Not recommended at all. Wasted potential. Okay, I apologize for seeing this movie. A buddy wanted to go see something and I had seen most everything, and I was NOT going to see Taking Lives again, no way. Here’s the thing, zombie movies tap into an underlying nightmare we often have: the whole world is against us, or society is totally insane or inhuman, and we fear being all alone against the world. I feel that way right now in our society, where wrong is right and right is wrong; where many people who look human on the outside, housewives, businessmen, neighbors, are actually monstrous zombies who have no problem with murdering millions of preborn children. We have a society full of zombies who hate their own people and defend murderous terrorists. We have a society of insane fiends who hate God and want to rip Him out of everything from government to education, and then wonder why their children are murdering and raping other children in school, the legacy of their monstrous ideas. You see my point? Zombie movies have some real moral potential in being socio-cultural statements of the inhumanity in society. The problem is that they are often just plain too grotesque in their violence to accomplish the good purpose. They show too much. They exploit. They breed their own violence. Ah for the days of The Omega Man, with Charlton Heston. Now there was a great zombie movie with a strong morality to it and not over the top grotesque detail. Dawn of the Dead is too much. Unlike another zombie movie, 28 Days Later, which I think is not quite as bad, and actually has a deep theme to it that is rather worthy. In 28 Days Later, the escaping humans find an outpost of military guys who have commandeered a mansion and have bunkered down in a way that the zombies can’t get at them. But when the military guys see the women in the hero’s company, they degenerate into monsters and want to use the women for their own sexual gratification. The hero then has to save the women from these “zombies within.” It really is a parable of how normal people, or at least macho maleness, can be as evil and inhuman and soulless as zombies. Not bad, actually. And Dawn of the Dead attempts some shallow thematic spiritual morality. Unfortunately, it fails to deliver. In the beginning, there are a couple of statements by the characters in the hysteria that this virus that is killing people and turning them all into zombies is a judgment from God. They even play the great Johnny Cash song “The Man Comes Around” about the return of Christ and Judgment Day over a montage of the virus spreading (Which doesn’t work by the way, because it doesn’t quite match in style). Someone says a statement that really doesn’t make any sense, but sounds spiritual, “When hell is full, the dead walk the earth.” What does that mean? Hell is overflowing? Why? But it’s all just shallow window dressing and is never developed. Okay, there are some characters that are selfish and survival oriented, “Survival of the fittest,” that turn into self-sacrificing heros, giving their lives to save the others. That’s good. And there is the sarcastic selfish sucker, who never changes, and he gets his doom. But I would argue that this movie is an example of a movie that exploits violence in such a way as to stain the otherwise potentially good morality in the story.
Recommended. I believe the Coen brothers are the modern day Woody Allen with a moral twist. Unlike the Nietzschean nihilistic lack of moral clarity that informed all of Allen’s stories, these guys sometimes place their quirky bizarre parables within a moral context. And a Judeo-Christian one at that. At least the latest stories, O Brother, Where Art Thou? And The Ladykillers express this profound spirituality. In my book, Hollywood Worldviews, I write about the moral superiority of uneducated spirituality over the educated humanistic arrogance that they addressed in O Brother and it appears they are capitalizing on that theme again in this story. They’re even exploiting the old time scratchy record, country, bluegrass, folk, and gospel music that they did so well in O Brother, that it became a bestselling soundtrack. Hey, these guys are getting what Hollywood does not. Give the people what they want and you’ll make tons of money. And the people like positive religious themes. That’s fine by me. Michael Crichton’s stories are all about the arrogance of humanistic science without morality. These guys seem to tell stories about the arrogance of humanistic education without morality. The story is about a group of criminal misfits led by a verbosely obscure professor G.H. Dorr, played by Tom Hanks, who rent a room in an old black woman’s house in order to tunnel their way into a casino cash vault nearby. The humor lies in the fact that the house is owned by an uneducated Gospel singing, church going black matron, Marva Munson. She is intellectually clueless, but morally full of heart and soul with her small town country church mentality. Sure, the writers have fun with this lack of smarts, but it’s not mockery, it’s loving affection, like that for a grandmother, on the level of The Apostle. When she hears a black dude swearing, she slaps him over and over again, cause she won’t have any of that “hippity hop music” language in her house, a Christian house. We laugh, but we ALL know she’s really right underneath the humor. Her naivete is like Forrest Gump, funny, but really the truth that we have all discarded out of our modernist arrogant disdain for the past. Are we really educated? Have we really progressed? Or is our pride in man’s wisdom led to a stupidity far more foolish than the simplicity of the primitive? I think these guys are clearly proving it’s the latter. The Ladykillers is a morality tale about how your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:33), how you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7-9), and if you sow to the whirlwind you will reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of true knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7)When Marva’s spiritual sensitivity kicks in and she suspects the men of criminal activity, she gives them a chance to repent and come to church. So they decide to kill her. Unfortunately for them, God is protecting her and each one faces his own demise as they try to take her out one by one, until they are all gone, including Dorr. They employ an interesting thematic image that I found very satisfying. The story begins with this shot of a garbage dump island in the middle of a river. And the men dump their bags of tunneled dirt onto the garbage barge every night. Then, when each man dies trying to expire the old lady, their bodies are dumped on the barge as well. I think this is a powerful metaphor that illustrates that we try to get rid of our “garbage” (read, “sin”) but we really can’t. It all piles up somewhere, stinking and infested, but it never goes away. We can’t hide it. Our garbage will find us out. We cannot divorce morality from knowledge. At the end, by way of a funny twist of events, the money falls into Marva’s hands. Because the local sheriff thinks she is making up the story, he tells her to keep the money and do whatever she wants with it. SO, she, following her perceived authority, takes it and gives it all to her favorite charity, Bob Jones University (an ironically racist school in its dating policy up until lately). So, even the money, “ill-gotten” from vice, ends up given to God’s school of choice. Very strong theme that God uses evil for His good, and His will can’t be thwarted (Job 42:2). Ya gotta love it. Of course, Bob Jones U is not a paragon of theological accuracy in my eyes, but compared to the godless idiocy of man’s best, like Harvard and Yale, etc. BJU is a beacon of light and truth. And that’s the point of this film anyway. GO SEE IT. SUPPORT TRUTH IN CINEMA WITH YOUR DOLLARS.
Not Recommended. Not terrible or anything, just another by the numbers thriller, without any real substance or value to it. Oh, for another Seven or Silence of the Lambs. You can’t have it all. Angelina Jolie plays an FBI profiler who helps to track down a…. Oh, it’s a boring and uninteresting story.
Recommended with caution. Charlie Kaufman, who wrote this movie, also wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and I must say, he is probably the most interesting and unique writer in Hollywood. Though I disagree with his worldview, his stories are very thought-provoking and stimulating. Years ago, Francis Schaeffer opened the eyes of the Faith Community to see that Art movements are driven, not merely by aesthetics and style, but by philosophy and worldviews for changing culture. Well, I’m here to say that modern movies (along with TV) is the new dominant art form that is driven by philosophy and worldviews. And this movie proves the point loudly. The power of movies is the ability to incarnate a worldview into the story such that it fleshes out what is otherwise considered an ivory tower philosophizing. Case in point: Eternal Sunshine, which deliberately proposes the Nietzschean philosophical notion of the “eternal return” or “eternal recurrence.” Bizarre brain hurting stuff that would otherwise be limited to pointy-headed academics arguing in a classroom is now popularized for the culture to consume, and 99 percent of the viewers won’t have a clue that they are ingesting and synthesizing the philosophy of the Grandfather of Postmodernism himself, “The Antichrist,” Friedrich Nietzsche. The story is a romance between Joel (Jim Carrey), a nerdish boring nobody, and Clementine (Kate Winslet), a wacky impulsive girl who fall in love and out of love because they end up getting on each other’s nerves. Clementine goes to a special doctor who can erase memories in order to purge herself of all the memories of Joel, who ended up making her miserable. When Joel discovers this, he goes to purge his memories of her as well. Unfortunately, in the middle of the erasing, we are in Joel’s mind, and he decides he doesn’t want to erase her because there was so much good that he experienced because of her. So he seeks to try to save some of those memories by harboring them in secret recesses of his mind. It’s all very clever and interesting, and the movie is cut non-linear, so it reinforces the confusion Joel is experiencing as he discovers his blunder. Well, what happens is that they end up together again, without knowing who each other is, and start a romance all over. When one of the employees loses faith in the company and reveals to the two lovers that they have been together in the past and erased their memories, the two of them get depressed and consider breaking up to avoid the inevitable misery. Clementine says, they haven’t changed. They are the same people, and they will end up doing the same thing to each other. But Joel ends up telling Clementine, “So what.” So what if that happens. There is so much fun along the way before they get there. They decide to just go for it anyway. This is a very interesting proposition that our memories, (another postmodern discussion) are not mere reminiscences floating around in our brains, but substantively change who we are. Trying to get rid of bad memories will not redeem us. They change us permanently, and are inescapably a part of who we are. And here’s where Nietzsche comes in. Friedrich Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal recurrence or eternal return was another logical result of the “death of God” philosophy. He understood that linear history, with its beginning, middle and end, reflected a Christian worldview of origins and purpose, so he tried to replace that linearity with a cyclical view he called “eternal recurrence.” This view posited that the universe, being eternal, had no beginning but was eternally changing. Since the universe is finite, it will ultimately keep changing through every possible change, recycling all possible states, over and over, throughout all eternity. There is no heaven, no eternal reward and punishment; there is simply the eternal return of everything. Essentially, this is a rather pessimistic worldview about the nature of man. But so what? Says Nietzsche. So then we should embrace this fact that man is “eternally the same,” he doesn’t change, and is destined to repeat himself, winding up in the same place he started. We should accept this and “be who we are,” rather than try to change ourselves according someone else’s morality (read: Christianity). Lest anyone think I am reading too much into the film: A big worldview clue for the viewer of movies is that when a character in a movie quotes someone like a famous person, that is more than likely a reference from the writer to the influence of the theme. And Kaufman has the Kirsten Dunst character in Eternal Sunshine quote Nietzsche from Bartlett’s quotations, not once, but twice, just to make sure we get it. She quotes, “Blessed are the forgetful: for they “get the better” even of their blunders.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, #217). Kaufman mocks traditional story structure and along with it, traditional morality, by having protagonists NOT learn and NOT change for the better. In other words, we are redeemed not by repenting or changing but by recognizing that we don’t change, and just enjoy the ride of life. Experience without morality. This nihilistic worldview scorns redemption, and condescends to traditional story structure. But of course, in a twist of self-contradiction, it ultimately supports traditional notions of redemption because proposing that we need to stop seeking redemption and embrace who we are is in fact a proposition of a kind of redemption. It’s just a different kind of redemption. But it is still saying we are doing something wrong and need to change how we are dealing with it. Instead of realizing our faults and changing them according to a moral standard, this is a redemption from morality and goodness into the selfish embracing of ourselves without repentance. By the way, the movie is edited non-linearly, which also reinforces the Nietzschean contempt for linear history. A brilliant script and movie with a diabolically egocentric worldview. By the way, in case you are interested, I write all about this and how Nietzsche has influenced other films in my book, Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.
Recommended with reservations. Now here is a thematically rich story. I was impressed. This buddy road trip western is based on the true story of Frank Hopkins (Viggo Mortensten) and his beloved horse, Hidalgo, who engage in a three thousand mile race across Saudi Arabia for a huge purse. But it is so much more than that. It is set in 1890 with Frank as a pony express rider who gives dispatches to the U.S. Army, one of which results in the slaughter of innocent Indians at Wounded Knee Creek. Now, like The Last Samurai and many other movies, it is fashionable to be Anti-American, anti-Western civilization. But I gotta be honest, this movie is not that imbalanced. It is anti-American, but it is also in some balanced ways, Pro-American Western and anti-Islam, anti-Eastern. However, in the end, the Native American Indian comes out on top. I’ll explain. Frank’s discovery of the fact that his dispatch aided in the slaughter of his Indian brothers haunts him and drives him to drink and act in a useless Buffalo Bill’s circus rodeo. He is a man without a country, unable to continue in the culture that is very much a part of who he is, and yet has turned treacherous. This Buffalo Bill rodeo show reduces the “wild west” concept to a shallow entertainment construct. It’s a manufactured image meant to entertain folks. This is an anti-western genre. The Western origins of America here are not so honorable or noble. When Frank gets the call to go to the race, he takes it in an attempt to get away from it all and redeem himself somehow. In Saudi Arabia, Frank meets the various other riders and their patrons, we see an unscrupulous British woman, and a nefarious Muslim Saudi intent on winning at all costs. Now here is where it gets interesting. The Muslim culture is shown to be rather barbaric and cruel. Women are oppressed and devalued, men are exalted unworthily, punishments for crimes are unjust and cruel (castration for fornication). And best of all, their religion is primitive and somewhat ignorant. The muslims all look down upon Frank as an infidel, who cannot win because “Allah will not let you.” And when Frank will die in the desert, they claim, he will “go straight to hell.” Their claims of Allah and their religion being tied to the race are humbled by the fact that Frank wins it. This is all great. But it is not a propaganda movie. Frank builds a relationship with a particular sheikh, played by an aged Omar Shariff, who is very much a part of this barbaric culture, but just happens to be transfixed by comic books about Buffalo Bill Cody. Through the story, the two of them slowly grow to respect each other. And the leading Muslim rider ends up helping Frank later because Frank saves his life. In fact, the guy is in quicksand and resignedly accepts his fate as “Allah’s will.” But Frank refuses to accept that and saves the guy, also showing the fatalism of Islam to be fallacious. The Muslim says, it is God’s will who will win, and Frank replies, “What about your will? Seems to me that’s what gets you across the finish line.” So there are good guy and bad guy Muslims. And the contrast here is with religious fatalism and good old American self-determination and will. And man’s will wins. And that is the dominant them in this movie, that will is more important than blood. Everyone else elevates the pure blood thoroughbred race horses as well as the nobility of royalty in their Eastern cultures, while, Frank’s horse is a mutt, a mustang. Interestingly, Frank himself is also a mutt. He’s a mixed blood with a white father and an Indian mother. And Frank’s two helpers for the race are a little black slave boy that nobody wants and a Muslim criminal, whose punishment for stealing would be to cut off his hands or help Frank in the race. So, here the notion of America as a melting pot of people, who regardless of their race, can all succeed because of their will and self-determination. This is really quite a paen to the heart of America. The theme embodies the statement on the statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” This American view is clearly the superior way of life in the movie. Unfortunately, the storytellers try to artificially lump Christianity in with Islam as against Frank’s will to succeed. I say artificially because they go out of their way to call the scheming British woman a “Christian,” when in fact, she is nothing of the sort, has absolutely no character traits of Christianity at all, and yet they keep calling her “the Christian.” Can you say AGENDA? This is one of the few smelly agenda aspects of the film. The British “Christian” (who has nothing to do with Christianity) needs to have her horse win the race in order to maintain her aristocratic prowess, etc., so she tries to seduce Frank, but he won’t sleep with her. He’s too honorable to lower himself. Good old western values. The fact of history is that Christianity was PART AND PARCEL of the western mindset. The very values that Frank honors, respect for women, honor, responsibility, courage, kindness, quiet determination and respect for all races comes from the Bible, from Christianity. So if we deconstruct the movie, we see the contradictions of the Western values being critiqued, yet, the Western values are ultimately the superior ones here, and those Western values come from the very religion that the storytellers try to dismiss or deny. This aspect rang hollow to me. This is not to deny the atrocities done in America, and even some in the name of Christianity, but let us be honest about both the good and the bad. Another great element of the superiority of Western values comes when the Sheikh’s daughter, who is oppressed by her culture and yearns to live freely like a man tells Frank, who shows her kindness and understanding, “You truly see me, when others do not.” This is why I respect this film. Although it fallaciously attempts to separate Christianity from Western values and ultimately contradicts itself, it does a fairly good job of showing the good and bad of the cultures involved with American culture (with all its foibles) coming out on top. Well, almost. And here is where the second big rub comes. At the moment of apparent defeat, where it appears Frank will never make it to the finish line and die in the desert, the thing that saves him is a vision of his Indian mother and an Indian ritual dance. So, after all this elevation of the will over blood, the storytellers resort to blood as the origin of Frank’s redemption after all. He reaches in and draws from his Indian blood to find the determination to survive. Quite a contradiction that I’m sure the storytellers did not intend, but when you are so focused on your agenda, you can often contradict yourself in trying to force it into the truth. So everyone else’s racist blood theories, like Muslim, British, etc. etc are wrong for being racist and religiously ignorant, because it’s really Indian blood and religion that are superior. They have just substituted one racism for another. Too bad. The story had such potential. But I still think it was though provoking, even if to see the good side of western values that is superior to the East.
Not recommended. Although it was well done for a Stephen King adaptation, and well-acted by Johnny Depp, this thriller about a writer haunted by a violent hick whose story he claims the writer stole is a real downer. It turns out that the hick is killing people, and he is a figment of the writer’s imagination, which means the hero is the villain, and he gets away with murdering people in the end. Not morally or story satisfying.
Not recommended. Ashley Judd. I love watching her act. But in this movie, ah, it ain’t even worth saying anything about. It’s just a dumb thriller about a beautiful chick as a cop that is totally unbelievable, because feminine beautiful women like Ashley just can’t take down strong testosterone criminals, no matter how much Hollywood wants us to believe that women can be just like men, and still be women. I’m sorry, it ain’t so.