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

March 29, 2007

while I'm away...

This weekend is the Festival of Faith and Music at my alma mater (fancy speak for- the college I went to). Check out the site and the many links to the speakers and bands. Also, you can read my review of the David Wilcox concert at Culture. ish. And buy tickets to the OTR/David Bazan/Rachel Zylstra concert.

March 28, 2007

Autumn Sonata - 7

This may be the best Ingmar Bergman film I have seen. His work is pretty philosophical and that can make it obscure for most viewers (add in the subtitles and most people are not his audience, unfortunately). But this film and few others, like Saraband, are much better because the dialogue is well written and focuses on a few intricately developed characters. Here, Bergman explores the relationship between a mother and her daughter. The mother is a concert pianist and has not seen her daughter for a few years. She comes for a visit and the daughter confronts her about the way she and her sister were raised. The emotion builds to a climax as both of them are forced to remember the past and reflect on their ability/inability to love and forgive. An intense film (especially if you have been in these sorts of conversations), but a good one.

March 26, 2007

Reign Over Me - 6

This film is about the effects of traumatic experiences. There have been plenty of movies made that tell similar stories of trauma, in fact, one might argue that almost all films are about traumatic experiences and how this changes and moves people through a narrative, toward greater meaning or nihilistic chaos. Most films of these type need to find a resolution in either redemption or at least some level of healing in the afflicted person, or they ultimately settle for despair. When dealing with true tragedy, good films need to find an honest way to allow the audience to imagine the possibilities of hope and love.
Reign Over Me is this sort of film. It never sinks to the level of despair, but is accurate in not providing false hope that somehow reunited with a new friend will make a tragic loss all better. Charlie (Adam Sandler) has been a recluse since the loss of his family, his wife and three daughters, on 9/11. He has stopped visiting friends and family, and spends his time playing video games, listening to music, and collecting records. Alan (Don Cheadle), a former roommate of Charlie's, sees him scooting around town and tries to reconnect after a long absence. Alan soon realizes that he needs to try to help Charlie, but finds that the institutions in place for dealing with grief and loss are not adequate to the task. He realizes that it will require time and a slow reconnecting with a small group of new friends that might help Charlie to learn to live with the loss, and make sense of his own life. The film is really good at developing the characters, and as weird and random as the group seems, it works. The film doesn't try to make grand statements about death and loss, rather it simply shows that a little reflection on life can show us who we are and what it is that we love most.

March 25, 2007

Along Came Polly - 3

This film is too hyperbolic to be good. The film exaggerates the difference between those that over plan life, and those that cannot commit to anything. Reuben (Ben Stiller) is a risk assessment analyst who discovers his wife is cheating on him- on their honeymoon! Polly (Jennifer Aniston) is a waitress who doesn't plan anything out and lives day to day. This film has no surprises and it all works out with very disjointed events. Some of the best scenes are when the film gets serious when Reuben's wife (Debra Messing) returns, or when his friend Sandy (played hilariously by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is awkwardly trying to be helpful. Overall a badly made romantic comedy.

March 22, 2007

The Black Dahlia - 4

Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables, etc.) directs this fictional story surrounding the real death of Elizabeth Short in 1947 by James Ellroy (L.A. Confidential). The film is done in the style of a 40's crime drama and the visuals are able to give the audience the feel of the times. The plot tries to be noir, but doesn't really get there, which I suspect is due to the casting. Bucky (Josh Hartnett) and Lee (Aaron Eckhart) are L.A. cops and partners, who become obsessed with the Dahlia case. The film hinges on people's secrets, that Bucky must put together and the audience is forced to follow any new insight he happens upon (only a few initial scenes don't have him in them). The subplot involves Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson), Lee's wife, and femme fatale, Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank). While I think these actors and actress's are decent, they don't work well in this film. The homage to old movies also seems awkward rather than artistic. The film also plays into the fascination of the murder being a work of art, which is the most disturbing part of the film ending - when the case gets all wrapped up very bizarrely.

Fast Food Nation - 6

Eric Schlosser's book has been a bestseller for a few years now. Director Richard Linklater worked with Schlosser to make this into a film. The book (which I haven't read) is more of an expose of the fast food industry, its inner-workings, and the dangers this poses to society. The film uses this information but tells a number of interconnected vignettes and characters to tell it in a more storied way. The main characters are a corporate exec (Greg Kinnear), Mexican immigrants (Wilmer Valderrama and Catalina Sandino Moreno - from the very good Maria Full of Grace) who work at a meat packing plant, and a high-schooler (Ashley Johnson) who works at Mickey's and is thinking about the implications of her work (there are many cameo roles including: Bruce Willis, Avril Lavigne, Kris Kristofferson, Ethan Hawke, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Luis Guzman). The film does not shy away from being like a documentary in that it has a clear message to it's viewers: stop giving your money to corporations who steal a part of your humanity by separating you from the land and the food that you ingest. Put simply, the film is a critique of America, and the inhumanity of "the machine" that is mass culture. Unfortunately, viewers have already decided what they are going to do, and I doubt that the film would persuade many to change (It would need some moral basis, which contemporary culture has not found any consensus on). An interesting film with a rather intense ending on the killing floor of the meat plant. The question to ask is: what is the aim of our culture and what are we doing to get there?

March 20, 2007

music you gotta hear...

The Arcade Fire's new album Neon Bible.

Aqualung's new album Memory Man.

And Sia's Colour the Small One (thanks Gideon and Andrea), new album coming soon.

And the new single from Travis (video stars Ben Stiller).

March 19, 2007

When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts - 6

In this 4 hour documentary, made for HBO, Spike Lee investigates the disaster that was Hurricane Katrina. Lee looks at all the angles: the natural, social, governmental, and human disaster that Katrina created in its wake and aftermath. It is an eye opening film, and tries to ask more questions than it is able to resolve about the stakes and impact that Katrina had and has on the lives of those who were born, raised and continue to call New Orleans home. The documentary starts with the events leading up to the storm, and the government’s failure early on. The second part focuses more on the media, and the good and bad that resulted from information on a mass scale. Lee does a good job of weaving together the big picture with the lives of individuals and the personal stories that those at the center tell about their experience. This film made me realize the filter and blinders that I have as a person who has never been to the southeastern US, and the difficulty of discerning the info-glut of CNN and the Internet. The best insight of the film is not that we have a race problem in America (which is true, and may be the reason Crash won best picture immediately following Katrina), but rather the film points out the integral nature of human relationships that are mediated by social institutions. A personal disruption of your everyday life can be traumatic, but this can be exponentially damaging when social structures also start to fail in helping people recover a sense of normalcy and meaning. We all want personal freedom, and often times we overlook our intimate connection to the reality of a social world, involving a massive web of relationships. What we need is a politics that takes into account the reality of both.

March 15, 2007

The Lives of Others - 7

This is a very intriguing film. Set 5 years before the fall of the Berlin wall in East Germany, Stasi agent Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe), gets caught up in the surveillance of a couple, Georg (Sebastian Koch) and Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck), who are part of the artist community as a playwright and actress. Wiesler's curiosity leads him to suspect them of being subversive to the government, and he heads up the surveillance. As Wiesler gets more and more intimate with the couple through listening and following their lives, he sees the struggles and oppression that they are under, and his own role in that struggle. His compassion soon leads him to be subversive of his own job. Writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck wonderfully develops these characters in intricate and detailed ways that draw the viewer into the drama. Through listening and seeing a loving relationship, Wiesler discovers his own humanity and the greater world that he is apart of. A great film, worthy of its Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

March 14, 2007

300 - 5

This film is about originality of dialogue and story structure...OK, I couldn't say that with a straight face. This film could not be further from it. Most of the lines are cliches and or slightly plagiarized from other works (there are actual clips from Gladiator in this film!...almost). However, this film is a CGI marvel, allowing the viewer to enter into a fantastical ancient culture, where gods and men (and wild beasts) struggle for survival and honor. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, Zach Snyder adapted and directs this Sin City-esque film about the Persian/Greek battle at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Sparta is the setting and the famous Spartan warriors are the inspiration of this film about the human struggle for honor and courage in the face of death. One of the films best qualities is its take on the religious structure of the time, with the Persian King Xerxes speaking and acting like a god and the dominant belief that he was a god among men. The visuals are stunning and the blood flies, splatters, and many other verbs. The sub-plot of family in Sparta actually gets in the way of the action-packed blood bath. This is a film where you get a little history lite and learn not to take yourself to seriously.

Rope - 7

I can't say this often enough: Hitchcock is an amazing filmmaker. Technically speaking this is an amazing film because it uses one camera and the whole film is one continuous shot all in a three room set. In addition, Hitchcock picks stories that are equally amazing. In this one the consequences of ideas comes to the fore. Two recent college graduates, Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger), decide to commit the perfect murder, believing that they are above the morality of the masses due to there superior intellect. To put there plan to the test they hide the body in a cabinet and invite the victim's family and friends, and most importantly their esteemed professor Cadell (James Stewart) to dinner. Cadell taught the students moral philosophy based on the ideas of Nietzche, the "superman," and the will to power. And now they have lived the ideas. The tension is created in the film and heightens as the film ends with Cadell coming to terms with his ideas and the practice of them that he has mistakenly created. Cadell's final lines are a great moment in which he finally recognizes the significance and connection between knowing and doing. That theories are put to the test through practice, sometimes to horrific effect. This film was made in 1948 and it has undertones of refering to Hitler and WWII, but the themes can be applied universally, and especially in the context of academia.

Garden State - 7

I think this is a great film on a few different levels. It can be viewed as a tale of the current malaise in our over-medicated culture, or as a study of relationships between parents and children, or simply as a story of existential angst that people feel in there 20's. Zach Braff has written and directed a funny, yet dramatic film about the intensity and pain of human relationships in a fragmented world. Often times we choose detachment rather than connection, and in the process lose "home." This film has some great dialogue about home, place, family, and forgiveness. As has been pointed out to me, it is somewhat of a quirky film, but the moments of honesty and insight make it a film I think is worth watching for almost anyone. It is a film that makes for great conversation (It also works in tandem with its unofficial sequel, The Last Kiss).
Here is what I wrote about the film when I first saw it two years ago.

March 09, 2007

Il Postino - 4

The director of this film was not sure what this film was about before starting the project, it seems. The plot goes this way and that, and never finds a good thread. It tries to be a romantic comedy for a bit, initially using the exile of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as a plot device. Turns out that the film is about the impact of communism and its interaction with art in 1950's Italy. Neruda stays on the Island of Capri in the small town and his postman. Mario, strikes up a relationship with him. Neruda teaches Mario how to use metaphor and write poetry in order to win the town beauty. In the process Mario is inspired by the poet to a new way of seeing the living in the world. The film ends on a sad note, as Mario takes on the consequences that Neruda was able to escape from. A slow moving film, that pulled Oscar heart strings in 1996, winning for music and nominated for best picture, director, actor, and screenplay.

March 04, 2007

the test of a good film

Last week I saw three films for a second time (The Departed, The Last Kiss, and Babel). They were as good or better than the first time I saw them, and the conversations were key to making these films worth watching. I want to recommend them to you- with slight warnings so that you know what they are getting into. The Departed is quite violent; The Last Kiss has some nudity, as does Babel, which is a film that very much taps into human brokenness on a deep level- but if you watch closely you can find the love and hope that truly make the world go round. The final song of the film is so beautiful, I couldn't resist buying it on itunes (and posting a live performance below).

On a completely different note: my sister has started a blog (www.motherborn.blogspot.com) about being a mother...I'm not really much of the audience here, but if you are go visit, it is thoughtful stuff.