Jerry R.'s Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Rating History

God's Not Dead
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

God's Not Dead is a movie with its heart in the right place and its head up its butt. It contains a microcosm of an idea, debating God's place in the natural order, but spends most of the time as a recruitment drive for the Christian faith in which you are recruited with your arm twisted behind your back and made to cry Uncle. It's a messy, badly made, poorly acted film that ends on a note so idiotic that you feel like hurling fruit at the screen.

Buried somewhere in this mess is a serious intellectual debate struggling to break free as a student is forced to defend his belief in God against an implacable philosophy teacher. You're led to believe that this will be the film's major focus, but actually it occupies a minor corner of the movie as the movie sinks further and further into the realm of the ridiculous. How ridiculous? Well, ends at a Newboys concert at which Willie Robertson gives a video message calling for all Christians to text "God's Not Dead" to all of their contacts.

As the movie opens we meet an earnest young college freshman named Josh (Shane Harper) who, on the first day, finds himself under the gun by his philosophy teacher, Mr. Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), a fire-breathing intellectual snob who informs his students that he means to do away with any silly debates about a Supreme Being by asking them to write "God is Dead" on a piece of paper and affixing their names. He's an atheist, and wears it angrily on his sleeve. Josh can't bring himself to sign on to such a thing. He's a Christian and won't give in to Mr. Radisson's demand. Radisson intends to humiliate the kid by handing him the lectern and asking him to defend his belief in God over the course of the next three classes.

Periodically, throughout the film, the movie returns to this debate. The kid comes off like a pro, defending the point of creation, the meaning of philosophy and God's place in the grand scheme of things via a PowerPoint presentation that would bring Al Gore to tears. He brings into question, philosophical ideas presented by Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins and Aristotle. Meanwhile, the teacher dispenses the slings and arrows to try and trip him up.

As long as the movie stays in this realm it finds a workable angle. When it steps outside that debate it falls flat on its face. The intellectual discussion has to fight for space against a series of unfocused supporting characters and half-written subplots that are introduced but never really dealt with. We get disapproving parents, faith-curious kids, dying parents, car accidents, break-ups, heartbreaks, cancer, dementia, dishonest rental car agents and stern Muslim parenting, all to the tune of a movie that looks and feels like it was made for public access television.

These elements wouldn't bother me if they mixed together into a convincing story, but they're all piled on top of one another like bits and pieces randomly glued onto the plot. There is, for instance, a hard-headed left wing blogger (Trisha LaFache) who confronts "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson about his "business of duck murder." He preaches to her about the miracle of Jesus Christ and than, what do you know, an hour later she is told she has terminal cancer. Then we meet her boyfriend (Dean Cain), a guy so mean that he gives her a tongue-lashing when she breaks the news about her illness.

We also meet a Muslim college student (Hadeel Sittu) who lives under the stern brow of her father who insists that she wear her burqa on campus. He might be shocked to discover that she's a closet Christian, listening to sermons by Franklin Graham behind closed doors. That story has a lot of potential, but is never resolved.

Then there's some recurring nonsense about a minister (David A.R. White) who can't get his rental car to start until he appeals to the all-mighty for help. He's being stalled, you see, by divine intervention so he can help a non-converted soul who will cross his path. The movie cuts back to this man over and over and plays his problems as comic relief. Actually, it leaves you longing for a Fast Forward button.

The only character in this movie that has any meat is the Mr. Radisson, played with spit and vinegar by Kevin Sorbo. He, at least, brings a challenge to the table and offers an opposing viewpoint. Radisson is proudly an atheist and, it goes without saying that his reasons have to do with a family tragedy, not philosophy. He has a final scene that comes right out of a romantic comedy, only instead of running after his true love, he's running after Jesus. At this, my forehead is still red from a self-induced face-palm.

What starts as an interesting idea about the meaning and origin of God's creation is ultimately saturated into movie that ends up cheerleading the Christian faith. I suppose there's nothing wrong with that except that it began with an idea of challenging atheism and then gives into preaching to the converted. The movie ends at the Newsboys concert with all of the major players coming to Jesus in a way that feels like a Pepsi commercial. When it was over, I wanted to offer a prayer those responsible for such a cornball and half-baked movie. They could use it.

Philomena (2013)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The story of the Magdalene Laundries is not exactly a chapter of Irish history that anyone wants to hang on a wall. For more than 200 years, the Magdalene laundries were an asylum engineered to incarcerate young girls who were either promiscuous or prostitutes or the victims of rape. It was little more than a sweatshop in which the girls were forced into hard labor - usually doing laundry - for a certain term and were regarded like inmates. These asylums were sanctioned by the Catholic Church, operated by nuns, and privately funded by the government. Many girls were guilty of nothing. Some were pregnant and had children and were only allowed to see their children for an hour a day. Even still, a child could be adopted and sent away without the mother's knowledge or consent. You should know that this is not a story out of The Dark Ages. In fact, the very last of the Magdalene Laundries closed its doors in 1996.

Don't panic, though. Stephen Frear's film Philomena is not an expose of the Magdalene laundries. That story has already been told in Peter Mullan's hard-bitten 2003 drama The Magdalene Sisters. They do, however, serve as a backdrop to the story of one person whose life was affected, for better and for worse, by her time locked away behind the walls of the laundries.

Philomena tells the story of Philomena Lee, an Irish catholic woman who spent most of her life regretting one fateful event that never left her heart. A half century ago Philomena made a mistake, the consequences of which have haunted her ever since. Back in 1951, she was a teenager. She went to a carnival. She met a boy. Things got serious. Nine months later she was living in Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea where she gave birth to a son she named Anthony. Later, she was forced to stand by helplessly as her son was adopted by an American couple. Philomena, a devout Catholic, believed that her separation from her son was penance for her sin. Yet, it is something that she has never come to terms with. Half a century later, her sad eyes are a window into painful memories and regret.

Philomena, played in a lovely performance by Judi Dench, wants to know what ever happened to her son, and finds herself in the company of an out-of-work BBC reporter named Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, who co-wrote the film) who, at first, sees the old girl's story as a sellable human interest piece. Anyone with eyes can see that she is much more than just a sound bite. She's warm-hearted, a bit na´ve, with a stubborn resolve, yet she's not a standard crabby old bat. She's a cozy soul with a twee Irish accent and too often the perpetrator of TMI.

At first, Martin is purely professional, but as the deep wounds of Philomena's story unearth, he finds himself taking it personally. He is at odds with her passionate faith, because he himself is a newly-minted atheist. He labels himself confidently, but we sense that he hasn't completely rid himself of all doubts. The two are not on equal ground. Martin's mind is a flurry of intellectual cynicism. He's a college-educated journalist who seems to have a quip, an aside, and an answer for just about everything. Philomena, meanwhile, is earnest and straightforward. She sees the world in terms that are purely black and white.

The search for Philomena's son becomes an awakening for both she and Martin. Travelling from rural Ireland to England and to American, the two dig up bits and pieces about Anthony, some of which are a relief, others are painful. What she finds will not be revealed here, except to say that it is not what we expect. Little by little, bit by bit, information about her son comes to light; yet, all Philomena really wants to know is if he ever wondered about her.

What is interesting about Philomena is that this is not a hard, maudlin melodrama. Frears allows a good deal of humor, especially in regards to Philomena's awakening to the rude shocks of the modern world. She's surprisingly calm, especially in her attitude about the sexual encounter that produced her son.

Judi Dench, whose presence in a film is welcomed no matter what she's doing, gives one of her best performances as a woman whose eyes betray a weary heart. Through the years, her missing child has never left her mind or her heart, yet the experience hasn't destroyed her spirit. She is a woman devoted to God, un-embittered by her experience that keeps her mind on the task and won't allow herself to be pushed into outbursts of emotion.

The outbursts are reserved for her traveling companion. Martin reacts more or less the way we would. He's outraged by what he learns about Philomena's experience. He's a man who has slipped away from God in the cold of a brutal world (remember, he's a journalist) and he can't understand her unbending faith. You expect a film that is emotional, but you don't expect one that brings in questions of faith and the meaning of God. During one roadside rant about the meaning of God, he asks her if she really believes all that she claims, and he is stunned by her straightforward, "Yes."

Philomena is a very moving film. It is touching when it needs to be, humorous when it's appropriate and comes to an ending that never feels like a manipulation. If there is one weakness it is probably that it leaves several questions unanswered. Those are difficult to discuss without spoilers, but you walk out in deep discussions over some of the issues it raises. This is a beautiful film about the chasms of time, the measure of lingering heartache and the manner in which old wound are dealt with.

The LEGO Movie
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"The LEGO Movie" is a happy and exhilarating ball of fun. It's a bright, colorful, quick-witted adventure that stretches the animated form as far as it can possibly go, spinning its characters into other dimensions and other realms. In short, it does exactly what animation is supposed to do. It plays around in a magical world but doesn't simply ground itself in one simple-minded idea. This is one of those rare homeruns that comes along every once in a great while. It follows ground-breakers like "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Toy Story" in that the animators open the visual canvas to create something really special and distinct.

The story takes place in a world completely constructed out of LEGO, beginning with a breathtaking opening shot that swoops through downtown Brickburg as the happy citizens sing the uber-infectious techno-pop ditty "Everything is Awesome" (a song that will be jammed in your head for the next six months). We are in the familiar world of the colorful interlock blocks, and here the world is so large that we get cameos by William Shakespeare, Gandalf, Superman, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Abraham Lincoln, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, C-3PO and Shaquille O'Neal. We visit a pirate world, a cowboy world, a subterranean world and many more. You know the animators have hit on a burst of genius when they employ Liam Neeson to play a character named Good Cop/Bad Cop.

Our focus zeros in on a nobody, a generic construction worker named Emmett Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt) whose world-view is that life is a party, even at work. He's happy because every single day he gets to build something new, taking things apart and making them into something else - everything in this world is made of LEGO, so everything can be changed in an instant.

One person who is not happy with the constant changes is President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), a cold-hearted corporate ruler who wants the world to stay the way it is. He has a secret plan to nail down the blocks permanently. That's where Emmett comes in. Mistaken for "the chosen one", he is recruited by a counsel called The Master Builders to thwart Business' plan by building objects that will prevent his evil deeds. The problem: Emmett has no imagination; he can't build without an instruction book. The best he's come up with so far is a bunk bed couch.

So, surrounded by newfound friends like the wizard Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), a hell-cat named Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) and a very snarky Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) he learns to use his imagination. That's part of the spirit of this movie. It encourages free-form imagination rather than simply sticking to the prescribed instructions, which was always the spirit of the LEGO toy. Once you've build the intended toy, you break it apart and make something else. The LEGO world presented here is in that spirit. Every building, every character, and every backdrop is made out of LEGO and it is constantly changing.

The script does the same. The writers have really worked on this screenplay, allowing it not simply to follow a pre-formed pattern but to move into other realms of imagination while satirizing our real-world dependence on designer coffee, computer gadgets, mechanized music and dimwitted sitcoms (Emmett really loves a one-joke show called "Where are My Pants?") Emmett's world is bland and homogenized and the point of the story is how he opens his mind to except an out-of-the-box form of thinking.

"The LEGO movie" is a breath of fresh air. In the past two years, animators have been satisfied to tread the safe waters of market-tested brand names and sequels. Animated films have stopped surprising us because they end up packaged as the same tired interchangeable plots that stay so grounded that they might as well have been live action. No one gets really inventive anymore. Unlike previous attempts to cash in on classic toys, like "Battleship", "G.I. Joe" and the abysmal "Transformers" movies, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller don't simply pay lip service to the LEGO toy, they have engineered a universe which is constantly evolving as the bricks are broken down and rebuilt into something else. They create a beautiful, colorful world of imagination and reformation that is a tribute to the endangered spirit of make-believe.

Her (2013)
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The world around Theodore Twombly contains a lot of empty space. In his job, in his social life, and in his heart, he is a lonely man. He's not depressing to be around, but you sense that there is a good deal of melancholy about him. You might passively notice him at work, but if you passed him on the street, you might not notice him at all. All those years ago, when Paul McCartney asked "All the lonely people/Where do they all come from?", Theodore Twombly may have had the answer. For Theodore, like all the lonely people in the 21st century, he finds solace in his computer.

Spike Jonze's quirky, arresting, and quite beautiful science fiction love story named her takes place in the not-too-distant future, when hologram video games have moved into our living rooms and man-made operating systems have begun to think and feel for themselves. Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) engages fully in this world. His loneliness is bred from a recent divorce from his wife Catherine (Rooney Mara). Emotionally, he has passed the stage of regret about the break-up and moved on to the point in which he is looking for some measure of human connection. Dating is difficult, and a brief excursion into phone sex turns out to be less than satisfying.

His loneliness is broken by the introduction of an Operating System that becomes his constant companion. Her name is Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson), a highly advanced disembodied talking computer companion that learns about Theodore's life partly from their conversations, but mostly from what she learns from researching his hard drive. She freely admits that she is evolving moment by moment, and is always conscious of the fact that she doesn't have a body. To Theodore, she's beguiling, smart, eager to please, with a breathy voice that is kind of sexy cool. She is also emotionally delicate, and easily hurt. Samantha is the perfect antidote to a lonely soul. That we know Johannson so well as the current male fantasy works in her favor. This is the best performance she has ever given, a disembodied voice that becomes flesh and blood in our minds.

Naturally, Theodore bonds quickly with Samantha. She is smart, funny, and intuitive and she likes him. He takes her out into the world via an earpiece and a small device that allows her to see the world around her. He falls in love with Samantha and vice versa, but he is aware at all times of the wall that separates them. She knows it too and tries to find creative ways around it.

"her" never goes where we expect, nor does the story turn so creepy that it keeps us at a distance. In fact, this is a very heartfelt movie that keeps this odd scenario rooted firmly to the ground. There's nothing here that couldn't actually happen. The movie takes place through Theodore's eyes and he never falls into defending his relationship. In fact, for most of the movie, he's bewildered by it.

"her" was directed by Spike Jonze, who has become the great authority on breaking down the walls of the human mind. He previously made "Being John Malkovich" about a group of people who find a portal into the titular actor's mind. And he made "Adaptation" which featured Nicholas Cage as twin brothers. "her" is just as good, a film is filled with great imagery of an empty, lonely future. The set design is brilliant. Large rooms are sparsely filled, stripped down to their bare essentials, as if the narrowing of the computer user has focused so firmly on the computer screen that the rest of the world has become irrelevant. Jonze's cockeyed view of the world is not too far from the truth, and not that unreasonable.

Here he has created a movie that evolves in ways that we don't expect. Samantha's evolution grows and grows into a brilliant finale that is unexpected but also quite reasonable. There is no way to know where the movie is going, and that's the film's great thrill. His screenplay allows Samantha issues of jealously, infidelity and much worse. The story could have gone a hundred different ways but Jonze finds a delicate balance to an an odd scenario that plays as much with the head as it does with the heart.

The Wolf of Wall Street
3 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The constant theme of Martin Scorsese's best work are the temptations of the flesh, never more aptly seen than though the prism of real-life subjects. He's explored this through Jake LaMotta, Howard Hughes, Henry Hill and Jesus Christ, but in his new film The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort may have the most savage appetite of them all. Here, Scorsese turns his camera to the greed and avarice of the stock market boom of the late 80s that he sees in almost the same way as his great film Goodfellas, with a kid from the middle class who finds a short-route to riches and unapologetically enjoys the anything-goes lifestyle. He wants anything and everything and gets it, no matter what. Then, as Scorsese's subjects always do, must suffer for it. Jordan races through life as fast as he can, acquiring anything and everything he can get his hands on. Anything? How about his own yacht with a helipad? Of course, you'll need a helicopter to go along with it.

Like Goodfellas, which followed the personal real-life story of an outsider into the world of New York gangsters, The Wolf of Wall Street follows the rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, who narrates his own story with the energy of a runaway bullet train. At 22, he is a nice kid from the middle class who gets a job with a legendary Wall Street firm L.J. Rothchild under the tutelage of Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey) a wiry drug-addict who not only trains the kid, but lets him in on the secrets of quick success. "The name of the game," he tells Jordan," is moving the money from the client's pocket to your pocket." This is a mantra that Jordan takes to heart, even if the client doesn't make a dime.

Then, only weeks after getting the job, Rothchild hits a brick wall on October 19th, 1987 - Black Monday - forcing the grand old lady to close its doors after 90 years. Without a job, he starts from the bottom at the only firm that will hire him - a meager penny-stock firm that works out of an auto parts garage. Jordan makes himself a superstar by proving how easy it is to scam the client to make money fast. He takes over the business, building it from penny stocks to Blue Chips to IPOs born on the backs of screwing their clients. To his surprise, he finds a small patch of money hungry brokers ready to follow his lead. Most visible is a pudgy Jewish kid named Donnie (Jonah Hill) who becomes his right arm. Donnie is a glutinous yin to Jordan's yang, an otherwise nice Jewish kid who tries to throw off that moniker by dressing as WASP-like as he can.

In no time Jordan has turned the tiny boiler room brokerage firm into Stratton Oakmont, an operation built on crooked investments from which flows money, money, money leading to mountains of drugs, rooms full of naked women, and every expensive toy under the sun. He feels guilty about nothing, taking Gordon Gekko's mantra of "Greed is Good" and making it into a religious sacrament. Jordan is a modern-day Caligula, a Roman Emperor who makes no apologies for his gross avarice, his drug addiction, his sex addiction or any other morally reprehensible machination that allowed him to get it. In no time at all he has be biggest house, the biggest boat, the best sports car, the fastest plane, and mounds and mounds of drugs. He even trades in his supportive wife ("How I Met Your Mother"'s Cristin Milioti) for a gorgeous blonde trophy wife (Naomi Robbie).

In our minds, possibly not to Jordan, there is always the dread that the party will come to an end. We feel that, but Jordan constantly skirts disaster, especially late in the film when he desperately needs to get to Switzerland and takes his own boat instead of a plane. The plane explodes in mid-air and Jordan comes to believe that he may be invincible. We feel that too, even when a boy scout FBI agent (Kyle Chandler) start snooping around Jordan's books. The scene at sea, incidentally, is a not-so-thinly veiled call-back to DiCaprio's role in Titanic when his boat is caught in a violent storm and it looks like The King of the World won't make it out of this one either.

The rhythm of the film is familiar to anyone who has seen Scorsese's films before, what is amazing is that it's always infectious. We know that what Jordan and Donnie are doing is morally reprehensible, but there is something in the attractiveness of their behavior that makes us privately hope that they won't get caught. In our own way we like these guys, and that may come from our familiarity with their other films. DiCaprio, in particular, turns in his very best performance, throwing away his good-guy image as a man who lives by appetite alone. There are notes here that DiCaprio has never been able to display. Yes, he's good looking, but he isn't afraid to look like a jerk. Here he is able to display his talent for slapstick in a scene in which Jordan ingests a 15 year-old Quaalude that sends his body into a fit very close to cerebral palsy. That's no good when he desperately needs to get to his car to stop Donnie from making a fatal mistake. What is surprising is that this scene is played for laughs and it works!

This is a movie made up of two or three dozen perfect moments like that. Overall it's energy is charged by the pacing and by DiCaprio's in-your-face narration. This is a raunchy, messy, but ultimately exciting film about one guy who desires everything and gets it. If it seems a bit too long, that's only because it is playing to the theme of wretched excess. The end of the film sends Jordan on a toboggan slide that seems somewhat inevitable, causing his reign as king of the world to end with a whimper instead of a bang. Does he learn a lesson from all his sins of lust and greed? What do you think?