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

March 30, 2006

Thumbsucker - 6

Up and coming star Lou Taylor Pucci (The Chumscrubber) plays a senior high schooler who has a problem with sucking his thumb. Cured by hypnosis from his dentist (played with melodramatic oddity by Keanu Reeves) and treatment for ADHD, he becomes a highly functioning debater for his school's team. The film is somewhat of a social commentary on the family and teenage life, while also making the case that we are not as screwed up as we think. It is an optimistic film, that shows that with a little work and care life is very livable.

Masculine Feminine - 4

A 60's French film written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard, it explores middle age angst among people making the transition from their youthful restlessness toward the pressure of adult routine. This film uses a lot of ideas from the French existentialists and the new developments in sociology. This film is also part of the New Wave movement, one of the elements being that the dialogue is often quotes from other works of literature, film, etc. The plot is minimal and involves a strange relationship (that is the characters are rarely in the same scenes). There are also some seemingly unrelated documentary type scenes. The film attempts to get at the differences between men and women, but this is done in a vague sort of way. Or maybe I simple don't get it. This will probably make more sense once I take a film class or read more about the history of film (It's on my list of things to do).

March 27, 2006

Bonhoeffer - 7

This is a very well done documentary on the life of German theologian and Nazi resistor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Hat tip to Don Opitz for the recommendation). The film chronicles Bonhoeffer's early life and his desire to study theology, his time in NYC and his return to Germany. It also tells of his predicting the war 5 years before it happened, with little response from the rest of the world. Bonhoeffer was very concerned about the abstraction that Christianity had become and worked hard to try to help people apply the Bible to their own situation. The film uses interviews with students of Bonhoeffer and relatives that are still alive. It also has readings of Bonhoeffer's works that contribute to the story of courage and struggle to understand the politics of Christianity. I think that this is the real life struggle that is hinted at in the film V for Vendetta, similar questions and discussion are raised by both films.

Everything is Illuminated - 6

This film by Liev Schreiber follows an American Jew as he goes to the Ukraine to look for those that rescued his family from Nazi invaders. The main character, Jonathan is played by Elijah Wood, and he is a collector of historical items form his families history. He makes contact with a man who does tours of the Ukraine for American's, his grandson is the translator (and also the narrator of the film). There are subtitles to the Ukrainian parts, which actually make some of the dialogue funnier, since the translator filter's what is actually being said. The film is ultimately about how everything is illuminated and makes sense when we understand the past. When we are able to make connections between events we are able to further understand the meaning of things and the meaning of our own lives. The film uses an interesting technique where the film starts off very funny and lighthearted and develops through the events into a very serious and dark film. This is a very real process when we move from an ignorant stance toward reality and when we start to see reality for what it is. This is not to say that we should all be pessimists and cynics, but rather that what is illuminated gives us the chance to answer the call to be responsible and work toward change that will improve life and relationships.

March 22, 2006

The Squid and the Whale - 7

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, this film is his semi-autobiography about his growing up in Brooklyn and the divorce of his parents. Baumbach co-wrote The Life Aquatic with Wes Anderson (he helped produce this film) and some of the dialogue in this film might resonate with Anderson fans. But that is where the similarities stop. It is an intense look at divorce from the perspective of children. It focuses on how divorce makes it hard for children to know where to look for role models, since there parents don't seem to help them, they are somewhat lost and scared. The title of this film refers to a sculpture in the American Museum of Natural History that helps bring closure and cohesiveness at the end of the film. It is a short film (1hr 20min) both funny and sad.

March 20, 2006

Breakfast at Tiffany's - 7

Based on the novel by Truman Capote, this film is the story of Holly Golightly (played very well by Audrey Hepburn), a New York socialite, and her new neighbor Paul. As Paul is let into more and more of Holly's past he realizes how empty life has become for Holly as well as himself. While this story does have a romantic angle it is not your usually storyline, rather than external forces make a nuisance of the relationship like most romantic films, the struggles are internal and have to do with identity and who we think we are. It uses the metaphor of Tiffany's as a place of escape from the pain and fear that crowds into our lives. The characters are looking for home without the pain of trusting others and possibility of broken trust. In the end, Holly and Paul, choose to get "tangled up" and search for a place to belong together.
The film score (Moon River) is beautiful and won an Oscar. It is used often enough that when I heard it I recognized it (I think they use this music to end Oscar speeches?).

Oscar and Lucinda - 6

Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett play Oscar and Lucinda, soulmates because of their one character flaw: gambling. Oscar is an Anglican priest who gives his winnings to the Church, while Lucinda is an heiress who took a risk and bought a glass works. They fall in love and eventually wager all on a strange idea, to deliver and build a glass church in the Australian outback. Based on the novel by Peter Carey, the story is set in 1800's England and Australia, and explores the complex of faith. As the characters try to figure out all of the events of their lives and see if they connect they realize that regrets and forgiveness is key to finding peace.

March 18, 2006

V for Vendetta - 7

This is one of the best films I have seen in a while. It is a thoughtful and action-packed film about government control in futuristic Britain. One of the major themes is what is the role of violence in fighting and protesting an oppressive government. The film reminded me of a poem by Steve Turner called In the Interest of National Security:

It is wrong
to be wrong
you are wrong
while protecting
the right people
from wrong.
then it is
alright to be wrong
because rulers
have the rights
on what is right
and there's no-one
big enough
to tell a ruler
what is wrong.


I think the film stays away from making a direct statement about what the audience should do, but rather opens up a conversation that needs to take place about some of our most fundamental beliefs. While the film applies to the current day United States, the story is actually 20 years old, based on the comic by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. The story is well told and no scene or dialogue is wasted. I would recommend seeing this film, this kind of thoughtfulness doesn't come to a theatre near you very often.

Bubble - 5

Coleman Hough and Steven Soderberg went to a small West Virginia town on the border of Ohio and used the story of the regular people that they cast in the film to tell a story of living in a small town bubble. The story involves three workers at a doll factory. The dialogue is pretty real to life, but the story takes an interesting turn near the end and the film explores the deep emotions that are often hidden inside of people. Because it has no named actors the film seems more realistic, and although the acting is well done, the story seems contrived to make the film interesting. The film is really a character study rather than plot driven. Like the tagline says: "Another Steven Soderbergh Experience." If you like most of his early work, you can probably enjoy this film.

March 16, 2006

The Brothers Grimm - 7

I suspect that many will disagree with my ranking here, but I was taken in by Terry Gilliam's ability to tell a story that blurs the line between fantasy and reality. It is interesting that the film plays on the dualism of scientific objectivity vs. subjective experience. There is a great line in the film where Will (played by Matt Damon), who does not believe in magic like his brother Jake (played by Heath Ledger), when asked if he is seeing the trees moving as if they have legs responds: "I most certainly am not!" The film also seems to be influenced by C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, it mixes the traditional fairy-tales to tell a new story. The story takes place in 1796 French occupied Germany. The Brothers Grimm have developed a system where they charge money to get rid of the village evil. This is working quite nicely as they are acting out and only convincing people that the evil has been destroyed. When they come upon a real cursed forest, they actually have to start using their belief and courage to come out with a "happily ever after." I interpret the film to be talking about the title of this blog, storied living and moral meaning. The film does a good job of showing how reality is what we see it to be, but more than that. Reality requires our response, and ultimately our responsible action in the story to really come alive, to actually have meaning and give our lives meaning. The story calls us out, and it is both our view and our entering into the story that determines what we can see and hear and do in the world. It is the mutual interaction of a story and our actions that helps us understand reality and its meaning. If we reduce life down to any one thing or part then we take away from the complexity of life and we drain it of its complex story and meaning, and we are left with "The words of the Teacher, 'Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.'" Even the teacher comes to understand the world and wisdom.

S1m0ne - 7

I may be over ranking this film, but I have discovered that I love the films of Andrew Niccol (The Truman Show, Gattaca, Lord of War...oh and he wrote The Terminal- a minor blemish on his record). The reason I like Niccol, and many others don't is that he is explicitly philosophical in making films. His films often work as allegories and involve rather hyperbolic stories. But the points his stories make about our own lives are very intelligent. I was inspired to see this film after reading an article by Slate author and Hollywood economist Edward Epstein (I have a link to his site on my sidebar).
Simone is a computer generated actor who becomes movie director Victor Taransky's muse (played well by Al Pacino, Catherine Keener and Evan Rachel Wood are also good). As Simone becomes famous as an actor the story asks the questions of who is really in control and what is the line between illusion and reality. Later in the film, Transky's daughter tells her mother, that there is just as much evidence that Simone doesn't exist as there is that she does exist. It is a test of belief. This film also asks good questions about the role of technology in our lives and what it does to human relationships. The line is fuzzy between whether technology is good or bad and how this is affected by human interaction with it. If you can take the overt metaphor and some predictability you can enjoy and learn from this film. I think that Niccol's films are great because they can become the jumping off point for good discussion, which I think can be better than the films themselves. He tells the stories in a way that helps people put there opinions out in the open and up for debate. I think this is one of the goals that the medium of film has, and good starting place are Niccol's films.

March 14, 2006

The Talented Mr. Ripley - 7

The original, full length title of this film was: The Mysterious Yearning Secretive Sad Lonely Troubled Confused Loving Musical Gifted Intelligent Beautiful Tender Sensitive Haunted Passionate Talented Mr. Ripley. This tells you a lot about the film, it is a film that focuses on the internal emotional life of Tom Ripley. The guilt and regret that he feels about his actions and about his past. It is a story of a man trying to understand how to be himself, and losing his identity by trying to become someone else. It is interesting what this film says about society and the strict class structures that can determine and control people. The film also is shot in a way that allows the audience to reflect on the thoughts that are going through Tom's head. A thoughtful film.
The story was adapted and directed by Anthony Minghella, who also did The English Patient and Cold Mountain. The film also has a great cast: Jude Law, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Cate Blanchett.

March 13, 2006

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - 7

This is the story of Enron, its rise and fall, up until the present (The ending is still yet to come because of long trials). This documentary is based on the book by the same name, and the authors are major contributors to the films narrative. The film points out early on that Enron is not about numbers, it is about the loss of a moral compass in the organizational culture. The film does a good job of explaining the way Enron made its money (energy user's, mostly in California, and Wall Street investment banks). The major players in the film are the Chairman of the board Ken Lay, CEO Jeff Skilling, and CFO Andrew Fastow. They all had good business ideas, but as the pressure to keep stock prices high they began to lie and depend exclusively on future earnings that could not be guaranteed. The film does a good job of not showing individuals as villains, rather it points out that human frailty allows greed and pride to take seed and over grow its boundaries. At the same time it is interesting how much personal responsibility these men have taken for their actions. One of the most compelling story lines of the film is the short section on J. Clifford Baxter, who had made Enron his identity, and its failure was his failure, he committed suicide. It is a powerful film that helps the viewer reflect on the human condition, and the challenge to keep pride and greed at bay.

Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit - 7

This animated film is both entertaining and intelligent. It is one of the few G films released last year. The basic story is about Wallace, the inventor and only employee of a humane pest control company, and the brains of the operation, Gromit, Wallace's pet dog. The film plays on a lot of other stories as they search out the Were-Rabbit that is terrorizing the village's vegetable contest. This film is for children as well as adults, there are some great innuendoes and other subtle humor, there is actually a character named PC Mackintosh. It is a fun movie.

March 08, 2006

Moonlight Mile - 7

This film is about the grieving process. Death is a strange thing, you can't go back in time to the way things were, and the way thing are is in dissonance with what you hoped for. There is no moving on, there is only trying to understand how to respond to reality, death is an exercise in knowing. Joe (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young man is living with his soon to be in-laws(Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon), when their daughter dies. He then has to decide has the hard choice of sticking around or leaving, not knowing his responsibility to her parents. The truth being to painful, Joe ops for the easier path, living as if nothing has really happened, this can only last so long before he realizes that the truth must be made clear so that the grieving can be complete. Joe says this at the trial for Diana's murder: "It was Diana who finally had the courage. She was the one who told me that I didn't want to go through with it. And I guess she's-she's doing it again, cause all of this-all of this is everything that she wouldn't want. She wasn't a bride-to-be. She wasn't a victim. She was strong and real and messed up and wickedly honest, just like her mother. And if I sit here trying to paint it any other way, I... Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just-I thought-I thought that if I could just... paint the pictures that you needed, you know, that... that somehow... that somehow you'd bring these people some peace, finally, and they'd have their daughter back, or... But, uh... that's not how she'd wanna be. The truth is hard. Sometimes it looks so wrong, you know-the color's off, the style's wrong, but I guess it-I guess it's where the good one's live." At the end of this grieving the characters don't "move on" they learn how to really live.

March 07, 2006

Scent of a Woman - 6

Al Pacino won best actor for his role as a blind retired Colonel Slade who takes a thanksgiving trip to NYC with a local high school prep student. The student, Charlie, is suppose to look after the Colonel while his relatives visit family for Thanksgiving. The story really follows two things: the ethical dilemma that Charlie faces when he gets back to school, and the mysterious trip that the Colonel tricks Charlie into. As they bond over the weekend they both learn something about wisdom and integrity that allow them to return with a better understanding of themselves and who they ought to be. Near the end of the film there is a great dialogue about what is worth living for. The Colonel is able to show Charlie how to make fundamental choices early on so as to not end up like himself. (Philip Seymour Hoffman also has a minor role as a fellow prep student.)

March 04, 2006

Corpse Bride - 5

As of about a half hour, this film did not win the Oscar for animation (Probably justly, but I'll know after seeing Wallace and Gromit). This film is in essence a short (75 min) stop-motion musical. But the animation and music is well done. The story is an arranged marriage gone wrong when the bride and groom end up married to other people. The spells and promises of the underworld are made to be broken...Ok I've given away the ending. The puns and songs are the main point anyway. The visuals are artistic, but the story is not good enough to make it great.

Smoke - 7

This is a film with a few vignettes connected by a cigar shop owner. Each of the stories involves treating others with grace and trust. In some ways similar to Grand Canyon. In each of these stories the characters are confronted with choices that will have a big impact on their lives. Each of them have developed the character to do what comes naturally to them, to be honest and try to show grace to others as it has been shown to them. What this film is able to do is show some of the struggle these choices are, and how rarely we understand our own choices this way. The closing sequence of storytelling, first in conversation and then on film, is well done and ties the film together.

Capote - 7

To paraphrase a friend, "This is a film about a man writing a book, it is good film considering it is about a man writing a book, but it is still a film about a man writing a book." The performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman is very well done, he becomes Truman Capote. But this film is more than just good acting and merely a story about writing a book. It is the internal struggle of Capote to understand the complexity of being human. Early on he is able to separate himself from the subject of his writing, but as he discovers more and comes closer to understanding what has happened, he becomes more and more confused about what he should do. He went from NYC to Holcomb, Kansas to understand the massacre of a family in 1959. He soon became close with the two men who committed the crime and his novel is their story. Capote was a friend of Nelle Harper Lee (played well by Catherine Keener), the author of To Kill A Mockingbird, she helped with research for the novel. I saw the film with almost no information about the events, after seeing the film it has intrigued me to read Capote. It makes sense that Gerald Clarke was interested in telling the story of his interesting life.

March 03, 2006

Junebug - 7

What happens when an there is a new addition to a small town family? This is that story. Madeline, an art dealer from Chicago, marries a man from North Carolina and they travel there for a visit. His family is like every family, quirky, eccentric, with its own unique dynamics. The main event is the sister-in-law, Ashley (played by Amy Adams- nominated for an Oscar in this role), who asks more questions and makes more comments in a minute than are possible to think about in a day. The story doesn't have a particular arc in which you follow it to an ending, rather it is a snap shot of what life in a complex world looks like. Life inevitable runs up against the fact that it is not possible to say all the truth that there is to tell in the limited time that we have, especially in our mobile and scattered relationality with others. Added to this is the fear that telling and knowing the truth might force us to care, to take on resposibility, and to suffer. Given the climax of the story near the end and the stark soundtrack (almost no music is played over the natural sounds you would hear if you were there), make the emotional weight of the film heavy and tangible to the viewer. The film reaffirms that I am human, that I am a part of a world where we all struggle together for coherence, for life and relationships to make sense.

March 02, 2006

Walk the Line - 7

This is a very well told biopic of Johnny Cash. I'm not an expert on his life, so the factual aspects I'll just have to trust are accurate (I haven't read anything that seems to suggest there are errors). Not knowing a lot going in made the story that much better for me. The filmmakers also did a good job of not placing events in such a way as to make the story tell a simple story (it is not simple a romance story, nor is it reduced to drugs, sex, and rock'n roll). If there is a theme it is that of second chances. The film shows that the possibilities of redemption are everywhere, and often we just don't have the eyes to see them.
This film is also one of the few good films that appeals to all ages (The sex, language and violence are not excessive). While I don't think this is the measure of all film, it is worth considering. The soundtrack is also really good, it helps that the film is about a musician. But it is also attributed to the involvement of T-Bone Burnett, who is famous for doing the soundtracks to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Cold Mountain. This film is nominated in five Oscar categories for good reason.

March 01, 2006

Murderball - 7

This documentary focuses on the US paralympic rugby team. A game that is a cross between basketball and rugby, that was invented in Canada and was originally called murderball. It is played by quadriplegics with different levels of mobility in their arms and legs. They use unique wheelchair's that have been reinforced to take the hits that come in the course of the game; this is a full full contact sport. The film uses this story as a jumping off point to get into the lives of those who have suffered the loss of physical ability. Some of these athletes were in vehicle accidents, while others suffered from polio and blood diseases that left them physically handicapped. This film is not only informative about the game and the facts about being a quadriplegic, but goes deeper in exploring the emotional challenges and courage that is involved in the loss of physical ability. It shows the grieving process, as well as the triumph that most of these athletes have discovered in overcoming these challenges. It also has a nice section dealing with sex. Yes, those with spinal injuries can have sex, but it requires learning some new techniques (apparently there are education videos by doctors on this). The film does a good job of mixing humor and drama to tell a real and complex story that allows viewers to be more informed about their world. This film is nominated for an Oscar in the documentary category, but will most likely lose to the cuddly-cute penguins.