Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Commentary on Children of Men

I just discovered this five minute commentary on Children of Men by Slavoj Žižek, which is also found on the DVD version of the film. Žižek has a wonderfully literate reading of the film, sensitive to the context which shapes and frames the content of the story, which he refers to as an anamorphosis of our culture and society. In short, Žižek examines the film's ability to obliquely capture the social oppression and the despair of an imagined (though no less real) late capitalist society through the constructed barriers of our present day xenophobia to arrive at a remarkably powerful political commentary on the foreign policy of the modern first world psyche.

Looking forward to our discussion of this film on Wednesday, October 3 at 7pm.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Jesus Camp

Jesus Camp is a 2006 documentary directed by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing about Kids on Fire, a charismatic Christian summer camp for children who spend their summers learning and practicing their "prophetic gifts" and being taught by run by Becky Fischer, a Pentecostal children's pastor, that they can "take back America for Christ." According to the film's distributor, it "doesn't come with any prepackaged point of view" and tries to be "an honest and impartial depiction of one faction of the evangelical Christian community." It may be debated about the film's position on the subject matter, however. Interestingly enough, as featured in the previously reviewed Old Joy, this film also features Mike Papantonio (an attorney and a liberal radio talk-show host for Air America Radio's Ring of Fire), who debates with Fischer intermittently and offers commentary at several points during the film. An amazing glimpse into the childhood of some beautiful young people with a strong will to make a positive mark on this confusing world.

Hotly debated, highly arresting, highly incendiary.
Highly recommended.

4 out of 5 stars

Old Joy

Old Joy (2006) is an independent film by director Kelly Reichardt which tells the story of two old friends, Kurt (Will Oldham, a prolific independent musician in real life), an idealistic stoner who has yet to "grow up", and Mark (Daniel London) his boyhood buddy who's grown up and settled into the lifestyle of responsible adult. At the, Kurt phones Mark after an apparent lapse in their communication. Kurt is passing through Portland on a lark and hopes to reunite with Mark for a weekend camping trip in the Cascade mountain range and visit the fabled Bagby Hot Springs. For Mark, the weekend outing promises a respite from the pressure of his imminent fatherhood; for Kurt, it's just part of a long series of carefree adventures.

The film is a minimalist story of friendship, loss and alienation, with a subtle political message brewing beneath the surface about the lives of modest and idealistic leftists in the era of George W. Bush (punctuated at points with voice-over commentary from Mike Papantonio's Air America radio program). The film is considered part of the American mumblecore film movement, characterized by its ultra-low budget production, focus on personal relationships between twenty-somethings, improvised scripts, and use of non-professional actors. Indie rock supergroup Yo La Tengo provides a melancholy, ambient loop of electro-acoustic guitar music as the soundtrack.

3 out of 5 stars

3:10 to Yuma

This past weekend I had the sincere pleasure of seeing 3:10 to Yuma, James Mangold's (Walk the Line) remake of the 1957 film of the same name, and the second adaptation of Elmore Leonard's (Get Shorty et al) short story. Staring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, each in roles that play to their singular strengths in economy of words and depth of silent expression, the film defied my high expectations and left me speechless.

At the Emmys on Monday night, Robert Duvall talked about how the Western is uniquely American, a film tradition and genre that better than any other medium captures the essence of what it means to be American and pursue justice. Duvall may have used some broad brushstrokes in painting that image, but he's not far off and very convincing, especially when films like this are still being made. At the heart of every Western is a core struggle to do the right thing, adhere to an ethical ideal, or defend one's dignity. In a film that carries this much gravity and decision making, there's no shortage of conversation - and over dinner my wife and I had a blast speculating and debating over the actions of the main characters in this film (not unlike one would do over political decisions, foreign policy, etc.).

Like any Western, the cinematography was spectacular - the New Mexico landscape was brilliant, expansive and oppressively dry. It was the perfect setting for our characters to carry on with their respective existential initiatives. And each played their parts convincingly (despicable villains, earnest homesteaders, fearful leaders, etc.). The plot holds its tension taut - there were admittedly times where the action seemed implausible, but then the story advanced a hidden trait that makes everything even more clear than we had initially thought, illuminating the purpose of every action. In the end, it's hard to find fault with this film. Surely a bet in Oscar season.

4 out of 5 stars

October's Film: Children of Men

Not long ago I reviewed Children of Men, eying the film as not only one of the more poignant films I had seen of late, but also a possible selection for the group to discuss. Lo and behold, here we are about to discuss the film at our October 3rd meeting. Note: this film has only just recently hit libraries in DVD form - it may not be as readily available as some of our previous films, but check SWAN first to be on the safe side before visiting your video store.