It isn’t often the horror genre delivers with grandiose cinematography. It’s a marriage for which Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook is known. Park manages to turn splatter blood into art on screen, giving garbage content the illusion of grace and beauty. In his American movie debut, the Korean filmmaker delivers excellently what he does best. STOKER is a slasher film on a silver platter.
A shadow has fallen over young India Stoker’s 18th birthday. Her father has died in a horrific car accident, leaving the girl (Mia Wasikowska) and her mother (Nicole Kidman) alone in their sprawling and isolated home. At her father’s funeral, India meets her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), a mysterious young man she has never heard of in her life. He’s been traveling in Europe for the past 20 years and has returned upon the news of his brother’s death.
Things take a turn for the worse when India’s aunt stops by for a visit, seemingly shocked to see Charlie living in the house. A hasty goodbye, a worried look and she’s never heard from again.
There’s something special about India. She hears things that others do not hear and sees things others do not see. Her father was the only one who understood her, and she’s taken his death especially hard. Uncle Charlie seeks to fill this void in an intimate way neither India nor her mother would have ever expected.
STOKER is the story of a young girl’s coming of age, her mind influenced with perverted sadism and eroticism. Under her uncle’s influence, she blossoms from a peculiar girl in saddle shoes into a deadly, sadistic young woman, probably the woman her father would never have allowed her to become.
STOKER is truly beautifully shot, with stunning scenery and impeccable production values. It’s almost a shame it should not be seen. There are ethical problems throughout the movie, the greatest of which is an outright disregard for the value of human life. STOKER’s glorification of immorality and the sexualized nature of its sadistic acts call into question the filmmaker’s true motives.
Amidst recent events, the media is discussing the role mental illness plays in the mass killings. One would expect an aversion to releasing such a movie like STOKER at a time like this, yet here it is – glorifying violence, incest and perversion with reckless abandon. While there is more to STOKER than just sex and violence, its visual beauty and artistry is its only redeeming value.
STOKER has a strong humanist worldview that encourages its female protagonist to embrace, rather than resist, her dark thoughts and dark demons. STOKER doesn’t tell a story of triumph or one of overcoming the odds, but one of concession. Its story has no redemption.
Media-wise viewers will want to avoid STOKER. The amount of blood and guts is nothing really new, and the sexuality isn’t as graphic as it could be, but the glorification of such acts is shocking and not to be taken lightly.
HEAVEN’S DOOR tells the story of one family’s struggle to stay together in the little rural town of Vineyard.
After the death of her grandfather Nate, 12-year-old Riley (Movieguide® Grace Award winner Kirstin Dorn) learns her currently separated parents are getting a divorce. Riley encounters a doorway to Heaven and is given a special gift to heal. She hides this from her parents, especially her mother Julie (Charisma Carpenter) because Julie has lost her faith and is adamant about Riley not believing in something you can’t see or explain.
However, Riley’s grandmother, Ruth (Joanna Cassidy), still believes. She hopes that her daughter, Riley’s mother, will find her faith again before it’s too late. Ruth gives Riley wisdom on the purpose and stewardship of her healing gift. Riley’s continued use of her gift has unforeseen consequences. Also starring in HEAVEN’S DOOR are actors Dean Cain as Riley’s father Leo and Tommy Duane Lister as the neighbor.
HEAVEN’S DOOR is safe for the whole family with only a few minor questionable elements. The production quality could have been better, especially in the beginning where the audio and video is noticeably out of sync. Also, the story could have been a little more cohesive. However, HEAVEN’S DOOR has some nice cinematic moments with the panoramic shots of the country and mountains in Vineyard. The acting is also fairly good, including young Kirstin Dorn in the lead.
HEAVEN’S DOOR has a strong Christian, moral worldview promoting wisdom, stewardship, and self-sacrifice. Many of the movie’s themes center on the importance of marriage and family, forgiveness, love, bitterness versus reconciliation, unbelief versus faith, and trust.
HEAVEN’S DOOR is morally uplifting, but a few spiritual aspects are either vague or conflicting. In a movie that does promote biblical Christian values, God is not mentioned out loud by any of the main characters. It isn’t until toward the end of the film when another tragedy strikes the family that the neighbor Ben tells Julie and Leo to ask the One who has the power to save. Later, Julie is seen in the hospital chapel praying. Throughout the movie, Ruth credits the dead grandfather, Nate, with watching over Riley and credits Nate with bestowing the healing gift. Riley whispers to her grandmother, unintelligible to the audience, who she saw at Heaven’s door. Lastly, the celebration of Halloween with trick-or-treating in order to show the passing of time sent a mixed message. One may ask who or what is it exactly that the family believes? God, angels, Nate? Otherwise, HEAVEN’S DOOR is a worthwhile story with a message of hope in life after death.
NO is an intriguing movie from Chile about the 1988 campaign to vote military leader General Pinochet out of power. Although the movie leaves out some important facts about the tyrannical leftist regime Pinochet and the military deposed, the movie still provides an interesting example in how to use the mass media effectively, politically speaking. Therefore, it offers some valuable insights, whether you agree with the movie’s politics and history or not.
The movie focuses on a young advertising executive, Rene Saavedra, who’s deep in the throes of planning a light cola commercial. Rene’s approach by a coalition of parties opposed to General Augusto Pinochet’s regime. Under pressure, Pinochet has called for a plebiscite on his rule. If you vote, yes, he rules for another eight years. If you vote no, a new government will be formed.
Rene’s estranged wife thinks the new plebiscite is a fraud, but he’s not so sure. He advises the No campaign to do a non-threatening campaign, with little to no references to the alleged violence and torture committed by the military regime. Of course, by this time, a series of free market reforms had turned around the ailing economy created by the former regime’s increasingly radical, leftist policies. So, running a negative campaign might have angered too many average citizens.
Naturally, the more radical people in the No campaign against Pinochet are upset by the kind of campaign Rene wants to run. Also, the more tough members of Pinochet’s regime decide to exert their pressure on the people in more nefarious ways, to make sure their man retains power.
Will Rene succeed in overcoming the complaints of the radicals? Will his campaign be victorious, despite the pressure to vote Yes?
NO is engrossing, but goes on a little too long. It also focuses too much in the second half on the minutiae in the campaign. Some of that gets a little confusing.
Sadly, the movie doesn’t mention the tyrannical left-wing policies the pro-communist regime before Pinochet was apparently promoting and considering in its move to the left, toward the evil empire of the Soviet Union and its stooges in Cuba. Nor does it mention the mass executions the leaders in that regime were planning against the military and other opponents. Thus, it only focuses on the force that the military junta used to maintain its power.
That said, NO shows how a positive, forward-looking campaign can inspire people to go out and vote. It also shows how regular mass media techniques from commercial TV can be used to promote political change. In that sense, NO is an instructive movie for anyone who wants to learn how to promote political change successfully. There’s lots of strong foul language too, however, so extreme caution is advised.
The DIE HARD series takes a step back in its new sequel, A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. There’s still a pro-family, patriotic message in the new movie, and plenty of exciting action. However, the personal stakes in the plot are muted. This seems to dilute the kind of powerful drama that made the first DIE HARD movie one of the all-time great action classics. Also, the filmmakers have re-inserted brief R-rated violence among the mayhem and more R-rated foul language, including more than several “f” words and some strong profanities.
In the plot, which takes place in Russia, the power-hungry defense minister has imprisoned his former partner, a billionaire named Yuri, for five years. Yuri is set to go to trial in a few days.
Meanwhile, a young man tries to kill some bigwig in a club. He claims to be under orders from Yuri.
The police arrest the young man, who just happens to be perennial DIE HARD hero John McLain’s estranged son, Jack. For some reason, Jack is posing as a Russian. The authorities decide to use Jack as a witness against Yuri. In the courtroom, they put Jack in a see-through cell next to Yuri’s.
On the same day, McClane arrives in Moscow to try to see his son. Outside the courthouse, a group of terrorist bad guys explode a bunch of cars next to the courthouse, breaching the courthouse walls. Jack turns out to be an undercover CIA agent. During the chaos, he tries to spirit Yuri away from the courthouse, but is followed by the terrorists. At the same time, McClane sees his son and Yuri. He makes it easy for the terrorists to catch up to Jack and Yuri using a nondescript van. A huge, hyperbolic car chase begins.
Eventually, viewers learn that Yuri has a file on the defense minister that will expose his criminal activities, which are intended to grab the reins of power in Russia. America doesn’t want to see this bad guy in power, so they offer Yuri help to get out of Russia in return for the file.
More mayhem and more plot twists ensue. In fact, one twist in the second half reveals another villain. This villain is trying to get some weapons grade uranium secretly stashed away at Chernobyl before the nuclear power plant disaster there turned the area into an unpopulated wasteland. An important side question is whether John and his son Jack will reconcile.
The personal stakes in trying to stop the evil defense minister are a little soft. Also, the family dynamics between McClane and his son have little to do with this main plot. All this dilutes the impact of A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD. Especially when compared to the first, second and fourth movie in the franchise. That said, there’s still plenty of exciting, spectacular action.
The other good news is that A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD continues the pro-family, patriotic messages that have become commonplace in the DIE HARD movies. However, the movie adds more “f” words to get an R rating. There’s also more strong profanities, which themselves deserve an R rating from the morally, spiritually challenged yahoos running the secularized MPAA ratings board. Finally, though most of the violence is typical PG-13 action violence, there are a couple bloody shots that are too graphic. So, extreme caution is advised.
PEOPLE OF FAITH: CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA is a well made, enlightening history of America from its birth to the present time. The series is six episodes, 30 minutes each, on two DVDs. It’s filled with inspiring stories and insightful expert commentary.
The first part of the series discusses the founding of America and the strong Christian underpinning of the republic. Then, it moves into the abolitionists, some of the Christian infighting, the social gospel, and the pro-life movement. The most powerful aspect is the final episodes, which pick 10 significant Christians in American history, including Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Archbishop John Joseph Hughes, Ronald Niebuhr, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Billy Graham. The series ends with Billy Graham on TV exhorting people to come to Jesus Christ to be saved.
In the process of discussing these people, People of Faith tries to take a strong evangelical view as well as mainline and Catholic perspectives. There’s even a brief discussion of Islam. Even so, the bottom line is, the series focuses on faith in Jesus Christ.
Many people have discussed and studied Christianity in American, including our friends David Barton and Marshall Foster. That said, for an overview, PEOPLE OF FAITH: CHRISTIANITY IN AMERICA is highly commended. No matter how much you know about the topic, you will learn new truths about the key events, movements and controversies that shaped America.
A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III is a whimsical, surreal comedy about a hard-living movie star forced to assess his bizarre life while facing a lockdown in a hospital. It has a very strong Romantic worldview offset slightly by moral, redemptive undertones as the title character assesses his life and attempts to change for the better in some ways.
The story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, though it appears it wasn’t meant to make sense. For example, writer-director Roman Coppola (Oscar-nominated for co-writing the MOONRISE KINGDOM screenplay with Wes Anderson) over-indulges wacky fantasy elements at the expense of a coherent storyline.
The movie stars Charlie Sheen as Charles Swan III, a top record-album cover designer. Charles is miserable that his girlfriend, Ivana, just left him. This situation is starting to affect his creativity. After he crashes a luxury car into a backyard swimming pool, Charles is checked into a mental hospital.
In the mental hospital, Charles seeks to gain control of his oddball subconscious thoughts and win his girlfriend back. While there, his best friend Kirby Star, a pop music singer waiting for a new album cover from Swan, encourages Charles to break out of his rut to win her back. Along the way, he receives life advice from his business manager, Saul (Bill Murray), who appears frequently in his daydreams. In one scene, Saul appears dressed like John Wayne from THE SEARCHERS as women clad in skimpy American Indian outfits attack Charles.
The scenario resolves at a large, surreal party for Charles where he’s forced to be comically confronted by the many women he has hurt in the past. Will Charles reach peace and make up with his girlfriend?
A GLIMPSE INSIDE THE MIND OF CHARLES SWAN III will appeal primarily to fans of Sheen and of the director’s quirky brand of filmmaking, but will likely not entice average moviegoers to make it their night at the movies. Its slapdash blend of fantasy and reality doesn’t hold together enough to make a strong impression. Sheen is surprisingly charming in the role, however, singing and dancing his way through fantasy scenes.
Although the title character changes a bit at the end toward the better, the overall worldview is a Romantic one. There’s also abundant foul language, explicit nudity and excessive alcohol use.