Archive for the ‘gpv’ Category

Dead Patrol

April 15, 2008

Dead Patrol is a web-exclusive series of video shorts by Jason Tisch. It distinguishes itself from the vast array of YouTube do-it-yourself videos with high production values, creative cinematography and realistic sets and designs. The five-minute episodes follow Lt. Brigham (Geneva alumna Joanna Lowe) and Cpl. Keenan (Brandon Keenan), the remnants of a militia trying to clear Pittsburgh of the undead so that the city can be rebuilt. The drama-filled scenes have Brigham and Keenan face existential questions while trying to survive the zombies attack. And while the series’s use of elementary CGI for some scenes break the sense of realism, its opening theme and high quality video make the series enjoyable and engaging.

Watch the series at: www.deadpatrol.com. The site currently features three episodes, as well as a way for viewers to donate to the continuation of this project.

Greg P. Veltman

Justice in Culture

February 4, 2008

In the last few years justice issues have come to the front of popular opinion and culture. Whether it was Bono and his work on AIDS in Africa or a news article, more and more people are looking for practical way to improve the situation of everyone all over the globe and especially fighting injustices. Popular culture has used the power of story to fan the flames of these issues on the popular level. While you have probably already seen films like Amazing Grace, Hotel Rwanda, Crash and Blood Diamond, there are many less well-known films that also engage the audience on issues of justice and tell stories of what that can and may look like. Here is are a few that I think are worth watching and discussing.

  • When it comes to issue of justice the “must-see” film is the classic Gandhi – the story of his remarkable non-violent fight against injustice.
  • Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts tells of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, both personally and politically.
  • Sophie Scholl: The Final Days – A small group of college students stand up to Nazi Germany.
  • Girl in the Cafe and Michael Clayton ask the question: in our giant bureaucratic/corporate system is justice still possible?
  • North Country – one woman’s struggle to find acceptance working in a mine
  • Catch a Fire – tells of the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – One of the biggest corporate injustices ever.
  • The Constant Gardener – shows the integral connection between the developed world and the developing world.

Also, Ben Harper’s Both Sides of the Gun is a great album that deals with issues of justice intelligently.

Greg Veltman

SiCKO (2007)

November 28, 2007

One of my college professors, Quentin Schultze, made a great point about documentaries: documentaries are about the storyteller more than they are about the topic of the story they are telling. Unlike other films, which have a director telling a story that is often written by someone else and has the added freedom of fiction, a documentary is a vehicle for collecting and editing real footage to create a story. The best of these tell a coherent narrative.

This may seem like an inherent critique of documentaries. It is not. In fact, it makes the viewer more aware of what is going on, recognizing the biases that are unavoidable and hopefully listening and learning anyway. That means that Sicko is about Michael Moore, as are his other films. He has ideas and views that he wants to turn into stories, hopefully to change minds and behaviors in light of the information and narrative he provides. This sounds like propaganda but is in fact the role of journalism in a democratic society. Guess what? Journalism requires an audience of critical thinkers, which is one of the main problems with mass media at the moment – it often assumes that the audience is not thinking critically.

Some of the best parts of the film are Moore’s visits to other countries like Canada, England, France and Cuba, which give some contrast to the US system – even if it is a small glance at a large picture. The key to the film though comes about two-thirds in when Moore asks the American audience: “Who are we?” If part of the answer to this question is how we treat one another in a political system that includes how we should take care of the sick, then we need to seriously consider what we are doing. If nothing else, this film should help Americans ask the questions: Where did our current health care system come from? And how and why does it work the way that it does? These questions are important; not because we can then place the blame for anything that we think is wrong with the system, but rather that the answers provide guidance for being an engaged citizen and taking up the power to change it.

At times I find Moore to be patronizing of the everyday American that he is trying to represent in his films. But overall, I think Moore asks some really good questions that could provide the audience with some interesting things to consider and act upon.

-Greg Veltman

[Full Disclosure: I currently have no health insurance, and lived in Canada from age 5-18.]

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American Gangster (2007)

November 19, 2007

Gangster films have a mysterious appeal in American culture. Everyone (OK, maybe this is a guy thing?) has some hidden longing to be The Godfather or Tony Montana from Scarface, or if not to be them, at least admires them. These people are criminals and everyone knows it. Therein lies the attraction, gangsters are symbols of pride and power, and we secretly would rather be feared than loved.

Ridley Scott’s American Gangster take up a similar story, based on real events, with some interesting twists. Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), decides to take advantage of the war in Vietnam, and buy directly from the fields of heroin, using military friends and relatives to smuggle it back in military planes. Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is a cop, and law-student, who gets further drawn into investigating the growing drug problems in NYC. The film follows both of these men as their lives get further and further entangled. The film highlights the arrogance that starts to take over Lucas’ life as he gains power and money, while showing the increasing vulnerability of Richie as his life is falling apart. The film avoids trying to be a detective crime thriller and instead becomes a character study of who it is Lucas and Roberts long to be, and the difficult choices we have to make to get there.

Gangster films trouble the idea of the American Dream while still holding the promise of its success. This film goes further by arguing that we might have to surrender the dream to something better and more real: the relationships of those closest to us. This film works as heightened metaphor for the choices we make and the people we want to become.

Greg Veltman

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Kanye West – Graduation (2007)

October 10, 2007

After dropping out and registering late, Kanye West has now graduated and is making the transition from higher education to “real life.” He has matured by dropping the skits of the last two albums, focusing on tightly produced songs. The main singles “Stronger” (sampling Daft Punk) and “Good Life” fit with the style of his earlier hits like “Gold Digger.” But he gets much more personal in “Everything I Am,” reflecting on his own fame and the paradox of death on the street and what seems like a celebration of that fact in most rap music. This album continues West’s streak of good albums.

Graduation features a select group of collaborators, like Mos Def, Lil Wayne and Coldplay’s Chris Martin. One of the great parts of the physical album is the album art done by Takashi Murakami. And West has put his celebrity to work as a main supporter of www.edin08.com, a movement to make education in America a political priority.

Greg Veltman

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3:10 to Yuma (2007)

September 26, 2007

Some might claim that the traditional western died at the end of John Wayne’s career in the 70’s. But while it has been on the decline, it is still alive and doing well (See Unforgiven and The Proposition). While 3:10 to Yuma is a remake, it still fits in today by showing the moral dilemma’s that we can face when questions of justice arise.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the leader of a gang of outlaws and is captured by a small town. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is a struggling rancher in that town and in need of money agrees to help transport Wade for the 3:10 train to Yuma and, of course, Wade’s gang is not going to see him taken without a fight. But the real story is the struggle of wills as the audience wonders about the moral qualities and fortitude of both men.

The west provides a great setting to have a heightened dialogue about the meaning of justice and moral good. With the absence of modern bureaucracy, the wilderness becomes a place where justice is in the hands of the people, it is no longer an abstraction. So, as always a gunfight must ensue as justice needs to be pursued or destroyed at all cost. The conversations about what is truly good is what makes this film worth watching.

Greg P. Veltman

3:10 to Yuma intentionally blurs the line between the good guys and the bad guys in the telling of what on the surface is a traditional western yarn. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is the hero, a dirt poor farmer looking to earn the money he needs to keep his farm afloat and support his wife and sickly son. Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) is the villainous mass-murderer whom Evans is hired to transport to the eponymous train. Evans, while acting on noble intentions and exhibiting great courage, is not a typical hero. He is in constant need of rescue by none other than the apparently black-hearted Wade, who goes to great lengths to keep his captor alive. Throwing this quirk into the formula allows the filmmakers to deliver the en vogue message for contemporary westerns: the line between good and evil is far more nebulous than we would care to admit.

-Nate Campbell

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Knocked Up (2007)

September 25, 2007

Judd Apatow has done it againhe’s made a film that is both hilarious and brutally honest, like his previous the 40 Year-Old Virgin. In this case a seemingly simple one-night stand between stoner/regular guy Ben (Seth Rogen) and entertainment reporter Alison (Katherine Heigl) gets very complicated when they find out that they are pregnant. After seeing the beating heart of the child growing inside of her, Alison decides to keep the child and hopes that Ben will help out—and that maybe they can “make love” the long drawn-out emotional way.

The road is bumpy and they have Alison’s married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and husband Pete (Paul Rudd) to highlight the highs and lows of being a family. While this is a comedy with many laughs, it is not without its serious and honest conversations. The characters come across as real people, able to laugh at the human condition while avoiding seeing all of life as absurd.

Ultimately, this film is about people being forced to learn what it means to grow up. Ben and Alison have tried to see their lives as without much consequence, which means little responsibilityand they grew to like it that way. The thoughtless choices that they have made now confront them with responsibility and a lifenot just their owndepends on it. The characters contemplate their options and realize that changing isn’t always bad. In fact, it might allow them to be who they really are.

This film is rated R mostly for some graphic scenes of a birth and harsh language, and it should have this rating. I have a hunch that an audience under 18 (although not everyone) might miss the complexity of the story and the messiness of relationships depicted. And despite the fact that we don’t think of people growing up in our culture, Apatow makes a case that there is indeed a time to take up one’s full responsibility in the worldfor yourself and for others.

Greg P. Veltman

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Clicking for the Common Good

September 17, 2007

The Hunger SiteEvery morning an automated e-mail from www.thehungersite.com appears in my inbox. I originally heard about this site in high school, but for the last two years I have been attempting to visit it daily and click for the common good. The Hunger Site is an online activism site that sells advertising space– “the money from these advertisers goes to our charity partners, who fund programs to provide food to the hungry.” Visitors are allowed to click once a day; the advertisers then donate money per click. Visitors are encouraged to buy products of the sponsoring companies, though this is not a requirement.

This site links to other similar sites that raise money for breast cancer research, child health around the world and literacy among others. I recommend signing up and clicking; it’s a daily reminder that our life is good, and that we often take things for granted. Will it single-handedly save the world? Probably not, but it might begin the process of change our habits, thoughts and prayers toward doing good in the world. It is a way for us to get a glimpse of how heaven is being brought down to earth, one mouse click at a time, one person at a time, one small action a day. It has the potential to change us, give us hope, and through us God transforms the world.

greg p. veltman

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

September 17, 2007

Based on German writer Patrick Süskind’s 1985 novel, Perfume: the Story of a Murderer is the tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is born on the streets of 18th century Paris and grows up in an orphanage. He is an oddity because while his sense of smell is very acute, he has no natural scent of his own.

Smell becomes the film’s under-riding metaphor as Grenouille struggles to find his vocation. After he becomes the apprentice of perfumer Giuseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman), he learns that his goal in life is to preserve the scent of beauty–the essence and soul of beautiful women. In this way he becomes of a serial killer.

Grenouille kills women to capture their scent for the best perfume in the world, but is eventually caught and condemned to die by death on a cross. And though he finds power in beauty, his true longing is to be truly loved; he discovers that this is impossible for him and he sacrifices himself. The film confronts the audience with the question: is Grenouille supposed to represent Christ or the anti-Christ? In this fable the ambiguity will stay with you for days. Perfume is probably one of the most provocative, yet beautiful films of 2007.

greg p. veltman

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The Guggenheim Grotto — …Waltzing Alone (2006) and live at Club Cafe.

September 5, 2007

Dublin’s tight group of singer-songwriters (including Damien Rice) was where Kevin May and Mick Lynch met. They were soon joined by producer and percussionist Shane Power to form the Guggenheim Grotto. Having made a name for themselves offering a single “Philosophia” free through iTunes, they started their first US tour this summer, putting on a very intimate show in Pittsburgh. There debut album is …Waltzing Alone, a very melodic and quiet album. Kevin is main vocalist and primary guitarist, with Mick playing a variety of instruments including ukelle and violin; Shane rounds out the trio by providing a soft yet effective beat using a cajon (a form of hand drum). In concert they played most of the album, and covered Tom Waits’ “Picture in a Frame.”

The Guggenheim Grotto specializes in thoughtful lyrics. Asking questions of aethetics, “For without an absolute how can the absolute define…/A work of art.” In “A Lifetime in Heat,” Kevin laments the separation of a relationship when his brother left home to travel for a year: “I spent myself trying to find your feet/and it felt like a lifetime in heat.” …Waltzing Alone is a beautiful album, good for a quiet, reflective and rainy day.

greg p veltman

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