...engaging and discerning culture, as a way of life...

December 30, 2005

King Kong (2005) - 7

Having not seen the previous versions of this film I can only compare it to other films in general. But I am assuming that the CGI is better now than it was in 1933 or 1976. CGI is one of the things that makes this film worth it; it makes the film larger than life which is the main point. Peter Jackson really pulls this film off. It is an interesting story and told well. I think one of the main themes in the film is that our current culture is one that sees the world as controllable. Rather than recognizing the beauty and mystery of life we tend to reduce life and definitions within a set of properties in order to control it. I think that the best line in the film is when the playwright Jack says of Carl (whose idea it was to bring Kong to NYC): "Carl has an unfailing ability to destroy the things he loves." I don't think that the casting (Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts) was as great as some people have said, but the story is good enough to help the actors give good performances. The film is long (3 hours), but ultimately a good combination of entertainment and story.

December 29, 2005

Underworld - 6

I can't explain it but I find vampire films intriguing. So even a less than well made film like this has be giving it a 6, it probably should only get a 5 or 4. Mostly because I think the mythology of the whole thing is a lot more intricate than say...comic book characters. Wait a second, isn't this based on a comic? Yes it is. So there really isn't a rhyme or rhythm to this, I just happen to give the benefit to vampires as oppose to super heroes (This comparison is relative I really loved the new Batman film as well as the current Spiderman series). Actually this film has many flaws, if nothing else they should have watched Blade for some research on how to kill vampires. But using vampires in a story really makes for a story, I think that is what intrigues me most. These stories always become historical and lead to conclusions about what the future might hold. This film is also helped by having Kate Beckinsale play the main character. The sequel of this film Underworld: Evolution comes out later this month.

The Longest Yard (2005) - 5

With Adam Sandler and Chris Rock this film is guaranteed to have some laughs. It is funny even if the premise is more Disney than SNL. The prison they are in is like an all male resort were sometimes the guards beat you put you are pretty free to do whatever you want. No very realistic, but then again it is a comedy. The story is about a has been cheating NFL quarter back who ends up in jail because he crashes his girlfriends car in a desperate attempt to unlive his depressing life as a washed up star. At the prison the guards get the idea to play football against the inmates and in true underdog fashion get whupped. Funny and entertaining.

December 28, 2005

Meet the Fockers - 3

Not as funny as the first one in my opinion. The writers stopped trying, having Mrs. Focker be a sex therapist just makes the jokes not even worked for. It just doesn't work as a film because the whole situation is set up to get a laugh. I doubt anyone laughs this much at the trouble they have at their in-laws. It also seems like Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro have sold out and don't really care were there money comes from, they will do anything. Ben Stiller is funny but he is really a minor character in the film. When will we stop making sequels just to make money?

Gothika - 4

This is a thriller staring Halle Berry as a doctor in a mental institution who ends up their herself after her husband is found dead. The plot soon unravels as you try to guess where the director is going with the story. Apparently you are suppose to be able to figure out the crazy plot twist, which to me were less than obvious. It is suppose to be a scary film, but that requires memory. I think I'll try to forget I ever saw this one. The acting is decent, but that's about the only positive thing about the film.

December 27, 2005

The Cooler - 5

I mostly wanted to see this film because William H. Macy is in it, and he is pretty good at picking good roles, it also stars Alec Baldwin and Maria Bello. Cooler, refers to a casino employee who is able to break a lucky streak by visiting a winning table, yeah, not exactly science. Macy plays Bernie who eventually falls in love and his luck changes and not for the better, sometimes ignorance is bliss? The story is about being naive and how loyalty is a very fragile thing, it requires a lot of trust and friendship. All of this is further complicated by the financial crisis of the casino. An enjoyable film with a very funny ending.

December 22, 2005

Wit - 7

Originally made for TV this film is a simple story that asks hard questions about life and death, "your life, your death." It uses the poetry of John Donne to show how these questions have been asked for century and one can only study about it for so long until life lets you live it. It is interesting how detached one can get to one's work, until you have to answer questions of meaning. This film gives the audience the chance to think about life and death, it is a very reflective movie. Emma Thompson gives a great performance. I would recommend this film to pretty much anyone (it is one of the few films I actually own).

December 20, 2005


I have continued to watch films over the Christmas break, but with limited internet access have delayed posting anything. That will soon change as I have about 10 films to catch up on. A preview: Wit, King Kong, The Cooler, Gothika, Underworld, Meet the Focker's, and The Longest Yard. I also saw The Interpreter and Crash again. Lots to read this coming week, or year?

Fever Pitch - 6

This is another Nick Hornby adaptation. He also wrote High Fidelity and About a Boy. The book uses Manchester United soccer team as the sports metaphor. This one uses the Curse of the Bambino (the Boston Red Sox). Jimmy Fallon plays the season ticket holder who falls for Drew Barrymore. The story has its ups and downs as baseball soon takes the place of relationship. It is really about sacrifice in relationships. Fallon is funny but this is not the role for him, he should go back to skits on SNL (sorry). Most of Hornby's work has some interesting and deep dialogue, this adaptation has so little as to make the film seem corny and formulaic. It is a decent film, but be alert to the more subtle points of the story.

December 19, 2005

sites and sounds

My brother has redesigned his blog and made is a book review site: Strung Along. I am also regularly checking out: Gideon Strauss' blog, Jason Panella's Xanga site, and Keith Martel's blog. Over the weekend I got Finally Woken by Jem. It is somewhat poppy and very produced (which makes me wonder what she would sound like live) the best description of the sound I can give is that it is some combination of Frou Frou and Poe. The sound catches on quickly, and her lyrics are interesting.
From They:
Who made up all the rules
We follow them like fools
Believe them to be true
Don't care to think them through
And I'm sorry so sorry
I'm sorry it's like this
I'm sorry so sorry
I'm sorry we do this
And it's ironic too
Coz what we tend to do
Is act on what they say
And then it is that way
Who are they
And where are they
And how can they possibly
Know all this
Do you see what I see
Why do we live like this
Is it because it's true
That ignorance is bliss

And From Just a Ride:
Life, it's ever so strange
It's so full of change
Think that you've worked it out
Right out of the blue
Something happens to you
To throw you off course
And then you
Yeah you breakdown
Well don't you breakdown
Listen to me
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
No need to run, no need to hide
It'll take you round and round
Sometimes you're up
Sometimes you're down
It's just a ride, it's just a ride
Don't be scared
Don't hide your eyes
It may feel so real inside
But don't forget it's just a ride
Truth, we don't wanna hear
It's too much to take
Don't like to feel out of control
So we make our plans
Ten times a day
And when they don't go
Our way we
Yeah we breakdown
Well don't you breakdown
Listen to me
Slowly, oh so very slowly
Except that
There's no getting off
So live it, just gotta go with it
Coz this ride is, never gonna stop

Love Actually - 7

I saw this film again yesterday. Read my original post from last November. I think it still applies as Christmas approaches once again.
"This is not a chic flick, this is a collection of stories about love. There is a difference! Chic flicks are female based fantasies about what female/male relationships should be, they get some things right, and other things wrong, just like the rest of us. From my perspective true chic flicks make human relationships to simple, complexity is a more realistic picture of these stories.
This movies should help us ask good questions about sexuality, friendship, what kind of love is important, and the connections between fantasy and reality. Since Christmas is approaching it a good commentary on the contemporary ritual that we have created. This movie epitomizes the title of my blog by engaging viewers with the idea of storied living and how love enters into people's lives and how they flesh out love in their life, in funny and sad ways."

December 17, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - 7

Considering that this is another film based on a book, it is pretty good. And the CGI which they didn't have for the 1988 British TV version makes the story come alive all over again. It is important to recognize that C.S. Lewis wrote this story as an allegory (One of Tolkien's points of critique, The Lord of the Rings was not written as an allegory). This means that one can see the characters as archetypes that apply to the viewers own life. Hence, the appearance of Santa Clause, that most of the audience I saw it with seemed to miss. I think that if one does not understand the allegory the film will only be somewhat interesting, while I found the metaphor to be a powerful story. The White Witch, played by Tilda Swinton, acts well while the rest of the characters are somewhat underdeveloped. They extended the book by adding more at the beginning and an action scene in the middle but overall a good adaptation.

Everyone Says I Love You - 6

A musical comedy? Is there such a thing? Yes, there is. In fact, later this month millions are going to go to the theatres to see The Producers (which looks to be pretty funny). This film is actually more a Woody Allen film than a musical, but it just adds to the millions different ways he can tell basically the same story about the neurotic nature of love. The story is the usual: relationships-deep and familial, but also shallow and deceptive. I have finally figured Allen out. His films always say: "Love is the answer to none of the questions you can ask. Death is the answer to all the questions you've ask, the ones waiting to be asked, and the questions best left unanswered." This film is funny and even includes some political jokes, which is rare for Woody. Some good quotes: "In a relationship, it is better to be the leaver than the leavee." and "I never believed in God. No, I didn't even as a little kid. I remember this. I used to think even if he exists, he's done such a terrible job, it's a wonder people don't get together and file a class action suit against him." This film also has a ton of famous actors in it: Julia Roberts, Goldie Hawn, Natalie Portman, Drew Barrymore, Alan Alda, Edward Norton, Billy Crudup, Tim Roth, and Natasha Lyonne.

The Thin Red Line - 7

I generally don't like war movies, this is one of the exceptions. It is also because this film was directed by Terrence Malick, who adapted the story from James Jones' novel. The film is character driven rather than story driven. It intersperses the story of a few men who are fighting in Japan during the second world war. While it is about the friendships that form in this tight knit setting, it gets more philosophical by asking questions of meaning and the characters trying to understand their purpose in life. The film is almost three hours long, which is longer than it needs to be to tell the story. The characters seem very real. The struggle to relate to one another because they realize that death makes everything fleeting and transient. Again the cinematography of Malick is amazing in this film, it shows well the struggle between man and nature just as it shows the fight between peoples.

December 15, 2005

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005) - 5

This film really needed more of the funny people that were in the film, namely Vince Vaughn and Adam Brody (who get about 15 minutes of screen time). With out them this film would have been unbearable. I am not sure if the makers of this film were trying to remake the Mr. & Mrs. Smith of 1941, but they didn't do that great of a job (the old version is great). Pitt and Jolie are good as assassins who can somewhat pull off being normal in a suburban neighborhood, but I doubt one could pull off keeping one's job a secret for five or six years. The best part of the film is the metaphor of marriage that it uses to show emotions in a physical way which hint at the internal struggle that the characters have. The film is good, but I think a little bit overrated because of Pitt and Jolie's off screen life (or rumors?).

Kingdom of Heaven - 3

This film could have been interesting...if it had been mostly a completely different film. I'm no history major, but the historical errors, mostly in the dialogue is just horrible. The basic story of 1199, according to this film, is that Christians are generally nice people and would rather save lives than fight for Jerusalem, they would rather love Muslims than kill them. While this is a nice and generous view of Christianity, I think the historical record would show that this was probably not the case. This is also the case with the war strategies employed, they mine as well just have given them guns. The same could be said of the theology of the film, interesting, but probably more in tune with today's religious views than those of the last millennium. The acting is not very well done either in this film, and since they would rather not have Orlando Bloom talk, just stand there and look pretty, there are scenes that just don't make any sense. When every they are in a problem spot they solve it by throwing in a sword fight. Even Troy and Alexander were better films, and that isn't saying much.

The Island - 6

Critics have been awfully harsh to director/producer Michael Bay. This film flopped in theaters because this film was not suppose to really break any new ground and Bay has a bad rap of making films just so stuff will blow up (that's the best explanation I can come up with, maybe people don't like movies with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor. I highly doubt that). This film is not mind blowing, although the special effects and action scenes are very well done. I have to admit it makes me smile to see stuff getting blown up and intricate car crashes (although I like them to stay on the screen, rather than coming to life). The story is more than 2,000 years old. Like The Matrix, Dark City, and many other sci-fi films it is based on Plato's Allegory of the cave, it has a new face of course, and in this case it takes place in 2019. The feel of the story is in line with other recent futuristic films like Code 46 and Gattaca. The acting is pretty well done even if you know what the characters are going to do before they do. And in a real sense it does deal with an issues that in a more simple form already faces us. Should we clone ourselves for spare parts in order to extend our life. The main thing I enjoy about these kinds of films is investigating the assumptions the author has about what it means to be human. It is interesting to that these assumptions also direct the ethics of individuals and society.

December 14, 2005

Lawrence of Arabia - 7

This is one long film. Three hours and forty minutes! At first I was having a hard time seeing why this film has gotten so many awards and is considered a great film. By the end, it was obvious. Not only is the film well shot and creates a believable world, it also is a complex story of one man. This film is the true story of T.E. Lawrence, who helped join the Arab tribes to conquer the Turks in World War I. The films is really about the paradox of being human. Lawrence is portrayed in the film as both wise and foolish, sane and crazy, compassionate and tyrant. The film does a good job of showing this struggle. At different points Lawrence's ego is huge at other points he is more humble and realistic. It is also interesting that this film shows the interactions of two cultures, the British military and the desert Arabs. I think the history that it tells would be helpful for our current times and our assumptions and stereotypes of Arabs in our own time. It is also interesting that the film end with a fight over control of water (As an undergrad, I took a class on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the prof said "if you solve the water problem you've solved the problem." Still not the whole story, but not something most people think about). A well told story that will not get old because of its honesty about what it means to be human and the struggle to reconcile our good and bad actions.

December 13, 2005

The Paper - 6

A fun and entertaining film about a NYC newspaper and the struggle to track down the hot news, and sometimes the truth. Directed by Ron Howard, it has a great cast, including Michael Keaton, Marisa Tomei, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall (Jason Alexander makes an appearance). The films main theme is the struggle between work and family life and ultimately people have to come to choose what it is they really love by showing through their actions what takes priority. There is a great line in the film when Martha explains this. She says (I'm going from memory here): "It isn't one big choice [between work and family], its a series of small choices that direct our lives. You can't just wait around for that one big choice, you have to choose now!" A comedy that takes itself seriously, this doesn't happen very often.

December 11, 2005

Unleashed - 6

Other than the fact that the films setting is Ireland and most of the actors have American accents, which makes the film eerie and surreal, not a bad film. In fact, for all those who think Jet Li only does action films where his lines are minimal to keep up his credibility, he does a nice job of escaping the stereotype (Also, you must see Romeo Must Die, his best film). The story actually makes this film a thriller. The main character, Danny, learns to go on the search for his past to find out who he is. He escapes the clutches of the gangster who trained him to be a killer and treats him like a dog, and ends up living with a blind piano tuner and his adopted daughter. He soon discovers who killed his mother and in the process has to learn what separates humans from animals.

Mr. Deeds - 5

Mostly this film is Adam Sandler using his money to tell a completely outrageous story to get a few of his lost jokes out in the open. Considering all this, its not bad. There are some definite good points in the film. John Turturro for one (I love him in pretty much anything). Also, the honesty in relationship is done well and doesn't descend into cheesiness. It also pokes fun of the media culture that we live in, only slightly-it can't get to serious. It is a movie that will make you laugh (unless of course you don't like Sandler, then it might make you break stuff and hurt people).

December 10, 2005

Days of Heaven - 7

This second film by Terrence Malick is better and deals with the some of the same themes of Badlands, but goes further in analyzing culture. I think it illustrates well the American way to deal with problems (It sounds like his new film The New World is going to deal with this same theme). That is that the American expanse, and large spaces allow for people to run from their problems, to find a new place to try to start over. In the end though this cannot be the solutions because people bring their character with them. The narrator makes constant reference to how peoples actions have consequences and one can only deny that for so long before the truth stares you in the face. There is very little dialogue but the film shows its story well. The ending is somewhat mysterious but also plays on the theme "keep moving," the peace is fleeting. I hadn't wanted to see The New World, but this film has changed my mind. This film also won the Oscar for best cinematography, it is beautiful and intricate.

December 08, 2005

Wimbledon - 4

There really isn't that much to say about this film. Its a romantic comedy (Kirsten Dunst and Paul Bettany) involving two professional tennis players at Britain's famous Wimbledon tournament. The story is sort of backwards, they use sex as a superstition to play better and then fall in love, she loses, he wins his final tournament and learns the lesson that life is getting over fear. The best parts of the film is Pete's parents, who finally bond because of their son's success and are just funny. Its mostly cheesy, but it is the only film about tennis that I know of I don't know if that's a connection or just a random fact.

December 07, 2005

Say Anything - 7

This is Cameron Crowe's first film that he both wrote and directed. Like most of his other film music plays a somewhat prominent part in this film. It is a film about optimism. Average Lloyd decides to ask out the prettiest and smartest girl in school, Diane, who surprisingly starts to fall for him (John Cusack and Ione Skye are great in these roles). The dialogue in this film is well written. Here are a few good lines: "Corey Flood: Diane Court doesn't go out with guys like you. She's a brain. D.C.: Trapped in the body of a game-show hostess." "Lloyd Dobler: How many of them really know what they want, though? I mean, a lot of them think they have to know, right? But inside they don't really know, so... I don't know, but I know that I don't know."
What looks like a simple story outline gets further complicated by Diane's father and she end up breaking up with Lloyd because of her father and his future plans for her. The great part about this film is the reality of life that it portrays. No one is some sort of ideal archetype, they all have there quirks and brokenness that shape their lives and decisions. A good film that stays away from the sappiness of a chic flick, while still telling a love story.

Fantastic Four - 5

In the past five years the number of marvel comics that have been put to the screen has been huge, this is just another in that long list. It is entertaining and a pretty good story, while lacking the good acting and seriousness to make it a great film. Most of what makes it entertaining is its ability to make fun of itself and the many comic book movies that have come before it. It also leaves the viewer with the idea that the whole thing is sort of trivial. I think the film could play on its ability to be a metaphor for real life (Spiderman and the new Batman do this well). If you are looking for some pure entertainment that won't make you dumber for having watched it, this is it.

December 05, 2005

Badlands - 6

A 1973 film written and directed by Terrence Malick (other credits include: The Thin Red Line, and the upcoming The New World). In my opinion it is the much better predecessor to the film Monster (the only film I ranked a 1), without the lesbian angle. The film tells the story, partly based on true events, of a killer and his girlfriend, Holly (who narrates), and their journey running from the law. As they go, Kit leave a trail of bodies. The story is really about the alienation that the characters feel and the destruction it cause in a society without care. The story moves slowly precisely to show that it is not an action film but a work in character development. An interesting story that is told well. The title is in reference to their journey ending in the Montana Badlands.

December 03, 2005

The Ice Harvest - 6

It is marketed as a comedy but is really a more crowd-pleasing film noir. I use that term lightly since the main character does not go totally insane and try to kill himself. It is somewhat reminiscent of Fargo. It is less a heist film and more about the process of getting away with crime. The film takes place in Witchita Kansas and involves ripping off the only really rich guy in town off for 2 million, but that is really a minor point. In the process the audience follows John Cusack's character Charlie. The story takes twist as he tries to make sure that he does actually get away with the crime which eventually takes its toll on him emotionally. The film uses the humor to throw the audience off the scent of the small details that lead to the thriller ending. Supporting actors Billy Bob Thorton and Oliver Platt do a good job (this is no Lake Placid). A funny film that is actually a pretty intelligent film that deals with issues of character and is more realistic in human response to violence and crime. It also makes some Christian jokes focused on how conservative the state of Kansas is (see this book), which is interesting because those terms do not mean the same thing. Well, I hope not.

Criminal - 6

It is a con-artist film in the tradition of Matchstick Men, yeah way back. With the obligatory twist ending which doesn't really make the movie make sense, just makes you feel as though you got entertained. This is the English version of the film Nine Queens, apparently subtitles to a film is just wrong, the Spanish version came out in 2000 with different actors. The acting, especially John C. Reilly is really good. It is fun to watch and deals with interesting issues of trust and truth telling, which is commented on in the film since this is the era in which film references other films. A nice film to watch and rest to on a Friday night.

December 02, 2005

Bad Education - 5

It had potential...and then it just stumbled and fell. This film was directed by Pedro Almodovar and is set in Spain (yes, it has subtitles). The story involves the idea of the catholic sex scandals as the point of interest in the film (Gael Garcia Bernal played a transvestite, he also plays the main character in The Motorcycle Diaries). This has the effect that the mystery and truth seeking aspect get under done and leave the viewer with the question of if the plot will be worth it. Early on it does the interesting story within a story within a story kind of thing. As more of the mystery is revealed you learn more and more about how different people perceiveve reality very differently. It isn't so bad as to complain about it, but it doesn't stick out as a good film either. Bad education indeed...I don't think their is much learning here.

November 30, 2005


Lately I've been listening to Imogen Heap, courtesy of the Paste CD sampler that comes with every issue. You might know her from Frou Frou and the Garden State Soundtrack. On the song Hide and Seek, she does not use anything other than her voice and it is amazing how much she can do with it.
On a sadder note, my office mates love Christmas music so I've had to deal with my share of Clay Aiken, Barry Manilow, and Martina McBride. January will come...eventually.

November 28, 2005

8 1/2 - 6

This film is odd because it is a film about making a film. Terry Gilliam in the DVD introduction talks about how it is Fellini's take on what it is like to be a film director. If this is true than this quote sums up what might be the thesis of the film, "Guido: I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I'm the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same." The film is about the confusion between reality and imagination that collide in the directors head, which makes him want to do contradictory things, both help everyone get along and kill himself. The film really should have gone with its original title "The Beautiful Confusion." It takes some time to get into the film and may take a few viewings to catch all of the things that Fellini is saying. A must see for those really interested in film, not recommended for those that hate subtitles and complicated storytelling.

Mr. Jealousy - 7

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach who is friends with Wes Anderson co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. They are both working on The Fantastic Mr. Fox. This film reminded me of a Woody Allen film, in that it takes place in New York and has many of the same relationship issues. It is both a funny film and deals well with the issue of jealousy in any relationship. A lot of the film uses narrations to add to the storytelling of the actors. The film focuses on Lester, who cannot help but think about his girlfriends ex-boyfriends and comes to the point of obsessing over it. In the end, the humorous truth comes out and all the characters have to think about issues of trust and honesty in relationships. This is a fun film to watch.

November 27, 2005

Risky Business - 5

One of Cruise's and Rebecca De Mornay's early roles. This film is Ferris Bueller's Day Off tragic counterpart. While both about irresponsible high schoolers this film is more of a cultural critique of parenting than teenage rebellion. The main character, Joel, recognizes his inability to good moral choices and instead learns what it means to live in a capitalist society; that making it is all about taking risks. Like most American films he succeeds and the audience is left with the view that America is the place where anyone can succeed if they put their mind to it. I think it is interesting that this film could be made in 1983, since it deals with selling sex, literally and I'm not sure if that is suppose to be offensive to the audience or made more glamorous. It is also of interest to see the view that suburbia is boring and needs a little excitement. The director is telling the story of high school angst in suburbia without the internet and MTV. In that way this may be American Beauty's predecessor.

Just Friends - 3

As stories go this isn't really an original one, or even really all that good. But as funny entertainment this film is hilarious. Ryan Reynolds is funny and inserts a lot of subtle humor. The basic premise is that two friends from high school are reunited after ten years, a lot has changed and Chris wants Jamie as more than a friend, so he has to stop trying to be so cool and just be himself. This film is one of those that will not last as a timeless comedy, but will be funny for the next few weeks. There really isn't that much to say about his film.

November 23, 2005

Smilla's Sense of Snow - 7

There are many good things to like about this film. The characters in this film are very intricately developed. The plot is developed nicely as to make it a mystery/thriller film while not being manipulative at every twist and turn (the audience knows what the main character does). It is also an interesting story that crosses care with science fiction. The story follows Smilla's investigation into the death of a small boy who lives in her apartment complex. The film hinges on knowledge of Greenland and the native Inuit peoples and their ability to live in cold and snowy conditions. This film is set in Denmark, where an mining company has its headquarters, while hiring native Greenlanders to do dangerous work. In the end the truth is discovered and the mystery solved. This film also has a sweet cast: Julia Ormund, Gabriel Byrne, Jim Broadbent, and Tom Wilkinson. I would definitely recommend seeing this film.
Here is an interesting quote from the film: "The number system is like human life. First you have the natural numbers. The ones that are whole and positive. Like the numbers of a small child. But human consciousness expands. The child discovers longing. Do you know the mathematical expression for longing? The negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you're missing something."

November 22, 2005

Husbands and Wives - 6

This is similar to most Woody Allen films. Although Mia Farrow looks awfully tired in this film. Surprise, surprise, it takes place in New York City and is about relationships. This film is a lot subtler than some of Allen's other films. It also shot in a more documentary type style. The interesting twist in this one is that those that have doubt about their relationships end up working them out and making them known to each other, while the confident couple struggles to be honest and it end their relationship. Allen also makes the case for personalities that need to be married and those that don't in this film. Most of his other films assume marital infidelity as normal, while this one has its doubts. The audience is also part of this story since characters talk directly to the camera (with direction by interviewer) at times to explain their behavior. It is a good look relationships and the dysfunction that can be worked through or ran away from.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - 6

A creative and funny story about some know nothing high school friends who want to start a band. Lucky for them the future needs them, and help in the form of time travel comes just in time for them not to flunk out of school. It is actually a well written story and is acted well. It has all the classic lines with 80's speak like: "Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes." and over using words like bodacious, totally, and bogus. As entertainment it is hilarious. It does a good job of not over thinking the time travel, movies that try to hard usually end up being horrible (ie. The Butterfly Effect).

November 19, 2005

one year...

It has now been a year since I first started posting on this blog (thanks Keith). In that time I've seen over 300 films. Anyway, I wanted to tell you about an artist that I just heard. Brandi Carlile, very folky rock (Simon and Garfunkel-ish at times) and good, check her out. I got this album for free by signing up with FirstListen.

November 18, 2005

Cocoon - 6

Apparently everyone besides me has seen this film in their youth. It is an interesting take on the idea of extra terrestrial life, one of the few that has aliens that are not trying to annihilate everyone. This film was directed by Ron Howard in 1985, but why am I telling you this, you've already seen it, I'm the one whose waited (rather was ignorant of) 20 years to see this. I liked how this film used an old age home in order to show people making wise and hard decisions because of long life experience. Overall a unique story that does a good job of making the discussion of aging and death more real and does it in a way that isn't depressing but hopeful.

School Ties - 5

This film tries to be a touching story of a all boys prep school in the 1950's. It ends up being a morality tale in which the point is that prejudices against Jews is not good. It does such a bad job of showing the prejudice, one is not likely to actually believe that. There really isn't that big of a struggle from the audiences point of view, and Brendan Fraser, who plays the main character David, can't pull of the emotion to make this work. The film does point to the reality of prejudice that was prevalent in the 50's, but needs to better show the cultural worldview of this thinking rather than some sort of internal struggle of individuals. Not a bad film just not good enough to recommend. This film is how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck got their starts in acting, and obviously learned something about storytelling when they wrote Good Will Hunting (a much better film).

Intimate Strangers - 7

A French film (with subtitles) about mistaken identity that takes an interesting turn, and I don't mean a trick ending (although it looks like it might have one midway through). A woman, Anna, mistakes a tax lawyers office for a psychiatrist. This seems impossible but the film does a fantastic job of making this believable. The truth soon comes out but the connection has been made. The film then stays away from Hollywood cliches by avoiding the soap opera sex romp. It really is about two people wanting to know the truth and listening to one another's story. It requires trust and vulnerability to listen, but the payoff as these characters find out is worth it. The characters are no longer living through the medium of television which is hinted at through out the film. Instead they have found a way to really live their own lives that is connected through truthtelling. If you read my review of The Good Girl, this film is really its opposite theme-wise. Lies and distrust disconnect people while the truth helps people understand and see how their lives are intertwined in being human.

November 15, 2005

Love and Death - 7

One of Woody Allen's best films, a very funny parody of Russian novels like Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It is distinctly shorter than a novel, but packs a lot of very funny lines. It has discussion of moral philosophy as well as God, love, death, and sex. This film is least like Allen's other films, mostly because it is set in the 17th century. The idea of the story is that three Russian brothers are sent off to fight against Napoleon and the Russians win by accident. It is less about the plot and more about the dialogue that attempts to be overly philosophical and ends up just being hilarious. If you are going to see only one Woody Allen film, this would be high on the list.

November 14, 2005

Wide Awake - 7

This is M. Night Shyamalan first major Hollywood produced film. The story is about a fifth grader who goes to a private catholic school and goes on a search to find God after his grandfather dies. It is both a funny film with good characters and school pranks, as well as a serious film that is trying to ask good questions about death and suffering in the world and what the answers and signs might be that we are living in a world that has many realities, not all of them that we are fully awake to. Although less intricate and complex than Night's later films, it is still in line with a lot of the same themes. The setting is in eastern Pennsylvania, just like his other films, and deals with religious themes (Signs, The Village), and the main character's grandfather played football (Unbreakable). Not my favorite of his films but good and I'd recommend it.

November 13, 2005

Ghost World - 6

This film is based on the comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes. The basic plot follows two recent high school graduates. They are rather eccentric and the film is mostly their conversations and their take on popular culture. It has many funny lines but remains serious in its depiction of the struggle in finding ones identity -loving and being loved. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch play the characters well (Birch was the daughter in American Beauty, I didn't realize that until I looked it up on the IMDB). If you like independent films this is high on the list of films to see. If you are looking for a point that you can half sleep through, try...I don't need to be specific there are plenty of them, most involving the latest "hot" actors or actresses.

The Good Girl - 5

An interesting look at the consequences of following the path of least resistance. The story is about a women (played by Jennifer Aniston) who is bored with her marriage and job and decides to pursue a relationship with a young guy (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who works at the store with her. It seems like he is the only one who understands her. All of this just teachers her how to lie and in the end just when she's about to tell the truth she is helped by circumstances and the film ends. It is an interesting look at truth telling, but ends up with an ethics that say the end justifies the means, the problem is that one does not individually control the circumstances and ends of social situations. What really is the case is that she deceives herself about reality and it translates into false relationships and habitual lying in order to direct life. In the end she is a pawn, rather than an agent, in her own deception. She is lost and imprisoned, not because no one understands her but because she has not learned about how the truth is found, and that the truth would set her free.

November 10, 2005

Firefly - 7

This is actually a TV show, rather than a film. But since it is really good and I've just completed watching all the episodes, I thought I'd recommend seeing this show on DVD, as well as the film that follows it: Serenity. For more history of the series go here. Created by Joss Whedon, the story follows nine characters as they work as a delivery service (sometimes legal and often not). They also encounter their share of interesting people that make for some good adventures. The show is able to navigate between humor and seriousness, and a great self reference to science fiction stories. The show actually focuses on character development, and is probably one of very few TV shows that actually can do this well. An excellent show that I hope they continue to make more of, either in another film, or preferably as a TV show (I think it actually works better in that format). The show and film are able to keep the characters coherent by showing their humanness, they are not superheroes, just a group trying to survive and maybe try to do the right thing.

November 09, 2005

House of D - 7

A story about growing up and how this is a rite of passage. The story starts as the adult Tom Warshaw tells the story of his childhood that he has hidden from his wife and son, he realized that he can no longer forget his past. As he tells the story the viewer finds out why he has kept it hidden. It is a touching story of growing up and dealing with the pains that life sends your way. The theme of the film is the change that is inevitable and how to live and love in the midst of it. The film also makes one question previous stereotypes about people, it seems that wisdom can come from strange places. The film was written and directed by David Duchovny. Anton Yelchin does a wonderful job as the young Tommy, and Robin Williams is humor us as a retarded janitor. The humor of this film is like if Wes Andersen had written a Jim Carrey film. Overall a good story worth taking the time for.

November 08, 2005

Buffalo '66 - 6

Thanks to Keith for the recommendation. This film was written, directed, and stars Vincent Gallo, who does indie films. I almost hated the film, but the ending definitely redeemed it, if I understood it correctly. The film follows the crazy tale of Billy who has just been released from prison and goes home to try to impress his parents. It involves kidnapping and eventually recognition of the bigger picture that is the context for life. It is somewhat reminiscent of the idea in Trainspotting to "choose life." The title is a reference to the setting -Buffalo, NY- and the obsession of the Bills, who made it to the league championship on the day of Billy's birth, causing his mother to miss the game. Yes, there is more anger than love in his family. In the end what is required to keep getting up in the morning is to take the "long view," to see past merely the present moment and to hope for the future.

November 07, 2005

unwanted chatter...

Due to the amount of comment span on this blog I've decided to active moderating comments, that means that your comment will not show up until I accept it (don't worry I check my email often). No need to comment twice, it will take some time for it to appear.
Also of note is that the titles of each blog entry links to the film information at the Internet Movie Database, hope that is helpful. You can also look for films using the index. Thanks for visiting.

November 06, 2005

Made - 5

Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn are at it again, they worked together in Swingers. This film was written and directed by Favreau, it shows in the different kind of humor that this film has. The humor is mostly the stupidity and lack of awareness on the part of Ricky. Ricky, played by Vaughn, is a wannabe mobster and can't play any situations cool, it almost gets them killed but in the end luck saves them and Bobby discovers more about who he is and what is valuable. Swingers is funnier, but this film is more narrative, and has a touching ending that women can relate to (Swingers seems to be a guy thing).

November 05, 2005

Jarhead - 5

This film was disappointing. I was hoping that it would say something, instead it just stuck to ambiguity. It is driven by the theme of soldiers than it is by a story. While focusing mostly on the main character, Tony, it shows the development of the characters through their experience in the first Iraq war. The film plays like a marine recruiting video (The war it is about only had 378 casualties, the current war is at 2000), it didn't make me want to sign up but I could see how it could be interpreted as a guilt trip. In all the ambiguity there were also, in my opinion, some ironic lines about the futility of war, similar to the book and film Catch 22. It stresses honor among the troops, but the lack of a visible enemy only increases the view that war is disembodied (hence the prevalence of masturbation among soldiers).
The filming is very much in the documentary style, much like American Beauty with both vivid cinematography, and sections shot in more choppy quality film (the director is Sam Mendes, who did both films). It is based on the book by Anthony Swofford. From the reviews of the book it seems better than the film version, often the case, eh? If you like war movies then see this, if not wait to see the main clips when it gets shown on TV.

November 02, 2005

It's All About Love - 6

The acting in this film gets off to a shaky start, but picks up as the story moves along. The story is a strange one, all tied together by the overarching metaphor of love and the coldness and isolation when it is devalued and lacking. This futuristic world is very mechanized and people fall over dead from the lack of connectedness and relationship with others. There are also weird things going on with the weather, it gets colder and colder to the point that at the end of the film the world is frozen over. The main characters are a separated couple, Elena, a famous polish figure skater living in New York, and John, a professor (who lives in Calgary?). The meet in New York to make the divorce final, and then find themselves back in love and the world trying to further isolate them from each other or anything like love. There is also a few scenes of John's brother who is traveling on an airplane the whole film, and (is the storyteller?). The film is often vague, which I assume is on purpose to help the audience feel the coldness and confusion of the world that the characters live in. The film does in the end succeeds in show that life really is all about love, not in the abstract but takes on flesh and exhales warm breathe.

November 01, 2005

Mystery Men - 7

A truly well done spoof of superhero films. It's not really a spoof, because the characters in the film are only trying to be superheroes. But the real superhero with actual powers is not really very bright and more worried about his endorsement deals than crime fighting, so it probably is a spoof. The main characters don't really have superpowers in the usual sense, but they are able to combine forces and stop the evil villain who is trying to destroy the world. The lines in this film are great and the delivery is flawless. William H. Macy has my favorite lines from the film:
The Shoveller (trying to motivate the team as they drive to Casanova Frankenstein house): We've got a blind date with Destiny - and it looks like she's ordered the lobster.
The Shoveller (in an interview with reporters): We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.
Hank Azaria and Ben Stiller also give good performances. This is one of the few intelligent comedies that I've seen. It is very funny, I'd recommend seeing it.

October 30, 2005

The Outsiders - 4

Based on the novel by S.E. Hinton, this film is the story about a group of lower class high schoolers labeled, the "greasers," and the conflict that develops between them and the other cliques in the school. The story is suppose to be about the struggle between the poor kids and the rich kids in high school and how this effects social views of good and bad behavior. The idea seems a lot better than the way it is executed by Francis Coppola in this film. It becomes scattered, some scenes don't fit. The characters are mostly underdeveloped. And it all becomes unbelievable when the two main characters start a discussion of a Robert Frost poem (not that discussing Robert Frost is strange, but it is when the context is some high school freshmen running from the scene of a murder). I'm assuming that the book focuses on the characters own reflection on life and the situation they find themselves in, the film can't quite pull that off. The characters seem shallow, and the plot line doesn't draw the film together into a coherent whole. The main thing the film has going for it is its allstar cast of Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Diane Lane, and Ralph Macchio.

October 29, 2005

Ghost Busters - 7

This is a surprisingly funny film. I had seen sections of the film on TV but only now have seen the it in its entirety. Bill Murray plays his regular role as his early comedy films (apparently the role was written for him). I thought the funniest character is actually Dr. Egon Spengler, played well by Harold Ramis, he plays the serious one who pretends to not get his own jokes (I saw the smirk on his face). The plot doesn't really have to go anywhere, it is about the supernatural after all, anything is possible. But the dialogue and characters are hilarious. Apparently it gets watch mainly around Halloween, mostly because its strange not because it scary. Definitely a film to watch in a group and the lines are very quotable:
Dr Ray Stantz: I think we'd better split up.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Good idea.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Yeah... we can do more damage that way.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Ray has gone bye-bye, Egon... what've you got left?
Dr. Egon Spengler: Sorry, Venkman, I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.
Dr Ray Stantz: Everything was fine with our system until the power grid was shut off by dickless here.
Walter Peck: They caused an explosion!
Mayor: Is this true?
Dr. Peter Venkman: Yes it's true.
Dr. Peter Venkman: This man has no dick.
ps- The main character's last name is Venkman, mine is Veltman. Coincidence? I think n........probably.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein - 5

I grew up on Abbott and Costello (famous for their "Who's on First" routine), my dad loved them and the local library had them for checking out. They really are a great comedy team, with both good physical comedy, and witty banter and groaning puns (that's why my dad loves them, I heard you learn that in seminary). This is one of their later films and not their best work. This one gets caught up in the stories of the Wolfman, Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Abbott and Costello take a back seat from being the main attraction. That is not to say that this film is not entertaining and funny, it is a great film to just sit back and laugh. It fits into that category where thinking to hard makes it worse. Also, it was made in the 40's so it is in a true sense friendly to most everyone.

October 28, 2005

Rize - 7

This is a documentary by David LaChapelle (most famous for his photography in magazines and music videos). It shows the krump dancing movement that has developed in south Los Angeles. The way LaChapelle tells the story krump developed as a performance art out of the Rodney King riots of 1992, and became mainstream through the work of Tommy the Clown. The climax of the film is when the rival clown/krump groups compete for a crowd of thousands. The film has long segments of music and krump, and even shows the comparison between native African dance (the footage looks like it from the 70's or 80's). The way the story is told krump is the performance art and bodily expression of freedom and oppression that African Americans have lived with. These dance/clown academies are also a way for kids to stay out of gangs and see positive change rather than a short life of crime (death or jail). A well made documentary that shows both the creativity and the risk and danger of imagining a better world and working toward it.

October 27, 2005

current listening...

Citizen Cope - sounds like: folk singer/songwriter with heavy influence of hip-hop. Yeah, odd combination but he does it well.
The Killer - retro-British rock sound from Las Vegas.
The Click Five - poppy rock with high school quality lyrics (that's a bad thing:-) - not recommended. For those of you who like more indie music (ie. The New Pornographers, The White Stripes) check out these two bands:
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Pitchfork media gave this album a 9.0/10
The Magic Numbers - A two couple quartet.
I'd also recommend checking out the itunes music store for the two free music downloads of the week, see the bottom left of the main page. I've been able to hear artist like The Fray and James Blunt. And have I mentioned that you should check out Jason Panella's music review site (link to the index on the left).

October 26, 2005

Melinda and Melinda - 6

This is a more recent Woody Allen film in which he does not star. It is well done and plays on the dual story of fictional Melinda, one a tragedy and one a comedy. The film starts with two authors and friends talking in a restaurant about how they see the world. They then plug the same characters with similar details and overall plot and try to show that the events could be tragic or comedic. It ends say that conclusions are elusive and that one's outlook will determine reality. The comedy version is very funny with Will Ferrell playing an intelligent funny man, instead of his sometimes crude funny. The tragedy is very sad. Both are realistic in the potential of events leading to the tragic and the comedic. But as the narration shows even these smaller stories are set in a bigger reality that has one narrative. In the end Allen wants to put the comedic as a part of the overall tragedy of life. It is in many ways an escape from the truth of the tragic. I think that Allen in this case gets it wrong and that the tragic is really a small part of the overall comedy of life. In other words, I think that there is resolution in the story, rather than tension and pain ad infinitum. The next question that makes sense of these things is: How do we know one or the other, is their a perspective outside of our own? It is a question of epistemology that will help determine a storied kind of living.

October 25, 2005

PCU - 6

This film is rated PG-13, which means that there are many less crude-for-crude's-sake jokes and more actually intelligent jokes about the craziness of college life. The title refers to both the college in the film named Port Chester college, but also to the political correctness in higher education. The jokes are actually very well done. It is also interesting that the arguments made don't make college students seem smarter, but actually shows how little they actually try to think. Conformity is really the punch-line of the film. Their are some really good quotes that are telling of how people view higher education. In this case not very high views. Early in the film Droz is giving prospective student Tom a tour and has these two great lines: "Yes! That's the beauty of college these days, Tommy! You can major in Game Boy if you know how to bullshit." And "These, Tom, are the Causeheads. They find a world-threatening issue and stick with it for about a week." This film shows how students see college as mostly meaningless beside making connections with others. Everything of value happens outside of class, mostly at parties. Most films on higher education, especially comedies, have this view. It is only partly justified when looking at the reality of college. It seems that this view also leads most to a cynical view of life, rather than the working out of the idealism that is the majority during the college years. Somewhere in there hope dies.

Before Sunset - 6

This is the sequel to Before Sunrise, made nine years later, with characters who are nine years older. In this film Jesse and Celine who met in Vienna as college students, meet again as Jesse is in Paris for a day. They then continue the conversations about love and what ifs about their pasts and futures. The conversation is more focused in this film than in the previous film, mostly because they know each other better and because they are wiser now. They talk about memories and how it changes as time goes by, a great quote is when Celine says "Memories are wonderful things, if you don't have to deal with the past." They also talk about love and the doubts that love really exists. They also go into politics and the idealism that can be lost or revived as time goes by. A good film and a great sequel.

October 21, 2005

Before Sunrise - 6

This Richard Linklater film is in the same vein as a good chunk of his other work (ie. Waking Life, Slacker, Tape, Dazed and Confused). What does that mean? These films involve a lot of dialogue, usually involving "pseudo-intellectual" (his word, not mine) conversations and characters who are self conscious about these conversations. This films conversation involves a man and a woman who are strangers on a train and who stop in Vienna before heading back to their homes else where. The conversation weaves its way through topics like relationships, palm readers, and true love. An interesting film with well written dialogue, not for the action/adventure crowd though. A review of this film's sequel, Before Sunset, will be coming soon.

October 19, 2005

House of Sand and Fog - 7

I wrote about this film a year ago. My take then was that the film is a challenge to live differently. Seeing this film again made me realize different complexities and issues it deals with that I missed on first viewing. Without giving too much of the plot away, the story involves a house whose owner is evicted on a bureaucratic technicality. The house is then sold to an Iranian immigrant family who are looking to make money by buying low selling high (that is just good economics). Well if life was just economics this film wouldn't have anything meaningful to say. Fortunately life is complex and humans are able to understand their environments in meaningful ways. The main theme of the film is the pursuit of the American dream. The story points out the legalism of it, and ultimately how lonely and individualistic the pursuit of this dream can be (the tagline of the film is: "Some dreams can't be shared"). This film also explores the idea of home and the emotional ties that we have to places and people. There are some great lines in the film in which the characters talk about what it means to be lost in confusion and how happiness to them is to be found. The greatest lesson this film can teach is that if you can choose to show others grace, take it, otherwise you will be left callous and numb to caring for others.
The title works as a metaphor for the precariousness of human situations and communication. The questions are whether one can build anything that will last on a sand foundation, and whether people are able to really have eyes to see through the fog. Often times we overestimate our abilities to really know and love in lasting and faithful ways.
The film is based on the book by Andre Dubus III. He is very intelligent in writing about the complexity of the human experience especially the issues concerning the relations of Islam and American culture, and how subtle the interaction is between faith, lifestyle, and communication are. Ben Kingsley and Jennifer Connelly give their best performances in this film. I would recommend seeing this film and thinking deeply about it.

October 16, 2005

Cinema Paradiso - 7

I sort of remember seeing this film about 10 years ago, but I forgot how good this film really is (I may have also been annoyed by the subtitles, I only recently learned how to read:-). There are two versions of the film, I watched the original version first, and then saw the alternate ending that the new version has. I would only give the new version a 6, while I think the original version is a lot better and more coherent. The story is a flash back of an Italian filmmaker's (Salvatore, or Toto for short) youth after the news that his mentor and childhood friend Alfredo has died. The story is really about the relationship of Toto to his mentor and his growing up and learning. In the end, Toto realizes how wise Alfredo was and how much he was loved by him. In the new version the romance story takes over the plot and is a major theme which actually over shadows this other story which changes the meaning of the film. A great film about the power of the past and the feeling that comes from memory and remembrance.

Me and You and Everyone We Know - 7

A quirky film that turns what looks like the mundane everyday life into interesting dialogue about real problems and funny situations. The story follows a number of people who live on the same block, while not trying to connect each of their stories. The author/director and actor in the film Miranda July says the film is about "people wanting to touch each other." The characters in this film long to be in relationship with others, but haven't really learned how best to do this, so they try and succeed only because everyone is in the same boat. What makes people human is there longing for relationship, and the foibled way that we go about tying to connect with others.
It struck me early in the film that this film is somewhat dependent on the culture shaping people. The film seems funnier because films like American Beauty, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Magnolia exist. In this sense it makes for a somewhat real film in that the characters are living in the same culture and are trying just as hard as the audience to figure it out. The film is influenced by July's interest in performance art, so there are many scenes that the meaning of the set up is not lost on the audience. The precocious six year old, played wonderfully by Brandon Ratcliff is maybe the funniest and is definitely the character that shows the childishness in all of us.

October 15, 2005

Inventing the Abbotts - 7

This film takes place in the 1950's in a small town outside of Chicago. The story is narrated by the younger of two brothers, Doug, who have lost their dad at an early age and are different in their response to it. It all has to do with the hush-hush environment of the small town they live in. They have to sort of figure it out from the rumors that percolate in school and community events. The audience goes along for the ride as the story surrounding the death get more and more fuzzy, and are then cleared up when Doug speaks to his mother about the truth. He then realizes that his older brother has invented his own story about the events and has in fact misunderstood Mr. Abbott, whose role in the death you do not find out about until the truth is sought out by Doug. In the meantime all the hurt in the film is due to the false reality that rumors can inflict, and the film ends asking the question whether there can be healing in this situation. The film is well cast with Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Liv Tyler, and Kathy Baker.

Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence - 6

Overall this is a good sequel. The aesthetics are just a good as the original. The story is good, but lacking the simplicity of the first. The main character from the previous film has disappeared, and her partner and a new cop are taking on the criminals of section 9. This film is more philosophical than the first, discussing again the implications and complexities of artificial intelligence. This one uses the theme of Descartes, and the dualism of mind and body that he introduced (some might say revived) into philosophy. It also raises the problem of whether suicide is possible for cyborgs. This film is harder to follow than the last film, but still a very well made and interesting story (yes, I'm sort of a philosophy nerd, so I find the questions interesting).

October 13, 2005

Ghost in the Shell - 7

This is one of the best anime films I have seen. Aesthetically the film is amazing. The story deals with a future in which artificial intelligent has been programmed with 'ghosts', which raises the questions of what makes humans and cyborg and computers distinctive. Is it their history? Their bodies? Or is it their ability to choose? The film is both a story about cops chasing a cyber criminal in 2029, as well as a discussion of the philosophical implications of computerization and technology. It is a good film in both of these respects. The film is framed around the epistemological questions raised by two verses from the Bible. I Corinthians 13:12 - "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face." And verse 11 - "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." The main character, Motoko Kusanagi, uses these to try to understand herself as not quite human but more than a mechanistic robot.

Scarface - 5

At almost three hours this film is much too long. The film uses Castro's opening of the border as a starting point to tell the story of Tony Montana, who is a Cuban criminal that makes it to Miami and gets involved in cocaine trafficking. As he climbs higher in the business he becomes so obsessed with making money and living "high" on the hog, he eventually looses all trust in his friend, who he suspects are trying to take over his cocaine empire. Despite being a classic, and Pacino doing a good job of playing the main character, I found the film sort of a waste of time. It seems there may have been a better way to get the point across than just showing all sorts of violence, often for no other reason than shock value. Additionally, the other characters are under developed. The story struggles to show whether the story is about Tony as a tragic hero, or whether the point is that in the end there is justice among criminals. My guess is that it is the former, which makes for a very sad story.

October 11, 2005

Kicking & Screaming - 6

Will Ferrell is generally hilarious, but especially so in this film. Since it is rated PG the jokes are less crude and actually more funny. The basic premise of the film is that Phil (Ferrell) grew up being pressured by his father (Robert Duvall) to be good at sports which he was always subpar at. Then he and his father have a son on the same day and as they deal with the sports that there kids will play, Phil starts out being a good father and trying to make sports fun for his son. He soon finds himself the coach of a team, and with Mike Ditka as assistant starts to morph into the worst and most obsessed coach/parent ever. In the end, he realized his errors, apologizes and his team even beats his dad's team. It is actually a film that captures some of the reality of sports obsessed parents in American culture. The kids are always on the losing end of the deal, and I think has a lasting effect on society as these kids get older. Reducing life to sports not only makes sport into something it is not, it makes other important parts of life like family and work seem like trivial activities, which only leads to broken relationships. The film does a good job of showing how life needs to be seen in a long-term perspective than the present and the remaking and nostalgia of the past. The plot is not new, the underdog comes back to win the whole thing, but it is very hilarious in the process.

October 10, 2005

Animal House - 5

This is somewhat of a classic (1978) comedy involving a college fraternity that is majoring in partying. In some ways the American Pie films are just an updated version of the same story. Set in 1962 on the campus of fictional Faber College, the story is pretty shallow and has the dean trying but failing to find reason for getting rid of the Delta fraternity. The audience can tell this is fictional because in reality getting expelled from school isn't all that hard to do, especially considering the behavior in this film that would definitely not go over, at least I hope not. It is interesting to see what pushing the boundaries of morality in film was during that time, not all that different from our own time really. These types of films show the duality of social beliefs about higher education. On the one hand, everyone laughs and assumes that this shows college life as they knew it in some sense, and on the other hand hope that college is not like this for the sake of there reputation now and the children they are and will soon be sending to college. There are very few films that really show that college is both good and bad for 18-22 year-olds, and its impact on the future of society.

October 07, 2005

The Bonfire of the Vanities - 4

This film is based on the 1987 novel by Tom Wolfe. He is also the author of the more recent book I Am Charlotte Simmons. These stories are actually very similar, the former is set in 1980's New York involving a rich Wall Street deal maker, the later is about college life. Both stories are about how people learn and adjust to the morality of their day, or in both of these cases lose their sense of moral meaning, and find themselves lost in the cosmos. I imagine the book is better than the movie, because Wolfe is a long winded author which makes for some really detailed descriptions that even film has a hard time with (If you are going to read anything by Wolfe, read his non-fiction, especially his 2000 book called Hooking Up. He really should have just kept writing as a journalist). The medium of film in this case fails to give the audience the whole story and ends up being a cheesy comedy when in actuality the books is a social commentary on the loss of virtue in our society (Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind came out shortly after this book). Although the film has a cast staring Tom Hanks and Bruce Willis, the film is mis-cast and overall a flop.

The Interpreter - 6

In the words of Kramer:
"Well it's a story about love, deception, greed, lust and...unbridled enthusiasm. You see Elaine, Billy was a simple country boy. You might say a cockeyed optimist, who got himself mixed up in the high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue."
Well that's actually a different story, this film does involve world politics and international intrigue but focuses on what justice looks like in the world since the creation of the United Nations and the international court at The Hague. The story involves a made up country in Africa that has a corrupt president who is accused of genocide. Sylvia is an interpreter for that country and over hears a threat. You soon learn that she has as much a stake in the outcome of the president as those trying to assassinate him. The best part of the film is that it never turns into a cheesy romance story, although there are a few places I feared it might. As the audience learns more the early part of the story starts to make sense. In the end the battle is between revenge and accepting loss, mourning, and pursuing justice. Early in the film Sylvia tells the story of justice in her own country which is poignant and remains the theme of the film throughout. The parts are well played by Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn.

It Beats 4 U

In the past month a few new CD's have come out. Of note are My Morning Jacket's Z. The band makes an appearance as the Kentucky band in the new Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown. I just picked it up yesterday but it is good, in the same vein as It Still Moves, but a better follow up than Death Cab's Plans. David Gray new album, Life in Slow Motion is not the next White Ladder, but better than 2002's New Day at Midnight. Switchfoot also came out with a new album called Nothing is Sound, but it is mediocre at best, although they still have their signature sound. The lyrics are pretty good but don't always fit with the music that they go with. The Beautiful Letdown is a much better album. You can read reviews of these in Paste Magazine and Rollingstone. Although somewhat older, late summer, I am still convinced that Aqualung is the best album to come out since Coldplay's X&Y.

October 06, 2005

A History of Violence - 6

Based on a graphic novel written by John Wagner and art by Vince Locke, this film tells the story of how violence attaches itself to human life and starts to drive our decisions in many areas of our lives. In some ways it is a social commentary on the pervasiveness of violence in American society. It is hard to talk about this film without spoiling the plot turns and the like so if you definitely plan to watch this film and haven't yet, you may want to stop reading. This may be the toughest review I have yet written for a couple of reasons. First, I both liked the film and found it frustrating to watch. On a technical level the film is not well made. The director was not able to show the passage of time very well and there were points in which things were happening that seemed disorienting because they didn't give viewer enough time to recognize the change in time (for example, there is a sequence in which the main character Tom is in his diner, then at home, then back at the diner, all without reference to whether a few days have past, which I suspect, or if it is the same day. There are other points in the film that suffer from this same flaw.) The film also suffers from not gaining the audiences trust, which means that one is suspicious which makes belief and caring for the characters that much harder. The second frustration is that this film story is a good and needed one in a lot of ways, but it is not a film that I would recommend to very many people, in fact I would discourage some from seeing this film. When it comes to the discernment of this film I think there are only a small minority of people that can deal with the emotional and intellectual challenge that this film poses (That is probably an elitist view but needs to be said).
The good things about this story is that is shows the tension that divides the human heart between good and evil and makes being human complex. In the story the characters deal with what a changed and new life might look like but not having the insight to understand their own past and what that means for the present and the future, especially in the fragility of human relationships. One of the strong points of the film is in identifying with the main character and seeing that the enemy is within rather than something that can be killed off externally (Although the old women who love to talk during the film sitting behind us saw violence as part of the solution). What this film needs is a little dose of the philosopher, Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas writes at length about how behavior is shaped by the habits (following Aristotle) and that is how we truly change and can do good. Aquinas would ask, does our culture help us habituate violence or non-violence, and what does that tell us about who we are, both as a community as well as our own personal identity? The end of the film attempts to show the grace needed to live in a world that is often deceptive and hard, but the director can't pull it off because it seems contrived after the flow of the rest of the film (for a good example of how a director can do this see: Places of the Heart). For the discerning viewer there are many points of discussion, that is why I would rank this film a 6.

Blow - 6

This film is based on the true story of George Jung, who in the 1970's started to smuggle cocaine from Columbia to the US. In between getting rich and getting caught, a cycle that continues throughout the film. He tries to stay in contact with his family and starts his own family. In the end he realizes that his father was right that money is not the key to happiness, it is rather to love and be loved, this plays out in the movie with his daughter and the promises he made and his failure while he thinks about it in jail. The previews for the film make drug running look all glamorous, the film actually is more about this subplot than about drugs, and the film does not celebrate drug use, but shows how they can destroy.
As a side note this film made me realize that Johnny Depp is the son of Christopher Walken. OK not really, but see the pictures below and tell me you can't see the resemblance, they also have similiar acting styles (especially Walken from The Deer Hunter and Depp from this film).

October 03, 2005

Swingers - 5

This film deals with the difference between "scoring" a chic and having a relationship with a woman. They often look the same in most films. The movie revolves around a group of friends who are single and looking for work in Hollywood. The main character, Mike, has ended a relationship of six years in order to move from NY to LA. His friends keep giving him advice about how to get over it. He eventually meets someone as confused about relationships as he is and he finally is able to let go of the past and live more fully in the present. The acting is well done, especially Vince Vaughn and Ron Livingston (Office Space). A reasonably well done film, but mostly famous for a few famous lines like: "You're so money and you don't even know it.", "Baby, that was money! Tell me that wasn't money.", and "And it's like I'm supposed to be all happy 'cause she's wearing a backpack, you know?"

October 01, 2005

Serenity - 7

The previews almost kept me from seeing this film. Because the film is genre-less, or rather a mash up of a few genre's the preview can't really get at what makes this film good. As someone who has not seen the show, Firefly, that it is based on, I still think it is good film (It seems the shows fans liked it even more). Part western, part noir, part sci-fi, part comedy, this film is about a small space crew that is basically trying to survive in a vast universe that is run by The Alliance. The plot development is very well done, just when you think its going to get boring a plot twist comes in that changes the whole story up to that point. What I found as the most interesting thing about the film was its use of good and evil. Most films of this sort can easily get away with a very distinct difference, showing evil in dark light and the hero looking all bright like an angel or something. This film on the other hand shows the gray area of each of the characters, some a darker shade than others. Rather than just sticking to the ying/yang view or that good prevails, well..."That sells more tickets, I think?", this film shows a battle where good might not be some abstraction in the fight, but in the characters along with their less admirable characteristics. One thing I noticed was the use of the idea of sin, which tends to be avoided by Hollywood. Sin implies some sort of personal responsibility. Evil is merely a cancer that takes over your entire body, which means death is better (that's why Arnold can get away with massacres, sort of nihilistic). Although sin is bad it points to the belief in some good that gives meaning and is worth living and dying for.
The acting is well done and it is nice to see a film that is not based on star power, no famous names to look for. The dialogue does a good job of staying between the serious and the hilarious. A film that is both fun to watch and good for discussion.

Time Bandits - 5

A comedic Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and The Brother's Grimm) film, that makes A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy seem like a copy. It uses time travel rather than space travel and has less reference to the meaning of life, but the type of humor is similar. The basic story is that some dwarves who helped God make shrubs, have stolen his map and are able to travel through time and decide to steal valuables in order to be rich, they eventually get conned by the devil and need to retrieve the map, only to be saved in the end by God, who tells them the whole thing was a test. The film is from a small boy's perspective as he has a good imagination, that obviously doesn't come from his parents who are TV zombies. He wakes up in the end and finds that it may have all been a dream, or was it? A funny action adventure film, and ahead of its time in 1981.

September 29, 2005

Sunset Boulevard - 6

An interesting film for Hollywood to make seeing as how it is very unflattering to the movie business. This 1950 classic really shows how people can get caught up in their fame. In this case, former star, Norma Desmond steps out of a responsible storied living and start to believe a fiction as a truth about her own life. As she goes through this no one in her life can tell her otherwise and when her life starts to fall apart she can't see it because of the story she thinks she is living. She has so convinced herself that in the end the line between right and wrong has been completely obliterated. The main character, Joe Gillis, is a more realistic character as he is just using whatever means he can to survive, even if he has sold his soul, he trades in the art of script writing for the industry of entertainment. When he finally comes to himself he finds his untimely end. The beginning of this film reminded me a bit of American Beauty, although it should be vice versa, since it comes 50 years later. They both have some similar critique of the social world that Americans live in.

Love Song for Bobby Long - 6

This film has a strange combination of actors, Scarlet Johansson, John Travolta, and Gabriel Macht. The story develops slowly but you soon learn that a women has died and the people left are trying to figure out how to grieve and begin life again. Bobby Long is a former English professor who is living with his writing assistant in Lorraine's house (the woman who died). Lorraine's daughter, Pursy comes back to reclaim the house where she grew up. The catch: Lorraine has left the house to all three of them, so they learn to live together and start to actually get along and help each other. All three of them then start to think about there pasts and how they can both remember and move on into the present and the future. It is in this intense community where they are able to learn how to live meaningfully with others, knowing that to change others is to be changed yourself.

September 28, 2005

St. Elmo's Fire - 6

An interesting film about unrequited love. There are seven characters, all friends from their recent college days at Georgetown. Now that they are out in "the real world" they are finding life more challenging and learning to learn for the first time. There are a few story-lines but all of them involve looking for love and recognizing that often time it is not returned in kind. The characters soon realize that status and wealth are important to their visions of success but that the rules of the game has changed from when they were in college. They must either adapt themselves to the new culture or be spit out. In all of this it is their friendships that keep them grounded. It is an interesting film and gives indirect insight into cultural views of higher education and the careerism of the day (1985). You can definitely tell this is an 80's film from the musical score written by David Foster.