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

March 31, 2005

Super Size Me - 6

This is a well done, documentary version of a tenth grade science fair project (by Morgan Spurlock). It is simple thesis that no one doubts he can prove; that eating McDonald's food excessively is bad for your health. He recognizes that his experiment is extreme, but at the very least we now have no reason to think that the food we eat has nothing to do with obesity. This movie tends to lean on the side that diet and obesity is the only link, while I still think that there is more to the story; genetics plays a role as well. The more convinced you are that a mcsociety is bad going into the film, the more you will dislike McDonald's after the film is over and vice versa. I think this film does little to change people's behavior because our society is one in which we can justify just about anything. I hope that people will see this film and hopefully it will help to shift our society into one where all are better stewards of the affluence of our nation.

March 21, 2005

The Lord of the Rings (trilogy) - 7

Over the past three evenings I have been watching (most of) the extended versions of this entire trilogy, about 12 hours. I've been tempted to rank it 7.5 (but to be consistent I'll just stick to a regular 7). These films are easily seen over and over again without becoming monotonous and boring. This story has many themes and insights that can be gleaned, contemplated, and "fleshed" out.
One of the main themes is that of struggle and conflict. This is seen in the dissonance of friendships, desires, goals, and meaning that tears at and pulls at the heart of the characters. This is a complex story that deals well with the tensions that lie in the struggle to survive and to act responsibly in the reality that surrounds one's life. Although a fantasy movie, this film connects to human experience and the way we view and live our lives. There are so many good scenes and lines that are packed with meaning, it is not just the characters talking to each other, rather the dialogue engages the viewers mind and imagination of the hope that is required to live in a tension filled world. Watching these films again, inspired me to try to read the books (this may be like making a new year's resolution, we'll see what happens, and hope for the best).

Storied living...to music

I am currently listening to Sting's Sacred Love album. I realized while listening to the song The Book of My Life that it speaks to what I mean in the title of this blog about storied living. Life is connected by the web of the story that unfolds as life and time progress through time. Here are the lyrics:

Let me watch by the fire and remember my days
And it may be a trick of the firelight
But the flickering pages that trouble my sight
Is a book I'm afraid to write

It's the book of my days, it's the book of my life
And it's cut like a fruit on the blade of a knife
And it's all there to see as the section reveals
There's some sorrow in every life

If it reads like a puzzle, a wandering maze
Then I won't understand 'til the end of my days
I'm still forced to remember,
Remember the words of my life

There are promises broken and promises kept
Angry words that were spoken, when I should have wept
There's a chapter of secrets, and words to confess
If I lose everything that I possess
There's a chapter on loss and a ghost who won't die
There's a chapter on love where the ink's never dry
There are sentences served in a prison I built out of lies.

Though the pages are numbered
I can't see where they lead
For the end is a mystery no-one can read
In the book of my life

There's a chapter on fathers a chapter on sons
There are pages of conflicts that nobody won
And the battles you lost and your bitter defeat,
There's a page where we fail to meet
There are tales of good fortune that couldn't be planned
There's a chapter on God that I don't understand
There's a promise of Heaven and Hell but I'm damned if I see

Though the pages are numbered
I can't see where they lead
For the end is a mystery no-one can read
In the book of my life

Now the daylight's returning
And if one sentence is true
All these pages are burning
And all that's left is you

Though the pages are numbered
I can't see where they lead
For the end is a mystery no-one can read
In the book of my life

March 17, 2005

The Reckoning - 6

This film is set in the 14th century, and deals with a murder mystery (in the tradition of The Name of the Rose). The story is intriguing and more complex than my sleepy eyes could keep up with (I should get more rest). It gives insight into story-telling as a medium for truth, the complexity and emotion that goes into this process. The film uses actors to tell a story, in this case there is the story within the story (actors portraying actors within the film). It is interesting how people react differently to what is claimed as truth, or at least trying to get at truth, and fiction. A good example of this is the hype and controversy of the novel, The Da Vinci Code. It raises questions of tradition and authority as modes of truth and how this complicates human knowing. This is shown easily because of the time period in which there were feudal lords, a strict class system, and a dominant religion -Christianity. I think its complexity allows for some interesting comparisons to our own time and the way we tell stories. This film shows that story-telling is a common part of culture throughout different time periods.

March 16, 2005

Paycheck - 6

This is another film from the writer of Minority Report and Bladerunner (thanks Tim). This is also a film that deals with the future. This is not quite as well done as Minority Report, but still a good movie to discuss the implications of one future and how knowledge leads to responsible action in the present, I think that knowing the past should also work this way, so that "history doesn't repeat itself." It is a good sci-fi movie in that its internal logic works well, there isn't anything in the film to outrageous, and it doesn't lower itself to a cheesy love story either. Some good questions to ask are brought up in this film like, how do we use memory and experience to guide us toward good actions? Does forgetting something relieve us of responsibility? And how do we communicate truth when often our memories are fuzzy? This movies main insight is that what one hopes for and loves is the biggest drive toward action, even if it means giving up our own life.

March 15, 2005

Envy - 3

This film needs some serious work. Not that I expect much from Jack Black as an inventor of spray that makes crap disappear, and it didn't make me wonder about that all important question, "where does the shit go?" Rather I knew that the shit replaced the air and emptiness of the brains of the characters. I suggests fast forwarding to the end and seeing the scene where they explain feelings of envy and how truth plays into that, other than that the film seems like waste of time. That spray might come in handy to make the movie disappear from my memory. Most of the laughs come from the outrageousness of the whole situation that is believable for about half a minute, and then rejected as just dumb. On the bight side much can be learned and discussed about the virtues and the vices of our behavior. How does envy work? Is truth-telling, especially about ourselves, part of the key to being virtuous? I think it would disappoint the makers of this film to take too much away from it or to actually engage it, but this film might be a good mix of a serious part of our society -the keeping up with the Jones' mentality- and movies as just entertainment; a way to make us laugh at ourselves and others. A Hollywood film is the last place you would think to look for a critic of our consumption culture, and this film isn't really that critique in any meaningful or intentional way.

March 14, 2005

The Usual Suspects - 7

This film draws in the audience into the act of storytelling and how it can both lead us to and away from truth. It is an exciting story, with new twists around every bend. This is all because there is both the story that the filmmakers are telling and the main character, Verbal Kent, is telling in sort of a flashback sequences. I think that most important question this film asks is: how does one accept or reject truth claims that others make? This film shows that each of us has a story that we willing to hear, as well as stories that we think to outrageous to believe in the first place. There is always some authority/author that we will need to accept if we are going to live life well on this earth (one example is, environmental degradation). Not only is this just a good and entertaining action adventure story with a few twists, it can be watched over again (this was my third time watching this film) for new insights, and new points of conversation.

March 12, 2005

I heart Huckabees - 6

Good, but not great. Usually films are about the story and message that a writer or director is interested in communicating. This film does this, but in an unusual way. It asks more questions than it answers, and I think that this is what the theme of the movie is. The philosophy of the film is that each individual must figure out the truth or at least what reality is and is about. It starts with the premise that everyone must start over from the beginning, the past is only to inform the present, no one can speak with authority. This is doesn't seem to fit with real life, in which often, too many people speak with authority. I think the writers point is that people should be more like the characters in the film, rather than a reflection of how people really interact. Some of the good questions are: Is life meaningful or meaningless? Is there anyway to know this? What is the connection between the cosmos(big physically speaking) and human life (small)? What does human suffering tell us about reality? How are humans to respond to it? These are all the great questions that I think make someone religious, to say you are not-religious is to give up on these questions. These questions are more than what we can say just from our sense perception, that is why I think they are religious in nature, which I think of as basic to human thinking. Russell's only conviction it seems is that people are so individualistic that they can only discover the truth for themselves, and others are merely guides, which allows for someone to deny what cannot be denied, and lived with. Which seems right on one level but not so on a different one. I kept thinking throughout the film that the relationship between philosophy and theory is seperated by a fuzzy line with practice and how people live with the consequences of ideas. This film will be as good as the dialogue and discussion that you have about it, which shouldn't be difficult.

March 07, 2005

Dangerous Minds - 5

This is a mediocre film. It is not corny enough to be bad, but not insightful enough to be good (on a side note, Michelle Pfeiffer is not believable as a former US marine). It is dealing with a subject that is hard to generalize about, namely education and teaching. At the very least it gets at the complexity of education in an urban environment. But it fails to give an account of why giving up is not an option, or what success would look like. Life requires commitment, and this story shows how tough and emotional living it out can be.

March 05, 2005

Frequency - 6

A film that avoids the pitfalls of sci-fi by just telling the story and not worrying or trying to prove that it is based on good science. Which allows it to deal with other questions than the usual, how does this whole time travel thing work again? Instead it is more about human relationships and how we do everything in our power to do good toward others, and how we want the best for those that we love (at least some of the time, I'm not a complete pessimist). Like most Hollywood film it has the usual happy ending, but is more believable. It just goes to show that there is something in humans that longs for living in good relationship with others, to love and to be loved. Not in some esoteric way but rather in the basic everydayness of life.
(Just a note, The Butterfly Effect sort of ripped off this story and didn't tell it as well)

Planet of the Apes (1967) - 5

This film attempts to be a discussion of the faith/reason or religion/science debate in an either/or world. The line of thought is on such a lowest common denominator of discourse that it becomes more frustrating than helpful. The whole film progresses as if it is leading up to some theory of humanity, but in the end it is just a wheel turning and the audience is just another cog in it. If you couldn't tell by now I didn't enjoy the movie, although I think it may be insightful in engaging dialogue about what humans believe and discuss the dichotomies that we have set up in our thinking and how that has influenced our culture and societal structures. I think there are plenty of other films that are better able to do this (See the films below that I have rated a 7). It seems to me that researching human development would go against most of the science that this movie seems to be based on.

March 04, 2005

Gattaca - 7

A film that is really about the ethics of genetic research and how it may effect our society in the near future. It deals with how we pursue our dreams, and how are imaginations open up the possibilities of our future. The film also deals with sociological issues like class, and the role of genes in this regard. There is also the theme of how culture starts to shape our thinking, that is we adapt quite a bit to the world around us. The disequilibrium of new knowledge can then have a profound effect on one's relationship to others. I think a lot of learning happens through this process. Schools are a place for the interplay of thinking and culture. We see the world around us, and then we speak and act into it, at least when we are being fully human (Violence is when these two are incoherently matched). This movie engages many conversations of ethics and the questions about what make humans human.

Legally Blonde - 3

This movie is 10% plot and 90% bad jokes. And 100% like the previous sentence: a general and horribly unthought out stereotype. The film claims these things as true: Blondes are dumb about everything other than hair and fashion (with the exception of when they need to know other things for the convenience of the plot), That men are idiots and chauvinistic, and that one can do anything they put there energy and passion into. Now, like any stereotype we have, there are grains of truth, but like any truth that humans know, it comes in small grains, not in large chunks. You can see the joke coming before anyone has even said anything. The funniest thing about the movie is also the saddest, that is how outrageous it is. This film does not speak into reality, but rather successfully reinforces stereotypes and claims they are true, or if they are not true, I don't see the point of making a film that pokes fun at them while reinforcing them. This is truly one of those entertainment films in which the audience wants to escape reality for an hour and a half.

March 03, 2005

Whale Rider - 7

This is a great movie about storied living. It deals with ancestry and tradition, and the story that our lives are a part of both from our past and into our future. It asks the question, where did you come from and where are you going? What brings meaning into our communities? There is also a theme of loving what we want to love, rather than to love what must and should be loved, sometimes it is our eyes and ears that are the problem not what we are looking at or what we believe about reality. Sometimes we speak into reality, and sometimes it speaks into us. Knowing the difference is where we fail, falter, and sometimes become our true selves. Where are you from, and where does that point you into the future? In this question lies the answer to how we learn to love.

Unforgiven - 6

I don't know that much about westerns, but this one seems somehow different than the classic story line of one. There aren't any heroes in this story. The theme of justice and what is right runs through the whole film. There seems to be the hope of mercy, but when the characters are faced with choices and survival, mercy suffers and this results in many deaths and the scars that human inflict on other humans. It is able to show the complexity of good and evil in the world, and the perpetuation of violence from violence. Somehow we are all in need of a way to break the cycle, this movie sharply points to the grey motives that lie in the human heart.

March 02, 2005

a quote...

You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? The idea of home is gone. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.
This is from the movie Garden State. Any thoughts/comments?