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

September 29, 2005

Sunset Boulevard - 6

An interesting film for Hollywood to make seeing as how it is very unflattering to the movie business. This 1950 classic really shows how people can get caught up in their fame. In this case, former star, Norma Desmond steps out of a responsible storied living and start to believe a fiction as a truth about her own life. As she goes through this no one in her life can tell her otherwise and when her life starts to fall apart she can't see it because of the story she thinks she is living. She has so convinced herself that in the end the line between right and wrong has been completely obliterated. The main character, Joe Gillis, is a more realistic character as he is just using whatever means he can to survive, even if he has sold his soul, he trades in the art of script writing for the industry of entertainment. When he finally comes to himself he finds his untimely end. The beginning of this film reminded me a bit of American Beauty, although it should be vice versa, since it comes 50 years later. They both have some similar critique of the social world that Americans live in.

Love Song for Bobby Long - 6

This film has a strange combination of actors, Scarlet Johansson, John Travolta, and Gabriel Macht. The story develops slowly but you soon learn that a women has died and the people left are trying to figure out how to grieve and begin life again. Bobby Long is a former English professor who is living with his writing assistant in Lorraine's house (the woman who died). Lorraine's daughter, Pursy comes back to reclaim the house where she grew up. The catch: Lorraine has left the house to all three of them, so they learn to live together and start to actually get along and help each other. All three of them then start to think about there pasts and how they can both remember and move on into the present and the future. It is in this intense community where they are able to learn how to live meaningfully with others, knowing that to change others is to be changed yourself.

September 28, 2005

St. Elmo's Fire - 6

An interesting film about unrequited love. There are seven characters, all friends from their recent college days at Georgetown. Now that they are out in "the real world" they are finding life more challenging and learning to learn for the first time. There are a few story-lines but all of them involve looking for love and recognizing that often time it is not returned in kind. The characters soon realize that status and wealth are important to their visions of success but that the rules of the game has changed from when they were in college. They must either adapt themselves to the new culture or be spit out. In all of this it is their friendships that keep them grounded. It is an interesting film and gives indirect insight into cultural views of higher education and the careerism of the day (1985). You can definitely tell this is an 80's film from the musical score written by David Foster.

Alanis Morissette

Having 2,000 songs in your pocket can be a lot of fun. A few weeks ago I purchased an ipod and in the process of transferring my CD's to it I have rediscovered some stuff I hadn't listened to in a while. Alanis being a current favorite. I forgot how good a lyricist she really is/was. The albums I have are her early stuff, Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Here are the lyrics to the song All I Really Want to show what I mean.
Do I stress you out
My sweater is on backwards and inside out
And you say how appropriate
I don't want to dissect everything today
I don't mean to pick you apart you see
But I can't help it
There I go jumping before the gunshot has gone off
Slap me with a splintered ruler
And it would knock me to the floor if I wasn't there already
If only I could hunt the hunter

And all I really want is some patience
A way to calm the angry voice
And all I really want is deliverance
Do I wear you out
You must wonder why I'm so relentless and all strung out
I'm consumed by the chill of solitary
I'm like Estella
I like to reel it in and then spit it out
I'm frustrated by your apathy
And I am frightened by the corrupted ways of this land
If only I could meet the Maker

And I am fascinated by the spiritual man
I am humbled by his humble nature
What I wouldn't give to find a soulmate
Someone else to catch this drift
And what I wouldn't give to meet a kindred
Enough about me, let's talk about you for a minute
Enough about you, let's talk about life for a while
The conflicts, the craziness and the sound of pretenses
Falling all around...all around
Why are you so petrified of silence
Here can you handle this?

Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you're gonna die
Or did you long for the next distraction
And all I need know is intellectual intercourse
A soul to dig the hole much deeper
And I have no concept of time other than it is flying
If only I could kill the killer

All I really want is some peace man
a place to find a common ground
And all I really want is a wavelength
All I really want is some comfort
A way to get my hands untied
And all I really want is some justice...

Stewie Griffin: The Untold Story! - 6

I have a confession to make. I love the show Family Guy. This film is a spinoff focusing on the character of the baby Stewie who wants to kill his mom and take over the world, and is intelligently funny. My initial response to this film is that it is pretty funny, but that it has too much plot to keep the jokes coming. That may not make sense, but if you ever see episodes of the show you'll know what I mean. The show runs at a record pace from offensive joke to offensive joke, mocking even the TV etiquette of some coherent plot. It is also really good at showing the past or peoples imagination when they mention something (it cuts away shows something and sometimes returns to what was originally going on). As my former roommates used to say the show is like The Simpsons on crack. The stories revolve around the Griffin family who live in Quahog, Rhode Island. The family is Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Stewie, and Brain. Other significant characters are the other people that live on Spooner Street with the Griffin's. This film has less cultural references than the show but is still able to maintain the crassness and offensiveness and stay funny. Family Guy is sort of love/hate thing, so if you like the show this film fits well with it.

September 24, 2005

Red Eye - 5

The acting and the dialogue are the best parts of the film. The story is interesting but not anything you've not seen before. The film gets a lot of things right about being in an airport and airplane, the long waits, the random conversations, even the excess of Dr. Phil books. But the story is in the end mostly unbelievable because of the crazy plot to kill someone and the main character's ability to do anything about it (that is in real life, in this film she is the hero (which I don't think is a gender specific word, sort of like knights)). The two main characters are played very well by Rachel McAdams (is it just me or does she look like a less plastic Jennifer Garner) and Cillian Murphy (also in Batman Begins and 28 Days Later, both excellent movies). By the end of the film I felt like the plot could have gone in any direction and I wouldn't have cared or been able to tell the difference, she ends up doing the only rational thing she can do, which is fight back with the means that are available. What is annoying about the film is that all the stuff that matters to the plot happens after the plane has landed, so the last twenty minutes of the film is actually about something other than dialogue and claustrophobia. Not a bad film, but it is not a thriller (no twist ending or suspense) or a romantic comedy or a horror film, which means that it can only be labeled, an action flick? Maybe it attempting some new genre, but it really isn't good enough to keep that new genre afloat.

The Big Chill - 6

Six college friends (Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, William Hunt, and Jeff Goldblum) are reunited by a funeral and spend a weekend at a beach house reflecting on their pasts. The dialogue surrounds the meaning of life and death (as the funeral is for someone they knew in college who committed suicide). They also talk about their lives since college and the choices they have made. In all of this they are really asking questions about happiness and what is required for them to be happy. It is an interesting film to discuss what college is for, and how it changes people later in life.

September 23, 2005

Highlander - 6

One of the earliest fantasy warriors to come to the screen, the Highlander, Connor MacLeod, is a 400 year old immortal who is trying to survive from attacks of other immortals. The film starts in modern day (1986 when this film was made) New York City and slowly gives the Highlander's history through the years, originally in his native Scotland. The film involves a lot of sword fights, since the only way to kill an immortal is by decapitation (removing their head). Connor eventually falls for a local forensic expert who is investigating the recent deaths and finds one of the immortals ancient sword. A well made film although some of the fights could use some Eastern influence. The film doesn't try to hard to explain everything, and ends with no sequels in mind (4 films and a TV spin off, which I've heard are not very good).

September 22, 2005

A Fish called Wanda - 5

A caper comedy staring half of Monty Python (Michael Palin and John Cleese) Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis. It comes down to everyone trying to outwit there fellow thieves in order to gain all the loot for themselves. In the mean time a lot of crazy and hilarious things happen. Curtis plays the love interest of all of the other characters. Cleese plays a bored lawyer who inadvertently gets caught up in all the shenanigans. You stop carrying about the plot early in the film and just let the jokes and laughs carry the film. The acting is well done, and seeing an incompetent assassin is just hilarious.

Wild Strawberries - 5

An interesting Ingmar Bergman film about growing old. It is interesting but hard to watch when you are tired and not in the mood to read the subtitles (it is in Swedish). The main character, Isak, is a retired medical doctor who travels with his daughter in-law and her friends to receive an honorary degree. On the way he talks about his loneliness in old age and the regrets he has about his marriage and other parts of his past. It is a slow moving film but has some thoughtful insights into broken relationships and complexity of living with others. In some way this film is similar to Magnolia, in that Isak is dealing with the regrets of the past, trying to see the meaning in his life, and passing it on to the next generation.

A Shot in the Dark - 7

The second film in The Pink Panther series (The series continues with Steve Martin early next year). The first two, made in the 60's, star Peter Sellers as the bumbling Inspector Closeau. The physical comedy is superb in this film, you end up trying to guess what completely strange and funny thing is going to happen next. The story is about a murder that seems to come pre-solved. A beauty named Maria has the weapon, was the only one in the room, etc. But Closeau's love blinds him from seeing "the facts." The film is so slapstick the case never gets solved in the end, but Closeau does get the girl, in the romantic sense, and that really is the most important thing. As entertainment this is excellent and can be watch any number of times. If you can't help but think, it is also a funny satire in relation to the James Bond series, where just being in a film allows for things that are just crazy in real life.

September 19, 2005

The God's Must be Crazy - 7

This movie is hilarious. Part cultural anthropology and mostly all physical comedy. It follows a few story lines. The introduction is in the form of documenting a desert tribe in Botswana and the tribes encounter with a Coke bottle and how it influences their society. The second story is about a Guerilla group trying to take over the government. The third story involves a British naturalist studying the wildlife and his encounter with a volunteer school teacher. The three stories soon collide in hilarious ways. Made in 1980 in South Africa, this film is as funny and relevant today as it was when it was made. The commentary on civilization/society is really funny and mostly right on. I would definitely recommend seeing this film.

September 17, 2005

Lord of War - 6

This film is not an action adventure flick. I was actually pleasantly surprised to find this out. It is more along the lines of a political satire, in the same vein as Catch-22, and Dr. Strangelove, and the story of Albert Speer, a Nazi architect who refused to consider his work as political. Any thoughtful viewer will realize that it is a critique of dualism. In other words, it points to the absurdity as well as prevalence of the separation of public discourse and private values, the idea of a divided identity where work and family life are opposed and contradictory. The story is about a gun runner named Yuri, the son of Russian immigrants. He then goes on to make it big by being apolitical, selling guns to both sides of major wars in Asia, Russian and Africa. It uses this story to make social commentary on the ethics of guns and warfare, and asks the audience to question the modern bureaucracy that doesn't see the contradiction of their dualistic mindset. The conclusion of the film is that living with this dualism will not allow you to live the good life. At some point you will have to take sides, and that choice will start to determine future choices. This film is an a good conversation started about the current way that people view the distinction between one's private and public life, and if there really is one.
As a funny side note, the power went out with about 2 minutes left in the film, so there was some delay, in which the two older couples that were in the theatre made comments about how horrible the film was, with its subtle Republican bashing. Which in some way points to the ability of film to make viewers think even if they are thinking about how they only want to be amused.

September 16, 2005

Pollock - 5

This film chronicles the life of American artist Jackson Pollock. It tells of his shift from surrealism toward his own distinct form of painting. He did his later paintings by dripping paint above the canvas that was placed on the floor. The works shown here were done using this method. It also shows his alcoholism and the often tense relationship with his wife, Lee Krasner. The main storyline is his desire to be famous. The film is well done up until the last 20 minutes when the film moves forward in time a decade and shows him in his decline and then ends abruptly with his death in a car crash. It seems like a film in which Hollywood tries to associate itself with famous artists in order to be seen more as an art form than it generally is thought of. As an art history lesson, a good film. More images of his paintings here.

Breaking the Waves - 5

A Scottish film that is heavily influenced by the Scottish church. In this respect the film accurately portrays the harsh Calvinist/Presbyterian perspective of the local church. Which in this case makes for very little grace shown to Bess, the main character, and her outsider husband, Jan. The story follows the marriage relationship of Bess, a devote Christian, and her new husband who works out at sea for extended period on an oil rig. Bess is often in pray about what she should do. After an accident on the job that leaves Jan immobilized, Bess prays for his health and then considers it a power and gift that she has. Her life soon unravels as she works hard to get rid of her guilt. The film is slow moving but deals with some interesting questions of faith, doubt, God, prayer, and sanity. This film is the least glamorous view of marriage I have seen, which doesn't make it totally realistic either, but may be a more honest picture of relationships between broken people.

September 15, 2005

Coach Carter - 6

During the opening credits of this film I noticed that this film was produced by MTV films. This was interesting as I thought about other films that they have produced (Dead Man on Campus, Varsity Blues, Save the Last Dance, Orange County, The Perfect Score, and The Dorm). MTV films has a knack for making films that promote school, especially higher education as a way to get ahead in life. Learning in these films is a combination of both hard work and fun, and school is the best place for teenagers to be socialized into American culture (I also have an acute eye for this at present because I am currently reading Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids as we study status structures in high schools and colleges). This film in particular promotes the use of athletics to get into college. In most respects this is a typical sports film with a head coach that turns losers into winners. It is based on the true story of Ken Carter who taught his team both to play well and to work hard in school, even having a lock out when the teams GPA was under 2.3. The story is really a challenge to the apathy of school culture, especially as it plays out with the American racial divide, and the learning that is suppose to happen. I don't know if a film can single-handedly change this put this is a stab at it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - 5

When a film has to read from a book for you to understand it, you know you really should turn of the player and just read instead. That being said this is a funny movie and I think gets at some of the cleverness and humor that Douglas Adams was going for (My only encounter with the book is through others repeating the story). It is very reminiscent of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (trivia: Adams helped write for Monty Python's The Flying Circus TV show). The story is basically a couple of humans accidentally being saved and then traveling the universe only to find out that life's meaning is more elusive than a whale falling out of the air from a couple of thousand feet. The 750 million year old super-computer has it right, you have to know what the question means before any answers will make sense. Overall a very entertaining film which both pokes fun at the search for meaning while affirming a sort of universal drive for it.

About a Boy - 7

I saw this film a few times when it first came out on DVD. I liked it then, and have found after watching it again that it is a very well done and thoughtful movie. It is a comedy, and one that appeals to the romantics, but deeper down this film is about people learning how to relate and that relationships are hard, but also are an essential part to finding meaning in life. The story follows the happenstance meeting of a twentysomething single guy, Will, and an fringe middle schooler, Marcus. As there lives become intertwined they both learn things about themselves, others, and the search for what makes people happy. The narration from both Will and Marcus are some of the best parts, and all the randomness of the story comes together to make good connections. I think the film stays entertaining while challenging the audience to evaluate their own lives and the need for community.

September 12, 2005

Once Upon a Time in Mexico - 5

This final film in the El Mariachi trilogy is so convoluted it is actually good. Like usual for Rodriguez the special effects are spectacular. The plot involves lots of crossing and double crossing. The CIA, FBI, Mexican police, the President and the drug cartels are all trying to get what something for themselves, the law being merely a guise for their games. All of this confusing story with some interesting dream sequences (to follow in the tradition of the first two films) is enough to be confused as to what actually happened and why the audience should care in the first place. Johnny Depp is a good addition to the cast, and seeing Enrique Iglesias in any thing but a cheesy music videos is just funny (come to think of it his music videos are just as funny and outrageous). The body count in this film is high, but more believable than Desperado because the story is following the cartels political coup of the presidency of Mexico. The only reason it works out for the best is really just luck on the side of democracy rather than on one side outwitting the other. It is a fun film to watch and lots of stuff gets blown up, sometimes that's all you can ask for.

Desperado - 4

This is the more popular cult classic within this trilogy (El Mariachi and Once Upon a Time in Mexico). The main character in this film is played by Antonio Banderas. The premise of this film is that the revenge from the first one didn't take. The man that was suppose to be dead from the first film survives and hires goons to try to kill El Mariachi. He finds sanctuary and love in Carolina's (played by Salma Hayek) bookstore. It burns down and there is much explosions and dead bodies as they are finally able to escape and kill the head honcho. In the tradition of these films the plot is not that difficult to follow and the ending has to be somewhat surprising only because you are not given enough information to figure it out. Ultimately the violence in this film is too much to be believable, basically a small town is completely whipped out, with the response of "oh well." The special effects are really good, but considering the story it is really the worst of the three.

El Mariachi - 6

This is the first, and the best, in this trilogy by Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids and Sin City). It was made for $7000, which considering the quality is amazing. The plot is interesting and less convoluted than the following two films. It also uses no name actors as opposed to the sequels (Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico) that play on the star power of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. The story is about mistaken identity that turns a mariachi (musician/guitar player) into a sophisticated killer. In the end, tragedy becomes his motive for revenge and this is played out with cold callous precision in the sequels. This film shows the humanness and heart of El Mariachi, which drives the sympathy of the audience. It is also a plus that the body count is due to the story and not for action sake.

September 09, 2005

The Third Man - 7

Another film that is on many top 100 lists. It is based on the book by Graham Greene. This is a very good mystery film with a rather complex plot (ok, I've adjusted to the often simplistic nature of Hollywood). The film takes place in Vienna just following WWII. An American has come over to visit his friend only to find that he has died in a car accident. He then begins to investigate as the facts and eye witness accounts don't seem to jive. He is then finds himself in the middle of plots larger than simply searching for the truth. There are some really good conversations that are timeless and just as applicable today as they were in 1949. A very well made film, I would recommend seeing it.

September 08, 2005

The Girl in the Cafe - 6

A true British romantic comedy. When Americans make films like this they follow a script that will make any realist gag and any teenage girl ga-ga. This story follows a relationship between an older diplomat and a younger girl he meets in a cafe and knows very little about. He invites her to the G8 Summit in Iceland, after much awkwardness. She upsets people by her outrage at political compromise in the midst of decisions about the lives of thousands. The dialogue is very well done, and doesn't seem contrived (like the general formula). Bill Nighy (Love Actually - 7) is really good as the awkward careerist diplomat, not for any jokes he tells, but more for his demeanor. The featured songs work very well in the film also. One near the end being Bjork, who is from Iceland, and the other is the song Coldwater by Damien Rice. I don't own any of his music because it was really hard for me to listen to on its own, but when used as a soundtrack in this film, the song stands out. This is a worthwhile film that shows how human beings have many integral parts, and it is often hard to hold these in tension like we often do in order to avoid being overwhelmed.

September 05, 2005

The Constant Gardener - 7

This is a very intelligent film. Based on the novel by John le Carre and Directed by Fernando Meirelles (also did City of God - 6) The story is about Justin, a diplomat, in search of the reason for his wife's death. It switches between the present and past which lets the audience investigate along with him. Considering the story it had very many chances to get romantically cheesy or carelessly political. It stays clear of these and looks at the bureaucracy, greed, and cynicism of the modern world and the justice that is sacrificed because of it. It is thought provoking because of its realism in dealing with issues of justice, especially about the Third World and the disparity between rich and poor. It shows the tension of the question is justice worth fighting for? And how should one go about it? It answers this question by showing the connections between emotions and thinking, it is the combination of both that leads to hope. The only downside I thought was that the film ends kind of abruptly, the story is told but it takes you by surprise, but allows for some time to reflect. This is definitely one of those thinking movies, not for those that are looking for entertainment only (see below).

Girl with a Pearl Earring - 6

The fictional story of the background of one of Johannes Vermeer's painting of the same name (shown above - 1665). The film is based on the Tracy Chevalier's book. It follows Griet a 16-year-old maid in the painter's 17th century home in Delft, the Netherlands. I have not read the book, but after seeing this film I have no doubt it is better. This story depends heavily on what people are thinking, and film can only do this in a limited way through facial expressions and camera perspective. At certain points it was hard to follow where the story was at or where it was going. It is an interesting look at that time period, and the cinematography does a good job of mimicking Vermeer's style. It focuses on a young girl finding her identity in the midst of a disorienting situation. It is an imaginative and creative approach to a life that so little is known about, that produced some beautiful works.

The Day After Tomorrow - 5

This film follows a scenario of global warming and the ice caps melting creating chaos in the northern hemisphere. It doesn't hide its political bent whatsoever. The Vice-President looks like a handsome Dick Cheney, and in the end takes responsibility for greenhouse gases. It is a good action adventure film, even if you know pretty much how it will end; family and trust are more important than politics. This film makes itself more complex than most by following four story lines, while focusing on the one between father and son (played well by Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal). While sticking to the formula it is non the less entertaining and the special effects make the film worth a viewing.

September 03, 2005

Currently listening...

Last night I had the chance to see The Clarks, they were performing live outside of Heinz field in Pittsburgh (If you have never heard of them that's because they are really big in Western PA but small everywhere else). It was a pretty good live show, a hybrid of hard rock and country. This week also saw two new releases, both good. Kanye West's second album Late Registration. And Death Cab for Cutie's (or as I like to call them Killing Cars and Hotties) Plans. I've also been listening to a new artist named Amos Lee, he has a self-titled CD out. It is very jazzy and soulful much like Norah Jones. Let me know if there is music you think I should check out.

September 01, 2005

Alexander - 4

The early part of the film moves quite quickly and draws the viewer in. But near the two hour mark it is just dragging on (the film is almost 3 hours long). As a history lesson it is informative. Although it seems the audience catches onto the high place of honor before Alexander's army does, which seems kind of weird since it was a culture that held honor and courage as the ultimate virtues of the fighter. Aristotle makes an appearance, and for getting about 10 minutes of film gets represented well (although Aristotle was Alexander's tutor not fifth grade teacher of a class of twenty like the film portrays). The film is not as controversial as made out in some of the media, although Alexander is shown as a disturb individual which doesn't seem like to big a stretch. The thing that got to me most was the accents of the characters. Alexander's mother (played by Angelina Jolie) sounds like she is from Russia, and a couple of the generals sound like Irishmen. I don't see why they didn't just make them all sound like regular English speakers, since it wasn't like they actually spoke English in 327 BC. It is an interesting take on a historical story, but not very well acted and focuses mostly on Alexander's relationship with his father, mother, and friends rather than his accomplishments and dedication as a general. I didn't find this film as bad as some of its critics but it wasn't spectacular either, at least it didn't stoop to the corniness of Troy - 4.

The Shipping News - 6

A slow moving film that takes place in Newfoundland, Canada. It follows Quolye who is sees himself as a failure in all things. When his wife dies and he moves back to the land of his ancestors with his aunt, he discovers the gift of being a small town journalist who reports on car crashes and boats in the harbor. He soon learns more about his heritage, which both helps him see himself more truthfully, as well as to understand his own brokenness and the hope for healing that lies ahead of him. He comes to understand the past as important to the present but that the future has all sort of hope for rebuilding. It is an interesting story of the tension of living in the truly present between the past and the future. The musical score features traditional Canadian east coast music, fiddle and all.