Costumes, Parodies, and Vaudeville
"Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer": OK, it's based on comic book characters, and naturally, the movie is going to feel like an animated form of melodrama. Some of the actors appear to be "dumbing down" more than others, and the plot is a predictable save-the-world-against-the-forces-of-evil scenario, but there are some interesting twists. Two of the four superheroes are trying to get married to each other, but crises keep intervening, which challenges them to have to decide if they're going to live exclusively for others (with unique status), or try to live a more "normal" life (and sink blissfully into obscurity). Those whose calling is to assist in "saving" others will find points of identification here, especially unmarried priests. Then, in order to combat the strong force of cosmic evil, they must first settle their own squabbles, then team up with a former enemy (and deal with his subsequent betrayal of the truce), then try to convert the enemy's agent, "The Silver Surfer," into an ally. And who would have thought that The Silver Surfer would then turn into a Christ-like figure, sacrificing himself in order to save the world? There's even a hint of a resurrection during the credits…oh, never mind. It's probably not meant to be that deep, anyway. Just enjoy the vaudeville and be careful not to expect too much.
"Spider-Man 3": The character of Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) has always been endearing because of his complexity. He's very human. He makes youthful mistakes. He stumbles in his love life. He gets mad, and sometimes succumbs to the temptations of showing off, and using his special gifts to extract a guilty-pleasure vengeance. But he also enjoys his hard-earned reputation as a Good Guy; a costumed fighter against dastardly villains, and protector of the hapless innocents. The complaint about this film is that it undertakes too many stories at once, but the complexity at least adds some depth to the typical pulp-fiction caricatures. There's a bad guy motivated to rob because of a daughter who's grievously ill. There's an old friendship strained because of a misunderstanding about motives. Enemies are enlisted as allies against a common enemy, and forgiveness is a powerful agent for repentance. We're not sure about the quality of the romance, but then again, who is?
"Live Free Or Die Hard": It's not exactly cartoonish, but Bruce Willis has now done enough action films that he's virtually become a self-parody, though not quite in the heavyweight class of Sylvester Stallone. Here, he revives his Jack McClane tough-cop persona, and acknowledges his aging character with the presence of a grown daughter, significantly sassy, and his ignorance of all things computer (doesn't go with the old-school macho image). Yes, some of the escapes are ridiculous (he survives jumping on a fighter jet in flight?), but we want him to save the world, anyway, because he does so with such fierce determination, with ironic sense of humor intact.
"The Last Stand': A film which documents stand-up comedy should have a sense of humor, but this one is too busy being angry. The jokes are profane, and the characters all struggle with their insecurities and neuroses, while attempting to perfect one of the oldest and most difficult crafts of civilization: to make others laugh. Very uneven performances here, but the whole subject of analyzing humor recalls every preacher who's ever tried to be funny on Sunday morning…
Questions For Discussion:
1) Do you prefer your heroes with feet of clay?
2) What makes something funny, or not funny?
3) Have you had to enlist a former enemy as an ally? How well did it work?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian