30 July 2009

Trailer: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Following up on yesterday's posting, I bring you (via Awards Daily) the trailer for Wes Anderson's stop-motion locomotion, The Fantastic Mr. Fox:

"I don't have a bandit hat, but I modified this tube sock."

Trailer: A Serious Man

Yay, another trailer for you: this time one from writers/directors Joel and Ethan Coen, one beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, one for a film entitled A Serious Man - click the link to view.

26 July 2009

Announcement: Wes Anderson Does Stop-Motion(!)

Via Awards Daily: Wes Anderson, all-around auteur, is now venturing his talents, keenly grown in the world of live-action film-making, into the parallel world of stop-motion film-making: specifically, in his upcoming feature The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is slated for theatrical release in November of this year. As a personal enthusiast of Mr. Anderson and his work, I am surprised to have to admit that this occasion is the first in which I'm hearing of this film, especially when considering its within-six-months release. Adapted from the classic Roald-Dahl book of the same title, preview photos for the film seem to indicate that Mr. Anderson has deferred none of his own classic, stylistic choices in bringing the tale to the "silver screen;" a large, skillful cast, elaborate sets and interiors, and a distinctive photographic eye paint what's sure to be another memorable addition to his and film's œuvre. At its very least, the film is instantly one of my year's-end, most highly anticipated works; in short, I am so excited! (The trailer will be posted as soon as it is released.)

24 July 2009

Trailers: Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Tron Legacy

I am so(!) excited to be posting the trailer for Tim Burton's latest fairy-tale renovation/reimagination/realization, Alice in Wonderland (2010). I could not think of a better project for him than that classically fantastical story; and, as I did for his filmic realization of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), I applaud his adherence to the original text rather than to the perhaps better-known previous filmic adaptation (i. e. here, Alice in Wonderland [1951]). So far the work looks beautiful, and I expect Danny Elfman is toiling away somewhere, composing a wonderfully original score (unlike the music in the trailer, which is slantedly expropriated from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events [2004] and others). Still the work is in progress, I suppose, but it's too terribly exciting not to want it to be complete already.

The other trailer that I wish to share with you is that for Tron Legacy (2010), and I wish to share it not because I've ever been an ardent fan of the original Tron (1982) - it was a bit before my time - but rather because it looks to be a potentially seriously interesting - at least visually so - film that appears to be able to rely on image alone, if the trailer be any indication, to tell its story: in my book, an automatic bravo. So, enjoy the possibility while it endures; for, if history be any guide, the final film will be a sore disappointment, despite however stylistically edgy it may be:

23 July 2009

Essay: Last Year at Marienbad (1961)

Mark Polizzotti, a contributor to the Criterion Current, has written a simply beautiful essay exploring the nooks and crannies of Last Year at Marienbad (1961), a recent release from the Collection in Blu-Ray and DVD formats. Though I have yet to watch my (Blu-Ray) copy, I am certain, its viewing will be enhanced for having entertained the thoughts and the ideas concisely proposed and iterated by Mr. Polizzotti in his appropriately lyrical piece. Do read it here.

18 July 2009

Announcement: The October Criterion Blu-Ray Releases!

At last! The Criterion Collection's Blu-Ray release of Howards End (1992) is announced! Due out in October - the 20th, to be exact - the release will feature, in addition to its gorgeous cover/box art, special features including an original behind-the-scenes featurette from the duration of filming, a 50-minute documentary about the history of The Merchant-Ivory Collection of films, and a critical essay by The Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan.

The film's October release will be coupled with two other Blu-Ray releases from the revered film-house: Wim Wender's Wings of Desire (1987) and Mira Nair's (A. B., Harvard College '71) sumptuous Monsoon Wedding (2001), both new additions to the Collection.


14 July 2009

Trailers: Brothers, Coco avant Chanel, & An Education

Yay, trailers:

1) A new film by writer/director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot [1989], In America [2003]), Brothers looks to be an intimate film that struggles with the sometimes explosive (see photo above) ramifications of the "widow's love triangle" (i. e., the resultant situation of a supposed widow's romantic entanglement with another man after her husband turns out not to have died). This triangle, in this edition of the tale, is pointed by the nimble actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey McGuire (at his very gauntest), and Natalie Portman. With this cast, I for one am grateful that there is new fodder for the end of this year in film, which was honestly looking a bit patchy.

2) Coco avant Chanel, a film which seems rather like the runner-up after its recent filmic compatriot-predecessor La Vie en Rose (2008) as well as its even more recent televisual dopplegängerm Lifetime's Coco Chanel (2008), features Audrey Tautou as the well-known and much-revered couturière early in her life, before "she become Chanel." Though it could be an interesting jaunt into the life of this pillar of fashion's history, it seems to me to be more like a desultory walk, with nowhere really to go even though there may be occasionally instances of beauty along the way. Time will tell.

3) This third trailer is perhaps the most interesting of this little grouping, precisely because it attempts none of the pomp, bombast, station, or estimation that may be present in the other two that precede it. Rather, it is a quiet little piece, filled by a cast of actors who are not not-so-subtle end-of-the-year--award---hopefuls but who may yet still be on the receiving end of such-awards--related nominations. Particularly, the screenplay and the featured young actress (i. e., Carey Mulligan, who coincidentally appears in Brothers [i. e., film #1, above]) could be particularly worth the watch. This (film) is An Education.

Reviews to come as the films début.

10 July 2009

Review: Public Enemies

Genre: Action (Crime)

I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this review: The film was - in a word - shoddy. My largest complaint against it - and complaints I have many, from costumes to score to even plot-construction - is for cinematography. Simply put: One just cannot shoot nearly an entire film with the camera practically lodged into the faces of one's actors and then expect the film to be good. In general such tight film-making, unless into the faces of actors exceptionally talented in the ways of subtle acting, just doesn't work, even for lesser durations; it becomes too oppressive, even for actors with as much prowess as Mr. Depp and Mlle. Cotillard: Any reading or expression that isn't pitch-perfect(!) becomes a magnified aberrant that swerves the tone of a film violently off course, and any absence of expression where there ought be one becomes a chasmic void in the flow of the screenplay, affecting cadence and pacing as much as it affects the viewer's interpretation. In constant usage, in long durations, such tight-filmmaking then only throws a film into a chaos of mixed signals and improperly registered emotions, a whirlwind of mistakes now almost entirely unbalanced and unmitigated by the fuller and more easily controlled register of more distant camera-perspectives and full-body acting. Such a chaos and whirlwind Public Enemies became that oftentimes to me and to others the tone so radically differed from what was intended, the effect became comical instead of tense and maudlin instead of dramatic. The talents of the leading actors and supporting actors alike were done no justice and the original flaws of the rather trite screenplay were no fateful ballast. Needless to say, despite my initial high hopes for the film, this attempt by director Michael Mann became nothing more than throw-away summer fare, perhaps in the tradition of Road to Perdition (2002), if only more confused.

Grade: C-.

Review: Brüno

Of all the reviews that I will write this year, for films already seen and films still to come, I believe that I can confidently say, my review for cultural embezzler's, Sacha Baron Cohen's, Brüno will be the most interesting for me. A film that at once traipses the narrow road of social criticism on the controversial fronts of sexuality, extreme fanaticism - which is not a redundant phrase, I promise you - and, like its predecessor Borat (2006), interpersonal tolerance and s simultaneously wriggles in the Jell-O-y goop of mass-audience--pandering, Brüno is a work clearly like no other - not solely for the fact that it encompasses such a wide range of theoretical arguments about our world and our society as it at the same time spotlights the favorite pasttimes of websites like CollegeHumor.com, but additionally for the fact that it metacritically fails succeeding to do so. That is, in brief, as it succeeds in creating the pandering that it itself simultaneously critiques, it ereberotically ingests itself and attempts to block out any serious effective critique (e. g., "Does it succeed in making its point?," "Does it have no point to make?"); this year no other film, I guarantee you, will protest such a quandary of appetites.
However, despite this near contradiction of elements, it leaves itself vulnerable to effective critique in at least this one small area: its faulty structure: As a tale designed to manifest the best of the worst of people who are either too ignorant or too ignorant to know the difference, it remains true to its course throughout; but it makes the fatal error of having to graft onto itself, in order to justify the pretense of its being protagonized by a homosexual wannabe-star, a character-arc that defies the power of the meaty scenes by interceding among them, especially before and after them, the awkward but then required instances of this gay anti-hero's steps on his quest for meaning - however shallow that meaning may be. Thus Brüno hampers itself, by creating this characterized funnel into its argument as statically a gay one, and so, as that sort of funnel is the only means by which we the audience can view and access its more encompassing scenes, we are forced by default to reframe all included content with the perspective "subversive anti-homophobic critique" - or else let it all fall into the tawdry and diminishing categorization "gay minstrel show," a phrase which has been bandied about here and there in the online critical world as hashtags are quipped in Twitter. Needless to say now, such a reframing of the argument effectively voids the power of those scenes extraneous to it, a voiding that makes the otherwise gasp-inducing knock-out that was Paula Abdul, sitting on a Mexican (who was posed as furniture) while simultaneously waxing on about her poetic devotion to human dignity, nothing more than a mere exiguous curiosity.

With such exiguities popping up on a regular basis throughout the majority of the film, especially in its leading portion, Brüno struggles throughout its run to gain itself a consistent footing. On one hand, it has rich social content critiquing posturing, pretense, and intolerance - bar none - at every turn; but on the other hand, it has a damaging cleft, self-imposed into its cohesion, that effectively splits apart what is solid anti-homophobic critique (i. e., critique condign with the scope of the film's argument) from what is loose anti-other critique (i. e., critique exiguous from the scope of the film's argument). And, without ever firmly landing on one or the other side of the split, the film continually represents a division that, when noticed, begins its slow but inevitable disintegration into a clump of dissonant little bits.

However, this division may have been repaired - without the need for rich-content--loss - if, instead of employing such a flimsy, imposed character arc as that of the shallow, chaotic, and silly Brüno to recount its many included social offenses, Mr. Baron Cohen had employed a more encompassing premise: a philanthropic misanthrope amending the universe, let's say, for, truly, how could we better point all the multidirectional spines in Brüno than by arraying them under this unifying headline:
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I am:
I'm a genuine philanthropist - all other kinds are sham.
Each little fault of temper and each sociäl defect
In my erring fellow creatures I endeavour to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open people's eyes
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise;
I love my fellow creatures - I do all the good I can -
Yet ev'rybody says I'm such a disagreeable man!
And I can't think why! (W. S. Gilbert, Princess Ida [1884])
And the identities could go on (e. g., "To compliments inflated I've a withering reply / And vanity I always do my best to mortify [...; Gilbert, 1884]), to show an undeniable alignment of ambition. Clearly Mr. Baron Cohen should have taken a cue from his intellectual predecessor, W. S. Gilbert, an anthropologist of sorts who similarly took pleasure in calling upon the various self-extremified niches of society for their figurative, comical shootings before the mass-audiences to which they belonged, in brilliant attempts to cure them of their societal or interpersonal ills punctually, without their even knowing it. With such a cue, Mr. Baron Cohen may have been able to avoid the argumentative error of restricting himself to one particular type of ill in declaration, so that he would have been better able to serve and remonstrate all the niches that he has mined (e. g., money/fame-hungry, near-abusive parents as featured in Brüno's auditions for baby-models; beer-blinded, near-rioting fans as populating the proto-violent crowd at Brüno's final showdown; and ethically flimsy, nearly hypocritical "celebrittantes" [i. e., celebrities-dilettantes] as portrayed by Paula Abdul doing what was in this review aforementioned). "Mortified," yes, is what all these would-be people must be by watching their peers and colleagues' conduct themselves as they in the film do - and urged to change, perhaps, they may be too - but compelled to change by a film whose premise excludes them from the figurative gunpoint one can hardly expect them to seriously be, because - hey - they weren't the ones in the spotlight.

Yet, for even those who were in the spotlight (i. e., the homophobic members of the Brüno's audience), Brüno fails to hit the mark. In an ideal sequence that reads "Line 'em up and knock 'em down and (by having done so) teach 'em to never pose that way again," an exposeur by his public exposé gets his targets' peers and fans unawares to question, reconsider, and even regret their own socially governed actions and reactions because of their identity to those just exposed as - at the very least - off. In Brüno, Mr. Baron Cohen by his purposefully provocative scenes of phenomena like eccentric gay sex; irreverently (or decidedly a-traditionally) depicted religious imagery (i. e., the resultant photographs of the auditions for baby-models); and - most significantly - the uncovered, non--comically-exaggerated, and readily apparent human penis...neglects to encourage such self-reflection in his audience. Wait: You're saying that the film doesn't even attempt to achieve that sort of self-reflexive questioning - no less, regretting - in its audience? The film, so ripe with opportunities by which to subtly enfold perspectival changes into the fabric of a society, chooses to do nothing but reconfirm extant stereotypes? The film, specifically designed to address the pandemic of homophobia braided into that "moral fabric," shies away from recognizing the visual presentation of homosexual interactions and even potentially proto-homosexual displays (e. g., the readily apparent penis) as anything other than comic fodder, effectively upholding such displays' receptions as ritual absurdities rather than shifting those receptions toward normalization? In other words, the film encourages its audience to laugh at an exposed penis or to be shocked by irreverent religious imagery, as if those were the exclusively appropriate reactions to such displays? Yes, to all of the above. (See the footnote for more on this particular subject.)

But wait: Why would this film by such an otherwise daring filmmaker become so counterproductive against its own primary motivations? I confess, I cannot think of a reason. It's not as if it would have been the first American film to show an unadorned, unexaggerated, and readily apparent penis to the American mass-audience; I can recall and recommend as recent as Mr. Jason Segel in his own Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) for abolishing that in-truth tiny barrier in film - and for doing so within his film's first several minutes(!). And, with Viggo Mortensen in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises (2007), David Kross in Stephen Daldry's The Reader (2008), Daniel Radcliffe in Equus (2008), and Billy Crudup (even if digitally redrawn) in Zack Snyder's The Watchmen (2009) also baring themselves to the public, nor would Brüno have been the second, third, fourth, or even fifth major production in recent memory to have done so. Ironically, the film that was flaunted as going where other films would never go does not go where it probably most needs to. So then: Why should we believe you, Mr. Baron Cohen; why should we heed what you say, laugh at your pointed jokes, when you can't even bring yourself to stand outside of the band of misguided, hypocritical blokes, at whom you aim your comically guised pistol, and confront without awkwardness, without the need for comforting humor, or without the need to cut quickly away the plain issue at hand?

Despite all its attempts at being definitive, Brüno's figurative gun ultimately backfires. By comically slamming with one hand the real issues that with the other hand it foments, the film sticks its finger in the mouth of the figurative fire-arm that it raises against a rather significant societal ill, one that, instead of being shot down, is therefore ironically okayed by the film. With such an ereberotic and locked posture, that forces the audience to simultaneously disregard the side-show antics of those scenes without the film's thesis as fray the fibers of the mainstage-show that is the film's thesis, Brüno ultimately trips itself up, both structurally and cohesively, and becomes - though perhaps the most difficult film to parse this year - the least worthwhile once itself exposed.

Grade: C-/D+.

Footnote: American cinema has long upheld a double-standard regarding depicted nudity in film, an almost inviolate standard that reads something like, When it comes to genitalia plainly exposed, the female body is easy and fair game but the male body is utterly verböten - unless of course it's to be laughed at. Numerous articles have been printed documenting this unspoken rule of cinema, articles in both online fora [e. g., this article from The Orion] and official academia [e. g., this book by Peter Lehman, director of the Center for Film, Media, and Popular Culture at Arizona State University, Tempe]; and Brüno, like so many other films, fits right in to the discourse. That is, it makes no pains about featuring a woman's breasts and even vagina by choosing to show one very well-endowed woman standing fully exposed for several unbroken minutes in front of the camera; but it does make pains to avoid showing with any jot of equality a man's penis and testicles. Instead, it either artificially blurs them out of visibility - as if to say, These images of all our outrageous images are truly over the line - such as in that same aforementioned scene, with the exposed woman, or artificially dehumanizes them as sterile, unattached comic props - as if to say, These forms are ridiculous entities, impossible to be viewed humorlessly and intelligently, as belonging to a real, thinking person - such as when, in the staged pre-screening of Bruno's television show, the film first detaches them from the rest of a body (i. e. notably, from a face), then places them behind a second layer of "protection" for the audience (i. e., behind the glass of a television screen behind the canvass of the filmic screen), and finally renders them entirely absurd and exorbitant (i. e., by making the penis whirl about, as if an amusement, as well as "speak"). These scenes inarguably do little to nothing to demolish that double-standard but much to uphold it, stratifying the sexes before sexual equality and - frankly - serving as the bedrock for homophobia's widely unassailed construction in our society.

09 July 2009

Poster Art: Cold Souls and Precious

While we're on previews here, I just have to point out these two posters, one (above) for Cold Souls (opening in August) and the other (right) for Precious (opening in November), that I think are excellent examples of what poster art should be: rich, engaging, imaginative, dimension-breaking, and - above all - coherent with its film's subject matter and tone - in other words, much opposed to all this "floating-heads" stuff... (below):


Trailer: Ponyo

Disney's latest distribution from Japan's Studio Ghibli, Ponyo (formerly Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea), has now officially a release date (i. e., 14 August 2009) and a trailer, which follows this link right here. Yay, Miyazaki!

Companion Piece: Brief Encounter (1945)

A Mr. Dave Blakeslee, who runs the blog Criterion Reflections that features his own personal and regularly intervalled ruminations on the films in The Criterion Collection, provides in a recent post an interesting delving into the heart of one of my favorite films in the Collection: 1945's Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean. Though this delving may not be particularly attuned to the specifically complex intricacies that the film may have to offer as a work in isolation, it does give a good sense of an overall appreciation for the connections within the work itself as well as of the work with its historical context. With such a framework of basic ideas and contextual explanations, the review succeeds where it provides a medium of contact for those present-day viewers of the film, who otherwise may have found the reticence, the taciturn physical intimacy, and the oblique parting of ways a passive nightmare, lifelessly stiff and unmoving, rather than the pulsing and gripping flight of fantasy that they ought to be found and - in my opinion as well as Mr Blakeslee's - quite well are. Observe the clip that he has included (and that I have reposted here, above) to be sure yourself. Happy viewing, all!

05 July 2009

Rumination: On Vampires

The Times has a rolling, (somewhat flippantly) meditative article up now about the recent pop-cultural trend toward reawakening the vampire(s). This article's authoress, Ruth La Ferla (i. e., a woman more prominently consulted for her views on fashion and on fashion-related aesthetics than for her views on fictional villains or traditional cultural metaphors [i. e., fairy-tale monsters, if you will]) meddles at length with the idea that this newly rejuvenated adversion to the vampire(s) is due to the similarly "new" way in which they are being appraised, used, and appreciated for their usefulness by the contemporary masses: namely, vicariously escapistically - a theory that is perhaps as old as the myth of the vampire itself. Though, true, Ms. La Ferla does reach back into the canon to pull a Catherine-Deneuve film from the early 80s and then literature from the century before that, the authoress does hardly justice to the fact that the culture that bore the myth was in many ways parallel to the new constellations of temperament that describe the Zeitgeist of our present own. Included therein are her suppositions like threats of contaminancy, flirtations and longed-for dalliances with danger, and yes - indeed - sexuality. The plague-ridden populations of 18th-century Eastern Europe, who never ventured far in mind or body from the path lit by God (lest he too plague them) in general, conflated all three items into one and anthropomorphized it as vampire, a hellish creature - antithetical to God - that with the insatiable appetite for risk and relations could strike them all dead if they were not careful to stay the literally lighted path. Today, a similar climate, fueled by overestimations near-terroristic of epidemics (like swine flu), by latent worries about consanguinous perils like HIV (especially in the intravenous drug trade), and by the increasingly abundant presence of homosexuality in the forefront of the Zeitgeist and in the media (e. g., Prop. 8, "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy), amounts to a situation facilely effigied as that creature of the past, whose origins and intentions unknown mix at the border of pleasure and pain in the bodies and minds of the people in our collective consciousness - and, of course, the reeffectualized creature bears the change in specifics in his face as well. This change, Ms. La Ferla, a change spurred on by the upward fixations of equal beauty, is what much more probably has caused the vampire to change his guise as you say he so has, from the haggard, scraggly, pointy, and leathery lechers of the nights of old (i. e., figures who bore in their very minutest details the imprints of their origins in the plagues and associated subconscious unrests of their time, like fingerprints) to the sleek, glowing, sharp, and leather-clad seductors of the twilight - if you'll pardon the silly reference - (i. e., who bear too the marks of their makers, the hands of the outcasted fringe-members of society, of the much drug-associated gaunts of the mid-'90s grunge aesthetic, and of the toned and pretty golden-boys of gay culture's often hypersexual fantasies). Have your pick of the stars from Twilight (2008), Låt den Ratte Kömma In (2008), HBO's True Blood(!), Queen of the Damned (2002), and even 1994's Interview with the Vampire (starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise) and surfeit yourself on evidence to show how this claim of mine is in fact the case. To deny so would be to ignore those films entirely. Now, of course, this claim is not to the exclusion of all other possibilities (e. g., Ms. La Ferla's quoted quip that the vampires of today's media are more like James Dean than Bela Lugosi), but rather - importantly - that, if one wishes to diagnose the attitude of the culture by backwards appeal to the vampiric trends of late, one must consider the aforementioned confluence of factors, parallel to those of the similar trends original, as the primary - if not outright preponderant - explanations. For that reason it is likely, I suspect, that the vampires that we know weekly these days will linger around just long enough in the forefront of the collective consciousness of our people, for them (i. e., the vampires) to sway and be swayed toward a resolution of at least the weighted majority of the issues that caused the creatures to once again spring up culturally. However, it must simultaneously be true that some essences from their newly influenced forms will be retained as their existence as a figment of the cultural imagination perpetuates their myth, that will not leave us (especially not for our undying fascination with its sexual appeal), for generations, periods, and social climates much yet still to come.

Type rest of the post here