The Movie Oracle: January 2009

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.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Meet the Spartans (2008)

Apollo, of the oracle: Just one word: unwatchable. Thumbs down.

Athena, the gorgon-crested: It progressed in phases for me. First, I thought it was stupid. Then I started to laugh. Then I laughed a lot. Then I felt like I was giving birth to a Medusa. Then I just thought it was stupid again. Thumbs down.

Dionysos, of the street: What? Come on! You didn't like the Spartans marching to war singing "I Will Survive"? The Yo' Mama battle with the Persians? The... the... Oh, who am I kidding? Despite some good gags, Friedberg and Seltzer don't pull it off. This is one to save for a last resort on silly movie night. Thumbs down.

Three thumbs down

This parody tears up the tore-up Spartan abs of the movie 300. It also parodies a number of other films, from Rocky 3 to Transformers, as well as game shows like American Idol. It was honored with several nominations at the 29th Golden Raspberry Awards: Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actress (Electra), Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off, or Sequel.
Director: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Sean Maguire, Carmen Electra, Ken Davitian, Kevin Sorbo, Diedrich Bader, Method Man, Nicole Parker
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 2% fresh

Get it from Netflix, Inc.

DID YOU KNOW? The Greek cult of heroes developed in no small part due to the war with Persia. It was felt that great heroes of the Iliad, like Achilles and Ajax, fought in the war with them, along with many other heroes of history and legend. After the war, heroes received great honor and were prayed to for protection and healing much like saints in later Catholicism.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Darfur Now (2007)

Dionysos, god of wine: Athena fought to get us to review this movie. Now I'm glad I listened to her. I knew bad things were happening, but I had no idea how bad. Don Cheadle of Hotel Rwanda and George Clooney have my undying respect for bringing this story to light. The same goes for all the others involved. Thumbs up.

Athena, goddess of heroism: Activist Adam Sterling says it all when he remarks that unlike previous genocides, this one is going on right now, and we finally have a chance to stop it. Unfortunately, certain wealthier nations have not gone crusading into Darfur as they have into certain other oil-rich countries. The fight to stop this atrocity has been long and hard, and this film makes known the struggle. It should be required viewing in all high school social studies classes. The only thing I disliked was that it came to a sort of "happy ending" with the California legislation and ICC decision, giving the impression we don't need to be concerned anymore. Darfur still desperately needs our help. Thumbs up.

Hestia, goddess of the hearth: Goodness, I just don't understand why people can't share the same hearth in peace. I don't get out much, so Athena showed me this thing they have now... called the Internet... and the ways people can help out. One is giving to Amnesty International and another is sending a postcard to that nice new American president, Barack Obama, to remind him of his promise to act. She tried to show me more ways but then an indecent image popped up and I just couldn't bear to look! Anyway, the film was interesting. Thumbs up.

Three thumbs up

This documentary tells the stories of six people struggling to save Darfur in different ways. Adam Sterling, a 24 year-old waiter and activist, campaigns tirelesly to pass legislation in California, while Actors Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) and George Clooney (Burn After Reading) use their celebrity as political clout. Meanwhile in Sudan, Hejewa Adam joins the rebel forces after her baby is beaten to death, Ahmed Mohammed Abaka struggles to hold together a camp of some 47,000 displaced Darfurians, and Pablo Recalde braves the violence to get World Food Program aid to the people. While all this is going on, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Luis Moreno-Ocampo slowly builds an undeniable case.

Darfur is a region of western Sudan embroiled in conflict since 2003. The following year, the UN's outgoing Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan called it "the world's greatest humanitarian crisis."

Director: Ted Braun
Cast: Don Cheadle, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Adam Sterling, Sheikh Ahmad Mohammed Abakar, Hejewa Adam, George Clooney
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 69%

Get it from Darfur Now
Netflix, Inc.

DID YOU KNOW? Although Classical Greece gave birth to some of today's most esteemed values, like democracy and the study of ethics, it was unfortunately also a place of what we would today view as human rights violations. For example, the male head of the family had the legal right to expose an unwanted child unto death. If we have progressed since Classical times, it is due to constant effort, necessary today as much as ever.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Introducing: Dear Gods! #1

Dionysos, god of wine: So Athena and I were were playing Truth or Dare the other night, trading embarrassing stories, when we realized no one ever hears about all the divine bloopers. Mythology is like watching a DVD without the outtakes!

Athena, goddess of wisdom: For even Zeus is not above the Fates, and they do have a sense of humor.

Besides, what is wisdom without wit?

Dionysos, god of comedy: So we decided to share these moments (the other gods may not like it, but oh well--I was never known for my tact!). After many hours at the drawing board, we are proud to present an original comic strip. This is the first in a new series hosted right here at The Movie Oracle. The comic features us--all your favorite deities--striving to make it in the modern day. Follow our off-color lives in full color!

So without further ado, we give you the first edition of:
Dear Gods!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Semi-pro (2008)

Ares, god of war: Is this supposed to be funny? I can't tell. Except for the bear-wrestling scene and the dirty hippie, of course. Thumbs down.

Dionysos, god of wine: Not much for subtlety, are you, Ares? The humor here, as Ares points out, is not heavy on crude slapstick. Rather, it's filled to bursting with Will Farrell's signature style: dry, situational absurdity. For example, witness the dramatic, emotional scene where the players "fire" their coach. This while dressed as seahorses. Or consider the situation between NBA star Ed Monix, his former-girlfriend Lynn, and her new husband. It's a classic love triangle, except that the husband is such a fanatic fan of Monix, he'll do anything for him. The movie is chock full of this kind of humor. Critics scorned it, but in my opinion this is Mr. Farrell's opus. Thumbs up.

Nike, goddess of victory: No team ever worked so hard for fourth place. That alone is enough to make me laugh. Thumbs up.

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

Jackie Moon (Farrell), a one-hit wonder for his single "Love Me Sexy", leads the Flint Tropics, a bottom-of-the-barrel team in the American Basketball Association (ABA). When word comes down that the second-rate ABA will be merging with the pro NBA, and only four teams will be allowed into the NBA, the Tropics are in trouble. Jackie Moon does everything in his power to turn his team around, including trading their washing machine for washed-up NBA star Ed Monix (Harrelson). Absurdities ensue as the Tropics vie to make it into the top four.
Director: Kent Alterman
Cast: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Maura Tierney, David Koechner, Will Arnett, Andrew Daly, Andy Richter, Rob Corddry, Matt Walsh
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 20%.
Get it from Semi-Pro
Netflix, Inc.

DID YOU KNOW? In his poem Works and Days, Hesiod teaches two kinds of strife, one bad and one good. The good kind of strife encourages excellence by striving against one another in competition. The Greeks were deeply fond of competitive games, and held them at funerals to honor the dead. In fact, the first stirrings of a united "Greek" culture found expression in the great games in which all the tribes participated. The games at Olympia, fore-runners of the modern Olympics, were one of these great pan-Greek events.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

WALL-E (2008)

Prometheus, bringer of fire: Little WALL-E, a robot built to compact trash into cubes, is left all alone centuries after humans have abandoned the waste-strewn Earth. I guess they forgot to turn him off, and now he spends eternity cubing trash and finding useful little trinkets. I loved following around this pitiable product of science. Thumbs up.

Artemis, goddess of wilderness: Not only was this movie cute, but the theme of ecological disaster raises awareness among youth. I've stood by and watched the wilderness fill with trash for too long. My wrath is at the kindling point. But this movie gives me some hope. I hope it inspires recycling, reusing, and waste reduction among children. Thumbs up.

Dionysos, god of wine: Humans go off on a five-year pleasure cruise around the solar system while robots clean up the planet, but centuries later the Earth still isn't re-habitable. Gods, even I couldn't stand a party that lasted seven-hundred years! I usually cringe at "family" movies, but this one was pretty good. Pixar's animation is top-notch as usual. The junk-planet trashscapes are particularly luscious. At points I could hardly tell if they were animated or not. Thumbs up.

Three thumbs up.

When the world-dominating Buy n Large corporation covers the planet with unrecycled trash, they propose to send humanity on a pleasure cruise while WALL-E robots clean up the Earth. But after five years, the planet is deemed a lost cause and humans are left on perpetual vacation. Seven-hundred years later, micro-gravity and luxury have turned them into obese Jabba the Hutts. Meanwhile, only one robot remains functional on Earth, a lonely WALL-E unit that goes around cubing trashing and collecting curiosities. This pitiful existence is interrupted one day when an egg-shaped, feminine EVE robot appears, apparently searching for life on Earth.
Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 96%

Get it from WALL-E
Netflix, Inc.

DID YOU KNOW? While the Greeks did not tell stories of man's industrial waste (not surprisingly), they did have a myth of ecological calamity. The great hunter Orion was so successful that he threatened to kill all the creatures on the earth. This angered the earth goddess Gaia, who sent a scorpion that slew him. Thereafter Artemis, goddess of the hunt, placed her companion Orion in the stars, producing the constellation we know today.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Dionysos, god of wine: I liked this movie the first time, when it was called Forrest Gump. It even has a similar-sounding catch phrase: "You never know what's comin' at ya," which replaces Gump's box of chocolates metaphor, "You never know what yer gonna git." Pitt, Blanchett, and Swinton--an all-star cast--deliver great performances, which makes it all the more pitiable that it wasn't more original. Thumbs down.

Athena, goddess of wisdom: Dionysos, I don't see how you can praise B-movies while criticizing quality films like this one. I see the similarities, but I appreciate them. Like Forrest Gump, this movie delightfully portrays the changing eras of the 20th century. The true hero of the story is time itself. Thumbs up.

Hestia, goddess of the hearth: Gee, you two always have such articulate opinions! As for me, I just plain liked it. It was cute. You know, as goddess of the hearth in the home, I see things. Families grow up around me. I love to watch them grow and change, part and reunite. The people change but the story's the same. That's what this movie reminded me of. Golly, would you listen to me--that was almost articulate! I'll to tire myself out at this rate. Anyway, thumbs up.

Two thumbs up, one thumb down

This film, loosely based on the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, tells the magical tale of a man who ages backward. On November 11, 1918, the eve of the end of the First World War, a most unusual child is born. Benjamin (Pitt) is born wrinkled and old. After his mother dies in labor and his father abandons him as a freak of nature, he is taken in by Queenie (Henson), a black woman who works at a nursing home. Inexplicably, Benjamin's body gradually grows younger. The story follows his extraordinary life through the decades of the twentieth century, up till modern day.
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Tilda Swinton, Taraji P. Henson, Julia Ormond, Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, Jared Harris, Jason Flemyng
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 72%

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DID YOU KNOW? Aging was one of the distinctions between mortals and the ageless gods. Hebe, the goddess of youth, bore the cup of ambrosia that kept the gods eternally young. Her counterpart was Geras, Old Age, one of the malevolent spirits spawned by the goddess Nyx (Night). The goddess of dawn, Eos, once asked Zeus to grant immortality to her lover Tithonus, but she forgot to also ask for agelessness. Now he lies aged and bedridden, babbling endlessdly, unable to move but unable to die.