Bright Star


Bright Star is beautifully romantic—isn’t that what I’m supposed to say? Certainly I have no reservations about saying that writer-director Jane Campion’s portrait of the relationship between poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne is exquisitely filmed, with restrained, finely shaded performances from Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish. But romantic … I don’t know. I feel like there must have been more to John and Fanny’s relationship than Bright Star provides, and watching the movie, I kept sympathizing with the lovers’ friends and family who try to get the couple to be practical. That makes me feel like a hard-hearted clod, by the way, but even setting my android tendencies aside, something about Bright Star doesn’t sit right with me. Something is missing, no matter how elegant and delicate the film is.


In repertory at Film Forum through February 18.

If you were introduced to director Akira Kurosawa through his acclaimed films from the 1950s (Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, among others)—all of which are feature shadowy, evocative black-and-white cinematography—the bold color of Ran, released in 1985, is disconcerting at first. Seeing the familiar figures of feudal Japan in vivid reds and blues and greens rather than the familiar dreamy grays is a jolt—but a welcome one. Kurosawa makes great use of his color palette, showcasing intricate costumes and breathtaking locations and even color-coding the three warring sons and their armies. The color, along with Kurosawa’s familiar panoramic direction, helps make Ran a gorgeous film to behold.

It’s also an affecting one—which I don’t take for granted, considering that the story is based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, a play that has always eluded me, to some extent. But besides relocating the familiar tale of an aging, misguided warlord from ancient Britain to feudal Japan, Kurosawa and his fellow screenwriters have tweaked the details, alluding to backstory and character motivations that don’t exist in the play. The result is exceedingly bleak—perhaps even more so than the tragic Lear. With Lear, one could argue that the king steps wrong in choosing who to trust; Cordelia might have been a fine heir. But Ran seems to argue that conflict and betrayal are all but inescapable. The youngest child is still the most affectionate and loyal, but he, too, is caught up in the heirs’ power-plays, which arrive early because of the warlord’s abdication but which were inevitable. (The movie’s title means chaos.) Frankly, if Kurosawa weren’t such a great director, Ran might have been unbearably grim.

Nicole Miller Fall 2010

At the Salon, Bryant Park, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, on Friday, February 12.

First, I feel the need to acknowledge the absurdity of my writing about a fashion show. I go to absurd lengths to avoid shopping, I don’t read women’s magazines, and I consciously dress not to stand out but to blend in. When left to my own devices, I wear nothing but camisoles and yoga pants at home; V-necks, knee-length A-line skirts, tights, and boots to work; and long-sleeve Ts and jeans on the weekend. I am the anti–fashion plate.

But for the record, that’s not because I’m anti-fashion. I consider it way too extroverted a pursuit for a shy introvert like me, but especially since I moved to New York, working in a building just off Fifth Avenue, I’ve found the fashion industry hard to avoid, and I’ve developed an interest in it despite myself. So when Sean was offered two tickets to a New York Fashion Week runway show, I leaped at the opportunity to go. I mean, really: the tents at Bryant Park! How cool is that?

Snowpocalypse 2010!

I haven’t lived in Florida for more than a decade, but when it comes to truly wintry weather, it’s like I never left: heavy, blustery snow both overawes me and freaks me out.

Fauré Requiem and Signature Pieces

Voices of Ascension at St. James’ Church, Madison Avenue, on Thursday, February 4.

“Signature pieces” are crowd-pleasers, almost by definition: if it’s not the kind of thing that absolutely everyone loves, you probably won’t be performing it often enough for it to become a signature. I don’t begrudge Voices of Ascension putting together a program of such favorites—this is the choir’s twentieth anniversary, after all—but it did result in striking homogeneity. People love the Romantic period, and that’s what the program comprised: some early, some late, some French, such Russian, some Protestant, some Orthodox, but all Romantic, lushly expressive, sweetly melodic, chromatics yielding ultimately to tonality.

I don’t mean that as criticism, exactly—I love Mendelssohn and Bruckner and Rachmaninoff as much as anyone—but I would have enjoyed some Bach and Palestrina, too, or maybe Pärt or Britten or Chen. Under Dennis Keene’s baton, the choir has recorded works from the medieval period well into the twentieth century, so I’m puzzled why they limited themselves to just over a century of repertory here.

The first half of the program breezed through ten short works by assorted composers, and after an intermission, the choir performed Fauré’s heavenly Requiem—a cornerstore of Western choral literature for a reason. And even if I wearied a bit of all the pretty, pretty Romanticism, I never tired of the choir’s warmth. The voices blended together exquisitely, filling the sanctuary with glorious sound.

Dollhouse — revisited

Second season and series finale aired Friday, January 29, on Fox.

Looking back at what I wrote about Dollhouse after its first few episodes, I’m stunned by how far the show came in its two brief seasons. Maybe it just took a while for creator Joss Whedon’s team of writers to figure out how to make their high concept work. Maybe the meddling Fox executives finally backed off enough to let them tell the story the way they had always wanted. Maybe it just took me a while to get past the problematic elements and appreciate how brilliantly the show was handling them. I suspect, in fact, that it might be a little of all three. But now that the show has ended with a taut, thrilling, poignant finale, it’s worth reassessing. Back then, with my first post, I considered Dollhouse worth appreciating more for its ambitions than its achievements, but now, having seen the whole thing, I think the series ended up realizing those high ambitions and even expanding upon them in ways I hadn’t expected or thought possible.