J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

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Archive for the ‘Silly but Entertaining’ Category

The Next Three Days

Posted by J on May 15, 2011

The Next Three Days is highly entertaining, yet entirely ridiculous.  It qualifies as a how-could-a movie.  A how-could-a movie is a movie during which you keep asking yourself the question “How could?”  As in, how could Harrison Ford possibly survive that jump off the dam in The FugitiveThe Next Three Days might set the record for “how coulds?”

Consider. The main character, Russell Crowe, is a pudgy community college English teacher who has an apprehension about guns.  So of course he is the perfect character to plan and execute a jail break! Of course.  The entire premise of the movie, that Russell Crowe’s character can and will break his wife out of jail, is a how could question.

It turns out that Crowe’s wife is in prison for murder. The evidence points to her guilt, and when she loses her final appeal, she is stuck in the slammer for life. Crowe is quite depressed about this, mostly because she’s attractive. So he mopes about his daily life, playing the father to his six-year-old boy.

But then the idea hits, “why couldn’t I break my wife out of jail?”  Well, aside from the facts that no one has ever escaped this jail and that Crowe has no experience as a criminal mastermind, he certainly could break her out of jail! Why not? So Crowe hires Liam Neeson, who has escaped jail seven times, to give him advice for five minutes about how to break someone out of jail.  It turns out that you really just need willpower and a little luck.

So Crowe spends most of the movie planning the jailbreak.  He uses Youtube a lot. Youtube shows him how to make a bump key, which he tries in an elevator at the jail. That doesn’t work, so he tries to buy fake passports and social security numbers in the ghetto. After he gets beat up and robbed, he goes back to the ghetto with a gun to rob a meth dealer.  He needs money badly, in order to escape the country and bribe corrupt officials in Venezuela, his final destination after he successfully pulls off his impossible plan.  But he has only a few hundred dollars left.  This is quite strange, because even though he has sold his house and all of his furniture, he’s still hanging on to his brand new Toyota Prius, which is his getaway vehicle.

Crowe then robs the meth dealer. He sets fire to the dealer’s house, but the house does not blow up.  This allows Pittsburgh detectives to find a piece of the Prius, which broke off when Crowe ran into a bunch of trashcans while leaving the crimescene.  These detectives turn out to be the ultimate Super Sleuths. They reason that there are 7000 Priuses in the nearby metro area, and thus 7000 suspects.  But they start their search with convicted murderers. Only one murderer owns a Prius: Crowe’s wife.  She couldn’t have committed a crime, though, because she’s in jail.  Yet these Super Sleuths reason that the killer of the meth dealer must be the husband or child of the murderer who owns the Prius.  Of course!  It takes them the better part of a morning to make this brilliant deduction and track down Crowe, who on that very day is executing his elaborate jailbreak.  Chase scene alert!

It’s funny, apparently Super Sleuths don’t make good cops.  While the police detectives find Crowe within hours, they can’t stop him when he’s on a hospital elevator.  Our pudgy English professor hero has, in his infinite wisdom, gotten his diabetic jailbird wife transferred to a hospital.  He then thwarts the Super Sleuths on the hospital elevator. He descends to the parking garage, throws his clothes off of the elevator, and then goes back up to the hospital lobby.  The Sleuths think that he is in the parking garage.  Oh that clever Russell Crowe!

Once Crowe has gotten his wife out of the hospital covertly, he follows Neeson’s advice.  He’s got 35 minutes to get out of Pittsburgh.  But there’s no time to get his son.  It’s either escape now or risk capture later.  Crowe’s wife cannot bear the thought of escaping without their son, so she tries to commit suicide by jumping out of the car.  But Crowe grabs her and hangs onto her as their rental car does a 720 on the interstate at 65 mph.  This is the second time in the movie that Crowe’s wife has attempted suicide, but apparently she’s too attractive to not live with in Venezuela for the next four decades.

Does Crowe get out of the country? As the movie’s hero, should we really be rooting for him to bust a murderer out of jail? These questions I will leave you to ponder, but if you seen only a few Hollywood movies, you should know what their answers are.

These detailed plot points are provided for you to prove that this movie is bursting with unintentional comedy.  Almost none of it makes sense.  It is more a fantasy than The Lord of the Rings.  Admittedly, though, it so entertaining that I didn’t feel like falling asleep during it, the first movie I’ve watched in a while where shuteye was not an option.  If you are looking to spend a mindless evening, then this is your movie.

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Posted in Action, Jailbreak, Silly but Entertaining | Leave a Comment »

Lost Season 6 and Overall Lost:The Series Thoughts

Posted by J on May 25, 2010

So Lost has concluded.   Here is a review of Season 5, Season, 4, Season 3, and Seasons 2 and 1.

How did it end?  Unfortunately this has to be explained, with a bit of (easy) exegesis.  It shouldn’t be so confusing.  Season 6 starts when Jack drops the bomb down the hole.  It explodes and prevents a catastrophy, which leads to the building of the hatch.  Everyone timetravels to 2007.  Jack becomes the protector of the island, kills the smoke monster, then dies after saving the island.  Hurley becomes the new protector of the island.  The plane with Kate and Sawyer fly away safely (how they had so much extra fuel, I can only speculate).  Then the flash sideways we see throughout season 6 is some kind of afterlife.  We know this because jack realizes that he died, and Ben and Hurley have an exchange about being a good #1 and #2.  It seems that everyone is really dead in the sideways.  In this afterlife they all have to “let go” and “move on.”  Make sense?

And now to my concerns. Let’s put aside the numerous small loose ends that the show never tied up.  These are preoccupying too many people who want their insignificant questions answered.  There are massive narrative problems to look at.  The first is this: we just spent an entire season watching an afterlife. Half of the season consisted of the characters in an afterlife world that ended in a sort of redemption, with them all sitting in a church and a bright light entering the sanctuary.  But this plotline is totally unnecessary to the action.  There is nothing in particular about the Lost story that calls for characters to enter an afterlife.  Yes the Island is mysterious and we see dead people, but the show has no internal justifications for what it does in Season 6.  Frankly, any story could add on a Coda with its characters in an afterlife, finding some kind of peace.  The fact that Lost concludes — in fact climaxes — with an unnecessary plotline is troubling.

A further problem is the syrupy New Age version of purgatory portrayed in this Lost afterlife.  The final scene, where Jack meets his dad, was critically important to a show where Jack’s dad’s person was a deep mystery.  But we are treated to mumbo-jumbo about the purgatory being a placed “that you [the characters] all created, so that you could let go.”  In this final scene, we are in a room filled with religious symbols.  It’s an extremely heavy-handed scene, screaming RELIGOUS SYMBOL, RELIGIOUS SYMBOL.  At best, this last episode of Lost is really the last episode of Touched by an Angel.

And then, why would the characters want to create an afterlife reality where they all meet and reminisce about a place that was ultimately troubling?  The nostalgic flashbacks that the characters envision in the final episode are absurd.  They remember the few happy moments, but forget all the lying, conniving, and undermining of group cohesion that characterized this entire TV series.  And they all love each other, which is bizarre, since the lovefest atmosphere rarely occurs on the show.  (I wonder what Sayid would think of seeing Ben Linus in his afterlife.)

The final show was hyper-emotional.  The music swelled, people cried, but ultimately the final show treated the heart and not the head.  Plotlines were not resolved.  The story was not fully realized.  Perhaps worst of all, it offered a definitive conclusion about the characters but not the plot.  The question of “Why are we on the island?”, the show’s abiding major question, was not addressed.  There is so much talk of fate and purpose and destiny on the show, but what has created that purpose and destiny, and for what purposes?  The show demolished its god figures in the final season when Jacob and the Smoke Monster were revealed to be flawed humans.  This left a deep void.  There is no god on the show, which is a problem when the show is about providence.  Any notion of “fate,” at least in a story, has to have an agency behind it.

I believe this: Lost is not a purgatory story.  It is not about characters on the Island who all find some relief in the afterlife.   It is John Locke pounding on the hatch door, asking “What do you want from me?”, and then the light pours up through the hatch door window.  It is Desmond telling Jack that he too was nearly at the brink, when all of a sudden he heard Locke pounding on the hatch door and turned on the light.  It is John and Jack fighting about whether or not to press the button.  It is Desmond turning the fail-safe key.  It is Jack, inspired by Locke’s faith, desperate to go back to the Island to fulfill his purpose.  It is Jack saving the island, and then dying.  That’s the heart of the show, and hopefully that’s what it’ll be remembered for.

Five Worst CGI Moments on LOST

For a show that employed hundreds of people to write scripts, edit, make music, find clothes, make props, design sets, coordinate stunts, and so on, Lost was mostly terrible at major CGI shots.  Let’s recount them.

1) The Island Underwater — In the first episode of Season 6, we see Jack look out of the plane.  Then the camera zooms downwards, breaks the surface of the ocean, and peers into its depth.

2) The Black Rock ramming the Egyptian Statue — Exactly how did a wooden ship smash into a hundred-foot tall rock statue, break the statue, land in the jungle, and survive in tact?

3) The Golden Light in the cave.

4) Any submarine in motion.

5) The reveal of the Egyptian statue.

Five Best Characters

1) John Locke

2) Jack Shepherd

3) Ben Linus

4) Mr. Eko

5) Tie: Hurley, Sawyer, Sayid, Desmond — It’s telling that no female characters make this list.  Would any even make a top-15 character list? I find the charge against the Lost writers true enough: that they weren’t successful at writing female characters or dealing with female issues.   Sun was their best effort, but any complexity she had was demolished when in Seasons 5 and 6 she was reduced to a husband-hunt, having nothing to motivate her but that, and when she did find him, they both died in the very next episode.  The female problem probably started with Kate, who in the second episode of the entire series is revealed to be a dangerous criminal.  Eventually we find that she’s a murderer.  The implausibility of this set up contrasts that were too jarring to be taken seriously: Kate’s background is always at war with what she wants and believes in on the Island, and also with her motives off-island.

Five Unresolved Mysteries

1) How, when the Oceanic Six returned on the Ajira plane, did some of the passengers travel back in time while others did not?  — This is most annoying mystery for me.  The writers tried to give explanations for the plane crashes and shipwrecks, but there is no explanation for this.  Time travel only occurs on the show when the Island is moved.  This by itself requires a lot of suspension of disbelief by the audience.  In the case of the Ajira plane, there’s no explanation at all for why some people travel back in time and others do not.  No electromagnetic event, no moving island.  Jacob never showed any such power.  Neither did the smoke monster.

2) Why aren’t babies born on the Island after the 1970s?  — The obvious answer is that the hydrogen bomb that Jack detonates in the 1970s emits radiation that gives defects to fetuses.  But this doesn’t make sense in numerous ways.  Wouldn’t the Dharma Initiative have figured out real quickly that radiation levels on the island were extremely high, causing fertility problems?

3) How did the Smoke Monster turn into the Smoke Monster? — In “Across the Sea,” we see Jacob throw his dead brother into the Golden Light cave.  He emerges from the cave as the smoke monster.  But then, in the final episode, Jack and Desmond go down the cave and nothing happens.  There doesn’t appear to be anything that could instantly turn someone into a smoke monster.  It didn’t seem possible, either, for a dead body to float down the cave, then into the pit of golden light and electromagnetism.

4) How can you timetravel to the perfect time after detonating a hydrogen bomb on top of a pocket of electromagnetism?  –  Anyone who attempts to answer this needs professional help.

5) How did certain people get special powers?  — Hurley can see dead people, Miles talks to dead people, John Locke’s spine is fixed, Rose’s cancer is cured, and Walt is supposedly special beyond belief.  The only explanation is that the Island has a Golden Light.

Posted in Silly but Entertaining, TV Series | Leave a Comment »

Vantage Point

Posted by J on July 26, 2009

Vantage Point is a wannabe clever movie with lots of B-list actors, all of vantage-pointwhom probably looked at the script and thought it was “thought-provoking.”  That’s because the movie tells its story by presenting six or seven different perspectives of the same 20-minute event, which is the President’s assassination in Spain.  Any halfway knowledgable moviegoer is going to look at this movie and say within five minutes “That’s just like Rashomon.”  Whereas Rashomon was a cinematic examination of the problem of truth as presented through different perspectives, Vantage Point is really just a cheap action thriller that tells its story through multiple perspectives for the sake of a gimmick.

That’s not to say that you won’t get something out of the movie.  Even the most mindnumbingly stupid cultural production tells us something.  In this case, the movie gives us a rather wimpy Hollywoodish stance on the “War on Terror.”  The President, for example, is conveniently assassinated in Spain, which makes it impossible to tell if the assassins are Spanish, North African, or Arab.    Working with the assassins is a turncoat Secret Service agent, whose one and only ideological line, uttered while dying, is, “This war will never end.”  Does that mean that those who disagree with a global war on an abstraction are turncoat traitors?

Ah, but of course not, for this is a Hollywood production, which aims to please all of the people all of the time.  While our white American traitor thinks the war will never end, the President is busy telling his aides that he will not — CANNOT! he says — retaliate against a possible terrorist base somewhere way far away.   The President’s aides, of course, are warhawks who desire to blow up anybody who isn’t them.  But the President is more magnanimous in uttering the campy line, “We don’t have to act brave, we have to BE brave.”  Here we have the movie’s ideology, a muddy middle ground wherein everyone is stuck between loving the power to wage war and talking like they don’t want to wage war.

Meanwhile, lots of needless chases with pointless characters occur.  The redeeming quality of this movie — like so many action thrillers — is that it can be readily mocked in company that is willing to mock dumb movies.  Apparently the writers of this movie think that everyone watching is like Alice’s White Queen, who believed six impossible things before breakfast.  More realistically, this movie will try to make you believe a thousand impossible things after dinner, which can be fun if you want a totally mindless sort of evening.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 0

Morality: —

Posted in Silly but Entertaining, Spy Thriller | Leave a Comment »

Harry Potter and the SomethingorOther

Posted by J on July 24, 2009

As we left Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, a ten-year old boy 2008-11-14-harry_pottercomplained to his parents that “this movie had no character development!”

We’d say the lad is a budding movie critic.  Indeed, son, there is no character development, but in fact what Harry Potter movie has had one second of character development?  Sure, in this particular movie there’s a lot of teenage oogling and crying in many insufferable scenes about adolescent love. And the whole Potter series is roughly about growing up.  But that’s about it.

Harry is still Harry, which means he must get into trouble, do some magic, combat evil.  All in a day’s work for an archetype.

If there is a plot to this movie, someone should carefully diagram it out for us.  We mean, either there was a plot, a very intricate, unintelligible one (to laymen), or there was no plot at all.  We weren’t sure.  This Potter movie, like many of the others, seems like it simply treads water, waiting for the big finale in the last movie — the climactic tidal wave –to crash down on our heads.  There was something about Horcruxes and Death Eaters and lots of characters we vaguely remembered, but all of that starts to run together for those of us who don’t see the point of all this Potter mythology.

We have been waiting for Harry to combat ultimate evil for, oh, six movies.  Eventually the forces of Good will face the forces of evil, but these movies have taken approximately fifteen hours to get to that point.  As they say in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Get on with it!”

Entertainment: 7

Intelligence:0

Morality: 3 (hard to believe this is a PG movie)

Posted in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Silly but Entertaining | Leave a Comment »

Enchanted

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 »

Forbidden Planet (1956)

Posted by J on October 3, 2008

Forbidden Planet is a classic sci-fi male fantasy, featuring taxing analytical problems that must be solved and a super-naive babe who is anxious to be kissed by any male simply because she is curious.  Shockingly, Forbidden Planet now seems slightly smarter than its blockbuster pals of today.  That’s not a compliment, just a comparison.

Anyone who has watched just a few episodes of Star Trek will recognize Forbidden Planet‘s familiar formula.  Commander J.J. Adams and his merry crew are military bureaucrats investigating the disappearance of a planet’s colony.  The colony has a lone survivor, Dr. Morbius, who warns the crew not to land on the planet.  This wouldn’t be a movie without the crew defying his warning, so they plop down on Planet Forbidden and display their military might.

Morbius treats the crew to his created paradise.  His do-it-all robot can manufacture gallons of whisky, his backyard is full of exotic pleasures, and in the middle of Morbius’ Garden of Eden is his young, innocent, virgin daughter, Alta.  She’s never seen a man before except her own dad, so when she goes swimming, she doesn’t realize that undressing in the presence of men who have been holed up on a spaceship for years is sort of risque.  As we said, male fantasy.

Of course, Morbius is hiding secrets.  The planet he inhabites was once home to a race of ancient beings known as the Krell.  The Krell manufactured an absolutely enormous whirligig, which everybody is impressed by.  Morbius claims that this whirligig has doubled his IQ to 200-something.  What the whirligig really does is vague — supposedly it allows its operator’s brain to create a material substance out of a mental picture.  You’d think the Krell, being a race of super-beings, would’ve tried to economize on their design.  But no, the whirligig is thousands of miles of tunnels and shafts, which uses trillions of tons of natural resources, all just to project a hologram from Dr. Morbius’ brain.

Forbidden Planet is a bizarre mix of Freudian psychology and American progressivism, with even a couple of references to “God” at the beginning and end of the movie.  The hero is clearly the plucky, by-the-book Adams.  Morbius, the resident super-genius, cannot figure out the vexing problem of why Adams’ crew is slowly being killed off.  Of course it’s up to Adams — the American hero, the guy who wins Eve, and the one whom Morbius laughs at for “having a mediocre IQ” — to solve all of the movie’s problems. “Of course, how could I not have known?” Morbius exclaims, as Adams reveals to him exactly what has been going on.  So much for cognitive differences.  The middle-class, American military hero — not the brilliant inventor and scholar — is the one with all of the right answers.

Should we recommend this movie?  Maybe, if you have time to waste.  It would be silly to be merely entertained by Forbidden Planet, but it is fun to analyze.  We — actually just one of us — are suckers for sci-fi schlock.  Everyone has his weaknesses.  If your weaknesses are PBS productions of Jane Austen, or lame-brain comedies, Forbidden Planet probably isn’t for you.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 5

Posted in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Silly but Entertaining | Leave a Comment »

Stranger Than Fiction

Posted by J on August 6, 2008

Stranger Than Fiction is one of those movies that make people feel smart afterwards, even though three minutes of reflection or discussion would obliterate that feeling. Its main feature is an old story trick — a character who becomes aware that he is being written, that he is a part of a story that he cannot ultimately influence. That trick was novel back in 1914 when Miguel de Unamuno published Niebla. It still felt novel back when Italo Calvino was using it in the ’70s and ’80s. Today, after decades of employment, it feels no more interesting than any other cute narrative trick. But few audience members are aware of Unamuno, Calvino, Vonnegut, Foucault, or anyone else with some influence on Stranger Than Fiction, so we aren’t trying to be hard on them. It’s only to say that this trick has been done before, and it’s been done much better.

So what’s the point of it? Some Christians might say that the movie incorporates some kind of truth about the paradox of predestination and free will. The story is that Harold Crick, a nerdy IRS agent, begins to hear the voice of an omniscient narrator who describes Crick’s action in the third-person. Crick realizes that someone else is controlling him, so he goes to the most obvious person you’d go to in this situation: a college English professor. The professor asks: is Crick in a comedy or a tragedy? That’s the key question for the movie itself. You will know the answer if you know what movie audiences want and how this movie was marketed.

So people might try to allegorize this plot as the relationship between God and the creatures who he created in his image, but there are simpler explanations. Viewed through the lense of discourse theory, Stranger Than Fiction is about how people are “written” by the dominate conventions and uses of language. Rather than explain this in a complicated way, we’ll try a familiar example. Imagine the millions of people who hear about global warming on a regular basis. The way global warming is talked about shapes the thought-patterns of these people when it comes to the topic of global warming. When the subject comes up for them, they can only mimic what they’ve heard. This is as true of the anti- position as the pro- position. Now imagine this kind of mass mimicking occurring on a wide range of subjects. Imagine it happening for all of a person’s thoughts and actions in life. The theory says that the lifeways of people are shaped by dominate uses of language, its grammar, its syntax, and the ideas that it includes and excludes.

In this interpretation, it’s the writers who have the power, because obviously writers shape the language — whether they be novelists, marketers, speechwriters, or other members of mass media. Also, of secondary importance, are the intellectuals who can interpret language and the business people who sell language. Stranger Than Fiction incorporates characters of all three types — in the form of a famous novelist, a college professor, and a publishing agent. The bourgeois Crick and his hip girlfriend are basically under their control.

Crick is sort of resurrected in the end, saved from an inevitable death by the person who writes his life. He is saved to a more blissful life, to a sexual union with a tattooed entrepreneur for a girlfriend. In the Christian cosmos, this ending means tragedy — saved in order to continue a modern life of materialism — but in this movie it means comedy. We did not come away feeling smart; instead, we felt tricked.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 1

Posted in Modern Drama, Silly but Entertaining | 1 Comment »

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Posted by J on August 1, 2008

Hellboy 2 is essentially a glorified puppet show. It might be the best such show ever made, outdoing all previous movie spectacles in terms of costumes, makeup, and creature creation. There isn’t a two-minute stretch in this movie where some new, bizarre creature is featured onscreen. Where do they all come from? Hellboy 2 is content to let them all show up without explanation. Its fantasy world is not the troll market or the underground city of the Golden Army, but the real world of Manhattan and its human beings, which barely make an appearance, except to get pummeled by a giant forest creature.

As puppet shows go, meaningful plots are lacking. But what did we expect from a movie with this title? Hellboy 2‘s creature display gets kickstarted by a basic problem: the mythological world’s truce with the human world is under threat, because Prince Nuada wants to reawaken the golden army and destroy humans. Nuada’s big beef is that humanity has made too many parking lots. We disagree — we can’t ever find a space anywhere — but Nuada has read too many Greenpeace tracts to think otherwise. His anthrophobia leads him to attempt to destroy New York City with a creature whose gigantic arms are covered in clovers. That’s surely the most exciting solution to global warming yet.

Hellboy, of course, must save the day. But just when we thought that the movie was making a statement against environmental extremism, it veers towards nuance. Hellboy, to a degree, sees Nuala’s point about humans, who come to despise Hellboy even though he is performing acts of service for them.

But no one is going to come away from this movie with any particular message. If there is one, it’s director Guillermo Del Toro’s neopagan vision of a mostly hidden mythological world. None of his creatures are particularly pretty, nor is there much wide range between them in terms of good and evil. This isn’t Narnia or Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. Prince Nuada is the worst, but even he is portrayed sympathetically. And the hero of this movie series is, of course, a character who looks like the devil. That Hellboy is charismatic helps, he being the ultimate phlegmatic, a distant cousin of Winnie the Pooh, except for an occasional temper flare. Like its predecessor, Hellboy 2 succeeds in incorporating humor in places where it doesn’t seem possible. Still, we can’t imagine many people we know, particularly younger folk, profiting from this movie. Unless you consider nightmares to be profitable.

Del Toro, it must be said, has caught the George Lucas virus, which has also infected M. Night Shymayalan. He aims to direct and write all of his movies, past box-office success leading him to think that he can write. Not so, Del Toro. Hellboy 2 suffers from being about nothing in particular, so several scenes of heavy emotional weight fall flat. Hellboy’s relationship with his girlfriend is not interesting, nor is his potential one as a father. Given the simplicity of his scripts, it is clear that Del Toro has leaped over his true calling — as a creature creator — and landed in the writer/director chair. It would be wise for him to find a great screenwriter next time, preferably a Christian. The good news is that Del Toro has a readymade story with The Hobbit, which does not suffer from Hellboy and Hellboy 2‘s flaws.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 1

Morality: 2

Posted in Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Silly but Entertaining | Leave a Comment »

Gunga Din

Posted by J on July 5, 2008

Gunga Din is a relic now, something that could never be made without completely reversing its underlying messages.  Here you’ve got three British officers, having a good time in the exotic parts of the British empire, yucking it up and turning themselves into heroes at the same time.  And then you have your Thug worshippers of the lovegoddess Kali, who yell “Kill, kill, kill!!!!” so that you know they aren’t headed off to Sunday School.  The Thugs are political rebels as well as idol worshippers, so the whole point of the movie is how the three British officers tame the thugs and steal their gold, all while having a grand old time in the spirit of a 1930s swashbuckling adventure movie.  This kind of thing was remade by Spielberg as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, but the difference is that Jones is an American individualist, while Gunga Din reinforces the joys and jollies of rule by the British empire.

Now that we’re on this side of WWII and colonialism, they can’t make this movie.  Consider the difference between it and The Man Who Would Be King, another movie based on something written by Rudyard Kipling.  In that movie, two guys go into Afghanistan for gold and military glory.  This is no different than some of the basics of Gunga Din‘s plot.  But whereas Gunga Din is about how you could whoop it up while dominating the colonials (just look at the movie poster to the right), The Man Who Would Be King is about how those exotic colonials will get you killed.  In other words, empire can work grandly on that side of WWII.  It’s a total failure on this side of WWII.  This latter point is used and reinforced, of course, by that still-dominant movie vision of empire, Star Wars.

The Bible has a lot to say about empire, but always the chosen people are on the side that the Thugs are in Gunga Din.  Either the smallish Israel, or the church in the New Testament, finds itself squeezed or persecuted by a dominate, idolatrous military and cultural powerhouse.  Two of the major points of Bible stories about empire is that God saves a remnant of the chosen and that those powerhouses aren’t powerhouses for long — they go kaputt, with a bang or a whimper.

Does that mean, at its core, that The Man Who Would Be King is more Biblical than Gunga Din?  Maybe, maybe not.  Politically speaking, maybe.  Religiously speaking, probably not.  In the first movie, it’s the native religious superstition that undoes the phony rule by the two British officers.  That religious superstition, then, triumphs in the end.  Not so in Gunga Din, in which the main point is the British destruction of the bloodthirsty worshippers of the goddess Kali.  Like many Old Testament stories, Gunga Din is a morality play about the destruction of wicked idolatry.  In other words, it seems to us that you’ve got your goods and your bads with both the pro-empire movies and the anti-empire movies.  Watch them with a careful eye.

It’s up to you whether you have a taste for Gunga Din.  People who’ve consumed blockbusters for the last thirty years are apt to be put off by 1930s special effects and overacting.  They probably won’t get the movie language of Gunga Din‘s long battle sequence followed right away by a long, semi-comedic dinner scene.  You wouldn’t ever get those two scenes separated but juxtaposed these days.  This is all to say, know your preferences and take the entertainment rating as you need to.

Entertainment:8

Intelligence: 4

Morality: 6

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Silly but Entertaining | Leave a Comment »

Hellboy

Posted by J on June 28, 2008

Surfing the TV, we stumbled across an episode of BibleMan.  If you don’t know who BibleMan is, he’s a evangelical superhero ripoff of other way cooler and more popular superheros.  He’s supposed to be a “holier” substitute for parents who think that Batman is the devil.  For example, Bibleman wears the breastplate of righteousness instead of Batman’s chestplate, and a helmet of salvation instead of a bat mask.  (What’s the difference again?)

Anyway, this episode featured Luxor Spawndroth, Bibleman’s arch enemy.  Spawndroth looks like a guy wearing one of those cheesy plastic masks you see in teenage goth stores at Halloween.  So he proceeds to parade around onscreen, performing some kind of unfunny comedy schtick, singing Frank Sinatra songs and acting like a teenager at a youth group party.  Later in the episode, BibleMan — played by a guy who couldn’t give a decent performance in a high school drama club skit — quotes Scripture at Spawndroth and thus defeats him.  Now, despite the disgusting mask, who has been portrayed as being cool?  Undoubtedly, Spawndroth.

We mention this because we think some of our evangelical readers might object, “Why did we watch something evil with the word ‘hell’ in it?”  In terms of presentation and visual spectacle, we don’t see any difference between BibleMan and Hellboy.  Hellboy, in fact, is a superhero who fights against ultimate darkness.  He doesn’t quote Scripture — actually, he’s got an attitude problem, but the movie looks down upon him for this — but he does grind down his horns to fit in better with other people.  And he likes kittens.  So, actually, we felt like Hellboy presented the good v. evil battle in much clearer terms than the episode of BibleMan we saw.  The bad guys in Hellboy are Rasputin and a couple of freakish Nazis, and they didn’t parade around the set singing Frank Sinatra.  They were genuinely bad.  They didn’t have a problem with killing people and bringing about the end of the world, and for Hellboy, those are pretty terrible things.

Now this is not a praise in Hellboy‘s favor. Let us explain.  What was good about Hellboy, like other Guillermo Del Toro movies, is that it’s visually outstanding.  Del Toro is like Spielberg on steroids.  In fact, Spielberg hasn’t been able to figure out how to make CGI look really good, while Del Toro is a master.  (This means that Del Toro’s version of The Hobbit, unlike the recent, watered-down Narnia movies, could be very good.)

But Del Toro is too much like Spielberg in that he’s given over to hokeyness about spiritual matters while pretending to be serious.  There’s lots of humor in Hellboy, but it’s directed at the superhero and his relationships, and not at the inherent structure of the comical plot, which is taken entirely seriously.  Nazis opening dimensional portals that pull in giant slimy monsters from space?  A devil character and his fish-faced sidekick trying to defeat the Ograd Jahad from the seventh dimension?  This is the kind of stuff that needs to be satirized, not used as if it contains a teeny-tiny possibility of being true.

Like Spielberg, Del Toro is quick to exploit religion for the sake of spectacle. Religious iconography dominates a movie that pits sacred icons against occult practices.  In the real world, this would be serious business.  In a Hollywood flick, it’s an action-packed two hours of fun.   For example, one character wears a relic from the Vatican to ward off hellhounds.  To give another example, the object that defeats the Ograd Jahad (the bad guys) is a rosary.  In the final moments, ready to give himself up to the bad guys, Hellboy accidentally touches a cross, which restores his “goodness.”  Here, sacred icons win out against the occult.

To us, this stuff is not about Christian witness or the positive portrayal of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s fundamentally all about being entertained by what’s on-screen.  The credits roll afterward, reality kicks back into gear, and for most folks, the spectacle has done its job to degrade matters that shouldn’t be taken so lightly in the real world.

We think some people take movies like Hellboy too seriously, when in fact a movie like this exploits religious symbolism because that symbolism is a kind of visual language that almost everybody understands.  It then repackages religion in a comicbook movie about a superhero devil character who must combat Nazis and mythical creatures.  The whole point is the spectacle, not the potential “religious message.”

In that sense, religion is reduced to a lame sideshow for entertainment purposes.  In contrast, the Bible describes the cosmic scope of the contest between religious worldviews as something of ultimate importance.  That’s the point of the First Commandment. You won’t see that contest given much meaningful treatment in any modern movie.

Entertainment: 6.5

Intelligence: 5 (for everything but the plot)

Morality: 4

Posted in Big-Budget Eye Candy, Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Reality-Fantasy, Silly but Entertaining | 1 Comment »