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—PBS: "Michelangelo Revealed"

Secrets of the Dead » Michelangelo Revealed: Chapter 1 | PBS

This was a shock.  PBS has mostly deteriorated into radical political news hours and Lawrence Welk reruns.  It was stunning to happen upon this three-part program (which can be streamed from the web site), which includes a very politically-incorrect critical review of Roman Catholicism. 

The series centers on the research of art historian Antonio Forcellino, who proposes that the great artist was part of an underground reform movement which sought to introduce Protestant reforms into the Catholic church from within.  He believes that a number of Michelangelo’s prominent works show definite anti-Catholic sentiment.  The Last Judgement , for example, portrays interaction between Heaven and men, without the traditional intervention of any prominent Popes or other clergy.  There are strange features in the tomb of Julius II which are inconsistent with Catholic dogma, including a last-minute recarving of Moses’ head to look away from the altar, the instrument of the Catholic hierarchy. 

[The account here of Michelangelo’s work on St. Peter’s Basilica differs dramatically from the one in the guide books you would get on a tour.  I thought that he was so well-off and happy to be working for the Catholic church again that he didn’t charge them for the work.]

The real shock, though, especially considering the source, is that the documentary demonstrates a credible understanding of Christian antipathy for Roman Catholic dogma and theocracy.  I didn’t know they had it in them….

—Warning! Incoming Movie Reviews!

[There may be some light spoiling in here, depending on how sensitive and/or cranky one is, and whether anyone actually reads this anyway.]

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

It’s been a while since I read the Narnia books, so I’m not ready to make a point by point comparison with Lewis’s original work. I was actually expecting this one to be the Dawn Treader, which is the next movie/book in the series.

In summary, the Pevensie kids have been back for a year since the first movie. Since they have been responsible adults in Narnia, they are having a lot of trouble fitting in as children again in London. They are finally called back to Narnia, only to discover that 1300 years have passed there, and a terrible darkness of fear and oppression has enveloped their former kingdom since they left. The cast members really look a little more than a year older, but I guess we can’t be too detail-oriented.

When other reviewers say that this movie is a lot darker than the first one, they may be understating the case a little. There is a lot of bitter, desperate fighting, and both cute and cuddly and not so cute and not so cuddly people and things get hurt and even die (so much so, that I wondered if they might have lost track of who was supposed to be wounded or injured at some points in the story). This is high allegory, and it mirrors some very unpleasant realities from its subject matter.

It is still required watching, of course, even if only to see the repeating trebuchets and mouse bagpipes—-oh, and more of the fabulous armor and creatures first seen in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005).   It just may be a little too much for younger children—it is rated PG.

I still think allegory has inherent limitations as a vehicle for theology, but anyone with a reasonable exposure to Christian doctrine will immediately recognize the points being made. The older kids—and Caspian— conclude that Aslan has lost interest and isn’t coming to help, and make other plans. The youngest and most innocent of the kings and queens protests that Aslan has been with them all along. Edmund reminds them that ignoring little Lucy led to his Big Mistake the last time, to no avail. So the older kids proceed to make horrendous mistakes of their own, relying on their own personal wisdom, with gut-wrenching consequences and the loss of lives.

Lessons finally learned, everyone rallies for the Big Battle Before the End, and Aslan finally intervenes to Save the Day—amid surprise tactics, armies of wonderful and strange creatures—plants and animals, fighting in long dresses, desperate courage, despicable, craven cowardice and treachery, and the requisite massive destruction of property which CGI-enhanced cinema was created for.

The film hasn’t been the runaway hit that the first one was, probably at least in part because of a lot of high-profile competition at the box office.  Still, required watching….

Iron Man

Forget the Suit, guys, I want Stark’s computer!

This is one of the better comic adaptations I can remember. It is primarily a “gadget” oriented film, whereas Spiderman probably has the personality development/romance angle better covered. There is quite a lot of involvement with Paltrow’s long-suffering side-kick character, however, that works pretty well as romantic comedy.

The story starts out in Afghanistan, and considerable brutality ensues. The central bad-guy evil plot that underlies the whole thing is—well, sort of comic-bookish, sketchy, and obviously secondary to the main event—guys flying around in metal suits, blowing up stuff and beating each other to a pulp.

The Suit is, of course, incredible. The level of detail in the development and building of Stark’s Iron Man is the main entertainment in the movie. There is some hilarious physical comedy involved, too, which would most likely have resulted in a prolonged hospital stay for each instance if it really happened to a real human. Also in the suspension-of-disbelief file on this movie are the supersonic characteristics of the humanoid form, the improbable g-forces in some of the maneuvers, and what kind of idiot would test extremely powerful and unpredictable technology next to an irreplaceable Shelby Cobra—he could have at least thrown a tarp over it—and the whole thermonuclear reactor in the heart thing.

That Lee person makes his requisite cameo appearance, of course.  How will we ever get this guy back in his shell, if you keep building up his self-esteem?

Still, also required watching….

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Oh, well—2 out of 3…

Try to imagine that the people who crafted one of the most original and entertaining epics in modern cinema decided to wrap up the whole thing by having a mail-in contest for the employees of the studio and their families to come up with the plot for the big finale—and you will probably have exerted more imagination than they did coming up with what they actually used.

Everything else in the movie—stunning visuals, intricate puzzle traps, dazzling escapes, moving reunions of old friends and enemies—all have the effect of wonderfully entertaining stories told by a man on the way to the gallows. They all pretty much lose their entertainment value once the destination becomes clear.

This “last mile” isn’t a total loss, by any means. Everybody’s favorite professor of archaeology gets beat up, locked up, has to escape with the whip and his wits, gets blown up—let me emphasize that a little better, lest I be accused of understatement—GETS BLOWN UP, is re-reunited with the babe he was reunited with in the first installment, gets stuck with a delinquent on a Triumph, gets fired, and is confronted by a pretty original—if not entirely comprehensible—villainess, a Soviet-era nutcase with a saber and Stalinesque self-esteem issues.

The acting in this thing was really hit-or-miss throughout. Some of the deliveries, particularly by Ford and Allen, can only be described as “geriatric”. Was the star power so overwhelming that nobody dared to tell these people that they were killing the scene?

The action and cinematics are outstanding throughout, though, and the film winds up with the immense Biblical level of property destruction expected of the genre this series helped to define.

But the ridiculous destination of the story line hangs over everything like that noose at the top of the stairs. Even the final post-traumatic scene, which should have been a warm, fitting end to a beloved story, is reduced to some old folks standing around in costumes. I think we deserved better.

—Warning! Incoming Movie Reviews!


Ratatouille
Pixar has done the whole—Pixar thing—again. Yeah, I know, I almost ignored this one too. I could see some guys sitting around a table, and one says, “Hey! What if rataouille was called that because it’s made by rats?”—and whoosh!, they made a movie out of it. [I didn’t know what the dish was actually made of, either.]

But it actually is easily the most entertaining movie so far this year, and maybe last year, too—I can’t remember what I saw last year. I won’t belabor the story details, which are covered elsewhere. They do take a break from the hilarious rat and cooking gags—many of which they didn’t use in the trailers (but where else can you get that much mileage from a sack of baguets and a Citroen?), and which are surprisingly sophisticated—to throw in the obligatory young-mammals-pursuing-their-dreams-while-being-misunderstood -and-maybe-falling-in-love stuff, but otherwise the laughs are pretty much wall-to-wall.

Now I have to see it again to find all the supposed Incredibles allusions….

Pirates
of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

(spoilers, sort of, I guess)
Ok, so they had to finish the series, and the movie wasn’t all bad. It had humorous moments, and some excitement, but overall it was even more confusing than the second one—until much later, when I finally figured out what it was about:

If you’ve ever been to one of those big amusement parks—it’s been a few years in my case—and waited in line for a series of rides, you’ll get the idea soon enough. In lieu of a plot, they have strung together a series of audio-visual “rides”, which you have to wait for as they line up the details. Some of them weren’t on the map when we came into the park—the writers evidently had to sort of pop in this legend or or that backstory seemingly out of nowhere, whenever it looked like the movie was going to be too short. Trust me—it can’t be that they were trying to plug plot holes.

One “ride” in particular seems to end very abruptly, which is especially jarring since we’ve been on and off of it since the end of the second movie. It literally ends suddenly in a hole in the floor—-of the ocean.

The progression of “rides” is certainly dizzying. From “rocking the boat” taken to extremes, to what must be the only attempt in cinematic history to portray a dogfight between square-rigged sailing ships, to the unexplained conversion of the first movie’s villainous enemy pirate captain into the proverbial “pretty nice guy”, to some moral admonitions about who are the “real bad guys”, the action is nearly continuous, if mostly rudderless.

There are a couple of completely mismatched attempts to “spice things up” with sexual innuendo and some half-heartedly profane humor, as if Mike Meyers wandered in from a voice-over session for “Shrek 3” near the end of shooting to council the writers on how childrens’ movies ought to be made, or at least stretched out to over three hours.

Along the way, all of the secondary characters of any importance get killed off for no imaginable reason other than to reduce the size of the cast, as far as I could tell. It was about as emotionally involving as pitching some worn out sock bunnies in the trash.

…and having mastered that, they have made it clear that they’re good for at least one more. There’s supposed to be a POC-4—apparently something about the “fountain of youth”. I’m pretty sure I’ll be having better things to do.

—Warning! Incoming Movie Review!

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
It’s pushing $250M USD in box office in the five weeks since release. Are the movie execs paying attention yet?
I read the Narnia books as an adult, after watching the movie and stage versions of Shadowlands. C.S. Lewis obviously intended the work for children, as an exciting adventure as well as an introduction to Christian doctrine. This is an intensely allegorical treatment of the subject, mixed with elements of classicism and a few other sort of—mixed metaphors. Many adults probably react to the allegory about like Tolkein did, but Narnia is an enduring classic with children. Maybe if I had some experience with Turkish Delight….
The movie is nothing short of incredible. This Narnia is populated with an extraordinary variety of strange creatures—armed and armored centaurs (this is a rather militaristic story, after all), fauns, harpies, gryphons, and so on. It is possible to forget very quickly that the talking animals are animated characters, or non-human for that matter. Even the beaver couple, which I expected to be sort of cheesy, was believable and humorous. The White Queen is genuinely icy, topped off with some kind of glassy eye shadow and really scary hair. Aslan carries himself with a masterful dignity entirely in keeping with his allegorical context, in a way not frequently associated with talking lions in movies. On the other hand, the cast selected to portray the average British school children look and act like average British school children. The Big Battle at the End (local rpg jargon, for the uninitiated) is awe inspiring and imaginative—maybe not quite Jackson’s Helm’s Deep or Gondor, but not far off. The film doesn’t shy away from any of Lewis’ depiction of Christian symbolism, to the point that the death of Aslan may be too much for younger children (On the other hand, I think they took me along to see Ben Hur when I was about five. I remember something about chariot racing, and lepers.) .
It remains to be seen if the other novels in the series will be picked up for movie titles. Voyage of the Dawn Treader would be nice….

—Us vs. Them: 2005 Movie Ratings

Movie.Com’s Top 5 Rated Films

According to the Critics:
1.King Kong
2.Brokeback Mountain
3.The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
4.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
5.Syriana

According to the Fans:
1.King Kong
2.The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
3.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
4.Pride and Prejudice
5.Walk the Line

Can anybody else sense their intelligence being insulted?

—New SF season: FarGate, Serenity, and more:

The familiar cast of “StarGate SG-1” has finally moved on, taking up occasional appearance roles. Their replacements were a surprise, since I don’t keep up with the fan news. I’m concerned about the whole thing morphing into “FarGate”. The first episode was entertaining, and included no muppets. Certain of the cast members could use a quick visit to the “What Not to Wear” series, though.StarGate Atlantis” wrapped up the invasion they started a couple of months ago with an apparent solution to the fatal strategic problem the “Ancients” couldn’t solve.BattleStar Galactica” cleaned up some of the mess they left at the end of last season, with a very intense episode. It seems like the writing for Galactica has improved in season two (experience?), although one has to wonder where they are going with some of the subplots—magic arrows, several stray babies, disturbing religious beliefs on both sides, and history repeating itself.
SF Channel will start showing the original episodes of “FireFly”, the unique space western that was nearly destroyed and finally dumped by Fox. SFC is even planning to show the episodes in the correct order:
http://www.scifi.com/scifiwire2005/index.php?category=2&id=31260
The movie version of “FireFly”, called “Serenity”, is screening at a number of locations and will be released to the public on September 30. It looks like a retelling of the story shown in the two episode series pilot, with much more detail. Mal, according to the current trailer, is “planning to misbehave”:
http://www.serenitymovie.com/

Isaiah 2
4
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

—Warning! Incoming Movie Review:

“War of the Worlds”
Movies.com: War of the Worlds
Rottentomatoes.com: War of the Worlds

We saw “War of the Worlds” at an obsolete (only 6 screens!) theater which had been converted into a dinner theater by replacing half the rows with small, individual tables. The experience was synergistic—a mediocre movie, poor service, and stale food.
The movie wasn’t a complete loss. The expensive spine-tingling special effects were pretty good, although certain scenes caused me to have “Half-Life 2” tm flashbacks. It eventually bacame clear that they took the original story (much of it seemed to be straight from what I can remember of the book and even the first movie version) patched in a couple of poorly developed subplots to make it all “21st Century”, and got Tom Cruise to annoy everyone as a substitute for dramatic involvement. It’s still a reasonable excuse to get out of the house.

Now it’s time to find a copy of the old 1953 Gene Barry version.

 

 

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of annoying celebrities:
Scientology – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“Bare-Faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard”

—Warning! Incoming Movie Review

SW3-ROTS (with a few “spoilers”):
I finally got to see “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith “. It was actually very entertaining, certainly the best of the latter series.
Okay, when you start and end a gigantic, 28-year story in the middle, there are bound to be plot holes you can drive a [fill in the large interstellar SW spacecraft of your choice here] through. The movie contains some of the least convincing romance and death scenes in recent movie history. It suffers from a problem with all of the Star Wars movies; there are so many bits and pieces of story to be explicated that much of the movie is filled up with a multitude of all-too-brief snippets of action cut up with rather amateur scene transitions. The attempts to make Obi-wan both a loveable dingbat and a master Jediwho must overcome the most dangerous enemies in the universe almost singlehandedly are confusing and frustrating. That Anakin is constantly hanging around an obviously pregnant Padme and none of the Jedi masters get a clue that something is “up”, ranks with Clark Kent’s glasses for overall believability. The Senate jumps from a spirited defense of democracy to cheering acceptance of empire without the slightest evidence of transition.
But you get to see Yoda—at his animated best and most believable in the series—get seriously old-school up in the bad guys’ faces one more time. The spacecraft, battles, and cities are truly astounding. The planetside battles include some very convincing attack ornithopters—now I wish various implementations of Dune had tried a little harder on this. The final climactic battle, which everyone knows is coming with teeth-grinding inevitability, is titanic and horrible, and probably the main justification for the PG-13 rating.

—-Warning: Incoming Movie Review

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made it to theaters after “a long time”. It was “mostly harmless”.
It seems to represent a desperate effort to make long-time fans of the “five-part trilogy” and people who know nothing about it equally happy. It throws so many haphazard, partly- or completely undeveloped plot points at the screen, that it pretty much dissolves into an unintelligible jumble of wierd images and stuff blowing up or turning into petunias. Past halfway, almost all of the jokes, old and new, fall flat. The legendary pangalactic cynicism for which the series is most loved by its fans, is replaced by a rather undeveloped love story (They share a towel, and kiss later). The Guide itself, which is one of the most hilarious comedy mechanisms of the original story, shows up perhaps 3-5 times, none particularly funny. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, but its main impact was to make me nostalgic for the old, ridiculously low-budget PBS mini-series version. It probably made enough money to warrant the sequel which its ending obviously intends, but I will probably have better things to do.