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 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: 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 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,
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?