27 November 2008

Review (A Letter to Baz Luhrmann): Australia

Genre: Drama (Historical/Romance)

O, Baz! What have you done?! What an epic, what a charge, what an embarrassment!

Dear Baz,
It saddens me ever so greatly, to see you put out such an indelicate new work, especially when your preceding films have been so increasingly polished. As I sat there in the theater taking it all in, I couldn't help but wonder, what happened to your sense of balance? What to your eye for editing? What to your mind for argument?? It is in response to these pressing questions of mine, that I feel compelled to be typing this address to you now, in hope that you will heed my comments, learn from your mistakes, and not ruin Wicked for its expected filmic debut in 2010.

While Australia certainly had its (small) set of redeeming features, I found the majority of the film to, not only be exceedingly contrived, but to moreover be confused about its contrivance: While the sets had a certain stylized beauty and the costumes a similarly editorialized flair, the rest of the film seemed to be no more than a daytime soap opera on a grand scale, a melodramatic throwback to the films of (for example) David Lean but a throwback that seemed to cyclically forget and then remember again from where exactly it owes it sways. At opening a (to my eye) extremely conscious reproduction of the heavy-handed, romance-driven, and baseless sweeping scenes of those films of old, Australia was quick to slip away from such smart hyperboles of its origins and to thus slide into comfort and almost into seriousness in its overworked surroundings. That you seemed to genuinely want your audience to care during a significant portion of the film for its protagonists, instead of to merely nostalgically adore them as concise epithets of historical romance, is a surefire sign of the significant misgivings you must have had about the directions the work would eventually take. Such an unbalanced perspective on your product is not only imprudent but also irresponsible, and I must say it left Ms. Kidman, your gifted leading actress, more than a bit aflutter between the quite beautiful exaggerated huffs of metaconscious melodrama and the treacly swoons of "damsel-alia" and self-serious, true drama. Either take it or leave it, Baz: You can't do melodrama half of the way...
...especially when your editors are apparently incompetent. Sure, each of them has a previous Oscar nomination for his work, but each should have his stripped away for this travesty. Sloppy storyline compositions, excessive inclusions, and just endless, sagging second and third acts caked up more bluff than I could well tolerate. More than once did I shift in my seat, gaze lazily around the theater, and seek out the other bored film-goers for a brief moment of weary commiseration; and even once for such an act isn't good in my estimation. Please, clean it up, Baz; of it all, this, editing, was the most disappointing point of your latest work.
...the most disappointing, not only because such feckless editing stood out as weary-making itself but also because it saddled the film with the dubious quality of artifice, superfice, and pandering: that is, almost total lack of argument. While the film was introduced by a meaty premise of racial segregation and related prejudices manifesting as the tragic displacements of the members of the "stolen generations" in Darwin, Australia, it quickly jams into itself almost masochistically the most contrived and typical storybook romance of the stock independent damsel and the stock rugged poet, a marriage of unequals that plays more unstably than a seesaw. Instead of trying to build something interesting out of this situation, the film chooses instead to focus on Danielle-Steele-esque shots of Mr. Jackman's body, hollow reproductions of the sentiments behind the romance in Out of Africa (1985), and unfavorable relegations of the aboriginal/racial plights to the background as much as possible, so much so that the few moments in which they actually do take the spotlight are completley dominated by almost head-bangingly stereotypical sights and images. Again, though, this may all have been excusable with some handier editing and a wit that appeared to be always knowledgeable of what it was putting out there - but such tightness in the work was patchy at best. O, Baz, Baz, Baz...how did this ever mettle your approval?
I don't think I can go on much more here. All I have left is: if you intended on creating a really great C-level movie, congratulations! But let's try to keep aspirations higher next time.

Sincerely, your forgiving fan,

Grade: C+, unfortunate results of a once noble effort.

25 November 2008

Addendum to Photography: Laura Wilson

Browsing the layout of the renovated Criterion website, I came across these two beautiful posts on Bottle Rocket (1996) that just synched perfectly with the little tidbit I found about Luke and Owen's mother, Laura Wilson: One a tribute toward the film by Martin Scorcese and the other a tribute to it by James L. Brooks, the two beautifully complement the behind-the-scenes photography about which I posted earlier - even with a great behind-the-scenes photo of their own (above) - but then one expects such great accompanying extras from Criterion. Enjoy them both here and here.

P. S. The above photo is now my desktop's wallpaper.

NY Times' Critics' Picks

I just noticed the current Critics' Picks on the Times' website - see right - and I can't help but say, "What a great line-up!"/"I'm glad these films are getting good press."

(Go, Harvard!)

Photography: Laura Wilson

Coming on the heels of today's Criterion release of Bottle Rocket (1996) is this interesting little tidbit about the film's stars' mother via GreenCine Daily: Apparently Luke and Owen's mom, Laura, is a photographer who has documented her sons' adventures in film-making (along with documenting all the usually suspected characters in their circle - see photo above). Though her website fails to feature a significant plurality of her work, the images that are there are interesting enough (to warrant this post). See them all at that website, here.

Preview: Nine

Looking ahead at the year in film, 2009, we find this interesting-looking adaptation of the famous Broadway musical Nine due in theaters. Featuring an amazing-looking ensemble that includes the likes of women from Dame Judi Dench and Sophia Loren to Penelope Cruz and Fergie, the film appears to be a great hit for next year's season. For now though, via the folks at AwardsDaily.com, enjoy this preview photograph of the women seven of nine.

Commentary: Milk

TrailerAddict.com has posted a series of brief interviews conducted with the cast and crew of the upcoming and highly anticipated Milk onto its website, here. Below I've embedded my favorite of the bunch, Josh Brolin's chat about the story and the importance of the film to him.

Preview: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Score)

Via the folks over at AwardsDaily.com I am more than pleased to bring you Alexandre Desplat's mellifluous work on the upcoming and highly anticipated release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: a score which Warner Bros. has magnanimously posted seemingly in its entirety here. Be sure to navigate the Flash correctly, if the score do not show up accurately upon arriving at the site. Happy listening!

P. S. Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard's score for The Dark Knight is entirely up there as well. Thanks, W. B.!

P. P. S. It's notedly irresponsible to do this, but I'm so pleased by Mr. Desplat's score that I've already placed him "Under Consideration" on the right, even though I've not yet seen the film - simply beautiful work.

Revamp: The Criterion Collection's Website

So, after about 10 days of a monster 40% off sale on all merchandise in its store, the Criterion Collection just today published a revamped and revised version of its classic website. Featuring novel and improved aspects, such as a snazzier layout, online film-viewing, and even a social-networking component, the site is so far a welcome next-generation of the recently dispatched format. Check it out here. Also, check out this forum thread about the greatest misgivings in the Academy's (of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) history. Happy film-watching!

18 November 2008

Photo: "Switch Places!"

From the folks over at AwardsDaily.com comes this little taster of Johnny Depp as the ever-charming Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, which the actor's long-time friend and collaborator, director Tim Burton, is busy adapting for live-action film and the upcoming year in film 2009. Curious!

16 November 2008

Slideshow: Danny Boyle on his Slumdog Millionaire

A little featurette from the Times gives us director Mr. Boyle discussing over slides from his upcoming film Slumdog Millionaire what it was like to shoot on location in Mumbai, India. See it here.

09 November 2008

Addendum to Trailers: Up

And here (not in any specific order) are some few other trailers for interesting-looking films, due out later this year, that were not on my "Most Eagerly Anticipated" list:

  • The Class, a foreign-language entry from France about the often distended relationship of a teacher to his adolescent pupils. Read 'Half Nelson (2006),' not 'Dead Poets Society (1989).'
  • Fuel, a green documentary that feels spawned from the flood that was (with force) unleashed into popular culture and general awareness by 2006's An Inconvenient Truth. Read 'ostensibly preachy to those people who are already aware of its objective content but nevertheless dramatic, informative, and influential, especially (and hopefully) to those others who are not so aware.'
  • Were the World Mine, a(nother) Shakespearean adaptation that at first looks as all the others (i. e., as though it were doing nothing but fumbling around in the text) but then somehow eschews morbid categorization by unexpectedly successfully capitalizing on an as-yet unmined nugget of this specific play (i. e., "A Midsummer Night's Dream"): the sexually non-specific serum that is "love-in-idleness." (The songs don't sound bad either.) Read 'an inevitably flawed product of a redeemingly fresh take: gay Shakespeare and the politics of affection.'
  • Slumdog Millionaire, 2008's Fox-Searchlight entry into the games that positions a fortunate yet til recently penurious Indian boy at the sudden peak of a youthful whirlwind of instant success, dramatic love, and traditionalistic Hindi vibrancy. Read '(Romeo + 20 million rupees + Juliet - [paternal angst and distress])•(a color palette like Apple's 4th-generation iPod Nanos)/(a dharmic twist?),' or 'City of God (2002) meets Moulin Rouge! (2001) but actually in India this time.'
  • The Beautiful Truth, like the above Fuel, a documentary meant to promulgate the simple truths of the natural world and indict the short-sighted companies involved in that world's gradual from-inside demolition in the process. Read 'Super Size Me (2004) takes on the oncology unit.' (Hm, maybe that was a bit too curt, but I'll let it play; sensibilities offended by a seemingly flippant use of the word "oncology" seem to have not watched the trailer.)

I'll be sure to post on any and all of these films that I get to see.

Trailer: Up

I think I may have posted among other previews earlier this year the first teaser trailer for Disney-Pixar's latest installment, Up, due out in 2009. Since then, the expected film has generated little other content - and I'd know, as beautifully colorful animated movies about crotchety little old men who live alone and huff a lot for their general misanthropy toward others just happen to be a favorite of mine - until the consistently lauded animation studio released this new teaser trailer for the feature. Enjoy!

08 November 2008

Review: Synecdoche, NY

Genre: Drama

To be as succinct as I can about Mr. Kaufman's latest feature, I must say, it was not what I expected - but then his films never are really, are they? Certainly, to some extent, Synecdoche, New York was the approbated drama, filled with all the psychoanalytical remorse and dalliances into memory as is any of Mr. Kaufman's plays; but frankly more often than it was so was it dry, flaky, and overly contrived. While Mr. Kaufman certainly does have a gift for approaching ingeniously derived subjects and subject matters, he however does not always have the ability - despite what some of his sycophantically blinded followers may protest as contrary opinion - to elucidate the delicate meanings and arguments within those subjects and/or subject matters without simultaneously maintaining the rich entanglements of the feature in the first hand. That is, perhaps, sometimes he is too clever even for his good and unwittingly and unintentionally outfoxes himself, or boxes himself into a corner, as he - in my opinion - has done here. For, as the main character (sufficiently but not more so played by Mr. Seymour-Hoffman) devolves into the complexities of the increasingly out-of-control-yet-headed-nowhere beast that he has charged into the theatrical and ontological world of New York City, he like Kaufman finds himself less and less able to see his way out of those complexities; and so, Kaufman tries to hack through them, with brute force instead of intellectual cunning, and in his wake unfortunately leaves a trail of dried and desiccated, severed limbs.
In short, his ending feels like no more closure than a hastily inserted plug into an otherwise wildly continuous spout of filmmaking; the elements of the plot, which - like the metaphysics they synecdochize - but ride around in circles, are only ceased in the midst of their flailing, ever agglomerating loops by a sudden blow as by - o, say - a mass suicide or likewise deus ex machina, which - though Mr. Kaufman attempts to sublimate it by placing it in the far distance dramatically speaking (i. e., barely audible and entirely invisible to the theater-going audience) - are nevertheless rough, empty, and exposed - and indeed are as much so as the aftermath of his lead character's replicated New York City. The point is for Mr. Kaufman, however, not that this abrupt cessation was all that was at the end of Synecdoche, New York - for an ending of its kind could have been reasonably justified with the proper precedents - but rather that it was all that could be, because of the way he had argumentatively boxed himself in and into the corner - or, more appropriately, the eye's center of that whirlwind symbolical storm; his logic was circular, his pattern repetitive, his premise elaborately Ereberotic. And, though in the past he had been able to conquer Ereberos (e. g., in 2002's brilliant Adaptation.), here and now he is not and does not. His lead, Mr. Seymour-Hoffman's dour and rumbling Caden Cotard wastes away before any meaningful conclusions are reached, the grim decay of an endless cycle. And, while we're all for morbid and fatalistic regrets and recognitions here, Mr. Kaufman, this dog just won't hunt; as Mr. Cotard might well have been warned, progress without purpose, without change, is really only stasis, but for the intransigent or the optimist.
Applause for Ms. Morton, however; her Hazel was wonderful.

Grade: C+ - Break the ring!