City of Ember (2008)

Should I see it?

When the marketing first hit for this film last year I thought it looked interesting. The images were compelling and the plot seemed interesting.

I was wrong.

Yes, the design work for the film is fully realized. It has a distinct look and feel and it's memorable. Unfortunately, that’s the only successful element in the production. The story never rises above its conceits, the dialog is uninspired and the acting is stilted because the characters are written so thinly. Even Bill Murray, who I like, fails to bring anything to the film. His scenes look like he flew in for a few days, quickly wrapped his scenes and headed on out. He pops in every once in a while, smirks and then disappears leaving no significant impact.

The film tells the tale of the City of Ember, a subterranean city that is lit by lamps. Humans have been forced underground for two hundred years and now the generator is failing. Two teens stumble upon the secrets behind their dimming town and rush to figure out the clues to the secret before everyone is sent into darkness. This is a very good concept. This had the potential to be a great family movie, but in the end it is just another sloppy adaptation. The production as a whole isn’t awful, but it doesn’t shine either. It all just sits there, a cinematic lump with nothing to do. There’s no real point it seems and given that the whole endeavor fails to justify its existence the audience is left watching scene after lumbering scene without any momentum. When the final act comes in I couldn’t have been less interested, and couldn’t have been more bored.

Click on Bill to view the trailer

Related Reviews:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Guest Reviewer: Jeff Burton
Roger Ebert

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Should I see it?
Yes - but only if you fast forward to the action sequences and ignore the rest.

Short Review: The film is great when Bond is punching guys and being chased - but do we need to see him pout and mope? We pay to see Bond kick butt, not cry in his beer.

Even if you are a fan of the rebooted Bond, which I am not, this outing may disappoint. Yes, there is interesting sequences, but the film is missing a soul and any real value.

Daniel Craig returns as the brooding version of James Bond - the existential Bond, the Bond who bleeds, the Bond distracted by the stinging, gaping hole in his soul…the Bond that’s no fun and far too moody to like. The Bond franchise had run its course. It had become a sad parody of itself. It had become the paunchy forty year old man hanging around in college bars buying the co-eds drinks and still going home alone. Instead of putting the toy away, the producers felt the need to revise the classic hero. This wasn’t done by revisiting the core of the character, going back to the original films and discovering what made him work. No, they looked at their competition, Jason Bourne, and decided to mimic what he was doing. Now, we have an odd hybrid of Bourne and Bond. The chase scenes are entrancing cinematic candy, but when everyone stops to talk the flaws in the movie are quite noticeable.

Daniel Craig’s Bond isn’t the kind of guy you’d want to be. He’s not even the kind of guy you’d want to befriend, talk to, walk by or know that he existed. His personality is as pleasant as chewing gravel. He’s stuck with a “oh, I’m so wounded – poor pitiful me, look I’m burning with rage because I’m so distraught” thought bubble over his head throughout the production. In this production, his pouting nature is exasperated by his illogical actions. He’s just lost his love but he muscles through his grief to not only kill countless bad guys, but also bed a good looking redhead and then move on to kill more bad guys. So, what’s we’ve expected to believe is that Bond will go through a life threatening car chase, ruthlessly slaughter villain and civilian alike – stop, throw the back of his hand to his forehead, expel a whimper, continue on killing people in his moral vacuum, mope some more, and top it all by diddling his co-worker? He's gone from being sensitive to being sociopathic.

The film is a jumbled mess. The previous film, Casino Royale, had its moments – except the six hour long card game that made its final act. This film is an inferior sequel. The action sequences are better, but the story itself is lacking. This is partially due to the lack of logic that was applied to the proceedings. I’m sorry, but to believe that M’s closest confidant is a double-agent…if she’s so inept as to allow her private guard to be double agents, then why would she trust Bond or anyone else? Why wouldn’t they be just as likely to be double-agents? Why is she allowed to continue in her position if she can’t even keep control of her own office? This is the first of a long line of logic issues the film distributes but fails to resolve. The evil plot that drives the film, which I won’t go into so I won’t ruin the movie for those of you who insist on seeing it, is likewise illogical. The Bond villain Dominic, played by Mathieu Amalric to great effect, is a creepy businessman. His machinations all lead to a concept that doesn’t really work and doesn’t quite seem worth the effort involved. This is where the film runs into its biggest issue – and this will happen on all of these rebooted Bond films. When you recast Bond as a more “realistic”, existential hero, this means your plots need to be more realistic as well. The glory of Bond in the past was that it was all done with a wink. Everyone understood it was all a lark. This reboot takes itself so seriously, but still wants to be able to still retain the overblown Bond plots. It is a disconnect and it doesn’t stand.

To sum this up, will people like this? Most will enjoy the flash and bang of the chase sequences. If you loved Casino Royale, there may be enough here to tickle your fancy. If you love film, you will be frustrated. This is a fatally flawed film that doesn’t avoid the potholes of the new direction the franchise has taken but strikes each one as they pass along.

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Black Sheep Reviews
Cinema Autopsy

The Reader (2008)

Should I see it?

Short Review: Dear Penthouse, I was a teenage boy in post World War II Germany and I met this nazi chick on the street. I got dirty bringing coal up to her apartment and you'd never guess what happened to me.

The middle of the story holds a fascinating conflict which deserves a film. The opening and end of the film are indulgent, unnecessarily drawn out distractions from a potentially great tale. The story centers on Michael Berg (David Kross), a fifteen-year-old boy in post-World War II Germany. Berg becomes ill on his way home one day* and is helped out by an older woman, Hanna (Kate Winslet in an Oscar winning performance.) She seduces the lad and the two begin a fling. All of their grunting and fondling goes on for a while and then Hanna unexpectedly ups and leaves. Berg is dismayed that his middle-aged shag doll has run off. He carries on with his life. While studying to become a lawyer, he attends a Nazi war crimes trial. Not surprising to us, but rather shocking to Berg, is that it is Hanna who is on trial. It turns out his former lover is little more than a cold heart Nazi succubus. Berg watches the trial and makes the mental note to run full background checks on middle age women who offer themselves to him in the future. The end of the film focuses on Berg as a grown man (Ralph Fiennes). Berg is now an emotionally-awkward, snickering doofus, apparently still broken from his youthful mistake.

The trial portion is very well handled and carries the potential of a great film. There's a striking conflict played out in Berg. He has a secret about Hanna that could save her, but does he announce to the world what he has done? This holds some interesting questions about the truth, and law versus morality. The film toys with this question for roughly five minutes and lets it die on the vine. The trial itself is brief and not treated with the weight it deserves. If the film had focused more intently on the trial instead of all of the other aspects of the story, this would have been a brilliant work. As it is, director Stephen Daldry (The Hours) lingers an incredibly long time on the love affair between Berg and Hanna. While this is an important aspect of the film, Daldry ponders on their lovemaking far too long. All the audience needs to understand is that he is a virginal teen, she is an older woman. She takes his innocence and basically exchanges sex from the boy for him reading books to her (she's illiterate). Daldry takes the opportunity to show the two actors completely naked in multiple scenes and plays up the eroticism like some high-budget Skinamax flick. It gets to the point where the film is about nothing other than this kid getting laid. The relationship between the two is so focused on their sexing up one another that the emotional bond between the two is weakened. This is a fatal flaw since Berg must have a deep, and believable, emotional connection in order to explain his actions for the rest of the film. Daldry expends all of his energies with the sex scenes that the remainder of the film is devoid of any real emotional punch.

Kate Winslet won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Hanna. This once again proves that one does not need to actually provide a masterful performance to win an Oscar, one simply needs to seem like they did. Winslet's no slouch, but this performance could have been done just about anyone. Now that I consider it, it would have been a far more interesting film if it had been cast with Selma Hayek in the lead - but that would make this into an entirely different movie. Back to Winslet - she's okay in the role, not great. The other performances are solid, but also not masterful. David Kross keeps up with Winslet and shows he can act. He will probably have a good career. He manages the transition from innocent teen to jaded young adult effectively and is a good anchor for the whole production.

Overall, this film is not worth the attention and hype it has received. The Oscars were far too generous, as are most critics. This is a lopsided, and sometimes even boring film that misses its mark. On top of all of this, the relationship between a fifteen year old and an older woman is given far too much attention. I have strict rules when it comes to the portrayal of sexuality and children in film, this includes teens. David Kross may have been of age during the filming of this production, but to show him in full-frontal nudity while portraying a kid is unacceptable in my book. I don't know what the laws were in Germany in the late forties, so it may be incorrect to call Hanna a statutory rapist - but for the sake of what my point is, I will refer to her as such. She is raping a fifteen year old boy, taking his innocence; which yes, I understand is the whole point of the story. My issue is with Daldey fawning over the sex scenes. We can be told of the relationship without having to see her sagging breasts and his dangle. It is unnecessary and it is therefore pornographic in its delivery - given that he's supposed to be underage, this is a huge problem.

I don't recommend this film. It is no where near as good as others have claimed.

* - When was it agreed that every other film will not only display someone vomiting, but when it happens we have to SEE it happen. Having the character turn away after dry heaving a little isn't enough - we have to witness the projectile leap from their lips and splatter heavily on the ground. I've noticed the vomiting shot is usually found in films that are meant to be smart and serious. It is as if the filmmakers say to the audience, "See the despair of the human condition! Witness the trouble of this character's body and soul...okay, that's done, let's go look at Winslett's aged butt."

Related Reviews:
Ralph Fiennes movies
In Bruges (2007)
Schindler's List (1993)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Cinema Dave
Roger Ebert

The G-Rated Christian: Part II: If you keep your head stuck in the sand which part of you is facing the rest of the world?

This is the second part of my look at Christian cultural cave dwellers. Click here to read the first post, Does God Call For Us to Become Ned Flanders?

Some of this may be familiar if you've read my post from last week - I'm reposting this bit because the point is worth making IMHO.

When I am speaking with a Christian who recoils at the idea of watching movies, I will hear the usual complaints. They will condemn Hollywood for all of its transgressions. It is a place loaded with money grubbing whores who will sell our souls at a discount. Christians will often cite their reasons for not watching movies to be that they don’t want to sin, they don’t want to be tempted, they don’t want to become too comfortable with leisurely activities. One thing I rarely hear about is the world at large. More often than not, Christians tend to speak of cinema as individuals and not as a part of this world. We do not live in bubbles, although many Christians seem to want to have it that way. We live in this world. It is part of our job, while were are here, to help clean things up around here. Film can and will help in getting this work completed.

One aspect of hiding oneself from the box office, or neutering ones’ entertainment choices to items that never get more intellectual than children’s shows is that you are out of step with the rest of the world that surrounds you.

By the way, the verse you’re probably thinking of right now is Colossians 3:2 “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”

Yeah, I know we’re supposed to keep our eyes on the prize and not the Oscars. Keep with me for a while more. If a Christian fails to remain connected to the culture in some fashion – I’ll say that again because it is important, in some fashion – they will not be able to speak the language of those around them. This is an entertainment based culture. For better or for worse (okay, just for worse) we engage each other by means of our entertainment. Today, people discuss television shows and movies the way other generations would speak of the weather. Many people can hold complete conversations using little more than movie quotes and references. Trust me, its possible, my brother-in-law is the king of doing this. If Christians turn away from the culture they lose the ability to fully understand what is going on around them. If we don’t know what is going on, if we don’t speak the language, how can we possibly expect to have effective missions?

In Acts 17:16-23, Paul preaches in Athens. What does he do? Athens is a cultural capital lost in a swamp of theological musings. At the time numerous idols are erected and worshipped. The place, while beautiful and vibrant is spiritual dead. Paul doesn’t meander in, see the pagans and then throw run away crying. What does he do? He enters Athens, investigates and comes to understand their arguments and thinking and the proceeds to change their hearts by speaking their cultural language.

Acts 17:16-23
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the Godfearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?
20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

In this passage we see that Paul, being of strong faith, is able to engage in a non-Christian culture on its own terms. He works to understand and then moves to turn it towards Christ. What would have been the result if Paul would have simply took his blocks and went home like many Christians demand we do today?

I need to be explicit now. I am NOT saying Christians need to immerse themselves in crass culture. No, you do not have to see the Saw films, you do not need to sit down and watch a box set of Sex in the City. My point is that we need to carefully try to understand the wider culture. It is not sinful to consume material, which does not cause harm, to remain relevant in this culture. If your faith is strong, you can see opposing worldviews and not be swayed. Learn to read culture and you can actually see opposing worldviews and see ways to change them. Keep hiding and you abandon your post. If we continue down the path of avoidance at all costs we have abandoned the non-believers to the worst possible fates when it was within our power to help. I can’t think of any less Christian than that.

What I Said, Only Better

Julie of Happy Catholic was kind enough to post some nice words, along with a link, to my recent rant against overly cautious Christians. One of her commenters, Elizabeth Anne of A Quiet Corner delivers the point quickly and directly - something I failed to do.

"I'm always baffled at people who get upset when their kids go off to college and suddenly fall for the worst of the facile left wing undergrad crap. They complain that they sent off perfect Christian children and the University was magically able to turn them into feminist, socialist, America-hating anarchists in one semester flat. It just makes me want to smack my forehead into my desk, repeatedly.

Why? Because the only way kids would fall for this crap is if *it's the first time they're hearing about it*. It would be like sending them to the congo without a malaria vaccine and being amazed when they come home with it. You don't inoculate kids against bad ideas by sheltering them from them. You inoculate them against bad ideas in the same way you inoculate them against a disease: by introducing them to it in a controlled setting. They're going to go into the world and be faced with a lot of kids their own age who are very enthusiastic about these things, and they need armament against it, and that armament requires a full understanding of the other side. "Protecting" them from the culture also means failing to teach them how to read it, how to see the subtle messages that are far more compelling that outright advertising because it *is* so subtle."

a) Thank you Julie for the link. You're the best.
b) Thank you Elizabeth Anne for saying it better.

The G-Rated Christian: Part I - Does God Call For Us to Become Ned Flanders?

Protecting oneself from temptation and slipping into sin is a constant battle all Christians understand. Some of us are quite weak and the slightest push in a particular direction will lead them to a fall. We are also prompted to refrain from luring another into sin. These issues pose a constant discussion in Christian circles as to what is and what is not permitted while leading a “Christian life”. In this culture of leisure we are particularly exposed to more temptations than previous generations. As it turns out its easier to be tempted to watch a Hollywood bimbo jiggle her wares in some movie if one doesn’t have to waste time doing things like keeping their crops alive or fending off disease and invading armies. The advances in technology and science ease our lives and we’re finding that, like Chaucer said, "Idle hands are the devil's tools". In other words, many find it hard to remain good while living in this great age.

Reacting to the flood of media we have experienced over the last 50 years, many have opted to take the road of least resistance. To them walking with Christ means one must refrain from watching movies. Many contend that any non-Christian flavored media is sinful by nature and should be avoided. The problem with these points of view is that they do not promise the favor of salvation. Only grace affords us that. These positions usually derive more from a stance of legalism than actual acknowledgment of Christ’s love. If one chooses freely, and for good reason, to avoid these things I support them fully. Again, many of us are burdened by weaknesses and anything people can do to shield themselves is a benefit. Those who blindly follow doctrine and haven’t bothered themselves with investigating these issues for themselves – well, you and I will disagree. I will never stop you from your choice, but we will disagree on your decision (or lack of a decision as I would contend.)

The common tract with Christians is to rely on the ratings system as a means to decide which films are permitted and which ones should be avoided at all costs. Some only see G-rated films while more allow PG (and the occasional PG-13) movie to be seen. The usual rule is that R-rated films are off limits and inherently sinful.

This is wrong.

Without going into the details of how or why the ratings system was developed in the late 1960’s (I’ll get into that in another post,) I first have to say that the ratings system is by no means a proper judge of the spiritual value of a film. If a Christian is only interested in avoiding content such as nudity, sexual scenes, harsh language and violence, then yes, the ratings will work. The problem is that the ratings do not cover CONTEXT. Example: there is a difference between the shower scenes in Schindler’s List and the one in Porky’s. One (Porky’s) was performed to illicit lust in the audience the other (Schindler’s List) was done to show the horrors of the victims of the Holocaust and the cruelty of the Nazis. Both scenes show the content of full frontal nudity but the context is very different. Both are R-rated films. A Christian who refuses all R-rated movies is casting out the good with the bad for the sake of simplicity. I personally think Schindler’s List is a brilliant film that any adult Christian should see. It is an intelligent and moving piece that juxtaposes the worst of human endeavor against all that is good in the human heart. Spielberg’s frank imagery is needed to make his point. While Spielberg is not a Christian, we can still look at his work and its effect in the light of Jesus and ask does this film with all of its graphic scenes follow Ephesians 5:11 “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” I say yes. By getting a clear idea of the crimes committed and the impact felt by its victims Spielberg did fully expose the evil in the Nazi world. We, as an audience, are made aware that these were events are more than just paragraphs in our history books but were experienced by living people, children of God, who were slaughtered by the minions of the devil. One following the rules of the ratings system throws out important works out of laziness not righteousness.

For those who cite verses such as Psalm 11:5 “The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” or perhaps Romans 12:9 “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” or any of the other verses urging us to only view what is beautiful, I agree with you. These verses should be tightly clung to whenever one looks over their choices of entertainment. This said, we should not simply decide that what is “good” or “beautiful” always equates a sanitary view of the world. In my opinion, sanitizing this world to make it appear sinless is a lie. I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure lying isn’t a Christian tenant. Yes, there is beauty in this world but there is also sin. To promote a view of this world where sin is not treated seriously is wrong in my estimation. We are to “take captive every thought” (2 Corinthians 10:5 and “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21) we cannot do this if we simply avoid the unpleasant things so we don’t have to give them consideration.

What we need to be careful of is the celebration of sin or the promotion of it. This is where you will find the cautions listed above will have more effect. The love of showing and experiencing violence is the difference between things such as the violence in Saving Private Ryan and the violence in Hostel. If a production blurs the distinction between the right and the wrong (Pirates of the Caribbean for example) or drops all pretensions and comes out on the side of evil (Mr. Tarantino, I’m looking at you) we should tread very lightly if at all.
I will go further and say that the avoidance of culture by Christians has lead to the rapid decline of our society. Perhaps we should look at why Christians have fallen back on the ratings system in the first place. As Christians continue to pull away we have seen the abandoned culture fester in the hands of those left behind. Without Christians engaged in the culture we allow for those consumed by evil and the things of this world to take control. The explosion in porn, torture films and crude behavior in popular culture should not surprise us. The only thing we as a collective condone is condemnation of non-Christian thought. If we are disengaged then we don’t have a voice in the culture. If we don’t lead they won’t follow.

Related posts:
The G-Rated Christian: Part II
The First Step is to Watch Where You're Going
Learning Remote Control Control

Non-Film Related Post of the Day: Tea Party Speech

I know this is a film review site and I haven't been firing off the reviews like I used to. I promise, this will be the last non-film related post for a while.

I found a copy of my Tea Party Speech online. Here it is:

Is it me or do I have a voice that sounds like Kermit the Frog with a head cold?

If you listen closely, you can actually hear the crowd "hurumph!"

I gave the speech on April 15th at the foot of the State Capitol in Saint Paul, Minnesota. There were roughly 8,000 people in attendance. I was the only person speaking who didn't have a talk show, never ran for office or affiliated with any political movement (thus the difficulty locating a video online.) This was also my debut giving a speech in public. Prior to this I've only taught in small classroom settings.

To find the speech elsewhere online go here:
To all of my liberal readers, thank you for your continued patience (Greg, I'm looking at you.) I now return you to your regularly scheduled sarcastic film reviews.

Suburban Christianity and the Cult of Me

Chucking opinions out online is like throwing feathers into the wind. You never know where they’re going to end up and which ones will float back your direction. Usually, I have traffic coming in from a variety of message boards that I have nothing to do with. People get chatting, someone does some Google fishing and comes up with one of my posts. They toss a link up and, more times than not, the commenters descend on my review like ravenous lions on a bleeding impala. This kind of thing is happening right now on at least three boards that I know about. As a rule, I will follow a link back to see what’s being said. 99.9999% of the time it's a gaggle of no-minds tossing around pedestrian moral arguments that make no sense if pressed. In one case, I’ve come up on a board I feel compelled to talk about here. These folks aren’t the usual troupe of hyperventilating dimwits trying to sound smarter than one another. Over at, there’s a brief exchange about Christian film reviews sites. During the discussion one writer explains that her 13 year old son is bugging her to watch Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Someone does a Google search and they find my review. To sum it up, I find it an enjoyable movie founded in one of the strongest scripts I’ve ever read (structurally speaking.) I have an issue with the film since it promotes reverse mortality, good = evil, evil = good. It isn’t obvious, but structurally, this is what the story does. It says breaking moral codes, being a pirate, is superior to keeping to duties and responsibilities. Read the full review for more on my point regarding the film. Why I’m talking about his here is the end of the comment string on the board. The person with the 13 year old says

I don't guess we'll be watching it. Better safe than sorry.

This is where I slap my palm to my forehead.

Previous generations confronted witchdoctors, satanists and all matter of philosophical creep. Us? We’re sent running by Johnny Depp in a handkerchief.

It is my opinions that many Christians have become far too scared of this big bad world to be of any use in saving it. Honestly, better safe than sorry over a Disney movie? Regarding a 13 year old? This teen will presumptively be leaving the home in less than five years and he/she is too fragile to handle Pirates of the Caribbean? I don’t necessarily mean to launch on this woman trying to look out for her family. It’s just that I see this all of the time - parents over protecting Christian kids to the point of hobbling their ability to cope with the world as it exists. My advice to her is simple, let the kid watch if they want and use this moment. Wisdom only works if its used and the social arguments made in the film can be a launching board to discuss not only the film's philosophy but also how even an innocent looking chunk of culture can influence our thinking. But, my beef isn’t really with this specific movie, but more about the cultural choice in general. American Christians have become wimpy. Unable to stand on our own. We pride ourselves in being outside of the modern culture when in truth we reek of it. The modern culture celebrates the big me. Everything is about me. Secularists mock Christ primarily because His presence demands they stop looking out for me. It is about Him not me and that's just too intrusive for most folk.

When I hear some Christian swooning in fear over movies or anything else in the culture, it warns we have become too interested about me. Over and over I hear Christians say that they never or rarely watch movies because they’re too concerned about being tempted, being led astray. Too often I see Christians talking about boycotting or protesting things they don’t like. This is all about the big me more than it is about God and we should be ashamed.

Obviously, it is important to keep tabs on one’s temptations and to do one’s best to not allow one’s weaknesses to run their lives. This, what should be a caution, has turned into a lifestyle for many Christians. It’s what I call "suburban Christianity". Having been weaned in American culture, the modern suburban Christian is completely consumed by the big me. This fear of being tempted is a self-serving racket meant to put the Christian in a strange victim role where they are constantly being taunted by the evil culture outside their door. The big bad world is nasty and scary and, golly, I’m so precious, so tender in the Lord’s eye, that poor little me can’t take the slightest breeze of discomfort. Again, before people start firing off comments, let me make this clear – I’m not talking about actual temptation (watching porn, torture porn horror movies, other salacious material) I’m talking someone who cowers under their pillow over Lord of the Rings because Gandalf casts spells.

This suburban Christianity is so focused on training Christians to cover their own theological butts that they can’t effectively speak to those outside the church walls. We are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20) How can we do this if we’re too frightened to take on our own DVD players?

I’m not saying you have to go out and watch the whole Saw series to be able to deliver the Word. What I am saying is that we have become too comfortable and too cautious – I’ll even go as far to say that we’ve gotten too lazy. It is easier to write off the world than to lend a hand in trying to save it. It is easier to avoid all temptation and all arguments against the faith than to confront them and hold them to the light of Christ. Allowing this avoidance culture corrupt the church is THE biggest reason we are in the cultural mess we’re in today. Sick of seeing porn on demand? Tired of living in a culture where news broadcasters can make “teabagging” jokes on air without fear of reprisal? Disgusted by the mockery of our Lord on prime time television? We have no one but ourselves to blame. The maintenance of this world falls to us, not someone else. When we turn our backs on the culture because it’s too icky and gosh I’m so sensitive – what do you expect will happen? Go find your Bible. Look up Acts 17:16-34. Did Paul shy away from the enemy? Did he turn from a fight? No. He went in, learned the culture and learned its language. He became like his hosts and turned them using their own arguments, their own ways. If Paul was with us today would he be too scared to view Pirates of the Caribbean? No. I believe he’d watch it to discuss its merits and its flaws. Then he’d use it to teach if he could find a way. Then again, Paul wasn’t so much into that whole me thing.

Here is the kicker, if you honestly believe the Bible, if you truly meant the words that passed your lips at your baptism then how can you turn your back on your fellow man for the sake of yourself? We are Christian. We believe that HE is the only way. When you turn your back on the culture, when you decide you’re too fragile or things are too corrupt for you to deal with, you are saying your comfort is more critical than the salvation of your fellow man. Scared of being tempted? Frightened of a trial of faith - then you pray and then get up off your behind and lean into the storm and persevere - then pray some more. Yes, we must protect ourselves but you can take it too far. You don’t wear a suit of armor to a football game. We must put aside this weak and pathetic crutch of being too important to do the hard work. We shouldn’t search out sinful behavior but we shouldn’t avoid it when it comes around. Confront it, call it by its name and understand it. Christians are meant to be out in the world, not hidden in their caves. After all, who is stronger in their faith? The man who protests outside the brothel or the Christian who walks inside and talks to the whores and tries to get them help?

Tea Party Speech

I've had a number of people request that post the text of the speech I gave at the Saint Paul Tax Day Tea Party. The speech is below. I believe it got a good reception, plenty of hollering from the crowd, plenty of reaction. I still haven't received the tape of the speech from the organizers. I will post that when it comes through.

Good evening. I want to begin by pointing out that unlike many of the protests we’ve seen on these grounds over the years, we have to conduct our event after hours. This is because, unlike other protesters, we actually have real jobs. For the politicians, this is important to note: we’re not just a collection of brainwashed college kids. We are the adults of society. We are productive, we pay taxes, and we vote.

Like me, many of you have never been to a protest before tonight. And, like me, you work hard to support your family and try to do the right thing. What have we gotten for following the rules?

Our government throws our hard-earned money to their cronies like a bunch of clowns tossing candy to the kids at a parade. When we look at the actions of both the Obama and Bush administrations—when we look at the Democratically-controlled congress—when we look at the Republican bobble- heads who vote with them, we see that they no longer represent us, they just resent us.

How else can you explain their producing this insulting stimulus bill and passing this irresponsible budget? These are not the actions of a government in touch with its people—and certainly not one in touch with reality. Perhaps they are digging us so deep into debt because they figure that if they dig deep enough eventually they will come up in China. While they’re there, they can visit our assets.

This plotting mob of lawyers and malcontents are threatening to enslave our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren—enslave them to servicing a debt that bankrupts them before they’re even born. Previous generations expected their children to do better than they have done. If we allow these bailouts and this budget to stand, we will be the first generation to guarantee our children will do worse than we have done. Is that what we want?

We all know the biggest problem with politics is that it’s conducted by politicians, but this inept crop didn’t even show us the respect of reading this bill before they passed it. Apparently, we have elected the kind of people who will take a prescription from Jack Kervorkian without ever bothering to read the label.

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I haven’t read the stimulus bill either. I’ve tried; the problem is that every time I pick it up, my cat tries to bury it in the litter box.

Our generation has a choice. Are we going to be the final generation of free men? So drunk on our vices that we can no longer summon the interest to save this union for our children? Or are we going to organize and confront this growing tyranny?

Look around you right now. These people, these Americans are your brothers and sisters. Together we are more than just a collection of individuals, we are a movement. In order for there to be a movement, each one of us must keep moving. We must take on these congressional pirates, and we must demand a banking system based on real money and not just happy thoughts and IOUs. We must remind them they serve us and that the government does not dictate the terms of the American Dream. Our rights, our freedoms, including our economic freedoms, are not portioned out to us by some sniveling bureaucrat on a Washington committee—they are conferred upon us by the Creator. We are Americans and we are free, we will not bow to any man - or king.

When the government turns on you, it is easy for the average person to feel alone and isolated, to feel like the government won't listen to you. Well, I guarantee, they are going to listen to us. President Obama, Vice President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, Senators Reid, McCain, Snowe, Spector, and Dodd: You may be used to hearing crowds yelling “Yes we can.” But we have seen your proposals and we have seen your plans for our children. And beginning tonight we are telling you, “No, you won’t!”

The Heart of Texas (2008)

Should I see it?


This is a small film that packs a huge emotional punch. Given that this is a straight-to-video, small scale documentary, my expectations were understandably low when I put this into the DVD player. I was very impressed with how much the filmmakers were able to do with so little. From the wonderful camera work to the effective editing, everyone on the crew have combined perfectly to deliver a very moving documentary. The film follows an inspirational story of a man who lives his faith, and in doing so shows the real meaningful change forgiveness can have on not just individuals but on a community. I am hesitant to get into the details of the story since the film will have far more emotional punch if you go into it blind.

I am a Christian, but I'm not easily moved. This film cut through all of my jaded sarcasm. To put it as plainly as I can, the true story that is presented in this film is as inspirational and moving as the trailer suggests. For once, I can say a trailer is actually telling you the truth about the product it is promoting.

This is a perfect film for church groups, or those who just want something uplifting. Even if you’re not a Christian, this film can still speak to you because it reminds us that there is more to the universe than our self-interests, or even our own lives and it keeping our eyes on a Christ-filled life that brings it all into focus - even during the painful times.

Minnesota Tea Party

The Tea Party in Saint Paul went great.

Pictures and the text of my script will be posted later today.

Thanks to everyone for their e-mails and prayers.

Non-Film Related Post of the Day: Twin Cities Tax Day Tea Party

Today is the big day.

I will be speaking at the Capitol in Saint Paul at 6:27pm CST.

Note that this is a BIPARTISAN event. Every communication I've had with the organizers stresses this point. Despite what you may read online, I am telling you, this is meant for ANYONE who believes that punitive taxation and overturning the economics of this country is a bad thing. It is not about left or right - a pox on both their houses.

Los Cronocrímenes "Timecrimes" (2007)

Should I see it?

Anyone who loves time travel movies will absolutely love this film. Most films dealing with time travel hint at the complications that will logically occur. Back to the Future plays with the cause and effect results of actions of the time traveler, while Primer copes with the more personal complications. This film by Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo dives right into the meaty elements of time travel. Vigalondo sets his main character Héctor (Karra Elejalde (They’re Watching Us)) into a web of intersecting timelines and a descending parade of motivations from various parties all of which just happen to be the same man. What Vigalondo manages here is a very complicated string of events but he handles them in a digestible way and provides his audience a fun and thought provoking film.

If you have ever watched a time travel film and wanted it to get deeper into the logical twists, this is a perfect film for you. While Vigalondo is forced to push some choices that don’t pass the smell test in order to keep his plot moving, overall this is one of the more enjoyable films I’ve seen in a long time.

Cautions: There is full female nudity and mild violence - all of which is contextual.

Click on the beat up guy to view the trailer

Related Reviews:
Time travel movies
12 Monkeys (1995)
Time Changer (2002)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Roger Ebert
Film Forward

Tales of the Black Freighter (2009)

Should I see it?

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Watchmen didn’t cover the entire series. This is understandable since the episodic nature of the books isn’t capable of being translated to screen. First, it would take too much time to present all of the material. Secondly, its structure would be too chaotic for most audiences. This direct-to-video animated accompaniment to the film is for serious fanboys only, and even these geeky losers may turn their nose up to this nonsense. The story is simple enough, having survived a deadly naval ambush, a captain creates a raft out of the corpses of his dead men. He sails the waves to the port where his enemies are celebrating. He shows up and slaughters said enemies. In the context of the graphic novel this all makes some thematic sense. On its own, it is a violent, gory and needless tale of empty revenge.

The story was never meant to stand alone. This film is proof.

Related Reviews:
Gerard Butler movies
Beowulf and Grendel (2005)
Rocknrolla (2008)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
DVD Verdict

Let the Right Commenter In

Comment fight!

When you post your opinions online you have to expect the whole world to come by and kick you in the soft bits every once in a while. I've become so used to complete strangers saying all kinds of things to me over the most inane comments, mistakes and/or opinions. My favorite is still a woman named Tessa who hoped I would be raped and contract A.I.D.S. over my reivew of The Constant Gardener.

One of the interesting things about running film review site is that many people expect me to have an encyclopedic knowledge of every film I discuss. I will be honest, I am a one man show. I research the films I watch when I can. I pay attention to changes in the market and track rumors and news. This said, I do have a life outside of posting my thoughts on films online and things get past me.

Last month I posted my review of Låt den rätte komma in “Let the Right One In”. To sum up my review, I say it is a smart and great film. It is a genre changer. This said, there is a one second shot of a twelve-year-old's public region. In my review I cite this as being pornography. The scene is simple, a boy opens a door and walks in on his twelve-year-old girl friend. Her lower half is naked and we see her pubic region. This disturbed me because in my book the scene was meant to be sexual in nature. The girl was naked, not nude (nude being the intentional removal of clothes, naked being against one's will). Given the budding relationship between the two characters there was also an obvious sexual overtone to the moment. This pushed the scene into the pornographic realm in my estimation. This understanding that pornography includes exposed flesh, not just overt sexual action.

Well, get someone to post a link to the review on Facebook and let the floodgates open.

People who have no idea what I'm up to, who have no idea my point-of-view are flooding my inbox with all sorts of e-mails and comments.

It is interesting, at least to me , to see the absolute refusal of people to see what I'm trying to say. Perhaps its just that I am incapable of expressing my viewpoint (actually, that's likely the case.) Just the same, there's plenty of huffing and puffing going on, click on this link to read the fun.

Movie Trailer: The New Twenty

The trailer doesn't offer much. A collection of urban thirty-year-0lds having trouble. I'm not sure how this lifts itself to be worthy of being put to film, but this is mostly because the trailer is just a mish-mash of thinly related dialog and images. They may want to go back to the drawing board.


Screenwriters: Chris Mason Johnson and Ishmael Chawla
Director: Chris Mason Johnson
Actors: Bill Sage, Terry Serpico (Righteous Kill) and Nicole Bilderback

The Forgotten (2004)

Should I see it?

Short Review:
This illogical heap is a huge success, if its goal was to make the audience as remorseful and confused as its lead characters.

The Forgotten

This film blindly sprints its plot forward and runs straight into the hurdles of its own logic. I understand the need to mold a character’s behavior to push a plot in a predetermined direction. It’s poor story management, but sometimes it’s needed. However, it is rare to see it occur throughout the entire story. I’ve seen plots on Sesame Street that are less contrived than this one.

Even the chase scenes have their character’s making illogical, yet correct choices. The main character drops out of sight of the bad guys. The bad guys automatically know which route to take to get to her. It is as if they have a copy of the script and are following the scene description. "No! Hold on! It says here, she’s run down this hallway and then taken a left!" It’s illogical and worse yet, its bad film making.

Julianne Moore can act, but is still a distant performer. Her failure can be partly blamed on the films she chooses. You can’t expect a NASCAR driver to win the race driving a Prius. She has to start picking better projects otherwise she’ll end up like Glenn Close: talented but irrelevant.

Forget about renting this useless, confused mess.

Related Reviews:
Julianne Moore movies
Short Cuts (1993)
Children of Men (2003)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Beyond Hollywood

Easy Money (1983)

Should I see it?
Yes, if you're a fan of Dangerfield - but with strong cautions.

Rodney Dangerfield was a very funny man. He was also notably crude. Dangerfield is Monty a gluttonous, boorish fool. Monty’s very wealthy mother-in-law dies and in her will leaves everything her daughter, Monty’s wife. There is a catch, in order to get the wealth; Monty must remain straight for one straight year. No booze, no drugs, no swearing and no women. He must live a perfectly clean life.

This film stoops pretty low for its jokes. This is par for the course with Dangerfield and is expected. To be fair although the jokes are filthy, the humor is clever and smart. This should have been a hollow star vehicle but it out performs expectation. The morality of the film is, of course, very shaky. Yes, Monty becomes a better person by removing vice from his life but these improvements are mostly cosmetic. He is essentially the same guy at the beginning of the film as he is at the end. There’s no huge transformation of his person. This being the case, the ending of the film is labored. Dangerfield’s charm glosses over these critical flaws and is probably the reason why Monty doesn’t seem to change too much. Dangerfield’s persona as the quintessential likable loser makes Monty approachable even when he is being a detestable lout. Since he’s not despicable at the beginning there is little to see as being transformed by his change throughout the film other than the superficial stuff.

This absolutely isn’t for everyone. If you’re a fan of Dangerfield’s other films, this one is of the same vein. If you’re sensitive to adult humor then you’re going to way to avoid this film like the plague.

Related Reviews:
Lowbrow comedies
Reno 911!: Miami (2007)
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Roger Ebert

Oldboy (2003)

Should I see it?

A film geek favorite, Chan-wook Park’s strange and violent film about a man who is mysteriously imprisoned for fifteen years and then goes out to take revenge on his captor gets more praise than it should. There are some good elements to the film. Chan-wook Park has a great eye and style. Min-sik Choi is striking in the lead as Dae-su Oh, the quiet prisoner. Min-sik Choi is quite mesmerizing in the film and if the movie deserves credit, he should get most of the attention. These positives are soured by the sheer violence. This is a very dark movie and Chan-wook Park is comfortable presenting the harsher elements of the story.

Most American audiences probably won’t get too much from viewing the film. It’s too quirky and dark for most audiences. Film geeks and fanboy types (I’m sure you know who you are) will enjoy it.

Related Reviews:
Another Chan-wook Park film
J.S.A.: Joint Security Area

Other Critic’s Reviews:
Roger Ebert

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

Should I see it?
Of course not.

Short Review:
A masterful effort at making the cinematic equivalent to a fart lighting contest. Inherently juvenile with some brief moments of flash, but in the end, the thing simply stinks.

Snakes on a Plane

This is a bad movie, a very bad movie. It’s not even the good kind of bad movie that the filmmakers wanted this to be. The only thing that saves this film is the name Snakes on a Plane. With a title like Snakes on a Plane it’s a little hard to complain you didn’t get your money’s worth. Whining that this film is terrible is like vomiting and then complaining your mouth tastes tart. It’s part of the package.

The producers went back for a re-shoot because they actually took advice from people on the Internet. That’s like a community theater taking stage direction from the kids smoking outside of a high school. The Internet is packed with information and some good thinking, but he producers weren’t dipping in that end of the pool. The Internet-based additions, shockingly, kicked this film from PG-13 to an R-Rating. Smart business plan, an R-Rating means the investors couldn’t look forward to any hope of wide merchandising to major retailers and, I believe, the average gross profit for a PG-13 is round 50%. R hangs around 37%. While the film did manage to recoup its cost, they can assume they lost money in order to look cool to kids in chat rooms who demanded to hear Samuel L. Jackson scream "I've had it with these m-f-ing snakes on this m-f-ing plane!"

The film itself is much like you would expect. Bad guys, trying to kill a witness to a murder, place a bunch of drugged up snakes on a plane. The plane takes off and the snakes attack. From that point forward the film descends into watching people screaming, getting bitten by digitized snakes and having Samuel L. Jackson flare his bulbous eyes while yelling every syllable. There’s not much beyond that. After the first ridiculous moments of snakes biting people, the film loses much of its steam. There are only so many times you can see an actor pretend to fend off a cobra before you begin looking at your watch. Besides, they open the snake attacks with a girl getting bitten on her nipple, a guy getting chomped on his daddy sacks, followed by people getting it in the eye, butt and tongue. There are only so many places one can get bit. Once you run out of nerve centers and naughty parts there’s no where to go.

To summarize, if this isn’t normally the kind of deal that turns your crank and you’re thinking it will be fun to see; it won’t be. If seeing chicks and dudes, like, getting bit, like y’know in the junk and stuff, appeals to you then you're dumb enough to watch the movie.

Related Reviews:
Samuel L. Jackson movies
Eve's Bayou (1997)
1408 (2007)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Christian Spotlight on the Movies
Film Critics United

Movie Quote: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Dutton Peabody
Good people of Shinbone; I beg of you; I, I'm your conscience, the small voice crying out in the wilderness, I, I'm your father confessor! I. I'm; what else am I?

Tom Doniphon
Town drunk?

Better Off Dead (1985)

Should I see it?
If you're over 35, yes.

One of the quirkier comedies of the 1980's and one of the better teen comedies of the era, this film still holds up quite well today. Considering how entrenched this movie is in the time in which it was made, the fact that its still enjoyable is surprising. Yes, its a cheaply made and flawed movie, but the inventiveness of the script saves the production. John Cusack does well as Lane Meyer a despondent teen who has been dumped by his girlfriend and who is taunted by a psychotically obsessed paperboy.

If its before your time, you may still get something out of it but ultimately its a pop-cultural trinket for us suburban Gen-X types.

Related Reviews:
80's Teen comedies
Sixteen Candles (1984)
The Breakfast Club (1985)

Other Critic’s Reviews:
A Nutshell Review

Stalker (1979)

Should I see it?
Only if you're patient.

Andrei Tarkovsky's classic science fiction film is a patient, atmospheric film about three men who journey to a forbidden, remote place where an mystical presence known as "The Room". This is in an abandoned area call "The Zone" where all dreams come true. The men, led by one called "Stalker" carefully cross through the Zone.

The plot doesn't sound like much but this is a rich film. Please note, it is very slow moving, Tarkovsky's eye hangs on to scenes and settings far longer than other directors would dare. His apparent lingering shots are deceptive, at first they may seem intrusive and unnecessary, but his shots and editing make this a intimate movie, allowing us to catch the details and feel of his scenes. This is a unique film; I can't say I have seen anything else like it. But again, be warned, this is not for everyone; you have to be able to sit for long stretches to make it through the whole thing.

Related Reviews:
Another Andrei Tarkovsky movie
Andrei Rublev (1969)

Other Critic's Reviews:
Film Fanatic
Christian Spotlight on the Movies

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