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I'm a longtime contributor to MTV, Billboard, Alternative Press and MovieWeb. I've worked as on-air reporter, host, writer and producer for MTV, MSNBC and E!. I have provided opinion and commentary to programs on VH1, IFC, G4, Fuse, Current and Oxygen. I have written for Huffington Post, Premiere, OC Weekly, SFGate.com, NextMovie.com, MTV's television and movie blogs and other publications. I am the founder of Superhero Productions, providing broadcast, online and aftermarket content for a number of clients including Lionsgate, Sony and Warner Bros. I personally handle artist management for a handful of bands. "Ryan Downey has established a history of breaking some good scoops in the last few years, and you could certainly do worse than bookmark [him] to check in on." -- Ain't It Cool

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Movie Review: "Agora"

Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Max Minghella, Oscar Isaac, Michael Lonsdale, Rupert Evans
2 1/2 Stars

"Agora" is pretentious and cornball in equal measure, but it does provide a wide-open mental space within which to measure your own personal views about the religious, the spiritual and the political and where they intersect. (The mental space is provided in part by long, boring stretches of the story during which your mind may wander).

Set in fourth-century Alexandria, the latest film from "The Sea Inside" director Alejandro Amenábar is a secular humanist missive aimed squarely against Christianity (and presumably Islam) under the guise of a benign historical drama.

Rachel Weisz plays the thoughtful and gorgeous real-life figure, Hypatia, who dares to dream that perhaps the Universe doesn't revolve around the Earth centuries before this idea became accepted. In a bit of a secondary story, a slave who is obsessed with her (she's oblivious) joins the rising cult of Christianity. Another guy who likes her, but is publicly rejected by her, ends up leading the town (yawn).

The slave-owning, polytheistic aristocracy Hypatia exists within is painted as mostly benevolent and noble. Alternately, Christians are portrayed as conniving, barbarous and imperialistic (save for one brief scene where they are seen feeding the poor).

Which isn't to say either group of people didn't possess the above characteristics. But "Agora" is far too simplistic in its storytelling, keeping a singular focus on how religious fundamentalism has impeded scientific achievement throughout history.

The subject matter is incredibly rich, dense and nuanced in nature. It's too bad this film isn't. A swing and a miss, Alejandro. "Agora" isn't nearly as invigorating as the Lady Gaga song "Alejandro." Or so I would imagine (I have yet to hear it).

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