Archive for the ‘General Film Discussion’ Category

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This Blog is Now in 3D

June 1, 2011

Do you have your glasses on? I hope so.

Now take them off. You look ridiculous.

Today at work I noticed a story in the rundown about 3D movies and how the trend seems to be fading out already.

Thank God!

I mean, sure, the technology is cool when it’s used properly. Watching Avatar in 3D is kind of the point. It was made to be seen in 3D. But do we really need to see The Hangover 2 in 3D? Jackass in 3D? Okay, I’ll admit, that one was probably for the shock-factor alone. But quite simply, the answer is no.

These days it seems like every single film is being released in 3D, and in my opinion, that’s the technology’s downfall. People are sick of it and the novelty has worn off. But Hollywood hasn’t stopped there! It’s not enough that they’re releasing new movies in 3D…now they’re going back and releasing older movies in 3D as well! Well, that sounds like a brilliant idea. Let’s port old movies that were never intended to be viewed in 3D over and make some extra cash. Everyone deserves a chance to see Jar Jar Binks acting like a complete moron in 3D. (But hey, the podrace sequence could be entertaining, at least.)

The truth is, novelty technologies are just raising the price of movie tickets in an economy where the average consumer is already strapped for cash. There has to be a point where Hollywood draws a line between greed and common sense. Pesonally, I think 3D technology has a brighter future in the video game industry.

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When Did We Become So Cynical?

November 21, 2010

Remember when people could go to a movie and enjoy it? Remember when everyone wasn’t super-critical of everything that came out? I sure do. I kind of long for those days.  Are we as movie-goers so jaded that we can’t truly enjoy anything anymore?

If you’ve read past the first paragraph, you’re probably wondering what I’m ranting about. Last week I went with some friends to watch Skyline. The trailers for this film looked alright. I certainly didn’t expect it to be the next major blockbuster, and in that sense I was correct. But I did expect it to be enjoyable. Again, in my opnion, I was correct. There’s potentially a few spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to eventually, you have been warned.

Let’s take a moment to list a few complaints I heard from people I know.

1) It didn’t have a happy ending.

Who cares? Life isn’t happy. I was kind of glad to see a movie where the good guys didn’t win for once. The whole time I watched it I was expecting the humans to find a way to repel the alien invaders and all would be happy again. Why? Because that’s what always happens. It was nice to have the opposite happen for once. And this brings me to number two.

2) I come to movies to escape reality.

Ah, yes, mindless entertainment for the masses. You are the reason reality shows exist.

3) I liked this movie better when it was Transformers.

I’m sorry, what? Maybe I need to watch this again, but I didn’t see any giant robots in this movie. No similarities whatsoever. Was more of a mash-up of Independence Day, the first Matrix, and War of the Worlds, if you want to compare it to anything.

4) It had no resolution.

Let’s have a word with Mr. Webster: “The point in a literary work in which a complication is worked out.”

Well, alright. Fair enough. But war isn’t one-sided, folks. There are two sides, each with a different goal. The aliens won. That’s resolution. Just because it wasn’t the resolution you expected, doesn’t mean it wasn’t resolution at all.

5) I don’t like movies that I have to think/draw my own conclusions about.

See point #2.

6) There weren’t any well-known actors in it.

There weren’t any well-known actors in the original Star Wars Trilogy either, and look at how those turned out. Point: well-known actors do not make a movie great.

And then there’s other people who just keep saying that it was bad without giving a reason. When asked why they thought it was bad, I received responses such as “Think about how bad it was…” or “It was so bad it was good.” Thanks for answering the question.

But this attitude toward movies is something I seem to notice more and more these days. Why is this? Does it have to do with the economy and people expecting more for the price of a movie ticket? Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big deal if say, I dunno, we didn’t spend so much on a gallon of soda and popcorn? Try it sometime, your kidneys will thank you. Or is it that we’ve all become critics in the age of the internet and social networking?

If you can’t tell already, I enjoyed Skyline, although this wasn’t a review per se, but rather something that was on my mind after hearing some comments about the movie.

I would love to hear your opinions on this subject. Fire away, folks.

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Discussion Night #1 – “The Invention of Lying”

May 29, 2010

The Invention of Lying Wow. I just realized exactly how much time has passed since my last update. It truly is amazing how fast time goes by. When I look at my dashboard, I see all these unfinished entries that I began putting together over the course of the last eight months. Perhaps someday in the near future, I might post them all as is. That is, if there is enough interest in seeing such poorly written drafts. Unfinished entries include: Inglourious Basterds, The Men Who Stare at Goats, my Top 10 Most anticipated films of 2010, and I think I might still have a Star Trek post lying around somewhere that never got published.  But anyways, let’s get on with the true subject of this post. Before we get started, however, I want to offer my apologies for not writing about something new. The truth is, it has become difficult for me to keep up with new films. Plus, I really hate going by myself. So it’s a catch-22 of sorts.

Those of you who have taken the time to get to know me will recall that I attend a church called Crossings. It meets in the Square Room on Sunday mornings. Cory Mounce decided to host a film discussion in the conference room last night, and the film he chose was The Invention of Lying. I thought this film had a lot to say if you were able to look past the surface.

Note: There are spoilers below, so do not continue unless you have seen the film or unless spoilers do not matter to you.

The general synposis of the film is that Mark Bellison (Ricky Gervais) is a screenwriter for a company called Lecture Films. They produce documentaries. He is quite unsuccessful at his job, not to mention other aspects of his life. At the beginning of the film, he is meeting up with a woman by the name of Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner). The two have a date planned, and oh…did I mention in this fictional world, nobody can tell a lie? Imagine the awkwardness of a first date where you’re just not feeling any chemistry and you have to be brutally honest with the other person. But I digress. Mark meets up with Anna, and after a really awkward scene in her apartment (bear with it, that really is the worst part of this film) they proceed to dinner. Anna admits that she finds Mark unattractive, doubly so since he’s financially unsuccessful. Later, she e-mails him and tells him that while she did have a good time with him, she can’t be with him because they aren’t a genetic match.

To make matters worse, Mark loses his job which leads to him being evicted. As he’s going to withdraw the rest of his money from his bank account, he realizes that he alone has the ability to tell a lie and everyone will believe what he says, no questions asked. Over the course of the film, he gets a second date with Anna that leads to the two of them becoming best friends, unintentionally creates a religion which is a shallow facsimile of Christianity, saves a guy’s life, gets his job back, and becomes wealthy and successful. All by lying.

Problems arise, however, because he falls in love with Anna, and Anna realizes that he makes her happy. Despite this fact, she clings ever so tightly to her preconceived notion that she can only be with someone who is her exact genetic match because she does not want “fat, snub-nosed kids.” Her mother only makes the problem worse by reinforcing the notion. During the course of Mark and Anna’s friendship, she meets his rival Brad Kessler (Rob Lowe). Brad is the perfect match, according to her standards: he is very successful as well as very attractive to her. She views him as her genetic match. Her mother agrees.

The turning point of this film is when Anna and Brad decide to get married. Mark goes into a deep depression and won’t even talk to her. She finally shows up at his home and gives him an invitation to the wedding. He asks her, “Why do you want me there?” and she replies, “Because it would make me happy.” So, Mark tosses the invitation aside and Anna leaves. The wedding is the next day, and he has no intention of going. Fortunately, Mark has friends such as Greg (Louis C.K.) that care about him and make him get up and get himself together. Greg, as he shows Mark his suit and a razor says, “You haven’t lost yet.” and convinces him to go to the wedding.  When all is said and done, he manages to make Anna realize that her standards were unimportant next to her own happiness and she marries Mark instead.

If only the real world worked like that, right?

The first question asked last night following the film was, “Does it change your perception of the film knowing that Ricky Gervais is an atheist?” Well, I was unaware of that, but the answer is no, it does not. As I said last night, I think sometimes it takes someone who does not share our beliefs to slap us in the face and make us wake up. If everyone believed the exact same thing, there would be no reason for us to seek answers, no reason for us to discuss important issues, and without challenges to our faith, I think there would be no way for it to grow. Personally, after viewing the film, I think Gervais at least has a decent knowledge of religion. I also think he has a measure of respect for it because despite the tongue-in-cheek jabs, he really wasn’t blasting it as much as he could have. It wasn’t outright disrespectful.

Another point was the subject of moral ambiguity. If we could make things better by lying, is it justified? Mark saved Frank’s (Jonah Hill) life in the film by lying to him and convincing him that he had no reason to commit suicide. Bill Wolf even brought up a few Biblical points where lying had been used to save lives (I wish I could remember them, but I’m drawing a blank). Does it make it right? I’m not sure. I don’t have an answer for that. I’m an honest person. That’s not to say I don’t have my secrets, but if asked outright, I’m an open book. If it came between telling a lie or knowing someone would commit suicide, I think I would tell a lie. I believe a life is more important.

The religion that was created in this film was the result of a lie that Mark told to his mother as she lay on her death bed in order to help her find solace. The doctor and nurses overheard it and believed it, of course, because lying was unheard of. It got passed along to the media, and before he know it, it got blown out of proportion and he was forced to write ten truths down on pizza boxes and deliver them in a scene reminiscent of Moses delivering the Ten Commandments. His main issue was convincing people that “The Man In the Sky” was responsible for the bad as well as the good, something the people had trouble wrapping their heads around. And don’t we all? One thing that stuck out to me later in the film was when Mark was walking down the street and there was a street-preacher who said, “We can do two wrong things and still be rewarded when we die!” (Mark had previously said in his rules that it was a three strikes and you’re out sort of deal). While according to Mark’s rules, that was certainly true, it just goes to show you how we as humans twist and corrupt things around to serve our purposes and mislead people. It quite honestly disgusts me.

Another point along the same subject is when Greg, Frank, and Mark are sitting around the pool and the subject of why Frank hasn’t tried to better his life comes up. He responds by asking what the point is if he’s going to be rewarded in the afterlife? He figures he could just endure a bad life and speed things up by drinking excessively and wait for the better rewards. Don’t we all know people who are like this, though? People who just sit around and expect rewards but they never get out and do anything that involves effort on their part? Then when questioned about his line of thinking, Frank blurts out, “F*** ‘the Man In the Sky!'” Have you ever felt that way? Despite his faith, I imagine Job must have at one point. I can honestly say I felt that way as recently as three weeks ago.

But now I want to get to the last point. Anna is only looking for a perfect genetic match. That’s her standard. Forget true happiness. Over the course of the film, Mark falls in love with her, and she develops feelings for him, but she’s never going to be with him because of his genetics. And then we see her mother, and she’s exactly the same way. It begs the question: is Anna holding onto that belief because she really believes it, or is she holding onto it because it’s what she got from her mother and it’s all she’s ever known? Has she ever taken the time to come to her own conclusions? We can kind of see something happening to her during the course of the film as she begins to realize that Mark makes her happy. There’s an inner struggle going on with her character as Mark tries to show her that you have to look past the things that people can’t change and look at who they are.

At the end of the film, Mark goes to Anna and Brad’s wedding and essentially forces her to choose between her standards and true happiness. Sometimes someone or something comes along that forces us to re-evaluate what we think we want for ourselves. So, Anna finally comes around and goes against what her family thinks and what she thinks she wants and chooses happiness.

In conclusion, sometimes we have to come to the realization that the standards we create for ourselves, when placed side by side with God’s plans, are complete rubbish. We have a saying at Crossings that I think illustrates the point quite nicely: There is a God. His name is Yahweh. He has a plan, and it will not be thwarted.

I’ll close with what my usual closing: don’t take my word for it, make up your own mind.

Shalom.

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My “Rosetta Stone”

May 8, 2009

In my last post, I mentioned Gareth Higgins’s book How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films.  In this book, he brings up the concept of what he calls his “Rosetta Stone.”  For those of you that don’t know…the Rosetta Stone is an ancient Egyptian artifact which enabled scholars to translate hieroglyphics. But, for our purposes, the term is applied a bit differently.

Higgins refers to his “Rosetta Stone” as being more or less a code of conduct for watching films.  Items on his list range from never reading a review before going to see a film to always going with a couple of friends to never eating popcorn while watching a film.  Now, some of these may seem a bit silly at first, but he actually goes on to explain their logic.  And I have to say, I agree with most of them.

Back when I was “moderating” the small group at my old church, we spent one of the first meetings coming up with our own version of Higgins’s “Rosetta Stone.”  I still use this concept most of the time when watching films.  I say most of the time because I only follow it to the letter when I am alone, else my friends might just think I’m crazy.  But in all seriousness, it’s hard to apply the concept when seeing a film with a friend who isn’t as into looking at film in the same way as you are.  To some people seeing a movie is just a way to blow off steam and enjoy some mindless entertainment for a couple of hours, to others it’s a deeper experience.  For me, it’s usually an experience, although I do indulge in a guilty pleasure from time to time.

So, let’s get to the meat of this post.  My “Rosetta Stone.”  It’s actually pretty simple, and I’ll explain my reasoning as well.

1) Always go with friends whenever possible. – I love spending time with my friends. And I love having someone to discuss films with. I use the term “whenever possible” because I’ve accepted the fact that most people just don’t have the time or the desire to go watch a movie as much as I do anymore.

2) Preferrably, give the film and it’s implications some time to sink in before talking about it. – This is self-explanatory. Allow some time to think about what you’ve just seen before getting into a discussion about it.  Everyone needs a few minutes to gather their thoughts.

3) Don’t drink during a movie. – Yeah, this is a personal preference. It will increase the chances of having to get up during the film and that’s not something I like to do, so I choose not to have anything to drink.  Higgins said he doesn’t eat popcorn, and neither do I usually, but that’s just because I’m not crazy about popcorn. I will, however, sometimes grab something to eat while there, but not often. If I do, I’ll try to make sure it’s not loud candy. That’s just annoying to everyone around you.

4) Always watch the credits. – This may sound strange or a bit OCD to you. But as someone who edits video, I understand the fact that it took someone time to put all that together and that makes it as much a part of the film as the rest of it. And let’s face it, we live in a day and age where post-credit bonus scenes are becoming more and more common.  I don’t like to miss things.

And that’s pretty much it, to be perfectly honest. They’re simple and straight to the point.  They may seem a bit odd, but that’s just me.  Maybe you have a few quirks of your own that would fall into this category.  I’d personally love to hear them.

Until next time…

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“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of” Part II

May 5, 2009

And so here we are again, continuing the story of my background with film and how it has played an important role in my life.  In my last entry, I promised I would get into the details of my later college and post-college years.  And so, here we go…

In the fall of 2002 I transferred to a small Southern Baptist college in Kentucky to finish up my final two years.  At the time it was known as Cumberland College, though today it is known as the University of the Cumberlands.  My final year there, I had most of my business classes wrapped up so I began to focus more on the communications classes that were needed for my minor.   Among those were Dr. Semmel’s History of Film I and II and Animation History.

Those three classes were probably my favorite three classes in my entire five years of college.  The first semester of film history covered everything from the beginning of film up until about 1950. I spent most of the semester researching and working on a profile of Humphrey Bogart.  The second semester covered everything from about 1950 up until the present day (which back then was early 2004).  I did more research and completed a director profile on George Lucas as well as a genre study on mobster-films which took a look at the original Scarface and The Godfather.  Animation history was pretty much the same type of class and I did my research on the history of Japanese anime and its introduction to mainstream American audiences.  That last semester was pretty hectic with lots of research going on at once. I’d frequently have to take a lower grade on one paper just because I was unable to keep pace with both classes at once (I’m easily distracted).

I graduated after that semester was over and I was promoted to a shift manager position at Blockbuster where I had been working since the previous summer.  Blockbuster employees get five free rentals per week, so between June of 2003 and February of 2005 when I finally left that job behind, I did a lot of movie watching. Not just rentals, either. With no schoolwork to occupy my time, I was at the theater once or twice a week. Whenever I could get someone to go with me.  I had a pretty good group of friends who liked to go back then. And if they wouldn’t go, my dad was always up for it.  Unfortunately, he passed away at the end of 2004 and after I moved to Knoxville in August 2005, most of my friends that I’d usually go watch movies with no longer came to Knoxville as much. For the most part, I was on my own when it came to film.  Going alone really wouldn’t bother me that much; catching a late movie by myself was always a sort of reflection time for me in many respects. But over time, it began to wear me down and I found myself less motivated to get out and go unless I was meeting friends.How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films

At some point in 2004, I discovered a very interesting book titled How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films by Gareth Higgins.  During my final years in college, I developed an interest in religion and how it relates to film, so this book caught my attention. Within this book is a number of film analyzations talking about issues relating to Christianity that can be found within films that one wouldn’t otherwise think to look for them.  It really opened up my eyes to the subject and I began to look at movies differently when I watched them.  There was one quote in the book where something was said about movie theaters being similar to modern-day cathedrals (I can’t find it in the book, and I can’t remember if Higgins said it or if it was in the foreword written by Tony Campolo), and that statement really struck a chord with me.  At the time I had probably been going to the theater more than I had church, and in a lot of ways it made sense to me.  Before long, I was buying everyone I knew who loved movies a copy of this book.

In October of 2005, I started up a small group based on this book at Cumberland Hope Community Church.  We met at my pastor’s house every other week and we’d watch a movie and discuss it from a spiritual standpoint. There were some movies that we would just have nothing to say about, and there were other movies where we’d spend more than two hours in discussion.  But, it was a small town church and over time interest began to wane.  One week in May 2006, it was just my pastor and I and the topic was “controversy.”  So for that meeting, we had made plans to go watch The Da Vinci Code, as it had just been released in theaters.  We watched it, we discussed it, and that was that. That was the final meeting for that class.

Now here we are, present day, and I still don’t get out to watch movies as much as I used to.  I think more than anything I just want people to go with me.  Sometimes I feel as though life’s moved on without me and people just have better things to do than hang out with me discussing film and philosophy.  I’d love to start up a class here in Knoxville like the one I used to host years ago, but the opportunity just hasn’t presented itself.  For now I’m planning to make an attempt to get back into the habit of going to catch a movie at least once a week. It’d be great to have company, but if not…then so be it.

The purpose of this blog will be a review blog of sorts.  I plan to go catch a movie, and write my own analysis of it. Like the class I used to host, maybe it’ll be from a spiritual standpoint, maybe it’ll just be a general review.  Either way, this will contain my thoughts and nothing more.

As I mentioned, the last film we watched in my small group was The Da Vinci Code.  So, I think it will be strangely fitting to do Angels & Demons for my first review.  I am currently making an attempt to read the book before the film is released…which I really should get back to right now.

Unless something else comes to mind…see you in a few weeks…

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“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of…” Part I

April 27, 2009

Film seems to have always played a major role in my life, whether or not I realized it at the time.  As I look back on my life growing up, I can see that now. I can remember as a child when my parents would take me to the theater to watch whatever caught my attention at the time, whether it be the latest animated film or the latest action blockbuster. I can also remember my parents taking me to the local video rental store (back before the days of Blockbuster, Netflix, etc.) to pick up a VHS copy of whatever I wanted to watch back when I had a weird fascination with horror films.  Fortunately I grew up with parents that didn’t really care what films I watched. I suppose people just didn’t care as much about those things in the 80’s and early 90’s.  I like to think I turned out just fine.

As I grew older, I wanted to get out and go to the theater more often. Of course, my parents thought I was too young to go by myself and for awhile it was always a battle to get them to take me as often as I wanted to go.  Finally, they gave in and just started dropping me off.  I suppose it began as a way to get out of the house and away from the parents and meet up with friends.  The last film I can remember my parents actually staying for was Forrest Gump.  That was when I was in 8th grade.

Eventually it became an obsession. There was rarely a week up until the time I graduated high school that I couldn’t be found at the local theater.  I couldn’t tell you now whether or not it was a developing love of film or just something to do in the small town I grew up in, but I would like to attribute it to the former.

It was when I first watched the original Star Wars Trilogy during my 7th grade year (it actually may have been my 8th grade year) that film slowly began to take on a different meaning for me, although the realization had yet to dawn on me.  Star Wars: A New Hope was airing on TV one night and I sat down to watch it with my dad.  I remember it was shortly before Thanksgiving and they were airing all three films over the course of the next few nights.  I had never seen any of them, though for a long time growing up I often confused Spaceballs with Star Wars.  I remember first hearing about the Force and my dad telling me during a commercial break that he interpreted the Force as being a reference to God.  I can’t say that I agree with his interpretation, looking back, but I can definately see where he was coming from.  I think I fell asleep somewhere around the time of the Death Star assault.  I proceeded to watch the next two Star Wars films over the course of the next few nights, wrapping the series up by watching Return of the Jedi in the guest bedroom at my grandmother’s house in Cincinnati while visiting for Thanksgiving as we did every year back in those days.  I enjoyed the films and eventually went back and watched the first one without falling asleep.  That was my first brush with the subject of religion and film.

I think things began to take shape at that point.  I had always had an abundance of creative energy inside of me, and growing up I often spent a lot of my time writing.  Eventually some friends had talked me into giving roleplaying games a try.  I humored them and gave it a chance, but I wouldn’t say I was ever really hardcore about it or anything.  Most roleplaying games back then were of the fantasy genre, and that just wasn’t really my thing (though I did later thoroughly enjoy the Lord of the Rings films).  I think it was about that time that I had ventured into the world of Star Wars novels, beginning with Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, which still to this day remains one of my favorite works of fiction.  Also around that time, I had discovered that there existed a Star Wars roleplaying game.  Now that struck my interest.  It allowed me to expend those creative energies, entertain my friends, and dabble around in the rich universe that George Lucas had created.  I know, I was a nerd, right?

Fast forward a few years.  The year was 1999.  It was Christmas.  I had just received my first DVD player and my first DVD.  A little film known as The Matrix.  I had never made it to the theater to see that movie, but I had wanted to.  I had also heard that it was the perfect film for this bizarre new digital format known as DVD.  So, not long after getting the DVD player hooked up, I popped in the DVD and sat down to watch it with my dad.

I think Neo said it best when he said, “Whoah…”  I was completely amazed at the special effects as the Wachowski brothers combined their love of kung fu, gunplay, Japanese anime, philosophy, and comic books into this amazing work of art.  Again, back then all I saw was the surface layer, but it left a seed that would grow over time.

Fast forward a couple more years.  2001.  I can’t say that I kept up my schedule of going to the theater on a weekly basis during my college years, but I still went somewhat regularly.  Over the course of the next year, things really began to change in terms of my outlook on film.  Star Wars fanfilms began to spring up all over the internet and I watched a short film known as Duality for the first time.  I was amazed that some amateur filmmaker could create something that looked so convincing.  I was intrigued and I really started to research and take an interest in how films were made.  I dabbled with my first non-linear editing system back then and realized that I really wanted to create.

In the same year, I began dating a girl who loved old films. Black and white films.  At that particular point in my life, I couldn’t fathom how anyone could enjoy something so old and primitive compared to what we have in the present.  And of course, like any good boyfriend, I agreed to sit down and watch some of them with her.  And what do you know?  I actually ended up enjoying some of them.  I especially enjoyed the old Humphrey Bogart movies.

One of my favorite Bogey films was John Huston’s 1941 film The Maltese Falcon.  It remains one of my personal all-time favorites.  There is a line in that film that has really stuck with me over the years.  Those of you who are film buffs have no doubt figured out what it is.  It is the title of this blog; it is the title of this post: “The stuff dreams are made of.”  Okay, I admit, the line itself didn’t originally come from this film; it was derived from a line in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  But that doesn’t make it any less relevant.

You see, I’ve always fancied myself somewhat of a dreamer.  I’ve always been extremely creative and eventually that creative energy turned into wanting to make films.  Not that I ever really lived any of that dream, though I have written a few screenplays.  Some people tell me I should actually do something with some of them.  The truth is…I wouldn’t know where to begin.

I’ll discuss in more detail my later college years and my post-college years in part two of this entry, as it’s getting a bit long-winded at the moment.

Until next time…