All posts by Engagingculture

I'm a normal guy who watches a lot of movies. I love to compare techniques, cinematography, and acting, but I'm really amazed at what makes movies successful. Why does one film make piles of money while another falls flat on its face? I hope to help other normal people enjoy more good movies and avoid the garbage.

Day 03 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That Makes You Really Happy

I didn’t want to cheat on this one like I did on day one, so I was struggling between two films that really make me happy. The Princess Bride and Blazing Saddles. However in my wrestling between these two choices, I realized that each of these films makes me happy for a different reason. Looking deeper, I found that I have at least two categories that I use to classify happy movies, those that are ridiculously funny and those that are heartwarming. Therefore, I’m not cheating by putting forward a selection for each of these types.

If we’re going off of pure funniness, then the winner would be Blazing Saddles. I must admit that I saw this movie at much too young an age. I was a latch-key kid, spending several hours alone at home every night after school before my Mom and Dad got home from work. That gave me time to explore my parent’s collection of films. I probably saw this before I turned 12, but growing up in a town that is still to this day visibly divided by the railroad tracks, I understood the racial dynamic. I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to see it till High School, but I don’t think I was irreparably damaged. This is one of those films that has entered my vocabulary, one that my dad and I quote back and forth… “What’s a dashing urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”… “They darker than us!”… “Oh, lordy, lord, he’s desperate! Do what he sayyyy, do what he sayyyy!” Even though this film contains innumerable racial slurs, I think the point (if it has a point) is really about racial equality. The film is also quick to make references to other films and actors to make some of its gags. And since this was one of the few comedies in that home video library, I would watch it over and over again and was forced to do research on some of the jokes (Hedy Lamar, Randolph Scott, Cecil B. DeMille). Because of that, I owe a great deal of my love for film to this movie because it started me digging into the film industry.

Standing in stark distinction to Blazing Saddles, I didn’t see The Princess Bride until I was in college. It is a movie that my kids have already seen and is also tremendously quotable. It has everything; action, adventure, humor, pirates, torture, and of course, true love. Cary Elwes delivers the most outstanding performance of his career as Westley, the love-struck servant to Buttercup (Robin Wright), a beautiful woman living in a misty romantic fantasy world. She also gives one of the best performances of her career in her film debut here as Princess Buttercup. The thing that makes this movie so great is the quality of comedy relief of the entire supporting cast. Wallace Shawn is absolutely hilarious as Vizzini, the bonehead villain who is completely convinced that he has the whole world figured out, Andre the Giant delivers a lumbering but highly impressive performance as Vizzini’s enormous, idiot sidekick, and my personal favorite, Mandy Patinkin creates one of the most entertaining and likeable characters to ever see the screen. “My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!”

What movies make you happy, however you define that? What do you think is the funniest movie you’ve seen? Leave me some comment love below, or on Facebook or Twitter. This is all more fun when you join the discussion. And if you decide to take the challenge, let me know so I can follow your choices.

Day 02 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

The Most Underrated Movie

This was a tough decision, because I had to determine whether we are talking about the most underrated by my friends or by critics. My choice is critically acclaimed, but most of my friends have never heard of this Academy Award winning historical biography.

Fred Zinnemann is one of the great forgotten directors, which is amazing considering that he was nominated for eight directing Oscars in four decades and won two. We don’t hear today’s directors idolizing him or many critics championing his work. You will probably never read about him in “Entertainment Weekly.” For Zinnemann, the script is king, and his greatest genius may have been in choosing the right scripts and knowing how to do them justice.

From Here To Eternity was Zinnemann’s best film according to the Academy. IMDb voters seem to prefer High Noon. But my choice for most underrated movie is A Man For All Seasons, the film of the year in 1966. Perhaps many people pass over it because it is hard to imagine a film that represents the attitude of the 1960s less.

A Man For All Seasons presents us with a character that is still unfashionable in our own day. He refuses to surrender to the dictates of his king and countrymen, and remains faithful in his devotion to his conscience, his God, and the Roman Catholic Church. When Thomas More’s ecclesiastical superior Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Welles) unsuccessfully presses him to give his approval to King Henry VIII’s request for a convenient divorce, he says, “When statesmen lead their country without their conscience to guide them, it is short road to chaos.” Thomas More was an amazing character who was like a mild-mannered lion trying at every turn to do well even though his political savvy knows how dangerous that can be. As a lawyer, he sees in law the only hope for man’s goodness in a fallen world. “I’d give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake,” he explains.

Paul Scofield plays More in such a way as to make us not only admire him but identify with him. As we watch, we come to value both his humanness and his spirituality. His tired eyes, the way he gently rebuffs his opponents, his genuine professions of loyalty to Henry even as he disagrees with the matter of his divorce, all help to create a character so well-rounded and illuminating that we find him to be better company than the people we meet in real life. It’s a gift the movies seldom actually deliver on, so when someone like Scofield makes it happen, we respond with admiration and gratitude.

The film’s supporting cast is good, though none are as particularly memorable as Robert Shaw as a young and thin Henry VIII. He is full of life yet has a childish temperament and an inconsistent mind. He demands More not stand against his marriage to Anne Boleyn, then decides he must have either More’s outright assent or else his head. Sadly, there was no way that More could pacify the adolescent minded king and remain true to his convictions. In the end he decided like the apostle Peter and John that it was better for him to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19).

Spoiler after the jump for those of you who don’t know your history.
Continue reading Day 02 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Day 01 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

The Best Movie You Saw During The Last Year

Out of all the categories for this challenge, this was one of the toughest. I know certain critics who publish their top 5 or top 10 of a given year, but I’m far too indecisive for that. It would probably be a good practice to get into, keeping a running list of my top films seen. This past year, there were several movies that stood out above the rest. Before I get to my best movie, I wanted to share a few runner-ups and honorable mentions.

Number 5 of my top movies from last year was the dark and suspenseful psychological thriller from the mind of Darren Aronofsky, Black Swan. Absorbed with the stress of dancing the lead in a new version of Swan Lake, Natalie Portman is brilliantly absorbed in the challenge of becoming (quite literally) the black swan. Aronofsky’s amazing use of the camera kept the audience looking behind them in fear that they were losing their own grip with reality. The music and visuals had me biting my nails and the hairs on my neck standing on end.

I’ve never considered Colin Firth to be one of my favorite actors, in fact prior to this movie he had flown under my radar. But in The King’s Speech he delighted me and turned me into a fan. But if this movie lacked Geoffrey Rush, it would not have been the new classic that I believe it is. While humorous and lighthearted, it is also painful and heartbreaking. The audience is so invested, that by the final achievement, we rejoice and weep at the beauty of a personal triumph. I think we can expect more great films from budding director Tom Hooper

How could I make a list of the best films if I didn’t include what is possibly the most complex and visually stunning films ever. Inception is quite simply a heist film, but instead of navigating the booby traps and alarms of a bank or casino these thieves traverse the dangerous world of dream. The amazing cast, led by Leonardo DiCaprio, and masterfully directed by the wizard Christopher Nolan, kept me in rapt attention to the point that I began questioning even the mechanics of the world around me. The ending will keep you talking with other film fans for weeks.

Any of these top five could have been my number one, but the challenge is to find the best movie, the next film on my journey to the best was the fast paced and fascinating story of the birth of a sociological giant, David Fincher’s The Social Network. Written by the very capable Aaron Sorkin, the script was alternatively humorous and hard-hitting. I love movies that overflow with talking and Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of the entrepreneurial Mark Zuckerberg was fabulous. Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography reminded me of Facebook itself, simplistic and beautiful. Add to all that the haunting score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and this film was near perfection.

Since God blessed our family with children, Dad became my name. I love being a dad and I really enjoy a well made animated or kids movie. I believe that the limits of animation are as expansive as the limits of the imagination of the artist. For Pixar, the past 15 years have been a chance for them to show us the nearly limitless proportions of those boundaries. I was 12 years old when they first unleashed their magic on delighted audiences. And now at 28, their films are just as special as they were then. Having grown up with Buzz and Woody and the rest of the gang from Toy Story 3, I was worried that, like so many sequels, they would fail to capture the intangible spark that made the first two amazing. But I should have had more faith in John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich, and the rest of this amazing team. This has to be the best film that I have seen in the past year, and I rejoice that I will be able to share it with my own kids. I dare you not to cry as this film winds to a close after a whirlwind of action and adventure. If you are listening Pixar, please do not make a Toy Story 4, the trilogy is as perfect as any kid, or kid at heart, could ever dream for it to be.

Three Colors: White (1994)

There is almost too much to say about these three films. In fact, only one film in the trilogy actually made it onto the IMDB Top 250 list, that being the final film, Red. Although these are each excellent as stand-alone works, they are best when seen as a whole. For that reason, I am going to review each of them separately. For the unfamiliar, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s last work, “Three Colors Trilogy” takes its name from the colors of the French flag and its themes from the ideals represented by those colors: blue (liberty), white (equality), and red (friendship).

White is the second film in Kieslowski’s Trilogy, and it deals with the idea of equality. In my opinion, it may not be the strongest “film” of the three, but it is the one that I enjoyed the most. It maintains a balancing act between comedy and tragedy. The tone and feel of White was different, almost to the point of feeling out of sync, from the entire trilogy. The lead character is male unlike the other two films, even though Julie Delphy technically gets top billing, she only appears in about 15-20 minutes of the film. Polish actor, Zbigniew Zamachowski (Now you know why Delphy’s name was on all the promotional material!), puts in a powerful performance that goes from comedic pantomime to heartbreaking despair. Finally, White is told in a very plain way when you consider the imagery of Blue or the wonder of Red. White is simply less artsy, which is probably why I enjoyed it so much. Sometimes, forcing myself to sit through artsy films is like making my kids eat their vegetables, they don’t really want to do it, but they are good for them. I think most moviegoers could use a good dose of eating their cinematic vegetables and cut back on some of the “junk food,” but that is a post for another day.

White follows the journey of a very misfortunate Polish hairdresser named Karol Karol. I have to wonder if Kieslowski didn’t make this film as an ode to the great Charlie Chaplin because Karol means “Charlie” in Polish. We see Karol approaching a courthouse in Paris, as he looks up seemingly hopefully at a bird flying in the air, his hopes come crashing down as the bird uses him as a toilet. This brief scene sets the tone for the rest of the film in which we will see Karol being used and abused repeatedly. He is at the courthouse because his wife, Dominique, who is a Paris native, wants to divorce him because the marriage has never been consummated. He is impotent. He is forced, in the courtroom, to use a translator because his French is weak, this only adds to the feeling of his impotence, he can barely even stand up for himself. She testifies that she no longer loves him, and he pleads with her to come back to Poland with him. But after we see Juliette Binoche poke her head in the courtroom (a tie-in from Blue). The divorce is granted, and Karol is on the streets with all his possessions in a big suitcase. His bank account is frozen and Karol can do nothing but watch as a bank employee cuts up his card. And as if that weren’t enough, she also frames him for arson. Unfortunately, there is no background given to Dominique’s character to reveal why she has such hatred for Karol. We see images of her smiling face at their wedding, but besides that, she is merely painted as an evil character.

Now homeless and penniless, he takes to playing “music” on a comb in the train station in hopes for a handout. While playing a Polish folk song, he catches the ear of one of his countrymen named Mikolaj. They strike up a conversation about how he got in that situation and Mikolaj offers to pay his way back to Poland, but he cannot leave the country in such a public way because the authorities are still looking for him. So they come up with the plan that he should stow away in the suitcase, and leave behind the alienation and isolation of France. This seems like a strange way for a French financed movie, in a series about the French national colors, on the topic of equality to begin. I wonder if Kieslowski didn’t harbor some feeling of alienation against his adopted country, himself being Polish like the lead character. Mikolaj agrees to this plan and hopes that his new friend can survive the four-hour flight crammed inside a suitcase with a few personal belongings and a stolen bust that reminds him of Dominique, who he still loves.

However, once the plane lands in Warsaw, in an unsurprising but hilarious twist, Mikolaj learns that the luggage has gone missing. We then catch up to Karol in a garbage dump outside Warsaw, where some luggage thieves have inadvertently taken him, probably thinking the weight of the bag was a good indicator of the value of its contents. Of course, they try to rob him, but besides the stolen bust (which they break) and two francs which he fights for, he has nothing for them to steal. Perhaps out of pity, they beat him, but do not kill him, and then leave him lying in the snow. Karol struggles to lift his now bloodied face and looks out to see the white snow swept garbage dump and says, “home at last!”

After staying with his brother and working at the family hairdressing salon at which he is extremely popular. Karol decides that if he can’t get Dominique back, then the very least he can do is balance the scales and get back at her. Using his ingenuity and taking advantage of the new free market economy of post-communist Poland, Karol amasses a fortune. Then with the help of Mikolaj and a trusted employee of his new company, Karol fakes his own death and leaves his fortune to Dominique. When she comes to Warsaw for the funeral, he sneaks into her hotel room and, after the initial shock, they make love, finally consummating their relationship. However, in the morning, Dominique awakes to the police at her hotel room door, but Karol is gone and despite her pleading in French that he is alive, Dominique is arrested for Karol’s murder. At the end, we see Dominique signing to Karol through the window of the prison in which she is being held. She tells him that she still loves him and is willing to marry him again, if she can get out of prison. Karol begins to cry. He has succeeded in achieving equality with his ex-wife, but it is a bittersweet victory. This film is not uplifting like Blue or Red it is a dark comedic tragedy.

The idea of resurrection is a strong theme in this film. Karol metaphorically dies in order to leave Paris, throwing away all his diplomas in the train station, and being buried in the suitcase, and he arises in his homeland and begins his life over again as a businessman. In Machiavellian fashion, Karol fakes his own death as a bid to lure Dominique to Warsaw to exact his revenge. Mikolaj is also resurrected. Being suicidal, he pays Karol to shoot him, but since he is his friend, he loads the gun with a blank. After pretending to kill him, Karol warns him, “The next one is real.” Karol gave Mikolaj some perspective and a new lease on life.

If you remember in Blue, Julie is so absorbed in her own emotions that she doesn’t even notice the old woman and the recycling bin. But she also shows up in White while Karol is shivering on the streets of Paris. Karol notices her but only grins as she tries to put her bottle in the bin. I tend to think that Karol is happy to see someone to whom he finally feels equal. Finally, this is the odd man out of Kieslowski’s trilogy, because it is less artsy and more straight-forward it makes a good introductory film to get into Kieslowski’s work. But even though the ending seems like a hopeless tragedy, the true ending of White is actually revealed at the end of Red, where we see Karol and Dominique have reconciled and are re-married.

30 Day Movie Challenge

My wife stumbled across this little jewel of a meme over at Theater Thoughts. I’m positive it didn’t originate with him, but what does that matter? If you’re into horror or exploitation films, then his site is a gold mine. My tastes happen to run a bit more mainstream, but more power to you John and keep blogging.

I still need to pick a movie to match each day and decide if I really want to undertake another daily challenge, already working through the IMDB Top 250 and trying to blog on one of my two sites every day. But I probably will, it looks like fun. What would your picks be? Let me know in the comments below, or if you’ve already completed the challenge and blogged about it, shoot me a link, I’d love to read about your journey.

The 30 Day Movie Challenge

Day 01- The best movie you saw during the last year
Day 02 – The most underrated movie
Day 03 – A movie that makes you really happy
Day 04 – A movie that makes you sad
Day 05 – Favorite love story in a movie
Day 06 – Favorite made for TV movie
Day 07 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 08 – A movie that you’ve seen countless times
Day 09 – A movie with the best soundtrack
Day 10 – Favorite classic movie
Day 11 – A movie that changed your opinion about something
Day 12 – A movie that you hate
Day 13 – A movie that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14 – A movie that no one would expect you to love
Day 15 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 16 – A movie that you used to love but now hate
Day 17 – A movie that disappointed you the most
Day 18 – A movie that you wish more people would’ve seen
Day 19 – Favorite movie based on a book/comic/etc.
Day 20 – Favorite movie from your favorite actor/actress
Day 21 – Favorite action movie
Day 22 – Favorite documentary
Day 23 – Favorite animation
Day 24 – That one awesome movie idea that still hasn’t been done yet
Day 25 – The most hilarious movie you’ve ever seen
Day 26 – A movie that you love but everyone else hates
Day 27 – A movie that you wish you had seen in theaters
Day 28 – Favorite movie from your favorite director
Day 29 – A movie from your childhood
Day 30 – Your favorite movie of all time

Three Colors: Blue (1993)

There is almost too much to say about these three films. In fact, only one film in the trilogy actually made it onto the IMDB Top 250 list, that being the final film, Red. Although these are each excellent as stand-alone works, they are best when seen as a whole. For that reason, I am going to review each of them separately. For the unfamiliar, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s last work, “Three Colors Trilogy” takes its name from the colors of the French flag and its themes from the ideals represented by those colors: blue (liberty), white (equality), and red (friendship).

Blue, the first of the trilogy, takes place in Paris. It stars Juliette Binoche (Unbearable Lightness of Being, The English Patient, Chocolat) as Julie, the wife of a famous composer. She has to deal with a great deal of unwanted freedom when a car accident claims the lives of her husband and her daughter. At first, while recovering in the hospital, she tries to kill herself by swallowing a handful of pills stolen from the hospital, but she cannot. From that point on, she seems to devote her energy to disassociating herself from the memories of her past, a sort of emotional suicide. She sells the family home and all the furniture, moves into a small apartment in Paris, and even destroys her late husband’s last and highly anticipated composition. Along the way, she befriends Lucille, her downstairs neighbor; falls in love with Olivier, her late husband’s aid; and helps Sandrine, her late husband’s mistress who is carrying his child.

Because of its name, Blue, you can’t help but look for that color in the film’s carefully crafted images. With his expert usage of color, Kieslowski has forced the audience to pay attention to the slow-moving story that is unraveling on the screen. The most noticeable visual technique would be the odd fade-out/fade-ins that occur four times in the film. At each of the four points, Julie is at a crossroads, having to decide whether to push back the memories of her life before the accident, or to acknowledge them.

For a large part of the film, Julie is in a trance, trying to shut out the world around her. This could be a very boring role in a less capable actress’ hands, but Binoche turns in the best performance of her career. We frequently see Julie swimming completely immersed in a pool, bathed in a blue light, which symbolizes her past life. At one point, she immerses herself completely and stays underwater for as long as possible. But soon, she has to come up for air. In the same way, Julie can’t help but re-establish the connections with her past, and like the continent upon which she resides, she shifts from a state of liberty into a state of union. She gives the family home to her husband’s mistress’, completes her husband’s unfinished composition, and even builds a relationship with Olivier.

Being a trilogy, of seemingly unrelated films, there are little Easter eggs that will become prominent as you view all three films. Pay particular attention to the scene where Julie is at the courthouse. She walks into a courtroom where a trial is in session, and the audience is briefly given a glimpse of a divorce trial. The significance of this odd scene is revealed in White, where Julie walks in on the trial in the background. I am not in agreement with the IMDB list. I think that this is the best of the films when viewed separately. I believe that Red received a higher ranking because people use it to refer to the trilogy as a whole. Kieslowski did an amazing job of using film as a form of literature, combining the cinematography, music, lighting, and dialogue all to bring emphasis to the overall thesis of the film. I’m not a huge fan of foreign films, but this is one that can be viewed again and again.

Rope (1948)

20110403-102615.jpgAre there a special few individuals to whom the laws don’t apply, perhaps because they are educated at the finest schools or because they come from families with money or influence? What makes murder such a horrifying sin? Why don’t we cringe at other sins? Are there some sins that make the sinner feel superior? These are some of the questions that Rope concerns itself with. Not that it is a movie about these things, but as I watched it, my mind went to these questions. Rope is simply an adaptation of the true story of the Leopold-Loeb murder that took place in Chicago in 1924. In said murder, two wealthy and intelligent young men, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, killed Loeb’s 14-year-old second cousin Robert Franks for no other reason than the thrill of the kill.

In Rope our murderers are two similarly wealthy and presumably intelligent young men named Brandon and Phillip. However, instead of dispatching of a 14-year-old boy in the back seat of a rented car, they strangle a peer named David in their shared apartment and stow his body in a large trunk. The signature Hitchcockian twist comes when instead of disposing of the body in a more traditional manner, these well-to-do young men host a cocktail party and use the makeshift coffin as a dinner table, and the guests of honor are the boy’s father, aunt, and fiancé. It seems like the perfect murder, but an admired professor named Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) begins to sense that something is disturbing about this party and their master plan begins to unravel.

20110403-102233.jpgMy father had amassed a nice library of Hitchcock films by the time that I was old enough to start watching them. My first venture into the world and mind of Alfred Hitchcock, and my enduring favorite of his collection was North By Northwest. But I recall watching this nearly forgotten gem after Birds had scared the pants off of me and I was thoroughly hooked on the style, humor, and suspense of the master.

I believe that I was around 12 or 13 when I first watched Rope. It was on one of the lonely afternoons I spent alone after school waiting for my parents to arrive home. It may have been a forbidden activity, that might have originally drawn me to the cabinet filled to the brim with VHS gold. But it was the quality of the selections that drew me deeper in. 20110403-102217.jpgI am so very thankful that my parents didn’t care for most of the pabulum that was churned out during the late 70s and 80s. Instead they possessed a library of classics and future classics. Forget Airplane or Karate Kid, I would get to those later, I had Young Frankenstein and Indiana Jones to keep me company.

I’m not sure why Rope caught my eye with its unassuming title, mixed reviews, no guffawing humor, bodily functions, explosions, or nudity. In fact it fails to catch the attention of the adults it was created for, but in spite of all of that, it remains one of my top 5 all time favorite Hitchcock films, even though Hitchcock himself called it a failed experiment. You can actually watch a large portion of the film in a wonderful 3 part documentary on the making of the film called “Rope Unleashed.” Continue reading Rope (1948)

Monsters Inc. (2001)

I’m not very good at this whole “watch a movie a week and write a review on it” thing. I easily watch 3-5 movies a week, but the problem is, I would much rather watch another movie than write a review. Especially when it’s a movie like the one that is on the slate for today. But alas, I made a commitment and so I’m gonna keep it.

20110327-173353.jpgThe most difficult part of writing a review for Monster’s Inc. Is that it is an animated film and we tend to treat these movies simply for their entertainment value for kids. But I think that animated films can have great value apart from mindless entertainment. And that is the area in which Pixar films in recent years have excelled above their peers in the animation business.

Everybody is doing computer animation, but the thing that elevates Pixar’s films and recently some of Dreamworks’ offerings (Flushed Away (really, it’s actually pretty good), Kung Fu Panda, How To Train Your Dragon, and Megamind) is the story. It’s not just about hyper-realistic imagery and the creation of a fully submersible world. Those are all pointless if you don’t have a story with characters in which the audience of both children and adults will invest their emotions.

20110327-173258.jpgMonster’s Inc. at its core is the inversion of a horror film. Normally, kids are wetting their beds at the idea that monsters live in their closets and are going to come out to scare them. Monsters Inc. simply admits this epidemic of home invasion as fact and then goes inside the closet to tell the story from the monsters point of view. It turns out that monsters don’t particularly enjoy scaring children, it is simply their job. Monstropolis (the Narnia on the other end of these impressionable children’s wardrobes) runs on the screams of children. But because human children are flooded with violent movies and television shows at increasingly younger ages, they are getting harder to scare and consequently Monstropolis has a scream shortage.

It seems to me that most animation studios would have been content to leave the story there then throw in a lot of cultural references to make the movie funnier. But Pixar understands the value of irony and as it turns out in this universe, these monsters know just as little about us as we know about them, and that makes monsters deathly afraid of human children.

20110327-173112.jpgAdd to that two of the most likable characters in all of Pixar’s movies, second only to Woody and Buzz, and you’ve got a movie that went toe-to-toe with Shrek, and by all counts lost that battle. But I would invite you to rematch both films and decide for yourself which has aged better. I think that Monsters Inc. could do equally well today, but I’m not sure I could say that about Shrek.

Essentially Monsters Inc. is a great buddy comedy. On one side you have the purple spotted horned Bear-cat named Sully. He looks ferocious which makes him great at his job, but in reality, he is just a big softie. John Goodman did a good job voicing him as he is the most dynamic of the characters in the film. And playing the Laurel to his Hardy is the effervescent Billy Crystal placed in the body of a green volleyball with one giant eye and an even bigger mouth. They make an odd couple to be sure and lift what could have been a mediocre movie to Pixar gold.

20110327-173150.jpgAnymore, it is pointless to mention the superb animation that is present in these movies. But in its time, the computer animation rendering of every frame featuring Sully took 11 hours to complete because the movement of each of his 2,320,413 hairs. With a frame rate of 24 fps that is nearly a month of processor time to create a single second of footage.

This might not be the highest grossing or the best reviewed of any of the Pixar movies, but it is a solid and highly entertaining movie that I have confidence my kids will he showing their kids one day.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Words have failed me in attempting to describe this movie. I tried to write this review in early January, and here we are in late February and I am just now revisiting it. It probably doesn’t help that in that time span we have purchased and moved into our first house. We have lived in houses before obviously, but this is our house.

Anyway, onto the movie. Have you ever had a dream that freaked you out and left you gasping for breath as you rushed back to consciousness? When your loved ones come in the room to check if you are okay all you can say is I had a bad dream. Invariably they will ask what it was about, but we can’t say because 1) the dream is quickly retreating into our sub conscience, and 2) because no matter how well you explain what happened in the dream you sound psychotic. Mulholland Dr. is that creepy dream.

If you are not familiar with the works of David Lynch, I would recommend this movie as a good starting place. Also, the trailer doesn’t nearly do this film justice. The film and its core concept are too complex to boil down to a two-minute clip.

I like to compare it to music. If you’ve ever bought a song off iTunes because someone said that you would enjoy it; then analyzed the song and broke it down into all Its parts, you probably found that it wasn’t enjoyable at all. With that in mind, you have the sense of what it is like to convey the power of a film in which you can lose yourself. To truly enjoy it, you must surrender yourself to it. As Roger Ebert said, “If you require logic, see something else.”

David Lynch loves to make films which defy logic, but Mulholland Dr. follows no conventional plot structure, it simply ebbs and flows like a dream. I think it’s worth mentioning that this movie is an expanded version of an ABC television pilot. You thought Lost was confusing, I could imagine people cursing at their televisions in frustration as more questions arise with no answers in sight.

Also, this film features what I think should have been at the very least and Oscar Nominated performance by Naomi Watts. It would have been more deserved than Halle Berry for Monster’s Ball, and far more that Renée Zellweger for Bridget Jones’ DiaryNaomi Watts is engaging on both sides of the coin of her character. On one hand she is Betty, the perky and naïve, but very talented newcomer to Hollywood. On the other, she is Diane, the frustrated and depressed reality of the too-good-to-be-true Betty. She pulls this off so well that I didn’t realize that it was the same actress playing both parts until well into watching the film the first time. I’m still waiting for Ms. Watts to reach the climax of her career, she has made a number of good films, but nothing to set her apart from every other fair-skinned, blue-eyed, blonde in Hollywood.

I thin that this film displays the secular hope for redemption. Diane is so depressed and disappointed with her life that she elaborately constructs a dream-place where things have gone better for her. We all have regrets, failures, and things that we wish we could change. But the good news is that in Christ, the dream becomes reality. Not that all the bad things disappear when we have Jesus; but that when we have Jesus, we have the strength to endure reality, with the hope of a future redemption and glorification with Jesus.

Do yourself a favor, check out Mulholland Dr. set aside all the distractions and just let it wash over you. Then come back and give me all your theories about what is really going on. There are literally dozens of different theories. If you’ve already seen the movie, you can check them out at I think this film will be successful in creeping you out and will stick in your head for days.

Content warning for my more conservative readers. This film contains several disturbing and violent images as well as a few graphic scenes of topless women engaging in passionate kissing.

Toy Story 2 (1999)

Well, after a crazy couple of holiday weekends I am attempting to get back on schedule with my reviewing of the IMDb’s Top 250 movies of all time. Though I’m sure I’m going to fall behind again. We close on our new house on Friday and then the next two weeks will be a blur as we move all of our accumulated crap across town. But this isn’t a Christmas card… on to the review.

I was and am a fan of Toy Story. It was magical. A great story which birthed a whole genre of animation. It came out when I was 12. I was a little bit older than it’s target audience, but I was still too young to recognize the significance of this groundbreaking film.
However, when rumors of Toy Story 2 began to circulate, even at my tender age, I was already jaded enough with production companies money-making tactics to know not to expect much. The original plan was for Toy Story 2 to be a direct to DVD release. To this day, Disney has only created one worthwhile sequel without the help of the masters at Pixar, that being Fantasia 2000. To illustrate my point, let’s briefly review Disney’s track record with sequels.
The Rescuers Down Under
The Return of Jafar
Aladdin & The King of Thieves
Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride
The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamps Adventure… I could go on, but I think I made my point.

So when the folks at Pixar brought the script and some storyboards for what would eventually become Toy Story 2 to Disney, they made the smart decision to pour their resources into this sequel. Most sequels simply dilute the story and characters like too much water added to good Scotch. But not all sequels are bad. The best sequels take the original film at face value and then seamlessly expand from there with a movie that stands on it’s own merit instead of being propped up simply by the success of it’s predecessor. For instance, I loved Terminator II: Judgment Day from the moment I first watched it, but it took me several years to build up a desire to watch the original Terminator.

So what about Toy Story 2 earned it a 100% fresh rating from the aggregated rating site Rotten Tomatoes? Well, to answer that question I re-watched the movie a few times, some with my kids and some by myself. And I think it comes down to two main issues which play themselves out over and over again in this film. First is the film’s ability to entertain both the young and the young at heart. My kids love it because even though it is now over 10 years old it looks great with an attention to detail that Pixar has become known for. The colors and textures are light years (no pun intended) better than the original, and that’s saying something because it was beautiful and the improvement came in just 4 year’s time. Also, my kids are continuously quoting lines from these movies, and I believe it’s because the movie isn’t pandering and condescending to “their level.” The dialogue is incredible for a kids movie and it is carried by a voice cast that has expanded its diversity to include Joan Cusack. But my kids watch it over and over and hear different things every time. The story is easy enough to understand that you could follow it even if the sound on your TV went out, but everything about the story is enhanced because of the humorous and touching script.

I love the movie because of the little movie homages, the inclusion of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 2001: a Space Odyssey in the opening video game sequence, Rex chasing after the car in a nod to Jurassic Park, and the hilarious twist that Zurg didn’t kill Buzz’s father… he is his father! When my kids watched The Empire Strikes Back for the first time and Vader spills his big secret, one of my kids said it’s just like Toy Story. Speaking of twists, though I can’t remember the first time I watched this film, I am willing to bet that I was surprised at the devious selfishness of Stinky Pete. And even though we are used to movies like this now, this one is simply action packed, with at least 5 distinct chase scenes, two shootouts, several covert operations, and epic surroundings for all of the above make this movie one that I find it hard to rip myself away from.

But not only is this story entertaining for all ages, but it is a classic because it is so well done and we can see the shadows of many Pixar greats yet to come in it’s deep library of scenes. I don’t know that we would have had the emotionally crushing opening montage from Up were it not for the “When She Loved Me montage in Toy Story 2. The same goes for the door warehouse chase scene from Monsters, Inc. It would have been impossible had Pixar not broken ground in Toy Story 2 with the chase through the airport baggage area. Also, think of as many animated films as you can that have made you want to both laugh and cry, applaud and think, remember and wonder. I would be willing to wager that almost all of those films are from the storytelling magicians at Pixar. They just have the ability and lack of inhibition that lets them expertly dive into issues that most animated or childrens’ films won’t touch. Issues like loss, rejection, abandonment, fear, identity, purpose, and love.

Just take this film for example and you will see Woody’s crisis of purpose as he battles with a desire for eternal life and fame. But to get it he must reject the very reason he was made, as he taught Buzz in the first film, life isn’t worth living if you aren’t being loved by a child. At the same time, the roundup gang treats Woody as if he is the promised messiah who has come to save them from the darkness and loneliness of storage. There is the mistaken identity of Buzz, and the matter of who is the real Buzz is not determined by who has the cooler tool-belt, but which action figure bears the name of their owner. This is a unmistakable Christian ideal, we are who we are not because of some inherent goodness in us, but because we bear the name of Christ.

Who knew that a simple movie about the secret lives of toys could go so deep as to teach its viewers something profound about themselves. That is the art of film-making, the magic of Pixar, and the reason why I can’t stop watching movies. Because movies have this ability in common with Scripture. I love Scripture because it can destroy me one minute as it reveals my sin, then restore me as it reveals my Savior. And I keep watching movies because I hope that the next one will cut me open to my core and teach me a little bit more about myself. If my kids watch the Toy Story movies and want to act like Woody or Buzz, that is fine with me, because both characters exemplify the type of behavior and strength and purity of character that I wish everyone had and pray that my children will develop. I can’t say that about every cartoon character. The thing that makes Toy Story great is the desire it creates in its viewers to not only observe greatness but to pursue and attain it.