movies

Movie Review: Confessions of a Superhero

The other night Vanessa and I watched the indie documentary Confessions of a Superhero. It tells the story of four people struggling to break into the acting business. Rather than working at the Cheesecake Factory to pay the bills, these individuals dress up like superheros and have their pictures taken (for tips) with tourists on Hollywood Boulevard in front of Ming’s Chinese Theater.

Superman – the uber-serious, memorabilia-collecting alleged son of an Oscar winning actress

Batman – the self-described George Clooney lookalike with quite a story of his mob-connected past

Wonder Woman – the daughter of a Baptist pastor who suddenly found that she is no longer the proverbial big fish

The Hulk – formerly homeless man who is convinced that his mis-sized teeth are keeping him from hitting it big

Watching these stories unfold, I was struck by several things. First, I am amazed at the lengths we go to to support ourselves. We live in quite a country where people can make somewhat of a living by panhandling for tips as makebelieve characters to tourists who must have more disposable income than I have.

Second, I am amazed at our cultural obsession with being famous. We really are addicted to making a name for ourselves. As the movie unfolds, you watch these individuals relish attention from media outlets such as Jimmy Kimmel, the local news, and various magazines. There is a pervasive desperation to get noticed in these stories that makes me wonder about how well our families, churches, and neighborhoods are doing at accepting and loving people. Maybe we have created this crisis.

Third, I am amazed at the delusion some people operate under. I don’t mean to pick on these four people, but I was flat out dubious about some aspects of the stories they told. Was your mom really an actress? Did you really work for the mob? Did you really watch the riots from that mountain? Maybe it’s me, or maybe it’s that I’m pretty sure that people who wear masks for a living are hiding something.

Ultimately, Confessions of a Superhero left me sad. Sad for these four people. And sad for our culture that has created them.

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Bolt!

I just finished watching Bolt with my kids. As a guy who recently rescued a puppy, I’ve got to say that it got to me a little bit. Really enjoyable flick.

The Dark Knight

A and I had a man-date on Monday and went to see The Dark Knight. Like its predecessor, Batman Begins, I really, really liked this movie. It was a tad long, causing you to wonder a couple of times if it was going to end or keep going. But besides that, it was well-done, a great story, and, yes, Heath Ledger was amazingly creepy.

I would love to write a review of what I thought about the impact of the movie. But it has already been done. The Wall Street Journal published this piece called What Bush and Batman Have in Common. It sums up my feelings pretty well.

What Bush and Batman Have in Common
By ANDREW KLAVAN
July 25, 2008; Page A15

A cry for help goes out from a city beleaguered by violence and fear: A beam of light flashed into the night sky, the dark symbol of a bat projected onto the surface of the racing clouds . . .

Oh, wait a minute. That’s not a bat, actually. In fact, when you trace the outline with your finger, it looks kind of like . . . a “W.”

There seems to me no question that the Batman film “The Dark Knight,” currently breaking every box office record in history, is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war. Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.

And like W, Batman understands that there is no moral equivalence between a free society — in which people sometimes make the wrong choices — and a criminal sect bent on destruction. The former must be cherished even in its moments of folly; the latter must be hounded to the gates of Hell.

“The Dark Knight,” then, is a conservative movie about the war on terror. And like another such film, last year’s “300,” “The Dark Knight” is making a fortune depicting the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.

Conversely, time after time, left-wing films about the war on terror — films like “In The Valley of Elah,” “Rendition” and “Redacted” — which preach moral equivalence and advocate surrender, that disrespect the military and their mission, that seem unable to distinguish the difference between America and Islamo-fascism, have bombed more spectacularly than Operation Shock and Awe.

Why is it then that left-wingers feel free to make their films direct and realistic, whereas Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth? Why is it, indeed, that the conservative values that power our defense — values like morality, faith, self-sacrifice and the nobility of fighting for the right — only appear in fantasy or comic-inspired films like “300,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Narnia,” “Spiderman 3” and now “The Dark Knight”?

The moment filmmakers take on the problem of Islamic terrorism in realistic films, suddenly those values vanish. The good guys become indistinguishable from the bad guys, and we end up denigrating the very heroes who defend us. Why should this be?

The answers to these questions seem to me to be embedded in the story of “The Dark Knight” itself: Doing what’s right is hard, and speaking the truth is dangerous. Many have been abhorred for it, some killed, one crucified.

Leftists frequently complain that right-wing morality is simplistic. Morality is relative, they say; nuanced, complex. They’re wrong, of course, even on their own terms.

Left and right, all Americans know that freedom is better than slavery, that love is better than hate, kindness better than cruelty, tolerance better than bigotry. We don’t always know how we know these things, and yet mysteriously we know them nonetheless.

The true complexity arises when we must defend these values in a world that does not universally embrace them — when we reach the place where we must be intolerant in order to defend tolerance, or unkind in order to defend kindness, or hateful in order to defend what we love.

When heroes arise who take those difficult duties on themselves, it is tempting for the rest of us to turn our backs on them, to vilify them in order to protect our own appearance of righteousness. We prosecute and execrate the violent soldier or the cruel interrogator in order to parade ourselves as paragons of the peaceful values they preserve. As Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon says of the hated and hunted Batman, “He has to run away — because we have to chase him.”

That’s real moral complexity. And when our artistic community is ready to show that sometimes men must kill in order to preserve life; that sometimes they must violate their values in order to maintain those values; and that while movie stars may strut in the bright light of our adulation for pretending to be heroes, true heroes often must slink in the shadows, slump-shouldered and despised — then and only then will we be able to pay President Bush his due and make good and true films about the war on terror.

Perhaps that’s when Hollywood conservatives will be able to take off their masks and speak plainly in the light of day.

Mr. Klavan has won two Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America. His new novel, “Empire of Lies” (An Otto Penzler Book, Harcourt), is about an ordinary man confronting the war on terror.

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Good Flicks

This weekend, Vanessa and I watched a couple of flicks I like a lot.

I know I must be the last one on the planet to see it, but I finally saw Juno. And I loved it. It was quirky and interesting. At first, Jason Bateman’s character was the only one I really liked. And then not so much. Vanessa and I have been talking about the prolife-friendliness of Hollywood movies lately. Those who advocate abortion as a solution to unwanted pregnancies come off as irresponsible and self-absorbed. This was true in Knocked Up, where she keeps the baby and in Juno, where she gives it up for adoption. Juno is highly recommended.

Last night, we watched The Lives of Others. I saw it at the library and was reminded that I had heard Rush Limbaugh recommend it a couple of times. I am so glad we took his recommendation. The movie is set in the 1980s in communist East Germany. It tracks the story of a writer under surveillance by the Statsi, East Germany’s secret police. It is a touching, haunting, beautiful story that reinforces this little world-changing idea that “love wins.” The Lives of Others is highly recommended.

The Best Chick Flick I’ve Seen in a Long Time

We rented Dan in Real Life last night, and Vanessa and I really enjoyed it. It was funny and touching without being too cheesy. It was a kinder, gentler version of The Family Stone, which I hated. Steve Carrell is hilarious. Dane Cook wasn’t annoying. The plot wasn’t too contrived. A very enjoyable way to spend 98 minutes.

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