SnagFilms Film Widget

I’m testing out the new service called SnagFilms.com.

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This is just a test of a new online service that promotes documentary films that I heard about on the Audible.com edition of the Wall Street Journal.  Watching the films at their site is slick, but I’m not sure about the snagging part.  Basically, you watch a film, and if you like it and want to promote it on your blog you hit the snag button and SnagFilms logs into your blogging site, creates a post and puts a graphic advertising the film and allows you to tag it with a little comment.

I would prefer how I put YouTube videos online, using commands within WordPress that embeds the video player in my post.  SnagFilms’ method is more viral, pushing people to their site.  But it doesn’t allow me to write my blog and introduce the video.  I’m writing this after the fact, so the initial RSS feed will just be icon for the video.  In the future I won’t use the snag feature and just post a link.

The current selection of documentary films at SnagFilms is small, but high quality.  There’s a review process, so you can’t just upload your masterpiece like at YouTube.  The video I’m testing is from PBS and narrated by Brad Pitt.  It’s a fascinating story about how China works to be environmental.  The film quality has been excellent so far, and the aspect ratio is HD.  Annoyingly, the second line of the subtitles for the foreign speakers and people identification is covered up, at least for this film – so parts are meaningless because all the interviews with Chinese speakers are missing half the translations.  Of course, they are in beta.

SnagFilms makes its money by playing a commercial before the film starts, and between each video segment, and the segments are about 15-25 minutes long.  You can also order a DVD from the site, and part of the money goes to the film maker.

I love documentaries, but most documentaries do not get wide distribution.  A few famous ones are shown in the movie theaters, and some of the rest get spots on TV, but many are only seen in art houses or on college campuses.  SnagFilms hopes to make documentaries more easy to see, which is a good thing.  Hulu.com, another video distrubtion site, has some documentaries, but mostly TV shows.  I’m getting to like watching video online because I can put one up in a window and watch while I’m working at my desk paying bills or other light duties.  Both of these sites have nice size videos that are smooth playing and have good sound.

Online videos are good for sharing with other people, and great for catching a missed episode of a favorite show.  They are starting to get good enough to bypass the old TV set.  Damn, I bet we all end up like the people in Wall-E – fat slobs reclining 24×7 in floating lounge chairs with our face always in a video screen.

Jim

Angels in the Movies

Although I’m a lifelong atheist, I love movies about angels.  Last night I saw a humdinger of an angel movie, Angel-A, a French film by Luc Besson, the guy who gave us The Fifth Element, The Messenger, and Le Femme NikitaAngel-A is a stunningly beautiful black and white film set in Paris.  The cinematography is superb, so even if you don’t like watching foreign films because you have to read the subtitles, this one is worth just watching for the imagery.  You could skip the words and still love this movie.

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André, a French-Arab-American, played by Jamel Debbouze, is a low-life hustler on the run from several mobsters who have all sworn they will kill him before the day is over.  André decides to beat his enemies to the punch and jump into the Seine, but before he can, Angela, played by a strikingly tall blonde Rie Rasmussen, jumps in before him, so André rescues her instead of doing himself in.  Angela follows in the footsteps of Clarence the Angel in It’s a Wonderful Life.  Clarence tricked George Bailey into saving him, and likewise, Angela tricks André into saving her.  I wonder if Besson is paying homage to Frank Capra?

Angela isn’t your typical angel, she lies, she uses the F-word, she smokes and drinks, but she is on an apparently heavenly assignment to save André from himself.  As angel pictures go, this one has a rather simple message:  tell the truth.  Of course the conflict of the story, for André and Angela both, is seeing the truth.

Angel movies are always about teaching humans to understand the truth within.  Variations of the standard angel movie deal with angels making their own personal discoveries, like in this film and Wings of Desire/City of Angels.

Unless you know much about angels you would do well to read the Wikipedia article on them because there is a whole angelology behind these spiritual beings.  Ultimately, angels are great story devices.  To some, angels are beings much different from humans, and to others, angels are those people who have died and earned their wings in heaven.  There is also a weird variant of the second type where angels are beings waiting to be born as humans on Earth.  In each case, there are rules to follow.  Angela in Angel-A appears to be non-human and not a deceased soul, but the issue is clouded by her lies.

Tradition has it that angels are without gender and are given male names, but Angela is very definitely female.  Biblical angels were messengers of God, but movie angels tend to work as guardians of humans, although the angel of death is sometimes personified as a human, as in Death Takes a Holiday or On Borrowed Time – the later is one of my all time favorite angel flick where Death is called Mr. Brink.

Many angels, like those in A Guy Name Joe, Here Comes Mr. Jordan and It’s a Wonderful Life, work for a spiritual agency that is structured almost like the military and angels have rank.  Angela hints that she is working for such an organization and must follow rules.

This is a fascinating concept, although one I find creepy.  The idea that an organization of angels watches our every move can be embarrassing when you think about what they are seeing at times in our lives.  I think people like angel stories because people really want a personal God, but it’s hard to imagine one supreme being paying so much attention to every human.  It is easier to think that an angel with god-like powers could take a personal interest in how we live because it’s easier to imagine a large enough flock of angels so everyone gets to have their own personal guardian.  Also, it’s much easier to imagine hanging out with an angel than hanging out with God.

The trouble with angels and stories about angels is limiting their power.  Angela goes through some seemingly un-angelic behavior to help André earn money when we later learn she has the power to solve problems much more quickly.  And I had to wonder why the other low-life inhabitants of Paris don’t have their own angels to protect them.  Why is André getting divine intervention in his life?

When Dudley helps David Niven in The Bishop’s Wife does that mean the Bishop lacks the inner qualities to succeed?  Do the Angelas, Clarences, and Dudleys represent cheaters in the school of hard knocks for humans?  Bartleby and Loki in Dogma represent two angels with their own problems trying to beat the system.  Kevin Smith sets up the rules for Dogma early on and that helps make the picture better.  I think Angela-A would have been improved if we had learned the rules early on too.

Angela-A succeeds with me because of the stunning monochromatic photography and the fact that Angela and André are flawed but extremely likable characters.  We love Angela like we do the angel Michael in Michael because of their all too human attributes.  Like Michael says, “I’m an angel, not a saint.”

That’s the funny thing about angel pictures.  The more angels succeed at making humans perfect, the more we like angels imperfect, like us.

JWH

Battles of the Sexes in Juno

If you haven’t seen Juno, do not read beyond the first paragraph because I haven’t learned how to write a movie review that doesn’t give things away. I’m more interested in dissecting films. Subliminal philosophy and politics in pop culture inspires me to write more than helping people decide how to spend their money and time. Although, only a misanthrope would hate this charming movie about sixteen-year-old Juno MacGuff’s struggle to find a good home for her unborn baby. Juno, played by Ellen Page, reminds me a lot of Tom Henderson (a.k.a. Chi-mo) in Frank Portman’s novel King Dork because of the music Juno and Tom both love. Juno the movie, lacks an edge except for Juno’s the character’s wonderful dialog, which zings due to the writer Diablo Cody. Cody, the author of Candy Girl, A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, provides the one clue to one of my major questions about the film: Is the dialog and attitude of the young girls in this picture in any way representative of youthful females of today?

Juno is the realistic polar opposite of the unrealistic movie Knocked Up, a film I dissected in “Morality in Knocked Up Places.” Both films are about unplanned pregnancies resulting from smart women making stupid mistakes when it comes to having sex. You’d think with all the official and unofficial sex education that goes on in schools and pop culture that these basic skills would be ingrained in the current generation of young people exploring biological urges. But then comedy is often about exceptional mistakes.

In Knocked Up we had a career-successful female beauty mating unrealistically with a career-lacking loser of questionable physical charms, Juno realistically pairs a girl geek with a boy geek. Unlike Knocked Up, Juno spends more time exploring the abortion issue but both movies reject it. Cliché Hollywood is supposed to be about liberalism, but it’s my belief that both films promote common conservative ideals. Back in the 1960s and 1970s this subject matter would highlight the generation gap, but in Juno, Juno’s parents are savvy and supportive from the first moment this issue comes up. Juno isn’t abandoned by her parents, kicked out of school, shunned by her friends or required to move away for nine months and hide her shame. Hell, Juno isn’t even shown as being ashamed for being a dumbass and not having her boyfriend wear a condom.

In fact, this is a pretty guilt free movie, even though there are a lot of regrets expressed by the characters, and emotional suffering. The story and characters show a kind of Eastern philosophical acceptance about what goes on in life. Like I said before, this is not an edgy film full of intense overblown drama. There are two events in the film I would like to examine, and like I warned above, talking about them will spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it.

My first question about this film: Is Mark Loring, the potential Dad for Juno’s baby played by Jason Bateman, portrayed as a bad-guy in Juno? At the last moment he decides to leave his wife, ruining her plans for motherhood, and messes up Juno’s dream of giving her baby a better place in life than her life. At first viewing, Mark appears to be the poster male for the often stated remark of angry females that men are assholes. Vanessa Loring, played by Jennifer Garner, is at first shattered by the news but quickly accepts his decision?

Mark decides to do what the men of Knocked Up only dream about. He abandons marriage and child for personal interests and hobbies. Oddly in Juno, written by a female writer, this is accepted, but in Knocked Up written by a male writer it is not. I have to ask is it male guilt that maintains the monogamous status quo? Juno picks Mark and Vanessa living in their picture-perfect McMansion as the obvious place to let her baby nest and grow up even though it’s clear to both her and the audience that Mark and Vanessa have nothing in common. They are as different as the couples in Knocked Up, yet they hadn’t married because of pregnancy.

Juno MacGuff desperately wants marriage to be about living happy-ever-after forever, something her parents failed to do. Mac MacGuff has to advice Juno is to find the person that gets her and hope for the best. As Peeping Toms staring into the two worlds of Juno and Knocked Up – we the audience sees that most of the couples do not follow this advice. The philosophy expressed by Judd Apatow is men should abandon their personal desires and bite the bullet for children and family. Diablo Cody on the other hand expresses that friendship is more powerful than families.

Mark Loring is leaving Vanessa because he wants friends of his own kind, and in this movie that is accepted. The second piece of implied movie philosophy that I question though: Why shouldn’t the baby go to Juno and Paulie? Am I the only person to wonder why Juno and Paulie shouldn’t keep the baby once they discover how important their friendship is to each other? What is Diablo Cody and Hollywood telling us in this instance? Is the right thing for irresponsible sixteen-year-olds is to give up their babies? Yes, our society abhors teenage pregnancies, but does it also hate teenage marriages? Is Apatow taking a better moral stance than Diablo Cody? Sure Vanessa deserves to have a baby too, but doesn’t a baby deserve to have its genetic parents, especially when they love each other?

I can’t help but wonder if you got Judd Apatow and Diablo Cody together if they wouldn’t hammer out some kind of policy that up to a certain age people should be free of responsibility. Cody evidently believes if there are no children you can always opt out. In all of this I’m wondering if Hollywood isn’t slowly working out a philosophical position on modern morality, but one that probably trails the actual activities of the current generation.

Juno has a happy romantic ending with Juno and Paulie playing guitars together. We know the results of Juno’s agonizing decision making when we see her scrawled note to Vanessa framed on the wall, but we do not know the process of how she reached that decision. Juno never consulted Paulie, the biological dad, or her best friend Leah, or her parents, so her thoughts are never revealed to us. But I like Juno so much as a character that I believe she would be a wonderful mother and Paulie would be a good father. I feel sorry for the kids growing up with the Knocked Up parents because they were too much like my parents, married and staying married for the wrong reasons.

I’m quite sure most people will think I’m seeing too much in movies. However, I don’t believe writers write just to entertain, although that might be 99.99% in some cases. I think serious writers, even writers of comedy, want to say something about their generation and the world. As a baby boomer, I was bombarded by the fictional morality of the generation before me. I know the baby boomers demanded and expected the whole wide world to watch them. So, is it too much to expect that later generations might have reactionary messages hidden away in their stories? King Dork was a hilarious missive from Gen-X to the Catcher-in-the-Rye crowd.

JWH