Bringing the Junk

Review of All Square (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

Anyone from an older generation may recall a more innocent tone to kid’s sports than is found today. It is quite common, and should I say natural, for a parent to live vicariously through their children. Whether the parent was once good at sports or not, the child’s accomplishments are often taken as a commentary on the quality of all the parental genes that authored them. Secondly, it is an unstated obligation parents have to support their child. In some cases, we parents are not so good at recognizing proper boundaries to that support. Might that support include a public and vicious verbal undressing of “blue” even when the umpire is a kid? Does involvement include a boisterous pushing match with a parent from the other team?

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Rescued Creatures

Review of Boundaries (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

A great name for this narrative feature, but perhaps the film could have just as accurately been titled No Boundaries. Laura (Vera Farmiga) is a divorced mother who is forced to drive her 85-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) across the country so he can live with her sister. This duty is a major disruption since Jack has been kicked out of the nursing home for selling drugs. Along for the ride are a number of rescued pets—their loyalty and cuteness serve as a counterpoint to the flawed human characters.

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A Chance to Make it Good Somehow

Review of Thunder Road

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

A surprise hit at SXSW 2018; this film was expanded from the notable 2016 short created and performed by actor/director Jim Cummings. The short was a one-man show—13 minutes of monologue in one take. His character is Jimmy, a decorated police officer who is socially awkward (perhaps an understatement). Among festival viewers, there was speculation that the bizarre-but-poignant character’s rant at his mother’s funeral may not translate well into a feature-length story.

The full version begins with the same eulogy. The title of the film refers to the Bruce Springsteen song Jimmy brings on CD to the funeral—he had choreographed a dance, but the player will not work. At the premiere, Cummings seemed to imply that he could not actually get the rights to use the song in the film. In any case, the lyrics indeed provide some insight into this character. Impulsively, Jimmy goes ahead with the awkward performance much to the amusement or horror of the mourners.

Obviously, this is a character-driven film. Likened to a Don Quixote with a cheesy mustache, Jimmy is a man dedicated to his ideal of what a man should be. He is loyal, but without realizing it, he often hurts and offends those he loves. Attention deficient, Jimmy is quick-tempered at times, and then just as easily, he is quick to accept blame and forgives others who disrespect him.

Jimmy is a divorced dad, and he struggles to maintain a most tenuous relationship with the love of his life—his pre-teen daughter Chrystal (Kendal Farr). Even when you aren’t socially awkward, it is hard for a dad to navigate parenting of a girl at this age.

There is one brief side story one may easily miss. The moment becomes significant in the context of the character’s development. During one patrol, Jimmy comes across a 16-year old girl (Jacqueline Doke) having sex with two boys in a car. He dismisses the group but insists on taking the frustrated girl home. She hears Jimmy’s lecture on the way, rolling her eyes at the reprimand. Later in the story, Jimmy drives past her school, and the same girl is sitting outside. The camera provides a slowed close up of the girls face as the car passes. In her face, you do not find, not quite the same sneer of disrespect, but perhaps now a hint of admiration and wonder.

At first, the viewer might think that the gaze was returned by Jimmy—perhaps one of his quirks is a lust for teenaged bad girls. But this is not what Cummings as director/editor chose to confirm—I take the shot not to be a POV angle.  Instead of a two-way exchange, one might take it that the girl alone has the gaze—and her expression is the purpose of the shot. Instead of branding him as a creep worthy of additional scorn, the moment allows one to respect Jimmy a little from his awkward-but-innocent attempt to care for the girl. The girl gets it—and I get it.

For the story to work in such a character-centered film, it is vital that viewers care about the hero. Apparently, the judges at SXSW agreed—it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for narrative features. Jimmy is an earnest man who crusades in a world that has grown weary of high ideals. Perhaps one may roll their eyes at what he finds true and trustworthy, but one can never suggest Jimmy’s character is bad. While Jimmy represents the kind of person we might easily brand Loser (with a capital L), Cummings succeeds in putting a little of our own quirks into the character. There but for the grace of God go I.

As portrayed, Jimmy is a heroic protagonist in an absurd fight against himself—he is his own worst enemy. Nevertheless, like us, Jimmy is worthy of empathy in spite of his shortcomings. We can hope for the best for this broken everyman—one who deserves our pathos, not our scorn.

Whatever Happened to Romance?

Review of The New Romantic

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

In a postmodern society enjoying the benefits of the sexual revolution, the roles played by a man and woman in a relationship is under intense scrutiny. Looking back, people in our culture tend to scoff at the stereotypical 1950s American wife who looked good in her dress and pearls as she made her man his favorite dinner. This couple is now replaced with the egalitarian version, with the male abandoning the hubris of the stereotypical husband who once disdained what was considered women’s work. Now the male can, and is expected to, do everything the housewife once did while the woman can do anything she wants to try. Meanwhile, no one takes the role romancer. The lover-beloved relationship begins as a one-sided pursuit—the lover is motivated to give by only the hope that the beloved will return the love.

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Silenced Voices

 

A Review of A Quiet Place (SXSW 2018)

by Philip J. Hohle, Ph.D.

 

No doubt. A Quiet Place is well written and acted—and directed. No doubt, the movie is a fantastic horror picture filled with plenty of seat-jumping moments. Yet the initial success among the pop-culture horror crowd may overshadow the deeper qualities of the film. Here I will focus on two of them.

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Cinema and Religion Continues for Fifth Season

Fifth Season of Cinema & Religion Informal Class for the Community Begins January 22, 2018
Free series returns to The Moviehouse & Eatery on Monday Nights at 6:30 PM

Hymnboard with dates

Austin, Texas—For the fifth consecutive season, Concordia University Texas (CTX) will offer the informal course Cinema and Religion to the community on Monday nights beginning January 22, 2018. The class is held each week at 6:30 p.m. at The Moviehouse and Eatery in The Trails at 620 Shopping Center across from the University. Continue reading Cinema and Religion Continues for Fifth Season

FAQ About ESL Classes on Film

FAQs

Q: What does ESL stand for?

A: You may see a church from time to time offering a class in conversational English for immigrants—helping them make sense of a world in which an unfamiliar tongue is spoken. Essentially, these series are classes to help improve the media literacy and fluency of people. There are currently two different series, Lenses (fall) and Cinema & Religion (spring).

Q: How does the informal class differ from a traditional college class?

A: In essence, this 10-week class does much more than just study film aesthetics. More importantly, participants will fully examine both their personal and societal responses to the messages found in popular movies. As such, Parabolic Media has made arrangments with The Moviehouse & Eatery to use the theater as a suitable classroom. This enables us to examine films in their most natural and powerful state. Unlike a movie you attend for entertainment purposes, we include a lively discussion afterward that helps us all understand the experience we have shared.

Q: Do I have assignments if I attend the Informal Class?

A: No. We only suggest that you become familiar with the course material offered (the books) for your own sake. In our discussion, you can add your voice to the mix or just quietly enjoy the discussion. All opinions are welcome.

Q: Do I get academic credit?

A: The class is for your own edification. However, those who attend at least seven screenings will be eligible to receive a certificate of completion upon request.

Q: Why are you examining R-rated films?

A: Our approach is not to ask if we should show films like these, but ask if these more difficult scenes and themes somehow make the film exempt from critical examination. We find that many R-rated films are in need of close, scholarly analysis. However, if you normally avoid such films, you can simply skip the screening that week.

Q: How do I register?

A: Fill out the form found here. An invoice will be sent.

Q: May I bring someone with me?

A: For both series, we highly encourage everyone to bring guests, but all participants must register. (Stay tuned for information about registration for the LENSES Series in the Fall of 2020.)

Q: Can I order food and drinks as I normally do when watching a film?

A: Of course! But we do not pick up the tab for refreshments. Don't forget to tip your server.

Q: What if the weather is bad?

A: Check your email. We will send announcements to the email address you used in your registration if the event is postponed or canceled. You are welcome to email Philip Hohle with questions anytime.

Is Democracy Dead—or is it just Obsolete?

Lesson Learned on the Road to Waco

It is a bright Texas afternoon and Interstate 35 is not so crowded. I set the cruise control—that sublime moment when driving to Waco becomes an actual joy. Driving a few of clicks above the limit, it is not long before I found myself gaining on a slower car, and I realize that I will have to pass. In my driver’s side mirror, I see another car approaching at a much faster speed. I have to make my choice quickly: Do I move into the left lane at my current speed and force this guy to slow down as I pass the car? Do I hit the gas and race around the slower car as fast as I can? Or do I hit my brakes and stay in my lane until the driver speeds past? I select the third option. Afterward, I began wondering why had I deferred to the driver in the fast lane. Then I realized this road encounter had revealed something profound about democracy.traffic

Thomas Hobbes and other 18th century Enlightenment thinkers outlined our social contracts, the mutual sacrifices members of a community make without hesitation. This willingness became fundamental to the establishment of our democratic government. In light of recent events and trends in the news, I am fearful that our democracy has died, or at the very least, it appears somewhat obsolete. Citizens are beginning to abandon the lumbering deliberations that a democratic process requires. We no longer seek to engage in tedious duels of logic to uncover truth.

Instead, we crave a fast-food version. The true statesman has been replaced by the sophist, who publically shames and demonized the opposition until they can no longer speak. Those who influence public opinion are simply those who command attention while talk shows seldom feature those who practice serious dialectic. On defense, these ideologues tightly drape their identities around the issue, making it impossible to counter without inflicting personal offense. The truth uncovered by these methods is most often a mirage as such politicking denies the community the opportunity to use rational dialectic in deciding the issue.

It is difficult to practice dialectic today because a mutual appeal to authority is no longer possible. Postmodern apologist Jean-François Lyotard observed that our great institutions have lost their credibility. Democracy itself is certainly not immune from this penetrating critique. In the new democracy of public opinion, the only appeal with credible density is the appeal to self and the ultimate limit to your opponent’s authority is your right to take offense: “Freedom for me means freedom from you.” To say the least, this is not a very hopeful foundation on which to build a better community.

Civic order requires more selfless engagement and democracy has always maintained an inherent imbalance in this regard: the majority always wins. When outvoted, the collection of offended selves finds the democratic process tyrannical, and the courts often seem fixated on reversing this reality. The law has lost its sting, and you can sense it even when driving our highways. Liberal or conservative, the problem lies in all segments of American society. If the lawmaker is proven unjust, the lawbreaker becomes free to act without restraint. Like the driver who hopes to change lanes, those who still obey the law must make way for those who fearlessly enjoy their freedom from social contracts.

Let us become more intolerant of those who selfishly disregard our contracts, regardless of their age, race, or ideology, including me. A militaristic police state is not the answer, but a citizenry that respect the laws of community—those generated by honest dialectic in a democratic process—will make such policing unnecessary. The sacrifice is honorable and healthy. May we all enjoy the security that comes from the true practice of democracy.

 

On the River’s Edge with Rick

Review of River’s Edge (1986)—by Philip Hohle, Ph.D. ©2015

It took a while, but I finally bit the bullet and jumped into an official paid membership with the Austin Film Society (AFS). I even went to my first screening, hosted by AFS founder Richard Linklater (the members all call him Rick). I am privileged to be in a town small enough for these close encounters, but large enough to attract and keep talent like Linklater, who is arguably at the top of the royal class of independent filmmakers these days.

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