J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for the ‘Reality-Fantasy’ Category

These movies seamlessly blend the realistic world with the fantastic. See for example Pan’s Labyrinth, The Little Princess, and Bridge to Teribithia.


Posted by J on January 25, 2011

It seems odd to think of Inception as a science-fiction heist flick.  While it is just that, it never feels like that.  Perhaps that’s because, as viewers, we’re too absorbed and distracted to think about this.  Instead, we are constantly trying to listen for and learn this movie’s rules.  It has a lot of rules.  It makes them up as it goes along, but that never bothered us.  The movie is its own self-defined fantasy world.

Others have had problems with the movie’s logical expositions.  There are lots and lots of didactic moments, where the characters tell each other — and thus the audience — exactly what the rules of the dream world are.  These didactic moments are necessary because the movie is complicated.  The main character, Cobb, must implant an idea in Robert Fischer’s mind.  The way to do this is through dreams.  To get Fischer to believe that his recently-deceased father, head of a major energy corporation, wants Fischer to be his own man and split up the company, Cobb must create a dream within a dream within a dream.  Then he must guide Fischer through these dreams. Usually Cobb is involved in missions called “extractions,” in which he finds an idea in someone’s mind, but his mission here is the much harder process of idea-implantation known as “inception.”

To perform inception, Cobb must assemble a team.  He picks a chemist, a forger, a right-hand man, and an architect.  The architect creates the dream worlds, which must be enclosed, complex mazes so that the dreamer doesn’t realize that he/she is dreaming.   Cobb’s architect, a college student named Ariadne, finds that dream worlds are planes of “pure creation.”  There is a sense of wonder about this, but also dread.  A dreamer’s subconscious can turn upon other dreamers, attacking them with its manifestations.  And then there’s the problem of Cobb.  In dreams, Cobb’s dead wife keeps showing up and ruining his plans.  Ariadne worries that Cobb’s involvement will ruin the inception of Fischer.

It is nearly impossible to criticize this movie’s logic because it is its own self-contained entity.  We could ask, why is it safe to have three dream levels, but four dream levels is dangerous, the fourth level being the dreaded “Limbo,” which is the realm of “unreconstructed dream space”?  Why does the dream world experience zero-gravity if the dreamer experiences zero gravity?  We could go on questioning, but that’s pointless.  Questions like these do arise because, somehow, someway, the movie seems far more realistic than it really is.  The technology that makes shared dreaming possible is barely noticeable — it’s just a small, shiny gray box.  What does the box do?  How does it work?  Again, these aren’t relevant questions for this movie.

Inception‘s dream worlds resemble reality, but they allow architects to create entirely new, enticing places. This can be dangerous.  Cobb and his wife, Mal, once spent decades in a dream world, though technically it was only minutes of reality.  Mal loved the dream world too much.  As the movie shows, she loved an abstraction of real life — a fantasy world of statis — more than our everyday reality that necessarily involves time and change.  The threat to Cobb and his accomplices is that they, too, will get stuck in “Limbo” forever.

There are some obvious themes, then, that relate to modern addictions to fantasy worlds.  In a certain sense, we get sucked in to virtual worlds, whether in a video game, or a TV show, or online.  These virtual worlds must be fairly potent; for examples, head to your local library and witness dozens of people playing mindless games, fantasizing in Second Life, or creating new personalities on social networking sites. As with Inception’s dream box, these newer, digital mediums create dreams for us to inhabit and lose ourselves in.

Also, the movie touches on whether the mind is constructed by culture and influenced by visual communication.  Cobb’s mission is to implant an unwanted idea into another’s head.  This is a reasonable working definition for “propaganda.”  The idea that words and images can create reality — can bend or distort reality — is a powerful one for 20th century philosophy.  It is also the idea behind advertising.  While we think some arguments for the power of images to shape minds go too far, images certainly have some motivating effect on us all.  Watch this Darren Brown video on subliminal advertising for an example.  What Brown does is not far from what Cobb does in Inception.

It’s worth pointing out that Inception is an amalgam of other movies.  It’s already well known that the movie uses Fred Astaire’s dancing sequence from Royal Wedding, as well as various James Bond ski-resort scenes.  It also has major elements of every heist movie yet made, though the way Inception uses them to invent its own, unique world is probably the movie’s greatest success.  Implantation of ideas into another’s mind has long been a plot device for sci-fi.  We recently watched an episode of the 1960s series The Prisoner in which this was attempted (see “A.B. and C.“).  As a compilation of other movies, Inception is its own dream world.  It is about the effect of movies on viewer behavior, and it is about itself.

(Addendum: What’s interesting about this movie, psychologically, is the way that it conveys the directional space of dreams so effortlessly. In the final sequence, there are four dream levels.  As confusing as this could be, we know intuitively that these levels are layered, that one is on top of another.  We still can’t figure out why we get this certain feeling of the dream layers being organized vertically, but the movie pulls it off.  Well done.

Also novel is the ticking clock used in this movie.  Instead of a timer that counts down to zero, a van that falls off a bridge into the ocean is the clock.  This is an example of the way that the movie reinvents many cliches of the action genre.)


Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Pretty Good, Reality-Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Fantasy | 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 »

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

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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

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Posted by J on September 26, 2008

The gods have made a comeback.  We don’t know how many superhero stories we’ve been subjected to in recent years.  Tons, it seems. Evidently, people worldwide are willing to pay to watch alien superbeings or genetically modified humans execute their special powers in the name of truth and justice.  Superman and the X-men have replaced Zeus and Mars.

Unbreakable is the one quiet movie about superheroes.  It is essentially a one-act version of the superhero discovering himself as superhero, but this discovery is sugarcoated by movie magic, by style and soaring music.  Taste the substance underneath the sugarcoating and you’ll find some bitter flavors.  Example: David Dunn, our hero, has never realized that he’s been sick.  He didn’t recognize that that car he picked up years ago weighed two tons.  So, the appropriate question is, does David Dunn suffer from amnesia or stupidity?

The action starts when David survives a horrible commuter trainwreck, the only person to live to tell his tale.  This is shockingly amazing to an rich, oddball comic collector named Elijah Price.  Elijah has “osteogenesis imperfecta,” a disease caused by scriptwriters who pander to society’s lowest IQ level.  Elijah tries to convince David that David is something special, and that’s the movie.

There are cute tricks in Unbreakable that veteran viewers of M. Night Shymalayan movies are accustomed to.  There will be a revelation at the end–probably, we can guess early on, about who David and Elijah really are–but the tricks are forecasted by the framed shots, costumes, opening credits, etc.  Are we, the audience, supposed to believe initially that this isn’t a movie about superheroes?  It would seem so, except the opening credits give us needless statistics about comic book collectors.  And then every shot has a framing device–a doorway, a window, or something else that blatantly says, “Hey, notice that this movie is just like a comicbook!”  This aspect makes Unbreakable watchable only the first time.  On the second viewing, the plot development is too slow and the movie’s hidden revelations are too blatantly obvious.

But not everything is annoying.  Dunn’s relationship with his wife is one of the few moments in recent movies where a married couple actually succeeds at reconciling their relationship.  Although one of us, the female half, didn’t appreciate that Dunn failed to reveal to his wife that he might be in a comicbook movie about superheroes.  Didn’t he know that husbands are supposed to communicate family secrets to their wives?

Probably not.  Give him a break, wives of the world.  This is one hero who barely has a clue.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 7

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

10,000 B.C.

Posted by J on September 6, 2008

10,000 B.C. is special.  It possesses that unique quality found in so many great leaders and negotiators: it makes people look past their differences and, for at least a 90-minute period, unite.  Some of you, we know, think there never was a 10,000 B.C.  Some of you think there was.  Rest assured, even though you all have serious disagreements, all of you will laugh at 10,000 B.C.

This is not because 10,000 B.C. is a comedy.  It’s not really much of an unintentional comedy.  But for this movie to pass itself off as something historical is hilarious.   Consider our heroes, the mountain-based hunters of the mammoth.  These guys have a special hunting technique sure to lose the kill every time.  One of them sneaks into the middle of the mammoth pack, then stands up and howls like a banshee.  When the mammoths stampede, he tries to avoid getting trampled, while his fellow hunters raise their arms and howl like banshees.  The mammoths run away.  Without attempting to first kill the mammoths, the hunters run after them, losing ground because they are slower, but thanks to the miracle of movies they keep pace.  Finally, the hunters flush one of the mammoths into a net.  In fact, the whole point of this hunting charade is to catch a mammoth in a net, which contains the beast for no more than two minutes.

With hunters like these, it’s a wonder that humanity made it past 10,000 B.C. at all.

We follow the story of these hunters, whose tribe gets sacked by a few barbarians on horses.  A blue-eyed female is abducted from the tribe, so a young mammoth-hunter named D’Leh goes after her.  D’Leh pursues the barbarians, who have pllaged the local area like a pack of IRS agents.  Since you know what happens when a prince pursues a princess, you understand that he must go to a fortress and rescue her from a king, etc.

The curious thing about 10,000 B.C. is the multicultural angle.  Somehow, the mammoth hunters are composed of Caucasians, Maoris, Africans, and American Indians.  When D’Leh pursues his princess, he picks up a bunch of guys to help him, most of whom are Africans living in jungle-based, African-only tribes.  They all go to the Emerald City, where a priest caste of Asian Indians are building a Tower-of-Babel-like edifice.  It turns out that the bad guys are racially mixed, just like the mammoth hunters, but not like the several African tribes. We tried to look on the world map, to see where all of this action could’ve taken place, but we gave up pretty quickly.

This movie has more in common with the Disneyland ride It’s a Small World than you’d think.

It doesn’t matter whether this movie takes place in 10,000 B.C. or 10,000 A.D.  It doesn’t matter whether it takes place on this planet or another.   It just takes place.  You know what you are getting when the DVD opens with three advertisements for video games.  And no, you are not getting an accurate depiction of life in 1,000 B.C.

Unless you think man-eating ostriches recently roamed the earth.

Entertainment: 4

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 5

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The Secret of Roan Inish

Posted by J on August 27, 2008

The Secret of Roan Inish is about storytelling, particularly the Irish way, or at least the way we think the Irish should tell stories.  This mode of storytelling is at once mythmaking and truth-telling.  The stories are melancholic, but they are not to be taken as mere fairy tales.  No, these are family legends, very serious matters for young Fiona Keneally and the relatives who tell her about her family’s past.

Fiona, in fact, has just lost her mother.  Her younger brother once disappeared at sea in a bizarre accident.  Her father has sent her to her grandparents to live, while he pursues work in the city, a tough task since World War II just ended and the local economy is slow.  All this loss, but still Fiona is not alone.  Her extended family is tight-knit, and she hears the stories about her ancestral past with wonder.

The movie pursues the possibility that Fiona’s lost brother may not actually be dead.  If he’s not, he’s drifting around in his cradle, out there around the isle of Roan Inish.  The Keneallys used to live on Roan Inish, but they moved eastward, maybe because — as Fiona’s grandmother says — the way east is toward the future.  Going west, back to Roan Inish, is to head in the opposite direction.

The subtext of the movie is globalization.  Fiona’s father is absent because of market forces.  Midway through the movie, the Keneallys are told they must leave their home and move inland.  Certain rich people from America want a summer home on the Irish coast.  Fiona’s grandfather is grieved, because his way is the sea.  Perhaps, as Fiona looks at the situation, the way home is westward.

The movie is socially conservative in the sense that it favors ancient family tradition to adoption of the individualistic lifeways offered by the global marketplace.  It is similar to Whale Rider, another movie about a young Maori girl separated from her father, who learns the ways of the ancients while living with her grandparents.  Some viewers may not appreciate the privileging of quasi-pagan myths and the cinematic blending of those myths with reality.  To some extent, we agree with that negative sentiment, but the movie’s other themes and its cinematography make The Secret of Roan Inish a worthwhile view. Oh, and the storytelling.  This movie knows how to tell them.

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence: 6

Morality: 8

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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

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Lady in the Water

Posted by J on July 17, 2008

If you paid attention when this movie was first released , you got the impression that the title of this movie should’ve really been Lady in the Sewer.  Or Movie from the Sewer, but whatever, it’s supposed to be terrible.  But why not give it a shot, we thought?  Maybe all the liberal critics got a bad case of groupthink and decided to pile on, like they did to The Village.  M. Night Shymalan made Unbreakable and Signs, thus he can’t make something terrible, right?  So we entered this lady movie with low expectations.

You know how low expectations can rescue something.  For instance, that cheese corn casserole at the church dinner looks like somebody regurgitated in the pan, but it’s the only thing left because you were in the back of the line.  So what the heck, you try it, knowing that it will probably be the worst thing you’ve ever had.  And amazingly it turns out not to be so bad.  You’ll never eat it again, but still.

Except Lady in the Water isn’t cheese corn casserole.  It can’t be rescued by the lowest of expectations.  It can’t be rescued by anything short of a script overhaul and a reshoot.  And the badness starts with a bang, right at the opening, when we get a mythological story told by stick figures.  Actually they look like those European cave paintings made by Neaderthals, but they probably weren’t, since Neaderthals probably dreamt up better stories than this.

From the opening mythological story, we jump to an apartment building managed by Cleveland Heep.  Heep is having trouble with the apartment pool — somebody is swimming in it — but as it turns out a water nymph named Story is swimming in it.  Story belongs to a species called “narf,” the official scientific name of which is ridiculous maximus.  Narfs are under attack by scrunts, which sounds a lot like the setup for an ’80s arcade game.  Heep, though, plays a different kind of game.  He undertakes a treasure hunt through his apartment building for people that the narf needs.  Ultimately, the narf needs the Tanturic to attack the scrunt so that the eagle can return and turn the narf into the Madam Narf.

And that’s the plot.  All of the people in the apartment building easily accept the fact that narfs and scrunts are running around their property.   No questions asked, gotta take care of our narf, who spends a lot of time without clothes in the shower.  (You never see anything close to anything, but even this is annoyingly suggestive for people like us, with Victorian standards.)

We could talk about how there’s problematic theological/worldview issues here, but this lady movie is not even close to a level that we can begin to say it’s relevant.  There’s a lot of self-reflection about storytelling here, which is a tremendous sin for a bad movie, because it poses as if it’s saying something important.  One of the characters, a know-it-all movie critic, thinks he knows how the Story will end, but he gets eaten by the scrunt because he’s a jerk.  The rest of the characters all have to sort themselves into their proper roles, so that Story can fly away like an eagle, earning those billions of dollars that Warner Brothers thinks Shymalan movies should make.  How Warner Brothers thought that anyone in his right mind would tolerate a deathmatch of narfs versus scrunts onscreen is the really interesting question.  Somebody definitely got fired for greenlighting this one.  Sometimes the casserole is really bad.

Entertainment: 0

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

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Posted by J on July 5, 2008

At the end of Elf, we tried to think of something of redeeming value but couldn’t.  It’s sort of like the food choices made by Elf‘s main character, Buddy Wells, a human raised by Santa Claus’ elves.  Because he was weaned on a diet of candy, Wells pours maple syrup over his spaghetti.  Think about eating a plate of syrup-covered spaghetti.  That’s exactly what watching this movie, and so many others similar to it, is like.

Elf, to its credit, opens really well.  But then a few subtle potty jokes slip in here and there, and before you know it we’re in a formulaic Christmas movie in which immoral people will be converted to a state of Christmas jolly because Santa Claus exists.  Elf has the standard plot of an innocent dope going to a big city.  These days, you know exactly what will happen at exactly what point.  At the 20 or 30-minute mark, the main character will meet a love interest.  At the 50-minute mark, that love interest will fall for him and he’ll be at high point.  At the 70-minute mark, something will happen to bring that main character to the lowest emotional point of the movie.  From the 70-minute mark to the end (given a 100-minute movie), the main character will rise from his state of despair and triumph.  In the suites of Hollywood, studio executives have this narrative formula plastered on their wall in big letters.  Happens in almost every big-budget movie.  Watch your DVD player’s counter next time and see.

We admit, there are parts of Elf that are charming and delightful.  This movie was directed by Jon Favreau, who shocked us with the likeable Zathura. Elf has, at times, a similar sense of wonder as Zathura does, but it doesn’t sustain that level throughout.  Instead it dumps maple syrup on itself at about the 70-minute mark, just in time for Santa Claus to have a problem so that the main character can redeem himself and get out of his low point.  So yes, maple syrup on spaghetti is as saccharine and icky as it sounds.

Entertainment: starts at 8, drops to 3

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 1 (Unnecessary potty jokes, an brief unnecessary shower scene, and all Christmas but no Christ; in other words, we wouldn’t ever put our kids in front of this movie)   

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