7.01.2004

Movie Reviews

If you were going to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban [clips], you've probably already seen it. The reviews are no doubt true--this is the best of the lot, but that's thanks in part to Rowling as well. Her craft seems to have pinnacled at this point. While the charm of her characterization steadily plummetted from the first half of the first book, her plotting improved until this exemplar of her form. The book has plenty left to explore that the movie couldn't. Unless the script writers are genius for the next two, don't expect much. The dreaded disease of all popular authors--padding novels--infected book four and has deteriorated the series.

The Prisoner of Azkaban, convicted of murdering Harry's parents, has escaped and is now after Harry himself. The plot is a clockmaker's dream--precise in fit. The characters, while not without commendation, leave something to be desired. The mannerisms of Rupert Grint playing Ronald Weasley that were so adorable in the first movie have become mechanical, collapsed under required use instead of any sense of character necessity. Draco Malfoy, of course, is as flat as ever--possibly the flattest bad guy in Hollywood history. But speaking of baddies, I am impressed with Rowling's use of Professor Snape as a "bad" guy who thinks he's doing the right thing, operating within the scope of his knowledge and performing actual good deeds on Potter's behalf although even Snape is wearing thin. What saves these movies from utter character mundanity is the infusion of new blood, represented here by Professor Lupin (David Thewlis) and Professor Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson). Lupin is the main character draw, and Rowling does a fine job of "developing" the characters of our intrepid trio by having them understand the true nature of Lupin & Co. And Harry himself has an incredibly beautiful moment of revelation that sparks from Rowling's ingenuity of plot.

***

I didn't see The Notebook [clips] but I was offered the choice between it and Saved!. I like a good romance as much as the next guy, but the clips convinced me the actors were unconvincing--that is, I was convinced they were acting, not falling in love. Check out the clips.

***

The previews of Saved! [clips] offered such a tantalizing teaser that we opted for it instead of Spidey. I enjoy a good critique--especially through good characters and story. But like a typical Hollywood flick, they felt they had to pound all the interesting characters into the service of a moralizing plot.

I guess I have to tip more of my hand on ambiguity before further dissection. Evolution used to have two main theories: uniformism inherited from Darwinism and catastrophism handed down from Biblical stories but as well as from some geological evidence. These two ideas existed in opposition. Although William Hewell back in the nineteenth century argued for concessions, no one wanted that. It was the great divide from which Darwinists presided. When Luis Alvarez proposed a comet destroyed the dinosaurs, scientists were dubious since obviously change comes solely as a gradual process. Only when Steven Jay Gould proposed resolving the ambiguity with punctuated equilibrium did the tide begin to turn. Gould's theory as a synthesis of two competing theories is far more intriguing than either competing theory alone, and as it so happens, it appears to fit the available data better (unless I'm hopelessly outdated by the fast pace of ever-changing scientific discovery).

Likewise, once the ambiguities in the controversies between science/religion and fundamentalism/liberalism are resolved does theology become truly enthralling. Saved!, however, capitalizes on contrasting two competing philosophies with obvious tipping the scales toward liberal theology.

Hillary Fay, baddest of the conservative baddies, starts off rather fascinating as an ethical Christian survivalist, pulling the trigger on her handgun at the imaginary crotch of an unwanted male suitor's advance. But from here after, she plays the typical back-stabbing, bitchy high school prom-queen-wannabee. Hollywood king says, "She's getting too interesting. Where's that rolling pin?"

Mary, probably the most fascinating study, earnestly tries to convert her gay boyfriend by having sex with him--only to discover the effects of unprotected sex. When her boyfriend is carted off to a special home to ungay the boy, Mary is disillusioned by what she thought was God's will and vents at Hillary for holding a prayer meeting to cure Mary's former boyfriend.

But everyone not flat gets steamrolled when the Hollywooders want to build up to the typical moralizing climax. This may begin when Hillary decides to take matters into her own hands in order to get Mary and her Jewish friend expelled.

It's movie plots like this one that perpetuate the illusion that plot ruins character. Why not seriously question people's beliefs? That's what I hoped to see. Despite some well-done allusions to Biblical stories, used ironically against the modern-day Pharisees of religion to great effect, there is no theology. Yes, the term "Jesus" is frequently invoked, intoned and droned, ad nauseum, but no actual theology that supports why characters behave the way they do. In fact, as if to demonstrate this very point, the prom band calling itself Jesus Saves plays tunes from The Replacements (not that I mind). We never get to peer into the inner-workings of conservative beliefs versus liberal in any manner worth note. Conservatives play straw man to cardboard liberals who move ethically rather like the mechanical musicians at Chuck E. Cheese singing along to favorite pop tunes.

Consider, for instance, homosexuality, which they bring up but never address how and why competing beliefs compete. But maybe complexity is too difficult. The black and white of conservative Christianity so hated by the liberal kind is dispelled in a similar black-white manner.

Oh, if only I were somebody important enough or rich enough who could have lopped off the ending and done something interesting with it because the first half has some great moments, especially the scene when the auditorium is asked who wants to give their heart to the Lord and everyone turns to the one openly unsaved girl in the school. But until such time, we can only dream of a day when such ideologies compete on a level playing-field--or better yet, competing ideologies are synthesized into a theory that not only eliminates ambiguities but also puts people's brain gears into motion.

discuss this post at our messageboard