Life at the Movies

Saving the world, yeah! I don’t usually come out with exclamatory things like that, but I may feel them. In the vein of Flash Gordon (which I have been listening to recently—the 1980 soundtrack is awe-inspiring) and zillions of other ‘saving the world’ films comes Power Rangers (PG-13) this weekend.

I have never been a Power Ranger viewer and therefore am no fan, but I do like stories (read: premises) that start off telling you this is about saving the world especially if they are science fiction orientated. I don’t believe people can be super-powered like the power rangers, but I’m pumped for a save the world scenario. It’s always good to watch the world being saved rather than the other way around. The trailer looks impressive, with machines like kinetically empowered over-sized toys.

Life,  CHIPS, Wilson, Slamma Jamma

An Alien-like premise is Life (R) but with something more. The alien life form not only threatens those aboard a space station but the whole of earth as well. A bit of a stretch, I mean unbelievable, involving never proven aliens and speculative alien identity, and it’s dark, but the aliens could stand for thematic touches of paradise lost and stopping the madness go any further. Cinematically, we hope it is a visceral two hours of suspense as well.

CHIPS (R) is a movie version of the Chips television series of the 1970’s, which was fun because of the magnetism of the two leads playing California Highway Patrol men. Their banter was cool even though they rode bikes that made them look ‘uncoordinated’ which was more a quirk than a flaw. The Chips stories were less interesting.

I thought Wilson was a drama, but it’s an R-rated comedy. Enough said, except that its comedy is wound up in a sort of dramatic context: loneliness, families on the edge, which are interesting things to explore, but perhaps dramatically. When I saw this premise on paper, I thought, is this a drama? Or is this a dramedy (a mix of comedy and drama)?

Slamma Jamma (PG) is about slam dunking, which was what I liked to do when playing basketball at school, so I like watching others slam dunk. Slam dunks are some of the thrills of playing basketball and great to watch. The main man doing the dunking is wrongfully accused but is still preparing for the national championships. Inspirational, redemptive story.

My pick this week is Power Rangers.

Divorce was less acceptable in the 1940’s and 50’s, but is more acceptable today. Divorce situations in movies are commonplace. However, many classical Hollywood stars during the early and mid 1900’s and beyond were getting divorced several times though divorce was scandalous.

My impression is that there are too many divorce scenarios at the movies today.

There is a general thread through different kinds of movies featuring divorced men and women, from Night at the Museum (2006), a family film, and Mother’s Day (2016), a comedy.

A couple of the last movies I reviewed on this blog, The Spiderwick Chronicles (reviewed here) and Snitch (reviewed here), have fathers who are divorced. One left his family and the other remarried.

The Hay’s Code

Divorce in old Hollywood movies was regulated by Hollywood’s self-regulating code, The Hay’s Code, in the classical era, from the middle of the 1930’s to the mid 1960’s.

Certain things were off-limits according to the Hay’s Code. The code also said that special care be exercised in the manner in which certain subjects are treated, to the end that vulgarity and suggestiveness may be eliminated and that good taste may be emphasized. Those subjects included religion and religious ceremonies (which would include the marriage ceremony) and the institution of marriage. (The Oxford History of World Cinema, page 239).

How this was interpreted was on a film by film basis, but generally, marriage was sacred and divorce anathema in the old Hollywood movie system.

Out of the closet

Since the 1970’s, divorce has come out of the closet at the movies.

The seminal film of a couple parting was Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). A couple divorce and fight for custody of their son in court. It was perhaps the first film that dealt with divorce seriously.

A couple going through a messy divorce, in the black comedy War of the Roses (1989), starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. They first starred together in a movie where they were sparking romance in adventure comedy Romancing the Stone (1984). Why a romance movie then a divorce movie with the same stars? Coincidence or deliberate reinvention?

Or was it honesty?

Divorce themes

I don’t like divorce in movies, but divorce is the way it is in quite a few movies. In the movies, usually the divorces have happened, and the divorcee is getting his or her life back together. They are semi-tragic situations, as the divorce is sad, but the divorcee is getting life back on track.

Divorce situations aren’t celebrated. They may not even be endorsed. They may just reflect reality.

Sometimes, divorce in movies is about situational ethics, where one goes along with love for all concerned.

Perhaps the most penetrating character study I have seen of a woman going through a divorce recently is Blue Jasmine (2013), because at the end, her life is in the balance. She has gone through a breakdown and a divorce, and her future depends on what she decides in a moment. Blue Jasmine leaves us in that moment without telling us what happens next.

Ideals and reality

In marriage there is a tension between the ideal and the reality. Divorce isn’t the ideal, but can be the reality.

The advice given by observers and commentators is to nurture the relationship and of course there are ways.

One may resist the “perfect” marriage, though.  A movie couple without blemishes and flaws would look sugar coated. Striking the balance between flaws and redeeming the relationship is the biggest challenge Hollywood movie-makers face.

Another of the family films with a world beneath the world, The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) is decently filmed, well-told, with good visual effects. Some scenes are too scary for very young folk and some magic may be off-putting.

The film is ten years old so is available for home viewing. It’s one of the better ‘world beneath the world’ family films from the last decade or so.

A prominent feature of the film is an old house. It is surrounded by an invisible world of faeries, goblins and ogres that can be seen if one is able.


Houses in Hollywood movies have a long history. There are haunted house movies, houses needing serious renovation, the special family abode. The one ready for developers, and the ones that have a special place in the heart.

The Spiderwick Chronicles continues the tradition, with an old country house, the Spiderwick estate, over one hundred years old. A family shifts into the house, as they have inherited it.

The house is surrounded by a world beneath the world. This world can’t be seen by the naked human eye unless humans are given the ability. This is another type of home space Hollywood depicts, the invisible world by the house.

Worlds within the real world have been done before recently, with Strange Magic (2015)—without a house—and Epic (2013)—with a house.

In Spiderwick, the other world is focused on goblins and a shapeshifting ogre, but there are also faeries on the good side of the ledger.


The ogre is fighting for a book in the house containing secret knowledge, but which is deadly in the wrong hands. If the book gets into the ogre’s possession, the ogre will know how to rule the invisible world and destroy any human getting in its way. A boy finds the book in a room in the house, but must keep it from the ogre. The goodwill of the boy makes him help others in the invisible world, and help save them from the ogre.

There comes a hog goblin and another diminutive creature to the boy’s aid, to guide him through the twists and turns that will come. The story winds up with confrontation between the family and the goblins and the ogre.

Family solidarity

The newly arrived inhabitants of the house are three older children—including the boy played by Freddie Highmore (Five Children and It and Arthur and the Invisibles)—and their mother. Her husband has left.

The house barely makes it through a rabid ogre going full-tongs, wanting to get the book. But this is a house, this is a home. Homes are special. It would take a lot of dismantle this ole house. It would take a lot to flicker out this family’s morale.

I thought the house would fall—having an ogre go through it seemed the final straw—but it takes something more immense to bring down this household, perhaps nothing could bring it down.

Households were meant to stand, even when husbands leave.

Year: 2016, DVD released February 28, 2017 (North America)

In my previous post on Doctor Strange I described the spiritual journey that this film raises, just the spiritual journey.

In today’s post I am asking, first of all, what sort of spirituality do we have with Doctor Strange? It has been described as sorcery. Somewhere else it was called mysticism. Having watched the movie it tends to look like the occult and magic, with a visual effects spin, and a shade Hollywood. But what is it? I take The Ancient One’s words as an answer. She calls the other world a world of the ‘spirit’. This means we can explore the film’s spirituality in terms of ‘spirit’. We don’t have to take the spirituality too literally, but as a general theme that people understand.

For a start, Doctor Strange is unique in that it brings to the mainstream spirituality. Not faith, but spirituality. Films don’t usually do this so plainly.

Spiritual realm

Doctor Stephen Strange is a cocky neurosurgeon, but an accident renders him disabled with severe nerve damage.  Read: life altering event changing everything about his life, and altering his destiny.

The doctor is romantically linked to Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) who he works with, but their once serious relationship is on hold, especially as he has taken off to Nepal for life altering healing.

It never entered his mind that there is a spiritual world and he sees for himself. This is where a rational mind set—so much part of the Western way of thinking—meets the unexpected spiritual reality.

Strange is told by The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) that the ‘spirit’ can help him cope better with his disability.

People go to spirituality when the chips are down even though spirituality may not have figured prominently in their lives before an accident or onset of a disability.

In the spiritual realm, he discovers that there is more going on. What he discovers in the spiritual realm is that there are players in a battle for the rule of the world. Some players are dark and some are light. Strange gets involved in this battle and thus becomes a superhero. The ‘spirit’ strengthens him to be this hero.

The movie

The spiritual battle isn’t subtle. There are plenty of magically-imbued scenes, code word for action. Characters move things with their will, you know that sort of thing, done with visual effects magic. No profanity or sex. The only real gruesome moment is at the start.

Benedict Cumberbatch (Pictured right) stars as neurosurgeon Doctor Strange in Marvel Media's Doctor Strange. (Image sourced via google images).

Benedict Cumberbatch (Pictured right) stars as neurosurgeon Doctor Strange in Marvel Media’s Doctor Strange. (Image sourced via google images).

British actor Cumberbatch is esteemed for his sophisticated wit and word play in the British television series Sherlock.

In Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch again spouts off a few one-liners that are meant to be amusing—in a Hollywood sense and not a British one.

Some of the supporting roles aren’t as fine as I expected. I expected more from Mads Mikkelsen, as a baddie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a mystical character in the Ancient One’s fraternity.

Not a great or even good Marvel film, but I am not a Marvel fan either. It treats the spiritual subject, but the film is strangely underwhelming. Probably too much whizz bang when it started off with a subtle entrée of matters of the ‘spirit’ which was more interesting.

Perhaps a bit of quiet contemplation is in order after watching this more larger than life spirituality.