Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tuxedo Double Feature: "Happy Feet" and "Casino Royale"

After having read that Fox News condemned "Happy Feet" (dir. George Miller, US, 2006, 108 mins.) as being the "animated 'Inconvenient Truth'" and 'warned' parents that it was an attempt at influencing their children with left-wing propaganda, well, I just HAD to see it, despite my natural inclination to write it off as looking 'cute'. I failed to realize though that George Miller ("Babe") does not pull punches. Yes, it starts off as 'cute'. (I. Hate. Cute.) However, there is a dramatic climax that was eerily disturbing. I found myself so wrapped up in the the world the film created, that at one point, I believed Miller would actually leave us with the nightmare scenario which "An Inconvenient Truth" foretold. Dramatically, the screenplay (by George Miller, Warren Coleman, John Collee and Judy Morris) takes us through nearly every available genre: musical, romantic-comedy, adventure and horror. And it does so in nearly that order, leading us from a kiddie-fied world of cute, waddling bundles of feathers, to a typical 'outcast in love', to thrilling escapes from hawks, lion seals and killer whales, to 'that moment', which I refuse to spoil!

The visuals are simply stunning! There were many moments where I lost sense that it was animated. And, as the film progresses and mixes live action with the CGI-animation, it only reinforces that effect. Yes, the idea of a blue-eyed penguin with just a hint of a bow-tie under his chin was just a bit TOO cute. However, the rest of the characters were closer and truer to their natural forms. The backgrounds were vast and the underwater ballet sequence was spectacular!

The vocal talent varies from good to, well... Robin Williams! He just CRACKED ME UP!! I love his voice work, primarily because I think it is so closely edited that we are spared some of his over-the-top mania that can be annoying. Though he is voicing 'ethnic stereotypes' in his three roles in the film, his sense of wild timing and abandon won me over. The cast includes George Miller regulars: Hugo Weaving, Miriam Margolyes, Magda Szubanski and E.G. Daily, all of whom do recognizable and memorable work. (HOW E.G. Daily has maintained her 'Babe' voice all of these years is sort of amazing!) Anthony LaPaglia and Steve "Crocodile Hunter" Irwin pop up, though unrecognizable, but nonetheless without disruption. The 'star power' of Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, as the precocious penguin's parents, is sort of wasted here, though their opening number is fun. Our hero and his love interest, voiced by Elijah Wood and Brittany Murphy are perhaps the least colorful of the performances.

Musically, it is a mixed bag. Attempting to be sort of an Antarctic "Moulin Rouge" in its mix of popular songs, and maybe only a lyric at a time, the medleys aren't that effective. However, the tap break moments are thrilling, which may have been part of Miller's subliminal point. The little penguin's tapping was done through motion capture by Savion Glover ("Bring in Da Noise! Bring in Da Funk!"), which I did not know until the end credits, though I actually found myself thinking that it looked like his dancing during the film. It is wonderfully executed.

The "Inconvenient Truth" moment during the latter fourth of the film is a bit heavy handed. However, the point is made and considering the visual competition that the message has from the rest of the film, I don't think Miller could have done any less.

There were more HUGE visuals, as well as REAL tuxedos in "Casino Royale" (dir. Martin Campbell, US/UK/Czech Republic, 2006, 144 mins.). I don't usually pop in my two cents on huge blockbusters since there is already so much 'noise' about them out there, but I just have to on this one: Daniel Craig is a HOT 'James Bond'. He suffers nobly and the nearly infamous beefcake shot of his exit from the surf IS all it is cracked up to be! Oh, and Judi Dench ROCKS as 'M'!

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Oh, Manon, oh, Man, oh!

Due to scheduling conflicts, my opera half-season literally occured in one week, with the productions of "Manon Lescault" and "The Barber of Seville".

"Manon Lescault" (Composer: Giacomo Puccini; Conductor: Donald Runnicles; Stage Director: Olivier Tambosi; Production Designer: Frank Philipp Schlössmann; Lighting Designer: Duane Schuler; Production from Lyric Opera of Chicago; 3 hours) looked great, and I PREFER Puccini operas over most, but I just can't toss this one on my pile of favorites, i.e. "Turandot". He usually has a knack for 'tunes', however I found myself becoming bored and the final scene, what seemed like a 30 minute death aria, was just too ludicrous for me to accept. Vocally, Karita Mattila's 'Manon Lescault' was quite lovely and her performance captured the adolescent zeal in which the character escapes a convent, is seduced by the wealth of 'Geronte' (ably performed by Eric Halfvarson), only to be imprisoned and exiled to her death in the "Louisiana desert". Her love interest, 'Des Grieux', was sung with chainsaw-like buzz by Misha Didyk. So annoying was his vocal placement that it has been described as "bellowing" by the local papers. It is a BIG voice, however that buzzing overtone was nearly painful to listen to. Not to mention, that as far as being the 'ingenue love interest' he was physically and vocally shown up by one of the lesser roles, 'Edmondo', who was performed by a stunningly handsome and vocally appealing Sean Panikkar. Panikkar is part of the SF Opera's "Adler Fellows", which is sort of the apprentice program. With his combination of matinee-idol looks and his solid voice, he has a fabulous future ahead of him, not unlike Nathan Gunn. Speaking of...

"The Barber of Seville" (composer: Gioachino Rossini; Conductor: Maurizio Barbacini; Production: Johannes Schaaf; Stage Director: Roy Rallo; Set Designer: Hans Dieter Schaal; Costume Designer: Yan Tax; Lighting Designer: Robert Hill; Original Lighting Design: Paul Pyant) features Nathan Gunn as 'Figaro', and quite a striking Figaro he is! Gunn and the entire cast were actually a hoot. Bruno de Simone was possibly the BEST 'Dr. Bartolo' I will ever get to see! He was almost an operatic Phil Silvers. Allyson McHardy did more than fulfill the role of the ditzy 'Rosina'. If anyone were a bit 'off' it would have been John Osborn's 'Almaviva'. Some of his music is incredibly difficult, though, and the role itself is perhaps the least interesting of the lot (the 'heroic ingenue'). However, he did give a few good comic turns when he appears in disguise in the second act. It just isn't fair, though, to have him strip down in the presence of Mr. Gunn, who so totally 'out-hunks' him that you can't help but wonder why Rosina isn't throwing herself at Figaro instead. Catherine Cook, who stole the show in the 2003 production, seems to have been reigned in a bit this time as the maid.

The cast is not the only gorgeous element of this production. The set features a carousel of a modern Italian home. It. Is. MASSIVE! And it spins to nearly dizzying effect during the finale. Costuming, particularly Rosina's gowns, are quite beautiful. And the lighting of this outrageously difficult set is outstanding, though Mr. Osborn seemed to have a problem finding his light at times.

I have to admit that I was hesitant to see "Seville" again so soon since it's last production was only 3 years ago. However, it was well worth it!

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Monday, November 27, 2006

Grey Gardens and The Beales of Grey Gardens

There appears to be a revived interest in Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter 'little' Edie, who were subjects of the documentary, "Grey Gardens" (dirs. Albert and David Maysles, and Muffie Meyer, Susan Froemke and Ellen Hovde, US, 1975, 100 mins.), as it even a spawned a new Broadway musical this season. Albert Maysles has pulled together something of a sequel, which is getting a limited release around the country before Criterion releases it on DVD in December.

"The Beales of Grey Gardens" (dirs. Albert and David Maysles, US, 2006, 90 mins.) culls together unused footage from the original 1975 project about this eccentric pair of women. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the subject, Edith and 'Little' Edie Bouvier Beale were an aunt and cousin to Jacqueline Bouvier-Kennedy-Onassis. They made headlines at one point, as their living conditions had deteriorated to such a degree that the property was about to be condemned. That is, until Jackie O., stepped in and cleaned the place up for them. THAT is the tip of a fairly surreal, if nearly macabre story of a mother and daughter who lived completely self indulgent lives, though inexplicably bound to each other. Whereas the original "Grey Gardens" portrayed the frustration, anger and resentment the women had toward each other, "The Beales of Grey Gardens" is a much gentler and kinder portrait of these two eccentrics. It would be easy to refer to them as deluded, especially 'Little' Edie who almost never stops daydreaming and talking and gossipping. However, they seem more lost in nostalgia than anything else.

The second film also seems a sentimental, though subliminal tribute by Albert to his deceased brother, David, by including some of 'Little' Edie's flirtations during the filming. In fact, it is this lack of objective boundary between filmmaker and subject that overshadows the project. In the original, there is a sense of exploiting the 'myth' of these extended members of the Kennedy family. In the sequel, it is a much more sensitive portrait of a pair of women who realized that this was a fleeting chance for immortality and a family legacy, which they were so close, yet so far from being a part of.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Wrestling With Angels, 3 Needles and Tideland

I have procrastinated this set of flicks over several months. As well intended as they are, not to mention how available they have been for preview and festival screenings and screeners, I just have had the damnedest time sitting myself down and getting through them. Fortunately, I have FINALLY gotten these out of the way!

"Wrestling With Angels" (dir. Freida Lee Mock, US, 2006, 98 mins.) is a documentary following the life of playwright Tony "Angels in America" Kushner, from 2001 through 2004, aka 9/11 through Bush's re-election. One assumes that this was no accident or coincidence on the part of director, Freida Lee Mock, a five time Oscar nominee and winner for "Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision". Ironically, "Wrestling With Angels" doesn't seem to have such a 'strong clear vision' itself.

Kushner was preparing his play "Homebody/Kabul" to open only month after the 9/11 attack. I was prepared to witness an enormous amount of stress regarding the timing of the play and its political fall out. However, what we see is Kushner explaining the play to the camera, why he wrote it and then reminiscing upon its success. This is the pattern that is repeated for each of the pieces that are focused upon during the period: adapting "Angels In America" for HBO, "Caroline or... Change", "Brundibar", etc. The creation of these pieces seems to be removed from the setting. Though Kushner does appear as a guest speaker for innumerable causes, and there are sequences in which we observe Kushner's personal life, even those are underwhelming. I think the trap that Mock fell into was that her subject is a playwright whose power lies in his words on stage and not necessarily in his everyday life. Had she given more significance to his words and how they may or may not have affected the audiences and society in general, I think she may have had a more compelling piece. As it is, and as well intentioned as it might be, it plays as a series of 'authors notes' and some rehearsal footage. And there, as they say, is the rub...

Speaking of well intentions, to analyze or critique an AIDS film can be sort of like poking an injured puppy. "3 Needles" (dir. Thom Fitzgerald, Canada, 2005, 127 mins.) carries its heart so openly on its sleeve that it is aligned with numerous World AIDS Agencies and opens on "World AIDS Day" on December 1st. This is of course a good thing, in theory. Dramatically, however, it is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the solemnity and unrelenting series of grim events that the film presents. It is in three parts and in three locals: China, Canada and South Africa, thus fulfilling its global view.

I want to be a fan of Thom Fitzgerald so badly after having seen "Beefcake" and bared my way through "The Event". But he just doesn't seem to have that warped and crazy mindset that will risk humorous offense to involve his audience. Not to say that some of the events that occur in "3 Needles" are NOT offensive! However, they are played quite safely to be admonished. There are no mixed feelings to be had for any of the characters or their plights. They are good or bad, victims or victimizers. That is not to say that the first rate cast Fitzerald has assembled are doing a bad job. Chloë Sevigny, Lucy Liu and Stockard Channing are each stand outs in their sequences. However, their characters have no where to go but to be pitied. I find dramas that insist on my pity to be insulting. The utter despair and lack of hope only isolated me further from the scenes. It was as if these situations left nothing to live for, so why the struggle in the first place?

The only literal ray of sun that is cast on the film is the cinematography by Tom Harting. His landscapes, particularly in the South African sequence are gorgeous and spectacular! They contrasted (and I imagine intentionally so) against the grey interiors, particularly in the Canada sequence. The editing by Susan Shanks is not as smooth as one would hope, as certain shots linger and other cuts are quite abrupt as to question why they were included at all. The film score by Christophe Beck and Trevor Morris is all over the place! The score for the Canada sequence is particularly puzzling and nearly annoyingly so. However, the South African sequence is beautifully done.

Even though it is an 'AIDS Drama of Global Proportions' (my quotes), there is nothing that can empathize the dilemma than to engage us in the humor and thus the humanity of its victims. There is little if any humor in "3 Needles" and it becomes a task to watch and not a discovery of peoples who must be saved.

However, regardless of the emotional impact the film creates, the producers have set up a "3 Needles" MySpace Page to benefit numerous agencies, as well as the fact that for every "add as friend" that it receives before December 1, 10 cents "will go to fight AIDS in Africa".

And, finally, after having spent the day dealing with thwarted attempts at my mind and heart, I came home to pop in a screener of "Tideland" (dir. Terry Gilliam, Canada/UK, 2005, 115 mins.). Terry Gilliam has apparently been UNLEASHED! I think. I don't know. I do know that this Gilliam-meets-David-Lynch-does-Alice-In-Wonderland was so endlessly quirky that I had a VERY difficult time getting through it. However, I DID finish it, if only for Gilliam's and cinematographer Nicola Pecorini's ("Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas") ever morphing visual angles. Pecorini literally turns the world on its edge, as a little girl (Jodelle Ferland, who might be brilliant?) lives what can only be described as a nightmarish life, bordering on the psychotic. Ferland spends a great deal of time alone on screen, which is both amazing and annoying. Amazing in that I don't how such a young actress was able to get her head around the ghoulish and macabre setting and actions that she is required to live in. Yet, her diction is annoying. I simply could not understand her at times. However, as the film continued, I realized that words really meant nothing in this piece. It was all a matter of insane episodes and seeing if or how she was going to survive them. There is a small but notable supporting cast of Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Janet McTeer and Brendan Fletcher.

I dare not go into the plot, as each little point could be regarded as a spoiler! However, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the moments when the girl helps her parents shoot up heroin. Those moments are not at all exploited, but handled with a surreal, if nearly ghastly nonchalance, which is the predominate feeling that Gilliam takes throughout. But it is that lack of dramatic tautness makes the two hours seem much longer...

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

F*ck, Shut Up and Sing, For Your Consideration

Words, words, words and the power people give to them...

"Fuck" (dir. Steve Anderson, USA, 2005, 93 mins.) is an overly typical talking-heads-documentary about the history, etymology, sociology and cultural effect of the word "fuck". (No, it does NOT mean "Fornicating Under the Command of the King.") It is a nearly exhausting 90 minutes of chatter, to be quite frank. However, Anderson gathered together an exceptionally inclusive group of interviewees, ranging from Kevin ("Clerks") Smith and Bill Maher, to Pat Boone and Alan Keyes, to Janeane Garofalo and Ice-T. Out of the collection of 3 dozen or so voices, it is Ice-T who steals the show with some exceptional insight into why the word faces such cultural opposition, along with some really inspired ribbing of Pat Boone. As one might expect, the 'conservative voices' have no real humor about the word, and thus shoot their own cause in the foot by being so dull. Whereas, extended clips from routines by Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, as well as historical quotes by literary figures dating back to the 17th century, only reinforce the right, if not the necessity, to be able to express oneself in such antagonistic terms. In fact, if there is any lesson to be taken from "Fuck" it is that the word is not obscene because of the act which it refers to, but because of the emotional impact that social and religious authorities have assigned it.

The documentary is divided into a series of chapters, including some nifty little animated cuts by Bill Plympton. It is here that it begins to feel too long. In his attempt to thoroughly analyze the word, the film becomes a bit over winded. For instance, though I refer to Ice-T's brilliant comments, I can NOT for the life of me remember what made that BELL ring in my head, as his words were lost on me by the time we reached the end. I think Anderson could have cut it down by a good 20 minutes. The chapter regarding the F.C.C.'s penalties against broadcast obscenity is interesting, however becomes filled with so much trivial statistics that the power of the words we heard before it become lost. If you REALLY want to see something about REAL OBSCENITY, I'd buy "The Aristocrats"! If you want to see MORE about the power of words, then see...

"Shut Up and Sing" (dirs. Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck, 2006, US, 93 mins.) This was a bit more fascinating as a documentary than I expected. Focusing upon the UPROAR that the Dixie Chicks created when singer Natailie Maines expressed her shame of President Bush in a concert in the U.K., the film goes beyond the controversy and reveals the relationship that the three girls have with each other, their families, band mates and, eventually, fans. So, what is on the surface as a political documentary, it actually transforms into a documentary about relationships under enormous personal, public and professional stress. Maines comes off as a true gem. Her strength of will and vision appears to be what has pulled the women through this period, along with the steadfast support of their manager. It is not so much a 'rise-and-fall-and-rebirth' story as it is an examination of how a band dealt with a controversy and fought against corporate and political powers that would want to control them.

This is on the 'short list' for an Academy Award nomination. Though it is a GOOD documentary, the editing and format is a bit off. Instead of a linear narrative, the directors attempt non-sequential chapters. The film continually bounces back and forth between 2003 and 2006, for reasons that are not exactly clear. One on hand, it is a reminder of what ugliness they faced and were fighting against. However, the continual cross-referencing for the audience becomes a bit redundant. We know what the reaction was, we just want to see how they overcame it. The flashbacks seem more like filler to what is a relatively simple story: they sang, they said, they fell and they survived better than ever. The final screening of the past weekend about 'surviving words' was...

"For Your Consideration" (dir. Christopher Guest, US, 2006, 86 mins.) Christopher Guest and Company (ala "Best of Show" "Waiting for Guffman" "A Mighty Wind") gather again for a slightly different format. Though it is still improvised, it is not a mock-umentary. It is the linear narrative of the behind-the-scenes filming of a production that just happens to catch 'Oscar buzz' before it's even wrapped, and the consequences for its cast as the film premieres and continues to sail on. One could consider this as being Guest's "The Player", though it isn't played as cool. In fact, it is pretty harsh.

Catherine O'Hara is simply brilliant as the leading lady who is the subject of the Oscar Buzz rumor mill. O'Hara encapsulates nearly a half dozen actresses that have gone through this at that period of their career, i.e. Ellyn Burstyn, Diane Ladd. I found her to be the heart of the piece. Her struggles and hopes are all laid painfully bare, yet O'Hara masterfully maintains a certain pathos that keeps her in check with the absurdity of the situation. Amongst the rest of this HUGE CAST, it is O'Hara and, oh so painfully, Fred Willard who provide the conflict in the piece. Willard is simply allowed to go to inhuman and over-the-top extremes as the host of an "Entertainment Tonight" format program, co-hosted by an obviously annoyed Jane Lynch. Though it is without doubt Guest's intention to portray the Hollywood Publicity Mill as a heartless machine, it becomes so uncomfortable to watch Willard at times, as he is so mean spirited, that it left a bitterness by the end.

This is a much darker film for Guest & Company than their previous efforts. It not only drips with cynicism, but it nearly drowns in it. They only give their characters a glimmer of hope and hardly any redemption from the egotistical roller coasters they ride. As wonderfully performed as it is (gawd I LOVE Jennifer Coolidge! Parker Posey! Harry Shearer! Michael Hitchcock!), it felt incomplete, or at best unresolved. Perhaps that was his point. However dramatically, the film needs a hero(ine), not to mention something completely DIFFERENT for the end-credit music than that dirge!

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Maxxxxx's Bio has been updated

Maxxxxx's Bio has been updated with a RARE interview!!
(click here for the interview only)

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jonesin' for a "Doubt"

"Doubt" (by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Doug Hughes, designed by John Lee Beatty, Catherine Zuber, Pat Collins and David Van Tieghem), the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner for Best Play and it's Tony winning cast of Cherry Jones and Adriane Lenox, has been playing in San Francisco these past couple of weeks. Let me start here with the admission that I took advantage of the $25 rush seats in the first two rows of the theatre. Yes, I saw the spit and the sweat of this verbal wrestling match involving God, Catholicism, religious politics, sex, naivete and... more. So much more!

It is an unexpectedly complex drama, which is concisely written. Shanley has chosen the most heinous of crimes (child sexual abuse) on which to cast his heroines' suspicions upon and test their faith in each other, their fellow man, the Church and God himself. Cherry Jones' character casts the line, "In order to pursue evil, one must step away from God." It is that journey that she takes, and takes the other characters with her, that is the heart of the play. The brunt of the complexity rests on the power and nuance of the performances.

Jones delivers a tour de force. I must admit that I went to this to actually see HER, more than the play. Her stage performances have been held in nearly legendary regard. I can now see why. Her line delivery is so exacting, that there is never a throw away. Everything she says, she says with a specific purpose and expected result from her cast and the audience. Her diction, even at its most nearly hysterical pitch, was perfect! Then there is her body language. She literally facially and physically transforms into a woman who has carried the burden of protecting and guiding the teachers and children of her parish for decades. The crime and dilemma that she finds herself suspicious of, is not new to her, which only makes her more of a tigress than a 'Sister Betril'. Her face is worn and painful. Her stature is stooped, yet powerful. It is simply a brilliant performance.

Adriane Lenox, the other Tony winner of the cast, has a single moment that may be less than 10 minutes on stage. She is the mother of the allegedly abused boy, who is the sole Black student at the Parish. (The play is set in 1964.) Her conflict is with two huge social dilemmas the son is facing in which to pursue a successful life: racism and homophobia. Her struggle to protect her son, at all and at nearly any unreasonable costs, is a stunning scene. Ms. Lenox gives a performance to match the power of Ms. Jones, which is reason enough to applaud her.

The other two new additions to the touring production are Chris McGarry as the priest and Lisa Joyce as the boy's teacher. Joyce provides the overly sentimental heart of the play. Her character's sympathetic nature is the naivete which Jones' principal-nun abhors and seeks to destroy as much as she seeks to destroy the allegedly paedophiliac priest. Joyce is able to sustain a verge of tears almost through out her entire time on stage. She ably expresses the pain in which Sister Aloysius' (Jones) suspicions and doubt have caused her.

Then there is Chris McGarry as Father Flynn. It is perhaps the most difficult role in the play, as far as the fine line he must tread between being a victim or victimiser. He carries the burden of casting doubt onto the audience itself. For the most part, he does a fine job. And I am far from being one to criticize such an explosive performance, however I think the move to touring such large theatres as the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco (seating 2,300) has forced him to make some larger than necessary choices. He delivers the numerous sermons with just the right amount of projection and grandeur. However, in his shouting matches with Sister Aloysius he is nearly shrill. And, to pick at nits, he has one pause at the doorway that is held just a couple of beats too long, thus crossing the line into melodrama. However, with that said, it is a powerful performance.

The set by John Lee Beatty is a surprisingly large scale and complex piece. The costuming by Catherine Zuber is simple, yet allows Ms. Jones in particular, more than a habit, but a prop in which she transforms and expresses herself. The lighting of this difficult set, not to mention the monochromatic costuming (nuns and a priest in black and white, basically), by Pat Collins, is fairly ingenious. The sound design is effectively underscored by David Van Tieghem.

If you have a chance to see "Doubt", by all means it far surpasses the "$25 Rush" and is well worth the full Orchestra price. I wouldn't go up to the Loge, Mezzanine or Balcony on this one, as the performances are best caught, up close and personal!

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Almodovar Volver

Sony Pictures has been TEASING us with the release of "Volver" (dir. Almodovar, Spain, 2006, 121 mins.) since AUGUST!! The word of mouth from Cannes was that this was Penelope Cruz's next Oscar nomination and a brilliant return of Carmen Maura into Almodovar's ensemble. Well, the tease is more than paid off by one of Almodovar's most effective if not brilliant screenplays, as well as truly excellent performances from Cruz and Maura.

As is his tradition, the screenplay is ultimately about sex and death. There is a macabre start that borders on farce. But that is only the beginning of a potpourri of styles, twists and turns. It is farce, thriller, ghost story, family melodrama and ultimately, a sentimental story of love, reunion and departure. If anything, his shifting in mood might be confusing to some, but it is in the climatic revelations that the piece ties together without a condescending explaination of the cosmic and psychological connections which haunt the family who is it's primary subject.

The cast is made up of four generations of actresses, all playing members of a single family. (There is a single male in the cast, however... I wouldn't want to SPOIL it!) Cruz and Maura play mother and daughter. However, their physical and karmic relationship is craftily performed remotely from each other. Lola Duenas and Yohana Cobo play Cruz's sister and daughter respectively, as well as being caught in the middle of the primary relationship of the film. Blanca Portillo, who holds the key to the mystery of the piece, also provides the cathartic moment which will bond mother and daughter. Chus Lampreave gives an unexpectedly comic turn as the ELDERLY great aunt of the piece.

I would love to see this again and observe the screenplay and performances to appreciate the forethought and foreshadowing that Almodovar has plotted! I LOVED this! Of the Foreign Language submissions for the Oscar, I think this could easily be a shoo-in for a nomination, and quite deserving of the award itself. To borrow the Disneyfied phrase, "It's an instant classic!"

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Science of Borat Nightmare in 3D

It was a fairly eclectic weekend...

I FINALLY saw "The Science of Sleep" (dir. Michael Gondry, France, 2006, 105 mins.), which features the Mexican heart throb, Gael Garcia Bernal speaking English, Spanish and French in a French film, also starring English actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, as the characters 'Stephane' and 'Stephanie', respectively, which is only the tip of this confusing iceberg. Director Michael Gondry has worked in a lot of his music video trickery for this story of a man who is lost between dreams and reality and the woman he is obsessed with. Visually, it is fun to look at, though it doesn't seem to serve the script as succinctly as one might hope. Gondry indulges himself in three too many dream sequences that lend nothing to the arc of the story. In fact, not only are some of the visuals unnecessary, but due to the complexity of the script, they only muck it up even more.

It is similar to his "The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" in that the plot is so convoluted that actually caring for the characters becomes secondary, though achieved by the second or third act. Here, in "Science...", I was initially taken by the dreaminess of Bernal at first, then dropped out due to the visual excessiveness, but was caught back up by the time the character began his climactic breakdown. There is just so much STUFF to take in, that I would hope Gondry would give his editor more power. Also, according to trivia I found on the web, there are a dozen direct references to his music video work throughout the film, which only reinforces my opinion about how self-indulgent the work is.

That said, the cast does remarkably well, considering how visually distracting the film can be. It is lucky that Bernal is so appealing a performer, that he can compete with the chaos around him. He is in nearly every frame! Gainsbourg doesn't survive as well, as I lost track as to who she was at one point, which is part of the Bernal character's problem, also. So, it could be to Gondry's credit that the world is so subjectively derived from Bernal's character that we are as confused as he is. However, I think that might be going a step too far, if not just giving Gondry an excuse for the distractions through out. I'm glad I FINALLY saw it, however, it's not 'a keeper'.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (dir. Larry Charles, US, 2006, 84 mins.) is perhaps as difficult to watch as "Science of Sleep", though much more rewarding. There are moments with Sacha Baron Cohen's characters (i.e. Ali G and now Borat) that I appreciate the near brilliance it takes to pull them off with such reality, but I just wish he would stop. That said, 'Borat' features some hysterical bits! Yet, there are moments that just SEEM to last forever, as this is a comedy of errors and embarrassment that refuses to let its victim(s) off the hook, until every ounce of ridicule has been squeezed out of them, including himself, as well as certain members of the audience. (The audience on Friday afternoon was PACKED and a good portion decided that the film was raucous enough for them to, literally, join in! grrrrr...!)

What makes Cohen nearly brilliant is the manner in which he exposes ignorance with ignorance. He is able to lower the bar to such a point that his 'victims' have no choice but to go there and beat him to it. This has apparently caused a number of lawsuits to be filed against him. He is so invested in the character and situation that it is no longer a 'comedy act' but a piece of performance art, not unlike Andy Kaufman or Barry Humphries. And as re-watchable as "Borat..." might seem, I think I would QUICKLY tire of it on the second go. Well, that is except for the scene where he... hee hee hee!!!

"Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas in Disney Digital 3-D" (dir. Tim Burton, US, 1993/2006, 76 mins.), which the devoted know simply as "The Nightmare Before Christmas", has been given a special 3-D re-release. And it works! Though the depth is not as perceptive as the corporate logo, trailer and accompanying short ("Knick Knack"), it is none the less, a more successful effort than the recent "Superman Returns". As this was not originally designed to 'pop out' at us, it still serves the 3-D process fairly well,in that there is enough layers of depth perception to give the film some 'pop' visually after all these years, and following the (over) saturation of CGI. Yes, you need to wear glasses, but Disney has provided a really sturdy pair for this release that will probably come handy if a home version becomes possible. This is a definite repeater!

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