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

November 30, 2005


Lately I've been listening to Imogen Heap, courtesy of the Paste CD sampler that comes with every issue. You might know her from Frou Frou and the Garden State Soundtrack. On the song Hide and Seek, she does not use anything other than her voice and it is amazing how much she can do with it.
On a sadder note, my office mates love Christmas music so I've had to deal with my share of Clay Aiken, Barry Manilow, and Martina McBride. January will come...eventually.

November 28, 2005

8 1/2 - 6

This film is odd because it is a film about making a film. Terry Gilliam in the DVD introduction talks about how it is Fellini's take on what it is like to be a film director. If this is true than this quote sums up what might be the thesis of the film, "Guido: I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say. Something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I'm the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same." The film is about the confusion between reality and imagination that collide in the directors head, which makes him want to do contradictory things, both help everyone get along and kill himself. The film really should have gone with its original title "The Beautiful Confusion." It takes some time to get into the film and may take a few viewings to catch all of the things that Fellini is saying. A must see for those really interested in film, not recommended for those that hate subtitles and complicated storytelling.

Mr. Jealousy - 7

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach who is friends with Wes Anderson co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. They are both working on The Fantastic Mr. Fox. This film reminded me of a Woody Allen film, in that it takes place in New York and has many of the same relationship issues. It is both a funny film and deals well with the issue of jealousy in any relationship. A lot of the film uses narrations to add to the storytelling of the actors. The film focuses on Lester, who cannot help but think about his girlfriends ex-boyfriends and comes to the point of obsessing over it. In the end, the humorous truth comes out and all the characters have to think about issues of trust and honesty in relationships. This is a fun film to watch.

November 27, 2005

Risky Business - 5

One of Cruise's and Rebecca De Mornay's early roles. This film is Ferris Bueller's Day Off tragic counterpart. While both about irresponsible high schoolers this film is more of a cultural critique of parenting than teenage rebellion. The main character, Joel, recognizes his inability to good moral choices and instead learns what it means to live in a capitalist society; that making it is all about taking risks. Like most American films he succeeds and the audience is left with the view that America is the place where anyone can succeed if they put their mind to it. I think it is interesting that this film could be made in 1983, since it deals with selling sex, literally and I'm not sure if that is suppose to be offensive to the audience or made more glamorous. It is also of interest to see the view that suburbia is boring and needs a little excitement. The director is telling the story of high school angst in suburbia without the internet and MTV. In that way this may be American Beauty's predecessor.

Just Friends - 3

As stories go this isn't really an original one, or even really all that good. But as funny entertainment this film is hilarious. Ryan Reynolds is funny and inserts a lot of subtle humor. The basic premise is that two friends from high school are reunited after ten years, a lot has changed and Chris wants Jamie as more than a friend, so he has to stop trying to be so cool and just be himself. This film is one of those that will not last as a timeless comedy, but will be funny for the next few weeks. There really isn't that much to say about his film.

November 23, 2005

Smilla's Sense of Snow - 7

There are many good things to like about this film. The characters in this film are very intricately developed. The plot is developed nicely as to make it a mystery/thriller film while not being manipulative at every twist and turn (the audience knows what the main character does). It is also an interesting story that crosses care with science fiction. The story follows Smilla's investigation into the death of a small boy who lives in her apartment complex. The film hinges on knowledge of Greenland and the native Inuit peoples and their ability to live in cold and snowy conditions. This film is set in Denmark, where an mining company has its headquarters, while hiring native Greenlanders to do dangerous work. In the end the truth is discovered and the mystery solved. This film also has a sweet cast: Julia Ormund, Gabriel Byrne, Jim Broadbent, and Tom Wilkinson. I would definitely recommend seeing this film.
Here is an interesting quote from the film: "The number system is like human life. First you have the natural numbers. The ones that are whole and positive. Like the numbers of a small child. But human consciousness expands. The child discovers longing. Do you know the mathematical expression for longing? The negative numbers. The formalization of the feeling that you're missing something."

November 22, 2005

Husbands and Wives - 6

This is similar to most Woody Allen films. Although Mia Farrow looks awfully tired in this film. Surprise, surprise, it takes place in New York City and is about relationships. This film is a lot subtler than some of Allen's other films. It also shot in a more documentary type style. The interesting twist in this one is that those that have doubt about their relationships end up working them out and making them known to each other, while the confident couple struggles to be honest and it end their relationship. Allen also makes the case for personalities that need to be married and those that don't in this film. Most of his other films assume marital infidelity as normal, while this one has its doubts. The audience is also part of this story since characters talk directly to the camera (with direction by interviewer) at times to explain their behavior. It is a good look relationships and the dysfunction that can be worked through or ran away from.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure - 6

A creative and funny story about some know nothing high school friends who want to start a band. Lucky for them the future needs them, and help in the form of time travel comes just in time for them not to flunk out of school. It is actually a well written story and is acted well. It has all the classic lines with 80's speak like: "Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes." and over using words like bodacious, totally, and bogus. As entertainment it is hilarious. It does a good job of not over thinking the time travel, movies that try to hard usually end up being horrible (ie. The Butterfly Effect).

November 19, 2005

one year...

It has now been a year since I first started posting on this blog (thanks Keith). In that time I've seen over 300 films. Anyway, I wanted to tell you about an artist that I just heard. Brandi Carlile, very folky rock (Simon and Garfunkel-ish at times) and good, check her out. I got this album for free by signing up with FirstListen.

November 18, 2005

Cocoon - 6

Apparently everyone besides me has seen this film in their youth. It is an interesting take on the idea of extra terrestrial life, one of the few that has aliens that are not trying to annihilate everyone. This film was directed by Ron Howard in 1985, but why am I telling you this, you've already seen it, I'm the one whose waited (rather was ignorant of) 20 years to see this. I liked how this film used an old age home in order to show people making wise and hard decisions because of long life experience. Overall a unique story that does a good job of making the discussion of aging and death more real and does it in a way that isn't depressing but hopeful.

School Ties - 5

This film tries to be a touching story of a all boys prep school in the 1950's. It ends up being a morality tale in which the point is that prejudices against Jews is not good. It does such a bad job of showing the prejudice, one is not likely to actually believe that. There really isn't that big of a struggle from the audiences point of view, and Brendan Fraser, who plays the main character David, can't pull of the emotion to make this work. The film does point to the reality of prejudice that was prevalent in the 50's, but needs to better show the cultural worldview of this thinking rather than some sort of internal struggle of individuals. Not a bad film just not good enough to recommend. This film is how Matt Damon and Ben Affleck got their starts in acting, and obviously learned something about storytelling when they wrote Good Will Hunting (a much better film).

Intimate Strangers - 7

A French film (with subtitles) about mistaken identity that takes an interesting turn, and I don't mean a trick ending (although it looks like it might have one midway through). A woman, Anna, mistakes a tax lawyers office for a psychiatrist. This seems impossible but the film does a fantastic job of making this believable. The truth soon comes out but the connection has been made. The film then stays away from Hollywood cliches by avoiding the soap opera sex romp. It really is about two people wanting to know the truth and listening to one another's story. It requires trust and vulnerability to listen, but the payoff as these characters find out is worth it. The characters are no longer living through the medium of television which is hinted at through out the film. Instead they have found a way to really live their own lives that is connected through truthtelling. If you read my review of The Good Girl, this film is really its opposite theme-wise. Lies and distrust disconnect people while the truth helps people understand and see how their lives are intertwined in being human.

November 15, 2005

Love and Death - 7

One of Woody Allen's best films, a very funny parody of Russian novels like Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It is distinctly shorter than a novel, but packs a lot of very funny lines. It has discussion of moral philosophy as well as God, love, death, and sex. This film is least like Allen's other films, mostly because it is set in the 17th century. The idea of the story is that three Russian brothers are sent off to fight against Napoleon and the Russians win by accident. It is less about the plot and more about the dialogue that attempts to be overly philosophical and ends up just being hilarious. If you are going to see only one Woody Allen film, this would be high on the list.

November 14, 2005

Wide Awake - 7

This is M. Night Shyamalan first major Hollywood produced film. The story is about a fifth grader who goes to a private catholic school and goes on a search to find God after his grandfather dies. It is both a funny film with good characters and school pranks, as well as a serious film that is trying to ask good questions about death and suffering in the world and what the answers and signs might be that we are living in a world that has many realities, not all of them that we are fully awake to. Although less intricate and complex than Night's later films, it is still in line with a lot of the same themes. The setting is in eastern Pennsylvania, just like his other films, and deals with religious themes (Signs, The Village), and the main character's grandfather played football (Unbreakable). Not my favorite of his films but good and I'd recommend it.

November 13, 2005

Ghost World - 6

This film is based on the comic book of the same name by Daniel Clowes. The basic plot follows two recent high school graduates. They are rather eccentric and the film is mostly their conversations and their take on popular culture. It has many funny lines but remains serious in its depiction of the struggle in finding ones identity -loving and being loved. Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch play the characters well (Birch was the daughter in American Beauty, I didn't realize that until I looked it up on the IMDB). If you like independent films this is high on the list of films to see. If you are looking for a point that you can half sleep through, try...I don't need to be specific there are plenty of them, most involving the latest "hot" actors or actresses.

The Good Girl - 5

An interesting look at the consequences of following the path of least resistance. The story is about a women (played by Jennifer Aniston) who is bored with her marriage and job and decides to pursue a relationship with a young guy (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who works at the store with her. It seems like he is the only one who understands her. All of this just teachers her how to lie and in the end just when she's about to tell the truth she is helped by circumstances and the film ends. It is an interesting look at truth telling, but ends up with an ethics that say the end justifies the means, the problem is that one does not individually control the circumstances and ends of social situations. What really is the case is that she deceives herself about reality and it translates into false relationships and habitual lying in order to direct life. In the end she is a pawn, rather than an agent, in her own deception. She is lost and imprisoned, not because no one understands her but because she has not learned about how the truth is found, and that the truth would set her free.

November 10, 2005

Firefly - 7

This is actually a TV show, rather than a film. But since it is really good and I've just completed watching all the episodes, I thought I'd recommend seeing this show on DVD, as well as the film that follows it: Serenity. For more history of the series go here. Created by Joss Whedon, the story follows nine characters as they work as a delivery service (sometimes legal and often not). They also encounter their share of interesting people that make for some good adventures. The show is able to navigate between humor and seriousness, and a great self reference to science fiction stories. The show actually focuses on character development, and is probably one of very few TV shows that actually can do this well. An excellent show that I hope they continue to make more of, either in another film, or preferably as a TV show (I think it actually works better in that format). The show and film are able to keep the characters coherent by showing their humanness, they are not superheroes, just a group trying to survive and maybe try to do the right thing.

November 09, 2005

House of D - 7

A story about growing up and how this is a rite of passage. The story starts as the adult Tom Warshaw tells the story of his childhood that he has hidden from his wife and son, he realized that he can no longer forget his past. As he tells the story the viewer finds out why he has kept it hidden. It is a touching story of growing up and dealing with the pains that life sends your way. The theme of the film is the change that is inevitable and how to live and love in the midst of it. The film also makes one question previous stereotypes about people, it seems that wisdom can come from strange places. The film was written and directed by David Duchovny. Anton Yelchin does a wonderful job as the young Tommy, and Robin Williams is humor us as a retarded janitor. The humor of this film is like if Wes Andersen had written a Jim Carrey film. Overall a good story worth taking the time for.

November 08, 2005

Buffalo '66 - 6

Thanks to Keith for the recommendation. This film was written, directed, and stars Vincent Gallo, who does indie films. I almost hated the film, but the ending definitely redeemed it, if I understood it correctly. The film follows the crazy tale of Billy who has just been released from prison and goes home to try to impress his parents. It involves kidnapping and eventually recognition of the bigger picture that is the context for life. It is somewhat reminiscent of the idea in Trainspotting to "choose life." The title is a reference to the setting -Buffalo, NY- and the obsession of the Bills, who made it to the league championship on the day of Billy's birth, causing his mother to miss the game. Yes, there is more anger than love in his family. In the end what is required to keep getting up in the morning is to take the "long view," to see past merely the present moment and to hope for the future.

November 07, 2005

unwanted chatter...

Due to the amount of comment span on this blog I've decided to active moderating comments, that means that your comment will not show up until I accept it (don't worry I check my email often). No need to comment twice, it will take some time for it to appear.
Also of note is that the titles of each blog entry links to the film information at the Internet Movie Database, hope that is helpful. You can also look for films using the index. Thanks for visiting.

November 06, 2005

Made - 5

Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn are at it again, they worked together in Swingers. This film was written and directed by Favreau, it shows in the different kind of humor that this film has. The humor is mostly the stupidity and lack of awareness on the part of Ricky. Ricky, played by Vaughn, is a wannabe mobster and can't play any situations cool, it almost gets them killed but in the end luck saves them and Bobby discovers more about who he is and what is valuable. Swingers is funnier, but this film is more narrative, and has a touching ending that women can relate to (Swingers seems to be a guy thing).

November 05, 2005

Jarhead - 5

This film was disappointing. I was hoping that it would say something, instead it just stuck to ambiguity. It is driven by the theme of soldiers than it is by a story. While focusing mostly on the main character, Tony, it shows the development of the characters through their experience in the first Iraq war. The film plays like a marine recruiting video (The war it is about only had 378 casualties, the current war is at 2000), it didn't make me want to sign up but I could see how it could be interpreted as a guilt trip. In all the ambiguity there were also, in my opinion, some ironic lines about the futility of war, similar to the book and film Catch 22. It stresses honor among the troops, but the lack of a visible enemy only increases the view that war is disembodied (hence the prevalence of masturbation among soldiers).
The filming is very much in the documentary style, much like American Beauty with both vivid cinematography, and sections shot in more choppy quality film (the director is Sam Mendes, who did both films). It is based on the book by Anthony Swofford. From the reviews of the book it seems better than the film version, often the case, eh? If you like war movies then see this, if not wait to see the main clips when it gets shown on TV.

November 02, 2005

It's All About Love - 6

The acting in this film gets off to a shaky start, but picks up as the story moves along. The story is a strange one, all tied together by the overarching metaphor of love and the coldness and isolation when it is devalued and lacking. This futuristic world is very mechanized and people fall over dead from the lack of connectedness and relationship with others. There are also weird things going on with the weather, it gets colder and colder to the point that at the end of the film the world is frozen over. The main characters are a separated couple, Elena, a famous polish figure skater living in New York, and John, a professor (who lives in Calgary?). The meet in New York to make the divorce final, and then find themselves back in love and the world trying to further isolate them from each other or anything like love. There is also a few scenes of John's brother who is traveling on an airplane the whole film, and (is the storyteller?). The film is often vague, which I assume is on purpose to help the audience feel the coldness and confusion of the world that the characters live in. The film does in the end succeeds in show that life really is all about love, not in the abstract but takes on flesh and exhales warm breathe.

November 01, 2005

Mystery Men - 7

A truly well done spoof of superhero films. It's not really a spoof, because the characters in the film are only trying to be superheroes. But the real superhero with actual powers is not really very bright and more worried about his endorsement deals than crime fighting, so it probably is a spoof. The main characters don't really have superpowers in the usual sense, but they are able to combine forces and stop the evil villain who is trying to destroy the world. The lines in this film are great and the delivery is flawless. William H. Macy has my favorite lines from the film:
The Shoveller (trying to motivate the team as they drive to Casanova Frankenstein house): We've got a blind date with Destiny - and it looks like she's ordered the lobster.
The Shoveller (in an interview with reporters): We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.
Hank Azaria and Ben Stiller also give good performances. This is one of the few intelligent comedies that I've seen. It is very funny, I'd recommend seeing it.