To Rome with Love is the latest offering from movie-making icon Woody Allen. It offers layered storytelling and usual the romantic entanglements, but unfortunately it is neither as witty nor as insightful as most other Allen films.
Like many Woody Allen films, To Rome with Love deals with contradictory aspects of the human psyche, especially those that lead us to be dishonest or disloyal to those we love most. As is typical of most Allen films, no spiritual solutions to humanity’s psychological dysfunctions are presented. Yet, from a spiritual perspective, there may be value in exploring the darker aspects of human nature in order to shed light into the darkness. At his best, Woody Allen does just that – he forces us to look and laugh at the most irrational parts of the human mind, thereby allowing us to stop taking ourselves so seriously – a worthy spiritual objective in its own right. But in this film there are a few observations of human nature beyond the obvious. And worse, this film is just not that funny, nowhere near as funny as you’d expect a Woody Allen film to be.
Woody Allen himself appears as a character in this film, playing the usual nervous, obsessed neurotic. Allen is now seventy-something, and watching him play this character yet again at this age makes me yearn for some evidence of the character’s (and perhaps Allen’s) growth. Other of Allen’s more recent films, such as Midnight in Paris, show that he still has much creative potential, and only time will tell to what degree it and his character’s growth will be fulfilled.
Spiritual Bottom Line: Fails to offer the introspection and insight of Allen’s better films.
Quality Grade: C+
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-
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
Katy Perry: Part of Me is a biographical documentary following singer/ songwriter Katy Perry as she embarks upon her first concert tour. At its best it offers an interesting behind-the-scenes look at a rock-n-roll world; at its worst it avoids the nitty-gritty of the lifestyle it observes.
Unlike some packaged and primped rock stars, Katy Perry is a true talent deserving the fame she has garnered. Her singing is filled with grit and emotion, and many of the songs she writes are genuinely ingenious. She first caught the world’s attention with her simultaneously innocent and naughty “I Kissed a Girl,” and she has continued to produce pop songs that are catchy and original. She is the only person to have matched Michael Jackson’s record of five number one hits from a single album, and of course the only woman to have reached that milestone.
This film is as interesting for its contradictions as it is for the facts it presents. She is a songwriter of serious genius and depth, yet all that is strangely at odds with the candy-land persona she creates for her live shows. The movie hints that there may be a deeper, perhaps even a troubled side to Perry, but it is all glossed over like a candy-coated apple. For example, the contradictions between her upbringing as a preacher’s kid and her rock-n-roll lifestyle are only barely considered. Also, it is clear that the breakup with husband Russell Brand devastated her, but nothing concrete is revealed. The most gripping moment of the film comes when she struggles to put a proper smile on her face before a live show in Brazil.
This film is named after the song “Part of Me,” which refers to a part of her spirit that can never die. It may be an apt name as well in the sense that this film only reveals a small part of who Katy Parry really is. Hopefully, she will make another film sometime after she turns forty and has stripped away the silly persona. Right now, the talented Ms. Perry is too young and too new to fame to give this film the perspective and depth it deserves.
Spiritual Bottom Line: Provides some insight into the life of a celebrity, but fails to dig deep.
Quality Grade: B-