Highly Recommended. This is the true story of Stephen Glass, who worked for the New Republic and was discovered to be fabricating most of his stories written for the magazine. It’s a powerful moral tale about the nature of deception and the importance of integrity. The kid was one of the best storytellers and he learned how to manipulate the system of fact checking and journalistic integrity to avoid being spotted for a long while. The story tells the discovery through the eyes of Chuck Lane, his editor, with the help of competitor Adam Penenberg at Forbes magazine. Like a cornered rat, as Stephen’s web of deceit is unraveled, so his deceitful and desperate manipulation of coworkers increases. He whines, whimpers, flatters, apologizes and makes more lies to cover for his first lies to make it appear he has been fooled by bad sources rather than being a lying liar himself. Interestingly his coworkers are drawn in on his side because of his flattering personality toward them. He is a master deceiver. There is a powerful juxtaposition at the end of Chuck proving the lies and receiving the applause of his coworkers and Glass creating a story in his head of receiving applause from his alma mater high school as he speaks to students. This story shows how easily we are deceived by such liars as Glass, and Jayson Blair at The New York Times and The Boston Globe’s Mike Barnicle and The Washington Post’s Janet Cooke, and who can forget the entire crew of CNN in Iraq who for years denied Hussein’s torture and murder in order to maintain a presence for the network in Iraq. This brings me to one of my personal hobby horses. You know, this movie really read like a metaphor for the monsters that are created by our postmodern culture that exalts subjectivity and story, and denigrates fact and rationality. It should be no surprise to us that we have an epidemic of lying, cheating and swindling amidst young people, because our institutions are creating these beasts of deception. They are being taught that there is no absolute truth (lying isn’t really wrong), there is no objective reality (only subjective prejudice) and there is no ultimate truth, everything is fiction, everything we believe is merely metanarrative stories that we make up to create reality. Story is all there is and none of it is ultimately or universally true. To these people, language is a prison house that we use to create reality, not discover or communicate it. So many schools of journalism are bastions of activist propaganda, teaching students that the purpose of journalism is “to change the world,” with their agenda because “truth” is a social construct anyway. “Making the news” is not merely a marketing tagline anymore. So of course, more and more people are going to start taking these ivory tower rants against modernity and actually apply them to life and become LYING STORYTELLERS who “construct” their truth for the good of the ignorant masses (that’s you and me, folks). When you teach children to lie, they will lie (duh). CS Lewis wrote, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” In the movie, Chuck tells a colleague who has been too dullheaded to recognize the seriousness of Glass’ fraud: “He fed us fiction after fiction. And we printed it as fact. Because it was entertaining. That’s indefensible. Don’t you know that?” A culture that foments relativity and storytelling as ultimate should not be shocked at the traitors and monsters it creates. This relates a bit to my blog on Second Hand Lions below. Okay, so the world has always been full of liars since day one, I know, but the point is that people do live out what they ultimately believe and some worldviews (postmodernism, relativism, atheism) LOGICALLY, philosophically lead to evil behavior because they negate objective absolute morality, you know, those nagging little Ten Commandments (or the seven deadly sins as the movie Se7en). The hypocrisy of those promoting traditional morality while living a lie is not the same as the consistency of those who promote relativism while living like scoundrels. The former is a contradiction in values and lifestyle, the latter is a fulfillment of promise (duh again). As Voltaire, the atheist even admitted, “I want my attorney, my tailor, my servants, even my wife to believe in God, and I think that then I shall be robbed and cuckolded less often.” That infamous libertine knew one thing, people act upon their beliefs, and he full well knew the ugly result of his own humanism. He didn’t want others to do to him what he so willingly would do to others.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Opening in February 2004. Let me say right out that this is, for me, the most profound and true movie ever made about Jesus Christ. “true” because it captures what no other Christ movie has in regard to his suffering. And it is Christ’s suffering that is the essence of atonement for sins. It focuses on the “Passion” of suffering that Christ had to experience in his last 12 hours on earth. The reason why I believe this is so crucial to its greatness is because the depth of the suffering is a reflection of the power of the redemption. The verse that is shown at the beginning of the movie says it all and sets the context for understanding everything that follows. Isaiah 53:5 “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities, by his stripes we are healed.” This movie is about understanding just what that means. So it starts with the Garden of Gethsemane and ends with the Resurrection. Well, let me tell you. All I can say, is “it’s about time.” It’s about time someone captured the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death in a dramatic way that touches the soul beyond words. I think of all the other films about Jesus, and how they all include his doctrinal teaching along with a third act about his death and resurrection. Well, that is good and I’ve liked them all in one way or another, but for movies, I have to say that the preaching part can get a little preachy and drawn out. The teachings of Christ are just not as suited to visual dramatic storytelling. Not that there’s not a place for them. But what the Passion of Christ does is capture the essence of his teachings through a visceral experience. I wrote in my article about “Jesus in the Movies” that all Jesus movies tend to reflect the era they are made in, the prevailing zeitgeist. So, the first Jesus movies, made more in an era of belief, tended to emphasize his deity, and the later movies, made in an era of skepticism tended to emphasize his humanity or worse, make him out to be sinful. The Passion is brilliant in that it is a postmodern experience of Christ. It is gritty and realistic in its portrayal of what Christ suffered — I mean what he really suffered. Very human, very Existential. All other Jesus movies are revisionist candy coated schmaltz compared to this one. But that is good for this generation. This pomo GenY yada yada generation speaks with gritty, in your face attitude. REALITY, baby, that’s what we want. Well we get REALITY all right, we get it all, from the flesh ripping scourging to the actual nails pounded into the hands (most movies cut away at the pounding, but Gibson does not) Rather than focusing on the didactic teaching as a modernist movie would have done, The Passion has almost none of the teaching and goes straight for the gut. It captures the experience of Christ for people. This is not to say that rational teaching is not appropriate, but merely that Mr. Gibson is achieving a communication of the Gospel of redemption in a way that transcends other Jesus movies and meets the postmodern where he is at. I almost believe his original intent to not have subtitles would work, the images are that central to the story. Of course, I am thankful that he did have subtitles, because truth be told, I do believe that words fill out what image cannot. Image without word is incomplete. So the balance between word and image here is astounding and profound. EVERYONE MUST GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
Not recommended. Not much to say here. Although I do have an article coming out soon on the philosophy/theology of The Matrix trilogy. But anyway, this movie had even less scenes of the actual Matrix in it and more of Zion battles, and almost no philosophy compared to the second one. After watching this one, I actually was thinking how much better Reloaded was, which is a surprise cause I didn’t like Reloaded that much. Oh well, I find it interesting that a trilogy that espouses freedom of man as superior to slavery actually makes the slavery side more interesting. I found myself, as in Reloaded, wishing they would get back into the Matrix because those were cooler scenes and more interesting stories. And Zion, which is supposed to be the last city of freedom for man, was the most boring aspect of the whole series. Who knows? Maybe they wanted it that way. Maybe, the postmodern Wachowski brothers actually do prefer fantasy to reality, or delusion to truth, after all, like Baudrillard, they do believe that man creates his own reality through language because the signs of the real are substituted for the real.
It was pretty much just a battle movie with the machines battling to destroy Zion and a couple of “in the Matrix” fight scenes. Nothing really unique here except a different take on the original scene in The Matrix where they shoot up the marble pillars. This time, the guards fight back and they too are Matrix players who can flip up to the ceiling. Also, the ultimate battle between Neo and Agent Smith is a boring Superman fight that I suppose was necessary to the buildup of power that both were getting. But it was still boring. There is also a finale scene where Neo gives his life for the freedom of the Matrix and those who choose to be free. The big godlike face of the Source says, “IT is done,” an obvious reference to Christ’s “It is finished.” I find it amusing how those who would detest Christianity seem so reliant upon it’s atonement concept to give their stories depth. I write about this in my article that the Wachowskis are Nietzschean nihilists who fancy themselves “revaluators” of the myths of our culture, using religion as metaphors for their ubermensch who overcomes man by overcoming traditional thought forms and saves himself by “creating his reality.”
It is an excerpt of my upcoming article in CRI Journal to whet your appetite:
“Everyone knows that The Matrix trilogy contains a religious philosophical worldview. But just which one is a matter of debate. Some have written essays proclaiming it Christian; some, Platonic (after Plato the philosopher); others, Gnostic (a Christian heresy); and still others, Buddhist. My own view is that this series uses a combination of all of the above, and then some, as subversive metaphors for a postmodern worldview that deconstructs universal mythology into a Nietzschean “overman” philosophy of creating one’s own truth in a universe without God. In Nietzsche’s anti-philosophy philosophy, our perceptions of reality are illusory (The Matrix) because they are part of the mechanistic determinism of nature (The Matrix Reloaded) and we must therefore create our own truth through our human choices (The Matrix Revolutions).
Mythologist Joseph Campbell, the literary hero with a thousand faces, sought to bring to light what he considered the “monomyth,” the universal heroic journey common to all religions residing in a Jungian collective unconscious of humanity. Religions have so many ideas and images in common because they are ultimately diverse symbolic projections of the same physical and mental processes within all of us. In his interview with Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth, Campbell states that, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the worlds, are within us. They are magnified dreams, and dreams are manifestations in image form of the energies of the body in conflict with each other.” In this sense, Campbell was a demythologizer. He deconstructed religious traditions and transcendent beliefs into their so-called respective origins in natural causes. Similar to Campbell’s eclecticism, the nature of Postmodern religion is a hodge podge synthesis of diverse sources without regard for logical or organic consistency. There are just enough parallels between religions to ignore the disparities. To force square similarities into round differences. And I suggest this is what the Wachowski brothers, creators of The Matrix, are doing with their cinematic trilogy. “
Highly Recommended. This wonderful little sentimental heart-tugging true story stars Cuba Gooding Jr. as the real life James “Radio” Robert Kennedy. He’s a mentally handicapped young kid who is taken under the wing of a high school football coach played by Ed Harris in a small South Carolina town. It’s a story about what really matters in life (second most), loving your neighbor. Cuba is so good you forget you’re watching Cuba. The story is a bit weak and episodic, but it doesn’t hurt it that much because the characters are so compelling and the heart of this story rings so true. One complaint: They set up a problem with Ed Harris’ family, his daughter in particular, because he spends more time with Radio than his own daughter. She starts to get a bit perturbed at it. But then they don’t really pay it off. They never really resolve this issue. It just disappears. I can only imagine how deep and powerful this story could have been had the love of one’s neighbor been rooted in the grace of the foremost commandment, the love for God.
Not Recommended. This was a potentially great idea ruined by Romanticism. It follows the path of Sarah, played by Angelina Jolie as a married woman in the English high society who awakens to the true plight of the third world one day when an activist doctor, played by Clive Owen, crashes a high falutin dinner party that is raising money for such projects. He brings a real kid who is really suffering and chastises everyone for their fraudulent “help” because the plug is being pulled on his project and lives are going to be lost. SO Sarah is inspired and gets involved in relief work. She travels around the world to the Sudan, Cambodia and eventually, Chechnya to help the suffering in the midst of political and military upheaval. Of course, she meets Clive, the doctor and they fall in love, but do nothing because she is married. The Romanticism of this movie lies in making Angelina stay with her husband for the sake of her child, even though he is an adulterer. But as she gets more involved in her work, she keeps seeing Clive and eventually falls for him. They consummate (read: fornicate), but realize they can never be together because they are in different worlds and can neither of them leave their own world for the other. So they are doomed to seeing each other every few years in different lands. This sets up the Romantic notion that doing the right thing versus following your passion leads to tragedy. Angelina and Clive are created as characters of true love and passion and connection who cannot be together because she stays with her family. Her husband’s adultery becomes the pragmatic justification for her embracing her adultery. Hey, after all, they weren’t really in love anyway, right? And hey, he’s an adulterer too, so there! This movie reminds me of the despicable Bridges of Madison County, that justified Meryl Streep’s character in her adultery as the only true experience of love and passion in her life. And even though she stayed with her husband, even though she “did the right thing,” she treasured her adultery all her life as the one true experience of life and love from which she thrived. Rather than work out the issues and grow to love her lifelong partner LIKE AN ADULT, no, she had to follow illicit passions and treasure those experiences of lust as love. What a selfish child, if you ask me. At least in Beyond Borders, her husband was an adulterer. In Bridges, the husband wasn’t even half bad. Well, same story in Beyond Borders. They even have a tragic ending where Angelina gives her life to save her lover so he can be with the baby that resulted from their union. Very epic and melancholic sadness. Great acting, good emotional writing and storytelling. It’s all very epic feeling and grand, and a compelling story. Unfortunately, it is immoral Romanticism.
Rommended with Extreme Caution. Okay, if you don’t like horror films, you won’t like this formula horror flick. But if you don’t like horror, then you should read my article, “A Theology of Horror Films”.
Anyway, the reason why I recommend Dracula 2000 for the strong of stomach is because it has a strong Christian theme. That’s right. You heard what I said. And not merely a nice “moral theme” but a blatant Christian concept of redemption. It is a return to the origins of modern horror that E. Michael Jones writes about in his excellent book, Monsters From the Id. Here is what I wrote to someone about this book: “I wanted to recommend Monsters from the Id by E. Michael Jones. It is a brilliant book about the origins of modern horror as a reaction to the Enlightenment worldview (unconscious or conscious) with its rejection of the supernatural and the worship of science with the elevation of man’s “natural” impulses. His historical context of Mary Shelly and Byron is really quite illuminating in proving his premise. And his explanation of how religion fits in is also poignant. His take is a bit different from yours. Rather than the “sacred” creating the monster, it is the “negation of the sacred” that does so. That is why the sacred is usually part of the solution. The crucifix (sacred) protects against the vampire, MacNeils’ naturalism (in The Exorcist) makes her defenseless in the face of real supernatural, so it is her lack of the sacred that makes her family prey. Rosemary’s lack of a sacred understanding of evil (In Rosemary’s Baby) makes her prey as well. Even the point of 28 Days Later is that the zombies are a metaphor for the lack of civilization and order within the modern social/nationalist mindset (the testosterone military men are no different than the zombies in their bloodlust).
Jones points out that the Enlightenment rejection of the supernatural and the exaltation of man’s primary urges and scientific hubris create Frankenstein, Dracula, Hyde and Jekyll, and even surprisingly so, Cronenberg’s monsters. And Frankenstein was really an expression of Shelly’s own horror in her life. Even many of the slasher films illustrate the residue of this Enlightenment created monster that wreaks havoc. It is the rejection of the sacred order that creates these monsters, not the sacred itself. That is why the promiscuous kids die and the virgin often lives. Of course, this is mostly relevant to traditional horror, and can break down in current horror, like Scream that deliberately defy convention. But I found his thesis rather rich in understanding and breadth.”
So, if you don’t want the major plot point twist to be spoiled, then don’t read on…
What is so great about the movie is that Dracula is revealed to be the undead soul of Judas Iscariot prowling the earth in vengeance against his own perdition. His unsatiable lust for blood, the blood he cannot have in Jesus’ blood of forgiveness, the silver abhorrance, a reflection of the 30 pieces he betrayed for, and of course, crosses and wooden stakes through the heart as elements of the cross of Christ. It is brilliant and a reminder of what I wrote above, that horror should be the result of rejecting the truth of God. Unfortunately much postmodern horror defies these conventions. And I must say, that this brings me to The Addiction, a true Christian themed vampire movie, even better than Dracula 2000, one of my top five favorites. But be careful here, because it too is not for the squeamish. But it uses vampirism as the perfect metaphor for man’s total sinful depravity. Sin is the addiction. Anyway, it is interesting to note that Wes Craven, the producer of Dracula 2000 went to Wheaton College and has a Christian background from which he has most likely fallen. So it is revealing that he, like Paul Shrader and others, tend to reach into their Christian past to draw out images and concepts.
Highly recommend. Written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. This is a little gem of a film. Almost purely character-driven. It’s the story of a dwarf [yes, the main character is actually a dwarf] who inherits an old train depot station from a dead friend and goes to live there. It’s out in the middle of nowheresville, that is, Newfoundland New Jersey. While there, he meets an Italian coffee truck vendor and an absent-minded female artist. The acting is superb by everyone, especially the dwarf. What a wonderful change of pace from the typical movie that uses only “beautiful people” to star. Of course, it’s not that the dwarf is ugly, but just that he is not a model for Calvin Klein underwear. He is a human being just like Tom Cruise, and this movie proves that it is interesting absorbing characters that help make a story intriguing to the viewer, not star power. Anyway, the dwarf character is moody and withdrawn, with lots of scenes of minimalist dialogue and long lazy shots (in the good sense). This reminded me of the beautiful Tender Mercies, which also gave us such small town angst with simplicity. The theme of this movie deals with friendship, alienation and rejection. The funniest scene had me laughing my head off. As the dwarf character walks home down a road, the kooky artist just happens to be driving by and loses control of the vehicle because she drops her cell phone. She almost hits the guy, and apologizes. There is chemistry here, but it is suppressed. The very next time she meets him, it is in the exact same situation as he is walking home, only, this time, she spills her coffee at that very moment, and he sees the car weaving again as it comes toward him. You can almost see the connection in his brain as he sees the car come towards him again. I couldn’t stop laughing and thinking about it. I must confess that I loved it even though there is not really much of a story. This is unusual for me. I get bored when there is no story. But the characters were so compelling.
Not recommended. I had no interest in seeing this film. But I was stuck at the DGA because of a bad parking situation and had to stay to watch it. I just had no interest in watching yet another Catholic bashing diatribe, which ends up implying all Christianity as negative. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the Roman Catholic church and am fully aware of it’s abuses (Hey, I loved Luther!). I think there is definitely a place for the exposé of such abuses, it’s just that this is all we ever seem to get from movies, and it is usually propagandistic. You know something is propaganda when they only show negative stereotypes of people who are part of institutions they are attacking and don’t show any positive characters to balance the bad ones (like Thelma and Louise, Titanic). That is what happened in this movie. It’s based on a true story of these reform schools in Ireland for “wayward girls,” which usually amounts to sexually promiscuous girls. It follows three girls, Margaret, Rose, and Bernadette. One of them is pregnant by accident, another is raped and the third is flirty with the boys, but never “done nothing.” Okay, so they set up all the girls as roughly innocent, who are thrown into this punishing institution because of the evil patriarchal male abuse. While there, they are forced to engage in slave labor and are deprived of food and rest. It’s supposed to discipline the immorality out of them. A girl gets raped and the father treats HER like trash when the rapist should be the one thrown in jail. SO, basically, all the women are victims, which right away sets up the entire school as unjust. Again, no doubt this stuff does happen and should be decried as wicked, but come on, who are you trying to fool anyway? And all the people in prison are innocent too? It would be less propagandistic if they showed girls who did deserve to be there to contrast with innocent ones, but you see the filmmakers cannot do that because they believe that all punishment of sexual immorality is intrinsically evil, so they are required by their prejudice to show it as only negative without showing any of the destruction of untold thousands of lives from promiscuity and rebellion. Also, all the nuns and staff are wicked stepmother types who enjoy punishing the girls with total ignorance of any goodness. NOT ONE SINGLE NUN WITH A GOOD HEART in the entire place?? Again, who are you trying to fool? That just is not reality, it is propaganda. Even one good nun would have been a redemptive element and more true to reality. But Propaganda cannot show a positive example of an institutional character because it would weaken its argument because propaganda is not interested in reality or truth, but only AGENDA. And so propaganda really on weakens an otherwise compelling story in the Magdalene Sisters.
Medium Recommended. This film is a brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, superbly directed and edited piece of nihilistic cynicism. The story of three boys tied by fate, when one day, while playing hockey in the street, they are approached by a couple of men who are impersonating undercover police. They take a kid away under pretenses of bringing him home to his mom, but instead kidnap him and sexually abuse him for several days until he escapes. The whole point of the story is how it affected each of the three kids as they grow up. The one who was kidnapped and raped becomes a psychologically troubled nobody, one becomes a criminal and tries to reform and the third becomes a cop. They are united when the criminal’s daughter is killed and the troubled friend becomes a suspect. All the clues keep leading to the Tim Robbins abused character. Abused people abuse, right? Well, an entire irony of situation is set up so that Robbins is killed by the criminal guy who lost his daughter as his revenge, but it is discovered that he did not do it after all. So there is an ironic cynical fate of victimization. Only the strong survive. No hope in this story. Nice guys finish last. Even the ending is ambiguous about whether or not the criminal will get his due for killing the victim Robbins.
Not Really Recommended. I love Coen Brothers’ movies for their characters and unpredictable stories, and usually with rather moral themes, like O Brother, Where Art Thou? And Fargo. And this story has the usual interesting Coen characters and bizarre plot. But unfortunately, it falls apart. It’s about a sleazy divorce attorney, played by Clooney, who is hired to help a philandering husband to keep his riches from the hands of his divorcing wife played by Zeta-Jones. Well, Clooney falls for Jones and starts his pursuit of her. Turns out she is just as sleazy of a person who marries men to bilk them of their money so she can live a pampered life. Well, the Clooney character doesn’t care, he goes after anyway her until she captures him and takes him for all he has. SO the story sets up a great tragedy that even has references to a lot of Greek things in the script. They eat at a place called, Nero’s, they end up at Caesar’s Palace in Vegas, etc. But, at the end of the story, just after Clooney is tricked by the conniving Jones, and is about to get his due from her, she pulls a complete turn around and falls for him. Unfortunately, this does not fit the story at all and has the effect of an arbitrary happy Hollywood ending. No reason for it. The characters are set up as total sleaze bags and then for no reason at all, they just change and become loving sacrificial lovers? NOT BELIEVABLE. It was jarring and came out of nowhere and was not germane to the characters or story. Really unsatisfying. A Greekish tragedy/Hollywood Ending is a double-minded two-faced story. This movie is a cheat.