Archive for the 'Commentaries' Category

Henry Poole Is Here Revisited
Wrap Your Mind Around This

What do you make about the very notion of “the appointed moment”? Isn’t that something relegated to fairy tales and wishful thinking? Isn’t the idea that everything–and I mean everything–happens for a reason one for which there is no rational defense? After all, if God meant for you to meet your future spouse at a particular place and time, then he must also have meant for that sheet of plywood to come flying out of that pickup truck bed and slash through your niece’s windshield, killing her instantly. Right? You can’t cherry-pick Providence.

What Do Coppola and Springsteen Have in Common?
Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse and The Ties That Bind

In 1979, Francis Ford Coppola’s brilliant Apocalypse Now! debuted in theaters… and, inexplicably, failed to win a single Oscar. Often described as a war film, even a Viet Nam War film, it is instead an examination of single-minded obsession–what critics, academics, and fanboys refer to as a “meta” film: one which is, in almost all respects, self-referential, about the art of film itself.

Sergio Leone’s Westerns
A Fistful of Old Testament Justice

Make no mistake: there are no Christ figures in Leone’s Westerns. Mercy is as out of place in his landscape as Leone’s dusters. So this truth you will not find in Leone’s vision: God is found not merely in the satisfaction of retribution via human agents; he is also there in the desert, between oases, calling us to sit and dwell in the silence and wait not for an explosion but a still, small voice. As humans, we want justice, and we want it now, served our way. Leone’s films are visions for December 8 or September 12.


It’s super, super tough to say much more about the film without ruining it. But since you’ve demonstrated that you’re either brave, foolish, or just too smart for you own good, go ahead and watch the trailer I include with this commentary… and then, if you’re REALLY intent on spoiling the movie for yourself, read through an exchange that Hollywood director Scott Derrickson and I had on Facebook after he posted his thumbnail review of Breakdown.

Wall Street Redux
Yes, Money May Never Sleep...

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps may be Oliver Stone’s weakest film to date. I have never been a fan of the original Wall Street, which to me seemed a show-boating gimmick film with Sheen-family stuntcasting and Michael Douglas at his hammy, slicked-back worst. It was, of course, a very personal project for Stone, dedicated to his father, and earned a stack of awards. I was nonetheless surprised that Stone would go back to the well on this one. But as is often the case when you start thinking of Stone’s films at the meta level—that is, in terms of how Stone’s films are a commentary on Stone himself, his thinking, and his own M.O.—it starts looking like a work of genius.

The Men Who Stare At Goats Revisited
Keep Looking

What’s perhaps most interesting about this fictionalized tale of a real-life military unit that experimentally attempted to harness New Agey, hippie-inspired, drug-fueled expanded consciousness to peacefully neutralize enemies is that it doesn’t poke fun at the idea that there’s a legitimate difference between fighting for your country and killing for your country. It also doesn’t entirely scoff at the idea of bona fide metaphysical experiences. So in an era when religion has become an easy target for cheap laughs, well… I guess I’m happy for a measure of respect on the film’s part. But in this case, I think I really would have just enjoyed more comedy.

Capitalism Revisited
Not Angry Any Moore?

Capitalism: A Love Story is classic Michael Moore… which is to say, this is not his best work. It is unevenly entertaining, hopelessly skewed, yell-at-the-screen infuriating (for a number of reasons), and yet still largely compelling, just like the vast majority of Moore’s films. As Jeff Walls noted in his review of the theatrical release, “there’s no denying [Moore] knows how to make his case in a strong and entertaining way.” The film is certainly worth seeing; but it only tells part of the story. If you like what you find here, take the next step. Get serious. And remember: Michael Moore is an entertainer at heart. And that, my dear friends, is why he (and the rest of us!) likes Wally Shawn.

The Informant! Revisited
Strained Comedy

If this film was intended to make me feel like a compulsive liar—which, perhaps, I am; it’s hard to tell what the truth actually is after seeing this film—then Steven Soderbergh succeeded brilliantly. If the point was pretty much anything else at all… well, better luck next time. Just about everything connected with the film feels like a fabrication, artificial to the core. Still, it’s likely that this frothy concoction plays exactly as Soderbergh intended from the get-go. What The Informant! doesn’t offer much of, unfortunately, is any insight into the nature of truth, or truth-telling. Unless…

Law Abiding Citizen Revisited
Someone's Gonna Pay

Clyde Shelton’s rage of injustice in Law Abiding Citizen (and our reaction to it) is fueled by the sense that Clarence Darby, the primary perpetrator, isn’t getting what he deserves. On a purely secular level, I get that; but on a broader moral level, none of us get what we deserve. In fact, most of us expend a great deal of daily energy trying to find ways of circumventing our very own laws, and conceptually (read: begrudgingly) agreeing that we will “be accountable for our actions,” as Shelton wishes, only if we are caught red-handed. But when somebody does something really wrong (read: breaking those laws with which we actually agree), by God we want them to pay.

Surrogates Revisited
Missing Pandora?

It’s not a stretch to imagine James Cameron himself as the techo-geek who finally achieves what Cromwell’s Canter does in Surrogates. If we get depressed because we can’t stay in Pandora, why not develop the technology to make that very thing possible? If reality can’t be made to work for eight billion people, why not deliver the ultimate opiate to the masses? Surrogates, of course, is the cautionary-tale response to those questions. Part of society rebels against the artificiality of it all, setting up autonomous surrogate-free zones. Sure, they’re surrounded by rubble—but as Willis’ Greer finds out once he leaves his surrogate body behind, there’s a lot of simple Eden to be found if we but consign our avatars to their proper places.

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