Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Movie Day Reviews

I will admit right up front, I did not watch either of these films in their entirety. I will explain in the reviews.

Cimarron (1931): I have been on a mission to watch every single Academy Award Best Picture winner, starting with 1928's double winners, Sunrise and Wings, and finishing with the most recent film, No Country for Old Men. The only Best Picture winner to actually lose money for the studio, Cimarron is a mediocre Western that is at best boring and at worst overtly offensive. The premise of the film is the Oklahoma Land Rush of the mid-1800s, where hundreds of Native American land was forcefully taken by white American settlers eager to make a quick fortune. The story focuses on Yancey Cravat, a jack of all trades who is a former outlaw, a sheriff, a newspaper editor, a lawyer, a preacher, and just about any other possible vocation. His wife is the overly worried Sabra, an upper-class Kansas woman who reluctantly settles with Yancey in the book town of Osage.

My main critique of the film is its blatant racism. I've read other reviews that defend the film's story, saying this was simply the way things were back then and it accurately depicted American history. Those reviews made the story arc about Sabra's transformation from racist Kansas upper-class to being more understanding of other races. They also defend Yancey as trying to make a difference in the town by being friendly to other races. I simply didn't see it. Eugene Jackson's portrayal of Isaiah, an African-American boy working for the Cravats, is clearly for comic relief; there is a scene where the entire town literally laughs at him for trying to dress up and come to church with the Cravats. Native Americans are referred to as "filthy" and Sabra doesn't allow her son to speak to them. A Jewish character is also comic relief for his stutter and Jewish heritage. After Yancey holds a "church service" where he shoots a man instead of preaching, then demands money from everyone in attendance except for the Native Americans--he says that they're too poor after having their land stolen by the white people--I turned it off. It wasn't making a statement about racism or asking the audience to examine it for themselves, like The Searchers. It was just plain racist, pure and simple. Perhaps if I had waited to see Sabra's transformation, it may have been redeemable. But it wasn't worth the wait.

When the film wasn't being racist, it was accomplishing the paradox of being both melodramatic and boring. Richard Dix's exaggerated portrayal of Yancey is downright silly. Anyway, all that to say, this wins the prize for Worst Best Picture Winner in my book.

The Cell (2000): I watched The Fall recently and became instantly intrigued with director Tarsem's stunning visuals. The cinematography, elaborate costumes, and brilliant set design created a beautiful piece of moving art. While the story wasn't the strongest, the visuals more than made up for it. So my curiosity was piqued; I had to see what else Tarsem had done. Turns out the only other full-length film he's directed is The Cell, a sci-fi horror film starring Jennifer Lopez and Vincent D'Onofrio. Nominated for an Oscar for Best Makeup, the film is about a social worker (Lopez) using an elaborate device to enter into the minds of comatose individuals. When a psychotic serial killer (D'Onofrio) enters a coma before revealing the location of his last victim, the social worker must try to discover the location in the midst of the killer's twisted mind.

As I watched the film, I was impressed with the visuals and makeup in the dream sequences; Tarsem's visual style is consistent. However, the film was so disturbing that I finally had to turn it off during one particularly violent scene. I felt convicted by this verse as I sat there watching the inner workings of a serial killer . Was I avoiding evil by watching this film? Was I pursuing beauty and truth? Did the good from this film--its creative visual elements--outweigh the evil from the film--the disturbing images of violence and sexuality? I had to honestly answer "no." It was just too dark and twisted for me. I turned it off.

Which leaves me with a moral dilemma...

Should I review a film without having seen it in its entirety? Roger Ebert did it recently after watching only 8 minutes of a film, and regretted it. However, I don't think I could ethically put myself through watching either of these films in their entirety. I watch films through what I have named a creative-redemptive framework. That sounds really intellectual, but it just means that I look for the beauty and truth revealed through the art of film. I specifically ask two (sometimes three) questions: 

1. Does it the reflect the creativity of the divine Creator? 
2. Does it point to the deeper spiritual truth(s) of reality--God, humanity, and redemptive history?

And the sometimes #3: Was it awesome? (this mostly applies to action or comedy films).

If the answer is a solid "yes" to all questions, it's probably a great film. The former film was so incredibly boring and racist that it reflected nothing of God's creativity, pointed only to the pessimistic truth that human beings are capable of making evils cultural norms, and certainly was not awesome. The latter film was visually creative, but so lacking in redemptive value that the depravity of the substance outweighed the beauty of the style. Why subject oneself to something that will be a waste of time or possibly emotionally disturbing when one has plenty of other beautiful and truth-filled films out there?

I've gotta watch me some good films this next week. The Monday Movie Day needs some more positive reviews!


  1. I'm surprised you didn't see Quantum of Mediocrity over the weekend.

  2. I just got back from watching it with my brother-in-law. It's the best Jason Bourne sequel yet. I'll write about it for next Monday!

  3. don't ever say that this blog doesn't guide people. Especially your movie reviews.
    Case in point: I will now not go out and get the movie Cimmaron. As tempting as it was for me, my mind has changed because of the mayward movie review!!!