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

February 24, 2005

Blade Runner - 7

This is a good film that deals with what makes humans human. It explores the questions of artificial intelligence that humans have made in robots, called replicants (similar to A.I., although better). To make machines that are as complex and human like as possible is to engage the question, what is a human being? The human traits this film deals with is memory, fear of death, and emotions like empathy and love. Ultimately though it gives great insight into the fact that memory and learning are connected and that these things are what in fact lead to knowledge and emotions. You wouldn't have to create the emotions in robots, rather they could learn it through memory and experience. In the film this works out as a drive toward survival and a fear of death, in both humans and replicants. The questions are dealt with more honestly than most futuristic AI films.

February 22, 2005

Beyond Borders - 4

A film about refugee camps and issues of hunger, disease, and death, with the obligatory love story thrown in to make it marketable to Hollywood (Yes, the writer even said this). The love story is horribly unbelievable, but the other story line is pretty good, and does a good job asking the questions and dealing with the problems that come into play in the complexity of world politics and solving huge societal problems. There is the undercurrent that the CIA is funding all this, even though these are NGO's. I think that the movie just isn't honest enough, the people you end up caring about are the main characters whose only real problem is that they happen to be committed to other people and places, while imagining that they are in love with each other. Imagining might be harsh, but that is how it is portrayed in the film. Overall, I liked how the refugee, and social problems were not taken lightly when they were talked about, but the love story kind of distracts from this theme.

Troy - 4

I have a theory that this movie was made and marketed to women (Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, and a bunch of no names...The women in the film are feminist, the battle scenes don't have as much blood and guts as war movies that guys like, and they have co-opted the women wailing music like other women war movies like Blackhawk Down...), which seems weird since it is suppose to be a war epic, heroes, gods, etc. It isn't. In fact it is not suppose to be historical at all, the extra featurette on the DVD shows that the writer and director were intentionally exaggerating the evidence to make a bigger impact in the movie. Hollywood also has this tendency to make the religion of history fit with our current views of the subject, or at least muddle it. In this case the good characters are the ones who do not believe in the gods, and the bad characters the ones who have too much blind faith in them. On the other hand, they do a good job of explaining how reputation and one's name can be immortalized through one's actions, which seems to be a belief that the ancient Greeks had (we might too?). It wasn't worth the 3 hours it took to see it.

February 21, 2005

Raising Arizona - 7

This is a hilarious movie. The Coen Brothers have a knack for telling outrageous stories that are good at pointing to the complexity of people, and their ability to be a combination of good and bad. This film in particular points to how far people will go to get what they think they want. There is always some good in each one, it is just a matter of what will draw that out of a person. There is a lot of great dialogue about ethics and justifications for doing pretty bad stuff.

February 18, 2005

The French Connection - 6

A pretty standard cop movie, standard in the sense that most films in the genre are based on it in some way. It was made in 1971 with Gene Hackman (his much younger days). It brings to light the convictions and determination required to really take down those who want to commit crimes. In this instance it is drug dealing. This movie uses a good story-telling technique, letting the audience figure out what is happening and what is going to happen (this is the case in most mystery type movies). In the end, what you do starts to become what you are, that can be both for blessing and for curse.

February 17, 2005

Vanity Fair - 6

This film takes place in the middle of the 19th century, in Europe, and deals with the issues surrounding the society at the time and the social status that was the biggest force at the time. Maybe not all that different than our own times, but easier to see from outside of a culture sometimes than from within. It really challenges the idea of storied living. It points to the intricacies of being in a story as well as trying to be the author and take authority of the story. There are both internal and external forces at work in the story. It turns out that wisdom and folly are found in this tension. The film uses the idea of crisis to show this. It is in the crises that we find out what we are willing to change and what we will refuse to believe. There is always tension when what we believe about the world and what reality really is comes to light. We must face up to the game of life, which really is the only game that matters, and be changed or find a place to stand. It is in this choosing that we can pursue the path of wisdom or folly. In our folly we build idols to unknown gods because it seems to make sense, but when we have to face the tension and the illusion that we have set up, then we are able to live, learn, and hopefully steer our course, be moved by grace, toward a better and more fulfilling storied living.

Bringing out the Dead - 7

This film uses the theme of death to tell the story of life and compassion. It also deals with two related ideas, grief and confession. How do people grieve? How do we deal with death? The answers to these questions is as diverse as the many people that will all eventually have to face these questions in their life time. In the film the characters start to recognize the vitality of life, but also become both numb and hyper-sensitive to death, and the effects it has on the mind and heart. The main character, Frank, starts to realize that he is in a priestly role as an ambulance driver. He is their with those who die, and with those that are left alive at the place of death, he is their for others comfort. This film is also filled with confession. Everyone has the need and longing to be connected to others, and eventually our thoughts and feelings are brought into the open, exposed, confessed, and seen for what they are, part of the foibled human experience. This film is not without hope. It comes form the fact and often amazing miracle that is human life, our ability to survive. In spite of all the death in the world, there are more than 6 billion people on this earth, it would be naive and foolish to claim that as just an accident.

The Player - 6

A satire about a film executive, which shows the elements that make a good movie, while using the character as the mode to explain the movie to the audience (less confusing while watching the movie, than my explanation of it). It in effect exploits all of the usual formulation that movies have, suspense, sex, violence, hope, and most of all, a "happy" ending. I put happy in quotes because it is often debatable how happy the ending really is. Is it that the character's in the film is happy at the end, or that the audience is happy about how it all worked out? That is the question that this film challenges in the discussion of moral meaning and storied living. Is happiness really the goal, and how can it be pursued? I think that almost every movie deals in some way with this question.

February 15, 2005

Starsky and Hutch - 6

Just in case you thought it was getting little too serious around here, the next three films are anything but serious, but not completely void of thinking.
A funny movie with a half decent story. Although following some of the traditional cop/detective type plot, it is able to stay funny with funny characters played by Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. When I think about it, after the first scene, nothing really life threaten happens the whole movie, besides a pony getting shot, oops. The characters manage to stay alive, fight crime, and get paid.

Anchorman - 5

This film is about a whinny chauvinist. Not that this makes the movie unfunny, rather that is part of the humor. But the best parts are play in cameo appearances by Jack Black, Luke Wilson, Tim Robbins, Vince Vaughn, and Ben Stiller. The story starts off being about something, and then takes a dive into the deep end of cliches and predictability. It makes a lot of jokes you've heard before, while making you laugh with the outrageousness of the situations.

Harold and Kumar go to White Castle - 5

This is a humorous movie playing off of the stereotypes in our society, specifically, about "Orientals," "Indians," and "Blacks." All of these are taken to the "extreme," which is why in some ways it is funny, while at the same time pointing out some weird things that we think about people based on skin color. The one stereotype that they do not deal with is the teen comedy genre, it fits it pretty well. In the end, we want to laugh at the expense of others, while imagining ourselves as heroes. Prejudices work that way, others are always a second thought to our own experiences.

February 13, 2005

Short Cuts - 4

At more than three hours long, one would expect to find at least some reason that these short stories are told together in a film version. But it lacks the connections of other similar films, like Magnolia, 21 Grams, and 10 things you can tell just by looking at her. I think what one can take away from this film is that there are life circumstances, some in your control other not, that we react to. If we learn to react properly to situations as some of the characters are able to do, the we can live a more loving a peace filled life. If we do not, then the tragedy will be the pain that we have brought down on ourselves and others. It is learning how to be human.

Catch 22 - 7

This is a 1970 film by Mike Nichols (Closer, Wit, The Graduate, etc). It is a dark comedy about war. It is set in Italy, with American army air force officers during WWII. It asks some very good questions. What is worth dying for? What is war for or against? Is the Empire inherently good or evil? How do economics fit with war and peace? All good questions, and questions that one cannot avoid engaging after watching this film. The film shows how paradox depends ultimately on the allegiances of those that believe and enforce them.

Ray - 6

This was a good movie that dealt well with the complexity of telling the story of the life of Ray Charles Robinson. Jamie Foxx is very good in the role of Ray. The only criticism I have of the movie is that the writer starts to develop these sub story lines, and does not do a good job of following through on them. For, example, the manager that is stealing from him, or isn't. It is rather confusing, because different characters give different clues to what is true, and it is really a minor point. It was also disappointing that due to time, they started to just sum up the last 30 years of his life in written form with the highlights. I think that the director could have told the story more simply. The film overall is not very cohesive. The music is great, and it re-confirms Ray Charles as a musical genius.

February 10, 2005

Annie Hall - 6

This is a great philosopher's movie. Lots of dialogue and 'over-thinking' about love, life, death, and relationships. I say over thinking, because this type of thing drives most people crazy, believe me, I've seen it. And despite the fact that it has no plot it is engaging and thoughtful, and in that respect actually more like real life, similar to Seinfeld. This film reminded me of all the conversation I have had with a friend, probably a little scary for those of you who have seen this movie, but sometimes the issues of life just need to be talked about and laughed about. I also liked how the movie recognized itself as a movie, but still dealt with real life issues and problems.(for example, Woody Allen's character brings out Marshall Mcluhan from behind a wall to refute the college professor behind him in line at the theatre).

The Graduate - 6

Education and societal structures teaches and creates a world of people who are lost. Love is how you can find yourself and be found. This seems to me the story that this movie is telling, and many filmmakers since have followed this theme in some way or another. Although I like this movie a lot, I didn't give it a 7 because it seemed to lack the key knowledge that actions have consequences. And that these actions start to shape one's character. This played out somewhat in the working out of the story, but it wasn't truth that set the character's free, rather it was their wanting to be found. This kind of end doesn't last among a world of untrustworthy human relationships. In the end, I think that we all need to look beyond ourselves to find love that transcends our human failures.

Hardcore - 6

This is one of those films that for me is "understood from the inside, rather than as an external viewer." Let me explain, This film is about a Dutch guy, whose last name is Jake Van Dorn(I am a Dutch guy, with a last name starting with a V). Jake grew up and is a part of the Dutch Reformed Church, in Grand Rapids, MI(I grew up in a similar church, and spent 4 years living in GR, attending Calvin College). The writer/director Paul Schrader also went to Calvin College. On top of all of that, Jakes daughter goes to a Young Calvinist Convention in California, which I also did as a high school student (the difference being that I did not get lost in the porn industry). So as you can see that led to getting more of the internal humor, but that also means much self-critical introspection and reflection. Although many interpret this movie as a bashing of this historic Dutch tradition in GR, I think it is rather critical and insightful about the unfortunate parts of this tradition along with some of its value as a fruitful and human way of life. So, you can take my rankings for what they always are, very subjective.
This film engages many good questions, like who and what do you care about? What can you forgive? And what do you believe?

February 05, 2005

Sky Captian and the World of Tomorrow - 6

Not like any movie I have ever seen before based on the cinematography. It is a sort of super-hero/James Bond like story based more on comic book style rather than a novel. It is funny and has a less bizarre scenario than most movies about the destruction and annihilation of the earth. There is even some good humor in spite of it all. The acting is superb, especially since most of it was shot using CGI. It also brings up the implications of the story of Noah's Ark in the Bible, the saving of a few from the destruction of an evil world, in order to make a better one.

The Forgotten - 2

I've seen this movie before...I think it was called The Matrix...or Dark City. Just kidding, but this movie is a dumb down and less worked out telling of the idea that some other being(that is into human experimentation) is in ultimate control of our world that it deceives us into constructing the reality that we want, or that our minds are so fragile that we will forget pretty much everything besides our name. It is like a very bad and un-thought out episode of the X-files, skip it.

The Village - 7

I really like story and ideas that this movie engages. It is the question of the separating line between good and evil. Is it an external thing from a community or internal to it? These are good questions, and Shyamalan engages them well. This film is a much better sociological study than most movies similar to it, and is actually somewhat similar to The Stepford Wives. It is about a community that has separated itself, because of the belief that the good life cannot be had in mass, but instead in small communities of families. Because of the previews, people have the idea that this is a horror, it is not. It has suspenseful elements due to the way the story is told, which is done well, and is M. Night Shyamalan's signature (His other movies are good as well, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs). This film also has very believable characters, It will definitely be a conversation starter about how we choose to live life, how we form communities, and long for better lives of future generations.

February 04, 2005

The Manchurian Candidate - 6

One part look into politics and business and the messiness it is, another part conspiracy theory. Overall and interesting and engaging movie. It brings out the power of manipulation and the level humans will go in order to make reality into what they want to believe. It also deals with issues of doubt, how memory fades and is effected by our physicality, where is the line between crazy/paranoid and seeking the truth? I liked how it stayed away from the pretentiousness of making a simile between the fictional government in the movie and our real government that we currently have.

February 03, 2005

Donnie Darko - 7

Without giving to much away, this is a great film about whether time travel is possible, this is explicit in the movie, with a discussion on the book, The Philosophy of Time Travel, which is made up as part of the movie. It seems to me that this film isn't for those who are looking to figure out the question, but rather for those willing to ask the questions. One of the great lines in the middle of the film is: "There cannot be a God, if we all die alone." And the main character concludes that we do die alone, because no one else can enter into the darkest and deepest places of our minds, or imagine what we can imagine. It is interesting how it is labeled a science fiction movie, but the writer/director helps the audience understand how real each of the characters is and how like us they are. I think the fundamental question of the movie is whether human life is significant. And it makes you seriously consider "no" as an answer, although I think in the end we can still answer it in the affirmative.
Here are the lyrics to a song by Sara Groves that sound like they should be the soundtrack to the movie.

I'm trying to work things out
I'm trying to comprehend
Am I the chance result
Of some great accident
I hear a rhythm call me
The echo of a grand design
I spend each night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars in the sky
I have another meeting today
With my new counselor
My mom will cry and say
I don't know what to do with her
She's so unresponsive
I just cannot break through
She spends all night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars and the moon
They have a chart and a graph
Of my despondency
They want to chart a path
For self-recovery
And want to know what I'm thinking
What motivates my mood
To spend all night in the backyard
Staring up at the stars and the moon
Maybe this was made for me
For lying on my back in the middle of a field
Maybe that's a selfish thought
Or maybe there's a loving God
Maybe I was made this way
To think and to reason and to question and to pray
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there's a loving God
And that may be a foolish thought
Or maybe there is a God
And I have never prayed a lot
But maybe there's a loving God

King Arthur - 5

This film is attempting to be a historically accurate telling of how Arthur became a kind of England. Merlin has been ripped of his magic power, which is unfortunate, but the story is not a cheesy love story like First Knight, which is another retelling of the same story. Although aiming at history, they have forgotten that American English didn't develop until...well you get the idea...there are many small historical things that are mixed up. I think they would have been better off to just go with a fictional angle. It is mostly battle scenes, with some discussion about religion, especially Christianity and Rome, as well as what human freedom and destiny are. There is also some weird Middle Ages feminism going on, which makes the argument that since men and women are equal then historically women should be just as violent and angry as men have been portrayed.

February 02, 2005

Following - 7

This is Christopher Nolan's first film(Momento and Insomnia) It was shot over two years on the Saturday's that those involved had off from regular work. The DVD also has a special feature where you can watch the movie in chronological order. I think it is actually more interesting in the original, and not hard to follow, but may require viewing more than once. One of the great questions in the movie is whether you think that you know when others are lying. I think we have a tendency to think that we are good truth spotters, when in actuality we are manipulated merely by the complexity of how we think and make sense of things. For example, one is more likely to trust a family member than a stranger, why? Partly because we know them better and have developed a relationship, but also because we have the assumption that this is how family is suppose to work. Part rational, part whatever-the-word-that-is-opposite without meaning irrational, maybe unconscious or pre-theoretical thought. One of the only films that I have seen that actually make you think that you could be a criminal, that it is interesting and even a higher form of living, maybe even an art.

February 01, 2005

Swimming Pool - 2

A French film, that uses the line between fact and fiction to the writers advantage and to see if the audience can pick up on the plot twists. I think it is mostly a manipulative movie, playing on the assumptions of the audience and the thriller genre of films. I thought there might actually be something in the story, but the only thing I took from it is that some like illusion better than reality. One of the reasons I rented it was that it is a Focus Feature, others of these sort I have liked, for instance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation, and 21 Grams. Not a movie I would like to see again.

Bottlerocket - 7

This may be my new favorite Wes Anderson film. It is more story driven, rather than character driven like his other film. But it has less stark contrast between characters and plot. In most of his films the characters are so eccentric that they start to take over. In Bottlerocket, they are eccentric but the connection between the characters and the story flows better. For example, in The Royal Tenenbaums, the story is determined by the psychological obsessions that the characters have, this is both funny and sad, and it works. In this film, one is better able to relate to a slight obsession with an adventurous life. We all have a sense of living an adventure, we also have a better sense of wanting to stay out of jail to do it, the characters in this film, well...they do and they don't. One thing to remember, what you ought to do and what you actually do, should be a part of one's thought process. That is what is meant by the phrase, "a danger to themselves and others."