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Seinfeld: Heaven or Hell?

posted by burb

A critic for Canada’s National Post examines the new field of Seinfeld Studies, as it is represented in “Seinfeld, Master of Its Domain,” a recently published collection of academic writings on the cultural significance of the long-running sitcom. Among the theses included: “Seinfeld, Situation Comedy, and the Encounter with Nothingness,” “Seinfeld is a Jewish Sitcom, Isn’t It: Ethnicity and Assimilation on 1990s American Television,” and, inevitably, “Jane Austen, Meet Jerry Seinfeld.” Another essay, “Male Anxiety and the Buddy System in Seinfeld” might as well be titled “Jerry Seinfeld, Meet Jerry Falwell,” as it exposes the latent homosexuality in Seinfeld and George Costanza’s relationship: a nonsexual crush that the author, Joanna L. Di Mattia, Monash University, identifies as “homosociality.”

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It’s the National Post’s writer, Richard Fulford, who comes up with the question relating Seinfeld and religion: Are the Seinfeld Four in heaven or hell? The case for heaven: “World crises never intrude, politics is barely mentioned, no one worries about food or lodging, sex is available (if sometimes complicated), and money seldom arises as a serious problem.” On the other hand: “In the Seinfeldian world a great deal happens but almost none of it much matters. In all these ways it closely resembles high school. That answers the theological question. They’re living in hell.”

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“On a Clear Day”: Baptism in Cold Water

posted by

When I saw the title of the film “On a Clear Day,” my first impulse was to complete the old phrase–“you can see forever.” But this movie isn’t about seeing forever; it’s a small, intimate look at ordinary people who deal with forces much larger than themselves. Frank (Peter Mullan) is a lifelong factory worker who has recently lost his job, he’s estranged from his adult son, and he’s listless in his marriage to wife Joan (Brenda Blethyn). So, to combat his boredom and depression in forced retirement, he comes up with the idea of swimming the English Channel.

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Immediately, I’m thinking of other British working-class-triumph films like “Billy Elliot” and “The Full Monty.” Sure enough, once the movie starts, the other staples of this genre begin to appear. There’s the motley cast of friends, including the lifelong best buddy, the out-of-place foreigner (here, a Chinese shopowner who rarely speaks but is secretly wise), and the young ne’er-do-well who just wants to fit in (“Lord of the Rings” alum Billy Boyd). There’s the wife who keeps a secret from her husband, although it’s a pretty tame one–she’s taking classes to get her license as a city bus driver. In true spiritual fashion, she has to take the test three times before passing.

Whether you’re watching Frank go through a grueling training process or watching as he tries in vain to have a conversation with his son (a stay-at-home-dad who thinks his father is ashamed of him), you’re always hoping he succeeds. Peter Mullan wisely doesn’t play Frank like a hero. Frank makes mistakes and often mistreats the people around him. His goal of swimming the Channel is also a way for other characters to make life changes of their own, whether it’s rekindling a marriage or standing up to discrimination.

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“On a Clear Day” is a feel-good movie and isn’t the least bit embarrassed about it. Gaby Dellal’s direction is straightforward up until the very end of the film when she lets symbolism go a little bit too far. The most agonizing plot detail–that Frank and Joan had another son who drowned as a child–is never given the proper emotional levity. It’s used as a hamfisted device to explain first Frank’s motivation for swimming and second his disconnection from surviving son Rob.

“On a Clear Day” is at its cinematic and spiritual best as a film about rebirth. The role of water in the story is multifold. The denouement of Frank and Rob’s argument with each other comes when Rob jumps into a pool with all his clothes on. Frank’s redemption is also found in water–the cold, black water of the Channel–as his family stands on the French shore hoping he makes it across. There are some beautiful shots of Frank alone in the water, his arms and legs moving in time. It’s a shame the film can’t just let Frank swim in peace, because the story would be much more powerful if he could.

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Chronicles of Ridiculous?

posted by ellen leventry

Who says there’s no “Passion” effect, no rush to mimic Mel Gibson’s phenomenal success? Details magazine reports in its April cover story featuring Vin Diesel–whose recent filmography includes “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “The Pacifier”–that he is preparing to star as “one of the baddest conquerors in all history: Hannibal, the elephant-riding Alps-crosser.” And, oh yeah, he’s doing the film in Punic.

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So, the sword-and-sandals epic isn’t exactly the type of “religious revival” media speculated about after “The Passion of the Christ,” but Diesel certainly is making like Mel and joining the dead language club. “It is nutty!” Diesel explained to queries from Detail’s Kevin Gray. “But I don’t have a choice. I got to do it right.”

Let’s hope it’s more “Boiler Room” right, than “xXx” right.

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“V for Vendetta”: Virtue in Vengeance?

posted by kris rasmussen

Blowing up a national landmark to make a statement about terrorism. Unleashing a dangerous virus for political gain. No, I am not describing the latest news headlines. It’s the plot of “V for Vendetta,” the latest blockbuster action flick from the makers of the “Matrix” trilogy.

In the film, based on a graphic novel of the same name, “V” (played by Hugo Weaving) is an anti-hero living underground in a futuristic and totalitarian Great Britain. He has spent years plotting an elaborate plan of revenge against everyone who was once involved in a horrible scientific experiment in a prison camp where he was tortured. His plans take a detour, however, when a young woman, Evey (Natalie Portman), comes to his aid and he must return the favor. “V” begins to care for Evey, and she soon becomes inextricably involved in his crusade to rally the fearful masses from complacency to revolution against the military regime under which they live.

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“Vendetta” wants to be an important movie about ideas–political, moral, and spiritual–and it certainly starts out that way. In the first 15 minutes, we are inundated with numerous not-so-subtle references to 9/11, the Iraq war, the Patriot Act, and the potential legacy of the current Bush administration. The movie is also quick to take on religion, as spiritual books such as the Koran are banned in this Orwellian society. And while the government slogan, seen everywhere in the film, states, “Strength in Unity. Unity in Faith,” the slogan is not referring to faith in God but blind faith in a corrupt government. Even “V” himself doesn’t have much use for God, as he explains early on in the story: “Unlike God, I don’t leave things to chance.” (For more on the theory that this is a deliberately and completely an anti-Christian film, click here.)

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And while all of the spectacular special effects and endless allegorical allusions to contemporary society pulled me in at first, by the film’s end “Vendetta” was an unsatisfying look at courage, justice, hate, and love. For the audience to care about “V” as a heroic figure, we need to see good in him that we do not see in the enemies he is fighting–but we don’t. “V” is as much of a monster as the people he destroys. There is no virtue in his vengeance and no interest in his own redemption.

During its two hours of murder and mayhem, “Vendetta” didn’t attempt to answer any of the significant questions it raised about life in a truly godless society, and it also didn’t give those questions the serious reflection they deserved.

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