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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

my week at the movies: ‘Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?,’ ‘Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,’ ‘The Visitor,’ ‘Smart People,’ ‘Redbelt,’ ‘Forbidden Kingdom,’ ‘Street Kings’

It’s almost over at this point, but for what it’s worth…

Yesterday was a three-movie day, which I’ve learned to avoid if I can, because it tends to be too much, but sometimes it’s not avoidable. Morgan Spurlock — he of Super Size Me fame — has a new doc about the global war on terror: Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden? [opens limited April 18], which was at Sundance this year. I’ll just say this at moment: Spurlock continues to be wildly audacious. I also saw Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed [opens wide April 18], the “intelligent design” documentary that purports to blow the lid off how creationists are being denied equal access to the scientific community. Hmm. Third flick was The Visitor [opens limited April 11], the new film from Station Agent filmmaker Tom McCarthy. His sophmore effort might be even better than his first film, which was wonderful.

Monday was only two movies: I checked out Smart People [opens wide April 11] and Redbelt [opens limited May 2]. The former is one of those dysfunctional-family dramas about brainy folk — including Dennis Quaid’s college prof, Sarah Jessica Parker’s doctor, and Ellen Page’s Ivy League-bound high-schooler — doing stupid things, and the latter is David Mamet’s new flick about mixed martial arts and how deeply you can be betrayed if you’re ridiculously naive.

Wednesday and Thursday are one-flick days apiece. Tonight I’ll see Forbidden Kingdom [opens wide April 18], which I’m looking forward to because, you know, it’s Jackie Chan and Jet Li in the same movie, plus Michael Angarano, as the silly white kid, is kinda cute, in a Shia LaBeouf kind of way. On the other hand, it’s directed by Rob Minkoff, whose last movie was The Haunted Mansion, which was dreadful. Then again, before that he made the utterly charming Stuart Little movies, so go know. And tomorrow it’s Street Kings [opens wide April 11], starring Keanu Reeves as a Los Angeles cop. I know I’m in a minority in this, but I do think Reeves is underrated — we’ll see whether he lives up my expectations…

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  • MBI

    I’m kind of shocked to see that green light next to Expelled. I’m more of a righty than a lefty and I’m more of a believer than a non-believer but I simply cannot fathom any possible defense of teaching intelligent design in science classes. It is a simply stupid idea. The fact that you, an avowed atheist, actually find merit in a film espousing such obvious bullshit… well, actually, now I’m a little intrigued.

  • JSW

    Well, the green light means “see it”, but it doesn’t necessarily mean “see it because it’s good”, right?

  • Rich

    Expelled’s linking of Darwin to Hitler both revisionist and an affront to human decency. Cashing in on one of the world’s greatest tragedies whilst pandering to fundamentalist anti-science sensibilities, is shameful. I’m afraid you are credulous, MaryAnn Johanson.

    It is a fact of record that Hitler never mentioned Darwin. He mentions god frequently in Mein kampf and managed during his time to have “origin of species’ banned in libraries, whilst making prayer in schools mandatory.

  • MaryAnn

    In what way am I credulous, Rich? I agree that linking Darwin to Hitler is absurd, but where did I say anything that supports such a bizarre concept?

    As JSW notes, the green light doesn’t mean I think a movie is good. Usually it does. In this case, it’s a matter of “see it because you need to be aware of what the idiots are up to.”

  • Rich

    If I “must see it”, then I give them money and validate the model of anti-science, propaganda films that exploit human tragedy. That would make me complicit. If you’re not credulous then you have no understanding of the ramifications of your actions. If you wrote a more comprehensive review then I could “be aware of what the idiots are up to”.

  • MBI

    Now, me personally, I don’t like judging on the “see it/don’t see it” scale because I honestly believe every film, good bad or mediocre, is worth watching. If that’s what I was judging things on alone, my entire list would be green.

  • MaryAnn

    If you wrote a more comprehensive review then I could “be aware of what the idiots are up to”.

    I WILL write a more comprehensive review — the movie doesn’t open till next week. Sheesh. Is this the ONLY posting you’ve read at this site?

    Obviously you must decide for yourself whether you “must” see anything. I can’t force you. But please do not accuse me of being unaware of the ramifications of what I say. I know exactly what I’m saying.

  • Rich

    As I can’t use fingerpuppets here, let me try again, simply.

    Seeing movie —> Gives money to creationists —> funds their anti science movement –> Makes other crazy groups think “I can do that too!” —> Is offensive to anyone touched by the holocaust because of its historical revisionism.

    Yes, this is the only review I’ve read on your website, though I did look at your top 100. Not too dissimilar from mine.

    PS – “meaning of life” is a ‘category error’. Whilst syntactically sound it makes no ontological sense.

  • MaryAnn

    Rich, if this is the only post you’ve read on this site, then you haven’t read any of my reviews. This is NOT a review.

    Also: way to patronize. Finger puppets? I understood your point, as I’m sure you well know. I just don’t agree with it. Whether you give your 10 bucks to a movie theater to see this film or borrow a DVD from the library (which won’t put 1 cent into the pockets of anyone) is not going to change the onslaught of antiscience morons.

    “Meaning of life”? What on earth are you talking about?

  • Ryan

    It’s always better when you can use the fingerpuppets…so you don’t come across as a condescending ass. If you only see movies about subjects you agree with, your narrow world view will make you no better than the kind of people who can come up with dreck like Expelled.

    On another note:

    [quote]David Mamet’s new flick about mixed martial arts and how deeply you can be betrayed if you’re ridiculously naive.[/quote]

    Priceless.

  • Rich

    Very good MaryAnn. As one person can’t make a difference, I suggest you don’t vote. You are advocating, with a green light, that people should see “Expelled!”. You are now knowingly complicit (as you “understand my point”) in their anti-science, holocaust-revisionist enterprise. And that is odious.

    As for “meaning of life”. I was referring to ” I’m a writer and ponderer in New York City who drinks too much wine and thinks way too much about such inconsequences as movies, TV, books, and the meaning of life.”

    Ryan, you seem fine with financially enabling this sort of propaganda. Go read “an inspector calls” and have a think, if you can.

  • Ryan

    Maybe I shall have two and double you up.

  • MaryAnn

    As one person can’t make a difference, I suggest you don’t vote.

    It’s quite a wild leap you’re making there.

    You are advocating, with a green light, that people should see “Expelled!”.

    Yes, obviously.

    You are now knowingly complicit (as you “understand my point”) in their anti-science, holocaust-revisionist enterprise.

    The one does not necessarily follow from the other. I could just as easily say that anyone who avoids a deeper understanding of what these dangerous people are up to is giving silent assent to their cause.

    And I repeat: There are ways to see a movie that do not involve giving a single penny to anyone.

    As for “meaning of life”. I was referring to ” I’m a writer and ponderer in New York City who drinks too much wine and thinks way too much about such inconsequences as movies, TV, books, and the meaning of life.”

    Ah, well, you might made that connection earlier, or explained why you felt you needed to make such a non-sequiter comment. Since there was no mention of anything even remotely like “meaning of life” earlier in the thread, I’m sure you’ll understand why I was confused.

    And I don’t see why it doesn’t make ontological sense. Just because I don’t believe that any outside force or intelligence is imposing some sort of “meaning” on our lives doesn’t mean that we can’t make one for ourselves. And that is, in fact, related to the issues in *Expelled,* which expresses a view that many religious people hold, that with a deity there can be no “meaning.” Which is bullshit. But that’s what scares so many people enough to make them embrace such dishonesty as “intelligent design.”

  • Rich

    (1) meaning of life. You’re the one that supposedly thinks about it a lot. Maybe it’s not that ‘top of mind’.

    Ah .. you’re qualifying it with “our” lives. But that’s not the “meaning of life”, though, is it? That’s a different question. You’ve explicitly changed the object attribute paring by adding a telic entity, “us” and making life about “us”. And that’s why it makes no ontological sense.

    (2) Cross Post:

    If it gets rented enough times, the library will buy two copies…. If the TV ratings are good enough, they’ll be demand for more. Again, thinking it through isn’t really your strong point.

    Do you think in this for profit world there are channels that aren’t scrutinized? If you had more readers, people would be asking to advertise here

  • geo

    Goddess;

    You have comitted an unpardonable sin. don’t you know that you are supposed to “expel” EXPELLED? Don’t you know that it has been “exposed” by Big Science and has been given a “C” (for Condemned) rating by The National Center for Science Education?

  • MaryAnn

    I’m done splitting hairs with you, Rich. I’ve already acknowledged that I understand what you’re saying, it’s just that I disagree with it. You seem incapable of acknowledging that your perspective isn’t the only one, even if you don’t agree with those other perspectives. So we’re done.

  • Rich

    Ah, the whole PoMo two perspectives argument. Sadly, this is what ID is all about. But here’s the rub, they’re not both right. 2+2=5 is a perspective. It’s also wrong. As are you, repeatedly. Advancing Pluralism isn’t a supportable argument. Fascism is a perspective, but if you advance it as an argument with me you wont do well.

    And whilst you “acknowledged that I understand what you’re saying”, I do don’t think you do, moreover, I should be the judge of that, not you?

    Do I have to spell it out again, or are you going to reread what I’ve written?

  • MaryAnn

    2+2=5 is NOT a perspective. It’s idiocy. Some things simply are a matter of fact. What we’re talking about is NOT a matter of concrete fact but of opinion. As I’m sure you well know.

  • Rich

    So by your argument then, idiots don’t have perspectives?
    Are you sure?
    Not all opinions are equally valid. To espouse that IS idiocy. And stimulating demand from a product DOES effect supply.

  • Ryan

    I find it amusing that you insist MaryAnn is missing your point…while you are consistently missing hers. Let’s all be honest. Expelled is NOT going to be some sort of box-office smash, I doubt it’s even going to be put into wide release.

    Do I think it’s a stupid movie, with an unsupportable premise? Yes. Does MaryAnn? I get that impression, yes.

    So, should people stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes and refuse to acknowledge that these thoughts and people are out there? Or should we try and understand where they are coming from, so we can argue with them effectively?

    I hope that each library has two copies of this movie, because I believe that anybody who watches it–and isn’t already indoctrinated into that school of thought, is just going to realize how ridiculous it is.

    Let’s take the bible as an example. Incredibly wide-spread already, do I believe anything written in it? No, not really. But I have read it twice, and taken three Theology courses in college, because to have an intelligent discussion about something, you have to have some KNOWLEDGE. That’s the only way to defeat something Rich, to understand it better than the person who is promoting it.

    Anyway, this post is getting too long. Tah!

  • shoop

    Well, I don’t think it’s a contest regarding who’s doing the most “missing the point”–if it were, I’d call it a toss-up. Still, two points to address:

    1) non-sequitur, not “non-sequiter.” Latin for “does not follow.”

    2) “stimulating demand from a product does AFFECT supply,” not EFFECT.

    Other than that, keep up the good work.

  • Morgan Spurlock never ceases to impress me; i just saw Super Size Me, which was amazingly insightful, and now he’s making a documentary designed to make people sincerely think about the war on terrorism… well done indeed

  • MBI

    Morgan Spurlock never ceases to piss me off. I’ve had my problems with Michael Moore, but I see and respect the real anger and commitment and dedication and vision behind his work. Spurlock’s “Super Size Me” indicated to me that he’s just as talented a filmmaker as Moore, but he doesn’t have the brains or the depth. I can’t imagine what a tool like Spurlock would bring to a very serious topic like the Middle East crisis; stick to fast food, jerk.

  • MA

    I’ll just chip in here and say I agree with Rich (if not his delivery).

    The odious and dishonest people behind this religious propaganda piece do not deserve a penny from any right-thinking person, so recommending your readers to go see it is plain wrong.

    For all those recommending that we “try and understand where they are coming from”, would you still be saying that about a documentary that advanced white supremacy or Holocaust denial? Would you still want to pay $10 to the authors in order to understand where they are ‘coming from’?

    Also, there’s nothing to ‘understand’ about this movie. It’s lies piled on top of lies piled on top of Bronze Age stupidity. It’s designed to feed the religious persecution complex that so many cling to, which then allows them to ring fence their idiotic beliefs.

    And don’t think everyone is going to see through the lies – check out this melon head: http://www.comingsoon.net/news/reviewsnews.php?id=44147 (the comments are particularly entertaining)

    Then we have masterful comedy pieces like: http://www.mrc.org/BozellColumns/entertainmentcolumn/2008/col20080417.asp (if you look in the dictionary under ‘credulous idiot’, you’ll see this guy’s photo)

    Fortunately, others have nailed it: http://movies.nytimes.com/2008/04/18/movies/18expe.html

    Further reading available at http://www.expelledexposed.com/

    MaryAnn, remember what is at stake here – allowing Creationists to tell children that “goddidit”. That’s a road back to the dark ages.

    I hope you’ll reconsider your position on this.

  • MaryAnn

    would you still be saying that about a documentary that advanced white supremacy or Holocaust denial? Would you still want to pay $10 to the authors in order to understand where they are ‘coming from’?

    If white supremacists or Holocaust deniers were trying and actually often succeeding getting their idiocy taught as science in public schools, then yes, I would say that we need to understand their “arguments” so that we can effectively fight them.

    The problem in this situation often is that rational people do not really understand how irrational people think — and so we talk at cross purposes. Irrational people don’t understand what we mean when we talk about “straw men” or “circular logic,” don’t even understand what is meant by “the scientific method” or what issues science is able to explore. (Discovering “a” “meaning of life” isn’t one of them, but they don’t understand that.)

    So we cannot just “counter” ID by saying things like “the evidence says this” or “Occam’s Razor leads us to conclude that.” People who believe in ID and/or refuse to accept evolution DO NOT KNOW what they hell we’re talking about when we say things like this.

    We need to shape our arguments to better counter their misapprehensions. And we can’t do that if we don’t know what their misapprehensions are in the first place. People like Ben Stein are appealing to the emotions of their audiences — scientists and other rational people need to do the same… without, of course, lying about anything, as Stein seems to feel the need to do.

  • MA

    Thanks for the reply.

    I still say everything you mention and that we agree upon can be achieved without putting one red cent in the bank for these bozos. The rational community is awash with blogs that keep an eye on the god gang and their attempts to subvert the separation clause – Pharyngula and Dawkins are good watering holes to have in the RSS reader.

    However, you’ve made your mind up and me mine… so we’ll agree to disagree, then. Atheist consensus = herding cats. :)

  • shoop

    “We need to shape our arguments to better counter their misapprehensions. And we can’t do that if we don’t know what their misapprehensions are in the first place. People like Ben Stein are appealing to the emotions of their audiences — scientists and other rational people need to do the same…”

    Well… good luck with that. But the biggest obstacles to that very worthwhile goal are attitude and rhetoric. Let’s take a current parallel example–AIDS/HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Outside expert enters with something along the lines of, “Wow, no wonder you people are getting infected all over the place. You don’t know what you’re doing, and you’re so freakin’ backward. Let me, an intelligent person who knows what she’s doing, come in and help you…” Kind of a turn-off. The same thing happens with ID–as I think you’ve noticed in all the threads that touch upon God in one way or another.

    Now… for my personal baby steps as a believer who wants to Learn Stuff–I found a definition of atheism from a 1963 Supreme Court case that I referenced in a previous thread, and I went and found out who the hell Friar William of Ockham was. But it wasn’t because I got called “irrational” or “idiot” or “believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” To convince, if convincing is necessary, requires respect. Which is why Stein is such a huge disappointment to me–there’s a great deal of evidence that shows his movie uses lies and disrespect, and he should know better.

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