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Screening Log 2007
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 02.12.2007 4:31 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The last two weeks, 1/28-2/11



In preferential order:



The Good Shepherd (DeNiro, 2006)

Venus (Mitchell, 2006)

Freedom Writers (LaGravenese, 2007)

Catch and Release (Grant, 2007)

Norbit (Robbins, 2007)

Idiocracy (Judge, 2006)

Bandidas (Roenning and Sandberg, 2006)

Jesus Camp (Ewing and Grady, 2006)

Sherrybaby (Collyer, 2006)

Smokin' Aces (Carnahan, 2007)

The Grudge 2 (Shimuzu, 2006)



Big props to Robert DeNiro for bringing out the best performances in the entire careers of Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie, who are truly remarkable in The Good Shepherd. A kind-of fictionalized telling of the birth of the C.I.A, the film follows Damon's agent Edward Wilson in past and present (the early 1960's, here). It not only taps into a nostalgic, old-fashioned narrative-arc, but also offers a very detailed view of what counter-intelligence related work is actually like. In this respect, the agency's analysis of a focal videotape Wilson stumbles upon is particularly fascinating.



Catch and Release takes a totally original approach to the romantic-comedy formula, but writer Susannah Grant ain't so great at directing. In terms of assembly, the movie is a bit of a mess.



Norbit is totally offensive and stereotypical, but I for some reason connected with the committment that Eddie Murphy displays in bringing his three central characters to life. I can even understand arguments that the movie is racist, but something about the nature and presentation of the comedy made me chuckle. Whether that makes Norbit all the more dangerous, I dunno. But I kinda liked it.



"Religion and politics just don't mix," croons a left-wing talk-radio host at the beginning of Jesus Camp, but that mixture is exactly what the film proposes. Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady might not think that they have virtually proposed that the U.S. become an athiest state, but that's exactly what their documentary about the dangers of institutionalized Evangelical Christianity strives for. The footage they capture of local religious figurehead Becky Fisher's "Jesus Camp" and its participants is terrifying enough to make a non-partisan film; the one that they have made just seems like a blatant and biased propaganda-piece.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 02.12.2007 5:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
Directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady might not think that they have virtually proposed that the U.S. become an athiest state, but that's exactly what their documentary about the dangers of institutionalized Evangelical Christianity strives for.


I think this would be true only if the directors believed their subjects were representative of all evangelicals, but the movie quite clearly shows that they do not. As a practicing bible Christian, I say with confidence that nothing in this movie attacks my faith nor how I feel it ought to impact the American political process. (In fact, I admired how the directors resisted every temptation to condescend to their subjects... I imagine the subjects would feel quite pleased about how they were portrayed.) Perhaps your preconceived skepticisms about the filmmakers' agenda clouded your judgment? Don't sacrifice nuance when swinging for those critical fences!



The point of the movie wasn't to promote a rigid separation between church and state; the point was to demonstrate that one specific extremist wing of evangelicism is, in many ways, a mirror image of the brand of radical Islamic fundamentalism that America currently fears--a comparison, it's worth noting, that even the subjects openly invite. It's a movie about hypocrisy, fear, and delusion, not politics.



That said, the weakest portions of the film involve the left-wing radio host, whose vague generalizations add nothing to the mix other than to suggest that plenty of Christians aren't like the ones at Jesus Camp.
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Michael Scrutchin
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PostPosted: 02.12.2007 8:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
(In fact, I admired how the directors resisted every temptation to condescend to their subjects... I imagine the subjects would feel quite pleased about how they were portrayed.)




I haven't seen the film yet, but I think you're right. Becky Fisher has suggested in interviews that she's very happy with the film; she's still friendly with the filmmakers, too, having done festival stops with them, doing Q&A's and such. The filmmakers have said they've gotten criticism from both sides for being overtly biased one way or the other (they say that many secular liberal outlets have been particularly nasty), while others have complained that the film has no point of view.



I'm looking forward to watching it later this week. My reaction will probably be similar to Rob's.
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Michael Scrutchin
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PostPosted: 02.13.2007 1:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

02.05.2007 - 02.11.2007
  • The Proposition (Hillcoat, 2005) B+

  • Flags of Our Fathers (Eastwood, 2006) B

  • Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Zhang, 2005) B-

  • Dreamgirls (Condon, 2006) C+

  • Murder-Set-Pieces (Palumbo, 2004) F
Dreamgirls is great entertainment for the first 50 minutes or so, until the endless succession of rapid-fire montage sequences and high-energy musical numbers becomes a bit too much. I agree with the party line, though: Jennifer Hudson is the real deal. Murphy's good too.



Murder-Set-Pieces is a joke (yes, I saw the unrated director's cut). I have a lot say about this one, but I'll save it for another time.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 02.13.2007 6:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
I think this would be true only if the directors believed their subjects were representative of all evangelicals, but the movie quite clearly shows that they do not.


I would argue that they do, simply because of the generalizations made throughout. In particular, comparisons between the religious views of George W. Bush and the Evangelicals seen prove most ridiculous. Also, consider some of the facts presented and the way that they are presented: we are informed that "75% of homeschoolers are Evangelicals," only to then be shown an extreme family of homeschooling Evangelicals who are in some way supposed to represent all others.



beltmann wrote:
The point of the movie wasn't to promote a rigid separation between church and state; the point was to demonstrate that one specific extremist wing of evangelicism is, in many ways, a mirror image of the brand of radical Islamic fundamentalism that America currently fears--a comparison, it's worth noting, that even the subjects openly invite. It's a movie about hypocrisy, fear, and delusion, not politics.


This is the respect that I found the documentary most effective in, but that furthers my point that the raw footage best speaks for itself. The passages in which Fisher discusses Islamic extremism are untouched by Grady and Ewing. But consider certain others; in particular, their indulgence in the left-wing DJ's view that creationism should not only not be taught in schools alongside evolution, but not be taught period, reveals a deeply partisan agenda.



Michael Scrutchin wrote:
Becky Fisher has suggested in interviews that she's very happy with the film; she's still friendly with the filmmakers, too, having done festival stops with them, doing Q&A's and such.


You'll see at the end of the film that she's equally pleased with an interview she does with the aforementioned talk-show host. I think Fisher is far more conscious of her own doings than the film gives her credit for--and perhaps that she is serving God by being conscious of such doings--and sees any publicity as good publicity. Whether she likes the film or not, I assume, is irrelevant in her mind.
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Mark Dujsik
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PostPosted: 02.14.2007 12:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

2/5 - 2/11



Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (Nomura, 2005)

Hannibal Rising (Webber, 2007)

The Hitcher (Harmon, 1986)

Over the Hedge (Johnson & Kirkpatrick, 2006)

Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)



I'm a big fan of the Final Fantasy games and loved the theatrical release (Spirits Within, remember? No. Oh well.), but the sequel to the game is a mess. Certainly not for anyone who hasn't played the game.



I found Over the Hedge to be hilarious. Great voice work all around.



This might be blasphemy, but I hated the original Hitcher. Hauer is creepy, but that C. Thomas Howell kid's performance is a joke. I'm going to have to say the remake is better.



Hannibal Rising didn't need to be made, and it certainly ruins the mystique of the cannibal. However, if they are going to make it, I suppose the character himself is true to what we expect him to be. Still pointless, though. It did make me want to rewatch Lambs again, and it's still fantastic.
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Last edited by Mark Dujsik on 02.14.2007 3:30 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Scrutchin
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PostPosted: 02.14.2007 2:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark Dujsik wrote:
This might be blasphemy, but I hated the original Hitcher.




Dude, I'm with you. The original is laughable; I haven't seen the remake.
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Mark Dujsik
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PostPosted: 02.14.2007 3:34 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael Scrutchin wrote:
Dude, I'm with you. The original is laughable; I haven't seen the remake.




I think having two characters make the same stupid mistakes works a bit better than having one dumb ass completely screw up every step of the way.



They do make the same stupid mistakes, though.
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beltmann
Studio Exec


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PostPosted: 02.14.2007 4:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
In particular, comparisons between the religious views of George W. Bush and the Evangelicals seen prove most ridiculous.


If I remember correctly, any associations made between W and this specific group were made only by the group themselves. The filmmakers would be irresponsible in ignoring how Fischer has politicized her faith, but Ewing and Grady, to their credit, resist belaboring the point.



Danny Baldwin wrote:
Also, consider some of the facts presented and the way that they are presented: we are informed that "75% of homeschoolers are Evangelicals," only to then be shown an extreme family of homeschooling Evangelicals who are in some way supposed to represent all others.


That's a stretch, I think. That "all" might suggest you're guilty of generalizing in a way that the filmmakers aren't. Your inference here is not the one I made, nor, I suspect, the inference that the filmmakers intended.



Danny Baldwin wrote:
n particular, their indulgence in the left-wing DJ's view that creationism should not only not be taught in schools alongside evolution, but not be taught period, reveals a deeply partisan agenda.


Does it? Does Mike Papantonio speak for the filmmakers? That's a mighty large assumption, especially since, unlike the filmmakers, he's a practicing Christian.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 02.14.2007 4:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:


If I remember correctly, any associations made between W and this specific group were made only by the group themselves. The filmmakers would be irresponsible in ignoring how Fischer has politicized her faith, but Ewing and Grady, to their credit, resist belaboring the point.


Ewing and Grady have both discussed the fact that it "scares" them that supposedly radical Evangelicals are a part of the current administration. The trailer for the film--I don't know if they were involved in how it was cut, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt there--also discusses this point.



beltmann wrote:
Does it? Does Mike Papantonio speak for the filmmakers? That's a mighty large assumption, especially since, unlike the filmmakers, he's a practicing Christian.


I think by choosing him as the staple of their linear-arc and by not including someone of the opposing viewpoint in the film, yes, he does.
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beltmann
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PostPosted: 02.14.2007 11:58 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:
Ewing and Grady have both discussed the fact that it "scares" them that supposedly radical Evangelicals are a part of the current administration.


Then it's all the more impressive that the film itself, separate from external interview comments, expresses remarkable restraint. Here are some other relevant interview comments:



Quote:
Ewing: We had a lot more scenes like [the speaking in tongues], that focused more on the practice of the charismatic faith. And we started to shy away from including a lot of details and explanation of all of these things, because we didn't want to marginalize charismatics. We actually kind of held back on some of the material we had, that might distract people and confuse people and freak people out too much. We felt that we actually toned it down a bit.



Ewing: I think it's hard, as a filmmaker, to be all things to all people, and we look for compelling stories, smaller stories that can help tell a greater story. We look for compelling characters who are articulate and fascinating. And we were interested in what Becky was doing. We identify her as a Pentecostal, and I think it's impossible to make a film that represents all Christians.



Ewing: But I feel that Mike [Papantonio] was a good choice because he echoes what a lot of liberal evangelicals have said about the politicization of the evangelical movement... While Mike is not officially a born-again Christian, he does echo a lot of the concerns that these gentlemen have, and we thought this was a more creative way to vent those concerns, because he is a Christian. He just thinks that the politicization of the church is going to be the downfall of it, and he doesn't like that association. So officially, no, he's not a born-again, but he does, I think, speak very well for the concerns of Christians that don't like the political nature of the evangelical movement, or at least of the far right part of that movement.


That last bolded part seems key to me, since it reiterates an important distinction that I think the film quite clearly makes all on its own--it's tough to miss, unless you're seeking to project some kind of liberal-conspiracy, anti-Christian agenda onto it.



As a member of the religious left, I disagree, though, with Ewing's belief that Papantonio skillfully articulates our concerns. His segments are the least compelling in the movie, largely because he speaks in platitudes, not arguments. Rather than well-reasoned, he comes off as dismissive and condescending.



It's interesting how you responded by thinking the directors were unfair to the evangelicals, while I responded, during the radio segments, by thinking that the directors had given short shrift to the religious left.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 02.15.2007 4:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

beltmann wrote:
It's interesting how you responded by thinking the directors were unfair to the evangelicals, while I responded, during the radio segments, by thinking that the directors had given short shrift to the religious left.


Perhaps that's where my hatred of the film's embrace of these segments stems from, in that Papantonio comes off as another mainstream member of the anti-religious left, despite his comments that he is indeed a practicing Christian. His arguments seem so diluted by rhetoric--his drifts into the abortion and (less so) intelligent-design in the education system are perfect examples of this--that he hardly seems to be a credible and clear voice for the film.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 02.19.2007 5:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

2/12 - 2/18



In preferential order:



Breach (Ray, 2007)

Music and Lyrics (Lawrence, 2007)

Half Nelson (Fleck, 2006)

Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls (Perry, 2007)

Bridge to Terabithia (Csupo, 2007)

Night at the Museum (Levy, 2006)

Epic Movie (Friedberg, Seltzer; 2007)

Hannibal Rising (Webber, 2007)



Very good week, for the most part. The only thing that manages to be truly revolting is Peter Webber's atrocious prequel, Hannibal Rising. Even Epic Movie, unlike the last two Scary Movies, manages to be totally inoffensive and sometimes mildly amusing in its ineptitude.



Billy Ray's Breach is a taut, believable look into the FBI, a perfect counterpart to DeNiro's CIA-counterpart, The Good Shepherd.



Music and Lyrics ain't Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife, but it's a movie with more respect for the process of writing than anything else of the sort I've seen in the past few years. And on the surface, as a standard romantic comedy, it ain't bad either.



Half Nelson displays superlative craftsmanship and two great leading performances, but never really appeals on an emotional level.



And, despite the bad reviews, Tyler Perry has finally won me over with his Madea-less Valentine's Day confection, Daddy's Little Girls, which is a surprisingly abstract venture into the motifs of romance and community.
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Mark Dujsik
Director


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Location: Chicago, IL

PostPosted: 02.19.2007 6:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Danny Baldwin wrote:


In preferential order:



Breach (Ray, 2007)

Music and Lyrics (Lawrence, 2007)

Half Nelson (Fleck, 2006)

Tyler Perry's Daddy's Little Girls (Perry, 2007)

Bridge to Terabithia (Csupo, 2007)




Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where's the love for Terabithia?



Man, we're gonna have a chat when I post mine for this week.
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Danny Baldwin
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PostPosted: 02.19.2007 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Mark Dujsik wrote:
Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where's the love for Terabithia?



Man, we're gonna have a chat when I post mine for this week.


I liked it quite a bit; it's certainly more imaginative and takes on more emotional dimensions than typical family fare. It also confirms that AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson, who have both turned in some good work in the past, have prosperous careers ahead of them.



Still, I found myself a bit underwhelmed. Too much of the movie relies on rote, conventional familial dynamics in order to support its more elaborate themes. I admired its simple joys, but couldn't help but feel that it could've had a stronger core to further the tragic wonders of the third act.
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