Josh (Ben Stiller) 44, and Cornelia (Naomi Watts) 42, have been married for several years. They seem comfortable, but in a bit of a rut in their marriage. They haven’t had a vacation for several years, and Josh has been working on his latest documentary for ten years. The film is frankly a mess and nowhere near completed. They don’t have any children. They have tried, but Cornelia has lost the babies due to miscarriages. Babies, or the lack thereof, is a theme throughout this film. Another theme is dealing with aging and professional jealousy.
Cornelia’s father Leslie (Charles Grodin) is a famed documentary film maker, and Cornelia has assisted her father with some of his work in the past. Josh’s relationship with his father-in-law is strained on Josh’s part because he has not lived up to Leslie’s accomplishments.
As the film begins we see Josh teaching a class. A young couple greets him after class. Jamie (Adam Driver) seems to be a fan, indicating that he has seen and appreciated Josh’s earlier film, which both surprises and pleases Josh. Jamie is with his wife Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Soon, Josh and Cornelia begin spending time with the much younger couple. Josh, more so than Cornelia, seems enthralled by them. Soon, the older couple starts doing more young things (Josh starts wearing a trendy hat and Cornelia takes hip-hop dance classes), which begins to distance them from their friends, many of whom have recently had babies. That includes their former best friends played by Maria Dizzia and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys).
Jamie shares with Josh an idea for his own documentary and flatters Josh by asking him to assist him. By the end of the film you wonder if things are as they appear – what is true and what isn’t. The film confronts us with the question whether truth really matters or not.
The film is billed as a comedy, and for the first part of the film there are light and funny aspects as the older couple starts entering into the younger couple’s world. I enjoyed that part of the film and from the trailer I thought that was what the film was about. But about half way into the film it shifts away from the comedy and comes off feeling disjointed (a few different films within the one), especially as it gets heavier near the end.
The film features a strong cast (Stiller, Watts, Driver, Grodin and Seyfried), and is directed by Noah Baumbach. Driver appeared in his 2012 Frances Ha and Stiller in his 2010 Greenberg.
The film is rated “R” for language, which seemed forced, not at all fitting in with the context and the characters. The morals (truth telling, infidelity), of some of the characters are questionable as well. My rating of 2 is based on a 3 for the first comedic part of the film and a 1 for the last heavier part.
Watch the film’s trailer here:
Over the weekend, I noticed that our local independent theatre was planning to show a film called Art and Craft next weekend. I looked it up and it looked interesting. It was available on Amazon Instant Video, so we checked it out. This is a fascinating documentary about a complicated man, 59 year-old (though he looks much older), Mark Landis. Landis has been forging famous pieces of art for more than 30 years and has duped 46 art museums in twenty states across the country until a curator he duped became obsessed with stopping him. Matthew Leininger was the Curatorial Department Head at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but lost his job due to this obsession.
Landis has been called one of the most prolific art forgers in U.S. history. He is actually very talented, but rather than creating his own original art pieces, he copies a wide range of painting styles and periods that includes 15th Century Icons, Picasso and Walt Disney. One of the interesting things about him is that he isn’t in it for the money. Instead, posing as a variety of characters (philanthropic donor, grieving family member, Jesuit priest), he visits art museums across the country offering to donate the pieces. He also talks about possible future substantial donations to the museums. As a result, over the years, the museum professionals have accepted hundreds of pieces of the forged art, and in some cases have displayed the pieces in their institutions.
Landis is a hunched over, thin man suffering from mental illness (he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia). He is soft spoken, and often talks lovingly of his mother, who died two years earlier, with whom he seems to be obsessed. He lives alone, often watching old television programs or films as he eats his microwaved meals alone. The film shows him creating several of his pieces, framed with materials from Wal-Mart and Hobby Lobby.
Landis, who lives in Laurel, Mississippi, and has operated under several pseudonyms over the years, contends that he hasn’t done anything wrong or illegal. What are discerning viewers to think of Landis? It’s obvious that he has lied to many over the years about the truth of the pieces that he has presented them. Viewers are left to wonder if he is mentally ill, evil or both. Are we to feel sorry for him or wish that he was prosecuted, although because he did not accept any money he technically hasn’t committed a crime?
The film is directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman, who paint a sympathetic picture of Landis. They became aware of Landis from a 2011 article in The New York Times about him.
Here is the trailer for the film:
How Discerning are You?
A few weeks ago I wrote an article titled “Living an Intentional Life”. In that article I mentioned a few ideas that had been swirling around in my head:
- To be more intentional about the books I read.
- To be more intentional about the blogs I read.
- To be more intentional about the time I spend with my wife.
- To be more intentional about the television programs I watch.
Recently after reading my review of the film Danny Collins, a trusted friend asked me a question about one of those – the movies I watch and review on the blog. She asked “Don’t you think just by giving your money and your time to viewing movies with content like this you’re giving your stamp of approval?”
That’s a great question. If I give a positive review (three stars or better), with no qualifications, yes I do feel that I am giving the film my stamp of approval. In the case of Danny Collins, I gave the film a positive review with qualifications, based primarily on the excellent acting performances. The lead character did try to change his life and it was called redemption, but it was not the kind of redemption that is in Christ. I was also able to isolate the scene containing nudity using helpful websites that I list below so that I could warn readers who wanted to see the film to watch with discernment.
In all I do I try to be intentional and discerning with how I spend my time – what I watch, read, who I spend time with, etc. Sometimes I’m more discerning than others. Watching the television program The Good Wife is an example of not being discerning enough. My wife and I decided to give the show a try because a lot of people were telling us that they enjoyed it. We enjoyed the show and started binge-watching it. However, the sexual content and worldview portrayed was abysmal. As the head of our household, I should have demonstrated more leadership and said that we shouldn’t be watching it, but I didn’t. In another instance I demonstrated better discernment when we did stop watching the first episode this season of Kevin Bacon’s The Following after about 10 minutes due to objectionable content. We’re done with that series.
Tammy and I love to go to movies. Since we were married almost 35 years ago we’ve gone to a movie most Friday nights as a part of our Date Night. However, most films have some level of objectionable content, be it language, sexuality, extreme violence or a worldview that we disagree with. And let’s face it, most faith based movies are usually poorly made, despite the intentions of those involved.
Over the years we have walked out of a few films that had objectionable content, and there are some we should have, such as 2014’s critics’ favorite Birdman. These days we do research on the film before deciding to see it. I usually start with Rotten Tomatoes to see what the critics and regular people like us have to say about the film. I also look to see what the rating is, and why it has been given that rating (language, sexual content, violence, etc.).
If I have more questions about the content issues, I’ll check a few sites that review films from a Christian perspective. The ones I most frequently check, and recommend to you are:
One final thought – Kevin DeYoung’s excellent message “Do Not Love the World” from the 2015 Ligonier National Conference touches on some of these same thoughts. In discussing films that we watch with sexual content he asks us to imaging walking by a couple getting intimate on a park bench. He asks if we would pull up a chair and sit down and watch them, saying that is in effect what we do when we watch just that on screens “as big as our houses”. I’ve already listened to the message a few times, and recommend that you check it out here.
What do you think about this topic of discernment? How discerning are you with what you subject your eyes and heart to? Let us know.
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