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top 10 conservative films? what does that mean?

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Nile Gardiner, writing for the Telegraph, has compiled a list of the Top 10 Conservative Movies of the Modern Era. The story struck me most of all because great movies are not conservative or liberal, they are works of art that speak to viewers regardless of such concerns as political ideology. A great film is a great film, and a liberal or a conservative will understand that. You can be sure that if one sets out to make a “great liberal movie“, or a “great conservative movie,” it is going to be terrible.

So what does Gardiner’s list represent?

These are all brilliant movies that conservatives can be inspired by, and which are guaranteed to offend Left-wing sensibilities in one way or another.…Films that conservatives can be taken to heart in both the United States and Great Britain, movies that celebrate conservative values, the defence of the free world, deep-seated patriotism and individual liberty.

Aside: I still find it adorable that Conservatives can so easily consider “deep-seated patriotism” a conservative value. It is so insulting (as a very patriotic, country-loving liberal progressive) that such a comment can almost make me stop reading a piece.

TRC wondered if this list would be great movies, allowing anyone to include it on (almost) any list because great art defies such things, or mediocre movies that uphold “conservative” values as Gardiner declared in his intro (you know, like the Patriot). Turns out, it is a mixture of both.

No surprise, Chariots of Fire is number 1. It is every Republicans favorite movie, and an excellent movie worthy of such a place on such a list.

From there, it gets dicey. According to Gardiner, apparently any movie that takes a frank, bold, honest look at war or military conflict is “conservative.” Number 2 is Zulu, number 3 is Saving Private Ryan (which, sorry Gardiner, is not Spielberg’s best), number 6 is Deer Hunter, number 8 is Black Hawk Down. I like all these movies. Some of them are in fact great movies, and any one of them could be very easily held up as an example of progressive values–a sign that they are indeed, excellent films.

But Gardiner does include a few duds to build his conservative credentials as a film critic. Take Master and Commander. A fine film, but nothing to write home about (again, not even close to Peter Weir’s best film, Gardiner, not even CLOSE!), but I can think of no top 10 list this belongs on, with the exception of possibly the Top 10 Seafaring films.

Rocky is glorious. And I get that one, though only by a hair.

Killing Fields, too, is a masterpiece. And seeing how it is about the failings of tyranny and Marxism, I guess it can be included, since today’s conservatives think all liberals are Marxists and want a tyrannical government. (I think I’m joking).

The Lord of the Rings fits Gardiners’ profile. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love these films. Tolkien was Tolkien, and any attempt to argue against these as “conservative” is beyond the point. LOTR doesn’t give a shit about politics. But I also worry that casting the movies as ” perfectly fitting a post 9/11 world where the forces of freedom found themselves pitted against a barbaric enemy” damages  the true greatness of story. Oh well.

And finally, number 10: The Pursuit of Happyness. Gardiner, you ruined any cred you thought had. That movie is terrible (though to be fair, Will Smith is fantastic in the role. It’s what surrounds him that gives me the jeebies). It may be a “heart-felt tribute to the free market and the value of individual responsibility,” but it is also so hackneyed and so absolutely and jarringly manipulative in its demand that you know exactly what it is about (the poor have only themselves to blame) and how you are to go about interpreting it (work harder!) that any move to ignore or deny its tremendously obvious lessons for life means you are just plain stupid.

Oh wait, maybe it is conservative.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 17, 2012 at 12:37

Holiday Post: Packers, Jon Huntsman, Golden Globes

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It is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the USA. A worthy holiday, one you should be spending off-line. But in case you’re not, here’s a few pieces of news for those of you on the internets today (like me).

First, in “real” news, Jon Huntsman is dropping out of the GOP 2012 Primary contest. He may be been Mormon, and has worked for Obama, and speaks Chinese, and been the Governor of Utah, and a list of other descriptors that make him “disqualified” or “qualified.” But congratulations, GOP, you have now successfully  ignored the only candidate in the race who came off with any sense of moderation. Which leaves Huntsman (smart and capable and super conservative) out of the race, but Rick Santorum (terrible and super conservative) left in the race. Nice one.

And now for things that don’t really matter.

The Packers lost to the NY Giants in a football game. Though I no longer have any ill-will towards the Packers (as a Vikings fan) it is always fun to see the underdogs win. Additionally, having grown so tired of this years “it’s all about the offense, the QB is unstoppable” theme, I’m delighted to see both Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers lose. Clearly it is not all about the offense. Suckers.

The Golden Globes happened yesterday. They were pretty boring. Last year, Ricky Gervais was mean, but also mostly funny. And it came off as a total surprise to see him do and say what he did and said, and thus made the event worth watching, if a bit painful. By asking him back, and encouraging him to use the same schtick, all the shock value was lost, and Gervais was just boring. Oh remember how Ricky Gervais was rude to Johnny Depp last year, well here is Depp now returning the favor. Oh, He’s joking that everyone loves Colin Firth. EVERYONE DOES love Colin Firth, you jackass. That’s not funny.

And by the way, I struggle to see how Descendants is the best picture of the year and Hugo was the best directed film of the year. I haven’t seen either (and I’m sure they are both solid, if not good films) so I know I’m speaking out of turn, but still, Hugo? Descendants? I watched Moneyball last night, and will bet it was better than both of those movies.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 16, 2012 at 09:05

Best Things of 2011: Tree of Life

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A new segment, highlighting some of the best things of the year, in all categories.

One of the two best movies that I saw this year is Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. For many reasons it is among the most beautiful films TRC has encountered in a long while. First, it is beautiful to look at, as Malick’s films always are. The 50s never looked so gorgeous as when remembered by a man at a loss for missing his mother and brother. Second, it is beautiful to comprehend. What can we do when confronted by our human smallness? When the age and terror and beauty and majesty of the universe exists, as it does, how do humans, insignificant in scale by any measure, make sense of our lives? Malick, in his two hours, attempts to comprehend this. Third, it is touching. Loss of a brother, and innocence, and childhood, and friends, and one’s childhood home, and one’s mother as remembered, are sad things. Fourth, it contains one of the best acting performance of the year, by Hunter McCracken. I always hesitate to praise child actors too heavily. But his performance is that good. These are the things that Tree of Life offers, on its face.

Then there are the better reasons to love Tree of Life. Personal reasons; this must be a tremendously personal film for Terrence Malick. It just feels like it. And if an audience member does not connect personally, I can only imagine the film being tedious beyond reprieve.

Here, then, is a long personal response to Tree of Life, one of the best things of 2011.

Our human experiences seem incredibly personal, isolating; how can others understand our complexity? But because we are humans, of course, we only have so many experiences at our disposal, and we make of them in our mind what we can. Tree of Life captures many human experiences that are core to many people. So this is all both very personal to TRC, but also quite common. This is one of the great things about being a person, and an understanding central to Tree of Life. We were all created by the same celestial movement, and of the same material. But that doesn’t answer our wondering why.

I connect with the struggle to make sense of belief in the spiritual world and the reality of life. ‘Where were you?’ Again, and over again, this is asked of God in Tree of Life. ‘You let a boy die. Where were you?’ ‘You let my son die. Where were you?’ Malick does not tell us where God is. Instead, Malick shows us the creation of the universe, as a whole. Everything. The creation of the earth. The creation of life. Cells merge. Dinosaurs. An asteroid. Lifeless ice covering the face of the earth. The whole cycle, from top to toe.

When I first watched Tree of Life, I presumed Malick portrayed the universe’s birth to hearken to his opening quote, from Job: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth,’ God asks the sour Job, who dares confront God’s motives. But seeing it again, I’m not so sure.  I thought that God was an integral part of the Malick Universe, answering the question of a young boy in pain, or a mother in pain, by showing them exactly: ‘You ask where I was? I was doing this.’ But now I am less certain that God exists in the Malick Universe of Tree of Life. Or that God by necessity must exist.

Malick lays a diametric opposition to open his movie: there is nature and there is grace. Grace is outward and of love, Nature cares only for itself. Grace is Jack’s Mother, beauty and tenderness incarnate, unconditional love of her children and nothing else. Nature, however,  is actually not Jack’s Father, as was my initial read of the parents. Nature is the coldness of the planet Earth after an asteroid strike. The coldness of the face of Saturn. But also the beauty of the grass blowing, the beauty of the stillness of our universe creating all things. Jack may recall his father as a hard man, and there seems little sense in arguing otherwise. But Jack’s Father is not the cold opposite of grace as he perceives it. Nature is Nature, which is neither cold towards Jack, nor warm. It simply is. If Jack’s mother’s performance represents Grace, the 20 minute interval of universal creation and destruction represents Nature. If Jack’s memory is where Tree of Life resides, the creation of a universe does not carry any more weight than one’s mother.

When asked if Nature or Grace has control, Malick seems to say: ‘Who can answer?’

If the past in Tree of Life is Jack’s remembrance of Grace as his mother, then what of the salt flats and desert and beach that is the reunion of Jack’s family as remembered, presumably in the future? This world is all grace, without a break for Nature. It is also not life, not memory, but longing. The purity of the beach scene that Jack experiences exists outside the struggle of Grace vs. Nature, and only as a pure form of grace. Which is why it is not real. This is not a bleak interpretation. Malick knows as well as any filmmaker that life is struggle between beauty and strife. Nature is both of these, in the volcanic explosions that form the rock surfaces of earth, as well as in the beauty of the grass blowing in the reeds. Any world that is not filled with beauty and strife is not real. All grace is not life. We have our mothers, but as we must acknowledge, as Jack initially rejects , our life cannot be wholly protected by our mothers.

TRC does not pretend this is deep. Nor is it revelatory. Malick is not telling a new story. It may in fact be the oldest story, ever. But in Tree of Life, Malick shows the whole story, in every corner of human experience, on film, in a new way. And what can be better than that?

Written by Christopher ZF

December 19, 2011 at 13:02

A perfect mash up. Twilight, Lonely Island, and what that face really means

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TWILIGHT PHENOMENON!
Ok, thanks for visiting Relative Comment.

Here’s a thing. TRC is actually a fan of the Twilight films (except that second one, man, buy a shirt already), and is not even embarrassed by it. There is something so bizarre and strange about the content of these books/films, that I must admit, I enjoy them, despite the whole “Edward-is-a-control-freak-who-manipulates-Bella-in-every-way-and-Bella-is-a-powerless-female-and-Twilight-sets–back-women’s-empowerment-by-portraying-females-as-dependent-upon-a-silent-and-mysterious-man-to-do-everything-because-women-are-helpless” problem.

Anyway, I read the Hulk Smash review of the Twilight Saga (of which the second half is worth reading–the actual criticism of Twilight–while the first half just drones on and on) and I came across this video. If you have seen any of the Twilight films, you know that there is no shortage of wide-eyed facial intensity, and longing stares with expressions of grief/wanting/longing/desire/orgasmic pleasure. This video makes that plain.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 21, 2011 at 12:41

Posted in TV & Film, Twilight

the simple joy of incomprehensible madness: Kenneth Branagh’s Thor

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I was excited about the prospect of the film Thor. This was last winter, when the film was being advertised. Thor was always a favorite comic of mine in my comic book days. Thor’s heroism and dual participation in the land of gods and men led to a fascination with the character’s complex inter-species nature. As a college and graduate student I studied Shakespeare, and film adaptations of all ilks, including those of Kenneth Branagh. Generally I thought Branagh’s adaptations of Shakespeare to be ostentatious and filled with elegant  pomp and and a clear understanding of Branagh’s own seriousness as an interpreter of the Bard. The perfect tone for Shakespeare.

So when I heard that it was Kenneth Branagh that was directing Thor, the match seemed exciting. Someone who was capable of taking the Battle Agincourt to such brilliant heights, could udnerstand the grandiosity of the immortal war between Asgaard and the Frost Giants. This made perfect sense. Thor is nothing if not Shakespearean History, and Thor is nothing if not a perfectly absurd Shakespearean madcap hero.

Last night I finally watched Thor. I watched the film rapt in attention, baffled and confused and filled with enthusiasm. Not because of any of the reasons I anticipated Thor. It quickly became evident that Branagh was just going to pick up the ball and run with it, regardless of the potential. It was not going to be Shakespearean and Tragically retold. Rather, from the moment I realized that Natalie Portman was cast as an astrophysicist to the final moments, when the good guy is holding the bad guy’s wrist as he hangs from a cliff , trying in vain to save the villain and his soul, only to fail, as Loki is dropped from the broken rainbow bridge of Bifrost into the depths of space, I kept thinking: What? I watched, attentive, and gleeful, and asked myself: what is this?

What is this movie? Thor is incomprehensible. The film is beautifully put together and filled with beautiful human actors (Chris Hemsworth is pretty much a god) playing parts who start as X and become Y and nothing makes sense. There is nothing to hold onto in this movie, nothing to interpret or to understand with nuance or complexity. The characters are simply on screen talking, then fighting, then talking. The action moves from Asgard to New Mexico to Asgard to Jotunheim without any attempt to provide space or sense to the viewer. Thor as directed by Kenneth Branagh is incomprehensible madness.

But is it is incomprehensible madness of the best sort. I loved watching Thor. It is truly what a comic book would look like if one were to make a film of a superhero comic book. For the past decade or so, Hollywood has been aflutter over the “best comic movies”: Dark Knight and Spiderman 2 and X-Men 2. These are all wonderful films, inspired by and starring characters from the world of superhero comics. But I do not think they are representative of a film version of a comic book, at least the comic books I grew up loving in the late 80s and early 90s. The superhero comic books of that day are just strange, mostly incomprehensible, and built out of pure joy and enthusiasm. They do not worry about character arc; barely did they concern themselves with story arc.Thor does not grow. Thor just becomes something other than Thor was, because that is how Thor operates. Thor is Thor, then a lesson happens, then Thor is a different Thor. This is neither a complaint or a compliment to Thor, it just makes Thor a comic book. And Branagh seems to have been content to simply make a movie out of the pages of an incomprehensible mess of Norse Mythology as seen through the lens of American Superhero Comic books. Do not tell me Thor does not make sense. Why would it?

Written by Christopher ZF

November 6, 2011 at 14:41

Posted in shakespeare, TV & Film

Jon Stewart’s Disservice

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Relative to: Jon Stewart’s interview with Jonathon Alter on the State of the Union address.

I love Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. That team writes some great political satire, and it almost always has something worth seeing. But there are times when Stewart, maybe in the name of being reasonable, which has of late been a priority of his, has a tendency to downplay very serious issues.

Last night’s show was a great example. While interviewing Jonathon Alter (the link to the video is above), Stewart brought up Obama’s “Sputnik Moment” from the SOTU. The Sputnik Moment that Obama refers to is the need to, essentially, reframe our nation. Invest in clean energy, build a 21st century infrastructure with high-speed rail, high-speed internet, and a better energy grid, invest in clean cars and get people to drive these cars. Serious challenges that will likely define the new American Century.  Challenges that, in reality, probably rival getting an American to be the first on the moon.

But Stewart sees this as a boring challenge. Not interesting, not particularly exciting. Not like a moon landing. Just not that sexy. “It didn’t strike me as a Sputnik Moment,” Stewart quipped, “as much as, say, let’s all change our light bulbs.” Jon Stewart, you can help make this sexy. You influence your audience in a real, practical way. Don’t belittle high-speed internet access in rural areas and electric cars. These are serious problems and solving them will be much more valuable to our future than beating Russia in the space race (at least comparable). So take it seriously, and while we’re at it, take changing the country’s light bulbs seriously too.

**On a side note. There has been quite a bit of teasing of President Obama ‘s pledge to get high-speed internet to %98 percent of Americans. As though somehow this is not an important priority that does not deserve the kind of attention that President Obama gives it.

This is so wrong. Internet means connection to the world, phone service, jobs, services, everything that people like myself take for granted, and think, ‘well I don’t need the internet.’ If you want to see the difference of not having internet, at all, and having it at your fingertips, visit the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and Reservations around the Northwest who have no internet service–there is no profit in providing supremely rural areas with internet service– and what that can mean to a rural community. It is very important, and folks (like myself and most urban/suburban Americans) who have internet at their homes, on their mobiles, at school and work and everywhere should not take for granted the advantage that provides. You may think you don’t need it, but take it away from everyone, and it’s a very real injustice.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 27, 2011 at 11:14

“I’m afraid God is speaking, and that no one is listening”

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Relative to: X-Files, Season 3 Episode 11.

In the X-Files episode “Revelations,” a young boy showing the signs of the stigmata is in danger. FBI Agent Scully believes she has been chosen by God to protect the boy from being killed by the Devil, thus bringing about Armageddon. Naturally.
Is it coincidental that in the world of X-Files, where the incarnate Devil comes out to kill a young boy with bleeding palms, that same Devil would take the time to create a front of owning a business in recycling? No wonder the environmental movement has such trouble catching on.

Written by Christopher ZF

November 16, 2010 at 00:01

Posted in TV & Film