Category Archives: Surreal

In Memoriam: David Bowie (1947-2016)

Roger Ebert – Labyrinth – 1986:

Roger Ebert – The Man Who Fell to Earth – 2011:

The world lost one of its true creators this weekend. David Bowie was a perpetual outsider, ahead of the curve. He made a career and a life out of living outside the norm as an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His first film, The Man Who Fell to Earth has become a cult classic. I regret to say that I have not seen it, but hope to rectify that shortly. In the film, he plays an alien from a drought-stricken planet who journeys to Earth in search of water. Ebert remarks, “Bowie, slender, elegant, remote, evokes this alien so successfully that one could say, without irony, this was a role he was born to play.” Ebert remarked about meeting David Bowie and about his quality as an actor.

[He] has an enviable urbane charm. I met him once, and rarely have been so impressed by someone’s poise. If he hadn’t been a rock star he could have had success as an actor, playing roles such as those given to James Fox or William Hurt. Bowie demonstrated that in such films as “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “Absolute Beginners,” “The Hunger” and “Labyrinth.” … He is … Other. Apart. Defined within himself.

Besides his progressive, challenging, and remarkable body of work, Bowie also gifted us with his son with Mary Angela Barnett, Duncan Jones, who I believe is one of the most promising up and coming directors working today. He directed two sci-fi thrillers, Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). Bowie has had such an impact on our popular culture and he held such respect from such a wide array of people, receiving memorial tweets from people like Madonna, Astronaut Tim Peake, Kanye West, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The world will be a slightly less interesting place with him gone.

Labyrinth posterAs I have read and heard so many people speaking fondly of him, I felt compelled to share my first memory of David Bowie. It was in the 1986 film Labyrinth, I was too young to remember seeing it when it first was released, but I recall renting the film from our local video store and watching raptly as a Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) struggled on a magical adventure to rescue her brother from Bowie’s deceptions as the goblin king Jareth.

Bowie joined forces with Muppet creator Jim Henson, special-effects guru George Lucas, and screenwriter Terry Jones of Monty Python fame to produce this fantasy which reminds me of a strange blend of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

It was a great work of Jim Henson and very ambitious. To my young mind it was a swirling and thrilling adventure. Unfortunately, I think I may have lost some of the youthful exuberance that I once possessed, because upon a re-watching a year or two ago, I was amazed at how meandering and drawn out the film is without good reason. It is longer than it should be and is lacking enough of a coherent plot to keep me attached. However, I may still dust it off again, if just to hear the soundtrack as Jareth himself composed and performed a number of songs for the film. Farewell Major Tom, God’s love be with you.

Day 23 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Animated Film

Being a dad, it seems like I watch more animated movies than any other type. And since I am a film snob, I can’t stand to endlessly re-watch sub-par movies the way that I see so many parents do. Just because Cars is my kids’ favorite Pixar movie, that doesn’t mean that I am going to put it on every time they ask to watch a movie. Although they would be happy with that, I would go insane. And even if it was a good movie, it would lose some of its magic after seeing it twice a week for 3 years. I am constantly looking for good animated films to share with my family. That passion, along with my general love for film, led me to the breathtaking and impressive canon of Japanese hand-drawn animation director Hayao Miyazaki.

Now 70 years old, he is often referred to as the Japanese Walt Disney. He has directed ten feature length animated films as well as several shorts and Japanese television shows and personally hand drawn tens of thousands of frames. I know that most Americans don’t think to highly of “Japanimation,” as it has been called. I can’t say that I blame them. Run of the mill “Japanimation” is irritating, overly violent, raunchy, indulgent, and devoid of good storytelling. But that description could be used to describe most modern American fare.

But Miyazaki is a glowing exception. His animation has an attention to detail that rivals the exacting standards of a company like Pixar. His intense yet delicate shading of colors would make his works of art more at home in a fine art gallery than in the Sunday comics. Miyazaki also has a great sense of humor, a gift for poetic storytelling, and a taste for adventure. His beautiful children’s movie, My Neighbor Totoro, is a charming and deeply affecting look at how a child’s imagination helps her endure a time of private fear and sadness. His most recent work, Ponyo, is a beautiful story of the transforming power of love. Princess Mononoke, is a powerful, sprawling epic about the need for humankind to respect and live in harmony with the environment. And that is a message that people of all faiths should proclaim.

I almost chose Princess Mononoke, but decided to go with what is widely considered to be Miyazaki’s masterpiece. Spirited Away combines the weighty mythologizing of Mononoke with the playful spirit of My Neighbor Totoro, but then goes in new directions as well. It is funny to me that Walt Disney Studios has helped bring Miyazaki’s features to American cinemas, because Miyazaki’s work tends to reveal that most Disney films are simplistic and predictable.

Spirited Away is a coming of age story of a little girl named Chihiro, who gets lost in a wonderland of spirits and witches, and her quest to find a way to break the curse that has transformed her parents so they can return home. Her only friend in this world is a mysterious boy named Haku who helps her to survive. Eventually we come to hope that Chihiro, her parents, and Haku will all eventually break away from the harsh tyranny of the powerful and dictatorial witch Yubaba.

The secret to their freedom lies in discovering their true identities. Yubaba gains her power and control over her subjects by stealing their identities, much like Ursula in The Little Mermaid. Yubaba can hold her own with the most memorable wicked witches of all time. She’s wider than she is tall, her head makes up half her body, she has snake-like shoots of white hair bound up in a bun, and her massive nose bulges out before her like a weapon. She snarls and cackles her way through the film. One of the things I love about Miyazaki is that he never sets up a simplistic face-off between good and evil. He knows we all have good and evil within us, and thus his “villains” have moments of kindness, and his heroes do things they regret.

If the film sounds complicated, it’s because it is. This film runs just over two hours, but with its fast pace and a plethora of subplots Spirited Away feels like Miyazaki decided to challenge George Lucas at his own game of exotic adventure and whimsy. There are enough bizarre creatures here to make the cantina in Star Wars look boring. The depth and fertility of Miyazaki’s imagination leaves me stunned at every turn.

Some will say that this film is too complex for children, and too scary. For small children, possibly. They could get lost in the intricate plot, and the monsters might scare them. I personally showed it to my kids starting at age 5 and up. But I think kids should be challenged to think through what they’re watching, and this is a story that provides great opportunities for discussion with grownups. Spirited Away is at times frightening, but it emphasizes the importance of an individual’s virtue, and affirms that the smallest of characters can make a big difference. It offers powerful displays of sacrificial love. And it, as I mentioned before, portrays “villains” who are redeemable and can be transformed by compassion and kindness.

Many Christians will probably berate me for my love of this film calling it occultic. But Miyazaki comes from a culture that is steeped in Shinto mythology and beliefs about the spirits of nature and of the dead. So of course, his story reflects such traditions and beliefs. But he is not “preaching” these ideas any more than Jiminy Cricket is preaching astrology when he croons about wishing upon a star. He is treating them as myth, as fantasy, and using them to illustrate lessons and morals that open-minded Christians will find quite similar to their own. The film makes no mention of “God” or any benevolent force which rules the world, but it does affirm the importance of personal virtues like: selflessness, sacrificial love, humility, friendship, compassion, and courage. People of any faith can read these characters as symbolic, and the story reflects powerful truths.

One spirit in particular, No Face, appears at first to be gentle and friendly. But he becomes more and more mysterious, shifting between gentleness and violent destructive behavior. Eventually, we come to understand that he is a lonely spirit who seeks approval. When he is around greed and evil, he responds with greed and evil. But when he is offered friendship and unconditional love, he seems to try a better path. Chihiro has patience with him and her kindness reminds me of how Christ patiently endures with me in my own tendency to become self-absorbed. He waits patiently, always offering love, forgiveness, and direction to a better way. No Face is amazed at Chihiro’s virtue. And I came to hope that he would abandon his violence and follow Chihiro to a better life. This is just one of many such parables within a vast tapestry of interconnected stories.

All in all, this is an absolute must-see. And the bigger the screen the better. The colors are incredible, from shots of a magical train that skims across the sea, to fantastical gardens and intricately painted murals. Well, I’ve said my piece. What is your favorite Animated movie? Do you love Miyazaki’s work as much as I do, or do you have another opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 14 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That No One Would Expect You To Love

I was interested in this topic from the first time I read the challenge because of the way it is worded. It is asking for a movie that no one would expect you to love. This doesn’t imply that you actually do love that movie. It forces you to put yourself in the shoes of those that know you. You have to inspect your own preferences. If the challenge was asking for a film that you actually liked, then it would say, “A movie that people would be surprised to find that you loved.”

I am running short on time because this weekend is my son’s 8th birthday and my aunt and uncle just came into town tonight so I have been entertaining this afternoon. But I must not neglect in my duty to the challenge. I think that people would be surprised to know that I actually like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think it is a lot of fun, and the musical numbers will be stuck in your head for days. Tim Curry as the transvestite from the planet of Transylvania is funny, creepy, and campy all at once. This is my favorite movie to watch on Halloween.

But I don’t think that anyone would expect me to like just about anything in the horror genre. I don’t particularly enjoy being scared. I only watch horror movies on my own terms. I can think of a few enjoyable horror movies that I’ve seen in the past few years, namely The Strangers and Insidious. But there is no way I would ever be caught dead watching the latest incarnation of the Saw franchise, Saw V. I actually loved the first Saw movie. I thought the twist at the end was fabulous and I didn’t see it coming at all.

So what about you? What do you hate so much that everybody knows it and what would people be shocked to know that you love? I want to share in your love and hatred of cinema. Leave me a message in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

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 Mulholland-Drive.net. 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.