Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another Lost Opportunity

Just as P.D. James' Catholic vision was supplanted in the blandly secular adaptation of Children of Men, it seems another Catholic classic novel is in the wrong hands. My wife and I recently finished Shusaku Endo's novel Silence, a fictional account of a Portuguese missionary's struggle with faith during the brutal persecutions in 16th century Japan, and were thrilled to find out that the film adaptation was in pre-production and would be directed by Martin Scorsese. In my unbounded naivety, I believed Martin's Scorsese, who has never been able to distance himself from his Catholic upbringing, would render a faithful and compelling adaptation. Unfortunately in a recent IMDB newsfeed Scorsese explained the story as an extended metaphor for the failure of the US invasion of Iraq and the folly of imposing Western cultural norms on foreign cultures. It would be thoroughly disappointing to see Endo's complex theological themes get subsumed into another multicultural manifesto, and I hope it's just bluster to get press attention. Proclaiming a movie to be an extended metaphor with Iraq seems to be a popular fad these days-- Mel Gibson promoted Apocalypto the same way. I'm preparing myself for disappointment though.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I take it back...

One comedy short from On the Lot contestant Adam Stein made me want to retract my previous uncharitable comments about the show. Maybe I'm just a sucker for this brand of physical humor, but I thought it was hilarious. Watch it here.

Mike Judge's Idiocracy: An Evolutionary Biologist's Nightmare

I'll bet Margaret Sanger never imagined in her wildest eugenic fantasies that her principles could possibly lead human progress backwards. Idiocracy's premise introduces into the evolutionary picture the wild, unpredictable, utopian-crushing principle of free will. In its opening sequence, a sophisticated couple complain that "market conditions" aren't amenable to having children; several cuts later their contraceptive mindset ends in their eventual irreversible infertility, while coarse backwoods rednecks copulate with reckless abandon. Thus, we are lead to the creation of Idiocracy, a world where marketing slogans are elevated to the level of absolute truth and art is as obscene as it is stupid.

Unfortunately the premise, while inherently hilarious, is merely a vehicle for writer/director Mike Judge to display his impressive array of fart and sex jokes, the knowledge of which was integral to his creation of Beavis and Butthead. A few funny moments remain; all in all it was an enjoyable DVD rent. But enough from me, Steve Sailor has a great review of Idiocracy here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Snores and Spectacle: Pirates III at My Wits' End

(May contain spoiler material)
Last night I went to what I hoped would be the movie event of the summer: Pirates of the Caribbean III: At World's End. We went an hour early to get good seats: we were excited and ready for a fun and entertaining motion picture.

What we got was a nearly-three-hour-long napfest of explosions and confusions.

The film opens with a grisly assembly-line hanging of like a million pirates, eight at a time, including a child. Shudder. This sets off a "time of crisis" for all the pirates in the world, and they must hold a pirate council. The rest of the movie is a "build-up" to the final showdown between the pirates and the Evil British Empire (Hey! I'm British!), whose navy is led by the octopus guy Davy Jones.

I cannot even begin to explain to you how complicated they make this: William wants to save his Dad who is a monster-slave to the octopus guy, so he wants to stab the heart-in-a-box of the octopus guy, who happens to be the octopus guy just because he's not fulfilling his job as courier-of-the-dead (it's a curse from the voodoo lady who I guess fell in love with him, but she turns into these gray crabs a lot, even though she's trapped in a human body.) Elizabeth is guilty because she killed Captain Jack (who is now in a kind of desert hell with like fifty of himself), but Will thinks she loves Captain Jack, but she doesn't, but she doesn't talk to her fiance' William about it for some reason, but the pirate council wants to free the voodoo lady who is actually the goddess Calypso and when they free her she turns into a giant naked screaming monster-of-crabs, and then she unleashes her fury on all the pirates and they have this cosmic ship battle in the middle of a cosmic whirlpool but the whole time everyone is fighting over the key-to-the-box-of-the-heart-of-the-octopus-guy-but-we-don't-

Deep breath. . . .

My friend Caroline fell asleep at this movie.

Add to this magical goulash (it felt a little like the socio-politico-economic-hodgepodge in Star Wars Episode I) some just needlessly gross stuff (a guy gets frostbite and breaks off his toe, and it's actually a "comic" moment.)

There are too many characters (who is the mean cockney guy with the little gun again?), too many pirates (the Hong Kong pirates are pretty gross, I must say), TOO MUCH EXPLOSIONS. Seriously there was like a ten minute slowmotion woodchip explosion scene. I thought I was going to die.

Even Johnny Depp wasn't that funny the third time around--although he did have some good one liners, like the "Q.E.D." quote. I like his dialogue; it's snappy.

The actress that plays Elizabeth grows more anorexic every film, too: she looks more and more like a boy. It's sad because she's pretty.

Did I mention it was almost three hours long (also about fifty five previews).

Ok, now for the things I liked:

1) Keith Richards makes an appearance as Captain Jack's father: that was a nice touch.
2) Some great images of natural beauty: some island shots and ice shots that were very stunning--they made an odd juxtaposition with most of the grimy tone of the film.
3) That it ended.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Abortion Film Wins Top Award at Cannes

Read this news story.

A Romanian director just won the top prize at Cannes for his film about a woman seeking an illegal abortion in Communist Romania. I'm surprised it didn't make the Cannes ideologues more uncomfortable, though I can see why they voted for it. On the one hand, it graphically portrays an aborted fetus because, according to the director, "there are consequences to our actions."Additionally, I can imagine the Neo-Marxists at Cannes were squirming in their seats at the depiction of gritty despair in Romania. On the other hand, I imagine they saw the film as a valuable lesson against oppressive abortion laws, which is probably what catapulted it to the top prize.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Christian Aesthetics

I would never direct a scene that would embarrass the Blessed Mother," said Alejandro Monteverde, the award winning director of Bella.

Is there value in portraying vice as it is-- a destructive, disgusting, and degrading reality? Or does the Christian filmmaker become complicit in the evil act he depicts. even if he stands in judgement of that act? I can see it both ways, but I tend to side with Monteverde in favor of a sanitized aesthetic. No matter how hard a filmmaker tries to emphasizes the consequences of an act or the spiritual death of sin, a sensual aesthetic never reaches its audience on an intellectual level. Many Christians believe we can change the culture through this kind of "subversive" content, and that by refusing to glorify sin they have somehow stripped it of its luster and attraction. I disagree. I don't think the audience of The Sopranos or Kill Bill thinks much about the causal ties between endless cycles of death and the multifarious sins of the characters. It seems much more plausible to me that they are instead participating vicariously in the rush of adrenalin that accompanies such vile acts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Top Undiscovered Talent Needs to Stay Incognito

I was able to watch (between my baby's bowel explosions-- his most pronounced personality trait) most of On the Lot, Fox's new American Idol of filmmaking. The show's premise is a competition between amateur directors whose short, no-budget films earned them a place in the contest. The winner of the competition will be hired for a movie deal with Dreamworks. The first event was assembling and pitching a story from an assigned log line. Maybe it was the pressure of the moment or the lack of time, but I would renege on the deal if I were running Dreamworks. America's top undiscovered creative talent lacks the rudimentary imagination of a child. Even the top performers, the best of the bunch, spun tales that we've seen a million times on the USA network. It was a brilliant trick to weed out the contestants in the first round, but unfortunately backfired since they all deserved to go.

Robert McKee, a legendary screenwriting consultant, wrote that Hollywood's imagination is impoverished and forced to rely on the same dead ideas over and over again for sequels, prequels, and spin-offs. I was excited for On the Lot because I believed it would bring to the surface new creativity so needed in a stagnate industry. All of the contestants, however, strove to shock, excite, and entertain but ended up doing none of the above. McKee would be rolling in his grave if he were dead. I think there must be some connection between our generation's complete reliance on visceral media (TV, film, internet) and the loss of creativity. I'm not sure how that back up that assertion, but somehow it seems appropriate to me. The contestants could form visual images well enough or they wouldn't have gotten picked, but were out to sea when required to construct interesting and compelling content.

I personally can't stand American Idol; it's painful to watch people fail at something they've identified as the sole measure of their worth and human dignity. In On the Lot, the pain was even more pronounced because the contestants seemed even more insecure. I can't imagine I'll stop watching it though.

Monday, May 21, 2007

So I Wasted a Day of My Life: 24's Season Finale

I don't think a TV show has ever brought out as much ambivalence in me as 24's Season Six. Is it possible to love Jack Bauer but hate 24? I don't think any male can watch Jack without a surge of adrenalin, but it was painfully hard to go between doses this season. All the down time between instances of Bauer's patriotic sadomasochism was filled with silly political intrigues and melodramatic romances. The soap opera love triangles in CTU reminded me of something my classmates and I were too mature for back in fifth grade. For the world's most intelligent tactical team in the midst of unparalleled crises, their capacity for petty jealous was unbelievably high. In the postmortem (an appropriate word if I ever used one) analysis, it's unclear whether it was the best use of a day of my life. At least the show's conceit allowed me to easily calculate the time lost.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Liberty Film Festival

With the blessing of my wife, I abandoned my new parental duties for a night to attend the Liberty Film Festival in Orange County. Started by Yale grads Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, the Liberty Film Festival is the premier outlet (perhaps the only outlet) for conservative filmmakers who have imprudently revealed their leanings to the established industry. As expected, the night was much more of a three hour pep rally and unabashed plea for funding than it was a film festival. Still, I had fun-- the founders of the festival put together an impressive slate of political filmmakers. David Zucker (Airplane, Naked Gun) outshone them all, but perhaps that conviction stems more from my lingering adolescence than from any profound thought expressed on Zucker's part. I'll never cease being impressed by him. Who else can build an entire career around endless variations of basically the same pun?

The whole experience brought to mind the ancient philosophical conundrum: "if a tree falls in the woods but nobody hears it, does it make a sound?" Most of the filmmakers were talented, passionate, and articulate... but marginalized. Despite the rah-rah atmosphere, it was evident that none of them were going to make a ripple any time soon. Only one of the films has a chance: a political documentary on Hillery Clinton featuring Dick Morris. This documentary had two factors going for it that none of the others did. Firstly, Dick Morris, being a long-time Clinton confidante, is a heavy-hitter; thus, it can't be smothered to death by media silence. It reminds me of advice Steve McEveety lent our students: The Passion of the Christ only received media attention because of Mel Gibson's stardom. If it had been done by any moe-shmoe the media would have simply ignored it-- McEveety told JP students to start secular and get big before making huge overtly religious films. Secondly, the film has money behind it. They don't care about being rejected by the liberal distributors because they're simply going to buy the theaters out.

None of the other films had these two factors going for them. After every clip I saw, I couldn't help thinking, "that's great, but who's going to watch this?" Even the head of Genius Products (a DVD distributor), couldn't shed any light on the impossible up-hill distribution battle for conservative documentaries without much money or a big name. Only the immortal (and at times immoral) David Zucker alluded to the answer: the new media. Zucker's zany political shorts were made for U-Tube, gaining millions of eyeballs and a number three overall rating. The truth, it seems to me, is that the future for these filmmakers is online and not in the traditional distribution channels (theaters, DVD, television). What else can they do? Go from film festival to film festival begging crowds to support them? It's unclear how that approach leads to anything.

To make matters worse, these poor political filmmakers suffer, by no fault of their own, from the Michael Moore syndrome. Moore's ridiculous antics have degraded political documentaries to the point that no one can watch one without a certain amount of resistance. He has played so fast and loose with the facts in service of an ideology that its natural for any viewer to assume these excesses are unavoidable for anyone with convictions. This is why political documentaries don't interest me as much lately because its hard to gauge their impact.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's a Boy!

I've sired an heir! Peter Martin Harold was born on 5/15 before noon. Sure I'm a little biased, but objectively little Peter is the cutest baby ever. Despite being 3 weeks premature, he popped out a whooping eight pounds, four ounces. Look at those humongous hands! I'm tempted to retire on the prospect of him playing in the NBA. I know I'm getting ahead of myself (we haven't quite taught him how to eat properly yet), but I'm on cloud nine and want to indulge myself a little.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Producer of the Passion Visits JP Catholic!

Steve McEveety shared his wealth of producing experiences with the JP Catholic students today. None were more powerful than his description of the very real spiritual attacks the production team came under during the filming of The Passion of the Christ. Filming it changed the course of McEveety's life, transforming his previously nominal faith. Hearing him relive the stories brought out a comforting fact: even when Satan pulls every punch and throws the whole weight of his power against something God still triumphs. McEveety has made some good movies with Braveheart, We Were Soldiers, and Hot Shots among them. He didn't seem to want to talk about any of them except The Passion. Such was the effect it had on him.

On a side note, McEveety is involved in a very interesting start-up company. He's building a company that will censor objectionable TV content for private homes. It works like a normal cable subscription. In my estimation it's a huge innovation with fairly wide appeal. Not only does this clean up TV for those who want it, but it also provides a platform for small JP Catholic companies to deliver content. It will be interesting to see how it develops.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Disappointing Adaptation: Alfonso Cuaron missed the point in Children of Men

As Europe's population ebbs dramatically these days, Children of Men's premise of inexplicable world-wide infertility takes on some added muster. Though not everyone is suffocating their parental instincts (Muslims seem to be cresting over Europe's boarders with even greater rapidity), I can't imagine the log line of total infertility carrying the same kind of metaphorical weight at any other moment in history. A culture steeped in secular narcissism cannot remain so without a slight amount of self-consciousness of the nihilistic consequences. Seinfeld, for example, spun this self-consciousness into humor; yet, despite our culture's penchant for distraction, occasionally a subconscious awareness of the consequences bubbles to the surface (what else can explain Anna Nicole's postmortem parade?). It isn't surprising that it took only a brief glance at the premise for publishers to agree to print P.D. James' novel Children of Men.

James' bleak nihilistic world is chilling because it is clean and well-ordered, efficiently administrated by a gentle despotism committed to easing England into its future of complete oblivion. Empty swing-sets, bereaved impotent mothers, euthanasia, pornography, and wild fascination with the younger generation are the constant reminders of the end of humanity and complete despair which cannot be glossed over by superficial cleanliness and order. Against this hopeless backdrop, James introduces us to Theodore Faron, a 50 year old Oxford historian who has drunk in the nihilism of the times too deeply, barely keeping himself going despite the diminishing therapeutic value of his work. Without giving too much of the story away, I will say that Faron unwittingly becomes involved in safeguarding the birth of new life on Earth. While the birth represents a renewed hope for humanity, it is only a symbol for the true source of rebirth in the book: Faron's conquest of his nihilistic narcissism by self-sacrificing love. James, a Catholic, was explicit in her prescription for nihilism; humanity's hope lies not in progress of history but in the logic of the cross.

Unfortunately, only character names and the bare bones plot skeleton remain in Alfonso Cuaron's recent film adaptation. All of James' penetrating insights were swept into his secular vacuum, and the nihilistic backdrop of the movie is distinctly different from the book. Cigarettes, mistreatment of immigrants, and general public disorder are the film's symbols of despair. Rather than being symbolic of something incisively deeper, the new birth which Faron safeguards doesn't point to anything past the surface event. In the documentary accompanying the movie on its DVD, a slew of profoundly incoherent European professors imposed a Marxist meaning on the birth. They stated (beneath a mass of superfluous jargon) that it was story of hope for Marxists living in a post-Communist era, teaching us to place hope in the progress of humanity and its ability to recover from its loss of utopia. I do applaud their ability to be intellectually excited by such a banal and boring movie, though I can't understand where they could have possibly gleaned those conclusions.

Visually, the movie was excellent. Cuaron created a convincingly apocalyptic vision of the not too distant future. Shooting with a hand-held camera and a documentary filming style add to the total disjointing effect. It's too bad Cuaron missed the insight of the book because he's a very talented filmmaker.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Lives of Others

I initially came across the preview for The Lives of Others when I went to an independent theater to see Into Great Silence. In-step with most independent film fare these days, the preview emphasized the voyeuristic sexual encounters suggested by the movie's title. For all those who live under the delusion that "independent" is consonant with "artistic", it's a hard truth that independent film has all the same vices as mainstream, except the depravity is different in nature, being more eccentric and, in my estimation, more disgusting. My initial misgivings were finally overcome by several positive reviews, which portrayed it as both spiritually deep and challenging and not the peeping-tom adolescent fantasy the preview made it out to be. I was not disappointed.

As the Clinton years were the ideal backdrop for a golden age of comedy, cold war tensions were fertile ground for churning out taut political thrillers. Director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (a name Steve Sailor described as "heel-clickingly Teutonic") has produced a movie that differs markedly from most movies set during cold-war (perhaps due to Donnersmark's lack of anglo-centric perspective). The story centers on two true communist believers, an artist and a secret policeman, and their eventual disillusionment with a political system that sucks the spiritual life out of its populace. The artist, played with boyish enthusiasm by Sebastian Koch, puts faith in man and man's ability to transform his nature; the policeman, on the other hands, ardently believes in the political system. The two character's worlds collide through the power posturing of the communist elite, a world where truth is merely a pragmatic weapon. The movie's beauty lies on the subtle spiritual regeneration of both characters-- I won't give away any more because I'm already dangerously close to spoilers.

My old political science professor loved to harp on the most prevalent feelings in communist countries: boredom and despair. Donnersmarck places these feelings front and center and powerfully dramatizes them. It's the first cold-war movie I've seen (perhaps there are others) that places such an emphasis on the rape of man's soul under communism.

Visually, Donnersmarck's austere and restrained style is magnificent. Never does he detract us away from what's dramatically important or fall into the trap of giving into the insecure need to sensually excite the audience. He doesn't even use editing's rhythmic power to force thrills on us by shortening each scene in building to a climax; he simply lets the drama speak for itself. Through dark gray color tonalities and claustrophobic framing, He effectively creates a world of stultifying despair.

See this movie! Be warned though-- It's rated "R" and for a good reason. The more salacious scenes are not gratuitous though, and are carefully filmed so as to reveal poignant insights rather than to prick our nerve endings. One particular lascivious scene, for example, is carefully filmed in a repugnant way in order to expose the character's spiritual death. Still, it should be noted before going to see it.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Concupiscence and Forgiveness in Spiderman III

(May contain some spoiler material)
Last night we went to the late-night showing of Spiderman III, the third movie of one of the most successful superhero franchises ever. Sure, the special effects were cool and the film was exciting, but the film blew me away with two oft-neglected themes: concupiscence and forgiveness. The story itself isn't much different from the other two Spiderman films--humble but brilliant Peter Parker struggles to maintain a relationship with the people he loves while still fighting the ridiculously powerful bad guys that flock to his city. "Where do these guys come from?" He asks, shaking his head.

Spiderman III succeeds where the original Star Wars Trilogy shone: by showing that the fight between good and evil really begins inside the human heart, and that all the battles, wars, and conflicts of the cosmos are just manifestations of this original internal dialogue of man. There is some great symbolism with the black spider suit (which is actually an alien shape-shifter parasite/symbiont life form). The suit really does give him power, aggression, and confidence: and he really does have the choice to put on and take off the suit, after he realizes what it does.
He has the choice to put it on and take it off. . . at first. Then it becomes more and more difficult to take it off: he begins wearing it during his normal life, drawing power from it and hurting those he loves. When he finally decides to remove the black suit, he almost can't. It has become deeply joined to him, and he must physically tear it off of himself. Sin, once it becomes habitual, can be as difficult to remove as our very skin: it's significant that Peter climbs up a Church steeple and tears off his parasitic suit in the bell tower, beneath the cross of the steeple. The next scene is one of purification--Peter returns home and stands beneath the spray of a hot shower--literally and figuratively washing himself clean of his sin. Baptismal imagery anyone?

The theme of forgiveness follows on this theme of free will and sin: we see that when evil is done, vengeance does not bring closure or healing. Spiderman confronts his Uncle's ACTUAL killer (the movie explains this discrepancy with the first film), and the killer says something like "I don't ask you to forgive me, just that you understand." At this, Peter Parker says the best line in the whole film: "I forgive you." When he says it, it's almost like he's discovering the words and the feeling for the first time: it's a well-acted scene in which he himself is suprised by forgiveness and the healing it brings. This newfound Truth bears him directly to the side of his dying friend/nemesis/archrival, Harry, where he asks him for (and receives) forgiveness. TWO acts of forgiveness in the span of ten minutes. Granted, they don't satisfactorily reconcile him with his estranged girlfriend, althought it's sort of implied--they had to leave that for the NEXT film. Nonetheless, I thought it was a powerful testament to the healing that forgiveness and mercy bring.

There were a few things that I didn't like about the film: it's too long, it's full of complicated relationship stuff (a bit soap opera-y), and it's just your basic action film--the cinematography is nothing too special.

I did really like the French waiter, though: he's absolutely hilarious.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Lighter Side of Snobbery

Whether it's deserved or not, the phrase "a movie critic" conjures up a single image etched in our collective national consciousness of a corpulent blob who erects a facade of snobbery to cover up his morbidly sensitive ego. Despite Leonard Malton's svelte homeliness and dozens of other exceptions, most of us can point to a national or local critic who embodies the film snob stereotype, people who are easily identified by their tendency to laud any eccentricity simply for eccentricity's sake or fall rapturously in love with any movie that ends with the word "fin." The Critic, created by the minds behind The Simpsons, plays on this image for a hilarious two seasons (too short a life span if you ask me), twisting the snob stereotype into a lovable, empathetic protagonist starring the voice of comic genius Jon Lovitz. The Critic is undeniably an overlooked classic. Here's one of my favorite clips from the episode "Eyes on the Prize." In this clip, Lovitz's character watches a short he directed as a film student in order to inspire him to win his next Pulitzer. The clip hilariously plays on the absurdity of film elitism.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Spiderman 3

Several JP students dragged themselves out of bed for the 6:30am showing of Spiderman 3, which is an amount of devotion I can't imagine giving to any human endeavor much less a movie. I'm not sure how many actually went, but the mere fact that they did go is amazing, since the student body's core competency, according to JP's president, is tardiness (and classes don't start until 10:30am). Still, I'm really excited to see Spiderman 3. For those caught in the Spiderman mania, read Peter Suderman's review.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Visual Storytelling Scenario

I gave this quiz to my class last quarter, thinking it would be a fun way to illustrate the intersection between visual style and story. While they didn't enjoy my "pop test" as much as I had anticipated, it spurred on some vigorous debate. It was interesting to see the wide range of responses.

Hypothetical Scenario:

You are a producer for Paramount. After ten fairly successful years, your career hit a rocky patch last summer when both of your “guaranteed summer blockbusters” performed abysmally at the box office. After several other disastrous gambles, your position at Paramount is in jeopardy, and you’ve already noticed applicants being interviewed down the hall, possibly for your position. Your problems are not only confined to the office, since a majority of your friends have become reluctant to be seen with you in public after your last flop. You are in a state of desperation.

Searching desperately for a sure-fire hit, you come across a brilliant screenplay. You rarely read at all, much less screenplays, but this story kept your eyes transfixed for 110 pages. It sent a tingling sensation through your spine. You experienced something that you hadn’t felt for 25 years: conviction. The story awakens you to the plight of the inner city and you desperately want to do your part to help.

The screenplay dramatized the true story of DeShawne Jackson, an inner-city youth from Compton, Los Angeles. As an adolescent DeShawne was swept up in the gang culture that permeates the Compton projects, putting his life on the same trajectory with all the other poor, violent, disillusioned gang members. The death of DeShawne’s grandmother, his surrogate mother, radically altered the path of his life, awakening DeShawne to the hopeless horrors of violent street life; yet DeShawne was too deeply involved in the gang to get out. Though he is a scrawny, gaunt boy, his commanding personality and quick wits earned him a high place in the gang’s hierarchy. After witnessing the butchering of an innocent boy, DeShawne decides to fight the gang culture by breeching the one value gangs esteem: trust. He runs to the police, and must refuse their offer of asylum because he knows his younger brothers and sisters need him but won't follow. This incident ignites an intense chase with every gang member alerted to the breech of trust committed by DeShawne. In the end, DeShawne is tortured brutally and finally executed, but not after touching the hardened hearts of many of the gang members and fellow poverty stricken citizens by his commitment to not fall back into his violent ways.

This real life story moves you so much that you instantly begin the search for a director. You need someone to bring this story to life, to awaken the world to the horrors of poverty and gang life and to move people towards political action. The world needs to be moved to action. This story takes on personal meaning for you above and beyond commercial considerations, though you know your job and social life depend on being successful, and success is measured in dollars.

Several qualified directors express interest in taking on the project. Your job is to select one. Paramount demands that you defend your choice. If you think that none of these directors will do, write a few paragraphs on why you should have more time to continue searching for director.

Directors: (Note: none of these directors actually exist in real life)

1. Jacob Gilstrap: Gilstrap is a Quentin Tarantino protégé, who ascended to star director status in the last four years. He approached you as soon as he got wind of the script. Gilstrap wants to begin the movie with scenes of violence that, using slow motion photography and a mobile camera, seem almost lyrical and musical, illustrating the attractiveness of violence and dark energy to the male psyche. The violence would be highly stylized, rhythmical, and almost poetic; a song which imparts vitality, energy, and a sort of perverse meaning into the lives of the gang members. Within this song of violence, Gilstrap plans to raise a discordant note in the person of DeShawne Jackson. DeShawn’s choice to snitch threatens the “song,” the source of vitality for the gang, and he therefore is crushed.

A director of Gilstrap’s stature would bring a greater probability of commercial success, which you desperately need. Your mind is plagued with questions: does Gilstrap’s style fit the story? Does it fit your vision? Will he really bring in more money at the box office?

2. Pepé Sanchez: Sanchez graduated USC film school in 2000, and is considered one of the best up-and-coming directors. His first feature film The Chair won best picture at Cannes and was met with world-wide critical acclaim. Sanchez exhibited artistic mastery in The Chair, creating a work of art that is already considered one of the best in the history of film. The Chair is an unconventional story. The film’s linear plot is not driven by objective events, but by the subjective perceptions of the protagonist. Fantasy, reality, and dream sequences are all integrated seamlessly without clear delineation between what is real and what is dreamt. The theme of the movie that unifies the seemingly disjointed events is the protagonist’s fear of truth and commitment to it. The entire movie is a powerful study of the human psyche.

While the critics loved his unconventional story, they were absolutely enthralled with Sanchez’s cinematic skill. His deft use of lighting and color tonalities makes the viewer feel like he is watching a carefully and skillfully painted canvas. Each scene is carefully composed and photographed, and each image is painstakingly manipulated for optimal beauty and effect.

Sanchez was drawn to the story the instant he read it. In his four hour interview with you, he expressed how thrilled he was when delving into DeShawne Jackson’s psychology. He stated emphatically that with his skill he could illuminate DeShawne’s inner life in a beautiful and compelling way.

But, the question lingers in your mind, who would it compel, a handful of critics or the people in general? Yet, as you reflect on Sanchez’s ability, the more it becomes apparent that it wouldn’t matter if anyone went to the movie at all. Critics would love it; it would win awards. You would be hailed as an innovator, who defied conventions by hiring Sanchez to direct. Sanchez would probably create a masterpiece. But does it fit with your vision and convictions?

3. Nick Collins: Collins is a relatively obscure director by film buff standards. His crowning achievement was Exploitation, a documentary which told the story of plight of children in Somalia during the civil war that tore the country apart. He filmed the entire picture with a hand-held camera, creating a rough and uneven image. Poor natural lighting added to the sense that you were following Collins on a dangerous real journey. Collins refused to narrate the events, believing that it destroyed the audience’s experience of the authentic drama in Somalia.

He undoubtedly created a compelling and real image of Somalia. Even on multiple viewings, you still feel as if you are smack in the middle of the action, and your heart pumps vigorously with fear as bullets fly before the camera lens and as Collins flees a dangerous situation. The frame of the picture feels like it captures only a tiny slice of all the action, which seems like it is continually spilling on and off the framed image.

Collins’ fiction films exhibit the same rough style, because he deals with themes of poverty and social injustice. He wants to move his audience to action not awe; he cares little for pictorial beauty. In moving people to action, Collison has been extremely successful. His movie spurred the creation of several well-funded organizations to lobby Congress in Washington and the United Nations in New York. These organizations have been very effective in creating awareness for the situation in Somalia.

Collins is extremely excited about the opportunity to film DeShawne’s story. He senses another opportunity to make people aware of an impoverished and violent situation. But…you’re not sure how the public will react to such an interpretation of the story. They might see it as another piece of overly moralistic tripe and stay away. It’s not clear whether it’s an outrageous gamble or if it is a brilliant move that will compel and move audiences. Your mind lingers on one last question: Is Collin’s style even capable of telling DeShawne’s story?

What Do You Think?

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Top 25

Arts and Faith just released their Top 25 Films of all Time:

Ordet (6.85, 37 votes)
Le Fils (6.51, 38 votes)
The Miracle Maker (6.47, 41 votes)
The Gospel According to Matthew (6.35, 63 votes)
The Diary of a Country Priest (6.3, 55 votes)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (6.3, 62 votes)
The Decalogue (6.26, 79 votes)
Babette's Feast (6.16, 88 votes)
A Man Escaped (6.12, 35 votes)
Andrei Rublev (6.09, 45 votes)
Balthazar (6.07, 48 votes)
The Seventh Seal (6.02, 80 votes)
Ikiru (6.01, 56 votes)
Winter Light (6, 30 votes)
The Mission (5.99, 106 votes)
The Apostle (5.99, 111 votes)
Three Colors Trilogy (5.99, 76 votes)
Jesus of Nazareth (5.98, 74 votes)
Jesus of Montreal (5.93, 57 votes)
The Flowers of St. Francis (5.92, 22 votes)
Dead Man Walking (5.9, 101 votes)
Stalker (5.89, 26 votes)
Magnolia (5.84, 112 votes)
La Promesse (5.76, 31 votes)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (5.74, 32 votes)

Check back tomorrow for a scathing review of Alfonzo Cuaron's adaptation of Children of Men. Honestly, I would have liked it if I hadn't read P.D. James' classic novel. Artistically, I think it was pretty good, but I can't forgive the liberties it took with James' work.