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A Brief Explanation, by Jim Rohner

26 Sep

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So, a little while ago (checks calendar, shakes head in shame) Okay, so, two years ago I accepted Tyler’s invitation to take part in a project that would allow me to blog about the analytical and personal nuance of each film that made up my Top Ten Favorite Films. The distinction, if you remember, between what I was classifying as my Top Ten Favorites and not Top Ten Best was that the former was almost entirely informed by personal, emotionally, and chronologically subjectivity – what some would call “intangible factors” – whereas the latter was and is completely beyond my knowledge and exposure to even contemplate attempting. Titles on this list would not necessarily contain those to which the AFI or AMPAS would hand out awards, but would contain titles that I return to again and again no matter where I am in my life geographically or emotionally.

Thus, in November 2014 I began my list with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a film widely considered a classic of its genre, albeit a genre that is largely still looked down upon in traditional critical circles. What followed was a partially completed list distributed sporadically across 11 months that took an indefinite hiatus after my seventh favorite film, John Carpenter’s The Thing. Where was the rest of the list? Why the delay? What happened?

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1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

8 Jul

Gary Lockwood talks to Keir Dullea in a scene from the film '2001: A Space Odyssey', 1968. (Photo by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images)

dir. Stanley Kubrick

What is there to say about 2001: A Space Odyssey that hasn’t already been said about the classic in the almost five decades since its release? The fact that a film so hard to qualify (IMDB categorizes its genres as “Adventure, Mystery, Sci-Fi, all of which are – oddly – simultaneously accurate and misnomers) has a lasting legacy of prestige is quite curious. Kubrick used the film to make grandiose observations and insights about mankind’s origins and existence, but made arguably the most esoteric and inaccessible studio film ever. Additionally, great amount of work and innovation went into creating the Oscar-winning visual effects, yet frequency of long, static takes and infrequency of cuts results in a minimalism that is actually deceptively meticulous. It’s hard to find a point at which to start when it comes to talking about 2001because it does so much in such a remarkably controlled way that it’s completely understandable if you walked away thinking either (or both) “that was brilliant” or “that was pretentious.” That was on purpose – Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke admitted to wanting to raise more questions than answers and when it comes to such philosophical dense questions of mankind’s design, existence and (after)life, then how could anyone ever possibly offer anything satisfyingly concrete? Kubrick’s approach to tackling the ambiguous is by employing the most evocative tools of Art, the one way in which we experience and interpret life that still seems to hint at our intangible Otherness from the rest of creation. Juxtaposition through cuts, detailed geometric set design, and the marriage of music with image all allude to – without explicitly concluding anything about – the Force (for lack of a better word) that allows us to create, to change, and, perhaps most importantly, to contemplate it all. Kubrick’s meticulous nature has always elicited criticism of emotional coldness and while 2001 does not indulge in sentiment, its ambiguity hints at a mysticism or spirituality  that is equally as difficult to define in our real life, while the fusion of classical orchestrations with depictions of scientific discoveries imply that order and objectivity need not undermine art and subjectivity (classic compositions – indeed, most songs that you can think of – follow a meter and pattern, after all). Kubrick just happened to be brilliant enough to be aware enough of that to visualize it with a space station docking set to “Blue Danube.”

8. The Empire Strikes Back

7 Jul

The Empire Strikes Back

dir. Irvin Kershner

Our tastes change as we get older. That’s not necessarily something to either mourn or celebrate; we just have to learn to accept the fact that as we evolve both biologically and psychologically, we’ll experience and respond to the world differently (I don’t care for jelly now that I would’ve devoured as a child, but I also am much more tolerant of pop music than I was while in college). Revisiting the (only) Star Wars trilogy (that matters) now, I find that I grow impatient with the pacing of A New Hope and that I don’t respond as well to the sentimentality of Return of the Jedi. On the other hand, each rewatch of The Empire Strikes Back solidifies its reputation as not even the finest Star Wars film or as one of the finest sci-fi films, but as one the finest films of all time without qualifiers. It’s easy to make the joke that Empire is better because it’s darker, but that belies an honesty and a much more accurate truth – that Empire was a film that understood its universe, its characters, and both the narrative and emotional stakes in play. Empire has stood the test of time thanks to, yes, a phenomenal script and director, but also because its focus was not on how to explore its genre, but how its genre could be used to explore and supplement truths and investments that ring true outside of any single medium or time. Depending on what version you watch, it’s also the one installment least tainted by its creator’s needless tinkerings.

Josh on I Do Movies Badly

4 Jul

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Josh appears on Jim’s podcast, I Do Movies Badly, discussing filmmaker Werner Herzog.

21. It’s a Wonderful Life

3 Jul

It's a Wonderful Life

dir. Frank Capra

Once upon a time, we were sold on the American Dream, a lofty, fairy tale concept that convinced anyone willing to buy into it that they could achieve anything they strived for as long as they worked hard for it. George Bailey wanted to believe in it. Americans post-World War II waned to believe in it. We all want to believe in it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Capra and It’s a Wonderful Life believe in it. Critically and commercially ignored upon its release, It’s a Wonderful Life gained its status as a classic decades later in TV syndication around Christmas, a time of year when idealism is at its peak. That’s not to imply that there’s anything contradictory about the season with which the film has become synonymous, but rather that the hope and good cheer associated with bot the holiday and the film are destinations at which we arrive after a long, arduous journey rather than inherent constants. Like we all gradually do, George Bailey discovers that the American dream isn’t so much a dream as it is a system, and that the system asks much of its participants including pain, compromise, and sacrifice. The remarkable prescience and gravity of George’s trials remains relevant decades later because of the emerging complexities in its characters and story as well as the universal truths that find resonance in both sides of an increasingly partisan political landscape: conservatives can appreciate a small business owner who strives to provide for his family, whereas liberals can appreciate a motley community refusing to cower to the whims of the 1%. It’s a film that morphs and caters its appeal across generations and just so happens to ring most true at a time when connections across boundaries are more important than ever.

Episode 146: Jacob’s Ladder

19 Nov

Jacobs-Ladder

In this episode, Tyler and Reed are joined by Jim Rohner to discuss Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder.

EPISODE BREAKDOWN
00:00:40- Intro, Jim Rohner, I Do Movies Badly, International Christian Film Festival
00:13:46- Jacob’s Ladder
01:29:35- Episode wrap-up

Jim’s Seventh Favorite Film

29 Oct

When it’s all said and done, John Carpenter likely won’t go down in history being spoken of in the same breath as Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, John Ford or any other director whose name is synonymous with path paving, pioneering or inspiring future generations. Despite directing a few titles that have resonated with audiences enough to be re-visited and reshaped by others (Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog), Carpenter has also directed his fair share of clunkers (pretty much his entire output since the 90s minus In the Mouth of Madness) or titles that aren’t easy to classify by the mainstream (Big Trouble in Little China, They Live).

Because of this, it’s easier for people to overlook Carpenter’s legacy or discredit his successes as anomalies than it is to admit that the man who wrote, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum” is a skilled filmmaker. But if one wanted to prove that Carpenter’s success and worth were warranted, he or she would have to look no further than The Thing as Exhibit A, B and C.

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Jim’s Eighth Favorite Film

9 Jul

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Let’s all do ourselves a solid and pretend that it hasn’t been seven months since I wrote my last entry into my Top Ten Favorites, shall we?  Good.

I was forthcoming at the outset of this blog series that subjectivity, as is the case with any Top Ten list, would play a key role in its formation.  Despite the fact that this list is still in its infancy we’ve come to the entry in which, more so than any of the other films before or after, the immeasurable, personal factors – nostalgia, mood, time, place – play a significant role in the reverence I hold for it.

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Jim’s Ninth Favorite Film

4 Dec

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9. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

“Therefore what God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Mark 10:9

The ninth verse of the tenth chapter or Mark’s gospel is the go-to citation for anyone trying to Biblically justify the forbidding of divorce.  At its heart the verse makes a lot of sense.  As Christians we believe, to one extent or the other, that many of the significant turning points in our lives – choice of college, career path, marriage, etc. – are willed by God, individual breaks deliberately constructed into a path that is meant to lead to the fruition of His will for us.  But removed from context, this verse has also been cited to induce shame, to bully weak minds and weaker hearts into submission and to ultimately justify greater evils, such as the acceptance of emotional and/or physical abuse, over lesser.

So, what happens when the words in that verse are flipped – “Therefore what God has put asunder, let no man put together”?

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Jim’s Tenth Favorite Film

1 Nov

Blutgericht in Texas

10. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

First and foremost allow me to apologize for the incongruity between my introduction, with its implications of a list soon to follow, and the disappointing realization of what turned out to be a long delay. A recent move across state lines has occupied both my physical and mental energies for an extended period that has only recently come to cessation, but luckily the dust has settled just in time for Halloween, which makes for an unintended but serendipitous segue into the first entry into my Top Ten Favorite Films list, Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

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