Category Archives: Loved 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.

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Slumdog Millionaire

Film auteur Danny Boyle’s rags to riches story is a genre-defining masterpiece. But first, a word, two words actually, from our sponsors: karma and dharma.

Karma is what you are born with, the stuff you can see, birthplace, family, body, etc… Karma is also the stuff photo_01_slumdogyou can’t see, i.e. destiny, the future you have created by your choices and actions from the now forgotten past. This includes your successes, your failures, your happiness and distress, as well as your income for life. This may be one of the most unpopular and ill received aspects of Vedic philosophy. Nonetheless, it holds true for all of us. As was quoted in the Sanskrit classic, Mahabharata, “Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade the consequences of our past actions.”

So if Karma is what you are born with, then dharma is what you do with it. Free will is the choice to act virtuously in relation to your lot in life, or not. You get to choose if you are going to be a zero or a hero by the way you handle what comes your way. If you protect dharma, dharma will protect you.

Slumdog Millionaire is the superbly told story of karma and these two dharmic options. The hero is Jamal Malik a young man born in the slums of Mumbai. The zero is his brother Salim.

The film is the retelling of Jamal’s life and his one true love Latika. The context is a jail house interrogation. Jamal is arrested because he is suspected of cheating on the Indian version of, Who Wants to Be Millionaire, and is on the verge of winning twenty million rupees ($420,000 US).

The ensuing story of poverty, simple aspirations, tragedy, cruel gang lords, decency, and unrequited love is a marvelous, upsetting, and rewarding adventure to witness.

From a spiritual point of view, we see how two people can be given the same horrible circumstances and yet choose two very different paths. Jamal consistently pursued virtue (dharma) and time again he was protected by virtue. All the while his karma, both fortunate and unfortunate, pursued him relentlessly.

While the concept, destiny, may be a difficult pill for many to swallow, it is not as bleak as it appears. Pursuing our dharma offers a path to personal strength and peace of mind. It can be very freeing to realize that even though we can’t know what lies ahead for us there is joy in hoping for the best and strength in preparing for the worst.

photo_02_slumdogOur destiny may be written for us, but our fortune is in the storehouse of love, patience, kindness, forgiveness and the celebration we have in our hearts. Sadly, this is a store house, which, for many of us goes forgotten and unused. But what is keeping us from breaking down the door and looting the love in our hearts? That would be the six dark shadowy figures known in Sanskrit as the Sad Garbha that guard the heart’s door: 1) selfish longings, 2) anger, 3) perpetual dissatisfaction, 4) delusion, 5) pride, and 6) envy. Throughout the film Jamal’s older and decidedly unvirtuous brother demonstrates all six of these traits. How we deal with these six enemies of the heart has everything to do with dharma or the choices we make. This is a film that powerfully brings out this idea.

It is so gratifying when art provides us with powerful experiences that prod and poke at our consciousness. When art does its job, it finds us thinking new thoughts without seeming to have told us to have new thoughts. Director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy, working from a novel by Vikas Swarup, have managed to do just this with Slumdog Millionaire.

Rating: 8.5/10

Recommendation: See it and tell me what you think…

The Dark Knight Triumphs

Like Godfather II, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night is that rarest of sequels: better than the original. In my review of Batman Begins (entitled, Best Batman Movie Yet) I called the film, “a smart and insightful piece of psychological film making.” Dark Knight earns that same accolade and a little more.

The film is a masterful metaphor for the complex challenges of healing the human mind. Gotham City is the mind field and the characters the different aspects of the self wrestling for dominance. Gotham City has risen up from its crime-infested haze, thanks largely to the efforts of the Batman. A more cowed criminal force remains at large, but their weakened state is of much disappointment to the Joker (played with artistic force and psychotic glee by the late Heath Ledger.) Gotham’s recently emerged villain du jour, a dark and volatile psychopath, so perverse that he ends up frightening even the city’s own leading criminals. His goal is not wealth or power but rather to be the voice (and source) of chaos.

The story itself can be viewed as allegory for the well known psycho-spiritual phenomenon, the dark night of the soul. This ‘dark night’ is sometimes experienced by those who have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of virtue and spiritual activism. It is somewhat like the darkness before the dawn. It results from tenacious efforts of the false ego to maintain dominance over the mind field. Consequently, the mind is overwhelmed with feelings of doubt, terror, and conflicting desires. At the worst moments the chaos reigns supreme. This is the capacity of the false ego in the mode of darkness and ignorance. The word for this in Sanskrit is tamasic. This tamasic energy in the uninspired person generally shows up as laziness, envy, hatred… but for the individual striving for virtue and betterment, this energy can take on a blackness (a heart aching, lonely, sense of desolation) that attempts to cover the heart. This is what has come to be known as the, ‘dark night of the soul.’ In the film, Gotham City is experiencing a dark night of the soul (personified by the Joker.)

A person experiencing the dark night of the soul is not to blame. This phenomenon is wired into the nature of material existence. Material energy is designed to confound us in various ways at different times; The dark night of the soul is one possible aspect of the material energy. Another is to cause us to identify with our bodies, our possessions, and our material desires. This is the role of Maya (represented in the film by asst. DA Rachel Dawes – who by the way represented intelligence in the film Batman Begins). Maya’s role in clouding the seeker’s heart and mind is part of the interplay of light and dark–the cosmic dance meant to push us onward and upward.

All the various dark, downward pulling energies work not just on individuals, but on the collective mind as well. One example of this in the Sanskrit texts is the dark and evil personality of Kali who rules over the Iron Age. (Yes [gasp] our present age – that explains all the greed, quarrel, and hypocrisy.)

In other words, the same thing that can happen to the human mind can happen to the world or the various epochs of time. The 18th century Sanskrit scholar Visnavatha Chakravati Thakur described how it is possible for the influence of a dark age (the aforementioned Kali Yuga) to enter into and influence a Golden Age (like Satya yuga.)

Other smaller, but equally vicious agents of change can be put into the game by the Big Guy. These dark force angels are responsible for wreaking havoc on behalf of the drama known as life. They are representatives of God who bring unimaginable hate and destruction. There are several examples of these in the Vedas: the evil Ravana in the Ramayan; the cruel and vicious Hiranyakasipu in the Vedic history of the Nirsinghadeva incarnation, and the malevolent and despicable Kamsa in the Mahabharata.

One might wonder, “What is the purpose of these evil doers?” But they are crucial to the unfolding of God‘s story or as they say in Sanskrit, lila. Remember that in the Vedic paradigm this whole reality we know so well is just a play, a dream, a construction for our benefit and our development. Bad guys are as important here as they are in any story. Without the protagonist there is no one to move the story forward.

Spoiler alert below!

The Joker plays the role of the dark force angel; he is even self aware of the nature and importance of his role. He doesn’t want anything materialistic. He is just here to teach lessons. The only way to beat the Joker at his game is to not surrender the values he is assailing. When he targeted deception and dishonesty, people died because Batman (who in our analogy to the mind would be compared to intelligence) did not want to surrender his identity. Batman’s dual identity is a rich example of how human intelligence becomes adversely identified with its various roles. When Joker targeted fear and selfishness and set the prisoners in one boat against the good citizens on the boat, they chose compassion and frustrated his dastardly plan altogether. When the Joker disguised evil henchman as hostages, and hostages as henchmen, only the refusal of Batman to accept things as they appeared, and his willingness to seemingly break the rules of conduct–attacking the so called “good guys” to prevent them from harming the true innocents–saved the day. This is what is known as protecting virtue as contrasted by the blind adhesion to virtue practiced by Harvey Dent.

The Joker as the Dark Night of the Soul is able to render the most ardent representative of virtue into an agent of darkness. Harvey Dent was a paragon of upholding virtue (dharma.) But he was known to cling too tightly to his values, creating a dual perception of himself; so much so that he was referred to as “Two-face” in his career as an investigator of police conduct. In the end his over adherence to rules and regulations (known in Sanskrit as niyamagraha) caused him to succumb to the dark influence. This is what happens to those who adhere to the rules simply for the sake of adhering without understanding the larger picture. There can be this dramatic reversal of roles, exemplified when the District Attorney goes on vigilante killing spree. In the end, only the influence of mature intelligence can prevent a warped aspect of the mind, a dysfunction (called an anartha in Sanskrit and represented by Harvey Dent as Two Face) from doing irreparable harm.

Another dark force angel the Joker has traits in common with is the personality of the planet Saturn, known as Shani in Sanskrit. Persons familiar with Vedic astrology are terrified of Shani coming to their house, i.e. influencing their lives. Shani brings sorrow, destruction, loss (although he also brings wealth to some). The lessons to be learned from Saturn is that virtue coupled with compassion, and free from material or ego gratifying desires, are the keys to success. Shani, like the Joker, cannot be eliminated only overcome.

Here is a summary of the Vedic model of the mind based on Samkyha (analytical) Yoga, with the corresponding characters from the film Dark Knight.

Mind : [Sanskrit –Manas] importer/exporter of data, the conscience; that which tells you, “That looks good”, or, “That looks bad.” Represented in the film by – Alfred, Lucius (The overall-inclusive mind field, i.e. ones “heart” is known as Antahkarana; represented by Gotham)
False ego: [Ahamkara] the I or id maker, that which ties you to the material realm; the false ego has three facets: 1) goodness, 2) change (for the sake of change), and 3) darkness (which was represented by the Joker.)
Intelligence: [Buddhi] the part of the mind that is supposed to protect you and lead you in the right direction, but if it succumbs to the false ego it works against you. When it is functional and mature it will do whatever is necessary to help get you back on the path of self development; even sacrifice itself. [Batman]

In the Vedic model it is super consciousness [Paramatma] that is the source of virtue. And the goal of the individual is to regain its original awareness of super consciousness and in this way rise above the influence of the mind altogether. A common underlying (and rarely acknowledged) theme to most modern hero and adventure movies is that without regaining the realm of pure spirit the cycles of life, death, good and evil continue unremittingly. Consequently any well written adventure movie will subconsciously remind us of this.

So while Dark Knight does not give us the answers to life (nor should it necessarily, after all, we are learning to think for ourselves) it does, however, give us an extraordinary, even operatic insight into the challenges facing the human mind.

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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