Movies That Speak to Me

The secret to gift giving is empathy.  The perfect gift will feel like it was picked out with great care, as if telepathically (or empathically, I suppose) for the person who receives it.  Every now and then, I come across a movie that, when I watch it, feels like the filmmaker has given me a gift, a movie that was carefully crafted to appeal to my own individual sensibilities and sense of humor.

These are the kinds of movies that help define a movie lover.  The adolescent version of you will screen the movies for prospective girlfriends or boyfriends as a pass/fail litmus test.

The movies discussed in this post are not universally lauded by critics or massively popular.  Some of them are polarizing.  But (for whatever reason) they mean a lot personally.

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Work In Progress: If Hollywood Did Family Home Evening

To the reader. The following post is a work in progress. I had an idea to write a post about family home evening, and make it film related. This is my first, unfiltered, unedited attempt at harnessing that idea. Please read it with that in mind, and, of course, feel free to make comments and suggestions. Many thanks, and i hope you enjoy….

Somewhere in the world this Monday, there is a family gathered together in joyous harmony. The mum and dad are blissful, the kids even more so. Immaculate side partings, perfect white teeth and cinnamon tans all around; this cardboard cut out model is the nuclear family of Mormonism. For the rest of us mere mortals, its tantrums and tone deaf hymns; a chaotic mess, that is scarcely functional. This is family home evening.

Latter-Day Saint church authorities swear by the staple Monday night carnival that is FHE, and encourage it to “discuss gospel principles, [enjoy] recreation, work projects, skits…games, refreshments…” and, most hideously antiquated, my personal favourite, “songs around the piano.” [Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, July 1992]

One thing I love about FHE is that it really shouldn’t work. Yet by some miracle of twisted logic, some cosmic or celestial irony, it can be some of the best times spent as kinfolk. It’s my opinion that the sum of a family’s parts is their shared interaction in a FHE. The things they say, the decisions they make, the activities they choose, all add up to reflect the family as a unit; their ‘collective personality’ as it were. Which got me thinking, what if Hollywood used FHE as a plot device; a way of portraying dynamics?

I have created a list of ten famous film families, and how I think they would be depicted in their respective films holding a family home evening. It is part geek in-joking and part creative writing. For the purposes of this list, you have to pretend that these characters would be LDS, or at least au fait with the LDS tradition of FHE. The types of characters that they are, and the course of their depiction would stand: this is just an exploration of what would potentially happen if these characters were existent beyond the confines of their portrayal. So allow me to muse on their family dynamics, as explored through the catalyst of that Monday night cavalcade, family home evening.

Note: This list is by no means exhaustive, and many of you may think of stronger or more mainstream families. I have tried to get a mixture of ‘go to’ names, and some not-so-well-known. But feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments section below.

The ‘Jaws’ Of My Dreams: Fantasy Film-making

I had, what is potentially, one of the geekiest dreams of my life the other night. I dreamed an entire remake of Jaws, with Robert Downey Jr cast as Martin Brody. It was a very unique and enjoyable experience. For some reason, my subconscious decided that the remake would have the feel of an M.Night Shyamalan film; deafeningly quiet and openly sparse. The oddest thing of all was that despite the limitless ability my mind has to create a near perfect shark, it still chose prosthetic; clearly a sign that the traditionalist within me refuses to embrace CG over practical effects. Although there were moments of familiarity, my Jaws had a distinctly different feel to the actual Jaws. It had a darker tone, there was less comedy and the three man bro-mance was a lot more strained.

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Shoe Box Classics #3 – The Beaver

Every list has to have an outcast – the film which divides. There are a few films out there which I often refer my friends to when they are becoming fledgling cinephiles. There are the regular choices (the Blade Runners, The Eternsal Sunshines, The Being John Malkovichs) But recently I have realised that there is a minuet gap between film curiosity and film fandom. There is a catalogue of ‘gateway’ cinema that will either make or break an up and coming film enthusiast; films such as Lars and the Real Girl, United 93, Grano Torino, and also my 3rd entry to the Shoe Box Classics series – The Beaver. Now The Beaver has become something of a marmite for critics. Some praise it up, whilst many poo-poo its ‘feeble’ attempts at reviving the careers of its director and lead actor. For me, The Beaver is a real leap for classic independent American cinema. It sits comfortably in the cannon of films such as Thomas McCarthy’s Win Win and Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Films that prove outsider entertainment does not always have to be amateur or lacking in odes to classical cinema. And although the ink is barely dry on The Beaver’s promotional material (only recently has it finished theatrical release worldwide), I think a classic is a classic regardless of how new or old it is. The Beaver is destined to sink into obscurity. But for me, it will always be the sort of film id happily lend out to friends tweaking for something different. This is what makes a Shoe Box Classic.

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Review: The Six Degrees of Helter Skelter

To a certain-“that’s an interesting story”-extent, I have always been intrigued by serial killers. Not in a creepy-avid-fandom sense, but rather from the perspective of psychological curiosity. I have always felt the need to somehow understand society’s monsters; to find some rationality in their chaos of thought and action. From a reflective standpoint, one might assume that I somehow seek to understand the irrational and illogical in an attempt to feel at ease. Maybe by deciphering the enigma of the modern maniac, I can in some way seek ‘the pattern’…’the purpose’. Which I suppose is true. In my mind, I just feel that everything can be boiled down to a core – a central spark of principle. By seeking to dismantle the carnage and context, I feel that I can, in some way, ‘get’ these people. And in turn I feel safer; I feel that I can protect myself and my family from the crippling irrationality of fear and confusion. Or maybe I’m just like everyone else, and carry a warped fascination with gore. Regardless of this, I recently stumbled upon a documentary which I feel maintains a similar purpose as my own; to deconstruct the mind of evil.

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The Lorax Movie Review

I like Dr. Seuss books. I enjoy reading them to my kids, so going to see The Lorax with my son Max was a fun way to spend a Saturday morning, especially for him. The visual effects are, as we take for granted now with animated and especially 3D movies, stunning. I have no doubt that Dr. Seuss would have been thrilled. The film is true to his visual style and to the spirit of the book. Children will like The Lorax, it is pretty, it moves fast and has lots of cute songs and a semblance of plot.

Despite the visuals, on the whole I was underwhelmed. I realize most movies come laden with a moral or social agenda, but unless it’s a documentary, it doesn’t make it better to have the “message” hold you against a wall with its fingers up your nose holes for the entire two hours. The Lorax hits you hard and fast from beginning to end with the messages that A. the Earth would be better off without people and B. corporations kill trees and harm small animals.

So yes, the guilt trip is a little disappointing. If you think about it though, most of Dr. Seuss’s books are pretty preachy. The Cat in the Hat–be good when mom’s out. The Grinch–don’t be stingy at Christmas. Green Eggs and Ham–try new food, etc. Taken in that context, The Lorax is par for course and rather than complaining I should just be glad that all the pretty pictures and fun songs make a great sugar coating for the sermonizing.

I also really appreciate the fact that The Lorax doesn’t seem to be affected by the Shrekification of animated films. It wasn’t tarnished by a single body humor joke. That said, after an hour or so with hardly a chuckle, I was kind of yearning for a good loud fart to liven things up. Rather than Shrek, The Lorax takes its queues from Tom and Jerry. Fuzzy creatures are flung mercilessly in all three dimensions at every turn in the name of humor. I’m sorry, but after movies like The Incredibles and Rango, there’s just no excuse for relying on such wanton violence to our furry friends in the name of a cheap laugh. It’s cruel and it’s just not that funny.

Still, the Lorax isn’t a total miss for adults. There are a few tender moments, some very creative animation, good music, an opportunity to spend some time with your kids and maybe even a chance to teach them that “Unless” they do their part the trees will all disappear and the Earth will be overtaken by corporate overlords in blimps.

2/5 stars