March 16, 2015

February 23, 2015

MOVIES: "BIRDMAN"




"Birdman," Oscar winner for Best Picture, is a trippy play within a play, an ode to actors, acting and everything dramatic. Michael Keaton plays an actor past his prime who nailed the lucrative super-hero(?) "Birdman" franchise in his younger years. (The "Birdman"--ostensibly a man in a crow costume--continues to haunt and taunt his thoughts, even to the point of delusions of grandeur and hallucinations.) He is now trying to direct a Raymond Carver play and it's going very bumpily. Failure is always just around the corner. There are so many inside actor's jokes that we feel honored that we audience peons are assumed to be catching them.

At first, we're not sure what's the film, what's the play within the film, when the actors are acting and when they are talking about acting. It's great fun if you go with it. Actors are portrayed as incredibly fickle creatures who will do anything to get the part, to be seen. I was taught at UCLA that as writers we must "protect our star," that is, make sure they are seen, that they are in every scene, that they shine. In case we writers were not also thespian-types (I am not), we were told: "Acting is all about one thing: Look at me, look at me, look at me." Many want to be seen, but few can or want to act.

Actually, "Birdman" is more like a play than a film. There are several speeches crafted to be pivotal to the story, and feel like they were even crafted to be that "Oscar moment." The acting is quite energetic all around, and its vulgar moments are only humanly vulgar, not perverse. The music is a minimalistic, morose, mechanical grating underneath everything, and it totally works. The palate is dull, industrial colors as well. This is actually a "small" film that barely changes location from a single theater and its immediate environs. The camera itself wanders around after the actors like one of the cast.

Director Alejandro Innaritu (who also won an Oscar for Best Director for "Birdman") revealed that "Birdman" is all about "ego" in his acceptance speech. But without ego, what actor would ever attempt acting? This film is FOR actors (and writers) and those who love them. I'm OK with "Birdman" winning Best Picture (although a film like "Boyhood" would have been a worthy win also--except for its unravelled ending). Hollywood deserves a self-indulgent, self-referential film once in a while. The beauty of "Birdman" is that it's Hollywood NOT taking itself seriously. At all. If we love films, we need to at least care about the process, the inner guts and the human beings who bring us the show.

"All the world's a stage." When Ed Norton's character (one of the actors who's drinking too much as usual) breaks the fourth wall and starts ranting at the audience, they cheer, because we go to stories in order to feel something, something real. Ed Norton's character states that he can only be truthful on stage.

The Birdman's dialogues with Keaton were truly annoying and on the nose. Too bad they weren't more subtle. Even Emma Stone's speech to Keaton and Keaton's speech to his theater critic nemesis felt like something a non-writer could have written. Nothing artful there. Nothing "slant" (Emily Dickinson).

The supposedly unclear ending (it was clear to me) was going to be something totally different. Something awful. Something that Innaritu was even embarrassed about. Thank God it didn't go that way.

OTHER STUFF:

--The Raymond Carver play is: "What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love"--a revolutionary short story that is said to have changed the world of writing.

--Who knew actors were so full of self-doubt? (I'm serious.)

--"Birdman" just confirms why I would never want to be an actor: stress, tension, living on the edge, turmoil, DRAMA, stage fright, intoxicating substances, risking it all, humiliation, etc.

--Actors can just...ACT at the drop of a hat. (My actors friends do this as did Michael Keaton's character--even fooling a fellow actor.) IT'S WHAT THEY DO.

Very quotable film:
--"You confuse love with admiration."
--"Why don't I have any self-respect?" "Because you're an actress, honey."


MOVIES: "IDA"




"Ida"--winner of Oscar for Best Foreign Picture--is shot in black and white to reflect 1960's Poland in which the film is set. The first thing you notice about the film is that it not only looks like a black and white still come to life, the movement and action and actors themselves are very "still." When director Pawlikowski accepted the Academy Award he acknowledged this fact about the film by saying: "My film is very contemplative and silent and here we are in Hollywood, the center of noise and being seen!" The cinematographer is also a photographer specializing in black and white.

"Ida" is a novice in a Roman Catholic convent. She was an orphan, raised at the same convent. Her only living relative is her aunt who has sent for her before she makes her vows. Ida doesn't want to go visit her, but the Mother Superior tells her she must. Ida discovers that she is Jewish, and the story evolves from there, and, as you can imagine, becomes a Holocaust film. (It would be well to see this film in conjunction with "The Jewish Cardinal," which deals at length with the controversy of a Carmelite convent opening at Auschwitz in the 1980's.)

For those who are unaware, Poland was/is one of the very anti-Semitic Catholic/Christian countries of Eastern Europe. Many Poles willingly cooperated with the extermination of their Jewish neighbors. Although the work of the Nazis, many of the concentration camps where the Jewry of Europe met their deaths were located in Poland. The film "Ida" points to all of this with bald contrasts, no doubt to stir accountability. Non-Jewish Poles were also disproportionately decimated by both the Nazis and Communists--there seemed to be some kind of particular hatred of Poland, "doormat of Europe," by these evil regimes.

Despite Poland's proverbial anti-Semitism, many non-Jewish Poles were heroic in saving their Jewish neighbors, to the point where Poland outpaces other countries in "Righteous Among the Nations." http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cosmostheinlost/2015/02/23/1-thing-nobody-noticed-about-oscar-best-foreign-film-winner-ida/ Poles were also the first to report on the existence of concentration camps to the West (which fell on deaf ears).

The dialogue is sparse but not stingy. Ida is the most reticent of all. Is she happy? Is she sad? Does she really want to make her vows? If so, why or why not? Who is she, even? What does this austere convent life mean to her? But we DO know, without a full psychological profile. Just listen to her talking to the Sacred Heart.

Ida's final decision is not so much unexpected as an exposition of the very real reason many of us are/are not in religious life. If I am reading the film right, only someone from the Catholic country of Poland could have made this film.

OTHER STUFF:



February 13, 2015

MOVIES: "OLD FASHIONED" (THE ANTI-50 SHADES MOVIE)





On Valentine's Day, two polar-opposite movies were released: The first installment of the "50 Shades of Grey" juggernaut (my review of "50 Shades"), and a homey little film entitled "Old Fashioned," specifically targeted at correcting the twisted logic and lies of "50 Shades." "50 Shades" says "abuse is love" (abuse of women, that is). "Old Fashioned" says "true love is possible, and it doesn't look or feel like abuse."

True love, real love, is only "old fashioned" because--for sad and hairbrained reasons--very few people seem to know what it is and how to do it anymore! Rather than delve into the recent historical roots of what some are calling our "post-romance" hook-up era, let's just take a look at this sweet new film.

"Old Fashioned" starts off like a Hallmark film, plodding and saccharine. It also starts off like a "Christian" film (which always seem to have a southern/heartland feel to them), as though the only place one can truly be a Christian is, well, in the South or the heartland. Clay, a thirtysomething with meticulously messed hair and a cute corner-of-his -mouth smile is a reticent, conservative carpenter, while thirtysomething Amber is a bubbly, free-spirited drifter. Amber buzzes into town and winds up renting a room from Clay above his carpenter shop. Chemistry? Yes. But.

Clay has a problem. He's a young curmudgeon. Amber has a problem. She's a rolling stone. Little by little we learn about their checkered pasts, especially Clay's, which comes as quite a shocker. He's criticized for his extreme "theories" about love, but then we find out that he knows of what he speaks. Both Clay and Amber are hurting, but the paths of healing they've chosen aren't really paths of growth but stagnation. OK, there. I've said enough.

The second half of the film (just like "October Baby," "The Song") gets way more real. The action comes to a boiling point. Whatever masks and cloaks and shams the characters are wearing come off because there's just too much at stake.

If we believe true love is impossible because of bad experiences and doing things the wrong way, then we are saying that we are helpless victims who do not have the power to create true love. Because we live in a literal, non-transcendent age, we only believe and trust our own experiences. By "doing things wrong," then, we become our own worst witnesses. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. We don't believe in true love because we have "proved" the opposite to ourselves, often by our own bad choices. We absolutize our own experiences as if they are the only way. And if we have played games and turned love into a game? Ah. We have poisoned love before it can begin. But there's always a way out. We can always change it up. Begin again. Because it's our choice. We have the power. The world doesn't agree? Well, what has "the world" ever done for you? When has the world ever been right? Isn't it the world that led you to where you are now? The world may not agree with your new path, but it's just jealous. The universe agrees. God agrees. Free your mind. Break the chains. True love exists when you create it with "the one" who will create it with you.

Since people are waiting longer and longer to get married these days, and often have immense relationship baggage by the time they say "I do," films like "Old Fashioned" are needed (although this film is applicable to young love also). We are going to need a whole lotta love and MERCY and healing in the future because of the deep family woundedness and brokenness that's been imposed on us and that we have imposed on ourselves by following slick and easy, sick and limping substitutes for love.

A love story either works or it doesn't. "Old Fashioned" works.

OTHER STUFF:

--VERY quotable film.

"It's not about looking like the right person, it's about becoming the right person."

"We don't have to go around using and hurting each other, that's all."

"The world has enough greatness and not enough goodness."

"Play time is over. Be a man."

--I meet good guys all the time. But you know what? They're kind of quiet about their goodness AND what they know is right. And that's a shame. "Let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:16

--"Old Fashioned" clearly shows that men need to "initiate the gift," lead, or it ain't gonna work.

--Rik Swartzwelder (Clay) also wrote and directed this film. As one of my Hollywood friends says: "No one's that good." But actually: It's not BAD! I was shocked when I saw his name come up three times.

--At times the writing is a bit twee, on the nose, lots of awkward Scripture-quoting. Bad blocking. Music is used to illustrate exactly what we're seeing, but secular films do this, too. Sr. Helena feels that word-obnoxious songs should be used like musicals: to move the story forward. At the end of the song, we're not in the same place as at the beginning of the song.

--Heavy use of overprocessed Country and Christian music (but secular films go heavy on ballads, too).

--I loved Clay's jerk radio host friend who voices all the fallacies of the day: "Women hate boring men!" "There are no knights in shining armor!" The rest of the film also addresses other myriad contemporary lies and bromides.

--Wouldn't Clay have lost all his "cool" friends by now?

--The original trailer for "Old Fashioned" was hideous. A friend rightly said that it made Clay look "unbearable." He is rather unsufferable at first, but we need to know why, and we need to wait and see if he's going to do anything about it.

--Liked the black and white silent movie titles/frames interspersed.

--It's supposed to be Ohio, but there's significant drawling and pitchers of sweet tea, and calling women "Miss So-and-So." I have been to southern Ohio frequently, and it's not like that. I think maybe one of the reasons I like the movie "Bella" is because it was set in New York City. True love in the big tough city. Rural, small-town, John Mellencamp setting not a requirement.

--Please don't think I'm anti-Southern in any way! I love the Kendrick Brothers (Georgia) and their films! And more power to the South for making these good films! But it's expected of the "Christ-haunted" South. Could not some of these films be disguised as Pacific Northwest films? East Coast films? Collaborated on with denizens of said coasts? Check out the edgy Christian film by edgy artist/songwriter/producer Steve Taylor: filmed in Oregon: Blue Like Jazz


February 12, 2015

MOVIES: "FIFTY SHADES OF GREY"


Me holding forth on the Drew Mariani Show: www.RelevantRadio.com (I start at 36:10)






#1--I will not read the book or see the film because it's porn. (This is the third film I am reviewing without seeing--normally a big no-no--because of the mainstreaming of porn. The other two are "Magic Mike" and "Don Jon" because I feel these films are important because of their particular take on these topics and their influence as films.) However, I have probably done more in-depth reading about and discussions with people who HAVE read the book or seen "50 Shades" than the average reader/viewer or even fan.

#2--I will not do spoilers in my review because I respect the sacred human trust of the confidentiality of "the story"--even when it comes to tripe.

I wish I could simply greet this movie with scornful laughter, but the film is just too sad and harmful for that. Many are making the point that most women like Ana wind up in women's shelters. Check out the super-creepy "The Fall" (a British TV series) which stars Jamie Dornan (who plays Christian Grey) as a SERIAL KILLER who is also into bondage and has a "type" of woman (brunette). "The Fall," at least, is more realistic about the profile of these obsessed, predatory abusers.

Now. Let's dig in.

Although "50 Shades of Grey" and its great popularity is a real tragedy, I'm GLAD that it is also being used as an opportunity to talk about sexual abuse, domestic abuse and THEOLOGY OF THE BODY (which heals and informs and leads to true fulfillment of desires)! God can bring good out of anything!

TRUE LOVE and TRUE SEX are actually very simple. But very challenging. But very worth it. There is no other way. So many novels and films today are about an endless search for love. But here it is.



























BUT if we look at what's really going on in the story, I think a lot of us are missing the point of the whole story. I missed it for quite a while, too, but I've changed my whole tack now because it's really quite simple.

"50 Shades" is not about love or relationships or even sex. It's not even about control. It's about power, and Christian and Ana getting what they want from each other, out of each other. They are USING each other.

"50 Shades" is about two people USING the most intimate of gifts and relationships and contact and connection to get what they want. There is no "we."

And actually, there's not even an "I." Once we treat others like things, we treat ourselves like things. We treat our bodies like things. We can even treat our babies and our children like things.

"We must move from a thing-based society to a person-based society."--Martin Luther King, Jr.

And as we know, the opposite of love is USE. By using someone (sexually or otherwise) as a means to an end, we are taking away their humanity and reducing them to a thing. As soon as we begin to USE someone, we are also USING ourselves and reducing ourselves to a thing. We rob ourselves of our own humanity and dignity at the same time.

John Paul II calls this: "the culture of death."
Benedict XVI calls this: "the dictatorship or moral relativism."
Francis calls this: "the throwaway culture."
(credit goes to @MattSwain for juxtaposing these descriptions)

But we should never use another person because we love persons and use things, not use persons and love things.

The human person is not a means to an end, but IS an end in himself/herself. The human person is the only creature created for himself/herself.

The only appropriate response to a human person is LOVE.

























Why has "50 Shades" struck a chord today? Why this record-breaking popularity?

1. Is it because our world is sex-starved? No.
2. Is it because there has never been BDSM erotic literature like this before? No.
3. Is it "the tipping point": enough "influencers" got behind this e-book (its original form) and spread it word-of-mouth? Perhaps.
4. Is there something, anything new and unique about this story? Not being an expert on erotica, I tenuously say: perhaps.
5. Many women aren't experiencing true love and true sex in their marriages (because, for starters, our world--women and men--doesn't know what true love/true sex is)? Bingo. (Women who don't feel a lack in their marriages don't seem to "need" to read/see "50 Shades.")
6. Different people are reading it for different reasons: a) those who read erotica regularly b) those who never read erotica but gave themselves permission since "50 Shades" is now mainstream c) curiosity, to be "in the know" d) feminists (of whatever ilk) doing a read of it--and either hailing it or demonizing it e) the proverbial bored housewives ("mommy porn"--what a sad phrase!) seeking to "spice up" their marriages f) many other reasons

What might be "new" about "50 Shades"?

What might be new is this phenomenally warped idea that as long as women CONSENT to participate in their own degradation, it's EMPOWERING. Sorry, honey. It doesn't work that way. Degradation is degradation, and we must always afford ourselves and others our human dignity even if we/they don't want it. But this idea is not totally new. Lena Dunham of "Girls" (HBO) and other feminists of the hour think, live and create their media this way also. AND just about every young woman who engages in drunken, anonymous sex every weekend on college campuses (to a lesser degree). The layers and entanglements of LIES here is staggering.

The lie about men: men want to abuse women, and it's good for men.

The lie about women: women want to be abused, and it's good for them.

And don't even get me started on "rape culture"--which I firmly believe we ARE living in. http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2013/04/teen-rape-culture-is-blowing-up-now.html#.VN07KPnF-So

"My girlfriends and I are all in sexually degrading relationships with men. But we consider ourselves feminists." --Lena Dunham (who, I believe sees the inconsistency, but can't quite comprehend it, doesn't quite know what to do about it--because she doesn't know Theology of the Body!)

A deep, thoughtful article in "Entertainment Weekly" does a certain kind of feminist read on "50 Shades": http://www.ew.com/microsites/longform/fiftyshades/. But it ends in the same inconclusive, disillusioned, insular haze of today's non-Theology-of-the-Body culture. Leslie Bennetts, the author, bemoans that because women continue to be abused and sexually harassed (even in daily life, walking down the street, on the job), we are hopelessly conditioned and will never know what our true sexual desires are (and "transgressive" is good). What's wrong with this picture? Like an article on the present state of feminism that I read in "America" magazine not too long ago, it was just women. By themselves. Talking to themselves. About themselves. Writing men off as never being able to be a part of the solution. Not working things out together in the complementarity of the sexes.



WHY would women think abuse and pain is sexy or liberating?

Ah. The trillion dollar question. The first thing I'd like to say is: "WHERE ARE THE FEMINISTS OF THE 70'S?" They would have seen through this smokescreen so fast! The problem with feminism today is that it has morphed into: "Anybody should be able to do anything, even if its self-destructive, and we can't say anything to anybody about anything, we can only fight for your right to destroy yourself and others." So they can't say that Ana's hurting herself and they can't say that Christian is abusing women.

Take the 2014 Grammys. President Obama did a PSA against domestic abuse, and a survivor, Brooke Axtell, gave a moving, impassioned speech. And then...cut to an ad for "50 Shades of Grey"! Oh, the irony!

Now, the deeper question is why do women fall for this book/concept in the first place?

Christopher West says: one answer might be that it's like "cutting." Where people are in such deep emotional pain that they need to express that externally, in their bodies. They get relief by transferring the interior pain to the exterior (which also gets their attention ofF the spiritual pain that they're in).

Some of my close friends, one who engaged in cutting and another who actually lived the S/m lifestyle for many years say that they think it could be: if someone is abused (especially as children), they try to gain control of the abuse later by re-living the trauma with some degree of "control." My friends said that for some, it's a relief of the guilt and shame if they feel they are somehow punished.

Some psychologists have suggested that since women and men are supposed to be exactly the same today, and that much of the feminist movement has virtually turned women into men even when it comes to the sexual act, and women are trying to differentiate themselves in the sexual act by way-overcompensating in a kind of sick, twisted "surrender."

Some Christians have said that since women ignore the Bible where it says: "Wives be submissive to your husbands," women are feeling this need to submit somehow. But I disagree with this because if you look at the WHOLE passage of Ephesians 5 (what comes before and after this passage), it is all about MUTUAL submission (and actually, the man's role is to DIE! To lay down HIS life for his bride, not lay HER life down for himself!).

Pope John Paul II is ADAMANT about this MUTUALITY in his Theology of the Body and ADAMANT about men being attentive to women's sexual desires in marriage, not just their own. Yeah. No wonder he called himself "the feminist pope"! NOW. Is this how Christian is treating Ana? Laying down his life for her? No! Just the opposite. Oh, and guess what? He's not her husband! We've gotten so used to all kinds of sexual sin and sex outside marriage that we're not even looking at the fornication going on here--which, of course, is eclipsed by the sexual abuse.


Instructions for Christian Households -- Ephesians 5
(ALL CAPS emphasis mine. Duties of wives, for once, removed. :)  )

"21 Submit to ONE ANOTHER out of reverence for Christ.25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must LOVE HIS WIFE AS HE LOVES HIMSELF."

We have all the stats on how sexual abuse works (even if it's a "consenting" adult). The victims are conditioned, they have low self-esteem, they are very, very confused about what love is, what dignity is, many of them were abused as children and then they either become abusers or abused or both as adults. Why are we pretending that we don't have this information?

What about the argument that if it's consensual it's OK?

First of all: are you married? No? BUZZER SOUND. Then, no. Sex outside marriage is never OK. Why not? Because the language of the body, the language of sex is: FUNDAMENTAL, FREE, FULL, FAITHFUL AND FRUITFUL. Sex says: "You alone forever." Sex is a total gift of self, body and soul. Every time we have sex with someone, our bodies are saying: I just married you, I just married you.... And now we know that the body releases powerful bonding chemicals during sex that are meant to bind us to our spouse forever: physically, emotionally, psychologically, emotionally, etc. OR as Cameron Diaz said in "Vanilla Sky": "When you sleep with someone, your body makes a promise whether you do or not."

Now, what if we are married? Does that mean we can do whatever we want sexually or otherwise with and to each other as long as it's consensual? No. True love and human dignity still applies, and in marriage there can easily be coercion (usually of the woman)--OR the woman might agree to something she doesn't really want just to "please her husband" without him even knowing that she doesn't really want to do something. Or maybe he does know and doesn't care. Or he refuses to communicate about it. And if PLEASURE becomes the highest good and goal in the marital embrace, then lust and addictions can take over where there's supposed to be a loving, mutually-deferring relationship. PLEASURE is awesome and good and holy and God-invented, but it's only one of the aspects of the marital embrace which have to be kept together in a big, messy jumble. Start extracting and focusing on JUST maximum pleasure? The holistic unity/integrity of sex falls apart.

I cannot tell you how many Catholic wives I have met (while presenting Theology of the Body) who are doing all kinds of things they don't want to do in the bedroom because "he" wants it, and they feel obliged or want to please him or keep him or they think they aren't allowed to say no and they've tried talking to him about it but he doesn't want to talk about it. How SAD is this? I hope "50 Shades" won't ingrain this false "duty" into these women, but actually be an occasion for them to get healing in their marriage as they hear many women coming forward about their various experiences and degrees of abuse.



This gentleman says "anything goes in marriage" according to the Catholic Church, as long as its open to life, culminates in a certain way, and is consensual: (commenter "paulpriest") http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2015/02/12/is-a-pink-bus-really-more-offensive-than-50-shades-of-grey/#.VNzK8VLsYxk.twitter


True love always wants and does what's good for the other.

Want the big principles and nitty-gritty details about what's "OK" sexually in a marriage? "Good News About Sex and Marriage" by Christopher West.

Do some women actually enjoy BDSM (in marriage)?

Probably. And so, Ana might be that kind of woman. We might not be able to say that Christian "corrupted" her because she may have really, truly wanted him to do whatever he did to her. But of course, again, they weren't married.... Soooo...how is it that Anastasia is NOT a courtesan?

What can people DO about this phenomenon?

1. Don't read the books or see the film because you're curious or think you have to be part of the conversation. This is not just because you don't want to give your financial support, but because of this: Tell me how you're going to read/watch without sinning? Willing your own sexual arousal through words, images, etc., unrelated to the marital act with your spouse, is sinful. Yes, Sister said "sin." :)

2. Learn, live and love Theology of the Body. Theology of the Body is the ultimate life hack. It's about what you CAN have, not what you can't. Be a living, JOYFUL witness to true love and true sex whether you're single, married or priest/religious. Introductions to Theology of the Body: www.tinyurl.com/TOBresources

3. Talk to your friends about it, calmly. Use soundbites. Send them to websites.

4. Teach your kids and teens Theology of the Body in age-appropriate ways. Our ignorance, embarrassment and silence is killing them. God, the Church and their parents have nothing to say about the most important area of our lives? Where we give and receive love and life? While they're swimming in a sex-saturated, sex-addicted culture? Really? Give them a context! Kids who learn Theology of the Body FIRST know when something is off in the way the human body is portrayed, treated. You're giving them God's beautiful, glorious, positive vision of beauty, sex, love and relationships--goals and something noble to strive for. www.FamilyHonor.org   www.LittleDouglings.com

5. Watch "Old Fashioned"--also opening Valentine's Day, 2015! (My review here)

A good film (starts off all Hallmark: just get through it). It goes through all the fallacies and slogans of the day that mess people up with regard to love, sex, relationships.
"Old Fashioned" tagline is: "Chivalry makes a comeback," but it's more about two wounded souls who need to trust that true love is possible. He's a young curmudgeon (but you have to see why)! She's a rolling stone, afraid of getting burned again....




HELPFUL LINKS:

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: http://50shadesisabuse.weebly.com/
A NUN REVIEWS "MAGIC MIKE" AND "50 SHADES" TRILOGY: http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2012/07/movies-magic-mike.html#.VN093PnF-So
A NUN REVIEWS "DON JON": http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2013/10/movies-don-jon.html#.VN0-c_nF-So
SOME REAL ROMANTIC FILMS FOR VALENTINE'S DAY: http://lifeteen.com/show-me-real-love-romantic-movies-worth-watching/
WHAT WOMEN REALLY WANT (AUDIO): http://hellburns.blogspot.ca/2013/01/what-do-women-want.html#.VN0-qfnF-So


HOW 50 SHADES WILL ENTER THE POPULAR MENTALITY:



January 28, 2015

50 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT "FIFTY SHADES OF GREY"



"Feefty Sheeeyaydes of Greye!" --@MattFradd (the Aussie guy you're watching)


MOVIES: "AMERICAN SNIPER"



Is "American Sniper" war porn? I hate to use the word "porn" because of the way it's being tossed around to describe so many different things today (e.g., Instagrams of "food porn"). If everything's porn, than nothing is porn, and porn is its own unique, hideous reality. But I really wanted to know if "American Sniper" glorifies war. Does the film pretend to take very seriously the colossal cost of war, the human toll on both sides, the fact that "war is an adventure from which there is no return" (John Paul II)--but actually delights in it? Kinda, sorta. Even though Clint Eastwood insists he's more of a dove than a hawk. Some would argue that all war movies are "war porn."

OSCAR WORTHY?

First of all, 84-year-old Eastwood is one heck of a director: short and medium juxtaposed scenes one after the other. No wasted nothing. Cutting in deep and leaving early (that's how you shoot a scene). USA/Iraq. USA/Iraq. Towards the end of the film, you're just like, "Wow, I'm really here in the middle of this firefight in the middle of this sandstorm." Jason Hall is an amazing writer: no false words, false notes, false emotions, false dialogues. Dude is an actor. If actors can write? They make the best writers. He is nominated for an Oscar.

A transformed, rugged and plain Bradley Cooper--although a solid actor--is surprisingly emotionless, unexpressive and stoic throughout, but maybe he was trying to channel Chris Kyle, the real soldier he plays. Maybe it was a stretch for Cooper to play this "God, country and family" Texan, who was so focused in every way and had so few doubts about his trajectory in life, his identity and mission that he was able to hold it together better than most soldiers. Likeable, not-stuck-on-himself, unassuming, not-self-absorbed Cooper shines most when he is being a charming woo-er and then husband, or joking with the guys in that "hopeful or die" (not gallows humor) way American soldiers evidently do. Eastwood or Hall deserve an Oscar, but not Cooper, not for this role.

A JUST CAUSE?

Chris' then-girlfriend (a smart performance by Sienna Miller--a Brit who made me believe she was a Yank) asks the karmic question: "Do you ever think of the person at the other end of your gun?" Yes, he does. He refuses to take killing lightly as some of his buddies seemingly do.

At one point a soldier wavers: "I want to believe in what we're doing." And that's really the question with so many wars and military actions, isn't it? What did Iraq have to do with 9/11? Did we really go in there after WMD's (weapons of mass destruction) that some are now reporting do exist (Bush was right?) and are now in the hands of ISIS? Were we planning to go back to Iraq anyway to begin fighting state-sponsored terrorism on the ground, and 9/11 was the perfect "excuse" or opportunity? Why did we choose Iraq (even though 15 of the 19 9/11 attackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia--our "untouchable" ally) as the place to begin--because of high-profile terrorists connected with Osama bin Laden? (Going into Afghanistan/Pakistan was going after Bin Laden, I can comprehend that.)

I found myself getting angry at the hell we brought on beautiful Iraq, watching simulated sequences of hapless civilians getting murdered as "collateral," or because they helped the Americans, or whatever. And in war zones, there's always the demonic unleashed in myriad other little and big ways. Yet, I'm firmly convinced that the majority of our soldiers who went to Iraq did so with the right intention (to protect country, freedom, because they were sent, as a visceral reaction to 9/11). So it is possible to have a right purpose in a wrong war. And it is possible to be for the soldiers and against the war.

GLAMOR OF EVIL

Is this a "glamorous" war film? Yes. Glamorous to men (must look like fun to them--from firsthand accounts I've read of the adrenaline rush of war--and you can't beat the camaraderie), and glamorous to women because each and every one of these soldiers (there really aren't any female soldiers in this film--just one quick shot of a few women in a briefing session) is a sincerely good guy and drop-dead gorgeous (no pun intended).

MEN: PROTECTORS OR AGGRESSORS?

I love that Chris' father raised his sons to be fiercely protective. Good! Chris got the right message loud and clear: "There are three kinds of men: wolves, sheep and sheepdogs who protect the sheep." He preserved his humanity throughout and understood the gravity of "stopping a heartbeat." But as a sniper, he had to protect his comrades. He was their cover. I heard recently that because we don't necessarily require/demand much of our young men, challenge them, and because there are no specifically noble traditional male rites of passage, boys don't get signaled that they are men now. Grown up. Responsible. That they are the protector and not the aggressor. That they should be protecting the weak and innocent from aggressors.

SEX AND VIOLENCE

It's interesting how basic training and drill sergeants for  the all-male Navy Seals that Chris was a part of use sexual terms, sexual belittling, etc., to toughen the guys up. But it's also so tongue in cheek and everyone knows it. The talk is rough throughout the film, and the violence is quite intense. Sex and gore shots are fleeting. The soldiers alternately dismiss and demean women, as well as live for them.

CONCLUSION

The ending was a total shock for me. I gasped audibly.

I have a priest friend who sincerely thinks that war is good for men. That going to war is the best and most noble and "manly" thing a man can do. Can we not offer men something higher than war to live for?

OTHER STUFF:

--"American Sniper," no doubt, will go down in the annals of filmography as one of the best-shot, best-produced war movies ever.

--Is the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War even over? Has it been declared over? I'm serious. Do we even know? Are they part of some larger unending war on terror? Am I just ignorant? Because I have dearly tried to keep up.

--My Canadian audience was really digging the kills, even cheering a little. It was strange for Canada, but these were also young, seemingly first-generation, immigrant Canadians. Maybe the screen looked just like their videogames. Meanwhile, I, an American, am playing anti-war song "American Woman" (by Canadian band "The Guess Who") in my head.

--There were small children in my theater which was sad, but I guess their parents must let them see this stuff on TV all the time, too.

--I kept thinking of Jesus and nonviolence and MLK ("Selma") during the INTENSE battle scenes. Nonviolence requires superhuman courage and strength: to take on oneself the violence and end it within one's own body.

--So why is Cooper nominated for Oscar? I think he's a Hollywood darling. And Hollywood--although traditionally left of left on most issues--was ostensibly behind the second Iraq War.

--Excellent portrayal of the dilemma of split loyalties: family first or my buddies "over there" first?

--Why do people pay $15 to talk and snore in movie theaters?

--One of the most powerful credit rolls ever.

--Constant reference to the enemy as "savages." Which, of course, is standard operating procedure in any war: dehumanize the enemy.

--This war film is VERY much about (American) aftermath and PTSD. No aftermath/epilogue for the Iraq side. Not even a whisper. The Iraqi people are not responsible for Saddam, terrorism, 9/11, Osama bin Laden.

--Are soldiers really allowed to call home from the field? Yes, says my vet friend! Wild!

--Chris Kyle is completely disciplined and subordinate, not rogue, even though he was revered as a "legend" and he knew it.

--Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller actually look like Chris Kyle and his wife.

--"War puts lightning in your bones. And pretty soon it's all you can hold on to."

--Was it really that calm in the battlefield? Hardly any fear or meltdowns are depicted.

--Chris Kyle being Texan explains a lot. You do know Texans are more American than Americans, right?

--Soldier: "I want to believe in what we're doing here."
Chris: "We're fighting evil here. We've seen it."
Soldier: "There's evil everywhere."

--Kyle is justifiably upset--when he's back in the USA between tours--that the war is not even on the news, nobody even seems to care....

--Check out this wonderful organization: www.CatholicPeaceFellowship.com, made up in part by vets. Includes Church teaching on war, conscientious objection, etc. Their website is unclear and disorganized (there's an old and new version--the old is better), but lots of great stuff. (The way conscientious objection works in USA is you must declare yourself a combatant or non-combatant in the military from the get-go. You are not allowed to opt out of specific military actions/wars as they arise because of your judgment that they are unjust.)

--What do Iraqis think of "American Sniper"? Here you go:
http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iraq/150128/what-moviegoers-baghdad-think-american-sniper (Also proves my point that men love war. Any war.)

--Did you know there are still U.S. soldiers (conscientious objectors from the Iraq War) in Canada?http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/02/08/more-us-soldiers-could-be-sent-back-for-court-martial-on-desertion-charges.html  

--Myla, a young woman from Hawaii (who had to finish her time in the Army), was going to become a Daughter of St. Paul but was killed Christmas Eve in Baghdad. http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0600230.htm


WHY MEN LOVE WAR:

(I think men also "love," or feel inexorably drawn, called, programmed to "protect" or do what they perceive as protecting. This is a very good thing. It's how God made them. But it has to be channeled as rightly as possible. This reflex is clearly shown in the Chris Kyle character, and I've witnessed it in my brother and other men.)







January 19, 2015

MOVIES: "SELMA"



"Selma," the story of a pivotal point in the civil rights work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a well-cast, well-acted re-telling. At times it lacks a bit of a spark, especially as David Oyelowo delivers MLK's rousing, eloquent and inspired speeches in an almost too polished fashion, even though MLK was a great orator. But this is one of the film's only flaws.

The very word "Selma" should be fraught with meaning for Americans, but with each generation, once-shocking and galvanizing events fade. Historical dramas are an excellent way to bring to life crucial personages and moments, to "never forget" where we came from as a country. Many historians loathe these re-enactments because they know all the finer complexities of situations and fear that what people now see on the screen will become ingrained as Gospel truth. But getting 80% of history right is worth it if the alternative is knowing 0%.

"Selma" truly focuses on this one event in MLK's life with just enough backstory to get us going, with just enough hints at the even worse recent nightmare of slavery. Nothing is gratuitous or maudlin in "Selma." This shows great restraint in proper filmmaking, much like the great restraint required by the nonviolent movement. Rather than overstuffing the film with every great event  and character of the 60's, "Selma" is focused. For example, we see Malcolm X only once, at just the right time and in just the right way.

Oprah Winfrey is almost unrecognizable as she gives an incredibly humble and unprepossessing performance. Carmen Ejogo looks eerily like Coretta Scott King, so much so that you would think she had cosmetic surgery. MLK's small entourage of planners and activists give just the right aura of men powerful and determined in their own right, but willing to trust the thinking, leading and strategizing genius of Dr. King. But the real heroes of the film and the movement are the completely ordinary everyday folks, black and white, who put it all on the line. Tom Wilkinson is brilliant (and comical) as LBJ. There is subtle humor everywhere if you know a little something about these times: Edgar J. Hoover's bit part is hilarious.

The film does not forget that Dr. King (doctorate in theology from Boston University) was also, or perhaps first, a pastor. God is the ultimate reason, the ultimate giver of freedom and rights and dignity, and the civil rights movement is very much seen as God's will--"who created all men equal"--by many of its participants.

The tone of the film is mildly tense with a few flares in violence and raw emotion. There are many scenes of a kind of minimalist stillness. The film could have been made in a more dynamic way with intensity, blasting score, with quicker cuts and shorter dialogue, but it gives us the feel of real life unraveling in real time. The cornucopia catalogue of this era's music (including all the jazz, blues, Gospel, folk, rock, spirituals, etc.) is used sparingly and to great effect.

For the most part, little of the actual footage of the Selma March(es)--there were two!--is used, which puts the burden on the current-day filmmakers to deliver their own images, rather than using the real images as a crutch. Only towards the end, and with purpose, do we see long cuts of the actual marches. The first march was all-Black. The second march was integrated. The media played a great role in raising awareness of the invisible horrors transpiring in the South by reporting in print, but also and much more powerfully, photographing and filming, and then displaying on worldwide television.

Today's social justice movements (e.g., "Occupy" and #BlackLivesMatter could really take a page from Dr. King's, Ghandi's and others') playbook. If possible, go stringently by the existing laws in order to change them. Otherwise, highly organized civil disobedience. (An unjust law is no law at all.) A cogent list of demands, outcomes and desired goals. Use the system itself in order to be able to truly use the system (in "Selma's" case, be able to vote). And above all? Nonviolence. Because nonviolent action works and brings lasting change. But who will be able to stick to nonviolence in the face of all kinds of unwarranted, blatant and brutal intimidation; oppression and bigotry, and flagrant disregard for the law by those in power? Who will have the superhuman patience to be able to carry on in the face of stubborn attitudes that refuse to change? Only those who truly believe in the depths of their hearts that hatred is weaker than love.

OTHER STUFF:

--Woman director! Woman director! Ava DuVernay (snubbed by #OscarsSoWhite). This is the whitest Academy Awards (noms) since 1998. Angelina Jolie was also snubbed for "Unbroken."

--I chuckled aloud a few times, gasped a few times, and learned a lot.

--LBJ's confidential n***** comment (like Sony's hacked emails), shows how deep racism is in the USA. This is what Black people understand only too well and know that many white people don't. If I was Black? I would just be full of simmering anger at the hypocrisy. I wouldn't want to be, but I know I would be.

--King's purported womanizing is dealt with with economy and gravitas. It had to be.

--"Negotiate, demonstrate, resist." MLK's strategy in a nutshell. (He keeps repeating this.)

--As an American, I feel proudly that somehow this is my story, too.

--Most African-Americans have been in the United States longer than most white people.

--People were so much more articulate in the 60's. Sigh. The film has such incredible attention to detail that it captures older pronunciations of words, antiquated expressions, etc.

--I don't know if the (older) Canadians in my theater got all the jokes. But then again, Canadians do not engage in boisterous laughter.

--Other related must-see movies and docmentaries: "Eyes on the Prize" (Civil Rights Movement), "Malcom X" (Denzel Washington), "42" (The Jackie Robinson story). And if you want to understand who Malcolm X was at the end of his life, you MUST watch the interviews he gave about his journey/transformed thought.

--Did you know that MLK's niece, Dr. Alveda King, is a pro-life activist?

--"Selma" really showcases above all the inner workings of the movement. How easily factions and infighting sprung up and how it was resolved.

--Couldn't help thinking of the song "Sweet Home Alabama" and Neil Young. :(

"Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come...." Amazing Grace

"The man on the news said China's gonna beat us,
We shot all our dreamers, there's no one left to lead us.
We need a solution, we need salvation,
Let's send some people to the moon and gather information.
They brought back a big bag of rocks.
Only cost thirteen billion. Must be nice rocks.
You think it's such a sad thing when you see a fallen king
Then you find out they're only princes to begin with
And everybody has to choose whether they will win or lose
Follow God or sing the blues, and who they're gonna sin with.
What a mess the world is in, I wonder who began it.
Don't ask me, I'm only visiting this planet." 
Only Visiting the Planet, Larry Norman