J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for September, 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Posted by J on September 13, 2009

paul_blart_mall_copThe premise of Paul Blart: Mall Cop is hilarious by itself.  Here you’ve got a mall security guard, with no gun and no social authority, vying for respectability in an upper-class shopping mall, a place filled with women and elderly folk.  Like most rent-a-cops, Paul Blart is overweight and bumbling.  He’s at the lowest end of the hierarchy of police and security guards, and yet he takes his duty seriously.   That duty includes stopping senior citizens who are speeding through the mall in their electric carts.

There are of course a lot of ways to screw this premise up, and the movie producers did that plenty of times here.  But Paul Blart: Mall Cop isn’t all that bad. It’s not horrifically stupid or vulgar, which is 90% of making a decent movie comedy these days.

Blart himself probably represents the intended audience for this movie.  He’s a lower middle-class, middle-aged white guy with a sweettooth.  In the movie’s opening scenes, Blart tries out as a state trooper, only to be thwarted by his hypoglycemia.  Disappointed, Blart returns home to where his mother and daughter reside.  Blart’s daughter, whom he clearly loves, is the child of a love affair in which Blart was fooled by an illegal immigrant from Mexico into marrying the immigrant and thus granting her citizenship.   Blart then goes to his job, which he loves, even though no one takes him seriously.  And, finally, Blart pines for the love of a woman.

Inevitably there’s a love interest, a major problem, and a showdown.  It was right to have the major showdown take place in the mall, which is really an indoor carnival.   The main problem is that this showdown — which lasts half the movie — doesn’t exploit the possibilities of the premise, and it’s absurd without being all that funny.   With some tweaks — a better cast and improved writing — this movie could’ve been pretty darn good.

The best thing about Paul Blart is that it blows away all of the pretentious Cannes-Telluride-Oscar-winning nonsense  that’s so often marketed as “artistic greatness.”  Blart is the kind of guy we middle-class, middle Americans all know, and because we know him we enjoy watching him and laughing at him.  Someday some movie studio is going to figure this out.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 1

Morality: 7

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

The DaVinci Code

Posted by J on September 7, 2009

Giving credit where it’s due, Dan Brown did resurrect the Holy Grail story.  davinci-code-posterSure, we all know he ripped off Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum to do it, but who among you doesn’t get his blood stirred over a story of some valiant soul searching for the Holy Grail?

So here we have Tom Hanks searching for the cup of Christ.  Hanks is a professor of symbology at Harvard, who tells us that triangles and towers and church steeples are phallic objects that represent men, but that inverted triangles and upside-down steeples represent females.  Necessarily then, the cup of Christ is female, which means that Leonardo da Vinci painted his The Last Supper with an obscured Mary Magdalene next to Christ, who fathered lots of kids.  The Knights Templars guarded the Christ-Magdalene line of kiddies, while the Catholic Church, beginning at the Council of Nicaea, tried to destroy this secret bloodline of Jesus Christ.

It’s all supposed to be total nonsense turned into suspenseful fun, but the protestors do have a point.  The movie moves from one scene to the next very briskly, barely giving its viewers enough time to understand which character knows what piece of information.  But when it gets to the point where it explains the stuff about Mary Magdalene, the movie dwells and dwells on the long history of it, as if to say we really should consider its wacko theory.  There are even plenty of flashbacks to 300 AD to visually support the explanation that Jesus did in fact father children and the “fact” that Christians killed lots of women in order to preserve their cult of personality.

Really, Brown has absorbed multicultural nonsense and spit it back at his eager readers.  We hear an awful lot about how the Christian church has persecuted women and children and blacks and gays and cattle and Star Trek fans and all other oppressed minorities throughout history.  To The DaVinci Code, the Church is pretty much the big bully who is stomping the faces of everyone forever.    Presumably, if only Hanks could find Mary Magdalene’s grave, this persecution will end.

Well he does find Mary Magdalene’s grave and the Holy Grail — those being two seperate things — only you’ll have to wait until the sequel to find out if he ultimately takes down the Vatican.  But perhaps in that one Hanks will instead discover that the Prophet Muhammed sired a secret bloodline that all Muslims everywhere have oppressed for centuries.  This bloodline crossed with Christ’s bloodline to form a Super Prophet, only Hanks has to discover the City of Atlantis and find the Abominable Snowman first, before he learns that he himself is the Super Prophet.  This could be a great movie, except that all Muslims everywhere would have to promise not to order a fatwah on the heads of Ron Howard and Tom Hanks.  Fat chance, since mocking Islam is not P.C. at present.

Entertainment:5

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, They Spent Millions on This? | Leave a Comment »

The Mosquito Coast

Posted by J on September 5, 2009

“The United States is going to hell in a handbasket,” so we’ve heard many say, including the main character of this mosquito_coast_ver2movie, The Mosquito Coast.  The movie provides a reasonable moral warning to those who think they want to pack up to leave this country for a better land, either because the country’s going socialistic, going capitalistic, getting immoral, or any which way you think is bad.  As well, The Mosquito Coast is a commentary on the classic American ethos: self-made, independent, and always on the go.

Here the main character, Allie Fox, is a genius inventor who grumpily complains to his oldest son that America is going down the toilet.  “We eat when we’re not hungry, drink when we’re not thirsty. We buy what we don’t need and throw away everything that’s useful,” Allie complains while in a grocery chain store.  He is not a Marxist, however, but a quasi-traditionalist who believes partly in classic American values and completely in his own self-determination.  Fox’s complaints include consumer culture, the possibility of nuclear war, and increasing dependence on government.  He has an absolute trust in progress, and he demands that others adopt his pluck and inventiveness: “It’s an absolute sin to accept the decadence of obsolescence. Why do things get worse and worse? They don’t have to. They could get better and better.”

Fed up with the United States, Fox decides to pick up his family of six and move to the Mosquito Coast, manifesting his American spirit.  Even though he is sick of the U.S., Fox is thoroughly American.  He wants to enter a natural paradise and create civilization, a civilization on his own terms.   He wants the wilderness and the machine at the same time, with himself in control and as few people around as possible.

So Fox and family move to the jungle in the Caribbean and end up buying a small village in the middle of nowhere.  Along the way Fox runs into a charismatic missionary, Reverend Spellgood.  As something of an atheist, Fox demonstrates that he is the intellectual better of the two, and thereafter the two become rivals, competing for the hearts and minds of the locals.  Spellgood doesn’t much like what Fox is up to, and Fox thinks Spellgood is a charlatan.  In a sense, the movie seems to say, both are two of the same spirit: crafty leaders, one scientific and one religious, both quintessentially American.

Needless to say, Fox’s social and scientific experiments are utter failures, in stark contrast to his views on human progress.  Fox directly compares himself to Dr. Frankenstein, an apt comparison which plays out symbolically in the fate of Fox’s pet project, an enormous ice machine that uses nothing but fire and ammonia to make ice.

The story is told through the eyes of Fox’s son, Charlie Fox, a teenager who is unsure how to view his independently-minded father.  Fox’s entire family suffers from his obsessions and self-centeredness, especially in the latter stages of the movie when Fox takes them all — starving and weary — on a raft up a river, ala Heart of Darkness.  There are a number of discussion items for fathers and husbands in a study group to get out of this movie, particularly on the subject of overbearing or tyrannical family leaders.

To be sure, there are a number of flaws in the movie.  For example, the local Caribbeans are treated cinematically almost as noble savages.  Innocent and good-hearted, they are the pawns of Fox and Goodspeed.  The tribal drumbeats even serve to tempt young Charlie, who eschews the call to go native. The movie — in typical late 20th century fashion — compares the ambitious Americans with the happy-go-lucky Third Worlders.  In most respects it seems the Third Worlders are better, though the movie clearly serves to praise and critique the Fox family, while allowing the natives to only be background participants in the drama.

In spite of these and other flaws, The Mosquito Coast is intriguing enough to watch carefully.  It’s worthwhile to resurrect it in a time when your conservative or far-left friends are grumbling loudly about socialism and fascism and our national downward spiral.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 7

Morality: 7 (on par with Pixar and other animated films, in terms of the lack of sex and bad language)

Posted in Great, Modern Drama | Leave a Comment »

The Karate Kid

Posted by J on September 5, 2009

Ah, the mid-1980s.  When Italian-Americans could team up with Japanese-Americans to defeat rich, white California karate karate_kidsnots.  The Karate Kid was a monster hit way back when, playing in theaters for several months and capturing the hearts of soon-to-be 30- and 40-somethings.  Most people are terribly nostalgic about this movie, but frankly almost all of it has aged badly.

For many, this movie probably captured some kind of high school experience.  In it we find crummy ’80s pop music, adrenaline-pumping fights between bullies and the bullied, and a new kid in town who instantly captures the heart of a rich, popular blonde.  Basically it’s story of a weak outsider who hates his school but ends up learning lots of life lessons and becoming a cool dude.  This is the personal dream of millions who never come close to satisfying it.

The movie stalls and stalls only until Mr. Miyagi enters the picture, the only redeeming feature of the movie twenty-five years after its release.  A Japanese-American who can barely speak English, but who we are led to believe served in the U.S. Army in WWII (yeah, right!), Miyagi serves as a father-figure for the teenage boy main character, Daniel.  Of course the screenwriters aren’t idiots.  Daniel does not have a father, because a father would only get in the way of the teenager learning martial arts and becoming ultra cool.

Miyagi is in the movie mostly to dispense Oriental ways and wisdom to his student, who must learn karate in six weeks so that he can defeat much larger men who have studied karate all their lives.  To teach his student karate, Miyagi has Daniel wax cars and paint fences and houses.  After three days of menial labor, Daniel is a professional at defensive karate moves.

Miyagi then proceeds to teach Daniel the “crane kick,” a karate move that is so effective that there is no defense for it.  The move involves standing on one leg and raising both arms, then delivering a swift kick to an opponent’s face.  Somehow the move is ultra-powerful even though it involves jumping and therefore momentarily losing one’s balance, which is never good.  Moreover, this move is an ancient one which Miyagi, who learned it from his father, passes down to his surrogate son.  A lot of this movie is about Daniel, a high school American immersed in pop culture, learning about one of the only traditions within a thousand miles of him. When Miyagi miraculously heals Daniel twice with a rubdown, we know that in this movie Miyagi’s traditional magic is the elixir Daniel is going to need.

If all this seems ridiculous, it’s probably supposed to be.  That’s without even mentioning Daniel’s blooming relationship with a blonde who, in real life, wouldn’t give him the time of day.  But this is movie magic, so Daniel gets the girl, wins the fight, and therefore gets to play the winner.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 1

Morality: 5

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