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Thursday, November 30, 2006
The Tao of Rocky
Apparently, the studio behind the latest Rocky installment is targeting the Christian moviegoing market. Columbia Pictures is handing out study guides and arranging special advance screenings for church groups. And this is what star Sylvester Stallone had to say during a recent teleconference to religious leaders:

"The more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus and listening to His Word and having Him guide my hand, I feel as though the pressure is off me now," he said. "You need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else. You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and about what the church is: The church is the gym of the soul."
posted by Benyamin | 9:25 AM | Link | (20) comments |
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Loose ends
posted by Benyamin | 3:51 PM | Link | (0) comments |
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
In defense of Darren Aronofsky
There’s a little film about not-so-little ideas coming out to wide release (finally) this Thanksgiving. It’s been pilloried by critics, predictably. It almost never got made, and the rollercoaster behind-the-scenes narrative may be more interesting than the actual film to those haughty film aficionados masquerading as critics, but I bring it up only to illustrate a point: the utter passion displayed by the director of this film.

Darren Aronofsky you may have heard of. He made Pi and Requiem for a Dream. A nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who happened to get engaged to a nice Jewish girl from London (Rachel Weisz), Aronofsky has all the acclaim an indie director could hope for. That makes it all the more saddening to see his latest film, The Fountain (plot synopsis here), reduced to tiny little pieces of celluloid by virtually every major critic in the country.

They do not seem to get it, like it, and they certainly do not recommend you go see it. This is where I must protest, where I must rise in defense of Darren Aronofsky. You should go see this film, even though I must admit you might not get it either.

I had the opportunity to see an advanced screening a few weeks back and participate in a Q&A with Aronofsky immediately afterwards. One thing that’s worth knowing about the writer/director is his routine refusal to explain the various symbolic elements of his films. The ants depicted in Pi, for example, remain a bit of a mystery (the closest Aronofsky came to explaining them was a snippet in a DVD director’s commentary, and that wasn’t entirely informative).

So it wasn’t at all surprising to watch him deftly maneuver around a deluge of questions about the esoteric qualities of his latest flick. I took little from his answers:
  • With a trimmed budget, Aronofsky relied not on CGI to get the scenes of a space bubble zipping through a nebula in the 25th-century. He instead relied on a technique that involved shooting through a microscope at things like yeast growing. It was a beautiful effect, to be sure.
  • Aronofsky very much wants to do what he referred to as “21st-century” sci-fi that breaks from the mechanical motifs of older films like 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars. Hence the aforementioned spherical bubble ship. He also wanted to see where science-fiction could go after The Matrix trilogy, which he presented as a sort of apex for older sci-fi conventions.
  • The director doesn’t much care to discuss those behind-the-scene dramas.

    What I did take from the non-answers, his continual refusal to explain away the more abstract parts of The Fountain was an appreciation for just how ambitious the film is. That ambition covers no less ground than a full-on discussion of the value of death and the philosophical nature of love, the fragility of human ambition and the limits of human power. It is also, I think, what has half of American film critics’ panties in a bunch.

    At a paltry hour and a half running time, I’ll grant that Aronofsky doesn’t take his time to cover the array of subject matter on display in The Fountain. He exacerbates the issue by sticking with his trademark symbolic mysteries and purposefully abstract depictions of major plot points, but for anyone with an average percentage of brain cells remaining intact it shouldn’t be terribly difficult to figure out exactly how all the pieces fit together.

    That is when it gets to be fun, when you can get beyond the question of whether or not Hugh Jackman is the same character in all three time periods (I vote for two periods being the same guy and the third being an entirely fictional construct within the film). The real power of the film lies in its aesthetic and raw emotion, which it uses to far greater effect than mere narrative plot in exploring its subject matter. In this regard, it’s a very eastern film, which doesn’t always play well with western audiences, but that doesn’t make it bad.

    After turkey has been consumed, football watched, and the myriad gods of gluttony properly worshipped, it wouldn’t hurt anyone to slip into a darkened theater and enjoy a brief tour with Aronofsky. Nobody, least of all me, is going to promise you an easy-to-digest thrill ride, but that was never what Darren Aronofsky brought to a film screen. What he has brought is an evocative look at incredibly deep subjects, a simple narrative conceit designed to prompt questions, not provide tidy answers, and I’m incredibly thankful for the chance to see it.
    posted by Bradford | 10:17 AM | Link | (9) comments |
  • Tuesday, November 21, 2006
    Loose ends: The Cosmo Edition

    • Video: Seinfeld's Kramer (aka Michael Richards, yes he's Jewish) [UPDATE: Ok, he's not Jewish.] apologizes on Letterman for his racist remarks.
    • Dennis Leary sings the "Mel Gibson Blues".
    • Scarlett Johansson wants you ... to go slowly.
    • Don't let Borat stay at your hotel. And (yawn), more Borat lawsuits.
    • Jewy duo Jeremy Piven and Jack Black make peace, not war.
    posted by Benyamin | 9:37 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Monday, November 20, 2006
    Joan Rivers and a Chabad rabbi walk into a Today show segment...

    When posting on the Today show's special series on faith earlier this month, we neglected to link to this piece which asks the question: Do Jews believe in heaven? What's funny is the roundtable of people they get to respond to the question: A chabad rabbi, a female rabbi, Joan Rivers, Richard Lewis, and Rabbi Mark Wildes from the Manhattan Jewish Experience who is the only one who doesn't make Judaism look ridiculous in the piece. Enjoy.
    posted by Benyamin | 11:03 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Friday, November 17, 2006
    Loose ends
    posted by Benyamin | 11:16 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Rolling Stone Reveals Borat

    Read the story here and our blog about it here.
    posted by Benyamin | 10:07 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Thursday, November 16, 2006
    Baron on Borat
    Sacha Baron Cohen (not in character as Borat) speaks about the controversy surrounding his movie exclusively in the new issue of Rolloing Stone. Catch a sneak peek here. Some quotable excerpts:

    "I've been in a bizarre situation, where a country has declared me as it's number-one enemy. It's inherently a comic situation. I mean, it's always risky when you don't go down the normal route. I wish I would have been there at the briefing that Bush got about who I am, who Borat is. It would have had to be great."

    "Borat essentially works as a tool. By himself being anti-Semitic, he lets people lower their guard and expose their own prejudice, whether it's anti-Semitism or an acceptance of anti-Semitism. 'Throw the Jew Down the Well' [a song performed at a country & western bar during Da Ali G Show] was a very controversial sketch, and some members of the Jewish community thought that it was actually going to encourage anti-Semitism. But to me it revealed something about that bar in Tucson. And the question is: Did it reveal that they were anti-Semitic? Perhaps. But maybe it just revealed that they were indifferent to anti-Semitism."

    "I remember, when I was in university I studied history, and there was this one major historian of the Third Reich, Ian Kershaw. And his quote was, 'The path to Auschwitz was paved with indifference.' I know it's not very funny being a comedian talking about the Holocaust, but I think it's an interesting idea that not everyone in Germany had to be a raving anti-Semite. They just had to be apathetic."

    The whole article appears in the new issue of Rolling Stone which hits newsstands Friday. We were at the photo shoot for this article back in September with noted celebrity photgrapher Mark Seliger who was shooting Borat in the middle of Times Square. Between shots, Borat took pictures with gawkers and passers-by, but remained in character the entire time. So stay tuned for the full article to see the man behind the controversy.
    posted by Benyamin | 9:43 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Wednesday, November 15, 2006
    Loose ends
    posted by Benyamin | 10:22 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Monday, November 13, 2006
    Loose ends: The somewhat Borat edition
    posted by Benyamin | 11:10 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Friday, November 10, 2006
    Matt Lauer at the Kotel

    Click above to watch Matt get heckled at the Western Wall. Then watch Matt talk about the mysteries of faith, explore the holy land, give a history lesson of Jerusalem, interview Ehud Olmert -- and not follow protocol by reading his co-host's note to be put in the kotel.
    posted by Benyamin | 1:46 PM | Link | (2) comments |
    Wednesday, November 08, 2006
    Loose ends
    posted by Benyamin | 10:08 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Tuesday, November 07, 2006
    Loose ends
    posted by Benyamin | 1:33 PM | Link | (0) comments |
    Monday, November 06, 2006
    Loose ends
    posted by Benyamin | 11:11 AM | Link | (0) comments |
    Wednesday, November 01, 2006
    Loose ends: Yet Another All Borat Edition
    posted by Benyamin | 9:09 PM | Link | (0) comments |
    Loose ends
    posted by Benyamin | 10:53 AM | Link | (0) comments |
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