Not really Recommended. Alien under the earth. The movie is half decent as a survival genre story goes. I was rather surprised. It was an tale of atheistic evolution. The explorers go deep into the mountain caves of some Slavic country only to be hunted by predators that have evolved from humans previously trapped in there 30 years prior. And the source of the rapid evolution is a parasite that infects the hero, so we see him turning into one of the creatures as he helps them try to escape. Earlier, we see Byzantine murals of demons that fought the knights, only to discover that of course, in good naturalistic faith, the demons are merely the superstitious interpretation of the unknown scientific evolutionary process of this parasite. As far as the action goes, though, the story is well paced and scary, a decent survival movie.
Partially recommended. This Terry Gilliam creation has a fictional version of the brothers who created the famous somewhat gruesome fairytales, as charlatans who exploit the superstitions of medieval peasants to make money. So, they manufacture a fake witch with middle ages technology and then vanquish her, knowing that since witches don’t really exist, there won’t be any real trouble and it will appear that they stopped it all. UNTIL THEY MEET REAL SUPERNATURAL magic and witchcraft and haunted woods. One brother is a “true believer” whose belief in magic beans ruined his destitute family’s life, and the other brother is the consummate materialist who quotes the infamous Hobbesian dictum, “life is short, brutish struggle and then you die.” He is certain “there is a rational explanation for everything.” This is a great set up for the materialist brother by the end to humble his pride and acknowledge not merely the existence of the supernatural, but also the reality of the things that go with it, like love and honor and courage. And he learns it from his naïve brother who keeps seeking the magic and its origins. So their redemption lies in being forced to save a small community haunted by monsters. Their charlatanism is cured and they find true love as well as save a group of about 12 children. They have some great subtle lines that recall famous fairy tales but worked within the story, like “Who’s the fairest of them all” and “huff and puff”. The whole point of this story is the Romantic notion that the onset of rationalism and science stole the mystery out of life, and that has blinded the eyes of the modernist who cannot see the evan vitale, the magic, the supernatural of life. A rather noble sentiment, coming as it does, from one of the atheist Monty Python gang. But then again, his view is more likely to be that of Bruno Bettleheim and the Jungian belief in the archetypes of the collective unconscious. And fairy tales tap into that collective unconscious and unite us in humanity rather than in God and his image. But alas, I do not think that Jungian analysis is the last word in the interpretation of fairy tales. In the tale, the witch must have the blood of others to maintain her eternal life or she returns to her corpse self. Well, that is clearly a substitutionary atonement theme that also reinforces the belief that evil people will consume or kill others in order to benefit their own future and hopes. Kinda sounds like abortion, euthanasia, and stem cell research doesn’t it? Consume and kill the young, the old, the less fit and helpless in order to advance your own interests and survival. So the story, like a dark version of Shrek, begins as a deconstruction of fairy tales, but ends up a rather traditional fairy tale.
Not Recommended. Four adopted brothers return to their home town to get revenge on their adopted mother’s killers. What appears to be a random robbery killing turns out to be an execution, and the four brothers, all troublemakers with criminal pasts, rise to the occasion without fear in order to accomplish some “street justice.” Well, this isn’t justice at all. It’s pure revenge to the last drop. I am disappointed with John Singleton. He started his career with a very responsible Boyz in the Hood that did not shrink from the realities of ghetto culture, but posited a responsibility of self-determination to rise above it, transcend one’s bad circumstances. Unfortunately, Four Brothers actually reinforces the ghetto hate culture of guns, violence and revenge. The mother is an older lady who says the only redeeming thing in the movie to a young lad caught stealing: “I believe you’re worth more. But you’ve got to believe you’re worth more.” (about the only link to Singleton’s responsible past) And then he proceeds to decimate the morality behind that little profundity with heros who are relentless cold blooded killers who mock and abuse women. Cinematically, it was just pure ludicrous action as these guys carry around guns openly like the old west (And this wasn’t South Central either. It was a SUBURB of Detroit), engage in car chases where there no cars on the streets, have shootouts in broad daylight where absolutely no one is around and no one calls the cops. All right, I can accept a certain amount of suspended disbelief, and even a certain amount of exaggeration for a movie, but this one went way too far. And then Mark Wahlberg waves a gun around, breaking up a basketball game to ask people if they know about their mother’s killer. And it is just ridiculous that there are no consequences for his criminal display. But the worst aspect of this story is that this is the kind of stuff that breeds a ghetto culture of violence in kids. It perpetuates the belief that you must take “justice” into our own hands in revenge. Sure, there is some self-defense in the movie, but the overwhelming spirit is definitely Vigilante violence and revenge that goes way beyond finding justice for a mother’s killer.
Partially recommended. This is the true story of the greatest rescue of American POWs in history. An elite force of newbie Texas Rangers were sent in to rescue about 500 POWs in a Philippine POW camp held by the Japanese. These were men who survived the Bataan death march and were wasting away from starvation and beatings by the Japanese. Colonel Mucci and his men rescued all the POWs, with but one POW death and a couple of fatalities in the squad. A truly miraculous story. For that and for the fact that the story shows SOME of the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese soldiers and police against the Americans, this movie should be seen. The problem is that because of the Nuremburg trials and the obsessive focus on Nazi war crimes, the Japanese war crimes were all but overshadowed and ignored by the public and the resultant consciousness of history in this country. So see it. But unfortunately, it is not a very good movie in storytelling and filmmaking terms. It reeks of television writing and the characters are not nearly as engaging as they should be. With terrible choices for leads like Benjamin Bratt and James Franco, it just cries out for good acting. And the Japanese are cardboard villains, and apart from the atrocities, you just don’t feel for these guys. They are flat characters and there are too many of them. The only good story is the doomed love story between a Major in the camp, played by Joseph Fiennes and an American woman in the Filipino underground, played by Connie Neilson. They are the only ones who have an interesting and dramatic past and connection in that she was married to his commanding officer who was killed and now they live to be together with each other. This is also the story that they brilliantly play as the tragic element in the otherwise victorious story. Not everything was happy results in this realistic story of human pathos and the triumph of the spirit. But I must admit, I am a bit biased in my observations for a couple reasons. One, this is the movie that I discovered Miramax was developing when my movie, To End All Wars came out. Turns out they tried to buy the distribution of our movie, and it is clear now, that they wanted to shelf our movie so they would be the first out with their POW movie. Thank God the producers didn’t go with them. The Great Raid lacked the epic transcendence and memorable characters, scenes and lines that a good epic should have. But also, I was rewriting the miniseries for this same exact story for Disney Touchstone when the Weinsteins discovered the production and literally strong-armed our production into the trash can because of their power (We were both under Disney distribution). Ours was based on the Hampton Sides bestselling novel and it was clearly superior. I was hired to bring in a stronger Japanese element like I did in TEAW. I was also rewriting other elements of it. And it was going to include a bit of the Bataan death march, which is a story that needs to be told as well as some amazing other historically true stuff. Oh well, water under the bridge. But all that said, still see the movie because these men died for your freedom. We owe it to them to know their story, regardless of the fact that oafish trolls may have ruined the movie.
Highly Recommended. This little documentary about the mating and child-rearing of Antarctic Emperor Penguins is the finest proof for the existence of God that I’ve seen on film in a long time. As Morgan Freeman, the narrator in the American version says, this is more than a story of survival, it’s a story of love. The organization and ecological integration of these weather beaten little fellows as they develop their families, their searching for mates, their audible recognition of loved ones, their curious little ways are so warm and entertaining and even lovable that the story goes by faster than a romantic comedy. And there is story, a whole lot of it. And you just sit back and chuckle and care for God’s little creatures at the same time that you are in awe and wonder of such a beautiful creation, so fearfully and wonderfully made by our Creator.
Not really recommended. This is a movie about a woman, Joan Allen, and her four daughters whose father walks out on them for a secretary, and the woman is left to deal with her anger, while she falls for a washed up Baseball star played by Kevin Costner as he courts her with beer can firmly in hand, as both are drunks. The characters are eminently interesting, (except for their drunkenness), good acting and dialogue and great human drama. But the problem I have is it’s modernism in relationships as well as it’s basic lack of story. It is a family drama without much plot, so it would lose my interest. Oh, there’s some story with a daughter getting an ulcer from worrying about her lack of acceptance by the mom, and Costner pursuing Allen a little, and a subplot of an older guy dating one of the younger daughters. In an illuminating moment, the mother scolds the guy for such age abuse of dating a young girl. BUT SHE DOES NOTHING TO STOP IT. And when she catches them in bed, she just gets all flustered, BUT DOES NOTHING TO STOP IT. And worse, off, the filmmaker never portrays this as a weakness that is overcome or even realized. It is just part of life. One good moment is when the older guy responds to the mom that older women his age are not worth it because they aren’t grateful, but are selfishly obsessed with themselves and their agendas. Some good insights, but mostly piece-meal. Another problem is that the Costner character provides no real redemption and is himself a loser whose only quality is to recognize that when he is “With her and her girls, he knows everything is great and how it’s supposed to be.” Whoopy do. Like that is a great insight into love? Almost, but not quite. Rather than the motivation to be better people, this story’s understanding of love is a feeling of happiness or comfort or “fittedness.” This is a story that has great potential for meaningful significance, but never quite achieves it, yet captures some good human drama and conflict. The problem with this is the problem I have with so-called “realism.” Realism, with it’s modern elevation of dysfunction without redemption is used as a disguise for nihilism or humanistic cynicism. When a discovery is made and Joan realizes that she was wrong about everything she thought about her husband, the pseudo-wise young daughter narrates that the upside of anger is how it brought out who her mother really was or some kind of psychobabble, when in fact, her mother was a complete failure who did not learn her lesson and really just hurt others and herself because of her bitterness and anger, AND IT WAS ALL NECESSARILY WRONG because it was founded on a fallacy. So, really it should show how worthless and negative anger is in destroying or hurting lives, especially, when it is often wrong in its assumptions anyway. An opportunity for a profound insight into the nature of anger and how to be redeemed from it, was in my opinion, profoundly missed. GREAT acting though, too bad.
Not Recommended. The story of a Northerner do-gooder nurse (Kate Hudson) who is hired to do some at-home hospice in New Orleans for an elderly stroke victim (John Hurt). When she discovers there are some dark dealings surrounding the “magic” oriented Hoodoo (As opposed to Voodoo) and a dark spiritual past for the house itself, she runs into water way over her head. This is a very well done supernatural type thriller. Very good suspense and surprises. Excellent acting by John Hurt as the elderly man stricken by magic, not a stroke, and by Gena Rowlands as the creepy old wife. And as supernatural thrillers go, it’s all there. My problem with it is that it is a negative ending that has evil win through revenge, which spoils the heart and soul of it. Let me explain, and thereby ruin the movie for you. It turns out that two Hoodoo black servants in the deep past of the house, were lynched for their magical Hoodoo ways by the white people who owned the house. But somehow, they managed to work their Hoodoo (I just can’t keep from smiling at how goofy the word sounds), and engage in a ritual where they can conjure up the ability to have their spirits move into another’s body and take over, so they can have another life. Well, after all the surprise twists, it turns out that this Hoodoo couple is continuing to snatch people’s bodies, and the latest is our young Kate. There is just nothing very redeeming about the story and evil wins in a way that does not seem instructive or tragic. Just because a movie is done well doesn’t make it worthy of viewing if it’s content is without redemption or truth.
Not Recommended. This is a story with a powerful moral theme that I think is hindered by an immoral element that destroys the very morality of the story itself. A great premise of Bill Murray, a lonely lifeless eternal womanizing bachelor, who receives a letter in the mail telling him he has sired a son that is now 19 years old by one of his past conquests. But the mother does not tell him who she is, so he is left wondering. He is pushed into a plan by his next door neighbor, a family man, with a loving wife and kids, to seek out his ex-girlfriends and try to figure out which one it is. So Murray goes on a cross country trip to visit each of several woman who he may have dated around 19 years ago. As he visits each one, we see each of them, living wasted lives, that it is implied HE has been of some cause. Sharon Stone, plays a white trash woman who sleeps with anything that moves, and has no real heart connection, not even with her daughter, who is a small version slut of her mom. Jessica Lange has become a lesbian kooky new age “animal communicator” who thinks she is a Dr. Dolittle with animals. Another one has become a lonely consumer lifestyle suburban desperate housewife married to a loving but empty real estate salesman. And another has become a rural crude white trash biker’s chick. And the beautiful dramatic aspect of this filmmaking is how Jim Jarmusch, the writer/director communicates the emptiness of each of these women’s lives, and indeed, Murray’s life as well, almost entirely through looks and visuals. Almost NOTHING is spoken of their misery or despair. You can see it in their eyes and reactions to him. They have all had their lives sucked out of them, and he has no life left in him. No emotion, no heart or zeal for reality. He’s a living personification of Hugh Hefner. And then, he becomes haunted by this search for a son. Every young man he sees in each town, looks as if he could be his son. When Murray gets back home, having failed to figure out which one it was, he discovers a drifter that he assumes is his son, but when he reaches out to the kid assuming he is his father, the kid runs and we see he isn’t. And Murray is left literally, on a crossroad, with nothing, and having not found his son. He is unredeemed. He is entirely alone and without any connection. It is, in fact, a tragedy. The kid had asked Murray for some philosophical advice and Murray told him, “The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet. So this is all there is, the present.” And you can’t help but think that this existential worldview is the driving force of such selfishness. Living for the moment is part and parcel of the destruction of human connection and relationship. It is supreme selfishness that destroys life in yourself and in others. It’s a beautiful testament to the despair and emptiness of a promiscuous life. A life that can find no intimacy, and therefore no human connection. A life that begins with “fun” and sexual experiences, but ends in complete isolation and insignificance. A touch of irony is thrown in, when the family man neighbor says he is helping Murray find his ex-girlfriends because he believes Murray “understands women.” In other words, the grass is greener syndrome makes the people who do know the normalcy of intimacy with a wife and family actually mistakenly assume that men who are able to bed so many women must know women. They do and they don’t. They know how to use and manipulate them, but not how to know them intimately. Promiscuous womanizers don’t really know the meaning of love and therefore the beauty and comfort of normalcy in marriage and relationships. It is the “boring” lifelong commitment that finds intimacy and true human connection. The trouble is that we too easily take it for granted, and this movie makes that point. The reason why I cannot recommend it though is because there is a full frontal nudity shot of a girl who is supposed to be a teen slut hitting on Murray. Murray runs from it, but the damage is done cinematically. I don’t have a problem with the concept of such temptation or depravity in a movie, but the filmmaker shows full frontal nudity for a girl that is supposed to be a teenager (though, obviously, the actress could not legally be a teen). So, in effect, the filmmaker imitates child pornography in the making of his movie, which effectively destroys the moral import of the rest of the movie. There are limits to the appropriate depiction of sin, and this movie, by imitating child pornography, stepped over that line. I think it is more autobiographical of the dark fantasies of filmmakers, like Jarmusch, than it is a does of “reality,” as they might claim.
Recommended. This delightful little cheapo documentary about a Joe Average guy seeking to win a date with Drew Barrymore in 30 days, with a $1100 budget is hilarious, touching and inspiring. It’s made with a consumer camera that was “borrowed” from Circuit City, that is, purchased and returned within the 30 day return policy, since the kids were poor filmmakers in LA. So it’s totally bad quality visually, but it’s great, and why? Because IT’S A GREAT STORY. And that is what I love about the independent market today, because of the availability of digital cameras, independent filmmakers are no longer oppressed by the unavailability of the tools of their trade because of price. It is revitalizing the lost art of Hollywood, a good story. As the box office continues to slump and we are deluged with inflated budget loser movies and an endless deluge of bad 70s TV series remakes into movies (some of which are very good, like Bewitched), this movie, and others like it (Primer) give a refreshing affirmation of good storytelling – BECAUSE THEY HAVE TO. All these no-budget movies have is their story, they have no money and no connections, so they rely totally on story, which is really the secret of the best Hollywood movies anyway. So, hip hip hooray. Do you think the out of touch Hollywood Execs will figure this out someday? Anyway, this is a male juvenile excursion into celebrity worship, which I normally would be repulsed by, but I really think the whole thing is done with tongue in cheek levity. It’s all about the American Dream: that an ordinary man, through ingenuity, hard work and a little providence, can do the extraordinary, in this case, win a date with the movie star he had a crush on as a little kid. In fact, the kitsche scene at the end where Drew encourages Brian, the non-stalking stalker, that she was intrigued by his pursuit of his dream and the desire to transcend his experience in life and make something more of himself, is a little cornball cheesiness, but I was personally inspired and teared up because of it. IT WORKED. The only dark side that struck me was knowing that in an age of “reality TV” God only knows how much of this movie was artificially created in order to appear “real,” yet fit the structure of a good story, like turning points and climax etc. It seems there are no standards of morality for postmodern media, so why wouldn’t they fake the documentary? The very pathos and comedy of it all comes from seeing this as “really happening,” If it turns out the movie is a conceit, this would point up to the destructive power of movies to deceive, much like a Michael Moore film. That does not bode well for us. But that aside, the moment where Brian gets the phone call from Drew’s partner that she wants to see him, it is a brilliant one minute shot of absolute silence as he listens to his cell phone, and we cannot hear anything he is hearing, but we only see his face and all the ambiguous emotions he was going through. It was truly the finest moment in the film and worthy of the accolade of “great filmmaking.”
Not Very Recommended. This is a movie that is not a great story and has some boring moments and some clever moments, but it did make me think about it’s worldview and theme. It’s quite literally a legend, made up story, about a child born on a ship in 1900, and raised by the people of that ship. He learns to play piano and never ever leaves the ship in his entire life. Tim Roth is the main character and he does a great job as 1900, which is the character’s name, given in a joke of irony, but obviously, also a commentary on the changing of a century from Victorian to Modernity. The one time he is tempted to leave the ship is to pursue a woman he fell in love with. She lived in New York, and he got half way down the gangplank and looked at the big city with all its infinite pathways and possibilities and got back on the ship, never to try again. In fact, he ultimately stays with the ship and hides in it so that a wrecking crew never finds him, and in the end, they blow up the ship cause its scrap metal and he dies with it. So, I think because it is a very sad negative downer ending, this is one reason why it no one saw the movie. And I think the downer nature goes further. This guy becomes the best piano player in the world and nobody knows it. He even plays circles around famed Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton. So, the point of the whole film, I think, is about an irony of life. That irony is that strict boundaries in our lives can focus intense energy and create great beauty, but will ultimately also be stultifying for connecting with the world outside of us. This piano player, 1900, tells his friend that he doesn’t go into New York City to pursue his love interest because there are “too many choices. An infinite amount of choices” are too much for him to handle. He is so used to the extreme limitations of his little old ship in comparison, that he cannot live in a world of infinite choices. He needs limitations, boundaries. So, yes, the boundaries brought forth great creativity, but kept him from experiencing all life had to offer in being a member of the human race. That is, the cruise ship was a false microcosm of reality. It was not reality, only temporary relationships and unreal expectations. 1900 was able to play for the rich and the poor on the ship. He was a man without status or class, transcendent of it all. If this is a theme about how great art is created from suffering or a life less ordinary, how creativity is born from limitation, I can agree to a certain extent. But it tends toward the Romantic notion of the artist as prophet, a man without a country, whose greatness or genius is not appreciated because he is “ahead of his time.” But if it is a statement about life in general, namely that a life lived within the “boundaries” of rules and norms may create great harmonious beauty, but it is not fully human and leads to self destruction, then I can’t agree. But I think, the interest of the film lies in it not being obviously evident what it is saying and you are left to explore for yourself the implications. But either way, it remains for me a tragedy without redemption because beauty is ultimately linked with destruction. Maybe it is a metaphor for the death of beauty in modernity? Beauty is created through strict limitations but the modern world has no place for such limitations, and kills beauty. Maybe the whole fuzzy confusion is why the movie did not do well, because it is not clear, and a clear story is more satisfying than an unclear one.