Monthly Archives: September 2014

Manhattan Review

Woody Allen has a remarkable ability to make me completely puzzled about what I think of, and how I feel about, his films.  I thought Hannah and Her Sisters was the most difficult film to sort out my thoughts about, but Manhattan is just about as difficult.  This is one of those situations in which I really feel that I ought to like it.  There are many reasons for this: I love Woody Allen; the acting and characters are great; the conflict is unique and clever; the jokes, though rare, are strong; the soundtrack is lovely, creating the perfect atmosphere; the movie looks gorgeous in black and white widescreen, and is filled with brilliant looking shots/scenes.  The movie just doesn’t work for me.

I get very annoyed by movies in which the protagonist consistently makes bad decisions and displays poor judgment, making him not very relatable, and this is definitely one of those movies.  It feels like a series of changes in the way the characters feel about one another, since no one in this film can decide who he/she really loves.  This means creates a cycle that runs throughout the film: a couple is in love for a while, and then the relationship falls apart, and then a new one forms.  Generally, the new relationship that forms is a relationship that fell apart earlier in the film, but they’re taking another stab at it.  Frankly, the film is difficult to classify as a drama or a comedy, mostly because it’s not much of a story.  To make matters worse, the film does not end strongly, and it leaves me wondering why there wasn’t a better pay off to the boredom endured previously.  It’s a beautiful film that was flawlessly executed aside from the fact that it is pointless.

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Does God’s Not Dead Support Its Antagonist’s Beliefs?

God’s Not Dead was a rather successful Christian film as far as Christian films go. It was praised even before its release, and as soon as it came out on DVD, every church seemed eager to screen it.  Having been raised going to churches and Christian schools, I have seen a large number of Christian films, at least one of which was produced or distributed by Pure Flix, the studio behind this film.  In my Tumblr movie review of the film, I explained a number of its problems and cliches, and why the story does not work.  This, however, is an entirely different matter.  Because I was focused on those other elements of the movie, it took me a little longer to notice that the film had a unique problem. While the protagonist may have won over the class (and perhaps the audience) with his argument, the beliefs of Professor Radisson, the antagonist, were actually supported by the events of the story.

Professor Radisson said in an early part of the film that he believed God to be a superstitious idea created in order to explain why the world was the way it was.  In essence, gods were created to have things attributed to them.  This would mean that in some religions, there would be bad gods responsible for bad events, and good gods responsible for good events.  In some religions though, such as Christianity, there is one good god responsible for all good things, and one lesser being who shares the responsibility for the bad and the evil with humans.  However, if the good god is in control of all things, then it would be common in Christian circles to blame the good god for the bad, even if this is not supported by the Bible.  Radisson seems to think that humans should know better by now than to believe in what he calls “primitive superstition.”

The phrase “God is dead” comes from Friedrich Nietzsche, who was essentially proposing that the Christian God is no longer necessary to explain the world since science serves that function now.  If these were Radisson’s beliefs, which they must have been since he is having his students agree to the statement, then he saw God as being anti-intellectual.  “Because religion is like a… mind virus that parents have passed on down to their children,” he said.  “It slowly creeps into our lives when we’re weak or sick or helpless.  …It’s the enemy of reason.”  In other words, when people are weak and helpless,  the superstitious beliefs of religion come in and take over where reason should be guiding.

In the climax of the film, the protagonist (Josh) makes his final argument against Radisson.  The actual meat of his argument, concerning morality and evil, was not very impressive, and did not win anyone over.  So how did Josh win in the end?  He started criticizing Radisson and insulting him, which made him emotional.  Whenever people get emotional, is that not when they struggle the most with reasoning?  It weakens them mentally.  When Josh made him angrier, naturally Radisson lost his reasoning.  So when he was asked why he hated God, he responded illogically by saying it was because God “took everything” from him.  He blamed the tragedies that happened in his life on God, but that does not mean he genuinely believed that God exists.  He probably lost his ability to reason properly because he got emotional.

 According to Radisson’s beliefs, God was created in order to have things attributed to him.  Suppose that the effects of the “virus” of religion are the tendency to be emotional rather than intellectual, and to attribute events to a god.  In such a case, the virus would infect society to such a degree that even someone who believes in God can become so emotional that he/she forgets reasoning and starts to attribute all events, good and bad, to a god.  After all, humans naturally want to blame things on other people, and who better than a fictional person to blame for something inevitable such as death?  For this reason, I propose that it is possible to hate someone who does not exist if the following are true:

  • The person experiencing the hatred is angry and emotional enough to lose the ability to reason;
  • The religious disease has infected society to a degree that anyone without the ability to reason relies on the root of said disease for answers;
  • The root of the religious disease is a desire to attribute events to a deity;
  • The person experiencing the hatred is doing so because he attributes tragedy to the deity.

Essentially, this is what happened if the events of the film were to be interpreted by someone with Radisson’s beliefs.  In the end, it was not an argument with any real intellectual substance that Josh used to beat the professor, it was Josh’s weakening of Radisson’s reasoning.  This would seem to indicate that Christianity does not offer intellectual reasoning, but instead does exactly what Radisson said it does: it “infects everything” and opposes reason.  As Christian website Creation.com pointed out, “given these somewhat basic and flawed arguments, they would not be at all convincing to an informed opponent, and no atheist of Professor Radisson’s supposed caliber would be unfamiliar with them.”  In reality, there are better arguments out there that young Christians should look into if they wish to know how to refute an atheist’s arguments without reducing him to such an emotional state that he says something stupid.  This movie will help no one because, in the end, it makes Christianity appear to be nothing more than what many atheists think it to be – emotional superstition.

God’s Not Dead Review

Or, The Epitome of Disrespectful Film-Making

This is it – this is the movie that I can call my least favorite film without reservation.  It is the perfect example of disrespectful film-making that slaps its viewers right in the face, and its audience falls for its tricks, applauds it, and brings the whole family for a second viewing.  From a technical perspective, this film is not too horrendous, but if it were, it would be “so bad it’s good,” which is not the case here.  What I mean to say is, it is not shot, lit, or edited too poorly, though it is shot/lit/edited in the most emotional way possible.  Why?  Because this is an extremely emotional movie that tricks its audience into thinking that it is intellectual.  What really makes this movie disgusting is that it is offensive to atheists, Muslims, Christians, and humans everywhere.

The movie is obviously offensive to atheists, but not just because it counters their beliefs.  What makes the movie offensive to them is the way that it portrays them, and the way that it portrays atheism as a concept.  To say that all atheists had what I call a “Pure Flix tragedy” which caused them to hate God, leading to their atheism, is really silly.  Think of how many people there are in the world who are never exposed to the god of the Bible, but are only exposed to other gods.  They would assume that if there is a god, it would be whichever they thought was the “normal” god, which would be whichever god they had been exposed to previously.  This video explains some things that atheists are frequently told about themselves that they find offensive, and as the fellow in the video pointed out in his own article about the film, it would seem that God’s Not Dead put just about all of them in the film.

The movie seems to try to say that the Muslims themselves are not necessarily that bad; they are just forced to be outcasts, hide any interest in other beliefs, and shun family members who disbelieve.  First of all, people being kicked out of their homes for religious reasons happens in various religious households, and Christian ones are no exception.  Secondly, this is to say that Islam is itself a prison that keeps its followers unhappy.  It sure is good news that all those miserable Muslims can come to Jesus and be happy people!

Christians have two main reasons to be offended: the first is how the movie repeats the same old Christian movie clichés, thus insulting its audience’s intelligence, and the second is the bad influence this film can have on Christian youth.  The movie almost seems to run through some sort of Christian movie cliché checklist.  It has the annoying blonde girlfriend, who is a bad influence on the protagonist; the “atheistic” man (who is really an anti-theist of sorts) whose old female relative died tragically when he was just a boy; the stereotypical pastor and stereotypical African missionary; and it has a couple of Asians and a couple of African Americans so the audience will not notice that the vast majority of the cast is white.  Though I must admit that that last one is kind of a Hollywood cliché too.

The movie is a bad influence because young Christians will think that all of these clichés and stereotypes are actually parts of life that they will probably encounter, and that they can use the arguments presented in the film to bring their classmates to Christ.  Here is the problem with that: nobody uses those arguments anymore.  This article from a Christian/creationist organization explains that an atheist with any knowledge of Christianity would be able to refute the arguments presented in the film because all of them are bad, and any Christian apologist who suggested using them would be laughed out of a Christian university in a day.  What is especially bad about all this is that a Christian may lose his or her faith when these arguments fail, and said Christian would be very depressed, stressed, and confused.  He/she would feel betrayed by God, when he/she should instead feel betrayed by the film.  This movie will ultimately kill God for the Christian youth.

There are many ways that a film can be disrespectful to its viewers, including offending them, influencing them wrongly, and being too cliché.  The greatest form of disrespect, however, is probably taking advantage of them.  When a film knows that with good marketing it can make a poorly written film that will sell anyway, that is taking advantage of the audience, and that is exactly what this movie did.  This suggests that the film thinks its audience is stupid, and it sadly makes the Christian community look bad for falling for the clever marketing and the seemingly harmless focus on faith.  It tries to trick its audience into thinking that it is clever with its outdated arguments that win over the class, with its variety of subplots that are barely strung together, and its attempts at symbolism and foreshadowing.  (I bet the director thought he was clever for putting the woman who listened to the song “Ones And Zeroes” in room 101010 in the hospital, but someone forgot to tell him that symbolism and foreshadowing are supposed to mean something.)

A lot of the acting is pretty bad, but what is far worse is the writing.  The story has too many subplots that only connect due to odd coincidences, and this takes away time that it could be spending showing viewers the protagonist’s background, parents, friends, other classes, etc.  The dialogue is ridiculous, and only stays somewhat conversational for a few seconds in each scene before it turns into a speech or sermon from one of the characters who for some reason has to share his/her beliefs.  As I wrote in this article, the movie did such a bad job at defending Christianity that it ended up supporting its antagonist’s beliefs.  In one scene, when the antagonist walks in from the back of the room slowly clapping for the protagonist to mock him, it made me fall out of my chair laughing.  The idea that a professor could yell at and grab his student in the hallway for all to see, and then still keep his job, is possibly crazier than the idea of a professor who tells students to renounce their religious beliefs.  The fact that all of this nonsense is in the film, and that it actually was successful, and that it influenced my friends and loved ones, makes it the movie that I hate above all others.

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Review

(SPOILERS)

I think a better name for this film would have been Harry Potter and the Half As Much Snogging As There Should Have Been, because frankly, it’s all about the characters and their relationships.  The characters’ relationships are what have me anxiously watching the film and enjoying it.  Harry and Ginny keep one glued to the screen, and Hermione and Ron even more so.  The scene with Ron as he unconsciously mutters Hermione’s name is absolutely brilliant.  I would have written something like that myself if I could have thought to do it that way.  What makes that scene even more delightful is Snape standing there, presumably trying not to vomit.  I think this film makes the main characters, especially Hermione, finally get the attention they should have had in the third and fourth films.

Oh, and there’s also a plot in this movie somewhere, but it’s not very strong.  In the end, we learn that the task that Harry must complete in the climax of the film (if you can call it that) really doesn’t do much good.  All of the efforts made by the characters in this film seem somehow futile, aside from giving them an idea of what they need to accomplish in the next film.  It feels empty, and all of the focus on the Half-Blood Prince does not help.  It might have meant something had it been revealed in the end that Snape was evil rather than at the beginning of the film, but because of the way this was set up, the big reveal does not feel very big at all.  The Half-Blood Prince could have been just about anyone and it wouldn’t have made a difference: Lucius Malfoy, Hagrid, Dobby, Hedwig, or H. R. Pufnstuf.

The ending with the death of Dumbledore does emotionally impact the audience, and it is rather well done, but because this is pretty much the note we end on, the movie just doesn’t feel complete.  It seems like this whole year was just setting up for the events of the year to come, which it kind of was, but a movie should not feel like it as one watches it.  It’s like when I order an expensive meal at a restaurant, eat it all, and I’m surprised to find it was not filling at all and I’m still hungry.  Still, even if making the movie was just an excuse to show the scene with unconscious Ron mumbling about Hermione, I’d be totally okay with that and I could forgive many other aspects of the film.  Also, my rating of this film is right on the border between 3.5 stars and 4 stars, and this was a very, very difficult decision.  Sadly, because its story is weak, I do not think it would be fair to give it the same rating as I gave movies 2 and 5.

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Silent Movie Review

Mel Brooks is known for writing clever stuff, and a lot of that cleverness is in the dialogue.  So, the question is, can Mel do a silent movie well?  I strongly believe that he did.  Silent Movie is delightful in every scene, with a fun cast of characters who are performed very well (with perfect timing of course) by Dom DeLuise, Marty Feldman, and Brooks himself.  The cameos are used well, and also add to the delight.

From a technical standpoint, the film is impressive, and ironically, I really liked this movie’s use of sound.  The music always fit the scene, as did the sound effects, and the score actually varied in style, but still felt coherent despite its different genres.  I liked the way the movie was shot and edited as well, and Mel generally does a good job with that kind of thing I’ve found.

While I thought the writing was very clever (since I laughed a lot throughout) and I thought the story had about the right amount of simplicity that it would need as a silent movie, there were a couple of things about the writing that bothered me.  Firstly, the characters were all sort of caricatures, and while the protagonist is somewhat relatable and down-to-earth, even he is too over-the-top to be relatable sometimes.  When this happens in a story that essentially is a series of attempts to get celebrities to do the movie, it is easy to stop caring about the story since one eventually grows tired of such a basic and simple plot.

I still think that this is one of Mel’s funniest films, which is why I am surprised that I didn’t hear about it much over the years.  I do not have much of a special connection to the film, or at least not like I did with High Anxiety, which is in my top 20 favorite movies.  However, I think I probably laughed more while watching this than I did while watching Men in Tightsor High Anxiety.  So, because I can guaranty that this movie will get a laugh out of anyone, and because this is probably the most family-friendly film Mel’s done, I highly recommend Silent Movie.

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