Room For Fear

You don’t need me to tell you that the new Batman movie, Dark Knight Rises, is good. Really good. How many stars you got? That’s how many I’ll give it. And I’m also not really interested in adding to all the general commentary out there about the bizarre and terrifying attack at the opening night showing in Colorado. There are plenty of thoughtful people out there who’ve already tackled that issue.

I will say only these things about the film itself. One: I was so surprised to learn that Bane was played by Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception, Charles Bronson in Bronson and Mad Max himself in the upcoming reloaded Mad Max). Would have thought him too pretty, but he did an excellent job. Two: Catwoman… oh I’m so sorry, that should be Selina… was awesome and I want those shoes! Three: Burn Gorman (Owen from Torchwood) gives me the absolute creeps. Four: Cameo appearance by Will Estes who plays Jamie Reagan in Blue Bloods was really cool. And, finally, Five:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be a fine Robin someday. And oh by the way, never thought I’d say this but he is Fine!

Ok, that’s done.

One of the two most interesting things about Batman is the concept and use of fear. The other interesting thing is anger/vengeance but that’s for another time. Facing fear, using fear, taming fear. In Batman Begins, there is a very powerful scene where Bruce Wayne faces his life-long fear of bats as they swarm around him. At first, he cowers and then he rises to face the fear.

Ra’s Al Ghul speaks of basking in the fear of other men and using fear as a weapon. Scarecrow clearly uses fear as a weapon through drug induced terror and even his name is meant to evoke fear. In The Dark Knight, fear comes again in the form of chaos. The uncontrollable wild card. The Joker whose weapon of choice is, beyond gasoline and dynamite because they are cheap, fear. Terror.

Now we have The Dark Knight Rises which also addresses fear. Lots of different fears. Fear of dying. Fear of living. Fear of facing the choices we make when we believe we’re choosing a lesser evil. Fear of watching those we love suffer. In no small way does Batman seem to be without fear. Or is he? I am not certain, but there was a very interesting exchange between two characters about his fear or lack thereof. I’ll not describe too much just in case there’s someone out there who hasn’t seen the movie. Here’s the exchange, courtesy of IMDB:

Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.

I’ve always loved the stories where the hero faces his or her fear head on and conquers it. Stares it down by force of will and transforms themselves into a powerful and fearless person. I find that admirable. One of my favorite children’s stories is Where the Wild Things Are primarily because Max uses that special magic of staring into the eyes of the monsters without blinking. In my office I have a sign hanging in a place only I can see from my desk that says There Is No Room For Fear Here.

However, I’m beginning to rethink that just a bit. In the book Game of Thrones, a boy asks his father, “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” and his father replies, “That is the only time a man can be brave.” My rethinking is not that facing fears isn’t a good idea; I truly believe it is, but I have always thought the goal was to get rid of fear. The point was to be without fear. To be fearless. But now, I’m not so sure. Fear can motivate us to cower in a corner or do amazing and courageous things. It can be the impetus for running away or self-sacrificing acts. Fear can even mark the gateway to truly significant things in our lives. Fear is a hallmark of crossroads. If we do not know how to fear, if we have no fear, how do we know what is valuable, what is meaningful, what is precious to us?

Perhaps the better goal is not to try to rid life of fear but to meet fear well. I doubt that we need to go searching for fear because it often finds us without any searching on our part, but rather than striving to live fearlessly, the admirable thing may be in how we meet it when it finds us.

In the scene quoted above, Bruce is attempting to escape a virtually inescapable prison. [minor spoiler ahead] Repeatedly, he climbs up the walls to the sunlight above just as so many before him have done and, just as they have done, he misses a significant leap over and over. It is the safety rope that keeps him from making the ledge. The thing keeping him safe from crashing to his death far below was the very thing keeping him from leaping far enough to escape. But this was something more than facing a fear, it was using his own fear to escape. It was not using the fear of others as a weapon but using his own fear in order to find a way to live. He was not without fear but the way in which he met and used his own fear is what freed him.

It is very easy to go from staring down fear to closing eyes to fear. Sometimes, we may think we are fearless when in fact we have simply managed to avoid the fearful things. We build safe lives where we believe we have no fear but could it simply be because we have not allowed space for anything risky enough to be fearful? It is quite possible that this kind of fearless life is a prison we must escape and do so without a safety rope. Because there is no room for fear here.

Drive: An Overdue Review….sort of

Some time ago, I saw the movie Drive with a long-time movie friend of mine in Charlotte. At the time, I thought about writing a review. Even started a post about it and then ended up deleting it. [Note: there may be spoilers here–I’m not certain I can write about it without some, so be warned.]

I had mixed feelings about it and wasn’t exactly sure I liked it. I don’t care for Ryan Gosling (Crazy Stupid Love, Blue Valentine and [wretch] The Notebook) who plays the lead mostly because I always think of a tiny little baby Aflack every time I see his name. Carrie Mulligan (Brothers and upcoming next year The Great Gatsby)is a pretty girl but I know next to nothing about her acting really. But I thought, hey a movie about a get-away driver sounds cool to me. I love car movies.

And I do. Ok, I know that’s highly unsophisticated of me but it is the truth. Give me a good action movie with some powerful muscle cars and good chase scenes and I’m pretty happy.

This is not a chase movie. Yeah, there’s a chase or two but it’s not what you think. This is not a car movie. Yeah, there’s more than a few scenes involving cars but they are not really even significant set pieces.

Basic outline is this: Gosling’s stoic and nearly non-verbal character (whose name I do not think we ever learn) is a stunt driver, mechanic and get-away driver who gets involved in some way or another with his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan) whose husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac-Robin Hood, Agora, Body of Lies) is released from prison. Gosling ends up helping Standard for a cacophony of unspoken reasons, landing him in a huge mess.

The heavies are Ron Pearlman (Hellboy, Sons of Anarchy) and Albert Brooks. Yes, I said Albert Brooks as a heavy. A somewhat congenial heavy that doesn’t scare the hell out of you like Ron Pearlman does, but a bad guy all the same.

[Confession: Pearlman scares me. Bad. Like, if I met him in a dark alley (that I wouldn’t go down in the first place) I think I’d just die of fright. Don’t know why, but he does.]

Driver is a stoic character. Silent, almost utterly so. I think he speaks a dozen lines in the whole movie. But his presence leaves an indelible mark. Gosling is almost ethereally beautiful and contrasted against this character, it left an impression I will long remember. His white satin jacket with a gold embroidered scorpion on the back seems like a dated wardrobe piece at first but it foreshadows something beyond what seems like still waters.

Dialog is important to me as a movie watcher, as is conversation in real life, but the relationship that Driver and Irene develop is communicated largely by lingering shots that make you feel almost like you want to turn away–as though you are spying on two people’s vulnerable emotional exchange and you shouldn’t see it. Driver’s relationship with Irene’s son is more than touching. The film is not too heavy handed here either, just giving images and scenes of moments he and the boy share including more than one where the child is wrapped in Driver’s scorpion jacket.

When Standard is released and his indebtedness to various bad guys, endangering both Irene and the child, is revealed, Driver decides to help him. The reasons are never spelled out. Maybe to protect Irene, protect the boy, protect them both. Maybe Driver is a good guy. Maybe he is a hero. The truth is, this is one of those parts of the movie I truly like. It reminded me of the movie After The Wedding. Human relationships cannot always be boiled down to single motivations for actions. Sometimes, we do things that do not seem like what we “ought” to do or what “most people” would do. Real life is more complicated than that. Humans are more complicated than that.

And then everything turns horribly violent. I mean horribly, kick a guy to death with your boots beat a man to death with a hammer in a fevered rage kind of violent. Scorpion violent.

Two incredibly beautiful and horrible images stick with me. One, a shot of Gosling’s angelic face splattered with blood as he gasps air to retain control after he kills various people in a hotel room. Two, a scene in an elevator with Driver and Irene. They enter the elevator. Driver recognizes a man who has come to kill…well… probably all of them. In one graceful move he reaches behind him, moves Irene into the corner of the elevator, turns around and kisses her. It is the only time they kiss in the film. It is one of those time-outside-of-time moments that for just a second you forget that the bad guy is in the elevator or that something has to be done about him. And then Driver releases her. He turns, with the same graceful motion, to face the bad guy and proceeds to beat him to death. And, by beat him to death, I mean I could not watch it and even the guy with me said “oooh!” at one point.

In the end, what happens to Driver and Irene and the boy? Well, I can’t tell you everything! But it did not end picture perfect. But not necessarily tragically either, for them anyway.

The memorable thing about the film for me was the horrific violence and beautiful tenderness mixed up together, both unapologetically. Driver’s tenderness with the boy and silent vulnerability with Irene are portrayed unashamedly as is his lightning switch to unreserved violence. This is a film I recommend seeing. It is a good story, good acting, good filming, interesting music. But it is not a film I think most people will have a single emotion about. I love it, but I also recoil from it. I am drawn to its tenderness and its far more realistic portrayal of the complexity of relationships even with minimal dialog and hypnotized by the intensity of its characters.

See it. You will not regret it.

Green Lantern

Saw Green Lantern tonight. It was pretty good. I have only a cursory knowledge of the character and Green Lantern universe, so if there were inconsistencies, which there always are, I wasn’t aware of them. Ryan Reynolds (The Proposal, Chaos Theory, Van Wilder, Definitely Maybe and the upcoming Deadpool!) did just fine. He’s pretty easy to look at but sometimes his snarky humor, which seems to be a part of every character I’ve seen him play, can grate on the nerves. However, this worked to his advantage in the role of Hal Jordan, though perhaps not as well as it may suit Deadpool in 2014. I’m not a fan of Blake Lively (The Town, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) but she did ok as the female lead. Kept trying to figure out who Sinestro was and finally realized it was Mark Strong (Babylon AD, RocknRolla, Young Victoria, Sherlock Holms, Kick-Ass, Robin Hood, The Eagle).

The story is this: a screw up guy who’s been gifted with all kinds of talent but no real stick-to-it-ness is chosen by ‘the ring’ to be the next Green Lantern and to be in a fighting force of Green Lanterns that act sort of like policemen patrolling their little corner of the universe. Trouble ensues. He tries to reject this calling—the ring made the wrong choice!—but it becomes obvious that, even though he doubts himself, his being chosen was no mistake. [spoiler ahead—in case you don’t already know the outcome] He over comes his shortcomings, integrates some of his tragic flaw into the new person and overcomes the villain. Says goodbye-for-now to the girl and goes off to fight evil wherever it may be.

There weren’t a good deal of memorable scenes. There was a collective sound of recognition in the theater when one of the other Green Lanterns who had come to train Hal spoke with the unmistakable and impressive voice of Michael Clarke Duncan (Green Mile, Spider Man, Planet of the Apes, The Scorpion King). I was surprised at the voice of Jeffrey Rush (Shine, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shakespeare In Love, and so many more I’m not bothering to list!) as the voice of another of the Lanterns sent to introduce Hal to his new status, but it was a good fit with the character. ‘We’re going to fly now,’ he tells Hal, almost like he’s telling a child that it is naptime.

I think the reason stories like this work is because the story is about us. I love the superhero genre, as I’ve said before. There are several approaches to this kind of character that fulfill a need in the viewer/reader. This particular approach is one with which I connect pretty well. It’s the Who Me?/ It’s Me!/ Not Me!/ Oh, Maybe It Is Me! kind of story. Anyone who has struggled with who they are supposed to be in life can connect with this. Anyone who has felt like they were too much of a screw up to get it right when it counts can relate. Anyone who has been afraid of what might happen can relate.

There are times I screw up. A lot of times, actually. And sometimes I’m afraid of screwing up, of things going wrong, of not being who I need to be.  I needed….I think sometimes we all need….to hear a story about someone who makes stupid mistakes just like we do and still manages to do the right thing. About feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Super hero stories are either about God or about us. This one was about us; about who  we are and who we have the potential to be. Screw ups, fears and all.

Will it win an Academy Award? Nope. It isn’t The English Patient, that’s for sure. But I don’t think they were going for that and as far as I’m concerned, it was just fine. It was the story I needed to hear right now. It is worth seeing.

X-Men Is First Class

X-Men: First Class

I finally got to see the new X-Men installment. Originally, I’d planned to see it first day of its release but that didn’t happen. That’s fine, really. I much prefer seeing most movies in a less than full theater so that I can feel sucked into the experience.  There are some exceptions and those are the times when the feel of the other audience members is part of the show itself. Of course, I can’t think of any of those at the moment, but it doesn’t matter because this wasn’t one of those movies anyway.

X-Men. I love comics, graphic novels and whatever else you want to call them. And really, I just love the super-hero genre in general, be that in still or moving images or the written word. I think it is the contemporary version of the classic Hero’s Journey and I doubt I am the first one to make note of this, either. For my generation, and perhaps younger, ‘hero’ doesn’t have the same feel as ‘super-hero’. Perhaps it is because we want our cookies to be super deluxe flavor burst packed with six different flavors of chips and our soft drinks to be ultra mega taste sensation performance enhanced thirst quenching machines and that kind of world won’t be satisfied with anything less than a SUPER hero. Whatever the reason, I am glad of it.

I know that there are always a lot of complaints about the differences between a film and the original story and the X-Men series is no different. However, the X-Men universe is so large and has so many rabbit-trail diversions in it that it would be difficult for anyone to make movies that were completely faithful in every detail. On the whole, while there are differences and shifts here and there, I believe the spirit of the X-Men mythology has remained intact throughout the films. This is no exception.

 

The choice of James McAvoy for the role of Charles Xavier was a fine one indeed. His speech is proper but not posh; he’s attractive but not so much as to be unbelievable. So was Michael Fassbender for Erik Lehnsherr. You really hurt for him and I have great sympathy for his vengeful crusade. The friendship between the two is realistic and you totally buy into their mutual pain at its dissolving. And I am fully convinced you can’t get a better villain than Kevin Bacon! He’s

……………………………………………..

……So right in the middle of writing this review, the power went off yesterday in the midst of a terrible storm. This is where the last ‘save’ ended. I do not remember what else I’d written but I am certain it was absolutely FABULOUS with the kind of life altering prose that will emblazon itself on your consciousness forever.

Or not.

Either way, the one last thing I have to say is this: when they are trying to sneak inside by hiding in the back of the truck and get stopped at the road block, Charles puts his hand to his temple and when the guys with guns open the back of the truck….. it appears empty to them because of Charles’ mind control……all I could think was, “these are not the droids we are looking for.”

If you haven’t seen it, see it!

Salt

Saw the movie Salt yesterday with some friends. I liked it–it actually surprised me a bit with a couple of twists in the plot. Not a lot, but a bit, which is saying something. The incomparable Angelina Jolie–there really isn’t anyone like her in the film industry–is a spy or not a spy or something. You’ll have to see it to figure it out. The movie is characterized by good fight scenes, some quite handy fire arms usage and even a few moderate explosives along with hair color changes and one disguise a la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. The hairstyle and I’m-leveling-my-eyes-at-you-to-intimidate-you stare given by Jolie’s character reminded me of Mila Jovovich in Ultraviolet. The story is a sort of Cold War Revival with sleeper cell Russian terrorists. The concept is a bit unsettling not to mention that terrorism is, after all, the new Freddie Kruger of the movie industry. 

Jolie impresses me because she is not afraid to look ugly in a film when the story calls for it. A scene early on has her beat up badly, one eye swollen shut altogether. I believe that takes confidence for someone whose vocation is largely dependent upon their physical beauty to be willing to be seen in a far less than beautiful way. I am also, inexplicably, fond of Liev Schreiber (Sphere, Kate and Leopold, The Painted Veil, Repo Men.  X Men: Wolverine) and enjoyed his performance in this film, too.

Now, here’s my one problem with this movie. This is not a superhero, sci-fi movie (love those!) so the characters in the film are not suppose to be super-human in some way. Highly trained, expert, etc of course, but nothing related to super powers. So, why do we have Jolie doing far more than any other woman of her size and strength could even dream of doing? Yeah, I know, it’s fiction. But here’s the thing: male action movie actors most often look like the could do the things their characters do, so why don’t females? They don’t necessarily have to be Marion Jones, Mia Hamm or Jackie Joyner Kersee to be believable (though it wouldn’t hurt), but Jolie looks like her rail thin arms and legs could just be snapped in two with one of those hard kicks she gives. Women like Angela Bassett or Charlize Theron are far more convincing in these kinds of roles because they do not appear to be so physically fragile on screen. Psychologically and emotionally fragile is far from the impression that Angelina Jolie gives, but physically she does not have a presence that makes a number of the things she does believable.

All in all, a good Summer movie to see especially if you like action movies with a bit more complexity to them.

[I am proud of myself for not saying it was not as good as Inception, since everyone else seems to be saying that. It’s an unfair comparison–they are totally different kinds of movies]