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

January 31, 2008

Jindabyne - 6

A drama that connects the public and the personal, based on a short story by Raymond Carver (whose writings were used in Altman's Shortcuts). When Stewart (Gabriel Byrne) finds a body while fishing and waits to report it after the weekend, it causes a moral uproar in his troubled home and racially troubled town of Jindabyne, Australia. Stewart's wife, Claire (Laura Linney), is recovering from an alluded-to illness and feels lost as Stewart keeps his thoughts and emotions deep inside. As the town takes its own ignorant and overt revenge on Stewart and his friends, the bear down on this family, which includes a young son and Stewart's mother. The film ends with Claire's audacious attempt and partial success to reconcile with both her husband and the victim's family. The film is slow-moving and brooding with jarring moments of intensity, but it highlights the brokenness, personally and publicly, and the human longing for reconciliation.

January 29, 2008

The King of Kong - 6

Donkey Kong is a big deal! Ok, it's a bigger deal after seeing how much politics, egos, and competition there is for the all-time record score. This documentary follows Steve Wiebe adventure in gaming. Having been laid off of work in 2004, Wiebe decided to practice and aim for beating the 20+ year world record on Donkey Kong. What makes this film compelling is the characters that make up the intense subculture of video-gaming. What gives this seemingly innocent story interest and conflict is the dynamic and larger-than-life personality of Billy Mitchell. While he has gone on to start a hot-sauce empire, he continues to define himself by his original record, set in 1982, and his vast knowledge of gaming. The film hinges on the tension of a possible conspiracy to keep Mitchell's record safe in the hands of Twin Galaxies, which keeps the official records on video game records. A fun and informative film to watch, and you may find yourself entering a discussion on gaming that you couldn't even imagine.

January 28, 2008

Away From Her - 7

This is a reflective and contemplative film. Adapted for film from Alice Monro's short story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" and directed by Sarah Polley, the story is about a coping with a relationship changed by Alzheimer's. Grant (Gordon Pinset) watches as his wife, Fiona (Julie Christie) starts to decline further into disease and eventually is institutionalized. As she forgets more and more she starts to care for a fellow patient and Grant has to deal with the pain of her unknowing. Like all stories of forgetfulness they causes the audience pause: why is memory so important to the human condition? Why is losing it so sad and painful? A film worth watching and reflecting on.

January 22, 2008

There Will Be Blood - 5

Apparently I didn't get the memo that I am not suppose to dislike this film, even just a little. I love P.T. Anderson, I can understand the comparisons to Robert Altman, especially his McCabe & Mrs. Miller, and Terrence Malick (Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The New World), but this film ended up building to well...not anything like a complex or interesting story. The film is a character study of obsessive oil man Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis). Most of the film is set after he moves north with his adopted son, and founds a new oil community there. The film also plays on the tensions between Daniel and the young pastor Eli (Paul Dano), who has his own psychological issues as a twin and religious fanatic. Similar to the book on which it is partly based, Upton Sinclair's Oil!, the story works as a critique of capitalism and the American Dream-it leaves one empty and alone. The problem is that this is not new to the audience, and the addition of the role of faith in this criticism is interesting but seems exaggerated. The cinematography is very good, and the score, written by Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) adds some eeriness and emotion to the film.

January 20, 2008

Waitress - 5

Add this film to the list of films about pregnancy released in 2007 (Knocked Up, Bella, Juno, 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days). The main character here is Jenna (Keri Russell) She is a seasoned waitress in a small town whose passion is making pies at her job, but she has little control over her life. Her husband is very possessive, and Jenna hides her tips in an attempt to change her life by running away. In the process she falls for her gynecologist and shares her life with two quirky co-workers. In the end she discovers what she really loves- making pies. She learns that she does not need to depend on others to define her, rather she takes up her responsibility as a mother- her daughter depends on her. And she wants to start over and do things right. It is a romantic story, that is it stays away from being to realistic and is overly hopeful about the possibilities for Jenna (true or not I wouldn't know, but it seems somewhat unbelievable). Russell's acting is good, but the other characters seem to exaggerated.

The Phantom of the Opera - 5

This is one of the longest running Broadway productions, adapted from Gaston Leroux's 1909 novel by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1986. This film is the latest (2004) film iteration. It is one of the few stories that has music as an essential element of the story and plot which lends itself easily to the musical genre. Having discussed the different ways that this story can be told, I found this version lacking in the complexity that is available to the director. It is a delicate balance to keep all of the characters from being portrayed as either all good or all bad. The story sets up a love triangle. Christine (Emmy Rossum) who is an orphan taken in by a choreographer and supported and taught by "The Phantom" (Gerard Butler) who she eventually discovers is a real man who has part of his face deformed. The Phantom falls in love with Christine and wants to make her his bride, but Christine's childhood friend, Raoul (Patrick Wilson) who has just bought the Opera house also falls for Christine. Christine is torn between the two. The film focuses on the emotions of each of the characters and invites the audiences sympathies as Christine must make a difficult choice. The music is well done and the film uses it effectively to get at the heart of human emotion and the obsessions that they can incite.

January 15, 2008

Atonement - 7

It would be easy to get taken in by the costumes and sets and assume that this is a historical epic love story set during WWII. Based on Ian McEwan's novel, this story is much more intriguing and reflective- playing with the assumptions of the genre. The ending of the film (which I won't spoil) was almost as mind-blowing as Fight Club. The story seems simple enough- young Briony (Saoirse Ronan) sees her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and what seems like an odd relationship to Robbie (James McAvoy), who has been taken in by the Tallis family and given an education- giving him some social mobility. Of course perception is not absolutely objective and each person has their story of the events and the "truth" about what is happening. The consequences are devastating and the film shows both the harsh reality of this, as well as the guilt and sought after atonement that starts to drive and motivate Briony. During the middle of the film I was beginning to feel as though the story had gotten side-tracked, but the final moments of this film drew it all together in a thought provoking way. I walked away loving this film and the conversation it helps initiate. The film is not only an intriguing story but asks question about how to tell a story, the truth of stories, and why it is that humans need, long, and do tell stories about the world and their experience in it. A good companion essay to this film is Tim O'Brien's How to Tell a True War Story (Full-Text). Worthy of its Golden Globe for Best Picture and a serious Oscar contender.

January 11, 2008

Juno - 7

Juno is ultimately a fun, and funny, film that rest on the humanness of the characters it portrays. Juno (Ellen Page) is a quirky junior in high school, who impulsively decides to have sex with her long time friend, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). She soon discovers she is pregnant and then has to decide what is the responsible thing to do. She decides to give the child up for adoption by a nice suburban couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman). All of this is obviously a lot more complex than it sounds, especially for a young woman who is still discovering who she is. It isn't until the end of the film where the audience comes to really understand the fragility of being human and the devastating possibilities of things falling apart. But the films ends hopefully rather than cynically by showing that responsible decisions and real love are possible- even if they are hard work. This film follows in the recent trend started by Knocked Up and Superbad of telling a funny story that also illuminates lessons in being human. Some may be tempted to reduced this film down to the politics of abortion, but that would be missing the beauty and rich insight that this film provides.

January 07, 2008

Seraphim Falls - 4

Set up as a sort of Western, this film is an intricate chase- where a man named Carver (Liam Neeson), and a few hired hands are pursuing Gideon (Pierce Brosnan) through the Nevada mountains and eventually into the desert. For most of the film the audience is left in suspense of why this chase is taking place. One is never sure whether they want Gideon to escape or Carver to finally kill him. The film uses the chase to give a glimpse of the times by showing an early settlement and a wagon train. Through flashbacks at the final confrontation the viewer discovers the history between these two men during their civil war days in the military. The chase is a scar that Carver is holding onto and is only able to be released from it when he is finally able to contemplate his past face-to-face with Gideon. The ending is rather anti-climatic and doesn't leave the viewer with much closure. The ending alludes to forgiveness and moving past the past, but it also shows the complete loneliness and emptiness of both men as they have been reduced down to mere "survival." The suspense works for a while, but soon makes the film confusing rather than intriguing.

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - 2

This is some of the worst acting ever (Jessica Alba and Chris Evans especially phoned this in). It is made worse when the director and crew forgot to tell a story. I'm disappointed that Stan Lee even made a cameo in this horrible adaptation of his work. The story, I think, involves a mysterious power from the outer reaches of the universe that survives off of the destruction of whole planets. This power has sent the Silver Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne) as an agent to investigate earth for its imminent ingestion by this force. The Four, through comic luck and high school drama, find a way to somehow convince the Silver Surfer to sacrifice himself in some weird appeal to his ability to love. To much is left unexplained which makes it that much more unbelievable. The special effect were not even enough to make this film entertaining. It ended up just being a way to spend an hour and a half.