All posts tagged: cinema

Friendship and Freddie Mercury

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a very subtle movie. In the first moments of Bryan Singer’s Queen bio-drama, we get a montage of preparation for Live Aid, the famous 1985 all-star charity concert. The jorts-clad roadies move equipment, thousands of people make their way into Wembley Stadium, the members of the band wait in their trailer, guitars are tuned, costumes are donned, and Queen’s “Somebody to Love” plays on top of it all. Although we soon cut to fifteen years earlier and will not return to this time for another 90 minutes. The movie has successfully telegraphed to the audience: Live Aid is an important climax of this movie. As I said, not subtle. Much of this story is well-known, not only because of the popularity of Queen and Freddie Mercury (a Best Actor nominated Rami Malek), but because it is cliché. In 1970, four young British men form a band to rock on their own terms and for a different audience: “We’re four misfits who don’t belong together . . . playing for other misfits,” …

Roma’s Wounding Confession

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD! Roland Barthes’s mother died. As the renowned critic and semiotician reflectively sifted through old photos, he stumbled on an image that floored him: there she was, a little girl, in a “Winter Garden” (i.e., a glassed enclosure), radiating some undefinable quality that, he recognized, would characterize her whole future life. Barthes devotes many pages of his book Camera Lucida to this encounter and struggles to analyze the dynamics at work. As an ineffable event, language ultimately fails him, but he comes closest with a paradoxical summary of his mother’s aura, miraculously and photographically transmitted: “Her assertion of a gentleness.” Lying beyond categorization, much of the power of photography lies not in information, Barthes surmised, but in the ability to poignantly “prick” and “wound” us. So, he called this effect (and others sharing a similar immediacy) the punctum of the photograph. Some have summarized his now-famous studium/punctum dichotomy to be the social/cultural meaning of a photo vs. its “personal” meaning, but this falls short. It is clear that punctum encompasses more than …

An Inadvertent Critique of Scapegoating?

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD! In the beginning of his speech, the just man is his own accuser. —St. Bernard Vice, Adam McKay’s spoof of Dick Cheney, is a feature-length ritual of scapegoating, America’s entertainment du jour. Let me be clear: I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. First, because I enjoy feeling moral outrage, provided it is not directed at myself. Second, during the early years of the Bush-Cheney administration that the film covers, I was more preoccupied with reading every single Agatha Christie mystery than attending to policy decisions. Vice’s plot, like that of The Big Short—McKay’s other darkly educational comedy—was instructive. Yet, something in Vice’s tone is perturbing. It is not the mode of story-telling: McKay’s artistic gimmicks and fourth-wall-breaking create an aptly absurd arena for his faux-Machiavellian tale of Cheney’s rise to power. The cast, particularly Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney and Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush, impersonate the public figures of Vice with great gusto. Christian Bale seems to really enjoy sinking into a silicone mummy and rolling around halls of power …

Is Truth and Reconciliation Possible?

Director Peter Farrelly’s Green Book seems like obvious Oscar bait: a road trip dramedy centered around two men from very different worlds who find their assumptions challenged as they get to know one another. An unexpected friendship develops, and everyone learns a valuable lesson about not judging people by the color of their skin. We have seen versions of this story before, and when I related the premise of the film to a friend, his response was simply, “That sounds cheesy.” He is not wrong. It does sound cheesy. Yet, his uninformed judgment of the film proved to be an example of exactly the kind of behavior the film seeks to challenge: making uninformed, unfounded judgments. Based on a true story, Green Book is set in 1962. Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, a stereotypical “fuggeddaboudit” Italian-American from the Bronx, is hired to chauffeur Dr. Donald Shirley, a refined African-American pianist, who has chosen to perform a series of popular music concerts throughout the Deep South, where the Jim Crow segregation laws are still very much in effect. …

Death and Bunnies All the Way Down?

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD! Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb . . . T he doctrine of the Theotokos’s perpetual virginity is, paradoxically, a celebration of Mary’s utter fecundity. Surrendering utterly to the will of God, Mary bears fruit completely and comprehensively, in one elegant gesture of incarnation, in the Word himself. All of our human effort, all our worthwhile striving to produce, remain asymptotic reaches towards Mary’s fiat, in which she reaches the limit of human availability to do the will of God and produces maximal results: God himself. Queen Anne, the broken heart of Yorgos Lanthimos’s mournful farce The Favourite, is a woman who is certainly fecund but whose efforts to bear fruit culminate in unrelentingly repeated traumas of loss. Seventeen rabbits hop around her room as insultingly ambulant tombstones for each of the fruits of her womb whom she has lost. The animal emblem for abundant procreation becomes a grotesquely fluffy incarnation of death. Anne, whose husband, children, and beloved sister have all been taken …

Does the Mass Say Christmas Is About Justice?

Is Christmas about justice? B. D. McClay’s recent column in Commonweal, “Christmas is a Time for Justice” seems to suggest that Christmas is about justice, divine justice. She argues in an “admittedly lighthearted way” that the movie In Bruges is a Christmas movie because in some sense it is about justice and “accounts beginning to come in.” The movie is about an Irish hit man, Ray, who accidentally kills a child. For this mistake his boss Harry insists he must die to settle the account—justice demands it; Harry sends Ray to Bruges along with Ken whom Harry has ordered to kill Ray. It is in fact a wonderful though violent movie with a twist at the end very much worth watching. The movie’s theme functions as a metaphor for Christmas. So if the theme of the movie is about justice and accounts coming due, it seems that Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation and birth of Christ, is ultimately about justice because our accounts have come due. I cannot help but think that McClay is …

None of Us Shall Enter the Kingdom?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! “In our age,” Søren Kierkegaard complains about the 19th century in Fear and Trembling, “everyone is unwilling to stop with faith but goes further.”[1] This is true in our day also. For all the talk about “the end of faith,” sustained reflections on this theological virtue are scarce. In film, reflections on faith rarely go beyond the trappings of clerical garb or the often heavy-handed and saccharine “Christian movie” genre. Over a year ago, Martin Scorcese’s Silence generated a lively discussion around Christian martyrdom. More recently, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, has given us the kind of dramatic look at the tormented inner life of a country parson the likes of which we had not seen since Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light or Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. This is to be welcomed. Still, I want to point to an older film largely unknown outside of specialist circles, as well as to the theological tradition that underpins it. A film which addresses the nature of Christian faith with unrivaled centrality and depth. Perhaps …

The Exodus and Apocalypse All in One Human Flow

What does a world look like in which there are now 258 million migrants and refugees, representing 3.4% of the global population, or, one in every 300 people? To gain some kind of mental image, let’s begin with the extraordinary new documentary film from Ai Weiwei, Human Flow, filmed in 23 countries and 40 refugee camps. This film is sweeping, immersive, and artful at moments, drawing us in with its use of high-altitude drone cameras looking down at a beautiful cobalt Mediterranean, across which a boat overflowing with orange life preservers gradually pulls into harbor at the island of Lesbos. As the director Ai Weiwei helps the passengers unload, he speaks with a young man from Iraq, a country that now has 4 million displaced people, internally and externally. An Greek aid worker comments to the director that in a single recent week (during the period of the film’s shooting, 2015-2016), some 56,000 refugees arrived in Greece, with another 5,000 drowned en route. The film moves on to Iraq, with another high-altitude shot, this one …

The 2018 Best Picture Nominees and the Script of Transcendence

The nominations for the 90th Academy Awards were announced on 23 January 2018. In recent years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received harsh criticism for a lack of diversity among its nominees which many interpreted as an indication of the Academy’s lack of cultural awareness in general, and many people have simply written off the Oscars as an awards show that only means something for people of a certain gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation. This year, thankfully, the nominees include a more diverse array of incredible talents, but the perennial conversation serves as a reminder of the fact that movies and awards, like most everything else, have become politicized, and it’s not necessarily the best picture that wins “Best Picture.” But, in the end, it doesn’t really matter which film wins the top honor year after year, for in reality, every film in the category is worth our attention for one reason or another. What matters is the fact that the stories told in these movies have the potential to change …