D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916): Complete Babylon

This video has the Babylon segments of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 silent film epic Intolerance. The entire 3-hour film rotates between four stories in different historical periods, and while each of the four has its charms, the Babylonian story is by far the best. As this classic of cinema celebrates its 100th anniversary, here is that story, complete and by itself.


Ode to Catch-22, from Stone Reader

My favorite scene from the 2002 documentary Stone Reader. The combination here of the elemental score, the slow and colorful visuals, and the simultaneously awakening and valedictory narration make this a truly beautiful bit of the filmmaking art.

I copied and posted this clip online because nobody has much from this great movie anywhere, and I want to spread awareness of it. I encourage anyone seeing this to appreciate this celebration of literacy and to purchase the complete documentary–it’s really a wonderful film.


The New Star Wars Trailer–A Cinematic Appreciation

The best thing about the new Star Wars teaser trailer is how thoroughly cinematic it is.  Most trailers, especially teaser trailers, are just a lazy mess of spotlighted clips.  This one, though, was clearly constructed with a specific narrative arc in mind.

It naturally falls into three acts:

Act I: Establishing character and setting

First we see Tatooine, then we see a hero.  The hero is tired, sweaty, and scared.  And alone.  That’s how we know he’s a hero, despite the Stormtrooper uniform–villains never appear so beleaguered in Act I.

The soccer ball droid reassures us that two big mainstays of the series are still present: innovation and whimsy.

The next shot reaffirms the first: a panicked, lone hero in a hurry.  No coincidence here: clearly, we’re meant to know that this film will show our new protagonists in a fractured, oppressed state, desperate to escape a threatening presence.  This, of course, is highlighted by the gravelly voiceover.

The fourth “scene” reaffirms the second: a reassurance here, not of innovation and whimsy, but of action and equipment.  Few series are so rooted in their weapons and vehicles as Star Wars, and this part of the trailer shows us J.J. Abrams doing what he did with Star Trek: preserving the bets of the old while updating its peripheral elements.

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Reviewed: Days of Heaven

I was interested in the work of Terrence Malick after seeing Tree of Life.  As I started watching his much earlier film Days of Heaven, I was at first reminded of Ron Howard’s Far and Away: young lovers brought together and separated by the the trials of pioneer life in an earlier American era, set against the gorgeous backdrops of that unsullied wilderness.

But where Howard’s movie was a fun bit of pop celluloid, Malick’s is art.

The style is wholly ambitious.  Not unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey in this sense, he uses dialogue sparsely, and constructs a deceptively simple plot.  Much of the film’s meaning is communicated symbolically through the physical environment on which the story is imposed.

Days of Heaven begins in fire: the furnaces of a factory and the violence that attends them.  After this prologue, we enter the paradise promised in the title; indeed, the story’s central act is truly a season of heaven on earth, one of those times in life where everything is perfect and you just lose yourself in the rapture of it all.

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2013: My Year in Film

I got out of the habit of keeping track of what I watched last year.  I’m back in it, but for now, here are the first 12 movies I can remember seeing for the first time last year, in alphabetical order:


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

So much swashbuckling fun!  Actually saw this as a little kid, but couldn’t remember much about it; watched this with the fam now, and everybody loved it.  Errol Flynn is the perfect Robin Hood (“You speak treason!” “…Fluently.”)

Strange to contrast this with 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, a movie so bad I hadn’t bothered to see it again since then, and when I did this year, I thought it was even worse.  From the constant hero shots of Costner’s mullet, to the weird ways they contort their own screenplay to find excuses to use Morgan Freeman’s character, this is a sad, obvious bunch of clichés.  What a joke.  At least Alan Rickman knew enough to ham it up.

10/10 (the 1938 version!)


Babette’s Feast (Danish, 1987)

My main train of thought watching this was how different–and how much worse–this would have been as an American production.  In a Hollywood version, Babette would have been a sexy cougar whose metaphorically erotic orgy of food would have “liberated” all the “narrow-minded prudes” around her, freeing them all to “be who they really are.”

As it is, Babette’s Feast is far more subtle, realistic, and, therefore, moving.



Ikiru (Japanese, 1952)

Honestly, I didn’t see what the big deal about this Kurosawa classic was for most of the film.  Sure, it was poignant and beautiful, but not earth-shatteringly so.  Until the final act.  That daring bit of directorial bravado–where tipsy mourners at the protagonist’s wake review his final days, intercut with scenes of the great living in question–profoundly impressed me.  Genuinely insightful and impressive.

Another contrast with a hypothetical American version: in Hollywood, Watanabe would have had a love affair with Toyo in the second act, finding his passion for life in the arms of a young woman.  How sad that we’re so predictable.


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Two Great Musical Scenes

My favorite part of The Music Man is at the very beginning.  I know it’s simple, but I still think the whole “song synchronized with the train” thing is catchy and clever.

But I was also charmed by the ending of Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You.  How did he make something so random still feel organic?  The weird magical realism of this scene somehow works–it’s sweet and charming.  The whole point of musicals is to express deep emotion by depicting life filled with song and dance, and this scene just does that even more boldly.

5 Things The Star Wars Prequels Got Right

Yes, they’re awful movies, but there are some great things about them that we should be able to acknowledge despite that.

1. The music.  John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” is a terrific theme, as are its derivatives.  Totally worthy of the series.  The usage of the theme was even judicious, never becoming obnoxious.

2. The titles.  The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith are great names, in full harmony with the original three–nostalgic, evocative, melodramatic.  Too bad the content didn’t live up to the promise here.

3. The conspiracy. Continue reading

Winter Light and the Light of Christ

This week I finally saw Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light.  What a beautiful film, in many ways.  I absolutely loved it.

The most striking part, though, was a scene near the end where a supporting character gets his screen time to talk to our protagonist, a pastor plagued by doubt and melancholy.  The church sexton confesses to the pastor that our apparent understanding of Christ’s suffering is superficial, limited to the cross.

He wonders if the emotional suffering of Gethsemane, and the spiritual elements of the crucifixion might not have been worse.  He describes these scriptural details in a way that deeply intensifies the Lord’s suffering.

I sat up pretty straight during this scene.  His confused reaching for truth brings him so close to a Latter-day Saint knowledge of the Atonement.  I wanted to tap him on the shoulder and talk about the Book of Mormon.  I wanted to show him Jeffrey R. Holland’s Easter talk below.

Sadly, YouTube doesn’t have a clip of just this scene.  It starts around 7:00 in the 7th video in the linked playlist, and runs about 40 seconds into the 8th.

Winter Light YouTube playlist

The Time Machine

I saw the 2002 version of The Time Machine over the weekend.  Talk about plot holes!

  • The Eloi learned English from a small collection of stone signs?  You can’t decode a foreign language from the names of stores and bridges.  How would they know the sounds, much less the grammar?
  • One of the signs uses Elizabethan verbs like “abideth,” but the Eloi don’t talk like that.  Why not, if that’s how they learned English?
  • None of the Eloi wonder about the time traveler’s skin, even though they’re all caramel-colored and he’s as white as chalk.  If anything, they should have assumed he was a Morlock.
  • After 800,000 years, the Eloi are still completely the same as humans now.  Especially considering the massive environmental disasters shown in the film between today and then, why haven’t they evolved more?  Meanwhile, some Morlocks evolved psychic powers?
  • Though not really a plot hole, I have to wonder: with all the great special effects in the film (the broken moon is awesome), why not use more of H.G. Wells’ original ending, where the time traveler goes ahead and watches the gradual death of earth as the sun goes out?  That could have been beautiful!


Mike’s Movie Ministry

As I work with the teenage boys in my congregation at church, I often think about Mike.

When I was a teen myself, I was deeply attached to the media, and its messages led me to largely reject the faith I’d so recently embraced.  I didn’t go to church much, and wasn’t always kind towards efforts to reach out to me.

The biggest exception was Mike.  Mike was an older, divorced man in my ward at church.  One day, he called and asked if he could take me to a movie.  I thought it was odd, but hey…free movie.

We talked about the ideas in the film afterwards, and he took seriously my shallow, morose interpretation of things, without knocking them down as he easily could have.

Over the next several months, we got together a few more times.   Continue reading

“Then He Kissed Me”

I’ve never seen GoodFellas, but I found this scene on YouTube when looking for this old song by the Crystals.  What a work of art!  Scorcese perfectly uses the period music and adoring, long tracking shot to establish this guy’s bravado, in the service of impressing a girl.

I mean, when a club holds a table for you, you’re powerful, but when they build a new one in front when you show up, that’s serious!

But the technical artistry here is the best part.  Getting that shot must have been tough, but it was worth it.  It’s a joy to watch.

Reminds me of this long tracking shot from Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil:

But, of course, like all kids who grew up in the 80’s, “Then He Kissed Me” mostly reminds me of the opening of Adventures in Babysitting:

2012: My Year in Movies

I saw 70 movies in 2012.  Here they are, with the date viewed, and how much I enjoyed each, on a scale of 1-10.  Looks like I gave five movies that I saw for the first time a perfect ten (tens are in italics). It was also a pretty good year for foreign film:


1. Tito and Me (Serbian), 1/2–8

2. Eyes Without a Face (French), 1/4–7

3. Cowboys and Aliens, 1/6–7

4. Through a Glass Darkly (Swedish), 1/7–6

5. The Madness of King George, 1/11–10

6. The Secret of Kells, 1/12–8

7. Touch of Evil, 1/14–7

8. Richard III (1956), 1/18–8

9.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes, 1/20–8

10.  Russian Ark (Russian…duh), 1/23–9

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