The Movie Oracle: November 2008

The gods are coming back?

Dionysos, god of wine: Yes, we are! Long ago the gods grew weary of man's problems and "outsourced" our duties to upstart religions. But retirement got boring and now we're turning once again to the mortal realm, and finding it a very different world. Where to begin getting in touch with this new culture? With movies, of course!

Athena, goddess of wisdom: And other things. I look out for social issues, Dio for aesthetics. Apollo goes for the intellectual, Ares for action, Hera for family values, and so on. Each god gives their unique view on today's cinema and society.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Babel (2006)

Three thumbs up.

Hermes: Everyone in this movie seems to be speaking a different language. No one understands each other. It's the disease of today's tense global village: miscommunication. Thumbs up.

Asklepios: And how do we cure that disease? The sick once flocked to my temples in search of healing dreams. But what dream can I send for this one? At least Babel correctly diagnoses the problem. Thumbs up.

Dionysos: But isn't the problem depicted here more than miscommunication? It's also frustrated passion, which soon turns destructive. If Athena were here, I'm sure she'd also point out a political allegory to do with 9-11 and attitudes toward Muslims. But above and beyond any "message," this film is just plain beautiful. I was awestruck by the Tokyo night scenes. Thumbs up.

Babel deftly interweaves multiple storylines. An American couple who no longer relate to each other travel to Morocco in an attempt to save their marriage, only to find themselves more isolated than ever. Meanwhile, two Pakistani shepherd boys test their manhood against the faceless enemy of Western tourism--a coming-of-age with tragic consequences. Back in the states, a housekeeper goes against the wishes of her white bosses in order to attend her son's wedding in Mexico. And half a world away, a deaf Japanese girl struggles to become a woman in a world that ignores her.
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Boubker Ait El Caid, Said Tarchini, Adriana Barraza, Gael García Bernal, Rinko Kikuchi, Koji Yakusho

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 68% fresh
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DID YOU KNOW? The common symbol of modern medicine, a serpent-entwined staff, was first carried by Asklepios, the legendary physician who became a god.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Beware Free/Unlimited Download Sites!

Tantalus: Day and night "free" and "unlimited" download sites dangle before my eyes. Don't be fooled! These tantalizing offers are all scams.

For example, here is an exposé about a scam called Flix Online, and another about Find tips for avoiding such scams at, digital podcast, and

Any offer of "free" or "unlimited" downloading is likely to disappoint. Instead, trust only established, tried-and-true sites like iTunes, Blockbuster, and CinemaNow.

Apple iTunes

DID YOU KNOW? Our word "tantalizing" comes from the name of the king punished by Zeus for his many misdeeds. Tantalus is condemned to hunger and thirst, with both fruit and water eternally just out of reach.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Get Smart (2008)

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

Zeus: The planning mind of Zeus needs a break sometimes. That's when I let CONTROL order the world for a while. The results are never dull. I just might scurry this Maxwell Smart up to Olympus to be my jester. Thumbs up.

Hestia: I thought it was cute. The family can gather round the hearth and enjoy this. Thumbs up.

Dionysos: I love Steve Carell. Perhaps that's why I was expecting more from this movie. It's worth a few laughs when in a silly mood. But does it finally make the cut? Hmm... Missed it by that much. Thumbs down.

Field-agent hopeful Maxwell Smart finally gets his big break. American intelligence agency CONTROL sends him into the field paired with sexy agent 99 (Hathaway). Together, and with no shortage of ineptitude, they combat a plot by KAOS to bomb the Walt Disney Concert Hall during a presidential visit. Based on the 60's TV spy comedy by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry.
Cast: Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, the Rock, Terence Stamp, Masi Oka
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 53% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? Our word "chaos" comes from the primeval Greek god Khaos, the great yawning gap that was first to emerge at the birth of the universe.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tsotsi (2005)

Three thumbs up.

Hermes: I was torn while watching this movie. On the one hand, as patron of thieves I wanted to root for Tsotsi the gangster. On the other hand, as a god of hospitality and messenger of Zeus' justice I knew he had to pay for his crimes. Both parts of me were deeply moved. Thumbs up.

Demeter: Root for Tsotsi the gangster? How can you defend a murderer! When Hades stole away my daughter Persephone, my grief was inconsolable. This is surely what was felt by the mother in this film. Hermes, we'll have to stay on opposite sides of the fence on this one. But at least we can agree on one thing: Tsotsi is touching. Thumbs up.

Dionysos: Yikes, I think I'll leave you two to suss that one out for yourselves. As for me, I reveled in the gritty village scenes, an ugly underbelly you can't see from the heights of the Parthenon. And the character development was noteworthy, moving from inhuman criminals in the beginning to deeply human tragic figures by the end. Thumbs up.

Tsotsi, based on the novel by Athol Fugard, tells the story of a young hoodlum in a slum near Johannesburg, South Africa. After shooting a young woman and stealing her car, he discovers an infant in the back seat. Language: Afrikaans, English subtitles
Director: Gavin Hood
Cast: Presley Chweneyagae, Mothusi Magano

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 81% fresh
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DID YOU KNOW? The myth of Persephone's abduction, in which she spends three months of each year in the underworld, and during which time no crops may grow, is not a reference to winter. Many scholars now believe it refers to summer, which is the hot, dry, barren season in the region of Athens.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

One thumb up, two thumbs down

Apollo: By 20 minutes in Mr. Jones has already perpetrated stunts unbelievable even in cartoons. How is an intellect to appreciate this? On the other hand, the prairie dogs were cute. Thumbs down.

Athena: Indiana fights the commies? Lucas and Spielberg must have hoped this theme would be as ageless as Harrison Ford himself. Pish! Surely there must be something more relevant for this civic goddess to endorse. Thumbs down.

Dionysos: You two miss the point! Indie's not about intellectual commentary or current events. He's a hero of mad, luscious adventure. You have to admit, this movie delivers that in full. Besides, it's stylistics deserve praise: the nostalgic Technicolor is gorgeous. Between this and a new score by John Williams, the aesthete cannot go wrong. So what if it's unbelievable? At least it birthed a new Internet catch phrase: "nuked the fridge." Thumbs up.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull carries on the torch begun with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), nineteen years after The Last Crusade (1989). This time the daring archaeologist who loves his hat takes on Soviets, aliens, and more. Ford's age is accounted for by setting the former 30's hero in 1957. The date also lends style, namely that of 50's-era B-movies.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 76% fresh
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DID YOU KNOW? Athena, best known as a goddess of wisdom, was also a goddess of crafts and weaving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

three thumbs up
get it from iTunes

APOLLO: I felt out of my element. The darkness is no place for a hero. Why not show his face in the broad light of Apollo? But the movie won me over with it's rational use of the prisoner's dilemma, a subject of much philosophical debate. Thumbs up.

DIONYSOS: It was the irrational that drew me. We can understand the vengeful lust of Two-Face, but the motivation of the Joker is a mystery. He is madness itself, a villain after my own heart. Meanwhile, the hero's sanity is tested, as he must decide whether he can only defeat the villain by sacrificing his moral code. Thumbs up.
On a more controversial note, much has been made of Ledger's untimely demise after the filming. Are we deifying the man for this?

ADONIS: The cult of the adored who dies young is old as time itself. Will Ledger take his place alongside myself, Osiris, Tammuz, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Marilyn Monroe? Judging by his performance, which rivals that of Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman (1989), I would be honored if he did. Thumbs up.

The Batman mythic cycle continues with The Dark Knight (2008). Christian Bale (Batman Begins) returns as the brooding, nocturnal crimefighter. Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent devolves into the multifaceted Two-Face. But the show is stolen by an unnerving performance as the Joker by none other than Heath Ledger (Brokeback Mountain).
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 94% fresh
Get it from The Dark Knight

DID YOU KNOW? Apollo, popularly known as lord of light, music, and poetry, was also a god of plagues, rats, and divination.

Brokeback Mountain (2005)

two thumbs up, one thumb down

ZEUS: The Lord of Olympus is not without sympathy for these poor men. How many of my loves had to be hidden from certain prudish, hate-filled eyes? Thumbs up.

HERA: Indeed. Hmph. But what about their families? They both got married and had children. Whatever you do in youth, shouldn't you put it aside when you start a family? Thumbs down.

DIONYSOS: As for myself, what can a god of pleasure say? The sheep drinks from both streams for this boy from Mount Nysa. Honestly I'd rather like to see more sheep action next time, but that's just me. Thumbs up.

Brokeback Mountain (2005) is the story of two struggling men on one slippery slope. While herding sheep they fall into an ill-fated relationship. The consequences of this love, taboo in their native Wyoming and Texas, slowly tear their lives apart. Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) takes a risk with this forbidden theme. Meanwhile, Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) pulls off a convincing tongue-tied, conflicted cowboy.
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Randy Quaid

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 87% fresh
Get it from DVD Planet
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DID YOU KNOW? While homosexual relationships were common in ancient Greece between youths and older men, they were rare for those of equal age. The youth was thought to learn nobility and bravery from the older man. Such relationships were said to be crucial to democracy, because the deep bonds of lovers outweighed loyalty to tyrants.

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Dionysos, Patron of Theater
Bacchus, Caravaggio, 1595

Saturday, November 1, 2008

PROFILE: Dionysos

GOD OF wine, frenzy, vegetation, theater, trance music, raves, sensual massage, jello shots, designated drivers

LOVED Sideways. I could just taste all those fine California vintages.

HATED It's a Wonderful Life. Seen it waaaaaaay too many times (ever wonder how Hera drove me mad?).

TURN-ONS Luscious color, tremendous sound, inspired acting, a full sensual experience; also, cult/underground films and b-movies

TURN-OFFS Recycled humdrum Hollywood drivel, family flicks soul-suckingly cute

MOVIE-MUNCHIES goat cheese (with wine, of course!)

My childhood was pretty messed up. Zeus, my swinging dad, knocked up a mortal girl named Semele. He promised her one wish, whatever it may be. When she asked to see him revealed in all his glory, she was consumed by lightning. But dad saved me from the ashes, sewed me into his own thigh, and carried me to term. His wife Hera was so pissed that I had to be hidden away on Mt Nysa. That's where I had to spend my childhood. But as I was raised by nymphs (hot!), it wasn't so bad. Later Hera decided she was still pissed, so she drove me mad, and I wandered all over the world like a backpacker bum. Along the way I discovered vine-cultivation, and when I finally got back to Greece I introduced it to mankind. Eventually, after many more adventures, I joined the ranks of the immortals.

What do I do these days? You can find me taking in the bouquet of a fine vintage at an upscale restaurant, or flinging sweat off my brow at a late night club. You might also see me in the park snapping photos of poinsettias, or at the museum critiquing an installation of Japanese ukiyo-e prints. But above all, look for me in the screening room. This movie reviews venture was my idea. I persuaded the other gods that mortals may still have something meaningful to say. If film can't convey that, nothing can.

Learn about the real Dionysos at


GOD OF war, battle lust, courage, fast cars, monster trucks, wrecking balls, explosions, things lit on fire

LOVED The Fast and the Furious. If it screams, rocks, or kicks butt, it's mine.

HATED Babel. Fell asleep within the first five minutes.

TURN-ONS Awesome fireballs, wicked crashes, hot chicks, and guns

TURN-OFFS Foreign movies, subtitles, "artsy" films

MOVIE-MUNCHIES Jumbo popcorn and cheap beer

No, really, I am sensitive! It was tough growin' up with no father. After mom--Hera--conceived me without the help of Zeus, I had no choice but to grow up fast and hard. That's why I'm like this--gangbangin', drag racin', and bustin' heads with a heart of ice. I'm just a mama's boy. Love it or leave it, baby.

My average day? When not wrenchin' on stock car engines or gettin' busy with my girl Aphrodite, I'm boardin' down the Alps, rippin' up the Mojave Desert on a four-wheeler, or base-jumpin' off the Sears Tower. You can try to catch up to me. You can try.

My message to Hollywood? Calling a movie "R-rated" without boobies is false advertising.

Learn about the real Ares at


GODDESS OF wisdom, weaving, crafts, pottery, heroism, civic defense, human rights, activism, fairly-traded coffee, square glasses

LOVED Twelve Angry Men. The civic order is tested, one man stands up for truth, and justice prevails--that's heroism in the modern world.

HATED The Secret. A principle of magic is re-packaged as the scientific-sounding "law of attraction," and spiritual enlightenment is reduced to fast money--that's the opposite of wisdom. Socrates fought such sophistry all his life.

TURN-ONS Attention to social issues, political allegory, activism

TURN-OFFS Racism, sexism, homophobia, exploitation of workers, propaganda, "enlightenment" without substance

MOVIE-MUNCHIES Fair-trade coffee

Fun? No time for fun when there's so much injustice in the world. I skipped childhood entirely. After Zeus swallowed the goddess Metis, whose name means Wisdom, I sprang fully-formed from his forehead, brandishing a spear. I've been fighting for wisdom and justice ever since.

What do I do lately? When not on the activist march, I haunt local, non-franchise coffee shops. You can usually see me in a corner punching a Macbook keyboard while sucking down fairly-traded coffee.

Learn about the real Athena at