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May 12, 2002

Leaving better off than you came. (Movie review)

Some Friday's I'll set aside the afternoon to enjoy a few movies. I'm a cheapskate, so I wait until they come out on video and watch them then. This Friday I watched Ocean's Eleven and The Last Castle.

First of all let me explain my method of grading a movie. I use two criteria. One, a simple grade scale that goes like this:

A. I want to watch it again, now!
B. I will definitely want to watch it again someday.
C. If it's on someday I'll watch it, but I doubt I'll go out of my way.
D. I will go out of my way to not watch it again.
F. I walked out/turned off the VCR or I can't believe I actually sat through that stupid thing!

Movies that got A's were The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan. Movies that got F's were Holy Man and Mickey Blue Eyes.

My other criteria is what emotion did the movie use as a foundation. This one needs some explanation. All fiction (or really literature for that matter) consists of the same basic theme, conflict and resolution. Every single movie is written around these two elements. There's a conflict, then there's a resolution. The human mind desires resolution, so much so that we tend to desire conflict, just so we can have it resolved. But when conflict is resolved it's resolved on a setting of some emotion. The simplest emotion is revenge. The next simplest is tragedy (sorrow). that's not as big nowadays, so we don't see it as much. Another emotion we see a lot as the foundation for a movie is hope. Titan A.E. used a combination of revenge and hope as the resolution emotion. The best emotion to use as the foundation of the resolution is nobility. Now, quite a few people will wonder why I call nobility an emotion, that's because it's rarely utilized and it tends to be put down a lot in our culture.

Other words for Nobility would be pride, duty, or patriotism. As we've seen recently patriotism has almost become a bad word in America, and those that express it are castigated as bigots, naziis, KKK, or any other nasty thing the simple minded grab for when they come across it. Ironically they generally use the rationalization that anyone showing patriotism is really saying they're better than others. (For those Libs out there that are confused; it's ironic because that rationalization itself makes the claim that the anti-patriot is better than the patriot).

Ocean's Eleven was good. I'd give it a B- on the first scale and not that the emotional foundations were revenge and greed. It was well written (nice complex plot), well acted and I very much enjoyed it. It bothered me that the "good guys" were all thieves, of course the plot pretty much demands that, but it still bothers me. The rationalization is that since the guy their stealing from is rude, and filthy rich, it's OK. Still doesn't make it right, and at one point in the movie it's pointed out that insurance companies (thus all premium payers) ultimately are the ones who have to pay, which means a lot of innocent people are really being robbed. Ocean's Eleven came out amidst a flurry of similar movies (Heist, The Score, Swordfish) that basicly were about someone going through a complicated plan to steal something, and the thief is rationalized as the good guy (With a partial exception of Swordfish. Partial since while Travolta's character is the antagonist through the movie, the ending shows him using the money to go after terrorists. Given the current political climate, this is seen by some as the ultimate rationalization)

Now comes the nobility. The Last Castle left me with a tremendous feeling of pride and respect. I thoroughly loved it and gave it an A- (Remember this part of the grade is somewhat shallow since it deals with immediate emotions). The foundational emotions were revenge and nobility, but the ending pretty much left the revenge part as a not so satisfying resolution. Without giving away too much, let's just say that if you're expecting the have this satisfying feeling of revenge, you won't get it, unless you consider nobility the ultimate revenge. I thought the contrast of the unsatisfied revenge and the overpowering sense of duty and nobility helped to emphasize the part nobility should play, and while there's quite a bit of profanity (it's rated R) the ultimate message is very good for an older teenager to be taught. Which means if you're going to let you older teenager watch it, watch it with him or her, and talk about the movie afterwards, focusing on the motivations behind the actions of the main characters.


Posted by Jack Lewis at May 12, 2002 05:52 PM