2008 and beyond



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"Quantum Of Solace" - Rating: *1/4 out of ****


SPOILER ALERT: Don't read further

if you don't want to know things

about the plot.



Daniel Craig now has the distinction of starring in the best James Bond movie of all time, "Casino Royale" and the worst, "Quantum Of Solace." 


The film features the worst theme song,  soundtrack, main Bond villain, and Bond girls ever.


The plot is confusing, and the exposition scenes either fly by so fast you're left scratching your head and saying, "Huh?" or are excruciatingly dull.  Any time the villains speak, or confer with each other, the film grinds to a halt and just sits there on the screen.


And the main villain's master plot?  Trying to control the utilities prices in Bolivia.  How's that for a nail-biting scenario?  And in this film, everybody's a villain!  The governments of the United States, Great Britain, and Bolivia are all corrupt.  The CIA and the British Secret Service are likewise dirty.  The film has no moral centers, except for maybe M and Felix Leiter.  Bond comes across as a guy whose main motivation in life is to punish people who have hurt his friends because these hurts caused him personal pain.  And he doesn't care how many innocent, non-combatants he has to jeopardize or kill to do it.


The action scenes look as if they could have been something special, if only we could have seen them.  But the editing and camera work made most of them incomprehensible.  Not to mention the fact that CGI was blatantly used in a couple of them.


I watched the entire movie in a detached, "keep checking my watch" way.  Nothing was happening on the screen to engage my emotions at all.  I was neither shaken, nor stirred.  If my blood ever started pumping, the creators quickly dialed everything on the screen back down again.  And the creators' small attempts to inject some heart and humanity into the proceedings were laughable.  When the main Bond girl is going through a litany of what the general did to her and her family, my daughter and I made jokes: "Then he kicked my dog, stole my lawnmower, and broke one of my nails!"  And Bond stays with a dying Mathis, but then throws his body into a dumpster.  When Bond finally confronts Vesper's former, still alive boyfriend - the confrontation we've waited the whole movie to see - he just basically has him arrested.  The creators evidently learned anti-climax, along with rooftop chases and nauseating camera tricks, from the last two Bourne movies.


Plotholes abound.  For instance, M sends a pretty female paperpusher to stop Bond and have him sent back to England.  Huh?  And then she explodes at Bond because that situation worked out exactly as she knew it would!!!  And Bond blows up a plush hotel in literally the middle of nowhere for no other reason than the creators seemingly realized that the movie was nearly over and Bond hadn't blown up anything really big yet.


So why do I rate the movie * instead of BOMB?  There were some fleeting good moments and ideas - ex. one funny cabdriver and another who knew where the CIA's secret headquarters was,  Quantum holding it's meeting in an opera house (before the scene degenerated into incomprehensibility), a couple cool moves by Bond in a knife fight (before the scene degenerated into - you guessed it - incomprehensibility).  And Daniel Craig and Judi Dench remain commanding screen presences.   Let's hope they appear together in a better Bond movie next time.



My Pet Peeves With The Professional Critics

I once heard a reviewer trash "Jurassic Park III" because it had "dinosaurs chasing people around."  Excuse me, but what did this person expect from a Jurassic Park movie?  I've also seen critics reviewing Star Trek movies by starting off with, "I'm not a Trekkie and never watched any of the series."  They then go on to say that they hate the films.  I remember a critic whom I normally greatly respect trashing the movie "X-Men" by saying, "Superhero stories should be light and funny."  Obviously he hasn't read very many current comic books, has he?

Critics, if you don't know anything about a genre or absolutely hate anything that comes out of a specific genre, maybe you should excuse yourself from reviewing certain films!  Or let a fan take over for a column or two.  But don't chastise a film for being true to its own premise and for reaching out to its own fan base.


The Passion Of The Christ

Rating: Not Applicable  -- As this film is a cinematic meditation on the suffering of Jesus, I found that my "star system" was inadequate to summarize my reaction to it.

    For many hours after the viewing this movie, I was disquieted, but in light of its subject matter, this is not a bad thing.  And now, more than twelve hours later, I am still finding it difficult to get a handle on my responses to the film.  I normally go to the movies primarily for entertainment, but watching a Roman scourging and an execution by torture is far from entertaining.  This doesn't mean that the film can't be inspiring, but the inspiration comes as one wrestles with it and its subject matter.  You don't leave the theater feeling good with a song in your heart, nor with a sense of satisfaction or completion.  You may, as I did, exit in a state of shock and bewilderment, overwhelmed with emotions and thoughts and conflicting opinions that I can't even yet fully express.

    Let me try to approach "The Passion of the Christ" from several different angles to try and give you my honest, "fair and balanced"/ "no spin zone" appraisal of it:

1.  As a statement of his faith and of devotion to The Christ he feels saved him, Mel Gibson's movie is a crowning achievement, and I commend my Christian brother's courage for putting his vision out there and leaving himself wide open to the persecution that will always be the lot of a disciple of Jesus.  I am grateful that the grace of God has touched Mel and that he wanted to respond to it.

 2.  As a movie, "The Passion Of The Christ" has both undeniable strengths and some unfortunate weaknesses. 

There are many scenes that are incredibly powerful.  For example, Jesus' last words from the cross have never hit me as hard as they did when Gibson placed them in the visual, "You are there," context of all that Jesus was going through.  No wonder the Centurion believed and exclaimed in the Bible, "Truly this man was the Son of God!"  And Gibson's flashing back to Jesus' teaching and The Last Supper from the cross was masterful and meaningful.  And I will never forget Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene fearfully reciting the words of the Passover as Jesus is being arrested, nor Mary's wonder at why Jesus is letting himself be humiliated and tortured as she asks when and how her son will free himself, nor the way Jesus pronounces, "It is accomplished" (which is a better translation than "It is finished"), nor Jesus saying to a group of imperfect mortal humans like me, "You are my friends." 

Yet there are also scenes which fall flat.  The morphing demonic characters and the sterotypical maniacal laughing of many of Jesus' tormentors and Barabbas were over-the-top.  They and some of Satan's appearances served to remind me that I was only watching a movie and took me out of the story, as did several of the slow motion sequences such as God's teardrop setting off the earthquake, and the "Lord of the Rings" shot of Satan's defeat.  Also, I recognized several of the actors as having appeared in other films and on television, and Pilate is played by an actor who looks like Harry from the television series "MI-5" in a toga.  All of which, again, took me out of the story. 

The acting itself is uneven, with some artists clearly more at home in costume dramas and with speaking Aramaic than others.  James Caviezel and Maia Morgenstern are outstanding.  But Caviezel's American looks made it hard for me to accept him initially as Jesus.  However, his acting won me over by the end of the film. 

The makeup is incredible, but unfortunately, perhaps as an escape from the violence, I found myself during the film wondering, "How did they get those effects?"  This is not what I want to be thinking about while I'm contemplating the death of Jesus.  Be warned that the violence is brutal and the film is soaked in blood.  Part of me feels that the cruelty and gore were justified as we modern audiences don't know what a Roman scourging and a crucifixion were like (they are accurately, painfully portrayed in the movie) and the film is about the "Passion" (from the Latin word for "suffering") of Christ, after all.  But part of me notes that while the Bible tells us that Jesus was whipped, it doesn't describe or dwell on every blow.  And while Isaiah prophesies that people will turn away from Jesus, the New Testament doesn't detail exactly how Jesus was disfigured.  And the Bible spends the majority of its time on the meaning, impact, and result of the suffering, rather than on the suffering itself. 

So I am torn.  I can see why Gibson felt he had to take the approach he did in order to convey the depths of what Christ went through.  And there is justification for it.  Yet I can also understand why some critics have said that Gibson made (unintentionally, I believe) a "theological Slasher Film." 

One criticism I can't understand is the charge of anti-Semitism.  In the film, while a group of Jewish leaders is instrumental in getting Jesus executed, other Jews support and aid him and Jesus himself teaches love for one's enemies and asks God to forgive Jews and Romans alike.  Anyone truly familiar with what the New Testament, as a whole, promotes, realizes that hating the Jews because of the crucifixion of Jesus is ludicrous. 

However, it was a familiarity with the story which also hampered my involvement with the movie at times, as there were scenes which bored me and had me saying, "Yeah, yeah, can't we just move on and get to the next thing we need to get through?"  And this is not always the case with movies that have familiar storylines.  I knew the American hockey team was going to win in "Miracle" and I had read the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, yet I was still engrossed in those films.  The fact that, at points, "The Passion" is less than engrossing means that, for me, the film is simply not as good as those others, its subject matter notwithstanding.

3. As an accurate portrayal of the biblical accounts and a presentation of Christian theology, the movie once again is a mixed bag.  Some sequences and scenes are taken almost word-for-word right out of the scriptures.  Others are modified and some scenes are added for dramatic effect.  Some of the added stuff is undeniably cool, such as Jesus stomping on the serpent in the garden and Mary's one joke (and it's a good one) in the entire movie and Mary remembering Jesus falling as a child, but it's not exactly canon.  And some of the additions are hokey, such as Jesus standing up, Rocky-like, after abuse.  I waited for him to yell, "Adrianne!"  Protestants viewing the film may find themselves often asking, "Where did Gibson get that from?" not realizing that Gibson is an old-school Roman Catholic and, for him, church tradition is just as authoritative as holy writ.  So tradition, and even legends, are included in the movie.  And the Blessed Virgin gets nearly as much screen time as Jesus, though she barely appears in the Gospel accounts of Jesus' trial and execution.  Theologically, the film is "right on" in its insistence that Jesus willingly went to the cross ("embraced it" as one character marvels) and that the cross was God's plan to accomplish our redemption and take away the sins of the world.  Jesus' suffering has significance - for us!  Both Jesus' humanity and divinity are kept nicely in balance in the film.  And Jesus and Simon carrying the cross together reminded me that Christians partner with God in carrying out his purposes even today and that we all, in various ways, are called on to "take up our own crosses and follow Jesus."  The movie makes the point that it was love for God and for us which compelled Jesus to pick up the cross.  And there is a resurrection at the end of the film.

 4. As an evangelistic tool, the film is of some use - up to a point.  The movie doesn't explain how or why Jesus' death healed us from our sins, nor the necessity of the sacrifice.  (To be fair, this is beyond the scope of the film.)  And if one is unfamiliar with the Bible, one may wonder who some of the characters are and what is really going on in some scenes.  Several of the flashbacks, such as Magdalene's rescue and the Triumphal Entry may be incomprehensible.  And, this is not a film which will lead your friends to "give their hearts to Jesus" before the end credits are finished rolling.  But it may lead to some great discussions.  This is my point: Don't count on the movie to convert anyone.  Discussion and follow-up will be needed.  But if your non believing friends are at all squeamish, DON'T TAKE THEM TO SEE THIS MOVIE!!!!  And to the squeamish and non squeamish alike, you had better have an explanation ready as to why a defining moment of the Christian faith was an act of barbarism, butchery, and injustice, or even why we worship a God who planned all that.  You may even have to wrestle with such questions yourself.  As well as the question of, "If our sins demanded that kind of punishment, why is it that we can take them and The One that paid the price so casually?"  And, "If Mel and his cast and crew celebrated Mass together every day as they made this film, why do we sometimes find it hard to give God an hour once a week?"

So, do I recommend the movie?  If you are led to see it, or are curious because of all you have read or heard about it, then go.  If you don't feel that it is for you, then don't.  One's own devotion to The Christ doesn't depend on a decision to attend, or not to attend, a movie.





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