Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Is A Man's Life Measured? (Colonel Blimp, 1943)

#91-- The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is probably the worst misnomer of a movie ever.  The main character—frankly no character—is called Colonel Blimp.  The main character is actually a Major General, not a Colonel.   And the main character (minor spoiler, here) doesn’t die.   So there is no death.  But there is a life.

When we first see Major General Clive Wynne-Candy, he is outmaneuvered by a younger commander, who sees Major General Candy as a buffoon, much like the Colonel Blimp comic books the movie is named after.  He sees him as stuck in foolish traditions and policies, a glutton and simple-minded: unworthy to command any armed forces.   The Major General claims that the young lieutenant has no right to judge him for he knows nothing about him.

As the movie continues on in flashback, we find this is true.  Candy proved himself not only able, but noble through many armed conflicts.  His closest friend was a German enemy, and he proved his worth in his noble dealings with his life-long love.   “Colonel Blimp” was nothing of the kind, and his upstanding, often humorous life is given depth and power in this film.

How often do we judge people by one event, even by a glance?  How often do we see a shallow character, a narrow mind, a limited experience?  While there may be narrow minds, there are no shallow characters.  Every life has experience and power, nobility and weakness,  love and impatience.  We can judge no one, and for every weak or evil person, we must look deeper to find the nobility that lies there as well. 

Fun Fact: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known as The Archers, were the directors of Colonel Blimp and they directed almost 20 films together, the best of which were completely iconic and the storytelling unique.  Among their films are The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and A Canterbury Tale.  I recommend them all. 

Does Journalism Create News? (Ace in the Hole, 1951)

#92-- Ace In the Hole (1951)

Chuck Tatum is a New York reporter, stuck in New Mexico, and he’s desperate.   He’s looking for an opportunity to get back on top, to achieve his ambitions of being a top journalist again.  When he hears about a miner trapped in a cave, he knows he has his opportunity.  If the story can last long enough, he can break it as a national story, get exclusive rights and force his way back to a job in New York.

It seems that every job is at least partly built upon ambition and competition.   The form of capitalism that is ruling the world is that of competition, where one must lose for another to win.  Where the creativity required of making a mountain out of a molehill is essential for any kind of professional success.   Even occupations for the public service, such as journalism, social work or teaching ultimately becomes about personal ambition and clawing to the top. 

The problem with including ambition in public service, is that the goals of the worker are that which encourages personal promotion, not the benefit of the public.  Chuck got his story, but only at the cost of individuals, not only exploiting a tragedy, but creating one.  When personal benefit and promotion comes first, the innocent, the hard working, and the simply talented get left behind.  Only if everyone is ambitious does this system even pretend to work.  But this system also discourages people from simply having integrity, from trusting, from supporting others without getting anything back.   One achieves success like this only by leaving destruction in his wake. 

If journalism is a public service, it can only remain so without ratings, without competition, without fighting for position.  In a competition climate, journalism must create stories, must make more of events than they really are.  They must create contexts of fear, of tragedy, of horror.

Fun Fact: Billy Wilder, the director of Ace in the Hole, made many classic films over the years, including Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot.  Ace in the Hole was his first big failure, both financially and critically.  He was born in Austria-Hungary. 

What is the Best Response To Oppression? (Spirit of the Beehive, 1973)

#93-- The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

The Spirit of the Beehive is about a family paralyzed by an oppressive regime.   They lay, lifeless, like Ana, when she pretends to be dead, causing her sister torment.  There seems to only be two options when surrounded by an omnipotent evil: pretend to be dead, never moving, or rage against the evil, fight on every side, only to be captured and destroyed, like the naïve monster in Frankenstein.

Ana recognizes that she has this choice.  She may only be a child, but the choice is given to each individual.  She chooses to feed a rebel soldier, to keep him alive and hidden from those who rule over them.  This turns out badly for everyone.   But the lesson of Frankenstein is: of course it will turn out badly.  Fighting, even in small ways, against a great bear only leads to destruction. But must not the bear who crushes and destroys be fought, even if it means our own demise?  In the end, will it not bring freedom to everyone?

Isn’t martyrdom preferable to quiet suffering?  And can’t even a child do her small part, accept her own martyrdom, for the sake of the greater good?

Fun Fact: Spirit of the Beehive was made in the last years of Franco's fascist Spain, using Spanish actors. sites and resources to make this anti-Franco film.  It is symbolic to deceive the Spanish censors.  One of the scenes was copied in Pan's Labyrinth, which takes place during Franco's Spanish Civil War. 

How Can Corruption Be Defeated? (Chinatown, 1974)

#94-- Chinatown (1974)

Jake is a private investigator, of the old school variety.  He takes cases from suspicious dames, gets beat up on a regular basis, and speaks in staccato.  It was an everyday case to follow a husband to see if he is cheating on his wife, but it turns into something much deeper, much darker and more sinister.

Often truth is something we simply don’t want to know.  We always think we want to know the reality, the real motivations behind things, the facts of the matter, but often the only thing truth can do for us is depress us.  Jake found out not only about the corruption of innocent women, but about how Los Angeles became a power, created by evil men.

Jake would love to right this injustice, to repair the wrongs, to defeat evil.  But it is too complicated, too insidious.  Were he to defeat evil, the good would be harmed.  The corruption is too deep, too many people involved, and nothing can be done about it.  This is the state of Los Angeles, the United States, the whole world.  All anyone can do is throw up one’s hands and say, “Forget it, Jake.  It’s Chinatown.” 

This sounds like a cop-out.  Perhaps in some way it is.  But it is also a recognition of reality.  The only way to weed out the evil is to take the good with it.  Is that really justice?

How is Prejudice Overcome? (District 9, 2009)

#92-- District 9 (2009)

Wickus has been appointed an important task, which he is thrilled to fulfill.  It means a promotion and higher esteem in the government in which he works.  He and his team must serve eviction notices to the “prawns” who live in the alien—as in aliens from space— refugee camp.  They have been living a sickening, poor existence outside of Johannesburg, and it is time they moved on. 

In the midst of this increasingly complicated task, Wickus is infected with an alien chemical, which makes him terribly sick.  Bit by bit, he was turning into an alien.  He hoped his company would deliver him from his terrible fate of turning into one of these monsterous prawns, but they only used him as an experiment.

The only way to truly overcome oppression is to make the oppressors become that which they despise.  Only the deepest empathy overcomes our instinct to protect “our own” from that which fear.  Wickus only learned to appreciate the prawns after he became one and he lived among them.  Only then could he understand their motivation and their hopes.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Touching Film: A Review and Meditation of I Am Love (2009)

There are some films that are so sensual that you can touch them.  

Please don’t misunderstand me.  For so many people in our pornography culture, “sensual” means sexual or nakedness.  But the meaning of “sensual” is “of the senses,” and it has the deeper meaning of stirring emotion, especially longing for an ethereal experience that is accomplished through the senses. 

Movies are a sensual medium, in general.  We see and hear and (if we watch with a fantastic sound system) feel the movie in the air.  In the best films, we experience new things, live the lives of others whom we had never met before the beginning of the film.  We see and hear through them, and so obtain a sense of their thought.

But a few films are so sensual, that I can almost use senses that aren’t actually available in a common film.  I can feel the cloth, taste the prawn, caress the face, smell the forest, move my fingertips over the roughness of the bark of the tree.  But more importantly, I can capture the very essence of a character’s emotions in my soul.

I would put I Am Love in that category of film.  It is a short list, frankly:   In the Mood for Love, about the unfulfilled longing for another.   The Double Life of Veronique, about the ethereal versus the corporal life.  The New World, about choosing one’s love or the one who loves you.  Babette’s Feast, about an aesthetic community that experiences the joy of earth.   There are, perhaps, a few others.  Three Colors: BlueThe Tree of Life.

But like I Am Love, they are lush, focusing on close cinematography, drawing on nature and food in a way that stirs both the senses and the soul.  These are films that expand our experience of reality, even as the finest sensual experiences do—that communicate not only the flesh, but the spirit behind the flesh.  

Meditation on the Film: What is love?
Love has many faces.  Somehow we know, at its core, it is singular, but it is displayed as many fractured, contradictory personalities.  Love is about the benefit of the other, but also desire for the self.  Love is adoration, but also a mirror displaying the harsh reality.  Love is granting freedom and stirring deep violation.  Love is in the touch, the taste, the sight, the sigh, but love is also the longing, the mourning, the restlessness, the isolation.   Wrap all this together and we have still only stirred the bare surface of the depths of love.  Love is life, and is as complex as life.

Love in the flesh is a glorious thing.  Love is longing, but not knowing for what.  It is the glance that opens one’s eyes, widens the pupils and the object of love is then written in one’s soul.  We are created for this love, for this awakening and rebirth of our very selves, for this unification with the other so the one who we used to be is but a memory, a wisp of the past.  Once we have become a new creation, we build.  We create foundations, give birth, form partnerships, instill values, restore the ancient that has never been seen on earth before.  From love are traditions formed, legacies initiated, knowledge discovered and cities built. 

Creation is not love’s only legacy, however.  All that is built can also be forsaken, rejected, destroyed.  Love is a god that requires sacrifice.  Upon the altar, at one time or another, we must place our marriage, our work, our children, our livelihood, our passions, our hopes, our very souls and the souls of those whom we most deeply care for.  Love is filled with bitter tears, deep resentment and furious anger.  It is the passion that demands us and tears lives into shreds.  Love gives and love shreds, blessed be the name of love.

Yet there is another love.  A love that is not strictly human love, for human love must protect itself and its creation within a bubble of security of its own making.  There is a spiritual love, which calls to the humans, which can be glimpsed, and then it shyly withdraws.   It is the love that always gives, always forgives, always provides, always sustains, always restores, always gives life.  Love that embraces the rejected, heals the broken, rebuilds the destroyed and welcomes the outcast.  Paradoxically, this love requires nothing from the other, yet calls all to sacrifice all for the other.   And the greatest desire of this love is a people that surrenders all desires for the sake of the need.   This love is the ultimate gift without sacrifice and the ultimate sacrifice that demands all.

And this is the love that will change the world.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Are the Outcast Ever Truly Welcome? (Edward Scissorhands, 1990)

#96--Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward is such a nice, caring, thoughtful boy.  So gentle, so talented.  And so, so lonely. 

Well, the answer to this is clear, right? All it takes is for one caring person to reach out her hand and grant Edward a place in a normal, caring family.  Then everything will be okay, right?

Well, this is movie, so we know not everything will be okay.  There has to be drama, tension, opposition.  Something has to go wrong.  But does everything have to go wrong?  Is Edward destined to loneliness forever?

Of course he is.  It is human nature.

There are two basic moral principles that all humans are bound to pursue, without exception.  First, there is the “high road” symbolized by the golden rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   Peg sees Edward as a neighbor in need of some very basic love and she offers it to him.  Soon the whole neighborhood is following Peg’s example and Edward seems to have a new home.

However, this couldn’t last forever, for the second basic moral principle must reveal itself: “Protect your kith and kin.”  No matter how benevolent the attitude toward Edward, no matter how simple and gentle Edward seemed, in the end he must be rejected on the basis of his appearance.  For every good intention, for every positive attitude, below is a measure of fear, for Edward is a monster, a danger.  The fear of Edward can be set aside for a moment or two, but it must come out eventually.  And he will be rejected.

This is the basis of all hatred and prejudice, this determination to protect.  There is nothing wrong with it in itself, but it always leads to judgment and wall-building and eventually warring.  Thus it is best for Edward to stay in his castle.  It is best for the mentally ill to remain in their foster care homes.  It is best for the homeless to remain in their camps.  It is best for the new immigrants to remain hidden.  Not for the sake of society, but for their own sakes. 

Frankly, normal society is the most frightening monster of all.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How Do You Respond When A Spirit Asks You If You Are a God? (Ghostbusters, 1984)

      #97--Ghostbusters (1984)      

Dealing with spirits is tricky business.  There are the low-level ghosts, who can be… slimy.  Then there high level gods, who can decimate large populations.   Tricky, very tricky. 

Especially tricky for scientists.  Even pseudo-scientists.  When you are trained to be skeptical, to doubt, to question everything, it may seem that you might never actually get around to dealing with real, live (so to speak) spirits.   When you finally do connect to spirits, proper etiquette might be lacking.  Not because you don’t want to be polite, but because you just haven’t had the experience.

So when Ray is approached by a spirit and asked, “Are you a god?” He answered simply and honestly, to the best of his knowledge, in the negative.  How was he to know that it was the wrong response?  That such honesty might actually get him and his companions killed?  Or at least mortally wounded.  Peter corrected Ray’s error: “Ray, when someone asks you if you are a god, you say YES!”  

Obviously, such an answer must come from studying the classics.  Alexander said “yes”.  Augustus said “yes”.  Titus said “yes.”  Perhaps we should all learn from their example.  Peter thinks so.

Of course, there’s that niggling little aspect of blasphemy.  When Herod Antipas said “yes” to such a seemingly basic question, he was eaten from the inside out by worms.  Perhaps this should be given more consideration.

Screen Shot Jokes Quiz-- Level Easy

Below are a number of screen shots.  What movies are they from?  And (without peeking) what years are they from? (For any questions, we'll stick with the IMDB years).  Post your answers as a comment.












Monday, September 17, 2012

How Far Can the Mystical Powers of Kung Fu be Stretched? (Kung Fu Hustle, 2004)

#98-- Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Stephen Chow has been making martial arts comedies for many years.  They all have the same style, take a hokey, but typical, Hong Kong plot and add various physical and verbal jokes, giving us the right to openly laugh at the films we have wanted to for so long.  Chow has not only improved as a director, but also as an actor, making films like Forbidden City Cop that has some good dramatic scenes as well as some decent comedy.

Kung Fu Hustle is Chow’s masterpiece.

A gang of criminals come to attack an apartment building and Stephen Chow is first an ineffective criminal and then a master defender.  But the plot can be tossed aside.  The brilliance is in the style.  This film could just as well be called Flying Coyote, Hidden Road Runner.   It has all the fun and majesty of the flying martial arts movies, with a Looney Tunes sensibility and the finesse of Roger Rabbit with a sledgehammer.

This is physical comedy at its best, where every master is a citizen of Toontown and any non-master had better clear out of the way.  It is so over the top, so ridiculous that if you are going to watch you have to just go along for the ride and enjoy every silly moment.

Can Anyone Be a Part of Family? (Lilo & Stitch, 2002)

      #99--  Lilo & Stitch (2002)     

Lilo is, to say the least, a difficult child.  When she first speaks in the film, we find out that she is late to her class because she had to feed Pudge, a fish in the ocean, peanut butter sandwiches and she had to find peanut butter because all they had was tuna and you COULDN’T feed Pudge tuna because that would be cannibalism.  Her logic is impeccable.  It just isn’t shared by anyone else in existence.  Yeah, that’s difficult.

But her difficulty is nothing compared to Stitch, a genetically manipulated creature, formed to destroy whole civilizations by a mad scientist… excuse me… an evil genius.  Stich can escape from any prison, create mayhem and destroy whole cities, but he is stuck on Hawaii because the one thing he can’t abide is water. 

Stitch's part in The Lion King
was left on the cutting room floor.
The question of the movie is can these two social outcast become a part of a family?  The oft-repeated line of the film is “Oahu means family.  In family no one gets left behind or forgotten.”  That’s fine, but can these two be a part of any family?  They think so differently.  They don’t fit any societal norms, and in fact, they rebel against many of them.  Heck, Stitch eats societal norms for breakfast, and downs a city for a midmorning snack!

The wonderful answer of this film is that they cannot be a part of an average family.  But they can be family together.  The outcasts CAN be a part of a family—a family of outcasts.  The final act of the film is the creation of a family of the most awkward band of misfits ever imagined in a single unit. 

I love the basic truth of this film: you cannot take misfits and change them completely to be a part of a standard family.  Instead, you must change the image of family to include misfits.  If you can have a functional family which includes severe dysfunction, then you can have a family of the homeless, a family of the mentally ill, a family of the traumatized, a family of the social awkward, a family of those in rehab.  Because the conformity of the family matters little.  What really matters is that no one gets left behind.  Or forgotten.

What Can a Simple Worker Do To Serve His Country? (The General, 1927)

#100--The General (1927) 

Buster Keaton’s manly honor and his ability to have a chance at his love is dependent on his becoming a soldier in the Confederate army.  Yes, this is the South of 1961, but surprisingly, they are not the bad guys, nor is there any question of the pure patriotism for the Confederacy here.  It doesn’t matter who Keaton was loyal to for us to connect with him—what we associate to is the faithfulness to his nation.  So he stands in line to sign up with the army, but he is rebuffed again and again.

The whole film was shot in Cottage Grove, Oregon
It is interesting that he is rejected as a soldier not because he is weak in some way, but because he is too important.  He is a railway engineer, and they can’t waste such important workers on being simple foot soldiers.  But that doesn’t matter to Keaton’s honor.  Societal respect is found in participation in the army, nothing else, and Keaton is left out. 

The rest of the movie shows Keaton’s heroism and athleticism in serving his country and being much more than any single soldier could be.  I would stand this movie next to any modern action flick and say that the excitement and  intensity matches, at least.   This is an amazing film and deserves all the allocates over the years.   And Keaton is truly one of the few great actors of the silent era.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Some Thoughts About This Year's Top 100

Madman is my name.  Obsession my game.
Every year for the Filmspotting Forum, I make a top 100.  Last year's list was only half of a full effort.  I'm much more satisfied with this year's list.

I began to post the movies I watched on two different internet sites this year.  I have my most complete list on .  That site is simple: you watch a movie and then you check off that you watched it.  They will automatically tell you which of their many official lists that movie is on, and keep you up to date on how well you are doing on those lists.  I have awards in 49 of the lists right now.  That's not a boast.  If anything, it shows how obsessed I am with movies, which may not be a good thing.  The other great thing about is that you can "favorite" or "dislike" a movie, and you can have a list of each of those, if you like.

The second site I'm keeping my movies on is  That site allows you to not only keep track of the movies you watch, but you can rate them on a scale from 1-100 (100 being best).  Also, you can keep a review on as many movies as you like.

This year, in preparation for my list, I took my list of 650 favorite movies on and ranked and reviewed them on  This allowed Criticker to rank these movies in a general order and gave me the opportunity to review all of these movies in my mind.  It was a lot of work, but I accomplished it in about a month.

Then I took the movies I rated from 100-90 and ranked the top 100 or so. This took a couple nights, but it was painful.

Nevertheless, my top 100 was revealed.

My bud, Richard.
THEN I took my top 100 and offered questions for each movie, that each movie compels me to ask.

If this isn't the work of an obsessed madman that deserves to be in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, then I don't know what is.

Why do I do this?  Because I want to be fair to the community I hang out with, the Filmspotting community.  I want to have a solid top 100, as solid as I could.  And this is my best top 100 yet, one perhaps I can build on.

I hope I won't ever have to do this much work on it again.  But we'll see about next year.

So on my blog here I will be posting answers to the movie questions I posed.  So if you see a question as a title, just remember, this is a film I consider to be one of the greatest ever made.  I'll tag it Top 100 Movies 2012.

Because nothing is real until it is blogged.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review and Meditation on Dancer in the Dark

Acting is a brutal art.  To accomplish a real act of drama, not just a light and frothy musical scene, but deep sorrow and regret, requires something from one’s soul that must be torn out.   Bjork, the star of the 2000 film, Dancer in the Dark, said that the role of acting in this film was so emotionally wrenching that she would never act again.  She also may have given a hint that the director of extreme film, Lars Von Trier, could be the cause of this.  She had nothing good to say about him after the filming, calling him “sexist.”  Is it because he was demanding sacrifice more than she could give for the film?  Certainly he is more demanding of his female characters than his male ones. 

Sacrifice is never pretty.  Some demand our sacrifice, some compel us to sacrifice ourselves for them.  Most people don’t want anyone else to sacrifice for themselves.  They can take care of themselves, take care of their own.  Certainly Selma, the focus of the film, wanted no help.  Yes, she had a genetic disease, a sight disorder that had just about made her blind.  Her son has the same disorder.  But she has a plan.  She will work hard and save the money necessary in order to get her son an operation so he can see, and end the curse on her family.   It turns out that the cost was going to be much higher than she expected.

Selma loves musicals.  Although her life is focused on her son, her one real joy is music and dance.   Her friend, Jeff, wonders why she would love musicals so much.  “I don’t suddenly break into song and dance.”  “No,” Selma replies, “no, you wouldn’t.”   

But Selma does, in her mind.  She can hear the rhythms of everyday life, the beats of the factory, the pounding of a train, the sketching of an artist and turns them into songs.  She is the star of her own musical.  But like the film, the songs aren’t rushed, nor do they have a tight melody.  They linger in emotion, momentarily hesitating and then rushing past the natural beats.   They dance around, perhaps even fight against the very rhythm that is their source and pulse.  

So this film, with its documentary cinematography, musical sensibility but ultimately brutal nature is almost unnatural, fighting against the limits of our mind and demanding that we, too, sacrifice ourselves.  It is no-holds-barred cinema.  Not for the squeamish or overwrought.  But it’s hyper-drama may be what some need to retain hope.  Yes, hope.

*  *  *
Spoilers below

Like the train, though, the songs move forward, as does the film, pushing along.  As Selma’s eyesight fades, so the film becomes emotionally dark and Selma’s path toward her goal becomes more difficult, even brutal.   Despite the darkness that she can no longer ignore or hide, she is determined to reach her goal, no matter what it costs, no matter what she must sacrifice.

In the end, Selma is the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb, the one whose life must be laid down for the sins of others.  She is the innocent one, the pure unblemished offering.  Through her is healing, through her is mercy, through her the guilt is washed away.

Watch her.  See how she is kindly brutalized, but she responds to all with gracious kindness and acts of mercy.  See how she is there to bring life and to heal life, to give precious gifts through her own veins.  Look at the glorious victim, one moment unable to stand, and the next joyfully accepting her fate!  Glory to the precious redeemer, tied to the beams and hung for our errors, the innocent for the guilty.  All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way, but the Lord hath laid on her the iniquity of us all. 

This is the greatest, truest passion of them all.

But this is not the last song.  Death is not the finale.  They do not know, but the last song is still to be sung.  For this is not the end.  Because she willingly poured herself out to death, and she was numbered with the transgressors,  she will be allotted with the great, she will prosper and will be highly exalted.

This is the state of the poor.  Selma works and does all she can, but nothing comes of it.  Because of her kind nature, and due to her human weakness, more is demanded of her than she can give.  She gives all, but it is not enough, there is always someone… more than someone… who demands more than she can give.  It is the way of the world.  Those who are kind and have little, more is demanded of them.  More than they can give.  Eventually, broken and bruised, brutalized and beaten, they surrender all for the sake of those they love.

But this is not the end of the story.  There is still hope, there is still a future.  While the poor do not see justice in their lives, it exists in the future.  They will be praised for their sacrifice.  The slaves, the falsely accused, the abused, the oppressed, the outcast—they will have their day.   This is not the last song.  We can just hear glimpses of the melody.  We know the last song is coming.  We just need to wait.

This last song is not for the pillars of society, the powerful, the respected, the comfortable.  They have had their chance, their song.  Those who see the penultimate song and call it the finale.  If they partake in the last song at all, it will be in a supporting role, for finally the weak who supported these pillars on their backs will have their due.

“It will be a day like this one when the sky falls down and the hungry and poor and the wounded are found.” -Switchfoot