Mar 15 2011

Fables and Proverbs in Please Give

maureen


SPOILERS. What are our motives for charity? Does giving out of guilt cancel out the good we do? Nicole Holofceners’ award-winning screenplay explores motives behind acts of charity with Please Give. She may not have intended them but I saw lots of little fables in her storytelling.

Kate and her husband Alex run a trendy mid-century furniture store on 10th Ave. They purchase items at estate sales for a fraction of what they make reselling them.  Alex gleefully explains to customers who ask where they get their stuff, “we buy them from the relatives of dead people.” Business is good enough for Kate and Alex to purchase the apartment of their 91-year-old neighbor Andra so they can expand their home after she dies. Kate feels so guilty that much of her life hinges on the grief of others that she becomes obsessed with charity.

Continue reading


Oct 15 2010

The Social Network and the Seven Deadly Sins

maureen

The Social Network touches on just about every one of the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, envy, and revenge, with a little lust, gluttony and sloth thrown in for good measure. Like any good fable it serves up some pretty obvious morals about relationships and business.

1. Hell hath no fury like a lustful hacker scorned.
2. Envy makes it easier to justify less than ethical behavior (Note to self: write down and date the details of the idea, make sure a non-compete is signed before revealing the details, and invite the tech guy all the way into the club or meet somewhere else.)
3. Hubris makes communication and conflict resolution nearly impossible. In the scene between the Winklevoss twins and the Dean, hubris oozes from both sides of the desk. Continue reading


Sep 24 2010

Anger in The Ref

maureen

Often marriage offers a comfort level that can make taking one another for granted or taking advantage of one another standard practice. Anger and resentment builds when one or both members feels undervalued. We may also resent it if we feel our spouses want more or demand more than we are able to give. We may end up feeling trapped in our most intimate relationship. When the seven deadly were first named anger was called wrath. As opposed to the occasional episode of anger that is a reaction to a specific event, a wrath is a general disposition of malice, fury, vengeance or bitterness.

Lloyd and Caroline Chausseur in the movie The Ref are experiencing these emotions. Bickering has become a way of life. The title character, Gus, kidnaps the Chausseurs after a bungled burglary in order to hide out at their house but instead finds himself “reffing” this dysfunctional family on Christmas Eve. He describes the experience as “the fifth ring of hell.” Exasperated he gives them an ultimatum “Married people without guns – for instance – you – DO NOT get to yell. Why? NO GUNS! No guns, no yelling.” But even the gun cannot keep them from arguing. Continue reading


Sep 8 2010

Football Movies – Some Lessons About Character, Vice, and Virtue

maureen
Last Saturday when I sat down to watch my Texas Longhorns the sports pundits said that they expected more of a running game since they would need to adjust their game to match their new talent. I groaned. I love the thrill of seeing the football hurtling down the field to a receiver who catches it and runs it for a long gain.

But that’s not what happens in real life. In real life we inch forward, lose ground, and sustain hits that knock us down. In most football movies the struggle on the field, that tedious inch-by-inch progress punctuated by blocks and tackles, unjust calls and rookie mistakes is a metaphor for the way life usually works. Sure football movies are full of clichés, but the stories they tell can serve as reminders of how often our attitudes thwart our relationships and our forward progress.


Any Given Sunday – In the half-time pep talk Coach D’Amato says that, “the inches we need are everywhere. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch.” Life events come at us from every direction and sometimes seem to conspire to lay us flat. I can figure I’m just a victim of fate and envy the lucky ones; or I can learn some patience, figure out the holes in the line and rejoice in progress by inches. Continue reading

Aug 9 2010

Sex, Lies, and Don Draper in Mad Men

maureen

He presents a slick, appealing image but Don Draper is a man on the run. He’s escaping his past by taking on a new identity. His carefully constructed persona earns him admiration in the first seasons. At work he is known for his creativity, good looks, and integrity.

Advertising presents an idealized image of a life that can only be attained by purchasing the product being sold. Advertising creates discontent with real life. It plays on envy and pride to create a desire to mold a life that matches the image presented in the ad, and to purchase whatever products necessary to prop up that image. Mad Men’s creator Matthew Weiner chose advertising as a subject, he said, because “it’s a great way to talk about the image we have of ourselves, versus who we really are.”

Don Draper is the personification of a man who is reaching for the image. He doesn’t think he can attain it as himself, Richard Whitman, so he becomes someone else. For awhile he succeeds in selling himself as the person he wants people to believe that he is. Even after his charade is discovered by a few people he manages to dodge consequences. He’s tried to compartmentalize his life, presenting himself as a successful, creative advertising executive and charming family man while feeding his alienation with lies, sex, and alcohol. But he can’t maintain the persona 24/7. While the excessive drinking is accepted cultural behavior in 1960’s New York for Don it’s more than social. Don’s lost and hurting so he self-medicates with gluttony (alcohol) and lust.

Just as he does at the office, Don is carrying on a charade at home. He is the image of affluent, upper-middle class America in the sixties. But his relationship with his wife Betty is based on lies. He’s married her and given her a name that is not even his own. He cheats on her. He carries on the social pretenses of the lifestyle but he’s not really engaged. Don’s personal emotional space isn’t just wide, it’s a chasm. Even with Betty. Continue reading


Jul 31 2010

Transitions, Passages, Loss, and Growing Up in Toy Story 3

maureen

Toy Story 3 is funny and wise and heart-rending. The Toy Story series has grown up with its audience. Pre-schoolers who saw Toy Story in 1995 are now leaving home for college. Kids who saw Toy Story and Toy Story 2 when they were in elementary school are transitioning into jobs, marriages, parenthood and new homes. Relationships between the Toy Story generation and their parents, grand-parents, friends and mentors are in transition too.

The first Toy Story helped these little ones figure out how to welcome new siblings and share friends. Then Toy Story 2 showed them that personal worth is found in loving relationships rather than status. Foreshadowing Toy Story 3, Woody and Buzz have a conversation in Toy Story 2 about the possibility of Andy growing up and outgrowing his toys. They conclude that being loved and fulfilling their purpose as toys – to be there for Andy – is worth the uncertainty.

Jun 26 2010

10 Virtues of Summer – Summer Vacation Movies I Love

maureen
Things change in the summer. Students graduate. Kids go to camp. Families take vacations together. We leave our routines and embark on new adventures, visit new places, and meet new people. We have time to step back and evaluate where we are and where we want to go in our lives. Summer has the potential to work change in all of us. Our time away is often the time we grow as individuals and a time our relationships with those around us deepen. Here, in no particular order,  are 10 of my favorite vacation movies and the virtues I think they reveal.

Stand by Me (1986) Gaining perspective. On the last weekend of summer 12-year-olds Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern set out the find the dead body that is supposed to be hidden by the railroad tracks. They are about to enter middle school and, due to academic differences, probably will be separated. Each is struggling with limitations and perceptions about himself.

The Sandlot (1993) Taking chances. Scotty Smalls is the new kid in a neighborhood which seems to be primarily concerned with baseball, not one of his interests or talents. Benny Rodriguez, the leader of the group, reaches out to him and teaches him the game. Scotty takes a chance on Benny and baseball and allows himself to become part of the group. Continue reading

May 15 2010

O Sleeper On The Epic Battle Between Good and Evil

maureen

My son told me that O Sleeper’s Vices like Vipers reminds him of my Sinema7 book, so I took a look at the band. I’m not really in the hardcore/metalcore demographic and I definitely had to read the lyrics because I’m not used to screamed lyrics. Honestly, the depth of emotion and gut wrenching delivery reminded me a lot of opera. It has an epic feel. Much of their music is about the battle between God and Satan or good and evil. I found myself reflecting on the epic nature of Christianity.

O Sleeper’s most recent album is based on the culminating battle between God and Satan described in the Book of Revelation. In the title song, Son of the Morning, Satan spews out his hatred for God and contempt for Christ, calling him the “weak forgiver” and telling God “you’re wasting power on grace.” God replies “If you could see like me you’d see you haven’t won anything.” There is a back and forth between screamed and clean lyrics, cacophony and melody that represent the conversation between Satan and God. Throughout the album Satan declares his intention to thwart the work of Christ, to assault those God loves and to amass power by turning them away from God. God’s power and defeat of Satan culminates in The Finisher with God’s graphic promise to Satan that he will “cut off your horns.”

The songs between these bookends describe Satan’s attempts to win the hearts and souls of men and man’s battle with temptation. In the third song, In All Honesty, Satan crows “I’m forever stalking the streets for the next one. I’ve found I can run faster than guilt…” The anguished cry of a man in Satan’s grip “I wish I could be so much more than me” and God’s response, “you could be the one who pleases me…because I can reach through anything.” The intensity of the music matches the intensity of the ideas expressed. It’s sort of hard to imagine “Bring out your dead” in Commissioned by Kings sung to Contemporary Christian instrumentation and American Idol-ish vocal stylings. Continue reading


Apr 24 2010

Vengeance and Compassion in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and How the Book of Leviticus Fits In

maureen

SPOILERS:  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a truly satisfying murder mystery with a complex plot, unrelenting violence, and unique characters.  This is a bleak film that explores how people get psychologically twisted and whether a history of past abuse should be a consideration in how harshly we judge them. It is not for the squeamish with scenes of graphic sex and violence.

Mikael, an unjustly discredited investigative journalist, is tapped by an elderly corporate magnate, Henrick Vanger, to investigate a decades old family mystery. The cover story is that Mikael is writing a Vanger family history. Lisbeth is a goth hacker with body piercings and, yes, a dragon tattoo who is contracted by Henrick’s nephew Martin through some computer connections at Vanger Corporation to keep tabs on Mikael’s research. Without this girl with the dragon tattoo the story would be just another murder mystery, but Lisbeth bring the noir to this detective story.

While the murder plot is complex the psychological exploration is even more compelling. Lisbeth is smart, independent, and very damaged. Lisbeth is unwilling to let go of her anger. It seems to be the force that’s holding her together. But this anger isn’t uncontrolled rage but focused, almost detached vengeance. She finds power in revenge. Continue reading


Feb 14 2010

Four Loves Trump Greed, Hubris, and Envy in Avatar

maureen

For me, Avatar is about love. The relationships that form in this movie brought the term “hooking up” to a whole new level. The Na’vi  are biologically equipped to commune with nature and with one another. When Jake hooks up with this community he finds four kinds of love: love for god, romantic love, friendship, and love for himself.

Avatar starts by introducing Jake’s need for love. Loss of his twin brother and loss of his legs leave him disconnected. He can no longer fulfill his purpose as a marine. The unique bond between twins is broken and he feels alone. His identity as a marine brings him a sense of belonging so he jumps at the chance to fulfill a purpose that also brings him close to his brother. Jake is seeking what all of us seek – connection and fulfillment.

Jake finds something like an Eden on Pandora where everyone seems to be enjoying connection and fulfillment. This world is intriguing and refreshing. Jake’s avatar is sent into Pandora by those who operate out of self-interest. The film’s villains are a pretty one-dimensional lot with Parker Selfridge representing the evil greed of capitalism and industrialization while the Colonel represents the hubris of military might and imperialism. At first the scientists who seek objective knowledge and career advancement in academia, while not villains, are presented as morally neutral. While the politics might be controversial, what makes these characters villains is that they are willing to further their agendas at someone else’s expense . They love themselves before others and adjust what they see as ethical to support their desires. Avatar reveals how intimate and fulfilling love can get when we put god, spouses, and friends before ourselves and our selfish motivations. Continue reading


Feb 6 2010

Heroes Redemption and Forgiveness for Sylar

maureen

Repentance and forgiveness bring down the wall in the most recent episode of Heroes, Season 4 Episode 18. Guilt is a wall that separates us from others and locks us into ourselves. Bitterness does the same thing.  Gabriel Gray, aka Sylar, reaches a personal arch in Heroes. He doesn’t want to be Sylar anymore. He wants to change. Vengeance, fear, and doubt drive Matt Parkman to entrap Sylar in the isolation of his own mind. With motives that have nothing to do with rescue, Peter Petrelli goes into Sylar’s isolation to bring him back.

This reminds me so much of Paul’s conversion.  Sylar wants redemption but, like Paul, has to wait for someone to come and lead him out.  It must have been frightening for Ananias to be asked to go to Paul. Paul had the power to kill him or have him arrested. Paul may have hurt some of Ananias’ friends and it’s possible Ananias wasn’t all that excited about letting Paul off the hook after all he’d done to make life miserable for Christians. Paul had to wait around in Damascus, blind, until someone from the community he had tortured came to help him. Moving on for both Paul and Sylar required being forgiven.

Trapped together in an empty world, Peter and Gabriel/Sylar struggle to find a way out. They cooperate because they have a common goal, but Peter feels compelled to continue to hate Gabriel/Sylar who killed his brother Nathan. Gabriel feels he’s changed but cannot begin to function as a changed person until Peter forgives him. We make redemption more difficult for others by harboring resentments or saddling them with baggage from the past. Peter’s forgiveness not only releases Gabriel but restores Peter so that his memories of his brother can be based on love rather than anger. Whatever happens on Heroes next,  watching Peter and Gabriel knock down that wall created a visual image for me of how redemption and forgiveness work together to free us.


Feb 1 2010

Lost TV Characters and the Seven Deadly Sins—Will Season 6 Change How We See Them?

maureen

(Other Sinema7 blog posts about Lost are available at http://sinema7.net/tag/lost/)

Lost starts Tuesday. Hopefully some of the questions that have built up over the last five years will be resolved. I recently came across this article from 2008: Get Lost in the Seven Deadly Sins by Amelie Rosseau, on the Lost Media fan site.

And here is a YouTube video called The Seven Deadly Sins of Lost:

I agreed with many of the assessments in these. I think each of the characters, like most of us, have more than one sin that motivates his or her choices. Here is my take on which characters seem to be driven by which sins:

Pride – Benjamin Linus &  Charles Whitmore are in a power struggle for the island. Pride is probably the besetting sin of leadership and power. When someone thinks they know what’s best for other people and is willing to lie, manipulate, and maybe even kill to further his own agenda that’s driven by pride. Jack is prideful, but not even close to being in Ben and Charles’ league. After years of feeling rejected and victimized Locke’s ego has to be stroked by feeling special and chosen. Juliet is just a bit sanctimonious about being right, and she’s pretty sure that she’s right on just about everything. It is ultimately Eko’s pride that drives his unwillingness to repent of his sins which apparently leads to death by smoke monster.

Envy – Jin’s insecurity pushes him toward envy. Charlie struggles with the same sort of thing. He’s jealous for Claire’s attention. He’s trying so hard to restore his image and wants so desperately to be a hero that he tags along with those that might be considered leaders hoping to be identified with them. Continue reading


Nov 4 2009

This Is It Michael Jackson’s Human Nature

maureen

Michael Jackson was an incredibly talented musician. With forty plus years of experience Michael really understood the concept of entertainment. This Is It is a glimpse into rehearsals for his upcoming show, mixed with clips of footage from music videos that were also being shot. He was acutely aware of every detail of music and movement in his show. He had a vision for how the whole thing should look and sound, and seemed to be involved in every aspect. He not only connected with his music and with his audience, but acted as a conduit that connected his music to his audience. It was impossible to walk away from a Michael Jackson performance without humming one of his tunes.

I’ve been playing Thriller a lot since he died. After watching This Is It, I came out humming Human Nature. “If they say, why, why? Tell ’em that is human nature Why, why does he do me that way? I like livin’ this way, I like lovin’ this way…” Just as he was gifted with music, Michael was also afflicted with the ravages of sin. Human Nature seems like his explanation for the various controversies that surrounded him: discord and violence within the Jackson family; the controversy concerning allegations of child sexual abuse; conjecture about multiple cosmetic surgeries; financial mismanagement (he earned $500 million dollars in his lifetime, yet his home Neverland Ranch was in foreclosure). Michael seemed to have struggled with human nature. Continue reading


Sep 30 2009

The Themes of Hope and Despair in District 9

maureen

I finally saw District 9. An alien ship hovers, inoperable, above South Africa. After 28 years of conflict the ship’s inhabitants and their descendants have been rounded up and placed behind fences in slum-like conditions, where violence and crime are rampant. Over time the aliens became desperate, hopeless and violent.  The situation serves as an allegory for South Africa’s period of apartheid. But it also raises bigger questions. Wikus, a white South African government official, is sent into the settlement to inform the inhabitants that they are being moved. Unlike many of his co-workers he avoids hurting the aliens unnecessarily. He does not really see them as intelligent beings until he begins to stand in their shoes. In a search of a home he is exposed to an alien technology that causes him to begin to transform into an alien. Continue reading


Apr 6 2009

The Themes of Anger and Love in Gran Torino

maureen

WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS

Gran Torino follows an older man’s journey out of isolation. Walt Kowalski is angry and emotionally disconnected. Retired from Ford, Walt is part of a dying breed of men who worked one job in manufacturing. At his wife’s funeral Walt stands stiffly in his suit,  confused by his grandchildren’s attire. The kids have no idea in which war he fought or why he served. His snarliness, ethnic slurs and stoic demeanor make him an embarrassment to his sons. His cultural values are holdovers from the 1950’s. He carries prejudices. He is the sort of person we might call culturally irrelevant. 

His children are stereotypes of white, upper middle class culture. Sons Steve and Mitch and daughter-in law Karen seem more interested in relegating him to a retirement community and getting their hands on the house.  Granddaughter Ashley is interested in his Gran Torino but not in him. Grandsons Daniel, David and Josh find him sort of amusing and are interested in his war service but he’s not willing to discuss that with them. He seems content to be left alone with his dog and his bitterness.

Continue reading


Mar 13 2009

Amazement takes a little humility

maureen

Everything’s Amazing, Nobody’s Happy YouTube Link

Commedian Louis CK did some comedic commentary on Conan O’Brein’s show recently about amazement and what he calls a generation of spoiled idiots. He contends that people who fly, instead of complaining about delays and inconveniences, should recognize the amazing fact that “You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky…” and can arrive at a destination in six hours on a journey that once took months. Instead stories of flying usually include complaints about the wait and the inconvenience. Continue reading


Jan 15 2009

24 : Needs Redemption

maureen

Jack Bauer is back to prove, once again, that following the rules of bureaucracy is an ineffective method of saving the world. In the set up movie 24:Redemption Jack tries to reinvent himself teaching in a school in Africa. Jack quickly becomes involved in saving schoolchildren from genocide in fictional Sangala which sets up this season’s bad guy, the evil Juma. The movie ends with Jack sacrificing himself to save lives even though that choice leads to his capture and return to the U.S. to face a Senate subcommittee investigating the now defunct CTU.

Season 7 begins with Jack answering questions about his actions while a CTU agent:

Senator: “Mr. Bauer, did you torture Mr. Haddad?”

Jack: “Senator, Abraham Hadadd had targeted a bus carrying 45 people, 10 of which were children. I stopped that attack from happening. Don’t expect me to regret the decisions that I have made because sir, the truth is, I don’t.” Continue reading


Dec 23 2008

The Seven Deadly Sins at Christmas – Part Two

maureen

Anger – Grinchiness

Stupid happy people can be really annoying. It’s a time of year when some of us let down our guard. We open our wallets and donate money to causes we may have never heard of or buy our friends unnecessary (and sometimes ridiculous) gifts. We listen to music we’d never listen to any other time of year.  We abandon taste and decorate with of huge pieces of yard art and gaudy lights. We embrace hope and joy, perhaps only for a season, but we embrace it all the same. For whatever reason this sort of seasonal behavior makes some people angry.

These grinchy people refuse to abandon all hopelessness and enjoy the festivities. In How the Grinch Stole Christmas it’s not enough for the Grinch to ignore Christmas, he wants to spoil it for everyone else. The Grinch is an angry guy and his malice extends to the smallest Who down in Whoville. He finds the Whos’ joy offensive. He is convinced that it is a shallow joy that is centered around the “stuff” of Christmas. Continue reading


Oct 31 2008

Anger, Despair and Hope in Metallica’s Death Magnetic

maureen

For a generation who grew up banging heads to Master of Puppets, Death Magnetic is a musical reprise. After St. Anger angered fans with what James Hetfield admits was “one dimension…This is anger and here it is,” Metallica seems to go for something more enigmatic and layered in Death Magnetic.

The theme of their new effort is death. Primarily inspired by the overdose death of Layne Staley of Alice in Chains, this album explores the motivations that might drive someone to self-destruct. Metal has been blamed for angry, anti-social, sometimes suicidal behavior. But, perhaps, metal can merely reflect back the anger and frustration people are already feeling. Continue reading