29 October 2009

Screening: Wings of Desire (1987) at the Harvard Film Archive

For all of you near Cambridge, MA, mid-{next month}, the Harvard Film Archive will be hosting a screening of The Criterion Collection's other Blu-Ray release of next week: Collection #490, Wim Wender's Wings of Desire (1987). Tickets for this screening, set for 18 November at 7pm at the theater within the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at the University, may not be purchased as they are free! So, attend attend attend. I will.

28 October 2009

Essay: Howards End (1992)

Kenneth Turan, film critic for The Los Angeles Times, pens for the Criterion Current a snappy short-essay on the virtues of the glorious Howards End (1992), a film that ranks not only as one of my favorite and considered-best films of all time but also as next week's and November's first Criterion Blu-Ray release: Collection #488. I am on tiptoe with eagerness and anticipation!

27 October 2009

Trailer: Invictus

I was halfway through the trailer for Clint Eastwood's upcoming spawn when the boom of his loathable filmic mark was levied upon me; for, until that halfway point I had been laboring my conscious under the misapprehension that for once in a great long while Mr. Eastwood would and could deliver to the American public (and indeed the world public all over) a film that spake toward serious issues and of great minds without needing a dismissive, bastardizing, and altogether mawkish plot-device to make its wheel turn. As you may see in the half of the trailer that followed that intermediary mark, my disillusionment, realized by the fact of Mr. Eastwood's casual displacement of the plight and the life of a figure like Nelson Mandela for the sake of embracing the chummy tropes of the game (i. e., here, rugby), was fated; as I see it now, there is little to nothing that that man, by others called director, can produce that is not in a serious and almost disgraceful way deleted by his unnecessary yet persistent clinging to feel-good scenarios and banal breaks for filmic fodder. While there can be no doubt in my mind that a role such as that of Nelson Mandela is one potentially historical-making for the likes of an actor Morgan Freeman, the filmic world in which that role and therefore that actor's performance of that role must both live nor too can be doubted as a handicap, rather than a vehicle, for those two otherwise already impressive and daunting feats. View the full trailer for Invictus here.

26 October 2009

Review: An Education

Next on my list, after A Serious Man, is another articularly registered film: Lone Scherfig's An Education: a film that (unlike its predecessor) just radiates outward, from within its protagonist (i. e., the effortlessly quirky and beautiful Jenny, played to a T T T by filmic-debutante Carey Mulligan). Ms. Mulligan, who, as so many other critics and bloggers alike have already waxed on, delivers a leading performance of towering virtues, perforce (i. e., for the film-world's already recommendations) will not receive praise here, but for briefly sharing her virtuous splendor with her now twice co-player Rosamund Pike. The two, who previously appeared together as sisters in Joe Wright's delightful Pride & Prejudice (2005), take the best of their parts and materialize them beautifully, in the most subtle of ways, to together almost alone bear the weighty load of this naturally ambitious British film: a nostalgic 'adolescenza' that aims to find the new in the old and worn folds of those reminiscent tropes.

And find that new this film does - rather miraculously and all at once - in its severe and complete dedication to putting forth earnestly and unscrupulously - and succinctly to boot! - the sticky truth of education in the world to students, ruly and not, the world over by the voice of its heroine, the precocious mint-jane. A product of her lattice-worked world of tight British citations and head-down, through-the-rain applications, the girl, disillusioned by her past, seeks - of proper course - to substitute encomia for those citations and bravura for those applications and - too, of due course - later, after following such airy substitutions off the edge, recognizes how with them alone she cannot fly, with them alone she falls. Yet, what mints her fresh, different from so many other girls, is that, after such a recognition, she alone can vocalize (with ardent self-awareness and expansive receipt) the finer points of the lesson that she has just been so hard-pressed to learn, a lesson which far more often than not needs to be lived - not merely expressed - to be properly captured and duly understood.

Yet perhaps a vicarious education of that lived sort is exactly the larger film's gift: By deftly allowing its viewers to not only ride but also play the course of the leading actress' maturative "U" (i. e., the figurative shape that conforms with such a character's arc, descending from one side of an ideological cravass in order to ascend to the other), Ms. Scherfig's film allows its viewers to be educated, along with the screenplay's Jenny, and suffer the emotional rise and fall of the lesson as dearly as if it were their own - a feat, the purpose of didactic-typed film-making the canon over.

Still the film isn't all roses and baubles. In particular, its last 30 seconds were desperately redundant, all too transparently "revealing" a point made so completely clearly by Ms. Mulligan's on-the-staircase expression that immediately precedes them. An editorial flub of such a nature is to me a dramatic blow for which I have no choice but to reconsider the level of intelligence and actual planning that went into constructing the entire work, and here such reconsideration demotes An Education, an otherwise enchanting if occasionally flaccidly written film, to a:

Grade: B+, almost.

Review: A Serious Man

Joel and Ethan Coen's latest project, this year's hyper-Hebrew A Serious Man, feels more like a pet project of their collective nostalgia than a serious foray into constructive film-making to the (average) out-group spectator. Indeed, though my personal experience of the film cannot be considered totally a negative one, I did feel negatively as though I weren't a part of that Jewish club to whom the vast majority of the jokes and the truth-based humors of the film were being directed - for, it was at least clear to me as any film-viewer, that such fancies were the crux and cross of the film entirely. Not an ambitious film, designed like its predecessor to craft poetically a sermon about the delicate morality of men, nor a holy cajole like another from the brothers' oeurve, steamed to bubble and bounce in infectious smart; A Serious Man makes serious stock only in fitting itself slowly into the tight niche of the Jewish-American outcast, cuckold, and near-leaning misanthrope. Though such a directive be not necessarily a detractive one for an artistic work, as many successful pieces have operated from within similarly tight societal niches to draw a comparative spectrum from the pinhole (without sacrificing the dedication; e. g., The Godfather [1972]), in this case there is little to no illumination on the opposing wall and in-group quips smack too frequently of not-quite-overheard whispered exchanges - rather than fully eavesdropped assertions - to those on-lookers in the dark. And yet the kudos (somehow) be all in the visuals; sets, costumes, make-up, and lights alone as polished shine: stylized drabberies leadenly underscoring the miniature feints and foibles of the anti-hero's rather calamitous (if understatedly so) tumble towards the rim of the abyss - underscoring but not replacing - no, not replacing: not adequately, not nearly. Despite this tale's incontestable aesthetic, a gussied bird is still a bird and this A Serious Man, an ornithologist.

Grade: B-/C+.

20 October 2009

Interview: Mira Nair

Following up on my yesterday's post of the essay recently written about Criterion's new release Monsoon Wedding (2001), I now present to you the sequel installment from the Current: an interview with the film's director Mira Nair. In this interview, Ms. Nair discusses her work on both feature-length and short films, her participation in the newly released New York, I Love You, and her lingering desire to direct a documentary-style feature on the Beatles' prolific period spent in India.

On a related note: While browsing the Music and Movies section of a local Best Buy last night, I chanced to spot the Blu-Ray of Monsoon Wedding hidden on a shelf - one day before its official release!; and, though I was able to desist myself from picking it up with the glee of a rarefied preview (since I had already, by then, ordered myself a copy online), I couldn't resist photographing the early-bird with my iPhone, all for posting about, here (at right).

19 October 2009

Essay: Monsoon Wedding

With The Criterion Collection's DVD and Blu-Ray releases of Mira Nair's (A. B., Harvard 1979) vivid Monsoon Wedding (2001) set for tomorrow, the Current there (at the Collection) has just published a great introductory essay of the film by Pico Iyer, who in his writings aptly describes the film's context both within the history of its cinematic past and within the history of its director's, Ms. Nair's, personal career. Check the essay out at the Current, here.

Trailer: The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Watch it here.