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

May 31, 2005

Assault on Precinct 13 - 3

This is an everyday, cop drama thriller, where the audience is waiting for the plot twist. There is a lot of blood and gore as the film is basically about everyone trying to survive and only using others to help themselves. It ends up being a tragedy because the main character survives while loosing the battle for justice and the protection of those he loves. His zeal and determination cannot save the day. It is all rather depressing.

May 29, 2005

About Schmidt - 5

An earlier (2002) film from Alexander Payne (also did Sideways) about a retiree who is trying to understand his value after leaving his job to some young hotshot who doesn't seem to need his advice, and his only daughters marriage which he fears will leave him alone. His lack of any real friendships and his dislike for most people have left him searching for a life he thought he had, but never did. Throughout the film he narrates his letters that he sends to his adopted child in Africa (he signs up for one of those TV commercials where you donate $22 a month to support a child in poverty). This one-sided dialogue is funny as well as insightful about Schmidt's inner feelings and thoughts. In the end, this is his one connection to humanity after most others have failed. This film should cause the audience to stop and reflect on there own lives and the choices made.

Stand By Me - 6

A 1986 boys coming of age tale based on the Stephen King novella, The Body. Four friend decide to go look for a dead body that they heard about. They walk about 20 miles over the course of a day and half. The story is really about there own self discovery as they reflect on friendship and the harsh realities of their family and small town lives. The film is narrated from an adult perspective which gives the story greater insight, as the author reflects on who he was and who he is now. Near the end, the main character Gordo as an adult, reminds the viewers that we all have memories that stick with us about what it means to long for what we once had and how that should direct us into the future.

May 28, 2005

The Time Machine - 4

Mostly an action flick with minimal questions and discussion of the practicality and philosophy of time travel. Back to the Future does a much better job of that for film. While H.G. Wells probably dealt well with it in the novel, this film doesn't seem to do justice to the issues of time travel and human development in societies. The film portrays a rather bleak view of the future, while maybe somewhat realistic about the human condition. At the very least, there is some interesting discussion of the meaning of time and the ethics of time travel.

The Sea Inside - 6

Although this film is about euthanasia (or as my middle school friend liked to joke, "Why are the youth in Asia such a big deal, don't we have enough problems with the youth in our own country?"), I found it rather life affirming. This may not be the case for all viewers, so be advised that it may have the effect of making you hate life, but I doubt it. It is based on the true story of Ramon Sampedro, a paraplegic, and his 30-year political and legal battle to end his own life (The film is in Spanish with subtitles). It asks a lot of hard questions about life and the value that we and others place on it. It also placed some emphasis on the role of hope in giving our lives meaning. Ramon's hope seem to lay beyond this physical world and that lead to his argument for his own death. It also tied in the themes of family, friends, and love. I think the film asks the viewer: what is your motivation for getting up in the morning? Does what you do have meaning? How aware are you of the meaning or meaninglessness of your life? These are the questions that can lead people into truly knowing themselves.

The Aviator - 5

This film focuses on the later years of Howard Hughes' life. It shows his success in film and aviation innovations. And through out shows the further development of his obsessive-compulsive disorder. Because of this the story is rather sad. It is hard to understand why they tell this story, but in the age of biopics gallore, here is another one. It may be that this is the story of the American dream, a rags to riches story, even though the irony is that no one would want the life that Howard Hughes had. The visuals are really well done, and the acting is good too.

May 27, 2005

We Don't Live Here Anymore - 5

Based on a short story by Andre Dubus (In the Bedroom), tells the story of two couples and the marital struggles they go through because of infidelity. This film reminded me of something a professor in college said, to paraphrase, success is really another word for faithfulness. This may sound weird at first hearing, but they are both about the commitments that we have made and the priority that we give to these commitments. Success is usually associated with business and one's work, and has to do with achievement measured in money or reputation. It is a commitment to give priority to work and its rewards because these things are what we value and gives meaning. Faithfulness, on the other hand, is usually associated with marriage or promises between friends or family, it has a more spiritual dimensions to it, this may have to do with the meaning that is less tangible than the rewards of success. The conversations of this film bring this to light. In one scene husband and wife, Jack and Terry, are talking about love and how it is confusing because we usually cannot explain why we love someone, it can't be for what they do (housework in this case), it has to be about who they are, but how do we come to know who others are? Their "essence?" Their identity? Faithfulness, success in relationship, is the valuing of these questions in life. When we strive to know deeply, we can learn to love deeply. In our failed and lazy knowing leads to hurt and failed relationships. I think that if we want the good life, we will need to strive for success: faithfulness in all things, knowing and loving. This is easier said than done in a culture of stoicism and cynicism.

Team America: World Police - 4

A mostly funny comedy blasting the political left, such as actors as well as those on the right who think weapons that kill bad guys are God's gift to humanity. I think there are not any real people that are on either of these extremes, but this film shows what that might look like. Seems to me we may need some 'third way' thinking. This film is from the creators of South Park, so there are plenty of sick gags and spoofs of a lot of other films. There is more than enough death and destruction, and creepy sex jokes. The jokes about the Hollywood actors and Kim Jong-Il are truly hilarious.

May 26, 2005

The Man Who Wasn't There - 6

A film noir, shot in black and white, and takes place in the 40's (It is more along the tragic side of the Coen Brothers). The film has a great soundtrack, the music of Beethoven on piano. The story is of a quiet and passive barber who embezzles his wife's boss, with far greater consequences than anyone can see. It doesn't portray a very hopeful look at the future of human beings and the life we have created for ourselves. It also show the pain that a completely passive life can lead to. Ed, the main character, chooses to late to start to take charge of his life, the passivity of his youth has determined a lot of his future, which in the end is just, but tragic.

May 25, 2005

The Hudsucker Proxy - 6

Another Coen brothers hit. This is a story about a huge corporation named after its founder, Waring Hudsucker, and the lowly mail room attendant who becomes the president. The Coen brothers have a gift for telling stories that fall somewhere between being tragedies and comedies (See the more dark The Man Who Wasn't There, above). The story takes place in the 20's and shows the early industrial America, as well as news journalism of that era, very artfully done. It is a good story about what power can do to someone's characters, as well as how they are changed by it.

May 24, 2005

Waking Life - 7

This is a film about the dream life and the waking life. What do dreams tell us about ourselves and the world we live in? A question that runs as a theme through out the film. The first part of the film involves a lot of disconnected conversations about many different theories of the universe and the role of language, art, and science in our understanding of ourselves and the world. Closer to the end, things start to get explained as the main character, the dreamer, begins to ask questions and discuss the issues he is confronted with. If you want to watch a film that tackles the real question of the meaning of life, this is the one to watch. It doesn't give answers in the pragmatic American way, but rather allows the viewer to learn to ask the right questions and to seek out a true way of knowing.

Mean Creek - 7

Don't tell me you never once thought of doing something terrible to someone in an act of revenge. That bully in middle school, a rock in the forehead just to knock some sense into them. Make some of your pain theirs. That is what this film is about. A bully who is in need of a good swim in a cold creek. The situation, a plan which soon gets called off because bullies are not pure evil, turns out more horrible than anyone imagines and to harsh for justice. This moral tale brings up good questions about the tensions of choices that are out of your control merging and effecting those choices you have already made. Every coming moment is both part of human action as well as a combination of multiple actors and laws of physical space, and yet more than that. There are our own moral lives that are affected in this sequence of events. And as this film shows, tests our ability to be truth tellers, about the world and about ourselves.

Zelig - 6

This is a Woody Allen fictional documentary about a man named Leonard Zelig during the 1920's. He suffers from a psychological disorder where he takes on the characteristics of those around him as to not stick out, and "to be liked." His physical characteristics are even adaptive to different situations. It is an good film to discuss the issues of identity and self in the modern world. The black and white filming and the narration is quite convincing as a film that was shot in the 20's. It also has some ironic comedy on American culture then and now.

May 23, 2005

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith - 5

Let's get the obvious statements out of the way first: It was better than the episodes I and II, how could it not be? There are plenty of plot holes if you start to ask the right questions, there are also plenty of room to make up a justifiable explanation for all of it. It suffers from having to conform to a sequel that was made in 1977.
There is no doubt that Lucas has the gift of creating a huge sci-fi universe, and even the story is pretty good. Having to be told in a non-sequential order pretty much killed the chances of success for the first three episodes. If he were to make episodes that happened after episode VI they would be better. The acting in this film is pretty bad. Yoda and Obi-wan are the only good actors and Yoda is computer generated (That's not to dis CGI, that's how bad the real actors were). Anakin's turn to the dark side is also pretty trivial (being excluded from the Jedi council because of his youth) and is played out rather simplistically. It wasn't a waste of $5, but I don't think I'll see it again.

Blade: Trinity - 4

If it hadn't been for Hannibal King's (Ryan Reynolds) comic relief this would have been a horrible film. Since the writer/director decided to be less serious, the film was able to poke fun of itself. It was an entertaining film. It tended to have long sequences of music and slow motion scenes, which was probably to extend the length of the film since the actual story only takes like 25 minutes to tell. The fact that it is about vampires makes for a lot of questions from the audience which this film is not prepared to handle, although to be fair the majority of the audience is self selected by those that already know a decent amount about the history of Blade, vampires, and comic book heroes. Blade is rather stoic, his main motivation seems to be revenge or anger, and yet he lacks the passion to actually make that credible. If you are in desperate need to see genetically modified pets that have been turned into vampire pooches, then you must see this film.

May 20, 2005

National Treasure - 6

The story is very much like The Da Vinci Code, it has the same historical conspiracy theory, this time about the freemasons and the founding of the US. It is fun and entertaining to see what the next clue will lead to and whether they can outsmart and get to the treasure before the foreign bad guys. It even has some jokes about conspiracy stories, at least the film doesn't take itself to seriously. Despite a couple of plot holes it works as an adventure movie. It even alludes to historical responsibility and trying to discover whether what you believe is true or just your own imagination. This is sort of the kiddy (Walt Disney) preview to The Da Vinci Code movie that they are making with Tom Hanks (out next summer), which I assume will probably be better (and probably more controversial).

Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy - 5

Of the Woody Allen films I have seen this is one is mediocre. But it has the classic funny/serious tone. With good questions about the existence of the soul, as well as realities beyond the five senses. This film takes place in the early 20th century and is the tale of three couples who are away in the country outside New York city for the weekend. They all soon find out that they are in love (or lust?) with different people, and the comedy begins as they try to pursue their new interest. The dialogue is interesting because of the different worldviews of each of the characters and how they integrate it with there lived experience.

May 19, 2005

Open Water - 5

This is a different kind of movie, which is why it won awards at Sundance 2004. It was filmed on digital video over weekends and vacations with only the two writer/directors and two main unknown actor. It is a pretty intense suspense movie, more realistic and better than Jaws. It is based on a true story. It is interesting to see the dialogue that goes on between this husband and wife, especially as they begin to think that there lives are coming to an end. It also shows how fragile life is. It asks the fundamental question what do you care about most in life?

May 17, 2005

In Good Company - 7

This is a very realistic picture of work. It especially points out the differences between older more experienced people and their younger counterparts. This is a story of a young marketing executive who quickly advances to the head of a magazine replacing a more experienced, and twice his age, manager. The story gets more complicated but it asks some good questions about wisdom and age, as well as how we pursue the good life in a materialistic age.

Fat Albert - 3

I was disappointed with this movie. Kenan Thompson is very funny on SNL (probably one of the few funny people in the current cast). But he is not funny in this movie. Not only that, but the plot is shallow; the characters from the animated series come out of the TV on reruns of the show. To fill time the minor characters are allowed to change, and then return to the show the same way. All of this just to let a high school girl know that her grandfather loves her from beyond the grave. Bill Cosby appears as himself, and no jokes develop from this short scene. The only laughing I did was at how stupid and outrageous some of the story development was. I'd like to think this film is a kids movie, which forgive some of the simplicity, but I think even small children would see through the flashy colors to the lack of any real development of characters or story (Although I think DVD sales will eventually prove me wrong).

Identity - 5

This is a decent and interesting psychological thriller. Knowing that it was suppose to have a twist ending, allowed me to be on the look out for strange scenes, and screen shots. And really most any conspiracy theory is plausible, but it may take some viewers time to understand what is going on when they get near the end. The story works very well for the screen, in the same way that Fight Club is suited to the medium of film. The visual effects are better at hiding what is really going on. The film flows well with no major plot holes, as can sometimes be the case. It is an interesting commentary on identity and how we view ourselves and others.

May 16, 2005

Shaun of the Dead - 6

Hilarious. This film is a spoof of all of the crazy horror movies you've seen. Like usual the dead come to life and start eating the living. While this is the usual plot, the main characters, Shaun and Ed, have an unusual response: survival is not only necessary, it should be fun. And while rational thinking can get you so far, at some point you will have to go with what you know; get your friends and go to your favorite local pub. There are even some tear jerker moments, which then turn into more hilarity. The DVD also has special features where they explain some of the plot holes during the film.

May 15, 2005

Coyote Ugly - 3

Mostly predictable, as it is aimed at teenage boys and girls under the guise of empowering girls, while really falling into the usual romantic scripts. The feminist theory of this movie, if there is one, is that women's sexuality is power and you can use it to your advantage. It is not a horrible film, just too predictable to be really good. As entertainment its not bad, its a nice story and everything works out pretty much like you thought it would. This blog entry is almost as stale as the...

May 13, 2005

Wall Street - 6

This is an interesting movie about the stock trading culture of 1985. This is even a timely movie now with all the scandals of CEOs and white-collar crime. It is a question of greed, and as the villain says, "greed is good" and if America can realize it than we can be a true superpower. The film deals well with what it means to care. If you only care about money than people and one's own values are going to get sacrificed. The main character, Buddy, ends up having to make the crucial choice between caring about others or caring about success as defined by Wall Street.

Barton Fink - 3

This is the first Coen Brothers film that I didn't like (well, maybe Intolerable Cruelty - 4). I'm pretty sure there is some allegory going on here that I am missing. The story is about a writer who goes to Hollywood to write scripts for a major picture house in the 40's. The stories he writes are about the inner anguish of the characters, and the film portrays Barton as going somewhat crazy, it is hard to know what he is imagining and what is actually happening. This might be the story within a story thing going on, but it is difficult to see on first view.

May 12, 2005

The Ka-ching of Star Wars...

Here is an interesting and funny article to read, but only if you don't take your love of the Star Wars empire too seriously.

Boys Don't Cry - 4

This is the true story of Teena Brandon, who as a teenager cuts her hair short and uses the name Brandon Teena and begins to think of herself as a boy (Hillary Swank won and Oscar for best actress for this part, and she is convincing as Brandon). She is able to live the life she has wanted when she moves out of Lincoln, Nebraska and makes a new group of friends that treat her like a guy. Most of movie involves getting to know the characters and starting to identify with the strange and foibled characters. But near the end of the movie when the truth about Brandon's anatomy surfaces, all hell breaks loose. Since a lie about sexuality is a lie about identity in the friends eyes, this new truth shatters their views about their own identity. This muddled knowing leads to extremely muddled doing. This film once again reminded me that we humans all to often forget how to be human.

Monster - 1

Nihilism. That is the essence of this film, in a word. I wanted to think otherwise, but the concluding narration as she is hauled off to jail only confirms this. Mind you it is based on a true story, but the narrator/writer take some liberty to explain the inner landscape of Aileen Wuornos's mind. Aileen is a prostitute, who turns into a serial killer who kills to get money off of victims rather than selling sex. This soon turns into killing even those that are picking her up to try to help her out. She was put to death for her crimes in 2002. The film shows how deeply disturbed she was. In the end, she concludes that love, forgiveness, peace, happiness are all just lies we tell ourselves to cope with the pain that is human existence and survival. This story, although very sad and somewhat realistic to life's pain, is not told well and fails to do justice to the full reality of the world.

May 10, 2005

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys - 6

This is the story of a group of middle school boys who go to a strict Catholic school (Jodie Foster is one of the nuns/teachers) and use most of their spare time to think of comic book ideas and draw them up. They also come up with pranks to pull, like stealing the schools name-sake figurine. This film also has episodes within it of animation of the comic that the main character dreams up. The story gets more intense as it develops and starts to uncover the reality of the students lives. It honestly deals with the hardships of life, and especially how adolescence mature and change as they move into adulthood.

May 09, 2005

Igby Goes Down - 5

This is an interesting film about a rebellious high-schooler who grows up in a weird family and is attempting to be normal. The story doesn't flow very well, jumping from scene to scene sometimes without much connection. The main character, Igby, is trying to figure out what normal is. His family is so dysfunctional that he has to wonder if he is crazy or it is just everyone else around him. The struggle for him as the movie develops is the question: is his family worth loving? And does worth have anything to do with it? This film leaves too much for the viewer to do (viewing films is an active rather than a passive activity, but only up to a point), in thinking about these questions and initiating the conversation, rather than letting the story engage the viewer and draw out their own ideas.

Van Wilder - 4

This is not Ryan Reynolds best material, but the he is still funny in this film. The premise of the film is that college is a party fest, where everyone parties and nobody flunks out. The usual assumptions and stereotypes about college as most films. It has all the usual teen movie gags. A not so bad film if you just want to be entertained, it doesn't go much beyond that.

May 06, 2005

Infernal Affairs - 6

This is a Chinese cop drama. It has a complex story line which plays out the tension between doing well and doing good. That is a small distinction, especially those that live in American culture, but I think that this film can speak to our culture just as well as its own using the mode of storytelling. On the same note, I think I could have missed part of what the film was saying because I don't know Chinese culture, or the language for that matter. I don't think that this hinders the enjoyment of watching films from other cultures though. In the end, it has you trying to figure out who you are rooting for.

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events - 7

I was very surprised by this film. The previews made it out to be a kid film with Jim Carrey acting weird. Instead this is a movie aimed at children that takes life and story-telling seriously. This film plays on the idea that Hollywood must have happy endings, it begs to differ. But it is not a tragedy. It is sort of the middle ground between bad things happening and the attempt to make sense of these things as best as one is able to. Snicket's, the narrator, explains all this using the world sanctuary and explaining what this means. The film is tightly woven to allow for Snicket's to add informative commentary. I am now tempted to buy the books (The film covers the first three books out of 11 (currently written)- the series is suppose to end at 13).

May 04, 2005

Taxi Driver (1976) - 5

The story is very slow moving in this film. The theme of the film is the loneliness and isolation of the main character, Travis. He is friendless and this leads to more and more disturbing behavior as he tries to figure out what he is living for. He has a very pessimistic view of the world (sometimes accurate, sometimes not). It is hard to know whether this film also has hints of commentary on the Vietnam war, which Travis has come back from and is now trying to integrate back into society. As a side note Robert De Niro also plays in Deer Hunter which has a similar theme.

May 02, 2005

Deep Impact - 5

Apparently this movie was the competition with Armageddon, which came out the same year. I think this film is better in that the story is less shallow. This film tells the story of two different families and their reactions to the news. The overall theme, which I liked, was that crises come our way we start to figure out what are ultimate values are, those that we can take hold of and those that we should let go of. It is interesting to see what values that the writers of this film think that Americans hold closest to them.