Latest Reviews
Tuesday
Oct212008

Religulous

Given the amount of violence in our world today, we have a lot to complain about. There are multiple wars going on all over the world, people are getting murdered, raped, and mutilated day in and day out, and we are in constant fear that something will happen to somebody we love. However, instead of trying to find the real reason as to why these devastations occur, we use scapegoats. Every time a new Grand Theft Auto video game comes out, we hear about a murder being connected to it. Every time a new Saw film is released, the various news channels condemn it for the way it glamorizes violence. But what really causes this violence? Religulous believes that organized religion and the falsities that accompany them are to blame.

Religulous is a new documentary starring Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles, the director of the popular mockumentary, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, that sets out to explain the hypocrisies of organized religion and debunk their alleged "facts." But given Maher's comedic talent, they wanted to make it as humorous as possible. I could go on for hours talking about religion, how the film portrays it, and what it hopes to tell you, but the important thing is this. Is it a good movie? Absolutely. Religulous may make you scowl. It may offend you. But it will also create discussion and it will make you laugh until you can't breathe.

Bill Maher travels the globe going to prominent religious locations, including the Vatican (which he is promptly thrown out of) and Jerusalem in an effort to explain to people why their beliefs are a farce, usually with hilarious results. I've got to hand it to him. He knew what he was talking about. He had his opinions and had scripture or data to back them up. However, the main problem of the movie is that he mostly talked to normal Joe Schmoes. Rather than seeking out learned theologians or scientists, he just went and talked to anybody of faith who have blindly followed their religion without thinking it over. In essence though, that's probably the point of the film. Had he talked to more than a couple of learned scholars, the film wouldn't have been as interesting because they would just reinforce Maher's beliefs.

Still, credit must be given to Maher who tried to talk to non-theologians and non-scientists that held a position of power. He discussed creationism vs. evolution with Mark Pryor, a US Senator from Arkansas and he tried to interview the Pope. But even these people have no true understanding of science or theology. They deny proven scientific fact because it contradicts their beliefs. There's no doubt that the Pope is probably the most prominent religious figure in the world, but the movie questions why that is. Why would over one billion people around the world base their beliefs on one man who is "infallible?"

Although Maher takes jabs at Muslims, Jews, Scientologists, and Mormons, he spends the majority of the film questioning Christians, and understandably so since they are in power. Our government (especially the conservatives, the film argues) stresses the importance of a Christian nation and that our founding fathers intended for us to be a Christian nation. However, Maher presents real quotes from quite a few founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, who say we'd be better off without religion. This is quite interesting because it shows how wrong people are when they don't take the time to research their beliefs. They simply hear it, follow it, and that's that.

And that is Maher's real argument. He tells the audience that if anybody tells you that they know what happens after you die, they're lying because nobody does. At one point, he admits that the beliefs that religion teach are one possibility, but isn't there also a possibility that nothing happens, that life just simply ends? Why is it that organized religions won't open their minds to what else can occur after death? The film argues that all religious people "know" that they are right, but they don't. That argument should be pretty obvious, but people of faith refuse to admit it and that's a sad fact.

All of that may seem heavy-handed. It may seem like a film a lot of people won't want to see, but I believe it's a film people need to see, especially religious extremists who see no truth other than what is written in a book. I don't believe religion is wrong. I also don't believe that ridding the world of religion will prevent wars like the film does. We will always fight over something. It is our nature. But there's no arguing that the various organized religions incite hatred, murder, discrimination, and homophobia. If nothing else, Religulous will create discussion and that's a good thing. If we don't question our beliefs, then what's the point in believing?

Religulous receives 4.5/5

Saturday
Oct182008

W.

W. is a movie that I suspect will surprise many people who give it a fair shot. Most people will expect the film to be a liberal propaganda piece to deter voters away from voting Republican next month. In a way it is, but it's also so much more than that. Those expecting a 2 hour long Bush bash will not find it in W.

Unfortunately, most people probably won't give it a fair shot and that, I think, will be the film's biggest problem at the box office. It won't appeal to the few Republicans who go to see W. because they will argue that Oliver Stone went too far with his jabs at President Bush, although that isn't the case at all. It also won't appeal to Democrats because they'll think the film didn't go far enough, and they'll be missing the entire point. The point isn't to make fun of President Bush or even talk about his alleged failed policies the Democrats are up in arms about. The film is a biopic about the life of George W. Bush, how he got to where he is today, and what went wrong along the way.

Yes, believe it or not this is remarkably fair to the President who has secured the record for the lowest approval rating in modern American history. In fact, W. takes this hated man and humanizes him in a way that makes us feel compassion for him. It shows Bush as a good person who just simply makes mistakes, as we all do. Late in the film, after it has been discovered that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Bush tells Laura that he only wanted to do what was best for the country. He wanted nothing more than to make the world a better place. Whether you love him or hate him, we all know that he does love our country and does what he thinks is best. The problem is how he did it.

This is what the film explores the most. However, Bush isn't really its main target. What the picture shows are the characters around him and how they contributed into him making the decisions he did. As Bush and his famous administration, including Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Colin Powell, sit around and discuss what to do about the war on terror, its evident that Bush isn't the one making the decisions. They argue back and forth and Bush simply listens and makes his judgment calls based on what he hears. At one point, Cheney asks Bush whether he would eat lettuce if there was a 1% chance of him dying and Bush said no. He argued that even if there was a 1% chance of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, that would warrant our invasion. I believe that the point the film is trying to make is this: Bush cannot be blamed for all that has happened. There were many facets that aided his decision making.

But is it a good movie? I've been typing here giving you lots of information into how President Bush is portrayed and what I think the message is, but I haven't really delved into whether or not you should go see it. Well, it's a mixed bag. W. suffers from an identity crisis. It isn't sure whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama. Sure, the movie explores the daddy issues inherent in the relationship between Bush and his father and it humanizes him for dramatic purposes, but it's not serious enough to be a good drama. And it has a few funny lines, but it isn't funny enough to be a comedy.

Although the film attempts to portray Bush in a neutral light, it still takes a few jabs at him. Some of these work and some don't. The ones that do work because they fit into the story, such as a great sequence where Bush can't find the words to answer a question posed to him. This is so funny because Josh Brolin, the actor portraying him, is merely quoting him exactly how he said it in real life. Regardless of your feelings towards the man, we can all admit he has said some incredibly stupid things and this was one of them.

Still, most of the jabs at Bush seemed forced, awkward, and unnecessary. Who doesn't remember his famous "fool me once" line where he couldn't remember the quote? In W., this moment isn't during a speech as it was in actuality. Instead, it is in an unfit place that works more as a throwaway line to garner a few chuckles from the liberals in the crowd. The most pointless jab at President Bush was a completely unnecessary sequence involving him choking on a pretzel watching a football game, as he did in real life. The only reason for this scene was to say, "Look how stupid he is! He can't even chew his food!" It didn't work, it was disposable, and should have been left out.

Despite all this, the film still manages to work. Although it chronicles the life of George Bush, I fully understand that a lot of it is fictionalized. There is no way to know exactly what was said behind closed doors. However, Oliver Stone gives us one possibility of what was said that seems plausible given where our nation is today. Conservatives will label W. a liberal propaganda film. They will be wrong. Liberals will label this an important look at the debacle that was the Bush administration. They will be wrong as well. Although it doesn't shy away from a few jokes at Bush's expense, W. is a sympathetic look inside the man that the country has turned its back on and deserves to be seen by liberals and conservatives alike.

W. receives 3.5/5

Monday
Oct132008

Quarantine

Quarantine is what I like to call a “no sense movie” because the characters all lack common sense. I fully understand that horror movies rely on contrivances and illogical behavior to keep the horror coming, but this film takes stupidity to a whole new level. Never before have I sat through a movie and wanted the characters to meet their demises so badly so I could leave the theater. Frankly, they had it coming.

Quarantine utilizes the soon-to-be-annoying use of the first person shaky camera technique, where you only see what the character in the film sees through his or her lens. This tactic has been used in Diary of the Dead, The Blair Witch Project, and the amazing Cloverfield, among others. However, there is a stark contrast between Cloverfield and Quarantine. Cloverfield took you on a wild ride where you never knew what to expect. It boasted excellent performances from its cast and its special effects were dazzling. I’ll never forget seeing the Statue of Liberty’s head rolling down the street in a cloud full of dust, but I’ll eventually forget every second of Quarantine. The film uses the shaky camera technique not as a way to immerse you into the proceedings, but merely as a gimmick to keep production costs low and jump scenes abundant.

The film begins with Angela, played by Jennifer Carpenter, standing outside of a fire station where she and her cameraman will be spending the night. The purpose is to catch some action on film, so if the firefighters get a call, Angela is tagging along. As the alarm blazes and they make their way inside an apartment building where a distress call has been issued, they find a woman who viciously attacks one of the firefighters. As they try to leave and seek help, they find out they are quarantined inside the building and if they try to escape, they will be shot.

And that is precisely where Quarantine got too silly for its own good. This is a film with a lot of potential that could have been truly creepy, but I found it laughable due to the atrocious dialogue and stupidity of the characters. When they initially find that woman, she is pale, bleeding everywhere, and foaming from the mouth. Then she takes a chunk out of a firefighter’s neck. Logic would dictate that the next time you see somebody with similar symptoms, you stay away. But these people continually act oblivious to what is going on, approaching everybody they find regardless of the fact that their eyes are glazed over, they’re dripping in the red stuff, and the group’s previous encounters have all produced violent attacks.

It just seemed like too many things happened in a context that felt forced rather than realistic. Late in the movie, the owner of the apartment building informs the group that there is indeed a way out. The basement has a shaft that will lead them down to the sewers. Well, why didn’t he mention that to begin with, you know, before people started dying? The occurrences happened at the convenience of the screenplay rather than logically.

Even so, all of the blame can’t go to the script. Had the acting been better, it would have made what was going on more believable and thus easier to accept when the script began to hit those contrivances. But the performances were terrible. Jennifer Carpenter played it over the top, shrieking, panting, and wheezing through this entire movie and she began to grate on my nerves. If I were locked in that building with her, I would have off-ed her myself. She’s a poor actress who had one good role in The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Good for her, but it’s time to move on.

There are a few things that can tip you off that a horror movie will be weak. Sequels, remakes, or Americanized versions of foreign films usually tend to not bode well with fans of the genre. Unfortunately, Quarantine falls into one of those categories. It is an Americanized remake of the Spanish film [REC]. For that reason, it may as well have been dead on arrival. I gave it a fair shot and I tried to like it. I really did. But eventually, I grew tired of the nonsensical goings-on and wanted these idiotic characters to meet their justified fate. Had they been smarter, I may have felt otherwise, but let’s be honest. A group of ten year olds could survive longer in that building than the pack of morons in this movie. It’s almost Halloween and we all want a quality horror film that will scare the bejeesus out of us. Quarantine is not that film.

Quarantine receives 1.5/5

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