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

January 30, 2005

Garden State - 7

This is film about what it is like to be a twentysomething in our therapeutic culture. It is a great film because most can relate to it, the thoughts and feelings of the characters is in many ways common to everyone. Both the pain and joy of living in a broken, but creative reality. It is our reaction and dealing with the grief and pain of our lives that we make the most profound choices, and in which we discover who we are and what really matters. This movie is the one exception on my site, in which I would highly recommend you seeing this film, if you have not already. The music to the film is also very good and is worth your time to check out.
See also this good review of the film. It gives more background and insightful questions to engage the movie.

Napoleon Dynamite - 6

A funny movie, but not in the sense that you will laugh a lot while watching it. Let me explain, I found it pretty funny, but even funnier while trying to explain it and talk about it after I had seen it. In thinking about how outrageous the plot and characters are, you just cannot help but laugh. Part of what makes the movie so funny is how dumb it is, if you like such films this one is for you, if you think that those type of films are just "dumb," then skip this one.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being - 5

This is a long movie and I hear the book is better, as is mostly the case between books and movies. This film deals with relationships, fidelity, as well as communism in Czeslovakia. The question that the movie asks is "What do you care about?" This is what the main character asks about halfway through the movie and then goes about trying to make choices in search of the answer to that question. The characters also deal with the connections between sex and love. In the end I think it is the convictions that we have that are the weight of our being, and we must live with the responsibility of the choices that we make, as we discover what we care about.

January 26, 2005

What to make of the over-hype

If you haven't noticed already, many in the media, or at least the stuff I read, are talking and hyping Conor Oberst whose CD's go under the name Bright Eyes. I have since listened to both of his new CD's that came out yesterday (Jan. 25), and concluded that they are pretty good, I like them, and I think that both the lyrics and music are complex as well as enjoyable. It is definitely not stuff you will hear on pop radio, which depending on what you like to listen to, could be good or bad. If not wanting to take to big of a risk you should probably go with I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning, but Digital Ash in a Digital Urn is good stuff as well, although the two don't always sound like they are made or written by the same person. Overall I like what I have heard. Feel free to comment on other music that I may not have heard of that I should check out. Happy listening!

January 25, 2005

Road to Perdition - 6

This film take the discussion of the evil and good that reside in each of us and shows how that develops in the main characters, Hitman Father, Michael Sullivan and his 12 year old son. It also includes the theme of revenge and justice. I like the narration by the son at the end of the movie where he has come through these sad and tragic six weeks, to learn that the question of good and evil is not as simple as most make it out to be. I think the question we can ask ourselves is, how has our life shaped our motivations for both good action as well as evil?
(The cinematography and music are beautiful in this film)

January 23, 2005

Lost in Translation - 7

The power of culture to make one feel at home. The characters find themselves in a strange place, and discover a place to ask honest questions about life, and its ups and downs. I think that many people become numb to their own culture and way of life, thinking that they have found the good life. If only more people would be lost enough to need to be found, would their stories open up to a whole world beyond their front door. I am not talking about captain Kirk's final frontier, rather how about the people we work with and those that live on our block. Fear has us taken us hostage from our own humanity, the relationality of just being alive.
"Does it get easier?"
Life really is that complex, but the questions are worth asking.

Menace II Society - 5

A sad but insightful movie about the drug and gang wars of the Ghetto in Southern California. This movie gives a bleak(and maybe accurate?) picture of how hard turning one's life around can be. One's life is a combination of choices, experience, character, and environment. And this never makes anything easy or simple. Often life doesn't let us be, or line up with our hopes, but then sometimes it does or goes beyond them and we are engulfed in the continuing mystery of a story bigger than ourselves. Once again, we are left with the question, "How to choose life?" (See the Trainspotting Post)

Total Recall - 5

A somewhat interesting action/secret agent movie, that has the dream/brain surgery problem. The premise being that memories can be inserted into your brain so that you can remember a good vacation, or in this case go on a choose your own adventure, then have it inserted into your head. They ask the questions but leave the viewer to make up one's mind as to what actually happened in the end. My own view is that the whole thing is a dream, rather than real. The dialogue is also lacking because "the governator" is in it, with a lot of cliches and corny lines. There is also a lot of needless violence. In the end, it will probably create more conversation than most action movies, at least is has less story-line flaws or inconsistencies than other Schwarzenegger films. In the end, it all seems rather escapist.

Momento - 7

An very deep movie about memory and the passage of time and how most take these things for granted in everyday life. This film is not about amnesia, and it shows in the way it was made to disorient the viewer. It will test your memory and the fact that one only perceives a very small amount of the data coming to us through our senses. It also deals with revenge and how we heal or do not heal from the pain and wounds afflicted by living in a broken world. The film does not portray hopelessness, rather it shows the need for trust and a willing to struggle for the truth. If you have not seen this movie, I would suggest putting it on your list.

January 20, 2005

Eat Drink Man Woman - 7

Another film from Ang Lee, completely in Chinese with subtitles. A film about family and food. It will make you want to go mid-movie to an oriental restaurant, cuisine as art. A widower living with his three adult daughters are all learning about the love of family and the search for deeper friendships and romance. There are funny parts, and sad parts, but most importantly these people are real, they have character, and they learn how to see with the heart. The question is how do we really know and love at the same time? Our brokenness and desires cloud our minds from true understanding, and our desires are filled with fear of the risk of really loving. This is the struggle to be fully human.

The Wedding Banquet - 6

This film is from director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and is in both English and Chinese. An interesting film, about the tension between honoring parents and tradition, while recognizing the uniqueness of living in the present. It brings up interesting questions about lying and truth telling. It is also insightful into parts of Taiwanese culture. Is happiness really found in others being themselves and being happy? If nothing else, a thoughtful film fleshing these questions out.

January 17, 2005

Chicago - 4

"Whatever happened to justice" this is a quote from the movie, ironic since the story line of this film is justice doesn't matter when it comes to the legal system. And it is rather hard to tell whether the characters have changed or not. I enjoyed some of the songs, but they seem to be less cohesive to the story compared to other musicals, like Moulin Rouge. Their are some interesting questions about sophism and the modern media that can be drawn out of this film.

January 14, 2005

culture, higher education, and moral meaning

Quote from Tom Wolfe's new novel I am Charlotte Simmons,
"I guess what I really mean is college is like this four-year period you have when you can try anything--everything--and if it goes wrong, there's no consequences? You know what I mean? Nobody's keeping score? You can do things that if you tried them before you got to college, your family would be crying and pulling their hair out and giving you these now-see-what-you've-gone-and-done looks?...--and if you tried these things after you left college and you're working, everybody's gonna f***ing blow a fuse, and your boss will call you in for a--...--little talk, he'll call it, or if you have a boyfriend or a husband, he's gonna totally freak out or crawl off like a dog, which would be just as bad, because it'd make you feel guilty?...College is the only time in your life, or your adult life anyway, when you can really experiment, and at a certain point, when you graduate or whatever, everybody's memory like evaporates. You tried this and this and this and this, and you learned a lot about how things are, but nobody's gonna remember it? It's like amnesia, totally, and there's no record, and you leave college exactly the way you came in, pure as rainwater."

Is this what our culture thinks about college? If so, it is an awfully sad view of education and the good life.

January 13, 2005

Castle in the Sky - 7

Another classic from Hayao Miyazaki, whose other works include, Kiki's Delivery Service (5), Spirited Away (6), and what I think is his best work, Princess Mononoke (7). This film deals with the age old questions of the use of power and technology, which can be used for both good and evil. On their search for the lost floating city of Laputa, different motivations lead to different uses of power in order for each of the characters to pursue what is best, in some cases it is greed, for others power and reputation itself, and for the main characters it is for knowledge of self and identity, and in the end destruction is all that can save evil from itself. Good is lost in the imagination of those who believe that humanity is both of priceless value as well as mere dust and a small spec in the cosmos. When we make a commodity of humanity, we loose our role as the steward who have responsibility to the space we inhabit and take part in.

Kiki's Delivery Service - 5

A good film about finding one's identity. Kiki is a young witch who has to leave home for a year study in a different place, and decides on a beautiful city by the sea. She discovers that her flying broom is a good skill to start a delivery service and is able to help others, eventually saving the life of a friend. In the end finding that belief in one's giftedness is one of the keys to finding one's true identity. True self-knowledge leads us to true self love.

January 12, 2005

Shadowlands - 7

This film is the true story of author C.S. Lewis. It is good film in which to discuss many of the themes that Lewis wrote about, especially the problem of pain and suffering, as well as his "lapsed atheism." It is interesting to see how Lewis learns through this process and recognizes his own limitations in having answers to life's questions. He doesn't give up the search but rather learns to live and work in greater humility. I think that too often we look at the world and see it as non-sensical and draw back, rather than to look into ourselves and see that the way we perceive and now is also sometimes non-sensical. Lewis can be a good model for how we can live through this interaction of a world and humans that are not "the way they are suppose to be." That their is something larger than individuals lost in the cosmos, in fact, maybe we are already home and we just don't know it.

The Silence of the Lambs - 6

This is not a typical horror movie. It's not really a horror movie at all, in some sense. It is based on some true accounts of a few different serial killers, which is horrific, but the purpose of the movie is not to scar or incite fear. It is rather to tell the story of real evil in a world that wants to fight it and pursue what is good. It's a complex business; living in this tension between good and evil. It is not up to one person to conquer all evil, in fact individuals make small dents in this pursuit, but that should not lead to the cynicism of passivity. As we pursue moral meaning in our lives we will find that evil isn't half as bad as we thought and is twice as hard to overcome as we pursue what is better. In the end we discover that good is in fact better than evil. Why? Because the good life is what humans naturally pursue.

Dangerous Liaisons - 3

A somewhat deceptive film in which the current trend of the lack of sexual morality is played out in pre-revolutionary France. If you have seen Cruel Intentions then you have seen this film in a different time period. It makes sexuality into some sort of game that ends up being just about power, and virtue is the repression of our beastly instincts, according to this film. A rather cynical look at what human relationships should be about. (A curious note: it was awarded 3 academy awards in 1988.)

January 11, 2005

poetry and film

Chance - by Steve Turner
If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky,
and when you hear

state of emergency
sniper kills ten
troops on rampage
whites go looting
bomb blasts school

it is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

This poem goes well with viewing the film Magnolia. Read a review of the film and viewing film in general by Steven Garber here. What we believe about the world says a lot about moral meaning in our lives.

Trainspotting - 6

How to "choose life"? In a world of addiction and capitalist choice, a car, a TV, a washing machine... how do we make meaningful choices that lead to friendship and good relationships? This movie is about five friends who are heroine addicts and trying to figure out what to do with life, and trying to fight off heroine as the driving force toward their death. This is both a funny movie and has some tragic and sad parts. But it does engage the conversation of what is important in life, and setting one's priorities toward the good life, or the fleeing life as the case may be.

2001: A Space Odyssey - 6

This film is a good insight into Stanley Kubrick and Arthur Clarke's view of human history and possible meaning of the universe. I like the fact that they take this complexity seriously and have made a serious film about the possibility of intelligent life other than humans in the universe. In an interview on the Extra features on the DVD, Clarke says that the scientific and the spiritual merge, and are less distinct, which makes for a relatively confusing story running through the film. The cinematography and music to this film are amazing, and sometimes as eerie as the ideas the film is portraying. I especially like their treatment of the cultural and social shock of new discoveries of reality and how those have an effect on human understanding and culture.

January 10, 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou - 7

This film confirmed my analysis over the last year that living in the reality that we do; one filled with revenge, pain, malice, grace, forgiveness, and love, that one has constantly to struggle to keep from laughing and crying at every moment of time in each and everyday. Human life on this planet is both outrageously absurd and hilarious, but also in that same moment sad and a call to responsible living; a life full of choices that both love and hate others and leaves its mark on the physical reality that we live in. This film is both funny and sad, and yet remains within Wes Andersen's theme of what Keith Martel calls, "relational reconciliation." If you haven't seen Andersen's other films I would recommend seeing them (Bottlerockets, which I have yet to see, as well as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaum's). There is something to be said for the brokenness of human relationship and how we go about restoring them, and often failing as human are often likely to do. And in this is the struggle to live with our own responsibilities and regrets as we live and die with the choices that have marked our lives. And yet, there is always an "and yet, because the mystery of grace allows us to be freed from the ever crushing burden, because it opens our reality to things like mercy and forgiveness with poke us out of our rationalism, and into a fuller kind of living. You don't have to go chasing the past, or look in the depths of the sea to see beauty, you just have to look around and see the choice that lie in front of you in the pain and the hilarity of life experience.

Titan A.E. - 6

One of the few American anime that is surprisingly good. A great discussion of what makes human unique and worthy of existence in the universe. This film portrays energy and technology in the form of the "Drej," an alien race, that has destroyed earth and want to destroy the human imagination and creativity which is the only thing that has the ability to control them. Kale, the main character has to find his father's invention in order to take back humanities captive imagination, in order to have hope for, and the reality of a new earth for the exiled humanity to return to. In the end the Drej are used as a tool for the re-creation of New Earth(Planet Bob:-). A good allegory for the degradation of the earth by humans in our own time, and our servitude to the idol of technology, what we need is a renewed imagination, to give us hope of a rejuvenated way to live humanly on this planet we call home.

She's the One - 4

Not as good as The Brothers McMullen(This is Edward Burn's first film), but also deals with some of the same questions, but with less insight. The characters are not likeable and so it is a good self esteem boast, but does not seriously engage one in insightful dialogue about things that matter. But that may be expecting too much from a romantic comedy, or maybe I shouldn't have seen it at the same time as Edward Burn's earlier film. It is also confusing about whether to grab what you have or try for the greener grass on the other side of the fence, when, in fact this dichotomy may be the problem.

The Brothers McMullen - 6

An Edward Burns film that philosophizes about love and the relationships between the male and female of the human species. It is about three brothers, one who is married, two that are single, and the dialogue is mostly about whether falling in love is possible and how do we know to make commitments to others. It also has some interesting insights about the "everyday man's" view of how the catholic faith might have some insight into these questions, or ...might not. It is an interesting movie about the things we believe about relationships and what we do in different situations, and how these two things interconnect. In the end, we will have to commit to some view of the way we think things really are, and we had better hope we can live with that commitment.
(This movie also has a great Irish music soundtrack.)

The Hunted - 4

An interesting psychological chase movie, but lacked engagement with the audience. You just get to watch as a passive observer to something that doesn't make sense, and then are expected to just get it, well...I don't. Benico Del Toro goes crazy and needs his mentor to kill him, and his mentor needs to know what it feels like to kill, since he hasn't before. If you want to watch a better, more engaging, and deeper version of this film watch Christopher Nolan's Insomnia, which also has better acting and plot. The only insight is into the connection between theory and practice in the mind of people who kill, one may know how to kill, but actually doing it can leave one in psychological hell. Evil can permeate both thought and deed.

January 09, 2005

more music...

Over the last two weeks I have been listening to Frou Frou's album Details. You may have heard the song "Let Go" from the Garden State commercials that have been playing, if you like this song, you will probably like the whole album. Here is the description from amazon.com, seems accurate to me...
"Named after the French word for the rustle of silk, Frou Frou's debut album exudes cool, stylish elegance. Singer Imogene Heap's soft, whispery vocals intone dreamy lyrics of doomed romances and slow recoveries. The songs are penned by Heap and her partner, producer Guy Sigsworth (Björk, Madonna), who manned the board on Heap's 1998 solo album I Megaphone. Even the mighty Brian Eno gets into the act, with a cowriting credit on the soul-bearing "Hear Me Out." In fact, all 11 tracks deal with love and fractured relationships, hauntingly beautiful both in their stark emotional content and the equally sparse arrangements that showcase Heap's ethereal voice, which she uses as a subtle weapon, much like Joni Mitchell circa 1970's Ladies of the Canyon, with the same heart-stopping yet effortless octave leaps." --Jaan Uhelszki

January 08, 2005

Finding Nemo - 6

This is a one of the best G-rated films I have seen in a long time. You are not going to find a more colorful movie than one about the ocean, not only visually, but also through the humor of using other genres of film throughout. It is amazing to me that we attribute such human characteristics to animals and only get some of the stabs at how screwed up we are. The jokes also work better translating them from humans onto fish. I love how trust and friendship as theme come throughout the movie, even in unlikely characters. We find out who we truly are when we are free to trust, to love, to tell the truth, and ultimately when we have care for the reality that we are in.

Panic Room - 5

An intense film, in which the audience is trying to come up with the escape at the same time as the characters, but this film also leaves its ending unresolved. It also plays on the dichotomy of good character vs. bad character. But throughout the film the plot and the action seem mostly believable, in assumes that humans can and do act in these predictable ways. It asks the viewer the question what would you do if the life of your loved one's is in your hands, are you quick enough on your feet to be able to save their lives? It plays on the tension between emotions and what popele think is rational.