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The January Films (review) February 6, 2006

Posted by Tim in Reviews.


Saved! (2004) is a satirical teenage comedy revolving around the students of a Christian high school. Jena Malone plays Mary, who is devastated when her boyfriend tells her that he’s gay. In her misguided quest to redeem him she ends up pregnant, which leads to a crisis of faith and sets the pace for the movie. Mandy Moore, who mentioned in an interview that doing Saved! was like “scratching an itch” for her, again proves she can act as well as sing (unlike some other people*cough* Britney *cough* Carey *cough* Lindsay *cough* Hillary ). She plays Hilary Faye, the leader of the Christian clique at school who takes it upon herself to take Mary out of her doubts. Her constant recital of Christian catchphrases, exaggerated piety and superiority complex is a jab at the Pentecostal anti-intellectual stereotype.

Macaulay Culkin and Eva Amurri round up the supporting cast with excellent performances as Roland and Cassandra. Roland is Hilary’s wheelchair-bound brother who wears everyone out with his cynicism and is the only atheist in the movie. Cassandra is a Jew, the antisocial goth outcast of the school who resists Hilary’s approaches to convert her.

There are many things good about Saved!. It is genuinely funny at times (Hilary directs her clique to kidnap Mary in an attempt to exorcise her out of doubt) and piercing in others (the school headmaster tells Mary’s divorced mother that their love for each other is the cause of the problems in the school). And in a reversal of roles it is Roland and Cass, the least religious of the group, who accept and support Mary in her dilemma.

It is a thousand times better than the horrific Pamela’s Prayer at least…


Ghost in the Shell (1995) is a sci-fi anime set in a future where cybernetic implants are common and biotechnology has advanced to a level where the entire human body can be artificially replaced.

Major Motoko Kusanagi is one such person, possessing a wholly cybernetic body with the exception of her brain and a small part of her spine. A member of Section 9 of the Internal Bureau of Investigations, which owns her cybernetic body, she and her team are tasked to investigate the emergence of the Puppet Master, a criminal who has the ability to hack into the minds of his victims.

A major theme in the movie is the self-entity. In a world where every feature of the body can be artificially duplicated and enhanced save for one’s soul (the ghost), the question is what determines who you are. In the haunting opening a man discovers that his entire life was a lie, a product of memories implanted by the Puppet Master. Kusanagi states to her partner that if Section 9 had already duplicated her brain, she might not be aware of it.

The Wachowski brothers mentioned in interviews that Ghost in the Shell was an inspiration for the Matrix movies, evident in the similar themes of duality and the ability of the characters to project their “ghost” into computer systems. Ghost in the Shell was ahead of its time both in graphics quality and plot, and is a classic even for people unfamiliar with anime.

Jet Li Movies Don’t Need Titles

Fearless (2006) is Jet Li’s last movie with a martial arts story (he clarified that it would not be his last action film however). Unfortunately as with all of his other martial arts films the plot is predictable and cliched. A young child fights his way to becoming the greatest fighter in his district, and in his journey becomes arrogant and selfish, culminating in the death of his greatest opponent. In revenge his mother and daughter are killed, which begins a journey of soul-searching.

I think I tuned out of the movie at this point. On this journey he stumbles upon a peasant family and helps them work the paddy fields, developing a connection with a girl who is not only blind (cooks well though) but also plays the flute! The film may have a bigger budget than his old films – very obvious from the numerous macro shots – but whatever the amount of icing you use there is only so much cliche you can stomach.

The action is no doubt amazing though. Jet Li is as perfect as always and the choreography is spot-on. The fights between the American wrestler and Japanese were sheer pleasure.

Chiyo Jones’ Diary

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) is a beautiful movie that paints an engrossing picture of a geisha’s life. My only major complaint is the language used, for much of the movie it was hard to adjust to Chinese actors playing Japanese who speak English! But that was probably the only way to get American audiences to watch it.

It’s worth noting that Michelle Yeoh is actually quite good in the movie, something you wouldn’t know from her latest films. Gong Li is convincing as Hatsumomo, the aging, upstaged geisha who shared the same dreams as Chiyo (Zhang Ziyi) a long time ago but went unfulfilled.



1. sands - February 6, 2006

I didn’t know you watched Saved!
And you said you didn’t like Memoirs! Pffft.

2. yeohjo - February 7, 2006

HEY! I watched Saved and Memoirs. I am curious to find out your thoughts on Saved! I watched Memoirs today. FINALLY. I’m so proud of Michelle Yeoh! :D hahaa.. now if I could just trace my genealogy…

3. Tim - February 7, 2006

I think Saved! is an interesting movie for Christians to watch. When we watch other satirical films like Scary Movie, Mean Girls, I Not Stupid etc, they don’t make as much impact because the movie is not as related to us.

But some of the scenes in Saved! strike home and ruffle feathers – like satire should. From the pious clique, the van, the constant recital of catchphrases, the tendency to deem sinful the things they don’t understand – watching the movie was an experience and for a first indie movie effort by Brian Danelly it is excellent indeed.

4. Tim - February 8, 2006

If an article is written criticizing Malaysia its points should not be ignored based on what Americans think of it, what should be considered is the validity of the criticism.

My (non Christian) friends didn’t get the movie at all (I didn’t watch it with them). Most people won’t get all of the points the movie makes unless they are familiar with Pentecostal culture.

Macaulay Culkin said that he observed Fundamentalists picketing in protest at a Christian rock concert – so what more a satirical film addressesing triple taboos of homosexuality, teen pregnancy and religion? You can’t please everyone.

At the end of the movie Mary amazingly declares she still believes in God’s love. Jena Malone (who plays her) states in an interview she found it very much pro-faith.–>

5. yeohjo - February 8, 2006

It’s good that “Saved” is meant to get Christians thinking (heh heh – notice how I worked your blog name into my comment? hehehe), but what about the potential impact on non-believers or even people who are anti-Christian? Won’t this do more damage than good? It did ruffle a few feathers. Even watching people raise their hands in worship… it felt weird for a bit.

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