J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for August, 2007

Maxed Out

Posted by J on August 30, 2007

Exodus 22:25: If you lend money to one of My people who is poor beside you, you shall not be to him as a money-lender, neither shall you lay upon him interest.

Proverbs 22:7: The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

The United States is the largest debtor nation in history, by far. Americans now have a negative savings rate, meaning that each person spends more than he keeps for later. Yet we are encouraged, even in time of war, to spend like there’s no tomorrow. This encouragement comes from a number of sources, one of which is our inherently inflationary economy. Money will always be worth less tomorrow–the dollar has lost 95% of its value since 1913–so it only make sense to trade those dollars for stuff. Another source of encouragement is easy credit. It’s everywhere, and you probably received a few offers today in your mailbox totaling thousands of dollars, preapproved with no questions asked. In the context of the history of the world, this kind of lending is insane.

In a way, the 2006 documentary Maxed Out is about all of these issues. It shows, through the interweaving of a number of interviews and stories, America’s addiction to credit, especially credit cards. There is no first-person narrator, thankfully, as in Michael Moore films. But there is a clear point-of-view: the movie portrays lenders as sharks and debtors as sob stories. We sympathize with this portrayal a bit. What most lenders are guilty of is usury (under any definition), especially instant check-cashing centers and credit card companies. Banks, as well, are guilty of fraud. Banks are built on a fractional-reserve scheme; only a portion of what account holders have is actually (physically or digitally) in the bank itself. If all account holders were to withdraw their accounts at the same time, only a few would get their money back. No other business sells what it doesn’t have and can’t provide. Banks, therefore, are inherently bankrupt, and this very idea has caused a great ritual to occur every two decades or so throughout American history: the bank-run. Finally, the ultimate bank (the Federal Reserve; our country’s central bank) creates money out of thin air. This is effectively counterfeiting, that is, stealing. So all of our benevolent lenders are corrupt, and Maxed Out is eager to portray most of the individuals, who are involved in concocting credit schemes and then harassing their lendees, as corrupt, heartless jerks.

Yet we cannot sympathize with the debtors in this movie that much. Dave Ramsey, a money guru on the radio who comes from a Christian perspective (as far as we know), appears in this documentary. He makes a number of points about wise money choices, and shares his own helpful story. The debtors in Maxed Out have not listened to him. They have not been wise. We don’t understand their choices, frankly, because we don’t believe that it’s wise to enter into debt, unless it can all be paid back with ready collateral. Our credit card company must hate us, because they pay us to use their card. If everyone used a Discover card prudently, Discover would not exist. Clearly, the movie is playing to the audience, most of whom have some debt and will therefore be very willing to sympathize with the plights of other debtors. But we all know what happens to a fool and his money.

As we said, Maxed Out touches on usury, an almost vanished subject in Christian churches these days. That it is a vanished subject strikes us as beyond bizarre. Almost a complete reversal has occurred. For the first 1500 years of Christendom, usury was one of the sins most preached against. It was banned everywhere (for Christians). But the last 500 years? Not much of a peep, except from a few faithful souls. It’s not as if usury is a marginal topic in the Bible. It appears in a number of books, and it is clearly described as a heinous practice. Your question may be, what is it exactly? We’ll leave that lengthy discussion for another time and place; it is enough for us that people even care about and discuss a neglected subject in God’s Word.

As for Maxed Out, it’s a reasonable entry into individual and national issues concerning debt. Most of the information in it was old hat for us, however. We recommend, instead of the movie, that you study the Bible on the subject of lending and borrowing. Next, the book Empire of Debt is a fine entry on America’s problem with debt, particularly the last two chapters (written by one of our favorite contemporary business writers, expatriate multimillionaire Bill Bonner). Quick introductions to banking can be found here and here (the latter link is the first in a series of videos; however, its ultimate solution–more government intervention–is ridiculous). And finally, pray that Christians will be wise and will not get sucked into the innumerable debt schemes in our present age.

Entertainment: 4
Intelligence: 5
Morality: (a bit of unnecessary foul language)

Posted in Documentary, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Shrek

Posted by J on August 27, 2007

We were once visiting a parent (occupation: the ministry), who was dealing with an energetic two-year old. After having some trouble with the boy, the father put him in front of the TV and turned on Shrek. As we all do, the child passively sat there, entranced. With a look of weariness, but without getting the full meaning of his words, the father said, “Training children never ends.”

As it happened, the DVD was set to start in the middle of the movie. It was at the part where Shrek, an ogre who loves his independence and enjoys his own crudity,wrestles WWF-style Lord Farquaad’s knights. At that point, the soundtrack blares the Joan Jett hit, “Bad Reputation”:

I don’t give a damn ’bout my reputation
You’re living in the past it’s a new generation
A girl can do what she wants to do and that’s
What I’m gonna do
An’ I don’t give a damn ‘ bout my bad reputation

Yes, we’re always training children. And this kind of brazen rebellion was what the two-year-old was learning throughout.

Entertainment: 4
Intelligence: 4
Morality: 1

Posted in Animated, Clever but Immoral | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Flushed Away

Posted by J on August 22, 2007

Flushed Away is an apt description of what will happen to your mental capacities after you reach the end of its 94-minute running time. You will feel like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: “If I only had a brain . . .” This movie is a multi-million dollar Looney Tunes feature. The main character–the pet rat of rich Londoners–gets hit, kicked, slapped, and electrocuted dozens of times. In fact if you like slapstick scenes where characters get hit in the groin with one thing, then get hit again with another, you might appreciate the finer nuances of Flushed Away.

Sure, there are one or two clever spots (the scene with the mime and the cellphone, for example). But the plot exists merely to see the sights of London sewers–filled with a rat city and slugs that sound like chipmunks–and to experience chase scenes, love connections, and more chase scenes. Just for kicks, there’s a family values angle to the story. Our main pet rat enjoys life in his bachelor pad, a fact reenforced by Billy Idol’s “Dancin’ With Myself,” played in the opening moments (the lyrics of which you won’t want kids singing). But then he meets the spunky female lead. She’s a family girl, sort of. Actually she wears Union Jack pants and steel-toed boots. She’s a posh, urban warrior-woman, but she’s disappointed that our hero doesn’t have a family. So of course, after a bunch of stuff happens, they sail off together in the end. But you knew that would happen ten minutes in. From our point-of-view, the family values angle is a con, and it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, which is about chase scenes and the main character getting hit in the groin five times in a row.

We can imagine a scene where a parent sticks her kids in front of the TV. She turns it on and pops in Flushed Away. Then she replays it two hours later. Then the next day. Then the day after. This of course trains the kids to do exactly what they see on TV, which is to act like a Looney Tune. We wouldn’t be surprised if little Johnny is hitting his sister twenty minutes into the Flushed Away marathon. This might not happen, but it could. In any case, shut off the TV forever and give Johnny a decent book. If he wants frogs and rats, which Flushed Away features, give him The Wind in the Willows. Let him read that ten times, and see if a different child emerges. We wouldn’t rely on that remedy alone, but stories of value and depth will prove more effective aids in child training than the dangerous sedative known as the Television. If Flushed Away teaches us that, then it has one useful purpose.

Entertainment: 5
Intelligence: 1
Morality: 1 (the lone value this movie has is that it’s somewhat entertaining. But entertainment for entertainment’s sake is a problem.)

Posted in Animated, They Spent Millions on This? | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Happy Feet

Posted by J on August 20, 2007

One of the many penguin films of the past few years, Happy Feet won the Truly Moving Picture Award at the 2006 Heartland Film Festival, held in our beloved former home and Midwestern state. Why did it win? The chief criterion for the award is that the winning film should “explore the human journey by artistically expressing hope and respect for the positive values of life.” Thus, Happy Feet proves that what moderns mean by “the human journey” and “positive values” is nothing more than deep-fried penguin poo.

Happy Feet is a triumphant story for evolutionists who’ve spent no time thinking about the moral consequences of atheistic materialism. In Happy Feet‘s animated world of penguin silliness, survival of the fittest is at its cruelest. Penguins devour fish, sea leopards devour penguins, and killer whales devour everything. The Antarctic is an ecology of death and competition. But nevermind that, because penguins dance and sing idiotic pop songs. Happy Feet‘s penguins are given human qualities so that we can sympathize with their plight and believe its ending. This makes the movie’s message more heartbreaking (supposedly): that humans are destroying the habitats of all Antarctic creatures and we have to stop killing them all NOW. (Gee, people. Have a heart!) However, and this is what we exited the movie wondering, if everything in the Antarctic just lives to procreate and die, why should we care about the food supply of penguins? The environmentalist ethics of Happy Feet leaves us with absolutely no warrant for believing in its cause. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If everything is eating everything else in the world–and we are all collections of atoms anyway–then humans have every right to take and eat whatever we want. To quote Keynes out of context, we’re all dead in the long-run anyway. Further, if penguins evolved by natural selection, they will eventually die by natural selection. So why should we humans care when and by what means this happens? Happy Feet doesn’t supply the answers to these questions, and frankly it doesn’t want you to ask them. The ending is one of the lamest in the short history of movies. The script writers painted themselves into a corner, and in order to get out they had only one solution: to serve their audience deep-fried penguin poo.

Thankfully, Christians have justifiable warrant for conserving and maintaining global habitats: God’s creation mandate to Adam in Genesis’ opening chapters. This mandate shows us that God is the owner of creation and we are its stewards; we therefore are charged with earthly caretaking, a duty that includes not trashing our tiny blue ball in space. Happy Feet, a secular movie, doesn’t understand stewardship. It simply tries to make its viewers feel guilty without warrant (all of whom have no connection to emperor penguins), then calls on a centralized government power (the U.N.) to solve the penguin problem.

We won’t deny that this movie is stunning to look at, especially the long-takes with the camera swooping out and through the Antarctic terrain. But the incorporated pop music is absurd and not for children, and Christians who let their children watch this movie umpteen times have much explaining to do. We were not grooving when a bunch of penguins sang “Let’s Talk About Sex.” Worse, Happy Feet encourages generational rebellion by representing the older generation of penguins as wooden, oppressive fakers. You see, that generation has created a false belief system to deceive the younger generation. Only by singing Prince and Queen do the younger folks rebel against their older oppressors. But who cares about social progress? If Happy Feet‘s penguins don’t get eaten by sea leopards, they’ll die in the long, harsh polar winter. Or they’ll die in five billion years, when the sun cools and expands. In the long-term, nothing matters, and neither does this movie. So don’t even bother.

Entertainment: 2
Intelligence: 0
Morality: 0

Posted in Animated, They Spent Millions on This? | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Saving Private Ryan

Posted by J on August 17, 2007

In the first thirty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, one soldier picks up and carries his dismembered arm, another gets his face blown off, another’s guts spew out of his belly, and another drags the top half of a body around. We suppose this is what modern warfare looks like. And we are left wondering: what maniac would start a war like this without tremendously great, Biblically justifiable reasons? Thankfully Saving Private Ryan, a eulogy to European-theater-based American soldiers, is about WWII. That allows the general public to feel secure in the movie’s vision of heroism, but a movie like this probably will never be made about the Mexican War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, WWI, the Korean “Conflict,” the Vietnam War, the Iraq Wars, and the hundred or so other skirmishes the U.S. military has been involved in.

Saving Private Ryan has an important framing device. It begins with a shot of a transparent American flag, then continues with a scene set in the present-day where the elderly private Ryan visits a military graveyard and weeps. The movie eventually ends where it started. Ryan, at the Normandy gravesite, honors the men who sacrificed their lives to find him, and by this time everyone is supposed to be weeping. After all, everyone has devoted himself to Ryan’s cause–from the Tom Hanks-led squad that tramps across France to find Ryan, to the military bureaucrat who gives a rousing Abe Lincoln speech. The goal of Hanks’ squad is anti-utilitarian. A large number of men sacrifice themselves for the cause of one person. They are all Americans, he is an American, and naturally we Americans fight for each other. Subservient to this cause are the various religions practiced by the squadron: Christianity (Protestant and Catholic), Judaism, agnosticism, and probably atheism. Spielberg deliberately inserts them all in different places–watch, for instance, for the Jewish graves with Stars of David instead of crosses–apparently because our rallying point ought to be the abstract nation-state instead of religious doctrine.

Which got us thinking. If Christians cared about their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (wherever they are) like they do about U.S. soldiers, the church would be a united force and we would consider the fate of Christians everywhere before rushing to blow stuff up. Unfortunately we live in a nationalistic era when state loyalties are very strong and church loyalties are very weak. Thus in Saving Private Ryan, the Nazis–some of whom were probably Christian–are depicted as lifeless dummies to be gunned down in all situations. Yes, Nazis are Nazis and Spielberg may be right in always depicting them as monsters or stooges, but there’s an animosity to them in Saving Private Ryan that ignores the complexities likely present in the cases of ordinary soldiers (see Das Boot, for example). But oh well. The point is that this movie is not just aiming for a lifelike depiction of WWII; it asks viewers to reaffirm their loyalties to American greatness in a post-Vietnam era. We are sure that many American viewer responses will vary from thankful to extremely thankful. For us, though, the blood and guts and the sad reality of war’s carnage and chaos are too much to take.

Entertainment: 0 (Though we may learn something from movies about total war, they are never entertaining.)
Intelligence: 5
Morality: 1 (for video-game violence and lots of unnecessary language)

Posted in Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, War | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The New World

Posted by J on August 16, 2007

The New World is just another Pocahontas story. If this movie is about anything, and it never seems like it is, it’s about the transformation of Pocahontas from Indian princess to English maiden. At the beginning of the movie, she frolics in Virginia forests. At the end of the movie, she frolics in English woods. There’s lots of frolicing in this movie, in fact, and lots of pining–John Smith is crazy in love with her–but little else. Ostensibly The New World‘s subject is the English colonization of Virginia, beginning with Jamestown in the first decade of the 1600s. Had the movie stuck to the interesting points of history–English contact with the Powhatans and their subsequent interactions–it might’ve worked, but every time it tries to go that way it steers backwards into the Pocahontas myth and a fabricated love story about her, which made us hit the FAST FORWARD button repeatedly.

If there were compelling characters and a plot, The New World would’ve been a visual masterpiece. The scenes and sets are stunning. Our director, Terence Malick, has done much reading and consultation to get the Jamestown colony and Powhatan villages to look as authentic as possible. In effect, Malick shuttles us through a multi-million dollar period village, so we congratulate New Line Cinema on wasting capital on an introductory video for Jamestown Museum tourists. It is true that, in the movie’s first fifteen minutes, the costumes and settings are visually awesome (particularly the Powhatans), but the story goes nowhere afterwards and so eventually we don’t care at all what it looks like. We suppose a history class could benefit from watching these early moments, which present first contact between English and Powhatans and the erection of the English settlement. To supplement these early scenes, Malick plays Wagner’s stirring “Vorspiel” to “Das Rheingold,” the key musical theme throughout the movie. It is also played at the end, when Pocahontas dies and gets a strange sort of movie resurrection, but there’s no rhyme or reason why Wagner should be played during a tour of the Powhatan village.

The New World is totally ruined by voiceover narration, most of which sounds like lines taken from a Transcendental Meditation guidebook. We rolled our eyes when the movie opened with Pocahontas’ voiceover saying “Come, Spirit, blah blah blah.” In fact, Malick–in no big shock in these ridiculously politically correct times–characterizes the Powhatans before first contact as being “without guile, deception, or forgiveness.” They don’t know forgiveness because, apparently, they don’t know how to be bad until the English teach them. John Smith gets that line about the untainted Indians. He is to the historical Smith as the fictional Gandhi is to the historical Gandhi. Instead of a fizzled love affair between a hunky Smith and a nubile Pocahontas, which is the major story line of The New World, the historical Smith was a hardened warrior and self-promoter and Pocahontas (if she really saved him at all) was probably no older than 10. The historical Smith’s biography is beyond belief–a real whirlwind of adventure–but Malick chose to make him an introspective mope in the middle of a love story. Go figure.

Perhaps the movie’s greatest atrocity is its representation of the English, who all might as well be secularist pigs. Besides the lunatic who shouts verses from Jeremiah and the brief shots of St. Paul’s in London (which Pocahontas visits), there’s no evidence of the Christian faith of Englishmen. Instead, London looks like a bigger freakshow than the Powhatan village. But we don’t feel upset about this, knowing that The New World–with its poetic tedium and blubbering voiceovers–will rightly fall down the memory hole of film history.

Entertainment: 2 (tremendous visuals though)
Intelligence: 3
Morality: 3 (clean overall)

Posted in Period Drama, They Spent Millions on This? | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Prestige

Posted by J on August 15, 2007

Note: The second paragraph contains spoilers. You will NOT want to know about the ending of this movie beforehand.

If show-business is the art of deception, then Christians must beware of it. Entertainers can be tricksters, which the origin and connotation for the word “hypocrite” (“actor” in Greek) demonstrates. The Prestige is about two entertainers in competition with each other, which is often a morally dangerous situation in a fallen world. As stage magicians in early 20th century London, the two warring magicians, Robert Angier and Alfred Borden, strive to win audiences and to improve their art by creating increasingly more daring tricks. Competition has its benefits; in The Prestige, it spurs creativity and innovation that promises to improve ordinary lives. The price of competition, however, is covetousness that turns into revenge. The Prestige, in its representation of revenge, has a low view of competition, which takes place not only between magicians, but also amongst wives and mistresses and rival scientists. Everyone is a deep sinner here, and this is probably the first story in which Thomas Edison is a villain.

The film distinguishes between the two at-odds magicians. Borden, it shows us, is morally a better man; he’s a deceiver but an ingenious artist. Angier is a fine entertainer but an uncreative thief. Both become murderers, but the problem with The Prestige is that it justifies Borden’s final actions and makes Angier the greater monster. This might seem sensible to some. Angier implements technology in a monstrous way (reminding us of C.S. Lewis’ warnings in The Abolition of Man). He clones himself and murders his own clones just to wow his audience, and his pseudo-resurrections are used for diabolical purposes. From the movie’s perspective this seems more vicious than Borden, who, given his wrongful imprisonment and relationship to his daughter, is the more morally complex of the two magicians. Still, in the end Borden is allowed a pass even though his deceptions resulted in four deaths, including his own wife’s suicide. This seems backwards. The devil is not the abuser of technology, but the father of lies.

Thanks in part to its two trick endings, The Prestige is a symbolically rich movie. There are a number of foreshadows, doubles, and replications and variations on themes in this movie–not just the birds, balls, tanks, hats, and cats, but the multi-level commentary as well. The construction of this movie is much like the story it tells. Just as the characters themselves are multiplied by Nikola Tesla’s machine, the main actors play multiple roles and two brothers penned the script. The Prestige is clever because it warns us to beware of the deceptions of entertainment while trying at the same time to be as entertaining as it can be through deception. The story comments upon its own telling. Though viewers might be confused in the early going by the chopped-up chronology–the movie tells its beginning and end and middle sections in a jumbled order–for thoughtful viewers it will be worth persevering to the end. The Prestige ought to and will provoke reflection upon the morality of both its story and its story-telling.

Entertainment: 6
Intelligence: 9
Morality: see review (not recommended for most viewers)

Posted in Clever but Immoral, Mystery, Period Drama, Pretty Good | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

The Moral Minefield of Movies

Posted by J on August 14, 2007

We attend the movie theater twice a year at most. This is for a number of reasons, chief among them is that a $10 ticket is a vote in favor of Hollywood fare that may turn out to be at best idiotic and at worst immoral. DVDs, cost effective as they are, have excellent tools for the purposes of censorship — namely the STOP and EJECT buttons. A case in point is our recent trip to Ratatouille. The projectionist put the wrong movie through the reels, and so we ended up seeing previews for R-rated movies, featuring the graphic liaisons of a male gigolo (Good Luck Chuck) and the umpteenth sequel to Halloween. From what we could see, our matinee audience consisted of grandparents and children, none of whom seemed to flinch at shot after shot of half-naked females and the glorification of a resurrected murderer. (To be fair, one parent got up and left with a young child, though we debated whether they complained or went to the restroom.) We had a word with the manager, but the movie theater treated us merely like upset customers returning a broken TV. When Good Luck Chuck and Halloween XII debut, the theater will likely feature them.

Far from being the funhouses they’re marketed as, movie theaters and video stores are moral minefields. An honest Christian could not operate a movie theater in good conscience these days. He might run, say, a drive-in theater for families, but that would limit showings to three a year during the summer season. Otherwise, he would be forced into peddling current releases, the majority of which celebrate violence and pornography. The same goes for video rental chains and retail stores that sell DVDs. Retailers who profess Christ ought to get out of the movie-selling business altogether, not because if they limited their selection they couldn’t make a profit, but because little they could sell would edify their fellow Christians.

We therefore advocate two things: step as cautiously as possible in movie-watching, and know the Bible as well as you can. God’s story shows you how to examine man-made stories, and it will not let you be indifferent to previews for R-rated fare. We advise this knowing that, unless you are Amish, you will probably watch at minimum several dozen movies in your lifetime. Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

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Batman Begins

Posted by J on August 6, 2007

The old Soviet propaganda newspaper Pravda once called Batman a capitalist murderer, a superhero ideologically in league with the FBI. This judgment was meant for the ’60s TV show, but we have no doubt that Pravda would say the same thing about Batman Begins. This movie is utterly and self-consciously ideological; it is some kind of weird symbolic allegory about terrorism, social justice, and the nation-state’s relationship to both. That might sound too far out, especially for a movie about a superhero in a bat costume. Nevertheless, the movie persists to ask the question “What is justice?” and then answer it by creating an opposition between Bruce Wayne and Ra’s Al Ghul (the villain).

All that matters comes early in the movie. We’re shown in the opening scenes that Bruce Wayne represents deep pockets, a family-run corporation looking to practice philanthropy in Gotham City. Wayne himself is an American son; his is a patriotic, aristocratic family. Wayne is compassionate, his family is compassionate, and to let us know how compassionate they are, Wayne’s great-grandfather helped slaves travel the Underground Railroad, hiding them in what in this movie becomes the Bat Cave. But Bruce is disillusioned by the murder of his parents, a crime committed by a peasant. Who’s to blame? The murderer or society? Bruce and Ra’s Al Ghul have their own answers, and they debate the nature of justice and crime when Bruce travels to a remote Himalayan training facility for advanced ninjas. The movie makes itself a philosophical allegory within the first five minutes. These early training scenes set up the motivations for the action that will follow, which is as dark and grim as any popular movie we’ve ever seen.

Actually Batman and Ra’s Al Ghul share the same beliefs, but because Batman has “compassion” and Ra’s Al Ghul does not, the two have different aims. We detected a strong “War on Terror” angle to Batman Begins, one from a Sean Hannity perspective. Consider the location of the training facility (remote mountains in Asia), the purpose of Ra’s Al Ghul’s ninja group (stealth missions), and the poppy flowers, which are a lot like Afghanistan’s major export, the poppy plants that can be turned into opium. Further, Ra’s Al Ghul is an Arabic name, but in the movie this character goes by another moniker, Henri Ducard, which is decidely French. Al Ghul is a fanatic who prides himself on cleansing crime-filled Gotham City by destroying it. Meanwhile, Batman wants to rid Gotham of crime by becoming a vigilante, an above-the-law terrorist of sorts. The only difference between the hero and the villain in this case is Batman’s status as a corporate capitalist do-gooder and an American patriot who has a cutesy girlfriend in the DA’s office. This is our judgment, not the movie’s. It firmly believes in Batman, but that means it also believes in vigilante justice and the stealth means of attaining it (e.g, wire-tapping, torture, concealing information), or, to put it another way, in subverting several of the Ten Commandments.

The worst aspect of this movie is that in its “meditation” on justice, (if we can call cliches meditations), it is deliberately secular. There’s scant discussion of what the standards of justice actually are and why they should be standards, except for the cliches of utilitarianism and various crusades for social justice (“the greatest good for the greatest number” and all that rot). Batman, as a pseudo-savior figure, makes up the rules as he goes. As he admonishes one criminal, who shouts “I swear to God” as he reveals a secret, “Swear to me [instead]!” Batman Begins advocates the worst of abstract theories of justice, and it shows in the relationships between characters, which are all cold and distant. Almost no one is a warm-hearted friend in this movie. They all relate to one another through their status in a bureaucracy, whether corporate or governmental. Even Bruce Wayne’s and Alfred’s master-servant relationship seems shallow, and Bruce and his girlfriend treat each other more like a crimefighter-prosecutor pair than as old childhood friends. The human beings in this movie are objects upon which Batman’s idea of justice is either being done or not. They are impersonal abstractions, like the anonymous boy Batman’s D.A. girlfriend saves and cuddles during Ra’s Al Ghul’s attack. This a mathematical and cold idea, represented by the movie’s dark tones and the black Batman costume. There’s little here that represents the characteristics and quality of relationships to family, neighbors, and church members contained in, say, the New Testament epistles (a form of writing that implies warm-hearted relationships). As a secular savior, Batman fails in every regard.

Entertainment: 4 (too dark for us, but very well constructed)
Intelligence: 7
Morality: 1 (also contains disturbing images inappropriate for most people)

Posted in Clever but Immoral | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

Ratatouille

Posted by J on August 4, 2007

Warning: Possible spoilers in the second paragraph.

Here’s an oddity. Ratatouille breaks with the traditions of animated movies, especially with that of Pixar’s recent popular fare. Instead of a simple quest story (as in Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo, etc., etc.), we get an elaborate plot structure with an equally strange setting and premise. Most of this movie takes place in the kitchen of a restaurant in Paris (a majority of the characters are French), and the story is centered around the idea of savoring fine cuisine. There are so many significant minor characters that several of them get distracting, but Ratatouille splits its main character duties into two: Remy the rat and Linguini the human goofus. The two share a creative partnership that evolves, gets tested, and then morphs into a satisfying final outcome. This is the best part of the movie. Particularly satisfying was the idea of giving the rat the gift of creativity, then letting that creativity be worked out in his imaginative visions of famed chef Auguste Gusteau. A simpler movie would’ve made the story totally about rats or totally about humans, or else it would’ve given the visions of Gusteau to Linguini. But Ratatouille instead presents us with a host of perspectives, including Remy’s, Linguini’s, and morbid critic Anton Ego’s. This, no doubt, will prove rewarding on multiple viewings.

What partially diminishes Ratatouille‘s complexity is the fact that it tries to bash us over the head with its moral. In fact that moral is stated outright at the end: “Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Only people goofier than Linguini could’ve missed that. Even worse is that this moral contradicts another of the movie’s prominent messages, that “anyone can cook,” which is the title of Gusteau’s famous book and the source for a few inspirational acts performed by the characters. But clearly (and Linguini is a stellar example) not everyone can cook. As symbolized in the dynamic between the hard-working but thieving rat colony and the palates of customers at five-star French restaurants, Ratatouille contains an implicit tension between egalitarianism and aristocracy. The ending not only leaves this tension unresolved, it blares it loudly. Ratatouille itself, we are told, is a peasant’s dish now being served in the most exquisite of restaurants. So which has really triumphed? What kind of social and intellectual structure is this movie really rooting for, and does it concur with (for instance) Exodus 18 or 1 Corinthians 12?

We quibbled with other choices: with Linguini as an American, with the inclusion of his relationship with Collette, his fellow cook, and with the notion that an elderly lady would fire innumerable shotgun blasts at rats. But this is the land of animation, after all. Ratatouille is one of the best looking movies we’ve ever seen; do not, in other words, watch it on a small or fuzzy screen. And the voicework for Anton Ego (performed by Peter O’Toole) is fantastic. Our favorite animated movie remains one of the Toy Storys, we aren’t sure which, but Ratatouille is more intelligent and novel than any other computer-generated movie we’ve seen. Be on the lookout for its political and social messages, and enjoy the show.

Entertainment: 8
Intelligence: 6
Morality: 7

Posted in Animated, Great | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »