Before I Self Destruct

Movie Title: Before I Self Destruct (2009) ***
Spoilers: No

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Before I Self Destruct was written and directed by 50 Cent (aka Curtis Jackson). The should-be-hyphenated title of the movie is shared as it is also the title of the rapper's newly released album. The plot is about the life of Clarence, an inner city youth whose dreams of becoming a basketball star have been shattered by an injury sustained while playing. Taking up a job working at a local supermarket, times have been tough. They only get tougher when his mother is killed by stray gunfire.

After the death of his mother, the family facing eviction, Clarence takes up work as a killer for hire to support his younger brother Shocka (Elijah Williams), a young and intellectually gifted boy whom Clarence loves and becomes the sole provider for. Shocka has nothing to worry about as long as the cash keeps coming. He will get the life he deserves. It’s Clarence who has a lot to worry about. Of extreme importance is that he makes sure that his young, innocent brother doesn’t find out where the money is coming from. Of even greater importance is that he stays one step ahead of the law and doesn’t get caught. Clarence doesn’t seem too terribly concerned with the latter, neither does law enforcement, but maybe it’s just because he’s so damn good at what he does.

Before I Self Destruct is your typical struggle-to-survive portrayal of life in the inner city. With it comes the lesson of how bad choices will bring bad consequences and how those bad consequences will extend to people we know and love. But rap music and “hood” movies with rap-based themes have the common distinction of glorifying the ghetto lifestyle of drugs, guns, and gangs, while at the same time, gingerly justifying it out of desperation and need.

Every movie ever made about the lifestyle seems to be saying: “Enjoy the coolness of shooting and killing people, but there will be consequences, so don’t do it in real life.” Jackson’s work could be said to put more emphasis on the latter (thankfully) while providing the up-keep for entertainment. It is not the message of 50 Cent’s latest work that has issues, but the delivery of it.

We have ninety minutes of a thin story, with strikingly scripted lines, and mostly stilted acting. Jackson pulls off the person of Clarence, and Williams as an aspiring and innocent black prodigy ready to grow and claim his place in the world, but poor acting on the part of certain supporting cast members and an overcast sense of predictable never leaves the set.

Before I Self Destruct deals with conversations on themes like murder and theft without the characters ever coping with the emotional weight that the subjects carry. Casual conversations can involve subjects like cheese and messy murders with no meaningful distinctions. This affects not merely the characters, but the script. The fundamental flaw is in the writing.

You never quite feel for Clarence because he is so easily catapulted into doing heinous deeds that make the world a bad place. His tough circumstances don’t sufficiently serve to diminish his actions, and they must in order for the movie to work. You would feel for Shocka were it not for his being created to epitomize the role of the poor, unfortunate black boy who can do it all, if only he has someone to look out for him.

The movie does have its pluses, like effectively executed action sequences, a well-choreographed shower love-making scene, and pacing that in only a few places is not consistently fast. Although very few, there are some funny discourses to lighten the mood, and they work. One takes place in a bar as two men talk about a girl they are watching play pool: “I wanna tie that bitch up in my basement and donkey-fuck her for two weeks straight.” That little tidbit has the nice quality of being disturbing and shockingly comical at the same time.

Before I Self Destruct may not cut it as a workable street drama, but it doesn’t exactly fail either. As an independent film and as the work of a rapper icon, it stands to be counted and will definitely have its share of fans.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: R
Director: Curtis Jackson
Summary: An inner city youth struggles to provide for his younger brother after his mother is killed.
Starring: 50 Cent “Clarence (as Curtis Jackson),” Clifton Powell “Sean,” Elijah Williams “Shocka,” Gabriel Ellis “Rafael,” Anthony 'Treach' Criss “Cedrick”
Genre: Drama
Trailer

Cinematic Cotton Candy

Movie Title: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Feeding your child nothing but cotton candy is sure to spoil them and work against their health. What will spoil them, but will do no lasting damage is the audacious sequel to Twilight, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, directed by Chris (“Down to Earth” 2001) Weitz. Like Twilight before it, New Moon is in the line of stories by now staggeringly famous author Stephanie Meyer.

It’s a good thing Meyer doesn’t know it, since she could amass all the teens in the world into one unbeatable army of devoted followers who would fight to the death at her command. Every 8 seconds, a Meyer fan is made.

Here is a second movie that will have greater pull than the first one. It will confirm the scrambled sentiments and “nobody understands me” attitude of every antisocial 13-year-old in the world. This includes but is not limited to those who wear black lipstick and tongue rings. But lest we forget, New Moon provides a phenomenally engaging and supernaturally charged teen love story that for the first hour I thought was approaching perfection for a work of its genre.

Both Twilight and New Moon are films that glow as examples of what happens when you successfully target an audience. Fandango’s Box Office Release states that New Moon and Twilight are in the top five wide releases. New Moon tops its forerunner with a domestic weekend box office gross of $140.7 million and beats out “The Dark Knight” with the biggest ever single-day gross ($72.7 million).

Teen vampire flicks are this generation’s 90210, but in this case, is bigger and better and tailored so that many a lonely middle-aged housewife can revel in the fantasies that they once thought would never be about anyone else but Fabio. I suppose that shouldn’t be too surprising.

What certainly is not surprising is that every schoolgirl is writhing in the fantasy of being Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). The girls identify with her. They see themselves as her, the guys with Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the guy who makes the love triangle complete…together with the dark sky, the bad dreams, and the withdrawn, antisocial behavior. They get by the adults, but every one of those details hits a sweet spot if you’re still in school. How easily we forget.

The older teen boys, they will spend an extra few hours in the gym as they envision themselves “buffing up” to look as good as these heartbreakers by next summer. And even the eternally un-tanned who are too behind the curve to ever care about their bodies can get lost in a super-softcore prepubescent erotica that will wet more than one kind of lips—and further encourage their not talking to peers, parents, or counselors about their problems or their haggard self-images.

As before, Bella’s father Charlie Swan (Billy Burke) is in and out. She barely talks to her dad. He’s there as a stand-in parental figure that is as clueless and uninvolved as the vast majority of the young audience members wish their parents were. Home is just a place to change clothes these days, and that is only one element that makes this movie a picture-perfect example of the obliviously dysfunctional modern family.

That said, it wouldn’t matter, not to the kids and possibly not to the parents. New Moon is irresistible to its kind, suggestive, but never lewd. It doesn’t cross the line into being raunchy. It lets the imagination do everything, hence, its success.

No question that this film hits higher marks than the previous one. The action is nicely executed. No cheesy scenes of scampering up trees. The script is tighter, providing a meaningful story, and a dialogue that speaks to most of us. It will hit you right between the eyes, regardless of your age—right up until the second half of the movie, that is.

Then, it loses it as the story becomes muddled in its own belching fullness, with its content enough for three movies, crunched painfully into one. At that point, it’s too heavy on the vampire makeup and the shirtless guys. Suddenly, nothing means as much. The congestive “wolf” storyline could never be smoothed out. Better had it not been included.

For non-Twilight fans, the impelling story will be insufficient when standing next to the Methuselah-aged runtime of the movie, which is longer than a door-slamming pout-bout of a rejected junior high drama-queen.

New Moon may not bowl a 300, but this is how you do a teenage action-drama-love story. That much is beyond doubting. The marks are high enough for the fans—and perhaps then some (as much as a part of me hates to admit it).

(JH)

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Grade: B- (3 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Director: Chris Weitz
Summation: After Bella recovers from the vampire attack that almost claimed her life, she begins a new chapter with Edward.
Starring: Kristen Stewart “Bella Swan,” Christina Jastrzembska “Gran / Bella,” Robert Pattinson “Edward Cullen,” Billy Burke “Charlie Swan,” Anna Kendrick “Jessica,” Michael Welch “Mike,” Justin Chon “Eric,” Christian Serratos “Angela,” Taylor Lautner “Jacob Black,” Ashley Greene “Alice Cullen,” Jackson Rathbone “Jasper Whitlock”
Genre: Drama / Fantasy / Horror / Romance / Thriller
Trailer
2012 (C-)
9 (C-)
Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective (F)
Aliens in the Attic (D+)
Angels and Demons (B-)
Astro Boy (C-)
Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia (D-)
Bride Wars (C+)
Brüno (C-)
Capitalism: A Love Story (C+)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (B+)
Confessions of a Shopaholic (C-)
Coraline (D+)
Couples Retreat (D+)
Crank 2: High Voltage (C-)
Dance Flick (D+)
Disney's A Christmas Carol (C-)
District 9 (A+)
Dragonball: Evolution (F)
Drag Me to Hell (C-)
Duplicity (C+)
Extract (B+)
Fighting (D+)
Fired Up (C-)
Friday the Thirteenth (C+)
Funny People (C+)
Gamer (F)
G-Force (D+)
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (D-)
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (D-)
Halloween II (D+)
Hannah Montana: The Movie (D+)
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (D+)
Hotel for Dogs (B-)
I Can Do Bad All By Myself (C-)
Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (C-)
I Love You, Man! (A-)
Inglourious Basterds (A-)
Jennifer's Body (B-)
Knowing (D-)
Land of the Lost (D-)
Law Abiding Citizen (C+)
Love Happens (D-)
Madea Goes to Jail (B-)
Monsters Vs. Aliens (C+)
My Bloody Valentine (D+)
My Sister's Keeper (B+)
Next Day Air (D+)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (D+)
Notorious B.I.G. (B-)
Obsessed (C-)
Orphan (D+)
Pandorum (D+)
Paranormal Activity (C+)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (B+)
Public Enemies (B+)
Race to Witch Mountain (C+)
Ready or Not (C-)
Saw VI (B-)
Shorts (D+)
Sorority Row (D+)
Star Trek (D-)
State of Play (A-)
Surrogates (C-)
Terminator: Salvation (C+)
The Fast and the Furious 4 (C-)
The Final Destination IV (D-)
The Haunting in Connecticut (D+)
The Informant (C+)
The International (D+)
The Invention of Lying (A-)
The Last House on the Left (D+)
The Pink Panther II (B-)
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (F)
The Proposal (C-)
The Soloist (C+)
The Stepfather (D+)
The Taking of Pelham 123 (C+)
The Ugly Truth (D+)
The Unborn (D-)
The Uninvited (B-)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (F)
Up (A+)
Watchmen (A+)
Where the Wild Things Are (C+)
Whiteout (D-)
Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling (D-)
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (D+)
Year One (C+)
Zombieland (A-)

Who Knew The Apocalypse Could Be This Boring

Movie Title: 2012 (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Until the release of the movie 2012, I was holding out a measure of hope that the New Age-ish obsession with this new myth of the apocalypse would prove to be nothing more than entertainment. I no longer hold out such hope. Sylvia Browne and the rest of the New Age crowd have won. They and so many others are convinced that “the end” is to come in just three years. Failing that, they’ll be satisfied with a few natural calamities and credit them as being predicted events once they hit the news. I don’t know what else to do but write about it and laugh at them.

The Christians once went the same route, and this was WAY before that shameful hoax known as Y2K. That had some of us (not me!) storing toilet paper and bottled water and canned goods in basements, closets, and bathrooms. Some of you yo-yos went outside and started your cars and revved the engine until the ball dropped to welcome in the New Year. Some of you goons actually thought the world’s computers would stop working, ushering in the age of The Anti-Christ. I pity you.

Christians were “calculating” to predict the return of Christ long before that. Riots were suffered in 1099 as the Jesus sheep sold their goods, quit their jobs, and traveled to the Holy Land to meet their returning savior. In the early 1800s, the Dave Miller and Ellen G. White movements were getting started. They had followers from coast to coast claiming that 1850 and every year following would be the year of Christ’s triumphant return. Every year that it didn’t happen fostered no sense of worry. They just “miscalculated.” Better luck next year.

The Christians haven’t really learned their lesson, but they’ve gotten smarter about being too vocal with their eschatological views. The New Agers have yet to learn that lesson. The Mayan calendar restarts on either December 12th or the 21st of 2012. The earth’s time of “rebirth” will then begin. That’s what we’re supposed to believe. It is the latter date that the movie hones in on.

Geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) discovers from a scientist colleague in India that neutrinos from the sun are heating up the earth’s core, the results of which are to be disastrous. This is supposed to be due to the discredited idea of “Earth Crust Displacement.” Helmsley gets before a cutthroat antagonist of a White House chief of staff (Oliver Platt) and an unbecomingly munificent president (Danny Glover) on a solution to the problem. Hundreds of thousands of people of the best genetic and educational stock are to be selected so that the species can survive, but plenty of room is made for the wealthy to pay their way on board and “fund” the survival efforts. This leads to a morality question struggle.

John Cusack is Jackson Curtis, an under-sold author and part-time limo driver for a well-to-do member of Russian high society. He takes his two kids on a camping trip where he meets a wild-eyed, hippi-fied conspiracy theorist (Woody Harrelson) with a blog, a radio show, and too much to say. Curtis has an ear for unusual claims. Meanwhile, Kate, Jackson’s ex (Amanda Peet), is with her new boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy). One trip to the supermarket and one ripped apart house is going to make her a believer in the apocalypse!

From camping trips and kooky conspiracy theorists to international incidents and fake Russian accents, 2012 is one very long film about a cataclysmic event that, against expectations, isn’t that exciting. A serious plot calls for serious consideration, but the film has no sense of gravity. You never feel the urgency of the impending doom, nor do you feel for the lives that are lost.

As far as cataclysmic destruction goes, there isn’t much of it if you take into account the fact that the movie is so unbearably long. For the length of time spent watching, there isn’t that much action or excitement. The soap opera-level attempts at drama only result in boredom, and the failed (and sometimes juvenile) attempts at humor don’t belong: “Women pay me thousands of dollars to handle their boobs. You get it for free!” The occasional inflated moment of comic relief does get by, but the seriousness befitting a movie of this type is nowhere to be found.

Heads of state meetings, presidential appearances, gloomy-but-never-impact-ful announcements by scientists, streets collapsing, families exchanging platitudes, cutaways to a Chinese family chopping the heads off of chickens, more catastrophe, more streets collapsing, more talking, more reassuring crying kids, “Save more people! Show our humanity!” That is 2012.

The only close-to-redeeming quality is the massive loss of life on a crazy scale. Granted, if it ever happened, it wouldn’t happen to this degree, but it is no less satisfying to witness an entire coastline slip right into an ocean. The visuals are faultless and will keep your eyes busy taking in the details.

I myself found it odd that the entire world is being enveloped by earthquakes and newly made volcanoes, and Curtis and family are making cell phone calls to one another. The servers would not be able to handle the frantic flood of calls of nearly 300,000,000 people (not counting non-Americans), but I guess it’s no more odd than the idea that neutrinos could heat the earth’s core up enough to make unlivable all surfaces on planet earth at once.

If the obsessions with 2012 are this bad in 2009, I can only step back and imagine how much worse things will get as the date approaches.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Director: Roland Emmerich
Summary: A global cataclysm that brings an end to the world and tells of the heroic struggle of the survivors.
Starring: John Cusack “Jackson Curtis,” Amanda Peet “Kate Curtis,” Chiwetel Ejiofor “Adrian Helmsley,” Thandie Newton “Laura Wilson,” Oliver Platt “Carl Anheuser,” Thomas McCarthy “Gordon Silberman,” Woody Harrelson “Charlie Frost,” Danny Glover “President Thomas Wilson”
Genre: Action / Drama / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Trailer

The Nightmare Before a Christmas Carol

Movie Title: Disney's A Christmas Carol (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this 2009 remake of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a 3-D animated picture that will not fail to make lasting impressions. Whether those impressions will be positive or negative is a toss-up, but that no expense was spared in creating a 96-minute phenomenally sophisticated and visually stunning work of animation is well beyond dispute.

Although the presentation of the actors is the product of a well-nuanced work of computer imagery, there are several notable voice performances. An always competent Jim Carrey voices Ebenezer Scrooge (in all stages of his life) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Gary Oldman voices Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley, and Tiny Tim.

Great efforts are taken to keep the story loyal to Dickens’ original work with that faithfulness being sidestepped in one long chase segment wherein Scrooge finds himself running from a spirit hearse sent from the Ghost of Christmas Future. It didn’t work well, but for some reason was thought necessary as a measure of adding yet more terror to an already terror-laden film that seemed to be in pathological competition with something of the Tim Burton persuasion.

What hurts the film most is that it tries to be frightening, and it is hard to understand why. I would ask if children should be scared into seeing the meaning of Christmas, but that isn’t a question because the film cannot be said to be for kids. Viewers will be dazzled by the animation as Scrooge takes to the clouds at supersonic speeds, falls off of cliffs, and takes falls that would break a hip. The three visiting spirits are more mysterious than your normal ghosts—one of whom is a splendorous being with a face of light and another is big and bizarrely dies like humans. Much of that is symbolic. Much of that is also weird, as though managed by someone who hasn’t finished toying with the special affects.

Seeing a terrified scrooge being assaulted by these forces from the netherworld is nothing like witnessing the excruciation of Marley as he visits Scrooge (easily the most disturbing part of the film). The characters are either too shrill or too bubbly, too happy or too sad, too good or too bad. Some of the lead characters go to the extreme in some capacity, making the story feel like the contrived moral lesson we know it to be. The rest are lifeless images that operate in or near the background like sketchy NPCs from an old-school videogame.

No harm is done in stories with moral lessons, provided the presentation is tailored to the audience. A Christmas Carol is done best when tailored for the young. The best I’ve seen it done is with Goofy and Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse in the delightfully memorable Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)—a short but superior and age-appropriate film.

Director Zemeckis does have an obligation to be faithful to the original story, and he was, which is why it was so frightening. This was the vision of a nineteenth-century English writer with a passion for delving into Victorian-era themes. Dickens was an Anglican Christian, and so it should not at all surprise us to see produced such a wrathful, fear-based “conversion” of the Scrooge character. A Christmas Carol was one of Dickens’ best works, which was not to become a classic at some later date. It was a hit from the beginning because this was where people’s minds were centered at the time.

That this fictional story with an endearing message could ever take off in its own time offers no amazement. What should amaze us is, barring solely nostalgic value, that anyone today could embrace such a wicked, vengeful, atrocious, and terrible delivery of a message. Minds of today are not centered where they once were.

The story of Scrooge is a nightmarish tale about a man who is visited by three spirits and given a chance to change his ways while his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, was never given the same chance, but was sent back to warn his still-alive friend Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his ways, he will be forced to wear chains for all eternity without the hope of rest or ever again knowing peace. This story is played over and over every Christmas season, and not many seem to be bothered by this realization. I suppose if you believe in God, a judgment, and a Hell, it shouldn’t bother you at all.

Let the redeemed Scrooge think about the fact that as he dines happily with family and makes merry, his old friend is enduring the discomfort of eternal retribution as found in the Bible. The idea of everlasting torment, bathed in the eternal hate that can only be created by a God of the Abrahamic religions, is something that belongs in the dark ages, with its thumbscrews and heretic burnings.

This chesty recreation of A Christmas Carol hits every high mark except the important ones. It succeeds in making a lasting impression, but it fails to be lovable or attractive while it strikes few authentic chords of joy even after Scrooge’s redemption has taken place. Should I reward this movie with a positive review and a high grade for missing the mark of making yuletide merriment? I can’t in good conscience do so.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Summary: An animated retelling of Charles Dickens classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions.
Starring: Jim Carrey “Scrooge / Ghost of Christmas Past / Scrooge as a Young Boy / Scrooge as a Teenage Boy / Scrooge as a Young Man / Scrooge as a Middle-Aged Man / Ghost of Christmas Present / Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” (voice), Julian Holloway “Fat Cook / Portly Gentleman #2 / Business Man #3” (voice), Gary Oldman “Bob Cratchit / Marley / Tiny Tim” (voice), Robin Wright Penn “Fan / Belle” (voice)
Genre: Animation / Drama / Family / Fantasy
Trailer

A Nightmare Before a Christmas Carol

Movie Title: A Christmas Carol (2009) Spoilers: No   ---   Directed by Robert Zemeckis, this 2009 remake of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a 3-D animated picture that will not fail to make lasting impressions. Whether those impressions will be positive or negative is a toss-up, but that no expense was spared in creating a 103-minute phenomenally sophisticated and visually stunning work of animation is well beyond dispute.   Although the presentation of the actors is the product of a well-nuanced work of computer imagery, there are several notable voice performances. An always competent Jim Carrey voices Ebenezer Scrooge (in all stages of his life) and the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present. Gary Oldman voices Bob Cratchit, Marley, and Tiny Tim.   Great efforts are taken to keep the story loyal to Dickens’ original work with that faithfulness being sidestepped in one long chase segment wherein Scrooge finds himself running from a spirit hearse sent from the Ghost of Christmas Future. It didn’t work well, but for some reason was thought necessary as a measure of adding yet more terror to an already terror-laden film that seemed to be in pathological competition with something Tim Burton would produce.   What hurts the film most is that it tries to be frightening, and it is hard to understand why. I would ask if children should be scared into seeing the meaning of Christmas, but that isn’t a question because the film cannot be said to be for kids. Viewers will be dazzled by the animation as Scrooge takes to the clouds at supersonic speeds, falls off of cliffs and takes falls that no man his age could sustain, and is visited by more-mysterious-than-normal ghosts—some of whom are resplendent beings of light and some are big and bizarrely die like humans. Much of that is symbolic. Much of that is also weird, as though managed by someone who isn’t finished toying with the special affects.   When not seeing a terrified scrooge or an eternally tormented Marley being assaulted by these chaotic forces from the netherworld, you see characters that are either too shrill or too bubbly, too happy or too sad, too good or too bad. Some of the lead characters go to the extreme in some capacity, making the story feel like the contrived moral lesson we know it to be. The rest are lifeless images that operate like NPCs from an old-school videogame.   No harm is done in stories with moral lessons, provided the presentation is tailored to the audience. A Christmas Carol is done best with when tailored for the young. The best I’ve seen it done is with Goofy and Daffy Duck and Mickey Mouse in the delightfully memorable Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)—a short but superior and age-appropriate film.   Director Zemeckis does have an obligation to be faithful to the original story, and he was, which is why this was so frightening. This was the vision of a nineteenth-century English writer with a passion for delving into Victorian-era themes. Dickens was an Anglican Christian, and so it should not at all surprise us to see produced such a wrathful, fear-based “conversion” of the Scrooge character. A Christmas Carol was one of Dickens’ best works, which was not to become a classic at some later date. It was a hit from the beginning because this was where people’s minds were centered at the time.      That this fictional story with an endearing message could ever take off in its own time offers no amazement. What should amaze us is, barring solely nostalgic value, that anyone today could embrace such a wicked, vengeful, atrocious, and terrible story. Minds of today are not centered here.   The story of Scrooge is a nightmarish tale about a man who is visited by three spirits and given a chance to change his ways while his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, was never given the same chance, but was sent back to warn his still-alive friend Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his ways, he would be forced to wear chains for all eternity without the hope of rest or ever again knowing peace. This story is played over and over every Christmas season, and not many seem to be bothered by this realization. I suppose if you believe in God, a judgment, and a Hell, it shouldn’t bother you at all.   Let the redeemed Scrooge think about the fact that as he dines happily with family and makes merry, his old friend is enduring the discomfort of eternal retribution as found in the Bible. The idea of everlasting retribution, bathed in the eternal hate that can only be created by a God of the Abrahamic persuasion, is something that belongs in the dark ages, with its thumbscrews and heretic burnings.   This robust recreation of A Christmas Carol hits every high mark except the important ones. It succeeds in making a lasting impression, but it fails to be lovable or attractive while it strikes few authentic chords of joy even after Scrooge’s redemption has taken place. Should I reward this movie with a positive review and a high grade for missing the mark of making yuletide merriment? I can’t in good conscience do so.   (JH)   ---   Grade: C- (2 stars) Rated: PG Director: Robert Zemeckis Summary: An animated retelling of Charles Dickens classic novel about a Victorian-era miser taken on a journey of self-redemption, courtesy of several mysterious Christmas apparitions. Starring: Jim Carrey “Scrooge / Ghost of Christmas Past / Scrooge as a Young Boy / Scrooge as a Teenage Boy / Scrooge as a Young Man / Scrooge as a Middle-Aged Man / Ghost of Christmas Present / Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” (voice), Julian Holloway “Fat Cook / Portly Gentleman #2 / Business Man #3” (voice), Gary Oldman “Bob Cratchit / Marley / Tiny Tim” (voice), Robin Wright Penn “Fan / Belle” (voice) Genre: Animation / Drama / Family / Fantasy Trailer   

He's Got Machine Guns in his Butt!

Movie Title: Astro Boy (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Director David Bowers’ Astro Boy is like The Jetsons mixed with Wall-e, sprinkled with a few shakes of something off of Robocop in the style of an Esurance advertisement. It is an oddball as surely as it is optimistic to win over its viewing audience. It doesn’t really succeed, but if it were sentient and could hear me telling it that it is anything less than golden, it wouldn’t believe me anyway.

Astroboy the movie is based on the revered Astro Boy Japanese television series created in 1952 by Osamu Tezuka. Since its beginning, the story has undergone some changes, but none have been so bold as to replace the theme still intact in the film about an accomplished Minister of Science, Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) who, due to his grief, uses the greatest technology in existence to bring to life an android replica of his deceased son.

I won’t give away too much of the story as it is one that has not yet lost its “new plot smell,” but the movie does not do as well as the heartily impressive trailers floating around the internet make it out to do. The entertainment value isn’t quite as high as was promised. Astro Boy is a lot of things, including technologically showy and “on the sleeves” emotional while lacking a strong verbal vibe or intellectual acuity.

Astro Boy may not educate children, but it does educate us. Astro-boy reminds us that Wall-e has many fans and that there are writers who stand ready to dance on the minefield of semi-shameless rip-offs to try and make a respectable movie—in this case, a movie that involves trash compactors with bad senses of humor and barking robot dog trashcans. I’m still scratching my head on those two. Astro-boy tells us that junkyards are just plain fun. And last but not least, Astro-boy tells us that voice acting can be done badly.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly why these characters don’t completely win you over, but Astro Boy and his female admirer Cora (Kristen Bell) do begin to grow on you. The only truly touching character in the whole lot is Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy), Dr. Tenma’s close friend and scientist colleague. His is a genuine character with radiant appeal.

Astro Boy does bring with it an adept devising of science fiction. A comet brings to earth positive and negative energies. We are never bored with exhaustive details, but are informed of the basics we need. With just the right amount of vagueness, we learn that the good (blue) and the bad (red) energies can be harnessed to great use. These energies work in sync with the nature of man. Blue is the permeating life-force, the robotic version of a spirit energy. Red is the aggressive, negative force.

These two opposing power sources are mightily sought after, with the dangerous one falling into the hands of President Stone (Donald Sutherland), Metro City’s villainous leader seeking reelection at all costs. “I’ve got an election to win” is his favorite line. He says it over and over and over. He wants to remain president of his massive floating city, but he doesn’t have enough sense to realize that if you attack it Godzilla-style with an ED-209-style military super-droid, you won’t win any votes.

Metro City is a droid-obsessed city in the clouds where the robots do everything. When they cease to be useful, they are trashed and thrown to that growing garbage heap of Earth’s surface. Others are then made to take their place. Some of these robots that survive on the ground are sentient and view citizens of Metro City as tyrannical and cruel. Astro Boy’s role in the story is to serve as a kind of go-between, a boy/machine, implanted with the memories and nature of a human being. But the plot is never seriously focused enough on bridging the gap of what it means to be a human-robot, nor on how this should change the outlook of others. The viewer is led to instead remain dazzled on Astro Boy’s Superman-level strength and his fate at the hands of power-crazed President Stone.

The story of Astro Boy is warm and touching, but will need your forgiveness for some repeated feeble attempts at humor. Still, no one said there aren’t six-year-olds lined up to laugh at these antics. To tickle the comically challenged Japanese fan-base are a few advertisements of a shirtless young Astro Boy wearing boots and red wrestling trunks (which, thankfully, didn’t make it into the movie), and a large, sky-floating octopus alien attacking earth.

The classics will just never die…like the memory of a lost child, or for the Japanese, things like skyscraper-sized sea creatures and monsters that attack cities. If I were Japanese, I’m sure it would bring a tear to my eye too, but I’m not Japanese, and so I say along with the rest of us that I’m glad we had no more such “shout-outs” to home.

(JH)

---

Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rating: PG
Director: David Bowers
Summary: A young, human-like robot with incredible powers seeks life and a relationship with his creator.
Starring: Nicolas Cage “Dr. Tenma” (voice), Kristen Bell “Cora” (voice) Charlize Theron “Narrator” (voice), Samuel L. Jackson “Zog” (voice), Bill Nighy “Dr. Elefun” (voice), Freddie Highmore “Astro Boy” (voice), Donald Sutherland, “President Stone” (voice)
Genre: Animation / Action / Family / Sci-Fi
Trailer

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (B+)
District 9 (A+)

Extract (B+)

I Love You, Man! (A-)

Inglourious Basterds (A-)

Public Enemies (B+)

State of Play (A-)

Up (A+)

Watchmen (A+)

Zombieland (A-)

The Uninvited (B-)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop (B+)

Angels and Demons (B-)

The Pink Panther II (B-)

Notorious B.I.G. (B-)
17 Again (C-)
9 (C-)

Bride Wars (C+)

Brüno (C-)

Confessions of a Shopaholic (C-)

Coraline (D+)

Crank 2: High Voltage (C-)

Dance Flick (D+)

Drag Me to Hell (C-)

Duplicity (C+)

Fighting (D+)

Fired Up (C-)

Friday the Thirteenth (C+)

Funny People (C+)

G-Force (D+)

Halloween II (D+)

Hannah Montana: The Movie (D+)

Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (D+)

Hotel for Dogs (B-)

I Can Do Bad All By Myself (C-)

Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (C-)

Jennifer's Body (B-)

Law Abiding Citizen (C+)

Madea Goes to Jail (B-)

Monsters Vs. Aliens (C+)

My Bloody Valentine (D+)

My Sister's Keeper (B+)

Next Day Air (D+)

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (D+)

Obsessed (C-)

Orphan (D+)

Pandorum (D+)

Race to Witch Mountain (C+)

Ready or Not (C-)

Star Trek (D-)

Surrogates (C-)

Shorts (D+)

Sorority Row (D+)

Terminator: Salvation (C+)

The Fast and the Furious 4 (C-)

The Haunting in Connecticut (D+)

The International (D+)

The Last House on the Left (D+)

The Proposal (C-)

The Soloist (C+)

The Taking of Pelham 123 (C+)

Year One (C+)



17 Again (C-)
9 (C-)
Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective (F)
Aliens in the Attic (D+)
Angels and Demons (B-)
Behind Enemy Lines: Columbia (D-)
Bride Wars (C+)
Brüno (C-)
Capitalism: A Love Story (C+)
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (B+)
Confessions of a Shopaholic (C-)
Coraline (D+)
Couples Retreat (D+)
Crank 2: High Voltage (C-)
Dance Flick (D+)
District 9 (A+)
·
Dragonball: Evolution (F)
·
Drag Me to Hell (C-)
·
Duplicity (C+)
·
Extract (B+)
·
Fighting (D+)
·
Fired Up (C-)
·
Friday the Thirteenth (C+)
·
Funny People (C+)
·
Gamer (F)
·
G-Force (D+)
·
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (D-)
·
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (D-)
·
Halloween II (D+)
·
Hannah Montana: The Movie (D+)
·
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (D+)
·
Hotel for Dogs (B-)
·
I Can Do Bad All By Myself (C-)
·
Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (C-)
·
I Love You, Man! (A-)
·
Inglourious Basterds (A-)
·
Jennifer's Body (B-)
·
Knowing (D-)
·
Land of the Lost (D-)
·
Law Abiding Citizen (C+)
·
Love Happens (D-)
·
Madea Goes to Jail (B-)
·
Monsters Vs. Aliens (C+)
·
My Bloody Valentine (D+)
·
My Sister's Keeper (B+)
·
Next Day Air (D+)
·
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (D+)
·
Notorious B.I.G. (B-)
·
Obsessed (C-)
·
Orphan (D+)
·
Pandorum (D+)
·
Paranormal Activity (C+)
·
Paul Blart: Mall Cop (B+)
·
Public Enemies (B+)
·
Race to Witch Mountain (C+)
·
Ready or Not (C-)
·
Shorts (D+)
·
Sorority Row (D+)
·
Star Trek (D-)
·
State of Play (A-)
·
Surrogates (C-)
·
Terminator: Salvation (C+)
·
The Fast and the Furious 4 (C-)
·
The Final Destination IV (D-)
·
The Haunting in Connecticut (D+)
·
The International (D+)
·
The Invention of Lying (A-)
·
The Last House on the Left (D+)
·
The Pink Panther II (B-)
·
The Poughkeepsie Tapes (F)
·
The Proposal (C-)
·
The Soloist (C+)
·
The Stepfather (D+)
·
The Taking of Pelham 123 (C+)
·
The Ugly Truth (D+)
·
The Unborn (D-)
·
The Uninvited (B-)
·
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (F)
·
Up (A+)
·
Watchmen (A+)
·
Where the Wild Things Are (C+)
·
Whiteout (D-)
·
Without a Paddle: Nature's Calling (D-)
·
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (D+)
·
Year One (C+)
· Zombieland (A-)

God’s Entrapment and James’ Idiocy

It's one of the worst blunders in the scriptures, and it comes from James, writer of the New Testament. He says: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” (James 1:13)

Studying the New Testament without the blinders of Christian dogma on reveals that James – like that sadly ignorant writer of the gospel of Matthew – had no idea of the things he was saying. James says that God doesn’t tempt men to do evil. God doesn’t want to see us fall. He’s not going to do anything about it if we do fall, but he wants us to prosper, and he’s not going to tempt us to do “evil.”

The abovementioned Bible quote would be nothing but another pious passage, were it not for the fact that James is wrong and that his statement creates a contradiction with the Old Testament. God does for sure try (test, tempt, all good words) men.

Genesis has God tempting a man, his servant Abraham: “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.” (Genesis 22:1)

You remember what happens with the story. God says “Go offer your son Isaac as a burnt offering to me.” Abraham is about to comply when God essentially jumps in and says: “Whoa, buddy! I’m just pulling your leg! If you kill the chosen seed I gave you, there won’t be a way to have all the seed I promised you, but thanks anyway for not thinking and just obeying me without question!”

Abraham was praised for being willing to obey God, but what if he hadn’t gone about to obey God? What if he had disobeyed God? Would that not have been a sin? Of course, it would have. But God was tempting Abraham. He was trying him with a test of faith, a test that could have been to his detriment.

God shouldn’t have needed to test his faith since God knows everything. He already knew when the last time his faithful servant went solo on himself in a tent in Ur of the Chaldees when the wife was on the rag, but God tests him anyway. If God wants to play the game, you’ve got to play it.

So had those Israelites who were commanded to exterminate non-Jews found en route to the promised land been conscientious objectors who refused to “save alive nothing that breatheth” (Deuteronomy 20:16) as commanded, they would have been violators of God’s law. You’ve got to do what God says, no matter what. Those who school girlishly boast “I have a foundation for my morality” should remember that.

A bartender who serves alcohol to a person who is intoxicated can face charges by the deceased’s family if the intoxicated individual leaves the establishment and gets in a car wreck and is killed. It’s called accountability, and it must apply to God too. What we read of God's character should show accountability problems—maybe not for Christians, but for all who think.

God may not want you to fall to sin, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that God causes men to fall, despite what James says. Read Deuteronomy...

“If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3)

When a false prophet comes and tries to deceive the faithful into idolatrous apostasy, it is to be considered the work of God in that God is testing you to see how loyal to him you are! The text says not to pity the idolater, but to kill him. He is an abomination. Have no part with him. Don’t be led astray by him, no matter how “tempting” he/God is. Get all the people together in ending his life. That is the word of Heaven.

Just think, an eloquent pagan who can do convincing magic tricks, some worshipper of snakes from a temple where the blood of babes is scribbled onto parchment, who uses smooth words to move Israelite households into rebellion against the followers of Moses might have been doing the will of God!

So much for “God doesn’t tempt you with evil.” It’s clearly not true. God will test your faithfulness using an evil false prophet, one so evil that God himself says they should die! How much more “tempting with evil” can God get? God wants you to be faithful, but if you fall prey to wickedness, God is still pure and you are still unjust and dirty. God bears no blame.

Like the words of today’s apologists, James’ words have no real meaning. If he had great knowledge of the Old Testament, he wouldn’t have said: “When you are tempted, God doesn’t do it. God doesn’t tempt with evil.” What he’s trying to say is, “Don’t blame God for your temptations. It’s always you who screws up and gives into them.” But it makes no sense to say that God doesn’t tempt with evil because James, even with prophetic endowment, could not know the limits of God’s involvement in testing every human being.

James’ words are on level with modern statements from evangelistic eggheads, like “God is sinless.” What does that even mean? If God creates all standards of righteousness, then to say that he could ever be sinful is, correspondingly, nonsense. “God had to come in the form of a perfect man to show us how it’s done.” is another clueless statement made by believers. God no more needs to become human than he does have a son. Only a stupid, pseudo-intellectualized, half-pagan, descendant of a lobster-hater would contend otherwise.

(JH)

Someone Has to Deliver That Pizza!

Movie Title: Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Capitalism: A Love Story is Michael Moore’s latest stab at cooperate America, released on the 20-year anniversary of his first documentary film, Roger & Me (1989). This 127-minute film features Moore interviewing politicians, economists, religious leaders, and average, blue-collar citizens on the evils of capitalism. Also included is a flurry of archived footage of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.

Everything, from social gatherings to mortgage scandals, is discussed at great length in what seems like miles and miles of clips. Along with the footage are silly scenes of Moore driving armored trucks up to banks and asking for the people’s tax money back and an obviously out-of-ideas Michael Moore wrapping a bank in yellow crime scene tape and claiming to be there to make a citizen’s arrest.

Moore’s message (as though you are wondering): capitalism is evil…capitalism is really evil…capitalism is really, really evil…even Catholicism and many religious figures think so. So says Father Dick Preston: “It is contrary to the common good. It is contrary to compassion. It is contrary to all the major religions. Capitalism is wrong, and therefore, has to be eliminated.” Walmart is also evil. Socialism: socialism is good…and biblical and moral, though the biblical and moral parts Moore never cared about until he found that it served his purpose to mention.

And mortgage investors are evil. Congressmen are corrupt. The big banks are manipulating the system to their own advantage. The bailout was a bad move, an illegal move forced upon us by satanic bankers who operate outside of the law. Why this sudden urgent insistence from Mr. Moore that white-collar crimes exist? We knew that. No need to state the obvious.

And then we get statements like this to go along with scenes from teary-eyed family members getting forcefully evicted from their homes: “There’s got to be some kind of a rebellion between the people who have nothing and the people who have it all.” Socialist philosophy to a “t”: You can’t sleep in a nice house of your own unless you hook me up with one of my own!

Moore gives footage of the 2002 PA Child Care scandal, wherein two judges, Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conohan, shut down the state-funded juvenile detention center to send offenders to a privately owned Wilkes-Barre and one sister location. Both judges were charged with federal racketeering.

The film opens with commentary on the downfall of Rome and with clips of the brutalities of ancient Rome. These brutalities are compared to the modern “brutality” of UFC fighting (a totally ridiculous comparison!) What Moore could and should have pointed out was Rome’s giving out of free bread and neglecting the nation’s many slums in favor of unfeasible military expansions abroad were two very important factors that played a part in her ultimate demise.

Moore spends a lot of time on the influence of the big banks, like Merrill Lynch, but without a good working knowledge of the scandals at question, the viewer can become lost in a flood of clips that are not well explained. Surprisingly little time was spent hammering America’s poor healthcare. Scholars and academics have such a love affair with Cuba’s healthcare system because it is “universal.” That’s a magic word with liberals.

Moore seems to be coming up short. This, his latest “power to the people,” romp is in some ways informative, but not sensational enough as a film. And who are his viewers, his devoted fans? The borderline nuts who stand in rallies and hold up signs that say “Capitalism = War!” For the life of him, Moore just doesn’t realize that his views of a socialized America, where business owners and network executives make $7.95 an hour, along with pizza delivery guys and housekeepers, is not thinkable.

It’s not always pretty – and yes, there is some social Darwinism involved – but if you ask this writer, capitalism is still to be preferred. If you are smart enough, strong enough, inventive enough, and determined enough, and you care to take advantage of the right opportunities, then you too can make something of yourself. If not, then I’m sorry. Life isn’t fair. Never was. Bottom line, someone has to deliver that pizza I ordered!

(JH)

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Grade: C+ (2 stars)
Rated: R
Director: Michael Moore
Summary: Michael Moore explains the abuses of American capitalism.
Starring: William Black “Himself,” Congressman Elijah Cummings “Himself,” Baron Hill “Himself,” Marcy Kaptur “Herself,” John McCain “Himself” (archive footage), Jimmy Carter “Himself” (archive footage), Ronald Reagan “Himself” (archive footage), Michael Moore “Himself”
Genre: Documentary / Drama
Trailer

Owls with Staring Problems

Movie Title: The Fourth Kind (2009)
Spoilers: No

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The idea that aliens are interested in planet earth and human beings is akin to the idea that a benevolent deity created mankind and takes a special interest in him. Both notions are salted with a fundamental sense of arrogance.

Partly, the idea of alien abduction sounds logical. If it turns out we are not alone in the universe, then this would generate a certain fascination in one type of life finding another. Studying human technology and biology would tell the abducting aliens about themselves, just as it would humans to discover alien life.

But as much as this is a reason to search out other life, it is equally a reason why a race of higher beings wouldn't be interested in us. Since the searching aliens would be an advanced race, they would likely have experience with other life forms prior to discovering us. If humans happened to be the first extraterrestrial life they encountered, it wouldn't take long to learn all that is relevant to them. Humans are more interesting to themselves than they would be to another form of life. Think about it for a minute.

The Fourth Kind, directed by and starring Olatunde Osunsanmi (he is the interviewer) and Milla Jovovich, is based on the opposite premise. The aliens are not just interested, but are obsessed with earth and with many people on it, especially people in Alaska where abides thousands and thousands of miles of wilderness, and where hundreds and hundreds of people can and do get lost every year. The aliens have had thousands of years to investigate and learn what they could from us, but according to The Fourth Kind, they're still not done. If the movie is any indication, they have set up shop here. They have no plans to leave.

And I'm not done stating why The Fourth Kind was a failure. It is (shamelessly) another in the line of “mocumentaries,” but without the appealing deceit. It goes to absolutely mental extremes to convince you that it is real, stating false facts from false experts, in the false vessel of a trumped-up story as phony as what we saw in The Poughkeepsie Tapes. It tries too hard to be real. That’s the big giveaway that it isn't. With its shebang of ear-racking sounds and extraneous dependence on long bouts of noise to convey a sense of shock or fear, it is a far-flung and poorly dramatized put-on.

Milla Jovovich is Abbey Tyler for the movie portions of the film. For the documentary portions, they picked a wide-eyed woman who couldn't look more like a mentally ill druggy who fell off the turnip truck. As a nonplus, her face is right up in the camera as she is “interviewed.” When it’s not, you are seeing floating bodies, hearing noises, and being spoon-fed “expert” testimony on a mysterious ancient language that seems to confirm ancient Sumerian ETs.

This “evidence” is, of course, rejected by one small-minded town sheriff in Nome, Alaska. It begins with the recent death of Dr. Tyler’s husband, Will (Julian Vergov), and some disturbing coincidences among her patients. These coincidences start her searching for answers as her patients inexplicably begin to see owls staring at them prelude to mental breakdowns.

Sheriff August (Will Patton) sets the tone for the show. He’s the classic skeptic. Dr. Tyler’s colleague, Dr. Abel Campos (Elias Coteas), is the closeted believer who isn't ready to be vocal about what he’s seen while monitoring some of Dr. Tyler’s patient sessions. To keep from facing ridicule and to safeguard his career, he’d rather keep his mouth shut. Dr. Tyler herself is the true believer, the one who must “keep hope alive” and get to the truth. With only slight variation, it’s the classic Hollywood lampooning of the hardnosed skeptic who must be shown that there is more out there. Another movie, same message; some of us are tired of it.

Why these aliens are after humans stays as wrapped in mystery as ever. We have no indication as to what they want or what they intend to do. But then, that’s usually enough for UFOlogists—just to feel that something sinister (or unexplained) is out there is enough to write books about that sound authoritative and dig around in the dry wells of the mythologies of dead religions to make “connections.”

These “connections” made by kooks and pseudo-scientists serve one valuable purpose—they become the backbone of good science fiction writing. But this is not good writing. It fails to entertain as surely as it misses the target in its tidal wave of woo-woo-ism that is supposed to take us away.

(JH)

---

Grade: D+ (1 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13
Director: Olatunde Osunsanmi
Summation: High numbers of missing persons in Nome, Alaska begins to convince a psychologist of UFOs.
Starring: Milla Jovovich “Abbey Tyler,” Will Patton “Sheriff August,” Hakeem Kae-Kazim “Awolowa Odusami,” Corey Johnson “Tommy Fisher,” Enzo Cilenti “Scott Stracinsky,” Elias Koteas “Abel Campos,” Eric Loren “Deputy Ryan,” Mia McKenna-Bruce “Ashley Tyler,” Raphaël Coleman “Ronnie Tyler,” Julian Vergov “Will Tyler”
Genre: Horror / Mystery / Sci-Fi / Thriller
Trailer

Pepsi: Now Available in the Afterlife

Movie Title: The Invention of Lying (2009)
Spoilers: No

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Ricky Gervais’ and Matthew Robinson’s The Invention of Lying is one of the better films of the year. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether that statement is the product of my strong atheistic bias or not, but that is the official statement that goes on the record. God-believers giddy-up and out, or else brace yourselves for an irreverently honest and amusing ride.

Ricky Gervais is Mark Bellison, an ordinary guy void of a love life who works as a scriptwriter in a not-so-ordinary universe. Mark’s world has the odd distinction of being a place where no one has evolved the ability to tell a lie…or to manipulate or withhold information or to deceive or to allow anyone else to believe misinformation. Everyone says everything that is on his/her mind. It never occurs to a single soul to hold back anything.

That is amusing. It is amusing not just for the way it is presented, but because the idea of deception never evolving is quite an extraordinary whim, a colossal leap of the imagination. But you don’t exactly have to keep in mind that Mark lives in a different universe than we do because the film goes into great detail as to what things are like in his world. Those details aren’t wasted, even though 15 minutes in, you start to suspect that the plot will be lost in a dreariness of cheap humor.

That doesn’t happen. The Invention of Lying doesn’t get old, in part, because it isn’t flattering to those of us who live in the viewer’s universe. We are that “evil” away team that returns to the “good” Enterprise in the episode of the original Star Trek entitled “The Mirror Universe.” Mark is in the “good” universe where honesty is – in practice – the best policy.

What helps make this an incredible viewing experience is that Mark is in the place of that first primitive life-form that learned to “play dead” in order to fend off being eaten. Don’t beat yourself over the head looking for details. You don’t have to care why deceit didn’t evolve. The movie doesn’t care to explain it. You just accept it and you move on, and hopefully, enjoy the show.

Our look into Mark’s life takes off when he finds himself in the pits. He is low on money and about to be fired from his job of writing boring-as-hell, fact-only movies, but then, something utterly amazing happens—through a bizarre evolutionary jump, Mark discovers how to lie to gain a personal advantage over everyone else. Once established as a successful writer and…well…a prophet of “the man in the sky,” his only remaining challenge is to win over the girl of his dreams, Anna McDoogles (Jennifer Garner).

Garner puts on a top-notch performance. She looks and acts her best. Gervais is a charmer with whom the average viewer can connect. A well-selected cast of comedians includes Tina Fey (Shelley), Louis C.K. (Greg), Jonah Hill (Frank), Rob Lowe (Brad Kessier), and Jason Bateman as (the doctor). Every character is funny and each has a defining attribute you want to see more of.

How far this semi-raunchy English-like comedy will get depends on you. The Invention of Lying does carry an openly humanistic, even atheistic, message. If you attend church three times a week, you are in the firing line. But if you are a merely “unchurched” religionist who can still be religious and laugh at the nuttos who lean on “God’s every word,” the coast may be clear. You shouldn’t be disappointed.

Honesty always demands respect, even when it steps on our toes. The Invention of Lying is honest when it lashes out against the irksome ideologies and idiotic abuses of religion, but it is also honest when it lifts up with sympathy the all too human reasons for why we humans invented religion in the first place. We want to be happier and we want more hope. Mark says to his dying mother…

“Mom, you’re wrong about what happens after you die. It’s not an eternity of nothingness. You go to your favorite place in the whole world. And everyone you have ever loved or who has ever loved you will be there. And you’ll be young again. There’s no pain, just love and happiness. Everyone gets a mansion.”

Might as well quote John 14:1-3 and call it a sermon! While the movie never gives ground on the fact that there is truly nothing for us beyond the grave, it admits that sometimes the comforting lie is to be preferred over the cold, hard truth.

We want to look forward to something better, no matter who or where we are in life. The Invention of Lying says that living for great genetics alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s got to be more than that when it comes to our estimation of each other and appreciating the sum of the human experience. But that conviction usually backfires. When we turn to lies for comfort, and when we build ideologies on those lies, much harm is done as we see in our world.

While your philosophical persuasion can get in the way of your liking this movie, it is hard not to like a film with unrelentingly dry humor, where buildings have titles like, “A Sad Place for Hopeless Old People,” and where a woman says out loud to her date: “I’ll have the Caesar’s salad with chicken because I think I’m fat, but I also think I deserve something that tastes good.” And see if you can spot where in the movie the title of this article comes from.

It is not until the ending where the light romantic drama and dry humor put a hex on each other. The drama becomes too thick and a pathos-based pandering takes off that brings about a less than quality ending.

The Invention of Lying deserves credit for not giving in to the trend of being a shallow sleaze-fest, and for invoking a novel and cliché-free plot that is full of pungent humor, with put-downs that impale commercialized mass ignorance, while uplifting the humanist’s desire to make both happiness and enlightenment the standard.

(JH)

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Grade: A- (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: PG-13
Directors: Ricky Gervais, Matthew Robinson
Summary: A man discovers how to lie in a world of no lying.
Starring: Ricky Gervais “Mark Bellison,” Jennifer Garner “Anna McDoogles,” Tina Fey “Shelley,” Louis C.K. “Greg,” Jonah Hill “Frank,” Rob Lowe “Brad Kessier,” and Jason Bateman as “the doctor”
Genre: Comedy / Romance
Trailer

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