Romantic Comedy. Obese high schooler grows up, gets hot and successful, comes back home 10 years later and tries to bed the only woman he loved in high school, who loved him as JUST FRIENDS. To anyone who has ever experienced this terror of “just friends,” and I have a couple times in life (including with my wife, who I finally caught), this movie rings with deep truth – and humor. A bit crass at times, but more restrained than say, Wedding Crashers or 40-Year Old Virgin. Chris, who loved Jamie, but was not loved back with the romance that he felt, goes away, gets ripped, gets successful in the music business and becomes promiscuous with women, since his rejection taught him true love was not possible. So when he ends up in his home town, rediscovering his old flame, he tries to catch her for all the wrong reasons: Just to bed her, just to bring closure sexually. But he soon discovers that he is still in love with her. Unfortunately, he is not a quality person who deserves her because of his promiscuous lifestyle which he must learn to reject. And what is really great is how his rival, Dusty, is a reflection of Chris, with the same dorky high school crush on Jamie, but now, Dusty is everything Chris is not, a dashing Paramedic who saves Jamie, plays the guitar, works at the hospital with old people, gives concerts to children in churches. He’s too perfect, too manly and too sensitive for Chris to compete with – until he realizes that its all a scam by Dusty to bed women. So the cool redemption in this story is Chris seeing himself in Dusty and seeing what a louse his promiscuous using of women really is. What I didn’t like about this movie is the Rock and Roll Slut that Chris, as record producer, had to pacify on his stay in his home town. In one sense it was a great mockery of the insanity and sheer immaturity of the Rock Star world. They made great fun of her. She’s stupid, bawdy, ignorant, uncultured and insensitive. But she’s also horny and one of the subplots is Chris’s younger brother trying to sleep with her. This stuff was inappropriate. HOWEVER, it is interesting that he never does sleep with the rock star girl which is really rather moral, since he is only like 18, and usually movies fulfill that male fantasy with its irresponsible sexuality. The fact that he does not sleep with her is quite a positive moral statement. It was also cool that once Chris gets the opportunity to sleep with Jamie, he doesn’t – because he knows it is wrong to use her in that way. They never have sex and his return to her involves the desire to marry and have children with her, so it is a rather Christian morality to the story. A promiscuous man learns that true love is possible and promiscuity is irresponsible using of women.
Biopic of the famous/infamous Johnny Cash and his relationship with June Carter. Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon WILL receive nominations for Oscars and Reese WILL win the Oscar for her performance. This was an eminently interesting story about yet another tortured artist. Oh well, we are all somewhat tortured. I must confess the ubiquitous drug addiction that seems to be a part of so many celebrity stories is at once both pitiable and redundant. The subplot of Johnny’s incessant desire to please an unpleasable father who unabashedly and shamefully preferred Johnny’s dead older brother is a very universal pathos that rings with authenticity. Here we have a man who rose to the pinnacle of achievement with his music and his father still felt that it should have been Johnny who died in an accident rather than his brother. Even Johnny himself felt his brother, who was to be a preacher, was more deserving of life than he because of his “goodness.” This is the story of Cash’s redemption and finding his value through the heartfelt love of June Carter, which as I understand it, is precisely what Cash himself had affirmed in real life. Though it is one of those stories that shows a man in love with someone other than his wife, it seems to veer away from the typical Romantic elevation of feelings over duty. Even though the adultery did in fact occur, it shows June Carter very conflicted even to the point of walking away from the man she loves because of the moral inappropriateness. It shows her disdain for drugs and Johnny’s guilt behind his actions. It shows Cash seeking to do right, though faltering in that quest, like all of us. What I did not like about the film was twofold. First, I did not care for the celebration of rebellion that comes through. In one sense, Cash realizes that he must find someone to identify with and criminal prisoners seem to be that person. His Folsom Prison Blues is the theme song of the piece. Okay, that’s fine that he finds some redemption in reaching out to these men. But the way he reaches out in the music of the movie is to identify and celebrate their depravity. The songs he sings, at least what words I could catch, were not redemptive but celebratory of criminal misery. Now, on the one hand, this is not a problem IF you also show the redemptive songs he may have sung, like his Gospel tunes, but in fact, this is not done, his entire Gospel songs repetoire is virtually ignored, which results in more of a rock and roll exultation of rebellion than a redemptive identification. And that brings me to the bigger thing I hated about this story: The lack of Cash’s central defining characteristic, his spiritual quest with Christianity. Christianity was alluded to in several moments of the film, but it was essentially a defining aspect of his identity that was relegated to near irrelevance. There are only a couple moments of his faith in the film and most are negative. At the end, when Cash cleans up his life, we see June take him to church in a moralistic context. We see June reacting to Cash’s immorality but more out of moralism than out of her faith, which we are never really introduced to except through a quick reference to her parents. What we are not shown is how she came out of a very Gospel music background, which would be a defining element of her identity as well. Religion is minor in this story, and replaced with moralism, morality without real religious focus. Now, the other place it shows his “faith” is when he first broke in to recording. He sings a typical Gospel tune, and the recording producer tells him it isn’t unique. It isn’t genuine. Gospel is dead. They want something more authentic, something that comes out of his experience, out of his emotion and misery. The Producer tells him, “It ain’t got nothing to do with God, it’s about believing in yourself.” (humanism) So Johnny Sings Folsom Prison Blues, which interestingly DID NOT come out of his experience, and yet this is somehow considered more genuine. Cash’s music is, according to this movie, genuine when he believes in himself, not God. And when Johnny challenges the producer by saying, “You saying I don’t believe in God,” the answer is that it is not authentically from him which really means that his faith was not authentic. Maybe it wasn’t at that time. Fine. But the sense is that the faith he had was therefore never really authentic. And the rest of the move never really brings in his faith struggle throughout his misery years. So the overall conclusion the movie makes is that it was not really a defining element of his identity or his music. I have no problem with the crazy things he did, with his prodigal nature, but to virtually ignore the faith that was so much a part of everything he was in the midst of that prodigality is simply dishonest and manipulative. My claim is that if you don’t like his faith, fine, then DON’T TELL HIS STORY. Tell some other humanist’s story, or an atheist’s story. But it is lying revisionism to tell a man of faith’s story and virtually ignore his faith or relegate it to near irrelevancy. This ticks me off because it is so often done. Mark my words, the upcoming The New World movie about Pocohontas by Terence Malick, I bet you will also ignore Pocohontas’s Christianity or relegate it to the problem or flaw of the Western Culture that is imperialistic. Why do these people have to rape religious stories? Why can’t they tell their own stories? How would they feel if I wrote a story about Carl Sagan and ignored his science and atheism? Or how about a story about the founder of Greenpeace and I virtually ignored his love for nature and the earth? But of course this is the imperialistic nature of humanism, to retell the stories of Christianty in a naturalistic fashion, so that everything is explainable in terms of cultural or natural causes. Moralism, not Christian faith is the religion acceptable to humanism. I think that stories are so important and valuable that to deny the heart of someone’s identity in a story is narrative rape, especially when it comes to God in their life.
I am a fan of the BBC 5 hour adaptation, but I have to say, I was surprise and pleased with this one. It is a very well done 2 hour version, which is hard to do with all the relationships that have to be truncated for it to fit. But the language in this is wonderful, witty and eloquent. What can I say? I love words. Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth and Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy were very satisfying, despite Kiera’s beauty. What I liked so much about the BBC version was its authenticity of character and lack of Hollywood prettiness, but it didn’t bother me much here because Kiera is such a good actress. I also think that I may have appreciated this “short” 2 hour version because I may have unconsciously filled in the holes of the story from the BBC version so it is hard to be objective here. Nonetheless, this story of finding love in the midst of Victorian conventions is really uplifting and authentic. Although this story takes place in the Regency period prior to Queen Victoria, they are nevertheless culturally connected to the Victorian period. The plotline of fighting lovers may be a bit of a dangerous cliché but it works just fine for me here. Some people dislike Jane Austen stories because they have a disdain or contempt for aristocratic culture. But I think this misses the boat. I think Austen points up the good and bad of such a society. I think she shows that in fact some propriety is right (Liddy’s foolishness at eloping with Wickham, as well as sexuality saved for marriage) and others are wrong (Lady Catherine DeBerg’s aristocratic snobbery). She mocks the male pursuit of women as objects for their betterment in the Pastor Mr. Collins, and she elevates love over status in Darcy and Elizabeth. The argument that Victorian society (and its predecessors) was somehow hypocritical because it was moralistic and trying to force people to behave morally in public while they did not do so I private is naïve. Is it hypocritical to make laws against lying, cheating, stealing and killing because so many in society do not keep those laws? Of course not. We don’t have laws of proper behavior or social norms of proper behavior for the sake of the criminals, but the victims. It is the protection of society not the individual that propriety is for. It helps to foster a positive environment for the cultivation of good morals. It is not about forcing people to be good based on the delusion that they will then be good in private. Sure, some cultural conventions are wrong, but NOT ALL. And besides, what absolute cultural standard are you using to critique these social conventions? Is it merely your own social conventions? If not, then you have to admit that some social conventions that are in line with moral absolutes just as much as your claim that some may not be morally acceptable. I would argue with Austen that sex outside marriage is more than a Victorian cultural prejudice, it is an absolute biblical norm given by God that Victorian society sought to emulate and support. Nothing wrong with that. Aristocratic snobbery against the poor is not biblical and therefore wrong – just like Jane also argued in this story – as well as the modern version of it in this movie.
Children’s fantasy. Five children receive lottery type tickets to tour the world’s most amazing Chocolate Factory of the elusive and oddball Willy Wonka. Tim Burton has a unique viewpoint but is not a very good storyteller to me. His visuals are fascinating, and his characters are quirky, but often very distant or alien. This story was a mediocre remake. Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka is entirely alien and unsympathetic despite the attempt to show his flaw originating in an unloving Dentist father who denied him the pleasure of candy. He is just so heartless in his reactions to the kids that I despised him. I like the morality fable nature of this story though. It shows these five kids, all products of bad parenting, who reflect their parents in their worst faults. There is the suburban competitive girl who is the overachiever. There is the fat German boy who is a symbol of conspicuous consumption. There is the spoiled little rich girl who controls her parents with her whining, getting everything she asks for. There is the selfish video-game antisocial boy. And of course, there is Charlie, who is a member of a poor but loving family who sacrifices their needs for his happiness. The theme of family as most important in life is a great one, even showing Charlie’s grandparent’s, both sets, living with them. When each of the children’s own selfishness gets them into trouble and they receive their comeuppance, the Oompa Loompas sing their song mocking their faults with moral humor. I liked the different versions of music used, but could not understand many of the lyrics. But the most selfish of all is of course, Willy Wonka, who offers Charlie the factory if he only leaves his family, because as Willy says, family only gets in the way of creativity. I found this an amazing deliberate reference to Hollywood itself. The fact that he chose to say “creativity” rather than say, “pleasure” or “fun” or some other child oriented thing, shows the storytellers were addressing the individualism of the artist or the creative type versus the interests of the community. I find this rather ironic as well, since that movie itself was no doubt made with dozens of the people on crew and cast who in fact HAVE put aside family and community for their individual creativity. Hollywood is a kind of “Pleasure Island” of this kind of lifestyle choices. But back to Wonka, this is all a very nice circle because all the kids, who are archetypes of kids today, are all selfish narcissists who have become the monsters they are because of indulgence, and yet, Wonka is the selfish antisocial type he is because of the opposite, the denial of pleasures. So we see that Charlie, who doesn’t get everything he wants, but who is also not an ascetic monk in his family, is the perfect balance. Charlie’s family may not have much but they sacrifice little things to bless each other, and make each other happy. It’s all quite communitarian in its essence and I think a mediocre tale of a good morality.
Japanese horror trilogy. Two of the stories were just too esoteric for me to appreciate. One on the damages of incest that was a Kabuki like drama, and the other was a killer who traps a movie director but I wasn’t sure what it was all about. But the first one, called Dumplings was the most incredible film about abortion that I have ever seen. I am reminded of A Modest Proposal, a satire by Jonathan Swift written in 1729. Here is it’s full title: “A Modest Proposal: For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public.” Swift was a Christian man whose satire addressed the English attitude toward the Irish with biting sarcasm. Dumplings is a Chinese “Modest Proposal.” It is the story of a woman in China who sells a special meal of dumplings to Chinese women who are seeking to revitalize their youthfulness. The dumplings are in fact made from chopped up aborted fetuses. This film portrays abortion as the cannibalization of the young, for the benefit and convenience of older women. The woman in the story is trying to win back the love of her husband who is seeking younger women for his pleasure. At first, she has a hard time eating the dumplings, swallowing them with difficulty, but after a few times, it becomes a delicacy to her. And then she wants a more potent version of the food, so she gets a late term abortion of a little boy, to which we are shown the abortion and how the young girl dies from the secret abortion she receives from the dumpling woman. But the filmmakers are not arguing to make abortion illegal because of the “back alley” consequences, but rather they are saying that the abortion industry is cannibalistic. And finally, though the woman is past childbearing age, the unholy concoction works and she conceives a child. But in the end, she is so consumed by her selfish pursuit, that she commits her own abortion and eats her own child. It is a truly gruesome in concept, but a very poignant and biblical kind of prophecy, something Jeremiah or Isaiah might proclaim to our modern culture of death.