My Mini-Review of Wanted, Now Out on DVD

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:20 am

I’m trying to come up with a description for the kind of person who would like this film without getting too personal about it, but it’s tough. Viewers who don’t pay much attention to plot, who are just in the mood for a rollicking roller-coaster ride of special effects and car flippings will probably enjoy Wanted. People who can’t ignore the screams emanating from their prefrontal cortex while watching a movie probably will not. 

Needless to say, I didn’t care for this film. More specifically, I thought it was awful. James McAvoy puts on the worst performance of his career as a pathetically over-the-top parody of a Caspar Milquetoast office worker who discovers that his father was part of a secret brotherhood of worn-out clichés tasked with protecting the world through CGI gunplay and, apparently, rampant violation of the laws of physics. In fact, the whole point of the casting of this movie seems to have been to stretch the actors’ ability to deliver a mediocre performance to the breaking point. With the exception of Morgan Freeman who. like Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino, never plays anyone but himself. He’s not so much an actor as he is a brand name; either you like Morgan Freeman™ or you don’t.

Every hackneyed action-hero vignette is played out in this film: the denial/acceptance/ascendance arc of the main character, the training montage, the HUGE SHOCKING SURPRISE, the betrayal, the revenge. Wanted has it all. But it’s all been done before, and much better. If you want a great tongue-in-cheek treatment of the Brotherhood of Assassins genre, rent Remo Williams. It’s nowhere near as flashy, and it doesn’t include a shot of Angelina Jolie’s naked butt, but it’s a whole lot of stupid fun. To me, Wanted is just a whole lot of stupid.


My Review of Bug

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:43 am

Much like with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a number of viewers are going to be disappointed with Bug because the studio’s marketing department decided to totally misrepresent the movie by advertising it as a horror film. This is not a horror film, it is a film about psychosis and paranoid delusion.

Bug is about a woman named Agnes living in a small Oklahoma who’s sort of down on her luck; stuck in a hand-to-mouth existence, living in a run-down motel, with an abusive husband who is about to be released from jail. She sort of stumbles into a relationship with a young man named Peter who is either suffering from acute paranoid delusions or was the victim of an ultra-secret government project to insert living, self-replicating surveillance devices–“bugs”–into the flesh of soldiers. It doesn’t take a heck of a long time to decide which of these scenarios is the more likely. Over time, Peter’s madness seems to infect Agnes, and their personal vectors line up, to disastrous effect.

Director William Friedkin did a good job of translating the look and feel of a theater production–the origins of the story–into a motion picture. The whole thing has that “fourth wall” theatrical feel to it, and the effect is claustrophobic and kind of creepy. Michael Shannon skillfully pupates (heh heh, a bug reference, get it?) from an odd-but-likeable guy into an out-and-out lunatic before your eyes. The tipping point in his psychosis comes without a lot of warning, and took me by surprise (then again, I never see these things coming in movies).

Ashley Judd is….well, she’s okay. Her crazy acting is a little over the top, and her lines at time seemed forced. She’s good at “exhausted woman in a dead-end situation”, not as good at “exhausted woman descending into madness”. I would have liked to see someone more organically crazy play the role.

Overall, the movie effectively portrays one person’s paranoid fantasies and the effect they can have, given the proper physical and psychological circumstances, on another person thrust into close proximity with him. It’s not the best treatment of the subject, but it’s far from the worst. I think it’s a pretty good film….not anything I need to rush out and buy for my personal library, but worth seeing. But it’s definitely not a horror movie, and anyone looking for one is likely to come away from Bug highly unsatisfied.


My Review Of The 11th Hour

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 12:29 pm

Went to see The 11th Hour this weekend with Margaret and the majority of my fellow staff at Fungi Perfecti. Kind of depressing that our group of perhaps 25 people easily made up a quarter of the total audience for the Seattle debut of a fairly important picture. Ah well; it’s a documentary, it offers no titties or gun fights and it wasn’t made with top-of-the-line Silicon Graphics workstations in a server farm in the Valley, so what should I expect. It was worth going to see, not the least of reasons being that Margaret spotted my name in the end credits, under “Special Thanks To…” Wow. Shawn is so pissed I ended up in the credits of a major motion picture before him. 😆

The 11th Hour intersperses brief excerpts from on-camera interviews with luminaries from a wide range of primarily scientific fields (with just enough in the way of philosophers and holy men to appease the Newer of the Ageists in the audience) with film clips of natural disasters, fast-paced animated graphs and timelines, and “mood” shots of either a positive (clear water coursing down a stream) or negative (fletcher clubbing a harp seal) affect, depending on the point being emphasized at the moment. At regular intervals, Leonardo DiCaprio appears against a background appropriate to the mood and makes some sort of statement to bind the preceding section with the proceeding. His role in the film as narrator is in fact fairly low-key; he obviously did not want the show to revolve around himself, despite having produced and bankrolled it.

Overall the direction is very good, in my opinion. They obviously knew that they were dealing with a really depressing subject, and paced the film appropriately. Just when you are about to become overwhelmed with the impending doom of, say, the effect that global warming will have on the release of CO2 currently bound in the depths of the ocean (this little gem courtesy of Dr. Stephen Hawking, his eyes pinning you to your seat all the while), they change the subject, filling the gap between the sections with some gorgeous, contemplative footage of ocean life and waves crashing on a reef. Kind of a small dish of cinematic sorbet with which to clear your emotional palate.

The last perhaps third of the film is all about solutions, something that is often missing from this sort of endeavor. My boss was one of the scads of idea (wo)men offered up at this juncture, talking primarily about the ability of fungi to absorb and convert a dizzying array of harmful substances, from coliform bacteria to VX gas. (This is not conjecture or academic proselytizing, either; Fungi Perfecti has proven this in laboratory and real-world experiments conducted with the Washington State Departments of Transportation and Public Works, Battelle Marine Science Laboratories, and the United States Defense Department. Nyeah. 😛 ) Others described manufacturing technologies that mimic natural processes; green architecture; photovoltaic systems that allow buildings to power themselves and pump energy back into the grid; wave-action power; wind- and water-driven rotor fields; hybrid technology diesel-electric rail systems, and on and on and on. I think the idea was to dazzle the viewer with the possibilities, and for me it was a show-stopper. My inner nerd cries out for technological solutions to the problems we face (especially since the other major alternatives, like the collapse of the world economy, ceaseless resource wars or the return to a semitechnological agrarian way of life would all suck ass), and the thinkers in this film were definitely all about that. These weren’t “Got to get ourselves back to the Garden” types. None of them believed that we could sustain our current population without a technological society. What they–and most of us–are hoping for is simply the implementation of thoughtful technology, carefully planned and implemented. Reduce the pounds of waste generated per pound of manufactured goods. Increase the efficiency of our mechanisms, reducing, trapping and reusing waste and byproducts. Eliminate wherever possible our dependence on resources that cannot be renewed at the rate at which we consume them. Use our big fucking brains to get us out of this mess, and not let existing power structures petrified of change keep it from happening.

What the fuck, it sure wouldn’t cost 200 million dollars a day to accomplish.

The very end of the film is about what you would expect: time is running out, we’re at the 11th hour (hey, that’s the name of the movie, too! Whoa, weird), you can be part of change, get off your fat asthma-choked PCB-poisoned TV-watching ass and get to it. The last word is given by Oren Lyons, who says, basically, “Even if we don’t make the changes we need to, there will be clear rivers and blue skies and forested mountainsides again. We just won’t be here to see them. The world will prevail, because it has all the time in the world. We do not.”

The film is definitely one-sided. There were no contrasting opinions on the subject of global climate change and Man’s role in same. But that was to be expected. Frankly, the anti-environmentalists have their own entire goddamn 24 hour news channel from which to enlighten their followers, so I don’t think this was a big problem. The overall message is one of optimism, which is never a bad thing. I recommend The 11th Hour to anyone looking for some hope in the face of everything we’ve managed to do to the planet. Make sure to drag along a couple of Fox News devotees while you’re at it. Maybe they’ll agree to come if you promise to pay for their popcorn.


My Review of Moral Orel, Season 1

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:35 am

Okay, so it’s not really a movie, but if it comes into this house on a DVD then I’m going to treat it like a movie, including filing this under Movie Reviews. My server, my rules. 😎

For whatever reason, I’m not a huge consumer of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim (save my feverish wait for the return of The Boondocks). So I had not heard about Moral Orel until we were over at my in-laws’ place for dinner one evening and Ron handed me an article from the Sunday edition of The Newsly Times (or whatever it was) about the show. From what I read in the paper, this show sounded like it was right up my pew. (Hmm, that came out sounding wrong, for some reason. Best just let it go….)

Moral Orel

Moral Orel is the story of Orel Puppington, a young boy who lives in the town of Moralton in the great state of Statesota. The show is loosely–l o o s e l y–patterned on the old Davey and Goliath, though there’s no dog character. I say “loosely patterned” because Moral Orel is Davey and Goliath turned on its head….perhaps suspended from the ceiling by leather straps, covered in Thousand Island dressing while five midgets spank it with mink-covered cricket bats.

See, Orel is constantly misinterpreting the messages given to him by the spiritual leaders in his life: his minister, his parents, his teachers. This leads him to do things like reanimate the dead, smoke crack, and fornicate with Moralton’s female population whilst they sleep. Aiding in his confusion is the fact that the whole town seems to have a dark, perversely sinister streak running through it, with all sorts of racial, sexual and other perfidies bubbling just below the WASPy surface.

With all this going for it, you’d think a cranky agnostic like me would give the show a rousting thumbs up.

Sadly, despite its originality and creepy cleverness, Moral Orel falls pretty short of the mark. I think it’s the nature of Orel’s misinterpretations that leave me uninspired. When I read about the program, I was expecting the producers to riff on actual Biblical verses and dicta, like that gorgeous letter to Doctor Laura did a few years back, or to expose the underlying weirdness of religious lore and doctrine when removed from its context, the way Parker and Stone did in their infamous Mormon episode of South Park. Instead, Orel is just taking the wrong tack on sermons and proclamations made by the adults in his life, who are for the most part oblivious, pathologically self-centered, a- or immoral yahoos. The show is more a commentary on the hypocritical and questionable aspects of life in a seemingly pious community, rather than a send-up of the wackier aspects of religion in general and Christianity in particular. And while this may be a viable angle for exploration in an adult comedy setting, I was really looking forward to something with a little more thought behind it than a tedious string of so-called “Lost Commandments” that the adults of Moralton use to justify every bizarre and inappropriate impulse they may have.

You might want to give Moral Orel a looksee during a rerun on Cartoon Network….certainly it’s worth a few chuckles….but I don’t think it rates going to any great effort to track down and watch. Pity, really; I had such–well, low hopes for it. 😈


My Review of Harry Potter and the Order of Fries–er, the Phoenix

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:34 pm

This joke shamelessly appropriated from Alison Bechdel and her delightful comic Dykes to Watch Out For.

Margaret and Shawn were all set to go see the ten o’clock showing of the aforementioned at the Majestic Bay Theater yesterday and, what the hey, I decided to go with them. It was that or order take-away sushi and play Prey all night, and this way I at least got to eat some very nice Indian food and some frozen Junior Mints. The theater was packed, but given that this was a ten p.m. showing, the vast majority of the audience was over the age of twenty and everyone was very solicitous of their neighbor. We had a nice pre-movie conversation with a German citizen on our left who has been living in the Seattle area for about 8 years….apropos of nothing save the overall cordiality of the audience. Good thing, as I almost never attend the cinema, given the less-than-stellar quality of moviegoer they’re letting into theaters these days. I was more than prepared to bail out and spend the evening at Cupcake Royale next door if things had started to sour. Even brought my laptop. 🙂

Anywhoodle, about the movie itself….

It should be noted for those who may not be aware of it—say, someone who does not know me, has never visited my site before and only managed to stumble upon this entry whilst scouring the Web for nude pictures of Erin Esurance—that I am in no way a Potterhead. (My ever-so-clever term for the slavering throngs of Harry Potter fans, of all ages. I happen to like how the term combines the epistemological lacuna embodied in the term “pothead” with the hideously upbeat, loopy idiocy of the term “Parrothead” {the self-administered label for fans of Jimmy Buffett}. Do not, however let this lead you to believe that I feel that people who enjoy the wizard-oriented fiction of JK Rowling are in fact themselves devoid of personality, hapless yahoos, intellectual or sociocultural chamber pots, etc. No such thing. I just get so sick of hearing about the whole goddamn thing that I feel the need to strike out against it in any way possible, the more base or puerile the better. I seriously considered celebrating my wife and housemate’s trek to the Majestic by staying home and watching some Harry-Potter-themed pornography….sort of the Potterhead equivalent of performing a Black Mass. Sadly–or really, perhaps not–I did not get my act sufficiently together to find any in time.) I have not read the books, bought the video games, or eaten the hideous jellybeans, nor do I intend to. Any slight impulse to read the books has been quashed through repeated exhortations from the ranks of the Pottered….not to mention my own less-than-pleasant tangential brushes with the culture. For God’s sake, just today I heard a news teaser on a local AM radio station about a psychologist offering tips on how to help your kids deal with Harry Potter’s purportedly imminent death in the final book of the series. I have an idea: how about you put your hands on little Timmy or Susie’s shoulders, look him/her straight in the eye and say, “HE WAS A CHARACTER IN A BOOK. HE CAN’T DIE BECAUSE HE WAS NEVER ALIVE. GO PLAY A VIDEO GAME OR SOMETHING.”

What? Oh, yeah, the movie. Right, sorry….

Despite having never read the books, eaten the cereal, used the Dumbledore Brand Home Enema Kit, etc., I have seen all of the movies. This strikes me as a fair compromise, because it allows me to get a glimpse of the plot, characters and setting while not getting totally immersed in all the Potterage. Sticky.

The first flick, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was a big ol’ brimming mugful of “Meh”. I mean, yes, the magic elements were quite clever, and little what-his-face with the glasses made an adorable Harry, and wow isn’t a fully-animate chocolate frog kind of a neat idea for a candy. But it was obvious even to someone who had never read the book that the powers-that-be had cutsied up the whole thing to an almost unbearable extent, and I found myself hoping in vain for something to come along to darken the atmosphere up a bit. I mean, it was like I was watching something made for children, you know?

Much like the books—so I’m told—each successive film did exactly that, and by the time you get to the current theatrical release, things have gotten quite dark indeed….sinister, really. As is only fit for a story about a being of pure evil attempting to rally an army of talented, unstable misfits and blackly scheming power-mongers for a battle against the powers of good. Harry’s nightmares involving the return and ascendancy of Voldemort are at times quite disturbing, and the whole film carries a—ahem—timely message about the politics of fear and the consequences of rash acts in the name of doing something.

And—joy of joys!—no fucking Quidditch.

Shawn brought up a really fascinating point about the style of the film; that all of the villains in Phoenix are exceedingly well-dressed, very nattily and expensively attired, while the heroes are all dressed in street clothes or other modest wear….sometimes in outright rags. This proletarian message is brought into sharp relief during one of Harry’s nightmares, where he comes across Voldemort in a rail station, dressed to the absolute nines in a perfectly tailored black suit with almost invisible black pin-striping. He looked like James Bond after some super-villain torched his nose off with a laser.

The acting is good all around, with the usual cast of “kids” (what, eighteen these people gotta be by now?) putting out the good-to-quite-good performances that hopefully make George Lucas even more suicidally ashamed for casting that horrid little no-talent bowl-headed imp as the starring role in The Phantom Menace. The choice of Imelda Staunton for the role of the Inquisitor for the Ministry of Magic was inspired. She transforms effortlessly from bumptious biddy to sociopathic control freak before your eyes, and it’s both fun and a little creepy to witness. I recognized a couple of actors, George Harris and David Thewlis, from their stints on the amazing BBC crime drama Prime Suspect. Helena Bonham Carter had a minor role as Bellatrix Lestrange—whoever the fuck that is—and seemed to be reprising her wardrobe and makeup from her stellar performance in Fight Club, with eyeballs courtesy of her role as Ophelia in the 1990 film adaptation of Hamlet. Ralph Fiennes makes a supreme Voldemort, at least as far as I can tell having never seen the dude in print.

I agree with both Margaret and Shawn the climactic standoff between Voldemort and Dumbledore was one of the best treatments of a battle between magic-users that has ever been presented on screen. It took a slightly different direction than, say, the battle between Gandalf and Saruman in The Fellowship of the Ring. While I appreciated the lack of “fireworks” in that particular battle (i.e., no massive light show to indicate the forces at play), the quasi-martial-art moves with their staffs was a little goofy. What, you can’t shake the spell out of the staff without whirling it around a few times? Need a little centrifugal force to wankle that sucker loose?). The director of Phoenix decided to do the light show thing, with the two wizards straining back and forth against the tidal forces of, well, a bunch of pretty lights. But it went further than that, and held (once again, I am told) to the elemental/metaphorical nature of the battle in the book, with each combatant conjuring what basically amount to thoughtforms to wield as weapons against the other. Very spectacular. the film ends shortly thereafter, with a real sense of anticipation and foreboding for the struggle to come.

I’m surprised but not at all embarrassed to admit that I really liked this movie. This will be the first of the Potter films that I would actually be interested in owning and watching on DVD. I’d recommend it to just about anyone, Potter-besotted nor not. :mrgreen:


MAN what a stinker!

Filed under: @ 9:33 pm

Inspired, or perhaps deranged, by having watched the History Channel’s work up on Star Wars (in honor of the 30th anniversary and all that), Andrew and I decided that we really should see Episodes 1-3 again just to find out whether they were as stinky as we remembered.
We remembered them as being pretty darn awful, but we only saw (each of) them once, and we were so disappointed by how little they blew us away that we figured the disappointment may have fueled our opinions.

Having finished watching Episode 1: The Phantom Menace for the second (and, let me assure you, LAST) time I am now in a position to say unequivocally that Episode 1: The Phantom Menace was a menace for many reasons and none of them phantom.
The story did have some merit I guess. I won’t go into the hours worth of editing that I think it needed to be a basically decent film, but I think one of the things that bothered me the most was Lucas’ dependence on in-jokes, slang, or jargon that are based primarily in 21st century English. For a story that was written about a time “long ago” in a galaxy “far away” there sure were a lot of spontaneous vocalizations and planned statements that sounded a lot like they came out of a junior high or high school of the early 2000s. Throw in fart jokes, poop humor, *SHUDDER* Gungins, and that noxious little bowl headed sprite that they cast to play Aniken and it was a really bad film.

We are going to continue our odyssey and watch the other two….. I’m not really sure why, probably as an exercise in self discipline, but then we’re going to purchase the un-retouched originals on DVD and try to forget that Lucas ever made the first three in the series. Luke Skywalker may have been a whiny little noodge in Star Wars, but at least Mark Hamil could act his way out of a wet paper bag.


My Review of Hell House

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:28 am

I just finished watching Hell House, a 2001 documentary about a Halloween haunted house describing the tortures of Hell, started by the Trinity Church in Texas and now carried on at evangelical churches throughout the world.

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. Wow, what horseshit.

Not the film itself. Hell House has all the earmarks of a great documentary: it covers the subject with a sense of balance, it allows the basic humanity of the topic to show through, it’s compelling and it’s relevant. (Boy howdy, is it relevant.) It’s the concept of the Hell House itself that I have come to loathe.

For about two-thirds of the film I tried my very best to keep an open mind about what I was seeing. I’m no enemy of faith, even if I have no capacity for it myself. And these dedicated true believers are only doing what they think they must to keep people from burning in the eternal lake of fire, etc., etc. The creators of this milieu are trying to relay a point that is obvious to them—that Satan is behind all of the evil, pain and suffering in the world, not just the eerie supernatural stuff shown in fiction. The actors really throw themselves into the roles, too, showing a zeal not often seen in high-school students.


But when the film makes it to the actual implementation of Hell House, the performance itself, impartiality took a nose dive and I began to get really pissed off. Forgive the irony, but oh my God, what a horror show.

Here, with only a few notable exceptions, is a gaggle of fresh-faced, pristine little princes and princesses, still wet behind the ears from their dunk in the Kool Aid, role-playing all the horrible, grotty, real-life things they are told to avoid every day (or at least every Sunday), lest they risk those eternal fires themselves. They shriek in cathartic faux-agony as they put guns to their heads in the presence of jeering classmates, writhe their final paroxysms of agony in an AIDS ward, slash their wrists with box cutters.

And when they’re done, they get return to the light, secure in the knowledge that they can pray all the base, carnal, fetid, icky bad stuff away.

It’s like having your Eucharist and eating it too.


(One of my very favorite scenes from the movie, shot during construction. Someone called for a “pentagram” to be painted on a piece of the set. This is what the budding math-major in charge of the artwork came up with. No doubt whoever drew the symbol knew he’d seen it somewhere before, but just couldn’t quite place it. Oh well, they’re all going to hell anyway, right, Pastor?)

Of course there are some hard-tagged survivors in the bunch as well, and their stories are told in the film in their own words, with frankness and compassion. There is no doubt that faith has had a positive impact in many of their lives. Any system for coping with hardship will attract those in need of succor. As I have said before, religion offers those in need a prefabricated community in which to invest themselves. Those who are dealing with personal strife can often find support they crave in the arms of a church, and this emotional superstructure may actually be enough for some of them. (I have trouble believing that all or even most of the rape victims who find their inner peace solely through their relationship with God aren’t in for a rather unpleasant surprise a few months or years down the road, and as for the “recovering homosexuals”….don’t even get me started.) Whatever works, works.


But I can’t bear the sentiment I have heard more than once with my very own two ears that Jesus Christ (or Allah, or Jehovah, insert your favorite deity here–but usually Jesus) is the only way to achieve true, permanent healing. Pardon me for being blunt here, but fuck that. There are a million paths to inner peace, and cutting oneself off from all available avenues to recovery from whatever ails you only makes the journey more difficult. Belief in a higher power won’t save a depressed person from their depression, an abuse survivor or traumatized veteran from their post-traumatic stress, or a gay person from the fact that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. It may be a step along the way, but that’s it.

If you want to put the argument in a less secular framework, psychological trauma is a terrestrial—not a celestial—issue, and must be dealt with here on Earth, no matter what awaits us after we die.

My resentment came to a boil around the time that we were introduced to the “Suicide Girl” vignette, where young Jessica stumbles home after being drugged and gang-raped during a rave, only to be tormented by a black-cloaked figure who urges her to slit her wrists. “You don’t know how many guys you had tonight, do you Jessica? You don’t remember a single one of them!” The figure follows the sobbing girl as she crumples to her bed. “You should be used to it by now,” it mewls impishly, “remember what your daddy used to do to you when you were a little girl?


At this point I was absolutely beside myself with rage, real rage. I wanted to jump through the screen and throttle the plump, smug little sixteen-year-old beneath the cheap boogeyman costume, assault her, drag her through the mud, rub shit in her hair. Give her some real Hell to contemplate. See if she can whine and caper about in her Devil disguise after that.

Frankly, I was a bit surprised at myself. I don’t get this mad watching documentaries about Neo Nazis. Maybe that’s because, when you watch white separatists gamboling and aping for the camera, you’re watching people dabbling in evil for evil’s sake. But when I watched these simpering brats do their little Pageant of the Damned, I saw no comprehension there. Just a horrible naiveté, masquerading as (other)worldly sophistication, a kind of “I know everything that’s wrong with you and I know just how to fix it” that coated everything they were doing with a layer of sugary slime.

Anyone actually swallowing this simplistic line of reasoning should feel abused, cheated. Like they were led to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and found its boughs laden with Pixy Stix.

Underneath the (by definition) self-righteous histrionics of Hell House is, I feel, a much deeper and more important thread of consciousness running through any number of modern religious movements, particularly those of extremely charismatic Christian sects: the scary (to them) realization that it’s becoming harder and harder to believe in the existence of devils.

Is there anyone born in this country in the last fifty years who really believes, if they do not live a life prescribed by the dictates of God/The Good Book/some guy in a building down the street, that when they die they will be dragged kicking and screaming underground, to a world of unquenchable fires, searing heat and molten rivers, to be tortured and tormented by horrible imps throughout eternity? Is anyone who has lived in a world of modern technology that superstitious, that primitive any more?

From my own limited personal experience, it seems that most modern believers have a much more robust and choate internal vocabulary for expressing their concept of Heaven than that of Hell. Even though the basic logic of duality would suggest that the existence of one would demand the existence of the other….and the major religions of the world do not seem ready to discard either one. My friends who are contemporary Christians–if they are able to express the concept at all–are more likely to try to find some quasi-psychological elaboration of Hell. It’s a place where all the bad feelings you ever felt come back to you again and again forever. It’s a place where you’re always cold and and alone and in the dark. It’s where you feel your true, ultimate worthlessness outside of the love of God.


Similarly, the expression of Satan’s power on Earth no longer has to do with witches sacrificing babies under the full moon, dragons breathing on the crops to make them wither and die or succubi luring innocent God-fearing men into nocturnal acts of forbidden carnality. In the modern idiom, the Prince of Darkness shows his hand through AIDS, abortion and Dungeons & Dragons; rape, drugs and suicide; through Columbine, Kosovo and the twin towers.

The question that then comes immediately to my mind is: given how mind-bogglingly huge a divide there exists between concepts of “sinful” or “diabolical” behavior as perceived by different communities in different places at different points in history, how can one possibly construct a viable framework of behavioral guidelines, using only the edict, “God wants you to do it this way”?

In which case, why in the world would I take these people’s contemporary interpretation of Hell–much less the behavior that will get me there–at face value, rather than come to the much simpler and more verifiable conclusion that the evil that human beings perpetrate upon one another originate from and are the fault of the human beings committing them?

I see Hell House as a tool for eliciting as primitive, as alligator-brained a response as possible in the viewer, in an attempt to dampen their cognitive functions and obliterate their 21st-century mindset. Wielded with skill, it reduces the susceptible among those exposed to the point where they will make absurdly simple, iconic connections among scores of complex, interconnected webs of problems. War? Satan. Crime? Satan. Disease? Satan. Suicide? Satan. Abortion? Democrats. And Satan.

(In fact, the take on “disease” can be quite telling. Ask one of the folks behind Hell House if ischemic cardiomyopathy is caused by demons, they’d probably laugh. Ask them if AIDS is a torment visited by Satan upon those who have chosen to violate God’s decrees regarding homosexuality, you’d likely get quite a different response. Interesting.)

Sophisticated people of every faith, including none at all, understand the complexity of the world—or more to the point, they understand that they understand very little of the complexity of the world. Only the most primitive thinker believes that they have the answer to everything, or believes they know someone who does.

Look, I don’t hate religion, I don’t hate religious people. But I think I’ve decided that I do hate this particular church for what they have wrought with this horrible, self-serving, perversely masturbatory annual exercise. Religion at its best is a community of people united around a set of common beliefs and goals. Unfortunately, this can also be religion at its worst. In this case, the distinction comes down to tactics. If you can’t convince people to act the way you feel is best for them by setting an example, the proper response is not to try to scare the–ahem–Almighty shit out of them in an attempt to force their compliance. As any grade-school recess monitor would tell you.

It is for this reason that I give Hell House a resounding thumbs-up. I think that anyone who can stomach it should see this movie. To the extent that we are capable, we should be all be more aware of the kinds of weird machinery that rumbles on in the minds of some of our fellow citizens. Particularly if they tend to vote. 😈


My Review of Idiocracy

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 6:57 pm

After having been recommended this film by more than a few people whose opinions I hold in high regard, I managed to watch it one night recently with Margaret and Shawn. All’s I have to say is, go out and rent this movie at your earliest convenience. It’s an absolute hoot. And that’s the troot.

Written and directed by Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butt-Head and King of the Hill fame), this is a speculative look at America 500 years in the future. The current trend of smarter, more successful Americans having fewer children than poorer, less intelligent citizens has played out to its predictable and all-too-scarily-possible conclusion, and we have transformed into a nation of (even bigger) idiots.

Imagine taking a quirky person like Judge, sitting him and a few friends down with some pizza and beer (or maybe a few cases of Jolt Cola) and letting them spend a few days just riffing on the concept. What would our cities look like? What would we look like? What forms of entertainment would we pursue? How would our government be different? How might it be disturbingly similar? What would we eat, wear, watch, drive?

While this film does have an actual plot, it’s fairly thin and mostly just acts as a delivery device for a seemingly endless cornucopia of hilarious observations and gems of situational humor. I found myself busting out laughing every three to four minutes as a new gag was paraded before me. Cigarettes the size of Sharpie markers; dead-eyed Emergency Room nurses operating a giant keyboard covered in brightly-colored icons for every medical and psychological condition; Jet Skis churning up the water of the Reflecting Pool before a run down, slightly off-kilter Washington Monument. It’s endless, and it’s hilarious.

And yet, all three of us watching that night shared a compelling subterranean unease. Even as we guffawed at a US President who attained his office through victory at some sort of professional wrestling smackdown, we all felt the underlying message clearly: this isn’t as outlandish as it seems. We didn’t make this stuff up out of whole cloth; we distilled it from the essence of that which we see all around us.

As you watch the film, you feel this undercurrent of warning like some kind of subsonic rumble. You feel it as an icy finger sliding up your spine. You feel it as a tightness in your jaw even as you collapse in a paroxysm of giggles.

And you feel it when you look at your partner and are suffused with an irrational urge to drag her/him into the bedroom and start making babies. Quickly! Before all the whaoos up the street or on the 6 o’clock news or in the Wal-Marts beat you to it and out-progenize us all! Don’t just stand there, get busy!

Never before have I felt the urge to procreate to any degree like I did after watching Idiocracy. Fortunately, my limited attention span and media-impaired short-term memory allowed the impulse to quickly subside into the background noise of my standard, more selfish, less costly urges. So it’s back to coffee and geek toys for me. Whew! That was close. 😛

Go rent the movie; you’ll be glad you did, and that there may yet be time left to put a stop to the inevitable.


My Review of Silent Hill

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:56 am

I haven’t played the game, so I have nothing to compare it to but actual movies. This film is visually beautiful, with gorgeous sets and special effects, and that’s pretty much it. The plot is either drawn directly from the game, proving that there are very few video games that have enough meat to sustain a feature-length film, or else the director extrapolated–some might say excreted–this whole weird, convoluted story that will leave you on the edge of your seat because you almost can’t stand to remain in place watching anything so uninspiring. Decent to good acting all around, with Sean Bean in probably the most uninteresting role of his life. Kudos to Jodelle Ferland for her performance as little girl/demon child: a less accomplished child actor would have easily moved this film from the realm of the boring to that of the unbearable. I didn’t hate this movie, but that’s the best I can say about it.


Movie Review: Green Street Hooligans

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:41 pm

I submitted this review to Netflix, and since I’m struggling to find content to add to my blog (very, very busy), I thought I’d submit it here, too, despite Netflix’s insistence that any reviews I submit belong to them. Kiss my ass, Netflix!

I feel it noteworthy to mention that the majority of my movie reviews will be of films released on DVD. I rarely go to see anything in the theater any more; for some reason, I just don’t feel like getting into a fight with some rude asshole who insists on talking to his stock broker on his cell or providing detailed play-by-play to his wife or girlfriend. I have a 50 inch television (thanks again, Gary and Sara!) and a 5.1 surround system at home….why in God’s name would I want to brave the freeways, find and pay for parking and bear all the antisocials inside just to see a particular film a month or two sooner? (Why, for that matter, do I leave the house at all? )

Anywho, I’ll add new reviews to this section as they come up. Here’s my review of Green Street Hooligans.

They live on or around Green Street, and they’re hooligans. That pretty much says it all.

I didn’t care for this film, for a number of reasons. It seemed really formulaic and predictable to me, and I’m the kind of person who never, ever guesses the plot of a movie while it’s unfurling before me. But this one just made it too easy. (WARNING: Spoilers–if such a term properly applies to this film–below.)

Wow, so the rabid football fans of Green Street loathe journalists, huh? I wonder if Elijah Wood’s pursuit of a college degree in journalism, plus his famous journalist father, will somehow play a role in the plot? Do you think that might serve as his Achilles heel later in the film, perhaps after he has gained the respect of his fellow ruffians? What about Wood’s disgraceful ejection from school for taking the fall for his spoiled, snide, heavily connected college roommate (this character was so over-the-top, hypertrophically Preppie that his name should have been something like Tad Buffington) on charge of cocaine posession? Do you think Wood will find his inner strength while pulping the faces of rival football fans and come back to set things right?

*Sigh* I’m being too hard on this movie. The acting is convincing, the cinematography and sets set the mood and get the point across quite well. My biggest problem with the film doesn’t even have to do with the thing itself, but rather the internal philosophy and logic of it all. A stirring tale of working-class Brits fighting for honor and identity. Oh, no, wait, that’s right: they’re bashing in each other’s skulls over a GAME. I simply could not get past the utter futility and luncacy of this key underlying premise, and it spoiled any sense of enjoyment I might otherwise have gleaned from this movie. I simply could not identify with a single major character in the entire production.

If you’re the type of person who has seriously considered kicking in the teeth of someone because they root for a different sports team than yourself, you may want to rent this movie….just don’t expect to come over to my house to watch it.


Must-See DVD

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:08 pm

If you have not yet seen it, I highly recommend renting (even buying) a copy of the Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels. Photographer Zana Brisky spent a few years living among and photographing the prostitutes of Calcutta. She gradually became interested in the children of these families. She purchased cameras for a group of them and taught them the basics of photography. Under her tutelage, the kids blossom into truly accomlished photographers, and Brisky endeavors to help them take advantage of their newfound talent and opportunities to better their situation, within the confines of an ancient and rigidly structured society.

The story is told from the perspective of both the children and Brisky herself, and consists of videotaped interviews and cinema verite-style documentation of their lives. Interspersed throughout are samples of the children’s photography, much of which is astoundingly good.

On it’s face, the film sounds far more depressing than it actually is. The daily poverty, misfortune and privation are offset by the natural delight of children partaking of what life has to offer them. To be sure, you can’t help but feel badly for these kids, but the overall effect of the story is more uplifting than a downer. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…..it’s trite because it’s true.

Born Into Brothels is available now through NetFlix, and should be available September 20th everywhere else. I give it Eleven Thumbs Up.

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