Archive for the 'Commentaries' Category

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.


This Is It Revisited
Does Purpose Count For Anything?

Choreography Travis Payne says that Jackson’s dancers are “the next generation to help convey his messages, and help continue his ideas; and they are soldiers, in a way.” And what are those ideas and messages? Baby dangling? Crotch grabbing? Myopic, blindered excess in service to tree-hugging environmentalism? Alleged child molestation? Well, not really. Almost all of those faults, crimes, and misdemeanors come through in the hours of material on this DVD. But what drives Jackson—as attested to both in testimonials and in Jackson’s words and behavior, and no matter how misguided his efforts may be—is love.


Bright Star Revisited
A Movie Lovely As A Tree

When young woman-of-privilege Fanny Brawne attempts to “study” poetry at Keats’ feet, she tries to understand it by dissection—as if it were a matter of construction and a collection of choices, and a matter of digesting one great work of poetry after another in order to extract what’s nourishing and move on to the next. But Keats tells her: “Poetry is like a lake, and when the poet jumps into it, his purpose is not to swim immediately to shore, but to luxuriate in the water.” And this is what Campion’s film—and Campion herself, as a cinematic poet—does with the poem “Bright Star.”


No Awards Here… 2008
The So-Called Experts Weigh In

There were 603 theatrical releases in 2008. Of these 603, I actually saw 98 in their entirety. (Of these 98, I reviewed 70.) Of the remaining 405, I edited detailed reviews of another 195. (One film that made my list of favorites for the year, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, ranked 515th out of those 603 in terms of boxoffice. It sold a total of 1,468 tickets.) So out of 603 releases, I am well familiar with 293—less than half of the films released during the year. And I’m reasonably well informed, by critical standards. This is why I continue to be reluctant to offer an opinion about which were the “best” films of the year.


Anatomy of a Christian Approach to Movies
Christian Cinema, Meet PtP

Past the Popcorn, now partnered with Christian Cinema.com, is an attempt to reflect, through criticism, the love that Christ has for artists working in film. We hope to do that (albeit imperfectly) by demonstrating that we at least care what these filmmakers’ works are trying to say—whether we agree with those ideas and worldviews or not. The world knows full well that Christians know how to speak, and how to speak loudly. We’re trying to demonstrate that Christians also know how to listen, and listen attentively. As to the question of whether anyone ought to be seeing any of these films… well, given that Hollywood entertainment is arguably the art-world’s equivalent of crack cocaine, even The Sound of Music can be seductively dangerous.


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