Monday, August 29, 2011

Cowboys vs. Aliens - No, It's Not a Comedy

Nope, definitely not a comedy. What !?!, you most likely exclaim...How can this weird western-slash-sci fi staring James Bond and Indiana Jones and set in 1880's-ish dust-bitten America where yokels battle a bunch of ET's NOT be some sort of campy parody? Fact: This premise is odd, and maybe doesn’t work without suspending disbelief to an unhealthy degree, yet is somehow unhindered and temptingly curious. Question: Why would anyone risk making such a ridiculously silly film? A silly film that obviously takes itself very seriously? Answer: Because its Spielberg, that’s why (well, his production company anyway). And this is what made Spielberg THE famous groundbreaking visionary formula setter of our modern Hollywood age that he is.

I won’t insult your intelligence by repeating a plot outline when the title so clearly gives it all away. Daniel Craig is our protagonist, an unwitting hero who we are not convinced at first isn't a villain. Well played, Craig brings the wiry desperation and confused ruthlessness of a trained killer with amnesia to a whole new level as he plays Jake obvious Twain-ian play on names. Jake's nemesis turned frienemy turned battle brother is Woodrow Dolarhyde, humbly played by Mr. Jones himself Harrison Ford, who manages a moment or two of authenticity in his attempt at acting. Ford clearly is a wizened vehicle for steadfast and sturdy foundational acting, lay down the bedrock upon which Craig can brilliantly carve out a bizarre character, deep, brooding, sad, and animalian in scope of danger - nearly alien himself in a depth of calm while faced with certain doom.

Loyal to the Spielberg-ian repertoire we find a weird plot, an unwitting hero, a conflict of impossible proportions, a woman who needs saving and another who sacrifices herself so that the men may lead the other men to victory....oh yeah and a kid and a dog. While Spielberg didn’t direct this film, he earned an executive producer credit and Cowboys vs. Aliens is saturated in his aesthetic stamp.

Basically - I liked it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

That Doc Will Make You Cry - The Human Experience

When I decided to pursue a Master's in film theory after completing an undergrad in Art History, I had a serious amount of catch-up viewing to do.  Don't get me wrong; I have always loved the experience of watching films.  Loved them on TV, loved them on VHS, loved them on DVD; really loved them in the theater; and soon loved watching them on streaming Internet.  But I had never really challenged myself to do anything with film other than have a passive, escapist experience.  I had never seen formative classic films like Citizen Kane and had never even heard of auteur's like Godard.  So, in Grad School, I watched a lot of film, tons of film - sometimes 4 films a day (the best homework I've ever done).  
What's my point?  The point here is I have seen many films ranging in reaction from "I'll never get that 90 minutes of my life back" to "I'm going to tell everyone I know to see this extraordinary film". 
Only a few films, however, have garnered the thought, "Wow. I wish I had made this film".  The Human Experience was one of these films.
There is certainly a reason why The Human Experience has received so many accolades and honors from the festival and award community.  It is everything a great documentary should be.  It has a compelling mission, clearly stated through a first person narrator backed by impressive images, wild adventures and strong motifs, themes, participants, interviews, and best of all, makes a prediction which over the course of filming is proven to be true. 
The film follows two young brothers on three adventures in search of a better understanding of life's meaning and the perseverance of the human spirit through illness, homelessness, poverty, and tragedy.  Brilliantly interwoven interviews by top theologians and scholars of Philosophy, Religious Studies and Science serve to intelligently and seamlessly incorporate a timeless questioning of the human condition, man's search for God, and the ability to continue forward in life despite grave obstacles. 
From living homeless on the streets of NYC in the dead of winter, to working for an orphanage for ill and disabled children in Peru, and travelling to a leper community in Africa, The Human Experience works hard to prove its own thesis: No matter what the outside circumstance, the human spirit is something of awe and wonderment, propelled forward by a divinity so lovingly simple, we cannot understand it but be humbled by it.