Author: Aren Bergstrom

Review: Germans & Jews

In 1945, Germany was the scourge of the civilized world. It had started a world war that killed 50 million people and had decimated Europe’s Jewish population through the Holocaust. In 2016, Germany enjoys a reputation as a defender of democracy and progressive politics. Janina Quint’s Germans & Jews bridges the gap between these two identities of Europe’s largest nation. The film explores the uneasy relationship between second-or-third post-war generation Germans and the Jewish people who increasingly call Germany home. Janina Quint’s Germans & Jews is a fascinating documentary examining historical guilt and social reconciliation. It will hold particular...

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Imagination and individuality: youth in the films of Studio Ghibli

It’s common to call Hayao Miyazaki the “Walt Disney of Japan.” His animation company, Studio Ghibli, which he founded alongside director Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki, has affected children in much the same way as the classic animated films of Walt Disney. Like Disney classics Pinocchio and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the films of Studio Ghibli are simply magical. However, that glorified description doesn’t capture the profundity of the films of Studio Ghibli. Unlike Disney, Studio Ghibli does not have capitalist domination on its mind. For Disney, films, toys, and theme parks are avenues through which...

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Erasing the guilt: defending the films you like

The term “guilty pleasure” has become ubiquitous in modern discussions of art. The term first appeared in the New York Times in 1860 to describe the experience of visiting a brothel, but has since transformed into a catch-all term to describe the enjoyment of anything that isn’t considered worthwhile. For film, this means bad movies. Do you enjoy watching Last Action Hero or the Star Wars prequels or (more recently) Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, even though we supposedly all acknowledge these films as bad? Don’t worry, there’s an easy solution to your problems. Merely label the film...

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Review: Free State of Jones

In 1863, after witnessing abuses during the Battle of Corinth, Confederate Army nurse Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) deserts the Confederacy and returns home to his family farm in Jones County, Mississippi. However, after witnessing the Confederacy abusing the poor farmers of the county in favour of rich plantation owners, Newton begins a small insurgency against the Confederacy, known as the Free State of Jones. Consisting of poor farmers and runaway slaves, his ragtag army takes four counties from the Confederate Army and becomes a small beacon of libertarian hope during the closing days of the Civil War. Gary Ross’s Free...

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Review: Now You See Me 2

After dazzling the world with their grandstanding illusions and heists and disappearing from the world stage in 2013’s Now You See Me, the Four Horsemen (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Dave Franco, and Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher) now find themselves in hiding in Now You See Me 2 and waiting for the illusive cabal of magicians known as the Eye to show them the path back to the spotlight. However, when the team finally does plan their elaborate comeback with the help of their secret ringleader, FBI Agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), their showcase is disrupted by a reclusive...

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Monks, strippers, and monkey spirits: depictions of Buddhism on film

Explicitly Buddhist films are not as common as explicitly Christian or Jewish or even Hindu ones. In fact, very few films can be considered exclusively Buddhist. Just as a Buddhist in China would believe Buddhism to be intrinsic to his or her identity as a Chinese person, and not contradictory with their also identifying as Daoist or Confucian or even Christian, a film that contains Buddhist themes would never be labeled as only Buddhist. This passive relationship to cinema and art in general is largely a result of Buddhist philosophy. In Buddhism, there is no self independent from the...

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The radical piety of The Message

Islam is an iconoclastic religion. Idols and icons are considered blasphemous and any images of the prophets, the caliphs, and above all, God, are forbidden. Thus, Islam is not a religion that lends itself easily to film, an artform composed entirely of imagery. This being the case, there are no Islamic epic films, except one: Moustapha Akkad’s The Message. The Message was released in Europe in 1976 and North America in 1977 in both English and Arabic versions. Akkad filmed these versions simultaneously, using the same script, locations, and camera setups for both films, but swapping between the English...

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