Saturday, February 18, 2006


I saw this movie recently because Roger Ebert claimed to love it so much, and because actress Amy Adams was nominated for best supporting actress. Believe me, you wouldn't have caught me near the theatre otherwise.

I watched this movie with Ruth, my movie-reviewing partner, when we found ourselves in the same city at the same time, a rare occurrence these days. Immediately after the movie Ruth turned to me and said, "You didn't like it, did you?" Hell, no. I don't want to live on that street, I replied.

I've seen families like this, destructive, judgmental, and it's painful to watch such a true portrayal of small-town life right there on the screen. George, played by Alessandro Nivola, drags his wife of 6 months back to meet his family in North Carolina. She (actress Embeth Davidtz) tries to talk, mix it up, with the family, but it's hard. Dad Eugene seems a little slow but smiles a lot at her, while brother Johnny is bitter at his brother's return and takes it out on anyone around him. Actress Celia Weston, playing Mom Peg, really nails the mother who has her family right where she wants 'em, except that favorite son George moved away. And brought his damn wife back to visit.

But then we meet the bright point of the family, Johnny's very-pregnant wife, Ashley (played by Amy Adams). She's incandescent but not overly I.Q.'d, but that doesn't stop her. She seems to be the glue that holds them together. When tragedy strikes her, the family comes together. That is, all except for the new wife, who's off trying to salvage a relationship in her professional life. She realizes this mistake too late when George pulls away from her. The last scene tells us succinctly, brilliantly, what their chances are for figuring out their mistake and going on with their lives.

This is a small film filled with actors you've never heard of, but it's eminently worth seeing as these roles are filled out to life-sized characters by these unknowns. What they do affects you, strangely enough, in the context of this broken-down family, perhaps because it looks so familiar to all of us whether or not we grew up in North Carolina.

I don't want to live there, and I didn't enjoy the visit, but I think I learned a lot while I was there. Thumb's up.

Brokeback Mountain

It's hard to imagine that I could write anything about this movie that hasn't already been written.

Is the hype true? Mostly. Is the movie worth seeing? Definitely. Will it break your heart? Oh, yeah.

Everything is perfect about this movie, from the set-up, to the scenery, to the acting. The epic quality is something we rarely see, especially in relationships. It seems most movies these days just give us a taste. A taste of this relationship is pretty much all Jack and Ennis get through 20 years of wondering when they'll go "fishing" one more time. And why is that? Because life, and the world, is complicated. And that's just the way it is.

One surprise here is Randy Quaid, who plays their trail boss, the guy with the sourpuss in the trailer. I'm so glad Randy has stopped playing a parody of himself. That got so tiring. The man is a stellar talent when he wants to be, when he's given the chance, and this small role offers that to him.

Another surprise is Anne Hathaway. You might hear volumes about Michelle Williams -- and, oh, yes, she's very good -- but Hathaway targets and hits the Texas housewife in so many true ways, from the blonde hair to the vacant stare as she ages.

A lot of gay friends have urged me to see the film. I'm probably one of the last to see it, although the only thing that kept me away was lack of time. I see why the movie affects them so deeply, as it's a testimony for how hard it is, living this life. Especially in 1968.

I'll end by saying that Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal have found the roles of a lifetime even though they're very young in their acting careers. To think that Ledger, the slow-talking word-slurring American cowboy, is really Australian is mind-boggling. Both he and Jake have taken radically different roles right before or after -- perhaps to get away from type-casting? More likely, from the jokes. Thankfully, the world is recognizing this movie, and their acting, as a solid, haunting legacy. Let's just hope their careers can keep ahead of the inevitable Brokeback jokes.

Thumb's up for one of the best movies of 2005.