Brief comments on film by Amy.
Some old, some new.  Domestic films and foreign too.

John Adams—Any movie that I can get Jim to watch with me is a good movie (with the grim exception of Tropic Thunder—Ugh). Any six-hour movie I can convince him to watch is an instant classic. This one was so good that immediately after finishing the first disc via Netflix, we went out and rented the second at Blockbuster. I am a big Paul Giamatti fan (Sideways, Lady in the Water), and he doesn’t disappoint. Great performances, especially by Giamatti and Laura Linney who plays Abigail Adams.  I was in awe of the production and grateful to the filmmakers for simply telling the story without getting in the way or passing judgment. Various perspectives are presented and you are to decide for yourself what you think of Adams’ choices, both professionally and privately. They even portray marriage and commitment in a way that neither glosses over the ugly bits nor makes it appear one step higher than purgatory. If you have any interest in American history, this is a movie for you.

Proof—One of my Netflix buddies once told me that I enjoy far too many films. That may be true. However, there are at least as many that I loathe. I particularly hate movies that make me feel like an idiot for not liking them. Perhaps there should be a warning alongside the rating and the two “thumbs way up” on such films, reading something like “Be advised: People who don’t like this movie are morons and just don’t get it.” What’s not to like after all? It’s a movie about math brought to us by the mathematical genius who brought us such greats as Shakespeare in Love and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. I felt like I could hear the writer giggling behind the television, waiting to explain the movie to me in long drawn about syllables, using very small words in case I was too dense to understand. “See…it’s called “Proof’ and she needs proof that she isn’t crazy. And that he loves her. And that she can trust him. Get it?” Take my advice. Never watch a film about math where the camera pans away and music swells every time the characters actually start talking about math.

Little Children—I watched this movie after a night of domestic duties, which this film suggests is a trap to avoid at all costs. Feeding dinner to the kids, cleaning up afterward, putting them to bed—all instruments of torture. The opening scene portrays moms who come off like Stepford wives on steroids—who would be enough to send women running to the nearest pharmacy demanding a lifetime supply of birth-control pills, or at least to their local childcare facility. I am not sure whom the makers of this film hate more—traditional stay-at-home moms, wives in general, husbands in general, or law-enforcement officers. You know it ain’t pretty when the most sympathetic character of them all is a pedophile. To me, this movie is a clear indicator of just how far into the moral abyss Hollywood has sunk. This is not dangerous beauty—lies and distortions wrapped in the seductively attractive wrappings of great art. This is lies and distortions wrapped in a brown paper bag with one or two corners ripped off. In other words, not only is the movie false and evil, it is also really, really badly done. It is as if the evil lurking in Hollywood has warped filmmakers’ aesthetic sense as well as their moral code. The combination of bad filmmaking, reprehensible preaching, and gratuitous nudity make this movie one to avoid.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall—I usually review three films, but rather than end on a down note, let me recommend a movie that is worth going out of your way to see. If you are at all inclined to watch people dressed up in movement-restrictive clothing and ride around the country side on horses while searching for true love, this is a flick for you. Romance that doesn’t require you to check your morals or good sense at the door? What a novel concept. (Subscribers to Netflix can find this one in “Watch Instantly.” Great movie and it saves space in the ole queue. Can’t ask for more than that.)


7 Responses to “Snapshots”


  1. Andrew

     

    When I saw the cover image for “Proof,” I was nervous that you had written a glowing review of the movie and that I would feel like an idiot since I didn’t get it. At all. Thought it was dreadful.

    Very glad that we’re on the same page.

    Reply
  2. Kaitlyn Dugan

     

    It is really encouraging to read a negative review of “Little Children.” I can count on one hand how many films have left me feeling so dark and disturbed – and I am not married nor do I have children.

    The most disturbing part for me was when they were discussing the rebellion of Madam Bouverie in the group in relation to her marriage/men. But Winslet defends her “struggle” and calls her actions “heroic” and “beautiful” about it. I was dumbfounded. She then goes on to say that it is the “hunger” that lies in her motivation to cheat, the “hunger for an alternative” to being faithful and “the refusal to accept the life of unhappiness” in her marriage that makes her a “feminist.”

    Truly unbelievable.

    Reply
  3. Neville Kiser

     

    As a Christian, twentysomething, white male (I’m recognizing my bias up front) I have to disagree with you so much on your analysis of LITTLE CHILDREN. My mouth gaped open when I saw your impression of it. I don’t mean to say someone can’t “find that” in this film, it just seems that that must have been all you were looking to find. Let me explain/defend my position.

    1. The most sympathetic character in the film was not the pedophile…but his mother. I think it was clear the filmmakers were setting the audience up for you to be completely and utterly irritated by him. In the end, we feel bad for him…we know he’s screwed up, but it’s the mother of him—resembling only the type of Love God could embody—who is most sympathetic. I know I wasn’t ready to love him or any other pedophiles after seeing him in this. I was frustrated b/c I realized just how much I wanted to not love, to not show grace/mercy to him. And yet, Jesus shows the same grace to him as he does to me and loves him at his most sickest just as he loves me at my most sickest.

    2. Second, do you really believe the filmmakers hate the characters in this film? If anything, I was amazed at how much compassion (and judgment) they continually passed on every one of its characters. After all, the film was titled “Little Children” and that wasn’t just because it was about parents who had some. It was about how adults—ironically, who raised little children—end up being the “littlest” children at times in that, they run away from responsibility, when it gets tough. They flee love when things get hard. The film is about how dreams, and ideals of little children come back to haunt us if we don’t recognize the responsibility of growing up. The dad who wanted to be a skateboarder. The neighborhood watchman who failed as a cop. The mom who wanted to continue studying literature. It’s about dreams and how we fail in them, and how we settle for something else (that ultimately pays the price for our side-stepping them). Need I point out that the stay-at-home mom (Kate Winslet) who seemed to grow tired and weary of her life, did so in light of her husband jerking off to porn at work and home? I’ll have to check Ephesians, but I think there it says, “Husbands love your wives…” yet, never commands the wives to love their husbands. Was this husband loving his wife? No. I don’t say it to excuse her behavior later on, but I say it to point out the generational, the “human stain” as it has been called, of sin and sin perpetuating more sin.

    3. Third, regarding Winslet’s defense of Madam Bouverie, obviously, the analogy is stretched a bit…but there are some women who do feel trapped in a marriage. There are some women who do feel unloved, unimportant, unnoticed by their husbands and other people in their lives. I’m not saying, “Good for her! She rebelled because of it!” But I am saying, “Hey…can we not empathize with the feeling of wanting to NOT be trapped by other people’s neglect of us?” How many times have you been somewhere in life and you felt connected to no one. In that time, did you ever do something to be noticed, to feel connection/touch/love from someone even though you knew it was wrong? We humans were created to be loved, by God and by others. This movie/story for me, was a reminder of God’s grace, God’s mercy to me. It attempted to let you know why people did the things they did, but never really excused it and said it was right, did it? Obviously, the writer (somewhat) punished these people’s actions by the time the film ended. Things did not go as they’d hoped. People were in hospitals because of their actions. In a sense, it reminded me of the final act in MAGNOLIA. Our actions are not without consequences. “Little Children” is not a tragedy of a suburban housewife trapped b/c she feels dull and domesticated; it’s about recognizing that in our attempts to love, and to be loved, (something all little children ask for) we mistake love for desire, for the instant gratification, for quick fix. This is the tragedy of the film.

    4. “Just how far into the moral abyss Hollywood has sunk?” I’m always weary when we, as Christians, can stand back and scoff at how sinful the world is. It makes me think we have no idea of ourselves, have no grasp on depravity, have NO idea of how sinful we really are. I know, I know, you’ll probably tell me, “I know what sin is and I know I’m sinful.” But, as humbly as I can this, let me say this: it’s really easy to say it, to cognitively know what sin is and how sinful we are and be completely detached with the reality of what that is. Have you read, THE SHACK? There’s a great chapter in that book where Mac is allowed to be the Judge on the world, where he can put away any moral cesspools he sees fit. After I read this, I realized how much in common have with the so-called “moral abyss” of Hollywood. This is one of the continual problems I encounter with people who go to Church: they don’t know how to connect with people who don’t go to Church, anymore. They’ve forgotten that we need forgiveness, I need forgiveness, every single day. They’ve forgotten how to see the man beaten up on the side of the road, the prostitute who was on the verge of being stoned, the people so unlovable the majority of Christians (during Jesus’ times) missed them. Re-read the story of Zaccheus to get a good idea of what I mean by this.

    I’m sorry I’m getting so into this response, and that it’s going on so long…but I really was moved by this story. I was humbled by it. I watched it with another Taylor alum who was a Psychology major and he also was moved by it. I felt I wanted to be a friend to these people, I wanted to, really…and I mean that. Wouldn’t Jesus have wanted to befriend them too? I really hope this makes you think more about the film. Privatized suburban communities can sometimes isolate, and privatize the sin in all our lives. I know. I’m one person from that community and there’s an echo to my own story in LITTLE CHILDREN. Maybe that’s why it means so much to me.

    In it, I see God’s incredible empathy.

    Reply
  4. Amy Spiegel

     

    neville,

    thanks for your thought provoking comments regarding “little children”. i think it is always interesting to see when people watch the same movie and have such strong reactions in such opposite directions. i don’t necessarily want to respond point by point but here is my general response to your comments. i agree that as christians we can isolate ourselves to such an extent that it makes it difficult for us to have compassion on those who have yet to be forgiven and at the same time we lose sight of the enormity of the grace we have been given. i think this is one of the reasons God has given me four kids. if they give me nothing else, they act as a constant reminder of my sinfulness. but back to the movie.

    when i watch something i usually track with it in two ways: from a moral stand point and from an artistic one. i often watch a movie that i appreciate from a moral stand point but take exception with artistically, and vice versa. first and foremost, i thought this was a badly made movie. the uneven handedness of the characters, the dialogue, and the format of the movie (the narration format), i didn’t find convincing. i also objected to it from a moral standpoint. i thought the ending said “hey we all make mistakes. but at least we are trying.” true, we all make mistakes but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. kate winslet says “it’s the hunger” that counts but if you devour those around you in the process, you have to be held accountable. when referring to the “moral abyss” of hollywood, my point is that this movie is an example of hollywood’s ever increasing struggle to make good art apart from the Truth. as a final point, i would say “american beauty” (ironically directed by kate winslet’s husband sam mendes) is a much better example of people searching for love and coming to grips with the consequences of their bad choices.

    Reply
  5. Neville Kiser

     

    Okay, I’m with you on the moral/artistic perspective, but can I ask this then…when did the immorality of the LITTLE CHILDREN’S story become too much? Too excessive? At one point were you thinking, “I’ve had it…that’s too much…etc.” ? The reason I ask this question is this: do you think I didn’t object to the movie’s morality? I think we sometimes can be very inconsistent when we say we object to a movie morally, when the people writing the story are people. I guess I’m saying, “Are we to expect good moral morsels to come out in the stories we watch? Or are we looking for something more nuanced than this?” Because you must agree, people are far more complicated than a good moral statement. And do we come at stories told morally first, or artistically first? The work is a work of art, expression, story….shouldn’t we come to first on those terms? In response to you thinking it was a bad movie (artistically) I’ll take that as your perspective, but I wholeheartedly disagree. The cinematography in the first five minutes, the shots chosen to convey in images what this story was going to be about, is (dare I say) masterful. It foreshadows what it is to come. If you haven’t seen it, I’d suggest you rent the director of LITTLE CHILDREN’S other film, IN THE BEDROOM. It’s another film that takes morality on, full force, and says, “You decide who’s the better person here.” The more I think about it, the more I think that LITTLE CHILDREN is the type of film were there are not pure evil characters no are there purely good characters. The only characters who aren’t morally corrupt (yet) are the little children themselves.

    As an aspiring screenwriting, I thought the film was a spot on adaptation of the novel, a beautiful and difficult thing to do in this day and age. It’s always easier to make one character wholly good and another wholly bad…from a writer’s perspective. It’s increasingly difficult to have all your characters seriously flawed, seriously judged by its reader/film watcher, and still manage for your reader to be compassionate by the film’s end. And that’s why I was so amazed….because in the end….I felt compassion. Compassion for people that really (like myself) didn’t deserve it.

    Isn’t that one very moral message that God could be speaking through this movie, at least…to me?

    Reply
  6. Neville Kiser

     

    One more thing (I’m sorry I’m monopolizing most of the comment section)…but so many of your perspectives about LITTLE CHILDREN…I think…are very good observations about the film, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD. Did you happen to see this movie? I was very disappointed in it. The first line of what you felt regarding LITTLE CHILDREN is almost exactly how I felt towards the end of REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (and me being 1 of 8 children, that made me mad…to think my mother-as-caretaker of me and my siblings was a job unworthy of this woman’s time). If you want a film that makes one-dimensional characters who act only out of reactionary movements (i.e., Feminism, Sexual Revolution, etc.) then REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is your movie.

    Also, did Jim tell you I was there with him at Sundance 2008? I’m that Neville. lol I’m a Fuller Seminary student, Taylor alum, so it was great seeing some TU people there with us last January.

    Reply
  7. Kathy Forbes

     

    Hi,
    I just wanted to support you, Amy, with your call on “Little Children”. When I saw this film I totally got that the “children” were the adults–saying that in a sense we never grow up…which is great fodder to explore…and I thought a lot about this after the film ended…and I appreciated it intellectually in a sense…but my gut felt sick and my heart felt heavy and it left a bad taste in the mouth. I also understand Neville’s passion for defending it/his experience of it…I spoke passionately to many friends during my Taylor days defending “American Beauty” and “Magnolia”–both films that deal with similar themes as “Little Children”. But there was a moment in “Little Children” that I rolled my eyes…it is a bit heavy handed with its messaging. And it is beautiful cinematically–but for the sake of being beautiful cinematically–But the real criticism is that basically it comes down to what makes it a drama? When it’s all amoral characters constantly giving in to their sin natures–no fight or barely a will to fight to make a choice for good…and at the end of the story I (as the audience) don’t care if any character lives or dies, is happy or not happy…is that good storytelling? Where’s the drama?
    So this is all way too much jibber-jabber for one film amoungst many.

    On to the review of “Proof” which made me laugh…basically because I own this film…but I own the film because I studied the play in college (it was adapted from a play). The play is great. After reading it, I went to see it on stage which was really well done. So, I own and watch the film because it takes me back through the experience I had seeing it live/alive on stage…much the way one buys a CD after a concert because they, in a sense, want to relive the concert. Reading a review from someone who doesn’t know the story though is great…there are flaws in the film version you are right, Amy! I can overlook them because I know what the playwright intended. It’s a good show though…if you ever want to see it on stage…it’s actually more poetic and just plan better on a stage.

    So, recommendations I have for you! #1 “The Visitor” is a film I just saw on DVD–Richard Jenkins (the lead) was nominated this year for an Oscar. Even though he’s a long shot for winning he should…this film should have some reward for being one of the best films I’ve seen this year. This is one both you and Jim should watch. It’s rewarding in so many ways and fodder for discussion…I’m sure part of that discussion will be “why can’t more films like this be made?”.
    #2–This is a recommendation I’ve been debating for a while…because it’s not a film but a TV series that feels like a film…it’s Battlestar Galactica…not the 70’s/80’s version (known as the classic bsg), but the re-imagined version as promoted by Dwight Shrute on “The Office”. It’s in its fourth and final season right now and I have to say it is the best longform storytelling I’ve ever known. I really can’t emphasis enough that it’s not just sci-fi…it’s what sci-fi was meant to be, much like “Lord of the Rings” is what fantasy should be…First and foremost, it’s great drama…great human drama…great characters, great acting, great plots…really great themes…that lead to good thoughts and talks as an audience member. It’s also not just for men of sci-fi fandom…I’m not a big sci-fi fan–not really into weird aliens and complicated tech talk…this show is the show for the likes of me…it’s much more philosophical and even theological. In fact it’s the only show I know that acknowledges the existance of God and talks opening about Him as a possibility for explaining things that happen plotwise.
    That’s all I’m going to say about it now…it starts with a mini-series (the first disc on the season one box set). It follows with 13 more episodes in season 1. Season 2 is split in half (2.0 and 2.5) as far as box sets are concerned. Season 3 is all one box. Then Season 4 is also split in two (4.0 and 4.5). Only four seasons to the whole show…like an epic novel in cinematic form.
    Check these out if you want…let me know what you think!

    Reply

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