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R&M's "Pulp Fiction"
I think this one sorta slid under most folks' radars. In short: It's a metaphor for the deeply internalized apologetic ("vindication") for the domination of an in-group basis for morality over "lesser" bases for morality. In other words, if you can get enough people to sign on, any action can be excused as falling under a "moral" umbrella.
Besides this, it's got everything we've come to expect from R&M: Great writing, great scenario work (with a stunning tour-de-force subjugation of the "bad guy"!), labor-of-love graphic work, good direction and voice work.
Others are tending to disagree on this one, but I think it represents their best.
The President Show (2017)
One-two punch: Big on "theater chops" AND channels the subconscious
Love it. It feels "of a piece" where it's hard to detect the dividing line between writing, directing, and acting. Feels finely crafted and unhinged AT THE SAME TIME. A rare thing, indeed!
Spins the latest craziness from that zoo that used to be a White House, and does it with panache and aplomb.
The Case for Christ (2017)
Yes, it's yet-another tilt that that ol' windmill
Nice production work, and occasional flashes of sincerity, but still falls short of its goal.
Its another one of those fundie Christian proselytizing exertions, but you don't need me to tell you that. One gets the impression that each time the movie production suits manage to put together a kitty to forge yet-another of these, it's with the perennial hope, "This one will be different. This one will deliver."
It's 1) better than the usual run, but 2) that's not saying much.
No, it doesn't really deliver. Flicks like this are attempts to use a kind of moral grooming to create pristine little scenarios in which American evangelical Christianity plays out like an honest proposition. But sensitive folks can quickly sniff out that grooming and ultimately resent being treated like jacka55es whose radars were presumed not subtle enough to detect it.
Here's a woefully incomplete list of facile treatments:
* The wife is a bit too quick to draw a causal line between her daughter's rescue and the rescuer's Christianity; it makes sense neither logically nor narratively. Sure, she feels powerful emotions at her daughter's rescue. That doesn't mean she's duty-bound to jettison clear-headed thinking. She can be grateful and sensible at the very same time: One doesn't have to crowd the other out.
* Though managed more artfully than I've seen elsewhere, Strobel is still a bit of a straw dog. He's painted as a somewhat acrid species of atheist. Most atheists are quite different from the Strobel depicted here.
* The flick winds up fixing on the resurrection as key to the Christian "faith". There's a very strong argument for the view that thinking you're a Christian because you profess to "believe" articles of faith (the virgin birth, resurrection, ascension, etc.), may be straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.
* More generally, the flick falls into the trap of promoting a creed basis for Christianity--that accepting a creed is the basis for your self-identification as an adherent of the religion. I've come to the place in my life when I find it hard to imagine a sadder waste of human spiritual searching. This flick backs a horse that loses, right out of the gate.
* The textual criticism argument fails on two points. One, there's plenty of evidence for the view that the New Testament texts had been modified, specifically in ways that wound up having downstream effects on popular notions of "correct" creed. Two, the flick doesn't even mention the fact that the Gospel stories went through 4 or 5 inter- generational oral transmissions *before* someone wrote them down; and this probably explains more about those texts than my first point.
* Why doesn't the flick show Strobel shutting himself into a room for a week or so and carefully reading/combing through the New Testament? I suspect it was left out because most of this flick's demographic would leave it out themselves; that is, they hold the Bible to be true while not reading it either.
* Strobel's mentor plunks a copy of Bertrand Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian" on the desk in front of Strobel. Why? Russell's prime argument in that text was not ancient-historic, it was philosophic. In the following scene, Strobel's editor then says that canned thing about Christianity resting on the historicity of the resurrection. This juxtaposition is confused, but does shed light on the demographic for the movie; it's aimed at folks who haven't read or reflected on philosophical views of the matter, so 1) the Russell book is reduced to a boogie talisman, and 2) the movie can then wend into the tar pit of historicity--which in the end winds up being a matter of bald belief (not faith). That's insulting to thinking people.
* Strobel tells his wife, "I don't like what you're becoming." Which raises a question that might elude the casual viewer. That question is, "What *is* she becoming?" That's an important question! Now, there are some scripted and produced moments that show her sitting with her Bible and being truly moved by genuinely sweet passages. That's good! Remember: It's often *not* good. Weak people can be taken in by religious frauds who sink their fangs into them and turn them into monsters. Heck, Jesus talked about that!
* The doctor is able to argue convincingly for Jesus's death. He might also argue vociferously for his resurrection, but not from a medical standpoint, as a medical researcher. A white lab coat only caries so much gravitas.
* There's a scene that actually--and I suspect unwittingly, on the screenwriter's part--gives away the shop on the communication issue in relationship. Strobel's wife talks about "her (new, religious) feelings" in a general, wizzy-wozzy way, but bizarrely fails to couch those feelings in honest, convincing language. Remember: Even poetic language would and should be welcome in these situations... but she can't even muster that. How far did she honestly *think* she'd get in her so-called "communication" with her husband? When I watched that scene, here was my takeaway: You were *not* seeing a collision of worldviews/belief systems. You were seeing two blind people bumping into trees in disparate forests. I've seen that before, and I fear I know the next step: She's going to start blaming the pain she feels as a result of all that tree-bumping on the people around her whom she would otherwise simply love; she'll start dismissing them from her heart, as "tools of Satan".
* ...and there's more.
While nicely produced and occasionally trenchant, the whole thing is yet another mess, in which a writer sets himself the task of bending screen writing to the defense of an untenable proposition--that belief (not faith) is a source of redemption/salvation. The producers may weigh in production finery--which includes truly marvelous exertions on the parts of the actors--but people who expect top-to-bottom solidity in their narrative products won't be taken in.
Hail, Caesar! (2016)
I don't care _what_ the gang says: A fine, fine film.
I number among those that are willing to let the Coens breathe. They explore a subject matter, tone, style here... and I for one think they navigate their muses' demands and the ensuing production process with panache and aplomb.
Yeah, it's hyper campy; it's a parade of "types"; it's a period piece; it's a multi-layer torte of splashy numbers and darkened office and salon intrigue; it's a bulging pastry puff with the creme of kookiness about to bust out; it's an unexpected birthday surprise to all the participating acting talent.
And, en route, we're treated to two pretty heady payloads; a chimeric commie threat and the collision of the sacred and the truly, ultimately, unself-consciously profane.
And, on top of all this, is the sense that the artifice is both laudable *and* eminently ignorable for the purpose of enjoyable delectation.
Christ-all-fvekin'-mighty... what more do you _want_ from a flick? Why all the recrimination in these User Reviews?
Just getting better
Watching this reminds me of tracking young artists in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area (DFW) years ago. Yes, I'm aware that the real action was happening elsewhere (like Austin); don't lord it over me. But it'll suffice to make my point.
Checking in with talented folks (wherever you may be) should be like this: It should be possible to see the performers mutate, morph, and transform--every show should be different.
A Speck of Dust felt like this. Sarah's still Sarah... but she's changing. And that's so welcome and refreshing to see. She's taking her time... it's like she's becoming more "folksy"... like a (only slightly) edgier Garrison Keillor--side note: People who actually tuned in Keillor know how truly edgy he could be!
Anyway: In this show, Sarah's a standing, gesticulating, slow-turning comic kaleidoscope! Loved her stories; touched by her occasional insights; in awe of her moxie.
Check it out.
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Nice to know...
It's nice to know how legal/justice systems can run so badly off the rails.
Had this thought: It is now May of 2017, and the U.S. has a "president" who often, on the stump, expressed the supreme value of "winning".
This flick shows *exactly* why "winning" can never function as a standalone value. The prosecutor who went after Adams valued winning over all else... certainly over simple justice.
I would say that is the moral of the story of The Thin Blue Line. Others will tell you it's about injustice or Due Process short-cutting or an illustration of how the Wild West ain't dead in Dallas. Those things are also true, but you have to understand where those things came from: They came (and likely still come) from an ethos of winning as a supreme value/virtue.
I like shaggy dog stories which are extended parables on a simple moral idea, and that's what The Thin Blue Line is. This is Morris's bailiwick. He's passionately interested in finding a kind of universal equation of morality, and TTBL is a stepping stone in this quest.
It's a certain kind of product, to be sure. It's a documentary: If you don't like documentaries, don't waste your time. But Morris expertly puts the material together, interlacing it with graphics, establishing shots, and reenactments to make the piece hum with subjective moral urgency. If that sounds like it might redeem the genre, then give it a go. Just be sure you're poised to pay very close attention.
This was Morris's first proper, full- length treatment, and my introduction to his work. Took my mom and some buddies to watch it at The Inwood, probably a half a kilometer from where Officer Wood was shot.
I loved Decasia, but for reasons that might evade others. Hence, I'm not inclined to recommend it.
I get a wonderful, visceral response to extremely complex noise and chaos, and Decasia is nothing if not a rampaging smorgasbord of same. So, I was in heaven, watching it.
I got a kick out of the music. I spent some of my viewing time reflecting on the composer's process. Fascinating!
I suppose I should chime in on the mythic payload. Respectable, seasoned commentators ply a line about the film as a commentary on "morals". Pishposh! If I take away any arc from this piece, it's a running commentary on decay; that chaos deserves our respect. It a powerful idea. It's another reality that, once we face it, pushes us to self- actualization. It reminds me of the aesthetic of John Cage in this regard.
One of my disappointments (strange to say, in light of what I said above) was discovering that the film's decay effects were also "found". Those effects were so wild, wooly, rich, redolent that I entertained (for the filmmaker) the conceit that they were meticulously engineered. Well, they *were* engineered, but by Loki, Eris, Kali, et.al. Which makes it all only that much more impressive, come to think of it....
Truly above the real
Have fond memories of seeing this as an opener for a mid-career Fellini flick. Everyone in the audience was spellbound. The imagery challenges you to metabolize it, somehow, and surely some of it stubbornly refuses to give up any secrets.
Was enormously impressed with the scene in the theater. It's a thought- provoking representation of a relationship between an idealized artist and an idealized audience.
Worth watching if yr not normally a fan of horror
Frankly, I've never seen a proper horror movie which redeemed the genre in my eyes. I was just thinking about it, and can only conjure up three times I was horrified by a film product: The cartoon short "The Boy Who Saw the Iceberg" by Paul Driessen; the scene in Morris's "The Thin Blue Line" where an incarcerated, handcuffed David Harris whimsically muses about the moment of murder as a religiously transcendent, timeless moment; and the sturdy narrative depiction of evil acts portrayed in "Rosemary's Baby". I also like Robert Rodriguez's forays into grindhouse style horror... but not because it's truly horrific. In fact, it's almost like Roldriguez knows this, even as he's working.
But, that said, I found this flick about as close as they come. I like the tethering the pretense of horror to a sturdy, modern materialism, and Candyman fairly pulls that off.
There are a few punches pulled. But there really is a depiction of something well nigh harrowing; a woman dedicated to discovery of the truth who discovers that materialism just may be no protection from an horrific reality.
Dig the minimalism
Excellent showcase: A man with a mic who takes you on a one-man comedic ride. Shot (or post-processed) monochromatic. And it sometimes reminds me of Kubrick; It's not hard to find a frame where that b/w looks beautiful; good balance and a somewhat "stark" look (low ambient light) that lends Burr an iconic look--particularly when he makes a face... which he does quite a bit in this show.
If you don't like cussing, skip it. Funny thing I've reflected upon wrt to Burr (and Oswalt, and...): Seinfeld often says that cussing in stand-up comedy is a shortcut; by which he means (sort of) cheating; hedging your bets with material short on genuine laughs by appealing to folks' prurience.
Well, Burr, et.al., put the lie to that. If there's anywhere that Burr cheats, it's in his way of morally shooting from the hip. But that doesn't daunt me: Even when I disagree with his moral calculus, I'm sincerely thankful for his shining, genuine humor, which is the stuff that *truly* covers a Multitude of Sins (as we all know, IFF we've kept *our* senses of humor!).
So this cussing hasn't stopped Seinfeld from hosting this ilk on his Cars/Coffee show... and is it a purely marketing decision (keeping "hep" with "the youth")? I think not!
I would be remiss not to point out that Burr has a very finely tuned comic instrument, which complements his comedic sensibility perfectly.