J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for July, 2008

Casino Royale

Posted by J on July 31, 2008

Casino Royale is for the mentally handicapped with attention-deficit disorder. Since the moviemakers thought their movie was intended for a general, worldwide audience, and since the movie made megamillions, this tells us something about the mental capacity of the average moviegoer.

You can make this conclusion in the first five minutes. The beginning shows James Bond, a British government agent, killing his first two of countless “bad guys.” We are now on what, our twentieth Bond movie in which the hero kills without legitimate legal authority? In probably all cases except self-defense and saving the world from complete destruction, Bond is guilty of murder, but this is all fine since he is officially sanctioned to kill by representatives of the public. Still, he’s basically just a vigilante on the government payroll, who also happens to be a philanderer with a taste for expensive booze. Closeup shots, cut to right after Bond kills his nameless victims, tell us that he is this story’s hero.

The villain, of course, has to work hard to prove that he is far more immoral than Bond. Usually he is either disfigured — an obvious sign of evil, as anyone with a scar on his face proves — or he is petting a cat while plotting to blow up the world. Casino Royale chooses option #1 in introducing an asthmatic man with a scar under his left eye.  One minute later, this character is asked whether he believes in God. He replies “No, I believe in a reasonable rate of return.” So, for Casino Royale, an atheist who charges interest on weapons smuggling is far worse than a philanderer with a license to kill whomever he needs to. Both men sound equally dangerous to us, but if we were given a slightly different choice, we’d take an asthmatic atheist who minded his own business over James Bond performing covert assassination operations throughout the world.

Then comes an extended chase scene in which there is approximately one half-second between cuts. The movie here provides a disservice, failing to warn its audience that some of them may need to have barfbags handy. During this chase, at least what we could make of it, the petty criminal jumps several times from fifty-foot or higher platforms, landing safely every time. Bond, too, jumps and lands shoulder-first on a metal garbage bin. That fifty-foot drop thankfully caused no damage — Bond immediately got to his feet and continued the chase — so the British public may rest assured that they remain safe from petty criminals in Uganda.

There might have been more of the same after this, or things might’ve improved, but we opted to shut the movie off and pick up a book. Nothing like a more reliable medium. Still, since every Bond movie has made an inflation-adjusted profit of at least 270,000,000 dollars, we expect a Casino Royale every other year for the next decade.

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Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, They Spent Millions on This? | 2 Comments »

Aliens

Posted by J on July 30, 2008

Aliens is not a movie we’d recommend to anybody, but if, like us, you’ve seen it and are willing to recognize it as the best of its kind (the blockbuster action movie), there are several things to consider about what you have learned by viewing it.

One of these is already well-known. Aliens is yet another Vietnam War movie from a defeated American perspective. The overconfident marines hired to destroy the “natives” quickly turn into scared pansies once they realize that they cannot defeat these natives. It’s not just that they can’t defeat them, but they never could. The aliens are in their natural environment, they are relentless, there are a lot of them, and they will not stop attacking until either the marines are dead or they have left. Though the marines have all the firepower they could ever dream of, they could never subdue these aliens; the only way to beat them is to utterly destroy them via aerial bombing. Otherwise, the marines can’t regain control of the colonial outpost and maintain a long-term, military presence there. Obviously, in a way, this is all more than a comment on Vietnam; it is a general comment on imperial rule in the modern-day context.

The unremarked aspect to Aliens is the purpose of the final showdown, which is not between the marines and the alien horde, but instead between Ripley and the alien mother. Ripley, of course, is the female hero who exhibits military leadership and soldier skills. There is a feminine side to her — she adopts the tough, orphaned girl found at the colony, its last survivor — but she is clearly a feminist model for a woman in the army. She could never assume the traditional role of mother while conducting a mining operation in deep-space or while shooting up alien monsters.

In a future Alien movie, this point is amplified. Her adopted child dies and Ripley is infected with an alien host, which bursts out of her abdomen as she commits suicide, knowingly killing the creature gestating inside of her. The aliens are hideous, but Ripley was probably never going to give birth to anything anyway.  She is a career woman.

Ripley’s opponent, however, is a traditional mother in both the animal and human sense. The alien mother, like a queen ant, rests in her hive and makes babies all day long. Her job is to reproduce the species, caring for her babies and making sure that they develop and thrive. It is clear, then, what will happen when Ripley and the marines come to shoot up the aliens’ hive. The alien mother gets ticked, so ticked that she is willing to leave her nest, latch onto a spaceship, and ride it into orbit, where she will battle her masculine rival, Ripley, in a deathmatch. The movie’s obvious preference is for the G.I. Jane figure to defeat the full-time mother, obvious because the full-time mother is hideous-looking and G.I. Jane is a bona fide moviestar.

Other than these two issues, colonialism and femininity, Aliens is all guns, monsters, explosions, tension, and military talk (with much taboo language). It is well constructed, which is why we say that it’s the best of its kind.

Entertainment: 10

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 0

Posted in Clever but Immoral, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | 1 Comment »

Return to Oz

Posted by J on July 30, 2008

Disney’s sequel to The Wizard of Oz, Return to Oz flopped really badly on its initial release and was dropped down the memory hole. Everybody thought that this movie was dark, disturbing, and unsuitable to be the successor to the original, but these opinions show how much people have an irrational love for watching Judy Garland’s song-and-dance show. The Wizard of Oz is a great example of how movies are a medium that greatly prefers style to substance, so much so that many of them are loved because they are all style and no substance.

Return to Oz, however, achieves what its predecessor did not, which is to visually create the tone of Frank Baum’s original series of books. In Baum’s books, Oz is not the kind of place where people and creatures spontaneously burst out into songs of happiness. Oz has its dangerous places, even those where you can die — such as the Deadly Desert — and it has its occasional military coup. Since Baum was thinking in terms of the real world, and not 1930s musicals, his books explicitly comment on real-world issues, like monetary policy and child psychology.

The connection to some real issue or problem is what Return to Oz has going for it over the original. In this movie, Dorothy is taken to a shock therapist for her “bad dreams” about Oz, the imaginary fantasyland she claims she has visited. Her aunt and uncle, simple farmers that they are, fall prey to marketing by a professional scientist who thinks that electrocuting his patients will zap their brains back into normalcy. So Dorothy goes to see this quack doctor. She is set to become the victim of poor science and the social pressure to believe in it.

Of course, odd occurrences happen before Dorothy can receive her therapy, and she is whisked away to Oz, this time with a chicken named Belina instead of a dog named Toto. Dorothy’s trip to Oz is not any rosier than her trip to the shock therapy center, however. Oz is in ruins, the yellow brick road has crumbled, and The Emerald City has lost its luster. Why?  It has been taken over someone who looks awfully like the scientist who was going to give shock treatments to Dorothy.

Return to Oz, like many others in its genre, prefers the vision of fantasy world to the gloomy advancements of science. This, the desire to mentally escape an increasingly technological world, is a common theme in innumerable stories from the past two hundred years. The movie, however, leaves open the possibility that Oz and all the characters who can move between Oz and the real world are only constructs of Dorothy’s imagination. What remains tangible, in the end, is the rural farm in Kansas, where Dorothy can enjoy her imaginings and remain as far as possible from urbanites, scientists, and wrongful advertising.

Whether this movie is unsuitable for children of younger ages is up to the parents who read this review. We watched this at age 8, perhaps earlier, and survived to tell about it. Ever since, we have preferred our children’s movies to have some element of darkness and at least one instance of the memento mori, a reminder of sin and death, because that is an inescapable part of reality that we should not seek to escape from in our entertainment. Return to Oz does have a witch-queen who can remove her head, as well as evil clowns with wheels for feet and hands. It also has one uttered spell that succeeds, uttered by Dorothy.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 7

Posted in Pretty Good, Reality-Fantasy | Leave a Comment »

Becoming Jane

Posted by J on July 28, 2008

Wouldn’t Jane Austen like to become one of the characters in her stories?  In Becoming Jane, she basically does.  This movie is a lame attempt to make Jane Austen’s life a Jane Austen story, except that the ending is a bit different, in that the female heroine becomes a famous spinster instead of a blissful bride.

Yes, we gave away the ending, but it’s common knowledge that Austen was a spinster.  So you know where this movie is going from the beginning.  She will not really run away with the penniless, rambunctious man whom she loves, even though she wants to.  Why, then, would she choose a mundane life over a wild love affair?

As it turns out, the Jane Austen in this movie is something of a moral hypocrite.  She’s faced with choosing to run away and eloping with her beau, Tom Lefroy, or staying with her family.  Austen at first chooses to run away, but when she finds out that Tom is ditching his responsibility to his own family, she gets upset and chooses to return to Spinsterville.   So Austen is irresponsible to her own family, but she gets put off when her man is irresponsible to his.  The movie basically says that it’s okay to elope when you don’t owe any money to your family.  In other words, pay your debts first, then head to Vegas.

Emotionally scarred for life from this lost love affair, the movie makes it clear that all of Austen’s writings were derived from this event.  She makes makes sure that all of her characters get happy endings and wonderful marriages, the kind of ending she never got.

Ho hum.  The Austen expert in our household described her viewing experience as “very mediocre,” while the other half of our reviewing team picked up a book midway through the movie.  Ladies, listen carefully.  Do not put your husbands through this movie.  Watch it with your friends, or offer to try with your husband the best version of Emma or Pride and Prejudice you can find.  But do not bore your husband so much that he will despise even the thought of coming within 100 yards of an Austen book or movie.  Becoming Jane will leave that bad a taste in his mouth.

Entertainment: 3

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 3

Posted in Period Drama, Poignant but Boring | Leave a Comment »

The Third Man

Posted by J on July 26, 2008

It’s generally acknowledged that during the last few decades there has been great decline in moral standards. People, they say, just aren’t what they used to be. Even the pornography-loving Roger Ebert, in a review of a bad comedy this week, uttered the following lament:

“Sometimes I think I am living in a nightmare. All about me, standards are collapsing, manners are evaporating, people show no respect for themselves. I am not a moralistic nut. I’m proud of the X-rated movie I once wrote. I like vulgarity if it’s funny or serves a purpose. But what is going on here?”

Certain wisemen have attributed this civilizational decline to the decline in the faith and practice of Christianity, a theory that makes plain that what we are talking about when we talk about moral decline is European and North American civilization.

Carol Reed’s The Third Man is about this decline, prophetically encapsulating the last few decades in its 104-minute story about a man who has apparently been murdered in 1946 Vienna. That man is Harry Lime, who prior to his death was wanted by the British police in Vienna for racketeering. Lime’s American friend, Holly Martens, has just arrived in Vienna to visit Lime. It is bad timing for Martens, however, who arrives on the same day as Lime’s graveside service. Distraught, Martens gets the idea to investigate his friend’s death, which leads him to the possibility that Lime’s death was no accident.

Martens moves around in a decimated, decaying Vienna. In the movie’s opening shots, we are shown the city’s architectural marvels and the recent effects of Allied bombing. We are told by a voiceover narrator that the city’s moral climate has descended into suspicion and black-market smuggling. The city itself is divided up into four zones, each controlled by the U.S., Britain, France, and Russia, with a central zone manned by international police. In short, this the kind of foreign and international rule that never works for long. It tends to breed mistrust, as in the scene where Martens finds himself accused of murder by a mob comprised of poor Viennese.

The movie’s suddenly shifts in its final act, from Marten’s ad hoc murder investigation to the pursuit of the movie’s real surprise, a living Harry Lime. Lime has faked his own death to avoid the police. Actually, he has orchestrated a bogus resurrection from the dead; as Martens says, “I saw him buried, and then I saw him alive.” For all of Vienna’s problems with the aftermath of WWII and international police, it is the crooked profiteering of Lime that embodies the city’s moral decay. Lime “comes back to life” so that he can continue to make more money selling diluted penicillin to hospitals, which causes either death or gross deformities in the babies it is administered to. Lime, working through his henchmen, will murder people to continue this money-making racket.

This description makes Lime out to be a monster, which he is, except the movie’s tone masks that to a degree because of sympathy given to Lime by Martens and Lime’s girlfriend, Anna Schmidt, a sympathy we the audience can understand because of Orson Welles’ suavity. Lime and Schmidt cannot let go of Lime’s great attractions, his good looks and charismatic attitude. As Schmidt says, “I loved Harry. He never grew up. The world grew up around him.” Lines like these point to the movie’s implicit theme of civilization’s decay. Seeking opportunism, men like Lime only know enough to seek after their own good, yet who can be a responsible authority if we only have men like Lime? As the movie shows, no can really respond to serious problems and ultimate questions, except the police, which have no qualms about raiding the bedrooms of ladies at midnight.

The movie has many angled shots, particularly of Vienna’s twisting streets. This suggests the shadowy underbelly of the black market racket that Lime operates. And when Lime is finally found and chased by the police, he runs down crooked paths, through the rubble of bombed buildings. Then he descends into the sewer. There is a marvelous moment where Lime, in a central sewer drain, can hear the voices of all of the policemen echoing through all of the dozen water channels feeding into the drain. This is followed by an even better moment, when Lime reaches his hands through a sewer grate, groping in vain for the world above, only to ask Martens a moment later to kill him.

Assuming they maintain the technology to watch 20th century movies,The Third Man has a good chance to be the one movie they show 500 years from now to demonstrate what the first century of film could do, and what the last half of the 20th century was in general like.

Entertainment: 9

Intelligence: 10

Morality: 10

Posted in Great, Modern Drama | Leave a Comment »

Signs

Posted by J on July 25, 2008

Most alien-invasion or apocalypse movies these days have a global scope to them.  In Independence Day, for example, we see the alien invasion from every angle.  The camera shows us city after city being slowly set up for attack by alien invaders, only to later show the humans counterattacking together on every continent.  The point is that the world must ignore its differences and unite under a benevolent government.  As the President of the U.S. in Independence Day says, speaking for the whole world: “Today we will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.”  The implicit point of such movies, made in an age of expanding international government and global consumerism, is to praise these very movements.

Signs is quite different.  Though there is a global alien invasion, the action is confined to a rural Pennsylvania farm.  We the audience see the invasion as the other characters do: only in bits of news information that comes through a tiny TV set.  In this way, we are to identify primarily with the local and the rural, with the plight of one family whose home is under threat by beings they have not seen. True, the aliens are attacking the rest of the world, but the world will have to fend for itself in this movie.  We are only to care dearly for the few characters we are given to sympathize with, instead of being told to care for an abstraction like “the human race” or the “world.”  This gets us close to the reality of love, which is true when it personal but dark and insincere when it is impersonal and abstract.

Because Signs ignores the “We are the World” multicultural angle to its alien invasion setup, it can focus on much more important things.  The main character, Graham Hess, was once an Episcopalian minister who has officially left his church because of a change in belief.  He no longer believes in God’s existence, due to the horrific death of his wife, whose last, incoherent words were interpreted by Hess to mean that there is nothing after death.  Hess’ two children, still grieving for their mother, suffer from his new callousness.  They are all comforted to a degree by Hess’ younger brother, Merrill, who resides with them.

The movie cleverly set up a series of events that leads Hess back to repentance.  The word “signs” in the title clearly means signs from Providence, many of which come from Hess’ wife’s last words, which he has badly misinterpreted.  As it turns out, her death brings life to others, a fact which so humbles Hess that in the movie’s final shot we see him putting his ministerial collar on.  The ending affirms a number of things that badly need affirming by art these days: Hess’ faith in God, the blessings of extended family (the inclusion of Merrill makes this family one more person than the bourgeois, nuclear family), and rural America as a place where decent, smart, God-fearing people live.

This is the only M. Night Shyamalan movie where his appearance in the movie as an actor means something.  Here he plays the man who hit Hess’ wife with a car, causing her death and an alienation between himself and Hess’ family.  Shyamalan, in taking this particular role, gestures towards his role as a writer of the story, which is a sort of intermediate providence for all the events that take place in it. The point is that the character that he plays, as well as his pen, is the cause from which all the key events for the Hess family takes place.

A movie like this, one that actually handles the Christian faith as if it’s true and not a hypocritical pack of lies, comes around once every fifteen years.  Appreciate it for all it’s worth.

Entertainment: 9

Intelligence: 7

Morality: 8

Posted in Great, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | Leave a Comment »

The Thin Man

Posted by J on July 24, 2008

Watching The Thin Man should humble those quick to embrace movie fads.  Here we are, one week after the highest grossing movie weekend yet, because of the seventh installment of Batman in twenty years.  Everybody still wants to go see Batman take on the Joker, even though we saw that in 1988, or whenever the first Tim Burton flick came out.  The kids in church were pumping themselves up to see The Dark Knight thirty-five times.   It is supposedly the coolest movie ever.

Well, The Thin Man was the first of a long-running series of detectives stories featuring a husband-and-wife team, whose names we have already forgotten.  People apparently flocked to watch this series of movies back in the 1930s.   According to those who have mah-vellously broad tastes in cinema, this movie has Style.  Whenever the main attraction to see a movie is “style,” run away.  Very fast.  Do not stop to think about it.

The two main characters encounter a whole slew of people involved with a man who has supposedly killed three people.  Their job is to locate the killer, if he is the killer, and if he’s not, then they must find the real killer.  Pretty basic plot, so pizazz must be added.  That pizazz includes witty repartee, innuendo, and lots of booze.  These two characters drink and party their way through the movie as if they hadn’t drank in years.  Actually, they hadn’t.  Prohibition ended the year before this movie was made.

The whole experience of watching The Thin Man does offer some possibilities for reconstructing an early movie audience’s taste.  It gives a sense of what audiences wanted during the early years of the Depression, or at least of what studios might’ve thought audiences wanted.   The detective characters are newly rich members of the leisure class, which lets them enjoy the high life without consequences.  It is obvious that whatever audience is watching is to vicariously enjoy the rich experiences these characters have.

Yet there is no move in this movie, ala Frank Capra, to include characters of other economic classes for the sake of contrast.  The rich detectives party all night, help the police, capture a killer who is known nationwide (thanks to the media), and end the movie with a night of drinking and pleasure, as they head to San Francisco to vacation.  The movie thus equates the fantasy of the leisure class with stylishness, which is transformed into a means to promote the movie.  Obviously The Thin Man succeeds wildly in making this fantasy desirable, since it is still praised for what it’s like to experience it, not what it’s fundamentally about.  Which is basically nothing.

Entertainment: 5-7

Intelligence: 3 (admittedly, some nice compositions)

Morality: 2

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

On Sex in Movies

Posted by J on July 23, 2008

You regular readers of this site already sense that we have a strict standard about theatrical depictions of sex, or any romantic affection for that matter.  The “strictness” you sense is actually greater than you might think.  It is hidden to a degree by what is not seen here, that is, all of the movies we have considered watching but did not.  Almost all the job of censoring in our household has been completed before the “Play” button has been pushed and the review written.

Now we know others far stricter than ourselves, and we might even agree with them at times.  If it came to it, if a man or women were to err one way or the other in regard to depictions of sex and romance, he or she should err on the side of avoidance.  Joseph ran away at Potiphar’s advance, while Samson let Delilah entice him and the young man in Proverbs 7 had his life destroyed by the harlot.  There is little difference in the nature of temptation between a real person and a virtual presentation of one, such as we find in film.

Sex and romance, however, are treated far more liberally by Christians we know when placed in something honored with the label “work of art.”  The thinking goes that a movie presents something unreal, in that two actors are merely pretending, and that a movie may present a love scene but give a proper moral presentation of it (e.g., adulterous sex as destructive sex).

And, no surprise, the Bible is frank in talking about sex.  We have heard unbelievers squeal with delight in talking about the hypocrisy of prudish Christians who don’t know that their favorite book contains an entire book on eroticism (the Song of Solomon).  So, taking the Bible as a standard for story-making, it appears that there is something to credible, aesthetic representations of sex, sexuality, and romance in film, these all being essential parts of our reality and God’s creation.

Yet several problems exist for those who prefer liberty to strictness.  There is, for instance, a great difference between the medium of film and the medium of books.  These are not just different technologies that have different effects on the brain, but the mode of representation is wholly different.  The actions of a story in a book hide behind the books’ words, which do not necessarily translate to explicit images in every reader’s mind.  We may read that so-and-so “knew” so-and-so in the Bible, but only the perverse are intent on imagining what that looked like.  Film, by contrast, presents a visual image so that nothing is hidden if a filmmaker does not want it to be.   You do not have to read about so-and-so “knowing” so-and-so; the director can just show it to you.

The Bible is clear that nakedness is shameful when displayed to the wrong kinds of people or in the wrong context.  Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves immediately after the Fall, and Noah’s sons covered their eyes from seeing their drunken, naked father. It is hard to imagine any movie nudity (or even partial nudity) that is not shameful for both the actor and the viewer, who are both anonymous to each other.

This problem extends beyond partially explicit or explicit sex scenes, however.  Suppose we had a Christian movie company that wanted to make updated versions of great movies.  This company employs actors who are Christians, and one of the scripts calls for a dramatic kiss between the hero and the heroine.  The actor playing the hero happens to be a married man.  Now what should his wife think of the script that demands her husband not only pretend to love another woman, but also to show that love physically?

Most people tend not to think in these terms, instead passively accepting what the screen tells them, that the actors on-screen are simply good-looking actors playing fictional people who do fictional things.   But actors are real people required to physically do all the things they must in a movie.  That may include passionately kissing a woman who is not even an acquaintance.  Such an act — even if it were pretended on-stage — would not be tolerated in good churches.  And, at best, it would be very weird to stare at two strangers sharing a scene of any degree of physical pleasure.  But this is actually what we do when watching movies.

Our general thinking goes like this: we wouldn’t want either of us to pretend to love somebody else physically (or emotionally for that matter), especially when it’s being recorded for all of posterity to remember.  Not even a peck on the cheek.  So what are supposed to think and feel when we see two real people — not just characters in a movie — being recorded while pretending to have sex?  Or even pretending to be physically affectionate?  It seems like it should be repulsive.  Would you want your wife, or your daughter, or your mother, in such a scene with another man?  Wouldn’t you squirm if you watched such a scene with them?

So that we are not accused of putting heavy burdens on others, however, we are simply not sure that acts of viewing any onscreen physical affection are always and everywhere sinful.  Most might be, but you know better than we do your motives towards God and fellow man.  It does seem better to be strict rather than loose on this issue, however, and that means that many movies praised by the league of contemporary film critics and moviegoers will not even be mentioned here.

Postscript: There are ways that sex can be effectively used but hidden in a movie.  Consider a scene from the older version of 3:10 to Yuma.  The evil Ben Wade sets out to seduce the female bartender, and when she looks deeply into his eyes, we understand what is going to happen.  Then there is a cut and the next shot shows them walking out of a private room.  We know what has happened without asking, the needs of the plot are accomplished, but nothing explicit has been put before our eyes.  Obviously, most movies these days do not go for tact, even though sex and nudity are never necessary to a visual narrative.

Posted in Short Essays | 5 Comments »

Hamlet (1990)

Posted by J on July 22, 2008

In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 27, there’s a little-used passage in which the Levites lead a liturgy of curses.  The Levites shout out “Cursed be he who . . .”  Then all the people respond, “Amen.”  Some of these cursed actions are in unmentionable territory these days — they make old ladies in the pew blush and parents rush to cover their children’s ears — because everybody wants a syrupy sermon about change you can believe in and your best life now.  But there the unmentionables are, in the Bible that you want your kids to read and imbibe so badly, said out loud by all of the people.  Old ladies included.

Now one of these is “Cursed be he that lieth with his father’s wife,” and this for some reason came to our minds while watching this version of Hamlet.  It’s a pedestrian version, manned by Mel Gibson, who is as charismatic as usual, but then it gets to the part where Hamlet jumps on top of his mother and then she kisses him.  The whole scene is clearly incestuous, influenced more by outdated Freudian psychology rather than by Shakespeare’s words.  Which got us to thinking.  Should a movie ever portray something like this?  That’s ever, even in a negative light. We mean, it’s one thing to write about it, but another thing to bring it before someone’s eyes.  Or is it?  Clearly the Bible speaks of it, yet it is communicated in a wholly different medium than film.  Anyway, the incest scene overshadowed everything else for us.  It is disgusting.

Anyway, to this pedestrian version of Hamlet.  It’s set in medieval Europe, where everyone looks like they just got off the set of Braveheart.  Mel Gibson has a beard.  Tim Burton’s wife goes crazy, which happens in just about all of the other movies she is in.  The final battle scene is tragicomic, with Hamlet, fresh from returning from England, renewed and confident, being tragically tricked.

It did strike us that the last thing Hamlet does before dying is kill his uncle, which is taking the law into his own hands and preparing the way for foreign invaders (Fortinbras’ Norwegian army) to take over Denmark.  This is important, especially for this movie version, which completely cut out the subplot about Fortinbras.  Hamlet is a revenge play about deception and madness in the high courts of a kingdom.  The tragedy of the play is not just Hamlet’s woes turned into his own death.  It is not simply about an individual’s woes, but the woes of the family, the court, and the entire kingdom due to murder.  By the end of this play, Claudius’ murder of Hamlet’s father affects the whole of Denmark.  The entire kingdom loses its king, has its ruling family succeed in killing each other, and is invaded by foreign enemies.  Murder in high places has caused the downfall of the state, the king’s family, and the individual (Hamlet).  This movie version eliminates a lot of that depth, which, without the Fortinbras episodes, instead focuses almost completely on the individual’s collapse.  Well, that and his incestuous relationship with his mother.

Entertainment:7

Intelligence:3

Morality: 0

Posted in Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Period Drama | Leave a Comment »

Hamlet (2000)

Posted by J on July 22, 2008

It’s a sure bet.  When we walk up and down the aisles of Blockbuster, we always think about shuffling off our mortal coils.   What with the fluorescent lighting and the TVs turned up to the highest possible volume. And then there’s the selection.  For who would want to suffer through the slings and arrows of all the outrageously bad movies on the shelves, while being socially compelled to watch them with friends and relatives who would rather stare at a LCD screen for two hours than engage in productive activities and conversations?

Worst of all, Blockbuster is owned by a corporation, which reminds us of the Denmark corporation, which our uncle now owns because of our dad’s death.  Pity us.  We were supposed to be in control!

Oh wait, we’re starting to think like this movie’s Hamlet, who is a depressed, urban techno-Hamlet.  He is fond of video taping himself and then watching himself, at the same time that he’s being recorded by security cameras at the Denmark corporation’s headquarters.  It’s all a little too postmodern for us.  Hamlet splits himself into recorded images of himself, then gets even more depressed.  Um, no thanks.  We like our Hamlet reading a book in a castle, not videotaping himself in an urban jungle.

This Hamlet tries to make provoking statements about technology, but its unchanging tone will have you dashing to the countryside in no time.  All of the city slicker characters in this Hamlet are depressed, narcissistic, or both.  We already knew that about city slickers, so there is nothing new to learn here.  The movie starts out on a down note and ends even farther down.  The cityscape is imposing and alienating, the surveillance cameras are everywhere, and Hamlet and Ophelia can’t figure out the difference between attraction and love.  It’s no wonder these two are thinking about killing themselves throughout the entire movie.

One of those statements about technology is that it shapes our motives and actions in ways we’re not aware of.  A simple example in this movie is Hamlet’s trip to Blockbuster Video, in which he recites the famous “to be or not to be” speech. Prior to going there, Hamlet is contemplating a murder-suicide sure to make the national news.  He’s gotten the idea from movies, so we are to infer.  Thus he walks through the “Action” section at Blockbuster as he thinks about whether or not it would be good to kill himself after his shooting spree.  But then he gets a better idea: “I’ll make a movie!”  He’s a technowhiz with a Mac and handheld video camera, able — like all modern moviemakers — to project his terrible fantasies into his movies, thus showing them off to the world in pictures while being praised by others as a “great artist” (see Romans 1:32).

The one outstandingly bizarre choice in this movie, other than to use Shakespeare’s actual words, is to portray the ghost of Hamlet’s father as a ghost.  In a movie that ceaselessly shows us grainy, black-and-white videos, the ghost is completely real.  He’s corporeal.  Hamlet can even give him a big hug.  The rest of the movie is about showing how the self is fragmented by technology, infinitely split into digital versions of itself, but the ghost totally resists that theme.  Of all the Hamlets, this modernized version is the one that can do the best job of portraying the ghost as an ambiguous figure by having him appear in a video recording, like one of those film versions of Bigfoot.  It’s a blown opportunity to show us, the audience, one of Hamlet’s major problems: is the ghost genuine, or is it an evil spirit with malice to all as its intent?  Simple issues like this weren’t thought through in pre-production, so this Hamlet has ended up as a cliched drama with a shoot-em-up ending and some great 17th century turns of phrase.

Entertainment: 3

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 1

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