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Rob Z

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About Rob Z

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  • Occupation
    Graduate student and literature/composition teacher, University of Oregon
  • Favorite movies
    Ordet, Chariots of Fire, The Tree of Life, Blade Runner, Tarkovsky
  • Favorite music
    classical, Stevie Wonder, U2, Over the Rhine, Sufjan Stevens, Patty Griffin, RAIJ
  • Favorite creative writing
    Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, Dostoevsky, Thoreau, Dickinson, religious and environmental poetry

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  1. Rob Z

    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

    Peter, you articulate my mind on these decisions in the films better than I could. That's a great insight about the shape/movement of the narrative as it moves forward, too. Haha! Good point! My daughter is two, so Mister Rogers episodes are all we've given her so far!
  2. Rob Z

    The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

    Yes, there is much that is silly and distracting in these films that I wish had been left out. But I still think that the films hold up overall. They just do so much so well—the action, the charm, the detail, as mentioned. I rewatched the LotR trilogy around the years that The Hobbit: An Unconscionable Jumble, The Desolation of Special Effects, The Battle of Five Hours Too Long films came out, and my reaction was more so that Jackson had showed restraint (!) with the original trilogy by reigning in the excesses of his filmmaking style, which he used well in service of the stories. The reverse was more true in the Hobbit films, which along with the decision to present them as prequels turned the films into bloated fan fic drek. I was a devotee of the LotR books (call me a nerd if you like) in high school when the original trilogy came out. I had many, many criticisms of the film when they came out, but I’ve always been able to compartmentalize them. It boils down, for me, to the fact that they are still pretty good adaptations of books that I love. The same cannot be said of the Hobbit films. I thought that Return was the weakest, in part because it’s the worst adaptation, and Fellowship the best on its own merits, and it makes by far the fewest blunders in character development and story plotting, but also because it’s easily the best adaptation (also the easiest to adapt). Treebeard, check, whose wisdom and patience is traded for some phony feel-good Hobbit heroics. Faramir, check, whose understanding, goodness, gentleness, and self-control are traded for thinner, inferior characterization and a pointless diversion that eats up screen time. These indeed are hard to forgive. The third? My takeaway from my most recent rewatch was simply how long they are! Since becoming a parent, I hardly have the time/energy for a 2 hour film in one sitting. And the camera movements felt kind of dated. My film tastes have matured even since then though, so on next rewatch, who knows? Probably won’t be for a long time. The Filmspotting podcast recently did a good and, yes, largely positive retrospective of the LotR trilogy, including a Top 5 scenes. https://www.filmspotting.net/episodes-archive/2018/5/17/681-lord-of-the-rings
  3. Babette's Feast is the film that came to me first, very much about restoration (spiritual and vocational) while in a place of exile. The Chosen is a film I remember being about relational exile, and feeling exiled from pursuing one's dreams, but it's been a really long time since I've seen it. Cast Away was another in the survivalist genre that came to mind, but that and all those other films are rather thin. That is, whatever their merits as films none of them really warrant the weight of the word "exile" and all it signifies. Life of Pi is another, but again, not really an exile per se. Also a lot of hero films involve a kind of exile from a community and then a restoration via a return that saves the community (or something like that). Like The Lion King. I'm not recommending that, just thinking out loud!
  4. Rob Z

    First Reformed

    I can’t fault anyone for not seeing the film as hopeful, although I ultimately do. It’s a bleak film, not optimistic in the least about the state of religion, politics, economics, environmental issues, etc. I have a cousin who grew up in the Christian Reformed Church, who has struggled a lot with Christian faith in its American form particularly, who walks the environmentalist walk more fully than anyone I know personally—a lot in common with Toller I talked the film up to him, but because he’s at a kind of down/rebuilding place in his life (like Toller) couldn’t really recommend it because of the bleakness of the film. But I think there’s hope, and my takeaway is the same as Andrew’s, including regarding the relationship matters. As to Toller’s treatment of Esther the choir director, the first time I saw the film, I was kind of jolted at his behavior. But on second viewing, if made more sense, He also is distancing himself from those who care about him (including Mary), because he figures . When he says, Anyway, I thought those scenes were still “slice of life,” even if they were more dramatic. As to Toller and Mary’s relationship, I don’t think it’s warranted to interpret it as , nor does calling it that do justice to the actual content and arc of their relationship. Does it stray into the inappropriate? sure—especially if a strict realism is assumed. It could have gone further in that direction, but I don’t see it developing into something immoral. I think the film is almost at pains to show that the growing relationship of Toller and Mary is genuine and personal and pushing boundaries in healthy ways, even if that does transgress best practices of pastoral care. And in this film, the stakes are far higher than the appropriateness of a professional/pastoral relationship. No one is immaculate in this film, not even Mary. Total depravity, a very Reformed concept, is on full display. Seeing hope (or salvation) in the midst of that reality and the despair it produces is essential to the film (and, I believe, to Christian faith). And I see a lot of grace and beauty in their relationship, too. From a relationship standpoint, I don’t fully buy the realism of the ending of , which Ken compared to the end of this film, either, but that doesn’t mean that the end of that film isn’t any less transcendent, inspired, and fitting. I do buy Ken's comparison. On this point, Peter, I’m really curious if you though the ending of First Reformed could be seen as something like an instantiation of the Father Zosima quote I posted earlier, about being saved by God at the very moment of personal failure? As I mentioned earlier, I see ! As to Peter's point about the film becoming more conventional in terms of . I do wish we had gotten to know more of the two main female characters, but this is Toller’s story, so we don’t. I guess the film was stylistically and otherwise unconventional enough, including in the depth and seriousness of its religious and environmental questioning, and increasingly so in latter parts of the film, that I looked past the lack of depth on some of those relational aspects.
  5. I’m on board, and Andrew's consideration applies to me, and I tend to agree. As someone who has only been participating here for a year and a half or so and is a cinephile who enjoys writing about film but is not a film critic, I would value the input/judgment of the longtime members more than my own. I am happy just to be included/welcomed into the process to the extent that I am. I tend to gravitate toward older, slower, more thoughtful and spiritually-oriented films, the kind that make up the Top 100. I’m more interested in, invested in, and eager to discuss them than the future and current releases that make up the majority of discussion on the board. Not being a film critic, I tend to watch more tried-and-true films than I do new releases. (And the Image Ecumenical Jury list is one of my main guides for newer films! So please, you all, do keep making those lists!) I should add that I came to the board after coming across the 2011 Top 100 list shortly after it was created, and I realized it was my kind of list and you all are my kind of cinephiles! That said, I agree with Joel in principle. This board has an ethos of exclusivity as it is. (That’s probably inevitable with so many longtime and committed members—a major strength—but still…) And Joel himself has been one of the most active participants here in the years I have been lurking and then participating, and I read and highly respect his posts and reviews. Even if he hasn’t made thousands of posts, his voice carries as much weight here to me as anyone’s. Same goes for Evan, and others. That kind of participation can’t be quantified the way that post count can. That’s this relative newbie’s take. Perhaps there could be a nomination round, then a "weighted" first round of voting to determine what films will be on the list, and then another unweighted round to determine the ranking of those films (perhaps using some form of submitting and combining directly ranked lists). That would ensure that relatively-unseen but well-loved gems don’t get excluded, and probably create some level of continuity with the past, but it would also make the ranking more meaningful and allow for better discussions. It would also take longer, but at this point I’m not sure a 2018 release is realistic anyway for a Top 100. And it sounds like others are happy to dispense with weighted voting altogether. What alternatives to the old method do others think should be considered?
  6. Rob Z

    Still Life

    I watched this one on my way through viewing the films in the A&F Top 100. Seeing this film was particularly interesting for me because I travelled down the Yangzi River through the Three Gorges in December 2005. The film came out in 2006, so it must have been filmed around then, I'd guess in either the summer of 2005 or 2006. I was very much a tourist (though the boat I was on was geared toward Chinese people, not foreigners) come to see the Three Gorges while they still could be seen. And while the scenery was indeed gorgeous (pun unintended!), and some of the cultural stops memorable, what I most remember is bearing witness to the unmitigated social and environmental disaster of the flooding. It was surreal to see half demolished cities, half submerged cities, habitations of the soon to be displaced still trying to go on with life, the disorientation of those in the cities soon to be flooded who had (it appeared) already been displaced. I’m so glad this film bears witness to what was happening then, all that destruction--personal, cultural, historical, natural, etc. The moments of magical realism in the film were a little jarring but seemed to fit exactly right in terms of the utter strangeness that I remember experiencing on that trip. The film is stronger for including them. I thought the scene where the workers compare the images of natural landmarks on paper money was particularly brilliant. It captured the regional pride in natural beauty being filtered through a simulacrum/representation in an alien context and the subjugation of the importance of nature to financial realities (they're using money to discuss the value of nature). That doesn’t do it justice as an explanation, but the scene really nailed it.
  7. Rob Z

    First Reformed

    I saw this film twice, and it was quite a different experience each time. The first time I saw with a friend who is a film scholar who also finished seminary. I’d watched Winter Light, Diary of a Country Priest, and Taxi Driver in the weeks leading up to it since that’s what reviews had mentioned. I found myself focusing on observing the intertextuality of the film with those and many other films and Christian and also environmentalist works. And that’s what my friend and I focused on in our discussions and interpretations. Of course I was also sobered and shocked by the film itself. The second time I watched it, I really felt it a lot more. This is an emotionally intense film, simultaneously taxing and stimulating. I was with my wife, a clinical therapist, and our conversations focused more on the relational dynamics and characterization that the film did so well to display. I’m really glad I had the ability to watch it twice. Certain things spoke to me a lot more on second viewing, like the emphasis on prayer. I and my wife and friend, I should add, are Christians with Reformed backgrounds, so that added another layer of resonance. My wife and I grew up CRC and attended Calvin College, as did Schrader. That also informed a lot of the conversations I’ve had. I see this film as, in some ways, very Reformed: strong doctrine of creation, a critique of extreme forms of faith, suggesting that you can’t save yourself. Of course it’s very critical of American Christianity as well, or at least the aspects of it that need critique…the church always needs reforming. As to the ending, I’ve really been wrestling with what to make of it. I have a pretty lengthy interpretation, which I'll hide to avoid spoilers.
  8. I really enjoyed participating in the Top 25 list last year, and I'd be eager to participate in whatever form this takes. I agree with Brian and others that discussions around lists seem productive for this forum, and those would be discussions I'd want to participate in.
  9. Rob Z

    First Reformed

    Hmmm, I don’t think the first reason you give here for this interpretation works.
  10. Rob Z

    First Reformed

    Yes, Schrader has said in interviews that the ambiguity was deliberate. Schrader himself seems more invested in the ambiguity than any particular interpretation. Check out this selection from an interview with Slate. https://slate.com/culture/2018/06/first-reformeds-ending-paul-schrader-explains-why-its-designed-to-be-ambiguous.html Honestly, I thought this last possible ending Schrader considered was where the movie was headed pretty much as soon as the ominous background music/noise begins in the second half of the film
  11. Rob Z

    Oscars 2018: Best Director

    After Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro G. Iñárritu won Best Director back to back in 2014 and 2015, I jokingly predicted that Del Toro, the third of the “Three Amigos” Mexican Hollywood directors, would win the following year for Crimson Peak. And after Emmanuel Lubezki won Best Cinemetography for both Gravity and Birdman, I predicted he’d win a third time in a row, which he did for The Revenant, which also won Iñárritu a second Best Director in a row. I though my joke was surprisingly accurate. I guess this seems like it will actually be Del Toro’s year.
  12. I know it’s been a while, but I thought I’d weigh in and respond to your questions, Bryce. I’d second all the films recommended in this thread so far (that I’ve seen) and also Overstreet’s book. I think that defining these terms and categories is both really important and highly fluid in that people mean different things by terms such as spirituality, religion, and faith. I’m not sure what you had in mind but I’ll give it a shot. Forgive me for being a little abstract here, but I’m hesitant to use more conventional language. These are not philosophical ideas I came up with myself.I understand the world—and the human person—as an integration of aspects of meaningfulness created by God and through which God upholds all existence and is revealed and by which we and everything else have knowledge and function in every way we do. That whole integration can be oriented toward God or away from God (toward something in the creation—idolatry), likewise specific actions focused in particular aspects of life. That wholeness and integration is what I think is most important in our relationship with God. Films that are actively wrestling with this are what interest me most, as a Christian and as a person. This is what I consider to be spiritual or religious. One of these universal “aspects” has to do with trust, with faith you might say, with that ultimate orientation of our personhood. And certain institutions and traditions (like churches and “religions”) have arisen to be authorities in this aspect of life to help orient us to God (or they fail to. And I don’t think that this is limited to Christianity. I believe other faiths do as well, although I do believe Christianity ultimately holds the true story of God and the world.) It’s inseparable from the other aspects, of course. And it’s also different from faith defined as belief in certain things being the case (like God’s existence). I think that kind of faith inherently decenters God and centers on the human will in idolatrous ways. And I find most faith based genre films to do that. You might be interested to hear the perspective of writer/director Paul Schrader from this talk at the 2017 Toronto film festival. He has a thing or two to say about faith based films. He talks about (and this is in part my take on Schrader) the HOW of film being more important as the WHAT regarding spirituality and the experience of the transcendent in film. And he finds that films that “lean away” from audiences through intentionally difficult and distance-producing techniques (including boredom) force the viewer to lean into the film’s world and find the mystery that is always there, usually just beneath the surface. This is basically what Overstreet said in this thread earlier. Other films (most all films, including faith based films) actively tell the viewer how to feel, how to think, how to believe. And in doing so any sense of mystery or spiritual depth focus gets lost or is actively ignored. The final response in the Q&A also gets at this. I am not as cynical as Schrader about religion itself, but I think what he says about religion in general does apply to faith based films. C.S. Lewis talks about being willing to surrender yourself to the world of an artwork, and only after you’ve done that to be able to critique the work. I find that when I surrender myself to the world of faith based films, I find them to be utterly fraudulent depictions of reality—human, divine, and otherwise. Most of the films on the A&F Top 100, though, I find to draw me more deeply into reality, including the presence of the Spirit. Of course there are films on the list that I ultimately find to be at odds with my faith, but are such astute observers of human nature or articulate what is wrong so well, that I find them helpful nonetheless. Films whose vision of the world I find that I can submit myself to and emerge with my spirituality or my connection to God via the world strengthened are the kind of films I like. And these are more often the kinds of films that employ the distancing “transcendental style” Schrader describes. But not always. I find several films that are fairly conventional but have religious themes to have strengthened my faith as well (Chariots of Fire, The Mission, Sophie Scholl, A Man for All Seasons, others on the Top 100). Might these be the faith themed films of which you speak? They aren’t "faith based" but they strongly engage (and affirm) issues of faith. A film near the top of the Top 100 list that profoundly affected me and even impacted my faith positively, and did so by drawing me into its world (by formally receding from my expectations), is Ordet. It’s faith themed but also engages with that full integration of humanity I was talking about earlier. But another film, actually the most recent film I’ve finished so it’s fresh with me, that has little to do with “religion” on the list is the Japanese film Eureka. It’s achingly slow but also achingly beautiful, and portrays the deep, deep ache of human brokenness. This film taught me something about being made in the image of God and the fact that that image can be and is hugely distorted, but is also capable of healing. Those are Christian truths, and this film spoke those truths in the language of film (rather than the language of “faith”). (By the way, I’ve seen most of the films on the Top 100 by now, and Eureka is one I’d recommend but not eagerly or to most casual film-watchers. It’s difficult on many levels.)
  13. Rob Z

    The Miseducation of Cameron Post

    Ah, this clarifies what you meant. I think maybe you read the quotation marks around the phrase in the source as signaling a direct quote from such an organization in the film? I actually reckoned the opposite. This is a phrase that the writer did not come up with—so a quote—that the writer (or possibly a character in the film) is using to characterize (or, again possibly, to caricature) what is going on. The quotation marks also function as scare quotes (or “scare quotes”) and signal that the belief of the speaker is that it is not their belief that same-sex attraction can be prayed away. Thus I too would question the veracity of the phrase in the mouth of someone actually doing that. (Sexuality is too complex for such universals, but, exceptions aside, it’s my understanding that the evidence suggests that there is some fixity in the orientation of sexual attraction (again, for the vast majority of people), regardless of “prayer” or “miracles.”) I am now curious about the origins of the phrase. While I don't consider the phrase a mockery it certainly could be used that way depending on tone of voice or context. I know the word “struggle,” when used by Christians, can signal to many people a certain stance on all this that might not be intended. I don’t mean to minimize the struggle many people have with their sexuality, including with to whom they are attracted. But I’ve also read books by gay Christians (such as Tim Otto and Eve Tushnet, both of whom are celibate—if that’s even relevant) who experience same-sex attraction much more structurally—not as a struggle but as neutral or just a part of them, a gift even--and struggle more with things that are imposed on them by those who are well-meaning but misguided (not to mention those who intend to put them down, for that matter).
  14. Okay, thanks, Joel. I totally understand. I look forward to watching another film club film with you all at a time when we can swing it.
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