Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Sea Inside

The Sea Inside is the story of a quadriplegic man who is fighting in the courts for his right to die. Throughout the story, he is an inspiration and a support to many people, but still does not find that worth while enough to want to live. The most poignant point of the film is when the main character is "let down" yet again by someone promising to kill him and ends up crying out "Why do I want to die?". He never doubts his desire, but truly questions why his lot in life is different than others who are even worse off than him. Makes one think a bit about why we actually do love life and how we are all really very different.

The Great Debaters

At best, this movie helped to remind me what idiots people can be. It wasn't really about debating, since the debates were really just a chance to stand on a soap box or tell a personal story. But the reminder of the Jim Crow south, and how that fed our culture to this day was good. I am reminded of Crash as a portrayal of our more recent attempts to wrestle with racism.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


I guess I have officially seen too many assassin/martial arts movies. I am a moderate fan (i.e. not a fanatic) of the genre, but with this Jason Statham/Jet Li contribution, I have reached the point where I actually expect a contribution. This movie did not offer anything new, or particularly interesting. So while I watched the entire movie, I must give it

The Wizard of Oz

Yes, this is actually the first time I have sat down and watched the entire film. And this time with a twist. Instead of listening to the audio track, my friend Joel discovered that listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon soundtrack synced to begin on the third roar of the MGM lion and a second time through on the third roar of the cowardly lion provides a unique movie watching experience. I would say that this experience was Art (intentional capital A), and while enjoyable, would probably have been much better if everyone watching had been smoking something.


This is a nice little film set in Beirut. While the city wasn't a character like it is in some movies, it reminded me a bit of the Morgan Freeman film 10 Items or Less, in which LA plays only a bit part, but gives the film big part of the "look and feel". Caramel portrays four friends working in a Salon, each with their relationship problems. Now that I think about it, is this the Lebanese version of Sex in the City? This has a much better portrayal of the actual difficulties involved in relationships, including aspects of finding them, keeping them, keeping them too long, wanting to get rid of them, being selfish, being selfless, the value of commitment, etc.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Dark Knight

Batman asks the questions about the difference between good and evil in Batman Begins. With The Dark Knight the conversation continues, but with a real villain for comparison. Without a doubt, comparing Batman and The Joker leads to a long list of similarities, and the film is designed exactly with this juxtaposition in mind. For me, perhaps the most interesting question is about method. Who exactly is the terrorist? Clearly The Joker holds hostages, kills people, and demands change. But Batman also uses the terrorist tactic of inciting fear. He regularly uses darkness and illusion to purport himself bigger/stronger/faster than a single man. His symbol shines off the clouds solely as a reminder of his presence. Constant fear is the linchpin of terrorism. But Batman's terrorism is for the greater good. Lucious Fox says it perfectly (albeit in a different context) when he states "This is too much power for one man". The question is, if a terrorist is fighting for the greater good, is he still a terrorist? Batman is constantly called a vigilante by the authorities, and they all promise to reign him in. But they (and we) look the other way until the "greater good" is accomplished, until the "evil" is wiped out. And in this case, perhaps there is no "other perspective". Perhaps everyone agrees that The Joker is the evil one and must be stopped. We don't even attempt to look for the humanity, the story behind The Joker. But in the real world, there is always another perspective. Do Palestinian dissidents use terrorist tactics for the greater good? Do Israeli settlers use terrorist tactics for the greater good? Does the U.S. military use terrorist tactics for the greater good? Which greater good is THE GREATER GOOD? What would a comic book hero look like who used non-violent active resistance to evil as a tactic? Obviously wouldn't sell anything in this graphic novel age of blood and death. So we continue to ask questions, and wait for the next installment, when we chase the terrorist Batman all over Gotham. Perhaps the chasers will somehow find the folly of their vengeance seeking. Perhaps Batman will see that terrorist tactics, even if for the greater good, are always an inspiration for those with alternative goals.

Raising Victor Vargas

Victor Vargas is a young (15ish) 1st generation immigrant from the D.R. living in a big city. He goes about trying to improve his image by trying to hook up with the prettiest girl at the local city pool. This movie is all about fronting for your friends, honesty when it is allowed, the complete awkwardness of teenage romance (enough to make you cringe), generational misunderstanding, single parenthood, urban living, and finding what is important to you. While it was a bit slow at times, I am not sure that this wasn't intentional on the part of the director. Life is slow at times.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Road Home

The experience of attending a 20th High School Reunion, not the film. I drove through the town of Dallas Oregon, where I grew up, just to get a feel for things. While I was told later that the town has nearly doubled in size since I left (pop. 8,000 in the late 80's to around 15,000 now), most things hadn't changed. A Walmart had been built, but at the same time the Hong Kong chinese restaurant, the Arctic Circle and Dairy Queen were still around. The Taco Time cactus was still up, although the restaurant was a little local mexican place instead of the chain. And I was reminded just how many churches there are in this small little town. Literally one on every corner. My old house was still the same color and the little pine tree I planted in the side yard was about 100 feet tall. Still very much a small town.

I attended two gatherings of my class mates over two days. Many of them still live in the local area, raising their families in the local schools. But I was surprised at how much "modern fear" had reached this small town. When I grew up, we rode our bikes all over town, and even in elementary school, regularly rode the couple miles to and from school each day. My friends lamented that "proper parenting standards/culture" did not allow this practice anymore, even in Dallas. I had kind of hoped that this fear, at least, was relegated to urban America.

Upon first walking in to the first event, I had a small moment of panic. I did not recognize any of these people. Even when I looked at their name tags, I could not put the face with the name. This was going to be a long weekend. However, after a couple hours, the neural pathways were re-opening and I couldn't understand how I could be so blind. Now granted, this was not a 100% effective exercise. I knew going in that others would remember things that I did not, and I actually looked forward to refreshing my memory and supplementing by personal story with the memories of others. What I did not expect was to completely not remember whole individuals. Even after the weekend, and even after looking at names, and at faces, and at old yearbook photos, I still do not remember some of those in my graduating class. Did I really spend four years of my life with these people, at least in passing? Apparently not in my head.

The final analysis? With only a few hours to spend, divided among 60 or so people, there really was not time to get to the meat. We spent time laughing over a few memories, asking "where are you now?", "do you have a family?" and "how do you like it?". We lamented not seeing each other more often (especially those like me who live far away) and promised to stay in touch. But I also realize that this part of my history is exactly that ... my history. These people are not my present and I guess I can't really expect to have that "good friend, let me really know you" conversation for a couple hours once a decade. Overall, I enjoyed the laughs, picked up a few more memories, and look forward to the next one.

And BTW, I read another book ... The Shack
This was an interesting allegory, similar in style to the Perelandra of C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy, or even his Screwtape Letters. A guy goes to a shack and spends a weekend with the Trinity. While I found a lot of it formulaic, one interesting piece was his description of Jesus being fully human as a "minute-by-minute choice to limit oneself to the human experience". Kind of AA like, in a way. One does not have to have a plan for an entire life, or commit to never drinking ever again in life, but only a plan for now, or commit to not drinking now. Perhaps my existential nature is surfacing again, but it seems a call to living more in the present, and less in the past or future.

Next up: Wall-E and The Dark Knight ... I hope.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Old School

Old School is the current theme, and only coincidentally because of the Will Ferrell film of that title. Annika and I took the train to Oregon (Old School transportation) for my 20th year High School Reunion (Old School nostalgia) and the 29 hour trip just happened to allow me to read a Tobias Wolff novel titled... yep, Old School.
All three of these (transportation, reunion and novel) seem to be relating. The novel is set in a boys prep school of up-state New York, with an emphasis on literature that screams stereotypical east coast privilege. Robert Frost, Ayn Rand and Ernest Hemingway figure prominently for Wolff's protagonist and reading as I passed Salinas, Gilroy and Martinez in N. California added to the flavor of the trip. And, since I don't know literature like the Old School boys, I mostly channeled Steinbeck's East of Eden while looking out the window. The acres of lettuce rolling past, interrupted by the occassional warehouse or barn, each individually stylized by corrugated tin patches and brilliantly colored graffiti. In this consistent scenery we get a little bit of Frosts' love of (insistence on?) form and structure as the only thing that gives meaining to an unchanging world. We see Hemingway's vulnerability as each town fails to dress up its station beyonds its means. And we see, perhaps, the inevitable result of Rand's narcisssism as the local mini-storage of each town passes by, the local altar of "getting for me what I want, all else be damned".
And at this point, I can only be curious about the nostalgia. Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Let's just say it wasn't. For a heist movie, it wasn't even a very clever heist, but I did watch the whole thing. So that forces me to give it

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Batman Begins

My friend Aaron is so jazzed for The Dark Knight that he already has his reserved seat at the Arclight on opening night. He reminded me how this story was really about the nature of good and evil, the question of whether one could be defined without the other, and the journey of finding where one fits within its spectrum. While I will probably wait until week two to see the latest installment, I thought I would at least get myself ready for this new adventure by re-watching Batman Begins, looking specifically for these themes.

To start, let me just identify the similar plot attempt between Batman Begins and Wanted. Both have thousand year old secret societies (the League of Shadows and the Weavers Guild) who have self identified as the "keepers of balance" in civilization. Apparently, these societies have decided that God made the wrong promise when he told Noah he would no longer destroy the world even if evil was rampant. So they have taken it upon themselves. At least in Batman, the players take ownership for their decisions, and don't transfer power to a "Loom of Fate". The two societies also hang desperately on to power and ideals when things don't quite go right (e.g. the Loom names its leaders or Thomas Wayne's methods actually begin to work).

In Batman Begins, the questions of the difference between good and evil are prominent. At different times, the ideas proposed are that 'compassion' is the difference, the 'willingness to stand between', 'protection of the innocent', and 'justice is not only revenge'. On this last, I take issue with the 'only', since it suggests that a portion of justice is revenge. And we at least are setting up the debate about tactics. Does flying around in the night and instilling fear constitute good? Even if the fear instilled is in "bad people"?

I can only hope that Batman struggles with these issues in The Dark Knight and truly finds another way. What would happen if Bruce Wayne would try the tactics of his father, instead of those taught by the League of Shadows? More discussion after the next installment.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Innocent Voices

There are movies that one wants to see, and there are movies one should see. Innocent Voices is the latter. The story of a young boy in El Salvador during the long fight between the government and the guerrillas. The film demonstrates the probably all too common juxtaposition of childhood playfulness and fun and the complete loss of innocence of children in a war. Both the government soldiers and guerrillas were recruiting child soldiers and for the central character, 12 year old Chava, loss of innocence culminated with the decision about whether to shoot his neighborhood friend. It baffles me how children survive in these situations, and even more, how adults can continue to perpetrate the atrocities of war. A particularly chilling scene of the execution of "guerrilla children" shows how completely inhuman we can be. I wanted one of the children to stand up and face his captor. To humanize this violence and change the course of war with a gaze into the face of a child. I wanted a happy ending.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Chris and Don: A love story

This is a fabulous love story. One of the best I have seen on film... ever. A well made documentary of the life that author Chris Isherwood and artist Don Bachardy shared in Southern California from the late 40's through the 80's. With Bachardy narrating the story of his relationship, one sees how two people can be truly soul mates, truly living for each other, truly not selfish.


When a movie is based on a book, one generally expects the movie to be different. A different medium, the inability to effectively create a third person narrative, etc. results in a different tone, plot alterations, a shifted focus. However, when a graphic novel is made into an animated movie, it turns out that the movie and the book can be exactly the same. Such is the case with Persepolis. And both the graphic novel and the movie are excellent descriptions of the life of a young girl growing up in revolutionary Tehran. And while in book form, this biographical story could have been effectively told as a graphic novel or in prose, the film version would not have held up in live action. The biographical nature of the story actually required the animation to hold my attention. Putting this story together with Reading Lolita in Tehran gives a good picture of life in Iran.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Brilliant. I realize now that I was just sitting, watching and enjoying the movie, with no thought about what might be coming next. My attention was held, even though in hindsight, I should have noticed that the fairly predictable plot would not sustain a 90 minute movie. Only to find that the fairly predictable plot was not so predictable. It had all the right touches, right opportunities to laugh, grimace and enjoy. Clearly the best summer movie of 2008.
Hancock (4-stars)

In hindsight, I need to downgrade The Promotion to 4-stars. This happens sometimes. As I was thinking about that movie (which I really enjoyed by the way) it didn't hang around in my head. It doesn't satisfy the "I would own it" criteria required for a 5-star movie. In the same way, let me use this opportunity to remind our friendly readers about Elling. This movie was originally rated 4-stars, but after about a month, I upgraded it to 5-stars. I still laugh once in awhile when I remember certain scenes in that movie. The birthday gift exchange in particular, showing the true nature of friendship. Knowing exactly what would make a friend extremely happy, and making sure that they got that.
The Promotion (4-stars)
Elling (5-stars)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Shoot Em Up

It is good that I saw this in the heels of Wanted. There were probably 100 people shot in Shoot Em Up and only about two were graphic, CG shots. This is what I was looking for in Wanted. So it goes. Otherwise, this was a decent summer flick. It was so sensational in its plot lines that it did not even try to take itself seriously. An excellent example of nodding to the silliness that you are producing, and enjoying the ride. For example, putting a 2 day old baby in a bullet proof jacket, when that baby has already been carried through a glass window (after jumping off a building) and survived a car chase while laying on the front passenger floor shows the level that this movie is going for. And perhaps indicating just how wide my 3-star range is...