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: