I never thought I’d see the day when First Things would discuss a Takashi Miike film, but here’s their review/commentary on Miike’s 13 Assassins (which is currently garnering acclaim left and right):
Thirteen Assassins did not invent the trope of ultra-violence as a proxy for virtue. Twentieth-century film and literature frequently turn to violence as the last refuge of excellence in degraded cultures devoid of moral structures, in movies like High Plains Drifter or Battle Royale and books like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
These works are cautionary tales. We can easily mistake them for nihilistic endorsements of ultra-violence, but they instead use violence as a graphic reductio ad absurdum to warn society of the consequences resulting from abandoning the natural virtues. For no amount of cultural shift can eliminate the desire for excellence from the human heart, but without the social and moral structure to sustain real virtue, Miike’s death-dealing swordsmen might become our only heroes.
I didn’t care much for Kim Ji-woon’s A Bittersweet Life all that much — in my review, I said it leaves one feeling “hollow and unsatisfied” — but Catecinem’s thought-provoking essay makes me want to revisit the film.
A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) opens with a shot of leaves swaying in a summer breeze, slowly warming from black and white to color; this transition is accompanied by a noticeable drop in temperature. Though the film’s opening sequence takes place in a hotel dominated by arterial red, obsidian black, and twinkling gold and crystal chandeliers, its tenor is a cold, neutral gray. Point Blank operates along a similar baseline — both films are fairly straightforward revenge thrillers in terms of plot dynamics. The difference is that while John Boorman complicated Point Blank’s impact with dreamlike, art house aesthetics, Kim Ji-woon employs graceful, Kubrickean steadicam shots and pacing. Watching A Bittersweet Life is not unlike drifting uneasily through The Shining, where corporeal horror is as much a state of mind as it is a a facet of gangster living. In fact, I’m sure that if Kubrick had ever directed a gangster revenge flick, it would have closely resembled icy genre sandbox in which Kim plays.
The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) — the sequel to the (in)famous 2010 horror film — has been banned in all forms of release in Great Britain. Not surprisingly, this has led to articles and discussions regarding censorship, extreme movie content, and whether such films pose any sort of risk to the general populace. Meanwhile, Tom Six (the film’s director) seems more pissed off by the fact that the BBFC’s (the U.K. rating board) article defending their decision contains spoilers.
Publisher’s Weekly has posted an early — and short — review of George R.R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons:
Even ostensibly disillusioned fans will be caught up in the interweaving stories, especially when Martin drops little hints around long-debated questions such as Jon [Snow]‘s parentage.
Christianity Today’s recent cover story — “The Search for the Historical Adam” — is bound to ruffle some feathers, even though I think it approaches the controversial topic fairly even-handedly.
So, is the Adam and Eve question destined to become a groundbreaking science-and-Scripture dispute, a 21st-century equivalent of the once disturbing proof that the Earth orbits the sun? The potential is certainly there: the emerging science could be seen to challenge not only what Genesis records about the creation of humanity but the species’s unique status as bearing the “image of God,” Christian doctrine on original sin and the Fall, the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, and, perhaps most significantly, Paul’s teaching that links the historical Adam with redemption through Christ (Rom. 5:12 – 19; 1 Cor. 15:20 – 23, 42 – 49; and his speech in Acts 17).
The rethinking on Adam is an outgrowth of mainstream evolutionary thought that has long been the object of evangelical hostility (though the hostility has always been hotter at the grassroots than among professional scientists). One option, which consistently enjoys support from at least 40 percent of the general public in Gallup surveys, is “young earth” creationism. As writers with Answers in Genesis, in commenting on recent developments, insisted, “God created the mature, fully functioning creation in six literal days about 6,000 years ago.” If substantiated, this would of course demolish Darwinism because such a brief chronology offers no time for evolutionary processes to occur. Questions about that sort of time frame have provoked renewed defense of young earth creationism in Southern Baptist Convention circles. But even the late James Montgomery Boice, founding chair of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, which insisted on a historical Adam, thought various scientific findings make it “hard to believe” in a recent creation.
The Internet Monk has also entered into the potential fray with a series of articles beginning with “Get Ready for the Next Battle”. Other articles include “One of the Stickiest Issues” and “Paul, Christ, and Adam”.
Part one of Jeffrey Overstreet’s review of The Tree of Life has been posted to Image.
But if a picture’s worth a thousand words, I could write a book on the river of vivid images that flow through The Tree of Life. These pictures talk to one another. They reflect, open up, contradict, and raise questions about each other. Malick began as a storyteller with a flair for the poetic; now he’s more like an artist guiding us through an exhibition that he painted in a fever of inspiration, and the paint on his canvases is still wet.
Writing about this film, I’m tempted to steal a line from a New York Times book review for Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale: “I ﬁnd myself nervous…about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance.”
And yet… while my first encounter with The New World left me with tears of joy on my face, knowing I’d just fallen in love for a lifetime, I don’t have that feeling about The Tree of Life.
The Toronto Sun has posted a list of ten things that we’re all tired of seeing in movies, including 3D, “popcorn” movies being too long, and Randy Newman.
Manohla Dargis and A. O. Scott offer up a defense of “Slow and the Boring” movies:
Why is it, though, that “serious” is a bad word in cultural conversations, or at least in discussions of film? Why is thinking about a movie an activity to be avoided, and a movie that seems to require thinking a source of suspicion? It seems unlikely, to say the least, that films like “Uncle Boonmee,” “Meek’s Cutoff,” “The Tree of Life” or Jean-Luc Godard’s recently and belatedly opened “Film Socialisme” will threaten the hegemony of the blockbusters, so why is so much energy expended in defending the prerogatives of entertainment from the supposed threat of seriousness? I certainly don’t think fun should be banished from the screen, or that popular entertainment is essentially antithetical to art. And while I derive great pleasure from some movies that might be described as slow or tedious, I also find food for thought in fast, slick, whimsical entertainments. I would like to think there is room in the cinematic diet for various flavors, including some that may seem, on first encounter, unfamiliar or even unpleasant.
My Christ and Pop Culture comrade Alan Noble has begun an intriguing series of articles that posits that worldview criticism may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.
While same claim that a knowledge of worldviews is an evangelistic tool which Christians can use to defend the faith and undermine other belief systems, most of those who teach worldviews in Christian schools and churches take a fairly alarmist and militant stance against worldviews other than the Christian one. The benefit of teaching Christians how to identify and understand worldviews is that it prevents them from being fooled into accepting worldly philosophies.
In other words, Christians need to understand worldviews or else they will be manipulated into believing them against their own, Christian worldview; they will be unable to properly witness to the world; they will be unable to politically fight the invasion of foreign and dangerous ideas; and they will in general lose the ideological war.
Elsewhere: A collection of interesting links and articles that I’ve come across in the last week or so. Follow me on Twitter for more of the same.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.