Archive for the 'Lost Films' Category
Interesting debate going on about the films of Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air).Â Dennis Lim at Slate charges Reitman with pandering and not having enough to say. Blogger S. T. Karnick at Pajamas Media interprets Lim’s critique as Lim being mad that Reitman doesn’t assert the progressive political agenda in his films.
What do you think? Looking at Karnick’s list of blog entries, I don’t think there is much that I agree with him on. But I do think he’s right in his defense of Reitman. Or maybe he goes too far, and mischaracterizes Lim’s argument as political when it is not. I really do want to know what you think.
As SAB is showing Twilight: New Moon this weekend, it is a good time to revisit the lively discussion we had when the film came out back in November about how the series (and books/films like it) could be considered the equivalent of pornography for females. Check out that earlier post here. And please add to the discussion – what do you think?
To respond to a few points people raised in the comments section in November, Katie pointed out that women do look at “traditional” pornography according to Nielsen ratings. Yes, this discussion should not be read as affirming the notion that men look at porn because they are respond to visual stimulation, and women don’t because they aren’t. This is a helpful point by Katie.
But, if, as one of the links in the original post points out, â€śporn is defined as ’something with no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire,’ according to the Websterâ€™s dictionary definition,” then we are looking at a broader definition of pornography than merely visual. And I think a discussion of how books like Twilight (and possibly some romantic comedies?) performs this role is interesting. Does it matter if Edward and Bella are actually having sex in the series, if the above definition is accepted?
This discussion need not to be limited to women. Twilight could still be porn by this definition if we agree that it has no literary or artistic value, and is stimulating sexual desire in men.
District 9 is not for the faint of heart. Its gruesome violence is instead for the full of heart: those who value how science fiction can comment on horrific political realities. Political reality is signaled by the setting of this filmâ€”Johannesburg, South Africaâ€”a location famous for Apartheid, a system by which blacks were segregated from whites through the development of all-black â€śtownshipsâ€ť: what we might call segregated â€śdistricts.â€ť The â€śDistrict 9â€ť that names this film is a township developed for space alien refugees: creatures nicknamed â€śprawnsâ€ť because they look like huge sea shrimp with arms and legs. But in the word â€śprawnsâ€ť we also hear â€śpawnsâ€ť; the creatures are pawns to a system that fears that which is â€śalienâ€ť: that which looks, talks, and acts differently than majority culture. And we see that the segregation of aliens into wretched living environments turns them wretchedly violent, making them all the more feared by South Africans, who use despicable violence to subdue them.
By: Crystal Downing
All good science fiction is a commentary on its own time. District 9 is good science fiction, and one needs to look no further than the filmâ€™s setting to understand this: Johannesburg, South Africa. Apartheid in the 21st century. Whites and…aliens. Director Neill Blomkamp uses documentary style footage and a real world grittiness to tell a story of racial hatred, prejudice, and xenophobia. This time around, the blacks are aliens, and the aliens represent suppressed humans across the globe.
District 9 is a slum on the outskirts of a near future Johannesburg where marooned aliens are forced to live after their mother ship mysteriously arrives above the South African city. The aliens resemble insects, or perhaps marine invertebrates, and come to be nicknamed â€śprawnsâ€ť a derogatory descriptive, as one police officer remarks, â€śI mean, you can’t say they don’t look like that, that’s what they look like, right? They look like prawnsâ€ť meaning the species of shrimp-like crustacean. This sets up the extreme oppression the aliens are forced into by their human overlords. The aliens are routinely mistreated, abused, and never allowed to travel beyond the heavily militarized borders of District 9. Very rapidly this slum becomes a hotbed of illegal drugs, guns, black market trafficking, and violent crime. The aliens live in poverty, never becoming more than insects to their human neighbors.
The filmâ€™s action begins as the human outcry against the ghastly District 9 reaches fever pitch, and the Multinational United private military corporation steps in to relocate the over 1.8 million aliens to a site 240 kilometers away from Johannesburg, District 10. During the course of serving â€śeviction noticesâ€ť, a horrible perversion of justice, the lead operative Wikus van de Merwe becomes involved in the alienâ€™s plight in a way he never imagined possible.
District 9 draws heavily on its inspiration, a six-minute short film called â€śAlive in Joburgâ€ť, also directed by Neill Blomkamp, and featuring a similar plot. Both films reference the historical forced removal of over 60,000 black South Africans from a District Six in Cape Town which occurred between 1968 and 1982 while apartheid was under effect in South Africa. Then it was blacks. Today it is aliens. District 9 leaves us with questions: how different are we? What kind of creatures will that difference turn us into? Will we become monsters, or will we remember that we are all human?
By: Philip Joel Martin
The Harry Potter books have been criticized by the Evangelical Christian community, banned from school libraries, burned by church groups, and denounced by the Pope. Harry practices witchcraft, they argue, and our children may try to follow in his footsteps. But that was before J. K. Rowling released her final installment of the Potter series in 2007, in which (spoiler alert) Harry dies sacrificially, only to rise again in Christ-like fashion to defeat evil forever. Rowling herself has acknowledged her Christian faith and the intentional Christian themes in her Potter novels. A recent article in the Boston Globe details how Harry is now embraced by religious scholars and critics. So we are over that embarrassing phase when Christians said silly things like Harry Potter is like â€śmixing rat poison with orange soda.â€ť Right?
Because it was a very embarrassing time. Like when the Onion wrote a satirical article about how the Potter series was turning millions of kids onto witchcraft, and mocked the Christian response: â€śOver protests from Christian Right leaders, who oppose the books for containing magic–and, by extension, Satanic religious beliefs–millions of children are willing their bodies and souls to Lucifer in unholy blood covenants. In 1995, it was estimated that some 100,000 Americans, mostly adults, were involved in devil-worship groups. Today, more than 14 million children alone belong to the Church of Satan, thanks largely to the unassuming boy wizard from 4 Privet Drive.â€ť If that werenâ€™t bad enough, most of the article was cut and pasted into a chain email, and sent around as proof of the dangers of reading Harry Potter. Many Christians, missing the satire and the irony, forwarded it along, furthering the embarrassment.
The Potter books are by no means an isolated example of Christian misunderstanding of art. There are examples recent (The Last Temptation of Christ, My Sweet Jesus sculpture) and historical (Puritan rejection of theater due to its portrayal of immorality). The churchâ€™s history of engaging with the arts is often embarrassing. Here is a relationship that needs reconciliation.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Fear no art. Fear instead the email from your aunt which warns you about some upcoming film or novel that is supposed to destroy your faith.3 comments
Apathy is an addictive depressant. It hooks you in, makes you feel less inclined to progress, makes you content with your place, your condition, your rank. Itâ€™s also the most heavily marketed addictive compound in modern society. Everywhere one looks, the status quo remains unchanged, and the masses shamble about, seeking only their own satisfaction. Of course, the most distraught apathy fiends areâ€¦ dare I say, zombies.
Yes indeed. I have found, upon extensive observation, that most creators of this subgenre of horror/apocalyptic film, aside from those trying to cash in on the success of others (cough*Lucio Fulci*cough), are always saying something more than â€śDONâ€ťT GET BIT!â€ť in their films. The fact that most zombie outbreaks are accompanied by â€śthe end of civilization as we know itâ€ť reinforces such a message. Iâ€™d like to think the zombies in question are a portrayal of the apathetic masses, which donâ€™t truly live, but yet carry on. As Christians, we canâ€™t afford to get caught up in living in the status quo, apathetic to those around us and anything that doesnâ€™t fall directly into our line of sight. Zombieland is Americaâ€™s newest foray into the Zombie genre, and the first real competition for Shaun of the Dead in the zombie comedy field. Through a pseudo review of the film, as well as an exploration of the two male leadsâ€™ (an excellent pairing of relative newcomer Jesse Eisenberg and veteran Woody Harrelson) approaches to life, as viewed through the lens of Christian counters to apathism (yes, I did just invent that wordâ€¦ deal with it), weâ€™ll hopefully come to a realization of the relevance of this subgenre, and all its insight into our very real dilemmas.
If one looks at the classic comic pairings, such as Aykroyd and Belushi , Abbott and Costello(and, for our generation, ones like Michael Cera and Jonah Hill), the comedy is usually generated from the interplay between the characters. In the case of Zombieland, Harrelson and Eisenberg display very entertaining chemistry, primarily because of how different they are. Harrelsonâ€™s Tallahassee is a cowboy type figure with zero tolerance for stupidity. His singular pursuit of Twinkies helps give a human element to the man who generates most of the visceral thrills in the movie. Eisenbergâ€™s character, on the other hand, feels much more relatable to our age group. An awkward college student, Columbus is well versed in World of Warcraft, but terribly inept in the world of women, or any social sphere it seems. He seems out of place when he shows up as the narrator at the filmâ€™s outset. Howâ€™s a college geek with little to no combat experience one of the last living people in America (which Columbus has dubbed Zombieland in wake of the infection)? As Columbus explains, there exists a list of rules by which he abides, which range from practical safety tips (Rule # 4: Always put on your Seatbelt) to extra measures against the hordes of infected (Rule # 2: Double tap: If youâ€™ve downed a zombie, but arenâ€™t sure itâ€™s dead, put an extra bullet in its head just to be safe). Due to these extremely cautious measures, Columbus has survived longer than most, although one could argue with his lack of life experience, heâ€™s â€śjust survivingâ€ť.
If zombies represent the apathetic masses, then Columbus and Tallahassee could be metaphors for the different improper approaches Christians might take to combat the hordes of the uncaring. Eisenberg portrays the â€śplay-it-safe Christianâ€ť. You know of what I speak; those who are so cautious about sharing their faith and fitting in that one might not even realize their true beliefs save through direct confrontation. Or those that grew up in a protective, Christian environment, and donâ€™t know how to interact/deal with life on the outside, so thus they barely live at all, casting everything outside their bubble as â€śevilâ€ť. Tallahassee, on the other hand, is demonstrating what I like to dub the â€śOne-trick Christianâ€ť. Such individuals focus on a singular aspect of the mission, and seem to focus on nothing else, whilst still keeping up the faĂ§ade of a committed believer. Such examples might include the missionary who cares more for the idea and funds to support the mission than those who support it, or even worse those seeking aid from the mission. Or it could be the legalist, who treats the faith like a list of doâ€™s and donâ€™ts, and to step even over the line a slight bit is to fall into the black. Such archetypes give Christians a bad name, yet they seem to be the only faces of faith the media ever sees. So, at the beginning and throughout most of the first act of the film, neither of the male characters display any sort of image to be looked up to.
Of course, if this was a maleâ€™s only zombie hoedown, ticket sales would suffer. Therefore we are introduced to the two female leads, going by the monikers of Wichita (Emma Stone, of Superbad fame) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), in an intro that both makes you admire and hate the girls. The two female leads help fill out the age spectrum (Breslinâ€™s a 12 year old, Eisenberg and Stone are the college kids, and Harrelson plays the middle aged protector/father figure of the group) and add a sophisticated touch to the very polarized male characters. The female leads act like balancing absolutes to the â€śfaulted Christian archetypesâ€ť that are our male leads. Columbus, the â€śbubble boyâ€ť finds something worth fighting for in Wichita, and becomes the hero, breaking out of his â€ślist of rulesâ€ť (comedic motifs though they are) in order to protect something worthwhile for once, and finally starts living. Tallahassee branches out and starts caring for those around him, which is really the core of Christianity at any rate (the relationship with Christ, and those around you, are the two greatest commandments after all!). And at the end, Eisenbergâ€™s narration concludes a few key ideas; the first of which dictates that who you take the journey with is just as, if not more important, than the journey itself.
All in all, Zombieland was a thoroughly enjoyable ride of a film. Much of this is attributed to Tallahasseeâ€™s nearly endless supply of one liners and Columbusâ€™ delightfully quirky narration. The movie also boasts an extremely exciting finale, in which a theme park becomes the battle ground for our survivors, allowing Harrelson to kick plenty of ass, and also sets up Eisenberg to become the hero. Well cast, very funny (this makes a fine American counterpart to Shaun of the Dead), and above all, it has characters that we can believe in, root for, and relate to.
Redemption comes through caring for others and caring for something bigger than oneâ€™s own headspace. Christianity is about living for a purpose higher than oneâ€™s own, but that doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re anything greater than human. So, in light of that, always strive to be a better you, and as Rule # 32 dictates: Enjoy the little things!
The White Rabbit
When Paramount Pictures wanted to reboot the Star Trek franchise with a younger cast and a new history, they turned to director J. J. Abrams, creator of both Alias and Lost, and director of Cloverfield. After grossing over 256 million dollars at the North American box office, which is well more than twice the previous best in the Star Trek franchise, Paramount must be very happy with their decision.
Star Trek has plenty to praise. It is very well written, providing a storyline that effectively reboots the franchise without ignoring what has already happened in the Star Trek history (through a clear to understand time-travel-â€śoh-now-that-heâ€™s-dead-all-of-history-will-be-differentâ€ť plot device that gives Kirk an understandably new personality). The acting is good, particularly by Zachary Quinto as the emotion-suppressing Spock.
But Abrams deserves a lot of credit. Heâ€™s the one who has become the master of creating mystery, as many know from watching Lost. Or think about how the film Cloverfield was marketed. Abrams talked about his use of mystery in a recent TED Talk (more on TED later). He talked about a box of magic tricks he bought (but never opened) when he was a kid, and how that box is somehow more magical because he doesnâ€™t know what is inside. That idea of not knowing what is â€śinsideâ€ť, and the potential and hope and infinite possibility that that holds, is the idea behind a lot of what Abrams loves about filmmaking. â€śMystery is more important than knowledge,â€ť he says as he expands on the mystery box metaphor, demonstrating his points by showing clips from several films. It is definitely worth checking out.
A little more about TED. TED is a non-profit group committed to spreading ideas that are worth spreading. Their online talks (â€śriveting talks by remarkable people, free to the worldâ€ť) are very intelligent, and run the gamut from Technology to Entertainment to Design (the original T.E.D.) and beyond. These talks have found an audience in the millions. They are always interesting and usually range between five and twenty minutes. Want to know ten ways the world could end? How schools are killing creativity? How to mod a Wii remote into an interactive white board? Whether violence is increasing or declining in the world? How we could make cheap liquid-filled eyeglasses to help a billion people see better? Check out this site and I guarantee youâ€™ll find something interesting and inspiring.
(Rating: **** / ****)
It’s 1964, and strict disciplinarian Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the principal of a New York City Catholic school, suspects her convivial, progressive supervisor Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) of having an “improper relationship” with the school’s first and only black student. Her paranoia is seemingly confirmed by the young and inexperienced Sister James (Amy Adams), launching Sister Aloysius into a relentless, surprising persecution of Flynn.
Without a doubt (ba-dum-tssssh) one of the most thought-provoking, theologically and ethically dense films I’ve seen in recent years, John Michael Shanley’s Doubt succeeds on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s a fitting vehicle for three of the most talented actors in Hollywood (Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and a compelling introduction (for me, at least) to the actress Viola Davis, whose brief appearance in the film has generated worthy Oscar buzz. At the same time, it’s a dark and compelling discussion of certainty and ambiguity, of tolerance and propriety, of progressiveness and endurance. In addition, it tackles the gender roles still evident in (specifically) the Catholic Church (and, more universally, Christian institutions everywhere). Yes, it’s not terribly “cinematic” (Shanley directs his own adaptation of his own play, which is more than enough literary inbreeding to explain why much of the movie still feels like a play) and it certainly doesn’t provide any easy answers or clear resolutions. But, for me, that’s its best quality.
I saw the film with my mom and brother, and the conversations it subsequently generated were engrossing. It’s a perfect Lost Film, and I can’t wait for similar conversations to crop up on campus later this spring.
What’s the deal with major directors making audiences love the two arguably worst Presidents in U.S. history? First, Oliver Stone presented a deeply empathetic George Bush in his psychotropic biopic W., and now Ron Howard (in his most mature, even-handed film to date) gives us a Richard Nixon whose fierce snarl and placid faĂ§ade belie his deep-seated fears of personal inadequacy and historical disregard. The film pits two unlikely adversariesâ€”the urbane TV talk show host David Frost and the hunched, decidedly uncharismatic 37th Presidentâ€”in a boxing match of wits and wiliness. While the disgraced President wrestles to redeem his own faltering legacy, Frost struggles to pull his career out of a precipitous nose-dive by personally financing this risky interview.
Howard, most famous for the mundane Apollo 13 and the ironically formulaic A Beautiful Mind, creates in Frost/Nixon a genuinely awe-inspiring film, anchored by a gravitas performance by Frank Langella (as Nixon) and an equally resourceful Michael Sheen (as Frost). Langella has already picked up a Golden Globe nom for Best Performance, and deservedly so; but in a year of stiff competition (if Mickey Rourke’s turn as a deposed WWF-style champ is as good as the trailer lets on, he’s got a solid lock on that Oscar statue, in my opinion), will Langella’s bold embodiment of a shockingly complex and surprisingly empathetic antagonist win voter’s accolades?
My roommates, Natalie and I took a trip out to Bensalem, PA to see a special sneak preview of “Juno”. Bensalem is 2 hours away, and if it was 4 hours away, it still would’ve been worth it. If you follow this sort of thing, you’ll have heard that “Juno” recently was named “best movie of 2007″ by our friends at Paste Magazine. And on top of that, it just grabbed 4 noms at the Spirit Awards (the indie film Oscars), Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress and Best First Screenplay.
“Juno” tells the story of 16 year old Juno MacGuff, who after having sex with best friend Paulie Bleeker, gets pregnant. Deciding abortion isn’t for her, she decides to give the baby up for adoption. To say more would ruin the sheer fun “Juno” is, and yeah, it lives up to all of the hype.
Starting with the script, the first ever script from the woman I wish was my wife: Diablo Cody. The entire movie is insanely quotable, brilliantly paced and completely moving. The acting is great, with Ellen Page stealing the entire show. When Ebert stated that he thought she deserved to win the Oscar, he wasn’t lying, and I for one will be rooting for both and the film to go far come the big awards in February. Director Jason Reitman, responsible for the great “Thank You For Smoking” tops himself, and the soundtrack, primarily by Kimya Dawson of The Moldy Peaches fame, is a perfect soundtrack to, well, a practically perfect movie.
Even though we will of course be showing this in the spring, I hope you go see it when it’s out in theaters. The more successful this film is, the better it is for movies in general. And we really can never have too many movies of this quality, or of the quality of so many movies this year.
What a great year for movies, and there’s still so much to come out!
Wow, did 2007 suddenly become a great year for movies?
Looking back over my past few reviews for the sadly under-read SAB blog, I can’t help but think that there’s an awful lot of positive-to-all-out-raves in there. I can’t even think about what my favorite movie of the year is. That’s always a good sign.
One of my favorite directors, Todd Haynes, he of “Safe,” “Velvet Goldmine” and film school favorite “Far From Heaven,” returns with what is probably the most ambitious movie of the year. Seriously. It makes “Across the Universe” look as daring as an Oprah rerun.
The story is simple: Six actors play six different incarnations of “Bob Dylan”. And it’s GREAT. Only Ben Whishaw, as a Dylan under interrogation, is wasted. He does a good job, but he doesn’t really do anything (he has the least screen time by far. In fact, I don’t think he ever gets out of his chair). But the other five, whoa boy.
Cate Blanchett gives what just might be her best performance as a Dylan locked in a Fellini fever dream. Heath Ledger gives his now dependably great work as an actor who played a different Dylan in a movie. Christian Bale plays THAT Dylan, who went from folk singer to preacher. Marcus Franklin plays a young black kid that just wants to sing about the past. And Richard Gere plays a Dylan that’s just trying to escape the world.
It’s a movie that is richly rewarding, infuriating, and truly unique and haunting. Several moments gave me chills, a rarity for me. It’s a movie about hiding, about masks, about loss. And when it ended, I felt truly taken aback.
It’s flawed, sure, but who cares? It wrestles with Dylan’s songs in as mature, adult a way as one could hope for. When Bale sings “Pressing On” in his church service, it’s truly moving. When Jim James sings “Goin’ to Acapulco” at a funeral, you’ll feel the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. “The Ballad of a Thin Man” montage rivals (and probably surpasses) any of Taymor’s work in “Across the Universe”.
I think comparing those two films is important, and endlessly fascinating. The Beatles make an amazing cameo in “I’m Not There,” but it’s there the similarities end. To compare the two, “Universe” is to MTV what “I’m Not There” is to XPN. One is style, the other is substance AND style. While “Universe” is much more about the catchier song and the flashier image, “I’m Not There” is digging for something a lot deeper.
It’s not a movie all of you will like, but it is a movie that some of you will LOVE. If it comes around here, I plead with you to check it out.1 comment