Not recommended. Another humanistic epic that destroys transcendence and in so doing, destroys the goodness that makes a movie a fulfilling story. First of all, the FX are fantastic, but ultimately empty because they are so devoid of “human” quality making this on the level of those old old flying saucer movies of just big robots killing and destroying everything. Well, that gets boring real quick without the personal element of the aliens explored. The most interesting part of the movie was the sole scene where aliens come down and the heros are hiding out underneath their noses. But then this scene accomplishes nothing for the story and tells us really nothing about the aliens. Compare this to the brilliant “personal” intimacy of Alien, and it falls like a sack of potatoes. I must say though that Spielberg is a brilliant mythologist. He knows how to create mythos like nobody else. One one level, this story reminds me of his rendition of Kubrick’s A.I. It is very boring and impersonal, but it is very mythologically deep. Like A.I. this is a quest of someone who discovers his humanity through the existential experience of seeking a goal (bringing the children back to their mom and “home” – in A.I. it was finding his maker) and staying alive. Existentialism. On the other hand, also like A.I. it’s a quest in a meaningless universe. Do you see the pattern here in Spielberg? Let me explain. First of all, it is based on a novel by the humanist socialist, H.G. Wells, who was also a materialist. And it stays true to the overarching essential premise that the aliens are unstoppable and the only way they lose is because of their biological unfitness. They are killed by the common bacteria that as the movie says, “humans have earned the right to survive from because of billions of death,” or our rights based on our immunity. Biology is destiny. Simple minded evolutionism, naïve reductionism, diabolical humanism. Cruise is the humanist hero who is rather anti-heroic in that he has no courage other than to survive by running, and he never changes, never wavers from that goal, and in fact turns out to be an insipid, boring, and coward, not a hero. His son was more heroic, willing to fight the evil, and yet he ends up accomplishing nothing. This of course illustrates that it was foolish to try to fight, the major theme of the film. But the only reason he doesn’t die is Spielberg’s commitment to Hollywood endings. You can’t have the kid die, the family has to get together in the end. I’ll talk more about this in a minute, that I think it contradicts the humanism he is trying to preach, which evidences that in his heart of hearts, he is driven by the knowledge of truth, but is struggling against it in his ideology, or as Christians like to point out, his sin nature that suppresses the knowledge of God. Anyway, this happy Hollywood ending is not insipid or unrealistic as naïve realists (who are actually undercover nihilists) claim. It is actually the inherent understanding of Eucatastrophe, as Tolkien called it. The pointing toward an ultimate righting of the all the wrongs in the universe, the eschaton of Final Judgement that is inherently embedded into creation. Happy endings in storytelling or art do not point to happy endings in this life, but to the ultimate eucatastrophic happy ending promised by God. It is God’s image in man that makes him long for such happy endings and in fact makes story telling unsatisfying that does not in some reflect at least a hinting towards it. So back to humanist. It is no coincidence that Spielberg has a church be the big dramatic building that crashes to the ground first when the giant alien robot explodes out of the ground. In this humanistic view, religion is the first to go with the triumphalism of scientific materialism. And then the reduction of people to masses of foolish herds trying to survive and turning on each other shows that humanity cannot rescue itself, we don’t have the goodness to do so. Actually, I concur with this, though not for the same reasons as the humanist suggests, that we are the products of billions of years of such arbitrary death and destruction and through such dying those who survive are the strongest, not the righteous. Then, the big “message” sequence is when Cruise and his daughter are holed up in a basement with a survival nut who believes in resistance, played by Tim Robbins. This is the man who says that we must not run and flee, but fight and resist. And of course he is a crazy. And his hopes are ultimately shown to be foolishly naïve, thinking that he can hide and then get the jump on the aliens, and then he is digging a tunnel with a shovel saying they will have underground tunnels to live in and resist the aliens, when of course he won’t get but 10 feet with his little shovel. It’s all to show that resistance is futile. Now, here are some interesting contradictions that I don’t think Spielberg is even aware of. Here is a man who made Schindler’s List, who supports a just war in Saving Private Ryan (although it’s a bit deconstructed, but that’s another story). Here is a Jewish man who is haunted by his people being the victims of one of the worst atrocities of genocide and now he makes a movie that suggest the opposite of his other movies. Fighting great impossible evil is foolish. So, what if the French Resistance didn’t fight back against the Nazis? What if the US didn’t fight against the juggernaut of imperialist Axis of Evil in WWII? And he makes obvious holocaust references with the revelation that the aliens are “exterminating” humans, and then he has a mist of blood in the air that is based on the using of humans as energy and spitting out the excess blood, an obvious reference to the snowflakes of ashes created by Nazi crematoriums. YET, I think War of the Worlds suggests that fighting great evil is futile. Thank God our ancestors did not believe such tripe. Thank God for the Bravehearts of this world. This mixed message is further complicated when we see Cruise ending up in Boston at a statue of Paul Revere or some other Founding Father coated with the alien vines, another obvious reference to freedom from tyranny. It made me think of the superiority of Independence Day, which played like a political tract out of the American Revolution itself, but so what, it used the mythology of that Revolution in a creative entertaining way and validated that humanity is at its greatest when it won’t stand for evil, no matter how impossible the odds. This is greatness, this is courage, this is humanness as it should be, which is why Independence Day blows War of the Worlds away. Because Independence Day was transcendent and touched that seed of truth, that image of God in all of us. Yes, history is littered with failed attempts to stop evil, but it has FAR MORE successes against impossible odds that prove not that you will always win, but that it is worth it to die trying, something the self destruction of the Tim Robbins crazy character tries to disprove. But verrrrrrry interesting that Tom Cruise KILLS that character to try to protect himself and his child. Now this is surely one of the most abominable choices in the movie. Think of the political implications of such reasoning in the modern war on terror (And that’s what this movie is about, let’s face it. Spielberg hinted at this in a Reuters article: “There are politics underneath some of the scares, and some of the adventure and some of the fear,”, the machines being planted underneath us and then “awakened” is an obvious analogy of sleeper terrorist cells). So this idea of Cruise killing the Robbins kook is an act of violence and hatred against those who believe in fighting tyranny. The hypocrisy is so staggering that it makes you hate the hero, it turns him into an unsympathetic hero. Not because he killed the guy to protect himself but because he was a pacifist seeking to stay alive and run and not fight back who kills his own people while avoiding fighting the true evil. Pacifists who will kill Patriots, like animal rights people who hate humans and would kill them before they would an animal, or environmentalists who would destroy humanity to save the environment. So the Cruise character just illustrates what’s wrong with the humanistic liberal hero, he is unsympathetic and cowardly, and uninteresting. I also find it interesting that America is always criticized as being imperialist in its origins, that Europeans marched into the New World and brought their diseases that wiped out the poor innocent indigents. But in this movie, by giving victory to those who are biologically more equipped to survive, Spielberg unwittingly justifies Europe’s taking over the New World. The Indians just weren’t evolutionarily prepared, tough luck, baby, only the most adaptable survive. Ah, the monstrosity of evolutionary humanism. Unsatisfying. My personal motto: Ideas have consequences, folks. Ideas have consequences.
Recommended. Best of ‘em all. A more realistic Batman. And Deeper Batman, one that probes the psyche of Bruce Wayne to explain his origin. I appreciated this one for the themes it dealt with: Vengeance vs. justice (much richer than Batman Forever), Overcoming fear, and how our fears make us who we are. The one thing I didn’t care for, but tolerated is the cliché turning to the East for wisdom. This is very fashionable now in the West, when looking for spiritual wisdom, movies always have to look to Native American pagan crap or Eastern monist crap. Oh well, it wasn’t overwhelming. Some great lines in this movie: Liam Neeson’s mentor character tells Wayne, who is trying to deal with his guilt over his parent’s death as well as his hatred for criminals, “Vigilante is a man who is absorbed in his own self gratification. But if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something more than a man.” Wow, what wisdom. It’s true. People do not realize that transcendence is what they need, to be a part of something bigger than themselves. With all these humanistic epics out there like War of the Worlds, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven, that destroy transcendence and wonder why their stories fall flat and have no real heart connection. It’s because they spurn transcendent beliefs, they deny there is anything bigger than ourselves or beyond this life. Well, Batman gets it right. Another great moment that reveals the true tragedy of our culture that coddles criminals and seeks to “understand” terrorists: “Criminals thrive on the indulgence of society’s understanding.” Christopher Nolan, who wrote this thing is really thoughtful and great with words. Man, how did that Shakespearean intelligence get past the Executives? Another one: “To conquer fear, you must become your fear.” And thus Batman becomes the very bat he was phobic about because of a past experience. There is a bit of Existentialism in there as Batman responds to his love interest, “It’s not what I am underneath, but it’s what I do that defines me.” Okay, “we are what we do” is existentialism and it is really quite destructive to deny the inner man and the power of who we are inside that ALSO defines us. Because existentialism denies Logos or an underlying meaning to the universe, it concludes that we are thrust into existence and therefore have no inherent meaning, just what we do, that creates us. I have written about the fallacy of this worldview in my book Hollywood Worldviews. It stinks and is disenguine. But no movie is perfect, so it didn’t ruin it for me. And the whole dark approach to the movie is not a gratuitous artsy fartsy imbibing in darkness for the sake of being “edgy” and nihilistic, but rather a realistic attempt to deal with depravity, along with a desire to find hope and justice in the midst of it. Batman is told by his mentor, “Your compassion is your weakness your enemies do not share,” because Batman doesn’t kill everyone he fights, and he is not a vigilante like the vigilante force of Ra’s Al Ghul. But he replies, “No. It’s what makes us different from them.” And this really is the essence of moral fighting of evil. If we become like the evil we fight, then we have failed and will result in the furtherance of evil. We must be more “human” and do what is right even though it may not result in the best result for us, or we simply further evil. Quite refined and reflective for a movie, huh? And a comic book movie at that. I mean it was really quite a thorough investigation of revenge that rang true and captured the feelings and struggles a person would go through over evil done unto their loved ones. This is no mere comic book movie, this was an authentic study of justice and vengeance, good and evil. Nolan, who did Memento and Insomnia is one of my favorite filmmakers.
Not Recommended. So many of these adapted foreign thrillers start out with a real scary premise and presence, but end up with weak stupid endings that don’t make sense. Dark Water is one of those, along with The Ring, and The Grudge. Anyway, Great slow build up of this single mother and her child trying to make it by moving into an old dilapidated apartment complex, while the mom works through her relationship with her divorced husband. So the dark water that starts to drip into the apartment and spread in stains on the ceiling is a metaphor for unfinished business that also turns out to be a supernatural thriller with a naturalized explanation. The whole thing is Jennifer Connelly, the mom, uncovering a child death that is the result of negligence, but then in a stupid ending, she has to allow herself to be killed to be the dead girl’s mommy for eternity in order to save her real daughter from being killed. What the..? Jennifer was neglected and the girl who died was accidentally abandoned, so Jennifer is supposedly redeeming herself by saving her daughter and taking up an abandoned daugher ghost. But she abandons her own daughter to do it! It fits logically, but not emotionally or psychologically. It just wasn’t satisfying. Great spooky build up and great thriller metaphor, but unsatisfying ending and moral. Excellent quirky character parts by John Reilly, Eric Roth and Pete Postlethwaite.
Recommended with caution. This is a young chick flick about four girlfriends in high school spending the summer in different parts of the world and how they mail a pair of pants to each other as a ritual of connection with some hope that it will bring magic into their lives. And of course, they do. I liked this movie for several reasons. One, it was a young teen movie that involved coming of age, yet it dealt with serious issues of life that I am convinced young people can deal with, but avoid it by filling their silence with media that numbs their souls. And this movie, like A Walk to Remember, proves you can make an entertaining movie for teens with meaningfulness in it. Second, I liked it for it’s very unusual truthful dealing with sex, while not exploiting it. One of the girls, who is an overachiever sets her sights on a camp counselor at Soccer Camp and finally gets him to sleep with her, and believe it or not, she actually responds with the truth rather than the typical lie of teens and sex. She tells her friends, “How can something that is supposed to make you so complete, make you feel so empty?” She regrets it cause she realizes she is too young for sex and this was not the appropriate relationship for it. She says, “I wanted it for all the wrong reasons. And everything I was running from just caught up with me that much sooner.” While the story does not stress marriage (a real lack), the context still shows that kids are not ready for the kind of intimacy and responsibility that sex brings. I was amazed and pleased. Another girl visits her grandma in Greece and has to overcome family prejudice based on family feuds when she falls in “love” with a young college kid from the “enemy family,” a Romeo and Juliet story, with a happy ending of the Grandpa learning to forgive and overcome his own prejudice. The down side of this story was that it did breed a foolish fantasy of a 17-year old having a relationship with a college aged kid, which in a very real way contradicted the previous story about the girl realizing she was too young. Thus, according to these storytellers, some girls are mature enough to have a relationship with older men. Well, I can tell you that sure fulfills the fantasy of a lot of “men,” but it does not help the plight of girls who must realize that they know nothing about love at that age. It would be more appropriate to say they are in “lust” or are in infatuation. Another great story was the cynical artist filmmaker who is stuck in the home town for the summer working at the local Wallman’s. So she decides to make a “suckumentary” about the boringness of mundane existence. She ends up befriending a young ten year old who is dying of leukemia, who helps this girl realize that the little things in life are beautiful and important, she just has to see that through the eyes of death. This young girl with so little time left likes looking up in the sky and wondering, “There’s got to be something more to life.” This makes the cynic melt with realization of her own cynical foolish blindness and she has her eyes opened to search for meaning in her life. The downside of this movie is that the cynic learns from the little girl the classic existentialist line, “it’s the little things strung together that have meaning. Maybe we just get through it and that’s all we can ask for.” Well, seems to me a wasted pondering of the meaning of life, but it’s on the right track, just doesn’t meet the finish line. Another story was of a Puerto Rican girl trying to reconnect with her divorced white father, who is trying to build a new blonde Anglo Saxon family in the suburbs – without her. A very touching story about family belonging and the lack of it in so many of our lives. Her redemption lies in finally expressing to her father her anger with him, yet, then forgiving him and going to his new wedding. Very redemptive and positive. The girls all experience deaths in some way, the death of innocence, death of family, death of a loved one, and for that reason, it is a very thoughtful film that moved me. Unfortunately, the worldview was rather humanistic in crying out for faith in something, anything, but God. The girls say, “I’d like to say it was fate, that summer. The pants knew we needed faith. Something to believe in.” And of course concludes, that something is not personal, not loving, and transcendent, namely the living God, but rather an arbitrary faith in fate or nothingness masquerading as something. Rather the narrator concludes her lesson: “Love your sisters and love yourself,” a rather meaningless 80s fashionable narcissism without much content. But I think the movie is one that also makes you evaluate your life and what is really important in it, and what growing up really is about: responsibility, facing your mortality and forgiveness.
Recommended. Two Assassins (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) are married to each other and don’t even know it because their lives are such a secret – until they become marks for each other’s secret agencies and have to kill each other. What a pleasant surprise this little gem was. Sure, it’s a popcorn action flick on the level of a married James Bond, but it is so much more. It is a brilliant metaphor for communication and honesty in marriage. When the two are trying to kill each other, any married person can relate to their fighting, but of course on a certainly less than lethal level. But that’s the fun of it. It takes the real issues of fighting in marriage and makes them into comic book action fun. I loved it! And it rang so true to the struggles of marriage, the bickering the lack of communication, but finally the intimacy through honesty and communication, working through the problems. Here’s the theme as I saw it: Better sex through communication. All right, its more than that, but the whole point of the story is that these two were keeping secrets of who they really were from each other, and because of that, their marriage was sour, but they kept up the cover for the sake of their own pursuits. It is not until they find out that each other is an assassin that they get angry at each other and fight, but in their fighting, for the first time, they finally open up and truly communicate their genuine feelings. Yes, it requires a bit of fighting, but it solves the slump in their marriage, because they come to know each other more intimately than ever. The movie starts with them in counseling because they are distant from each other and have no sex. But then, after discovering their true identities and fighting through their feelings together, they bond together, overcome the enemy and heal their marriage, ending in great sex! This is profound stuff in such an otherwise “light” film. This movie worked on a mythic level for me. What a refreshing change of pace from so many boring action movies without heart or meaning. And quite a bit ironic as well, considering the home-wrecking relationship these two had off screen. How typical of Hollywood to make movies of good values that are spit upon by these same people in their own lives.
Highly Recommended. Definitely the new Rocky of the millennium. Fabulous pro-family movie about blue collar boxing hero, James Braddock, who, during the Great Depression, became an inspiration for all normal Americans struggling to make it through hard times. This movie was so mesmerizing, I didn’t take any notes, cause I was so caught up into it. What is so fabulous about it is on a mythological level. This movie exalts family as a source of hope, inspiration and meaning. Braddock loves his wife more than anything in the world, his wife even teases him about all the women oogling him at the ring, and it’s all just a joke to him. I mean, I haven’t seen marriage exalted with such beauty since Jerry McGuire. It wasn’t just that marriage was good, here, it’s that marriage was the best way to live, and superior to the fast living fornicating superstar life style of Braddock’s ultimate nemesis at the end. Braddock is a man who most today would not begin to understand. He tells his son to return a sausage he stole in the midst of the Depression. He lowers himself to receive welfare and even beg from the rich boxing promoters in order to keep his children from being sent away to family. And then he returns the money to the government when he takes home a big purse!! He doesn’t swear or even react to provocation by his enemy. He remains respectful and a gentleman to the end. He is a man of grace. This guy has so much integrity, most Christians couldn’t even keep up with him. One complaint I would have about the movie is the boxing itself. That is, boxing seems to me to be a morally illegitimate sport. It is not that men CAN get hurt, as in most sports, it is that it is a sport whose very premise is to hurt people. For this reason, I consider it founded on violence, rather than the violence being a side issue, as in hockey. Hockey could be played with more civility and without fighting and it would still be a good and entertaining sport. But in boxing, taking away the violence is the elimination of the sport itself. So, its likeness to gladiatorial games is one of degree rather than essence.