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January 10, 2013


Well, Manohla Dargis tells me that writer Max Landis and director Josh Trank's Chronicle "is the latest big-studio release in indie-sheep’s clothing." They had me. If it had been an indie, there's much I could have forgiven, but since it's not, I can only consider Chronicle a big fat flop. Adolescent friends Max, Steve, and Andrew -- whose camera lens provides our point of view --enter a cavernous hole in the ground, experience something akin to a psychedelic acid trip, and come out with telekinetic powers. They gradually exploit those powers to greater and greater advantage, Max and Steve for fun, but Andrew increasingly for more sinister reasons that allow the film to hurtle into a gratuitous climax of end of the world proportions complete with exploding bodies. Landis's script is sprinkled  with pseudo-philosophizing, most notably references to Schopenhauer's world as will, which I guess is supposed to support the nihilistic, orgiastic ending. What starts out looking like a potentially thoughtful little sci-fi vehicle devolves into its own superficiality and nothingness.

I'm not sure what the title Blue Like Jazz, great sounding as it is, has to do with Steve Taylor's movie about a Baptist Texas boy ( Texas that would be pronounced "bo"). The film, adapted from the book Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality by Donald Miller, revolves around Don Miller (Marshall Allman, whom I do not know but who is one of my best friends' husband's cousin). Don finds himself a misfit at affluent Reed College in Oregon, where religion -- at least Christianity -- and conformity are mocked. At one point the character who parades about as The Pope takes a wheelbarrow 'round to strip students' dorm rooms of books he scorns. "How can there be a God if Chicken Soup for the Soul exists?" he excoriates as he throws it into the flames (to which I say, "Amen!"). The whole is full of nice character acting, but ultimately it tries a little too hard at its philosophical aspirations, and its "theology" undermines its attempts at profundity. (Rachel Saltz's NYT review)

The reach for things profound seeps around the edges of Zal Batmanglij's Sound of My Voice about Peter and Lorna, a young couple who, in order to make a documentary about its leader, infiltrate a cult. The guru, who claims to have come from 2054, is a lithe, blond-haired, chipped fingernail polished woman named Maggie, with a tattoo of something resembling an anchor on her ankle, who is surrounded by acolytes.

Recently I've been seeing the trailers for what portends to be a bloated OZ, in which the Midwestern magician is asked, "Are you the great man we've been waiting for?" There is an abiding human desire for salvation to come from the outside to those who passively wait. It fuels contemporary fundamentalist religions as much as it fuels our love of super heroes. Here is The One. All I need do is follow.

What Peter and Lorna do not anticipate is the degree to which which they will fall under Maggie's spell. (Manohla Dargis's NYT review)

Set in a post-Katrina Louisiana, Behn Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild (nominated for Best Picture, Actress, Director, Adapted Screenplay) is a beautiful parable woven of magic realism. It is profoundly about many things, one of which is the damage the overarching faith we place in material "progress" exerts on the soul. Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis as a pure force of nature) listens to the heartbeats of birds, sows, leaves, her father's breast. The father Wink (Dwight Henry) is an abusive drunkard whose anger seems to emanate from guilt at the knowledge that his imminent death will leave Hushpuppy alone in a hostile world, and from his desire to toughen her up before he leaves her. If there is an equivalent in film to visionary outsider visual art, this film is as close as it gets. (A. O. Scott's NYT review/A NYT Critics' Pick)

"A Mythical Bayou's All-Too-Real Peril: The Making of Beasts of the Southern Wild" by Rachel Arons in The New York Times.
"Still Too Good, Too Bad or Invisible" by Nelson George in the New York Times

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