Monday, February 26, 2007

A good show ... with major disappointments.

Last night’s Academy Awards ceremony was a good one. Ellen was very funny (surprisingly clean) and did a great job of hosting the show (starting out with a black gospel choir running down the aisles of the Kodak theater singing “Hallelujah” for the nominees was a neat touch). There were lots of good tributes to actors, directors, and movies in general that were, as usual for the Oscars ceremony, very impressive.

Although the ceremony part of last night was very good, I was disappointed with some of the awards.

First of all, why in the world did The Departed win best picture?! Having seen all the nominees for this category, I think that every other film was better than The Departed in some way or another. The other films are meaningful works of art filled with insight and even one with a few laughs (Little Miss Sunshine). I found The Departed to be an all-too-crude good-cop-bad-cop film that even bordered on cheesy some of the time due to its bombastically overplayed violence and a heavy-handed, over-acted performance by Jack Nicholson. Even though it has its merits (it’s impeccably acted by most of its all-star cast, has some very cool editing, and greatly benefits from the direction of Martin Scorsese), I didn’t like and am very disappointed in the Academy for choosing the entertaining over much better aesthetic achievements.

Cinematography was also a dud award last night. Pan’s Labyrinth won. Yes, it has gorgeous cinematography but the cinematography in Children of Men is absolutely awe-inspiring. They did some things in that movie that were beyond belief and they should have been recognized for it. That was the second biggest upset of the evening.

Best Original Score was disappointing. Although the Babel score was good, Philip Glass’ Notes On A Scandal is a musical masterpiece and Navarrette’s Pan’s Labyrinth has a rare gothic beauty that isn’t heard very often in film scores. This is the second year in a row that Best Score hasn’t turned out the way I would like.

Last night, by any means, was not a total loss. I think I cried when they gave tribute to Ennio Morricone … a tremendously gifted composer who has written over 400 films scores. All of the music I’ve heard from his music conveys such a sense of longing has a rare beauty that I’ve never found in any other film composer. I got sappy when Robert Altman’s name was shown, too. Such a legend.

Although I didn't like his film, it was so great last night to see Martin Scorsese finally get an award for Best Director! It’s long overdue and always encouraging seeing such great talent rewarded by the Academy. The same goes for Alan Arkin … a long-time staple of American cinema and a great actor. Helen Mirren gave a stately, wonderful acceptance speech for her much-deserved award and Forest Whitaker took home a statuette as well for what I’ve heard is one of the greatest screen performances ever (even though it would have made be happy to see Peter O’Toole win after all these years).

By far the funniest part of the evening was Clint Eastwood and his presentation of the honorary Oscar to Ennio Morricone. Poor Clint forgot his glasses and couldn’t read the teleprompter. He ended up calling Morricone a “movie scorer” and fumbling over a ton of his words. I even think he was making up what Morricone was saying in his acceptance speech because he couldn’t read the translation from teleprompter! Hilarious. Poor guy needs to stick to directing.

A few other highlights were the amazing dance troupe, the sound effects choir, George Lucas on the Oscar stage, the mini-musical by Jack Black, Will Ferell, and John C. Rylie, Jerry Seinfeld's little stand-up blurb, and the Dreamgirls performance where Beyonce brought down the house with an awesome vocal performance

I love the Oscars. I think they’re a lot of fun. Since I’m not a sports fan, this is the one night of the year I act like one when the films I want to win … lose. Needless to say, I was very mad when Jack Nicholson opened that envelope to reveal the best picture winner. But, in the words of my friend Joseph, “There’s always next year.”

Friday, February 23, 2007

A busy week...

This week has been crazy busy for me. I've had a ton of projects, essays, and tests to work on. Plus, intermediate algebra is being a real pain the the butt. It's bringing back memories of those days where I needed constant help from Mrs. Goetz and, trust, those are not good memories. But Spring break is coming ... things will get better because, after all, I'll be home a week from this evening.

I'll be working at the pharmacy over spring break. I'm surprised to hear myself say this, but I'm actually som
ewhat excited about going back to the place. Maybe these feelings will dissipate after about 15 minutes of work, but nevertheless, I need to money badly.

My room mate is doing his big 35mm film shoot tonight. I helped light the set last night and I think it is going to turn out well. He was having a little trouble loading the magzine with film, so I hope that the old Russian beast of a camera (that literally makes the sound of an aged KGB helicopter) doesn't eat all of the expensive film. That would stink. Very badly.

I decided that I simply don't have time to come up with a serious project worthy of stamping my name on for the college film festival this year. I was encouraged to submit the Hummingbird video that I did last semester, so I'm going to touch it up a bit and send it in. If anything, it'll get a laugh or two and that will make me very happy. If you haven't seen the Hummingbird video, it can be found here. I'm also going to help shoot and edit a project for some friends. I'm looking forward to it ... should be fun.

This week I watched Inarritu's Babel. It's nominated for best picture this year and is undoubtedly a great film. Essentially, the film shows that in every culture there is some sort of pain: physical, emotional, or spiritual. Hence, it is a very painful film as we watch people suffer in their lives due to lack of communication and become lost both emotionally and physically.

Some have compared it to Paul Haggis' Crash, but the two films are very different even though they share the same kind of narrative structure. Babel is as confusing as Crash with intersections of characters. Although Crash packs a major punch message wise, Babel's tone remains soft and contemplative even in the end.

It would be one of the most depressing films I have ever seen were it not for the amazing last shot that conveys a beautiful message of hope and healing. In my opinion, it's one of the best emotionally powerful shots in movie history and ranks with Andy Defresne's emergence from the sewage pipe in The Shawshank Redemption. It's a beautifully composed image that I hope stays with me for the rest of my life.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Trying to give my best...

Last night, I was sitting at my desk trying to find an inspiration for a short film ... what I've been doing alot, but to no avail, the last few weeks. iTunes was on shuffle and a live rendition of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb came on (a song used excellently in Scorsese's The Departed). I like Pink Floyd when I'm in a certain mood ... when I'm really tired ... so tired that I feel high (not that I know what that feels like).

Last night something hit me though as I was listening to the guitar solo at the end.

I was listening to mindless noise.

Then I thought, sure, it takes talent to play the guitar and other instruments like Syd Barrett and company. It is art on display and the men are very talented. BUT, this is art without substance like so many things out there today.

In our culture, there is a barrage of mindless noise. Every week we get new films out of Hollywood that are devoid of substance and meaning wanting only to entertain an audience and give them cheap thrills (just from this week, Ghost Rider and Norbit come to mind). Take a look at iTunes on new music Tuesday. You'll see a barrage of fluffy music that is devoid of any significance whatsoever. Hords of pop literature is also released every week ... from harlequin silhouette novels to the latest repetitive James Patterson fare. Sure, there is room for fun, but should things made simply for frivolity really so greatly overshadow things that are made for enlightenment?

You really have to look hard sometimes to find worthwhile artistic endeavors in today's culture. Maybe that's why it's taking me such a long time to think of an idea for a short subject film: I've felt convicted lately to not put my talents into things that aren't of value. I so badly DO NOT want to come up with something shoddy and second rate like so many Christians nowadays. I know I'm not all that experienced yet in the whole filmmaking department, but I at least want to try my best. I pray that God gives me the strength to do so because, quite frankly, He deserves nothing less.

Two years ago at Csehy, Dr. White talked about the Luke 12:48 concept of "to whom much is given, much is required." With this message, he passed each of us a piece of paper that had two hymns printed on it. One of them was "Give of Your Best to the Master." I've had the paper in my Bible on the Luke 12:48 page ever since, and just passed by it a few moments ago.
Give of your best to the master,
Give of the strength of your youth;
Throw your soul's fresh, glowing ardour
Into the battle for truth.

Give of your best to the master,
Naught else is worthy His love;
He gave himself for your ransom,
Gave up his glory above.
That's just part of the hymn, but I thought it spoke to what I had written above.

With that, I'm off to bed...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Flags of Our Fathers

Last night, I watched Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers. It's the companion piece to Letters from Iwo Jima detailing the same kind of story but from the American side. Flags of Our Fathers is unlike any other war movie out there, though, because of its exploration of the true definition of heroism. It's worth watching simply for what it says about American culture. The men that are immortalized in the famous flag raising picture from Iwo Jima were not the true heroes of that battle and they would be the first one to tell you that. During a time that there was no fighting, they were asked to put up a replacement flag and someone happened to take a picture. In essence, they were made "heroes" by American culture when they were exploited on a big publicity tour. One of them felt so unworthy of being treated like a hero that he became a despondent drunk. Pretty sad stuff.

It's an interesting movie, but certainly not perfect. The acting is flat at times, and the story is sometimes confusing with flashbacks and flashforwards from Iwo Jima, the publicity tour, and the son of one of the "heroes" interviewing older veterans, trying to write a book. Cut 20 minutes from it and it would be a truly great film. It still packs a great message, though.

"Maybe there are no such things as heroes. Maybe there are just people like my dad. I finally came to understand why they were so uncomfortable being called heroes. Heroes are something we create, something we need. It's a way for us to understand what is almost incomprehensible: how people could sacrifice so much for us, but for my dad and these men the risks they took, the wounds they suffered, they did that for their buddies. They may have fought for their country but they died for their friends. For the man in front, for the man beside him, and if we wish to truly honor these men we should remember them the way they really were ... the way my dad remembered them."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Thoughtful "Letters"

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:43-45

I’m putting off writing an English essay right now because my head is spinning with thought after going to see Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima. The film is about the battle for Iwo Jima told from a Japanese perspective and is a perfect example of how a war movie should be made. Eastwood has made an extremely profound film and has done some of the best directorial work of his life. This is the best war movie I have ever seen.

Clint Eastwood is a director whose films always make me think about life and tough issues to the point that I get a headache. Million Dollar Baby (one of my favorite films) made me think long and hard about the issue of assisted suicide and whether it is right in some situations. Letters from Iwo Jima is making me think about the horrors of war and all the people on both sides that have no choice but to be caught up in it. Some Christian reviewers are bashing this film, saying it is anti-American. Don’t listen to them. Sadly, they are often very wrong when it comes to films like this.

Although told from the Japanese perspective, Letters does not shy away from showing some Japanese soldiers murdering wounded American soldiers in cold blood. Then again, it also showed some different Japanese soldiers helping a wounded American and nursing him to health. The film shows ruthlessly evil American soldiers killing two surrendered Japanese, but then shows merciful Americans who do the right thing toward the Japanese in rougher circumstances. Eastwood shows us that there are good and bad men on every side, something we rarely see in American war films that usually end with broad strokes of American Patriotism. I don’t think that Patriotism is a bad thing … I just think we tend to have too much of it sometimes.

There were so many good things about this movie that it’s very hard for me to comprehend. Universal themes of grace, mercy, honor, and justice abound in this fantastic film. Out of all the nominees for best picture this year, this is the best and most meaningful. It’s a morally uplifting movie that I would strongly recommend to anyone who can stomach a bit of war violence.

After the Japanese rescue a wounded American, they find a note in his pocket from his mother that says, “Do what is right because it is right. Always.” Toward the end of the movie a Japanese soldier tells his friend that those were the exact same things his mother told him before he left for war. We are different, but essentially we are all the same. We are all human beings. We all feel pain, love, joy, fear, and hatred equally at points in our lives. This is what Letters from Iwo Jima shows us and this is why it is better than any other war movie I have seen.