Archive for July, 2008

The X-Files: I Want To Believe
Monsters In A Box

“I’m cursing God for all these cruelties,” Scully says, recounting the facts of the medical case she’s supervising. Mulder urges her off to sleep, advising, “Let me curse God for a while.” Meanwhile, Mulder’s investigation literally summons up the Apostle Paul’s observation that, as we walk through this life, we only see “as through a glass darkly.” It’s potentially heady stuff, and The X-Files: I Want To Believe aims right up there with some of my favorite thematic content from the show’s early seasons. But too often, Carter’s script jumps off into narrative conveniences that break the dramatic tension. “Trust being what it is,” as Mulder observes, don’t expect too much of anyone… or any movie. The spookiness here is too tightly leashed.


State of the Art
All Digital, Or All Dinosaur?

In 1970, United Theaters opened the original Southcenter theater—the last 70mm Cinerama-capable single-auditorium moviehouse built in the United States. It seated over 1200, and featured a sloped floor and an 88 by 32-foot curved screen. I specifically remember waiting in line years later to see Raiders of the Lost Ark during my second college summer break. The theater was actually too state-of-the-art, and had trouble finding films big enough to grace its enormous screen; it was demolished in 2002. Thanks to AMC Entertainment, Southcenter now has a new multiplex, the AMC Southcenter 16. So what does state-of-the-art mean these days? 100% digital projection. This theater couldn’t screen a 35mm print if it wanted to… because there are no film projectors!


The Stone Angel
Clichés Transcended, Hearts Transformed

This is no simple tale of familial favoritism: it’s truly an epic tale of biblical proportions, offering insight into the kinds of rifts that tear nations apart even after five thousand years—and into the kind of spiritual healing that’s free for the taking, if only we can get past the stammering impotence of God’s servants long enough to hear the haunting beauty that calls to us through the Gospel. One of the prophetic voices of the Old Testament promised that the Messiah would turn hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. If you let it, The Stone Angel might just do for you what very real, flesh-and-blood, pot-smoking and Bible-wielding angels manage to do for Hagar.


Brideshead Revisited
Well Worth the Cinematic Treatment

Brideshead Revisited is a powerful primer on English social, religious, educational, and relational customs of the period between the world wars. The film is full of rich themes which are explored within the lives and contexts of the main characters, with a glimpse of profound observation occasionally contributed by a supporting character. Among the themes of Brideshead Revisited are: the capriciousness of love, which falls upon whom it will and in varying forms; adultery; homosexuality; Catholicism; atheism; relationships between parents and children; alcoholism; class and place in society; guilt; sin; and redemption of a strange sort. I can see no reason that anyone should walk away from this movie without something to think about or discuss.


CSNY Déjà Vu
No Gentle Going This Time Around

The film follows the band to concerts and political rallies, and exhorts you to feel the loss of the Iraqi war—and our responsibility to do something about status quo-living here in the good ol’ USA. Love your country enough to change it, so to speak. The most interesting part of the film (and the only real conservative voice) comes from an Atlanta concert when the band breaks into “Let’s Impeach the President.” The previous appreciative crowd began to turn on CSNY, and the chorus of boos becomes obvious. Much of the fan reaction is disgust, disappointment, and—for some—rage in the likeness of Tourette’s Syndrome. If you are a CSNY fan and want to see some good new and old mixes—and can put away your political badge—then this film is for you. However, if you are a card-carrying Republican, born on the 4th of July, this film will only anger you.


Step Brothers
Both Steps Are Doozies

Step Brothers is a step-up from Ferrell’s earlier basketball comedy Semi-Pro, mostly because Reilly’s presence gives Ferrell someone with whom he can share the insanity. After all, Ferrell’s antics may be funny; but by themselves they can be a bit overwhelming for an audience. The film’s first half is full of enough laughs to keep it going, but it really loses focus in the final act when Dale and Brennan must go through their inevitable character transitions. After all, even a Will Ferrell character needs an arc. Unfortunately, here the transition is so sudden, unbelievable, and hokey that it just doesn’t fly. Perhaps more importantly, there’s just not much humor in it. As usual, Ferrell is completely fearless and willing to go to any extreme to mine some comedy. But, honestly, there are certain parts of his anatomy that I just don’t want to see. I’m okay with nudity on screen—male or female—when it’s done skillfully and effectively, but in this case it’s just plain disturbing.


The Dark Knight
Entertainment As A Gloved Fist

At the core of The Dark Knight is Harvey Dent’s observation that you “either die a hero or you live long enough to become a villain.” It’s a mantra that even Bruce Wayne sees the sense in. Already dancing on the precarious edge of vigilante justice motivated by first-strike pragmatism, Batman runs into a new kind of seemingly motive-less killer/terrorist in The Joker. And what happens when Wayne comes up against that point? Well, he takes actions remarkably similar to unconstitutional wiretapping and torture. Sadly, all of the fine performances (including Aaron Eckhart’s) become irrelevant to yet another summer blockbuster effects and mayhem extravaganza. It’s a pity, too, because (like At World’s End last summer) this is a film that will bear up under repeated viewing… if you are willing to feel bludgeoned by your entertainment.


Space Chimps
Sometimes, It's Fun To Be A Kid

Space Chimps is a fun movie, even though I expected far less than the film actually delivered. The creatures are none too scary, and the good guys—the chimps as well as the friends they acquire while on their mission—are, admittedly, pretty cute. Several positive themes and lessons are woven into the movie as well: friendship, self-sacrifice, and mutual understanding, in addition to numerous others. Another important message within Space Chimps is that none of us is immune from taking advantage of those weaker than ourselves—a clear and gentle reminder for each of us. This is one of those rare occasions where a simplistic story is at least entertaining enough to keep adults interested.


Mamma Mia!
A Breath of Fresh Broadway Air

This is a musical that happened to be filmed on location. The actors do have to act also, but its remarkable how well the Abba songs fit in and contribute to the narrative. The biggest struggle I had with the film in general was the fact I wasn’t familiar with the stage musical that came before it. I don’t mean to suggest that you need to know the material to enjoy it, but it did leave me floundering at first because I wasn’t sure how serious I was supposed to take things. The answer I think proves to be: not very serious at all. Mamma Mia! is fun, light-hearted fare that is most often delivered with tongue firmly in cheek. Once I figured that out I was able to settle in and enjoy the experience along with the very enthusiastic and vocal screening audience.


Alexandra
Russians Do Dour, Too

What might intrigue you is to know that prize-winning director Aleksandr Sokurov makes this film in classic old-school fashion, employing techniques straight from films you might have seen replayed on late-night TV in 1968. In this regard, Alexandra is pleasantly evocative of many a classic World War II film—and I think that’s partly Sokurov’s point. He wants to summon up both the mythos of war films and the grungy reality of contemporary police actions like Chechnya and Iraq. He wants us to see the ways in which we’re really still playing the games we played as children, games inspired by, say, Howard Hawks or John Wayne. And it’s a point well taken, if not a film particularly compellingly made. But by the time the translated line there are limits to one’s patience appeared on the screen, I found myself agreeing heartily.


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