Sunday, March 1, 2009

The post in which I offend homosexuals, middle-aged black women, and earnest Israeli film directors, then stick up for a foul-mouthed nun.

While poking around for Milk-related stuff, I found this silly group:

I'm only linking to them here because of this amazing image:

That image pretty nicely sums up how I feel about Van Sant's Milk. We're given a secular saint. It looks as if at least one group already recognizes him as such.

My problem with Milk isn't its agenda or its ideology (though these are problematic to me). My problem is that the agenda becomes the main character, with even Milk himself there only in a supporting role, all of his actions and dialogue in service to something greater than himself. Which makes for a good spur to social action, but poor narrative. The only reason that I think that Milk succeeds is because it portrays Harvey Milk as a man who would be happy with this subsuming of himself into the movement. To Milk, good storytelling doesn't matter. The Gay Movement Matters. By any means necessary. And so, half the time, I felt like I sat through a rather transparent sermon and history lesson, not a motion picture worthy of the accolades it's receiving. But, there were hints of Van Sant moments that showed some visual truth even while the script was struggling to strangle those images.

I've made a short video commentary about the beginning 12 minutes of the film, but I'm hesitant to post it here because of copyright crap. Brandon, I'll probably burn a copy for you and drop it off at the same time that I return Hot Fuzz (hopefully some time this week).

I got paid to see Madea Goes to Jail. I have to admit that I would have never gone to see it otherwise. I'm just not the target audience. Going into it, I hadn't seen anything else that Tyler Perry has done. I don't know anything about him except that he's become extremely popular in the past few years doing his Madea thing.

The film is really two stories, one comic farce featuring our folk heroine and one sincere and well-meaning melodrama that you may have already seen in one form or another on the Lifetime Network. The two stories converge late in the film and everything resolves tidily, just as it should. It's all fun and good intentioned, but, more than anything else, it reminded me of Billy Graham movies that I was taken to as a child and bad Lifetime movies that I've had to be around at work. The only real difference is that Madea provides a salty humor to offset the earnest preaching/moralizing. And Perry does know how to have fun and how to please his audience, including me.

I don't think I've seen any critics examine this connection yet (I'm a trailblazer), but I have to insist that Milk and Madea are close cousins. And both share core similarities with bad Christian movies.

Please, check out Battleship Pretension. I just finished listening to their episode discussing the Christian film industry:

Milk and Madea share at least this with bad Christian films: The message gets in the way of the movie.

I just got back, a few hours ago, from tonight's Harpur film, My Father My Lord.

I hated it.

My Father My Lord is the worst film that I've seen in 2009. And I've seen Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

A lot of it was the music. I can't always articulate the way I feel about music in movies, but often, if I can notice the music and I hate the music, then I hate the movie. That's just the way it is. I don't understand the music choices in this film. The violin and the piano destroy what little truth the images work toward. I just don't understand.

There's no surprise. The first scene before the title screen features the father grieving near his son's casket. Title screen. Flashback.

The movie has its joys. The father obviously loves his son. He shares his entire world with his son.

The movie makes Wendy and Lucy look like an Action flick.

But, that's okay. I like slow cinema.

The movie is too obvious. The father's name is Abraham. The son receives lots of instruction, in his school, about the Abraham/Isaac story. One scene, in particular, features the boy in school. They've made craft pictures representing the story and the boy is asked to hang up the ram on the board. He adds glue and keeps trying to hang it up, but that substitute ram won't stick to the board. This scene is prolonged and that ram just won't stick. How obvious can we get? There's going to be no substitute ram this time. Abraham's son is going to be sacrificed because of Abraham's spirituality. It almost gets comical, but I think that I was the only one laughing in the theater. I just wanted it all to be over.

I was happy when the boy finally died. I knew the film couldn't last much longer.

I had no emotional reaction to the film except boredom and frustration.

The above two films were really clear in their respective messages. I'm not so sure here, but the message seems to be that prayer kills. And it might be a good thing that there isn't a message that gets in the way of the story, but it still feels like it wants to be a message picture, exposing the terrible excesses of ultra-orthodox faith and devotion. The son dying is just too convenient. The father loves his son. The son loves his father. But, there ARE still difficulties that would be interesting to explore. The death only throws blame on the father when he's done nothing truly blame-worthy. It feels like a cheap storytelling cop-out; a way to make a point without working through any difficult material.

While I've been writing all of this, I've been half watching Sister Helen, an interesting documentary, worth the time to watch, if only because she swears enough (and is miserable enough) to make us uncomfortable with her doing so much good.


Summer People said...

you are the king of making non-existent connections actually make a whole lot of sense. Milk was essentially a quintessential bio-pic, one that had a powerful message because of the obvious conviction of the writer/director combo. I don't think it transcends the genre, though at times it certainly comes close, but it revealed to me the formula for which this wretched genre can overcome its initial hiccups: conviction.

It reminds of the way you are responding to Michael Haneke's films, you feel the urgency and conviction of what he's trying to communicate and it hits close to home. His films could just as easily be attacked with the same fiery passion that they are defended with.

You either feel it or you don't.

By the way, that little blog exchange between you and Abby was adorable. She definitely won. Better luck next time buddy.

trawlerman said...

I'll have more fiery passion for Haneke in the future, but even I'm taking a break for a bit. I think I need a month or so before I tackle Benny's Video.

I don't think Abigail's going to watch it, so you guys will probably miss out on our Siskel/Ebert show next time around. Don't worry. She's excited about seeing lots more Herzog this year, so there may be future incursions here.