Romantic Comedy. Queen Latifah, a retail clerk, discovers she has 3 weeks to live, so she quits her job, gets all her money and blows it on a rich experience in a beautiful hotel across the world. But while doing that, she affects the lives of the rich around her because a person who is acutely aware of their mortality tends to care more about the things that are worth caring about: life, people, little pleasures, and the beauty all around us. Her new appreciation of life draws others around her like lost disciples who want to know her secret. This was a very wonderful story that really made me think about my own life and about appreciating life more and stopping to smell the roses before it’s too late. And it even had a positive Christian spiritual side to it, as Latifah prays to God, or really, more like Job, complains to God throughout the film. Her honest struggle with God made it that much more rich in spiritual appreciation.
Period Romantic comedy. Infamous promiscuous adulterer falls in true love with a proto-feminist in 18th century Venice.
This is a well crafted farcical comedy of errors almost on the level of Shakespeare, at least certainly on the level of Shakespeare in Love. I found this tale actually quite satisfying both from a story as well as a moral standpoint. Not perfect, but satisfying, because the story is about how this sleazebag womanizer meets his match in a strong woman named Francesca and learns to love her alone for the rest of his life. Of course, the Roman Church is mocked for being prudish (The Inquisitor uses all the language that makes moderns like us scoff, like “vile fornicating destroyer of women’s virtues,” stuff like that), as well as intellectually foolish (as when the Inquisitor rants about heresy being “whatever I say it is.”). But it’s not so extreme as to be hateful in my opinion, and quite frankly, there have been Catholics who have been like that in history, so it ain’t entirely false either. But of course, the assumption that drives the mockery is the modern one of fulfilling natural sexual urges as completely natural.
But back to the good stuff, the heart of true love in this movie is expressed by Francesca, who says, “Give me a man willing to give himself only to me and I would love him forever.” This becomes the redemption then for Casanova to eventually learn and learn it he does. But even more so, Francesca also speaks of Casanova’s conception of love, and by extension, all the stupid women who allow themselves to be exploited by him, this way, “What he imagines as love is self-love.” Wow, what a great insight into promiscuity, indeed, extramarital sexuality, the lifestyle of most Americans. Francesca then says, “My true love must sacrifice himself for me.” And so Casanova eventually does sacrifice his very life to save Francesca and in so doing, wins her love and his redemption. The redemption of a self-centered human is of course, self-sacrifice, it’s opposite. It’s a beautiful portrait of true love and maturity.
This is all very powerfully Christian in it’s outlook, except for an annoying little humanistic addition to the story. Even though they elevated marriage for Casanova, they also celebrated his promiscuous lifestyle by raising up a newly deflowered virginal young man as the new Casanova to continue the legend with a nod and a wink. In a way, this is the viewpoint that boys will be boys, and young men are horny, so it is normal for them to be promiscuous and get that experience before they meet the one they TRULY love for a lifetime. Thus, this movie was a mixture of good and bad, but in my opinion the good outweighed the bad.
Satire Comedy. A Jim Carrey vehicle about a married couple pressured to pursue the American Dream of keeping up with the Joneses, who turn to robbery when they both lose their jobs and face losing all they own. This is a “stick it to the Man” story about the corrupt greedy exploitation of the working man by Enron-like companies. Alec Baldwin does a great job playing himself as the heartless head of the greedy company who bails out of a collapsing hollow shell corporation with a golden parachute of millions, while all the company workers lose their pensions and lifelong savings. When Carrey and his wife, played by Tea Leoni, realize they should steal Baldwin’s money, not the innocent people around them, they plot a paper switch at a bank that would take his money and end up giving it back to the pensions of the jilted workers of the big company. So a Robin Hood movie. This is a complex issue in this story, because on the one hand, I do agree that the corporate exploitation of the little man is clearly a problem in our society, but on the other hand, I don’t think it is justifiable to break the law to “do good.” And that is exactly what the hero and heroine do in this story. Even though they turn from stealing from their neighbors, they do still end up stealing from another neighbor, he’s just a corrupt one. I do not like stories that try to get you to cheer on the hero if he is trying to accomplish a crime. They tend to reinforce vigilanteism even in non-violent forms. Trying to achieve justice while breaking the law is itself unjust. But one of the reasons why this did not bother me as much with this story as it did with others like Ocean’s Eleven and Twelve, is because it is a satire that seems more focused on the bad guy getting his comeuppance than on the hero’s own story. Of course, this doesn’t justify it as right, but it did make it less offensive. At the end the heros do not get the money, they give it to others, so it is less about them winning and more about the villain losing. Perhaps this is the powerful draw of Robin Hood mythology – it justifies crime by appealing to the pragmatic result of good. Evil is okay if it results in good. Pragmatic morality is the handmaiden of evil.
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.
Romantic melodrama. A tale about two sisters, diametrically opposite in personalities and lifestyles, who battle through life, yet find themselves as necessary to each other’s existence as yin and yang. Toni Collette plays the lead, a slightly homely, bookish lawyer at a firm in the city, who struggles to find a man of quality who will love her with integrity. Her foil, and yang sister, played by Cameron Diaz, is the blonde promiscuous modelesque bimbo, who literally cannot read well, but can catch any guy she wants, at least for one night. In a way, these are complete stereotypes, but because their story is rich with background and relational detail, it did not bother me one bit. In fact, I think this is the best kind of “universal” writing that incarnates character types but gives them complexity, thus enabling us to find ourselves in them, without reacting to caricatures. Toni finds herself in a predicament when her immature sister, Cameron, is out of a job and a place to stay. We quickly discover their antagonism as opposites and are devastated by the ultimate betrayal, when Cameron sleeps with Toni’s new hopeful boyfriend. This sets in to motion a story that is clearly a “unity of opposites” story, a yin and yang worldview that culminates in the conclusion that Toni needs her sister to compliment her existence, no matter how crazy she makes her. In this sense, the story has a definite dualistic worldview that drives it. This pagan approach however does not negate the powerful emotional truths that are throughout it. Cameron discovers a grandmother (played with pure class by Shirley MacLaine) they thought was dead and seeks her out at a “retirement community for active seniors.” What she discovers in the process is herself, and a way out of her selfishness, when she works at a local care center for the seniors and becomes a fashion shopping assistant for the elderly ladies. This is a wonderful story of redemption. Unfortunately, in order to get there, much of the movie is a fashion show of Cameron’s body in various sexy outfits, obviously an attempt to make an otherwise serious melodrama more “appealing” to mainstream audiences. I found it indicative of the mistrust of this genre by the marketers that they cut the trailers to make this look like a romantic comedy, which it wasn’t. It was more Terms of Endearment, than As Good As it Gets. Be that as it may, it was a touching and humorous experience. And there was a particularly poignant scene that only a woman could write (well, not really, but most men just don’t get it) where the two sisters talk at a diner and Toni tells Cameron that she is foolish to live as she does, giving herself to every man, because she is getting older and she will lose her looks and then where will she be. By then, all the men she allows herself to be used by will go for a prettier 20-something and cast her aside. A 50-year old tramp is not attractive, she’s pathetic. This seems to me the single most powerful sadness of the promiscuous woman. She thinks she is liberated, but she is actually more enslaved by the worst of humanity that the male species brings. Another great sequence shows how this “openness” to men’s appetites makes her a vulnerable and blind victim to predators, as she naively takes a car ride and drinks from two male strangers “helping” her find her towed car. Well, Toni finally realizes a quality man who had been around her all the time, but she missed him, because he was shy, but in the end, his character was revealed by his concern for Toni’s happiness than his own, a fine definition of love. Unfortunately, Toni has such serious emotional psychological problems with her family’s past that she cannot allow herself to be loved, which jeopardizes her engagement to said quality man. It all surrounds the fact that their mother killed herself when they were young. She had psychological problems and stopped taking psychotropics so she could be more “there” for the girls. But when her husband threatened putting her in a hospital, she killed herself. Thus giving the husband a guilty conscience in hiding his daughters from the grandma because she would blame him for the mother’s death. By the end, everyone is forced to at least begin dealing with their issues in communicating to one another their fears and issues. Very redemptive story. One element I did not like was the conclusion where Toni’s sister is reconciled to Toni and she says this poem at Toni’s wedding. Then, when Toni leaves with her new husband, there is this connection that is communicated between the sisters in voice over as well as visual that they are necessary to each other to their dying days. Well, this viewpoint is obviously written by a writer who has clearly not experienced the sacred unity of husband and wife that trumps old family connections and creates a new deeper one, a bond of spirit and flesh (Genesis 2:22-24). Spirit is thicker than blood. But that doesn’t mean blood is irrelevant, and this movie brings a welcomed, though slightly flawed, appreciation of those blood ties.
The antidote to Million Dollar Baby. Mark Ruffalo plays a guy grieving over the death of his wife, who moves into a flat, only to be haunted by the spirit of the previous owner, Reese Witherspoon, who has unfinished business of her own. Great little romantic comedy. It turns out that Reese is not dead, but is in a coma, and her spirit is just able to get out and commune with the guy. Only problem, she doesn’t remember who she is and so he helps her try to find out who she is by interviewing neighbors and co-workers. Of course, she finds out she was so alienated from everyone because of her obsession with her job that she never lived life to the fullest. And then the ticking clock is that they are about the pull the plug on her because she has been in a coma for 3 months and her brain activity is supposedly declining. Can they stop them from doing it so Mark has a chance to be with her? Well, Reese, who used to be all for such euthanasia, is now against it, because she sees that she still has potential in the real world to wake up and live life as she should. Ruffalo realizes that he thought she was dead, but really HE was dead, spiritually, that is, because he gave up on life because of his grief rather than moving on and growing. Of course, this is another bit of humanistic Romanticism, as the language for heaven (Like the title) is used as a metaphor for THIS life. And the love of another person is the highest expression of meaning and existence. As the Romantics say, “To love and to be loved” by another human is the highest existence. But I like the idea of facing our need for meaning in life by facing our mortality. And the moral compass here are pretty high, as Ruffalo refuses to be tempted by the Seductress next door, which is honorable and worthy.
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.”
Kinda Recommended. Another brilliant feminist tale written and directed by my favorite female director, Nora Ephron. LOVED Will Ferrell. Amazing gut wrenching laughs. He is brilliant as the self absorbed movie star on a down turn in his career. Some great lines about Hollywood insanity and selfishness, especially about acting. “He’s an actor. Deep down there is no deep down.” And “I want to be normal.” “Acting is better than normal. You get to pretend your normal.” But hey, some of my best friends are actors, so… Anyway, this is a brilliant modern day story about remaking the Bewitched series from television in the present day. And Nicole Kidman plays a real witch trying to be normal, who gets discovered to play the part of Samantha on the series. Loved the postmodern self-referential awareness of the whole thing. Samantha blurts out the moral of the story when she is talking about the TV show and says, “This show is about marriage.” The story is about Will Farell turning from a selfish self-centered man who thinks the world revolves around him and a woman is a support to his fame, into a man who sacrifices himself for the betterment of the woman and an egalitarian marriage. Another aspect of the theme was in the concept of striving to “exist between two worlds,” as Nicole says. This is about her being “born” a witch and trying to fit into a normal world, which reflects the films bigger canvas of women trying to fit into a world of the past (represented by the Bewitched conservative reality of the 60s) and the present, of feminism. Nicole’s witch is made to be naïve to the real world of relationships, though God only knows why. But this naivete then is the vehicle for exploring the struggle of women today. The conclusion of the film is “You can exist between two worlds.” Which is to say women can be somewhere in between the two extremes of barefoot and pregnant and trying to be like men. By the way, this is why the witchcraft side of it did not bother me. I saw it merely as a creative metaphor for exploring the place of women in society, not as an endorsement of witchcraft as a viable worldview. Although the very concept of Witchcraft being an inborn trait and neutral is of course, a lie. Diversity is a strong mythology of postmodern America, which is why you see a lot of movies like this being about being different and not fitting into a normal world, as if we have to eliminate the notion of “normal” It reflects the zeitgeist of our era of the idolatrous elevation of diversity over unity, and while I believe in diversity and acceptance of people who are different, not ALL diversity is legitimate. There must be boundaries or limitations of “normality” or you wind up with Chaos. The legitimate question that is raised by pomos is “Who defines normality?” Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that the Creator of the universe defines what is normal in HIS universe, not us. Anyway, one weakness of the story is the pitch for women to have a job to get self-esteem. Nicole says this several times in her own life and in the TV show, so it is an important point to the storyteller, but I found this unsatisfying and inconclusive. A fuller picture would be the discovery that jobs and careers are not what personal meaning or that psychobabble term “self-esteem” is all about. The fact is, achieving a career is ultimately empty without being rooted in something eternal, like people and God. While I am happy with my own career pursuits and achievements in life, none of it has any real lasting value except in light of my relationship with God and my wife, so those kind of stories never ring true to me. In my mind, it is a character flaw to consider self-esteem as our goal, or even career as fulfillment. That is something we need to be redeemed from, not something that redeems us. Anyway, I found it an interesting postmodern story about stories as the ending shows Will and Nicole falling in love, marrying and moving into a house that is the exact house of the show and we even see Abner and his wife across the street nosing in about it all. And so the reality and the myth blend into one, illustrating the point that storytelling is enough of a valid means of truth, it doesn’t have to be real. Reality, in the postmodern mind really is meaningless outside of story, and story is about story, not reality. So we use story to define our reality.
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.
Recommended with caution. This is a very well written romantic comedy. Lots of great insights about the difference between men and women. Spot on insights. And also very funny. Brilliant acting by Will Smith in the lead role as Alex Hitchens, a date doctor that helps timid men catch the women of their dreams. So, to him, it’s all about the game, as he says, “without guile, there is no game.” Of course, Hitch meets his match when he falls for a cynical tabloid journalist, Sara, played by Eva Mendes. In fact, there was so much balance of truth in this movie, that I could not begin to cover it all. So just a few. First of all, the problem with most current romantic comedies is their assumption of modern romance and fornication as an assumed consumative expression of love. Whereas traditional romances place that consummation at the end in the context of marriage, most modern romances use it as a plot point to establish growth in the relationship outside of marriage. We have become such a degenerate society that what I am complaining about now is considered absurd to even talk about. To hold off until marriage isn’t even a thought in most teens minds let alone adults. Be that as it may, this movie is remarkably almost free from such folly. Well, it has some in the beginning when Hitch’s set up for a few couples is shown to be successful through fornication. But interestingly, the dominant two storylines of Hitch and his funny sidekick ARE NOT done in this manner. The main characters’ stories do not include fornication as the consummation or import of the relationships. Hitch’s fat sidekick, Albert, ends in marriage, in the traditional way, and Hitch’s story does not include fornication either. At least none was even hinted at. You know, no fade outs, or obvious indications that they slept together. What a delightful surprise. But in a way, its in the story because Hitch is on the level of a womanizer, he’s a player, who knows all the “tricks” to get a woman’s attention. Even though his intent is a good one, that is, “Any man can sweep any woman off her feet,” even dopey, shy or timid men, if they just play by the rules can overcome their disadvantages. He says “90% of what you’re saying ain’t coming out of your mouth.” As most men, in their pursuit of women, are quick to invoke machismo or sexuality and are thinking more of themselves, Hitch teaches them to listen to a woman, watch her closely, and be cool, distant, not desperate. It’s not sexuality that they are interested in, it’s heart. It’s not machismo, it’s confidence and support. It’s basically a man who cares enough to know everything about a woman for her own sake, not for a means to an end. And its also about a man who cares more for a woman’s strength and happiness than asserting his own power over her. But there’s a hitch in all this. The goal of Hitch teaching Albert how to catch the impossible rich woman, he seeks to teach him how to be cool and classy. How to avoid the awkwardness and foolishness of his insecure or inferior status. Yet, by the movie’s end, Hitch discovers that the very things that turned the rich woman on about Albert were the things that made Albert original and himself. At just the moment when the rich woman discovers that Hitch was training Albert, she feels betrayed, that it was all an act. But they both discover that the things she loved about the guy, were not an act. His asthmatic breather, his two-fingered whistling, and other things that Hitch was trying to suppress were what sold the woman on Albert. So Hitch realizes that he didn’t help Albert to act, he only helped him to be himself and more confident, and therein lies the redemption of the movie. Being yourself truly and maximizing your own strengths are the best things for finding a mate because putting on airs or playing a game is false character. So the point of it is that the “game” is not a good thing to play. Hitch says another theme of the movie, “Life is not the amount of breaths you take, it’s the moments that take your breath away.” Yes. Quality over quantity. Smell the roses. Realize that the moments of highs are what we have in a life of normality, and that’s okay. We just need to recognize those rather than being so focused on what we want to achieve that we miss the small things of beauty and life. As John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” Don’t miss the beauty of the little things in life or more accurately, the beautiful moments are where we find the happiness we are looking for. And therein lies the central conceit of the Romance genre: the proposition that the meaning and significance of life are found in the romantic love of another person, rather than the love of God, or even a higher purpose in living. Don’t get me wrong, I love traditional romance, it’s just that it is empty unless it has a higher transcendent context to give it meaning. Otherwise it is just humanistic self-deception. We’re telling ourselves fairytales to suppress the ultimate darkness to come: death. Without transcendence, we are fools to think there is any meaning in anything in life, other than the “game” of significance we lie to ourselves and create. I read a great few paragraphs by Lee Siegel, about the difference of modern romantic sex with traditional romance that bears repeating here: “The effect of Hollywood’s portrayal of sex as both the literal and symbolic center of existence is incalculable, especially the political effect. The tacit bargain used to be that working-class and middle-class Americans expected, in exchange for playing by the rules, that the popular culture they turned to for relaxation would reflect back to them positive images of people who played by the rules. Or at the very least they wouldn’t be made to feel foolish or excluded for dutifully following the rules. The function of a generation of romantic comedies a la Doris Day, and sitcoms a la ‘The Honeymooners’ or ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ was to ennoble disappointment, limitations, and the postponement—sometimes forever—of gratification. There’s scarcely any delay between a wish and its fulfillment in today’s movies, where beautiful-looking people are regularly, and graphically, gratifying themselves with other beautiful-looking people. The decline of the sitcom means that the terms of the old tacit bargain are slowly being ignored on the small screen, too, which is an even more consequential development, given that medium’s domestic immediacy.”—Lee Siegel, writing on “The Moviegoer,” in the Feb. 14 issue of the Nation. Of course, Hitch is all about playing by the rules in the traditional sense, but neglects the greater significance of transcendent values, of a God who loves that we may love or a God who values his creation that we may find value in it.