21 December 2007

Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Genre: Musical / Morality Play

It was obvious from the very start of this project that it would take a tremendous amount of careful effort for Mr. Burton & Co. to finely winnow down Mr. Sondheim's classic dark drama from its more original sprawling length to a format more suitable for the screen, one less encompassing, less for a live audience, yet still equally as powerful, or dynamic. Songs would obviously have to be trimmed, if not hedged altogether; dialogue bundled; characters redirected; and even blocking smartly reshaped, to accommodate the comparatively limited window that is the frame (comparatively with the open stage). In short, the whole thing was to be chopped, condensed, as best as its varyingly shaped pieces could, to become a faster, tighter Sweeney Todd - o , wait: that's actually not a disastrous enterprise at all, but rather an extremely exciting venture: a faster, tighter Sweeney...hmmm. It would mean then more quickly delivered punches, more severely reverberating cadences, and just generally a more sharply rendered story; concisely, a probably would-be improvement on its staged blueprint. After all, the other effects of the change of medium could only be immensely beneficial (i. e., the huge, unlimited structures and locations, the possibility of smooth, unsequestered scenes thanks to editing, and the potential color-tinting variations of post-production, contemporary cinematography).
Such were my thoughts as I sat in the theater last night before the premiere, midnight showing of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and as I sat and thought I could only become more excited by the possibilities of it. Would it be beautiful? Would it be sharp? Would it be as good as it could be? And, when with the intoning gothic chords it finally began with a thrill I thought that, indeed, it may be.
Yet, I began to worry as the opening credits animation-sequence grew on, with its sickeningly overripe reddish hue whose texture existed somewhere among melted latex, candle wax, and blood. That was the first sign; the almost comically pop-culturated blood ominous indeed, for how seriously then could the film treat its most basic principles, its very groundwork, in morality? I hoped things would change and, as the animation fell away and Mr. Depp entered the frame, albeit behind a boy who looked more the gaunt, heroine-chic Dior model from Scandinavia than the innocently amorous sailor - but that's another story - I did my best to let the creeping suspicions of failure fall away. "No chorus?" No chorus - hmm, there was no hauntingly singing chorus to introduce him and his story to the audience, no moralizing catalyst by contrast and omniscience but we, the audience ourselves - bold decision, Mr. Burton. Let it be then and, his song finished, I was quickly torn away through the varyingly black streets of Todd's pit London, with hardly a second's hold to really ingest it all, the squalor and the picture-book scenes. The camera instead rode heavily on him, Mr. Depp, intensely close and scrutinizing - hmm, another odd choice: why decontextualize, especially when Mr. Todd is so emphatically a product of his environs; why alienate me, the audience, so so strongly from perspective, especially when we are now the moral adjudicants? Well, push on: mm, more flat grumbling from Mr. Depp but then, ah, a light: Ms. Bonham Carter, floured out and rolling quite deftly in her own private shoppe. It was clear, from her entrance, that this film could bear fruit after all. Undespairing, I settled in and listened.
What I found ensuing over the next forty minutes was much of the same: sparse, indelicate introductions and establishments, dissevering perspectives, and the wicked balm of Ms. Carter's Mrs. Lovett at pains to smooth it all. It was not at all the Sweeney Todd I had so hoped it would be. And I wondered, why wasn't it working? Yes, there was all I mentioned contributing to the shortcoming, and so, all right, Mr. Burton & Co. found their self-appointed task of inexiguous, concise adaption (at least in the first act) a taller order than they would muster; but there was something deeper turning wrong. And then I recognized it, so clearly that it nearly knocked me over: the performances, they were, none of them (except for Mrs. Lovett), anywhere near as crisp, as sharp, as raw as they should have been. Where they should have been steaming hatred, there was only a simmering seed; where a violent call to reaction, only a crusty obligation to deed; and, where a perfervid longing to break free, only a simpering, whimpering indolence to go. Mr. Depp's, whom I much otherwise admire, Mr. Todd was flat, undynamic, and distant. Mr. Rickman's and his Stupin's ward, played by Ms. Jayne Wisener, were much the same. And Mr. Baron Cohen's Sr. Pirelli, though indeed comedic, lacked a similar lustre. Mr. Spall seemed to be the only actor who really tried to add to his character and three-dimensionalize him from the page and from the otherwise stagnant stew of his castmates, but his efforts' product felt too caricatured to be genuine. Again, only Mrs. Lovett really stood out as a character of significant complexity and depth. But why? Why?
I considered the question seriously and in doing so I was forced to go back and reconsider, not only my opinion of the performances, but also and moreover my entire starting point for opining in general. This is a morality play, it was clear, and perhaps I had therefore approached the thing all wrong. I had been looking for plot prominence, character depth, and audience integration, but perhaps i was entirely misguided thus, way off and utterly daft to do so. Could these characters have been meant to be so flat, undynamic, and distant, so singularly motivated and two-dimensional on purpose? Could there be a finer, more complex innerworking here than I had previously considered or even dreamt of realizing? And, as the aforementioned forty-minute introductory period tapered off into the rest of the film, I was pushed deeper into my thoughts, because all of a sudden, and very surprisingly to me, everything just clicked. I wasn't sure whether it was because the songs had gotten better or I had learned to disregard those aspects of the film that I had previously conceived as faults; but truly everything just fell exactly into place. Tempo was perfect, balance ideal, plotline deepening; it was all really moving, even humming merrily along like clockworks, to an until-then unseen drummer (for I had the distinct feeling that that abstract master had always been there, the course of flow hadn't changed, I just hadn't found its font yet). I was astounded. And it hit me, far more strongly than my earlier recognition, this was a morality play. Its breed and nature exist entirely outside of the world of now traditional film as something older, almost archetypical, and certainly governed by its own set of rules. Characters did not have to be rounded, plotlines did not have to be of a certain depth; in this type of play it could make perfect and absolute sense to be at haste in getting over the mere introductory formalities, because they and the details of the plotline are so subordinate to the being and the details of the moral or conceit they exemplify. And at once what I had initially seen as the crumbled, poorly effected structures of the early portion of the film took on new life, as naught but the rickety unembellished framework jogging into play, accomplishing everything it needed to, cleanly and simply. And, as I pared down my interpretations of the characters, I also recognized that the reason why Mrs. Lovett (at her basic, on-the-page form) had stood out from the rest for me is because her sticking point and singular motivation is by its nature necessarily more "complex" (as the word is ordinarily considered); active emotion and conscience manifest her, as she was designed to be the only player who has inklings of self-awareness about her, as she is the sage, the augur, the portent. It is through her that the true moral grappling is worked and exemplified, and so she is the keystone of the entire piece. I fell back in my seat and absorbed it all.
The film had been completely beguiling, and I was confounded by how a film that seemed to be so lacking in so many ways could pick itself up and turn itself around, almost entirely reoriented in my mind, to become so lucid and full and hard-hitting. Of course, it was unequivocal how visually beautiful it had been. Colleen Atwood is endlessly talented at her craft, and her costumes meld perfectly into the alternately bright and dusky hues of the art direction and production design. Mr. Sondheim's songs were also enchanting, and so the audial part of the film was too decidedly lovely. Yet, the meat of it...so tricky. Of course, praise again to Ms. Bonham Carter and to her director husband, Mr. Burton, who so cleverly manipulated my mind into this half-in-awe, half-in-question state; but my final grade? What to do? For, not all the shortcomings of my early review did improve. The cinematography especially remained an erratic con for the film; so much better could have been done with wider shots, fewer tight close-up, and more parallel, flatter (if you will) angles. But what of the rest? I confess, I have never before deliberated so headily on the exactitudes of my grade for a film. Usually it is very apparent to me before I even begin to write my review where (within at least a plus or a minus) my grade will be. Yet, here the range was so wide that I still, even now, am unsure of where I've arrived, for despite its apparent myriad and variable flaws or inexiguities I cannot think of Sweeney Todd other than by majority greatness. Congratulations, Mr. Burton & Co.; I keep my doubts but I just cannot condemn you.

Grade: A-

O, and as for the photo, I'm saving myself for a shot of Mr. Todd and Mrs. Lovett "By the Sea," which was just brilliant.

13 December 2007

Review: Atonement

Genre: Drama (Historical) / Romance

Atonement, if you remember correctly, reader, was the last film on my list of Most Eagerly Anticipated Films of 2007. I called it almost a sure thing, to be recognized by the major awards associations as one of the year's best films, not only because of its sweeping historical romance or its talented cast and crew, but also because it seemed to be built on a genuinely good premise. It is needless to say, my dear reader, that these are thing which I no longer believe.
Atonement was the second time Mr. Wright, the director, has sought to revitalize and restore a much gone over and much regurgitated storyline. His primary effort, the brilliant Pride & Prejudice (2005), accomplished the task completely and, apart from four Academy Award nominations, including two for collaborators who returned to work with the director in his sophomore try, the film garnered a clean A- from this blogger, who still thinks very highly of the work. The sophomore attempt meanwhile barely cleared the hurdle of decency and should consider itself very lucky if it garner any similar critical praise at all (with at most two exceptions). Weak where it should have been strong, chapped where it should have been fluid, and tranquil where it should have been passionate, the film was a clattering of high-gloss, silver-polished banalities and stale, brittle by rote recitations. Clearly the whole thing could have been marginally re-edited and out would have popped The English Patient or another such high-brow, 'seriously dramatic' drudgery, where the combination of stifled ambiances with cloistered musings, pitched against a backdrop of war, apparently indicate a sort of badge of merit. Where was the burning love that was supposed? Prove it me. Where was the coruscating passion made winnowingly the elegiac sense of loss? Play it me. Where was the thetical binding of all the various parts of the film by common cause and argument (more than just "Let us take responsibility as best we can for our actions")? Persuade it me. At the absolute least let me feel something, for I so badly wanted to find that singular redemptive feature of the work for which I could say, indeed, it was not a great work but at least there was this ___; but there was no such thing.
Mr. Marionelli's score was gimmicky at best. Sounding like no more of an effort than a grafting on or substituting in of the mechanical sounds of a typewriter where percussion used to be, the theme was a huge step down from the glowing tones of his Pride & Prejudice score. Ms. Knightley's performance had too that reissued feeling, not of her own previous work but the work of another actress in a similar past role, except her performance was certainly a lot duller. She barely spoke or appeared in other than a state of subdued consternation and her torrid romance with the groundskeeper boy that figured so much in the storyline felt hardly as sincere and credible as it was meant to be. The costumes and art direction were spiffy at best, and the cinematography slathered the whole thing other in either the tones and lighting of a Clinique commercial or the overly painterly hues of a person who's trying to hard. And God help the screenplay, whose feeble foundation is likely the cause of most of this horrible distress. Fluffy, erratic, and too coy for its own good, the play moved along as though it were in the process of trying to deliver a whopping punchline that would set all its initial potential misgivings right and astound the general public and film-making industry alike but, instead, could only muster a vague sort of toddle towards the truth (which to everyone was glaringly self-evident from the very start and title). I mean, it wraps up with Ms. Redgrave's Briony Tallis' speech as smugly as though it had just nailed the final answer on Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions and elucidated the shocking reality of what had happened to its characters for the apparently confused and still puzzling audience. I gathered that we, the audience, were supposed to feel first gratified that the record of the tumultuous and impetuous first night would be set straight by the young Nurse Briony, then suddenly betrayedly upset by the news that the aforementioned restoration never occurred and because of death C and Robbie's love never had had the chance to survive, and finally recomforted by the small, exceedingly passive reprieve Briony has granted them in her last novel. Well, what a presumptuous iteration of crap that is. The awkward shiftings and the extremely distant atmosphere sapped any and all emotion from that restorative scene; the blatantly obvious descent into physical and mental unfocus swiftly undercut any inkling that Robbie might have survived the war; and the meager and not-to-mention fictional deliverance of C and Robbie into a place of happiness (which cannot for the consistently realistic, almost legally so, nature of the film be construed as their afterlives) is nowhere near the gracious and gravitous atonement one would expect of a Briony who has committed her whole life toward correcting her (entirely understandable) youthful mistake.
Still Ms. Redgrave strives to make the most out of it, and her chronological counterparts do their individual bests as well to wrap themselves around the bizarrely square character they share. For the flightiness of her innocence as a youth, Ms. Ronan has the least arduous task and makes the most of it. Her performance is noteworthy, as is Mr. MacAvoy's, who by his talents as an actor manages to effect cohesion and depth out of his almost exiguous Robbie. Hybridizing his flat and cold public personality of politeness, practicality, and honor and his fanciful and jejune private one of playfulness, day-dreaming, and young-male sexual urgency, MacAvoy invents a three-dimensionality in Robbie that is wholly credible for the character's identity; and he reacts consistently in such a way that maintains this hybridized interlacing of his character. He is postured but to a point and he is furious in reaction toward young Briony's manifested rescue scenario. He is playful but not beyond decorum and he brings home the two lost young boys with one on his shoulders. He is sexual but still respectable and he only slowly steps away to right himself, back turned to camera, when discovered in coitus with Ms. Knightley's C. It is a smart, real understanding of a person, a living current beneath the placid surface; and his lines are the only ones that felt emotionally actual and unrehearsed. His work and Ms. Ronan's are probably the only truly redeeming features in the film.
Ugh, by now I just feel exhausted by the whole affair, as if I'd just been trying to issue a considered opinion on onion preserves. (The implications of the stagnant, bland, and disappointingly predictable content of that simile were not unintentional.) Now I'm just anxious to see whether any established film authority will see it in the same way I have, or will the 'serious grandeur' of it all overdouse them into praise?

Grade: C+

10 December 2007

Review: Juno

Genre: Drama

In another part of the film year, Juno would be hopelessly lost among the flotsam and jetsam of the studios, therefrom hopelessly unable of being elicited as anything more than just another like its sloppy company. In all its previews it hardly stands out - even to a filmically intelligent eye - as anything more than the average adolescent sex drama, in which unfortunate befallings proceeding from sex (i. e., pregnancy) force the children that the film introduces at its beginning to adolesce, to become the (at least partial) adults that the film sends off at its close. In practical terms, on the surface, it's the cinematic equivalent of the after-school special. And, even though such a concise plot description feels as dull as those typical briefs listed in a TV guide, in truth nothing further is really needed to inform the general audience member of the film's direction.
Why then, I ask, has Juno been released now, during the holiday season, when - with the minor exceptions that are the stifled holiday drivel - the films in release are nearly all the so called "Oscar hopefuls?" Why is this film worthy of such notice, of such high-brow positioning, and - most importantly - of such acclaim as that which it has received from critics high and low, touting all its virtues in "year's best" declarations? In this review, I shall attempt to answer these my questions and to, simultaneously, grapple with my answers, to determine whether or not Juno should be considered, as so many have, exceptional.
Primarily, it seems to me, Juno can be considered exceptional, because it is not a film that, like so many others in its cliche sub-genre, can be easily boiled down to its bare bones and then still retain the values and purposes that it, as a complete work, embodies. It cannot be simply "the teenage sex flick about the girl who gets pregnant by mistake and thereafter has to deal with it." Why not? There are several reasons:

  1. Though the structure of the play remains essentially the same - that is, the order of events of Juno remains fairly consistent with the way the 'stock' drama is supposed to play out - the finer details of that structure are often upturned in a way that provides for some new dynamism and as yet unexplored territory to creep about, revealing itself. Instead of the singularly minded characters and bland by rote occurrences of idle drama, the players of Juno have depth, vigor, that certain polymorphic human validity that encourages distinct, unpunctured credibility in the spontaneity, or unprescribed nature, of their actions. The impetuous sex, for example, is not motivated by the perennial uncontrollable male urge to fuck, as stock would have it; Mr. Cera's very George-Michael-ean Paulie Bleeker is hardly the kind of adolescent male to be afflicted by the age-old, stereotypical satyriasis. Instead, it is Juno herself who proposes and acts upon her sexual curiosities. Though the exact reasons for her doing so are never explicated, the fact stands, and the contribution to the argument that is her Diana-like personality - sharp-hewn, determined, forged but nevertheless chained by her childish fancies - is evidence in plenty: sex roles are not prescribed. And, though the play sort of recedes upon itself on this point by falling back upon the tried, Freudian-proffered (though subtly) explanation for this, her character, by absenting her biological mother, it still wards against the hackneyed-conventional by its
  2. [F]orcefully original dialogue. Juno and her friends and relations are admirably nearly endless spools of wickedly tight and allusive quips, quivers, and quotations, that the screenwriters seem to have invested in them with feverish delight, much as (though certainly to a greatly lesser extent than) Mr. Burgess, writer of A Clockwork Orange, or (perhaps more commensurately) Ms. Heckerling, writer of Clueless. The effect is a charming, flighty facility of dialect that both sets the characters high and away from their counterparts in the sub-genre and binds them as a group together, as a tight working wrestling pool of vitality and - tantamountly to the screenplay's success - self-awareness. When Juno automatically responds to her father's inquiry into her previous whereabouts by saying that she was out "dealing with things way beyond [her] maturity level," she both compounds and compresses her existential adolescent crisis in a wonderful double-headed turn of phrase, whose impact is greatly enhanced by the skill of
  3. [C]ompetent young actors. So often in the past have these teenage films been addressed to the audience by the mouths and tongues of actors and actresses unable to give much of their own, to add to the black-and-white material. Juno fortunately is not squandered in a similar case; the young people who play in it have truly found and increased the palpability of their characters, by either holding back or giving it all. Mr. Cera outfits himself in a character withdrawn into himself, voiced only when he need be, and somehow simultaneously both self-conscious and unconcerned with the criticisms of others, whoever they be. He seeks vigilantly the lighted path of honesty and valor and is not afraid to (at least internally) question the supposedly decided matters of hand. He is struggling, as much as Juno but in his own way, to manage the situation as well as possible. And, by merely looking askance, shuffling his feet in place, and speaking in a careful cadence (as if he were more trying to communicate than actually communicating), the actor brings his character out from where he otherwise could have been (i. e., in the periphery of the film as no one more than the somewhat gawky, mostly feckless, haphazard sperm-donor), to be where he ought be (i. e., in focus, in question, in responsibility, in study). Ms. Page does the same for her Juno, whose quirky forthrightness as outlined on the page is only by her work elucidated by innocence, uncertainty, and youth(!), where other actresses might have tried (undiluted) recalcitrance, intransigence, and misanthropy. Of course, there is no mistake that Juno is at heart the "uniquely rebellious [teenage] girl" that Not Another Teen Movie so deftly lampoons, but what is great about only her is that her character doesn't stop there, where it begins. Instead, like Mr. Cera's Bleeker, it spools out and spirals, gleaning complexities and ambiguities and a smartly applied, contrasting fealty to her age that does not have her, like so many other girls, waxing twenty-something and (trying to be) o so confident and mature, but does rather have her waning, flailing, and fighting to achieve those qualities which the others took for granted. She is a girl, and Ms. Page's facial expressions that pillow and support the lines that they form are the delights of the film.
These points break Juno from the brittle molds of concise and trite describability and inarguably float it above the awkwardly murky waters of the "teenage sex drama." To reduce it to such a stereotype is to injure, to unjustly dismiss all the good and important facts of its process.
Secondarily, what recommends Juno of acclaim is the stylistically aligned and consistent presentation of its cinematography. Though some may cavel and decry my opinion of the skill of this part of the film on the basis that it was not photographically 'correct' or otherwise artisitically meritorious, I stand fast and urge them to consider the criteria by which they judge such 'correctness' and artisitic merit. Do fine lines and tight colors, accurate points of focus and smart croppings, exist as absolute requirements for cinematographical achievement? Or may these points in seriousness be overlooked, as a master his formal training, in the sincere trying to let out something new? Obviously, reader, I am partial to the latter assessment, for Juno's cinematography seems to accomplish - to me - both what it was meant to accomplish (i. e., an optically engaging, visual recountment of the story) and what it was hoped to (i. e., an emotionally ripe, deeply personal exploration of the story's players). The intimate shots of the sex incident are the best examples of this achievement. Low camera positions, capturing the grounded but slightly wobbling feet of Juno in the dim yellow light of unbroken innocence as she undresses in front of Bleeker, whose patient and waiting legs rest in the near distance and whose naked body, attached to them, quietly suggests both mood and character dynamics as it is out of focus. Such is tenderness and brilliance, such is the film. However unpolished be it, be.
Finally, what compels Juno is its handy acting. I have already discussed the achievements of Mr. Cera and Ms. Page, and so here I have only to commend the beautifully distraught performance by Ms. Garner, whose earnest yet unembarrassed fragility as a woman so desirous of motherhood but piteously unable to conceive on her own was for me the unexpected (and immensely good) bonus of the film. With it her part of the story was able to speak well and deeply about the questions of being and purpose and continuity that are at the film's core.
I have only one complaint, or cause for feeling quizzical, of the film: the sketchy, drawn-out animation that introduced it and most of its credits. What was that about? Sure, it was fun for a little while, but then it just dragged on, intent on running the entire length of that introductory song, whose importance I assumed by its prominence but did not otherwise detect in its lyrics. And, other than the similarly designed titles beginning each seasonal chapter of the film, there was no relation to it in the entire rest of the film. It was exiguous, to say the least, and would have played much better in an abridged format, if it must play at all.
But, despite this bizarre inclusion, Juno still remains a fruitful and worthwhile film, one which I do recommend as, indeed, endearingly unusual for its sub-genre, exceptional, and one of the "year's best."

Grade: A-/B+

09 December 2007

Review: The Savages

Genre: Comedy (Black)

I was finally able tonight, after much anticipation, to see one of the latest films that has achieved a level of critical dignification that only could enhance the excitement I had already had for its release to a near-boiling point. I was expecting sure-fire stirrings and other urgent and solid metaphysical probings to emerge from the lights of the screen, a sirene from Ms. Linney, a precision from the writers, and a genius hold from the director; and for the first moments of The Savages I thought, well, at last I shall not be disappointed. Now, if you, my reader, be any sort of intelligent being, you probably will have already guessed that the thoughts which are to follow will show my initial expectations to be smartly rebuffed by the truth of the film - and it is to your credit that the direction that I am about to take is that which you've anticipated: negatory in fact - but in defense of myself and of the film itself I must say that, despite my complaints, The Savages is not an unpolished, or unskilled, effort. Rather, it was merely less of one than I had expected it to be.
First and foremost, the writing, which is the undiluted ground of a movie such as this one, was accomplished; it set out to recount a specific tale to its audience and in that quest it did not in any measure fail to succeed. However, its accomplishment is not quite the "being accomplished" that one would ordinarily expect. Although epithets may be well said, the fact of their eloquence does not do much, nay anything on its own, to encourage their theses; indeed there may be many a well-written paper that says little, if anything at all. And the screenplay of The Savages may be counted among them - granted counted in their better ranks but counted nonetheless. Though both Ms. Linney's and Mr. Hoffman's characters achieve that subordinated end of the rainbow that is the fullness of the character arc in typical classical writing style, those achievements feel somewhat contrived, forced, a little too perfect. Though they were subordinated, subtle, they wore still too crisp of an air to be believed thoroughly as such; they were perhaps very similar in manner to paper that has been artificially aged to look as parchment but that, one can still tell, is just new paper all the same underneath. Though not quite the same as false notes, the denouements of their travails stand as the significant examples of the writers' lack of acuity and consistence in presenting a story that echoes both as real and as cinematic.
The direction, I feel, compounded this writing issue by too frequently blocking the sibling characters as two idle strangers encountering the rest of the world together. Perhaps this isolation caused them to feel too strayed, too separate from others, to truly come to the closes that they were supposed to have had. I mean, they were hardly ever evenly situated across from another character, however minor, when in conversation; always sidelong glances feigning intimacy or at least awkward distances, emphasized by the cinematography, partitioned their own privately kept and inhabited little world from the swim of the rest of it. Ms. Linney's Wendy, even when in serious, cinematically 'turning-point' or 'recognition' discussion with a hospital nurse, is placed next to her partner and barely looks at him as they speak. It felt sterile, unnatural, and despite the type of person she was presented as being, even considered her introversion and social awkwardnesses.
That said, the cinematography was not bad, not bad at all. Although it was primarily used as a vehicle to drive home the point of the characters' isolation (even from the audience) almost at times ad negatum, it was remarkably smart enough not to do the opposite, as so many films today do and suffer therefrom, (i. e., crush them by being too close). The distance helped the film-viewers remain aware of context and continuum, presences other than and perhaps relevantly greater than the characters, and bear witness to the anesthetized and internally demoralizing reality that is the space between - whether it be temporal, physical, or emotional. Furthermore, its handling of the lighting, the way in which it maintained a regular, natural, and consistent tension between the glow of daylight and the artificial fluorescence of light sources like those of the Valley View, the "rehabilitation clinic" to where the siblings' father is importunately sent, was nearly brilliant. Mr. Hupfel should definitely feel pleased by the results of his work.
As for the work of Ms. Linney and Mr. Hoffman themselves, I have only one thing to say: would that they were so strongly grounded in firmer soil, they should have been high-exceptional.

Grade: B+

26 November 2007

Review: Enchanted

Genre: Comedy (Romantic) / Fairy Tale

The much gabbed-about Enchanted is the latest installment in the ontologically post-classic, experimental era of the seemingly magically arthritic Walt Disney Studios. Rather stymied up until this point by their draining reservoir of 'imagineering' and their protested inability to thrive, even subsist, in animation's computer-generated-baby-boomer period (despite wonderful products by other traditionalistic animative studios [e. g., Japan's Studio Ghibli, of which coincidentally Disney owns the American-distribution rights]), the Disney studios have thrown themselves at the mercy of their truly greatest rivals: themselves (of the past, that is). Their new premise for this ambitious project was quite self-reflective, and rather brave for that quality, as they in probably almost bereft reverence pored over their intimidatingly impressive achievements of yesteryear and, in certain eureka, proposed to challenge themselves and that skilled adversary, their histories, and to attempt to succeed once more by effect of a mirror. Turning the creative lens upon them so, the studio boiled hard at work to generate a storyline that, not only scrutinized and questioned the seemingly ridiculous serendipity upon which nearly all their great stories perch, but also could bear such scrutiny and questioning itself. In short, their project, whether they quite consciously established it as such or not, was for them to deeply explore and seek to answer in such exploration the who, the what, and - most importantly - the wherefore of their renowned genre forte.
And for a while, I was very happy to consider, they were en route to a successful accomplishment of that aim. The animated short that opened the action of the film spoke volumes about how their stories may be conceived, or represented, academically, clinically: a contrived series of events (and trials) that structurally fix two predetermined character types on a well-trodden path that inevitably leads to a foregone conclusion (i. e., the 'happily-ever-after' ending) with perhaps some few small instances of slap-stickery tossed in for that added touch of whimsy. And then, of course here, breaks the twist, the subterranean subversion that turns the hard-bodied 'fairy tale by Disney' onto its famous back and thereby exposes its potentially juicy underbelly, ripe for the squeezing: the confounding iteration of thesis, that "This is not that kind of story." The instigating act of villainy comes in the traditional prologue and things are all just generally ajumble from there on. The fair maiden or princess archetype to whom enchanted little children aspire is no longer belle of the safe and warm contexts that her archetype imbibes like a magical potion or otherwise charmed elixir; instead, she is ripped from those satisfying milieux and inserted deftly and abruptly into, as the film so proudly states itself, the modernity (and the cynicism) of reality, the 'real world,' concisely realized as the rough and cold concrete surfaces of contemporary Manhattan. And what to happen there? The discovery of the fact that her own unique and a-realistic brand of living does not quite align to the various natures of the world, the comical and musical instances that such exotic chemistry inspires, and ultimately - most importantly- the nicely developed existential questioning of her predetermined characteristics, practices, and attitudes brought on by the metaphysically significant combustions resultant of such inspired chemistry? Well, as perhaps the objective assessor of a traditional villain's accounts may offer to his employ post-schemes, "two out of three ain't bad, I guess." Indeed, while Enchanted does stand poised to delve, hands high, into the mystiqued primordial soup from which all its predecessors arise, it fails to deliver on its most fore quest(ion). Instead, it regresses back to the contrived and formulaic pattern of the 'fairy tale by Disney' that it had so bravely started out to improve, as if the intoxicating fumes of the safe and happy ending were lure enough to drown it in its own poison, and, in so doing, it simultaneously - and even worse for the Disney studios' reputation - abruptly switches fairy-tale structures mid-stream (for the film would have certainly, as I brought up earlier, born scrutiny itself as a fairy tale of adventure and self-discovery if it had stayed true on its initial path [and not switched to a fairy tale of romance and true destiny]). After the scene, in which it is clear that she has fallen in love with Mr. Dempsey's character, all the
compelling magic of the storyline just fades away. And for me personally that moment is all the more bitter because it comes directly after a bit of dialogue in which it seems clear that such a relinquishing move would not be made (i. e., when Ms. Adam's Giselle discovers that her very self has been fracturing, as she for the first time emotes anger).
Ah, well, I suppose, it is still a better effort that Disney's previous attempts. The film, on the positive side, does boast a tremendous performance by Ms. Adams, whose darling princess Giselle is as full and nuanced as the slightly closed open palm and the daintily postured arms she collects so fluidly, and the score and the original songs by long-time Disney collaborator and musical-great Alan Menken were chosenly spot-on delights to hear. Furthermore, the closing animation of the credits was an absolutely beautiful achievement, which much reminded me in both style and texture of the similarly well-done closing animated sequence of 2005's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (which also featured Timothy Spall in a supporting role).
However, there, I believe, the praise-worthy aspects of the work stop and, though that is not to say that the rest of the aspects of the film that have heretofore gone unmentioned are anything worse than unremarkable, all that, I feel, is left for me to say about Enchanted is that I wish that they had given Susan Sarandon a song - o, that, and that that stodgy bid at the modernizing agent of feminism that was that brief sex-role-reversal near the end neither does, nor can, in any way this preposed fairy-tale revolution sustain - I mean, you did make Mulan, Disney; right?

Grade: B- / C+, a noble impetus, a foibled effort.

24 November 2007

Review: No Country for Old Men

Genre: Drama / Thriller

Many critics have taken to gushing lately over the Coen brothers' newest piece, the dry and placid thriller-Western lodged somewhat sardonically between the lenses of the camera and the lenses of our eyes, and, indeed, much of the appraisal has been merited, especially in the case of of Mr. Bardem's performance. However, there were, to my mind, too many odd clippings and too many solely mise-en-scene threads, for the film to construct as clean or as tight a story or argument as that which all the glowing reviews describe. No Country for Men may be certainly a great gesture in the world of filmmaking for the Coens, but it is not a miraculous heraldry for the world at large.
Primarily, I take issue with the unwaveringly fawning compliments given for Mr. Deakins' cinematography. Now, it is true that Mr. Deakins is an extremely experienced and acclaimed (not undeservedly so) director of photography and it is true that he in this latest effort accomplished some marvellous scenes and sequences, adding depth and feeling and strength to the story and to the action on screen; but it is not the case that his execution of the whole of this his latest effort was solidly impeccable. More than once did he awkwardly cut off already incomplete objects or parts of his actors' bodies, namely their feet, and his extreme distance at other instances pushed the audience too far away from the action and points of focus, to make clear interpretations of them, despite even the largest of theatrical formats. In addition, his muddled stance on perspective tended to dilute the thetical point of the film, quavering from its intended position as a reasoning, objective observer into the untenable realms of intersubjectivity and human probability. While powerful sequences such as that of the primary coin toss with the gas station owner and that of the car-collision finale resonated strongly for their almost painfully indifferent points of view as third-person observers, other sequences like that of the tense awaiting of Mr. Bardem's character in the hotel resonated strongly for their adaptation of the completely opposite standpoint, as an often first-person actor. Yet, I suppose, while such contrasting modes of work in the same film did lead to conflicture in overall argument, it is nevertheless meritorious that they, however contrasting, did still both resonate strongly emotionally or psychologically. Powerful imagery does make a powerful impression - I only wished it had also been a coherent one.
Secondarily, I take issue with the film's screenplay, which has also basked in its fair share of fawned glory. Though it too, like the cinematography, did eke out some premier moments, it was unfortunately less forthcoming on the general splendor or power, for No Country for Old Men did not seem to me to make any sort of palpable or consistent point or argument more than the tired reconstitution of "Greed can wear a man, breeding itself into his children, and, while good men can stand against it, none can truly overcome it but only bear its recognition in one's heart and try to kindle the same in others." OK, so worded in that way the topic may not seem to be endlessly popular, but just consider the long history of screenplays that have ridden the same one-trick pony: from It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol all the way to Wall Street, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even Blank Check. And the history of stories in this vein in general stretches centuries farther: Chaucer anyone? So, why why why should we be immensely captivated by and praising of yet another play to address it, especially as the play in question seeks to explore nothing new about its effects and instead somewhat feebly pushes out meditations about chance, fate, and happenstance? OK, it was succinct and inexiguous, thrifty and efficient, but a journey swiftly made to a middle-of-the-road location is still only a middle-of-the-road excursion. Why should we praise middle-of-the-road? I have no idea. And, furthermore, why should we even consider praising an unfocused, undecided style? The screenplay vacillates continuously in tradition, between full-fledged morality play and straightforward thriller. Its characteristic storylines only half introduced and scenarios abruptly begun and ended strongly align to the morality play's construction, in which background details and other practical issues of the plot are secondary to the execution of the overarching moral. But, its instances of first-person, limited-knowledge narration and its tendencies to closely follow the travails of Mr. Brolin's character strongly suggest a thriller's construction, in which the audience's identification with the protagonist is crucial and the major vehicle for achieving the conclusive point. Because the film must be a cohesive whole and directorial decisions can inform the work (even in retrospect), the emotional ties and aspirations of the film must ultimately side with its being a thriller, but the ambiguities still linger, as a further weakness of the play.
Finally, I just have to take minor issue with hair and make-up. While I, unlike many critics out there, have the greatest respect for the decision to style Mr. Bardem's hair as it was, for that cut to me seemed strangely right - perhaps as incongruous and abstracted as his character himself - I have to ask, why also the monster sideburns? I have no real higher reason for my question nor problem with them being on his character that I can clearly describe; they just felt odd to me.
Anyway, all things considered, No Country for Old Men was a very well done film, and Mr. Bardem's ghostly, almost unpresent performance the capstone of the entire piece; but, to be frank, the film's greatness was pre-capped by the shortcomings of its screenplay.

Grade: B

21 October 2007

Review: The Darjeeling Limited

Genre: Drama

I feel the urgent, 2:30am kind of pressing to post finally about this film, Mr. Anderson's latest work and probably his best. Why do I feel this urgency, you ask? I feel it, my dear friend, because there are many supposed "critics" out there who have completely missed the mark, the very finite, very clear mark set by Mr. Anderson by this film; a film that does not for lack of their animadversions lack in itself complexity, intelligence, or resonance of screenplay, a film that is not just a "visual stunner" without substance, and a film that does not slough but does chug along merrily, as though it were the exotic best friend of a certain other little engine who had also realized a possibility. Indeed, Mr. Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited presents a simple thesis, indeed that thesis' progression so condign, but it also presents that thesis in a finely hewn eloquence that builds upon itself in a rolling, advancing but never bulking fashion that never ceases to lose its balancing humor.
Truly the wit of Mr. Anderson, the kind of trademark that one is never ashamed to call one's own, or should not be, bubbles out the probably otherwise slagging roller-y of the plotline into an effervescent solution one is forever extremely pleased to quaff. And this wit extends, not only from the pentip - or the keyboard - but also from the lens as well; for just one glance at the dangling and limp hand of Mr. Brody, whose character sleeps on the top half of a bunk bed, or at the persistently unshod Mr. Schwartzman is enough to set any perspicacious and comprehensive film-goer a-chuckle. Smart beauty, yes, smart beauty is most likely the best description one could come up with of the intentions behind the camera. Imbuing in shot after shot flat parallel lines, smooth edges that do not dissever life from limb , and sapphire and deep gemstone colors that flow tidally in the tradition (of the beliefs) of Kandinsky, the cinematography of Darjeeling is exceptionally well handled, both reflective and supportive of the direction, action, and play.
The screenplay also sparkles in a way that hearkens to real artistry in the incredible amount of care spent crafting the details that sculpt out the world of the brothers from the meagre consensus. The brothers are, not only outfitted with accessories and set dressings that elaborate the natures of their relationships and their pasts and personalities, but are also written with a level of intimacy and real, working complexity rarely seen in films that must by convention stretch whole supposed people and their dramatic archs into the average span of ~1hr45min. It is a definite credit to the scripting abilities of all three of the writers that such deep characters can be so smoothly rendered in combination and other complication with one another.
Furthermore, I must mention that the actors were all incredibly fine and endearing in their portrayals of the three nuanced travelling brothers and their en-route ensemble. Mr. Wilson constructs what I think is likely his best performance to date, and Mr. Brody was in film general particularly fine.
My one complaint against this film is that it lacks the incisive quality I would so have loved to see in an introspective drama. A. O. Scott at the Times said it best, when he wrote that some scenes, which in any other film would have merited the highest ambition toward delivering the most compelling emotions, (e. g., the funeral scene) in Mr. Anderson's world tend toward delivering the most compelling aesthetics rather than dramatics. This comment, for me at least, is not to say that the dramatics are entirely absent or oft forgotten in these aesthetic explorations, but rather just that the dramatics are sublimated and subordinated by the aim the provide the consistency of a visual text, which is not a shameful aim in the least. Visual consistency, a promise so lacking in the world of film today, is to this film-goer a welcome surprise regardless of the stringencies it engenders in delivering a unhampered, still solid film.
Congratulations, Mr. Anderson and Co. Ignore the bleary-eyed professions of the masses and keep doing what you do so well.

Grade: A-/B+

04 October 2007

My Most Excitedly Anticipated of 2007

So, as I mentioned in my review of Across the Universe, I do have a list of films that I like to call my most excitedly anticipated of the year. Now, it's not a real list, one written down and enumerated, ordered and carefully thought out; it's more of a collection of the titles of films whose previews for one reason or another stood out to me as presaging either a film that I think I'd really personally enjoy or a film that I think I'd find very well done - a collection that I just happen to be writing down and enumerating now...yea...:

1) Across the Universe
Before: All previews point to a beautifully crafted, if spontaneous, piece by the talented filmmaker/artist Julie Taymor, whose previous film Frida was a wonderful example of what film can be. Evan Rachel Wood is a plus.

After: All reviews point to disappointment. Ms. Wood was just OK, but it wasn't her fault.

Grade: C-

2) Control
Before: All previews point to an interesting, beautifully shot inspection into the life of Ian Curtis, enigmatic lead singer of the early 80s post-punk band Joy Division (a personal musical favorite). Samantha Morton is a plus.

Release Date: October 10

3) Dan in Real Life
Before: All previews point to a fun, quaint (in the best sense) comedy-drama by Peter Hedges, a director whose forte and inclination are such films. Juliette Binoche, John Mahoney, and a score by Norwegian singer/songwriter/rock star Sondre Lerche are all plusses.

Release Date: October 26

4) The Darjeeling Limited
Before: All previews point to a "smart," "edgy," and fun(ny) exploration of family so well done by acclaimed writer/director Wes Anderson in the past. Plusses for pairing Adrien Brody with Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, for the consistent cinematography, and for Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, and Wes-Anderson newbie Natalie Portman.

Release Date: September 29 (but I haven't yet been able to go into Manhattan to see it. Hopefully I will this weekend.)

5) Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Before: All previews point to a gorgeously decorated, well acted, if a bit unbalanced, epic that should do justice to the otherwise somewhat hackneyed institution "the sequel." Plusses for all returning cast members, the additions of Samantha Morton and Clive Owen, and the exquisite looking costumes (and art direction).

Release Date: October 12

6) Lust, Caution
Before: All previews point to another meditative, questioning triumph for brilliant director Ang Lee, who has this time wisely paired himself with the extremely adept Tony Leung and wisely chosen Alexandre Desplat to compose the score. Plusses for Mr. Lee's refusal to kowtow to the MPAA's silly and prudish regulations and for the backing by Focus Features.

Release Date: September 29

7) Margot at the Wedding
Before: All previews point to a ripe, heady little piece by Wes-Anderson protege Noah Baumbach, whose The Squid and the Whale simply wowed me. Plus for Nicole Kidman in the lead.

Release Date: November 16

8) My Blueberry Nights
Before: All previews point to an intriguingly mysterious new piece by acclaimed director Wong Kar Wai, whose In the Mood for Love is exquisite. Major plusses for the incredible cast with the quirky inclusion of Norah Jones and for both the contemporary setting and the English language, both new territories for the director that I prefer to see as willful challenges he has set up for himself.

Release Date: TBD 2007

9) The Savages
Before: All previews point to a well shot, strongly and tightly written film that hopefully will have avoided the silly pitfalls of Mr. Payne and Mr. Taylor's Sideways script. Plusses for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney as siblings, for Fox Searchlight, and for a trailer that made me laugh more than twice.

Release Date: November 30

10) Atonement
Before: All previews point to that sweeping-historical-romance--drama-with-a-twist-that-is-sure-to-be-an-Oscar-favorite kind of film. Plusses for the talented and upcoming James MacAvoy, the beautiful and brilliant Keira Knightley, the inimitable Vanessa Redgrave and Brenda Blethyn, the smooth cinematography, the period costumes, and the reunion of Joe Wright and Dario Marionelli.

Release Date: December 7

25 September 2007

Discover and Review: Tell Me You Love Me

Genre: Drama

In today's "error" of fast-food entertainment, the good TV show is a rarity, the great show a needle in the hay, and the excellent a veritable phoenix, seeming the shimmer for only a mythical instant and tending thereafter to vanish with but the merest thought of its possible impermanence. Well, here's to hoping that this phoenix never so outburns and vanishes. Tell Me You Love Me is a work of consummate genius, a project that extends the heights and depths to which HBO reaches and has ever reached, and an exquisite work of art that compels the TV genre as a whole. Truly, can I say, I have never before seen a TV program with such consistent diligence, attention to detail, and realism in all aspects as this show in the dramatic genre. After watching only its first episode, I was so impressed by it, that I was ready and willing to give it a grade of A-, almost perfection, so highly did I regard its ambitions and follow-through and so confidently its promise - with the minus coming from my sole significant complaint: its cinematography, which I found uncertain and uneven in that first hour. However, I remanded and stuck to my policy of determination and grading only after the first four episodes and, so, having now just watched the fourth episode - thank you, On Demand! - I am more than pleased to report my official grade for the young series so far. Resoundingly, after a serious study, which found the show's quality, not only consistent, but even improved - for its boldness, its attention, its goals, its progress, its incredibly well-written scripts, its exceptional acting (especially in the character Katie), and its cinematographer's inspired moves both to back up and (relatedly) to use the power dynamic regarding distance - I am thrilled to present Tell Me with:

Grade: A+/A (i. e., the highest grade that I've ever given to a television show and a grade that, I think, no more than two other shows, if any, in the entire canon of television deserve). Congratulations! I can't wait for more!

24 September 2007

Review: Across the Universe

Genre: Musical

O, Julie. Julie.

OK, it's time now for me to elaborate on that previous lament, because for a filmmaker in whom I believed as much as I in her and for a film which I had before seeing it ascribed to my list "My Most Excitedly Anticipated of 2007" such a brief commentary is surely insufficient.
To begin, what troubled me most about Ms. Taymor's latest work is exactly what about her penultimate (cinematic) piece (i. e., Frida) pleased me most: her control of the palette and the frame. Whereas in Frida she appeared to me to have determinedly worked with her cinematographer, to create a rich textile of colors and hued lightings that built and refracted and expanded the power of her story, in Across the Universe she appeared to me to have but lazily slapped on a similarly broad, yet obscurely focused palette that at best could have been described as a hackneyed stereotype of what the 60s and Vietnam mean visually. Needless to say - though I do it anyway - I was terribly distraught. From the same spectrum from which she had previously culled an intimately detailed beam she only managed to split a flickering splurge of misfascination.
Adding to this injurious motion, she and her cinematographer also seem to have chosen rather obtuse angles from which to come at their subject(s). Far more than one shot or frame left me puzzling, "What was that?" Characters were oddly occluded, off-centered, and combative with one another in scenes and the whole thing lacked the cohesive fluidity such a large-scope film should unquestionably have.
Which brings me to a third complaint: The film was just too ambitious; she seemed just completely unable to control or limit herself and her selection of episodes and songs from which she had to choose. Instead of presenting a tighter, better wraught revue of a choice few Beatles' songs, she greedily reached to include nearly their entire canon. Now, while their work is certainly worthy enough to make a director, essentially attempting to create a contextual homage to them, want to include it all, it is clearly (to me) counterproductive to hew and hedge the work so, just to ensure that each piece gets to be touched on the screen. Is it not? The time that was required to process and manage the constantly changing music was enormously costly of other parts that could have used the extra room to breathe and even to create a solid foundation for the story. For, the forced fit, like that by a frustrated and impatient puzzle-figuring child, was clumsy and rough. The heart of the story, whatever it was supposed to be, was thrown off by the lack of focus that the limitation to a few key songs would have erstwhile bolstered. It was a rocky road trying to pick out that heart from the heaping runs-over that were. And there was barely any time to breathe between competing songs, for both the characters and the audience, barely any time to contemplate the significance of the previous melodies and lyrics, to sort them out in dialogue or imagery. It was mish-mosh and entirely contrary against the point of a play being a musical in the first place (i. e., greater exposition and focus via the emotionally expansive vehicle of music). Had I the reigns, I would have earnestly tried to really use the music, really focus the songs and use them as vehicles, and construct the visuals to correspond and corroborate with them. *If any film in recent times, it is this film that, I believe, could have truly made fantastic use of the return to the square.*
However, despite these very disagreeable qualities, there was one singular sequence that shone out to me in connection with what I had hoped and expected for this film to be: the "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" scene, in which spectacular animation comes together wonderfully with the other visuals and with the music to deliver a powerful and sharply focused message and step in the course of the story. It is of this sole redemptive scene that the picture I posted above is.
So, I do hope still, Ms. Taymor, that this most recent work of yours is but aberration, a project gone awry, a rollercoaster event that somehow got away from you; I sincerely and in the best complimentary way do hope so.

Grade: C

20 September 2007

Review: Eastern Promises

Genre: Drama

About to discuss Mr. Cronenberg's latest piece while considering the nearly adamantine fealty and respect Mr. Mortensen shows for him, I suddenly feel as though the appropriate verb were less "discuss" than "tackle." And, indeed, it is a rather heavy, barnacled, and formidable piece to be done so. An attempted exploration of the inherent intentions of man that works to strip away all vital contentions that may otherwise cloud the matter, the film is both acid and barren, cold and fierce, bare and serious. They are these qualities that give the film its appreciable quality, its strength and ability to probe and question as art, as film does and ought do. However, I must signal the shortcomings of the film as such an exploration, for that, while its intentions may be clear and sharp, its delivery staggers behind.
The most significant indication of this lagging is the unembellished, bone-white structure of the screenplay. To me, it was an extremely polished and hewed piece but one that in being so pared and processed found itself only a safe imposing sterility that fails to permeate, or try serious punches at, the point of its creation (i. e., its primary question). Indeed, it had virtues in its duplicate pairings, correspondingly matched, (e. g., birth and death, decisions of youth, the metaphysical tension of being a policeman or a doctor, the old school and the new), but the couplings so finely adjoined, so cleanly juxtaposed, in my opinion cannot be nearly as incisive or dynamic in effect as they might have been in a more crumpled, provocative (but I'm wary of that term "provocative") cooperation. I wanted to feel the flushed heartbeat of the birth scene or the undercutting pain of the bathhouse fight, and I did not. I wanted to know the rawness and the expositive power of the contradictions, a feat I found Mr. Cronenberg handled better in his penultimate A History of Violence (despite the film's opposite difficulties with balance). It was simply too neat, too straightforward, too metronomic.
A large contributing reason for the lagging I found to be the extremely sparse utilization of Mr. Howard's score, which, though unextraordinary, is still music, "to the condition of [which] all art aspires" (Pater). During the fight scene especially, I found myself appreciating the foregoing of theatrics, but missing the responsive, attending, transcendent cues of an active score. The entire scene for me was just not resonant, and my fellow theatergoers, though probably unconsciously, felt the hole too, as they at the fight's grim conclusion issued nervous laughter for their unguided emotions.
Finally, I must comment on the cinematography, which I found to be spotty. The palette was nice, but the framing was often awkward for me. Splicing off legs and arms, wobbling between activity and passivity, and precariously trying to manage the power dynamics of it all detracted from my experience of the film.
Other than those three areas where I felt there could have been improvement, I thought the film was good. Mr. Mortensen and Ms. Watts were completely satisfactory in their roles, for whose impermeability I cannot decry their efforts; and the editing was, in keeping with the screenplay, trim and inexiguous.
It was not great work, but it worked still and I look forward to Mr. Cronenberg's next piece.

Grade: B

29 August 2007

Review: Superbad

Genre: Comedy (Adolescent Hijinks)

OK, I couldn't resist that little addendum to Genre. "Hijinks" is such a great word for this stuff. But, really, the hijinks that the endearingly charming characters of Superbad undergo are pure teenage (sex-)comedy gold. While Superbad is certainly to no landmark accomplishment, it is clearly a triumph for its trendy sub-genre whose history is riddled with stock characters, bad plot twists, and cheesy maudlin motivations.
Superbad, on the other hand, is replete in supply of original characters with typical but not tired motivations and story arcs. "Typical but not tired": I think, that is at the heart of what makes this film so good. Its developments and people are real, born of today's climate of crossing-cultured MySpace pervasions, satyriatic but earnest young-male sexual perspectives, relationship asseveration based on emotional honesty regardless of its constituents' vital data, and a marked and unembarrassed frankness about all matters, especially those deemed unconventional, or (for the purpose of context with its category) non-stock. The boys were not sex-crazed goofballs with lofty aspirations concerning how to get laid for the first time; they were not those fiercely heterosexual wannabes so afraid of guy-to-guy feelings and so 'eager to show their chest hair', that any thought of camaraderie and friendly intimacy need be validatingly mediated by the extensions of their female (structural) counterparts; they were not even the dressed up, clueless, and often incapable of being aught but single-minded pretty boys that so wildly populate the cinematic teenage universe - not even in a 'Beauty-and-the-Geek'/hot--post--girl-inspired--make-over way; and, most importantly, they were not the prescribed variety of males almost branded onto the 'high-school buddy flick.' They were normal; they were smart (i. e., pliable to thoughtful discourse and **self-aware**); they were believable *and* entertaining. And this whole inspired magic of original exploration of people as people (i. e., not types) stretches well beyond the leading three: Consider the cops, and the liquor store's check-out girl, for even she has a (funnily) credible backstory. I thoroughly applaud the screenwriter's work in this regard (and in his attention to closed arcs and structure).
And the rest is just apt icing on the cake.
Kudos, Superbad, for, as the (presumed) thought behind your self-aware, ironic title suggests, you're pretty good.

Grade: B :)

28 August 2007

Review: The Nanny Diaries

Genre: Drama / Faux Fairy Tale

Filling this year's slot formerly occupied by The Devil Wears Prada, The Nanny Diaries unfortunately fails to be as flush as its predecessor, professing empty orisons and unfulfilled arcs to the dim theater. While it begins steadily enough, quietly displaying glass panes to separate and spilling out anthropological credentials like a new college-graduate keen on self-validation, it fails to recognize even its own good points and carry them through, a remission that would have otherwise provided a much tighter correspondence of audience with characters and meta-consciousness with acting consciousness. It also, despite the possession of several nimble actors, fails to make proper or adequate usage of any of them, with the possible exception of one scene of Ms. Linney, though altogether, I must say, her character was not pushed hard enough.
Furthermore, in a movie with the particular potential for stunning visuals, it is significantly tragic that its cinematography was so utterly daft. Cinematographer, back the fuck up - seriously, I kid not: Your work would have been at least some few notches better, if you had just stepped back a good ten feet from every one of your shots and thought about them. I mean, you're trying to uphold the cold isolation that practically composed all of your film's characters, right? So, why why why did you choose to pull warm, tight close-up shots on practically all of them (save one absolutely beautiful shot [when Mrs. X confronts Nanny in her bedroom about a discovered negligee] that I'm sure was sheer accident]?
Ugh, but this lack of 20/20 on the part of the D. P. was not the worst part of The Nanny Diaries; no, the worst part for me was that its screenplay's ending seemed to do nothing but uphold the another permutation born from the same destructive pretexts that its characters are supposed to have learned to avoid. (The beautiful) Ms. Johannson's character does not seem to take heed that, as she even says, money and status are not guarantees of happiness, or of certitude. Instead, she blindly goes on, into the arms of the awaiting, slightly pompous, and definitely man-candy - "Harvard hottie"? I mean, come on - prince of this faux fairy tale. What is the audience supposed to take away from this absurd deus-ex-machina solution to her woes? That the pernicious pitfalls of wealth and of a socially approved life are viable with the correct antidote of a passing attraction to an Ivy-Leaguer whose Brite Smile for a minute at least gives the impression that he'll in twenty years still actually give a shit? That long sought-after complete independence of a woman in today's world can mean surrendering to the twisted (nevertheless) ideal of an inflated, cocksure 'Aber-zombie' with the dough to back her up, all with the quick blessing justification to herself that she knows better and therefore what she's doing is, not only OK, but correct? Or is it merely that good looks with a splash of charm always make the best cocktail, regardless of the cost? At least The Devil Wears Prada knew what it wanted to say.

Grade: C- / D+ (i. e., "Try again.")

Review: Becoming Jane

Genre: Drama / Historical Romance

The bird just doesn't fly. It just doesn't. And by "the bird" I mean the ill-constructed, mottled fledgling that proposes to be this film - o, and Ms. Hathaway as well, whose work I will address first.
Now, Ms. Hathaway and I have been acquainted, actress and film-goer, since her first small debut in the much underappreciated Nicholas Nickleby (2002). It was then, when she played the subdued love-interest of the similarly tiered Charlie Hunnam playing Nickleby, when I first thought that she would succeed on to bigger and desiredly better roles; then, when I believed she could be a great actress...maybe. Only time and more films would obviously be able to tell. So, I waited, and I watched: her practicing in her first 'popular' role as the lead in The Princess Diaries (in which she was priviledged to spend much screentime with the celebrated Ms. Andrews), her bobbling (not to be bilked) in a second role of the like in Ella Enchanted and then a third in The Princess Diaries 2, and finally her returning to a testing shot in Mr. Lee's breath-taking Brokeback Mountain. While she in my eyes failed to stand out as did the rest of her young castmates from the film, she appeared not thoroughly raw and inappropriate, a still improving talent who with more time and well-nurturing guidance could yet achieve serious status. More time then, and she took on the following summer the blockbuster hit The Devil Wears Prada, an almost make-it-or-break-it opportunity for her to prove herself, as she matched wits and skills with one of the screen's legendary personages: the great Ms. Streep. Now, of course it helped her none that Ms. Streep was, not merely good (as she is always apt to be), but rather exceptional, turning in what I believe to be one of her strongest and most studied performances as the viciously fabulous Miranda Priestley; and this fact, woeful for Ms. Hathway as it may have been, I entirely acknowledge and consider. But, it was impossible for me to ignore the utter travesty she suffered, when her acclaimed castmate, not only shined in her (technically supporting role), but also and moreover upstaged her, the lead(!), to such an extent, that there was barely leave room on the critics' papers for the merest comment about what was to be her cementing role - not to mention the little gem that was Ms. Streep's Leading(!) Actress Oscar nomination. Ms. Hathaway might have as well been a mannequin with a cursory voice-over. Needless to say: I was not impressed. Still, I decided, she ought to have one more fair shot at redeeming her potential, and that shot came quite appropriately in a Jane Austen adaptation, what is yet another godsend opportunity for young actresses like herself to prove their mettle as "serious" talents, to tumble with the likes of the nimble Mr. Cromwell and the iconic Dame Maggie Smith. I mean, consider Ms. Winslet, who rose to glory as the winsome and passionate Marianne in Mr. Lee and Ms. Thompson's brilliant Sense and Sensibility; or - even better - consider the more recent Ms. Knightley, whose film's character structure is nearly the double of Becoming Jane's and who won herself respectability (and a Leading Actress Oscar nomination) matching with the wonderful Ms. Blethyn and the forceful Dame Judi Dench. Yet, I am sorry to say that Ms. Hathaway's work in the film, besides the film's own faults, was in no way similar to her aforementioned peers'. It was just not up to the mark, not in the least. It is a rather unfortunate consequence to admit, yes, but she has failed to "bring it" one too many times and, I fear, thus has, not only failed to give rise to this latest attempt, but more importantly failed to give rise to her career. I do wish her luck, but I must say that I cannot at this time pronounce her to be in any way a ready talent, ripe for the plucking.
OK, now on to the film: Becoming Jane's flaws are plural, many misguided attempts at throwing together greatness without a (discernible) idea of from where greatness actually foments behind them. Sure, one can collect several celebrated actors and throw them into a period Austen piece designed to by its very nature dupe audiences into thinking it and perhaps even calling it expressly a work of serious, unartificial merit; but from the discerning film-goer no such ballyhooing can ever disguise a ploy such as that, to be what it truly isn't - and, I believe judging by the film's August release date (i. e., the we-don't-consider-this-awards-fare-anymore release date), that it couldn't be disguised from the studios either. The structure of the screenplay was a poor duplicate at best, much like the last facsimile made by a dying copy machine: yes, you can make out some of the original but the whole fullness of the design just isn't there anymore. Yet, somehow that analogy is not entirely accurate. Becoming Jane was not just the mindless redubbing of (Knightley's) well done Pride and Prejudice; no, it was more the redubbing of that film and Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and the rest of the Austen canon, haphazardly clipped and collaged with Elmer's before the copy machine ever laid scanner on it. OK, I'll stop the bashing, but I'm not very far from the truth here.
As far as the rest of the film goes (e. g., costumes [which usually bring a redeeming feature], cinematog., [other] acting, art direction, score), the work was average: mostly unremarkable and middle of the road, with brief trips toward the extremes with equal measure, as is expected of the majority of films. Only one feature for me is worth specific mention: Mr. McAvoy's spry and dandy Mr. Lefroy is another reason for me to believe in him, that he could be a "serious talent".

Grade: C-

(For all my talk you may assume that I have an idea of what such a snippet comment means, that I am an expert on the matter, or at least that I think I'm an expert, but I'm just a blogger, trying his observations on the world, in hope to piece together something better.)

31 July 2007

Review: Hairspray

Genre: Musical

Ah, Hairspray, Hairspray, Hairspray...what can I say? The at-root premier summer flick turns tricks and slides with quavering aplomb. The fantastical musical from the stage lights up the silver screen with a zesty array of colors whose over-ingestion can leave one feeling queasy. Or, the hot dazzler from the annals of C-movie (i. e., "fun movie") history fails to mark a great improvement over its previous versions. All of the above?
It strikes me, yes, strikes, to take this perhaps cruel but nevertheless playful tact in describing what I thought about the similarly light-hearted romp that is this summer's Hairspray, for the fact of making - no, not a comparison, but rather - a contrast. That is, whereas I can at least attempt a sparkling smile while I do maintain a strong undercurrent or grounding to my progression of story/argument, the film alas cannot. The film is frothy, bubbly, sometimes daring 'cloyingly effervescent,' but it is hardly ever strong, solidly grounded, a "tour-de-force." It is, as if the cast and crew, wanting so badly to lighten themselves with a great number of balloons, overdid it and/or forgot to calculate and thereafter as a result found themselves whisked away, not heavy enough to keep their feet on the ground. They just simply have no consistent plot; instead, they present merely a whisper of serious storyline (i. e., racial integration during a climate against such wholesomeness, which could expand to acceptance of everyone, whoever they be, despite opposition) sporadically, intermittently between fly-away musical numbers, perhaps just to remind the audience that they are indeed watching a film and not a musical revue.
Despite this fact, it is true that the musical numbers are for the most part incredibly infectious in their good spirits. The songs, taken directly from the Broadway version of the show, do reach a much fuller expression in the film, as (I suspect) they are now not limited by the capacities of an orchestra pit or of an orchestra for that matter; their symphonic convergences do exist to a radiantly refined state. The dancing as well, surprisingly fairly shot (unlike in Chicago), stands out as rhythmically break-out, involving the audience into the work and so demolishing the dividing wall. And the costumes, make-up, and art direction ice the cake, utilizing gorgeous contemporary colors and textures, to enliven and realize the 60s pop appeal.
However, I believe, it still remains the undermining flaw of the film, that there is no strong, grounded face to provide the pop with the necessary, contrasting bass. In short, there can be no true "pop," because there is hardly anything tranquil, somber, or regulating out from which the happy, bursting songs and dances can effectively pop. It's just not balanced. Thus, the film can hardly expect to garner sincere praise as being anything other than a 'feel-good,' 'sing-a-long' whipped cream and, thereafter, I can only determine that its attempts at being otherwise ultimately only detract from its quality: The racial tensions of the 60s look simply too serious, even silly, and definitely out of place in the context. The bottom line: I did enjoy Hairspray but I was too distracted by the extreme tilt of its mood, to actually appreciate what I assume it was trying to say. Egalitarian asseveration cannot come in "lite."

Grade: B-

29 July 2007

Discover (and Review): HBO's Voyeur Project

Tonight I happened to unwitting stumble across the vague interlacings that compose HBO's adventurous, dangerous, yet oddly admirable Voyeur Project, a very recent development/undertaking/entertainment experience/artwork that is tagged with the tenuous, come-hither one line about getting to see what people do when they think they're not being watched. Wittingly I came thither and what I learned was learned as it was designed to be: by gleaning, supposition, and immersive connection.
Indeed, the Project is a huge and intricate endeavour, a work that crosses media as easily as it crosses storylines. Various parts of the labyrinthine surreality - surreality, because that is exactly what it is: a strikingly quotidian yet still artificial layering on top of actual reality - have been broadcast, not only via television and the internet, but also via huge buildingside projections, surreptitiously circulated photographs and websites, promiscuously issued telephone numbers, and texts and dialogues of curious origins.
The Project broadly extends a tentacular reach; and, as I found out, anyone, who is piqued enough to grasp hold of one such tentacle, small though it be, and follow it where it lead, will certainly have already succumbed to thrall of the crescent shrouded mystery that is its root. Its many layered, almost surprisingly diverse yet nevertheless integrated consistency is quite a piece to behold, or rather to uncover; the trickle can pour into a great flood, well capable of taking the awed gaper by surprise, for so enthralling it may be that awed voyeur may find himself wet....

From the NY Times' blog: "But HBO Voyeur is exactly the kind of thing that people do want to disseminate haphazardly. At least in some sense, HBO Voyeur is an ad. Sure, the HBO marketing person told me, 'it doesn't look like or smell like an ad campaign.' Right when she said that, of course, it dawned on me, for the first time, that HBO Voyeur is an ad campaign. It's way too much like art to be entertainment!
"[...] When I asked to speak to someone at HBO about HBO Voyeur, no one from programming came to the phone. No Larry David. No David Chase. No David Milch. No David Simon. No David David. HBO Voyeur is a product of the marketing department!
"But what are they selling? I asked and asked. Maybe in the rooms in the film, if you look closely, maybe there are Altoids and Alli diet pills? No, said the HBO marketing woman. That is not how sophisticated marketing works now. 'HBO Voyeur is about underscoring what HBO already does, its special "it's not TV" magic — how many tentacles HBO has, how deep into your life it already penetrates. HBO Voyeur,' she said, 'is about retention.'
"Yikes. HBO Voyeur is a Project with a captial P — or no, wait, it's a PROJECT with all caps. So enter if you dare: HBOvoyeur.com." It can be disarmingly creepy/enchanting/beguiling/fun/X.

From the mysterious Project blog: "A lot of people are thinking - which is what I think this project is supposed to do - get people thinking about what it means to be a watcher in a world where everything is on display in one way or another."

(A tricky-wonderful experiment that adapts, updates, expands, and vixenizes the likes of Mr. Hitchcock's classic Rear Window (especially the storyline that occurs on 41st street); that clearly belongs to the increasingly popular group of artistically inclined ventures that I like to call "life installations;" that well articulates and wields the great power of art, to break through the dividing frame and capture the audience/viewer into it; I only regret of it its choice of music, that at several points I distasted for its dragging dullness, its pallour in contrast against the at-several-points rapier-sharp ability for [the largely juxtapositionally induced] transcendence of its visual partner. Though I have yet to experience the entirety of the Project, despite the music, what I have seen definitely drew me, to let myself be carried inward and under...at least for a little while...and always with one questioning eye asunder from the spectacle for the hands that lie behind it.)

Grade: B+

27 July 2007

Review: The Simspons Movie

Genre: Comedy (Animated)

I am a long time fan of The Simpsons, a show that, regardless of what other people have said of it, I've always found to be endlessly smart and creative, a show of which I've always been able to find in each episode at least one redeeming quality, strength, or reason, to praise it. And, with this long anticipated feature-length film, I was sure that I'd be able to count on, not just one, but many such qualities, for (one would think) a project of such magnitude would, not only engender the want to present the strongest and best parts of the genius - yes, genius - that has endured the series for 18 years, but also and moreover actually pull through and deliver such a want in the most dedicated fashion possible. I was expecting triumph and deep-burning glow, but I was sorrowfully disappointed.
The approximately hour-and-a-half film seemed to merely sprawl on, in that completely eclectic, anarchic style that, while wonderful and more than appropriate as the motivation for the first twenty minutes, ceased to be so afterwards. It never gained secure footing, never lost its acclimatizing desultory playfulness that was its (necessary) start, to form a fully functional, thoughtful, and strong plot structure. The character arc that did occur felt only contrived, simply grafted on for the purpose of giving the writers and other contributive filmmakers license to continue spouting out (increasingly less witty) jokes in an "anything goes" style. And I do mean "anything goes," because the jokes rebelliously cut against their usual PG-TV limitations and often opted for the more forthright crudeness, seemingly just because they could. But what they (i. e., the filmmakers) have failed to recognize is that such limitations, holding back from the plunge, a flirtatious design is exactly what has made their art so clever and appealing; that, like undergarments for sex appeal, baring everything can easily diminish attractiveness; and that good storytelling and keen structure, though each a thing that (I'm guessing) the majority of their fan base cannot accurately recognize, are definitely some things that are acutely and unwittingly vital to quality, meaningful, significant fictions. Now do not, please, misunderstand me: I am all for an organic approach to creativity, all for letting things rise as they may as one goes along, all for the constructive stream of consciousness; but at the same time I know that raw passion, raw product without refinement, is practically never a piece that is also coherent, cohesive, and tight as a collective work, never - the bottom line - worthy of presentation as my end product (i. e., my best). And, needless to say, it saddened me then, to see such truly and earnestly good groundwork on the story, on the structure, and on the tenor of the film let be presented apparently just as it arose, without consideration of how its goodness could have been sharpened and/or its imperfections smoothened out. (As a fan, I also would have been more happy to see more beloved characters take the stage; Apu, Mr. Burns, and those delightful aliens [among others] were missed.)
Importantly, however, despite my misgivings, I have not turned and am not planning on turning my back on The Simpsons enterprise altogether; despite my disappointments, I shall still continue, respecting and enjoying the already classic series' unique blend of clever clarity as often and as well as I can. Also, despite my misgivings, I did not fail to find one or two redeeming qualities in the film: the framing and the skill of the animation that went into the work were favorable and clean and the musical score for the work - despite my unfulfilled preference for the original composer's, the talented Mr. Elfman's, return - was quite enjoyable and even generally noteworthy. (Green Day's cover of the famous theme was as well.)
Yet, I remain resolute in my judgement of this work, as it must receive it: grand ambitions too often fallen flat, persistent charm overruled by excessive brashnesses, and just a general dearth of that so near and dear Simpsons magic (i. e., that unmistakable ability to consistently engage complex American metaphysics with thoughtful irreverence, infectious aplomb, and an everyman's facility). So, to those of you who have yet to see it, enjoy the first twenty minutes; it just fails to glow afterwards.

Grade: B-

22 July 2007

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Genre: Drama / Fairy Tale

So, {exhale} I've just finished reading this, the very last installment in the famous and wildly anticipated Potter series, and I am simply exhilarated, not for the splendour of the craft of the book, but more for the tremendousness of the emotional range that Ms. Rowling is forever capable of conjuring. It is again completely a triumph of her art, that she remains so unwaveringly able to invest more than her characters (i. e., her readers) into her thrilling and tumultous fantasy world. For that ability and the swift, upward-curving spike of redemption for its predecessing chapters that was the span of 30-36, I praise the talents of the famed authoress; she truly well concluded her epic seven-part fairy tale about adolescence - a word all of whose definition's multitudinous applications I mean.
What I shall and must address now - and what die-hard fans of the series and its creatoress will seek to criticize me unabashedly for - are the evident and unfortunate flaws in the book, which indeed are plural in my eyes. Primarily, the book as a work of literature I feel suffers from a lack of balance. As a curve of emotion and action, it beautifully and gently begins its upward slant at the book's beginning, methodically reintroducing characters and circumstances with an agreeable range of highs and lows, but then, towards the book's middles, the curve tends to plateau all too often, dulling the nimble wit which so gainly has kept readers enthralled over the hours and years. Finally, as the book draws to its close, the curve suddenly ramps up exponentially to its zenith heighth, only to slip down again to a calming (sappy perhaps?) epilogue. Considered as a whole, it was as if Rowling had by chapters the late 20s suddenly remembered all the important plot elements and strings that had gone thus far neglected, limp, and untied and then, realizing this, hurriedly jumped to her figuring feet and attended to it all in one swift rush of brilliance and extremity. Now, whether she had intended the curve to be so, in order that the reader (who is forced constantly to remain within Harry's mind) should commiserate with him the despair for fecklessness felt during that whole middle part, is entirely unknown to me; but, even if she did intend such, she could have just as easily still balanced herself (i. e., her writing) perhaps - if sticking to Harry's limited perspective was absolutely necessary - by fleshing out in greater livelihood the but brief and flashing stints of Voldemort's journey, seen through Harry's mind, or even by expounding the then strained relationship between Hermione and Ron. She had balance before; though she still had that wonderfully brilliant ending rise and fall, she did an excellent job of the penultimate book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. That is, she worked wonders by the Pensieve there. Yet, alas, it is sadly a flaw that she could not fully replicate her ascended greatness in the ultimate episode.
A second flaw I found in the book was the incompletely realized inclusion of symbols, all of which I had initially thought to be incredibly ripe for power. The albino peacock, I was sure, would figure more critically into her writing, a solid white thread weaved ever so carefully and early into the tapestry of the novel; but I was solidly disappointed, when the lingering, wise applications of the inclusion were not brought to fruition later on in the frame. Instead, the symbol was forgotten, becoming a loose bit only partially connected with the main work. Meanwhile, the existence of a white peacock, lodged serenely within the bounds of the dark manor, could have so easily signified the quiet, almost unnoticed, but strikingly radiant, even iconic, force that rustled similary within our hero's mind. Or, it could have been also a ripe symbol for purity, innocence, fledging masculinity, and compassionate vision. Yet, it seemed to fulfill none of these expectations and possibilities and, instead, to only be two sidelong mentions within the ~750 page text. Other examples of similarly failed symbols are the life stage of the baby (e. g., baby Harry in the photograph, baby Voldemort at King's Cross, and Lupin and Tonks' newborn), the common quality of being ornament among almost all of the Horcruxes, the quality of brokenness, and the state of wandlessness. As I've adapted, in art - all art - it isn't about what one includes but, rather, about what one excludes; and excluding the fullness of symbolism definitely hampered the book from achieving its potential as a work of literature.
Thirdly, I was a bit dismayed by how closely Ms. Rowling came to the effects found in another popular fantasy series, The Lord of the Rings. This disappointment came more from the fact that she, flirting so closely, failed to recognize or take ownership of her allusions and comparisons (and instead preferred to masquerade them as her own) than the fact that she flirted so closely in the first place. A primary example of what I mean is the effect, she described, that wearing or becoming too close to one of the Horcruxes has on a character (e. g., Ron). Such an effect is strikingly similar to the effect, Mr. Tolkien penned, that wearing the ring has on one of his characters (e. g., Frodo). Now, again, it is not this similarity that disappoints me, as many great texts and parts of texts in literature have knowingly sidled occurrences, descriptions, or effects from other texts for their own particular uses. (Consider Ms. Rowling's own use of the looking glass.) What does disappoint me is that for this effect she does not create her own particular use; the effect is quite the same as that in Rings (i. e., desparation, irritability, and hallucinations) and she goes no further than that set. She wrote quite clearly a copy, without acknowledgement, for, even if she had done just as she did do (i. e., expropriated and recommitted an published idea) but had been aware enough to own up to it (e. g., had been sure to highlight the commonalities she used or even make an overt mention of the ring), there would be no issue here. But, to use it as if it had been her very own scratches at the credibility of her fiction as an authoress and her character as a person.
Finally, however, most importantly I was utterly broken by the appalling chastity of the book. As one initially is expected to understand the series, it is clearly meant to be a conceit for adolescence, seven books written to track the commonalities of growth and maturity of that o-so-special time in a person's life through the allegorical magic of in this case more actual magic. So, by the end of the series, one should expected that the books would have covered every kind of growth and development: from the heady and abstracted emotional and psychological to the raw and occasionally downright dirty social and physical - translation: sex. Where was the sex?? The preceding three(!) books made a good run at Harry's burgeoning sexual identity, from the innocent yet cheeky sidlings of Moaning Myrtle in the prefects' pool in Goblet of Fire to the tumults and angst of fledgling relationships in both Order of the Phoenix (i. e., Harry and Cho) and Half-Blood Prince. I mean, doesn't anyone understand the intense premise of courtship behind the Yule Ball? So, then why did Ms. Rowling seem to revert the characters back to their presexual selves, instead of forging on ahead as she should have, in the ultimate chapters?? And, no, I'm not advocating that she might have turned it into a romance novella or another tawdry affair as any cheap ballustrade of $.99 bins and, no, nor am I advocating that she might have attended to random acts of perversions, simply to make the dollars. I simply argue that making-out scenes more toward the torrid, dalliances - even metaphorical - into what academics today like to call 'petting', or even the mere venture into masturbation or the incredibly easily integrable 'wet dream' could have greatly enhanced both the reality and the literature that the book, as both an individual text and the end of series, proposes. After all, isn't one prominent historical conception of sex that it is a complete surrendering, an essential death of sorts, especially for virgins? And, I say, at the very least sex is always about extremities of passion. So, where the misalignment, where the error in including it? Nay, no error in including, but rather error in excluding it. Threats of imminent death, the ending of an epic with a battle, and the very life of the protagonist on the verge of a recognized manhood as the stage, and all the authoress provides the reader are a some mere few chaste and brief - so brief! - pecks from one set of lips to another - almost anemotional! - and perhaps a sidelong and surreptitious hand-holding?!? It is laughable, and what worsens the matter further is that she does not choose to exclude sexual conduct from the book in its entirety, no: instead, she pushes it away until, not once but, twice(!) - former at the book's middle and latter in the epilogue - she juttingly implies it (i. e., by the existences of the children), lest are we all to think that in the world of Harry Potter birthings too are magical such, that it must be a coy mystification of the stork or the cabbage patch that brings babies into the world? And, no, I absolutely do not and will not ever give credence to the idea that there was pressure on her from her publishers, to erase all the 'too sexual' episodes in the book for 'the innocence of the children' - whatever that be - and I believe it not for two reasons: (1) the book was both the most anticipated printing in the history of man - excluding perhaps the advent of the press itself - and the very last in the immensely popular series and, so, there could have been no worry about public backlash and the ensuing ramifications, be they present or future, fiscal or literary, on the part of the publishers and (2) the authoress herself has become so successful from the previous books, that there could also have been no worry on her part about her future financing or her future in the publishing world. No, the entire onus of this weakness must be placed entirely on the unadventurous, caving spirit of the authoress herself, her choice making her consequences.
Now, having perhaps harshly critiqued Ms. Rowling for these several aforementioned failings and weaknesses, I must now reiterate that, despite them, her end product was not half-bad. In fact, it was good, thoroughly enjoyable and completely satisfactory as a closing. Maudlin epilogues, latent prudishness, attempted filching, and a lack of comfort in balance aside, Ms. Rowling has done what she, from those early days of napkin scribblings, had set out to do: she ended Harry Potter and did so admirably, successfully, and plainly for the world to see; and for that as well as for the unexpected side achievements that that mission has brought her and the readers of her world, to her I must, regardless of misgivings, endlessly tip my hat.

Grade: B+