Friday, August 12, 2016


Oldkid was trapped in a blue event horizon accident, in which his body aged, but his mind remained youthful.  Some would say childish.  When he returned to earth, eons later, he was forced to return to elementary school, although in an aged body.

In order to enhance his education, he dived into film, attempting to understand the world better.  This was at the recommendation of his good friend, Gir, who was pretty odd looking, but he always made Oldkid laugh. Gir's good friend Zim wasn't really on the list of people Oldkid associated with. He was too screamy.

Oldkid first dived into the world of Miyazaki, which caused his multiple experiments to learn how to fly.  It wasn't until years later, when he watched The Wind Rises that he realized he could just board a plane.

Oldkid never had kids, but he learned about children through In America, The Selfish Giant and Tideland, and he decided childhood was hard and he's glad that he skipped it.

He sailed on the ocean with Russel Crowe, he walked through the door with Jim Carrey, He swam across the pool with Juliette Binoche.  He had a vision of pigs with Amy Seimetz.  He sang on the boat with Barbara Streisand.

But he wanted more.  He needed more.  More life, more experiences.

Oldkid couldn't stop now.

Sunday, August 7, 2016


When I first saw Paprika, I immediately placed it in my top 100.  It has many elements that I dearly love.  A surrealism that reflects its dream-like narrative that leads to many surprising moments, especially in the introductory section.  A double character whose real life persona is melancholic but smart, and her dream counterpart who is cheery and cheeky.  Then there is the foundational dream, supposedly created from an egotistical maniac, which is used to invade other’s dream-states and trap them in it.  All of this is simple genius and still deeply impresses me.

But in my re-watch, I realize that there is a bit too much time spent on simple nonsense, the placement of words together that is not supposed to make any sense, and of repeated images that are there simply to startle.  The central dream sequence begins as nonsense, but as it becomes more elaborate, the combination of seemingly random details become a unique art form, powerful and hypnotic. 

I’ve been reflecting on my long-held love of Alice in Wonderland.  I deeply appreciate Martin Gardener’s notes in The Annotated Alice, for it takes a book of nonsense, and claims that there is meaning and intent behind the crazy images.  It is a fine attempt, but in the end, even should many of the claims be true, isn’t it still a collection of nonsense?  Does it really have any meaning as a whole?

Paprika certainly has a meaning, the narrative of mutual appreciation, even love; the rejection of fantasy for the sake of power; the discovery of oneself in the subconscious.  But these meanings seem shallow compared to the surreal and nonsense that Paprika presents.  Like Alice, it works as an act of imagination.  But as a work that provides meaning to our everyday lives, less so.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Midnight Special

If an event or unique feature of reality is discovered, the pundits come and point their fingers at it, declaring its hidden reality.

The government looks at it through the eyes of fear, wondering if it might undermine the status quo.

Religion looks at it through patriarchal eyes, trying to fit it into religion’s vortex of power, and its apocalyptic narrative of salvation.

But suppose the feature was a little boy, born of normal parents.  How would they see this event? The idea is presented in a complex way by The Exorcist or We Need to Talk about Kevin.  Here, it is presented in a simpler, Spielbergian format.  The parents are full of love for the boy and just wants what is best for him, which means they must run from the government and religion who has their own assumptions at the forefront, even if that means the boy’s welfare is secondary.

I think that the area that most commentators have trouble with Midnight Special is the use of religion, which is something Spielberg rarely commented on.  They are uncomfortable with the realistic touches, but never really grasping what the religion was up to.  The government was almost a clich√©, but the religious aspect was confusing.

I think this is because the Jeff Nichols is very familiar with religion, as are most citizens of the South.  The background and assumptions of the actions of religion are easy to understand, and the director felt that he had given enough hints for a person familiar with the world to understand.

I think, however, that religion, especially American religion, really is a mystery for most watchers of the film.  The boy of the light, of the dreams, is a text, much like the Bible.  The text is simple description, but religion comes to interpret the text in a way that makes sense with their patriarchy, with a pure way of life.  The text contains misleading statements, to distract from the core, the significant information, but religion must receive it all as God-breathed, as if all had equal weight.

The boy is also an experience, bringing comfort to many, even an obsession to experience it again.  Religion, again, must interpret and control the experience, giving it to those who are worthy and withholding it from those who are not.  Religion is about the divide between the pure and the impure by whatever measure their traditional culture is comfortable using.

In the end, the film is right.  Religion is a manner of looking at a unique reality, but it never grasps the core.  The core is love, which is benefiting the welfare of the other.  In this case, the other is the boy himself.  The parents alone, with a couple helpers, have that love.  And love is dangerous, for it disrupts the status quo.  Religion and government must, in the end, oppose love when love disrupts.  Religion and government are about retaining the knowledge and way of life that they appreciate and understand.  Love lets the new reality settle in, because people are at stake. 

Knight of Cups

Love is the answer
All you need is Love
What the world needs now is Love, sweet Love
Give me Love, give me Love, give me peace on earth

After Badlands, Terrance Malick has become less and less interested in narrative.  His plots are not so much stories as outlines on which to hang prayers, quotes, silent conversations and aphorisms.  They are not stories so much as meditations on themes found in stories, while the events fade more and more into the background.  To watch a Malick film is not to wonder what will happen next, but to learn about reality.  For this reason, there is a divide between watchers of his films—those who grow to hate them because of their apathy about narrative and those who desire them because they teach us how to live.

On the surface, Knight of Cups is about Christopher Bale, a successful man in Hollywood, watching him grasp and fail at relationship after relationship.  Looks of love, lust, anger, doubt and disdain pass over the faces of the characters, while their silent questions and longings we hear over the meditative soundtrack.  

In a sense, this is a gentle sermon on vice.  How one should not live a life.  Sermons on vice are the most difficult to sell in this day and age.  No one wants to be told what not to do.  They want to know about possibilities, about freedom.  Malick asserts that true freedom can only be held in true love, but there are many distractions in the world that keep us from truly understanding love.

Love/Grace is the answer, what creates the world, what grows the new into peace.

Why, when there are so many pursuing love that things get so screwed up?  Many who proclaim Love and live Love are as depressed, as despondent, as desperate as anyone else.  How can this be?  If Love is the answer, shouldn’t it be the answer for everyone?

The problem is that those looking for Love seek love instead.  The seeker of Love heads into the world

People forget that they are looking for pure love, and get distracted by the many things that look and feel similar to love, but isn’t.  Lust, jealousy, control, wielding power, promiscuity, fantasy, adultery—all of these look like love from a certain viewpoint, but all fall short of what love is really about.  It is about seeing, really seeing the person in front of you and providing them with a human connection.
Just knowing that isn’t enough, however.  We have to go through a certain path to achieve Love.  We must rid ourselves of distractions, of the many voices and mini-dramas of our lives, and simply, quietly, silently find Love within ourselves.  This is the beginning of our life of Love.

Knight of Cups is a difficult film.  It is difficult to see pieces of narrative without a cohesive whole.  It is difficult to see visions, no matter how beautiful, without a real resolution, without a real conclusion.  This is a film about the life of the soul, which is difficult to see, so Malick made it difficult to watch.  We are to feel, to listen.  For a film so busy with fleeting images, chopped conversations and with quotes from Augustine, Pilgrim’s Progress and more, it is difficult for it to lead us to its ultimate goal: get away from all this and be silent.  It means to make us uncomfortable with the busyness of the world, and to seek a pure Love. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Titus: Brutal Shakespeare

This is my second Shakespeare adaptation of 1999, yet the two films couldn't be more different.  Not just because one is a comedy and this is a tragedy, but the approach to filming Shakespeare is different.  In A Midsummer Night's Dream, the whole of the film could be on a stage, and the focus in on performances.  In Titus, the idea is to take some of the strange notions of the film and to turn it into a surrealist cinematic revenge fantasy.

First, the text.  This might be the most brutal of Shakespeare's plays.  There is murderous justice, amputations,rape, false accusations, and so much more violence that is difficult to describe. It might be torture porn for the late 16th century.  It's intention is to shock, to stir in us a lust for revenge, to see the final actions of the play to be just.  In the end, however, it is just a opportunity to speak of the futility of revenge, and the horrible nature of those who take part in it.  Since this is an early Shakespeare play, we might not be surprised to find the characters two-dimensional and myopic but given the nature of revenge theatre, this is not a bad thing.  There is no Hamlet or Macbeth here, debating the nature of their actions and their consequences, no self-doubt.  Every actor is completely convinced in their paths, even if the full sum of their lives be evil.

The play was dismissed and rejected by critics for centuries, but this movie gives it a rightful place in entertainment history.  It is a surreal deconstruction of violence in any age-  whether personal or national.  Soldiers in a mass-dance celebrating their bloody victory; a world of blues and blacks and greys; a woman with sticks poking out of her arm stumps; fascists scream in ancient Rome, flags flying; a boy's fantasy of war with action figures and ketchup become real.  This is a real work of imagination, a Lynchian nightmare drenched in Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. 

This sounds like a horrible experience, but there is one release-- the gore takes place off screen.  This film doesn't revel in blood and guts.  The target of the horror is not the churning stomach, but the churning heart.  We wince at the actions not because they show too much violence, but because of the depth of evil and depravity that occur.  Anthony Hopkins turns from a noble Odin figure to Hannibal Lecture in this film.  Titus feigns insanity, but the insanity that truly captures his heart is one of bloody vengeance, and every horror unfolds to another more horrible.

Not for the faint of heart, yet it is a powerful adaptation of a lesser play by the Bard.

O.J.: Made in America

I'm just the opposite of a sports fan, but I'm starting to really dig the ESPN 30 for 30 docs.  I finished Fantastic Lies last month, and it showed how sports can be intimately intertwined with racial politics and the justice system.  Now, with O.J., we have the magnum opus of such docs.

I am a serious Black Lives Matter supporter.  Not so much that I go to protests (I limit my public activism), but I am a staunch defender of the movement and I have seen the stats that support most of what they say.  There is certainly racial injustice against African Americans.  Mind you, the same exists for Native Americans and Muslims and there is severe classism against the homeless.  But civil rights for African Americans is far from over.  The videos are just the dramatic moments.  The reality is a huge percentage of the black male population in prison.

Never have I seen a better cultural analysis of the very things BLM exposes, and the consequences of that exposure, than this O.J. documentary.  Part of its power is the leisure with which it could easily explain the huge context in which O.J.'s famous trial was placed, going back to the Los Angeles of the 40s.  By the time the doc was half over (about three hours) I was thinking, "Is all this really necessary?"  The short answer is: Yes.  Absolutely.  This story has to be told in this length, now, today, in 2016.  And it needs to be seen by everyone.

I am white, was raised white, accepted white religion, and never thought about my whiteness until I went to India, but still didn't take it very seriously until a few years ago, especially as my poor but white children went to schools that were predominately African American.  When the OJ trial occurred, I was one of most whites who were mystified at the verdict of the trial.  The answer seemed obvious.  But  this film explains that there is more than one answer, more than one verdict.  There is the verdict of this one man in this one circumstance.  There is the verdict of the black community who needed justification more than justice.  And there is the verdict of the jury who had been isolated for 2/3 of a year for a mostly unpaid job they never applied for.

But there is also the context of celebrity, the context of a people pleaser, who was just doing what he could to be loved, but who was self-centered enough to be unable to see when his superficial care wasn't enough for the people who loved him.  This film is seven and a half hours long, and it is almost as complex and insightful as The Human Condition at 9 hours.  Perhaps OJ's themes aren't as widespread, being a distinctly American story, but it is powerful.  It's problems are the limitations of documentary work-- having to deal with previous filmed footage, of mixed quality.  It may not look great, but it is better than any of Ken Burns' works, for you can't read this story in history books.  It is the story we are still living out.

Today a number of police officers were shot and three killed in Baltimore because a lone Marine felt that no one was listening to the plight of the African American community.  That the protests and videos simply aren't working.  And while he was horribly, evilly wrong to think that shooting officers solves the problems, this documentary shows that he was right about one thing-- no one ever listens.

 The oppression doesn't change.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Roger Deakins: Master Cinematographer

From 1984

From The Assassination of Jessie James

From Doubt

From The Secret Garden

From Fargo

From Sicario
From No Country for Old Men
From The Man Who Wasn't There

From The Assassination of Jessie James