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3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
A Most Non Violent, Righteous Year, 1 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I did not enjoy J.C. Chandor's film, "Margin Call".

It depicted the grubby actions of rich bankers, scuttling like cockroaches in the scullery, to protect their often ill-gotten gains from their own injudicious financing policies. Their very determination to protect their personal fortunes at all costs made them unsympathetic characters.

He has reworked the formula in "A Most Violent Year", by providing us with a moral, but by no means financially disinterested hero, with whom we can identify. The bankers are still an unreliable lot who should be avoided wherever possible, fulfilling that old definition as people who beg you to take their money when you don't need it, and demand it back when you do.

It is almost as if Chandor has reworked the film "Godfather II" It is almost as if he has reversed the roles of Al Pacino (Michael) and Diane Keaton (Kay). As if he has made Michael Corleone the moral one and his wife, Kay, the amoral one.

In "A Most Violent Year", self made heating oil supplier, Oscar Isaac (Abel Morales) manifests a lot of the Al Pacino mannerisms while rejecting the 'Corleone family" way of doing things.

His 'daughter of a New Jersey gangster' wife, Anna Morales (Jessica Chastain) sees no real problem with that mindset.

Oscar Isaac brings great screen presence to his portrayal of a man with a determination to succeed in business following a moral compass that justifies his faith in the way the capitalist system can be made to work.

But there are some intriguing paradoxes that raise questions about the ability of a just man to withstand the forces of corruption when running a business.

He refuses to allow his truck drivers to carry guns to act as a deterrent to the hijackers who are draining his resources. But it the actions of the driver who disobeys his directive that brings to light the 'injustice" of the actions of the 'justice system' that is failing ignominiously in its conduct of its duty to enforce justice. A public gun fight deprives the district attorney's slow and misdirected investigatory process of the anonymity that amounts to persecuting a man who is seeking to act in a just manner

He uses a gun (as a blunt instrument rather than a fire arm) when he comes face to face with the independent hijacker who has been preying on his drivers. In other words, he conforms to the need to use tempered brute force to combat brute force.

But to be fair, he has the self control to use restraint rather than violence to attain his goals. He presents the incriminating evidence to the business competitor who has been purchasing the oil hijacked from his trucks and threatens him with exposure to the judicial authorities if he does not repay him for the losses incurred

He uses his net working skills and access to the criminal underworld as a lender of last resort when faced with financial ruin

He refuses to accept the 'standard industry practice' way of doing business. But it the actions of a person who has been following those corrupt business practices, the very actions the judicial bureaucracy is investigating, that saves him from becoming a servant of the criminal underworld who have the money that is necessary to run a business when the banks withdraw their support

But director Chandor has created a character with whom we can celebrate the ultimate success of a righteous man when he finally triumphs over the forces of evil and stupidity that beset him. That makes for a satisfying, stimulating and rewarding cinematic experience.

And the added bonus is some continuing food for thought as to the way things happen in the real world. Maybe even the way in which sometimes, to quote from the redemption seeking hit man,Jules, in "Pulp Fiction""The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children....

14 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
The Water Diviner Discovers a Flaw in Australia's National Myth, 11 January 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Water Diviner", Russell Crowe's first attempt at directing a film, opened the day after Christmas and within a week, Australian cinema goers made it the biggest grossing Australian film for 2014. Money talks, and the critics are grudgingly acknowledging its success. (It was popular in Turkey too) But their praise is muted.For example…The Water Diviner is far from perfect… Its main failing is that it tries to be too many things …it feels like you've watched three or four different movies.

I beg to differ. To me it seemed like the film was propagating a very simple yet radical view of Australian history. It's one that I have been thinking about for some time. It is a view whose expression will mark one out as mad, bad and dangerous to know. Unless, of course, you can wrap it up in a rattling good yarn, as Crowe and his writers have succeeded in doing admirably.

So I will start by mentioning my maternal grandfather. He fought in the first World War, in Europe rather than Turkey, before being wounded, sent home and conceiving my mother before the armistice had been declared.

My mother said he, like so many of his fellow soldiers, refused to talk about his war experiences.

Albert Facey, a survivor of the Gallipoli expedition and author of "A Fortunate Life", a best selling memoir, was rather more forthcoming about his experiences. However, when talking about his fellow Australians who were not there, he said (287), "Some men who did not go got a rough time, but we never said anything to them because we thought they had some brains. I would have stayed behind if I had known"

My grandfather had a few of things in common with Albert Facey. They were both wounded in the first world war, they both had their first encounters with the girls they would marry in the tea rooms in Boans, Perth's biggest department store and both of them outlived their wives.

The film opens with the Turkish army, advancing against the armies that have invaded their country only to discover that they have retreated after a bloody war that has achieved nothing other than to hasten the already inevitable decline of the Ottoman Empire. The post war Greek incursions into Turkey to take chunks of its territory for themselves forms the backdrop to the film.

So why were the Australians invading a country that was no threat to them in 1915?

There is a disturbing answer to that question.

When Connor (Russell Crowe) intervenes in a fight between the film's charismatic love interest, Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) and her brother, she remonstrates with him, saying that Australians involve themselves in other peoples wars for no good reason. Connor does it again, taking the side of the Turkish commander whose actions led to the death of his sons, against the invading Greek armed forces.

There is a great deal of cant, masquerading as history, taught to Australian school children, about Australia becoming a nation of the shores of Gallipoli.

The real reason the Australians were there was an ill-founded belief that the military might of the British Empire had to be defended at all costs, because Australia's very existence depended on that remaining the case. During World War II, when it became clear that this was no longer the case, Australia found a new master to serve - the USA. The nonsensical and disastrous post war military adventures of the USA, have all been aided and abetted, small part, with Australian troops. Or as Ayshe said, Australians involving themselves in other peoples wars for no good reason

During World War II, the Australian prime minister turned back the boats that were transporting Australian soldiers at the whim of the British prime minister (who had been the architect of the Gallipoli landing) to some foreign theatre of war, and brought them back to thwart the previously unstoppable Japanese army's southward progress through New Guinea. That should have been the cause for national myth building and solemn remembrance. That should have been the genesis of a proud and militarily self reliant Australian nation.

Canberra Times editor at large, Jack Waterford, wrote about an Australian senior Defence Department bureaucrat seconded to work at the US Pentagon. He jokingly asked the Americans with whom he was working what they thought of Australia. After the platitudes such as "old friends, steady and reliable allies, close companions who have stood along side us in tough times, etc", he asked them what they really thought. There was a silence, then one of them said, "we think you are an easy lay".(26 July 2014)

That is the kind of relationship a pimp has with his whores.

I have been critical of the way in which the nation state of Israel has conducted itself since 1967, but it has to be admitted that they have developed a proud and militarily self reliant national mythology in a way that Australia has failed to do.

So, far from trying to be too many things, The Water Diviner, has made a bold statement about the craven lack of self reliance that has infected the Australian national spirit. And it has done that in a way that has had Australians flocking to the cinemas to enjoy a rattling good yarn. That's something of a coup for Crowe and his collaborators to have pulled off, if you give any credence to my take on film.

How to get the Boyz n the Hood to Increase the Peacke, 13 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Some films hang around at the back of your mind for days, like the aftermath of a bad dream, influencing your mood and giving you a feeling that all is not well, for no apparent reason.

John Singleton's" Boyz n the Hood" (1991) did that to me. If I could sum it up in one image, it would be that of a kid lowering the car window and pointing his gun at anything that caught his attention. It conjures up a darkness, a barbaric senselessness, an uncivilised malevolence that infects the spirit.

I was surprised at the difference between the two halves of the film when watching it again recently. The first seems to be infused with light. OK. Laurence Fishburne unleashes his gun on an intruder in his house the night he takes in his son. He has accepted the responsibility of caring for him at the request of his ex-wife, who wants to concentrate on finishing her masters degree in teaching and establishing her own career.

Fishburne's physical resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson always leads me to expect a "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers…" kind of tirade every time his bulky frame fills the screen. Instead we get the warm and cuddly velvet glove over the just as powerful, iron fist threatening presence. We saw that persona in Michael Apted's 1991 film, "Class Action", in which Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio produced a female version of the Samuel L. Jackson style of acting.

So, after violently defending the home he will share with his son, we see him him singing along with his favourite soft soul music song on the car radio and spending time fishing and passing on his philosophy of life. That's the first half of the film

The second is so much darker. Now the father is preaching to his son, his friend and interested bystanders on the need for African Americans to retain the identity they have given to their neighbourhoods and to resist the seductive offers by real estate agents bent on acquiring their houses with a view to gentrifying those areas.

The son (Tre ,played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his football champion childhood friend and neighbour (Ricky Baker, played by Morris Chestnut) are both determined to improve their prospects in life by means of getting a tertiary education. But then the dark forces of meaningless violence masquerading as a means to earn 'respect' impinge upon their quest to leave their troubled environment.

Paradoxically, it is the innocent, mild mannered Tre who sets the tragic events in motion, when he objects to being shouldered out of the way by an outsider at the local hangout. That action unleashes the forces of evil, revenge and vendetta. It is powerful stuff. Tre opts out of the savagery. Ricky and his delinquent brother are murdered.

At the conclusion of the film, Singleton places the words, "increase the peace" on the screen.

In the context of the film, that gesture is quite dramatic. But in the cold light of day - it is just words. How can anyone "increase the peace" in such an environment. And it is not just the 'drive by shooting' infested areas of inner city Los Angeles. Australians were sobered on 21 August 2013 by an event described by CNN as "A random act of violence has left a promising 23-year- old college baseball player dead, a family devastated and two countries half a world apart rattled. Christopher Lane, who was from Australia, was gunned down in Duncan, Oklahoma, while he was out jogging last week. The motive? Three teens who had nothing better to do, according to police."

That got me thinking about how Americans, with their fiercely protected rights to bear arms could "increase the peace'.

It brought to mind the concept of "hot spot policing". (New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani corrupted the initial concept and turned it into "zero tolerance policing"). Hot spot policing worked on the basis that some areas had effectively been turned into war zones. Violence reigned. So the authorities instituted a TEMPORARY version of "zero tolerance policing". Once order had been restored, and the forces of darkness had been moved on, the heavy policing of that locale ceases.

So what about the argument it is just shifting the problem elsewhere. It is not a problem. When the problem moves to a new location, a new "hot spot policing" area can be declared for the area to which they have moved, and the same processes can be instituted. Areas should only be declared to be hot spots for a defined time. The status should be temporary - not permanent.

So why not ban all weapons from such "hot spot policing" in public areas? All such weapons would be seized by the police and destroyed in a weekly public ceremony within seven days of seizure.

Such a policy should not need to an affront to members of the NRA. People, like Tre's father, who keep their guns at home for use against intruders would not be affected. It would only be those involved in drive by shootings, or those who carry guns with them as a means to demand "respect" in places that could be temporarily declared to be "hot spots"

Australia (which does not have any right to bear arms laws) instituted a "gun buy back" for automatic weapons after a gruesome mass shooting in 1996. The gun buy-back scheme started on 1 October 1996 and concluded on 30 September 1997.The buyback purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 firearms, mostly semi-auto .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns. (Wikipedia)

How's that for increasing the peace?

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
The Shining, Deceptively Beautiful Banality of Evil, 12 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Adolf Eichmann was the Nazi bureaucrat who organised the transport of Jews to concentration camps during Hitler's reign in Germany.

If the anti-semites who peddle all that Holocaust denial nonsense had enough intellectual curiosity to read Hannah Arendt's book about his 1960-2 trial in Israel, they would discover a far more potent means of spreading their racial hatred.

Arendt describes the way in which Eichmann, a mediocrity rather than a monster, used his negotiating skills to convince the Jewish organisations that they could "save" a certain number of Jews by assisting in the "deportation" of others

I watched the unfolding of Margarethe von Trotta's film with something akin to disbelief. I went away and read the book version of Arendt's series of articles for the New Yorker magazine on the trial of Eichmann in Israel in 1960-62.

…(Penguin Edition 2005) page 58 The Councils of Jewish Elders were informed by Eichmann… of how many Jews were needed to fill each train and they made out the list of deportees… The few who tried to hide or to escape were rounded up by a special Jewish police force

page 60 Without Jewish help in administrative and police work…there would have been either complete chaos or an impossibly severe drain on German manpower

page 61 to a Jew this role of the Jewish leaders in destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole story

page 62 … we can still sense how they enjoyed their new power – the Central Jewish Council has been granted the right of absolute disposal over all Jewish spiritual and material wealth and over all Jewish manpower … Jewish officials felt like Captains "whose ships were about to sink and who succeeded in bringing them safe to port by casting overboard a great part of the precious cargo" … In order not to leave the selection to blind fate, truly holy principles were needed as the guiding force of the weak human hand which puts down on paper the name of the unknown person and with this decides his life or death. And who did these holy principles single out for salvation? Those who have worked all their lives for the community i.e. The functionaries and the most prominent Jews (through page 65, 70-71 and 80-83)…

The film then depicts the way in which the Jews with whom Arendt had associated in America before writing those articles virtually excommunicated her.

Nothing new about that. Read chapters 20 and 29 of the Jewish prophet Jeremiah (628-587 B.C.E.), who faced 'criticism' for daring to tell his countrymen they were to be exiled in Babylon for seventy years. In fact it was Jeremiah who came up with the notion of 'assimilation'. That's in chapter 29 of his prophecies too…

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

The whole assimilationist trend has been attributed to the eighteenth century philosopher and wandering Jew, Moses Mendelssohn by, among others, Simon Schama in his 2013 BBC television series "The Story of the Jews". As that series pointed out, Theodor Herzl contested the assimilationist idea in his 1895 book, "Der Judenstaat" ("The Jewish State") which launched the Zionist movement, whose activities culminated in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Arendt makes the astounding disclosure that it was one of the few books Eichmann ever read. He not only read it. It became the foundation of his 'idealistic' view that Jewish feet should stand on Jewish, not German, soil. Everything that he accomplished was directed toward that purpose.

But maybe there is an even more shocking idea inherent in the film's narrative than that.

I had heard the striking phrase, 'the banality of evil' before I had heard of Arendt. She uses it in her paragraph describing the hanging death of Eichmann at the hands of Israeli officials. But like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, evil has a way of disguising its banality.

If we can define Nazism as evil, was it something in the Nazi tendencies of her teacher and lover, Martine Heidegger, that attracted her to him? (If the depiction of Heidegger in the film by Klaus Pohl is accurate, it was certainly not his looks). There is the scene in which she and her female confidante, Mary McCarthy, talk about 'the love of her life" over a game of billiards. She denies it was Martin Heidegger

But then I was surprised when I heard the critics raving about the performance of Barbara Sukowa in the lead role. To me, watching the film, I found her performance in her scenes of domestic interaction with her husband rather forced. It brought to mind those rather overstated intimations of affection of people who seem to be trying to convince themselves that feel more strongly for their partner than their hearts' tell them that they do. Her performance seemed to be 'artificial'.

Maybe Mary McCarthy was right. Maybe it all gets back to that idea of Chris Hedges, quoted as a preface to Kathryn Bigelow's 2008 film, "The Hurt Locker" to the effect that "War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning". Maybe the serpent, the Shining One, in the Garden of Eden had an attractiveness that transcended mere banality. Maybe it was something about the evil in Heidegger that made him the love of Arendt's life

Native Dancer: The Shaman with the Law of Moses Written Upon Her Heart?, 10 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The problem with ethnographic films lies in the pacing, which is usually slow. The problem with "institutional" churches, be they Jewish, Moslem, or Christian, is the spiritual impotence of their leaders and their congregations. Remember that old saying, "I like Christianity. It's just Christians I don't like"

Ethnographic films… think The Weeping Camel (2003) (Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni). It was moving and memorable, but lacked the car chases, charismatic American stars and those endless fight sequences that seem to be a staple of films that make a lot of money at the box office and beyond.

Gulshat Omarova seems to have solved a lot of those problems in "Native Dancer".

The protagonists drive the narrative at a fast clip as they gun their stylish SUVs through the barren yet striking scenery of Kazakhstan.

Aidai the Baksy, the shaman like Muslim-lady-healer who is being evicted from the land she has been gifted by the hero provides the substance so necessary to make gangster films work. Those gangsters, their ever so slightly corrupt police quislings and the hero who endeavours to stand up to their nefarious deeds are instantly recognisable from so many American movies. The characterless taverns in which they transact their sleazy business seem strangely familiar. It all works to keep the viewers' attention from wandering away from what is going on up there on the screen and on to the undeniable truth that this is, in fact, an ethnographic film

Central to the success of the film is the unflinching, unsentimental, unquestioned efficacy of Aidai the Baksy, in healing the maladies, both physical and spiritual, of those who seek her aid. In the past fifty years, many anthropologists have been taken with the idea of the shaman- healer-spiritual intermediary. Joseph Cambell, whose "Hero With the Thousand Faces" provided the structure of the Star War series of George Lucas, was very taken with them.

What strikes the viewer is the strength of her character. Her mode of dealing with damaged human beings may be brusque and unyielding, but none of them doubt her righteousness. Many seemed to be healed by her old world ways.

And her resurrection from death. I recall a person who had travelled through Africa telling me how he once encountered an old man outside a village who seemed to be dead. Upon alerting one of the villagers he was berated for being silly. The man had merely placed himself into an inanimate state of rest. Some of the voodoo stories about the walking dead zombies have been explained by reference to the temporary effects of eating certain species of poisonous fish. The shaman's resurrection hangs together just like everything else in the film

Think about the American evangelical, so called "Christian" churches. They lack people such as Aidai the Baksy. Her righteousness. Her efficacy. The genuine respect she imbues in those with whom she has dealings. Paul in his letter to the Roman Catholic church (the sixth book of the Christian bible's New Testament) described her status. She is the righteous gentile who has never heard of Moses' Law, but who proves by her actions that what that law requires is written upon her heart (Romans 2:14). He may well have been talking about Abraham, whom he describes as the father of all those who exercise faith (Romans 4:11), but it might also apply to Baksy, the Native Dancer. Food for thought, hey?

"Native Dancer" is a film that makes you want to see more ethnographic films. That makes it special

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Gatekeepers, Moses' Law and the Prophets, 17 February 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

According to Wikipedia, "The Gatekeepers", director, Dror Moreh, wanted to understand how Israel's Shin Bet security agency worked. He contacted a former head of the Shin Bet (a "Gatekeeper,)" Ami Ayalon, who had since been elected to the Knesset for the Labor Party. Ayalon agreed to participate, and helped Moreh contact the other surviving former heads of the Shin Bet

My Response to The Gatekeepers #1: Blame the politicians - not the spies

Avraham Shalom, one of the Gatekeepers after the 1967 war believed, like many, that the conquered territories would be returned to their former occupants. He says, "The problem is that the security agency executives are so busy conducting the activities of their organisations that they only get to think about these things when they are on holidays, or when they retire" (my paraphrase). The problems is that " There was no strategy, just tactics…As soon as we stopped dealing with the Palestinian state and started dealing with terrorism,… we forgot about the Palestinian issue"

My Response to The Gatekeepers #2: Politicians pander to the prevailing popular opinion - in other words - what they think the people will vote for. Blame the people, not the politicians

I have a feeling that if Israelis took the words of their prophets more seriously they would have a nicer country to live in. Take the words of Jeremiah, for example…"If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow… then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless." (chapter 7:5-8)

"All six former heads of Shin Bet argue – to varying degrees – that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is bad for the state of Israel."

Carmi Gillon, head of Shin Bet from 1994 to 1996, suggests that the deceptive words of the extremists led to a serious attempt to blow up the Muslim Dome of the Rock mosque, which stands on the site of the old Temple of Solomon. Shin Bet operatives were able to interrupt it.

He suggests that such an act would have united Muslims around the world, from Arabia to Indonesia, to take up arms against Israelis, and lay siege to Zion. Such an occurrence is referred to in Israel's prophetic scriptures as "the Great Tribulation".

It takes a bit of background to get an understanding of what that involves.

The biblical prophets sought to explain the destruction of Israel by the Assyrian and Babylonian empires as part of an atoning process that would remake the people of Israel in a way that was acceptable to Jahweh. It is likened to the way in which precious metals are refined by having the ore (dross, impurities) burnt off. The process is described in Deuteronomy chapters 28 to 30. That theme is taken up by the prophet Jeremiah in chapters 29 to 31, in which the supposedly new covenant he discusses seems to be identical with the one Jahweh negotiated with Moses

Both the Moses and Jeremiah covenants involve people adopting a righteous mindset - or to use the rather more poetic language employed in the bible - having the words of the Law "written upon their hearts". It is the same righteous mindset that Jahweh ascribed to Abraham in Genesis 26:5, "because Abraham obeyed me and did everything I required of him, keeping my commands, my decrees and my instructions."

What the expression, "the Law written upon their hearts" actually means was summarised by Hillel as "the ethic of reciprocity", or "Golden Rule": "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." (this is another quote from Wikipedia - go and read)

The Israeli prophets are obsessed with the idea that this atonement, this refinement ,will take place in three stages. 1 the Great Tribulation of Israel 2 the Day of the Lord 3 the prosperity of the Messianic reign in Zion of David's son

The Day of the Lord occurs when God intervenes in human history, delivering Jerusalem from the armies of the nations that have besieged it (the great tribulation), then places a descendant of King David on the throne in Jerusalem.

The Roman expulsions of Jews from Israel (70 and 138 CE) occurred after Jewish extremists decided to speed up that process by getting involved in revolutionary politics. The book and film of Chaim Potok's, "The Chosen" depict this idea when the fictional, orthodox Rebbe Saunders launches into a tirade against the efforts of post World War II Zionists to re-create a state of Israel. I would paraphrase it as, "Hitler killed Jewish bodies - these Zionists will kill the Jewish soul", but you would probably be better advised to read the book or see the film.

It seems that the extremists want to do it all again, but this time against the Muslims rather than the Romans. Carmi Gillon notes that these sentiments culminated in the assassination of prime minister Rabin, and emasculated the efforts of Israeli officials at peace talks from Oslo to the present day. All the Gatekeepers agree such talks must be continued in a serious manner.

Spielberg's film, "Munich" highlighted the problem of Israeli born Jews leaving Israel.Maybe its time they stayed home and discovered for themselves what it means to have Moses' Law written upon their hearts. Not what some medieval commentator says. Not what some critical text analysis says. But what it means "not to do what is hateful to your fellow.". Then maybe they should get themselves elected.

Zelig (1983)
0 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Zelig: Not Just About Jews Who Don't Fit In, No Matter How Hard They Try, 7 February 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Ned Flanders, the Simpson's next door neighbour, said he liked Woody Allen films, but was not quite sure about the nervous little guy with the glasses who always appeared in them. Neither am I.

There were only four I have ever really warmed to. "Play It Again, Sam".(The personal Bogart mentor is fun but the slapstick becomes tedious) "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex" (It is still funny and insightful) "Radio Days" (a rare delight - but the little guy with glasses is an offscreen narrator) "Broadway Danny Rose" (an examination of the idea of "grace", forgiveness, turning the other cheek as an alternative to revenge)

"Crimes and Misdemeanours" - The suggestion that you tend to forget about guilt if you live with it long enough and make enough money to buy respectability is interesting. But is the film just a technicolor morality tale.

In "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan", the little guy with glasses reveals himself as a self deluded, self obsessed brat.

And then there was "Zelig". It runs out of steam about half way through and has to be resuscitated by a rescue mission resulting in a new world record for flying a plane upside down across the Atlantic.

It seems to depict the age old plight of Jews, who were kicked out of Israel by the Romans and have endeavoured to become citizens of North Africa, then Spain, then mid Europe then Russia. The more ambitious and successful tried to assimilate with the people they lived amongst, (take on the identity of such people) only to be violently rejected in the end.

However there is a universality to "Zelig".

"Man is born free but all around us we see him in chains".

If you try to make yourself identical to everyone else to 'fit in', you will never know who or what you really are. You will ultimately miss out on the wisdom gained through atonement - the means to 'Know Thyself". That may well apply to the timid Germans of the 1930's, the conformist faces in the crowds in those old newsreels. But it's not just about1930's Germans.

You can see it acted out in Luis Bunuel's, "Exterminating Angel". The high society supper party guests slowly realise that they can not escape from the room in which they have gathered. Their increasingly desperate plight is finally brought to a head when one of them suggests they go back to doing what they were doing before it dawned upon them that they were trapped. The solution works. They find a way to exit the room. To celebrate their deliverance, they all attend a grand cathedral church service. And at the conclusion of the film, they realise they are trapped in the cathedral.

So how do you escape the invisible chains that trap people in a society that is very imperfect? Ask the Greek philosophers.

The beginning and end of all wisdom is to "Know Thyself" By beauty it is that we come at Wisdom

In Keats' words,"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all  Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

But what is the route that leads to that beauty that is wisdom, that is self knowledge?

Woody Allen might well have gained some insight into that question had he spent more time becoming acquainted with the Hebrew scriptures than he did in "Crimes and Misdemeanours". Moses' Law and the Prophets have a great deal to say about the journey that leads to wisdom and beauty. Take the feasts prescribed in Moses' Law.

Moses' Law ties the Exodus from Egyptian slavery story to a fortnight in early spring in which Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits feasts are observed. They celebrate redemption. Of course only two of the people who were redeemed on that first passover made it to the promised land. The rest did not even make it into God's rest (Psalm 95), whatever that means.

A fortnight at the end of summer contains the new year, atonement and tabernacles feasts. They commemorate the forty years of wilderness wandering (atonement) that allowed them to see and know God's ways(wisdom) .

Passover is about redemption. The child at the loving mother's breast is protected from harm, nourished and kept warm. It would die without that redemptive care. Think of redemption as beauty, love, mercy, forgiveness, grace. Think of the closing scene of "Broadway Danny Rose"

Atonement is about law, truth, consequences of actions. The child who has been weaned and goes out into the world soon discovers the truth that it is not at all like suckling at mommy's bosom. Wisdom is truth. The truth that is discovered about oneself by life experiences in the hard, cold world. They either make you, or break you. You get to decide by the way you react to the calamities of nature and actions of other people. Think of wisdom as truth. It is symbolised as a virtuous wife in the book of Proverbs. It is expressed as the knowledge of God that comes from riding out grief, pain and loss, in the book of Job. Apotheosis.The man who had his ex- lover murdered in "Crimes and Misdemeanours" failed to gain that wisdom.

Beauty is truth, truth beauty Redemption is beauty. The Wisdom discovered by atonement is truth.

If you want a new definition of the construct referred to as "God", recast that idea as what happens at some abstract point at which Redemption intersects with Atonement - at which grace and beauty intersect with truth. Using that definition, knowing God is to know redemption and atonement - beauty and truth - true wisdom.

There's an idea for some new movies, Woody. Some really worthwhile movies, with or without the little guy who wears glasses.

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Mad Bastards Get a Dose of Sanity and Redemption at the Hands of a Hard as Nails Sheriff, 26 January 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There seems to be a trend developing in Australian films dealing with the aboriginal inhabitants.

It is a theme of an indigenous man returning (from a big city) to see a child he has fathered and the child's mother, with an ill-formed but real view to effecting some sort of reconciliation. That's the situation in Ivan Sen's 2013 film, "Mystery Road".

It is also the narrative backbone of Brendan Fletcher's 2010 film, "Mad Bastards".

"Mad Bastards" also seems to exhibit thematic resonances with a couple of other Australian films.

The first is Michael Joy's 2008 very affecting "Men's Group", which details the coming together of damaged, Australian (caucasian) males who over a period of time manage to surmount the reserve men have about exposing their weakness to other men. That reticence is probably a survival instinct, but it can leave them lonely and alienated, especially when they lack female companionship.

In "Mad Bastards", Texas (Greg Tait), the local police officer of an isolated settlement in the north of Western Australia, to whom we will refer as the local sheriff, has started a men's group. Little bonding or communication has taken place among the participants. They seem to attend only to partake of the barbecued sausages meal on offer. But it all goes to demonstrate the 'sensitive new age guy' sensibilities that co-exist with the 'hard as nails' persona of the local sheriff. He wants to show decency, love, forgiveness, redemption to the broken people with whose security he has been entrusted. They include his juvenile grand son, who has escaped a jail term by submitting to a "bush survival skills" intervention run by a tribal elder.

The other film with which it resonates is Elissa Down's, "Black Balloon" (2008). That film tells the story of an autistic kid who lives with a loving family who do their utmost to tolerate his perverse behaviour by treating it as essentially 'harmless pranks' . Those perversions include 1 Entering into strangers' houses and interrupting their private functions 2 Defecating in his own home and smearing his faeces into the carpet 3 Masturbating at the dining room table in front of his brother's new girlfriend

The latter 'prank' provokes his brother to resort to a violent, physical response. The kindness, the understanding, the love, mercy and redemptive good will have finally run out. The only response left is physical violence.

Should the autistic kid be allowed to carry on in a barbaric manner? Is a violent response the only way to convey to the offender the gravity of his behaviour and the need to change that behaviour? The resort to such physical violence is the means by which the sheriff conveys to his Mad Bastard, de facto son-in-law TJ (Dean Daley-Jones) that his violent behaviour will not be tolerated. He beats him up then gives him enough money to obey his command to 'get out of town'.

TJ, the violent Mad Bastard, declines the offer of money and a form of reconciliation takes place. At the culmination of the film he will attend the sheriff's "men's group'. Who knows? He may end up as the deputy sheriff. He has already commenced the process of establishing a relationship with his juvenile delinquent son and possibly his mother.

It is a film that depicts the nastiness of alcohol fuelled violence in all its many manifestations, both domestic and public. But it also demonstrates the civilising effects that discipline in all its manifestations, can imbue. It demonstrates the two opposing but co-habiting concepts of redemption and atonement. The redemption is underlined by the gentle music of the Pigram family band music. The atoning forces by the performance of Greg Tait.

An interesting detail is that TJ, the Mad Bastard is of Noongar origin. The Noongar people have recently become the first indigenous Australians to enter into a settlement agreement with the European colonisers of Australia that reflects the findings of the High Court in the Mabo and Wik cases. They have relinquished their land rights claim over Perth, the capital city and the south west of Western Australia in exchange for a compensation settlement. In the course of the film, TJ refers to the brewery that had been constructed on a spring that feeds water into the Swan River near Perth. He sees it as a desecration of the body of Wagyl, a snakelike being from the Dreamtime that meandered over the land creating rivers, waterways and lakes.(see Wikipedia for more details) That site was an important part of the settlement.

At the end of the film, the principal actors go out of character and relate snippets of their own volatile experiences and the decisions they have made to embrace a more disciplined, civilised life style. It seems to involve family ties, temperance in all things, and (perhaps) a renewed interest and valuation of their cultural heritage by 'going bush'. That has some resonance with the prevailing sentiments of "Blackfellas", a 1993 film about West Australian aborigines coming to terms with the European colonisation of their land.

Yolngu Boy (2001)
Aboriginal Australians Choosing the 'Right Way' to Lead Their Lives, 21 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Australian cinematographer Dean Semler is perhaps best known for his work (and some say co- direction) of "Dances With Wolves" (1990). He got his start with the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit (a kind of half-arsed government propaganda body) and was involved in Ian Dunlop's striking ethnographic documentary,"Marrakulu Funeral - Yirrkala" (1974). That film tells the story of the funeral ceremony for an Australian Aboriginal clan leader.

The film was made at the request of the tribal elders, who wanted to ensure that a record remained of the "old ways", available for future generations.

At one stage of the film, the funeral is interrupted by some drunken young boys. They are told, in no uncertain terms, to leave immediately. There is no place for the profane in this sacred ceremony.

That problem is the narrative core of "Yolgnu Boy".(The Yolngu are an Indigenous Australian people inhabiting north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Yolngu means "person" in the Yolŋu languages. The term Murngin was formerly used by some anthropologists for the Yolngu)

It tells the story of the different life courses embraced by three young aboriginal boys, Lorrpu, Botj and Milika, who have undergone the initial rites of initiation given to young children.

Lorrpu and Milika are about to undergo the final rites conducted by the tribal elders that initiate boys into manhood.

The rites of initiation are described in the book that laid down the narrative structure for the first three Star Wars films of George Lucas. (Joseph Campbell's "Hero With A Thousand Faces" Fontana 1993 pages 137-142, 154-55, 174-5). They are a very serious undertaking. The well being of the clan group relies on the law and ritual imparted during these ceremonies. Those who are responsible for their administration are respected and feared (with good reason) by the community as a whole.

Milika is more interested in becoming a star player for the Essendon Australian Rules Football Club in Melbourne, at the southern extremities of Australia.

Botj, a rebel without a cause trouble maker has been refused initiation because of his errant ways. In fact he has just returned from jail in Darwin when the film begins, and after a night of petrol sniffing, vandalism and injurious self harm, is about to be sent back to there.

Lorrpu wants to stop this happening. He believes that if the tribal elders will not seek to reform Botj, then he should. He interrupts the tribal initiation rites to "go bush" with his two friends on a journey to Darwin. If he can make it to Darwin, he can argue Botj's case with tribal leader Dawu. They travel through much of the land seen in the Crocodile Dundee film.

Sadly, when they make it to Darwin, the errant Botj acts according to his worst instincts and self destructs, again, this time fatally.

The real significance of the film is its (perhaps) oblique depiction of a vibrant, all encompassing, tribal Australian Aboriginal culture that continues to exist as it has done for forty thousand years or more. Regardless of the encroachment on European civilisation, it is still possible for those who are willing to practise their cultural beliefs to do so. Those who are seduced by the squalor of the worst excesses of European culture will fall by the wayside. But the film presents a view that it is possible for Aboriginals to take what is good from both cultures.

From 1787 until 1971, the European colonists who had settled in Australia treated the aboriginal population as an illusion. The legal doctrine Terra Nullius claimed the land was empty when they arrived. (Search on Mabo and Wik in Wikipedia for details as to how that doctrine was overturned). The aboriginal culture was strong enough to resist the barbaric depredations of the white settlers. In the area in which this film was made, a Yolgnu leader, Noel Pearson, is in the process of creating a new way for the original owners to deal with the relatively new European culture.(Check him out in Wikipedia too).

The film was partly funded by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, and there a quite a few of the Yunupingu family (the driving force behind the Yothu Yindi band) involved in its making. You may recall the song (and video clip) "Treaty" which is used in this film.

While Australians have a great deal to be ashamed of in their treatment the indigenous population, but this film suggests that a mutually beneficial accommodation can be reached between two vastly different cultures.

Israeli - Palestinian Relations - Time to Rethink Current Strategies, 17 November 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

On 14 May 1948, a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel was established.The following day, the armies of four Arab countries—Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq—entered what had been British Mandate Palestine, launching the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. It was a case of an ill-equipped army defending a new homeland with a population of half a million against armies representing a combined population of forty-eight million.

In fact it was more than that. It was a case of an ill-equipped, vastly outnumbered army defending land, almost all of which had been purchased over the preceding hundred years from its original owners by Zionist groups on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. The Israeli armed forces won a praiseworthy reputation for the manner in which they fought to defend Israel, the land and its people.

The proportion of land owned by the Jewish National Fund is reported to be around 13% by 2007, according to the Wikipedia entry on that institution. The discrepancy arises from the land obtained by military conquest since 1948.

By 2005, when "Close to Home" was made, the young Israeli conscripts have been reduced to the boring and uninspiring task of patrolling the streets of Jerusalem stopping Palestinian passersby, asking for their identity cards, and to writing down their details on special forms. That is a long way from the training of sabras in the use of military weapons and procedures to be used in defending their homeland against attack by foreign armies. In fact it brings to mind the pointless US "war on drugs" depicted in such films as "Traffic". Their efforts will only make the real villains - in the Israeli case, the terrorist aggressors - exercise more evasive techniques, while gratuitously offending the great majority of Palestinians who live in and around Israel and who do not engage in such violence

The film begins with a young conscript refusing to search a Palestinian going about her peaceful business as she crosses the Israeli border. The conscript is sent to prison, where she is required, along with other miscreant conscripts, to sort buttons. The viewer can not help but wonder which is the more meaningful employment - sorting buttons or harassing Palestinians.

The two central characters spend their time looking in shop windows, visiting hair dressers, smoking, contemplating true romance, and half heartedly taking down details of a few Palestinians. It is hardly riveting, involving cinema. The IMDb synopsis by writers-directors Vidi Bilu and Dalia Hager suggests that, "As women, this film is our own way of soul searching, about our army service and the occupation" The film, like many Israeli films, seems to be questioning the policies of the country's leaders. These films may well represent the best hope, not just for Palestinians who do not seek the violent overthrow of the state of Israel, but for those Israelis who take seriously the words of their own prophets... Jeremiah(7:5-8) If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.  But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

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