"Blue Like Jazz" has a lot going for it, especially because it caters… More"Blue Like Jazz" has a lot going for it, especially because it caters to the demographic of confused religious people either in their twenties or thirties. In contemporary film, faith is rarely a theme that is visited without certain intermingling themes. Most of these films either broach leaving religion altogether and finding a new identity, or they remain schmaltzy and renew the character's faith. This film fits better into the second category, while also having an interesting setting, great supporting characters, and feels fresh for college students, especially those in small liberal arts campuses. The story comes from the book of the same name by Donald Miller, and is semi-autobiographical. It certainly feels that way, because there's raw emotion and private introspection into the thoughts of main character Don (Allman), who narrates the film. Don lives his entire life in Texas, going to a Baptist church and hanging out with friends from a local factory where he works. When he realizes that his mother is having an affair with his married youth pastor, he runs away to Portland to go to the infamously liberal Reed College. There he starts raising questions that religion doesn't always allow, and makes friends with several interesting characters, including a newly freed lesbian and the campus' Pope, who hates all religion and favors indecision. The film stays strong as Don starts to understand his own isolation and the reasons why he is rebelling against his faith, but eventually becomes a tangled mess. It's just trying to enclose so many ideas and so many competing storylines that it collapses in on itself. Don's own realizations about himself don't even culminate until the very end of the film, and we never learn what their impact is, and what it means for the character. We also have to deal with child abuse, alienation, and depression in a very short span of time, and though each theme is lighted upon, the film doesn't say much about them. SPOILERS: That and making the Pope into a victim of sexual abuse during confession was really biased and short sighted, which only feeds into the view that anti-theists already have. It felt more like a cheap ploy to wrap everything up than an actual ending, and for that, I find the most fault.
"Robot and Frank" is a very sweet tempered sci-fi, independent film… More"Robot and Frank" is a very sweet tempered sci-fi, independent film that somehow remains affectionate and veers from morality, even though it's in a very particular genre of film. The film says very little about the state of the world, or even the future it's set in, and instead focuses on story. The film centers on retired cat burglar Frank (Langella) who has stopped lifting jewels from homes after several stints in jail. He has two children, one a father with small children, the other a globetrotting naturalist. He doesn't see them often, the same as he did during their childhood, and he is slowly lapsing into dementia. His son buys him a domesticated robot to take care of him and the two bond, eventually starting to plot heists on a rich man who is reimagining the nearby library to be paperless. The film rarely challenges the audience with the effects of technology, except when it comes to the library, because it's transformation spurs him to start back up stealing. The film also touches upon the subject of respecting a past generation and the wisdom they possess, which is easily thrown away, either by getting rid of books, or by showing the fragility of the human mind in old age. Frank and his robotic companion find friendship because the former is reaching his mental decline and needs help recovering what little he has left. There doesn't seem to be any subtext on robots in our future, and no message that they should be accepted for their technological benefits. Though there may not be any moral stance taken, this film is actively pacing itself the entire way through. It lets a moment land, takes its time in building its momentum scene by scene. Langella gives a very strong performance, even though we learn very little about the character, except that he has certain regrets about the way he lived his life. For what it is, and what it tries to be, it succeeds at being sweet and essentially, interesting.
Recently a trend has been emerging in writing for both television and… MoreRecently a trend has been emerging in writing for both television and film that includes storylines revolving around the plight of the Millennial generation and the woes of the twenty something. The start of it can probably be traced to the boom in Lena Dunham's career and her writing for the HBO series "Girls". Her independent film "Tiny Furniture" was a great precursor to her show, and also featured a slightly overweight protagonist (played by Dunham) who has money woes after college and finds herself relying on the help of her parents. "Frances Ha" takes on some of the same ideals that have been popping up lately, but doesn't have the same empathy for those without direction that Dunham affords easily. Instead, collaborative screenwriting team, and real-life couple, director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, find a middle ground, content to show the troubles of artists, but also tells them to take stock of what's important and live their lives. Frances is a modern dancer in a company where she isn't excelling as fast as she would like. Her roommate suddenly uproots herself and begins a new kind of life, where she cares less about her career and more about her apartment and boyfriend. Frances finds herself homeless from time to time, jobless once in a while, and consistently scrambling to find herself amongst everyone else. The film continually stays funny, especially because the characters are so vibrant. Baumbach has a way of capturing the hilarity in being uncomfortable, and forces characters onscreen that are interesting but inevitably intense. Gerwig, always lighthearted but methodical to her characters, lightens the tone somewhat. This, their first collaboration, feels so fresh and young, yet features a strange wisdom that shows the writers are really old souls. There's not been a film that perfectly balances the opinions of this generation and the reality of our world while staying so sweetly funny throughout, and I commend these two for pulling it off flawlessly.
For its time, Ingmar Bergman's iconic "The Seventh Seal" was… MoreFor its time, Ingmar Bergman's iconic "The Seventh Seal" was revolutionary for its blatancy in showing the absence of God but the presence of Death. Much of what comprises this film; is not what those who know of it would attribute to it, visually speaking. Most people can only think about the visual of a knight on a beach, just back from the Crusades, the ocean suddenly silenced when a dark figure reveals himself on the horizon. It is Death, cloaked all in black, his white washed face standing out against the backdrop of pure nature. They play a game of chess for the knight's life, and so the film begins. Past that most people don't know much about this film. For one thing, there is very little chess featured in this film. For another, the knight has a comrade who he travels with. They go through the countryside, where the Plague has laid siege to all peoples. Everyone has become mad and frightened at the prospect of death, and belies religion's influence for some help in the matter of their mortality. A large amount of people believe in the religious fervor that is sweeping the countryside, and lend themselves to self-abuse, crucifixions, and murder. Others try to steal from the dead and help themselves through the devastation of the illness. Everyone seems to be trying to find answers to why there is war, poverty, and illness when God is supposed to protect them from their woes. A girl is captured and confesses to consorting with the Devil, which she says brought about the plague. She is only an innocent, content in turning from her God because of his absence, but not really a conspirer with evil. The film encourages exploration and takes a step back from theology by showing the very evils it inflicted in the past. Still, there is a call for people to also keep their faith in the face of Death, even while he's playing chess across from you. There's also a young couple who are very friendly and giving, and their fates are sealed thanks to their faith and love for one another. Bergman may not have known the infinitesimal questions that come from exploring your own doubt and frustrations with life. Though Bergman continually questioned himself in his later films, there is never an answer, only the freedom to question at all. Bergman went on to make films that were much subtler and less apt to rest itself on thoughtful images, but this was the start of his career and the first instant of his genius. If anything it should be commended for its innovation to film and the questions it raises.
As a concept, "Dead Snow" sounds like a pretty weird B-movie that's… MoreAs a concept, "Dead Snow" sounds like a pretty weird B-movie that's cheesy, over-the-top horror. In reality, this Swedish horror film is much more than meets the eye. Besides it being in agreeably good taste, it is also "Cabin Fever" type good. It knows exactly what it is from the very beginning, and revels in its own absurdity, and gory lovability. It takes its influences very seriously, especially paying homage to the best cabin the woods trope, "The Evil Dead." Adding zombie Nazis doesn't take away from the tried and true formula, and enhances it with a plethora of bloodlust, gore, and revulsion from the eight trapped medical students staying in that deathtrap of a cabin. Though the true nature of the Nazis' intent is not clear, they're the singular evil governing body of history, and their inclusion in an otherwise methodical horror film makes it all the better. They have many things going for them as the villains of the story: 1) they're zombies, so there need not be motive for their senseless attacks. 2) They're Nazis, so even if they're questionable monsters, they already are monsters in real life, and 3) the lingering social injustices of the Nazi regime, inflicting itself on Sweden, makes this a taboo subject. It's not altogether more frightening because these big bumbling corpses are Nazis, but it does lend to some very frightening visuals. Their leader is so bloated and his skin so greenish black, that the very image of him alongside a snow dune, with his legions of fighters, is enough to be terrifying all on its own. I think the film tries to make up for its implicit silliness by being over-the-top gory, but at the same time that is part of the charm of a cabin in the woods genre horror film. The characters are pretty bland, and how they're all friends isn't really clear, but their intricate deaths make for a good watch, and the violence starts pretty fast, which is forgiving. Overall, this is a good addition to the zombie genre, even if it is a little too gun ho at times.