Saturday, February 28, 2004

A dissenting opinion on "The Passion of the Christ"

Roger Ebert gave "The Passion of the Christ" 4 stars. I can't really blame him for this rating: "The Passion of the Christ" is the kind of movie where any honest critic is entitled to his or her opinion. But look forward to my thoughts on "Kill Bill: Volume 2".

The Passion of the Christ (2004)

Vacuum Energy rating: no stars
Background information about "The Passion of the Christ" is available at The Internet Movie Database.

"The Passion of the Christ" is the story of the last hours of Jesus Christ, beginning with the Agony at Gethsemane and ending with his death upon the cross and Resurrection. This film is therefore not entirely intended to be viewed for entertainment, which makes a review superfluous for a large portion of its intended audience.

Assuming that you're willing to view this movie purely for entertainment purposes, it's outstanding characteristic is a highly-graphic non-stop beating of Jesus that lasts for nearly the entire length of the movie. From the moment Jesus is apprehended at Gethsemane, he is shackled, pushed around, punched, kicked, whipped, tortured, pummeled with stones and scourged left, right, up and down over and over until he's dead. The Roman soldiers who execute all of this punishment are for the most part giggling sadists who are having the time of their lives dishing out pain for a living. When I was buying my ticket at the theater, the salesperson warned me about the graphic violence and the Latin and Aramaic speech with English subtitles, but take it from me, when they start punishing Jesus you're not going to be too terribly offended by the choice of language.

On the other hand, Mel Gibson at least avoids the kind of psychological torture games that are so prevalent in our media culture. Nobody tries to feed Jesus portions of his own fried brain, brainwash Jesus into an assassin, or ask Jesus how many lights he sees. But the violence here is still influenced by the "males 18-35" demographic at times. At one point, for example, when Jesus has just been nailed to the cross, the Roman soldiers flip the cross over through the air to land Jesus on his face; this is the kind of violence that seems more inspired by "Jackass: the Movie" than by the Bible.

Another element of violence that is depicted in far too graphic a manner is the fate of Judas. In the first moments of the movie, we see Judas getting paid off for betraying Jesus to the authorities, and psychologically speaking it is all downhill from there. Judas seems to go insane from the thought of having betrayed Jesus, to the point where he seems to hallucinate children as horrible monsters who persecute him into comitting suicide (graphically, of course). As far as I'm concerned, this aspect of the movie alone earns it null-rating on my scale. I don't even want to think about what would happen if younger viewers are allowed to watch this movie.

Friday, February 27, 2004

You know it's time to upgrade your operating system when...

the Lord smites your just-finished review of "The Passion of the Christ" with a system crash.

Keep your eyes open for a new review (or two) later today.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

A correction

It has been reported that the proposed amendments that Senator Kerry could support in this context are with respect to the Massachusetts Constitution, not the Federal Constitution. My previous post on the topic was therefore incorrect.

On the other hand, given that the Massachusetts Supreme Court has already ruled out civil unions only the scope of my previous post seems to have been affected.

A thought about gay marriage

A post at makes an interesting point about gay marriage: Bush's position doesn't seem to differ from Kerry's position with respect to a constitutional amendment.

There is a difference between the two presidential candidate's positions. Bush's endorsement of a constitutional amendment seems sincere, while Kerry's seems completely phony. If you haven't been keeping up with current events, Senator John Kerry is a member of the party that has been perpetuating judicial activism, which is the sole reason for any type of gay marriage amendment to the constitution in the first place. If Senator Kerry feels that judicial activism has put the institution of marriage in the traditional sense in jeopardy, he's been voting with the wrong political party.

Friday, February 20, 2004

The game is afoot.

Another potential entry into the past president's game may be developing: Bush is Ford/Truman.

The Bush as Ford suggestion seems strained to me. Bush does not have a significant rival from his right for the 2004 election, for example. Bush as Truman might not be such a bad fit, given that they are two of the most pivotal foreign-policy presidents of post-war America. The fit breaks down when the two presidents are compared in more detail. A policy of "containment" regarding terror seems to have more in common with the status quo of American foreign policy than with the future. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein isn't even close to being in the same geopolitical league as Stalin or Hitler.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Underworld (2003)

Vacuum Energy rating: no stars
Background information about "Underworld" is available at The Internet Movie Database.

"Underworld" stylistically seems to resemble "The Matrix" to a large degree. We have glamorous people with guns and superpowers shooting it out with relatively unattractive bad guys with guns and superpowers. All of the action takes place in a big, unamed city with perpetual gloom and rain. People can blaze away at their enemies with machine gun fire in the subway and nobody seems to notice. On the other hand, the action in "Underworld" is largely between the vampires, who seem remarkably well adapted to the 20th century despite a mild case of the stupids, and the lycans (i.e. werewolves), who have, for the most part, failed to evolve past "generic bad guy" over the last 600 years.

Six centuries ago, the vampires killed the lycan leader Lucien and won a decisive victory over his lycan hordes. The war has continued, albeit in low intensity form, to the present day, when the ever-vigilant vampire warrior Selene continues to search for and destroy the few remaining lycans. Selene's suspicions are raised when she observes two lycans, easily identifiable by their sense of purpose and their clumsy attempt to blend into the crowd, hunting a specific human down the streets. Obviously, since the lycans haven't started to kill and maim at random, they must be up to something. Selene and her vampire allies investigate only to get into a firefight with the lycans, who are chucking new "ultraviolet rounds" at them. The stalked human escapes, but as Selene searches for him she stumbles across a lycan nest of a size unknown since the days of Lucien. It's all very sinister, and as subordinates report back to superiors, we get a sense of where the action is going.

The lycan leader is identified as a vaguely fascist villain by his attempts to impose discipline on the otherwise unruly lycans, as well as by frequently meeting with this german crime-doctor to consult over wierd medical experiments. The vampire leader, on the other hand, is also implicated as a secondary villain by his decadent interest in socializing with the vampire nobility, instead of hunting lycans like a good trooper, as well as by his expectation that our chief gun-toting heroine should be his vampire queen. As we might have expected, nobody believes Selene for a second, so conventional movie logic forces her to go "rogue" in an attempt to find the still-missing human suspect, ultimately to save the rest of the vampires when the lycan plan takes them by surprise.

Unfortunately for the lycans, their sinister plan breaks apart from the weight of movie cliches placed upon it. The lycans have been planning to turn the human they've been stalking into a vampire-werewolf with the combined powers of both. The vampire monarch Victor, awakend by Selene a century early in a desperate attempt to get somebody in authority to listen to her, turns out to have been manipulating everyone from the beginning. The vampires after 600 years of conflict from the Age of Gunpowder onwards finally invent a new "silver nitrate round". The lycans don't turn out to be evil, just misunderstood. The list goes on and on, but if you're looking for a movie with hot women in corsets with firearms, it probably doesn't matter.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

A conservative is doing something right when...

college reporters consider debunking your ideas in print to be "news". Somehow I have this feeling that David Brooks might have some evidence for his views on campus politics that the average Syracuse University student hasn't examined. Besides, isn't generating a giant herd of independently-thinking heads the whole point of campus indoctrination?

Politics aside, the whole concept of conducting spot "person on the street" interviews to determine the public's level of indoctrination seems fishy to me. Beyond the notion that propagandization is an instrument for influencing mass public opinion instead of a brainwashing technique for captive college students, it seems hard to believe that people would honestly admit their feelings of indoctrination to a newspaper reporter.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Solaris (2002)

Vacuum Energy rating: 2 stars
Background information about "Solaris" is available at The Internet Movie Database.

"Solaris" is a movie that is ultimately about the nature of human sanity. The planet Solaris is seen to be a great mysterious swirl of colored mists and energy arcs. But the crewmembers of a space station in orbit around it find that the planet can bring people from their pasts back to life. We see the process of confusion and pain at work in the character of Dr. Chris Kelvin, a psychiatrist sent to the station on a last desperate mission to negotiate with the crew, and his discovery that his wife Rheya, dead by suicide, can be reincarnated by his side.

At first, it appears that Kelvin is an honorable man with a normal life. His friend Dr. Gibarian, looking haggard and perhaps paranoid in the space station's final transmission, calls on Kelvin to come to Solaris as the one person whose experiences and background makes him trustworthy. Kelvin journeys to Solaris despite the danger, and yet, the shock of a dead wife brought back to life in bed beside him is enough to drive him into murdering her by casting her adrift in some kind of escape pod to asphyxiate. But she cannot die, and is brought back by Solaris to be with Kelvin again. Even another suicide by Rheya, whose strangely remote memories lead to her discovery that she is merely a memory made real (and suicidal because Kelvin remembers her as suicidal) only leads to another resurrection.

And yet, the movie seems to say that it is not really the rebirths of a loved one, even through the creation of copies of memories, that is maddening. Madness comes through the need to question and understand a process that is inherently incomprehensible by a human mind. Kelvin seems to confront this limit to the human need to apprehend when he sees Dr. Gibarian, himself now only a construct. When asked to explain why Solaris wants something from them, Dr. Gibarian can only help his friend by replying "Why do you think it has to want something? This is why you have to leave. If you keep thinking there's a solution, you'll die here." But we see Kelvin keep questioning, and eventually realizing that he must stay to understand even if it means dying there, even though he knows that the only conceivable rational thing to do is to leave a space station that he knows will be abandoned.

Of course, the little red pills that he starts taking to stay awake and guard Rheya might have had something to do with his mental state.

The other surviving crew are just as crazy or worse. The scruffy hacker Snow seems completely detached from his existence and moves only along the path of least resistance. On the other hand, the physicist Dr. Gordon seems obsessed with defeating the plans of Solaris and destroying the constructs, to the point of accidentally throwing the station into a death spiral through the misuse of "Higgs anti-boson" rays used to kill the constructs. And yet, they all can seem calm and rational, and even sensibly discuss their mental states and the situation on the space station. It's only that slip of saying or doing something way beyond reason in the most nonchalant way that makes their insanity apparent. Each character, in his or her own way, has slipped into the same trap that has ensnared Kelvin and part of what makes "Solaris" an intriguing movie is the process of discovering how that trap has irrevocably changed their lives.

The game continues

Another entry into the past presidents game has come to my attention, published in The Weekly Standard. Here is another case for the "Bush is Reagan" position.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Media Malfunction?

The big news of the week is the now infamous "wardrobe malfunction" during the halftime show of the Superbowl. Given the mass media's skewed perception of importance, even President Bush's reaction to the event was somehow deemed an essential characteristic of the story. The fact that President Bush claimed to have slept through the halftime show is apparently seen as some kind of bizarre reaction when compared to the media's standard obsessive-compulsive fixation on a subject. The notion that some heterosexual males are not going to flip out into an immediate sexual frenzy over the tiniest glimpse of female nudity is, for some godforsaken reason, a completely alien idea in the mass media culture. It's reminiscent of the "what happens here, stays here" ethic that shows up in advertising that compactly reduces all male travel motivations down to the mentality of a frat-house road trip.

Of course, if we tacitly assume that President Bush's reaction to a brief nipple-exposure is at all relevent, it's probably the case that he would have claimed to have slept through the halftime show whether he had watched it or not. No president wants to give the media the slightest tempation of doing what they did to President Clinton all over again. And every Republican politician knows that the tiniest deviation from a perfectly respectible sexual ethic gives rise to Democratic rumors about closet sexual psychopathy (ask Ken Starr about it). If this story is newsworthy at all, it's in the negative sense that the media tried to smear someone with it and failed.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Links, glorious links!

Vacuum Energy now has a links section down here. The first two on the list are friends and coworkers at Vacuum Energy headquarters, now tragically locked in blog-vs-blog combat.

I'm going to try to get another movie review posted later today, but don't expect something exciting or new unless I can track down a theater that's open at 3am.