Christian film critics review Munich, Fun with Dick & Jane, Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Producers, Rumor Has It …, and Casanova. Plus, further reviews of Brokeback Mountain, Memoirs of a Geisha, and King Kong.
posted 01/06/2006 |
He's talking about Israel in the wake of 1972's Palestinian terror attack that resulted in the deaths of eleven Israeli Olympians. A team of covert agents is out to kill the eleven men responsible for planning those attacks. The mission seemed like a gesture of righteous anger at first. But the violence is taking a heavy toll on him and his teammates. Bodies are piling up on both sides. Has he lost his innocence? He pleads with the team leader, "That's my soul. If I lose that, I lose everything."
The questions at the heart of this film echo those that drive David Cronenberg's A History of Violence and Michael Haneke's Caché. Is it possible for a man to carry out violence and remain blameless? What is he to do if his loved ones are victims? Retaliate? Or refuse to employ the same tactics as their enemies? How can peace be achieved when the enemy refuses to put down their arms? And what provoked such hatred in the first place?
Munich, which may be Steven Spielberg's most challenging film, brings up all of those questions—and more, all of them relevant in the world today, as the U.S. wrestles with its future in Iraq, and as Israel and Palestine careen between promising gestures and exchanging painful blows.
It's a soul-searching film that offers no easy answers. My full review is at Looking Closer.
"The issues America is dealing with now are issues that Israel and other nations have dealt with for a long, long time," writes Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies), "and while we may or may not agree with Spielberg's take on the matter, it is to his credit that he has asked us to address our current concerns by taking a step back and looking at the bigger historical picture." He cautions viewers that Munich "has a strange habit of linking sex and violence and dwelling on that link."
Steven Isaac (Plugged In) has some trouble with Spielberg's method. He writes that the director "drives home the point that if you sink to the depraved and despicable level of your enemies, you gradually become them. And he points out that violence can prompt further violence. … Spielberg specializes in revealing how horrific war is, but he rarely hints at how necessary it sometimes is. Munich doesn't much aid the debate over whether Avner and his team have sunk to an unacceptable level. Rather, the film intentionally muddies it." Isaac also notes "huge doses of sexualized violence" which serve "titillation, not enlightenment. Obscenity, not observation. And shock, not entertainment."
But Kenneth R. Morefield (Christian Spotlight) says, "Munich is a skillfully made, emotionally earnest examination of an important subject. Because of that, and because of its pedigree, people will think it is both better and worse than it actually is. I want to be upfront about its strengths, since my concerns about its limitations don't mean that I think this is anything less than a high caliber film."
After a close examination, he concludes by comparing Spielberg's sentiments with those of another famous entertainer—Shakespeare. "Henry V ends up declaring that no man can take moral responsibility for another: every man's duty is the king's, but every man's conscience is his own. Munich? It proposes that mortgaging your conscience to make and preserve a home may not morally bankrupt you, but it is still a heavy price to pay."
"Munich is both timely and timeless as it deals with issues of violence and revenge," says Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus). "It doesn't attempt to give any easy answers. It does make us ask questions though—not only in a theoretical sense, but also to apply those questions to the world and nation in which we live. Munich will certainly be toward the top of my favorites list this year."
Cliff Vaughn (Ethics Daily) says, "Beyond terrorism and killing, beyond ideology and doubt, the thought that home has a price makes Munich a worthy entry in the master storyteller's oeuvre. Not since E.T. more than 20 years ago has Spielberg so tapped a basic desire for his cinematic exploration."
Mainstream critics are debating the film's merits, but most rate it as one of the year's best.
Is the Jim Carrey/Téa Leoni version of Fun with Dick & Jane as funny as the George Segal/Jane Fonda version released in 1977? Apparently not.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) compares this film to the original and says it "seems less interested in mocking middle-class materialism than in pointing fingers at the corporate and perhaps even political leaders who have let the middle class down. Rather than encourage the viewer to question his or her own desire to have it all, the movie offers a form of vicarious revenge." He concludes that the film "is too glib to be effective social commentary, and it isn't especially funny either."
"Fun is full of missed opportunities and wrong turns," writes Christopher Lyon (Plugged In). He notes that Carrey's brand of humor feels "forced" into the movie, and that Dick and Jane's descent into illegal activity seems implausible. He concludes, "After setting us up to see the emptiness of Dick and Jane's materialistic lifestyle, director Dean Parisot and screenwriter Judd Apatow do nothing to suggest a need for an alternative."
"Surprisingly unfunny at times, the film is, at its best, mildly amusing," says Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk), "but its own sense of moral righteousness comes across as mean-spirited."
But Sherri McMurray (Christian Spotlight) calls it "the most hilarious slap-stick that I've seen in a while. … The funny scenes were belly laughers, and the sprinkling of drama was just right." She notes a different sort of problem: "Due to some sexual references and profanity, parents must use caution."
Mainstream critics aren't having much fun with the film.
Despite the return of Steve Martin and the addition of Eugene Levy, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 isn't impressing Christian film critics.
"Great comedic talent … a bevy of cute kids, and a funny set-up can't camouflage a less-than-stellar story," writes Carolyn Arends (Christianity Today Movies). "Cheaper 2 has a script as tired as, well, your average parent. … [It] suffers from too many characters and too few fresh ideas. Its heart is in the right place, but a reliance on gimmicks and sentiment undermines the story."
But Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says the movie "isn't as bad as it's being labeled." He adds, "For those who enjoy their pro-family messages wrapped in warm-hearted Hallmark moments, the movie delivers." But he does challenge Cheaper on several points, asking why director Adam Shankman "felt compelled to fixate on Carmen Electra's cleavage and curves? Or why he included a strident abuse of Jesus' name? Or why … he decided to gloss over glaring cases of kids behaving badly? It just doesn't seem to fit."
Meanwhile, Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) is much more positive about the film. "Cheaper 2 has plenty of warmth and heart among its funny shticks. Though Steve Martin and some of the others are downright goofy at times, the movie's silliness is tempered by carefully constructed moments of relatable drama and adventure."
Patty Moliterno (Christian Spotlight) says, "I saw this movie with my husband and 5 children (ages 18 to 1). Afterwards, we all were of the same opinion. We wasted our time and money."
Plenty of mainstream critics also feel they paid too much for Cheaper.
Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane reprise their famous Broadway roles in the big screen adaptation of the stage musical The Producers, which was adapted from a previous movie from the bizarre imagination of Mel Brooks. Susan Stroman, who directed the Broadway stage version, also directed this film version.
Does Brooks' outrageous story, which follows a Broadway producer and his accountant as they assemble a misguided musical about Hitler, still get laughs?
Russ Breimeier (Christianity Today Movies) writes, "The real reason to see this film is the addition of the musical numbers—catchy and clever songs, written in the style of classic 1950s Broadway musicals like Singin' in the Rain or Guys and Dolls." He explains why he prefers the remake to the original: "The original cast a hippie as the lead in Springtime for Hitler, but hippie humor isn't as funny today. Instead, let's just say that another character is cast in that role, and it helps explain why the musical ends up a hit instead of a flop. From there, the movie goes even further than the original, offering some funny new twists. The downside to all this is that the 1968 film served as a morality play in that our two conniving producers get their comeuppance. In this film, it's a little more 'all's well that ends well.'"
Bob Smithouser (Plugged In) was let down. "It was very disappointing to find the sexual content in Brooks' story cranked way up here—especially the playful treatment of homosexuality by flamboyantly gay characters. The audience found the steady flow of crass innuendo hysterical. For me it spoiled an otherwise colorful, artfully done film."
Keith Howland (Christian Spotlight) praises "good music and performances," but he finds the content "so besmirched with sexual (and homosexual) 'humor' that the whole production is degraded beyond pardon. It is a shame that a number of genuine belly laughs must suffer alongside such tastel