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....