The Magdelene Sisters

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.

Mystic River

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.

Intolerable Cruelty

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.

Kill Bill

NOT RECOMMENDED. This vile piece of trash has pretty much convinced me to stop watching Tarantino films. Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece of cinema, which I’ll explain why in a second. But with his last two films, Jackie Brown and now Kill Bill, we now see that Tarantino, rather than being a profound revealer of postmodern reality, turns out to be merely the tragic incarnation of the worst that postmodernism has to offer us. 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. He seems more an incarnation of bad art than an original artist who has “rediscovered” the past. To be truly postmodern is to be truly imitation style without substance or context, without purpose or meaning. That is why Pulp Fiction works and his last two movies do not. Because the pomo bricolage that is Pulp Fiction is subordinated and contextualized by the Christian redemption of the character Jules. The vanity and meaninglessness of the kitsche of the other stories takes on meaning and becomes profound when contrasted by the transcendance of God’s sovereignty. And that is really what saves Jules, isn’t it? His redemption lies in his recognition of the transcendent God of the Bible as bringing purpose and meaning to his existence. I believe that this Christian redemption is what gives the depth and profundity to Pulp Fiction that people respond to with their souls, and that what makes it a classic masterpiece. No doubt, Tarantino is not a Christian but was merely playing with what was to him, another bizarre quirky viewpoint, a leftover of the “Jesus Freak” movement from the same 70s era he so lovingly embraces, thus making Pulp Fiction an unintended masterpiece. This lack of spiritual transcendence in his other films reveal them to be what they really are, just empty imitation of style without substance, without meaning or purpose. Oh, vanity of vanities…

I must admit the camerawork in Bill is fantastic and magical. Everything else is terrible. It’s WAYYY TOOO LOOOONG, and it’s only the first half!! No story at all, just a string of revenge fight sequences, punctuated by a confusing cacophany of title cards “Two days later,” “six months earlier,” “13 hours later” and on and on. And terrible dialogue. I have never seen the “F” word used more poorly than in this movie. I think the “F” word is entirely appropriate if used right, but here, the characters sound like teenagers TRYING to swear than really swearing. It’s all too forced and overwrought. Even the fight sequences were grotesque with limbs cutting off and blood spewing out like a Monty Python gag. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know he’s trying to be comic book and give his “homage” to Oriental kung fu movies yada yada yada. But this is just a gore fest that is repugnant and in my big mouthed opinion, inappropriate. And you know, I’m not merely speaking from a “moralistic” perspective. I mean this from a storytelling one, too. These long bloodbath sequences get very boring very quickly because there is nothing left to imagination and it’s very repetitious. I mean, I wanted to leave after 10 minutes from total disinterest, but I came with a friend and didn’t want to place him in a dilemma. Plus, I wanted to be able to justify my comments to those who would throw the nasty accusation that “you can’t criticize the movie if you haven’t seen it.” Okay, I seen it. And it stunk. Satisfied? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was great with its sword fight scenes all looking like operatic ballets, Gladiator was brilliant in capturing the vicious ancient Roman Empire and culture, Braveheart is one of the best movies of all time, so I am not against a good sword fight movie, just do it with class or something, will you? Good grief. I am sorry, but I don’t buy the “Grand Guignol” rationalization of exploitative violence as artistic catharthis. Poppycock. Bunk. Balderdash and bullpuckey. Let’s call it what it really is, shall we?: naked adolescent fixation on cruelty. Now, should I tell you what I REALLY think? ☺

Secondhand Lions

Recommend, but beware. This is a wonderful sappy, humorous little story about a young introverted kid (Haley Joel Osment) left one summer on the porch of his eccentric great-uncles (Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) by his irresponsible mother. The uncles are hermit types who don’t like being around people and there is speculation that they have a secret fortune stolen from AL Capone hidden somewhere. The kid reignites their lives and they bring fascinating fantasy to his. Duvall steals the show again, as always. Worth it just to watch him. So the uncle played by Caine ends up entertaining the kid with stories about he and Duvall’s Indian Jones like adventures during the war. The tales are told and visually shown precisely like an Indiana Jones story, very romantic, with the love of a princess and fighting Arabs and all that. And Duvall is supposed to have been the adventurer. The moral of the story comes from Duvall when he tells the kid in relation to his life stories and the Romantic exaggeration, “It don’t matter if it’s true or not. Sometimes, you just gotta believe in some things like courage and honor cause that’s what it’s all about.” Or something like that. Anyway, that’s the postmodern twist in the movie that is subversive. Truth is not important, just values. This brings up the problematic question of “which values then?” If none are really true, then lies are equal to truth. While I would certainly agree that a fictional story can tell just as much truth as a true one, that should not justify lying. There is something more special about a story having really taken place that reinforces the value in a way that fiction cannot do. It’s why “true story” movies are more deeply moving to us – because it really happened, and therefore is invested with a bit more meaning than simply making something up to make a point. A perfect example of this is the Christian faith. The Bible says that if Jesus DID NOT really rise from the dead, then we are all still dead in our sins and without any hope, the Christians being the most to be pitied because they followed a lie. Lookee here:

1 Corinthians 15: 14 and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. 15 Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.

So some truth really is based in factual historical occurrences, which, if they did not really happen, would falsify the narrative’s values as well. So it DOES matter to tell the truth. The ends DO NOT justify the means. Lies are not justified just because the values it teaches are “good.” As it so happens, the movie hints at the end that the stories are in fact, true, as we see the son of the Arab enemy turned ally arrive on a helicopter to meet the old geezers. But this is really a throw away because the point was already made that the values were most important, not the facts, and the fact that the stories supposedly really happened is merely icing on the cake. Another subversive element of the film is the context. Is it merely a coincidence that in this movie TWO MEN are portrayed as more capable of raising a child well than a “traditional mother” with a husband? It strikes me a bit like “Heather Has Two Mommies” or “Daddy’s Roommate” as a subversion of traditional family structure, I hope that was unintended, but I tend to doubt it.