Category Archives: Liked it

New Fall TV (Hate, Date, or Mate)

Hate –

The Playbook Club

Imagine a cool new TV show just like Madmen, but without good writing, and really weak direction, and no great art direction, and mediocre, strained acting, and presto… you have The Playboy Club.

The Playboy Club might be the lamest piece of TV drama programming that NBC has puked up to date. It is so cliché and tired it is a challenge to generate words for it that aren’t equally cliché and tired. This is a truly uninspiring bit of misogyny. It does serve to remind us of how in many ways the media age managed to co-opt the women’s liberation movement and turn the agitating domestic servants into objects of pleasure all while granting the illusion that this would somehow make women freer. In the 1960’s the male dominated establishment, said to the progressively pushy fairer sex, “Sure you can take a bigger, more visible role in the affairs of the world; would you mind trying this mini skirt on?” And so the 60’s ushered in the women’s new found power to compete economically with men as long as they used their bodies to do it. And hurray, now we have a show to celebrate that Faustian victory. Avoid this show like a date with a drunken life insurance agent.

Unforgettable (seems a bit forgettable)

I don’t really hate this show but I also wouldn’t date it. I am an easy target for procedurals where the star has special acuity-think Monk, Psyche, Lie to Me. Yet this show seems like such a retread, with little promise, maybe it gets better with time but I would be unwilling to give it the time.  The supporting cast of characters is flat, the art direction is uninspired… and so I pass.

The Secret Circle

Really why do I even take the time to watch anything the CW puts out? (Maybe because with the show Nikita they eeked one out.) The Secret Circle continues CW’s strong tradition that “if we program for the sixteen and under we don’t have to put any thought into the writing.” This show though was worse than simply unimaginative; it also seemed at times to border on child pornography. It’s a bit disturbing, not because it is a moralistic issue, but because it just such a bad idea. It takes an extraordinary level of talent to turn pedophilia into literature (think Nabokov) and these writers aren’t even in the same universe. What you are left with is the idea that you can simply attract views by depicting tantalizing teenage sexpots. That is the very definition of prurient pandering. Sigh…

Date –

Up All Night

This new comedy is like 7UP: Light, fizzy, and a little too sweet, but still, if you’re thirsty it might be refreshing.  I don’t think it can compete with comedies like Raising Hope or 30 Rock, but it is a funny look at being new parents and has Maya Rudolph as a comedic gold mine. Not much else to say, check it out if you have the time, no foul if you miss it though.


Ringer

The new Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle is a thriller based on an evil twin sister plot. And I don’t hate it. (Could CW come up with a second show I sort of like?) Watching the pilot was like a first date that you feel isn’t going to work out at first but by the end of the night you are surprised and you are willing to go on a second date, at least to see where things go. This show is fraught with pitfalls and could spin out quickly but I’m hoping (improbably) that the writers have a good story up their sleeves. Let’s wait and see…

Mate –

Prime Suspect

Maria Bello is a superlative actress and she might be in the best new police procedural in a long time (at least since Homicide.) The first episode hooked me with good writing, and well-developed characters all around. I also loved the stressed out art direction, and slightly manic lighting. If you can nail the roles and avoid tripping on the story you are half way there. Prime suspect is definitely half way there. To go all the way they will need to work hard to uncover police stories that matter. No easy task in this overdone genre. But one possibility is to go very deeply and meaningfully into what it means to stand up for justice in a world where injustice seems almost predestined. How does she compete not just as a woman in a man’s world but as a conscious being in an entropic material world?

I recommend this show just to enjoy the craft displayed by Maria on the now not so small screen in your living room.

Let me know which shows you will hate, date, or mate.

Inception has Nolan & DiCaprio Dreaming of an Oscar…

Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.
~Edgar Cayce

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan (the Dark Knight), Inception made for a good time at the movies. Inception is a film about a world where science makes it possible to enter in to another person’s mind through dreams. This allows unscrupulous types, like the Leo DiCaprio character to go into a person’s mind and steal valuable information, in a process called ‘extraction’. The story in the film however, focuses on the supposedly much more difficult concept of going into someone’s mind and implanting an idea. This is called, ‘inception’.

So Leo gathers together a top notch team for this ‘inception’ endeavor, making the film an ensemble piece that was pulled off on the strength of decent writing and a talented cast. Ellen Page (from Juno) was the bright spot in the group.

Think of Inception as having the excitement of a heist film but in a psychologically unstable and surreal environment, a sort of Bourne meets M. C. Escher. It was original, intelligent, visually interesting, and had an excellent score. Most importantly, it was fun.

So what is the Vedic take on this?

Dreaming is sometimes described by yogis as being more real than the waking stage of life, but it is still part of the material world.

The general Vedic view of dreaming is that it is one of the four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, sleeping, and turiya. We are all familiar with the first three as they make up the sum total of our experience of life. The fourth state, however, is almost completely unknown to us. In fact, it does not even have a direct translation into English. Turiya simply means the fourth state of consciousness which is accessible to accomplished yogis and mystics.

Turiya is also the playground of Bhakti yogis as they are constantly meditating upon the Divine, who by definition is always in turiya. Hence the goal of the modern yogi is to meditate on the divine as much as possible so that he/she can begin to play in that magical realm of the fourth state.

In general Gurus do not stress the importance of dreams as they are primarily just symptoms of your unconscious combined with your overall karma. The great sage Narada once told King Prachinabarhisat: “Sometimes we suddenly experience in dreams something never yet seen or heard of in the present body. My dear king, a living being develops all kinds of thoughts and images because of his previous body. Take this from me as certain. One cannot concoct anything mentally without having perceived it before.” (4th canto, Bhagavat Purana) Here we also see a connection to the theme of the movie that an idea once planted at the deepest levels will persist for a very long time.

It is interesting to note that some Gurus have said that in the lives of a spiritually determined person, karma can be worked out and dealt with in the dream state. This is said to be a natural byproduct of those who are pursuing spiritual awareness in the waking state. And almost all Gurus state that they have the ability to work on their students while the student sleeps. In my own life I can distinctly recall dreams with visitations from at least three different Gurus that I consider examples of direct aid and supervision.

In the Tibetan system of yoga you have the concept of lucid dreaming or ‘dream yoga”. This is an appealing concept to many people. They think, “wouldn’t it be great to control the dream state and do what I want!” This sad thought misses the main point of yogic philosophy: this entire material experience and all three of its states is a dream. We are already lucid dreaming in the so-called waking state.

If we do things without awareness of the absolute (divine nature) that underpins the reality we experience in the waking, dreaming, sleep states we are lucid dreaming (i.e. most of us.) If we are present to the transcendent even while performing the mundane we are stepping in to the fourth state of consciousness.

The point of yoga is to wake up from the dream that is material life, as the Bengali philosopher Bhaktivinode Takur once wrote, “Wake up, sleeping souls! Wake up, sleeping souls! You have slept so long on the lap of the sorceress Maya.”

The movie hints at an important question, how do you wake up from a dream that even death can’t end?

I liked that they used sound as one of the triggers to pull the operatives out of the dream state, as sound is clearly one of the keys to waking up the sleep soul. In fact in its etymology the word Guru means to cause to sound or to raise an alarm. The real trick in the yogic tradition is to die consciously with the mind focused on something spiritual. The movie doesn’t go that far but it raises the specter of how an idea at its core is a very resilient thing, and it can shape one’s destiny. This why in yoga philosophy so much effort is put into planting a spiritual idea at the deepest part of our being; so that we might wake up from this dream state upon death.

Rating: 7.5/10

Recommendation: an engaging and thought provoking distraction, worthy of a bag of buttered popcorn

Kick Ass, Kicks Ass

Kick Ass the movie,  based on Mark Millar’s graphic novel, is not the most important film in the genre of comic book movies, it does not have the weighty social commentary of V for Vendetta, or the literary depth of Watchmen. It certainly is not as beautifully adapted as Sin City. Kick Ass is, however, a fun and even thought provoking movie experience.  The writing does rely a little too heavily on the revenge fantasy scenario so dear to the undemanding comic fans. It has the feel of the Punisher meets Paper Moon (a great father-daughter film by a Mr. Bogdanavich from 1973-netflix it if you are too young to remember.)

Kick Ass’s father-daughter team offer their own version of “punishment, not revenge”, with the young actress, Chloe Grace Moretz, stealing every scene she is in, and some she is not in, as the eleven year old vigilante, Hit-Girl. Nic Cage does a surprisingly in depth job of playing the ethically, if not morally questionable Dad bent on destroying his nemesis, even at the cost of destroying his daughter’s childhood.

The theme of the film attempts to address the issue of civic responsibility, through the adolescent and not too deep question,” if so many guys (and some gals) fantasize about being super heroes, how come nobody does it?”

The initial answer is, “that with no power comes no responsibility.” But the deeper insight is provided by the film’s protagonist, Dave Lizewski who sets out to become a real life superhero, only to discover the real meaning of hero is in the heart and not in the costume, and that even though we as individuals have little responsibility, we certainly do have some responsibility.  I can attest to this.

As somebody who has been in a position to risk injury in order to help or protect a disadvantaged or innocent victim, I can honestly say it is far worse to live with the shame of turning one’s back on the needs of others.  I say this even though my own crime fighting has not always ended well for me.

Once in the 80’s I was working in music promotions at a downtown Minneapolis night club when in the middle of the business day someone called into the office that there was some disturbance in the parking lot. I was sent to investigate.  In those days I wore all black leather and had a mohawk, looing a bit like an extra from the film Road Warrior. When I came into the garage I saw two goons mugging some accountant looking guy. I yelled at the two guys and ripped one of the chains decorating my leather off and began to run straight for them. They looked up, literally dropped their victim and took off running.  True story, happy ending.

Another incident didn’t end as well. I was coming out of a night club after closing hour and came across two young mods wearing skinny ties and 60’s suits who were being threatened by a trio of drunken-polo-shirt-wearing jocks. All of whom were considerably bigger than the two new wavers (and me for that matter.) Still it was my responsibility to say something, which I did. Probably something like, “shouldn’t you pick on somebody your own size?” Which, they decided they would. Unfortunately, to them, that meant me.  So they all jumped on me, knocked me to the ground and proceeded to kick the shit out of me.  They eventually tired and I was able to walk away a bloody mess with busted ribs and broken nose. Not so happy ending.  But I remained convinced that I did the right thing. The short term pain of bruised ribs and a busted nose is inconsequential to the never ending shame of walking away from someone who needed help.

This moral is consistent with the moral of the movie. It is also (here comes the connection to Eastern Philosphy) consistent with the expectation of a yogi. Although the yogi’s first tenet is non-violence (ahimsa), this also includes preventing harm.  A yogi would gladly sacrifice their own life to safe that of anothers.  Like the great Maharaja Shibi, who saved the life of a pigeon by supplying flesh from his own body.  A true yogi does not occupy any specific post but is always available to fill any post in service to God and humanity. Sometimes a yogi must fill the post of a kshatriya. Kshatriya means one who gives protection.  It is never that the yogi thinks, “now I am renounced from worldly concerns so I do not need to help my fellow spirit souls.” No, it is the opposite; the yogi is always concerned about the welfare of others, spiritually and materially.

Thus the lesson for the Modern Yogi: meditate on compassion, and the nature of the absolute, but always be prepared to kick ass if needed. 🙂

Rating: 7/10

Recommendation:  better than most of what’s out there…

Role Models

“Beth I hear you calling…” KISS

In spiritual life affiliation is everything – because you will be drawn up or torn down by the consciousness of those around you. Sometime life doesn’t always give you a choice about how you have to around. It is at those times when it is most important to find common goals that can lift you and your unsolicited fellow traveler upward.

Role Models - the movie

Role Models - the movie

Role Models is a hilarious film about just this theme. The film centers around the downward-spiraling, increasingly contemptuous, dourly-disparaging of all Danny, played by Ben Affleck look-a-like Paul Rudd (a fact that is used for effective laughs on multiple occasions) and his over-the-top sense-enjoying coworker, Wheeler played by an effervescent Seann William Scott.

After the two spokesmen for a Red Bullesque energy drink get in trouble with the law they are forced to do community service at a big brother type center. The center’s director is scene stealing Jane Lynch, whose performance of a recovering cocaine whore deserves an Oscar for funny. The two charges given over to the court ordered mentors are hilarious Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Augie Farks, the nebbish geek who has found refuge in a dungeon and dragon role playing sword fighting tournaments, and Ronnie the all too cute uber-foul mouthed, booby infatuated twelve year old (played like a pro by 12 year old Bobb’e J. Thompson.)

The result of these pairings is good comedy (notwithstanding a few over sentimental and simplistic turns) that brings home the message that cynicism is dead. And that to see the good in life and in difficult situations is the key to self transformation. There are no short cuts in life. You have to roll with the punches, get back on your feet and go at it again. It just helps if you can see the humor in it. This is a film that definitely sees the humor and the irony of life in a world where materialism tends to bring out the worst in us and the desire to go against the current brings out the best.

The sweetly sober message of this film is that everybody needs something or someone to believe in. Maybe the Legendary Rock Group KISS isn’t the ultimate higher power, but the idea of using something bigger than you to uplift you is certainly the right idea.

Rating: 6.5/10

Recommendation: A comedy worth its weight in buttered popcorn, enjoy.

Happy-Go-Lucky

Some of my friends have encountered people who have dedicated themselves to a spiritual lifestyle. After meeting them they have noted that they often seem the opposite of spiritual. These would be spiritualists are stressed, frustrated, insensitive, etc… “How is this possible?” they ask me.

This unfortunate but all too often observable contradiction is because people often go towards spiritual life as a refuge from life’s confrontation rather than a place to confront their lives’ refuse. Consequently the people you meet at yoga retreats, ashrams, spiritual conventions, and the like tend to have the same personality or similar characteristics they had before they took up spiritualism.

Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky

Our personalities are deeply structured emblems of our heart (shakti) and our history (karma). Personalities tend to change very little over lifetimes. This is partly because significant change requires soul age, which is the resilience that comes from many lives in a human form, what I call heart.

Mike Leigh’s new film, Happy Go Lucky is a study of personalities and soul age. His principle character is Poppy, a resiliently souled optimist, who is determined to keep a sense of joy and wonder about her. Her nemesis is an immature souled, paranoid, racist, victim of a institutional standards – who has now found a minute sense of control as a driving instructor. The other characters in the movie serve as marvelous foils to Poppy’s irrepressible good nature. The most interesting of which was a schizophrenic homeless man with the countenance of mature soul who has somehow been left behind, i.e. the right heart, wrong history.

But the most interesting part of the film was its total lack of anything remotely cinematic (at least by Hollywood standards.) The events and people portrayed were events and people of everyday life. The story was about as provocative as oatmeal. But as I have said, many times before, it is not the story, but how you tell it. Happy-Go-Lucky is a story well told.

As you allow Poppy’s very mundane life to unfold in front of you have a chance to explore the multihued fabric of Poppy’s world. While Poppy’s almost preternatural optimism carries her a great way we are able to see its limits and even its down side. For example, we have to ask ourselves, was she at least partially responsible for the driving instructor’s breakdown? Did she, in her over exuberance and insouciance, fail to assess the dark and tormented man’s emotional frailty? She had entered in to his phallic realm (the car) the one place he felt he had dominion and she unseated him completely. Yes, we saw her effort to peer into his troubled past, but did she go far enough to see the impact she was having on him. This is the responsibility of the more mature soul, and an important lesson of the movie. A lesson Poppy learns the hard way.

There is much to be mined from this delight of a movie. This includes an insight into the question of what does it take to be a good person? And, is it more than just a sunny disposition? (This does seem a good place to start.) It also takes a willingness to look into the soul’s of others and see what is it that they need. And that can be hard work, but hey, happiness is hard work.

Rating: 7.5/10

Recommendation: If you are a fan of Mike Leigh, or if you like thoughtfully paced cinema, then you you will like this.

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.

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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.

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