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A bombastic bore
If I had to describe the book The Hobbit in one word, it would be "charming." Bilbo Baggins embarks on an epic adventure, but we are charmed all the waybecause we feel as though we take the journey with Bilbo. Despite the grand scale of the world of Middle Earth, the story is immensely personal.
The Battle of the Five Armies, on the other hand, is anything but charming. The narrative revolves around armies combatting other armiesall mechanistically conveyed through large-scale digital action scenes. This is not a personal, relatable journey. It is a broad, bombastic, disjointed spectacleone that fails to engage precisely because of its scope.
By contrast, another series of films adapted from booksthe Harry Potter filmshave been enormously successful in building a large world and telling a fantastic story while maintaining its focus on its title character, which Harry Potter producer David Heyman stated in interviews was his intention from the beginning. With The Battle of the Five Armies, it is clear just how underwhelming the results can be when the story is unfocused.
Perhaps future directors and producers of ambitious franchise films will take heed of the criticism of this movie and focus more on story and character than on special effects. One can only hope.
Saving Christmas (2014)
An interminable, shoddily-researched lecture masquerading as comedy
For those of us who have watched Kirk Cameron pontificate on the wonders of the banana, or read his musings on the legitimacy of the existence of fire-breathing dragons, we know that Kirk Cameron himself is comedy gold. One might expect more hilarity from Cameron in Saving Christmas, but Cameron actually intentionally tries to build a comedy here, and the result is an unfunny, unfocused, interminable mess.
The film begins with an uncomfortable scene involving Kirk Cameron sitting in a chair, lecturing at the audience. "They don't want us to love Christmas," Cameron declares authoritatively, never bothering to define exactly who "they" are. Cameron drones on for several more minutes, and at this point in the film, I heard a kid in the back of the theater yawn loudlyperhaps an audible protest that this film would not be the exciting romp promised on the poster.
Finally, the film cuts away from Kirk Cameron, and we see several characters enjoying a Christmas party. But then we see Kirk Cameron again, the film freezes, and we hear Kirk Cameron narrating about himself: "That's meKirk!" More lecturing ensues.
Eventually, a character by the name of Christian (almost as clever as "Josh Wheaton"), a Christian himself, despondently finds his way to a car, apparently disillusioned by the materialism of Christmas. Enter Kirk Cameron, who enters the vehicle and does what he does bestmore lecturing.
The majority of the film takes place in this car as Kirk lectures to Christian, with occasional cutaways to Biblical imagery. Cameron tries to make the case that Christmas traditions, such as celebratory trees and gifts, all somehow originated with Christianity, not paganism. (Never mind the fact that ancient paganism predates Christianity.) "Last time I checked, God created the winter solstice!" is the type of asinine reasoning you'll hear from Kirk Cameron throughout the film. Cameron's facts are both dubious and sparse, and his connections are spuriousbut Christian is nevertheless invariably blown away by Kirk Cameron's apparently amazing insight.
Perhaps aware that interminable lecturing on its own would be unbearable for an audience, the film provides characters with quirky personalities in an effort to break up the tedium. In particular, we are treated to a scene back in the house of two characters rambling schizophrenically as they drink hot chocolate. It has nothing to do with Christian's story, it makes the movie feel unfocused, it goes on for far too long, and if my theater is any indication, it is not funny at all. In fact, there was dead silence in my theater throughout the entire run of this "comedy" film.
The film ends with a dance sequence that feels like it lasts ten minutes, as well as multiple, gratuitous blooper scenesI suppose for no reason other than to pad the running time. Just when you think it's finally over, we see Kirk Cameron again, and he continues to lecture the audiencethis time about how materialism is just fine, because Jesus came to us in a material body, after all.
One gets the impression that Kirk Cameron actually started reading his own Bible, was disturbed by what he found (such as Jesus' instruction to "go sell your possessions and give to the poor"), and produced this film as a desperate justification for his own hypocrisy.
At my theater, nobody laughed, and nobody stayed for the end credits. This purported comedy film fails at every level. If you're really looking for a laugh, go back and take a look at what Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort have to say about the glorious design of the banana.
Ray Comfort Vs. Honesty
Professional liar, hatemonger, hypocrite, bigot, tax evader, fraudulent video editor, witch doctor, and all-around ignoramus Raymond Comfortperhaps best known simply as "the Banana Man"is lying to children (and scientifically illiterate adults) for money once again. While both atheists and moderately intelligent theists have already laughed off the Banana Man for the joke that he is long ago, I recently found myself in the position of being handed "Evolution Vs. God" by a well-meaning family member. Perhaps a brief examination of this DVD here will prevent others from forking over their hard-earned money to a blatantly dishonest con artist.
The title itself is laughablea false dichotomy equally as absurd as a DVD titled "Electromagnetism Vs. Zeus" might be. The tagline is "shaking the foundations of faith," which is of course an obvious attempt to posit the all-too-common assertion that acceptance of evolution requires "faith" and is not based in evidence. Even if true (which it isn't), this implies that faith is a bad thing. Notably, Ray Comfort ignores the fact that his own Bible consistently and repeatedly teaches that faith is actually a virtue (as per Hebrews 11:6 and 1 Corinthians 13:13).
The format of "Evolution Vs. God" should be familiar to anyone who has previously seen The Way of the Master series. A microphone is shoved in each interviewee's face, and the interviewer is nowhere to be seen. This is by design, so that Comfort can go back to the editing room and change the question to whatever he feels like. (See "When it's OK to lie: When you're lying for Jesus" by Potholer54 for proof of this.)
There are countless other instances of outright manipulation. For example, interviewee PZ Myers writes on his blog: "When you see Ray Comfort and he denies that he is an ape, point out that by his 'they're still just X' argument, he has scapulae and hair follicles and a liver and jaws and an autonomic nervous system just like a chimp, and if he's going to deny the evolved differences, he's still just a chimpanzee. He's still got a spine, just like a fish, so he's still just a fish. And he's bilaterally symmetric, just like a worm, so he's still just a worm." Myers makes this same argument in "Evolution Vs. God"; however, in the final cut, all that we see is Myers stating, "Human beings are still fish." There isn't any indication that Myers is actually using an example to explain why Comfort's argument is fallacious. As of this writing, Comfort has refused to release the complete, unedited footage of his film, despite numerous requests from theists and non-theists alike.
In the last half of "Evolution Vs. God," Comfort finally gets around to defending "God"but he ignores the fact that "God" has nothing to do with evolution and the majority of people who claim to believe in God also accept the existence of evolution. Comfort also does not provide a coherent definition of "God," nor does he provide any credible evidence for his belief. The authority of the NIV version of the Bible is simply assumed, as is the existence of "God," "Heaven," and "Hell."
But even when Comfort is trying to paint himself in the most positive light possible, he makes laughably asinine statements such as, "I'd like you to make me a rose," as well as, "You know God exists, and the reason you choose evolution is because it gets rid of moral accountability." If this were "Electromagnetism Vs. Zeus," these statements would be as laughable as "I'd like you to make me a lightning bolt" and "You know Zeus exists, and the reason you choose electromagnetism is because it gets rid of moral accountability."
Finally, Comfort goes on to demonstrate his total lack of understanding of his own Bible. He asserts that Christ saves by faith alone, proving he has not read or at least does not understand James 2:14-26 in its original context. He also claims that God cannot lie, proving he has not read or at least does not understand 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 in its original context. Predictably, he concludes with the oft-cited Romans 1:22paying no mind to the fact that the author of this passage is actually referring to first-century Greco-Roman polytheists, not atheists (and certainly not evolutionary biologists). But even if we ignore the context, one has to ask: Who is the one professing to be wise here? Is it the scientists who humbly work day in and day out for the benefit of mankind, with little to no recognitionor is it someone like Ray Comfort, who claims to speak for the supposed creator of the entire universe and lies to children to make himself wealthier?
The DVD closes out with an advertisement for the so-called Creation "Museum" in Kentucky. I was reminded of the words of a recent visitor's review: "Emptiness, sadness, a cruel parody of museums. Children running around, enthusiastic to learn, parents proudly reading lies to them. Children gathered around the animatronic Noah explaining how there was room on the ark for all the dinosaurs. I felt I was at a funeral for someone I loved and everyone else wanted dead."
This is how I felt watching "Evolution Vs. God." It made me feel sick. I could feel the minds of children everywhere being raped by this smug, ignorant charlatan. Obviously, Ray Comfort is a complete jokebut he's a horrible, cruel joke with real consequences for real people. Unwittingly or not, anyone who funnels money into Ray Comfort's multi-million dollar criminal enterprise is an accomplice to his crimes against humanity.
For those already duped by "Evolution Vs. God," I would recommend reading any grade school science textbook, consulting an elementary school science teacher, and beginning the process of rudimentary science education. Better yet, start reading and studying the Bibleafter all, that's how most people become atheists.
Kôkaku Kidôtai (1995)
Science fiction with a philosophical bent
"The ghost in the machine" is the derogatory phrase Gilbert Ryle uses to describe Rene Descartes' notion of metaphysical dualism in his famous polemic Concept of Mind. It is Descartes' theory of dualism--the idea that human beings are comprised of a tangible body and an intangible mind--that is explored in Ghost in the Shell, a truly different kind of sci-fi movie.
The film takes place in the distant future. Cyborgs walk the earth and computer crimes have proliferated beyond control. It is up to 'Major' Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg herself, and her crew to put an end to these "hackings."
For the most part, those who have watched adult-oriented anime before will know what to expect. Violence, nudity, and melodrama are abundant in Ghost in the Shell. What makes the film different, though, is what makes it so much more interesting than your typical anime flick.
Motoko's investigation of a notorious super-hacker inspires a number of discussions about the meaning and significance of reality and consciousness. Few films dare to delve into philosophy so thoroughly and so directly, but that is what makes Ghost in the Shell special.
While the conversations are fascinating and build as the film develops, the characters themselves are generally emotionless in spite of the drama that surrounds them. This is especially true for the imperturbable Motoko, who behaves exactly as one might expect a machine on a mission would. There is little room for character development here--one of the film's few flaws.
Ghost in the Shell is not light entertainment. It is a heady, thought-provoking film that should appeal to fans of science fiction, action, and even philosophy.
Far superior to the original -- but still not good
After suffering through the cinematic travesty that is Pokemon: The First Movie, I made sure to avoid the following four sequels, as did most viewers who were as repelled by the first installment as I was. Some five years later, I noticed Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys make its U.S. debut on the WB network, and I was curious as to whether or not this particular installment would be any better than its original predecessor. It was--not that that's saying much.
In the film's opening, we are introduced to a young boy named Tory. His father, a professor, gathers data on several ice pokemon in an arctic continent with the aid of his assistant. Young Tory enjoys playing with the pokemon until the group is interrupted by a pair of monstrous aerial pokemon: Rayquaza and Deoxys, who are apparently in a battle to the death just above them. Chaos ensues; all of the professor's equipment is destroyed, and Tory cowers in fear as a stampede of ice pokemon flee directly in his path, nearly trampling the boy. This brief scene sets the mood for the action that is to follow--in a year that takes place four years after the incident. We see real drama and character development (particularly in Tory, who works to overcome his fear of Pokemon), both of which were entirely absent in the first Pokemon movie.
We see significant improvements, too, in the visual quality of the film. Unlike Pokemon: The First Movie, Destiny Deoxys contains several visually stunning scenes--similar to scenes you'll find in other popular anime features such as Princess Mononoke. CGI, for the most part, is incorporated seamlessly with traditional animation.
Despite these strides, there are several moments throughout the film that simply do not work, including the film's many attempts at humor. Amorous Brock, for example, becomes infatuated with the first girl he sees as he enters a new town--a tired routine that has been done time and time again in the TV series (as well as the first movie). In the middle of the movie, there is an excruciating musical montage in which the main characters' pokemon begin laughing and dancing goofily for no apparent reason. Even the film's climax feels drawn out; after a while, I just wanted it to end.
Pokemon fans will probably enjoy this. Non-fans may find it watchable.