Archive for September, 2008

Signing Off
PtP Ceases Publication

Effective a week ago, Gospelcom’s editorial flow could no longer guarantee handling our content stream, and so—after due consideration, and after taking a few days to weigh our options—Jenn and I decided that it would be best to cease publication. Sadly, this leaves you, our readers, almost as much in the lurch as it leaves us. And for that, we can only thank you for your kind attention over the last 24 months. So we’re taking thirty days to assess further options. But please click through to learn about our reader survey. If we decide to relaunch PtP at some point, we really want to make sure we understand our readers’ needs. In the meantime, we’ll be restructuring the front page to bring you news about the most recent DVD releases. Thanks for visiting, thanks for reading, and sayonara… for now!

Burn After Reading
Think About After Viewing

99% of the fun in Burn After Reading—and there’s a good deal of it, which is a breath of fresh air after No Country For Old Men—comes from the casting and performances. It’s almost sheer cheeky genius to cast Michael Clayton costars Clooney and Tilda Swinton (who plays Ozzie’s wife) as lovers, and nearly everything Malkovich has done since Being John seems like a brilliant extended cameo. The most fun, though, comes from Brad Pitt, who hasn’t projected this much energy and vigor in years. The film is a giant and indirect metaphor for the creative process, and the unreasonable demands that critics and audiences place upon artists. It’s almost as if the Coens are confident that the reviews for this film will be uniformly positive, with critics and audiences alike calling it “entertaining,” “brisk-paced,” and “dynamic”… even though it duplicates, in spades, some of the very narrative “shortcomings” of No Country.

Righteous Kill
Watch Closely, But Not Too Close

Somewhere along the way, Turk says, “I lost my faith.” He describes killing criminals as an extension of the “infield fly rule,” where the hitter gets punished for a crummy play and infielders have the chance of cheating taken away. It’s perfect, impassionate justice where everyone gets exactly what they deserve and nothing more. I’d have to say that, in the execution of a tightly-plotted story of which M. Night Shyamalan might be proud (and these days, we know that’s not necessarily a compliment), Righteous Kill is the cinematic equivalent of the infield fly rule. Both the studio and the audience will get exactly what they deserve—and expect—but not much more; and director Jon Avnet will be standing on the mound, snickering about having got away with throwing a spitter. DeNiro and Pacino are certainly entertaining enough, though; so forget about the baseball analogy, sit back, and don’t crowd the plate.

The Women
Little Sex Appeal Here

Who will shallow Alex fall for next? With what hysterics will Edie conclude her pregnancy? How will Sylvia manage to be true to her friends and herself without compromising her career? How will Mary get her life back on track? Will Crystal win, or at least learn something? Will Mary just move on, or fight back? Most of these questions are just Star Trek Red Shirt distractions. The core of the story is really Sylvia’s relationship with Mary, and Annette Bening and Meg Ryan as the two gamely make a go of getting us to believe that these two women are actually friends; but when the Big Scene comes and the two have to sell us on both anger and loving tears, audiences are most likely to respond, “Not so much.” For whatever reason, Bening and Ryan don’t click. And it’s hard to care about Mary and Sylvia when we really aren’t convinced they care about each other… and when maids, cooks, lofts, and luncheons on the lawn just seem so, well, old-fashioned and silly. While it’s sure to capture a share of the Sex-Mamma market, this decently-made film is simply not one that audiences will readily remember by the end of the year.

A Real Northwest Monster

I can’t tell you much about the plot because after the setup this movie just goes all over the place. There’s something to do with the town’s missing persons problem, a spooky net-shed and an incredibly horny Tori Spelling. Before the movie’s end, the filmmakers even go so far as to bring the apocalypse to the Oregon coast. The film’s nightmarish, confusing plot reminds me of the type of film David Lynch might make—but unlike, say, Mulhulland Drive, a film that not only confused me, but intrigued to the point that I wanted to watch it over and over again, Cthulhu barely kept me from wanting to leave the theater. This isn’t just an independent film; it’s an independent independent film. Very low budget—and it shows in every single scene. Which begs the question: why does a film that must rely so much on word of mouth choose a title that most people won’t even know how to pronounce?

Ben X
Making Online Heroism Real

There are great ideas at work in this film, and it’s always compelling. It works hard to raise relevant questions about the preferability and value of both fantasy and reality; and in his general use of religious imagery and a climactic scene in a church, writer/director Nic Balthazar suggests that redemption and reconciliation are only possible through sacrifice. If one chooses to get “deep” about things, after all, it’s not too hard to interpret the moniker “Ben X” as “Son of Christ,” and the film as a parable about spiritual rebirth. But there are some real weaknesses to the film. As good as his performance is, Greg Timmermans is really too old to play Ben completely convincingly, and the film’s climax comes off more as a cruel hoax than as a transcendent gesture. As much as I enjoyed the first three quarters of the story, I found the conclusion almost childishly predictable.

The Apostles of Comedy
Ordained to Chuckle

The performances here are “clean” in one sense—but are still peppered with racial and cultural stereotypes, at times mocking with arrogant posturing. I guess it’s supposed to be okay for “Christian comedy,” though, as long we’re making fun of the secular world or someone else’s denomination. I’m sure that Apostles of Comedy will find its audience, but it’s a little too much “preaching to the choir” for my taste. The individual comedians are talented and funny in their own right and their background stories add a layer of human interest. Unfortunately, I don’t think the humor here is going to challenge a Christian audience to re-evaluate their stereotypes or behaviors, and probably isn’t going to attract much of a non-Christian audience because of the way the DVD is being marketed.

The Case For Faith
Incomplete Argument, Sterile Faith

I don’t labor under the notion that any DVD will save somebody’s soul, or even convict them of sin. That, according to Scripture, is the Holy Spirit’s work. So I’m not overly disappointed in this disc on that score. If you’ve never studied theology on a formal basis or read many books on the subject, the film serves as a good enough introduction to some of the central ideas related to the questions Strobel tackles, and it will make decent enough sense to those who already believe in Christ. Just don’t show this DVD to your atheist friends and expect them to thank you for it. It’s just not likely to speak a language they know—and if it does, as with Templeton, it’s a language they’ve probably long ago dismissed as pointless.

Anytown, USA
Politics On A Local Scale

Welcome to Bogota, New Jersey, circa 2003. As the weather begins to turn crisp, it’s time for citizens to decide who they’re going to vote for in the race for Mayor. Anytown, USA covers the entire campaign, from the early planning all the way to election night—advertising, lining up volunteers, getting out to meet voters, and more. It doesn’t necessarily sound all that exciting, but good filmmaking and surprisingly forthcoming commentary from the candidates keep things interesting. You’ll also find a fair amount of dry humor on tap here. I’m sure the film won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you list politics among your interests you really should track this one down. It proves to be entertaining, humorous, and educational at the same time. Not a bad combination in a film that provides an up-close look at local politics.

A Talk With Jessica Yu
In Search of Great Superficiality

Director Jessica Yu made Ping Pong Playa, in part, to address what she felt was a void in Asian-American cinema. “This is kind of dangerous territory,” she cautions, “because I don’t want to suggest that I’ve actually seen all Asian American films that have come out. But I would say that when you go to Asian American film festivals, there are a lot of really good films; but they do tend to be on the heavier, dramatic side. A lot of them—although this is changing somewhat—have been quite earnest in tone. So we were looking for something that was maybe a little more irreverent and a little more subversive. And also something that was filling that void of great, superficial comedy in Asian American film. That’s one thing that’s been missing.”

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