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

December 31, 2006

A Scanner Darkly - 7

Based on the novel by Philip K. Dick (more famous for the adaptations of his work made in films like Blade Runner, Minority Report, Total Recall, Paycheck, and Open Your Eyes- which eventually became Vanilla Sky), Richard Linklater (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, Waking Life, Tape, School of Rock, Before Sunset, Bad News Bears, Fast Food Nation) writes this screenplay about a narcotics agent on the search for the source of a highly addictive drug called Substance D. As he soon gets addicted himself it leaves him wondering what reality actually is, and the possibility of losing him"self." It raises questions of surveillance, addiction, truth, and the human condition. I don't want to give too much of the film away other than to say see it- the film is both comic and tragic and does both well. It is in Linklater's famous animation-over-live-action-filming (later: in layman terms that's rotoscoping, yeah, I guessed that too) technique that he used in Waking Life. It also features great performances by Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane. In my top ten for 2006.

December 28, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan - 5

Unfortunately this film was not as funny as I thought it would be (darn expectations, and all the media hype). On the other hand, it seems to raise plenty of intelligent conversation, so I guess I like it. While parts of it were hilarious, I didn't find the biting critique of America so many claimed this film was. I already new that there were idiots out there, and I wasn't surprised. What I did find interesting is that they weren't as dumb or taken by Borat as I had imagined. He says most of the offensive stuff, and people are either pissed off, unresponsive, or just bored. In the end, it was a good laugh, especially the "wrestling scene" (:-). The best thing about the film is that it does raise questions about making films, and in this respect it probably stands alone with little competition (the Jackass films don't count). While I think Sasha Baron Cohen is intelligent, this film is just not quite there yet. In the end, I think the audience is laughing more at the third world and Kazakhstan than at themselves, which I think misses the point and is a shame.

December 26, 2006

Chocolat - 6

A very slow moving, but good story about a small town in France that is changes and is changed by a Vianne (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter, Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), that open a chocolate boutique. The film does not try to be subtle in its set up of this entrance as anything but a challenge to the small town's morality, which is tightly controlled by the town founder Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). There is a minor love story, and the film gives you the moral before ending. Good supporting performances by Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, and Carrie-Anne Moss. Once you decide to stick through the slow developments of the plot a pretty good film (I tried watching this film a few years back, and only made it about 15 minutes in). This film just made a whole lot of sense now that I looked up the director Lasse Hallstrom- who also did What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (an excellent film), The Cider House Rules, The Shipping News, An Unfinished Life, and Casanova.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - 2

This film had no plot. Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration...or not. Basically it is a bunch of pirates and undead running around trying to almost kill each other (nobody can actually die- its rated PG-13 after all). I'm very glad this was someone else's Christmas gift and not mine! Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley are usually worth seeing in a film, and Bill Nighy knows what he is doing (although its pretty much just his voice with all the visual effects for a face). All that being said hopefully they will start being in other movies soon (that looks to be the case with Nighy in Notes on a Scandal, and Knightley in Ian McEwan's Atonement). This film may be beyond mindless entertainment, I felt dirty and like I had wasted valuable time...well I got a blog post out of it, if that's any consolation. Yeah, the ranking just took another hit (it was at 4 when I started this post, 3 when I mentioned that it was just people running around, and now it is at a dismal 2- for a waste of time). Any reason for it to get a 1? Anyone?

My nephew's movies: Shrek I (7) and II (5), Monster's Inc. (6)

So I am visiting family over here in California, mostly my sister, her husband and their son, Seth. He is currently a big fan of the Shrek films (I blogged about Shrek 2 two years ago around this time- and yeah, a third one does come out this coming summer) and more recently watched Monsters, Inc. I like the original Shrek, mostly because of its originality and its constant dig on the usual Disney manipulation that they seem to feed to kids (OK, so I'm a little jaded), although Shrek probably also contributes its fair share. The second one is ok, but not as good as the first, and I think that Monsters, Inc. may have a more interesting story and some of the jokes for the adults watching with the kids are pretty hilarious. Overall I don't mind these films, although they are starting to get on my nerves as I have seen bits of them incessantly for almost a week. These films are much better in small doses.

December 21, 2006

west coast travels...

I'm blogging from the west coast these days, as I am visiting family over the holidays here (I even saw the Hollywood sign from the plane). Thought I would mention two music artists to check out (I listened to them on the plane ride). The Hold Steady have a great album called Boys and Girls in America, and Muse has come out with Black Holes and Revelations. Both are pop influence indie rock artists.

Lady in the Water - 5

I'll agree with the "haters" that this is not up to the quality of film
that M. Night is capable, but it doesn't suck either. It does what his other films have done on some level, that is both critique and use genre to make the viewer conscious of their own viewing (I think this is Shyamalan doing his own version of Tolkien and Narnia). In this film, the fault is that it comes off as more didactic than his previous films. Having a film critic get eaten while describing what should happen in a film of this sort, is more resonant with the Scary Movie series, than with an intelligent film. But it lives up to its children's bedtime story theme, which I think our culture has an aversion for, which explains the massive criticisms. The plot is easy to follow, and the characters are believable and fallible, which makes the film make more sense.

December 18, 2006

The Queen - 7

In August of 1997, the former Princess of Wales, Diana was killed in a car crash while being chased by photographers. Unless you were in a cave that isn't news to you. What this film does is tell the story from the perspective of the British royal family (it is about them, not put out by them), specifically Queen Elizabeth II's restrained initial response, and Prime Minister Tony Blair's persuasive stance for changing times. While this is a fictional account (made weirder by the fact that most of the people in the film are still alive and well), it is a well made character study of how different people respond to traumatic events, and the context that precedes and follows them. It is a complex film that is engaging and human (not trying to forward a conspiracy theory or make anyone out to be pure evil). By the end of the film you are both sympathetic to the royal family as well as wonder what their role should be in the 21st century. Helen Mirren and Michael Sheen give great performances in this Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland) script.

December 17, 2006

Strangers on a Train - 7

Alfred Hitchcock is a genius at directing and making films. I've said it before, and I'm sticking to it (This film makes it 8, with about that many more to see). This film uses the double-sided-ness of the human condition to tell a story of murder and guilt (or lack there of). The main character is the somewhat crazy Bruno, who can't quite draw the line between fantasy and reality. He draws an unsuspecting tennis star, Guy, into a conversation about his recent divorce and the possibility of remarriage. He asks what seems like an innocent and funny question: wouldn't murder solve the problem? Well, yes it would, but it would also be wrong. By the end of the conversation, they suddenly aren't just strangers on a train anymore. Well...I guess that depends on who you ask. The characters are great, the suspense is tangible, and the mystery remains after the last frame. If you don't understand yourself and the human condition better after seeing this film, you weren't paying attention. This film is excellent and truly one of the greatest films ever made. If I made a top 100 list (I doubt this is really possible without a lot of explanation and essay's on each choice), Hitchcock would be on it a lot.

For Your Consideration - 5

While I love most of Christopher Guest's films (especially Best in Show, This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and A Mighty Wind) this film does not live up to the level of humor that he is capable of. Don't be confused, this is a better film than most that try to poke fun of Hollywood (better than his previous attempt at the subject in The Big Picture). But not as subtle or harsh as Robert Altman's The Player. Collecting a familiar cast including: Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, Jennifer Coolidge, Harry Shearer, and Jane Lynch.
It is a biting critique of the cult of the Oscar buzz and the control it can have over people in the film business. Some of the film seems over the top, but then again, TV entertainment shows are usually over the top. The film critics are hilarious. And not to try to play into the plot of the film, but Parker Posey is great in this film and most others too (Oscar worthy?- probably not). Not a bad film, I just thought I would have liked it more (I should keep my expectations in check).

The Conformist - 7

More famous for his Americanized films like Stealing Beauty with Liv Tyler, Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) is one of the great Italian filmmakers. I'm going to step out on a limb here and say this is probably his best film. This film is about a man whose job it is to kill of people who might be subversives against the fascist regime in Italy during the 1930's. He is the ultimate conformist, doing what others say is the proper course of action. Slow moving at first, it turns into a beautiful commentary on the uncritical choices we make and how the consequences of such choices have an effect on us and our relationships (despite our own denial). It is also beautifully shot, many of the scenes will be in my head for a long time.

December 15, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth - 5

Pretty simple really. This film is about Al Gore over the course of a year when he travelled the world giving a presentation on global warming. Most of the film is the actual presentation, with some smaller (very small) parts that reflect on Gore's life and family. As documentaries go, it isn't bad, but I think it focuses too much on the presentation at the expense of actually documenting Al Gore, or doing justice to the facts and insights about global warming. It should have choose to either be a film about global warming, or about Al Gore. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to do both. The nice thing about the film is that if flows nicely from scene to scene, maintaining a relatively coherent narrative. The audience gets a picture of what Gore has been doing since winning (uh, I mean losing) the presidential election in 2000. I would have also liked to see the film deal with Michael Crichton's book State of Fear, which makes a counter-argument (complexifies and problematizes) about global warming.

December 14, 2006

Apocalypto - 5

Or should I say, Mel Gibson's Apocaplyto? The marketing of this film was just weird...Mel Gibson is the only big name, and the previews make this film seem like an action film, which it is...sorta. Granted the marketer's probably had there hands full, with all of Gibson's antics and that the entire film is in the Yukatek Maya language (Another problem associated with this is that I think it makes the audience less suspicious of the fact that this is a fictional account- some of the dialogue is definitely contemporary English translated back into this ancient language). What made this film better than I thought was that the plot is actually (believe it or not) more complex than I thought it would be. It has all the usual film elements; gore, action, a man driven to save his family, an oracle, and other homage's to many previous films. But is it also does give a picture of what the times and historical period might have looked like. An interesting film, but not a great one.
Apparently I'm not the only one conflicted about this film. Here is a quote that somewhat sums it up for me:

"The difference between a great movie and a merely acceptable one often isn’t a matter of what you put in, but what you leave out. "Apocalypto" could have done more with less."
If the film had ended five minutes earlier, I think it would have been a better film.

December 12, 2006

MASH - 7

This is one of Robert Altman's early films (He is one of the great film directors of all-time; McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Nashville, The Player, Shortcuts, Gosford Park, A Prairie Home Companion). He has had enormous influence on other directors, most notably PT Anderson (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love). I have probably been overly harsh on some of his earlier film (follow the links above), but Altman has the gift of making complex films, usually with a massive cast.
This film is a war satire about a medical unit serving in the Korean War. This means there are plenty of gags and guys fooling around, surgery and good health take a back seat to trying to have fun, and a possible golf trip to Japan. At the same time, it also highlights how humor is used in times of great stress and trauma to deal with the huge questions of life that arise when we are confronted with our own mortality. Both an entertaining and thoughtful film (and a great use of the Army Base's PA system).

December 11, 2006

Blood Diamond - 7

Blood Diamond gives us a picture of the brutal side of the Western pursuit of the bling-bling lifestyle. The film follows three characters each with their own reasons and motivations for pursuing a buried diamond. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) has made a living being a mercenary and diamond smuggler for a major European diamond company. When he hears that a poor farmer, Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who has been forced to work in the diamond mines, has hidden a large diamond in the jungle, he uses Solomon’s displaced family as a lure to get to the diamond that might allow Danny to leave Africa forever. Along the way, they meet a desperate and compassionate journalist, Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly), who is looking for the story that can change Western views of the diamond industry.
Each of the characters is continually faced with choices that they know will define who they are. Each of them are complex people who struggle to know what to do. The line between right and wrong has become hazy, as the bullets and hatred spread because of the greedy pursuit of diamonds. As the struggle becomes harder and they can now only trust each other, they come to recognize that they are starting to be the people they hate. They have forgotten who they wanted to be- who they were meant to be.
In a key scene near the end of the film, Solomon must remind his own son, who has been taken in by the rebels and can now kill unflinching, who he is. He pleads with him to once again come back to being a son of the father. The son has been taken in by the false hope of a utopia brought about by Uzi’s. The father reminds him that he is defined by his love of family and the hope he has, not by the false power of a gun.
It is a great film, becuase its politics, heroics, and emotion never go over the top, they remain within a very human realm, which is what all films should be in the pursuit of.

The School of Rock - 6

Jack Black is great as the pretend substitute teacher, who teaches what he knows- his own failed attempt to start a rock band. As a substitute (using his roommate's name and teacher certification), Dewey Finn, is inspired by his fourth-grade students musical abilities and makes up a rock band project for them so he (and them, if they must) can be in the city's battle of the bands competition. While the plot isn't particularly original (the usual teacher inspires students/precarious situation that could lead to a change or a catastrophe), the execution is great, with the kids almost stealing the show from Jack Black. It is a funny film and reminded me of my high school music teacher who thought it was important that we all know the history of rock and roll.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie - 4

A rather obscure French film, that is known for it's surrealism, and the use of dreams, and dreams within dreams. The scenes are rather bizarre, but the characters just adapts and adjust to any new information and plot developments. The only point I could think of is that it shows the masks and layers of how people think about their identity. The title intrigued me, and I think there is something in this film about class, although it is not made clear in the randomness of the film. An interesting film in the history and development of film, but obscure and random enough not to see.

December 09, 2006

Tideland - 5

The first moments of this film are director Terry Gilliam (12 Monkeys, Time Bandits, The Brothers Grimm, Brazil, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) explaining how there will be a myriad of responses to this (faithful?- I haven't read it) but weird adaptation of the book by Mitch Cullin. Some will like it (mostly people who are Gilliam fans already), some will hate it (those that are in need of a more simplistic narrative structure), and those that don't know what to say. While I am part of the first two groups, I guess that actually makes me have the third response. I think the film is interesting and excites the imagination, but it leaves most of the work of responding up to you. Plenty of valid reasons can be given for all the possible responses. I would explain the film as an expressionist film about a young girl (Jodelle Ferland, who as an actress is well beyond her years) whose parents are heroine addicts, and who moves to a vacant house in the middle of a large wheat field. She eventually meets up with the neighbors a strange older women blinded eye and her son, an epileptic with a large scar on his head from brain surgery (Yeah, its that normal that you followed all of that without going: "What the....?"). The crowd is small for this film, but seeing the film will only confirm whether you think the medium of film might be an art form, or just a entertainment-money-machine.

December 07, 2006

Vertigo - 7

Talking about this film gives way to much away. This is a must-see film. You will not understand M. Night Shyamalan or Wes Anderson fully until you do (they are highly influenced by Hitchcock). The gist of the film is a psychological thriller, involving a retired detective (James Stewart- who also stars in Rear Window) who suffers from vertigo, and a love affair with a women (Kim Novak) he is supposed to be following. There are plenty more plot twist and intrigue but that would give the surprise away. Hitchcock has the gift of drawing the audience into the plot, I was constantly on edge waiting for the next plot development to see where the story was going. And just when I relaxed because I thought I had it figured out, something new was thrown my way. A great film (I think I've caught the highly contagious Hitchcock bug). Not to mention that this film is a technical work of genius as well.

The Bicycle Thief - 7

This is a classic (1948) Italian film, even being recognized with some Oscar's in the US. The story is about desperation, as a man who finally gets a job and sells some necessities to get a bicycle required for the job, has it stolen the first day. Then, with his son, he must search all of Rome to try to recover it. The situation continues to get more and more desperate, until the title of the film changes meaning (If you've seen it you know what I mean- although there has been some controversy that the film title should be translated as Bicycle Thieves). A very well done film.

December 05, 2006

All Quiet on the Western Front - 6

Made in 1930, this film is based on the anti-war book by Erich Maria Remarque. The story focuses on Albert- a young German military recruit in WWI. The film shows his mother's grief about the prospect of losing him, and his father's pride in the honor of fighting for his country. This tension frames the rest of the film.
Having more than 75 years of history between this film's creation and my viewing it is quite a gap. I am not sure what to make of it. It has been an often banned film, because of its pessimism about war and heroism. It is a very honest movie about the feelings of those involved in war, and the real conversations of war time, like what are we fighting for exactly? This film, unfortunately, has lost none of its relevance. It's acute perception of the fear that lies deep in the human condition is poignant and made vivid to the audience.

The Cider House Rules - 5

This is the film based on John Irving's character study novel. This film is less of a story, and more about a young man's search for home. Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) has lived his life as an orphan, apprenticed by Dr. Wilber Larch (Michael Caine) to deliver babies. He also learns how to perform abortions but refuses to participate. He eventually leaves the orphanage to see the outside world, falling in love with Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron), learning about race working at an apple orchard (the reference for the title of this film comes from the workers rules that are posted but never followed). A good film, that captures the universality of the search, as well as the beautiful setting of Maine set during WWII.

December 04, 2006

Love Actually - 7

I watched this twice last week (It was for a movie discussion). Not much to add to what I have said before (Christmas 2004 and 2005)
Richard Curtis (Bridget Jones's Diary, and The Edge of Reason, as well as the excellent The Girl in the Cafe) wrote and directed this film. I like how the film covers the many aspects and types of love that there are in a series of vignettes that all cohere in the end. It makes the case that love in the end is how we pursue connections- and that maybe it ought to be that way. Now that I have seen this film for three consecutive Christmas', I may make it a tradition(?).

November 30, 2006

49 Up - 6

This is the latest film in Michael Apted's Up Series (7 Up, 7 plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, 35 Up, 42 Up), started in 1964 with fourteen 7-year-olds and chronicling their life every seven years. The series stared out as a commentary on social classes in England, but has now morphed into a story of people's choices and lives and how people both stay the same as well as change. Having reached the half century point, these subjects are now parents and some are grandparents, and much more reflective of the value of family. The real value of these films in not in the story that they tell, but rather the reflection that comes when thinking about the progress of one's life. The lives of these people cannot be as simply explained by social class systems, and yet class systems cannot be rejected as having no role in the shaping of their lives. These films are an interesting work, and we'll see how long they can continue as both Apted and the group are getting older.

The Break-Up - 6

I liked the film a little better than I thought I would. The one huge critique of it is that the story is so fragmented- characters appear and disappear way to easily, the only constant is Gary (Vince Vaughn) and Brooke (Jennifer Aniston). One of the things I did like about the film is that it really isn't a romantic comedy, or really a comedy at all. It has funny parts, but the anger, bitterness, and resentment is far more real than you are likely to see in any comedy (It must have been the only marketing option). I'm not trying to spoil anything, but it is about a "Break-Up." This is not a date movie. Its value lies in how truthfully it portrays life's unfortunate events, not so that one can somehow make up some reason that give it meaning and will make one feel better, rather to show how real these experiences are, and that these experiences connect everyone together as human beings. This film is highly influenced by other Vince Vaughn/Jon Favreau collaborations like Swingers and Made.

November 28, 2006

The Birds - 7

As I work through all of Hitchcock's films, this is the best so far (although Rear Window is way up there also, The 39 Steps, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, North by Northwest, Notorious). This is one of his later films and the last one that is considered a classic. It caught me off guard with its simple and pleasant beginning and its unexpected turn toward the disturbing. The plot is simple and complex. Bird in a small town, on a bay outside of San Fransisco, start attacking people. It is never explained why (which is the genius of anyone who hopes to write a horror film). The film highlights the characters and their reaction and emotional response to fear and those around them that they trust or distrust. After seeing this film it doesn't surprise me that cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek wrote about the Hitchcock's films. This film cements Hitchcock into film history, and you can see the influence on later directors and films. Getting all those shot of birds and setting the scenes for the film, must have been a lot of work.

November 27, 2006

The Incredible Adventures of Wallace & Gromit - 7

What's not to like about Wallace & Gromit? Their animated, funny, and British. And they make crazy inventions which make for entertaining plot lines- mostly outrageous, but it's clay-mation people! This collection includes three short films: "A Grand Day Out," "The Wrong Trousers," and "A Close Shave." It is fun, humorous, and intelligent. Recommended.

November 26, 2006

In the Company of Men - 6

Jeff has a good analysis of this film at his site... As does Paul.
And here is a review by Evan. This film is a disturbing look at two business men (Aaron Eckhart and Matt Malloy) who have become numb to others and their own pain and decide to do an experiment in which they torment a woman with their fake love, as they have been tormented by lover's in the past. It becomes a test to see who really has suppressed all compassion. Only it isn't that simple. In the process they discover their true selves and the depth of their depravity. The film is well done, so much so that the bad taste is left in your mouth after watching the film. It is one of those film that I suspect will stay with me. I think what is most poignant about the film is that one can see themselves in the characters and its a little bit scary.

Scoop - 4

This is Woody Allen's latest film, with Scarlett Johansson again as his muse. While Match Point was a serious drama, with a serious look at the inner states of the characters, this film is pure comedy. Allen stars as an old magician, Sid Waterman, who agrees to help a young college reporter, Sondra Pransky, get a scoop from a great reporter who got the story from beyond the grave. The accused is the rich hunk Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman). The story soon devolves from an investigation to the high-jinks of these two incompetents (and the only two Americans in the film). Plenty of the jokes are funny (in an Allen sense of the word), and the rather glib and simple ending made me wonder if it was worth it. It really wasn't- Allen is seriously losing his touch, if you are going to watch his films stick to the 70's and 80's and early 90's with Husbands and Wives, Hannah and her Sisters, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Manhattan, and Annie Hall. Although I enjoyed Melinda and Melinda.

November 20, 2006

We Are Marshall - 6

This film will be released to theaters on December 22nd. My own tagline for the film is: Remember the Titans meets World Trade Center (The official tagline is the overdramatic: From the ashes we rose). Based on the true story of Marshall University's (in West Virginia) devastating plane crash that killed most of the football team in 1970, the film tells the story of the aftermath of rebuilding the team and the small steel town dealing with the trauma and loss of that event. Interestingly narrated by a surviving student who lost a fiancee- the first minutes of the film is one of the greatest voice-overs in film I have seen. The film then follows the story that gives meaning to this opening context. The trouble with the film is that it tries to buck the stereotype of films about sports and only half succeeds. It still is about winning, as the film ends when the team has finally given honor to the dead by winning, but there is some great dialogue about how grief and loss, make us look for things that matter beyond the winning and losing paradigm. While it does try to push the boundary and works as an interesting history lesson, the film as a whole ends up being a rather 'feel good' film, about the triumph of the human spirit- the freedom we create out of the context of trauma and grief. David Strathairn is good as the bureaucratic university president, and Matthew McConaughey is funny as the new head coach.

Monster House - 7

All I can say is that this is another great example of a kids film, that is more than a kids film, and the animation looks great. I was persuaded into watching it by reading Evan's review, maybe it will do the same for you (Thanks Evan).

The Missing - 7

Directed by Ron Howard, this film takes up some of the western themes of living in a harsh environment and having a sharp distinction between those that are good and those that are evil. The plot is driven by a string of kidnappings that happen in the rugged outback of New Mexico- set in late 19th century. An in dependant minded medicine woman, Maggie (Cate Blanchett), is raising her two daughters, Lilly and Dot (Evan Rachel Wood and Jenna Boyd), with a the current live in boyfriend (Aaron Eckhart). When Maggie's father (Tommy Lee Jones) shows up, we learn of a falling out between them, which is parallelled by Lilly, who wants to move to a city and live a sophisticated life. The plot turns on the kidnapping of Lilly by a group of men who are trading women as prostitutes in Mexico. Father, daughter and granddaughter have to come together to chase them down and try to recover what was lost. It is a moving and well told story (focusing on a story of women empowerment in a genre that rarely does). The cast is great, including a brief scene with Val Kilmer.

Casino Royale - 7

It seems that the way to put new life into something that maybe getting old, is to go back to the start. This film is based on the first Ian Fleming book. With a new Bond (Daniel Craig), M is as snark as usual (Judi Dench), and Q is absent. The plot has been updated to involve a terrorist plot and the game of choice is a very 21st century Texas Hold'em version of Poker. Because they have returned to the beginning they are somewhat freer to take liberties with the usual outlines to a bond film, although it stays consistent with the genre. It is a film that succeeds in holding your attention and giving you plenty of action and ingenuity that some of the other Bond films lack (I found Pierce Brosnan rather bland as Bond, Craig is a much need boost to the franchise). Over all a great action/spy film, with some heart as Bond's first real love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), questions his coldness toward killing.
Full disclosure: I have seen almost all 20 previous Bond films (they blur together enough for me not to know which one's I've missed)

November 16, 2006

Two Sophie's: Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (7) and The Da Vinci Code (3)

Sophie: From Greek σοφία, meaning wisdom

Yesterday I watched two films. It was mostly an accident that Netflix sent me two films that both highlight a character named Sophie. The first is the well-known and controversial The Da Vinci Code. All I have to say about the controversy is that if a film like this can make you change anything you didn't previously believe before the film, then you should probably question your ability to believe rather than blame the film for telling you something new. That aside, this film kinda sucks. The acting is rather stale (Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellan is the only decent one), and I don't want to have to say it, but books are usually better, and in this case? Yep, the book is better- believe it or not, the book is actually faster paced. All this to say that Sophie Neveu, who is a cryptologist and is helping Langdon solve the code before they get caught, finally finds out that she is a descendant of Jesus. The film claims that orthodox Christianity is just foolishness and stupid, and that faith is really just power in disguise. In the end, Sophie is the symbol of human arrogance and folly, she knows the truth and she can control the world if she chooses, which to her just seems like fun (Further proof that any of Jesus' DNA got lost over the years). The book gave the writers some great material, but the long amount of time it took between book and movie made this project a failure before it started.

But there is another Sophie. Sophie Scholl's was a German university student during WWII. She along with her brother and a few other students started to write and distribute leaflets, in protest against Hitler and the war. They called the group The White Rose. This film follows Sophie as she and Hans are arrested and interrogated. The conversations during interrogation and imprisonment are what make the film worth watching. This is a Sophie of humility: she is not without her doubts of the truth, but she argues with conviction that Hitler's vision must not come about, that Germans will lose their humanity if the war continues. It is a moving film about the ideas that drive us, that will not let us go, and that we would consider of dying for. Julia Jentsch brings the emotion and wisdom of Sophie to the screen. There is a similar 1982 film about the Scholl's called The White Rose - 7.
If you have to make a choice between Sophie's, choose the one of humility, conviction, and truth. It truly is the right choice.

November 15, 2006

Stranger than Fiction - 7

If someone were to write the book of your life, would you read the ending? Would your story be a comedy or a tragedy? Would it change your everyday decisions? The hypothetical becomes reality for Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) in this story that casts him as a character in novelist’s Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson) latest novel. What begins as a strange and funny situation shift into a thought-provoking story of life’s meaning.
When Crick starts to hear the narration to his life as he is brushing his teeth, and follows the major events of his day, he starts to ponder the meaning behind both his mundane existence and the source of the voice. It seems mysterious, but maybe the psychiatrist is right, he is just schizophrenic. When the narrator suddenly reveals that he is unaware of his own “immanent death,” Crick’s search takes on a more urgent mode and he asks a local literature professor, Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), for help.
Hilbert tries to determine whether it is a comedy or tragedy. And advises Harold to see if the plot is driven by his life, or whether the plot is chasing him. While a serious situation, there doesn’t seem to be much either of them can do about it. Hilbert recommends he stop trying to avoid death and just live. The quality of the story is still in his hands.
In the midst of his angst, Harold does start to live life. He stops counting his steps and eating alone. Instead he pursues a relationship with Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who seemed to loathe him when they meet while he was on a tax audit to her bakery shop. He learns about what he really loves- playing the guitar. If he can do nothing he is determined to make his last days meaningful.
But it is the chance event of his hearing the voice of the author on television that fundamentally changes the film. The chance to change the ending opens up a new line of questioning. Can the story really be changed? What is the responsibility of the author to a situation that is stranger than fiction? Does knowing the ending change our choices? Does it make our choices more meaningful?
This film is marketed as a comedy but it is in the questions about life’s deepest meaning that the tears come. Will Ferrell gives a great performance in this tender story that asks the great questions about life’s meaning, and our pursuit of the good life. The ending of the film and the story is perfect, and leaves the viewer more reflective about the decisions and story that is their life.

November 13, 2006

Babel - 7

There are at least five reasons that this is an excellent film. The same reasons that I believe will make it a serious contender for the 2006 Best Picture Oscar.
1. This is a great story about communication and understanding as the narrative follows four families in Morocco, Japan, and Mexico/America. Underlying the story is the human need to love and be loved in return.
2. Like the film Syriana, last year, this film explores issues of globalization, communication and geopolitics. But it goes further- trying to get at the heart of these ideas by setting them in the context of families- those that are closest to us. And it does not remain trapped in cynicism, rather it clings to hope.
3. It is directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and written by Guillermo Arriaga whose honors are long over due for their other good films 21 Grams and Amores Perros. This film takes them to the next level of filmmaking, by showing glimmers of light and hope in the dark landscape of the human experience that they explore.
4. The acting is superb. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are the most known of the actors, but it is Rinko Kikuchi who plays a deaf-mute teenager living in Japan that is the performance of the film. The actors become the characters and invite you into the story.
5. The cinematography- the catching of light- is done well. The scenes in Japan are crisp and clean, while the scenes in Mexico are more gritty. The music is also used to maximum effect. There is a great sequence halfway through the film in a dance club that stands alone as an achievement. And the final sequence of scene and music is haunting and stays with you long after the film is over.
The giftedness of director, writer, and actors to allow the viewer to get involved in the narrative, the use of light and sound to tell the story, the way the story enters the viewers life, and the worldview and ideas explored are the key things to look for in a good film. When they come together like they do in this film, you have seen greatness- it has the potential to change you.

November 11, 2006

Talladega Nights - 4

Funny? Yes. A good film? Unfortunately not. There are some quality jokes and good commentary on NASCAR, but this is another film that suffers from allowing the trailer to tell the whole story and most of the jokes. I am being too harsh. If you want to laugh and be entertained then this film will do the trick, and does it reasonable well. Although there are parts of the film that seem to go bland. In fact I think most of the actors are out of place. Will Ferrell should continue toward the serious (Winter Passing and Stranger than Fiction), Sasha Baron Cohen should stick to his Kazakhstanian roots (Borat), and John C. Reilly is a lot better in films of substance (Magnolia and Criminal). A few funny jokes, but too easily forgotten.

November 10, 2006

Over the Hedge - 7

With references from Citizen Kane (Rosebud) to Dr. Phil (Lou the Porcupine: "I don't think he's a real doctor."), this film really isn't a kids film. I mean, kids will probably like it and it is animated (which in American means it can only be a G rated kids film), but it has so much more going on in it, and for it. The plot is not unique, new, or even that creative, but the execution is hilarious. Halfway through the film you realize that you are really laughing at yourself more than the film. The film is about scavengers who need to collect food for the winter during hibernation. It also involves a plot by a raccoon to pay back a bear he angered, and the fact that a hedge has been built to enclose a new sub division built by humans. There are plenty of jokes at the peoples expense, as well as classic physical comedy routines. This film is just plain old fun. A great voicing cast including Steve Carell, Eugene Levy, William Shatner, and Wanda Sykes.

Secondhand Lions - 5

A popular and sentimental film about two old men (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) who live on a plot of land in the middle of nowhere, and they like it fine that way. Their relatives, who happen to know that they have millions of dollars stashed somewhere, are on the prowl to inherit. Walter (Haley Joel Osment), a nephew is left with his two uncles by his mother in hopes that he will find the money. He soon adjust and befriends them, hearing their tales of love, loss, and adventure. He also teaches them a few things while helping them spend some of there cash on their retirement. In the end, Walter sees the two men as his role model for living a life caring for others, and learning to be trustworthy by telling the truth. Again, sort of on the sentimental side, but there are a few good laughs and adventure along the way.

November 09, 2006

World Trade Center - 7

This is Oliver Stone's attempt at capturing the zeitgeist of 9/11 five years later. He does a good job of showing how shocking the events of the day were for most Americans. The true story limits itself to the lives of two police officers who got trapped in one of the towers after its collapse, and their families who are waiting to here about them. The film also has a vignette about a former Marine who decides something must be done and volunteer's to go to the wreckage looking for any survivors. The script is based on accounts of 9/11, so each character is shown in light of their own experience (a good example of this is when Will Jimeno (Michael Pena), who sees a vision of Jesus offering him water, while he is buried). The film is technically excellent as well, transitioning between locations using flashbacks involving the two separated people. The film focuses on family and the importance of relationships in our lives that keep us going. On a lower level the film engages questions of individualism and community that became paramount to the discussions following 9/11. Much like United 93, a good film for reflection and discussion about human mortality and meaning in the 21st century (9/11 is going to be the lens through which we see the rest of this century).

November 08, 2006

Running with Scissors - 4

Read my review posted over at Relevant Magazine.

"to my listening ears"

Joseph Arthur - up until a few weeks ago I thought this guy was from the "other side of the pond." He has a sound that is somewhere between Damien Rice and David Gray (which explains my confusion). He is actually from Akron, OH (only a couple hours from here). I would recommend his previous work as well.

Evermore - is the three Hume Brothers with rock star longish hair (I immediately thought of Hanson, and was a little scared). They are from New Zealand and you can hear the influence of U2, Coldplay, Keane, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Cranberries (a relatively eclectic combination). It's poppy and melodic, and on TV (what else is new?).

November 07, 2006

a weekend in indiana (the state:-)

...I saw two films for a second time...
The Prestige, which was intriguing to see again....
and Serenity, which is just an awesomely well done film...you should go see it...now.
You can also buy the complete series of the show it is based on - Firefly (highly recommended).

Nine Lives - 4

Rodrigo Garcia (Things you can tell just by looking at her) directs these nine vignettes about women who feel alienated by the world, who are looking for connection and reflecting on their pasts. The film seems scattered at first, but the audience soon finds that the characters are somewhat intertwined. The stories focus on mortality, and the relationships that are most important to these women. The film shows how life is always a struggle between how we are connected to others and the meaning that it creates for our lives and the disconnections and pain that comes from alienation, loneliness, and fear. A few of the vignettes are insightful and have emotional power, others seem contrived and over acted. The cast includes: Sissy Spacek, Holly Hunter, Robin Wright Penn, Glen Close, Dakota Fanning, and Amanda Seyfried.

November 05, 2006

From Here to Eternity - 7

In 1953, just twelve years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, this film came to theaters and highlights the tranquility and complacently that was shattered on December 7, 1941 in Hawaii. The film follows two soldiers who become caught up in their off duty life- which are love interests. One has an affair with his supervisor's wife (who in present day would be called "slutty"). The other leaves the military as he is caught up in jealousy. This allows the film to have elements of film noir, both on the personal level as well as the national tragedy of that day. It is interesting to see this film since 9/11 and the parallels drawn to Pearl Harbor. The films that have come out since then, might have taken something from this film (if nothing else it starts some good conversation about the historical consequences of big ideas). This film is also famous for its Oscar awards, and the classic beach scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. Highly recommended.

The 39 Steps - 6

This early (1935) Hitchcock film takes place in London and Scotland. A Canadian tourist runs into a women who seems paranoid to secret agents following her. When she ends up dead, he goes on the search to find her killers, and discover if she was telling the truth. The film is significant because of it pushes the limits of censorship of the time, and is somewhat of a text example of cinematography and light. While I enjoyed the film, it is not Hitchcock's best- the story is very slow moving. Rear Window and Mr. & Mrs. Smith are much more fun and well done.

November 02, 2006

Lady Sovereign

She's white. She's British. She Raps? 20-year-old Lady Sovereign raps about how people are going to compare her to Eminem (Blah Blah). Which is a better comparison than with fellow Brit Dido, who became big by collaborating with Em. She tries to offend in the same way as he does and it is reminiscent, but she adds different beats. It's catchy, and she rips on the Queen and Prime Minister of England- "We ain't all posh like the queen, we ain't all squeaky clean, Now do the Tony Blair, throw your hands in the air everywhere" (My England). The first track on the album is a sarcastic joke about how being a celebrity is just like having a 9 to 5. While she is trying to show her credibility as a British misfit and is just rude at times, she has some serious skill at turning the phrase and stays above being a poser (she was signed to Def Jam by Jay-Z and collaborates with Missy Elliot on the final track). It is currently $7.99 at Bestbuy, it is not the best rap I've ever heard, but you can't claim to have wasted money.

October 30, 2006

The Prestige - 7

I loved this film. Maybe it is because it was directed by Christopher Nolan (In my opinion he has yet to make a bad film). The film tells you upfront that the plot is going to have three parts, just like a magic trick. (1) The promise, where the magician tells everyone that the world is ordinary and simple. (2) The turn, where the magician shows the audience something out of the ordinary or does something that seems impossible. And finally, (3) the prestige, where the magician sets things back to normal, or makes that which disappeared reappear. If you are one of those moviegoers that must figure out twists in the plot and must know the answer before you are told, you may have fun trying to figure it out (of you may critique it for being manipulative as M. Night Shyamalan has been accused of). But if you hold the film up to “just” that standard, you will miss out on a much deeper truth.
The plot of the film sets up two apprentice magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) up against each other as the go there separate ways to make their own shows in London. As they try to out do each other, they guard their secrets, and the competition gets intense and violent. The key to the film is the discussion of the role of magic and illusion. The film cannot help making one reflect on how awe and wonder work when humans think about the fact that reality does not always conform to the way we think it should work. The question you have to ask yourself: Is it part of the human condition to want to be fooled? Once we know the secret, it looses its power; maybe it is better to remain a mystery. Avoid the shallow, and listen closely for the deeper truth.

October 29, 2006

Thank You for Smoking - 7

If you are avoiding this film because it is about smoking, then you are out of luck. Not one person lights up a cigarette in the whole picture. While the film's main character is a lobbyist for the Tobacco companies, the central idea of the film is sophistry. The film is a story of spin; how to say things in a way that is persuasive by putting your point in the best light, while helping the other person think that they are wrong. Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is the PR man for a research institute funded by Tobacco attempting to claim that smoking is not hazardous and should be the past time of everyone(hey its just good for business). William H. Macy is great as an incompetent Senator, and Rob Lowe nails the part as a Hollywood studio bigwig. This film is full of satire and hyperbole as it pursues this line of thought. In counter-point to this, is Naylor's responsibility for his son, who is living with his mother and step father. He is trying to teach his son about the spin that is put on all of life, and how uncritical most people are in trying to figure out the truth. The key point is that you can't make people want to choose for themselves, they have to come to it themselves. This film does a good job of showing the hilarity and often backwardness of our culture to truly engage in conversation that matters. Rather we spin and counter-spin our opinions which can make us numb to the info glut that bombards us. The value of this film is that you can't help but start thinking, and critical conversations are bound to ensue.

Raiders of the Lost Ark - 7

I was on the ride for this at Disneyland about 10 years ago, but have only now seen the film. A while it is a genre film (read Jason's defense of genre), it is a great use of the action/adventure prototype to tell an interesting story. This film is also a collaboration between George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. It shows. They realize that film's greatest feature is its ability to catch light. They use this in spectacular fashion and it actually makes the film better. The interplay of light and shadow is evident in most every shot. The story works too becuase one can suspend disbelief long enough to cheer on Indiana as he takes down the Nazi's single-handedly and gets the girl. A fun and entertaining film.

October 26, 2006

The Birth of a Nation - 7

50 years after the Civil War, D.W. Griffith commemorates in this film about reconstruction in the South following the war. If you have three hours, this is a great history lesson. It was an amazing lesson in filmmaking for me. In 1915, there is not audio, beside the classical music that scores the film. And obviously no color film, although this film uses creative use of filters and film- black and white for outdoors, sepia for indoors, and a red filter to signify night. The film uses text shots to give the view the story and some of the dialogue between the characters. This means that the actors have to move the story along with there bodies (which they do quite well, sometime to comedic effect- the emotions come through the screen for some of the actors/actress'. This made me realize even more the genius of Charlie Chaplin, who didn't need dialogue to tell a story). The narrative covers some of the battles of the war, Lee's surrender to Grant, Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and the rise of the Klu Klux Klan. It uses two families, one from the North, the other from the South, to show how their conflicting views play out as the country tries to go through this huge transition. While the film uses warnings (it uses the argument that seeing it on screen will help the audience understand the tragedy of war and do better) to try to speak against war, racism, and violence, its naivete was proved by the further uprising of the KKK and what turned out to be one of the bloodiest centuries. This film is must see for the serious film critic (I'm not quite there yet), it uses some very prime camera techniques that have been further developed, but it had little before it to use, it had to sort of invent techniques. We've come along way (there are homemade videos on YouTube that are more technically advanced, now if we could concert our efforts on a good story). The film makes an interesting case about the history that shaped America most, it is an acute picture.

October 25, 2006

Peter Bradley Adams

Earlier this year I went to see Garrison Starr at Club Cafe. The opener was the unexpected surprise. Peter Bradley Adams was half of the band eastmountainsouth (their arrangement of Hard Times was featured on the soundtrack to Crowe's Elizabethtown), he has now ventured out on his own with the album Gather Up. This album was produced in his living room with the help of Alexi Murdoch (read about Keith's fandom of Alexi here). It is a great combination of Americana and classical influence sounds, soon to be on a TV show near- or at least they should be (from 1995 to 2001 Peter had a job writing music to be used in film). The background vocals are beautiful.
Here are the lyrics to Little Stranger and here is the story behind it. All the lyrics are thoughtful.

There's a love he cannot hide
though he waits in the line to fight
so he looks up to welcome you, his child
little stranger girl, you are home tonight

he reaches out a thousand miles
an sends his voice to where you lie
and in your dreams he carries you, his child
little stranger girl, you are home tonight

when you have grown, you may ask why
and you will read these words he writes
and they will say, I thank you, my child,
little stranger girl, you are home tonight

October 24, 2006

Reds - 5

This won the Oscar in 1981 for director Warren Beatty. This film is in the epic tradition, almost Doctor Zhivago like. It follows a couple (as in John Reed and Louise Bryant in love- played by Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton) of American as they fall deeper and deeper in love, as they also fall deeper and deeper into the Russia and the socialist movement in America. The film is a three hour discussion of the socialist movement as seen by Americans from 1915-1920. The best part of the film is the last section in which Reed and Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton won supporting actress Oscar for this) discuss the consequences of ideas, and Reed realizes that love has a subordinate and lost place in the ideologies of politics. If the film were just this, I would be tempted to give it a higher ranking. The resolution of the love story is also done well. While the second part was a redeeming quality, I think the length of the film takes away from the story- the fact remains that it could easily be told in less. The film is also broken up by actual interviews with older people who were alive at the time. Jack Nicholson and Gene Hackman make appearances in the film as well. The trivia on Wikipedia is interesting and funny.

October 23, 2006

Jesus Camp - 6

This film, for everyone who has no idea this film is even out there (apparently very indie), is a documentary about Becky Fischer (read a lot more about the film here) and her children's ministry. Fischer is a Pentecostal Evangelical, who wants to train children to change the world for Christ. The film was made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (The Boys of Baraka). The film highlights the beliefs that these kids are being raised into, which is a Christianity that is full of conviction. Conviction that the world is full of brokenness and sin, and in need of the saving work of Jesus. Most of the adults in the film interpret this to mean some form of political action, for example- protesting abortion, praying and blessing President Bush (who is an Evangelical Christian), and rejecting the influence of culture- like Harry Potter, Britney Spears, and the teaching of evolution. The film has the ability to incite a visceral response. But right at the moment you are outraged, disturbed, and offended, you realize that you are in the same boat as the people in the film. In this sense, the film is a very human one. The question of how to teach children or anyone for that matter, raises questions of epistemology that cannot be determined in an initial gut feeling. One could ask the question: Is there any education that is not manipulation or coercion? And how would one recognize it? I think these kids are being somewhat manipulated, but then again my own view is one where the means are not inherently different, rather it is the ends. That may end up changing the whole picture. One thing I think the film could have been better at was filming the questions asked of the people talking to the camera (I am not sure when this is the case or not, but some of the responses seemed to be initiated by the filmmakers questions and responses). There assumption is that the characters tell the story by showing up and saying what they say, but the story is built in part by the editing, which is done by the directors. According to the site, everyone in the film thought they were honestly portrayed (with the exception of Ted Haggard). Here is a response to the film by Ted Haggard who is in the film briefly, and seems to be the only one in the film that disliked it (He claims it is leftist, and anti-evangelical). Here is a response to this by the filmmakers. Worth reading to continue the dialogue and questions this film raises about Christianity and contemporary culture. A thought provoking film.

The Proposition - 7

This is a 'western' written by Nick Cave. The film takes place in Cave's native Australia, but uses a lot of elements from the traditional Hollywood western for its story and plot development. The basic story is about a gang of bandit brothers, who the lawmen would like to see dead. In an attempt to bring justice a local sheriff gives the middle brother, Charlie (Guy Pearce), the ultimatum of killing his older brother to save his younger one. The brothers live as bandits outside of the town, and the story becomes a way of showing the stark differences between "civilized" life in the town, and the brutal chaos of the outback lands. The question becomes: do humans tame nature, or does nature tame humanity? The final confrontation in the most obvious example where the sheriff and his wife are having a Christmas dinner, when the brothers burst in. The film focuses on Charlie who is on the search for redemption. A word about watching this film, there is a good amount of blood and killing, if you have somewhat of a weak stomach for this, it might be hard to watch. Read Evan's good review here.

October 20, 2006

Winter Pays for Summer

I just got Glen Phillip's 2005 album Winter Pays for Summer. The best music I have listened to in a while. It has both slower acoustic songs with sort of a country feel, as well as upbeat rock songs, just listen. He has a more recent album, but this one will get me through the end of the year, at least. Guess I'll add that to the Christmas list.


At the start of the conversation
I didn't have much to say
I was looking for some inspiration
You just got in my way
Took a shot at an easy target
You were too stunned to say anything
You were the unsuspecting martyr
You were not the most dangerous game

Bring my courage back now
Bring it back to me
Tired of being afraid of what I can't change
And I want to be living free
I don't want to be a prisoner
I want to live free

Well it could be I was mistaken
Could be that I deceived myself
But it's hard to understand somebody
Who doesn't want to understand himself
There's an ocean of unlatched windows
And a world of unlocked homes
The only reason anybody still feels safe
Is most people still knock on the door

Bring my courage back now
Bring it back to me
Tired of being afraid of what I can't change
And I want to be living free
I don't want to be a prisoner
bound in these chains
a slave to my fears
Just want to be living free

And although we all return to dust
There's a lot of us in a terrible rush

Bring my courage back now
Bring it back to me
Tired of being afraid of what I can't change
And I want to be living free
I don't want to be a prisoner
Bound in these chains
slave to my fears
Just want to be living free

Well some take the road to Damascus
Some take the road to hell
I'll take highway one to the evergreens
And everything will turn out well

Bring my courage back now
Bring it back to me
Tired of being afraid of what I can't change
And I want to be living free
I don't want to be a prisoner
Bound in these chains
slave to my fears
Just want to be living free

October 19, 2006

Down in the Valley - 7

The cinematography of this film struck me as giving the feel of the film. The score of acoustic country/folk music helped as well. The story starts with a few high school friends heading to the beach. Tobe (Evan Rachel Wood), is a somewhat rebellious teenager who is living with her brother and father- her mother is never mentioned. On somewhat of a whim and a look, invites the gas attendant, dressed as cowboy along to the beach. Harlan (Edward Norton) and Tobe start a relationship, which her father disapproves of. The love story continues to escalate as the audience starts to find out more and more about who Harlan is. Harlan's obsession is for the old west, and a cowboy's way of life. He approaches all relationships as if they are like a storyline in a western film. But as he come up against the changes and reality of contemporary times, he find he is alone and alienated. The story he envisions in his mind starts to take over and distort the story that is going on in his relationship with others, most notably with Tobe, and her younger brother, Lonnie (Rory Culkin). As the tagline puts it: "Sometimes it's hard to find your way..."

Art School Confidential - 5

If nothing else, this film sparked quite the conversation between a friend and me. I mentioned how I thought the film worked as a kind of satire on art and the art school culture (I imagine most of the information from the film comes from Daniel Clowes'(Ghost World) experience). Since the film is an indie picture, and listed as comedy/drama, I got the feeling early on that the main character was not the hero, but rather the shlub.
The basic narrative is that Jerome (Max Minghella) wants to become like Picasso, a great painter. He finds his muse in Audrey (Sophia Myles), a model who poses nude for his class. Jerome continues to pursue Audrey throughout the film. The sub-plot is that a strangler is killing people in the neighborhood, and this provides material to show the culture of the school (weird roommates, cocky alumnus, and inspiration for art). The film's ending to me dripped of irony and satire. But the film could also be a dialectic about authenticity and facade in art, and how art must tell the truth for it to be truly good. If the main character is the hero, then he is seen as the authentic one among posers and people who are not genuine about themselves and their art. It is interesting that the film does not make any comments on art through the medium of film (by this I mean the cinematography is pretty standard to any other film, while Love is the Devil uses shots as part of the narrative). All the signs point me to see the film as having a subtle message that art will always be clouded with the unknown, it is not meant to have some rationalistic basis, thus the narrative works as a satire to show the absurdity of how rational we have turned art into (the smirk on John Malkovich's face near the end of the film also helps). If nothing else this film makes questions of the purpose and meaning of art come out in audience conversation.

October 18, 2006

Citizen Cope

Today I would point you in the direction of Clarence Greenwood, who goes by the moniker Citizen Cope. He has three albums out currently, I'm not sure of the order in which they were written, but The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, as well as his latest Every Waking Moment are best. I was surprised to see a pretty good review of it in Rollingstone. I say surprised because all of his music tends to sound the same, it is distinct, and has a sort of cross between folk and hip-hop influences, but between different songs there is not a great variety. That means that you either like him, or you think the whole project sucks. By the way, he will be at Mr. Small's Theatre on November 9th and 10th in Pittsburgh. Anyone interested in going?

This morning I was reminded of a post I did about Ryan Adams this summer, it is just as good today.