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

January 30, 2006

The I Inside - 4

Another thriller about short-term memory loss. The film does a good job early on of helping the audience with the flow of events, but then it turns into confusion as you can't tell when he is. It is in some ways similar to The Jacket, although that film pulls if off better than this one. It seems to have the view that fate is in charge of events and there is little to be done that can change events even if you can -or think you can- go back in time. According to the IMDB, the casting to this film was suppose to be Christian Slater, Stephen Dorff, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. I don't think they would have done a better job than Ryan Phillippe et al.

North by Northwest - 6

A later Alfred Hitchcock film (1959), but earlier than his more famous Psycho and The Birds. Cary Grant plays the main character who is mistaken for a secret agent. He ends up living the life of a secret agent as he travels around the country trying to figure out what is going on. The best part of the film is the dialogue, which reminded me of Seinfeld. It has subtle humor, and the dialogue is delivered like the characters on the show (It just seems that way to me, I have no idea if the show was influenced by this or not, maybe subconsciously?). This is the film that has the famous scene where Grant and Eva Marie Saint, who plays the love interest, are precariously perched on Mount Rushmore.

January 28, 2006

Brokeback Mountain - 6

This may be the most misunderstood film to come out ever! This film is more about violence and brokenness than it is about gay love. The gay community has supported the film because two guys kiss on screen. But I think that they may have missed the underlying assumptions in the film about what it means to be gay (which I think they would probably disagree with, in the case of Jack it has nothing to do with love at all). The main character, Ennis (played very well by Heath Ledger), is not really gay (I take this term to be one of identity), he is sadomasicistic. He has only know a violent existence and his sex with both men and women in the film is a violent out-working of his emotional abuse as a child. Ennis is alone in the world, and only near the end does he really understand that his daughter loves him. He has spent his whole life pushing people away because he has been shut out of his siblings lives. The film makes a big statement about how failed families are connected with homosexuality and being gay. I'm not trying to be a spoiler if you are going to see this film, but the ending is more ambiguous than it seems (see this review by Roger Ebert). The characters and struggles are very real in the film which is why this film will win the Oscar for best picture. This film was directed by Ang Lee, whose films Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet which he co-wrote have similar themes. You can read the short story by Annie Proulx here.

Match Point - 6

This latest effort from Woody Allen is one of his best. It is an intense drama of Dostoevskian proportions. Allen leaves New York for London in this film, which in some ways changes his style. The film has less overt philosophical dialogue and is more subtle in its dealing with relationships. The good news for those who don't generally like Allen is that he does not star in this film (and Scarlett Johannson does). Johansson's performance was weaker than I had hoped but still good. The story is pretty simple. The main character, Chris (played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), is married but has an affair and feels the guilt and angst of the complications of the situation. I think the ending is well done in that it leaves the viewer feeling similarly to the main character, that life is always somewhat unresolved, but you've got to live with the character that your choices have created.

The Wizard of Oz - 7

This is actually the first time I have seen this film all the way through. Apparently that means I had a deprived childhood. But it is interesting seeing this film now, and hard to believe that this film was made in 1939. Even harder to believe is that this film is considered a children's movie. It is in fact the story of one girl's nightmare after she has been knocked unconscious. In the dream world Dorothy goes to, she is essentially the evil element. That is she ends up killing two witches and is much more interested in getting the glory than in claiming that she even did it, in fact she says she didn't mean to. I liked how the film is hopeful. In the dream world that Dorothy had created cynicism wins the day. But when she finds her true home, she realizes that real caring can be the only appropriate human response. No wonder this film is so well known its interpretation can be diverse and intricate. The story is really interesting and it does well at integrating the fantastic as well as songs into the flow of the film. The technical aspects of this film are way beyond its time, especially with the use of both color and sepiatone. Well worth the wait.

January 27, 2006

Princess Mononoke - 7

After watching this film again last night, I consider this film to be one of the best films I have ever seen. The story is great, the animation is out of this world, and the soundtrack enhances this film to make it a true epic. The themes of this film are so basic to human life that it is accessible to almost any audience. It is a film that engages us to ask the question, what are we to do in a world that is a tension between blessing and curse? And how should we go about pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful? This is a must see.
This film was originally made with Japanese actors doing the voices. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki and put out by Studio Ghibli. It was then purchased by Disney and put out by Miramax in the US. The English version was adapted by Neil Gaiman (author of the novels American Gods, MirrorMask, Neverwhere, etc). And the voices are taken up by the likes of Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thorton, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Here is a good synopsis of the film from the IMDB:
"The time and place is the Muromachi era, Japan. A prince of a small village is cursed to a slow but certain death by a Boar God turned Tatari-Gami (Cursing God). To find a possible cure to the curse, he travels westwards. Hearing of a Shishi-Gami (Deer-God) that may be his salvation, he soon comes across a village of iron miners and there finds himself in the middle of a battle between the animal gods of the forest, lead by a girl called Princess Mononoke by the villagers who was raised by the Wolf God, and the iron miners, lead by a female leader who is trying to create a sanctuary for human outcasts. Along side this battle is a mysterious group of men who are after the head of the Shishi-Gami in a quest to gain immortality. Why did the Boar God turn into a Cursing God? Can he persuade all those involved to make peace or is conflict inevitable between man and nature?"

January 26, 2006

Mighty Aphrodite - 5

Part Greek drama and comedy, part New York relationship film (the second being pretty usual for Woody Allen). Allen plays a sport writer who adopts a son and then goes about trying to understand his birth mother and his son's heritage. Turns out that his son is bright, but his mother is a porn star with the stage name Judy Cum. Allen then goes about trying to get Judy/Linda to start a normal life so that her son will not be embarrassed. The film ends in classic irony in that the mother never knows that she has met her son, and Allen doesn't realize that he has a daughter. The film is told with many interruptions from ancient Greek characters, who in one scene must leave a message on Zeus' answering machine. The screenplay for this film won an Academy award, Mira Sorvino also won for best supporting actress.

The Seventh Seal - 7

This may be Ingmar Bergman's best film, in my opinion. It has a similar theme to his other films but has a more ominous tone. The whole film has a sort of apocalyptic feel as it is during the time of the crusades and there is Black Plague ravaging Sweden. Throughout the film Revelation is quoted, that is where this film gets its name.
"When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake. Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them. The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down upon the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water, the name of the star is Wormwood." (Rev. 8: 1-2, 5-11)
Bergman's theme of silence is the key part of this passage and the characters who are sensing the coming events predicted, are struggling to believe their eyes and ears, andultimatelyy are on the search for meaning. The main character, a knight returning form a crusade plays a chess game with death throughout the film. He is constantly trying to understand the silence, and has doubts about the possibility of God's existence. It seems there is either a God who punishes and is damning or their is just the void; emptiness. In the end, "Mary and Joseph" continue their journey with there young infant, having been saved from the plague (Rev. 12: 1-6).

January 24, 2006

The Chumscrubber - 6

This is a sataristic look at life in American suburbia. It is about disconnection and the angst that living in this environment can do to families. The main characters are teenagers who are more in the know about what is going on in the world than their parents. The parents are so busy being superficial that they don't take the time to see the truth that is right in front of them. This shows up in both funny and sad ways. This is shown best by Glenn Close's character, Mrs. Johnson, who wants to connect to others but has never learned the skills needed to care for others. The film also plays on the current therapeutic culture that we live in. The tagline for the film says it all: "Meet Generation Rx." The title of the film comes from a video game where a guy with no head is the hero and decides to really live life, even if he is in a world of freaks. The feel of this film is a lot like other teen angst films like, The United States of Leland, Igby Goes Down, Donnie Darko, Mean Creek, Saved, and Thirteen.

January 23, 2006

On the Waterfront - 7

This film is considered a classic, and is on many top 100 lists. Marlon Brando plays the main character, Terry-who decides to stand up to the mob bosses who have been killing off any dissenters. As Jason pointed out to me, this films themes fit with the real life situation of the director of this film, Elia Kazan. Kazan cooperated with the American government in '52 which resulted in the blacklisting of many in Hollywood for their sympathy with communism. The theme of right and wrong is very prominent in the film and Terry is the hero but not without some bad consequences. An interesting film that has influenced many films since (one of which is Raging Bull).

January 22, 2006

Munich - 7

This story is inspired by the events following the hostage situation of Israeli athletes at the '72 Olympics. The main characters are Jews that are hired by the Israeli government to kill those that had helped plan the attach. While this is the basic story, the themes of violence, justice, revenge, and taking life. By implication these themes turn into the questions of what is worth fighting for and what is life for. The film does a good job of telling the story by not getting caught up in the details of the event (this also makes the dialogue believable). This film is also more relevant to the conversation of America's war on terror, than others that claim to be (ie. Syriana, Fahrenheit 9/11, these films tend to make essays with films attached rather than just telling a story and let the audience figure out). A good film in which to engage ideas of violence without feeling manipulated.

January 21, 2006

The Jacket - 5

I didn't expect much from this thriller, but it surprised me. It was better than a lot of films that have a similar story line. The best example is The Butterfly Effect or Gothika, both of which were way worse than this. The story involves a man who seems to have gone crazy because his memory has been damaged by a gun shot wound to the head in the first gulf war. Through his treatment he is able to go to the future and discover more about his life and death and uses it to help others. The ending is ambiguous enough for many conclusions (I'm going with the happy ending, but you can see the terrible ones as well, either made up by you, or on the deleted scenes). The movie requires a good bit of suspended belief, but you care for the character enough to be able to do it. The cast is really good considering how badly it did in theaters. Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, and Kris Kristofferson.


These are the lyrics from a song on the Elizabethtown soundtrack. You really have to hear it. The song is called Hard Times.

let us pause in life's pleasures and count its many tears
while we all sup sorrow with the poor
there's a song that will linger forever in our ears
oh, hard times come again no more

'tis a song, a sigh of the weary
hard times hard times come again no more
many days you have lingered around my cabin door
oh hard times come again no more

while we seek mirth and beauty
and music light and gay
there are frail ones fainting at the door
though their voices are silent
their pleading looks will say
oh, hard times come again no more

'tis a song, a sigh of the weary
hard times... hard times come again no more
many days you have lingered around my cabin door
oh, hard times come again no more

'tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave
'tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
'tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
oh, hard times come again no more

'tis a song, a sigh of the weary
hard times, hard times come again no more
many days you have lingered around my cabin door
oh, hard times come again no more
oh, hard times come again no more

January 19, 2006

You Can Count on Me - 7

This is a film about ordinary people trying to make sense out of their world. The main characters are a brother and sister who lost both parents when they were young. The sister, Samantha played by Laura Linney, has a son Rudy and is raising him alone in the house that she grew up in. Her brother Terry, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a wanderer and has returned home for a visit. As they struggle to care for each other, they come up against their own weaknesses and desires. They want things to be made right, and they come to understand themselves and the importance of their lives. This is an interesting film, especially with reflection on family relationships and begs the question: Where do we learn how to care for others? Or is it like Samantha says concerning her relationships with others, "I guess I just feel sorry for them."

January 18, 2006

Sleeper - 6

This is an early Woody Allen comedy, starring Diane Keaton who would later star in Allen's more critically acclaimed films, Manhattan and Annie Hall. Like his film Zelig this is a thought experiment about a man frozen in 1973, only to be awakened 200 years later and try to cope with a very different world. It turns out that he is illegal and the oppressive government wants him dead. In the end, he stumbles and accidentally gets through the ordeal unscathed. Like a lot of Allen's work the dialogue and jokes surround philosophical questions of the meaning of life and beliefs. A funny and good film (although this is really a film for those that like most of Allen's stuff, it seems people either love him or hate him?).

January 16, 2006

Saraband - 7

This is Ingmar Bergman's latest film, originally made for TV. The story follows an old couple, Johan and Marianne, that have been divorced for some years. She finally goes to his house to visit him. The story soon gets wrapped up with Johan's relationship with his son, Hendrik and his granddaughter Karin. The film explores parenting and family relationships and how hurtful they can be when they do not go well. The crisis of the film is Karin's longing and ability to go to school for more cello training, but since the recent death of her mother she is afraid to abandon her father. Johan and Marianne try to be of support but find that they also have not the wisdom to help the situation. In the end, they must recognize their own inability and imperfections about relationships. The ending is very telling in this respect, and alludes to Shakespeare's King Lear.

January 15, 2006

2046 - 6

The loose sequel to In the Mood for Love. Like most sequels this film doesn't have the plot tightness that the first one has. It wanders as Chow, the main character, keeps telling the stories of his past in order to relive them. He always stays hopeful that his true love will return. In the process he writes stories that reflect on what happened to him, and to try to capture how humans love and are loved, and the mystery that it is. The film shows well how memories haunt us in both good and bad ways. Here are two quotes that will give you the idea: "Everyone who goes to 2046 has the same intention, they want to recapture lost memories. Because in 2046 nothing ever changes. But, nobody knows if that is true or not because no-one has ever come back." and, "A long time ago, if you had a secret, you would climb a mountain, find a tree..., carve a hole into it, and you would whisper the secret into the hole, and cover it with mud."
The soundtrack with orchestral music fits well with topic and flow of the film.

January 13, 2006

Au Hasard Balthazar - 7

French filmmaker Robert Bresson's story of a donkey and Marie whose lives come together at different points, and are somewhat paralleled by the abuse they suffer from others. This film was made in 1966 and is influential to cinema, especially its touching and graceful ending. Because the film involves animals who don't talk a lot of the storytelling falls to how the director chooses what to show in the camera frame. Bresson likes to focus on small details like the feet and hands. The dialogue is sparse and the visuals are absolutely necessary for the story to carry on. The film also has allusions of biblical allegory, but is subtle enough that other interpretations have been put forward. Roger Ebert has a good article on the film. A good film that gives its audience plenty to think about, although nowadays most people would probably say it puts them to sleep (I had to pause it myself for a short nap). The only translation I can get for "au hasard" is "at random."

January 12, 2006

Hustle & Flow - 6

This is the story of a Memphis pimp who wants to follow his dream to make rap music. I haven't seen 50 Cent's film, but I imagine that it is nothing like this film. This film is much more down to earth, it is about the struggle involved in understanding ones life and wanting more, to know that you are doing something meaningful. I found the first part of the film the most interesting as DJay, played by Howard Terrence, goes into a crisis and is looking at his life and starts to understand the emptiness of it. Terrence give another great performance, along with his other 2005 films Crash and Four Brothers. I like the realism of the film, it is not overly depressing, but also not unrealistic by having everything go right for the characters all the time, this film understands the brokenness of peoples lives.
The film was written and directed by Craig Brewer. Which made funding issues interesting because he is white and the story is about black urban Memphis. John Singleton finally just put up the money for it to be made.

Small Time Crooks - 6

A 2000 Woody Allen comedy that is hilarious. It moves somewhat away from Allen's usual relationship type films and has a plot that can't help but be a critique of the stupidity of American culture. Mostly he is critical of the idea that "if you work hard you can get anything you want." The plot is rather simple, some New Yorkers that have barely graduated high school and have seen some heist films decide that they can do it. The cover for their digging into a bank, then takes off and they have no need for the crime. But they soon learn that high culture means laying off the take out food and crappy TV. Who wants that? The main couple, played by Allen and Tracey Ullman, soon higher a high culture art teacher, played by Hugh Grant, in order to become high class people. In the end, they find all of the glamour mostly a veneer, and return to their simple lives of complaining about how little money they have. It is funny and Allen has some of his best jokes in this film.

January 07, 2006

A Very Long Engagement - 7

It's a good thing this is a French film. With a title like that, in Hollywood anyway we would be in for The Notebook 2 or worse. This film is really a sort of whodunit, in the sense that there is a mystery surrounding the death of a fiancee in WWI in France. As Mathilde, played by
Audrey Tautou, investigates the story behind the death of Manech. I won't give away the ending, but the director weaves a great story that helps the audience connect the dots a little at a time until the truth comes to be known. The film tests your optimist as to whether you believe he is alive like Mathilde does, or if she is deluding herself. Jodie Foster also makes an appearance, using her French for about 5 minutes (that's not a dis, she speaks it fluently, I was just surprised to see her).


Last weekend I picked up two CD's that have been on my list for a while. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I like them. One was Robert Randolph and the Family Band's Unclassified. I had heard him live, and as usual the album isn't as good, but still worth listening to. I was reminded of this album after seeing Randolph perform with DMB on their latest live album, Weekend On The Rocks. Randolph plays the lap steel guitar, and very well.
The other album was Howie Day's latest Stop All the World Now. You may have heard the single "Collide," the album is not that song played 15 times. It sounds like a combination of John Mayer and Live. My favorite songs are This Time Around and You & A Promise.

Broken Flowers - 7

This film was written for Bill Murray by director Jim Jarmusch. Murray plays Don, a lounger who lives off his wealth from earlier life (computers). After getting dumped, again, he gets a letter that tells him of a lost son. His neighbor, Winston (maybe the funniest character in the film), plans a road trip for him to visit the potential mothers of his son. The films theme is loneliness and searching for connection. It soon becomes apparent to both the audience and Don how empty his life has become. In the end, it looks as though almost anything might fit the hole, but the journey can't be an end in itself. A really good film.

In the Mood for Love - 7

In this film, a married man and woman become friends when they discover that their spouses are having an affair. The are determined not to be unfaithful. And eventually start meeting in a hotel room so as to not let anyone suspect anything. The begin writing stories together. But as they start to fall in love, they need to separate so that they can keep their integrity in tact. The film ends with their remembering the other person but determined not to be the cause of the others fall. It is a complex film that shows the tension that is involved when one tries to live rightly. The film takes place in Hong Kong and is set in the early sixties (it is in Chinese and has subtitles). The sequel to this film is 2046 (in reference to the hotel room number where they met secretly).

January 02, 2006

Syriana - 5

An interesting film with a good topic, and lots of potential. I say potential because the film lacked character development. It tries to be like Crash and Traffic but is not committed to strong dialogue for one to start to care about the people involved (Speaking of Traffic, this film was written by the same author, Stephen Gaghan.). You end up knowing very little about the people and their struggles. This probably has to do with the fact that there are quite a few story lines to follow. A film that gets at the same theme is Lord of War which follows the story of one man. The film is about government corruption and how it sucks the life out of those that want to work for good. It is based on the book See No Evil by Robert Baer, which seems similar to the book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins. It is hard to see the possibilities of a new outlook through all the cynicism that these stories seem to show in the realm of politics. Is cynicism and numbness the only response possible in our current political climate?
How about these lines given very well by Tim Blake Nelson: "Corruption charges. Corruption? Corruption ain’t nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That’s Milton Friedman. He got a goddamn Nobel prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are prancing around here instead of
fighting each other for scraps of meat out in the streets. (beat)
Corruption... is how we win."

Raging Bull - 6

This film shows that Robert De Niro is actually a good actor, he must really need the money to be in a film like Meet the Fockers. Shot in black and white, this is the true story of middle weight boxing champion Jake LaMotta. It is really about his rage and how it leads to destructive relationships with his brother, who is his manager early on, and his wife. I realize this is a classic and I should probably give it a 7, but I didn't find it all that compelling as a story. The acting and technical aspects were done well (the boxing scenes look very staged, rather than like real fights), but the story is kind of bland, or maybe I just don't resonate with the emotions of the film?

January 01, 2006

The Apartment - 7

This is a great film. I was surprised that a film made in 1960 dealt with this sort of topic that could almost be placed in contemporary times. The basic gist of the story is that a bachelor who works at a mega insurance company has a NYC apartment that he allows his married co-workers to use for affairs. He soon learns that he really isn't getting what he wants in the whole deal. He advances in his job, but is reminded by his neighbor that he is losing his humanity, he is not a mentsh (Yiddish for "being human"). He falls in love with the elevator operator which turns out to be the comedic element of the whole film as all the complications eventually work out and he "chooses life", as it were. This film also won awards for best picture that year, as well as a nomination for Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.

Four Brothers - 6

Four adopted delinquents return to Detroit for the funeral of their mother who may have been murdered. They investigate, the cops investigate and gun fighting ensues, the body count rises. The plot is pretty well done with just the right amount of twists and turns that are not completely outrageous. The car chase scene is pure action and doesn't really contribute to the plot. It is a interesting film and the acting is pretty good, Terrence Howard, Mark Wahlberg, Andre 3000, of Outkast are the main names. There are definitely some cliches but overall the film is complex enough to be original.