Saturday, October 06, 2007

Wordpress. Inevitable.

I'm moving to Wordpress. I'm sick of the Blogger color schemes and world of no options.

So, from now on you can find me at:

http://phillipjohnston.wordpress.com

Farewell, Blogger.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Xbox Fever

Halo 3 came out a few days ago.

It is in times like these that I thank the Lord that I am not a video game addict.

I know there’s fun in it and quality time with the Xbox can yield marvelous entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with entertainment … in moderation.

Most of the gamers I know spend there days full of nothing but entertainment.

An hour ago, I sat at my desk in my comfy chair and took in David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls. It was wonderful. I experienced truth and beauty. I feel enriched.

During the same amount of time, my two friends across the hall sat and pressed buttons while watching things explode.

Call me an old fart, but I think I'm better off.

Monday, October 01, 2007

News bits - 10-1-07

I was checking my email today and saw this little news article scrolling along the top of my browser.
A German man who had been drinking heavily at Munich's Oktoberfest beer festival got stuck in a chimney for 12 hours while trying to climb into a friend's apartment, police said Friday.

After finding his friend was not at home, the 27-year-old climbed on to the roof of a neighboring building at about 2 a.m. Thursday and headed for what he thought was a gap in the wall between the two houses.

He found himself sliding almost 30 meters (98 feet) head first into a chimney, a spokesman for Munich police said.

An 82-year-old janitor from the hotel next door eventually heard the man's calls for help and he was rescued at around 2 p.m. by fire brigade officers who knocked a hole into the side of the chimney to liberate him, the spokesman said.

He had managed to turn around and had removed his clothes to try to help him squeeze back up.

"Miraculously, he was only slightly injured in the fall, sustaining just grazes and bruising," police said. The man was taken by helicopter to the hospital, where he is being treated for hypothermia, they added.

Also of note is a school-wide email sent out today by the Dean of Students reminding everyone to stay modest for Spirit Week. This little piece of advice was tagged on as well:
There are certain items that may seem like a perfect fit as props for some days, but think before you do it. I am thinking particularly of Western Day and I remind you that possession and/or use of firearms and knives is not permitted on campus. So go to the dollar stores and purchase plastic toy pistol, but no real firearms are permitted.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some more bad cover art

Yet another example of some strikingly bad cover art.

Of course, Season Six of 24 was pretty much a strikingly bad season. The show should have changed it's name to 12 instead of just writing the terribly cliched episodes that pervaded half of last season.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A few moments with Zoo

I had heard about Zoo (2007, **3/4) when it premiered at Sundance this year. I love to watch this kind of controversial stuff just to see if it's worthy of all the whinging people tend to do when they see something that offends them. The following is a rather stream-of-consciousness message I sent to a friend after watching this new documentary. I didn't feel like taking the time to organize it into something that actually sounds somewhat nice...
Zoo is neither graphic nor exploitative in the discussion of zoophilia/bestiality. There are no talking heads, just voiceover from different people including other zoophiles who knew the guy that was killed and were in the same group of zoophiles that would get together at a guy's ranch near Seattle.

All the images are a dramatic restaging of events surrounding and during the incident when the man was killed (they don't show the man "with" the horse though, of course). The subject matter is less than appealing BUT the film is shot beautifully and the music is stunning! Some of images are just ... wow. The filmmakers really paid attention to making this accessible to people.

The main point of the film is not to get people to think that zoophillia is perfectly normal, but just to get in the minds of zoophiles to discover why they do what they do. The main idea that came across from the zoophiles themselves was that they just have a love of animals more than most people. It never takes into account that some of these men are just perverts, but tell us that every zoophile feels an emotional connection to animals like "you would your spouse or child."

This logic is faulty ... you don't have sex with your children! Perhaps that may be the next controversial documentary.

There's an interesting point in the movie. When all these men got together for "retreats", it’s not just about participating in questionable activity with animals. They talk and have a good time like most groups of men do when they get together. They would watch sci-fi movies in their spare time. The director says in the commentary that,"30 years ago people would say that we couldn't get a man on the moon. The imagination would have to go places to consider such an outrageous thought. I think that "zoos" who are doing something that is on the very edge of being able to understand is a great mirror to this."

Totally faulty logic again. The reason they love animals so much is much of the reason that some people are gay: lack of meaningful human contact because of sin let into the world by the Fall.

It's as simple as that. It'd be nice to enable them to understand that.

I highly recommend watching it. It's SO technically well done and I'd love to see more docs done in this style. It's just ideologically incomplete.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hope for Forever

My GreenCine RSS feed popped up with a link about Forever today; an awesome documentary I saw at The Nashville Film Festival last May. I consider it the most moving artistic experience I've ever had and was shocked and elated to find out that it is now playing in Manhattan. This may possibly mean that there is hope for a DVD in the future.

I sure hope so, because this is one I want to show all my friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Time for some controversy

My roommate showed me an article on FoxNews.com today entitled, “Kiddie Porn Movie Rocks Toronto as 'Feel-Awful' Film of the Year.” The article is about Alan Ball’s (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) new film Nothing Is Private based on Alicia Erian’s novel Towelhead about “a young Arab-American girl struggling with sexual obsession, a bigoted Army reservist and her strict father during the Gulf War.” Roger Friedman tells us that:
The movie — so odious that many people have simply walked out during the screenings — shows actor Aaron Eckhart having sex with a 13-year-old girl played by a now 19-year-old actress, Summer Bishil. The actress only turned 19 recently, however, which means that she was just on the cusp of 18 when she made the movie last year.
I was wary of this article from first glance, so I went to the bastion of fair and just opinion (ha!): the IMDb forum. I found some unique views here as well:

It was wonderful, and Alan Ball handled the material honestly, and graphically without being exploitive
Still not convinced, I scrolled down to find this opinion:
I've got to say you guys all strike me as being sick. There's nothing artful, cool, or "must see" about depicting child pornography and child rape. This is a real issue that ruins the lives of women, leaving them emotionally scarred for life. I rue our society if we have come to the place where we can watch the depiction of child rape and call it entertainment.

Why don't all of you (especially those women who have been commenting) take a look in the mirror and try to imagine if such a thing happened to you or to your 13-year-old daughter. These things are horrific. Our culture danced on the edge with "American Beauty" and "Thirteen". This movie, by all accounts, plunged us over that edge to a place of darkness. If this goes unchallenged, what's next for us? How long until we allow Dakota Fanning get naked to increase the realism of a 12-year-old being raped? I, for one, think this is disgusting and hope the MPAA slaps this with at least an NC-17. Shame on the Toronto Film Festival and shame on Alan Ball.
Ok. I can agree with some of that. I don’t think that having a 12-year-old actress simulate a rape scene is morally right. BUT, if one could creatively film the scene without the actress participating in rape simulation, I might not have a problem with it. If the plot point is necessary to the story, by all means … it should be included. If it’s not, then the artist is guilty of exploitation.

But even the Fox News article makes it clear (albeit unintentionally) that there is more to this story than the pedophilia in question.
The father regularly hits Jazeera and threatens to beat her to death.

Her mother is a self-absorbed American (Maria Bello) who cares nothing for her child and loads her with more baggage than a porter at JFK.

And that’s not all. Jazeera, abandoned and then seduced by next-door neighbor Eckhart, has already been abused by Bello’s second husband.

She also falls into a kinky sexual relationship with a boy from school.
Quite obviously, there is more to this story than pedophilia and “kiddie porn.” Here's what a reviewer at Ain't It Cool News said after a preview screening:
...to simply call [the men in the film] "abusive" "lecherous" and "horny" is to do disservice to them all: these are extraordinarily complex characters. As bad as they are, all have redeeming qualities. And in their own ways, all of them care very deeply for Jasira. Where one is a failure, another picks up the slack. She's caught in a devil's bargain, in a sense, bouncing between three men - each of whom give her something she needs, emotionally, but each with a heaping helping of a lot she could do without.
Back to another IMDb poster:

If you see the film, you will realize that Alan Ball is not trying to make the rape of a child "artful" or "cool" as the last person said. When people with the same opinion as [the poster above] see this movie, they will realize that the film isn't about making the rape entertaining, but far from it. During the Eckart/Bishil rape scenes, you could have heard a pin drop in the theatre. Very awkward to watch, but it wasn't bad enough for anyone to walk out.

Very little of the story is actually about Jasira being raped. It's more about just what the plotline says. Completely ignore comments made by people like [the poster above]. Fantastic cinematography, great music, and an incredible screenplay.

And one more that should pretty much make clinch the whole issue:
I've read the screenplay, Alan Ball stressed that it's imperative that there's no explicit nudity and that the actress playing Jasira is not compromised in any way...it will be "appropriate" in the sense that neither the actress nor the subject matter will be exploited.
All the controversy around this brings me back to my favorite film: American Beauty. I remember all the controversy when it came out. I remember reading conservative reviews saying things like Steven Isaac at Focus On The Family:
It's bad enough when films trade in sexual fantasy for box office dollars. It's worse when that eroticism is directed at a high school cheerleader by a
middle-aged man.
In 1999, I was 12 years old. I remember reading these kinds of things about American Beauty and being sickened by it. I stayed away from the film like the plague because, from what I was reading, it was just a sinful, sick, perverted defense of pedophilia. I remember saying a prayer for Alan Ball and everyone behind American Beauty … a prayer that they would realize the error of their ways and start walking down the path of righteousness. In my eyes, they were nothing but hideous pornographers.

As I grew in my understanding of the purpose of art, I began to take my thoughts captive more and more. I started seeing film as art and not just entertainment. I found other Christian reviews of American Beauty that actually saw the ideas of the artists as something to be engaged and thought about. I even found a book by Robert K. Johnston called Useless Beauty that built a bridge between the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes and a few modern films, one being American Beauty.

Near the end of my junior year in high school I rented American Beauty and watched it three times in one weekend. I was totally enraptured by it. I thought about it. I engaged it. I began to see that this was not the work of pornographers trading “sexual fantasy for box-office dollars” but the work of extremely talented artists, putting their worldview in front of me and asking me to think long and hard about the concept of beauty.

People fear and even hate what they don’t understand. Sadly, this means that most conservative Christians hate a film that shows them something that offends them, which American Beauty most certainly does. Roger Ebert said that American Beauty is not about a twisted sexual relationship, but “about yearning after youth, respect, power and, of course, beauty.” Look closer. It’s not so much about the actions of these characters but what these actions represent.

In then end, I do not wholly agree with the ideas of American Beauty and recognize some of them as completely unbiblical. This doesn’t change the fact that I greatly value the film. I value it because it is a perfectly crafted piece of contemporary art that has made me think and evaluate my perception of beauty. Aesthetically, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It packs an extremely important piece of advice as well: look closer.

When Nothing Is Private presents itself to cinemas across the country, this is exactly what audiences will have to do.

Why haven't I heard about this?

Naomi Watts and Tim Roth in an English-language Michael Hanecke film about two psychotic young men who take a family hostage in their cabin?

Bring it on!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Behold: Mel Brooks

Frau Blucher performs
"He Vas My Boyfriend"
for Inga and Dr. Frankenstein

The first images from the Broadway Musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein have been posted on the shows website.

I heard Mel Brooks say somewhere that if Young Frankenstein didn't turn out as good or better than The Producers (winner of the most Tony Awards in Broadway history), he wouldn't make it.

I can't imagine what America's national treasure of comedy has in store for us come this November. I need tickets.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A bit of Atonement

I have little time for leisure reading, but lately the time that I have has been devoted to Ian McEwan’s Atonement because I'd like to read it before seeing the film (dir. Joe Wright) that comes out in December. I haven’t read as many classic novels as I should so my opinion is not that educated, but I think this novel is brilliant. I’ve never read a novel that delves so deeply and truthfully into the psyche of it's characters than Atonement. It's a deeply satisfying read that keeps me smiling and saying to myself, "Wow ... that is to true."

If it were only McEwan’s characterizations that grabbed me, Atonement might just be an OK novel, but I am consistently surprised at how many nuggets of truth the author sticks in. And they don’t seem preachy because he has made them so much a part of his characters.

This brings me to a part from the beginning of the novel (around page 35) that I was thinking about today. Briony Tallis is a young girl of thirteen … a very precocious, thoughtful, introspective, perfectionistic young girl who has just written a play for her family members to perform. After her performers cannot live up to her creative standards, Briony sits down and starts to think.
The silence hissed in her ears and her vision was faintly distorted – her hands in her lap appeared unusually large and at the same time remote, as though viewed across an immense distance. She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge. She brought her forefinger closer to her face and stared at it, urging it to move. It remained still because she was pretending, she was not entirely serious, and because willing it to move, or being about to move it, was not the same as actually moving it. And when she did crook it finally, the action seemed to start in the finger itself, not in some part of her mind. When did it know to move, when did she know to move it? There was no catching herself out. It was either-or. There was no stitching, no seam, and yet she knew that behind the smooth continuous fabric was the real self – was it her soul? – which took the decision to cease pretending, and gave the final command.
I love the richness of this paragraph and how it so beautifully describes the intricacy of something extremely simple. I have these thoughts many times as I’m sitting or walking. I’ll start thinking about the vastness and glory of creation and be dumb-founded for a few minutes. The world starts moving slower. I notice everything. There is beauty everywhere because everything has an intricate design. Then I find myself having thoughts like Briony does in the next paragraph:
Was everyone else really as alive as she was? For example, did her sister really matter to herself, was she as valuable to herself as Briony was? Was being Cecilia just as vivid an affair as being Briony? Did her sister also have a real self-concealed behind a breaking wave, and did she ever spend time thinking about it, with a finger held up to her face? Did everyone [else]? If the answer was yes, then the world, the social world, was unbearably complicated, with two billion voices, and everyone’s thoughts striving in equal importance and everyone’s claim on life as intense, and everyone thinking they were unique, when no one was. One could drown in irrelevance. But if the answer was no, then Briony was surrounded by machines, intelligent and pleasant enough on the outside, but lacking the bright and private inside feeling that she had. This was sinister and lonely, as well as unlikely. For, though it offended her sense of order, she knew it was overwhelmingly probable that everyone else had thoughts like hers. She knew this, but only in a rather arid way; she didn’t really feel it.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at some people not thinking about life as much as I do, but it makes me wonder how some people who are not consistently introspective are able to live a full life. It seems to me like they would “drown in irrelevance.”

Just my thoughts. Take from them what you will.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Foot in mouth

During our President's Chapel today, our college President gave us a review of the school's progress in the last year. This included a misguided statement about the girl's volleyball team:
I've seen those girls practice. I get hot just watching them.
*Cue childish, gleeful snicker.*

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Becoming Jane

Often, I’ll see a trailer for a movie like Becoming Jane (2007, ***) and write it off as just another boring English period piece akin to most of the drab things that are churned out of Masterpiece Theater on a bad day. How wonderfully surprised I was the other day to walk into the theater and find a film that, although not a masterpiece, was thought-provoking, well-acted, beautifully scored, and more worthy of my time than any of the other disposable fare at the multiplex.

From what I’ve read, Becoming Jane is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Jane Austen. The script is so well-written and feels so much like the writings of Jane Austen that one could get the feeling that the screenplay was found among the authoress’ unpublished writings. I doubt it … but it’s a nice thought.

Although the film is very enjoyable, it does have its weak points. The handheld, slightly frenetic camerawork did not fit the subject of the story or the time period in which it was set. I’m a firm believer that if there is going to be handheld camerawork, it should be motivated (my favorite example of this is American Beauty … Mendes only goes handheld when Ricky and his father duke it out). The second weakness of the film seemed to be its slight uncertainty of tone. Some scenes seem to get distracted from the main journey of the story by indulging into the pleasure of the atmosphere rather than focusing on the characters acting within the atmosphere.

Weaknesses aside, I think the greatness of Becoming Jane’s subject matter is enough to overshadow the minute technical weaknesses.

The main focus of the film is on Jane’s journey to become her own person. This is why the movie is not simply called Being Jane or Jane Actually, but Becoming Jane. Throughout the movie, Jane has a constant battle with society. The society and culture in which she lives believes that a women should “marry wisely” sometimes even throwing aside love for marrying a man that is financially stable above all else. Jane doesn’t want this and the movie delves deeply into her journey and battle against society to find a man she actually loves.

As I said before, the movie simply isn’t about being, but becoming. Quite obviously the Jane Austen at the beginning of the film, the Jane that wakes her family on a Sunday morning with her joyous piano playing, is very different from the Jane at the end of the film: a woman who has been weathered by life and love and uses these experiences to create art that imitates life.

In my opinion, the difference between someone who simply exists and someone who is on a journey of maturation (like that of Jane) is the refusal to be ordinary and give in to what the society at large thinks one should do or be in order to be successful. At one point in the film, Jane visits a successful authoress who says that the secret to her success is that she “writes of what life is not.” Jane dislikes this idea as well because she believes that one should “write of the heart” and of life and emotions the way that they actually exist.

Jane’s refusal to be ordinary serves as the most powerful lesson of the film. Humans should not simply exist. To only be would deny the capability to be fully human. Although Jane Austen’s journey in the film was not a Christian journey by any means, those who claim Christ should be on a journey to develop into the people God desires them to be, never satisfied with being ordinary. Bill Hybels describes this as a feeling of “holy discontent.”

Because of her refusal to live inside the world’s mold, the Jane Austen of Becoming Jane never married. Perhaps those who don’t live by the ideologies of the culture at large will miss out on a few things, but I can guarantee that misery will come if people don’t choose to live a full life … making full use of their talents and abiding by their convictions.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

IMDb Extract

Today, on the boards for The Wind That Shakes the Barley, I found a short (but most interesting) thread. It starts out with a typical IMDb idiot asking a question (bad grammar included to punctuate poster's stupidity):
Hyey where is the blood in the scene when [a character] die. he recive at least 10 shots,
¿WHERE IS THE BLOOD?
The response is something I can't seem to build any thoughts around at the moment. Perhaps you can help me?
Film is an artistic illusion not reality.

In your post you said [someone dies] … I must take it that you entered into the illusion that the character died. Even though the actor is still alive.

Why does blood make the character more dead than you already thought?
What do you think?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ratner's Road and letters to Hollywood

The IMDb Hitlist has a brilliant link posted today called "Brett Ratner's Notes for His Film Version of The Road by Cormac McCarthy." Having read The Road this summer and (regrettably) seen some of Ratner's work, I find this article completely hilarious ... albeit a bit crude in places. Here's a taste:
Can this movie make $100 million? No. It can make $200 million.

Switch shopping cart to Hummer or Bentley. (Which is more apocalyptic? Look on Internet.)

When the guy steals all of their supplies, instead of making the guy take off all his clothes but then letting him go, change it to a girl who takes off all her clothes (Alyssa Milano?).
Also, a bunch of bloggers around the web have been writing letters and suggestions to Hollywood at large about what's wrong with the movie industry. Culture Snob made a post earlier today that seemed to be in favor of ditching movies like Rescue Dawn that don't have much mainstream appeal. Although I usually enjoy Snob's work, I couldn't disagree more with this post.

Jim Emerson says that Hollywood needs to take some advice from HBO ... I couldn't agree more. Even though I sometimes think that HBO makes their content raw and salacious just because they can, there's no hiding that they consistently produce compelling television and excellent films that even sometimes attract Hollywood stars.
The Sopranos, Deadwood, The Wire, Entourage, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City -- you already know that's exactly the kind of stuff you should be doing. (And you're planning to make feature films out of some of 'em already.) Don't be afraid of cuss words, genitalia or blood-n-guts -- but try something a little more engaging than a hollow three-act structure without story or characters. Memorable, complex characters (without their edges polished off) are probably more compelling than structure, story or profanity-nudity-violence combined.

By this I mean characters who don't always announce to the audience what they're doing and why, because they don't always know. Leave a little room for mystery and ambiguity, give the audience half a chance to pay attention, and you may just pull them deeper into movies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The funniest woman to ever live

Madeline Kahn

If you can think of any funnier female, please let me know because I think everything that this woman did in her whole career is hilarious.


I'm back.

I've returned to school, have my room all set up, and am ready for my Sophomore year to begin. I guess that means I'm just a tad bit older, hopefully a lot wiser, and ready to take on whatever God has to teach me this year. From an intellectual standpoint, I look at where I was last year at this time and marvel at how far I've come in just 12 short months. I can't imagine what the next year could have in store.

So, you should be my Netflix friend. I've made the switch back to Netflix because the powers-that-be at Blockbuster adjusted their prices through the freakin' roof! So, either click this or shoot me an email (phillip.e.johnston [at] gmail (dot) com).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Summer Film Favorite #1

I simply cannot get motivated to pack up things for school. I leave on Saturday morning and the only thing I have done so far is to throw a bunch of clothing in the laundry for Mom to wash and organize my movie collection into a nice little DVD tube.

So, I decided to sit down with my computer and finally type the first of three posts about the films that stayed with me the most this summer. These are the films that I watched during this year’s break that I just couldn’t shake. They wouldn’t go out of my head. Their themes just keep swirling around in my brain and sometimes kept me awake during the night. For your consideration:

Yeah, this isn’t really one of them. But I thought I’d throw in it just for kicks and giggles. I watched it with some friends last night and we had a high ol’ time laughing at the cliché, random mess that is The Disney Channel. This particular number gave me many, many laughs. Zac Efron is quite the dancer, but whoever choreographed this one must have just told him to jump around.

Here’s the real thing:
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

It’s astounding how this movie was so violently panned by critics. Tykwer’s visual sense is so spot-on and so intensely in touch with Suskind’s prose that I’m tempted to say that this is one of the best book adaptations that I can think of. True, the book does help to develop characters more (what book doesn’t?), but the characters of Tykwer’s film are most definitely not flat.

I purchased the novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer back in January at a used bookstore when I first heard about the movie. I read a few pages and, for some off reason, forgot about it until after I watched the film. Now, I go back and read parts of the novel and find beautiful examples of extremely delicate prose, filled with such raw emotional power that I can’t help from shaking I read some parts.

SPOILERS AWAIT: I can’t get Grenouille’s character out of my mind. Here is a man who has never known love, yet even when people love his perfume he can not receive their love because hatred is the only emotion he has ever been capable of feeling. Suskind captures this brilliantly in the book, and Tykwer’s visuals in the film are sumptuous and chill-inducing.

Some may complain about the amount of nudity in the film, but is in now way exploitative or sensual. Tykwer's handling of the execution scene is done so tastefully and is so beautiful that it inspires a sense of awe more than a sense of lust. It really is brilliant. Too bad I can't share it with everyone. They just don't understand...

I love this film.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

3 Pilots

Whenever the new TV season rolls around, I always like to watch the Pilot episodes of every show I can. I like to do this because the best writing that a show is capable of usually comes out in the pilot because it has been fine-tuned and written in the hope that the show will be picked up by a TV station. I can usually tell if a show is worth my time by watching the pilot. Plus, I like to keep up on the latest buzz, just so I’m not uninformed.

The first pilot I checked out this season was that of a new series on ABC called Pushing Daisies. Pushing Daisies is about a simple pie-maker named Ned who has been given the gift of bringing dead things back to life. Ned found this gift of his at a very young age, but there is one main stipulation: if Ned brings one person back to life by touching them, he can never touch them again or else they will be dead forever. The story moves on, filling itself with great characters, quirky settings, and hilariously ingenious plot twists.

Even though I enjoyed the pilot, I do have a complaint with the look of the show. It is FAR too colorful, a bit hard on the eyes, and relies a bit too much on (very fake-looking) computer graphics. I think everyone who watches it will either give in to the fantasy world of the show or just say, “Wow … that looks fake.” I’m thinking the latter. It’s their loss because I think this is going to turn out to be a fun show that families might even want to watch together.

Plus, Kristen Chenoweth (one of my future wives) is in it and is just as beautiful, charming, and hilarious as ever.

I’ve been a David Duchovny fan since The X-Files and really liked his performance in Return to Me, so I figured I would watch the pilot of his new Showtime dramedy Californication. The title should have kept me away, but I figured it might actually be something redemptive and well-written with a strong role for Duchovny.

Wrong on three counts. Californication is a sorry excuse for a television show and terrible entertainment. It seems as if the main point of the show is to string sex scenes together with banal dialogue, over-used jokes, and lines un-lovingly ripped from great films.

The last act of the pilot tries to get the audience all emotional with one of those cliché music montages. Needless to say, it doesn’t work (even though it’s a menially good montage). The worst part about this addition to the show, though, is that whoever directed it couldn’t even find a good way to take the show from the previous scene to the montage. They simply had the editor add a complete fade-out and then a complete fade-in. What a hack-job!

It made me mad, realizing that much of America finds this useless trash entertaining.

When I heard Glen Close was starring in a new series on F/X, I got excited … and a bit nervous. I love Glen Close’s acting. She has a very commanding presence and is really good at either getting under your skin or tugging at your heart-strings. What made me nervous is that this show was made by F/X, the same people behind such exploitative moral messes as Dirt and Nip/Tuck.

“I can’t judge it until I see it…” I said to myself. So today I sat down to watch it.

Damages is one heck of a show and has one the most intriguing pilots I have ever seen. Nothing is as it seems in the world of powerful New York attorney Patty Hughes, played with icy coldness by Glen Close. That’s really all I can say about the pilot, because to describe more would be to give some of the show away. It’s really excellent drama with power-house performances, awesome camera-work, and a great script.

And the best part was that it didn’t fall into the typical F/X crap trap of throwing in a pointless sex scene or two just to wake up the audience. There is a love-scene in the pilot, but it is surprisingly under-stated and tastefully done. One of my pet-peeves is when a show breaks the rhythm of its story by having a jarring cut to a rowdy sex-scene accompanied by some rock music that makes you feel like you’re attending a rave. Props to you, F/X!

Damages is a refreshingly well-done haven in a vast television wasteland of thoughtless garbage and I’m going to be catching up on the episodes I’ve missed over the past few weeks. I suggest you do the same.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

IMDb forum action

I was skimming the boards about The Painted Veil on IMDb and came across the obligatory "could there be a more boring movie" post. I really hate posts like this, but then again, every really great movie is going to be hated by the mass public.

Anyway, this response to the original poster by pbroganx is one of the best responses to something like this that I have ever read:
Yeah, this story needs an update. It would have been much better if they had replaced the cholera outbreak with a computerized cartoon monster--a great big one! From space! And instead of hostile Chinese nationalists, how about black-clad kung-fu assassins that flip and fly around on invisible harnesses while throwing flaming skulls that explode on impact? Get rid of Naomi Watts and Ed Norton and replace them with....oooh! I know! Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie! Just ditch the whole love story thing and replace it with hip, attitude-soaked dialogue that hints at lots of sexual tension. And, have Brad and Angelina, wearing skimpy clothing, kick lots of monster/assassin ass while constantly discussing their bet on who can kill the most bad guys/monsters. Oh, and instead of routing fresh water to the village, the doctor can quest for a magical stone, kept in the nest of a giant, CGI sorcerer bat, that will explode when thrown into the mouth of the cholera monster! I could work in Hollywood.
Priceless, ehh?

Monday, August 13, 2007

A night with Def Leppard

I knew last week was going to be pretty heavy in terms of learning and sitting listening to speakers, so I knew I'd need something light and fun to do.

Luckily, my buddy Joel called me and asked if I wanted to go to the big Styx/Foreigner/Def Leppard concert in Hershey on Sunday night with another one of our friends. After some thought ("Do I really want to pay that much?!"), I said yes.

Even though my ears are ringing like crazy and I only have a few remnants of a voice left, I'm SO glad I went because it was a blast.

To our surprise (and elation), there were no illegal psychotropic substances in sight. The people in front of us had a few too many beers, but that was the extent of the carnage. They were really funny. The one guy was supposedly a state policeman, but he kept offering us beer even though he knew we were underage. At one point he even slipped off his "I-Already-Got-A-Beer-So-I-Won't-Get-Carded" wristband and gave it to us. I responded with, "Well, if I don't start now, I have less of a chance of getting addicted later in life." My friend Alyssa had a much more brief response, though: "Drinking is bad."

Of course, I just couldn't leave without getting a picture with the guy (it was supposed to be just me and him, but my picture-happy friends had to sneak in) :

Fun times, and a great kick-off to the end of my summer at home.

Learning with application

On Saturday evening, I returned home from a full week of excellent Bible teaching and challenging insight. Last Tuesday, my family and I made our (almost) yearly trek to Sandy Cove. Because of our hectic schedules, we could only stay for a little more than two days, but it was certainly worthwhile because of the time we got to spend together, the escape from all the busyness of life back at home, and the superb way in which Tony Evans unpacked very familiar Bible stories and made their meaning fresh in his series of sermons.

During his first sermon, Evans talked about the familiar story of Abraham and Isaac and challenged us about how much trust and faith we really put in God. One can know in his head that God is God and that God is all-powerful, but it really takes a test of faith (when God says to do something that really doesn’t make sense) to prove commitment and belief.

Two points that he made stuck out to me. The first was that when Abraham and Sarah were told they would have Isaac, they felt it was utterly impossible and laughed in God’s face. The speaker’s point was simply this: are you hindering God’s work in your life because you think it’s funny?

The second was that while Abraham and Isaac were traveling up the mountain, while Abraham was doing what he knew he had to do in order to please God even though he thought it made no sense, the ram that would end up being sacrificed in lieu of Isaac was walking up the other side of the mountain. In other words, while God is testing us, while we are going through these situations that make absolutely no sense, He is working in the situation and has already planned His ending to the problem even if it is something we can’t see because our doubt (or something else) is blocking our view.

After Sandy Cove, my parents dropped me off in Baltimore to meet my boss and another guy that I work with for The Leadership Summit hosted by Willow Creek up in Chicago. The church acted as a satellite campus for the conference, so all the speakers talked to us through a live video feed. I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to it that much. I thought it would be three boring days of business and legal mumbo-jumbo, but, to my surprise, it turned out to be one of the most beneficial, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my summer. As with the Tony Evans sermon mentioned earlier, I also took two main important concepts away from the Willow Creek event.

The first was something Bill Hybels said in his closing talk. He said that if someone wants inspire people around them, they has to be an inspiring person who is inspired mainly by the fact that they know God’s purpose for their life and are following it voraciously. Hybels said (I’m paraphrasing), “If you have no idea what this purpose is, you need to re-arrange your schedule for the next few weeks and rigidly be in God’s word trying to find out what your purpose is for the moment and for life.”

I would agree and am very happy that I think I know my life’s purpose for the moment. My purpose at this point in my life is to be a student and to learn about life and all that it entails, “taking every thought captive” through the lens of the word of God. This summer, I’ve worked quite a lot on establishing my life philosophy and my views on the things I love through applying things I’ve read and learned. I’m reminded of what a former teacher said to me in an email once: Learning without application is just about as pointless as never learning at all. Don't be afraid to think on your own, even if you look back someday and think, "How foolish was I."

This information is really excellent, but what I took away most from the last week was John Ortberg’s talk on “A Leader’s Greatest Fear.” He said that the thing that should cause a leader the most anxiety is not the fear of failure, mutiny, or criticism, but the utter dread of giving in to a Shadow Mission. Ortberg defined a shadow mission as, “My authentic mission hijacked by my ego and my moods. The place where my sinful nature will lead me on its own.”

He then went on to apply this concept to the book of Esther and talked about how King Xerxes was a king that had been totally taken over by his Shadow Mission. Here was a man that had extravagant parties solely celebrating himself and a painstakingly long beauty pageant to fit him with the most attractive wife around. I wish I could remember how he applied many other points in the book to the Shadow Mission concept because it was one of the most brilliant lectures I’ve ever heard, but I can’t at the moment.

I do remember this, though. Esther could have been tempted to give in to her Shadow Mission … to be lazy and do nothing to rescue her people. But Esther had someone by her side: her Uncle Mordecai. Mordecai challenged Esther quite fervently: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Esther responded by saying, “If I perish and perish” and went on carrying out God’s plan for her life, saving the Jews from certain death.

Needless to say at this point, I was extremely challenged. But then, Ortberg took everything to a different level by saying that Jesus’ Shadow Mission was to be the Savior without the cross. He was tempted with this all his life and caused him such great agony! Satan tempted him in the desert, he prayed for “the cup to be taken from” him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and even while he was on the cross he was faced with the crowd telling him to come down if he was God. But he didn’t. He refused to give in to his Shadow Mission.

So, what’s your Shadow Mission? Do you have someone around you that is ready and willing to challenge you out of it? And do you have the courage to name and challenge the Shadow Mission of our culture and revolt against it? Just something to think about…

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Get your money ready

This brilliant film is coming to DVD on August 21. I've seen it three times and still have this insatiable urge to watch it again. It's one of those movies that affected me so much that I want to share it with everyone.

Go watch it. That's an order. :-)

How sad that the cover art makes the film look like a raunchy smut-fest about a pervert listening to people copulate. I loath bad cover art.

Saddening sign

As I was riding in the car with my family en route to our yearly vacation spot, I spotted this abomination on a church sign:

Cars of the Bible:
The disciples were in one Accord.

And to think that some Christians wonder why people of the world think Christianity is dumb...

Monday, August 06, 2007

"Your daughter has entered a hotbed of moral ... turpentine."

After three weeks of waiting, I finally got to see Hairspray (2007, ***) today. It was exactly what I expected: a colorful, delightful, no frills, hilarious time at the movies. Marc Shaiman has done the unthinkable in making a John Waters movie into quite a great Broadway musical and Adam Shankman has brought it to the screen with style and pizazz. Although the movie suffers from some pacing issues in the middle and there is just a bit too much singing, the movie never stops being fun and has some really sly humor that the main demographic would not grasp (including a hilarious cameo by John Waters himself as "the flasher who lives next door").

Brittany Snow is in it, too. ("I can hear the bells...")

Last night, I made my first attempt at introducing a friend to Tarkovsky. She had tried watching Solaris once and was put off by its glacial pace and seemingly pointless narrative, so I knew I was going into something that could prove quite difficult when I pulled Stalker out of my man-purse. But, to my surprise, it went very well and she ended up loving the movie. I was happy.

I found the trailer for Paul Haggis' In The Valley of Elah today (which, coincidentally, happens to include half the cast of the Coen's No Country for Old Men). It looks like it could be very good if it doesn't turn out too sappy. I trust Haggis, though ... he rocks.

The last thing on my mind today is the discovery of a classical piece I had never heard before (GASP). As I was driving home today, my favorite radio announcer, John Chester of Classical WETA 90.9 (I wish I could carry him around with me everywhere), introduced Max Bruch's Third Symphony. May I recommend the second movement? It's a gorgeous 10 minute piece for $.99 on iTunes. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Closing up Bourne

Just came back from seeing The Bourne Ultimatum (2007, ***1/2) with my father and was very impressed by almost every aspect of the film.

Matt Damon's acting seems to get better with every film he is in and again brought that wonderful sense of tortured emotion to the character of Jason Bourne. I was surprised to see Albert Finney in this installment as well. He's always a welcome presence in my book (even though every time I see him, I can't get "Oh, Danny Boy" out of my head for a few days).

My favorite addition to this film, though, was David Strathairn as Noah Vosen. Strathairn always impresses me with the depth and believability that he brings to his characters. I think this is mostly because he keeps a very low-key social life. Since I don't hear about him all the time, I can always take his characters seriously ... and the amount of mystery he brought to Noah Vosen in this film within a short time span was impressive.

But the most important thing about this movie, IMO, is the official emergence of Paul Greengrass as the master of the action thriller. Greengrass has managed to make three taut, tense, emotional, and extremely entertaining films in a row (The Bourne Supremacy, last year's masterful United 93, and now this). Although I have a few gripes with his shaky camera every now and then, there is no doubt that he knows what he's doing when it comes to choreographing an action scene and shooting it in a way that made my father and I both say, "How does one film something like this?!"

Great film and probably the best three-quel of the summer.

BTW, the first thing I thought of when I saw the poster at the top of this post was this:

Don't ask me why because I don't even know.

Dad was right again...

My Dad has been wanting me to sit down and watch this little short animated film (45 minutes) called Money As Debt.

I finally did today and am very glad I did. It may not be that visually pleasing, but the information is very interesting and tells you just how twisted, corrupt, and dishonest our monetary system is. Hence the reason I think that "In God We Trust" should be taken off ALL our money.

If you don't watch the film, just take in this little quote:
I have never yet had anyone who could, through the use of logic and reason, justify the Federal Government borrowing the use of its own money. I believe the time will come when people will demand that this be changed.

I believe the time will come in this country when they will actually blame you and me and everyone else connected with the congress for sitting idly by and permitting such an idiotic system to continue.

-Wright Patman (Democratic Congressman 1928-1976, Chairman of the Committee on Banking and Currency 1963-1975)
It's interesting stuff. Give it a chance.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Repressed feelings

I really needed this when I woke up this morning:

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The cycle continues...

2 ½ years ago, it became public knowledge that my best friend since childhood had been verbally and psychologically abused pretty much all her life and that the abuse was at a new high. My mom and I did what we knew was right to help, but our efforts did next to nothing. Since then, my relationship with my friend has never been the same and my mother’s friendship with said friend’s mother has pretty much disintegrated.

It hurt.

2 years ago, I tried to start one of those high school “relationship” things with one of my close friends. It was going great. We thought it would work out. I went away for the Summer and came back to find out that she had found someone else … some jerk from a neighboring town. As their relationship progressed, her moral thermometer began reading lower and lower. As I continually prodded and poked her into thinking about doing what was right, we drifted further and further away from each other.

It hurt.

This Saturday, another good friend unleashed upon me some information just as shocking and morally upsetting as the above situations combined. It left me reeling. I took a day off work because of it. It gave me a splitting headache.

It hurts.

This all leads to the fact that I always feel like the only stable person with a firm moral compass surrounded by a group of Christian friends whose lives always seem to come crashing down all around them because of their own dumb choices. It should be comforting to me personally, but it’s discouraging when I think that I am one of the only truly consistent people I know. I’m not saying this to brag … it’s just that nothing much changes with Phillip. Someone actually told me this today: “Phillip, you know what you believe and you stick with it.” Well, that’s good. You should try it sometime.

This evening had me really discouraged about many things. While I should be craving a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit right now, all I really want is an extremely stiff drink that will give me a hangover that would last until this is all over. Sadly, this situation won’t resolve itself without my help. Plus, my parents aren’t the drinking sort.

I walked out into the kitchen tonight to brew myself a cup of tea. I saw sitting above the sink a little card with a verse on it that I know is so true, but hard to get through my thick skull:
The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry and will save them.

Psalm 145:18-19 (NASB)
I guess I’m just going to have to take these verses to heart and do as the Spirit leads. Even if it ends in heartache.

Ang Lee's "Lust, Caution"

The trailer for Ang Lee's new film Lust Caution is up on the Apple Quicktime site.

It looks very intriguing and very promising. I greatly enjoy Lee's work and am glad he is back to directing in his native tongue.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman, 1918-2007

Today is a sad day for the world of film.

Ingmar Bergman, highly regarded as one of the greatest cinematic artists of all time, has died.

From his official site:
Ingmar Bergman's passing away represents a loss of unfathomable magnitude. His artistic accomplishments were ground-breaking, unique - but also of a scope that covered film and theatre as well as literature.
----
We remember him as a very bold person, always present, often biting in his comments. But he was often one step ahead of his contemporaries. Even when he grew old surprises from [him] were not unexpected. I believe it will take some time before we fully understand that he is no longer with us, but also the importance of his art to other people.
I read a story once about Bergman talking to David Lean (director of Lawrence of Arabia and Brief Encounter) and being asked what kind of crew he used on his films. Bergman replied, "I make my films with 18 good friends." Lean was interested and replied saying that he made his films with "150 enemies."

I haven't watched near as much Bergman as I should have by now, but what I have seen is the work of a true artist, "working out his salvation with fear and trembling", shaping the spiritual structure of his soul. If only more filmmakers like Bergman were as recognized and honored in the public square...
We live our simple daily lives. And then some terrible piece of information forces itself into our secure, safe world. It's more than we can bear. The whole state of affairs is so overwhelming, God becomes so remote.

-Winter Light (1963)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006, ****)

My words can't do the beauty and brilliance of this film justice.

It's out on DVD and available to rent at your local film rental place. I watched it last night and cannot stop thinking about it. It's just so great.

Perfect sequence upon perfect sequence builds up to a climax which is as weird as it is profound and as deep as it is shocking. The direction couldn't be better. The acting is superb (sans some complaints with Dustin Hoffman, the only American in the production ... figures). I can't stop listening to the soundtrack.

I'm watching it again toinght and I might write more about it later, but, as of now, the right words escape me.

Ignore the 54% on Rotten Tomatoes.

They're wrong.

It's brilliant.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cloverfield/1-18-08/"Monstrous" sighting at Comic Con

Shivers.

Click the pic for higher resolution.

Thanks to The Tail Section for the info.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Catching up on the Indie scene

I caught a showing of Red Road a few days ago and walked in with high expectations after seeing it on Rotten Tomatoes’ best-reviewed mid-year list. In case you are not familiar, Red Road is about a woman named Jackie who works for the government of Scotland monitoring the video cameras that have been placed on every street. If there’s no problem, she just watches people. A man walking his decrepit old bulldog. A cleaning lady dancing around to her iPod while mopping. Then one day she sees a familiar face. We don’t know who it is, but Jackie certainly does. The rest of the movie details her search for answers and justice.

Red Road (2006, ***) is paced very well and is even entertaining. I can most definitely see why it won the critic’s award at Cannes last year. When the end comes, the film is insightful and, according to some critics, bears shades of Michael Haneke’s best work (I can’t say this myself because I’ve only seen Cache … Red Road did have resemblance to Cache, though).

Red Road has a tragic flaw, though (minor spoilers await). About ¾ of the way through the film, there is an awful unsimulated sex scene that totally disrupts the (until then) brilliant pacing of the movie. It is a terrible fate of bad direction in a film that could have easily been a work of quiet restraint and moral fortitude. Until that point, the movie is quite well-directed. The movie reverts back to it’s regular pacing after said scene, but the scene in question takes up almost 10 minutes! It’s very distracting and, according to IMDB posters and myself, has a very alienating effect on the audience.

Too bad, because Red Road contains some beautiful visual poetry and excellent performances by two gifted actors.

I saw Sean Ellis’ original short film Cashback (2005, ***1/2) about a year ago through iTunes and was very impressed by it, even though I recognized it as flawed. The original short is the story of Ben Willis, an art student and recent insomniac, who works the late shift at a grocery store in London. Ben has a strange ability. He can stop time. But he doesn’t stop time just for fun … he stops time in order to revel in the beauty of the moment.

Ben talks about how he has always found the female form to be the most beautiful thing on the planet. So, when Ben can stop time, he undresses the women in the grocery store and does nothing but draw them. Ben is not creating pornography, but simply appreciating the beauty around him. When he wants to start time again, he puts everything back to normal and cracks his fingers.

(The main flaw of Cashback is that it revels in superficial beauty. The women in the grocery store all looks like models. A few are slightly overweight, but nothing more that you’d see in a JC Penny flier. I would have liked to see Ben revel in the beauty of a down-syndrome child just as much as these women. I like the concept, though.)

The new feature version of Cashback (2006, **1/2) contains all of the original short film and much more. The story of why Ben is an insomniac is told, along with many other diversions along the way including a really nice romance between Ben and Sharon, another grocery store employee. Some of these diversions are good, but most are unimportant, pointless, and at times exploitative and bordering on pornographic.

It’s weird, because there is a scene recognizing pornographic magazines as “fake” and not beautiful. Sean Ellis seems to know the difference between art and pornography, but, while I have a great problem with the latter, he certainly doesn’t seem to.

In the feature film, Ben is always ruminating through his narration about art, life, beauty, etc. If only there were lots of people that age having such deep and important thoughts as Ben Sadly, I only know two or three. Ben is the only person his age in the film who does, so I guess I can’t expect much more. I think our culture would be a much better place with more people like Ben Willis.

I’m guessing Sean Ellis, the writer/director, has the thoughts of Ben (after all, he wrote the film). But if he truly believes what Ben is narrating about, I don’t know why he has polluted his film with pointless diversions that sometimes are the completely opposite ideologically of what Ben is thinking. It confuses me. I encountered the same problem in The Last Kiss (USA version) and a few other films I can’t remember at the moment.

Thought it’s flaws are abundant, Cashback does have some intensely beautiful moments. The photography is just breathtaking at points and the last scene of the film is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen in recent memory. Not just beautiful in a visual sense, but in every sense.

All in all, I wanted to like Cashback, but, even though it’s main story arc (which includes the original short and the romance) is wonderful, I found the film as a whole to be ideologically hypocritical and distracting. It’s a 102 minute film that should be half-an-hour shorter.

The photography leaves something to be desired.

There’s nothing special about the look of film.

The two lead roles could be much better actors.

But there’s just something about Once (2006, ***1/2) that makes you happy. It makes you walk out of the theater with a smile, hope for humanity, and hope for independent film. There’s really not that much I can say that hasn’t been said in other reviews … just look on RT. The movie is a critical darling, as it should be, and is something I think everyone I can appreciate. See it sometime, because it’s something really special.

And by the way, how often do we see a film with such wonderful morals? I was shocked by the film’s non-Hollywood ending that upholds honesty and marital reconciliation. Great film that could (and should) be a mainstream hit.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Black Fire

I spent about half-an-hour and the Philadelphia Museum of Art today just staring at this painting. It's called Black Fire and was painted by Barnett Newman. Trust me, it's much better and much bigger (8+ feet tall) in person.
Before I went, I had put a tour of the Modern and Contemporary Gallery on my iPod so that I could understand some of the works a bit better. The curator of the M&C Gallery had this to say about Black Fire:
Is that picture just half black and half just plain canvas? Is there more black area? His signature motif is the thing that came to be known as a “zip” … it’s that vertical band that goes down the painting. And where does the zip divide the area of blank canvas? Is there any black paint that’s accidentally (or not) dripped on to the blank canvas?

The going back and forth between just these two very minimal variables, black paint and raw canvas, can keep you thinking quite a long time about Newman’s work. Newman’s idea of his art was that it was about the highest mysteries, the most profound questions of life and death. For many people, understanding how an almost blank canvas could represent those questions is very disturbing and I think Newman’s point was that there is no way that anything you represent could begin to address those questions. It’s a painting that in refusing to show the things of this world that we know is saying, “OK. I’m about what else there is.”

Whatever that may be.
Imedietly after listening to her, I thought of something Andrei Tarkovsky said in Sculpting In Time:
Art is the soul shaping it's spiritual structure.
In the most abstract way, Newman found a way to express his spiritual journey. If you look closely at the painting, there are very small dots of black (along with a smudge or two) on the blank canvas. Maybe the "zip" and these small touches serve to say that even the best parts of life can sometimes become contaminated by darkness. Not fully, but who knows? The canvas was all white to begin with.

I used to think modern art was the dumbest thing ever, but I'm starting to find it extremely rewarding. It's tough thing to understand, but if you're around people who know their stuff, it can be very enjoyable. I enjoyed my time in the modern gallery today much more than in the European (although the Cezzane paintings were gorgeous). It's amazing how things that you once thought to be pointless and idiotic can come to life and take on meaning through new understanding.

Praise God for maturity.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"ABHORRENT!" -Dr. Ted Baehr

I’ve disliked “Dr.” Ted Baehr for years.

My dislike for him doubled when I read his profusely bigoted review of Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima which denounced the movie as anti-American, leftist, socialist, anti-Capitalistic (a favorite of Baehr’s) propaganda.

I believe my dislike tripled the other day when I read his review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Consider this tripe:
Regrettably, however, this means that even more children will be lured away from God and His Infallible Word, which says that witchcraft is evil and abhorrent. Instead of dreaming about the joys that God gives us through Jesus Christ, they will be dreaming of casting spells, using magic spells, riding brooms, and rebelling against their parents.
I know a lot of kids who read Harry Potter, many of them Christians. Not one of them has turned to witchcraft or the occult because of Harry’s influence. They may want to be able to point a stick somewhere, say some Latin, and have cool stuff happen (who wouldn’t?!), but that’s about it.

I find this next paragraph even more hilarious:
Watching 6- and 7-year-old children walk out of the press screening for the new Harry Potter movie (as well as the people with little witchcraft symbols and S&M dresses) is always an opportunity to reflect on the malignant corruption of our culture. Aside from the fact that these children are exposed to ugly creatures, fantastic violence and worthless incantations, this movie has dialogue that sounds like it comes out of Stuart Smalley’s Daily Affirmations on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Namely, when Harry's godfather tells him, “You are not a bad person. Every person has light and darkness in them. You have a choice.” Imagine saying this to Michael Cho after he has had his killing spree. Or, Adolf Hitler.
UGLY CREATURES! You mean like the ones in The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, two franchises you praised?!

FANTASTIC VIOLENCE! Ditto.

“Little witchcraft symbols and S&M dresses.”

Let me quote that one again: “Little witchcraft symbols and S&M dresses.”

Just the fact that Baehr mentioned S&M in his review of Harry Potter just lowers him another notch on my list (and makes my stomach hurt with laughter). The man is a maniac who does not how to discern. Sure, he knows how to describe violence, review sexuality, and count how many times people say “fuck”, but he doesn’t know how to thoughtfully wade through Rowling’s themes which, as Barb Nicolosi said in her comments on HP5, are more inclined toward the “good, true and beautiful” than many other fantasy works of the day.

He also conveniently glides past Order of the Phoenix’s themes of friendship, family, and the elusive quality of evil. Great parallels can be drawn between the Ministry of Magic’s refusal to recognize the return of Voldemort and Evangelical Christianity’s growing denial of the power of Satan.

Ted Baehr needs to focus his attention on something worthy of his time … Philip Pullman would be a good start.

PS: Other people have weighed in on Baehr’s ineptitude recently including Peter Chattaway and Jeffrey Overstreet.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Inspiration ... or not.

For three weeks, I’ve been trying to develop a short film in my head. My goal is to outline a plot by the middle of August, have a script by the end of September and shoot through November. I’d like to have it finished by January so that I can submit it to some festivals.

Yes. Heavy goal. I know. Especially when inspiration is little-to-be-found in my not-so-creative mind.

I could make it something easy and simple. Just a straight forward plot with nothing of value emanating from the story. I don’t want that, though. I want it to be something more. I want it to have a little depth and be something of value. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece … it probably won’t be … I just want to do my best with it.

So, in my quest for inspiration, I went to Starbucks tonight to support my good friend Dan who was providing live music and sat at a table with Ian McEwan and Andrei Tarkovsky (both present in text only). I never got around to McEwan and only engaged Tarkovsky for about half-an-hour because I kept getting distracted by people I knew. I did learn this, though.

The main goal of art is to “explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for”; to lead the creator and “consumer” into a better understanding of human existence. Tarkovsky goes on to give this example:
From the very moment when Eve ate the apple from the tree of knowledge, mankind was doomed to strive endlessly after the truth. First, as we know, Adam and Eve discovered they were naked. And they were ashamed. They were ashamed because they had understood; and then they set out on their way in the joy of knowing one another. That was the beginning of a journey that has no end. One can understand how dramatic that moment was for those two souls, just emerged from the state of placid ignorance and thrown out into the vastness of the earth, hostile and inexplicable.

‘With the sweat of thy brow shalt thou earn thy bread…’

So it was that man, ‘natures crown’, arrived on the earth in order to know why it was that he had appeared or been sent.
More coming later on ... I think.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More of the same

Hmmm ... really makes me want to buy a ticket.

Note sarcasm.


And isn't that supposed to be "grisly" instead of "grizzly"? Are there graphic images of bears being mutilated or something. Sheesh ... take some pride when labeling the rating of your torture porn.

(I think I saw this pointed out somewhere else as well, but I forget where.)

EDIT: Jeannette Catsoulis sums it up pretty well in her NY Times review of the film.
The person who ought to be most embarrassed by this airless dud is its director, Roland Joffé, a two-time Oscar nominee who in the space of just five years regressed from working with Tom Stoppard to associating with the kind of people who mix eyeball smoothies and force-feed them to defenseless women. To be fair to Mr. Joffé, however, the movie has reportedly undergone substantial alterations since its filming in Moscow in 2005. Perhaps he’s as disgusted by the eyeballs as we are.
And then at the end, Catsoulis sums up the torture porn genre with a little twist on the content warning:
“Captivity” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Characters are burned with acid, buried in sand, drugged repeatedly — and then have sex.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Evangeline's first film project

Evangeline Lilly (Kate on Lost) has chosen her first feature-length movie project, an indie flick called Afterwards. Quite frankly, after her performance on Lost, she could get a big role in a Summer blockbuster-type film, but:
I have struggled to find the right combination of factors, I was daunted by the notion that my only option might be to go do some big Hollywood film because that doesn't interest me whatsoever. I don't see any value in fame and I don't see any value in big blockbuster hit films. I have been looking for a quiet beautiful little project for three years.
It's nice to hear a comment like this coming from someone so famous. The more I watch the "quiet beautiful" things that Lilly talks about, the less desire I have to go see all the new and flashy blockbusters.

I'm taking a trip to Philadelphia next weekend and plan on spending Friday doing something that I never get to do: sit all day in an art-house theater and take in intelligent art. I couldn't be more excited.

Story courtesy of BuddyTV.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Kindness to Repentance

One of the reasons I love movies so much is because of their ability to hold a magnifying glass up to my own heart. To make me feel … to make me think … to challenge me mentally, spiritually, and personally.

Such was my experience last night when I popped in a movie from HBO Films entitled Longford into our DVD player here at home.


Longford (2006, ***1/2) is the story of Frank Pakenham, a British Lord known for his visits to prisoners. Lord Longford has been a Christian all his life and lives by the philosophy that "no human being is beyond forgiveness.”

When a convicted child murderer and sexual deviant named Myra Hindley requests a visit from Lord Longford, he has no qualms about looking in on her at the local prison. Despite the worries of his wife and many others who call Hindley a “monster” of the worst sort, Lord Longford goes in to visit the prisoner and develops a relationship with her. What follows is a very intriguing web of mystery, betrayal, and human drama almost catapulted to greatness by the performances of Jim Broadbent and Andy Serkis.

While watching Longford, I was struck by Pakenham’s faithfulness to his cause, the convict he was visiting, and his God. Here was a man of unwavering faith who believed so strongly that everyone should be offered a chance to receive grace and forgiveness, no matter what the crime that he was not discouraged, even after losing his job and a certain amount of public respect.

Near the end of the film, Pakenham makes a very bold statement (SPOILERS follow, if you plan on watching the film):
Forgiveness is the very cornerstone of my faith and the struggle to deepen my faith is my life’s journey. In that respect, [the prisoner that has taken all I have done for her and thrown it in my face] has enriched my spiritual life beyond measure, and for that I will always be grateful to her. If people think that makes me weak, or mad, so be it. That is the path I am committed to. To love the sinner, but hate the sin. To assume the best in people, but not the worst. To believe that anyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed … eventually.
I lost sleep last night thinking about those words. They made me think about all the people whom I have ever hated; all the people I’ve been unable to forgive. It made me realize that instead of cleaving to the childish, infantile desires of my deceptively wicked heart, I should conform my feelings to the attitude that Lord Longford had toward Myra Hindley (which is, by the way, the same attitude that Christ has toward all we wayward sinners).

It is so hard to forgive sometimes, especially those people who are blatantly unrepentant of their wrongdoing. But, as the Word of God says, the kindness of God leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4). Perhaps our kindness toward those who have wronged us will be enough to soften even the hardest of hearts and lead them to full reconciliation … with us and with God.
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.

Romans 2:1-8 (NASB)