Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Raging Bull



Scorsese shapes this brutal epic morality tale with such lovingly indulgent and elegant images that we cannot help but fall in love with every lead character and then have our hearts broken as each of them betray us and each other. Jake LaMotta's story seems to powerfully presage the dominant rise-and-fall-from-fame narrative that defines our lurid voyeuristic era, but with these lights, sets, performances and music this story provides a vision of clarity about the ways our culture shapes our hungers and fears in powerfully self-destructive ways.

++++1/2

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Thin Blue Line


Errol Morris' documentary investigation of the wrongful conviction of Randall Dale Adams is patient in arriving at conclusions (inviting the viewer to experience the case chronologically in the way that the investigating police did first and later in the ways that Randall Adams did), and brilliant in it's storytelling structure. The fabrications of Morris' reenactments and mise en scenes are so convincingly and poetically rendered that the film manages to do great honor to the fallen policemen while subtly allowin shame to accrue where it belongs - on the bloodthirsty hands of the DA and in the lap of the presiding good-ol-boy-judge.

++++

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Waitress



I think that the lush production values, mythically american mise en scene, and conventional narrative structure allows this film the latitude to perform some of the most dazzling subversive moral advocacy imaginable: the film manages to structure a place of ambivalence in us toward extra-marital affairs, and (even more subversive in american culture) a preference that the guy not get the girl at the end. I'm not just referring to the pie when I say that this is third wave feminism at its most delicious.


+++1/2

Metropolis


The classic German Expressionist tale of oppressed workers enslaved to machines, industry & elites, charts failed attempts by the workers to shift their own destiny, and finally redemption for them when the son of the overlord falls in love with one of their own. Of course I left out the robot, the riot, the flood, the chase sequence, the horror film genre and the outrageously creative sets (influencing sci-fi visions of the urban future from Blade Runner to Star Wars to Batman and Minority Report), so while ultimately delivering an outrageous amount of bang-per-buck, the film ultimately feels unsettling in that repressive unchallenged assumption that the world's best helper is the rich, educated white man.

+++1/2

Friday, August 29, 2008

Karate Kid


This eighties classic coming-of-age film has become laughable because of how much it embraces the popular culture moment of its' release, but the quiet way it interrogates race, gender and class, give its Rocky-structure-storyline a bit more punch. The cinematography and pacing almost sustain the film despite it's melodramatically evil villains and occasional cheap shots at ethnic stereotyping humour.

+++

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bright Future


A story about two disaffected friends in an angst-producing low-wage job offers a few twists before it pays off the premise in a way that feels poetic and just. The visuals vibrate with saturated pop hues and carefully filmed carelessness while the pacing and the sets and the music map out an experience so specific and unusual that just living in this world for 92 minutes made me a salivating fan of this new Kurosawa.


++++1/2

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bible Salesmen


This classic Mayles brothers piece follows a group of Salesmen as they sell expensive illustrated Bibles to catholic parish members, first in a Boston neighborhood and then in a Florida neighborhood. The film is patient and honest and the images that emerge seem archtypally American - the lone ranger meets the death of a salesmen in suburbia.

++++

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters


KING OF KONG articulates contemporary form of documentary filmmaking chronicling American subculture with one of the most compelling storytelling efforts I've seen. The filmmakers accomplish the astonishing feat of *both* showing some of the most idiosyncratic and self-involved ambition in a light that is alternately absurd, frank, outrageous and compassionate; the story that emerges carries the audience along a quest that seems so mythic and yet so middle-class American that the emotional payoff (both disappointment and elation) feels completely earned.

++++

Monday, August 18, 2008

Volver


Almodovar tweaks the melodrama in all the right ways -- adding a touch of suspense, a hint of fantasy, and fantastic performances by all involved. This story about women's work, lives and survival requires a willing surrender to the glamourous conceits of contemporary Chick Flicks, but once ceded, the payoffs are both satisfying and indulgent.

+++1/2

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Redbeard

redbeard

Kurosowa's uplifting epic about an urban doctor's honest work resulting in pay-it-forward ripples looks subtle and beautiful in the camera work and the performances of the major players. The bit players fulfill conventions from all sorts of more mainstream and popular Japanese movies, and occasionally the musical swells seem overwhelmingly Western and like Emotional Telegraphs, but the long takes, gorgeous sets, deep focus, and complex mise en scene work make it more than worth it to invest the 3 hours this movie demands.

++++

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dr. Strangelove


Kubrick masterfully balances a straight faced comedy about the sort of people and the sort of situation that don't seem to merit the comic touch. The committed performances and cinematic realism makes the scenario feel unnervingly real -- even the absurd bits of comedy end up feeling absolutely believable -- all a masterful set-up for the even more unnerving and unsettling and unbelievable-because-of-what-he's-saying, but believable-because-of-the-set-up final speech of Dr. Strangelove.

+++1/2

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Dark Knight


Christopher Nolan's sequel exceeds his excellent reboot of the Batman franchise in faithfulness to the mythology, in coherence of story-telling and in creative choices. The story of a complex love triangle, of the nuances of good and evil within institutional life and without (particularly the ugly and heroic outlaws -- Batman & Joker) all are bound together in a well paced story, impeccable art design, and psychologically rich writing and acting.

++++1/2

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Paris, Je' T aime


A festival of shorts all celebrating love and paris, albeit many different aspects of both. This seemed like the absolutely perfect date movie both because short films have such a remarkable ability to stir up conversation (and these are Great Short Films) and because so much about love and relationships is articulated and undermined in these moments.

++++

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure

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Using gorgeous photography and staging to document horrific images and events, Morris pieces together a coherent narrative about collective fantasies and how they develop, by interviewing and analyzing the photographs taken by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib, the themes he manages to masterfully explore include: the complexity of human motivation, the partiality of visual representation, the ways that structures of oppression manage to replicate themselves within isolated enclaves, and the (sometimes unexpected) agency and victimage that defines the anxieties of being a woman in the army. I was disappointed that Morris allowed the character of Grener to function as such a pure villain in the story; it seems like in a story about the ambivalence and nuance of motivation and morality, the Standard Operating Procedure of Hollywood Filmmaking (where villains are purely villainous and reinforce audience faith in moral clarity and violent retribution) should not proceed unchecked.

+++1/2

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WALL*E


I loved WALL*E despite the humans: I loved it for it's outrageously, unbelievably realized mise en scene of a trashed version of earth, I loved it for its bold choice to embrace cinematic storytelling for such long, unflinching sequences, I love the subtle message that Even-A-Machine-Will-Learn-That-Love-Is-The-Answer-If-Left-to-the-Tutelage-of-Human-Trash, I love that Trash-Made-With-Love stands out against the wasteland of consumption and pollution and mindless mechanization, I do find WALL*E himself delightful, and I love that such a dystopian parable can muster such hope from its characters and for its audience. While I initially loved the joke about fat, lazy humans addicted to television homogeneity, I found that it wore thin and unbelievable later when these same humans tried to stumble and lurch toward a too-realistic and difficult kind of agency, but let's not dwell on the downside, because this animation and story are definitely worth your time.

+++1/2

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Persepolis


This coming of age animated feature manages to be subtle, honest and devastatingly beautiful, so I'm not sure why I never felt profoundly moved -- I wonder if it is the sort of movie that will seep into my soul gradually, though. I most loved the style and textures of animation: using such iconic and magical imagery to depict events and places so full of the ugliest things humans can do to one another seemed a perfect illustration of the ability of storytelling to both fully articulate and hopefully transcend the mire of the human condition.

++++

Saturday, July 12, 2008

12 WAYS TO SAY I'M SORRY


Technically I really appreciated the narrative structure of this film, the narrator device, the actors-in-multiple-roles, the breezy, believable, middle-class-professional mise en scene, but ultimately these elements failed to amuse. I'm open to the possibility that my non-Canadian status is what rendered the jokes impenetrable to me, but I suspect that they were just insufficiently conceived or developed (like the jokes about United Statesians which I was ready and willing to laugh at, but which were also under-developed).

+++

available on hulu

Giant


This epic tale of Texas chronicles the lives of privileged millionaires and the subtle ways that American Culture gradually consumed and homogenized so much of their culture; at its core, the film turns on the relationship between Texas Billionaire, Jordan Benedict (Rock Hudson) and his Eastern Millionaire wife, Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor). While their chemistry and conflict do a good job making some dramatic unity out of the epic sprawl of this story, I could attach emotionally to anything -- performances, story, cinematography or even thematic points -- despite all of the above being admirably executed.

+++

Friday, July 11, 2008

WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE

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This near perfect short manages to exploit a simple premise with utterly perfect comic timing, quirky chemistry, physical humor and utterly cinematic articulation. This short should be canonized for such brilliant execution of such a simple premise.

++++1/2

available at hulu.com

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Born on the Fourth of July



Tom Cruise's performance was the best thing about this rambling, unfocused, over-scored epic coverage of the Vietnam War. Though the visual images were arresting, Stone's inability to find any significant Unity in the story irreparably ruined the sccript's ability to carry the audience's concern across a genuine narrative arc (as opposed to achieving the POP! and WOW! emotions that come with well-arranged cliche's).

+++

Monday, June 16, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story


While I love most of the players here (Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow, John C. Reilly, etc...) I was keenly disappointed in how closely this film keened to both the structures and conventions of Walk the Line; it felt less like a satire and more like derivative tripe. Perhaps this reading emerges from the impressively accomplished singing, songwriting and filming, on the other hand, it more likely emerges from my natural predisposition to scorn satire as a waste of the energy and resources it takes to make a film -- I never *laugh hard* enough to make a *walk hard* worthwhile.

++1/2

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Five Obstructions



Lars Von Trier challenges Jorgen Leith to remake his classic film The Perfect Man: the result is a compelling exploration of the relationships between the artistic process and constraints, but not (as Von Trier hopes) a convincing explication of Jorgen Leith's psyche. The films Leith makes, though, more than make up for Von Trier's phoniness.

++++

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl


I never realized how profoundly we expect an Uplift from a good Costume Drama until I watched this film, which I might re-title: The Tragic Unspooling Of The Boleyn Siblings Because of The Class-Grubbing-Greed of Their Upwardly Mobile Father (subtitle: with an uplifting, yet dramatically unseemly twist at the very end). I loved Kieran McGuigan's photography, and found all other technical and artistic elements to be well-executed; I was ultimately disappointed, though, in the film's inability to commit to a protagonist and (the profoundly related) inability to commit to a genre (tragedy or uplifting-costume-drama).

+++

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Margot at the Wedding


Baumbach's exploration of a loving (?), dysfunctional (!), surviving (?) sibling relationship -- includes nuanced, multilayered characters, a particular, believable world of social and geographic relationships, a conflict with rising stakes, and just the right moments stitched together onscreen to create a nuanced, ambivalent observation of a family in transition. With the possible exception of the too-on-the-nose tree-arc-ending, I loved every moment of the story, with particular affection for the performances of the actors and the ability to capture such telling performances on film.

++++1/2

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Rio Bravo


I never would have predicted how much I enjoyed this film -- this Western manages to be more of a buddy movie and a romantic comedy than a shoot-em-up, epic metaphor for foreign relations or imperialism or the triumph of the individual by-way-of a Good versus Evil battle. I found everyone delightful, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson & (!) John Wayne; the screenwriting includes a brilliant marraige of well-constructed plot & characters with long histories and great nicknames.

++++

Monday, June 02, 2008

Shane


A morally ambiguous outsider (Shane) arrives in a tiny settlement town hoping to find some peace and quiet, clearly something he hasn't been experiencing; when it becomes apparent that the peace of this town is premised upon a subtle, inarticulated oppression and tyranny, the stranger takes it upon himself to challenge the status quo, even though it means losing his shot at peace. While I occasionally found the child's performance to be grating and sentimental, the restraint of the rest of the performances, the beautiful construction of the shots and scenes and the patient pace of the movie drew me in, so that the final words (of the child) were both affecting and satisfying.

+++1/2

Forgetting Sarah Marshall


I prefer my laughter to be twinged by sadness, and that seemed to be this film's speciality: a pathetic dumped boyfriend finds out that he is neither pathetic nor lonely, but once the dumping girfriend realizes these things, he may have screwed up a better thing than he had before. The film is driven by story and character, not particularly cinematic to the eye, but definitely built to be watched by a crowd; once again the Apatow crowd manages to make a lewd morality tale, out of a barely-tweaked-formula piece -- the ending is the right length and includes satisfying payoffs, but the fast-foward six months resolution always feels like cheating to me.
+++1/2

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Contempt



Godard's visual style reaches a maturity in this film that invites and requires a patient indulgent viewing: epic vistas, strikingly contrasting compositions, sets so indulgent that they verge on the fanciful, takes so long that they verge on life-as-reality-instead-of-life-as-film. The plot moves slowly and indeterminately, luxuriating in speculation and only hinting toward closure for the most important dramatic questions and, conversely, mocking Hollywood conventions at almost every turn.

+++1/2

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Fix


Ferris Bueller meets Trainspotting in this kinetic 24 hour film about a socially conscious documentarian brother and his drug-addicted brother trying to raise enough money to enter a rehab clinic before the judges orders run out. The beauty of the cinematography, the difficult-but-well-executed narrative style, the menagerie of intriguing characters and the complexity and poetic parallelism of the sibling relationship, all more than overcome the movie's occasionally overly-stylized and on-the-nose moments.

++++

How Ohio Pulled it Off


This documentary chronicles how the 2004 presidential election was compromised and how Ohio voters impeached Kenneth Blackwell, the man ultimately responsible for that compromise in his 2006 bid for senate; in doing so, the film champions the ultimate power of grassroots movements to correct corruption in political processes. The film is well paced, the story is transparently narrated and even though this doc suffers from the (often fatal) problem of being issue-centered instead of focused on one particularly empathic character, it manages to be engaging and intriguing from start to finish.

Site Link

++++

Saturday, March 22, 2008

August The First



When Tunde's father returns after ten years of absence in Africa for a graduation party, the family suspects he's up to no good and together spend the rest of the movie trying to discover his malevolent intention. The diegesis of the gently fading suburban home, the subjective and improvisational photography, the impressively organic editing, the depth of the characters and the (mostly) subtle performances all serve the story well, but after the films midpoint the hysterics go up, the plot twists start to feel contrived and the resolution feels too neat.

++++

Friday, March 07, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly



Schnabel's film beautifully balances the tension between the idea that a long slow death offers both the beautiful opportunity to puzzle over the beauty and meaning of one's life and it offers the tragedy of watching all of your relationships stall and frieze and drift away from your control. The art direction, cinematography and pacing worked together so well that I genuinely forgot myself and the theatre-going several times -- joining my heart and hopes utterly with Jean-Do.

++++1/2

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

My Son the Fanatic



A middle-aged immigrant taxi driver watches in astonishment as his only son becomes an Islamic extremist; his only happiness comes to him through a friendship with a high class prostitute. The perfectly structured story and the inobtrusive production values allow the relationships to lay out a complex and nuanced description of contemporary relationships between idealism and opportunism, between democratic values and traditional values, between blind faith and fractured hope.

++++

Monday, March 03, 2008

Lars and the Real Girl


Who knew that "sweet," "gentle," & "heartwarming" would describe a small northern town supporting the sex-doll delusion for one of it's residents? The performances engaged me, loved the art direction, the cinematography left me disappointed, the premise was astonishing, the actual structure of the story was only good; the stakes never rose after an early decision in the second act, so the emotional plateau the film stalls on feels gentle and heartwarming and even makes a good point about community and collective projections, but lacks the engine that the story could easily have had.

+++

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hoot


The newkid teams up with the local Boo Radley to overcome first the runofthemill schoolyard bully-Goliath, but then the more overwhelming corporate monolith pancake chain; the unwitting aid of Luke Wilson's keystone-cop, barney-fife mostly provides comic relief. The broadly comic performances, production gaffes and unlikely inspirational moments in the third act can be forgiven if the audience is only intended to be eight and under.

++1/2

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Fountain


I admired the cinematography, effects, art design and even the structure of the story (classic narrative to metanarrative to post-narrative), but didn't ever truly emotionally care about the characters or what the stakes were for them. My dispassionate (even rational?) engagement may have been the preferred subject position (a zen point of view? and if that was the intent -- Kudos, Aronofsky!) or it may have been that the slimmest of stories (a woman dies, her husband cannot let go) was overwhelmed by the epic treatment.

+++

Friday, February 15, 2008

Becoming Jane


This film does everything it should do, and well: tells a cinematic story about well-beloved author, focusing carefully upon a pivotal moment in her life and providing insight about her oevre while also honoring the genre that has emerged in other cinematic translations of her works. The script and the direction and the performances may be too carefully appropriate to engage our emotions in a way that transcends the genre, though there are camera sequences (almost always shoulder-mount approaches unusually above the eye level of the actors) which break the generic monotony and give the viewer a moment of genuine interest.

+++

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rocket Science



I'll admit that I'm a sucker for the color-by-numbers indie coming-of-age flick, but this movie so carefully weaves together elements from the fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age & crucible-of-competition genres, while still retaining the neccessary indie cred through soundtrack, an unlikely protagonist, a quite specific (and not a little quirky) world, likeable secondary characters, carefully stylized camera work ...that this movie felt like an almost too-perfect set-up for me.

That Jeffrey Blitz manages to *both* undermine all of our genre expectations in the third act *and* payoff all of our expectations in a fulfilling way is what makes this filmmaking actually seem as hard as Rocket ...

+++++

The Jane Austen Book Club



Within the first few minutes we meet enough characters with enough disparate problems to believe that the film might be a network narrative, but by the time enough of them convene at the book club, we recognize that the story will play out much more like a romantic comedy -- or, indeed, like it's projenitor, a Jane Austen novel. There were only a few moments where I was bumped from the personal and romantic tensions by the careful plotting, the not-so-subtle thematic braiding with Austen's themes, plots and characters; in all I found the dense plotting and complex characters to provide a deeply satisfying romcom experience.

+++1/2

Friday, February 08, 2008

There Will Be Blood


Daniel Plainview calls himself "the third revelation" and by the time he does so, his claim does not seem far fetched: he is the American Dream, he is Oil, he is Capitalism, he is Industry, he is Transportation, he is Advertising, he is Blasphemy who is only too willing to be Baptized for a Profit. That Paul Thomas Anderson manages to infuse a character with such iconicity, such thematic clarity and such tragic purity while telling a simple, straightforward, twist-less story does make this film seem unimpeachable.

++++1/2

Monday, February 04, 2008

Killer of Sheep


Burnett translates the mundane details of a slaughterhouse worker's family and neighborhood into such astonishing cinematic icons that every second of this movie can be watched as a purely aesthetic experience. Because the narrative and the performances also deliver such subtle power, it isn't difficult to discern why this (only recently released to DVD) 1977 film merited such critical accolades, but also seems utterly topical.

+++++

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Making documentary films...

Henry Jenkins interviewed Matt Ogden & this Q & A captured my attention. The degree to which the documentarian pre-structures the formal elements of their films always fascinates me.

One of the striking components of the film is the visual style -- especially your use of still photographs and oversaturated colors. How did these two stylistic choices come about and what do they signal about your relationship to this content?

From the moment the idea came to me, I knew I wanted this to be a visual documentary. In my opinion, a film should look as good as the story its telling. Charlie Gruet, the director of photography and a producer on the film, set out to give a style to the film, and not just shoot willy-nilly. The idea was to make this look cinematic, filmic, like you're watching a narrative film, not a talking head corporate video. All of the verite moments on the boulevard were shot handheld, in a fly on the wall style. The sit down interviews, scenics of Los Angeles, and specialty shots were more set up and art directed. But we didn't make things look "cool" for the sake of it. Each set, if you can call it that, was discussed and reasoned. Superman was interviewed on a vinyl couch against patterned wallpaper as if he was in Martha Kent's country home in the movie or comic book versions of Superman. Batman was shot in a cavernous warehouse (instead of a cave), but you get the point. Batman's past is dark. And we wanted a darker setting for him.

In addition to directing, I also shoot stills and we always shot during production for marketing materials, the website, posters, etc. The idea to use stills within the film didn't come until late in the process. We didn't settle on using still photos for the transitions until a month before we locked picture. We felt the composition of the photos complemented the sit down interviews and helped tell the story.


Haven't seen The Secret Lives of Superheroes yet, but want to.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War


This story admirably articulates a cultural plight in the popular vernacular by telling a story about Afghanistan's overdetermination by the Superpowers of the Cold War through the lens of One Man Facing and Overcoming Insurmountable Odds. The story works best because of the popular vernacular it employs -- the unbearable light of double AA star wattage, the brisk-almost-television writing of Aaron Sorkin, the overly-obvious, conventional and melodramatic orchestral score, the bemused, but lighthanded mise en scene of the 80s; the story fails most in it's fundamental (though admirable!) conceit -- because the stakes of Afghanistan are never personal enough for us to care enough about Tom Wilson's struggle, and conversely the Afghans themselves are never more than set pieces.

+++

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Manhattan Murder Mystery


The first time I saw this movie, it was revolutionary to me -- I had just discovered Woody Allen, and for some reason was able to recognize a number of the brilliant use of directorial conventions that he utilizes in this film -- long takes of overlapping conversation, long takes that sumptuously celebrate the New York locations just as much as the story, the thematic parallelism between the various couples on screen, the allusions to so many classic noir thrillers in the theatre set, the use of intertextuality from Double Indemnity. What a disappointment, to, upon second viewing, realize that this was warmed over Woody Allen at its most tepid: Allen never commits to the genre and to solving the storytelling problems enough, instead choosing to take refuge in his own pre-fab genre as a kind of auto-critique of the genre in which he dabbles; the result? storylines left dangling, long passages of tedious exposition, a laborious and awkward denoument and an embarrassingly Deus Ex Machina revelation / twist in the final moments.

+++ (still! nostalgia counts for something!)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead



While the story drags you violently into and through its chaos, the most the viewer can hope to say is that they see and recognize (narrative and moral) truth amongst all the wreckage, because there's nothing and no one to actually like. While the tight structure of the screenplay, editing and direction are admirable, moments of excess in each threaten the viability of the whole: the IRS audit? really? just *so* happens to be right now? and *must* we see Ethan Hawke do morose *again*? as PSHoffman chews the familiar scenery around him at the bar? (God Bless Them Both Though! Two of my favorite working actors! And generally very heartfelt performances - regardless of how winning they sometimes failed to be...)

+++1/2

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gloomy Sunday



On its surface a film about a delicately balanced successful love triangle, the film opens up into a much more rewarding and tangled story about persistence in the face of great sorrow. The dark, almost comically exaggerated storyline about the potency of the title song buoys the film along at an accessible, melodrama pitch, and ultimately, the final twist (unfortunately?) rewards that broadest audience's expectations in a way that undermines some of the most noble sentiments that Laszlo offers Weick during his send-off at the train station.

+++1/2

Monday, January 21, 2008

Grease



Since my kids have loved High School Musical, the sequel and Hairspray so much, we decided to let them in on this "classic" expecting it to be as earnest as a Disney product and as saccharine. So the artfulness of the direction happily surprised me as did the ironic tone of whole enterprise and the ribald sexual energy eminating from the script and the performers; Grease is still no Hairspray -- individual sexual liberation is a much less ambitious reach than the confrontation of racial and gender discrimination that Hairspray addresses directly and indirectly respectively.

+++

Gabbeh



A rich beautiful small story whose self-conscious storytelling masterfully weaves the formal elements of the telling with the beauty of the gabbeh itself (a traditional rug). The colors, music, repetition of plot points, and gradual revelation of the characters feels both beautiful, but sometimes too performatively exotic and self-conscious, but that feeling may well emit from the position of this viewer more than from the film or its context.

+++1/2

Fiddler on the Roof



A story about globalization, fundamentalism, and xenophobia packaged in a simple story about love and rural Russian Jewish life before the revolution -- what amazes is me is the way that this story manages to articulate a kind of transcendence available both to the traditional and to the revolutionary, through the synthesis of of faithful love. Returning to this classic surprisingly delights with great direction, set design and camera work.

++++

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Walk the Line


This biopic chooses to focus on the relatively modest ten(ish) year time frame of Johnny Cash's life during which he rose to fame and fell in love with June Carter. I developed a real emotional connection to these characters, found the direction and camerawork to be artfully conventional in a way that both pushed the story forward and made me regularly gasp with the beauty captured on the screen; I suppose that my (regularly) waning affection for Johnny Cash (and Joaquim Phoneix?) flows out of the character flaw - his inability to establish an internal locus of control and, in fact, walk-the-line, but everytime he recovered enough of his will to start singing again, my love returned, at least mostly intact.

+++1/2

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Amazing Grace


While the execution of this film was competent at every level, one hopes for more than confidence when watching a movie (*any* movie) especially a movie about the epic battle to end the slave trade. The title reveals the most significant fault line in the movie -- the song "Amazing Grace" juxtaposes divine grace with the profound spiritual (and material) failure of its author, John Newton, the former slave trader; but this story is about the question of whether faithful careful work within an institution is a legitimate spiritual (and material) vocation and whether it might actually produce meaningful social change -- but these two themes are worlds apart and the power of the song to breach this gap in the film is as potent as each instance in which it is sung or played (which is embarrassingly not potent at all)

++1/2