Seven (Brief) Movie Reviews

Christy and I take a mini-vacation to Houston without kiddos every year between Christmas and New Year's. One of the hallmarks of that trip is catching up on movies-- some of which have some Oscar buzz to them (nominations will be released Thursday January 15). This year on our weekend the two of us saw four movies together, I went solo for one, and then we accompanied my mom and her six grandsons for two more. So between December 27 and the 30th I saw seven movies. By the end of it I was about as fried as a movie lover can be. And we were unable to see Oscar contenders like Selma or American Sniper or Inherent Vice due to the maddening Hollywood practice of releasing January movies in late December in "select markets" for award consideration. I'll knock those out this weekend as the boyos return to Bay City for an MLK weekend with their cousins. For everyone who kept up with the endless Facebook check-ins at cinemas in and around Houston, here, in no particular order, are your long-awaited reviews.

There may be spoilers here, so be warned..

This movie was written and directed by Chris Rock. I am not a big fan of comedies-- movie or TV-- but Christy is, and she really wanted to see this. I am glad we did it. It is hilarious. This is by no means a wholesome, PG, family friendly movie-- it has some raunchy laughs in it. But there are also great observations about reality TV/celebrity culture, Hollywood decision making, race, and dealing with substance dependency. I loved the relaxed tone of the movie, and the coolness of Rosario Dawson's character. Chris Rock is an important voice in our society as a thinker and critic, and I hope he gets more opportunities to share his wisdom with us.

This was my favorite movie of the weekend, and my pick for Best Actor, Michael Keaton (Boyhood, which I reviewed previously here, will win Best Picture). I love Michael Keaton, and I am thrilled for him to have this amazing role. It's about an actor trying to reinvent himself beyond the multi-chapter franchises that made him world-famous (Top Five has a similar thread). But whether we are actors or not we all go through life phases that radically change us and make us re-evaluate who we are. The careers of pro athletes end; singles become married and have kids; children become caregivers of aging parents. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu could win for Best Director, as great as Boyhood is. The entire movie is one complete shot-- no edits. Amazing work.

An amazing, Oscar worthy performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. This is the story of brilliant English mathematicians during WWII who invented a machine to decode German military plans. If this were a spy movie that would be a terrific story on its own. But the setting is irrelevant to the overall theme of lessening, and ultimately ruining, a person's life based on their private lives. Alan Turing, who was gay, was convicted of homosexual acts in the 1950s, sentenced to chemical castration, and committed suicide shortly thereafter. Fifty years after his death his heroism during WWII was brought to light, the Prime Minister apologized for his "appalling treatment," and Queen Elizabeth granted him a posthumous pardon. There is a powerful message here for us all, regardless of our political or theological positions, about treating every person as a child of God, worthy of respect and honor.

Another Christy selection, and she was right again. This movie, surprisingly directed by Tim Burton (no strange monsters of frightening makeup; it sort of reminded me of Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can-- set fifty years (ish) ago, featuring big names, but not a typical larger than life production for A-listers), tells the story of Margaret Keane, whose husband took credit for her work for many years. It's a great story of a woman overcoming societal barriers to share her gifts with the world. As always, Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz are spot-on.

(This was the double feature with Mom and the six grandsons). 
I never saw the first two Nights at the Museum, so I was completely lost. Ha! Seriously, the kids liked it, so OK. Heartfelt stuff at the end with Robin Williams, who died earlier in the year. I liked Into the Woods, but after too many dark cinemas in a short time period I was worn out. Fell asleep several times. It's good stuff, but I was suffering from saturation point-- remember that from high school science? There is a point where the stuff no longer will dissolve in a mixture. My brain was unwilling to take in anything else. I was done.

This really should be a separate review and that may happen at some point, but honestly for now I just want to get this off of my head and forget I saw the thing in the first place. I saw Exodus by myself, and Christy can thank me for that. In short, this is a stupid, pointless movie. I went in with very low expectations, and I was prepared to be angered if Ridley Scott destroyed the biblical story. He did that, but that's not why this movie is stupid and pointless. Hey, Noah changed the story from Genesis and I actually liked that movie. You want to "adapt" a Bible story? Go ahead. But do not fundamentally change the story and characters into something they are not. I liked Gladiator, but Moses was not a general. He did not train the Hebrews in warfare tactics. Ridley Scott does not give interviews, and the DVD commentaries I have heard from him are egotistical and self-serving, but I still have questions:
1. Why portray God as a kid? Where did that idea even come from? Is it a reference to Isaiah 9:6 or 11:6? Because those texts were written centuries after the Exodus occurred, so they should have no impact on the story. Christians have read them from a perspective of anticipation of Jesus, who was born as a child, but here? Two thousand years before Jesus? What the heck?
2. And why do Moses and God-kid go on this mission in the first place? Never once does Christian Bale say to Pharaoh, "Let my people go." So why is he risking himself in such a way? The Plagues do not come upon the Egyptians because of Pharaoh's stubbornness, but because God-kid doesn't approve of Moses' military tactics.
3. Moses, although he is sent by God on this mission, never actually prays to God-- and neither does anyone else-- even the ones God is trying to save. The Hebrews follow Moses because he is the fruition of a prophecy, not because he is commissioned by God. Anyway, when Moses is frustrated with God (happens A LOT) he screams at nothing. Just shouts. Then God-kid shows up, or sometimes does not, and almost taunts Moses. The best thing about these shouting sessions is Joshua, played by Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad. He is sort of a lieutenant in Moses' army, and he often overhears the shouting from Moses to God. Only he can't see God-- he only sees Moses shouting at nothing. So he thinks: "We are following a crazy person. This is insane." His face, shown over and over, looking like this, reflects what I was thinking during the 2 1/2 hours:
What the heck am I doing here? Can I get a refund?
Yes, the movie looks good on the big screen, so maybe ask to watch it muted-- or better yet catch it on Blu Ray on your big screen in a couple of months. Make sure you rent-- do not buy. Would non-Jews or Christians dig it as an action movie? I don't think so. It's not good enough. You have to invest in the characters enough to care-- even those seeking to be set free from bondage. The Exodus of the Bible has to be a movie every director would love to make-- incredible visuals and amazing stories and characters-- but they are all wasted here. Not because the movie does not follow the book-- because no one involved fully appreciates what is at stake when God takes notice of our lives and chooses to act in powerful, liberating ways. Then we respond with celebration and joy, also missing from this movie. What a waste.