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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jon Favreau has taken the ingredients of life and created a very enjoyable dish to share with us all.
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.
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 ;) (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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
Thanks to the staff and volunteers of the Newport Beach Film Festival for all the work that went into bringing off another year.
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.”
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.
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.
Refuge was the kind of film that often shows up in festivals, but may not make it into general release.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
“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!”
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.
“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?
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Yesterday was spent in far off countries that each have issues of their own to deal with and stories that they want to tell.
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.
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.
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.
From the first full day of AFI Fest I have three films to discuss.
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.
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.
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 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.
Although many will think “It’s only a short,” Facing Fear opens our minds and hearts to consider the depth of forgiveness.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
“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?’”
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Interesting characters and communities filled the choices I made yesterday.
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.
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 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 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.
“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.”
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.
Yesterday was one of those days to travel the world (and beyond).
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.
Still more films to see and talk about at LA Film Fest. Let’s see what yesterday brought.
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.
Now that the festival moves into full gear, there are films to talk about.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
[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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“‘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.”
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.”
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.
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.
“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…. “
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
“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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
Wes Anderson weaves together of a tale of young love that is just as intricate as any symphony—and just as enjoyable.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday gave me another chance to catch some of the shorts playing at the festival. One more day of festival ahead.
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.)
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.
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).
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.
My first day at NBFF opened with a quick trip around the world through a shorts program, “Open My Mind Shortly.”
[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.
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 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.
Saturday morning will have a special treat with a program of Chuck Jones Saturday Morning Cartoons because 2012 marks Chuck Jones’s centennial.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
When people in power have a problem, they come to Olivia Pope. Olivia is a fixer. She tries to make it all go away.
“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.’”
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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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
“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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.”
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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! 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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 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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
“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.”
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 ….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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?
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?
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.
You couldn’t pitch that story anywhere and expect to be taken seriously. Unless it were all true (maybe).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
On Thursday I saw two films with theatrical openings on the horizon – one very, very close.
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.
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.
A day with films that look at a very diverse set of lives.
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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The most common theme in the films I saw on day 3 at Newport Beach was “home.”
Day two at Newport Beach might be about getting into people’s minds. I started at a seminar on screenwriting with Aaron Sorkin
My first day at the festival I slowly moved into the dark – and I’m not referring to the inside of the theater.
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! 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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” 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.
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 . . . .
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“I came here looking for revenge, but now I am asking for justice. I know now it’s not the same thing.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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…
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
Coincidentally the films I saw on Tuesday and Wednesday night both involved women who are very different on the outside than on the inside.
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.
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.
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.
Another full day at the Festival. Just running into people can be interesting.
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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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-.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
“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?”
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.”
[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.
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.
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?
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 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 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.
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.
“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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.”
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. 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
“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.”
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
“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.
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.
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 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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.”
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 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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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
Even though yesterday was the festival’s penultimate day and I’m wearing out a bit, I had a great day for movie going.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
Films festivals always have awards to hand out and Palm Springs is no different.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My sins are like the highest mountain;
My good deeds are very few;
They’re like a small pebble.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
The street theater of The Church of Stop Shopping would warm the heart of Hebrew prophets such as Jeremiah or Hosea, and his message would resonate with those ancient prophets as well as with Jesus and his followers in scripture.
“I believe that there is a gathering of people from many cultural and religious backgrounds,” says Bill Talen, “to guard their personal faith—to grow their personal faith—by the rejection of the golden calf.”
I asked myself “Who is out here with any kind of objection at all? Who is out here raising their voice?” I thought, “The preachers. They’re the people who are shouting here. They don’t have permits.”
Slow destruction is what is going on in this film. It’s not just the robbery that has gone bad, it is their spiritual lives that spoil bit by bit. The film succeeds so well in destroying these characters that I really didn’t much care what happened to them.
Susanne Bier has a record of making films that immerse us in the deep end of family life where pain and healing take place. Things We Lost in the Fire continues the tradition of thought provoking films that she has established.
The film is not so much about cowardice or even betrayal. The film carries a sense of darkness and foreboding—it goes deeper to the void that is left when those things we take as our god fail to perform as we hope and expect.
The shift to mainstream may have taken a little bit of the bite out of Peter Hedges’ presentation of the contemporary angst in American family life, but there is still plenty here to help us—with witty dialogue, wonderful performances, and enjoyable family moments.
In Bella, two people spend a day together sharing the joys and pains of the day, and this day becomes something that will bring about something new and renewing for them both. The film offers hope that we can overcome our past to find something new.
If one comes to the film with a mind already made up, there won’t be much to come away with. But for many people, both gay and straight, who continue to struggle with how the church should engage gays, this film may well be a great blessing.
Obviously, something is broken in Lars. It’s not just a mental problem; his life is broken in many ways. In the end we discover why God perhaps made each of us, to help people. If Bianca can do it with her obvious limitations, how much more can we do?
When terrorists (or dictators who also maintain power through a different reign of terror) are brought to trial, what kind of defense can be offered for their heinous acts, and who would be willing to defend them?
The story of “Stacey” moves the film away from the abstract. “I know I made the right decision, but it’s still not easy.” A few moments later she is in tears. This scene sums up the dilemma that abortion brings into the lives of women and into our culture.
“I’ve tried very hard to represent both sides in an equal way,” says the director of this abortion documentary seventeen years in the making. “If I ever get an accusation it’s, ‘How could you possibly make an impartial film?’”
Bill Haney shows us the world of the workers at a Dominican plantation in this documentary. It is not a pretty picture, a world of abject poverty. Workers are paid about $1 a day that they can only spend at a company store. It is a small step up from slavery.
The film seems to be trying to give a hint of what that era was like, but only rarely does it manage to touch on the zeitgeist of those days. If all you want is song and dance, you may find this an enjoyable trip: one that bypasses anything of real interest.
This is the kind of film that brings to mind late-night bull sessions in college. That isn’t meant to be derisive; I was fond of those late night discussions about everything. Having our minds so tickled gives us a chance to exercise our own creative spirit.
These few men who have looked back at the earth from the surface of another world are in some ways now artifacts of a bygone era—the space age. But they are the people who lived that time in a way no others have lived it.
As we left the screening, my wife said “That was so sad.” I replied, “Yeah, but I liked it.” It gives us a chance to consider our own dreams. If dreams help build the world, how much damage do we do by destroying the dreams of others—or our own dreams?
Ben X is a powerful story of the courage needed to face life and its trials. The film offers us a vision of new life that can be found when we do not give in to the forces seeking to destroy us. It “thwarts spectators’ expectations.”
I was able to spend a few days at the Montreal World Film Festival, a reminder that there are loads of (good!) films that we miss when we rely only on the formulas and themes of the big studios. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
The historical event itself has enough drama, pathos, and unresolved questions to make a good film. While the film gives the basic account of the event, for the most part, that only serves as a backdrop to tell a love story.
For over four years America (and some other nations) have been at war with or occupying Iraq. During that time a host of documentaries have been made, each showing its own piece of the war.
Communication and its difficulties are central to the storyline. The research into communication with dolphins serves to sets the stage for the challenges that the characters face in their struggles to hear and be heard.
Stardust is a delightful fairy tale, as long as you remember it’s a bit of fluff and don’t try to delve too deep. As with most quest stories, this one isn’t so much about getting what one is seeking as it is about the discoveries along the way.
I’ve heard that it takes five close friends to keep us healthy—both physically and emotionally. I’ve also heard that very few people actually have that many. Nobody likes François; and for all his easy going façade, Bruno has no real friends either.
While we have occupied the country, violence and an insurgency have grown to the point of civil war, in spite of our efforts to keep things under control. Or maybe because of our efforts.
As I watched the screening of the film No End in Sight I noticed that my jaw was clenched. I suspect my eyes were narrowing as well. This was a film that was making me angry.
Last year An Inconvenient Truth included an animation of a polar bear swimming long distances because the ice was melting sooner each year. In Arctic Tale, we see in real life these effects are already happening.
One of the critics present asked what made him make this film. Said director Charles Ferguson, “I’ve always wanted to make films. Nobody’s making this film. Somebody should make this film. Why not me?”
While the film is basically a love story, the conflict between faiths serves as the undercurrent that makes the story interesting. There is more that people have in common than make them different. Perhaps it is a lesson that others can learn.
Jonroy holds out a hope that people of different cultures and faiths can find common ground and come together. In part that hope grows from his heritage among the Kurds, a people who have always been on the edge of the cultures around them.
“I went diving through a seal hole thirty inches in diameter,” says Ravetch, “into water temperatures that were only twenty degrees Fahrenheit, and I dropped into these ice corridors and it was almost like an epiphany. We’ve been in the Arctic ever since.”
Nearly 50 million Americans have no health care insurance. Each year about 18,000 people die because they don’t have insurance. But Sicko is not about them. It is about the people who do have health insurance and still can’t get care.
Edith Piaf was one of the great French singers and celebrities. La Vie en Rose tells us a bit about her life. To be sure, there is quite a bit left out. But what we see is a reminder that the lives of celebrities are not as easy as we might assume.
Brad Bird has already blessed us with The Iron Giant and The Incredibles. Now add to that Ratatouille, a story of a rat who loves good food and dreams of being a chef—another blessing for those who are open to Bird’s passionate storytelling.
“How my life gonna be? I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe good, maybe bad. I don’t know. Lord knows.” When we first hear 2pac say this, we hear a possibility of hope. When we hear it again later, it is filled with despair.
The evening before it opened, A Mighty Heart was screened at the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. The screening was followed by a panel discussion on “Building Unity and Understanding in Today’s World”. One of the common themes in this discussion was that we need to speak and work together to bring change and healing to the world.