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Revolutionary Road (Block)

A beautifully shot movie with no redeeming social or artistic value

Walking out of the film Revolutionary Road, my mind was numb from the deadening effect of this miserable film. It was like Requiem for a Dream but without the drugs. It’s as if the filmmakers just got out of a bad relationship and figured out for the first time that material life is hard. Jesus, the Buddha, and countless Vedic texts have already told us that life is hard. Or perhaps they heard about the artistic genre known as a tragedy, read some cliff notes of the Greek plays or read about Ibsen and Chekhov on Wikipedia, and decided that a tragedy is a movie about bad things happening to sad people. Or maybe they just found out that the illusion of a nuclear family in the 1950’s collapsed under the pressures of relentless, sexism, racism, and classism, but hadn’t had time to come up with something meaningful to say about it.

Hey honey, I think the  film's meaning went that way

Hey honey, I think the film's meaning went that way

Hmmm, actually I can’t really come up with an excuse for these filmmakers. Except that they have written and produced a move with great, art direction, cinematography, music and with absolutely nothing to say. Unless their goal was like the upbraiding owner of a new puppy who must rub our collective noses in the crap pile that is life. This movie says nothing new, nothing important, and deserves no accolades. The one bright spot was the acting of the so called crazy realtor’s son (Michael Shannon) who played the part of the chorus in a greek melodrama telling us the obvious moral of the story. He played his part very well, as did his mother (Kathy Bates) the realtor. Kate Winslet was a seeming paragon of pathos, and Mr. Dicaprio’s performance ranged from wooden to apoplectic, not his finest hour.

Unless you are a masochist for mediocre melodrama, do not waste your precious time on this travesty of a film. It is a film that wanted to be about emptiness and hopelessness and instead became an empty and hopeless film. If you want to catch up with a meaningful drama, stay in and rent, The Grapes of Wrath, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or Wuthering Heights… these are examples of what a tragedy, or a melodrama, is supposed to be.

Rating 2/10

Recommendation: avoid like an unanaesthetized root canal

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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…

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.

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