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

October 30, 2007

Ryan Adams: live

Ryan Adams (not Bryan Adams) played Pittsburgh's Carnegie Music Hall last night. They skipped having an opener and when right to work starting with a more than 10 minute song (I'm not nerdy enough to know all recognize all of his songs). Adams is back up by The Cardinals which help create this alt-country music. They played mostly from Ryan's latest album Easy Tiger, but also some earlier songs- especially a few of my favorites from Cold Roses. They then ended the show with the very beautiful and honest "Come Pick Me Up" and "Two." Overall, a great concert with music you can get lost in.

October 24, 2007

The Lookout - 6

Using a rather typical high school car crash as the starting trauma to a story of popular Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the film focuses on the planning of a heist at the bank he now works at. Chris' brain damage has left him with trouble sequencing events and doing daily tasks. He lives in an apartment with middle aged and blind Lewis (Jeff Daniels). Chris is not getting anywhere with classes and has reached a dead end. When he is approached and befriended by a group of strangers you can see the con coming. While the plot is driven by the heist it is really about dealing with trauma and the need for stories, forgiveness, and meaning in order to make sense of the past and have any hope for the future. This film would be better if the characters had been developed more, instead you are left with unrealistic people and plot.

October 19, 2007

Transformers - 5

Based on the 80's animated series, Transformers is a simple plot, with spectacular effects courtesy of Michael Bay (I know you know what this means) and Steven Spielberg. Transformers are an alien race of robots, who are looking to restart their civilization, so Megatron (the evil bot) takes the cube (origin of their life spark) to earth. It ends up lost in the arctic and only a secret government agency knows about it. Sam (Shia LaBeouf, eerily similar to his character in Disturbia), a high-schooler who is seen as weird and eccentric, gets a used car, which is actually a transformer that is sent to protect him as he unknowingly holds a map that could allow Optimus Prime and his crew of good transformers to save humanity and live at peace with the Transformers. The plot focuses more on Sam's relationship with classmate Mikaela (Megan Fox) than on the apocalyptic battle. But the movie is fun and entertaining, and with John Turturro playing a secret agent, almost makes this movie worth recommending. The visuals are stunning, but the overtly manipulative music and faux courage and patriotism make it a rather trite film. This film really should have been about Transformers given the title and all. For a similar, but more critical film see Titan A.E.

A Mighty Heart - 5

This film is a pseudo-biopic about Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl (Dan Futterman), who in early 2002 was kidnapped in Pakistan by a terrorist group. His wife, Mariane (Angelina Jolie), is the main pathos of the film, as she is pregnant and is not sure how optimistic or pessimistic she should be as American and Pakistani law enforcement try to find Daniel before it is too late. i think this film may be more valuable as time goes by. It does indeed give one a sense of the times that we lived, and are living, in. It does a interesting job of trying not to editorialize, yet the ending seems to indicate that a sense of stoicism is what is needed. It doesn't deny the importance of Mariane's grief, but the film finds a way to move on- to quickly in my opinion. (It is only a two hour film, the book my be more reflective).

October 14, 2007

Michael Clayton - 7

By naming this film after the main character, Tony Gilroy (Bourne trilogy) makes it obvious that this is a character study. Michael Clayton (George Clooney) has a hectic and fragmented life. He owes people money, he has a stressful job in a law firm dealing with other's problems, and his family has fallen apart. Its enough to make anyone want to think about running- leaving it all behind for some place to just be left alone. That isn't an easy choice, especially when you realize that you might not want to be with anyone, much less yourself. These questions and thoughts come to the fore as Clayton is dealing with renowned lawyer Authur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), who is dealing with his own issues of conscience about what he has done with his abilities to reveal and hide the truth. CEO Karen Crowder (Tilda Swinton), realizing that Eden could jeopardize her hard work to climb the corporate ladder has her own crisis of conscience.
The questions of who we are and who we are becoming is intimately tied up in what we think is just and right and the ways we pursue these ideals. Michael Clayton explores the moral complexity of living with so many choices, and our responses of running or confronting them. It tests one's ability to care about their personal choices, as they seem removed and insignificant to one's public life. And rather than fall into an easy cynicism, the film goes about showing its tagline false. This film has the depth of character and story to allow the space for good questions and self reflection.
Reading Steven Garber on proximate justice makes a nice connection to this film.

28 Weeks Later - 5

This is a rather unofficial sequel (none of the same actors, different director and writers) to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland's (also did Sunshine together) film 28 Days Later. This film stays close to the horror genre, with a little plot near the beginning and end, to try to rescue its significance. It never really succeeds, though, as the story tries to bring coherence to a story focused on chaos. The metaphor is supposed to be Iraq apparently, with allusions to a Green Zone and the US military having power and abusing it to kill both the infected and innocents. There is also the subtext of trust between people, governments and family. But all of these don't play out well, which makes it a disappointment.

You Kill Me - 4

This film is a pseudo-mafia film- heavy on the sentimental finding oneself theme. Frank (Ben Kingsley) is a hit-man for his mafia family, but has a drinking problem which sometimes interferes with getting the job done. So his uncle (Philip Baker Hall) sends him to San Fransisco to get sober, here he meets Laurel (Téa Leoni) Tom and (Luke Wilson) falling in love and getting a mentor to become sober. Frank moves from his stubborn ways to get sober and finds he is better able to do his work. Yeah, its supposed to be ironic. The only thing worth seeing here are the good performances by Kingsley and Leoni. Or better yet check out their other films (Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog, Spanglish, etc).

October 11, 2007

The Boss of It All - 6

Lars Von Trier tends to make dark and intense films: Breaking the Waves (which I should probably see again, right Paul?), Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, and its close to disturbing sequel- Manderlay. Here he has made a wonderful and funny comedy. Set in a small IT company in Denmark, the founder wants to sell and make the most money for himself, at the expense of his co-workers and partners. So he makes up a fictitious boss from America and blames any problems and hard decisions on him. This makes him popular with everybody. But when he finally needs to sell he needs to actually get "the Boss" that he has created to sign. Easy enough he'll hire an actor to pretend to be the boss and sign. Kristoffer takes on the job, and he takes his acting very seriously. The humor comes when he has to be around for a few days getting to know the employee's and figuring out what emails he apparently sent and received. In the process he must decide the moral character of "the Boss" that he is playing and decide whether he would really sell the company, and how much he wants to be liked and applauded. It is truly a great comedy of errors.
Trier interrupts his own story at points to make you aware that you are watching a film and to bring out the significance of the film as a metaphor for what we do in our own lives. We make similar moral choices and often they are driven more by manipulation than by what is true. In the end, it is a film about the moral meaning of art's ability or inability to tell the truth.

October 10, 2007

Wings of Desire - 7

This German film by Wim Wenders (director of one of my favorite films- Paris, Texas- and a couple U2 videos and Bono's film The Million Dollar Hotel), who spent many years in America before returning to honor his native Berlin with this film, uses the idea of angels to get at the deepest desires that human have. The angels in this film do God's work, but can never really experience reality. They see in black and white, they can't physically touch the world, and yet they are intimate with the deepest thoughts of the humans that surround them. Damiel (Bruno Ganz) longs to be in the world truly, to experience it. First he falls in love with a circus trapeze artists, and meets Peter Falk, who is an angel who became human. Damiel finally decides to become human too, and pursues really living and loving, rather than his previous mundane experience. The film uses angels as a way to express the inner thoughts of human beings, and helps the viewer glance at themselves, and to critically reflect on whether they are pursuing their true desires and loves, or settled for a mundane existence. The film also uses a few performances by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. City of Angels is based on this film, but turns the unique and interesting ideas into a overly-sentimental romantic film. Wing of Desires succeeds by revealing the mystery to being human.

October 07, 2007

Once again

I saw Once again this weekend, still beautiful... One of my favorite films of the year.

October 04, 2007

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED - 6

For the last 20 years, the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED -most of the presentations can be viewed here) conference has happened in Monterrey, California. It is by invitation only and tries to connect people with big ideas, so that these ideas-that will shape the future- can be put into practice. This film documents the 2006 conference, the famous attendees, and the big ideas of unknowns. It shows the energy that is created and excited as people hear these ideas that potentially can effect cultural change. Each speaker is given 18 minutes to sum up their idea and three people from the conference are given a wish for the world that will receive $100,000 dollars of funding. The event is also filled with performances by musician's, comedians, and poets. The attendees include Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Al Gore, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Bezos, and Rick Warren. The curator/organizer of the conference Chris Anderson. It is ultimately about how ideas can be given legs in a community of people, and how culture and society can be shifted by this committed group of people. The ideas are usually so fundamental to human life that politics and worldviews can work together for the common good. Thanks Scott for the recommendation.

October 03, 2007

Andrew Bird at Carnegie Music Hall

The open space of the music hall brought on visions of a forest as Andrew Bird whistled and played the soothing music of nature. He was soon joined by Martin Dosh on drums and keyboards, and Jeremy Ylvisaker on bass, guitar, and backing vocals. Bird's primary instrument is violin, but he also integrates guitar which gives him a indie-folk sound. Using looping techniques these three players can create loud and overwhelming sound and yet it doesn't over power.
Bird's lyrics are beautiful and eclectic, from ancient Russian empires like the Scythians to the personal relationships of Table and Chairs. It was a beautiful evening, that would have lasted longer were it not for the time limits of the hall.

Bird as Dr. Stringz