Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New Web Site


I'm currently developing the new version of my portfolio. I'm going to be placing images of new projects I've been working on, but the older version of the portfolio shall be available for consultation.
The purpose of the new website is to create something different, easy to update and with new detail to the work that I've been doing.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Music to Listen to

2006 allowed me to listen to plenty of good music. Not necessarily from 2006 though. Just albums and artists that have left a really strong mark and whose albums I'll always cherish.

Hanne Hukkelberg - Little Things

Thom Yorke - The Eraser

Ulrich Schnauss - Far Away Trains Passing By

Marisa Monte - Universo ao Meu Redor

Plaid - Remixes: Parts in the Post

Herbert - Scale

Ryuichi Sakamoto - Bricolages

Special mentions to:

Claud - Contradições

Suba - São Paulo Confessions

Madita

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Monday, January 15, 2007

Best Films of 2006 - Part1

2006 was a year that saw many interesting films coming out, but regrettably few masterpieces. There is no particular order in which they are placed.

The Fountain
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn

The Departed
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Vera Farmiga, Alec Baldwin

Volver
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo

Little Children
Director: Todd Field
Cast: Kate Winslett, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich, Jackie Earle Haley

Shortbus
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Cast: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, Peter Stickles

The Director Series - Michel Gondry

Movie name: The Work of Director Michel Gondry
Year of release: 2003
Director: Michel Gondry
Stars: Bjork, Cibo Matto, Foo Fighters, Kylie Minogue, Daft Punk, The White Stripes, Massive Attack, The Rolling Stones, The Chemical Brothers
Genre: Compilation, Music Videos, Short movies, Commercials
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Format: DVD

Synopsis:
Michel Gondry the award winning director of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” started his career as a video director, and this compilation of his work on the “Directors Label” celebrates his unique vision and his artistry in working with different pop/rock artists.

Michel Gondry the French filmmaker responsible for titles as “Human Nature”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Science of Sleep”, started gaining momentum as a video director coincidentally with the beginning of another pop icon’s celebrated career – Bjork. The beginning of their collaboration in 1993 with “Human Behavior”, opened the way for all the videos that they would create afterwards and that were celebrated and awarded with several accolades. The Directors Label that initially released the works of Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze (both of which also worked with Bjork), has already added more high profile names such as Mark Romanek, Stephane Sednaoui, Anton Corbijn and Jonathan Glazer. These are all names that have evolved from commercials to the film world, with different results, but nonetheless, their work in the commercial/video genre is undoubtedly terrific. Michel Gondry’s DVD in particular allows for a good sample of his work in commercials, such as the one he did for Levis, and also some of his short films, however it’s in the videos that his universe and creativity shine through. The DVD divides itself in two sections (and in two sides, A and B), with the videos ordered chronologically (they can be seen sequentially or by artist) – there is also included the short film/documentary “I’ve been 12 forever”, where you can hear Michel Gondry discuss how he outlined his concepts for each video, and some of the difficulties creating them. The documentary also showcases interviews with the artists involved in the clips, and their relationships with Gondry and their feedback upon seeing the completed result of their efforts. It’s particularly interesting to hear Dave Grohl’s comments, where he basically says that he would do or wear anything just to be a part of Michel Gondry’s artistic vision. What really shines through in this DVD and in this extensive collection of videos, is the absolute imagination and creativity that comes from the universe of Michel Gondry. From his work with Bjork, to the amazing kaleidoscope effects that dominate the videos for The Chemical Brothers and The White Stripes, to the multiple Kylie Minogues going around in a circle, there’s always a huge amount of imagination and irreverence functioning. In Michel Gondry’s work it’s not the CGI that dominates, but always the traditional effects and what the camera and “stop motion animation” can do – in a way, it’s like entering the universe of a 12 year old, one with movie cameras to use to bring it live and in color. Also like the other DVDs in the collection, this one brings a little book, filled with photos, storyboards and concepts from the creation of the videos. This is a terrific collection of work, it allows you to understand most of what “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” showcased, but also this is work that stands on it’s own - it’s original, unique and totally unlike anything you’ll ever see.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Volver

Movie name: Volver - Return
Year of release: 2006
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave
Genre: Independent
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
“Volver” marks the return of Pedro Almodóvar to women’s stories, where men sit in the backdrop for stories which even though fairly common, are given a touch of almost surreality as seen through the lenses of Almodóvar.

After the hits that were “Carne Trémula” (Live Flesh), “Todo Sobre Mi Madre” (All about my mother), “Hable con Ella” (Talk to Her) and “La Mala Educación” (Bad Education), Pedro Almodóvar returns with “Volver” to another women’s story, this time focusing on the different generations of women within a family. Whereas 2004’s Bad Education focused on men, and on the director’s biographical elements that propelled the story (namely, being taught by priests and the sexual context), “Volver” draws it’s inspiration in the neo-realistic films from Italy, namely the suffering mother, willing to do whatever is necessary for the family (the presence of Anna Magnani is felt throughout the film, even being shown in a scene on the TV set).
“Volver” introduces us early on to the characters of Raimunda and Sole, two sisters, who are visiting their aunt in their hometown. Their aunt, old and forgetful, is being taken care of by their neighbor and friend Agustina, but mostly by the ghost of their deceased mother, Irene. Upon their return to Madrid, Raimunda’s family life takes an unexpected turn when her husband decides to take advances to her daughter, who ultimately kills him. Raimunda takes advantage of a coffee house that has vacated in the meantime and that is waiting for a new lease, and dumps the body there – simultaneously starting to use the coffee house as a means of income. Upon the death of their aunt, Sole goes back to their hometown for the funeral, and returns with their mother in the trunk of her car. Irene is trying to take care of those she had no chance to care for before, namely her recently deceased sister and now her daughters. The story continues to unravel as the dynamics between these women are slowly exposed and brought forth.
The prolific Pedro Almodóvar continues to further explore his universe with “Volver” another of his women stories, filled with a bittersweet humor and as always with characters that are strong and resourceful. This film continues to show the maturity that his filmmaking has achieved – whereas in the late 80’s and early 90’s, his comedies were known for his taste for the irreverence and shocking (and also the kitsch – check “Kika” for instance), now the director has achieved a level of comfort, that just allows him to slowly unravel each story as if though it’s a tapestry of relationships. His stories are still filled with quirky situations, and strong women, but no longer are these characters just designed to occupy filmic space – these characters are now fully developed and end up existing within the stories that Almodóvar creates. The influences of classic melodramas are still felt, from the works of Douglas Sirk, George Cukor, to the neo-realistic style of the Italian films of the 50’s, in the particular case of “Volver”. The acting is always something memorable in Almodóvar’s films, and in this case all the actresses excel (they won the collective acting award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), particularly the luminous Penélope Cruz – after her mediocre American performances in less than stellar films (“Sahara” to name one of the most recent ones), she again proves the great actress she can be. Raimunda is a resourceful and strong woman, who has endured difficult situations, and through hardship has managed to forge a respectful and straight life, for herself and for her daughter. This film also marks the return of Carmen Maura to Pedro Almodóvar’s films – she who was his muse during the 80’s (their last film together was “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” in 1988, after which they had a personal falling out) – the character is perfect for Carmen Maura, she who was always the dynamo in all the films that Almodóvar did in the 80’s (even when she was a supporting player in the cases of “Matador” and “Entre Tieneblas” for instance).
“Volver” is a film that solidifies the Almodóvar touch, in a solid and mature way, further exploring his universe. It’s a film that for some may lack his kitschy side, his more pop and eye-catching visuals, but that is more than compensated in the way that the story unfolds and in what the actresses convey.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Little Children

Movie name: Little Children
Year of release: 2006
Director: Todd Field
Stars: Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jennifer Connelly, Noah Emmerich, Jackie Earle Haley, Gregg Edelman, Trini Alvarado, Raymond J. Barry
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
After “In the Bedroom”, Todd Field reunites with Tom Perrota, author of “Election” (that showcased a great performance from Reese Witherspoon) to create a delicate film about young adults who live a sheltered life and who refuse to grow and see the life and responsibilities that they have.

Todd Field who made a splash with the delicate drama “In the Bedroom” in 2001, again showcases his sensitivity towards small dramas with “Little Children”. The film follows the lives of a group of young adults, focusing on two couples in particular, namely the Pierces and the Adamsons. The film also focuses its’ attention on three peripheral characters, the former policeman Larry Hedges, the convicted child abuser Ronal McGorvey and his mother.
The film starts with the introduction of Sarah Pierce, a young mother whose behavior and independence differentiates and sets her apart from all the other young mothers from the neighborhood. The stay-at-home mothers take their children to the park, every morning, and have a set of quietly assumed routines that Sarah just can’t abide or be a part of. Disturbing this balance comes Brad Adamson, “the Prom King”, a stay-at-home father who is in reality a lawyer studying to take his bar exam. Brad is wrestling with the fact that he doesn’t want to study for an exam in which he has failed previously. His wife, Kathy in the meantime is trying to balance the finances of the house and keep everything in control. Brad and Sarah start a seemingly inoffensive friendship that slowly evolves to an affair. Simultaneously to these events, Ronal McGorvey a convicted child molester makes his way back to this small nucleus of relationships.
Todd Field starts by showing us Kate Winslet’s Sarah, a young mother who’s trying to catch a glimpse of how her life is supposed to be. Sarah meets Brad on the park, and on an impulse, on a challenge, ends up kissing him. Her husband, Richard is a corporate executive, who has found Internet porn, and who masturbates frequently to it. Patrick Wilson’s Brad is the handsome young father, whose professional life is on hold until he passes his bar exam. His wife Kathy, played by Jennifer Connelly, is a documentary producer who’s trying to maintain the expenses of the household under control. Brad is consciously sabotaging his next attempt to take the bar exam – every night he should be studying, he ends up watching young kids on their skateboards. And after meeting Larry Hedges, he becomes involved in playing football with a group of police officers. The young adults of this film are all displayed in a “stand by” mode – they are waiting to see what life will present to them. Sarah ends up playing the role of a modern Madam Bovary, a book that she indicates in the film is ultimately feminist, because the woman in it, even though she can’t make a choice, rebels against her fate. Sarah is desperately trying to rebel against a life to which she has settled and that does not present anything in common with her ambitions. Brad on the other hand can’t connect emotionally with his wife – though beautiful she is distant and unreachable for him, something that his situation of “stay-at-home” dad accentuates. These two people trying to find some meaning come together, and start an affair that ultimately both know, will lead nowhere. It’ merely something that brings up some spark, and that forces them to realize where they are and which path they want to lead.
All the actors do really well in the film, starting with Kate Winslet who excels in her performance. She makes Sarah a vulnerable and yet impulsive woman, someone who’s trying to understand how her life ended up in this particular stage. Her “hunger” becomes palpable as she slowly becomes more entangled with what Brad allows her to experience. Patrick Wilson continues to show his versatility and range. After his performance in Angels in America, his character Brad, is a man trying to put a break in his responsibilities. He’s just delaying the inevitability of his passing to the next stage of his life. Jennifer Connelly and Noah Emmerich both create indelible characters, but Jackie Earle Haley and his portrayal of Ronal McGorvey is truly unforgettable. A former child star, Haley creates a man that can’t be reduced to the epitaph of pedophile – his relationship with his mother is heartbreaking.
Todd Field has managed to create a great film, one where the delicate relationships that are established between the characters, speak clearly about who they are, and what they want from their lives. It’s a film that also showcases a beautiful photography and nuanced soundtrack. See it as soon as possible.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Movie name: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Year of release: 2001
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: John Cameron Mitchell, Michael Pitt, Miriam Shor, Stephen Trask, Andrea Martin, Alberta Watson
Genre: Indie/Musical
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

Synopsis:
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the off Broadway smash hit play, got a great stage to film transition, mostly due to it’s star and creator John Cameron Mitchell, that infuses the film with an energy and humor absolutely contagious and delirious.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch started as an off Broadway show, that built momentum and an increasingly larger audience, most of it based on the balance of John Cameron Mitchell’s performance and Stephen Trask’s music and lyrics. Self described as a rock/punk musical, the performance outgrew any of the expectations that the original investors had in the play, which went on to have other actors playing the iconographic Hedwig Schmidt, namely Ally Sheedy and Donovan Leitch to name but a few. When it was thought of a filmic version of the play, John Cameron Mitchell was sought out to make it possible, which he eventually did, through the prep labs of the Sundance Film Festival (at one point, Tom Kalin, the director of “Swoon” was considered as a co-director). With a tight budget and a short filming span, John Cameron Mitchell ended up with the responsibility of directing and writing the adaptation of the play – he succeeded in his efforts, since the film went on to win the Audience and Director awards at the Sundance Film Festival, and he got a nomination for a Golden Globe.
“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” follows the story of Hansel, a small german boy, whose father is an American GI. Hansel is brought up by his mother, in a tiny apartment located in the former Communist Germany. While in Germany he meets an American sergeant who wants to marry him – and get him out of the country. In order to do so, Hansel has to go through a sex change operation, that doesn’t go very well (leaving him with the “angry inch”). In the US, Hedwig (after taking the name of his mother), sees himself alone, and has to resort to babysitting gigs to survive. In one of those he meets young Tommy “Gnosis” Speck, who becomes a fan of Hedwig’s songs. Eventually Tommy steals Hedwig’s songs and compositions, and achieves worldwide recognition, something that Hedwig tries desperately to recapture for himself.
This short summary serves to present the main points to the story, but in this film’s case, all that “soap opera” scenario, serves as a backdrop to John Cameron Mitchell’s canvas, which he fills with rock music, his terrific stage persona and totally outrageous wigs. The film works on so many different levels, mostly because it doesn’t take itself very seriously. It’s filled with a great sense of humor, most of which can be found in the premise of Hedwig’s story, but it also has a true and heartfelt emotional core to it – the search for happiness and love (“his other half”, as he points out during the film), no matter who you are. Hedwig is ultimately a romantic character that longs to be loved and saved, and he sees that possibility in Michael Pitt’s Tommy Gnosis, who in a way is everything that Hedwig ever wanted to be. The film has moments of sheer delight, with the small animations that complement the story, or the karaoke moment where the audience is literally invited to sing along the tune. These are precious moments, in a film where you can see the limitations of the budget, and what that generates in terms of creativity on the filmmaker’s part. The supporting cast is all wonderful, particularly Andrea Martin as Phyllis the band’s agent and Miriam Shor as Yitzak, however John Cameron Mitchell dominates the screen with his incredible performance, one that stays with you even after the film is concluded. His performance balances the exuberance that Hedwig has, with the heartfelt longing that Hansel still feels.
Cult status is something that fits this film, but it’s intelligence and artistry deserve a vaster audience.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Ed Wood

Movie name: Ed Wood
Year of release: 1994
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lisa Marie, Mike Starr, Jeffrey Jones
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Synopsis:
“Ed Wood” is director Tim Burton’s heartfelt homage to the director by many considered the worst that has ever graced the silver screen. The film ends up being a celebration of the joy of creation, of making films, against all odds (and all tastes).

By the time “Ed Wood” reached the screens in 1994, Tim Burton was already an established director, with a considerable amount of successes on his belt (namely “Beetlejuice”, “Batman”, “Edward Scissorhands” and “Batman Returns”). Originally “Ed Wood” was going to be directed by Michael Lehman, the reputed director of “Heathers”, whose career had taken a nose dive after the critical and commercial failure of “Huson’s Hawk”, but after Burton expressed interest in doing “Ed Wood” Lehman stepped out, but stayed on board as an executive producer. The film’s screenwriters, had to this point a short and not very commending résumé – Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski had written the successful but critically panned “Problem Child” films (afterwards they moved to bigger and better projects, such as “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon”).
“Ed Wood” details a slice of the life of the director who was unanimously declared “the worst director of all times”. The film starts in the 1950’s when Wood is working on the studios, basically doing small tasks and trying to get a foot in directing. We are introduced to the character of Ed Wood as basically a good and sweet natured young man, filled with dreams, and a small secret – his taste for wearing women’s clothing. This secret of his, which he hides from his girlfriend Dolores, propels him to apply for the job of directing a film about Christine Jorgensen, a transsexual whose story a producer wants to turn into one low budget film. After a chance encounter with the fading star Bela Lugosi, Wood gets the job directing the film, which he entitles “Glen or Glenda” (after a screenplay that he writes himself, and who turns out to be more about a man who likes to dress as a woman). Ed tries to get more directing jobs through that film, but he meets mostly indifference and rejection. He then resorts to raising the money for his own productions, and eventually with the help of his group of friends and a diversified number of producers (butchers, evangelists), manages to shoot his “masterpieces”, “Bride of the Monster” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space”.
Tim Burton has managed to create with “Ed Wood” a film that mixes the nostalgia of B-Movies, with the joy of creating films that surpasses all barriers. Ed Wood, whose hero was Orson Welles, who shows in the film played by Vincent D’Onofrio (whose productions were always a struggle to get finished due to the intrusion of producers), is a reference in the film, mostly because his joy of doing films is what also propelled Ed (even though with different results). Burton creates an empathy with the group that surrounds Ed Wood (and in a lot of ways, it resembles his own group of actors that Tim Burton often works with), namely the hilarious Bill Murray as the pre-op transsexual Bunny Breckinridge, Jeffrey Jones as the fortune teller Criswell, Lisa Marie as Vampira, Patricia Arquette and Sarah Jessica Parker as his loved ones, without forgetting the great Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, who has some of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the film (and Landau won the Oscar with due justice). The always terrific Johnny Depp plays Ed Wood as a sweet and kind man, non-judgemental and always ready to help his friends. His performance is filled with precious moments, like when he sees his film being shown on the screen – we truly believe in the love that Ed Wood had for his creations, his masterpieces. The film doesn’t focus on the descent of Ed Wood to filming more exploitive fare, but it does give the insight to what the art of filmmaking is all about – the pure joy of telling a story, of creating magic where there was none. Ed Wood’s eyes sparkle with excitement, and so do we!
This film is pure joy to see, and it will long remain a classic, for the larger than life persona that “Ed Wood” was, but mostly, because it’s a tribute to the art of moviemaking itself.

ShortBus

Movie name: ShortBus
Year of release: 2006
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Stars: Sook-Yin Lee, Paul Dawson, Lindsay Beamish, Raphael Barker, PJ DeBoy, Peter Stickles, Justin Bond
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Synopsis:
Following the success of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, John Cameron Mitchell embarked on a project that was called “The Sex Film Project”, a project that according to him would have a frank depiction of human sexuality. The film is a journey to the lives of a group of New Yorkers, that converge on a club called “Shortbus” – this club functions as a cathartic experience for all of them.

When “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” premiered in the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, John Cameron Mitchell received much praise and eventually won the award for best Director and the Audience Award. The film went on to win many accolades (Mitchell was nominated for the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy/musical), but the question that remained was how would John Cameron Mitchell follow that terrific film. Being directly responsible for “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” since it’s creation as a stage play, John Cameron Mitchell set out to create a film that would depict human sexuality in a frank and clear way, without the artificiality that comes associated with Hollywood films (in a sort of Dogma style).
“Shortbus” premiered in Cannes in May of 2006 to mostly favorable and enthusiastic reviews. Many critics described the film as a “Woody Allen film with explicit sex” – which odd as it may seem, turns out to be a good indication of what the film is about.
The film opens with a presentation of an animated New York, where the story takes place. We are slowly introduced to the main characters – Jamie and James, a gay couple going through a crisis since Jamie wants to add a further person to their relationship, Sofia and Rob, a couple with their own sexual problems, since Sofia though being a relationship/sex counselor, is unable to achieve an orgasm, Severin, a dominatrix with intimacy/relationship problems, and the people that circulate their circle. Sofia ends up being the guide to the story, in the sense we follow her pursuit to achieve an orgasm – in order to know how to do it, she goes to “Shortbus”, a club where people liberate themselves, and freely discuss sex, politics and engage in whatever kind of sexual/sentimental relationship they choose to embark.
John Cameron Mitchell has created with “Shortbus” a film that surprises for its’ honesty and poignancy as far as relationships are concerned. The characters that inhabit “Shortbus” are dominated for a quest to find their inner voice, their inner peace – sex supposedly a means to connect them, ends up being what separates them. Sofia is the character that introduces us to “Shortbus” - as a sex therapist that can’t achieve an orgasm, Sofia starts the film perfectly inserted within a relationship apparently healthy, but that we discover, is full of wholes. Jamie and James are another couple trying to cope with the changes in their lives – how to introduce someone else in the dynamics of their relationship and in what way will that affect them. Severin is a dominatrix that sees the world as an endless supply for her art form, however she’s starting to find her activity unbearable. All these characters end up converging in the same club – “Shortbus”, dominated by the master of ceremonies, the charismatic Justin Bond. John Cameron Mitchell has achieved with this film the tricky matter that is presenting sex explicitly onscreen without being labeled pornographic or titillating – this is a film that manages to present the frailties and insecurities of these characters in a way that resonates with the audience. It has plenty of humor – the scene with the reference to Nagisa Oshima’s “In the Realm of Senses” is laugh out loud funny, and also a heartfelt love for it’s characters. The film’s story and development was done by Mitchell and his actors (one of the reasons the film took so long to be finalized was the casting process), and by the end of the film, with all the catharsis that all the characters have experienced, it feels as if though they all have found some peace. The group of actors uniformly manage to convey the story in a way that is engaging and achingly real – Sook-Yin Lee, also seen in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” ends up being a revelation – her Sofia is confused, desperate, needing answers, but simultaneously sweet, loving and caring.
“Shortbus” is a film that may present itself difficult for some audiences, however the explicit sexuality shouldn’t deter the audiences to find it’s core - similarly to the characters, this is a film that will move and touch you.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bjork's Vespertine

Band Name: Bjork
Year of release: 2001
Title: Vespertine
Genre: Electronic
Record Label: One Little Indian
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

Synopsis:
Bjork achieved with Verpertine a pinnacle in her career, mixing elements of her classically trained background with her always edgy and avant-garde techniques.

Vespertine arrived in 2001, shortly after the success that Bjork experienced with “Selma Songs”, her previous effort, the soundtrack for the film “Dancer in the Dark”, from Danish director Lars Von Trier, where she won the award for best actress in the Cannes Film Festival in 2000 (that album also spawned the song “I’ve seen it all” that garnered a nomination for the Oscar of best original song). Originally going to be named “Domestica” (as a reference to being constructed within the comfort of your own house), “Vespertine” crystallized Bjork’s previous efforts, namely the terrific but sadly overlooked “Homogenic”.
Launched in August of 2001, the album benefited from the publicity that Bjork had with the infamous Swan Dress, who was the same she wore for the album’s sleeve (beautiful by the way, from the French design firm M/M). Universally praised, the album saw Bjork surrounding herself with a wide variety of collaborators. In the programming she had Mark Bell (from LFO, and her usual collaborator), the American electronic duo Matmos (they had released the wonderful “A chance to cut is a chance to heal” recently, through Matador), Matthew Herbert, then riding the waves of a newfound success (after his terrific albums “Around the House” and “Bodily functions”), Thomas Knak aka Opiate (you can listen to his contribution on the album, on his own release, called “While you Were Sleeping”), her usual collaborators Marius de Vries and Valgeir Sigurdsson, while on the string/orchestration she had Vincent Mendoza (with whom se had already worked in “Selma’s Songs”) and Zeena Parkins (on the harp).
The first song, “Hidden Place” was also the first single to come out. Benefiting from a great production, the song was pure Bjork, with a subtle entrance who later developed into a crescendo with a beautiful chorus. The song also benefited from a terrific video directed by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin. The second song “Cocoon” (which in turn was the third single, with a video directed by Eiko Ishioka – who won an Oscar for her costume creations for Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”) is made of smaller beats, almost indistinct - they form a tapestry where Bjork’s voice hangs, almost like a lullaby. “It’s not Up to You” picks up the tempo again, with the classical elements inserting perfectly within the structure of the song. The song is one of the strong highlights of the album – it’s possessed of an incredible joy and uplifting quality. “Undo”, which uses the rhythmic base of Thomas Knak/Opiate and the mix of Zeena Parkins harp, is a more subdued song, but also one where Bjork’s voice soars. “Pagan Poetry” was the second single, and it had a terrific video from Nick Knight (more known for his photography) – the song followed the pattern of the more subdued songs of the album, relying again on the combination of the classical elements with a subtle and discrete programming. “Frosti” is a small interlude that serves almost as a childlike interval for the next song, “Aurora”, where the programming/sounds (almost scratch like) introduce Bjork’s voice replicating an angel-like pattern. Again Zeena Parkins harp is a huge highlight. “An Echo, a Stain” comes in the tradition of “Cocoon”, with the programming and beats reducing themselves to a small layer over which the orchestral elements flow, topping it all Bjork’s voice and the chorus. The wonderful “Sun in my mouth” follows, with a start that is terribly simple and almost “naked”, upon which elements just keep getting added, namely the orchestral section that involves the whole song – the programming here is limited to a background section, leaving space for Bjork’s voice to really fly. “Crabcraft” picks up the tempo again, much like “It’s not Up to You” – the programming becomes more present, and the initial beeps may remind you of some of the sounds of “Selma’s Songs” – the song evolves to a more denser aspect, with a quicker beat showing up in the background. The album closes with two of the finest songs that Bjork has ever created – first “Harm of Will” (co-written with film director Harmony Korine), is an intimate song, made of an orchestral tapestry, composed of delicate sounds, that really focus the attention of Bjork’s voice. “Unison” brings back the programming – the layers of sounds just keep on being added, much in a way of a crescendo that just keeps going. It’s a beautiful song, one that stays in your head for quite some time.
“Vespertine” ended up on the lists of the best albums of 2001 and justifiably so – it feels like a point of reach for the path that Bjork had been traveling thus far, namely since “Debut” in 1993. This is a truly beautiful album, one that should be on everyone’s discography (or ITunes for that matter).

External Links:
Official site: http://www.bjork.com

Camille Claudell

Movie name: Camille Claudell
Year of release: 1988
Director: Bruno Nuytten
Stars: Isabelle Adjani, Gérard Depardieu, Laurent Grévill, Alain Cuny, Katrine Boorman
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

Synopsis:
“Camille Claudell” directed by Bruno Nuytten, recounts the story of the sculptress of the same name, and of her destructive relationship with her mentor and fellow artist, Auguste Rodin. Ultimately it’s a story of a woman ahead of her time, who let herself go on a downward spiral due to a passion bigger than life.

Recounting the story of artists (the usual biopics) is always a difficult matter (how does a film do justice to a person’s life), but one that is very close to actors. It usually allows them to showcase their acting chops, and they usually are rewarded with numerous awards (for closer inspection, notice Philip Seymour Hoffman, Reese Witherspoon, Jamie Foxx, Cate Blanchett, just to name the more recent ones). “Camille Claudell” was a passion project for Isabelle Adjani (who was involved in it as star but also producer, though uncredited in the last condition), who by the late 80’s was France’s biggest star, having already won two Césars (the French equivalent to the Oscars) and a Oscar nomination (when she was only 19).
“Camille Claudell” tells the story of the sculptress since the late 19th century to the early 20th century. The film starts with the young Camille, just out of college, who presents herself, alongside a friend to Auguste Rodin, the famous sculptor, in the hopes of getting an internship at his studio. They eventually start working at the studio, and quickly understand they are condemned to do small tasks, that don’t really allow their talent to flourish. They also become aware of the carousing Rodin has with his female models. Camille, strong willed and possessed of her own artistic integrity, resolves to abandon Rodin’s studio and start working by herself. Rodin ends up being totally surprised by her talent, and an amorous relationship between the two eventually blossoms. This relationship, of equal artists, comes to an halt when Camille wants Rodin to choose between herself and the woman with whom he shares his life. When he fails to pursue their relationship, Camille’s downward spiral slowly starts to unravel.
Presented in such broad strokes, the film reads almost like a traditional story of the blossoming artist that is engulfed by the sudden success. However, “Camille Claudell” is so much more than a traditional story. In telling the story of a sculptress in the turn of the century, Isabelle Adjani and first time director Bruno Nuytten (then mostly known for being a Director of Photography), went for an approach that both highlighted her challenging ways in a mostly masculine society, where women had little saying in anything, particularly women artists, and also highlighted Camille’s obsession with a love that was bigger than life.
The film ends up presenting Camille as a full rounded character, as opposed to the likeable “prodigies” that sometimes can be seen in traditional biopics. Whereas initially she is presented as a woman wanting to show her talent, her art, as the story progresses and she gets involved with Rodin, we notice that what drives her, is not only her passion for art, but her passion for him and for life in general (she is what usually is labeled as “a force of nature”). Bruno Nuytten chooses well in focusing his story in the two main actors, Adjani and Gérard Depardieu, who excel in their compositions. For Adjani the part is possibly the crown achievement of her career – she embodies Camille in perfection, giving her a rage, a strength and desperation that is at points simultaneously touching and repulsive. She lets herself go in the role, never overacting, always balancing the abstraction of creation with the emotion of being a woman who embodies a lot of the feminist principles in a time when they were barely there. Depardieu creates in Rodin a man who is tired, who has reached the peak of his talent and now is just trying to find sparks that allow him to continue. Camille is for him a spark, a companion that understands the joys and difficulties of creation. He also shows Rodin as a feeble and week man – one more conformed and broken by society’s moralities, something that eventually ends up creating the gap between him and Camille. The film does not show the final outcome of Camille, but we read it on the final notes that grace the screen – hers was a tragic life, but as it’s pictured on the film, one filled with feeling and audacity.
“Camille Claudell” also benefits from an exquisite work from the director of photography, the production and art directors, and of the soundtrack – this is a period piece that certainly lives up to the highest standards. The film ended up winning it’s share of awards, namely the Césars, the Golden Lion at the Berlin film festival and gave Adjani her second Oscar nomination – all of which were fully deserved.
This is a film that urgently needs to be rediscovered – it’s beauty and tragic outcome will stay with you.

Running with Scissors

Movie name: Running with Scissors
Year of release: 2006
Director: Ryan Murphy
Stars: Annette Bening, Brian Cox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Cross, Alec Baldwin, Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh, Joseph Fiennes, Gabrielle Union, Patrick Wilson, Kristin Chenoweth
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6

Synopsis:
Ryan Murphy’s “Running with Scissors” is an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs memoir, that despite the brilliance of it’s cast and some insightful moments, ends up feeling short on the premises that it presented.

Running with Scissors is the first major film from Ryan Murphy, writer/creator of the celebrated TV Show “Nip/Tuck”. The film is an adaptation of the memoir with the same name by Augusten Burroughs (born Christopher Burroughs), who has been already discarded by some of the members involved in the story as overly imaginative and quite incorrect in the depiction of what really happened (the real events, if that’s a way to understand it).
The film follows the life of Augusten Burroughs, since the late 60’s. We are introduced to the Burroughs household, strongly dominated by the mother Deirdre and where the father, Norman, ends up being an absent presence. Deirdre has pretensions of an artistic life and treats the young Augusten as a young adult, which makes him develop a strong personality by the time he’s in his teen years. As part of the process of finding her inner voice (and cast away the male oppression, represented by Norman), Deirdre places Augusten under the care of the bizarre and eccentric family of her therapist, Dr. Finch. The Finches are a quirky ensemble, starting with the matriarch, Agnes, who eats dog biscuits, the oldest daughter Hope, an eternal spinster and morbidly focused on her cat and Natalie, a precocious and rebellious young woman. As for Dr. Finch, he is a personality onto himself – a mix of easy psychiatric solutions and plain wackiness.
As Augusten grows in these households, he tries to find his place in the world, and simultaneously make choices that will put him on the path he wants to lead.
Ryan Murphy managed to snag on his first film an impressive cast, which makes the most of what the screenplay allows. The film is filled with great moments, however it ends up failing when it should present a stronger dramatic arch which happens on some occasions. The wonderful Joseph Cross, tries to show Augusten as someone desperate to find some sense of normalcy, however the film never really shows his connection to any characters. For a central character, who supposedly has an enlightening epiphany, his sense of self awareness is never fully explored. All the characters in the film are presented as adrift – deeply disturbed, all looking for their sense of belonging, for their way to escape their own existence. The dynamics between the characters, which are after all the main core of the film, are at some points incredibly frustrating, mostly because you feel so much more could’ve been explored.
As far as the actors are concerned, Annette Bening does a good job with Deirdre – though some have compared this performance with the one she gave in Sam Mendes’ “American Beauty”, this is more of a performance with the Oscar stamp all over it. She plays the “crazy “, overmedicated mother – her performance really shines at the end of the film, when behind the “mask” she wore, the true Deirdre emerges and shows her son just how insecure and fragile she really is. Gwyneth Paltrow as Hope and Joseph Fiennes as Bookman are also remarkable in their small compositions – theirs are characters deeply disturbed in their own isolation. Joseph Fiennes as Augusten’s boyfriend, ends up making an unforgettable character – his Bookman though deeply disturbed is still looking for a future, for a way out of his own self destructive existence. Evan Rachel Wood, Jill Clayburgh and Alec Baldwin all have good performances, in a film that ultimately is interesting, but that promises a lot more than it delivers. “Running with Scissors” is a film that juggles a dramatic premise with a sense of humor, which helps keep the rhythm going – the scenes at the Finch household are amusing but light – Annette Bening’s character ultimately is the one that brings the edge to this project. Even though with it’s limitations, this is nonetheless a film worth watching.