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Everything posted by kenmorefield

  1. “If you’re too busy chasing the third act, you’ll miss the meaning and message of acts one and two.” – Gretchen Jordan, Rosewood High drama teacher

    Sometimes in life we are so focused on pursuing our purpose that we forget how to embrace each minute we are given. We are searching for God’s direction; we are looking for that sign; we are trying to figure out why we are here. In doing so, sometimes our perspectives are clouded, and we’re unable to see how God is already working through us.

    Joe Gardner lives and breathes for his music, yet he’s always wanted to do more with it. He feels that his gift has been wasted; he thinks his life has been anything but worthwhile. Yet, as his fortunes begin to turn, and he’s on the edge of fulfilling his dream, an accident threatens his future… and his very existence. Joe finds himself experiencing a waking nightmare of “what could’ve been.” He wonders why he was never able to fulfill “his calling.”  

    For some of us, we believe, there is no question what we’re “meant” to do. We have a passion, a talent, a gift, or an undeterred desire to do that “one thing.”  But for others, we feel like nomads in a wilderness searching endlessly for where we “fit in” … we constantly ask “do I even make a difference?” We find ourselves exhausted while seeking for that one moment when and where we impact life. In doing so, we may neglect the opportunities to pause, stop and be still in the very presence of God. It is sometimes in that quiet, that if we can just be patient and listen, then we may hear with a resounding echo, that God is here … that we “matter.” Our personal wants don’t always align with where God best breathes through us. But, it’s not really about “us” anyway … is it?

    We may never truly know the impact that we leave on others, and that is OK.

    We may never find a sole purpose, but if we’re willing, our soul purpose will be known to others.

    That’s enough for God. 

    -- Noel T. Manning II (2020)

  2. Sound of Metal follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed), a heavy-metal drummer who loses most of his hearing while on tour with his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). In an attempt to slow his resulting mental spiral, Ruben checks into a religious program for deaf addicts. There, under the tutelage of a Vietnam veteran named Joe (Paul Raci), Ruben faces a life-changing fork in the road: will he view his deafness as a disability or a chance for a new start?

    Through meditative compositions and a stripped down soundtrack, director Darius Marder emphasizes how Ruben’s reaction to his physical circumstances reveal his spiritual well-being. Ruben makes it clear that he’s not religious, and initially shuns the thought of a church sponsoring his way through Joe’s program, but in his desperation he slowly begins to doubt his doubts. A Christian himself, Joe encourages Ruben to focus less on his loss of hearing, and instead assess the state of his soul through divine rest. “The world does keep moving,” he says. “But for me, those moments of stillness, that place, that’s the kingdom of God.”

    In the end, Ruben’s journey doesn’t bring him to any altar calls, but the story provokes deep, spiritual introspection. Where do we find the kingdom of God in a transitory world such as ours? In our own abilities and strength, or in the beauty of tapping into a reverberation, a longing, embedded deep within the universe? Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear,” but might this hearing extend further than just our physical senses, and instead touch the very fabric of our souls?

    — Wade Bearden, co-host of Seeing and Believing


  3. Appreciation coming from Kevin McLenithan


  4. Faith is everywhere in Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical pastoral drama about a Korean immigrant family moving from California to the Arkansas Ozarks. Christian faith, certainly, but also faith in reason, in the American dream, in magical thinking, in ourselves and one another. Faith—or lack of it. Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) can eke out a living chicken-sexing, but his dream is to grow Korean crops to sell to Asian markets in the city—a dream he more or less unilaterally imposes on his family, despite his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) not really understanding what it will entail until they arrive at a mobile home in the middle of nowhere. The arrival of Monica’s elderly mother (Youn Yuh-Jung) from Korea helps, but creates new issues for little David (Alan Kim, in a pivotal role). While the story’s bones are familiar, characters and relationships are compelling and fleshed out with arresting details, from the children throwing paper planes bearing “Don’t fight” messages at their quarreling parents to the Sunday cross-bearing ritual of an eccentric, big-hearted Pentecostal fundamentalist who becomes Jacob’s right-hand man. Named for a hardy Korean herb, Minari insightfully explores the fragility of happiness and the tenacity of hope.  == Steven D. Greydanus (2020)

  5. From writer and director Chloé Zhao, adapted from a book written by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland shows us real, honest stories about people simply being people. Depicted with candidness are the highs and lows, the pain and peace, and the turmoil and tranquility of everyday life. We see people absorbing the wholesome beauty of the natural world, and pondering the very nature of their existence and purpose as members of the human race.

    Frances McDormand portrays Fern, a woman from Nevada who loses her job during the economic turmoil of the Recession and begins a life of minimalism. Living out of a van and traveling across the country, Fern becomes detached from the materialistic nature of our society, and has more opportunities to personally reflect on spirituality and faithfulness. This is not directly represented as “religion” in the traditional sense, Christianity or otherwise, but the perceived presence of the divine plays heavily into the lives of Fern and other nomads she meets along the way, like Linda May, Swankie, and her spiritual guide of sorts, Bob Wells. Fern also faces the unapologetic reality of our mortality, as a close friend passes away. 

    Yet, as Bob Wells says, “One of the things I love most about this life is that there's no final goodbye. You know, I've met hundreds of people out here and I don't ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, ‘I'll see you down the road.’” 

    This is a relatively simple statement that contains an unbelievably powerful reminder that our legacy is defined by the people we touch along the way. We do not have to change the entire world single-handedly in order to carry out God’s will. Rather, it is the intentions we bring to each individual interaction and moment that reveal our ultimate essence. The compassion, empathy, and humanity that should drive our actions as we plainly exist and live in the Kingdom of God construct the core of our livelihoods. The contrast of the grace and rawness found in Nomadland make a lovely case for this organic, transparent outlook.  

    -- Thomas Manning, Co-host of Meet Me at the Movies 

  6. In the past few years, we've made Top 25 themed lists when we were not doing a Top 100? Do we want to continue doing so this year? If so, I propose the following calendar: January -- Discussion of (and eventual vote on ) a theme. February -- Nominations and discussion March (early) -- Voting April -- Posting Results and writing blurbs. Of course, that is all negotiable. There may be people who have academic commitment or professional commitments. Just looking at the basic structure from years passed. I know at least one person thought our 2019 campaign a little stretched. Conversely, the pandemic may mean people are still a little more sheltered in winter and might be less inclined to stay tethered to the Internet once vaccine rollouts catch up. Any thoughts? Also, anyone want to take the lead on organizing?
  7. Not one of our personal lists, but since two of us (Andrew and I) are in the NCFCA, here are the results for that group: http://ncfilmcritics.org/?p=956
  8. Hard list to write, hard year to live through. But I did it: http://1morefilmblog.com/2021/01/03/2020-top-ten/ Nomadland Sound of Metal One Night in Miami Soul Another Round Hamilton News of the World Greyhound All In: The Fight for Democracy The Prom
  9. The year that has just completed has been unlike any other, both in the imaginary worlds of film and the real world from which theaters so often provide relief. Yes, every year, every moment of time, is unique. But by the time one is half way through one’s sixth decade living, one has grown accustomed to those moments bearing at least a striking resemblance to memorable ones that have preceded it. The global pandemic and the turmoil surrounding the American political landscape were not unprecedented events in the history of the world, but their antecedents lay before my life or outside my experience. Perhaps that is why I’ve grown to value movies that help me to better understand the human spirit over those that help explicate the current moment. “It was a time I won’t forget / for the sorrow and regret…” Here’s another stretched cliché applied to the current cinematic moment: absence makes the heart grow founder. We lost the movies just when we needed them most. At least I did. Or, rather, I should say we lost the movie experience. Movies continued to be released, albeit in a rationed way that was alien to anyone accustomed to the embarrassment of riches that had become cinematic content. But that content, absent the darkened room, the ritualistic drive to the theater, the array of trailers promising that the shows would never end, turned out to be something that couldn’t divert my mind, even if it momentarily diverted my gaze. It’s no accident then that the films I loved aided that look inward rather than forestalling it. For the last few years, I’ve been aware that I’m increasingly grateful for films that make me feel…anything. I need more films that massage a bruised heart rather than ones that try to thrill it with spectacle. That’s a tall order in any year — nearly impossible in one where the assault on goodness, decency, love, and empathy seemed both incessant and deliberate. I don’t think any film could make me look back on 2020 with fondness, but these are the few that leavened the sorrow with moments of beauty, uplift, and empathy. 10) The Prom — Ryan Murphy http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/The-Prom-1024x681.jpg Music has the capacity to ignite joy even in the midst of heartbreak. We give ourselves over to it and let its rhythm and flow carry us when harnessed reason grows weary. In election years our stereotypes become even more pronounced, and we wield them like batons to beat opponents in the culture war into submission. I suppose some people will look at this musical fairy-tale as a liberal dream fantasy. A group of Broadway singers and dancers go to Indiana and not only save the prom for a lesbian ingenue but also teach her intolerant neighbors a thing or two about the bonding power of art. Listen closely though and you will hear the vices of the heroes lampooned in equal measure — that is the key to the very best satire. Maybe it is a trifle naïve to think that hatred is so shallow and superficial that it can be overcome by a song. But the Bible talks of hardening our own hearts, and as another famous musical once reminded us, kids have to be taught to hate and fear. My only quibble is that said Bible tells us that “Love They Neighbor” is actually the second greatest commandment, so it doesn’t trump them all. That said, the tagline of this blog is “Inconspicuously Christian,” and Andrew Rannells’s song makes The Prom, for my money, the most Christian film I saw all year. 9) All In: The Fight for Democracy — Liz Garbus http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/All-In.jpg At a virtual press conference for All In, I asked Stacey Abrams how she manages to stay positively focused (and focused on the positive) amidst so much propaganda and misinformation. As in the film, her answer revolved around lessons her parents taught her. “Your job is not to complain,” she says her parents taught her: “Your job is to fix it.” All In is about the history of voter suppression in the United States, and what elevates Liz Garbus’s documentary over most other documentaries exclusively focused on the current moment is its longitudinal perspective. That and Abrams’s indefatigable spirit. There were three rules, we are told, in the Abrams household: go to school, go to church, and do something to help others. When the kids protested that they themselves were poor and in need of help, her parents said, “Having nothing is no excuse for doing nothing.” The film made me angry, but it is not an angry film. Abrams seems to have made her peace with hypocrisies that are still freshly felt by many Americans getting their first tastes of being threatened with disenfranchisement. I don’t like being angry, but films such as this one are important reminders to large groups of America that the “normal” we would like to return to has never been as fair and impartial as perhaps we would wish to believe. 8) Greyhound — Aaron Schneider http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Greyhound.jpg War, even when necessary, sucks. The loss of a single human life is a tragedy. Multiplied by the kind of exponents that happen in wartime, the tragedy numbs us, scars us, and blinds us. I was surprised more people didn’t embrace Greyhound. Perhaps Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods cornered the market on films about war. Perhaps we’re still more willing to be ambivalent about Vietnam than about World War II. Greyhound is about one transatlantic journey during wartime. Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Even more so than last year’s justly praised 1917, Greyhound is a war film about ordinary soldiers just doing their jobs. Freed of the need to make its heroes cinematically heroic, the film allows us to see the awful human cost of the ordinary soldier’s commitment. Tom Hanks, who also wrote the screenplay, makes Captain Krause a sad but resolute man, the softness of his voice the antithesis of George C. Scott’s booming bluster in Patton. The religion in Greyhound is as understated as the rest of the movie, but it is unquestionably there. The film is a reminder of a time in American history where Christianity emboldened people to make hard but necessary choices, to sacrifice for the greater good, and to remember that the things we love most can only ever be gifts received gratefully, never plunder taken as our entitled right. 7) News of the World — Paul Greengrass http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/News-of-the-World-2-1.jpg Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the book was better. Paul Greengrass’s adaptation of Paulette Jiles’s novel (surprisingly) fumbles the ending and (not surprisingly) leans too heavily on gunfights and sandstorms. I get it. Novels are more often about interior transformations; movies are about action. News of the World does better than most films at letting its characters transform gradually, but it doesn’t quite trust us enough to be great and so must add layers of plot suspense where none is needed. The heart of this story is not a mystery about whether Captain Kidd (Tom Hanks) will come to love the orphan, Johanna (Helena Zengel). It’s about how a lack of purpose blisters our souls, and about how life so often gives us what we need in the form of the last thing we think we want. Like so many films on this year’s list, News of the World is a post-trauma film. Wars, recession, deaths of love and of loved ones. These things cut us to the quick. The one change from the novel that is brilliant is the final news reading story about a man rising from the grave after he was buried too quickly. This isn’t a story about resurrection. It is a story about how life continues after we are ready to die. It is a story about how, if we are lucky, we can find what we thought had been lost forever. 6) Hamilton — Thomas Kail http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Hamilton-1-1024x512.jpg It is hard for me to know what to say about Hamilton. The musical itself has been praised by those better trained in song and dance than I. The film adaptation of the stage production seemed to please critics and audiences well enough — it was 98% “fresh” at Rotten Tomatoes last I looked. I know I’m the latecomer to this party, but even so, I can’t help wonder if the timing was off. The reasons I liked Hamilton had nothing to do with the reasons I typically like a theatrical musical. If I’m honest, three months later I can’t remember a single song. The production elements were solid, but not game-changing. What is still fresh in my consciousness was the raw emotion of it all. The race-mixing, more than just a gimmick, provides a visceral subtext; we are all the same. Although we organize ourselves by class and race and gender and nationality, the things we feel when those divisions play out in history are remarkably static. There is joy in achievement, sorrow in betrayal. We mourn our losses and are exhilarated by the chances we take and the rewards we receive when we are our best selves. There is nothing new under the sun. 5) Another Round — Thomas Vinterberg http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Another-Round-1024x576.jpeg Another sensitive take about a somber subject, Another Round is the best film in recent memory about alcoholism. I’m not an alcoholic, but I’ve been around a few in my life. I’ve seen plenty of sloppy drunks in films played for laughs or pity, and I’ve seen plenty of self-destructive drunks played for pathos. One thing we see less frequently is the functioning alcoholic. Outside of maybe Mad Men, we don’t often see alcoholics who are smart and who have good days along with their bad days. Alcoholism is generally portrayed as an individual vice rather than a culturally approved and enabled one. Vinterberg’s film takes a wide-angle lens. By starting and ending with a graduation tradition, it portrays formative years as the crucible of lifelong struggles. As the characters age, they don’t leave alcohol behind, but they become better at rationalizing or hiding their dependence on it. “Dependence” is a carefully chosen word here. It denotes the use of alcohol as an emotional and spiritual crutch more than as a biological necessity, even as the characters spout psuedo-science as their justification for quenching their soul’s thirst with drink that only leaves them longing for more. The film in no way glorifies the self- and community destroying behavior, but it is brutally honest in the way it demonstrates that the results of lowered inhibitions aren’t always bad. For Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), it can help him face his fears and break down the wall of passive silence between him and his wife. One of his colleagues suggests a boy paralyzed by fear use a drink to prepare for an important exam — and it works. But in life, there are no short cuts nor panaceas. Characters wake up covered in their own urine and see the singular steps forward in their relationships followed by crashing tumbles back to earth. Another Round ends with a dance as alluring and symbolic as that of Denis Lavant at the end of Beau travail. We hardly know if Martin’s ecstatic frenzy is unharnessed enthusiasm or the thrashing convulsions of creeping despair. I suspect the latter. But for the man in a downward spiral, those few moments of relief look an awful lot like the best life has to offer. 4) Soul — Pete Docter and Kemp Powers http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Pixar-Soul.jpg For many years, I’ve had a mild allergy to Pixar. I liked the Toy Story franchise well enough, but found the most lauded films in its canon — Up, Wall-e, Inside Out — to be well executed but emotionally barren. I appreciate them artistically, but they rarely reach me personally. I still don’t know if Soul won me over or whether the cumulative weight of the Disney behemoth just finally crushed my resistance. Fifteen minutes into Soul, I was convinced it was going to be a stale retread of Inside Out. But like most good jazz (so I’m told), it breaks the bonds of generic structure and sprawls in interesting and unexpected directions. Joe (Jamie Foxx) is a teacher who longs for and finally gets his shot to realize his dream: he wants to jam with a touring diva and her band. When he misses his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was convinced it was going to be a stale retread of It’s a Wonderful Life. But what I like about Soul is that it avoids the false binary thinking around which we too often built our life’s narratives. Is it more important to follow your dreams or to serve others? Do we find that which gives our life meaning or do we assign meaning to that which gives us life? Yes. 3) One Night in Miami — Regina King http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/One-Night-in-Miami.jpg In my Filmfest 919 review of One Night in Miami, I mentioned that Regina King’s film worked for me far better than I anticipated. For one thing, the collection of famous figures always threatens to become a series of monologues. For another, these are people whom we grew up watching on television or in video archives and thus feel as though we already know. Finally, and most dangerously, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali have each had movies made about them on their own. Historically, this is well-tread ground. Whenever I teach American literature, though, I try to get readers to understand and appreciate the difference between the private man (or woman) and the public persona adopted in the arena. What is astonishingly fresh and vital here is that the film lets us see Black men talking to each other rather than to us. Much has been made in recent years of the Bechdel test. One of its three criteria for whether or not a film is female-friendly is whether the female characters talk to each other — and if they do, whether it’s about something other than men. The obvious corollary here is that we see these African-American men talk to white Americans (both individually and communally) before and after talking to each other and so get a better understanding of what is persona and what is the person. I say a “better” understanding because they themselves may not know where their public personae end and their private selves begin. Or which is the most authentic version of themselves. Or which they should be. Do any of us? One Night in Miami works equally well as a “Black” movie and as a universal movie. Its themes are universal but its context is specific. The blending of theme and context is so seamless that we learn something about ourselves and not just about famous historical figures. 2) Sound of Metal — Darius Marder http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Sound-of-Metal.jpg In some ways, Sound of Metal struck me as the kind of movie that Hillbilly Elegy thought it could be: a film about people from a group that is often looked down upon but who prove themselves to be stronger and more resilient than those more culturally admired; a film about people who are different from the mainstream but whose values prove to be remarkably similar — just expressed differently.; a film about our tendency to look too quickly and to judge by surface appearances; a film about how vulnerability forces us to adapt or die. By “group,” I don’t specifically mean the deaf. I also mean the poor. I also mean artists. I also mean drug addicts. Part of what is remarkable about Sound of Metal is that rather than being anthropological about the deaf, it acknowledges that the feelings generated by trauma, tragedy, unfairness, and struggle are universal. We can learn from one another and not just from those whose struggles are exactly like our struggles. It is often in silence where we finally hear the most important of life’s lessons — the ones that are typically drowned out by the noise of the world and the incessant, defensive chatter of our own voices. 1) Nomadland — Chloé Zhao http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Nomadland-1.jpg As I look back over this list, I see a recurring theme of characters who are battered but not broken, sad but not despondent. Fern (Frances McDormand), is both the emblem and the matriarch of the film year. A homeless widow who is neither defiant nor pathetic, she wanders the American West, doing odd jobs and living out of her truck. As a plot summary, that description makes Nomadland sound depressing. That it is not — that it is a film of gentle beauty and resilient hope — is a minor miracle. After my first viewing, the key question I was wrestling with was whether Fern was living the life she chose or whether her existence was shaped by broader economic and cultural forces beyond her power. The very shape of that question belies the sort of binary thinking I railed against above. A second viewing confirmed me in my opinion that there was (and could be) no definitive answer to that question but also that the film leaned more in the direction of the first of those two answers. That’s pretty remarkable given that Fern represents a class of citizen who could very easily blame politicians, corporations, or bad luck for the recession and illness that shattered her illusions of security if not her entire life. The last thing I want to do is turn this blurb or list into a film history lecture, but it’s really not possible for me to turn the page on 2020 without drawing a quick comparison between Nomadland and Bicycle Thieves. Zhao’s film invites comparison to neorealistic classics not merely for using location shooting and non-professional actors in key roles. It also does so by recognizing that cultural trauma is the backdrop that gives individual struggle emotional heft. Fern, even in desperation, does not resort to stealing. That may be less a byproduct of American exceptionalism than the fact that she does have an extended family to give her some emergency assistance. In a lesser film, her climactic choices would no doubt be framed as a choice between luxurious dependence and austere freedom — and we would be called to root for and applaud her choice for the latter. But Nomadland recognizes the deep loneliness that so often accompanies independence, and it is a wiser and more profound film for allowing that the loneliness, while painful, is still a viable choice. For some, it may be the only choice that allows them to hold onto beautiful and meaningful experiences amid the swelling seas of modern economic turmoil. When they have the courage to make such choices, the nomads show us that micro-expressions of love and joy can leave a deeper mark than a lifetime of more frequent but less substantial pleasures. View the full article
  10. MUBI is offering 3 months for $1. Offer good through mid January.
  11. Not typical response for me, but the anti-Christian tropes bothered me more in this than in most films. I understand the historical context, but I grow weary at times of the easy stereotype of religiously motivated villains.
  12. Hi Joe, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree that this thread pulls in people from time to time, suggesting to me that new generations are thinking about these issues constantly. I hope you find and create opportunities to share your gifts in ways that are meaningful to you.
  13. Absolutely lovely in all the best ways. a true "feel good" movie that earns every tear as well as every smile. Really pleasurable. And "Love Your Neighbor Trumps Them All" I guess positions it for Ecumenical Jury, no?
  14. The Civil War has ended, but the country’s wounds are still fresh. This is obvious to Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks). He sees the divide, firsthand, as he rides through Texas towns delivering current events at public hearings. The clink of dimes falling into his tin cup pays his humble lifestyle. He spends the night in the local inn then moves on to the next town. One day, the Captain stumbles upon a ransacked wagon. The only thing remaining is Johanna (Helena Zengel) — a young orphan of settlers. She has been raised by the Kiowa Indians and speaks no English, but the Captain feels the moral obligation to deliver Johanna to her surviving family. Their journey is fraught with danger, their communication is challenged, and their survival is dependent on each other. News of the World immediately establishes the juxtaposition between booming young American cities and the ravage left behind by the Civil War. It shows the untamed land – both stunning and harrowing. The foundation of the film, however, is the developing relationship between the Captain and Johanna. Though she resists, the Captain helps Johanna and tries to teach her the basics of life, but in reality, he learns from her. Along with its central plot, the film examines many topics that parallel today’s America: visceral politics, fake news, censorship, gun laws, racism, PTSD, and even human trafficking. It’s fascinating to see such a different America from the past struggling with the same problems of today. It takes a respectful approach, but the film tries to make so many points, it becomes oversaturated and minimizes the strength of its story — the two main characters. In its best moments, the film intimately watches the Captain and Johanna’s relationship develop. Whether it’s their exchange of English and Kiowan terms or the Captain patiently allowing Johanna to rummage through his belongings, their relationship rings true. It’s not easy, just like any relationship. Their pasts haunt them, but together, their future can be bright. Where the movie is weakest, is in its action. Whether it’s a traditional “Wild West” gunfight or a treacherous sandstorm, the excitement seems forced. There is constant peril in Westerns, but in this film, the action only takes away time with our lead characters. Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, Castaway) is excellent as always as Captain Kidd. He represents the good that can arise from tumultuous times. At times, he is practically reading from a phone book, and I still enjoyed every moment. Newcomer Helena Zengel seems completely damaged as Johanna. The trauma in her young life is reflected in her face, but when she smiles, rare as it may be, it warms your heart. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) delivers his least Paul-Greengrassiest movie to date by replacing his often-used handheld, frantic camera movement with still, well-composed cinematography featuring blues and golds. It’s a beautiful film to watch. The film has a lot to say, but I think it would have benefitted by saying less and focusing on the kindness and compassion realized by the Captain and Johanna. View the full article
  15. The publisher contacted me this week and said they are getting back to the swing of things, though they are okay if I delay further because of pandemic. But if you have a proposal for a paper you can send it to me now and I will send it to the publisher. I can't imagine the due date will end up being before Summer 2021, but you could probably get approval with a a proposal as opposed to a finished paper and that lets them know how many chapters they need on their end.
  16. I was talking to a colleague after watching this, and I had forgotten that Paul Greengrass directed 22 July, another movie that I seemed to like more than others. (I liked News of the World a lot). The connection I see between the two is that they both have to do with the lingering effects of trauma and violence. My colleague said he liked the world building of the first third better than the story in the latter half, and I can see that, but I'm a story guy, and I thought Hanks was good in an understated way. Not sure the film captured some of the nuances of the book, which in turn makes some of the themes (like the importance of story) at times too mushy, at times too on the nose. But I was moved by the end, and probably no other film except Nomadland has evoked quite the range of emotions in me.
  17. This title is picking up steam in my various feeds...Letterboxd, etc. I don't know quite what to make of it. Mulligan is swell, but I can't quite shake the feeling that it is designed to provoke rather than prod. Early this year, I was on the minority end of The Invisible Man, dismissing the film as a prettified "let's beat up women" flick in the guise of "isn't it horrible how women get beat up?" flick. This strikes me more as an Alan Ball type project -- more interested in how often it can shift your allegiances (and scold you for being wrong) than in actually talking a position. Even Fatal Attraction had a sort of consistency about it. This feels like the kind of stuff we cheer in movies because we know it isn't real with ideas we'd reject if they were presented in non-narrative form. But...what do I know? There seems to be a cadre of admirers that see something I've yet to catch a glimpse of.
  18. I had initially planned not to do this, but I got one or two e-mails from non board members, so I'll do a modified/streamlined one...similar to the IndieWire poll. I'll send out a blank ballot after Christimas and you can return up to ten titles in order that you recommend for a Christian/faith audience. I'll tabulate the results and post the list. If you'd like to participate, PM me and I'll make sure you get a ballot.
  19. Spoken like the viewer who never did get around to watching Cobra Kai even after it went to Netflix....
  20. I concur. In a weak year for new movies, this has been one of the most engaging pieces of narrative media. Beth Harmon is almost too much the interior character but only almost. I appreciate the choices of what she verbalizes and what she doesn't.
  21. Has anyone used Oculus Quest? I'm considering but have heard mixed things. Then again, the last time I was this on the fence was with Wii Rock Band and that turned out to be a huge amount of fun.
  22. A&F members and friends donated $220 towards board coasts last week. Thank you for sharing the expenses. If anyone would still like to donate, feel free to send me a PM and I can send you a Venmo or Paypal address.
  23. Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice had a working title of First Impressions. Although she did not ultimately use that title for any of her novels, it remained a running theme throughout much of her fiction. The dangers of forming judgments too quickly and based on too little evidence are displayed again and again in the Austenverse. My first impression on hearing that Alex Appel and Jonathan Lisecki had made a loose adaptation of Austen’s last (and in some ways most mature) novel was to groan a little. The gold standard for such modernizations is, of course, Clueless, but a large part of why that movie works is because its source material is about a young woman becoming an adult. The transfer to a high school setting works because the novel is a bildungsroman. But Persuasion is a novel about adults. Anne Elliot has grown up, and she has been practicing adulthood long enough to question some of the decisions she made upon entering adulthood. Thankfully, my first impressions were wrong. Modern Persuasion is not a Clueless knock off. Neither is it a mechanical reshaping of plot to make it fit a different setting. One senses (at least I did) that Lisecki and follow screenwriter Barbara Radecki get Austen’s novel. Consequently, there is an attempt to be true to its themes and not just its plot points. One reason why I found that the indie romcom a bit more appealing than other entries into that genre is precisely because the filmmakers did not push the plot into a more juvenile setting. Wren Cosgrove (Alicia Witt) is a young adult, not a child, and I realized while watching that there are actually very few movies made these days about young adult working women. Usually in such circumstances, the job is a tacked-on backdrop and not a real part of the character’s life. (I made a similar point fifteen years ago when reviewing a typically tired romantic comedy that treated its lovers as kids in adult bodies and jobs.) Speaking of Wren, Alicia Witt, the actress who plays her is an absolute revelation. It’s actually kind of hard to talk about actors these days, because charm and charisma are taken as coded words for sex appeal. Witt displays an “it” factor here, and by that I mean something more than physical beauty. Yes, the camera likes her and films her to advantage, but she also has a quality of being present in a scene even when she isn’t speaking. There are a handful of actors and actresses who have that quality — I don’t mind watching them even if nothing much is happening in a scene. Keira Knightley has it. So does Brad Pitt. Witt shows some of that quality here. After watching the film, I scanned her IMDB profile and realized I had seen many of her television and film projects without being much aware of her as an actress; it will be interesting to go back and check some of those out to see if I just overlooked her or whether she, like Anne Elliot, is rounding into her own. One of the ways that Persuasion is not a typical romance is that its climax is not an exchange of lovers’ vows but a confrontation between a young woman and the mentor who persuaded her. Modern Persuasion doesn’t have a lot of big-name actors, but it wisely brings in Bebe Neuwirth to play the small but crucial role of surrogate matron. Neuwirth has the confidence to not overplay the Lady Russell role — she genuinely cares about her protege and thinks she did the right thing in persuading her. Here again, the film echoes the novel in offering a more satisfying conflict than would be created by a modern, romcom villain. Modern Persuasion isn’t going to win any awards. Like most indie films, it may have a hard time even getting noticed. But like Anne Elliot, when you do notice it you come to realize that there is more there to appreciate than you might catch at first glance. I’m not saying it rocked my world, but I enjoyed it, and it made me curious to see more work from its creators. View the full article
  24. The beginning and ending of Another Round are very strong. Thomas Vinterberg’s portrait of an alcoholic culture is quite effective at varying its tone — demonstrating the highs as well as the lows of using drink as a mood enhancer. The film’s opener is a depiction of a secondary school tradition — a team race around a lake with mandated drinking at each checkpoint. The friends who participate in it grow up to be teachers at the school and witness their own students acquire the habits of drink. American films about alcoholism and drug addiction (of which there is no shortage) tend to be focused on individuals and a bit more linear. By presenting the dependence on alcohol as being pervasive throughout the culture, Vinterberg avoids the obvious beats of a cautionary tales. In fact, Another Round is at its best when it is showing the (temporary) positive effects of alcohol. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) reconnects with his wife on a camping trip. A student crippled by anxiety is able to pass a difficult exam. For moments, it seems as though rationalizations can and will carry the day, but then there are the inevitable consequences: fights, employment issues, increasingly risky behavior. The one place the film misfires is in making the second act about the friends’ experiment. They are ostensibly following a study that man has a blood alcohol deficit and actually functions better when that count is elevated. Perhaps this is just an excuse to let slip the bonds of propriety, but it distracts slightly from the film’s ability to show alcohol’s real allure. It is a distraction from the disappointments and fears of middle age. I would argue that the film’s ambivalence (and that of the culture it depicts) is less about hedonism and more about numbed sadness. It’s not that the characters undersell the hangovers and regressive effects of binge drinking — one gets so sloshed he ends up peeing the bed like the infant son he has chastised early in the film. It’s just that they are skeptical of the ability of any sober experience or relationship to give their lives meaning. That’s what makes the film’s final act so heartbreaking. We are used to one of two endings for such tales: tragic self-destruction or costly self-realization. Another Round captures the moments before an alcoholic loses all control but after he has lost the ability to stop. This is probably the most painful part of the process because there is self-awareness. Also, since Martin and his friends are teachers and parents, there is a muted but still evident tinge of shame and desperation in the knowledge that they are passing on their weaknesses (in the form of traditions) to the generation they are supposed to protect and help. All of that probably makes the film sound depressing. It is, but that depression is more rooted in sadness and pain than in existential angst or depravity. In its way, it is one of the best films about alcoholism I’ve seen, because it doesn’t present those who suffer as being particularly depraved, stupid, or weak. It doesn’t blame the environment for causing the choices of the addict, but it does help us to understand how it contributes to the pain and longing that prompts those choices. View the full article
  25. Ordet (1955) Andrei Rublev (1966) The Tree of Life (2011) Babette's Feast (1987) Of Gods and Men (2010) Silence (2016) The Kid With a Bike (2011) Do the Right Thing (1989) Ikiru (1952) Diary of a Country Priest (1951) First Reformed (2017) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) The Miracle Maker (2000) The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) Into Great Silence (2005) The Flowers of St. Francis (1950) The Seventh Seal (1957) Three Colors: Blue (1993) The Night of the Hunter (1955) Night and Fog (1956) It's a Wonderful Life (1946) Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) Sunrise (1927) Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) Monsieur Vincent (1947) The House is Black (1963) My Night at Maud's (1969) A Man for All Seasons (1966) Heartbeat Detector (2007) A Moment of Innocence (1996) Close-Up (1990) To Sleep With Anger (1990) The Gleaners & I (2000) Spirited Away (2001) The Apostle (1997) The Tree of Wooden Clogs (1978) The Man Who Planted Trees (1987) Bicycle Thieves (1948) The Grapes of Wrath (1940) Beau Travail (1999) Munyurangabo (2007) Secrets and Lies (1996) Frisco Jenny (1932) Tokyo Story (1953) L'Avventura (1960) Amazing Grace (2018) Wings of Desire (1987) The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) Tender Mercies (1983) The Music Room (1958) The Song of Bernadette (1943) Won't You Be My Neighbor? (2018) Dead Man Walking (1995) Blade Runner (1962) A Brighter Summer Day (1991) The Burmese Harp (1956) Lourdes (2009) Cameraperson (2016) Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) The Mill and the Cross (2011) Chariots of Fire (1981) Grave of the Fireflies (1988) Stop Making Sense (1984) The Grand Illusion (1937) Vertigo (1958) Embrace of the Serpent (2015) Secret Sunshine (2007) A Serious Man (2009) In Praise of Love (2001) In a Lonely Place (1950) I Am Not Your Negro (2016) Calvary (2014) The Act of Killing (2012) Ponette (1996) After Life (1998) Amadeus (1984) Witness (1985) Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) The Mission (1986) At the Death House Door (2008) Fiddler on the Roof (1971) Magnolia (1999) 7th Heaven (1927) Silent Light (2007) On the Waterfront (1954) The Phantom Carriage (1921) Schindler's List (1993) The Work (2017) The Ushpizin (2004) The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) The Immigrant (2013) Selma (2014) The Red Shoes (1948) Timbuktu (2014) Places in the Heart (1984) Still Life (2006) Nazarin (1959) What Time is It There? (2001) This is Martin Bonner (2013) Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) For blurbs see: http://artsandfaith.com/index.php?/films/year/8-2020-top-100/
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