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ImageFailing the Test: a review of Her by Greg Grooms

Back in 1950, when the best computer in the world lacked the power of your old laptop, British mathematician/philosopher Alan Turing anticipated a day in which this would no longer be so. In his paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” he asked a question- “Can machines think?”- and proposed a test whereby it might be answered. In the Turing Test a judge may ask any question-- via keyboard-- of two subjects: a human being and a computer. When he is no longer able to tell which answers are human and which are computer-driven, the machine has passed the test.

 It’s tempting to see Spike Jonze’s Her as the latest chapter in the same essay-- after all a relationship between a man and his computer occupies the film’s center stage-- but that would be a mistake, for Jonze really isn’t interested in machines.  He’s interested in persons, or to be more precise, in personal relationships. Her, in his own words, is “about something that I think has maybe always been here, which is our yearning to connect, our need for intimacy, and the things inside us that prevent us from connecting.”

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ImageA Theology of the Imagination: a review of The Life of Pi  by Greg Grooms 

Who is God? 

Ask a secular friend and his/her answers may surprise you. Yes,  it is possible to be secular and a deist. According to Christian Smith,  Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, most young Americans are. They see God as a mix of divine butler and cosmic therapist: a spirit who “grants you anything you want, but not anything bad” and “is there to guide us, for someone to talk to and help us through our problems.” 

Ask the question, “How do you know who God is?” and the answers may be even more surprising. Most are qualified with an “I feel”, “I think” or “I believe”. It seems we are as uncomfortable with a god who can be known as we are with a god who isn’t content to stay in the shadows. In the words of poet Wallace Stevens, “We say God and the Imagination are one...”

Ang Lee’s beautiful film, The Life of Pi, is ostensibly a film about God. Early in the film, when Pi meets the writer who will chronicle his adventure, he says he wants to tell him a story which  will “make you believe in God.” In the end we hear, not one, but two stories: one is a beautiful, imaginative adventure; the other a grim tale of survival. 


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ImagePortrait of an Artist in Exile: a review of Searching for Sugar Man by Greg Grooms

If you plan to see Searching for Sugar Man, please, stop reading this and watch the film first. Most films, in my opinion, should be viewed without introduction, if at all possible, but none more so than this. Should you ignore my warning, the review may do more than spoil the film’s drama for you; it may color your experience of it.  I still feel guilty for reading Tolkien out loud to my children before they were able to know it firsthand for themselves. One of the many things they must forgive me for.

The safe details: Searching for Sugar Man is a documentary released last year by Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul . It’s had rave reviews at Sundance, Tribeca, and SXSW, won many awards, and been nominated for many more, including an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. This is a well-made film. But even more important, it tells a good story, or perhaps I should say two good stories.

Here’s where the line between safe and spoiler gets crossed.

The first story is the story of how South Africa changed from a white-dominated police state to an open democracy. To be sure, only a small part of this story is told in SFSM, but for anyone who is an artist first and a historian later, it’s one of the best parts of the story. It’s the story of how art has the power to change what politics often cannot.

I know how this works. In Alabama, where I grew up during the 50s, 60s, and 70s, while our parents were electing George Wallace governor four times, we were listening to Bob Dylan: “How many roads must a man walk down, before they call him a man?” No one quotes George Wallace anymore, not even in Alabama, but I still listen to Dylan.

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ImageHorridly Pretentious: a review of Prometheus  by R. Greg Grooms

Imagine you awake one morning to find yourself trapped in a grade B horror movie. Realizing where you are is easy because all the classic signs are evident, from things that go bump in the night, to scantily clad young women pursued (and worse) by monsters, and lots of really dumb people-- clueless in the face of obvious danger – who act as if they haven’t the sense that God gave geese. Try as you will, you can’t escape; it’s not a nightmare that can be banished merely by waking up.  How many times must you ask, “Who are we? What is our purpose?” before your cheap flick turns into something more?
Welcome to the universe of Prometheus.  
Watching Ridley Scott’s films reminds me of Longfellow’s nursery rhyme:
“There was a little girl,  
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
          When she was good,
           She was very good, indeed,
But when she was bad, she was horrid.”                                                           
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ImageBegging the Question: a review of The Sunset Limited by R. Greg Grooms
To be, or not to be, that is the question...” Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.
I admit it: Cormac McCarthy fascinates me. In the seven years since I stumbled across No Country For Old Men in an airport bookstore, I’ve savored every morsel of his writing, including his ten novels, two plays, and one screenplay. Three of his novels – All the Pretty Horses, No Country, and The Road—have made it to the screen so far, and both of his plays, albeit only on TV. Last year’s HBO production of his play The Sunset Limited is the subject of this review.
There are but two characters in TSL: Black, a poorly educated ex-con, played by Samuel L. Jackson, and White, a university professor played by Tommy Lee Jones. The play begins just after Black rescued White, who tried to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of a commuter train. Black takes White home to his shabby apartment, and the two spend the next hour and a half debating the meaning of life.
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