,” and it’s not hard to understand why. From the moment he arrives onscreen, Liotta gives us an infinitely charismatic villain we can’t take our eyes off of. We know he’s dangerous, but like Daniels’ character we can’t help but go along with him on a ride. You know he’s bad for you, but Liotta’s unpredictability keeps us pinned to our seats. He is mesmerizing as he fights to get Audrey back into his life even as she struggles to break free of him once and for all, and he makes it easy to see why it is not at all easy to get rid of him.
Demme pulls off the impossible here as the screenplay written by E. Max Frye starts off as a road movie and then turns into a domestic thriller. Such a shift can be jarring in a movie, but Demme keeps everything running smoothly even as the story heads into darker territory. By the time we are introduced to the devious Ray Sinclair, we have come too far with Charles and Audrey to just give up on them.
The director also works with a colorful palette which keeps things feeling light even as we head towards a violent conclusion. He also provides us with a terrific soundtrack with choice tunes from Fine Young Cannibals, New Order, Oingo Boingo and David Byrne. This is not to mention Demme’s usual cast of actors he has worked with constantly like Charles Napier, Tracey Walter, Sister Carol and Gary Goetzman who bring their unique energies to the roles they are given, and they make us remember their characters long after we have left the theater. There are also some inspired cameos from filmmakers John Sayles and John Waters, and Waters’ cameo is as priceless as the expression on his face when Audrey offers him a bribe.
Looking back at “Something Wild” makes me realize what a uniquely talented filmmaker is as he cheerfully invites us on a ride which goes against what’s normal and becomes all the more exhilarating as a result. Some filmmakers try to keep you at a distance from their characters’ exploits, but Demme instead offers you a front seat to the action, and it results in a truly irresistible time at the movies. In addition, his casting choices here are perfect, and you can tell the actors are having a blast with the material they have been given.
I find it good to see a movie like this every once in a while as it makes me question whether I have become too complacent in my life. Granted, I wouldn’t be that quick to jump into a car with a complete stranger behind the wheel unless it was a Lyft ride I requested, but to be taken on a ride which allowed me to break out of the routine of life feels absolutely necessary as time continues to speed up as we get older. Demme understands this, and he makes “Something Wild” into an invitation we movie buffs would be foolish to turn down. It remains as entertaining today as it did back in 1986.
Oscar-winning actress Anne Hathaway stars in “Song One,” a drama where she plays a young archaeologist named Franny. At the movie’s start, her brother Henry (Ben Rosenfield) is hit by a car and goes into a coma, and she flies back to New York to be at his side. In the process of going through Henry’s notebooks, she comes into contact with James Forester (Johnny Flynn), a favorite musician of Henry’s. James has had some success in music but is also a shy and private man suffering from writer’s block. From there a romantic relationship between the two begins, and they soon help each other find their way through the darkest of times.
“Song One” was written and directed by Kate Barker-Froyland who had worked as a director’s assistant on one of Hathaway’s biggest hits, “The Devil Wears Prada.” One of her main intentions with this film was to capture the lively music scene of her Brooklyn neighborhood. Indeed, it is a lot of fun listening to the music as you can tell these musicians are playing and singing out of their love for music as opposed to just chasing a record deal (although I’m fairly certain they wouldn’t mind that either). Watching it made me want to take a vacation to Brooklyn just to see this music scene up close.
I got to speak with Hathaway during a “Song One” roundtable interview held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, and I told her how much I enjoyed watching and hearing the musicians featured in the movie. These were musicians playing with all their heart and soul, and I was curious how she and the filmmakers gathered up so many talented ones for this project. It turns out a lot of that was due to the participation of Jonathan Rice and Jenny Lewis who have had tremendous success together on the music scene, but Hathaway said getting the both of them on board was a little tricky.
Anne Hathaway: My husband (Adam Shulman) and I were friends with Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, and when we initially ready the screenplay back in 2011 we just kind of had one of those like dream musicians for this and we both said them. And then we kind of laughed at our audacity and decided that could never possibly happen because we couldn’t get them, and also they were friends and we would have felt awkward. We were worried about it bordering on being opportunistic, so we spent a while pursuing other avenues trying to come up with better ideas. Then Kate came up with a draft that had focused on the James character and we asked Jonathan if we had hit the right tone with the character. He asked who’s doing the music and we were like half-jokingly, ‘Well you if you want to.’ He was like, ‘Okay let me give it to Jenny,’ and she read it and they were open to the process of meeting Kate, and then they met and they really liked each other. The next morning, we opened up our emails and there was this song (from Jonathan and Jenny) and it was Little Yellow Dress and it was incredible. And then Jonathan Demme, our producer, came out. Jonathan Demme has one of the deepest and most beautiful encyclopedias of music in his head, and to watch him and Jenny and Jonathan just kind of talk music and talk about the sound and who James Forrester was, it was a thing of beauty. From then on they were in the movie, and a lot of the musicians wound up being contacts that they knew. They were so integral to the sound of the film.
To read about “Song One’s” making is to see it was a movie made by friends who brought everything they had to this project. In addition, they brought with them a lot of great music which feels authentic to the locales it takes place in, and it’s the kind of music that fills up your spirits when you’re feeling low.
“Song One” is now available to own and rent on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.