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.