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The Passion of the Christ

Puzzling and Troubling
The below is a slightly edited version of what I just posted on the message board:

I was reluctant to see The Passion..., and just saw it a couple nights ago on DVD. In some ways, I wanted to wait till some of the controversy died down beforehand, so I could watch it with more of an open mind. Anyway, the reviews of this movie on this website - both pro and con -are generally very well-expressed, so, I'd like to put my opinion out there as well. One more preface to my comments: I was raised (and continue to practice) within the Jewish faith. I only point this out to show that my own religious education (through my own confirmation at about age 15) did not teach us about Jesus, the Crucifixion, the Passion, etc...So, I am certainly nothing of a Christological scholar, from a historical or religious standpoint. Also, in many ways, I don't "get" one of the central themes of Christianity, that Jesus died for our sins. That does not mean that I don't respect that this is an extremely powerful concept. In fact, I have great respect for anything that moves people (in any religion or philosophy) to act more thoughtfully, more humanely, more lovingly, etc...Just as I condemn anything used by any faith or philosophy that is used to show superiority, or to divide us, etc...

Anyway, I am deeply troubled by Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, on a number of levels. To me, as a film, it was weak. Other than choreographing violence and hatred on a sickening level (perhaps, Gibson's intention), what else was recommendable about this movie? In fact, after the hundredth lash (usually delivered by a deliriously happy Roman "sickie"), etc., where was there any emotional connection?

Also, the flashback sequences, which could have been used to really tell Jesus' story, fell extremely flat for me. Were they effective for anybody else?

One of my main objections to this film is that we are shown next to nothing about the greatness, and ultimate goodness, of Jesus. Let alone his brilliance, his special gifts, his charisma, etc. I know that this was about the last hours of his life (and what he went through) but there was almost no connection to the man himself. Again, the flashbacks provided me with little or no depth and connection to the larger story.

Does this movie do any good service to anyone, except for, maybe, the Pontius Pilate fan club? Again, I am no scholar on this period of history, but I have read quite a few writings of many (from all faiths) who have leveled strong criticism against this version of the story. And, it just seems a little heavy-handed,, and fallacious, to present Pilate as a weak, though conscientious, statesman-like figure who was coerced into punishing (and then crucifying) Jesus by Caiphas and the angry Jewish mob.

One of the main questions about this movie is, "Is this film anti-semitic?" I am not going to read/quote all about Gibson's personal views, nor those of his father. His viewpoints do, however, come out in his film. To me, most aspects about the storytelling in this film were muddled, and it was somewhat unclear- at the beginning of the film- into whose hands Judas was delivering Jesus. (Of course, it was to Caiphas, the high priest, and his Council). From shortly after that point, however, it is clear that Caiphas and the Jewish mob are shown to be powerful, unreasonable, unethical, and desperate to be rid of Jesus. Motivations? Who knows.

It's just hard to believe that a group under the control of the Roman Empire would exert this much control. So, is this an anti-semitic portrayal? Of course, especially, if you consider that throughout the centuries, great violence to the Jewish community has often followed reenactments of the Passion. And, if Gibson were not making this point, why show the Jews in this horrible, two-dimensional light (and implying that they are responsible for all the violence that subsequently befalls Jesus), while showing Pilate as a thoughtful (but somewhat powerless) man. Even Herod was more of a curiosity, an ineffectual buffoon (as he may have been in reality - I don't know).

Another question: Why was the Resurrection given almost no screen time. Why couldn't Christ's suffering be put into a greater context?

Other questions: What positives did anyone get out of this story?

In what ways was this film indicative of the Passion Plays that are reenacted? Does it square with how this is taught in religious schools, or churches?

Again, the message, if there is one, that I take from this sickening and violent (and to many scholars, fanciful) film is one of hatred. And, that's a crying shame, to use a very old cliché, when you are making a movie about a man who represents goodness, greatness, love, and all good things.

Million Dollar Baby

There's good, there's bad, and there's ugly - in sum, barely mediocre
Please forgive the 'cute' subject line. Also, I never intend to throw in spoilers, but in evaluating the film with total honesty, it's sometimes necessary to do so. I also don't believe in plot summaries, as you can read hundreds of them elsewhere on this very site. In some ways, this evaluation reads best if you've already seen the movie. One or two more notes: I came into this film, as always, wanting to love it, and hoping to be transported, and at times it did take me for a good ride. Also, I happened to love Mystic River, the last directorial effort by Eastwood (Frankie),I could probably listen to Morgan Freeman ("Scrap") do a voice-over of The Congressional Quarterly, and though I never saw Boys Don't Cry, I am convinced there is an earnestness and an inner beauty to Hilary Swank (Maggie) that impresses me. Okay, on to the evaluation:

The good: Swank's performance as Maggie -- she did all she could with the role, although it wasn't the most interesting character, and she was ultimately let down by poorly drawn peripheral characters and a very mediocre script. Freeman is always good, and Eastwood's acting was pretty good. The look of the film was OK, the 3 leads looked their parts, the gym looked authentic, and it gave some insight to the job of the cutman. And, at times (but not often), the voiceovers added to the film. Also, some of the byplay between Frankie and Scrap was good stone-busting, yet it never elevated to great drama or great humor - just okay

The bad: The voiceovers too often told you what to think, or what was coming. They did not enrich the story, a la Shawshank, but often were patronizing, and seemed to be a device to cover for what the "action" could not do. All of the other characters - outside of the big 3 - were poorly drawn, and two-dimensional --all of them! For a movie that gave you pretty good boxing scenes and insight, it made no sense that Maggie didn't win the title on The Blue Bear's obvious disqualification. The backstory between Scrap and Frankie was not very interesting or textured. We never get enough, or really anything, about why Frankie's daughter never reads his letters. (That's not minimalism - that's just sloppiness. And, it's not like the film doesn't hit you over the head at other times.) Also, why does Maggie - the ultimate fighter in life and in the ring - suddenly do a "180" and want to die? There are so many shortcomings here: Why didn't the scenes with the priest really come alive, intellectually or emotionally? I don't mind that the movie switched tones, but aside from a touching moment or two between Maggie and Frankie, it had very little to say, and it didn't really explore the issues with any depth.

The ugly: There was absolutely no subtlety to the depiction of Maggie's family (and they couldn't have been a minor force in shaping who she was) --just horrible, lazy, mean-spirited screen writing here. A little bit of the Danger character went a long way --was there any explanation as to why he was still doing his idiot act for months on end at the gym? Again, he was too stupid to be truly sympathetic, and too cartoonish to be anything less than pitiable. Not funny, not even dramatic - just ugly.

When I watched this movie, I thought it was about an '8" or a "b". Every time I reflect on it, I get angry at the bad script, the two dimensional characters and the wasted talent, and the inability to really involve us, other than wanting to see Maggie (the ultimate diamond in the rough) make it. So, at best, this movie, on reflection, was a "D" -- I say this with sadness, and the feeling that if I keep thinking about it, its grade will plummet further.

Vanilla Sky

I wanted to like this movie, but ...
I just saw this on dvd. This was a movie that I wanted to embrace, but just could not. To back up for a moment, I never saw the Spanish language film on which it was based, Abre Los Ojos. So, whether that film was far superior, about the same, or somehow not as good, is irrelevant - for this purpose.

The performances were fair to good - Cruise is a reliably good actor - this represents a solid performance. Cameron Diaz was pretty good, Jason Lee did fine, but Penelope Cruz's acting (now, at times she looked gorgeous, and watching her dance is a pleasure) left something to be desired. My guess (judging from this and Captain Correlli's Mandolin)is that she is much better, and much more natural in Spanish language films. But, even w/ a great performance by her, this film would not be very good.

I believe the set-up is ok, and some of the ideas expressed are pretty good, but the story is somehow a little bit self-important or trying too hard to say something or to provide twists. I don't believe this is Cameron Crowe's best work at all. I liked Almost Famous a lot, and actually think Jerry Maguire was one of the superb works of the 90's. Look at Crowe's writing, and the performances from everyone in the JM cast-- almost, a perfect mix of dramatic tension and comedy). And, I know that this is a different style film, but I felt that the music (he does have good taste in music) was a substitute for memorable dialogue or pacing -- it just felt like a bad montage of music videos. The movie repeats lines of dialogue as if they are the most clever things ever written, but they're just ok. And then, the movie has, in my opinion, the nerve to steal a scene and the wonderful score from To Kill A Mockingbird (off a flimsy pretext), when Vanilla Sky couldn't "carry Mockingbird's jock", so to speak...Anyway, this film just seemed too self-conscious and too derivative of other films to really go anywhere. Not a terrible flick, but for me about a 6.5 out of 10.

I Like It Like That

I Liked It Just Like It Was
I really enjoyed this movie when I saw it in the theatre 10 years ago. It had a real fresh quality to it, and you really rooted for the main characters. I was searching for this on imdb, and then looked at its low rating, which is inexplicable to me. And then, I saw that a large group -- perhaps the largest single plurality - voted this a 1 out of 10. That's just a crime to rate is that low.

This film has terrific acting, great characters and a couple - and their young son - who you just root for. Add to that a strong supporting ensemble, and I would unashamedly rate it a 9 out of 10. i do have to see it again, but I remember just really 'digging' this film!

The Terminal

Somehow, I came out of the theater and rated it an 8/10
Where do I start with this one? This is a movie that one can easily pick apart for any number of reasons, all argued persuasively on this site...everything from the annoying product placements or integrations, hokey story lines, underdeveloped characters, changes in tone and character motivations ...Looking back on the movie, it is far from perfect, and yet....

As I watched it, The Terminal earned a certain good will, and I did willfully suspend my disbelief for it. I give Tom Hanks much of the credit for this (Who else could've pulled this off? Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, I don't know) because if you don't like his character and if you can't see the movie through his eyes, this movie will go nowhere (no pun intended on his Victor's plight). The other acting was fine: I happen to think CZ-Jones is very talented and not only beautiful, and she did fine with what she had to work with. The almost romance btwn her and Hanks is just okay. The support from Tucci and the rest is on the whole. very strong.

A couple more observations: To me, the comedy worked so much better in this movie than the gravity. I thought that the scene where Victor is called in to calm down a passenger is heavy-handed, the 'quickie-marriage was a bad end to a decent story line, and Gupta's surrender was also too shrill a moment

But having said all that, if I rated it element by element, it may get a 6/10 at best ...but as I watched it, it was an "8", for Hanks, for his support and for a few great laughs! Not quite Frank Capra quality, but basically a good-natured film with a romantic sensibility.

Jerry Maguire

This movie keeps getting better for me ...
While Jerry Maguire is equal parts romance and sports-related movie, JM is among my favorites in both genres. And yes, I got sick of the phrase, "Show me the money" and even, "You complete me", shortly after its release, but that's not the fault of this movie.

I'm not a huge Tom Cruise fan, but I think this is his best role to date. In JM, he is equal parts movie star and actor, and his scenes with everyone in the cast are great. Ditto for Renee Zellweger: I admit to having a bit of a love-hate (well, not quite that extreme w/ her.)..to me, she never looked better or did better acting - from the heart- (w/ out dipping into a bag of tricks a la Cold Mountain) than in JM. She is radiant, sympathetic, charming and shows great comic instincts as well.

Cuba Gooding, Jr. was very worthy of an Oscar nomination (I personally would have had him runner-up to Wm. H Macy in Fargo that year) --nevertheless he energizes the movie in creating the inimitable Rod Tidwell. The other supporting players all hit just the right notes: Bonnie Hunt as the jaded older sister, Jay Mohr as the sleaz-o agent, Regina King (brilliant) as Marcy Tidwell, Todd Louiso as the nanny/child technician, Kelly Preston as the b__tchy fiancée, and on and on. And then, they're probably all upstaged every time little Jonathan Lipnicki appears as Ray (go on, name me a more endearing child performance - ever - in the movies). This movie offers terrific, sharp writing, great acting, solid pacing and perfect use of music as well, and a great blend of comedy, romance and drama. .. For me, this movie earns a rare 10/10! It's made w/ great care, is wildly entertaining, and is even more meaningful in the little moments than in the big ones ...full of terrific scenes, not just two or more enduring catch phrases!

Best in Show

If you love the other Guest-Levy movies, you'll like this one as well.
My rating for this movie is an 8.5/10 ...on my movie page, I rounded it up to a 9...Having said that, this is actually my least favorite of the Guest (including Spinal Tap) movies: my personal ranking would be Waiting for Guffman, This Is Spinal Tap, A Mighty Wind, then Best In Show.

Curiously, this was the only movie that I saw as a new release in the theater, and I did love it. I have great respect for the regular players -(in no part. order): Guest, Levy, O'Hara, Willard, Posey, Balaban and the fine support of all the rest- McKean, Michael-Higgins, Coolidge, Lynch< Begley -- all of 'em -- I just love watching all of them work, improv, collaborate, embody qualities we can all laugh at, etc...

To me, this movie is just not as interesting as Guffman or Wind on repeated viewings, although there are some real standout moments. For this movie to really connect, it needed all of Willard's over-the-top shtick as the clueless "play-by-play" guy -- he (of course) delivers and enough laughs keep coming...

So, while it did not reach the heights of their other movies for me, it's still so much better than 98% of the other comedies you're likely to see.

Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain

Quirky, Eccentric, charming, unique - wonderful!
Amelie may have been my favorite movie of the last few years; it just grabs you from the beginning and takes you on a magical ride. It's probably impossible to not fall in love with the character of Amelie (or is it the charming, wonderful Audrey Tattou that we fall in love with?)

The music, the collection of mostly harmless oddballs, the imaginative character introductions w/ their everyday pleasures and peeves (maybe my favorite special touch of the whole movie), the music, the scenery, the pranks, the gnomes -- so many elements make this a special film.

French movie lover or not, do see it and think about buying it on dvd -- if you think that movies can be magical, you should love it!

Lost in Translation

Bathed In Hype -- I wanted to like this movie more than I did!
Don't get me wrong -- this is not a bad movie; it deserves a thumbs-up. I really wanted to fully embrace this movie. To me. it's a drama - not a comedy - with some humorous, whimsical moments. That's fine. My favorite movies are human drama ( I just wrote an evaluation of Secrets and Lies - which I loved - that epitomized human drama.) Now, I didn't expect LIT to stack up against Secrets, but it fell way short.

The good news: very good performances by Bill Murray (one of, if not his best, role) and Scarlett Johanssen (sp?) -- (this actress has an old soul, wise way beyond her years -- the sky appears to be her limit). I admire the relationship/friendship between the characters; there is humor (well, a little), good-nature and warmth between them, and I admire the restraint shown in how their relationship played out, or didn't. I also like how the world-weary actor (Murray) kind of discovers that he actually has some wisdom and perspective to impart to the newly married, disillusioned Johanssen.

The bad news: The back stories seemed to be all cliche, not very compelling stuff w/ no great insights or even great humor. Admittedly, his wife and her husband are minor characters, but there is just no depth to their stories, conflicts, conversations, decisions -- nothing new or even irreverently different. And then, the on-the-surface 'Lost In Translation' stuff - showing cultural, language differences between US and Japan -- was just a run over weak, hackneyed turf. Now, I did not want to watch this w/ a jaded perspective, but how often can you trot out the "l/r" thing? The humor and cultural insight just never ran much deeper than that.

So, while I cared somewhat about the two leads, there was just no great compelling story line other than what I felt was Bob Harris (Murray) discovering some goodness and self-respect within his own jaded soul.

Re: Murray's Oscar nomination: from what I saw it was deserved (in fact, the part seemed to be perfect for him, a la Groundhog Day. I thought Groundhog Day, although maybe more 'Hollywood', was more compelling, more humorous and at least as profound as this!). Yet, I shed no tears for his losing out to Sean Penn, who gave a more rangy, more interesting performance in a much better film, Mystic River. I do also think that Johanssen's acting (more support than lead, I thought) was nomination caliber, and I hope she will continue to command some great roles moving forward.

I rated it 7/10 on this site; it's probably a 7.5, but no more.

Duck Soup

Hail, Freedonia! One of the best comedies ever - period!
One night, I saw Duck Soup in my pajamas; how it got there, I'll Never know...

A true comedy classic! I happen to love the Marx Brothers, but don't love all of their movies! I, and apparently a lot of others, believe this movie to be their absolute best! Now, obviously one watches the Marx Brothers for entertainment and sheer hilarity, not for social messages, but I think this is also a very good (in its own wacky way) anti-war movie.

What can I add to other reviews? Duck Soup just grabs you from the beginning, the songs and dialogue are wonderful, the mirror scene is unbelievable, and Harpo ( I love all three of 'em -- it's hard to count Zeppo-- but Harpo's gotta be my fave) is at his best here. The sharp byplay between Margaret Dumont and Groucho, the frenetic pace of the dialogue, the songs (To War, To War and Whatever It Is, i'm Against It), the gags at the lemonade stand and with the sidecar...man, I haven't seen this in years; time to see it again!


Secrets & Lies

Honesty & Integrity
This is one of my very favorite movies of the last 10, even 20 years. For me, its greatness lies in the resonance of the story lines, the brilliant acting, (Brenda Blethyn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Timothy Spall all turned in Oscar-worthy turns, and the rest of the ensemble were all with them), and Mike Leigh's direction.

This is a feast of tremendous acting, by a most talented ensemble who really become their characters. The scenes play out very naturally, and you really feel a part of the story, with special empathy towards - in no particular order - Cynthia, Maurice and Hortense. As the film builds towards a showdown/climax at the birthday party, you can even take a step back and at least sympathize with Roxanne and even, Monica.

This rates 10/10 by this reviewer, who wishes that more directors - if they truly have a good story to tell - will shoot and edit the film in a way that appreciates the audience's intelligence and capacity to feel without being manipulated by a director's avant-garde(??) bag of tricks ...for comparison, perhaps see my scathing review of 21 Grams! What a contrast of styles!!!

Jesus Christ Superstar

Very good, if not quite a superstar, movie musical
Although I have been aware of this musical, seemingly forever, I just very recently saw the whole movie on dvd. Unfortunately, while I was acquainted with many of the songs before, I had never really seen it in its entirety before, and I'm not sure why. Also, I've never seen it as a live stage show, be it on Broadway, in London or down the street at the local high school ...

So, then, I can only rate it as a singular movie experience, not comparing it with the Broadway or London stagings. Also, being Jewish and never really studying the life and crucifixion of Jesus, I don't have any strong or pre-conceived spiritual ties to the story.

For me, then, this is a cleverly written and very well-performed musical, that mixes irreverence, time juxtapositions and genuine emotions of sadness and wistfulness. I'm not sure that the movie enhances the great musical; in other words, now that I've seen the movie, I regularly listen to the cd of the musical, and enjoy both about equally. For me, Carl Anderson, as Judas, is the standout, but Ted Neeley does bring an angelic quality to the title character. all of the other supporting roles, including Yvonne Elliman, are done well.

I rate it 8/10 for its excellent music, good staging and for what seems like a faithful film-ization of the original..worth watching for sure!

Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself

Title/Genre somewhat confusing
The quirky title and description in the theater as a black comedy were somewhat misleading. There is the occasional laugh, but I would not classify this as a comedy, even a black comedy, although there are elements of a black comedy within.

I will probably need to revisit this film sometime soon to see if it stands up, or even improves on a subsequent viewing. The acting is fairly good, and I think that the direction is not manipulative, which I appreciated. But, the characters were somewhat incomplete for me, and the writing good but not top-notch.

To me, the film was most interesting in the resonance of the main characters, especially that of Wilbur. Wilbur is, ostensibly, one of the more selfish characters you're likely to encounter, though I guess he has his allure to the opposite sex. It is interesting how this character just seems to grab the attention and love of all those around him, and he seems to just use and bring down everyone else. His brother, the epitome of selflessness, is not developed enough for my liking, and I could not get a true handle on Mary's character. Yet, the movie earns points for attempting to present three-dimensional characters who you care about. I rated it a "7" on this site, and thought about bunmping it to an "8".

The Munsters

A Top Ten All-Time Comedy
My all-time favorite sitcoms would start with The Honeymooners and find room for (in no particular order): Seinfeld, Cheers, Taxi, Beverly Hillbillies, Dick Van Dyke, and The Munsters would be in the mix.

Superb writing (it worked as a young kid and it still works for me today), amusing plots, great family dynamics and a terrific, multi-faceted performance by the late, great Fred Gwynne. Hwerman Munster was at once truly monstrous in size and appearance, yet vain, vulnerable, goofy and baby-ish. Just a wonderful, lovable character who was well assisted by Lily and Grandpa. Eddie was okay, and Marilyn superfluous, and the occasional guest characters were almost always very good. Great fun that stands up beautifully about 40 years later --I'm getting old1

21 Grams

21 Shams? In trying to make a great movie, it wasn't even good
I went into the theatre with great anticipation to see 21 Grams. I admire the talents of Sean Penn and Benicio Del Toro, and was anxious to see Naomi Watts. All of them gave very good performances, as did Melissa Leo. However, for me, the film as a whole, was a colossal failure and disappointment. In a nutshell, is any other film's narrative so badly fractured that you don't even care about the various dramas/melodramas played out: divorce, failed rehabilitation, the loss of a husband and two innocent children in a car accident, etc. etc...you just view everything with a detached confusion, and you're left outraged that you lost any opportunity to connect with the story and the fine acting because of the pretentious, heavy-handed direction.

(I never considered myself a great fan of Clint Eastwood, but compare this movie's narrative to that of Mystic River. In Mystic River, you care so much about the three main characters, and all of the supporting players -- the theme(s) are disturbing and compelling enough, and the director allows you to know the characters to a great extent as both the mystery and suspense build to a crescendo. In Grams, you have none of that --you are just jerked around, maybe to hide how ridiculous the story would be if presented more conventionally?)

To this point, I have seen no other film(s) by this director. He may indeed be talented, as perhaps it takes a talent to misfire so badly on a film. And, I do not mind a non-linear device if it serves the story. In Memento, this device works because the sudience is processing the mystery as the main charcter himself is. The non-linear projection also heightens the plot and irony of Pulp Fiction.

In Grams, it felt like the scenes were shot in whatever order (that's ok), and than the director numbered them, and threw them into a hat for the order they would be presented to the audience. As such, the movie lost any sense of continuity with the themes and the characters. It made for a singularly frustrating movie-going experience. A majority of critics have praised this film as both intelligent and respecting the same intelligence from the audience. I'm sorry, but is it audience participation when the questions you are compelled to ask are on the order of: "When did this happen?" "Is that the same lady?" "Did she change her mind?" "Why did she change her mind?" "When will this pretentious exercise be over?"

Speaking for myself, this movie was a terrible misfire, and the directing style robbed us of any chance to connect with the characters and the themes he was trying to present. Instead, I was angry that I could not enjoy the performances (especially Watts'), as the movie had already lost me so much earlier. By the time we get to Penn's ending narration (a la American Beauty?), I just laughed at the pretentiousness, and almost wanted to cry about all of the lost opportunities to make a decent film that you cared about.

Somehow, 21 Grams made imdb's top 250 of all time. For me, it may not have been one of the Top 250 of 2003.

Total Eclipse

Total Waste of Time
I enjoy 'art films', and I do not mind if the protagonist(s) is/are likeable or not; there are so many examples of good and great movies where you really can't muster much sympathy for the main guy/gal.

Now having said all this, it is hard to imagine a less pleasant film experience, where you do not care a wit about the two main characters. As presented here, there is nothing remotely fascinting or compelling about either of the poets. And, it is not homophobia (no, I don't suffer from that)that presents you from caring about these characters. It is that Verlaine and Rimbaud, as presented here, are just selfish, vain, egotistical, twisted people, and we never see any evidence of talent, let alone genius. There is more to genius than self-destruction, cruelty and instability. I could watch their descent, if the film made any case whatsoever that there was a descent: that they had any morals, any great vision, anything worthwhile to say.

I could not give this film any stars --just a total waste of time!

12 Angry Men

Classic, superb, timeless
What can I say about a film that, deservedly, has such a high place on IMDb's list of the top 250 of all time?

This film says so much about human nature, and the ways in which we come to form opinions, and in some cases, are bullied out of doing what is right. Although this film was released before I was (so to speak), it holds up beautifully 47 years later, and I hope that audiences can still relate to it 147 years after the release...

Let me qualify that: I hope that, as a society, that the average Joe/Jane is not as prejudiced or judgmental as many of the jurors in this film. Yet, I hope that audiences can always watch this movie and admire the simple courage of Fonda's character (as well as Sweeney's and Klugman's) and the wonderful acting of Lee J Cobb, among others.

Simple, brilliant film-making and acting! Should not be missed!

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