Film Forum: Sex and the City; Reprise; Stuck; Bigger, Stronger, Faster; Body of War; Savage Grace; The Edge of Heaven; Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull;

SEX AND THE CITY

Courtney:

Most of the few Christian voices speaking to the growing single segment of the population offer ten easy steps to find our soulmate. As if it’s that wondrously simple. Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, however, show how challenging it really can be for intelligent, accomplished, and admittedly neurotic women to find lasting love. They, unlike many Christians, don’t insult my intelligence. Instead they speak to the complexities of relationships in a postmodern age —addressing baby lust, the mommy wars, sexual temptation, dating outside your “class,” commitment-phobia, the reluctant desire to be rescued by a man, and the simultaneous fear that you’ll lose your own hard-won identity in the process. Yes, materialism and hedonism abound. But so does a messy wrestling with complex new realities of life that I wish I saw more of in Christian circles.

Sex and the City is ambitious for all the characters, emotions, and crises it tries to shoehorn into two and a half hours. But the attempt elevates is above most chick flicks and romantic dramedies of late. SATC offers well-developed characters, smart dialogue, interesting plots and sub-plots, and a ton of heart.

Lane:

…their gallops of conspicuous consumption seem oddly joyless, as displacement activities tend to be. ‚ÄúWhen Samantha couldn‚Äôt get off, she got things,‚Äù Carrie says. Look at the beam in your own eye, sister. Mr. Big not only buys her a penthouse apartment (‚ÄúI got it‚Äù), he offers to customize the space for her shoes and other fetishes. ‚ÄúI can build you a better closet,‚Äù he says, as if that were a binding condition of their sexual harmony: if he builds it, she will come. The creepiest aspect of this sequence was the sound that rose from the audience as he displayed the finished closet: gasps, fluttering moans, and, beside me, two women applauding. The tactic here is basically pornographic‚Äîarouse the viewer with image upon image of what lies just beyond her reach‚Äîand the film makes feeble attempts to rein it in. When the wedding hits a bump (look out for Kristin Davis screaming ‚ÄúNo! No!‚Äù at Chris Noth like a ninth grader auditioning for ‚ÄúThe Crucible‚Äù), and the bridegroom veers away, our heroine‚Äôs reaction to the split is typical: ‚ÄúHow am I going to get my clothes?‚Äù What, honey, even the puffball skirt that you wear to the catwalk show‚Äîthe one that makes you look like a giant inverted mushroom? That plea gets second prize for the most revealing line in the film, the winner being Miranda‚Äôs outburst as she hunts for an apartment in a mainly Chinese district: ‚ÄúWhite guy with a baby! Let‚Äôs follow him.‚Äù So that‚Äôs what drives these people: Aryan real estate.


Is this really where we have ended up—with this superannuated fantasy posing as a slice of modern life? On TV, “Sex and the City” was never as insulting as “Desperate Housewives,” which strikes me as catastrophically retrograde, but, almost sixty years after “All About Eve,” which also featured four major female roles, there is a deep sadness in the sight of Carrie and friends defining themselves not as Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, and Thelma Ritter did—by their talents, their hats, and the swordplay of their wits—but purely by their ability to snare and keep a man. Believe me, ladies, we’re not worth it. It’s true that Samantha finally disposes of one paramour, but only with a view to landing another, and her parting shot is a beauty: “I love you, but I love me more.” I have a terrible feeling that “Sex and the City” expects us not to disapprove of that line, or even to laugh at it, but to exclaim in unison, “You go, girl.” I walked into the theatre hoping for a nice evening and came out as a hard-line Marxist, my head a whirl of closets, delusions, and blunt-clawed cattiness. All the film lacks is a subtitle: “The Lying, the Bitch, and the Wardrobe.”

Wells:

The soul of this movie is infected with gross materialism, the flaunting of me-me egos and the endless nurturing of the characters’ greed and/or sense of entitlement. It’s all about money to piss away and flashy things to wear and lush places where the the girls lunch and exchange dreary confessional chit-chat. And this, mind you, is where millions of middle-class women in every semi-developed country around the globe live in their dreams. They’re going to this movie right now in multitudes. Sad. Really sad. Because SATC is crap through and through.

[Earlier] I called Sex and the City a Taliban recruitment film. All I know is that I felt ashamed, sitting in a Paris movie theatre, that this film, right now, is portraying middle-class female American values, and that this somehow reflects upon the country that I love and care deeply about. It’s a kind of advertisement for the cultural shallowness that’s been spreading like the plague for years, and for what young American womanhood seems to be currently about — what it wants, cherishes, pines for. Not so much the realizing of intriguing ambitions or creative dreams as much as wallowing in consumption as the girls cackle and toss back Margaritas.

Is this a case of “the men will hate it, the women will love it”? The reviews linked at GreenCine Daily show it’s not at all that simple.

Take, for example, Manohla Dargis at The New York Times:

A little Botox goes a long way in Sex and the City, but a little decent writing would have gone even further.

Somehow it all goes lugubriously south. Carrie is let down Big Time, and she licks her wounds down Mexico way, accompanied by her amazingly accessible gal pals. Jokes about Montezuma’s revenge ensue (really), along with hard laughter and free-flowing tears and yet more clothes (and clothing montages) and jokes and jokes, most of them flatter than Carrie’s steely six-pack. Unlike the show, which allowed the men to emerge occasionally from the sidelines with lines of actual dialogue, the male characters in the movie stand idly by, either smiling or stripping, reduced to playing sock puppets in a Punch-free Judy and Judy (times two) show. I’m all for the female gaze, but, gee, it’s also nice to talk — and listen — to men, too.

There was something seductive about the bubble world that the show created back in 1998, in the fantasy that all you needed to make it through the rough patches were good friends and throwdown heels. That was a beautiful lie, as the show acknowledged in its gently melancholic return in the wake of Sept. 11. Back in Season 3 Carrie asked, “Are we getting wiser, or just older?” The ideal, of course, is to do both. There is something depressingly stunted about this movie; something desperate too. It isn’t that Carrie has grown older or overly familiar. It’s that awash in materialism and narcissism, a cloth flower pinned to her dress where cool chicks wear their Obama buttons, this It Girl has become totally Ick.

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REPRISE, dir. Joachim Trier

Edelstein:

…happily, confidently unfettered. Broadly, this is a coming-of-age movie in the Diner mold: Trier tracks Phillip and Erik and a few of their pals as they stagger into a world that can‚Äôt be attuned to their (male adolescent) expectations‚Äîespecially in regard to women. But the movie‚Äôs content is inseparable from its voice. Conventional thinking says there‚Äôs cinema, there‚Äôs literature, and never the twain do meet‚Äîwhich is why our best novelists (among them, speaking of twains, Mark) resist adaptation. Trier and his co-writer, Eskil Vogt, go where the spirit takes them: The film is an exhilarating weave of childhood remembrance, projection, literary digression, and impish commentary. Yet its postmodernism doesn‚Äôt distance you. Even at its artiest, Reprise could spring from the pages of either protagonist‚Äôs novel. You feel as if you‚Äôre pinging around in the characters‚Äô imaginations.

Gonzalez:

This groovy little film is spiked with an arresting, hyper-saturated mix of sadness and joy, always acknowledging the dangers and wonders of friendship and the strange ways in which our mind works to tease, elate and sometimes confound us. Director Joachim Trier is always playing with the structure of film, not unlike his characters’ attempts to play with words.

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STUCK

GreenCine Daily is rounding up reviews.
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BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER

McCracken:

Bigger, Stronger, Faster presents a foreboding look at our collective conception of the human being: as a machine-like mechanism that can be sculpted, doped, enhanced, and perfected because, well, because we all want to be powerful and attractive and in control of our image. Distant is the notion that our bodies are “temples” or “not our own,” or anything even remotely sacred. Instead we subject ourselves to unnatural drugs, diets, and training regimes, because many of us can relate to Mike “Mad Dog” Bell when he says, “I’d rather be dead than average.”

Much more at GreenCine Daily.

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BODY OF WAR

Spiro:

It’s a sad truth that American audiences are hardly flocking to watch movies about Iraq. Body of War is not the film that will reverse that trend. It tells a characteristically (for war docs) grim, but absolutely essential story, of Tomas Young, a 25-year-old Kansas City resident who enlisted in the Army in the heady, patriotic fervor following Sept. 11. Young returned after less than a week in Iraq paralyzed from the chest down when a bullet hit his spine. As its title suggests, Body of War centers on the often unacknowledged minutia of Young’s sacrifice beyond lifelong confinement to a wheelchair: the catheters, a barrage of pills, dizzy spells, sexual dysfunction and depression. It is just one more in a long list of indignities when antiwar activist Bobby Muller, himself paralyzed in the Vietnam War, schools Young in just how inadequate his post-injury care was. “You got ripped off,” he says.

Remarkably, despite all this physical and psychological pain, Young is a sardonic, appealing, likable screen presence who seems to have turned the absurdity of his situation into a source of dark comedy. An outspoken critic of the war, Young’s disgust with the Bush administration’s rush to war and his efforts to speak out keep Body of War from succumbing to self-pity.

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SAVAGE GRACE

Edgar:

Raw as it is, Savage Grace doesn’t know what to conclude from the mistakes that define its characters. Despite all the rich and vivid drama, there’s no focal point or explanation for why seemingly normal people would resort to such depravity and abuse. This astounding lack of development and reasoning completely neuters the characters’ impact.

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THE EDGE OF HEAVEN

Howe:

A nuanced and sobering study of exile, escape and familial responsibility … As the characters search for themselves by searching for each other, their desperate orbits never quite synch up, causing ruptures and tragedies. … While the film ends on a hopeful note, the characters never quite manage to cross the edge of heaven. Instead, they endlessly tread its rim.

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INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

Davis:

The film is fun, but it doesn’t hold a torch to the original. It’s too busy reconnecting severed ties and repeating our favorite bits, but it comes closer to capturing the magic of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) than the other sequels did, and parts of it are more thrilling than anything else in the entire series.

Zacharek:

… the strange thing about Spielberg’s latest is that, for me at least, it miraculously pulled off the effect of feeling like a surprise: The picture both fulfilled some vague, unexpressed hopes I didn’t know I had and also left me with the sense that I’d just seen something I wasn’t quite prepared for — the kind of contradiction that great showmanship can bridge. In a movie climate that seeks to promise bigger, bolder thrills, Crystal Skull daringly offers less, in the sense that it gives us action sequences that rely on visual logic rather than lots of fast cutting; its computer-generated effects are used with relative judiciousness; and it features human faces that actually look human — in other words, they belong to people who have aged, visibly, with the rest of us. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, made by a man who’s amassed a great deal of money exploring the dreams and fears of childhood, and featuring a one-time action hero who’s now in his 60s, is an adventure about the inevitability of adulthood — but if you put that on a poster, almost nobody would come.

Greydanus:

At times Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seems more reminiscent of various Raiders imitators than of the original. In particular, certain plot points and devices — a lost Mesoamerican city of gold, a scavenger-hunt trail of coded messages, heroes balancing on a giant rock platform — compare, not necessarily favorably, to National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

One way Crystal Skull actually does hearken back to Raiders is the welcome return of Karen Allen as Indy’s one true love, Marion Ravenwood. The rapport of their scenes together, even when they’re bickering, underscores all that was lacking in the earlier sequels, with Temple of Doom’s shrilly unpleasant Willie Scott and Last Crusade’s one-dimensional femme fatale Elsa Schneider.

In other ways, though, the film continues the trajectory of the sequels, which got progressively sillier and more over-the-top. Part of the appeal of Raiders is the vulnerability of its mortal action hero; in the sequels, he’s increasingly become an invulnerable super hero. Crystal Skull does have some rollicking action scenes, but without the restraint and minimal sop to realism that make for real excitement. Ironically, the more they ramp up the action, the less exciting it is.

McCracken:

Skull is … heavily self referential, with loads of nods to the other Indy films, as well as Spielberg‚Äôs broader cinematic portfolio. The film opens with a nice homage to Spielberg‚Äôs very first film, 1971‚Äôs Duel, and later contains direct references to George Lucas‚Äô 1973 classic, American Graffiti. Of course, by the final scene we see that Spielberg is borrowing heavily from his various alien films too (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., A.I. etc), with special affinity with the whole ‚Äúthey‚Äôre been here for a long time‚Äù plot of War of the Worlds.

Indeed, while many fans have decried the outrageous ending of Skull (as somehow going “too far”), I absolutely loved it. Is it really that much more ridiculous to imagine an ancient civilization being built by aliens than it is to believe that the Ark of the Covenant melts peoples’ faces off? Or that Indy can walk on air to get to the Holy Grail? C’mon, people: these films are not about verisimilitude or physical reality. They’re about the fantastic and wonderful possibilities of cinema to throw some craziness in front of our eyes.

Honestly, I don’t think Skull could possibly have been any better than this. As a 20-years-later installment with a 65-year-old lead actor and two decades of imitators (The Mummy, National Treasure, etc) to overcome, Skull faced a major uphill battle. Amazingly, it all turned out brilliantly — with a little originality mixed with a LOT of referentiality, some appropriate newness (CGI, Shia LaBeouf) complimenting a huge amount of necessary old stuff (the hat! the snakes! the bugs! the music!), and a formidable sense of blockbuster exuberance that Spielberg has — since Jaws — evoked better than just about anyone.

Ebert:

True, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” stands alone as an action masterpiece, but after that the series is compelled to be, in the words of Indiana himself, “same old same old.” Yes, but that’s what I want it to be. … I can say that if you liked the other Indiana Jones movies, you will like this one, and that if you did not, there is no talking to you.

Johansson:

All I know is this: I sat through two hours of Crystal Skull and when it was over, my jaw was aching, because I hadn’t stopped grinning like a little kid the whole time. I love this movie. I love it.

Look: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas are not attempting to break new cinematic ground here, like could be arguably said about Raiders, in that it was its own kind of accidental metacommentary on movie history — if nothing else, Raiders certainly had just the right impact at just the right time to influence an entire generation‚Äôs taste in pop culture. That‚Äôs not gonna happen with Crystal Skull — we‚Äôre just revisiting an old friend. Raiders was the asteroid crashing into the old entertainment world, making room for the fantasy action movie (as distinct from the sci-fi blockbuster, even if the two subgenres have since meshed). Crystal Skull couldn‚Äôt hope to have that same kind of impact… no pun intended. I can‚Äôt imagine why anyone would have imagined it would.

Turan:

Just like a model-train hobbyist who enjoys getting more and more expensive equipment as his income level rises, Spielberg clearly got enormous pleasure employing a lifetime’s worth of skill and turning out wave after wave of smartly done stunts and effects set pieces.

When you think about it, all the pre-release concern about just how good the new “Indy” was going to be, though understandable, is not completely rational. After all, given its Saturday matinee genre nature and the fact that star Ford, creator Lucas, director Spielberg, composer John Williams and editor Michael Kahn, among others, have all returned, it was inevitable that this film was going to fall within a very narrow range in terms of quality. It was either going to be a worse- or better-than-average Indiana Jones film.

It turns out it’s one of the better ones and everyone involved can breathe a sigh of relief.

O’Heihr:

…even in its inflated and creaky fourth incarnation, the Indy series retains a certain unassuming quality, at least compared to Hollywood’s recent monstrous productions. Ford is rarely called upon to run more than a few steps, but he’s a capable and athletic 65-year-old star who performs his own stunts. Until the film’s ludicrous conclusion, which involves a big spinning hoobledy-whatsit full of supernatural thingummies (I think that’s officially not a spoiler), there are relatively few digital effects. As Spielberg put it: “There’s no inspiration when the director and actors walk onto the set and it’s nothing but a blue screen. I wanted to be in all these wonderful booby-trap sets, which are built nearly to the scale you see on-screen, and get my ideas for great shots from the sets themselves.”

Fibbs:

The truth is, the latest addition to one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time is not an abomination. But it is, unquestionably, superfluous and arguably needn’t ever have been made.

Crystal Skull is pervasively playful but only occasionally fun. And a lack of fun is a failure of the highest magnitude in a film of this nature. In fact, much of the over-the-top comedy is misplaced and completely inappropriate. Several moments induce laughter at but not with the action onscreen.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is like bumping into an old friend you said goodbye to years ago and thought you’d never see again. The reunion is undeniably pleasant but somewhat cheapens the meaningful and eloquent goodbye you once shared.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • http://youtube.com/moviebuzzreviewdude Brandon

    Good excerpts for the Indy reviews. I like how you balanced out the unconditionally praising with the middle-of-the-road with the “eh, take it or leave it” crowd. I was somewhere between unconditionally praising and middle-of-the-road; I enjoyed it a lot, and because it WAS Indy, I couldn’t not love it, but because I loved it so much I can’t give it a passing grade on its many many flaws, because despite what some reviewers say, Indy stepping onto air and faces melting IS a lot more believable than the extra-terrestrials story Spielberg and Lucas seem to have pulled out of nowhere. Raiders built you up to those final unbelievable ten or fifteen minutes – Crystal Skull dumps you right in there like a kid not quite ready for the deep end of the pool. In fact, the first stunt of the movie is, I think, the most unbelievable in the entire affair.

    The opening stunt did *SPOILER* (with the refrigerator and nuclear blast) *END SPOILER* , in a sense, establish Indy’s invulnerability, which took me out of the running-along-breathless-with-Indy mode that all three previous films had put me in and placed me squarely, “okay, he’s invulnerable, that’s cool” mode. I never once expected Crystal Skull to be like Raiders – lightning doesn’t ever strike twice with that kind of film, ESPECIALLY not in the same franchise, but what I was expecting was at least a quality build-up of action and not the whole “bigger, better” mode, which I think Spielberg has clearly succumbed to.

    One thing I did really really love about the whole film was Indy’s encounter with the extra-terrestrials – as if Spielberg and Lucas were saying, “Okay, this is the same Indy you knew, but we’re bringing him into a whole new world.” It really makes me look forward to the fifth film, whenever it comes out, because I think Crystal Skull was the film that Lucas and Spielberg needed to get out of their systems before they gave us an action masterpiece once more.

    And what in the world was up with the digital prairie dog in the opening shot of the movie? Dang you, Lucas.

  • http://moviegoings.wordpress.com Jared

    My review; I concur on the Ebert assessment. I think that’s among the favorite reviews I’ve ever read by him.

  • genebranaman

    “I can say that if you liked the other Indiana Jones movies, you will like this one, and that if you did not, there is no talking to you.”

    Best line in an Ebert review so far this year.

    Hands down.

    Man, it kills me that I’m behind on my movies!


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