Darrel MansonDarrel is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) living in southern California





The Homesman
Precious to the Lord
A hard road of compassion

When a movie includes a scene where mules are given the names Grace and Redemption, you know you need to pay attention. The Homesman is a story that is infused with explicitly Christian understandings. There is grace to be found, and redemption, but there are also lessons of lost hope and of judgment.


The Circle
A Love Story
LGBT life in 1950s Zurich, and today

In the 1950s, Switzerland had no laws against homosexuality, which is not the same thing as saying it was totally accepted. The Circle (named after the gay-centric arts and literary journal published there) gives us a look at those times as well as a real-life love story between Röbi Rapp and Ernst Ostertag—a story that continues to be lived out today.


Ask Me Anything
Blogging Brokenness
Looking for live in all the wrong places

Is it fame or attention we want, or are we really seeking a sense of being loved? That seems to be obvious in Katie’s attraction to older men—looking for her father’s love. But others are also busy looking for love or youth or some other evidence that they are more valuable than they feel.


Inside the Mind of Leonardo
Genius with a Healthy Ego
From Leonardo Da Vinci's notebooks

I was a bit surprised at just how many of Leonardo’s great projects went unfulfilled. He endeared himself to one patron by saying he was a designer of military weapons, but they were never made. He promised a huge equestrian statue, but the metal was ultimately needed for cannons. Even the Mona Lisa, we discover, was found with his unfinished art works, although he had been working on it for years.


The Immortalists
Science and Ethics
Interview with Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado

I try to imagine the world as if there was this blue pill you could take and stay indefinitely young. Would that be a heaven on Earth or would it be a hell? Would it be a lot more like today than we imagine?


Monk With a Camera
From Dandy to Ascetic
One man's spiritual journey

The grandson of vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland, Nicky Vreeland was born to wealth and privilege. But somewhere along the line, he began searching for something more out of life. Monk With a Camera: The Life and Journey of Nicholas Vreeland tells of his discovery of Tibetan Buddhism and his decision to spend his life as a monk.


Difret
Law or Tradition
Conflict of ways of living in society

At times long-held traditions come in conflict with newer laws, especially in places where modernity is expanding. Difret is set in Ethiopia in 1996 and is based on a true story. A lawyer trying to establish women’s rights in a very patriarchal society takes the case of a girl accused of murdering the man who abducted her for marriage.


Tales of the Grim Sleeper
25 Year Murder Spree
Are some victims more worthy of solving crimes than others?

We must consider to what extent we consider prostitutes and drug addicts as children of God who are as beloved as we are. Perhaps we also need to be reminded that Jesus was often criticized for those he was willing to eat with and call friends. I’m sure he feels much more at home in South L.A. than I do.


Mommy
Can Love Be Enough?
A mother and son in a difficult relationship

Steve is a problem. He has ADHD and is frequently violent. He has been passed from one residential facility to another. He has run out of options. He must live with his widowed mother, Die, even though she has never been able to control him.


She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
Primer in Women's Lib
It was about more than burning bras

When I was in seminary in the mid-1970s, I took a class in the theological issues of Women’s Liberation. When I recently watched She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, it felt like a refresher course in the women’s movement of that time.


The Immortalists
Want to Live Forever?
Seeking to cure aging...or die trying

How long can people live? How long would you like to live? What if aging could be not only ended, but reversed? The Immortalists tells of scientists who are working now on just such projects. The two men are very different in temperament and in their approach to how to “cure” aging.


Miss Julie
Midsummer's Nightmare
Love/hate involving gender and class differences

On a Midsummer’s Night in 19th Century Ireland, a privileged daughter of the manor and her father’s valet take part in a duel between mistress and servant, man and woman, that fluctuates between attraction, love, and contempt. Miss Julie is Liv Ullmann’s adaptation of a play by August Strindberg.


Still Alice
Slipping Away
Losing memory to Alzheimer's

When linguistic professor Alice Howland begins to lose her place in lectures, it is the beginning of a descent into the hell of early-onset Alzheimer’s that is both rapid and devastating for her and for her family. Soon even the most familiar things are confusing. Having specialized in the acquisition of language, she faces the loss of the words that have been her life.


Pioneer
Going Deep
Oil, money, power, and death

It is the 1980s and Norway has discovered a rich oil field in the North Sea. The difficulty is how to get the oil to shore, the proposed solution: to run a pipeline on the ocean floor 500 meters down. Pioneer is an industrial/political thriller about the lives of the divers involved and the power struggle that uses them as pawns.


Whiplash
Drums and Blood
Do fear and abuse produce greatness?

What does it take to create greatness? What moves talent to new levels? What is the cost of taking the steps to be more than you have been? In Whiplash a young jazz drummer is tormented by his teacher. Is that what makes someone great?


The Theory of Everything
A Brief History of Hawking
A story of hope, faith, and love

What the film really deals with is the trio of abiding concepts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 13: hope, faith, and love. (Although to get all theological discussing a film about Stephen Hawking may seem a reach.)


Film Independent Spirit Awards
The Awards for Films You Haven't Heard Of
Smaller films worth honoring

The awards season has started. Yes, not all of the films have been released yet, but the nominations for Film Independent Spirit Awards have been announced. These awards (given out the night prior to the Oscars) may not be as well-covered as the Academy Awards, but they are the ones that interest me most.


Citizenfour
Patriot? Traitor? Something Between?
Edward Snowden tells his story

At issue is the question of the government’s power to fight terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. There are those who would argue that the government needs that power to provide security for the nation. There are others who see it as an unconstitutional breach of our rights. Obviously Snowden is in the latter group.


The Invisible Front
Fighting for Freedom
Lithuanian resistance during the Cold War

What makes the story important for Lithuanians today is not that the fighters succeeded in their efforts to establish freedom, but that when the Soviet Union finally disintegrated and Lithuania did become independent, they looked back at those who made sacrifices in pursuit of freedom as examples to build their identity as Lithuanians.


Happy Valley
Sorrow and Anger in Happy Valley
The Penn State child molestation scandal

A similar set of scenes involves a statue of Joe Paterno on campus. Some want the statue removed. Others want to pose by it. Then there is one man who makes a silent, mostly passive protest, holding a sign. The vehemence with which people respond to him is an indicator of how deeply the controversy is suffused by emotions.


A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Iranian Vampire Western?
Maybe this is a cult classic in the making

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night bills itself as the “first Iranian vampire western”. In the words of director Ana Lily Amirpour, “It’s like Sergio Leone and David Lynch had an Iranian rock ‘n’ roll baby, and then Nosferatu came and babysat [for] them.” That alone will convince some that it absolutely has to be seen and others that it must be avoided like the plague.


AFI Fest 2014
That's a Wrap
Favorites and award winners

AFI Fest 2014 presented by Audi has come to an end. Of course no one can see all the films that play during that week. But I was able to see a number of films and have some favorites among them.


AFI Fest 2014
Day 7 at the Festival
Stories of mothers

For the final day at AFI Fest 2014 presented by Audi, I took in two films dealing with mothers facing difficult trials.


Merchants of Doubt
Discrediting the Discreditors
Exposing climate change deniers

This film will primarily be preaching to the choir. We may watch it and bemoan that so many people are so uncritical of the arguments being made. But perhaps it will help form the debate in new ways to address the issue in a more productive way.


Foxcatcher
Tragic Relationships
Characters drive this engaging story

Foxcatcher could almost be considered a Greek tragedy. The story comes from a sensational news story that is now nearly twenty years old. It involves a scion from one of the richest families in America and two brothers, both Olympic gold medal wrestlers, whose lives intersect in ways that will inevitably end in misery and sorrow.


AFI Fest 2014
Day 6 at the Festival
When religion does more harm than good

Two of the films I saw yesterday portrayed examples of fundamentalist religious practices that get in the way of the good that religion seeks to bring.


AFI Fest 2014
Day 5 at the Festival
2 films get my top score

At each screening we are handed a ballot on our way in where we can rate the film from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent). I’m stingy with my fives. But yesterday I gave my first two of this year’s festival.


AFI Fest 2014
Day 4 at the Festival
Retribution

The word of the day seems to be retribution. Two of the films I watched yesterday had that among their themes.


AFI Fest 2014
Disturbing
6 films to challenge us

There were some films showing today that were disturbing in a number of ways. “Disturbing” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it shakes us out of our comfort zone to think in new ways.


AFI Fest 2014
Day 2 at the Festival
A bit on the esoteric side today

Among the fun things about festivals are the people you meet. At one of my screenings yesterday I discovered I was sitting next to the parents of one of the actors in the film we were about to see.


AFI Fest 2014
Day 1 at the Festival
Railroads, Chinese noir, and workplace democracy

Most of the films are screened at TCL Chinese Theaters at the Hollywood & Highland complex. The theaters have red walls and gold tassels and lights with a somewhat Chinese decoration on them. The director of one of the films I saw yesterday which was filmed in China) thought it appropriate to show his film there surrounded by Chinese kitsch.


Diplomacy
Saving Paris
Do ethics apply to times of war?

In August 1944, the Allied armies are advancing on Nazi-occupied Paris. General Dietrich von Choltitz, the military governor of Paris, has orders from Hitler himself to destroy the city.


Pelican Dreams
Strange Bird
Finding beauty in pelicans

Pelican Dreams is a cinematic mix of poetry and prose. Director Judy Irving is enthralled by pelicans. When she speaks of her love for them, and shares the footage of them in the wild, that is the poetry. The prose portion is more fact-based, made up of sections about rescued pelicans being cared for.


AFI Fest 2014
A Great Week Ahead
Great films in the heart of Hollywood

I’m on the verge of one of my favorite weeks of the year: AFI Fest. It takes place in the middle of what likes to think of itself as the Entertainment Capital of the World.


Force Majeure
Missing the Mark
A father blows his chance to be a hero

Women and children first or every man for himself? Which is stronger—the instinct to survive or the instinct to protect those you love? What does it mean to be a man, husband, and father? What is courage? These are the issues that come to the fore in Force Majeure.


Revenge of the Green Dragons
Immigrants' Tale
Gangsters are gangsters regardless of ethnicity

It may seem blasphemous to some to suggest that the American Dream and Christianity have little in common. Yet, often they seem to work against one another. The Gospel is not about success. It is not about getting more than others. It is about emptying oneself. It is about servanthood.


Yakona
With the Flow
The life of a river

A river is very much a living thing. It is an ecosystem, a resource, a place for enjoyment, a historical artifact. Yakona gives us a look at the San Marcos River in Texas and offers us a chance to appreciate its many facets.


Evolution of a Criminal
A Story of Sin and Repentance
Honor student becomes bank robber becomes...

When Darius Clark Monroe was sixteen he was in honors classes at school. He served on the student council. He had a job and a loving family. When he was seventeen he entered prison after having been convicted of bank robbery. In Evolution of a Criminal, Monroe tells his own story of how this happened and, more importantly, what has happened since.


Algorithms
Beyond Seeing
Young blind Indian chess players

As we watch we may be challenged to rethink what we regard as disability. Certainly these boys are far better chess players that I ever was even with my advantage of being able to look at the chessboard and see where all the pieces are.


Rudderless
Adrift in Grief
Music, grace, and healing

Rudderless is the story of a man set adrift in his grief. Sam, an advertising executive, has his world torn asunder when his son dies in a shooting on a college campus. He just can’t get over it and two years later is living in an alcoholic haze on a boat.


The Decent One
Mass Murderer and Loving Family Man
From Himmler's letters and diaries

Alternating personal documents with archival footage of the period, including some very disturbing scenes of killing and concentration camps, the film juxtaposes the middle-class everyman side of Himmler with the atrocities that he oversaw. It reminds us that even those who do terrible things may be capable of being loving to those around them.


Kill the Messenger
Truth and Lies
Reporter discovers CIA cocaine invovlement

Respected journalist Gary Webb of the San Jose Mercury News came across the story of a lifetime. But soon it turned into a nightmare as his credibility and reliability came under attack—not only by the government but by his own profession. Kill the Messenger recounts his story as well as the story he broke.


Tracks
A Walk in the Desert
A woman treks the Outback alone

In 1977, Robyn Davidson set off from Alice Springs in the middle of Australia on a 1700 mile journey to the Indian Ocean with four camels and her dog. She had no real training for such a journey. She wasn’t trying to prove anything. She just wanted to be alone.


Wedlock
More Than Friends?
Can they find a spark?

Wedlock is perhaps best characterized as an anti-romantic comedy. It takes the formula of a couple who are destined to be together, but somehow haven’t connected, and turns it on its head. Here are a man and woman who live together, but aren’t really what we would think of as a couple.


Art and Craft
Philanthropic Falsehood
Art forger gives it away

Mark Landis seeks to be a philanthropist. He has donated work by renowned artists to museums across America. Here’s the catch: They are all fakes which he has forged himself. Art and Craft lets us into Landis’s world and into the world of the art museums he fooled.


Smiling Through the Apocalypse
The Birth of The New Journalism
Esquire and its editor through the 60s

In the 1960s, Esquire published some of the best writers available: Tom Wolfe, Nora Ephron, Gay Talese, Norman Mailer, Peter Bogdanovich, John Updike, Gore Vidal, and William F. Buckley, Jr. (Vidal and Buckley had a celebrated kerfuffle in the pages of Esquire.) It became the standard of The New Journalism.


Life’s a Breeze
Hidden Treasure
A million euros was in that mattress you threw out

The film is an interesting reflection of how people think of and treat aging people—even those they love. The film’s title comes from a brand of air freshener the family installs throughout the house as part of the clean up “to keep the old folk stink away.”


Fort Bliss
Mother and Child Reunion
Family and patriotism in conflict

It seems obvious that military families face stresses other families don’t. Taking a parent away for deployment and then having to try to fit back in to family life is hard on everyone. In Fort Bliss we see the struggle of a mother to reconnect with her five year old son. It is not easy for either of them.


The Frontier
The Gulf Between a Father and Son
Comunication is more than talking

We can broadcast news and opinions through Twitter or Facebook and the other social media (including places like Hollywood Jesus), but does that mean we are communicating better? Does so much communication just create a background noise that turns into a deeper silence?


Fort Bliss
Wanting It to Be Real
Interview with Michelle Monaghan and Ron Livingston

I really respected her because she was so compelled and passionate about serving her country, but yet she’s devoted to her family. [. …] Stories about female vets are virtually non-existent. So it was really important for me personally to understand this side.


The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)
Multi-Great Grandma Was a Selkie
Best of Indies 2014

The Secret of Roan Inish brings together a family’s legends and reality. It invites us to discover the power of such legends to help us understand who we are and to bring meaning to our life.


The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them
Study in Sorrow
Lives torn apart by tragedy

This is the kind of film many viewers of art house films will revel in, for its keen sense of reality and pathos. It is also the kind of film that others might use as an example of all they hate about art house films—protesting that they don’t want to pay and spend their time in such a dark and dismal world—there is enough depression in life anyway.


Rocks in My Pockets
The Appeal of Suicide
Latvian animator takes us into her mental illness

All of this is prelude to the last fifteen minutes of the film which are the most engaging. Here Baumane bravely tells of her ongoing struggle with suicidal thoughts. In this there is no call for pity, but for understanding—perhaps even her own understanding by being able to put it in words and pictures.


A Picture of You
Our Mother Did What?
Siblings get a surprise while cleaning our their mother's house

Grief is in many ways a universal. We all go through those times and understand their blend of awkwardness, anger, joys, and sorrows. It is often a time for reconciliation and bonding. A Picture of You reflects the varying moods of grief and interjects a dose of humor.


Levitated Mass
Is It Art?
The tale of how a 340 ton rock became art

One of the interesting coincidences of the journey was an unplanned stop along the route for technical issues. The rock ended up parked in front of a small church named Rock of Salvation Church. At that stop, the rock became a reminder of just how solid God’s grace is for those who believe.


Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering
Cancer Drug Cover-Up?
Laetrile: What did research show?

Back in the 1970s, laetrile was big news. Second Opinion: Laetrile at Sloan-Kettering is the account of what may have been a cover-up of research that supported the use (or at least further examination) of laetrile to fight cancer.


Sideways (2004)
Drink Up
Wine and wisdom

There is a brilliant scene at just about the midpoint of the film where Miles and Maya are sitting on a porch in what should be developing into a romantic moment. (This may well be my favorite scene ever.) They begin to talk about wine and share a pair of beautiful soliloquies. The things they say are true of wine. But as we listen to them, we also know that what they are saying is not so much about wine as it is about themselves.


Love Is Strange
Inspiring Love Story
A relationship we should all want

Much of what makes the film so engaging and edifying are the performances by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as Ben and George. They portray a couple with a long history and affection that has grown with time. They are not only a loving couple, but also a very lovable couple.


Calvary
The Good Priest
Faith, virtue, sacrifice

The film opens with Father James in the confessional. Someone enters and tells of his abuse by a priest as a child. The speaker goes on to tell Fr. James that he is going to kill him, not because he is a bad priest, but because he is a good priest—innocent of the crime against him.


After
Denial Runs Deep
A family's fantasy to avoid grief

How do we deal with a reality that is too hard to face? In After a family’s whole world is changed by a terrible tragedy.


The Kill Team
Whistleblower or Murderer?
Meeting soldiers who killed civilians

Because we spend so much time with Winfield and his family, we begin to hope that he will not have to go to prison. After all, he tried to alert the army. But what about the involvement he did have? To what extent should he be held accountable?


What If
The F Word
Can a man and woman be friends?

Can a man and a woman be friends without romance and love being involved? Well, that was the central question in the now classic film When Harry Met Sally. What If can be thought of as a Millennial Generation update of the concept.


A Five Star Life
The Good Life
By what standards should we judge our lives?

Luxury and life are front and center in A Five Star Life. Irene spends most of her time going to luxury hotels as a “mystery guest”—a critic who reports on everything from the staff and the amenities, to the temperature of the soup and champagne brought by room service. Sounds like a pretty good gig. Except that she has little family life.


Boyhood
Becoming an Adult
12 years to make a really true to life film

What makes this more than a curiosity is the story itself—a story that grew along with the actors—and the realistic view it has of family and the various forces that come to play in raising a child into adulthood.


Mood Indigo
Surreal Love Story
Imaginative visuals galore

I think Michel Gondry may be an acquired taste—and I’m beginning to get it. His imagination comes to the fore in Mood Indigo, a surrealistic romance/comedy/tragedy based on the French cult classic novel L’Écume des jours by Boris Vian.


Underwater Dreams
Learning They Can Succeed
Undocumented high school kids vs. MIT in robotics contest

In 2004, four undocumented Latino students from an Arizona high school traveled to California for an underwater robotics competition. The robotics club was basically started so the teachers involved could have fun with the kids after school. Their entry was made of PVC and whatever electronics they could afford.


Land Ho!
Life After Retirement
Odd couple brothers-in-law tour Iceland

This is a film about the tension of friendship and loneliness within the world of aging. Mitch and Colin have reached an age where they are saying goodbye to much that has made up their lives: jobs, friends, family—the kinds of things that often define our lives.


Snowpiercer
Riding the Rails to Nowhere
The divine order of plutocracy

Okay, you can see the metaphor already. The train is a microcosm of the global economy with some having more than enough, others barely able to survive, and the former exploit the latter and see them as expendable.


My America
This Is My Country
The many voices of America

Originally commissioned by Center Stage of the Maryland State Theater, My America, is a collection of twenty-one brief monologues, each written by a different playwright. The result is a multifaceted look at who we are as Americans.


Gabrielle
Wanting to be Ordinary
Disabled people trying to live a full life

This was a difficult film for me because I have an adult niece who is intellectually disabled. I know there are serious limits in her life. But I truly hope that she can find some of the things that make life worth the living.


Venus in Fur
Who's In Control Here?
Shifting sexual political dynamics

In terms of logistics, Roman Polanski’s Venus in Furs is about as simple as it gets—two actors in an empty theater. But the relationship that develops between the two characters has many twists and turns along the way.


Beyond the Edge
They Said It Couldn't Be Done
The first to the top of Mt. Everest

Beyond the Edge is the story of the human spirit that continues to strive to do what has never been done—things that have even been considered impossible. We are attracted to such stories because they stir in us a sense of what we can do when we persevere.


Earth to Echo
Boys, Bikes, an Alien
One last night with friends

It would be unfair of me to compare Earth to Echo with either of the two films I think it aspires to emulate: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stand By Me, because both of those films achieved a level of greatness that few others will be able to match. But it is fair to say that the film doesn’t even qualify for knockoff status.


Deliver Us From Evil
Cops and Demons
A cop finds evil beyond his ken

Scott Derrickson is attracted to the horror genre because it is by its nature open to the idea of spiritual realities. (Several years ago he wrote an article in The Christian Century promoting horror films as a genre for Christians to pay attention to.) He is a master at using the genre to bring questions of faith to the fore


112 Weddings
Happy Days
Weddings are only a beginning

112 Weddings provides an opportunity for us to think about marriage, its meanings, its trials, and its benefits. Perhaps viewers will identify with some of the couples and what they have gone through.


Deliver Us From Evil
Spiritual Horror
Interview with Scott Derrickson and Ralph Sarchie

“I think [horror] obviously deals with good and evil in a way that other genres don’t—by nature. It’s actually really hard to make an amoral horror film. It’s nearly impossible because you’re in the territory of good and evil. I like that it invites an openness to the supernatural and the paranormal, which is great.”


Deliver Us From Evil
Evil and Belief
Gleanings from press day interviews

Most religions believe in the devil. Certainly it’s a fear inherent in all of us. And there is evil. There is evil in the world. We are killing each other. Hitler did exist. He killed tens of millions of people.


Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, Jr.
Bad Good Guys
How corrupt was the FBI in Bulger's case?

We want to think of the world as “white hats” and “black hats”. This film suggests that those in white hats may not always deserve to wear white. It makes the case that the trial, even though it ended up sending Bulger to a well-deserved jail cell for the rest of his life, was in many ways a cover-up of government malfeasance.


Nothing Bad Can Happen
Living Like Jesus
Is this what the Christian life should be?

The debate topic for today is “Resolved: Nothing Bad Can Happen is a Christian movie.” I’m sure we can find people to argue both the pro and con aspects of the film.


Bound By Flesh
Joined for Life
From "freaks" to stars to unknown

Unlike the people they had known before, who only saw them as a commodity to exploit or as an oddity to be observed, these church people saw them as human beings in need of care and love. And they provided it.


Do the Right Thing
No Escape
One fateful day in a Brooklyn neighborhood

Summer blockbusters are often synonymous with escapism—getting away from the world’s problems by watching a movie. There may even be something cathartic in all the explosions or car crashes that are often a big part of blockbusters. But there is no escaping reality in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.


The Last Sentence
Heroic, but Human
A dark soul in a dark time

The Last Sentence is the story of Swedish journalist Torgey Segerstedt, a fiercely anti-Nazi newspaper editor during World War II. When Hitler came to power in Germany, Segerstedt called him “an insult” not only for Germany but all of Europe.


Hellion
A Story of Pain
Youthful struggle against the darkness

What makes watching films like this so difficult is not necessarily that we identify with the characters and their pain—those who attend festivals or go to art house movies tend to lead fairly comfortable lives. It is our knowledge that there are people whose experience is very like what we see on screen.


The Moment
Filling the Gaps
Psych thriller about memory

While the film is not about faith, it may serve as a way to consider what faith involves. Faith is often not so much about what we know as about what we do not know. The gaps in our knowledge require us to make “leaps of faith” that may or may not be in the right direction.


Korengal
The Internal War
Companion piece to the war doc Restrepo

One soldier in particular gives voice to an affliction that is now being recognized: Moral Injury. Where PTSD involves physical changes in the brain and brain chemistry, Moral Injury is a spiritual affliction and even harder to treat.


The Immigrant
Unwelcoming the Stranger
The hard road of immigration is not new

Our first visual is of the Statue of Liberty, shot from an unexpected angle. The welcome we think the statue represents doesn’t come across so strongly when she has her back turned to us. And yet, that is the view one would have from Ellis Island.


Bull Durham (1988)
Ya Gotta Believe
Divine Game Of Baseball In The Best of Summer Blockbusters

Annie Savoy’s “Church of Baseball” that opens Bull Durham is my choice for best movie monologue ever. She gives voice to those of us who love baseball deep within our souls. Baseball may be seen by some as slow and boring, but for many it is an experience that calls forth a sense of the divine.


Chef
Recipe for Living
Things get cooking in very pleasant ways

Jon Favreau has taken the ingredients of life and created a very enjoyable dish to share with us all.


We Are the Best!
Refreshing Teen Portrayal
Three girls start a punk band

It is refreshing to see teenagers on screen who are not filled with cynicism, driven by hormones, or spending their lives filled with chemical escapes. We Are the Best! is a story of teenagers that shows them for what they are—part child, but beginning to find new ways in the world.


Night Moves
Expelled from the Garden
The cost of sin

Lost is a good way of thinking about Josh by the end of the film. He has become a lost soul. He has lost his place in the Garden. When he surveys what the future holds for him, he perceives that he is consigned to his own personal hell.


Emoticon ;)
The Age of Communication?
Does quantity quash quality in communication?

Emoticon ;) (yes, the wink is part of the title) asks us to think about the things we say and don’t say and about how we say them.


The Discoverers
Wilderness Misadventure
Road trip without enough turns

Lewis Birch is lost in an emotional wilderness. He has no real direction. So he needs to be in a road movie so he can get somewhere and learn something on the way. The Discoverers is as close as he can get.


Next Year Jerusalem
Trip of a Lifetime
Seniors journey to Israel

For those of us who are not yet octogenarians, the film is an opportunity to consider that our time really is finite and that now is the time we should be making our plans to fulfill our dreams. Because life is not about what we didn’t get to; it is about all the things we did on whatever journey we have chosen.


The Railway Man
Revenge or Reconciliation?
How to heal a long festering wound

Neither revenge nor reconciliation is easy. While they may bring a sense of closure to the pain we have experienced, both come at a cost. Revenge is giving in to our anger and pain. Reconciliation is the act of giving up the pain and anger that have controlled us.


Half of a Yellow Sun
A Family and Country in Turmoil
Nigeria's independence and civil war

One of the difficulties with the film is how little of the context of the Biafra war most Americans will know and understand. The ethnic divisions and animosity would be well understood by the original Nigerian audience, but may not travel well.


Belle
A Person of Value
What determines a person's worth?

How do we determine the value of a person? Is there intrinsic value or does it depend on external factors such as race, social position, and wealth? In Belle the “worth” and worthiness of various people come into play—ranging from the aristocracy to a shipload of slaves.


Documented
"What Do You Want to Do with Me?"
Journalist outs himself as undocumented

In 2011, after seeing the bravery of DREAMers, young undocumented immigrants going public, Juan Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. This film is his personal contribution to the debate in America over, not only immigration law, but what it means to be an American.


Palo Alto
A World of Darkness
Teen angst as struggle against nihilism

Palo Alto, based on a collection of stories by James Franco, focuses on the teen angst of a group of high school friends. They are dealing with insecurities, identity, and the tension between sexuality, intimacy, and loneliness. But the teen angst is set within a framework of a struggle with nihilism.


Cyber-Seniors
Grannies Online
Teens and seniors team up to learn internet

Aging people and new technology often make for humorous situations. We assume that the older we get, the less able we are to learn something new. But when a group of teenagers set out to teach residents of some Toronto retirement homes how to use the internet, some of them found new ways to interact with the world.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
The Winners
Festival awards and favorites

Thanks to the staff and volunteers of the Newport Beach Film Festival for all the work that went into bringing off another year.


From the Sky
Short But Powerful
Interview with writer/director Ian Ebright

I like N. T. Wright and I’m going to paraphrase a quote that he has. He says something to the effect of “when the disciples pressed Christ for kingdom theology he responded with a meal.”


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
One Last Time into the Dark
Thursday at NBFF

The final day of the festival was a full one for me, including fitting in a couple films I wanted to see but couldn’t make the earlier screenings.


Farmland
The People Who Feed Us
A new generation of farmers

When you think of farming do you think of the painting “American Gothic” or of a vast corporate farm spreading out for miles in all directions, producing GMO corn to feed to hormone-laden cattle and chickens? Farmland introduces us to six young farmers and ranchers who fall somewhere in the middle of all this.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
Docs, Wounded Healers, Revolution
Tuesday at NBFF

Refuge was the kind of film that often shows up in festivals, but may not make it into general release.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
Docs, Stand Offs, a Remade Classic
Monday at NBFF

Monday was probably the day I most looked forward to going into the festival, because that was when I was going to get to see Unforgiven. But I’ll get to that later. First there were lots of other choices to see.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
A Very Full (and Mixed) Day
Sunday at NBFF

I like Belgian films—really. But I also understand that they tend toward darkness. A Place on Earth is among the darkest I’ve seen coming from Belgium.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
Choices, History, and Shorts
Saturday at NBFF

Saturday started the adjustments to my schedule. The main film I built the day around was sold out, so press didn’t get in. That meant some moving around. Still I got some interesting films to watch.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
Off to a Good Start
Friday at NBFF

I ran across one of the programmers and asked if they picked good films this year. He jokingly said, “No, we just phoned it in.” Judging from my first two films, they have done a good job.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
What Will I Find?
Looking ahead to NBFF

The Newport Beach Film Festival always has a surprise or two for me. My favorite film from last year, I Declare War, I discovered at NBFF. And it seems that each year when the Oscar nominations come out there is a point where I say, “Oh, I saw that at Newport.”


Walking with the Enemy
Saving Others
Holocaust rescue in Hungary

The press notes for the film quote theologian Frederich Buechner: “War is hell, but sometimes in the midst of that hell, men do things that heaven itself must be proud of.” I believe what the writer seeks to invoke here is an admiration not just of heroism, but of the reason behind that heroism.


Tasting Menu
The Last Supper
The end . . . and beyond

And what of us when we face an ending or a new beginning? What opportunities will we find in each new day? Although I doubt it is intentional, the film is opening on Good Friday and a few days after Passover. Those are examples of endings that opened up to futures no one expected.


Bears
A Tale of Survival
Disneynature's Earth Day present to us all

Bears is this year’s Earth Day release from Disneynature. These films are always gorgeously photographed and entertaining excursions into the wilderness to see animals in real life situations. They are a visual celebration of nature and wildlife. They are designed to be family movies that will appeal to all ages.


Life Is Beautiful
The God Who Serves
A Holocaust comedy with meaning

During Lent we reflect on the love of God that never ends—a love that even endured the cross. In the shadow of the cross, we again remember that God serves us out of love. Perhaps as we see life as a gift that flows from God’s unquenchable love, we can see that live is beautiful.


The Greatest Story Ever Told
Epic Jesus
The Gospel according to American Civil Religion

I was in junior high when The Greatest Story Ever Told came out. I remember going with a church group to the theater for this major event. This is a prime example of the Old Hollywood epic.


Godspell
This Is My Beloved Clown
The Gospel according to flower children

The early 1970s were the age of flower children and the counter-culture. It is in this setting that Godspell: A Musical Based on the Gospel of St. Matthew needs to be understood. Yet, for all that ties Godspell to its particular era, there is also a timelessness and timeliness in the story that continues to speak to us.


10 Reasons For Sleeping Around
Sex Comedy of Errors
Farce over substance

Is open marriage and the freedom to have sex with people other than one’s spouse the way to happiness in marriage? Such would seem to be the thesis of 10 Rules for Sleeping Around. But is it as it seems?


Dom Hemingway
No Options
The hope of hopelessness

I can understand how crudeness can be humorous. I can even think of some pretty vulgar films I’ve enjoyed. But here it just seems a bit over the top. It is very hard to like Dom. It’s not just his mouth. He is utterly self-centered.


Jesus Christ Superstar
Rocking Passion Play
"Do you think you're who they say you are?"

For many years I have tried to schedule a time during Holy Week to have the house to myself so I can turn up the stereo and play the original album of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The film is also a very good way to encounter this very different way of approaching the Passion Story.


Breaking the Waves
The Things She'll Do For Love
The ugliness of Substitutionary Atonement

Breaking the Waves is the film that flipped the switch for me. Going into the theater I viewed films as entertainments and a way of telling stories. Walking out of the theater I understood that films can have the ability to open our minds to theological ideas.


The Raid 2
The Will to Power
It's all about the fights

But let’s face it, this film is not so much about the plot as it is about the fights. The choreography and setting for the fight scenes are what make this film. Fights take place in a toilet stall, a moving car, a subway train, and involve characters such as Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Boy.


The Raid 2
Crashes and Body Counts
Interview with writer/director Gareth Evans

I didn’t go out and meet people and ask, “How would you kill someone with a baseball bat?” The look and the feel of that was based on movie gangsters. I’ve got a sort of certain stylized comic book feel.


Enemy
Double Trouble
What will he find when he meets his double?

Enemy director Denis Villeneuve has given us films that put two ideas side by side, such as shame and honor in Incendies and good and evil in Prisoners. In the comparisons we see how close one can be to the other. In Enemy we see two identical people with very different lives that become entwined


The Grand Budapest Hotel
A Kinder, Gentler Time
Wes Anderson's newest set of quirky characters

Wes Anderson is known for films featuring quirky, yet endearing characters. His stories are about connections—sometimes in families, or the creation of a family-like structure. The Grand Budapest Hotel is certainly in that mold.


Le Week-End
The 30 Year Itch
A beige marriage needs some color

What allows people to stay together for so many years? The excitement of early love often gives way through the years to a kind of “beigeness.” The qualities that attract us to another may be supplanted by the things they do that irritate us.


Ernest & Celestine
Unlikely Friends
Going against the way things are

Ernest and Celestine, Oscar nominee for Best Animated Feature, is based on a series of Belgian children’s books about a bear and a mouse who become best friends. It is a pleasant fable about being willing to go against conformity.


The Lunchbox
Notes Between Strangers
Finding someone you can talk to

In Mumbai, many wives send a hot lunch to their husband’s workplace by way of dabbawallahs, a system of carriers. The Lunchbox uses this custom to deliver an engaging story of a neglected wife and a bored widower who connect through a misdirected lunch.


The Right Kind of Wrong
To Thine Own Self...
Making a sacrifice for love

Like most romcoms, this is really an examination of how to find happiness. Is it found in another person, or is it found in being true to oneself?


Kids for Cash
Court of Contempt
The juvenile justice system turns dark

“Each day, we would pick up the local and national papers and read about what was happening right where I live. I was stunned to learn that these judges were accused of such heinous crimes involving children, especially since I probably voted for both of them!”


The Wind Rises
Jiro Dreams of Airplanes
Change of pace from Hayao Miyazaki

Miyazaki has at times quoted from Ecclesiastes, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might.” That is truly Jiro’s approach to the aircraft he creates. It is also clearly a driving force in Miyazaki’s art. If indeed this is his final film, it is a strong way to draw his career to a close. But still, I will miss his work.


Son of God
"Who Do You Say That I Am?
Using the film to ask questions

“Who do you say that I am?” That is one of the key questions in the gospels (well, in three of them anyway). It is also a question we should ask of modern versions of the life of Christ: who do they say Jesus is?


Stalingrad
Five Fathers
Personal sized epic

The film serves as a praise for those who gave their lives in the defense of Stalingrad and in other battles in the war. As the narrator tells us, “My mother said I was lucky… because thanks to my fathers and the fathers of my countrymen I have no idea what war is like.”


Son of God
Devotional Look at Jesus
Jesus returns to the big screen

I knew better going in than to expect this film to be the film I would make. What I really wanted to see is what film the filmmakers wanted it to be. The film turns out to be a devotional look at the Jesus of the gospels.


2014 Oscars
Best Foreign Language Film
The most interesting race this year

It is noteworthy that the director of one of the films (Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt) served as the president of a jury at Cannes that gave its top award to one of the films nominated (The Missing Picture) and also recognized another of the films (Omar).


Arts and Faith Top 25 Divine Comedies
Need a Good Laugh?
Comedies with a soul

The people at Image Journal and Arts and Faith, an online community where members discuss many aspects of the arts, but mostly films, have issued their list of the Top 25 Divine Comedies.


Son of God
The Responsibility of Portraying Jesus
Interview wirh Diogo Morgado

I think Son of God is an epic, emotional journey of the life of Jesus. At the same time we have the responsibility of bringing the figure of Jesus to a younger generation. The last time the whole life of Jesus was on the screen or television or a movie theater was forty-nine years ago. So there’s a lot of kids and 20s—people that never saw the figure of Jesus as a speaking person.


2014 Oscars
Best Documentary Feature
Real Lives, Real Issues

The five films nominated for Best Documentary Feature cover a wide range of topics and styles. Docs don’t get near the coverage of narrative films, but they often provide visions of a world we need to see, but do not otherwise have the chance to.


Son of God
Bringing the Gospel to the Screen
Interview with the producers

Bringing the Gospel to the screen in this way is huge responsibility and one that we took very seriously. We worked with a team of scholars and theologians and faith leaders along the way to make sure that we told the story accurately.


Omar
A Man of Honor
A Palestinian must make choices

What does it mean to live honorably? Is it something more than following society’s rules? For Omar there are qualities one must be true to: friendship, love, loyalty. But this is a world of often conflicting loyalties.


Facing Fear
The Work Of Forgiveness
Interview with director Jason Cohen and subject Matthew Boger

“There were many, many challenges to forgiving Tim. It was not an easy thing. I never wanted to walk away from it, because I’m one of those people who once I start it I have to complete it.”


2014 Oscars
Quick Visits with Real People
Best Short Documentary nominees

The five films nominated Best Short Documentary give a taste of life that may be outside our normal travels, but they all touch something within us that is very familiar. While our situations may not be the same as those we meet in these films, we identify with the feelings that drive their characters.


The Pretty One
Living Someone Else's Life
From tragedy comes a new life

Identical twins make for convenient and often interesting dramatic devices to explore identity. The Pretty One uses the story of twins to not only look at identity, but also grief, love, second chances, and coming of age.


The Monuments Men
Noble Lives
Doing right in a world of wrong

What is it worth to save a piece of art? For army commanders, it was meaningless. Should they refrain from shelling a church bell tower when a sniper is killing their men? Some think it wrong to even consider art in the equation of war. But the leader of this band understands that art is not just decoration, but the expression of the human soul, human dreams, and human longings.


The Broken Circle Breakdown
Songs of Pain
Can bluegrass music heal a broken heart?

The Broken Circle Breakdown allows bluegrass music to lead us in reflecting on life and love and loss and the afterlife—the very things that are central to that musical genre. I cannot imagine this film without the American folk music that is at its core.


Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts
They're More than Mere Cartoons
Variety of styles and content

The category of Best Animated Short always represents a wide range of style. They may be hand-drawn or computer generated or both. This year’s class of Oscar nominees certainly varies widely.


Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts
A Category You Might Overlook
Humor, pathos, and thrills: Shorts have it all

I’m always interested in the short film categories because shorts can be a look into the future. All five of the nominees for Best Achievement in Directing this year have shorts in their filmography. Steve McQueen has a long list. Martin Scorsese still makes a short from time to time.


Like Father, Like Son
Switched at Birth
Which son should a father love?

The idea of babies switched at birth may not be an original plot but it still has traction, as Hirokazu Kore-eda proves in Like Father, Like Son, winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes as well as a special commendation from the Ecumenical Jury.


Like Father, Like Son
"These are things that are near my heart."
Interview with director Hirokazu Kore-eda

I actually don’t compare my work to anybody else’s. I don’t make films thinking that I need to do something different. Quite simply some of the themes of family […] tend to be much closer to me. These are the things that are near my heart.


Mother, I Love You
Finding a Moral Compass
Bad choices lead to worse choices

Mother, I Love You, Latvia’s official submission for Best Foreign Language film, failed to make the short list of films from which the nominees will be chosen. It did, however, win the jury’s award in the Narrative competition at the L.A. Film Festival last summer.


Of Horses and Men
Interspecies Connections
The bonds of community

The filmmakers’ love of horses comes out very clearly in the film. It is not just that they show the bond and devotion between animal and people, but also a celebration of the beauty of the horse, especially these Icelandic horses and their distinct, rhythmic gait.


Darrel’s Dozen 2013
My Favorite Films of Last Year
I know you haven't heard of many of them. Now you have.

Here it is, time to look back at the films I saw in 2013 and pick my top films. Of course, my list is subjective and is probably more related to the films that moved me most or that I want to encourage people to see than to any clear statement of which films are the best.


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Daydreaming Hero
Finding the excitement of life

“To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of Life.”


The Wolf of Wall Street
The Rise and Fall of an Addict
Unchecked avarice and pride

Central to Jordan and the rest of his crew are avarice and hubris. There is never enough of his favorite drug to satisfy him. But the really dark part of his personality is the disdain in which he holds his clients and everyone else who is not like him.


The Selfish Giant
The Cost of Redemption
When someone else pays the price

One of my favorite films at this year’s AFI Fest, The Selfish Giant, is opening in theaters and is available on Video on Demand. This film is inspired by a Christological fairy tale by Oscar Wilde, that tells of a giant who will not allow the village children to play in his garden and how his selfishness leads to sorrow.


Inside Llewyn Davis
The Anti-Odyssey
A journey back to nowhere

Llewyn is well acquainted with other people’s couches. He has no place of his own. His sister doesn’t want him around. Other musicians like him, but he always does something to make them mad. He, like Odysseus, and his guitar (and at times, someone else’s cat) travel from place to place and trial to trial, but unlike Odysseus, he has no real purpose, no home to return to, and no one waiting for him.


The Invisible Woman
Victorian Secrets
Celebrity Scandal (19th Century Style)

There was a time when celebrities’ lives were not flaunted. Divorce was unthinkable. Scandal could lead to ruin. That doesn’t mean they lived more prudent lives, only that they kept secrets better. The Invisible Woman is the story of Nelly Ternan, the woman Charles Dickens loved and left his wife for.


The Past
Fixing Things
To get beyond the past, you much acknowledge it

The Past, Iran’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar, is an exploration of family dynamics and morality in the midst of crisis. In its award statement, the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes noted that the film illustrates John 8:32: “The truth shall set you free.”


Tim’s Vermeer
Magic Tricks of a Dutch Master
Discovering the technology behind 17th Century painting

As I watched Tim’s Vermeer I found myself staring at the screen slack-jawed from time to time. What I was seeing on the screen was an amazing combination of personality, mystery solving, art, and technology all coming together.


Her
Boy Meets Operating System
This guy really loves technology

Love is such an intangible. It is hard to define, yet we all seem to know something about it. Her tries to bring the feelings of love to the front by providing an intangible person on one side of the love equation. We must step back to consider whether this is truly love.


Stalingrad
Russian Oscar Hopeful
Interview with Fedor Bondarchuk and Alexander Rodnyansky

“If you ask Russians what events they are most proud of, they would definitely mention Stalingrad in the first three. So to learn more about the people and European history—it’s not just about Russian history—it is necessary to understand that was the bloodiest battle in world history with 1.5 million people dead there.”


Omar
Palestinian Oscar Hopeful
Interview with director Hany Abu-Assad

“The main theme of the movie was about lack of trust. It’s about love, friendship, and trust. How important trust is for human beings and with lack of trust there is paranoia. This is the theme. We live in this society of paranoia. People under occupation know exactly what paranoia is.”


Best Foreign Language Film
Views from Around the World
Overview of the race for the Oscar

This year the submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film come from 76 countries. Three countries, Moldova, Montenegro, and Saudi Arabia, have entered films for the first time. I hope to introduce you to a few of the films that are in the running.


The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld
Assurance or Smugness?
Rumsfelt tells his story

Donald Rumsfeld served as Secretary of Defense under two Presidents (Gerald Ford and George W. Bush). Many see him as the architect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Documentarian Errol Morris tries to give us insight into Rumsfeld’s thinking in The Unknown Known.


Narco Cultura
Worshipping Evil
The reality vs. the romance of the Mexican drug wars

This seems such a clear case of evil in our world: drugs, murder, violence. Yet, it is this very evil that is being glorified in narcocorridos. We see scenes of full clubs (in the U.S., by the way) with people singing along and celebrating this kind of life.


Out of the Furnace
Satisifyingly Unsatisfying
A stoic confronts brutal evil

Out of the Furnace is a film that wants us to be uncomfortable. It opens with a scene of astonishing and senseless violence. Even before we enter the story, we are put off balance. That violence lies in the background for a while as we begin to see into the lives of Russell and Rodney. But we know that it will be coming back.


Nebraska
Road Trip to Fulfillment
Some things are better than winning a million dollars

It is a road filled with laughter and tears, with hope and despair, with shame and dignity, with history and a future. In short, it is filled with life.


Dallas Buyers Club
Transformation through Compassion
Surviving AIDS in the 80s

In 1985, AIDS was seen as a death sentence. There were no approved treatments. For desperate patients, access to alternative medicine treatments was a faint ray of hope, but those unapproved medicines were hard to come by.


Bettie Page Reveals All
Telling Her Story
The pin-up queen who became a Christian

Like us all, Bettie Page was a complex and at times broken child of God. Her approach to sexuality, while it might be thought of as healthy in today’s world, caused many people to look down on her at the time. Perhaps this film will remind us that people are not defined by their weaknesses or most controversial acts. Instead we should see them through the eyes of God’s grace.


Homefront
All Action, No Depth
Ex-DEA agent and daughter become targets

When we see a clear good versus evil scenario that is built around violence, I have to wonder how we can reconcile such views with a faith that speaks of not returning evil for evil.


The Great Beauty
Great Banality
The search for meaning in empty beauty

Jep is a modern day Qoheleth (the author of Ecclesiastes) who looks around him and sees that for all the opulence, his world is vapor (a better word for the one often translated as “vanity” in Ecclesiastes).


Always Faithful
Dogs of War
Marines and dogs in Iraq

There are many stories about soldiers that have come out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Always Faithful gives us a smaller story—the way these dogs and their handlers have made a difference in each other’s lives, and the other Marines and soldiers whose lives they have touched.


Philomena
Secrets, Truth, and Grace
A mother searches for her son

The Catholic Church does not fare well in this film, based on journalist Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. I don’t know whether to attribute the antipathy towards the Church reflected in the film primarily to Sixsmith or to the filmmakers, but it is very strong.


All Is Lost
A Small Boat in a Great Sea
A tale of survival - and salvation?

I don’t know if writer/director J. C. Chandor wanted to make a theological point in the film, but many Christians understand the gospel to be that we can never achieve salvation through our own effort; salvation is found only when we surrender.


AFI Fest 2013
The Best of the Fest
Favorites and Awards

As at all festivals, I saw some films that really impressed me and some that I can’t really say that about. I’ll just give you the ones that came out my favorite experiences of the festival.


AFI Fest 2013
Reality and Reality
Two final films at the fest

Spike Jonze’s new film Her is a love story. The twist, in case you haven’t seen the trailers yet, is that the main character, Theodore, falls in love with his computer’s artificial intelligence operating system (Samantha).


Cold Turkey
A Family Gathering
Not all Thanksgivings are happy

Thanksgiving is a time for families to gather and renew bonds of love and affection over a feast. What about a family that has allowed those bonds to dissolve over time? Cold Turkey invites us spend Thanksgiving with the dysfunctional Turner family.


AFI Fest 2013
Maybe My Favorite Day
Christians (good and bad) and choices (good and bad)

It was a good day of festival viewing yesterday. Two of the films involved explicitly Christian characters and the third dealt with the choices we make as individuals and as a society and the cost they entail.


AFI Fest 2013
Romania, Nepal, and Points Between
Report on five films at AFI Fest

Yesterday was spent in far off countries that each have issues of their own to deal with and stories that they want to tell.


AFI Fest 2013
Mundane and Melacholy
The Strange Little Cat, The Invisible Woman, and a short

The Strange Little Cat is a strange little film from Germany. Directed by Ramon Zücher, the film is a study in the mundane. Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman takes us to Victorian England with the story of Charles Dickens and his mistress Ellen Ternan.


AFI Fest 2013
Cultures in Conflict
Four films at AFI Fest

Yesterday was one of those days of traveling around the world. However in the cases of the films I saw, it was always more than one culture involved, sometimes with clashes, sometimes with harmony.


AFI Fest 2013
Saturday at AFIFest
A day of love and wars

I always have a day like this at festivals that looks much more impressive than the reality. Thanks to being able take part in press screenings, I get to tell you about six films that played yesterday.


AFI Fest 2013
Friday at AFIFest
A church scam, revenge, trying to hide the truth

From the first full day of AFI Fest I have three films to discuss.


AFI Fest 2013
Great Films in Hollywood
American Film Institute puts on a show

The American Film Institute puts on this festival each year and brings together some of the big name films that could well be vying for Oscar consideration, world cinema, work by new filmmakers making a breakthrough, and even a few classics.


Free Birds
Thanksgiving Without Turkey?
Nah. This movie is a big one.

One might think that after watching turkeys try to change history so they wouldn’t be on the menu later this month, I would have second thoughts. I will not only still eat turkey for Thanksgiving, but after this movie will relish it even more.


The Square
Power to the People
Inside the Egyptian Revolution

At its heart, The Square wants to be a paean to the struggle for freedom as it has taken place throughout history, but especially the way it has been happening in the Arab world and Egypt. In press notes, Director Jehane Noujaim evokes the civil rights movements of the 60s and the fight against Apartheid.


Last Vegas
Septuagenerian Bachelor Party
Like the city, it's more flash than substance

Last Vegas is everything I expected it to be. It is a vehicle that brings together some well-known actors (Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen) in a geriatric version of a typical bachelor party comedy. “Typical” being the operative word.


Facing Fear
Short, but Powerful
Victim meets the man who tried to kill him

Although many will think “It’s only a short,” Facing Fear opens our minds and hearts to consider the depth of forgiveness.


Blood Brother
Life's Calling in an Unexpected Place
An American finds a home among India's HIV kids

The film is not about the role of the HIV crisis in India; it is about Rocky and these children. They are not victims. They are children like we see all around us—trying to be happy and alive.


Blue Is the Warmest Color
Real Relationships
A film that revels in its controversy

Blue Is the Warmest Color was the unanimous choice for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. I doubt opinions will be as undivided among a broader audience. To be honest, my own opinion of the film is divided. It is visually beautiful and very honest about relationships, but it also has some serious controversy attached to it.


American Promise
Education Is About the Kids
A long term look at 2 kids in school

The film is a chance to look at the role of education in the lives of children. Because it is limited to the experience of two children, it is in some ways narrow and incomplete. But because it is limited to the experience of two children, it is also personal rather than abstract.


Blue Is the Warmest Color
A Love Story Becomes Dark
Interview with director Abdellatif Kechiche

He was taken aback at the degree which the film ended up being about suffering and pain. He had started out with the intent to make a love story—something not so grey, something not so dark, but it really became about that—about the suffering of this breakup.


12 Years a Slave
Free to Slave and Back Again
A world of sin, evil, and forgiveness

12 Years a Slave takes us into a very dark time in American history and into some very dark places of the soul. While slavery may be gone, those dark places—despair, hatred, racism, hubris, hypocrisy, fear—are still very much parts of our lives.


Birth of the Living Dead
Genesis of an Apocalypse
Where zombies come from

Zombies! There’s no escaping them! They’re everywhere! They’re at the movies! They’re in the book stores! They have their own critically-acclaimed TV series! Where did all these zombies come from? Actually, they all derive from George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead.


Kill Your Darlings
Before He Howled
Allen Ginsberg as a college freshman

Kill Your Darlings is set before the generation found its beat, before Ginsberg howled, before Kerouac set off on the road. In 1944 Allen Ginsberg is a freshman at Columbia University. The world of learning has been opened to him. Other worlds are opening for him as well.


Escape from Tomorrow
A Dark View of Disney
Happiness is making us crazy

The film, as outlandish as it is at times, is a commentary on a world that expects on-demand happiness. If things are bringing us down, we just need to go to one of the many places (which could also include movie theaters or churches) that promise us an escape from our troubles.


Gravity
Attachments
Lost in the void

It is easy to let the impressive special effects of Gravity overwhelm you. I saw it in IMAX 3D, and it was truly spectacular. There is the impression that you are genuinely watching people in zero gravity. It is a fun and exciting ride. But is there more?


After Tiller
Making It Personal
Late abortion doctors and patients

Because this is perhaps the most extreme facet of the abortion debate, I suspect that many people will just never see After Tiller, either because they find abortion abhorrent and late abortion unspeakably so, or because even though they support abortion rights, late-term abortion is just too difficult to contemplate.


The Summit
A Deadly Day
Looking for truth beyond the story

K2 is the second highest mountain in the world and the most dangerous. Of the few who make it to the top, one quarter die on the descent. The Summit is the story of the August 2008 tragedy in which eleven climbers died.


Don Jon
Fantasies and Fallacies
It's not just about the porn

Is it possible to make a romantic comedy about a guy who is addicted to pornography? That very concept will be distasteful to some people. But in reality Don Jon brings forth ideas about our culture that are well worth looking at.


GMO OMG
Do You Eat Frankenfood?
Genetically modified food is all around us

Have you eaten pesticide today? More than likely. Have you fed it to your children? Almost certainly. Does it matter or are questions like this just fear mongering?


Ip Man: The Final Fight
Violence or Virtue
The master of kung fu masters

Ip Man was a master of the Wing Chun style of martial arts. He is probably best known as Bruce Lee’s teacher. He has been the subject of other films, most recently The Grandmaster, which played earlier this year. Ip Man: The Final Fight tells of his life after moving to Hong Kong in 1949.


Enough Said
A Poisonous Tongue
Is love stronger than gossip?

The film is written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who I am beginning to view as a gentler, less neurotic Woody Allen. By that I mean she looks at the life of the upper middle class with a slightly cynical outlook, but manages to show us the folly that often undergirds that lifestyle.


Red Obsession
Talking about Wine and China
Converstaion with filmmaker Warwick Ross

I recently had a chance to sit down with Warwick Ross to discuss his documentary Red Obsession. The film focuses on the premier cru Bordeaux wines that can cost a few thousand dollars a bottle and how the new wealth growing in China has affected the market for such wine.


Red Obsession
Ostentatious Materialism
Why the Chinese are buying all the best wine

How could I pass up a chance to review Red Obsession, a film about Bordeaux wine? Granted, I’m more of a Two Buck Chuck kind of guy, but Bordeaux is renowned, especially its First Growth wines such as Lafite-Rothchild, Mouton-Lafite, and Haut-Brion, as the best in the world.


And While We Were Here
Which Way to Go?
Carrying the past into the future

Yogi Berra is credited with saying, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That is where a young woman finds herself in And While We Were Here.


Wadjda
The Empowerment of a Dream
A Saudi girl wants to ride a bike

Wadjda is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, a country that doesn’t even have movie theaters. It is directed by Haifaa Al Mansour, a woman who grew up in Saudi Arabia. The film reflects the state of women in the country. Certainly there are restrictions, but women are beginning to find new ways of breaking out of the confining rules of the society.


The Family
A Mob Family with a Twist
Grace without repentance

In The Family a mafia family in the witness protection program must try to fit in in a small town in Normandy. They have already been burned in Paris and the south of France. Their handler figures that not much can happen in a small town like this. But this family only knows one way to act, and it isn’t very pleasant.


And While We Were Here
Duty and Choices
Inteview with Kat Corio and Iddo Goldberg

I think that there’s a sense of duty. I think she got into this relationship with Leonard very young and it’s never really has been very fun, and it’s never really worked. But there’s a sense of duty, like I made my choice and…


My Father and the Man in Black
A Father He Never Knew
The son of Johnny Cash's manager finds a man he didn't know

My Father and the Man in Black is the story of filmmaker Jonathan Holiff’s discovery of things he never knew about his father. The Man in Black in the title is, of course, Johnny Cash.


Good Ol’Freda
Dream Job
Meet the Beatles' secretary

Freda was a seventeen year old Liverpudlian working in a typing pool when she first went to The Cavern and heard The Beatles play. Just as the band began taking off, manager Brian Epstein asked if she’d like to work for him. So it began.


Adore
Not Quite Oedipal
Cougars and their cubs?

The idea of older women paired up with younger men has lost a bit of its stigma, although the term we have developed to describe such women, cougar, has a predatory connotation. Adore adds a twist (actually a double twist) to those relationships.


Things Never Said
Breaking Free
Spoken Word poet dreams of bigger things

In many ways, Kal is a reflection of how the people around her perceive her. In a sense it is ironic that she is striving to bare her soul in poetry when she has yet to really discover the self deep within.


I Declare War
War Games
The real world ethics of capture the flag

The film is something of a combination of Stand by Me, Lord of the Flies, and Full Metal Jacket, with a salting of Apocalypse Now and Zero Dark Thirty. I Declare War broaches topics that other war films deal with, but in a much less threatening way. That is really a bit subversive.


Short Term 12
Wounded Healers
Touching the scars of abuse

While I don’t remember anything overtly religious in the film, this is one of the most Christian films I’ve seen in some time. Don’t let that statement scare you away. Take your wounds with you to the theater.


The World’s End
What Price Order?
A pub crawl to freedom

Freedom vs. order is an age-old balancing act. The very nature of government is an abridgement of freedom to some extent. We set up laws that mean you may not do something you want to do, or must do something you do not want. But there is a payoff for that loss of freedom in a common good.


Dark Tourist
A Macabre Hobby
What turns someone into a monster?

This is a dark, moody film. There is a noirish score that sets the tone early on. Even scenes shot in daylight are filled with shadow. It is a film about great evil. Surely that is how we often think of serial killers.


Dark Tourist
Touching the Darkness
Interviews with filmmakers and cast

“I think more than anything else, there is a dark side in all of us. There is a dark part that we either choose to or choose not to go to.”


Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
Seeing Good
At the crossroads of law and grace

Law and grace are seemingly opposing themes that run through scripture. Those same themes are central in David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.


Paranoia
Ethics and Integrity
Thiller about being true to one's values

“There’s no right and wrong; there is only winning and losing.” Paranoia plays out in the world of corporate competition and rivalry, but at its core is one man’s struggle for integrity


Spark: A Burning Man Story
Freedom vs. Order
A festival of freedom evolves

Every year at the end of August about 55,000 people head to the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada for a—what can I call it?—experience I expect is the best word. Burning Man is a festival that strives to be a time of creativity and freedom.


Short Term 12
Mutual Healing
Interview with the director and leads

I feel like—at least in my own experience—the most substantial healing is always mutual to a certain extent. It’s not a teacher-student relationship that’s so clear cut. There’s more of two people learning from each other. That was also my experience when I was working at a place like this.


Blue Jasmine
A Shattered Life
The reincarnation of Blanche DuBois

Woody Allen’s latest film, Blue Jasmine, is about collisions between worlds: upper class and working class, men and women, and most of all, sanity and insanity.


In a World . . .
Finding a Voice
Crashing the movie trailer glass ceiling

Writer/director/star of the film, Lake Bell, aspired to be a voice actor, but it turns out that that part of the industry is very insular and very, very male. (How many trailers do you recall with a woman’s voice?) In a world ruled by sonorous baritones, can a young woman find her way in?


Europa Report
Are We Alone?
Space journey looking for answers

Are we alone in the universe? This is a question that science fiction (and science) has been asking for some time. We may ask with hope or with fear. Are there companions or mentors out there who could perhaps bring us ways of peace and advancement? Or might we find beings that would seek to destroy us?


Rising from Ashes
Riding to a Second Chance
Rwandans biking to a new future

In the documentary Rising from Ashes, we see how for some a bicycle has become a way to rise above the pain of the past and provide a sense of hope for the future.


The Spectacular Now
Bad Boy, Good Girl, and a Twist
Life with and without a future

Like many coming-of-age stories, The Spectacular Now offers us a chance to consider one of the central questions of wisdom: how do we live our lives to find happiness?


Fruitvale Station
A Real Person
Meeting the person at the center of a tragedy

This is a film that lifts up the concept of the value of human life—not just the lives of the good or prosperous, but every life. Whether or not Oscar could have turned his life around, every possibility open to him ended on that New Year’s morning. He didn’t live his last day as if it were his last. Nor do we.


The Spectacular Now
Telling Stories Honestly
Interview with director James Ponsoldt

“I think I realized that my favorite coming-of-age or quote/unquote teen movies that I liked were the films that I just found to be emotionally complicated films and romantic films or dramatic films where they just happened to be young people.”


The Spectacular Now
Writing a Movie They'd Go To
interview with the screenwriters

“For us it’s as simple as ‘Would we go see this movie?’ We see fewer movies now than when we were growing up and I think that’s even tied into our process because the first thing is ‘would we go see this movie?’”


Europa Report
Science, Fiction, and Big Questions
Interview with director Sebastian Cordero

I think sci-fi is really quite unique because it allows you to put yourself in more extreme situations that I think highlight what happen or could happen in daily life, but that you’re seeing it in such a different perspective.


Blackfish
Is Shamu Stadium a Prison?
Orcas in captivity for our enjoyment

How do we understand the scriptural story of creation and of God granting us “dominion” over the fish of the sea (and other animals, birds, etc.)? Is that license to treat them as we please?


The Hunt
Viral Lies
Friends, hysteria, anger, ... and Christmas

What happens when a lie goes viral? It happens so frequently. Consider the Salem Witch Trials or the way many politicians spin things into a scandal. The Hunt is Danish director Thomas Vinterberg’s examination of what happens in a small community when a teacher is accused by a kindergarten child of molestation.


Stuck in Love
Stuck in Love
What is love all about?

In one scene Bill tells a group of students that his favorite book is Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. That actually would have made a great title for the film. This is an exploration of some of the ways we understand love and the way our understandings of love color our views of life.


This is the End
Surviving the Apocalypse
The Raunchy Rapture

So you come to Hollywood Jesus to discover films that have spiritual or theological insight, yet until now you haven’t seen anything about This Is the End. How can that be? Here is a film that is about life after the Apocalypse. People are beamed up into heaven; others fall into a fiery pit.


Bidder 70
The Greater Good
An exercise in civil disobedience

There is a story about Thoreau in which he was jailed for failing to pay a poll tax. When his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson saw him in jail Emerson asked, “Henry, why are you here?” Thoreau is reported to have replied, “Ralph, why aren’t you here?” For DeChristopher, this is a question he might ask of us.


The Stroller Strategy
Accessory Baby
Baby as woman bait

Much of the film relies on somewhat outdated stereotypes of men and women relating to parenthood. It is from this that the film draws its humor. The bite of the film, though, comes from the realization that one cannot build a successful relationship on a foundation of a lie.


LA Film Fest
Faves and Awards
How do I line up with the jury and the broader audience?

So after seeing 32 of the films (plus a few shorts) playing at LA Film Fest over the past few weeks, it’s time to reveal my favorites. After that we can compare my choices to the jury and audience awards.


LA Film Fest
The Final Two Films
June 23 at LAFF

The last two films I saw at the festival were both stories that fit under the rubric of a Hero’s Journey. Yet they were two very different approaches to that common theme.


LA Film Fest
Doc doc and interesting people
June 22 at LAFF

Interesting characters and communities filled the choices I made yesterday.


LA Film Fest
A Saudi Gem
June 21 at LAFF

Another of those days where the schedule has lots of films I’ve already seen. There were two I wanted to see, but they played at the same time. Debated back and forth, and then made the right choice.


LA Film Fest
Art, Hollywood, and Talking
June 20 at LAFF

Yesterday’s films dealt with a local artist, a Hollywood legend you probably never heard of, and a woman who has a husband she can talk to.


A Hijacking
A Long Ordeal
A pirate movie without swashbuckling

A Highjacking is a different kind of psychological thriller. The crew doesn’t include Jean-Claude van Damme or Dolph Lundgren. No one is going to come to the rescue in a great battle. Instead we see a long, drawn out negotiation. The suspense is usually low key, but it is a constant throughout.


The Attack
How Could She?
A suicide bomber who doesn't fit the profile

The Attack neither demonizes nor glorifies suicide bombing. Instead, it strives to understand what would lead someone to take such action. It is easy to blame desperation of circumstance or religious manipulation, but neither of those fits this story.


A Hijacking
Making It Real
Interview with director Tobias Lindholm

“So I thought we need to tell this story from the shoes of the sailors. It’s impossible to do as a journalist because the situation will be controlled by the pirates if you go out there. So we needed to make it as fiction.”


LA Film Fest
An Easy Day for Me
June 19 at LAFF

With L.A. Film Fest reaching its halfway point, the schedule for the day left me few options I hadn’t already seen, so I only made it to one film yesterday, but that’s okay.


LA Film Fest
Traveling the World
June 18 at LAFF

Yesterday was one of those days to travel the world (and beyond).


LA Film Fest
Grace and Love
June 17 at LAFF

Yesterday was my chance to see one of the films I most anticipated going into the festival. I also saw one that was under my radar, but was a pleasant surprise.


LA Film Fest
Work (or Not Work), Grief, Real People
June 16 at LAFF

Still more films to see and talk about at LA Film Fest. Let’s see what yesterday brought.


LA Film Fest
Nine Films, One Day
I can't see them all, but I can try

Movies, movies, movies. Yes, it would be impossible to have watched all these yesterday. Several of them I saw at special press screenings before the festival started. I get to share my thoughts on them now.


LA Film Fest
A Good Start
June 14 at LAFF

Now that the festival moves into full gear, there are films to talk about.


LA Film Fest
Dim the House Lights
Looking ahead to LAFF 2013

It’s time for me to head up to L.A. Live for the 2013 edition of the Los Angeles Film Fest. LAFF is presented by Film Independent, the group that, among other things, presents the Independent Spirit Awards just before Oscar night.


Pandora’s Promise
Changing Minds
Are environmentalists wrong about nuclear power?

Mushroom clouds. The threat of nuclear war. Chernobyl. Three Mile Island. Fukujima. Nuclear disasters that come to mind when we think about nuclear power plants. For years environmentalists have fought against new nuclear plants. In Pandora’s Promise some of those environmentalist tell us we’ve been wrong to oppose nuclear energy.


The Wall
Hellish Eden
Robinson Caruso in the Alps

The beauty of the Alpine setting gives the impression that this is an Eden. But it is a very hellish Eden. The woman in the story is the equivalent of a modern Robinson Crusoe. With no companionship except for Lynx (her Friday), she is very lonely.


Stories We Tell
Searching for the Truth
Deconstructing the family mythology

This is at once a very personal film (for Polley and her family especially) and a deconstruction of the truth of documentary filmmaking. She surprises us as the film progresses, not just with the story itself, but in the way that story is brought to us. This makes us consider just what in all of this is truth and what is illusion.


Wish You Were Here
Four Go, Three Return
Secrets destroy relationships

The story is filled with guilt and fear. As each of the survivors deals with their own feelings, walls begin to divide them. There are secrets that are revealed that turn each against the others. There is one whose secrets could mean destruction for them all.


The East
Divided Loyalties
When idealisms collide

What becomes of idealism when it comes up against the real world? Even more, what happens when it comes up against an equally appealing, but very different idealism? I really wish the role of Jane’s faith had been explored a bit more, because these questions are very similar to those many Christians struggle with on the road to a mature faith.


Triumph of the Wall
PoMo Meditation on Work
A film about a film about building a wall

Filmmaker Bill Stone met Chris Overing shortly before Chris started work on a dry stone wall. The wall was to be two 500 foot sections. After building a test wall, he estimated it would take him about two months. Eight years later he was still working on it.


Before Midnight
Mundane Passion
9 years after Before Sunset (18 after Before Sunrise)

The struggles of Jesse and Celine in this film are very like our own relationships. We may walk out of the theater thinking about our own mature love and how it relates to the love we shared in earlier stages of relationships.


Before Midnight
Making It Real
Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke meet the press

The creative team of Before Midnight, director and co-writer, Richard Linklater, and stars and co-writers Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy recently met with press in Beverly Hills to talk about the film.


Augustine
Repression and Hysteria
Victorian era doctor and his prize patient

We often feel as if we struggle for control. A medical diagnosis may trigger the feeling of being out of control and subject to the whims of the medical system. Or perhaps changes in the economy. Or changes in relationships within a family. Or addictions of various types. We struggle to take control of our lives.


Black Rock
A Deadly Hunt
Men vs. women for survival on an island

We are told that violence begets violence. We certainly don’t blame the women for taking up the sword in order to survive. But once that decision is made to accept violence, there is an inevitable spiritual diminution that follows.


The English Teacher
Writing New Endings
A teacher messes up, but finds redemption

We get the impression from the voice over that starts the film and crops up from time to time, that Linda’s is one of those tragic stories of spinsters we sometimes find in literature. But what if someone were to write a new ending to that story? What if you were to write a new ending for your own story?


An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Abstract of Falling in Love
A very different kind of documentary

The somewhat abstract construction of the film serves to make it open to many interpretations. It is likely that viewers will come away with different reactions because the film becomes very subjective. It invites us to put ourselves in the roles we see onscreen.


Mud
Knights in Tarnished Armor
Enjoyable, but troubling

While the film has some wonderful scenery, good acting, and builds suspense well (even if it does rely a bit too much on coincidence), I was troubled a bit by a certain level of sexism at its core.


Walking the Camino:Six Ways to Santiago
The Pilgrimage of a Pilgrimage
Interview with director Lydia B. Smith

There’s also a thing—it’s a beautiful mystery—I don’t know what it is. The ability for people to open up and connect with each other more on the Camino than I’ve experienced anywhere else in the world.


Venus and Serena
Champion Sisters
Meet tennis's top sisters

Venus and Serena Williams have been a dominant factor in women’s tennis for several years. What is it about their story that attracts people? The documentary Venus and Serena gives us a look at their careers and the story of their rise in the tennis world.


Desperate Acts of Magic
Not Assistant, but Partner
Fighting sexism in the world of magic

The idea of partnership also has a theological dimension. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that “we have become partners of Christ.” That is a partnership based on a grace that calls us to be joined with Christ and to serve the world with him.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
A Final Day Before the Summer Hits
Day six at NBFF

As the summer begins there will be plenty of films filled with big names and big explosions. Sometimes big is better, but sometimes it is the smaller things that carry the biggest punch. That is why I love to go to film festivals.


Something in the Air
The Age of Importance
Youth in rebellion

As an older (and maybe wiser) person now, I saw Something in the Air as a reminder of those times and of myself at that age. It made me wonder if young adults today still have such passion for the things they discover. I hope so, even if from my perspective those things may seem ill-advised, because that passion is the engine that gives meaning to the things we do. We all need to find the things that set our lives ablaze.


Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s
Shopping the High End
Is this the American Dream?

On New York’s Fifth Avenue, between 57th and 58th Streets, is a department store for those who make far more money than I do. At Bergdorf Goodman they have $6000 shoes that they can’t keep in stock. (Who knew there was that much of a market for $6000 shoes?)


Midnight’s Children
Two Nations, Two Children, Two Destinies
Salman Rushdie's epic of India's independence

At midnight on August 15, 1947, two nations came into being, India and Pakistan. At the same moment in Bombay, two children were born, one to a well off Muslim family, the other to a woman who begged in the streets.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
Violence: Thoughtful Considerations and Entertainment
Day six at NBFF

I found another festival gem in I Declare War. Canadian films often have a difficult time breaking into the U.S. market. I hope this one makes it.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
Darkness, Beauty, Cold Cruel World
Day five at NBFF

Those who think they know Hallström’s style might be in for a surprise. In his first Swedish film in nearly thirty years, he has brought us a dark and violent story of a mass murder. The lone survivor of a massacred family is comatose. In the quest for clues, the investigating officer tries to convince a disgraced doctor to hypnotize the boy.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
Particles of Light Can Be Amazing
Day four at NBFF

“Particles of light mad diss the space-time continuum;” “Wars have been started by particles of light;” “Bad things happen to good particles of light;” and “Particles of light murder people you grow fond of.”


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
Finding a Gem
Day three at NBFF

Nothing really called to me as I looked at the films for the day, so this was a complete surprise. It is the story of two grieving people who meet at a bereavement group. This is the kind of film that I go to festivals to discover.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
Pilgrims, Rats (and People), Love, Consequences
Day two at NBFF

The Camino is a 500 mile pilgrimage across northern Spain that has been walked by pilgrims for 1,200 years. Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago is a documentary that focuses on six pilgrims as they make the journey.


Newport Beach Film Festival 2013
Starting a Week in the Dark
Day one at NBFF

In the evening I picked a psychological thriller for viewing: The Girl on the Train. Is there a difference between fiction and non-fiction? Which would you prefer: a great love or a great story?


Arthur Newman
Is He a New Man?
Trying to escape the pains of the past

Arthur Newman should be seen as a road movie, not just because Arthur and Mike’s story takes place on the road to Terre Haute, but because road movies are about personal journeys that are not measured in miles.


From Up on Poppy Hill
Saving the Past
The magic is in the real world

Whereas Hayao Miyazaki’s stories are often fantasies that occur in an unspecified time and place, From Up on Poppy Hill has a very concrete setting. We are in Yokohama in 1963. Japan is getting ready to host the Olympics. New things are being built. The old is being pushed aside.


Antiviral
Extreme Fandom
Are we really this crazy over celebrities?

Would you be interested in having a very personal relationship with a celebrity—perhaps an actor or model? It could be a way to connect you forever. In the Canadian sci-fi/noir blend Antiviral the fad of the future is to share diseases harvested from celebrities.


To the Wonder
Cries of the Heart
Meditation on love and faith

Is it possible to make a movie of the book of Psalms? While To the Wonder is not based on the Psalms, Terrence Malick’s film may well be the closest we can come to experiencing that biblical book on screen.


Disconnect
The Lie of Cyber-Intimacy
Real is better

At its heart, Disconnect is striving to show us that the cyber-intimacy that seems to fulfill people is really an illusion. The kinds of connections that truly feed our spirits and lives are the one with the flesh and blood people in our lives.


My Brother the Devil
The Boys in the Streets
Interview with director Sally El Hosaini & actor James Floyd

I wanted the characters not to feel like characters, but real people. That was one of my big aspirations, that it wasn’t about issues with a capital I; it was really about these people and what happened in their lives.


My Brother the Devil
Brotherly Love
What is real strength?

It seems most stories about brothers focus on some form of sibling rivalry. It is, after all, an easy way to put conflict into a story. But what about brotherly affection? Don’t brothers also have a unique bond?


The Company You Keep
The Hidden Comes to Light
Terrorist ideals transformed

What values do we hold so dear that we will not compromise them? There are so many ideals that would improve the world if we held firm to them—many of them with religious foundations. Will we hold true to those values if they seem too hard or too unrealistic? If not, is there any hope for the world to be changed?


Room 237
What Is a Movie Really About?
Hidden meanings in The Shining?

At one point one of the interpreters admits that the meaning they found may not have been what Kubrick had in mind, but in post-modern interpretation the meanings are there all the same. Is every interpretation equally valid?


Starbuck
A Character Finds Himself
Interview with dir. Ken Scott & star Partick Huard

It’s a great revelation for a man to realize that “I’m good at one thing, at being a dad, and good for me I have 533 of them and another one on the way, so life is good.” For me that was the whole thing.


The Place Beyond the Pines
The Sins of the Fathers
What legacies get passed down?

What kind of legacy does a son receive from his father? Is it limited to socio-economic advantages or disadvantages? Is there some sort of moral compass that gets passed on? Must the sins of the father follow the son?


Blancanieves
Snow White as Matador
Creative retelling of a well known story

This is a production that seeks to be a new way for us to understand the old tale that is so familiar to us all. It also seeks to be a story that is understood more through feeling than through thinking. You may need to allow your heart to watch the film and give your head the night off.


Hunky Dory
The Tempest of Youth
Such stuff as dreams are made on

On the surface Hunky Dory is a Welsh version of Glee set in 1976. The film focuses on a class of working class kids during their summer term at school. The class is made up of a variety of students each with their own needs and desires. There are clashes and crushes and crises.


Starbuck
Father of a Multitude
A really extended family

Many years ago David provided hundreds of specimens to a fertility clinic (under the donor name Starbuck). They were very good. It turns out he is the father of over 500 children (now young adults) and some of them want to know who he is.


You Don’t Need Feet to Dance
Living a Full Life
Never mind the disabilities

The film runs on his personality. Documentaries often benefit from having a driving narrative, but You Don’t Need Feet to Dance really is just various episodes that seem to make up a day in the life of this extraordinary man.


If I Were You
Decisions, Decisions
Trust, betrayal, and loss

Sometimes we face trials that lead us to make self-destructive decisions. What if we let someone else make the decisions for us at times like that? It would certainly require a basis of trust. In If I Were You, two women enter into such a pact.


Language of a Broken Heart
Hope for a Hopeless Romantic
By-the-numbers romcom

Romcoms are most enjoyable when we have a reason to cheer for the people. In Language it is hard to get behind Nick. He is both depressed and depressing. Granted, he’s a nice enough guy. It’s just that he is a bit bland.


War Witch
Seeing Dead People
A child soldier's ghost story

War Witch is a sort of horrific bedtime story. Komona wants the child she carries to understand what she has been through, because, in her own words, “I don’t know if God will give me the strength to love you.”


Beyond the Hills
Going Too Far
An exorcism turns very bad

This is the latest film from Cristian Mungiu, one of the Romanian New Wave filmmakers. Romanian New Wave often seems as though it is seeking to be a kind of therapy for the trauma of recent Romanian history.


The We And The I
A Ride On The Existential Bus
Group vs personal dynamics

In one of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s best known quotes, “Hell is other people.” That sentiment came to mind not far into The We and the I, the newest film from director Michel Gondry.


Emperor
Revenge Or Justice?
What should happen at the end of war?

Often at the end of a war, “justice” is what the winning side calls the punishment it places on the losing side. That is why so many politicians and generals are calling for Hirohito to be executed. But Fellers recognizes that there is a difference between revenge and justice.


A Fierce Green Fire
Saving the Planet
A brief history of the ecology movement

“There’s no Hispanic air. There’s no African-American air. There’s air! And if you breathe air—and most people I know breathe air—then I would consider you an environmentalist.”


Long Distance Revolutionary
Voice from the Left
Mumia Abu-Jamal still speaks from prison

[The film] is an opportunity for many of his supporters (including Cornel West, Dick Gregory, Alice Walker, and Giancarlo Esposito) to voice their appreciation and admiration of Abu-Jamal and his ideas.


War Witch
Magic, Ghosts, and Child Soldiers
Interview with director Kim Nguyen

So there’s a fine balance of prepping and then kind of forgetting what you’ve prepped and being fresh for what’s there and trying to be able to catch serendipity…. the idea with War Witch was that I also encouraged my staff to be open to whatever happens in front of the camera.


Bless Me, Ultima
Blended Dichotomies
A boy searches for meaning

Antonio lives in a world of dichotomies: American and Mexican cultures, the vaquero/cowboy nature of his father’s family and the rooted farmer nature of his mother’s, faith and doubt…. All of these are a part of Antonio’s world, but they are never shown to be in conflict. They are always in the process of blending.


No
Saying No to Tyranny
Chile rediscovers a democratic voice

Because Pinochet controlled everything, and much of his opposition was dead or in jail, everyone assumed the vote would be a joke. Yet No, nominated for Best Foreign Language film, tells the story of how a public relations man created an ad campaign that turned the tide of Chilean history.


The Gatekeepers
What Price Security?
Head of Israeli security reflect on their work

These are men who have a deep love of their country. They have spent their careers in service to that country. In this film they reflect back at what they did and at the peace process that seems to be going nowhere.


Like Someone In Love
Appearances and Reality
Where is the truth found?

Director Abbas Kiarostami sets his latest film, Like Someone in Love, in Japan. He is proving to be a filmmaker of the world, not one who can be dismissively or narrowly labeled as “Iranian,” as is too often the case.


Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Life in Siberia
Little has changed in generations

Werner Herzog has taken viewers to remote place like Antarctica (Encounters at the End of the World), to remote times (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), and introduced us to fascinating people (Grizzly Man). In his newest film he does all three.


Caesar Must Die
Betrayal and Loyalty
The Bard in prison

My favorite scene from the production is when Caesar is eulogized by Marc Antony. It takes place in a prison courtyard with prisoners all around at barred windows becoming more boisterous as Marc Antony turns the crowd against Brutus and the other conspirators. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the actor playing Brutus going back inside.


Arts & Faith Top 25 Films on Marriage
From Sunset to A Separation
Marriage in film

Members of Arts & Faith, an online community of the literary journal Image, have compiled a list of the Top 25 Films on Marriage. The list is the result of more than forty people from that community voting on 136 nominees.


Oscar-Nominated Shorts
Best Short Documentary
It's all about the people

Docs almost always have a dark side to them, and that is true of these Oscar-nominated shorts as well. Most, however, also have a strong presence of hope. That is certainly the case with my favorite of the bunch, Inocente.


Lore
Trials of the Vanquished
The sins of the parents paid for by children

In ancient Israel there was a saying: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In referencing that proverb, the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel both conclude that it would not be so in God’s justice.


Oscar-Nominated Shorts
Behind the Short: Adam and Dog
Interview with director Minkyu Lee

“Maybe that would be cool if I did a short about that one dog in the Garden of Eden and what that interaction was like with Adam and the dog and how the dog was kind of this unique little oddball of an animal that reacted to Adam differently from all the other animals.”


Lore
A Dark Childhood
Interview with director Cate Shortland

“‘The children of murderers are not murderers; they’re children.’ I only heard that recently. I wish I had heard that when I was in pre-production because I was so bloody scared of what we were doing—of the film being apologist.”


Oscar-Nominated Shorts
Best Animated Short Films
Whimsy, but no words

Animated shorts often rely on whimsy as they share their point of view.The five films nominated for an Oscar in this category have a wide range of style. That makes it interesting that all five are done without dialogue, using only the visual to entertain us.


Oscar-Nominated Shorts
Best Live Action Short Films
Small, but mighty

Because they aren’t as long, each moment matters in a short, just as each word matters in a tightly written short story. When they are done well, shorts can deliver a strong emotional punch.


Tabu
A Melancholy Love Story
Nostalgia for Paradise

What are we to make of this structure that gives us the impression that there was some paradise that has been lost, but when we look at the earlier time, that paradise was just as fallen as our current time?


56 Up
A Unique Project in Film
Interview with director Michael Apted

“I love this project. It was the first job I ever had and I’m still doing it. I suppose in a selfish way what I like about it is it is unique in the history of film. No one has done a longitudinal study for so long on film or television.”


56 Up
Meeting Old Friends Again
Has it been seven years already?

I keep expecting it to become a bit repetitious (well, it does at times) but the challenges that come as we move from age to age always bring something new to the lives of these people who enter our own lives every seven years.


Darrel’s Dozen for 2012
A Good but not Great Year
Start planning your DVD rentals

I should point out that I make no claim that these are the best films of the year, but films that for some reason I found most interesting. These are all films I am comfortable recommending and commending.


Zero Dark Thirty
Enhanced Obsession
Beyond the controversy

Zero Dark Thirty is the kind of film that invites controversy. Indeed, I’ve read people who are upset with the film for a variety of reasons, some articles contradicting others about all that’s wrong with it.


Rust and Bone
Loss and Recovery
Hope in the possibilities of life

Rust and Bone is the kind of European film that some people cherish while others would use it as an example of all they don’t like about foreign films. It is truly visual artistry, but not the same kind of grand cinematography you will find in American films.


Hyde Park on Hudson
FDR's Friends and Lovers
Seeing what we want to see

At the heart of this is the idea that people see what they want to see. People wanted to see the President without his disability and what could be moral shortcomings, so they focused on the other parts of his life and personality.


Amour
Love at the End
Testing the bonds of love

Love stories often focus on the exciting early period of a relationship: the joy of discovering a person with whom to share life. But Amour, Austria’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar consideration, show love many years down the road.


Parental Guidance
Can You Trust Grandparents?
A touching generational comedy

Sure, we’ll come along and subvert in little ways, but it’s always done in love. That love (whether expressed in new or old ways) is what really matters in raising a child or binding a family together. That bit of wisdom is the heart of Parental Guidance.


West of Memphis
Guilty—NOT!
Another tale of justice system failure

It’s interesting that West of Memphis is being released just a few weeks after The Central Park Five. Both films deal with youthful suspects who were wrongly convicted and spend years in prison for crimes they had nothing to do with.


Parental Guidance
Meeting the Talent
Interviews with the cast

We knew we were making a PG movie so some of it landed on the cutting room floor. So much of the movie was improv in the sense that we had amazing writers and a great script but you put them together and funny things are going to happen. But that’s what happens.


On the Road
Kerouac's Search
The Beat Generation's manifesto

On the Road is a kind of pilgrimage to self. Such pilgrimages characterize mid-20th Century America. The Beats, and later other counter-cultural groups, sought a new kind of freedom—freedom from convention.


Barbara
Freedom or Helping Others
East German doctor must decide

The temptation when making a film about the Communist period is to see it as either the good old days or the bad old days. Barbara manages to show that, as with most periods of history, it was both.


Parental Guidance
Parents and Grandparents
Interview with director Andy Fickman

Even that notion of play date, where you have to schedule an actual play date. My son was asking if I had a lot of play dates. I said, “I don’t think I had an actual play date. The whole neighborhood just ran around together.”


Any Day Now
Fighting for Family
When love gets trumped

What makes a family? That question is one society has been struggling with for some time. For better or worse, the concept of family has been evolving. Any Day Now shows a step along the road to one of the ways many people understand family.


The Third Half
Soccer, Love, and the Holocaust
Interview with Macedonian filmmaker Darko Mirevski

“Someone said that sports is a civilized replacement for wars. People fight. Nations fight. Various teams fight against each other, but without shedding blood and without using real bullets, with the same amount of courage and passion as soldiers do in war.”


The Clown
Talking with Our Soul
Interview with Brazilian filmmaker Selton Mello

“When I wrote the screenplay I never thought I’d be here with you right now. I poured out my passion, my emotional vision about my life, and then this film happens. When you talk with your soul, I think you can cross lines.”


Wagner & Me
Music's Power and Darkness
Love of Wagner's music tempered by history

Early in the film he speaks of the way “music releases forces inside me, and no music does it like Wagner’s. . . . But it’s no secret that my passion was also shared by him.” On screen we see a picture of Adolph Hitler.


Anna Karenina
The Wages of Sin
The insanity of being in love

This treatment of Anna Karenina is a blending of art, storytelling, and morality. It requires attention—not only mentally, but also emotionally and esthetically—to appreciate the richness that is here.


What a Man
Being Manly
How should a man act?

How do we define masculinity? Does one need to be aggressive or assertive to be manly? Must one have physical strength to be manly? What a Man, a romantic comedy from Germany looks at notions of manliness.


The Central Park Five
Justice System Failure
They confessed, but they were innocent

The systemic failure in the case of the Central Park Five not only damages those wrongfully accused and incarcerated, it damages us all. It calls into question our ability to trust in a system that can get something so wrong—and then not even own up to its mistakes. And lest we forget, we are all part of that system.


Life of Pi
A Story of Faith(s)
What do you want to believe?

We are told at the beginning of Life of Pi that this is a story that will make you believe in God. Pi himself discounts that idea, but does not deny it. So in the end, will you believe?


Gottfried Helmwein and the Dreaming Child
Disturbing Art
Art and opera tell harrowing story

Helnwein’s vision of how to visually present this opera has created a world that many may find hard to look at. I expect that is exactly his goal. It should be hard to look at the way children are so easily discarded or forgotten.


Rise of the Guardians
Faith vs. Fear
Believing in legends

Although belief is not quite the same thing as faith, it functions as such in the film. The children of the story are believers, even if some scoff at them. It is that faith/belief that brings the power back to the Guardians, and also that allows the children to act when the Guardians are in need.


Silver Linings Playbook
Finding Happiness in Another
A romcom with football

Well, you probably can figure out that Pat and Tiffany will end up together, but how that happens through the convergence of dancing and football is what makes the film so enjoyable.


Cafe de Flore
Soul Mates
Letting go of the past to bring happiness

The first story is introduced as “the story of a man who has every reason to be happy and the lucidity to realize it.” The second, we are told is “the story of a man who has every reason to be unhappy, but not the lucidity to realize it.”


A Royal Affair
Seeing Today in History
Interview with Nikolaj Arcel

The translation is just a little bit tricky because I’m a believer and I think that faith is not a bad thing. Faith, when we use it to make rules, then it might become kind of a bad thing.


AFI 2012
Wrapping It Up
2 more films, awards, and faves

For my last day at AFI Fest, I went for a couple movies from the Special Screenings section. Special screenings usually are films that will be out in theaters fairly soon. Both of these films had casts that will attract audiences.


A Royal Affair
The Enlightenment Comes to Denmark
Who knew history could be such a soap opera?

A Royal Affair tells the story of how Enlightenment ideas, so central in our own country’s drive for freedom, also transformed Denmark for a while. Danish history is far more interesting (or at least more racy) than American history.


AFI 2012
Picking Up the Pieces
Trying to find hidden treasures

Society’s obsession with celebrity is the setting for Antiviral. Part sci-fi, part noir, its premise is the development of an industry in celebrity diseases. Would you like a case of herpes from a beautiful actress? Or maybe the same flu that laid low your favorite actor.


AFI 2012
The Prisons of Life
Light schedule, heavy films

It was a light day at AFI Fest yesterday. There were very few evening screenings. It seems there was an election going on yesterday and they must have assumed people would be interested in the results. But the lack of quantity shouldn’t be seen as a lack of weight in the films.


AFI 2012
Youth, Life, Death, Justice
2 docs and more world cinema

The week continues to be filled with impressive films. Today we focus on a couple of documentaries about youth, then some stories about life and death, faith and betrayal.


AFI 2012
2 Real Winners
Innocence destroyed, lost, found

She tells all this to her unborn child so it will understand because “I don’t know if God will give me the strength to love you.” Based on accounts of child soldiers in Burma and set in Africa, this is a very powerful story of heartache and the destruction of innocence.


AFI 2012
Searching for Paradise?
Traveling many roads - some not quite worth it

Not in Tel Aviv tells of an Israeli teacher who loses his job, kidnaps one of his students, kills his mother, and reconnects with a former girl-friend. While the film is well made and makes very good use of music, it seemed a bit incomplete. There is no real resolution.


AFI 2012
Families
Five films at AFI

AFI Fest is underway, and the films so far have all been impressive. Families were front and center in the films I’ve seen that played yesterday.


Burn
It's a Tough Job
Blight, fires, budgets, firefighters in Detroit

Burn shows us the day to day life of these men who risk life and limb on an almost daily basis. It also shows us a world sorely in need of healing. The firefighters represent a bit of hope—there is someone still trying to stop a world that seems to be burning itself up.


Holy Motors
Who Is That Masked Man?
An existential actor makes his rounds

In Holy Motors we spend a day with Monsieur Oscar as he travels around Paris in a white stretch limo on his way to nine “appointments”. The limo serves as his dressing room as he prepares for each assignment, because he is someone different each time.


Wreck-It Ralph
What's in Your Code?
Finding happiness in who you are

Sometimes it is hard to follow one’s calling. What we are meant to do may not seem that fulfilling—or maybe it isn’t who we know we are deep inside. Wreck-It Ralph teaches us to be true to our nature—to find meaning in who we are, in who we are created to be.


AFI 2012
From the Heart of Hollywood
Major films and some up-and-coming filmmakers

AFI Fest features some films that could well be major Oscar contenders, foreign films (including several Oscar submissions), and works by up-and-coming filmmakers. Oh, and if you’re nearby and want to attend, tickets are free (but you need to have them ahead of time).


The Black Tulip
Freedom in Afghanistan
The voice of freedom longs to be heard

The film sets out to celebrate the Afghani people and their resilience in the face of so much violence. It is summed up in a line from an older woman, “Danger and death are part of our lives, but we can’t give up.”


Frankenweenie
A Boy and His Dead Dog
Tim Burton's light-hearted darkness

Tim Burton has a knack for blending darkness and light. Of course physically, that is the essence of a movie. But Burton does it with mood and story as much as he does it visually.


The Flat
Skeletons in the Closet
A Jewish grandmother with a Nazi connection?

While much of this is a personal quest on Goldfinger’s part, at times the film takes on the quality of a detective story. It also becomes something that allows us to reflect on history and truth.


Love Free or Die
Picking Your Little Piece
Interviews with producer Sandy Itkoff and Bishop Robinson

“Actually, it’s a lay person who is in tears. It’s frankly one of my favorite parts of the film because it shows that in our denomination, and in any, there are going to be faithful people on both sides of this issue and that we can live together and love one another despite the fact…. “


We Are Legion
Computer Vigilantes
Fighting for free speech or stiffling free speech?

The documentary We Are Legion: The Story of the Hactivists focuses on “hactivists,” computer users who band together to seek some sort of justice against those who wield their power in what these people see as misguided ways.


Wuthering Heights
Worlds of Contrast
Rich/poor, human/nature, Christ/culture

Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold’s film version of the Emily Brontë classic, is about contrasting worlds. This plays out in various ways: rich and working class, nature and humanity’s presumption of superiority, even perhaps Christianity and culture.


Sun Kissed
Disease and Spiritual Tools
Mixing Native American Tradition and Christianity

From a very young age we heard about the Holocaust. The agenda is, again, never to forget and keep it in the memory… so it will never happen again. That’s sort of our background. To me, Dory and Yolanda come from the opposite background where nobody talks about the Long Walk.


Escape Fire
Doing More, Not Better
What's wrong with the healthcare system

The main problem, according to the filmmakers, is that we really don’t have a healthcare system, we have a disease care system. We spend vast amounts of money on disease intervention but almost nothing on prevention.


Decoding Deepak
Who Is Deepak Chopra?
A son tries to understand

But in the end, the film is really not just about Deepak and who he is; it is also about Gotham trying to find himself in his father. The quest “Who am I?” is as much Gotham’s quest as it is Deepak’s.


Decoding Deepak
Fathers and Sons
Interview with Gotham Chopra

“It’s an amazing moment as you kind of see everything that has preceded you but then you write this letter to not only your children but their children and children of destiny. Who knows where the lineage goes from here. “


The Iran Job
Hope in Hoops?
Meeting Iranians we don't see on the news

The rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad and leaders of the U.S. and Israel will probably continue to flow back and forth. The Iran Job is a reminder that Iran is more than just a news item. It is made up of people very much like us. They even like basketball.


Stars in Shorts
Star Power
Very big names in very small films

The hook of this collection is that there are big name actors in these films. These nine films (ranging from 8 to 25 minutes) boast actors who among them have a carload of Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and Tonys.


The Iran Job
Getting Past the Axis of Evil
Interview with Till Schauder and Kevin Sheppard

When I first heard about these Americans who play there, I was surprised just as most people are when they hear that, but it was at a time, 2008, when we were fully at war with Iraq and it looked like Iran was going to be next on the list, just like it does again now, coincidentally.


Backwards
Moving Forward While Looking Back?
The metaphor works—most of the time

Rowing is a sport that is done going backwards. You spend all your time looking at where you’ve been. When Abi returns home, she has no direction. She just looks back at where she has been, feeling as if she’s gotten nowhere.


Hellbound?
Can God and Hell Coexist?
Some serious theological questioning

We may think that justice or even the idea of morality requires some sort of Hell. But is a God who creates a Hell and sends people there without escape the kind of God we really believe in? Hellbound? is a new documentary from Kevin Miller that looks at this theological question.


Almost Perfect
Believe in Marriage?
Not sure what the film believes

The film finally leads Vanessa to some hope for a future (and marriage) with Dwayne, but the journey isn’t all that satisfying. There is too much backstory of her family that never comes out, and without it, the film just doesn’t gel.


Hellbound?
Questioning Hell and God
Interview with Kevin Miller

“How do we reconcile this idea of a loving God who asks us to love our enemies—who commands us to love our enemies—but who will one day supposedly vanquish all of His enemies in Hell?…. This is something that troubled me my whole life.”


The Words
Life and Fiction
Stories about stories about stories

What is interesting is that with each step deeper into fiction, the closer we feel to reality. The color scheme of the film helps us along the way; Hammond’s world is very white and bright, Jansen’s filled with blues and greens, and the Old Man’s made up of dark earth tones.


Robot & Frank
Fading Memories
Who are we when we don't remember who we are?

What happens to a person (or a society) when memory is gone? For a robot, it can just be reformatted and new memories inserted. But for humans much of who and what we are depends on memories. Our relationships, our joys, our sufferings all shape us, but they are completely dependent on our memories.


We Women Warriors
Seeking Peace in the Midst of Violence
Interview with director and one of the subjects of the film

So we were able to remove these barracks in a peaceful manner and we were able to show Colombia and the world that the way to peace is not through arms.


We Women Warriors
Courage in Columbia
Women lead a struggle against violence

In such a world, what power can women such as these have? Perhaps their power is small, but they are determined to do what they can: “This might cost us our lives, because the country and the world are used to shutting us up. Sadly they’re used to our silence. But the conclusion is we must speak up.”


Little White Lies
Truth and Lies
Ensemble drama about love and life

“It finally occurred to me that my whole existence couldn’t begin and end with my work. That made me realize how much I’d deceived myself over the years about what I really wanted, and how much energy I’d devoted to my work in order to avoid having to think about things.”


Hermano
The Cost of Redemption
Two brothers seeking a way out

Redemption carries a cost. The redeemed may not feel worthy of such a price being paid for them. That may be because the cost of redemption is not reckoned through cost analysis and weighing of worth and value, but through love.


Compliance
Moral Agents?
How far would you follow someone in authority?

A more important question, it seems to me, deals with the ease with which people who would identify themselves as “good” can be swayed from what is right and moral. Does this have application to the way we think of sin?


The American Bible Challenge
Can You Answer These Questions?
It's not Bible Jeopardy!, but it's still fun

The writers here try to find some way of connecting the questions to contemporary culture, such as Star Wars or host Jeff Foxworthy’s “redneck” comedy shtick. The result is that this makes the game a bit more fun.


Out of the Clear Blue Sky
Losses and Lives
One company's 9/11 story

The film works best as an exploration into the grief that followed the 9/11 attacks. There was national grief, but we also see very clearly the personal grief of some of the survivors.


Compliance
Why Would They Do This?
Interview with Craig Zobel, Dreama Walker, and Pat Healy

I had looked at these true stories and knew some amount of what had happened from the true stories, but you had a lot of gaps. To me that was the reason to make the movie was to fill in the gaps.


Death by China
Is China Winning the Trade War?
An economist looks at Sino-US trade issues

Does America have anything to fear from China’s growing economic strength? The answer is a strong “Yes!” according to Peter Navarro, an economics professor who has made the film Death by China.


The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Parents, Mistakes, and Promise
Seeing the family that could have been

Peter Hedges has wonderful insights into families. His previous films include What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Pieces of April, and Dan in Real Life. His families are full of love, but they don’t quite seem to be working.


Ruby Sparks
Calvinism 101
Romcom as theological treatise

Ruby Sparks gives us a pleasant entry into some deeply theological reflections. We may consider the “Great Author of Life” and what it means for us to think of God in that way.


The Odd Life of Timothy Green
The Crucible of Family
Interview with Peter Hedges and Joel Edgerton

I just feel that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, or you’re a Christian or an atheist, whatever language you speak, whatever socio-economic background you come from, it is one of the great things we have in common—the family we’re born into.


Kings Point
Aging in America
Retirement Dream?

Kings Point is not about how we dump and ignore seniors, but it is about how we may not pay as much attention to what life can be like as we age. While mortality is an issue that faces us all as we grow older, so too is the quality of the life we live in the years ahead of us.


The American Bible Challenge
Fun & Games with the Bible
Q&A with Jeff Foxworthy

“I think sometimes as a group Christians are not as joyful as we should be. I think people on the outside look and they go, ‘You guys don’t seem very happy. If this really is the Good News, you really don’t wear it on your face very well.’”


Farewell, My Queen
A Somebody or a Nobody?
Historic drama in the French Revolution

There are earth-shattering events going on, and the people at Versailles are well aware of them, but the story in this film is of a more personal nature. It is about a relationship that Sidonie may think (or at least wants to think) has elevated her into a new status.


The American Bible Challenge
A Visit to the Set
Game show snob watches from the wings

There were things that the people at The American Bible Challenge didn’t know about me when they invited me to visit the set for the taping of their episodes. They didn’t know that I’m a bit of a game show snob.


Searching for Sugar Man
A Zero or a Hero?
What do fame and success mean?

If Searching for Sugar Man were a fictional film, I would probably complain about its incredulity. It is the kind of film that sends you to Snopes or Wikipedia looking for confirmation. It turns out, though, that this really is true.


Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
An Artists Voice
Throwing stones at the government

It is not just that his art can carry a political message—something that is true of many artists’ work—but that the creativity that drives his art also comes into play in the way he brings about political activism.


Big Boys Gone Bananas!*
Free Speech?
Giant corporation takes on a little film

Free speech, of course, is not absolute. If Dole is wrongly defamed, they certainly have a right to fight against the libel. But this film, which it must be remembered is Gertten’s account, portrays this as a David and Goliath story of a small, independent filmmaker under attack by a giant multinational corporation.


The Queen of Versailles
Living the American Dream
Are the rich different from you and me?

Does materialism and the role it plays in the American Dream affect us just as it affects the Siegels? We may not be able to afford the lavish lifestyle they live (which is also what they sell), but we do yearn for things to be just a bit bigger and better in our lives.


Patang (The Kite)
Soaring Spirits
Can happiness be found in flying a kite?

For those who remain, Amedabad is the place where they have always found happiness. Perhaps that happiness is small compared to the success Jayesh has found, but those small joys sustain them in ways that Jayesh can only remember when he looks up at the kites dancing in the wind.


The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
From the Depths to the Heights
Seeing poetry in a dark time

Is it fair to compare a short film to an epic work of literature? Oscar-nominated The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom is only thirty-nine minutes long, but what it brings to mind for me is Dante’s Divine Comedy.


Stella Days
Let There Be Light
Faith and fear, Hollywood and Rome, change and tradition

A key metaphor in the film is illumination. Lights are coming into homes. Movies are light and shadows cast on a screen. And we think of the Gospel as bringing light to the world. Yet for everything that brings light, there is a force that seems to prefer the darkness.


Union Square
Mythic Sisters
The creative tension of chaos and order

Many creation myths (including in the Bible) portray a struggle between chaos and order. In Union Square those two forces are personified in sisters Jenny and Lucy. The stories of creation are not always about long ago; they can be the stories of our lives.


Rock of Ages
Toning Down the Music
Can rock be pop without losing its soul?

There is a new sub-genre of musical: take a collection of popular songs and string them together with a story. Rock of Ages is the latest version of this, taking 80s rock music and setting it amid a simple boy meets girl story.


Never Stand Still
The Art of Dance
A Celebration of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival

“For those of us who choose a life in dance, we have to insist on taking risks—risks with ideas and with what the human body can express. There’s a place called Jacob’s Pillow where artists have done just that—taking leaps of faith and setting new ideas in motion—because dance can never stand still.”


LA Film Fest 2012
Festival Wrap Up
Awards and My Faves from LAFF12

My overall impression of the festival was that the docs were much stronger than the narrative films—both in competition and in the other sections of the festival.


Beasts of the Southern Wild
Everything Fitting Together Just Right
Something for Tree of Life fans?

Whereas The Tree of Life was closely tied to biblical and theological contemplation, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a more humanistic approach to thinking about our place in the cosmos.


LA Film Fest 2012
2 Films of Resurrection
LAFF Day 6

Can you be famous and not know it? In Searching for Sugar Man we discover the 1970s music of Rodriquez. Rodriquez is described as an inner city poet who people compare to Bob Dylan.


The Invisible War
Beyond Tailhook
Military Sexual Assault comes to light

The numbers are staggering. The Department of Defense estimates that 19,300 service members were sexually assaulted in 2010 alone. Survivors of military rape rarely find justice.


Brave
Liberation of a Disney Princess?
Maybe she doesn't want to be a princess

Merida is much closer to the heroines in Studio Ghibli films (such as Spirited Away or The Secret World of Arrietty) than she is to the classic Disney Princesses such as Aurora or Cinderella.


To Rome with Love
Fame and Restaurant Reservations
Allen et al. consider lives of fame

Life is tough and it’s tough whether you are famous or whether you’re not famous, and in the end it’s probably of those two choices better to be famous.


Brave
Finding Maturity
press conference with Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian

I think that’s one thing for me as a storyteller, what gets me out of bed every morning is now I’m going to encounter something I haven’t encountered before with whatever story I’m going to be working on.


To Rome with Love
Talking about Movies
Press conference with Woody Allen

When you see us up here, we made the film and we’re here in California promoting it. Everyone saying what a thrill this was and how great it was to work with this person. You’d think we made Citizen Kane.


LA Film Fest 2012
2 Journeys: A School Bus and Neil Young
LAFF Day 5

Do you know what happens to American school buses when they get old? La Camioneta: The Journey of One American School Bus follows one such bus to Guatemala where it is transformed into a bus that will carry people from a rural village into the city.


LA Film Fest 2012
Dark Comedies Rule the Day
LAFF Day 4

The Compass Is Carried by the Dead Man brought to mind works by Jean-Paul Sartre (No Exit), Samuel Becket (Waiting for Godot), and Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal).


LA Film Fest 2012
Gangsters, Hoops, Child Thieves, and More
LAFF Day 3

One of the free screenings offered at LA Film Fest was the local story, G-Dog. Directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Freida Mock, this is a look into Homeboy Industries and the driving force behind it, Father Greg Boyle.


LA Film Fest 2012
Strong Docs.
LAFF Day 2

It looks like I saw nine films yesterday. I know you must be impressed. I have to admit, most of these I saw in press screenings before the festival.


LA Film Fest 2012
Rich and Poor
LAFF Day 1

There is an interesting dynamic in watching The Queen of Versailles and The Strawberry Tree back to back. Two very different experiences of life and what makes for happiness.


Americano
From Isolation to Relationship
The French idea of the American Dream by way of Mexico

The central issue of the film is if Martin, who has walled himself off from meaningful relationships (as is seen most clearly in his lack of commitment), can see the isolation in which he lives and discover a way to connect with others, and possibly a future.


LA Film Fest 2012
Curtain Up in L.A.
looking ahead to the L.A. Film Festival

It stands to reason that Los Angeles should have a great film festival, and it does. (Actually more than one, but let’s focus on the now.) The L.A. Film Festival is underway at L.A. Live and other venues downtown.


The Intouchables
No Pity Allowed
Finding life beyond the limits

The story is told with such humor that we know that these people are living lives of joy even though there is so much that would lead others to despair.


Americano
A Journey through Grief
Interview with Mathieu Demy

“You have to live your own experience, and for every person it’s very different, but you have to live through that. This is what I wanted to express: that he had to do it his way.”


Wallander: The Revenge
Suspicion and Prejudice
Swedish police drama

For newcomers to Wallander, it may take a few of these films to get a handle on who everyone is and the relationships that the films seem to take for granted. However, for the fans of the Wallander books, this may be a new way of enjoying an old friend.


Nobody Else But You
The Mystery of Finding Happiness
Mailyn Monroe reincarnated in France?

While this may not make it quite up to the standards of a Coen Brothers film, Nobody Else But You still serves as an Existential look at life and all the things that we think should fill our lives.


Wish Me Away
Good with God
Interview with Chely Wright

I had gotten on my knees and prayed—which is ultimately why I think I didn’t take my own life—but I prayed that I could let go and surrender. I prayed for discernment most of all, and in that discernment—in that prayer, on the heels of that surrender—came something quite magical.


Moonrise Kingdom
Love Faces the Storms of Life
The wisdom of children, the folly of adults

Wes Anderson weaves together of a tale of young love that is just as intricate as any symphony—and just as enjoyable.


Mighty Fine
Corrosive Anger
Loving Father Loses Control

Anger often seems so commonplace that we may be surprised to find it on the list of the seven deadly sins. Sometimes we call it “wrath” because that sounds like something more than anger, but it is really anger that is so troublesome.


Polisse
Protect the Child
The Lives of Police Who Work with Children

Like the days in the Child Protective Unit, this film has a rollercoaster quality to it. This is a film that is at times heartbreaking and at other times quite uplifting.


Polisse
Filming a Difficult Subject
Protecting Children

I didn’t want to put the cops as heroes and put the victims as eternal victims and put the pedophiles as the mean people. To me that is too easy.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Outsourcing Retirement
Can we just cast off people?

Perhaps The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel should have been rated NC-50, not because of anything offensive, but because it may require a certain age to truly appreciate the various stories played out by the wonderful ensemble cast.


I Wish
The Magic of Hope
Children's road trip of faith

Children have an amazing capacity for faith and hope. Even when things have gone wrong in their lives, they have visions of happy endings. In this film a group of children takes a road trip of hope.


The Cup
Gutsing It Out
Jockey overcomes tragedy

Whereas in most other films of this genre the horse manages to bring redemption to the people around them, in The Cup Damien must find his redemption from within.


Where Do We Go Now?
Woman Against War
Keeping the men from killing each other

In this village the church and mosque are next door to each other. These are people who live together perfectly well until something stirs things up. It has happened here before, but the women are determined it will not happen again.


Tonight You’re Mine
Bound to Fall in Love
More story would help

I enjoy a good screwball comedy (although it’s rare to find them these days). Tonight You’re Mine aspires to screwball comedy, but is so minimalist that it barely qualifies.


Girl in Progress
They Grow Up Too Fast
Trying to Skip Ahead to Adulthood

There are plenty of coming-of-age stories. As a genre they often (but not always) signify the maturation process in some sort of sexual or violent event which pushes someone to take on adulthood.


Love Free or Die
A Courageous Cleric
Film profile of Bishop Gene Robinson

Giving that cup of water, he tells them, “is a dangerous thing to be doing—but very holy.” That understanding, I think, is what the film is trying to get us to see in Robinson’s life and ministry.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Making It to the End
NBFF Day 7

By the time the last day of a festival arrives, fatigue begins to set in. I gave serious consideration to limiting myself to a couple of screenings, but in the end decided to take in another group of shorts as well. I’m glad I did


The Perfect Family
Facade versus Reality
Not a real picture of church life

This is very broad comedy that relies on stereotype and very little understanding of church life. There is hypocrisy. There is ambition. There is conniving. And in the end there is a bit of grace.


My Way
Living on in Another
Enemies Must Unite to Survive

There is something almost mythic of My Way’s story of two rivals who discover that their lives depend on each other. In many ways this is the same story director Je-kyu Kang told in his earlier film Tae Guk Gi.


First Position
They Think They Can Dance
Life at a Major Dance Competition

Dancers ages 9-19 come from around the world in search of the beginnings of a career in dance. The judges come from some of the most prestigious schools and companies. First Position takes us into that world.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Some Work, Some Don't
NBFF Day 6

Wednesday gave me another chance to catch some of the shorts playing at the festival. One more day of festival ahead.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Visits to Paris, Ireland, and Sweden
NBFF Day 5

I think I found my surprise of the festival yesterday in Stella Days. Sheen, by the way, plays a priest as well as Barry Fitzgerald ever did. (And I mean that as a compliment.)


Newport Beach Film Festival
Coming Soon
NBFF Day 4

Many of the films that play at festivals never see any other life. Yesterday there were four films playing at NBFF that either have already made it to theaters or will be coming soon.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Stories from Near and Far
NBFF Day 3

Stories from an Undeclared War focuses on Eric Gruwell, the teacher at Wilson High in Long Beach and her students who became The Freedom Writers (and who were the subjects of a 2007 narrative film starring Hilary Swank).


Newport Beach Film Festival
The Lens Looks at Family
NBFF Day 2

I’ve seen pretty mediocre films at festivals before. I love it when a day comes together so that I feel I’ve seen quality films. Day 2 at NBFF was one of those days.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Many Ways of Moving on in Life
NBFF Day 1

My first day at NBFF opened with a quick trip around the world through a shorts program, “Open My Mind Shortly.”


Love Free or Die
Gay and Christian
Interview with Macky Alston and Bishop Gene Robinson

[A]s soon as we make some progress on the inclusion of LGBT people, God will point out some other group we’ve been unjustly excluding. God won’t be satisfied until all of God’s children are given a place at the table.


Elles
Selling Ourselves
What compromises will you make?

The film isn’t so much a film about prostitution as it is about the way so much of ordinary life is, in many respects, ways that we prostitute ourselves.


Headhunters
The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
Scandinavian Noir with a Touch of Light

Headhunters is the newest entry from the currently popular Scandinavian Noir genre following in the footsteps of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels. Like noir in general, we see a very dark side of people.


Newport Beach Film Festival
The Curtain Is Up
Looking ahead to a week of films

Saturday morning will have a special treat with a program of Chuck Jones Saturday Morning Cartoons because 2012 marks Chuck Jones’s centennial.


Chimpanzee
An Orphan's Tale
Do we see ourselves in these chimps?

The Disneynature brand has created a tradition of coming out with a new film each year at Earth Day. This year’s offering is Chimpanzee.


Surviving Progress
Big Questions
Is progress the solution or the problem?

Do you look at history as a long chronicle of progress? The discovery of fire, the invention of the wheel, democracy, the American Dream… Yes, we do keep discovering or inventing things. But is that progress? What is progress?


Goodbye First Love
Painful Love
This love is not all songs and flowers

What is it that makes love so potentially painful and destructive? Certainly in the love that Camille and Sullivan share (especially in the early part of the film) there is a great earnestness.


Darling Companion
Lost Dog, Found Love
A family finds each other as the search for a dog

What is it that binds a family together? Shared history? Genetics? A dog? In Darling Companion it is a dog (and for much of the time a missing dog) that allows a family to find relationships that need to be fed.


Darling Companion
Making a Film Without a Studio
Indie films attracting talent

Lawrence Kasden has an impressive filmography. Among the films he wrote and directed are Body Heat, The Big Chill, Silverado, Grand Canyon, and Wyatt Earp. All those films were studio films. Darling Companion is his first independent film.


Capital Crimes
Five Hours of Bill Moyers
Lobbying, Campaign Finance, and the Failure of the Press

Moyers is a respected journalist who does not fit into most news formats. He isn’t willing to spend two minutes on a story and move on. His PBS shows have looked into the questions facing Americans by delving into the issues.


Monsieur Lazhar
No Touching Allowed
Finding Community in an Alienated World

After a middle school teacher’s suicide, her class will need special attention, but who would want to teach such a class? An immigrant from Algeria steps forward to teach the class. It could be healing for the class and for him.


Monsieur Lazhar
Let Teachers Teach
Interview with Phillippe Falardeau

“And the irony is that I did an intimate film in French with no stars, and that got me to Hollywood. It got me to the Oscars. If I tried to imitate the Americans or the Hollywood movies with a commercial recipe, I’d never get to Hollywood.”


We Have a Pope
Looking for Strength
Drama and Farce Don't Mix Well

In spite of my problems with the film Melville’s quandary resonates with me. I expect that many who have felt the call of God will know what he is going through.


Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
Going to the Geek Fest
It's About Way More than Comic Books

This is a place where not only is it okay to be a geek, being a geek is the norm. Spurlock refers to his first trip to Comic-Con in 2009 as “my own personal Haj to the Mecca of Geekdom.”


Scandal
Making Trouble Go Away
Will the Moral Ambiguity Make Us (More) Cynical?

When people in power have a problem, they come to Olivia Pope. Olivia is a fixer. She tries to make it all go away.


Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope
Celebrating Fans
Interviews with Morgan Spurlock, et al.

“I want every geek to buy this movie for their parents. So that parents go, ‘Oh, my daughter’s normal. She’s just like everyone else.’”


Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Search for Perfection
The best sushi in the world

In a Tokyo subway station, there is a ten seat restaurant. That restaurant has Michelin’s highest rating, three stars. It serves what is considered to be the best sushi in the world. The cost of a meal starts at 30,000 yen (about $360).


Free Men
Growth of a Conscience
The Paris Mosque Saving Jews in WWII

There is so much that divides people. Today we think in terms of red and blue states, divisions of religion (even within American Christianity), divisions of class. Free Men tells us of people who thought not of their differences, but of what they held in common.


La Terra Trema and Bellissima
Dreams and Reality
Two Films by Luchino Visconti

Both films give us an interesting look at the dreams of post-war Italy—dreams of a better way of life. They also show a bit of the battle of ideologies that was still ongoing—capitalism, materialism, and Communism all were pulling at the culture. But the films also speak to our society.


The Kid with a Bike
No Point Asking "Why?"
Grace that Will Not Give Up

Why would God be so willing to accept those who so obviously reject God? Why did God continue to call Israel back when they wandered after other gods—over and over again? Why, why, why?


Missing
Don't Cross This Mom
Former CIA Op Trying to Find Her Son

What we want it to feel like, is every season is like a great book, you know, like a total ride, satisfying chapter in a book, and you just can’t wait until the next one comes out.


The Kid with a Bike
Can This Boy Be Saved?
Interview with Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

“What interested us was how this woman could perhaps save this boy when all the indicators were that he was on a path to catastrophe. That’s also what the film talks about. It’s not just that he was abandoned.”


John Carter
What It Means to Be Human
Edgar Rice Burroughs's Sci-Fi Comes to Screen

There was a time that part of the experience of going to a Saturday matinee was a weekly serial, each with a cliffhanger ending to play before the main attraction. This would have been perfect for that kind of storytelling.


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Belief in the Impossible
Faith and Fishing or Facts and Figures?

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”


Silent House
No Way Out
The Battle between Chaos and Order

From a suspense point of view, I was reminded of Wait Until Dark (a film I will not watch alone at night). It doesn’t rely on blood or violence so much as it does our anticipation of something violent happening.


Sound of Noise
Music, Noise, Silence
Musicians Attack a City

What is the difference between noise and music? Is that the same for everyone? Do the sounds played by a professional orchestra have more a claim to the word “music” than the racket of city life?


Enemies of the People
A Relationship with Killers
"I wasn't there for revenge. I was there for the truth"

The effect of the additional material is to point a way to consider healing for all the survivors, both victims and perpetrators. In this the film moves beyond just documenting what happened to creating an environment for healing to take root


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Finding a Natural Self
Comments from Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy

“Satire has a hard edge normally,” says Beaufoy. “It doesn’t tend to work very well with a something like romance. Comedy tends to be quite cutting, very near the bone. But the book had a gentle edge to it, which is what really attracted me to it.”


GCB
Trying to Be Good
"Belles," Not "Bitches" - Yeah, Right.

Take a bit of Designing Women, add a touch of Desperate Housewives, mix in just a hint of Dallas, send everyone to church, and you have something of the idea of GCB.


Footnote
When the Son Outshines the Father
Academic and Family Politics Collide

Is life a zero sum game? For one person to receive honor does it mean someone else must lose something? That seems to be the assumption whenever “politics”—whether academic, office, family, or even real politics—come into play.


The Secret World of Arrietty
The People Under the Floor
Studio Ghibli Does "The Borrowers"

The Secret World of Arrietty is Studio Ghibli’s take on the classic children’s story The Borrowers, which has been adopted for film a few times before. Hayao Miyazaki co-wrote the screenplay, but did not direct. Still, this has the look and feel of a Miyazaki film.


Academy Award Nominated Shorts
Best Documentary Shorts of 2012
And the Oscar Goes To...

Documentaries can sometimes make their points in a very concise fashion. That doesn’t mean that the films are unimportant. Each of the Oscar nominees for Best Short Documentary treats a very serious topic in a moving way.


Rampart
"I Never Hurt Any Good People"
A Rogue Cop Takes Us Down with Him

While there are wonderful performances here, viewers may find themselves dissatisfied with the experience. What makes this film so hard to watch is that we aren’t offered characters we can relate to or even like. This is a world of dark characters with dark motives.


Academy Award Nominated Shorts
Best Live Action Shorts of 2012
And the Oscar Goes To...

Live Action Shorts tell stories in very straightforward way. Animated shorts may (or may not) be a bit more fanciful. These Live Action Shorts look just like movies we’re used to; they just get the story done sooner.


Academy Award Nominated Shorts
Best Animated Shorts of 2012
And the Oscar Goes To...

They have to tell their whole story in a very brief time. Each shot, each scene is important. There is a great economy in this way of telling a story.


Return
A Different Homecoming
When Women Return from War

Most films about soldiers returning from deployment focus on men. We may see violent, traumatic flashbacks. Return shows us the kinds of stress a woman can face coming back from deployment.


Albert Nobbs
In a Man's World
Finding a Place in Society

This is not just a film about gender identification, although it is that. You may have noted I’ve not used a third person pronoun. It is hard to tell how to speak of Albert. Is Albert male or female? When asked his real name, he replies, “Albert.”


Bombay Beach
Dreams in the Desert
Our Kinship to Those Around Us

This is a film of dreams and reality. The promotional film about the Salton Sea we see at the beginning of Bombay Beach is in sharp contrast to the reality that we see in the rest of the film. How does that compare to the hopes and dreams of those living in Bombay Beach?


After Fall, Winter
Pain, Death, and Love
A Romance Leading to Doom

As I write this it strikes me that this could be a set up for farce. Molière would have had a great time with this. But After Fall, Winter takes a darker approach. There is an atmosphere of sorrow throughout the film.


The River
Lost in the Amazon
"Paranormal Activity" in a Natural Setting

Horror draws on our imagination but also has the power to shape it. The River will likely ask a bit from viewers. It will lead them to question what may or may not be real. It will take them on a journey into a land of great beauty but also of great danger.


Coriolanus
Shakespeare's Play Still Fits
A Tale of Political Aliances and Treachery

Coriolanus is very much a play and film that fits into today’s world. As a political drama it is a story of shifting allegiances. It is about honor and betrayal. It is about demagogues and about democracy (both its success and its failures).


Miss Bala
The Rape of Innocence
The Damage of Mexico's Drug Wars

This destruction of Laura’s dreams serves as the metaphor of what is happening in Mexico. The brutal violence and the systemic corruption are stripping away all that is honorable and replacing it with fear and degradation.


Addiction Incorporated
Who Knew Tobacco Was Addictive?
A 30 Year Story of Hiding (and Revealing) the Truth

It often seems that those in power must put up walls against the truth. Yet, as with the Hebrew prophets, political opponents, social critics, and sometimes even muckraking journalists, there always seems to be those who raise their voices to tell the truth.


We Need to Talk about Kevin
A Mother's Nightmare
When and Why Did Her Son Turn Bad?

A teenager goes on a killing spree at school. How much guilt and responsibility should fall on a parent? Is it her fault that the child acted in this manner? Was there a psychological flaw in the child that parents had no control over?


Abu, Son of Adam
Living by Faith
A Dream of Going to Mecca

This is really a story of faith and commitment. Abu is trying to live out his faith to the fullest. The very fact that because he lacks the means he is not required to make the Hajj yet desires it so sincerely speaks to the depth of his faith.


Whitehead International Film Festival
Films for the Common Good
A Chance to See Great Films

If you are in the L.A. area for this weekend (Friday thru Monday) you may want to consider a trip to Claremont. Tickets for individual films are only $5. For films of this quality, most of which haven’t played widely (if at all) in the U.S.), that is a great bargain.


Addiction Incorporated
Do-gooder Scientist
Interview with Charles Evans, Jr. and Dr. Victor DeNoble

“Why do rats and monkeys give themselves nicotine? They don’t have social pressures. They don’t want to lose weight. They don’t go to the movies. It’s because nicotine is a drug that changes the way your brain works.”


Darrel’s Dozen 2011
My Favorite Films of the Year
Double Dipping This Year

Since this has been a pretty good year for films, I’ve decided to offer you a BOGO on this year’s Darrel’s Dozen. That’s right, if you make it through my yearly list of twelve films of note, you’ll get another dozen for no extra charge!


Shame
Sex as Alienation
A Dark Look at Sexual Addiction

Certainly, the mere subject matter will keep many people away from Shame. Those who brave the film—and it is a challenge because it is so dark—may discover the weight that alienation can carry.


The Artist
Riches to Rags
Silent (Almost) Film Shows More Than It Tells

This is really a study in conceit. At the beginning of the film we see very quickly that George can be a jerk. He steals the limelight whenever he has the chance. His home is graced by a bigger than life painting of himself.


Carnage
Adults Behaving Badly
Can't Anybody Play Nice?

An episode of schoolyard violence brings two sets of parents together to discuss how to deal with what happened. How very civilized. It is always better to talk about things rather than immediately become belligerent and litigious, right?


A Separation
Divisions of Society and Families
Looking for Truth and Answer

Director Asghar Farhadi describes the film in production notes: “I think A Separation is a detective story without any detectives. The audience is the one in charge of solving the puzzles; there will be as many answers as audiences.”


A Dangerous Method
History of Psychology 101
Freud and Jung Struggle Over the Mind

David Cronenberg has at times delved into the psyche in films such as Crash, A History of Violence, and Eastern Promises. In A Dangerous Method he examines the psyche by looking at the early days of psychoanalysis


Pina
"My Craft Wasn't Good Enough"
Finding a Way to Make a Film that Dances

“I had not much interest in dance… And then I saw “Café Müller” by Pina—and it changed my life. It really was a life changing experience. I cried through the entire night, helplessly, not understanding what was happening to me.”


War Horse
The Folly of War
Animals and People Used and Abused

War Horse is without a doubt an anti-war movie. It does not have the gore that Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan had, but in a similar way it shows us the terror of war. As with the latter film, War Horse does not demean the heroism that is often a part of war.


We Bought a Zoo
A Family Adventure
Can This Father Rebuild His and His Children's Lives?

This is a story of rebuilding. When a man moves his family to a run down zoo, he and the remaining staff must get everything in proper order for inspection so they can open for the summer. But it is not just the zoo that needs to be rebuilt.


Pina
Speaking through Dance
Movement through Space in 3D

This is a celebration of the beauty of music and dance. One of the virtues of dance is that it often needs no translation. We understand it because it is so universal. It is a way to communicate without the barriers of language.


Life, Above All
Compassion Conquers Shame
Loving Kindness in the World of AIDS

The South African film shows us the meaning of compassion. Chanda, a young girl who must deal with a village filled with fear, ignorance, anger, and judgment, is the personification of what the Hebrew Bible called chesed, often translated as “loving kindness.”


I Melt with You
Falling into the Abyss
Midlife Crisis on Steroids (and Many Other Drugs)

Each year four old college buddies, Richard, Jonathan, Ron, and Tim, gather for a reunion to keep up to date on each other and to party… very hard. Now in their forties, they have rented a huge house in Big Sur for the week.


The Descendants
Trouble in Paradise
A Parent Discovers His Inadequacy

Trailers for this film give the impression this is a comedy. It is, but it is a very dark comedy. Each of the characters struggle with their own sense of loss, and yet, because she has not yet died, the loss is not quite real.


Another Happy Day
Study in Narcissism
Dysfunctional Family Wedding

Lately it seems that when a family gathers on screen for a wedding everything will soon begin to come undone; films like Margot at the Wedding come to mind. These are stories of families who just can’t get along for a few days to celebrate a time of love.


Tyrannosaur
Have We Evolved?
Violence and Our Animal Nature

This is a film that sees the world as a brutal place. The film is filled with violence—physical, emotional, and verbal. Nearly everyone in the film is a victim or victimizer in this broken and hurting world.


Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
Corruption from the Top Down
Who Are the Real Criminals in the War of Drugs?

This film smashed box office records in South America. It raises questions of political and social issues that certainly are relevant in Brazil, but also worth thinking about in other societies as well.


Melancholia
"We Don't Need to Grieve for It"
Lars von Trier's Vision of the End of the World

I think it is worthwhile to see this film in relationship with von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist, also an outgrowth of his depression. His latest effort is focused on the end of the world and all life.


AFI Fest 2011
Festival Awards and My Favorites
AFIFest 2011 Finishes

At each screening of the films in the World Cinema, Young Americans, and New Auteurs sections, ballots were passed out to audience members to rate the films from 1 to 5. These votes were used to determine the audience awards. The winners were…


AFI Fest 2011
Imagination, Investigation, and Instigation
AFI Fest Thursday Nov. 10

The final day of AFIfest was a time to get in a few films I didn’t get a chance to see their first time around. It has been a wonderful festival. It attracts great talent and brings new talent to audiences.


An African Election
Hope in Democracy
Inside Ghana's 2008 Election

It seems that we often hear stories of African nations in which democracy is subverted. Ghana is an example of a country that is beginning to understand the power of the ballot box—that the people have the power to take down the government.


Into the Abyss
Killing a Killer
Herzog's Look at Capital Punishment

The film’s subtitle, A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, is a clue to what Herzog wants us to understand. He is looking at this not so much as a story about what is appropriate punishment for a crime as about the value of life itself.


AFI Fest 2011
Dark, Darker, Darkest
AFI Fest Wednesday Nov. 9

It was dark in Chinese Theater 1 yesterday. Oh, sure, theaters are always dark, but the films I saw there yesterday did nothing to make the world seem any brighter. My wife noted recently that I see more depressing movies than anyone she knows.


AFI Fest 2011
Grace, Despair, and Destiny
AFI Fest Tuesday Nov. 8

One of the films I was most interested in seeing at the festival is Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. I always look forward to von Trier’s films with anticipation, but also with a good dose of trepidation.


AFI Fest 2011
Death, Honor, and Deja Vu
AFI Fest Monday Nov. 7

Ralph Fiennes directs and stars in Coriolanus, based on one of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays. Here we have a 17th Century English play about a 5th Century Roman general set in the 21st Century.


AFI Fest 2011
I Can See the World From Here
AFI Fest Sunday Nov. 6

Sunday was a day of world cinema for me, traveling to medieval Germany by way of Russia, then to Israel and Iran. I had earlier made a visit (via press screening) to an Albania.


AFI Fest 2011
Watching Serial Killers, a Pedophile, and a Quirky Relationship
AFI Fest Saturday Nov. 5

Films showing at the festival may or may not be showing us the filmmaking stars of tomorrow. Not just actors and directors, but some of those whose names we never know unless we watch those credits at the end. Their names may not be known, but the work they put out might still make them stars.


AFI Fest 2011
Jealousy, Lies, Love, Crime
AFI Fest Friday Nov. 4

Out on the street you can find Batman, Spiderman, Charlie Chaplin, Sonic the Hedgehog, et al., willing to have their picture taken with you for tips. Inside is a different environment with filmmakers from around the world who are here to show their wares.


Being Elmo
A Dream and a Life
Seeing the Man Behind the Muppet

Everybody loves Elmo, right? Okay, so if your child has been playing with Tickle Me Elmo for the last four hours you may be contemplating puppetcide, but except for that Elmo is just too cute to hate.


The Other F Word
From Rage to Nurture
When Punk Rockers Become Fathers

Underneath all the tattoos (and some are pretty explicit), beyond the expletive-filled lyrics, at the end of the tours and nights in soulless motel rooms, we discover men who just want to be loving, caring, supportive fathers.


AFI Fest 2011 presented by Audi
Hollywood Puts on a Show
And Get This: Free Tickets

This festival is a mix of soon to be released big name films and small indie films from new talent. It will feature 110 films (70 features and 40 shorts) culled from over 3000 submissions. One of the great things for viewers is that there are free tickets for this festival. (Although, at this point, many films are limited to rush line.)


50/50
Laughing at Cancer?
Perspecitives on Life and Living

50/50 is primarily a buddy movie. This leads to a fair amount of guy humor, but it never goes overboard with that. But the foundation that this buddy movie is built on is the fact that we do not live forever.


Oka!
The Beauty of the Old Ways
The Fragile Culture of Pygmies and Their Music

Oka! is an example of the concept of romantic primitivism, often seen in “the noble savage.” In this it is similar to films like Avatar or Dances with Wolves. It wouldn’t be far off to think of this as Dances with Pygmies.


My Reincarnation
A Father, A Son, A Destiny
An Intimate Look at a Buddhist Master

Over a period of twenty years Jennifer Fox filmed Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyal Namkhai Norbu and his family. It wasn’t designed from the beginning to be a documentary, but as the years and the story progressed it turned into My Reincarnation.


My Reincarnation
Film as Spiritual Practice
Interview with Jennifer Fox

“I feel when I’m making films that the only way to get people to show up is to show up myself first of all. So I have to become present. If I’m not present then the person in front of me isn’t present. That’s the first thing. So it’s a real exercise in presence.”


Oka!
A Culture on the Edge
Interview with Lavinia Currier

The culture’s not compromised, but it’s on the edge. Some things are compromised, for example the musicians that Louis recorded 25 years ago, there were more of them, they were better, there was more skill than there is now, so things have been lost.


The Man Nobody Knew
History Told by a Son
The CIA, William Colby, and his Family

Before Colby took office, various secret programs were documented and hidden away. These were often referred to as the “Family Jewels.” Some of these programs were both illegal and embarrassing. Should the CIA be above the law?


Submarino
Danish Darkness
Is a Flicker of Hope Enough?

Perhaps Danes don’t get enough sunlight for much of the year, but between Thomas Vinterberg and Lars van Trier some of the darkest films come from Denmark. Most recently is Vinterberg’s Submarino.


The Man Nobody Knew
A Father's Morality
Interview with Carl Colby

“I think this movie has contemporary relevance,” says Colby’s son, “because there are a lot more Bill Colbys out there now—and women as well as men. Tonight hundreds of people are lifting off… going into Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Pakistan obviously, and other countries, maybe Iran.”


The Way
Walking on Holy Ground
Buen Camino

In the case of these travelers, it isn’t the goal that makes this a pilgrimage; it is the discoveries, joys, pains, and companionship that transform this path into holy ground. By the time they reach Santiago de Compostela, they have each found a measure of peace.


Renée
Center of Controversy
Finding a Person Behind the Story

It’s been so long since the sports world was in turmoil about a tennis player named Renée Richards. In 1977 she sued to be able to play in the U.S. Open. The reason she had to go to court? She was born a man.


The Way
"The Miracles Just Continue"
Interview with Martin Sheen

“You begin to listen to the voice inside and you begin to discard all of the extraneous possessions that you’ve accumulated in your spiritual life—to let go of animosities and hatreds and resentments and jealousy and fear and anger.”


The Mill and the Cross
The Cross in the Midst of Life
But Where Is God in This Picture?

Imagine that you get to walk inside a painting. You see the various people as they go about their business. You watch them from the time they get up in the morning until they reach their assigned spot in the painting… and then continue on.


Finding Joe
We Can All Be Heroes
Mythology 101

The purpose of the film is not so much to examine myth as it is to give viewers an opportunity to see how this myth is present in their own lives. This, it is suggested, is what attracts us to the stories that tell of the hero’s journey.


Connected
This Is Your Brain on the Internet
And Maybe That's a Good Thing

How many friends do you have on Facebook? Do you really know all those “friends?” Whom do you follow on Twitter? How often do you check your email? We live in a connected world.


Connected
Starting Conversations
Interview with Tiffany Shlain

“What I’m trying to bring up into the conversations is that we can be empowered to direct this, because we are all now broadcasters. We are all making ripple effects with our posts and our tweets.”


Viva Riva!
Power, but No Insight
African Noir

The film serves as a bit of a morality tale to point to the disaster that follows a life of crime, but it teaches little else. The film has lots of energy that comes out in the sexuality and violence, but it really doesn’t give us insights into the society or the characters.


Machine Gun Preacher
Battling Evil or Being Evil?
How Violent Can Christians Be?

Are we expected to remember the multitude of scriptures that teach love of enemy and leaving room for God to act in ways that are not our ways? Are we supposed to remember the stories of judges and prophets and others of God’s chosen leaders who acted very violently in doing God’s work?


The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975
A Look Back at Troubled Times
Through the Eyes of Foreign Filmmakers

The historical value of this footage is reason enough for resurrecting these films from the vaults, but the film goes beyond its historical relevance by including present day commentary from some of those we meet (predominantly Bobby Seale and Angela Davis).


Bride Flight
Intersecting Loves and Lives
Finding a Place in a New Land and a New Family

Aboard an airliner trying to set a record in a race to New Zealand are three brides-to-be: Ada, Marjorie, and Esther. After they land, they each go their separate ways, but their lives will become intertwined for years to come.


Ben-Hur
They Don't Make Them Like This Anymore
Looking Back at an Epic Epic

This is a film that fits very well with the zeitgeist of the period in which it was made. That time was the height of American civil religion, when church attendance was at its apex. There was a sense of unity between society and the church.


Drive
Enigmatic Driver
Chases, Crashes—and Maybe a Touch of Grace

Drive takes us into his world of speed and crashes, of crime and violence—and perhaps of kindness and grace. There is plenty of excitement in this action film, but there is far more to this film than great chase scenes.


The Lion King 3D
The Story is Still King
There's a Price for 3D

This was designed to have the feel of an epic. The opening scene which shows us the vast expanse of Africa and its animal life sets the tone. It shows a world of harmony and beauty. All of the animals gather to see the newborn king.


Happy, Happy
Let a Smile Be Your Veneer
The Pain Behind Appearances

The film is set in a snow covered rural setting that is at once beautiful and severe. There is a sense that life is on hold here, waiting for some warming to bring it to flower again. That reflects the people in the story.


Happy, Happy
Smiling through the Pain
Interview with Director Anne Sewitsky

I wanted to tell the story of someone who puts on a smile no matter what. I think most people can relate to a certain extent; how we cover up with smiles for survival.


The Lion King
Becoming a 3D Epic
Meeting the Filmmakers

“People don’t go to the movies to see a technique or explosions. They go to see a story. And I can’t wrap my head around the worldwide audience, but I can understand making a movie for my daughter and my neighbors.”


Warrior
Wounds of the Body and the Soul
Can a MMA Battle Heal Family Wounds?

The brothers and father in Warrior are akin to the stories in Genesis of Jacob and Esau. Those are tales of deceit, resentment, alienation, and ultimately forgiveness and reconciliation.


Dying to Do Letterman
Following a Dream
Even When Cancer Gets in the Way

Most of us go through life thinking we have lots of time to accomplish the things we want in life. Steve Mazan wanted to do standup comedy since he was a child. But then he was diagnosed with incurable liver cancer.


Seven Days in Utopia
The Golf Whisperer
Lessons for Golf and Life

There is indeed wisdom to be found here. Because the film deals with a variety of faults, it’s likely that any viewer will connect with at least one of the lessons. However, the film itself is extremely conventional—to the point of cliché.


Semper Fi: Always Faithful
There Is a Right Thing to Do
The Human Cost of Pollution at Camp Lejeune

As a career Marine, Ensminger has taken seriously the bond that he found in the Corps. He is doing this in large part out of the grief for his lost daughter, but also because of the Corps motto: Semper Fideles. He says, “If they didn’t want to live up to the motto, I would.”


Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
Well Plotted Mystery with Martial Arts
But The Political Message Is a Problem

Detective Dee may not be well known to American audiences, but the character (sometimes known as Judge Dee, and based on a historical character) has long been a staple in Chinese culture and has been brought to Western readers in the novels of Dutch author Robert van Gulik


Sarah’s Key
When the Truth Comes Out
Stories That Shape Our Lives

The power of storytelling and the power of stories to change lives is not something limited to this Holocaust tale. We can be formed by stories. We can find release and grace in the telling of the stories of events that hold us captive.


Phantom Pain
Overcoming Physical And Emotional Wounds
Coming of Age at Mid-Life

He has so many things besides his leg that have been cut off in his life. Each has its own phantom pain. Through his life he has failed to deal with that pain. Now he is forced to confront his pain.


Higher Ground
"Not a Story About Me, and Yes It Is"
Interviews with Vera Farmiga and Joshua Leonard

“In my experience of great films, they’re like great sermons—they provoke discussion. It’s a demanding film for a viewer, and if you have the tenacity and the courage to experience it, you experience it in a very personal way.”


Seven Days in Utopia
The Fear of Failure
Interview with David L. Cook

But at that same moment I heard that still, quiet voice inside speaking loudly and clearly, saying “This is the place; write the book.” A day before that I had no thought of writing a book. There was nothing in my mind about it. But at that moment I heard the voice of God ….


Higher Ground
Faith Found—and Lost
When We No Longer Believe

What is it that draws people to faith, sustains them, but then later no longer seems right? It would be easy to suggest that Corrine never really believed or never really encountered God in a personal way, but that is not the case in the film.


Brighton Rock
Perverse Love Story
Graham Greene's Story of Sin and Grace

This is a love story—but a perverse one. This is a story of counterfeit love and of cruelty. This is a story about the attraction of sin and evil. Yet it finally works around to what may be a miraculous display of the grace of God.


Amigo
Caught in the Crossfire
Sayles Looks at the Philippine-American War

Thematically, Sayles’ Men with Guns also reminds us that those caught in the middle of conflicts are the ones who often suffer the deepest losses. Here we get the same insight but with more of a bite for American viewers.


Battle for Brooklyn
Fighting a Losing Battle
People Face Off Against Eminent Domain

I found the film to be more discouraging than inspiring. We know all along that money will win the day. We know that the group protesting each step along the way was fighting a losing battle. It is a microcosm of the way many people see the political process.


Darwin
No Services Ahead
Life at the End of the Road

Not many people would want to live an isolated life in Death Valley. That’s probably why so few people live in Darwin. Yet those we meet in the documentary film Darwin seem to think it’s the perfect place for them.


Fright Night
The Vampire Next Door
A Horror Comedy Remake

While horror isn’t my favorite genre, this film is fun. There is some suspense along the way, but you know everything will turn out well in the end.


Attack the Block
Hoodlums and Aliens
Who Is My Neighbor?

What makes the story work is that it is a mixture of gangsters and stoners, victim and predators, and even children, who have to fight off these vicious aliens, and they do it with whatever weapons are at hand—samurai sword, kitchen knife, baseball bat, fireworks, super-soaker.


The Help
You Is Important
How Far We've Come (and Not) in Fifty Years

This is the world that many look back on as the good old days. This is the time period that many people wish we could recreate. It is the world of Ozzie and Harriet, The Andy Griffith Show, and Leave It to Beaver. Actually this is the real world that all those shows ignored.


Bellflower
Style Without Substance
Mad Max Wannabes Live Hopeless Lives

What makes dystopian films worth watching is the hope that worlds of violence, pain, and suffering can be overcome. But in Bellflower there is no hero; there is no healing; there is no hope.


The Future
No Stopping the Future
Emotionally Bleak and Dismal

The Future is bleak—a journey from light into a hope-consuming darkness. While it is styled like a comedy, it is in fact an anti-comedy. It has the feel of comedy, but turns out to be a tragedy.


The Guard
A Cynical Cop with a Heart
Noirsh Comedy with Hints of Spaghetti Western

The Guard is much like Gerry Boyle. It is offensive at times (McDonagh calls it an equal opportunity offender), but it has a heart and follows a morality that can make the world better, and gives us a good time in the process.


Where the Road Meets the Sun
Choices and Consequences
Lives in Need of Grace

Essentially this is a story of choices and consequences. Only some of the characters in the story find grace. That grace is not quick and easy.


The Devil’s Double
A Good Man in a Bad Job

In The Devil’s Double, the good guy and the bad guy are very clearly differentiated. They just happen to look exactly alike. (Dominic Cooper does a masterful job of playing both roles.)


The Myth of the American Sleepover
Gentle Look at American Teens
Suburbia as the Garden

Mitchell tells the story gently. There is nothing in-your-face about this film. The film just presents these characters for who they are. All are likable. All are flawed. All have a certain grace that comes with still being innocent in many ways.


The Tree
Sensing a Presence
A Daughter Still Hears Dad's Voice

I suppose one could characterize The Tree as a ghost story of sorts—not a horror story, or even a light-hearted ghost story like Topper or Beetlejuice, but one in which we never really know if a ghost is there or not.


Another Earth
Mirror World
What If We Meet Ourselves?

Another Earth poses a hypothetical question with philosophical overtones. Suppose in the variety of universes that are theorized, there is one that has an Earth just like ours. Would things play out there the same way they have played out here?


Project Nim
Teaching a Chimp to Talk
What Divides Animal from Human?

All of this brings up the issue of what it means to be human. Is it possible for an animal such as Nim to achieve something close to humanness? What is it that is the difference between us and “lower” animals?


If a Tree Falls
Is This Terrorism?
A Look at the Earth Liberation Front

I think the film really serves to show the way people often let their desire to do good—whether that is defined as saving the environment or preserving law and order—become so consuming that they are willing to do what is obviously harmful.


Tabloid
You Can't Make Up a Story Like This
Obsession and the Truth

You couldn’t pitch that story anywhere and expect to be taken seriously. Unless it were all true (maybe).


Tabloid
Mysteries, Uncertainties, Ambiguities
Interview with Errol Morris

I think it would be wrong to conclude that all tabloid journalism is bad. Tabloid journalism is a kind of journalism that focuses on stories that grab ahold of us. I like to think of the Bible as an extended tabloid story.


Habana Eva
Cuban Dreams Seen in Film
Interview with Fina Torres

Well, I think they want some kind of openness, some kind of individual liberties, that they can have initiative and be creative and have that space to create and to be open. When I say create, I’m not only talking about art; I’m talking about survival ways.


An Ordinary Family
Not Taking Sides
A Conversation with Cast, Director, and Producer

We definitely had a huge tension with this film. We decided from the very beginning—I even said, “I only want to do this if we’re not going to take a side.”


Terri
A Boy in Pajamas
Learning to Care

This coming-of-age story is a different kind of Breakfast Club. There are no stereotypes or facades here. We, however, may have our own stereotypes of the characters.


LA Film Fest 2011
And So It Ends - For Now
One Last Film, My Favorites, and Festival Winners

So the festival is done (except for the special closing night screening.) There were only a few films screening today, so there was only one for me to get to. But the awards have been announced, plus I’ll note my favorites as well.


LA Film Fest 2011
Building to the Climax
Kawasaki's Rose, The Future, and Terri

On the last full day of the festival, things aren’t exactly winding down yet. Two of the films I saw are films I’ve really been looking forward to. Plus there was time to see a very good import as well.


LA Film Fest 2011
Cinematic Trip to Cuba
Suite Habana and Habana Eva

Last year the L.A. Film Festival, along with AMPAS, went to the Havana Film Festival. There they met filmmakers and saw many Cuban films that made it clear we don’t have an accurate picture of Cuban life. Yesterday was my day to take a brief cinematic excursion to Havana.


Page One: Inside the New York Times
Can Newspapers Survive?
Are They Relevant? Does Anybody Care? Should You?

This is a hard time for newspapers. Many, even important papers in big cities, have gone out of business in recent years. Do newspapers still matter in the electronic age?


LA Film Fest 2011
Coming Soon to Theaters
Page One and Another Earth

On Thursday I saw two films with theatrical openings on the horizon – one very, very close.


Rejoice and Shout
Sing It!
200 Years of Music in 2 Hours

What is it about Gospel music that seems to draw people regardless of their religious or spiritual perspectives? There is just something in the rhythms and harmonies that connect with nearly everyone.


LA Film Fest 2011
Films About Unusual Relationships
You Hurt My Feelings and The Guard

Sometimes you have to get to the end of a film before you can really appreciate it. The payoff may only come with that final scene.


LA Film Fest 2011
Interesting Lives
Salaam Dunk, Mamitas, The Dynamiter, Renee

A day with films that look at a very diverse set of lives.


Wish Me Away
Gay and Country
Chely Wright's Coming Out Story

From as far back as she can remember, Chely Wright wanted to be a country music star and perform at the Grand Ole Opry. She was blessed with the talent to make that happen. Also, all through her life she prayed to God to not be gay.


LA Film Fest 2011
Good Discussions and Films
Secrets and People Coming Out

There’s more to a film festival than watching movies. It is a time for filmmakers to try to sell their work, to network, and to learn. It is also a time for ideas to be exchanged.


LA Film Fest 2011
They Don't All Connect
Lots of Good Films. One Clunker.

There are lots of wonderful films playing, but of course when you’re at a festival there will be films that don’t sit right with you. I ran into one of those last night.


An Ordinary Family
Love and Baggage
This Vacation Will Be a Lot of Work

An Ordinary Family shows us a loving, happy family that, like all families, has baggage – and not just the kind that carry clothes. We sense a true affection between the characters, even when they are not getting along.


Unfinished Spaces
Art vs. Ideology
Cuba's National Schools of Art

The real stars of the film, though, are the buildings themselves. These were all designed to be wonderful facilities for learning, and also are exceptional artistic accomplishments in their own right. It is wonderful that World Monument Watch is promoting these buildings (which are still in use, even unfinished).


LA Film Fest 2011
A Very Busy Day
Around the World an Hour or Two at a Time

Ten films? I have ten films to write about in one day? Okay, I didn’t watch them all yesterday. Most of them I saw in press screenings, but they made their premieres at the festival yesterday so it’s time to talk about them.


LA Film Fest 2011
Three to Get Things Started
Unraveled, How to Cheat, Tyrannosaur

Here we go. There was a somewhat scant schedule for the first Friday of the festival, but there are still some interesting films to talk about.


Unraveled
Crossing a Line
How Does Someone Steal $470 Million?

Unlike many documentaries about grand frauds, this is Dreier’s own story. Nearly the entire film is Dreier talking about what he did. It is filmed during the sixty days between the time Dreier pled guilty to the charges against him and his sentencing. He faces a possible 145 year sentence.


City of Life and Death
Life is More Difficult than Death
The Nanjing Massacre Remembered

While this is bound to an historical event, the story could be transferred to any number of war situations. War by its very nature brings out bravery and cowardice—qualities that may be seen in many ways and may both be present in any one person.


LA Film Fest 2011
The Obvious Place for a Film Fest
11 Nights in Downtown LA

Los Angeles likes to style itself the Entertainment Capital of the World. To talk about the film industry you merely have to refer to Hollywood. But when you think of film festivals, you think of places like Cannes, Park City, Toronto, maybe even Austin.


Incendies
Resting Without Peace
Honor and Shame, Judgment and Grace

Incendies puts grace and judgment together in such a way that neither really works without the other. I think that theologically these two ideas must also always be bound together.


The Last Mountain
Environmental Battle Ground
Mountain Top Removal Mining: Wrong So Many Ways

Filmmaker Bill Haney offers an indictment of Big Coal (and especially Massey Energy) by focusing on the strip mining taking place on Coal River Mountain. The issues range from global to personal.


Midnight in Paris
The Magic of Paris
Living in the Golden Age

What makes this far more enjoyable than the last several Allen films is that it is (can I use this word about a Woody Allen film?) optimistic.


Superheroes
Real Caped Crusaders
Trying to Make the World a Better Place

Director Michael Barnett could have approached this by ridiculing these people. Certainly they are quirky. Some have some very strange self-image issues. But he plays it straight. We see real people (eccentric, but very real) who just want to be good.


The Tree of Life
Images! What Images!
What is One Life in the Entire History of the Cosmos?

What we are offered in this film is a meditation on life, on God and God’s presence (and absence), on faith, on love, on family, on rebellion and sin, on grief, on doubt. It gives us a chance to consider our place within the whole of creation.


The Last Mountain
Subverting Democracy
Interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The problem is that wherever you see large scale destruction of the environment of this magnitude you also see the subversion of democracy, and that is the real victory that they’ve accomplished in West Virginia.


The Conspirator
Justice or Security?
Heavy-Handed Linking to Today

While the film is set in the aftermath of Lincoln’s assassination, it is obviously meant to be a metaphor for current situations. Does any of this seem familiar: hooded prisoners kept in isolation, military tribunal that do not presume innocence, hysteria and fear mongering about security?


The Last Mountain
Taking on the Coal Industry
Interview with Bill Haney

You know this whole slogan, “Coal is what keeps the lights on,” is designed to offer you a choice – a Hobson’s choice – pollute your children or stay in the dark. That’s the subtext of that, and of course that’s a completely false choice. The answer is create a level economic playing field and watch renewables win, or let our political system be bought by the fossil fuel industry and let your kids be poisoned.


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Cost of Eternal Life
It Must Be Summer—The Blockbusters Have Arrived

The search for redemption is always present in POTC. In this film there is also the idea that the gift of life has a price. There are those who are willing to save others, and those who are willing to sacrifice others.


How to Live Forever
Live Long and Prosper
The Search for the Fountain of Youth

Does belief in an afterlife change how people approach this issue? Would you take a pill that would allow you to live for another 500 years? Ponder that for a moment before you go on with this review.


Cave of Forgotten Dreams
When Did We Become Human?
Meeting a Distant Ancestor

Of course the question we all want to know is who did this and what does it mean? That is a question we really cannot answer. Herzog and some of the scientists who study this cave ponder not the question of who or why, but rather how we are connected.


How to Live Forever
Defying Death
Interview with Mark Wexler

So I think I came to the conclusion that your thought processes affect your health as much possibly as what you’re eating. Those are all important too. That was a pretty good discovery.


The People vs. George Lucas
Revenge of the Geeks
Don't Mess with "My" Star Wars

The geeks may not believe this, but the changes in Star Wars are a minor issue in the larger picture of living day by day. However, we all need things that anchor us. The People vs. George Lucas gives us a look at the upset such changes can bring into lives.


The High Cost of Living
Grief and Guilt
The Sum of Bad Choices?

“Sometimes I wonder how I got to be this person. Maybe you’re just the sum of a bunch of bad choices.” He has indeed made many bad choices, but maybe he can learn that it’s not too late to make good choices.


Water for Elephants
Life in the Circus
Finding a Home on the Road

When I read the book Water for Elephants I was enthralled by this glimpse into the somewhat unsavory world of circus life. The film version draws us in just as well. More, it provides us with an understanding of how we can get through hard times.


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
Wrap Up
Awards and Favorites

The films selected to run in the Festival were in competition for jury, Festival and audience awards. After I share some of those winners, I’ll give my own version of awards.


My So-Called Enemy
Meeting "the Other"
Hope for the Israel-Palestine Conflict ?

This is an excellent film for use in churches, mosques, and synagogues, or by interfaith groups. I would encourage those who want to see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the lives of these women to visit the film’s website


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
Quirky and Original
Day 6 at NBFF

Overall, this is the kind of day I love at festivals. I may not have “liked” all of the films, but these were certainly films I could appreciate for the way they offer us new ways of viewing the world.


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
From Novice to Professional
Day 5 at NBFF

Another fun thing at NBFF is occasionally getting to watch the “red carpet.” Yes, there is a red carpet at this festival. Last night prior to the screening of Leave, I watched as the cast and filmmakers posed and had pictures taken on the red carpet in front of a festival backdrop and celebrated the premiere of their film.


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
Trying to Do the Right Thing
Day 4 at NBFF

Monday at the festival I took in two films dealing with people struggling to do the right thing. Doing the right thing is often a very difficult proposition. But then if it were easy, we’d all do it.


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
Where Is Home?
Day 3 at NBFF

The most common theme in the films I saw on day 3 at Newport Beach was “home.”


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
Getting Into People's Minds
Day 2 at NBFF

Day two at Newport Beach might be about getting into people’s minds. I started at a seminar on screenwriting with Aaron Sorkin


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
Slowly Moving into the Dark
Day 1 at NBFF

My first day at the festival I slowly moved into the dark – and I’m not referring to the inside of the theater.


2011 Newport Beach Film Festival
A Week in Dark Rooms
A Preview of What's Ahead

I’ve been working on my schedule for the Newport Beach Film Festival. I’ve got it narrowed down to about 28 films (out of the hundreds that are playing). Unfortunately, unless I learn how to be two places at once, I won’t be able to see them all.


Hoodwinked Too! Hood VS. Evil
Disappointing Mashup
Fairy Tale Characters in Police Procedural

Hoodwinked Too! merely invites us to visit with these characters once again. It steps back from retelling a fairy tale by just using several fairy tale characters to populate the film.


Potiche
The Trophy Wife Turns
This Trophy Won't Stay on the Shelf

The French love a good farce. It’s a time honored genre – even Shakespeare wrote a few. In a farce, the plot may seem a bit outlandish in its various connections, but when we look beneath the humor of the situation, we often see some truth about life.


African Cats
Two Mothers
Enjoyable, but Shallow Nature Film

This film is much closer in style and tone to the kinds of True Life Adventure nature films Disney put out in the 1950s. It includes some beautiful scenery and cinematography. It focuses on the animals as family in a way that we (and especially children) can relate.


Nostalgia for the Light
Looking Back in Time
The Big Bang and Disappeared Persons

Archaeologists know a great deal about the pre-Columbian people of the Atacama and the astronomers can look back to periods very near the Big Bang, but there is still much that is not known about the more recent past.


In a Better World
The Cost of Revenge
Following an Increasingly Violent Path

The Danish title of the film, Hævnen, translates to “revenge.” That is the core issue before the characters. How do we respond to violence when it comes into our lives? Does striking back provide a sense of protection?


The Princess of Montpensier
The Folly of Passion
Torn Between Two (or More) Lovers

There is a key scene in which Marie is given an audience with the Queen Mother, Catherine de Medici. Catherine was an avid astrologist and noted that Marie was torn between two planets, Saturn and Venus which represented the powers of reason and passion.


Certified Copy
Real or Reasonable Facsimile?
Marriage as a Work of Art

This film has the depth of a great work of art. The more we look at it the more we notice, and the more it may mean to us. There is a depth to this film that we don’t often experience.


Win Win
Second Chances for Everyone
Wrestling with Self and Circumstances

Tom McCarthy’s new film Win Win is about second chances. That theme is a part of his earlier films, The Station Agent and The Visitor, but here it stands front and center.


I Am
What's Wrong with the World?
Challenging Our Culture's Ethos

While some of the evidence he presents is questionable (at least to my thinking), the conclusions he reaches are sound from the perspective of many religions, including Christianity.


Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Illusion Mixed with Reality
Memories of Living

It is hard to set aside Western views of reality to allow the film to speak to us. Many viewers will never be able to accomplish this. For those willing to take the chance and are ready for this often very slow journey, perhaps there will be a new world that opens to your eyes.


Rabbit Hole
Study in Grief
Trying to Find a Way Through the Darkness

Rabbit Hole is a study in grief. The story focuses on Becca and Howie, who have lost a young son. The film opens some time after the event which only becomes clear as the film progresses.


The Adjustment Bureau
Is This God's Plan?
Will You Choose This Movie - Or Will It Be Chosen for You?

The philosophical question of free will or determinism probably can never be completely answered, but it can be fun to knock around the ideas. The Adjustment Bureau is a fun way to consider the question.


Secret Millionaire
Homeless To Millionaire To Giver
Interview with Dani Johnson

The influence that the show I believe will have, and has already had, is mobilizing people to do what we’re supposed to do, that is to help the needy, to help the poor, the orphan, those who are disadvantaged, the sick. We are supposed to do that.


Blue Valentine
Broken Home
From Loving to Loathing

How can two people move from the euphoria of early love to the point they can’t stand to be around each other? There is a time when a couple cannot seem to bear to be apart. Yet in so many cases, once that thrill wears off, there is nothing left between them.


Even the Rain
Power to the People
The Struggle Goes On and On and On

I saw this film just shortly after the people of Egypt brought down the government. Such revolutions were taking place in other Mideast and North African nations. It occurred to me watching this film that this same battle continues to be fought in many different settings.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Uncovering the Truth
The Trilogy Concludes

One of the themes throughout the films is the difference of appearance and reality. Those involved in the cover-up have an outward respectability, but that belies the darkness that is within them.


Arts and Faith Top 100 Films (2011)
The Creme de la Creme
So Many Films, So Little Time

Even though it has only been a year since Image Journal and its Arts and Faith Forum issued an updated Top 100 Film List, it has once again gone through the process of selecting a Top 100.


Biutiful
Dark Beauty
A Grimy Story of Death and Dying

Biutiful takes place in a world that that seems to have little beauty. The film is set in Barcelona, but in the city’s underbelly. Everywhere we look, it just seems dirty. That visual experience mirrors the lives we see in the film as well.


Tattoos on the Heart
Stories from the Hood
Let These Stories Marinate in Your Life

Those who read this book will be challenged to see homies in a new way. Even these violent, often uneducated men and women are at their heart, God’s children—beloved by God.


Troubled Water
A Place for Second Chances
Grace and Redemption Are Not Easy

Each of the main characters is injured in some way, and each carries a burden. There can be no easy solution to the complex feelings of those involved. To forgive and forget may sound nice, but it is not easy to accomplish – especially when it comes to forgiving oneself.


Of Gods and Men
Happy Thieves in Paradise
Monks Living by Faith in the Face of Death

Like the monastic life, this film is built around times of prayer and singing. We often find them gathered at their regular prayer and hear them chant a psalm or hymn. At the beginning of the film we may see this as the ritual of their life together, but as time goes on, we see that these times truly sustain them as they face difficult days.


Whitehead International Film Festival
Films for the Common Good
A Small but Deep Festival

This year marked the tenth edition of the Whitehead International Film Festival. The festival is sponsored by the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology. Each year the festival gathers some of the best films from recent festivals around the world.


The Illusionist
As Time Goes By
The Melancholy of Live Passing By

The Illusionist conjures up a blend of nostalgia and melancholy. Based on an unproduced screenplay by French comedian Jacques Tati and adapted by Sylvain Chomet, the animated film shows us what it is like to come to an end of an era.


Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries)
Connected, Disconnected
Serious Film from the Land of Bollywood

Perhaps your idea of Indian cinema is Bollywood musicals about dreams coming true and love overcoming differences of caste. But India’s film industry is also willing to raise questions about life and happiness that are far more serious that can be answered with a bright song and dance.


Darrel’s Dozen 2010
My Favorite Films of the Year
And a Pretty Decent Year at That.

The time has come to make note of the films that have meant the most to me over the last year. One of the trends that I think is promising is that I have films here from throughout the year. Only a few are from the year end awards season.


Somewhere
The Emptiness of a Life
Can One Find Happiness in Luxury?

Somewhere is similar in theme to another Sofia Coppola film, Lost in Translation. That earlier film reflects the same emptiness of materialistic modern life, but offers hope in the finding of a connection to another person.


Another Year
Cultivating Life
It Requires Digging in the Muck

A key metaphor in the film is gardening. In each season we see Tom and Gerri doing their chores in their little plot in a community garden. They plant, fertilize, weed, harvest, clean up. That may also be a way to see their life with friends and family.


True Grit
Nothing is Free
What Price for Vengeneance?

The film is awash in biblical and religious allusions, beginning with a citation of Proverbs 28:1 as the film opens. Interesting enough, it only quotes the first line of that proverb, even though the second is perhaps more relevant.


Black Swan
Psychological Dance
Epic Battle Between the Id and Superego

This is a film that asks more of its audience than just its time and attention. Not everyone will be comfortable taking part in such a tense psychological struggle.


Inside Job
The Causes of the Great Recession
Dispassionate Documentary... Unfortunately

Welcome to the Great Recession. America is in the most troubled economic period since the Great Depression of the 1930s. How did it happen? Is there someone we can blame? Is there something we can do to keep it from happening again?


The Fighter
Redemption in the Ring
A Deliverance from Shame

The Fighter tells the story of a man and his family who struggle to achieve honor—and in the process find redemption in a world that seems to be filled with shame.


The King’s Speech
The Trials of a King
Speaking for a Nation - But He Cannot Speak

A reluctant king who must find the courage to overcome his greatest fears for the sake of his people. A commoner who brings forth a greatness the king never imagined. A fairy tale? Perhaps the latest in the Narnia series? No. The story of King George VI of England.


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Challenges and Phony Challenges
Interview with Micheal Flaherty of Walden Media

“I think when you run into all kinds of problems,” says the cofounder of Walden Media, producer of all three Narnia films, “is when you retreat from the author’s original material, and then you end up pleasing nobody.”


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Defeat the Darkness Inside
By Our Strength - and with Aslan's Help

Purists may have trouble with plot changes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but for Christians looking for those themes that reflect the Gospel, this film may represent the clearest connection with the Christian message from the Narnia series


Barney’s Version
You've Made a Wonderful Life for Yourself
Remembering the Joys and Sorrows of a Life

It is important that much of the story is told as Barney’s memories. Those memories are now all he has of the life that was at one time so fulfilling. Now, we slowly discover his life is growing more and more empty.


Bhutto
A Life Given to Politics
The First Woman to Lead a Muslim Nation

While the film tells us her story, its real value is to allow us to understand a bit more about Pakistan and the current international situation.


Tangled
Does "Mother Know Best"?
Selfishness Disguised as Love

It is said that Disney Studios has wanted to make a Rapunzel film ever since the 1940s, but they never found a satisfactory way. In Tangled, they have kept the best known elements and yet totally revised the story.


Tangled
What Makes Disney Special
John Lasseter Leading the Cheers

“It really empowered these guys to say, ‘Make this a film that you want to see.’ That’s the key thing. Make it the kind of film that you like to watch, because that’s what has always driven me in every movie I made at Pixar. We make the movies we like to see—we want to watch.”


White Material
A Field of Darkness
Chaos Comes in Many Forms

The film is in large part Maria’s struggle against the chaos that surrounds her. The plantation is the one aspect of life that she has been able to control. But as everything disintegrates (politically and personally), she fails to see the reality of the situation.


The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Bringing a Classic Book to Life
Interview with Georgie Henley and Will Poulter

“I think the greatest kind of inspiration was the book itself and that was for everyone. Everyone was trying to stay very true to the book. The directors insisted on that. I guess the biggest challenge for me was trying to represent Eustace as he is in the book.”


Tangled
Magic's in the Hair
Solving the Problem of Realistic CG Hair

“In CG you can make things explode, that’s no problem,” says co-director Nathan Greno. “You can part the Red Sea; but hair is so difficult. It’s like the most difficult thing ever.” But the team thinks they’ve pulled it off seamlessly.


Waiting for “Superman”
Who Will Rescue Our Educational System?
Are Children Doomed If They Lose a Lottery?

Waiting for “Superman” is the third education documentary I’ve seen this year. People are concerned with problems in the educational system. In many ways it is failing both the children and the wider society. What makes schools work or not work is a very complex issue.


Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
Just Another Political Sex Scandal?
Hubris, Hypocrisy, but also Honesty

Many people thought Eliot Spitzer was going to be the first Jewish President of the United States. He made a name for himself as New York’s Attorney General. He won his election as Governor with an astounding sixty-nine percent of the vote. Here was someone on the rise. But then . . . .


Tangled
Not as Grim as Grimm's
Noting the Shift from Fairy Tale to This Film

There were certain things that we kept. But there are so many different versions of it and there are so many dark things in these versions that we could never do. They’re sort of unappealing and things you couldn’t do in a Disney movie.


Shodo Girls
Japanese Calligraphy a la "Glee"
Hopefully Coming to a Festival Near You

Take the artistry of Japanese calligraphy and combine it with the spirit of the TV show “Glee” and you get an approximation of Shodô Girls!! This film is a study of the tension between contrasting ideas: tradition and innovation, control and passion, individuality and community.


Enemies of the People
Seeing Genocide from the Inside
A Personal Search for Truth in the Killing Fields

What makes the film important is that Thet was able to get these people to talk about events that were so clearly evil. It isn’t often that we actually get to hear about genocide from the people who were committing it.


The Girl Who Played with Fire
Rage Vs. Non-feeling
The Middle Of The Story

The Girl Who Played with Fire suffers from what might be termed middle book syndrome. It is very often the case that the middle part of a trilogy merely serves as a bridge.


Hereafter
What Is Beyond Life?
Pondering One of Life's Greatest Questions

While religions often deal with what happens after death, in reality the answers to those questions is unknown. Even those in this story who have gone through an experience of death cannot tell us what death is.


Never Let Me Go
More Than Just Body Parts
Shall We Get Past Dehumanization?

Certainly this raises all kinds of moral issues, but even though the ethical and existential questions are not touched on until late in the film, they underlie the entire film.


An Evening of Arts and Entertainment
Christian Artists Showcased
Creating Beauty in Faith

The arts have a long history of association with faith. It is only in recent times that some Christians have devalued the arts. This ministry seeks to make it clear that arts and faith are not only compatible, but indeed often rely on one another.


Gerrymandering
To the Victors Go the Spoils
But Does It Harm Our Democracy?

Redistricting will be coming to your state next year. Perhaps this film will give you some insight in to the process so that you can hold your politicians accountable and find ways to make democracy work better.


Carlos
Icon of Terrorism
A Long Look at the Most Wanted Man on Earth

At nearly five and a half hours, you might expect Carlos to be a definitive portrait of the Venezuelan-born terrorist who operated mainly for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). But even in that length of time, we really don’t fully know what drove Carlos (real name: Ilich Ramirez Sanchez) in his work.


Secretariat
Run Your Race
The Way to Win - for Human and Beast

Comparisons to the film Seabiscuit will be inevitable. In both films the horses serve as something of a metaphor that defines and inspires the people that work with the horses.


Gerrymandering
America's Best Kept Secret
How Politicians Pick Their Voters

The United States is the only advanced democracy in the world that allows politicians to draw their district lines. I don’t think any of us believe that you’ll ever take the politics out of redistricting process, but as a minimum we should be taking the politicians out of the process.


Jack Goes Boating
Turning Vision into Reality
Finding the Light of Life

Do the pictures in our minds play out in real life? Do our dreams open up new possibilities? Can the painful pictures of the past tear apart our future? In Jack Goes Boating, there is an intriguing interplay of vision, possibilities, and reality.


Enter the Void
The World Through a Dead Man's Eyes
Drug-riddled Meditation on the Tibetan Book of the Dead

The film reminded me, either stylistically or thematically, of other films: Wings of Desire, Jacob’s Ladder, Eyes Wide Shut, and Half Nelson. These are all good films, but I’m not sure the mash-up here lives up to any one of them.


Heartbreaker
A Con Man with a Heart
Part Caper Film, Part Screwball

According to Alex, there are three kinds of couples: happy, unhappy and they know it, and unhappy but don’t admit it. His job in life is to break up that third kind of couple, and he’s quite good at it.


The Sicilian Girl
From Vengeance to Justice
The Price of Justice Is Very High

“I came here looking for revenge, but now I am asking for justice. I know now it’s not the same thing.”


Race to Nowhere
Is Homework Ruining Education?
Are Kids Being Driven Too Hard to Succeed?

This is a very personal project for Abeles, which is both a strength and a weakness in making a documentary. The strength is in her passion to find something that will help her children (and other children). It puts a very human face to the issues.


Animal Kingdom
Red in Tooth and Claw
A Tale of Survival

No, Animal Kingdom is not a wildlife documentary, but it is very much a story of survival in a world based in violence. Just as Tennyson spoke of nature as, “red in tooth and claw,” life among the Cody family is deadly serious.


Soul Kitchen
A Simple, but Filling Menu
Relationships that Feed our Souls

Our relationships are not so much a line drawn between two people as they are a web made up of multiple connections and intersections—some permanent, others less so. These relationships are often what feed our spirits and our souls.


Lebanon
A Day Inside an Israeli Tank
A Visceral Experience of Going into War

Four young soldiers who have never seen battle are at the forefront of the 1982 Lebanon Israel War. It isn’t long before war becomes all too real to them and they find themselves ill-prepared for the experience.


Get Low
Throwing a Funeral Party for Himself
Finding the Man Behind the Beard

In Get Low, the issue of forgiveness comes up early in the film, then settles into the undercurrent. We’re not sure what needs to be forgiven—if anything at all. But as the story plays out, it becomes more and more evident that this is a story about forgiveness.


Eat Pray Love
Is the Journey the Destination?
Film Lacks the Book's Depth and Wisdom

There is certainly a spiritual aspect to the film. Some of the insights are well worth considering. But overall, it is all very superficial. All of the societies and religions that are part of this journey have depth and currents that cannot be adequately explored in a two hour world tour.


Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child
A Genius Full of Contrasts
A Light Burning Brightly, but Briefly

As I watched the film, the concept that occurred to me was “genius”—especially in the sense of someone possessed by a creative spirit. But that genius had a downside as well.


The Tillman Story
A Story About Stories
Searching for the Truth About an American Hero

The Tillman Story is not anti-war or anti-military (although the military command structure is not shown in a complimentary light). It raises questions that all need to consider if the values that led Pat Tillman to serve in the Army are to have any meaning.


The Switch
Romcom by the Numbers
Overcoming Fear with Love

The key element that drives the story is not so much relationship, as is often the case, but Wally’s fear of life. He knows that whatever bad can happen, will happen to him. This doesn’t make him very attractive romantically.


Peepli Live
The Media Circus Comes to Town
Bollywood Film with Social Commentary (But No Song and Dance)

Peepli Live is a satirical look at life in India today, but it is just as valuable as a social commentary on our own culture. We watch as the media turns this story that starts as a heartrending situation into an event.


Patrik, Age 1.5
A Chance to Love
The Unexpected Can Be a Gift of Grace

The story is fairly predictable, but it does allow us to think a bit about how we relate to people around us—in and out of families. The real issue is if people can see beyond first impressions…


Flipped
Discovering Maturity
A Tween Romance with a Bit of Body

The film is not about what happens to young people when their hormones start kicking in. Rather it is about little discoveries about life. There are some adults that could learn from these lessons for tweens.


Charlie St. Cloud
Let Go and Move Forward with Live
An Interview with Ben Sherwood

I think that one of the greatest challenges that many people face every day is grief and loss and how to live their lives and move forward in the face of devastating loss. And I’m very interested in what it takes for people to rally and to rebuild and to go on.


Charlie St. Cloud
Life On Hold
Stuck in a World of Grief

Five years later we find Charlie living at the cemetery. He has passed on college and is working as the caretaker. Everyone in town pretty much thinks he’s lost his mind. Perhaps he has.


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
A Reluctant Messiah
Entertainment, but No Depth

The live action version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is your basic good-vs.-evil story loaded up with the kinds of explosive special effects one expects in a Jerry Bruckheimer film. The concept is entertaining enough, but the film really lacks any sense of depth.


I Am Love
Freedom to Be Oneself
A Rich Experience—Visually and Thematically

Maybe it was because I saw this over the Independence Day weekend, but I noted a strong theme of freedom. It isn’t a matter of political freedom, but a very personal freedom—to be oneself.


Restrepo
Brotherhood in War
Interview with Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

I was thinking about the idea between subjectivity and objectivity and lots of different journalists getting different perspectives. So Sebastian and I decided to make this very visceral war film because we felt that experience—the fundamental experience of warfare—hasn’t really been seen and digested.


The Infidel
A Question of Birth
A British Muslim Discovers He's Jewish

The Infidel is a light-hearted look at what it means to belong to a religion or a specific ethnicity. It doesn’t really dig very deep, but it does give viewers a chance to think about some of the stereotypes we may carry.


The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
Family Out of Control
A Nihilist Lifestyle Fails to Find Happiness

In Boone County, West Virginia there is a clan that has become known and even celebrated for its lawlessness. The White family, according to a captain in the sheriff’s department, “all they got to do is to fuss, fight, and party.”


Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
The Music of Rage
Ian Dury's Rebellion and Success

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll is about… well, it seems pretty obvious. Actually, although all those aspects are part of the film, it is really a focus on Ian Dury, lyricist and front man for The Blockheads in the Seventies and Eighties.


Restrepo
Real War in Afghanistan
Life and Death on the Front Lines

Restrepo doesn’t bother with the politics involved in Afghanistan. It never asks what we are doing there or what we should be doing there. It doesn’t have anyone critiquing the strategy. It focuses on the soldiers, their lives, their courage, and their pain.


Winter’s Bone
A Burden of Desperation
A Young Woman Does Whatever It Takes

To some extent, watching this film is an exercise in voyeurism. It is not our world. It isn’t just the drugs and poverty that make this foreign to us. There is the down home understanding of justice and an attitude that disdains the law in general.


Stonewall Uprising
"Our Rosa Parks Moment"
Gay Pride Is Born

On June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City. Instead a riot broke out—an event that is often noted as the beginning of the gay pride movement. Stonewall Uprising is a recounting of the events of that night told by some of those who were participants or witnesses.


Of Love and Other Demons
An Exorcist for Rabies?
A Struggle of World Views

Looking back at the modern/pre-modern conflict may seem utterly foolish from our perspective. Yet that conflict has continued on in various ways, especially within some branches of Christianity and their attitudes towards science.


Toy Story 3
The Ultimate Transition
Eschatology According to Pixar

Producer Darla K. Anderson says, “[The film] can be as deep as you want it to be, on many levels. The story reflects how we must face changes in our life; it’s inevitable.” Feel free to watch it as enjoyable diversion from a hot summer day. But perhaps later, you’ll want to consider just how deep you want to delve into the film.


Agora
Something Like the Classics
But Is It Anti-Christian?

In a way, Agora reminded me of old epic films like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. It’s more than just the sword and sandal motif; there is an overtly religious content as well. But Agora stands the genre on its head.


Splice
What Is Human?
Rebooting the Frankenstein Story

It’s coming up on 200 years since Mary Shelly wrote her Gothic novel Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. It’s been adapted any number of times for film, although rarely does a film follow the book. This is the latest updated version of the story.


Micmacs
Treasure from the Junk Yard
Finding Value in Cast Offs

So we have something of a fantasy/caper film where we watch these peculiar people improvising an elaborate and humorous scheme. At the same time, this is something of a satire on arms merchants.


Please Give
When Having It All Isn't Enough
Searching for Meaning in Affluence

Can you have all that you need—and even more—and still not be happy? That may be the central question of middle class angst. What happens when you have your share of the American Dream, but it just doesn’t seem like enough?


Mother and Child
What Makes a Mother?
Three Women Birthing a Future

To be sure, this is a woman’s movie (not to be confused with “chick flick”). That is not to imply that this is a film only for women. The film offers an excellent appreciation of the bond by which parents (especially, in this film, women) are connected to their children.


Perrier’s Bounty
All That Bewildering [Stuff]
A Dark Comedy with a High Body Count

Throughout the story Michael seems to be pretty insignificant. He has nothing really to show for his life to this point except a pile of trouble that just grows deeper all through the film. Yet we see how people touch one another’s lives.


Exit Through the Gift Shop
Is This Idiot for Real?
Is This Film for Real?

Paul Gauguin said, “Art is either a revolutionist or a plagiarist.” I thought of that as I watched the film. Street art strives to be revolutionary in its whole approach – eschewing things like property laws and the monetary value of art.


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
You Make Your Own Destiny
American Culture Seen in Ancient Persia

In many ways, Prince of Persia is your basic formulaic summer action film. It’s an enjoyable escape from the summer doldrums. But there are also some levels to the film beside the summer blockbuster blueprint.


Divorcing God
Even Christian Marriages Can Fail
From the Beauty of the Wedding to the Pain of Divorce

All through their courtship, Gil and Sidney are in many ways the model of an Evangelical engaged couple. They are committed to the church and to each other. They have committed to not have sex before they are married. (They don’t even kiss.)


Ondine
A Fisherman's Prize Catch
Belief That Transforms

The tagline for the film on its posters is “The truth is not what you know. It’s what you believe.” The tension between knowing something and believing is a central part of the concept of faith: taking a step beyond what we know.


Shrek Forever After
Shrek's Wonderful Life
What If He Had Never Been Born?

The whole Shrek franchise is built on having a lovable and loving ogre—something of a paradox. As an ogre, Shrek is supposed to be selfish. It is only when he abandons that selfishness that he has a chance to find redemption.


The Father of My Children
Overwhelmed by the Darkness
A Realistic Portrayal of Grief and Loss

Michael Blumenthal wrote, “I believe that no one is spared the darkness, and no one gets all of it.” This is the story of a darkness that became too much for one man to bear alone and of the darkness that his death brought others.


The Secret in Their Eyes
A Life Filled with Nothing
Searching for the One That Got Away

The Secret in Their Eyes, Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, is a story of obsession and the search for justice. Retired judicial investigator Benjamin Esposito is writing a book about the case that got away.


Alamar
What a Beautiful Way to Say Goodbye
A Son Experiences His Father's Reality

I’m a sucker for father/son stories. The Mexican reality film Alamar show us that relationship in a pure form—no external drama, no story that must be completed—just the moments of this father and son together—for the last time for a long while.


OSS 117: Lost in Rio
Sending Up Spy Flicks
Part James Bond, Maxwell Smart, Austin Powers

The value of parody is that it allows us to remember that things are not as serious as we’d like to think they are. At the same time, it allows us to see foolishness for what it is.


Multiple Sarcasms
Trying to Rewrite a Life
A Search for Elusive Happiness

We may even begin to wonder as the story plays out if he will ever be happy or if happiness is even something that can truly be obtained. Should people expect happiness to be their birthright?


140
A Film by Social Network
Inspired by Twitter

The title comes from the one hundred forty character limit of tweets. Social media is in itself an interesting phenomenon. Many people now follow news, celebrities, even our friends’ lives through tweets or Facebook status postings.


The River Why
Fly Fishing for the Meaning of Life
A Philosophical Meander in the Wilderness

The real problem with the film could probably best be understood with a fishing metaphor: fly fishing is done on the surface. We know that there are depth and currents in this river, but we never get below the surface.


Newport Beach Film Festival
That's a Wrap
The End of a Very Nice Week

The big winner for the jury was Bride Flight. This Dutch film was one I really wanted to see, but couldn’t fit into my schedule. It is the story of three Dutch women emigrating to New Zealand after World War II.


Newport Beach Film Festival
You Gotta Have Heart
Two Memorable Women's Roles

Coincidentally the films I saw on Tuesday and Wednesday night both involved women who are very different on the outside than on the inside.


Babies
God's Opinion That Life Should Go On
A Mother's Day Present We Can All Enjoy

This film is a celebration of the new life that comes into the world in each child. It is a celebration of the gift that each of these children is not only to its family, but to us all.


Newport Beach Film Festival
All Around the World Today
4 Films, 7 Continents

I planned out my viewing for the whole week before the festival started. I had gone all weekend without a documentary. I finally watched some on Monday. One of those docs was a trip around the world, but my film choices also led me far afield.


Newport Beach Film Festival
A Nice Surprise
Liking a Film I Thought I'd Hate

There are always surprises at film festivals. Sometimes there are technical glitches. Sometimes there are films you expect to thrill you that don’t. Sometimes there are films that are much better than you expect. Sunday was a day with a pleasant surprise.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Some Ups, Some Downs
There Is Always A Variety of Quality at Festivals

Another full day at the Festival. Just running into people can be interesting.


Newport Beach Film Festival
A Promising Beginning
Maybe Coming to an Art House Near You

This is the eleventh edition of the Newport Beach Film Festival. And based on my first day there, it could be a good one.


The Legacy
Interview with Mike Doto
Short Film Showing at Newport Beach Festival

The great thing about festivals is a lot of times you’re playing in different states and you have a brand new fresh audience every time. It’s great to see their reactions. Also, it’s interesting to see how the movie plays in different parts of the country.


Oceans
To Really Know the Ocean
The Beauty, Power, and Wonder of the Sea

The film is at its core a meditation. The opening of the film, asking what the ocean is, sets the tone. We are told that this experience will not be so much scientific as a subjective and emotive exploration.


The Cartel
Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Is America's Education System This Bad?

The state of America’s education system is a matter of much debate—and it should be. Education is needed to provide people with a chance to advance and to provide society with good workers and citizens.


Chloe
Sorting Truth and Lies
Truth Can Be Hard and It Can Be Healing

Many of Atom Egoyan’s films revolve around truth that may be hidden in various ways. The Sweet Hereafter, Ararat, and Where the Truth Lies all have themes about truth. While Egoyan didn’t write this film as he did those, his work as director of Chloe is still very much the same issue.


The Secret of Kells
A Book That Turns Darkness Into Light
It's Animated, But It's Not Lightweight

The Secret of Kells is an extremely beautiful animated film. That is fitting to the subject matter, which involves the creation of the Book of Kells, an ancient manuscript of the Gospels with beautiful illumination and decoration. This film is a treasure—both aesthetically and intellectually.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Search for Truth ... and Healing
A Dark Story with Hints of a Dawn

Lisbeth makes some extremely controversial choices, in some ways the result of a life that has been forced upon her. I can’t agree with some of them, but they are always appropriate within her own moral and emotional framework.


Nuclear Tipping Point
A World Without Nukes?
Some Pretty Impressive People Think We Need It

Can you guess who said: Once nuclear weapons are used, we will be driven to take global measures to prevent it. So some of us have said, let’s ask ourselves: if we have to do it afterward, why don’t we do it now?


The Eclipse
Haunted by Grief
Struggling through One Of Life's Toughest Issues

The Eclipse is a mash-up of genres: horror/ghost story, psychological thriller, romance. Although I’m not especially fond of horror films, I still found the film enjoyable. That is in large part because of the experience of the whole film.


Sleepless in Gaza . . . and Jerusalem
Daily Life for Palestinians
Watching Four Women Day by Day

Considering how much press Palestine gets, it’s amazing how little we know about the daily lives of Palestinians. Sleepless in Gaza . . . and Jerusalem gives us a look into the lives of four young Palestinian women—two in Gaza, two in Jerusalem; two Muslim, two Christian—each day.


Mystery Team
Too Bad to Not Be So Bad It's Good
From YouTube to the Big Screen

There are films that are so bad they are good. They often become our guilty pleasures. This film aspires to reach that level, but just misses… and you have to wade through so much refuse just to get to a minor redemption.


A Prophet
If Horatio Alger Had Written Gangster Movies
From a Lowly Beginning to The Top of the Heap

In many ways A Prophet is like The Godfather films that trace the rise to power of Michael in The Godfather, and Vito in The Godfather Part II. In those films we see the simultaneous rise to power and loss of morality.


The Sunflower
To Forgive or Not to Forgive: That Is the Question
A Hard Look at the Concept of Forgiveness

In the end, Wiesenthal’s story and question haunt the reader. They also make us think about how important the concept of forgiveness is to us.


Alice in Wonderland
Not the Wonderland You Remember
Are You a Fan of Carroll or of Burton?

The battle that I’m having with myself over this film deals with the fact that Burton has appropriated the characters (and at times the verbiage) of Lewis Carroll’s writings, but doesn’t really bring the context or Carroll’s wit with them.


Ran
Reissue of a Classic
Celebrating the Kurosawa Centennial

Ran is a film that treats the medium as an art form. It is more than just telling the story (which is done masterfully). It also is a visual delight. Those who love cinematography and production design will delight in this film.


Ajami
The Mean Streets of Israel
Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims—Mixed and Stirred

If an Israeli and a Palestinian worked together to make a film, what would you expect them to produce? A story of cooperation? A story of conflict? A version of Romeo and Juliet? Would there be a terrorist?


Arts & Faith Top 100 Films
Looking for a Good Movie?
Interesting List, Even If a Bit Esoteric

There will undoubtedly be films here that will make you see things in different ways. As such I commend it for your use. But it is not without it problems.


North Face
Taking On the Ogre
Facing Decisions and Consequences

Based in fact, the film is full of tension and suspense as the climbers face injury and death over and over. The cinematography shows us both the grand beauty of the Alps as well as the danger and at times hopelessness of the setting.


Rialto Pictures
Brit Noir Reissue Series
Brighton Rock, It Always Rains on Sunday, and More

Film noir as a genre focuses on the darker side of life—hard-boiled detectives, gangsters, corruption. Often it may involve a certain amount of moral ambivalence or an antihero. What an excellent entrance to discussion of the decisions we make!


The White Ribbon
What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Children?
A Dark Look at Human Nature

Human nature: basically pure or intrinsically sinful? The White Ribbon, winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, shows us a world of depravity – and in the center of it are children.


A Town Called Panic
Watching Grownups Play with Toys
Gumby Meets Monty Python... Only in French

Have you ever watched small children playing with action figure toys and making up stories as they play? In A Town Called Panic we get to watch two grownups do the same thing in stop-action animation.


Best of 2009 lists
Darrel's Dozen for 2009
And a Few Other Films of Note

Even though there are few films this year that threaten to make my all time list, there were plenty of enjoyable films to watch. So I’ll call 2009 a C-.


The Book of Eli
Carrying God Through the Wilderness
An Appealing, but Troubling Understanding of God in the World

There is a sense in which Eli would fit very well in the biblical book of Judges. Here is a hero who is called in a time of trouble and perseveres by being faithful to God. Also as in Judges, there is a bit of glorification and enjoyment on the violence Eli (and God) inflict on his enemies.


Fish Tank
Rage and Brokenness
A Painful Look at Growing Up

Thematically I was reminded of the film Thirteen, in which an American teen struggles to find her place in the awkward world of adolescence. But in Thirteen there is love around the central character, even if she has a hard time discerning it.


Crazy Heart
Can Bad Be Better?
A Few of the Stops on the Way to Rock Bottom

Bridges does especially well with Bad’s downward spiral. He gives us little to love about Bad early on, but then lets us see a bit of what is lovable in the character only to break our hearts with his behavior, just as he breaks Jean’s.


Fish Tank
They Just Do Things
Interview with Michael Fassbender

What Andrea does really well and what I got from Red Road is she’s non-judgmental of the characters she portrays. They just do things and that’s life. There’s no good person in it, no bad person. There’s elements of everything in everyone.


Films About Real People
Meet Some Cool Folks
Official Best of Fest documentary collection

As we view the real people in these films we may be reminded that in most cases we really aren’t all that different from the people we are watching. Their uniqueness may be what makes them interesting, but we each have our own unique character.


Gigante
Life in Front of a Monitor
Watching Life Instead of Living It

This is a very stylized film. There isn’t much dialogue, and most of it is small talk. Some of the dialogue is even unheard as Jara watches conversations on the security screen. We, not unlike Jara, just watch what is going on.


Broken Embraces
Atmosphere Not Quite Enough
Fathers and Sons, Romantic Triangle, in All the Shades of Noir

Pedro Almodóvar is a master of noir film. Okay, so it’s not Almodóvar’s best work, but it is still worthwhile if you’re in the mood for the moody twists and turns of the genre. To what extent can relationships in and of themselves become vehicles for grace?


Invictus
Captain of My Soul
Unity for a Conflicted Nation

Eastwood’s stock in trade is conflicted characters. Most films deal with the internal conflict of their characters. Eastwood does a particularly good job of letting us feel those conflicts and the consequences of the choices that have to be made.


The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
The Gods at Play
Wagering a Few Souls Now and Then.

The game being played between Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick for an occasional soul isn’t so much a cosmic battle of good and evil as it is an exposition of the way people are constantly exercising free will. It is a leap of the imagination.


Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
More Than Just for Fun
Watching the Chipmunks Through a Grandparent's Eyes

The key significance of the Chipmunks is that between them they make up every child. Some children may seem like a Theodore or like a Simon or like an Alvin, but most children will have bits of all three of these characters.


Police, Adjective
Can a Police Officer Afford a Conscience?
Romanian New Wave Look at Law and Grace

If Cristi can make his own law, what about everyone else? Everyday we have to deal with our consciences and our relation to the law. Police, Adjective is not the answer to the questions we face, but it is an admirable statement of the problem.


Playing at a Film Festival Near You
The Joys of Film Festivals
Look for One Near You

Look around your area, there is likely a festival near by. Just think how impressive you can sound to your friends if you talk about the film festival you’ve attended near your home. Better yet, take your friends with you so you can talk together about what you see.


Fantastic Mr. Fox
Unnatural Nature
What Does It Take To Rise Above One's Nature?

The prophet Jeremiah pondered the question of whether a leopard could change its spots. Mr. Fox asks something of the same question as he thinks about his own life: “Who am I? How can a fox be happy without a chicken in his teeth?”


The Official Best of Fest Sampler
A Taste of Festival Films
Gathering the Cream of the Festival Crop

I love going to film festivals. At festivals I see films that will never make it to the local multiplex. As a Sampler, this set gives a good introduction into the whole Official Best of Fest series of DVD sets as well as a taste of what you can find at film festivals near you.


Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
The Work Behind the Chipmunks
Conversation with Ross Bagdasarian and Janice Karman

A lot of times folks don’t understand that it’s really important for those characters to react in certain ways so you actually like them. … it needs to feel believable. (I mean believable from a talking chipmunk.)


Police, Adjective
Law, Justice, Language, and Conscience
A Discussion with Romanian Director Corneliu Porumboiu

The relationship between the individual and society is based on more than just the rules we establish. … Justice is something very much related to the human being. Law should be also, but this is not always the case.


Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
There Was a Worse Lieutenant
This One Doesn't Stand Up to the Original

The newer version is Bad Lieutenant Lite—very lite. The whole concept has been extremely diluted. Even though I have such an aversion to the original Bad Lieutenant, if you going to watch one of these films, go for the original.


The Last Station
Love: Abstract and Concrete
Making Our Gods in Our Own Images

My wife noted after seeing the film that it felt very much like a Chekhov play. Indeed, screenwriter/director Michael Hoffman read all of Chekhov’s plays before beginning the screenplay to capture that mood.


Up in the Air
Life Is Better with Company
You Can't Redeem Frequent Flier Miles for Happiness

The film weaves a collection of related metaphors into a very meaningful picture of just how detached we can become when we retreat into (as Natalie referred to Ryan’s life) our “cocoon of self-banishment.”


Everybody’s fine
Road Trip to Family
A Father Wants to Connect with His Grown Children

“Are you happy?” That’s really all Frank Goode wants to know. Happiness is hard to get a grip on. If you don’t realize your dreams can you still be happy? The child who didn’t find happiness is where the crisis comes into the story.


Pirate Radio
Rock On!
Living Out The Best Days of Life

The film is great fun. I know it dates me to say that the music and the clothes bring back wonderful memories. I don’t know if those were the best days of my life – we manage to blot out much of the turmoil of the past. But certainly in retrospect it seems like those were indeed good days.


Top Films of the 200x’s
Darrel's Dozens of the Decade
OK, This Is Really Impossible, but Here I Go

When looking back over a decade it is almost impossible to even get a grip on the project. I made a list over 40 films without even thinking hard. All deserve to be listed, but I’ll settle for a dozen narrative films and a dozen documentaries.


The Blind Side
Welcoming the Stranger
Christianity Acted Out by a Loving Family

Based on the true story of Michael Oher, now a rookie offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens. But don’t think that this is a football movie. The game is only the setting for a story about what it means to be family… about Christians being Christian.


Red Cliff
Bravery and Loyalty Win the Day
John Woo Brings an Asian Epic to America

It is the kind of story that calls out to be an epic. Indeed, Woo made a two-part four-hour version for Asian audiences. Western audiences that don’t know the story as well get a pared down version—if you consider two and a half hours pared down.


Red Cliff
The Film He's Always Wanted to Make
Interview with John Woo

This was a movie I always wanted to make. I wanted to make this movie for over twenty years. It has a very special meaning to me. I grew up with the story. There are so many heroes that I admire, and all those heroes gave me a lot of influence.


Oh My God
Is Religion a Problem?
Searching the World to Learn About God

Knowledge seems to be flowing at an unprecedented rate. Wisdom seems to be ebbing at an unprecedented rate. Truth is being diluted by too many voices, all keen to reference the name of God.


Oh My God
More United Thad Divided
Hope for the "My God Is Greater than Your God" Syndrome

And if everybody’s right, then nobody’s right. So I wanted to go around the world and find out what it meant to people. So my journey—religiously—was to search and to see what I could come up with in different cultures, different countries, and different religions.


An Education
Lessons from the School of Life
Are There Shortcuts to Adulthood?

The idea that comes to mind as I look back on this film is a line from the story of Adam and Eve: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal.


Antichrist
Fallen Nature, Fallen People
Depression as Descent into Hell

Antichrist is the outgrowth of von Trier’s bout with depression. It is filled with his own anxieties, nightmares and terrors. It is in every sense a horror film: there is blood, danger, and a strong sense of evil seeking to control lives.


Capitalism: A Love Story
The Root of All Kinds of Evil
Michael Moore Looks at the Economic System

While I don’t think this is Moore’s best film and certainly not as entertaining as most of his films, I’m glad that in this case he made a point of including a spiritual aspect to the question. I certainly think it is relevant.


Coco Before Chanel
Fashioning a Good Life
She Found Her Own Way to Contentment... Or Did She?

Chanel seems to have an innate wisdom. “Boy” introduces her to the writings of some modern philosophers, but even before that she seems to be searching for more than just a way to get by. She wants a life that has meaning.


More Than a Game
Hoop Hopes
In Search of a National Championship

More Than a Game follows a group of basketball players from fifth grade through a national high school championship their senior year. What will get people’s attention in the film is that one of these basketball players is LeBron James.


More Than a Game
A Unique Relationship
Interview with Coach Dru Joyce

I just think that how I live in front of them is going to be more meaningful sometimes than anything I could ever say to them. So I make it my business to live a life in front of them that glorifies God in everything that I do.


Bright Star
A Thing of Beauty
Ode to a Doomed Love

If we were to focus only on the story, this would be a rather pedestrian film. What makes Bright Star different is that it is in fact a poem, less concerned with the narrative than it is about the aesthetics with which the story is told.


Disgrace
Forgive us . . . as we forgive
When the Predator Becomes the Victim

Disgrace is a multi-layered film based on the novel by Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee. Set in post-Apartheid South Africa, the search for forgiveness and grace is central to the story. So too is the improbability of forgiveness and grace.


Lord, Save Us from Your Followers
Can We Talk?
Can Christians Engage the World in Conversation?

If a group of people you knew went to the gym five days a week and a group of people didn’t, and the people who went to the gym were in no better shape—they were equally as fat—what exactly would you think of the gym?


American Casino
When the Bubble Broke
Why We're Paying $12 Trillion in the Bailout

The decline in the economy began with the bursting of the housing bubble which was overinflated with sub-prime loans. This film tries to explain the ever-expanding consequences of the practice of having so many sub-prime mortgages.


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Chewandswallow Comes to the Screen
An Expansion of a Favorite Children's Book

Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller both count the book among their favorites from childhood, but in making the film they had to completely reinvent much of the book. But the sense of whimsy that makes the book enjoyable is still central.


Beer Wars
Beer and the American Dream
Which Matters More: Art or Business?

“Does it really matter who’s behind what we drink, what we eat, what we watch? What has the American dream become? Is it still about the freedom to pursue your passion or has it become only about success and power?”


No Impact Man
No Toilet Paper?
Living for a Year with No Net Envionmental Impact

The human side of the story is what makes the film so engaging. Central to the human side of the story is that Colin has his whole family doing this. “He’s No Impact Man. But the project is that our family is doing this.”


Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
A Film by . . . Lots of People
Working Together to Bring a Book to the Screen

[Sony] happened to like Clone High and brought us in for a meeting and wanted to pitch us some other things, but we just commandeered the meeting and basically tried to do whatever we could to get them to let us make Cloudy into a movie.


Amreeka
Where Is Home?
Palestinian Looking for the American Dream

Written and directed by Cherien Dabis, whose Syrian and Palestinian parents came to the U.S. just before she was born, Amreeka reflects the sense of living in two worlds—the culture you bring with you and the foreign one you find.


The Cove
Dolphin Slughterhouse
The Argument Here Is a Bit Fishy

People love to watch dolphins, both in the wild and in captivity. We want our tuna to be “dolphin safe” so that dolphins aren’t killed in the fishing process. But in some countries, dolphins are slaughtered for food. What are we to make of that?


Earth Days
Our Mastery, Not of Nature, But of Ourselves
A History of the Environmental Movement

Much of the film reminds us that the good old days weren’t quite as good as we thought. We just have to shake our heads at some of the things we see and hear. We see footage of school children being fogged with pesticide as they eat their lunches or swim in a pool.


Cold Souls
Interesting Questions
Is your soul weighing you down?

Cold Souls is a very morose comedy with a philosophical bent. Writer/director Sophie Barthes traces the genesis of the story to an intersection of Carl Jung and Woody Allen. The film ponders questions of happiness amidst the struggles of life


A Woman in Berlin
We'll Survive at All Costs
Moral Ambiguity in the Face of Violence and Death

A Woman in Berlin is based on an anonymous diary of one of the women who lived through this period. They faced frequent rape. Many submitted willingly to have a protector. Survival was their only real goal. A Woman in Berlin is an intense and compelling depiction of the life of those women in such difficult times.


Taxidermia
The Lighter Side of Evisceration
Three Generations of Unfullfilled Life

Director György Pálfi wrote, “My aim was to create not just an auteur film, but an enduring, personal auteur film.” Such films will appeal to some people but certainly not to a broad audience.


The Way We Get By
Appreciating the Unappreciated
The Trials of Senior Citizen Troop Greeters

“Well, I’ve got nothing really to live for except what I do for other people. I’ve outlived my usefulness as for an individual. But helping other people puts a little bit of meaning back in my life.”


Somers Town
New World Awaiting or Dead End?
A Brief, But Engaging Slice of Life

The film isn’t so much about plot as it is a bit of a character study, not just of the two boys, but of the neighborhood they find themselves in. Will this be their dead end, or their jumping off point for a brighter future?


Flame & Citron
Doing the Right Thing
Film Noir Raises Ethical Questions

Flame & Citron needs to be seen as film noir. Usually we think of noir as dealing with a hardboiled detective, but what really makes such films dark is the moral ambiguity and the shifting sands of trust and loyalty.


Cheri
None of It Means a Thing
A Love Story Without Love

How should one categorize Chéri? Is it a romance? Maybe a comedy? How about tragedy? It has aspects of all of those genres. My perspective treats it as a tragedy, because in the end, we see the wreckage of lives that can find no happiness.


Food, Inc.
Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?
Looking at America's Food Industry

This film needs to be seen as a primer. It covers many subjects, but none of them deeply. Leaving the theater, there were a number of things touched on in the film that I thought needed to be more fully examined.


True Blood
Season 1
Vampires Go Mainstream

It used to be that vampires represented a pure evil. There was nothing appealing about Dracula. He was a force of death and darkness. In the last few decades vampires have taken on a seductive tone. In True Blood, vampires are very much like all the other people we see.


How the Independent Movement Went Left by Going Right
Who Elected Barack Obama?
Is He the First Independent President?

I think it is clear that the role of independent voters is becoming a much more important part in the American political system. While CUIP is working to use that increased power to expand the process, I’m not sure I can take all they say in this presentation at face value.


Lovely by Surprise
Mixed Up Reality, Mixed Up Film
A Writer and Her Characters Take On Her Past

There are aspects of the film that remind me of the Polish Brothers’ films: Twin Falls, Idaho; Jackpot; and Northfolk. While it brought those films to mind, though, Lovely by Surprise lacks the depth and refinement of those works.


Away We Go
How Do You Know If You're Grown Up?
Mendes and Eggars Seeking Wisdom

Wisdom is a difficult quality to quantify. It’s not an accumulation of what we know or what we have done. It isn’t applying various rules and logic. It is the ability to live in the world with some measure of happiness and fulfillment.


The Stoning of Soraya M.
Getting an Ugly Story to the World
An Explicitly Brutal Film About Injustice

This is an issue-oriented film made to shock the world with the maliciousness that stoning represents. Watching the stoning, I was reminded of The Passion of the Christ and the brutality with which the crucifixion of Jesus was portrayed.


The Stoning of Soraya M.
Is This Film Anti-Muslim?
Director and Actors Speak Out

The Iranian filmmakers themselves weight in on the question. “Those who would like to manipulate the divine law, of course would tell those who have not read their own holy book that this is a part of our religion. But not really, it is not.”


The Stoning of Soraya M.
"A Very Contemporary Story"
Gleanings from Filmmaker Interviews

Stoning has been there since the stone age. It’s been in Judaism, Christianity, Islam. All other nations and all other religions have gotten rid of it and we are still harboring it, especially in the rural areas in the Islamic world. I am sure we can do the same thing as the others did and we can get rid of this barbaric punishment.


The Stoning of Soraya M.
Resources for Action
You Can Get Involved in the Issue

The Stoning of Soraya M. focuses our attention on the plight of women in many parts of the world. Even though the practice of stoning is widely condemned, it continues to take place in many nations. Find out how to help stop it.


Imagine That
He's a Real Nowhere Man
Some Things Are More Important that Success

Early in the film Olivia tells us in voice over that her father used to be a king—the King of Somewhere—but he got lost in the Kingdom of Nowhere. In Nowhere Land, she tells us, everybody wants to be king.


Departures
Where Life and Death Flow Together
Finding Life in Preparing Corpses for a Peaceful Departure

There is something about their culture that gives Japanese filmmakers an advantage in exploring the borderlands of life and death. Perhaps it is the Buddhist influence that recognizes the transience of life.


Departures
Learning of Life in the Midst of Death
Interview with Oscar-winning Director Yojiro Takita

“There’s a certain quiet stillness to the entire atmosphere within which the encoffiner has to work,” says director Yojiro Takita. “Every little sound felt very fresh. I was struck by how sacred and how beautiful the entire process felt.”


The Big Shot-Caller
Someone In Charge
Trying to See the Bigger Picture

In some ways, this strives to be a philosophical film. It fits into the wisdom tradition of looking at life and its difficulties and trying to understand what it means to have a good life. In that struggle, God manages to bring Jamie to himself.


Newport Beach Film Festival
A Brief Visit
And Some Films that Aren't There

I served as a volunteer screener for the festival this year. Beginning late last year, I would watch and evaluate films that had been submitted to the festival. I watched about 80 hours of features, docs, and shorts.


Nobody to Watch Over Me
Bearing the Guilt of Others
The Search for Forgiveness From Someone Else's Sins

It is true that the media can be a dangerous thing. It can push public opinion, especially in emotional issues. The news often follows sensational stories for a few days then finds something new to chase after. I’m not sure the blame all belongs to the media.


In a Dream
Creating in a Chaotic Life
An Artist and His Art

The creative process often has a numinous quality to it. Just as we look at God as creator of the cosmos, often men and women have gifts that allow them to shape the things of the earth in ways to make something new.


The Song of Sparrows
Caught in the Grasp of Materialism
Visual Storytelling at Its Best

The film focuses on how easy it is to lose one’s values—the very things in which our lives find true happiness. It is easy to be seduced by quick money or more possessions. We all face that danger if we forget the values that make our lives full.


Sugar
It's Just a Game
An Immigrant's Tale Set On & Off the Baseball Field

This isn’t a typical baseball story about success and fulfilled dreams. Rather, it is a genre-blending film that is part sports film, part immigrant journey, and part coming-of-age story… and it succeeds best at the level of an immigrant’s tale.


The Song of Sparrows
Families, Nations, and Films
Interview with Majid Majidi

“I think family is the essence of a society,” says Iranian filmmaker Majidi, noting that there are great similarities between Iranian and American family values. ” In a society that a family has an unhealthy life, that society loses its health.”


Tokyo Sonata
Losing More Than a Job
Secrets and Lies Undermine a Family

What great timing for the release of Tokyo Sonata! In the midst of a major recession I hear of someone I know losing a job way too often. It received the Un Certain Regard Jury Award in Cannes last year before anyone knew how bad the economy was going to get. In today’s climate, it is right on the money.


The Education of Charlie Banks
A Lesson in Morality
Doing Right or Thinking Right?

The film is not subtle about its focus on morality. Set on a college campus it allows the filmmaker to bring in a variety of ideas. All of this creates a framework for us to reflect on both Mick and Charlie’s morality.


Moscow, Belgium
Life Without Mustard
Looking for Happiness and Love

As I watched the film, I wondered if “happiness” is enough of a reason for the choices we make in life. To be sure, everyone should have the opportunity to be happy in their lives. But is that the only reward that we should pay attention to?


Phoebe in Wonderland
Being "Different From All the Awful Normals"
A Little Girl Struggles With Her Own Rabbit Hole

Ten year old Phoebe is different. Her parents are pleased that she has her own way of doing things and looking at the world. She is intelligent and creative. But there are times that being different may be a problem.


Everlasting Moments
The Beauty of Life and Art
A Woman Discovers Life Through a Camera Lens

We are told that primitive people sometimes eschew photography because it captures a part of one’s soul. In watching Everlasting Moments we may conclude there is some truth to that idea. It captures more than bits of light and dark.


Good Will Hunting
If He's So Smart . . .
Wisdom is Different Than Being Smart

Until recently I hadn’t seen this film since its release. I remembered it as a very good film, but I’d forgotten what made it so good. Here is an intelligent look at the possibilities of life: the choices that can fill our lives or leave them empty.


Dead Like Me: Life After Death
Is There Life After Cancellation?
TV Series Tries to Find a Long Delayed Conclusion

Dead Like Me lasted two seasons on Showtime. It was a dark comedy revolving around George, an eighteen year old young woman who was killed by a toilet seat from an old space station that broke up. Now an update has been released!


The Class
Learning in the Midst of Chaos
A Year of Life in a French Jr. High

Throughout much of the film, I wondered if François is a good teacher. He seems to have trouble keeping control in the classroom. François is competent, but I expect he’ll be one of the many teachers that the kids remember, but don’t idolize.


Whitehead International Film Festival
Films That Promote the Common Good
Quality Films at a Small Festival

As part of the festival, there is a Faith and Film class which serves as the festival jury, picking the film that best exemplifies the selection criteria for a Whitehead film. This was my third time to be part of the class.


Brideshead Revisited
Class and Catholicism
A Classic Dealing with Faith and Family

Julia and Sebastian seem to wear their Catholicism as a badge of identity, but they treat their faith with a slight disdain. They don’t seem to recognize its value, but they also don’t know that it is ingrained in them.


Owl and the Sparrow
All the Lonely People
How an Orphan Finds a True Family

The story has a bit of fairy tale quality to it. The three people come together a little too easily, but that’s the way fairy tales work when you find true love. This is a film that values family, but also seeks to define what really makes a family.


2008 In Review
Darrel's Dozen
Even a Crummy Year Yields Some Good Films

The good news: I’ve found twelve films good enough to put in my year-end list. The bad news: It really wasn’t very hard to make the list this year. I didn’t have to agonize over which film would be deleted when one of the year end Oscar-bait releases found its way on the list.


Defiance
Life as an Act of Faith
Jewish Brothers Save the Community

While the film probably takes liberties with the actual history (and all films do), Defiance is a testament to the heroic struggle to survive, to the community, and to the Bielskis for their leadership.


Revolutionary Road
They'll Never Have Paris
Can We Find Meaning in Mundane Lives?

This is a powerful and engrossing film. It quite possibly will be my top film for 2008. Its strength is not based in giving us a look at the emptiness of the ’50s. Its power comes from our seeing ourselves and our own search for life’s meaning.


Ties that Bind (In the Life)
The Intersection of Religion and Sexuality
Gays Trying to Find Their Place within Their Faiths

“I’ve talked to gay people who have been out of the closet for fifty years and still wonder: can you be gay and Christian. Isn’t that sad? It’s the saddest question in the world. . . . Of course you can. God created you and loves you as you are.”


Waltz with Bashir
Finding the Truth Beneath a Dream
Israeli Filmmaker Searches for a Past He's Repressed

“Maybe I am doing all this for my sons. When they grow up and watch the film, maybe it will help them make the right decisions, meaning not to take part in any war, whatsoever.”


Wendy and Lucy
One of the Least of These
What Will You See in This Film Parable?

Wendy and Lucy is the kind of film that can be many things. It lays the story out and leaves it to the viewers to consider what it has to say to them. It is open ended. In this it is like a parable.


Che
A Man Out to Save the World
Four Hours With the Iconic Revolutionary

A four hour movie? Okay, so they’re going to break it up into two movies for release. Che Guevara is such a mythic figure that it would be hard to do his story justice in the usual two hour film. Even after over four hours of this film, there is much more I’d like to know.


Gomorrah
The Lure of Crime
Unchecked Evil Finds Its Way into Every Corner

Whereas everybody knows about the Mafia, they may not know about the Camorra. The story was made known in the book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano and is now a film directed by Matteo Garrone. The film won the Grand Prix at Cannes.


Doubt
The Wind Blows Where It Will
When Change Comes to the Church

It is of note that the stage version was entitled Doubt: A Parable. A parable is a story that has a different plane of meaning. The additional visual images available in the film give us some key information in understanding the parable.


Dragon Hunters
Facing the End of the World
An Animated Apocalyptic Adventure

This is an apocalypse. The end of the world is at hand. All the signs point to a coming doom. Yet as serious as an apocalypse can be, this one is done with humor.


Hollywood Goes Green
It Takes More Than Hugging Trees
The Business Looks at Its Carbon Footprint

I’m sure many people think Hollywood is full of tree lovers who drive Priuses. Well, that may describe some of us, but Hollywood is very much focused on business. While many of the people who walk the red carpets may push green causes, does the industry itself care about the environment?


I’ve Loved You So Long
A Prison of One's Own Making
Finding Forgiveness When None Seems Possible

“The worst prison is the death of one’s child. You never get out of it.” Juliette will always be in that prison, but through the love of Lea and the rest of the family Juliette is on the road away from hopelessness to begin engaging in life.


Last Chance Harvey
Two Are Better Than One
Discovering Joy in Another

Harvey and Kate also spend a lot of time on the periphery of life. They share a certain timidity, which probably grows out of a fear of being hurt. A new world begins to open as they continue their walk through London.


Ciao
Getting to Know You
Two Lonely People Find Each Other

In many ways the sexual orientation of the characters seems unimportant. They might just as well be a man and woman meeting for the first time under strange circumstances. The way two people develop a rapport doesn’t revolve around sex.


Timecrimes
Such a Tangled Web
How a Brief Trip Back in Time Can Make a Mess of Things

Timecrimes is something of a comic sci-fi thriller. Forty years ago it would have been a good Twilight Zone episode. There is a certain Hitchcockian feel to it—if Hitchcock had done sci-fi.


Milk
Flickering Hope
Thoughts on Watching Milk on the First Sunday of Advent

On the first Sunday of Advent many churches lit a candle symbolizing hope, one of the key themes of the season of Advent. That was the day I saw Milk. Hope was one of the key themes of Harvey Milk’s political life.


The Trap
How Far Would You Go?
A Deeply Serious Moral Question

The Trap was Serbia’s submission for Oscar consideration last year. It’s one of the films I thought better than any of the films that received nominations in the Foreign Language category. It certainly reflects the moral questioning that Serbia is dealing with in the post-Milosevic era


Slumdog Millionaire
Twist With a Twist
How Do Good Things Come? Destiny? Luck? Karma? Grace?

There is a Dickensian quality to Slumdog Millionaire. Dickens often wrote about the lower classes of English society and the difficult lives they faced. Slumdog has that same social consciousness.


Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Women Organizing to Save the World
Highlights From Interview With Filmmakers

I was, like whoa – a story of ordinary women coming together, Christian and Muslim, coming together to bring peace to their country. I’d never heard that story. It was a wonderful story.


Johnny Got His Gun
An Antiwar Manifesto
Joe Bonham Still Needs to Be Heard

It was forty years ago I first discovered Dalton Trumbo’s book Johnny Got His Gun. The Vietnam War was at its height. Trumbo’s book became something of a manifesto for American youth who yearned for a more peaceful future.


A Christmas Tale
Another Dysfunctional Family Gathers
Too Much Family, Not Enough Plot

It would seem that with 152 minutes, the film would have plenty of time to look at all these stories. What happens instead is that the film (as the family) is overly complicated.


Pray the Devil Back to Hell
The Power of the Powerless
Liberian Women Build Peace

The women – everyday women, some of whom were from the displaced person camps – won an important victory against armed, power-seeking men. We may well consider these women to be the Gandhis of our day


Synecdoche, New York
All the Stage is a World
Chalie Kaufman's Latest Mind Trip

The film is more than just an entertaining mind trip. It is a serious examination of mortality, fate, the meaning of life, and possibly even how God is present in the world.


The World We Want
Out of the Lives of Babes
Children From Around the World Solve Big Problems

“We can’t just let the adults say, ‘This is the world we’re giving you.’ We have to step up and say, ‘This is the world we’re going to make for ourselves.’”


An American Carol
What Is American Pride?
Is There Room for Dissent and Criticism?

Watching the film on Election Day gave me a chance to reflect on what it means to be a proud American. After all, it was a day when record numbers were taking part in an historic election.


Religulous
Faith vs Doubt?
Bill Maher Is Clever and Smart, So He Must Be Right.

In Religulous, Bill Maher tries to make the case that doubt and skepticism are more valuable than faith. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong in valuing doubt and skepticism.


Changeling
A Tale of Two Evils
Eastwood's Latest Not Up To His Recent Standard

Clint Eastwood’s recent films have all had an important level of spiritual anthropology to them. His new film, Changeling, tries to continue this focus, but not with the success of the other films.


Jake’s Closet
Zombies of the Mind
The Insecurities of a Child of Divorce

The film serves as a cautionary tale for parents – even parents who are not getting a divorce. Children are frail and have serious needs that require parents to be aware and active.


Tru Loved
High School Closets
The Challenge of Being a Gay Teen

If anyone ever wants an After School Special about the trials of a closeted gay high school student, they may well look at Tru Loved, which reflects the heat that can arise around the issue of homosexuality.


Rachel Getting Married
Whose Day Is This, Anyway?
Uproar on a Sister's Special Day

“I am Shiva”—a line that almost goes unnoticed, yet those words capture the essence of Kym in Rachel Getting Married. Shiva is the Hindu god of destruction. Kym leaves ruin in her wake everywhere she goes.


Saving Marriage
Who Can Say "I Do"?
How Same-sex Marriage Came to be in Massachusetts

Saving Marriage is a chronicle of the struggle of the gay community and many others to save the right of people who love each other and are committed to being family to be able to share fully in one of our culture’s most basic institutions.


Breakfast with Scot
The Gift of Being Unique
Hearing a Different Drummer, A Different Band

This is a film about family. What constitutes a family? How many different ways can that word be defined? Must there be some genetic connection, or is the power that binds families together something else?


Miracle at St. Anna
No Difference in the Eyes of God
Spike Lee Preaches about Our Common Humanity

The real significance of the film is the way it manages to remind us that in spite of race, language or nationality, all people share a common humanity.


The Family that Preys
Are You Living or Are You Existing?
Soap Opera-ish Film Yields a Bit of Treasure

I pretty much expected that I’d be put off from the film because of the little I knew of it. Yet, among all the things I don’t like about such melodramas there was an underlying story that began to redeem the film.


The Duchess
How Wonderful To Be That Free
Must Freedom Be Moderated?

She is about to enter into a world filled with the stuff of fairy tales—castles, wealth, fancy balls and clothes, a title. She is something of a celebrity of her day. She is a popular hostess. She dresses in the latest fashions. Her life must be wonderful.


CallBack: The Unmaking of “Bloodstain”
Wannabe Actors Finally Get a Shot
But Wannabe Parody Doesn't Make It

Suppose you took a collection of independent but interrelated stories, cut it down to only four main characters, strip it of all significant insight into the human condition, and make it into a comedy. That’s about what you wind up with here.


Appaloosa
Doing What Has to be Done
At What Cost Law and Order?

There have been many iterations of the western, all reflecting their time and the way we look at our national mythology. Like all good westerns, Appaloosa is more than just a look at a more rugged time; it is a reflection of the nation we have become.


A Thousand Years of Good Prayer
It's Like Talking to a Wall
Father and Daughter Can't Hear Each Other

The world continues to have communication problems. It happens between persons, between cultures, between religions, and between nations. All too often we find ourselves talking to a wall, wishing we could be heard.


A Lobster Tale
Can a Miracle Heal a Family?
Light Fantastical Festival Fare Comes to DVD

But at it’s heart, this is a story of Cody and his family. As a solitary lobsterman, in many ways Cody is adrift. His wife feels him drifting away and is tempted by more inviting harbors.


A Thousand Years of Good Prayer
Wisdom, Time, and Healing
Wayne Wang and Henry O Meet with the Press

I think they’re mostly wise—older people are wiser. Mr. Shi does have a lot of wisdom that he tries to communicate to his daughter, but I think his daughter is interested in other things. She doesn’t have the time to deal with it.


Street Kings
Are There No Good Cops?
Corruption Goes Deep in This Police Force

I’m sure at some level these stories are told because we have learned to like antiheroes more than heroes. We want our protagonists to be at least as flawed as we are. Certainly all the police in Street Kings are flawed.


I Served the King of England
Is Success Enough?
A Little Man Has Big Dreams

Many years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled When Everything You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough. That title fits perfectly with Diti’s life. All the ambition, all the opportunism pay off for him through the years, but he is still left with an emptiness.


I.O.U.S.A.
You Owe $175,000
The Dangers of Our National Debt

The national debt has gone up and down all through history. I have no doubt that we need to pay attention, but the movie didn’t persuade me that we’re standing on the edge of a cliff. Still, this is an important subject, especially in an election year.


Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Life is Short, Dull, Full of Pain
Woody Allen's Latest Vision of the (Non-)Meaning of Life

While often Woody Allen’s films are light-hearted, at their core is the issue of the meaning of life. Like the author of Ecclesiastes, Allen keeps asking where that meaning is to be found. While Allen has yet to win me over, I still enjoy the challenge.


Yodok Stories
One Part of the Axis of Evil
Stories of Survivors of North Korean Concentation Camps

In North Korea, anyone accused of being a criminal is arrested, and so is their family—parents, children, grandparents. Most never leave the camps alive. It is estimated that at least 200,000 men, women and children are in these concentration camps.


Stealing America: Vote by Vote
Does Every Vote Count?
Will Voting Irregularities Affect the Election?

We’re a few months from electing a new President, Congress, and various state and local offices. Now, one of the things America prides itself on is the broadness of our franchise. We all get to have our voice heard through the voting booth. Or not.


Transsiberian
This Train Takes Us for a Ride
Are Right and Wrong Black and White?

In the end, the struggle between Roy’s black and white view and Jessie’s world of grays will have to be settled. At the end of all the twists and turns, Roy and Jessie have to be together in their approach to the dangers they face.


Red
The Dangers of Folly
Wisdom and Foolishness, Justice and Revenge

Wisdom and folly are not about intelligence or education, but about a sense of godly living. I thought of Proverbs and the role of the fool often as I watched Red. The story shows the destruction that can come from the folly of a fool.


Frozen River
From Desperation to Hope
Sneaking Real Humanity Into the Movies

There is much to be praised in this film: cinematography, performances, the story, and the way the tension is almost palpable at times. But most of all, this is a very human story. There is a reality in here that most films never even try to achieve.


American Teen
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times
Senior Year in Middle America

Of course it would be asking too much for a film to give us the whole feel of high school life or to give us any real depth into the personalities it shows us. But it is enough to give us an impression of how today’s high school students (or at least some of them) live their lives.


Boy A
Trying to Escape the Past
Can Forgiveness and Redemption Ever Be Real?

What does it take to forgive someone their past? How can those with terrible pasts ever find redemption? Are we willing to let reconciliation truly be a part of our lives and our world?


The Grocer’s Son
From Isolation to Community
Connectiing with the People Around Us

It is when people share in each other’s lives that we discover that connection to the mainland than reminds us that we are part of a community. Without that community, we will perhaps never find any real happiness in life.


Documentary Filmmaking
Stumbling Over Truth
Why Just A Glimpse Is Worth Getting

“Documentarians… must be humble enough to know what they do not and cannot know,” commented Shaw, “and make no claims beyond what actual evidence provides. I believe Errol Morris deceives us all, and himself most profoundly to believe otherwise.”


In Treatment
Trying to Set Lives Straight
Watching Patients (and Their Doctor) Baring Their Souls

For me this has been the most engrossing series of the year. The sessions are captivating viewing. In part because we have a sense of caring for these people. Some of the patients we like; some we only tolerate. But we are drawn by compassion to try to understand them.


Trumbo
Is Security More Important than Liberty?
Remembering a Blacklisted Screenwriter

Trumbo takes us back to a time when Americans sought to preserve freedom by denying some people their freedom. It is part history lesson of those times and part celebration of a man who stood by his principles even though it cost him greatly.


My Father My Lord
Too Devout?
A Father Puts God Above His Son

Can a person be too devoted to God? The First Commandment says “You shall have no other gods before me.” Is devotion to God to be more important than all else—other people—family—nation?


Tell No One
Can Eden Be Found Again?
As Good a Thriller as Hitchcock Would Have Done

Eight years after his wife was brutally murdered, Dr. Alex Beck receives a mysterious email with a subject line only his wife could know. The email contains a video of woman who looks just like his dead wife Margot staring into the camera. Can it be?


The Last Mistress
Passion — Both Positive and Negative
Love, Hate, Sex and Lust in 19th Century France

It would be easy to cast Ryno and La Vellini as villains, but like Hermangarde, they too are victims. Love and sexuality should always be understood to be gracious gifts from God. All too often such gifts can be misused and turned into something vile and depraved.


When Did You Last See Your Father?
Is It Always Thus With Fathers and Sons?
As a Father Lies Dying, His Son Remembers Who He Was

As Blake Morrison’s father Arthur was dying, Blake kept a diary of what he was going through in the process. In 1993 he published his account of trying to come to grips with his father and his father’s death. It has now been adapted for the screen in When Did You Last See Your Father?


Edge of Heaven
When Parallel Paths Cross
A Story of Alienation and Reconciliation

Films in recent years have frequently played around with the interconnectedness of people who don’t know each other; Crash and Babel are well done versions of this theme. We can now add Edge of Heaven.


Roman de gare
Characters in Search of a Plot
If a Movie Were a Summer Read . . .

A “roman de gare” is a sort of trashy book that you would take on the train or to the beach – interesting and engaging, but without great substance. For the most part Claude Lalouch’s film Roman de gare fits that bill.


Reprise
Tale of Two Authors
The Search for Success, Happiness and Identity

Reprise is a quintessentially esoteric art house film about the ways in which reality rarely matches up with the fantasies we project on our lives. For some people, that may be all you need to know to stop reading. For others that statement might be intriguing.


Red Like the Sky
The Blind Leading the Seeing
Blind Students Seek Freedom From Rules

The struggle between rules and freedom — a conflict recurs in many forms over and over throughout life — lies at the heart of this story, one that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit in the face of rules that tend to stifle imagination and creativity.


Captain Abu Raed
A Janitor with a Pilot's Hat Can Change the World
The Power of One Person to Transform Lives

Transformation is often a key to making a movie a worthwhile experience. We long to see someone’s life taken from the downward spiral it is in to find newness and meaning. Can such a transformation begin merely by finding a hat?


Standard Operating Procedure
More to Abu Ghraib Than Some Pictures
Errol Morris Goes Behind the Photos in Search of Truth

A photograph reveals the truth, but it may not reveal everything. A documentary may well reveal the truth, but rarely will it reveal everything. Does the information garnered from these prisoners justify the means used? Are we safer because of this?


Captain Abu Raed
Jordanian Film with Spritual Insight
Interview with Writer/Director Amin Matalqa

But what really worked so much in our favor was that everybody was so enthusiastic about having this movie and filming it and doing it. There was a lot of energy that was very spiritual as an experience for all of us.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day Seven at NBFF
Favorites and Winners

My favorites of the festival: Keeping in mind that with 39 films (including shorts) I only saw a little over ten percent of the films of the festival. There are many good films I didn’t get to, so I can only speak to the few that I saw


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day Six at NBFF
The Best Yet, Plus Some Simple Pleasure

Even though yesterday was the festival’s penultimate day and I’m wearing out a bit, I had a great day for movie going.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day Five at NBFF
Some Films Deserve Better, Some Don't

The Newport Beach Film Festival is showing 360 films from 37 countries. Many festival films will remain obscure listings on IMDB or begin a filmmakers filmography as he or she moves on to other projects. Some deserve a bigger audience than they find in festivals. Some deserve their obscurity.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day Four at NBFF
Prison, Vengeance, World Opinion, a Messiah, and a Whodunit

Five films. I don’t know if I should brag about a personal best or wonder what’s wrong with me that I’d do that. Actually, most didn’t push the time envelope, so it isn’t as bad as it seems. But quantity and quality aren’t the same thing.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day Three at NBFF
High School Life, Solving the World's Problems, a Life Remembered

It was a beautiful day in Newport Beach. I spent much of it inside. Ah, well. At least it wasn’t wasted time. There were some good films to see. Since it was Sunday, I figured I should do something religious.


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day Two at NBFF
Looking for Love in Many Ways

One of the things I like about the Newport Beach Film Festival is that they set aside one screen for nothing but shorts. Shorts bring a story out quickly. It’s not about character development and pacing, and yet the filmmakers are able to do wonderful things in the few minutes they have


Newport Beach Film Festival
Day One at NBFF
Films That Find Life in Death

Different film festivals have different personalities. Newport Beach Film Festival is much more laid back. Although there are areas marked off for lines, I haven’t seen anyone in them yet. Non-weekend daytime screenings have loads of seats available.


Young @ Heart
Octogenarian Rock Stars
Finding Life Through Music

For the time we watch the film, we share in their triumphs and in their sorrows. But mostly we get to share a bit of the life that they have found in music. I was reminded how much music expresses so much more than we ever realize.


The Visitor
Darrel and Walter
A Personal Reflection on Life

Walter’s life is in spiritual crisis. It has nothing to do with religion, per se. The hole in Walter’s heart isn’t necessarily “God-shaped,” but such a void enters every life from time to time. In the midst of such crises we often shut out life… especially other people.


Constantine’s Sword
No War is Holy
The Dangers of Combining Political Power and Relgion

“The cross located me. It told me who I was. . . . The cross was central to the way I saw the world. It was a sighting device, even, through which I looked. And then it all changed. I began to see that this cross throws a shadow.”


Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?
Looking for the World's Most Wanted Man
A Journey Worth More Than the Goal

Throughout the Middle East, Spurlock talks to people on the street. He visits with their families. He tries to help viewers understand the people of these countries. Spurlock shows us some of the militants, but most of the people we meet are very similar to us.


Dark Matter
The Unseen Forces that Shape Our Lives
The Pressures of Academia and Life Bring Tragedy

When terrible things happen, we like to be able to put our finger on the one who is at fault. We want to define a villain or to write someone off as insane. But often those are merely easy answers that miss the complexity of the problem.


Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed
Ben Stein Cries Out for Freedom
Does Intelligent Design Deserve a Hearing?

My first question as I approached Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed was how I should judge the film. I knew the film was going to be presenting something I didn’t agree with. That is to say that I knew going in that I’d have plenty of things to pick at. Indeed I do.


Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?
Spurlock Talks About His New Film
"America Is a Dream and a Hope That Things Can Always Get Better"

“What you see happening over the course of the movie is [that] as much as Osama bin Laden is not in Egypt or Morocco or Saudi Arabia or the Palestinian Territories or Afghanistan or Pakistan,” says Spurlock, “he is in all those places.”


Irina Palm
The Best Hand in London
Descending into a Dirty World to Save

What makes this film work is Maggie’s character. Portrayed by Marianne Faithfull, Maggie is a self-described frump who blossoms through her experience. The audience is drawn to her because we can sense her goodness.


Body of War
The Cost of the War in Iraq
An Injured Soldier's Life

Tomas Young called the recruiter on September 13 when he saw President Bush at Ground Zero in New York. In time, he was sent to Iraq where, after being there only five days, he sustained a crippling injury. The film chronicles the next five years.


My Brother Is an Only Child
Sibling Rivalry in the Political World
The Story of Two Brothers, Their Differences and Their Bond

To make the world a better place as both Manrico and Accio were trying to do can often lead us not to bettering the world, but rather add to the suffering of the world. Both get lost for a time in their way to a better world. Only one finds the way back.


Beaufort
Nobility Amid Futility
Israeli Soldiers Defend a Crusaders' Fortress

Beaufort is a collection of contrasts. The film itself is a contrast: it is anti-war, but also supportive of the soldiers who must fight in war. Such films help us to appreciate the nobility of those in armed forces even if we may think the jobs given to them are wrong.


Bull Durham
The Church of Baseball
How Sports Feed Our Souls

I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that I gave Jesus a chance.


The Unforeseen
The Difference Between Cost and Value
Money, Democracy, Development and a Spiritual Connection to the Land

The issue is a bit more complicated than environment versus development and money versus the people. The film really is designed to be more than a look at the problems involved in growth as seen in sprawl. It was designed to have a truly spiritual side as well.


Murderball
Of Hope and Normal People
Disability is a Fact, Not an Identity

Slowly, the filmmakers reveal to us the people who are sitting in the chairs. They have girlfriends, they have families, they have jobs, they have problems, and they have dreams. They have lives. They are as normal as anyone you know.


Chicago 10
American Justice on Trial
The Tension Between Order and Civil Rights

1968 was a very strange time. The Vietnam War was going full bore being fed by the draft. Opposition to the war was just reaching its peak. It was the year in which King and Kennedy were assassinated. In many ways it was a dark time in American history.


College Road Trip
A Trip Without Enlightenment
But There's a Pig

I know it’s not fair to judge a film by what it is not. I don’t expect College Road Trip to be a gut-wrenching drama. But I don’t think it even lives up to what it is designed to be: a family comedy.


War/Dance
Filling the Empty Places
Forget the Doggone Trophy!

In War Dance the success is not in winning; success is that these children have found something to fill the empty places of their lives. For these children, music and dance gives meaning to their lives—lives that we might think should be broken beyond repair.


The Counterfeiters
Making Money for the Enemy
Oscar Winner Pits Survival Against Ideals

At the center of the story is a battle between idealism and pragmatism. The main character, Sally Sorowitsch, is a pragmatist. He will do what it takes to survive. Another prisoner, Burger, is the idealist. Burger wants to sabotage the effort.


Eight Men Out
Black Sox: The Mother of All Sports Scandals
And the Scandals Just Keep Coming

Sports make wonderful metaphors for life because they show life’s trials in a distilled form. In Eight Men Out we see a bit of the Garden of Eden. Baseball is an idyllic sport. But in this film the forbidden fruit is offered up to those who are hungry and they bite. They are then sent away from the Garden forever, but nothing ever happens to the snake.


Million Dollar Baby
Fear vs. Trust
Which Do You Think Wins the Day?

Frankie is a puzzle in terms of faith. Outwardly, he seems to be a person of faith. We see him kneeling beside the bed to pray, but it’s a pretty pathetic prayer. He goes to mass every morning, but afterwards tries to bait the priest into theological debates.


The Devil Came on Horseback
Witnessing Genocide... Again
"Never Again" or "Again and Again"?

Brian Steidle, a former Marine Corps captain, was serving as a military observer with the African Union peace keeping forces. His job was to take pictures – to document what has happening. He took pictures of genocide every day for six months. The Devil Came on Horseback focuses on that genocide, but it is also Steidle’s story.


Rollerball (1975)
Killer Game
Can One Man Be More Important Than the Game Itself?

Every so often a sports figure exceeds all others in the sport—Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods. Their names are known even by non-fans. Their accomplishments are staggering. They have skills that transcend the sport itself. Such a person is Jonathon E.


Mother of Mine
Two Homes, Two Mothers, Nowhere to Belong
Being Abandoned and Finding Love

During the Second World War, Finnish children were sent to other countries where they would be safe from the violence of the war. Eero is sent by his mother to neutral Sweden where he struggles with isolation and abandonment and then when he returns, has to struggle yet again.


2008 Academy Awards
Opening the Envelope
Who Will Take Oscar Home?

So, only a few days to go. Who will walk away with a new bookend Sunday night? I’ll make my guesses as well as comment on who I think should win in selected categories. Please — join in with your own opinions!


Hoop Dreams
Opportunity or Exploitation?
The First Rungs on the Ladder of Sports

Dreams may be what make many sports films so appealing. Dreams may actually come true in sports. And the results are quantifiable — a final score or a gold medal. We know when a dream is attained. But Hoop Dreams reminds us that dreams are very delicate and can also be very ephemeral.


Noodle
Can We Learn to Love Again?
Finding a Way Back to Love

After having loved and lost so much, she has set up her life to avoid having to face that loss anymore. She knows the suffering that can come from loving. She has determined not to deal with that again. But she is faced with a quandary as she cares for Noodle: is it better to never love again, or to risk the joy of love and the potential pain that will come with losing that love?


The Year My Parents Went on Vacation
Futbol, Glorious Futbol
Finding Community in a Time of Isolation

Sometimes when we hear Jesus’ parable about the Good Samaritan, we may hear that as saying that Jews don’t take care of people. What a misunderstanding! The parable’s focus is about defining neighbor not by what we have in common, but simply by virtue of need.


The Band’s Visit
Strangers in the House of Hope
Life Blooms in the Israeli Desert

The film constantly walks a fine line between not only melancholy and humor, but also loneliness and community, and intimacy and formality. That constant balancing makes this an enjoyable and heartwarming film.


Children of Glory
Sometimes It's More Than a Game, Part 2
A Struggle for Freedom Leaves Blood in the Water

This water polo match, set at an event which is supposed to bring the world together in peace, was a political statement by both sides. The Soviets would not put up with rebellion; the Hungarians would not submit to tyranny.


Goal Dreams
Sometimes It's More Than a Game, Part 1
The Trials of the Palestinian Soccer Team

Every four years the World Cup matches capture the world’s attention. Every country wants its team to win—even those in a country that has no state: The Palestinian Territories.


Ben X
Christ Was Bullied Too
A Quick Interview with Director Nic Balthazar

“Yes! Christ was bullied too.” And then this was, of course, such a bridge to the passion story of Christ and a story 2007 years later where also somebody tries to turn the other cheek as it were and not respond to violence with violence.


Seabiscuit
Wholeness Through Victory?
The Hooves of a Healer

In one scene, Red walks by a line for a soup kitchen. It’s not that he’s not hungry, but he is trying to get by all by himself. We like to believe that it’s up to each person to succeed or fail. If trouble comes, we face it alone. If pain comes, we think we should suck it up and move on.


4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days
Emotional Road to a Back Alley
Exploitation, Corruption and Illegal Abortion

The real power of this film is not in its treatment of abortion, but in the focus on the characters and the predicaments they face because of where they are and what they are doing. We have no idea where the roads we choose to follow will lead us.


Caramel
The Sweetness and Pain of Life
Finding Community in Diversity

On the most basic level, this is a women’s movie. (I don’t mean to denigrate the film at all by that categorization.) There is also a deeper meaning that both men and women could benefit from. The women of Layale’s salon are indeed a model.


U2 3D
Can Music Bring the World Together?
From the Vertigo Tour -- 2005-2006

That U2 (and especially Bono in his role as conscience to the developed nations) use their music to speak messages that need to be heard and heeded is well worth celebrating.


4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days
Child of the Decree
Cristian Mungiu on Abortion and Freedom

I felt it’s good to make a film for my generation of people before I get too old and forget things. I belong to a very special generation. I’m born in 1968. This makes me one of the so called “Children of the Decree.”


Whitehead International Film Festival
A Long Way from Palm Springs
Spending Time Going Deep into Films

There’s not as much glitter as from my time at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, but the Whitehead International Film Festival has a depth that makes it well worthwhile.


The Year My Parents Went on Vacation
Making a Home for a Stranger
Exile Can Take Many Forms

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation starts off as if it were going to be a new version of Home Alone, but it turns out that in this case, the child at the center of the movie is neither at home nor alone.


City of Men
The Sins of the Father
Growing into Men in the Slums

The Bible and other writings (such as Shakespeare and Euripides) have noted that the sins of the fathers are often visited upon their children. In the Rio slums this generational passing on of sins and penalties seems to be without end.


Baptism of Blood
Boldly Going Where Martyrs Have Gone Before
Being In Harm's Way As A Deliberate Act; No Rescue Desired, Thanks

In time, they are arrested, brutally tortured, and imprisoned. For some, this experience kills them spiritually, but for others it strengthens them. One scene has the priests performing Mass in prison. That scene show just how radical the church can be.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
And the Winners Are ...
The Best of the Festival

Films festivals always have awards to hand out and Palm Springs is no different.


At Play in the Fields of the Lord
Would Rambo Save These Missionaries?
Times Change, But Some Problems Remain the Same

One character in the film ponders, “Why do you want to change [the Indians]? If the Lord made Indians the way they are, who are you people to make them different?” In time the missionaries are the cause of the Indian’s deaths.


The Orphanage
Matters of Life and Death
A Ghost Story Worth Seeing

Many horror films rely on blood and gore or sudden surprises to scare us. The Orphanage has a few gotcha moments and just a touch of blood, but for the most part the horror in this film comes from the atmosphere and situation.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
In Summary
One Last Film, and My Favorites

In all I took in 23 films in the nine days I was in Palm Springs. (I had previously seen half a dozen of the films playing there.) A couple didn’t really connect with me, most were of average quality, but there are a few worth noting.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
Coping with the Unbearable
Pain, Pathos, Fantasy

This was probably my best day, three excellent films that all are deserving of attention. If only the megaplex would get rid of a few of the unbearable pieces of trash to make room for the rest of the world to see these films.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
What We Are Willing to See
Getting Beyond Our Prejudice

One of the common issues in films is the way we don’t only see and hear others in our preconceived ways. Films often force us to see the other in different ways, opening our eyes to new learning.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
They're All Religious Films
Religion and Life

She asked, “So you don’t just review religious films?” I told her that they were all religious to me. Ironically, today I actually saw three films that all revolved around religion. The best film I saw today was My Father My Lord, an Israeli film.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
Fragile Lives
Both Children and Adults

“Life is hard for children. I think it’s even tougher for adults.” That line from Frozen, an Indian film set in the mountains of Kashmir, fits well for a theme for today. There are hardships for both children and adults in the world around us.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
Connections
On Screen and Personal

One of the great things about film is the way it allows us to connect not only with stories, but with cultures and histories besides our own. The more we connect, the closer the world comes.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
So Little Time
A Busy Day at the Festival

It’s always a challenge to pick movies that allow time for you to get from one to another. My planning was less than stellar today.


Palm Springs Intl. Film Festival
Springs of Hope in a Desert World
Seeing Ourselves in Foreign Films

The more we see of the broader world and of other religions, the more we will see the many things we all have in common. In that, festivals such as this are springs of hope in a desert world. But then, this is Palm Springs, where waters flow in the desert.


Best of 2007
Darrel's Dozen
Best Films of the Year

2007 was a pretty decent year - I’ll give it a B+. But it’s not all that hard to make my year end list. There are some excellent films that don’t make the Dozen, but I feel strongly that all the ones that do make the list really belong there.


Ties that Bind (In the Life)
Can You Be Gay and Christian?
Looking Where Religion and Sexuality Intersect

It is important to consider the place of LGBT people in faith communities. Within most Christian denominations it is still an unresolved question. For LGBT people the question is very personal.


Honeydripper
Music (and Life) at the Crossroads
John Sayles Is Back

We often struggle with change going on around us. We live in a future shock world. Everything changes before we even know it’s happening. That cusp between the past and the future is an ever shrinking now.


The Kite Runner
A Way to Be Good Again
Restoring Honor to Life

My sins are like the highest mountain;
My good deeds are very few;
They’re like a small pebble.


Persepolis
Coming of Age in a Troubled World
The Graphic Novel Comes to the Screen

Part history lesson, part coming of age story, Persepolis traces the life of young Marjane from childhood, through adolescence and into young adulthood. Although her tale is set in a turbulent time and place, much about her experience is universal.


Charlie Wilson’s War
How to Run a Covert War
Winning the Cold War, But...

At the end of Charlie Wilson’s War is a quote from Wilson: “These things really happened. We changed the world, then we [blew] the end game.” That is the film in a nutshell. But the success of this operation really did change the world.


The Great Debaters
Passion Brings Life to Lessons
Resolved: A Film Can Inspire Through Examples of Greatness

To have an argument truly heard requires the inclusion of passion and personal experience. The heart of the story is that with courage and determination people can overcome the barriers to success that racism presents.


4 months, 3 weeks & 2 days
Romania's Emergent Film Industry
Reflections of Cristian Mungiu

“We don’t have a very good explanation [for the recent success of Romanian films],” says award-winning director Cristian Mungiu. “Nobody knows why this is happening there and now. But I suppose it’s connected to the way we work.”


Juno
What Kind of Girl Gets Pregnant?
Discovering What Lies Below the Surface

We learn that there is much more to Juno (and to the other characters in the film) than we see on the surface. It takes seeing them in times of stress and in times of joy to discover the kind of people they are.


Margot at the Wedding
The Movie, Like This Family, Doesn't Work
Great Performances, Not So Great Story

I knew going in that this was going to be bleak and unpleasant. In that, I wasn’t disappointed. Still, you may well spend more time trying to figure out what went wrong than trying to analyze what made a good film so enjoyable.


Wristcutters: A Love Story
Road Trip to the Meaning of Life
Life After Suicide

It’s a dark comedy, and it isn’t the kind that is filled with belly laughs, but still here is a film that could even be seen as a date movie about people who have offed themselves. It’s not often you get to talk about suicide and date movies in the same sentence.


Atonement
All for Sin Could Not Atone
The Hard Road to Redemption

What a meaningless story this would be if everyone just let bygones be bygones and told Briony “It’s okay, you didn’t mean any harm.” Instead, this story takes a much harder route in the search of redemption.


Lust, Caution
Sex Without Love
Ang Lee's Art Without the Substance

As in other Ang Lee films, Lust, Caution is a visual work of art. But unlike his other films, the film doesn’t have the strength of story to make full use of his artistry.


The Savages
The Therapy of Living
When Children Have to Care for Parents

There is so much in this film that will be familiar to those who deal with aging loved ones. Depressing as this can be, The Savages manages to show us this with a healthy dose of humor.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Life Through One Eyelid
Life in the Midst of Adversity

At the age of 43, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a stroke that left him totally paralyzed except for his left eyelid. This is a film that celebrates the human spirit and the value of life—even a life that seems diminished beyond hope.


Starting Out in the Evening
Lives in Search of Meaning
The Art of Writing, the Art of Living

Starting Out in the Evening is more than another story about a writer with writer’s block. This is a story that delves into issues of relationship, trust, compromise, freedom, and mortality. It goes to the heart of every life.


I’m Not There
Being Born Again and Again and Again
The Many Lives of Bob Dylan

I’m Not There is a biography, but not a biography. It uses many of Dylan’s works, portrays many events in his life, and much of the dialogue is from things Dylan said, but technically, there is no Bob Dylan in this movie.


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Lessons of Life and Death
Actors and Director Share Their Thoughts

You never really know when you live an important moment. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly tells of the triumph of human will by Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man whose mind is locked in to a body that will not work.


Enchanted
Fairy Tale Meets Real World
Crossover, Crossover, Crossover

Enchanted is a crossover movie. It combines styles and ideas, just as sometimes musicians will expand their work by crossing over into different genres. I have no doubt that plans are already underway to have this on Broadway as soon as it can be arranged.


War Dance
Music Fills Broken Lives
Hope in Uganda

In War Dance, we discover that some of the children in this refugee camp have found joy, meaning, and perhaps even a bit of healing through music. The joy and hope that fills those lives is more inspirational than any trophy could be.


Redacted
They Just Watch and Don't Do Nothing
De Palma's Video Screed

De Palma is certainly upfront about his motives for the film and what he wants the viewer to take away from the experience. This film certainly couldn’t be described as pro-military or pro-American.


What Would Jesus Buy?
The Shopocalypse Is Coming!
The Call to Repent of Consumeri