Thursday, January 22, 2009

Early Spring Report:

Spring semester has started at UT on Tuesday. The seminars I am taking this semester are very exciting and all of them are right up my alley: Duchamp by Decade, First hundred years of Photography and The Islamic City.

I am planning to visit Menil Collection in Houston for their current exhibition, Max Ernst; in the Garden of Nymph Ancolie. The exhibition will be on view until February 15th. The department's research round-table talks today were by Peter Mowris on 'Destructive Salvation: Max Ernst's Microbes and the Politics of the Atom' and Caitlin Haskell on 'On Not Forgetting Nature'. They will both present their papers in CAA 2009 annual conference, on Surrealism au naturel session. After these talks I got more motivated to visit Menil's permanent collection to see Ernst's Microbes (microscopic paintings); I don't think the Microbes are part of the current exhibition.

Recently I've started to read English poetry in English. This is not as silly as it sound; I've read some of them before in Farsi. This new interest in reading English poetry is mostly because of David, a dear friend who is a poet himself. I don't follow any style or chronological order. I just read what I find interesting. This is a short one by William Butler Yeats that kept me thinking all day:

Spilt Milk
We that have done and thought,
That have thought and done,
Must ramble, and thin out
Like milk spilt on a stone.
(Yeats, 1933)

And last but not least on my early spring report is the thrill of Obama's presidency; I took this photo on the election night; Obama is giving his victory speech, I am capturing our reflection on the iMac monitor while we followed the speech online. (Obama with Sepia Effect)

Obama in Sepia or Every Election is Your Reflection, November 2008

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What movies I saw during the break: (Part I)

I am just writing them in the order they come to my mind. This is not a film club post. I will have a separate post for Tameshk Film Club.

Movies to See on a Big Screen:

Slumdog Millionaire (2008) directed by Danny Boyle and co-director is Loveleen Tandan. It is based on “Q & A” a novel by Vikas Swarup. It is a brilliant film. The story has a Satyajit Ray quality in the beginning and it ends with Indian musical dancing. It is narrated by Jamal Malik (Dev Petal) in the course of a police questioning. It is Jamal’s life story we hear and through it we follow Jamal and his brother from the slums of Mombai to the Indian TV program “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” The theatrical quality of Indian films is replaced by a well-done montage and a mild, pleasant and dark humor. Not a Bollywood production, but like most Indian films from Bollywood it is love that holds Slumdog Millionaire together. The Cinematography is great. Every single shot stands on its own; the cinematographer is Anthony Dod Mantle who has also filmed The Last King of Scotland (2006). For Slumdog Millionaire My vote is A; For it proves that cinema can make a difference and made me believe again that there is nothing as powerful as Cinema when it comes to Storytelling.

Rachel Getting Married (2008) directed by Jonathan Demme: I have a Love/Hate relationship with this film and its characters; therefore I call it a successfully challenging film. Rachel Getting Married is a film that challenges the viewer’s comfort zone. Its cheesy title informs us of a wedding, which becomes the sparkling platform of the story. After all Rachel is getting married. The plot is a strong beautiful and disturbing story written by Jenny Lumet. A young girl, Kym (Anne Hathaway) comes out of rehab for her sister’s wedding. Her coming back introduces us to other characters and the history of her family. They are all here for Rachel’s wedding. That’s it. Every wedding has a happy and exciting appearance, but who among us denies the fact that weddings are the summit of family clashes and complex situations; the issue that have little to with two families (bride’s and groom’s) getting related. What I like most about the story is the kept away details. We see the obvious, what everyone sees in this family, and we get to see more if we get used to the slow pace of the film. The story, if any, divulges itself to us very slowly, as in life. The movie has a handycam-family-film quality; like a family wedding film.

It had a smart but to a point bothering music. Every time we hear the music we can be sure that Damme has given us the source of it somewhere in the screen. It gives a carnival-istic quality to the film with a good excuse for the carnival to be there; the groom and his friends are musicians and there is a wedding going on. My favorite sequence is Rachel and Kym’s discussion after the dinner party that ends up beautifully with Rachel’s surprising announcement. I only don’t know why many people felt the film is a comedy, where I find it to be more of a drama, not even a dark comedy. It is not a drama even. It is life at it comes at us. Rachel Getting Married, like its title, is a short compact report-like film on the relationships within a family. Anne Hathaway shows how capable she is as an actress. Other characters are played interestingly well. My vote for Rachel Getting Married is A-, The minus is probably for the moments I felt the music is too much.

Revolutionary Road (2008) directed by Sam Mandes. This one will be a difficult one. When I saw the film couple of days ago I thought it was a good film with a very good story and good performances. It is a sort of film that a friend of mine said, “you feel shitty after seeing!” Today after so much struggling, thinking and rethinking about the film, Revolutionary Road, I can say all the above is true except that it is not a very good film. It has a good story. It is based on a novel by Richard Yates. The book was counted among the 100 best English language Novels in 2005 by Time. The performances are ripe; Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio play very well. But it is not their best; Winslet did much better in Little Children (2006) a film that has some similarities to Revolutionary Road in the story and characters, a woman who has not achieved what she was capable of and has a tedious life of a married woman and DiCaprio has much better than Mr. Wheeler in his résumé. As for Sam Mandes, this film is a well enough film but not a great movie for someone who directed American Beauty (1999) so brilliantly. So why is everyone amazed by this film? I think the film touches on our emotional judgment, when we see the young and beautiful actors of Titanic (1997) get together here doing much better in their acting than in their love compared to Titanic, we cannot stop ourselves from cheering the actors and think of the Revolutionary Road as what it is: an average film based on a great novel.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what the film has presented to us about the reality of a married life. It was the truth behind the reality and of course that is the whole story here. It is the ‘empty & hopeless’ life of a married couple; I identified with it but then I asked myself if telling the truth makes a brilliant film; not really. The story is good but there is nothing that makes this film exceptional. It is an average film. My vote for it is B+. My favorite character is of course John Givings, the institutionalized mathematician played by Michael Shannon, the one who believes, that many people see the emptiness but it get some guts to see the hopelessness. Hey, don’t forget to see the film. It is not a bad film. It is just not as great as its novel. If I were you I would read the book before seeing the film.

OK this post is long enough already. I will write about Doubt (2008) directed by John Patrick Shanley, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008) directed by Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath and Quantum of Solace (2008) directed by Marc Forster another Daniel Craig’s James Bond in the next post.

First edition cover, source Wikipedia (here)