Thursday, July 31, 2008

O'kee Doke, Real Good Then

Ah Fargo. I remember first seeing this movie on VHS sometime in the summer of ’97 on the recommendation of my current girlfriend who at that time was living a couple states away from me having gone home after the end of the previous year of college. Our conversations for quite some time after were peppered with “Oh geese,” “you betcha,” and “I think I’m gonna barf.” She came to visit me at one point and I bought her the collector’s addition VHS with a snow globe that had Margie kneeling in the snow beside a gunshot victim next to an upside down car. It was awesome. Crappy relationship though. I wish I could get that snow globe back.

I remember falling in love with the oddness and beauty of the film. In the mid nineties there was a real vibe that bizarre stuff was really cool, whether it was music, movies fashion or whatever, and then with movies it was really hip to have sort of shocking and harsh violence mingled with dark humor. Fargo fit so well into that, but it was also apparent right away that this movie mattered--it was about something, and told America something about itself.

I remember on the first viewing having a strong emotional response while watching the opening sequence of that ugly car towing another ugly car over the bleak snowy horizon to that gorgeous and haunting music. It was just an image set to music but it seemed to speak so much to me--to be full of aching and yearning and I don’t really know how to articulate what else. As a kid growing up in rural central Utah I’d definitely seen my share of bleak wintry landscapes, as well as disappointment and yearning behind the smiles of badly dressed friendly people. I’m being clever here and truly don’t mean to belittle or stereotype people, but it’s true that there’s a lot of pressure in middle America to be really successful and respected and important and it’s hard for most of us to measure up. I’m thinking of friends and family who got overwhelmed by debt or unfulfilled ambitions or just really wanted to go somewhere and be somebody but felt they didn’t. Add that to a ridiculously harsh natural environment and desperation is sure to result. I think that’s why we don’t laugh at Jerry. We all have a fear of becoming him--maybe not in the crazy scheming way, but in the disrespected, small-feeling, unsuccessful, all our mistakes piling up and being made known and destroying us sense.

What’s great about the movie is that the ultimate message is to be tough in the face of all that and take the moral high ground. Enter Margie. She’s tough but optimistic, driven but grounded--the source for her stability and hopefulness being her beloved husband and unborn baby. After all, “There’s more to life than a little money. Don’tcha know that?” With the right perspective family buffets and a bag of night crawlers--all the little things are what are enjoyable and meaningful, not the big bags full of money. That’s what Jerry lost track of amid his selfish self-pitying and money seeking. The stress from his mounting problems from lying at work and his poor performance and his obsession with secretly fixing things got in the way of his enjoying a hockey game with his son or maybe cuddling under one of Jean’s home-knitted blankets to watch a movie. He would rather risk their lives than have to admit his mistakes and seek help to get out of the trouble he got himself into. Like so many of us image obsessed, well-mannered and easily embarrassed Americans who more than anything just don’t want to look bad or rock the boat in any way, Jerry’s a poster boy for passive aggressive behavior which only leads to dangerous secrets.

Of course what really grabs you with Fargo is the humor which I think is so brilliant and challenging. It makes us feel very uncomfortable to laugh at something horrible, and that’s exactly how we should feel. We don’t know Jean really, and her very physical attempts to escape her kidnappers are funny in a slap-stick way. The thing about slap-stick is it works because we don’t believe there’s real danger like in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. But Fargo is a realistic film, and the people who get hurt suffer and bleed, and we laugh at them anyway. Basically, laughing at Jean's misfortune whether by us or by the characters in the movie illustrates that Jean isn't valued. It was Jerry's despicable actions that led her to be among people who don't value her and there is no escape for her, not even a cinematic escape. It seems logical that to adequately pay tribute to Jean there should be a really emotional cinematic portrayal of her sorrow and suffering set to sympathetic music with maybe a little slow-mo of her forlorn expression as this sweet wife and mother just wants to go home to her family and be safe and happy. But the thing is, if these kinds of thugs really kidnapped a Jean, there would be no such moment. They would laugh at her and completely demean her and strip her of her dignity. The Cohen brothers merely portray the events and we are free to laugh, be outraged or like me, do a little of both. I suppose if we just laugh and are completely detached as with a cartoon then we're probably sickos. But if we laugh but fill that tinge of guilt, then we're probably normal compassionate folks who will hopefully do the work to realize the horror behind the comedy. The unsympathetic portrayal is harsh and real making her death all the more tragic as a pathetic discarded figure and Jerry’s betrayal all the more vile.

Then there’s a ton of less controversial humor that is truly just fun and hilarious that makes the movie rich and enjoyable. I love the “Go smoke a peace pipe,” line.

Fargo is one of those movies that I can always sit down and watch and enjoy for its humor, disturbing violence and themes, tragic story of failure and disgrace and its simple and sweet message that there is in fact more to life than a little money.

Fargo -

Wow I love the movie Fargo. It's great. Then end.

I think the thing that I really enjoy about the Coen Brothers' films is the exact thing for which Kauffman criticizes the film. The fact that we can be witnessing something so terrible and tragic that actually occurred (at least purportedly) and still be laughing out loud shows that most of us (at least those without souls or conscience) can connect on at least a superficial level to humor in another's misfortune. My favorite part of the film, because it makes me feel the worst about myself, is the scene where Carl and Gaear arrive at the cabin and Jean breaks free and starts running around, unable to see, and Carl is laughing at her. I laughed too. It was surprising easy to laugh at the silliness of Jean expecting to get away when she has no vision or even hands to put out in front of her. Had Coen decided to run her into a tree to end the scene, I would have likely shot the Coke I was drinking out my nose. And aside from Margie, Jean is the only person featured in the film with any redeeming qualities.

So the dilemma I have about the dark central core in my own soul is why I didn't also think it was funny when the law caught up with Jerry with his pants down (off anyway) and the scene shows him kicking, screaming, and crying like a baby. By the way, I absolutely agree that he is the worst of the villains. From my background, I have come to know that a person who perpetrates evil acts against someone he loves is a far more depraved individual that someone who perpetrates against a random person. The cognitive dissonance that must have occurred in the actual "Jerry's" mind would overwhelm even the most hardened of thugs. I was glad he "got it" in the end, but for some reason it wasn't funny.....


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Regarding "Fargo": Jason's Take

Everyone in “Fargo” wants something; the simpler the want, the more likely it is that he or she will receive it. Ultimately, “Fargo” is a cautionary tale about the importance of being satisfied, and the perils that accompany dissatisfaction in its downward spiral into profound selfishness.

Mostly, the pure in heart prevail in this film, except for Jean, the pitiful kidnapped wife who suffers greatly. Margie wants to take care of her unborn baby, do good police work, be a faithful and supportive wife to Norm, and eat often. Scotty wants to go out for the hockey team. Jerry wants money (more on him in a minute). Carl wants money, sex, conversation, and the TV to get decent reception. Gaear wants pancakes, money and sex. Jean wants to be free. Wade wants to make more money, protect the money he has, and retrieve his daughter, etc.

Wholesome and despicable characters alike experience a common principle: The closer they are to being satisfied with what they have, the higher the probability that their simple wishes will be granted. After all, even the monstrous Gaear got his pancakes.

Gaear is not just a cold-blooded killer, he’s a beast. But since I’ve reduced him to an animal, I set him aside to claim that William H. Macy’s Jerry character is the vilest. Consider the depth of selfishness (regardless of his original motivation) for a husband who is willing to subject his wife to a fearful predicament such as kidnapping. Consider the kind of father who would let his son worry for his mother. Jerry is loathsome, and if we set the beastly killer aside, Jerry is the worst character.

Funny how the Coens take a crack at getting us to empathize with Jerry in the beginning of the film. But we stop relating as soon as we hear his nefarious scheme. The Coens raise the stakes, making this more interesting, by painting the wife, Jean, to be as pure and sweet as Snow White. When she is being abducted, we truly pity her. We have to decide who we’ll empathize with more, and I think most people choose Jean.

We know Jerry is scum when he walks into his house and sees the aftermath of his wife’s abduction. We expect him to grow a conscience and feel guilt, but no: He’s in the kitchen rehearsing the phone call to his father-in-law.

But Jerry is the tragic figure, of sorts, who ultimately delivers the parable. His happiness decreases exponentially as the film progresses in a direct correlation to the way his dissatisfaction increases.

Legendary film critic Stanley Kauffmann’s chief complaint with “Fargo” is its oddly shifting tone. It is a crime film, as well as a thriller, a drama and a dark comedy. Many people consider it a comedy. I consider it a crime drama with quirky tidbits. There are points where the accent is underscored too heavy-handedly, but otherwise, the changing tone doesn’t bother me. Still, Kauffman has a point: It’s weird to go from a comically awkward dinner meeting to pushing a guy’s foot through a wood chipper.

The greatest sequence in “Fargo” is the traffic stop / chase-down executions. Those scenes are masterfully constructed and executed. I think that clip should be shown at every police academy. The other remarkable scene is the money drop atop the snowy parking garage where Carl gets a bullet through the cheek and Wade is killed.

The film ends with a positive example of its moral: Norm is persuaded through Margie’s sweetness that his mallard duck photograph that made it onto a three-cent stamp was still a great accomplishment. The film closes triumphantly on their mutual contentment.

Excellent choice, Bill Barnes, but you cheated by picking a Coen brothers film.

Note: I technically posted this on Sunday, but I still have the blog set on mountain time.

Our Inescapable, Subjective Baggage

First of all — man, I love these posts! I’ve already had my socks knocked off. This site is already a million times cooler than I ever thought it could be. It’s a masterpiece — already! tee he. I feel like a little fish swimming in a deep pond with a bunch of big fishes. … I only hope I don’t end up sleeping with the fishes. And by the way, it might take me a day or two to respond due to my two-job schedule, but I will respond.

As for disagreeing, that will be an unavoidable, pervading feature to this blog; in fact, it is a welcome benefit. As an aspiring movie critic, I myself want to develop a better ability to consider the cinema and to discuss and debate it intelligently. In fact, I've already been humbled by the enlightenment I've received thus far. Indeed, the more I think about it, probably most of the posts on this blog will end up being debates, which is fine, so long as we keep them friendly and professional. Yes, t
he only restriction I've set is that we wage no personal attacks (and I don't think any of us have). The people I’ve invited to participate in this film club can hold their own, believe me. Almost every one of us is either a professional or an aspiring professional. In every case, we're all willing students of film. We'll just make sure we keep it fun. I already love this blog and I thank you all for contributing your expertise. You all have my permission and encouragement to “get up in my mix” anytime you feel I deserve it. I, too, want to learn.

Having considered Barrett Hilton’s articulate remarks on why he personally feels “The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece, I must concede that if Barrett wants to call it a masterpiece, he’s earned that right (not that I’m the judge of who’s sufficiently convincing enough to be taken seriously).

As for my calling “The Dark Knight” a masterpiece, I’ll let you know in about a year ….

Oh, and one other thing on “The Dark Knight”: I thought it was hilarious when Andrew asked “Why is Batman standing around talking to everyone all the time?”

Next, I’d like to address a comment Mr. Andrew James made. He wrote to Barrett, “I think perhaps you are projecting your own feelings and judgments onto the film and seeing what you want.”

My response to that is who doesn’t do that? Whether we’re watching “Uncle Buck” or “Apocalypse Now,” we respond, recoil, relate, etc. to films based on our own range of life experiences. Every moviegoer (as well as every filmmaker) sees and therefore interprets and understands motion picture content through subjective eyes. And just as it’s impossible for a documentarist to make a truly unbiased film, since “even the placement of the camera incorporates bias,” it’s also impossible for any viewer, yes, any, to watch a movie without projecting his or her own feelings and judgments onto the film and seeing what he or she wants to see.

Yes, I’ve thought of this very concept for quite some time. Why? Because I’m a movie critic. What’s that got to do with it? I am continually perplexed at the disparity of opinions about a film between any two people. One person might think a movie is the best ever, while another person thinks it’s the worst. How does that happen? One reason it happens is because each of us brings our entire life experience into the theater with us. It’s unavoidable.

I was impressed with Professor Bernard’s academic preface to his “Gates of Heaven” comment. Did I actually see a citation in there? Whoa. But seriously, thanks for taking the time to write that. I’m so thankful for the way you guys are raising the bar, intellectually, so we don’t have a lot of general remarks like “That movie sucked,” or “It was the best movie ever — the end.”

I have to confess, Torben, that I am one of those explicit-seeing people who thinks “Gates of Heaven” is usually rather boring and about pet cemeteries, but not really. The comments you all have contributed have enlightened me, but I have always thought (even after this viewing) that Morris loses focus. He begins with precision, looking at the pet cemetery fiasco. Then, it’s like he loses focus and becomes more interested in the peculiarities of these people, and the documentary shifts from pet cemeteries to these people’s individual lives.

I suspected (and I’d like to hear Andrew’s thoughts on this point), that the interviewees in the latter half of the film, particularly the two sons, didn’t want to talk much about the pet cemetery. They were asked about it, they commented on it briefly, and then took off in their own direction, talking about the points of their lives that interested them. Perhaps these kind of deflections were all Morris had to work with in the editing room, or he was more interested in the peculiar people than the pet cemetery story. I think the doc loses focus and starts falling apart in the second half, so to compensate, Morris interviewed a couple pet owners, gave us shots of the headstones and some plastic animals and that was that. Tell me, documentarists, do you think there’s any truth to that?

But bravo, Torben, for your thoughts. Your arguments were convincing. And I can agree now, that Morris probably was being respectful, but I still think he was “smiling behind his camera” at his subjects, as Ebert said.

Everyone, I appreciate your participation and comments on “Gates of Heaven.” Tomorrow begins our week discussing the Coen brothers’ “Fargo,” a fine selection by Bill Barnes. (Send me your movie selection, if you haven't already.)

You’ll notice that I’ve listed the contributors on the right side. I’m planning to link all our names to the site that best represents us, in case your fellow contributors want to get to know you better. For instance, I linked my name to my movie review site. So send me an e-mail at with the link you’d like me to use to represent you.

Friday, July 25, 2008


I'm not trying to ruffle feathers with my reviews, comments or posts. If we are going to learn from each other, then we need to challenge each other and really try to analyze these films. I'm going to continue to be fairly intense with this stuff because I'm trying to learn.

Torben's post on Gates of Heaven was fantastic. He nailed the film on the head. Torben's review tells me why Ebert calls Gates of Heaven one of the ten best films of all time. I think that Jason and Barrett totally missed the boat on this film. I didn't totally get Gates of Heaven the first time I saw it, but I knew there was something more.

I'm going to watch it again with Torben's insight in mind and I challenge Barrett and Jason to do the same. This is how we can learn from each other.

No One Called Titanic a Masterpiece

Just want to make sure Andrew realizes that what I said about Titanic was that people watched it over and over despite its long running time. Kind of a different point than the masterpiece conversation . Jason and Andrew, I don't agree with you at all, but it's been a good argument. I will say this though, the test for masterpiecehood isn't whether the film is being watched by film school students or jocks and mall rats. Don't let who's enjoying a movie worry you.

Also, you can eat popcorn while watching a masterpiece. Tastes the same.


This is my first post on this blog. Just to clue you in, I met Jason a few months ago for the first time while working on a documentary that I'm directing. I consider Jason a friend, though I don't know him well.


I've seen The Dark Knight twice in the theater. I had a lot of criticism for the film, so I immediately made a plan to see it again and test my thoughts. I enjoyed the film much better the second time around, but I stand behind my initial critiques. Batman Begins is a smarter, more focused film than its sequel. And while The Dark Night may be bigger and badder, it also seemed dumbed down for the masses. This film does all the work for the audience and its a shame too, because Batman Begins is a sly commentary on existentialism that provokes interesting questions while remaining true to its superhero roots.

Simply put, The Dark Knight is a great popcorn film that is trying too hard to be thought-provoking. A good popcorn film is something like Mission Impossible, V for Vendetta, or Ocean's 11. These films know what they are and succeed as art because they know their limitations. Popcorn films can be masterpieces and ask tough questions, but a filmmaker needs to recognize the genre and style in which he or she is working. You can't make a good superhero movie if you aren't constantly reminding yourself that your main character dresses up like a bat. A certain amount of disbelief must be suspended when creating or consuming a popcorn film. As such, the filmmaker must take this into account.

By employing real-world locations and abandoning the Gothic production design of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight feels out of place in a world that we find too familiar or similar to our own. This film should have existed in a darker, more subterranean environment, not downtown Chicago. The Dark Knight is gritty, intense, and action-packed, but only halfway succeeds as a commentary on chaos because Nolan can't decide if his film is a comic book adaptation, or a crime drama. I think films can marry different genres, but this particular marriage feels a bit rocky. Perhaps a few changes could have propelled this film into masterpiece territory. Perhaps.

Let's get more specific . . .

There are a few one-liners that keep The Dark Knight out of masterpiece territory. For example, ". . . I'm not wearing hockey pants." There were also several long-winded, heavy-handed diatribes by Alfred, Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent, Fox, and Gordon where the filmmakers, for some reason or another, decided that it would be necessary to explain the symbolism of the events for the audience. For example, when Rachel sees that Harvey's coin actually has two heads, she says, "You make your own luck." This is just bad filmmaking and Christopher Nolan knows better. The first rule of writing is "show it, don't say it."

Another example of this clunky execution was pointed out to me by Torben. In Act III, after Batman sets up his cell phone monitoring super-computer, he carries out an entire conversation with Fox using his overly deep, Batman voice. Doesn't Fox know that Bruce Wayne is Batman? And why is Batman standing around talking to everyone all the time? We should learn Batman's thoughts and motivations through action and conflict. I repeat: "show it, don't say it."

Act III is completely lackluster, and it shouldn't be. At the end of Act II when the Joker escapes from jail, the story has been wound so tight that Act III could have literally gone off like a bomb, but it didn't and it should have. Acts I and II are executed brilliantly with everything coming to a head with the Joker's escape and then . . . nothing. Not much happens after that. I will admit that the filmmakers were obviously going for an emotional catharsis instead of an action-packed climax, but for me, the emotion wasn't there. I was left wanting more from the Joker and perhaps a sticky situation or two that was even stickier than the last.

The best thing about this film really is Heath Ledger. He's absolutely fantastic as the Joker and by far, the most interesting character in the film. Act I and II are executed very well, with the various stories weaving in an out of each other like poetry, but Act III doesn't deliver.

Much of the dialog in The Dark Knight is flat and uninteresting. Only the villains in this film are written well. The heroes remain archetypal shells and my concern for them rests entirely on the laurels of the first film. Without Batman Begins, this film totally crashes. I will concede that Batman grows as a superhero in this film, and that realization was a great moment for me, but the overall arc of Batman/Bruce Wayne is uneven. A lot of his character development rests on the situational drama surrounding Rachel, who is played quite poorly by Maggie Gyllenhaal. Fortunately, Aaron Eckhart's Harvey Dent helps the drama unfold, but because Maggie G's performance is so stagnant, Batman's growth feels uneven and a bit contrived.

Granted, I'm being really critical, but I've come to expect a lot from Christopher Nolan. Memento just might be a masterpiece, but The Dark Knight isn't.

After I reminded myself that The Dark Knight is just a comic-book movie, and not The Godfather II, or even The Empire Strikes Back, (both of which Nolan mentions as great sequels) I enjoyed it much better when I saw it the second time. The Dark Knight is a great film, probably one of the best comic book films I've seen, but not a masterpiece. None of the films mentioned in this discussion qualify as masterpieces, save Citizen Kane and the first two Godfather films. Mentioning King Kong and Titanic in this conversation is like comparing Michael Crichton to J.D. Salinger or Cormac McCarthy.

I have to admit that I worry about liking a film too much when the theater is packed with jocks and mall rats who yell out that the film is "awesome," "totally bad ass," or a "masterpiece."

In my mind, a true masterpiece is something like Raging Bull, Traffic, 8 1/2, or The 400 Blows.

A response to 'Gates of Heaven'

i've been a teacher's assistant for an introductory anthropology class for roughly three years now. Each year, as part of the course, the students are given the task of putting the theoretical tools they have learned to practice by conducting a mini ethnography. Their "mini ethnography" involves them choosing an American activity or event such as "the culture of going to the supermarket" or "the culture of vegetarianism." To help them narrow their scope, we ask them to identify three specific American values that are expressed in the given activity. Prior to the beginning anthropologists conducting their fieldwork, they are taught key concepts that will hopefully prepare them to approach culture meaningfully.

An important hurdle that one must inevitably face is the problem of tacit, or in other words, implicit culture. Tacit culture consists of those parts of our behavior (as individuals and as a society) that are largely mediated by rules and values we are more or less unaware of. The almighty Wikipedia explains it like this:

"Tacit knowledge is not easily shared. One of Polanyi's famous aphorisms is: "We know more than we can tell." Tacit knowledge consists often of habits and culture that we do not recognize in ourselves. In the field of knowledge management the concept of tacit knowledge refers to a knowledge which is only known by an individual and that is difficult to communicate to the rest of an organization. Knowledge that is easy to communicate is called explicit knowledge. The process of transforming tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge is known as codification or articulation" (click here for direct source. Bold added for emphasis).

For example, while investigating the subculture of video game playing, the anthropologist may ask their subject why they play video games. The video game enthusiast is likely to respond by saying that "it's fun" or "it's just what me and my friends do when we hang out." It is then the responsibility of the person conducting the study to delve a bit deeper, attempting to expose the "real" why's underlying this seemingly obvious activity. The cultural detective will use certain anthropological tools to unearth these motivations or values. They use informants --- interviewees who give them an "in" to the culture. They try to gain both and etic (outsider's) and emic (insider's) perspective through observing empirical data and actually participating in the activity themselves to develop a richer understanding of their subject. After collecting a sufficient amount of data, the researcher sits down with the myriad pieces of the puzzle and instigates a qualitative analysis that will hopefully deconstruct the concealed reasons for participating in given activities, holding certain beliefs, conducting certain rituals, etc. Though the tools and approach may differ, good documentaries do the same thing. This American Life does this. Engaged journalism, such as work by A.J. Jacobs, does this. They don't just present the facts. They try to get at the overarching WHY. They explain, from their analysis, what it all means.

This is going somewhere. Stay with me a bit longer.

To help the students, we give them an article to read by Lowell D. Holmes and Ellen Rhoads Holmes called The American Cultural Configuration. This article investigates tacit American values such as individualism, conformity, competition, cleanliness, materialism, etc. This article, of course, gives them the three American values they are supposed to analyze that i briefly mentioned in the first paragraph. At the outset of their article, they explain the following:

"The point that we are trying to make is not that Mr. or Ms. Average American is stupid or abnormal in any way. The point is that he or she is a product of their culture and social environment, and culture provides ready-made solutions to almost all of one's problems. A person doesn't have to think about how and why one does things. It is easier and often more efficient to follow the regularly accepted procedure. That is what culture does for people.

Because it is natural for people to be like this, they find it fascinating when an anthropologist describes how and why they behave in a certain way. After reading about themselves in a monograph on American culture by Margaret Mead, or any number of other anthropologists, they might very well make the comment "She seems to have us pegged pretty well. I just never thought about it that way." The real point is that our Average American seldom stops to analyze his or her own values and motivations at all" (Holmes 5).

This assignment could be extended to any activity, really. The culture of American dog breeding. The culture of dating in Utah Valley. The culture of the Springville gun range. The culture of the considering the cinema blog. The culture of American pet cemeteries.

Which finally (after an admittedly long intro) brings us to the subject at hand --- Gates of Heaven. Morris' film appears simple, but underneath its understated exterior lies a fascinating peek into how American values and the "American Dream" seep unexpectedly into the lives and identities of the subjects in the film. Morris successfully proves that even the seemingly mundane contains meaning and insight into what it means to live in contemporary America. The initial plot of the pet cemetery (explicit) eventually fades into a rich fabric of dialogue about religion, capitalism, success, failure, love, competition, etc (the tacit). i think that this is the genius of the film. i imagine that someone who only sees the explicit would consider this a boring film that is "kind of about pet cemeteries, but not really." However, this film is about subtext. It's about death. It's about life. It's about freedom. It's about America. Ultimately, it's about YOU. This film is not prescriptive, but rather, leaves it to the viewer to analyze the values and motivations implicitly espoused by the subjects. It is about making tacit culture explicit. A member of puts it well:

"Errol Morris’ The Gates of Heaven tells the story of several pet cemetaries in California and through that device it allows us to meet several fascinating people. Morris precisely constructs the documentary out of a series of interviews with people who talk about the animals in their lives. But they’re not really talking about their animals, but themselves and what they believe in. The film is deceivingly simple but as it progresses you see more and more. Everything is significant in the frame and you start to notice where people are sitting, what is on the desk, the wall and their environment. People are fascinating to watch and Morris gives his interview subjects time to be themselves and draws the story out of them truthfully and with respect (once again, bold added for emphasis). "

i can't help but dismiss any commentary claiming that this film is mocking its subjects. Morris' characters are allowed to share their thoughts, feelings, and views with no intrusive interruptions by the filmmaker. The footage he captured is inspiring for me as an aspiring documentarian. His subjects feel safe. They speak freely. His editing is paced, many times sacrificing the desire to move on in order to provide space for the subjects to finish their thoughts and reveal their true feelings. i've learned, as i've worked on documentaries, that the most interesting things are often said when the camera is switched off. When subjects forget the camera, they begin saying the most compelling things. He doesn't contrive or rely on sentimental spectacle. i believe quite strongly, like the quote above, that Morris depicts his subjects "...truthfully and with respect." The moments Jason cites hardly give credence to his conclusions. The amp at the end seems to me to perfectly capture the young dreamer's lust for freedom. Who brings their amp outside and broadcasts their music over a valley? Someone hoping to be heard.

In an age where so much of our media holds our hands through every fine detail, Morris is refreshing. Both Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida demand true engagement from the spectator. In other words, he's not going to spell everything out for you. My problem with so many films is their inability to explore deeper. They settle for cliche and contrivance. They shoot a film about pet cemeteries and think that that is where the story is. i suspect that he doesn't even believe that there is one definitive conclusion we must come to as we watch these early films. But as Mr. Average American, i can't help but relate with the subjects as they express their love, loss, and aspirations. My hat goes off to Errol Morris.

Thanks for reading this. Also, thanks for giving me an excuse to watch this film. i apologize for the somewhat academic tone of some of this post. i hope to tone it down a bit in the future.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gates of Heaven: a Masterpiece among Masterpieces, man I love Masterpieces

My definition of a masterpiece is simple in that it coincides with the English definition of the word, which is basically an outstanding achievement by an artist or craftsperson of some kind. Am I infatuated with The Dark Knight? You bet your baterang I am. That's why I think it's a masterpiece. Do I think that with subsequent viewings I'll find it less masterpieceful? No. I can tell the first go around when a movie is better than 90% of other movies out there. Will I want to watch it over and over and over and over for the rest of my life? Probably not without long spaces between viewings, but that's true of anything isn't it? Unless of course we're talking about my kids who would love nothing more than to watch the same episode of Miss Spider's Sunny Patch on a continual loop for the next six months. I love Big Macs but I’m smart enough to not eat them for every meal for a month unlike some documentary filmmakers I can think of. Still, I do enjoy seeing some movies repeatedly at close intervals when they first come out. The Dark Night will be one of them. Knowing my past behavior, I'll probably see it five or more times during its theatrical run before I will get over the urge to ditch work and school and my family to try to get out and see it again.

So let's get specific, here’s what makes this movie a masterpiece:

Superior writing in terms of story, ideas, character development, humor, dramatic tension and dialogue
Superior acting in terms of believability, emotional conveyance, display of dynamic range and charismatic appeal
Superior Cinematography in terms of consistent tone, visually stimulating and mood appropriate lighting, innovative technique (IMAX format, and the flying camera that doesn't feel like it's in a helicopter to name a couple) and astounding choreography and composition (take the shot of the Joker getting into the bus and the camera dollying back and craning up to show the actual destruction of a building--anyone can set up 14 cameras and blow up a building, but that shot took guts and brains.
Superior Editing in terms of pacing, cross cutting between complex story lines and creating tension
Superior Funness in terms of being totally awesome and super fun to watch.

But here's the bottom line: films, art music--none of it so precious that we need to think ourselves to death with questions of is it too soon to know if it's a masterpiece or will there be a better one in the future? I call Batman Begins a masterpiece. The Dark Knight is even better, but man I love that first movie too. It's a simple question of opinion which is somewhat subject to common sense in terms of obvious questions of the quality of the work in question, but mostly the determination of masterpiece status has to do simply with the intensity and degree of one's admiration for the work. I'm not sure why that would change over time. There can be and are many many many many masterpieces in the realm of cinema.

And no I wasn't being strictly facetious in my post's title, I think Gates of Heaven is a masterpiece.

This is a movie that tricks you into thinking it's about pets when it's really about humans and very poignantly so. To address the question posted by Jason, I have no idea what Morris was trying to do with the film, but I believe that what the film does is to draw us in with compelling and humorous oddities, and to hook us emotionally with poignant and relatable explorations of Human and more specifically American issues of what makes a life valuable.

The value of a pet is obvious to most of the film's interviewees who seem to agree with Mack's assessment that they are meant to love and be loved in return. Nat King Cole must've had a puppy. Anyway, presenting this simple philosophy along with portrayals of people who seem to struggle a great deal with the being loved part is both thought provoking and heart-breaking. I'm reminded of the brilliant lecture by Professor Steve Duncan that I heard at BYU on the subject of documentary filmmaking where he described docs as praiseworthy for their ability to give voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless and to exalt the ordinary. It's clear that Morris finds these people odd and funny, and that he's making fun of them, but I get a real sense of love as well. He holds his camera on the ranting lonely old lady a lot longer than most of us would ever consider sitting and listening to her in real life. It's true that by putting her in his film he invites us to laugh at her quirks, but the laughter I think is not meant to be spiteful or judgmental. Most of us probably see our own grandmothers in her, and ultimately will probably become not unlike her if we're old.

Then there are the sons working at the pet memorial park. It's easy to laugh and say what a couple of losers, but only if you're someone whose never had to worry about being successful, proving yourself to anyone or just making a good living to provide for a family. Their failures along with Mack's represent such an aching in Middle America by people who don't know how to make their dreams come true or even what their dreams should be. They will always be judged by what they do 9 to 5.

This movie reminds me a lot of my time as an LDS missionary in the south. I met and talked to so many people. I heard their stories, I laughed at them and I felt their pain. The story of my mission would have a lot to do with preaching Mormonism just as this film had a lot to do with pet cemeteries. But the bulk of my mission story would be a mosaic of different personalities both tragic and amusing, and that’s how I saw this film.

Like I said before, to what extent Morris may want to be mean spirited, I really can't tell. I know in The Thin Blue Line he really depicts people as idiotic, but there we're dealing with people who were idiotic and most likely sent an innocent man to death row through there actions. (I apologize if I'm remembering the details wrong with TTBL BTW, it's been over a decade since I saw it). But with Gates of Heaven, I don't get that feeling of belittlement.

Sometimes the saddest and funniest subjects are one and the same.

Does Morris exploit his subjects? Absolutely, as does every other documentary filmmaker who every points a camera at a human being.

By the way, my favorite part humor wise is when the old guy in front of the cactuses listens to his wife for like 10 minutes then adds his contribution: the word neutered. I laughed my head off.

In short, see Gates of Heaven, it's a bat-tastic masterpiece.

Why "The Dark Knight" Shouldn't Be Called a Masterpiece ... At Least Not Yet

Forgive the breach of protocol, but since no one is commenting on “Gates of Heaven” yet, I thought I’d respond to some great feedback I received about my "Dark Knight" review from Barrett Hilton and Chris Barragan, two film lovers whom I respect. The entirety of their comments is listed beneath my retort.

And neither of you needs to be apologetic about your dissenting opinions; I welcome opposing views. That’s partly what this site is for — for us to “consider the cinema” together. And Barrett, you’re the Batman to my Joker: I’m thankful for your critiques of this critic; in fact, I count on them. That being said, as much as I appreciate both of your comments, I’m still going to proceed to debate with you and defend my initial position (despite my admittance of still having much to learn).

Once I wanted a blue guitar. The first pretty, blue guitar I saw at the first music store I went to is the one I bought. (I’m glad I didn’t select my wife this way.) And it was a pretty, blue guitar. But after becoming acquainted with it, I learned its faults and flaws on an intimate level, insomuch that I become quite dissatisfied with it. But I didn’t learn my lesson yet.

Last summer I saw “Transformers,” and I must admit, I was blown away. I wanted to rate it as a masterpiece. In fact, I may have for a brief second, but I quickly came to my senses. Just a day or two later, as I thought on “Transformers” again, I realized that I had been seduced by the glamour and glitz of Tinseltown magic. It was a big, flashy, splashy, popcorn-selling blockbuster, and I was carried away by it. About a week later I saw “Transformers” again and enjoyed it much less, similar to my cooled sentiments toward that blue guitar.

The point is this: Even though both of you advised me to “follow my heart” and just give in and rate “The Dark Knight” as a masterpiece, I am wary of such hasty decisions. Setting its controversial nature aside, when “Citizen Kane” was released, many viewers thought it was “just OK.” And when “Bonnie & Clyde” was released in ’67, many critics hated it. But “Citizen Kane” turned out to be the film that many people call the greatest film of all time, and “Bonnie & Clyde” marked a historical shift in the violence portrayed in American cinema, thus becoming one of the great motion pictures of the ‘60s and filmdom at large.

Movies, like people, need time to prove their greatness; when you first meet a guy, do you decide right that minute if he’s a trustworthy person? I hope not. It is always prudent to let the smoke clear (especially in today’s flashy cinema) and re-assess what we’ve been given. “The Dark Knight” is, without question, an excellent film — especially for the superhero movie genre. Indeed, I called it the masterpiece of the genre. That’s still good, right? But to hand out “masterpiece” ratings like they were Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets won’t further the cause of film criticism: What if the imperfections of “The Dark Knight” were remedied and the next film were essentially flawless? How might we distinguish between the two, having already crowned “The Dark Knight” with the loftiest rating of all?

“The Dark Knight” might be a masterpiece, but it’s too early for any of us to tell. Here’s a challenge, if you’re interested: Write down all your burstings about your love and admiration for this film. Seal it in an envelope and read it a year later. Tell me how you feel after some water has passed under the bridge. When I reread my own reviews from just six months ago, I often cringe. I don’t think we can be trusted, at first blush, to ascertain whether a film is truly a masterpiece, because the cinema is so powerful; after all, it’s a several-senses experience. It is wiser to ruminate on the matter, considering a movie’s merit after our initial infatuation has worn off.

Regarding films being too lengthy (or not), one time Roger Ebert (my unwitting mentor) said a great movie is one that can be watched over and over and still seem fresh and new with each viewing. We must disagree somewhat on the fundamental definition of a masterpiece. And I guess that’s my fault. Or Barrett’s fault. Or Chris’s fault. None of us ever took the time to establish our criteria for what constitutes a masterpiece. We’ll do that on this site someday soon.

But considering Ebert’s description of a great film above, in order for a movie to be considered a masterpiece, I think it should be one that can be lovingly re-watched, again and again, without boring its viewer. Tell me, honestly, if either of you wouldn’t grow weary of “The Dark Knight” during its lengthy, cumbersome set-up for its labyrinthine plotline. I didn’t look at the time, exactly, but at about 45 minutes into “The Dark Knight,” it loses significant momentum and even lulls a bit. That’s fine for a drama, but let’s remember that this is a superhero flick. That is a noteworthy strike against a movie whose objective is to be an action movie. Why do you think most people hated “Hulk” (2003)?

Yes, I loved “King Kong” (2005), Barrett, but it’s too long, as well. Yep, I would have watched that movie three more times since it was released if it weren’t so long. I have considered popping it into my DVD player, but then I’d think, ‘I sure love this movie, but it’s awfully long.’ Just because a filmmaker has the ability to make a long film and make it well, doesn’t mean that he or she should. Remember that, Barrett, as a general rule when you make your own films: Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Dare I conclude that you two are spellbound and infatuated with “The Dark Knight” right now? Yes, methinks you are … which is nothing to be ashamed of. We all love a pretty, blue guitar.

Barrett Hilton previously wrote:

Regarding your review of "The Dark Knight," here's where I play Gene to your Roger:

What is this too long business? How short does a movie have to be to be considered a masterpiece? We can throw out The Godfathers I and II because they're close to 3 hours. I've seen them each maybe 8 to 10 times. What about Keneth Branagh's "Hamlet" clocking in at 4 hours. It's a masterpiece and I've seen it probably five times. What about "Heat?" That movie is incredible, and I've watched it several times. Finally, what about my beloved "The Thin Red Line?" I will punch anyone in the shoulder who says that movie's too long. If you can pick 30 seconds from that film that are throw-awayable then you have no soul.

So maybe you are feeling that a comic book movie isn't in the same class as the above mentioned. This could explain your theory that a long movie isn't good for multiple viewings like other shorter, more blockbustery type movies. Well, what about your beloved "King Kong" which mosies like no other monster movie ever? You don't think it's fun to watch over and over? What about the Harry Potter movies and the later Star Wars movies and even "Titanic," all of which audiences saw over and over and over making them some of the highest grossing films ever--and they're all "long." I have watched my "Lord of the Rings" trilogy several times, and I think others have as well.

Here's my point: a movie should be as long as it should be. You clearly loved "The Dark Knight," so why does the length bother you? Are you worried about speaking for the average American viewer with ADD? Well, judging by the audiences I saw the film with, nobody was remotely bored. I have never whitnessed such unanimous audience joy at a movie in my life as was present at the opening day showing I saw of "The Dark Knight." I really think people don't mind watching long movies as long as they like them.

If you thought it was too complicated or Two Face too shallow, then that's a real critique. I for one am tired of people complaining that movies are too long. Forget about wherever you think you need to go afterwords. Just get some popcorn, sit back and savor the movie. Sure you could argue that some scenes could be cut, but why? They're all brilliantly executed and relevant, so enjoy them, and stop looking at your watch.

"The Dark Knight" is a masterpiece--a pop-culture phenominon and artistic achievment that deserves a spot among the best films of all time. I refuse to let the comic book stigma convince me otherwise. So don't fight it man, let it be a masterpiece.

ps- The Two-Face portrayal was brilliant, and Batman invented the self-reflective and questioning superhero, so it can't be a cliche for starters, for enders, what about Batman's experience felt ingenuine to you? If nothing, then who cares if it's been done before. A cliche is something that you borrow from everyone else to avoid having to think. Artful, poiniant story telling is taking the same stories that have been told over and over and making them special and unique.

These are all my opinions of course. Just be warned, I'm going to pounce like an attack dog on anyone who has anything remotely negative to say about this movie which I couldn't have loved more if it was dredged in buttermilk and flower and deep-fried in peanut oil.

Your pal


p.p.s. I assume you take all this as fun and friendly exchanging of strong opinions not in any way intended to belittle your review or to imply that I think I'm smarter than you. I upset people sometimes, so I wanted to post this disclaimer. I think you're a very talented film critic whose more than up for a spirited academic argument.

Chris Barragan previously wrote:

Jason, I enjoy your reviews. I created the "Lazy Pants Movie Club" as a spinoff of both Brooke Eaton's "Smarty Pants Book Club" and your move review blog. If you go to the blog site you'll see that your even a link. That being said, I think that re-evaluation of your review maybe in order.

Now I won't tell you your business, I like that you have great opinions on movies. "The Dark Knight" an instant classic. I'd like you to read my thoughts on my blog to get more to the heart of why I thought the movie was a classic. The length is perfectly adequate. As for the Lord of The Rings Trilogy I can't sit through one without getting itchy let alone three.

They are great movies but There length is evident as you're watching them. I personally did not feel that with "The Dark Knight". If anything I thought the movie had an ending that was well timed and allowed for us to know that it was okay to take a break from Batman for a little bit.I had a conversation with Craig Tovey today about the movie and we both agreed that the movie completely transcends comic book movies.

It was such a refreshing movie because it was so gritty and yet so thought-provoking. What do you compromise to be good? What is a hero? Who says that guy should be allowed to be a vigilante and not me? Should one man die so we can save a hospital? Which ferry's fate will it be? Should we lie so that the public knows he was always the "White Knight"? (I almost want to say "we'll find out next time. Same bat-time, same bat-channel")

I loved Heath Ledger from his introduction he immediately established himself as a perfect evil menace. I loved that we don't know his past. He told us how he was scarred and it was so convincing. Then he completely mocked our trust in him by sharing such a compelling yet different tale on his scarred face. Not a single actor in this movie failed. It didn't get cheesy, it didn't hold back. It didn't tie up every question but it didn't have to.

There is not a better movie this year and I venture to say that it has a strong shot for an oscar. As you mentioned Ledger is well deserving. The Academy is smart enough to know and the public is smart enough to know that he won that trophy well before he died. He shadows over Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Lecter. It was an amazing film.

Come on give it a "Masterpiece" you know it will feel so good to do it. Oh and Watch "Return of the King" and tell me that it can really hold a candle to this movie. The Rings Trilogy did what it had to. It made a perfect retelling of Tolkien's works. "The Dark Knight" however stands alone, apart from "Batman Begins" as a Masterpiece.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jason's Take: "Gates of Heaven"

Roger Ebert ranks “Gates of Heaven” as one of the top 10 greatest films of all time. I disagree. But it may very well be among the top 10 most unusual films of all time.

What other documentary is more off-beat and more useless than one about a pet cemetery? Perhaps Les Blank’s “Gap-Toothed Women” (1987) could compete.

[A major but worthwhile tangent: Speaking of director Les Blank, he also directed a film that I’ve never seen called “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe” (1980). Supposedly, it came about because Herzog told Errol Morris, the man behind “Gates of Heaven,” that if he made a documentary about pet cemeteries, he’d eat his shoe. Morris did, so Herzog eats his shoe in the Les Blank film.

And by the way, if you’re interested in seeing this feat, it’s included on the Criterion Collection’s DVD release of “Burden of Dreams” (1982), which is a story in and of itself: In 1982, Herzog made a film about a madman who wanted to build an opera house in the jungle, so he ended up dragging a boat over a mountain in order to obtain his goal. Well, madman Herzog actually did drag a boat over a mountain in order to make the film about a madman who did just that, so Les Blank’s “Burden of Dreams” is about Herzog’s filmmaking, boat feat.]

The biggest question behind “Gates of Heaven,” which I’d love to hear you all weigh in on, is what was Errol Morris trying to do? Is this intended to be a comedy, filmed at these odd and vulnerable people’s expense? Was he trying to make a thoughtful film about life after death for various living things? Is it a statement about compassion and the sensitivity of human beings? Or was it simply a story about a pet cemetery that had to dig up and move 450 dead animals?

I think the fact that a pet cemetery had to be dug up was initially Morris’ motivation to make this documentary — along with having Herzog eat a shoe. But when he encountered these gems of humanity, I think he spun it into a mocking comedy. I believe he’s making fun of these people, remarkably, without saying one word. (There is no guiding, voice-over narration in this documentary.)

Debate me if you disagree, but here are my attempts at citing proof: As we hear Floyd “Mac” McClure’s tender feelings about his inspiration for building a pet cemetery, that is edited to be interspersed with one hilarious, condescending Mike Koewler’s (the rendering company guy) commentary. And when Mac discusses his priority of putting a heart over a dollar sign, we get that dopey (albeit humorous) visual of a hand drawing a heart-over-a-dollar-sign fraction.

Then, near the end, when Danny Harberts, the guitar-playing son, jams loudly over the Bubbling Wells pet cemetery (you know, the one that was supposed to have an “atmosphere of tranquility”?) Morris and his DP, Ned Burgess, frame the shot to contain only the monstrous, blaring amplifier in the foreground and the pet cemetery in the background.

And then there were those tacky, plastic animals (no doubt, part of Bubbling Wells’ décor) during the final shots. I can’t help but think Morris was ridiculing these people. I’m not judging him for it. I’m just trying to establish the objective of this documentary.

Yet, other moments were poignant, such as the montage of head stones and their intimate, personalized messages: “I knew love. I had this dog.” and “For saving my life.” These shots were accompanied by deafening silence, which almost suggested a reverence to me.

There is an underlying sadness to this film; it isn’t as much its capture of several pet owners’ grief as it is the capture of defeated dreams: Mac, the soft-hearted “4-H man,” said it was his fondest dream to run a pet cemetery. He failed. Phil Harberts obviously didn’t intend on mowing the lawn and picking up dead animals for his father’s pet cemetery for his life’s fulfillment. We can see it on his face and hear it in his voice, somewhere between all his positive-mental-attitude philosophies. And his brother, Danny, who is already resigned to not becoming a rock star, seems to be giving up on love, too. These people were truly pitiful to me, and I think Morris exploits them a little.

We probably don’t think about pet cemeteries much, but if you’ve ever had an animal, it is true what they say: When a pet dies, it’s comparable to losing a family member. Surprisingly, burying a pet is more complicated than it seems:

One time we buried a cat, and, having the best intentions, we wrapped her in a plastic garbage bag then sealed her in a plastic storage container. Months later our vet told us we should have simply buried her in a paper bag, so her body could decompose properly. He told us that our little cat, in her present burial arrangements, would basically be “cat soup” for years to come — perhaps decades. Nice. That was a comforting thought. Where was Mac McClure when I needed him?

Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies” review of “Gates of Heaven” is entertaining. I’ve linked it, if you’re interested. Oh, and Ebert provides us with this link:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Example of a Great Post

To those who are visiting this blog for the first time, please scroll down and read the previous post first, then this one.


OK. I've gotten a remarkably positive response from those I've invited to join our weekly film discussion club. Please know that the people I've invited are going to be great contributors. I am confident that we'll learn much from one another.

Barrett Hilton, a film student in the heart of it all who is currently making movies himself, sent me the following e-mail about "The Happening." This is EXACTLY what I'm talking about! This isn't an official post, necessarily, but take a look at Barrett's comments on Shyamalan's new flick:

By the way, I found it interesting that "The Happening" was so horribly reviewed. I'm probably the biggest critic of "Lady in the Water" around, and was very dissapointed to hear about Night's sort of ego-fueled refusals to change the script, but "The Happening" with its few problems is not the stink bomb critics are making it out to be. It should score around 60 or more and be recomended as good Summer suspense, and a movie that follows in the footsteps of Hitchcock, making us terrified of seamingly nothing.

Too bad to see critics not able to put aside their beefs with Night. Let's face it, anyone who makes a hit like 6th Sense as their first studio feature is a walking target. Don't get me wrong, he hasn't helped any to make himself more likable, but if another director made "The Happening," there's no way reviews would have been so poor.

Anyway, I'm kind of glad in a way the reviews were so bad, because I went expecting Lady in the Water II, and instead really enjoyed the movie. There were weaknesses, the biggest being the filmmakers not realizing that the lion eating the man footage was hilarious, not horrifying.

[Spoiler Alert:] Also, I understand that many would be annoyed by the lame explanation that the plants are doing it, but I see that as more in line with "The Birds," where the point is something ordinary turns deadly and that's horrifying, than some kind of genuine scientific warning about the world turning on us as Roger Ebert saw it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


The Concept
Since I moved back to West Virginia and am thousands of miles away from some of my favorite movie buddies, I decided to begin this weekly film discussion site so we could still watch movies together, kind of, and discuss them. Like a book club, each of this site's exclusive, contributing members will take turns in a rotation, selecting one discussion-evoking film a week (that you may or may not have seen) to be considered and debated between our scholarly minds.

Note: Your film selection doesn't necessarily have to be "a good movie." For example, "Troll 2" (1990) would be an excellent suggestion because it is considered by some to be one of the worst modern horror movies.

The Point
The point is to enjoy lots of unusual cinema and catch those movies that every film lover should see, like "Freaks" (1932) or "Gerry" (2002), and of course, to have a fun time talking about them.

The Only Three Rules
1.) No profanity or vulgarity in our discussions, please. (That means you, Karl. ... tee he.) Naturally, some of the films we screen will have plenty of that, so I'd prefer to at least keep our blog discussion on the up-and-up.

2.) Debate is fine. In fact, it is strongly encouraged. But no personal or malicious attacks on one another.

3.) You may suggest films rated R, PG-13, PG and G. If it's NC-17, let's talk about it first via e-mail. For example, "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" (2006) is a relevant possibility, but something like "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," (1970) --- even though it was written by Roger Ebert --- I'd have to say nix. Some "Not Rated" films and "Director's Cut" films are also fine. In short, we're not going to review any soft-core or hard-core pornography, though some R-rated films, arguably, push that envelope. (Also, really old movies from the pioneering days of motion pictures are also acceptable. Just make sure your choice is something that most people could actually find. Often, libraries are a great video store resource.)

The Requirements
I guess the only real requirement if you want to join the discussion is to have a Gmail account. If you don't have one, it's no big deal. Go here: Otherwise, if you're too busy, not interested or don't wish to see a particular film because of its rating (or any other reason), then you're not expected to see it. If you don't want to comment, you don't have to do that, either. Of course, the more voices joining the discussion, the better.

[ Addendum: My friend Bill Barnes seems to think that since you all aren't "commentators," or, one who leaves comments, you won't need a Gmail account to post, as long as I give you the log-in info. He may be right. Bill Barnes is irritatingly often correct. ]

This next part isn't a requirement, but it's a strong recommendation: Since many of the movies we'll be screening are obscure, you might want to have a Netflix or Blockbuster account so you can order those ahead of time. We only have a window of a week (and we might have to expand that, but I hope not). But we'll build a schedule so you can plan for weeks in advance, so think about which filmic treat you're going to recommend to the group.

Considering the Cinema
"Considering the Cinema" is my new, movie critic trademark. It's my concept for my reviewing. Each July I plan to release a movie review yearbook that includes most of the releases for the previous year. On July 1, 2009, I plan to release a book called "Considering the Cinema 2008." And the following year's book will be titled "Considering the Cinema 2009," and so forth. Since our discussions will be our group's consideration of cinema, I might include some of our stellar exchanges (provided we have some) in my book, just for fun. So bring your best insights to the table. They might get published in hard-copy print.

If You Accept This Invitation, Here's What to Do:

1.) Write me back and let me know if you're "in." If so, I'll start compiling a list of our discussion group members (in the order I receive the responses). I'll give you the log-in information so you can make actual posts, not just comments. Also, decide what your first film suggestion will be, so I can list it ahead of time for the group.

2.) Our first week will begin this Sunday, July 20, and end Saturday, July 26. As the creator of this site, I have the honors of selecting the first film: "Gates of Heaven" (1978). Each week, I'll provide an info-photo box (if possible) of the film under consideration. So look for this first movie at your favorite video store so you can start discussing it next week.

3.) If you have any questions or concerns, let me know. And if you know any film lovers who might be a good contributor to our site, please have them read this first post and send me an e-mail.

Thanks for being a part of this.
Let's have some fun and consider some cinema.