Beyond Borders

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Not Recommended. This was a potentially great idea ruined by Romanticism. It follows the path of Sarah, played by Angelina Jolie as a married woman in the English high society who awakens to the true plight of the third world one day when an activist doctor, played by Clive Owen, crashes a high falutin dinner party that is raising money for such projects. He brings a real kid who is really suffering and chastises everyone for their fraudulent “help” because the plug is being pulled on his project and lives are going to be lost. SO Sarah is inspired and gets involved in relief work. She travels around the world to the Sudan, Cambodia and eventually, Chechnya to help the suffering in the midst of political and military upheaval. Of course, she meets Clive, the doctor and they fall in love, but do nothing because she is married. The Romanticism of this movie lies in making Angelina stay with her husband for the sake of her child, even though he is an adulterer. But as she gets more involved in her work, she keeps seeing Clive and eventually falls for him. They consummate (read: fornicate), but realize they can never be together because they are in different worlds and can neither of them leave their own world for the other. So they are doomed to seeing each other every few years in different lands. This sets up the Romantic notion that doing the right thing versus following your passion leads to tragedy. Angelina and Clive are created as characters of true love and passion and connection who cannot be together because she stays with her family. Her husband’s adultery becomes the pragmatic justification for her embracing her adultery. Hey, after all, they weren’t really in love anyway, right? And hey, he’s an adulterer too, so there! This movie reminds me of the despicable Bridges of Madison County, that justified Meryl Streep’s character in her adultery as the only true experience of love and passion in her life. And even though she stayed with her husband, even though she “did the right thing,” she treasured her adultery all her life as the one true experience of life and love from which she thrived. Rather than work out the issues and grow to love her lifelong partner LIKE AN ADULT, no, she had to follow illicit passions and treasure those experiences of lust as love. What a selfish child, if you ask me. At least in Beyond Borders, her husband was an adulterer. In Bridges, the husband wasn’t even half bad. Well, same story in Beyond Borders. They even have a tragic ending where Angelina gives her life to save her lover so he can be with the baby that resulted from their union. Very epic and melancholic sadness. Great acting, good emotional writing and storytelling. It’s all very epic feeling and grand, and a compelling story. Unfortunately, it is immoral Romanticism.

Dracula 2000

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Rommended with Extreme Caution. Okay, if you don’t like horror films, you won’t like this formula horror flick. But if you don’t like horror, then you should read my article, “A Theology of Horror Films”.

Anyway, the reason why I recommend Dracula 2000 for the strong of stomach is because it has a strong Christian theme. That’s right. You heard what I said. And not merely a nice “moral theme” but a blatant Christian concept of redemption. It is a return to the origins of modern horror that E. Michael Jones writes about in his excellent book, Monsters From the Id. Here is what I wrote to someone about this book: “I wanted to recommend Monsters from the Id by E. Michael Jones. It is a brilliant book about the origins of modern horror as a reaction to the Enlightenment worldview (unconscious or conscious) with its rejection of the supernatural and the worship of science with the elevation of man’s “natural” impulses. His historical context of Mary Shelly and Byron is really quite illuminating in proving his premise. And his explanation of how religion fits in is also poignant. His take is a bit different from yours. Rather than the “sacred” creating the monster, it is the “negation of the sacred” that does so. That is why the sacred is usually part of the solution. The crucifix (sacred) protects against the vampire, MacNeils’ naturalism (in The Exorcist) makes her defenseless in the face of real supernatural, so it is her lack of the sacred that makes her family prey. Rosemary’s lack of a sacred understanding of evil (In Rosemary’s Baby) makes her prey as well. Even the point of 28 Days Later is that the zombies are a metaphor for the lack of civilization and order within the modern social/nationalist mindset (the testosterone military men are no different than the zombies in their bloodlust).

Jones points out that the Enlightenment rejection of the supernatural and the exaltation of man’s primary urges and scientific hubris create Frankenstein, Dracula, Hyde and Jekyll, and even surprisingly so, Cronenberg’s monsters. And Frankenstein was really an expression of Shelly’s own horror in her life. Even many of the slasher films illustrate the residue of this Enlightenment created monster that wreaks havoc. It is the rejection of the sacred order that creates these monsters, not the sacred itself. That is why the promiscuous kids die and the virgin often lives. Of course, this is mostly relevant to traditional horror, and can break down in current horror, like Scream that deliberately defy convention. But I found his thesis rather rich in understanding and breadth.”

So, if you don’t want the major plot point twist to be spoiled, then don’t read on…

What is so great about the movie is that Dracula is revealed to be the undead soul of Judas Iscariot prowling the earth in vengeance against his own perdition. His unsatiable lust for blood, the blood he cannot have in Jesus’ blood of forgiveness, the silver abhorrance, a reflection of the 30 pieces he betrayed for, and of course, crosses and wooden stakes through the heart as elements of the cross of Christ. It is brilliant and a reminder of what I wrote above, that horror should be the result of rejecting the truth of God. Unfortunately much postmodern horror defies these conventions. And I must say, that this brings me to The Addiction, a true Christian themed vampire movie, even better than Dracula 2000, one of my top five favorites. But be careful here, because it too is not for the squeamish. But it uses vampirism as the perfect metaphor for man’s total sinful depravity. Sin is the addiction. Anyway, it is interesting to note that Wes Craven, the producer of Dracula 2000 went to Wheaton College and has a Christian background from which he has most likely fallen. So it is revealing that he, like Paul Shrader and others, tend to reach into their Christian past to draw out images and concepts.

The Station Agent

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Highly recommend. Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. This is a little gem of a film. Almost purely character-driven. It’s the story of a dwarf [yes, the main character is actually a dwarf] who inherits an old train depot station from a dead friend and goes to live there. It’s out in the middle of nowheresville, that is, Newfoundland New Jersey. While there, he meets an Italian coffee truck vendor and an absent-minded female artist. The acting is superb by everyone, especially the dwarf. What a wonderful change of pace from the typical movie that uses only “beautiful people” to star. Of course, it’s not that the dwarf is ugly, but just that he is not a model for Calvin Klein underwear. He is a human being just like Tom Cruise, and this movie proves that it is interesting absorbing characters that help make a story intriguing to the viewer, not star power. Anyway, the dwarf character is moody and withdrawn, with lots of scenes of minimalist dialogue and long lazy shots (in the good sense). This reminded me of the beautiful Tender Mercies, which also gave us such small town angst with simplicity. The theme of this movie deals with friendship, alienation and rejection. The funniest scene had me laughing my head off. As the dwarf character walks home down a road, the kooky artist just happens to be driving by and loses control of the vehicle because she drops her cell phone. She almost hits the guy, and apologizes. There is chemistry here, but it is suppressed. The very next time she meets him, it is in the exact same situation as he is walking home, only, this time, she spills her coffee at that very moment, and he sees the car weaving again as it comes toward him. You can almost see the connection in his brain as he sees the car come towards him again. I couldn’t stop laughing and thinking about it. I must confess that I loved it even though there is not really much of a story. This is unusual for me. I get bored when there is no story. But the characters were so compelling.

The Magdelene Sisters

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Not recommended. I had no interest in seeing this film. But I was stuck at the DGA because of a bad parking situation and had to stay to watch it. I just had no interest in watching yet another Catholic bashing diatribe, which ends up implying all Christianity as negative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the Roman Catholic church and am fully aware of it’s abuses (Hey, I loved Luther!). I think there is definitely a place for the exposé of such abuses, it’s just that this is all we ever seem to get from movies, and it is usually propagandistic. You know something is propaganda when they only show negative stereotypes of people who are part of institutions they are attacking and don’t show any positive characters to balance the bad ones (like Thelma and Louise, Titanic). That is what happened in this movie. It’s based on a true story of these reform schools in Ireland for “wayward girls,” which usually amounts to sexually promiscuous girls. It follows three girls, Margaret, Rose, and Bernadette. One of them is pregnant by accident, another is raped and the third is flirty with the boys, but never “done nothing.” Okay, so they set up all the girls as roughly innocent, who are thrown into this punishing institution because of the evil patriarchal male abuse. While there, they are forced to engage in slave labor and are deprived of food and rest. It’s supposed to discipline the immorality out of them. A girl gets raped and the father treats HER like trash when the rapist should be the one thrown in jail. SO, basically, all the women are victims, which right away sets up the entire school as unjust. Again, no doubt this stuff does happen and should be decried as wicked, but come on, who are you trying to fool anyway? And all the people in prison are innocent too? It would be less propagandistic if they showed girls who did deserve to be there to contrast with innocent ones, but you see the filmmakers cannot do that because they believe that all punishment of sexual immorality is intrinsically evil, so they are required by their prejudice to show it as only negative without showing any of the destruction of untold thousands of lives from promiscuity and rebellion. Also, all the nuns and staff are wicked stepmother types who enjoy punishing the girls with total ignorance of any goodness. NOT ONE SINGLE NUN WITH A GOOD HEART in the entire place?? Again, who are you trying to fool? That just is not reality, it is propaganda. Even one good nun would have been a redemptive element and more true to reality. But Propaganda cannot show a positive example of an institutional character because it would weaken its argument because propaganda is not interested in reality or truth, but only AGENDA. And so propaganda really on weakens an otherwise compelling story in the Magdalene Sisters.

Mystic River

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Medium Recommended. This film is a brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, superbly directed and edited piece of nihilistic cynicism. The story of three boys tied by fate, when one day, while playing hockey in the street, they are approached by a couple of men who are impersonating undercover police. They take a kid away under pretenses of bringing him home to his mom, but instead kidnap him and sexually abuse him for several days until he escapes. The whole point of the story is how it affected each of the three kids as they grow up. The one who was kidnapped and raped becomes a psychologically troubled nobody, one becomes a criminal and tries to reform and the third becomes a cop. They are united when the criminal’s daughter is killed and the troubled friend becomes a suspect. All the clues keep leading to the Tim Robbins abused character. Abused people abuse, right? Well, an entire irony of situation is set up so that Robbins is killed by the criminal guy who lost his daughter as his revenge, but it is discovered that he did not do it after all. So there is an ironic cynical fate of victimization. Only the strong survive. No hope in this story. Nice guys finish last. Even the ending is ambiguous about whether or not the criminal will get his due for killing the victim Robbins.

Intolerable Cruelty

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Not Really Recommended. I love Coen Brothers’ movies for their characters and unpredictable stories, and usually with rather moral themes, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? And Fargo. And this story has the usual interesting Coen characters and bizarre plot. But unfortunately, it falls apart. It’s about a sleazy divorce attorney, played by Clooney, who is hired to help a philandering husband to keep his riches from the hands of his divorcing wife played by Zeta-Jones. Well, Clooney falls for Jones and starts his pursuit of her. Turns out she is just as sleazy of a person who marries men to bilk them of their money so she can live a pampered life. Well, the Clooney character doesn’t care, he goes after anyway her until she captures him and takes him for all he has. SO the story sets up a great tragedy that even has references to a lot of Greek things in the script. They eat at a place called, Nero’s, they end up at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, etc. But, at the end of the story, just after Clooney is tricked by the conniving Jones, and is about to get his due from her, she pulls a complete turn around and falls for him. Unfortunately, this does not fit the story at all and has the effect of an arbitrary happy Hollywood ending. No reason for it. The characters are set up as total sleaze bags and then for no reason at all, they just change and become loving sacrificial lovers? NOT BELIEVABLE. It was jarring and came out of nowhere and was not germane to the characters or story. Really unsatisfying. A Greekish tragedy/Hollywood Ending is a double-minded two-faced story. This movie is a cheat.

Kill Bill

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NOT RECOMMENDED. This vile piece of trash has pretty much convinced me to stop watching Tarantino films. Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece of cinema, which I’ll explain why in a second. But with his last two films, Jackie Brown and now Kill Bill, we now see that Tarantino, rather than being a profound revealer of postmodern reality, turns out to be merely the tragic incarnation of the worst that postmodernism has to offer us. Tarantino turns out to be merely an ex-video store clerk obsessed with bad 70s TV, bad Hong Kong karate films, bad exploitation films, and pastiche culture, who struck a single good chord with Pulp Fiction. He seems more an incarnation of bad art than an original artist who has “rediscovered” the past. To be truly postmodern is to be truly imitation style without substance or context, without purpose or meaning. That is why Pulp Fiction works and his last two movies do not. Because the pomo bricolage that is Pulp Fiction is subordinated and contextualized by the Christian redemption of the character Jules. The vanity and meaninglessness of the kitsche of the other stories takes on meaning and becomes profound when contrasted by the transcendance of God’s sovereignty. And that is really what saves Jules, isn’t it? His redemption lies in his recognition of the transcendent God of the Bible as bringing purpose and meaning to his existence. I believe that this Christian redemption is what gives the depth and profundity to Pulp Fiction that people respond to with their souls, and that what makes it a classic masterpiece. No doubt, Tarantino is not a Christian but was merely playing with what was to him, another bizarre quirky viewpoint, a leftover of the “Jesus Freak” movement from the same 70s era he so lovingly embraces, thus making Pulp Fiction an unintended masterpiece. This lack of spiritual transcendence in his other films reveal them to be what they really are, just empty imitation of style without substance, without meaning or purpose. Oh, vanity of vanities…

I must admit the camerawork in Bill is fantastic and magical. Everything else is terrible. It’s WAYYY TOOO LOOOONG, and it’s only the first half!! No story at all, just a string of revenge fight sequences, punctuated by a confusing cacophany of title cards “Two days later,” “six months earlier,” “13 hours later” and on and on. And terrible dialogue. I have never seen the “F” word used more poorly than in this movie. I think the “F” word is entirely appropriate if used right, but here, the characters sound like teenagers TRYING to swear than really swearing. It’s all too forced and overwrought. Even the fight sequences were grotesque with limbs cutting off and blood spewing out like a Monty Python gag. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he’s trying to be comic book and give his “homage” to Oriental kung fu movies yada yada yada. But this is just a gore fest that is repugnant and in my big mouthed opinion, inappropriate. And you know, I’m not merely speaking from a “moralistic” perspective. I mean this from a storytelling one, too. These long bloodbath sequences get very boring very quickly because there is nothing left to imagination and it’s very repetitious. I mean, I wanted to leave after 10 minutes from total disinterest, but I came with a friend and didn’t want to place him in a dilemma. Plus, I wanted to be able to justify my comments to those who would throw the nasty accusation that “you can’t criticize the movie if you haven’t seen it.” Okay, I seen it. And it stunk. Satisfied? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was great with its sword fight scenes all looking like operatic ballets, Gladiator was brilliant in capturing the vicious ancient Roman Empire and culture, Braveheart is one of the best movies of all time, so I am not against a good sword fight movie, just do it with class or something, will you? Good grief. I am sorry, but I don’t buy the “Grand Guignol” rationalization of exploitative violence as artistic catharthis. Poppycock. Bunk. Balderdash and bullpuckey. Let’s call it what it really is, shall we?: naked adolescent fixation on cruelty. Now, should I tell you what I REALLY think? ☺