Saturday, June 30, 2007

Why would I want to know this...

If this makes you laugh as much as it makes me laugh, please do speak up!

Friday, June 29, 2007

The remarkable "Ratatouille"

I’ve been a big fan of Pixar ever since Toy Story 2. They make consistently wonderful animated films that have great stories and technical brilliance to boot. I always walk into the theater not knowing what to expect and (almost) always walk out impressed. But, with Ratatouille, I was very impressed. So impressed, that I am willing to say Ratatouille is the finest animated film that I have ever seen.

The first reason I say this is because of its artistic brilliance. Everything in Ratatouille is just luscious to behold and has its own sense of reality, while still being animated. The voice actors are impeccable, especially the great Peter O’Toole voicing food critic Anton Ego (what a great name). The story is well-written, multi-layered, and as enjoyable for adults as it would be for children. Children might even get a bit tired of this one with its 112 minute running time and avoidance of the usual kids movie clichés. It’s a solid, great film from all directions … something that is rarely seen in most animated fare.

Plus, it’s just such a fun movie to watch. I laughed out loud many times and don’t think that a smile left my face from the television screen at the opening, to the excellent monologue at the end.

Any of the things I’ve mentioned above (or the likes of them) can be seen in most of Pixar’s achievements. What makes Ratatouille such a special piece of film is its simple, yet profound message about appreciating excellence and beauty.

As Remy, the main rat character of the film, watches his family and friends eat a steady diet of garbage, he is disgusted. Remy has excellent taste. He tries to seek out new and delicious foods (which aren’t that hard to find!). He is discerning and finds nourishing things to eat instead of being content with the typical garbage that his compatriots are satisfied eating. The vital importance of excellence is a lesson that the filmmakers behind Ratatouille know well. They have taken the concept to heart and have created one of the finest examples of meaningful, popular art that I have ever seen.

“Excellence matters” is also a lesson that needs to be taken to heart by many people living in our culture and a message that I am passionate about. I so badly want people to experience and appreciate excellence! There are so many artists out there, trying to do their very best, just waiting to be appreciated. As Anton Ego says in the closing act of Ratatouille: “The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations … the new needs friends.” That it does.

So, make friends with something new today. Look deeper at the world you live in. Think, for a change. You’ll find things you never dreamed of and always hoped for waiting just for you in the places that you’d least expect. Don’t get to addicted and attached to things that are disposable and of no consequence, but seek out something excellent. You might just find that it has the capability to enrich your life for the better.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why haven't I heard about this?

Meryl Streep
Glenn Close
Vanessa Redgrave
Patrick Wilson
Toni Collette
and more!

I smell Oscar. According to a reviewer on IMDb (who may not be that reputable), Evening features "one of the greatest casts ever assembled in 100+ years of movie-making" and is "a deliberately paced, visually gorgeous meditation on real life issues." There are some really beautiful images in the trailer and if it lives up to what this reviewer says, I believe I will love every second.

And the best part is that it opens THIS FRIDAY!

UPDATE: Looks like I won't be giving this film my money this weekend. Partly because of the 20-something percent on the Tomatometer (thanks, Raymond) and Roger Ebert's *1/2 star review.
There are few things more depressing than a weeper that doesn't make you weep. "Evening" creeps through its dolorous paces as prudently as an undertaker. Upstairs, in the big newport mansion, a woman is dying in a Martha Stewart bedroom. She takes a very long time to die, because the whole movie consists of flashbacks from her reveries. This gives us time to reflect on deep issues, such as, who is this woman?
Then there's Jeffrey Overstreet at CT Movies who gives it a whopping one star rating and even mentions that very pretty shot that I posted above...
Evening feels artificial from the very first shot. We see a young woman reclining peacefully on a boat, resting on placid Rhode Island waters against a vivid sunset. Some may find the image breathtakingly beautiful. But there's something strangely artificial about it. It's so picturesque, with that digitally manufactured sky and that woman so perfectly posed, that it feels sentimental and idealistic—the stuff of vacation-brochure photography.
Grr. So sad to see good talent wasted. Off to see Ratatouille.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Found the trailer for this movie on Quicktime today and was extremely intrigued.
It stars Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller and is directed by Buscemi. Interview is a drama about "a fading political journalist" who "is forced to interview America's most popular soap actress." Supposedly, the film covers some pretty tough territory, talking about the cult of celebrity and the problems with mainstream entertainment.

I love dramas with two great actors duking it out with diologue.

Plus, Sienna Miller.

Top of my must see list.

I've got the Csehy Blues...

Today marks the first last Sunday of June in five years that I haven’t packed up some of my belongings, hopped in the van with Mom and Dad, and headed over to Langhorne, PA for two weeks at Csehy (CHAY-hee) Summer School of Music.

Depressing? Yes.

Csehy Summer School of Music is truly a place like no other. The people there are the nicest, most welcoming people I have ever met and I have made some amazing friends there over the years. Csehy encouraged me immensely throughout my teenage years and has done a great work in shaping me into the person I am today.

At Csehy, I laughed the hardest I ever have in my life at the counselors and staff.

At Csehy I learned that making music is not simply playing notes, but an art that is to be perfected and shaped to the glory of God.

At Csehy I learned great hymns of the faith and sang them until my throat was sore.

At Csehy, I was taught and instructed by impeccable artists who also happened to be committed Christians. Now that’s a rarity!

At Csehy, I witnessed countless kids my age leave their two weeks of camp as completely changed individuals because of the tremendous example of staff and counselors and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Because of Csehy, I found out that my future did not lie in the area of piano performance. For that I am very grateful.

Csehy planted countless seeds in me that continued to bloom throughout the whole of my teen years.

One of my most vivid memories is a piano lesson I had with Ben Harding where he brought in a book of modern art. He started explaining to me the stories behind some of the paintings that, before he explained them to me, seemed like nonsensical shapes and patterns. I think that was the first moment that I really got chills over an art other than music. In that moment I gained respect for art of all kinds and after that, would never look at things the same again. That was my first step in looking closer at God's world.

Even before Summit…

Even before Bryan…

It all started at Csehy, a place that will always hold a place in the very center of my heart. A place I will never ever forget.

PS: This video is also a product of Csehy and the unique breed of people there...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sleep on THIS...

The man who has stolen in order to never thieve again remains a thief. Nobody who has ever betrayed his principles can have a pure relationship with life.

-A. Tarkovsky (Sculpting in Time)
I read this quote from Tarkovsky tonight and it really sparked something in me. I spend a lot of time thinking about my own “principles” and if the actions that I make on a daily basis really fit into that Christian Worldview that I like to talk about so much. Things like, “Are my thoughts toward that person I saw on the street really something that a follower of Christ should think?” or “Do my inner-most thought processes really mesh with what I say I believe?”

When I read Tarkovsky saying that no one who has betrayed their principles can have a pure conscience, I thought, “WOW…that is so true!” When I don’t think in a way that would be pleasing to God, when the fruit of the spirit is not evident in my thought processes, there is no way that I can ever be the person that God has destined me to be. It’s a double life and a double mind.

Just some thoughts that I thought I’d take captive for a few minutes…

Friday, June 22, 2007

I NEED to see this!

I've really got to get out and see Into Great Silence. I've heard so many great things about it from so many sources. I just saw this article on IMDb and this paragraph made me want to see the film even more...
More than anything the film is about how we look, how, when given time, we are able to see differently. It is these quiet moments of beauty found in the quotidian mundane that Groening is most proud of. "I could not have found the image of the bowl of fruit when I first arrived. I had to wait. There was a change as my perception of the present moment helped me to see more. My level of awareness became different.
With all this Tarkovsky I'm reading, I really miss sitting in a dim theater by myself taking in great pieces of art (something that is rare to find here in the Burg).

I'm going into Philadelphia in about a month for a day. I'm really hoping the film will be playing there, or else I might just have to have my Uncle send me the Region 2 DVD over from England.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tarkovsky Quotes

I'm reading Sculpting in Time by Andrei Tarkovsky at the moment. I read this quote tonight and thought, "Wow ... this man is amazing. This captures exactly how I feel." Take a read:
The beautiful is hidden from the eyes of those who are not searching for the truth, for whom it is contra-indicated. But the profound lack of spirituality of those people who see art and condemn it, the fact that they are neither willing or ready to consider the meaning and aim of their existence in any higher sense, is often masked by the vulgarly simplistic cry, ‘I don’t like it!’ ‘It’s boring!’ It is not a point that one can argue; but it is like the utterance of a man born blind who is being told about a rainbow. He simply remains deaf to the pain undergone by the artist in order to share with others the truth he has reached.
And then, a page later, I read this next quote that sums up how I feel when encountering a great piece of art, whether is be music, film, etc.
Touched by a masterpiece, a person begins to hear in himself that same call of truth which prompted the artist to his creative act. When a link is established between the work and its beholder, the latter experiences a sublime, purging trauma. Within that aura which unites masterpieces and audience, the best sides of our souls are made known, and we long for them to be freed. In those moments we recognize and discover ourselves, the unfathomable depths of our own potential, and the furthest reaches of our emotions.

Reflections on "Little Children"

First of all, if you haven't seen Little Children, there are some mild spoilers in the following post. If that applied to you, I believe you need to head out to your nearest film rental store and pick up a copy of this amazing piece of cinema.

Two nights ago, a friend was at my house to visit. After looking through my DVD collection he asked if he could borrow Little Children. He had seen half of the film on an airplane coming home from Europe and needed to finish it. Of course, I said yes. After all … it was the best movie of last year (according to me, at least).

When a friend borrows a film that has as much potential to offend as Little Children, I always like to warn them about the potentially “bad” parts. I don’t say this to sound like a puritan, I just try to avoid backlash from offended friends. I told him that the most graphic part of the film comes at the book club meeting when Kate Winslet is talking about Madame Bovary (“It's the hunger - the hunger for an alternative and the refusal to accept a life of unhappiness.”) and the film cuts between Brad and Sarah in the throws of intercourse. In my opinion, this is the climax (no pun intended) of the film and possibly the film’s most important scene. I just told him to look out and be ready to duck for a few seconds if he thought it might be something he'd struggled with.

After he left, I was thinking to myself about Brad and Sarah a bit. They both were tired of their mundane lives and had that “hunger for an alternative.” Both were longing for a change. Both were unhappy. Instead of trying to work things out, they did the “easiest” thing and had an affair.

It got me thinking about how many times I’m tempted to do the “easy” thing. It turns out that the “easy” thing is almost always the most sinful thing. What is easier than holding that anger in at someone who has wronged you? What is easier than wasting time watching tons of inconsequential entertainment? What is easier than clicking on that lurid Internet advertisement? Sin is always more attractive. It’s that “wide road” that the Bible talks about and there is a TON of room to run around and swerve.

But if one keeps running around like a wild man on that wide road, something will be dislocated or interrupted. People will get hurt. Lives will be damaged. Souls will be lost. The end of Little Children shows the effects of Brad and Sarah’s choices, along with the choices of everyone else in the film. It’s not happy stuff and I find it extremely convicting.

The choices I make do not only affect me. They affect everyone around me, whether I know it or not. It’s something that I struggle to be mindful of as I go about my life. Sometimes I’m proud of myself for doing the things that are right and admirable. There are also times when I just want to hide my head in shame for what I’ve done. God’s forgiveness is always there, though, and it is not something to be abused.

The past is the past. It’s written in stone and cannot be changed. God may forget the things we’ve done, but we don’t have the same luck most of the time. It's a matter of trying not to focus on the past, but focusing solely on the hope of a brighter future, illumined by the brightness of the hope we have in Christ.

As the narrator says at the end of Little Children, “You couldn't change the past. But the future could be a different story. And it had to start somewhere.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Parties, movies, and an uncharacteristically giddy Great-Aunt.

Mom and Dad's 25th Anniversary Party was yesterday at Aunt Catherine's house. It was an open house for family and friends from 4-8. It went really well. Mom and Dad were surprised, we had great food, and everyone had a good time. It was really neat to see the surprise on their faces when people they hadn't seen in a long time walked in. Now I can enjoy the rest of the summer without worrying about sneaking around planning this party.

I traded in Sophie Scholl for The Painted Veil on Thursday evening. At first I couldn't find it on the new release shelf. I knew I'd seen it last week on the shelf. This was my conversation with the Blockbuster employee:

ME: Hey, do you guys have any copies of The Painted Veil with Ed Norton and Naomi Watts?
BLOCKBUSTER: Yes, sir, we do. Let me help you find it.

[We go back to the new release shelf and find the film shelved out of order.]

BLOCKBUSTER: Hmmm ... only two copies and its out of order. Must not be a very good movie.
ME: Well, knowing the tastes of the people in this town, its probably a very good movie.
BLOCKBUSTER: Whatever you say, sir.

I thanked him for his vote of confidence and watched the movie on Friday night. It was one of the best movies I've seen in a while and definitely would win my personal award for "The Best of Movie Last Year That You Never Heard Of." I'm kicking myself for not catching this in the theater. Everything about the film is stunningly beautiful. From the story that talks about the nature of forgiveness and true love, to the exquisite photography, to the amazing musical score. Everything that comprises a truly great film can be found in The Painted Veil. Some may say it's boring, but I say its art ... a great work of art at that.

Another great thing about The Painted Veil is that it has a solid moral framework and is surprisingly inoffensive. Yes, the film has some sexual elements, but they are completely necessary to tell the story and are handled with tact, not being exploited. Too many films lack this in our day and The Painted Veil was very refreshing. A beautiful movie in every sense of the word. Watch it ... you won't regret it.

While The Painted Veil was a great movie, Hollywood unleashed upon audiences this weekend a new horrendous dish of torture porn: Hostel: Part II. Just another addition to the ever-increasing list of movies that elevate the torture of human beings into entertainment. I read a great article the other day comparing the meaninful violence of a new documentary on abortion (Lake of Fire ... an excellent film that I'm sure you'll be hearing about within the next year) to the pointless and pornographic violence of Hostel: Part II. Here's the link, but mind you, it's a bit graphic.

Whenever the thought crosses my mind that we need to do something to stop these kind of movies from being made, I remember that there is really no way we can do this because America is a free country. As Michael Phillips put it in The Chicago Tribune, "When you live in a free country, you put up with crud like Hostel Part II." Well put. We can stand against it, as we should, but we can't mandate that it stops. I love my freedom in this country, but the fact that we can't stop something as awful as this film from being made is sad. The fact that millions of people were entertained by it this weekend is even more sad. God have mercy on us.

On a better, slightly less serious (and infinitely more funny) note, here's a wonderful action shot of Aunt Catherine. At the point that this picture was taken, she was telling a story about how she once thought that her reflection in a mirror was someone else. Then she started talking to it. And this was when she could actually see.