Thursday, November 24, 2011

Take Shelter - Movie Review

Take Shelter
Rated R for some language
Moral Rating: 

While I enjoy a good blockbuster film as much as any average viewer, independent films are what really interest me in the entertainment world. Generally deeper and more poignant films, independent films are required by lack of budget to rely on acting and story-telling for success. In "Take Shelter", a surprise hit from the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Michael Shannon delivers a stunning performance as a mentally tortured construction worker named Curtis. Shannon has recently appeared on the celebrity radar with his terrific supporting role in "Revolutionary Road" and his upcoming appearance as General Zod in "Man of Steel" - the Zach Snyder directed Superman reboot.

In "Take Shelter", Curtis and his wife Sam live a simple life in an unspecified rural American town raising their deaf daughter Hannah and trying to make the most out their circumstances and surroundings. Things begin to change when Curtis starts having intense dreams of an oncoming apocalyptic storm. As the dreams become more frequent and more realistic, Curtis' behavior towards his family and coworkers rapidly changes. As Curtis tries to sort through these freakish visions he begins to build a storm shelter in his back yard in preparation. The catch is, he isn't sure that it is actually coming or not. Tensions mount as Sam, portrayed by 2011's hottest new actress Jessica Chastain (also seen in The Tree of Life and The Help), begins to doubt her husband's motives. The audience discovers that Curtis's family has a history of mental illness, so we are always uncertain of the validity of these dreams. I cannot reveal too much more without giving away the plot, but "Take Shelter" slowly builds until an incredibly emotional and intense climax.

Without a doubt, Michael Shannon is the star of this show. Under the direction of Jeff Nichols ("Shotgun Stories") Shannon builds a sense of paranoia in a very real way. Upon viewing "Take Shelter" I could see why he is quickly becoming a hot commodity in Hollywood. Shannon often says more in scenes without dialogue than those containing it. As a character who is trying desperately to protect his family, we see the turmoil in Curtis' eyes as he battles his own mind. The struggle is rooted in the question 'Do I protect my family from an apocalyptic storm that I believe is coming, or from myself?' I found myself switching sides quite often throughout the film, thanks to Shannon's incredible performance. The dreams, horrific in their loud sound editing, shocking violence and darkness, are effective at shaking up the audience in addition to Curtis. And indeed, we can see that something is amiss by the intensity of these visions!

Another shout out belongs to the score composer David Wingo. Cleverly utilizing minimalist strings and percussion, he often creates the effect of wind chimes in his score. Never loud or prominent, the score is just active enough to get under your skin. Subtle enough that you don't notice its presence, perhaps to give us that constant sense of dread that Curtis experiences in the film. While it reminded me at times of James Newton Howard's score to "Signs", Wingo is a fresh face in the movie music world and a good match for the thematic material of "Take Shelter".

In conclusion, you'll notice that I did not reveal many plot points. And this is something important to note! If you are looking for a thought-provoking drama/thriller, then "Take Shelter" is for you - but it is best to enter the theater knowing nothing more than what I've told you. Much of the tension and effectiveness of this film is in the audience's own doubts and perceptions. While not for children (there are a handful of f-words towards the middle of the film) I DO recommend "Take Shelter" for older audiences. Refreshing in a market awash with cinematic cliches, Michael Shannon's award-worthy performance in "Take Shelter" is not to be missed!

Signing out,
The REAL Bowman

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Muppets - Movie Review

The Muppets
Rated PG for mild rude humor
Moral Rating: 

Thank you Walt Disney Company for getting it right!

When I first heard that Disney was planning a so-called 'reboot' of their lagging Muppets property, I was a bit skeptical. After all, the man who had pitched the idea to the studio and was attached to star was not exactly family friendly. Jason Segel, as likeable an actor as he is, comes from the Judd Apatow raunch-comedy troupe, has written and starred in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and is a current favorite character on tv's "How I Met Your Mother" - which is also not exactly for the kids. I can happily tell you however that Segel's take on "The Muppets" is far from offensive. The film reintroduces The Muppets to a 21st century audience, yet never compromises the character and humor that the long-lived franchise is known for.

In "The Muppets" we are introduced from the very beginning to Gary (Jason Segel) and his brother Walter, a die-hard Muppets fan. We are never given the reason or opportunity to question how or why a puppet and human are brothers, but are asked to simply accept it in the whimsical spirit of The Muppets. Even though Walter is a new character, he is a welcome addition to the franchise and is according to Segel "the crazy, crazy, Muppet fan who grew up with them and they meant so much to him." ( Walter gets the chance of a lifetime when Gary takes him and his girlfriend of 10 years Mary (Amy Adams) to Los Angeles. While Gary intends for the trip to be a getaway and Mary hopes it will lead to a proposal, Walter is simply set on seeing the historic Muppet Studios. Once in LA Walter overhears a plot by the film's villain, Tex Richman (played perfectly by Chris Cooper), to raze the Muppet Studios once their contract expires, giving him access to an oil reserve beneath the property. The only way that this plan can be stopped is for the Muppets to reunite and put on a fundraiser show to raise the 10 millions dollars necessary to renew their contract and save The Muppet Theater.

Walter and Gary share a moment...

While certainly not an original story idea, "The Muppets" pulls off this plot better than any other film I've seen. The entire time I was watching, I was reminded of a much-lesser Disney movie from 2002 based on their "Country Bears" Disney World attraction. Where that film floundered in its own stupidity, Segel's script is witty, fun, and constantly paying homage to "The Muppet Show" and the early years of these characters. Old time fans will be touched by Kermit's song "Pictures in my Head" as he reminisces over the old days, or the presence of "The Rainbow Connection", a classic Muppets musical number. The new songs here start off a bit campy (the audience wasn't sure what to do when Jason Segel burst into song within the first 5 minutes) but as the film progresses, so does the quality of the songs. Bret McKenzie (of Flight of the Conchords fame) did an excellent job writing songs that fit the style of The Muppets. (Check out my personal favorite "Man or Muppet" on iTunes)

While the plot and songs are fine, what audiences truly care to see is the return of their much-loved characters! We discover that Kermit and Miss Piggy have been separated when we first see them, so much of the film is devoted to their (interspecies) relationship. Fozzie Bear and Gonzo fans never fear though, for we see ALL of our favorites in "The Muppets"! While I would have preferred to see more of Beaker, Rizzo the Rat and The Swedish Chef, each character has a role in the fundraiser show. In a wise move, the human characters never overshadow the Muppet characters, with both Gary and Mary moving into supporting roles once our heroes are re-established on screen. Granted, there is something amusing about seeing Jason Segel carry on an earnest conversation with puppets as if they are human. This childlike attitude seems to more than qualify Segel for the job as producer, writer and actor. As a long-time fan of "The Muppets" he treats them fairly, giving the characters the respect they deserve- never having to "reinvent" them. 

On a slightly random note, while you are viewing "The Muppets" keep your eyes open for the many, many celebrity cameos. Some are more prominent (such as Jack Black in a hilarious supporting role) and others are blink-and-you-miss-em fast (Mickey Rooney, Sarah Silverman, Neil Patrick Harris, Whoopi Goldberg, John Krasinski, Selena Gomez among others). Back in the days of "The Muppet Show" the guest celebrities were always a delight, and this proves true today. 

In conclusion, "The Muppets" is a surprise hit at the cinema this Thanksgiving. Jason Segel has created a hilarious, heartwarming film is already receiving rave reviews from critics and movie-goers alike. I commented to my friend as I left the theater that I couldn't remember the last time I had been to a movie that I enjoyed so much where kids made up the majority of the audience. This is indeed one of the great things about "The Muppets" - it is good, clean fun for all ages. Truly funny, touching and definitely worthy of repeat viewings, this movie is a must see. 

Signing out,
The REAL Bowman

Side Note: "The Muppets" had one of the most brilliant ad campaigns that I have seen in a long time, spoofing other major film events of 2011 such as "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Breaking Dawn" and "Green Lantern". Check out the preview below....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prodigals and Hipsters

"Hipsters are 'older brothers' pretending to be 'younger brothers'" - Ben Wolaver

What is it about the hipster movement that has so gripped pop-culture in the past few years? As someone who is constantly labeled a hipster, I tend to notice this more than your average American, yet most people can tell you to some degree what a hipster is. I personally love wearing plaid, have a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, enjoy listening to obscure indie music artists, am a conneuseur of coffee, and love literature. This seems to be enough to group me with the much more liberal "Hipster" hipsters that are generally more cynical, atheist existentialists. That, I DON'T relate to. Hipsters are also generally concerned with environmentalism, social justice and equal rights - even at risk of personal jeopardy or alienation from the masses.

Interestingly enough, there seems to be a movement growing more and more in the American church to be a "Christian hipster" - to skirt tradition and go off on our own to enact change we believe in.
So what exactly gives hipsters that 'sex-appeal', that desire to be a self-designated outsider that so attracts us?

I believe it lies in the same reasoning behind why many people sponsor children through World Vision and Compassion International, the same reason behind why many people volunteer at the local homeless shelters and food banks. Don't get me wrong, I am by no means discouraging this form of generosity. I am simply pointing out the fact that it is now attractive to associate with the lowly. Humility out of pride. Showing up to volunteer in the ghetto with our Starbucks and desire to help, because it is, well, COOL.

Instead of true humility and service out of a genuine love for God and our neighbor - an attitude like Jesus - we find many people with the attitude of a Pharisee parading as an inner-city Jesus. A desire to do right simply out of arrogance and self-importance. THIS is one thing that bothers me about the modern-day "Christian Hipster" movement.

Many times Jesus would use parables to expose the Pharisee's hypocrisy in public, and in Luke 15 we see one of the most obvious criticisms of the religious leaders. As he associated with 'sinners' the Bible says that the religious leaders "grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”" (Luke 15:2 ESV). Immediately Jesus told 3 parables, finishing with The Prodigal Son. (If you want to read it click HERE.) Most pastors focus on the younger brother, how he squandered his father's wealth and in humility came back to his Father, who received him with open arms. And indeed this is a glorious reception for the son, who lost everything.

 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father's hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:17-24 ESV)

The younger brother realized his error, humbled himself, and came to his father as a servant. Adopting an attitude as a servant is certainly no strange concept to the Christian faith. Christ himself humbled himself by becoming human to live and die among us. And we are even encouraged to imitate Him in this humility. (read Philippians Chapter 2 for this!)

The older brother in this story is often overlooked, unfortunately. Even though he lived in his father's house and had everything he needed, he still couldn't rejoice when his brother was restored to the family. All he saw was his brother's sin, not the fact that he had returned. "...he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’" (Luke 15:28-30 ESV)

Up until this past century it was an extremely attractive thing to be a squeaky clean Christian. In other words, people looked up to you and considered you better than others if you went to church, knew scripture, abstained from drinking, sex, cursing etc. In the 21st century we find ourselves in a world where the exact opposite is true. Public views of the church are increasingly more and more negative, and the world criticizes and ridicules Christians who isolate themselves in the confines of the church using words like "legalistic" and "judgmental". This is where the "Christian hipster" music finds its roots. It is a fact that people like to be accepted and their actions approved. By criticizing the body of believers and setting out to associate with those who need help - being something of a prodigal Christian - we find that the world accepts us more and what we do. At what cost though? This facade of humility, acting like the prodigal son while we are nothing more than an older brother, is ripping at the foundation of our faith! What is that foundation? LOVE. Pure, unadultered, selfless, genuine LOVE - straight from the heart of our heavenly Father and intended to be shared with the world out of the overflow of our hearts.

Please don't misunderstand, I am glad that people recognize the flaws in legalism and judgment in the church. I am glad that young people are desiring to pour into the lowly, the poor and 'sinners' as Pharisees would call it. At least needs are being met!

The challenge is that we must remember who we were, and who we are. We are all unworthy of the Father's mercy. We are ALL called to LOVE those around us, and we are most importantly called to die to self. As it says in Galatians 2:20 "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

So who are you?
Do you have the heart of a younger brother, humbly returning to your Father?
Or do you have the heart of the older brother, unable to rejoice in other's joy because your eyes are turned inward?
Are you trying to look like a Prodigal? Or have you found yourself at the place of actually being a Prodigal?
Do we love because He first loved us?

Signing out,
The Buckland Fiddler

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Coldplay - "Mylo Xyloto" Album Review

Artist/Band: Coldplay
Album: Mylo Xyloto

Just last year I was talking with a friend of mine about the constant evolution in the music industry when the comment was made that "People just don't understand that music changes!" And this is oh so true. Styles have subtly shifted into an electronic pop/based sound in the past couple of years, hearkening back to the 80's and incorporating techno and dubstep influence to create a style all it's own. Some of the aforementioned music is cliche and canned, yet there remain artists who can take the sounds of the times and craft them into something creative and accessible. While many people would say that if a band has a good sound they shouldn't change it, I would say that adapting sound is a sign of a band's maturity and ability to relate to the culture.

With all this being said, one could honestly say that Coldplay is a band without fear. It would seem that way, anyhow, after the release of "Mylo Xyloto", Coldplay's newest and definitely most ambitious project to date! After the popularity of 2008's "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" one would have expected Chris Martin, Johnny Buckland, Guy Berryman and Will Champion to continue in the art-rock vein of their music. Or at least the space-rock sound of 2005's "X & Y". Instead, Coldplay viewed their 5th record as an opportunity to start from scratch - seemingly delivering a metaphorical middle finger to all expectations. Already being praised by some and blasted by others, "Mylo Xyloto" is polarizing fans because of it's drastic departure from the Coldplay we've grown accustomed to.

Let's start with the good. On "Mylo Xyloto", Coldplay has created a hypnotizing sound unlike anything they have ever done. Tossing out the alternative and space rock riffs for techno beats and synth riffs, this new record is gaining the attention of the pop market that they had never quite had. "Viva La Vida" had a few hits that became popular in the pop saturated market, but "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall" and "Paradise" are two singles that have already crossed over, getting the attention of people who have never before liked Coldplay. The pop feel is strong, with auto-tuning used for effect (such as on the oh-so-catchy "Hurts Like Heaven"), catchy synth hooks and bass drops. Brian Eno is credited as having played on "Mylo Xyloto", and providing what the boys in the band like to call "Enoxification". Eno contributed to "Viva La Vida", and his presence on Coldplay's records certainly takes their music beyond what one might normally expect. Take for instance the electronic beeps and heavily distorted synth of "Princess of China." Speaking of "Princess of China", this tracks features the surprising yet fitting presence of Rihanna. If all this talk of electronics and pop singers is scaring you, don't fret! There is your fair share of classic acoustic-based Coldplay music on "Mylo Xyloto" - the contemplative "Us Against The World", the religious meets sci-fi "UFO" and even the paranoid "Major Minus."

Now the bad..... Sigh. Chris Martin has always been a deep writer; using metaphors, religious imagery and history to influence his lyrics. For "Mylo Xyloto" Martin was apparently inspired by NYC graffiti and the White Rose Movement, which was an intellectual uprising against Nazi Germany. Even though this comes through clear on some tracks, many of the lyrics on this record are shallow and weak. "Up In Flames" for example is one track that attempts to build up, but the lyrics (and the music) fail to ever reach a climax. "Don't Let It Break Your Heart" is another example of a song that just seems to try too hard using pads and riffs rather than focusing on building around lyrics. The songs on "Mylo Xyloto" are all catchy, very radio friendly, and for all purposes are good songs but the problem lies in the fact that they just never seem to ever reach the emotional impact that the previous 4 records achieved.

Where is the newest "The Scientist" or "Fix You"? Where is a pounding anthem like "Viva La Vida"? While "Enoxification" certainly is helping Coldplay gain a new hold on the music market, it's complete 180 seems to be alienating their long-time fans who simply want the good old boys who wrote "Yellow" and "Clocks" back. While I am a huge fan of the new record, I see what they are saying. Electronic music is not a bad thing, but as soon as it becomes a gimmick rather than a tool, it has been abused - and Coldplay is dangerously close to this!

Still, "Mylo Xyloto" is definitely worth purchasing.

Must own tracks: "Hurts Like Heaven", "Us Against The World"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mutemath - "Odd Soul" Album Review

Artist/Band: Mutemath
Album: Odd Soul
Produced by Mutemath

Mutemath never ceases to amaze. Their self-titled debut was a solid indie-alternative record, featuring such fan favorites as Typical, Chaos, Stare at the Sun and Reset. Then there were the mind-blowing music videos! When Paul Meany, Darren King, Roy Mitchell-Cardenas and Greg Hill returned to the studio to record a follow up, the band was split on what musical direction to take. After much frustration and a near break-up, Mutemath decided to scrap everything they had done so far and start from scratch. Recorded in New Orleans, "Armistice" was a huge leap in musical maturity. Featuring a more prominent synthetic and electronic edge, this record was both innovative and accessible. Supported by a live show that is regarded by many as one of the best in the world, Mutemath held onto their position as one of the best alternative bands in the industry (and we'll ignore the fact that their song "Spotlight" was featured prominently on the Twilight soundtrack). Earlier this year however, Mutemath announced that guitarist Greg Hill was no longer with the band, and that the third record had been recorded as a trio. Needless to say, fans were a bit nervous as it was uncertain what was gong to happen next.

I am glad to say that "Odd Soul" is probably the most solid offering yet from the New Orleans rock group. While their previous efforts were more electronic in nature and held more of an alternative rock feel, "Odd Soul" goes back to the band's roots and incorporates soul, funk, blues, classic rock and 80's pop elements for a surprisingly diverse record. The title track, the launch single "Blood Pressure" and several other tracks such as "Tell Your Heart Heads Up", "Allies", and "Cavalries" feature a more raw, almost White Stripes-like, guitar presence. Definitely influenced by soul, funk and blues rock artists, "Odd Soul" is almost an ode to music of the past. Combine that with very soulful vocals, retro 70's drumbeats (Check out the song "Prytania") and the presence of organ and synthesizer, and you have a record that is closer to New Orleans jazz than a Mutemath record.

Lyrically, Paul Meany has always been very artistic and vague, disguising real life issues with rhetoric and metaphor rather than sticking to a particular them. This time around, however, Meany revisits his childhood growing up in a religious family and its impact on him as an individual. This is NOT from a Christian perspective though. Lyrically, Meany is very quick to talk about the problems he has with organized religion and his departure from it. While Mutemath DID come from the ashes of a former Christian band called Earthsuit, they will be quick to assure you that Mutemath is strictly a rock band. A self-proclaimed Universalist, Paul Meany conveys a message of frustration and cynicism on "Odd Soul". I was once a son, now I'm on my own. Wade through everyone, And I've got myself to show. The trials and tribulations seem to always track me down. Gonna ride off into the sunset and try me another town (Odd Soul). Haven't you suffered enough on the straight and narrow? Stand on your own (Cavalries). "Blood Pressure" seems to discuss the effects of legalism - Why can't you do a little more for Jesus? Why can't you? Blood pressure... keep rising. "Walking Paranoia" takes a different angle to the same idea. I am a nervous wreck. Jesus is coming back. Gonna catch me at a porno rack. I'm about to have a heart attack. Am I on hell's highway? Cause I'm walking paranoia. 

Each song on "Odd Soul" follows this theme. While it is depressing to see such frustration coming from such a talented man, Meany certainly raises excellent questions. What kind of a church did he go to that disillusioned him so much? Why is it that Meany must sing I'm undecided if kidding or not. Under the smiling, you never know. Fall in a line if you're standing around. Let the harvester carve your soul (Quarantine)? Both a musically and lyrically intense record, "Odd Soul" makes you think. I can't begin to touch the surface when it comes to the lyrical depth. Each song carries weight and rawness.

I would suggest that "Odd Soul" is Mutemath's strongest work to date. While much darker lyrically, the musical ingenuity is refreshing in a market flooded with pop clones.

Track Listing:
1. Odd Soul
2. Prytania
3. Blood Pressure
4. Tell Your Heart Heads Up
5. All or Nothing
6. Sun Ray
7. Allies
8. Cavalries
9. Walking Paranoia
10. One More
11. Equals
12. Quarantine
13. In No Time

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Switchfoot - "Vice Verses" album review

Artist/Band: Switchfoot
Album: Vice Verses

It is difficult to put a band like Switchfoot in a proverbial box. With 7 full length records and a greatest hits collection since their debut in 1997, expectations have been enormously high for the follow up to 2009's Grammy award winning record "Hello Hurricane". While HH was a very well written record, it somewhat polarized fans. Those who loved it swore by it's clever instrumentation and more experimental vibes; yet there remained a fragment of the fanbase that longed for a return to a more guitar-driven-arena-rock record like Nothing is Sound" (2005). Even though "Oh, Gravity" (2006) and "Hello Hurricane" had a few songs that channeled the sound that made them famous with the song "Meant to Live", these records seemed more like fun side projects than an actual follow up to "The Beautiful Letdown" and "Nothing is Sound".

So now we have "Vice Verses", one of the best records Switchfoot has ever released. Building on the huge sound of "Nothing is Sound" combined with the emotional and lyrical rawness of "Hello Hurricane" and Jon Foreman's solo ep's; "Vice Verses" explores themes of death, life and renewal through the concept of the constant battles we face in life. "I am the war inside, I am the battle line, I am the rising tide, I am the war I fight." ("The War Inside"). Foreman's writing has never been so potent as now. "Restless" depicts a soul searching for God "Running hard for the other side, The world that I've always been denied, Running hard for the infinite, With the tears of the saints and the hypocrites../ I am restless, looking for you." "Thrive" and "Vice Verses" channel Foreman's solo writing style, while "Selling the News" is a welcome journey into new territory for Switchfoot as Foreman speaks rather than sings the verses. The album opener and closer "Afterlife" and "Where I Belong" bookend the record well, pondering life after death. And these are just a few that I chose to mention. The songwriting is solid from beginning to end.

"Dark Horses" was the first single released from "Vice Verses" and while I loved the song, I find that it gets overshadowed by vastly superior songs. This is one record that I had high expectations for, and Switchfoot has delivered. Every song is deep. Every song makes you think. Every song is well written, produced and performed. Don't miss out on one of 2011's best albums so far.

Track Listing:

  1. Afterlife (3:37)
  2. The Original (3:15)
  3. The War Inside (3:39)
  4. Restless (5:18)
  5. Blinding Light (4:17)
  6. Selling the News (3:35)
  7. Thrive (5:12)
  8. Dark Horses (3:54)
  9. Souvenirs (4:15)
  10. Rise Above It (3:33)
  11. Vice Verses (5:08)
  12. Where I Belong (6:53)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Movie Review

Katie Holmes stars in "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark"
Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
Rated R for violence and terror
Filmmaking: ☆☆
Moral Rating: 

"Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" could best be described as a strange hybrid between "The Others" and "Pan's Labyrinth". And Indeed this comparison is almost necessary, as "Don't Be Afraid" was written and produced by Pan's Labyrinth creator Guillermo Del Toro. Del Toro is also responsible for the "Hellboy" films and is currently working on a sci-fi picture called "Pacific Rim." If it seems as if Del Toro is all over the place, it is because he is! Long attached to the now in development film adaptations of "The Hobbit", Del Toro decided to leave the director's chair so he could pursue other projects, one of which ended up being "Don't Be Afraid". Generally speaking, Del Toro's projects are creative, well made, and somewhat scary. So his latest definitely arrives with high expectations. Would it live up to it's producer's reputation? Would it be as scary as the 70's original tv movie it was based on? Well let's examine the film, shall we?!

"Don't Be Afraid" stars Guy Pearce as Alex and Katie Holmes as his girlfriend Kim, who are in the middle of renovations at a huge mansion when Alex's daughter Sally comes to stay with them. Things begin to happen when Sally discovers a hidden basement where the former owner of the property, Mr. Blackwood, had died. Things begin to happen when Sally finds a grate blocking creatures that live under the house from  entering and wreaking havoc, however due to a highly illogical series of events, she ends up listening to them and letting them in. Without ruining anything, I can say that one thing leads to another and soon we discover the history of the place while Alex and Kim struggle with knowing what to do with Sally (is she crazy, or telling the truth?).

As you have probably already surmised, the plot (while simple) is FULL of the typical types of plot holes and illogical, nay, plain stupid behavior that gets our characters into these messes in the first place! While the scares are good, it is impossible to get over the fact that people in horror movies NEVER follow the rules of logic. (What do they teach in schools these days?) For instance, we discover that the creatures are trying to take Sally and that they can't stand the light. Despite this there are sequences in which Sally is left alone in the dark, scenes where everything would be fine if they would simply turn on the freaking light! And then of course, there are the photos. One major plot point of the movie was that Sally was able to capture the image of some of these creatures on film, leading to a scuffle (even killing one), yet the climax of the scene ends with a hug from daddy dearest, and the pictures (and the body of the dead creature) are never mentioned, or seen again. What is the point of a sequence like that if you don't get anywhere? Come on, Guillermo.

Despite the lousy story and script, this movie DOES have style. I mentioned in the opening paragraph a comparison to "Pan's Labyrinth". "Don't Be Afraid" shares many of the same fantastical views of nature and the property, much the same way "Pan's Labyrinth" did. The lighting and cinematography convey the idea that this movie is in fact a fairy tale, and not a thriller, and this IS the case. The story incorporates fairy tale ideas and character design by the half way point, and in this regard "Don't Be Afraid" is distinctly Del Torian. Rather than focusing on the horror of what the creatures might do to Sally, the film instead showcases the weirdness of them and the grotesqueness of their appearance. Rather than focusing on the characters at hand and leaving the antagonistic force in a shroud of mystery, Del Toro's approach makes us focus on the fairy tale aspect of the narrative. We see much of the so called "dark fairies" as they try to capture Sally (presumably to eat her teeth. Imagine THAT kind of a tooth fairy!) rather than experience suspense through the unknown like Hitchcock. Along with this fantasy treatment is a BEAUTIFUL score and some gorgeous lighting.

In conclusion, a beautiful design and musical score cannot save what is ultimately a cliche, un-scary horror film. Del Toro has an eye for design and fairy tales but for some reason "Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark" falls flat. Perhaps it is the undeserved R rating that led me to expect a better scary movie, or maybe it was the coldness and intensity of his previous works, but "Don't Be Afraid" is a bit of a paradox. On one hand if functions well as a fairy tale, utilizing a little girl and horrible creatures to tell it's tale. BUT on the other hand, it tells us that it is a horror movie - at which it really falls short. I would advise waiting to see this until it is out on DVD. But still, it's worth a rental!

Signing out, The Buckland Fiddler

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Racism and the Cinema - thoughts on "The Help"

Emma Stone and Viola Davis star in "The Help", now in theaters

Racism. You would think that by now, in the technological progress of the 21st century, that we would have moved beyond such a horrible reality. But the reality is that racism still runs rampant in our nation, predominantly in the south. Growing up in Memphis has given me a deeper insight into this mess than I ever cared to know, but now that I do know, I do care. How could someone ever judge someone and treat them as inferiors based solely on the color of their skin?

I went to see "The Help" this past weekend with a couple of friends. I had heard that the movie was a must-see and that Emma Stone shone as an actress. Yes, I went for entertainment purposes - not to be enlightened- yet left the theater deep in thought. In case you haven't seen it (or read the book), "The Help" follows a young journalist nicknamed Skeeter (Emma Stone) as she returns to her hometown of Jackson, MS following her graduation from Ole Miss. She promptly accepts a job as a housekeeping advice columnist for the newspaper as all her friends are busy starting families, having babies, hosting bridge parties, etc... with the assistance of 'the help', or the black maids that work in their houses. 

As a progressive woman who has always shied away from tradition, Skeeter begins to write an exposé on 'the help' with the assistance of several maids, to shed some light on the unfair treatment and racial prejudice against these black employees. Along the way she gains friends in Aibileen and Minny (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) and loses some old friends ( Bryce Dallas Howard as the infuriating Hilly Holbrook). Facing danger of social rejection and their safety from the KKK in the ever heating Civil Rights Movement, Skeeter publishes the stories of these maids as an anonymous book called "The Help", which starts to illuminate the heartache and unfairness that is racism.

The performances in this film are nothing less than amazing. The production design of the early 1960's looks exactly like every picture your grandmother ever showed you. But the reason that this movie is so darn good is that it has HEART. At the core of this movie is a story of relationship. Whether it is Skeeter's strained relationship with her mother, her gained friendship with Aibileen; or whether it is Hilly Holbrook's cold hatred towards Minny, or the outcast "white trash" Celia Foote (played by Tree of Life's Jessica Chastain) "The Help" is jam packed with people wanting to be loved, wanting to be accepted. If we think about it, that is why racism is so wrong. We are withholding love from someone who has every right to receive it. Who are we to withhold love from someone for a reason so horrid as race or skin color? As a Christian I am reminded of Colossians 3:11 when it says "Here (in Christ) there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."  

We could also look at John 12:34 - "Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." Or perhaps 2 Corinthains 13:11 - "Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you." Biblically speaking, there is no justification at all for racism. Which makes perfect sense. The simple ugly truth about racism is that it won't go away. As long as there are people rejecting God, rejecting His perfect LOVE then there is absolutely NO way that they can love others. So what can we do? We can show the love of God to them. As the saying goes "You may be the only Jesus they ever see." 

How do we confront racism? With love. With God's unending love. Through our actions, our attitude, our humility, and our love the world will know that we are God's and that He desires for them to know Him. No matter what skin color, what heritage, what horrible sins they may have committed- no matter what, God desires for all men to know him. "By this will they know you are my disciples, that you love one another." Thus says John 12:35. We can make an impact. We simply must show HIS love to those around us. 

"The Help" is rated PG-13 for thematic material and is in theaters now. I do not recommend it for children because of language and the intense thematic material surrounding racism. See it and let it challenge the way you think about your relationships!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 - Movie Review

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence and frightening images

The Harry Potter saga is finally brought to a close in the 8th (yes I said 8th) film in this gargantuan, box-office shattering franchise. Regardless of how you feel about the films, some sort of recognition needs to be given to the producers of the Harry Potter movies for maintaining the quality of a film series for so long. In fact, the Harry Potter movies seem to have gotten better as they went along. For most franchises, if an 8th film is ever made it is usually either a straight to DVD release or a made for tv movie. While the 1st 4 Harry Potter films are fun fantasy flicks akin to something like the Narnia films, the last 4 in the series - Order of the Phoenix, Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 really are comparable in tone and quality to the Lord of the Rings films. 

Deathly Hallows Part 2 picks up RIGHT where Part 1 left off, throwing us rather suddenly into the conflict. Harry Potter is still hunting down the Horcruxes that contain parts of Lord Voldemort's soul so that he can destroy them, and ultimately destroy the Dark Lord. (If you wonder what the heck a Horcrux is, I recommend reading the book or doing a little bit of Wikipedia investigation!) The story to Part 2 is very straightforward, as Harry, Ron and Hermione return to Hogwarts one final time to find the final piece and end up joining an epic final confrontation with the Dark Lord and his army of Death Eaters. If you have read the book there is nothing new here, except for a few reordering changes to make the movie 'more suspenseful'. In my humble yet honest opinion, they made the story MUCH better and a more exciting film. Despite these improvements however, there are still many moments where the pacing is much too slow. Clocking in at just over 2 hours, I feel that the split in the final chapter required a bit of stretching to fill screen time. Once the film gets rolling though, you never stop until the conclusion.

Acting-wise, Deathly Hallows showcases the actors at their finest. Daniel Radcliffe shines as Harry, giving him an intense emotional depth. As he sees his friends die for him and realizes the sacrifice that he will be required to make himself, we believe that he is actually struggling. Daniel is one of those actors who truly can act sans dialogue. Emma Watson ( my favorite actor in the film) and Rupert Grint have also grown into their own as Hermione and Ron. Although these actors are fantastic, I found that Alan Rickman's Severus Snape stole the show yet again. Although a major player in the final chapter of the Potter saga, Snape was curiously missing from most of the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Now, as his part in the story plays out, we see many more layers to the intriguing dark arts teacher/ headmaster. On a negative note, the only part of the movie that I found to be rather cheesy and unneeded was the epilogue. The cast plays themselves 19 years in the future even though only a minimal amount of makeup effects were used to age them. This led to a very unbelievable and humorous ending to an otherwise incredible film.

Deathly Hallows Part 2 excels on many levels, but I found that the most appealing aspect of the film was the cinematography and visual effects. Eduardo Serra, the cinematographer from Part 1, returns to the gritty, dark look that made Yates' installments so riveting for me. From the muted grays and ominous landscape shots, to the intense and sweeping battle sequences at Hogwarts, this film is much darker in tone than any of the previous films. As the thematic material gets darker, so does the look and feel of the film. The wizard battles are fantastic to behold, as Serra's camera work takes us across the entire battlefield - as if to immerse us in it's enormous scale. While not as sweeping as a battle sequence in The Lord of the Rings, something about these battles feel more personal. We see what the stakes are instead of merely understanding the concept.

Morally, there is no sexual content, little language, and virtually no blood in Harry Potter. The violence is VERY intense though and the body count high in Deathly Hallows Part 2. We lose characters that we know and the emotional tension is high. The PG-13 rating is very appropriate and I would certainly caution parents from taking young children to see it. The magical content in the films is dumbed down to a level similar with that in The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia so there is no need to worry about witchcraft content. The magic used in Harry Potter is a more fantasy based magic akin to that in fairy tales. While the books did delve into very controversial content, the films are much more family friendly in this regard. I say this only because I know there are many people who are wary of the Harry Potter series because of uncertainty in this area.

Overall, I thought Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 was a worthy conclusion to an epic film saga. While the pacing at times was slow and there were some rather shallow emotional moments, this film is incredibly well made (forgetting of course the terrible epilogue). It is almost sad to think of the Harry Potter saga as being over, but it certainly makes me excited to see the next fantasy epic from Warner Bros. - Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - in December of 2012. 

Signing out,
The REAL Bowman 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger - Movie Review

Captain America: The First Avenger
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Moral Rating:

Captain America should have been an amazing movie. It deserves to be everything that it seemed like it would be. Yet even with this being said, Capt. America is NOT a bad movie by a long shot - in the sense that it does everything it set out to do. Entertain, set up The Avengers, introduce Chris Evans as the Captain, finish the summer movie rush with a patriotic BANG.... Even then, something seems lost in translation. 

As a movie, Captain America is not well made by a long shot, the directing is clumsy and the script incredibly campy and cliche. The funny thing about Marvel Studio's latest though is that this campiness and cliched take is what makes the film work. While other films such as Iron Man, X-Men: First Class and the Spider-man movies attempted to ground their films in reality (which is altogether an incredulous and impossible thing to do, considering the source material) both THOR and Captain America have fun by seemingly almost directly recreating a comic book on the big screen. We are never expected to take things seriously in Captain America, and as the stupid wise-cracks fly, implausible action sequences take place and some of the most over the top character interactions make us blush, it struck me that THIS was the intended purpose of the script. 

Joe Johnston is no stranger to adventure movies, having directed Jumanji, Jurassic Park 3 and Hidalgo. His style is very family friendly and goes for sheer entertainment value rather than cohesive plots and logical structure. Johnston could be said to be the directorial equivalent of a 6 year old with a bucket of Legos. He uses the pieces he has to make something. Not all the colors match, pieces may be missing and parts of it may just barely be holding on, but there is no mistaking what the final product is despite its shoddy quality. And just as we don't hold a 6 year old's lego skyscraper up in comparison to the Empire State Building, I feel that we shouldn't hold up Johnston's films to obviously superior movies of Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky and Terrence Malick. All that Johnston's films have ever meant to do was to have fun and tell a story. 

Chris Evans is spectacular as Steve Rogers. His acting has matured greatly from his days as The Human Torch in Marvel's disaster Fantastic Four films. He truly owns this role and carries the movie. Hugo Weaving plays an incredibly cheesy Red Skull, yet his performance is lackluster and cliche - complete with phony German accent, evil laughs and black trench coat. Hayley Atwell does a decent job as Rogers' love interest Peggy Carter, but the remaining cast - including Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips - is easily forgettable. 

From a story standpoint, Captain America is a very standard movie. Hero goes up against villain who wants to take over the world using advanced weapons technology. Hero thwarts villain, gets the girl, discovers his identity. Cliche but fun. When all is said and done, there is not much to say about Captain America. The story is baffling and implausible and if I tried to explain it in this review I think I would ruin the movie for you. What is there should not be explained, nor should it be attempted to be analyzed logically. Marvel's latest should simply be taken for what it is- a summer popcorn movie. When I first watched Captain America I must admit I was very disappointed, but the more I think on it, the more I like the movie. This is one movie that attempts to stay true to everything about the time period it came from. Watch any movie from the 1940's and you'll see what I mean! Campiness, overacting, complete lack of logic, over the top villains, etc etc etc... and yet THIS is what we want in a period film. And indeed, that is what I want in Captain America. As good a director as Christopher Nolan is, I just don't think he could capture the astute patriotism, the go-get'm attitude and the harmless cheese.

Conclusion: Captain America: The First Avenger is not a must see, but it is certainly entertaining if approached correctly. The setting and characters are fun, even if they aren't comparable to those in other Marvel masterpieces.

Signing out, The REAL Bowman.

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Top 5 - Anticipated Albums of 2011

Here it is! These are the records that I believe will define 2011's music for me.....

5. Phil Wickham - Response
Maybe I'm just biased because I have personal connections with this guy and his producer, but Phil Wickham is one of the best current Christian recording artists out right now. Not only are his lyrics unbelievably poetic and deep, but the music is well thought out, well orchestrated, and well produced. His self titled debut and the follow up "Cannons" both boasted more of a Euro-rock/ indie folk sound but with his 3rd project "Heaven and Earth" we were surprised with a synth and beat heavy record. Going for more ethereal and retro in sound, "Heaven and Earth" quickly became one of my all time favorite Christian music records. I have only heard about 4 or 5 of the new tracks from "Response", but it sounds as if Phil is experimenting again, revisiting the piano and incorporating more of an 80's rock vibe. 
-"Response" releases sometime this August. Follow Phil on facebook for updates on the release.

4. Mat Kearney - Young Love
Ever since his label debut "Nothing Left to Lose", Mat Kearney has been constantly growing, gaining an impressive following. "Nothing Left to Lose" was catchy, featuring Kearney's chill Chris Martin sounding vocals in a style that was part folk, part pop, and yes, part hip-hop. Indeed, the latter is what initially attracted my ear to his music... Not only can Kearney sing, he can rap! The follow up "City of Black and White" was amazing, well produced and well written, but was curiously devoid of any hip-hop or pop elements. While this helped him to break into the singer-songwriter territory of Nashville ( scary shark infested waters in the music industry, if you ask me), it left the fans that put Kearney on the map to begin with a bit let down, but hopeful that he would return to the sound we fell in love with. And if "Hey Mama"- his first single off the new record - is any indication, Kearney just might have returned to his best musical area. Add to that the eye-catching neon artwork, and "Young Love" is looking to be anything but boring....
-"Young Love" releases on August 2nd.

3. Switchfoot - Vice Verses
When Switchfoot first burst onto the mainstream music scene with "The Beautiful Letdown", they quickly became synonimous with high-energy music, massive arena rock (think of the song "Meant to Live", "Stars" etc) and sold out live shows. Since then Switchfoot has released 3 other full length records, "Nothing is Sound", "Oh! Gravity" and "Hello Hurricane"; as well as a greatest hits cd. "Nothing is Sound" continued the band's development in writing and rocking out, and while many thought "Oh! Gravity" was a mistep for the band, I rather liked it. Following this record Jon Foreman released 4 solo ep's and a collaboration with Sean Watkins (of Nickel Creek) called "Fiction Family". These were more experimental musically and much more potent lyrically. Now we arrive at "Hello Hurricane". 
While being incredibly well produced, with some standout tracks - "Needle and Haystack Life", "Mess of Me", the title track- this album felt more like a giant experimentation binge. And in a sense it was. Over 80 songs had been written and recorded before being narrowed down to the 12 that made up the record. There was a LOT going on in the music, yet it never felt BIG - like "Nothing is Sound"did. The lyrics were amazing, the orchestrations were good... yet "Hello Hurricane" just didn't feel quite like Switchfoot! So now we arrive to 2011 and the arrival of the much-anticipated "Vice Verses". Early reports and releases from the label say that this album is darker and feels much bigger with much less going on. It has been compared to U2's "The Joshua Tree" and Coldplay's "A Rush of Blood to the Head". "Vice Verses" is also being heralded as an "arena rock album". Looks like Switchfoot is returning to form! I look forward to this release. The first single "Dark Horses" will be released sometime in August.
-"Vice Verses" is slated to be released on September 27th. 

2. MUTEMATH - Odd Soul
Mutemath is a band that doesn't play around. After winning a lawsuit over the distribution of their first full length record  - simply called "MUTEMATH" - Mutemath tore onto the live music scene. Their band is in fact one of the few bands that you MUST see live before you die. Hailing from New Orleans, Mutemath incorporates so many different unique musical elements into their music that there truly is no one that sounds like them. So how does one create a worthy successor to a critically acclaimed debut? Mutemaths' sophomore release "Armistice" seemed to be created with a live show in mind. The heavy synths and unbelievably complex drum and bass hooks make this one cd that I literally have worn out from overplaying! "Armistice" feels almost like a band's 3rd record, as it's departure in sound from the debut is so apparent. In truth it technically is, as the band completely scrapped the initial follow up record and almost broke up due to creative differences in band direction. 
Even though they survived, the stress that this near-falling-out caused on the band left its mark. A few months ago Mutemath announced on their website that their guitarist Greg Hill had left the band and that their new record had been completed as a trio. Apparently Hill needed a break from music because of the intensity of Mutemath's career in the past few years. At first sight this might seem like bad news, but Mutemaths' first ep "Reset" was recorded as a trio before Hill ever joined. The new record "Odd Soul" has only been hinted at in short Youtube previews, but it sounds as if the boys are back with a crazy new sound. If any band can prove that raw musical talent is all one needs to succeed, it's Mutemath. Despite the lack of Hill, "Odd Soul" seems to be shaping up to be one of the best records of 2011. 
-"Odd Soul" releases on October 4th.

1. Coldplay - (Untitled 5th LP)

Drumroll please! If any one band can drive someone crazy with suspense for a new record, it is Brit rock band Coldplay. For years they have filled stadiums worldwide with their signature sound. After creating the "Parachutes",  "A Rush of Blood to the Head" and "X&Y", their space-rock masterpiece, Coldplay decided to pursue a new direction musically. These 3 records had been intended to be a music trilogy of sorts, showcasing a progression in their writing and style. 2008's Grammy winner "Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends" (and it's companion ep, "Prospekt's March")  replaced the reverb, falsetto and synth with a more organic sound. This new direction utilized hammered dulcimer, acoustic guitar, strings, and syncopated world rhythms (particularly on "Lovers in Japan" and "Strawberry Swing") as well as showcasing the range of lead singer Chris Martin's voice. Brian Eno's production still gave it an overall airiness, but newcomer to the Coldplay scene Markus Dravs brought an earthiness and classical element to Coldplay's sound. Dravs is the producer responsible for Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs" (which won the Best Album Grammy in 2011) and Mumford and Sons' debut album. As one would expect, Coldplay announced that their follow up would most likely be more earthy and acoustic, possibly an concept album and be released at the end of 2010 to celebrate their 10 year anniversary.

Except 2010 came and went and the only new music we heard from Coldplay was the single "Christmas Lights". While it was a beautiful track, it really didn't give any indication as to what happened to the new record. According to interviews in early 2011 the acoustic concept album had been completely scrapped and Coldplay had been writing new music inspired by New York City graffiti and the White Rose Movement- a philosophical uprising against Nazi Germany. Last month Coldplay released new photos of the band, using bright neon colors and a 90's vibe, then released the first single from the as-yet-untitled new record, titled "Every Teardrop is a Waterfall". Instead of acoustic, Coldplay has ventured into new territory- 80's pop/synth. This track, along with the songs "Major Minus", "Moving to Mars", "Hurts Like Heaven", and "Cartoon Hearts" were debuted at the Rock Am Ring festival in Germany on June 4th and indicate a bold new direction for the band. Without compromising Coldplay's signature sound, these songs are much more experimental with the instruments and rhythms that they use. While "Every Teardrop" is more pop heavy, "Major Minus" seems to be almost like a guitar-driven accompaniment to Chris Martin's Kanye West collaboration "Homecoming". On the otherhand "Moving to Mars" goes retro, with a good ole' 70's beat and a spacy sound that could almost be found on "X&Y". Whatever this new record is going to be, it is going to be the album to top of 2011. I expect much critical acclaim and might I predict a Grammy for Coldplay in 2012?
-Coldplay's new record still has no name or release date, but is expected to drop this fall.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Tree of Life - Movie Review

The Tree of Life
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Moral rating:  

Director Terrence Malick's latest cinematic art piece has finally reached Memphis TN. It recently won top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and has opened in several other cities across the country. I have been a fan of Malick's movies for years and have been eagerly awaiting "The Tree of Life" as a child anticipates Christmas. Indeed that is the level that his films are set. Following "The Thin Red Line" (1998) and "The New World" (2005), "The Tree of Life" dives into the depths of life. While "The New World" -Malick's narrative of the Pocahontas story- and "The Thin Red Line"- his ponderous Pacific WW2 epic- were more about immersing the audience into the location and the setting of the film's events, "The Tree of Life" is more about immersing the audience into the minds of the characters.

Entering the theater I knew that "The Tree of Life" was going to be heavy, but I didn't realize just how deep a filmmaker Terrence Malick was. The film opens with a death, as The O'Briens (Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) receive news of the death of their middle son. This scene is juxtaposed with one several years into the future in which their oldest son Jack (Sean Penn) is struggling with a crisis of faith and life purpose. This sets the stage for 2 hours of some of the most breathtaking cinematography, music and poetic musings that the cinema has ever seen.

While most films follow a narrative, "The Tree of Life" is a collection of scenes and visuals that weave together an emotional progression. Most of the film is from Jack's early life as he is raised by parents that follow two conflicting life-views. His mother follows the 'way of grace' as Malick likes to describe living by faith in God. "Unless you love, your life will flash by." Chastain whispers in one of the films many thought provoking voice-overs. While these principles are presented in a more vague, existentialist manifestation, as a Christian I saw spiritual truth and Biblical references dotted all throughout the script. "Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries." "There are two ways through life: the way of nature, and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow."

This choice is at the heart of what "The Tree of Life" is all about. If Jack's mother was a follower of God, then his father was a follower of mankind. All throughout his childhood Jack struggled with these conflicting ideals. We experience the internal struggle as he thinks- "Father, Mother. Always you wrestle inside me. Always you will." Mr. O'Brien was a rough man who sought respect and fear, mistaking this for love until his sons are older and turning into the man he is. He constantly tells his boys that you can't be too good if you want to be successful in life "It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world." As we experience Jack grow up, we see this ideal start to take hold, in less than preferable ways. As Jack questions the existence and nature of God, he struggles intensely. "What are you?" he asks God. "Where are you? Why do you allow bad things to happen? If you aren't good, then why should I be?" This soon paves way to grief and bitterness as he realizes the emptiness of his life. "How do I get back to where they are?" Jack asks God as he sees his brothers and mother's true joy.

 I struggle with this film because as as Christian I understand that it is Christ that brings true life, and that HE is the way of grace and life. Malick unfortunately never spells this out completely.Several elements in "The Tree of Life" indicate that Malick is Catholic, and we see characters in church and praying at an altar with a cross, yet the name Jesus is suspiciously missing in all this. For 2 hours and 20 minutes our characters struggle with life, asking questions about death, the meaning of life, our place in the universe, and how we are to follow God in the midst of a crooked world. The characters on screen are implied to know the ONE who is the light in the darkness, and while Malick maybe doesn't present as much truth as the could have, he certainly should be commended for pointing at the love of God for true fulfillment in life. 

This view of the majesty and glory of God is beautiful in the film, made even more beautiful by the accompanying film score by Alexandre Desplat. Perhaps one of the most unique and breathtaking sequences was an extended 15 or 20 minute sequence early on in the film in which we see the origins of the universe. From the formation of the galaxies and heavens, the formation of earth, to the creation of life - this is perhaps the most captivating part of the movie. While implied to be an evolutionary view of creation, the sequence is to make the point of the vastness and power of God. As we see dinosaurs roam the earth, the oceans churning and the loss of innocence, we are suddenly aware of how small our lives are and how magnificent God's love and grace are in light of his majesty. As old Jack thinks on this, he realizes this beauty and significance in his life. As he lets go of his hurt, we also see a flashback to his mother letting go of the death of her son years earlier. "I give him to you, my son." "When did I first love you?" Jack ponders as he thinks about the fingerprints of God all over his life. 

And fingerprints indeed to we see. The beauty of the little things that Malick captures on film takes my breath away. From the wonder of a baby, to his first steps, to his first words, the birth of this brothers, his love for his mother, his love for his father, his pains, his struggles, ball playing in the yard, riding bikes, laughing, crying, loving hurting- Malick somehow captures it all. I felt as I left the theater that I had just lived an entire life with someone. I struggle with how to review this movie, what to tell you and what to let you find out for yourself. But one things is certain, "The Tree of Life" WILL make you think about life. You get out of it what you let yourself get out of it. There is no official "point" to this film. It is as the friend I went with said - "Beautifully pointless." As a believer in Christ, I saw the beauty and the wonder. I cannot imagine what it would be like to see it without hope, though.

If deep, thought-provoking movies are your thing, please don't miss "The Tree of Life." If maybe you are someone that enjoys a movie that is strictly entertainment, then this may be too existentialist for you. But see it at some point! :-)
Until next time, The Real Bowman.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thoughts on "The King's Speech" - A review of sorts

I should preface this post by mentioning the fact that I was not one of the many film critics that rushed to theaters to see The King's Speech. Nor was I moved to see it when it won its Golden Globe and Academy Awards. It became an addition to that list of movies that I affectionately call "The Pile" - that dreaded stack of DVDs of films that may be critically lauded, yet I still somehow avoid watching them. So I found myself the night before last watching one such film from this pile. And my, how I wish I had not waited!

Tom Hooper won the Academy Award for Best Director for The King's Speech, yet I would say that direction had not so much to do with it as the incredible acting by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Of course Firth won awards for his performance as King George VI (or "Bertie", as the Duke of York was called by his family), yet Rush's heartfelt and passionate performance as speech therapist Lionel Logue is the one that captured my attention. The devotion he had towards Bertie and his commitment towards helping him develop confidence as a leader solidify Logue as the true hero of the story.

For a title such as "The King's Speech", this movie is really not at all about the King's speech. At it's heart Hooper weaves a tale about fear, friendship and loyalty. The friendship that develops between Logue and the King is definitely strained at first, but as Bertie learns to communicate with Logue, he also comes face to face with his insecurities as a son living up to his father's goals, his fears as a new King, and his pride as someone that can relate to the common man. This was perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the story. While it certainly took liberties with historical accuracy for the sake of storytelling, I still loved the exploration of King George as a human with his own faults.

One of the truths that Logue taught Bertie was his value as a human with a voice. He was not to be listened to because he was King, or because he was living in his father's shadow; but rather because Bertie was a fellow person that people wanted to relate to. In a sense Logue was the prototype British citizen for this ideal. By showing the king that he could open up and confidently communicate with Logue, his ability to connect with the nation was revealed. In a time of trial such as World War II, this is exactly what England needed- a King whom they could relate to, whom they could trust, whom they knew was going to be a strong leader even in the midst of darkness. 

The transformation from the stammering, insecure and angry Duke of York into the inwardly confident king is enjoyable and touching to watch, from his rather uncouth speech lessons all the way to his leadership during a war. At the same time serious and endearing, "The King's Speech" is a delightful look inside the human psyche featuring stellar performances all across the board ( and I can't forget to mention Helena Bonham Carter as a fabulous Queen Elizabeth). If you haven't already, check this film out. 

("The King's Speech" is rated R for some language. Be sure to preview before family viewing, as a couple of sequences feature a brief (albeit funny) barrage of profanity to loosen the King's tongue. Easily mutable, this scene should not prevent anyone from seeing it.)