30 December 2008

Review: The Wrestler

Genre: Drama

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, a gritty character portrait literally tailor-(re)made for its lead actor Mickey Rourke, clearly ventured no chance to fail to show Mr. Rourke as the title character at his very best (and very worst). A rugged, hulking, hard-plugging amateur wrestler who seems to have acquired all the (affected) patience and bunned reserve of Buddha since his hey-day youth without seeing them fit to make much personal use out of them, Mr. Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson is ultimately a tragic character, Alexandre Dumas' adapted Nutcracker (The Tale of the Nutcracker, 1845) by way of Raging Bull (1980) and 8 Mile (2002), a character once valiant and triumphant but now by circumstance downtrodden and opposed, around whom the rest of the players circulate, flecking pieces of his history like remnants of a dying star, pieces ultimately to close in the gap of his vacancy as he withers and disappears. And, while, I'm sure, of all the poetry in that line Mr. Aronofsky, skillful director of such films as π (1998) and Requiem for a Dream (2000), attempted to waste none in his own meditations and prescriptions about the course of this, his latest film The Wrestler; there was not enough commensurately skillfully effectuated to give the system of the piece true gravitas. Feeling - much like this year's Revolutionary Road, a film also about individuals in ebbing crises - more like a broken series of tenuously connected character vignettes than a coherent and well-constructed biographical narrative or even a coherent and well-constructed non-invasive tragedy, the film tends to eschew coherence in favor of savage and bitter representations of the continuous beatings physical, emotional, and psychological that its title character must endure in his life, never veering around or seriously trying to avoid them but only spacily reaching out to pull in others for the ride - an approach in which, while I can admire it, I cannot find significantly redemptive qualities. Slack and preprogrammed, shabby (but not shoddy), and shakily standing upon nearly forgotten, nearly collapsing emotional detritus, like its characters themselves The Wrestler fails to achieve greatness - despite a fervent want to do so. Thus, to say that the film was a good movie, a streaky portrait of the falling hero who can't help but keep doing what he has always done, be it for the better or the worse, would be an extremely accurate statement; but to go beyond that, beyond Mr. Rourke's grounding performance around and upon which the rest of it all is built and entirely so relies, and say that the film was a great one then would be just as hopelessly but blindly optimistic as Randy and his aging cohorts, both inside and outside the ring, are designed to be.

Grade: B.

27 December 2008

Review: Revolutionary Road, Written as a Letter to Kate Winslet

Genre: Drama (Domestic)

Dear Kate,

I have been a fan of your work for quite some time, even since your great début in 1994's Heavenly Creatures, and so it was certainly with an anticipatory relish that I presented the trailer for your latest project - a project for which you yourself fought so hard, to have the opportunity to be made - namely, this year's Revolutionary Road. A domestic drama clearly, even from the trailer, a play therefore familiar to the followers of your and your husband's works (especially Little Children [2006] and American Beauty [1999] respectively), the work goes about like its predecessors, describing the story of one or more suburban couples in crisis - crises individual, ontological, and existential, all bracketed together by circumstance, so that they together may add up in most ways to something greater than the mere flat sum of their distinct parts - a feat of effected greatness extremely and brilliantly evident in both Little Children and American Beauty. However, for Revolutionary Road - though it pains me to say it, for the bearing and the skill of those who took part in its creation - the beating of the characters' wings against the cage, their struggling to achieve, and their fearing that they may not be able to do so all fumble instead of boil, trowel instead of sculpt, the two hours they spend lingering on the spectator's screen. The unfortunate result of this unmitigated bandying about is that the film fails to collect itself, to gather enough strength of coherence to supply its spectators with any thing more than a series of such blighty vignettes or dour snapshots of phrase as have already been briefly described, such as would be much more adept, as they stand now, as mere tangential illustrations of your former Sarah's (from Little Children) mental image of Madame Bovary than as constructive, narrating forces of their own. The holes that litter them; that cause them to leak in flow, in pace, and in balance; irrecoverably, saddeningly just deplete whatever reserves of virtue there otherwise might have been in them and, then despairing, just leave you and your co-star, Mr. DiCaprio, rather helpless and in the buff.
Yet, though I am clearly sad for this failure, I'm not sure if it can entirely be your fault - your as prime momentum of the film's development - nor your husband's fault for that matter, as the director's - though arguably as the director he is the more responsible party in any case. To address each problem shortly: The screenplay was a difficult one; an adaptation of story that was obviously so literary in its bases provides a tremendous task for any screenwriter - however not one that is altogether impossible. Perhaps, instead of choking up in high-ramped emotional scenes and ghastly still interiors - a vacillation between extremes that were so disparate that they felt incompatible - the play could have considered itself more thoroughly internally - apart from all the small and transparently affected actions like the potato peeling, smoking, and dancing and more in the moment, in absence among fullness and little but full shots of set decoration that could have told the story more keenly. To such an end I was hopeful for a while, toward the beginning of the film, for the scene when your April clears off the bedding from the couch without ever saying anything: an adaptation that seemed to have truly taken on the form most compatible with the verbal density of its source material, a density otherwise non-transferrable to the visual medium of film directly. Yet, that instance, as the the film laxed on, seemed to be the only instance of such rich, appropriate observance.
Roger Deakins' cinematography, to which I had been so looking forward, was flabby and erratic, varying between sequences of tight control and periods of nearly interminable stasis, always with inconsistent framing and counterproductive distance; and - to be frank - your husband's staid direction only made it worse: You and your surrounding actors for the most part moved with a stiffness and a vocal peculiarity that could have been right for the stage but seemed almost silly and over-the-top for the screen. And Mr. Newman's score, which could have at least suggested the incredible depth of feeling I know potentially lay within this particular piece - for why else would have been so attracted to it? - just reeked of a stingy self-importance, such that it sounded almost like a jukebox: press a button and out pops a, yes, unique but also extremely redundant tune. I wonder, when will he see fit to revisit the adventurous side of his composing again and let minimilistic scores for domestic dramas be for a time, lest they become like McMansions in their repetitive decaying edifices?
O, Kate; so many things just didn't go as well as they should have gone this time. We all know you deserve - and have well deserved above those other women who have beaten you - the official recognition a golden statuette would confer onto you; but on a leading nomination, if I were you, I would not want to count this year. Your fellow actor, Mr. Michael Shannon, may expect one though, as despite the limitations of both his part and the play itself he delivered a top-notch, tremendous, and necessarily catalystic performance.
Here's to hoping your The Reader is better.

All the best,

Grade: B/B-.

Trailer: 9

And, sandwiched between two lousy pieces of bun, a nice piece of meat: Enjoy the trailer for the upcoming feature-length adaptation of the glorious short film 9 (2005).

Review: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Genre: Drama (Romance/Fantasy/Biopic - Smörgåsbord)

Now, let me first preface this review by saying that, after the mild-to-hot disappointments of its predecessing most promising films of this year (e. g., Milk, Australia, Frost/Nixon), I was seriously hoping to uplifted by this end-of-the-year film, a studio picture yes but one buoyed so far to leader status by a simply outstanding score by Alexandre Desplat (which I previewed here) and by some equally ethereally beautiful images of Cate Blanchett in ballet form that were press released; but, while my expectations ran high (as they should for a film of such large and purported clout and in release in the very last days of the year [a period of time traditionally reserved by the studios for their big guns, their categorical trumps and Oscar favorites, their babies]), I think, even if my expectations had been brought three notches lower (to the average B), I still would have been disappointed by this serious mistake of a film. Fortified only by Mr. Desplat's score, which fortunately suffered only minimal effacement by being tied to such a picture, Mr. Fincher's Curious Case was surely curious indeed - curious, in that it is a serious wonder to me how anyone in their right minds could mistake such a feeble gesture toward such epic bipics in the past as Forrest Gump and Driving Miss Daisy (to which there are more references than could choke a horse) for a film of a level anywhere near their caliber; to do so is as if to mistake a child's tissue-paper flower for a prize-winning orchid or the average American Idol contestant for a good singer. Sad the state is that there are many people who do such things.
In any case, down to the real business here: While Ms. Blanchett held her own despite a singular intonative slip and the insubstance of the screenplay (which by the way waddled in the mire of platitudes, over-ambitions, and even stereotypes - ahem, Queenie - with more relish in its so doing than would do the still-to-be-confused ugly duckling), Mr. Pitt, whose brilliant turn in this year's Burn after Reading had given me serious hope for him in the lead here, merely paced around in the part, as if he never quite had grasped it or its potential for drama, content therefore to merely suggest by his presence and stature the effects of great acting. Julia Ormond on the other side of cool was as flimsy as a flake (and likely as emotive too), and Taraji P. Henson, whose much buzzed about and aforementioned Queenie nose-dived with smiling face into an ever greater caricature of Hattie McDaniel's Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939), was quite simply putridly abysmal. Ms. Swinton's Elizabeth, though only a blip in the scale of the piece, was the only character who seemed truly at home in the reality of the film and Ms. Swinton herself the only actress who did not even once fall victim to the bower-birdlike ornamentations of crew.
Mr. Miranda, an obvious amateur behind the lens, pushed his colors and textures so far - no doubt in hopes of reaching the stylized heights of, say, Elle or Vogue magazine (i. e., vapid sets of porcelain figures in vomiticiously surreal, hypersaturated monochromes) - that it is a wonder he didn't break it. This exercise was no doubt helped and even egged on by the production and costume designers, who each seemed identically bent on providing the viewer with the most stereotypically rendered effects of every time and place enacted in the film - all hypersaturated as well. And the whole mess was tied neatly into tumbleweed by an editor who apparently doesn't know the meaning of concision, fecundity, or cliché. Even the make-up and the visual effects, though comparatively skillful, showed signs of egregious erosion by this catastrophe of an overall conceit for visual presentation.
And the sound, I believe, was not much better. Scrappy compositions of voice with voice, to produce the mottled and ill-timed speech of, for instance, the young Daisy, and similar audial flubs made listening to the film as uncomfortable as watching its frequently bottle-green images.
And I refuse to even seriously discuss the direction and the screenplay, which to be as brief as possible were as patchy and obvious as the adolescent fodder that supplies many a popular brand among eleven-to-fourteen--years--old.
All I have left to say is how so so sorry I am, Mr. Desplat, that your brilliant work, one of the best scores I've heard in years, had to be wasted on such banal, overreaching blather. I only hope you find more deserving matches, like your previous The Queen (2003), to support your achievements.

Grade for Mr. Desplat: A+; for the film: C+ - o, help.

25 December 2008

Eartha Kitt

From Polly Anderson of the Associated Press via GreenCine Daily, "Eartha Kitt, a sultry singer, dancer and actress who rose from South Carolina cotton fields to become an international symbol of elegance and sensuality, has died" today at a hospital in New York City. Renowned at this time of year especially for her non-pareil origination of the popular and much rerecorded Christmas song "Santa Baby," Eartha was 81.

Here are two of my favorite of her songs, two great comic pieces performed at one of her more recent concerts:

23 December 2008

Addendum to Review: Doubt; or "Blast You (for the final time), AOL!"

As I was writing my recent review for Mr. Shanley's wonderful Doubt, I came upon the intention to link an old post of mine, a review of Brokeback Mountain (2005) that I wrote when the film débuted on my old blog at hometown.aol.com, a review which I found no longer existed when I tried to venture there and verify my links. It turned out - much to my surprise and to others' (do see here) - that, on Halloween this year, AOL in its infinite beneficence - without so much as an e-mail notification to its subscribers and Hometown users - decided to permanently and irrevocably disband its Hometown site and all the blogs on it, many of which were apparently still very active. Needless to say, my surprise (and all the others') quickly turned from surprise to utter and sincere dismay; though I, a mere former user of the AOL blogging site, had not posted on my page in over two years, there were still many a post and many a review on that site that I would sooner have kept or archived somewhere, had I been told about its imminent destruction, rather than lose it without my consent or apprisal permanently; and, furthermore needless to say, such dismay fomented, if only briefly, in bitter outrage against the sweeping hand of AOL that seems to believe by such an action that it owns my time and space on the internet and can mortally vanquish me if it feel the slightest whim. For who knows why AOL decided to do what it did and shut down a site still in functional and archival operation, especially to do so without issuing any forewarning to its customers, who after all finance its operations? One can only surmise that the reason is a a tainted mixture of equal parts: arrogance, ignorance, and the fiscal bottom line; a tincture dubious and overreaching at its very best. So, AOL, if you take it upon yourself to ever again rip out the fruits of my and others' labours as immediately as you deem it necessary (and then post a smarmy little note on the aftermath of the site, feigning apology for its "inconvenien[t]" removal [see image above]), know that I and a significant portion of those others thusly offended will not be there to be felled again - not that I ever really have been there since 2003. Congratulations, on further alienating your teetering market-share.

Blog-readers, please, find the records of my deleted former blog site's review of Brokeback Mountain (2005) faithfully replicated below - many many thanks to Google's cached pages, due to which I was able to succesfully recover some, but definitely not all, of what was taken from me.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Brokeback Mountain

Genre: Drama/Western

Even though it has been more than two months since I saw Brokeback Mountain, I have waited until now to write anything about the film, because I have truly been at a loss, concerning what I should say. I have come to this: I could talk about how now, with the Oscars just around the corner, the film is poised to win (deservedly) most, if not all, of its nominations; I could describe the stunning narrative of the story and the practically infallible ways by which Mr. Lee, his crew, and his actours tell it; I could make such high-praise comparisons of Mr. Ledger's performance as those comparisons many have already drawn, with the truly great actours of the cinema, like Marlon Brando; I could even go so far as to speak the words "classic" or "milestone," with genuine intention," about the film's impact and status in modernity, socio-culture, and contemporary film, past, present, and future; but, of these many things, I shall comment with none. I cannot say what has already been, many times over, elocuted, nor what (relative to the quality of the film) banalities awards and the like will be. All I shall say and all I feel sum up my perspective of the film and its endless facets is this: art.

Grade: A+

For those some of you, however, who would like some justifications or explications, the following is an excerpt from an essay in The New York Review of Books, an article I think touches on most of the many graces of Brokeback Mountain:

"Because I am as admiring as almost everyone else of the film's many excellences, it seems to me necessary to counter this special emphasis in the way the film is being promoted and received. For to see Brokeback Mountain as a love story, or even as a film about universal human emotions, is to misconstrue it very seriously—and in so doing inevitably to diminish its real achievement.
"Both narratively and visually, Brokeback Mountain is a tragedy about the specifically gay phenomenon of the 'closet'—about the disastrous emotional and moral consequences of erotic self-repression and of the social intolerance that first causes and then exacerbates it. What love story there is occurs early on in the film, and briefly: a summer's idyll herding sheep on a Wyoming mountain, during which two lonely youths, taciturn Ennis and high-spirited Jack, fall into bed, and then in love, with each other. The sole visual representation of their happiness in love is a single brief shot of the two shirtless youths horsing around in the grass. That shot is eerily—and significantly—silent, voiceless: it turns out that what we are seeing is what the boys' boss is seeing through his binoculars as he spies on them.
"After that—because their love for each other can't be fitted into the lives they think they must lead—misery pursues and finally destroys the two men and everyone with whom they come in contact with the relentless thoroughness you associate with Greek tragedy. By the end of the drama, indeed, whole families have been laid waste. Ennis's marriage to a conventional, sweet-natured girl disintegrates, savaging her simple illusions and spoiling the home life of his two daughters; Jack's nervy young wife, Lureen, devolves into a brittle shrew, her increasingly elaborate and artificial hairstyles serving as a visual marker of the ever-growing mendacity that underlies the couple's relationship. Even an appealing young waitress, with whom Ennis after his divorce has a flirtation (an episode much amplified from a bare mention in the original story), is made miserable by her brief contact with a man who is as enigmatic to himself as he is to her. If Jack and Ennis are tainted, it's not because they're gay, but because they pretend not to be; it's the lie that poisons everyone they touch.
"As for Jack and Ennis themselves, the brief and infrequent vacations that they are able to take together as the years pass—'fishing trips' on which, as Ennis's wife points out, still choking on her bitterness years after their marriage fails, no fish were ever caught— are haunted, increasingly, by the specter of the happier life they might have had, had they been able to live together. Their final vacation together (before Jack is beaten to death in what is clearly represented, in a flashback, as a roadside gay-bashing incident) is poisoned by mutual recriminations. 'I wish I knew how to quit you,' the now nearly middle-aged Jack tearfully cries out, humiliated by years of having to seek sexual solace in the arms of Mexican hustlers. 'It's because of you that I'm like this—nothing, nobody,' the dirt-poor Ennis sobs as he collapses in the dust. What Ennis means, of course, is that he's 'nothing' because loving Jack has forced him to be aware of real passion that has no outlet, aware of a sexual nature that he cannot ignore but which neither his background nor his circumstances have equippedhim to makepart of his life. Again and again over the years, he rebuffs Jack's offers to try living together and running 'a little cow and calf operation' somewhere, hobbled by his inability even to imagine what a life of happiness might look like.
"One reason he can't bring himself to envision such a life with his lover is a grisly childhood memory, presented in flashback, of being taken at the age of eight by his father to see the body of a gay rancher who'd been tortured and beaten to death—a scene that prefigures the scene of Jack's death. This explicit reference to childhood trauma suggests another, quite powerful, reason why Brokeback must be seen as a specifically gay tragedy. In another review that decried the use of the term 'gay cowboy movie' ('a cruel simplification'), the Chicago Sun-Times's critic, Roger Ebert, wrote with ostensible compassion about the dilemma of Jack and Ennis, declaring that 'their tragedy is universal. It could be about two women, or lovers from different religious or ethnic groups—any "forbidden" love.' This is well-meaning but seriously misguided. The tragedy of heterosexual lovers from different religious or ethnic groups is, essentially, a social tragedy; as we watch it unfold, we are meant to be outraged by the irrationality of social strictures that prevent the two from loving each other, strictures that the lovers themselves may legitimately rail against and despise.
"But those lovers, however star-crossed, never despise themselves. As Brokeback makes so eloquently clear, the tragedy of gay lovers like Ennis and Jack is only secondarily a social tragedy. Their tragedy, which starts well before the lovers ever meet, is primarily a psychological tragedy, a tragedy of psyches scarred from the very first stirrings of an erotic desire which the world around them—beginning in earliest childhood, in the bosom of their families, as Ennis's grim flashback is meant to remind us—represents as unhealthy, hateful, and deadly. Romeo and Juliet (and we) may hate the outside world, the Capulets and Montagues, may hate Verona; but because they learn to hate homosexuality so early on, young people with homosexual impulses more often than not grow up hating themselves: they believe that there's something wrong with themselves long before they can understand that there's something wrong with society. This is the truth that Heath Ledger, who plays Ennis, clearly understands—'Fear was instilledin him atan early age, and so the way he loved disgusted him,' the actor has said—and that is so brilliantly conveyed by his deservedly acclaimed performance. On screen, Ennis's self-repression and self-loathing are given startling physical form: the awkward, almost hobbled quality of his gait, the constricted gestures, the way in which he barely opens his mouth when he talks all speak eloquently of a man who is tormented simply by being in his own body—by being himself.
"So much, at any rate, for the movie being a love story like any other, even a tragic one. To their great credit, the makers of Brokeback Mountain—the writers Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, the director Ang Lee—seem, despite the official rhetoric, to have been aware that they were making a movie specifically about the closet. The themes of repression, containment, the emptiness of unrealized lives—all ending in the 'nothingness' to which Ennis achingly refers—are consistently expressed in the film, appropriately enough, by the use of space; given the film's homoerotic themes, this device is particularly meaningful. The two lovers are only happy in the wide, unfenced outdoors, where exuberant shots of enormous skies and vast landscapes suggest, tellingly, that what the men feel for each other is 'natural.' By contrast, whenever we see Jack and Ennis indoors, in the scenes that show the failure of their domestic and social lives, they look cramped and claustrophobic. (Ennis in particular is often seen in reflection, in various mirrors: a figure confined in a tiny frame.) There's a sequence in which we see Ennis in Wyoming, and then Jack in Texas, anxiously preparing for one of their 'fishing trips,' and both men, as they pack for their trip—Ennis nearly leaves behind his fishing tackle, the unused and increasingly unpersuasive prop for the fiction he tells his wife each time he goes away with Jack— pace back and forth in their respective houses like caged animals.
"The climax of these visual contrasts is also the emotional climax of the film, which takes place in two consecutive scenes, both of which prominently feature closets—literal closets. In the first, a grief-stricken Ennis, now in his late thirties, visits Jack's childhood home, where in the tiny closet of Jack's almost bare room he discovers two shirts—his and Jack's, the clothes they'd worn during their summer on Brokeback Mountain—one of which Jack has sentimentally encased in the other. (Atthe end of that summer, Ennis had thought he'd lost the shirt; only now do we realize that Jack had stolen it for this purpose.) The image —which is taken directly from Proulx's story—of the two shirts hidden in the closet, preserved in an embrace which the men who wore them could never fully enjoy, stands as the poignant visual symbol of the story's tragedy. Made aware too late of how greatly he was loved, of the extent of his loss, Ennis stands in the tiny windowless space, caressing the shirts and weeping wordlessly.
"In the scene that follows, another misplaced piece of clothing leads to a similar scene of tragic realization. Now middle-aged and living alone in a battered, sparsely furnished trailer (a setting with which Proulx's story begins, the tale itself unfolding as a long flashback), Ennis receives a visit from his grown daughter, who announces that she's engaged to be married. 'Does he love you?' the blighted father protectively demands, as if realizing too late that this is all that matters. After the girl leaves, Ennis realizes she's left her sweater behind, and when he opens his little closet door to store it there, we see that he's hung the two shirts from their first summer, one still wearing the other, on the inside of the closet door, below a tattered postcard of Brokeback Mountain. Just as we see this, the camera pulls back to allow us a slightly wider view, which reveals a little window next to the closet, a rectangular frame that affords a glimpse of a field of yellow flowers and the mountains and sky. The juxtaposition of the two spaces—the cramped and airless closet, the window with its unlimited vistas beyond—efficiently but wrenchingly suggests the man's tragedy: the life he has lived, the life that might have been. His eyes filling with tears, Ennis looks at his closet and says, "Jack, I swear..."; but he never completes his sentence, as he never completed his life.
"One of the most tortured, but by no means untypical, attempts to suggest that the tragic heroes of Brokeback Mountain aren't 'really' gay appeared in, of all places, the San Francisco Chronicle, where the critic Mick LaSalle argued that the film is
about two men who are in love, and it makes no sense. It makes no sense in terms of who they are, where they are, how they live and how they see themselves. It makes no sense in terms of what they do for a living or how they would probably vote in a national election.... The situation carries a lot of emotional power, largely because it's so specific and yet undefined. The two guys—cowboys—are in love with each other, but we don't ever quite know if they're in love with each other because they're gay, or if they're gay because they're in love with each other. It's possible that if these fellows had never met, one or both would have gone through life straight.
"The statement suggests what's wrong with so much of the criticism of the film, however well-meaning it is. It seems clear by now that Brokeback has received the attention it's been getting, from critics and audiences alike, partly because it seems on its surface to make normal what many people think of as gay experience— bringing it into the familiar 'heart of America.' (Had this been the story of, say, the love between two closeted interior decorators living in New York City in the 1970s, you suspect that there wouldn't be full-page ads in the major papers trumpeting its 'universal' themes.) But the fact that this film's main characters look like cowboys doesn't make them, or their story, any less gay. Criticisms like LaSalle's, and those of the many other critics trying to persuade you that Brokeback isn't "really" gay, that Jack and Ennis's love 'makes no sense' because they're Wyoming ranch hands who are likely to vote Republican, only work if you believe that being gay means having a certain look, or lifestyle (urban, say), or politics; that it's anything other than the bare fact of being erotically attached primarily to members of your own sex.
"Indeed, the point that gay people have been trying to make for years—a point that Brokeback could be making now, if so many of its vocal admirers would listen to what it's saying—is that there's no such thing as a typi-cal gay person, a strangely different-seeming person with whom Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar have nothing in common—thankfully, you can't help feeling, in the eyes of many commentators. (It is surely significant that the film's only major departure from Proulx's story are two scenes clearly meant to underscore Jack's and Ennis's bona fides as macho American men: one in which Jack successfully challenges his boorish father-in-law at a Thanksgiving celebration, and another in which Ennis punches a couple of biker goons at a July Fourth picnic—a scene that culminates with the image of Ennis standing tall against a skyscape of exploding fireworks.)
"The real achievement of Brokeback Mountain is not that it tells a universal love story that happens to have gay characters in it, but that it tells a distinctively gay story that happens to be so well told that any feeling person can be moved by it. If you insist, as so many have, that the story of Jack and Ennis is OK to watch and sympathize with because they're not really homosexual—that they're more like the heart of America than like 'gay people'—you're pushing them back into the closet whose narrow and suffocating confines Ang Lee and his collaborators have so beautifully and harrowingly exposed."

nticaswmr7 at 7:43:00 PM EST

22 December 2008

Review: Doubt

Genre: Drama

John Patrick Shanley's to-film adaptation of his successful Broadway play tends to make all the necessary refigurements a successful adaptation would: Compiling a brilliant cast and crew with a smart and more minutely focused director's hand, the film Doubt emerges as so far the best film this year (in my opinion).
Bookended by two powerful, postive and contrapositive, shots emphasizing the gravity and the levity & the shift in argument toward resolution enacted over the course of the film, Doubt brings into full focus, by noticeably foibling out of focus the traditionally necessary facts of the plot, the hot debate between morality and legality, principle and practice, and what is good and what is right. Flourishing in this greatly effected grey area of incommodous ambiguity for the spectator, the film deftly winds itself around the biting and tense issue at its heart, wisely without ever touching it directly. Restating in ways both complex and simple the premise of its title, it elaborates a tight actors' piece, which through the gifts of editor, cinematographer, and director becomes so much more than just that - a feat and effectuation diametrically opposed to that of the relevant crew of this year's Frost/Nixon.
For Doubt takes into its holy advantage the benefit, not only of great actors - Ms. Streep, Mr. Hoffman, Ms. Adams, and Ms. Davis, we applaud you - but also of great technicians. Roger Deakins, cinematographer who boldly and powerfully set up those shots that I previously mentioned, takes on a casual, technically imperfect framing of the camera that is out of the majority in its impeccable rightness here; it allows for uncanny smoothness and candor in its approach, without sacrificing potency in its colors, textures, and lighting - a feat truly not easily accomplished. The editor, Dylan Tichenor who has been smart editor of such great films as Magnolia (1999), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and Brokeback Mountain (2005), lives up to his past and keeps the action and momentum at a clean and brisk pace, strapping the argument in key scenes in which strapping was necessary and keeping smooth edges in the narrative that could have otherwise become so acutely angular. And director, Mr. Shanley who adapted his style as well as his play in its transference from the stage to the screen, festoons his already handy work with some lovely nuances that intensify the diametry always fiercely in play.
The one argument I have against the film is that it failed to raise a significant amount of drama in its climax - a peak that was more anti-climax than climax, in deference to the greater argument than the plot. However, sacrifices must be made in cases as this one, and I would much rather have the film as it stands now, anti-climactic and powerful, than the film as it might have been then, climactic and hollow.
So, for bravura and staid objectivity filigreed with brilliant touches of a keen intimacy with its subjects, I proudly give Doubt a

Grade: A-, well done - the Dutch-paintings' influence does read beautifully by the way.

18 December 2008

A Blind Item: The Oscar Statuette as a Weapon

Via CrazyDaysandNights.net: Which Oscar-winning actress lacerated her husband's face recently, when in a fit of passion she threw her golden statuette at him?

O, the speculators run wild.

Announcement: Screen Actors' Guild Awards' Nominees

Via AwardsDaily.com, the Screen Actors' Guild (SAG) today announced their list of nominees for their upcoming awards, celebrating the best in acting this year in both film and television. For the complete list of nominees, check the replicated list below:

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
RICHARD JENKINS / Walter Vale - “THE VISITOR” (Overture Films)
FRANK LANGELLA / Richard Nixon - “FROST/NIXON” (Universal Pictures)
SEAN PENN / Harvey Milk - “MILK” (Focus Features)
BRAD PITT / Benjamin Button - “THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON” (Paramount Pictures)
MICKEY ROURKE / Randy - “THE WRESTLER” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANGELINA JOLIE / Christine Collins - “CHANGELING” (Universal Pictures)
MELISSA LEO / Ray Eddy - “FROZEN RIVER” (Sony Pictures Classics)
MERYL STREEP / Sister Aloysius Beauvier - “DOUBT” (Miramax Films)
KATE WINSLET / April Wheeler - “REVOLUTIONARY ROAD” (Paramount Vantage)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
JOSH BROLIN / Dan White - “MILK” (Focus Features)
ROBERT DOWNEY, JR. / Kirk Lazarus - “TROPIC THUNDER” (Paramount Pictures)
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN / Father Brendan Flynn - “DOUBT” (Miramax Films)
HEATH LEDGER / Joker - “THE DARK KNIGHT” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
DEV PATEL / Older Jamal - “SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS / Sister James - “DOUBT” (Miramax Flms)
PENÉLOPE CRUZ / Maria Elena - “VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA” (The Weinstein Company)
VIOLA DAVIS / Mrs. Miller - “DOUBT” (Miramax Films)
KATE WINSLET / Hanna Schmitz - “THE READER” (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
DOUBT (Miramax)
FROST/NIXON (Universal Pictures)
MILK (Focus Features)
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Fox Searchlight Pictures)


Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
TOM WILKINSON / Benjamin Franklin - “JOHN ADAMS” (HBO)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
LAURA DERN / Katherine Harris - “RECOUNT” (HBO)
SHIRLEY MacLAINE / Coco Chanel - “COCO CHANEL” (Lifetime)
PHYLICIA RASHAD / Lena Younger - “A RAISIN IN THE SUN” (Lifetime)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
MICHAEL C. HALL / Dexter Morgan - “DEXTER” (Showtime)
JON HAMM / Don Draper - “MAD MEN” (AMC)
HUGH LAURIE / Gregory House - “HOUSE” (FOX)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
KYRA SEDGWICK / Dep. Chief Brenda Johnson - “THE CLOSER” (TNT)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series
ALEC BALDWIN / Jack Donaghy - “30 ROCK” (NBC)
TONY SHALHOUB / Adrian Monk - “MONK” (USA)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
TINA FEY / Liz Lemon - “30 ROCK” (NBC)
MARY-LOUISE PARKER / Nancy Botwin - “WEEDS” (Showtime)
Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
DEXTER (Showtime)

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
WEEDS (Showtime)


Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture
THE DARK KNIGHT (Warner Bros. Pictures)
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (Universal Pictures)
IRON MAN (Paramount Pictures)
WANTED (Universal Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Television Series


Screen Actors Guild Awards 45th Annual Life Achievement Award
James Earl Jones

17 December 2008

Addendum to "Announcement: The Original Songs": "Limit: Two per Film"?!?!?

In reviewing the technical jabber at the bottom of AMPAS' announcement of the long-list of original songs, I noticed a rather alarming addendum to the rules this year:

A maximum of two songs may be nominated from any film. If more than two songs from a film are in contention, the two songs with the most votes will be the nominees.
WHAT?! Just two songs?! Since when is a cap on the merits of an original soundtrack warranted?? What would have happened to Beauty and the Beast (1991), Dreamgirls (2006), or Enchanted (2007), if one of them should have been released this year instead of in years previous?? (Well, in the case of Dreamgirls or Enchanted, we probably would have had one more worthy nominee on the ballot - but that kind of historical revisionism is really besides the point.) Granted, of course, this year the rule change doesn't really affect any nominated film - well, except HSM3, but come on: if that film receive one nomination, it'd be a miracle - but that kind of teleological reasoning is (also) besides the point: Original songs, like people, should be rewarded based on their individual merits and, so, one nomination-worthy song should not and must not be penalized and/or forced into disqualification, for the mere goal of diversity in the list of nominees, simply because it happened to be in the company of other similarly worthy songs, on its original soundtrack - especially if the songs from the other such soundtracks in the field be significantly less deserving of a nomination than the songs on the former original soundtrack, a situation which could very well be the case if this rule stand over the next few years. So, AMPAS, I beg you to reconsider your decision to amend the rules, for fairness' sake. Be just! Do the right thing! Nominate everyone that is worthy of the nomination, regardless of the status of the field! No one, I'm sure, would be angered by a list of even five worthy nominees from a single film, if the five were truly worthy and if replacement by far less worthy songs from other films were the diversified alternative. Don't you agree?

I eagerly await to see if this new rule of two per film will stand, what others' reactions to it will be (if others even notice), and how the nominees will turn out in the future of a recently very musical-prone Oscars.

Announcement: The Original Songs

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) announced yesterday its long-list of songs, eligible therefore to win the Oscar for Best Original Song this year in film. The list, which includes a couple of songs from Slumdog Millionaire, Bruce Springsteen's surefire nominee from The Wrestler, and all but two of the songs from the High School Musical 3: Senior Year (HSM3) soundtrack, really is a long list. With such mediocre and blatantly bad strings as those of the HSM3 soundtrack making the cut of the 49 eligible, we know they truly mean only eligible. For my short list of worthy songs, please, see the column on the right; for AMPAS' long list, click here or just look below:

“Another Way to Die” from “Quantum of Solace”

“Barking at the Moon” from “Bolt”

“The Boys Are Back” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Broken and Bent” from “Role Models”

“By the Boab Tree” from “Australia”

“The Call” from “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”

“Can I Have This Dance” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Chase the Morning” from “Repo! The Genetic Opera”

“Chromaggia” from “Repo! The Genetic Opera”

“The Code of Life” from “My Dream”

“Code of Silence” from “Save Me”

“Count on Me” from “The Women”

“Di Notte” from “The Lodger”

“Djoyigbe” from “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

“Down to Earth” from “WALL-E”

“Dracula’s Lament” from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”

“Drive” from “Fuel”

“Forever” from “They Killed Sister Dorothy”

“High School Musical” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Gran Torino” from “Gran Torino”

“I Thought I Lost You” from “Bolt”

“I Want It All” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“In Rodanthe” from “Nights in Rodanthe”

“It Ain’t Right” from “Dark Streets”

“Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire”

“Just Getting Started” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Just Wanna Be with You” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Little Person” from “Synecdoche, New York”

“The Little Things” from “Wanted”

“A Night to Remember” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Nothing but the Truth” from “Nothing but the Truth”

“Now or Never” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“O Saya” from “Slumdog Millionaire”

“Once in a Lifetime” from “Cadillac Records”

“Right Here Right Now” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Right to Dream” from “Tennesee”

“Rock Me Sexy Jesus” from “Hamlet 2”

“Scream” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“The Story” from “My Blueberry Nights”

“Sweet Ballad” from “Yes Man”

“Too Much Juice” from “Dark Streets”

“The Traveling Song” from “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”

“Trouble the Water” from “Trouble the Water”

“Up to Our Nex” from “Rachel Getting Married”

“Walk Away” from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year”

“Waterline” from “Pride and Glory”

“The Wrestler” from “The Wrestler”

“Yes Man” from “Yes Man”

“Zydrate Anatomy” from “Repo! The Genetic Opera”

16 December 2008

Slideshow: The Wrestler

Darron Aronofsky talks to the Times about his "mind, body, and spirit" trilogy, his intentions for the upcoming The Wrestler in relation to that set of his earlier three films, and his process of developing a visual language for that upcoming film, all in a narrated photographic slide-show that may be viewed here.

15 December 2008

Article: Bottle Rocket

As I seem to have been chronicling the various articles of note concerning both Criterion's new Blu-ray series and its Bottle Rocket (1996) release, here is another to add to the set, an article from the Times about both débuts, the most charming snippet of which is replicated here, below:

“Bottle Rocket” is being released both in a standard-definition version and in Blu-ray, part of the first batch of Criterion titles in the new high-definition format. This is a moment that videophiles have been waiting for, and the new discs don’t disappoint.

The Blu-ray of “Bottle Rocket” shows a better color balance and far more vividly rendered textures than Criterion’s standard-definition disc (much less the now ancient Sony edition of “Bottle Rocket” from 1998), and the increased storage capacity of Blu-ray allows for a very generous selection of extras to be included on a single disc. The most intriguing of these (also part of the standard-definition version, though on a separate disc) is the original black-and-white short “Bottle Rocket,” which was screened at Sundance and eventually attracted the attention of the producer James L. Brooks, who shepherded the feature version into existence. ("New DVDs: 'Bottle Rocket'" by Kehr, 2008).

Clip: Doubt

There's a great little clip and interview from the Times' David Carr about Doubt in which director David Shanley does a great, brief, comic Meryl Streep giving praise for her co-star, Viola Davis, while on set filming a prominent scene in the upcoming film. Check the clip out here.

Article: Revolutionary Road (and Gran Torino)

Here's an interesting little article from the Times, issuing a little background both on the creation and the foundation of the upcoming domestic drama Revolutionary Road, a project whose leading lady has been apparently also its leading proponent.

If you so desire, here's another small article from the Times, this time about the ever curmudgeonly Mr. Eastwood and his completely socially haphazard movie-making/style. Read it if you must, but (ugh) please, don't go see Gran Torino: It's a total joke. Changeling was a total fluke of serendipitious quality; Gran Torino is a trainwreck of stereotypical Eastwood blather, as much stale cracker as crack stalwartism. Singing, Clint; are you joking me? I'm only asking because - well - I was laughing. If you had to ask, for the record, Grade: D-.

14 December 2008

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Genre: Drama

An atypical entry from Fox Searchlight, which for the past three years has thrown in films grounded so heavily in Americana - albeit offbeat Americana, but Americana all the same - in Sideways (2005), in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and in Juno (2007); Slumdog Millionaire sets up shop in far-away India. However, unlike how one may expect for this egregious fit into the Searchlight frame, the film does not throw away all the rules or do anything else boisterously out of sync for the sake of idiosyncratic frippery than be in India; it instead clings almost rigidly to the successful formula of its studio's precedents (i. e., youth, vibrancy, delight, wonder, culture, and fantasy) and, beyond its studio, to the tracks of its ontological precedents (i. e., mystery, tragedy, love, and a quest), a historic quality that, yes, makes the film elementally constrained within insouciant-eclectic-amazing proportions, yet a quality that also makes it, when one set of precedents is mated to the other, not necessarily a boring wonder-quest to follow. While the protagonist, the hero (i. e., the downtrodden yet unswervingly enamored Jamal), passes through a series of trials to let his inner light prevail in the end, much as has done and can do any respectable hero of like ilk, directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan were wise enough to see that the specific details germane only to Jamal's quest were by far enough to set him apart with panache and due diligence from the rest of his like-ilked set and to let well enough alone, by choosing to embellish none other than the sights and sounds around Jamal for dazzling effect, novelty, and glory.
True then, Slumdog Millionaire is one exultant film, its story a tested one; one repeated hundereds and even thousands of times in many forms and flavors, languages and cultures; one of rags-to-riches and of rewards-for-the-good; one inspirational and devotional; one young and energetic and full of the familiar dragons and wildebeasts, familiar yet peculiar - for the film arrives in such a way that it eschews all those traditional ladens that would have otherwise burdened it down as no more than a colorful translation of a story everyone already knows, especially those native Indians out there: a way by which its elements and its forces, its principles and its morals, its dragons and its blades, describe in detail the face of not an ordinary man who obtains the stars through sheer uncompromising aspiring, but rather of a country far from ordinary as it pulses as star itself, as a nexus of its bloody past, its graphic present, and its uncertain future: In short, (the film is fully) an intelligent portrait of India. Blending in every aspect of its presentation religion, art, culture, social dynamics; growth, loss, technology, celebrity; fealty, ordinariness, ambition; lust, love; virtue, vice; humanity and all its relativism to its Western counterpart all then, now, and in the future; the film succeeds, not because of its story itself, but because of what its story invokes. Some scenes rush past, others linger; lights stipple and then blaze before going out; women dance, men butt heads; clothes are gritty, air stale; tourists are easy; punishment is hard; the struggle, the struggle - and, o, the capturing of it all on film! It is ambitious, yes, but it is well too.
So well is it, in fact, that, other than a wont for greater fire in its actors, the one and only complaint I levy against Slumdog Millionaire is the fact that it came as if content to remain as just a portrait - an ecstatic portrait, a great portrait, yes, but a portrait all the same; a skin-deep replication of something apparent and otherwise tangible in life, but forever only skin-deep and flat: incapable, in other words, of ever meaning anything. The film's final message, a sort of Ereberotic bookend on the parade, while it may say a great deal about the status of modern India in belief and in individualism v. collectivism (& theism), failed to give anything more profound to the canon than such a stark anthropological, theological, sociocultural thesis about the country. There was no bang, no application, no grand theoretical probing; the ending just was - period; and for me such rigid and unwavering determinism reeks too much of autopilot and slavery to be respectably placed. In short, I was disappointed that the filmmakers, while documenting India in this roundabout way, weren't forward enough to question it, to ask why and wherefore and implicate choice and change. I felt such questions were there, somewhere in the text, but too timidly, too cloudily voiced and absolutely not firmed up enough.
Still, however, despite these misgivings about meaning, the film remained a solid work, and let it be said, M. I. A.'s vocal adulations were a particularly enjoyable side benefit.

Grade: A-/B+, a grand spectacle indeed.

12 December 2008

Announcement: Hugh Jackman

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) today has announced that their "out of circle" host for this year's upcoming Oscar ceremony will be none other than Australian, Oprah-crowd--heartthrob Hugh Jackman. While some have no doubt seen this choice of host as yet another cheap ploy by AMPAS for its televised ceremony to draw back the viewers whom it has steadily lost over the past several years - and no doubt it is, at least in small part, one such ploy - I however applaud the choice and recall Mr. Jackman's incredibly diverse, wonderfully entertaining, and saucily classy talents as those which enables this magnificent performance, for which he holds a Tony award, as Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz (2004):

P. S. AMPAS has also announced that the following are the films in contention (long-list) for the Visual Effects award:


“The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian”


“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Dark Knight”

“The Day the Earth Stood Still”


“Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

“The Incredible Hulk”

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

“Iron Man”

“Journey to the Center of the Earth”

“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”

“Quantum of Solace”

“The Spiderwick Chronicles”

Featurette: Doubt

The Times has just posted this interesting behind-the-scenes featurette about the newly released Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The featurette, "Translating Doubt" narrated by writer and director John Patrick Shanley, discusses the man's choices in recasting the tale for the screen and in choosing an active color palette, still true in shape, for the backgrounds of the story's origins, in order to effectuate the kind of popping of people as observed in post-Renaissance Dutch still-lives - a keenly intriguing concept for all that it carries with it. Let's hope the film runs with that idea.

Review: Frost/Nixon

Genre: Drama (Historical Fiction)

One of the much "buzzed about" films this season, Ron Howard's Frost / Nixon fails to truly engage the line it so brazenly and shockingly sets forth in the solemnity of its trailers: "I'm saying that, when the President does it, it's not illegal," a line which surely becomes the entire reason for the film's existence in the first place. While it is true that, like all Ron Howard films, Frost / Nixon is a charming story, full of well-acted vigor and emotion and with a dash of sardonic flair, it is no more than those things, no more than just an actor's piece, a play in the most basic sense of the word; and for that characterization, considering how much potential and how strong a background the film before viewing held, I cannot commend its merits any more than meagrely. Tight sets that fail to move or open up organically under a lack of stricter direction, boxy shots that undermine the expansiveness and the context of the narrative, and flabby introductory writing that attempts to belie a fumbling into action for the film as a whole all only further dampen any appraisal. However, Mr. Langella, as advertised, does give a wonderful performance of Richard M. Nixon, despite the stricture of his filmic bounds; a performance therefore like that of an aged lion, prowling and snarling and raving within his barred cage. Mr. Sheen seems generally disoriented, but then that is not entirely out of the bounds of his character - and in a year with so few good leading performances by men, his resultantly is one of the best (so far). And the screenplay, despite those opening scenes of awkward establishment, rolls around to becoming interesting and dense within proximity of the lion, though, as I've already stated, it fails to ever truly and properly address the implications of its most potent line to the greater context of the film - I guess, one can't win them all. Still, despite its lackings, the film ties up relatively neatly, under the jesting hand of Mr. Howard, who wisely let the film breathe a bit with humor, lest it become too tightly cramped. Too bad he wasn't crafty enough this time, to let loose a little further: Secret Honor (1984) anyone?

Grade: B.

Review: Låt den Rätte Komma In (Let the Right One In)

Genre: Drama (Foreign-Language)

Who knew a character study (of the dichotomy of savagery from nobility) and metaphysical study (of what is right), manifested as a vampiric love-story between children in Norway, could be so intensely provocative?
Låt den Rätte Komma In succeeds where other films do not, in this world of precise improbability, because of the intensely honest way it not only portrays its elements but also conveys that sincerity. Wide open shots, clean color palettes, and clear unembellished dialogue prevent the nuances of the story from being lost in contrived complexities (e. g., grafts pigeon-holing the work in the 'thriller' genre), complexities that would only have clotted the film's steady, undiluted flow and distracted the viewer from its point: the lingering question about what is right done in the name of a friend and what is right done in general and, furthermore, whether those two notions be principally compatible. As the film quite correctly fails to reach an absolute resolution to any of these questions yet at the same time manages to craft a tender and devoted emotional story, it is a wonderful surprise success.

Grade: A-

Review: Were the World Mine

Genre: Musical (Fairy Tale - not a pun, though the film used it to be)

While it's evident that in my head I had a series of speculations about where this film would take the nature and potential of its intriguing, if a bit cliché-veering, subject matter (as seen here, in my post about its then due release), it's also evident by the film itself that the director did not have such a series - or, if he did, he sorely lacked the ability to effectively communicate it to his audience - for Were the World Mine languishes in a territory somewhere between contrived movie-musical (i. e., the good) and horrific niche burlesque (i. e., the bad) - and with extremes like those, there isn't really much more one can say. Director and writer, Tom Gustafson, essentially just let one of the most intriguing of the novel Shakespeare-concept movies (the most banal of which have been the neverending C-level teenage dramas) slip through his fingers with no more than a rough pat one may give to the back of an acquaintance, whose name you've clearly forgotten as one runs into him on the street; a pat that seems to say, "Wow, you're awesome - so great to see you!" but really is saying, "Wow, I know this guy? Really? Huh." - for he essentially in the entire course of his film puts no prongs into the meat of the issue of the politics of affection and only awkwardly eschews truly plot-damaging interjections and hypotheses that sporadically arise (both in the mind of the viewer and in the minds of the characters on screen [e. g., 'What if that character had looked at someone else?']) with the equivalent grace of a swerving car. The only true moments of redemption the film experiences, amidst a folly of stereotypically confined choreography, stale lighting, and just a dragging paper-clip-cohesion quality of threading and editing, are some - only some - of the musical numbers written expressly for the story, though, frequently submerged under the brack of the aforementioned, they hardly can be appreciated without immediate there-for-all dismissal based on those brackish grounds. Though they may uncannily find a rivulet into some melodic confluence (a journey of inspiration which the film feebly tries to recreate) with the poetic rhythms of Shakespeare's play, such songs, Mr. Gustafson, that ride on an open attitude about sexuality are hardly helped by stock characterizations and feeble plays to your likely demographic as those which you put forth in your work. Stay away from such panderings! And stay away from predictability for that matter, unless you actively seek to explore the greater dynamics in the story you profess (as I have suggested and as you evidently have not)! Without so staying away, your story is otherwise old, tired, and boring; and Scent of a Woman (1992) and Clueless (1995) lay you down flat. And, above all, don't think that this criticism reflects the (obvious) monetary constraints of your production, for with better actors, a more diverse wardrobe, and keener special effects, I doubt you could have done any better than you have qualitatively. Eh, I let it go. I guess, it's just disappointing for me to see fresh lemons become a lemon, instead of lemonade.

Grade: C-, fails to even look like it's trying and achieves only when in song, reiterating another's words. Stephen Holden, what did you see in this one?

P. S. Mr. Holden, I've just read your review of this film and I do think you're being far too lenient in your appraisal of it: a film with charms, yes, one to which I'll even grant you a bit of that movie-musical error-obliviating magic (for the plot-based objections raised for equally plausible and message-affecting variant realities), but full absolution for the rest of it smacks too much of that "love-in-idleness" for unbiased contemplation. How strongly did that camera-directed bower flower at the end affect you?

11 December 2008

Article: Chungking Express

A nice article, written by a (fellow) Wong-Kar-Wai--enthusiast and professor of film David Bordwell, may be found here about Criterion's recent release of the filmmaker's Chungking Express (1994), my other Criterion holiday gift-to-self (other than Wes' great Bottle Rocket [1996; and soundtrack]). I've excerpted the relevant bits from the article below:

I probably don’t have to urge you to see the new Criterion edition of Chungking Express, out in both standard and Blu-ray editions. It’s the Miramax/ Rolling Thunder version, in a crisp transfer with a nice range of color and detail. (I don’t have Blu-ray and so can’t report on that disc.) There’s also a precious 1996 British TV episode in which WKW and a beer-guzzling Chris Doyle tour some Hong Kong locales we see in the movie, tossing out technical information along the way. The show also supplies a more or less documentary record of the Midnight Express fast-food counter a couple of years after the film. Still later, the success of Wong’s film led the owner to upgrade it, with results you can see at the end of this entry.

In the supplementary short, Chris Doyle catches himself talking like a critic and says it’s because “I’ve been reading Tony Rayns.” Not by chance, the Criterion set includes a superb commentary track by Tony, who has worked closely with Wong and Doyle for years. Tony’s fluent discussion anticipates practically every question you might ask about the movie, including why Faye Wong wears a United Airlines uniform.

Chungking Express is my favorite of Wong’s work, but that’s not the main reason I devoted a chapter to it in Planet Hong Kong. I think it’s an important film historically. In the context of Hong Kong cinema, it was as much a breakthrough as was Days of Being Wild, but its offhandedness made it seem more innocuous. Wong makes daring use of plot structure: two stories, barely linked, that connect thematically rather than causally. (We also examine this aspect in one section of Film Art.) Further, Chungking Express is an exhilarating instance of a type of storytelling that fascinates me, what I call “network narrative” and that I analyze in one essay in Poetics of Cinema. Finally, because this film was more widely seen than Wong’s earlier work, it identified him with a particular style: dazzlingly composed shots alternating with smeared and rushed ones, pulsations of saturated color, precise matching of image to music, and a tone of wistful romanticism. Who else could make such an engaging movie about two guys whose girlfriends have left them?

Across his career, Wong’s technique has been more varied than the flash-and-grab breeziness of Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together suggests. The blurred imagery and stuttering slow motion proved easy to mimic and even parody (in Wong Jing’s Whatever You Want, 1994). In the Mood for Love and 2046 returned to the more precise and controlled staging, the nearly abstract use of setting, and the tight close-ups of Wong’s earliest films. For all their virtues, though, these late movies lack the sheer ingratiating zest of Chungking Express. If My Blueberry Nights disappointed you (as it did me), revisit the original and watch it jump off the screen. Keep an eye peeled for those reflections.

Announcement: Golden Globes' Nominations

The Hollywood Foreign Press' (HFP') announcement of their nominations for this year were revealed this morning (and may be viewed in completion here). Things look pretty much like where I'm headed myself (minus most of the comedy stuff) - translation: I don't understand why people have been virtually soiling themselves over The Dark Knight, nor why exalting Milk as the "best film ever!" I grant you, both were good, but in competition with some of the other dramas from this year, they each seem to lack a great shot. The officialness of my opinion stands upon the yet-to-be-seen The Wrestler, The Reader, Doubt, Revolutionary Road, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. I'll be sure to keep you posted - more pending reviews to come - but for now, enjoy the nominations, most of which I've copied just below:

Best Motion Picture - Drama

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures; Warner Bros. Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Imagine Entertainment, Working Title, Studio Canal; Universal Pictures

The Reader
Mirage Enterprises; The Weinstein Company

Revolutionary Road
An Evamere Entertainment BBC Films Neal Street Production; DreamWorks Pictures in Association with BBC Films and Paramount Vantage

Slumdog Millionaire
Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Bros.; Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Bros.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama

Anne HathawayRachel Getting Married

Angelina JolieChangeling

Meryl StreepDoubt

Kristin Scott ThomasI've Loved You So Long

Kate WinsletRevolutionary Road

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama

Leonardo DiCaprioRevolutionary Road

Frank LangellaFrost/Nixon

Sean PennMilk

Mickey RourkeThe Wrestler

Best Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy

Burn After Reading
Working Title/Releasing Company; Focus Features in association with Studio Canal

Summit Entertainment, Film4, Ingenious Film Partners, Miramax Films; Miramax Films

In Bruges
Blueprint Pictures; Focus Features

Mamma Mia!
Relativity Media, Playtone, Littlestar; Universal Pictures

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Mediapro; The Weinstein Company

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy

Rebecca HallVicky Cristina Barcelona

Sally HawkinsHappy-Go-Lucky

Frances McDormandBurn After Reading

Meryl StreepMamma Mia!

Emma ThompsonLast Chance Harvey

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical Or Comedy

Javier BardemVicky Cristina Barcelona

Colin FarrellIn Bruges

James FrancoPineapple Express

Brendan GleesonIn Bruges

Dustin HoffmanLast Chance Harvey

Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Amy AdamsDoubt

Penélope CruzVicky Cristina Barcelona

Viola DavisDoubt

Marisa TomeiThe Wrestler

Kate WinsletThe Reader

Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture

Tom CruiseTropic Thunder

Robert Downey Jr.Tropic Thunder

Ralph FiennesThe Duchess

Philip Seymour HoffmanDoubt

Heath LedgerThe Dark Knight

Best Animated Feature Film

Walt Disney Pictures; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Kung Fu Panda
DreamWorks Animation SKG; Paramount Pictures

Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios; Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Best Foreign Language Film

The Baader Meinhof Complex (Germany)
The Country of Germany
(DER BAADER MEINHOF KOMPLEX) Constantin Film Produktion GmbH; Summit Entertainment, LLC

Everlasting Moments (Sweden, Denmark)
The Country of Sweden and The Country of Denmark

Gomorrah (Italy)
The Country of Italy
(GOMORRA) Fandango; IFC Films

I've Loved You So Long (France)
The Country of France
(IL Y A LONGTEMPS QUE JE T’AIME) UGC YM/UGC Images/France 3 Cinema/Integral Film; Sony Pictures Classics

Waltz With Bashir (Israel)
The Country of Israel
Bridgit Folman Film Gang/Les Films D'Ici/Razor Films/Arte France/ITVS International; Sony Pictures Classics

Best Director - Motion Picture

Danny BoyleSlumdog Millionaire

Stephen DaldryThe Reader

Ron HowardFrost/Nixon

Sam MendesRevolutionary Road

Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

Written by John Patrick Shanley

Written by Peter Morgan

The Reader
Written by David Hare

Slumdog Millionaire
Written by Simon Beaufoy

Best Original Score - Motion Picture

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Composed by Alexandre Desplat

Composed by Clint Eastwood

Composed by James Newton Howard

Slumdog Millionaire
Composed by A. R. Rahman

Composed by Hans Zimmer

Best Original Song - Motion Picture

"Down To Earth"Wall-E
Music By: Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman
Lyrics By: Peter Gabriel

"Gran Torino"Gran Torino
Music By: Jamie Cullum, Clint Eastwood, Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens
Lyrics By: Jamie Cullum

"I Thought I Lost You"Bolt
Music & Lyrics By: Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele

"Once In A Lifetime"Cadillac Records
Music & Lyrics By: Beyoncé Knowles, Amanda Ghost, Scott McFarmon, Ian Dench, James Dring and Jody Street

"The Wrestler"The Wrestler
Music & Lyrics By: Bruce Springsteen

Best Television Series - Drama


House (FOX)
Heel and Toe Films, Shore Z Productions and Bad Hat Harry Productions in association with Universal Media Studios

In Treatment (HBO)
Sheleg, Closest to the Hole Productions in association with HBO Entertainment

Mad Men (AMC)

True Blood (HBO)
Your Face Goes Here Productions in association with HBO Entertainment

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Drama

Sally FieldBrothers & Sisters (ABC)

Mariska Hargitay – Law & Order

January JonesMad Men (AMC)

Anna PaquinTrue Blood (HBO)

Kyra SedgwickThe Closer (TNT)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Drama

Gabriel ByrneIn Treatment (HBO)

Michael C. HallDexter (SHOWTIME)

Jon HammMad Men (AMC)

Hugh LaurieHouse (FOX)

Jonathan Rhys MeyersThe Tudors (SHOWTIME)

Best Television Series - Musical Or Comedy

30 Rock (NBC)
Universal Media Studios in association with Broadway Video and Little Stranger Inc.

Californication (SHOWTIME)
Showtime Presents in association with Aggressive Mediocrity, and Then…, Twilight Time Films

Entourage (HBO)
Leverage and Closest to the Hole Productions in association with HBO Entertainment

The Office (NBC)
Deedle Dee Productions/Reveille/NBC Universal Television Studio; NBC

Showtime/Lionsgate Television/Tilted Productions, Inc.; SHOWTIME

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series - Musical Or Comedy

Christina ApplegateSamantha Who? (ABC)

America FerreraUgly Betty (ABC)

Tina Fey30 Rock (NBC)

Debra MessingThe Starter Wife (USA)

Mary-Louise ParkerWeeds (SHOWTIME)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series - Musical Or Comedy

Alec Baldwin30 Rock (NBC)

Steve CarellThe Office (NBC)

Kevin ConnollyEntourage (HBO)

David DuchovnyCalifornication (SHOWTIME)

Tony ShalhoubMonk (USA)