Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

WHEN IS GOOD GREAT?

Posted: August 26, 2013 by mwerntz in Uncategorized

Kevin and I had this conversation a few weeks ago over text, and I’m just now getting around to writing it up. Not much has substantially changed, I don’t think, in that I haven’t seen any truly excellent films since then which would alter my thinking on this. Thanks, The Management.

What is it about a movie that makes it more than simply a technical work of art? What is it about a movie that lodges itself in your soul and mind that only happens for a select few films? This is truly one of the perennial arguments in art, namely, what makes a good piece of art great, and I doubt what I’m going to put forward here will resolve this. But, in terms of a 5 point ranking system–with 1 being a complete dog and 5 being the apex of film-dom—what makes a 5 a 5?

In a nutshell: any film can be a really good film; most films, if they hit all the notes right, can be at least a 4. Directors in the heart of their craft can hit an absolute home run on the technical side of things, with pacing, casting, sound, score, script, editing, acting, and so forth. There’s millions of details that go into the creation of an amazing film, of which having a good story is only one. Case in point: the distance between Casablanca and Johnny Dangerously is the distance between the Earth and the moon, for reasons compounded by the fact that Michael Keaton should never, ever, ever play a gangster–not even in a comedy. If it were simply the fact that the latter didn’t have the right screenwriter, or had Michael Keaton instead of Humphrey Bogart, that’d be fine enough. But then you’d have to explain to me how the recently released Paranoia managed to cast both Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman–two actors I would pay to watch wash dishes–and still get such terrible reviews.

No, acting is not enough. Having all the technical skills is not enough to go from good to great. Johnny Dangerously is a cheap shot, so let me take a little more controversial pick to make my point: Tree of Life. On all technical counts, Tree of Life is a masterpiece–the shot selection, the casting, the script, the cinematography. But when I showed this film to my students, the room broke in half between those who thought it was truly a great film, and those who appreciated the artistry, but could seriously care less. What is it about a film that enables it to simultaneously be recognized as a technical work of genius (a solid, recognizable 4), but yet for some, it breaks into that elusive 5 category?

I can think off-hand of maybe a handful of films that I’ve seen which qualify for this elusive “5” ranking. I’ve seen many “4”s, many really good films; this weekend’s The World’s End was a really good 4–solid script, great casting, funny, and Nick Frost in MMA-style action sequences. But whereas the 4s and 5s both share the same technical credibility (script, shot selection, etc.), the 5, I think, does something inside the viewer which can’t be accounted for by technical perfection. The 5 finds a way to lodge itself in your thinking and your fears and your loves so that you can’t think or fear or love without this film now and forever more being a part of your acting. When I read the Psalms now, I can’t read them without seeing Jessica Chastain weeping or washing clothes. When I consider future job prospects, I think of Brad Pitt’s piano sitting aimlessly in the corner, the witness to hard career choices.

This is what makes even discussing the difference between the good and the great both productive and frustrating: they have so much in common. The good and the great both travel the same lines of excellence, have marked the same seams of technical quality. But at some point, the great finds a way to not simply do something in front of the viewer (the good), but to do something inside of the viewer. And so, in the theater when I first saw Malick’s work, I saw in rapture after the credits rolled while the guy in front of me said “What was that?”

There’s no accounting for why this is. I can’t explain why this movie grabbed hold of me and throttled my imagination and sense of wonder, but did nothing for the row in front of me. The 5, while having some objective merits, is in some ways extremely subjective, in that its observable excellence did something ultimately beyond observation. What we as those who care about film is to listen to those who have encountered a 5 try to put it into words, that perhaps we too may see a 5 when all we saw before was excellence.

We Were Merely Freshmen…

Posted: August 12, 2013 by barberjo in Uncategorized

Believe it or not, we were freshmen once.

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I am a good evangelical boy. I believe in the inspiration, authority, infallibility, and innerancy of Scripture. I believe in a God who is eternal and exists in three persons. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and came to redeem his chosen ones. I believe in four out of five TULIP points. I believe in the Oxford comma.

And yet, sometimes I think that Hollywood believes more (or maybe better) than I do.

I had a fascinating conversation with someone after I saw THE CONJURING. I was talking to someone at work about the film and she told me that she heard a Christian radio caller say that Christians shouldn’t see movies like this because they somehow pierce our defenses and can let the darkness in. Notwithstanding the sketchy theology, this seems like a bunch of hooey to me. Why is it that we, as Bible-believing Christians, can say we believe in the existence of Satan and demons, but eschew any kind of pop-culture reference to them?

When I was a teenager, we all loved Frank Peretti’s books – This Present Darkness, piercing the Darkness, etc. We thought, “There’s this whole other world out there! Battles being fought… Angels and demons… It’s amazing!” So why is it that I’m ok with believing Peretti, but not James Wan?

Is THE CONJURING a great film? No. Is it very good? I think so. But beyond all of that, what I’m really interested in is why Christians refuse to support films like this – films which contain more biblical truth than twenty FIREPROOFs. 

Again, the theology is a little rough. My demonology prof would crack up at some of it. But, this is a movie that uses the word “demon” to talk about what’s going on. It’s a movie that talks at length about the role of the church in this issue. It’s a movie that gives as biblical of a depiction of demons as I have ever seen. And (SPOILER ALERT) God wins.

What say ye, hands? Should Christians be on board with demon movies?

 

“Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires!
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.”  –MacBeth

I’m very late to the party with this, I know, but bear with me anyway.  While I’ve been listening to Mumford & Sons for a while, I haven’t really listened to them until recently.  Not with the same passionate, slightly obsessive vigor with which I treat Kings of Leon.  And that means going in search of the lyrics, reading and learning and memorizing them the way one does poetry.

It was the song, “Roll Away Your Stone” that took me to the internet to search for its words.  Every time I listened to it, my attention would hone in on “Stars, hide your fires.”  I knew it was Shakespeare, but I couldn’t remember which until I was reading a book and saw it quoted from MACBETH.  Excited that Mumford & Sons would quote that infamous, dark and grisly play, I searched for the rest of the words around it, hoping to see what message they were trying to convey.

It was on one of those lyric sites that I found others’ comments; their theories on the meaning and it was there that I found the Christian message woven into the words.  Roll away your stone could be in regards to moving aside the stone that blocked the body of Christ within the cave from which he resurrected.  Then of course there was all of this soul and grace talk and I had a very STEPBROTHERS-type WHAT?! moment.  In talking to friends, it was agreed that much of their music is based in faith.  After I sat there wearing a frown and staring at my computer screen like it had turned green and started oozing pus, I wondered why that should change the feel of the song for me.  Why does knowing a song is “Christian Rock” or sung by a “Christian” singer devalue it in my little atheist mind?  But it does.  Inexplicably.  There are sites I stay away from that have the infamous numbers colon numbers following some italicized text, songs that will peak my interest until I see the capitalized H in He and books that I will flat out not go near, especially if Kirk Cameron has anything to do with them (I don’t think I’m alone in that one, thought.)  And I wonder if I’m missing out by limiting myself this way.

There was a time when this wasn’t so.  In my youth, when I was going through my questioning phase where I asked, “What if?” though it always preceded, “Eh, still don’t buy it” (I sort of started out agnostic, dabbled in belief and then went full-blown atheist) one of my favorite books was the Darkness series by Frank E. Peretti.  I LOVED these books of angels versus demons, light battling dark and the sacrifice of Christ painting it all in his blood.  It never bothered me then, so why does it now?  A few years back a wonderful book series by Robert Liparulo was recommended to me, but it came with the warning, “It gets a little Jesusy, though.”  I enjoyed the books, but it did taint my opinion when the Christian message started to bleed through like Sharpie on rice paper.

As an atheist, I’ve somehow surrounded myself with Christians.  My best friends all proclaim their love of Jesus and it doesn’t affect my opinion of them, so why should it my interests in music and books?  Why limit myself because I don’t believe in the message.  I still read mythology and fairy tales and to me, it’s no different.  I don’t really know the answer.  I guess I’ll just leave it to my friends and Mumford & Sons to change my mind, one song at a time.

Why Disney Still Works

Posted: July 19, 2013 by kmriad in The Girl, Uncategorized

I had an interesting childhood.  Instead of being a child of the early 80s, it seemed as though I grew up in some sort of PleasantvilleLeave It to Beaver throwback time with a rather traditional Italian Catholic father who lorded over what affected and influenced his daughter like the all-encompassing eye of Big Brother.  That included what was and was not allowed on our old cabinet-embedded tube T.V.  Cartoons and musicals were allowed; everything else was not.

But then as I entered my third and fourth year, mastering the human language way too early according to my mother, my parents realized that some of the musicals I watched might not be appropriate.  I would sing “Sodomy” from HAIR not knowing at all what the words meant, but thinking that pretty blonde boy had a nice voice.

What’s Pederasty?

But it was after I walked around in my little pigtails, perfectly annunciating, “Keep your filthy paws off my silky draw’s” that my parents had to then censor the musicals.  All that was left was Disney.

The chicks will what??

 

This engrained in my heart a special place for all things Disney.  I watched The Dumbo Show and Disney music videos while I  swallowed down my Cream of Wheat before school every morning.  Disney’s movies ran on repeat.  I grew up thinking one day I would be like one of those Disney princesses, singing through a magical forest of friendly little woodland creatures and flittering blue birds.

I confess all of this because us Hands were discussing writing about movies we love that everyone hates and that made me think of T.V.’s shows of the same.  Yes, I am a thirty-six year old woman who loves to watch Disney’s Austin & Ally, but here’s why.  This is why Disney has always worked for me: I love that each episode wraps up so easily at the end.  There’s no Lost-esque mystery and wonder at the end.  It’s wholesome and, yes, cheesy, but ultimately it’s a break from the realities that replace our castles and Prince Charmings.  It’s an escape from the dreary world in the most extreme way possible with fun music and dance numbers, outrageous escapades and zany misadventures, complete with requisite Canadian comedian actor (just ignore them after they grow up and leave the Magical Kingdom to “twerk” all over You Tube.)

No songs about Sodomy here!

There’s not much depth and that’s great.  That’s what T.V. is sometimes supposed to be–entertainment; good old-fashion, unapologetic entertainment with a poppy song and a happily ever after.

Books 13-18 out of 52 in 2013

Posted: July 16, 2013 by Kiki Malone in Uncategorized

Posted this on my Kiki Mornings site. This is possibly the most self-indulgent thing I’ve inflicted upon the internet since the last time I typed my own name into Google (last week). I’m interested in what you Hands might think of the idea of “watching books” as stated in my inclusion below of House Of Cards to my Books of 2013 list. Also, I glad to know there’s some mad shared love for Roald Dahl between the Hands. Aren’t we all reading loads of YA this summer?

For The Most Kiki In The Morning

(Check the 28 Books of 2013 link above for scores to each title. Sorry I did not include them below. I don’t know what’s lamer: that I’m posting a list of the books I’m reading or that I’m too lazy to retype the scores from one list to the other. Enjoy. Read on.)

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13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I previously posted a dual review of Fitzgerald’s book and Lurhmann’s new film. The New Yorker will be publishing this review, but most likely in a posthumous fashion, after my brilliance has become more widely evident.

14. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon – Also mentioned this title in my 13 Books of Summer recommendation list, which I have been lazy to follow myself. Advice is a pill best slipped in peanut butter and fed to the dog beneath the table.

15. Friday the…

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The year was 1995. I’d just graduated from high school, and to bridge the summer gap, I was working at a swanky restaurant called Steak & Ale. I was a short timer – I knew that I’d be moving to Arkansas in a couple of months for college, but I needed something to do in the meantime. At Steak & Ale I was a busboy and, get this, a salad bar attendant. The salad bar job paid 50 cents an hour more than bussing. I was good at my job.

That summer was chocked full of expectation and hope for something new. I never liked high school, mostly because I wanted to fit in so badly that I never could decide who I actually was. That’s called going about it backwards. *Sigh*

Up to this point, I’d had exactly one girlfriend. She’d broken my heart a year or so before, and I hadn’t been able to convince anyone else to give me a shot (not that I actually asked, you understand). I’d given up on Katie Furlong – when you’re out of your league, you’re out of your league. But at Steak & Ale, I met Allison Semones. Allison (also entirely out of my league, of course) smoked. I mean, she was smoking hot, of course, but she actually smoked. This was a new thing for this church boy. We were friends and I made her the obligatory mix tape or three (I was really good at that). And then one day, she invited me over to her house. Now, before I continue here, you’ve got to understand something: I had absolutely no shot with this girl. None. And I knew it. But I didn’t care one measly bit. That night, we watched a movie and just generally hung out. But here’s what’s stuck fast in my memory: this time she’d made me a mix tape. I’ve still got it somewhere, I think. And while I couldn’t tell you the track listing, I’ll never forget one particular song from it.

After dark, we went outside and lay in the back of her pick-up and listened to the tape. She hit play, and I heard the voice of Emily Saliers or Amy Ray (I never knew which) telling a story about being a kid and buying a ring for a boy because “it seemed the thing to do,” followed by what’s still my favorite song of theirs, “Least Complicated.” That was my introduction to Indigo Girls. I left for college that fall and said goodbye to Allison, but Emily and Amy have never been able to shake me.

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Now, the year is 2013 and I was in Nashville to hear one of my heroes, Neil Gaiman, read from his new book. I met my friend Matt Conner just before show time and we ended up on the back row. That was just fine with me. Matt’s a good friend and one I don’t get to see very often. Neil was on his last signing tour ever.

I’d told myself (and anyone who would listen) that I didn’t care about an autograph. What I really wanted was a picture with Neil. Autographs hold no mystery or mystique for me. But a picture, one I can make my Facebook profile picture… now that I can truck with. I knew from talking to Kelly (our fourth hand around here) that it was going to be a late night if I waited in line to see Neil. I also knew, because he said it over and over, that these late nights of signings were killing Neil. He mentioned how he’d had to ice his arm lately just to dull the pain.

Matt and I drank up Neil’s droll, dry humor with divine smiles on our faces throughout. When the thunderstorm outside raged, Neil told us that he’d promised himself that if a thunderstorm happened during one of these shows, he’d read a special passage from the book – the one that happens during a storm. We were the only stop on the tour to get this passage. Every other city had heard a part from the beginning of the novel. We got a part from the middle, and it was deliciously scary.

Then, when we knew the evening was coming to a close, I realized that there had been a second chair on the stage the entire time. During his customary Q&A session, Neil called out a friend from backstage to help him out with something. We knew it was a musician, but until the last second, we were in the dark as to his identity. When Neil said that his friend Bela Fleck was going to accompany him on the banjo while he read from his new, new book, “Fortunately, the Milk,” the joint flipped out. We were a lucky city, Nashville. Nobody else got this part. Neil was wry and wonderful. Bela was plinky and light. It was magical.

Then the show was over. And I had a decision to make. I could stay to see Neil. Matt said he’d hang with me, but I knew that it was going to be a late night. I still had a two and a half hour drive home, too. Matt said I could crash with him and then drive home the next morning. And I’d get my picture with Neil!

But then I thought about it. I thought about Neil’s arm hurting. I though about how little I get to see Matt. I thought about how good a cup of coffee sounded right then. So I made my decision. I’d spare Neil a few seconds of time, and instead, I’d live for the present, not for a picture.

Matt and I went out for pizza and we caught up on years of a neglected friendship. We talked about books we were reading and records we loved. We planned what show we’d see together next. It was lovely. I’d almost missed it for a picture.

I got to my car at about 11:00 and headed home. It’s a lonely drive from Nashville to Knoxville at night. It’s dark. Very dark. And it was rainy. I hadn’t brought any music with me – I left in such a hurry that I plum forgot. So I scanned the FM dial for public radio. Maybe I’d get lucky. And boy howdy, did I.

That night, Nashville’s public radio station was channeling CBC’s Q with Jian Ghomeshi, a sort of Canadian Fresh Air. And after a delightful interview with Rick Moranis, Jian played his interview with the Indigo Girls and I was cast into the vivacity and breadth of their catalogue. Emily and Amy were redolent with the light of social change and their love and admiration for each other. They made me forget how lovely that road can be.

And it struck me again. If I’d stayed to get that picture with Neil, I’d have missed this moment. This intimate moment of crackly radio that led me back home through the gloomy night.

What’s a picture? What’s a picture of me with an author but a posed memory? Instead of hours of waiting for thirty seconds with my hero, I got an hour or two with my friend. Instead of being able to change my twitter avatar (for what?), I got to participate in a march through the night with two beautiful women. Instead of a fake memory, I got two real ones.

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I have a picture somewhere of that night in Allison’s pick up. I shot it on black and white film and it’s exposed poorly. You can see her face, but that’s about all. I’ve no idea where it is – probably in a box somewhere in the attic. But what I remember – what’s indelible – is hearing that song in the night. The Indigo Girls stayed long after Allison was gone. And go figure, there they were again, on another dark night, to sing me home.

Turns out I made the right decision. Sometimes the hardest things to learn are the least complicated.