Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hilarious Short

Take a look at this short comedy film by uber-talented On the Lot contestant Zach Lipovsky. This is not the last time you'll hear of Mr. Lipovsky-- I can't imagine he'll lose the competition or fade into obscurity. Watch his other shorts at to get a fuller idea of his talent, versatility, and endearingly dorkish charm.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ebert's Take

Last week, I struggled to put my disappointment with Ocean's 13 adequately into words. Roger Ebert's review , however, expresses my pent-up frustration perfectly. He has some interesting thoughts about the nature of the "caper" film too, though by these standards Oceans 12 (a personal favorite of mine) is equally insufficient.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Departed

The history of most genres consists of a fairly irregular pattern of peaks and valleys. A set of brilliant movies establish a given genre and its conventions as subsequent directors try to create unique and fresh stories based on the tried and true patterns; yet the possibility of new twists is not limitless, and many genres pass out of popularity before being rediscovered by a director with a new take on the old genre conventions. Ridley Scott's Gladiator renewed the old sword and sandal epic established by movies like Spartacus and Ben Hur, and its success paved the way for a glut of movies and TV shows set in classical antiquity. The organized crime / mobster genre that was so popular in the 1930's also experienced a resurgence in the 70's-90's with The Untouchables, The Godfather, and a whole host of followers. In my estimation, we've been so saturated with movies and TV shows in the narrow mobster genre in the last 15 years that I imagine success in it will be difficult down the road. One of the most important elements in a lucrative box office is how a given director approaches the genre question-- how can one produce a fresh take on a genre that's so familar as to be reduced to staleness? How can one avoid the "I've seen it before" vibe?

Not being a big fan of the organized crime genre (with the notable exception of On the Waterfront) I didn't see the Best Picture-winning The Departed until just recently and was pleasantly surprised by the novelty of its plot. For a movie bathed in blood and profanity, The Departed's plot is built around the moral insight central to the mobster genre: inexorable justice. Mobster movies generally thrive on the audience's paradoxical indulgence of mobster's violent vices and the inevitable dispensation of justice. Scorcese scores on both points. The Departed's violence, captured through Scorcese's brilliant direction and editing, is intense, real, and (for weaker stomaches such as my own) unwatchable. Scorcese also expresses the theme of justice in a new and poignant way.

Approach this movie with caution, though. The "F-word" is used quite elastically, functioning as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and expressing the whole gamut of feelings from hatred and contempt to attraction and sensitivity. If you can stomach it, The Departed is a good movie-- it won Best Picture for a reason.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Shotgun Evangelization

My recent article "Bella: A Powerful New Pro-Life Movie, but Will Christians Accept It?" has drawn a variety of responses. Here's one of the more vociferous ones:

"Color me a unsubtle simpleton, a moralistic moron, but since when is a direct, unequivocal Christian message a bad thing? Look, I understand and agree with all the criticism made about popular Christian films, like the “Left Behind” series, but because the “Jesus loves me” crowd is sadly incapable of theatrical depth and polish in no way removes the obligation of Christians and Christian media to be blunt, bold, and direct. You know, like Jesus was.

And speaking of Jesus, He always spoke the law first, before He offered grace. he told people in essence, “Turn or burn”. No sugar coating, no moral ambiguity, no subtley complex plot lines that could be interpreted as the listener liked. No, He said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light. No man shall come to the Father except by me.” (believe that’s John 4:16) Now I don’t know if you’ve been keeping up on current events, but that sounds pretty “obvious”, and “spelled out” to me.

Christianity is all about uncompromising, harsh, narrow morality. I couldn’t care less, and neither should you, about being sophicated and worldly when talking about something so starkly moral as choosing to murder one’s unborn baby for one’s convenience or allowing the child to live and be raised to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

And another thing, you know why Christian filmmakers are so “obvious” in conveying the essential message? Cause people, yeah including many church-goers, don’t have the first clue what’s written in the Bible and only have the vaguest, most limited concept of things like moral imperatives, natural law, absolutism, and “morally complex” stuff like that. People are stupid - clueless - morally and intellectually bankrupted - corrupted by a toxic culture of Political Correctness. Piercing that armor requires “explicit message over subtle metaphor”.

Would I like it if Christian filmmakers produced films that were to Christianity what “Saving Private Ryan” was for moral clarity and national pride. Hell yeah! (pun could possibly be intended) But Christendom and the rest of Western Society is a lil’ weak on the basics of morality right now so we need to save the “moral complexity” (whatever that means) until people are well grounded in the idea that there really, really, really is a God, and He really, really, really is Righteous and Holy, and He really, really, really will send your sinful ass to hell if you turn your back on Him. How’s that for 'obvious'?"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bella Needs Your Support

Check out my article on Bella at

JP Catholic is currently hosting one of Metanoia Film's marketing teams for the big summer push. We all have to be doing what we can to help this movie-- get the word out to everyone you know and more importantly PRAY FOR IT. Bella is such a crucial movie for our culture and the growth of the Christian film industry.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Little Heavy-Handed Moralizing

In Peter Suderman's interesting review of the new zombie flick Fido, he highlights what I consider to be a unfortunate trend in Hollywood. "Director Andrew Curry," Suderman writes, "weights his film down with metaphorical dead weight, so that it lurches from half-dead idea to half-dead idea with all the grace and wit of its big, dumb zombie characters — which is to say very little. And what it tries to say isn’t even worth getting out of your grave for: Diversity is good! Capitalism is bad! Suburbia breeds stifling conformity! Did somebody eat this movie’s brain?"

Anyone who levels the criticism of amorality at the entertainment industry simply hasn't watched much media in the past few years; the sheer number of celebs who are jockeying for moral superiority is staggering and certainly not confined to the usual suspects of Clooney, Spielberg, and Jolie. The metaphor seems to be their preferred vehicle in the race for humanitarian/activist of the year, being the most facile way to create devastating satire without the cumbersome prerequisite of clear thinking. I wouldn't mind it at all if the story remained afloat after all the moralizing; the director's diligent efforts to help the audience in drawing a clear conclusion often scuttles the story... if there's a story to begin with. Al Gore's filmed lecture An Inconvenient Truth is hopefully the beginning of the end of that genre.

Nowhere is the penchant for brainless metaphor more pronounced than in comedy. I know I'm not the only Simpson's fan who has bemoaned the loss of intelligent satire. The last few seasons have resembled modern morality plays with its conclusions as obvious and humorless as its medieval predecessors. I'd rather watch Seinfeld, a self-proclaimed show about nothing, than be beat over the head with transparent and fashionable moral conclusions. At least this trend hasn't reached epidemic status-- sitcoms like The Office and Arrested Development still provide welcome relief.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

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, utopia-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 irreversible infertility, while backwoods rednecks promiscuously copulate with reckless abandon. Thus, we are lead to the creation of Idiocracy, a future 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.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Unlucky Thirteen

The early arrival of my baby boy on May 15th solved a difficult conundrum for me: Peter's original due date and the release of Ocean's 13 coincided on June 8th. Of course I exaggerate the crisis-- my wife would justifiably create a much greater predicament if it were actually a conflict-- but at least it gives you a sense for the magnitude of my anticipation. With the months of giddy expectancy aside though, Ocean's 13 would have deflated my lowest expectations. Now I'm not a superstitious man, so I'll have to chalk this one up to bad writing. The predictable, lumbering plot didn't bother me as much as the flat wit and botched attempts to force comedic chemistry. Though many heaped scorn on its predecessor Ocean's 12 as a convoluted mess of a movie, it ranks as one of my favorite films because of the clever, witty banter of Ocean's gang. I'm a sucker for hilarious dialogue, and will overlook even the most egregious cinematic lapses because of it. I guess that's why I feel so let down by the latest Ocean's movie.

The undoing of Ocean's 13 was the inherent inertia in its premise. The revenge plot took so long to set up that Soderbergh was forced to cut rapidly from location to location and have characters finish each other's sentences in order to keep the pace up and avoid audible snores from the audience. There wasn't enough time left to really create the same chemistry that the all-star cast enjoyed in the last two, and the plot never recovered from the lost momentum. The finish was just as disappointing as what preceded it. My wife pointed out that it lacked the great twist of the previous two and was unable to generate even the slightest amount of suspense. Still, I guess if you put aside all comparisons with the last two, it's a mildly enjoyable movie worth a DVD rent.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Cashing In

I can't believe that I'm just hearing about this now, but Fox started its own faith label. Apparently the label's definition of "faith" encompasses anything considered bland and inoffensive like Garfield cartoons and Strawberry Shortcake: Adventures on Ice Cream; there was nothing advertised on its website that seemed worth seeing. Fox wants to cash in on the Christian market, yet still does not have enough respect for Christian consumers to really break the piggy bank open. I can't imagine this label has been very successful. Its profitability will be limited until it can really break free from its stereotypes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

I guess every genius is entitled to one blunder....

So I gushed here and here about the genius of Kieslowski's Decalogue parts 1-3. Sara and I rented parts 4-7 from Netflix awhile ago, and it took some gumption to actually get around to watching them-- despair and moral crises in urban Warsaw isn't the most invigorating thing to watch after a long day at work. Judging by the first three installments, I thought we'd be in for another masterpiece with part 4; yet we were instead forced to cringe our way through the longest hour of our lives. Kieslowski's penchant for plumbing man's depths gets away from him a little here-- he digs so deep that he finds madness instead of conflict and crisis. Part 4 features a mentally ill girl who believes she's found evidence that the father who raised her has no biological relation to her, developing a disturbing Electra complex on him. It's hard to identify with a character who should be institutionalized, and Kieslowski's sophisticated style in the first three installments devolves into a cheap lighting display designed to force an emotional response in the fourth. I guess everyone is entitled to a stinker. Both Sara and I hold out high hopes for parts 5-7.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Postmodernity and the Family

My wife and I just finished the last DVD of Arrested Development, which, in my estimation, is one of the finest sitcoms ever created. Much like The Office, Arrested Development relies on the interaction and growth of well-developed characters through a linear plot line for most of its laughs, though its unique and hilarious manipulation of editing and narration puts it a notch above other character-driven comedies.

The story line revolves around the Bluths, a real estate developing family, whose extravagant lifestyle is disrupted by the sudden arrest of the corrupt patriarch by the SEC. The odd-ball family is kept together by Michael Bluth, who simultaneously despises and (though he rarely and begrudgingly admits it) needs his family. Michael is the hardworking, ethically driven member of the family, whose exasperation with his needy, self-centered family is a source of much of the show's comedy. The world of the family is masterfully developed, so much so that it's difficult to get into it half-way. So many jokes and character nuances become show motifs and grow in hilarity as they are repeated throughout all three seasons.

Arrested Development is interesting on an intellectual level as well. The underlying premise of the show is the inescapable importance of the family. The more dissolute and fractured the family becomes, the more they feel the urgent need to put it back together. Michael's concern for the ethical is constantly disrupted by his own sinfulness and by postmodern confusion on what comprises an ethical action. The show is provides interesting insight into one of the primary problems in postmodern life: conceptions of morality and family have been tossed aside, yet we still have a basic need for these things in our daily lives-- the show creates a multitude of funny moments arising from this contemporary conflict.

This show should not be approached without caution, however. Like all modern comedies, it has its fair share of lewdness, though I think it deals with these areas with much more humor, cleverness, and tact than any other comedy out there.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Double Feature

JP Catholic hosted a double feature screening last night of two outstanding documentaries: The Call of the Entrepreneur and Champions of Faith. The former, however, eclipsed the latter in terms of production values and structure, though not to say Champions of Faith wasn't an enjoyable watch. The Call of the Entrepreneur simply was one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. It seamlessly interwove the stories of three entrepreneurial visionaries whose paths never cross, but are nevertheless interconnected in the grand scheme of things. It convincingly lays out the case for the vital role of the entreprenurial vocation in creating America's freedom and prosperity. Far from being a "zero sum game" or mere poker contest consisting of only winners and losers, the success of the entrepreneur creates wealth and opportunities for others. The dehumanizing influence of command economies is chillingly depicted as well. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a documentary as well made as this one and I heartily recommend it.

It's a shame Champions of Faith had to follow that act. While it was entertaining, it often resembled the cheap baseball highlight tapes you see in the $5 bin at Wal-Mart-- there was a ton of deadweight material that could have been easily cut. The nasal/slightly annoying voice of the narrator didn't help either. Still, it was an enjoyable ride. Mike Sweeney and Rich Donnelly's stories were pretty cool. A good pick for any baseball fan who takes his faith seriously.