Wrestling The Master

I found myself in this strange conversation this week….

Interviewer: Do you recommend The Master?

Jeffrey Overstreet: Not yet. I need time to reflect on a film as challenging as this one. I need discussion. I need to see it again.

Reviewing movies is a tricky business. It’s like recommending a pair of shoes to an audience. The shoes may be well-made, but people may dislike their style or misunderstand their purpose. Even the best shoes will only fit certain people.

Interviewer: First impressions?

JO: Difficult, but often riveting. Cinematography, music, editing . . . the artistry often reminded me of Kubrick, Malick, even Welles. Joaquin Phoenix was astonishing. The fragmented narrative demanded hard work. Some scenes amazed me. Others… [Read more...]

Why I Abandoned Compliance

Between 1994 and 2004, strip search prank call scams happened several times.

In each scenario, a perverse prank caller phoned a small business—usually a fast food joint—and persuaded employees to perform acts of sexual abuse. His targets cooperated, convinced they were assisting law enforcement.

I remember the news reports. I remember feeling disbelief, then disgust. How could people be so spectacularly gullible, so hard-hearted? When they put security camera footage of the crimes on television, I flinched. What could be gained from witnessing such behavior?

Now you can see this scenario reenacted on the big screen. [Read more...]

In the Company of Women, Part 2

“You’re the sort of man who can’t know anyone intimately, least of all a woman.”

That may be the most stinging, hurtful reprimand I’ve ever heard.

Thank God it wasn’t aimed at me: Those words were spoken by Miss Lucy Honeychurch to her fiancé, Mr. Cesil Vyse, in 1985’s A Room With a View.

The insult broke their engagement. It also broke the poor man’s heart, just as it would have broken mine.

As I wrote yesterday in Part One, movies have influenced how I feel and what I think in the company of women. [Read more...]

In the Company of Women, Part 1

This two-part post is dedicated to the summertime brides of Good Letters. Congratulations to Allison Backous Troy and Kelly Foster!

Twenty years ago this week, Batman Returns ruled the box office.

I bought a ticket for something else: A film about two married women and a grumpy widow who take a holiday and, as The Seattle Times put it, “rediscover their sensuality on the sunny Mediterranean.”

Strange, I know. But there I was, a twenty-one-year-old male, spending what little money I had to see Enchanted April.

How many college guys would you guess were in the audience watching this ladies-only getaway, listening to women ponder, dream, commiserate, and grumble about their husbands? I doubt that the film’s marketing strategists considered my demographic. [Read more...]

Moonrise Kingdom and the Divine Symphony

“It’s the rhythm in rock music that summons the demons,” said the church community of my childhood. So I took my musical thrills where I could find them. In front of my grandfather’s turntable, I air-conducted Ferde Grofé’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.”

In the latter, a narrator introduces each instrument and section, then the orchestra weaves those signature melodies into a symphonic harmony that left me breathless.

In the latest film from Wes Anderson World—Moonrise Kingdom—Britten’s orchestral guide becomes the central metaphor for the way the world should be. Through that lens, all of Anderson’s films (especially The Royal Tenenbaums) make more sense.

No American filmmaker—not even Woody Allen—has a more recognizable aesthetic or a stronger authorial voice, and this may be the most, well, Andersonian movie yet. His style recalls storybook illustrations, puppet shows, school-project dioramas, and community theatre productions. And in his out-of-tune communities, one rowdy musician—a somewhat holy fool — plays a theme that inspires the rest of the orchestra toward harmony. [Read more...]


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