Movie Poster: A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day's Night movie poster



Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Friday Rewind: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring


*** Originally posted on May 27, 2009***


Should I see it?
Yes.


Short Review: Apt title, if you redefine "Curious" to mean "Pointless".


Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Alien3) is brilliant and creating films that are marvelous to view. Each of his films is a fully realized, rich visual orgy for the eyes. He has a talent for design and revels in it every time he gets behind the camera. There are times when his gift compliments his film (Fight Club, Se7en) but there are other times where it overwhelms a weaker script (The Game, Panic Room). Fincher seems to be a little too in love with his own cinematic voice and has begun to trend towards rambling too on long. Like his previous film Zodiac, he has some compelling source material and knows how to design a film around his story. He fails to keep his narrative from getting too lethargic. Like Zodiac this film tends to be a rambling mess without a useful conclusion. Unlike that film, this outing makes up for its deficiencies by displaying a couple of notable performances and a production design worthy of study.

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film tells the tale of Benjamin Button who mysteriously is born an old man and gradually gets younger as his life progresses. The central conciet of the film is handled carefully by Fincher who eases the audience into the concept. Brad Pitt as the titular character gives his best performance in years (considering his films over the past few years, this isn't saying much.) He delivers on the task of combining the aging body of an old man with the spirit and mind of a very young boy. This a complicated duality to play out and make believable. Pitt, under Fincher's direction pulls it off. Opposite Pitt, Cate Blanchett plays Daisy, Button's love. While her performance is less challenging on the technical level, Blanchett does provide a empathetic and engaging character to counter Pitt's more novelty based role.

As mentioned, the film's strength is in its look and its ability to bring its world to life. The design work in this production is awe inspiring and a delight to look at. This is one of the rare films that I would recommend based purely on its look. This is a fortunate quality because the story itself ultimately fails. Since it takes place over a lifetime it is episodic. This is a result of trying to bring a life to the screen. Screenwriter Eric Roth managed this task in his script for Forrest Gump and he handles the passage of time in the same manner here. It makes sense to do so, in both stories we're following the life of an odd character across the decades, both of whom make a living on boats by the way. Like Gump, Button's story is interesting but unlike Gump it's not entertaining. This leads to being involved in his story for a good long time, it runs for almost two and a half hours, but not getting much in return. Forest Gump left its audience with a good vibe and a touching conclusion. This film doesn't strive for this result and the ending feels a bit uneven.

I do recommend the film but with the warning that it may be boring for some audience members. It is as stuffy and aloof as it appears. It is also a very literate movie that patiently displays its characters allowing us to enjoy their details.

Brad Pitt and Cate Blancett in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button


Related Reviews:
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Ocean's 11 (2001)
Babel (2006)


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Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

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Movie Poster: Jeremiah Johnson

Jeremiah Johnson movie poster



Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Movie Trailer: Shadow of a Doubt

A wonderful trailer.




Movie Quote: The Untouchables (1987)

 
Jim Malone
Welcome to Chicago. This town stinks like a whorehouse at low tide.










True Grit (2010)

Reviewer: Jeff Burton


Should I see it?
Absolutely.


True Grit is the Cohen Brothers re-make of the 1969 movie that earned John Wayne an Oscar. The story concerns a fourteen-year old girl's vendetta against her father's murderer.

There are few greater pleasures in contemporary cinema than a Coen Brothers movie that works. This one does. You can put it up there on the shelf next to O'Brother Where Art Thou?, No Country for Old Men and Raising Arizona. That trio makes interesting comparison, because the brothers Coen seem to do best setting putting their words in the twangy mouths of rural Americans. The obvious irony here is that two Jewish guys from suburban Minnesota have evolved into anti-Woody Allens.

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Speaking of their words, True Grit puts their virtuosity with dialog on display again. The distinctive slurred diction combined with SAT vocabulary, 19th century usage, and a horror of contractions is as beautiful as it is artificial. But I do not criticize. The lines make their movies quotable and re-watchable.

True Grit is a sad, funny, meaningful, wonderful film.  It is free of obvious anachronism (both material and ideological), gratuitous violence, incessant cussing, and bared bosoms. Bring everyone in the family competent in fractions.

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Related Reviews:
Jeff Bridges movies
Crazy Heart (2009)
Iron Man (2008)


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Screen Shot: Antikoerper


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Movie Poster: In the Heat of the Night

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Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Movie Trailer: The Grace Card

Odd choice for a title, but okay.

The trailer is traditional stuff for a modern "Christian film".  There are kernels here which could make for a good movie.  Although the continual reference to "grace" concerns me.  If they're hitting me over the head with an idea in the advertisement, how bad will the movie hammer on me?




Tron: Legacy (2010)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring


Should I see it?
Sure- with cautions regarding its worldview.


Short Review: Sure it is brainless, plotless eye candy, but it is well done brainless, plotless eye candy.



I have read other critics complaining this film is short on story. Are you kidding me? What are they expecting?  This isn't a Tennessee Williams play-this is Tron.  It is about people who go into the world of a computer and play games. This is a McMovie, of course it doesn't have any story.  Expecting narrative depth from this production is like hoping to find full nutrition in a fast food strawberry shake. 

Taking this movie for what it is, a video game with an act structure, I have to admit it is as good as it can be.  I am not saying this is a brilliant film and I am not saying this is a great work.  Dealing with it on its own terms, it is strongly executed and meets all reasonable expectations.  For a movie such as this, I consider what I'm saying to be high praise.


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The story is simple enough.  Decades after computer genius Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) disappears, his business partner Alan Brady (Bruce Boxleitner) gets a page from Kevin's old phone number.  Alan alerts Kevin's son Sam (Garrett Hedlund).  Sam returns to his dad's old arcade and discovers the old man's dusty, hidden office.  In the office, Sam accidentally initiates the same process which his father used to enter into the alternate reality of the computer called The Grid.

Sam finds the world of The Grid to be a place of one liners, neon and spandex.  The computer world has been taken over by a tyrant program named Clu, who is an exact replica of Kevin, circa 1989.  Sam is quickly caught and condemned to die by being recruited to participate in the computer's gladiator games.  He is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde) who takes him to his real father who is hiding off-grid.  Father and son reunite and plan to leave The Grid through a portal that is quickly closing up.

As you can tell, there's not much of a story.  The parts of a story that are there either are poorly pieced together or simply fall apart under the weight of their own broken logic.  Everything you've heard or read about the thinness of the story is absolutely true.  Like the original production, this has the complicated narrative of a 1980's video game.

Where the film excels is in its visuals and score. Director Joseph Kosinski has told a horrible story in the best possible way.  This concept was made for 3D and of any film made so far, this is the one which needs to be seen in that format.  Kosinski has a wonderful design to his film and makes the most of the available motifs.  He pulls in a wide array of influences from Blade Runner to Metropolis and takes all of the best parts of the original movie, to create the vivid, striking world of The Grid.

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For pure eye-candy, there is nothing better.  This is a visual marvel and despite the film's deep and troubling script issues (there are several groan-worthy moments), this one of the rare instances where the technology outweighs the dialog.

I will predict right now that this movie will win an Oscar for best score.  The score by Daft Punk is superb and does what every score should do, emphasize the action on screen while also providing the production with a signature sound.  Daft Punk has reworked the laser-pop synth sound of the 80's into a remarkably pleasing and exciting retro score.  If there is only one thing to take away from this production, the soundtrack is a must.

This film also introduces Garret Hedlund to the masses.  Hedlund, who hails from a small town in Minnesota is known for breaking into his first major film, Troy, after being in Los Angeles for just a month.  He has been working since that time but this is his first central role.  While this film won't make him a household name, it does show that he has the charisma and ability to hold up a leading man role.

I do recommend this film, but I do so having to equivocate on a number of items.  That should give you some pause.  This is like me setting you up on a blind date and telling you "Okay, she's a absolutely gorgeous - stunning.  She has great taste in music and is really fun.  That said, she's a ditz who only talks about herself and snorts really loudly when she laughs and she laughs all the time."

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Worldview: Content-wise this is a safe movie for most ages.  This said, there are a number of worldview issues with the film that need to be addressed.  Kevin Flynn belches out plenty of watered-down Zen Buddhism.  His philosophy is not well outlined and ultimately incomprehensible.  Given that Bridges portrays Kevin as being a Zen version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski, his ramblings aren't easy to take seriously.  They are there however, and should be discussed with children viewing the film.

In addition, Kevin and Sam share a sub-communist view of the world where those desiring to be paid for their labor and property are evil and everything should be free.  Sam opens the film by releasing his family's corporation Encom's new operating system to the world.  Sam does this in some poorly defined rebellion against corporate greed.  No word on how Sam feels about stealing the results of his employee's labor to feed his selfish ego. 




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Related Reviews:
Jeff Bridges movies
Crazy Heart (2009)
Iron Man (2008)



Other Critic's Reviews:
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Movie Poster: Cool Hand Luke

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Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Movie Trailer: Hop

I guess the point of this ad is that bunnies like crappy 90's pop music? 






Movie Quote: Analyze This (1999)


Primo Sidone

Get a dictionary. Find out what this "closure" thing is. If that's what he's going to hit us with, I want to be ready.
 










American Gangster (2007)

Reviewer: Julie Davis



 


Outwardly respectable gangster, Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington), makes an excellent living by selling low-priced, high quality heroin on the streets, and surrounding himself with family members whom he can trust. He and his entire organization are largely anonymous to the law. Meanwhile, in a parallel story Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) who is a cop whose extreme honesty has made him anathema to his colleagues. Assigned as the head of the local arm of a federal effort to stop the drug trade at its source, Richie eventually stumbles across Frank Lucas.

This is a very complicated story but the viewer will have little trouble following along.  This says a lot for the skill and talent of the director, editor, and screenwriters. There is no big moral to slap us in the face in large part because this is based on a real story and real stories don't always have an easily seen message. However, in thinking the movie over, it seemed to me that at the base it came down to honesty. Frank Lucas never lies to himself about what he does. He insulates himself and those he loves from it but that isolation is different from lying. This is seen in subtle things such as his stillness for a moment when his nephew tells him that he is giving up his lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player because, "I want to be like you, Uncle Frank." It is subtle, but it is there. Frank knows that is not a worthy goal.

Another telling point about honesty is made when Richie's ex-wife confronts him with an unpalatable bit of truth about him. His reaction is quite telling. Similarly, the end of the movie (which I will not mention for fear of spoiling it) is only possible because Frank at last comes up against a completely honest man in Richie Roberts and that is the one quality that they can appreciate about each other.

Highly recommended.


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You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens

Screen Shot: Valhalla Rising


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Movie Poster: Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces movie poster



Scott Nehring Good News Film Reviews

Movie Trailer: Applause

This could be a very good character study.  The trailer has me anxious to learn more. 

The one problem is that it is a Danish flick which means that even with the subtitles on it will still sound like everyone's dialog is being played back in reverse.





Letters to God (2010)

Reviewer: Scott Nehring

Should I see it?
Nope.


Short Review: Return to sender.



Tyler (Tanner Maguire) is an eight-year-old boy struggling with cancer.  He writes prayers and mails them to God.  His letters inspire his mailman Brady (Jeffrey Johnson) to get his own life in order.  Brady is an alcoholic who has allowed his addition to shatter his family.  Tyler and Brady become friends and plenty of soft, comfy Christian happy times ensue.

It takes the faith-blinded Christian film industry to produce a film where a vulnerable cancer ridden boy is left to interact with a relatively unknown, deeply troubled, single alcoholic man and it is viewed as a good thing.  What parent does this?  What kind of people see this as a proper narrative proposition?  There is little thought given to the fact that a strange, morally weak man is given access to a suffering boy.

If we ignore the inherent problems with the relationship in this film, we are still stuck with the typical Christian film varnishing of reality.  The film follows what has become the typical Christian film motifs: the lost-but not offensive-sinner, the fully saint-like suffering Christian, the comfortable white suburban surrounding, the uplifting and intrusive musical score, etc.  This film trades in the false reality of common Christian entertainment and has all the depth of an after school special.

Our faith is based in truth.  A reading of scripture exposes us to brutally frank and yet uplifting truths.  The constant watering down of the faith and the human experience, as is experienced by viewing this production, is troubling.  Christian film should never equate weak sauce narratives created to meet the lowest common denominators.  Our works should be tough and real.  Through our working with the world as it is dealt to us, we will be able to expose to true power of our faith.

My suggestion, ignore this film.  It speaks to the most troubling aspect of the Christian film industry and it fails to deliver a motivating, inspiring story - truly inspiring.  This is a Happy Moments poster put to film.



Related Reviews:
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The Nativity Story (2006)
The Omega Code (1999)


Other Critic's Reviews:
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The Independent Critic


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You Are What You See:
Watching Movies Through a Christian Lens



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