We ended up going to see Frida instead. A fascinating film it is, as well. Because of the fact that Frida Kahlo's artwork was so vividly autobiographical in the first place, it is one of the few films about an artist (that is not a musician) that successfully integrates the bio-narrative and the creative spark with the art produced. Julie Taymor's graphic sensibilities that made the stage production of The Lion King so distinctive are on display here instead of the visual histrionics of Titus, and the film is much more effective because of it.
I also found that the quality of the print was much cleaner, detailed and more brightly colored than what I have been seeing on 35 millimeter these days. Part of this may be because Frida was shot flat instead of in Super 35, which seems to have almost completely supplanted anamorphic photography for the most part. It figures. The theatrical prints of The Two Towers look like sandpaper. The most recent film I saw in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio was The 25th Hour, in which the color was bled from the film to give it an appropriately cold and steely appearance. Frida, however, is the story of a painter, and the opening of the film immediately presents the viewer with Rodrigo Prieto's fully saturated blues, reds, greens and yellows. I would say that the film shines when Taymor takes images from Kahlo's paintings and puts them directly into the drama (live action images settle or merge into the final canvas and vice-versa) if the rest of the film weren't so good.
Frankly, the cast was stunning. I was really (pleasantly) surprised by Salma Hayek's deep understanding of Kahlo. If there is one element that defined her, it was the physical pain she experienced (a common aspect of all of her paintings), and every scene has Hayek expressing this in one way or another. Kahlo's shrewd intelligence is obviously something that Hayek shares, even if, for most of her career, she has been used primarily as eye-candy in the films she has done. I have seen Alfred Molina's chameleon-like ability to completely transform himself for roles before, and he has done it again, allowing us to see those elements of Diego that drew women to him but also conveying his true respect for his wife's genius. The rest of the cast is similarly brilliant, with standout performances being the spirited Valerio Golina as Diego's ex-wife Lupe, the dependable Roger Rees as Frida's loyal father,\ and a brief appearance by the ever-fascinating Geoffrey Rush as Leon Trotsky. The supporting cast is peppered with cameos by such actors as Edward Norton, Antonio Banderas, Saffron Burrows and Ashley Judd.
Elliot Goldenthal's score tends to be less about the drama and more about the setting, which works well because that setting is a vivacious Mexico, which is as much a character in this film as any the actors portray (a scene between Kahlo and Trotsky atop pyramid ruins is as visually stunning as anything I've seen recently). The score is makes a generally upbeat impression (unusual for Goldenthal) and made me want to sip a margarita.*
The nice thing about the film is that there are so many moments of catharsis that stay with you that it is easy to overlook the fact that much of it is quite fun. The courtship of Kahlo and Rivera is that of two very smart, very witty people, and there is a string of flippant political humor throughout.
Unfortunately, Stan forgot his wallet, so I ended up splurging for the film, but it was an excellent film, so I'm not too bummed out about it.
* - Okay, I had margaritas on the brain because I had watched Frenzy earlier in the day, and there is a scene in which Mrs. Oxford (Vivien Merchant) serves up an exotic drink... a margarita. Now, I have no idea whether or not margaritas were particularly exotic in England in 1972, but it certainly isn't to me, and I have to say that I always think that scene is a bit off because of my familiarity (one might say intimacy) with that particular drink. I also can't imagine why Sergeant Spearman (hilarious as Barnes in A Clockwork Orange and so "veddy" British as Monty in Patton) has such a grimace as he drinks it.
I also finished a marathon watching Band of Brothers. While executive produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, this show frankly avoided all of the pitfalls that Saving Private Ryan fell into. For one thing, even when the characters are cut from familiar cloth (the biggest problem with SPR was its cardboard characters, which caused the middle portion of the film to sag), they manage, simply through the craft of the outstanding cast, to grow on you.
Because of the fact that this is HBO, there are no censors or sponsors to de-fang the violence, which is every bit as graphic as that seen in SPR, but more effective owing to the familiarity one has with the characters. People who you join at the beginning of the mini-series, whose adventures, misadventures and comic patter have been followed may be blown apart during a battle, and the effect of having a friendly face maimed is much more jarring than all of the gore on display in SPR. These are people dying.
In general, while the series follows the leaders and body of Easy Company through the war, what tends to happen is that each episode concentrates on a different character, showing the war through their eyes. One of the most riveting of these is episode 6, "Bastogne," which concentrates on a medic dealing with a lack of supplies, freezing cold weather and sporadic bouts of violence which constantly take him back to a makeshift hospital. The tone of the episode (which would be unsustainable on commercial television, not only because of the graphic images of wounded soldiers, but also because the financial realities of commercial breaks would cause the show to require a four-part structure) ranges from tense to elegiac, as the character (who is no stranger to the violence surrounding him) deals with the situation.
The DTS audio track for the DVD is a perfect example of how the capacity for 5.1 is wasted in modern cinema. In Band of Brothers, the audio is clear and straightforward, but without an audible "proscenium" that plagues so many films. This is not only apparent in the battle sequences (which is usually when, in most movies, the surrounds kick in), but also at any point in the films. Knocks on doors, people moving through snow, supplies being loaded onto trucks, et cetera, all appear all over the soundfield, but always in keeping with the overall setting of the story (the preternatural quiet of much of "Bastogne," for example).
The photography of the show is also exceptional work by Remi Adefarasin and Joel Ransom, and gives each episode a distinctive look while maintaining an overall sense of hyper-reality. One doesn't realize how important that has been throughout the mini-series until Easy Company reaches Austria, where the imagery opens up to reveal breathtaking shots of the Alps.
The episodes, which range from 50 to 70 minutes, each have their own identity (three of them are narrated), but they all fit into the greater uber-narrative that tells the story of the company. Each episode opens with unidentified members of Easy Company describing some element involved in the following story, and it is not until the finale of the last episode, "Points," that these men are identified. It is then that the full reality of how much the world owes to the people that fought in World War II comes through... when the characters that have been followed through these ordeals coalesce into a single, aged face.
This, of course, brings us to the main achievement of this program. The actors all bear some physical resemblance to their real-life counterparts... but they don't seem to be selected on that basis when watching the show. Rather, each performer invests their character with a dedicated sense of the real. Damian Lewis as Winters projects an easy confidence and a solid competence that the actual Winters must have had in order to inspire such loyalty from his men, and the rest of the cast is no less fantastic. I was particularly shocked (although in a good way) to see formerly gaunt Brit Dexter Fletcher as the buff All-American Martins. Ron Livingston, Donnie Wahlberg and really the rest of the cast all have moments that allow their characters to come alive and win our sympathies.
I have yet to watch the documentary on the last disc, but the series as it stands is certainly worth seeing, perhaps owning.