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Review: Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire

Directed by Wim Wenders.
Starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander, Curt Bois and Peter Falk.

Angels are a tricky thing in movies. Anything supernatural is, really. But where I can run with demons and devils as just fun monsters to toss into a story, when you start talking about an afterlife that’s pretty much the same as the one we’re living now, except with wings and all the sucky shit taken out, it’s just a bit more than I can take.

So it takes a special sort of movie to get me past that hurdle: It’s a Wonderful Life works, for intance, because of Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra’s irresistible humanity. In a way, it’s the same kind of thing that made Wings of Desire work for me, too. On its face, it’s the story of an angel, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), who has become frustrated with the unending task of invisibly chronicling the lives of us humans on Earth — specifically 1980′s West Berlin. (Chronicling for whom and why are never really mentioned, and they’re irrelevant.) But like all great stories, it’s about a lot more than just its plot.

The film is shot beautifully in black and white, punctuated by moments of almost fluorescent color representing the humans’ perspective. (A conceit  borrowed from Powell and Pressburgers’s 1946 film, A Matter of Life and Death.) The first hour of the film moved along rather ponderously. It’s at once dizzying and appropriately dull as it depicts Damiel’s job as an angel, pausing occasionally for a conversation with his fellow angel Cassiel (Otto Sander, whose face is utterly fascinating).

Damiel falls for a trapeze artist named Marion (Solveig Dommamartin) and decides he wants to create his own “story,” one way or another. Shortly after the half-way point, Damiel and Peter Falk (playing himself, in town to film a movie), share a pivotal moment, and in that one hilariously brilliant twist, and the film catapults into motion, racing towards its inevitable, sweet conclusion.

Wings of Desire is available from the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-Ray — and, you can stream it through Netflix.

Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Directed by Michel Gondry.
Written by Charlie Kaufman from a story by Charlie Kaufman & Michel Gondry & Pierre Bismuth.
Starring Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Tom Wilkinson.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind centers on Joel (Jim Carrey), who, upon learning that his ex-girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet) has undergone a procedure to completely erase him from her memory, undergoes the same procedure himself — but as both his bad and good memories of her begin to fade away, he changes his mind and he begins to hide her away in other memories where she doesn’t belong, in hopes of protecting his memory of her from the erasure. It gets weirder from there.

Charlie Kaufman is without doubt the most imaginative screenwriter working in Hollywood today. His resumé gets more impressive every year: Being John Malkovich, Human Nature, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind are all terrific, funny and highly imaginative movies, though each is flawed in its own way. Michel Gondry’s previous attempt to turn a Charlie Kaufman screenplay into a movie, Human Nature, though definitely enjoyable, was the weakest of the four, mostly due to surprisingly uninspired work from the director of several wonderfully inventive music videos (for Björk, Radiohead and the Chemical Brothers, among others).

With Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, working from a story developed with Michel Gondry and artist Pierre Bismuth, Kaufman improves on all of his previous scripts by adding a touching, melancholy love story, as well as several achingly beautiful, often fleeting, insights into the nature of memories and relationships. It also benefits from having the strongest ending of any of his scripts — Being John Malkovich, in particular, suffered from a somewhat disappointing final act that didn’t live up to the promise of its nearly flawless first hour. Eternal Sunshine is at the same time his most coherent, most insightful and most out-there script to date. For Mr. Gondry’s part, he has filmed not only the best Charlie Kaufman film to date, but one of the most visually exciting films in years.
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