Saturday, February 24, 2007

Movie Prayers: Offret (The Sacrifice)

Our Father, who...
Our Father, who art in Heaven...
hallowed by thy name...
Thy Kingdom come..
Thy will be done...
Give us this day our daily bread...
And deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the Kingdom...
and the Power...
and the Glory.
Deliver us in this terrible time.
Don't let my children die,
nor my friends...
my wife...
All those who love Thee and believe in Thee...
All those who do not believe in Thee, because they are blind...
those who haven't given Thee a thought...
simply because they haven't yet been truly miserable.
All those who in this hour have lost their hope, their future...
their lives...
and the opportunity to surrender to Thy will.
All those who are filled with dread
who feel the End coming closer...
who fear, not for themselves, but for their loved ones.
All those whom no one,
except Thou, can offer protection.
Because this war is the ultimate war
a horrible thing.
And after it, there will be no victors and no vanquished...
no cities or towns, grass or trees,
water in the wells,
or birds in the sky.
I will give Thee all I have.
I'll give up my family, whom I love.
I'll destroy my home,
and give up Little Man.
I'll be mute, and never speak another word to anyone.
I will relinquish everything that binds me to life...
if only Thou dost restore everything as it was before...
as it was this morning and yesterday
Just let me be rid of
this deadly...
sickening, animal fear!
Yes, everything!
Help me...
I will do everything I have promised Thee.

Movie Prayers: Les Anges du Peche

"Let me talk to you directly. Your saints will understand why. Look at me...listen to me! Take my anguish away from me. Tell me the burden you loaded me with by letting me know a desperate soul's secret is a test which will breed my purest joy. Protect me with your Hand. Deliver us from evil..."
"You who never watch over me. Thank you for receiving me every night. They have filled the gap with thorns. For them, I'm a prowler...stealing bits of eternal peace. For you, I remain your child. Every night I leave my barn to come to you and [???] a world-wide audience. You are not a S[???] yet you desired to stay with us as long as possible like a sample human being...a simple brother. That is why I dare offer miserable complaint before my prayers. Help me, my grief is too deep! And Teresa, Teresa who you entrusted to me...let me recognize her voice in that hymn...which I have no longer the right to sing. "[Faints]

For The Record

For the record, yes, I have been banned from a certain website at which I used to post comments about spirituality and the arts. The moderator has denied several times that this is the case, and I'm mostly willing to say "whatever" and move on, but I mention it here because I recently received yet another "Private Message" from a user of that site to which I was unable to respond because he was using the site's internal messaging function which no longer works for my account.

Because several people have asked me whether or not this is just some cute semantic parsing or honest misunderstanding about terminology, by "banned" I mean:

1) I am administratively prohibited from posting comments at this site. (No, I have not asked to be banned from posting comments. Yes, I have tried to post comments. I receive a pop-up message saying, "Your posting privileges have been removed.")

2) I am unable to send messages using the site's messaging function nor to respond to messages sent to me. (No, I did not ask to have my messaging capabilities revoked. Yes, I have tried to reply to private messages. I receive a message that says I have exceeded your message limit and the message has not been sent, regardless of the fact that I do not have any messages in my inbox or sent folder.)

If you recently sent me a private message from this website and I have not responded, either:
a) I didn't get it.
b) I got it but could not respond to it because I don't have your e-mail address and you don't have it listed in your profile at the site in question.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

MacGuffins of Men--Contrarian Blog-A-Thon

Earlier this month at Matthew's House Project, I posted a response to the question, "What makes a good contrarian review?"

This weekend, The Contrarian Blog-A-Thon officially gets underway, so I wanted to participate by writing a contrarian take on a current release. The general consensus in the preparatory comments at Jim Emerson's blog seemed to be that it is easier to be a nay-sayer than a white knight, though doing either well (as opposed to being contrarian for the sake of it) strikes me as equally difficult.

As the title here suggests, my contrary take is on Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron's ninety-one percent "fresh" thriller that garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

I know some critics, especially in Christian media, have been knocking the screenplay for losing what is perceived to be the latent (or implicit) Christian content of James's novel, but my reservations are of a different sort.

I thought the film was, essentially, one long set piece chase scene. It was a cross between Terminator and The Gauntlet, with a strong, cynical male hero protecting an innocent female whose survival is more important than his own.

A MacGuffin (alt. maguffin, McGuffin) is a plot element which advances the story and/or motivates the characters but which remains ambiguous as to its details. Whether it be the papers in Casablanca (are the Germans really going to let them leave just because they have papers?) or the trial in Snakes on a Plane (does it really matter why they are on the plane?), the particular details of the MacGuffin (maybe even the internal consistency of them) are immaterial.

There is a MacGuffin in Children of Men; it is the baby. Oh, but someone might object, the baby is the whole point of the film--the survival of humanity depends upon its survival. Maybe, maybe not. The details as to the whether or not this baby is unique [or only its mother] and whether it will have a better chance of survival with the shadowy "Human Project" are largely absent from the film.

I actually like the way Wikipedia puts it: "A true MacGuffin is essentially interchangeable. Its importance will generally be accepted completely by the story's characters, with minimal explanation." With minimal explanation it is accepted by the story's characters that it is necessary that Kee and her baby survive and be delivered to the Human Project. Because minimal explanation is required, Kee and her baby are "essentially interchangeable" with any other object that would need to be delivered from point "A" to point "B" in order to save the future of mankind: a plague vaccine, a secret formula for food, war plans, a portkey to another dimension. The important point is not how Kee and her baby will save mankind but only that someone in the story--Clive Owen--believes they will.

In my preparatory piece at The Matthew's House Project, I argued: "[M]any of the best—or most persuasive--contrarian reviews I’ve read are the ones that reveal weakness or problems within a film that have been hiding in plain sight rather than the reviews that attempt to argue for problems that only the contrarian critic was sharp enough to spot."

To illustrate this point, let me indicate how many of the positive reviews mention--but overlook--the film's deficiencies:

"The infertility theme isn't explored in any depth. What exactly will it accomplish to get Kee out of the country? Since the future of mankind rests on this pregnant girl, we want details. "Children of Men" leaves too many questions unanswered, yet it has a stunning visceral impact. You can forgive a lot in the face of filmmaking this dazzling."--David Ansen, Newsweek

"...[T]akes the classic movie formula of a cynical tough guy required to see an innocent party to safe harbor, and shoots it to pieces."--Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter (who calls the film "gripping"). While insisting that the film revitalizes rather than merely regurgitates the formula, Bennett doesn't exactly say which parts are new or how it is innovative (except that its vision of the future is different from that presented in recent films by "Richard Curtis and Woody Allen"). At another point, Bennett goes from saying in one paragraph that "there's barely a pause for breath" to claiming in another that the film "take[s] sufficient time to register the deeper impact of things that are troubling the world." These are not exactly contradictory claims, but their juxtaposition is suggestive.

"It contains evocative passages and some interesting and powerful ideas, but it often reads too much like an erudite potboiler." -- James Berardinelli, Reelviews (who awards the film three stars out of four).

"[T]he future he presents is so poorly conceived and full of contradictions, and is such a non sequitur coming just 20 years down the road, that we never buy it long enough to suspend disbelief."-- William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (who calls the film "a solid action movie").

My point here is not that Children of Men is the worst film of all time or that those who rated it highly are conscious hypocrites. My larger point isn't even about Children of Men at all but rather about contrarianism.

In this day of marketing hype and review saturation, the difference between a contrarian review and an assenting review is often little more than a matter of which the viewer trusts more--the consensus opinion or his or her own two eyes.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Munich, Contrarianism, and Effective Arguments

Later this month (February 16-18) Jim Emerson (Scanners Blog) will be sponsoring a Contrarianism Blog-A-Thon. Among the questions Emerson asked film writers to explore: what makes a good contrarian argument? I like this question for many reasons, not the least of which is that I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how reputation, marketing, and popularity affect our reception of commercial art and entertainment.

For the full column, click here to go to the Matthew's House Project.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

2006 FFCC Awards

So the big award ceremony you are all waiting for with baited breath is coming out...well, today, I was told.

Yes, it's the 2006 Faith and Film Critics Circle (FFCC) awards. This marks either the third or the fourth year I've voted in it, and if past performance is any indicator, generally nothing I vote for makes the top three in any category and there will be at least one award that makes me doubt my colleagues' sanity. (Lord of the Rings for best adapted screenplay?)[Ah, a quick peak at the archives suggests there is the rare synchronicity of opinion; I think I did vote for Philip Seymour Hoffman last year.] But I'm a member, and as long as they are going to keep counting my votes and not just throw me out of the group for not liking what everyone else does, I think I'm supposed to promote group here we go.

Aaaaaanyhoooo...for the three people who actually care about this that aren't, you know, in the the FFCC, below is a copy of the ballot I submitted. Can I give a shout out to Dennis Quaid? He almost did for American Dreamz what Johnny Depp did for the original Pirates of the Caribbean. If you are wondering what he's doing on this list, go rent the American Dreamz dvd and watch just the scenes he is in.

Pretty much everything else is either safely esoteric (I mean, if we lined up all the people who saw Climates on one side and all the people who saw Forgiving Dr. Mengele on the other--would we have enough for a girl's basketball game in the state of Iowa?) or so patently right that if you disagree with me you are, well....wrong.


  • 1) L'Enfant
  • 2) Requiem
  • 3) Forgiving Dr. Mengele


  • 1) L'Enfant
  • 2) Climates
  • 3) Requiem
  • 4) The Queen
  • 5) Pan's Labyrinth


  • 1) Shut Up and Sing
  • 2) Forgiving Dr. Mengele
  • 3) When the Levees Broke
  • 4) The Pervert's Guide to Cinema
  • 5) Lake of Fire


1) Jérémie Renier - L'Enfant
  • 2) Edward Norton - The Illusionist


  • 1) Sandra Huller - Requiem
  • 2) Victoria Hill-MacBeth


  • 1) Dennis Quaid--American Dreamz
  • 2) Rufus Sewell--The Illusionist
  • 3) Paul Giammati--The Illusionist
  • 4) Adrian Grenier--The Devil Wears Prada


  • 1) Déborah François - L'Enfant
  • 1) Luc and Jean -Pierre Dardenne - L'Enfant
  • 2) Barbara Kopple--Shut Up and Sing
  • 3) Sophie Fiennes--The Pervert's Guide to Cinema
  • 4) Tony Kaye--Lake of Fire


  • 1)The Devil Wears Prada
  • 2) Pan's Labyrinth


  • 1) Luc and Jean -Pierre Dardenne - L'Enfant
  • 2) Pan's Labyrinth


  • 1) The Illusionist
  • 2) V for Vendetta
  • 3) The Devil Wears Prada


  • 1) Gorkhan Tiryaki--Climates


  • No vote


  • No Vote

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Paragraph 175 (2000)

A short (81 minutes) and somber documentary by the directors of The Celluloid Closet and The Times of Harvey Milk, Paragraph 175 details the internment and treatment of homosexuals during the rise and rule of the Nazi party in Germany.

Was it my imagination, the editing, or the participants that made me feel as though the participants had to break through emotional and psychological walls of reluctance and diffidence in order to relate their experiences? The film suggests that unlike other Holocaust survivors, gay men have not been an encouraged to tell their stories, have been met with rejection when they tried. Given the fact that Paragraph 175 was not rescinded in Germany until decades after the war, many of the homosexuals who were imprisoned were still looked at as criminals rather than victims.

The participants themselves range from the angry to the melancholy to the shell shocked, and it is surprising (at least to me) how many times we can hear stories of lives torn apart by war and yet not feel them to be rote or repetitive. There is always a cadence, a detail of memory, that personalizes the story and makes it seems very real, and a good part of the film's emotional impact comes from hearing the survivor's and experiencing their stories not as a unique part of history but as a part that was experienced emotionally as anyone would who lost a loved one.

One participants relates of spending a night with a lover only to have the Gestapo arrest his compatriot (but not him) the next morning. "It had a different value then," he says softly, "...a night of love."

Perhaps, though, a night of love always has the same value. It is we who feel (or fail to feel) that value differently depending upon our circumstances.

Where the Heart Roams (1987)

Showing signs of age but still interesting as a document of a cultural phenomenon in its infancy, Where the Heart Roams centers around the time when the Romance Novel began to come out of the shadows and become a cottage industry. It follows several authors and wannabes as they tour America on the (I'm not making this up) "Love Train," an Amtrak special moving cross country to bring its occupants to a Romance writer's conference.

The film is ultimately too respectful to be campy fun and too clinical to be anything else. Only really when E. Jean Carroll is on screen is there any hint of irony, and she is careful to diplomatically let those aspects of the industry or writers that she finds ludicrous or contradictory speak for themselves.

Janet Dailey offers the following:

A romance novel an excitement. It deals with feelings. The feelings of a she feels when a man pays attention to her, how she feels when, when, he kisses her, when he makes love to her. The things that she feels and the things that are important to her, things that are very difficult to verbalize, but it's a writer's responsibility to write them.

It's about "things" and "feelings" are definitely one of the "things" it's about. Check.

There's some cursory examination of the business aspects of the industry that I would have liked to have heard more about--an editor tries to give one aspiring writer a set of guidelines about how the series she is seeking to contribute to is arranged, but these are writers who are clearly attached emotionally to their subject matter in ways that make editing painful.

Also of interest might have been conflicts between the first and second generations of writers. Both seem to agree that women want the Romance as a means of escapism, fueled in part by their entrance into the work force. There is also this insistence that the whole enterprise is vaguely feminist in its insistence on allowing women to chose and pursue what they want, but although we are told anecdotally about the corporate businesswoman who runs a conglomerate by day and fills her nights with bodice-rippers, the women we see mostly appear to be domestics who see the chance to write as more comforting than liberating--participating in the formula creates a sense of belonging and acceptance.

Trendsetter Barbara Cartland was not yet too old to participate, and her accomplishments earned her tribute from her followers even as they largely ignored her advice and she denigrated their work as soft porn. Not since Samuel Richardson wrote Pamela has there been an author so openly instructional about how to get your man:

Then I get an enormous amount [of letters] from married women saying I've helped their marriages enormously, because they've realized that they're not giving enough love to their husbands, they're not making things beautiful enough for him. And they're beginning to understand that if you want to keep a man--to keep him faithful--you have to work at it very hard and you have to make his prison, which is his home, really attractive for him. Otherwise he breaks out, and that's the trouble with the divorces today, it's because women are not doing their job.

According to Wikipedia's biography, Cartland was divorced at least once, amidst charges and counter charges of infidelity.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Gymkata (1985)

Today, while looking up some information on Gymkata to make a message board post about Children of Men, I happened to notice that the camp classic was...wait for it...banned in Finland?

There has to be a story behind this that is not nearly as interesting as all the ones my imagination is coming up with. I tried Google, but didn't find anything.

Anyone able to help me out with the skinny on this--or even an entertaining lie?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Pervert's Guide to Cinema (2006)

As a lovely parting gift for being banned from a certain message-board website, a friend of mine recently sent me Sophie Fiennes documentary in three parts on DVD.

I first saw the film at The Toronto International Film Festival in 2006, and while I wasn't blown away, I did enjoy every minute.

What captured my love in the first viewing was Zizek's infectious enthusiasm and obvious love for film. So much theory (be it film or literary) is dry and lifeless because the writer obviously looks at it as work.

What I noticed most upon a second viewing was the direction by Fiennes. Sure the placing of Zizek within sets carefully designed to look like the movies he is commenting upon is a conceit, but the cleverness/shock value actually wears out pretty quickly, and were he not saying anything of interest the fact that he was sitting in a bathroom that looks identical to the one Gene Hackman was investigating in The Conversation wouldn't be of much interested.

What's interesting are the cuts, the way Fiennes keeps the rapid flow of energy going so that the viewer is able to forgive the number of thoughts Zizek doesn't quite finish before moving on to the next one.

I think a less sure director would have tried take after take in an attempt to streamline, to make it more coherent even at the cost of making it more dull. Like the uncontrollable body parts that Zizek riffs upon, the film itself is full of life and energy, occasionally banging into walls but always rising unhurt to go barrelling at a 100 mph into the next wall.

Great, great fun. Do see it if you get a chance.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Movie Prayers: The Simpsons

"Are you there, God? It's me, Bart Simpson. I know I never paid too much attention in church, but I could really use some of that good stuff now. I'm afraid. I'm afraid some weirdo's got my soul, and I don't know what they're doing to it. I just want it back. Please? Well, I hope you can hear this...." (3F02: Bart Sells His Soul)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

More Blockbuster Blunders

I like Blockbuster; I really do.
I keep trying to let them compete with Netflix, but they continually find ways to mess things up.

Case in point, I "broke a set" in my Blockbuster queue so that I could place items in between discs of Battlestar Galactica Season 2.5. Anything that takes a little longer to watch (because Cindy and I both watch it, means I don't want more than one disc at home at a time).

So, anyway, Blockbuster gets a return, sees item #1 on my queue is BG 2.5 Disc 1. It is classified as "Long Wait"; it quickly scans down my list and instead sends me the first item on my list that is available now...

Battlestar Galactica, Season 2.5--Disc 2.

Cindy's reply..."how come that never happens with Netflix?"

And people wonder why the Red and White continue to gain subscribers, even with Blockbuster rolling out Total Access package.

I Heart Facets

Those who hang out at various web forums where I post know that I recently discovered Facets while trying to track down a copy of Antonioni's The Red Desert to view. (It is out of print.)

Well, I got their freedom pass, a service similar to Netflix but which allows me access to their VHS library. Yummy.

Then, to top it off, they sent me this message today about a 99 cent sale on selected VHS titles:

After Sex
The American Soldier
The Bank
Before the Revolution
The Conductor
Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle
In Praise of Love
In The White City
Knife in the Head
Ladies on the Rocks
Life and Debt
Life is to Whistle
Marius and Jeanette
Mon Oncle d'Amerique
The Mystery of Kaspar Hauser
Paragraph 175
The Plot Against Harry
Provincial Actors
Rendezvous in Paris
Running Out of Time
Sand and Blood
Second Skin
The Silence
The Swindle
Taxi Blues
Three Lives and Only One Death
To Be and to Have
Trembling Before G-d
Two Friends
Under the Sun
Unknown Pleasures
Unmade Beds
Voices of Sarafina
Voyage en Douce
When I Close My Eyes
Where the Heart Roams
The Wind Will Carry Us
Without Anesthesia