Selected Media Criticism: February 2009

14 March, 2009

Bit delayed compiling this month, but here ya go...

Waltz with Bashir (Movie)

Waking Life meets Shoah. (Note: there are some valid moral criticisms of this film.)

08 February 2009

Nightwatching (Movie)

It's consistently shocking that a director with Greenaway's visual pre-occupation and presentational aesthetic manages to make movies that are such convincing and moving character studies. This one features Martin Freeman from The Office in a surprisingly strong turn as a fleshy Rembrandt who struggles to navigate the political battlefield of golden age Amsterdam. The sets feel especially theatrical and the lighting is dead-on Rembrandt. The story turns out to be an especially heartwarming one of Rembrandt's devotion to his dying wife and then a series of other women. It's simultaneously a sad story of intimate personal loss and a deep exploration of the overwhelmingly rich Dutch material culture and their yet more overwhelming passion for intrigue.

15 February 2009

The Reader (Movie)

Highly faithful adaptation of Oprah's Book Club novel about the post-Holocaust generation of Germans coming to grips with their past told through the story of one teen's affair with a woman who turns out to have been an Aushwitz guard. The movie, like the book, is powerful and evocative while remaining strongly emotionally confusing along pretty much every available axis. Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet both give austere, quiet performances that live up to a standard of dignity and restraint that is vitally necessary for this kind of story but far beyond the reach of lesser actors. The kid playing the main character for most of the movie is great as well, providing a sensitive counterpoint to his surroundings and giving real potency to the film's sexual and sensual contexts.

16 February 2009

Coraline (Movie)

Stop motion animation is all about the physical presence of its materials — the magic of inanimate objects transforming into living, moving, flowing, flying, breathing, biting, burning things. Its art is the poetry of the similarities and differences between the materials of models and backgrounds and what they're used to represent. On this level, Coraline excels. It's astonishing, palpably beautiful and haunting, especially in 3D. Unfortunately, it stumbles slightly on basic bread and butter story telling issues: the pacing is leaden, the characterizations are generic (the wonderful John Hodgman is especially under used), and the structure is undramatic. Regardless of all this, it's worth seeing, if only to luxuriate in the materiality.

19 February 2009

Watchmen (Movie)

Despite mild doses of comic book-movie characterlessness, Watchmen managed to retain enough narrative momentum and lightness of touch that it didn't drag too badly, even at a midnight showing and a nearly three hour running time. It peaks with the opening credits: a stylized retelling of a super hero-filled 20th century america. A shame to see an actor like Billy Crudup vanish into another anonymous animated stiff. Walks an interesting stylistic line halfway between Sunshine and Sin City.

09 March 2009

The Steel Remains (Book)

First sword and sorcery epic from hard-boiled SF-head, Richard K. Morgan. Filled with Morgan's signature hyper-violence and hyper-sex (though homosexual for the first time in this case, which alters it not at all). As usual for Morgan it's a tale of veterans and scars. New violence acting to repress older, de-virginizing, violence. The main character is Morgan's most compelling since the Takeshi Kovacs books; you could imagine wanting to spend more time with him after this book's end despite its somewhat sagging, unfulfilling plot. Morgan takes to the fantasy element with gusto, inventing silly names with relish and a few really lasting images — like decapitated heads which are magically joined with tree stumps and only come to life when watered. An encouraging book from him after a few shapeless efforts.

09 March 2009

tUnE-yArDs - "BiRd-BrAiNs" (Music)

Intriguing new Marriage Records band. Sound on some songs like Karl Blau with a stronger African influence and on some like a junk-amplified version of Per Se. The second and third thirds of this record are better than the first.

13 March 2009