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Bruce Almighty 映画評論

Bruce Almighty

starring Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall,Catherine Bell Lisa Ann Walter, Steven Carell, Nora Dunn, and Tony Bennett as himself

written by Steven Koren, Mark O’Keefe and Steve Oedekerk

directed by Tom Shadyac

This movie was recommended to my be a friend in Canada months ago and it took until now for it to come out on VHS video in Japan and for me to watch it.  I usually feel just so-so about Jim Carrey.  He is often too annoying and manic for my taste, but sometimes I like his work.  Bruce Almighty is an example of the latter.  For the first time since seeing Steve Oedekerk’s comedy Kung Pow (in which he also starred) last year I laughed out loud.  (Incidentally, Steve Oedekerk is one of the writers of this script.)

Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a human features field reporter for Channel 7 Eyewitness News in Buffalo, New York who yearns to move upward in his profession to occupy the prestigious news anchor desk, which will be vacated soon.  He feels gravely, unfairly stymied in his dream, and ends up cursing God  -  a common enough phenomenon among humans  -  in his frustration after the job is awarded to a colleague for whom he has little respect.  God responds to his curses and challenges.  He calls Bruce on his pager and invites him to a meeting.  Bruce goes to the appointed place and time and the Almighty appears in the form of Morgan Freeman impersonating a janitor.  Unremarkable, like George Burns playing God as an old man in a baseball cap.  God transfers all His omnipotent powers to Bruce to let Bruce have a go at the affairs of God.  Of course, he can’t.  After recovering from his initial disbelief, Bruce sets about with typical American self-centered hedonism using his new powers mostly for his own personal benefit while the world descends into more than its usual chaos around him.  By the end of the film Bruce is appropriately humbled, and God re-takes control  -  or, rather, not “control,” but His place in the scheme of things  - once more.

One point the movie makes is that God does not have control over our affairs because of the operation of Free Will among us.  Of course, this is a centuries old lesson that remains chronically under-appreciated and misunderstood.  George Burns made the same point two decades ago in Oh, God.  He’s not big on miracles, he said.  They get in the way of things, and there’s usually too much to clean up afterwards.

About prayer, most people pray selfishly.  We are taught (or think that we are taught) to pray for what we desire.  Or, we pray for assistance  -  assistance out of situations we put/have found ourselves in, or for assistance in an endeavor for which we have failed to properly prepare ourselves, etc.  It would not/does not surprise me that most people think of prayer as asking God for those things that they want/need.  This has always struck me as precocious selfishness, because God already knows what we want/need  -  even better than we do ourselves  -  so it is more than insulting to spend time asking Him for it.  But that is in fact a recognized form of prayer.  There are other forms of prayer, as well.  Off the top of my head I can think of a few of them:  prayers of thanksgiving (benediction); prayers of praise (doxology); prayers of intervention and intercession; and more.

I thought of other movies featuring God.  Not just Jesus movies like Mel Gibson’s recent The Passion of the Christ, Norman Jewison’s Jesus Christ, Superstar, or Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ, but movies like Oh, God, starring George Burns, and Dogma, starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Even the James Stewart classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, which most people probably think of as a Christmas movie only.

One final note about this movie:  when my brothers and I were in elementary school in Guelph we spent a lot of time watching Buffalo’s Channel 7 on TV.  We watched The Commander Tom cartoon show daily.  And, I still remember the weatherman, Irv Weinstein.  I guess both of them are long since retired now.

Grant (http://www.live-english.com/ )

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Hulk 映画評論


starring Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliot, Josh Lucas and Nick Nolte

written by John Turman, Michael France and Jones Schamus

directed by Ang Lee

Movies made from comic books are nothing but unmitigated garbage and this is another one.  I have made this complaint before about other movies made from what were originally comic books (then TV shows before finally coming out as films):  Superman; Batman; Spiderman; Spawn; X-Men; Dark Angel; Inspector Gadget; Richie Rich; and more.  I keep hoping that one will be an exception and might actually be good, and so I continue to rent them on video, hoping.  But I was disappointed once more.  This one is based on the Marvel Comic created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  At 138-minutes it is just too long.

I remember the TV show from the 1970s, “The Incredible Hulk,” starring Bill Bixby (Eddie’s Father) as scientist Bruce Banner, and body-builder Lou Ferigno as his giant, green nemesis, the Hulk.  Looking back I guess even the TV show was trash.  But I was a kid then, stupid and not very discriminating about anything at all  -  least of all TV shows.

The premise for this science fiction tale is good enough to make a good story out of it.  But instead the filmmakers want to re-create some kind of animation, or animation effects on celluloid.  That never works for me, but I know a couple of (British) fellows who love this kind of movie.  They are animation afiionados, and they appreciate the computer graphics used in this film and others like it.  I do not. This film especially over-uses the split-screen effect.  Several times, the screen was subdivided into several different frames at once so that we could see simultaneous action in different locations.  I didn’t dig it but, again, my friends did.  There is some manner of comfort in knowing that I have friends that I can predict and depend on, even if it is to disagree with.

Grant http://www.live-english.com/

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About Schmidt 映画評論

About Schmidt

starring Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Len Carion, Howard Hesseman and Kathy Bates

written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor

directed by Alexander Payne

Based on a novel by Louis Begley, I thought this was an excellent film and Jack Nicholson did a good job of acting the pathos of human life as a retired person in America today.  I can only imagine about the life that he is acting.  But it may hit a much more poignant mark with older people like my parents and their generation.  The movie is set in Nebraska and features a lot of scenes of the recently-retired and widowed insurance company actuary, Warren Schmidt, traveling around these awful, bleak, flat prairie landscapes in the motor home that he and his wife bought for their retirement fun.  I thought the opening scenes of the film were especially depressing, and successfully set the tone of the movie by showing the cement-and-steel modern office skyline of downtown Omaha, Nebraska rising out of the flat prairie.  Cold, gray and dull.  And this is Warren Schmidt’s life  -  cold, gray and dull.  That does not mean that his life is not a good life, nor question that he is an intelligent, honorable and worthwhile man.  But at the end of his career when he has a lot of time on his hands Schmidt has to face the big issues of the meaning and value of his life, and I think in his mind he finds himself coming up short.

These are questions that all of us naturally have from the time of adolescence, and we may think that we resolve them satisfactorily by the time we move into the busy, responsibility-laden life of adults.  But that is probably only a cosmetic cover-up:  one of the polite fictions of society that allows us to get on with the business of making money and paying taxes.  I understand the fictions that we live with in society.  But I do not think they are ‘polite’ at all.  As working adults and parents we are so busy that we can easily put aside further contemplation of those big questions for decades.  Maybe we even welcome being allowed to put them aside.  But then retirement comes, pushes us out of the activities that occupied us for so long and we discover the Big Questions again, still there, waiting for us to come home to brood on them again.

In the case of Schmidt, whose wife suddenly and unexpectedly dies early in his retirement, he has to face the Big Questions again even without the companionship of his wife.  A terrible thing:  the loneliness of the human condition  -  in Omaha, too.  But this is why About Schmidt is such a great human drama.

As a hobby, Schmidt decides on a whim to sponsor a needy child in Africa through an organization he discovered on television.  His information package about the program arrives in the mail and he is encouraged to write to the child, talk about himself, etc.  So he does.  A 66-year-old man writing to a five-year-old African boy is hilarious, the great comic element of the film, but also Schmidt’s salvation in the end.  With his wife gone and his failure to find meaning in his life, his foster child becomes proof of his worth, hence his salvation.  The movie ends with Schmidt sitting at his desk at home shedding all the cathartic tears that he kept inside throughout the film.  It’s sweet.

Some great lines and scenes: in his first letter to Ndugu in Tanzania, Schmidt starts writing a normal, conversational letter. But within moments all his anger about his life, his wife, and his daughter’s dopey boyfriend come pouring out.  He goes into intimate details of his marriage and complains about is wife, “Who is this old woman who lives in my house?”  After his wife’s passing, Warren rediscovers the freedom of a bachelor and tries it out by urinating on his bathroom floor  -  postmortem defiance of his wife, Helen.  There’s a little boy in every man.

There is a great collection of weird characters:  the boyfriend Randall Hertzl (Dermot Mulroney) sporting a 1970s mullet haircut; Kathy Bates, the libidinous, uninhibited divorcee; and, Howard Hesseman, the gregarious divorced man who still eats at his ex’s house.   When I saw Howard Hesseman I recognized his face but forgot his name.  “Hey, it’s the WKRP From Cincinnati guy!  Dr. Johnny Fever.  Boy has he got old.”

Grant (http://www.live-english.com/)

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The Life of David Gale 映画評論

The Life of David Gale

starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet, Laura Linney, Gabriel Mann,

Matt Craven, Leon Rippy and Rhoma Mitra

written by Charles Randolph

directed by Alan parker

produced by Alan Parker and Nicolas Cage

When I saw the credits of this film I instantly wondered if producer Nicolas Cage was the actor Nicolas Cage.  Are the names spelled differently?  I don’t know, but I don’t think so.  Chances are, this producer is the actor guy.  Good for him, too.  Getting more into the business off the camera. There is less fame and recognition there, but more power.

This is a good film on which to do such a thing, too  -  I mean be responsible behind the camera:  a strong performance by Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects, K-Pac, The Shipping News) and Kate Winslet (Titanic, Enigma, Smoke).  Set in the State of Texas and featuring the maximum-security penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas (where the state’s death row and death chamber are found), The Life of David Gale centers on the socially contentious issue of the death penalty in America.

David Gale is a brilliant, renowned and reputable Austin university philosophy professor and anti-death penalty campaigner who falls afoul of the law and ends up on death row himself for the murder of a female colleague (Laura Linney) from his pro-life organization headquarters.  Talk about irony, it is a dramatic turn-around for a prominent anti-execution activist.  But he is silent about his motives until almost the very end, when he invites investigative journalist Bitsey Bloom (Kate Winslet) for a series of interviews.  The murder for which Gale was convicted makes no sense, and in short order Bitsey decides she has discovered a conspiracy to frame the anti-death penalty professor.  She has, and she finds videotape evidence of it, too.  But too late.  Gale is executed before the exonerating videotape can be shown to authorities.  What a tragic boon to the anti-death penalty cause.  Finally, undeniable proof that the capital punishment system indeed does not work, and truly innocent people are in fact wrongly put to death by the State.

But the big twist, the real conspiracy is even cleverer.  It turns out that David Gale conspired with others to frame himself   -  making the death by suicide of his terminally ill friend Constance Harraway deliberately look like a murder perpetrated by him for the sole purpose of forcing the police to charge him with murder, forcing the district attorney to seek a death penalty prosecution, and turning him into an innocent  martyr for the very purpose of serving the anti-death penalty cause.  Tres bizarre.  But a brilliant twist, I think, and well executed (no pun intended).  Gale knows how the police and prosecutor operate, so it is not big problem for him to set the scene and provide the forensic and circumstantial evidence to frame himself.  Why would he do such a thing?  It is unconvincing to say the least that devotion to the anti-death penalty cause is sufficient explanation.  More likely, he was despondent over the disintegration of his marriage and separation from his only son and that these things, in combination with his devotion to his social mission lead him to this sacrifice.  These are strange days, indeed.

Grant http://www.live-english.com/

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Dreamcatcher 映画評論

Dream catcher

starring Morgan Freeman, Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, Damian Lewis, Timothy Olyphant, Tom Sizemore and Donnie Wahlberg

written by William Goldman and Lawrence kasdan

directed by Lawrence Kazdan

This is another horror movie based on a book by Stephen King.  But when I rented the video I did not know it was a Stephen King movie.  If I had, I would have let it alone, because Stephen King is such a lousy writer, and movies made form his awful books are usually awful movies.  But the leaders, or video clips that I saw advertising it on other videos made it look pretty good.  Also, I was attracted by names like Morgan Freeman (Seven Deadly Sins, Deep Impact), Tom Sizemore (Saving Private Ryan), and Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers).  Great actors.  But a mediocre story and mediocre writing landed them in a poor movie. But I do not doubt that because of Stephen King’s (undeserved) reputation, the movie probably is/was a popular success.

I suppose we can say that many writers habitually follow a pattern in their work.  It’s only natural.  Woody Allen, for example, typically writes/directs comedies about middle aged men caught up in sexual/romantic angst.  (I think it used to be funny, but not any more, coming from a man approaching 70.)  With a few exceptions, Stephen King stories habitually feature a close-knit group of adult men who share some childhood nightmare.  In adult life, that nightmare  -  which each of them thought they had left behind or cast away forever  -  returns to haunt them again.  They resist the monster, or the ghost, or whatever horrific medium King is using.  Some die in the struggle, but one always survives.  These stories are like morality plays, but they are really bad morality plays.  That is a pity, too, because Stephen King’s concepts usually have a good base which could be really scary if the stories were better written, or written by someone else.

In the case of Dreamcatcher, the medium of horror is space aliens, crash landed in the sate of Maine  -  King’s home state, where he sets many of his tales  -  in the winter time.  Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore lead a secret military unit into a firefight to kill them all before they escape the quarantine area.  (The aliens are malevolent.  They breed like the Alien in Ridely Scott’s Alien, and spread like a parasitic fungus.)  Four friends  -  Henry, Jonesy, Pete and Beave  -  are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, having gone to a cabin in the woods to celebrate their annual get-together.

The creature effects straddle the fence between good (I mean scary and grotesque) and pathetic.  Telepathy, precognition, mind-reading, etc. are favorite devices that King uses to move the story along, to provide explanatory flashback information, etc., and they are trotted out here once more.  Not very interesting for me, first, because that kind of device seems like a substitution for good writing more than a display of an interesting character trait; second, because it is not done well; and, third, because it is over-used to the point of boredom.

I don’t think of horror as high literature, or high culture.  But that seems to be Kking’s intention/goal/purpose  -  to make it so.

from Grant Piper's Piper paper March 2004


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Reign of fire 映画評論

Reign of Fire

starring Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey and Isabella Scorurco

written by Gregg Chabot, Kevin Peterka and Matt Breenberg

directed by Rob Bowman

Christian Bale was the young boy in Steven Speilberg’s Empire of the Sun.  More recently, he starred in the movie version of Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.  Currently, Bale has two movies on video and in the shops:  Reign of Fire, and another futuristic film, Revolution.

Reign of Fire is an apocalyptic vision of Earth’s future, set in the year 2020, that features dragons.  Basically, it is discovered that the mythical fire-breathing creatures of the past are not/were not mythical fancies of our pre-industrial/pre-literate/pre-technological forebears at all.  They really existed.  They were the true cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs, and the ash from the fires they caused with their napalm breath was the true cause of the Earth’s ice ages.  But once the animals had destroyed their entire potential food source, they went into long hibernation and are accidentally discovered and revived in modern times by a London underground construction crew.  (The movie was filmed in Ireland.)

Humankind’s best technology cannot stop the swarm of dragons.  They reproduce and multiply faster than can be explained.  They burn everything and then feed off the ashes.  Humans finally resort to our ultimate weapons  -  nukes  -  which only aggravates the problem rather than extinguishing it.  We are reduced to prehistoric living conditions.  Once again, the dragons’ food source is destroyed and they themselves are starving and once more on the brink of returning to long hibernation.  Discovering this, an intrepid group of human survivalists (led by an American, naturally) in northern England is preparing for a final assault on the original London nest.  It seems that destroying the dragons’ sole alpha male will spell the end of their reign of terror  -  pardon me, I mean fire.

Matthew McConaughey, whom you might recall from his co-starring role opposite Jodie Foster in Contact, inexplicably appears in northern England in a big tank, calling himself Van Zan of the Kentucky Irregulars.  Seeing a large tank approaching their fortified habitat, the British at first fear marauders.  But when they recognize Van Zan’s American accent one of them utters my favorite line from the movie, “Only one thing worse than a dragon:  Americans.”  I thought, “Right on!”

Fire seems to be the single biggest element of the story.  Everything is either burning or burned.  People, hair, clothes, are all scorched black.  Watching the film I expected that I should be experiencing an accompanying odor of soot, because that is how it looked.  I thought, this is either an American nightmare, or else it is life as usual in Britain.

Grant http://www.live-english.com/

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