Thursday, January 31, 2008

2008 Beliefnet Film Awards

Click and vote for the

Best Spiritual Film

Best Spiritual Performance

Best Spiritual Documentary

http://www.beliefnet.com/bfa

(I wrote the "pro" piece nominating Ellen Page in Juno for best "Spiritual Performance")

 

Friday, January 25, 2008

Technology Tools for Your Ministry: No Mousing Around Book Review

Technology Tools for Your Ministry:

No Mousing Around!

by Tim Welch

23rd Publications

2008

114 pages

ISBN 9781585956760

$16.95

 

 

 

This small handbook is brilliant - beginning with the size of the book, font style and size, white space on the pages, the cover (and the quality of the cover paper and the colors). Add these to the content that runs from attitudes toward technology (and attitudes toward those with whom we share faith about the use of technology in our parishes and schools - like patience), tips for conquering those aspects that challenge us (like reading the manual - yes, you can read the manual!), to how to connect a computer to an LCD projector, to creating media (iPodcasts) and much more. The book's layout and content are in perfect harmony.

 

Tim's approach is almost underwhelming; he has managed to approach his subject - and us - in such a way as to engage and empower us and not turn us off to technology.

One of the call outs (on page 4) attracted me immediately:

"Our primary vocation is to minister to one another in the gentlest, most life-giving way."

This reminded me of when Anna Scally of Cornerstonemedia.org advised a group of religious communicators: to "honor our students" and all those with whom we share faith.

 

Monday, January 21, 2008

There Will Be Blood

If I had seen this film before this past week, it would have been my #1, knocking 3:10 to Yuma off my top ten (sorry about that...)

 

 

 

In 1898 a lone man digs through the earth. Undaunted by the elements, the sheer hardness of the earth and the seemingly impossible task he has set for himself, he strikes oil. Yet a few years later, he has assembled a team of men who go from place to place, buying land, drilling for oil, and then selling the operations. We assume the child growing up in the camp belongs to one of the men, but the man, Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis)  begins to present the boy as H.W. (Dillon Freasier), his son.

 

 

 

 

What makes Plainview different from the suits at Standard Oil? He offers to drill on time and to deliver results.

 

A strange, intelligent young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) shows up in Plainview’s office and asks for money in return for information about land where the oil is seeping through the ground. Plainview tries to outsmart Paul who says he wants the money for his church. Plainview and H.W. go to check out the land and find the oil. Then they encounter Eli (Paul Dano) who humiliates his father and manages to get more money from Plainview that his father – for his church of the Third Revelation.

 

Now the die is cast forthis primal struggle between two men dominated by raw ambition and arrogance, greed and lust for power to play out against the landscape of the beginnings of the American oil industry, bubbling crude, black gold and fundamentalist American religion. What makes this story, based on the Upton Sinclair novel, “Oil”, so chilling is that through two extraordinary performances, the film shows that neither greed not pride under any guise, or individualism no matter how rugged, or any sacrifice, no matter how religious, can offer existential meaning or the freedom that was the promise of America in the first place.

 

Daniel Day-Lewis is remarkable as the oilman; his performance a tour-de-force. Paul Plano who seems to play twin brothers (but is he?), is an astounding match for the older man. They both play men who get life and the American dream all wrong, with tragic, meaningless, violent results. Humiliation is just one of the weapons they use against the other. This is a gripping moral tale that reminded me of how I felt after I watched The Fountainhead with Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper, based on the book by the objectivist Ayn Rand: sad and warned at what can happen when a person chooses self over others, over and over and over again - to step on others, to anihilate them, to get what they want. In the words of Plainview, who has a clear vision of what he wants, but not what he gets, says as an echo of the redemption that eludes him because of his own choices, “It is finished.”

 

A comparison between Rand and Sinclair’s view of America deserves further examination.

 

What is particularly interesting is how relevant and timeless this tale is. Also, it is white men in a white man's world; only one woman has even a remotely significant role and shows the one time Plainview seems to show good, but even then, his motives always seem to serve his own wants and perhaps his desperate need for love.

 

The absence of love, of altruism,  in the story matches the stark landscape - an outward manifestation of the interior realities of the two main characters.

 

It should come as no surprise if Lewis is nominated for and wins an Oscar for best actor, and Plano for best supporting actor. In some ways this was like watching a two-man play; all the other actors, including Ciaran Hinds as Plainview’s assistant, are almost superfluous. Someone said that Day-Lewis is an actor’s actor. Here, he certainly proves he has the power to blow away the competition, as he did with the Golden Globes a couple of weeks ago.

 

The direction and writing by Paul Thomas Anderson, the sound, cinematography, editing; this film has all it takes to make a clean sweep at Oscar time. But it’s a strong year and the field populated by excellent films and talent, so we shall see.

 

The film lasts for about 160 minutes, but I never looked at my watch. This is a film lover’s film.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything Movie

 

I used to think that the pirates who didn’t do anything, according to the song, just sat around all day: the epitome of laziness. But in this big screen veggie tale, the three vegetable pirates are good-hearted minimum pay service workers, with low self-esteem, who serve and clear tables at a dinner theater (about pirates), are taken back to the 17th century because a princess, who is captured by her evil peg-legged uncle wants his brother’s throne, finds what looks very much like a golden compass fulfilling the role of a kind-of crystal ball, orders up some heroes.

 

 

 

My six year-old nephew whispered to me that it reminded him of the "Pirates of the Caribbean", but he didn’t elaborate.

 

This film was very slow-going for almost 2/3 of the way through; both my nephews got involved once the evil cheese puffs showed up rather inexplicably and we stayed all through the credits so the kids could watch for them to reappear.

 

There are plenty of lessons from the Gospels in the film, but I was disappointed that it showed the audience how sea mines work to blow up designated ships. Argh, but this is the task of pirate movies, eh?

 

The animation is excellent and on a par with all the current feature animation films.

 

The kids talked about seeing it again, but I’ll forego that dubious pleasure. It’s a film for kids and Veggie Tale fans and can provide a lot to talk about from the perspective of character education – and fatherhood. But I think it called George (the #1 hero) a loser father too many times. So the script is a bottom-heavy  and I think has difficulty finding its sea-legs. All the action begins so late; the writer took too long to lay out the premise. (I did like it better than Bee Story, though; it lost me early on and never got me back…).

 

These are films for kids. I think grown-ups would like them to be for us, too. Some animated films like Ratatouille (that just won a Golden Globe!) achieve this, and some don’t. And that’s ok.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

I am Legend the Movie

Will Smith plays Dr. Richard Neville, a scientist soldier, who with his dog, Sam, seem to be the sole survivors of a viral epidemic that has either killed most of the people on the earth, and impaired the few hundred thousand remaining that appear as light-shy vampires, drawn into action by human blood. New York is the disaster site but it ends in the green, hopeful hills of Vermont.

If you are a fan of the 1971 cult-classic The Omega Man, meet the 21st century re-make. Directed by Francis Lawrence, who gave us the 2005 religious horror flick Constantine (Catholic imagery; Protestant theology), has now given us a more mainstream horror film that remains faithful to The Omega Man, is redemptive at its heart, and is a genuine sci-fi, futuristic horror movie. Whereas Constantine seemed weighted down by its team of writers, Akiva Goldsman's (A Beautiful Mind) influence here is to be noted in this crowd of writers. This is a much better film than Constantine (to me).

What was rather hopeless, and deserved more development in I am Legend, was that the cure for cancer (reprogramming viruses) took such a terrible turn. Genetic messing around is serious business with huge and important ethical and moral implications, but what the Emma Thompson character seemed to be doing in this film seemed like a good thing. We don’t ever find out why it was so … fatal.  Was it a backhanded way of showing that humans cannot play God, even curing disease? The Omega Man gave us a savior without a remnant, but I am Legend presents a dispensationalist theology of the remnant, hinting at films such as Left Behind.

I went to see this film with my sister, Emilie, and my arm is bruised where she kept grabbing it when she got scared; her screaming practically pierced my eardrum. If you like scary films, go for it.

Will Smith's performance is, as always, impeccable.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Savages the Movie

One of the most interesting aspects to this Tamara Jenkins production (Slums of Beverly Hills) is how she uses Bertolt Brecht's (1898 - 1959) dramatic theory (what can we learn? narrative rather than plot - and then to present the story in a rather anti -Brecht non-epic way)  to frame the story.

 

 

Wanda Savage (Laura Linney) lives in Manhattan and is trying to get a grant to write a book. Meanwhile she is having a meaningless affair with a married neighbor. Wanda's brother, Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is a drama professor in Buffalo. His love interest is returning to Poland because her visa has expired and Jon won’t marry her. Wanda gets a call that their dad’s partner of twenty years has died and he has had a meltdown. Wanda and Jon head to Arizona and end up bringing dad (Philip Bosco) back to Buffalo; they place him in a nursing home because he seems to be having memory loss. Jon is matter-of-fact; Wanda obsesses over her dad’s comfort as she and Jon disagree about his care; two kids bickering.

 

Both Wanda and Jon suffer from the lack pf parenting; you get the idea that these two, who have done well enough in life in some ways, raised themselves. Neither has a clue about relationships but they obviously long for permanence. At this point mom is out of the picture and has been for decades, and they haven’t been in touch with their dad for two decades. Neither has he sought them out.

 

The good thing about this film is that the two main characters learn something. It has the feel of looking at a tiny part of life, one that many struggling middle class people face in our own day. Is it entertaining? If you are a student of human nature, yes. If you appreciate fine acting almost for its own sake, yes. Some people couldn’t sit through it at the theater and left after about 30 minutes; I suspect it may have seemed tedious because it was so … ordinary; it is no grand epic; it seems to be all narrative and almost plotless. The one line that impressed me was when Wanda accuses her boyfriend, who comes to visit her in Buffalo, of cheating on his wife proclaiming that she hasn’t been the one cheating. He tells her that she does cheat: she is cheating on herself.

 

The acting is fine, as we would expect from two of today’s best actors.

 

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Who says they don't make good films in Hollywood?

I am posting this so that you will read my previous entry; 2007 gave us many great films and so very many good films. I have reviewed many on my blog, and even more via my column in St. Anthony Messenger: www.americancatholic.org (click on Entertainment).

Maybe this list will interest you on a rainy day...

Blessings!

 

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Sr. Rose's Top Ten Films 2007

Here is my Top Ten List for 2007 - a very difficult list to make this year that gave us so many life-affirming movies as well as those that dealt with human rights issues (documentaries in particular). I saw about 80 films this year out of about 350 that were released. If you check Variety in the next couple of weeks there will be a list of the top 250 grossing films.

 

992 films were released this year, grossing over $9 billion world-wide according to TheNumbers.com http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/index2007.php. Of these I saw about 100.

 

The one film that comes before all of these is the best, most moving and transcendant film I have seen in ten years: The Lives of Others. It won an academy award last year for best foreign language film but didn't get a general release until 2007. So, wherever it falls on the calendar, know that I still get goose bumps from thinking about this film (the arts transform a Stasi agent in East Germany...)

 

2007

 

 

1. Juno

2. Michael Clayton

3. Into the Wild

4. Lars and the Real Girl

5. Amazing Grace

6. 3:10 to Yuma

7. No Country for Old Men

8. Paris, je t'aime

9. The Kite Runner

10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

 

Runners Up:

 

Ratatouille

Bella

Waitress

Once

In the Valley of Elah

La Vie en Rose

Into Great Silence

The Savages

Eastern Promises

Jindabyne

The Namesake

Evan Almighty

Becoming Jane

Hairspray

Arctic Tale

Devil Came on Horseback

Atonement

The Great Debaters

Beyond the Gates

Pride

Spider-Man 3

Sicko

A Mighty Heart

Martian Child

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The Price of Sugar

Trade

The Bourne Ultimatum

Freedom Writers

Angels in the Dust

August Rush

Bridge to Terabithia

 

and I will be adding to the runner-up list though it may take me until it's time for Oscar predictions (or hopes!)

 

Most DISAPPOINTING film, despite the hype and proficiency, it didn't quite make the grade for me:

American Gangster

 

The BEST film I bet you didn't see: Adam's Apples (Adams ├Žbler). I reviewed it in St. Anthony Messenger in June:

 

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Jun2007/Eye_On_Entertainment.asp

 

The WORST film (very subversive: it was so awful that it made me laugh anway; Paul Giamatti is always excellent and Clive Owen could have been James Bond): Shoot 'em Up

 

The WORST GOOD film that I saw this year (I think I enjoyed it because it was so innocent and the premise so preposperous): The Astronaut Farmer

 

The BEST films I didn't get to see yet:

 

Gone Baby Gone

Away from Her

There Will be Blood

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

God Grew Tired of Us