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.

Prometheus: A Tragedy

Yesterday I went to see the movie Prometheus with a friend. A multitude of spoilers follow.

Several people whose taste in movies I share and/or respect made note of this movie as really good. More than one said something like: you must see it! Riddley Scott, I like and sci-fi, I like so I thought it was a good bet. Additionally, this movie had Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theoron, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba in the cast, all of whom I like a great deal. However, the liking went not much further than that.

Rarely have I been so disappointed in a film. This is due largely to what I actually expected: decent acting at the minimum, a bit of good action and suspense, good story and some sort of interesting underlying theme. There was not much of that at all.

Noomi Rapace, the woman who played the original Lisabeth Salander in the 2009 tattoo/fire/hornet’s nest movies and is likely a pretty good actress, plays Elizabeth Shaw, a….. well…. I’m not certain they every clearly state if she’s an archaeologist or an anthropologist but she’s one of the two. Her companion, Charlie Holloway, is played by Logan Marshall-Green and is also some ambiguous professional in that genre. They seem to believe, after years of searching in ancient tombs and finding nearly identical cave paintings depicting small humans worshiping a tall human who is pointing to the same configuration of stars, that the tall person is an alien and we are being invited to visit them. It is never clear why this is an invitation and I will confess this is the point at which my frustration began. In other films like this, Rapace’s character would have been an irritating idealist in the crew, not the sole survivor and pioneer moving forward, and Marshall-Green’s character, or the minimal personality attributed to him, would have been that of a minor character killed fairly early on for his cocky attitude.

The film begins with a bird’s eye view of what appears to be an alien landscape; beautiful and on a massive scale. There is a very pale, human shaped person who consumes some sort of food, utterly decomposes in an instant, and tumbles over an unimaginably huge waterfall as his DNA is unzipped. Was this on earth or on the moon to which our ill-fated Prometheus ship is to travel? It is never clear. Why did this happen? Was it murder or suicide? It is never clear. What does this have to do with the price of tea on the other side of the world? The implication (albeit a tenuous one) later on is that somehow this is why we share DNA with the aliens but that’s about it. Is this character meant to be Prometheus? If so, I am not certain that I understand the mythology as well as I thought.

After two years of time in frozen stasis, the crew is awakened as they reach the inhabitable moon. Everyone is woken up and, apart from the two anthropologists(?),the commander of sorts Meredith Vickers (Theron), and the holographic oh-gee-we-never-thought-he-might-really-be-on-board image of the bizarre and poorly aged recluse, Peter Weyland (Pearce), no one seems to know why they are there. This was another ‘huh?’ part for me, but ok. Scientists get on board a spaceship, sleep for over two years and do so without the foggiest notion as to why or where they are going. Oh and by the way, it’s because there is some sort of ambiguous, unsubstantiated invitation issued by ancient aliens from countless years ago extended to ancient man that is now for us.

Of course, that’s not really why they are there. It’s so the old guy can find a way not to die, so that the robot can watch his maker die, so that the woman can find out who made us and why and so that the commander can watch her father die.

Now that IS a Greek tragedy.

Everyone dies in fairly predictable order by fairly predictable means. There is a whole lot of—what the hell do you think you’re doing??—moments that put even more holes in my ability to suspend reality enough to enjoy this story. Who decides it’s a good idea to wait out the (who saw this coming?) massive storm by bedding down for the night in a room full of goo-leaking capsules arranged congregation style in front of an ominous carved face? What archae/anthropologist worth their salt who has studied burial sites forever misses the fact that this is some sort of burial mound or the giant skull face looming on the mountain? Come on, really?

I love sci-fi, fantasy and fiction in general and suspension of reality is not typically something I struggle with when watching a movie, but good storytelling, regardless of genre or category, still contains believable and credible elements on the part of the characters so that we can connect with them. There were so many foolish and not in the real world actions by the characters, it was difficult to feel a connection to any of them.

So the aliens turn out to be bad guys that are trying to kill all humanity. Of course, I’m not certain how we got to that. Just because the things they came into contact with in this one place were toxic would not automatically mean that they were maniacal mass murderers, but ok. These are the highly rational scientists who decided to reanimate the severed head of one of the aliens so I guess it seems right and we’ll just go with it.

The one character I found compelling was the robot, David, played by Michael Fassbender. Imagine Data from Star Trek with ambiguous motives and far less transparent personality. An issue that was lightly touched upon several times related to the ‘why were we made?’ question which humanity has asked probably forever. It is addressed a little more directly with ‘why did we make you?’ in relation to David. It is said early on that David has no soul and no feelings, however, it seems that is a bit of an over statement. In an exchange between Holloway and David, the drunk and pseudo roguish -ologist tells the robot that he was likely made just because we could. A flash of expression on David’s face belies this emotionless existence and he responds by asking Holloway how it would feel if his maker told him the same thing. The robot completes the exchange by giving him a roofie of alien goo so that he will impregnate the infertile Rapace.

There is a bloody and far too long scene of Rapace performing her own c-section inside a surgery capsule and producing a squid-like baby that seemed to be an entirely too literal homage to Aliens. Thankfully, however, she seems to have super human strength and is able to not only escape her bizarre newborn after this self-surgery, actually walk down the hallway, return to the site to see the spaceship and the reanimation of the human like alien, run like hell to escape, save the decapitated David and go off on another adventure. She’s so plucky!

There is also an utterly disposable scene between the captain and Vickers related to casual sex that seems to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the story (such that it is). There isn’t even sex in the scene, it is just spoken about. This is a shame for several reasons, one of which is that I really think Elba is a good actor, not widely known, and he’s short changed by this role. He was the lead in the British miniseries ‘Luther’ and played Heimdall in ‘Thor’. A big presence on screen and a beautiful voice stuffed into a stereo type role. He and the other crew members are thinly written and when they heroically pilot the Prometheus into the launching alien vessel to save all humanity, we have little emotional connection with them to see it as the great act of self-sacrifice we could have seen.

A couple of times, there is a tip of the hat to faith issues. Holladay tells Rapace she can remove cross now that she’s met her maker and David removes that cross, claiming it is contaminated, before she is to give birth to the squidbaby. Rapace also has a palpable sense of relief when she gets the cross back from David’s decapitated body. There is also the lightly touched reoccurring theme of ‘who made us and why?’ throughout. There was so much impairing my ability to take the story seriously, I had a difficult time seeing the movie as taking these issues of origin, faith, purpose, identity and deity seriously. In truth, it seemed to be a thin veneer of such questions laminated haphazardly on top of a poorly told sci-fi story.

I think it is rather obvious that I cannot recommend this movie for your summer viewing pleasure.

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!

New Year

Happy New Year. No exclamation point. Just happy new year. It’s not that I am not excited about it. I’m just not feeling like shouting about it.  I will leave that to everyone else and perhaps I’ll feel more like shouting later.

New Year’s resolutions or plans or whatever for the upcoming year have always been a fun and at least partially productive activity for me. So, here goes:

1. Loose weight.  Yeah, I know, it’s cliche. I’ve tried putting it on the list with no result. I’ve tried leaving it off the list with no result. I’m back to trying it on the list again.

2. Read more. I read all the time. Books, magazines, blogs, websites, emails. All the time. It’s part of my job to read. But I miss fiction. Not just fiction but reading because I want to read. I received an autobiography by Tony Blair for Christmas that I really want to read right now….this very moment….while I’m typing.  So, resolution 2 is read more.

3. See more movies. Silly by some people’s standards but movies have always been a truly joyful part of my life. Over the past few years I have not been able to see as many mostly because I do not have as many people with which to see them. I shall persevere and see more this year.

4. Go to the gym. Yeah, I know, again. It could be related to item 1 but it’s actually not. I need to start going to the gym again or I’ll go crazy.

5. Blog more. I currently have four personal blogs and one church blog. I love them. They are a fantastic outlet for words and pictures. I love where I live and write about it here. I love to take pictures and post them at Mental Scrapbook. I love to make things and give them away and post about that at Random Act of Grace and I love to talk about God, the church and all kinds of stuff to which they relate and I post about them at Shepherdess Writes. I want to do more consistent writing, more book reviews and share more photography.

6. Make more stuff. This is perhaps the most fulfilling part of my life. I’m sure some psychologist would say it’s because I don’t have children. Ok. I don’t care, maybe it is. But I love it and I’ve felt better, healthier, less stressed and more creative the more I make. So that includes knitting, sewing, photography and mixed media projects.

7. Spend less time playing games on Facebook. I will not say ‘spend less time on Facebook’ because my dearest friends live all over the country and if I want to remain connected to them I need to do something like FB.  I am not good at making phone calls. I actually do not like the phone. But FB works. Just want to stay away from those time-sucking games. I would say spend less time watching TV but unlike a whole lot of people, I really watch very little.

8. Find a clock with more than 24 hours in it. Seriously, I’ll need to if I want to do more of these things.

9. See my life as a treasure. Wanting more than 24 hours in a day can be for one of two reasons: 1-poor time management and too much to do. 2-life is so good and full and purposeful that you just plain want more of it every single day.   I want it to be the latter.

10. Spend more time with people. I spend a lot of professional time with people but I don’t really spend personal time. It is ironic because very little of my life has hard boundary lines but this seems to be one of the areas in which I make some sort of bright line between personal and professional time so I feel the professional time tank is low and the personal time tank is too full. Out of balance. Like carrying two buckets of water when one is really heavy and one is really light. Need to share more from the heavy bucket.

Ok, it is a pretty lame, pretty ordinary set of resolutions. But you know what? I’m ok with that.  I’ve spent a lot of my life being unintentionally not so ordinary.  The truth is that I can’t save the world (even one relationship at a time), I can’t undo the past mistakes I’ve made, I can’t undo the things that have happened to me, can’t start a revolution or even stop the negative ideas of someone else. But I can do something about me. Here and now.

So I’m posting this, going over to someone’s house to drink Mimosas and this evening I’m opening that Tony Blair book. It’s a start.

Inception

For me, the very best movies are the ones that leave us speechless. Oh, we may try to say something meaningful or make some attempt to communicate the film’s impact, but if it is truly good, truly significant to us in some way, our words will fall short and seem but feeble stabs at sharing the experience. One such experience for me occurred several years ago upon seeing The English Patient. Ironically, I do not even like romantic movies. However, as with any moment like this, it was a perfect combination of events, people, life situation and the image/sound/story of the film that combined into some sort of indelible mark. Even now, years later, there are pieces of it that I cannot fully unpack and so can only describe it by saying that this film has become a kind of benchmark. This is not the only film that I can say is in this category. There are certainly others. I Am Legend is another, though more for life situation and story than for filmmaking excellence.

Yesterday a friend said to me “Go see Inception! Right now! This instant! Go” and since this is the person with whom I saw not only The English Patient but also several movies on my list of life’s great movies, I did indeed go to see Inception. It did not disappoint. Not even for a moment. It neither began how I expected, proceeded as I thought it would nor end how I anticipated. While using familiar tropes, it did so in a somewhat unfamiliar way. It was visually impressive, creative and made excellent use of sound, music, color and light. It was one of those films that seemed to somehow enter into one’s subconscious (and I am intentionally using this analogy here) and plant seeds of tension and anxiety at just the right depths to grow at the right moment. And even now, I am reaching for words to describe that which has, at least for the time being, left me speechless.

And so, since I want to say something about the movie but seem to be failing, I will instead say something about Leonardo DiCaprio. I have never been a fan. At least not in his Titanic period, that is for certain. However, I re-discovered him in The Departed. Older, meaner, scruffier and far and away better than I had remembered him to be. Then I saw Blood Diamond and it was then that I became convinced that he was no longer the squeal-producing pretty boy of the sinking ship but was, in fact, a real actor. I completely bought into his character in Blood Diamond, which was crucial to the success of that story. I decided to look back at some of his other work, starting with Gangs of New York which I had not till that point seen, and then moved forward. I was impressed and still am. The same was true for each of his roles and holds for Inception as well: watching his performance I was able to let go of the fact that it was an act, that it was Starring-Leonardo-DiCaprio-as-whoever, and instead experience the character he was creating. To enter into the dream that is the film and accept it as my reality for that moment. (See what I did there?) 

There are other good actors in this film as well. Ellen Page (Juno), Marion Cotillard (Public Enemies, Nine), Tom Hardy (Layercake, RocknRolla), Ken Watanabe (Last Samurai, Batman Begins, Memoirs of a Geisha), Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Dark Knight) all gave good quality performances. But I was greatly surprised by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom I had only seen in Ten Things I Hate About You and would never have picked him for this role and would have been So Wrong! He gave an excellent performance and was a good fit for the role.

I highly recommend Inception and will likely see it again soon.