Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slumdog Hardly Waits

What is Danny Boyle ACTUALLY asking in his Oscar Nominated Movie?

Many of my friends love Slumdog Millionaire, considering it to be one of the best movies of the year. Their reasons seem limited to the fact that it's just a very fun movie to watch.  I agree.  But other than it being "fun" I don't really have much else to say about it.  Danny Boyle seems to be hiding behind a veil of aesthetic originality rather than exploring anything interesting.  Trainspotting dealt with the absurdity of middle-class life leading to drug addiction, 28 Days Later was exploring the potential of wide spread disease in the form of zombie-esque madness, The Beach dealt with issues of civil society facing the absence of moral authority, Sunshine questioned the psychological effects of space and the unknown, and yes I am summing up these themes way too broadly. 

            So what was Slumdog doing?  I understand it was the question of fate and everything being "pre-written" by some extravagant deity, but does anyone truly believe this?  I personally believe in fate to the degree that it presents a series of decisions and challenges that stands the chance of leading to a certain, happy destination.  As Kierkegaard says, "The greater the risk, the greater the passion."  You may be lead to the precipice of happiness, but only you can be the one who jumps.  For example, a person without reason puts his wallet on a table, forgetting it the next day when he leaves.  Arriving at the bus stop he forgets his pass, returns home, goes back and meets a beautiful girl who he falls in love with.  Was the fate meeting the beautiful girl, or was fate that which told the man to take out his wallet in the first place?  What guides those unjustified feelings and actions that can lead to “fate” situations?  Think about where you are, what you’re feeling or what you have, what brought you there?  And how did you arrive at that which brought you there?  

            I am admittedly a bit bias in my regard towards believing that fate can bring two people together at this age.  I would describe why but it’s not that interesting.  I advise you to read Carl Sagan’s Varieties of Scientific Experience, specifically his idea of Earth as a pale blue dot.  Basically to sum up the conclusion, if God exists, why would he care about two star-crossed lovers considering the size of the Universe and all the other potential life forms?  The people of Earth are a grain of sand, on a grain of sand, on a grain of sand, on a grain of sand.  So Danny Boyle is assuming that God wrote out the “fate” for a few, tiny entities existing within an infinite Universe?  For what purpose?  What is the POINT?! While fate might benefit someone like our new President who produces a larger good, what does fate bring from two lovers?

            As far as Slumdog Millionaire seems to argue, Jamal inspires all the other “slumdogs” out there.  Makes sense, but are all these people to be aspiring contestants on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?  I mean honestly consider what we’re being told – that Jamal knew ALL of the answers to get the questions except ONE based memorable events in his life?  What the hell are the chances of this?

            So let’s go through this.  God had some sort of extravagant plan laid out for two RANDOMLY selected individuals, manifested through knowing the answers to a GAME SHOW because of his past experiences!  Uh…seems a bit unfair for the other 5.3 billion people out there living in poverty – such as the blind kid who is forced to pan for money in a train terminal, and the tons of other slumdogs out there who had it even worse than him.  Where are their beautiful, long-lost loves?  Why is Jamal so lucky?  He gets not just a beautiful girl, but a million dollars!  He gets it all not through everyday means, but through this CRAZY (understatement) fate-based method.  What would be God’s purpose for all of this?!

            Jamal may have inspired a nation, but will it actually mean anything for the impoverished billions? Hardly any of them will be on television, hardly any of them will find love, hardly any of them will escape the slum, hardly any of them will win a million dollars, hardly any of them will live relatively happy lives.  This is not cynicism; it is reality. Are we to believe that God came along, granted these two people joy and happiness and jipped everyone else?  If so, that seems like a pretty unfair God – one who is SUPPOSE to exhibit omnibenevolence, omnipresence, and omnipotence.  It as if Boyle is telling everyone else to except the miniscule amount of happy presented to them solely through inspiration and except that God is picking lottery balls.  So much for the blind kid, the brother and all those who are starving to death during Jamal's big win, or dying from disease, famine or muder.

            While I am still battling my own questions and doubts regarding a higher power, I rest assured that should such a Being exist I'm fairly certain that It treats everyone with an equal amount of POTENTIAL happiness.  Hence, as is quoted in Can’t Hardly Wait – [Fate] only takes you so far. Then it's up to you to make it happen.  Who would figure such a movie would have one of the most profound lines in film?  Who knew such a movie could explore so much GREATER of a question than what will probably win best picture?  And yet it gets nothing.  I'll leave that paradox up to you.

Monday, January 26, 2009


So I had three posts written up in various notebooks, but my lazy ass never got to typing them out.  Oh well, Mondupdate...

Movies from January 19th - 26th, 2009

1.  Requiem for a Dream (2000) - 4/4
Most of you have probably seen this.  After seeing The Wrestler I had an unwavering crave for more Aronovsky.  It was satisfied.

2.  The Public Enemy (1931) - 4/4
I recieved both Little Caesar and The Public Enemy in the mail.  While Little Caesar was good, Public Enemy was breathtaking.  James Cagney is so farking good in this movie it makes you want to start bootlegging alcohol again.

3.  Frozen River (2008) - 4/4
I would have given this movie 3.5/4, but considering it was shot on video, has no name actors (one getting an Oscar nom), a no name director and yet still is one of the best movies of the year it gets the extra half.  These are the kinds of movies that make think, "Maybe I could make a feature one day...and win a prize...and become a director for the rest of my life...and be happy forever and ever...and ever!"  Very inspiring.  

4.  The Killers (1946) - 3.5/4

This was my second time seeing this movie and it was just as good as the first.  The first scene is based off of Hemingway's short story of the same title; one of the few movies where it peaks right at the start.  Yet while both the movie and the story are amazing the band is obviously shit.  

5.  Little Caesar (1931) - 3.5/4

Based off of W.R. Burnett's novel which provides an allegorical framework for the selfish and dangerous threat of capitalism, it was Edward G. Robinson's introductory gangster role that would be repeated countless times.  Every time he refuses a drink its like watching a puppy chase its tail.

6.  La Bete Humaine (1938) - 3.5/4
I probably would have ranked this movie higher if the DVD didn't keep skipping and prevent our class from seeing the ending.  It's another movie that provides a bit of the historical background towards the birth of film noir with its pre-femme fatale femme fatale.

7.  American Teen (2007) - 3/4
This is a documentary set in some town of suburban Indiana.  It basically finds kids who comprise the personalities that Hughe's presented in The Breakfast Club - the princess, nerd, jock, outcast and bully...oh wait, not a bully just another jock.  I mean seriously, John Bender is the best character in the movie and they can't find a bully?!  It pissed me off , but nonetheless it makes you miss high school and all the ridiculous drama that use to mean the world.  Overall though, you could see it working better as a reality TV show rather than a movie.

8.  Expiration Date (2006) - 3/4
This movie was in some "Family Film Festival" boxset I got from Target.  Although it is obscenely similar to Garden State, considering its low-ass budget Rick Stevenson tells a pretty gripping story.  A kid's family has been cursed with getting killed by a milk truck at the age of 25 and...he's turning 25!  Duh, duh, duh...  Some good laughs though.

9.  The Reader (2008) - 2.5/4

Here it is!  Here is the movie that fucked The Wrestler in the ass by getting a best picture nomination.  The movie could have been A LOT better, but Stephen Daldry dragged his scenes on sooooooo much!  Jesus, by the time the movie was over I was CERTAIN this movie was three hours long - nope, just shy of two.  It's about a "Nazi whore" who is illerate. And yes, when the phrase Nazi Whore was used it was the best part of the movie.  The Wreslter my thoughts are with you because this movie is first tier GARBAGE.  (But I guess that makes it second tier gold).  

Monday, January 19, 2009


Starting now I'm going to list the movies I've watched throughout the week every Monday, putting them in order of best to worst...we'll see how long this lasts.

Movies from January 11th - 18th, 2009

1.  The Wrestler (2008) - a BIG 4/4

I was nervous, I didn't think I was going to see that "one" movie this year - that movie that lingers long after you have left the theater, consuming your thoughts and tearing at your emotions.  Well it happened, better late then never. Go see it.  

2. Naked (1993) - 4/4

    I haven't had a moviegoing experienced like this since There Will Be Blood, and I dare say this might have been better (experience, not movie).  It's a movie where each scene is so brilliantly perfect and absorbing that you forget about Charles Barkley getting a DUI. Think Waking Life meets American Beauty.

3. Live Flesh (1997) - 4/4

   Another great movie that is a CLOSE third to Naked.  It's the fourth film I've seen from Pedro Almodovar and definitely his best, starring Javier Bardem as a paraplegic with red hair (making his haircut form No Country from Old Men actually look normal).  Brilliant story dealing with hidden truths, sex and passion.

3.  Man on Wire (2008) - 4/4
A documentary from James Marsh about the Frenchman Phillipe Petit who illegally strung a wire across the twin towers and walked across it.  I considered it the best film of the year until I saw The Wrestler.

4.  Milk (2008) - 3.5/4
A good movie, mostly on account of Sean Penn's amazing performance. I kept thinking of his role in Mystic River compared to Harvey Milk, can he get anymore dynamic?!  Think of Selena except with a more artsy vibe and no cheesy boyfriend who has hot sauce in a holster strapped to his leg.

5.  Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) - 3.5/4
Another great political documentary dealing with the horrors of the Abu Graib and Guantanomo prison camps, basically illustrating that although the Bush Administration, who gave the orders to torture, were found guilty and unjust in their decisions it was only the soldiers that were sentenced.  Bush Admin was self-pardoned, and the officers were never tried.  See it and get mad.

6.  Key Largo (1948) - 3.5/4
A great gem from John Huston with Lauren Bacall, Humprhey Bogar and Edward G. Robinson exploring America's post-war sentiments towards anti-totalitarian ideals brought about by the capitalist businessmen of the thriving industrial rewards of the wartime effort.  And The Beach Boys talk about it later in life...

7.  And Then There Were None (1945) - 3.5/4
A very Clue/Murder By Number who-done-it type of movie.  Nothing revolutionary or breathtaking just pure and simple fun.

8.  A Night at the Opera (1935) - 3.5/4
This was the second Marx Brother's film I have seen , and I definitely liked Duck Soup better (it replaced Duck Soup on AFI's top 100 2006 list).  In the documentary they said unlike Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera actually had a story, but that's what I think made Duck Soup so good in the first place - completely chaotic and hilarious.

9.  Rumor Has It (2005) - 3/4
This movie is inspired by the true-life rumors of The Graduate story, and was surprisingly enjoyable.  It's definitely a "feel good" movie that I now will revert back to when I'm feeling down on love.

10.  Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - 3/4
What the hell?  Maybe its because this movie has been built up for so long and I just never got around to seeing it, but for the huge cult following it has gained talk about OVERRATED.  A kid I worked with last summer had seen this movie TWO-HUNDRED and something times and if I ever seen him again I'm going to slap him and ask, "What the fuck?"  Though I imagine it had something to do with some sort of Hepburn-oriented wet dream fantasy.  Weirdo.

11.  Pandora's Box (1929) - 3/4
I had to watch this movie for my film class.  For some reason the professor chooses the class to be a single, three and a half hour block rather than two individual classes.  Needless to say, after sitting in class for an hour and a half and then watching a two hour and fifteen minute German silent film afterwards I now have an alternative torture method for imprisoned terrorists.

And that's that...pretty good week.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Escaping the Half-Nelson - Part 1

A Critical Look at the Political Issues Discussed in Half Nelson

       About two years ago in my Social and Political Philosophy course we were assigned to apply the theories we had learned to a particular film.  I can’t remember much from the list other than Z, Burnt by the Sun, Paths of Glory, and Half Nelson.  I was familiar with only some of the films, regretfully having not seen over half of the choices.  Yet of all the films I either never heard of or had never viewed, it it was Half Nelson which was the most intriguing.  I ended up going with Paths of Glory for the assignment, figuring that discerning the filmic vocabulary of Kubrick could hopefully distract from my minimal understandings of Mill, Marx, Rousseau, and various other’s political theories as they applied to the content. 

            Shortly afterwards I received Half Nelson from Netflix, yearning to understand how a story about the relationship between a crack-addict teacher and his troubled student would apply to political philosophy.  When the movie concluded I knew three things – the movie was exceptional, that Ryan Gosling was one damn good actor, and that I had no idea of the political or social implications within the film.  It wasn’t that I didn’t understand the content, it was a great story about a teacher’s struggle with the world manifested through drug abuse, but I didn’t understand the application of themes and ideas varying between existentialism and politics. 

            Dan Dunne plays a teacher who is trying to expand beyond the typical method of adolescent instruction.  He brings up ideas of dialectic, recalling them from his college years of Hegel and Marx.  He begins showing a video of a man from the civil rights era ranting about the “machine;” it was a video that bridged from him watching an old television show in the scene prior, involving a proto-typical nuclear family. The principal interrupts his discussion about the metaphorical meaning of the machine and scolds him for not cracking open a binder containing pre-written lesson plans from the Civil Rights era. This was a great way to show the method in which he creates his lesson plans – they aren’t pre-determined, they are developed while watching re-runs of canceled family sitcoms, snorting cocaine that aids in further illuminating the pathetic world in which he lives. 

            It is a bold twist of irony, showing how the machine is much larger than the proverbial bubble that the kids seem to believe and Mr. Dunne professes.   Hierarchies exist in all systems, and through each subsequent rank the force upon others to adhere to specific guidelines and rules becomes all the more ridiculous.  Kids must not chew bubble gum, cheat on tests, or talk back to their instructors, teachers need to be in accordance with particular goals for each grade, the principals who demand these guidelines do so for political reasons whether on the national level (such as No Child Left Behind) or federal level (requiring physical education), and so on.  While the machine does indeed contain everyone, one’s purpose becomes less significant through their attitude - either accepting their current circumstances, or doing something to change them.  It all begs the question as to why Mr. Dunne is wrong for teaching his lessons.  Who ultimately decides what the correct education is? 

            I recall my friend telling me about reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States back in high school.  I was shocked to say the least.  Kids spend twelve years learning that Columbus discovered America in 1492, and then they are going to be instructed that this country was actually founded through the enslavement and genocide of the Arawak tribe.  The sad thing is other friends of mine believe that Howard Zinn is some type of ultra-leftist, exaggerating his claims regardless of the evidence he presents.  I have not read the whole book, but as of yet I have not noticed many unsupported claims. 

            The problem is that people do not enjoy having their beliefs challenged.  Religion, politics, social issues, whatever the case may be, too many people are caught up in adopting an ideology without looking at the other issues.  My entire family is conservative, my Grandma still thinks George Bush is a great president and my aunt believes that he will be remembered as one of the greatest presidents (Please take a moment to let that soak in).  While I do not believe that all conservatives are ignorant, I do maintain the belief that most people have a more liberal agenda buried inside and its up to proper education to get it out.  I thought I was conservative until I arrived to college and started learning the facts I never was taught in high school.  Better late than never. 

            My family often points the finger at the college atmosphere for providing me such liberal ideologies.  I always laugh in these instances, wondering how the world’s brightest students and future professors who decided to dedicate their lives toward education and minimal pay are so easily ostracized in conservative circles.  Is it really so hard to accept that perhaps these professors have been thoroughly educated, understood the issues and weighed liberalistic vs. conservative agendas in a fair manner?  Not for many.  Those who pursue degrees outside of the liberal arts are not wrong for doing so, but they must admit to conditioning their political beliefs upon a more individualistic level rather than educational. 

            I recall in my Mass Media and Popular Culture class in which I bumped into a classmate of mine while printing out a paper in the library.  We had the usual small talk and he mentioned to me how he disagrees with most of the things we talk about in class.  While discussing these particular subjects would warrant an entire entry, I will simply say the issues discussed weren’t based on intellectual opinions, but rather on extensive study and research.  I walked away in frustration, wondering how he so easily dismissed what we were learning.  The problem I commonly notice in college is that people do not like having their beliefs challenged or changed, which in my opinion is the entire purpose of college.  Until we’re eighteen years old we are forced to believe the often monotonous lessons taught in high school, the news we here on the television, stories brought to us by the newspapers and beliefs laid upon us by our family.  To tell someone that we aided in the Indonesian Genocide is often regarded as leftist bullshit. Why so many people believe that are getting all of the facts from approximately five channels is beyond me.

            Mr. Dunne sees this problem.  Imagine if high school revealed all of the horrors that our government carried out during the civil rights movement?  The highly questionable shooting of Fred Hampton by the Chicago Police, the disintegration of the black panther movement through the FBI, the true reasons behind Vietnam, etcetera. Kids are not meant to question the choices of their government or those in power, just like the many adults of this world aren’t mean to question their involvement in the detrimental side effects of capitalism.  Not to get too specific, but the only difference between the factory workers of Marx’s day and the current circumstances is that a shorter day and more pay.  In the end, is a slave who works in horrendous factory any different than the stockbroker who has a BMW?  Health-wise yes, but from the outside the function of far too many people remains as chronologically as a sequence of birth, vocation, marriage, children, retirement, death.  The only difference are the kinds of TOYS.  So tell me, what is the difference between the kids in Mr. Dunne’s classroom, and the adults filling the skyscrapers.  One gets a Playstation 3, the other gets a Yacht.  It is here where the film poses the most interesting question – if Mr. Dunne looks at the world with such strong resentment, then why is he teaching middle school instead of doing something about it?