Category Archives: Movies

Waiting for Vader

Episode III is almost here. I’m excited.
After the two prequels (I loved them, I hated them), I have managed to dispel my illusions about Lucas’ storytelling abilities; with my somewhat lowered expectations, I’m hopeful that Episode III will be at least a mildly pleasant surprise. At worst, it’ll be like the previous two, which I managed to love despite their many failings. At best, it’ll actually be really good.
Of course, George Lucas seems to be almost frantically attempting to deflate my enthusiasm for this movie. The latest such effort is his Cannes revelation, in which we learn that the Star Wars prequels are actually ham-fisted critiques of the war in Iraq. You know what the Star Wars movies really needed, George? A clunky real-life political agenda!
Knowing Lucas’ skill at writing sublimely nuanced dialogue, I can only imagine the subtlety with which these political sentiments will be expressed.
But you know what? If I can overlook midichlorians, “Greedo shoots first,” Ewoks, the dance scene in Jabba’s palace, the Picnic Scene, Gungans, poop jokes, midichlorians, and did I mention midichlorians, I think I can find it within me to overlook a bit of clumsily earnest politicking.
So I’m going to just ignore it. Lucas can try to provoke this Star Wars fan all he wants, but I won’t give in to hate.
‘Cause you know what else? I can’t wait to see this movie.

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Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again

One of the many advantages of Netflix is that Michele and I have been able to watch many classic films unavailable at the local movie-rental store. And one advantage of having a wife with good taste in films (ask her what her favorite movie is, and she’ll point confidently to The Third Man; ask me, and I’ll freeze with indecision while trying to weigh the relative merits of Star Trek II and The Empire Strikes Back) is that she makes sure that our Netflix queue always contains at least some movies with class and/or lasting artistic merit. What this all means is that this weekend Hitchcock’s Rebecca arrived in the mail.
It was excellent–I’d go so far as to say that it’s my new favorite Hitchcock movie. The acting was uniformly excellent (I don’t know if Joan Fontaine plays that same role in all of her movies, but her doe-eyed innocence was perfect for her character here), and each scene was carefully crafted to carry an almost palpable emotional punch. And who would’ve thought that a character who never once appears on camera or speaks a single line of dialogue could have such a tangible presence in almost every single scene?
So if you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. Wait for a nice cold winter evening to come along (easy enough to do here in Michigan) and give it a viewing. It’s a good one.

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Just finished watching eXistenZ. I enjoyed it, and am still trying to figure it out.
The plot is far too convoluted to explain–you really have to watch it to see what it’s about. The film centers around a virtual-reality game (called–you guessed it–eXistenZ) which, from inside the game, cannot be easily distinguished from the “real” world. Not surprisingly, a good portion of the plot revolves around the question of “what is reality,” a familiar sci-fi theme that is somewhat cliched at this point, but eXistenZ handles the subject differently than other movies of its ilk. I went into it expecting an underwhelming faux-intellectual sci-fi flick, and for the first hour that is exactly what I got–but the final third of the film put some interesting spins on the plot and really made me reconsider my initial impressions.
So yeah–definitely a good rental, if you’re looking for a Twilight Zone-esque mindbender along the lines of Dark City. Not a timeless classic for the ages, but a well-done B-movie nonetheless.
Oh, and fair warning: it’s also quite disgusting. As in “don’t watch it while eating dinner.” And don’t watch it with your parents (sorry, Mom and Dad–you guys wouldn’t like it very much anyway). While most movies have, at most, only one Scene That I Could’ve Lived a Full and Satisfying Life Without Having Seen, eXistenZ has two or three.

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Oh, I’m afraid the deflector shield will be quite operational when your friends arrive…

Admit it: as a child, and possibly as an adult, you kept a careful ranking of the coolness of various Star Wars characters and ships. Here are some of my own Star Wars coolness rankings (1=most cool, 10 or higher=least cool):
Imperial soldiers:

  1. TIE Fighter Pilot
  2. Imperial Guard (the red-robed Emperor’s bodyguards)
  3. Biker Scout
  4. AT-AT Pilot
  5. Snowtrooper
  6. Stormtrooper officer (dunno if they’re actually officers, but they’re the ones with the colored badges on Tatooine in the first movie)
  7. Stormtrooper
  8. Black-uniformed Imperial officer
  9. Grey-uniformed Imperial officer
  10. Death Star superlaser gunner (with the goofy pointy helmets, who push the buttons that fire the Death Star’s main laser)

Spaceship Coolness Rankings (1=most, 12=least):

  1. Super Star Destroyer
  2. Slave I
  3. B-Wing
  4. TIE Interceptor
  5. Millenium Falcon
  6. Star Destroyer
  7. TIE Advanced (Darth Vader’s TIE)
  8. X-Wing
  9. A-Wing (possibly deserves slot #8 above–it’s a tough call)
  10. Y-Wing
  11. TIE Fighter
  12. Cloud City Pod Car

The Bounty Hunter Coolness List:

  1. Boba Fett (of course)
  2. IG-88
  3. Boushh (“Because he’s holding a thermal detonator!”)
  4. Bossk
  5. Greedo
  6. 4-LOM
  7. Dengar (starting with Dengar, they start getting uncool fast)
  8. Zuckuss

And the Imperial Officer Coolness Rankings:

  1. General Veers
  2. Admiral Piett
  3. Admiral Motti (“Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient religion has not helped you conjure
    up the stolen data tapes, or given you clairvoyance enough to find the Rebels’ hidden fort–“)

  4. Captain Needa (he gets coolness points for dying in a spectacular manner)
  5. Moff Jerjerrod
  6. Governor Tarkin
  7. Admiral Ozzel

What have I missed? Pick a category I haven’t covered, and let’s see your ratings!

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Oh yeah–I knew there was something I wanted to mention earlier, but it slipped my mind. Here it is: you should go watch The Incredibles. It’s one of the most genuinely fun movies I’ve seen in the last year or so. Unless you don’t like things that are good, you will enjoy it.

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The rising of the machines

I know you’re all just waiting with baited breath for me to post my thoughts on this whole election business, but you’ll have to wait a bit longer, because I’m in the mood to talk about the Terminator at the moment.
I am one of those people who sits in front of the TV and/or computer for the entirety of Election Night, flipping channels and refreshing my browser to keep apace with the latest meaningless exit polls and watching nervously as the electoral scores slowly rise towards the magical number 270. Realizing that spending my entire evening doing this would just serve to work me into an electoral frenzy, I convinced Michele to rent a movie for us to watch instead of leaving me stare vacantly at the unfolding election results. Michele unearthed a Coupon which could be exchanged at a local Blockbuster for one of their Moving Pictures, so we headed out.
We have gotten so accustomed to the convenience of Netflix that we could only stand, paralyzed and bewildered, inside the local Blockbuster. I experienced a moment of terror when I saw that the Blockbuster had a TV switched on to election coverage, and I feared that I would be sucked in, but we prevailed. After the usual 30 minutes of aimless wandering through aisles filled with movies that I can’t believe anybody actually rents, I somehow succeeded in convincing Michele to let me rent Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Michele did a fairly convincing job of feigning enthusiasm, insisting that no, Terminator 3 sounds really really good, she really wants to watch it!, so we rented it, went back home, and broke out the popcorn.
As it turns out, I have no idea where I’m going with this post. As it further turns out, T3 was an excellent movie–pure, old-school action. There is a car chase scene which easily surpasses in Sheer Awesomeness the much-celebrated Matrix Reloaded highway chase. I mean, it’s a car chase where they’re driving gigantic cranes and fire trucks. How cool is that?
Pretty cool, I’d say. And that, my friend, is how I spent my Election Night. Of course, after the movie I immediately glued myself in front of the computer watching election results until the wee hours of the morning. But for two glorious hours, I managed to forget all about that whole election thing.
Although I did reflect once or twice during the movie that Arnold has just got to be the coolest state governor ever to walk the Earth.
“Awl be baack!”

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Passion of the Christ revisited

This last week, I attended a work-related conference on the general subject of internet ministry. The highlight of the conference for me was a Saturday afternoon discussion titled “Lessons We Learned from The Passion.” It was basically an informal forum in which the two presenters discussed the film and the church’s response to it, and addressed questions from the audience. Since the discussion touched on a lot of the topics mentioned in a previous post here, I thought I’d summarize a few of the presenters’ observations.
The two presenters were Terry Mattingly (of, which extensively observed/critiqued media coverage of the film) and David Bruce (of Hollywood Jesus, an ongoing dialogue with postmodern youth and culture). When either of these guys talk about media and the church, I pay attention.
Without further ado, here are summaries of several of the points raised (as I understood them–corrections by others who attended the discussion are welcome):

  • David Bruce felt that the church did a good job of responding to and talking about The Passion–much better than it has done with past “big events” like 9/11. (According to Bruce, after 9/11, despite a temporary spike in churchgoers seeking answers, few churches specifically or meaningfully addressed the topic.) When the issue of the Barna research (which found that there was little increase in churchgoing or “conversion” in the wake of The Passion) came up, both presenters suggested that evangelism efforts around The Passion need to be seen as just one small step in an ongoing effort to be a culturally relevant church, and that trying too hard to estimate the success or failure of any particular step in that never-ending process can produce misleading results.
  • The hostility of many mainstream (“secular”) critics of The Passion was almost entirely ideological. Many critics were clearly motivated by a hatred of Mel Gibson or by offense at the idea of a literal telling of the Gospel story. Many critics railed about meta-film issues and controversies and in doing so missed the entire point of the film.
  • Mainstream critics were not the only ones blinded by ideology. Evangelical commentors, who generally praised the film, almost completely overlooked and ignored its omnipresent Mariology and Catholicism. The presence of these elements doesn’t necessarily “ruin” the film theologically for evangelicals, of course, but it’s interesting that leading evangelicals, historically hyper-sensitive when it comes to this sort of thing, scarcely mentioned the film’s blatant Catholicism.
  • Similarly, evangelical critics also broke with past tradition in not condemning the film’s extreme violence. Bruce suggested that this trend indicates that at least in the area of violence, evangelicals are demonstrating a willingness to interpret sinful behavior depicted in film within the context of the film itself. He noted that a similar phenomenon took place in the wake of Saving Private Ryan, when many Christian film critics embraced the film in spite of the violence and profane language in it. This trend indicates that evangelicals increasingly desire to move beyond the “count-the-swear-words-and-sex-scenes” style of media analysis; they’re paying more attention to message and story in film, and are putting less emphasis on specific visceral content than they have in the past.
  • Mattingly suggested that the harsh divide between enthusiastic supporters and detractors of the film can be traced back to the split between (culturally) liberal and conservative Catholics, not animosity between Christians and Jews. This is an issue that Mattingly has discussed in the past at and in his On Religion syndicated column.

Those are the points that most interested me, and I hope I’ve relayed them accurately. As for myself, I see a lot of merit in most of these ideas, although some of the specific contentions are beyond my immediate ability to confirm or debunk.
At any rate, it was a fascinating discussion, and the general mood was a positive one. There was a sense that evangelicals are at least trying to shake off some of their outdated ways of approaching film, media, and culture. There were plenty of warnings for and critiques of these efforts to achieve cultural relevance, but I left the discussion feeling optimistic about the ways that evangelicals are talking about God in this entertainment-driven post-postmodern world. What do you think?

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Throne of heroes

Michele and I have seen several interesting movies lately, and in the American tradition of defining my life by the pieces of entertainment I experience, I’ll tell you all about them. Spoilers follow.
Most recent was Hero, which has received a lot of praise from critics. Personally, I thought it was amazing film in many respects–visually, you are not likely to see a more impressive movie anytime soon. Several scenes were so vibrant with color and style that they remained indelibly stamped in memory long after I left the theater. (A scene in which two brightly-colored warriors gracefully cut their way up an endless stairway through hundreds of enemy soldiers was just… breathtaking.)
That said, the movie toppled ignobly off of the pedestal upon which I had placed it about twenty minutes short of the closing credits. At that point, we learn the Real Message behind the Movie when one of the main characters reaches up and yanks off his plastic face-mask to reveal the grinning face of… Chairman Mao! Well, not really. But for the final twenty cringe-inducing minutes of this movie, we get a long and painful lecture from the Mao stand-in character about how it’s really too bad when people must be killed for the Good of the Unity of Mother China, but that’s just the Way Things Work. Subtle.
That was what knocked this film out of Best Movie Ever territory as far as I was concerned. Until our Great and Beloved Leader launches into his little propogandist speech, however, the movie is incredibly entertaining. So take that however you will–but in my mind, it’s a bit of otherwise brilliant cinema ruined by a ghastly message. (For what it’s worth, Michele didn’t seem as bothered by the People’s Party propoganda as I was, so it’s quite possible I’m blowing it all way out of proportion.)
The other recently-viewed film of note is Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. Michele and I have very much enjoyed each of the Kurosawa films we’ve seen–Seven Samurai is of course a classic, and we loved Rashomon (which we managed to watch with Alan and his family before they moved out of state). Throne of Blood is a re-telling of the Macbeth story, but set in feudal Japan. Instead of scheming nobles and princes, we are treated to plotting samurai, and the characters are as wonderfully flawed and intriguing as they are in the original tale. Highly recommended.

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Revenge of the Cloned Phantom

You have probably heard by now that Episode III has received an official title: Revenge of the Sith. It is customary for Star Wars fans (and non-fans) to descend like jackals upon Lucas’ movie titles, arguing about their merits (or lack thereof). In keeping with that spirit, I’ll offer a few thoughts on the new title. In short, I like it quite a bit. It’s the best and most fitting of the prequel titles, in my opinion.
I have been somewhat ambivalent about the titles of Episodes I and II. The Phantom Menace doesn’t work terribly well for me as a title. While it is somewhat relevant to the movie, the plot arc to which it refers (Darth Sidious’ secretive scheming) is really just a sideshow compared to the movie’s main function, which is to introduce a cast of new heroes and show off their, well, heroism. Calling attention to this sideplot when the real meat of the film lies elsewhere seems… disproportionate, if that makes sense. Granted, A New Hope is even more vague, but that movie at least had another catchy title by which it could be known: Star Wars.
Attack of the Clones as a title is equal parts good and bad. It’s good in that it perfectly fits the pulpy space-opera feel that the movie is aiming for. (Claims that it’s cheesy or stupid-sounding miss the point; it’s an excellent fit for its genre.) On the bad side, I think it’s somewhat misleading. For one, it sort of implies (to me, at least) that the Clones are bad guys who will be attacking (possibly surprise-attacking) the Good Guys, when in fact this is not the case. That is a bit of meta-analysis on my part, but I can’t shake the feeling that a more accurate (though far less entertaining) title would have been Attack of the Separatist Union or Attack of the Rebel Scum. And “attack” sounds a little… aggressive, given that in the film, the Clone Army is really just reacting to Separatist acts of war. Technically, they are attacking, but the title implies to me that the Clones would be launching some sort of massive invasion, not reacting to acts of aggression initiated by somebody else. Maybe it should have been Episode II: Aggressive Response of the Clones?
Which brings us to Revenge of the Sith… which I like. Firstly, as Ron noted in a recent conversation, the word “Sith” is really cool. Secondly, it’s a perfect counterbalance to Return of the Jedi (doubly so given that Episode VI was originally titled Revenge of the Jedi). Both Star Wars trilogies track the rise to prominence of a Force philosophy and end with one faction overthrowing the System and returning to power. The difference lies in the nature of this takeover: for the Sith, revenge is their motive; their assumption of power is almost an act of spite directed at their long-hated Jedi enemies. For the Jedi, their assumption of power is a simple returning to their rightful place; revenge and hate have no place in it, as is demonstrated in Luke’s confrontation with the Emperor. Revenge of the Sith… Return of the Jedi. I like it.
What do you think?

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