24 January 2012

Quote: On Shame (2011)

"'The occasion of shame [for example, when a woman feels defiled by a prurient male glance] is neither the thought of 'forbidden pleasure' nor the exposure of the sexual parts of the body.' Shame [...] is the embarrassment produced by a rather different kind of exposure; namely in this instance (of being made to blush by someone's prurient glance), by an exposure, both unwanted and unbidden, 'to the desirous thoughts of another who is not desired, and who compels, through his interest, the degrading perception of oneself as partner to an obscenity' (Scruton, 1986," as cited in Shweder, 2003, p. 1114).

Shweder, R. A. (2003). Toward a deep cultural psychology of shame. Social Research, 70(4), 1109–1130.

Announcement: The Oscar Nominations (2011)

So, it happened: this morning(, while I wasn't even paying attention! - graduate school is obviously in focus,) the Oscar nominations were announced to some great inclusions (e.g., Demián Bichir and Gary Oldman in Best Actor, Janet McTeer in Best Supporting Actress, Woody Allen in Best Director) and other surprising ones (e.g., Rooney Mara in Best Actress). I've yet to peek at the full list - and, as I like to present them in as non-biased a casement as possible, I'll wait to peek until my nominees for the SpyGlasses Full are finalized soon - but I'm sure that there will be more inclusions of similar noteworthiness there, to be commented on at that later time.

23 January 2012

Article: The Visual Effects of The Tree of Life

Mekado Murphy of The New York Times presents a nice article on the visual effects of The Tree of Life (2011).

02 January 2012

Review: War Horse

Genre: Drama (Historical)

As a director, Steven Spielberg is a filmmaker by whose work, I can say surely, I am not infrequently offended. Never a filmmaker whose abilities for moving story-editing I doubt, he nevertheless abuses his abilities to a extent so consistent that I can't help but become viscerally charged by such adverse inclusions as that of the bookends in Saving Private Ryan (1998) and that of the core plot-point in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001). However, notwithstanding these and other egregious indulgences into the maudlin - albethey timid in comparison with some of other directors like Clint Eastwood or Ron Howard - I have to say that by this film this year I was happily not brought to the breaking point by excessive sentimentality - of which, no doubt, there was much.

War Horse then is an able-bodied, if somewhat doe-eyed, film, charming for its technical achievements that are enthrallingly good though operantly imperfect. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, for one, is gloriously moving and well-composed, though also more than occasionally clipping by its frame and supersaturated in its hues. Portraying succinctly the thrust of the tale as well as the beauty of its original story, Mr. Kaminski's images carry and compensate for the majority of the adaptation's flaws, most of which smack of incongruities of Mr. Hall's sassy realism (see Billy Elliot, 2001) with Mr. Curtis' overt saccharinity (see Love Actually, 2003). The images are helped, certainly, by Rick Carter and Lee Sandales' cooperative artistry, realizing the world of the story in details, sets, and stages, as well as by Mr. Williams' strong, if somewhat standard, original score, tinting that same world with vibrant emotional colors that hit the vast majority of the plot-points with an experienced hand's accuracy. Further supports are the visual and the audial effects by Ben Morris and Neil Corbould and by Richard Hymns, respectively; and, stitching everything together into a mostly coherent package - despite the intractability of certain elements (e.g., the goose) - Michael Kahn (see Saving Private Ryan, 1998) makes the narrative elements tight and strong. In these ways, War Horse is itself equine: a cherishable, steady, typically flawed vehicle for relaying a message or producing a result.

For this meta-level of technical achievement, the film may indeed be one of the year's best; however, the failure of Mr. Spielberg, namely, to be "an actors director" is enough to hamper the work from true achievement, as that of its decidedly folklore-rooted (see Black Beauty, 1994, or The Secret of Kells, 2009) ends. Though charming certainly, War Horse too often has only perfunctory humanity where it should have deep, almost anthropologically redolent lives.

Grade: B+/B

01 January 2012

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Genre: Action

David Fincher as a director, we know, has a predilection for crafting subtly anarchical tales about curious people, living on the fringes of society either because of social isolation or behind it, (see Se7en, 1995; The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008; or The Social Network, 2010). It therefore came as no surprise to me, that he chose to helm this film, the second adaptation of the popular novel with the same title. Mr. Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is thus an agglomeration of the novel's elements that has been hand-smoothened into a black-toned ovoid with a polished veneer; the film takes the sinister-aspiring contrivances of the original plot into a streamlined vessel that is at once appealing yet imperfect.

The story's pacing is usually tight; however, it is especially packed with hearty content in the active portion of the film. For an action film, this shape is not surprising; however, for an action film by David Fincher the shape is surprising. It surprises, because it breaks the steady balance that he as a director seeks to create in all his compositions. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as a result, is a curious departure from his past work, wherein methodical storytelling rather than expositive adventury ruled the day.

This break from past work is complemented but not masked by an insistent adherence to isolation as a motif throughout the narrative. Leading characters break from their societies, their regular modes of being, their principles, and even themselves in instances reinforced by lingeringly distant cameras and then images of images, all displacing the people involved in the work (i.e., all performers, director, and viewers) from their natural posts. It is this stylistic decision that does render some of the film's aesthetic appeal, that does give the ovoid film its thickly concentric layers, but it is moreover this decision that renders the storytelling obtuse and imprecise, that makes the connection with the heart of the matter a struggle against an ever rising tide rather than an artful challenge to be overcome. Unlike in The Social Network wherein the characterized isolates bond and rebond into telling compositions, in this film such telling bonding is limited, shunted into predictable tropes that actively stand against the director's best work (e.g., hastily abridged sex scenes [by whose edition one gets the sense of the director's being mired in his own puzzle], revelative murderous soliloquies), so that the abilities of the elements to develop a moving captivating picture are constricted and then only forced to fit.

Now, this critique is not to say that the action and the drama of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are horribly contrived, implausible, and anti-immersive or anti-engaging; no, rather, this critique is to say that the demands of this particular film's being told were apparently such that synchronizing rich and engaging storytelling became a challenge so great for the film creators, that they could feasibly produce only one (i.e., rich or engaging) and chose the latter for its visceral appeal. Such a choice is not wrong per se, and I would be hard pressed to ever say that choosing the other is necessarily better; however, I can say that making the choice, rather than emphasizing the difficulty, is divisive and ultimately deleterious to the product. The film cannot stand as a great work unless its shape and structure undergird with substance the attractive and well orchestrated tension on the surface. Mr. Fincher, judged on past work, does know this fact. He seems only to have strayed from it here, in this alluring but unsturdy piece.

Grade: B-