Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fury Road

We finally received "Mad Max: Fury Road" from the library and to say that I was really excited to watch it is an understatement. It has been universally praised all year as not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the greatest action films of all time. It's been nominated for Best Picture at practically every awards ceremony out there, with George Miller being nominated for Best Director, as well. It's been a long time since a movie has been this hyped up. Pretty much everyone in the film world has great things to say about it, across both the mainstream establishment and independent critics.

So let's get at it then. Is "Mad Max: Fury Road" a great movie, as everyone has proclaimed?

The movie is a ridiculous spectacle, a video game transported to the big screen with comic book sensibilities. It's a delirious cinematic thrill ride, if there ever was one, a fun-filled feast of entertainment bonanza. The action is impressive, with incredible stunts and seamless editing. It must be extremely difficult to film these sequences and keep them in order, so that everything makes perfect sense, as these maniacal machines careen around the desert at vicious speeds. There's a fine line between making that aspect of an action film appear professional or amateurish. George Miller and company get it right. It's an impressive display, exciting and immersive...for about 30 minutes. Then I became numb to it and found it a bit tiresome. So, Fury Road is basically an action movie that is 1 1/2 hours too long.

I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, so far, but let me point out one other part of the film that is truly outstanding. It's Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa. Her presence on the screen almost makes watching this entire film worth it. It's wonderful to see a badass woman take control of the situation and battle a storm of oppressive forces bent on destroying her. And Theron embodies every ounce of emotion this movie is attempting to convey; in her eyes, in her movements, her body language, her essence. Without her this movie would be a total bust.

It seems like the entire film community would agree with me on this point because everything that I have read about Fury Road is quick to point out its feminist spirit. That's completely due to Theron's performance in the film, nothing else. It's true that Miller placed her in the midst of this crazy world, and props for convincing the actress to take part, but he does everything possible to undermine this feminist agenda that so many critics out there wish to applaud. I know, it's hard to believe that an old white guy might have trouble presenting a feminist perspective but it happens to be true in this case.

First, the introduction of every other woman in the film is problematic. The mother's who milk are all overweight cows being used like animals, not an ounce of humanity here. The beautiful breeders are introduced in typical spring break beer commercial fashion, with bikinis and wet t-shirts galore, strictly presented for the male gaze, embodied in our omniscient narrator, Max Rockatansky. The Vulvalini, name pretty much says it all, are a bunch of feminist shrews who are actually too dumb to protect themselves, as our perfect man is quick to point out.

Then, after all is said and done, after Furiosa has her heroic moment destroying the big bad symbol of patriarchy, she must then be saved by Max, of course. Not the women who know her well, or even one of the nurturing Vulvalini, the many mothers who might possibly know a thing or two about human medical care, having survived so long together in this apocalyptic wasteland. No, it's the police officer who saves the day, the lone silent reluctant wanderer who just needs a purpose and has finally found it in this moment. Because, really, this is Max's story, after all, a tale of love. Furiosa can't die because she means something to him. He's even told her his name, allowing her this intimate connection. He'll even give his blood for her, his heart mingling with hers in such glorious redemption. No, Furiosa's great story isn't really feminist at all because it ultimately comes down to her connection with Max, her great white male savior. Only the oldest most patriarchal story ever told.

So, after taking away the feminist angle of our film, what do we have left? A barrage of car chase explosion porn and that's about it. Sure, it may be fun and exciting and gripping and totally awesome, but can we stop pretending that it's anything more than a movie for the teenage boy in all of us. Is it really worth all the critical accolades and awards ceremonies? I tell you what comes to my mind when I see it being nominated at the Academy Awards, over amazing films like Todd Haynes's "Carol" or Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nations", when I see it being universally praised by practically every critic in this country, intelligent or not. It suddenly makes a lot of sense that Donald Trump is leading in the polls. I'm sure that he loved this movie and totally identified with Big Daddy Immortan Joe. Hell, he probably even got a few pointers on how to run America.

"Mad Max: Fury Road" is no grand work of art. It isn't the shiny chrome expression of perfection delivering us to hallowed halls of action film valhalla. No, with the famous words of Immortan Joe, it's really just "mediocre".

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life

During the holidays, we decided to take in the quintessential christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life". It's been awhile since I've seen it and the emotional resonance affected me deeply as I watched it with my family. What is it about this film that makes it so beloved? Why does it have such a lasting affect on our American conscience? These were some of the the thoughts that swept through my mind as the credits rolled.

It is now 2016 and the United States of America is a country in turmoil. Everywhere we look, we find conflict: mass shootings, racism, corruption, attacks on women, greed, environmental degradation, anger, hate. So many of us are wondering, "How did this come to be?" Not only that but, "What can we do about it?" It's easy to feel like we are powerless against the onslaught of despair.

In a way, our nation is at a crucial turning point. We are a lot like George Bailey, standing on the bridge while we look down into the turbulent waters, wondering if we should just jump and allow the chaos to consume us. But if we do, what will become of our great nation? What will happen to all of the goodwill our beautiful system has created over the years? Right now, it's so important for us to take to heart the valuable message of this wonderful film. There's a reason that we love to turn it on when we are surrounded by those we love.

It's about the value of community, about caring for the livelihood of your neighbor. It's about making a place where everyone has an opportunity to thrive, so that we all can create a life of value. It's about embracing the spirit of compassion and finding the courage to stand up to the exploitation of authoritarianism. It's truly a movie about cherishing the value of democracy, the very heart of what we believe to be the American experience.

Unfortunately, as we look around today, our American culture doesn't seem to reflect this lofty human ideal. Instead it looks a lot more like the world Henry F. Potter built, the world as it was without George in it. Too many of us are suffering. There's an abundance of misery. That's because we have allowed the negative influences of greed, anger and intolerance to control the outcome. By rejecting the fundamental tenet that all lives are sacred, we have created this crazy place. And by remaining ignorant to the power of our own thoughts and deeds, we continue to embody the pain of the world.

But the most sublime message of  "It's a Wonderful Life" is the simple truth that each of us has tremendous power. It only takes one person to create incredible change in the world. The true spirit of democracy is not something that is given to us by the leaders of our country. The beauty of a democratic society lies in the heart of the people, when they embody that spirit within their lives. When each and every one of us takes this message to heart, only then will our communities be places of joy and appreciation. Our families, our neighbors, our coworkers are all affected by the causes we make. So what kind of choices do we want to make? What kind of life do we want to live?

Like George Bailey, each of us has an angel that is here to help us. I know that it may sound like a cliche but it's true. The angel is inside of us, in our hearts. But there's also a demon in there and both of these aspects of our nature has the same potential. What really matters is which of them are we going to feed? Our thoughts, our words and the actions that we take are the fuel that empowers them. We must ask ourselves, "Who do we serve? Angel or demon?" No one else can answer that question for us. We must do it, every day, in every moment. When we take this responsibility as our own, then we have the power to shape the world around us.

There is only one reason that America is great. It's not because we have the biggest economy or the biggest military or the best marketing team. It is only because this country was founded on the ideals of democracy, a philosophy based on equality that recognizes the inherent value in each and every life. Regardless of gender, or the tone of one's skin, or how we pray, or where we came from, or how we were raised, we all have an opportunity to participate in the process of developing our lives and our communities. An ocean is vast only because it accepts all rivers that flow into it, never discriminating. That is the American dream. George Bailey embodies those values and that's why we love him so much.

Let's take a moment and consider how we are living our lives. Stop looking at the spectacle that is "out there" and ask yourself, "What am I doing? How am I participating?" Do you support those who are only interested in helping out themselves? Who are greedy and hateful? Who are trying to divide people so that we no longer see another person's humanity? There are a great many of these type of people out there and they are trying to influence you. It's not that hard to spot them. They may be people in power, perhaps even running for president, people like Henry F. Potter. Or they may be someone close to you, a friend or family member  who has become deluded to the sacred value of all life, the very meaning of our American democracy. I implore you to reject their agenda. It is the very force that has created all of the suffering we are seeing in our country today. It is the destruction of our way of life.

Instead, why don't we embrace the George Baileys of the world? They're out there, working hard for everyone. They understand the fundamental truth that when you light the way for another, then you can see the path, as well. Or, even better, let's be George Bailey. Let's shape our Bedford Falls, our own communities, wherever they may be. Let's be the change that we wish to see. We have the power. We can become a great beacon for the world and when America shines that wonderful light of democracy, then it, too, shall no longer remain blind.

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