J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

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Archive for the ‘Okay, But We Won’t Watch It Again’ Category

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Posted by J on February 16, 2011

A professor of ours once declared that there was only one good science fiction work.  Everything else in the genre, he claimed, was simplistic and soon would be outdated, if it wasn’t already.  For science fiction is about ideas and tech, not humans, which is what great literature has to be about.  In science fiction, all characters are one-dimensional. They act in the plot according to their two or three major character traits, and they tend not to exhibit complexity.

We preface this short essay about the first Star Trek movie with this caution about science fiction because Star Trek, as everyone knows, makes little effort to portray human complexities.  Kirk, Spock, and Dr. McCoy are who they are, always. Yes, Spock is half-human, half-Vulcan, but he is merely a simplistic symbol of the clash between logic and emotion.  These characters have amazing adventures, encounter new places, and maintain their friendship.  Their beloved status is accorded to them by viewers and fans, who feel a sense of comfort in any story they inhabit.

But, like we were trying to say, they’re not rich, complex characters. Star Trek is about the adventure and the ideas behind the Enterprise’s encounters with new aliens and planets. The franchise, like this first movie, tends to rip off of Western “classics.”  Here, 2001: A Space Odyssey is a major influence. In the second Star Trek movie, Moby-Dick is employed.

The first Star Trek movie, this one, might be the best, which isn’t saying much. Its flaws are numerous. It is badly dated, for one.  The tech might’ve looked fascinating in 1979, but it shows limited imagination today.  Like those really small viewer screens, for example. Wouldn’t they be larger, crisper, and three-dimensional today? But again, in science fiction, the wonders of tech soon become outdated jokes.

The idea behind this first movie is that human technology can develop its own consciousness, which is not all that interesting an idea anymore.  The big secret here is that the NASA probe Voyager has become a living organism.  It emits a massive cloud that destroys everything, and the big problem is that this cloud is heading for Earth. The Enterprise is the only ship that has a chance of stopping it.  So Kirk, Spock, and friends, try to stop the cloud.

That’s about it for the plot. It should be said that Voyager did not develop consciousness on its own, but that some bizarre race of machines way beyond the galaxy, or somewhere, took in Voyager and gave it consciousness.  We are supposed to be overawed with what Voyager has become. It is massive and powerful, according to the crew. It tries to communicate with the crew via a human-like probe, after taking one of the ship’s crew and using her body as the probe.  This idea, that we can communicate fairly easily with the unknown, is silly. The hope of easy communication fuels SETI’s futile search for the alien life, but the novels of Stanislaw Lem offer cautionary wisdom about the impossibility of communicating with something so completely different than us.  (Lem, of course, uses science fiction to discuss complex human issues.)

Despite Voyager’s superior intelligence and technology, it is a moron. It couldn’t, for example, figure out who the “Creator” is.  The Creator is NASA, but Voyager thinks that “carbon-based units” are too simplistic to create anything. Voyager has traveled through the galaxy, it has unimaginable quantities of data, it has incredible reasoning capability, and yet it can’t figure out that humans are capable of building machines?

But the worst howler is that Voyager thinks its name is “V-ger.”  That because it didn’t blow the dust off the letters “O – Y – A.”  When Kirk and company finally see “V-ger,” they realize that its name is actually Voyager, only that those three crucial letters can’t be seen.

It has to be said that Star Trek is always filled with unintentional comedy like this, so it makes for decent, light, nonsensical entertainment for those like us who have a soft spot for science fiction. There’s a sense in which this movie is one of the most boring of all Star Trek stories, but we kind of like its attempt at grandiosity and the involvement of the Voyager probe. Other Trek fare features human-like aliens, and thus dives into sociology and politics. But Trek is at its limited best when its about grand ideas about tech, so, in a sense, this is possibly the best movie of the series.

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | 2 Comments »

The Social Network

Posted by J on January 21, 2011

The Blu-ray and DVD covers for The Social Network aren’t typical covers, since their focal points are critics’ blurbs about how great this movie is. “An American Landmark!”  “A Brilliant Film.”  “Mammoth and Exhilarating.”  This all seems a little too boastful, and the curmudgeons in us, upon seeing this cover, immediately wanted to dislike this movie.

Well, we were entertained enough, though there were no exhilarating mammoths. But The Social Network ultimately fails in number of ways and it might be quickly forgotten.  As is well known, the movie is about the creation of Facebook.  500 million people use Facebook, and so the movie has a ready-made audience.  The story is told through a legal deposition in which Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is sued by his former business partner, Eduardo Saverin, who put up $19,000 to in start-up cash, and an identical twin pair, the Winklevosses. The movie is almost as much about the failures of Saverin and the Winklevosses as it is about Zuckerberg’s successes.

The movie cuts between flashbacks to Facebook’s formation at Harvard and California in 2003-2004, and the 2008 testimony at the deposition.  This structure works well, but it assumes that viewers know what Facebook is and why this deposition matters.  Yes, most people know this well today, but they may not tomorrow.  The problem with giving an Oscar to this movie is the looming threat of irrelevance.  How much would people today care about a 2004 movie about the founding of Myspace?  A 1995 movie about the founding of Microsoft or Apple would still be relevant; a similar movie about AOL or Sega would not be.  And we all would be bored to death now by a movie about Atari, Netscape, and Gateway. (A list of failed tech companies from the 1970s would be too obscure.) Obviously, powerful tech companies can vanish very quickly.

The Social Network sharply contrasts modern entrepreneurial spirit with the narcissism and arrogance of those same entrepreneurs.  In the opening scene, Zuckerberg has a conversation in a bar with his girlfriend, Erica. How Zuckerberg ever got a girlfriend, and one as patient as her, is a plot hole that is ignored.  Zuckerberg is a narcissist and an exacting logician, so Erica dumps him.  Angered, Zuckerberg returns to his dormroom to create a website called Facemash, in which users choose who the hottest girls at Harvard are.  Zuckerberg is best when programming at his computer — a phenomenon termed “wired in” in the movie — but worst when he’s talking to others.  This is the Nerd that you’ve seen a thousand times in movies, only this Nerd is annoyingly arrogant, not shy.

The Winklevoss twins hear of the success of Zuckerberg’s Facemash website, and so they ask him to work on a “Harvard Connection” website.  Zuckerberg agrees, but then never does anything for them.    This leads the Winklevosses to believe that Zuckerberg, once Facebook’s success is obvious, stole their ideas.  They are rich, handsome and athletic, and the movie makes them out to be spurned, prideful, gentleman jocks.  Once again, the Nerd defeats the Preppy Jock at the movies.

The Social Network makes it clear that Zuckerberg’s only good friend is Saverin.  It is supposed to be ironic that Zuckerberg, who creates a website where you could find 500 million friends, abandons his own friend to create a billion-dollar company.  Repeatedly, Saverin claims that Zuckerberg is not interested in money.  He may not be, but he seems interested in the power that money brings, a temptation offered to him by Sean Parker, founder of Napster.  The film’s last act shows how Saverin was pushed aside and how Parker stepped in to own 6% of Facebook.  Parker is a successful entrepreneur who seemingly has no friends, but he does have money and women.

So Saverin sues Zuckerberg because he, Saverin, put up the initial capital for Facebook and was CFO. It seems that he was tricked into signing a bad contract that, eventually, made his share of the company drop from 34% to .03%.  Since that company is supposedly worth $25 billion, Saverin is just a little peeved.

This is a movie that misunderstands what its major themes should be.  It focuses on the irony of the lack of friendship between its characters, who nevertheless are creating a website about finding friends.  But Facebook is not a website about finding friends, which is so easy to do that it makes the term “friend” meaningless.  Facebook is about proclaiming yourself to the world, about showing the triumph of you and your likes and dislikes, of trying to tell everybody that you matter.  Given who these characters are, it makes complete sense that they would create such a website.

The final scene — spoiler alert — shows Zuckerberg as desiring the thing he couldn’t have.  He sends a friend request on Facebook to Erica, the girlfriend who broke up with him and whom he mistreated.  Then he refreshes the page over and over to see if she will “accept his friend request.”  This is ridiculous.  Would Zuckerberg, a 25-year old billionaire and head of a global company that 10% of the world’s population uses, care about something so insignificant?  The movie has spent so much time trying to show Zuckerberg’s arrogance and narcissism, and he is clearly at the point in life where the abundance of money and power that he has would feed those qualities.  And yet the ending of the movie tries to figure him as a man longing for the past, a quality that usually manifests itself in much older people. Remember Charles Foster Kane uttering “Rosebud”?  It’s as if Kane were long for his Rosebud as a young newspaper owner, not as an old man on his deathbed. Reader, if I were a 25-year old billionaire, the last thing I would ever think about is the girlfriend I barely knew who dumped me five years ago.  Try me when I’m 75, maybe.

Posted in Modern Drama, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again | 1 Comment »

Barton Fink

Posted by J on January 14, 2011

What is there to say about Barton Fink that’s not on its Wikipedia page?  It won a bunch of awards in 1991, it’s stylistic, it’s got the Coens.

But what’s noticeable on the Wiki page is that Barton Fink is a theory movie that has something to do with modernism and postmodernism.  For those who don’t keep score between literary theorists, this fact doesn’t matter.  What will matter are the inexplicable twists the movie takes that, if you’re not able to view them in terms of theory, will be far too bizarre.

The movie follows a successful Broadway writer in the 1930s who moves to Hollywood to write screenplays.  After the studio executive kisses his rear end, he tries to write a wrestling movie.  He should be able to do this, because he wants to write about the common man, even though he’s a bit too wrapped up in his own mind.  But he types a line and then … nothing.   Constants interruptions stop him from continuing. His writer’s block is only alleviated by a friend, an insurance salesman, who comes to visit him.

At this point, we’re watching a movie about making movies and a buddy picture.  About two-thirds of the way through, we switch genres to some kind of mind-bending fantasy horror movie.  This had members of our household saying “huh?” and “what does this mean?”  Your present writer, having taken lit crit classes, had a guess that the Wiki page confirms.  But the other members were left a little clueless.

It’s not their fault that they wanted a somewhat conventional narrative.  It’s not their fault that they wanted something that seems coherent.  When the hotel catches on fire and John Goodman turns into a kind of devil, it’s not their fault that they wondered what this had to do with reality or theology.

The interesting thing is that, though this is called a postmodernist movie, it’s a modernist movie, given the reactions of our household.  Like Barton Fink, it is art that alienates the common man and tries to make some artistic statement that only intellectuals can decipher.  The movie is best viewed through modern philosophies of art and literature, but it is worst viewed through the ordinary experiences of ordinary people.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: that depends on yours, obviously

Morality: 1

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

Appaloosa

Posted by J on December 23, 2010

Appaloosa is standard Western fare, except for its assault against certain elements of political correctness.  Viewers of this film will be reminded of Lonesome Dove, My Darling Clementine, and John Ford’s entire career.  Its likeness to Lonesome Dove — the epitome of the Western bond between two males — is striking.

So here’s the story.  The town of Appaloosa needs a bit of law.  A sheriff has been shot by a scalawag named Bragg, only Bragg can’t be brought to justice, because no one will testify against him.  The businessmen of Appaloosa hire two men, Virgil and Everett, cool and experienced gunmen.  These two men are intimate friends.  Virgil is the alpha dog of the relationship, the head sheriff who reads Emerson but gets frustrated when he can’t remember certain vocabulary words.  Everett is content to be Virgil’s sidekick.  The two are willing to take on Bragg and his men.

A woman named Allison French nearly interrupts Virgil and Everett.   She arrives by train in Appaloosa and takes to Virgil.  They move into together, but shortly after that Allison tries to seduce Everett.  Love triangle alert!  Meanwhile, Virgil and Everett capture Bragg and get someone to testify for him.

Not much more needs to be said.  The plot is quickly guessed knowing the above information.  The big surprise here is how lowly the character of Allison French is portrayed.  She’s an elegant woman, yes, but she also sleeps with four different men.  Around our parts, she’d be labeled with words that begin with ‘s’ and ‘w’.  Virgil and Everett agree, yet Virgil can’t help loving her, even though he tells Everett that, to become a better gunmen, Everett must eschew feelings.  Virgil and Everett decide that Allison is a frontrunner.  She will mate with the alpha male — that is, whichever male is on top in any given situation.  This is exactly what the movie shows.  It’s as if we’re watching primates on Animal Planet.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 5

Morality: 2

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

The X-Files: I Want to Believe

Posted by J on December 19, 2009

The subtitle of this X-Files movie is inappropriate, since the object of investigation is fairly believable, relatively speaking.  There are no UFOs, monsters, freaks, or paranormal phenomena.  Instead, just the good old Russians doing medical experiments on humans.  This probably helps and hurts the movie.  For those of us who want aliens, we’re disappointed.  And yet the subject of investigation is excellently captured in the tone of the movie, which features a dark snowy landscape and almost no special effects sequences.  Kudos to this movie for containing a suspenseful plot that features no gun shots, no explosions, and punches that actually sound like punches.

The major problem is that this movie carries much baggage from the original TV show.  For those who don’t care all that much about Mulder and Scully’s personal relationship, we’re in for far too much of it.  One minute of it would’ve been too much.  Like Star Trek, the baggage of the characters’ past, and the hardcore audience’s knowledge of that past, get in the way.

The plot, of course, is a vehicle for both ex-FBI agents Mulder and Scully to come out of retirement.  Both investigated paranormal activity in the past, as a team.  Mulder is the resident believer in all the ghosts and hoodoo, while Scully is the skeptical scientist.  Here, they investigate the disappearance of an FBI agent.  An ex-priest and pedophile has visions relating to this agent, and apparently he’s receiving visions from God, which lead him to clue after clue.  It’s up to Mulder to be the only character to have faith in this priest’s ESP, while it’s up to Scully to 1) disbelieve everything, and 2) give a tongue-lashing to the priest for his awful sins.  But you already saw that coming.

There are a host of present-day issues that the film touches on. First is the Catholic church and its pedophilia scandals, about which the movie seems to be on the side of forgiveness, since the ex-priest seems to be genuinely repentent.  Next is stem cell research.  The movie appears to be in favor of this.  Scully’s patient at the Catholic hospital she works at can only be saved via a stem cell operation (we do not know what is meant by “stem cell,” but we do clearly see Scully type “stem cell research” into Google, as if she’s never heard of it, even though she’s soon going to perform brain surgery involving stem cells).  The priest in charge of the hospital does not want Scully to use stem cells, a fact he never announces but is quite obvious by his attempts to stop her.  Scully is determined, however, to perform her scientific, Frankenstein-like experiment on her patient.  The message she receives from the ex-priest, via a vision from God, is: Don’t Give Up.  Which apparently means, don’t give up on performing your stem cell operation, although the movie leaves this vague statement open to interpretation.

Scully’s ethical, hospital-based Frankenstein experiment is contrasted with the backwoods, dirty-lab Frankenstein experiment of the movie’s bad guys.   These bad guys — foreigners of course, and Russians, the go-to bad guy foreigners of Hollywood — are kidnapping young females so that they can perform whole limb and body transplants.  They aren’t doing this for kicks or for science. Instead, there’s a married gay couple, one of which is an official transporter of organs and the other of which is just a head.  Yep, the “head” is a guy dying of cancer, but to keep him from dying the Russians have taken his head and attached it to another body.

So to sum up, a married, gay, Russian couple is harvesting organs from innocent victims and experimenting with these organs in the mountains of West Virginia.

Like we said earlier, this is not as implausible as E.T. abducting cows and making crop circles.

It’s probable that somebody out there in the world believes that this movie is friendly to Christians.  After all, Christian iconography is everywhere in the movie.  We see plenty of crosses, Virgin Mary statues, priests, rosaries.  There are numerous references to prayer and belief.  The fact that God is giving visions to an ex-priest is a subject of heated debate amongst FBI agents.  Yes, you’d think that Hollywood had found Jesus.

Don’t be fooled.  Once again, the Christian religion is used as spectacle, or in this case an entertainment extravaganza.  The Christian subtext helps amplify the Mulder-Scully dynamic, which is centered around two problems: will the believer or the skeptic win, and will they or won’t they get together and have sex?  And of course the most fantastic and bizarre elements of Christianity are used.  Roman Catholicism, as in so many other films, is employed because it is the more visually rich than, say, Southern Baptism.  Priestly pedophilia, visions from God, tears of blood — this is standard fare for the portrayal of anything Christian in the genre of sci-fi suspense.

As usual, the realm of the sacred is not reaffirmed as sacred by Hollywood.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 3

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

Julie & Julia

Posted by J on December 17, 2009

CHICK FLICK ALERT!  Well, mostly.  Julie and Julia is not as saccharine and stereotypical as others have made it out to be, thanks to a dual narrative approach that compares a modern female writer to a 1940s female writer.  Those two writers would be Julie Somebody, a blogger who became famous by cooking all of Julia Child’s recipes in one year and writing about the experience, and the famed Julia Child.  Both women are fun-loving, both love to cook, both have tremendously dedicated and loving husbands, and both struggle to become writers.

By comparing these two women, the movie compares two eras.  And boy, do moderns come off looking badly.  This is not intentional on the part of the movie.  Perhaps it’s because it compares a well-known cookbook author and TV personality to some New Yorker who became famous off a novelty blog.  But still.  Any reasonable viewer will clearly see that a world full of Julias is far, far better than a world full of Julies.

The movie tries to deny this and attempts to portray both women as equal in problem and triumph. Julie, the modern woman, is as spunky, ambitious and GASP! feminine as the late 1940s version of Julia Child.  Yes, feminine.  Dear reader, this movie just loves chicks.  Chicks who desperately need men.  Chicks who desperately need loving husbands. Chicks who would die without husbands. This movie is good evidence that serious feminism has lost out over human nature.

But Julie is far more narcissistic than the pre-WWII female that she is compared to.  The movie even makes an overt reference to this when Julie’s husband points out that — in the middle of her year of cooking and blogging — she has become ultra-narcissistic.  Acknowledging the obvious fact that blogging all the time has made her focus on Me, Julie becomes even more narcissistic by blogging about the fact that she is narcissistic.  After a period of separation from her husband, Julie emerges as the same person.  “I have 53 comments today.  ME!!”  “The Christian Science Monitor wants to interview me tomorrow. ME!”  “The New York Times wants an interview. ME again!!”

The idea here is that blogging, while a painless, costless path to instant fame, is focused entirely on the individual blogger.  This contrasts sharply with Julia Child’s pursuit of writing a cookbook.  Child focuses on her audience, or more generally on helping others.  She repeats many times that her cookbook is for American wives who don’t have servants and who haven’t been shown the French way of cooking.  With that in mind, Julia grinds away for years at an eventual 700-page manuscript that would result in 49 editions of her famous book.  She was rejected by Houghton Mifflin and had to continue to plug away before her book was eventually published. Julie’s path to a published book was, by comparison, a piece of cake.  Cook good food for a year, blog about it, have the New York Times feature her in a story, and PRESTO! — offers for book contracts!

Really, the movie raises a couple of questions.  Would you rather have a world of your grandparents or of Julies who daily blog about themselves?  The social mores of the 1940s or the social mores of modern-day New York City liberals?

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 4

Morality: see above

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

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 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 »

Knowing

Posted by J on July 18, 2009

knowing_ver3Knowing is yet another Hollywood commercial product that dumbs down the philosophical material it contains and turns it into hogwash.  Ten minutes into the movie, you know you’ve seen this all before — creepy kids who hear whispers, mysterious numbers that seem to predict the future, and philosophical lectures by the stereotypical scientist as main character.

The movie features Nicolas Cage as an astrophysicist at MIT (yeah, right!) who specializes in solar radiation.  This astrophysicist gives us a lengthy lecture early in the movie about the sun’s power and randomness vs. determinism, a lecture that experienced moviegoers will understand is a giveaway to the ending of the movie.  Of course this astrophysicist believes in randomness, even though his dad is a pastor and he has recently lost his wife.  Does he not know he is in a Hollywood movie, wherein he will be required to find the vaguest of faiths in some higher power?  Here, he finds faith in “heaven,” ultimately realizing that once we die, we’ll all just be okay.  It doesn’t get any deeper than that, dear reader, but did you expect it to?

Undoubtedly the starry-eyed Christian movie reviewers elsewhere will praise this movie for its “Christian elements.”  After all, the movie favors a predestined plan implemented by a higher power, it calls its characters to “faith” in something, and it features the Bible for a few minutes.  Of course “Christian elements” can be found anything if we look hard enough.  The Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Analects of Confucius — plenty of “Christian elements” here.  There’s even potential glory in any sewer, right?

SPOILER ALERTKnowing follows the “theory” of Intelligent Design to one of its logical conclusions by claiming that angel aliens — who are creepy white men until the end of the movie — have planned our futures for us.  Ultimately two children get raptured to another planet, to start all over as a sort of Adam and Eve.  These two children are “chosen,” while at the same time everyone and everything on Earth has to die, even though the angel aliens have the technology and ability to transport everyone off the Earth to safety.  Not the nicest of guys, these angel aliens.

And why are movies like this always so bleak about the end of the Earth?  Knowing takes global warming to the extreme, as the Earth in consumed in a wave of solar radiation so powerful that it scorches everything. Just before this heat wave of destruction, our faithless astrophysicist learns to accept death and the words of his pastor father, who consoles us with the view that everything’s going to be alright after death.

Meanwhile, the two kids are raptured into the heavens just like Richard Dreyfuss was at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Apparently we all just want to escape this hideous planet, which we are destroying at an alarming rate, and even if we aren’t destroying it all that fast something else will destroy it for us.  For once, we’d like to see a movie where the Earth is renewed.  (Oh wait, that was Wall-E‘s point.)

Actually we liked the last five minutes of this movie, as the director (Alex Proyas) overcame the movie’s lame script with good visuals and the Adam-and-Eve surprise.  Prior to that, the characters go into the dark woods just because this movie is supposed to scare us, and when they aren’t going into the dark woods they of course live in a secluded house in the dark woods.

Someday someone will make Out of the Silent Planet and far surpass these regurgitated sci-fi flicks.  Granted, C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy will be dumbed down to the point of stupidity, too, but they can’t screw it up completely.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 5

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

Open Range

Posted by J on June 13, 2009

Open Range is Kevin Costner’s tone poem to “freegrazers,” or cowboys who once could graze cattle freely where theyopen_range_verdvd pleased.  If you’re a Western buff like us, you’ve already figured out without watching the movie that there will be trouble between the freegrazers and the cattle ranchers.  Definitely a gun fight at the end.  Probably a cowboy or two with a mysterious past.  Definitely an outlaw with a fast draw.

Yep, these are all here.  It’s as if Costner decided to do everything that’s standard Western fare, only he got Robert Duvall to spice up the cliches.

Costner’s added twist is the romance between his character and a middle-age nurse.  Everybody knows that cowboys — at least the stars of the show — don’t need romance.  Yet here is romance, one where the cowboy says he’s going to give his bride-to-be “a thousand kisses” not once but twice.  Bleeeeech.  The Western has long been the vehicle for extreme male independence.  Do you not know that, Kevin?

Yes, he does apparently, because the two cowboys go off in the end to rustle up their cattle.  The bride-to-be is left waiting for her beloved.  The cowboy remains hanging in a state of independence at the end of this movie.  So Open Range has it both ways — romance, but independence — yet, practically speaking, the romance aspect is totally unnecessary because females won’t be hanging around for the love relationships to develop after Duvall hits a few guys in the head with the butt of his gun.  The nurse could have been left out, and it still would’ve been the same movie.

What contemporary political issue do the freegrazers in this movie signify?  Free trade, perhaps?  Open immigration?  It’s never quite clear.  It is true that the cattle ranchers have bought and paid for “the law” — that is, the sheriff is working for the rancher.  Thus it’s up to the freegrazers to provide true, natural justice and return the world to its natural order.  This includes killing those who have murdered the innocent.  With lots of bullets.  There’s probably some theological analogy in here, but ultimately it doesn’t matter that much.  This is one of those movies — like 99.5% of all those you’ve ever seen — that you’ll forget about two hours later.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 4

Morality:

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