Thursday, December 27, 2007

There Will Be Blood

"I can't stand to see anyone else succeed."

An American Tragedy written in oil and blood.

Brilliant acting ... chilling story ... based upon Upton Sinclair's ("Oil" - 1927) view of capitalism run amuck, without a soul and losing its mind in a heedless rush for profits at any cost, success at any price, personal, moral or otherwise ... it's not so much the dollar as it is the chase; not so much the success as it is the failure, the humiliation, of the competition.

Daniel Day-Lewis is incredible in his portrayal of "the oilman." At first, my sensibilities were in sympathy with him - just another hard working, hard striving man, widowed when his wife dies in childbirth, now caring for his infant son.

But with his success goes his degradation and the loss of whatever sympathy I might have had. A brilliant portrayal of man bent on success at any price, slowly revealing an utterly corrupt and contemptible spirit. What seemed to be even at the start wasn't necessarily so - in the end, he disowns his "son" whom he calls a "basket bastard" - an orphan he picked up to make himself appear as a family man, hence easier to acquire oil rights from from folks otherwise inclined to be suspicious.

Paul Dano, the young preacher, a twisted soul, greedy in his own right, on his own special road to perdition.

Both men, each intent on humiliating the other, willing to sell their souls to one another to further their own interests - the young preacher for his church and the oilman for pipeline rights.

The countryside is barren, and so are the souls of those who live therein - religious or not.

Along with capitalism, Sinclair tackles religion - various versions of the same fundamentalist claptrap - too often cruel and manipulative, and having been a pastor for forty years, I know the stories well.

Like a prophet of old, Sinclair shines a bright light on religion to reveal its shoddy makeup barely concealing a venal heart.

The movie begins without speech ... in a lonely place, an isolated silver mine, and Mr. Plainview chiseling away at the rock, nearly losing his life in a mine shaft fall, walking with a limp for the rest of his days - sort of like the biblical Jacob.

The movie ends in a lonely, isolated, place: a two-lane bowling alley in Mr. Plainview's California mansion, with Mr. Plainview striving to make it, having taken life all along the way - literally and emotionally - and now in a final horrific scene, he humiliates and destroys his "competition."

With blood on his hands, he ends the film with, "I'm done."

And so he is.

He can neither rise any higher nor sink any lower!

In all respects, a powerful film, superb script, awesome music ... the drama of America's quest for oil, the powerful and the weak - all put together in an epic film.

Hats off to Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films for this extraordinary film, a tour de force of capitalism's dark side.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem

With a tip of the hat to its predecessors, this 1950s B horror film of a small Colorado town - with its dutiful and overwhelmed sheriff, snotty high school kids, sewers (does a small town have such large sewers?), an ex-con turned hero, a government determined to wipe out the infestation, etc. - incorporates visual and verbal hints to delight the stories' afficionados.

The heroine looks like Sigourney Weaver, the escape vehicle just like the one in Aliens, there's a little girl, it's raining, etc..

The Predator is the ultimate warrior. The Aliens malicious and hyper-productive. The head Alien, born from the chest of a fallen Predator, is a half-breed.

Lots of blood and gore ... the audience clapped when the snotty high school kids got it!

Let's hear it for the B movies of the Fifties: The Blob, The Thing from Another World, Godzilla and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

P.S. I just saw on TV the 2004 "Alien vs. Predator" - in my opinion, the better of the two movies and more consistent in all respects with the original Alien in feel and story. Interestingly enough, here the Predator has personality, in the end, interacting with humans, totally lacking in "Requiem." As always, the Aliens are what they are - utterly vicious.

The Kite Runner

Wonderful, awesome, powerful, sad, inspiring.

All of this and more.

A story of childhood betrayal - cruel, poisonous, sad, with hideous consequences. A story replete with the sad realities that comprise much of life, and finding hope and goodness nonetheless.

Will the young man who betrayed his childhood best friend and half-brother (disclosed only later) find his soul again?

He, too (like "Atonement") writes a novel, but the story requires more of him.

His moral dilemma, his struggle with cowardice, his decision to put himself at risk for a child he's never known - this is "atonement" at its best. As for the twist, keep your eye on the slingshot!

The acting is powerful and consistent - all the technical pieces are here: music, cinematography, editing.

In the end, I was choked up ... so was my family ... and much of the theater. A simple story simply told ... a good ending, one with hope, without compromising the human tragedy.


Worth seeing?

Sure, but not the masterpiece it promotes itself to be, and the more I think about it, the less I like the story.

Too slow, with a twist at the end overplayed with a "Titanic"-like scene at the end smacking of the "afterlife" or some such nonsense.

It suffers from sloppy editing.

Visually well done, but the acting seemed weak, without the passion and heartache of the story - the best portrayal: Saoirse Ronan, a 13-year old Briony Tallis, a first-class snot!

Romola Garai, who portrays Briony as young nurse, seems to be the weakest link, failing to convey the poison of the younger Briony and the moral dilemma of the older.

Movies that end with a twist like this leave me cold. It's a poor substitute for a good story simply and powerfully told. Good twists emerge from within the story itself, not as an artifice known all along by the story teller. Devices such as this feel like a cruel joke rather than a simple prank.

The story of a child betraying her older sister and her lover and the life-long consequences is powerful and sad and should suffice (for a much better but similar story, see "The Kite Runner").

The "atonement" offered is no atonement at all - writing a novel/biography to give life to her memories is no excuse for her poisonous character and her total cowardice.

"Atonement" in the religious sense requires a cross - a great price paid - not merely for one's own foolishness, but to set things right for others.

Briony pays no such price - she only suffers remorse, if that at all, and some blurred guilt obscured now by imagination which is no substitute for simply telling the truth! This is a story which should have no happy ending.

Oh well ... if only atonement were so easy, God might well have penned a parable wherein the Son dies only in someone's imagination.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Oscar all over this one!

Casting, incredible, down to the smallest part.

Script, brilliant, pulling off a small miracle attempted in many a film, but successful in only a few - plenty of comedic lines in a movie that isn't a comedy! Laughs a-plenty, but a film with a punch! A message profoundly relevant without being heavy-handed.

Hanks, Hoffman and Roberts - awesome ... three brilliant actors who add those little touches that spell the difference between acting and portraying. Lots of folks can act, and even act well, but only a few can portray! And in such a portrayal, the audience is pulled into the story being told - more than watching, but actually there!

In all respects, a flawless film. A great addition to a year of good films.

Hats off to Hollywood!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Legend

Will Smith tackles one of his most complicated characters yet, and pulls it off well!

A scientist obsessed with finding a cure, a man condemned to live alone because of the billions of people who once lived, he may well be the only survivor, the rest of the race either dead or zombies ... so bitterly alone, he talks to mannequins, sleeps in a bathtub at night, roams the streets of deserted Manhattan in search of game, finally desperate enough to commit suicide, then saved by another survivor whom he doesn't believe, and finally, in one desperate move, saves the one who saved him only to give his life in destroying a clutch of zombies/vampires seeking to kill both of them.

Great, great special effects ... a huge story jammed into a 100 minutes ... intense, scary, powerful.

The story begins with a "cure" for cancer using a modified virus. The cancer is cured, but the cure is worse than the disease; ultimately, a new virus emerges that transforms people into vicious creatures ... the night of the living dead: they sleep during the day, are ultra-sensitive to light, and ravage the world at night.

Charleton Heston, 1971, "The Omega Man" was the same story - well-done for the time - based upon 1954 novel entitled, "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson.

The film suffers slightly from editing ... couldn't really suggest anything, but it felt a little disjointed now and then, but aside from that small note, a movie worth seeing. One also wonders: if the Island of Manhattan is cut off because the bridges are blown, how did another survivor find him? Yes, he was broadcasting a daily radio message, so we know how she knew, but was it boat that got her to the Island? Small potatoes, I guess, but a question nonetheless.

Unsettling, unnerving and definitely engaging ... with enough ethical and other such questions to keep folks chatting for a long time.

And what about the cameo from one of my favs, Emma Thompson?

Saturday, December 15, 2007


Okay, not the greatest, but I liked it.

Based upon a video game - of which I've never heard and certainly have never seen - the movie had a lot of fine action and drama of sorts.

It'll never come within a Boston mile of an Oscar, or anything else, but it's one for the guys, and maybe even a few gals who enjoy action, a real-man hero and semi-decent acting ... and great music!

Politically, it calls to mind the games we play with the mind ... our hero has no name, only a number - he's the perfect killing machine, and throughout the movie, the lovely young thing he's kidnapped begins to fall for him and tries to seduce him ... to no avail, leaving one wondering what else is missing besides his name.

I hope there's a sequel.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Golden Compass

Everyone, settle down ... especially so-called evangelicals spoiling for a fight with the devil, and tight-jawed Roman Catholics who see a heretic in every question.

This is a profoundly thoughtful film, spiritually energizing, technically so well done, with a stellar cast, especially Dakota Blue Richards who plays the central character, a young girl, gifted and wise, Lyra Belacqua.

This is film all about truth and those who repress it. Is this not a familiar theme throughout human history and, sadly, the story of the church? Power, whatever its cast, political or religious, sooner or later becomes a distortion of itself, and resentful and fearful of anyone who suggests the emperor may be buck-naked after all.

A faith that cannot take a question is no faith worth anyone's time.

If it has to be defended by violent means, repression and mind-control, with a ton of religious dictates and eagled-eyed guardians ready to pounce in a moment, it is, by definition, defective and far from the truth is pretends to offer.

And for some thoughts from a Roman Catholic, please see:

An excellent analysis by a writer/scholar thoroughly versed in Pullman's books. We are rightfully reminded that Pullman'sposture is not so much against faith and hope and love, or even God, but against the powers of the church - those silly trappings that really aren't so silly, but dangerous to mind and heart, body and soul. The organization that brought the world the inquisition is still capable of terrible efforts against the soul.

As the film so powerfully depicts, the Magisterium seeks to separate us from our souls, and the earlier the better - get to the children first - lest we think and challenge its power.

What or who is the Magisterium?

Could be the church ... could be governments ... could be parents ... could be angry evangelical preachers shouting too loudly ... anyone or anything driven by fear and compelled to conceal and control.

No need to worry. Pullman uncovers the little man behind the curtain and reminds all of us that the God of the Church is quite often no god at all.

Turn to the text, especially Genesis; read the gospels and listen to Jesus as he contends against the Magisterium.

Read the foundational stories again, thoroughly ... and know that following Jesus is liberation, whereas following the dictates of religion is oppression.


Can we ever have a world without it?

Not likely, but we can be mindful, we can be wise ... the enemies of faith are never those who raise questions, or even attack it, but those who defend their kingdoms with power and fear - they, like the ones who crucified Jesus, are the real enemies of faith!

Go see the movie and enjoy a fine story about a very brave young lady. Read Pullman's books and discover a Truth behind our truths, a Church behind our churches, a God, living and good, behind the cruelty and harshness of a dogmatic god constructed by tradition.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus, is alive and well, and thanks be to God for those who unmask our hideous pretensions and help all of us regain our senses.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Gone Baby Gone

A terrible title that delayed my seeing this incredibly fine film. In spite of being a book title, the very idea of the film was more than I wanted to see, but my son said, "Let's go" and we did.

And I'm glad I did.

A profound story that raises so many questions in the end.

When it right to do wrong?

Who knows what's right or wrong?

Does love ever trump the law?

Can one be legally right and morally wrong?

With so many twists and turns, I was wondering if we would come to any conclusion.

Well, the director, Ben Affleck, put it all together.

Brilliant performances by all - Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman are their usual awesome, and a great performance by Casey Affleck.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Thank You for Smoking

"I do it for the mortgage!"

A black comedy (2005) about big tobacco and its darling-boy lobbyist who can spin a brick and turn the opposition into fumbling baboons!

A great cast of characters ... Aaron Eckhart plays the spin-doctor, a smarmy, cheerful, piece of crap who lost his moral bearings a long time ago and finds comfort in two companions, lobbyists respectively for alcohol and firearms. They refer to their weekly gatherings as the MOD Squad - Merchants of Death who pride themselves on the death-rate associated with their product - and tobacco leads the charge.

Robert Duvall is "the Captain" - the man in Winston-Salem who heads the industry - a ruthless southern gentleman. William H. Macy, a pompous senator; Katie Holmes, a "sell-her-body" reporter, and J.K Simmons as Nick Naylor's boss - a no-nonsense, back-stabbing, go-get-'em jerk who'd sell his grandmother for a buck.

Nick's son, Maria Bello, is all ears and eyes, watching his father flim-flam his way through life. Though living with his mother, he often travels with his father, learning how to spin his way to success, a protege learning how to talk!

In the end, crap floats. After losing his job, because he divulged trade secrets to the reporter, he manages a new spin, appears before congress, demolishes the opposition, seemingly has a moment of moral recall, regains his job, quits his job, and goes to work for other "down and out," misunderstood, industries - such as "loggers, sweatshop foremen, oil drillers, landmine developers and baby seal poachers."

As Naylor puts it: "Michael Jordan plays ball, Charles Manson kills people, I talk. Everyone has a talent."

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Better than I expected! Much better!

Powerful story ... though I read Beowulf in high school (centuries ago), I have no recollection, so whether the film told the story or not, I don't know.

But a story it told ... the ageless struggle of good and evil, human pride twisting our story to enhance our reputation, the curse of lust and the monsters it creates!

The animation is profound ... but still animation ... sometimes movements, such as the horses, were stilted ... and the eyes were often lifeless.

Does animation spell the end for live actors in front of a camera?

I doubt it ... at least not yet.

Saw it in 3-D - it was great.

Questions begged by the story: can we ever erase the curse?

Why do we make our heroes greater than they are?

Do we every totally tell the truth about our accomplishments?

In a celebrity culture, where great is always greater, and strength always stronger, we might do well to pay attention to Beowulf - truth told is life gained, even when the truth is less glorious then everyone would like.

Friday, November 23, 2007

No Country for Old Men


Another winner for Tommy Lee Jones ... what a marvelous actor ... the quintessential Texas sheriff ... cagey, laidback, full of stories.

And an entire cast, but especially Javier Bardem - one of the most chilling characters I've ever seen - cold, calculating and insane - deciding the fate of some victims with the flip of a coin.

Josh Brolin, incredible performance - a cowboy, who finds a 2 mil stash of drug money, is discovered and pursued by Javier Bardem ... the bodies fall everywhere.

Tommy Lee Jones, nearing retirement, chats with another aging lawman - who can understand the time drugs and money? "No Country for Old Men" - from Yeats' poem "Sailing to Byzantium."

Intense, with so many twists and turns, yet a clear story-line. Music, cinematography ... someone said to me, "a perfect movie," and I agree.

The ending, like life, has no ending ... things just go on ... good and evil ...

Miramax and Paramount Vantage ... and hats off to the Coen Brothers - keep up the good work.

Sunday, November 18, 2007



A wonderful love story ... Toronto Film Festival People's Choice Award ... a man with a sad past, a women facing a troubled future ... she a waiter, he a cook, in his brother's restaurant ... helping one another.

A sweet story filled with hope ... terrific acting ... pathos ... the power of family love.

And a simple reminder: life is better when we help each other ... and we can!

The ending, though sweet, was confusing to me ... didn't track at all ... maybe it was me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Scheduled for release Nov. 17, HBO - a dark story with a low-key comedic edge - a well-done piece knitting together these two dynamics within and through two families brought together by chance and poverty in the end-days of the old Soviet Union.

The story covers but a few days and a life-time of hurt and struggle.

Starring Paddy Considine, Radha Mitchell and a host of other fine actors and directed by Scott Burns, rated R, filmed in Romania.

Excellent music, cinematography, and all such things that make a very good film.

Watch for it on HBO!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Lions for Lambs

Tight drama ... script and actor driven ...

Cruise better than I had anticipated ... a smarmy young Republican who could score some points, nonetheless, with an aging journalist (Streep) trying to recover her integrity in an industry that had long since traded away news for ratings and profits.

Redford is the quintessential college professor, trying desperately to awaken young minds to their responsibility for the world - here is where the story becomes very good: two of his students decide to join the army and make their stand as soldiers. Though the professor strongly disagrees, he nonetheless supports their heart for making things better.

In this film, no one is innocent in the current mess - but it's the soldier who is spared - a lesson we learned from Vietnam - the grunt in the rice paddy is not the enemy - he's a lion - being led by politicians who have never bled on the battlefield - men who are lambs (from a German general in WW 1 - of the British soldier - lions - being led by the inept lambs).

Hats off to Redford and company for producing a film that avoids the cliches and easy categories, yet relies upon truisms that are simply that - always true.

To the young man in his office, Redford says something like, "Adulthood sneaks up on you. You're 10 decisions into it before you realize it. The decisions you make now you will live with the rest of your life" (this is a script I'd love to read).

Great music throughout ... I loved the abrupt ending ... you live with your decisions ... or die with them ... and as the credits began to roll, the theater (Arclight - LA) remained dark - folks sat there, and then one of the credits, in the background, a scattering of political buttons inscribed with one word, "Vote."

That's the message ... cast your vote, and vote with your life. If you've been given a silver spoon, use it to feed the hungry.

You can make a difference!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Dan in Real Life

A lot of laughs, especially if you're a parent of any age "child" and if you happen to be the child of any such parents.

Some very good moments - family life begotten and misbeggotten ... sibling love and sibling rivalry ... parents never stop being parents, even though children cease being children ... the power of death, and the power of love to overcome.

All the pieces are here.

I'm glad I saw it, but it lacks that something special that spells the difference between a good movie and a great one. Energy, perhaps, is the missing ingredient. Steve Carrell is a delightful screen presence, but here, it seems as if he's sleep-walking through the movie - "put it on my tab" he says to the cop, and that's sort of the overall feel of the film - I'll deal with it later.

His three children are scene-stealers in the best sense ... Mom and Dad are quintessential Mom and Dad, still slipping their son a few bucks so he can go out and buy a newspaper - I really hooted when I saw that - I'm a parent, too.

Worth seeing, that's for sure ... but comparing it to the other "family" film, Lars and the Real Girl, "Lars" is considerably the better film - although I want to be careful about comparisons. "Lars" just felt tighter - like a carefully choreographed dance. "Dan," like mashed potatoes without salt, lacked flavor!

So it goes ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

We Own the Night


Intense ... what else can I say?

Incredible story, powerful acting, stirring music, experimental sound (look for the car chase scene in the rain, the sound of the windshield wipers), filming that captures the chaos, without overwhelming the eyes ... a story of family lost, family found ... one of the most gripping films I've seen in a long time.

A father, two sons ... one a cop, the other a club manager ... one on the side of law, the other flirting with crime ... and then it all changes ...

Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Wahlberg, Robert Duvall, Eva Mendez - superb, passionate ... an incredible sense of family, really struggling, finding their way through tough times.

Moments of violence ... yet never gross. Rough language. R rated, of course.

I'm surprised I haven't heard more about it ... but maybe it's me not paying attention.

A film worth seeing.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

American Gangster


Two actors (Denzel Washington & Russell Crowe) at the top of their game ... a director (Ridley Scott) who does peerless work ... great filming, music, script, amazing little touches - toward the end, watch for the paper coffee cup being passed back and forth.

A parable of integrity and honesty, their power and their limits.

A great sadness pervades my spirit right now ... Frank Lucas ... African American ... clever, adroit, faithful and honest within the boundaries of his family, yet fated to meet the inevitable end.

How can the African American make it in a system weighted against success?

I know that things have changed since the Vietnam era during which the film occurs, but having lived 16 years in Detroit, I know how sad it is for millions of African Americans doomed to live on the margins, struggling to make it, and often falling into despair and crime. Living now in LA, I sense that opportunities are richer here than Detroit ... but racism still pervades the American consciousness, and may God help us rid our spirit of its many evils.

Frank Lucas goes to jail ... loses everything ... released in 1991 - to what?

The cop ... Richie Roberts ... a resolutely honest cop who earns the mistrust and disdain of his fellow officers because of it ... finally assigned to a special unit investigating drugs.

Two men, fated to meet ... both honest in their own way, ending, in the commentary afterward, as friends. In the end, Richie passes the bar and becomes an attorney. His first client? Frank Lucas.

The film dragged a bit, but time was needed to develop the two characters and the worlds in which they lived and the families and people around them.

A film worth seeing ... and no doubt, Denzel Washington is a towering film presence.

Denzel Washington's chilling portrayal of a man utterly ruthless in achieving his goal and utterly loyal to his family is amazing. His face, without expression, blank and cold, is one of the most incredible moments of acting I've ever seen. An Oscar nomination should surely come his way.

Russell Crowe captured the harried, honest and frumpy cup ... studying on the side to become an attorney, scared to death of public speaking.

All other roles - clean and appropriate. Real estate folks - pay attention to the moment when Frank Lucas buys a Manhattan apartment and offers cash - the expression, the voice, of the agent say it all. A little moment, among many, in this fine film - like discovering a jelly bean in your lunch box!

Worth seeing ... that's for sure ... R rated, for sure!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Paradise Now

Two friends, Palestinians, recruited for suicide bombing. The film captures the frustration of the Palestinian, the rubble in which they live, the pressure and the pain to survive.

Are there other avenues? Other means?

"If we're dead in this life, why not choose martyrdom and gain paradise."

A friend says: "There is no paradise. It's only in your head."

"I'd rather have a paradise in my head then live in this hell."

A kindly take on desperate people ... are they monsters? No, but the times are monstrous, and what we do to one another, in the name of national security, or whatever, and to get away with it, we have to sooth our conscience, and we do so by dehumanizing those with whom we struggle.

Films such as this remind all of us that people are people - wanting to love and be loved, wanting nothing more than a fair shake, a job, a family, and some reasonable hope. When, in the course of events, one group gains the upper hand and systematically denies such things to a lesser group, that group will eventually respond in kind.

The powerful group will always see such measures as insanity, but the oppressed group as martrydom.

I suppose both are wrong, but the decisions remain in the hands of the powerful ... the film raises the question: how can this be a moral battle when the powerful group has no morals?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lars and the Real Girl

Lars and the Real Girl is a parable, much like Jesus would tell: “There was a certain man in a little town who wanted love, but couldn’t receive it, and couldn’t give it. Love frightened him; the touch of another was painful to his flesh. Some thought he was crazy, but everyone decided to love him anyway. It took time, but love won out, because of folks who are willing to sit and bring casseroles: “That’s what we do when tragedy strikes. We come and sit. We bring casseroles.”

It’s a parable of patience and acceptance.

As in so many small towns, the church plays a pivotal role – the pastor is wise and loving, and the whole congregation accepting.

I found myself thinking of Garrison Keillor and the news from Lake Wobegon.

I also found myself thinking of another film parable: Into the Wild, wherein the young man tries to find love and life without benefit of community, and finding only in the end, that life and love cannot be found within the isolated person – but in its sharing.

Lars and the Real Girl portray a young man held in the embrace of a loving community. The first young man starves to death – emotionally and physically. The second young man is finally able to leave his delusion behind and begin reaching out – the film ends tenderly, “Wanna go for a walk?”

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Blade Runner: Final Cut

The Landmark on Pico is awesome ... spent some good time in Barnes & Nobles, then off to see Blade Runner: Final Cut.

I saw the first (1982) and thoroughly enjoyed it, and enjoyed it again - especially the sound. Cleaned up digitally, it's impressive, although the sets and their technology seem dated, like watching an old Frankenstein film.

Who can forget Harrison Ford's wry smile and when threated, a perplexed, frightened visage? He's a gifted actor, playing the role with a sense of detached irony - "I don't wanna be here, but no choice, so I'll do it."

It's the ideas within that catch my attention: all life seeks its creator for answers, even if it's replicant-life and its creator an engineer. We're fearful of strangers. At the core of our humanness, even replicant humanness, is decency. Life is precious, and death is the inevitable enemy. We're often very alone, but who likes it? We all want to love and be loved.

In 1982, LA in the early 21st century seemed rather far away in time, but in 2007, 2019 is a short hop, but the LA envisioned in Blade Runner needs another century or so.

The sense of LA is medieval - cold, damp and brutish. No sunshine, only rain. Decrepitude on every corner, fortress-like mega-structures, off-world living, hyper technology, and the ageless issues of life: loneliness, power, hope, death, fear, kindness, courage, resignation, doubt and the ceaseless quest to understand who we are.

One of the theater attendants, with whom I was chatting prior to the screening, reminded me this version has no voice-over. I don't mind voice-over, but the film in its "final cut" doesn't need it - visually impressive with a hopeless appearance (what have we wrought?), a musical score that drives but doesn't overwhelm, superb performances by the entire cast - especially the smaller parts, played with disdain for the world in which they live, but like Deckard, who has a choice.

The tag-line for me: "Too bad she won't live, but then, who does?"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Into the Wild

Great film ... utterly sad.

A gifted, thoughtful, young man unable to connect ... fleeing into the wilderness to find ... and in the end, realizing too late: Happiness only real when shared.

A searing family background scarred his receptors ... unable to see love, he was unable to receive it or give it ... all along the way, folks reach out to him with love - the most poignant being Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook).

Shunning, running from, love, Chris (Emile Hirsch) isolates himself in the wilderness of Alaska, finding an abandoned bus - symbolic? A bus going nowhere?

At first, it works ... but then the terrible realities of the wilderness overwhelm - killing a moose but unable to preserve the meat, the lack of game ultimately, misreading a book on edible plants and eating a poisonous one, the river so easily forded going into the wilderness is a raging torrent when he wants to leave - another symbol? Some journeys relentlessly take us and allow no escape?

At the start of his odyssey, he abandons everything - gives away his bank account, abandons his car, burns his cash and Social Security card, and then adopts a new name, Alexander Supertramp. When asked about his family, he replies easily, "I no longer have a family."

Yet in the end, on one of his final notes left in the bus, he signs off with his given name. Something found, precious and good, not in the wilderness, but in his own heart. At last to embrace his name and his family. What else can any of us do? There is no running away from such things, but only love and forgiveness as Ron Franz put it: when you forgive, you love; when you love, you forgive, neither of which Chris could do, until in those lonely, dying, moments in the bus.

Is this a portrait of America - a nation of nomads, bowling alone, searching, seeking, looking - a world of gadgets for many, an abandoned bus for others ... alone, alone, alone?

Hats off to Sean Penn and Paramount Vantage for bringing this fine book to film.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Michael Clayton

"The truth can be adjusted," and what a price we all pay for it.

This is one of the best movies I've ever seen - in all respects ... acting, script, music, story, message.

Clooney is Oscar-caliber here ... a distracted father, a gambling addict, in debt to the mob for a failed restaurant, a "janitor" for a world-renown law firm. It's his job to clean up the mess, and no one can do it quite like Michael Clayton.

His good friend and fellow-attorney, one of the best and most ruthless, defending a huge agricultural conglomerate in a case against a product the company knows to be toxic, suddenly does the bizarre - in a hearing, he takes off his clothing and walks out of the room naked, declaring his love for one of the plaintiffs. Time for the janitor!

The story deepens and twists a thousands different ways ... the far-reaching influence of the powerful, the ruthless ambition of corporate heads, the dismissal of truth for profits, the do-anything mode of thought to survive, the simmering conscience that erupts in the strangest of ways, the remnants of compassion and decency lingering in our soul, and the enduring quality of truth.

A part of the Clooney-Soderbergh ouevre, along with The Good German (2006), Syriana and Good Night and Good Luck (2005), and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002), Michael Clayton explores the inner-workings of power, and the often tangled web of money and influence that takes governments and corporations, their leaders and their employees, down terrible paths.

Rated R - a tough and demanding film that exposes the raw nerve of power, and lifts up the possibility of redemption. A must-see film!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Turtles Can Fly

“Turtles Can Fly,” an Iraqi film about children in war – heart-wrenching – terrible reminder that adults fight the wars, but the children fight, too – to understand, to survive, to make sense out of it, and find their own way.

The children die, too; they lose limbs, family and friends – they lose their character, their childhood, their hope. Powerful nations, such as ourselves, like to glorify war, and memory itself cleanses us of the terror, and all we have left is the glory, such as our memories of “The War” – a war with a good cause, I suppose, and America has been looking ever since for another good cause to support its aggressive policies throughout the world. We are an aggressor nation! Oops, did I just write that?

But getting back to the film - tremendous acting, pathos, sorrow - a portrait of children in war.

"Wars and rumors of wars" said Jesus. Yup, and how we love 'em - the smell of napalm in the morning ... damn the torpedoes, full-speed ahead ... American, right or wrong ... and all the other nonsense that fuels the illusion.

I suppose some wars are necessary, and some may even have the hint of virtue in our all-too violent world, but war is hell, that's for sure, so we need journalists to remind us, and pundits to challenge us, and touching, searing, films like this, lest we succumb to our own self-spun illusions and turn a blind eye to the truth.

PG-13 - a fine film in all regards: music, just enough; the acting superb, cinematography and script conjoining to bring it home. Children are survivors, and love springs eternal in their little hearts, but even the young have limits, and sometimes what happens to them is beyond their powers of recovery. For those who bring such harm to these little ones, it would be better for them to have a millstone tied to their neck and be thrown into the sea (Jesus).

I pray for the day when the Jesus-followers of America will be able to separate their faith from their love of country, and to be the best of all patriots, those who can carry on a lover's quarrel with a good nation that can often to terrible things. The illusions of our innocence serve us poorly.

Better to know the truth and then make terrible decisions rather than masking our behavior with religious cant and swaggering pomp.

"Turtles can fly" - no, they can't fly. They die!

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Kingdom

Powerful ... a little Hollywood ... bullets fly, but the good guys all make it ... oh well ...

Up front, a brief and clear history of Saudi Arabia ... and the complex relationship between the Kingdom and the US - oil producer and oil consumer.

At first, I felt nothing but ill toward the Saudis, but the film moved my emotions along to a far more sympathetic point. We're all people, with families and dreams, trying our best to make our way through, to find a little peace and happiness.

Ashraf Barhom (Colonel Faris Al Ghazi) is incredible!

Jennifer Garner has one of the best fight scenes ever!

At times, a little draggy ... but high intensity ... great action. The extremists are just that - and when political extremism is linked to religious fanaticism, it's a volatile mixture that always explodes.

The end is filled with despair - the killing will go on.

Worth seeing ... obviously not family fare.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lowbrow and Raunch?

After ten tiring days, and a very exhausting luncheon, I needed some diversion, something lowbrow and raunchy!

So off to see Mr. Woodcock.

I was surprised by a good story, with good acting, some Billy Bob Thornton raunch as only he can deliver it, but all in support of a compelling story - definitely not lowbrow.

All about growing up ... really growing up. Not just the psycho-babble stuff of talk shows.

Susan Sarandon plays a widowed mother trying to negotiate a difficult pathway between her adult son (Seanne William Scott) - now a famous psycho-babble, talk-show circuit author home for a visit, and her boy friend, Billy Bob Thornton, a mostly whacko middle school basketball coach who torments his students, the son of a seriously whacko father.

The publicity is slightly misleading on this one - it's a far better story, and film, then what I was expecting.

Was it the diversion I needed? Yup, some good laughs, some good thoughts ... didn't have to think real hard, but it's a worthy story told well by some very talented actors and a good director (Craig Gillespie).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Resident Evil: Extinction

Any "Deathlands" fans?

I started reading that series 20 years ago, and my son continues to read it. Always wanted to see a film interpretation, but nothing until a few years, a sad HBO (?) effort.

Now, "Resident Evil: Extinction" - not a bad effort, and exactly what "Deathlands" should have looked and felt like.

Milla Jovovich did a great job as Alice, a bio project who defies and defeats the machines and scientist controlling her - loved her as Leeloo in "Fifth Element" (1998). Rest of the actors, so so. Bad guy, pretty bad, but sort of like all those B film monsters - scientists gone mad. Loved the "living dead" - reminded me of "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) - slobbering and shuffling ... but meaner.

Some scary moments, had me jumping a few times. Awesome music, good filming, special effects.

Worth seeing if you're a sci-fi buff. If you liked Leeloo, you'll like Alice.

Saw it at the Bridge in Westchester - great place. Hate paying the 2 bucks for parking - theater tickets can't be verified for parking. Oh well, I'm old enough to get the senior price. Which reminds me, the jerks at Pacific Theaters at the Grove no longer have senior rates on Friday & Saturday nights. Sure, first-run movies cost a lot - okay, so why not skip the senior rates for first-run films for two weeks, but stay with senior rates for other films.

Jerks ... what else?

3:10 to Yuma - the movie

All right, I'm a sucker for hope.

I've never seen the original (1957) nor read Leonard's short story of the same title, so all I have is the current film.

Russell Crowe and Christian Bale are favorites of mine, and they deliver: Crowe is evil and intelligent, and Bale is stubbornly in need of money and determined to show his son the right way. Both are ruthless.

Though some reviewers have dissed the ending, I loved it - a parable of sorts - the courage of Bale elicits respect in Crowe, and Crowe responds, bloody and cruel, in such a way that Bale could achieve his goal - not the money, but the admiration of a son.

It's a tough and tangled world ... good and evil, wheat and weeds, all run together. We settle for moments of grace - we head for the 3:10 no matter what. The son is rightly impressed, and with a whistle, the train pulls away, and Crowe's horse comes a-running. Good and evil remain, having touched one another, effected and changed one another.

Hope and goodness are sometimes, often times, forged in blood. Evil, in a strange and incomprehensible fashion, becomes a partner with redemption.

I guess that's what the Cross is all about.

Calvary, the 3:10 to Yuma for Jesus.

Invasion - the movie

"Invasion" is great - I loved the way it represented and reinterpreted the original story. Nicole Kidman was extraordinary and Daniel Craig hit it on the head.

For me, the best part of the story, both here and in the original, as well as the 70's remake, a simple question: what price will we pay for peace and safety?

Simply put, the "body snatchers" are fascists - total control, total peace. Our way or the highway. Life as we offer it, or you're outta here!

On a more philosophical level, what's a human being?

Without going over the top, the story again puts it simply: a human being is a jumble of emotions that are capable of producing greatness and sometimes horror, but like the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, there's no quick remedy - any attempt to uproot the weeds will uproot the wheat, too.

So, we're more or less stuck - but it's okay, and more than okay. It's who we are, and anything less would be a loss of our humanity.

We've got to put up with the bad, in order to have the good of which we're capable.

The "body snatchers," the fascists in our midst, have it all wrong.

We are what we are, and God is at work in all things for good, and we're partners with God working all things out.

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the Valley of Elah

What a profound film ... of father's and sons ... the grace of a family ... dignity and hope ... the madness of war and the courage to love.

Oscar-level in all regards.

The most powerful anti-war film I've ever seen without being anti-war - no politics here, just a family: a Vietnam veteran father, a mother - the death of an older son ten years earlier in a helicopter crash, and now their younger son, just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, missing from his base.

Dad hauls gravel in a small Tennessee town - when a soldier, he was military police; a no-nonsense kind of guy - few words, clear and to the point. Upon hearing of his son's disappearance, he heads west to the base. He mets a local detective who persists in following the leads, confronting inertia in both the military and local police departments - just another soldier. But not just another soldier - Hank Deerfield's son!

Tommy Lee Jones reflects the heart of every father - his face conveys every emotion - a man filled with military poise and dignity, looking for a boy whom he loves dearly.

Charlize Theron is Det. Emily Sanders - young, savvy, with a heart - incredible performance.

Go see this film ... and pray for our solders!

This war is doing horrible things to them, to our nation, to all of us!