Category Archive 'Film Reviews'
11 Dec 2008

“Klaatu Barada Nikto” To You, Too

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Clara Moskowitz describes how Hollywood updates message Sci Fi cinema. In the end, audiences will find that Keanu Reeves is no Michael Rennie.

If aliens ever visit Earth, they’ll be coming to reprimand us for bad behavior.

That’s the premise of the 1951 classic sci-fi film “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” as well as the brand-new Fox remake of the same name, in theaters Friday. In the intervening 50 years, humanity hasn’t gotten any better, the filmmakers seem to conclude — we’ve just switched to new transgressions.

In the mid 20th century our most pressing concern about ourselves was the threat of humans annihilating each other with nuclear weapons. The original film follows Klaatu, a human-looking alien who comes to Earth with his bodyguard robot Gort, to warn people to cease and desist with the nukes before we contaminate the rest of the Galaxy with them.

The new version of the film focuses on a more contemporary preoccupation: the threat of climate change and environmental degradation. The new Klaatu, played by Keanu Reeves, couldn’t care less if we blew ourselves to bits, but would we mind not taking out the rest of the species on Earth, as well as our rare habitable planet, with us? ..

..It falls to astrobiologist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (Jayden Smith, son of Will Smith) to convince Klaatu that humans aren’t beyond redemption, that we really can change our gas-guzzling, trash-dumping ways.

“In re-imagining this picture, we had an opportunity to capture a real kind of angst that people are living with today, a very present concern that the way we are living may have disastrous consequences for the planet,” (deep-thinker Keanu) Reeves said. “I feel like this movie is responding to those anxieties. It’s holding a mirror up to our relationship with nature and asking us to look at our impact on the planet, for the survival of our species and others.”

In a sign of its own commitment to change, Fox designated “The Day the Earth Stood Still”as its first “green” production. Though some trees were doubtless harmed in the making of this film, the studio endeavored to produce the picture with the smallest possible environmental impact. That meant less paper printing of photo stills for the art department, the use of recyclable materials and biodegradable products to create sets and props, and lumber from sustainably-managed forests.

The studio even enforced an “idle-free mandate,” whereby any member of the crew sitting in a production vehicle for more than three minutes had to cut the engine rather than idle while waiting.

In another grand gesture, Fox plans to transmit the entire film into space on Friday via dish antenna through the Orlando, Fla.-based Deep Space Communications Network firm. In what the studio is calling “the world’s first galactic motion picture release,” the movie will be broadcast in the direction of the closest star system, Alpha Centauri, where eager aliens waiting with popcorn could view it by 2012, when the signal arrives.

Some might suggest that physically transmitting the complete set of distribution prints into deep space would be even better.

0:21 video

30 Jul 2008

Yes, Batman is George W. Bush, Says Melbourne Herald-Sun

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Andrew Bolt, in the Melbourne Herald-Sun, agrees with Andrew Klavan: Batman is George W. Bush.

Ironically, Hollywood has found a way to smash box office records which it is not going to like: well-executed action movies with conservative themes. Pity that John Wayne is gone.

Finally Hollywood makes a film that says President George W Bush was right.

But director Christopher Nolan had to disguise it a little, so journalists wouldn’t freak and the film’s more fashionable stars wouldn’t walk.

So he hides Bush in a cape. He even sticks a mask on him, with pointy ears for some reason.

Sure, when the terrified citizens of Gotham City scream for Bush to come save them, Nolan has them shine a great W in the night sky, but he blurs it so it looks more like a bird.

Or a bat, perhaps.

And he has them call their hero not Mr Bush, of course, or even “Mr President”, but . . . Batman.

And what do you know.

Bush may be one of the most despised presidents in American history, but this movie of his struggle is now smashing all box-office records.

Critics weep, audiences swoon – and suddenly the world sees Bush’s agonising dilemma and sympathises with what it had been taught so long to despise.

Well, “taught” isn’t actually the exact word.

As this superb Batman retelling, The Dark Knight, makes clear, its subject is a weakness that runs instinctively through us – to hate a hero who, in saving us, exposes our fears, prods our weaknesses, calls from us more than we want to give, or can.

And how we resent a hero who must shake our world in order to save it, or brings alive that maxim of George Orwell that so implicates us in our preening piety: “Good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

27 Jul 2008

Batman’s Secret Identity Revealed in WSJ

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Novelist Andrew Klavan dispels the rumors long swirling about eccentric billionaire Bruce Wayne, and explains that Batman is really none other than George W. Bush.

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history ($311+ million in 10 days), is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

“The Dark Knight,” then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year’s “300,” “The Dark Knight” is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.

Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror — films like “In The Valley of Elah,” “Rendition” and “Redacted” — which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense — values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right — only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia,” “Spiderman 3” and now “The Dark Knight”?

The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?

The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of “The Dark Knight” itself: Doing what’s right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified.

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They’re wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don’t always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them — when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, “He has to run away — because we have to chase him.”

Alfred the Butler (Michael Caine) explains that it’s impossible to deal rationally with some villains like a Burmese war lord he encountered in his British army days, who simply threw away his loot, and returned to his hideout in a vast and impenetrable forest after a sanguinary raid.

Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. Some just want to watch the world burn.

“What did you do?” asks Batman. “We burned down the entire forest.” Alfred replies.

05 Jul 2008

Wanted (2008)

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Anthony Lane, in the New Yorker, does a fine job of explicating the semiotics of Timur Bekmambetov’s (Khazakstan’s contribution to world cinema) first Hollywood production.

Anybody who sits through “Wanted,” Bekmambetov’s new movie, will be tempted to wonder if the life style of the characters might not reflect or rub off on that of the director. How, for example, does he make a cup of coffee? My best guess, based on the evidence of the film, is that he tosses a handful of beans toward the ceiling, shoots them individually into a fine powder, leaves it hanging in the air, runs downstairs, breaks open a fire hydrant with his head, carefully directs the jet of water through the window of his apartment, sets fire to the building, then stands patiently with his mug amid the blazing ruins to collect the precious percolated drops. Don’t even think about a cappuccino. …

Ms. Jolie is, I am pleased to report, in splendid form. Watch her as she runs along the top of a speeding train and, approaching a tunnel, lies back like a sunbather and lets the roof of it swoosh over her, basking in the satisfaction of a near-miss and, by extension, in the world’s unflagging worship of her cool.

29 Nov 2007

Beowulf Meets the 21st-Century Guilt Trip

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Stephen T. Asma provides an agreeably erudite assessment of the new Robert Zemeckis film Beowulf in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Beowulf seems to join the ranks of other recent films that champion pre-Christian masculine virtues. History-based blockbuster hits like Zach Snyder and Frank Miller’s film 300 (about the battle of Thermopylae) or HBO’s series Rome, are unapologetic celebrations of macho competence. The popularity of these pseudohistorical films took many media pundits by surprise, but the audiences who felt the testosterone buzz from the hero stories (myself included) were not surprised in the least. And the experience is not just the visceral Freudian holiday of aggression that one finds in inferior action and slasher pictures. Rather, there is a distinct sympathy for honor culture in these films — brute strength, tribal loyalty, and stoic courage actually get things done.

Academe finds all this loathsome and backward, and, of course, our liberal culture is ostensibly opposed to the social hierarchies, patriarchy, and chauvinism of older honor cultures. But narratives and representations about heroic strength (even flawed and misdirected) remain deeply satisfying for many people. …

the Zemeckis film has found a way to have its cake and eat it too. At one level, our reptilian brain gets to thoroughly enjoy the triumphant ass-kicking of a take-charge hero, but up in our neocortex we pay our penance for this thrill by morally condemning the protagonist — scolding Beowulf and ourselves for the momentary power trip.

Beowulf might survive Grendel. But in going up against the 21st-century guilt trip, he may have met his match.

One observation: Asma does notes that:

The film cleverly ties Beowulf’s final monster fight to the earlier episodes with Grendel and his mother (something the original fails to do). By transforming Grendel’s mother into a femme fatale seductress, they’ve found a way simultaneously to further demonstrate Beowulf’s flaws, give the female lead more dimensionality (albeit uncharitably), and connect the denouement to the earlier story.

But Asma fails to observe that Christian and medieval myth elements have been, in the film, skillfully interwoven to fill out the original poem’s plot. Grendel’s mother has been made into an aquatic faery, a treacherous and seductive Melusine, bent upon tricking the mortal hero into a degrading intercourse productive of his own flawed offspring and Nemesis. The human hero is thus forced, in the end, to fight against (and inevitably to be destroyed by) his own sin.


Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

28 Sep 2007

Liberals Fantasize of Violence

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Kyle Smith in the Wall Street Journal discusses the recent Jodie Foster remake of Death Wish (1974).

What has come over liberals? Suddenly they’ve turned bloodthirsty. And they’re not just lobbing “Daily Show” coffee mugs or brandishing the rusty business end of their DEAN 2004 campaign pins. Liberals are locked, loaded and licensed to kill–at the movies.

The new Jodie Foster film, “The Brave One,” is the latest in a string of left-wing Bush-era movies about violence. These films–which range from popcorn flicks (the “X-Men” series, “The Hills Have Eyes 2”) to more ambitious works and Oscar nominees (“A History of Violence,” “V for Vendetta,” “Munich,” “Blood Diamond”)–so deeply entangle killing with liberal idealism, though, that at times their scripts are as muddled as EEOC directives or U.N. rules of engagement. For all of the critical acclaim that attended most of these films, few are as effective as “Dirty Harry” or “Death Wish.”

In “The Brave One,” for instance, possibly the first vigilante movie to feature a Sarah McLachlan soundtrack, a New York radio personality (Jodie Foster) specializes in monologues about the sounds of the city. She speaks with a maximum of NPR narcoleptic condescension, chewing each syllable of her airy drivel (“Are we going to have to construct an imaginary city to house our memories?”) as if reading to a toddler out of “My First Book of Cultural Anthropology.” Strangely, however, she is not the bad guy.

After her fiancé (apparently a Briton of Indian descent) gets killed when both of them are jumped by vicious white youths, Ms. Foster’s character spends weeks in a coma. One of her first remarks when she wakes up is directed at some white cops: “You’re the good guys. How come it doesn’t feel like that?” Shattered, she helps regain her poise with the aid of a black cop (Terrence Howard) and a saintly black woman friend. Meanwhile, in addition to the murderous gang of white kids, another villain emerges: a white businessman who owns parking garages.

This is more a checklist than a plausible plot, particularly when Ms. Foster’s character goes on a “Death Wish”-style rampage that requires the New York of 2007 to be portrayed as a place where you’re liable to witness a shooting every time you walk into a deli for a pack of gum. Nevertheless, she takes action, sometimes in self-defense but also by launching a pre-emptive, non-U.N.-sanctioned war against big-city thuggery. Behind her she leaves a trail of surprised-looking corpses, the audience cheering each one.

How can this be, since liberals renounce violence, even when directed against antlered pests or convicted serial killers, and greeted Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s crackdown on crime with, at best, sullen silence? The movie lets its heroine off the hook by implying that victim status has left her without control of herself, a notion she articulates with more NPR-speak (“inside you there is a stranger, one that has your arms, your legs, your eyes–a sleepless, restless stranger”).

This paper’s movie critic, Joe Morgenstern, derided that element as “modern-day Jekyll and Hydeism,” but it dovetails with two favorite liberal habits: to follow the psychological chain of causation behind a crime so far back that responsibility disappears in a blurry landscape of greater evil, and to maintain a fig-leaf of deniability for lawless actions.

Read the whole thing.

The film’s star, Jodie Foster, editorializes with the same profundity characteristic of many members of her profession:

Entertainment Weekly: What do you think is the larger social commentary of The Brave One, which in some ways plays as a straight-up Dirty Harry revenge movie?

Here’s my commentary: I don’t believe that any gun should be in the hand of a thinking, feeling, breathing human being. Americans are by nature filled with rage-slash-fear. And guns are a huge part of our culture. I know I’m crazy because I’m only supposed to say that in Europe. But violence corrupts absolutely. By the end of this, her transformation is complete. ”F— all of you, now I’m just going to kill people with my bare hands.”

19 May 2007

Not Until November

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The new Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men (2007), showing at the Cannes Film Festival, is reviewed by Todd McCarthy in Variety. We won’t get to see it until next November 21th.

A scorching blast of tense genre filmmaking shot through with rich veins of melancholy, down-home philosophy and dark, dark humor, “No Country for Old Men” reps a superior match of source material and filmmaking talent. Cormac McCarthy’s bracing and brilliant novel is gold for the Coen brothers, who have handled it respectfully but not slavishly, using its built-in cinematic values while cutting for brevity and infusing it with their own touch. Result is one of the their very best films, a bloody classic of its type destined for acclaim and potentially robust B.O. returns upon release later in the year.

Reduced to its barest bones, the story, set in 1980, is a familiar one of a busted drug deal and the violent wages of one man’s misguided attempt to make off with ill-gotten gains. But writing in marvelous Texas vernacular that injected surpassing terseness with gasping velocity, McCarthy created an indelible portrait of a quickly changing American West whose new surge of violence makes the land’s 19th century legacy pale in comparison.

For their part, Joel and Ethan Coen, with both credited equally for writing and directing, are back on top of their game.


26 Apr 2007

This Year’s Brokeback Mountain

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Opening this week in New York fresh from Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival, this year’s answer to Brokeback Mountain takes the contemporary cinema’s defense of forbidden love one step further.

New York Times:

The director Robinson Devor apparently would like viewers who watch his heavily reconstructed documentary, “Zoo,” to see it as a story of ineluctable desire and human dignity. Shot on Super 16-millimeter film, with many scenes steeped in a blue that would have made Yves Klein envious, “Zoo” is, to a large extent, about the rhetorical uses of beauty and metaphor and of certain filmmaking techniques like slow-motion photography. It is, rather more coyly, also about a man who died from a perforated colon after he arranged to have sex with a stallion.

02 Apr 2007

New Tarantino Movie

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Variety previews this coming weekend’s release of the Quentin Tarrantino/Robert Rodriquez doublebill Grindhouse.

The 1970s exploitation movie gropes, bites, kicks, slugs, blasts, smashes and cusses its way back to life in “Grindhouse,” a “Rodriguez/Tarantino double feature” that lovingly resurrects a disreputable but cultishly embraced form of era-specific film production and exhibition. A pair of pictures devoted to re-creating their progenitors’ grubby aesthetics and visceral kicks, but with vastly greater budgets, higher-end actors and a patina of hipster cool, they part company when it comes to talent and freshness. The numerous marketing problems for this bizarre pop-culture artifact begin with the three-hour-plus running time and young auds’ unfamiliarity with the format. But the B.O. strength of “Sin City” and “Kill Bill” alone suggests the helmers’ loyal followings will produce a very potent opening frame, with fairly steep fall-off thereafter in the manner of most horror films.

Read the whole thing.

Another Tarantino homage to one of the cinema’s more disreputable genres is bound to be a hoot.

18 Mar 2007

Neal Stephenson Defends “300”

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He has some reservations about the film, of course, but Stephenson thinks it’s an acceptable assimilation of history to contemporary entertainment genre.

Many critics dislike “300” so intensely that they refused to do it the honor of criticizing it as if it were a real movie. Critics at a festival in Berlin walked out, and accused its director of being on the Bush payroll.

Thermopylae is a wedge issue!

Lefties can’t abide lionizing a bunch of militaristic slave-owners (even if they did happen to be long-haired supporters of women’s rights). So you might think that righties would love the film. But they’re nervous that Emperor Xerxes of Persia, not the freedom-loving Leonidas, might be George Bush.

Our so-called conservatives, who have cut all ties to their own intellectual moorings, now espouse policies and personalities that would get them laughed out of Periclean Athens. The few conservatives still able to hold up one end of a Socratic dialogue are those in the ostracized libertarian wing — interestingly enough, a group with a disproportionately high representation among fans of speculative fiction.

The less politicized majority, who perhaps would like to draw inspiration from this story without glossing over the crazy and defective aspects of Spartan society, have turned, in droves, to a film from the alternative cultural universe of fantasy and science fiction. Styled and informed by pulp novels, comic books, video games and Asian martial arts flicks, science fiction eats this kind of material up, and expresses it in ways that look impossibly weird to people who aren’t used to it…

When science fiction tackles classical themes, the results may look a bit odd to some, but the audience — which is increasingly the mainstream audience — is sufficiently hungry for this kind of material (and, perhaps, suspicious of anything that’s overly polished) that it is willing to overlook the occasional mistake, or make up for it by shouting hilarious things from the balcony. These people don’t need irony or campiness self-consciously pointed out to them, any more than they need a laugh track to enjoy “The Simpsons.”

The Spartan phalanx presents itself to foes as a wall of shields, bristling with spears, its members squatting behind their defenses, anonymous and unknowable, until they break formation and stand out alone, practically naked, soft, exposed and recognizable as individuals.

The audience members watching them play the same game: media-weary, hunkered down behind thick irony, flinging verbal jabs at the screen — until they see something that moves them. Then they’ll come out and feel. But at the first hint of politics, they’ll jump back behind their shield-wall, just like the Spartans when millions of Persian arrows blot out the sun, and wait until the noise stops.

Read the whole thing.

09 Mar 2007

She Knows Which Side She’s On

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Stale’s film critic Dana Stevens has already seen the film of Frank Miller‘s 300, a comic-noir retelling of the fight to the death of the Spartans at Thermopylae.

The ineffable Ms. Stevens finds the film’s pro-Spartan partisanship unacceptable, and reads racist, lookist, free-ist prejudice into the unsympathetic treatment of the 300 Spartans’ 2,000,000 or so Persian adversaries.

If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war…

Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the “bad” (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men (not gay in the buff, homoerotic Spartan fashion, but in the effeminate Persian style). Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws. Elephants and rhinos (filthy creatures both). The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.

This hilarious review was, alas! far too short, but it did remind me of the old-time bolshie Edmund’s Wilson’s animadversions on J.R.R. Tolkien’s systematically discriminatory perspective on orcs.

The lady’s grotesque attitudes toward the film, of course, are perfectly representative of the contemporary left’s Pavlovian rush to embrace anyone and anything inimical to their own civilization and its values. I expect I’ll have to run out and see this one.



For more information on the educational history of America. Check out our site for a great article on education.

08 Feb 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima

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I haven’t seen the new Eastwood film yet, but Jack Cashill has, and he think the liberal critics have got it wrong.

I had postponed seeing Clinton Eastwood’s new movie, Letters From Iwo Jima, for the simple reason that the critics liked it. By and large, they are an even more daft bunch than the people who make the movies. They gave the film the National Board of Review’s “best picture” award and helped goose it on for an Oscar nod.

Letters attracted a critical buzz primarily because it did not ask the audience to do anything as vaguely patriotic as root for America during a time of war, even if another war. The film looks instead at the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective.

I had presumed that to be so well received the movie had to be anti-war, anti-military, anti-American, or, most likely, all of the above. I overlooked a fourth possibility, the actual one: the critics simply did not understand it.

In the way of background, the island of Iwo Jima had critical strategic significance for the United States and Japan in what proved to be the last year of the Pacific War, and both sides knew it. Only a film critic could describe the battle as “pointless.”

Iwo Jima’s airfields, if captured, would halve the distance that B-29 bombers needed to fly to reach the Japanese mainland. These airfields would also provide a base for P-51 Mustang fighters, which could then escort the bombers on their essential and lethal raids.

Given the way the Japanese had previously defended beaches, U.S. planners worked under the presumption that the island would fall in five days. As in such warlike games as chess or football, however, real war allows each side to make intelligent decisions to advance its own interests.

Liberal critics of the Iraq War have overlooked this truism. They seem to have convinced themselves that all American failures result from “blunders” or “gross mismanagement” for which someone should “apologize.” They give little credit to the opposing forces for resisting creatively and none at all to themselves for encouraging that resistance.

The struggle for Iwo Jima involved just such strategic thinking from a savvy adversary, which is why it proved so costly. Beginning on February 19, 1945 the five hellish weeks of Iwo Jima cost more than twice as many American lives as the four years of Iraq.

Read the whole thing.

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