HER: The Lure and Limits of iLove

Her-OS-Scarlet-Johannson

We live in an era of profound possibilities and deep-seated anxieties.   We believe the future is bright, but we’re scared of the present.   We seek solace in our digital devices, embracing the virtual when the actual feels too weird, wild, and uncontrollable.    We are hyper-connected and yet oddly isolated.   As Louis C.K. has noted, “Everything is amazing and yet nobody is happy.”    Director Spike Jonze steps into this maelstrom, wondering why our love for technology has left us unsettled an … [Read more...]

BEST FILMS OF 2013: HER CREATIVITY OVERCOMES THE MILKING OF MOVIEGOERS

Her-Spike-Jonze-Joaquin-Phoenix

Does my hesitation to craft a “Best of 2013” film list reflect my shifting interest away from movies or the medium’s creative drift?  When almost all the studios’ weight is directed towards sequels, it is tough to take film criticism seriously.   Most of the major releases openly ignore reviews.   Consider the size of the built in audience for Iron Man 3, Despicable Me 2, The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire or Star Trek 12.  Positive critiques may woo a few off the couch, but most moviegoers were al … [Read more...]

PHILOMENA: Sincerity Amidst Cynicism

Philomena_Steve_Coogan_Judi_Dench

While much of the Oscar race has centered around 12 Years a Slave and Gravity, a much quieter (and more profound) picture slipped into theaters.   Philomena is a modest, true-life story about a woman in search of her adopted child.   It chronicles the horrific abuse doled out in the Magdalene laundries overseen by the Irish Catholic Church.   And yet, Philomena is one of the most faith-affirming films of the year, a paean to earnest spirituality amidst a (justifiably) cynical age.   It offers a r … [Read more...]

Inside the Coen Brothers or Llewyn Davis Unclothed

Inside Llewyn Davis

Despite what many critics have proclaimed, Inside Llewyn Davis is not the best film of the year.  It is not the best film of the Coen Brothers’ career.  It has remarkably melancholy music, but it doesn’t offer more than one recurring note.   It is dark; really dark.   Filmmakers (and especially cinematographers) love to get deep blacks on their images.   Inside Llewyn Davis has great blacks.  It makes evocative use of the dark shadows in the corners of every scene.   They hang over the Gaslight C … [Read more...]

MUSIC 2013: DANCING TO THE APOCALYPSE

Vampire Weekend Unbelievers

With a daughter in high school, I am officially well behind the curve when it comes to new music.   She’s old enough to love alternative rock, but too young to have a driver’s license.   So I’ve been the designated driver to all kinds of concerts where I am not just double, but triple the age of the average fan.    From Walk the Moon to Twenty One Pilots, upstart indie bands are surfacing with a frequency that rivals the garage bands of the original rock era or punk eras.   Their synth-driven sou … [Read more...]

MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM as CINEMATIC EULOGY

mandela movie idris elba

I hosted a screening of Mandela:  Long Walk to Freedom just two nights before Nelson Mandela died.   The legacy of Mandiba was already in the forefront of my mind before the news of his passing.  It will be tough to ever separate the movie (and its Christmas release) from the timing of his death.   Audience interest in Idris Elba as Mandela will widen following his funeral in South Africa.   The resulting box office and Oscar boost for the Weinstein Company will be considerable.  Mandela:  Long W … [Read more...]

Abundance and Open Source or Why I Wrote iGODS

Craig_Detweiler_iGods_Brazos_Press

 It probably started at the trendy Chateau Marmont in Hollywood.  Ten years ago, I sat across a movie producer who had invited me to lunch.  And yet, he spent the entire lunchtime sending and receiving text messages.  I didn’t understand how he could be so completely outside of his surroundings, lost in the electronic ether.   Clearly, I needed to catch up with this strange new out of body experience known as texting.  Four years ago, I was struck by my students’ inability to resi … [Read more...]

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE–Beyond the Spectacle

hunger_games_catching_fire_katniss_peeta

The mostly rave reviews are rolling in.   Advance ticket sales already make it another smash.  Why bother critiquing such a pop cultural juggernaut?   Because millions of impressionable teens will see The Hunger Games:  Catching Fire at a time when they are developing their identities and exploring what bravery, courage, and responsibility look like.    How might parents, teachers, and adolescents respond to the latest tale of Katniss Everdeen and the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell!) … [Read more...]

(un)Common Sounds: Christians, Muslims, & Music on ABC

Acclaimed Sumatran world music ensemble, Suarasama, perform in (un)Common Sounds

I am thrilled to announce that my newest musical documentary, (un)Common Sounds, premieres on ABC’s “Visions and Values” series starting this Sunday (check the downloadable schedule at the bottom of this post).   In 2009 and 2010, I had the opportunity to travel to Beirut, Lebanon and Yogyakarta, Indonesia with a group of music and scholars (ethnomusicologists!) from Egypt, Malaysia, Libya, Turkey, and the United States.   These Muslims and Christians study the ancient roots of their faith and it … [Read more...]

12 YEARS A SLAVE: Absolutely Essential

12-years-a-slave-solomon-northup

How long can a movie stick with you?  Some popcorn flicks are so forgettable; they fade before the credits end.   Such temporary respites barely hold boredom at bay.  The best films may carry over to Monday morning and become worthy of a water cooler conversation.   In the month since I saw 12 Years a Slave, I have thought about it every single day.  No particular social cues resurrected the torture, terror, and exploitation of others found in 12 Years.   But the extended scenes of suffering are … [Read more...]

THE SPECIAL EFFECT OF SHORT TERM 12

Short Term 12

It has been a strong season for independent film, from the Southern gothic MUD to the inner city tale, FRUITVALE, and the nostalgic comedy, THE WAY WAY BACK.   The freshest, funniest, and most original film of the summer slips into theaters as students head back to school.   SHORT TERM 12 captures the angst of adolescence in raw, riveting and revelatory ways.   It focuses upon teenagers who are neglected and overlooked, offering them the dignity they richly deserve.  Brie Larson stars as Grac … [Read more...]


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