Thursday, January 31, 2013

RIP 30 Rock, or How Long Live 30 Rock

Shut up everyone, shut up Lutz! My favorite sitcom of all time ends tonight and I wanted to take a second and thank its creator:

Thank you Tina Fey...

For giving me two Black Swans,

For your obsession with Star Wars ("I don't think it's fair for me to be on a jury because I'm a hologram")

For making me want to go to there, 

For teaching me tuxedo etiquette ("It's after six Lemon, what am I a farmer?")

For Bijou ("Call us in English, German or Polish")

For giving Jane plenty to sing ("My muffin-top is all that")

For Sabor de Soledad ("Ahora con mas semen de toro!")

For life-long advice ("Never follow a hippie to a second location")

For Mickey Rourke jokes ("I'm going to have to break you down and build you back up, just like Mickey Rourke did to me sexually")

For the alternate Liz Lemons (with or without Seinfeld money),

For MILF Island (and erection cove),

For Queen of Jordan ("Rude!"),

For Homonym ("Nope. It's the other one!")

For the Rural Juror ("Roar her gem her?")

For el Generalissimo ("You are... surprisingly gay")

For Kenneth's Sydney-Bristowing ("I'll use my sexuality as a weapon!")

For Joker Liz ("I AM sick, sick like a fox!")

For fat Jenna ("It's visual trickery!")

For "Hard to Watch, based on the book Stone Cold Bummer by Manipulate"

For Abby Flynn ("I'm a very sexy baby!")

For Colleen Donaghy ("You give me ten minutes with the Lemon family and I'll have them tearing at each other like drag queens at a wig sale")

For D'Fwan ("D'fwink responsibly")

For devilishly gay Devon Banks ("If there's one thing I learned from you Jack is keep your friends close... and your enemies so close, you're almost kissing")

For Dr Spaceman ("Erectile disfunction, is not just a dog problem anymore")

For Werewolf Bar Vitzvah ("Boys becoming men, men becoming wolves!")

For Jacks's romantic interests ("Who is number one on your speed dial?"/"I have hollow bones"/"You know I love my Big Beef and Cheddar!"/"I'll try. Wicked hard."/"'It' meaning 'business'"/"You will never see the crazy underwears I have on!")

For Lemon's romantic interests ("What you're too good for me now that I have pirate hands?"/"Hey dummy!"/"Can I get another salmon compadre?"/"Question about Lando Calrissian: is that an Armenian name?"/"Velocipede"/"Kimiko-san"/"I will WASTE you!")

... I could go on (I haven't even mentioned "Apollo Apollo", Greenzo, Shanice, Kaylee, Jeffrey Wienerslav, Argus, Prince Gerhart, Borpo, Jackie Jormp-Jormp, Verna, Angie,, Frank's hats, Christmas Attack Zones, Reaganing, Lizbeanism, EGOTing, double-edge swords, female fight clubs, Sims Families that keep getting murdered, potentially harmful eye-rolls, robot-penises, shameful cookie jars, (meat) lovers (pizza), cheesy-blasters, night cheeses, slankets, Ludachristmas, Criss points, micro-naps, McFlurrrries, came-rahs, strides of pride, Sandwich days, Shark Weeks, Alfie & Abner, Dratch-as-Liz-Taylor, Anna Howard Shaw Day, paintings of horses, Kim Jong Il...)

But most of all, thank you for a wonderfully zany and cleverly irreverent sitcom that not only played to my pop culture loving personality ("You Solo-ed me!") but nurtured it ("Blerg" "What the what?!" "Who's got two thumbs, speaks limited French and hasn't cried today?" "This is not toward!" "HAM!" "Listen up fives, a ten is speaking!" "Nerdz!" "Charles-what-now?" "Me want food!").

Tonight, Fey & co. are shutting it down. We will be saying "Good Peacock!" and waving (like a human!) to the show. But it okay, don't be cry.

I will always treasure the laughs and the tears (from the laughs) Fey & co. offered me through these past seven seasons and nary a week will pass without me revisiting one of their crazy shenanigans. Here's hoping Jack, Liz, Tracy, Jenna and Kenneth go to sitcom heaven high fiving a million angels!

Lemon out!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Flight, or How not even Denzel could land this thing

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle & Melissa Leo.

Oscar Nominations: 2
Best Original Screenplay (John Gatins) & Best Actor (Denzel Washington)

Flight opens with a plane crash-landing sequence that is riveting, expertly crafted and ultimately the film's undoing: nothing ever quite lives up to it. Following pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) as he drunkenly -- if masterfully -- lands a troubled plane, going so far as to steer it upside down, Zemeckis and Gatins set the scene for a story of an addict faced with improbable survival. A savior in the eyes of the media, his addiction quickly establishes him as the potential scapegoat for the airline which faces a branding catastrophe should it accept full blame on the plane's crash. Yet this legal battle feels like window-dressing once it's clear the film is more interested in the personal demons that haunt Washington's Whip.

We have seen this alcoholic-trying-to-sober up story time and time again yet other than a charmingly biting scene at the hospital staircase (courtesy of James Badgley Dale's cancer-stricken character), the film never quite achieves the high-wire act of bringing together faith, addiction and duty, coming off instead as a glossier Lifetime movie of the week. The insurance problems, the high-stakes hearings (which feature the other standout of the film, Melissa Leo) and the airline backdrop attempt to raise the stakes but ultimately the step-and-repeat structure cripples any suspense. When we see a close-up of a mini-bar bottle of vodka, any tension is dissipated by the fact that the scene plays out just as one would expect. At that point, Gatins and Zemeckis hope I'm rooting for Whip yet looking at what's on the screen, we are not given much to root for. Instead, much of the film heavily relies on Washington's own charisma to elicit our own empathy. Several shots of him walking indoors with his shades indoors wish to marry the cool-cat attitude of Washington-the-star with the miserable and hungover feeling of Washington-as-Whip. Sadly, not even Washington's star persona (which, disclaimer, has never smitten me) can keep this film from crashing into its own cliches. C

Monday, January 28, 2013

Moonrise Kingdom, or How Anderson's twee-love story is gorgeous and affecting

Moonrise Kingdom
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Edward Norton & Bob Balaban.

Oscar Nominations: 1
Best Original Screenplay

The scene: A beach on the New England coast. A portable record player blares a fittingly titled song "Les Temps de l'Amour." A boy and a girl, both in their underwear, begin awkwardly yet endearingly dancing to this playful tune. Deciding to slow dance, they turn to each other and kiss primly on the lips. This escalates to fumbling french kisses, over-the-bra touching and ends with the two laying side by side on a makeshift Khaki Scout tent.

This scene epitomizes the mix of child-like wonder and burgeoning teen desire that permeates the film. Aesthetically, Anderson uses his knack for making the world into a primrose-colored tableau-vivant to envelop the romance between introvert Sam (Gilman) and Suzy (Hayward) with a hint of fantasy. Sam and Suzy's romantic escapade throws into relief the very infantile adult world around them which includes an unhappy marriage, an illicit affair and a bumbling scout leader. That Sam and Suzy are never reduced to the grating precociousness of cinema kids is both a testament to Anderson's smart script and his nuanced child actors. Despite its jejune art direction -- which aims for a storybook feel -- Anderson's film never stoops to the condescension that is usually directed at these coming-of-age protagonists. That it is the adults who find themselves entangled in juvenile antics yet committed to the responsibilities of their age deepen Anderson's wistful look at Sam and Suzy's epistolary (and later runaway) love story. Filled throughout with Anderson's signature droll humour and visual flair, Moonrise Kingdom is a lovely film about the joys of love and the heartbreak of growing up. A

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Sessions or How Hawkes and Hunt shine

The Sessions
Written & Directed: Ben Lewin
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, Moon Bloodgood & William H. Macy.

Oscar Nominations: 1
Best Supporting Actress (Helen Hunt)

Of all the one-nomination wonders this year, The Sessions might be my favorite (Mirror Mirror is a close second). Lewin's warmly funny film follows Mark a writer in an iron lung (Hawkes) who wishes to lose his virginity at the ripe age of 38. For this he hires sex-surrogate Cheryl (Hunt) who agrees to coach him for six sessions to achieve this feat despite Mark's physical impediments. While the subject matter (disabled man pays woman for sex) may sound unseemly, Lewin and his cast have crafted a smart comedy about sex and intimacy that while bordering on a romantic comedy, never loses sight of its unabashed sexual politics (the implicit love and affection that blossoms between Mark and Cheryl, and which begins to creep into Cheryl's own marriage is mostly glossed over despite its potential to sanitize the central plot of Mark's sexual fulfillment). The movie -- while less of a PSA for disability sex than it sounds -- breaks less ground than it would like to, but still manages to create in Mark a funny and smart writer whose disability is not solely what defines him nor what limits him. Not to be trite, but it is very refreshing to find a movie try to navigate these issues without being condescending to its subject, though most of that is thanks to Hawkes's nasal-voiced Mark who yearns for the touch of a woman.

The movie moves breezily through Cheryl and Mark's sessions from awkward first encounter ("Mark, I'm not a hooker") to the -- yes, predictable but not for that less exciting -- climax of Mark's first sexual encounter with penetration. For a movie that goes out of its way to put its actors in uncomfortable situations (Hunt is naked for most of her scenes; Hawkes is restricted to a bed for all of it), Hunt and Hawkes have created a wonderful pair and bring out honest performances as they tackle the high-wire act of making a movie about sex come off as a pleasant little comedy without losing the pathos inherent in that sexual journey. B+

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Impossible, or How Watts floats above tsunami flick

I'm starting off the Oscar Challenge 2013 with the film that nabbed Naomi Watts her second Oscar nomination.

The Impossible
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland.

Oscar Nomination:  1
Best Actress (Naomi Watts)

That the person who directed the excellent mommy thriller El Orfanato (2007) has directed this real-life disaster flick set in Thailand during the horrific 2004 tsumani becomes a bit more obvious once you realize Bayona and Sánchez dwell in the scary aftermath of the attack through the figure of Watts' Maria. But while El Orfanato aimed for soft-whispers and creaky hinges to build up the blood-curdling set up of an orphaned ghost child, Lo Imposible goes instead for maudlin sentimentality as it traces Maria's grueling journey back to her husband (McGregor) and their two other children. That the film survives the paint-by-numbers (if true) plot of this white family's reunion is mostly due to its three leads. Bayona rightly taps into Watts' intensity and McGregor's vulnerability to ground the spectacle around them (that the visual effects and make-up teams didn't even make their respective Oscar bake-offs is a bit baffling) but it is in Holland where the film finds its most valuable asset. He more than ably carries the film, vacillating between loud desperation and quiet distress, offering the film an anchor even when engaged in wholly contrived (even if true) near-miss encounters with his fatherr that could be just at home in a comedy sketch routine. C+

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Oscar Challenge, or How it's time to work on my reviewing skills

So Oscar nominations came and went and now we have a longer than usual six-weeks to go until the big night. How to entertain ourselves until then? Well, we could try and play pundit and try to imagine the various ways new rules in Live Action Short, Animated Short and Documentary could play out; toy with various Oscar stats and figure out whether Riva can beat Jennifer and Jessica, whether Argo has what it takes to make Oscar history... but that's best left to pros like Nat, Joe or Guy. Instead, I want to flex my film reviewer muscles (which have atrophied a bit) and thus I created for myself the Oscar Challenge of 2013. I have seen most of the nominated films -- a feat I rarely achieve by nomination mornings -- and so from here until the big night, I will be reviewing the 14 films nominated for the Big Eight above-the-line categories, in order from least number of total nominations to most. And yes, you should be surprised that only 14 films hogged over 44 slots with both Supporting Acting slots and the Adapted race being taken up by Best Pic nominees. To think Perks of Being a Wallflower, Kidman, McConaughey, Dowd, Bardem, or Looper could have easily helped spread the wealth around. 

In any case, here are the films: 

1 nom
Best Actress

1 nom
Best Supporting Actress

Moonrise Kingdom (A)
1 nom
Best Original Screenplay 

2 noms
Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay

3 noms
Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor

4 noms
Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Picture

5 noms
Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture

5 noms
Best Original Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Actress, Best Picture

5 noms
Best Actress, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director Best Picture

7 noms
Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture

8 noms
Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture

8 noms
Best Original Song, Best Sound Mixing, Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, Best Make-Up and Hairstyling, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor, Best Picture

11 noms
Best Original Song, Best Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Director, Best Picture

12 noms
Best Score, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Picture

Friday, January 18, 2013

Writing Soundtracks, or How Film Scores Inspire Me

As a graduate student, I spend a good part of my time writing. This can get quite boring, if not outright unbearable without some good music to go with it. When I am editing I can get away with singing along to the new Adele or Frank Ocean (okay, sometimes I also bounce to Britney and Kylie). When it comes to facing the blank screen and trying to come up with dissertation-level arguments, I have to admit that I tend to stay away from songs I can sing if not outright dance along. Instead, I turn to -- what else? -- film scores. 

I bring this up because last tonight, @SeriousFilm caught my eye with the following tweet:

And, not to sound too much like Carrie Bradshaw, but this got me thinking about the type of film scores that I'm drawn to and listen to the most when I'm writing. Needless to say, a great soundtrack (take for example, Clint Mansell's Black Swan or Michael Giacchino's The Incredibles) doesn't usually make for a good writing soundtrack (unless I wanted to feel like I'm constantly paranoid and/or running away from a giant robot trying to kill me). That said, my four favorite scores to write to manage to be both fantastic scores on their own accord -- elevating and nuancing the films they belong to -- even as they make for pleasantly unobtrusive writing soundtracks. Funnily enough they all belong to films that ended up in my Top 2/3 for each of their respective years Glass's minimalist score for The Hours, Marianelli's typewriter-infused tunes for Atonement, Newman's fittingly dour ditties for Revolutionary Road and Iglesias's moody themes for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy are in constant rotation on my iTunes and Spotify (though sometimes I'm in the mood for the pulsating beats of The Social Network, for the Pan's Labyrinth lullabies and even for a Desplat or two). I don't think it's a surprise that the first two speak directly to the process of writing (Woolf with an inked-pen in hand; Robbie's infamous typewritten note) as I'm sure my mind wanders back to those scenes as I stare into the blank screen in front of me. I mean, what better way to stimulate writing than to plunge into the psyche of Smiley and his single-minded approach to his work? Or into the lovingly broken hearts of April and Frank Wheeler? Okay, maybe only the former as the latter makes me sound like a masochist. My point is that this is what great scores accomplish; they at once help construct and complement the moods and emotions we see on screen. A bad score is always distracting (be it in its contrivance or in its obvious emotional machinations), but a good score is both felt yet unseen, which is exactly what I need for when I write.

As my choices show, I'm more drawn to the quiet and restrained scores which makes sense as I don't think I know anyone who'd want Williams bombast or Zimmer horns blaring as you try to explain how fan-like adoration of cinema infected the aesthetics of twentieth century queer writers.

Of the scores this year, I have found the Russian flavored score for Anna Karenina (my pick of the Oscar five) and the intertwining tunes of Cloud Atlas have made for good writing soundtracks, but I'm curious to know if anyone has any suggestions (old or new!) as I'm always eager to discover new music that can keep me inspired and stimulated as I work my way through this dissertation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Oscar Predictions, or How why not, right? [UPDATED]

Trust the Academy Award nominations to get me to blog more; and why not? I'm very excited about tomorrow's announcement -- not least because I'll finally be able to start planning my annual cupcake Oscar bash. I have plenty of ideas of how to decorate a Life of Pi cupcake (blue frosting, orange life-saver), but if my predictions are anything to go by (they're not) I'll have to get creative. How does one distil the cruel humane streak of Amour or the obsessive documentary nature of Zero Dark Thirty into a cupcake delicacy?

So Bigelow and Affleck both missed out on Best Director citations (despite Zero Dark Thirty and Argo having a good showing in some key tech categories, though ZD30 missing out on Cinematography is telling, I guess). Lincoln led the pack, as we presumed and Kidman, Perks, Hawkes, Cotillard and others were left out in the cold. You win some and you lose some in this game, no? Still, it would have been great for Bigelow to break the record by being the sole female director to get a second nominations but alas.

It definitely shakes things up as we head into the next phase of voting: is it going to be a Lincoln-fest, or is the strength of Playbook (scoring in all four categories -- the first since Reds (1981)) and Life of Pi (both films also scoring in the telling Editing category) enough to warrant a horse-race? Or can Zero or Argo overcome the no-director bid to score the big win and be the first film to do so since Driving Miss Daisy? Interesting things to ponder, though I do worry that we went from a totally unpredictable race to one that seems to have left Lincoln in a position to take it all. We'll see.

As for my predictions, I scored a 64/87 which I guess isn't bad (74%) though the fact that I stayed away from harder categories (Song, Shorts, etc.) probably helped. 

As they stand, my predictions suggest that the presumptive leader will be Lincoln (with what I'm thinking is a plausible 12 nominations) with Life of Pi (7), Argo (7) and Les Miserables (6) right behind it (though these don't factor in Song -- as who the hell knows with that category -- which could give the Ang Lee fable and the in-your-face musical an extra nomination each). The numbers don't quite feel right but I shuffled things around and that's where they left me. Acting-wise, I'm hoping Kidman's GG-SAG translates into a nomination while I'm banking on DiCaprio to break the "former winner" Supporting Actor club (which might still happen should Bardem or Waltz get in over Leo). I'm hoping Les Miserables misses Best Director while giving the edge to Haneke (it's also plausible we'd get our first lone director nom though what's more likely is that the French gem gets shut out of both but I'm hopeful!). As for the out-of-the-blue nominations that always surprise us... I couldn't find one unless you count my WGA-approved Looper/Perks of Being a Wallflower duo. Will there be an Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close nomination (maybe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel)? Will Skyfall crack the top categories? Will Django be more of an Inglorious Basterds or a Kill Bill situation? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Les Miserables
Moonrise Kingdom

Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

Beasts of the Southern Wild
alt. The Master

Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
alt. Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

Daniel Day Lewis, Lincoln
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Denzel Washington, Flight
alt. Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emanuelle Riva, Amour
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
alt. Helen Mirren, Hitchcock

Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
alt. Javier Bardem, Skyfall

Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
alt. Amy Adams, The Master

Django Unchained
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Zero Dark Thirty
alt. Amour

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Silver Linings Playbook
alt. Life of Pi

Django Unchained

Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Silver Linings Playbook
alt. Skyfall


Anna Karenina
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

Django Unchained
alt. Argo

Anna Karenina
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty

alt. Cloud Atlas

Anna Karenina

Life of Pi
The Hobbit
Les Miserables
The Master

alt. Django Unchained

Anna Karenina
Les Miserables
Mirror Mirror
Snow White and the Huntsman
alt. Django Unchained

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Men in Black III
Les Miserables
alt. Hitchcock

The Avengers
The Dark Knight Rises
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
alt. Snow White and the Huntsman

Django Unchained
The Dark Knight Rises
Les Miserables
Zero Dark Thirty
alt. Life of Pi

The Avengers
Life of Pi
Les Miserables
Zero Dark Thirty

alt. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

All the world's a stage for suffering women, or How I'm seeing double

A couple of weeks ago I treated myself to what has to be the weirdest double feature I could have concocted: Lars von Trier's Dogville and Joe Wright's Anna Karenina. Wright's social-politics-as-balletic-performances take on Tolstoy's novel is obviously in a different realm from von Trier's claustrophobic and caustic exploration of American values. Wright's film struck a note with me (as it is, a Wright film may top my Top 10 for two years in a row) while von Trier's is a (deservedly) harder sit, though the strength of both casts really helps sell the high-concept nature of both films.

At the center of both films though, is a woman in the middle of a stage (at times figural, in both cases literal) seeing her own life slip away from herself to the eyes of those around her. While von Trier keeps his theater-playing space to a bare minimum, Wright really amps up the "world's a stage" conceit and relishes the theatricality that said metaphor provides him. Yet in both cases, these choices serve to not only bring Kidman's Grace and Knightley's Anna center stage as it were, but to draw attention to the very thing that makes theater so distinct to cinema: the presence of the performer's body.

Grace's body -- subject to all kinds of torture and mistreatment -- is further underlined by von Trier's decision to create a Brechtian play-space to stand-in and for Dogville the town. The body on stage, unencumbered by the trappings of movie sets (or walls even), is here at the mercy of everyone's eyes  not least our own. Grace quite quickly becomes merely a body to be moved and fucked around. The immediacy of the minimalist staging makes the whole thing that much more unbearable not to mention universal even in its specificity. Here, the stage-as-parable framework depends on it being definitely tied to the very immediacy and urgency of the bodies of the residents of Dogville.

Wright's film tends instead to highlight Anna's very immediacy in a different way. For a character that so pines when being distanced from her lover, Anna's presence on a stage serves to not only highlight the fish-bowl milieu of 19th century Russian society, but to underscore the way she finds her love for Vronsky to be what anchors her in her own body. The theatricality and production design amp up the performative nature of all social roles but Wright's theater forces us to see Anna as a body up for the taking; her love of Vronsky is visceral, immediate and -- spoiler alert -- suicidal. Without it she is nothing. It is not surprising that in a key scene toward the end, her costume presents her as a rigid structure lay bare with no dress to cover herself.

I don't think it's a surprise that in both cases the character at the heart of the "staged" film is a woman; after all, we've been indoctrinated to think of women being tied to their bodies in ways that men aren't (or so go the gender-restricting roles that grant women physicality while men take abstraction). What's interesting is that in both cases the conceit works to bring out larger questions about how women are at once role-players but also perpetually offered up to a viewing public which circumscribes (and judges) their actions. Needless to say, von Trier is no Tolstoy so his Grace does not quite end up on the tracks, but rather manages to avenge her own mistreatment once she's dropped her victim(ized) performance.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Les Miserables or How I'll be happy if I never see a close-up shot ever again

As soon as I got out of a packed screening of Les Miserables, I tweeted,
And while I was aiming to be tongue-in-cheek, the overall sentiment still stands: Tom Hooper's direction and stylistic choices in terms of framing and shooting this epic musical are as misguided as they are ineffective.

It's not just that Hooper uses the close-up indiscriminately, which he does -- sometimes affectingly as in Fantine's I Dreamed a Dream, sometimes obtrusively as in Valjean's soliloquy -- but that in doing so he robs the very effect of a close-up of its specificity. The reason Hathaway's I Dreamed a Dream is so effective and affecting is that in the almost static close-up of her face, we are able to glimpse Fantine's hopelessness. The close-up functions here both to quite literally blow-up her emotions but also to offer them up; this is raw emotion unencumbered by editing, framing or scenery.

Pity that instead of this being a valuable (if not necessary) stylistic choice, Hooper makes it his only choice. And, if this were a different musical (or a different movie for that matter), we could see the overabundance of close-ups as offering up some clue as to their rhyme and reason. But here, amidst a musical that glorifies collectivity (in revolution, romance and religion), it seemed weird if not altogether distracting that Hooper chose to limit shots to giant emoting faces even in scenes and songs where this very collectivity was woven into.

 Take for instance "In My Life/A Heart Full of Love." While the intertwining melodies of the songs demand vision of a triangle, Hooper's choices made it look as if Seyfried, Redmayne and Barks were in different sound stages when they shot the scene, his camera never allowing them to share a shot for more than a second. But while this scene's inability to give us the romantic triangle it is premised on seems like a missed opportunity, other scenes feel altogether failures in even granting viewer's the ability to locate themselves and the characters. For what the close-up gives us in terms of emotion and attention to character, it robs us in terms of geography and setting. Hooper's inability to pan out leaves us with little notions as to where characters are at any given point (how far is Javert in relation to the fleeing Valjean? where is the cafe in relation to... well, anything?) This is most egregious in the Master of the House bit where the neatly (if claustrophobically) choreographed pick-pocketing leaves you with no sense of the actual house Thenardier is master of.

At the end, the movie asked me if I heard the people sing. It should have asked me if I saw them sing; that would have garnered a more definite answer.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolution, or How let's get back in the game!

"New Year's Resolution - try and write and publish more on this oft-forgotten blog"

"This should be easy enough. There! See? January 2nd and I've already posted something!"

"Annie, Uh, I just read your first post of 2013 and... is that it?"

"Well, you know, yes, for now. I mean, I used to spend a lot of time here and... wait, hold on, I have another call."

"Seriously? This is it? I want excitement. I NEED excitement and cool posts here."

"Yeah, well I'll get to those. I have this idea for a post on 'unfilmable novels.'"

"That sounds exciting! So much better than this one."

"O-kay. So does everyone agree this post noting that I'll blog more this year is unnecessary and I should just write something?"

"Pretty much."

"I see."

I can't promise anything as exciting as Wiig's wonderfully zany and genius airplane scene, but that won't stop me from trying. 

Here's to a wonderful 2013!