All posts tagged: film

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. …

Grace Lurking in the Midst of an All-Consuming Anger

 SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) reads Flannery O’Connor. This is not a defining feature of his, and no neighbor would probably note his reading choice. But to the viewer of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s momentary close-up of A Good Man is Hard to Find in Red’s hands early in the film is full of meaning. I suggest that it may be the key to understanding what this film is trying to say. In spite of the cycles of anger that seem to define and consume the world, there are moments of grace that shake our expectations and show another path. It is up to us to choose whether we will walk that new path, or continue down our current road. Three Billboards is the story of Mildred Hayes (Best Actress nominee Frances McDormand), an acerbic woman who rents the titular billboards outside of her southern town to call attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Mildred’s message tries to …

The Filming of Outcasts: An Interview with the Producer

Joe Campo, founder of Brooklyn-based Grassroots Films, recently visited the University of Notre Dame for a screening of the independent film studio’s newest documentary, Outcasts. The hour-long documentary captures a close-up view of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and their work with the hungry, the dying, the addicted, and other individuals cast off from society. The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal were founded in 1987 with eight friars and have grown to a community of about 100 men. Campo has worked with the friars for several decades at the St. Francis House in Brooklyn where suffering young men can find stability and a new start in life. He began Grassroots Films in 2006 to provide members of the household with meaningful work. Outcasts was filmed over seven years in five countries—the United States, Ireland, England, Honduras and Nicaragua. It is the fourth documentary from Grassroots Films, also the creators of The Human Experience and Child 31. Screenings of Outcasts began in the summer of 2016. Campo, executive producer and co-director of the film, answered …

Religion and the Arts: Augustine’s Netflix

Binge-watching is America’s new pastime. Netflix alone currently boasts 43 million subscribers and counting, who—to adopt a wry turn of phrase from an article in The Economist—are “living the stream.” Netflix­ and its competitors Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Go, et al have revolutionized how and how much we watch television and film. They have commercialized entertainment ad infinitum: drama, humor, insight, and a good plot line compel our attention as a kind of dramatic watering hole, something we come back to again and again during our given work week. The plot lines of our favorite shows are familiar, quirky, and dependable like a close friend, and online streaming has only expedited this quality time. Each show and movie slowly gives shape to an entire life that we imaginatively inhabit. In a certain poetic sense, it is not a coincidence that the plot diagram itself figuratively (and literally, if you consider the shape) imitates the human pulse. Thus the comfort and autonomic vitality of a continuous stream of plots packaged in episode form: exposition, …

Silence: A First Review

The Jesuits left Japan in 1587. Shūsaku Endō published Silence in 1966. Martin Scorsese read it in 1989 and now releases, 27 years later, the movie he has wanted to make ever since. Why drag a story from distant history to examine today? Scorsese’s Silence raises so many issues it’s hard to choose one. It made me consider: What is the nature of humility? What happens when we and our environment conflict? How does Scorsese change Endō’s story? How do stories change us? So a little of each. Silence traces Fr. Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), a young Jesuit who goes to Japan searching for his mentor, Fr. Christovau Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira has allegedly apostatized, permanently betrayed his once viral faith and has since been living as a Japanese man with a Japanese wife. Rodrigues and fellow priest Francisco Garrpe, convinced this is a lie, want to find the man who inspired them. Japan reveals the prideful underbelly of Rodrigues’ zeal. Their translator Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka) introduces them to clandestine Christians, literally starving for the sacraments. …