Hitchcock in 2018: Rear Window

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on August 3.]

I’m not proud of it, but Alfred Hitchcock is one of the gaps in my film self-education. It’s sort of like those classic books of the Western canon I always tell myself I’ll get around to. I’ve got good intentions to read more Dostoevsky or Greek dramas or Moby Dick or Les Misérables… well, they look good on my shelf, at least. So I finally watched Vertigo last year, and now Rear Window. Rope and North by Northwest are next. (I know, I know. By the way, have you all seen these great new shows, Breaking Bad and Justified?)

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We Are Not Our Own Saviors

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on July 27.]

[SPOILERS, BUT YOU CAN PROBABLY GUESS THEM ANYWAY]

That seems like far too important a title for thoughts about a dinosaur movie, but underneath the fantastic and seamless CGI, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is claiming to be far more than simply an adventure movie with dangerous animals. The tired part of the movie is that people always do stupid things when it comes to dangerous animals about which they really know nothing. Yeah, we get it: if you’re ever in a room with a caged dinosaur, do not open the cage, no matter how much you want a trophy or a closer look. Don’t pretend to be Chris Pratt if you’re not.

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Revenge or Atonement?

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on July 20.]

[SPOILERS]

Another recent film is often compared to Taxi Driver, but it’s both better and worse than First Reformed. I had a free Redbox rental, which is as good as Movie Pass for seeing movies on which I’m not sure whether I want to spend actual money. So I rented You Were Never Really Here, a story that I liked more than First Reformed, though it’s not nearly as beautiful. I will watch almost any movie that features Joaquin Phoenix, because he’s brilliant. And he needs to be in this movie, because it’s so understated that anyone unwilling to think a little will lose patience very quickly (as many reviews on IMDB prove).

I’m not claiming it’s anything new or groundbreaking. It’s sort of an art house Taken: not nearly as straightforward (which is what was great about that movie), but punctuated by brutal violence in pursuit of young girls being kidnapped, used, and exploited. This is not an explainer movie; more like a painting, where you have to do a little work to put the pieces together. I think the pieces are there, but there are still some unanswered questions. Who is the man for whom Joe works? He has an office, he gives Joe jobs to go out and rescue kidnapped girls, but that’s about all we know.

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Listening for the Past

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on July 13.]

At one point in the documentary Karl Marx City (streaming on Netflix), the narrator (Matilda Tucker) translates two German words for dealing with memories. The first is Erinnerungskultur, or the “culture of remembrance,” and the second is Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or “the process of coming to terms with the past.” These are fitting terms for a country that seems to have more than its share of recent past with which to come to terms. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to watch this film so soon after seeing Hitler’s Children (which I wrote about here).

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Last Men in Aleppo

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on July 6.]

“Harrowing” is a word that was invented for a documentary like Last Men in Aleppo (streaming on Netflix). It follows a group of men who have come to be called the White Helmets as they go about their work of digging people, dead and alive, out of the rubble of the Syrian city.

These are not soldiers, not UN workers, not employed by anybody. They simply view it as their duty to do what they can in their city. They remain when most of the other citizens have gone. Khaled, in particular, sums up both the hopelessness and the determination of their cause. Looking around at a ruined and half-empty city, he says, “Nobody cares about anybody any more.” But he and his fellow White Helmets are the living proof against that proposition. They are there. They remain. They care.

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Faith Deformed

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on June 29.]

I knew this was going to happen. I knew that if a movie was hyped over and over, time and again, as being an incredible, profound meditation on faith and doubt, that it was unlikely to be anything of the sort. If someone has left or been scarred by Christianity, or an American Fundamentalist version of it; if someone is quick to say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious”; or if someone is fully convinced that what the Church should do is take up the apocalyptic cause du jour, then that person is the perfect candidate to be over-impressed with Paul Schrader’s First Reformed.

I don’t mean that those aren’t authentic responses to a real emotional and intellectual experience of viewing this film. But if you don’t find yourself resonating with one or more of those categories, you might well wonder if you’ve completely missed the point of the film. Is there an additional scene after the credits? Did I miss the profundity? Am I too stupid to understand the basic elements of serious film and thereby misunderstand Schrader’s intentions? The last two might, of course, be true. But the simpler answer is probably more accurate: It’s an attempt to be profound about religion, faith, and doubt, without actually achieving it.

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