Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I love my new job. Tonight, I got paid to hang out, eat Souvlaki at one of the best diners in the area, then go to the movies with a group of some of the coolest guys I know. After talking things over, we all decided to see Valkyrie.

Pause here, please, to read Robert Davis' brilliant review (easily one of the best pieces of film criticism all year) of Valkyrie:

Valkyrie: The 1,000 Faces of Tom Cruise

I went in with extremely low expectations. So, I was surprised when I found myself enjoying Valkyrie. I can't defend myself. I can't even think of any one positive thing to say about the movie that doesn't sound silly. I can only say that I had a good time "at the movies."

The over the top one man superhero Tom Cruise bit worked for me mostly because Cruise's character fails so totally in his mission. There was also a truly neat twist of tension to the story, knowing all along that the plan would fail, but not knowing how it would or what would happen to these losers.

I just enjoyed being paid to go to the movies.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

3 Films + 1 Advil = Satisfied Mind

On Christmas day, I felt a bit sick. Christmas night, I vomited more than a bit. The upside to feeling sick and not being able to sleep was that I got to enjoy a late night Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon.

December 26th, I got up early, felt yucky, and went back to sleep after having a cup of coffee. At 12:15pm, Abby came in and asked me if I was still planning on taking the girls to see Despereaux. Of course!

The Tale of Despereaux was better than I expected, but not quite as good as I had hoped for. It features beautiful animation and backgrounds and is truly laudable in its portrayal of virtue, but it fails to be fully satisfying due to some hasty plot developments and quick plot resolution. I honestly felt cheated. The world that was created and presented to us was more than rich enough to be inhabited much more fully than was done. Still, Despereaux was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but not substantive enough to want to revisit.

By evening, I was starting to feel much better and was even able to eat some. I started thinking about other movies that I could see. If one film made me feel better, maybe a steady diet of the same would heal me completely. I quickly booked a double feature at the local megaplex, arranged for babysitting from the grandfolk, and took my lovely bride out for a night at the cinema.

First, Gran Torino. By far, my favorite Clint Eastwood film so far. I don't know what Eastwood's personal beliefs are, but here he has made the most honestly pro-Catholic film in recent memory. It beats the proverbial hell out of Gibson's Passion. Not only does it feature the most clearly positive portrayal of a priest this side of Karl Malden's Father Barry, but, also, the character of Walt Kowalski becomes a shining example, appropriate for this Christmas season, of light in the darkness, ultimately called to play out a passion of his own. It is Eastwood's genius (and, of course, to the credit of screenwriter Schenk) to set this light in the heart of a man who uses every racial epithet you can think of (and probably a few you've never thought of), drinks too much, smokes too much, feels too little, and is generally an equal opportunity crank. The film almost feels like a loving pair of middle fingers, one pointed at a world that has forgotten the Good News of reconciliation (and the moral and family obligations that that brings), the other pointed at a Church that may have a hard time digesting a film (and, by extension, a world) with so much surface obscenity.

Next, Slumdog Millionaire. This is the film that finally taught me to hate a certain narrative device. I now firmly declare that I instantly hate any film that uses any sort of flashback device to present the viewer with a frame (or sequence) from earlier in the film to reinforce whatever sequence was just presented onscreen. I am not stupid. Most of the audience is not stupid. Please, Danny Boyle, you can trust us to remember something that you showed us an hour and a half ago. Don't show it to me again. Please, don't. That was my plea. All in vain. Besides that pet peeve, Millionaire was frustrating in its presentation of this boy winning a magic ticket out of a slummy life. I'm sure that there's an interesting movie waiting to be made about a slumdog, maybe even one who becomes a millionaire, but this isn't it. I enjoyed Millionaire enough to see what charms it has, but not enough to be won over by them.

Now, it's Saturday, and I'm plotting a way to see either Doubt or Benjamin Button before this vacation is over.

Finally, Brandon, I've now seen all of Flight of the Red Balloon, and I do think that you need to revisit it. Maybe it is overrated, but that doesn't keep it from being quite good.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jingle Bells

Saturday, December 20, 2008

We Don't Care. We're Waiting for Jesus.

A Christmas Tale really surprised me. I hate dramas about rich dysfunctional families. But, I found myself smiling throughout this one. It's funny that the artifice involved in the narrative structure (breaking the fourth wall, an irising lens, titles) heightened my connection to the story and its characters, so much more so than the supposed "verite" of such a false film like Rachel Getting Married.

Two children are gathered around a creche, late Christmas Eve, in their grandparents' house, wondering when the baby Jesus will arrive. "Jesus never existed," says their father. "We don't care. We're waiting for Jesus," is the final answer given by the boys. And so, I maintain, the theme of A Christmas Tale asserts itself boldly from the lips of these boys.

I loved almost all of this film, and that's probably why the part that disappointed me the most was such a bitter disappointment. All of the characters are presented plainly, faults at the fore, unjudged. The script and direction keep us sympathetic, never disgusted. But, one character, Sylvia transcends the pain of those around her, discovers old secrets, and makes decisions that are shown to heal those connected to her. I hated this. Without any spoilers, I can only say that her decisions are clearly affirmed by the director through a rather intentionally obvious linking of her story to the story of Pocahontas in Malick's The New World. I know what connection Desplechin is trying to make, but I don't think it works. Slyvia's "sacrifice" is not the sacrifice of Pocahontas (though I admit some parallels). To be fair, though, this is only one subplot and does not detract too much from the rest.

All in all, a fine film. I'm glad that I broke down and went to see it.