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

June 30, 2007

Bullets Over Broadway - 6

This Woody Allen film (that he is not in) is a comedic meeting of New Jersey and New York City. David (John Cusack), a playwright, finally gets his play picked up to be put on the stage on Broadway. But in the process finds out that it is mob money and he must star the mobsters girlfriend, Eden- a dancer rather than an actress. Her bodyguard comes in handy when the play starts to lose its edge as he suggests play edits. The show turns out to be a hit despite its flaws. The film uses this funny premise to humor Allen's love of philosophical dialogue about the role of art in life and what taints it and what lifts it up. David continually questions the assumption that the artist creates their own moral universe. Is his play a license to do what he wants or a foil to avoid responsibility. This is one of Allen's better films. Read these good reviews by Jeff and Paul.

June 29, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia - 6

Based on the book by Katherine Paterson and directed by Gabor Csupo, this film is about being young and finding the courage and strength to keep imagination alive, despite the closing in of adult realities. Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) is in fifth grade and mostly a loner who has retreated into his drawing of everything that comes across his imagination. When Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb - Because of Winn-Dixie) moves in next door she becomes a friend as her imaginations feed off of Jesse and vice versa. Leslie creates a world of Terabithia in the woods behind their houses in the country. They use there imaginations to find creative ways to fight back against the bullies. As to not spoil the ending, the light-heartedness of their play turns to confronting reality and navigating how to keep one's imagination despite the pressures to conform to cynicism (while avoiding a cheesy form idealism). Playful enough to be fun and serious enough to be a significant film about living the tension of the way the world is and the way the world could be. Engages good questions for both adults and children. Zooey Deschanel has a supporting role as the encouraging music teacher.

June 25, 2007

Evan Almighty - 5

This is an unusual sequel to Bruce Almighty (which I think is a more entertaining film), in that it takes up a colleague of Bruce (Jim Carrey)- Evan (Steve Carell who is the main reason to see this film). Evan has moved on from being news anchor to running for congress and winning on a Change the World campaign. His family, wife (Lauren Graham) and three sons move to Virginia and are adjusting to a different kind of family life. No need to focus on the characters though since this film is very much story driven- using Evan and God (Morgan Freeman) as the main characters to make jokes as well as theological points. While the jokes are PG the theology is decent, although maybe somewhat obscure for those not biblically literate (although there are some pop religion cliches thrown in). God tells Evan to build an ark, which he does and the a legitimate flood does come, sweeping the boat and animals for a coaster-esque ride through DC. Making sure to stay away from too dramatic a catastrophe, the flood drys up quickly and does not kill everyone (no one of note). This film is also interesting as a comedy because it has somewhat of a serious, if not obscure, plot to justify some interesting dialogue about how humans can act in the world for change. These small doses of insight are Tom Shadyac's attempt to make the connection between film and action (the site arkalmighty.com is a place where people can do acts of random kindness- to change the world). As a film it loses its narrative by being distracted by the need for jokes and by eliminating any character development. All this to say it is a good and relevant, but expensive, Sunday school lesson. This film works as a good test to see if we do indeed live in a post-Christian world.

June 19, 2007

King Kong (1933) - 6

Yeah, I was suppose to have seen this film when I was in middle school. Well, I didn't, and in fact, I watched the 2005 Peter Jackson version and went on the ride at Universal Studios without having seen this. I can see now the attraction to making a film of this sort, and with the technology to do CGI, the latest version is pretty faithful to the script and idea- while making the mysterious creatures much more life-like. Although I am pretty impressed with the visual effects that are used in this film. I also think that Naomi Watts and Jack Black work well in the roles played earlier by Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong respectively (Adrien Brody was probably a bit of a stretch). The film has a simple message: to show the audience the conflict between art and nature- beauty and the beast. A sub-theme is the violence that humans can do when they think of this as a simple and inherent-to-reality dichotomy. Rather than allow humans to be creative and imaginative it promotes a view of power, fear and control that eventually leads to the destruction of community and humanity. A lesson we seem to need to relearn constantly, or every 30-40 years in the form of a Hollywood film.

June 18, 2007

Nacho Libre - 3

About halfway through this film I thought this seemed like an awkward joining together of Tenacious D and Napoleon Dynamite. The Tenacious D reference was easy because it was Jack Black trying to make it as a wrestling star rather than a rock star...but I only found out later that this film was directed by Jared Hess- who also did Napoleon Dynamite. Black plays Nacho, a priest at a Mexican orphanage who is charitably given the tasks of cooking- since he pretty much acts like one of the orphans. When his food supply is stolen, he decides to team up and become a wrestler (of the WWE variety) in order to make money and to hit on Sister EncarnaciĆ³n (Ana de la Reguera). The film is long and drawn out with a few laughs, but mostly with Jack Black in tights. He eventually wins the big fight, donates the money to the orphanage, and gains the respect the orphans (the film stays away from letting the love interest happen as that might offend Catholic sensibilities and the vow of celibacy).

Breach - 5

Based on the true story of FBI agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) and the discovery of his spying and selling US secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia. The main character is actually rookie FBI not-yet-agent Eric O'Neill (Ryan Phillippe) whose job it becomes to keep track of Hanssen and discover any incriminating evidence. The film shows the internal struggle O'Neill goes through as he tries to balance out friendship with Hanssen, understand his vocation as an FBI employee, keep his marriage flourishing, and keep the lies and truth sorted out. The film also highlights Hanssen's Catholicism as a guiding force for him. The best part of the film is near the end when Hanssen is caught and there is some dialogue about why someone would betray their own country. The film suggests that it seems to be an act that gives the individual a sense of meaning amidst the bureaucracy of government life. This same conversation is had between O'Neill and his supervisor (Laura Linney) about the distinct challenges of working with information that can mean life and death.

June 13, 2007

The Man Who Knew Too Much - 7

Dr. Ben McKenna (Jimmy Stewart), his wife Josephine (Doris Day), and their son Hank (Christopher Olsen), are on vacation in Morocco. They soon find themselves wrapped up in an international mystery as a suspicious French man befriends them, acts somewhat strangely and then mysteriously is killed leaving Ben with a secret message as his final act. Hank is then kidnapped and parents are soon off to London in an attempt to avert what looks to be an international conspiracy and rescue their missing son. It is a somewhat simple story that is told well with much suspense, humor, and tense action. Hitchcock's use of music in this film is especially intriguing as the climax of the film has almost no dialogue while the orchestra plays. This film is religiously and culturally sensitivity of setting part of the film in a predominately Muslim country. Surprisingly more so than if this film were made in the 21st century. An entertaining adventure story.

June 11, 2007

Marnie - 7

Hitchcock calls this film a "suspense sex mystery." Somehow this film is rated PG. This is a very mature film about the psychological damage that is possible from traumatic experiences. Marnie (Tippi Hedren- also in The Birds) is a kleptomaniac, morphing from identity to identity as she gets a job and then steals from the safe before moving on. On one particular job she is hired for her looks by Mark Rutland (Sean Connery- just before his stint as Bond). He falls for her and even after finding out about her problems, is encouraged to seek a solution rather than run. This film includes a rape scene, an attempted suicide, and concludes with an intense flashback sequence in which Marnie is finally able to recover the disturbing memories form here youth that have traumatized her and left her with deep wounds and strange behaviors (All of this and the MPAA still thinks this is on the level of The Incredibles). A very interesting film in the study of psychology, pathology, and the human condition.
Hitchcock's cameo appearance/facial expression in this film is one of his funniest and his use of what I'll call a sidekick, most significantly in this film as Mark's former sister-in-law, Lil (Diane Baker) and Barbara Morton (Patricia Hitchcock- Alfred's daughter) in Strangers on a Train, as well as other films puzzles me.

Suspicion - 6

While I like all of Hitchcock's films that I have seen so far, this one is further down on my list than his others. This film is similar in some ways to Shadow of a Doubt, in that a wife suspects her husband of a murder. Shadow of a Doubt is more subtle, while this film helps provoke the viewer to side with the wife over the husband. There is just enough information available and left out to make her and the viewer wonder. Set in England, Lina (Joan Fontaine), a beautiful but older (her parents what her married off) woman, falls for the loose and carefree Johnnie (Cary Grant), they get married despite Johnnie's pet name for her being "Monkeyface." When one of Johnnie's business partner dies in Paris, Lina suspects Johnnie. The film resolves around a suspenseful high-speed car ride near steep cliffs. This is a good film to see the dynamics of trust and mistrust in a relationship. And how any lie or "smoothing over of the truth" can jeopardize one's integrity.

June 09, 2007

The Kid - 7

I really enjoy Charlie Chaplin's films- and it really is his film: he acts, wrote the story and music, and directed. This one is no exception as Chaplin's famous tramp character (also in City Lights) finds an abandoned baby, raises him and is eventually (after some slapstick fights and chases scenes) reunited with the now famous actress/mother. The film ends with the touching reunion. This film is funny and a joy to watch.

Zizek! - 5

Not much to write about here. This is 70 minutes in the life of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. I heard him speak last October, so there was very little new here. The documentary focuses mostly on his public perception as a "academic rock star," mostly showing him as a writer and lecturer about Lacanian psychoanalysis and postmodern philosophy. It also includes a few scenes of the inside of his apartment- and his strange habit of keeping his clothes in his kitchen cupboards and drawers, and some interaction with his son. One of his most significant points is his claim that the point of philosophy is to think and talk about the meaning of truth and freedom. Astra Taylor directs and is Zizek's interlocutor at meals and as he goes from home to work to lectures all over the world. For other films about philosophers check out the films Derrida (also by Zeitgeist Films) as well as Iris.

June 07, 2007

Army of Shadows - 6

A rather dark and stoic film about a group of intelligent French resister's of the Nazi's in WWII. Set in 1942, the film follows Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura), a civil engineer, who works as a chief- organizing and collecting useful intelligence. He works with a few others and the film is constantly showing the fragile loyalty and trust that exists between the members. Based on the novel by Joseph Kessel, and directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, Army of Shadows portrays a realistic (which in this case means dark) portrait of the Nazi's total control of occupied France and the danger that resistance posed. The film has very little dialogue with long scenes of tense and intricate shots of people's movements and attempts to get in and out of danger. Worth watching for the film fanatic or if you are interested in WWII history, but it is a slow moving film and doesn't have the passion or feeling of films like Schindler's List, Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, or The White Rose.

June 03, 2007

Who Killed the Electric Car? - 6

Now that is an interesting question. The film does a good job of explaining the rise and fall of GM's EV1, which was a mid 90's electric car that seemed to take off culturally and then sorta died out. When was the last time you thought about it? I'd heard of it, and then forgotten about it until seeing this film. While the film uses a Michael Moore-ish conspiracy theory (btw, that isn't necessarily a criticism) about GM being pressured by the oil industry, the footage they have seems to be a persuasive argument that they are on to something. Narrated by Martin Sheen and written and directed by Chris Paine, the film asks the question a few different way in an attempt to understand America's true past-time: driving cars. Of course no one from GM is interviewed (I'm assuming they refused rather than were not asked), which allows for the audience to pretty much settle on GM as the main target that killed its own product (This isn't to imply that the evidence isn't strong, just that other explanations are possible). The film works both as an intelligent discussion of a legitimate question as well as edited to be somewhat humorous at times and overall rather entertaining. It also gives the audience some historical context of our car culture, our addiction to oil, and the possible consequences contributing to global warming.

June 02, 2007

Knocked Up - 7

Judd Apatow has done it again: made a film that is both hilarious and yet brutally honest (The 40 Year-Old Virgin, less so with Fun with Dick and Jane). In this case a seemingly simple one night stand between stoner/regular guy Ben (Seth Rogen) and entertainment reporter Alison (Katherine Heigl), gets very complicated when they find out that they are pregnant. After seeing the beating heart of the child growing inside of her, Alison decides to have it and hopes that Ben will help out- that maybe they can "make love" the long drawn out emotional way. The road is bumpy and they have Alison's married sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and husband Pete (Paul Rudd) to highlight the highs and lows of being a family. While this is a comedy with many great laughs, it is not without its serious and honest conversations. The characters come across as real people, able to laugh at the human condition while avoiding seeing all of life as absurd.
Ultimately, this film is about people being forced to learn what it means to grow up. Ben and Alison have tried to see their lives as without much consequence, which means little responsibility- and they got to like it that way. The un-thought through choices that they have made now confront them with responsibility- and a life, not just their own, depends on it. The characters contemplate their options, and realize that changing isn't always bad- in fact, it might allow them to be who they really are.
This film is rated R, mostly because there are some graphic scenes of a birth and language, and it should have this rating, I have a hunch that an audience under 18 (although not everyone) might miss the complexity of the story and the messiness of relationships. And despite the fact that we don't think of people growing up in our culture, Apatow makes a case that there is indeed a time to take up one's full responsibility in the world- for yourself and for others.

June 01, 2007

The Trouble with Harry - 7

Hitchock made only two comedies (Mr. & Mrs. Smith being the other), and this is roll on the floor funny. It almost works as a spoof of his other films, because it involves a dead body, some suspense, a whodunit plot, and even a little psychology of killing and conscience. A dead body is found in the woods outside of town, by almost everyone it seems. Harry is then buried and unburied as a group of townspeople try to figure out what happened and not get caught by the police. There are a few love stories running through the film, and the dialogue is witty- with innuendos as suggestive as anything you would hear in contemporary film. Shirley MacLaine makes her first feature film appearance, and "the Beave" (Jerry Mathers) stars as her funny and prococious son.