Archives For Movies

The other night I watched the movie “The Place Beyond the Pines” directed by Derek Cianfrance starring Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper.

The movie is depicted in three different acts. The first two acts cover the same generation but focus on two different characters. The third act fast-forwards 15 years, examining the fate of their lives.

This lets the viewers see the consequences and results of actions. More specifically in most movies death is portrayed as something viewers quickly get over, usually in the matter of seconds. But this entire movie is based around the domino effects of one life being extinguished.

The movie accurately portrayed the agony of death, even if the person is seen as a menace to society. Life is a gift and one person being robbed of theirs has thousands of ripple effects that are impossible to calculate.

In the same vein, taking a life (even accidentally) is not portrayed in this movie as something one can simply go and have a beer after. The psychological trauma is portrayed well by the actor even 15 years later.

Another way to splice the movie is in two, with the famous line in the move as a description of the two halves. “If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.” The first half is lightning, the second half is the thunder, the after effects.

The strong bond between fathers and sons is powerfully depicted. The director did something with the relationship between Ryan Gosling, his son, and Eva Mendes that is hard to put into words. The photograph that resurfaces in the movie is laden with emotion. When viewers experience the same emotion as the actors have when a picture is displayed, you know the director has done their job well.

Viewers should pay attention to the work of Gosling and Cooper who offer differing views of masculinity with weakness. Gosling is cool, self-possessed, and has a romantic view of himself. But there are also hints of childlike vulnerability shown when he finds out he has a son, and when he raises his voice to almost a shriek in the middle of stickups.

Cooper’s outward life looks like he has it all put together. He is a hero-cop with a nice family. But inwardly there is turmoil and confusion. His marriage is on the rocks and his father is always pressuring him towards politics. As one reviewer says, “the sins of these two complicated fathers are visited on their sons.”

The director successfully laced the same theme music from father to son which created this unconscious pairing. The song is beautiful, dark, and slow. The scene in the third act gave me chills when Robin tells Luke’s son “You’re calling him back!” and it cuts to him riding like his dad with Snow Angel playing in the background.

The movie is not without its faults. It goes on a little too long and there is some overacting towards the end.

But it has a way of hitting a thoughtful emotive sweet spot, and that should be celebrated.

 

 

Man of Steel

April 16, 2013 — 1 Comment

If you know me, you know that I am not a junkie for superhero movies.

There have been a few surprises (think Batman), but otherwise we have about 10 years of forgettable material.

The new Man of Steel trailer is now out and I can’t help but think this may shift some planets for the superhero genre.

Time will tell but watch it for yourself. Not the typical cheese sauce.

Previously I posted a Guardian article which chronicles the way Superman has adapted to changing times. The author says that this Superman may be darker than we remember, but Superman has always adapted to his environment.

After the second world war broke out, he changed his slogan from fighting for “truth and justice” to fighting for “truth, justice and the American way”. That continued during the 1950s, when he became a symbol of muscular American patriotism which could do no wrong.

But as the nation grappled with the turmoil of the 1970s and embraced a more diverse culture, Christopher Reeve gave Superman more human qualities. In Richard Donner’s 1978 film version of the comic book saga, self-sacrifice suddenly became part of Superman’s appeal.

That continued through to the 2006 movie starring Brandon Routh when, with an evangelical Christian in the White House and much talk of the war on terror being a conflict with Islam, Superman was depicted almost as a Christ-like figure. Even as recently as this year, the latest DC Comics story had Superman pack in his newspaper job to start a blog.

“Superman changes with remarkable rapidity and yet manages to paradoxically project an idea of unchanging virtue,” said Professor Benjamin Saunders of the University of Oregon, author of an academic study of superheroes called Do The Gods Wear Capes?

mos_poster2Hannah and I watched a documentary on James Bond and the same theme was present. During the excess years the gadgets of Bond were over the top. Now in the last movie with the recession, his only gift was a gun and a locator. He used to be fighting the Russians, and now he is fighting terrorists.

Bond adapts with the times like Superman.

Harris appropriately closes his article with this reflection.

In the end, perhaps it does not matter how Snyder directs Man of Steel in 2013. He can take Superman in a darker direction, he can bring out a movie more suited to the arthouse cinemas than the multiplexes. He can make him represent the ominous and confusing world of 2013. But in the end the more he changes the more Superman stays the same.

For Superman is not just some sort of unique being flying high above us. In the projection of our desires, hopes and fears, Superman is us.

Is Depiction Endorsement?

January 17, 2013 — 3 Comments

ZERO-DARK-THIRTY_510x317I really enjoyed this article from Brett McCracken on Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained. He writes about a filmaker’s responsibility and argues that depiction is not always endorsement.

From some angles, the suggestion that artistic depiction is endorsement appears ludicrous. A cursory survey of art history reveals as much. Caravaggio was clearly not endorsing the behavior of the Roman soldiers in his paintings of Christ’s passion, for example. And then there’s the entire tradition of social realist art which intends depiction for the very opposite of endorsement: for chastisement or expose. Courbet’s The Stone Breakers and any number of Ken Loach films, for example, do not depict poverty and inequality so as to endorse their existence; rather they depict them to bring awareness to egregious conditions and abominable injustices.

But the depiction of “the ugly” in art as means to bring about reform is one thing. Should artists be given free pass to depict the extremes of ugliness (torture, unspeakable gun violence, hundreds of uses of the “n” word) when their only purpose is to convey a purported verisimilitude to the “reality” of the world in which their story is set?

In short, yes. I believe that insofar as an artist honestly sets out to tell a story that is truthful (to the world in which it is set, to the real struggles of its characters), then it is their right and even obligation to not shield us from the darker elements. As I wrote recently in Relevant Magazine, “Something about the way the world is (that is: difficult, risqué, R-rated) tells us that to be truthful, art must grapple with darkness. As filmmaker Akira Kurosawa once said, ‘The artist is the one who does not look away.’”

For me, it all comes down to whether the artist is in the business of seeing the world more clearly and thus focusing the audience’s gaze on a reality in the truest since.

 

Favorite Movies of 2012

January 16, 2013 — 1 Comment

poster_moviesHere are my top 10 movies of 2012 in order. Below I have a list of the ones I did not see, but that I heard were good. Let me know if I missed any.

  1. Zero Dark Thirty (best review by Paul Miller)
  2. The Dark Knight Rises
  3. Django Unchained (my reflections)
  4. Argo
  5. The Hobbit (thoughts)
  6. Skyfall
  7. Lincoln
  8. Les Misérables
  9. Moonrise Kingdom (review)
  10. Bernie

Did Not See

  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Life of Pi

 

django-unchained-poster__span

Quentin Tarantino has a cult following. Reservoir Dogs (1992) put him on the map. Jackie Brown (1997) Pulp Fiction (1992), and the Kill Bill’s made (2003-4) his career. Now he has produced movies such as Inglorious Basterds (2009), and most recently Django Unchained (2012).

Tarantino is known for his violence, use of language, and his distinctive art form. He can turn mundane lifeless scenes into ones of great interest. Clever dialogue replaces old cliches. Unorthodox music fades in, and unexpected scenes unfold.

Clearing the Ground

Django has received much blow back. The ever crabby Spike Lee refused to watch it and said “The only thing I can say is it’s disrespectful to my ancestors, to see that film.” Rod Dreher called it a revenge fantasy, that he will take no pleasure in. The Daily Beast reports how Tavis Smiley criticized the movie for how it flubs the history of American slavery. There has also been quite a bit of discussion about the use of the “N” word repeatedly throughout the movie.

Each of these critiques could be responded to in kind.

The most interesting and useful critique (from someone who did not see it) was from Dreher. But not in the vein of the Ta-Nehisi Coates kind. Coates observations are right, but in the wrong context. Coates says:

Among those truths, for me, is the relative lack of appetite for revenge among slaves and freedmen. The great slaughter which white supremacists were always claiming to be around the corner, was never actually in the minds of slaves and freedman. What they wanted most was peace.

It was the same with my studies of the Underground Railroad. If you read William Still’s compendium of escapes, you find very few revanchists.

Like I said he is right, historically. The problem is Tarantino is not interested in writing history.

Rather he wants to make a movie, with history as a backdrop. He is making movies with well known historical backgrounds; WW2 and American slavery, two of the great tragedies in modern history. He loves this scenery because right and wrong are unmistakeable, and the revenge becomes a form of re-writing history for justice.

Typological Justice

Back to Dreher. He says:

I’m not interested in revenge fantasies in large part because I’m susceptible to the cathartic pleasures involved in vengeance…To be clear, I’m not talking about justice or necessity, either of which could require exacting payback. I’m talking about taking pleasure in vengeance. I’m a lot more interested in individuals or communities who decide not to seek vengeance, but rather peace, forgiveness, reconciliation.

I like what Dreher is saying and I am in agreement with him, to a certain extent.

Where I disagree is that I think there is a sense in which we can take pleasure in justice, even at times in the form of revenge.

Jonathan Edwards has a sermon about justice and says that we should not glory in revenge in this life, but rather we will rejoice in it on the judgment day. While we are on this earth we should yearn for everyone to repent and not face the judgment of God.

Edwards is right. However while watching a movie I think we can typologically rejoice in the fact that evildoers are reaping what they sow. If we are image bearers of God, then we have to agree with him in some respect when he says through David in the Psalms

O LORD, God of vengeance,
O God of vengeance, shine forth!

Rise up, O judge of the earth;
repay to the proud what they deserve! (Ps 94:1-2)

Or when David is speaking of his enemies in Psalm 109 he requests that a wicked man is appointed against him (Ps 109:6). Or in Psalm 35 David says:

Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me;
fight against those who fight against me!

Take hold of shield and buckler
and rise for my help!

There are many more verses along these lines.

To be clear, I am saying we are viewing this depiction of vengeance in the movie as a foretaste of what will happen on the last day to all those who have rapped, pillaged, mistreated, enslaved, tortured image bearers and have not repented.

The Last Day

The Bible says vengeance is the Lord’s. We should not take vengeance on our enemies, but as Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

However we will stand in the last day and look to the great white throne and as he pours out all his furious wrath on those who have rejected him we will say, “What the Lord does is right.”

I would even argue that in some sense, we will take pleasure in the Lord’s just actions.

I realize not everyone will agree with this, and it is not popular.

But I cannot escape the Psalms that speak this way, or the sense of justice that swells up in me when a disturbingly wicked person gets their due on the screen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

mos_poster2With the upcoming release of the newest Superman, Man of Steel, the Guardian has an article about the way Superman has adapted to changing times.

After the second world war broke out, he changed his slogan from fighting for “truth and justice” to fighting for “truth, justice and the American way”. That continued during the 1950s, when he became a symbol of muscular American patriotism which could do no wrong.

But as the nation grappled with the turmoil of the 1970s and embraced a more diverse culture, Christopher Reeve gave Superman more human qualities. In Richard Donner’s 1978 film version of the comic book saga, self-sacrifice suddenly became part of Superman’s appeal.

That continued through to the 2006 movie starring Brandon Routh when, with an evangelical Christian in the White House and much talk of the war on terror being a conflict with Islam, Superman was depicted almost as a Christ-like figure. Even as recently as this year, the latest DC Comics story had Superman pack in his newspaper job to start a blog.

“Superman changes with remarkable rapidity and yet manages to paradoxically project an idea of unchanging virtue,” said Professor Benjamin Saunders of the University of Oregon, author of an academic study of superheroes called Do The Gods Wear Capes?

Someone needs to put this illustration in a book on the “historical Jesus” and draw correlations to the many Jesus’ that have been adapted through the centuries. Many of these reconstructions of Jesus have elements of truth, but overemphasize one characteristic over another.

Paul Harris asks, “So what will the Superman of 2013 look like?” He suggests we might get a hint from the trailer where after saving a bus full of schoolmates from drowning, a traumatised teenage Clark confronts his stepfather, who is worried he has revealed his true nature. “What was I supposed to do? Just let them die?” Clark asks. His father replies: “Maybe.”

It is a shocking piece of moral ambiguity in the Superman universe, where what is right and wrong have traditionally been clear.

Harris concludes:

In the end, perhaps it does not matter how Snyder directs Man of Steel in 2013. He can take Superman in a darker direction, he can bring out a movie more suited to the arthouse cinemas than the multiplexes. He can make him represent the ominous and confusing world of 2013. But in the end the more he changes the more Superman stays the same.

For Superman is not just some sort of unique being flying high above us. In the projection of our desires, hopes and fears, Superman is us.

HT: Lucas Knisely

Heroic Hobbits?

December 31, 2012 — Leave a comment

Peter Leithart has a brief article about the scene at Mount Doom in The Return of the King. He says,

At the Real Clear Religion web site, Jeffrey Weiss nails the problem with Peter Jackson’s rendition of Tolkein. Summing up the climax of the Lord of the Rings, Weiss writes:

“In book and film, Frodo has heroically carried the Ring to the one spot where it can be destroyed. Instead, he claims it and — in that one moment — Gollum attacks and bites off Frodo’s finger with the ring. In the book, this is what follows: ‘But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle…And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone.’

Jackson’s portrayal is different in crucial ways:

“In the movie, after Gollum bites off his finger, Frodo heroically launches himself at Gollum and hurls them both over the side. Gollum falls with the Ring into the lava but Frodo is barely saved by Sam. I’ll grant that Jackson’s version is more exciting, in the same way that loading Ophelia with a suicide vest and having her blast herself to smithereens center-stage would liven up a production of Hamlet. But that wouldn’t be Shakespeare.”

Frodo, in short, failed, and according to Tolkein that was the whole point. In a letter, he wrote, “Frodo ‘failed.’ It is possible that once the ring was destroyed he had little recollection of the last scene. But one must face the fact: the power of Evil in the world is not finally resistible by incarnate creatures, however ‘good’; and the Writer of the Story is not one of us.”

Frodo is not a hero; he is a frail creature, saved finally by a providential act of grace.

The Hobbit

December 22, 2012 — 4 Comments

The-Hobbit-poster-2I just returned from seeing The Hobbit. My expectations were not high, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Being transported back to Middle Earth reminded me of how thrilling it was going to watch The Lord of the Rings.

We can be very thankful that Peter Jackson picked up this project rather than someone else who certainly would not have made it coincide as well with the LOTR Trilogy.

Most of the critiques I have heard of the movie have some good answers. I agree with Owen Strachan, the best article to read on the subject is from Seth Abramson in the Huffington Post.

Jackson extended the book in a way that is faithful to Tolkien although much of it is not necessarily in The Hobbit. But if you are going to extend The Hobbit, this is the way to do it.

I have not read the book in about 5-7 years, so I was able to enjoy the movie without being overly critical of what they changed. I do wish Bilbo would have found the ring in the exact way he did in the book. Although it was close, I expected that Jackson would have not diverted from the plot in the least in this scene. I have copied the part from the book below.

Very slowly he got up and groped about on all fours, till he touched the wall of the tunnel; but neither up nor down it could he find anything: nothing at all, no sign of goblins, no sign of dwarves. His head was swimming, and he was far from certain even of the direction they had been going in when he had his fall. He guessed as well as he could, and crawled along for a good way, till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel. It was a turning point in his career, but he did not know it. He put the ring in his pocket almost without thinking; certainly it did not seem of any particular use at the moment. He did not go much further, but sat down on the cold floor and gave himself up to complete miserableness, for a long while. He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home—for he could feel inside that it was high time for some meal or other; but that only made him miserabler.

There were a few other parts I wished were different.

  • I remember fondly the part about the Trolls and Gandalf throwing his voice until the sun came up. I am not sure it matters that much, but I thought this was an important scene of character development for Gandalf which was missed. Rather they made it a character development scene for Bilbo.
  • The stone giants part (although in the book) was weird and overplayed. I thought I was suddenly watching a Rocky movie.

But as Owen says, don’t believe the critics, this movie is well done. It celebrates humility, virtue, hope, and the triumph of goodness. Below were some of the parts I thought were done well.

  • I enjoyed the brief historical piece about Erebor and Thorin. It was very similar to the way the LOTR started and set things in perspective.
  • I was glad they included Frodo and Bilbo (albeit briefly)as they were in the LOTR. It made the two movies connect in a way that immediately endeared the movie to me.
  • Jackson’s portrayal of the dwarves was right on.
  • The humor was fitted for the type of book The Hobbit was. It is more a kids book which did include humor.
  • The songs were well done and not as corny as I thought they would be.
  • Gandalf (Ian McKellen) fit his character perfectly, as he did before. Just like in LOTR he had some conversations in the book that give a nice pause to the action and provide much needed reflective and philosophical depth to the film (more movies need to do this, it can make or break a movie).
  • Bilbo was appropriately humble. I was afraid they were going to try to make him too much of a hero.
  • I love that these movies portray good and evil in such stark images.
  • The scene between Gollum and Bilbo was masterfully done and the best part of the movie.

So when you go to the see the movie, don’t expect it to be exactly like the book, but let it stand on its own ground, and celebrate what Jackson did well.

I am looking forward to next Christmas.

 

 

The Hobbit and 3D

December 14, 2012 — Leave a comment

TheHobbitSdtkCover900I have not seen The Hobbit yet, because I am waiting for all the dress up Dwarves, Gandalfs, and Smeagols to head home.
The return to Middle Earth should be enjoyable, hopefully a more relaxing journey than the critics have had.

Rotten Tomatoes has it at 66%. Yikes! The other 3 were all above 92%.

Most of the reviewers don’t like the amped-up 3D technology (48 fps). If that is the only problem then we have a good movie on our hands. I personally always avoid 3D like the plague, and I suggest if possible you do the same.

Thomas Hibbs in National Review writes:

For viewers who were enthralled by Peter Jackson’s majestic films of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, watching the first installment (of three) of Jackson’s version of The Hobbit is likely to be equal parts pleasure and frustration.

The problem with Jackson’s The Hobbit is that the subtle and significant moments get lost in the proliferation of mini-adventures. With the amped-up 3D technology, the action scenes have the look and feel of a high-speed Disney theme-park ride. Now, that experience can be enjoyable so far as it goes, and so long as it does not last nearly three hours. But here it is a distraction from the action itself, as the viewer’s vision gets tugged — occasionally startled — this way and that by the sharply defined and rapidly moving images.

Screenrant has a whole discussion of this issue. Ben Kendrick of Screenrant says:

Adding to the controversy is the director’s choice to shoot in 48 frames-per-second – a format that results in hyper-realistic visuals but, as many filmmakers argue, is so true-to-life that it can actually be a distraction – depriving filmgoers of immersion.

A.O. Scott of the NY Times adds;

Over all, though, the shiny hyper-reality robs Middle-earth of some of its misty, archaic atmosphere, turning it into a gaudy high-definition tourist attraction. But of course it will soon be overrun with eager travelers, many of whom are likely to find the journey less of an adventure than they had expected.

For a positive view of the new technology see Slate’s article.