23 December 2006

Review: Little Miss Sunshine

Genre: Comedy

Little Miss Sunshine is above all a simple film; in all its aspects it never once strives to accomplish what may be considered risky or ambitious, preferring instead to maintain a strong tone of artlessness and quotidianism that surely comes across to the viewer very clearly. Though that statement was not meant as a critique, doubtless is that some will have interpreted it that way, the very same way in fact in which one can misinterpret the film as an important or eminent one. (That indeed was meant as a critique, though not of the film but rather of its fawning critical audience.) For, Little Miss Sunshine lacks both the pretense and the ambition to be great, al be these qualities pedestalled by the film's characters. Primarily, the screenplay, though showing definite potential throughout the first half, fails unbelievably into the emotional shoulder of its main course during the second half, after the point at which the grandfather, by the way wonderfully played by Alan Arkin, dies. After then, it retreats from its bold and iconic/laconic disposition into cinematic regularity, the dreadful in memoriam of the predecessing, lest (dear me!) they be forgotten, their legacies unfulfilled. A film built on such a decomposition cannot well stand up, even if varying toadies ushered props in the form of high praise in, to elevate it. The only outstanding parts of the production were its cinematography, the camera beautfully held in a way from holding in which Marie Antoinette surely could have benefitted; its art direction that, unlike its decorated subject, never puts aside its passionate and determined quirkiness; and its ensemble acting performance, much due to the excellence of Mr. Arkin and the delight of the capable Toni Collette and relatively new Paul Dano. The direction was also noteworthy.
Yet, one must remember, this critique is not a bad thing, nor does it seek to make the film out to be a bad thing, in the least! Above all, Little Miss Sunshine is undoubtedly an enjoyable film. It is also, however, undoubtedly an unimportant film and those people who seek to make it important are those doing the injustice, not the filmmakers. It is useless to try dolling an entity up, in order that it may be a thing that is clearly never has been, was intended to be, or ought to be, much as useless is dolling up little children for parade in sexually frustrated and confusing beauty pageants. So, I only critique the critics, whom I recommend should learn to distinguish fun fare from important film and should desist from unwisely and unduly bolstering the former.
I recommend the film highly, to and for anyone interested in having an insouciant time.

Grade: B

Review: Little Children

Genre: Drama

Anyone who bemoan the utter lack of excellent films this year I urge to see director's and co-writer's, Todd Field's, masterpiece Little Children. Subtly sublime in almost all its ways, the film has truly topped the heap in this year's film frenzy, it easily beating out even its most formidable competitor, Stephen Frears' The Queen. Noteworthy are all its actors, especialy leaders Ms. Winslet who delivers yet another dazzlingly intricate performance and Mr. Wilson whose capabilities, though perhaps not as flawless as Ms. Winslet's, are still gloriously and surprisingly strong here; its score which enthralls, as is Mr. Newman's usual tact, but does so in a way new for him and his style (i. e., the usage of the train's horn and of the violins were particularly encouraging); its art direction; its cinematography which astounds at points for its beauty and eloquence; its direction, as Mr. Field proves himself a far more intelligent director than was even suspected upon the presentation of his last In the Bedroom; and its writing which geniusly utilizes a narrative voice-over to seal in the rougher for their quietness edges. A spectacular work of cinema, the film only hesitates from staggering greatness once, in its very last moments, and stemming from the delivery of a single line; but such a minute fluttering is relatively inconsequential when compared with the magnitude of its sustained accomplishments. It truly does what film, as art, ought do: it through narrative asks questions, questions not just interpersonal but even intrapersonal, sexual, psychological, anthropologkcal, sociological, and metaphysical; it becomes a well guided exploration of the person, always unfettered by place, whether literal or figurative, or time, epochal or individual. I have nothing more to add but that this film is certainly the best film I've seen yet this year and may expect to have seen still.

Grade: A

03 December 2006

What is happening?

In a year replete of disappointments and flimsy attempts at film, a year in which there seems to be no fierce race for the top honor of any of the main 7 categories (i. e., the four acting awards, directing, writing, film) - with the possible exception of Leading Actress (i. e., between Helen Mirren and either Kate Winslet or Penelope Cruz, depending from whom you ask), what are to be considered the best marks in the medium? Can we expect nominations and other such acclaim for Sacha Baron Cohen, for his portrayal of the farcical Borat - which would not necessarily be a bad thing but rather very unlikely award-garnering fare? Will a foreign language film, namely Volver, sneak into the a Best Film nomination, in the footsteps of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, though the latter was inarguably a better film? Will the potential best truly be at the level of the potential bests of years past? Will some of our potential bests even be good? Looking out at the options, which so slim in number seem to force the awards upon a meager few (not wholly undeserving) by default, I am forced to wonder these things. Certainly this year is not like last (though it is oddly coincidental that it is so much last years' counterpart, in that all its races, excepting that for Leading Actress, are as noncompetitive as were all last year's races, excepting again that for Leading Actress, competitive).

28 November 2006

Review: Volver

Genre: Drama

Pedro Almodóvar's newest release Volver is essentially his, through and through. The beautiful colors and excellent light, the classically angular use of Spanish (both the language and the people), and the raw, acute storyline that draws the blood from its characters with a shard of glass speak well of his skill as a filmmaker, director, and artist. Yet, unlike some of his other works as his penultimate Mala Educacion, this film is very well delivered, smoothly and clearly drawn out into a narrative, instead of gutturally compacted under the sways of emotion and feeling. Perhaps it was the unnervingly attractive curves of its lead Ms. Cruz or perhaps the silkily smooth flows of the fruits and flowers, that figure so often; but, whatever the reason, Sr. Almodóvar has certainly refined a 'something' that bends the narrative into a placour that leads just beyond the horizon, where you seek to go, only later to find that te has vuelto, though wiser for the quest, gazing back upon your beginning, spherical the world and your journey through it.
That, of course, represents the best of Volver (and Ms. Cruz' performance is not of that oustanding, it well-toned and subtly shaky excellently). The worst, which in reality is not terribly bad, is that, I find, the plot more than seldom is awfully soap-operatic, maudlin and trite, mushy from caramel sweetness desgined with a marketing mind to hit all the vulnerable crevices of the female sensibility without much thought as to how such hittings might bleed through the rest of the work, like the scarlet blood through Ms. Cruz' Raimunda's paper towel. Though this tact may just be in the way of Spanish dramas and novelas, it is not a rewarding tact for serious drama, which, I suspect, Mr. Almodóvar aimed to create. It is far too flabby, too loose, too limp, to be so; and despite the director's redeeming hand (and the structural uprightness of everything Ms. Cruz) it cripples the film from being its potential: truly breathtaking.

Grade: B+

19 October 2006

Review: The Departed

Genre: Drama / Crime

Like, I can sense, it was to fluidly string together, to review Mr. Scorcese's latest The Departed is a tricky business. The elements of its plot do not exactly form the best arc they might otherwise have, but there was clearly not a lacking in forethought or planning to blame. Mr. Scorcese's contemplative mind was no doubt at work for a long time piecing out what the best way to attack and attach the film's various competing storylines and testosterone-loaded fervor, to make a meaningful, but un-espresso-like, dose of gentlemanly adrenaline. No easy task I say, and, for the distinctive certainty of effort, I shall assign blame for the major flaws of this body film only to some shaky genetics (i.e ., to its screenwriter, though even about this decision I'm uncertain).
I am certain, however, about the caliber of the acting. Say what you will about his turn in that late 90s epic; I say Mr. DiCaprio's talent as an effective and powerful actor has grown undiminished ever since he first set foot onto a set in the early 90s. It was a pleasure to watch him heavily, yet stalkingly, pace the screen, in feverish animation. Mr. Nicholson's effort was also admirable, his well-to-do sloveliness charming, and Mr. Wahlberg was appropriately tempered.
Technically, the film was well handled, the unsightly task of editing accomplished. Nevertheless, I am left with a guttural feeling of ambivalence about the film. Perhaps it was too drawn out? Perhaps it was too mundane? Perhaps it was too masculine? I can't settle upon any premeditatedly probable cause for its tendency toward failure, which itself is unsettling, but I have no choice but to trust my instincts in saying just as I did when I watched the final scenes in the theater: 'Okay, may be it will realize itself later.'

Grade: B

Review: The Science of Sleep

Genre: Romance

No, Mr. Gondry, your inclusion of gratuitous nudity will not make me go easy on you. Basically, your screenplay was awful. I got the feeling that you only wrote it to give yourself an excuse to exercise your artistic creations in 3-D space, but slushy writing to support a single ideal premise, even if it be a good one, is never a good course.
Now, aside from that major failing, your art does look fairly wonderful upon the screen, and Mr. Bernal, as usual, makes the best use of the material he is given. His transformation of what could have been a creepy, unrelatable fringe-dweller to a sympathetic, dreamy visionary was no small, nor unworthy, feat. Yet, despite his assets and those of the art sequences, The Science of Sleep fails to register too frequently to ignore. I was disappointed; I expected better.

Grade: C

Review: The Queen

Genre: Historical Drama

Stephen Frears surely hit ice, when he first began to chip away at this ambitious project. Luckily for us the fractile shards that fell were so finely huned that there is almost nothing to criticize about this work.
Indeed, The Queen is the first exceptional film of the year, with strong performances riding its smooth, serene screenplay from its very first frosty pinnacle to its very last, temperate end. For both the actors who worked on the film and for the crew, the film was undoubtedly a tremendous success and for the public, in the still resonant wake of Brokeback Mountain, yet another example of how extraodinarily powerful simple tranquility can be. The screenplay, unlike so many of today's screenplay's, correctly refuses to tie its arms behind its back in obtuse complexity; instead, it undulates beautifully in restraint. All the actors could do for it was align themselves to its rhythm, and the adept Ms. Mirren is so studied and accurate at this alignment, that it's disconcerting at times. Her relationship with the here brilliant Mr. Cromwell writhes in exquisite discomfort, and for Mr. Cromwell, it has been quite some time since he last found such a rewarding match. Even Mr. Frears' direction, which can usually be said to effectively efface any emotional virtue from a film by its almost masochistic restraint, could not break the well wrought cadence; it can actually be best described here as transmuted by the rhythm to feel confident.
Yes, I was hard-pressed to find an area for which to offer a meaningful critique. Even the musical score was so inspired a piece of composition that I nearly applauded the speakers. (It was in my opinion the best part of the film; kudos, Mr. Desplat.) So, I will say only this: I wished that Mr. Sheen had made his Tony Blair seem a little less exasperated by everyone.

Grade: A-

17 September 2006

Review: The Last Kiss

Genre: Drama / Romance

Tony Goldwyn's The Last Kiss marks Paul Haggis' latest attempt at writing a meaningful screenplay. Considering the attempt's result, I think he has obviously and yet again failed miserably. Dialogue is awkward, reality is at many points inconceivable, the entire thing is unbalanced, and gratuitous nudity - how much does one really need? Thus, it is now the unswerving opinion of myself (and likely many others) that the ability, purported of Mr. Haggis, to deftly stroke by pen the intricacies of humanity is itself a fiction, through and through. And a counterargument, that the flaws of the screenplay enhance the uncertain nature of the characters and the story, is just compensatory and ludicrous. The rambling scenes that appear mired in (purposeful?) confusion inarguably lack luster; the other scenes, fraught with a dangerous level of acuity in dialogue, blanche the film with an in-your-face clarity that is as contrived as are the supposedly realistic lives of the script's characters. (Mr. Goldwyn's mediocre direction does little to help this fact.)
Indeed, the only redeeming and interesting parts of this film were those parts played by Zach Braff, Blythe Danner, and (occasionally) Jacinda Barrett. Ms. Barrett, while being for much of the beginning of the film a (too) dull figure, emerges from this stupour later, to deliver wonderfully gutturally an otherwise hackneyed line in a key argument scene as well as to bring elsewhere much needed life into her character, though such life does continue to be dappled in its brilliance. As for Ms. Danner, the subtleties in her crafting of her small, yet evidently supporting, part exemplify her as a gifted actress, and I am sorry for that her talents had to be wasted by this bizarrely written screenplay. The same praise could well be said for Mr. Braff and, in addition, that one hopes that he, due to role he played and to the deservedly wild acclaim the role him garnered as progenitour of the marvelous Garden State, not be typecast into characters of this now popular nature (e. g., of late-youthful malaise and uncertainty, of emotional incongruities). Mr. Braff, I eagerly await the next film you yourself helm.
The Last Kiss, however, I could have done without.

Grade: C

02 September 2006

Discover (Not) Snicket

For those of you, bloggers out there, who have not yet had the misfortune of being exposed to the 12 books in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, consider yourselves lucky. The truly terribly and awfully ghastly details that these books contain are almost certainly too much for your feeble minds and, er, emotions to bear without a severing strain. Thus unbroken, you, I recommend, should absolutlely not dare to visit this following site, which provides a disturbingly accurate and alluring description of the last, 13th, book in the repulsive series: do not click here.

31 August 2006

Discover Sondre

In the spirit of my last post, which I feel has broken through the former presentiments of this blog, I am inspired to post now, without any hesitation, about one of my very favorite artists, the glorious Sondre Lerche, coincidentally whose new single, Phantom Punch, is about to be released. Mr. Lerche, much like OK Go - at least to my eyes - has stayed dismayingly below the popular radar, despite some obviously burgeoning and brilliant talents. Yet, with a style most swanky, a repertoire more varied, and a genuine appeal to be aspired for, Lerche far outdoes any perceived competition. I give him my highest esteem: 100% smooth and kick-ass. :)

Discover OK Go

So, I just had to post the link to this video, because 1) OK Go is amazing, 2) the video is so genius (in the best etymological sense of the word), and 3) I'm so happy that they just pulled it off live at the MTV VMAs. So, go and watch it.


P. S. Check this one out too.

P. P. S. Pre-VMA-performance pep talk with JC. :)

24 August 2006

Films for the Fall

Hey, film-fans. Here are some of the films to which I am most definitely looking forward this year.

New Site!

Yay! A new location for my blog has been established, thanks to Google! I expect this new site to be even better than the last one (A Year in Film) and to definitely look a little nicer. Perhaps I may even expand the blog's purpose a bit. Who knows? Anything's possible. Stay tuned, bloggers - there's a lot more film-ing to do. :)