Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

24 January 2007

Five Movies for Hump Day

Roomie and I went to see Jesus Camp this evening at the Student Life Building. Jesus Camp is a documentary about an Evangelical youth ministry, and specifically one youth pastor named Becky Fischer, who wants to train children to be militant about Jesus. The film posits it as a fiercely political movement aimed squarely behind the Christian president George W. Bush and directed against global warming (!) and a woman's right to choose. The film is very problematic. It can't hep but totally deride these Christian people who have let them into their homes and the camera feels a little exploitative. This is especially true when the children are being interviewed. They are, of course, terribly indoctrinated and impressionable young people, but they appear really sweet and one ten-year-old girl really tugged at my heart with her story about how she wanted to run a nail shop and just tell people about Jesus while they got their nails done. What's fascinating in the film--the filmmakers make no point of this--is that the film has no reference to anything in the Bible. These people who purport themselves to be Christians and want the world to be Christian have no relationship to Christianity's holy texts, probably haven't even read them. It's extraordinary. They have this twelve-year-old child up onstage preaching to them, but the child wrote his sermon without looking at any scripture whatsoever. This is what terrifies me the most about the people in this film and the Christian Right in general: becaue their faith is grounded in nothing at all, not the words of Christ, not the words of the prophets, not Judaeic teachings, their speech is completely, totally rhetorical. This fascinates me. I'm not even sure why they believe what they believe. Believing I have god's word in my hands and reading it and spending my life learning what it says is one thing. Yelling about bringing Jesus back into our schools is just empty rhetoric without any basis in Christianity.
Anyway, the film reminded me of my childhood a lot, but I didn't really enjoy the picture, and it's shot for television and not the cinema, so if you do feel like watching it, rent it, because it will look better on your tv than it did in the giant theatre I saw it in.

Derek Jarman's Edward II is a quasi-modern, very gay adaptation of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. It was an important film in 1991 when it came out and there was much brouhaha over it. Tilda Swinton stars (and is incredibly overdone.) I didn't like it at all, I have to confess. And maybe that makes me a bad gay man, but, though the costumes are always intriguing, the film has no structure at all. A still bigger problem is that the gay characters are unlikeable and (unfortunately) also uncomplicated. Skip this unless you want a history lesson in gay cinema or really like Marlowe.

I LOVED The Last King of Scotland. I know everyone's been talking about Forest Whitaker all season, but why has no one mentioned how brilliant Kevin Macdonald's film is? It's one of the best of the year, and boasts a second excellent lead performance from James McAvoy. This is a movie about struggles in Africa and a psychotic dictator, but also a film about white privilege and (I felt) recalled Rachel Corrie's story in a few key ways. By this I mean that The Last King of Scotland seems unafraid to explore the feeling of invincibility that white people seem to feel when they are abroad. It's a superb thriller with some breathtaking action sequences and moments of sheer terror while also being a sensitive, intelligent inquiry of race relations in post-colonial Africa. I loved it.

Letters from Iwo Jima was not as good as Flags of Our Fathers for me. Everyone likes Letters better than Flags, so I am clearly in the minority on this one, but though I thought Letters was a sturdy, committed picture, it lacked a lot of things I needed it to have. There was, for instance, no rooting interest in the film. The Japanese are all going to die on that island. This is a given from the very beginning and yet the film is still about the fighting of the war. I'm not going to trash the movie too much, but I was bored and everything in the film is so dark (they're in those caves) and for so long. The film also praises the Japanese soldiers who aren't traditionally Japanese and approach the war from a more American point of view. It's more interesting than that, and Eastwood complicates the American soldiers, too, but the whole thing felt vaguely colonialist. The acting is excellent, though. Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya are wonderful in their twin lead roles and my favorite performance comes from Tsuyoshi Ihara as a horse-loving former Olympian.

And I saw The Good Shepherd which is painfully, horribly bad. I moved it to the very bottom of my list for '06. I haven't been that bored in a film since Pirates of the Caribbean 2. It's totally plotless, completely lacking in stakes of any kind and boasts about twenty well-known actors saying and doing absolutely nothing. This list includes Matt Damon, Alec Baldwin, William Hurt, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, Barton Fink John Turturro, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lee Pace, and many more that you would recognize immediately--which just makes the whole thing so much worse! Angelina Jolie is quite good in the film, doing unexpectedly good work with terrible material. This film is terrible. It's this year's Alexander. Avoid at all costs.