Land of the Free Film Premiere


The film Land of the Free premieres Thursday, May 27, in Whittier, California.

I’m a big fan of this movie. Of course, how could I not be? Erin Geivett, my daughter, co-stars in the film. This is her debut as a lead actress. Read more of this post

Joyeux Noël: A Film Discussion Guide


Joyeux Noël (Merry Christmas) (France, 2005); directed by Christian Carion

In an earlier post, I recommended the film Joyeux Noël. The DVD of this wonderful foreign film can be viewed with English subtitles. Here are the discussion questions I’ve used recently in my course on Faith, Film and Philosophy:

  1. Many film critics, even some who give it high marks, say this film is “sentimental.” What do you think they mean by that? What evidence could be cited in support of the claim that the film is sentimental?
  2. Audebert, the French Lieutenant, draws something he’s seen on the wall of his quarters. What does he draw? Why does he draw this? Does this have any significance for the film as a whole? Explain your answer.
  3. Is it reasonable to the think of the alarm clock as a character in the film? Explain the role(s) played by this clock throughout the film. Read more of this post

What Is the Movie Avatar About?


So what is the movie Avatar really about? Here are some possibilities:

  1. The obstacles to finding spiritual energy in the world around us
  2. The joys of flying a high-tech helicopter
  3. The dangers of the scientific enterprise, or of scientific knowledge
  4. The need for humans to find and explore life on other planets
  5. The vices of capitalism
  6. The honorable service of the United States Marines
  7. The virtues of a simple lifestyle
  8. The religious significance of trees
  9. The degrading effect of secularism in contemporary western civilization
  10. The color blue

Amazon link for Avatar

Best Movies Set in Venice


rialto_1Ever been to Venice? Ever get a hankering to be there, like, right now? Sometimes that happens to me. Today it happened to one of my daughters.

Last night I saw the new Star Trek movie. Not to ruin the plot or anything, but you find out (sort of) how the transporter technology was devised by Scotty. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just beam yourself to a nostalgic place for a day? “Southern California too boring for you? How about Venice? Beam me up, Scotty!”

Unfortunately, there isn’t an iPhone application for that. I checked. (Apple, are you listening?) But there is another option, another way to “take you there,” and that is to select a movie that is set in Venice.

200px-ItalianjobSo tonight we’ll be watching The Italian Job. It’ll bring back pleasant memories of our leisurely time strolling the Piazza San Marco, shopping the Rialto Bridge, and taking in the half-believable vista of the Grand Canal.

Or not.

“The Italian Job is hardly a film to slow your heartbeat.” Agreed. So our recollection of Venice will be accompanied by a high level of manufactured adrenalin. Anything wrong with that?

The 1969 version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and Noël Coward, is different in interesting ways. (This was Noël Cowards last movie.) In fact, it’s different in so many ways that seeing the 2003 film, with Mark Wahlberg and Charliz Theron, does nothing to make the 1969 film predictable. Fortunately, there is one great similarity, and that is the role cast for the Mini Coopers used in the heist. The two movies begin and end very differently.

Other options for movies set in Venice include Casino Royale (for it’s ending), A Death in Venice (not a happy film), Everyone Says I Love You (a Woody Allen musical), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (more action and adventure in Venice), Just Married (a romantic comedy), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (yep, the one with Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain), A Little Romance, (a comedy in which a 13-year-old American girl enjoys reading Heidegger!), The Merchant of Venice (Venice in 1596), Moonraker (James Bond movie #11, featuring Venice and a gondola/hovercraft contraption), Othello (take your pick: 1952 with Orson Welles, 1965 with Laurence Olivier, or 1995 with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh), Pokémon Heroes (the fictional location “Johto” is supposed to be based on Venice), Sharks in Venice (for those who like implausible great white shark movies), Summertime (with Katherine Hepburn and probably the best cinematic exploitation  of Venice), The Thief Lord (co-written by children’s adventure novelist Cornelia Funke), The Venetian Affair (spy thriller starring Robert Vaughn and Elke Sommer, vintage 1967, and hard to find), The Wings of the Dove (“Venice has never been portrayed so beautifully, or romantically,” says Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide).

Myself, I’ve seen exactly four of the movies on this list. Wanna’ guess which ones? I’ll send an Amazon gift card for $5 to the first person who gets it right, within 24 hours of this post. I’ll announce the winner—if there is one—at the end of 24 hours. (Setting my mobile phone timer . . . now.)

Good luck!

Oh, and by the way, you also have to explain why you picked the four you did AND tell me your favorite movie with a Venetian setting.

Army of Shadows: A Film Discussion Guide


army_of_shadows_1shThe French film L’Armée des Ombres (“Army of Shadows”) is an adaptation of the 1943 book (same title) by Joseph Kessel, who participated in the French Resistance. Whether you know little or much about the Resistance, if you want a realistic film portrayal of a critical aspect of the Second World War, this is a film to rent or buy. I can’t imagine a more effective vehicle for presenting an insider’s view of the movement.

The film is expertly cast and paced with precision. But the action is subdued, so don’t expect a Jason-Bourne-meets-James-Bond kind of experience. Army of Shadows offers a tight shot of espionage—plotting with limited resources, the paltry odds of success, endless psychological misgivings, and complex interpersonal dynamics.

The movie is filled with tension. But it’s the kind of tension that invites serious consideration of difficult questions:

  • What does it really mean to be courageous?
  • Is it possible to exercise genuine freedom of self-determination in the very moment you are about to be executed by a firing squad?
  • Can a cause be so just that killing an innocent co-belligerent is justified if letting her live could compromise the mission?
  • On what basis can you entrust your life to someone you’ve never met?
  • Should a woman with the skills needed to execute a tactically sophisticated and personally dangerous mission be enlisted if she has a husband and children who know nothing of her activities?
  • Does it ever make sense to engage in a fatal rescue operation if no one will know of your valor?
  • Why does the simple offer of a cigarette enable some men to face certain death with dignity?
  • Was the French Resistance a prudent response to the Nazi occupation of France?

This film churns the emotions and the mind. The Resistance is testimony to the indomitable spirit of human beings guided by commitment to a high ideal. I saw  Army of Shadows soon after seeing the Angelina Jolie film Changling. The similarities are unmistakable. Both are based on actual events. In both cases individuals pursuing righteous causes suffer terrible indignities. In both, success seems humanly impossible. Hope wells up from a secret place and keeps men and women in the game, even when the game is almost certainly lost. These are remarkable parallels, parallels I would have missed if I had not seen the two films in the same week.

As these films end and the credits roll, some viewers will be stuck to their seats with feelings of sadness mixed with cheer. The sadness explains itself. The cheer is unexpected. But the cheer is solidly grounded. It rises in response to the failed heroism of Christine Collins, the mother in Changling, and of Phillipe Gerbier, the head of a Resistance network in L’Armée des Ombres. Because the heroism is real, though it is not rewarded with complete success (or perhaps because it is not rewarded with complete success), our own dignity is affirmed.

I’m ususally content to see a movie once, even a very good movie. But soon I’ll be downloading L’Armée des Ombres from Amazon to my TiVo. This one is worth owning and re-viewing.

Amazon DVD

Amazon DVD

Amazon Video on Demand

Amazon Video on Demand

The Book by Joseph Kessel

The Book by Joseph Kessel

The Truman Show: A Discussion Guide


The Truman Show (USA, 1998); directed by Peter Weir

Chapter 4 of my book, Faith, Film and Philosophy, is titled “Escaping Into Reality: What We Can Learn from The Truman Show about the Knowledge Enterprise.” Here are discussion questions for the film The Truman Show that I’ve used in conjunction with this chapter.

  1. What is Christof’s purpose in “designing” a life for Truman? What kind of life does he want for Truman? And what is Christof’s purpose in televising Truman’s life?
  2. There’s The Truman Show that is the TV show the movie is about, and there’s the movie called The Truman Show that we see in the theatre or on DVD. We’ll call the TV show TS-1 and the movie TS-2. In TS-2, viewers of TS-1 are depicted in various ways. Presumably, they enjoy watching TS-1. What is it about TS-1 that keeps them watching? Why do they like watching? What does this say about them?
  3. Those watching TS-1 seem to have opinions about the quality of life Truman has on “Seahaven.” What are they supposed to think about Truman and his quality of life? How does this compare with Christof’s attitude about Truman’s quality of life? Now think about how we are supposed to regard Truman’s life as we view the film, TS-2. Is there a difference between what we’re supposed to think or feel as we watch the movie and what the TV viewers are supposed to think and feel as they watch the TV show? Describe whatever differences you think of.
  4. Truman falls in love with Sylvia, who is kicked off the show (TS-1). Later she calls in to speak with Christof during a rare interview on television. What is her thesis about what Christof is doing? Do you agree with her? Are we supposed to agree with her? Does she make a good argument? Can you think of ways to strengthen her argument?
  5. What is this movie about? Do you think the filmmakers are making an argument? If so, what is that argument? What is the thesis and what evidence is presented in support of that thesis?
  6. What kinds of freedom does Truman exercise while living in Seahaven? What kinds of freedom is he lacking? How is he presented from exercising these freedoms?
  7. Are you more free than Truman? In what ways? Are you sure about this? Can you be sure? [This question was suggested to me by David Hunt, a contributor to Faith, Film and Philosophy.]
  8. Some critics see Christof as a god-figure in this film and suggest that the film is actually a critique of the Christian worldview. If that’s true, what do the filmmakers assume about the Christian worldview, and especially about the Christian or biblical conception of divine sovereignty and human freedom? Based on your understanding of what the Bible teaches about such things, how is Truman’s life in Seahaven like, and how is it unlike, human existence in the actual world? Support your answer from the Bible and from evidence in the film.
  9. In his chapter in Faith, Film and Philosophy, Geivett claims that this film illustrates how a person may be able to acquire knowledge that is important, even when much of his community is determined to deceive him or her. Is this a plausible claim about the film? How could this claim be challenged?
  10. What does this film “say” about the responsibilities people have toward each other when it comes to seeking the truth and tracking the evidence? Can you describe some contemporary attitudes about truth, the objectivity of truth, and the possibility of knowing truth? How are these attitudes reinforced socially?

Legends of the Fall: A Discussion Guide


Legends of the Fall (USA, 1994); directed by Edward Zwick

Chapter 4 of my book, Faith, Film and Philosophy, is titled “Defining Love through the Eye of the Lens: Romance, Sex, and the Human Condition in Pretty Woman, Legends of the Fall, and The Bridges of Madison County.” The author is Greg Jesson. Here are discussion questions for the film Legends of the Fall that I’ve used in conjunction with his chapter.

  1. A native American named Stab, an elder of the Cree Nation, narrates the beginning of the film. How would you explain the director’s choice in beginning the film this way?
  2. In a letter to his mother, Alfred writes, “I pray every night for the grace to forgive Tristan.” Do you agree that Tristan has sinned against his brother, Alfred? Explain your answer. Does Alfred ever forgive Tristan? Why or why not? If you believe he doesn’t, what would it have taken for him to forgive Tristan?
  3. When visited by a committee of citizens who want Alfred to be elected to Congress, he shouts at them, “What do you want for yourselves if you get my son elected?” What does this say about his view of politics? What does it say about his view of people, in general?
  4. Alfred says, in response to his father’s accusation that the U.S. government has yet to regain its wisdom, common sense, and humanity: “I will consider it my absolute duty to bring both wisdom and humanity to the United States Congress.” This may ring a bell. Compare Alfred’s vow with the similar promise made by Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane. How are they alike? Different?
  5. Following his argument with the Colonel, Alfred says, tenderly, “Susanna, you deserve to be happy.” Is this true? What is Alfred’s conception of happiness? How does this compare with your conception of happiness?
  6. Does the Colonel have a favorite son? If so, who is it? What accounts for this? How are the others affected?
  7. What happens when Susanna’s name comes up, after Tristan returns home? Is Susanna over Tristan? Is Tristan over Susanna? What is your evidence?
  8. What do you think of Anthony Hopkins’s performance as a stroke victim? Is his stroke supposed to mean anything that ties into the story line of the film? (Is it symbolic?)
  9. One Stab repeatedly speaks of “the bear inside” of Tristan. What is the point of this metaphor? What does it say about Tristan and One Stab’s evaluation of him as a person?
  10. At a public meeting, Alfred and Tristan meet. Alfred asks, “How’s father? Is he well?” Tristan answers, “As well as can be expected.” What does this mean? What can be expected? Why?
  11. In explanation of the accidental death of Isabel, Alfred says to Tristan, “It was a terrible, tragic, accident.” What does this say about Alfred? Has he changed as a person?
  12. Whose faults are greater? Tristan’s, or Susanna’s? Support your answer.
  13. At Susanna’s grave, Alfred says to Tristan, “I followed all the rules . . . . And you, you followed none of them. And they all loved you more.” What does this say about Alfred’s view of love? What does it say about his view of doing the right thing? Is there a sense in which he isn’t any different than Tristan?
  14. Tristan’s father says to him, “You are not damned, Tristan. I won’t allow that.” Any comments?
  15. How are things resolved in the end? Does this change anything?
%d bloggers like this: