Archive for July, 2012
The Dark Knight Rises is the last installment in what is probably the best superhero franchise ever made to date. Like the other films in this series, it offers an artistic, sophisticated take on the familiar Batman story.
Among all the many comic book heroes that were created in the twentieth century, Batman is perhaps the most human and relatable of the lot. Unlike Superman or Spiderman, he has no superpowers. He does not come from another planet and has not come in contact with anything radioactive. He’s just a man with a lot of time on his hands and a few million extra bucks with which to buy cool crime-fighting toys.
What really sets Christopher Nolan’s Batman apart from the many other depictions is the director’s willingness to go beyond the simple good vs. evil motif. This “Dark Knight” acknowledges that his need to fight crime is not as simple as the good guy vanquishing over the bad guys. This Bruce Wayne (Batman’s true identity) knows that his need to find vengeance against the evil that left him orphaned as a young boy leaves him in danger of being swallowed up by his own dark shadow. Nolan very skillfully crafts a tale that looks not only at the underside of the villain, but at the underside of the hero as well. On top of that, this film is a rich visual feast of special effects and top-notch cinematography.
Spiritual Bottom Line: Offers more sophisticated spiritual content than most superhero films as it examines the character’s underlying motivations.
Quality Grade: A
Ice Age: Continental Drift is the fourth installment in the computer animated Ice Age franchise. Less funny and more predictable than some of its predecessors, it nonetheless offers some fun for the family.
Essentially, this is a kids’ film. Its humor and storyline are typical of ordinary animated films. That’s not such a bad thing, except that it pales in comparison to some of the best animated films today, which appeal to kids and adults alike. Fans of computer animation will like the film for the state-of-the-art animation. Otherwise, for anyone over the age of 12, the spiritual themes will seem cliché, offering simple messages about the importance of family and the pitfalls of peer pressure. This film is probably best seen with a seven-year-old in tow.
Spiritual Bottom Line: The movie offers only cliché messages about peer pressure and family loyalty.
Quality Grade: B-
I happened upon this wonderful short film by San Jose State University animation students Kimberly Knoll and Yunghan Chang. It is a wonderfully touching portrayal of the nature of bigotry. The entire film (5 minutes, 43 seconds) may be viewed here. Please watch, enjoy, and comment.
Moonrise Kingdom follows the adventures of two young adolescents who find comfort in their love for each other as they try to escape from a world that cannot allow them to be themselves.
Director Wes Anderson creates an idealized world of Americana that captivates the viewer like a Norman Rockwell painting. The film is set in 1965, right before the cultural chaos of the late 1960s and 70s. Anderson displays flawless consistency of artistic vision in every detail of color and composition throughout the film, and the viewer is completely absorbed into the bygone culture of the United States’ Atlantic coast region.
However, there is much more to this film than simple nostalgia and a well-coordinated palate of colors. On the surface there are neatly pressed scout uniforms and bobby socks worn with saddle shoes. Yet Anderson brilliantly hints at the passions and desperations boiling under the surface of this controlled environment. Just as Camelot had crumbled with JFK’s death in the months before, the adults in the film—the overwhelmed social worker, the dissatisfied housewife, the lonely sheriff—are disintegrating, struggling to hold themselves together and to keep up appearances. Like the storm brewing in the distance, the winds of change will hit the shore sooner or later. Only the children are wise enough to run away and find a way to be themselves.
The film also features wonderfully subtle performances from the cast. The kids are especially natural, and Edward Norton plays the befuddled scoutmaster with true heart, towing the line between being both relatable and pathetic. Bill Murry, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, and Tilda Swinton also make impressive appearances.
Spiritual Bottom Line: This movie offers an artistic, nostalgic look at the contrast between internal and external realities.
Quality Grade: A+
Ted is a movie about a man’s relationship with his talking teddy bear. It seems impossible that a movie with this subject matter could be any good, yet this movie proves that ridiculous premises can work when combined with good writing. This is a profane, yet witty and wonderful movie.
But there’s a catch.
While this film is full of hilarious situations and clever dialog, it is also incredibly irreverent and downright crude. More sensitive viewers will likely be overwhelmed by the constant profanity and upset by the casual drug use. Christianity is mocked as being irrational and petty, so more rigid believers will not be pleased. All of this is made all the more shocking as it is primarily played out by a fluffy, roly-poly stuffed animal.
Ultimately, it’s up to the viewer to decide if this film is palatable. Comedy has always stretched boundaries and questioned society’s conventions. It was true in the bawdy tales of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and it is still true today. I guess you have to be willing to get a few feathers wrinkled if you want to enjoy the big belly laughs that this film has to offer.
Spiritual Bottom Line: On the one hand, this movie is full of profanity and crude innuendo. On the other, it is hilariously funny. You decide if it’s right for you.
Quality Grade: A