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!