30 December 2010

Review: The King's Speech

Genre: Drama (Historical)

Fodder for actors, Tom Hooper's The King's Speech is an emotional, careful, and noble nod to what has of late become regarded as traditional awards-worthy cinema. No great achievement, the film plots the aided and gradual triumph of an admirable underdog, circumscribed by glitzy and forceful personages of his age. At the center of his circle, under much technique, Colin Firth (last year a solid nominee to Best Actor in film) taps in for a fair par, adding another respectable if unriveting performance to his credible repertoire in the profession. His sparring partner and (in all senses) coach, Geoffrey Rush, plays more admirably and brings a great supersession of humor to his lines that, read by another less nimbly tongued actor, could have fallen much flatter. However, of the adult trio who headlines the banners, Helena Bonham Carter, as the king's wife, is alone extraordinary, imbuing delicacy, empathy, steadfastness, and real charm into every nuance of her time before the lens; rarely than here has she been better.
Following them - somewhat idly - are Mr. Desplat's tidy score, Ms. Stewart and co.'s regally appointed environments, and Ms. Beavan's costumes to match. Remarkable only otherwise the supporting turn of Guy Pearce, it should nevertheless agglomerate further accolades as the "awards' season" rolls on.

Grade: B, fine, good, yes.

24 December 2010

Review: 127 Hours

Genre: Drama

Actor James Franco flies mostly solo in this never boring new feature by director Danny Boyle, would read my review if I were a boring writer. Fortunately, I am not and shall spare you reader the humdrum descriptors. All that really need be said about Mr. Boyle's 127 Hours is that, the considerable talents of director and leading actor aside, the film lacks creative verve. Because starry memories and pellucid flashes are the somewhat gaudy, somewhat hackneyed vehicles by which the film chooses to escape from its literally confined physical circumstances, it distances itself from rather than approximates the superpresent features of psychical, social existence that it needs to self-sustain, that he the protagonist needs to self-sustain. Now, I am not saying that this type of vehicle by its very nature is inconducive of psychosocial commentary relative to earthly-physical narration; I only contest that the vehicle is so inconducive at odds with a copresent narrative device, precedent by its greater diegesis within the story. This device, the post-modern self-testament delivered directly to the camera's camera by the protagonist in vain self-catalogizing, constructs a distinctive atmosphere, unfriendly to an iconographically friendly idolizing in earnest. Iridescent, halo-like framings of ideas manifest in supernatural space contrast against unrepressedly forcedly grounded double-imaginings of their necessarily embodied originator combatively, not collaboratively. This contrast is the film's macro-schematic pothole.

Grade: B, good active cinema.

Review: The Social Network

Genre: Drama

As not only a cinephile whose eager anticipation led me to attend a local screening of this film as soon as it was possible but also an alumnus of Harvard College from the years directly in which this film is set, I too would have thought that responding in a post to this film would have been a more pressing matter on my blogging mind than it apparently has become; not only has it been months since the film was released and I first saw it in theaters, but has it also been pages and pages of text since the film was still just a fantastic trailer on YouTube. Joining in this prolix conversation amongst the film-critical world at this late a stage, I am nonetheless challenged, for I have in all the text that I have seen not read yet any critical thought of the film as dedicated or incisive as I would like to accomplish here, in my own writing. Globally, it seems, the film is exceedingly well-praised, now the star on top of so many reviewers end-of-year cine-appreciative trees - and so mote it be: A capable and rich fiction, penned by the lover of gun-slung dialogue Mr. Aaron Sorkin, David Fincher's The Social Network is not only a marked improvement on the director's previous film (the still somehow puzzling The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [2008]), but also truly one of the best films of the year. However, here - unlike so many of my fellow reviewers, critics, and otherwise aficionados of film - I will diverge from the itinerary of the film's strengths, to inspect more closely its weaknesses and detractings.
While The Social Network excels in score, production-design, acting, directing, writing, and editing, it lacks sorely in structure and impact, positioning itself idly astride the wobbly pillars contemporary culture and perennial drama - not to mention the oddly hesitant cinematography. That the film is at heart yet another betrayal play of the same catalogue as the story of Cain and Abel and Julius Caesar is painfully obvious; dissecting and reinterpreting the nuances of complex and at least initially contrafactory human relationships is now as much a signature of Mr. Sorkin's oeuvre, which includes The American President (1995) and A Few Good Men (1992), as are the legal environments in which these relationships tend to occur (see also The West Wing [1996-2002]). However, being so anchored in the gravitas of a centuries' old plot-line, the film as a work necessarily takes onto itself the onus of transcending rather than reiterating the markers of its story. (Compare here The Social Network with Il Gattopardo [The Leopard, 1963], Brokeback Mountain [2005], or Black Swan [2010].) That Mr. Sorkin and Mr. Fincher knew this provision in their project is also patently clear; embracing the fictive aspects of the true story on which the play is based at the expense of an adherent's quest for veracity forms a dramatic arc, complete with tight opening and closing, that is bent away from the natural flow of events in life. (Compare here The Social Network with Lady Sings the Blues [1972], The Aviator [2004], or Milk [2008].) Contending with the onus via dramaturgy, Fincher and Sorkin compose action only tangentially dedicated to the events from which they drew, really just a common framework through which to reënact the elements of a canonical play, and serve only the trappings of contemporary culture - however immediately grabbing these trappings may be - as the dressings à la novelty and philosophical expansion. The question for the viewer then becomes, Is the invocation of a current social phenomenon firm enough complementary grounding to stabilize the high standing of such a hybrid, bipedal creation like this film? For me at least, the answer is 'no'. Despite the hard work that evidently went into creating The Social Network, the telling of its tale is only, from start to finish, a resituating that - purposefully or not - repudiates transcending its mold by make (i. e., concomitant address of the philosophical implications of youth in power, of the evolving dynamics of men in relationships, or even of the manifestation of a second world in the internet) or measure (i. e., boundary-pushing exposure of an unexplored facet of the tale; cf. Brokeback Mountain [2004, see here]). Leaving such richness untouched, the film contents itself with simply being a well executed restaging of events endemic in our culture and, so, almost predictable by their nature; with simply having only a spread of celebrity as a calling card. Meaning to bestride the past and the present, the film wastes too much energy in reticulating splines.

Grade: A-.

P. S. Mr. Fincher, a little more experiential accuracy wouldn't have hurt. Exhibit A: It does not take that long to run to Kirkland from the Square....

15 December 2010

Announcement: The Criterion March Releases!

Just amazing! I cannot even begin to say for how long I have hoped that Criterion would release the gem that is Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy (1999), and to complement it with the simultaneous release of the equally lapidary The Mikado (1939) is inspired. Bravo for March!

05 December 2010

Review: Black Swan

Genre: Drama / Thriller / Fairy Tale

Director Darren Aronofsky pierces the sky with his latest feature, Black Swan. A true cinematic experience, the film is so well done that it literally left me physically shaken as I was leaving the theater. Indeed, I thought to myself, This level of work is why I turn time and again to the theaters, why essentially I gamble my ticket's fare each time I see a new show: the hope that, when the screen illuminates and shows its imagery, a thing of this greatness will be elucidated from the dark. Mr. Aronofsky, Ms. Portman, cinematographer Matthew Libatique, composer Clint Mansell, and all others involved are all in complete control and in fervid abandon; like the dancer herself, they breathe "perfect."

Grade: A+.

16 November 2010

Announcement: The Criterion February Releases!

OK,  I just had to break back into the blogging world for a second, to issue some well-deserved thanks to The Criterion Collection for (finally) announcing its plans to release both Andrea Arnold's beautiful Fish Tank (2009) and Kore•eda Hirokazu's astounding 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking, 2008) - both award-winners here, at A Year in Film, last year. With Luchino Visconti's Senso (1954) and (the Blu-Ray image of) Krzysztof Kieślowski's The Double Life of Véronique (1991) also on this planned slate, I can't wait until February!

10 October 2010

18 July 2010

Review: Inception

Genre: Drama (Romance) / Action / Sci-Fi

Christopher Nolan's 2010 feature Inception bears the mark of the film-maker in its commitment to action, fervor, and tension in the narration but ultimately is a completely different type of film-work from that which the director has before given his audience. Though perhaps Inception is laced up front as a tight and intricate psychological construct proper, the underlying romantic cistern slowly swilling its defiantly nectary water verily belies this construct by supplanting its roots in the screenplay under those of the romance's own. And, if any should question this deep and most elemental romance, ballasting the entire work, one need look no further than the conclusive scenes for one's fait accompli answer: The narrative never mattered really, like the top spinning on its delicate axis the narrative was but the ballooned bell lathing itself over and over again on that axis in elegant yet beguiling design.

Mr. Nolan fortunately seems to be aware of this fact and does no unjustice to himself by trying to conceal it beneath casuistry or effrontery against the couple of lovers, played typically by Mr. DiCaprio and Ms. Cotillard; indeed, their abiding indulgence into one another is given its quite comfortable due even amidst the delicately engineered harry of the pinnacle sequence of the film - a sequence so well edited that it alone should stand for an end-of-year award, abashed be all its competitors. (Also particularly strong therein were Mr. Pfister's cinematography, especially in its capturing the suspended movements of Mr. Gordon Levitt in the set hotel, and Mr. Walsh's art direction and Mr. Kurland's costume-designs, which together never once faltered to the extent that I began to doubt in my mind the suspensive belief that each concentric sphere of simulated reality in the plot of the film would and could be for some characters, involved both inside and outside the screen, true.)

However, ultimately the romance that is the greatest part of the pitch on which this film rolls becomes the cliché that detains the film from fully escaping its otherwise impeccably (i. e., distantly) produced quality; savage cliffhangers that bluntly compel the viewer to question the finality of the narrative are adolescent filmmaking's stratagems, usually reserved by the studios for those films that have the potential to be or that already are set to become franchises/series, each part of which needs the springboard of its predecessor. And, like there was for Brazil (1985), I'm wondering, is this unclosed and potentially springboard ending the honest ending of the film or the studio's turgid recommendation for ultimate pizzazz? Only Mr. Nolan knows for sure, I suppose.

In any case, his screenplay was not without flaws outside this tacky ending. At the other end of the arc, the play suffers from the trouble that must plague every writer of an apud mundum alienum set film: How may I as a writer explain the premises and rules of my alien world to my audience as comprehensively yet unobtrusively as possible? In answer, a good and common tactic is to introduce as a necessary part of the cast a character who himself or herself is a novitiate into the alien world, so that by his or her learning its ways and wonders the audience may learn them too - and, in truth, Mr. Nolan does utilize this tactic well to a degree in his Inception, through the introduction and play of Ms. Page's character, the young and scrupulous architect Ariadne (obviously not unconsciously named in a nod to the Ariadne of Classical myths). However, despite Ariadne's for the audience vicarious induction into the world of active dreaming that places Inception - or perhaps due to the relative lateness of this induction in the film's arc - Mr. Nolan troublingly still falters, opening the story with bald statements and declarations of the governing rules and principles of its dreaming-setting (assumedly lest his audience miss these core connections). These awkward declarations not only make for bad screenwriting in a general sense, but also undermine the credibility of his characters as permanent and enduring figures, familiar with the worlds in which they operate as they are familiar to each other, and - moreover - the credibility of a guiding premise of this particular screenplay itself: the premise that it is unimportant to the experiencer the means or method by which he or she has arrived at where and when he or she is here and now, that it is important to the experiencer only that where and when he or she is here and now is here and now and that a plot may from here and now continue un-broken or un-upset into the future. In short, by breaking the screenwriter's fourth wall and explicitly telling the audience the rules of his game, Mr. Nolan is not only giving in to sloppy and weak film-making but also and moreover letting go especially sloppy and weak this-film--making, because this film of all films relies on and takes pride in jettisoning out its characters into forays entirely en train de mise-en-scène. Straying from this premise, even if for the audience's confidence, is a high inconsistency in the crafting of this film.

Yet, this inconsistency is not the only inconsistency in the film's crafting. Another almost equally prominent inconsistency is visual, in that the mise-en-scène particularly in the dream scenes is oftentimes incoherently rigid: literal and physical. The film-makers, Mr. Nolan and Mr. Pfister primary here among them, seem strainingly unwilling to diverge from their ties of the conventions of filmic story-telling and indulge themselves - as they could have and should have - into the techniques and trappings of fantasy (i. e., by bending the realities of their images as they have bent and do bend the realities of those images' worlds). Indeed, aside from the few still physical (i. e., optical) special effects that the film carries, the film - excluding its pinnacle sequence's managing the zero-gravity environment - is almost entirely devoid of any permutation, quavering, or bending that one may expect from a film immersed in dream-fluid. Inception is radically different from your previous works (e. g., The Dark Knight, 2008; The Prestige, 2005; Memento, 2000), Mr. Pfister; it is not of a world tied down and limited by real physics. It was therefore disappointing for me to see you and your director so seldom treat it as such an exception; content-based distortions of reality were not enough; optical distensions and exaggerations, as most incipiently was captured by your slowed imaging of Mr. DiCaprio's early emergence from the water in the bath-tub (, could have added so much to your work.

One final critique, sirs: I was often worried throughout my viewing of the film by the degree to which Mr. Nolan let Mr. Zimmer's thumping score inflate the emotions that his other director's tools (e. g., actors, cameras, words, backgrounds) were there to convey. While I have to be hesitant in my making of this point since I have not seen Inception without its score, I nevertheless feel compelled to cite the director for leaning so heavily on his composer's emotional pounding to do the legwork in communication - for there was little indication that I would have felt as strongly the emotion of the action before me, if there had been no musical enhancements, as I did because there were. At its heart, this dearth of indication is pausing at best in my appreciation of the already evident abilities of the film-makers to perform well behind the lens.

The bottom line for Inception, then, is not that I disliked the work but that I - I believe, rightly - could have liked the work much more. Were it not for the limitations of creative vision that I have identified to be hampering the thorough coherence of the film, I believe, the film could have been an extraordinary addition to the medium's canon. The aptest quote of which I can think to succinctly summarize this jostled appreciation is Cate Blanchett's from Mr. Scorcese's The Aviator (2004), in which Mr. DiCaprio also starred (though to greater success): "You're not extending enough on your follow-through. Follow-through is everything in golf, just like life. Don't'cha find?"

Grade: B+, only partially realized.

P. S. Though I accept the persistence of the usage of the basic tropes of understanding that were excerpted in the 1950s from the "everyman's handbook of psychology" in today's film-making, I have to ask, why are these tropes and their usage still so persistent in today's art? I mean, doesn't anyone read the new psychology today? Ahem, Mr. DiCaprio (Shutter Island), why?

Review: The Kids Are All Right

Genre: Comedy

Let me write plainly here, lest I misstate my primary conviction about directress' Lisa Cholodenko's rompous The Kids Are All Right: Ms. Bening is flawless. Yes, you read that adjective correctly: flawless. Rare be it the time that I bestow upon an actor from my lofty perch of this tiny blog an encomium so whole that I must use terms conveying perfection, now is such a time. Behold, all who may still have a lingering doubt about the aptitude and strength of this actress who has delivered stellar performances before (e. g., in American Beauty, 1999), the testament to an undying magnitude that confirms her as one of the greatest in her profession who is still professing. Truly, I have never seen Ms. Bening better, more confident and fuller in her actions and emotions, than I have seen her here, in this charmingly cool and moderne Summer film.

Now, what else is there to say about it.... Ms. Moore, playing Ms. Bening's spouse in the film, was wonderful for the most part as is normal for her, though for the rest of her part she did seem to be fumbling a bit with her character's coherence and thus upsetting the rhythm of her words and actions. Nevertheless, overall she was in control. Completing the adult trio, Mr. Ruffalo held his own against the women by playing his rollicking and somewhat desultory sperm-donor character loosely, jangly, and somewhat stuntedly - as were apt for the type. However, he too seemed to teeter at times on the verge of uncertainty and there, in his attempts to keep his character constantly moving lest like a target it be sighted and pinned down, he loses a bit of the credibility that he as a figure should otherwise have had. The two younger actors, playing the two catalytic kids of the title and the plot, react assuredly to the frequently dilemmatic tensions, caused in large part by their relatively puerile parents; they were well cast.

Beyond the acting, the film did suffer a bit from tendentiously spotty direction by Ms. Cholodenko, who though the brilliant writer of this work seemed at times not to know how to best make her jewelry shine, if you will. For prime example, instead of letting the focus of the film reside outside Mr. Ruffalo's character and exclusively inside the four-membered family where the final scenes reveal the heart of the film is, she voyages out, at times bringing Mr. Ruffalo's character to the center of the narrative and thus extending to that character a degree of empathy and provision that belies a later absolute dismission of him from the party. While one may argue, as does the family, so does the film; but such an argument fails to capture the perspective of the camera, which only once crosses the barrier, from third-person external to first-person omniscient in its plot-narration, and so such an argument lacks a consistent thread of support under the entirety of the production of the film to an extent that denies its plausibility.

Still, The Kids Are All Right but for these tepidly remarkable foils leaves the audience a bit richer than it found it initially. The writing, as I've already said, is concise and fun and the costumes were quite cool. And need I say any more about Ms. Bening's leading performance?

Grade: A-/B+, great Summer fare.

16 July 2010

Trailer: The Social Network


27 June 2010

Review: The Extra Man

Shortly after piquedly posting the trailer to the absurdist comedy The Extra Man on this blog this evening, I eagerly took the opportunity to watch the film itself On Demand - a great service to impulses and sales. While endeared - no doubt - to the film's quaint characters, who much more closely resemble caricatures (perhaps allegorical) than just characters alone, I became moreover disappointed by the film as a work whole, while I sat watching it, and was often befuddled often by the circuitous and tangential routes that the awfully patchy quilt of a film agglomeratively assembled. The protagonist, a rightly "milquetoast" waif of a twenty-something played tremorously by Mr. Paul Dano, was a feeble device, sillily pushed along into his zany situations by the pen of a hypothetical writer - that is, a screenwriter who apparently rather enjoys stitching together fumbling little ecosystems of humanity into a collage of the uncertain and the disenfranchised: A boy in the position of a man takes on the nagging inklings of a woman while he is residing with an underclass gigolo in a seedy Manhattan apartment for which this boy pays by trading his days for 'green' points to the devotion of a leafy and over-dramatic "activist" who would rather seek approval from her boyfriend than redirect her passions to the cliché-pasttimes that she does espouse, like guitar-based solo songwriting, guilt-promoting animal-activism, and indirect external flirtationism. (How does one make that tagline stick any shorter?) Did I mention that John C. Reilly plays a woolly chronic-masturbator who speaks in an abnormally high register but sings waltzes in a perfect tenor? Indeed, though more often than not the absurdist humor in The Extra Man worked, The Extra Man itself failed to hit a high comedic mark.
Such a review is short change perhaps of an otherwise decently delightful film, corner-stoned by the handsome performance by Mr. Kevin Kline, who does that for which he may be best known and earns again plaudits for doing it. Truly he has not been as good, in many years. Ms. Katie Holmes, however, a long way from her Pieces of April (2003) days, makes for an eery counterpoint in her vaguely transparent restoration of the ingénue's role: a poppy, over-lifted, and bewildering counter-culture-ette named (plainly) Mary. Limp between these distracting extremes, Mr. Dano supports himself until the script's all-too-nice yet still incomplete closure: rice at a wedding.

Grade: C+, a bon homme fine for a night on the town, when you can sneak in a little bubbly to springboard the evening. (With this film On Demand, doing so shouldn't be a problem.)

Trailer: The Extra Man

I actually laughed aloud. Kevin Kline looks brilliant. I'm fully ready. Go: .

23 June 2010

Cover Art: Videodrome Blu-Ray

It looks like Amazon may even be getting previews of the cover art for, in addition to the to-be-released Criterion titles themselves ahead of the Collection's own official announce-and-release schedule. David Cronenberg's Videodrome (1983), which has not yet even been officially announced as a scheduled release in its Amazon-proposed Blu-Ray format by the Collection, now has a modified version of its cover art (right) decorating the proposed Blu-Ray release on Amazon's product-page for the title. Though this art is not radically novel relative to the cover art that is currently decorating the DVD release of the title from Criterion, the art is definitely new, with shifted director's text, added spine information and coloring, added Criterion logo (at top left), and added circular Criterion--Blu-Ray certification (at bottom right). Though this novelty by no means makes it certain that this (proposed) version of the cover art for the title will be the cover art for the title in official Blu-Ray release - if such a release will even be at all(!) - it's interesting to speculate that this art may be the art, as far as Amazon has been correct in lucidly prognosticating the unannounced releases by The Criterion Collection for the rest of this year in film. To see these prognostications realized by our own eyes, we can only wait, for what the coming months' official-release scheduled announcements have in store. Huzzah!

21 June 2010

Review: Nowhere Boy

Genre: Drama / Biopic

Last year's Orange-British-Academy-Film-Awards nominated reinvention of the musically formative years of rock-icon John Lennon stirs up a lot of perhaps inspirational angst within and amongst its characters, as it now reaches States' side, yet it remains restrained enough to not tizzy itself completely beyond balance - a British virtue almost certainly.

In fact, most stabilizing of the film are its central performances, particularly those two (also nominated) by the supporting women in John's life: his absent mother, played with aplomb by Anne-Marie Duff, and his overly present aunt, played with tenderness by Kristin Scott Thomas. In terms of structure within the history of adolescent tales, these two women serve as the traditional feminine bookends: the permissive and the dismissive maternal figures respectively, whom a literate anthropologist may assign to the respective pleas and plights of developing children, attempting to reconcile their myriad with their limitations. In terms of between-spectator-and-spectacle interaction, these women serve as tacks, primarily by means of which the viewer may access the emotional contusions of John's particular coming-of-age tale. Subtly infecting this delicate balance between permission and dismission, affect and effect, is the uneven-handedness in the salience with which each of these women's roles in the film is portrayed in relation to the other's: While the novel daring of Ms. Duff's Julia Lennon is rejoiced even rapturously in impression's depth and duration in John's portrayed life, the surveilling caution of Ms. Thomas' Mimi is deferred often discourteously in impression's depth and duration in the same portrait. The effect of this imbalance is, yes, a more exciting film in the short run - exciting as small squirts of dopaminergic responses from indulging in fast food may be exciting - but, moreover, a plainly lopsided representation of John's key influences during his adolescence and in Ms. Duff's case an overrepresentation of the her character's. Though perhaps an honest depiction of the ratio of one to the other in this period of John's actual life, the audience the majority of which will not be so knowledgeable of his biography that they know this period's fully can not, without explicit appreciation of this fact, experience the full dramatic tension - indeed, the pivotal tension of this story - wrought by the motivational conflict between these two influential characters' personal quotidian philosophies. A balance more considerate of this fact than this imbalance in the film would have done wonders to improve it in spectral impact and impression - particularly in the long run.

Nevertheless, Nowhere Boy is a completely fine work that conveys the information that it wanted to convey about this particular period in John Lennon's adolescence. Actor Aaron Johnson, doing his female tutelaries fair justice in his own right, skillfully enough steers his protagonist through a minefield of potential hazards for maudlin clichés; does so with style, in and among costumes and sets of high order and craftsmanship; and walks away, having shed off most of the jeunesse that befell him early on. Directress Sam Taylor Wood hopefully in reality has done the same; we attend for her next film, to be sure.

Grade: B/B-.

20 June 2010

Review: Howl

Genre: Drama (Biography)

Directors' Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's biographical adaptation Howl, exploring the personal and social implications of the eponymous poem by Allen Ginsberg onto his life and his culture, is at its best a finely acted and illuminative exposition of the work, set to the tones and times in which it was written. Leading actor's James Franco's performance is expressive and facilitative of the narrative back- and front-story of the author's personal and intellectual life. Though necessarily constrained by the circumstances of his appearances, Mr. Franco delivers in subtle ways that make the audience appreciate the sincerity of his efforts as much as they may the dedicated insights into his character's poetry, which is used as the template structure for the entire piece. Delicate and colorful animations realize the lyrical verse in timed interludes between the ontological and manifestly lexical conversation of the retrospective Ginsberg, being interviewed alone in his cluttered New-York-City apartment by an almost entirely unseen and unheard interviewer, with the philosophical trial, assaying and assailing the title poem for its perhaps brusk honesty to its permissively libertine characters. Favored actors and actresses (e. g., Jeff Daniels, Mary-Louise Parker) dot the trial's landscape with their own rather individually neurotic plays on perspectival archetypes, better written in the screenplay than perhaps given credit here, and the sea of faces, ever present in the eye of the lens by these actors and actresses' appearances and by the appearances of those others who form the audiences at that trial and at Ginsberg's reading, reinforce the notion of inclusion that the poem, it is argued, proposes to make (both of its characters as cultural touchstones and of its readers as the culturally touched). Negative elements, detracting from these aforementioned positive, may only be the rather simplistic triangular device, used to apportion the film to the three primary plot-lines that advance and together complicate its theoretically simple (i. e., straightforward) story, and the rather stiff way in which Mr. John Hamm (of Mad Men celebrity) insisted on comporting his character, a lawyer but not an altogether unfeeling man. Still, these instances of misguidance or misdirection are rather indulgent criticisms for a film that is otherwise an accomplishment of its major aims. For all this merit, Howl deservedly receives

Grade: A-/B+.

18 June 2010

Review: Io Sono l'Amore (I Am Love)

Genre: Drama / Romance

In her review of director's Luca Guadagnino's Romantique Io Sono l'Amore (I Am Love), Manohla Dargis of the Times invokes the phrase, "it’s almost a surprise everyone isn’t wearing period costumes." In my review of the same film, I'd like to open by invoking the palpabilization of the turn-key of that phrase - that is, I open by invoking the appreciation that Io Sono l'Amore is for all its luxe beauty and imagery a period piece - albeit one that perhaps has not yet had its brass knob shon by history, but a period piece anyway.

Indeed, even as though the characters in the film revolve around its impressive interiors and flush exteriors, they exist only in their period, suspended far above the relatively quotidian boorishnesses of the contemporary public whose members are theirs and our common guests. In no instance in the film is this observation clearer than that instance in which Emma, played openly by Tilda Swinton, and Tancredi, her husband played by Pippo Delbonno, report to the tiny green and cloistered room, to receive the confirmation of their sons passionate demise, where outside lingers, disaffectedly low in his chair, a swarthy youth in loose denim, chalky white sneakers, and a rumpled headset. There, the confirming doctor shuts the door on the young man, the antithesis of the polished aristocrat who their son was, as if the rumpled common man, the labile background to their gilded and alchemical dramatizations.

However, expounding upon the status of the film as one of capsulization and explication nevertheless does not approach the certainty of a critique upon the work in it, nor an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses - its accomplishment of its clearly high ambition. No, to address these aspects of the work one must regard the opulence as setting, the dramatization as core, and the rumpled headset of a stint a fleeting hint of noise in an otherwise cream-like production. Yes, cream-like. Even creamy, were it not for the sloppy conception with which that term goes. Director Guadagnino seems unable in truth to resist dairy richness in crafting this piece; he samples breasts, desserts, clouds, puffs, lips, rounds, swirls, whorls, and - as Ms. Dargis also wrote it - "Tilda Swinton’s alabaster face" as if the sensuality of absorbing and preserving such living and lulling luxuries were as comforting to him as erotic. He urges the viewer to feel the same. Yet, while these urgings manifest in the forms of tight shots, wide arrays, sparkling diamonds, blurry sex, and an epic score, his almost cold remotion of himself and the viewer from all the interstitial moments among these swoons prevent the viewer's full entry into the rhythm of the passion and the drama as much as, I suspect, he was intended to do. Miscellaneous objects and extras block the frame and distract attention from the subjects; cinematographical clippings err badly here and there, lobbing off content almost willy-nilly; and frigid, practically deathly blues surprise and dismantle otherwise ecstatically wrought situations of fantasy. In fact, the dichotomy is so striking in terms of color-choice that the entire opening of the film, alternating from the wintry exteriors of December's snowy Milan to the flourishing interiors of the Recchi's decorous manse, suggests to a literal reader the passage of the family's arriving patriarch from outside to inside as much a phantasmagoric visitation as an invited one.

Yet, nevertheless, there is wonder here, and there is beauty. The baroque opulence that does decorate the characters and their surroundings compels a reading of those characters and their story as much a textural fabric as those that the Recchi family's business produces: smooth, cherished, woven, shapable, and  occasionally velveteen. Sensually relentless, the film wends its way through loops and glides, extending caresses for food, gazes, and woozy tableaux along the way. To our the viewers' eyes, it is like watching the tailoring of a very fine suit from this fabric being expended: slight marks by chalk, a shuffing and smoothening, long slips of conformity, cutting, realigning, and finally sewing finitely with threads.

It is a beautiful suit. Hold it against your face, anyone, to imagine yourself being dressed by its decadent feeling; but put it on your self, only you, to fit its personalized couturier's style.

Grade: B.

17 June 2010

Trailer: Somewhere (2010)

Writer-directress', Sophia Coppola's, newest work Somewhere, to be released this year in film December, has a beautiful new trailer to whet every Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette fan's appetite. I particularly enjoy the trailer's treatment of Julian Casablancas' "I'll Try Anything Once", an alterna-rock rendition of The Strokes' (great) "You Only Live Once" (2005). Enjoy the audibles and the visuals via Apple's trailers' site: here(, though don't try to access the film's official site just yet as it seems to be incomplete despite the address' inclusion in the trailer's credits).

15 June 2010

Announcement: The September Criterion Releases - and Amazon Is onto Something

The Criterion Collection has just today announced its slated releases for September 2010, and with director's Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line (1998) making the list, it looks like Amazon is onto something, the online retailer having accurately forecast the recent title (among others) before its official today's announcement:
Two of the greatest—and most unusual—films about World War II are coming to Criterion, in Blu-ray and DVD editions: Terrence Malick’s staggering The Thin Red Line (right) and Nagisa Oshima’s bold POW drama Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, starring David Bowie. And you probably haven’t heard of Canadian director Allan King (called a “great artist” by Jean Renoir), but once you witness his amazing documentaries in Eclipse Series 24, you’ll never forget him. Plus: Blu-ray Breathless and Charade!
Let's see if the other forecast titles show up in October, November, and/or December!

01 June 2010

Announcement: The August Criterion Releases - and More?!

A few weeks ago The Criterion Collection announced its future releasing of Crumb (1995) and Black Orpheus (1959) on Blu-Ray; Three Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg (1927-1928), Louie Bluie (1985), and L'Enfance Nue (1968) on DVD; in August and I atypically for myself neglected to relay their announcement by posting it here, at A Year in Film. Partially this neglect was due to my atypical business, partially my outsider's indifference to the majority of those titles - Black Orpheus excepted; however, neglect is neglect and I hereby aim to make up for it now.

Essentially, the heart of this post therefore lies not in the mere recapitulation of the names and links of those filmic titles that the Collection will be releasing in August, but rather in the related news that follows: It seems that, although no official announcements by the Collection have been made, future releases will include The Darjeeling Limited (2007), director's Wes Anderson's only live-action film not yet released by the Collection, which will presumably also include its complement Hotel Chevalier (2007) as a special feature; The Thin Red Line (1998); and Antichrist (2009), which was implicitly announced in April's edition of The Criterion Collection Newsletter and slated for a Fall release; as well as new HD transfers of Seven Samurai (1954) and Videodrome (1983). If you've followed any of the links to find out the source of this apparent news, you've already discovered that these additions to the Collection new from Amazon, the online retailer that has possibly let slip the forthcoming plans well ahead of the Collection's own schedule. Though of course these retail pages may be purely speculative and therefore should be understood with variability, they nevertheless make for exciting(!) prospects for the future months beyond August for Criterion. Yet, despite however exciting these potential releases may be, I still have to wonder, 'When is Still Walking (2009) being released?' Hm, Criterion? You promised....

15 April 2010

Announcement: The July Criterion Releases!

From the Collection's homepage:
In July, Criterion is dealing in pairs. First, a double feature from Ozu, whose moving early films The Only Son and There Was a Father are coming to home video for the first time. Then, a matched set from cinema’s preeminent twosome, Powell and Pressburger: the Technicolor dazzlers Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes, in Blu-ray and DVD editions. Add the breathtaking French drama The Secret of the Grain and the Eclipse series Presenting Sacha Guitry, and you’ve got quite a summer bounty.
Plus, check out this incisive, if brief, essay by Eric Kohn on the viewing experience of the more immediately upcoming Criterion release, Summer Hours.

09 April 2010

Announcement: The Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film Honors Kore•eda Hirokazu

So, this news is kind of old news but it's nevertheless fun news: The Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film, a film group based here in Boston like I am - at least for the time being - also chose to honor director Kore•eda Hirokazu as the Best Director of the Year in Film 2009 like I did. It's wonderful that this director and his stunning film are getting superlative recognition beyond the limits of this tiny tab in the universe, this my blog, A Year in Film. Congratulations, Mr. Kore•eda; exceptional work!

27 March 2010

Trailers and Things: Wild Grass, Bluebeard, Spike Jonze, and Carey Mulligan

Apple's always fun site featuring the latest upcoming-films' trailers has recently posted two trailers whose films are definitely on my list: The former, Les Herbes Folles (Wild Grass), premiered earlier last year at the Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim for its director, the prolific and enduring Alain Resnais, and the latter, Bluebeard, was featured last year on The Criterion Collection's blog, The Criterion Current, for its admirable synergy between story and storyteller (i. e., directress Catherine Breillat, whose interview with the Current is the central content of that posting). Watch both trailers here and here, respectively.

In other news, director Spike Jonze has released a short film I'm Here - A Love Story in an Absolut World online, at www.imheremovie.com. I watched the film earlier today and, while I had to admire the film for its skillful direction and innocent tenderness, I ultimately had to take pause at the extent to which the melancholy drama pushed its limits bordering on the preposterous and the maudlin. An entirely selfless and robotic protagonist, oppressed not only by his solitude but moreover by his society, is practically beyond credulity, not because he is robotic but rather because he is so entirely selfless hat he will literally surrender himself to his affections. Allegorical, yes, but saccharine too, the film seemed too bent on romanticizing what amounts to a destructive partnership and thus lacked a smooth cohesion with the softness and fluidity of its techniques.

Finally, in future film news, Carey Mulligan, winner of 2009's Best Actress SpyGlass Full, it has recently been announced, has been cast in the leading role in the upcoming Emma-Thompson(!) adaptation of My Fair Lady (1956), an adaptation itself of George Bernard Shaw's classic Pygmalion (1913). To earn the part, Ms. Mulligan surpassed both Natalie Portman and her former co-star Keira Knightley in consideration, reports say; here's to celebrating that the casting director(s) has(ve) made the right choice!

That's all for now. Reviews for a handful of current films are to come soon.

15 March 2010

Announcement: The June Criterion Releases!

From The Criterion Collection's homepage:

Directors from the world over will make June a truly eclectic month at Criterion. Get on track with Jim Jarmusch’s and Carol Reed’s Mystery Train and Night Train to Munich, an ode to Memphis and a spy thriller, respectively. Along the way, check out the much-anticipated release of Antonioni’s Red Desert [...], Kiarostami’s amazing Iranian fiction-doc Close-up, and Everlasting Moments, the lyrical latest from Swedish master Jan Troell. All this and Visconti’s divine The Leopard on Blu-ray disc!

From Bringing Up Baby (1938): "The leopard! David, THE LEOPARD!"
Cheers, Criterion. :)

12 March 2010

Failer, Which Equals Fake plus Trailer

Via AwardsDaily comes this rather hilarious 'failer' for what its producers think is sure to make its (presumedly non-existent) referent film an Academy-Award winner. Well done!

08 March 2010

Aftermath: The Academy Awards for the Year 2009

Well, it's happened: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) has committed yet another (see here) devastating assault on its own integrity, when it last night chose to present its statuettes designed to recognize "achievement" to several individuals all of whom achieved less than a cheese grater's end-product: cheese cheese and more cheese. Monumental self-immolations on the part of AMPAS like last night's statuette-presentations are, unfortunately, about par for the course nowadays; and so, while perpetually aggravating and embarrassing, such vulgar commissions nevertheless register now with a grotesque familiarity, much like a lactose-intolerant individual's familiar groan-inducing rumbling after having indulged quite deliriously in similar dairy-based products instead of having soberly abjured from them for the infinitely wiser choice of soy greens and Carey Mulligan.

The saddest effect of this self-devastation is that there now will be people who simply by the reputation of the indulger's prudent mask earnestly believe that Geoffrey Fletcher did adapt what became "the greatest achievement in screenwriting" in the year in film 2009, that Argentina did proffer what became "the greatest achievement in foreign-language film-making" in the year in film 2009, and - travesty of travesties - that Sandra Bullock did display what became "the greatest achievement in acting by a leading female" in the year in film 2009. How utterly misguided such people will be, duped by the mask of earlier years and more prudent statuette-presentations that seals the Academy in the minds and the hearts of such an adoring public ad perpetuum, away from any serious critique, any well-reasoned lambaste, and any plucky revile wherefore repeated demerits would not be shuffled under the carpet or else rebranded into "that high-shelf classic" that deserves its gathering devotees. And how the public willingly accepts such misguidance year after year, when the seriously deserving nominees (e. g., Kate Winslet, Peter O'Toole) must jump through hoops to even hope to receive what the likes of Ms. Bullock have received merely by having a hit smile, is beyond my comprehension.

How similarly would either group feel, I wonder, AMPAS or its duped devotees, if the Golden Raspberry Awards, also annually held, too presented its statuettes, designed to recognize utter lack of achievement, nationally publicly and on TV and too made it known that its counterpart statuette (for the least achievement in acting by a leading female in the year in film 2009) has been presented to none other than the woman very same? I shudder to think that they wouldn't even care:

The Oscar to the Razzie-winning actress this year, AMPAS? A new low? Well, OK, if you're sure....

07 March 2010

The 11 Best Films of the Year in Film 2009

OK, kids; now, when the 82nd Annual Academy Awards' ceremony with its goofy list of 10 Best Picture nominees is nearly upon us and after I've finished announcing the winners of my SpyGlasses Full, is it time for me to reveal my list of the 11 Best Films (see last year's list here) of this year in film 2009 (in order alphabetical; with grades):

  • 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking), A
  • Avatar, A-
  • An Education, B+
  • The Hurt Locker, A-
  • Inglourious Basterds, A-
  • L'Heure d'Été (Summer Hours), B+
  • The Messenger, A-
  • The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, B+
  • Un Prophète (A Prophet), B+
  • A Single Man, A-
  • Up in the Air, A-/B+
Congratulations to all the winners and here's to the year in film 2010!

03 March 2010

Article: "Photopost: Lust, Caution [2007] and Mahjong"

Colin Low at Against the Hype has recently posted an incredibly illuminative article about the games of mahjong played in director's, Ang Lee's, 2007 film 色, 戒 (Lust, Caution) - illuminative for those viewers of the film who are not already familiar with mahjong's rules of play. Essentially, Mr. Low describes how one critical game of mahjong in the film underwrites the action - both diegetic and non-diegetic - of the superficial plot; as Mak Tai Tai (artfully played by Tang Wei) finds her inlet into a seductive affair with Mr. Yi (played by Tony Leung), the mahjong tiles encode his complicity with her advances and the affair. Read Mr. Low's full piece at Against the Hype, here.

28 February 2010

The SpyGlasses Full (2009): Official Winners

Alright, kids; even though I still haven't yet had a chance to see Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, the calendar dictates that the awards must be issued and so issued the awards will be. I think, I'll proceed into issuing them in the same way as how I did two years ago, when I announced their winners in daily installments for the week.

To begin then, I now announce the winners of the sonic and technical categories:

Best Sound Editing
Christopher Boyes & Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Avatar
Jason George & Geoffrey G. Rubay, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Brent Burge & Chris Ward, District 9
Paul N. J. Ottosson, The Hurt Locker
Michael Silvers & Tom Myers, Up

Best Sound Mixing
Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, and Tony Johnson; Avatar
Joe Barnett, Todd Beckett, & Mathew Waters; Crazy Heart
Michael Hedges & Gilbert Lake, District 9
Paul N. J. Ottosson & Ray Beckett, The Hurt Locker
Ren Klyce, Where the Wild Things Are

1 March 2010: Make-Up and Visual Effects
Best Make-Up
Barney Burman, Mindy Hall, & Joel Harlow; Star Trek
Leon von Solms, Sarah Rubano, & Joe Dunckley; District 9
Sarah Monzani, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Jean Ann Black & Fríða Aradóttir, A Serious Man
Kate Biscoe & Cydney Cornell, A Single Man

Best Visual Effects
Volker Engel & Marc Weigert, 2012
Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, and Andrew R. Jones; Avatar
Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, and Matt Aitken; District 9

2 March 2010: Music - Original Score and Original Song
Best Original Score
Michael Galasso, Séraphine
Marvin Hamlisch, The Informant!

3 March 2010: Writers - Original and Adapted Screenplays
Best Screenplay (Original)
Pedro Almodóvar, Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
Olivier Assayas, L'Heure d'Été (Summer Hours)
Mark Boal, The Hurt Locker
Kore•eda Hirokazu, 歩いて も 歩いても (Still Walking)
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Screenplay (Adapted)
Wes Anderson & Noah Baumbach, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, & Tony Roche; In the Loop
Neil Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell, District 9
Scott Cooper, Crazy Heart
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air

4 March 2010: Sets, Shirts, and Shots: Art Direction, Costuming, and Cinematography
Best Art Direction
Philip Ivey, District 9
Nelson Lowry, Fantastic Mr. Fox
Anastasia Masaro & Dave Warren, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Mark Ricker, Julie & Julia
David Wasco, Inglourious Basterds

Best Cinematography
Barry Ackroyd, The Hurt Locker
Greig Fraser, Bright Star
Robert Richardson, Inglourious Basterds
Robbie Ryan, Fish Tank
Yamasaki Yutaka, 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking)

Best Costuming
Janet Patterson, Bright Star
Sandy Powell, The Young Victoria
Monique Prudhomme, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
Anna B. Sheppard, Inglourious Basterds

5 March 2010: Editing and Animation
Best Editing
James Cameron, John Refoua, & Stephen Rivkin; Avatar
Julian Clarke, District 9
Chris Innis & Bob Murawski, The Hurt Locker
Kore•eda Hirokazu, 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking)
Barney Pilling, An Education

Best Animated Film (Feature-Length)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Secret of Kells

Best Animated Film (Short)
The Cat Piano
La Dama y la Muerte (The Lady and the Reaper)
French Roast

6 March 2010: The Actors

Best Actor
Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
George Clooney, Up in the Air
Colin Firth, A Single Man
Tahar Rahim, Un Prophète (A Prophet)
Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Best Actress
Yolande Moreau, Séraphine
Carey Mulligan, An Education
Robin Wright Penn, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee
Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones
Meryl Streep; It's Complicated, Julie & Julia

Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall; Crazy Heart, The Road
Michael Fassbender; Fish Tank, Inglourious Basterds
Woody Harrelson, The Messenger
Stanley Tucci; Julie & Julia, The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Best Supporting Actress
Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air
Kiki Kirin, 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking)
Julianne Moore, A Single Man
Rosamund Pike, An Education
Blanca Portillo, Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)

7 March 2010: Director and the Live-Action Films
Best Live-Action Film (Feature-Length)
歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking)
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
The Messenger

Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker
James Cameron, Avatar
Kore•eda Hirokazu, 歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking)
Jason Reitman, Up in the Air
Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Best Documentary Film (Feature-Length or Short)
The Beaches of Agnès
The Cove
Food, Inc.

Best Foreign-Language Film (Live Action or Animated, Feature-Length or Short)
Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
歩いても 歩いても (Still Walking)
L'Heure d'Été (Summer Hours)
Un Prophète (A Prophet)