Not recommended. Okay, they pulled this one out of the crapper because they thought that the success of the masterpiece, The Passion, would somehow help this trite TV junk. What were they thinking? Unfortunately, I can’t help but compare it to The Passion. But first let me say that this was a sympathy piece, not quite on the level of Monster. It is an attempt to craft a believable motivation for this most despised character in history. In that sense it wasn’t all bad, just mostly. It paints Judas as a guy who is sympathetic with the Zealot cause (nothing new, Last Temptation did it better), and he is driven by his desire to see the Romans overthrown. His hearty zealousness for Israel is frustrated by Jesus’s spiritual kingdom, rather than a military one. Okay. But you know, no mention is made of the fact that Judas as a greedy S.O.B. He used to pilfer from the disciples’ treasury (John 12:6). And Judas is honestly surprised and angered that the high priest, Caiaphas, does not give Jesus a fair trial. What is he, an idiot? Ah, but a sincere idiot. I see. He was only handing in Jesus expecting that Jesus would be fairly treated. So maybe he is a leeeetle bit more honorable than the Scriptures portray him. And he is certainly a whole lot prettier. They used some pretty boy actor to make Judas seem more heroic. All right, The Passion and Judas: Both were made by Roman Catholics, yet Judas stunk to high heaven of agenda, while the Passion was informed by Gibson’s Catholicism, without artificially forcing the Catholic interpretation onto anything. Examples: In the Passion, we do not see Joseph, the father of Jesus. Now, it is historically probable that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus was this old, because the New Testament seems to fail to mention him. Okay, but in Judas, They make a point of saying “Joseph is long dead.” Jesus’s siblings are studiously avoided in order to propagate Mary’s “perpetual virginity.” Well, in The Passion, I don’t mind the avoidance of his siblings because it is so exclusively focused on the Passion, but in Judas, going out of their way to point it out reeks of agenda. Then, in Judas, they show the scene where Jesus talks to Peter and tells him “upon this rock I will build my church…” Fine. That’s in Scripture. But what isn’t is the portrayal of the disciples talking about this moment as Peter’s “elevation.” Yeah, right. The R.C. belief here is that this was when Peter was “elevated” as the most important apostle, from which the papacy claims its lineage. Don’t think so. Jesus wasn’t elevating Peter, he was elevating HIMSELF as Christ! The rock Jesus would build his church upon was not Peter, the man, but the doctrinal declaration of Jesus as Christ. And they try to reinforce this fallacious “elevation” by showing Jesus telling Peter, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” Well, what they DO NOT show you is that this statement was made not merely to Peter (Matt 16:19), but to ALL the Apostles as progenitors of the new faith (Matthew 18: 18). The proclamation of the Gospel message would bind or loosen people, not mere humans. Another repugnant Roman Catholic agenda forced onto the story was that at the last shot of the movie, after Judas had hanged himself, some of the Apostles pray over his dead body. This comes from the unbiblical doctrine of Purgatory. R.C. believes that when a member of the church dies, he goes to purgatory to burn off his sins before he can go to heaven. So that is why they pray for dead people, because they believe they still have a chance after death. Contrarily, in the Bible once you die, that’s it, baby, no more chances, “It is appointed to men to die once and then face judgement.” (Heb 9:27). Not only that, but this doctrine of purgatory denies the very essence of New Covenant salvation. The Bible says that Jesus died once and for all for the sins of his people (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). To claim that one can burn off their own sins, that is, pay for their own sins denies the heart and soul of the Gospel. It denies that Jesus pays for your sins. This is the opposite of faith in Christ.

And speaking of Christ, the Jesus in the movie Judas is what I call the Dr. Phil-Scooby-Doo-Shaggy-Malibu Jesus. Yep. First of all, here’s a real laugher. Jesus gives Judas the money purse for the disciples because, “I’m terrible with money. I seem to lose it.” Good grief! And that after Jesus APOLOGIZES for turning the tables over of the moneychangers in the Temple. Yeah, that’s right. He says, “I lost my temper.” What kind of a god do these Roman Catholic filmmakers worship???!!! I lost my temper?? So, Christ sins too? Shades of The Last Temptation of Christ. And then the psychobabble Jesus regurgitates when he tells Judas, “I wish you could love yourself the way I do.” Yeah, right. All those poor criminals of history are just victims of their own self-esteem. Funny, the Jesus of the Bible assumes the fallen nature of self-love as the starting point to CHANGE FROM when he says, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matt 9:19) We ALREADY love ourselves. That’s the problem! Jeeesh! And then this stupid Malibu Jesus is frustrated about spreading his ministry, so Judas says, “Why don’t you give us your powers so we can go out and multiple the effects?” Or something as idiotic as that. Then, Sho ‘nuff, Jesus thinks, “Hey great idea” and gives the disciples his powers of miracles and such, like he didn’t think of it. Oh, and let us not forget the politically correct liberal hate speech of the filmmakers when they have Caiaphas, the high priest, and villain, complain that Jesus is attacking “traditional values.” Boy, and the Jews think they are suffering prejudicial attacks in these Jesus movies. Just try being a conservative who believes in biblical morality; you’re then on the level of a… well… a Judas, I guess. Like Jesus would be against “traditional values,” which, by the way folks is merely a synonym for Biblical values. Uh huh. That’s right, this TV Jesus is against the Bible. And lest we leave out politically correct religion, Jesus also says, “I see God in everyone.” Unlike the Jesus of the Bible who calls unbelievers, sons of the devil (John 8:44).

Last, but not least, the language of this film was laughable. In an attempt to “modernize” it or help us stupid moronic Westerners relate to the story, the characters use out of date 80s style lingo. Stuff on the level of “This town’s not big enough for the both of us.” I can’t remember it all cause I was already drenched in notes about the above stupidities. For more on Jesus as he is portrayed in the movies see my article: “Jesus in the Movies” on my website.


Recommended. You do not have to be a sports person to love this movie based on the true story of Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) who turned the 1980 US hockey team into Olympic champions who disabused the invincible Russian team of their multiyear winning streak. It’s a story about the power of the team over the individual, not a very politically correct theme, but a much needed corrective to our individualistic culture that worships celebrity and rebellion. The great line that captured this was when Brooks says, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right ones.” This is the kind of movie that anyone who has every pursued a dream that required relentless hard work will appreciate. Unfortunately, because of the team concept, this movie must deal with an ensemble of kids on the team, and is never able to really build an emotional portrait of any of them to a satisfying depth. That is the problem with ensemble “team” pieces, there just isn’t enough time to develop character arcs appropriately. Plus, the nature of coach Brooks is that he was their coach not their friend, so he simply couldn’t get close to the kids, which made it difficult to develop satisfying dramatic relationships. But the weaknesses are more than made up for in the strengths of this pro-America, pro-family, pro-team story.

In America

Recommended. Written and directed by Jim Sheridan with his daughters, this film, part autobiography, is about an Irish immigrant family coming to New York in the 1970s to try to make a living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. It’s a very touching story of family and love and overcoming prejudice. The parents struggle with the loss of their baby boy in an accident. The father has taken it the hardest. He loses his faith in God, and his ability to smile, as well as his heart to act (He’s an actor trying to get work, and keeps losing auditions because of his inability to act “from the heart”). The story chronicles his rediscovery of these vital elements of life through his daughter’s and a fellow neighbor’s zest for life. It was a very spiritual story, though subtle.

The Butterfly Effect

Not Really Recommended. An interesting take on the Chaos theory notion that the smallest change in a sequence can result in major ramifications down the road. The example often quoted by Chaos theoreticians: A butterfly flapping its wings can result in a hurricane on the other side of the world. This movie is a strong embodiment of that idea with a corresponding caution about man’s inability to control his destiny. Ashton Kutcher plays Evan, a young man who discovers an ability to travel back in time through reading his journals written throughout his troubled early life. He starts to go back in time in order to right some wrongs and save people he loves, only to result in either worse lives for them or for others around them. A problem I had with it is that the storytellers gave him such a harsh and dysfunctional family and neighborhood that it was hard to believe. A local pedophile child-abuser with a son who becomes a killer and a daughter who is ruined psychologically is technically feasible, but it just all seemed too extreme to relate to, it caused a disconnect in my suspension of disbelief. I liked the multidimensional display of how child abuse destroys people in different ways, no matter what single thing you may try to change. As Evan goes back to change specific events in his friend’s lives, he realizes that there are so many other events that he could not anticipate, and we see those results with each new “universe” he embarks down. It’s a great idea but not a great movie. Secondly, the story was very casual about sexual promiscuity in the lead characters. It is interesting to note that the storytellers had no clue about the fact that the fornication they celebrate in the “good versions” of the characters’ lives, is just as linked, in reality, to dysfunctional values, experiences, and poor choices as every other dysfunction in the movie. In some ways, the most destructive dysfunctions of all are those which are not even considered problematic, the ones that are assumed as good by society, and then cause the turmoil in people’s hearts when they can’t understand why their lives are so broken or empty. As C.S. Lewis said, “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.” One strong moral component that I thought was a missed opportunity was that in one of the “many worlds” that Evan “creates,” all his friends are happy and well-adjusted, but HE is a quadrapalegic. He decides to kill himself because he is afraid of going back and messing it all up again. But this is an act of self-pity, not heroism. Okay, that would be a first reaction, but why couldn’t he have come to the conclusion that he must suffer for the sake of other’s happiness, and bear up under life’s trials? That would have been profound. Instead the filmmakers chose to have Evan discover that his mother turns out to be the one who is suffering, which justifies going back one more time to try to save her as well. The Butterfly Effect is a great idea, but not a great movie.

Along Came Polly

Not Recommended. This is a story about a neurotic control clean freak, played by Ben Stiller who falls for loosey goosey freebird Polly, played by Jennifer Anniston, after his new wife leaves him on the first day of their honeymoon for a scuba diving instructor. This Farrelly Brothers wannabe is loaded with a lot of very interesting quirky characters with a lot of laughs, but never quite measures up to the masters of quirk. Ben is obsessed with hygiene, Polly is so absent-minded, she forgets why she calls Ben in the middle of discussions. Ben’s boss, played with a hearty humor by Alex Baldwin, is a crude yet lovable no-nonsense New Yorker. And Ben’s friend, played hilariously by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is a self-obsessed has-been actor. Some funny moments in this pic, but there are some major problems with it. First, the movie is set up as a typical romantic comedy, so the excessive potty humor jars it out of its genre. It’s sortofa confusion between gross out and traditional romance. But that could be simply my personal taste. The major problem with the movie is in the character. Polly, the love interest in Ben’s story, is not ultimately a desirable catch. The storytellers give us no depth or complexity to her character other than one small reference to the fact that her father lived a double life with a second family in another city. But she has no character arc, she learns nothing in the process, she is commitment-phobic and ends commitment phobic, without any personal growth. She has no real special traits that make her sympathetic or desirable. Her dominant trait is her wild risk-taking, which considering the source of it, is not really a virtue, though it is portrayed as such. In short, she is really an uninteresting person and an undesirable partner to pursue, which makes the film unsatisfying.

Calendar Girls

Hard to recommend. This is another movie that has some wonderful character moments, great lines, real humanity to it, even some fine subthemes about compassion and character, but suffers the problem of pragmatic morality, a spiritually heinous deception. It’s a true story about some elderly women in the Women’s Institute in North Yorkshire, England, who take their clothes off in order to raise funds for a hospital in memory of a husband who dies of cancer. Simple as that, the whole story plays extremely well on the irony of women who are otherwise past their prime, and past relevancy in the modern world. But this story brings out their beauty, character and value as each one struggles with overcoming this stigma. According to the deceased man, “the Women of Yorkshire are like the flowers of Yorkshire. Their last stages are more beautiful than their first. — And then they go to seed.” It’s a compelling tale that focuses on two women who struggle with their friendship, newfound fame and truly helping people vs. personal glory. All good themes. What happens is that the women make the calendar, a monthly display of the mature women in their gardens and kitchens in the nude, (not naked!), to raise money to actually do some good, which the organization has a reputation for, but little experience in. The calendar is “tastefully” done without showing privates, and the scenes are also humorous without exploiting. What happens is that it becomes a surprise megahit, going all the way to Hollywood, that ultimately raises half a million pounds for cancer research. So the central premise of this movie is that it is okay to violate public norms of decency if it is for a good cause. In other words, the ends justifies the means. Pragmatic morality. The brilliance of drama is that through humor and universal identification with lovable characters, the average person will see this and figure, “yeah, hey, it wasn’t skanky, and they did it for good, so what the hey?” And that is the diabolical brilliance of pragmatic morality. It addresses the moral tension of two opposing values by pulling the heartstrings in order to divert attention from one of the values. The real evil of pragmatic morality is not understood until one takes it to the logical conclusion: If the ends justify the means, then it is okay to kill poor people to get rid of poverty. “Outrageous!” would be the response of most people. “Why that doesn’t justify killing people!” Ah, but if the ends justify the means, then it does. The second you start putting moral obligation onto the means and judging it, you have just admitted that both means AND ends should be morally judged, so one does not justify the other. And if you apply morality to some means and not to others, then you are being arbitrary or prejudicial, which is the deathknell of your ethic. The bottom line is that both ends and means are accountable to morality, and therefore, one cannot justify public nudity because “it accomplishes some good.” Public nudity is right or wrong whether or not it accomplishes good.

Lost in Translation

Dramatically recommended, but not morally. This is the sleeper indie film of the year. A real milestone for Sofia Coppola, coming into her own as a writer-director. Great dialogue, great acting, humorous understated moments, and poignant cultural insights about people’s alienation and search for human connection. Just bad morals. The story is about a has-been 50-year old film star and a newly married young woman making a human connection in the midst of great alienation. Bill Murray is the bored celebrity, Bob Harris, boringly married 25 years, who has to do some whiskey commercials for a week or so in Tokyo and Scarlett Johansson is Charlotte, a young woman, married two years to an entertainment photographer who is on assignment in Tokyo as well – and much too busy to spend real time with his beloved. Well, Bob and Charlotte meet in the hotel bar and strike up a friendship based on mutual alienation from the world around them. Everything in this movie very creatively communicates our alienation and our desire yet inability to “translate” or make real human connection with other people. Some of it is very amusing, and all of it is tragically poignant and true. Murray trying to understand the directions of his Japanese commercial director, who speaks for 30 seconds but is translated into a few English words; the differences of East and West culture; and even the tendency toward alienation in marriage. Charlotte’s husband’s world is vain emptiness as we meet one of the actresses he has photographed and her empty-headed shallow lifestyle. Bob is visited by a prostitute who is sent by the Whiskey company, who mistakenly thinks he wants or needs one. She can’t speak English so she plays a role of “being forced upon” all the while not realizing that Bob really doesn’t want to have sex with her. The whole lack of human connection in prostitution or anonymous sex is really spelled out well here. The movie does drag out a couple times with some overlong sequences that tend to bore. For instance, there is a karaoke sequence that is, oh I don’t know, about 5 minutes long or so, and it could have been a mere 30 seconds. Instead they croon on and on, singing their songs, long after the funny point has been made about the shallow false human connection we have with our own entertainment. Bob’s removal from so much of the shallowness and insanity around him is revealed in a great line when he says to Charlotte, “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less things upset you.”

Interesting that this is Scarlett’s second movie this year about intimacy without sexuality, the other one being Girl With A Pearl Earring (see my 2003 movie blog). I have to say that for all the clever moments, and all the great writing and acting, etc, this movie is unfortunately a story that celebrates emotional adultery. The very clever and unique thing is that the lead characters never consummate their relationship with sexual intercourse, and so the sexual tension is the essence of the subtext throughout. Of course, this is only a tension because we are brainwashed in our Romanticized humanistic entertainment culture into thinking that a deep connection must lead to sexuality, that the ultimate human contact is the sexual love of another person. Not necessarily true. But unfortunately, this story is a celebration of a human connection that is made in the midst of great loneliness and alienation. The bad thing is that this connection is not shown to be illicit, but redeeming. As the characters share their experience with one another, they find a connection that neither of them have with their spouses. Bob’s marriage of 25 years has degenerated into mere function, raising kids and being a father with an unromantic relationship with his wife. They don’t talk about missing one another, but about what color should he pick for the carpeting in his new home office. At one point, his wife senses he is experiencing the mid-life crisis when he says he wants to eat more healthy and be more healthy (the typical response of a man who has a newly discovered lust, I mean “love”). She asks him, “Should I be worried about you?” He replies, “Only if you want to.” He is so desperate for intimacy, and yet she glosses right over it by pointing out that his kids miss their “Father,” with an emphasis on that word “father,” stressing his moral responsibility. No mention of HER MISSING HIM. She stresses moral obligation over emotion, which is empty. This story is another “follow your heart over do the right thing.” Feelings over morality. Charlotte’s husband is insensitive and a workaholic, which also is a rationalization for her emotional infidelity. After they go through their experiences and fail to sleep together, Bob is on his way to the airport home, never to see Charlotte again. The tension of them wanting to be with each other is at its apex. Bob sees Charlotte walking down the street and stops his car, runs to her and shares an intimate kiss and whisper that we as the audience cannot hear. They then leave each other and there is a sense of satisfaction, of that verbalization of what they were both suppressing the whole story, and not really saying. They make the human connection. One almost has the impression that it gives hope for the future. Deliberately ambiguous to keep some openness, but the connection is definitely made, and it is a connection outside of their marriages, rather than a revelation pointing them back to their marriages. It is adultery of the heart, which Jesus said is just as serious to God as physical adultery. But rather than Charlotte’s and Bob’s experience leading to an appreciation and celebration or redemption of their own marriages, their “connection” turns out to be their little secret with one another that they cherish outside of their marriages. This is the Romantic humanistic selfish worldview, the easy way out. Rather than working hard and fixing your marriage, rather than “do the right thing,” the story suggests “follow your heart” and find connection elsewhere. These kind of movies miss the heart of what real love and intimacy is all about, changing one’s self through interdependency with another. Real love is often painful, because real love is as much about becoming a better person as it is making a human connection. Real intimacy and love reveals one’s selfishness and forces you to change yourself. Lost in Translation is wasted potential. An almost-great movie.

American Splendor

Ambivalent Recommendation. This is an interesting movie based on the real life, below average existence of pessimist Harvey Pekar, a file clerk who became a comic book legend (along with a couple of his coworkers). The movie is done with some very creative self-reflective storytelling. Though the film is a dramatic narrative, there is an occasional cutaway to the real Harvey Pekar in documentary style self-reference, commenting on the movie and interacting with the actors. Harvey even comments on how the actor playing him doesn’t really look like him (he actually does). The premise is the premise of the comicbook, namely that Harvey is inspired by his hum drum existence and pessimistic perspective to make a comic book about “real” life, about the insanity of normalcy, to combat the unrealistic flights of fancy that most people read about in comics (and the movies in this case). His mantra throughout is that people need to face “reality” and stop living in dream worlds. Interesting though that the film is self-aware that it is NOT reality with its documentary anecdotes and the comicbook style cinematography. Harvey gets cancer and we go through this part of his life as well, the “reality” of it being edited down to brief references. And that is the central deceit of “realism.” Whose “reality” is reality? To suggest that one’s own perceptions and interpretations of reality (Harvey’s being pessimistic) are the center of the universe, the “true reality” that others are missing, is perhaps the most ignorant and unreal self-absorbed arrogance. To claim privilege of perception is the prerogative of deity. So realism is actually more akin to original sin: pride. A better story would be for Harvey to grow up and realize that maybe there is a “reality” outside of his perception and negativity. That indeed, HE is the one who is blind to a world of possibilities outside of himself. It’s a fallen world, yes, but it is fallen splendor, a world created by God as “good,” with much pain, but much beauty. Wake up, Harvey. You’re in the Matrix.

Cheaper By the Dozen

Recommended. This is a wonderful comedy about a big family that elevates family as more important than career and personal ambition. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt play the fun-loving parents of twelve kids, who manage to maintain a controlled chaos. When Steve gets the job opportunity of a lifetime, to coach his old alma mater football team, the family moves, against the wishes of the kids, out of their rural life into Evanston Illinois. The tension is magnified when Bonnie has to leave for a couple weeks for a book tour for her surprise hit sale of a book to a major publishing house. Ironically, the book is called Cheaper by the Dozen. So Steve has to watch the kids right in the middle of important new job responsibilities. His job dictates more and more time away, until the home falls apart because he is not there as much as he needs to be. He ultimately chooses his family over career. I must say that big families will love this film, but I gotta say that with all the laughs, about half way through I started thinking that I certainly would not. But I loved it just the same for it’s goodness and wholesome view of life. Lovable realistic kids with problems and issues. But they all draw together in times of need.