The Movie Oracle: December 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, December 28, 2008

Valkyrie (2008)

Athena, goddess of wisdom: There was outrage over the casting of Cruise due to his involvement in Scientology. While I cannot call Scientology wisdom in any respect, I am also appalled by its blatant persecution in a society which prides itself on religious tolerance. As for the movie itself, I was pleased by the concept. Even 60 years after the war, it's still rare to find an American movie that humanizes the Germans. This one joins the likes of Schindler's List in portraying the moral struggles of the Germans themselves. Next I would love to see a movie about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Thumbs up.

Ares, god of war: I don't really know who that is, but one thing I do know about is loyalty. When a soldier's gotta decide between loyalty to leader and loyalty to country, it's nothing easy. There could have been more action, but the suspense makes up. Thumbs up.

Dionysos, god of wine: I risk unpopularity here, but I wanted more. Tom Cruise's character, Col. Staffenberg, is too confident in his treason. An opportunity for deeper character development is sorely missed. Portrayal of Jewish suffering is also left out, apart from a mention at the beginning. This makes the film less a moving drama like Schindler's List than a suspense thriller like The Manchurian Candidate. The tragic failure of the assassination thus fails to provoke an emotional catharsis. A thriller is what director Singer set out to make, and if that's what you want then it's fine. But as for me, thumbs down.

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

There were over fifteen attempts on Hitler's life by his own German people. This is the story of one of them. Claus von Stauffenberg (Cruise), a colonel in the Nazi army, becomes involved in a secret circle committed to saving Germany and Europe from destruction at the hands of the Allies. To establish a truce, they must kill the
Based on historical events.
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Christian Berkel, Kenneth Branagh, Kevin McNally, Carice van Houten, Bill Nighy, David Schofield, Terence Stamp, Eddie Izzard
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 63%

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DID YOU KNOW? Homer's Iliad, one the great epics of the Greeks, actually portrays their enemies in a far better light than the Greeks themselves. Hector, the Trojan hero, is a paragon of virtue, while Achilles, the Greeks' best fighter, is ruled by resentment.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Thunder Over Reno (2008)

Ares, god of war: I can't believe with all those fighter planes they don't show a single crash. What else do you go to the races to see? No boobies, either. I sat through that acting for nothing! Thumbs down.

Dionysos, god of wine: Keep in mind this is no high-budget Hollywood production. The excellent film and sound quality are deceptive--this was made by a bunch of cockpit-jockies with a dream to make their own flick. You have to respect that. The dialogue and plot left me perplexed on occasion, sometimes to comedic effect. It's too bad--if they had gone for a cheesier B-movie style, they might have attracted a cult following. Still, respect for making their vision a reality wins me over. Thumbs up.

Poseidon, god of horses: No greater heir to the war horse is there than the P-51 Mustang. Poseidon cares not what else the movie is or isn't. The Lord of Horses gloried in these warbirds screaming round the pylons. Thumbs up.

Watch the trailer at the official site
Two thumbs up, one thumb down

When young
pilot Butch Bandi (Younkins) decides the family cropdusting business isn't enough for him, a shady deal-maker shows up with an offer to compete in the Reno Air Races. Bandi finds himself a rookie in a league of tough racers, including the sexy Marti Jackman (Natasha Yi). Billed as the "world's fastest love story," this homemade flick delivers horspower in Hollywood-quality film and sound.
Based on the real Reno Air Races and filmed with privately-owned restored combat aircraft. Currently available for order from the official web site, while negotiating major distribution.
Director: Mitch Carley
Cast: Hawk Younkins, Natasha Yi, Bobby Aranofsky, Izabella St. James
Rotten Tomatoes rating: N/A

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DID YOU KNOW? Poseidon, best known today as god of the sea, was also god of horses and earthquakes.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008)

Ares, god of war: Aw, man, what a drag. I go to a movie about aliens wiping out the planet, and all I get is a sphere and this hokey giant robot that looks like a Sentinel from the old X-Men comics. They could've at least given it some wicked claws like Wolverine. And what's up with the military trying to wipe out the sphere with piddly sidewinder missiles? I don't understand why they don't just nuke the thing. Thumbs down.

Artemis, goddess of wilderness: Well, besides the fact that it was in the center of Manhattan, nuclear radiation would have pushed the ecological crisis over the edge--which was the point of the whole movie. The environmental angle, new in this version, was the movie's saving grace. For that, I congratulate it. Thumbs up.

Dionysos, god of wine: As for the sphere and the giant robot, you know they were remaking a 1951 movie, right? They kept the same imagery for the robot, while updating the theme. In the original, the aliens were concerned about humans' development of the atomic bomb. In this one, it's ecological disaster. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, they should have left the old movie dead and buried. Kathy Bates gives the only worthy performance. Jennifer Connelly is hot as always, but that can't balance out Keanu Reeves at his most boring. Thumbs down.

One thumb up, two thumbs down

When alien visitor Klaatu (Reeves) plops down in Manhattan's Central Park in a stadium-sized sphere, humans are reasonably alarmed. Apparently offering peace, Klaatu is shot by a nervous soldier. Humans struggle to prove they are a race worth saving, despite their violence and environmental negligence.
Director: Scott Derrickson
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, John Cleese, Kathy Bates
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 20% fresh
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DID YOU KNOW? According to Hesiod, the end of mankind will come when Shame and Retribution depart from the world, leaving only sorrows and no help against evil.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Love Guru (2008)

Apollo, god of music: After the ruinous critical reception this movie got, I feel anything I might say would be beating a dead horse. Thumbs down.

Dionysos, god of wine: What? Come on! Can't anybody take a joke these days? This guru is so cliched and ridiculous, no one could seriously think it represents Indians. And the low brow humor is classic Mike Meyers material that you loved in Wayne's World and Austin Powers. Was I the only one who found this movie hilarious? Thumbs up. Well, Athena, you're up next, so let's have it. Just how bad is The Love Guru?

Athena, goddess of wisdom: On the contrary, I rather enjoyed it. Critics lambasted Meyers for his portrayal of Hinduism, but for the record, the Hindu American Foundation concluded it was not anti-Hindu. But that's not why I like this movie. I like it because it lampoons certain annoying authors. Some are pop gurus, some New Agers, some self-helpers, but they all use clever-sounding phrases to cover up a lack of content. As a goddess of wisdom, it turns my stomach to see substance-less ideas puffed up as real enlightenment. Socrates accused the Sophists of this very crime. For making these authors the butt of the joke, I say to Meyers "good for you." Thumbs up.

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

The Love Guru follows Guru Pitka (Meyers) as he tries to help floundering hockey star Darren Roanoke (Malco) get his game back. His holiness puts him through a five-point program reminiscent of any number of self-help coaches whose books line today's bookstore shelves. The five points are D.R.A.M.A. (Distraction, Regression, Adjustment, Maturity, and Action). In this way he hopes to help Roanoke go from "nowhere" to "now-here," and learn that "intimacy" is really "into-me-I-see." Deepak Chopra makes a cameo appearance as himself.
Director: Marco Schnabel
Cast: Mike Meyers, Jessica Alba, Romany Malco, Meagan Good, Verne Troyer, Stephen Colbert, Justin Timberlake

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 14% fresh
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DID YOU KNOW? The Greeks had a legend that Dionysos, in his young wanderings, made an expedition to India. After this he returned to Greece and introduced his cult of the vine.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Run Fatboy Run (2007)

Ares, god of war: Simon Pegg couldn't pull off his role. His acting? No, I mean, he wasn't fat. If I go to a movie to see fatboys run, they gotta be real tubbies, you know? Thumbs down.

Hera, goddess of marriage: Ares! You may be a war god, but you're still my son. Be civil! I thought the movie was cute. I could easily identify with Thandie Newton's character. After Pegg's character leaves her at the altar--pregnant, no less!--she turns to the successful business man, of course. But some men, no matter how many times they mess up, somehow still manage a certain charm. Now if you'll excuse me, Zeus and I are going dancing tonight. Thumbs up.

Dionysos, god of wine: After Hot Fuzz and the TV series Spaced, I was expecting more. Where is that signature fast-paced humor and wicked irony? This is fine for a feel-good comedy, but it's just not Pegg quality standard. Also, I missed his long-time sidekick, Nick Frost. Sorry, Simon. I hate to do this to you, but... Thumbs down.

One thumb up, two thumbs down

After leaving his fiance at the altar, Dennis Doyle (Pegg) struggles to pay his rent and keep his son from slipping out of his life. But when Libby (Newton) finds a new boyfriend, this certified screw-up swears he can change. He enters the same marathon as his vastly more successful counterpart. The only thing between him and the finish line: a few pounds, a smoking habit, and the fact that he's never run a race before in his life.
Director: David Schwimmer
Cast: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Harish Patel, Dylan Moran, Hank Azaria
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 48% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? The term marathon comes from legendary events of ancient Greece. According to one version of the story, the messenger Pheidippides ran all the way from Marathon to Athens to announce the outcome of the battle against the Persians. He exclaimed "We have won, " then fell down dead.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Burn After Reading (2008)

Hermes: As patron of thieves, I couldn't help but laugh watching these bumblers in action. Thumbs up.

Hestia: Dear me! The language is atrocious, and the characters are all obsessed with sex. I feel dirty having watched it. Thumbs down.

Dionysos: Yes, well, it is a black comedy after all. For those with a taste for the twisted, this is a real treat. With an all-star cast, the acting is superb. I'd point out Pitt's on-point idiocy, but then I'd also have to mention McDormand's hypertension, Swinton's frigidity, and Clooney's inexhaustible womanizing energy. The whole cast is at the top of their game in this one. Thumbs up.

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

When fitness gym nitwits mistake an ex-CIA man's memoirs for top secret information, their attempt at blackmail unleashes a cluster bomb of confusion. Love affairs augment the paranoia, and soon the CIA is scrambling to track down the truth in this unlikely story.
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 79% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? Hermes, patron of thieves, is said to have stolen the cattle of Apollo when he was still but a toddler.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Four Christmases (2008)

Hera: How can this couple dodge their own family gatherings for a vacation in Fiji? Their comeuppance is delicious. Of course, Olympus can get a bit tense when you-know-who starts throwing his thunderbolts around the living room. Thumbs up.

Zeus: Oh, so I'm to blame now? It couldn't have anything to do with all your conniving, twisted schemes to get back at me, could it? No wonder the kids never call anymore! Thumbs up.

Dionysos: Yikes. I can identify with this one. When Hera found out that Zeus had an illegitimate child (me) by a mortal lover, she was so furious she struck me with madness. You can imagine what kind of family gatherings we have up in Olympus. The humor in this movie is funny because it's true. Honestly, everyone should watch this as a catharsis. They can get all the stress out and then enjoy the holidays with their families.Thumbs up.

three thumbs up
When the couple who avoids family gatherings finds their flight to Fiji canceled, and themselves broadcast live on TV news for all their families to see, they are left with no choice: they must go to four Christmas gatherings in one day. Both come from divorced parents, hence four. Their relationship is tested as they go through their own personal hell.
Director: Seth Gordon
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon, Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Kristin Chenoweth
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 24% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? Aristotle first proposed the idea of "catharsis" as an emotional cleansing experienced by viewers of tragic theater.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Noam Chomsky: Rebel Without a Pause (2003)

Hestia: He seems like a nice man, but why does he have to say all those bad things about the government? He should be more patriotic. Thumbs down.

Athena: Dissent is patriotism! Doesn't anybody remember our democratic responsibility to civil disobedience? As for myself, I was in awe. This man reads six newspapers a day and eighty journals, and the Arts and Humanities Citation Index ranked him eighth in the list of most-often cited authorities. I deeply respect his courage to stand up for the truth, come what may. Thumbs up.

Dionysos: I particularly admired his clarity and ease of speech. Even though this movie has very little for cinematic eye candy, I was rapt with attention. The man is a gifted speaker with an unassuming charisma. His views are sure to offend just about everybody in some respect, and to make them think as well. Thumbs up.

two thumbs up, one thumb down
World-famous dissident Noam Chomsky gives his candid opinions on September 11th, the war in Iraq, the media, activism, and more. Meanwhile, his wife and tour manager Carol divulges what it's like to lead the lives they've chosen. Chomsky, the "father of modern linguistics", is an outspoken critic of American foreign policy. From his protest against the Vietnam war in the 60's to his recent controversial book, 9-11, he has inspired millions while also drawing sharp criticism.
Director: Will Pascoe
Cast: Noam Chomsky, Carol Chomsky
Rotten Tomatoes rating: N/A
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See also:

DID YOU KNOW? Athena, goddess of wisdom, sprang fully-formed from the head of Zeus, after he swallowed the goddess Metis (Thought).

Friday, December 12, 2008

What the Bleep Do We Know!? (2004)

One thumb up, two thumbs down

Prometheus: Due to advances in quantum physics, scientists now recommend disregarding established physical laws and leaping off the nearest cliff in the belief you can fly. Hmm... Just because quantum physics poses some mysteries doesn't mean you can do whatever you want with your mind. Nice wish-fulfillment fantasy. Thumbs down.

Hephaestus: I never understood much beyond what you can hammer out with your own hands. Even so, the "science" here smells awfully fishy to me. I think I'll stick with forging metals and leave forging reality to cleverer folks. Thumbs down.

Dionysos: Am I the only one here who liked this movie? There's no question about the scientific arguments--the public's general ignorance of quantum physics is clearly being exploited to sell a New Age agenda--but as cinema, it's done well. The computer animated receptor-blobs are hilarious. The content may be weak, but the delivery is strong. It's good for a laugh. Thumbs up.

What the Bleep Do We know!?, also written What tнe #$*! Dө ωΣ (k)πow!? and What the #$*! Do We Know!?, dramatizes the Law of Attraction, the notion that our thoughts create our reality. In this respect it resembles its younger cousin, The Secret. It takes basic principles of quantum physics (which only apply to particles on the subatomic level, by the way) and runs with them into a realm of mystic consciousness. The conclusion is that we create our own reality. If bad things happen to you, it's your fault because you attracted them. Conversely, good things can be attracted through good thoughts. All three of the directors are students of Ramtha's School of Enlightenment. An extended DVD version with over 15 hours of material was released in 2006 under the name What the BLEEP - Down the Rabbit Hole, Quantum Edition.
Directors: William Arntz, Betsy Chasse, Mark Vicente
Cast: Marlee Matlin, Elaine Hendrix, FrankRobert Bailey Jr., John Ross Bowie, Armin Shimerman, Robert Blanche
Interviewees: David Albert, Joseph Dispenza, Masaru Emoto, Amit Goswami, John Hagelin, Stuart Hameroff, Miceal Ledwith, Daniel Monti, Andrew B. Newberg, Candace Pert, Ramtha, Jeffrey Satinover, William Tiller, Fred Alan Wolf
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 34% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? Prometheus, famed as the bringer of fire to mankind, later became an icon of scientific progress.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Iron Man (2008)

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

Hephaestus: A suit that turns a guy with a bad heart into a one-man army? Why didn't I think of that! Maybe I can finally do something with this lame leg of mine. If you need me, I'll be in the smithy. Thumbs up.

Dionysos: Billionaire playboy Tony Stark was always an arrogant hotshot in the comics, and Robert Downey Jr. embodies that perfectly on screen. The villain could have been more interesting, but otherwise this was one of the best in the recent spate of superhero movies. Thumbs up.

Artemis: Techno-gizmos, steel, and servo-asssisted uppercuts? (sigh) This wilderness girl was bored. Gwynneth Paltrow was interesting as Pepper Pots, the devoted assistant whom Stark largely ignores. But overall the movie left me wondering... when are they going to make a new Wonder Woman? Thumbs down.

Iron Man, based on the comic book, tells how Tony Stark goes from a morally shiftless weapons manufacturer to a world-saving superhero. When a weapons test in Pakistan is attacked by terrorists, Stark is wounded by one of his own company's bombs. Only an electromagnet implanted in his chest keeps a piece of shrapnel from piercing his heart and killing him. Captured by the terrorists, he is forced to make weapons for them, but Stark has other plans.
Director: Jon Favreau
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwynneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 93% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? Hephaestus, the lame-legged god of fire, was also the smith of the gods, fastening among other things the armor of Achilles and the first woman, Pandora.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Celestine Prophecy (2006)

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

Athena: It's nice to be told your little intuitions are meaningful, and that the universe is conspiring to help you. And in many ways it can be helpful to believe that, whether or not it is finally true. The real test, though, is whether you can apply it without falling into self-absorption. And this movie is one big invitation to self-absorption. Did you notice that not one of the characters stopped to help the local Peruvians with their poverty or political turmoil? In the end, this movie is inspirational and may start you out on a beneficial path, but to face the hard questions something more substantial is needed. Thumbs down.

Dionysos: The characters are thin and the plot is familiar. As cinema, this movie is a disaster. But I do appreciate the Nine Insights themselves. You don't necessarily need wine to see the world as it truly is, aglow with radiance. The Greeks worshiped me for taking away their cares. This is one more way to do it. Why not see where it leads? Thumbs up.

Psyche: I agree with Athena that the reality is not nearly as rosy as this movie portrays. In my bittersweet love affair with Eros, I endured hardship and disillusionment. But I also learned that love is a power that grants meaning even to suffering. Honestly, this movie could be a lot worse. For example, it doesn't simply focus on money, like The Secret. It actually encourages warm and loving behavior between humans. Simplistic? Yes. Hopeless? No. Thumbs up.

The Celestine Prophecy is based on the bestselling novel by James Redfield. A young teacher, laid off at his school, finds himself adrift. Synchronicities lead him to Peru where a small group has unearthed a set of ancient scrolls. Meanwhile, the powers that be try to suppress the scrolls' prophecy at gunpoint.
Director: Armand Mastroianni
Cast: Mathew Settle, Thomas Kretschmann, Sarah Wayne Callies, Jürgen Prochnow
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 4% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? The myth of Psyche and Eros is well-known as an ancient allegory of the soul's journey. The name Psyche itself means "breath" or "soul."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django (2008)

Ares: How could I not like a samurai Western? Bullet-slicing katana blades, a gatling gun in a coffin... I was in war god heaven. But why was everybody talking so slow and weird? Thumbs up.

Athena: Maybe it was because apart from Quentin Tarantino, every actor was Japanese. They must have spent months practicing those English lines. The whole cast deserves ten points for effort. But the glut for violence went over the line when Tarantino's character hit his wife for making poor sukiyaki. Thumbs down.

Dionysos: I admit gratuitous violence and some tedious dialogue, but it's made up for by Miike's filmmaking genius. His playful mix of Japanese and Western motifs, at once gritty and flamboyant, comes out on top. Witness the gangsters hanged from a Shinto torii gate, and the Mojave Desert-scene with Mt Fuji in the background. What's more, the colors are nothing short of luscious. There's hardly a shot that isn't a work of art in itself. I was delighted by this quirky genre film, whose style reminded me of Tarantino's own Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction.

Sukiyaki Western Django is the story of a town torn by rival gangs, the Reds and Whites. Into this hell comes a half-blood gunman in black. Rumors of gold persist, a young couple dares to cross Red-White lines, and legends lurk of the great gunslinger Bloody Benten. The movie gets its name from the 1966 Django, called a "spaghetti" Western because it was made in Italy. Hence Miike's film becomes a "sukiyaki" Western, after the popular Japanese soup. Django motifs such as the machine-gun toting coffin are mixed with themes from Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, and Shakespeare's Henry VI. Language: English
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Hideaki ito, Yusuke Iseya, Kaori Mamoi, Yoshino Kimura, Masanobu Ando, Shun Ogori, Quentin Tarantino
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 59% fresh

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DID YOU KNOW? The motif of an eagle carrying a snake in its talons, featured in the opening scene, was a favored omen of Zeus. In Homer's Iliad, it augurs ill for the Trojans.