Excellent production values, but hard to recommend. A hollow epic. This movie was well-written. It had all the necessary elements of a good epic: a strong warrior lead in Brad Pitt as Achilles, superb acting, superior supporting cast that fit their roles perfectly, excellent and profound dialogue, good slimmed down battle scenes, a focus on the individuals over the masses, bigger than life issues of honor, courage, love, nobility, revenge, greed, gods and country. The problem is that it lacked the most important ingredient that gives true meaning to everything else: transcendence. Oh, it tried to have transcendence, don’t get me wrong. But it quintessentially could not achieve transcendence because it appears that the storytellers (ie: the writer and director) did not themselves believe in transcendence so they fundamentally could not manufacture it no matter how hard they tried. Let me explain. Epics like Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Patriot Games, Last of the Mohicans, Rob Roy, all achieve a profound moving of the heart that lingers in our souls because of the transcendence of the worldview in the story. The characters are fighting for things like freedom, love and honor because they are rooted in a higher reality, a higher law, a higher existence than mortal experience. Now, the truth is that only the triune God of Christianity can provide the necessary philosophical foundation of our belief in such things as human rights, universal freedom, and these things. These movies may reveal that truth to varying greater or lesser degrees, but they point to it nonetheless. And since we are created in the image of God, these truths, no matter how incompletely expressed, resonate in our souls. In Braveheart, we know that king Edward Longshanks is evil and the people of Scotland have a right to freedom because there is a higher king, a higher reality (ie: God and His law) upon which our belief in human rights is founded. But you see, if there is no higher reality, no transcendent law or God, then there is no such thing as evil, and one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter as they say. Without the idea of God, human rights, absolute wrongs are all illusions and reality reduces to the will to power (there goes Nietzsche again). There is no “right” there is only might. So within a worldview that negates transcendence, Longshanks would really be a hero (an “Overman”) because he rejects moral absolutes and creates his own values (As Nietzsche would have it). Longshanks would be beyond good and evil, and beyond criticism. As the Overman, he does not bow to the prejudices of tradition and society, etc.

My point is that this modern/postmodern belief of today, that morality and truth is relative is not workable and does not ring true to us if we play it out in our stories, and no matter how much they protesteth, no matter how much modernists and pomos try to persuade us that there is no objective truth, no absolute right and wrong, no transcendence, it does not resonate with our souls because we are created in the image of God. We know better. And epics are the profound expression of this transcendence. Now, the problem with Troy is not the paganism so much as the humanism. Of course, the paganism is silly superstition, and I concur with the filmmakers’ critique of it. The problem is that the critique comes out of a humanist immanence that ultimately rejects true transcendence and tries to replace it with an Existential appeal to living bravado. The two main warriors, Achilles and Hektor, are both humanists who mock the gods subtley (Hektor with his comments about how many battalions does Apollo command for Troy) or outright (Achilles defiantly cuts off the head of the Apollo statue, a blasphemous act, even to his fellow soldiers). They don’t believe in gods, only the peons and masses of mindless soldiers do. Of course, King Agamemnon doesn’t believe in gods either, but he uses them for his own selfish gain. The point is that through the protagonist and antagonist of Troy we see the storytellers’ contempt for religion. Achilles retorts to his lover that “The gods envy us because we are mortal” rather than the other way around. To him, this life and mortality is of more value than the next life and deity. This is also expressed when he seeks revenge for his cousin’s death because “there is nothing higher” than personal vengeance. In other words, there is no vengeance in the next world. There are no higher things than man’s own existence, than the natural world. There is no supernatural. Achilles is an Existentialist, “Everything is more beautiful because we are doomed.” As if we could not appreciate this life if we are concerned about the next. Achilles is a western individualist as he is the lone warrior who defies King Agamemnon, doesn’t follow orders, is captain of his own fate and master of his own destiny, does what he wants, sleeps with several women at once, parties hardy and cares not for politics and politicians, princes and royalty. Achilles in this film is the American hero, the cowboy of the ancient world, a Greek James Dean. He is the Nietzschean Overman. So because of this nihilistic worldview that there is nothing higher than “this life,” he seeks greatness though glory, through being remembered. That is the dominant theme of this film, that immortality is not spiritual, but mortal. It is through being remembered and not forgotten in this world that we receive glory, not through spiritual transcendence in the next world or after life. It is this world that counts, not the next. The movie ends with the narration that “these names will never die. Men will say “I lived in the time of Hektor, I lived in the time of Achilles.” Okay, that is why the story is ultimately empty and we walk away without really caring about it. Because if there is no higher reality, no transcendence that roots our beliefs in eternity, then all of life is vain, no matter how full you think you may live it. Nothing is of ultimate value, not even personal gratification of the senses. The highest experience of life is but a blink of nothingness in the vast sea of time. All meaning and value is illusion, created by us to soothe us to the truth. Honor, nobility, courage are foolish delusions and are of equal moral value with dishonor, ignobility and cowardice.

Do you see what I mean? The story undercuts it’s own epic values. And this is why it is hard to recommend the film. It has some really great appeals to courage, honor, love, consequences of sin, love of country and loyalty. In the story, Achilles, finds a certain redemption from his selfishness when he realizes his pride and vegeance as wrong and allows the King of Troy to bury his son, rather than desecrating him. Achilles apologizes to his closest officer for his temper tantrum, and seeks true love with a captured priestess of Apollo. Paris starts out a cowardly child and redeems himself as a patriotic warrior willing to die and even fight Achilles. The loyalty of friends and family is seen in Achilles and his cousin and fellow warriors. Servant-like leadership is exalted in the king of Troy versus the power warmonger Agamemnon. These are all good epic values, I won’t deny that. And they were somewhat touching. But you see, all these revelations are empty and especially Achilles’ redemption is a delusion if there is no next life, no transcendence, no God. There is not one whit of a value difference between Achilles repenting or Achilles killing if there is no transcendent reality. There is no redemption and there is no meaning if there is no transcendent reality. So the movie rejects transcendence but then tries to rescue it by maintaining the transcendent values of courage, honor, love and valor that it has already negated. This rational/irrational dialectic makes it a very dissatisfying myth.

Another thing that makes Troy dissatisfying is the modern/postmodern negation of good and evil apparent in the story. There is no good guy or evil guy. Everyone is a mixture of both, with mostly evil. Now, this may satisfy the politically correct pomo agenda that there is no such thing as good and evil sides in any war (and I’m not against a certain amount of it within a bigger context of good and evil), but it makes for bad storytelling in this case because there is no one to root for. There is no good and evil, only the will to power of men and nations. You see? When you try to incarnate postmodernism, it results in empty storytelling. Hollow epics, delusionary love. That is another reason why we leave the theater not caring at all for anyone because they were all just tragically messed up. The closest it comes to good guys are the king of Troy and Hektor. But the king is a relic of an era past and is rather incidental. And Hektor, the most honorable one, good guy Hektor’s goodness and honorableness just leads to his death. So his goodness is his tragic weakness that we know will lead to his downfall in this world of will to power. Well, if you don’t really root for anyone, you’re not going to care at the end how it all turns out because you’re not going to really care for anyone. In short, contrary to the film’s thematic proposition, all of these characters and their story will be easily forgotten because there is no transcendence to the story or to their lives. Here’s what King Solomon said about remembrance:

Ecclesiastes 2:16 For there is no lasting remembrance of the wise man as with the fool, inasmuch as in the coming days all will be forgotten. And how the wise man and the fool alike die!… 24 There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?… 12:13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.


Van Helsing

Not recommended. I liked the idea of this movie, that Van Helsing, the infamous vampire hunter from the novel Dracula, was actually a monster hunter who tracked down vampires, werewolves and monsters of all sorts. But the execution was just a motley concoction of absurd action sequences and rambling expositional details. It seemed that there were so many special rules in this world that had to be explained, that it bogged the story down. Before every action sequence we are treated to quickly spoken dialogue by an indigent who explains all the special rules so we can make sense of the behavior that is about to follow. When Van Helsing tries to get the Frankenstein monster out of Transilvania because he is the key to Dracula’s diabolical plan, we are told that he used Transilvania horses on the carriage because they are the fastest on earth and can outrun werewolves. We hear this because we have seen how easily the Wolfman runs, jumps, and catches people. But then the vampires and Wolfman catch up with them halfway anyway! Whatever. One interesting twist was that the Frankenstein monster turned out to be very human, indeed humane. They show him having read a Bible and he quotes the 23rd Psalm when captured by the vampires for their elaborate plan. We see that he has a faith relationship to God, which makes us very sympathetic toward the monster. Unfortunately, this idea is never explored which wasted the potential transcendence of the story. It was all rather silly.


Not recommended. Another thriller that is so mediocre that I really don’t have anything to say about it. Except it’s moral implications. The story is about parents who clone their dead child in order to replace their lost love with a child who would be exactly the same. This is a fine premise, one that rings true and is worthy of exploration. The worldview behind the story is physicalism: there is no such thing as human transcendence, and everything is reducible to physical properties, even memories and soul. Physical cells in our bodies contain the memories of our abstract experience. So cloning our cells will create a complete replica of our old selves, not merely physical twins, but a full replica, complete with the same memories. Talk about silly medieval superstition. So what happens if you mix some DNA of an evil boy with the DNA of a good boy? You get a split personality boy who is alternately good and evil. And that’s what happens. This is just irresponsibility if you ask me. There are no “evil genes,” and this entire physicalist naturalist movement is a gargantuan shift of blame away from the human will onto genes. Don’t these people realize that when you negate morality and human responsibility, you create a society of monsters and cruelty? This is not a game, folks. Kids are raping and shooting other kids in schools because they’ve been taught there is no morality, everything is reducible to physics and chemistry and everything is relative; they are merely evolved machines. Well, evolved machines in an amoral universe destroy other evolved machines that get in their way. If morality, soul and even ideas are reducible to physical and chemical properties of the brain or body, then no behavior is ultimately “wrong” or “evil,” just statistical variation. This is Nietzsche’s “beyond good and evil.” Well, if kids (indeed everyone) are being taught they are Terminators, then why do we wonder why they are acting like a bunch of Terminators? Duh. So the movie, when deconstructed, becomes a conflicting contradiction. It is a moral tale about how morally wrong it is to apply science to amoral physical machines called humans. I like the moral part, but the movie undercuts itself with the physicalist worldview. And plotwise, it is just totally stupid that the doctor who helps the couple clone their son, secretly adds the DNA of his own dead son I order to reproduce him. The problem is that this doctor’s dead son was a monster himself who killed his own mother and burned down the house. But the doctor is not portrayed as malevolent himself, but misguided. So why in the world would he want to reproduce his evil son if he is not himself with evil intentions? It just doesn’t make believable sense.

Kill Bill Vol. 2

Still not recommended at all. Okay, so some people kept saying, but Volume 2 is different. You should see it. So I did. And I need to amend my previous comments. Regarding Volume 1 I said, “Tarantino turns out to be merely an ex-video store clerk obsessed with bad 70s TV, bad Hong Kong karate films, bad exploitation films, and pastiche culture, who struck a single good chord with Pulp Fiction.” But I must now change my mind. I must now say, “Tarantino turns out to be merely an ex-video store clerk obsessed with bad 70s TV, bad Hong Kong karate films, bad exploitation films, and pastiche culture, who struck a single good chord with Pulp Fiction – and has some cool camera angles.” Okay? So there. I was wrong. My goodness, homage to spaghetti westerns and kung fu movies is one thing, but does every single line delivered by every character have to be whispered like the last slow-boil line of a Clint Eastwood Western? Too long scenes, too long dialogue, too long monologues, too many rambling “asides”, too many and too long stories told by too many characters — TOO LONG. TOO BAD.

Man on Fire

Highly Recommended with Caution. Now THIS is a revenge movie the way it should be. The Punisher, Kill Bill, Walking Tall, all recent and failed revenge movies because of their simple inability to understand the morality of revenge and its implications. First of all, Denzel Washington as the lead. Pure unadulterated class. This guy is my absolute favorite actor, not merely for his presence but for his choices in movies. He seems to be choosing more and more stories that have spiritual sides to them. This one clearly has it. Training Day was brilliant. He is a cynical ex-assassin for the CIA who has lost the will to live. He gets a job as bodyguard for a little girl of a Mexican aristocrat. The girl is played with wonderful brilliance by my favorite child actor, Dakota Fanning. BEWARE, big spoiler here: Anyway, he fails and she gets kidnapped, and ultimately killed and Denzel goes on a one man killing spree to track down every man connected with her kidnapping and killing right up to the top. This is what makes the movie harsh and probably not viewable for those more squeamish about violence. The story plays out the emotion of vigilante justice for us and we follow it because it rings true in our souls, good or bad. As I’ve explained elsewhere, vigilante violence is wrong, but it is a strong reality in our world and we must wrestle with the reality of our own duplicity. The fact is we do want those S.O.B.s who kidnap, rape and kill kids to die, and that is a righteous desire. But the fact is the law often does not bring justice for us. But is our rage or hatred justified by violating the law ourselves, or does that merely reduce us to the very evil we want to destroy? We want to follow Creasy on his spree to see justice achieved. Why? Because we want our innocence back. So, in some ways revenge against injustice is a natural and understandable desire. But is it ultimately right? The reason Creasy hunts them all down is because Pita, the little girl, was the one person to bring him hope again. Her innocence gave his depravity a chance for redemption, and that was stolen. Now, with that gone, he has nothing left to lose. Anyway, no playing around with fairness like in The Punisher, he kills them each without mercy, save a lowly Mexican woman. The point is, it rings absolutely true and genuine. Throughout the film through snatchets we learn that Denzel’s character, Creasy, has a spiritual past. He’s given up on God because of his own darkness. A nun asks Creasy if he sees the hand of God in his work as a bodyguard protecting the innocent. He says dryly, “no.” He can even quote the Bible but doesn’t believe it anymore, and struggles with reading the Bible in his moments alone in his apartment, because he knows it has the answer, he just can’t bring himself to go there. One moment even has him putting away the bottle to read the Bible. Near the end when Creasy discovers that Pita is actually alive, he gets the offer that she will live if he gives himself up to the head bad guy, “The Voice.” So when Creasy does give his life for the girl, he does so willingly in love for her. And he must die in a moral sense because of his own evil. But he redeems himself by realizing that to regain innocence he must sacrifice himself, not others. He must give his life for another. Substitutionary atonement. In this way, Creasy is a Christ figure. He is a metaphor of what Christ did for his own children. He sought them out, one by one, went to the very bowels of hell to rescue them and gave his life as a ransom for many. And I believe this self sacrifice is what redeems the otherwise vigilante story. Creasy realizes that freedom will be purchased by him dying for the girl, not necessarily killing the evil men. Of course, killing them in self-defense or through due process of law is certainly morally good, but personal vigilanteism is not. Vigilanteism is driven by hatred, not justice. Sacrifice is driven by love, not hate. As Denzel drives away with the bad guys, the screen fades out and we can only imagine the Passion-like horrors he will endure for the little one he saved. Very powerful. A thought comes to me head that it would have been great to tie in an element previously from the movie. Previously, Creasy blew up a guy by putting a bomb up his butt and setting it off with a watch timer. Well, wouldn’t it have been just nice for Creasy to be driving away with the Bad Guy and his gang, and then they hear a “beeping.” What is that? And they explode because Creasy had placed one of those bombs in himself. But even though that would have still been a self sacrifice, it would have spoiled the real sense of true suffering that we knew he would endure for the little girl. It would have been more Hollywood in wrapping up all the ends and getting the Bad Guy at the end anyway. And being Hollywood isn’t necessarily bad. But in this case, they probably chose the right path. Not to show that bad guys get away, but to show the deeper myth of atonement that was trying to be illustrated. Interesting how Brian Helgeland, the writer, would write the nihilism of Mystic River and L.A. Confidential then write a redemptive story like this. I think it clearly shows the influence of Mr. Washington, just like Training Day was influenced by him when he challenged the storytellers with the Scripture, “the wages of sin is death,” as a guide to the moral theme and the bad guy’s ending.

The Punisher

Not recommended. First of all, this is a revenge movie, so for a theological examination of the morality of revenge see my article, “A Time To Revenge?: Vigilanteism and Movie Justice in A Time to Kill. But leaving that aside for the moment, I would like to address the story of this genre movie. This movie was very difficult to watch, not because it was a revenge movie, but because it was a revenge movie trying not to be a revenge movie until the last act, which totally confused it. Basically, you have this undercover cop, Frank Castle, whose entire family and friends are killed as revenge for a mobster’s son’s death under Frank’s sting operation. The storytellers try to make Frank a righteous and good man by showing that the mobster’s kid shows up unannounced, and Frank doesn’t know who he is, and then Frank is disappointed when he discovers that the kid is accidentally shot dead in a drug bust he was working on. No one was supposed to get hurt, we discover. Okay, so that’s fine. I like righteous men as heros. But the problem is this: the movie sets up a very emotionally extreme revenge situation but delivers a confused pay off by trying to make Frank’s revenge, “legitimate” or “fair,” rather than embracing the full heart of revenge. It just isn’t emotionally or humanly believable. The mobster, Howard, finds out that Frank was the head of the sting that killed his kid, and Howard’s wife gets him to slaughter Frank’s entire family and friends at a party in revenge. Frank barely survives and embarks on his blood vengeance. The problem is that this slaughter is very extreme, and even believable, but Frank’s reactions are not. After he gets well, he packs up a pile of guns and weapons and moves to the city to track down Howard. BUT THEN HE DOESN’T USE THE WEAPONS. Rather, Frank decides to try to be a pest to Howard by dumping his dirty drug money into the streets, and get his Cuban connections mad at him for losing money, and then to get Howard thinking his wife is committing adultery with his most trusted henchman. Frank does all this in an effort to get Howard’s own evil to turn against him and bring his downfall. Okay, that’s a clever revenge tactic, but it does not fit at all the emotional set up of the story. Frank is set up as an ex-special forces guy with all these weapons, etc. etc. His ENTIRE family is slaughtered, so his revenge is to go and cause financial trouble for the responsible mobster? NO WAY. He would track him down and each of his family members, one by one, and kill them like an avenging angel, that’s what he would do. The kind of revenge the storytellers actually have Frank embark on would work best if the mobster just financially screwed over a NON-ACTION guy, who then gets back by screwing up the Mobster’s financial life, but then the mobster kills the guy’s family half way through, which leads the hero to then track down the mobster’s family. You see? Escalating revenge, not backwards revenge. Howard killed Frank’s entire family for goodness sake! He would kill them all, not be a pest. The heart fizzed immediately out of this story. And to make matters worse, they always try to make Frank super fair, even though he’s seeking revenge. Frank is supposed to be dead, right? SO he has the surprise element which is perfect, right? He can start attacking Howard and no one will know who the heck is doing it, right? SO what does Frank do? He shows himself in front of his ex-partners at the Police headquarters to complain that they haven’t done anything to jail the mobster after killing Frank’s family! He tells the world he’s alive, when he had such great cover? How stupid and unbelievable. Then, on Frank’s first revenge, he spills Howard’s millions of dollars out a window, and when he comes across two of the bodyguards who killed his family, he faces them down like a gunslinger fight. And he let’s them draw first before he shoots them both. Are you kidding me? A man bent on revenge, who gives his enemies a fighting chance? Who are they trying to kid? I applaud the storytellers for trying to make a hero with ethics who always is justified in his violence out of self-defense, but it just doesn’t fit the genre. THIS IS A REVENGE STORY GUYS, not a superman comic. Road to Perdition deals with this theme how it should be dealt with in a much more believable way. Okay, so then Frank is holed up in a little apartment where he is recognized by his tenants, and he doesn’t seem to care. Also, he doesn’t seem to care about being found out and tracked down by the mobster, so he doesn’t hide his whereabouts. How ignorant can he be? And then there’s this big scene where a loser neighbor with body piercing determines he is not going to talk to the mobster to tell him where Frank is hiding in the building. So he is tortured, but he never talks. This is completely unbelievable. They try to set up that Frank saved this kid from being beaten up earlier, so he returns the favor. But the problem is that the kid is such a white trash weak loser that it is entirely unbelievable. Of course, he would give up. Heck, hardened soldiers give up when tortured. It is laughable. And then the mobster doesn’t kill the neighbors for not talking? Yeah, right. He slaughters entire families, but doesn’t kill people who are covering for the hero. And now here is the ridiculous part. After the mobster hurts this one kid by ripping out all his body rings, NOW Frank is really mad. NOW he takes all his guns and weapons and hunts down the mobster and his family to kill them all brutally. Of course, he still let’s the mobster kill his own wife out of misplaced jealousy, but still, this is the last act where Frank goes ballistic and finally mercilously slaughters the Mobster’s gang, one by one in a deliberated hunt. Oh, so you kill his entire family and he causes financial trouble for you, but hurt my white trash neighbor friend, and that’s going too far. Now, I’m going to kill you all. That is so backwards that I should have walked out of the movie for that alone. Okay, I didn’t. I had to be able to finish my argument. ☺ And the scene where Frank prepares to kill them all is where they have a little voiceover of Frank explaining his rationale why sometimes you have to go outside of the law to get justice done. It’s all rather pedantic and preachy, but it shows just how confused the storytellers are, trying to make a revenge movie, but to stay as fair and self-defense oriented as long as possible. Of course, I’m with them in their intent, but they just picked the wrong story to work that theme. It would have been more germane to the story to have Frank go out on an emotionally justified revenge, but learn in the end that it kills his soul just the same. Like I said, watch Road to Perdition, which is the story, these guys were deliberately trying to copy. It is the better version of this story. When the hero in Road to Perdition goes after Capone’s money for revenge against his family being killed, he does so only because he knows he is way too small to be able to get to the bad guy, so he does it to draw attention to his plight and force the big guys to do something about it. Also, there is the political family issue that the hero was beloved by and loved the father whose son deserved to die. So he couldn’t just kill the person responsible for his family’s murder without drawing down the wrath of the entire mob upon him and his surviving son. So his dilemma was complicated by trying to keep his son alive as well. The terrible injustice done to the Road to Perdition story was that they raped the original graphic novel story of it’s spiritual redemption which was intrinsic to the whole meaning of the story. In the novel, Jesus is the antithesis of revenge, but in the movie, “gun control” is the antithesis of revenge. Very stupid. But, you know Hollywood hates Jesus, so what can you expect. But that’s a whole different movie, so I’ll stop.

Jersey Girl

Recommended for adults. I was pleasantly surprised with this one. I had expected the typical Kevin Smith agenda-driven, overly wordy, excessively profane self-importance of his other movies. But it was not. It was a rather touching and sensitive story about a selfish publicist who has a baby girl and loses his wife, only to be forced into taking care of his child by himself. He learns that people and family are more important than career and personal ambition. Hey, now that is great. And Mr. Smith told the story with less profanity than normal (though arguably still too much). The publicist, played by Ben Affleck, is refreshing in his commitment to his daughter. When was the last time you saw a movie where a guy doesn’t have sex with women since his wife because of his dedication to his little girl and turns down a “free jump” because it isn’t right? Then, when he does give in to a sex opportunity, he is caught before he gets too far by the little girl and faced with his own moral challenge that he told her: “sex is only for married people.” I was shocked. Maybe Smith thought it would be original to have some traditional morality in a movie, and sadly he is right. There is a scene in the beginning where Ben is talking to his baby daughter about her mother and it is over the top, wordy, on the nose, tell us what you are thinking on your sleeve scene. But it wasn’t terrible. This movie convicted me about my own life and keeping people and my marriage as a higher priority than my dreams.

The Alamo

Somewhat Recommended. Not a very exciting movie, by modern action movie standards, but acceptable. Okay, I gotta say that I am not fully apprised of the “actual history” of this event. I put “actual history” in quotes because revisionist history is a tricky thing. Although most revisionist history that goes on these days is politically correct, and is more accurately described as postmodern propaganda, the reality is that not ALL revisionist history is wrong. Some people who claim movies like this are revisionist history that attack our cherished beliefs are naïve if they fail to recognize that their cherished beliefs are themselves often based on a “revision” of history. The fact of the matter is that ALL history is subjective. As Robert the Bruce in Braveheart says, “history is written by the winners.” And if we fail to acknowledge this truth and the particular prejudice of every side in an issue, we are the biggest dupes of all. All history is subjective interpretations of individuals, whether they were actually there or not. This is not to say that because all history is subjective, there is therefore NO history that is true. That is relativistic reduction to absurdity. It is merely to be balanced and aware of a higher truth that governs proper analysis. Only then may we be able to sift through the opposing versions and find a more accurate or full picture of what may have really happened. And even if we find out the WHAT of what happened, the WHY will always be ultimately elusive because of individual bias. The fact is, some historical revisionism is good, if the “history” or myths we cherish are wrong. Having said that, I would say that this movie, without having the benefit of knowing particular facts about the history myself, seemed to be a fair and balanced treatment of the events. I saw The Alamo with John Wayne just a couple years ago, and I gotta say that it was long and rather boring, and very heroically mythical in a naïve sense. You have these men like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie portrayed as heros who are as big as their legends and aware of it, scampering around making wisecracks that reinforce their own greatness. Well, you know, I don’t believe it. People are more complex than that. Even heros are not perfect. Every human has flaws and sins that haunt him. To deny this is to propagate a myth that may make us feel good about so-called heros that inspire, but it is simply not true, and ultimately detrimental to our spiritual good. Look at the Bible. It doesn’t whitewash its heros. It unabashedly exposes Moses’s fear, David’s adultery and murder, Jacob’s deceptive nature, Peter and Paul’s arguments. But that does not negate their heroism, it merely reminds us that men are not the ultimate heros, God and the truth is. Just because men have faults, does not mean they cannot do great things or be heros. It is just to say that they are not gods. Ain’t nothing wrong with having heros, but it is wrong to deify them in clouds of perfection and sinlesseness. So just because a movie may show a man’s weakness does not make it a character attack. I believe that The Alamo 2004 is fair in this way. Some will no doubt complain that in this movie, Colonel William Travis is depicted as a heartless adulterer, Jim Bowie as a renegade land-swindling slave owner, Davy Crockett as a frightened vagabond war criminal who participated in an atrocity and exploited his own false reputation, and General Sam Houston as a venereal ridden drunkard. Well, look, if any of these things are false, or that is, cannot be supported by some historical account, then, maybe there is reason to complain. But even then, I don’t consider them all that bad, because, in the end, the movie does portray all of these men as heroic and honorable and courageous in spite of their flaws – and that is the key. It does not characterize them as villainous or false heros. They overcome their character flaws and find the courage and honor and nobility they required. And not only that, their cause of Texas is upheld as noble in the movie. I expected the typical hate-America-first revisionist tactic of making America the bad guys, and Mexico the good guys. But I personally did not see this. General Santa Ana was shown as a detestable lowlife, a spoiler of innocent girls, a glory-seeking scumbag who did not value his own soldiers. He says, “What are the lives of soldiers, but so many chickens.” This is classic villainism if you ask me. Not only that, but the couple African slaves in the fort are shown with opposing views. One wants to help the Texans, the other wants freedom. Good balance there. And they make a point of showing that there were Mexicans who were fighting with the Texans against the Mexicans! As for the faults of the heros, Travis grows into a sensitive leader who dies for a higher cause, Jim Bowie learns to respect his leadership and Davy Crockett is the coolest of all. Hey, the fact is, people do make godlike legends of their heros, and Davy Crockett is shown as a man who rises to the grandeur of his own legends. His courage is much more realistic to me because I do not believe it is honest to show men who do not care for their lives AT ALL in service to their cause, no matter how much higher it is. Courage is not the absence of fear it is the facing of fear. And that is what Crockett does in this movie. Really, he ends up being just as big as his legend if you ask me. When talking to Bowie, he says that if it were up to him, he would hop the wall and take his chances at escape, but this is so much bigger than him. He knows he is an example to other men of courage and he must live up to that courage for everyone’s sake. Also, in the end, when Crockett is captured, literally, the last man standing on the Texan side, and he is given the chance to beg for his life, he calls for Santa Ana’s surrender. What a great heroic stand of defiance and greatness. And you know, so what if Bowie was a slave owner. So was Jefferson, so was Washington, so were most people of that day. It was a collective prejudice that was wrong, but it does not invalidate their greatness, it simply shows a weakness or imperfection. Yes, this is a character flaw, but not an unredeemable one. Just cause someone owned slaves does not make everything he does bad. That is simply ad hominem nonsense. And I think the movie agrees. In my view, this movie was not a hit piece on heros, it reinforced their heroism. Having defended the movie, I would balance that with the acknowledgement that the central conceit of modern “realism” is in fact it’s own mythical fallaciousness. Think about it. A movie, which is itself mythical in nature, portraying the “reality” as opposed to the myth. Does anyone spot the self-refutation here? The fact is, all these movies, like the upcoming King Arthur and others that claim to be showing the “real story behind the myth” are all just a bit too disingenuine. How do they know the “real” story? All they are doing is countering one historical source against another, or worse, guessing at what “really” happened based on their prejudice against accepted history and proclaimed privileged position, which is actually a bias itself. So they have faith in one source over another, one prejudice over another. The fact is, these movies are not replacing myth with history, they are replacing one myth with another myth, a new myth, based on new prejudices and biases.

Walking Tall

Not Recommended. Not as good as the original. And you know, this one was only “inspired” by a true story, whereas the original was “based on” the true story. There’s something extra special about a story that really happened over a story that didn’t. But this one, about a soldier who returns to his small town and finds it taken over by evil drug peddling, stripper exploiting, casino operators, who just happen to be the soldier’s old friends. Well, when the hero stands up to corruption at the casino, he almost gets killed and then he responds and the violence escalates, tit for tat. But when the hero becomes sheriff of the town and tries to clean it up, there is all out war. What I like so much about this film is it’s value of standing up to and fighting evil men. If we do not, we will be overrun by them and our children will be destroyed by them. This is great. One tragic irony, if I may deconstruct the film for a moment is that there is this great aspect of connecting corruption, casinos, adult entertainment and drugs all together as a negative influence on society. That’s saying a lot in today’s morally relativistic world that sanctions such things as mere personal preference that we should not judge. And the hero is supposed to be above it. He scorns to see kids with pot, and the local adult bookstore. But for some reason, he has no problem watching a stripper himself. So adult bookstores are bad, but personal stripping is okay? Also, what I do not like about the movie is its vigilanteism: taking the law into our own hands. Though good in intentions, vigilanteism is ultimately immoral. (See me article: “A Time To Revenge?: Vigilanteism and Movie Justice in A Time to Kill. ) The law in the movie is set up as being corrupt and in on the casino dirt and drugs. And those drugs are destroying the kids, even the hero’s little cousin. So, emotionally, we feel justified when the hero fights back by vandalizing the casino. As much as I want to believe this is okay, I can’t. God commands us to obey the law, even when it is corrupt (Romans 13, Daniel 1-3). So when the hero gets let off by a jury of his crime of beating up the bad guy’s casino and thugs because of their giving drugs to the hero’s little young cousin, well, we sure feel emotionally justified, but hardly morally so. The jury acquits the hero in vandalizing the casino because they understand it was in reaction to the bad guy’s own crime against the hero. Well, it seems to me that this whole jury disregarding the law and voting from the heart for personal revenge outside the law, is the whole problem with American jurisprudence these days. It may feel good to stick it to the evil guys who hide behind the law, but due process has been subverted, and with it, a just society, when juries ignore the law and make subjective judgments that violate established law. As much as I hate many laws, and consider them unjust, the responsibility of jurors is to judge in accordance with the laws not with their personal sentiments. If the laws are unjust, then they must be changed through due process, not through arbitrary will. Jurors do not make the law, they apply it in judgments. It is certainly the result of our postmodern relativistic culture that every man is a law unto himself and that moral and legal judgments are reduced to subjective individual preferences and sentiments. If there is no absolute standard of law (as in the Bible) to which all individuals and society is accountable then it will follow that men will use their legal positions to arbitrarily impose their personal wills upon the majority. Without objective external moral and legal theory, ALL law is oppressive imposition on society, so the Will to Power wins. Nietzsche wins. This is what we have in our modern Supreme Court and indeed our judicial system, which attempts to subvert the Constitution and legislate from the bench, rather than interpret law beholden to the objective standard of law passed by Congress. The Supreme Court has become a tyrannical manipulator of law. They have subverted the balance of powers. But the juror system is quickly becoming this as well. Encouraging people to decide from the heart rather than from truth or rational application of established law is descent into anarchy and the foundation of an unjust society. Back to the movie: When the hero runs for sheriff and wins in order to clean up the town, it could also be argued that he is simply using the law for his own purposes, rather than upholding and respecting the rule of law. He is really only a reflection of the villain, who is himself manipulating law to his advantage. So, morally, what you have is two villains, not a hero and a villain. Now, if the movie explored this moral struggle, fine. But it does not. It encourages vigilanteism. (And keep in mind, I believe self-defense IS morally justifiable and IS NOT the same as vigilanteism.) So in the movie, technically, the hero is justified in clamping down on the bad guys because after all, he is the law. But in truth, he is really only using the law as a cover for revenge. He bashes the bad guy’s car lights, which is a moment of audience glee, but is actually legally and morally unjustifiable, no matter how bad the villain is. The hero cuts up a villain’s truck with a chain saw while “looking for drugs” in the vehicle. Okay, that one is technically okay because of probable cause, but as you can see this is also a pretense for fighting crime with criminal behavior. It may feel emotionally satisfying to our vengeful nature, but I have to say it is not right.


Recommended. Good ole fashioned clarity of good and evil in a morally confused era. Bad guys try to conquer the world by opening a portal to another dimension for some evil beings to come through. Unfortunately, the story or plot is not as clear as the morality. Hitler tried to open the portal by using the occult and Rasputin and now the bad guys are trying to do it again. But the first time, a little guy came through who looked like a demon but was raised by a good professor to fight evil at the Institute of the Paranormal (that doesn’t exist of course). Anyway, it never really explains why Hellboy looks like a demon but is not. Is this supposed to explain spiritual manifestations as really something more like aliens misinterpreted as demons? (Shades of Stargate). Or is this a confusing mixture of spiritual and alien culture? Just doesn’t make clear. This movie has a lot of rather shallow Christian symbolism because of the professor being an ex-priest, but at least positive symbols, which I applaud. It’s just too bad, it was not wrapped up into the theme as it should have been. Like why was the priest relevant to the situation if Hellboy was not a demon, but a being from another dimension that is not spiritual. Didn’t make sense to me. One of the clever sayings was, “In the absence of light, darkness prevails,” which I guess means something akin to “The only way for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” But more importantly, the theme is reiterated in the film by the protagonist, “What makes a man? His origins? I don’t think so. It’s the choices he makes and how he chooses to make them.” This is supposed to reflect Hellboy’s pathos of trying to fit into society, but being rejected because they misunderstand him as evil, when he is really good. They think of him as inhuman when he is humanlike. This is a common theme of diversity in movies these days (X-Men, Hidalgo, etc.) and I hope it does not get to be too tired. Unfortunately, this is pretty much just another formula action FX movie where, in addition to the FX and stunts, the key to it’s success is how many clever lines they can throw in to make the heros look cool and sarcastic before they woop the bad guys. That’s fine by me, especially since this one has some great lines. But it is ultimately unfocused in story.