CinemagOscars 2: Electric Boogaloo

In my last post, I dropped Cinemagogue’s Top 10 film of 2006, many of which toy with great themes of narrative, philosophy and spirituality. I also promised that I’d cover some honorable mentions for 2006, as well as the “guilty pleasures” and royal stinkers. The latter category won’t be making the “film and theology” class rounds at Mars Hill Church anytime soon.

Honorable Mention
World Trade Center
I went with a chip on my shoulder, expecting a biased Oliver Stone film, and found myself shocked at the respect not only for the day, and the people involved, but the faith of the men both trapped in the rubble and the man who was providentially led to find them. As Nicolas Cage cries out the Lord’s Prayer desperately, begging forgiveness for his own sins and to forgive the sins of those who have so imminently transgressed against him, it sent chills down my spine. As he sees a vision of his wife and laments whether he has loved her enough, it evokes tears.

Lucky Number Slevin
Mistaken identities, war between two rivals who rule the city, a young man caught between the law and an infamous assassin, Slevin’s story is a cross between Shakespeare and the book of Judges with revenge and deceit and double-cross. The all star cast (Ben Kingslley, Morgan Freeman, Bruce Willis, and Stanley Tucci) make you give Josh Hartnett a chance as the central character; he succeeds. It’s no Usual Suspects, and is pretty brutal, but engaging.

Mission Impossible 3
The creator of Alias and co-creator of Lost finally did what Brian DePalma and John Woo failed to do – make a Mission: Impossible movie instead of an Americanized Bond film with MI theme music. There are moments that will warm fans of the old television show while still telling a tight spy story that works in modern times. Love, and the impact of lies on those relationships, is a central theme. With Oscar-award winning Philip Seymour Hoffman as the antagonist who abducts Ethan’s (Tom Cruise) wife, you can virtually forget Tom’s shenanigans for a few hours and actually enjoy the film.

And now… for movies you wish you didn’t have to admit you liked…

Guilty Pleasures
Underworld: Evolution

Vampires have always been great metaphors for the sin nature – an extremely visceral addiction and curse that keeps one in darkness, surrounded by death, damned to eternal night with a proclivity that hurts those around you. This action flick explores immortality, the love/hate relationship between father and sons, brother and brother, as well as prejudices like racism and mixed relationships. It’s not deep, but it’s director Len Wiseman’s attempt at a Romeo and Juliet monster movie, working on some levels while misfiring on others.

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Maybe it’s because star Lucas Black was the child actor from a favorite, short-lived television show my wife and I liked called American Gothic. Maybe it’s because my wife likes to go to the Evergreen Speedway once a year and watch the Figure-Eight races and Rollovers. Maybe it’s because we went to Tokyo the year before and liked seeing familiar sights. I can’t explain this guilty pleasure, and it’s message is more muddled than my inexplicable enjoyment of it.

Talladega Nights: The Ballard of Ricky Bobby
I rarely laugh outloud at a movie, even when I think it’s hilarious. This movie had me in stitches, flaunting Nascar culture in all its “glory”, as well as depicting Christians I know all too well and revealing some very honest observations about the legacies handed from fathers to sons. In fact, Ricky’s dad is played by another actor from my old television favorite American Gothic, where he played the devil). I laughed so hard at Talledega, I hurt – seriously. This film mocks everyone, from small-town hick to effite intellectual. It’s not about laughing AT the characters. When you stop and think about it, you’re laughing with them because at least one of them is an amplified personification of you.

Snakes on a Plane
A drug Lord sneaks a giant case of exotic, pheremone overstimulated snakes on a plane, and only Mace Windu – I mean Shaft – (Frozone?) I mean Samuel L. “Action” Jackson can… okay, let’s face it; this movie was a stinker. Still, following the internet hype was a cultural phenomenon in and of itself, watching how bloggers impacted the content and rating of the film, even bringing Sam Jackson back for reshoots just to drop an F-bomb. Too bad those same influential bloggers didn’t leave their parent’s basement to actually go SEE the movie they shaped. Guys? Remember that movie you helped Hollywood retool? Come on, if it was a snake it would’a – nah. Too easy. “Power of the internet” my motherboard; maybe Time magazine should rethink their “person of the year award“.

On that venomous note, let’s segue into the deplorable, or at least forgettable, films of 2006. If you already rented them and they’re sitting on the Blu-Ray player, don’t waste your time on top of money.

The StinkList 2006 countdown

5. Superman Returnslimply
S-man went away for 5 years to find Krypton because some earth guy thought he found it (Even though father Marlon Brando clearly said it was blown up. The moral? Listen to Dad). Lois Lane had his child (while he spent 5 years on a useless mission) and shacked up with another guy. Now he’s a wishy-washy, deadbeat dad who saves the world from a slightly more serious yet still ineffectual and short-sighted Lex Luthor. Director Brian Singer left the X-franchise for THIS? We can all agree it was better than Superman IV, where Clark repairs the Great Wall of China with his bricklaying vision… but that’s about it. A few choice lines are peppered throughout regarding mankind’s need for a savior… but someone needed to save this film from itself.

4. The DaVinci Code cracked
Tom Hanks meanders around this snore-fest for two hours with a mullet, revealing that even earth-shattering secrets about Jesus’ offspring (is that a gasp? No – just a yawn) can seem mundane when poorly scripted. Even if the fictional book was well-crafted and engaging, this movie is simply going through the numbers. Blues Clues has more believable mysteries.

3. Ultraviolet should remain unseen
Many vampire films just suck. Milla Jovavich plays a kung-fu vampire in this piece of trash. “My name is Violet, and I was born into a world you may not understand.” Yeah. We don’t understand why director Kurt Wimmer would screw up so badly after a good genre film like Equilibrium. We don’t understand the script, or the plot, or why we just wasted 88 minutes of our lives.

2. V for Vendetta or M for Mediocre
When this was a groundbreaking comic book in the 80s, it had something unique to say. Now it feels dated, although the justification of terrorism and torture makes for nice debate. The problem with a dark future story that has been aped repeatedly is that by the time the source makes it to the silver screen, it’s already been done. Well. V just feels redundant.

Redundant? As if one lame vampire movie wasn’t enough, we had two… and this one ranks as the stinkiest of 2006…

1. Bloodrayne – falls
Here’s what I think happened: apparently Michael Madsen, Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley, Michelle Rodriguez, Meat Loaf, and Kristanna Loken found themselves attending the same Renaissance Fair. They had too much mead and Shepherd’s Pie. Meat Loaf was playing the popular video game of the same name, Ben had a digital camera… and Kristanna always carries bad vampire fangs. The rest will live in DVD infamy. If the director is Uwe Boll, stay far, far away.

Stay tuned next year for CinemagOscars 2007. I have a feeling 300 might make the list somewhere…

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