Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Doubt

01/31/2009, 6:00 pm -- by | No Comments

It is 1964, and inside the most packed Catholic church I have ever seen, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is delivering a homily on the virtues of doubt. In the faces of the unrealistically attentive parishioners, we see just how relevant the topic is. Here a lonely man, there a sick woman, all around a community of people who remember all too well that earthshaking day, less than a year before, when they witnessed the murder of their beloved president. “Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” the priest tells them. “When you are lost, you are not alone.”

A peculiar conclusion to a sermon, I thought — and so did Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), the rock-ribbed battleship of a school principal, who views ballpoint pens as tools of Satan, casts aside cough drops (“candy by another name”), and unironically refers to Frosty the Snowman as “disturbing and heretical.” She views herself as a guardian who foresees and prevents evil, and soon the unease she felt at Flynn’s sermon of doubt is fanned into a flame of full-blown suspicion. “Every easy choice today comes with a consequence tomorrow,” she tells the innocent, young Sister James (Amy Adams), whose observations quickened the fire. Aloysius, we can see, is not afraid of the hard choice.

A cinematic adaptation of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning parable of a play, Doubt is at its most powerful in the adroitly written interplay between its major characters; all four performers have been justly nominated for Academy Awards. Between those scenes of brisk dialogue, the symbolism is laid on a trifle thick — wind, okay, we get it — and the juxtaposition of the sisters’ timid, sedate dinners with the rollicking, smoke-filled bacchanalia of the priest and monsignor is comically blunt. But once the movie gets down to what it’s really about, it is spellbinding.

What do we believe, and why? What evidence do we demand of ourselves to support the conclusions at the heart of our unspoken philosophies? Aloysius is a woman of unshakable conviction, a fevered faith in, above all, the certainty of her own stern judgment. “I know. I am right,” she tells Flynn. “And nothing I can say will change that,” he not-quite-asks. She ponders, frowns. “That’s right.”

But this faith, blind or otherwise, does not make her wrong, not necessarily — and therein is the genius of the script. Like a liberal arts education, this film is about questions, not answers, about how we arrive at a conclusion. I left with an opinion about the movie’s pivotal issue, but the answer is ultimately unknowable, left undefined even by the powerful scene where Flynn and Aloysius engage in anguished, high-stakes psychological combat. Why did I conclude as I did; how could I conclude at all? Is it ever possible to make peace with discomfiting uncertainty, or will we choose to believe certain things just because it’s easier that way?

“You just want things resolved so you can have simplicity back,” Aloysius tells James early on. By the time the film ends, we discover that she was speaking to herself as well. Thank God that He calls us all beyond the mere simplistic — and gives us strength to stand.

I give this film a “Bweinh” out of “Bweinh!” (6 out of 7).

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Four Christmases

12/11/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | 1 Comment

I went to the movies with my girls last week over Thanksgiving break, and we saw Four Christmases, the latest (with Fred Claus) in the ongoing series of Vince Vaughn holiday movies. Maybe he\’s trying to corner Christmas the way Will Smith has hijacked the Fourth of July.

Anyway, I was hoping to like it — really, I was — but there was just something off. I sensed no onscreen chemistry between the two stars; as a matter of fact, they did not appear to fit together at all. Maybe it\’s that I just don\’t care for Vaughn, but imagine Bob Hope and Lucille Ball in It\’s a Wonderful Life, and you might get a sense of how uncomfortable I felt.

The plot was sadly relevant and timely, I suppose. I like to enjoy holiday movies, though; having to watch the protagonists visit four sets of parents, the aftermath of two divorces and remarriages, is not exactly something to warm the heart. And then! To have them ALL be completely dysfunctional, even dangerous, was just too much to swallow.

And the story? Predictable and boring. Slapstick has never appealed to me; I prefer depth and an actual storyline for my characters to explore. These two looked like they were just counting down the minutes until they could get to the end of the movie and go home. Funny, I know exactly how they felt…

It gets a 3 out of 7 on the Bweinh! scale: a hearty Eh!

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Religulous

10/10/2008, 1:42 am -- by | 2 Comments

I’m going to make a documentary. I’ll line up a friend with a camera to follow me around; maybe a boom mike too, for effect. I’ll get people to sit down and have a conversation with me, just two folks trying to understand each other — only once I edit the footage, I’ll make them look as stupid as I can: cutting them off before they finish, cutting in some vacant stares, maybe throwing in a nasty caption or two. And if I can’t think of the perfect smarmy comeback immediately, that’s okay! It’ll come to me in the editing room, and I’ll splice it right in!

I think I’ll call my film “Maheronic.” Too derivative? Well, why don’t you sit down and tell me why you think so? Don’t forget to look directly into the camera — no, not the one I set up on the floor behind you so you look like a naughty student in the principal’s office. Look at the other camera, the one behind me with the zoom set on “Nose Hair.” Don’t worry, I’ve been taping you while you were confused. And yes, if I really hate you, I’ll use that part too. Don’t pick your nose!

How will I start? Oh, by giving away the ending — namely, that I think Bill Maher is an insufferable, swaggering dunce. But then I’ll quickly explain that I’m making this movie to explore whether I’m right, which I am, because no rational human being could possibly disagree with me. Then I’ll move on to anecdotes from my past that no one cares about. Would you like to meet my mother? She’s feisty!

But enough about me (only for a few minutes) — what I need now are opponents to misrepresent. I’ll open with those my audience respects the least: my hero Maher went with truckers, so maybe I should pick actors. At least truckers can drive a stick shift. I’ll confuse them by mixing what they actually believe with my odd hallucinations about what they believe, then demanding they defend the whole mixture. “So you really think Bill Maher is a comedian, and an actor, and the capital of Peru?? Can you seriously believe that? Are you totally stupid or just completely wrong?”

After they stammer through, I’ll switch gears (trucker lingo, sorry) to the other extreme. This requires a new strategy — like Maher with Dr. Francis Collins, I’ll let experts talk, but then cut them off, editing their words so they either agree with me or agree to nonsense. There’s no middle ground, and if they talk longer than three seconds at a time, I’m screwing up! Documentaries are no place for complete thoughts! And sometimes, when I need to, I’ll just straight-up lie: blatantly false captions, unsupportable assertions, added sound effects, it’s all good!

Who’s gonna know? My opponents are simpering idiots, remember?

My superiority assured, I’ll tell my new “friends” all about how great I am. Loathing Bill Maher is a luxury, you see: I’d like him too if I was from Hollywood, which is like prison, just with different implants. Out in the real world, I don’t need to rely on a crutch. Besides, did you know a lot of really bad people like Maher? It’s true. Fred Phelps likes him; they were even in a movie together, called Religulous! Who hangs out with a guy like that?? Someone with a neurological disorder! I’ll even find a scientist to say those words, to make it seem like he agrees with me!

I’ll bang these gongs for a bit, with the occasional detour into the odder iterations of Maher fanhood (that valentine of a Wikipedia page doesn’t update itself), until — in the ultimate triumph of hyperbolic reductionism — I tie all my opponents together in one unhinged, foaming rant of conclusion. This is where the medium of film comes in really handy. Just think: a shot of Bill Maher, a shot of Osama bin Laden, the one, the other, back and forth, back and forth! The sound of his voice over visions of exploding bombs and the corpses of innocent kittens! His head on the body of every member of the Village People! He! Is! Evil!

But if you dare disagree with me? You’re an enabler. A “mafia wife.” You’re guilty of all of the crimes of all of the people who ever lived and agreed with you about anything ever, in all of recorded history. Even if you only like him a little, you need to know: that solace and comfort comes at a terrible price.

Grow up — by which I mean pledge allegiance to my rigid, stilted worldview — or die.

Fade to black.

That’s how I’ll make my propaganda film.

I give Religulous no letters on our scale.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — An American Carol

10/6/2008, 11:30 pm -- by | No Comments

Low expectations get an undeserved rap. Think of how helpful they are! They help us endure torturous high school musicals, they operate as a bulwark against corrosive despair in the workplace, and they singlehandedly keep nearly 3,000 Arby’s restaurants all across the United States in business.

I brought my own well-worn set of low expectations last weekend when I went to see David Zucker’s answer to the Hollywood left: An American Carol. In my mental budget, I had already allocated my $9 ticket as a “political contribution,” rather than “entertainment.” I don’t particularly like going to the movie theater: movies are expensive, and if I wait a few months, I get to watch them for what feels like free when Netflix mails them to my apartment. But for the first time since The Passion of the Christ, I wanted to buy a movie ticket to make a monetary statement.

The nagging problem was that I knew what kind of movie it was likely to be. Zucker, acclaimed director of Airplane! and The Naked Gun, reviled director of BASEketball and Scary Movie 4, is not known for subtlety. I’ve enjoyed the over-the-top political ads he’s produced since 9/11 made him a conservative, but like everything else these days, they’re designed to entertain people who already agree. No liberal watches a commercial that shows Madeline Albright painting a terrorist cave and comes away thinking, “You know, maybe I was wrong about Iraq — and I’m suddenly queasy about embryonic stem cell research too.”

And as much as I hate to be proven right, that was the biggest problem with this film. Much of the first hour made it impossible for anyone but rock-ribbed Republicans to take anything of value from it — and at times its tactics turned me off too. Just so you know, I strongly agree with the film’s main premise. Evil men exist, they are committed to killing us, and we must learn the lessons of history and show the fortitude needed to stop them from doing so. Hear, hear.

But I’m not comfortable with a running gag where all Muslims are named “Mohammed Hussein.” I don’t want to see an “alternate history” where a pacifist Lincoln caused Gary Coleman to be born into slavery. I’m not a big fan of the ACLU, but I also have no interest in firing shotguns at its members. These and other edgy gags simply weren’t as funny as they needed to be to overcome their bad taste, and an audience ready to roar in subversive laughter was left squirming in its seats instead — and worse, wondering about the guy in the back who found all the racial humor way too funny.

There were some amusing moments and some deep moments — on the whole, I’m glad I went. But Zucker’s overbearing attempts at satire only ensured that its targets could safely ignore and marginalize the film as just another right-wing hit piece. I can only hope my $9 donation was enough to earn us another shot. Maybe, for once, I can leave pleasantly surprised.

I give this film a “Bwe” out of “Bweinh!” (3 out of 7).

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: Wanted

07/16/2008, 2:30 pm -- by | No Comments

I finally got back to the movies to see Wanted — but I was totally disgusted by this piece of cinematic trash. In fact, the only reason I’m writing this review is to apologize to anyone who may have taken my earlier enthusiasm as an endorsement.

I tried researching the movie ahead of time, and thought I’d done my homework, but we were still unprepared for the auditory bombardment that hit us. After only five minutes, I whispered to my husband about the possibility of leaving. If you have seen it, you know why. We have a DVD player at home that blanks out profanity; if we had tried playing this movie on it, at times it would have sounded like a silent film!

We tried to focus on the plot twists and special effects, tuning out the swears, but on the whole, it was a debacle we never plan on repeating. As for the story, in a nutshell, it was borrowed from Star Wars, with a little of The Matrix and 007 thrown in for distraction. Nothing original.

It could have been a good film; instead, it was an embarrassment. That’s how James McAvoy looked throughout the entire thing too: embarrassed. He even used an American accent. Perhaps he didn’t want to be recognized.

I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone, unless I get to edit it; as is, it gets no letters on the Bweinh! scale. Go see Kung Fu Panda again instead. I hear that’s good!

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: Hancock

07/3/2008, 5:38 pm -- by | 2 Comments

I went on a spontaneous date night the other evening to see Wanted, but ended up in an unexpected early showing of Hancock. We’ve all seen the trailers for the reluctant drunken superhero played by Will Smith, and it looked good — so since my movie required waiting an additional hour and had Jolie in it, we opted for Hancock. But I have to say, I kind of wish we had waited for James McAvoy.

July 4 has belonged to Will Smith for years, with his big budget blockbusters that rake in millions (like Independence Day and the Men In Black series), so I didn’t expect this to be any different. But here, Will plays a severely depressed alcoholic superhero, desperately in need of an intervention. Enter Jason Bateman, a small-time PR guy, trying to save the world by doing his part, but not making much headway. Their meeting is one of the highlights of the movie. Jason brings him home for dinner with his wife (Charlize Theron) to show his gratitude, and we’re off.

I like the premise behind Hancock’s powers. For once the writers used imagination, rather than taking the easy path of making him an alien. Thanks for doing a little work. I love the comedic relief Will provides: sometimes you see it coming, other times you just sit back and enjoy the ride. In this movie, you know the bad guys will get their just reward if they don’t listen to him — they make the choice whether to listen.

One of my favorite parts was when he was presented with his new superhero uniform. You don’t actually get to see what it is he says he’ll never wear; you just get to imagine it for a while. I also liked the chemistry between the top three stars. It’s effortless and believable as they transition from strangers to friends. But I think Will could work with a room full of machines or robots and still pull it off. Oh wait — he already did…

But there was more that I didn’t like. The movie was too dark and fragmented. I didn’t like all the cursing (especially by young children) and the violence was outrageous, especially toward the end. I spent a fair amount of time cringing at the noise and sheer brutality of some of the scenes. I have a hard time calling this sort of thing entertainment. It even drained some of my desire to see Wanted, because I’ve heard it’s similarly violent — and Jolie’s in it. Yuck.

But back to Hancock — even though my husband loved it, I must be true to myself and give it only an EINH (B-/C+) on our BWEINH! scale. I’m still down wit’ Will (I’ll see you next July, man), but this film just did not deliver the goods.

Next stay tuned for Wanted, with my main man James McAvoy!

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Kung Fu Panda

06/7/2008, 12:12 am -- by | No Comments

Jack Black in the feel-good movie of the year this… is!

Though my brain can hardly believe it… I… actually… liked… a Jack Black movie.

Uncharacteristic of our movie-watching habits, Official Wife Karen and I watched this 92-minute romp on opening day. And while usually admitting you have a problem is the first step, Jack Black as Po, the laziest panda in ancient China was laugh-out-loud funny. From the opening sequence and the one-liners straight through to the end, something about this movie just worked.

Stunned civilian one: He’s so awesome!
Stunned civilian two: And attractive!
Stunned civilian three: How can we ever repay you?
Po: No charge for awesomeness. Or attractiveness.

By far, the funniest scene was between Po and Shifu (Dustin Hoffman): an elaborate kung fu battle between master and student… over the last dumpling in the bowl.

The cast is surprisingly star-studded, if you consider Jack Black a star, but that may be the most disappointing part of the movie. With creatures voiced by Jackie Chan (Monkey), Lucy Liu (Viper), Angelina Jolie (Tigress), Seth Rogen (Mantis), and Ian Cross (Crane), you really don’t hear a whole lot out of them. I really wish there had been more memorable lines to take away from the movie.

Adding to the humor was that we saw it on opening night. Sure it’s funny to laugh at a cartoon, but it’s funnier (for me) to notice that Official Wife Karen laughs when the adults laugh, and I laugh when the audience full of children laughs. To enjoy the laughter of children, catch this movie at around seven, and do so within the first week. Hilarious.

In all, I give it an astonishing bweinh! out of BWEINH! (6.5 out of 7).

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — Leatherheads

04/9/2008, 1:43 pm -- by | 3 Comments

Read all our movie reviews here.

Sarah and I hit the local theater last night to see George, Renee, and — let\’s face it, John Krasinski (I really miss The Office) — in Leatherheads, which had been touted as a quick-witted romantic comedy. Sure enough, it scored some points.

The story follows the birth of professional football through a scruffy little team called the Duluth Bulldogs, headed up by George Clooney. But the team is headed for the exits until he gets the idea of featuring a star player, who happens to come along in the form of war hero/college star Bullet Rutherford (Krasinski) who may be hiding some secrets from the war. Renee Zellweger plays an ambitious reporter expecting a promotion if she can uncover those secrets, and there\’s our love triangle. Let\’s set our pinball game into motion and see if we rack up any fun.

The main characters were fine; you just cannot go wrong with George and Renee and their dialogue. It was well-written and fast paced, taking me back to the Groucho Marx/Cary Grant era of verbal sparring that was just so much fun to experience. Cool! Extra ball!

But there was something lacking in the Rutherford character. Krasinski lacks the charisma of a true movie star; when he\’s not smiling, he tends to disappear into the background, something that just doesn\’t happen with Clooney. Still like John better, though. Even worse, when it came to the climax of the story, we couldn\’t decide who to root for! Bullet hadn\’t really done anything wrong, but the reporter hadn\’t either — so what were we to do? This whole part needed a rewrite. Sarah and I are available. Lose a turn…

Ultimately, we enjoyed the movie a lot, although at 1:54, it could have been about 15 or 20 minutes shorter. So I\’m taking the letters E and I from “edit” out of Bweinh!, and only giving it a five out of seven for a final rating of “Bwnh!” Game over.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: Horton Hears a Who

03/31/2008, 9:58 pm -- by | 2 Comments

Jim Carrey in the feel-good picture of the year, this ain’t. But if you’re looking to be diverted from your troubles with a non-canonical Seuss-ish movie, drop the nine bucks on a ticket and kick back.

The movie follows the hapless Horton (Carrey)Horton Hearing a Who, an elephant who teaches the strangely shaped children of the Jungle of Nool (including the terrifyingly bizarre “Katie,” a multi-colored, sheep-like creature who can float). Horton discovers a speck of dust, on which lies the city of Whoville. They’re not the Whos of Grinch-related fame, but Whos they are nonetheless.

The mayor of Whoville (ably portrayed by Steve Carrell) requests Horton’s help in saving his Whovilization from almost certain doom, but Horton is met with resistance from the stifling censorship and closemindedness of Kangaroo (Carol Burnett).

The two most famous Seuss lines in the movie are: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant; an elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent,” and “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” For the record, the first line doesn’t even appear in the original Horton Hears a Who, but rather in Horton Hatches an Egg. What’s that? Who cares about which book it was in? That’s right. I care. Me, the guy who wrote a 30-page paper on Dr. Seuss for his 20th Century American Literature class!

It’s still true, though. A person’s a person no matter how small, whether 4 or 40, a blasted liberal or a blastocyte. Except for emo kids. Yuck. They turned the “shirker named Jo-Jo,” who taught in the book that “every little bit helps” and “everyone needs to work together to be productive,” into the mayor’s whiny emo son.

I call it Seuss-ish because the good Doctor’s books are just so short, it’s difficult to make a feature-length flick out of them without a good deal of fluff, so know what you’re getting into: an 88-minute diversion with several laugh-out-loud jokes, but no real staying power.

I give it a “Bwei” out of “Bweinh!” (4 out of 7).

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies — The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

03/12/2008, 10:00 am -- by | 3 Comments

The screen is blurry, and I blink several times to clear my eyes. No, still blurry. I blink again. So does the screen. A little better. There are shapes moving about now. The screen blinks again and the shapes become people. It wasn’t my eyes.

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the former editor of French Elle, who suffered a stroke at the age of 43 and lived the remaining two years of his life locked inside his paralyzed body. The opening scene is a rendering of Bauby waking from the coma and learning that he has locked-in syndrome — he cannot speak, he cannot move, and he cannot communicate at all, despite his fully conscious and capable state.

But Bauby is a remarkable person, and so he does not only spend his last years longing for his past life and the release of death. Though he cannot speak, Bauby can blink his left eye. Therefore, his speech therapist devises a simple yes-no blinking system, then goes on to develop a list of French letters organized from the most common (e) to the least (w). She recites this list to Bauby until he blinks, thus enabling him to slowly spell out words and communicate with people. In this way, Bauby writes a book: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, an abstract personal narrative on which the film is loosely based. The final manuscript is strong and pristine, every word’s worth and work weighed by hours of solitude and stagnancy.

Throughout the film, the director parallels Bauby’s current life with his past life — being trapped inside his body as an invalid, juxtaposed with his life filled with supermodels and lovers and the mother of his children, who stays by him to the end, but whom he continuously reminds us is not his wife. There are scenes where, in flashbacks, he sneers at the invalids in holy places hoping for a miracle, and scenes where he is the invalid being wheeled toward the blessed springs. There are scenes where he plays with his three children and jokes obscenely with his teenage son, and scenes where they play around him, incapable of playing with him.

The film enables the audience to live life through the eyes of someone with locked-in syndrome. We experience Bauby’s muteness, humiliation, and helplessness alongside him. We feel trapped and frustrated and suffocated as he does. And when the movie ends we release our breath, unaware that we were holding it the whole time, dreading with Bauby the end.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: 10,000 BC

03/11/2008, 10:30 am -- by | No Comments

I knew a girl like 10,000 BC once. An entity of enthralling beauty and delicately constructed features, but once I discovered how shallow and plotless she truly was, I came to resent the effort spent on her charms. As such is this movie, a libation poured out on the ground of cinema.

To be sure, the fanboys will have something to text each other about. The graphics are state-of-the-art, at times truly captivating, and there’s enough gore to sate the bloodlust of any desensitized young American man. The cinematography was beautifully captured, and it covered the entire earthscape, from snowy hillsides to dry deserts. But — I say again — I was just appalled that so much effort could be expended to provide this beautiful vehicle of a motion picture, then occupy it with a little runt of a story.

To call it formulaic would give it too much credit. Missed opportunities to force myself to become emotionally invested in characters were all too frequently evident, and the script smacked of having been written in an afternoon. Enthralling CGI manifestations like the saber-toothed tiger were sadly, sorely wasted, and the timeline of technological advances was irritatingly incongruous.

The film is rumored to have cost more that $100 million to produce, which is remarkable for a flick that doesn’t boast one A-list actor. You can clearly see where the money was spent. Please note it wasn’t on acting talent.

The movie has no swearing (of the anno domini variety at least), and despite the loincloth era setting, there was practically no nudity. Also, while numbing, the story is also harmless, and does achieve its thinly stated goal of proving that men can’t be gods. If you don’t mind horribly warping your kids’ sense of history and Egyptian architecture, this could be an easy way to kill a night at the movies.

But as this wannabe epic wound down, and the remaining cents of my $8 gasped their last, I just wanted more. I didn’t want to have any points driven home, and I didn’t want to feel educated about culture and earthly history. I simply wanted to be entertained. I frankly expected this, from the director of Independence Day: more of the ridiculous, yet thrilling, variety of film that doesn’t last much longer than the parking lot, but makes your popcorn taste better in the theatre.

I’m not hard to please, but this film was resoundingly poor, ill-conceived, and executed with only the vaguest of intentions. While it wanted to appear as a revolution in modern film-making, believe me — there was no wheel invented here.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: Bee Movie

02/29/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | No Comments

Inertia is a property of matter, married men, and the New York Jets. It keeps papers on your desk, does an excellent job of keeping your house exactly where you left it, and generally succeeds in keeping me seated in my apartment — where various corporations are kind enough to provide me with the means to entertain myself, in the event I’m unable to handle the job myself.

But there are forces, “outside forces,” more powerful than inertia. Chief among those forces is the woman, whose desire for such exotic fare as “leaving the house” and “going out” possesses no known bounds. But as the old axiom says, where there is no woman, there will probably be a 15-year-old boy. And that’s how I wound up at a matinee showing of Bee Movie last week, accompanied by my youngest brother, who seemed to want more out of life than a jigsaw puzzle and the Fox Soccer Channel.

I expected to dislike it going in. This wasn’t because the entire plot is based on the fantastic revelation that honeybees can speak — I can deal with unrealistic movies, as long as they maintain their complete lack of realism. It’s where a movie tries to live in that twilight land between fantasy and reality that trouble sets in. Choose your home: real or fake! I had a nagging feeling that Jerry Seinfeld, king of observational humor, would try to straddle that line — and straddling, I assure you, is usually unwise.

So what was the story here? Well, bees can talk! This is unrealistic fantasy, subject only to the rules of the imagination. Excellent! And when it stayed there, the movie was strongest: exploring the (beautiful) architecture and social structure of the beehive, imagining one bee’s struggle for individuality amidst an army of drones, worked, quite literally, to death.

But then our bee escapes the hive, treating us to the two most difficult and laborious settings in film: the love story and the courtroom. Suddenly, the world of fantasy, the talking bee, was opining on economic theory and legal analysis, on the unfairness of life — that is, when he wasn’t making (compound) moon eyes at a well-heeled florist with the nicest New York apartment I’ve ever seen. Fantasy and reality were smashed together in a uncomfortable, jittery mass, like Lutherans on a subway.

And besides, if I want to see a strange-looking creature spout proto-socialist dogma while accompanied by an attractive woman, I’m going with Dennis Kucinich every time.

The movie wasn’t committed enough to fantasy to be fun, yet never became real enough to be incongruously funny. Add Jerry Seinfeld’s trademark — the lilting, braying whine — and the result was a very well-drawn movie I would have preferred to watch in silence.

Inertia, my old friend! I’m sorry I ever left you!

I give this film a “Bwe” out of “Bweinh!” (3 out of 7).

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: Chick Flicks

02/5/2008, 2:00 pm -- by | 7 Comments

As a preface, I am in no way officially recommending any particular movie to anyone, just sharing the experiences of my last two visits to the cinema with my girls (Karen [24], my soon-to-be daughter-in-law, and my daughters Rose [21] and Sarah [17]).

In mid-December, I heard Rose say sheepishly, “I kinda wanna see that…” I looked up to catch the end of a trailer for Juno, a new teen pregnancy movie, pitched as a smart, funny, gets-into-your-heart-and-head kind of film. As Pentecostal Christians, we generally don’t support many teen sex movies, which is probably why she sounded sheepish. I watched the last few scenes with little interest, but tucked it away. Around the same time, 27 Dresses trailers were on every day, constantly reminding me of our two upcoming weddings. My girls and I had already made a date to see that one; I was hoping it might give me some ideas for the reception and rehearsal dinner.

But frankly, Dresses was forgetful and predictable, giving me plenty of time to check out gowns and cakes, and take mental notes on bouquet arrangements, centerpieces and lighting. I mean, James Marden was okay, but he’s no Mark Ruffalo. You knew who the girl was going home with — there was no “OH NO!!!!” moment like in How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Just Like Heaven. Discussing the movie afterwards, we quickly ran out of things to say.

Reviews began trickling in on Juno. “Fast-paced, witty dialogue. Candid, funny, real.” It began to sound like the Gilmore Girls, and we sure missed that show. We miss a lot of things; stupid writer’s strike. When the Oscar nominations were announced and Juno stuck gold, I fired off texts to the girls and a date was on. I remained afraid it might portray teenage pregnancy in a sympathetic way or trample over our values — and I wondered if it could stand up to all the hype.

Well, Juno delivered! Sorry, no pun intended. I think the girls enjoyed it from the start, and I liked it too. For those who don’t know, Juno is the story of a pregnant 16-year-old girl who decides to keep the child, after visiting a hilariously unsympathetic abortion clinic, and gives the baby up for adoption to a young couple who cannot have children. The parents she chooses are as human as the rest of her world (she finds them through a Pennysaver ad!), and she must decide what to do when the deal doesn’t work out as she expects.

Roger Ebert’s review says he found a lot of “unexpected laughter.” That happened to us a lot too; there were jokes everywhere, especially during the serious scenes, like when Juno tells her dad and stepmom about her pregnancy. This is real life — at least it’s real life at our house. I felt at home. The dialogue was two parts intelligence, two parts humor and (unfortunately) one part mild vulgarity, teenage-girl style.

My favorite parts were when Juno went to her parents and found support, wisdom and love. No anger or resignation, no “Here we go again,” but true wisdom and support. Her father was not a stereotypical doofus — he has lived and learned, and helps her to process her confusion. He’s the one who teaches her what love really is, and makes it possible for her to make the right decisions in the end. Her stepmother is not a “witch” — she’s a loving, fiercely protective mom, who sacrifices a lot for her stepdaughter, but isn’t above complaining about it during an argument. The girls and I found a lot to discuss after this one. We learned some new vocabulary words too — but of course we won’t be using them…

I was uncomfortable with the vulgarity level, especially because the parental audience at the Sunday matinee did not honor the PG-13 rating, and chose to bring their small children. For the love of all that’s good, hire a babysitter and keep your young kids at home — especially the 8 to 10-year-olds!

Guys, you could do worse than to occasionally stumble into a chick flick with your special someone. You might actually discover something about your relationship. You could share a laugh or an inside joke to remember for years to come — who knows? I don’t know if Rambo or Die Hard or The Singing Killing Barber could do that for you — but, of course, I could be wrong.

Bweinh! Goes to the Movies: Rambo

01/30/2008, 11:50 pm -- by | 5 Comments

I’ll tell you one thing — Rambo is by no means Sylvester Stallone in the feel-good picture of the year. But he has his moments.

The story revolves around sexagenarian John Rambo and a squad of mercenaries who rescue missionaries from the evil clutches of a brutal, dictatorial, oppressive, homosexual, Southeast Asian general and his raping, pillaging, murderous goon-filled death squads. Overall, the plot itself is fairly standard for 1980s-level action films, just with a higher production value.

Rambo himself is as murderous a killing machine as he is inventive, eliminating enemy soldiers with knives, bows and arrows, pistols, truck-mounted machine guns, and even by attaching a Claymore to an unexploded WWII British bomb. Oh, and he also rips out a man’s throat. Wicked. But it’s all for a good reason, so he’s kind of a nice guy at heart, you know?

Other characters lack depth (unlike the ever-multifaceted Rambo’s two sides — kill and slur). The missionaries are presented as pigheadedly bent on complete nonviolence as they infiltrate the border of a war zone for “the greater good.” The mercenaries are completely off the handle, screaming and swearing at Rambo, one another, trees, boats, rain, missionaries, enemy soldiers… in this movie, just about anything that can be screamed or sworn at is.

The death squads are believably evil, but why Stallone chose to include a scene of a young boy’s private late-night visit to the general is beyond me. I mean, seriously. We just watched this guy order a village hacked to bits and pieces, we get that he’s kind of a bad dude. Why add that he’s also into little boys? Is genocide not bad enough? Will American audiences think, “I still see the good in that man, even past his 1970s sunglasses and creepy mustache — but now that they’re implying he’s gay, I think he deserved to be hacked in half with a machete by John J. Rambo.”

The action scenes at the end of the movie were intense, too intense. I had no clue who was killing whom or why, except when the head missionary avenged all the others by bashing a soldier’s head in with a rock. Very Cain and Abel-esque.

Overall, I don’t think anyone should be exposed to the violence of Rambo, but I’m not going to lie to you. I enjoyed it.

Yo, Adrian!!!