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

April 30, 2005

Jesus of Montreal - 6

This is a French-Canadian film from 1989. It is the story of a group of actors enacting the passion for a Catholic church. They have made some considerable revisions (like adding a speech from Hamlet, which surprisingly works well). The film also draws out the parallels of how actors worlds collide between the people they are portraying and their real lives. There are some great questions of meaning that are bought up. Each of the characters has to answer the question of what they are living for.

Code 46 - 6

This film assumes (maybe rightly) that humans will use any new technology that we have or discover to maintain and create class structures. In this case it is genes and the rules for reproduction. It also uses the ideas of memory erasing and recording, as well as viruses that can control or make emotions hypersensitive. Ones genes are the source of power in their social structures. All of these things invoke good questions about the ethics of technology. It points out the question: are we playing the social game using its power for ourselves, or are we powerless as the social structures control and manipulate us?

House of Flying Daggers - 6

This is a beautiful story, with a couple of good plot twists just to keep you guessing. It weaves its way between being a comedy and a tragedy and you'll have to wait for the ending to find out which it is. The cinematography is great and the fight scenes are exciting and well choreographed (sometimes a little to fast to actually know what happened). It you liked Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you'll most likely enjoy this film too.

April 28, 2005

Hotel Rwanda - 7

This is an amazing film. Horrible in the sense that it is based on actual events, but good at asking a critical question: how do we do what is right in the midst of so much evil? One can feel both empowered and a sense of helplessness from witnessing the situation through this story. An interesting fact that I didn't know before is that the distinction between the Hutu and Tutsis was placed on them by the Belgians during colonization. The Tutsis who had a lighter skin color were chosen to help run the country. It is interesting that this greatly contributed to the conflict. The conflict and the world's role -retreating- is a sad story, but hopefully this film will help us to remember the past and to gain wisdom from it.

April 27, 2005

Finding Neverland - 7

This film got me thinking about the idea of hope. That is that most movies are stories that direct the audience to hope for what the storyteller -author/director- hopes for. In the cheesiest form of this, most romantic stories set up the characters so that we know and hope that the only possible happy ending is the hooking up of the two main characters, all the other characters are not nice enough or worthy enough to deserve a happy ending. This film is in the same vein but on the other end of the spectrum. It shows the complexity of hope and its role in how we choose our actions in the present. There is the tension between belief, imagination, and reality. Hope is what holds these things together. The film does a good job of staying between being fun and being serious, while staying away from the trite answers to tough questions.

April 26, 2005

Law and Hollywood?

Edward Epstein, of Slate, wrote an interesting article about how Hollywood finances film through German and British tax laws.

April 25, 2005

The Woodsman - 7

This is an intense film (as intense as Monster's Ball, which has the same producer. Lee Daniels). It deals with the release of Walter (played very well by Kevin Bacon), after serving 15 years in prison for child molestation. It deal with his readjustment (and the question whether that is possible and if that is the right word), and the sociology of the situation with his co-workers, therapist, and parole officer. As a side note, this film is not without some political significance, it was released within weeks of California passing "Megan's Law," which allows parents to check to see if any sex offenders live in their neighborhood.
There are some great metaphors in this film, and the story that gives the film its title and is later played out is moving. The film deals well with the struggle to understand oneself as well as one's place in society. This struggle is never simple or easy and this film shows that well.

April 23, 2005

The Clearing - 6

An interesting film about a deep love and a shallow love, and the jealousy that results from the longing for what you do not want to pursue in a just way. This film depicts the love between an older, retired couple who have been through an affair but who still deeply love each other. It also has is about the jealousy that others have not only for their kind of love, but also for their money/lifestyle (They have been successful in business). In the end it is the ultimate test of this deep love as well as the draw for material wealth and well being. I think the story is sufficiently complex to make it not only interesting but also true to the reality that we live in. We have many things competing for our attention and many choices to make about how we decide to live in relation with others as well as the material world that we live in.

The Door in the Floor - 4

I found this to be a very strange movie. It is based on the first third of John Irving's novel A Widow For One Year. From the description of the novel and what it is about is very different than what is portrayed and told in the story in this film adaptation. John Irving, in the special features, likes this adaptation. He says that the film is about forgiveness and identifying with the main character, Marion. I found from watching the film that she seemed to be a minor character, while her daughter Ruth, her husband Ted -an eccentric children's book author- and his assistant for the summer played greater roles in the film. Who am I to disagree with the author? I just thought the film didn't do justice to what it could have been. On the other hand, I liked the children's story that is within it and the metaphor that creates for the film, and I think there is some good dialogue between Ted and Ruth. I think this film could be good for discussing how to tell a story. I think there may be better ways to tell this story.

April 22, 2005

Ocean's Twelve - 4

This is an ok film. It is a typical heist movie that is actually not a heist movie. It is mostly a lot of big name actors having fun playing their imagined other selves (while sticking to their characteristics that they have in their other films). It does the twist ending and lost of cliches just to keep the audience shaking there heads, which is good for staying awake while watching this film. Its entertainment value is high, as for its depth of thought is pretty shallow. I can appreciate this movie on an entertainment level, but it is not a film that I would put in the "must see again" category. A fun two hours that I don't regret, but don't have the need to repeat.

April 18, 2005

Sideways - 5

This dark comedy had its moments, but overall not as deep as I expected (That may have been my fault for expecting to much, or maybe the critics rave reviews). It is a story about a loser. Nothing is going well for the main character, Miles. You spend the whole movie hoping that something will go right, it ends with only a slight glimpse that it might. Miles and Jack are total opposites and that makes the story funny. Jack is really horrible and is so self interested that you don't feel bad when he gets his nose broken in a fight with his "girlfriend." There are some meaningful conversations that the two guys have on the trip but the depth is lost on Jack, whose thick skull doesn't retain much (maybe he should lay off the wine). In the end Miles is changed while Jack is still oblivious to the lessons that should have been learned through his choices. Which may point to the idea that pain really is harsh teacher, but the lessons stick. It is not your typical Hollywood movie which is probably why most critics liked it.

Spanglish - 7

This is a great film; funny, serious, and well told. James Brooks (As Good as it Gets, The Simpsons) has the gift of mixing the serious and the humorous. The story is about family; the flaws as well as the wisdom gained through both being a child as well as being a parent. It also has the complexity of juxtaposing an American family and a Mexican family (mother and daughter). It is a good commentary on contemporary life and the potential problems that can occur in families in our culture. Some say the movie is to serious to be labeled a comedy, I think the balance is about right and makes it a worthwhile film.

April 15, 2005

Howard's End - 7

This film, based on E.M. Forester's novel, is about the disconnection between what people say they believe about life and the way they live life. In the book E.M. Forester has placed in the dedication page the phrase: 'Only connect...' This is a telling statement about the internal struggle that the characters are going through. For more on this see Steven Garber's The Fabric of Faithfulness (p.108-110). The film is set in 19th century London. It is a little hard to get into at first, but the story soon develops and connections between characters brings the story together coherently in the end. It points to the contradictions that everyone must face in their life. This is a good family film that has simple lessons about grace and forgiveness.

April 11, 2005

Sin City - 4

When it comes to comic adaptation this is probably the best visually. The comic book style is really good. But the story is uninspiring because the heroes (if you can call them that) are only slightly better than the more evil and disturbing villains. The characters are living in an amoral world-with no sense of moral right and wrong. They want to pursue justice but they have nothing to set up as a standard, no motivation for doing good. Each of the three vignettes is about revenge against some wrong committed against the heroes "loved" ones (always female, by loved I mean someone they are sexually attracted to). In the end, there is no redemption in their actions or for their lives. For the characters, death is the only escaping the pain and evil that surrounds them. It is all rather stoic, they would rather feel nothing than the pain of loss and the risk of really loving.

April 09, 2005

Maria Full of Grace - 6

This film is about a teenage Columbian girl who needs a job, and is courageous enough to become a mule (someone who swallows cocaine pellets to smuggle them through customs). The film has many twist and turns due to Maria's sense of responsibility amid her often bad choices. She enters the work of a mule very naive but ends up gaining a lot of knowledge about the world and how she can make better choices for a better future.
The characters of Maria (as well as Che, in The Motorcycle Diaries-see below) reminded me of a quote I have read by the British philosopher/novelist Iris Murdoch. In The Sovereignty of Good she writes about the connections of choices and the moral life: "... if we consider what the work of attention is like, how continuously it goes on, and how imperceptibly it builds up structures of value round about us, we shall not be surprised that at crucial moments of choice most of the business of choosing is already over. This does not imply that we are not free, certainly not. But it implies that the exercise of our freedom is a small piecemeal business which goes on all the time and not a grandiose leaping about unimpeded at important moments. The moral life, on this view, is something that goes on continually, not something that is switched off in between the occurrence of explicit moral choices. What happens in between such choices is indeed what is crucial. I would like on the whole to use the word 'attention' as a good word and use some more general term like 'looking' as the neutral word. Of course psychic energy flows, and more readily flows, into building up convincingly coherent but false pictures of the world, complete with systematic vocabulary. . . . Attention is the effort to counteract such states of illusion."
In both of these films you can see the flow of choices that the characters make and how it changes their views of what the world is.

The Motorcycle Diaries - 7

This is the story of the 24-year-old Ernesto Che Guevara de la Serna, who with a friend, Alberto Granado, takes a motorcycle trip from Argentina up the Chilean coast through Peru and Machu Picchu to Venezuela. In this process Che learns and starts to experience a fuller world, where injustice is a way of life for most people. The tagline is telling: Let the world change you... and you can change the world. This experience and the sights he sees along the way change his view of how the world works and how it should be different. It is an inspiring story of learning by being open to the world and by doing. At some point seeing and hearing the world will find its limits and one must learn how to act and speak into the world for positive change and responsible action. This film gives a good model of this.

April 08, 2005

New music...for me

This past week I got three CD's that are great. If you haven't seen Garden State, I would recommend seeing it. The soundtrack is really good as well. With artist like Coldplay, Zero 7, Frou Frou, Thievery Corporation, Remy Zero, Cary Brothers, Colin Hay, The Shins, and others. I also got Aimee Mann's Lost in Space which came out in 2002; a good album. The third one was Travis' The Invisible Band. Similar, but better than their first album The Man Who. I would recommend checking all three of these albums out.

April 07, 2005

Waiting for Guffman - 7

This is a hilarious film from Christopher Guest (This is Spinal Tap, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind). Like these other films, Waiting for Guffman is a comedy only because the characters take themselves so seriously. All of Guest's films are shot in a documentary type style, while remaining fictional stories. All of his films are believable, you have met some of these people in real life, you may in fact be one of these people, which can lead to tow responses: become really self conscious, or laugh with others about your own idiosyncrasies and foibles. At times these films seem over written, to forced, but if these films were any less strange they would be less believable.

April 02, 2005

Man on Fire - 6

This is a powerful film. It has a lot of blood and guts but also a lot of heart as a killer looks for redemption. It is not your typical revenge movie, in that justice is whatever the main character thinks it is, rather this film recognizes the complexity and the challenge that justice is in a mixed up world of police, crime and corrupt cops. It asks good questions about the value that we place on life, and also how those values compare to the hopes and dreams of family, status, and wealth. This film does a good job of showing that what we care about directs our actions, and when we are pushed we cannot lie about our deepest desires. As a movie dealing with the issue of revenge I like it. But I think that there are serious issues that these films do not address; that hostage taking for money should not work. The kidnappers are using death threats to get money, but the comparison is not valid. If one reject paying the money, then all that does to the kidnapper is force them to make a choice to be killers or not, and in the end they want money, not to kill people. So, not negotiating with them is the best policy, although emotionally hard, and maybe impossible. The question of what one would give their life for is a challenging one which most won't be forced to answer in the same way that the characters in the movie do.

Mona Lisa Smile - 5

This is a film about Wellesley in 1954, and follows a new art history professor and her students. I was interested in seeing this film because it relates to a book that I am currently reading for my History of Higher Education class, called In the Company of Educated Women. The book and the film deal with the issues of women students and the tension between family, education, marriage, and women's role in a mostly male dominated society (All of this being very debatable, which opens the door for some great discussion and learning conversations). The film packs in the issues of the time by giving each of the characters one of the many to choose from. One is thinking of going to grad school, one is try to be married and a student, others are dealing with moving from the lower classes to upper classes of society through education, etc. There is also great question on aesthetics in the scenes from the art classes like, What is art? Who says so? etc. Ultimately, professor Watson and the students are challenged to figure out if teaching and learning are about training or transformation, and what is the purposes and goals of education are. (note: don't miss the Tori Amos citing, and the song Istanbul, not Constantinople, sung more recently by They Might Be Giants.)

Hannah and Her Sisters - 6

This Woody Allen film follows a few years in the life of four sisters and the men in their lives, and the issues that they deal with. In true Allen form, there is a lot of introspection and ultimate questions about life, death, and God. Allen plays an eccentric TV personality who want to figure everything out, find an explanation for life, and even quits his job in order to pursue it (now that's conviction). Allen tells the story in such a way that one cannot help but wonder about the decisions made and the trajectory of one's life, goals, and dreams.

2 Brothers and a Bride - 6

Originally titled A Foriegn Affair for its theatrical release, this film was written by Geert Heetebrij (who I heard speak last year, he graduated from Calvin College, in the early 90's), is part documentary and part romantic comedy. It is a funny movie that also shows what it would be like to go to russia to find a wife. The deal is this: you get a wife and she gets a green card to come to America. It asks a lot of questions about what the role of women is. As well as how people change over time through different experiences, like going to a different country. The film is based on the writer's and director's own experience documenting a real company called A Foriegn Affair (www.loveme.com). They then created some mama's boys to be the ones to go on this tour looking for a wife to clean and cook for the both of them. What they find out is that the two brothers are different and they need to find out how to live on their own. It is a short movie, 80 minutes, but it is an interesting and challenging story and they do it well.

April 01, 2005

The Incredibles - 7

This film presupposes that children are quite intelligent. Or at least that they are able follow relatively complex line of thinking. Or maybe I am just over-thinking, and it really is just the pretty colors. This seems like a better assumption than that of teletubbies, which seems to market to children who are at a very low level of intelligence, and wants to keep them there. This film is really an animated James Bond Film without the sexual innuendo(or very little) with some super-powers thrown in, even the music sounds for Bond-ish. It is even able to laugh at it self by mentioning the devices used by writers to tell a formulaic story. I thought that some of the characters were underdeveloped, but there is always room for that in the sequel(you know they are going to make one:-). As you can tell I give this film the benefit of the doubt most of the time because its standard as a kid movie is lower. I think that this is because as children grow they further develop their sense of the complexity of the world, and being overwhelmed by reality should be a gradual process rather than a forced one (most of the time life makes this happen even if we don't). This film is not trying to reinvent anything, and that is what keeps it from being cheesy.

Alfie (2004) - 7

This is a remake of the 1966 version of the film. I did not expect to like this film as much as I did. It seems shallow on the surface but is in fact deeper than most films. The story of Alfie deals with the consequences of his actions, and his own realization that it is in the meaning of these consequences that pain and love reside. Early in the film, he sees women as sexual conquests, and doesn't want to commit to anything serious or long term because he sees it as best for everyone involved. But as he thinks about and realizes the effects that these actions have on his relationships and his longing for connecting and belonging, he realizes that it is in these lasting, scary and vulnerable relationships that true love is found. He is able to conclude that it is our own fear that keeps us empty. There is a great scene in which Alfie recognizes that it is his own selfishness that has hurt others and all he can do is hope that others are able to forgive him. It shows how vulnerable and honest people need to be in order to be and live in true love towards another.
(The film also has a great concluding song by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart, "Old Habits Die Hard." Most of the soundtrack was written by them.)