Category Archives: Films

Wanted (is sadly wanting)

Timur Bekmambetov is a good filmmaker. His latest film, Wanted, is a fun movie in a popcorn munching, rollercoaster ride sort of way. Angelina Jolie is quite bearable and James McAvoy is excellent in the role of the sub-standard-Peter-Parkeresque sad sack who discovers he has superhuman abilities as a gun slinger extraordinaire. What the film Wanted is badly wanting, is a better telling of the super hero story.

 In most ways this is a typical super hero story. Shlub has crummy life, Shlub finds out he has super powers. Shlub goes through a montage sequence to indicate the intense training as he learns to use his newfound powers. Shlub finds out that having power is not as easy as it seems due to the ironies of life and conflicting interests tugging at his heart.  Shlub… you get the idea; a tried and true formula of the super hero genre. Unfortunately this retelling offers little in the way of breaking new ground or imagination. I did not read the Mark Millar graphic novel that this is taken from so I cannot say if it is his fault or if it fell apart in adaptation. But the film doesn’t rise to any new standard in storytelling.

 An underlying (but often overlooked) theme to super hero stories is that we are spirit-souls stuck here in the material world as mere mortals because we tend to be God envious. We wanted to be God, but only God can be God. Consequently we play out our God envy tendencies in a virtual world created just for us. Sometimes we play the part of good guy trying to be God like through force and moral superiority; and sometimes we play the part of a bad guy trying to be God like through force and immoral superiority.  The whole time he is here the mere mortal is thinking, “If I could just get some of my divine abilities back, everything would be all right.” But of course life in a virtual reality will never be all right. As we see in most super hero stories, it is never easy here, no matter what powers you acquire.

 The super hero genre is an old and revered genre. From the Vedic perspective it goes all the way back to the original Vedas, with descriptions of demi-gods and demons duking it out for universal supremacy. In the Mahabharata we have the all important story of super hero brothers separated at birth who become enemies; Arjuna and Karana.   In that story Karana is born with superpowers but is disenfranchised socially unlike Arjuna who is royalty. When Arjuna’s evil cousin gives Karana a title and office, he becomes dedicated to supporting the cause of unfairness and injustice (in spite of the fact that he was deeply virtuous.)  The entire Mahabharata is a great study on the ironies of life and conflicting interests that make life a challenge even for the preternaturally endowed.

 In the work-a-day material world, Maya (the influencing agent of materialism) has a similar trick to entangle the disenfranchised even more deeply into the binding influence of karma (karma is any activity which perpetuates the cycle of birth and death.) You see she (Maya) doesn’t want everybody to lose hope. She especially doesn’t want the potentially powerful or influential to lose hope.  Because, when people lose hope they tend to find religion or worse (for her) they become spiritual. The last thing Maya wants is for intelligent or charismatic people to become spiritual. The risk is they will raise their consciousness and then rise up against her, inspiring others to do the same.

 So, (according to the tenets of yoga psychology) Maya picks out certain shlubs amongst us and gives them the semblance of power and control. This stands out as an inspiration for those who were at risk of losing hope. They can then daydream, gee if only I… and thus, inspired to work even harder in the service of matter, we remain further entangled.

 The most interesting part of this whole maneuver is the way bad writing almost always plays into the interest of Ms. Maya. Bad writing is not bad because the subject matter is tawdry, or immoral. Bad writing is bad because instead of waking us up and giving us pause to consider that there is more to life than meets the eye; it reinforces all the worst tendencies that we have, like lack of imagination.

 It is lack of imagination that makes us God envious rather than servants of spirit. Without imagination we are trapped in the claustrophobic cubicles of our mind. Trapped in the safety of habitual thinking we have no need to consider an alternative to this experience of life. And unfortunately a story like the one in the film Wanted (no matter how well shot and edited) does nothing to lift us out of the poverty of conditioned consciousness.

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Cloverfield

Cloverfield: the Facebook-YouTube-generation’s blair-witch-godzilla project – a metaphoric tribute to the spirit-sapping-success of society’s surrender to spectacle.

“All that was once directly lived has become mere representation.” Guy Debord

 

What happens to life if the snapshots we take to record life, become life?

 

J.J. Abrams has produced a smart new take on the monster movie genre that is in fact, a well deserved poke in our collective eye. It is a cinematic metaphor about the monster of mediated moments that has overrun our modern urban lifestyle.

 

As the spectacle of daily life becomes increasingly mediated by the raging tempest of electronic media and the so called meaningful moments of life are continuously surrendered to the all consuming beast of digital imagery, we come to a frightening threshold in the society viewed as spectacle. In the words of social theorist Guy Debord, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

 

Those moments that are meant to be life are now simply fodder for the digitally fueled feeding frenzy. There is no longer a message; only the medium remains. Form has triumphed over content. Self-absorption and narcissism carry off the day, leaving in their path a trail of social and spiritual destruction; littered with the tattered shards of hope, virtue, humility…  But the real victory of the spectacle, and the dissolution of content, is the end of personal responsibility.

 

This abdication of accountability was predicted in the Sanskrit texts over 5000 years ago, “When there is a predominance of cheating, lying, sloth, sleepiness, violence, depression, lamentation, bewilderment, fear and poverty, that age is Kali, the age of the mode of ignorance. Bhagavat Purana 12.3.30

 

Compared to the loss of accountability the loss of innocence is a minor inconvenience. The absence of accountability means we are free to pursue all ends to gratify our senses, and no end to our sense of what we deserve. A society devoured by the soul eating monster of empty-form driven media has no hope of reclaiming its place in the pantheon of virtue.

 

Virtue requires accountability. People have to be able to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. But if they are sufficiently distracted by the monster of manufactured moments, by the illusion of a captured moment rather than being in the moment; then they have no hope of reclaiming the Now; which is the only thing they have… the only thing any of us have.

 

Sadly, the Now is lost forever in the flurry of our furious efforts to be the center of self-generated attention. The more we try to be the one to overcome the spectacle’s unsettling instability, the more we fuel its incessant growth.  And the less likely we are to stop and be present within ourselves and even less with the person next to us.

 

The anti-heroes of the movie are desperate to record themselves saving themselves, but they cannot.  They cannot overcome the monster. Similarly, via our digital documenting, we strive to overcome the influence of material energy, (a.k.a. Maya in Sanskrit.) As we pursue the illusory sense of control that the various auto-generated forms offer us, we grow further and further away from ourselves, our present, and our true nature.

 

Cloverfield was an amusement park ride and metaphor for the loss of our-selves to the monster of pure self-indulgence.  A monster that emerged fully formed at the onset of the industrial /capitalist age and became part of the American archetype in the boot strapping American mythology of Horatio Alger.  Soon after that Ayn Rands, pernicious objectivism polished it into the American dream of supreme sense gratification, the ideology of, “get yours, at all cost.”  

 

From there we became a nation of consumers. Our dreams reflected our surrender to the new state religion of consumerism. You were what you could purchase. This American dream/nightmare (where personal worth is slaved to getting-what-you-deserve) has reached its apex in modern society’s fascination with manufactured media moments.  You are what you digitally record.

 

What started out at the onset of the industrial age as a beastly promise for the few to attain new heights of material enjoyment and influence (at the expense of the many) has arrived in the My-Face-You-Flicker-me age, as an endlessly streaming mirage, seemingly able to freeze time, seemingly under our control, so that we never again have to be distracted by the tediousness of the present.

 

And without the present to interfere, we can surrender once and for all to the hallucination of fabricated life, we can surrender to the spectacle, we can just shop, and work hard, and look for amusing ways to live vicariously through digitized relations in between the shopping and the working.

 

We can even try our hand and largely empty gesture of humanitarianism as long as we preserve the effort on camera or in endlessly unreadable blogs. We can pursue environmentalism, and do cleansing fasts. We will record it all, but we won’t have time to watch it. There will be something else to record and preserve for posterity.  A posterity than never actually arrives because, like the present it seems to continually disappear.

 

A life of manufactured moments is a life without meaning or without narrative structure. J.J. Abrams and company made a movie without meaning or narrative structure, but it didn’t need it, because it was a movie about how a society built on the spectacle of self-absorption doesn’t have much of a story to tell; just pictures… 

 

The film’s desire to be understood as commentary is telegraphed from the opening shot, telling us, this is not a movie about life, but a movie about making life into movies. This theme of ‘film-as-commentary-on-spectacle’ is further maintained by the film maker’s excellent and brave decision to restrict themselves to footage garnered via the spectator’s video camera.

 

At the end of the movie there is no one left to care, only an unnamed government employee, dutifully archiving the digital record of reckless self-absorption.   This is the empty destiny of a society endlessly caught up with preserving the illusion and failing to perceive the present. Truly, this is a horror movie at its best, for in the words of the immortal Pogo, “we have met the enemy, and it is us.”

 

Sweeney Todd

Spirit in Slashers?

 

Is there a spiritual lesson in the hauntingly beautiful, Tim Burton adaptation of Sweeney ToddResoundingly, yes.

 

Sweeney Todd, played with alarming depth by Johnny Depp, is the personification of all desires unfulfilled. He is the reservoir of what is known in Sanskrit as krodha or anger, frustration, rage… The movie is an artful metaphor for the consequences of anger. Anger is the poison that will destroy its bearer. It does not, however, contain its destructive tendencies to the source alone. Anger, after tearing out ones innards it usually brings down much that is dear to the afflicted.

 

Consider this sequence of verses from the Bhagavad Gita, “While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, [bhuddhi nasat] and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool. (2:62-63)

 

The downward spiral ends in the loss of bhuddi nashat meaning, spiritual intelligence. So the instruction seems clear and obvious. But, how does this loss of spiritiual consequence look? What will it feel like?

 

Important questions that deserve to answered; and if something is worth doing it is worth doing right. If you are going to answer a question publicly it is in everybody’s interest to answer it the most beautiful and intelligent way possible. Using the “best words (and the best images) in the best order, as Mr. S. Coleridge might say about film, if he were around today.

 

Mr. Burton demonstrates that if a question is worth answering (or if a story is worth telling) it is worth doing beautifully,

 

The loss of conscience or spiritual intelligence is depicted with beauty, intelligence, depth and a delightfully perverse sensed of humor.

 

As for the musicality of it, while I am not personally the biggest fan of Stephen Sondheim, his work was deftly handled by the talented ensemble. The musical form, especially in film, might be the hardest of all form to pull off. I can think of very few examples of the musicals well done. The standard is, and continues to be, the Brecht-Weil, Three Penny Opera. Mr. Burton’s Sweeney Todd is not quite to that level, but it is certainly competing within that class.

Ambiguous Gangster

 

 The key to understanding Frank Lucas (brilliantly play by Denzel Washington), the real-life-drug-pusher-anti-hero of Ridley Scott’s American Gangster, is his likability. His likability stems in part from the fact that he cared (in a morally skewed way) about issues like respect, reputation, and family. His likeability is part and parcel of his charisma.

 

Frank Lucas’s charisma comes from the mysterious place most charisma comes f rom. Although most people, even modern psychologists, do not know that charisma comes from a willingness to accept the adulation of others. Note, this is very different from being dependent on the adulation of others, which simply makes one unattractively needy and insecure. Being open or available to adulation, however, is a very attractive quality (this is because greater than the soul’s drive to be liked or loved is the soul’s drive to behold something it can like or love.) People who are open to being liked without needing to be liked have charisma. People like Frank Lucas.

 

The story that Mr. Scott so capably tells over a two and a half hour period (yes, this movie is worth seeing,) is the juxtaposition of respectability, family values, and charisma, with violence, murder, and criminal behavior, all of which are personified in the lead character.

 

From a spiritual point of view this addresses the moral ambiguity of material life. Sometimes good people do bad things and bad people do good things. The conundrum raised in the film is which one of these roles describes drug pusher Frank Lucas and which one is his opposition, law man Richie Roberts (well played by Russell Crowe?) 

 

Is Frank (loving son, doting-genteel husband) doing bad things? And is Richie (womanizer, negligent father) doing good things? Or is Frank evil incarnate sometimes displaying acts of civility while Ritchie is the personification of goodness sometimes exercising really bad judgment?

 

This brings up at least two questions:

1)      Who is the good guy doing bad things, and who is the bad guy doing good things?

2)      Is the road to hell paved with good intentions?

 

According to the laws of physics your karma is attributed mostly to your behavior and not the consequences of your behavior.  What is less clear is the role of intention.

 

For example the law man’s intent is to protect the innocents from the ravages of the drug pusher. Yet this is not the consequence of his actions. After the law man excises the drug dealer at the top of the pyramid, disorder is created, more violence than normal ensues and the market for the drugs and destruction of innocents remains unabated. From this perspective the results of his actions were hardly good. But his intentions were good (i.e. positive, healthy, moral…)

 

So Richie had good intentions, along with a mix of good and bad behaviors. And Frank Lucas had bad intentions with a mix of bad and good behavior.

 

So what’s what (and who’s going to hell?)

 

The yogic philosophy has a very interesting way of addressing these issues. In the yoga perspective intentions are split into two camps: spiritual and material. Spiritual intentions are absolute or non-dual. This is because anything connected to God, or Spirit, or the absolute, inherently develops similar characteristics. So any one who purely longs or intends to serve or connect to God experiences commensurate bliss (this, by the way, is a yogic way to test the depth of a person’s spiritual advancement – and also by the way, ignorance is not bliss.) Material intentions are dualistic and relative. They offer the hope of peace but cannot deliver it. If your intentions are good they will inspire good behavior and eventually good behavior brings some material reward, but not peace of mind. If your intentions are bad they will inform bad behavior and of course no peace of mind. So either way material intentions lead to stress, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. So who is going to hell? According to Vedic philosophy material life is hell. Even if you get to a heavenly station for a time chances are you will eventually work your way back to hellish conditions. In today’s movie both guys are going to hell; Frank Lucas is just going to get there faster.

 

In this sense the road to hell is paved with material intentions. A point that writer Steven Zaillian and director Ridley Scott bring home with the movie’s  rich juxtaposition of moral ambiguities, as in a cop who is selfless enough to give up sharing a million dollars in cash for the sake of honor, but is not sufficiently selfless to be available to raise his son.

 

As to who is who (question number 1 – good guy doing bad vs. bad guy doing good.)  From the Yoga point of view, Frank and Richie are both materialistic men. They are both going to reap the consequences of their behavior; some of which was bad, and some of which is good.

 

Overall this is good film making, by a film maker who clearly has the depth and skill that has deservedly placed him in the pantheon of Hollywood greats.

 

What makes the movie even more compelling is that it is based on real people and historical events. The real Frank Lucas was a violent, evil, charismatic, likable son of a bitch. And the real Richie Roberts was an honest, super bright, law abiding son of a bitch.

Superbad

Puerile humor has a place in spiritual life.

Self-deprecation can be a healing and healthy experience when handled with intelligence and warmth. Seth Rogen  (writer) and Judd Aptow  (producer) demonstrate this in their passage of age, teen film , Superbad.

Set in an anytime-any-town world, Superbad holds the warping mirror of funhouse ribaldry to the pressure of male teenage angst. The large part of this angst flows from a young man’s longing for belonging, and a burgeoning desire for warmth and intimacy. Combine the unlikely fulfillment of those intensifying desires with an increase in testosterone as their male organs fill with an escalating sense of importance and you have the underpinning of teenage angst.

In the absence of anything like a spiritual context (or even a civilized approach for that matter) to understand the changing, raging emotions of puberty,   kids are mostly left on their own. Consequently, they opt for a variety of outlets; most of which have to do with self-medication (drugs, alcohol, gaming, etc…) On the extremes of the bell curve some mange to bury themselves in their studies and a handful on the other end turn to more violent behavior. (Class and culture certainly play a role.)

This movie is about those on the bulge of the bell curve.  It reminds us (the men in the audience) of our own childhood grapplings with the pressing concerns of, not sex, but of a need to be needed. Sex obsession maybe the storefront, but fraternity, self-respect, and the need to feel complete is the factory.

From a spiritual point of view, life is meant to be a journey of self-discovery. The soul longs to awaken and return to it fully realized stature. The soul longs for community, love, and the fulfillment that can only come in the joy of relationship. The soul, unfortunately, is destined to find none of these in a world made of transient, and fleeting moments that hint at a joy we sense is there but never really arrives. The teen age years wake us up to this Sisyphean  reality

If we are fortunate, the longing to understand is coupled with a supportive environment, or ideally with some manifestation of the guru principle (in a friend, a mentor, the right book…)  Seth Rogen’s script shows that in friendship such support is possible. It reminds us of the importance of self-honesty and the need for vulnerability to achieve understanding. Although for the two heroes of the film (played brilliantly by Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) their epiphany comes with the help of an alcohol-based stupor, the result of a day and night of hilarious teenage yearning and scheming.

Superbad is one of the funniest, end of the school year-get the booze to impress the girls-metaphorical journeys depicting the complexities of young human relations ever directed for film (Greg Mottola.) My only complaint is that either the writers are late bloomers or there is an unspoken agreement among Hollywood filmmakers to deny the age truth. For most of us the teen struggles and unbridled sex talk are experienced between the ages of 12 -15. By the time we were all seniors we had (most of us) decidedly more mature points of view.

Nonetheless, it’s good to laugh at ourselves. Every generation needs their passage of right metaphor: from American Graffiti through Breakfast club to American Pie. Superbad without dating itself steps up as this generation’s seminal entry into American teenage romance comedy. Laugh and let the healing begin.

-30-

Batman Begins

Best batman movie yet.

 

Of all the super heroes batman is often most revered because he has no mystical or preternatural powers. He relies on strength, intelligence, flexibility, cunning, patience, and stealth. Chris Nolan’s new batman movie does the same. It is a smart and insightful piece of psychological film making.

 

Focusing on the transformation of fear is the key to freeing the powers of the human mind. Batman Begins gives the well told visual story of what it means to confront your fears. Not just to abate them; but to turn them into fuel. Fear transformed can fuel faith, courage, vision and the determination to carry forward even against overwhelming internal obstacles.

 

The choice of the two villains, Ra’s Al-Ghul, the sociopathic and aristocratic nija master and Jonathan Crane the supercilious scarecrow as the deranged shrink fixed on exploiting fear, was a very good story telling decision.

 

Ra’s Al-Ghul saves the pre-batman Bruce Wayne from sinking into a morass of his own guilt fueled self contempt by teaching him to surrender his anger and consider a more selfless path of serving others. Like an inspiration from our own false ego saving us from ourselves by championing a higher ideal, albeit one couched in self delusions of grandeur; an ideal that will, in time, need to be thrown off.

 

Of course escape from this delusion requires a courageous act of selflessness. At just the crucial moment will you have the courage to resist the false ego’s demand to surrender to its tempting offer or instead will you risk everything to do the right thing as when Bruce Wayne threw off the demand of Ra’s A-Ghul to become the cold blooded executioner of a common murder who in this case is a metaphor for the notion of conscience or compassion. Killing the common murder would in effect destroy or repress the quality of mercy.

 

Our loss of mercy is a state much desired by the all controlling false ego (Ra’sAl-Ghul.) With mercy debilitated the false ego may proceed with directing the aspirant (Bruce Wayne) according to his agenda.

 

Looking at the film through the lens of our psychological model (based on sankya yoga) the film acts as a marvelous metaphor for how the mind can be healed

 

Bruce does not comply and like the powerfully trained mind of a yogi he goes on to become the well wisher and protector of the body he serves (in this case Gotham city.)

 

 A body that has grown decrepit and vile through the corrupting influence of the mob (in our sankya model this would ‘manas’ which is Sanskrit for ‘mind’ meaning the controller of the senses.)

 

Leaving the intellect (called buddhi in yoga) –which in this story is  assistant D.A. Rachel-played indecisively by Katie Holmes- who as the ADA finds her efforts to  right wrongs ineffective, i.e the intellect is unable to provide instruction that can be tolerated by the body (Gotham’s government.)

 

The batman plays the part of what yoga would call a representative of super-consciousness; he is something like a teacher or guru. He will both protect the living entity as well as propel it toward a necessary confrontation with its fears.

 

Once again the false ego (having previously conned batman into saving him by means of a subterfuge the ego is so expert at, in this story by convincing Bruce that he was his friend and that his old Chinese puppet was the real false ego) tries to dissuade him by burning down his house during a fight to the death (this is the proverbial dark knight of the soul.)

 

When the false ego makes its last stand it is often cataclysmic so the burning of the house as well as the subsequent loss of Bruce Wayne’s reputation is an apt metaphor.

 

All this of course sets up the grand finale and the last ditch effort of the representative of the dark side (herein the Scarecrow) to wreak utter destruction (aka induce a psychotic breakdown.)

 

At this stage the only hope is direct confrontation with ones fears and having developed functional alliances with other spirit-souls fight for truth and justice.

 

How well does Mr. Nolan do this? You will have to see the movie and judge the ending yourself.

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

“Now, kindly expand upon häsya-rati, the attachment causing the mellow of humour.”

 

Gosvämé, “Häsya rati appears when funny words are spoken, when the dress looks odd, when actions are caricatured, and so on. Opening of the heart, widening of the eyes, flaring of the nostrils, trembling of the lips and cheeks, characterise this mellow.

                                                Jaiva Dharma (philosophical yoga text)

 

“I support your war of terror!”

                                                Borat

 

In the more advanced and esoteric texts on yoga philosophy, descriptions of the soul’s liberation involve complex and continually evolving phenomena with the divine being which can be experienced in the transcendental realms.

 

Humor, laughter, comic relief is one of these.  Since humor is inherent in the nature of the soul it is naturally present in our present day consciousness. Our current consciousness (at least for most of us) however, is mired in the transient material world (or for some in the mystical.) Consequently, we are forever, seeking relief, respite, and recreation in the temporary. We turn to transient phenomena to fill our need for pleasure and distraction.

 

Yoga teaches us to seek satisfaction in the eternal realms of the soul’s origin. Modern life teaches us to seek it out the priceless moments that are afforded us by having the right credit card.

 

The question is how one pursues the lofty spiritual ambitions suggested by yoga when we are surrounded by the temporary phenomena of the material and mystical world. One possibility suggested by Yoga is dovetailing. Dovetailing is redirecting an activity or a resource from an ego gratifying experience to a spirit raising experience.

 

Humor is an experience that can be easily dovetailed and we can use this review of the film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan as an example of this.

 

Humor is a valuable part of yoga’s history there are many examples of it. There is the funny story of how sometimes Kåñëa would sneak into the houses of the village women, or gopés, and steal their yogurt and butter. Then He would run off to a hidden spot to enjoy His booty and share it with the monkeys from the nearby forest. Together they would eat so much that even the monkeys would start to feel ill. When the I would catch Kåñëa in this mischief, He’d feign innocence and say, “Why do you call Me a thief? Do you think butter and yogurt are scarce in My house?” Confronted with the evidence—the remains of the stolen butter and yogurt—Kåñëa would chide the gopés: “That butter and yogurt are useless,” then pointing at the monkeys nearly passed out from over eating he’d add, “Even the monkeys won’t eat it.”

 

Humor comes in many forms and flavors. How you grade humor tends to be a very subjective process. My personal standard for humor is originality or imagination. Charles Bukowski once said the only sin is being unimaginative. This would be an excellent standard for evaluating comedy.

 

Borat on this scale get a good rating. His new mockumentary is original and imaginative in the genre of cinema parody. He follows a tradition of other imaginative classics such as Spinal Tap and the Ruttles. In this tradition the artist holds up the mirror to our egoism and our self righteousness. In doing so we are forced (sometimes in dismay) to laugh at ourselves.

 

This is intelligent comedy using intense parody and physical comedy (honoring and incorporating comic predecessors from Charlie Chaplin to Andy Kaufman.)

 

This is also dangerous comedy. I do not mean physically dangerous (although it appears actor Sacha Cohen did risk personal injury on multiple occasions.) I mean dangerous from the possibility that some people might miss the joke and champion the idiot. Borat is making fun of us, the American people, by comparing us to a culturally backward and economically disadvantaged country in his mostly fictionalized rendition of Kazahastan.

 

The genius of the film is his dead pan humor and his Groucho-Marx–vaudevillian act, of the back water goon, anxious to learn about the US and A. In this way Borat effectively demonstrates that even with our economic, cultural, and political advantages we are just as backward, racist, superstitious, self centered, as the Kazaks he uses as comic foils in the movie..

 

Some people won’t see the incisive victory of Borat’s searing critique of America. Just like the viewers who failed to get the joke year after year during the Seinfeld era. While Mr. Seinfeld was busy rubbing our collective nose in the self absorbed, self centered, bourgeois nature of everyday Americans; audiences actually identified with the parody players and saw them as champions of the modern man. So badly was the point missed that in the final episode Mr Seinfeld had to put the four players on trial and effectively indict them and ten years of their antics for criminal superficiality and callousness as members of the human race.  

 

The beauty of Borat is that it not only holds up the mirror to our foibles as a racist, homophobic, misogynistic nation. But it does it in a very intelligent way. This should be appreciated in a time when the staple of American humor has been remarkably unimaginative. Just when it seemed that Howard Stern’s brainless humor had all but lobotomized the craft by rendering comedy that makes you think (like the work of Lenny Bruce or George Carlin)  into comedy that tells you what you are already thinking. We need comedy that makes us think thoughts we have not had since the 6th grade. We need comedy that makes us more humble, not more vicious. Sacha Choen has certainly stepped up to this challenge.

 

What does all this have to do with humor in a spiritual context? 

 

A huge (and often overlooked) aspect of spirituality is self discovery or facing the hidden demons and shadows of the heart. Humor can help with this. Especially intelligent humor like Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. If we appreciate it for what it is showing us, we can enjoy a self deprecating laugh that will also remind us not only not to take ourselves too serious, but also to look deeply into the American mirror and recognize that we have me the redneck, and it is us.

 

-30-

 

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Revenge of the Sith _ episode CRAP…

 

Revenge of the crappy film makers… this was unmitigated crap. Let us all hope that George Lucas has burnt out and will no longer subject us to his feeble and mind numbing attempts at story telling. Every part of this serial has gotten worse and worse. The same tired story has been retread too many times over. He had something innovative and exciting when he put out the original Star Wars all those decades ago. Now he looked like Mike Tyson in his (hopefully) last prize fight; tired   spent, and employing every cliche cheap shot he knew.

 

This was a bad film, poorly written, badly directed, woodenly acted, cheesily edited and strung together with the most appalling maudlin, cinematic treacle that I couldn’t tell if I was watching a bad soap opera or a humorless spoof of  Mel Brook’s Space Balls.

 

I would like to talk about the few allusions to spiritual thoughts but the feeble attempt to espouse any type of spiritual truths was awkwardly simplistic and about 30 years behind the times. Where is the depth, where is the effort to tell us something that hasn’t been said a thousand times over?

 

This film should be consigned to a  tire fire like a bad dream that is banished to the waking moments of a new day and in the lingering moment of unpleasant remembrance the waking party will shake there heads and say, man I am glad that is over.

 

I pray that film makers every where will take this abysmal flop of a franchise and made a determined declaration to create movies that tell stories as if they carried either about the audience or at least the integrity of the art.   

 

This flaccid attempt to milk out six stories from an idea that barely merited one and a half should be remembered as painful memory to us all. But in the meretricious world of Hollywood filmmaking I fear it will not…

 

Crash (2005)

 

Crash (and burn – an aptly titled film)

 

 

Art should tell us something we don’t know; not rub our faces in what is obvious. Crash never rises above the dreary act of regurgitating (albeit expensively and with great actors) what we are constantly reminded about in television news coverage. We live in a racist, sexist, classist society. Ok Thanks, but what do you have t say about it. Where is the art in your work where is the bravery in your sharing. What indescribable or haunting truth are you striving to tell us? Or did you just want to minutely inflame race relations and the go home and cash your studio paycheck?

 

Compare this to another recent film that had race and cultural observations as its vehicle, “Coach Carter.” When I walked out of that film I was changed. I looked at African American cultural differently. I was taken somewhere in my consciousness that I had not been to before, and I was shown a different world. That is one of the joys and powers of art.

 

Crash unfortunately is not about art but rather it is about imitating the same old crap that is going on around us all the time, And no matter how well that is done, it is hardly imaginative. Haggis had a potentially good film idea but fails to capitalize and instead delivers a bleak dreary snapshot or a very real Los Angeles with maudlin, Hallmark moments that never bring the film beyond the level of being a crash at the side of the freeway that we know we shouldn’t but can’t help turning our heads to stare at.

Sin City (2005)

 

 Wow.

 

This is what film making can be. Visual art. Story telling. Try to understand, it’s not the story, it’s how you tell it. This was magnificent story telling. Sin city is art if you agree that the difference between an illustration and art is that an illustration is ABOUT something and art IS something.

 

Even the violence worked perfectly. This was not violence for the sake of violence (e.g. ala Bruckheimer.) Nor was it romanticized violence (ala Scorsese.) No this was violence as art, like the violence of Spanish painter Goya.

 

This movie proves that graphic novels can be brought to cinematic life. Rodriguez has done what others efforts like, the Crow, The Mask, Batman franchise, League of extraordinary… and so many others have sought and failed to accomplish; to capture the magic the reader experiences when pouring through and exceptional graphic novel.

 

My question is who will bring the Sandman series to life with this degree of expertise? Or the work’s of Dave Mckean? Imagine a movie based his Arkham Asylum. Or even the original and historically influential graphic novel by Frank Miller, Dark Knight. There are many beautiful visual stories waiting to be told. Let’s all hope more filmmakers follow in the footsteps of Rodriguez and company.

 

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