J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for the ‘They Spent Millions on This?’ Category

The Devil’s Brigade

Posted by J on February 15, 2011

We thought there was a rule that no WWII mission movie could be unwatchable.  No such movie can go wrong, theoretically.  The premise promises adventure — a team of soldiers or commandos goes on an impossible mission in exotic territory.  The setting is wartime, and the good guys and bad guys are obvious and without ambiguity.

Yet The Devil’s Brigade is one of the lesser of WWII mission movies, unwatchable in parts, and trite in every way.  Here the mission is for a band of misfits to get in shape, then storm a mountain where unreachable Nazis fire artillery guns at will.  But the movie sucks the life out of this mission, meandering whenever it needs to move forward.

There is a standard formula for movies like this.  It goes according to this plan:

1) Commanding officer gets a special assignment, then assembles group of outcasts and criminals to prepare to perform special assignment.  Each outcast has his own wacky, distinctive personality.

2) The group of outcasts doesn’t gel at first.  There will be a fistfight or two, but then an incident occurs that unites them as a group.  Usually this incident involves fistfights, too.

3) The group of outcasts get a special assignment, but something goes wrong, except team spirit and willpower overcome whatever went wrong.  In the end, the commanding officer will survive, as will a few of the outcasts, but many of them will die and each will get his own special moment where he dies gloriously in battle.

While The Devil’s Brigade follows this generic formula, it goes wrong in a number of ways.  The first is that none of the individual members of the brigade are all that interesting.  None is a colorful character.  Even near the end of the movie, it’s hard to distinguish one guy from another, even though the movie has tried very hard to establish its characters as likeable and unique.

The second way it goes wrong is that it gives the brigade two special assignments, thereby limiting the screen time spent on each assignment.  As a result, the brigade’s first mission is incredibly dull — sneaking into a base and catching a few German officers showering.  The movie does promise that the brigade will go to Norway, which would’ve been the best route for the plot to take, except the brigade gets shipped off to Italy instead.  While this may be historically accurate, the movie does little justice to the real Devil’s Brigade anyway, so why not have a cool snow battle in Norway involving skiing and crossbows?

The movie was released in 1968, in the opening years of the Vietnam war, which means it’s really about Vietnam and not WWII.  It argues for an military alliance with Canada, a signifier for any potential foreign ally that we might not like (the Americans harbor antipathy for the Canadians in the movie) but that would be useful anyway.  It’s hard to watch this now and not think that the outcasts, criminals, and rapscallions who comprise the brigade are representative of wayward youths in the late ’60s, the kinds of guys needed in 1968 for the U.S. Army.  The movie shows us that we can trust these wayward youths, who can be turned into a valiant fighting force for good, if only we give some courageous leader like William Holden a chance.  Fortunately, the ending to The Devil’s Brigade isn’t all that happy, but any WWII mission movie like this inherently praises modern war as the pinnacle for the exhibition of several male virtues, such as courage, endurance, and toughness.  Unfortunately, to get through this movie without falling asleep, you too will need these virtues.


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The Blind Side

Posted by J on May 4, 2010

We wanted to dislike The Blind Side, and we do, but let’s give it props.  This is one of the few movies of the last thirty years in which rich white Southerners aren’t portrayed as scumbags, nor are Southerners portrayed as “Deliverance” wannabes.  Of course the Deliverance joke has to be made in this movie.  But we find sympathy with the main characters, a wealthy family that adopts a teenage black male, who turns out to be a great football player.

And, even better, the movie has fine morals: namely, the adoptive love of the family, which offers charity, hope, and forgiveness.  Perhaps the family is too much a cookie-cutter family, but then it’s a relief to not have intra-family tensions that dominate any kind of family drama.  This family is happy.  It’s happiness rubs off on Michael Oher, a practically abandoned teenager who thankfully hasn’t been corrupted by his upbringing.  For Oher, it’s a rags-to-riches tale in two ways.  He immediately becomes wealthy after his adoption, but he also becomes wealthy in that he takes advantages of opportunities that his new life affords him.

But family dramas like this can be done well without all the fluff and corniness that’s inserted into such movies.  Perhaps fluff and corniness garner a wider audience, and thus more profit, for all involved.  Yet did any of the following need to be inserted into this movie, for any reason?

1) Sandra Bullock’s character, the driving force behind the adoption of Oher, drives nonchalantly into the slums with Oher.  He warns her, she says it’s not a big deal, then she looks out the window at the gangbangers sitting around a rundown apartment complex.  Suddenly she locks her door, as if she didn’t have a clue where she was.

2) Later, Bullock’s character confronts the same gangbangers, by herself, dressed in a revealing outfit, in the same slums she had previously visited.  She talks smack to them.

3) Bullock’s character runs onto a high school football practice field, tells the coach to butt out, and instructs Oher in how to play the offensive tackle position.

4) Later, Bullock’s character calls the high school football coach’s cellphone during an actual game, and the coach answers, then takes her advice.

5) Bullock’s family invites no one over to Thanksgiving dinner — it’s just the five of them — and their idea of Thanksgiving is watching college football around the TV.  No ceremony, no nothing.  But Oher sits at the dining room table — he’s never had a real Thanksgiving dinner — which prompts the entire family to turn off the TV, sit at the dinner table with Oher, and pray on camera.  While lots of people love the sentiment of such a scene, it is so contrived that it should put off any viewer who has a teaspoon-full of decent aesthetic taste.

6) Product Placement.  This movie is sponsored by Pepsi, Ford, and the SEC.  In a movie that tries to play up certain morals, we are also told to buy buy buy the products that the characters used.  Product placement is ubiquitous these days, but it’s more blatant here than normal.

7) A seven-year-old spends an entire summer training Oher in football conditioning and techniques.  This seven-year-old, like other movie kids, is wiser than just about everybody in the movie.

We could add to the list, but you get the point.  The Blind Side uses so many family drama cliches that it can’t be taken seriously.  Any viewer will have to mine out the few good nuggets of material out of the vast caves of nonsense that make up this movie.

Posted in Modern Drama, They Spent Millions on This? | Leave a Comment »

The Box

Posted by J on April 12, 2010

The Box is like what would happen if The Twilight Zone took LSD and went to Laser Floyd. It has the ultimate summary blurb to suck in anybody, but once you get about 30 minutes into the movie, you begin to realize that only Salvador Dali could appreciate a movie like this.

Perhaps we’re being a little extreme.  LSD and Laser Floyd are supposed to be thrilling, not paranoia-inspiring.  But we’re not druggies, so it’s all the same to us.  Consider the poor drug analogy a stern warning.  You will want to rent this movie because of the premise you see on the back of the DVD box.  It goes like this.  In the 1970s in Richmond, Virginia, a NASA employee and Cameron Diaz are given a box.  They are told that if they push the button on top of the box, they will receive $1,000,000, cash and tax-free.  They will also, when they push the button, kill someone they don’t know.  They receive this box from a mysterious Mr. Steward, who is missing half of his face.

So there’s our premise, a hokey Philosophy 101 dilemma that can be entertaining enough to watch as an unfolding drama.  In truth, if the movie just featured this simple dilemma, contained in the first 20 minutes and last 5 minutes, everything would be fine.  But it’s during the long middle when you’ll wonder whether the director wanted to visually simulate dropping acid.

Don’t read ahead if you don’t wish to be spoiled.  The movie boils down to one of those mysterious extraterrestial being movies where all of humanity is tested.  If humanity passes the test, we aren’t killed by the mysterious super-alien.  The test is the button-push test.  Will we greedily push the button, or will we refuse to push it and thereby preserve our species?  The man with half a face is the super-alien, only we know this just through various clues.  There are no spaceships in this movie.  That would be too simple.

There are, however, mind-controlled human beings — known as “employees” — whose noses occasionally bleed.  They corral the main characters in a public library, then they urge one of them to choose a water gateway, one of which is the road to “salvation” and the other two the roads to “eternal damnation.”  This plot point is never resolved, nor approached again, though we do see the main character travel through a Kubrick-like psychadelic space voyage and end up five feet above his bed, surrounded by a rectangle of water.

What is with the water gateways, the weird people who are seemingly possessed, the half-face man’s experiment?  We are never to find out.  This nonsense is all backdrop to the simple moral dilemma posed at the beginning of the movie.  There are hints that any of these could be symbols, but for what, no one knows.  The main character is a wannabe astronaut involved in NASA’s Viking project, the hope of which was to find life on Mars.  All of the weirdness is wrapped up in NASA and the NSA — but then The X-Files franchise has long staked its claim to that territory.

The movie attempts to use Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit in some meaningful way.  Cameron Diaz’s character is a teacher who uses the play in her classroom, greatly appreciating it.  Perhaps this is the one good point of the movie.  Her character makes a poor moral choice that leads to her absurd downfall.  She is some existential hero, if that’s what she would like to be, dying for her own greed and foolhardiness.  Here’s where that weird super-alien gets to trump Sartre.  But then, with this movie, maybe we’re missing something.  Maybe the point is really to praise and reaffirm Sartre.  Interpret the water gateways and the freaky looking people as you wish.

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

Dr. No

Posted by J on December 8, 2009

For all the lore that James Bond has surrounding him, he’s never been in a good movie.  That’s not just if you define good as “world classic” or “temporary classic,” but “well above average.”  This  starts with the first Bond movie, Dr. No.

In Dr. No you will see James Bond and friends, chased by a tank with teeth painted on it, moving at a crawl.  This tank’s weapon is a blowtorch, so it doesn’t take an Olympic sprinter to get out of harm’s way.  Of course Bond and his sidekick park themselves in the brush and shoot at the tank, hoping to blow it up.  When that doesn’t happen, and as the tank inches forward, Bond’s sidekick stays where he is.   Cut to the tank, blowing fire out it’s front.  Cut to Bond’s sidekick, who throws his gun down and screams for a few seconds.  Cut to tank, which approaches the camera and lets out a tremendous fireball.  Cut to James Bond, who looks away in pain and grief.

Those are the kinds of scenes you will be subjected to with Dr. No.  You will have a good time if you get your buddies together and ridicule the movie, MST3K style.

As for Bond, he’s a womanizing, booze-drinking, debonnair secret agent who looks cool and acts cool at all times.    If you’ve ever seen a government agent like this guy, you’ve seen the only one that ever exists.  Surely this guy has the world’s greatest collection of STDs, but you’d never know it — doesn’t even bother to scratch an itch once.   As Austin Powers says, women want him and men want to be him, which is probably why they’ve made twenty-five or so of these movies.  But every one of them is about style, not substance, so you can decide if  you want to spend two hours living vicariously through a fictional government agent and his fantasy of spycraft.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

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Star Trek (2009)

Posted by J on November 24, 2009

Here’s a Star Trek for the whippersnappers.  As expected, given its intended audience, this Star Trek is all glitz and cool. You don’t need five seconds of an attention span to enjoy this movie, nor do you need a brain.  In fact, what is the difference between this movie and the Fast and Furious series, except that this one takes place in outer space?  James T. Kirk gets to mouth off to tough guys, Spock gets to brood about his interracial family, and Uhuru gets to take her shirt off to reveal her brazier, while lots of things blow up.

Occasionally the Star Trek franchise attempts to be thoughtful, but we shouldn’t expect that from this new movie series.  Consider an episode from the original 1960s series.  Captain Kirk and his merry band land on a pastoral paradise of a planet where some of the crew get sprayed by a chemical from trees.  This chemical gives a person never-ending feelings of pleasure, such that the person cares to do nothing but sit around and laugh and think the world’s a utopia.  Eventually the entire crew, even Mr. Spock, gets sprayed by this chemical, and so you think that they’re all going to be stuck on this planet yucking it up on a kind of marijuana high for eternity.  But no, Captain Kirk somehow realizes internally that he has drive and ambition — a will, if you will — to explore the universe and to not sit around taking drugs all day as a hippie would.  He then proceeds to rescue the crew from its drug-enduced state, and the moral of the story is, don’t be an irresponsible hippie. Surprisingly, in this case, Star Trek could be fairly conservative.

But here, in this new Star Trek movie, we have explosions and lots of deux ex machinas and that’s about all. The moviemakers even expect us to accept the idea that a single star’s supernova explosion can “destroy an entire galaxy.”  If that’s really the case, we suggest that you pack your bags and take that dream vacation you’ve always been wanting to take, right now.

The bad guys are laughably bad.  Supposedly they have waited around twenty-five years to enact revenge on Spock, and their revenge seemingly never subsides, not even when they tell jokes or go to the bathroom.  Here is an example of where the creators of this movie took a piece of Star Trek lore — the bad guy Khan, combined with other bad guys — dumbed it down (if such a thing is possible) and regurgitated it in this movie.  If you’ve watched much Star Trek you’ve already seen the torture bug, an insect they insert into the body of a captured victim, and you’re going to see it again in this movie.

The multicultural angle doesn’t work in this movie.  There’s no point to having a Scot and a Japanese male, let alone a Russian (we’re not in the Cold War anymore so who cares about that?).  Obviously if all of these ethnicities persist into the 23rd century, then nationalism and a relatively strong taboo on interracial marriage are still in vogue on Earth, which is the opposite of what Star Trek says we should aspire too. More bizarrely, after the planet Vulcan is destroyed and only 10,000 Vulcans are left, we are supposed to genuinely care for Spock’s “people.”  It’s at this point that the movie practically screams, “Hey, Spock needs a Vulcan wife and he needs to get busy making Vulcan babies so that the Vulcan race can survive.”  But no.  Spock and Uhuru have the hots for each other.  This movie has a number of similar unresolved contradictions, which you are not supposed to think about (because you are not supposed to think, duh!).

The Federation remains a multicultural empire which dominates its territory by peace through strength, desires to expand its dominion, and competes with other single-ethnicity empires (Klingons, Romulans, etc.).    The militarism of Star Fleet goes hand in hand with the diversity of its male and female warriors.  In the middle of it all is the hero, Captain Kirk. He gets in bar fights, cheats on his school exams, drives fast cars off cliffs (in Iowa, where there are no cliffs at all), and gets promoted to the highest levels of the multicultural empire at a young age. You’d think that Starfleet would be in serious trouble with leaders like this.  In real life, it would be.

Entertainment: 7 (if you get your buddies together and make fun of the movie’s absurdities, it’s definitely a 10)

Intelligence: 1

Morality: 1

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The DaVinci Code

Posted by J on September 7, 2009

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

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

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

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

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


Intelligence: 0

Morality: 0

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Posted by J on June 18, 2009

Is a trip to the movie theater even worth your consideration these days?  We Up325went to Up, knowing nothing about it except that it is made by Pixar and follows two wonderful movies in Ratatouille and Wall-E.  We forked over $16 on a product we trusted.

Big mistake.

Up is a boring mess. It was so bad that it made both of us want to leave early, which is quite a difficult thing to do.  It’s chief problem is randomness piled on top of its two main topics, aging and grief.  Earth to Pixar: random cartoon action and grief over the death of a loved one don’t mix all that well.

The story is about an old man who, as a little boy, dreamed of romantic adventures in an undiscovered location known as Paradise Falls.  The boy meets a girl with the same dream, and soon we are whisked into a powerful montage three minutes into the movie wherein the boy and girl get married, grow old together, and then the girl (elderly in the end) dies.  This is the most profound and effective part of the movie.  You may stop watching after this point.

The old man is evicted from his longtime house, but instead of leaving he decides to rig thousands of helium-filled balloons to his house to make the house fly.  This is the part of the movie where we enter into fantasyland — the old man can fly wherever he wants, because this is a cartoon — but fantasyland in this movie is quite barren.  Of course he makes it to Paradise Falls, but what is there?  A few rocks, a waterfall, and little else.

Here is where the movie gets random.  A bird named Kevin, discovered eventually to be a female, follows the old man.  A dog with an electronic collar that allows it to talk enters the picture.  Everybody runs back and forth a lot.  There is a villain who is evil personified.  He has lots of talking dogs and an airship.  None of these things has anything to do with the death of the old man’s wife, nor with his own alienation from the world.  They do, in fact, distract us considerably from those concerns.

A cartoon world can take us anywhere, but Up‘s fantasy world is never very interesting.  There is promise of a jungle labyrinth that never appears.  Instead, we get a boring wasteland.  The giant airship has promise, but we spend only a few minutes inside of it before the predictable chase scene comes. Ho hum.

Ultimately, the old man is supposed to realize that his goal in life is to save a bird, presumably an endangered species, from being hunted down and captured. He also must befriend his sidekick — an annoying Asian American boy scout — and become his surrogate grandfather.   This could be touching, except the characters are never developed. The old man is a grieving grump throughout and not much more.  (He is also the butt of inevitable hearing aid jokes.)

What’s more bizarre is that while the bird of unknown gender must be saved, the old man realizes that his childhood hero makes Darth Vader look like a nice guy.  This hero is Charles Muntz, a famed explorer who lives in Paradise Falls.  Muntz tries to kill everybody, including little boys and puppy dogs.  So why does the old man have to learn to hate the heroes of yesteryear, particularly a noble explorer?  Why is the bad guy an American adventurer, while the thing that must be saved is a stupid bird?

This appears to be the movie’s main moral: the old man must learn to reject and distrust the past, while embracing an environmentalist principle.

If you must see this movie because it is a Pixar movie, stick to renting it from Redbox for a buck. Better, just watch Wall-E again.

Entertainment: 3

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 8

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Ice Station Zebra

Posted by J on December 6, 2008

Finding Ice Station Zebra on the library shelf, we wondered why an old action movie like this had been long 200px-icestationzebraforgotten.  Just look at the poster!  John Sturges, director of The Great Escape and Bad Day at Black Rock.  Jim Brown with a rifle.  Nuclear submarines and gun battles at the North Pole.  This has promise.  You’d think it’d be a staple of Saturday afternoon TV, like Conan the Barbarian and First Blood.

But this movie is a pompous exercise in blockbuster action.  It starts with the prelude.  Whenever a movie makes you sit through five minutes of its score at the beginning, it’d better be good.  No go here.

Then Rock Hudson appears on-screen, and the entire thing falls apart.  It makes sense that the most famous thing this guy is known for is getting AIDS.  He’s a Cary Grant lookalike with no charisma.  Put him in the confined space of a nuclear submarine, and everybody in the audience feels like getting out real quick.

The movie has one excellent sequence in which the submarine plunges towards the depths.  If you have seen Das Boot, or any other submarine movie, you will have seen something similar.  The plot of this movie is not worth mentioning, except that the submarine at one point is sabotaged, only we NEVER find out who sabotaged it.  Huh?  We stopped watching this one at the intermission.  Yes, it has an intermission, which is an invitation to leave if you so choose.  That’s probably why there are no more intermissions in movies.

Entertainment: 4

Intelligence: 0

Morality: not worth bothering about

Posted in They Spent Millions on This?, War | Leave a Comment »

The Happening

Posted by J on November 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 2

Morality: 2

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

Father of the Bride (1991)

Posted by J on November 19, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 0

Morality: see above

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