The Artist

Let’s face it: movies have been pretty underwhelming this year.  There has been an explosion of comic book movies adapted from nearly every angle – from dark and gritty, to lighthearted action.  There have been silly dramas, requisite attempts at an Oscar grab, and a couple of underwhelming features from the giants of filmmaking (“War Horse” and “Hugo” while good, were far from as great as they could have been).

Enter “The Artist.”  It’s the film people are talking about with overwhelming praise, as well as a few angry detractors (which I suspect will only grow as the film gains more and more momentum).  My expectations were high going in after seeing the trailer, which floored me in communicating its emotion and charm.  Added to that is the amount of critical praise the film has received so far, making me excited for what appeared to be a breath of fresh air in the theater.  For the most part, “The Artists” delivers.

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Home Cinema Sick Days

I love being that kind of sick where I’m just under the weather enough that I need to stay home and rest, but have enough coherency that I am not tied to the bathroom and miserable.  It allows me to watch my Netflix backlog, and catch up on guilty pleasures.  I am emerging from my living room cave with comments on a few flicks for your perusal...What have you seen lately that you would recommend to watch or avoid?

Cowboys and Aliens:

A movie without a center of gravity on which to stand:  Both too derivative to be a great sci-fi flick, and too stupid to be taken seriously as a hard boiled western.  The trailer made it look and feel tongue in cheek, and every write up ahead of time made it look like a fun time at the movies.  In addition, the film is stocked with talent: Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard produced it, Jon Favreau is a great action director, Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are more than capable, etc.  Hey, the creature design is even really cool.  But when any film is credited as having 7 people creating the story (5 of whom are the screenwriters), you know there are going to be some bumps in the road

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Best Films of 2011

Perhaps I’m biased (see my #1 pick and the entire month of May in my blog archive), but 2011 was a banner year for cinema. The Tree of Life is one thing, but there was a lot more going on this year to make a cinephile like me excited. There was a lot of artful doomsday (Melancholia, Take Shelter, Tree of Life, Another Earth), some great homages to early, classic and Spielbergian cinema (Hugo, The Artist, War Horse, Super 8), and some truly exceptional films about faith (Of Gods and Men, Higher Ground, The Way, The Mill & the Cross, Tree of Life). There was so much good cinema that my “best of” list actually includes three different top tens: the best 10, the second best 10, and then 10 honorable mentions. Many of them are available now on Netflix Instant, while a few of them have yet to release in most parts of the country. However you can, I hope you get a chance to see them!

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Tags | Film

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Film Review

I grew up with the Sherlock Holmes archetype as a quiet, reserved man who solved crimes to the befuddlement of others.  A classy cap and full bent pipe accessorized the man covered by a large, wooly off green overcoat.  So when Sherlock Holmes initial trailer reintroduced him to the public in 2009 as a cage fighting action hero, I was a bit sad at our cultures desire to make everything splashy and hip.  But then I actually saw the film, and enjoyed it for what it was – an entertaining action movie, with some clever dialogue and an amusing interpretation of the character brought to flawless life by Robert Downey Jr. 

The sequel finds the inspector bemoaning the departure of Watson to his upcoming nuptials, while encountering his nemesis in the form of Moriarity.  Moriarity is a brilliant professor who finds Holmes a formidable, yet outmatched opponent.  The film takes us from set piece to set piece of dazzling action sequences, gypsies, and drunken excitement.

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Film Review

David Fincher is an interesting man.  The director’s latest, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (based on the book of the same name, not a remake of the Swedish film) is a thrilling, dark, disturbing murder mystery with unconventional anti-heroes.  Coming off of “The Social Network” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the serial killer film mastermind – responsible for greats like “Se7en” and “Zodiac” – is back for more of the dark side of human behavior - and what a dark side it is.

After a really bizarre music video opening credit sequence that feels more like a twisted James Bond intro, the film takes us into its bleak winter world.  Journalist Mikael Blomkvist has just come out on the losing side of a legal battle centered on an individual he had targeted for corporate and other wrongdoings.  Along the way, a mysterious yet wealthy man asks to put Mikael on a case regarding a missing family member.  Only in this family, everyone is corrupt and wicked to the bone.  Along the way, Mikael is aided by Lisbeth Salander, a woman with a mysterious past and penchant for black hair dye and computer hacking. 

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War Horse Film Review

Equine therapy is a form of therapy where those suffering from emotional trauma and other mental health disorders conduct therapy with the assistance of a horse.  I’m not making this up. There is a powerful psychological projection onto the animal the individuals with trauma express, and there is a belief that an exchange of some kind occurs, promoting documented growth and change.  The horse is a sort of blank slate that can’t talk back as a person deals with intense feelings of pain and grief.

How many of us can relate to an attachment to an animal that we knew loved us, even though we could never hear it speak?  In “War Horse,” Steven Spielberg’s newest film, the story of a boy and his horse is brought to life through a horse’s journey.  We see the horse in battle as soldiers ride it, in sadness as death occurs around it, and we see it become an emotional catalyst for many different characters.

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Dolphin Tale BluRay Combo Pack Giveaway

"Dolphin Tale", one of the bigger family film releases this year is coming home this Tuesday.  The film is based on a true story about a Dolphin named Winter, who needs a prosthetic tail (see what they did there?) after an accident involving a crab trap.  The dolphin's rehabilitation manages to impact thousands of people around the world, especially those who face their own physical challenges.  As a film, it's meant to be inspiring and is often heavy handed, but its hard to fault its intentions.  There is certainly better and worse stuff out there for families to sit around the TV and watch together.

The "Dolphin Tale" BluRay comes with a DVD and Digital Copy for streaming via the Ultraviolet service. The print pn the BluRay is clean and spotless, which to the films discredit shows off some of its lower budget CGI.  The BluRay has a surprisingly well mixed audio presentation with some pretty booming lows - The opening sequence where dolphins are seen playing and splashing is particularly noticeable for some really great sound.  In addition, all the special features are in HD and provide more insight into the true story of Winter and her story for survival.  It was interesting to learn that the fact that she survived at all is a miracle with how young she was and the trauma she went through as a young animal.  Be forewarned, the DVD's in the combo packs omit all special features and just contain the film itself, so those without BluRay players are missing out.

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Advent & Malick

Terrence Malick has never made a Christmas film, but I think his films, collectively, have a lot to say to us as we meditate on the meaning of Advent. Before you groan and say, “here McCracken goes about Malick again,” let me explain.

At it’s core, Advent is a season in limbo, in between the first and second comings of Jesus. It’s a season about eschatological longing as much as it is about nostalgic joy for the Incarnation of God as man. It’s about longing for and awaiting the coming kingdom, the restoration of creation to a state of shalom and fully realized glory. A key word is “restoration,” for within the mystery of Advent is a deeply felt longing and remembrance of that original Eden, so long ago lost and yet made possible again in Christ.

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"Hugo" Movie Review

Don’t watch the trailer first – if there is one piece of advice I could give regarding the movie “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s latest foray in cinema, it’s that the trailer just sucks. It appears that the trailer is marketing a film filled with cheap inspiration and whimsical nothingness. But “Hugo” is a movie with considerable depth that pays homage to Scorsese’s first love – movies.

Hugo is the story of a boy who is passionate about machines. He was trained by his Father to fix gears, and build anything that could be crafted by human hands. Hugo lives in a train station, constantly working the clocks and keeping time. Along the way, he is fixing a rather mysterious looking automaton. The only thing missing is a heart shaped key.

Though “Hugo” is great on its own, your appreciation for the film will only deepen if you know a few facts about its director. Scorsese was raised in Little Italy in New York. As a boy, he was rather limited to physical activity by his asthma, which led to many outings with his Father to the movies. Though he dabbled in training for the Catholic Priesthood, he ultimately would find his calling as a filmmaker. As a filmmaker, he is not only responsible for some of the most brilliant films ever made (Goodfellas, Raging Bull, etc, etc), he is dedicated to the gospel of film. He is a head of a film preservation group that finds older films and restores them so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.

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10 Transcendent Moments in “Life”

It’s been about a week since The Tree of Life came out on DVD/Blu-Ray, which means lovers of the film like me can watch, re-watch, dissect and pause to our heart’s content. As I’ve reflected on the film (I think I’ve seen it about 8 times now), I’m no less awestruck by its beauty now than I was in the beginning. It’s a film overflowing with the sublime, the transcendent, the holy. I’ve heard others call it a worshipful experience and I certainly concur.

The following are the scenes that get me the most, each time I watch Life. They are, in my opinion, the 10 most transcendent sequences of the film. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

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