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

July 31, 2006

Miami Vice - 6

First off, I have never seen an episode of the 80's TV version of this. From the description I don't think I would have taken this very seriously, seemed like it was meant to be somewhat serious and somewhat just hip and cool. When I first heard about this remake it was not on my radar screen. In the past week, reviews have changed my mind. This film is nothing like the TV show. Which might explain why I actually enjoyed it. Some user comments about this film complain that they intimately know the characters and that the new film does not do them justice, my approach is completely the opposite. I don't know them, but its not complicated - they are two guys who work undercover for the Miami Police Department. What the film does well is keeps the characters in that grey area where the audience only knows they are the good guys because they are the main characters. There deep cover in drug trafficking means they have to at least pretend - and do it well- that they are criminals. As is typical of Michael Mann's more recent films (The Insider, Heat, and especially Collateral) the photography is dark and gritty, ideal for the subject matter. The plot seems complicated at first, but soon you discover it is the usual personal life gets messed up with their work... It still has enough club, boating, sex and gunfight scenes to keep the entertainment coming, but ends the film without a typical Hollywood happy ending. Watching the film gets you immersed in the world that Mann is showing you, not one you would probably want to be in. The reality of the film keeps the characters from becoming heroes, and the film really portrays life undercover as not very glamorous considering the setbacks (most of these types of film do make it a pretty glamorous profession). An interesting look into the psychology of those who have to be something they are not. Who are they when they are truly themselves?

July 29, 2006

Dancer in the Dark - 6

This is Lars von Trier's commentary on musicals their purpose. Breaking out into song makes a serious plot with the potential to become very bad, light-hearted and fun (Life is Beautiful could have been a musical, in this film Trier uses The Sound of Music as his musical par excellence). Bjork plays the main character who is an immigrant from Czechoslovakia who lives in Washington State. Working two jobs so she can in order to save up money for her son (who will be able to avoid the genetic inheritance of blindness). The plot soon gets messy as there are lies thrown around and she is eventually arrested for murder. All the while getting by with dreaming of musical numbers. Trier know just how to get at your emotions without manipulation and the result is often brutal honesty. The story gets at some good questions of the value of one's life, what is worth dying for. This film works as somewhat of an allegory of the Christian story (Dogville does this as well). This film also explains some of the Hollywood complaints that Trier is sort of anti-American, which he denies. I can see the criticism, but he's never been to America, so he is only using the material that Hollywood and news media gave him (Is that irony?). Bjork also wrote the music for this film which is really good - the soundtrack is called Selmasongs.

The Big Picture - 4

While Christopher Guest is most famous for his writing and acting in This is Spinal Tap, this film is his directorial debut. He has since gone on to direct mostly mockumentaries that I love (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman, and A Mighty Wind - he also has one coming out later this year). This film on the other hand starts out strong as a satire of Hollywood, but soon slows down its pace to a slow crawl. At that point I almost thought it had gotten boring. It tries to recover but sort of ends up a cheesy film. I think that the problem was that the characters took a little time to develop and then suddenly the film was about the plot rather than the characters, so that by the end everyone is a cardboard cutout. I'm glad Guest found his calling, this film was just a failure on the way to success. (On a more positive note, Kevin Bacon and Martin Short aren't half bad in their roles.)

July 27, 2006

McCabe & Mrs. Miller - 6

This is Robert Altman's attempt to rewrite the genre of the western. This western takes place in the northwest (somewhere near Seattle, maybe even in Canada where it was filmed). The film shows the town of Prebyterian Church being built and it eventually takes shape, with the new resident McCabe investing his money in a tavern and whorehouse. He soon teams up with Mrs. Miller. McCabe's arrogance at rejecting a mining companies offer to buy him out gets him hunted down, and like any western the film ends with an action sequence and a gun fight. What is unusual is that it is in the middle of a snow storm, and the town is preoccupied with the church that has caught fire. The film is really about the harsh realities that people faced when risking the move westward. It makes sense that people started to resort to violence - they understood it to be inherent in the environment. Nature as they experienced it was violent, human control of nature was violent, it was only a matter of time until you saw your neighbor as threat rather than a friend. Altman's final twist on the western is to turn the story from one of heroes and adventure, to one of fallible characters and tragedy.

July 26, 2006

Winter Passing - 7

Like the poster for the film suggests this is about a strange group of people who find themselves in the same house, and learn to care and understand each other (Somewhat similar to Love Song for Bobby Long, but better).
The story is really about Reese (played well by Zooey Deschanel) and her loneliness, as her parents are both egocentric writer's, and she has left them behind to pursue an acting career. She returns after 7 years to find that her mother has passed, and her father (played by Ed Harris) has taken in two strangers to live in his house, he has also taken up golf, and to sleeping in the garage. She originally comes to find some letters that a publisher will pay dearly for, but soon discovers that she has come to a place that may offer her more - restoration. The story works because every time it could stoop to sappy sentimentality, it doesn't. In the end, not everything is perfect, but the strangers have learned about each other's pain and it has helped them be more human. Will Ferrell plays a serious, yet comic role - which at first seems strange, but works. (Hat tip to Scott for the recommendation).

The Conversation - 7

Turns out that Enemy of the State is a sequel. Well, not officially, but Gene Hackman's supporting role in that film is the main character in this one. This film is a thriller (in the traditional sense) written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Harry Caul is in surveillance, and he is the best at recording conversations even when the interlocutors are trying to avoid being heard. This also gives him heightened sense of his own privacy, he would never want anyone hearing what he says privately. He record a conversation and then starts to feel guilty as he learns more and more about what the content of the conversation is and what the possible consequences are. As he says in a dream: "I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of murder." It is an interesting study in recognizing one's responsibility and implications of one's work. While most thriller get caught up in speed this films pace works perfectly. The internal struggle of one man's guilt is not told to you, you can see it. In fact the dialogue in the film is almost minimalist, but Hackman shows you the internal struggle going on. A well made film. (a young Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall have small roles in the film).

July 24, 2006

Clerks II - 6

Kevin Smith is one of the few directors in which I have seen all of his films (and almost in the order in which they came out). His intentional crassness and offensiveness to me is just funny. Often times it is actually in the context of a reasonable intelligent joke. Smith is really good with making fun of Christianity because he knows it so well. This film is the only true sequel, his other films have some of the same characters and reference each other, but this film takes place 10 years after the first and continues to follow Randal and Dante who have are now working at Mooby's. What is really interesting about this film is that it is one of the only films out there that is about friendship, rather than romantic hook-ups. The climax of the film is when Randall and Dante reveal their true feelings about where their relationship is going and what the future might look like. While there are the obligatory homosexuality jokes, this is a real and committed relationship between two guys that want the best for each other. Like all of Smith's film - viewing them is an exercise in the art of paying attention. There may be more meaning in the silence than in the noise. (Read Paul's review here).

July 23, 2006

Dogville - 7

This is the first of Lars von Trier's USA trilogy. Creatively set on a sound stage (see below) the entire film takes place in the small town of Dogville, in the mountains of Colorado. The tale is right out of Aesop, minus the talking animals. Grace, a run away from the big city, becomes an illustration of how community in a small group works and the inherent selfishness that eventually lead to each one's demise. While the film is at times didactic, the story is intriguing enough to keep your attention and take turns that are unexpected. The story can be seen as a picture of what a wrathful God might see, looking down on creation. It is no accident that the gift, an outsider, is called Grace. Trier is able to tell a story that is more than just a story, it is a reflection of the struggle of storied-living. Sometimes we are blind to the metaphor that is right in front of us.

July 22, 2006

Gosford Park - 7

Typical of Robert Altman films, the cast of this film is large, but also very talented (the link to the cast listing is the title of this post). The dialogue and set up of the characters is very intricate and complex, but the plot of the film, which is actually not really the main point of the film runs like a game of Clue. In the study...with the knife and poison...and whodunit? The film is really about the social classes of the era in 1930's Britain. Half the cast is the above stairs portion, the wealthy, and those below the stairs who are their servants. The story then follows the gossip as it circulates among all the guest who have been invited to the annual bird hunting. The film is well done and entertaining to watch.

Coffee and Cigarettes - 5

This film doesn't really have a narrative. Directed by Jim Jurmusch it is a series of scenes in which two or three people interact over coffee and cigarettes, or if they are British - tea. Some are just funny and random, others are intricate and complex, the last one being just existential and otherworldly (the shot implies that the old man has died). The vignettes that are really the best are: Cate Blanchett playing herself and her cousin in the same scene in which they talk about Hollywood celebrity, and Bill Murray, who also plays himself as a waiter in a restaurant where the Wu Tang Clan (GZA and RZA) is drinking organic tea and talking alternative medicine. The best acting actually comes in a scene between Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan. And The White Stripes should probably stick with playing music, acting isn't their game.

July 20, 2006

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - 6

This is based partly on Brett Halliday's novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them and added to by Director Shane Black (who is originally form Pittsburgh and more known for his direction of the Lethal Weapon series). The film is narrated by a small time thief (Robert Downey Jr.) who stumbles into an acting audition in Hollywood and is being considered for a part as a detective. In the meantime murder is going on all around him and he ends up actually playing the part of a detective in the film. It all gets more complicated as he is to be mentored by a gay private eye (Val Kilmer) and ends up meeting a high school friend (Michelle Monaghan) who has gone to Hollywood to make it as an actress. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. You get the idea. It is a pretty basic action film with a lot of quick-witted dialogue and even some slights at Hollywood filmmaking by the narrator, who at one point tells the extras in the foreground to get out of the way. It is obvious that the actors know they are in a movie. Which begs the age old Fight Club question, did you just see the film, or the reality that was suppose to surround the filming. The narration works as the actors commentary that the DVD viewer can't turn off. This film also forces me to take back what I said earlier about Robert Downey Jr.'s overratedness as an actor, he is pretty good in this role. Val Kilmer is also very funny.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - 6

I had intended to avoid this film, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually liked it. I didn't really like the older version I saw as a kid, and Tim Burton is not on my list of favorite directors, although he is climbing the list with this film. I am not a Roald Dahl expert, so the arguments about who stayed closer to the original vision has no interest to me. I do think that this version was able to pull off the craziness and other worldliness that Dahl is famous for in his books. Johnny Depp plays the crazy and eccentric Wonka perfectly. AnnaSophia Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie) is also pretty good and if she chooses film right will be the next Natalie Portman. Danny Elfman's work doing the music and voices for all the Oompa-Loompas is also well done, and doesn't take over the film, which would have ruined it for me. The moral of the story being that family is important and may require sacrifice works well and comes across as not overly done as to make it cheesy.

July 19, 2006

Tsotsi - 7

This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign film this year, and for good reason. Had it been American made it may have even beaten out Crash for best picture. This is a very well told story. Set in South Africa, and in language that sounds like a combination of English, Dutch, and a tribal language (That would also be explained by the history of the country), the story is an adaptation of the novel by Athol Fugard by Director Gavin Hood. The film brings the story into contemporary times and shows vividly the inner journey of Tsotsi, the main character (His real name is David, but everyone uses his nickname which means thug). According to the interview with Hood, the book deals a lot with the thoughts and feelings of Tsotsi, so the main challenge of the film is to show this rather than tell it in voice over or with overly simplistic dialogue. The film does a good job of this and shows the transformation of Tsotsi. The plot of the film is that Tsotsi is the head of a gang that robs people for a living. He eventually is wandering alone when he sees a women get out of her car to open the gate to her driveway. He then steals her car and ends up shooting her in the process of getting away. He only later finds out that there is a child in the back seat and his memories of his own youth (and an earlier conversation about decency) lead him to rediscover his own humanity. This film is a story about redemption and the lowering of self that it takes.
The DVD includes an earlier short film by Gavin Hood, as well as deleted scenes and alternate endings, which make the film way to intense- they chose correctly.

July 17, 2006

George Washington - 7

This is David Gordon Green's first film. He is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts, and I reviewed his more recent film All The Real Girls (Which is a better film). This film is about four teenagers who live in a rural/industrial small town in North Carolina. It is summertime and the kids find random things to do. An accident midway through the film changes the children's lives as they learn about the harsh realities of life and death. The main character's idealism eventually leads him to become a local superhero trying to save people (in a wrestling singlet, a bedsheet, and a dog skin hat). The film uses non actors and tries to capture the mundaneness of everyday life. The (Criterion collection) DVD includes an interview of David Gordon Green on The Charlie Rose Show. It is informative about his style and the thinking that goes behind the making of his films.

'Manos': The Hands of Fate - 1 and 7

The reason behind the odd rating is that this film is in almost every respect, the worst film ever made. The acting, direction, dialogue, cinematography, and art direction are just awful. The general plot is that a family gets lost in the desert and stays at a house that is really a cult. There are also some random scenes of a couple making out and being harassed by the police (I consider this the key to the plot:-). If nothing else viewers of this film are encouraged to make a film, for no other reason than to try to do worse than this. Which would be hard to do, once you intentionally try. You would have already failed by thinking about it. On the other hand, the version I watched with friends, by Mystery Science Theater 3000, which has commentary by some characters in front of the screen, and the fact that the people I was watching it with made jokes as well, made this film fun to watch. As entertainment and a fun activity this film succeeds immensely. So as a film I agree it is really bad, thus the 1 ranking (which is a first), but as something to watch with a group of others, this film is right up there with the other films that I have ranked 7.

Failure to Launch - 4

This is a pretty standard fare romantic comedy. After Tripp's (Matthew McConaughey) parents hire a woman (Sarah Jessica Parker) to get him to move out of the house, they accidentally fall in love, and then Tripp finds out the truth, and then their friends force them to talk it out and get past the trivial lie and get together. It all works out, and Terry Bradshaw gets naked. Entertaining is the only good quality of the film.

My friend Jeff has just caught the bug to blog about film and will probably write up a good review of this film you can read it here. He just wrote up The Notebook.

The Notebook - 5

While overall the movie breaks no new ground on pretty much any front, it has one quality that is worthy of note. That is the connection between the idea of true love, or love conquers all, and the power of storytelling. Two guy friends and I watched this film together, mostly cause that is just funny- since most of the fans of this film are women. The film didn't make us cry, in fact it lead to a very funny film (probably not appropriate to these pages). The film uses a notebook as the basis for a story about young love, and this story needs to be continually told so that the commitment between the two can live on (yes, that's a subtle reference to Titanic). Do stories have power? Yes. This is proved by the fact that films make tons of money, they are the storytellers of our current culture. Films that connect to our humanness stay with us, and we use the stories as metaphors in our own lives.
An interesting question to consider: Are there any contemporary films that deal with issues of true love and romance that are not comedies or period pieces? (Hat tip to Paul for that). This film is the latter, and it seems Love Actually is the closest to that we could think of. I think it is possible that this points out that love in our culture only works as nostalgia (that's sort of depressing).

July 15, 2006

All lyrics considered

Yesterday while listening to Ryan Adams' Cold Roses I was struck by the lyrics of these two songs. They are the last two songs on the first disc of this really good double album. These songs are beautiful.

Mockingbirds sing
Sing me what the Lord was singing
On the day He made the water
The color of the blues
Sing me that song
Sing me to till the heavens rising
On the day He made the water
The color of my baby's eyes
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
Love her in the ways she wants to be loved
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
But the way I'm loving her
It must not be enough
Cause in the way she cries
It only tears me up
I feel dead inside and dying
And if you give up
Don't give up on love
Don't give up on love
The rivers they run
They run until they get too tired
Until they run behind the houses
And they become a creek
When I was a child
I ran until the creek became a river
When it turned into the ocean
I wondered why He'd made it so deep
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
But the way I'm loving her
Must not be enough
Cause the way she cries
It only tears me up
I feel dead inside and dying
Don't give up
Cause in a way she's crying
It only tears me up
I feel dead inside and dying
Give up
Don't give up on love
Don't give up on love
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
Love her in the ways you want to be loved
Sometimes it ain't enough
Sometimes it ain't enough
But don't give up on love

How do you Keep Love Alive?
Lord, I miss that girl
On the day we met the sun was shining down
Down on the valley
Riddled with horses running
Crushing them with flowers
I would have picked for her
On the day she was born
She runs through my veins like a long black river
And rattles my cage like a thunderstorm
Oh my soul
What does it mean?
What does it mean?
What does it mean to be so sad?
When someone you love
Someone you love is supposed to make you happy
What do you do
How do you keep love alive?
When it won't
What, what are the words
They use when they know it's over
"We need to talk," or
"I'm confused, maybe later you can come over"
I would've held your mother's hand
On the day you was born
She runs through my veins
Like a long black river and rattles my cage
Like a thunderstorm
Oh, my soul
What does it mean?
What does it mean?
What does it mean to be so sad?
When someone you love
Someone you love is supposed to make you happy
What do you do
How do you keep love alive?
When it won't

July 14, 2006

Mysterious Skin - 6

What I thought might be a new version of Midnight Cowboy (from the brief synopsis)turned into a Mean Creek-like story of child abuse. It is disturbing the film is not overly hopeful, but knowing the truth is really half the battle. This film is based on the book by Scott Heim, and starts with narration from the book, which is the easiest way to get a lot of information across in a short time. The subject matter is intense, and this film is not for everyone. The story is in fact two stories that lead to connection at the end. The director, Gregg Araki, does a good job of helping the viewer connect the stories, and the film, ultimately, makes sense. This is basically a vehicle for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who along with his more recent films Brick and Havoc, is trying to break away from his 3rd from the Sun comedy days. The fact that he doesn't age (ala Jena Malone) allows him to get roles as high school-aged characters. An honest story, that shows how complex the human heart is, with its mix of good and evil. The last narration of the film by Neil are a little nihilistic, but the film sets them up to show how honest they are:

And as we sat there listening to the carolers, I wanted to tell Brian it was over now and everything would be okay. But that was a lie, plus, I couldn't speak anyway. I wish there was some way for us to go back and undo the past. But there wasn't. There was nothing we could do. So I just stayed silent and trying to telepathically communicate how sorry I was about what had happened. And I thought of all the grief and sadness and fucked up suffering in the world, and it made me want to escape. I wished with all my heart that we could just leave this world behind. Rise like two angels in the night and magically... disappear.

July 13, 2006

Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic - 4

This is basically a film version of Silverman's standup comedy routine, with a few vignettes that play out the joke just told, with various musical numbers. I found the whole thing pretty fragmented, and to tell you the truth - not very funny (And I'm only saying that because she's Jewish). She specializes in taking up topics (9/11, the Holocaust, AIDS, and rape) that are bound to be offensive, and then makes jokes that are half as offensive as you think they could be (like the one I made above). Her style is to say things very straight faced, and to leave silence in the middle of the joke, hoping that it will get a better pay off. The only good thing about her comedy is that you have to be paying attention because the punch-lines are often not next to the main part of the narrative. She has a common misconception- that being offensive is inherently funny (Wedding Crashers made this mistake, one not repeated by the much better The 40 Year-Old Virgin). The really unfortunate part is that it gives you very little material to quote in regular conversation (that is the beauty of Seinfeld and The Simpsons). I'm going to let the "Sarah Silverman is the best" train drive right on by.

Madea's Family Reunion - 6

Based on Tyler Perry's earlier stage play, this film deals with issues of family and the Black matriarchal system that exist today. Perry plays an old black woman in drag (He did the same in his previous film, Diary of a Mad Black Woman). The main story is of two sisters who are treated differently by their mother. One seems to have found happiness, but it is evil disguised by the right fashions. The other has found a down to earth relationship that seems to be restoring true trust and love. The family finally has the reunion and it is a call to renewal by the Matriarchs. The film is both funny and deadly serious at time. The film concludes with a wedding, and Maya Angelou reading a beautiful poem (I would link to it, but can't find it).
The main point of the film is this speech given at the family reunion:

Family reunions are about uniting the family, bringing together the young and old. Singing and dancing and thanking God, giving him the glory. Thanking him for getting us over. As we marched up the road this afternoon, what we saw were young men gambling, fighting, cussing. Women with no clothes on gyrating all over on this land. Do you see this shack. The man and woman we were born here gave birth to this generation. They were slaves. They worked this ground, but they bought it from the widow of the slave owner and that's the kind of blood we have running though our veins. That's the stock we are made of. What happened to us. What happened to us. Who are you. Do you know who you are. What happened to the pride and the dignity and the love and respect that we had for one another. Where did it go. And how, How do we get it back. I'ma tell you. Young Black men, take your place. We need you. Your sons and daughters need you. Did you understand what I just said. You were sold off and had no choice, yes but now it's time to stay. Take your place. Now. Starting now. Starting now. Young black women, you are more than your thighs and your hips. You are beautiful, strong, powerful. I want more from you. Take your place. I want every single one of you, young man, young woman, turn to the next person standing alongside of you. Grab them and hug them and tell them that you love 'em. Tell them, 'If you need anything, come to me.' 'If you need somebody to talk to, come to me.' 'I'll give you the shoulder, I'll give you the hug. I'll feed you, I'll clothe you if you need it. That's how you start from this moment. When you leave this reunion today, you take that with you.

July 11, 2006

The Up Series: 42 Up - 6

This is the only episode in the series so far that has director commentary by Michael Apted. To listen to it makes the series make more sense in that Apted knows the limitations of what he is doing but cares enough about the people to show there real lives in order to see if he can't uncover something about the human condition. If nothing else this series shows the power, responsibility, insights, limits and failures of social research. Overall a pretty good series that can help start conversation about class, education, family, and character (To get overly philosophical, memory and video footage are the only evidence that these are the same people- very hard to predict what the story of their lives would be). But it does show the power of one's context and how that influences our decisions and shapes who we are and who we think we ought to be. In this episode the characters are starting to settle into life, its drama and tragedy, and trying to understand how to help their children live in the world (mostly premised in comparison to their own upbringing). This episode also shows the success of the characters, and their relative happiness and contentment in life. 49 Up was just released last year and is not yet available, so I'll have to delay it a bit (It is probably best to see this series over a longer period, it gets repetitive quickly).

The Up Series: 35 Up - 5

This episode is somewhat lacking on interesting things. It is mostly a recap of what has happened with little updates about marriages, children and divorce. And again it looks like class is really a subplot rather than a theory that is worked out in the lives of these characters. More characters are not wanting to be in this series because of the publicity and judgment they feel by the argument (Apparently one of the guys, Peter, was harassed at his job for speaking about his politics, which didn't sound all that extreme, he just mentioned that the government could be better). It is beginning to show that class in this series may be pretty specific to England, and to those born in the 50's and 60's. A class society probably looks and feels different in different places and times. Apparently their is an American version of this series that started in 1990.

July 10, 2006

Listening to...

Solid second album from Keane.

Gnarls Barkley, hard to describe, just listen.

Ben Harper's best to date...and it's a double ablum, does that make it twice as good?

and some indie-pop.

JFK - 7

This is a long film (3 and a half hours). It also stars Kevin Costner as, the main character- New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. Usually that is a bad sign, but in this case he is decent. It is really to story that is the most intriguing. It is basically an investigation into the assassination of JFK. The reason the subject can get so much mileage is that the government files concerning the case have been sealed until 2029. So regardless how useless that information may turn out to be, or how valuable is mere speculation. Although Oliver Stone makes a great case that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the lone gunman, and may have been innocent all together. Regardless of whether you think this is just a wacky conspiracy theory the film works well as a mystery story with realistic characters. The dialogue about the "military-industrial complex," as well as "national security" as major factors in his assassination and possible coverup are well done, and seem relevant to today's politics and culture. Some of the dialogue is also hard to catch because there is so much information and names packed into it. It will be interesting to see Stone's next attempt at telling history (Alexander = thumbs way down) in World Trade Center, out in August.

July 06, 2006

The Up Series: 28 Up - 6

It is now 1985 in the story of 14 English youth that have been followed by Michael Apted. They are now 28. This is the longest episode so far spending significant time reflecting on life so far. Because the characters are well into work and family, they are more reflective on the life behind them than they are focused on the future. They are confident and are more aware of the project. This resulted in two of the characters deciding not to participate. Most of them have started a family and are now reflecting on raising children and comparing it to how they were raised. The social classes are harder to see at this juncture.

July 05, 2006

Superman Returns - 7

With a project like this, it seems there are more ways to screw it up than to do this series well. Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects) et al don't disappoint, this is a good film in the tradition of the Superman series (one minor critique is that the film doesn't use the fact that Clark and Lois are reporters to help move the plot along as it usually does). This film starts off just after Superman has returned from his 5 year journey back to his home planet to see what is left. He then returns, to both his job at the Daily Planet, and his role as a superhero. Lex Luthor is up to his usual evil, but the story really focuses on the relationship of Superman, Lois, and her new family (husband and son). Brandon Routh and Kate Bosworth do a good job with the characters.
The thing that interests me the most about this film is the potential allegory this story has to the story of Jesus. I only bring this up because the film has many scenes in which it seems the filmmaker want you to see the connection. Early in the film when Superman is having a flash back to his youth, a young girl in the audience I was in asked: "Does he know he's Superman?" Which is reminiscent of The Last Temptation of Christ. There is also some overt dialogue between Superman and Lois about him being a savior and whether the world needs that or not.

Lois: The world doesn't need a savior...
Superman: Listen...
Lois: I don't hear anything.
Superman: I do. I hear everything. You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one.

And to top it off, when Superman is fighting Lex and his henchmen and the kryptonite has taken his power the camera goes between him getting beaten on the ground to the sympathetic, yet disturbed Kitty who is crying, reminiscent of The Passion of the Christ. He also gets stabbed in the side, and when he is falling back to earth the cene is modeled on Salvador Dali's Christ of Saint John of the Cross. I didn't put much stock in the allegory until after seeing the film. It seems to be intentional on the part of the filmmakers.

July 04, 2006

The Up Series: 21 Up - 6

This is the third film in Michael Apted's experiment, his participants are not 21, some are about to finish up college, others have found various jobs. The film starts with gathering all 14 of the participants and having them watch themselves in the first two films. This episode is very interesting because they are now much more reflective about what the project is and what their futures will be like (this episode is also longer, a little over an hour and a half). Two of the women have married, while the rest are still trying to figure out singleness, and many of them have experienced their parents divorce since 7 Plus Seven, which makes them skeptical of marriage and relationships. In this episode you are beginning to see the breakdown of the original point of the study, most of these people have changed quite a lot and become much more subdued than they were as 7-year-olds. Although the boy who wanted to become a jockey got his chance and just wasn't good enough to make it a career. Another anomaly (from the perspective of the experiment) is that the boy from the rural town made it into Oxford to study physics. The boys that went to the expensive prep school are indeed studying law and literature, like their parents envisioned when they were young. The girl from the wealthy family travels Europe and has no idea what she is going to do. The two orphaned boys are doing ok but have a somewhat rough life because of limited choices they have had. I think the social science of this series doesn't exactly tell the audience anything, but the series is interesting to see, and one can reflect on their own life at these stages, maybe even recognizing their own privilege or disadvantages that they had. One thing that would have been helpful is for their names to appear on screen so that one could follow the story along a bit better.

The Up Series: 7 Plus Seven - 5

This is the second in the series, and the children from the first film are not 14, it is 1970. This episode doesn't work quite as well as the first or later episodes. The kids are at an awkward teenage stage and aren't really very talkative, or reflective about their experience growing up. They are still in the experience of learning and growing, and this is hard to capture on film. They talk a little about their parents which is interesting but not very articulately. The audience is much more removed from their lives in this episode. They also don't really see the point of making this series yet.

The Up Series: 7 Up - 6

This series started in 1964 when Michael Apted decided to try a sort of social experiment. He wanted to test out the maxim: "Give me a boy at 7, and I will give you the man." This all starts from the premise that character is formed early on and set everyone up for their future. He also wanted to see what the generation that would be in charge in the year 2000 are like now (1964 at age 7). Here is the basic test: He asked 14 children from various socioeconomic backgrounds, and various parts of England, mostly surrounding London. Two of the boys were orphans living under the state, one boy was from a rural town where he was the only one his age. One was a girl from wealthy family, three girls from the middle class, three boys were from a prep school, and so on. Apted then asked them questions about what they wanted to be, if they were going to university, what they thought about marriage, and what they did in their spare time. They also set up a meeting in which all the kids attended a party and interacted at a playground. This first film is interesting but depends a lot on the directors narration rather than on a coherent story told by the children. The directors want to make the argument that one's socioeconomic background privileges the rich and is a disadvantage for the poor. At age 7 you can see some of this in the children.

July 03, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada - 7

If you've ever worked in an office, especially with women (it is just a different sort of politics) you'll get most of the intense competing and climbing at others expense that goes on. This film is based on the book by Lauren Weisberger and follows Andy, a journalism major, who finds herself working for the editor of Runway (read Vogue), a the highest ranked fashion magazine. She works for Miranda who is the snobbiest, but also the standard, for fashion opinions. There is actually a great scene where she explains the importance of fashion in society. The job almost crushes Andy, until she find a friend in Nigel, the fashion design guy. The film then turns to the usual work verses personal life (much like The Weather Man, but in a less depressing way and with less swearing). In the end, she has to decide what it is that she really wants and then pursue it, rather than being forced to live a life that others control. The dialogue is witty and does well to stay between funny and serious. The film even gets somewhat moralistic near the end, which seems odd for Hollywood. Or maybe I just recognized the choices differently? Meryl Streep is excellent, and Anne Hathaway is good as she aspires to be Natalie Portman.

July 01, 2006

The Lost Weekend - 7

Billy Wilder directs this very poignant film about alcoholism. Made in 1945 this film won Oscars for direction, acting, and screen play. The film follows, Don, whose attempt to stop drinking always fail. His brother and girlfriend, have done as much as they can and leave him alone for a weekend. He finally hits bottom and has horrid hallucinations, and finally decides suicide might be the final resolution. This film shows the power of addiction. There are great questions of identity and vocation that are engaged through the dialogue as well. Interesting trivia from IMDb:

Billy Wilder claimed the liquor industry offered Paramount $5 million to not release the film; he also suggested that he would have accepted, had they offered it to him.