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    2019 Oscars
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Flandersui gae

Bong Joon Ho's First Feature
I am a huge fan of Bong Joon Ho ("Memories of Murder", "Parasite"). I thought this movie was decent, but I didn't love it nearly as much as (any of) his other films. I think my biggest hurdle I had to overcome with this film was that it finds humor in animal abuse, and I do not. This is a dark comedy, and I have to admit that from a filmmaking perspective it is well done, but my personal preferences kept me from enjoying this movie completely. That being said, if you can get over the hurdle of finding humor in animal abuse, there are a couple interesting interactions between characters that do come off as quite funny.


Strange, Violent, and Thematically Rich
"Bong has made a career around focusing on the class struggle which all of us face in our daily lives. This film shows us the poorest of the poor and follows them as they slaughter their way through the rich, trying to upset the balance, trying to make the system crumble. It's no secret that we live in a world where the 1% controls 99% of the wealth. Jeff Bezos has more money than he could spend in a dozen lifetimes; but I guarantee there's a single mother that works in one of Bezos' warehouses that is struggling to put food in her kid's belly; worse yet, how many kids in third world countries are forced into labor to produce Nike shoes, Apple products, or name brand clothes?

If a system can only continue to run when it exploits the weak and powerless, then that system is already broken. I've never advocated for violence, but this movie makes a rather compelling case that the system through which humanity is surviving upon right now is not only doomed to fail, it absolutely deserves to fail. Give me another ten years of low wages, growing desperation of wealth, corrupt government officials, and inequal treatment in the eyes of the law, and I might well be ready to take to the streets.

Remember, 1%: we are the 99%, we outnumber you a million to one, and we are hungry and increasingly angry.

While this is far from my favorite Bong Joon Ho movie, I honestly think it's one of his most accessible. This is a fun action flick with some great worldbuilding, some awesome characters, and some truly relevant themes. I wholeheartedly recommend "Snowpiercer".


Bong Joon Ho does it again!
Mother is one of the best murder mystery thrillers that I've personally seen in a long time, from the hypnotic opening dance scene to bookended bus dance, this film is a complete package, filled with humor and wit, but underlined with dread and dispair, showcasing a mother's love that only they could understand, bleeding with raw emotion and perseverance to clear her son's name, it's a brutally honest tale of blame and suffering, but with cracks and gaps of hope to bring together a truly wonderful story with an unforgettable ending, filled with strong narrative twists and stronger pay offs, Mother is an early home run for Bong Joon-Ho and I strongly recommend it to any crime thriller fan.


Funny, Intense, and Incredibly Relevant
The Host may not be Bong Joon-Ho's most influential or satisfying film, but it is still a film with something to say: a biting social class commentary involving government cover-ups and exploiting the poor in order to cover their own skin that is just as poignant today as it was fourteen years ago. All the while being an entertaining monster flick with a strong family dynamic that blends humor and drama perfectly as we've come to expect from Bong Joon-Ho, who gives us a fully realized world with fleshed out characters, that can more than make up for the hiccups towards the end. The Host is another sure fire hit from Joon-Ho, and maybe his most accessible for those who have trouble watching foreign films.

The Contender

Incredibly Relevant
This movie is a thousand times more relevant in 2020 than it was when it came out twenty years ago. This is a film about corrupt politicians (I mean, Trump is president...), sex scandals (#MeToo), and the double standard of what is moral in the eyes of the American people. "The Contender" might be a bit heavy handed towards the end, but aside from that, it is an incredibly poignant and powerful political thriller.

The Invisible Man

Well Crafted Horror/Thriller with a Few Plot Holes
Remember when Universal Studios planned to remake all the Universal Monsters movies and turn them into a Marvel-esque franchise (the planned saga was called: The Dark Universe)? Man, I am so happy that didn't work out. Thank God Tom Cruise's "The Mummy" flopped as hard as it did, because we might have had another boring, artless PG-13 schlockfest instead of receiving Leigh Whannell's "The Invisible Man." As a side note, when I sat down to review this movie, I released I'd unintentionally seen all three of Whannell's films: "Insidious: Chapter III" (very blah), "Upgrade" (decent, but familiar), and now this (the best thing I've seen from him yet).

Don't get me wrong: this movie is not perfect, there are plenty of issues with it. There were dozens of times when I thought to myself, "No one would really do something like this unless it were to further the plot," or "Do people really talk to each other like that?" Still, if I had to choose between an actiony remake of a Universal Monster flick, or a more horror-based remake like this one, I'd choose this horror remake every time. While there may be dozens (and I mean dozens) of tiny problems with this movie, there are some truly great and shocking scenes, and the way this movie handles some of the crazier, more violent stuff in this movie is pretty darn awesome.

If you compare it to movies like "Hereditary" or "The Witch", this movie is laughable. I've given this a 3.5/5 Star rating, because I think this is one of the better MAINSTREAM horror movies I've seen in recent memory. It might not be as artistically intriguing as "Gretel & Hansel" or "The Lodge" (the only other horror movies I've seen from 2020 thus far), but it is a hell of a lot more fun than both of them. "The Invisible Man" won't reinvent the horror genre, but it is good escapist entertainment.

The Straight Story

A Wonderful Journey
When I set out to watch "The Straight Story", I had no idea that it would become one of my favorite David Lynch films, in fact, I had expected to be rather tepid towards it. Though I love David Lynch, this film is about as far away from experimental Lynch as you can get, and when I watch Lynch, I usually want weird experimental stuff (like doppelgangers, cyclical storytelling, and personifications of death).

This film has none of that experimental stuff; it is, as the title implies, just a straight story, but it does have a few moments where characters behave in ways that I would consider very Lynchian. What makes this film great is not just Lynch's direction, but the wonderful writing, which contains so many simple but important lessons an elderly man imparts on the people he meets upon his journey, from young college kids to war vets with stories similar to his. This is an incredibly simple but powerful tale, one that still touches on the existential themes around which Lynch has crafted a career.

This is one of the best road trip movies I've ever seen, right up there with "Wild Strawberries" and "Y Tu Mama Tambien".

Wild at Heart

A Lynchian Love Story
I feel like "Wild at Heart" is one of Lynch's forgotten films, and I can sort of see why. Though I enjoyed my time with Sailor (Nicolas Cage, "Leaving Las Vegas"), Lula (Laura Dern, "Marriage Story"), and all the other various other bizarre characters that populate this weird romantic tale, I can honestly say that this is one of my least favorite Lynch movies. It's not bad, it just doesn't do a whole lot for me, especially when compared to Lynch's masterpieces (Twin Peaks TV show, "Eraserhead", "Mulholland Drive", "Inland Empire"). When Lynch is at the peak of his directing powers, his films can prompt me to question and meditate upon the very nature of our reality; "Wild at Heart" is just a decent road trip movie with a few really quirky moments and a whole lot of wackos.

As a side note: it blows my mind that this won the Palme d'Or in 1990. According to IMDb's trivia section on this film, Roger Ebert, who seemed to have a distaste for Lynch (check out his "Blue Velvet" review), booed so loudly that it almost drowned out the cheers when the award was announced. Though I honestly don't think this film deserves to stand beside the likes of other winners like "Parasite", "Shoplifters", "Blue is the Warmest Color", or "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", I also can't ever imagine being so upset over a film award that I'd boo the recipient... but hey, that's just me.

Lost Highway

Good, but Not Lynch's Best
"I love David Lynch (director of "Mulholland Drive" and "Eraserhead"). I think he's a brilliant, though sometimes dense, director that asks the questions many people are unwilling or unable to ask- the kinds of questions that make us ask why we're here, what existence is all about, that sort of thing.

When Lynch is at his peak ("Eraserhead", "Mulholland") I think you could pit him against any director that ever lived, and he'd still hold his ground; I don't think this is peak Lynch, however. I liked this movie, more and more the longer I think about it, but I did not love it like I did some of his other films (though it is a heck of a lot better than "Dune").

I suppose it should go without saying that this film is freaking weird, most Lynch films are; while this film isn't as weird as "Eraserhead" I'd say it's weirdness is about on par with "Mulholland Drive". The problem is that, with this film, I'm not entirely sure what Lynch is getting at. "Eraserhead" has moments of total surreal bizarreness, but I could always tell that the overall film was more or less about anxiety surrounding parenthood, and how that anxiety is universal; everyone from Henry as the parent of his deformed child, to God and his children here on earth feels some kind of nervousness when bringing forth new life. "Eraserhead" takes it a step further- is it proper to even bring life into a world so cold and strange? Even though there were certain scenes that I couldn't tell you exactly what the meaning was, the overall result still left me feeling satisfied, as if Lynch had shed light on some questions I had never asked myself.

In "Lost Highway" I felt as if I got the general gist- many of the scenes were saying certain things, many scenes were incredibly memorable and meaningful (some, downright terrifying)- but overall I was still left feeling as if I'd missed some of the depth I usually feel with Lynch's other films. I also think that Lynch is an incredibly smart filmmaker, and there are Eastern philosophy influences that I probably am not as familiar with as he, so I'll be the first to admit some of the more nuanced moments might've gone over my head. To me, the biggest clue about this film's meaning came from the Mystery Man (Robert Blake, "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre") when he was talking to Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty, "Feast") over the phone; in that scene the Mystery Man says: "In the East, the Far East, when a person is sentenced to death, they're sent to a place where they can't escape, never knowing when an executioner may step up behind them, and fire a bullet into the back of their head."

The Fall

Lucios Production Design and Cinematography
As often seems to happen, some strange confluence of forces weaves its way through the film scene every once in a while and taps into some zeitgeist or commonality within studios, filmmakers, and writers to create two similar movies releasing nearly at the same moment. "Dante's Peak" and "Volcano," "Skyscraper" and "Rampage", and "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" to name some of the more prominent examples.

Here's a strange one, though, that I had no clue of until I saw "The Fall" and realized its remarkable similarity to "Pan's Labyrinth." Both are films in which a young girl is swept up in circumstances she doesn't understand, cut off from her parents, and finds solace in a fantasy world, and best of all, they are both beautiful films with great acting and emotional moments which will truly move the audience.

The film opens with some beautiful slow-motion black and white shots of what looks like an old west scene on a bridge with a train and team of men trying to haul something up out of the water in the river below. It turns out that this is actually a movie set but a real rescue of a stunt actor who has taken a fall.

Roy (Lee Pace, "Guardians of the Galaxy"), the stuntman, meets a young immigrant girl, named Alexandria, who is in the same hospital as him, with a broken arm. The young man befriends her and begins telling her an Epic tale by which she is quickly entranced to the extent that he can convince her to steal Morphine for him in exchange for more story. It seems that Roy's intentions to overdose into suicide are completely over her head and that the story is doomed to end in tragedy.

From the opening moments of the film to the connection between Roy and Alexandria to the strength they both find in each others love and stories, I was hopelessly in love with this movie, beginning to end.

To begin with, the visuals are stunning. Not only do we have a 1920s hospital, film crew, and movie stars captured in all their ragged and pompous reality, we get a fantasy realm imagined by a little girl that could not feel more exotic and far flung if you were a child of the same era reading "1001 Arabian Nights" yet woven with childlike simplicity and earnestness throughout. The stunning production design and costuming are most likely the thing that would have made this movie jump off the video store shelf at you were you to happen upon it.

The acting, while somewhat ho-hum form Lee Pace, is counteracted by a brilliant performance from Catinca Untaru who plays Alexandria. Her eyes of excitement and hope, delighted squees, and pleading tears are the heart of a movie that could otherwise have been termed as style over substance. There are wonderful themes at work in this film but it all would fall flat without this one little girl who has never been in anything else of note. In fact I would say that the heroine in this film is far more compelling than the one in "Pan's Labyrinth."

The themes of the film are less than focused but not in a way that seems aimless. It seems more that they are surfacing for air every once in a while and we see them in more obvious way but they are always swimming underneath the surface of whatever scene, whether in the real world or in the Epic tale. Of course, there are themes of love's redeeming power for those who are broken but also the power of story to lift the human spirit which has been bruised.

As a cinephile, I especially appreciated the not to cinema's power to immortalize even if it was a bit heavy handed. I'm sure not lovers of cinema would find it to be a strange way to end a film but then, if you aren't a lover of movies, you probably wouldn't be watching this film or reading this review.

I definitely would describe this movie as fitting into that category of film I am always on the lookout for. Films that are beautiful yet true in their depiction of hardship and pain are rare and even more so are films which do so in such a way that seeks to elevate the human spirit itself from the doldrums of what we call normal life into those brief moments wherein we glimpse something less tangible than the simple realities which confront us day to day.

Film has a tremendous power to hint at the expanse of the human interior which we so often neglect not only in each other but in ourselves as well. This film accomplishes this spectacularly whether you identify more with a little girl pleading for a hurting man to not give up or with a man so hurt and broken that he sees no way forward this is a film that will have you believing that there is another chapter to the story and one worth writing, at that.


Why Did This Movie Get So Little Love?
Wow! I was not expecting to have to adjust my Top 10 picks for 2019 but I just might have to after finally seeing "Waves," albeit a little later than I wanted. I just wasn't expecting to like it so much being the follow-up for Trey Edwards Shults' "It Comes at Night" which I did not enjoy.

"Waves," however, ticked all my boxes. From a narrative that is more driven by character than plot to cinematography which reinforces the themes of the film to just a couple scenes of high school wrestling (a sport I participated in and which is also criminally under represented) this film, in any other year than 2019, would have been my favorite film of the year.

Beginning with the acting and characters, I have to say that every actor delivers raw performances that feel incredibly authentic. The movie focuses on an African American family but it was written by white man and so has drawn some ire from well intention-ed watchers of the movie but I have to say that everything that I saw in the film, watched in interviews with him and his African American cast, and read about in articles leads me to believe that he did a fantastic job of owning his limitations and reaching out and trusting the voices of his actors to ensure that the voices seemed as authentic as possible.

I want to pick out a performance and say something like Sterling K. Brown ("Black Panther," 2018) is a stand out among a well performing cast but I just can't. The ENTIRE cast does an amazing job and while each one has scenes or aspects that I would highlight, I would only be doing so at the expense of other great actors and performances. This is an especially admirable feat as many of the characters are young, which can sometimes be a pitfall for a serious film.

Another thing I like about this film, and feel is likely to be the least talked about aspect of it, is the sweeping scope of it. Essentially, the film is a family tragedy/recovery story which could have been shot and acted as cheesy melodrama. However, "Waves" has a sweeping feel to it like you are not just watching the story of one family but of all families akin to "If Beale Street Could Talk" where one couple seems to stand in for many African American couples. Here, our family seems to represent almost any family in America. Even though it is about an African American family and they deal with specific problems, at times, which I will never have to deal with as a white man the moments where I felt myself identifying with the sentiments and feelings of the characters were almost constant.

I believe that this is because none of the particularly African American experiences were framed as being the experiences of certain people of a certain race. They were framed as the problems of human beings. I may see the father in this film as overbearing but he says some things which hit hard to my core like, 'We gotta work 100 times harder to get anywhere.' That is a particular feeling of American Black culture that I will never really know in the way they do but it sounds like my coach in high school and teachers I have had. It has me recalling those feelings of weakness in the face of tremendous odds, a mentor aided push to the next level, and a desire to never disappoint someone who would be that real with me.

The narrative of this film does an excellent job of replicating the way that reality feels. People we love do terrible things, people keep things inside where they can destroy rather than opening themselves up to shame, and it takes more than one event or kind word to bring catharsis after pain. One of the reasons these things work so well is that the events that happen to these characters feel, at the same time, both the sole result of our characters understandable actions and reactions as well as totally out of any one person's control. This reflection of life as being in our own power to direct but also the product of the whims of fate is something that anyone can understand and identify with. This experience is true to people whether they are black or white, male/female/trans/etc., Christian/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu/etc., rich or poor.

I heartily recommend this film as I think it speaks to issues that are very human and universal in a way that few films, save the great masterpieces, even attempt. This one not only set it's bar higher than most films, it cleared that bar with beauty, grit, and grace.

Event Horizon

Classic Horror Sci-Fi
"Event Horizon" is a lot of fun and shows just how versatile Sci-fi, as a genre, can be. Unfortunately, it also highlights the problems with high concept movies if they don't perfectly execute on their ambitions. I'm not gonna lie and say this is a great or important film but if you are one of those people who has a little Venn Diagram space in your heart for sci-fi/horror films then this is a film for you.

First off, the production design in this film is stellar (lol get it?). From the bridge of the Lewis & Clark, to the core of the Event Horizon's gravity drive, and to the neon green crawl spaces underneath the core. The locations are not just designed to feel believable, which they do, but also to play into the eerie feeling of the film which they also do, especially the sequence with Dr. Weir (Sam Neill, "Jurassic Park") under the core, lights strobing on and off inside the Jefferie's Tubes he is crawling through.

The acting is uneven and feels like certain actors were given different ideas than the rest about what the film was about. Sam Neill is great as usual and the cast boasts a stacked cast with Jason Isaacs ("Death of Stalin") and Laurence Fishburne ("The Matrix") rounding things out. Most of the time these actors seem to be in a psychological terror movie set in space and discuss the various terrors in their past and what it means that they are seeing hallucinations about them. They have the sorts of conversations that people facing their fears and imminent deaths might have as they parse their own reactions, psychology, and internal movements.

On the other hand we have Richard T. Jones, Kathleen Quinlan, and Joely Richardson, who seem to be in either a disaster film or action movie. Even Larry Fishburne gets in on the action movie vibes as he occasionally channels a hard edged commanding officer who doesn't take no guff and might occasionally have to choose bubble gum or kicking @$$. While these characters may be exposed to similarly terrifying events they seem to handle it more in the cheesy way that 90s action films do. Characters are known to nickname each other things like 'Baby' and 'Mamma Bear' or yell things like, "I'm gone," as they hit a lever that launches them into danger. It feels like half the cast in is the movie "Alien" and the other half is in "Armageddon."

The break down for me is almost that simple. I love the parts of this movie that are horror heavy and am bored by the parts that are action heavy. It doesn't help that some of the graphics have aged more poorly than a person who completed two terms as President of the United States.

There's a part of me that thinks that this is a property ripe for reboot/sequel/re-imagining but there's another part of me that fears movie that would try to recapture the magic of this film. I know that for me, the psychological terror aspects of the film are my favorite but that might not be the case for everyone and I'd hate to think that some people who like this movie would be left out in the cold by whoever decided to remake this movie as 'the version they would have liked to see' rather than keeping the messy quality of the original.

The messiness actually adds to the film in some ways. It would feel overly contrived to have every single member of the crew wandering around and pontificating to each other the whole movie about the plight of existence and the terror of the unknown just as it would feel untrue to have them all strutting like Space Marines gunning for another trophy. By putting both aspects in the film they both end up feeling more true to life.

Unfortunately, my last criticism is also that while it does attempt to do some psychological terror and philosophical musing, the underlying themes of the movie still end up being very muddled. The plot is very by the book and should leave lots of room for character exploration and connection but "Event Horizon'' leaves these characters as two dimensional stand ins. There is never any doubt about where our main character's journeys end. Almost before they ever step foot on the ship you can go down the line, one by one. Dead, dead by suicide, dead by sacrifice, turned to the dark side; you know it all from the beginning because these characters don't have multiple personality and psychological traits that make them who they are. They are stereotypes with one or two events that have happened to them in the past.

All in all, I really like this movie. It's one I re-watch all the time and has a lot of great set pieces and imagery but it certainly isn't the deepest film. However, I don't think that is what most people are after with a movie of this type so I won't let that stop me from recommending it to almost any sci-fi or horror fanatic.


Waaaay Over-rated
While this film is about an admirable woman, one who should be admired and hero-icised, and whose story should be told through cinema this movie is not that film and I can't say I recommend it to any except the young who may need a first introduction to the ideas and people found within it but without the harshest scenes of violence you might normally expect to find in a film like this one.

Unfortunately, as a person who grew up with graphic representations of what slavery truly was as well as near constant education on the evils of slavery and the heroes who fought to end it either for themselves or others. This omission also leaves the film feeling trite and small, not dealing with the harshness of slavery nor the emotional turmoil of the principle characters in the story in a way that feels true. It feels put on or dressed up.

The movie is poorly written. It doesn't seem to be plotted according to emotional movement of the internal character. Instead, it feels like someone opened a history book and took the paragraphs about Harriet Tubman's life and decided to make each sentence a scene of the film. Luckily there are no shortage of celebrities to play these roles.

Unfortunately, there were times in the film where it felt like the only reason Harriet (Cynthia Erivo, "Widows") was talking to, say, Marie Buchanan, was because Janelle Monae ("Moonlight") was playing her and not because that scene was true to life (though it might be) or important to Harriet's growth (again, though it might be). The latter part of the film is all about how she helped free more than 70 slaves from captivity but it is all told in montage form. We see her and others running through the woods, dogs chasing them, white men beating down the roads on horseback but never do we learn anything about those slaves, their masters, why freeing them was hard, what the logistics were, or how close they got to being caught.

Compare that to a film like "Schindler's List" where you can count the people and names of those who were saved and everyone can remember how that one boy almost got caught in the latrines because there was no room for him in the pit beneath it. I would have loved to see a film which covers her escape in the first half hour or forty-five minutes but the rest is all about the various breaks she leads from the plantations. A real Hero Freedom Fighter picture full of heroism.

It seems the movie just wasn't thought out that much. The entire film feels very paint by number down to the costuming which seems OK at first glance but there isn't a stitch of clothing in this film that I believe was actually made or worn by anyone in the 1800s and I have to say the same for almost every other aspect of this film.

If this is a movie for the young and I'm being overly harsh, I apologize, but when a film is getting Oscar buzz I expect that it will be something more competent than the simplistic stories of Martin Luther or Jesus that I watched when I was a kid. I certainly hoped that I would be seeing a serious treatment of an important story and subject matter but I guess that was too much to ask.

I have to say that I am really disappointed in this film. The trailers looked bad to me but with the talk around Cynthia Erivo's performance, which is very good, I was thinking I had maybe misjudged the film by its trailer. Alas, the trailer was true to the film and while I think Erivo is a very fine actress and delivers a good performance as Harriet, I am also looking forward to seeing her in a film that is worthy of her as much as I am to a film worthy of the name "Harriet."

The Man Who Knew Too Much

So Glad I Finally Watched This
Being familiar with the remake of this film by the same title and director, I knew I wanted to try and snag this original version of "The Man Who Knew too Much" during our Hitchcock series. I expected to not like it quite as much since the actors are less recognizable, with the exception of Peter Lorre, and I already knew the basics of the plot.

I have to say that I was quite surprised to find that, while I am not sure I prefer this version to the James Stewart one, I definitely like it a lot still and for different reasons. This is one of the rare examples I would point to of an original film and sequel that pair together quite well. They inform each other, share plot points, and even major sequence settings but they do them in different ways with just enough individual style to make each movie worth watching regardless of your feelings on the other one.

The earlier version I am reviewing today was made in 1934. It is one of Hitchcock's British Thrillers and employs many of the same tricks for which Hitchcock would become known. There are great examples here of Hitchcock-ian camera work mimics the movements of the eye to help create a voyeuristic sensation to key sequences where we are tracking more than one character or a slip of paper being passed around, all seen from a single person's vantage. This movement gives one the feeling that they are catching extra information out of the corner of their eye just the same way as are the characters who are slyly observing other people's movements.

Another classic tool used here and in many other of Hitchcock's films is the mistaken identity. In "The Man Who Knew Too Much," the mistaken identity comes in the form of our couple who are mistaken for a British couple for whom a French Spy, Louis Bernard, is on the lookout. When he incorrectly guesses that the assassins are Bob (Leslie Banks, "The Most Dangerous Game") and Jill Lawrence (Edna Best) the real killers figure out that he is on their trail and kill him. As Louis dies he tries to warn Bob and Jill about the assassination plot and the real assassins kidnap their daughter to keep them from sharing what they learned from the deceased French Spy.

Hitchcock has a fascination with the everyman or woman. Unlike the thrillers and action movie franchises that would borrow from him, such as James Bond, Hitchcock is not so much interested in the cop on his usual beat, the cat-burgler scaling the wall, or the spy as he skulks in the shadows. No. Hitchcock is interested in these things but only as seen from the point of view of the regular old Jack or Jill. What happens when the ordinary person is caught up in these worlds of excitement that they are unaccustomed to. They have different concerns than the career spy or police officer.

That is why this film, although its follow-up was familiar to me, still has legs. The individual situations surrounding the action are slightly different and lead the characters to make different choices. If every single plot point was the same I would have been bored but the thing that stayed the same wasn't any particular point of action. It was that feeling of being in over your head and out of your depth. Whether it happens in Morocco or the Swiss Alps is not as important as putting a couple of parents in a situation that is every parent's nightmare.

This focus on making his characters relatable to a regular audience member off the street is one of the things that makes Hitchcock's movies so thrilling. It seems like they could happen to any of us with just a couple bad breaks of luck.

One of the things I liked best about this earlier version is the daughter played by Nova Pilbeam. Her character seems far more frightened and in genuine danger than in the James Stewart version. It seems like the American version Hitchcock made later in his career was more concerned with being relatable to American families as opposed to the British audiences of this one and he made the son more "likable" and added some lighter fare to the film to make it more palatable for Americans. I prefer the version where the the daughter's fear and danger seems more genuine and in line with who we would expect someone her age to act if abducted as well as the more serious shootout nature of the final conflict. It certainly makes the plot feel all the more real for the fact that the plot has the potential to spill out into firefight.

The original version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much" may not employ any tricks you've never seen (you have seen them because every movie since Hitchcock has copied them) and by modern American standards the film may seem a little slow but if you are a lover of Hitchcock or the latter version of this same title, I am confident you will enjoy this one for many of the same reasons.

Foreign Correspondent

Not My Cup of Tea
I'll confess. I had to watch this film twice.

Hitchcock's early films are usually a bit tough for me because he doesn't seem to care as much about connecting you to or making you care much about his characters. John is a reporter who bucks at formal authority and is eager to get to the bottom of what is going on in Europe so that is enough for us to like him, right?

For me, I just need a bit more, especially when he misjudges his main love interest pretty dramatically right out of the gate.I just didn't care about him and my mind wandered a bit. I realized later that I just hadn't gotten what I was supposed to out of this film so I watched it again. This is far more consideration than most people would be willing to give this film so in general I wouldn't recommend this film to the average movie watcher.

For those of you cinephiles or Hitchcockians out there, my second viewing of "Foreign Correspondent" was far more enjoyable and I think you will enjoy it as well. The main reason I think I found this to be a difficult film is that many elements of the film are very familiar. It makes it hard to watch when you know almost upon meeting a character, the exact way that they will play into the plot. Things that needed explaining to an audience in the past or maybe a bit of heavy handed foreshadowing are simply unnecessary in some situations to us today. It removes a lot of the tension in a film that is designed to be a thriller where the suspense ratchets up and up into the sky. Mistaken identities, double agents, and late night interrogations are only fascinating when they are unexpected surprises or contain vital hidden information.

One of the huge weaknesses of the film is that the information that the spies are after is never referred to as anything more specific than 'something advantageous to the enemy should war break out.' That takes the MacGuffin Theory too far in my opinion.

What we are left with will be interesting to cinephiles because of the craft involved but perhaps not so much to people whose primary goal in cinematic viewing is entertainment. Knowing the technical acumen needed for certain tracking of roaming camera shots such as in the windmill set piece may be impressive intellectually but they don't make the scene any more tense to the modern audience.

That being said, the Windmill sequence, Assassination in the rain, and Airplane sequences are all top notch. The settings and design that went into the construction of these sequences is very interesting and informative for students of film and even if you decide not to watch the full thing, I'd recommend at least watching those sections.I know that this is a beloved film of Hitchcock's but i can't help feeling like it is somewhat slight.

Maybe that's why, although I liked it OK, I can't bring myself to give it a stellar rating. It's well made and all but underneath it all is a very ambiguous plot about making things is a war go slightly better for the other side in an ambiguous way. Of course the war had not been fought yet so it's hard to fault the film but it does make certain character resolutions seem a little off to a modern audience.

It may have seemed ok to have Carol (Laraine Day, "The Lockett") tell John (Joel McCrea, "The Most Dangerous Game") that her father fought for his country in his way and she has to do it in hers but knowing the history of WW2 as we do it is a hard pill to swallow that she's saying that about her father, a Nazi.To me, it left the film feeling a bit naive and hard to connect with. I certainly see why, in its day, this film might have fascinated more people but today it just fell flat.

The Man Who Knew Too Much

A Childhood Favorite
I grew up with this film but it has never been one of my favorites of Hitchcock's. I always found the kid in it annoying, still do, and Doris Day was before my time so I never got her appeal and found the song Que Sera to be too repetitive and trite to want it running through my head for days afterward. Incidentally, this happened to me after this viewing as well.

As I revisit the film now, however, I realize how much this film, just like many of Hitchcock's thrillers, lay the groundwork for what we now think of as a spy thriller like James Bond, Mission Impossible, and even the Taken franchise. Without films like this one and others like "North by Northwest" someone else would have had to fill this niche or action movies might feel very different today.

Unfortunately, that leaves me in a quandary about recommending it. On the one hand, it probably won't thrill the way our modern thrillers do, or even keep you guessing and the foreshadowing is pretty heavy handed even by today's spoon feeding accustomed audiences. If you can't figure out the key secrets of this film pretty quickly, you just aren't watching closely enough.

Yet, I found this to be my most eye opening viewing of this film so I want to push people to check it out or at least consider what it was I saw in it this time that made "The Man Who Knew Too Much" so engaging, this time around.

Did you know that the way men treat women has been and continues to be a problem? Growing up, I didn't. No one in my middle school circles talked about the inherent sexism of many of our institutions or even the way most families were structured so it never really entered into my thinking on this or any other film I watched at that time.

With the #MeToo movement, however, I found myself having more frequent and deeper conversations with my female friends and, especially, my wife. My eyes being opened to certain realities and tendencies, I may not always agree with every statement or reaction people make in regard to this subject, I do find myself to be very sympathetic to the core concerns of the movement and certainly believe it has had a positive affect on my thinking and the way I interpret events and narratives.

This film is no exception and one of those movies that I actually found I enjoyed more having grown in appreciation for how difficult things have been for women in certain regards, in the past.

Much of this film revolves around a family spending time abroad and finding themselves a bit out of their depth in cultural situations. This puts them at the mercy of kind strangers going out of their way to help them but luckily there are several examples of such helpful people waiting in the wings to do just that. Stewart's ("It's a Wonderful Life") character, Ben, is the trusting sort and seems to know a lot about travel, having spent time overseas in the war, but also just due to his higher education as a doctor. His wife Jo, played by Doris Day ("Pillow Talk"), is less trusting of these strangers and notices how little they seem to be sharing about themselves even as Ben shares practically his life story. Ben reassures her that she is being paranoid and that he has everything in hand.

Of course, this turns out not to be true and the rest of the movie revolves around the two of them trying, by various means both together and separate, to extricate themselves and their son from the situation that their too quick to trust nature caught them up in the middle of.

There are several scenes in this movie that seemed to be especially different with eyes that noticed certain treatments of women. Obviously the scene where Jimmy Stewart basically forces his wife to take a sleeping pill before he tells her that their son has been kidnapped is more than slightly problematic, though maybe true to the attitudes of the day. However, the two that I want to focus on are not the one of the many ways that Hitchcock and directors of his day discounted women. Instead I want to talk about a few ways this film is actually very forward thinking in its treatment of women.

The first, I have already described. Jo being nervous about their new friends and Ben not taking it seriously. The entire plot of the film basically hinges on the fact that Jo is not believed by her husband. If he simply weighed what she said appropriately instead of dismissing it because he didn't agree, then the entire tragedy that ensues as a result could have been avoided. Another is the climax of the film so...

*****SPOILERS WARNING***** Jo ends up at the music hall where a Prime Minister is going to be assassinated during a loud piece of music to hide the noise of the gunshot. She knows where the assassin is but can't stop him because his associates will kill her son. She can't warn the Prime Minister or the Police because they won't believe her. She is caught there watching the music play and glancing from side to side at the assassin and the target, biting her hands, crying, casting about in anguish. The scene plays like that for a full minute till she can't help but scream, consequences be damned.

Watching the scene I felt some of what it must feel like to be a woman who can't trust the men around her to believe her. She is so powerless to do what she feels must be done to such an extent that she is glued to the floor in inaction till her pent up fears, frustrations, and panic erupt in her godsend of a scream which saves the PM's life. *****SPOILERS END*****

Hitchcock is no progressive when it comes to how he treats women but as an audience member I see different things based on how my eyes have been changed or opened over the years. I don't think there was ever a time where I would have said that Ben was right to drug Jo in this movie but it took me till 37 to see some of the pain Jo was facing as a uniquely female struggle that I had not appreciated before.

Strange that this revelation should come from the equivalent of a modern blockbuster spy thriller. Perhaps not though. Hitchcock has always been about drawing out the terror and suspense from the everyday. A mistaken identity, an innocent item at auction that contains a secret, and the one sleeping next to you who secretly wants you dead. Is it really that surprising that when he focuses a thriller on family and the trust issues and pains that come within one that one of the greatest pains for women, being controlled by, not believed by, and even hurt by men should be among those that he couldn't help but explore in his own imperfect way.

Color Out of Space

What Is Happening!?
Horror films like "Color Out of Space" are rare and many times hard to find. I don't know if I would have even heard of it if not for the cross section of two of my passing interests (H.P. Lovecraft and Nicolas Cage) happening to get some Venn Diagram synergy bonus to my perception check. I'm not enough of a fan of either of them for this movie to blip on my radar but with both of them coinciding it flew just high enough to get my attention.

It's weird. It's trippy. Strange creatures, body horror, and cosmic glimpsing despair all add to its disturbing, intense, and skin-crawlingly discomfort and terror. It has Nic Cage doing both serious and insane acting and Tommy Chong ("Up In Smoke") playing a hippie dude who seems right at home, squatting on Nicolas Cage's land in this film. The sound design churns and scrapes your nerves raw like chains dredging up a river for a dead body. It simply delivers everything I was hoping to find in this movie.

I feel like I could end my review right there and the target audience will recognize this film for what it is... a transcendent exploration of the terror of the unknown in an indifferently powerful universe. So let's break it down now into what I think makes this film so special out of those above superlative compliments I just lay on so thick.

Starting with Nic Cage ("Army of One"), I'll say that this is one of my favorite of his performances in recent years alongside the insane film "Mandy." Cage has a long history of acting insane on and off screen but also being a very good actor. He may make wild choices but that is because he is trying to push the boundaries of his performance the same way an athlete might push how fast they can run or high they can jump. Sure they may not always get a personal record but if they don't swing for the fences they never will. Cage swings hard every time and this film is no exception.

In fact, I would say that this film is a great showcase for Cage's range.

As his normal world unravels around him, his wife, and three kids, he runs the gamut from awkward dad of teenagers, loving and dutiful husband, angry and impatient father, fearful protector, crazy murderer, desperate whimpering fool, and of course, the weird crazy acting that Cage has occasionally allowed us to glimpse in films like "Vampire's Kiss." If you like Nic Cage for his range, insane tendencies, and interesting film selections then this one won't disappoint.

When it comes to the way that this film induces terror, it doesn't rely on cheap tricks to make you startle although it doesn't eschew the practice entirely. Instead it uses a variety of methods to create an atmosphere that feels completely uncertain and wild. Just when you think you have a handle on what kind of insanity this alien presence is unleashing upon our family, the film surprises you with another level of unexpected strangeness that has you literally grabbing the arms of your theater seat when the scene changes as you wonder, "Oh great! What's going to happen NOW?!

I'll admit this may frustrate some audiences. Many times when I read or listen to people discuss horror that speak at length about how horror should be grounded in rules that are clear so that the audience knows what to be afraid of. If you don't know that a monster, for instance, can eviscerate you, then you won't be as scared if you do. This movie throws that kind of thinking out the window and says, " Well what if there is no monster and what happens to you is so foreign and unknown that evisceration seems too grounded and familiar a thing to actually be scary anymore. There are moments in this film where you fully believe that the characters would take a known quantity any day of the week over what is happening, maybe not happening, or perhaps has already happened to them.

If this seems like a scattered thought, that is somewhat intentional. It's scattered because it is about the unknown and it would be sort of silly if I was really able to nail down something like how this film tackles the unknown. Being able to speak clearly on it would be a clear indication that the film didn't really accomplish its goal.

My favorite ways, and the ones that will probably get the most attention online, are the blending of special and visual effects, creative lighting, and fascinating sound and score mixes. If I could compare it to another exploration of insanity and isolation "The Lighthouse" this film is in many ways the opposite of that one. In "The Lighthouse," Eggers employs mostly traditional camera techniques and lighting language to communicate the story of a man's unraveling sanity. He strips the film down till the tension is created mostly by the brilliant performances and stark setting. It is terrifying because it is so raw, real, and stomach dropping as realizing you are on an island with someone who is totally willing to kill you.

"Color Out of Space" on the other hand pumps the film full of color and sound that whirls in unnatural and unpredictable ways with just enough grounding to convince you it is real. The colors remind me of Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives" or Harmony Korrine's "Spring Breakers" but the sense of insanity is more about how ungrounded it seems to be. It's not the fear of being killed. It's the fear of something worse than being killed happening to you. Something you can't even begin to fathom or imagine.

The film unfortunately does have a couple weaknesses. The daughter, Lavinia, played by Madeleine Arthur ("Big Eyes") is great in the latter half of the film but I really didn't care for her in the early stages of the film. I just found her way less believable as the pseudo Wiccan googly eyed crush driven brat that she is trying to play in that part of the film than the terrified little girl just trying to make it out with her family.

There were also a few moments where the CGI didn't cut it for me. Not in the spectral universe exploration sequences or even the environmental and light effects but in some of the rendering of body effects that were either not done practically or sweetened enough in post that they lost their realistic grounding.

Ultimately, these are nitpicks, though. None of these moments last long and there is so much going on and whirling in your head by the end of the movie that a few bad 3D models or a slightly wooden or under affected performance moment will hardly pull you out of the movie very far.

If you are one of those people who are looking for an alternative to the popular horror, slasher, Conjuring 5: The Annnabelle Con-Nun-drum fare of the American cinema these days, "Color Out of Space" will have you rubbing your eyes squinting as the house lights come up and thinking "I don't think I've experienced anything quite like that before."

Midnight Family

Really Puts You In The Hot Seat
THE FILM "Midnight Family" is an intense documentary that looks at a side of healthcare in Mexico City that I had simply never heard of before. In a city with a population of 9 million the government runs only 45 public ambulances to serve the sprawled-out denizens. Instead, the city is mostly serviced by private individuals or groups who operate ambulances which try to make up for the paltry efforts of the government to meet the emergency services needs of the people.

The film focuses on the Ochoa family who operate one of these ambulances. We accompany them on several calls which range from bloody noses to fatal accidents over the course of a couple of weeks. As we get to know the different members of the family, we see how the difficult situation affects them in many ways. Bribes, unreliable and even rare payment, and competition with other ambulance services make their jobs very difficult, exhausting, and even hazardous to safety as well as their own mental health.

MY THOUGHTS If you want a documentary that has the intensity of a major motion picture, this is it. The runs in the city are hectic and, as different realities that Ochoa's deal with on a nightly basis happen on camera, I was constantly surprised at the morass of individual roadblocks there are to people in Mexico City receiving decent medical care. I learned a lot about the many faces that corruption and poverty wear in that city even as I realized how much I take for granted the benefits we enjoy in this country.

As much as I was learning, I was never for a second bored. This movie moves but it is also exhausting. When I got out of the theater I expected that the time would be around 8:45 pm but it was only 8:00 pm. The director and editor did a great job of packing this film with tension but also presenting the feeling of exhaustion and futility that this family has to deal with. As an audience member I couldn't help but feel for these guys

Unfortunately, while I was engaged greatly by the film, it does leave something to be desired when it comes to personal connection to the characters and does little to answer questions that an audience who knows little of the Mexican Health Care System. Why are there so few ambulances, are the private ambulances capitalizing on people's suffering, and how many of the patient's complaints are actually legitimate? These questions take total buy- in to the Ochoa's situation from automatic to requiring a conscious choice.

For a documentary, the film had remarkably immersive cinematography in some fantastically difficult situations to shoot. Specific choices that were made add dramatically to that sense of reality and do much to help you forget that you are watching a finely crafted film and not simply a fly on the wall document of fact.

Overall, this film really rocked me and sparked a very interesting conversation amongst those of us who saw it but keeps the film from having the sort of staying power that makes me want to remember it for years to come. It's a film that begs the audience to not ask too many questions but take everything at face value but also presents the main subjects as people of interest but also mystery, since they present a very one sided view of the situation which always seems a little suspect.

It doesn't answer every question you will ask as you drive home and discuss the movie after seeing it but it will keep you dramatically engaged throughout with a pacing that takes you from frenetic action to exhausted waiting for the next call. As this is the actual experience of this family, perhaps that is the best compliment we can give this film, film maker, and family.

Jesus of Nazareth

One of My Favorite Films About Jesus
This film has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don't remember the first time I saw it but the scenes from it are such a part of my psyche that I couldn't possibly try to play this off as an unbiased review.

When I think of Herod slaughtering the young children of Bethlehem, the sequence from this movie is the first thing that comes to mind. When I think of John the Forerunner (Baptist), I think of Michael York ("Logan's Run") yelling in the desert. When I think of a young girl being told she will bear a child though no man has known her, I think of Olivia Hussey ("Romeo and Juliet").

Obviously, I don't frequently sit down to watch all 6 1.2 hours of this film but every few years I rewatch it and I know it frequently played on Network Television in the 80s and 90s same as "The Ten Commandments" and other Easter or Christmas religious films. So what makes me want to revisit a film whose material I already know, whose runtime is at the top end of what I am willing to invest in a movie, and is now over 50 years old? I mean, hasn't a better film about Jesus been made since then?

Well, the short and simplistic answer is NO. A better film hasn't been made, but that isn't exactly why I watch this one. The first and simplest reason I like this version is that it is complete and respectful. There really aren't many works that attempt to capture the heart of every Gospel story since to do so would take, hmmm.... 6 ½ hours. Most Jesus films consolidate scenes from his life into one, skip over sections of his life, or at least abridge his teachings to focus only on the known and palatable. "Jesus of Nazareth" attempts to wrap its arms around all of the material in the New Testament and even try to understand the historical context around the events related in the Bible. On top of that, it does so without cynicism, secular accommodation, or modern analogy. There are very few moments where I feel like the movie is taking too many liberties with the story or trying too hard to make the story work for non-religious audiences.

This respect is mirrored not just in the dialogue spoken, stories selected or neglected, and a score which reverberates with reverence. It is mirrored in the quality and scale of the production. Obviously, with a huge runtime like this the expense must have been considerable but add to that a cast that is second to none and production design that is amazing and you begin to realize that the person making this film, Franco Zeffirelli ("Romeo and Juliet," 1968) was doing his best to treat the material with the gravity he felt it deserved.

The cast is simply outstanding. The list of cameos and main characters played by noteworthy actors is so remarkable that even into my late 30s, I am still realizing that certain characters were played by famous actors who I simply had not heard of yet such as Ian McShane playing Judas Iscariot decades before I would get to know him as Swearengine on "Deadwood." These actors bring a believability to their roles that you simply do not find in most modern films made about Biblical events. The recent remake of "Ben Hur" is a great bad example of what happens when every character in your year 33 AD film looks like they could as easily be at home at a Hollywood soiree as on the streets of Jerusalem. You need actors with a dedication to authenticity that is hard to come by if you can't inspire a huge cast to commit hard and trust that everyone is committing to that same degree. Luckily, with very few exceptions, the actors in "Jesus of Nazareth" do a remarkable job of disappearing into their roles and into the 1st century.

The production design in the film is another standout in "Jesus of Nazareth." Costumes and buildings, boats and nets, the temple and Golgotha are all rendered so naturalistically that I hardly noticed them. This is in contrast to films set in a similar time period but which focus on style and splashy costumes and sets which have more in common with HBO's "Rome," STARZ "Spartacus," or Ridley Scott's "Gladiator," all fine in their own right but certainly not erring on the side of authenticity.

The world Jesus (Robert Powell) lives in feels lived in. When Jesus is reading from the scroll of the scriptures you really get the sense that the scriptures have been read aloud in that room for years and years. Mary Magdalene (Anne Bancroft "The Graduate") isn't just some woman that is brought out to Jesus for adultery. We see her life of prostitution and how she is treated by the people around her long before they all turn on her and criticise her to Jesus' face.

In short, the film treats these stories as if they aren't just Sunday School stories being told void of context. This film assumes that all the people who come into Jesus' life for one or two little stories in the scriptures were real people with full lives that were complex and varied as ours are.

This isn't all to say that the film has no weaknesses. Certainly the length is a barrier to many but of you think of it as more akin to the lengthy mini-series projects of Fassbinder ("Berlin Alexanderplatz") or a film event like "Roots." Seen in that light, it's a major accomplishment.

Another problem with the film is Robert Powell as Jesus. His performance is a little more otherworldly than I would prefer and his blue eyes certainly stand out as he plays a character that most likely would have had dark eyes. I forgive it that oversight though because I do think the eye color was a deliberate choice to make his face stand out amongst the crowd as having something special in it. I definitely don't think it is offensive as certain other portrayals of Christ have been, complete with blonde hair or surfer dude accent.

Overall, the film is a stunning achievement that I think every Christian should watch at least once. If you are a parent, believer or not, you could do far worse than showing scenes or sequences from "Jesus of Nazareth" to help your kids understand what people believe about Jesus and why his actions and teachings had such an impact on our world.

Seriously, if you are a Christian and haven't seen this film, check it out now on Amazon Prime Streaming. Watch each section after you read the Bible account or as the commemoration of each event comes up in the Church Calendar. I think you'll find it will add a dimension to your engagement with the seasons of the church and will help begin the process of redeeming the time we spend on media by including Christ in that time.

A Hidden Life

Not for Everyone but Oooo Boy, It's for me!
I'm a Terrence Malick fan, partially because his movies really touch me but also because I have happened to miss his last couple outings which were, by many accounts, less than stellar. "Tree of Life" was one of the first arthouse films I saw in the theater while attending film school so it has a special place in my heart into which I was hoping "A Hidden Life' would be able to find its way.

As I heard the first few opinions begin to leak out about "A Hidden Life" I was encouraged but not excited because some of those sources were Christian magazines which have frequently led me astray in the past (ex. "Hacksaw Ridge"). It turns out that "A Hidden Life" is a film right up my alley and holds one of my top spots of 2019.

"A Hidden Life" is about a man named Franz (August Diehl, "Inglourious Basterds") and his wife Fani (Valerie Pachner) who live in Austria in the foothills of the Alps. They are farmers and spend most of their hard lives tending fields, animals, and children. It is an idyllic life in many ways and the epitome of the word pastoral. The mountains, fields, and sky are so beautiful that even a less practiced director could capture some of the most stunningly gorgeous footage you've ever seen so rest assured when Terrence Malick ("Badlands") points his camera their way, the views are even more lovely and sublime.

With Germany on the path to war, Franz is conscripted into the military and is returned home, after France has been captured, along with all the other farmers to continue food production. When he arrives, the village and his wife are happy to have him home but there is a new problem for them all. His time in the war has left Franz disillusioned with Germany's campaign, their attitude toward Jews, and a commitment to not aid in the war effort. This makes him a variety of enemies from the town's mayor, to the collectors for the veteran's fund, to the rest of the village who have all learned of his refusal during this extremely hard time. Eventually, he is called up to war again, only this time he will refuse to pledge his allegiance to Hitler. What will the Germans so with him after that betrayal?

It really is a pretty simple story and one for which, in any other hands, I would sneer at a 3 hour runtime as being indulgent. In fact, I am sure many will consider the runtime of this film a little extreme. Personally, I do not agree with this assessment. Certainly, the film is long but the length is earned by tight but deep focus on the central conflict of the story. If I felt that the inner monologues, conversations, and threats of violence never went anywhere, never moved Franz's heart, then I would agree but every one of these things feels true to life and has the weight of Life or Death hanging in the balance. This focus on the inner struggle is what makes the film stand out for me. To someone who is looking for the outward struggle, it will appear as if nothing much changes from scene to scene of this film.

Franz spends long periods of time soliloquizing to himself, wandering the prison yard, sitting in his cell, and having discussions with lawyers and army officials. Anyone who has spent years laboring over a decision, vacillating between one option and another, one belief and another doubt, or one easy path and one hard but honorable one will understand that the changes in belief, submissions to fate, returns to faith, and real grappling with doubt are subtle variations that may rise and fall from single sentences uttered by others. Great shifts in ways of thinking and hoping can slide abruptly like ice shelves collapsing into the ocean yet the only outside indication of this is on a person's face.

Once again, we find ourselves in luck that we are in the hands of a master who tapped August Diehl for the role of Franz. Both he and Valerie Pachner turn in nuanced and forceful performances which break your heart and soul as the prospect of evil and its effect on individuals and communities becomes more apparent and harsh. Yet, these performances lift your soul even as they seem to dig a grave ever deeper for your despair to find rest within. In the midst of the darkness there are small mercies, though maybe not as frequently as we might hope or desire.

For me, personally, I found myself asking myself hard questions about the state of the world, the evil being done in it, and how little I do to fight against it. All of the ways that I am complicit in the hurt or deaths of others rise up in my heart as I watch this film and I find myself praying that someday I can do more than hear about a tragedy and post on Facebook or give a couple bucks toward relief. The other thing this film did was sober me for the day when things in my life will not be this easy, when I will have real consequences to the stands I make rather simply enduring a few jokes here and there, online.

"A Hidden Life" has stuck with me because Malick has found a way to relate the interior struggles of someone who holds convictions that are not simply parsed. It doesn't let Franz off the hook nor does it offer him some easy salivation or meaning that makes it all worth it.

It doesn't hide from the pain or the beauty of a spiritual struggle even in an industry that typically tries to hide one or the other from view.

It doesn't present a rose colored outlook on the Christian life and the rewards and prosperity which God has in store for the faithful like many Christian films but it also doesn't make all Christians look like bigots and hard hearted individuals who don't care about anyone who is different from themselves. It actually portrays Franz the way I prefer; as a human with conviction, weaknesses, doubts, fears, and faith that are swirling around in his head as he walks through life, just trying to scrape out some happiness.

I saw myself in this film. What else is there to say except that?

The Two Popes

A Beautiful Exploration of Bridge Building and Generation Relations
It was with some trepidation that my father (Jim), my wife (Katie) , and I sat down to watch "The Two Popes" together. My dad is Catholic and a bit of a study-holic so he had been hearing a few things that worried him about this film even before I asked him if he was interested in watching it together. Some of the more vocal conservative Catholic sources he reads were decrying it as an unfair takedown of Pope Benedict, a real hero to some of the more conservative traditional Catholic community.

If you know my reviews then you know I frequently mention my dad whose standard of historical accuracy is a fair amount higher than mine when it comes to movies and this one was no exception. It certainly glosses over things, dramatizes conversations, and wholecloth imagines private confidences between the two as to break that confidence would be violating the sacrament of confession. Even he, however, found that he could move past these inaccuracies fairly gracefully as the film unfolded, though.

I have no such misgivings about historical inaccuracy in most of my movies and I found this film just as entertaining, informative, challenging, and edifying as I can possibly imagine a movie like this being.

First off, for those who might think this movie looks boring... it is... but not as bad as you might think. It's no slower than any other drama. In fact, the humor of the movie was far more pronounced than I expected. If you'd have told me that I would look over at Katie and see her laughing out loud during a movie about Popes disagreeing with each other I would have accused you of heresy. We often forget that men with power are still men and that they have various shades of senses of humor just like the rest of us. In fact, their differences in humor are one of the things that they speak on and find commonality through. The treatment of humor in "The Two Popes" does a lot to dispel the general idea that religion is serious and for people who think no one should have fun.

As for the heart of the film, I think it is a film that all Christians, even Protestants, and really, everyone else could get a lot out of. For those who don't know about the Popes I will break it down in incredibly simplistic terms (please don't rake me over the coals for not getting into nitty gritty details). Pope Benedict was a conservative Pontiff. Pope Francis is a liberal one. Benedict retired after a short time (relatively) as pope though it is virtually unheard of for someone to do that. During the period in which he was considering this action he met with Cardinal Bergoglio who would become Pope Francis because the Cardinal wanted to resign from being a cardinal. This movie is a glimpse into the time they spent together, getting to know each other, confessing to each other, and debating with each other.

The reason this story is so needed today is because, like the Two Popes, there is a division in the lives of the people in this country and in most communities that doesn't get talked about in constructive ways nearly as often as in destructive ones. The division between conservatives and progressives seems to be growing wider every day till it threatens to tear us apart. Most of the time we end up talking about how one side is right and the other wrong depending on who we agree with and the impression this film gives of the holy men in question is that they were sort of like that. One was conservative and scared of what would become of the church in the hands of a progressive and one was more liberal and disillusioned from service by what he saw as backwards thinking leadership.

How do we move forward together? How do we stand strong together? How do we do both at the same time? The film asks these questions through the characters' conversations and flashbacks from their incredible lives. Each person may glean what they will from this film as far as an answer to those questions but I think the way to do these things is illustrated best in the small moments which we see between Pope Benedict and Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio.

Over the course of several days they begin to see the humanity of the other person and realize that they have both made great errors in their lives and see the need both for forgiveness but also humility. Pride, anger, and a sense of righteous indignation are the enemies of understanding. That isn't to say that they can't accomplish much. Great things for good and evil have been done with those motivations but one thing that never happens through these attitudes is healing. Healing comes by seeking the face of Christ in another. It comes by serving others and voluntarily considering ourselves beneath them. Through these actions we learn to identify with them and while we may not agree with them still, we will not be able to hate them and that changes everything about the answers to those questions.

How do we move forward together? How do we stand strong together? How do we do both at the same time?

The answer is in the question. Together.

If all we try to do is push our progressive/conservative battle to a breaking point where one side wins and the other loses then we have lost sight of the humanity in our enemy. We have stopped caring if they get hurt. We revel when they are publicly humiliated. Their followers are morons who can't put 2 and 2 together.

However, when we commit to finding a way together, we instead have to focus on the person. Even if we disagree with their position we will hear their concerns and, if we truly care, try to alleviate those concerns to the best of our ability so that the way forward is one we can all walk together. For some this will mean patience with people who seem to slow to change and for others willingness to take\ steps forward that seem scary. For everyone, It means caring more about individuals, listening to them, seeking to understand them, and consider their own concerns as important as our own.

Ying xiong

Martial ART!
"Hero" blew me away when I first saw it in my early twenties. I was beginning to explore foreign cinema for the first time and martial arts was my first love. The way the action was shot, fights were beautifully choreographed, and the values of the culture differed from my own all drew me to explore films which would eventually push me into foreign films from all over the world.

For the time, however, "Hero" was simply an action movie out of step with the movies I had grown up with and accustomed to. I was too young to understand some of the political realities that affect the story and the film's production so subtleties of a communist country influencing a story to make it more palatable to the official narrative were lost to me.

I liked the martial arts. I liked the use of color. I liked the simple narrative subversion and the nobility of the characters all around. I hadn't seen a lot of Martial Arts movies yet but it seemed like they were mostly about one school or training style versus another or about personal revenge. Here was a film about large military conquests that was all boiled down to the battles between champions and a plot to assassinate a brutal conqueror. More my style.

As the action and story unfolded, I missed the subtleties at play in the characters. I was young and still thought love was somehow magic and couldn't understand how a character could love someone but then go against them for ideological differences. I hadn't faced those battles in my own life and so didn't realize that this is the most interesting drama in the film. The fights may be beautiful, subtle and born from deep internal emotion but I was missing that part of the equation until this last viewing.

Re-watching it, I was still impressed by the use of color to represent different seasons, emotions, and even versions of accounts of the same events but not like I was when I was younger. The same goes for the choreography which looks a fair bit more like dancing than fighting to me at this point. The real difference is my latest viewing is that I am more experienced in the hardships, arguments, bonds, and broken loves of life than I was. Now these fights seem less like interesting backs and forth which keep me on the edge of the seat wondering who will win and how. These questions are all fairly predictable in this film.

No. The fights in "Hero" are the emotions. Do you want to see what pain looks like? Resolve? Respect? Watch the way Jet Li ("Fearless" 2006), Tony Leung ("Chungking Express" 1994), Maggie Chow ("In the Mood for Love," 2000), Donnie Yen ("Ip Man" 2010) and Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" 2000) fight in this film. The fight is not to answer the question "What happens next?" It is to answer the question "But how do they really feel."

The communication and sharing of emotional experience is core to the art of cinema. "Hero" excels in bringing these experiences into our lives with a style that is luscious yet minimal, fights that are frenetic yet peaceful, and heroes who kill yet are willing to die for their enemies.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me

Decent Companion Piece to Twin Peaks
I'm a huge David Lynch fan ("Mulholland Drive", "Eraserhead"), and while unabashedly love the first season and a half of the groundbreaking TV show Twin Peaks, it took me a long time to get through the latter half of the second season of the aforementioned show because it sort of started to go off the rails when Lynch wasn't steering the ship. Just to give you a sense of timing: it took me about two weeks to get through the first season and a half (first eighteen episodes), and then after I found out who killed Laura Palmer and why, it took me almost a year to finish those final twelve episodes. I did finally finish those less-than-stellar episodes, and I was surprised to find that despite my relative disappointment with most of season two, the series finale was pretty great, and it left me eagerly awaiting this film, and then completing my Twin Peaks journey with Twin Peaks: The Return (I'm only a few episodes in so far, but it's fantastic). I was so excited after the season two finale that I jumped right from that episode to this movie (like I'm sure many of the hardcore fans of the series did when this film hit theaters).

As a whole, I'm sort of conflicted about this movie. I think it's a very good companion piece to Twin Peaks, as it tells the story of Laura Palmer's final days leading up to her murder from Laura's perspective, revealing all of the information we learned about Laura and Twin Peaks in an easily digestible two-hour-and-fifteen minute chunk. In a lot of ways, I like this film: any time that I get to visit Twin Peaks with David Lynch as my guide, I'm happy. At the same time, I'm not really sure if this film needs to exist, as it doesn't reveal any new information, and it essentially spoils the whole story of the first two seasons. The only people who can really appreciate this movie for what it is are those who have seen the show, and those people already know everything that's going to happen in this movie, they just haven't seen it from Laura's perspective.

Inland Empire

Lynch at his most Lynchian
"I want to say right now that I think "Inland Empire", for better or worse, is David Lynch at his most unrestrained. I unabashedly loved certain parts of this film, but there were other times when I wasn't sure what the hell was going on, that is, until after the credits rolled, and I took my dog for a walk and pondered what I'd just seen for the better part of an hour. By the time I returned from my walk, I felt as if many things that I did not at first grasp had started to make sense. That's the kind of work this film takes; it's not easy to watch, and even when you do get through the credits, the meaning takes a bit of unspooling.

Lynch's films have always been dense (I can't tell you how long I've spent thinking about "Eraserhead"), but this film is Lynch at his densest. That being said, I also think that huge fans of Lynch's more experimental work will find this film to be one of the meatier offerings Lynch has given us. There's a lot to unpack here, as it is a three-hour film, and I honestly think anyone that watches this would have a much easier time going through the film for a second time, when they've had the chance to properly place and consider the implications of each storyline. As a whole the film is incredibly well done, and I hate to think this is the last film we've received from the famed director (he recently made "Twin Peaks: The Return", but that doesn't count as a film).

Please come back, Lynch. We love you.

There are so many scenes that are up for interpretation that half the time, you didn't know if what was happening was a dream, reality, or part of the film that was being produced. Like many of Lynch's movies, just knowing the details of a scene doesn't compare with experiencing it: listening to the uncomfortable sound design; seeing the weird and sometimes chintzy special effects that still, somehow, manage to come off as creepy; or watching the acting with lengthy pauses and unnatural facial expressions. All of Lynch's films are an experience; and this one in particular is a heck of a wild ride.

The Lodge

Good But Very Predictable
This was one of my most anticipated films of the year, and while I wouldn't call "The Lodge" a disappointment, it certainly wasn't what I was expecting.

I'm a huge horror fan, and I was blown away by Severin Fiala and Veronikka Franz's first (narrative) film: "Goodnight Mommy", which came out six years ago. The trailers for "The Lodge" made it look like a straight up horror movie on par with "Hereditary"; reviewers were even quoted in said trailers, saying that "The next great horror film is here."

I'm going to refute that claim. This is not a great horror movie; it's a very competent but somewhat frustrating thriller. I don't think this movie is very scary, but I do think the things that happen in the third act are undeniably horrific, inventive, and unnerving. It's a disturbing thriller that takes a very long time to get to the disturbing moments, and that's part of the reason I found this film to be a bit frustrating. I found "The Lodge" was also a little bit heavy-handed with its foreshadowing, so it became easily predictable for those that are used to the tropey twists of the genre.

At the same time, the story that this movie told was one that I thought was compelling, and towards the end, when the horrific elements start to ramp up, it really grabbed my attention; the problem was that it took about twenty minutes too long to get there, and the film isn't very long in the first place. I liked the story "The Lodge" tells, but the lack of payoff for the first two-thirds of the film really tests the patience of the viewer, and it's clear that this film takes heavy inspiration from recent horror greats ("Hereditary" in particular- there's a lot of interior miniature shots).

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