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Defecation - The Movie
"Defecation" otherwise known in the vernacular as "sh*tting." It's something that we all do, and that's about as comprehensive a "we" as you can get, going beyond mammals, to most every order of fauna that we know of. Biologically, that which we need to live is always enmeshed in other substances that during its digestion is eventually eliminated by some form of "excrement." As humans form societies, and then strata among them, this process is usually something to be hidden, both in act and acknowledgment in polite society. One "goes to the bathroom," without any further details of why, and what is hoped to be achieved in this place. Potty Humor is probably the earliest genre among children, as they have learned about this early taboo, and how breaching it can get a reaction of some kind. It's cutting edge stuff among two year olds.
I remember a lecture years go, where the speaker for some reason described the rectum as "the most intelligent sphincter that we have." She explained that it has the ability to determine whether to release gas, liquid or solid, and can do so selectively. Wow, just visualizing what she was saying, and realizing that she was right, yet the street term for this brilliant organ has became a "fighting word" epithet. Thinking about this amazing work of evolution - or very intelligent design-- makes me smile to this day. (This site has both a layman's and profession version of the rectal-anus organs so I won't continue along this vein) This is about a movie, made in India, that has become a world wide hit, which is very much about a life-long problem of the father of the eponymous character, Piku. You see, the father, a lively outgoing character has been had a life long struggle for what to him is close to nirvana, the perfect "motion" that process that most of us do unconsciously, taking a relaxed and satisfying sh*t.
The film is not shy about dealing with his problem, as it is the central motif, that I can say without fear of contradiction, has never been so much the focus of a film ever before, in any language or culture. My wife and I watched it at home streaming from Netflix, and very quickly realized this was exceptional, in the story line, the dialogue and the brilliant acting -- spoken in Bengali and English, bi-lingual as were the main characters. I don't use the word "comedy" as that implies this was written for laughs, rather than that the amusement was part of the unfolding of events.
I write this for a rather personal reason, one that also gives a flavor of this amazing film. As I was watching it, both of us enjoying it immensely, I was getting tired of the old man's problem, how he seemed to always be thinking about his bowel movements, the exact position of posture during the act that had been modernized with the adoption of western commodes among their strata. I wasn't shocked, or offended, but somehow it bothered me.
When the film ended we gave it our five stars, and it was time to go to bed. This morning was a regular day, waking early reading the paper, catching up with email and then breakfast. I had left time to do what I had to do before driving to the tennis courts, but there was a delay, one that I hadn't anticipated. Dear reader, indulge me now, since this gets personal. I had been blessed for my entire life with not having issues such as Piku's dad had. I would sit down, maybe reading a paper, and then with the lack of appreciation that we all have when our body is working, I would have achieved the goal, and flushed away the evidence.
But not today.
I realized that the process was not working. And worse, there was no connection between my will to make this work and that organ, that rectum-anus complex that must sense and then coordinate a muscular system that rids the waste of our sustenance. Now, since at least the last several thousand times that I evacuated, this has not been a problem; so it's fair to say that based on stochastic statistical analysis I can objectively conclude it was the discomfort I felt in watching this film that, although unconsciously, was the cause of my problem. It had made me just aware enough of this organ to interfere with the unconscious process, that once thought about, impedes this coordination of muscles of this most vilified organ of excretion.
I tell this story, as part of a review of this film, one that has garnered praise around the world without my help. It is about film, cinema and maybe the broader effort of the expressive arts. What can be conveyed as entertainment, at its best, touches on the parts of us that we are unaware of. Maybe it's our need for affection, for mutual caring that is shown under circumstances that connect on a certain wavelength. So, in this film it was that Pika's dad was so real, so human, that I internalized his distress and actually felt it. It never went to the cognitive parts of my brain, but directly to the autonomic system controlling my anal sphincter.
Not to dismiss the delightful realism of the other aspects of the movie, maybe it was the creators deciding to build a plot around this one mans un-achievable desire that provides a metaphor of much of art. This time, for me, it was a temporary dysfunction of something that must be unconscious to work as intended. How much of the richness of life is what we can only feel, a natural part of living that we are better not to ponder?
The Martian (2015)
Effective Institutional Advertising for NASA
As cinematic entertainment of sci-fi genre rated a six. But this will be an different review of the film, one from a sociological, historical angle. There are a number of reviews that explore the scientific plausibility of the film contrasted with the artistic license that is a necessary part of any futuristic fiction. When the Matt Damian character, Mark Watney, got into real trouble, beyond being stuck in a planet with no water, oxygen or contact with other humans, his combative words were, ""I'm going to have to science the sh-t out of this," There have been articles on how NASA gave copious support to the filmmakers that was described as promoting future appropriation for Mars exploration, which is similar to how the Pentagon supports films such as "Top Gun" to turn aerial warfare into a thrilling adventure. There is no way to know how films that glorify the joy of war affected the public's acceptance of our invasion of Iraq, and still in spite of all evidence the the contrary, instills a certainty that this war was, as expressed by Jeb Bush, "a good deal." The creation of a permanent facility on Mars would cost in the many trillions of dollars, something that must evaluated in terms of other needs that would not have this funding. The film was shot in the Jordanian desert, which right now is not habitable. For a tiny fraction of the cost of our Mars colony, it could be a bountiful land that could be the home of those now living in the virtual prison of the Gaza strip, at one stroke ending the perpetual conflict precipitated by placing Israel in the midst of a different ethnic group.
The film was like the series "Friends" except their shared apartment wasn't in Manhattan but a a space ship and Martian habitat. It was fun to watch, but also depressing. Marketing courses teach about "Institutional Advertising" that insidiously sells an idea rather than a specific product. "Cisco" systems paid the production company for one in the form of their logo in the foreground of the 3D image for several seconds that they figure will sway future purchasing agents towards their industrial routers.
I don't think any group of space related companies sponsored this film, but the optimism had the effect of fomenting a mass movement, something best done when opposing ideas are silenced. As a postscript, an older Watney lectures astronaut trainees on how when they get into trouble in space, not to get depressed but start to get to work, to "science" out the problem and then they will survive. Not mentioned are the fourteen people of our two Space Shuttles, who certainly were aware that they were in such trouble, but all the "sciencing" in the world could not have prevented their fate. Such is the difference between realty and fantasy.
Colonizing Mars will mean diverting resources to address the monumental challenges on planet earth, where the outcome of this outpost is sill in question.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
A lens to view our changes in gender identity
Humor, beyond the pure pleasure of laughter, can provide insights into the rules, norms and taboos of the times that by showing the distortion that provides release. At the time this was made, it was focused on a bygone era of murderous mobsters and their living sex toys.
Not only were gender roles defined, there were to the degree that the issue hadn't even been raised, neither in the time of depiction 1929 or three decades later when the film was made. The fun was that all it took for men to gambol with the chicks was their putting on dresses and wigs, and raising their voice an octave.
The DVD shows the complete film with commentary by the son of billy Wilder's co-writer, Babaloo Mandell along with Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis, describing more than the technical aspects Most touching were how Marilyn Monroe resonated to the fictional character. Curtis, without any bravado, told of how his on stage scene when he convinced her that he was impotent, and with tenderness and passion she "cured" him, echoed their actual love affair previously.
We also see the genius of writer director Billy Wilder at work in a way that can't be described outside of such a film as this where his interpersonal and literary talents were at play. While this is appropriately in the genre of comedy, it is really so much more. It is a love story, and a tale of the tragedy of the real Norma Jeane that was never far away from the actress. Sure, at times the pain of her early life (see Wikipedia) broke through to the detriment of efficiency of the filming. But so what? The film on one level provided laughter, but on another insight into the human condition.
It is also a benchmark of sexual stereotypes where the setup for that final memorial line, the universal absurdity of the disclosure that the object of sexual desire would not make a suitable wife because, "I'm a guy." This was a world where women could roll in bed together without any thought of sexuality between them, and the joke was there were two who were pretending, only playing a role, performing a part.
How far the world has come, a truth that must be acknowledged whether pleased or disturbed by the revolution. And the coda, "Nobody's Perfect" takes on a more profound irony behind the laughter.
Hannah Arendt (2012)
There are momentous events that shape our world, with individuals, Hitler, Napoleon, Marx -- who take the stuff of their birth world and shape it into something different. Those who capture forces and marshal them for revolutions, are both hated and loved, saviors and monsters -- and the winners write the history.
True Philosophers transcend this. They remove themselves from those who hate and admire such transforming figures, and by doing so risk becoming alienated from their own group. Thus is the case of Hannah Arendt in the period of this film. As a student she had a love affair with Heidegger, one of the great philosophers of the early 20th century - who as a human being joined the Nazis.
Arendt, being a Jew, in a covering the trial of Adolf Eichman, became the thinker, the philosopher, while those survivors of the Holocaust were in pain over their loss, and in no mood to intellectualize the perpetrators.
Although I lived only miles from Arendt at the time of this film, I was far removed from the academic culture described, and now more than a half century later, look back with a top of nostalgia and remorse. I knew some who survived the death camps, and certainly could identify with those who reviled Arendt for not loathing Eichman.
Yet these are the challenges of today. We have child terrorists such as one who just killed nine people in a black church our of the same inculcated hatred as the Nazis towards Jews. Arendt's thinking is valuable, and needed since the disease of hatred of outsiders does not seem to be fading, but rather is a constant recurrence of humanity.
Incisive and Balanced
I watched this on Link TV, a liberal cable channel specializing in those such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, so I expected it to be scathing. It certainly stripped away many illusions, but while strongly critical the results of trickle down, and the limits of his grasp of complexity of issues; it defined his positions fairly.
He did evolve from a New Deal Democrat, leading his Actors Union against management, but also was viscerally opposed to global Marxism, and the social revolution of the 1960s.
The insights of Morris, his official biographer for almost a decade, along with Cannon who wrote several biographies including when he was Governor, provide special scholarly insight.
The current Republican conservatives forget that he pass what was an actual amnesty for illegal-undocumented immigrants, and actually increased both government spending and deficits.
It could be that his hawkish policies early on allowed him more latitude to connect with someone eager to wind down the cold war, Michel Gorbechev. History doesn't allow for controlled experiments so we can't re-run events with a different leader at the helm.
I commend this documentary for those who lived through the era, but events have become hazy.
Island at War (2004)
A Dramatization True to Events
We watched this over three nights on Netflix in the U.S., knowing little about the actual history of the times portrayed. We went on Wikipedia to read up to the invasion to see whether the specifics, The Germans bombed the island since they were never told that England had withdrawn all forces, which was a de-facto surrender given they were the island's military.
We only read about the occupation after seeing the complete series, and learned that the depiction of the one Jewish women, was an accurate dramatization of how this group was treated - laws imposed reluctantly and not enforced etc.
There is a scene when the one one British spy was captured, and the German commandant said he must be executed to show the people that they mean business. In a similar light, that character had to be shown to be executed to represent the small number but reality of certain residents being killed for overt opposition.
This series seems to have captured the complex history of those five years with very little liberties taken. The writers deserve special praise for conveying reality with such deft story telling.
The Politician's Husband (2013)
Gratuitous Sexual Violence
I love political drama. The West Wing was absorbing, and Borgen, the brutally realistic depiction of the first woman P.M of Denmark, including the breakup of their marriage and rather genuine depiction of lust was brilliant.
This series that we watched in one sitting on Netflix, did have some structure of political reality, yet there was a single scene, one of sexuality as assaultive hatred, of the husband brutalizing his wife, that certainly was "realistic." Yet, there was no warning, nor was there any realism that was consistent with their status and relationship.
It was just thrown in to attract a certain audience who considers this as being edgy I write this review to warn others that this is not an "adult" themed film, but excess in the form of realism. I'm no prude, but this scene was sickening and destroyed the film for myself and my wife.
From the man we understand the historical figure
Napoleon Bonaparte's achievements for the non historians are so intertwined with the revolutionary period of his life, his military victories, his being both a populist leader and then a king, that it's difficult to form a coherent understanding of the individual. This documentary starts with the infant who as a child was thrown into a world not only of other students who were of a different class, the aristocracy, but of a different country, France.
Others would have wilted, but Napoleon had the brilliance, energy and drive for these impediments to be a springboard for transcendence. And if the old saw, "timing is everything," needs validation, his life is the ultimate example. This man was a child when the "ancient regime" had run its course, and the unwashed masses had been exposed to ideas that were to be encapsuled in "Liberte, Egalite et Fraternite" rather than subservience to the exalted power of royalty.
Napoleon managed to be educated and spend his earliest years demonstrating his intuitive military skills, away from the "terror" when waves of beheading ebbed and flowed with the vagaries of hope, power and reaction. This film manages to get inside the head of this man, understand his limits that became his strengths, his sexual desires that sustained him even when he was across the world in his conquests.
We learn about a human being, whose particular megalomania was exactly what a country, a world in the chaos of profound structural revolution needed. So, the paradox of a populist revolutionary who crowns himself Emperor conveys the challenge of all political systems. Ideals and myths (as he acknowledged religious belief being a useful one for the masses) only go so far, as full equality negates the authority that is needed for order. The French Revolution is the ultimate cost of a failed state, of chaos, the same condition that we see in 2015 in the middle East under the Islamic Caliphate.
So, the contradictions of Napoleon Bonaparte as so brilliantly delineated in this documentary, graphically illustrate political truths that the world dare not lose sight of. Few commercial endeavors have this potential value.
The Assets (2014)
Ninth Episode Makes this a Unique Dramatizaton
Not a single article or description of the ninth episode of this series, perhaps because it was never aired on T.V, and is only on Netflix. It is mostly interviews with the actual persons depicted in the series: Sandy Grimes, her husband, Jean,among others, responding to off camera questioner. Then there are extensive segments of Ames being interviewed by Ted Koppel.
This final segment is the key to the entire series, as it shows just how accurate the dramatization was. Once they had the smoking gun from the final Russian source and home recordings Ame's conversations with his wife, without knowing that the final episode would be a documentary of the series, I thought it would be created fluff, perhaps an extended trial and marriage issues. I had thought that many scenes were the writers taking liberties, as they seemed so implausible to me, but that last episode confirmed that the dramatization right up to the personalities of the main characters were spot on.
There was the touching scene of the the Soviet General that we knew had been betrayed by Ames with his granddaughter, that I thought was such a flourish. In this final episode the actual now-grown woman showed up at the signing of the book this series was based on, "Circle of Treason." We learn that the General, unlike Ames, made his decision not for money, but out of belief that those who controlled the government were destroying his country.
This, along with the in depth interview of Ames raises profound issues of the fine line between bravery and treachery that is being asked this day about Ed Snowden - who some claim betrayed his country while others consider a rare patriot. The first eight episodes was a diverting drama, with the ninth it became a rare provocative event.