Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Monday, September 20, 2010

Summer Movies 2010

Summer is nearly officially over, yet we continue to have ninety degree weather here in North Carolina. The leaves are gradually falling, and yet it seems to be more from the lack of rain than anything, said lack being visible in the brown grass that surrounds my house. And with all this dryness and heat, who can think of Fall and all that it brings? For that reason, if no other excuse will work, a Summer movie recap seems in order.

My movie pickings were slim this Summer, in spite of all the offerings. Lack of time and money are always a motivator, of course. I opted not to attend some of the famed remakes (A-Team, Karate Kid), for no other reason than they didn't appeal to me. And I have already reviewed a couple of others (Toy Story 3 and Prince of Persia). I did take the time to catch a couple of films after that, though, so let me make a few comments about them.

The first one was "Despicable Me". This one, interestingly enough, is still in a few theaters around here, in spite of having come out over two months ago. It got rave reviews, which would sort of explain it. From my perspective, however, it is hardly worth the praise it's received. I had found myself intrigued with the trailer for the movie, so I made time on my day off to slip out to the theater to see it. Thankfully, the movie was only about an hour and a half long, because I found it to be an utter waste of time. As is often the case, all the good jokes and gags (which were few) appeared in the trailers for the film, leaving nothing left of interest in the film. The dialogue was flat and boring, and the characters were uninteresting. (Come to think of it, the characters were uninteresting because the dialogue was flat and boring. But I digress.) There were some good themes to the film: a measure of reflection on how bad parenting makes children into bad adults, how approval from a parent is a fundamental human desire, and how love can conquer evil, to give a few examples. Yet while it was clear what the filmmakers were attempting to communicate, the setting and presentation were such as to keep the viewer from actually taking these things all that seriously, and left him with the sense that the filmmakers didn't take them seriously either. There was little depth of feeling to the film, no gravity to give the viewer the sense that these are as weighty themes as they in reality are. The evil characters weren't all that evil - when the main character, Gru, goes from attempting to be the world's most evil villain, to being the loving adoptive parent of three little girls, the only thing the viewer is surprised about is that any adoption agency would be so poorly run as to allow such a situation to transpire. No regeneration was necessary for this pseudo-villain.

In addition, I was particularly bugged by the dialogue from the three "little girls". Their dialogue, as well as the delivery of it, carried a sophistication that seemed way disproportionate with the characters' visual depiction. Perhaps next time the filmmakers should choose less precocious children to play such roles. I found it hard to take those characters seriously as a result.

Some of the music of the film was okay, but it was generally poor as well. The presence of more pop styles of music, especially disco and R&B, neither of which I care for, nor that I would want my children to hear if I were a parent, were frequent in the film. This comes to a head in the last scene of the film, when a ballet recital by the three girls turns into a disco party. This is a common enough occurrence in movies, but the implications are rarely understood. The movement from the one to the other implies that a sort of maturity takes place, carried out in the styles of music. Ballet, and the classical style of music that accompanies it, is treated as the more immature style of music. It's something that is fine for children. But true maturity, it seems, comes in popular music, particularly disco, in this case. In reality, the opposite is true. The cultural setting of disco is no accident, a further proof that musical styles, and aesthetic styles more broadly, aren't neutral. Disco has always carried with it many elements of immature and immoral behavior. Lack of responsibility toward one's actions, manifested in many ways, though most recognizable in things like drug and alcohol addiction, plus sexual promiscuity, is a part of the worldview of which disco is a part. In contrast, ballet and classical music communicate order and self-control, key Biblical virtues (Galatians 5:22-24). True maturity isn't the autonomous freedom of disco, but living within the bounds that God has created in the universe and given to His creatures.

All in all, this movie was simply bad, and it was bad enough that I'm baffled that millions of Americans missed that it was bad. Come to think of it, no, I take that back. I know Americans. This doesn't surprise me at all. It is just more proof that ten thousand Frenchmen can be wrong after all, and, believe it or not, it has nothing to do with the fact that they're French. It turns out I'm not the only person to give "Despicable Me" a bad review anyway, as noted on the Wikipedia page for the movie. But the majority apparently disagreed. Oh well. People liked this movie, they think Lady Gaga is interesting, and they elected Barack Obama to the White House. There's no accounting for taste. And so we move on.

The next movie I went to see was "Salt", featuring Angelina Jolie. I don't see alot of action-thriller types of movies, largely because of the "R" ratings they generally garner. So the fact that this one was "PG-13" was a bit of a draw for me. I thought the trailer was intriguing, and I have found Jolie to be a convincing and interesting actress, especially in action films, though this is often clouded over by an overuse of her sex appeal. Still, I felt comfortable that this wouldn't be something to worry about here, given the rating of the film, so I gave it a go.

It turned out to be a good choice. It wasn't what you would call high art - it is, plain and simple, a shoot 'em up, fast paced spy thriller. And yet there was a beauty to it that kept me interested (no, I'm not referring to Jolie). Jolie's character is accused of being a Russian spy, part of an organization seeking to recover the days of Communist occupation, and the viewer gradually learns whether or not the accusation is false. That suspense in itself is enough to maintain interest. But the film was well done all the way around anyway. Great acting, good soundtrack, visually stimulating - just great.

It is a violent film, of course, appropriate to its rating. Beyond this, there is little for a Christian to quibble with. Jolie does appear in little clothing near the beginning of the film - but with all the appropriate parts covered - in a scene in which she is being held captive in a foreign prison. Consequent to the context, there is nothing sexual about the scene (quite the opposite), and Jolie's sexuality is not exploited at all in the film.

I won't say any more, so as not to give anything away. It's still in the theaters, so if this is the type of film you generally like, you should check it out.

I was then prompted by a friend to go see "Inception". I knew it had received high praise, but as this often means little (see above comments on "Despicable Me"), I wasn't in any hurry. But I finally took the time to check it out.

Before I saw it, one friend commented that everybody she talked to either loved or hated "Inception". I hate to be the one exception here, but I sort of stand in the middle of the road on it. The basic concept of the film is that certain people have the ability to enter a person's mind while they're in a dream state, and to implant ideas in that person's mind. The viewer is then taken on a trippy ride of visual effects for two and a half hours as said mind manipulation is explored. Wrapped up in this is the struggle of the lead character, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, as he deals with his own dream-associated demons of the past.

There is a lot to be said for "Inception". The concept of the film was clever. The struggles of the lead character were interesting. And the visual effects were stunning. But that said, the movie just didn't do anything for me overall. Part of that, I must confess, has to do with my own view of Leonardo DiCaprio. One reason I was in no hurry to see the film was that I find him utterly unconvincing as an actor. I can't really say why that is. Some actors have the ability to convince me that what is happening on the screen is real, and others do not. For whatever reason, DiCaprio falls into the latter category. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one in this film for whom this was true. Both of the other lead actors failed on that account for me. Even Ellen Page, who I have thought was excellent in other things I've seen her in, just didn't do it here. Perhaps it was the directing, I don't know. Whatever the case may be, it kept me from being fully engaged in the plot.

In addition, the ending, I felt, was fairly predictable. A long, drawn out ending (like DiCaprio's "Titanic", incidentally) resulted in success, with everyone surviving. Perhaps it would have been more interesting if Jack had died - oops, mixing up my films there. At any rate, I found the whole thing fairly boring.

Lastly, and wrapped up with the previous matter of the acting, was the discussions of how dreams work, and how this matter of "inception" took place. And once again, where the blame lies here, I don't know. But the talk about "inception" just came across to me as pretentious and artificial. As I said before, the movie just didn't sell me.

So all in all, it was an okay film. I don't think it nearly deserves the high ratings it has received. But I can't say it was a terrible film. I give it a solid "eh".

A couple of weeks after "Inception", I was scanning the movie offerings online when I ran across a documentary called "Winnebago Man". For whatever reason, my interest was piqued, and I went to see it. The movie was about a twenty year old viral video of outtakes from a Winnebago sales training video, in which the trainer, who is the star of the video, regularly loses his cool and curses up a storm. The documentary follows the filmmaker as he tracks down the "Winnebago Man", whose name is Jack Rebney, to find out what became of him after making the video.

I had never seen the video, but that didn't keep me from enjoying the movie. It was a quite interesting consideration of viral videos, and what causes people to be drawn to them. Rebney's video turns out to be a cult favorite, passed from person to person across the country, long before the invention of the internet. In addition to being a source of humor, it proves to be therapeutic for many, the sort of thing they turn to after having a bad day. Somehow watching someone else in misery is cathartic, allowing people to let go of their own problems.

The main thing that struck me about the video, and how it was used by those who watched it, was how impersonal the whole thing was. The film features all sorts of fans of the Rebney film, their comments on their love of the video, and so on. The end of the film even shows Jack meeting some of his fans at a film festival, and their responses to him. Yet while they express their appreciation, he is clearly only an object to them. His disproportionate anger, his lack of self-control, his own troubles, which go clearly deeper than his immediate circumstances - they are all merely means of the viewer's enjoyment. Take a coliseum, add a gladiator and a couple of tigers, and you have a show. Unlike the fans of the Rebney video, I couldn't get past the fact that this was a man with deep spiritual problems, and the fact that nobody involved in the film seemed to care.

The ending was somewhat moving. This man, wrapped up in his own personal concerns, suddenly found he was a minor celebrity to people he had never met. That he was moved by this fact was noticeable, and that itself was moving to me. And yet here was this man, a spiritual cesspool, without the real solution to his problems. I don't normally react this way to movies, but in this case, I was watching a real man, without Christ. It soured the ending for me, though it provided a place for prayer. Mr. Rebney, the film showed, was a man who had spent much time studying the history of religion. May the true God use his studies to reveal Himself to him.

That is pretty much the summary of my recent movie experiences, with the exception of "What If...", which I will reserve for a separate review. But I close with a question for you, the reader. Is there some movie you have seen recently that you would recommend? If so, let me know. I'll even write a review on request. Just mention it in the comments section, and I'll check it out as I have opportunity.


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