The Veggie Tales gang give us three stories about love in this characteristically bright and tuneful treat, covering love for your family, love for your neighbors, and love of God. And of course it has time for the always-adorable silly songs, along with some thoughts from real kids about what love means.
I have one copy of this DVD to give away to the first person who sends me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word Veggie in the subject line. Enjoy!
Erich Segal, who died today at age 72, was a classics scholar who studied ancient literature. He also wrote a blockbuster movie script that became a blockbuster novel, Love Story. We know from the first sentence that its irrepressible heroine is going to die, leaving the narrator, her young husband, devastated. And her explanation to him that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” became a cultural phenomenon. (Ryan O’Neal, to whom the line was delivered in the film, got to say it as a joke later on in “What’s Up, Doc?”) Segal also contributed to the deliciously witty script of “Yellow Submarine” and wrote several other novels, but he will always be best known for Love Story, corny, yes, but one of the all-time great tear-jerking romances.
In 1325 a 21-year-old man named Ibn Battuta set out from his native Tangier on pilgrimage to Mecca that would take him 18 months. And now the story of that journey has become an extraordinary IMAX film, stunningly beautiful, soul-stirring, and genuinely historic.
The Hajj, or obligation to visit Mecca, is one of the core requirements of Islam. Battuta found it to be so important that he would return five more times over the course of travels that would take him 75,000 miles over 29 years. He was the greatest explorer of the Old World, traveling three times further than Marco Polo before returning home to write down the story.
“Journey to Mecca” follows Battuta (played by Chems Eddine Zinoun) on his perilous journey in the context of a compelling picture of Islamic civilization during the 14th century. The story is book-ended by a close-up look at the contemporary Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that draws three million Muslims from around the world every year who perform rituals that have taken place for over 1,400 years.
Dominic Cunningham-Reid and Taran Davies took time to speak to me on their recent visit to Washington about why the film was important to them and what was involved in getting it made. It seemed to me that if you had made a list of every single obstacle to making a film, you not only covered them all, you added a few new ones. You had everything but a temperamental star — or maybe that was the camels.
TD: The camels might have been a little temperamental. It was really our personal Hajj in a sense. It just had to be done; I think that was the point. The IMAX challenges are enormous, particularly in this environment. There are millions of people there. Each roll of film lasts only three minutes and then you have to change your magazine. And each roll is incredibly expensive and you need several people to change the magazine. It is an incredibly daunting process in any environment but put that into one of the largest gatherings of people on earth and have them pull that off and it’s almost impossible.
The Hajj has been filmed before but only in low-quality video. It is so difficult to film logistically with the massive amount of people. And so we chose to really rise to that challenge and bring the greatest quality of production to this extraordinary cultural and spiritual event that deserves to be documented in such a fashion. The images are stunning, exquisitely breathtaking. IMAX was really made for those vistas.
TD: There is some CGI in the film. We re-created Medina and Cairo in the 14th century. But the contemporary Mecca material with the Hajj, that is as it is. You see Mount Arafat on the Day of Standing, the holiest day of the Hajj from a helicopter we’re circling at dusk just a couple of hundred feet above the ground — totally unique, never been done before shot — with literally two million people in that frame. If you asked why would anyone do this, why would anyone make this film, that is the reason. That is such a powerful image. Tell me about the historians. You worked with a wide variety of experts who did not always agree about some of the most sensitive issues.
TD: One of the crazy things we set out to do was really make the definitive film about the most sacred sanctuary of Islam and its rituals and we needed to get it right. We were working in a very sensitive environment where getting it wrong is not an option. We wanted to make sure that we brought on board as many experts on this subject as possible to make sure that we got it right. We had the leading experts on the Hajj, on Ibn Battuta, on Islamic architecture, on the architecture of Mecca, from all over the world, the United States, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, Kuwait, amongst other countries.
DC-R: The Grand Mosque of the year 1325, we had no visuals to go on. We had history books with verbal descriptions. We had to translate with all of the experts and research into a visual representations. One of the great moments we had is when we had actually sunk 18 pillars of the mosque and then the lead researcher calls up and says, “No, no, they weren’t square, they were round!” Oh, no!
DC-R: So we had to pull them all out. And start again. Very, very challenging. The biggest of challenges had to be your subject matter. It could not be more sensitive both from the perspective of believers and people who are ignorant of or hostile to Islam. How did you mediate differences between your experts?
TD: As I look back through time it is such a rosy picture of collaboration, I can’t really recall any disagreements! I think that would be too strong a word to describe what was a collaboration. We needed to receive as much information as we could on the subject of Islam and so we reached out to as many people as we could to provide it. We wanted to get things right from the way the ihram, the white cloth is worn. Do you have the shoulder uncovered or covered? Off-white? How off-white? What material is the cloth made of? Do the pilgrims in the 14th century wear sandals? When they perform the tawaf, what prayers do they say as they are circumambulating the ka’ba. If there were disagreements often among the Muslim community, they have different ways of doing things. It is a very daunting experience for them and many of them don’t know precisely how they are supposed to do it. It was as if we were doing the Hajj because we had to learn how do it right. We were approaching the ka’ba. We had to learn the proper way to perform the tawaf to be able to represent it.
Ricky Gervais has come up with a fresh and enticing premise but — I have to be honest — it is imperfectly executed. It has the gloss of a romantic comedy because it gives us the fun of knowing that the couple will end up together long before they figure it out for themselves. But it also takes on some very big issues and has some surprising insights.
Gervais has imagined a world that looks exactly like ours, except that the people can only tell the concrete, literal truth. That means that they always say exactly what is on their minds, most of which is, to be brutally frank, brutally frank. This is not a crowd you want to ask whether these pants make you look fat.
And so when Mark (Gervais, who also co-wrote and co-directed) goes out on a date with a woman he has had a crush on named Anna (Jennifer Garner), she tells him up front that he is not in her league. He is repeatedly told that he is fat, dull, and unappealing. And then he is fired from his job as a screenwriter. But since fiction is a form of lying, all of this world’s movies are merely footage of people sitting in chairs reading aloud text about historical events. Mark, assigned to the 13th century, is fired because the only thing he can write “movies” about is the black plague.
About to be evicted because he cannot pay the rent, Mark goes to the bank to close out his account and the movie’s title event occurs. He informs the teller that he has more money than the bank’s computers show. And since no lie has ever occurred in this world, the teller believes him. Mark is thrilled with this new power, especially when he discovers he can ease his mother’s passing at what our world would politely call a nursing home but in no-lie world is identified with a sign that reads “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People.” She is upset because she does not know what happens after death, so he tells her that she will be in a place where everything is loving and plentiful and she will be reunited with everyone she has loved. She dies in peace and the doctor and nurses who overheard want to know more. And soon Mark’s new ability to imagine gets him his job back and everyone wants to hear all about heaven and the “Man in the Sky.”
Gervais is not as imaginative as a director as he is as a writer but we get to see what a subtle and even moving actor he has become. The flatness of delivery of the no-lie world is a challenge for the cast, including comedian Louis C.K., Jason Bateman, Rob Lowe (looking unnecessarily seedy), Tina Fey, the inescapable Jonah Hill, and John Hodgman, and the talented Nathan Corddry and Christopher Guest are on screen too briefly to make much of an impression. Jennifer Garner is a great pleasure, as always, giving us a chance to see the wistful longing for something she cannot define because it is beyond her ability to conceive.
Amid the jokes (just imagine what soda ads look like in a world without exaggeration and implication) there are some provocative and meaningful insights. Lies are impossible without abstraction and the ability to imagine. And so is fiction. And so is faith. And even love. Without the ability to conceive abstraction, marriage is only about genetic superiority. There is no kindness, no compassion, no real understanding.
Some audience members will be uncomfortable at the suggestion that God is portrayed as a lie but this underestimates the film. While Gervais is an acknowledged atheist, the movie does not have to be seen that way. The emptiness of the lives of the people in a world devoid of anything but the literal truth and the way they are enthralled with the concepts of faith and meaning argue just the opposite. Just because someone lies about something does not change the underlying reality. Watch Gervais’ face as Mark uses his new ability to depart from concrete truth to provide encouragement and inspiration, and enjoy a comedy that may be about the invention of lying but knows how to tell the truth.
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Independent Spirit Nominees 2015 The Spirit Awards are like the Oscars for independent films. Some of them have big stars and some are distributed by big studios. Some are made by first-time filmmakers on budgets that would barely pay for one day's catering fees on a studio ...
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