4 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Local boy makes good. Very, very good, in fact.
21 January 2004
Jared Hess has done something that many first-time filmmakers find to be nearly impossible: make an original film that is sincere, not pretentious, and is rip-roaringly funny.

I sat next to an aquisitions rep at the first Library screening at Sundance, and when I asked him what he recommended seeing he complained that everything so far had felt very flat. When the lights came up after Napoleon's triumphant dance number, I turned to him and said "there goes your loosing streak." He was already halfway up the isle.

One of the best films to come out of Sundance this year, and one of the best comedies to show up in Park City in several years.

Perhaps this will mean an increase in BYU's Theatre and Media Arts funding...
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An exploration of the institutions the film serves.
6 February 2001
If everyone has a story, then the one about the four little girls who were killed during a Sunday bombing in Birmingham must be an important one. Spike Lee realized the fact that the death of these four girls was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, and uses it to catapult his own political views into a historical message. This film takes four nondescript children and glorifies their lives because of the manner of their death. This lauding is certainly deserved and appropriate, but it is important to remember that who the girls were individually is inconsequential to the power of their deaths. If the four victims had been entirely different people, say classmates in the next room, this movie would still be the same. It is the ultimate example of `exaltation of the ordinary', a truth of documentary film, according to Dean Duncan. The story is not pretty, the autopsy pictures are grisly, and the influence of hatred in the events that transpire is disturbing. Through their deaths, the girls gave voice to millions of African-Americans, but in doing so their own voices were sacrificed. This film attempts to reconcile that loss with interviews from family, friends, and associates of the girls. Instead of giving us a eulogy, Lee paints a vivid portrait of girls who were no different then any other girls at the time. Their glory came not in their lives, but in how their loves were lost. The death of the four little girls in Birmingham is historically valuable because it was a catalyst for the shifting of the civil rights movement to the next level. From tragedy positive things frequently emerge. Lee saw the glory in the sacrifice of life these girls made, and choose to tell that story in a powerful, intimate manner. The close shots during the interviews were not meant to make the viewer uncomfortable, but alluded to the action of leaning in when interested in the speaker. This was a true documentary, and although painted with the hand of Spike Lee, the film serves a higher institution, that of history and remembrance.
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Groundhog Day (1993)
A briliant comedy with an important theme
6 February 2001
For a comic mastermind, Harold Ramis has made a brilliant film that deals with the universal human spirituality and the importance of personal contributions to the world we live in. The beauty of this film is that a concept as utterly impossible as repetition of time is made completely and undeniably believeable, and then used to comment on the need for selflessness in today's society. In my notes from this film, I find the quote, `since time and talents are all we have, that's what we should give.' Groundhog Day delivers this powerful warhead in the non-threatening missile of a Bill Murray comedy. Although zany and comedic, the movie has an intended message within the script, that selflessness is both a virtue to be strived for and not a characteristic to be ashamed of. If this film had just been written as a screwball comedy, and Ramis had tried to include the theme secondhand, the message would have no power. Morality and message never works when injected into a film de facto; they only appear as contrived and misplaced. This film is a perfect blend of comedy and serious introspective reflection for me. In my personality, just as in the movie, I can effectively juxtapose desires to strive for selflessness and generosity with quotes like `I was in the Virgin Islands once. I met a girl. We ate lobster and drank pina coladas. At sunset we made love like sea otters. That was a pretty good day. Why couldn't I get that day over and over and over?' Crass comedy doesn't get anywhere with me, but I can appreciate a joke like that. I think it's just my convert sense of humor, which sometimes does me more harm then good. It is a disappointment that much of today's comedy has departed from clever comedy with a positive theme to crass scatological humor or anger-laced ranting. The classic comedies of the eighties and early nineties have given way at the box office to films like American Pie, Dude Where's My Car, and Saving Silverman. At least when Groundhog Day had a sexual joke it was done tastefully. We've degraded drastically from clever word play and wit to adolescents fornicating with pastries on camera. I'll stay with the oldies, but the goodies.
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City Lights (1931)
A classic film made with love and precision
6 February 2001
Film has become a medium that is strongly influenced by nostalgia. Old films have become journeys to the past; ways to visit times and people that no longer are. Since film is an art that is based on the innovation of previous works, it has an element of nostalgia in its foundation. We look on the old to find what elements should make up the new. In City Lights, and other silent works of film, a passion emerges that is uniquely honest and sincere. While watching the film, I was impressed that Chaplin really did love the story, the sets, the crew; the whole project. While this may not have been the complete reality, it felt that way, and thus made the film more enjoyable. In silent films the audience is forced to be completely reliable on the visual elements of the film; there are no elaborate sound effects or dialogue to provoke an emotional response. Since film is at its very core a visual medium, I find silent films to be the basic form of the medium. I don't use the word basic here in a demeaning sense, but I compare the beauty of silent films to the beauty of early European art, before the concept of perspective was developed in the Renaissance. Many books and tomes featured people as tall as the castles they stood in; these works of art were not technologically advanced, but they were, and are, beautiful. The same example is found when comparing early darreographs of wild animals to contemporary photographs found in National Geographic. There is a warmth found in City Lights, and other Chaplin films (The Kid, Modern Times) that would be lost in the sea of cinematic technology that floods films today. Maybe it's just that with simplicity comes honesty, and honesty is perhaps the most powerful emotion that can cross through the screen and be felt by the viewer.
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