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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
Revenge of the Nerds meets Welcome to the Dollhouse
This movie could have been good, but instead it regurgitates a tired cliché of the losers who win out over the "cool people", with lots of played out stereotypes like the rich-white-jock-bully and the cruel-shallow-cheerleader-hussy and behold! The losers get along with colored people while the "cool people" look down on them and behold! The losers use their eccentricity to defeat the "cool" people who rely on money and popularity. This movie was fresh and original TWENTY SEVEN YEARS AGO when it was called Animal House, the only new twist is that it has more of the contemptuous sneer for the mythical "Middle American" that is often found in Todd Solondz' garbage. To MTV's credit, they managed to refrain from exploiting young people having sex with each other, it must have taken considerable restraint. Don't believe the hype, this movie is not original and not particularly funny, it holds your interest until the end but you've seen this all before.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)
The cover of the VHS edition features a film critic's remark that the movie is "Erotic", which gives you an idea of how far from the book this movie has fallen. In Branagh's defense, there are a lot of difficulties translating the original work into movie form as there are many long passages of time in which critical details are summarized, also there is a lot of introspection and conversation that would need to be translated into something more visually compelling. There were key details that Branagh changed, though, without good cause. For one thing, the monster was supposed to be 8 feet tall and somewhat demonic in appearance. Branagh opted for a disfigured Robert DeNiro, presumably to save on special effects (or to avoid hiring a basketball player to play the part). In the book, the monster was quite articulate and we have a better understanding of his wretchedness and his wickedness. Numerous comparisons are made between the monster and Adam from The Bible, also the monster and Satan, the powerful fallen angel. Mary Shelley succeeded in simultaneously creating sympathy and revulsion for the brute, but Branagh completely failed to pull this off. He also ruined the romantic relationship between Victor and Elizabeth, which in the book started as deep admiration and built with some suspense and tension until it finally culminated in their marriage and her demise, but Branagh decided to have them fondling each other more or less within the first ten minutes of the film. The viewer is also forced to watch very exaggerated acting from most of the main characters (DeNiro manages to avoid this) as if they're trying to make up for the poor screenplay adaptation by overacting. In short, the only sense in which this was truly faithful to the original work was in that Branagh took bits and pieces of the original, breathed life into it, and created an abomination.
The Passion of the Christ (2004)
For all of the common opinions of the film, I disagreed with many of them. Anti-semitic? No, unless you find attacks on the Pharisees as anti-semitic, I suppose if you're an Orthodox Jew you would. Excessively brutal? Well, there was a lot of brutality, but as it is historically accurate it was appropriate - nobody complained that "Schindler's List" was too brutal! Brilliant directing? Well, I have to disagree with this as well, the movie was shot on a small budget and I think it shows.
I found the story, apocryphal or not, to be quite fascinating. What you really learn in watching this movie is how Christ's philosophy transformed the world. While some describe the movie itself as "brutal", I think it's more accurate to say that the people living in those times were mean and hateful. In this movie you saw how much abject contempt people held for their fellow man, and often for rather superficial reasons. The Roman persecutors relentlessly whipped and mocked Jesus, and they didn't even know him. Their base hatred is at odds with Jesus' message of love and forgiveness, his warning that nobody is free of sin or worthy of judging his fellow man. When you contrast the treatment he (and others) endured in his time, against the trend towards decency that his teachings engendered, you really appreciate who he was and what he achieved - regardless of your religious view of him.
Better than T2, maybe better than Terminator
This was quite a relief. The first movie was groundbreaking in its raw exploration of man vs. thinking machine, but there really wasn't much breadth to it - it centered around that concept alone. The second movie was painful to watch, and I was afraid the third movie might go further down the road of dumb catch phrases and uninteresting sci-fi but instead, it was very well done. As has already been mentioned, the action and effects are heart-pounding, and the visuals are dazzling, but the movie also raised questions about predestination and explored the means by which the robots were to eventually take over the world. This provides substance for the movie and gives meaning to all of the action and excitement. Add to that some well-placed humor and this movie is sure to satisfy Terminator fans everywhere!
The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Good clean family fun.
It is increasingly difficult to find movies that are suitable for children, both for their entertainment value and their lack of inappropriate content. The Shaggy Dog is a thoughtful story that the whole family can enjoy. The plot is complex enough to hold the interest of the oldest members of the family while not being too involved or frightening for the youngest children. You're also able to walk away from this movie without having to rationalize to your children why foul language was used, nor do you have to worry about the modern tendency of Disney movies to try to sexualize children.
The writer's best work ("Welcome to the Dollhouse") does a good job exploring the hardships of high school teenagers in the context of American society. This movie was less insightful and the characters are more depraved, so it becomes more of a work of pornography - not quite as bad as "Kids" or "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover", but under the artsy veneer, it's basically the same voyeuristic crap.