Kingdom of Heaven

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Remember this epic movie that was panned by critics and ignored by audiences when it was released? An acquaintance of mine bought a bootleg copy of the director’s cut at a convention a few weeks ago, and he said it’s a completely different film. In fact, he says it’s probably one of his all-time favorite movies, and certainly one of the best of 2005.

Now the 4 DVD director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven is being officially released next week, and this article appears to confirm everything I was told. I always thought this movie had potential, and I found the subject matter to be interesting and relevant. But, like so many others, I stayed away because of all the bad press and word-of-mouth. Now that it’s free from studio influence and restored to Ridley Scott’s original vision, I can’t wait to see it!

Orlando Bloom fans take note–this is allegedly his breakthrough role as a lead actor.

Da Vinci 911

Millions have already taken the book at face value, and now with the release of the movie millions more will line up to accept The Da Vinci Code as a serious exploration of "the facts". Not since Fahrenheit 9/11 have people so readily embraced fiction in the guise of truth.

Don’t believe me? Then check out this article about readers of the book. And I heard another report that hundreds of tourists are showing up in France for "Da Vinci Code tours", and they insist on being shown the secret locations and symbols depicted in the story.

So am I not giving everyone enough credit? After all, so many intelligent and insightful citizens have gone to great lengths to expose the lies and conspiracies that they claim permeate governments, corporations and the mainstream media. How could a mainstream fictional novel and movie that pretends to expose dark secrets hidden deep within the Catholic bureaucracy possibly lead our sage general public astray?jean-baptiste.jpg

It seems that despite the usual crowd-pleasing elements of presenting big, influential religions as always bad and artists as always noble and good, The Da Vinci Code presents an idea that people are apparently desperate to believe–that Jesus Christ was fallible, just like them. It’s the same psychological reflex that compels us to wallow in the lurid slop poured out daily by newspapers, magazines and broadcast media. It drives us to scour away the sheen of politicians and celebrities to uncover their human weaknesses, and to skewer family members or co-workers through cruel gossip.

Dan Brown and Ron Howard (from Opie to Opus!) have expertly manipulated this reflex to plant seeds of doubt and confusion in us. This has made us distrust the church and perhaps question our faith in a potentially false Savior, and not surprisingly the antidote for this confusion is to read the book or see the movie so we can explore our feelings about it. In the process, our tithes will fill various Hollywood bank accounts and ensure more untruths in The Da Vinci Code 2: Cross Without Nails.

It doesn’t make sense that anyone who believes in and accepts Christ would want to see him denigrated in such a way, and it similarly doesn’t make sense why anyone who doesn’t believe in or accept him would accept a story based on such a contrived plot element. This is simply a bad premise for a movie or a book, and if you’re interested in this subject matter I suggest making a journey to your local library. I’m sure they’ll have some excellent non-fiction studies of Christ, Da Vinci and even Opus Dei, if you’re the excessively curious type.

If anyone agrees or disagrees, please comment here or in The Issue Box. Also, if you have any book recommendations we could all use a refreshing blast of truthful knowledge!

United View

united93.jpgPop culture writer Whitney Matheson recently posted this question on her excellent Pop Candy blog:  Will you see "United 93"? To quote the latest single by Beck, hell yes!

I left a comment on Whitney’s blog that I would like to now reproduce here. It succinctly explains why I’m willing to invest my time, emotion and money to see this film:

Yes, I will see it. When this event happened I obsessed for weeks over it and tried to imagine the details of what happened on that flight. Though no movie can tell the complete story, I’m counting on "United 93" to bring me closer to the experience so I can work through the grief I still feel for all the victims of 9/11. I know that movies tend to present complicated events in neat little packages, but they more than make up for this shortcoming by letting the viewer experience things that would otherwise be impossible.

At first I questioned whether it was right for a studio to earn profits from 9/11 stories, but then I had a thought: Terrorists attack a Western capitalist country they perceive as a threat to their ideology. In the short term, the Western capitalist country is damaged emotionally and economically. Later, this country begins to heal emotionally by making and watching films about the attack. The films make billions worldwide and contribute to the economic recovery. The terrorists lose again!

It’s strange to consider that Emma and Allison might watch this one day from a distance, the same way that I watch movies and documentaries about historical events that occurred 30 or 40 years ago. I wonder what they’ll think? Will the emotional impact still be as great?

I imagine it will. Consider the deep scars left on most of us by the Holocaust. Even people who weren’t even close to being conceived during WWII are dealing with that immense tragedy on some level. Some take it seriously and find solace in gaining knowledge, some joke about it to escape the guilt and pain, some even deny that it ever happened to better serve their modern agendas of hate.

The same is already true of 9/11, and we can expect that to continue into the future. But I lived through it, and I will always remember all the images, stories and feelings. And those experiences are what I’ll teach to my children and their children.

Where Does A 180-Minute Gorilla Sleep?

Why, at Universal Pictures, of course! According to this report on Rottentomatoes.com, Peter Jackson delivers another epic with King Kong. With a 3 hour running time and a $207 million price tag, this movie has grown beyond original expectations. Described as "a masterpiece" by the suits at Universal, the fact that they don’t seem a bit nervous about recouping their money on this release is a sign that they aren’t just slinging monkey poop.

Since Jackson has already lost his indie cred in the wake of Lord of the Rings, he doesn’t seem to care that Kong might transform him hopelessly into the guise of a bigtime Hollywood director. Personally, I think this is the jolt that might save the American movie industry from drying up creatively. I’m impressed with the way Jackson has made the transition out of the indie realm directly into big budget blockbusters while maintaining a large degree of his distinctive style.

I’m hoping that more indie directors follow his lead, and that the studios nurture this new talent instead of continuing to strangle all creativity with their committees and focus groups. And if you think that Hollywood can never make movies as good as the independent releases, remember that many of the great films of the 70’s were made within the studio system. Low budget is workable for character-driven dramas and comedies, but some artistic visions can only be brought to the screen with the financial support of the studios.

Lets hope that Peter Jackson’s successes lead to more masterpieces by more visionary directors working in the major film industries around the world.

Return Of The King Kong


King_Kong_1871_medium.jpgHave you seen the trailer for Kong? It looks amazing! From what I can tell, Peter Jackson has stayed true to the original. If Jackson has done this right (and I think he has), he’ll be working in Spielberg territory but managing the stories, characters & FX much more adeptly. Look how far he’s come in a short time while maintaining his own original style. I can’t tell a Spielberg movie from anyone else’s these days, but Jackson stands out from the crowd!


Let’s hope he stays the heck away from Tom Cruise and other moldering Hollywood fruitcakes.

This Sith Is Bananas

OK, Episode 3 has been out for a while now and everyone has had their say, so I might as well throw in my 2 credits:  It was extremely fast-moving, entertaining and a nice bridge between the prequels and all that follows (story wise, that is). For purposes of criticism, I like to separate all the Star Wars movies into three categories: 



  1. Episode 4 is a classic movie that resides in it’s very own category, and it will always stand above all the others.

  2. The Sequels — Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back is the obvious favorite here, while Episode 6 suffers from severe pacing problems, repetitiveness and incurable cuteness, and is redeemed only by the grandeur of Anakin’s redemption.

  3. The Prequels — They’re all too technologically advanced to be compared fairly with The Sequels, but Episode 3 is definitely the most focused and interesting of the bunch.

The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of emotional impact at the end, which was partially caused by the fact that I never liked Anakin enough to care what happens to him. The other problem was that Lucas fumbled again with the love story and reduced Padme to a wax figure staring out the window. At this point, rather than contributing yet another lengthy and rambling fanboy review to the noisy Web, here are my short lists of pros and cons:


CONS


–Lack of emotional impact toward the end because no sympathy was
generated for Padme. She just stared out the window the whole time!
Should’ve shown her doing something for her “baby”, or maybe C3PO
could’ve thrown her a shower (or thrown her IN the shower)!


–I usually don’t mind the bad acting in Star Wars, but it
almost sunk a few scenes here. Mostly the Anakin/Padme scenes and the
Windu/Palpatine duel.


–Darth Vader screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” was extra cheesy.


–Grievous busts out a window with his sizzle stick thing, yet
the same windows withstand the heat of re-entry when they crash.


–As in the first 2 prequels, the humor was flat and some of the
robot voices were too silly.


–Contrary to what we’ve seen before, now all of a sudden R2D2
can hop out of spaceships unaided.


PROS


–Best effects and coolest hardware ever!


–Moved quickly and tied things up perfectly.


–Yoda & R2 kicked butt superbly.


–The opening battle, Yoda’s battle with the Sith Lord in the
congressional chamber & the Big Showdown in lava.


–Best Dramatic Impact–the sequence where all Jedi are
being exterminated one by one.


–Had 3 good villains: Palpatine/Sith Lord, Grievous &
Anakin/Vader.


–Spaceships and snippets of dialog from Episode 4.


–Chewbacca’s back!


–A quadriplegic is set on fire and left to die–how non-PC is
that???  Evil poking.


Now, what’s your prediction for how long it’ll be before Lucas allows an Episode 7?