Jonathan Demme: 1944 – 2017

Master director Jonathan Demme has passed on today from complications due to heart disease and Cancer. He leaves behind an impressive legacy of feature films in all genres, including a robust palette of documentaries and concert films. While Demme was never the household name a la Scorsese, Spielberg or Hitchcock, he was always making films that have stood the test of time, and had major cache from cinephiles; from his early years in the Roger Corman school of exploitation trash, such as Caged Heat and Black Mama White Mama (the latter of which he wrote the screenplay for), through-out the eighties with underrated films like Something Wild and his magnificent documentaries on Spalding Grey (Swimming to Cambodia) and The Talking Heads (Stop Making Sense!) His 1998 comedy Married To The Mob, might just be the most underrated comedy of that decade.

His profile rose considerably with the Oscar sweep of horror-procedural-camp The Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Throughout the 1990s Demme films were consistently recognized come awards time: Philadelphia, which ‘elevated’ Tom Hanks from a comedy actor to a capital “S” serious drama guy, and also brought major mainstream attention to gay issues in America, and Beloved, adapted from Toni Morrison’s slavery novel, which put TV icon Oprah Winfrey in front of the film camera to great effect.

While his remake of The Manchurian Candidate was quietly forgotten, I know Andrew around these parts will always shout the praises for his low-key stylized wedding drama, Rachel Getting Married – which gave serious actor credibility to Anne Hathaway, due to her wonderful performance. Demme continued to support her now very successful career, making a point of showing up to the TIFF premiere of Hathaway starring Colossal.

I personally have not kept up with his recent work of the past 5 or 6 years, but the films always get wide play on the A-list festival circuit, including his 2016 documentary on Justin Timberlake.

I suppose that was the wonderful thing about Jonathan Demme, as a director and a storyteller (and I am guessing here, as a person), he made sure everyone involved looked good, and his own directorial flourishes were only ever in service of the story and the characters of his films. As one of Americas premiere filmmakers, and a key influence on the current wave of A-list directors (P.T. Anderson to Alexander Payne and Wes Anderson have all payed homage to his style of close-up for emotional effect) he will be sorely missed.

The Guardian has more.

Cinecast Episode 114 – The “Major League” Solution

cinecast_promo.jpg Matt Gamble

Episode 114:
A boatload of catch-up movies to talk about. Matt Gamble from WhereTheLongTailEnds.com joins in since he loves Watchmen so much. Some of us did the homework assignment too: top 5 hangin’ out movies.
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Below the fold are the Show Notes…
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Review: Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married

Director: Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs)
Writer: Jenny Lumet
Starring: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Mather Zickel, Debra Winger
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 114 min

 

 

As I had the good fortune to catch Jonathan Demme’s latest film, Rachel Getting Married, without knowing the slightest bit about it, this review shall tread lightly over the plot so that the full effect of its unraveling is felt as it was for me. All you need to know is that Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a recovering drug addict who has taken leave from her rehabilitation center to attend her sister’s wedding and confront the demons that await her there.

Demme appreciates the tacit dimension of the wedding ritual as something most of us have endured at some point either as participants or witnesses, and a lot can be conveyed just by the attempt at recording the mundane components of it. Long-winded speeches and the cutting of the cake become rituals tinged with a sense of alienating joy that is masterfully conveyed by lingering on them, and even when Kym is not onscreen we know that she is somewhere in the room, and she is feeling its divisive power. The ratcheted tension of the dress rehearsal speeches as Kym musters up the confidence to make her own toast is perhaps on par with anything in Funny Games as one of the most nerve-wracking moments I have experienced in the cinema this year.

Minimal by design, the film is handheld digital with plenty of jump cuts, using predominately one location, and coyly employing the situated music of the rehearsals and impromptu performances as a makeshift score (the groom, both in real life as a member of Tv on the Radio and in this story, is a musician by trade and his entourage of friends and family come packing instruments). As the music fills the cavernous halls of her childhood home, Kym darts around the house like a ghost surrounded by the celebrations of the living, her very presence opening unhealed wounds which are furtively captured by Demme’s camera. Back story is withheld and threaded out throughout the film giving every reaction to Kym an inflection of mystery. Demme plays off expectations throughout (the hair salon scene being a notable example) and by the time the family history had been completely exposed my allegiances to certain family members had shifted more than once. Would you like to know more…?

Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married Trailer

Rachel Getting Married Movie StillShe’s been a princess, a secret agent, a first class assistant, an overbearing wife and a teenager in trouble but for all her good looks and talent Anne Hathaway has starred in a long line of mediocre films. She makes everything a little easier to watch (the girl has presence) but she has yet to take a roll that makes use of her acting chops but it looks like she may finally have struck gold.

Directed by Oscar winer Jonathan Demme, Rachel Getting Married features Hathaway as Kym, a troubled woman who has been in and out of rehab for 10 years, who returns home for her sister’s wedding.

The one thing that struck me almost immediately is the look of the trailer which seems unlike anything else I’ve seen Demme do in the past. I’m not an expert but it looks to me like this may be digitally shot – it certainly has that sort of urgent, hand-held feel. The other striking thing is that Hathaway is looking a little ragged which obviously suits her character. Though I’m definitely interested in seeing what Demme, Hathaway and Debra Winger (who I haven’t seen on film in years) bring to the table, I’m also concerned that this looks like it is borrowing a fair bit from a number of other dysfunctional family type films (namely Pieces of April, The Royal Tenenbaums and even Running with Scissors). I doubt it will bring anything new to the table but it could be an interesting watch if only for Hathaway.

Rachel Getting Married opens in limited release on October 3.

Trailer is tucked under the seat!

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