Category: Movie Philosphy

Dangerous Historical Revision vs. Dangerous Bad History, A Joint Review of Black Panther by Ryan Coogler and 12 Strong by Nicolai Fuglsig

I don’t fantasize anymore. When I was younger, I loved the way movies elicited some fantasy or other. After Sandlot I could almost see my foot aligned with the mound’s rubber at Wrigley. After Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves I could think of nothing but splitting an arrow with an arrow. And after Top Gun, well, I went on to become a military officer and pilot.

Fantasy no more.

Over the last two nights I finally watched Black Panther and also gave in to the hope that 12 Strong might get it right. These movies are both fantasy action films. They both include a healthy admixture of current events and fiction. And they both elate and inspire their fans. But, by my thinking, they, the resounding box office success of Black Panther especially, beg the question, “Can inspiration be dangerous?”

Black Panther‘s make-believe portion is what I struggle to understand. I do not identify with, neither am I inspired by, the notion that, “all along my people actually were capable and smart and possessed the technology to change the world for the better.” In fact, I find it troubling. More troubling is I think I’m alone in this because I am afraid to even type it.

Naturally, there are millions of reasons why the idea doesn’t inspire me, but I only want to highlight the one reason why it shouldn’t inspire anyone at all: unlike every other superhero movie, it is entirely based on pernicious historical revision. And given that truth depends on the events of history, we might consider the implications behind using historical revision as inspiration.

This takes us to 12 Strong. With 12 Strong we have a different type of fantasy, a different type of revision. The film begins by unnecessarily reminding the viewer of the, not just one, but many attacks that Bin Laden and friends perpetrated on the United States, the last of which being 9/11. Unlike Black Panther’s bright-color-clothed, ancestor worshiping character’s, this movie’s characters achieve depth only if in a kiddie pool. And while Thor’s men certainly declare that they are inspired by him, his greatest strength seems to be undecided. Is it that he can both speak Russian and ride a horse? Or that he got really–and I mean really, really–mad when he saw the news that fateful morning? (So mad that he kicked over his desk!)

Unlike Black Panther12 Strong does not actually revise history. It’s too cowardly to even attempt that. It surely is bad history, but Wakandan-like revision is nowhere in sight. For example, there is no discovery that the terrorists actually love the United States. Nor does some soldier wander into a mountain cave and discover that the United States’ actual forefathers (you know, the ones secretly sabotaging all the Taliban’s bad seed’s biggest plans) have kept alive an underground resistance within the same cave system wherein the bad tribes hid from shame all these centuries.

Nope. You won’t find any of that. Instead, 12 Strong merely works very hard to make sure that no one can say the military response to 9/11 was unjustified. (There’s even a scene where some Taliban leader shoots a burka-wearing woman who had been teaching little girls how to read–something which he believed Allah forbids. Yeah, that’s it. It was their illiteracy that we were pissed about.) By the way, the fact that any American thinks additional explanation for military response to 9/11 is necessary at all speaks louder than any graphic representation of barbaric beliefs ever could about whose side they’re on.

In the end, I guess I do fantasize. I fantasize about the day that we admit that our way of life is under attack every moment, from every angle. I fantasize about the day when we admit that it’s okay–in fact good–to have power and use it. I fantasize about the day when any one of us defends the Founding Fathers of the United States of America as champions of freedom. Do you hear me? I fantasize about these things.

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To Batman: I’m Sorry For Ever Doubting You

So I don’t like admitting that there are ever any parts of anything to do with Batman that I question, but for a long time I had a lingering doubt that the whole “Make the climb…without the rope” theory would work. You know, the idea that only when we are spurred on by the fear of death in all its finality will we truly find the strength to do what needs to be done. Well, it turns out I was wrong. The fear of death does increase jumping distance.

Picture this: H- and I at the pool. Goggles on. We’re in the three-foot deep shallow end. Every four seconds she’s adding the post-script to what I can only describe as an entry into a no-holds-barred splashing contest, “See, Daddy? I can swim?”

I smile and say, “Just about.”

Then she says, “I want to jump in.”

I say, “Go ahead.”

She gets out of the pool and with a decent running start proceeds to jump into this same three-foot deep shallow end of the pool. Her head never does go fully under the water and she says, “Ow.”

I say, “You should tuck your knees up so you don’t just land on your feet.”

She says, “Like a cannon-ball?”

I say, “Yep.” So off she goes for attempt number two.

“Ow. I can’t really do a cannon-ball.”

I say, “Well, then, you should come over to the deeper end and jump in.” She starts shaking her head and I soothe, “I’ll be there. Don’t worry.”

Notwithstanding all the splashing, she actually can stay afloat a while during her attempts to swim in the shallow end. And if I remember right, swimming is like riding a bike. Add these things together, and you will see me a decent bit away from the wall in the hopes that when she jumps in, she may just start swimming to me and more importantly, realize she actually can swim. Ta da.

But no.

Instead, I learn that she can jump a helluva lot farther than I ever expected or have seen before as she nearly tackled me in a leap that can only be described as springing from legs attached to a brain that really thought a visit to the pool with her father might be the last event on her earthly journey.

The lesson: Teach kids how to swim before how to read the number four.

Review of There Will Be Blood, by Paul Thomas Anderson’s Agenda

The only reason anyone works to pump oil out of the earth is greed. Greed only spawns more greed which eventually creates (or perhaps is a catalyst for) a downward spiral of human vice that passes through selfishness, hate, betrayal, and ultimately murder. Or at least that’s what Paul Thomas Anderson’s award-winning There Will Be Blood wants us to believe. As much as false-prophets–con-men–deserve to be hated, it is impossible not to hate Daniel Day-Lewis’s remarkable portrayal of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview more. And in hating Plainview, it’s difficult not to hate oil.

People hate oil.

Funny to read, isn’t it? It rings true, but it really isn’t. It’s no more true than if we said people hate dirt or people hate wood. It is foolish to make these inanimate, naturally occurring objects the object of our hate, just as it would be to make them the object of our love. They merely are. But we can certainly hate people. We can certainly hate ideas.

Maybe people hate oil men. Maybe people hate their own ignorance of geology. Maybe people hate what they don’t understand. Surely people hate greed.

It seems wherever oil is under the earth American troops are over it, and service members who deploy to the middle-east are bombarded by activist’s propaganda filled with facts and figures which encourage hating Texas Oil Men George W. and Dick Cheney. And Halliburton and KBR and Lockheed Martin and every other group of people that could be lumped into the war-for-profit-is-clearly-a-bad-idea category. Tightening the frame dramatically, I needed no encouragement to hate my aircraft commander on my last deployment. I astonished even myself with how little prompting it took for me to heap some hate on my sister and her small group.

Finding myself in the oilfield here in Colorado, I occasionally hated living in the man-camps. I hated being away from my daughter. I hated her mom for wanting to see her for more than her half during my days-off.

Similar to all men, hate and I have had a long and storied history. Luckily, I have a friend named Kirk. One day, years ago, I told my friend that I was floored to discover that a Kelly Clarkson pop song included the sage lyric, “For hating you I blame myself.” Being the good-natured midwesterner that he is Kirk didn’t miss a beat and replied, “That’s right Pete. Hate comes from within.” Doesn’t it though?

And that begs the question, “Will there be blood?”

Anderson made an excellent film. It is an excellent portrayal of greed from both ends of the spectrum. But in making the film relevant for the masses, in using oil as the backdrop, he, perhaps unintentionally, allowed the oil to obscure a greater truth. Hate, greed, everything comes from within.

I’ve Been Reading Madame Bovary

The main room of the house that was built in 1950 was atypically adorned for the year 2014 in a comforting way.  One sofa, a piano, two lamps, one antique globe, four chairs, a kitchen table, and four onyx pedestals–the mineral, not the gem–displaying the Russian Baron Peter Klodt von Jurgensburg’s “The Horse Tamer” miniatures made up the room’s vertical trimmings.  Hanging on the bland tan plaster walls were three framed images.  One was a black and white movie poster capturing the famous coffee scene in Heat, another was a black and white poster of 1990s Metallica, and the third was a commissioned word-art photo–also black and white–of a TH-1H Huey bordered by friends’ well-wishing farewell comments and signatures, which received attention each time the owner was heady with wine.  And there was a white board.

As usual, George, who was sporting a clean shaven chin, was standing, Pete, wearing just-before-itchy length stubble, sitting.  They had just returned from viewing TC’s most recent film at the local theater.

“So, Mr. I-Like-Blondes, what’d you think of her?” Pete asked, looking up from his laptop while it woke up.

“Pretty hot,” George said.

“As you know, I’m not into blondes, but there was one scene which made me long for a woman again,” Pete said.

Smiling bigger than after bowling a strike, George said, “Oh yeah.  The one where she’s doing that iso-pushup.”

“The one from the preview?  Na, that’s not what I’m talking about,” Pete interrupted, derailing his friend’s excitement in favor of his own.

“What are you talking about then?”

“I’m talking about when she’s focusing on memorizing the plan that will allow her and TC to stay alive long enough to win.  When they were in the bunker room…..planning area…..with the holographic thing,” he said, trying to jar George’s memory.

“Oh.  I remember.”

“It just reminded me that it has been a long time since I have seen a woman really try hard.  As in apply effort.  Real effort.  Care about doing it right.  It was hot,” Pete said.  He paused for only a moment, but it was long enough for him to sift through a decade’s worth of memories.  Beginning again, he said, “I can remember memorizing the helicopter operational limits while on my commercial flights to my next training base.  There were like 220 numbers that had no pattern.  That kind of effort.  Or I think I’ve told you about my first memory of Greeny.  From back in college?  It was an intramural flag football game and he was on the ground, laid out, fully extended with the football in one hand–all to gain a few extra inches.  I don’t think the game even counted for anything.  But I remember having the specific thought, ‘I want to be his friend.'”

“Yeah.  Women just don’t do that.  Or at least the ones we ever come across don’t,” George said, staring through the wall, past the front yard, across the dimly lit street, and into the unending night.

“Doesn’t matter where the effort is being applied, I would chase after a woman like that,” Pete concluded.  Rejoining, he attempted old white man voice and quoted another sci-fi favorite of his day, “Hope.  It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” George said.  “See ya tomorrow man.”

Review of Grudge Match

I will cry when Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro die.  In the past I have thought about celebrity deaths that will be difficult to stomach, but only after watching Grudge Match am I sure that those two will cause a genuine sense of loss.

The movie is easy.  The story is straightforward.  And as a bonus, a black man and an old man use their societal advantages to provide the audience with guilty laughs.

The movie is almost good enough to be called “good” even if the viewer hasn’t seen Raging Bull or any films in the Rocky Saga–almost.  Then again, no movie would be comprehensible if all context could be removed.

It’s humorous the way each fighter is equally the underdog.  We have underdog versus underdog.  Luckily, the respective underdog attributes are acted well-enough to birth some curiosity.  By the time we find ourselves calling the filmmakers names for not having the courage to use Rocky’s theme song one last time to accompany the mandatory training montage, we do wonder how the fight will end.  And we nurse a hope that it will end the way we want it to, whichever way that is.  Surprisingly, the film’s writers and director are more on point than we ever could’ve imagined.

In the final round of the fight we arrive at two specific moments that explicitly reveal the film’s theme, and whether these moments are taken together or individually, that theme proves to be well worth the, at times perfunctory, 90 minute commute.

In short, if you remain undecided about watching it, watch it.

Review of Killing Season starring Bobby D. and Johnny T.

The previews looked like someone had re-tooled Hopkins and Baldwin’s 1997 thiller The Edge.  Two elderly-ish men trying to survive, and possibly kill each other in the woods.  But what we have here is something new.  It is at once a simple action flick–kinda B-movie action at that–and a portrayal of one of the most challenging commandments Jesus of Nazareth issued.

The film begins with scenes of the not-so-familiar Bosnian war.  We are shown images of genocide which would be striking if they weren’t nauseatingly familiar.  Like Shutter Island before it, we are then shown that even the good guys sometimes commit atrocities.  While in Bosnia we think we see Travolta killed.  Moments later we are introduced to DeNiro’s character and discover he has taken to hunting in the woods…with a camera instead of a gun.  Nothing surprising here.

The fact is nothing too surprising happens for the next hour or so of the film.  There is a game of cat and mouse that seems to drag on and on with no point.  But then something magical happens–the point appears.

Movies which improve with their run-time are few and far between.  I grew up on the idea that most movies can be recognized for what they are in the first minute.  This one is a rare exception to that rule.

Now Ma–before you think that you’re ready for this film, allow me to offer a word of caution.  There are two surprisingly gruesome scenes that even caught me off-guard.  So, just ask me about the movie next time you call and I’ll tell you what is so neat about it.

The rest of you, proceed at your own risk.  It’s no Saw, but it still isn’t for the faint of heart.  Too bad really, because it’s message is so full of heart.

Aristotle Gave Rhetoric To All-Part 1

Rhetoric cannot be discussed without Aristotle; Aristotle cannot be discussed without rhetoric. Not just rhetoric, but Rhetoric, one of the many books he wrote.  A good way to begin talking about Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric is discussing his relationship to Plato.  Plato, himself a student of Socrates, taught Aristotle.  A moment spent marveling at the pedagogy of these three men cannot be a wasted moment.  What is known about Socrates comes from what Plato wrote.  That is to say, Socrates taught exclusively by speaking.  It should not surprise anyone, then, to learn that Plato taught that rhetoric was specific to the spoken word.  Aristotle dissented.  Here then is a starting point.  In what might be a direct reaction to Plato, Aristotle did not believe that rhetoric was “merely verbal and manipulative, and for that very reason, irrational (Meyer 249).”  Aristotle believed the opposite.  He believed that rhetoric had “a rationality of its own (Meyer 249).”

Aristotle defines rhetoric “as the art, not of persuading–for the best of speakers may sometimes fail to persuade—but of finding what persuasive things there are to be said on a given side of a given question (The Contemporary Review 206).”  This publication (from the late 1800s) further elucidates that, “as a moralist, he [Aristotle] disallows any appeal to the feelings and passions of an audience; but as a rhetorician, he proceeds to give a long and very valuable analysis of those feelings and passions, explaining to us their nature, enumerating their ordinary objects, and suggesting how they may be most effectually aroused (207).”   This again helps clarify what exactly is meant by rhetoric, and why history rightly records Aristotle as the resident expert.

That Aristotle’s thoughts on rhetoric were a reaction to a man whose pedagogy he trained under should not weaken those thoughts.  In fact, taking into account their durability throughout history, Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric, themselves, are better suited to lose value in the debate.  That said, it is time to look at Aristotle’s contribution to rhetoric.   Aristotle convincingly taught humanity that there are three categories available for use during argumentation: logos, ethos, and pathos.  These three categories are all always present, only varying with regard to their ratio to each other.  In other words, logos, ethos, and pathos make up one hundred percent of an argument, whether 30-30-40 or 80-10-10.  It doesn’t matter what the exact breakdown is; the point Aristotle made was that all three were being used—whether intentional or not.

****

“Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” The Contemporary Review Aug 01 1878: 206. ProQuest. Web. 23 July 2013

<http://search.proquest.com/docview/1294650855?accountid=14506&gt;.

Meyer, Michel. “Aristotle’s Rhetoric.” Topoi 31.2 (2012): 249-52. Springer Link. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://0-link.springer.com.skyline.ucdenver.edu/article/10.1007/s11245-012-9132-0/fulltext.html&gt;.

Grandparents Wanted

“Now that we know who is doing what, it’s time for the prepared speeches portion of the meeting.  Each of our speakers today has prepared what I’m sure will be marvelous speeches.  First up, giving her ‘Ice Breaker’ speech, is Debbie Hinkletoe.  She has spoken many times in the past, but this is her first speech with us.  It appears we are making her feel as nervous as Anne Frank practicing tuba, so let’s be sure to give her all the support we can muster,” joked the old man lovingly attempting ease Debbie’s visible nerves.

It was unclear whether the old man knew that the joke would, to put it mildly, step on a few toes.  The few audience members cursed with the inability to resist a joke’s cue-to-laugh recognized their loneliness and quickly adopted silence.

Concluding the awkward moment, a respectable old woman declared, “Not funny.”

“Okay, meetings over.  Thanks for nothing, you inconsiderate asshole!” seemed the words the audience expected to hear next.  However, following General Waverly’s (White Christmas) advice, “If there’s one thing the army taught me, it was to be positive… …especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about,” the old man made the correct decision to let the moment pass and continue the meeting.

He couldn’t help but smile.  He just witnessed an event only found in books:  An old man putting to use his well-deserved ability to “not care”, and an old woman responding in kind.  Oh, the subtleties of that moment.  As if the back-and-forth had caused the air to congeal, a stillness overtook the room for but an instant.  Neither mortal would yield.  Neither should have.  They both behaved perfectly.  They both…were grandparents.

He always liked “grandparents” as a group, but he was never quite able to put his finger on why; until that exact moment.

But first, while it may seem obvious, the reader must learn what he believed a grandparent to be.  A grandparent is not simply someone whose children have had children.  By his thinking, to be a grandparent, one’s children must be (or have) raising their own children.  Biological grandparents fulfilling the role of primary parent are not grandparents to him, then.  This is a necessary qualification.

It seemed to him that something magical happened when an old person was fully released from parental responsibilities.  The concern for ‘appropriate’ and ‘proper’ disappeared, rightfully so.  Grandparents, then, were the living proof that even the loftiest concepts needed to be knocked off their pedestals every now and again.  It was the exchange between these grandparents that  revealed this truth clearly.

This realization had a second effect.  It motivated him, for he was a parent.  Moreover, he now understood that to earn his status as grandparent he must aggressively embrace his parental responsibility.  Any wasted time or opportunity would only result in his missing out on the ability to someday be the salt of life, would result in his missing out on the near-sanctified duty to offend, provoke, insult, but also spoil, entertain, love.

More than that, he finally understood why, no matter what they did, he always felt loved by his own grandparents.  It was because they wouldn’t be his grandparents if his parents hadn’t loved him first.

How To Do The Inconceivable.

(If you’re short on time, skip to the bottom for numbered instructions.)

Because it is time, that’s why.  Someone needs to grab the bull by the horns and reveal the secret to accomplishing anything.  The following few paragraphs are going to give you the tips you need to do anything you can conceive.

In the recent Tom Cruise movie Oblivion, T.C. and his female counterpart are two-weeks away from completing their mission on the ‘remote site’ that is Planet Earth.  After the two weeks, they will return to the new human settlement with those who survived the war.  Granted, the work they were doing was not in itself particularly difficult or boring.  Loneliness seemed to be the biggest negative.  And the dream of how life would be like in two weeks’ time kept them going.

How many of us ever thought we’d spend as much time and energy as we have to accomplish so little?  How did we do it?  Where did we get the strength from?  Were we born with it?  Even if we were born with it, we must fight the desire to victimize ourselves.  Instead, as a group we need to accept total responsibility for our lives.

Where did the strength to put up with a life we never conceived come from?  The strength came from believing a lie.  The lie that there will be more time in the future.  Break down the concept of the future a little and you’ll see why this is a lie.  The future has not happened.  The present is happening.  The future “is not”.  The present “is”.  What do you gain if when you trade what “is” for what “is not”?

The future will never be.  Can you understand this?  The future will never “exist.”  It will never “be.”  That’s it’s definition.  If you believe that the future is something that “will be”, then you’re no longer describing the same abstract idea that’s being discussed here, and is commonly labeled “the future.”  There is no catching-up.  There is no getting ahead.  These are impossibilities.

I have been nearly exclusively reading the classics for almost a decade now, and a common theme is best summed up by Jon J. Muth in his children’s book, “The Three Questions”, based on Leo Tolstoy’s ideas.  “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now.  The most important one is always the one you are with.  And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.  For these, my dear boy, are the answers to what is most important in this world.”

The choice is always yours.  If you want to do the inconceivable follow the instructions below.  If you want to exist in reality, stick with living in the present.

Instructions for How to Do The Inconceivable:

Step 1 – Believe that after you’ve accomplished it, you’ll have time to do what you really want.

Step 2 – Understand that there is only one step.