Movie: War, Inc.

I rarely bother to review something like this, but this one annoyed me so much that I wanted to write about it. If this had been a production for YouTube by a bunch of teenagers, it might be regarded as good. I don’t mean production quality. There were some decent effects for the combat.

But one needs to decide whether to write satire, comedy, a tacky adventure movie, or a political statement. This movie had elements of all of those, but pretty much managed to combine the worst of those elements. It’s not funny for any length of time. Where it is satirical it is overdone, but not overdone well.

It’s hard to like any of the characters even when it looks like the writers intend you to feel sympathy for them.

I’m glad I watched this on the Netflix movies on demand and thus didn’t pay anything extra for it. I rate this a one, with a note that I considered inventing a zero rating just for the occasion.

Tomb of General who Inspired Gladiator Found

It’s rare that archeology finds specific material about secondary characters, but in this case it seems to have happened. A tomb recently discovered in Rome bears an inscription identifying as belong to Marcus Nonius Macrinus, who inspired the main character in the movie Gladiator
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You can read the full story via the link provided. I would note that it appears that, as is normal, the relationship between the historical character and the fictional character that he inspired is extremely loose!

Review: The Golden Compass

I hadn’t intended to watch this one because it didn’t sound all that interesting to me, and also because it didn’t sound like there was any reason for the controversy it has aroused amongst Christians.

My wife, however, put it in our Netflix queue, and it duly showed up. She thought it would be something I’d want to watch, so watch it I did. On the first point, I would have to say it was more interesting than I expected. Let me note that I haven’t read the books, so I cannot compare the story as some have in their reviews. On the second, I see even less reason for this to be controversial than I did before I watched it.

The movie features a very oppressive church like organization, known as the magisterium, and the young heroine goes against this with the aid of a bunch of magical creatures, witches, devices, and such. I find it mildly interesting that a movie that purportedly espouses atheism carries on its conflict with various magical (or supernatural) creatures and even includes a prophecy. Of course, that is simply a product of the genre.

If I hadn’t been told that the author was an atheist, I would have imagined that the book was about a tyrannical church organization, and might have a broader lesson against organized religion generally. In fact, I think that is what most people will take from it. To go to the opposite extreme in terms of literary style, I would consider Atlas Shrugged, which many Christians enjoy despite a much more explicit and integral atheistic message.

Thus I would simply take this as a fantasy movie and let philosophical debates fall where they may. As such I find it of about average interest. It is fun from time to time, but does not really leave one in doubt very often. The story line is good and the characters are generally interesting, but fall short of unique. The acting is again fine, but not great.

It’s the sort of thing I would normally expect to put in my Netflix queue which costs me nothing extra to watch. Then I enjoy it quite a bit.

In my view it’s good but not great. Numerical rating: 3

DVD: Prime Suspect

I ran across the first and fifth of this series of DVDs on our local public library shelf while looking for other mysteries and took it home on an impulse. It was a good impulse!

This is not the sort of humorous light stuff that I often watch or read for relaxation, nor is it the sort of hero mystery program in which the one and only sane person in a department moves through all the troubles with perfection. The lead character, DCI Tennison, is very human, makes mistakes, but also knows how to keep going.

While her people skills may seem weak on first glance she gains the loyalty of her teams through her tenacity and dedication to the job. She expects and gets good work from them.

The scenes are somewhat gritty. We’re not dealing with “clean” crimes in someone’s parlor. These events often take place in the “worse” parts of town. In both the episodes I watched thus far, DCI Tennison is up against real evil. You definitely know who you wish would win and who you wish would lose.

This is a series I will definitely continue looking for. I rate it a 4 on my numerical scale.

DVD: The Great Debaters

I finally got around to seeing this movie, having picked it up on Netflix. No, not from Amazon.com, thought that is the link I’m providing above! It was well worth watching.

Denzel Washington is, as always, wonderful, with a good supporting cast. The story flows well and feels authentic.

I note that some viewers have thought it was a bit light on content (see refs in Wikipedia), that the movie didn’t go deep enough. I think it did quite well.

The problem is that so often those who review movies are very serious readers or viewers who know a topic very well and have thought about the major issues. If I review a Bible commentary, for example, I’m likely to be critical of points it fails to cover, even though those were not interests of the audience for which it was intended.

For a nation that is beginning to forget just how recent Jim Crow was in this country, just how recently African Americans were lynched, and just how recently it was that bathrooms were segregated not to mention schools, this movie talks about just the right issues.

There’s a very compelling scene in which Dr. James Farmer, who holds a PhD and speaks seven languages, is ordered around by a couple of white folks who quite possibly can’t read. At least that’s the implication, and I’m sure that was the reality in many cases.

As I watched the movie, I thought of this year’s race for the White House. I said when controversy erupted about Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s preaching that he was a civil rights leader from another time and we needed to understand where he was coming from. Just how angry and resentful might you be, if you had grown up black in the Jim Crow south? I understand in a small way what might make some people very angry.

At the same time it simply increases my respect for Barack Obama, who has turned the corner and is building a future together. But those of us who are white need to refrain from shock and amazement that the generation who had to live through that type of treatment haven’t yet gotten over it. I wonder how long it would take me!

The Wikipedia article also mentions an interesting difference between the historical debate team and the one in the movie. Despite their win over USC, the national champions (they used Harvard in the movie), the Wiley College team did not receive the trophy. They weren’t “in.”

I think the movie tells a great story and serves to remind us of some things that we need very badly to remember. We’d like to think these things happened in another age, but we’re only just over into the next century.

Die Hard with a Vengeance

I finally managed to watch this movie a few days ago, and found it to be pretty much what I expected. It was a very limited plot designed to connect the various violent scenes and special effects. Fortunately those were good.

It’s nice to get this without paying for it (Netflix), but if you’d like some mindless diversion that’s fun, it’s the movie for you. If you want a story, well, not so much.

The Book of Daniel

. . . but not the one in the Bible.

When this show first came out there were calls to boycott it, and I e-mailed my local NBC affiliate to support their decision to go ahead and air the show. I saw the first episode, and truly was not impressed with the show. There was no reason to boycott it, but I saw little reason to believe I’d enjoy it either.

This week my wife and I got the DVD via Netflix, and watched the rest of the show. Through the first DVD my impression remained the same, but with the second DVD of the set the program actually improved. The final two episodes, which deal with Daniel’s son Peter getting beaten up because he is gay, and also look back to the death of son Jimmy from leukemia are really good. Having experienced the death of a child from cancer, I have a hard time watching such episodes, but the script had the right questions and many fo the right answers, or more precisely lack of answers, with which parents and other family members deal in such situations.

I think the failing of the show was still the introduction of two many sources of conflict at once, overloading the viewer, but as the show focused more and more on a smaller set of problems it got much better. I suspect that by the time a new show reaches its sixth episodes it has already lost most of its viewers.

In any case, the show was cancelled with no mourning from me at the time, but now that I’ve seen the entire series, my impression is much more favorable. I recommend taking a look at these DVDs.

DVD: The Lord Peter Wimsey-Harriet Vane Collection – Strong Poison / Have His Carcass / Gaudy Night)

Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter mysteries are among my favorite mystery books, so I was happy to find this collection of videos. I have to confess that I really didn’t like Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter Wimsey, but Edward Petheridge is much more convincing in the part. Harriet Walter is a convincing Harriet Vane.

The story follows the books fairly closely. I truly have no major complaints about the videos. Of course the Harriet Vane stories have the fairly odd set of echanges between Wimsey and Vane as Wimsey is determined to marry her, while she is determined not to marry.

I recommend these DVDs to fans of Dorothy Sayers without reservations.

DVD: The Shaggy Dog

Most of the time when I don’t like a movie I just don’t review it. But in this case, I make an exception. I like many Disney movies. They’re generally fun, you don’t have to take them too seriously, and yet they’re at least enchanting.

In this case, I’m not sure whether there was a good idea in there somewhere. There may have been, but it was obscured by an enormous pack or just ordinary ideas or even bad ones. There were a few funny scenes, but they weren’t connected together to make a really funny movie.

All in all, I didn’t find any of the characters all that attractive. I didn’t find the story very consistent or suspenseful. By the time the movie ended, I really didn’t care particularly what happened to any of the folks. The dog is pretty, and probably nice, but we didn’t see much of that.

I think this has to count as a rare “miss” for Disney in producing engaging movies for the whole family. (Note, except for boredom, there’s nothing here that should be a problem for family viewing.)

Three Movies over the Weekend

Over the weekend my wife watched (or started to watch) three movies, and I thought I would comment on them.

First was X-Men: The Last Stand. Just like it’s two predessors, this was a horrible movie, and I didn’t finish watching it. My wife managed to get to the end by skipping forward a lot. It didn’t get any better. I rate it a one. If you like pure special effects without a story, characterization, or any real consistency, perhaps you’ll be OK with it. Otherwise, pass. Since we got it from Netflix, we didn’t lose anything!

Second, we watched Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Jody got this one for me, because I love the Garfield cartoon. Well, I confess I loved the movie too. It sticks with the easy-going humor of the cartoon. The story isn’t complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. The two Garfields may be one (or two) too many, but that’s all the fun. This is good for relaxing, just like those time when you read the cartoon section of your local paper. I rate this a four.

Third was Take the Lead, starring Antonio Banderas. This is a really great movie, in my view, one that challenges us to do more with what we are given. I truly enjoyed the story just as entertainment, but when entertainment can be combined with the challenge to make more of ourselves, I call that great. This is a must watch.

Note that I got all of these from Netflix. See the add in the right hand sidebar. The links on each title are to purchase the items from Amazon.com.