Archive for the ‘movies’ Category

No Country For Old Men (2007)

March 26, 2008

No Country for Old Men is not an average movie. It is a thriller, but not in an ‘edge-of-your-seat, non-stop action accompanied by pumping techno’ sense. It’s not laced with explosions or one-liners from seemingly super-human heroes.

The movie is quiet, almost too quiet. It has a minimalistic soundtrack, and the many scenes in which the characters refrain from speaking (for most of the characters, the term “terse” is too generous) are punctuated only by the howling of a lonesome wind.

No Country, though filled with its share of violence, does not glorify the bloodshed or use it as a thrilling catharsis. Rather, it is used to underscore the central struggle of the film, which is not a war of flesh and blood. The real struggle in the film is the battle within the three main characters’ minds as they deal with the pervasive darkness of the human condition.
This is not a brainless popcorn flick, but a taut, tense ride that offers viewers willing to be stretched a fascinating conundrum of a viewing experience.

-Nate Campbell

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Gone Baby Gone

March 21, 2008

Who determines what is right or wrong? Do we simply aim at what seems better? These are the central questions this film raises in the context of an poor, old Boston neighborhood. Patrick (Casey Affleck) and Angie (Michelle Monaghan) live and work together as private investigators, following folks and looking for missing persons — usually dead bodies. They’re eventually approached to help the police investigate the disappearance of a 4-year-old.

In order to not spoil the film I’ll leave it there, but this deep and disturbing search leads Patrick to reflect on the morality, consequences and responsibility of his choices and actions. In asking ‘what is the right thing to do?’ we cannot merely explain our decisions as gut reactions or rely on platitudes; rather, the choices must become a lived reality — as painful and hard as the consequences might be. The complex characters struggle to know what is right and how to make choices in line with what they love.

-Greg Veltman

The Golden Compass (2007)

December 5, 2007

The Golden Compass is The DaVinci Code 2.0. Let me explain – Christians are running and hiding from it, and chastising those who don’t chastise it. It even has dozens of Facebook groups touting the need to boycott it. But it’s got a leg up on The DiVinci Code because Phillip Pullman is a better storyteller than Dan Brown could ever hope to be, the movie doesn’t star Tom Hanks, and, oh, everyone keeps telling me that the kids kill God (Brown just messed with him).

If you’re looking for an in-depth look into Phillip Pullman’s entire His Dark Materials trilogy–the first of which was adapted into this movie–stop reading this review and check out Jeffrey Overstreet’s essay “Questions I’ve Been Asked, Answer’s I’ve Given.”

The Golden Compass is the starting point for a fantastical journey in a parallel universe. This world is much similar to our own with one noticeable difference – our souls. In our world these are hidden away inside of us, but in this other world the soul is found outside of the body in the form of an animal, referred to as a daemon (not demon), which is like a companion that others can see and talk to, and with whom they can experience life.

The film introduces characters such as Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Richards), Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman), Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) and polar bear Iorek Byrnison (Ian McKellan), and introduces themes such as the deceit of the Magisterium and the power of young Lyra. As far as much more than that, there’s not much to say, because very little of anything get’s resolved (as tends to happen in the first part of a trilogy). The visuals of the film are stunning, and fantastical elements abound. However, that’s not really why you’re reading this review. You’re reading it so you can see whether I’m going to accept or reject the film; so, I’ll indulge.

While the film is full of things that tend to scare Christians such as witches (not the Harry Potter kind) and things that tell the Truth (other than the Bible), this first installment seems to have more things resonant with Christianity than many “Christian” movies. As my friend and I were walking out of the theater we overheard a man say, “I don’t know what the hell those Christian’s were so fired up about.” I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement. I think this quote from Jeffrey Overstreet sums it up well. When asked if Christians should be afraid of the film, Overstreet responded, “Mercy, no. Let’s not be afraid. Discerning, yes. But not afraid.” That’s as great of a charge as I’ve heard in a while.

-Chris Carson


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Across the Universe (2007)

November 30, 2007

Only proceed to read this review if you love Beatles music and can tolerate musicals. That being said, you might well like Across the Universe (if you can handle the hard-PG-13 rating, that is).

Across the Universe is set in the late 1960s; young British chap Jude (Jim Sturgess) travels to America and becomes good friends with Princeton drop-out Max (Joe Anderson), eventually becoming romantically attached to Max’s sunny and beautiful sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood). Jude eventually starts to question where his life is heading once Max gets drafted into the Vietnam conflict and Lucy begins to embody the anti-war activist prototype.

Although the idea of another anti-Vietnam-laced movie shouldn’t necessarily make one’s head spin, the fact is that the Beatles and the war did intertwine somewhat, and plus, a 60’s movie can’t be filled up with over-the-top psychedelic scenes alone. The film overcomes overall inexperienced acting with truly interesting plotlines that move along very well. But the real fun of the flick is the seeing how the Beatles’ songs fit into the story (or is it the other way around?), singing along and then guessing which one will come next. Highlights include “With a Little Help From My Friends” and its rowdy male-bonding, the sadness of death enunciated with “Let it Be” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” the sensuality found through a tender rendition of “If I Fell” and the communal unity with the harmony in the haunting “Because.” Also, this writer must admit that Salma Hayek as a war nurse combined with “Happiness is a Warm Gun” was proverbial icing on the cake.

But what is Across the Universe really trying to say? Nothing much more than the Beatles ever did, that all you need is love, really. Yesterday, Jude might have been a nowhere man, but now this boy is practically Mother Nature’s son after finding the inner light and giving all his loving to Lucy. Let’s just hope that they didn’t turn out to be day trippers like the rest of the hippies.

– Jake Kauffman


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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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Into the Wild (2007)

November 12, 2007

Into the Wild is the film adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book by the same title. Apparently, Sean Penn read the book a number of years ago and it stuck with him so much that years later he sat down to write the screenplay and didn’t even need re-read the book.

This is the story of Chris McCandless, a disaffected young man who eventually destroys his identity and sets out to experience life as never before. Chris’s family seem to have the American dream in hand: they have quite a bit of money, a seemingly loving relationship and a son who could be on his way to Harvard for law school. There’s one problem–Chris doesn’t want any of that. He cuts up his credit cards, burns his social security card and sets out as a tramp–Alexander Supertramp, to be exact.

The movie does a phenomenal job of chronicling Chris’s journey. Though there are certainly cliché parts to the film (Chris talking to an apple about how organic it is, for instance), the film is incredibly self-aware; so, moments after Chris calls the apple organic he makes a face at the camera. As we move through the story we learn more about what exactly Chris is doing and why, and we also meet a host of characters who affect Chris almost as much as he affects them. Through these relationships and experiences we see Chris move from an alienated individual to someone who is enjoying life to the fullest. The film ends in heartbreak when Chris dies in the Alaskan wilderness, miles away from anyone.

Although admittedly tragic, Chris is also heroic, and film shows this. It may seem at first glance that Chris’s struggle is merely anger or rebellion, but fortunately this isn’t the case. After the modern notions of truth and happiness that had surrounded Chris all his life had destroyed him enough, he left them, and went into the wild–both physically and metaphorically. Though it may seem as if Chris is merely a selfish loner who is attempting to escape society, towards the end of the film Chris is shown writing “happiness is only real when shared” in the margin of a book. Chris discovered more truth than many of us will ever know, and that is what draws me into his story. Chris knew more, loved deeper, experienced more than most of our surroundings would let us, and this shows through in the film beautifully.

-Chris Carson

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Hotel Chevalier/The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

October 30, 2007

There is something of a tradition in Western literature concerning Indian travelogues: the privileged Westerner travels to India, knowing – always! – that he (and it is usually a he) can leave when he likes. The sojourn in India is, for him, an encounter with the spiritual savage – the one who has maintained, by her primitiveness and poverty, a connection to some more primal and spiritual reality – which reality he appropriates, cafeteria-style, and brings with him upon his return to the west, having consumed even that which his lifestyle of consumption cannot provide him.

The Darjeeling Limited (along with its companion short film, Hotel Chevalier, which is available for free download at www.hotelchevalier.com) self-consciously appropriates this premise, ironically subverting it. Darjeeling (and Chevalier, as well) mark Anderson’s return to a more honest, nuanced style, reminiscent of Rushmore. Francis (Owen Wilson) brings his brothers Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to India. Here they will embark on a “spiritual journey” on the titular train, with each day’s activities–from showers to temple visits–meticulously planned by Francis’s personal assistant, Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky).

Filled with director Wes Anderson’s singularly lush visuals, the film is both more interesting and more approachable than his previous outing, the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. While both that film and his earlier effort, The Royal Tenenbaums, took great pleasure in humanizing and redeeming the American bourgeousie, Darjeeling is, ultimately, a story about how life as an élite is dehumanizing. The three brothers can find no solace, ultimately, in their spiritual journey; it is only when its abrupt end forces their return from the dreamworld of leisure and introspection to the realm of dirt and life and death that they are able to become human.

-Adam Parsons

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The Kingdom (2007)

October 11, 2007

The Kingdom is a story about a handful of FBI agents (played by actors Jamie Foxx, Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) who want to strike while the iron is hot. A civilian complex in Saudi Arabia was attacked by terrorists and these agents have reasons to believe that this is something much larger than just a random attack. Not willing to wait and go through all the red tape required to get onto Saudi soil, they find means to get into the country and connect with the local government that the bombing affected. Their desire to strike back is intensified when they arrive and see that a proper investigation is not taking place. After befriending a Saudi militant (Ashraf Barhom) they are able to meet and talk with the prince who reigns over that area. The prince gives them liberty to make a full investigation.

Through the rest of the film director Peter Berg reveals scenes that help the viewer connect with the Saudis instead of just showing things from the American point of view. It reveals the whole iceberg of Saudi Arabia, regardless of whether the American characters only want to take care of the tip or not. The impression is still given that the Americans are in the right and that their tour had a great purpose, but then a parallel is exposed at the end. Through connecting with the Saudis in the movie the viewer gets the sense that the vengeance that the Americans are trying to achieve is just part of a vicious cycle. It’s a fact that leaves the viewer feeling empty and hopeless in some ways, saying, “sure, we won this battle, but there is an entire war going on that no one knows how to end.”

-Janet Chamberlain

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Hairspray (2007)

September 28, 2007

While a musical based on big hair and flamboyant outfits may seem like your general middle-aged woman’s fantasy movie, Hairspray contains greater themes than one might imagine. Behind a façade of sparkling outfits and John Travolta’s five hundred pound woman suit, there lies a poignant social commentary of racism in the 1960s.

The story centers on Tracy Turnblad, a teenage girl who has a passion for dancing and music. Because of her weight, she has to deal with the pain of being different from other kids in school, therefore leading her to the other different people in school—the African American population.

The story speaks on such themes as interracial relationships, media control over race, and many other topics. Many of the lyrics focus on racism, but the writers rely heavily on humor and upbeat, lively tempos to get their points across. The “Corny Collins Show”—which Tracy watches every day—begins every episode with a song “The Nicest Kids in Town,” of course referring to the upper-middle class white teenager. James Marsden sings, “Nice white kids who like to lead the way/And once a month we have our negro day!”

Adding to the amazing lyrics, the music behind it combines the tongue-in-cheek humor with an astounding ensemble of ’60s style music including large brass sections and great beats. It had me dancing out of the theater—literally.

The mix of wit, musical and lyrical talent and an important social point make this movie one of the best I have seen this summer.

-Amy Gardner

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