February 16, 2018

MOVIES: "THE FLORIDA PROJECT"





















All I knew about the film "The Florida Project" was that it chronicled the lives of motel dwellers, people too poor to pay a month's rent, but able to pay week to week. I imagined this film would be rather solemn and sorrowful, but it's not. It bursts forth from the opening scene with the chutzpah and brashness of those for whom it is imperative to hustle for their next meal. It is also suffused with the contentment of those who can only afford life's simple pleasures.

The joy in the film is provided by the protagonist, a little six-year-old upstart girl named Moonee who is as feral and mouthy, tough and vulgar as her young, tatted, rainbow-haired, party girl single Mom. But Moonee is not the only wild youngster left to fend for herself most of the day during summer vacation on and around the grounds of the purple "Magic Castle"--a motel near Disney World. The motel is a bit of a paradise for kids to be kids. Moonee and her merry ragamuffins have very little money or gadgets. They incessantly chatter to each other and scream and laugh and know everyone's business and roam about and pull pranks and taunt grown-ups.

The way this film is shot is unique, unusual, but with a non-pretentious indie air. There are lots of long shots and establishing shots of the colorful and fanciful buildings and architecture on the tourist-trap strip where Moonee lives. The acting is a kind of "direct cinema" at its finest. Especially this little girl. This extraordinary little ingenue. You can't even call her a great little actress. She is somehow real, breaking through the fourth wall at every turn. One scene of her in a bathtub (where she is forever shampooing her toy horse's and doll's hair) makes us believe we are seeing the real Brooklynn Prince (the name of this child actress) who has perhaps forgotten that the camera was left running. The other children too, while we sometimes catch them acting, we catch them having immediate emotions and reactions even more often.

Willem DaFoe plays the kind-hearted but firm-handed motel manager who often finds himself doing double duty as watchful parent to the herd of little banshees and troublemakers. The fact that these kids spend long hours unsupervised, with nary an adult in sight is quite discomfiting. We're just waiting for something bad, really bad to happen.

Moonee's mother is pretty terrible with the parenting skills, but she certainly teaches her daughter survival skills. Not only that, she truly loves and enjoys her child--playing with her with abandon, like a kid herself. But Mom's life is also a risky one, always one wrong move away from the brink of disaster. Is it better that Moonee be taken away and put into the dreaded "system"? Or is it better for kids to be with their birth parents if at all possible--albeit with much support and oversight from child welfare services? That seems to be the question of this mesmerizing film, "The Florida Project." Six-year-old Moonee seems to answer it for us.

(It's rated "R," most likely for the myriad F-bombs and other language. Otherwise, it could be PG-13.)




MOVIES: "DARKEST HOUR"



Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour" is more than just the role of an actor's lifetime. It's England's story, humanity's ultimate story of the 20th century that risked being forgotten as new threats, tensions and dramas play out and capture our attention on the world scene in a new century, a new millennium.

This rotund, vigorous, idiosyncratic, stogie-chomping, alcohol-swilling, Cicero- and Horatio-quoting, alternately jolly and irate, almost default Prime Minister of England was just the right combination of brains, wit and humanity to get the job done. His wife (played exquisitely by Kristin Scott Davis) was his equal and his foil and his cheerleader--comprehending her husband through and through. The King (yes, the stuttering King George VI of "The King's Speech," played by the unrecognizable and always sterling Ben Mendelsohn) gives him the last nudge of confidence to do what he knew he must: what was growing in his heart as the undisputed right thing.

5-DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS

The characters are not just three-dimensional, they're five-dimensional. The grand but not grandiose, ebullient, lively and varied soundtrack beating throughout, sucks us back in time, and although there are lots of mini-speeches leading up to "The Prime Minister's Speech," the film is a foreigner to boredom and a friend to unpredictability, and lots of historical yuks.

England in 1940: What an admirably ordered and orderly society. Everyone had a part to play and there were no little parts. There is great honor and nobility in doing one's job well and being one's self well. Order is something our chaotic world now eschews at the risk of its own free-willed demise. We must convince it of the benefits and rewards of living in accord with reason, the divine plan and one's own nature.

THE NEED TO KNOW MORE

For all the brilliance of this film--as well as the complete makeup magic transformation of Gary Oldman (the phrase "inhabiting the character" comes to mind)--I was disappointed by the lack of exposition in a slightly larger context. "Darkest Hour" takes much for granted of our knowledge of this segment of the World War. After Churchill's rallying speech to Parliament that they should not accept or even hear any terms from Hitler (which is the end of the film), we are only told what happened to Neville Chamberlain (Churchill's immediate predecessor) and to Churchill himself. Yes, this film is cutting close to the bone and rigidly and tightly following a personal story as a historical piece should, but we desperately needed the Epilogue to tell us more. We needed to know that London was indeed bombed to smithereens, and that the Underground (London's subway system) served as a massive bomb shelter. We saw this beautifully foreshadowed when Churchill descends below and polls the commuters as to what he should do. Should England surrender or stand strong? The people wouldn't hear of surrendering.

NO MERCY

One statement of Churchill's that has always stayed with me (that I was aware of before this movie was ever made) is: "We may show mercy, but we shall not ask for it." Was this a foolhardy, reckless provocation? Was Churchill drawing down a deeper doom upon his countrymen's heads (while he would most likely be safely locked away in a bunker during the bombardment)? Not at all. Churchill was not being a stubborn, proud, patriotic man. He was telling the world that you don't make a truce with evil. You fight it head on. "What fellowship does darkness have with light?" 2 Corinthians 6:14. Not only England, but the planet needed a man such as Winston Churchill, right at the beginning of the hostile conflagration, to say "Enough!" A little evil, a little savagery is too much. If we compromise here and now on this and that, there is no stopping the slippery slope. (E.g., there is now a pilot program called "Porn Literacy" in high schools in the USA. The thinking is: "We can't stop teens from using porn. At least we can teach them to be discerning and discriminating. To know what might be real and what might be fake." No.)

NO DEAL WITH THE DEVIL

Churchill's instinctive plan was to claim VICTORY, win or lose. Which is the truth. You are already the victor if you are on the side of right. "Nations that go down fighting rise again." "Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for."

"The Darkest Hour" is a masterful, artful, engaging dramatization with no false notes that depicts a truly inspired man, a flawed genius with a clownish visage. A hero, not with swords, but with much-needed words who simply could not stomach evil.

Hindsight is 20/20, but would that each of us learned to respond as quickly and unflinchingly as Winston Churchill to the siren lay of compromise and mediocrity and neutralization in the never-ending battle of good vs. evil swirling all 'round us.

OTHER STUFF:

--The face is Churchill's, the eyes are Oldman's.

--Such highly civilized, clever dialogue.

--Such a fine work, fine acting, fine everything.

--As "The Post" is to the age of newspapers, "Darkest Hour"  is to the age of speechmakers.

--"state of nature" = "naked" :)

--My father did not like Chamberlain. He would angrily mimic: "There has never been such peace in our time...."

--"Blood, sweat and tears" is a WC quote.

--So many great WC quotes: "You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!" One more reason not to deal with the devil (1 Peter 5:8).

--"We must all die, but let us die well."

--In his great speech, Churchill paints the picture of the so-called "peace" they were being offered: "The swastika flying over Buckingham Palace?!" Then they get it.

--Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

-- A lovely speech WC gave at his old school in 1941 (the "never, never, never give up" speech): http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2003/january/14163.html

--Churchill knew that a sense of humor and the warm, common touch were the greatest medicine of all.

--My mum taught me that the hand signal "V" for victory was done as Churchill first did it in the film.... (Otherwise it's just a peace sign!) ????

--The History Channel has a devastating series called "Nazi Collaborators" about heads of nations and other groups who capitulated to Hitler--either passively, reluctantly or willingly. These people and groups are now associated with infamy.








February 10, 2018

JORDAN B. PETERSON: FOLK HERO.




                                          Sometimes, it takes a Canadian.



JBP deconstructed: how to converse like the good professor.


Twitter: @jordanbpeterson.





January 22, 2018

MOVIES: "A GHOST STORY"




"A Ghost Story" is dismal, dreary, ghastly and mournful. A dreadful view of the human person and afterlife. A bombastic, trying-to-be "brilliant" speech is plopped in the middle of the film (instead of the end of a film as is customary). The speech-maker is some guy who knows more than God and tries to sum up the mostly wordless film. But for all his hot air, he really doesn't say much. "A Ghost Story" feels like a postmodern attempt to make sense of it all, but postmodernism does not have the tool kit or skill set, so it winds up in empty nihilism, beating the air. It winds up in emo-music-enhanced sadness and infinite melancholy. Postmodernism can't really define or say anything substantive about the physical world, so when it attempts the metaphysical world it's an even more confusing jumble of important-sounding words and vaporous, impressionistic, "ghostly" notions.


ABYSMAL.

The eschatology in the film is abysmal and hopeless. The more we stray from the Biblical worldview, the more our imagination returns to a been-there-done-that-already paganism which is an endlessly looping, reincarnating cycle, NOT a linear "story." So this was NOT a ghost "story." A story has a beginning, middle and end, like each of our lives, like history, like salvation history. 


EPISODIC.

"A Ghost Story" is truly episodic with a capital "E." The only thing it can desire, really, is to cling to human love beyond the grave, maybe, for a little while (see the film "Ghost" and countless other love stories). Not a bad thing, that. But don't try to tell us about a bigger picture if all you believe in is physics-as-we-know-it-in-2017. Or speculative, theoretical physics or imaginative physics. And if postmodernism only believes in science, why does it believe in love at all?



NO.

Perhaps there IS an image of a kind of purgatory here? Some kind of purification (but what?) and then one is "released"? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Anyhoo, what is eternity without God? I think the filmmakers were really trying. But no.


FEAR.

"A Ghost Story" taps into our deepest fears: of dying, of being forgotten, of losing someone, of dying a sudden death, of what comes next, of nothingness, of some shadowy "in between" half-life state after death. It's good that we think on these things! But we will not evaporate. We will not be forgotten by God or those who have gone before us, the communion of saints. We are immortal. We will endure. Human beings are indelible, carved on the palms and the Sacred Heart of God.


LOVE.

In actuality, God has revealed enough to us to know that we have a choice. Read the entire book of Revelation at the end of the Bible. We know how it ends: both our individual lives and all Creation. We humans love freedom and choices? Well, we all have to make the most important choice of our existence: "to spend eternity with God who loves us or Satan who doesn't" (Fr. Amorth, former head exorcist of Rome). Our God is "a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29) who sets us on fire with love (heaven), or we experience His love as torment--not because He is tormenting us, but because we torment ourselves with our rejection of Love (hell). There are only two choices.

Christians in particular shouldn't be looking to the secular imagination for inspiration on the most important things in life (and death) when it's certifiably off base.


CHOICE.

The afterlife is very important, isn't it? Our storytelling around the afterlife is very important isn't it? Salvation is very important, isn't it? Actually, it's the only thing that matters. We can lose everything else, but if we lose at eternity we've lost everything forever. So choose well.

OTHER STUFF:




--The best explanation of hell you will ever read. But you must read the whole thing: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/the-river-of-fire-kalomiros/

--Books by Blessed James Alberione on the afterlife:
"Lest We Forget"
"The Last Things"



MOVIES: "THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI"



"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" is NOT all that. It has the feel of a Coen Brothers' dark comedy (and not just because Frances McDormand is in it). The writer-director is Martin McDonagh, known for "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths," both filled with sudden, pop, surprising, vicious violence that's supposed to be funny in its casualness. "Three Billboards" is no exception.

At film school we learned that "in a comedy, nobody really gets hurt." Perhaps that's why so many comedies today are "dark." The rule doesn't apply.

McDormand plays Mildred, a divorced mother of two teens, a boy and a girl. The girl was brutally murdered and Mildred's anger at local law enforcement dragging their feet in finding who's responsible has reached a boiling point. She pays for a message spaced out on three billboards to demand WHY?--naming the popular Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on one of them. The whole town is incensed and Mildred becomes very unpopular. She's a self-righteous vigilante with a heart of gold who can point out everyone else's sins, but just when she's becoming dull and one-dimensional...oooh...we get to see her flaws.

Ebbing is a hick town with inept, backward, uber-politically-incorrect police who play fast and loose with the law, in particular, Officer Dixon (an unhinged Sam Rockwell). Obnoxious conversations are par for the course, and be prepared for crudeness and shock-value-everything. McDormand does her usual deadpan McDormand tough chick schtick, this time as a woman with nothing to lose.

An interesting comment is slipped in the middle: "There's no God, so it doesn't matter what we do to each other? I hope not."

A beautiful-philosophical, warm-fuzzy, funny suicide note is left by a character that feels like it's meant to get us to (smilingly) agree that suicide was the right decision here.

The plot is watchable, clever, amusing and twisty until the very end when it kinda falls apart. A different kind of ending. Not untidy, but unlikely, a bit meh.

Methinks there's just too much material out there. A glut. When cable came 'round, the saying was: "100 channels and nothing's on," meaning nothing good to watch. Now we have the internet, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu, etc., all doing their own original programming. They've got to grab our attention somehow, right? Oh, and torture is hysterical, right? ("Three Billboards" doesn't have torture, but just about every other "mature" show does now, doesn't it? Graphic, horrible torture that doesn't look away. And there are no warnings, you just start watching something and voila--you don't have to wait long.)

"Three Billboards" is more minor Hollywood desensitizing dissolution. Eminently forgettable.

OTHER STUFF:

--A swipe is taken at a priest for clergy sex abuse. In a sense, it's a well-deserved observation, not just some easy, crass wisecrack.

--"I didn't come into the world alone, my mom was there."

--Great young actor, Caleb Jones.

--Could also have been named: "Three Billboards and Two Angry People."





January 15, 2018

MOVIES: "THE GLASS CASTLE"




 "The Glass Castle" is a unique film about a real family, focusing on a love-hate father-daughter relationship. The film is based on a book written by the daughter, the daughter who was closest to her Dad and believed in him the most. He kept promising to build the family a fantastical house made of glass (and never stopped tweaking the floor plans) that never materialized.

 A nonconformist, fiercely independent, contrarian alcoholic father and his free-spirited artist-wife drag their 5 children across the USA in the 1960's, moving every few months--on the lam from the law. Dad picks fights, breaks laws and squats in what looks like condemned housing. HIs saving grace is that he's a charmer, a raconteur, quite brilliant when it comes to engineering, and  in a strange way loves his kids--even though he doesn't do right by them. His daughter says of him later that he could also be "cruel," a fact we certainly witness--mostly in his drunken stupors, but also in his wanting to keep his grown children at home and not let them break out on their own.

The dad, Rex, is played by Woody Harrelson in what I'm calling the best role of his career. If you don't think Woody is much of an actor, you will change your mind. The adult daughter role is played by the wonderful Brie Larson who, amazingly, dials in the performance. She is a stoic mannequin for the most part. Why oh why? Maybe there's a directorial reason? Maybe this is the real daughter's personality? Maybe she's portraying a tough, shut-down personality? But just keep your eyes on Woody, he'll steal every scene. Naomi Watts--looking preternaturally youthful--plays hippie Mom with a frustrating irresponsibility that makes us want to slap her.

For most of the film, we get to watch brilliant child actors. Jeannette, the daughter through whose eyes we live  the story has a gift for writing. This gift will eventually catapult her to fame and fortune in New York City, covering fashion for New York Magazine, a Cinderella rags to riches story. But as she tries to escape her embarrassing past, her aging parents pull at her heartstrings. She is also bound to her father by their similarities: a dogged persistence and ability to survive.

For anyone who has struggled in this way with a parental relationship--eternally grateful to them, but finding it hard to forgive past and present hurts and inconsistencies that never seem to resolve themselves; parents who may even promise to change but never do--you will find much to bawl about in this well-crafted film full of symbolism and passion and unfairness and grit and the joy of living. HOWEVER: THIS IS NOT A HALLMARK STORY. I REPEAT, NOT A HALLMARK STORY. IT'S A FILM FILM.

The first people in life we have to forgive (and thank) are our imperfect parents who, like us, never stop wrestling with their demons.

OTHER STUFF:

--Watch the credits. You'll get to see the real family. Rex reminded me somehow of Woody Guthrie. And a Woody plays him.


January 14, 2018

CREATION, BIBLE, CHURCH


"Three in One"

Sr. Nancy and I attended the Hollywood Short Film Festival last night (in Hollywood) to accept an award for a short film by one of our Polish Society of St. Paul Brothers! would be proud! The film is very Theology of the Body, happening to illustrate the chart below.





January 11, 2018

SR. HELENA' S "DIGITAL CATHOLICS" DVD (AS SEEN ON EWTN)

You can get my "Digital Catholics" mini-series on DVD! (As seen on EWTN.)
(Five 30 min segments) $25

1. Catholic Church & Media
2. Parenting /Teaching Media
3. Theology of Body & Media (Porn & Sexting)
4. R U a Digital Catholic? (Using Media Well)
5. The Future of Media: Where Are We Going?

SEE QUESTIONS BELOW FOR EACH SECTION:

1. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH & THE MEDIA
--What did you used to think about what the Church might teach on media?
--What have you heard today that was surprising? How will it change you?
--Do you already do Media Literacy with yourself, family, friends, colleagues, students? How?
--Do you teach critical thinking skills with regard to media? How?
--Which media skills are you strongest/weakest at? QUESTION / EVALUATE / CHOOSE / ENGAGE
--How can you be a more “active, listening presence in the world created by a media culture”? In the world of your family, friends, colleagues, students?
--How do you fact-check the news?
--What are your go-to sources of Catholic news? Why those sources? (Sr. Helena's go-to sources: www.tinyurl.com/BestCatholicNewsSources)


2. PARENTING / TEACHING THE MEDIA
--How do you or can you help yourself and young people develop media skills (beyond technical skills)?
--What are 3 personal/family/classroom media guidelines you might want to institute?
--What do you find hardest about communicating with young people about media / media use? How can the situation be improved?
--What has been your experience with young people and media filters?
--What are some ways to help young people synthesize Gospel & Culture, Church & World, Faith & Reason together in everyday life?
--Describe your attitude toward media (and what you might want to change about that).
--How can you incorporate praying about media (more) into your life?
--How do you put using or creating media/art together with your Catholic faith life?
--Where do you seek and where do you find God in media?


3. THEOLOGY OF THE BODY & MEDIA (PORN & SEXTING)

--What do you know/have you heard about Theology of the Body? Are you intrigued to learn more? Discuss.
--Were you aware that porn is a serious addiction? Discuss.
--Have you known porn addicts & the toll it has taken on their lives/families? Discuss.
--What are your ideas for dealing with the porn epidemic? How can we better “porn-proof” kids and teens?
--Have you always understood that we ARE our bodies and don’t HAVE bodies? Explain.
--Porn must be dealt with on the PHYSICAL / SPIRITUAL / HUMAN level. How can we deal with it better on the HUMAN level?


4. R U a DIGITAL CATHOLIC? (USING MEDIA WELL)
--How can we change some ways we use social media to use it BETTER?
--What are 3 problems / 3 solutions for the world of digital media?
--How can we be more like Christ online?
--How can we be better digital Catholics?
--What resources do you use to grow in faith online? How do you evangelize / do the spiritual works of mercy online?


5. USING MEDIA HUMANLY (THE FUTURE OF MEDIA: WHERE ARE WE GOING?)
--What kind of world do you want to live—with regard to the use of media devices? Describe. Do you like where the world seems to be headed in regard to digital media? Discuss.

--If we continue to use digital media constantly and/or obsessively, how will human life, family life, society change?
--Are you happy with the way you / family / friends / colleagues / young people use media? Why? Why not? What example can you set?
--What is your personal plan for your media / social media / media device use?
--What conversations do you need to have with family /friends/ youth about social media? When/how will you have these conversations?
--Where is God (specifically) in your digital life? Where does He need to be?






January 8, 2018

MOVIES: "DETROIT"


"Detroit" is one of the best films I've seen in quite a while. I was truly moved. It's a grow-up film for grown-ups, of which we have a great paucity these days. (Foul language, "mature themes," our favorite seasoned actors regurgitating ossified Hollywood ideologies [wink, wink] does not a grown-up film make. In fact, it's the perfect recipe for an immature film.) The name of the game with "Detroit" is nuance, nuance, nuance.

Everything about this film is Oscar worthy. The acting, writing and cinematography are over the moon. Director Kathryn Bigelow ("Zero Dark Thirty," "Hurt Locker") is a genius here. I have not heard much Oscar buzz or much buzz at all about "Detroit." This is a shame and I wonder if it isn't because the film is basically a bunch of unknowns. I, for one, don't go to the theater to see my favorite actors (and I thought there was a trend to that day being over!)--I go to see good acting and a good story well executed. Detroit is all of these and more.

NUANCE, NUANCE, NUANCE

Set in 1967 during the Detroit riots, we are plunged intimately into the lives of a loose collection of fated young people: several young black men, two young white women, and a host of law enforcement: city police, state police and national guard. Before you think this might be a simplistic #BlackLivesMatter propaganda piece, it is not. The lines are not clearly drawn between white-bad/black-good, and it's not police-bad, either. This is about each individual in the drama choosing their "side," choosing their attitudes and actions. There are devilish cops and compassionate cops and cops with a conscience. There are black looters and black peacekeepers and black heroes. As with all gatherings of human beings, it's a mixed bag in "Detroit."

The film opens with a trigger-happy young white cop who is not just banally racist, he's also something of a psychopath. We get the sense that he really has no regard for human life whatsoever, especially that of black people. Somehow, in his estimation, their lives just aren't worth that much. Adding to the already volatile situation in Detroit (and other major U.S. cities) is the fact that some Vietnam vets have gone into law enforcement with a kind of full-combat mentality.

YOUNG MOTOWNERS WITH ONE FOOT IN THEIR GRAVE

A Motown singing group of talented young black men hoping to get a record deal find themselves at a motel after a show. They pick up two young white women and some more young black men join the party. Foolishly deciding to mess with the jumpy lawmen outside, one of the men shoots a toy (starter) pistol out the window in their direction. (Detroit was already rife with real snipers aiming at police.) The night then becomes a torturous nightmare as Officer "Trigger" comes to the motel to investigate.

Officer Trigger holds sway over his two fellow cops (both as young as he is), and the older law enforcement coming in contact with the unorthodox situation commit the grave sin of omission and not wanting to "get involved."

One young black man is the real hero in my book. He makes an incredibly courageous decision and action. It's almost glossed over in the film--but it haunts. See if you know what I'm talking about.

There's a real 60's feel, with many general elements of the day feeding into our specific story: Is nonviolence the way for Black America?; America was at war without (Vietnam) and within (Civil Rights); the times they were a-changin' with the Sexual Revolution and young people breaking down color lines and so many traditions of the past; young Americans wanted to figure out life for themselves, to experience everything, to get rid of social stratification, to get to know their peers--regardless of their backgrounds.

NAILBITER

"Riveting" truly fits this story. It's almost like an action film. The cinematography never leaves the thick of things and we are constantly seeing what each characters sees. We are inside the house, hands against the wall, being interrogated. But we are also the young cops whose bullying went too far--now what do they do? This is an edge-of-the-seat experience. What will happen? Is someone going to get killed? What must one do to stay alive? We are in agony over these fine young men--full of hopes and dreams--whom we were just getting to know and love. (Incidentally, one minute of "Detroit" is far, far more nerve-wracking and tense than thirty minutes of "Dunkirk.")

The film also gives us a lengthy aftermath of the horrifying incident. This would have been a rare move for more formulaic filmmakers, but it's a brilliant, needed and effective part of the full story.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

For white people who have no idea what it feels like to be a black man (young or otherwise) in a tense situation with a white racist in a position of power (or to be a woman or anyone else in a situation where you are powerless against an aggressor)...you will.

If you're wondering--yes, this is based on a true story.

"Detroit" is not a feel good film. And yet, it's not a feel bad film, either. I was left with a sense of hope, even though, as comedian and activist Dick Gregory said before his recent death: After all we've accomplished, we're still dealing with the same problems.

We need accountability, to keep communicating, keep dialoguing, keep solving problems, keep trying to change minds and hearts, keep reaching out, and keep telling stories like "Detroit."

OTHER STUFF:

--It's often hard to tell the actual historical footage from present day footage.

--There's a very interesting character of an upstanding young black man, Dismukes (John Boyega), who's a security guard and a witness to the evening's events. He's heartbreakingly naive in his thinking that keeping rules and keeping your head down will keep you alive, that honesty will win the day, that the system in 1967 will work for black people and there will be justice in the end. This actor's face (frequently played on by the camera) is like a silent Greek chorus, telling us the whole story. Magnificent.

--This is a film about men, power, rule of law.





January 7, 2018

MOVIES: "DUNKIRK"



The almost unbelievable story of the massive evacuation of cornered Allied troops on the beaches of France toward the beginning of World War II was begging to be told. Almost half a million men were trapped against the shores of the English Channel--being bombarded from above--and, astoundingly, civilians--in every kind of sea-faring vessel imaginable--played an important  role in rescuing them. 

Unfortunately, Chris Nolan's "Dunkirk" doesn't really do the saga justice. The camerawork is jerky and uneven (and I don't mean "heat of the battle" jerky), the soundtrack is grating and conspicuous, the acting is mezza-mezza, the editing is abominable, and worst of all, the pacing is so dreadful that the tension and danger is constantly broken every few minutes. In the beginning of the film, strange and confusing subtitles appear and then they stop--also creating fragmentation. So many scenes are so lengthy that I found myself bored--even in the midst of unexpected life-or-death dogfights in the air. I never once forgot that I was watching a movie. A movie that was not well made.

Nowhere in the film did my heart pound and leap into my throat as it should have. The reality of the gore of war is whitewashed, and all the horror winds up looking like some commonplace, ho-hum historical re-enactment with a few perfunctory informational lines of dialogue, trying to dredge up a sentiment or two in us. Nothing ever felt actually desperate to me. Nothing connected with my head or heart beyond a few facts about the event that I was unaware of. The narrative was easy enough to follow, but dull, if that's possible. Was it unfair of me to be comparing "Dunkirk" with "Saving Private Ryan" the entire time? It just didn't hold a candle. "Saving Private Ryan" should have upped the ante for war filmmaking for all time. Although nothing can capture the true misery and hell of war, "Hacksaw Ridge" is another fine example of recent war filmmaking. But I suppose for audiences to learn a little something about this battle/non-battle/"miracle" (Churchill), it wouldn't hurt to take a look at Nolan's work.

Many, many times I lost my ability to concentrate on the actors, the action, the story-line, the dialogue. Our main character is the most unconvincing of all. For some unfathomable reason, he casually smirks through the entire film. Conversely, Harry Styles, in his silver screen acting debut, has potential. 

May I suggest a highly-readable, firsthand, anecdotal account of this uncanny episode in The Good War? The name of the book is "The Sands of Dunkirk." The one line I remember from the book is that--fully expecting to be slaughtered or captured by the Nazi-barbarians--the retreating Allied forces had been commanded to free any pet birds from their cages that they might find in the abandoned houses along the way to the sea. Mercy.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_evacuation

January 2, 2018

December 18, 2017

MOVIES: "BLADE RUNNER 2049"



"Blade Runner 2049", despite its amazing, atmospheric sets and production design, is a blistering disappointment. I am huge Philip Dick fan--both print and film--(e.g., "Through a Glass Darkly," "Minority Report") and the original 1982 "Blade Runner" (director's cut), is one of my all-time fav films. But now I am questioning my love of BR after seeing the sequel. Read on.

WATCH THE ORIGINAL "BLADE RUNNER" FIRST:

For starters, one really needs to have seen the original BR for the sequel to make any sense at all. It's actually very satisfying for the audience to already know what a "replicant" is and what the heck is transpiring as the film gets off the ground, cutting deep into the BR world.

For those who haven't seen the original BR, here's a rundown. The fictional "Tyrell Group" robotics company (slogan: "more human than human") creates the world's most life-like human robots to do the superhuman and dangerous work of planetary expeditions. They are forbidden from returning to earth. However, as the computer-machines self-evolve, they don't want to be "retired" aka terminated (just like us humans--who could blame them?) Some models also have an indeterminate expiration date. Lest their kind mutiny and take over, futuristic human cops called "blade runners" must hunt these immortals down and kill them if they return to earth. Harrison Ford (incidentally, Fr. Harrison Ayre @christian_state is named after Harrison Ford) is the main character, a blade runner cop (LAPD) named "Rick Deckard." Only problem is, it's very hard to tell replicants from humans, AND Deckard manages to fall in love with a replicant (Sean Young).

Rutger Hauer (incidentally whom I met at a Santa Monica U-Haul) plays a replicant resisting his demise. The film ends with a subtle question: At one point might we consider these creatures (of human creating) human? Have they earned their stripes? Are they somehow becoming human? (My answer: NEVER!)

SPOILER ALERT! And then there's the question, is Deckard himself really a replicant, beknownst or unbeknownst to himself? In some fan literature, it seems to be a settled question (supposedly settled by Philip Dick himself).

BACK TO "BLADE RUNNER 2049":

Ryan ("Hey, girl") Gosling plays a  replicant blade runner (LAPD is now hiring replicants!) without a name (replicants don't get names so he's just called "K") sent to kill immortal replicants (the "older models") of which he is also one. In the opening scene he is about to kill "one of his own kind." The doomed replicant utters a mysterious sentence about why he wants to live: He claims he has witnessed "a miracle."

In his spare robot time, "K" listens to Frank Sinatra and enjoys time with his hologram Stepford wife named Joi (hologram wives are allowed to have names) who is utterly adoring, waits on "K" hand and foot and keeps changing her tailored clothes mid-sentence (incidentallly, Gosling also stars in "Lars and the Real Girl" about a young man in a relationship with a doll). This diaphanous woman is so scary--scary, that is, if there's a future for her ilk IRHL (In Real Human Life). Please tell me this is NOT what real men really want.

Without giving too much away, the "miracle" has something to do with replicants replicating or, rather, reproducing--even though that's not supposed to be possible.

MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN

The few humans in BR 2049 are rather nasty, cynical folks, while the plastic people--save one femme fatale replicant--are rather affable (self-loathing filmmaking humans, anyone?) Little by little we see more and more "human" traits in the robos. The question of what makes us human is all over the film. The film's answer seems to be: "a soul," "birth," "memories" and "feeling desired." The robots want to become the best of what is human while the humans are devolving into the worst of ourselves and becoming, well, robotic: unfeeling and coldly calculating. On second thought, maybe the filmmakers are not self loathing. Maybe a mirror is being held up to us.

The Tyrell Group also is briefly reprised, now helmed by the evil Mister "we lost our stomach for slaves" Wallace (played with aplomb by the always reliably trippy Jared Leto). Many other elements from the original BR are also revisited, including some hard-boiled dialogue which is always a hoot: some good but heavy-handed maxims about humanity and nobility.

S-L-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-W

I read an article that queried: "Are Millennials too impatient to appreciate the new Blade Runner?" Er, no. Millennials have great tolerance for science fiction and in-depth, intricate stories. But they, wisely and discriminatingly, as with any age cohort, do not have patience with snail-paced, predictable films.  

For me, the question of the co-existence of humans and robots (before The Singularity, that is) was already answered eloquently by HAL in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Yes. They will eliminate us.

The mythology is tight, but, as in  Spielberg-directed Kubrick's "A.I.," what makes the whole enterprise a failure (even if you can endure its utter bleakness), is the fact that in "A.I." and "Blade Runner 2049", we are not watching humans (even though it's easy to forget that fact). We are watching robots. They are not human and never will be. And, quite frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn about the so-called emotional lives of robots.

OTHER STUFF:

--One big plot hole: they coulda used some kind of IVF on the robos to get them to "reproduce" or otherwise manufactured them. It wasn't clear why they had to have "faith births" (to quote the fine film "Gattaca").

--To answer at the most basic Theology of the Body level: "What makes us human?" It's not how we're conceived or birthed or our memories or desirability. (Incidentally, all humans are loved by God and by other humans who love all humans.) What makes us human is first of all that we're "made of human stuff." If you're made of human stuff, you are human. God obeys us even today when we play God and scientists manufacture human life in the lab (e.g., IVF): God endows that child with a soul. God--not humans--makes us human, and God is the Source of the dignity of all human beings without exception.

--My mother: "Let's go see that movie, 'Rollerblade.'"




MOVIES: "LADY BIRD"



The new coming-of-age film, "Lady Bird," is one of the funniest films of the year and possibly one of the best-edited films I've ever seen. The eponymous main character is a more-precocious-than-rebellious teen (Saoirse Ronan)  who places a high premium on originality (real name: Christine). Lady Bird lives in boring Sacramento ("the Midwest of California") and dreams of breaking away, but her options are limited due to her family's constrained finances. Her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is a hard-working lady who doesn't appreciate her daughter's non-traditional approach to life. For Mom, realism means thinking inside the box and putting a price tag on just about everything, at one point, even the cost of raising Lady Bird. Not only that, she is brutally honest and perpetually critical of her only child. Thank God for Lady Bird's dad who runs interference.

Lady Bird goes to an all-girls Catholic school against her will, but finds it to be a rather reasonable place, and she eagerly joins the drama club.

LEGIT SCREEN CATHOLICS

Despite the seriously fraught family dynamic, there does exist an underlying, undying love, it's just that mothers and daughters have what writer-director describes as "spiky" relationships. (Yes!) What of the Catholic trappings in "Lady Bird"? Gerwig, who is not Catholic, went to a Franciscan Catholic high school in Sacramento, and found it to be a very positive experience. "Making fun of Catholic school has been done. I didn't want to do that. When I went to Catholic school, I met great priests and nuns who were real people, and I wanted to show that." "Lady Bird" is a bit of an ode to Catholic education. Gerwig was also required to take four years of theology and it shows (except for Theology of the Body). She approaches Catholicism as an interesting and valid worldview and religion. (I got to attend a screening with Gerwig in Los Angeles, and during the Q & A afterward, she gave an elegant, spot-on definition of grace.)

Gerwig even went through the pains of getting a real priest to play the priest who offers the school Masses that punctuate the film. (Since the film is set around 2003, the priest authentically adjusted the words of the liturgy to what it would have been before the recently-renewed liturgy.) The school Masses--taking us through the liturgical year--are so genuine, with a touch of levity. Nuns are spouses of Jesus who care about their students. Priests are good at what they do. (One sacerdotal football coach side-splittingly fills in as the drama coach when the drama priest falls ill, and tries to transfer his bullish methods to the intricacies of acting.)

CAVALIER TEEN SEX

The only trite handling of teen life in "Lady Bird" pertains to teen sexuality. All the same old jokes and ribaldry are played out. It's almost as though the filmmaker is trying to protect something. "See? This is the way it is. All teens want to and will have sex when they're teens and this is exactly how it will happen with a few slight variations and always of course with irresponsible colluding adults on the side." (There is a touching portrayal of a young man discovering he's same-sex attracted, however.) Lady Bird's mother who is on her case for absolutely everything big and small is suddenly out-of-character and unconcerned about if/when her daughter is having sex: "College is the best time to have sex, but if you don't wait, be safe like we talked about." SERIOUSLY???

One of the biggest problems with cavalier teen sex in almost all media today is that it's so, so, so, so shallow with not even any higher, unfulfilled aspirations. Again, it's like the filmmakers are trying to drum their own mantra into us and re-establish over and over: "See? Sex has no meaning, no meaning at all. Pre-marital sex won't affect you one iota, beyond a few bruised romantic feelings." Where's the ANGST? How can this be? Sexuality is one of the biggest sources of angst for teens. And teens' experience of sexuality is not one-size-fits-all, thankyouverymuch.

True, "Lady Bird" is a comedy, but there were other poignant moments in the film. Oh, and as in other films, teen sex is always awkward, of course, so not only are we supposed to be pervy voyeurs of minors having sex, we're supposed to laugh at them, too. It's all just so mean on so many levels.

MY BEEF WITH GRETA

After watching a few of Greta's films (in which she acts), I became rather incensed with her and wrote her off. She always plays a bit of a ditz, and I suspected (rightly) that she wasn't in real life. (Greta presents as an incredibly insightful, disciplined, precise, gentle, genteel and articulate person. I could listen to her for hours.) Why would I be upset that GG plays a ditz? Because in one of her ditzy films, she (oopsy doopsy) gets pregnant and has a (oopsy doopsy) little abortion. Tee hee hee. I don't want to get all personal here, but Greta's mother is an OB/GYN (don't know if she's pro-life or not). Perhaps that has colored Greta's view of new life in the womb.

I entered the screening of "Lady Bird" gritting my teeth, and lo and behold, the topic of abortion is dealt with again. This time a shiny, pleasant, pro-life speaker comes to the high school. A bizarre, supposedly-funny (there's nothing funny about abortion), deflecting, non-sequitur-ing, avoiding-the-real-issue dialogue transpires between the speaker and LB which results in LB getting expelled for being rude to a speaker. I'm going to reproduce the short conversation here and pull it apart, so you should move on to the next subtitle if you don't want a SPOILER.

LB: (from what I could gather, pictures of aborted babies were circulating in the student audience) "Just because something's ugly doesn't mean it's morally wrong."

Speaker: (deftly not getting caught up in equating ugliness with immorality) "You think dead babies aren't morally wrong?"

LB: (not answering the question, but continuing with her "ugly" theme) "Pictures of my vagina during my monthly period would be disturbing, but that's not immoral." Yes, Lady Bird, it would be, but so would pictures of boogers and a lot of other non-sexual things, so you can drop your false line of reasoning now.

Lady Bird being expelled for rudeness is a cop-out similar to the miscarriage in "Citizen Ruth." Whether she realized it or not, Gerwig's highlighting the Catholic Church's rock steady consistent position on abortion is almost like a compliment. Or a conundrum. What the heck does the Catholic Church know that the rest of the world doesn't seem to?

My beef with Greta is somehow personal: woman to woman. Every pro-abortion woman breaks the circle of life that strengthens our sisterhood. My hope and prayer is that GG is on a journey, not at the end of her quest for the truth about women's true liberation, the heart of which is women's epic, kick-ass mission of protecting the beginning of every human life.

IS "LADY BIRD" GRETA GERWIG?

Is "Lady Bird" autobiographical? Gerwig says no. She says she was a rule-keeper in school. But I wonder if LB is her alter-ego, her shadow side?

LADY BIRD IS A LIAR

There are many themes in "Lady Bird." One very intriguing theme is the fact that Lady Bird lies constantly, but doesn't like being lied to. And sadly, LB doesn't learn her lesson by the end of the film, but continues lying, even when she moves to a new locale. LB is not as original as she thinks she is because original people don't lie. The whole point of their originality is that they are true to themselves and their convictions, however embryonic or misconstrued they may be. Maybe LB lies because she doesn't really know who she is or what she believes. It seems she only knows what she doesn't want. One can only hope that she "grows out of it" as we see her progress in other ways.

RECOGNIZING GIFTS

A lovely aspect of Christine/Lady Bird's journey is the moment--far away from home--when she realizes where/what home is and even claims her heritage a bit. Gerwig speaks of it like this: "We receive so many gifts in life, and so often we don't recognize them at the moment, only later."

IN CONCLUSION

"Lady Bird" gets all the Catholic trappings and surface goodwill and niceness right, but utterly misses the core of Christianity: the Gospel of the body. And if you get that wrong? You got it all wrong.

"The language of Christianity is the body."

OTHER STUFF:

--This film is NOT for teens (thankfully, it's rated "R"). Unless you want (yay!) pre-marital sex and (yay!) abortion to be reinforced inside of a cool, funny, feel-good film. Is this not the most insidious and effective form of spreading evil as unquestioned "everyone's doing it" normalcy? You can't spoof a spoof.

--Greta Gerwig never went to film school and comes from an acting background. May I say that this has only helped her filmmaking and not harmed it in anyway? She writes/directs with the freedom and confidence of an insider who knows exactly what and how to make a scene pop. There is not one extra line or character or minute. Gerwig is the master of the "many little scenes and little beats" that should make up a film. Every scene is lean and trim, and not episodic, either. Gerwig's time in mumblecore is beneficial here. People speak at the same time, talk over and through each other like real human beings, always ensuring that hilarity ensues. She is also the "mistress" of one-liners that fit into the film as a whole and brevity being the soul of wit.* Some extraordinarily ticklish little sight-gags, too. "Lady Bird" is a true laugh-fest.

--GG says that mothers are usually portrayed as either monsters or angels and she wanted to nuance that. (Yes!)

--Only four women directors have ever been nominated for an Oscar. GG may be the fifth. And a win would be warranted. Certainly "Lady Bird" could garner "Best Original Screenplay." But also how tragic is would be that an Academy Award would be given to a film with a "D-" in Theology of the Body?

--GG's advice to women filmmakers: "Do enter the industry. Pay attention to your gut as a filmmaker: if it's your project, it's all you've got." GG likes a film to be a "good dance partner." You can trust the film because it's telling you: "I've got you."

--One of the best, funniest "pre-inciting incidents" ever in Act One (resulting in an arm cast for Lady Bird).

--Some good God humor (which is different from religious humor).

--There's a constant kind of tender irreverence. Not toward religion, but towards humans.

--I suppose I'll never get used to parents and offspring regularly using F-bombs together. It just wasn't a thing in my family. I think it will always feel jarring and line-crossing to me.

--The perfunctory poking of fun at dear old Ronald Reagan pops up yet again, but this time in a film set in the early 2000's. Whateverfor? I think I've finally figured it out. RR, more than a conservative figure or even an authority figure, is a FATHER FIGURE. I will let you suss that out by your lonesome.

--Gerwig is a startlingly feminine filmmaker. ("Feminine" does not mean girlie and sweet and delicate and frou frou. It means whatever flows naturally from being a woman, body and soul, and it looks different on different women.) But I find that so many women filmmakers set out to be tough and macho and to prove themselves and make films that any man could make in a mannish way with "masculine" sensibilities. Not so, Greta. In fact, a male filmmaker friend of mine, present at the screening, noted her feminine filmmaking on display: completely assured, but never cocky. In command, but trusting in the actors' own instincts to bubble to the surface. Highly collaborative, but in a palpably womanly way.

--In a totally candid and unPC comment, Greta (I hate calling women by their last names) said: "Sometimes teen films are about that one boy. I don't think high school is really that." The female gaze!

--Some may say: "But overall, the film is pretty good! It's just a shame about that one [MOST IMPORTANT] little part...." But I, conspiracy theorist that I am, say: "Hmmmm, but isn't that the way it goes with most of these ohbuttheyjustgotthesexpartwrong films?" Sure they leave us jaunty, but it depends on what "little part" you get wrong. It can mar the whole thing, undermine the whole operation. Like a bomb planted in a pretty garden of petunias. And portraying cavalier teen sex is unforgivable (cinematically speaking). I stand for the teens.

--"Lady Bird"--at the time of our screening--had broken the Rotten Tomatoes record for the highest ratings: and this is a small film with religious overtones with a female protagonist and female writer-director, essentially exploring a mother-daughter relationship. Could it be that the world is ready for a woman's perspective (and excellence in comedic filmmaking)? Let's hope Gerwig has raised the bar permanently, a new standard. I think people are tired of big, sloppy, brainless, tiresome movie messes.

I just hope that the high ratings were not because it was a fun, religion-tinged film that let us keep our precious pre-marital sex and abortion intact. I'm wondering if and hoping that it isn't just the comedy that's resonating. Perhaps the truth that we can be ourselves (human originality and individuality are, after all, God's idea) and connect with God in our own, unique, one-of-a-kind way--is given flesh and bones by this red-headed lass.

____
* "Take my wife. Please." --Henny Youngman