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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Quick Movie Reviews (2009): Volume Two

And, for your viewing pleasure, another batch of quick movie reviews, including one that is still in theatres! Enjoy:

The Tale of Despereaux
Pros: An adorable children's movie with cute mice and even cute rats. Despereaux is about as cute as Nemo from Pixar-vehicle Finding Nemo. Once the film gets rolling, things really set into place and it becomes an entertaining and thoughtful visualization of madness and the need for forgiveness (but in a lighter manner, not ram-morality-down-your-throat). Overall a good film, although if you children are easily disturbed, consider something else. Someone dies in the beginning (no blood, just a rather humorous death, a la the Frog King in Shrek 3).
Cons: The beginning, while chronologically consistent, unhinged the flow of the film. The first two major sections should have been switched for a better, more cohesive film. Perhaps they were keeping with the book. Also, for some reason the very beginning did not feel real enough, i. e. the voices didn't seem to fit the characters. This levels out soon enough, though. Some more explanation about certain aspects of the mouse and rat worlds could have helped, I think.
Rating: 3.5/5

Death Race
Pros: Brilliant visuals. Almost no CG at all, which I think is something other film makers should be paying attention to. A testament to the fact that you can make a beautiful film without sticking computer visuals into every scene. Rather interesting concept--not an original one, though--and a set of entertaining fist fights and car "chases."
Cons: The ending left something to be desired. I think it came too quick or it seemed too easy, like there wasn't a lot of thought in it.
Rating: 3/5

Jesus Camp
Pros: Depending on how you visualize the purpose of this film, the overall effect is that of terror. This film is frakking horrifying. If you want to see how religion can turn into child abuse, then watch this film.
Cons: I think a film that tried to have a more direct purpose would have proven more interesting to the masses. This film doesn't do much other than show you what is going on in fundamentalist Christian homes. True, what it shows you is disgusting and morally reprehensible, but if it had tried to infuse history, politics, and other aspects in a more meaningful way, I think the film could have been better.
Rating: 1/5 or 4/5 (depends on the purpose: if it's propaganda for the Right, then the first score, if it's an attempt to show the insanity of fundamentalist Christianity, then the second one)

Pros: Absolutely brilliant. Maher is known for his vocal criticisms of religion and it doesn't stop here. This film, however, is not meant entirely as a criticism of religion, but as a Q&A for those that don't know. The problem is that some groups of religious people do not like to be questioned, even if they're honest questions about faith, the truth of the Bible, etc. I'm surprised he got some of the interviews he got and I applaud him for sitting down and calmly asking people questions (to which he generally doesn't get any good answers for).
Cons: I think the religious will have a hard time stomaching this film. The problem is that Maher isn't afraid to crap jokes about religion or to ask questions that to the skeptic seem easy, but to the highly religious seem impossible or, in a lot of cases, as a direct challenge to their faith.
Rating: 5/5

Burn After Reading
Pros: A clever play on the CIA, blackmail, desperate figures, and pathetic wannabes. This is also one of two movies that I actually liked John Malkovich in (the other was Conair), which is a plus. He's actually expertly cast here, along with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and others. This isn't a laugh-out-loud comedy, as far as I am concerned, but a different sort of comedy, a la Sideways.
Cons: Might be a little dark for some. Don't watch this if you like idiot comedy (Scary Movie, Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans). The comedy here is intended to be either subtle or clever (and dark). If you like that sort of thing, I think you will enjoy this one. I think the film could also have done with the one gory scene, as it almost lost me from the comedy (the character could have gotten shot without the need for a lot of blood).
Rating: 4/5

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  1. I watched The Tale of Desperaux trailer and I liked it.
    So I will watch it. But I have to wait for the release in Germany.

    Release date Germany: 29th of March 2009

  2. It's a cute movie and it's unfortunate you have to wait for forever for it to come out in theatres.

  3. I totally loved Burn After Reading. God forbid the Coen brothers manage to do something that doesn't completely rock.

    Both Jesus Camp and Religulous are pretty high on my "to-see" list.

  4. I thought Burn After Reading was quite clever and I do enjoy the less flamboyant forms of comedy (such as Sideways). Granted, I love laughing to the point of tears, but those kinds of movies tend to be less fulfilling by the end and I think Burn After Reading was pretty fulfilling as a comedy.

    As for the other two: Just be warned. You're from Canada if I recall correctly...Jesus Camp paints a sick picture of a small part of America and Religulous is funny and poignant. Jesus Camp is downright terrifying for a rational thinker, though.

  5. I find it fascinating how Hollywood finds it necessary to ridicule Christianity. Interesting that some find negativity with those that make a commitment to something greater than themselves. Religion is often a topic of ridicule for those that are unable to live by a moral “code.” Both Religulous and Jesus Camp portray the extremes.

  6. Well it could have a lot to do with the fact that a lot of religious people are aggressively trying to force people to be like them through the law, such as laws about homosexuality, who can adopt children, and many many many others.
    And, by the way, religion does not determine one's moral code. I am not religious, I have no religion, and I never will, yet I adhere to a moral code developed out of culture as opposed to religion. The first things man created weren't religions, they were societal rules that benefited the species as a whole. So, by following that logic I don't intentionally do things that could be detrimental to the species or to my local human group or to any outlying human group. One does not need religion to be a moral being. Morals have never been the result of religion; religious people think so, but unfortunately they are wrong considering that the first true human religions didn't spring up until tens of thousands of years after mankind came into existence.
    And Religulous doesn't really portray only extremes, it focuses on a lot of things. The entertaining bits happen to be the extremists, but generally the film seeks to question religion.

    And, of course, there is always the argument that those who ridicule religion are ridiculing people who believe something that makes no logical sense whatsoever. Religious people do the same thing, by the way. We call small segments of people who believe that aliens will come and take them to some new heaven crazy, we ridicule Scientology, we refer to ancient religions and the people who believed them crazy, etc. Christianity doesn't get an exemption just because it's current. If anything we should constantly question religion, because religion is not, by any stretch of the truth, an absolute or perfect things. Enough bad can be attributed to it as good, and unfortunately most of the good attributed to it has been done by people who have no religion at all.

  7. "Enough bad can be attributed to it as good, and unfortunately most of the good attributed to it [religion] has been done by people who have no religion at all."

    Um, that doesn't make sense.

    Anyway, it's funny, since I became atheist or whatever I am, I haven't suddenly changed my morals and become an evil person.

    And you are way too critical of it. I know you've never been faithful yourself, so it's hard to understand, but it's not about believing in something logical. The world isn't always logical, there are lots of things we don't understand and can't test for and we don't laugh at them.

    So basically, keep laughing at the fundamentalists, but quit going on about the logic thing; there's no need to fight and question people who are quietly believing and generally being good.

  8. Religion always brings out the most interesting conversations. I must agree on not questioning the believers who maintain their own faith quietly. I'm not a preacher so I don't regularly participate in heavy conversations about God. Although I do believe. I sense him around us, protecting everyone from evil.

    I also agree that morals do not come from religion. However, it seems to be that individuals choosing to have a more committed faith appear to have better values & morals within their life.

    With all that said, I see the middle of the row & disagree with the extremists. Ironically, why is there group of atheists/agnostics trying to take out the word "God" for Obama's inauguration? I should research Obama's religions belief more, but my thoughts are that it is up to each person's belief and a societal group should not be pushing their desires on the whole. It is the same way when religious groups force banning abortion. Personally, I would not choose to end an unborn baby's life but I feel it is up to the individual & God (or some higher being) will judge that person upon their choices that affect them self.

    Anyhow - as for the movies - I still need to check them out. Although, Hollywood is about being extreme so it gets people thinking and seeing different sides out there along with movies that help us escape from all the craziness in the world.

    Wonderful thread of discussion :)

  9. Ellira: What I meant by that was that if you take the good things that religious people have done (charities, for example), plenty of people who are non-religious have done the same thing, so the fact that religion has been part of something good is somewhat irrelevant, since the religion doesn't need to exist for there to be that good in the first place.

    I'm critical of religion because one should be critical of religion. It doesn't deserve automated respect. I have been faithful before, by the way, but I lost it a long time ago. I'm agnostic now because it's easier and more interesting.

    And right now we're talking about my response to someone who wasn't quiet about his or her religion, since clearly they responded. And since we're talking religion here, we're again not being quiet about the issue of faith.

    BlondeSwtP: The issue of morals in religious people greatly depends on the level of religion in a society. Did you see that new study by Gregory Paul? Here's a youtube link to a news report about it:

    What has been discovered is that the more religious a nation is, the more likely it is to engage in immoral behavior. And it is somewhat ironic that highly religious people talk about being moral individuals, yet they tend to be the ones more willing to violate our civil rights (we're talking mostly about the more "devout").

    My big concern is less with people who don't cram their religion down our throats (and they tend to not be the ones that ever get talked about by Hollywood, me, or anyone else), it's with those people that want me and you to be like them. They want to change public policy and force their beliefs on the rest of us, when their beliefs are illogical, are proven wrong by all accounts of science, and are simply ridiculous. And they are changing public policy. There are already schools that are forced to teach creationism alongside evolution as SCIENCE, not as religion. This is so clearly a violation of the separation of Church and State that is in our Constitution. Technically speaking even the name "God" in the pledge of allegiance is a violation of that, and the use of "In God We Trust" on money. While I'm not the type that would go petition to have them removed, the argument is a valid one. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. This nation is designed to allow us to believe basically anything we want so long as others don't have to believe it. Your religious beliefs are not allowed to be forced onto me.

    Overall, I have an issue with the assumption that we should simply treat religion nicely when religion hasn't earned that kind of respect. As soon as religion becomes a conversational element for me, I'm going to criticize it, because it deserves to be criticized.

  10. "Why Society is Dumb" - okay I had to smile @ the end of the video :) It was very interesting. Religion & politics always bring out criticism as everyone has their own opinions. That is what makes us individuals & unique, a plus in my book as you know.

    Fornately, Gregory Paul is an independent researcher gathering information from all over so I can relate that highly religious people link to immoral behaviors. As I was listening, the Middle East came to mind which is a whole other subject.

    Anyhow, small of short, media has it bias in both directions as any debate occurs. Continuing to communicate about issues, helps educate society & hopefully enhance our world. As you can see, I've always been an optimistic soul :)

  11. True, but religious folks who communicate tend to not be as "religious" as groups that don't communicate. It's much easier to hold on to one's biases if you don't speak with people who have various opinions and beliefs.