Monthly Archives: March 2013

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Thought – Easter

Category : Thought

If you know me at all, or maybe if you’ve read enough of my posts, you know that I am not a religious person.  I’d go so far as to say that I am anti-religion.  I believe all religions are fictional and that they create more harm than good.  I understand the reasons why people seek out religion; the desire to feel connected, to be a part of something greater than yourself, to attempt to understand the world around you, to fill a void inside you that is difficult to satisfy.  I get it, I really do, and I find it interesting from a sociological perspective that so many humans believe so many different versions of “how the world came to be”.
And, while I am anti-religion, I would say that I know more than the average person about various world religions.  I look at them all as equal mythologies, which has a negative connotation among the people who are practicing them, because they see mythology as fiction and their religion as the truth.  However, mythos is Greek for story, so a mythology is just a collection of stories that explains the world.  Every culture has a mythology, and of course different religions sprang from different culture’s myths.  My #2 mythological specialty is Greco/Roman, where I am especially interested in how those myths effect our own culture and language.  My #1 mythological specialty is Christianity, having spent all of my childhood in various churches across the country.  I hold Western Mythology on an equal level with Greek Mythology; both are a culture’s attempt to explain the world in a way that can be understood, both have very entertaining stories, and both are entirely fictitious.  The major difference, however, is that the majority of Greeks understood that Zeus wasn’t actually living on a mountain and watching their every move.  The Greeks knew that their mythology was just that; stories.  These stories served as a moral compass, and in that way were greatly important.
I view Christianity and the Bible in the same way; as a collection of parables, stories, and lessons that serve as an example for the way our culture should behave.  But being raised in church taught me very quickly that most Christians are not like most Greeks; they believe that their myths are literally true and that all other myths are literally false.  And this isn’t true of only American Christians but of almost all modern religious participants.  Believers all over the world are turning to their culture’s myths as the true word of their God or gods, excluding all other beliefs as evil, false, or blasphemous.  I use our country as my prime example because that’s what I know best, but it’s not just the Western World that is so egocentric.  And this sort of religious obsession really limits followers’ knowledge of other cultures, world history, and even the origins of their own religious practices.
Easter is a wonderful example of this, and of how Christians specifically have convinced themselves so thoroughly that their religion is the one true myth that they have forgotten that other religions impacted theirs and that their messiah might not be the reason for every season.  I wrote about this phenomenon as it relates to Christmas as well, which you can read about here, but, since today is Easter, let’s look at a few misconceptions Christians have about this holiday.
  • This day, Easter Sunday, has zero historical significance.  Had Jesus of Nazareth been a real person and had he actually risen from the dead, that fact would have nothing to do with this date.  At the First Council of Nicaea, it was decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox.  The date moves every year and is completely arbitrary.  So, if Jesus did indeed come back to life, he did not do so exactly 1,983 years ago on this date.  As a Christian, you could celebrate the resurrection of Christ next week, last week, basically any time you want to.
  • This date was chosen by the Council because it was already an established pagan holiday.  The Germans had for centuries been celebrating springtime, the equinox, new life, and new growth at this time.  As with Christmas, Christians choose this time to be the date of their holiday not because it was actually when an event from the Bible occurred, but because so many people were already celebrating something.  The two ideas, Resurrection and spring, were successfully melded together, and so now many Christians believe that Jesus is, once again, the reason for the season, but he just isn’t; he was added in to a preexisting holiday in order for the Church to get more publicity.
  • Even the term “Easter” is pagan.  It comes from the Germanic goddess Eostre, who was celebrated during the spring equinox.  Basically, the pagans chose the date, created the celebration, and named it after their deity.

 

      It’s one thing to believe that one religion is true and the rest are not, and it’s another to shut your eyes to the history of the world.  No, Christians did not invent Easter.  No, Jesus is not the reason for the season.  Just like Christmas, other cultures were already celebrating at this time and a new religion decided to claim the holiday as its own.  It actually worked very well and was a smart move on the part of the Christians, even if they couldn’t eradicate the pagan traditions totally.  That’s why, in America, our traditional Easter celebration is a combination of religious and cultural practices; church, eggs, rabbits, Jesus, grass, chicks, feasts, etc.  This is what America is; a tossed salad of traditions that combine in interesting ways.  I don’t see anything wrong with this, but don’t tell me that Easter is all about Jesus while stuffing your mouth with Peeps.  Attempt to understand that your religion is not the only one that exists in the world.  It was created and impacted by so many different cultures that it can never be truly independent.  We can argue whether or not it’s true another time.

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        Movie Trailer – Arthur Newman

        Category : Movie Trailer

        Director: Dante Ariola
        Starring: Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche
        Release: April 26th, 2013

        I really don’t know what to think about this one.  Ariola …don’t laugh …is an unknown, Blunt is fine, and Heche may just be the worst actress of all time.  The story seems interesting I guess, but not very special.  So I would say let’s just leave it up to Firth, but you never know what you’re going to get with him.  Should we expect Love Actually or The King’s Speech?  Or will we get What a Girl Wants or The Last Legion?  I’m leaning toward the latter, and I may just pass.


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        DVD Review – Gun Hill Road

        Category : DVD Review

        Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
        Starring: Esai Morales, Harmony Santana, Judy Reyes
        Year: 2011

        I’ve lived a fairly easy life.  I mean, everyone has problems, but mine were never huge.  I grew up in small town America, we were never rich but always made due, my family was loving, and I’ve always liked myself and have known who I am.  So, sometimes I feel as if I have a difficult time either connecting to or understanding the problems that characters face in various gritty movies.  I can’t fully appreciate the struggles of minorities in inner cities, the problems that broken families face, or how hard it can be for some people to “find themselves”.  So as I prepared to watch Gun Hill Road, I assumed that there might be a disconnect between myself and a story that I have never even come close to experiencing.  But I could not have been more wrong.  I guess I had forgotten that when you make an excellent film the details cease to matter, and the true greatness of the story shines through regardless of the limited scope of the viewer.

        The Movie

        Set in the Bronx in New York City, the story centers around two characters: Enrique and Michael.  Enrique is a father, a husband, and a convict.  Having just served a three-year sentence for a variety of crimes, he prepares to reenter his old life.  But, of course, things have changed.  His friends may still be the same, but his family is another matter.  His wife, Angela, has become distant and has developed a new life all her own.  And his son, Michael, seems to be a completely new person from the boy he left behind.  These problems meet him at home and compound the issues that he is already facing as an ex-con: a strict parole officer, a grueling job, the easy life of crime that tempts him, and the secrets of prison life that he can share with no one.  As Enrique attempts to keep his life together, his biggest challenge is his growing boy, who has problems of his own.
        Michael is less than thrilled at the return of his father.  While Enrique was away, he felt free to live his life the way he chose and to become the person that he had always wanted to be.  Now Michael is afraid to show his true self, because that person is a woman.  Viewing himself as a transsexual, he fears that he will not be accepted by his father, as he is not accepted among other teenagers.  Calling himself Vanessa and speaking poetry at a local club, Michael tries in vain to establish a defined life for himself.  But his father is filled with hate, fear, and loathing, and as Enrique fights to regain control of his family, Michael slips further and further away.  To rediscover the love that they once had for each other, father and son will have to face the truth of their new lives; that everything has changed, that nothing is easy, and that sometimes the person you long to be is not who you’ve become.

        It’s safe to say I was not prepared for this film.  I was not ready for it to be as profound as it was.  Like I said before, I didn’t think I’d relate to, understand, or appreciate a story about a Latino transgendered male-to-female teenager living in the Bronx who’s father had just returned home from prison.  That just isn’t anything I’ve ever had to deal with.  But I felt it.  I was forced to feel it.  There was a reality to the film that could not be denied.  It could have been a story about anyone from any time and I would have gotten the point.  By the end the details and the set up didn’t matter; it was a story of a father and a son who had problems and tried their best to fix them.  And again, I guess that’s what great movies do to you.  They use a plot to set the scene, yes, but then the plot disappears and what you’re left with is passion, heartache, pain, misery, love; feelings.  And, man, I felt it.
        Green, as both the writer and the director, deserves a boat-load of credit.  His techniques and shots were so subtle and light that I almost forget that someone made this movie, that it wasn’t just footage of someone’s life.  He allowed the actors and the moments to speak for themselves, and didn’t make the mistake that so many directors make; becoming so self-absorbed that the film becomes about the people who made it, not about the ideas it was trying to convey.  And the actors themselves were spot on as well.  I have never seen Morales do better.  He was the epitome of a tortured soul, and he really made me like his character, even after all the awful things he did.  Santana was also very strong.  As a transgendered male-to-female herself, she knew exactly how it felt to be in the situation that the movie portrayed.  And she did it all while living in a group home and acting in her very first film.
        Obviously, I really liked it, but I understand that it may not be for everyone.  Many people might be hesitant to watch such a bold film about such a personal topic.  It’s not an easy movie to watch, and it doesn’t hold back.  During one scene in which a character kicks another repeatedly I could literally feel each crunch of boot into body.  Each emotion was shown so clearly by each character that it was almost painful to see.  And the story included many adult themes and sexual situations, some of which would most likely make some individuals uncomfortable.  But, for me, the details were superseded by the emotions, and I felt them clearly.  Don’t watch Gun Hill Road on a whim, with a crowd, or to kill time.  Watch it if you want to experience something real, whether or not it may hurt.

        The DVD

        Video – With as aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the widescreen video is clear and effective.  Much of the action takes place at night, with a very good dark/light ratio.  As with many dramas and as opposed to many action films, most of the camera work is focused on facial expression and emotion.  So the HD video doesn’t get to strut its stuff, but it’s there.
        Audio – There are zero sound options with this film.  No language selection, no audio choices, and no subtitles; the DVD is produced in Dolby Digital.  The sound quality of the movie is passable but nothing excellent.  Music and dialogue are properly balanced and well constructed.
        Extras – With the DVD there are two extras; a trailer and an interview.  The trailer is an excellent summary of the film, and the interview, with writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green, is great as well.  He talks about the background, location, and other aspects of the film in a sixteen minute segment.

        Final Thoughts

        Highly Recommended.  I was taken aback by just how good this film was.  It was fresh, interesting, haunting, painful, and real.  As an audience member, it was refreshing to see such raw emotion, and to not be led around on a leash by the director; I was left to learn about, view, and experience the film naturally, without being told what I was supposed to feel in each scene.  The acting was great and the film was concise.  The video quality was high, the audio was fine, and the few extras were interesting.  Overall, an excellent film that I hope more people see.

        ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ – Content
        ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ – Video
        ✰ ✰ ✰ – Audio
        ✰ ✰ ✰ – Extras
        ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ – Replay


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        Movie Trailer – White House Down

        Category : Movie Trailer

        Director: Roland Emmerich
        Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, Maggie Gyllenhaal
        Release: June 28th, 2013

        Stop making bad movies!  There are so many things wrong with this film: 1) Emmerich is the man responsible for Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012.  2) Channing Tatum is the biggest tool bag in Hollywood.  3) Foxx (who’s real name, btw, is Eric) plays the President.  4) Someone already beat you to the punch with the EXACT SAME MOVIE! (Olympus Has Fallen).  5) Action movies suck.  And 6) Yes, blowing things up is cool, it attracts my attention, and I have to resist the urge to watch, but you can’t just blow things up and expect a good movie to appear when the smoke clears.  Sometimes my brain hurts.


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        Sports – MLB Opening Day

        Category : Sports

        While Opening Day is right around the corner (April 1st), the season actually starts on March 31st in Houston.  That’s right, the world-famous Astros get the opening game in their stadium.  Well, last year it was the Marlins, so maybe this is an improvement.  The Astros did make news this season by switching to the AL West, but they made the wrong kind of news in every other way last year, by basically being a way for NL Central teams to get cheap wins.  As a Cardinals fan I regret that they are gone for exactly that reason.
        Who must they face first in their new uniforms and new league?  The Texas Rangers.  The best of the West.  The team famous sports writer Olie Coen chose as his World Series pick.  Not an easy way to start the season.  The Rangers should blow the Astros out of the water all season long, starting on Sunday night.  Bud Norris gets the start for Houston, and while he’s usually great at home he went 7-13 last season with an ERA of 4.65.  Not great.  Texas tabs Matt Harrison, a hard-working starter who went 18-11 last season with an ERA of 3.29.  And while the Rangers scored the most runs in the MLB last year (808), the Astros scored the least (583).  That’s an average of 5.0 runs per game vs. an average of 3.6.
        So I’ll take the Rangers over the Astros Opening Night, and I’ll call the score at 5-3, why not.  Check it out on ESPN at 8:00 pm on March 31st.  Should be a great MLB season; looking forward to it.

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        Thought – Marriage Equality

        Category : Thought

        I try not to be political on my blog.  I write here because I like to talk about sports and movies, and I hope to some day be an actual film critic.  I do post my thoughts on some issues, but they’re not usually too controversial.  But today I feel like I need to speak my mind, and what better place to do it.  I promise tomorrow to return to sports and Thursday will most likely see a DVD Review.  If you disagree with this post please feel free to comment, but I reserve the right to moderate.
        Today the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments concerning the definition of marriage, especially as it applies to homosexual couples.  Now, my long standing belief (I can remember writing on LiveJournal in high school about it) is that it is ridiculous for the government to be involved in marriage.  Anyone who has ever gone down to their local courthouse and told some lady that they were not first cousins with their fiancee knows how silly a marriage certificate is.  And then there’s the ceremony, which does absolutely nothing other than make you feel married and/or give you a hangover.  So while I understand why the government steps in for insurance and tax reasons, it has always seemed odd to me that what is basically just a commitment ceremony should be so highly regulated and argued over.
        That said, the marriage ceremony and certificate have become symbols of marriage in our culture; without them Americans can’t really feel married in the eyes of others, regardless of how long they have been with their partner.  So it is important to people to get officially married, even if many marriages end in divorce and even if they are not religious.  I know that for me it was a declaration of my intent to stay with one person for the rest of my life, and a way to show my friends and family that I was starting a new chapter in my life.  My wedding was the very beginning of my adult life and it symbolized my choices.
        Homosexual couples want the same thing that I wanted; a recognized symbol.  Yes, it’s silly that you have to get a specialized license, like you’re a street vendor or a truck driver.  And yes, it’s silly to non-Christians that you have to say some meaningless phrases from the Bible in order to get anyone to actually perform the ceremony.  But, ridiculous as it is, it matters, and what homosexual couples want is the ability to go through the same pointless rituals that heterosexual couples can do so easily.
        Now, I don’t want to get into the same overused arguments that everyone has heard ad nauseam.  I know that opponents say that it’s a slippery slope and that it will lead to people marrying their dogs, that it’s a religious ceremony and therefor can’t include gays, or that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.  And proponents will say that marriage isn’t hurting anyone, that it doesn’t have to be a religious issue, or that the “sanctity of marriage” is a nullified term.
        But, for me, the key idea here is that of equality.  Are people equal or not?  If we believe in this country that all humans are created equal then we can’t make any exceptions; equality is an absolute.  We must, by definition, treat each other as equals, regardless of race, wealth, religion, intelligence, sex, or sexuality.  All humans must be given the same respect and rights until they have broken the social contract, which homosexuality does not do.  And if we don’t believe in equality than we need to stop pretending that we do and change some wording in the Declaration of Independence.
        The question is not whether homosexual couples are entitled to the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.  The real question is, assuming we are all humans of equal standing, does anyone have the right to stop them.  I believe that marriage should be an option regardless of sexuality and that it is unethical to prohibit it.  We are all created equal as members of the same species and we have the same rights as humans.  We cannot choose to hold some rights back from a select few except in cases of the breaking of the social contract or the harming of others.  Homosexuality does neither of these things, and therefore does not change the equal standing with all other members of society.  Marriage equality matters, as it is both ethically important and ethically necessary.  I hope that the Supreme Court feels the same way as I do.

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        Movie Trailer – The Colony

        Category : Movie Trailer

        Director: Jeff Renfroe
        Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Bill Paxton
        Release: April 12th, 2013

        Oh, you almost got me.  I love post-apocalyptic movies, and I’m a sucker for the “I heard the stories about when the Earth was warm” lines.  But you may have gone one step too far, and you may have made a fatal mistake by casting Bill Paxton.  He has only been believable one time and that was in Aliens as a meat head with a giant machine gun.  No, I don’t think I’m gonna let myself be tricked into seeing this one, but it was a close call.


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        DVD Review – After Fall, Winter

        Category : DVD Review

        Director: Eric Schaeffer
        Starring: Eric Schaeffer, Lizzie Brochere
        Year: 2011

        I’m always wary when I come across a movie that is written, directed, produced, and starring the same person.  I mean, how can you have time and energy enough to put that much of yourself into a film?  And giving all of that, how can you have anything left in the tank to edit, censor, critique, judge, or just enjoy?  It’s just not a great idea to make one film the definition of your life; it’s almost guaranteed to fall short of its expectations.  And such is the case with After Fall, Winter, which, furthermore, is a sequel to the equally self-indulgent film Fall.  It’s obvious that Schaffer put his all into this movie, and he deserves some applause for not holding back.  But in doing so, the film became completely about him while totally ignoring his audience.  So, while he might love his movie, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else will.

        The Movie

        The story is centered around the life of Michael.  Living in New York City and slowly slipping into a deep depression, he struggles just to keep his head above water.  Michael is a writer, and although his last novel was very successful, no publishers will pick up his new manuscript.  Going further and further into horrible debt, he sells his apartment, moves into a slum, and attempts to figure out what to do next.  Luckily for Michael, a friend unexpectedly lends a helping hand, offering him a place to stay, for free, in Paris and a chance to regroup, refocus, and get his life back on track.  Not knowing what else to do and still keeping up some hope that his new book will take off, he moves to France and thus begins a new chapter of his life.

        Although not speaking the language and also not knowing many of the customs, Michael attempts to explore and understand his new home.  Right away he meets a woman, a stunningly beautiful Parisian named Sophie who he can’t stop thinking of.  And even though she wants nothing to do with this arrogant American, he refuses to give up and the two very slowly get to know each other.  However, they are both keeping similar secrets that threaten to destroy their budding relationship; Michael is a masochist, desiring to be punished, humiliated, and beaten by a dominant woman, and Sophie is a dominatrix, torturing men who pay her for this pleasure.  And while neither want this practice to enter their actual love life, both are haunted by the choices that they have made and by the lies that constantly hang over their chance at happiness.

        It’s hard to decide where to start when pointing out the problems with this film.  As I mentioned before, Schaeffer took on way too much and then couldn’t deliver great quality in any facet.  His directing was heavy-handed, his writing (especially the dialogue) was juvenile, and although his acting was perhaps the best part of the film, it was still not wonderful.  There was a sense that if he had just focused on one aspect he could have done it very well and professionally.  But, sadly, he didn’t and so the movie became unfocused as well.  Conversations dragged on much too long and were never believable, side stories kept getting in the way while not adding much depth, and the background music was repetitive, distracting, and generally annoying.  Technically speaking, Schaeffer is definitely no Scorsese.
        And putting all that aside, the plot had issues of its own, the most major being that I never once believed that Michael and Sophie were in love.  Any passion they showed felt forced and the sex between them was strange at best.  In a film filled with intriguing taboo practices I was surprised to not feel much of anything at all except bored.  I was never rooting for the couple to make it, I never cared whether they found happiness or not, and it never mattered to me that they were sado-masochists who’s souls could never be filled with anything meaningful.  And that, I guess, was the problem that I had with the story; I just didn’t care enough.  I was never invested in or made to feel passionate for the main characters, and that’s not good.

        Now, it wasn’t all bad.  There were some redeeming characteristics that kept me watching and semi-interested.  Schaeffer himself created a very interesting character in Michael, someone who was so full of pain inside that he desired a woman to give him physical pain and to tell him that he was exactly as horrible as he felt he must be.  And Michael’s relationship with Sophie was interesting, as it created a sort of role reversal, with him needing to be loved and wanting to talk through every feeling, while she desired space and had trouble opening up.  But these positives just weren’t enough to overwhelm what became a very dreary and depressing film; one that never captured me as an audience member and just left me feeling empty.

        The DVD

        Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video was HD quality.  The shots were crisp, clear, and in high contrast.  Although there was no action and the picture wasn’t called upon to be wonderful very often, there was still a high standard in all scenes.
        Audio – There are zero sound options with this film.  No language selection, no audio choices, and no subtitles; the DVD was produced in stereo.  Music and sound play a very minimal role in the movie, as dialogue is the key to the plot and action.
        Extras – There are almost no extras to be had on this DVD.  However, there are two trailers for the film on the disc, one theatrical and one unrated.  Also, there are two trailers for Horizon films; They’re Out of the Business and Modus Operandi.

        Final Thoughts

        Skip it.  Although this film is both disturbing and thought-provoking, I can’t recommend watching it.  It’s just too depressing, too overdone, and too much.  Yes, there are positives, but the negatives overwhelm them and make After Fall, Winter interesting yet dismissible.  The video quality was high, the audio quality low, and the extras unremarkable.  All in all, not an impressive movie.

        ✰ ✰ – Content
        ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ – Video
        ✰ ✰ – Audio
        ✰ ✰ – Extras
        ✰ ✰ – Replay


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        Movie Review – Safety Not Guaranteed

        Category : Movie Review

        Director: Colin Trevorrow
        Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, Jake Johnson
        Year: 2012

        Mark Duplass is living the dream.  He and his brother Jay started out as independent filmmakers (Puffy Chair, Baghead).  And while most indie visionaries fizzle out, Duplass kept going.  He began acting in more major roles (Humpday, Greenberg) and starting creating more major films (Jeff, Who Lives at Home, Cyrus).  And while you could accuse him of selling out to Hollywood, you can’t accuse him of abandoning the offbeat humor and skewed viewpoint that made him interesting in the first place.  Safety Not Guaranteed is a perfect example of just that; it’s a quirky original film, but it’s sold it’s soul to the devil, leaving it halfway between indie flick and box office bomb.
        The story centers around Darius, a young women who has become completely lost in her own life since the death of her mother.  She is currently an intern at a local magazine, and when a wacky story falls into her lap she leaps at the chance to cover it.  In the form of a help wanted ad, a man named Kenneth has asked for a partner to go back in time with, bring your own weapons, safety not guaranteed.  As Darius and Kenneth become friends, they must decide if they can trust each other, how much of each of their back stories is true, and what will happen if the time machine turns out to be more than a hoax.
        If nothing else, this movie deserves credit for originality.  It’s a cooky premise, but the characters really sell it and keep you guessing the whole way through.  There is some great humor, a few really touching moments, and in general some good acting that supports a good movie.  And that’s where it stops.  I can’t point my finger at any one great thing.  Duplass was likable, Plaza was passable, and Johnson may have stolen the show as an asshole journalist, but nothing wonderful stands out.  And by the end the actors were in over their heads and the plot was fizzling out quickly.  Safety Not Guaranteed was a good movie, and an entertaining one.  But it fell just short of great.

        My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰


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        Movie Trailer – The Kings of Summer

        Category : Movie Trailer

        Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
        Starring: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias
        Release: June 14th, 2013

        This isn’t a trailer.  It’s barely even a teaser.  You can’t just show a sixty second clip of nothing and tell us that critics love your movie.  Sure I’m intrigued, but it’s not like this director is established and we should just trust his body of work.  You can’t be unknown and try to tease us to see your film.  No one will see it, you’ll still be unknown, and I will personally dislike you.