Monday, June 30, 2008

The Cruciform Pose in the Movies - Part 2

Part 1 here. The cruciform pose (Jesus on the cross) isn’t going away anytime soon.In Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark is a self-made man who finds his conscious and tries to save mankind. Still, not much is Christ-like about him.
Click below for Spiderman, E.T., Robocop, Cool Hand Luke, and Neo.

A closer representation of Christ is in Spiderman 2 when Peter Parker sacrifices himself to save a train full of people.

They carry Parker's body and he is resurrected.

One not-so-obvious Christ allegory is Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman’s Luke arrives in prison, fights the system, and is then sacrificed. He’s captured at a church after God doesn’t answer his prayer. He lives on at the end in the hearts and minds of the other prisoners. Right after eating 50 eggs, Luke does his cruciform pose - even crossing his feet.

The first film Christ allegory is The Day the Earth Stood Still, where a space alien comes to Earth to try to convince mankind to disarm and get along. Michael Rennie’s Klaatu is killed and reborn on his spaceship. His death scene has him falling in the pose (bottom center – they were much more subtle in 1951).

Likewise, E.T. comes from another world, dies, is resurrected, and ascends back into the heavens.

In Robocop, Peter Weller’s Officer Murphy is viciously and brutally murdered, then resurrected to save the good people of Detroit (filmed in Dallas). There’s a great Mary Magdalene (Nancy Allen – Officer Lewis).

In case you think I’m stretching, here’s Robocop walking on water.

Of course, the most "faithful" Christ allegory is The Matrix where Keanu Reeves’s Neo finds his calling, dies, is ressurected, then ascends into the heavens promising to save humanity. There’s Mary Magdalene (Trinity), John the Baptist (Morpheus), and Judas Iscariot (Cypher). (Just pretend the sequels don’t exist. Works for me.)

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DVD and CD Releases - July 1st

Recent DVD Releases:

City of Men
Drillbit Taylor
My Blueberry Nights
Sex and Death 101
Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns (can somebody please explain the difference between Tyler Perry's movies and R Kelly's Trapped in the Closet series?)
Vantage Point
War, Inc.

Click below for more DVD and the worst week ever for CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

The Closer: Season Three
House of Payne: Volume Two
Mad Men: Season One
Outer Limits: Complete Original Series
The Streets of San Francisco: Season Two, V1
Til Death Do Us Part: Season One
Walker, Texas Ranger: Season Five
The X-Files: Revelations

Special Editions/Other Releases:

Batman: The Movie - Special Edition
Dead and Gone
Get Smart's Bruce and Lloyd Out of Control
Heathers: 20th High School Reunion Edition
Shotgun Stories

New CD Releases:

Alkaline Trio - Agony and Irony
Alltruisms - Clusterbombs
G-Unit - T.O.S. (Terminate on Sight)
Los Lonely Boys - Forgiven
Night Ranger - Hole in the Sun

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Cruciform Pose in the Movies – Part 1

Film characters assume the same position of Jesus on the cross for different reasons. Sometimes it’s by necessity, sometimes it’s a flat-out allegory of the Christ story, but usually it’s because that character exhibits some Christ-like qualities. In his Dead Man Walking DVD commentary, director Tim Robbins insists the seemingly obvious position of Sean Penn’s Matthew Poncelet was only because the actual lethal injection machine places the criminals that way. It makes sense because Poncelet is hardly a Christ-figure, guilty of his crime and only remorseful when he faces death. If anyone resembles Christ in the film is Susan Sarandon’s Sister Helen Prejean.
Click below for more characters who assume the position.

In the DVD commentary of The Graduate, director Mike Nichols states the position of Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock is because the actual preacher of the church was worried he would break the glass, so Hoffman spread his arms. (Kind of like snow shoes dispersing weight so you don’t sink). Braddock is “saving” Elaine from a loveless marriage and an empty suburban existence and he is certainly antiestablishment but the Christ comparisons stop there.

Toward the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock strikes half a pose after he sacrifices himself and saves the Enterprise crew. He is “resurrected” in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Early on in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Garrett (James Coburn) apprehends Billy (Kris Kristofferson) who surrenders with the cruciform pose. Billy is antiestablishment and Garrett is a pretty good Judas Iscariot substitute.

Mel Gibson’s William Wallace is tortured at the end of Braveheart, sacrificing himself for freedom and living on in the lives of his fellow soldiers. There’s a pretty good Mary Madgalene (Sophie Marceau) though.

In one of Dances with Wolves first scenes, Kevin Costner’s Lt. John Dunbar is resigned to die and is essentially “born again” after certain death on the battlefield. He goes on a search for self-discovery and tries to save the Sioux people.

In Platoon, Willem Dafoe’s Sergeant Elias is introduced in the cruciform pose during the opening credits. He will go on to protect and guide the protagonist (Charlie Sheen’s Chris) through the Vietnam experience.

Platoon director Oliver Stone is less subtle at the moment of Elias’s death. Elias is betrayed and sacrificed.

Martin Scorsese was so impressed with Dafoe’s Christ-like qualities in Platoon that he cast him as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ.

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank is nearly killed by Christof (Ed Harris) and is “born again”. He’s not much of a Christ-figure otherwise, only able to save himself.

But he does walk on water before ascending (up the stairs) into the clouds.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins’s Andy Dufresne assumes the cruciform position and walks on water at the same time. Nice work, Mr. Darabont. Andy is innocent, convicted, reborn, and brings hope to the other inmates.

In part 2, I will discuss outright Christ allegories which are usually in the Science Fiction or Superhero genre.

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Wanted - C

In theaters. Rated R, 108 minutes. Trailer.

A fraternity of weavers turned assassins kill people with their extra-special sensory gifts and training. That weird synopsis is not what I was expecting based on the rockin' trailer and all star cast, but, alas, that's what I got. James McAvoy stars as Wesley Gibson, a pathetic worker drone that is sucked into a world of super-assassins after his father is killed, leaving him as the only person that has the bloodline necessary to save the fraternity. Morgan Freeman is Sloan, the sage leader of the Fraternity, while an aptly named Angelina Jolie is Fox, a head assassin and the trainer of Wesley. Click below to find out why mixing Office Space, Fight Club, the Matrix and Fantastic Four is a bad idea.

McAvoy's workaday job and malaise is reminiscent of Office Space and Ed Norton in Fight Club. He is weak and hates his nobody life. Once he realizes who he is, he goes to be trained by Fox and Sloan in a series of super-generic training rituals. Once he is ready to start his assassinations, he learns his power and goes after the man who killed his father. Lots of silliness ensues, as well as a decent plot twist. The film's final sequence is disappointing and involves peanut butter, rats and explosives, which should tell you all you need to know.
This is one of those movies where all the good parts are in the trailers. The best parts of the film are the 20 minutes of actual action footage, with cool shooting and driving sequences. I am a sucker for John Woo and Robert Rodriguez action, and its too bad D list director Timur Bekmambetov didn't give us more of it. McAvoy does well in the role, with lots of veiny acting going on, while Jolie apparently felt her character's main attribute was to give knowing, smoldering looks while leaning. The main problem with the film is the ridiculous plot involving weavers, bending bullets, a monastery in 'Arabia' and fate. The script felt like it had been written and re-written by 20 different people. A huge disappointment.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Best of 2008...So Far

Given that 2007 was one of the strongest years for film in recent memory, it would be hard for 2008 to measure up. Even so, this first half of the year has yielded an especially weak line-up, my favorite of which are ranked below (and linked to the review).

1. Priceless
2. Wall E
3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
4. In Bruges
5. Iron Man
6. The Orphanage
7. Baby Mama

Some others that might be decent, but I haven't been able to see yet are: The Fall, The Visitor, Young at Heart, Redbelt, Stop Loss, Bigger Strong Faster, Mongol, Shine a Light and 21. I count Counterfeiters as a 2007 movie, otherwise it would be #1. Another opinion.

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Wall E - B+

In theaters. Rated G, 102 minutes. Trailer.

Animated movies about robots are about as far as I can go from my movie comfort zone. The only Pixar movie I have ever seen is the original Toy Story, and I generally avoid such fare at all costs. But, with offspring approaching kindergarten, my viewing habits are about to change. Tonight I took in the late show of Wall E as a parental preview to see if it was a worthy and appropriate first movie theater experience for said offspring. Wall E is a sweet, gentle love story between two robots and their shared mission to return wayward humans to the earth. Click for more of WALLE:

[The next 2 paragraphs contain spoilers]The film opens with a There Will Be Blood style opening sequence of the hero silently toiling at his sole purpose, cleaning up trash on earth. Wall E is the last of his kind on an industrial waste heap earth populated only by himself and a friendly cockroach. After his 'workday', he spends his evenings playing with the interesting trash keepsakes he has saved and watching a beat up copy of Hello Dolly to keep himself company. One day another robot, Eve, is dropped off by a large spacecraft, and Wall E is immediately in love with 'her'. She is tasked with analyzing everything she sees and slowly warms to his 'advances'. Once she finds plant life, her programming forces her to shut down and protect it, and she is reclaimed by the spaceship and taken back to the 'mothership' with a love-stricken Wall E hanging on for the ride.

The Axiom is a large deathstar-like ship with all of humanity riding on it while Wall E was supposed to be cleaning the earth for their return. The humans got on the ship and have been there for 700 years, living like slobs in oblivion. They are all fat, riding on a hovercraft that takes them everywhere and they have screens in front of their faces all the time and only shop and eat. Once Eve's package is delivered, the ship will return to earth automatically because the existence of such life means that the earth is ready for humans again. The problem is that the ship's autopilot (a clear Hal 9000 homage) has taken over the ship and tries to keep the plant from being delivered. A protracted struggle ensues, and of course everything works out and they return to earth.

The animation is truly breathtaking throughout, with my favorite sequence being the 'space dance' with the fire extinguisher. Wall E is just a robot, but his loving and timid personality is more fully developed than most real life characters. The scenes where he emulates the dancers in Hello Dolly are truly moving and his optimism is encouraging throughout. The film explores love, community, environmentalism, consumerism, American self-satisfaction and conformity. The environmental undertones didn't bother me, and I heartily enjoyed the skewering of lazy people and consumerism. All of the trash on earth has been produced by an omnipresent Wal-Martesque company (BuyNLarge), and they are the builders and operators of the Axiom. The humans never walk, don't think and are always consuming and just existing (echoes of Idiocracy). The captain of the ship (voiced by Jeff Garlin) is the only significant human character, and as he fights the autopilot, he yells "I don't just want to survive, I want to live".

The film is getting the best reviews of any film so far this year, and it is really good, but it just isn't my bag. I don't generally care for animation or non-Kubrick science fiction, so its hard for me to really enjoy this type of movie. For those that care, my verdict on whether its okay/worthy of my offspring's first theater experience, I decided it is. The themes are good and there are no inappropriate moments or violence. Interview with Director Andrew Stanton in Christianity Today.

Viewer note: There is another stupid animated featurette (like the one that ran with National Treasure 2 last winter) before the film, which meant the 9:30 showing didn't start until 9:48 (the minute I walked in, by the way).

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Notable News

1. New song from The Verve "Love is Noise". Listen here. Exclusive free download of another new song "Mover" available on June 30 here. Love that baritone.

2. New Radiohead 'concert' series available on ITunes. Really cool, good quality performances of all of In Rainbows.

3. The Toadies have a new album and tour. Dallas date is Friday, August 22 at the Palladium. Lots of good Texas dates (including 'Rillo, Original Appraiser!)

4. Trailer for RockNRolla, the new Guy Ritchie film starring Gerard Butler. Not sure I can forgive him for Revolver, but this looks cool.

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Be Kind Rewind - C-


Mos Def works at a locally owned video store. His friend (Jack Black) becomes magnetized in a freak accident (don’t ask) and accidentally erases all of the videotapes by his proximity. This forces them to create their own versions of Driving Miss Daisy, Ghostbusters, Rush Hour 2, etc - which turns them into local celebrities. Mos Def (The Woodsman) is probably the best rapper-turned-actor around, but can’t overcome the ludicrous premise, shockingly inept in execution and payoff. Jack Black wore out his welcome awhile ago (Nacho Libre, anyone?) and is not only shameless in his appearance but in his pandering for laughs. What should be funny feels forced. What should be heartfelt feels contrived.

Writer-director Michel Gondry wants to show that community can bring the most downtrodden together. It’s a noble thought, as is celebrating tradition and local heroes (Fats Waller in this film). But I haven’t rented a videotape since 1998 and haven’t gone to a videostore since 2000. The recreations (called Swedes and lasting 20-30 minutes) are not funny and by now most of these films have been parodied by Saturday Night Live and its imitators more successfully. It’s a giant anachronistic mess, which you wouldn’t necessarily notice if it worked. It’s another disappointment from Gondry who needs to swallow that pride and get a co-writer or a good novel for his next film. C-

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Cassandra's Dream - C+


After his successful (but a little over-praised) Match Point, Woody Allen returns to London for another morality play. This one involves 2 brothers (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) with money problems who ask their uncle (the great Tom Wilkinson) for help. When Wilkinson asks them to murder someone set to testify against him, they reluctantly agree. Casting McGregor as the alpha-male and Farrell as the conscious-laden pantywaist is problematic mostly because Farrell naturally exudes confidence and isn’t a good enough actor to pull off a “coward” (he’s quite excellent in In Bruges, though).
Click below for more on the underwhelming, clich├ęd Cassandra’s Dream

McGregor is pretty good but he’s stuck in a routine plot with unmemorable humorless dialogue. Plots about gambling debts were old in the 1930s, and have rarely been successful (Mean Streets is the most notable exception). It doesn’t help that the similar-themed, spectacular 2-brother crime drama Before the Devil Know You’re Dead was recently released, which was more complicated and better acted. The film is beautifully shot with a solid, if familiar, Philip Glass score. There is one great rain-soaked scene when Wilkinson asks the lads to do the murder, but everything before and after struggles for originality. C+

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Nines- A Quick Theological Overview

The Doc offered a review of the 2007 Ryan Reynolds’ film The Nines several months ago and mentioned briefly that I should watch it and comment on the theology found within it. What follows is my thoughts on the theological notions that are employed by the filmmakers.
Let me say at the outside that, while I have some knowledge in both philosophy of religion and contemporary theology, neither are my primary area of education (that would be Old Testament, for those of you keeping score at home). SPOILER ALERT: Everything that follows will allude to the “mystery” of this film so, if you don’t want to know, don’t read it.

Part of what makes this film difficult is that it establishes that Ryan Reynolds character is not God (or a god), but a divine being. Since he’s given the name Gabriel in his last iteration, we can assume that he is some sort of angelic creature. In the Bible, Gabriel is actually only mentioned a couple of times, but he/she has an expanded role in a number of extra-canonical works and is important in Jewish and Islamic traditions, so it’s possible that some of these roles see Gabriel as a helper in the creation process, but I’m not aware of any. I say that Ryan’s identification as Gabriel is difficult because the theology that The Nines deals with all relates to God and not to angels.

That said, the film is drawing on a number of theological notions, some of them unrelated to each other. One of the most important has to do with a school of thought called Process Theology. This type of theology, still fashionable in the U.S., but largely out of vogue in Europe, is based on the philosophical writings of a guy named Whitehead. What they basically believe is that the universe and God are both always in process with each other. God is not all-powerful in the usual since of the word, but interacts with creation and is affected by creation (God can change in this understanding, although his basic nature does not change). This plays out in this film in the following way: One of Whitehead’s notions is that “eternal life” only occurs in that we are caught up in the memory of God, or we live on in God’s memories of our existence. In the film they ask Reynolds not to forget about them or they will cease to exist. Process thought is also seen in this film in that Reynolds is affected by the world around him and his decisions are based partially on the wishes and hopes of humans in the film.

A second theological notion seen in this film is the idea that we all only exist in the mind of God. This is at the edge of my knowledge, but the basic notion is a simple one: that all that we call reality is a projection of God’s mind and, if he ceased to conceive of it, it would cease to exist. Again, this is alluded to in the area I mentioned above in which Ryan considers whether or not he’s forgotten about some of the world’s he created and, in so doing, murdered all their inhabitants.
A third notion in this film is the notion that we are living in the “Best of all possible worlds.” This idea is an attempt to understand how this world can contain so much pain yet be created by a God that people consider to be “good”, loving, all-powerful and all-knowing. There have been a number of versions and additions to this basic line of thinking, but the most most widely held, as I understand it, is as follows: That a world with freedom of choice, even choice in moral issues, is inherently better than a world in which there are no such choices. If moral agents are given freedom of choice, some of them will choose to do wrong or cause pain. However, if God intercedes every time this happens to stop the pain, there really is no true freedom of choice, or at least not the freedom to make choices that have any consequences. Therefore the world that we live in is (potentially) the best of all possible worlds and is inherently better than a world that is devoid of both pain and freedom of choice. I’ve always felt like this argument actually only proves that it’s possible that a good, loving, all-powerful and all-knowing God could create a world containing so much pain, but to say that it’s the best of all possible worlds continues to be a faith statement. Since we don’t know all possible worlds, we have to assume that God does and decided on this one.

I’m fairly certain that there are a number of other issues that are alluded to or brought up in this film, but these are the ones that I caught and remember after my initial viewing. In the end the film really seems to be interested in sprinting through these issues and taking them as far as is easy and convenient, without really truly exploring what any of them actually mean for human existence of God.

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Pearl Jam Concert - Columbia, SC - June 16, 2008

[Guest Review - Dentist]
In the pantheon of bands that musically defined the 90’s, the trifecta of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam would pretty much be at the top of anyone’s list. The key differences between these bands of course, is that Nirvana self-imploded in the wake of its own achievements and Soundgarden gradually atrophied under the weight of their burgeoning success, which leaves us with Pearl Jam, a band that has managed to maintain its integrity and continually put out great music, all while keeping relevant to the times. Click below for more PJ:

One of the reasons I love Pearl Jam is that they are one of the few “big” bands that don’t need a reason to tour. Forgoing the usual pomp and circumstance of announcing a big tour in support of a new album, Pearl Jam often find themselves touring for what I must assume is a genuine love for either playing music together as a band, satiating their fans appetites for some good live music, or both.

The band played to an enthusiastic, if not raucous, crowd at the Colonial Center in Columbia, SC on June 16. I was anxious to hear openers Kings of Leon since I had heard some positive reviews of their live sets and they did not disappoint. In a bit of a teaser moment, Eddie Vedder came out and played with them on the last song in their set. Ten Club tickets put wife and I on the floor twenty rows from the stage so needless to say I was pleased with my lottery draw and after a quick stage change, Pearl Jam entered under cover of darkness. When the lights came up a bit they revealed a cool Japanese-looking water/wave backdrop and the band launched immediately into “Can’t Keep” and a really great version of “Why Go”. Highlights from the main set for me included: “Hail, Hail”, “Elderly Woman…”, “Army Reserve” and one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs “I Am Mine”. Ed was in rare form and the band seemed really into it, interacting frequently with the crowd. At one point, Ed mused “So, this is the home of the ‘Cocks? Well then I feel right at home!” (holds wine bottle he’s been guzzling from up to genitalia). It was a great moment that had everyone in the arena laughing hysterically. The band also did something I wish more groups did when they played someone’s request to hear “W.M.A.” during the first encore, which also included amazing versions of “Better Man” and “Porch”.

A Pearl Jam concert would not be complete without a political musing (read: Bush bashing) from Eddie and this one was no exception. Right before playing “No More”, Pearl Jam’s version of Pete Seeger’s 1966 offering “Bring Them Home”, he mainly talked about the price of oil and it’s increase that has correlated with President Bush’s time in office. “Gas has more than doubled in the last four years and the president just happens to be fast friends with big oil? Does he think that we’re f**king stupid?!” I don’t think of Eddie as having an extremely leftist POV, but he makes no bones about which side of the fence he sits on. The man certainly exercises his privilege to free speech and quite honestly, makes some valid points. Nevertheless, the music was what everyone was there for and the guys put together a ridiculous three closing songs: “Footsteps”, “Alive” and “Indifference”, the last of which was played with the house lights fully on since apparently no show at the Colonial Center is supposed to last beyond 11:30 p.m. (Pearl Jam played from about 8:50 to 11:40!).

I must admit I am not as much of an avid long-time fan like lawyer, but their songs will forever help to soundtrack my college years. My second time to see these guys live really solidified them in my mind as one of the greatest, most influential American bands of the last 20 years. If you get a chance to see them live, do it. They are still relevant, with something to say and they put on an absolutely amazing live show.

Grade: A

Setlist here.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Verdict - A-

On DVD (1982). Rated R, 125 minutes. Trailer.

As a screenwriter, David Mamet has tackled most subjects, and The Verdict is his meditation on lawyers, ethics, and integrity. Put his script together with Sidney Lumet's directorial abilities and Paul Newman's charisma and you've got a classic film. The Verdict tells the story of Frank Galvin, a wrongly ostracized attorney eeking out an existence as an ambulance chasing attorney. He hits on a potentially big case, and instead of settling the case, thereby keeping 1/3 of the payout for himself, he takes it to trial to help the victim and redeem his soul and his reputation. Click below for more VERDICT.
The trial plays out unsurprisingly, but there is a satisfying ending that is not the norm for these types of films. Mamet's script crackles with the type of hard hitting realistic dialogue that gets my blood pumping. My one hangup with the film was the relationship with the woman Newman meets at the bar. Why would he care about her so quickly and why is she even necessary to the plot? If you cut out that sequence and tighten up some of the hammy 'big law firm' sequences, this might sneak into a full A. I will note, for the record, that it is a decent '80s soundtrack, for once.

The lawyering in the film is generally accurate. The only 'off' stretches were the judge's conduct during the pretrial conference and during Newman's questioning of his witness as well as the 'big law firm' putting 20 lawyers on one relatively small case. Mamet doesn't let us lawyers off the hook for selling out to 'the man' to make money. Newman could take the money early, and has his incapacitated client (via her guardian ad litem, her sister) wanting him to settle. This and Michael Clayton give the best analysis to the ethical, moral and interpersonal issues associated with the practice of law.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I'm Not There - A

Theatrical review here.

Biopics have a standard formula: family origins, pre-fame struggles, celebrity, the inevitable fall, then peace and resolution. Recent Oscar-winners Ray and Walk the Line were good movies, well-acted and entertaining, both doing justice for their subjects: Ray Charles and Johnny Cash. But for someone as influential and revolutionary as Bob Dylan, another direction is mandatory. Cowriter-director Todd Haynes’s decision to use 6 separate characters to portray the elusive and chameleonic Dylan is perfectly realized in this complex, stimulating, and emotionally riveting film. (Click below for a rather lengthy review)The film opens with the “fake” Dylan, (named Woody Guthrie and played by Marcus Carl Franklin). Guthrie was Dylan's idol and many the scenes are based on Dylan’s fictional back-stories. He’s encouraged to sing about his “own-time” rather than the real Guthrie’s Depression-era songs. This part of the film is beautifully filmed in yellows and greens and shares artistic similarities with Woody Guthrie’s own biopic Bound for Glory. Franklin is fine as the young Dylan and his abnormally young age shadows Dylan’s maturity at this stage in his life. Dylan’s imagination was already running wild in his late teens.

Throughout the film, there are snippets of the “poet” Dylan (named Arthur Rimbaud and played by Ben Whishaw) – who is the de facto narrator of the film, providing commentary on the action. The dialogue is taken directly from archival interviews. My favorite: “I accept chaos. I am not sure whether it accepts me.” Whishaw delivers his lines gracefully, but it’s Dylan’s own observations that stand out.
In the early 60s, Dylan emerges in New York as the “prophet” Dylan (named Jack Rollins and played by Christian Bale). This section should be recognizable to anyone who has watched Martin Scorsese’s documentary No Direction Home. Many of Dylan’s cover albums and famous snapshots are recreated. Other folk singers at the time (including Julianne Moore) comment on Dylan’s talent. Bale is believable as the earnest folk singer and plays another role later in the film, an evangelical Dylan (Pastor John), which depicts the late 1970s when Dylan converted to Christianity. In his commentary (the best of the year), Haynes said he chose the same actor to play both of these characters since they were the only times when Dylan felt like he had all the answers. Bale is filmed in grainy 16 mm film stock giving a realistic documentary feel.
Meanwhile “star of electricity” Dylan (named Robbie Clark and played by Heath Ledger) meets and marries a French painter (Charlotte Gainsbourg). In the film, Ledger is an actor portraying Bale’s character Rollins. (Gainsbourg is a composite of two women.) Ledger’s character probably causes the most confusion since it is not a definable segment of Dylan’s life, but a separate facet of his life, spread out over 10+ years (1964-mid70s). Many of these scenes are taken from Dylan’s life and his doomed marriage, and other scenes comment on Dylan’s influence on popular culture, including movies. These scenes are filmed straight out of Jean-Luc Godard’s playbook, with quick cuts alternating with long takes, close-ups, long zooms and pans, and sudden sound effects meant to unsettle the viewer. This story is also the emotional backbone of the film, enhanced by Ledger’s unfortunate and untimely death.
In early November 1963, a Newsweek article was released which “outed” Dylan as a middle-class Jewish kid from Minnesota, which contradicted his own backstory as an orphan who traveled the countryside. This event and the JFK assassination transformed Dylan transformed into yet another character: “ghost” Dylan (named Jude Quinn and played by Cate Blanchett). This portion of the film chronicles the 1965 era Dylan while he toured in London. He has turned his back on folk music, feeling like he can’t change the world. He has plugged his guitar into an amplifier and alienated legions of his fans. As the amphetamine-fueled Dylan, Blanchett is mesmerizing and impressive (particularly if you’ve seen D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back). It’s the best female performance since Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive. Not only does Blanchett get the mannerisms right, but the emotion as well. She’s simultaneously hilarious, insightful, and devastating.
In this segment of the film, Haynes successfully tackles no-less-than Fellini’s 8 ½, filming in high-contrast black and white with exaggerated camera angles. There are dream sequences, musical numbers, and mind-blowing rear-projection shots. When the film stock is sped up when Dylan meets the Beatles, it’s a homage to Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night. During this segment, David Cross gives an uncanny performance as Allen Ginsberg. Bruce Greenwood is equally great as “Mr. Jones”, Dylan’s nemesis reporter.
After his motorcycle crash in 1966, the “outlaw” Dylan shows up. As “Billy the Kid”, Richard Gere gives a terrifically understated performance as the recluse. There are beautiful musical numbers during this portion as the local townsfolk deal with death (of people and their town). Haynes channels the “hippie” westerns of the early 70s, specifically Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and Peckinpaugh’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. In that Peckinpaugh film, Kris Kristofferson plays Billy the Kid and Kristofferson partially narrates I’m Not There. It’s that kind of self-referential multi-layered detail that makes this film so rewarding (and causes so many neurons to fire). By the way, Bob Dylan himself appears in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and provided the score and songs (including "Knocking on Heaven’s Door").
If you have a work of art, it can be many things to different people. It can even mean different things to you at different times in your life. Dylan’s songs have meant a lot to me for nearly 20 years. He was right to abandon the protest songs and follow his instincts, for it’s the post-protest songs that stand higher today and don’t have to be taken in context. Dylan’s songs are used well in the film, particularly “I Want You”, “Stuck Inside a Mobile with the Memphis Blues”, and Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”. The film also has one of the most unusual of things: covers of great songs that didn’t make me immediately wish I was listening to the original recordings. But when Dylan’s own voice is heard singing “I’m Not There” (a song I had not heard until this film) at the film’s climax, all the stories come together beautifully.

Dylan wrote the songs of his 1974 album Blood on the Tracks with the idea of parallel story lines (which is also the structure of this film). Richard Gere’s voice-over narration ends the film this way:
“People are always talking about freedom. Freedom to live a certain way – without being kicked around. Of course, the more you live a certain way, the less it feels like freedom. Me? I can change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person and when I go to sleep, I’m certain I’m someone else. I don’t know who I am most of the time. It’s like you got yesterday, today, and tomorrow all in the same room. There’s no tellin’ what can happen.”

There’s no tellin’ how many times I’m going to watch this dense and diverse film, searching for new connections and gathering insight; watching a director and actors at the top of their game, doing justice for Bob. A

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Monday, June 23, 2008

DVD and CD Releases - June 24th

Recent DVD Releases:

10,000 B.C.
Charlie Bartlett
Definitely, Maybe
In Bruges
The Spiderwick Chronicles

Click below for more DVD's and CD releases.

DVD Special Editions/Other Releases:

TV Box Sets:

Evening Shade: Season One
Futurama: Beast with a Billion Backs
The New Adventures of Old Christine: Season Two

Special Editions/Other Releases:

The Eye 3
The Hammer
Journey to the Far Side of the Sun
Man of a Thousand Faces
The Tattooist
Xanadu: Magical Music Edition

New CD Releases:

Joseph Arthur - [Title TBA] EP
Dwele - Sketches of a Man
Calico Horse - Mirror
Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
Hercules And Love Affair - Hercules And Love Affair
IAMX - Kiss+Swallow US Release
Immortal Technique - The 3rd World
Less Than Jake - GNV FLA
Safari So Good - Every Fight is a Food Fight When You're A Cannibal
Sigur Ros - Meo suo i eyrum vio spilum endalaust (With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly)
Sam Sparro - Sam Sparro
Superchick - Rock What You Got
Three 6 Mafia - Last 2 Walk
Steve Tyrell - Back to Bacharach
Withered - Folie Circulaire

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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Get Smart B-

In Theatres, PG-13, 110 minutes

We’ll start with the good news. If you’re a Steve Carell fan, you’ll dig this movie. Even when the plot bogs down, he stays funny. If you’re an Anne Hathaway fan, you’ll like this movie as well. She’s plays a straight “man” better than I would have imagined and is way more in appealing in this movie than anything I’ve ever seen her in. And she's game for a funny little spoof on the only memorable scene from the otherwise forgettable spy flick Entrapment. The bad news, the movie feels like a rollercoaster—in a bad way. It starts off slow, fires up nicely for about forty minutes, slows to a not-even-a-chuckle crawl, then ends with a bang.

Get Smart is based on a classic 60’s Mel Brooks TV show that parodied Cold War spy films (think Bond). While the original show was an over-the-top, no-holds-barred spoof, Mike Myers already mined that territory clean with the Austin Powers franchise, leaving this film with a bit of an identity issue. This time around Smart (Carell) is an analyst who dreams of being an agent, and then is given his chance in the field. While the previews concentrate on his foul-ups, the actual character contributes as much right as he does wrong. Agent 99 (Hathaway) is the seasoned veteran he’s coupled with on his first assignment. The action moves back and forth from realistic to cartoonish. Likewise, the camera work alternates, with some stunt sequences shot traditionally and others with a hand-held a la Michael Mann. The tone also swings dramatically from section to section and scene to scene.

What the movie lacks in consistency it makes up for with bursts of laughs. Carell is seriously funny, as is Alan Arkin as The Chief and a couple of junior analysts played by Masi Oka (Hiro in TV show Heroes) and Nate Torrence (he’s in lots of stuff, but you’ll remember him as the pudgy David Spade in the Capital One commercials). The cast is superb throughout with Terrance Stamp (The Limey), David Koechner (Anchor Man), James Caan, Bill Murray, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), and Ken Davitian (Borat) enlivening even throw away rolls. While this is not destined to be on anyone’s “New Classics” list, it’ll help ease the pain of a particular tough summer movie season until The Dark Knight’s release. B-

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The Love Guru - C+

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 88 minutes. Trailer.

Ever since I watched my first Wayne's World sketch, I have been a Mike Myers superfan. With his first film, Wayne's World (B+) he showed he could be a star and even though the Wayne's World 2 (B-) wasn't as funny he still stayed in the pantheon. So I Married An Axe Murderer (A-), though widely ignored, was a pitch perfect romantic comedy (except for the last 15 minutes) . The Austin Powers (1-B+, 2-B, 3-C+)series made him a superstar. Since then (other than Cat in the Hat and the Shrek series) he has been mostly dormant, and I went into Love Guru expecting lots of belly laughs and a dumb story. Click below for more GURU:

Myers stars as Guru Pitka, an American born Indian guru competing with Deepak Chopra as the #1 guru in the world. Across the pond, the Toronto Maple Leafs' star player, Darren Roanoke (Romany Malco) lost his game because he left his wife and she is now dating Jacques 'le coq' Grande (Justin Timberlake). The owner of the Leafs (Jessica Alba) brings in Guru Pitka to reunite Roanoke and his wife in order to restore his game and propel the Leafs to the Stanley Cup. Along the way, Pitka falls for Alba and he and Roanoke bond while Pitka wars with the crass coach of the Leafs (played by Verne Troyer (mini-me).

So, obviously the story was not what got this into the B zone. Myers' genius for situational comedy and the numerous laugh out loud moments along the way are responsible for that. If you aren't a fan of Myers, this will be a C or C- for you, and there are lots of gags that don't work (elephants humping on a hockey rink?). That said, the 'nuts' sequence is hilarious, the bookend voiceover gags are perfect, and the small roles from Ben Kingsley and Justin Timberlake are original and funny in their own right.

I hate to say it, but Myers' comedic moment has probably passed. He was the funniest guy alive in the 90's, but the flavor of comedy and the public's tastes (including my own) have shifted to a more biting, knowing type of humor, a la Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen. I like Myers best as himself, like in Ax Murderer, but he clearly is more comfortable in wild caricatures than a regular comedic role.

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The Incredible Hulk - B-

In theaters. Rated PG-13, 112 minutes. Trailer.

Ang Lee's version of the Hulk story was a critical and commercial failure. I did not see it, but read enough to know it was not worth my time. This time around, Marvel studios signed up a stellar cast (Ed Norton, William Hurt, Tim Roth, and Liv Tyler) and enlisted the help of C list director Louis Leterrier to try and squeeze some more green from this storyied comic book franchise, and lay the groundwork for the Avengers movie. Parts of it are really good, if familiar, while others are paint by the numbers boring. Click below for more on HULK:

The film tells the story of Bruce Banner (Norton), a university scientist duped by the military (a cigar chewing William Hurt) into creating a super soldier. After an accident contaminates him with gamma rays, he turns into a green beast every time he gets mad (or his pulse gets above 200). Banner is in hiding and trying to cure himself while the government hunts him down. After the military find his hiding place he is forced to come back to the US to try and find a cure for his sickness and try and reunite with the comely Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). The General (Hurt) enlists Blonsky (Roth) to receive a partial gamma injection to fight the Hulk, and the generic fight ensues, with you know who winning in the end.

I expected to hate this movie, but it wasn't that bad. The first 20 minutes in Brazil are very good, action packed fun, with several cool shots of the shanty town hills, especially a shot of Banner fleeing his captors on the mountain. The only problem is it feels like we've been here before with Jason Bourne, and had a better time. The film then starts to get goofy, with lots of cliched scenes (Hulk wipes away Liv's tear, can't have sex due to pulse issues, etc). The screenwriter, Zak Penn, did a good job of avoiding the generic superhero issues, but got caught up in a Bourne/Fugitive angle that drew unflattering comparisons.

The Hulk is pretty believable, and all of the action sequences are well staged and fun to watch. The worst part of the film is any scene involving the military. Hurt and Roth are wasted in off-the-rack military megalomaniac roles that are as stale as they can be. Liv Tyler was surprisingly good, and I forgot how appealing she can be. Norton is fine as Banner, nailing the earnest search for a cure and the determined lover of Liv.

The last scene has been leaked online, and involves Iron Man, setting up the forthcoming Avengers movie.

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