Archive for February, 2009

A Talk With Jeff Parker
A Talk With Jeff Parker

“Hopefully, our programs are entertaining for adults as well as kids,” says animator and humorist Jeff Parker, “because if you had kids, you’d know that adults end up seeing the shows as much as kids do. If you can make it through the fiftieth viewing without pulling all of your hair out, then maybe, just maybe, we’ve in some small way succeeded.” In this interview with Greg Wright, Parker talks about many of his projects: 3-2-1 Penguins!, Jungle Jam, and the rollicking Old West comedy Little Dogs on the Prairie programs. If you haven’t heard about Parker and work yet, you ought to!


Treasure Blind
Not Quite Prime Time

Like the church-brewed Sherwood Pictures projects Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof, Treasure Blind mixes the efforts of a variety of professionals and unpaid amateurs, but with less glowing results. Character actor Brian Shoop’s screenplay interweaves the contemporary tale of treasure-hunting cabbie Cliff with the story of a treasure hidden in the Oklahoma countryside by a trio of Confederate soldiers a century and a half earlier—the bare bones of a fairly engaging yarn. But the bones are not fleshed out in a very appealing fashion. But if you insist that your entertainment include a genuine come-to-Jesus moment, there’s enough here that you won’t feel entirely hornswoggled.


Jesus Fish
Caustic, Sharp, Low-budget Satire

At its core, the film tackles one of the Church’s biggest PR problems: rampant hypocrisy. It’s bad enough that, every year or so, major scandals bring down mega-church pastors, but director Titus Jackson’s profane and caustic film takes aim at more routine peccadilloes, ones like yours and mine. The film certainly betrays its obviously low-budget origins, and it’s often hard to tell if certain performances are intentionally stilted or if the actors recruited are just not quite up to the challenge. But Jackson does an awful lot of things right, and he weaves a provocatively Altmanesque satire that never feels one bit contrived. Be prepared for a decidedly guerrilla experience. It’s rough, it’s guttural, and it ain’t your mama’s bumper-sticker Church.


Fired Up!
Dumb, but Funny

After the first five to ten minutes of the new cheerleading comedy Fired Up!, I was certain I was in for a very long night. Then a strange thing happened: I started laughing. And not just a few chuckles, but real laughter. In fact, I pretty much laughed for about the next ten minutes straight and was even brought to the point of laughing so much that I actually had tears in my eyes. Now, I wish I could tell you that the movie was able to maintain that laughter momentum for the next ninety minutes, but nevertheless this turned out to be one surprisingly funny movie.


Way of War
A Bit of Smoke, But No Fire

At one level, it’s really easy to see why this Gooding project wound up straight to DVD. It makes one wonder what, and how much of the project, jumped the rails after an early screening that Gooding found, shall we say, premature. Yet another level—on paper, really—Way of War is a very ambitious and worthy project. Co-writer/director John Carter’s script tackles the ethics and practice of war, quoting heavily from fifth-century B.C. Chinese military philosopher Sun Tzu. If it’s a little odd to find that almost every character in the film has read the same 2500-year-old text, it’s at least refreshing to find our current military engagements thrown into some sort of historical context.


Days and Clouds
Excellent Tragedy

You’re know you’re probably in for a deep cinematic experience when a film’s opening scene features art historians discussing the provenance of centuries-old frescoes. There are only about two options at that point: either the film proves worthy of the same sort of scrutiny, or it’s a laughable thriller like Ron Howard’s The Da Vinci Code. Days and Clouds is the former, a serious-minded Italian film that is undoubtedly full of allusions to arthouse pictures that are way beyond my ken. Covering too many plot details or analyzing the story too closely would simply spoil the film for what it is: a fine, brilliantly-performed and -directed tour de force of tragic narrative.


Confessions of a Shopaholic
Much Shopping, Little Confessing

Let’s face it; a guy like me really has no business telling the target audience of Confessions of a Shopaholic whether they should see this movie or not. Putting aside the fact that I am of the male gender for a moment, it should be noted I shop for clothing only when necessary, or if I’m purchasing a souvenir T-shirt from Disneyland or the Seattle Seahawks gift shop. As for brand names, well, if it is not Nike tennis shoes, then I am clueless. Still, I am a big fan of romantic comedies, so my opinion is not completely off base.


The International
By-the-Numbers and Over-the-Top

According to the Internet Movie Database, The International was originally supposed to be released in August of 2008, but after poor preview screenings the release date was moved back to February 2009 allowing for reshoots to turn it into more of an action film. The result is a shift in the film’s style about halfway through that is so over-the-top it comes off almost like parody. Still, I give it credit for pumping some adrenaline back into the movie


Imprint
Good Old-Fashioned Ghost Story

This isn’t the usual PG-13 horror flick. Instead, it’s a far more sober-minded ghost story of the Sixth Sense variety. Director Michael Linn never opts for the lowest-common-genre-denominator, eschewing gratuitous gore, exploitive treatment of women, and hysterical mayhem. The story—which involves murder, knife attacks, spectral intrusions, and familial tensions—certainly would allow for such indulgences. But necessity is the mother of invention, as they say, and Linn opts for restrained story-telling road in a highly creative and refreshing fashion. If you’re up for a very different ghost story experience—one that might let you shake off the grimy feeling with which Hollywood horror tales often leave you—cut Imprint some low-budget slack. I think you’ll enjoy it.


Lord, Save Us From Your Followers
In The Middle, But Not Caught

Dan Merchant understands and leverages the Michael Moore model of documentary—but it’s precisely the subject of his film, as well. While he understands that nobody’s forcing us to tune in CNN or Fox News, or ramming movie tickets down our throats, he also keenly observes the growing commercial value of polarizing rhetoric. “It’s my choice to be offended or not,” Merchant notes, “but it’s becoming easier to be… This country is polarized, and we’re loving it.” If you’re at all interested in being part of a larger cultural conversation that’s more about answers than complaints, more about love than about fear, and more about Jesus than about ourselves, take the opportunity to watch this film.


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