Sunday, May 19, 2013
I saw the crowd getting out from the previous showing. The first group was a young couple. "That was pretty good," the guy said to his girlfriend.
The next couple that walked by me was maybe 45 to 50. The husband turned to his wife and just shrugged his shoulders. It was a nonverbal; "I don't know? What did you think?"
The next and last group that came out were in their late 60s, I would guess. 3 couples.
"Wow. That was the worst movie."
"That has to be one of the worst films ever or I just didn't get it."
"There is no way we could have known how bad that would be."
Such is the nature of a Terrence Malick film. My favorite filmmaker.
I laughed to myself and walked in with high anticipation to see his latest; "To The Wonder."
There has probably never been an audience for a Malick film (at least in his "later" period) that came out and all agreed how great the film was. But, there is probably often that one person who is also quite captivated. I am that one person when I go see his movies.
I was actually the only person in the theater at my 9:45pm showing. And what I saw, while not quite to the lofty heights of some previous Malick films, was still for me a great and enjoyable movie going experience. One that is also fairly easy to understand in my opinion. While still being the type of work that can generate meaningful discussion
Love him or hate him Malick is a legendary director. One that audiences do not flock to but many critics get excited about. With "To The Wonder," the critics have not been kind. And to some extent, I don't understand it. I know Malick isn't for everyone. I know even as he won the Palme d 'Or for his last film, "The Tree of Life," people also booed it at Cannes after its screening. He is divisive. Very.
But I think there is something more to the derision by critics this time around. And it is something he has been hitting on in every film since his first. It is God.
But this time God is loud and clear and its hard to argue its a Christian God and no other. And I think for critics that was finally too much.
This is a film, overtly Christian enough, I feel church groups could get parishioners together to go see it. The reason that hasn't or will not ever happen is because:
A: Its an "art film," (see the comments of the last couples above)
B: Its got sex it in.
The sex part is possibly interesting, being church congregations went in mass to see the extreme violence of "The Passion of The Christ." But I understand.
I don't remember sex scenes in any other Malick film. They give it its R rating, which unlike the well deserved R for "The Passion Of The Christ," here feels a bit silly. I can't think of a tamer R rated film.
Those scenes are not remotely gratuitous They help tell a story of a relationship. And the most loving sex we see in the film, is after the couple has gotten married. Not before. I am not the only one who noticed this.
Film critic for The New Yorker, David Denby: "We don’t need to be chastised with the ideal of Christian love to understand that sex isn’t enough.”
Critics have called the film shallow; which feels to me like the very last thing it is. It's only a thin film if you don't like the message. Which most of them interestingly enough don't mention. This is like reviewing "Friday The 13th," and not mentioning its intended to be scary.
Is an overt Christian message by definition, a thin one? This is what they seem to be saying.
As far as the film itself. I loved it. I continue to have both an understanding of why people don't like Malick films, as well as an "How do they not like this guy's work?" kind of attitude.
I was worried when I heard Ben Affleck was cast (Christian Bale was the original choice). But he is fine for what and who he is meant to be and represent in my opinion. The true accolades for the actors must go to the non American members of the cast. Olga Kurylenko as Marina; you can not take your eyes off her. And my favorite performance is by Javier Bardem as a priest who feels far away from God.
As far as settings go, Mont St. Michael is a wonderful choice.
This is the "Wonder" of the title. Or at least one of them. The early scenes there between Marina and Neil seem to set the stage for everything that comes after.
Once back in America, Neil works as a type of geologist/environmental advocate, taking soil samples of the contaminated neighborhood near his own home. The worried locals, in one scene start following him down the street as if he were literally their savior. Contrast this to Neil and Marina jumping lightly on the mud surrounding Mont St. Michael. It seems a bit perilous and indeed that area is in fact dangerous. But they never fall through. Back in the States, Neil struggles to climb a high mound of dirt, which signifies all of his ongoing struggles at the time, as well as contrasting their earlier "climbing the steps to the wonder."
In fact steps and stairs are a recurring theme.
You might be reminded of Jacob's steps. His stairway or ladder to Heaven.
Later, we see Neil looking up the stairs of the home he shares with Marina. Looking for her as she looks down from above. Neither really wanting to be seen by the other.
Marina being above Neil is not happenstance. Marina seems on a higher spiritual plane; maybe than anyone in the film. Though I argue Bardem's preist, is a sympathetic portrayal. Something actually rare in movies.
Amongst all the classical music and hushed tones is the fact that most of the time these actors are constantly moving.
Something I felt was intentional became reinforced to me by Bilge Ibiri. His theory being "To The Wonder," is really a ballet.
"He wanted his films to break free of typical narrative methods and to adopt a more musical style of discourse. Malick seemed to achieve that with the movement-based structure of The Tree of Life. There, what we were seeing and hearing on screen seemed more often to correlate to the meter of a symphonic movement than to the typical narrative "acts" of a film." (1)
Even when people are not moving fast like Marina, the movements do feel intentional and even akin to dance. As in the scene where Neil and Jane (Rachel McAdams) are out amongst the Bison. Neil and Jane have deliberate head movements. Jane looks everywhere she can but at Neil. Once she finally does look at Neil she quickly averts her gaze, as if she just looked at the sun. It is just one example of literal physical movement telling the story.
The beach as afterlife in "The Tree of Life," might help us better look at this film as well.
This is in many ways the smallest Malick film in scope. And yet there is a lot here to ruminate on and enjoy if one goes into it with the right state of mind.
I believe the reputation of this film (like "The New World" and "The Thin Red Line") will improve over time.
If Malick or this specific film, isn't your thing, I'm ok with that.
But if its something more. If a film concerning God isn't your thing, then let us be honest about that. It does not seem so obvious until you never mention the themes in the first place.
(2) I almost did not write anything on this film, because I see there are more than a few very strong pieces written on it already. For a very strong piece on the film, read Jugu Abraham's review, linked below.
Though I might suggest you read only after you have seen the film.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
2012 was great for the number of strong films. But those few films that did it right in 2011, did it very right. We have a quantity versus quality debate in comparing the last two years. Any of the following films were greater to me, than my #1 of 2012 (which I will continue to defend as a great film).
My favorite film of 2011 was "The Tree of Life." But I talk about Malick enough. 4, 3,2 are all legitimate masterpeices.
4. "Once Upon A Time In Anatolia" (Released Jan 4, 2012 in the USA) But out long before just about everywhere else.
Not unlike #3, it goes at its own pace. But it is a very rewarding experience. Men take a murderer on an all night journey to locate a body. But we know who did the crime from the beginning. Its the journey where insights into each character slowly reveal themselves, that make the film. And one fact about the crime that makes for some good talking points after.
3. "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
The Anti-Bond is George Smiley. Smiley won't be bedding multiple women before shotting the bad guy. I am not even sure he ever holds a gun. What we have here is a taut, intriguing, well acted and directed spy film.
I saw it a second time not too long ago and think I enjoyed it even more. Imagine John Hughes hired Michael Mann to direct a violent yet romantic, touching yet disturbing anti-hero story. The film would fit perfectly into 1983 America. The ode to that time period in film is done expertly. Ryan Gosling deserves to be recognized for more than his good looks. He is a very strong actor.
Nicolas Winding Refnwould won Best Director honors at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Maybe its time to debate how often Cannes gets things right versus the Academy Awards.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Silver Linings Playbook"
"Zero Dark Thirty"
"Life of Pi"
WILL WIN: "Argo"
SHOULD WIN: "Les Miserables"
"Lincoln" has best chance to upset "Argo." Don't care that Affleck is not nominated. It will win, in part for that exact reason.
Best Supporting Actor:
Christoph Waltz "Django Unchained"
Philip Seymour Hoffman "The Master"
Robert DeNiro "Silver Linings Playbook"
Alan Arkin "Argo"
Tommy Lee Jones "Lincoln"
WILL WIN: Tommy Lee Jones
SHOULD WIN: Christoph Waltz (followed closely by Hoffman)
Best Supporting Actress:
Sally Field "Lincoln"
Anne Hathaway "Les Miserables"
Jacki Weaver "Silver Linings Playbook"
Helen Hunt "The Sessions"
Amy Adams "The Master"
WILL WIN: Anne Hathaway
SHOULD WIN: Anne Hathaway (followed closely by Sally Field)
Steven Spielberg "Lincoln"
Michael Haneke "Amour"
Benh Zeitlin "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
David O. Russell "Silver Linings Playbook"
Ang Lee "Life of Pi"
WILL WIN Steven Spielberg
SHOULD WIN Ang Lee (Actually anyone but Spielberg)
Daniel Day Lewis "Lincoln"
Denzel Washington "Flight"
Hugh Jackman "Les Miserables"
Bradley Cooper "Silver Linings Playbook"
Joaquin Phoenix "The Master"
WILL WIN Daniel Day Lewis
SHOULD WIN Daniel Day Lewis
Jackman seems to be the dark horse here for having a shot at an upset. I'd be okay with that. But I was quite impressed with Bradley Cooper. Did anyone else notice he would do a very subtle DeNiro impression at times? As if he was playing DeNiro's son? He impressed me and I hope its not a one time thing
Naomi Watts "The Impossible"
Jessica Chastain "Zero Dark Thirty"
Jennifer Lawrence "Silver Linings Playbook"
Emmanuelle Riva "Amour"
Quvenhane Wallis "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
WILL WIN Jennifer Lawrence
SHOULD WIN Emmanuelle Riva
Chastain seems to have the best shot besides Lawrence. But I think the ridiculous backlash against "Zero Dark Thirty," might hurt her.
Best Original Screenplay:
Quentin Tarantino: "Django Unchained"
Michael Haneke "Amour"
John Gatins "Flight"
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola "Moonrise Kingdom"
Zero Dark Theory "Mark Boal"
WILL WIN Quentin Tarantino
SHOULD WIN Anyone but Gatins feels worthy
Why Tarantino won't win: Too rough of material
Why he will: Oscar voters are getting younger. The material is controversial, but QT is overdue. I think the controversy of "Zero Dark Theory," will hurt Boal just enough
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Chris Terrio "Argo"
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
David Magee "Life of Pi"
Tony Kushner "Lincoln"
David O. Russell "Silver Linings Playbook"
WILL WIN Tony Kushner
SHOULD WIN Magee followed by Russell
WILL WIN "Life of Pi" (because people don't understand Cinematography) But hey it looks great. No tragedy
Best Original Song
WILL WIN Adele "SkyFall"
Sunday, February 17, 2013
But hey why not, here is my take on the (14) best films (of the ones I saw) of 2012
Time travel done in a way you have not quite see it before. While parts of the film are utterly implausible, the filmmakers chose to do their best in addressing the normal time travel problems.
13. "This Must Be The Place"
"This Must Be The Place" is far from a perfect film. But it is original and Penn's performance makes it a film worth seeing. It is a tricky thing to pull off as well as he does. What could have been a tragedy of annoying caricature, turns out to be a truly touching and affecting performance. One of Penn's best moments.
Now let me start with this. "Argo" is a strong film. Ben Affleck's career is definitely headed back in the right direction since he focused on directing. The film has a very strong opening, pretty solid ending and ok middle. It deserves a level of praise. Having said that, I remember walking out thinking, "that's it?" I try not to go into a film with high expectations, but this film has seemed to get such universal acclaim, I was pretty sure it would be great. But for me, it cant quite get itself above "very good." No shame in that at all, but I just don't understand all the critical love.
I think part of the problem is in who Affleck's character is working on saving. Six Americans who escaped the embassy in Iran when it was overrun. They end up hiding out in a rather posh home of the Canadian Ambassador in Iran. We see scenes of how bad the Americans who did not escape the embassy in time, have it. A lot worse than those who did. This is not to say they did not deserve to get out of the country. People were quite intent on hurting them, if they figured out where they were. But Affleck never makes us love these people, and thus care much about them. He seemed to believe the mere fact they were Americans in trouble would be enough. It goes a long way. But it is not enough. Especially when mostly the impression of the 6 are of ungrateful, even spoiled people.
My other complaint might be in Affleck casting himself in the lead. Affleck is fine in the role. I am not here to complain about his acting skills. How bad he has sometimes been has been more in miscasting than anything. But he also is well...not exactly Gary Oldman. Or Hugh Jackman or Daniel Day Lewis or Denzel Washington. Seems like a story like this would have attracted just about any leading man. And having someone more resemble the actual Tony Mendez, a half Mexican who seems a few pounds overweight from pictures at the time, as well as shorter and less Hollywood CIA looking; might have helped the film achieve something higher.
"Argo" is a solid film and a nice step up for Affleck. But it is too soon to hail him king just yet.
The opening sequence of "Flight" is pretty awesome film making. The crash sequence is the most realistic feeling, intense, plane crash scene I have seen since "Cast Away." Which happens to be the last live action film, before this one, by Robert Zemeckis.
"Flight" is similar in many ways to "Cast Away" actually. Denzel Washington gives a predictably great performance. As does just about everyone in the film. The most interesting maybe being Kelly Reilly. Unfortunately the 3rd act, while parts of it are great (grabbing a bottle of liquor is rarely so well filmed) becomes just a bit too much of a public service announcement. And who figured when you get in a jam, the best solution is: snort cocaine?
10. "The Beasts of The Southern Wild"
This is one of those films I can't decide about. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Hey its #10 on my list for crying out loud!
The story is interesting if not a bit manipulative. The director probably would have put onions in the air vents if he thought it would help the audience cry. And he succeeds.
But the reason I was touched as much as anything in the story, was the performances he gets out of the two leads. 6 year old Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy and Dwight Henry as her father. Neither had ever acted before.
A sign of a good director is the performances they get out of their actors. So on that note, this is a very well directed film. While every scene might not work, it is still touching and often original. More often than it is not.
9. "Django Unchained"
Leave it to Tarantino. There is no film I saw this year that has more brilliant moments in it than "Django Unchained." But I have yet to decide if the whole equals the sum of its parts. It is the most difficult film to sit through QT has ever made. And he made "Reservoir Dogs."
Much has been made of the over 100 times we hear the "N-word." I do not find this to be a fair criticism of QT, as its fairly easy to assume this is realistic. But realistic does not make it easier to sit through. Neither does the violence. Usually the violence QT shows is for comedic effect or for people who had it coming. There are 2 scenes in particular in "Django" that this is not the case. But this also shows the horrors of slavery as well as helps flip a switch in one character, from which he can not return.
Whether it is directing, casting, his dialogue or all three; Tarantino has only ever gotten a weak acting performance out of Tarantino. Dicaprio has never been better. Waltz, who won an Oscar for his last Tarantino film, gets another nomination here, and he deserves it. And the most brave performance is by Samuel L. Jackson. I imagine many people would have turned down this role. The Oscars would not have dared given his role a nomination with a ten foot pole. In a way, he is the most despicable villain of all. But Jackson, a former Black Panther, knew it was a role worth taking. It is a brave choice and a brave choice for Tarantino to write in the first place. This is tricky material, easily open to criticism by the likes of the racist Spike Lee.
But its not just a slave kicking racist ass that is empowering. Tarantino uses his humor to specifically attack the KKK by way of almost a Looney Tunes sketch. It is extremely funny, while also about as big a middle finger to the Klan I have seen.
As much as I think of parts of "Django" in such high regard, it does not feel completely finished. Maybe this is because it is the first film QT has made without editor Sally Menke (she died shortly before filming). QT would often talk of them as a team. As in stating the opening scene of "Inglorious Basterds" is the best thing we have ever done." QT is a rather brilliant director. But he needs to find another brilliant editor.
8. "The Impossible"
Don't watch the trailer! If you have seen the trailer for this film, you have pretty much seen the film. But no, the film is still worth watching, even if you know all that will happen. Naomi Watts is great and gets deserved praise for the role. All the children are equally good as well. But it is actually Ewan McGregor who is the best thing about the film. He pulls off one of the most effective phone calls I have ever seen.
It's a simple story. But a true one and a touching and sad one. Nice almost subtle touches by the director elevate it above what it would have been.
7. "Silver Linings Playbook"
One of the most fun and entertaining films of the year. It doesn't hurt the performances are so good. Who knew Bradley Cooper had these acting chops? Jennifer Lawrence has shown skills before and is the perfect bi-polar foil to Cooper. We knew Robert Deniro could act, but he hasn't reminded us of that fact very much in the last 20 years.
Fun, layered. All date films should be this well done.
6. "Life of Pi"
See it with a few friends. A story well told, that gets you talking afterwards.
The scariest film of all. Because people age. These things happen. They might happen to us. Not something you want to think much about usually, when watching a movie.
Entertaining? Depends how you look at it. Great performances? Check. Great directing choices? Absolutely. A piece of art? That's fair. A fun time to be had by all? Well...no.
Which raises an interesting, great art versus entertainment question. Usually great art to me is entertainment. And something as wanting to merely entertain, as a Bond film, can achieve something akin to art if done well enough.
Which leads to...
Maybe the best Bond film ever. This is the Bond film I have always been waiting for. You can still have Bond get out of an impossible situation and immediately fix his cuffs. But this is not campy Bond. This is exciting and semi believable (as much as Bond could ever be). Judi Dench as M, has practically as much screen time as Daniel Craig. It is her and Bond's relationship that elevates the film. And Javier Bardem is one of the best Bond villains ever. Easily the best since the days of Connery. Sam Mendes might have made the (overrated) Oscar winning, "American Beauty." But this is his best film.
Oh and Adele's song is the best Bond theme since "Live and Let Die." Can that girl do any wrong right now?
3. "The Perks Of Being A Wallflower"
See my post below. This is the best kind of high school teen angst film. Having read the book after, it was interesting to see how the director (who is also the author and script writer) made changes here and there. I think the changes were good choices. I liked the film even better than the book.
2. "Zero Dark Thirty"
It is quite an achievement when you end a film with a sequence which everyone knows how it will end; and yet it is still edge of your seat gripping entertainment. The end sequence takes 18 minutes, just the same length of time the raid actually lasted. It follows just as it happened, as best as we know. Jessica Chastain's constant strong resilience make the very last shot all the more effective.
As good as "Argo" is, this is the far superior CIA/Terrorists related film. The people who give out awards right now are letting personal feelings get in the way, and it's a shame. This is a balanced film. I have a hard time believing all the detractors against it showing '"torture" have seen the film.
1. "Les Miserables"
Go ahead, scoff! A musical?! A few years ago, Hollywood was so wanting to give out awards to any musical, it gave the pretty bad "Chicago" a ton of awards, including the Best Picture Oscar. Now I feel like they are doing a 180. Not recognizing enough what an achievement this film is.
Would this be #1 on my list if I had ever seen the musical before? I don't know. I would sometimes say "Oh, this song is from this?" Is every singing performance the best vocals ever? Probably not.
Could Rex Harrison ever sing?
But they have to be among the best acted. Jackson is great. Hathaway will probably win the Oscar and I would be more than fine with that. Just great performance after great performance. It might lag a bit here and there. But never for too long. People might have to fall in love a bit too quickly even by film standards. It might be indeed far from perfect. But this is a film meant to be enjoyed with an audience.
While I am fine seeing almost any film in an otherwise empty theater, "Les Miserables" was a kind of communal enjoyment. To be touched by a scene and hear a woman say "wow" a few rows over.
Is it manipulative? Absolutely. So is "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and so is "Lincoln."
In most films, that manipulation bothers me. In this one, I just enjoyed the ride.
I left a few films in 2012 with that feeling that my feet were just an inch or so off the ground.
This was one of them.
The easy worst films that I saw would be "Wanderlust" and "This Means War." But I didn't have much high expectations for those either. I at least went in expecting more of the following:
"The Master" is not the worst film of the year. But it is the most disappointing. The acting is all solid and I would even be fine with someone winning an acting Oscar. There are also moments of greatness. The scene where Hoffman goes through his auditing process with Phoenix is one of the best scenes of any film all year. If only the rest of the film could have been near that high level.
As it is, it is a whole bunch of fury, signifying very little. Critics who love it say what it is about is irrelevant (cuz they don't know either). And I agree. A film is not about what it is about but how it is about it. But how "The Master" is about itself, is a rather nonsensical mess with no true narrative. And at the end of the day, you still need a narrative. As big a deal as Paul Thomas Anderson has become as a filmmaker, this script was rejected and reworked for years. They should have given it a few more years to get it right.
Not a bad film. But when you have Anthony Hopkins playing Alfred Hitchcock, you want a great one. And its far from it.
"This is 40"
Judd Apatow. I just realized, I guess I just am not much of a fan of yours. I joked to friends it should have been called "This is 40 Minutes Too Long." There are some good performances, notably by Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Jason Segal. But these are not the lead characters. And no Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are not bad in the lead roles, they are just kind of dull. The script meanders and really never goes anywhere. I saw 2 clips in the trailer that I thought were funny. Neither made it into the finished film. Apatow had wayyy to much footage. Could have been a great 30 minute short film. As it was, I was just waiting for it to end. It never seemed like it would. Not what you want for 9 dollar ticket plus price of popcorn.
I can forgive historical inaccuracies if they have a purpose. It is, after all, a movie.
I am fairly certain people in Revolution Era France did not sing every conversation.
But sometimes a director is a little too obvious in making his point. Subtlety has no always been Spielberg's strong suit. Basking Lincoln in light where he looks like an angel, from the first scene we see the president, is one example. Easily forgivable if he didn't keep going back to it.
The black soldier drowning a confederate soldier in the opening scene is not subtle. I fully get that black soldiers fought in the war. That in "Lincoln," the black soldiers appear to make up 80% of the Union Army, seems a bit much. That it is a bunch of black Union soldiers greeting the Southern Representatives looking to negotiate peace, seems like it would have to be true to be in the film, it is so unbelievable. Turns out it didn't happen. Which shows the points Spielberg did not trust his audience to get on their own.
Daniel Day Lewis is unsurprisingly very good in the lead role. I am not sure anyone could have done better. Most all of the performances are strong. But the film these fine actors are in, is not worthy of them. And it is mostly Spielberg's fault.
The script is far from perfect. But I think it is the ridiculous first moment we see President Lincoln that bothered me the most. Critic's who complain for the over the top nature of "Les Miserables," should not get allowed to ignore the ridiculousness of this moment.
As much as the story is oversimplified: Lincoln and his supporters non-racist. The South and everyone who doesn't support Lincoln; racist. This was a mistake in the filmmakers thinking this would make the film simpler to digest.
In reality, Lincoln was a man that while he might have felt slavery was wrong; there is strong evidence to suggest (his own words) he also felt black people were inferior. This dichotomy would have made for a much more interesting main character; albeit one that maybe would not have been bathed in light on the few occasions the cinematographer gives us any at all.
At one point Lincoln tells his black servant, "I don't know your people." It is the most honest and one of the best written moments in the film. But it is not enough. Instead we get a Gandhi like man; when the reality of the man and what he accomplished in becoming this saint like figure, would have been a far more interesting, as well as honest depiction.
By ignoring such honesty's, Spielberg becomes guilty of the worst movie sin of all. The film is often just boring.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
Now I have had my share of life to deal with since becoming an adult. Money problems, family issues as parents and other family members get older. I would not say adulthood is easy. Because I guess for most of us, life in general is not easy. And as many fond memories I have of those teenage years, I would not for a second want to go back to that time. Yes maybe to do many things differently. But then I'd probably just redo the same mistakes over by making new ones.
The teenage years are tougher than being an adult. That's my opinion. Something like 85% of people that commit suicide do it by age 25. It can feel like a survival of the fittest, and we know early enough words like "fair" are not relevant.
I suppose I was on the fringe. Never one of the "popular" kids, I also usually made friends fairly easily. Friends that I still have today, even if 3 hour phone calls about life's biggest issues are a thing of the past. I would not trade those friendships in for anything. The ones I made in those awkard years, also seeming in my head as some of the most special. Maybe because we shared that teenage angst that served Kurt Cobain so well (for a time). Like friends made in the military; we have that bond of making it through something together. We made it through a cliquey, classist high school experience in where what your last name was, was as important as anything else. (And we did not have the proper last names)
And in those times you cling on to certain pop culture together. I remember us watching "Dazed and Confused" as well as "Reality Bites," 3 or 4 times each in the course of one day. REM's "Out of Time," U2's "Achtung Baby" and Pink Floyd's "The Wall' seemed to have many of life's answers in them, if we just listened hard enough. And while in the dark. Cat Stevens was also good after watching "Harold and Maude" for the 10th time. The majority of music we would discover as most important to us, being 10 plus years old We did not do drugs in the strict sense. But alcohol would make us even more knowing and deep in these moments.
Especially if Peter Gabriel's "San Jacinto" or "Family Snapshot" were playing.
When you are a teenager everything is drama. But while that all seems so hilarious now, it does not make that drama less real.
So we cling to shared experiences. Mix tapes made that show our love for people that our own words could not express. I would sign off on those lengthy almost nightly phone conversations with my best female friends with "I love you." Often they would say it first. It is just what we said before "goodbye," because well for one thing, we meant it. We did love one another. Though not a romantic love, we could still express in that way, what our friendship meant to one another.
Now when I talk to these same friends, I can not quite say "I love you" anymore before I say "goodbye." All of us being married, it might sound awkward. Even though those feelings are all still there somewhere, if in slightly less dramatic ways.
Many writers are drawn to the teenage/high school stories. Because it is this angst that so often creates artists. They simply are not always done very well, which seems rather tragic. Some films we build up better than they are or were. Watch "St. Elmo's Fire" again. Did you love it in your youth? Actually don't watch it again. Remember what you might have thought of it once. It has not aged well, and in reality was never very good in the first place.
Too many of these films seem written by someone who can never truly capture the high school experience. How is that possible? They get the cliches, but miss the emotional experience. So I want to cheer after seeing television shows like "Freaks and Geeks," and "My So Called Life." Maybe appropriately those shows lasted about 12 episodes each. The characters forever look the age they are supposed to look.
Last night I saw a "high school" film. And I almost did not get to because of those issues adults face. I got away after a long day at the store I own. Decided to go to a nice dinner with the wife (cuz we had a coupon). Then to go see "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." A film neither myself or the wife knew much about, and purposefully so.
We got the tickets (cuz we had a coupon) then went to dinner. Then in the middle of the meal, adult problems called my cell phone.
"Matt I accidentally pulled the fire alarm in the store and I can not get it to turn off." (Huh. Ok)
"Call 911 and tell them its a false alarm."
Then I called my property manager. Who goes to investigate and calls me back with, "I don't know why its going off or what to do." (Huh)
I try to get the check as quickly as possible. I make numerous calls back to the store, all with the alarm blaring in the background. Finally I convince the fire department to come investigate and help me. I beat them there by about 1 minute. We figure it all out.
Can we still make this movie?
We race back and get in. The 20 minutes of previews being our grace to see it from the beginning. And what followed was a film I would have loved as a teenager. It was also a film I loved as a 37 year old man. I had that nice light uplifted feeling upon exiting the theater. I think the writer/director experienced high school too once upon a time.
"All of my previous selves still survive somewhere inside of me, and my previous adolescent would have loved "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." The movie has received glowing reviews, and some snarky ones that seem to have been written by previous adults." -Roger Ebert
The story is set up by rising high school freshman Charlie, writing an unknown person. And almost subconsciously, it feels like Charlie's memories inside his head we are witnessing. Some things maybe looking better by memory. Time and clocks are shown more than a couple times. In the very beginning, Charlie comments on how many days before he will be finished with high school; and put that way it does seem like a life sentence.
Charlie eventually makes a friend in the senior Patrick, by calling him by his name, instead of "nothing" as a shop teacher once called him. "Nothing," stuck as a moniker. Charlie then meets Patrick's step-sister, Sam, played by Emma Watson. I don't know how good an actor Watson is, maybe its even too early to know. But she is perfectly cast here. She must play someone easy to fall in love with; (as Charlie falls for her almost immediately). And she pulls that off rather effortlessly. Not a bad quality in any actor.
I won't say too much more as to not spoil the story.
You have some of the high school cliches. But they are often cliches for the many truths in them. But these are easily forgiven by the strong execution. The script is based on the book, both being written by the same guy, Stephen Chbosky. He also directed the film, so obviously he feels close to the material. Set in a time in which I was also in high school, I liked the subtle but accurate touches of the time period. (The Mexican influenced multi colored pull-over a character wears, that I had almost the exact same version of)
Charlie makes a mix tape for Sam to show his feelings for her. The Smiths being the type of sad music that speaks to teenagers of the time period. Gift giving is shown as accurately important amongst these friends. (How my friends always stressed over the perfect Christmas gift to give one another. Now I try my best to get out of this tradition with family) An older college student takes the tape out during a party and says, "enough of the depressing music."
Like there was any other type of music to listen too?
Almost every main character and minor character has pain. We see something or know of something rather major that they have dealt with or are still working through. While this is not always caused by parents, its usually caused by adults in their life. But we don't really see any monster adults. (And Charlie's parents seem ideal) This is not about the adults. It is how the adolescents deal with what the adults have done to them. And try to hold on and not let that time tick away, in between becoming them. While at the same time getting through this time called adolescence in one piece.
The movie might feel sentimental or sappy in parts. But it is a sentiment that is real to you when you are that age. Something maybe some older critics have indeed forgotten. Because for the sentimental parts, nothing felt false either. Nothing is exactly wrapped up in a shiny bow. We don't know what happens of Charlie or Sam or Patrick 15 years from now. We just have the happy ending of trying to hold on to one moment. Moments we indeed wish were 'infinite.'
And maybe with our best memories, they indeed are.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Before a Mormon woman wrote the insanely popular "Twilight" books, the biggest author writing of vampires was a staunch atheist named Anne Rice. And her vampires didn’t exactly sparkle in the sunlight.
She began writing not of vampires as much, but of Jesus. In 2004 she stated, she would "write only for the Lord." And she found success with these books, as she had with her previous writing.
Then, on July 29, 2010, she stated she was no longer a Christian.
"Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
In her reasons for quitting, Rice says she disagrees with many of the views of Christians. She cites as one example for her decision, an article written by a Catholic Priest that states that: "Abortion and homosexual acts are unequivocally intrinsic moral evils."
But he also writes, "I urge all of the Catholic faithful to treat homosexuals with love, understanding, and respect. At the same time, never forget that genuine love demands that we seek, above all, the salvation of souls. Homosexual acts lead to the damnation of souls."
I suppose since she cites this man as a reason (among others) then we could debate if the statement is true or biblical. But that would do little. If you agree or disagree you probably wont be swayed by some blogger with 8 (and counting!) followers.
So one question might be, is disagreeing with what some Christians think on one or two topics, enough to leave Christianity altogether?
Maybe to some the topic is too huge, too important to stay in the church. Ok. But members within the church have disagreed on this topic for years, and still often worship together, knowing they agree on so much as to still be brothers and sisters in Christ.
We are all sinners, be it homosexual, heterosexual, or just metro sexual. A stance as a "pro life" or "pro gay" Christian doesn't make you a non sinner. The point of labeling yourself as a Christian is to tell people, I AM a sinner, but it is Jesus Christ that forgives me and loves me anyway.
Rice also mentioned members of the Westboro Baptist Church in her renouncing Christianity. To me this is like citing the KKK as a reason for hating all white people, or removing all crosses everywhere. Surely she would condemn people for saying all Muslims are hate filled terrorists because of a handful of them. Why not give her own (former) religion the same compensation?
But after all, "Christianity" is just a word. Just a label. Right?
Can we still follow Christ and not call ourselves Christians; because some of those guys are messed up wackadoos; but hey, not me!?
I remember when I considered stopping my love of the Dallas Cowboys when they acquired the player Terrell Owens. I didn’t like Owens, he had a history with our team, and I did not like the fact he was now on it. I wanted to align myself with a team in which I could root for and like most of the players.
People said I was not a “true fan” for letting this one issue make me consider switching my allegiance. Now he is long gone and I root for them same as always. Even though I nearly denounced my fandom for a football team, it was after all, just a football team. I would never think to denounce Jesus Christ because some crazies who claim to be Christians, don’t make us look good.
Shouldn’t “true” fans get over the fact that not everyone in our group is someone we might hang out with regularly?
Remember, the Church is important to God. Can we honestly withdraw from the church and still be followers of Christ it means so much to Him?
Father Robert Barron says he does not think what Rice is doing is actually possible. To "follow Christ but leave the church."
"The church is not an organization primarily, it is an organism. It's a living body."
John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Barron also mentions how God says "Saul, why do you persecute me?" Saul is going to persecute the church, not God specifically. "That's the intimate connection between the head and his mystical body," says Barron.
Followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch [acts 11:26] because their behavior, activity, and speech were like Christ. It was originally used by the unsaved people of Antioch as a kind of contemptuous nickname used to make fun of the Christians. It literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or an “adherent or follower of Christ.”
That sounds pretty good. I embrace that title even as I fall far short of deserving it.
Why should we want to distance ourselves or apologize for 'belonging to the party of Christ"?
Jay Bakker, one of the more well known "Hipster Preachers" of today has as his church motto, "Religion Kills." He famously put as an ad for his church, “'As Christians, we are sorry for being self-righteous judgmental bastards.'" Revolution NYC: A church for people who have given up on church.”
Christianity has enough detractors. It feels to me like Bakker and others way of reaching out is saying "its ok to hate us, we kind of hate us too." I have heard Bakker speak both in person and in talks online. I never feel lifted up. While that could be looked at as just a preference of style, I feel it is because you sense his dislike for the "group" he belongs to. His disgust for fellow Christians who disagree with him on these social issues is palpable, even when he isn't talking about them; though he talks about them a lot.
Most hipsters enjoy Bob Dylan. He needs to hear one of Dylan's great lyrics..."Serve God and be Cheerful."
He preaches tolerance and seems completely intolerant of Christians; who have reached an honest and studied opinion that happens to differ from his own.
Christians are often targets in this world. But a big problem with that is, we often seem to paint the bullseye on our chest and tell others to shoot.
This fad of Christians apologizing for being Christian; is it what Jesus would want from us? To apologize for being something that literally says we are followers of Christ?
We are so PC and apologetic to not offend anyone, we are ok with denying who we are.
Then by standing for everything we indeed stand for nothing and have an apostate religion.
How easy is it to be fishers of men when asked if we are Christian, we must say..."well kind of, I mean no, but, see..."
How much respect do people have for us when we seem to not even want to admit to following what should be the most proud thing in our lives?
“Yeah I’m a Christian, but I'm not like those. You can like me. I don’t mind how you act or what you do, if that's what it takes.”
"But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become." -Anne Rice
I agree that Christ is most important. But who has ever said that being a Christian means following you or me? You try to be a good example, but if following someone was all it took, no one would need Christ.
I remember Bono being interviewed once, in where he said he did not feel worthy to be called a Christian. He was "inspired to be worthy of the word." He also said before and after this interview that he was in fact a Christian, he was not denouncing anything. He just felt the word was so big as to hope to be worthy of it. This feels to me to be the antithesis of Rice's conclusion.
Bono feels he is not worthy of Christianity. Rice feels Christianity is not worthy of her.
Does Rice not see the Christians she has left as worthy of her tolerance, acceptance and love? Gifts she has given to others.
But if Rice continues to reject us Christians, that’s fine. We should make sure we do not reject her. As Father Robert Barron says to Rice, “Come back, come home. Cuz we need you."
It is one label worth having.
Sorry, that's just how I feel.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Melancholia is the latest film from Lars von Trier. The film is broken up into 2 sections, one titled Justine, the Kirsten Dunst character and the other section titled Claire, who is Justine's older sister, played by Charlotte Gainsborough.
It is a film I decided I had to get through, even though I found it at times boring, poorly written and regarding one minor character, poorly acted.
I had about given up when I then sat down to watch the second half and be quite captivated. I found the second half to be well written, extremely well acted by everyone; enthralling even. And actually it made me understand and appreciate the first half more.
Treir is so into his actors improvising that I think some of them in the wedding reception scene are better at it than others. While much of the film is so drawn out, in other moments Treir decided "Ok lets show she has a mean mother" and the mother who we have never seen before, stands up and gives a ludicrously mean speech. Ludicrous at a wedding reception, even by mean mother character standards. Then we never see her again. For such a paced film this felt like Trier realizing, "oh crap I forgot the mean mother character! Quick say something mean right now!"
But the film is called "Melancholia," not "Subtlety."
Justine and Claire are sisters but they have different accents. Is Justine adopted? I suppose this doesn't matter. I wonder if it was intentional to show their contrast. Actually there are different accents throughout the reception.
I read that originally Penelope Cruz was cast in this role but had to back out due to a scheduling conflict. I think this is fortunate. While Cruz is a decent enough actress I don't think we would have gotten with her what we got out of Dunst. The slow progression of happy to sad before our eyes.
I felt with Melancholia, a similar way I felt about Orson Welles', The Trial. Captivating and nearly unwatchable would be words to describe both of these films. Where Melancholia got me was the Claire character realizing that a larger planet was going to crash into Earth and her reaction as well as how Justine reacts. Oh, did I mention that? That adds some tension to everything and explains a bit, the odd behavior of people in the first half of the film, even if experts are telling the public the planet will skirt by, but miss.
Treir, who has suffered from depression, said he got the idea for the film when at one therapy session he was told depressed people handle stressful situations better than other people.
But this is not a big budget Hollywood version of a disaster film. It is drama told in a fairly unique way. Like the drama of a quiet independent film, and well the world is gonna end in a minute too. There is that.
I have seen people running and screaming in the streets enough. I haven't seen 3 people all alone trying to face this, sitting on a golf course.
Claire is caregiver to her sister Justine; who is so depressed by the second half of the film, as to almost be catatonic.
By the end of the film the roles are reversing themselves. Justine is the calm sister who knows how to calm her young nephew and to a smaller extent Claire down as well. Maybe because she knows what the end of the world feels like. She, unlike them, experiences it almost every day.
I don't think I can yet call myself a Trier fan. But after seeing 3 of his films now, if someone asks if I like or dislike him as a director, I can answer honestly; "yes."