J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for November, 2008

The Happening

Posted by J on November 28, 2008

200px-thehappening1_largeThe Happening is a disaster movie that takes it premise far too seriously, and yet doesn’t take it seriously enough.  Here is what we mean by by the latter. In the movie, the entire northeastern seaboard is wiped out.  Citizens of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all dead.  But somehow this doesn’t create a national economic catastrophe; the banking system is still up and running, and the TV networks still air talking-head shows.

This movie also believes that it has a message.  It is such a grandiose message that the movie assumes the ultimate title: The Happening.  Couldn’t every movie be titled “The Happening”?  It is great marketing idea nonetheless.  Next time we send the relatives home videos of the kids’ banging on the piano, we’ll just title them “The Happening.”  It’ll be so vague and mysterious, everyone will want to watch.

What happens in The Happening is that people start to die in Central Park, New York City.  The wind rustles in the trees — here is the key message of the movie: if you feel the wind rustling, run! — and once people are trapped by this wind there is no escape.  They walk backwards, then kill themselves.

In other parts of the city, people worry.  Is this a terrorist attack?  If it is, the entire city doesn’t care.  It remains calm and orderly, especially the train station, from which our heroes escape.  One of them is Mark Wahlberg, a high school science teacher who has the most well-behaved high school classroom we’ve ever seen.  Wahlberg recites the scientific method to us, as if it will apply to anything remotely to do with this movie.

Wahlberg and wife leave New York City to go to Philadelphia, but, somewhere along the way, they get stuck in rural eastern Pennsylvania.  They hear that people are dying everywhere.  At one point, there are dead people in all four directions.  So they abandon their vehicles and walk across the country, in the direction of dead people.

At this point, Wahlberg decides to use the scientific method to figure out what’s happening with The Happening.  Actually, Wahlberg makes a guess from two shaky pieces of evidence. Wahlberg decides that the mass suicides aren’t the product of a terrorist attack, but instead of plants.  It is plants that cause the wind to rustle, and plants that cause people to walk backwards and commit suicide.

That’s right.  The Happening is plants that attack. The plants — which species, we do not know — are releasing new spores, or something, that are getting up people’s noses and causing the brain to reverse the “survival instinct.”  (This is no great secret.  It is a possibility offered early in the movie.)  To avoid the plant spores, you must avoid the wind, which is nearly impossible, but nevermind.

At this point, the wind rustles while Wahlberg and his large group are in an open field.  As they run, one group gets caught in the wind.  Amazingly, the other group does not.  Apparently the wind can choose which group to kill in an open field.

The last third of this movie involves Wahlberg and his wife at a rural old lady’s house.  You can guess how a rural old lady acts in a quasi-horror film. Here, the old lady channels Norman Bates from Psycho.  This has little to do with the rest of the movie, except that Wahlberg needs a place of refuge.

The movie is extraordinarily weak on characterization.  It is far more interested in showing graphic suicides, none of which are artistically necessary.  You will see a woman stab herself in the neck, people fall off building, and a man run a lawnmower over himself.  All of these moments of violence are purely voyeuristic.

Intertwined with this voyeurism is the big message: be environmentally conscious.  If we aren’t, plants will rapidly evolve and attack all of us, using their good pal, the wind.  You know how it is: everything needs to be “green” these days.  Finally, in The Happening, a bad movie with unnecessary violence goes green.  We expect the next hit movie about serial killers to go green.  Followed by the next hit raunchy comedy.  It’s the times.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 2


Posted in Reality-Fantasy, They Spent Millions on This? | Leave a Comment »

Ace in the Hole

Posted by J on November 27, 2008

200px-aceIt’s only a matter of time before Ace in the Hole gets resurrected and put in the Film Canon of film canons.  It’s already in ours.  This cynical movie covers ground already staked out by some culturally conservative political and religious groups.  It would not work for any group intertwined with the powers-that-be, since it is a firm indictment of any reigning media establishment. But it is so biting, and so true, that we highly recommend it for anyone with a countercultural mindset.  That includes those of you who have gladly taken an axe to your TV set and are slightly cynical about present-day politics.

The irony is that Ace in the Hole — like so many classic movies from the first half of the twentieth century — was originally a liberal critique.  Back then, in the 1950s, liberals were only mild hypocrites with a good sense of Christian morality.  So while Ace in the Hole is a critique of capitalism, it actually critiques it on the basis of Christian morality, and not for multicultural tolerance or just because.

Ace in the Hole is the story of Chuck Tatum, a newspaper reporter on the lookout for number one.  Tatum seeks instant fame for himself, and, having been kicked out of the major cities on the east coast for his drive and determination to get The Story, he winds up in New Mexico.  Tatum takes a job at an Albuquerque newspaper, whose editor has an embroidered sign outside his door that says “Tell the Truth.”  Tatum sneers at this, complains about being in the desert, where nothing happens, and heads off to do another story.

On the way to that story, Tatum finds another one.  He learns that a man is stuck in a remote cave, an old Indian burial ground.  Smelling a major human-interest piece, Tatum crawls inside the cave to talk to the man.  Here there is little wrong, the man is only trapped in a cave-in, but the rescue job should take just a few hours.  But Tatum sees something in this situation he cannot resist: opportunity.

Here is where things get interesting.  Tatum stalls the rescue job.  After sending a piece to his newspaper about a man trapped in the mystical Mountain of the Seven Vultures, Tatum convinces the local sheriff to drill from the top instead of the bottom.  This will take days, as opposed to hours, but the benefit is that Tatum will make this a national story and turn the sheriff into the hero.  Not coincidentally, the sheriff is up for a tough re-election very soon.

The conspiracy further escalates.  The trapped man’s wife runs a diner nearby.  Like Tatum, she hates the remoteness of New Mexico.  When Tatum’s story breaks nationally, and tourists arrive in droves, her business increases exponentially.  She begins to be attracted to Tatum.  He’s an icon, a rockstar, the lone reporter who has access to the cave and the man who provides the scoop to the entire country.  She wants to run away with him to New York, and forgets about her trapped husband.

And then there are the tourists.  These naive people begin arriving at the cave-in after Tatum’s story breaks.  Soon, the cave is surrounded by commerce.  Ferris wheels, food vendors, impromptu concerts, and hundreds of people.  This cave-in, thanks to Tatum, is big business.

Everyone seems concerned about the trapped man, or is that the real concern?  The tourists, like good sheep, do not realize they are simple, manipulated consumers.   They think the trapped man will be rescued in a few days.  The other newspaper reporters feed their respective papers with information.  But the entire situation is a money machine, engineered by Tatum, who resigns from his New Mexican newspaper and earns a thousand a day working as an independent journalist.

So this movie is cynical about the following: consumerism, celebrity culture, media power, political electioneering, the purpose of human interest stories, and the neutrality of journalism.  But it is cynical in a morally critical way.  Watch how Christian iconography is used at the end, as the trapped man nears the end of the drilling and the end of his life.  Will he die?  This question is not as important as, what does that really mean for Tatum?

This is a movie that regular readers of this blog will definitely want to see.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 8

Morality: 9

Posted in Great, Modern Drama | Leave a Comment »

The Accidental Tourist

Posted by J on November 27, 2008

Hey, finally!  A movie that isn’t hyperemotional.200px-the_accidental_tourist If you want a quiet character study, in which the themes are grief, miscommunication, and martial separation, we hold out The Accidental Tourist to you.  This movie was a welcome relief to us, since we’ve been bombarded all our lives by outrageous characters, flashy effects, soaring music, and basically anything else that will get our attention.

Here there are no outrageous characters, only well-developed ones.  The main one, Macon Leary, writes travel books for businessmen.  Just like his customers, Leary does not like to travel, which means there’s a low-level reluctance to do what his job requires.  Yet give advice he does, but only in print.  The movie opens with Leary’s wife revealing to him that she wants a divorce.  The couple has undergone great stress in the last year, ever since their only son was killed in an armed robbery.

So Leary is left alone in a large house, with a dog named Edward, who (watch how the camera does this) is a main character in his own right.  Edward grieves too, and in a chance meeting, Leary runs into a dogtrainer named Muriel Pritchett.  Pritchett begins to train the dog to sit and be silent.  She is aggressive and assertive, but makes offers with no-strings-attached.  Leary does not want to see her, then he does not want to go to dinner, and then . . . he finds himself being slowly trained by her.

This story is not formulaic, and once Leary and Pritchett find a bit of joy in one another, we proceed to further complications involving Leary’s wife.  The key in this story is Leary’s motivations and culpability.  His character flaws are obvious, which makes you constantly question his judgment.  And yet you see him pulled into numerous situations which he was reluctant to enter to begin with — just like his job as a travel writer.  Every word that Leary utters is complicated by every circumstance he is in, every bit of information he knows, every character he is around.  The same can be said for all of the minor characters, too, and that’s what makes this a good movie.  (The subplots, not mentioned here, do great work too.)

There are two flaws.  The first one is formal.  Since the subjects at hand are love and marriage, the absence of Christ as the only firm anchor in marriage is obvious.  The movie is necessarily sad, though it contains a wide range of tones within that sadness.  We bring up this point just to bring it up.  You, dear, mature reader, can find plenty worthwhile material to discuss in this movie.  Between the two of us, we chatted during the entire movie about character motivations and complexities.  That’s a good thing.

But then the other flaw.  John Williams scored the movie.  For all the accolades this guy gets, we can’t understand why people don’t point out that he also ruins movies!  He comes close here.  His little six-note theme plays over and over and over and over and over again.  And over again and over again.  Six notes, repeatedly.  Did he score this movie for torture chambers?

Even worse, Williams has a bad habit of swelling music in certain scenes that do not need swelling music at all.  Swelling music is fine for action-adventure movies, which is what Williams is so well known for.  But in a multi-toned, emotionally complicated movie like this, you can’t swell the music in the final scene!  Argggghhhh.  The fact that Williams made an enormous musical crescendo in the last twenty seconds shows that he understood nothing about the movie.  We do not need a Star Wars finale to The Accidental Tourist.  So you have been warned about the last twenty seconds.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 7

Morality: 3? Or 7?  Somewhere in there.

Posted in Modern Drama, Pretty Good | Leave a Comment »


Posted by J on November 27, 2008

200px-enchantedposterEnchanted is another fouled-up fairy tale, like Shrek and whatever snarky twists on folk stories they’re putting out these days.  We can’t go anywhere without encountering snark.  It’s all over the Internet.  It’s all over TV.  Everywhere, everyone seems to want to make a pointed, wry barb out of something serious.

Thankfully, Enchanted is not all snark.  It is also sappy at times and bizarre at others.  Probably the most enjoyable moments occur when the princess, from the cartoon world of storybook ideals, meets the real world.   She plays her character straight, or as it were, cartoonish.  Still, you will have to deal with a pigeon eating a cockroach right after the cheery “Happy Working Song.”  This is what we mean by snark.

There is good-heartedness here, but that’s what all Walt Disney musicals have.  The plot?  In the cartoon world, a prince rescues a lady, and they decide to marry.  The prince’s mother, however, tricks the lady into falling down a dark hole, the end of which is the three-dimensional world of New York City.  The princess walks around New York, bewildered, until she stumbles into a divorce lawyer.  The cartoon prince, obviously, finds out where his princess is and follows her into the real world.   A hunt ensues.  The characters spontaneously burst into song.  Lots of fish out of water scenes.  You’ve seen all of this before, though this movie feels slightly above average, thanks to good casting.

Kudos to Disney for portraying evil witches as evil witches.  Unfortunately the princess is a princess in 2007, not 1907.  So she looks like a Barbie doll but dresses like she’s desperate for a male.  There are at least two scenes in which the princess accidentally enters a wet T-shirt contest, thanks to the weather, and one in which she gets caught in a bathroom shower.  Her cleavage is available for all to see throughout the movie.  She is supposed to be naive.  After watching this movie, your boys will not be.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 4

Posted in Musical, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Silly but Entertaining | Leave a Comment »

Encounters at the End of the World

Posted by J on November 25, 2008

200px-end_of_the_world_post1Yes, there are people in Antarctica.  Encounters at the End of the World is a documentary about them, sort of.  Actually it is more or less about director Werner Herzog’s mystical spin on Antarctica, the “end of the world” where all lines of the globe converge on the South Pole.

Herzog uses this documentary — which, he declares, will not be about penguins — to peer into the world of science projects on the Earth’s southernmost continent.  Why do people even bother to live here, and what are their dreams?  Herzog does a fine job of getting Antarcticans to open up about what they think the world and the universe mean.

There is a double meaning in the title, of course, which implies that Herzog thinks that we’re living in the end times. Sound familiar?  For all the fun made of Christians who believe in the rapture, there are plenty of other groups — scientists and materialists included — who are doomday mongers themselves.  In Antarctica we meet a few, including a team of scientists who watch the giant bug sci-fi flick Them! just for kicks.  Several ruminate on humankind as a species and the fragility of all life on Earth.  If all life is headed toward extinction, humans will be extinct, they reason.  With global warming climate change, volcano eruptions, and meteor showers coming in the future, humankind is going to bite the dust.  With such a grim view, one wonders how these people even bother to live (and that includes Herzog himself).

In a movie that demands a mention of God, we get none.  Herzog shows us amazing pictures of life teeming under a frozen ocean.  He explores the ice chimneys on Mount Erebus.  He shows us a penguin who, perhaps in a fit of madness, leaves his colony and heads towards the interior of the continent and certain death.  But God is nowhere to be found here.  The only gods to be found are images of Hawaiian spirits found on a multi-million dollar neutrino machine.  The scientist who operates the machine says that neutrinos are almost like little gods, spirits who go in and out of his nose.

Almost all of the people in Antarctica, it seems, are listless wanderers, ex-hippies who came to the ice continent in search of meaning.  This is not exactly true, but the tiny settlement of McMurdo — Antarctica’s largest town — contains plenty of rogue individuals with graduate degrees in linguistics, physics, and geology who all appear to want something as unique as they can find.  In a land where the sun is up for 24 hours during the summer, they’ve found it.

This movie would be an excellent text for a worldview class.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 6

Morality: see above

Posted in Documentary, Pretty Good | 2 Comments »

Pride and Prejudice (2005)

Posted by J on November 21, 2008

“This is not Jane Austen,” says C.  She is correct, though the plot is faithful to Jane’s book.200px-prideandprejudice-movieposter But having studied this movie shot-by-shot, we can easily declare it a well-crafted movie.  In terms of applying film technique to an early nineteenth century plot, the movie is a classic.

Austen diehards like C. will undoubtedly have issues.  Some of the actors may seem miscast, or at times inept.  We refer especially to Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett, whose interpretation of Bennett as a low-key mumbler seems to be different than the sarcastic jokester that Austen had in mind.

Likewise, the movie veers towards a kind of kitsch romanticism that the book never approaches.   But of course it does; it’s a movie, and they all do that.  Consider that Austen’s book is concerned with virtues and manners, with educating readers on the degrees of appropriate conduct and sentiment.  In the book, the first thing that Darcy and Elizabeth do after getting engaged is to talk about what was wrong with how they previously acted, particularly with their manners.  Darcy even goes into a psychiatric evaluation of his childhood, and how that childhood programmed him to act prideful and conceited “in practice, though not in principle.”  This is not the kind of thing that couples do ten minutes after getting engaged, but oh well, it’s a Jane Austen book.

This movie, however, focuses on Elizabeth’s internal emotional state and projects that turmoil onscreen.  There are two or three short dream sequences, one of which has her standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind threatening to blow her off.  The scene in which Darcy famously gives Elizabeth a letter likewise focuses on Elizabeth.  That encounter here is as much fantasy as fact, as much Elizabeth’s baffled, emotional interpretation as a coherent, realistic sequence of events.  This movie is not Jane Austen; it is a romantic fantasy.

Despite this, this version of Pride and Prejudice aims to be the most realistic of all film versions.  The opening sequence swoops through the Bennet household in one take, in which we see the animals in their front lawn and the laundry strung out in front of the house.  Later, at the ball, we watch perhaps a hundred people happily dance, though we can almost smell the sweat and stink of the place.  The sets, when we reach Lady de Bourgh’s and Darcy’s estates, are elaborate and realistic.  Someone spent a lot of money to make what we see look like early nineteenth century England.  Even the ladies appear to have gone lightly on the makeup.

About this film’s craft.  Everyone should notice the extraordinary long takes, in which, for example, the camera swoops through the entire scene of the ball.  This is unusual, perhaps unprecedented for Jane Austen period movies, but it aims to relate the connected intricacies of the English social world.  In that way it is faithful to the book.  Jane is not much one for detail, but she is one for relationships.  Here, the camera has found a way to visually demonstrate those relationships.  In that way, we guess this movie is like Jane Austen.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 8

Morality: 10

Posted in Great, Period Drama | Leave a Comment »

Father of the Bride (1991)

Posted by J on November 19, 2008

Because Father of the Bride is so incredibly sappy, it’s important to recognize its implicit moral values.  In father_of_the_bride1stories like this, sap drenches values.  People cry tears of happiness and say “awwww!” with their entertainment goggles on, but that means they miss what the story is teaching them.  This movie does not provide much depth, but it tells us something about what we value.

The “father” mentioned in the title is helpless and lacks familial control.  His daughter met a man while in Italy, and she gets engaged without immediately telling her parents.  She knows how to use a phone, but she asked no one about the prudence of this match.  Translation: children are completely independent from parents.  Especially when it comes to mating.

“Of course they are completely independent,” you say, but then you are obviously living in Western culture in the 21st century.  Go back a hundred years, or go to the different part of the world, and you will find fathers and mothers choosing mates for their sons and daughters.  Remember the story of Samson, who had to ask his parents to procure a wife for him:

“Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines.  Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” — Judges 14:1-3

This is not the world-historical norm — Samson is making the choice, and his parents are bothered by that — but it is closer to the norm than Steve Martin gets.

Throughout the movie, the father acts out anxiety over the minimal role he plays in this marriage.  How can he give his little girl to a man he barely knows?  But whatever makes her happy, he thinks, consoling himself.  This fatherly anxiety is amplified many times by the unnecessary voiceover narrator, who instructs us on what the father is thinking and feeling, which is mostly helplessness.  This is supposed to be funny.

Though the father of the bride has almost no authority in this situation, he is expected to provide everything.  He must pay for the wedding even though his future son-in-law’s parents are far richer than he is.  At $250 per person, for 500 people, this wedding requires serious cash.  The final total would nearly bankrupt the father, but nevermind that.  Whatever makes his little girl happy.  This father and his family values the present over the future — a one-day dreamworld over the credit card bills he will be paying for years.

Why do the bride’s parents have to pay for the wedding?  Custom.  Once upon a time, the groom paid the bride’s family.  This was a form of insurance, a dowry, in case the groom died or left his wife.  The dowry is implied in the Old Testament law about bride-prices (see Exodus 22:16-17) and is mentioned in numerous passages in the Bible, not to mention all of ancient and medieval literature.  The father of the bride could also give something to the newly married couple, but it would not be $250 times 500 for a one-day event.   It was a long-term gift, like a big piece of land or a city (Judges 1:15 and 1 Kings 9:16).  Note the differences: a $10,000 wedding cake lasts two hours; a $50 blender is a gift that keeps on giving.

This movie sentimentalizes the valuing of the present over the future.  In other words, it’s the triumph of the most important of modern American values: consumption and instant gratification.   The movie also legitimizes the feelings of a compromised father, who has his daughter’s love but not her full trust.

Late in the movie, the groom-to-be tells us that the thing he loves most about his future bride is her “complete independence.”  In twenty-five years, he will be the next father of the bride.  If he has any children at all.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 0

Morality: see above

Posted in Comedy, They Spent Millions on This? | 2 Comments »

Stalag 17

Posted by J on November 15, 2008

Stalag 17 suffers from neglect because of its later spawn, Hogan’s Heroes and The Great Escape.  This is the 200px-stalag_17movie in which Sergeant Schulz first appears, that duddy German barracks officer who’s always the butt of American POW wisecracks.  If you know that fact alone before watching the movie, you’ll be completely surprised by Stalag 17‘s depth and its formal intricacies.  This is a great example of a well-made movie, a genuine classic.

The vast difference between this movie and The Great Escape is in its aim.  The Great Escape, a movie about American POWs in a German WWII prison camp, is all about escape.  It’s a fun action-adventure flick, with some colorful characters and charismatic actors.  It’s also a decent pickup in the $5 DVD bin at Walmart.  Too bad we’ve never seen Stalag 17 in the same bin.  It’s about escaping from a German WWII prison camp too, but it aims for the deeper themes of community and individualism, loyalty and betrayal, and justice and injusitice.  It also has Billy Wilder’s crafted, framed shots and a first-person narrator, which adds complexity that The Great Escape lacks.  Complex movies are rewatchable, which is why they’re a good deal for $5.

Frankly, to have made Hogan’s Heroes from this movie is like taking the Fool from King Lear and making him the star of a low-brow slapstick comedy.  Like any Shakespearian tragedy (though we don’t say this movie is Shakespearian or tragic), Stalag 17 has its comic moments, particularly with two bumbling bunkmates who have babes on the brain.  But there is tension and melancholy underneath the humor, since these POWs have a genuine dislike for the Nazis, and vice versa.  The Nazis are fine with playing nice, unless they are disobeyed.  Then it’s death by machine gun.  These American POWs look like they aren’t sure they’ll ever get home.  The best they can do is make a home at the prison camp.

The main issue in Stalag 17 is that there is a traitor in the barracks.  Somebody is tipping off the Germans about all that the American POWs do.  Who is it, the narrator asks?  It could be anybody, but one of the men is a loner and an opportunist.  Another is crazy, perhaps.  Whoever it is, he is responsible for the loss of important goods and a breakdown in community trust.

We won’t say who it is, leaving the analysis to you, but notice the way economics and sociology clash.  The opportunist makes money (cigarettes) on the community and accumulates a huge stash.  Seemingly jealous, the rest of the barracks is automatically suspicious of his success.  He is not contributing to their well-being, nor does he help himself with his aloof remarks.  This situation quickly turns into a problem of loyalty and justice — and it’s impossible to not abstract the particulars of the plot onto 20th century American history.  It’s a particularly interesting exercise to consider this movie in light of HUAC’s activities in the 1950s and Hollywood blacklisting.

Anyway, just remember this is nothing like Hogan’s Heroes, and probably tied with The Bridge on the River Kwai for the best WWII prison camp movie.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 6

Morality: 9

Posted in Great, Jailbreak, War | Leave a Comment »


Posted by J on November 15, 2008

Papillion is a jailbreak movie that doesn’t induce claustrophobia.  It might induce some yawning, but that 200px-papillon_ver1only will come later in the movie.  Our prisoner, a man nicknamed “Papillion” for the butterfly tattooed onto his chest, travels from France to French Guiana to Honduras and back to French Guiana.  As a prisoner in the dreaded French penal colony system, Papillion has a will to survive like no other.  He also tries to break free, constantly.

“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains.”  So said Jean-Jacques Rousseau, complaining that human society corrupts all individuals who in an otherwise natural setting would be happy, content, and uncorrupted. Papillion pays attention to Rousseau’s philosophy.  The French penal colony system is as oppressive as human society gets, so we are shown, and if only Papillion could get outside of it and live freely.  For a time, he does, living amongst a native South America tribe for a few weeks of idle bliss.  When the film gets to this moment, it becomes too idealistic and inconsistent, and therefore it lags.

The above paragraph answers the key question, “Freedom to what?”, since Papillion is escaping to something as well as from something.  Some viewers might get the idea that the movie is about spiritual liberation.  Perhaps to some degree that is true, but recall the scene where Papillion shows up at the nunnery.  The head nun deceives him and turns him back into the authorities, who ship him back to French Guiana for five years of solitary confinement.  The church, the movie seems to be saying, is complicit in society’s oppression.  Papillion just wants to get away from it all.  That seems to mean everything you can see in this movie, which is nearly everything.

The movie is compelling in its early going, when Papillion and his fellow prisoners arrive at the penal colony, up through the point where Papillion exits solitary confinement for the first time.  Papillion forges a lifelong friendship with another prisoner, Louis Dega, who each save each other’s life.  “Someone saving my life is a new experience for me,” Dega tearfully exclaims, as he explains why he is risking his life to bribe guards just to make sure that Papillion gets sufficient nourishment.  Papillion had the potential to be a wonderful movie if just for the Papillion-Dega relationship.  If only the movie had been properly edited.  If only.

The movie also should be considered a soft “R”.  You might look at the PG rating and think “okay,” but if you are wanting an okay movie to watch with the kiddos, catch Papillion on TV.  Otherwise you will see a decapitation, a man get his throat slit, lots of other scenes with bad 1970s fake blood, prison talk and innuendo, and a 5-minute scene with naked, tribal women.

Entertainment: 5-7

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 4

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

Iron Man

Posted by J on November 13, 2008

The myth of the self-made man is alive and well.  Iron Man is an extreme male fantasy, particularly an ironmanposterAmerican male fantasy, in which the hero beds hot women, drives cool cars, plays with high-tech gadgets, owns a house in Malibu, and can invent the most amazing technological devices ever made all by himself.  Sheesh.  Is there no humility these days?

We found a likeness to the recent, duddy blockbuster Transformers throughout.  Our hero is a transformer himself.  He becomes Iron Man using a trillion-dollar robot suit, which lets him fly to the moon and fly to Afghanistan in order to save a remote village from a terrorist attack.  There are also plenty of one-liners, lots of destruction, and abundant rock music.

Our hero, Tony Stark, is an incredibly rich genius who owns a weapons manufacturing company.  He supplies deadly weapons to the U.S. military.  For some reason Stark goes to Afghanistan and rides in a convoy, which of course gets sabotaged by terrorists.  Does he not know that rich guys do not go anywhere near the front lines?  But questions of logic do not work for movies like this, so we will stop asking them.

Stark is captured by a terrorist group, which demands that he build them a billion-dollar rocket system out of a basketful of screws and car parts.  Instead of totally complying with these demands, Stark builds an invincible suit that lets him attack the terrorists and fly away.  While flying away, his suit fails and he crashes at free-fall speed, yet suffers no fatal injuries.  He is rescued and returns to the United States, where he renounces his weapons business.

You’d think a movie like this would have an obvious “liberal” (so-called) agenda.  Stark after all decides that it is morally wrong to manufacture weapons, converting from his hardcore, peace-through-strength position.  The film plays up the faux-conservative vs. faux-liberal arguments that we hear over and over again on Talking Head TV.  But it’s not exactly a liberal movie.  Consider that Stark, as capitalist and entrepreneur, re-enacts the myth of the lone inventor who comes up with something brilliant in his basement.  The government didn’t do that; American pluck and know-how did.  In that sense the movie appeals to free-marketeers too.

But wait, there’s more.  A government agent keeps showing up to debrief Stark on his capture in Afghanistan.  This agent is from a bureau called S.H.I.E.L.D., which is some kind of homeland security boondoogle.  Though the agent looks like he’s fresh from the set of The Matrix, the movie develops him into a good and useful guy, thus implicitly praising Homeland Security.

In short, there’s something in Iron Man to please everybody, unless you’re an Afghani terrorist or a bald, bearded white guy who heads a weapons manufacturing corporation.  We’re down to maybe three or four groups now who can be effective villains in movies, thanks to P.C.  Germans, Russians, rednecks, corporate CEOs, and tan-skinned terrorists.

Oh, but what about Iron Man?  We weren’t that amazed by it, even though it tries it’s darnedest to amaze with special effects.  Zathura is director Jon Favreau’s better movie.  If you need an entertainment fix, go rent that instead.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 2 (a brief, unnecessary sex scene)

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