May 2 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel was just the story I wanted to be told

maureen

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a lovely, funny tale told as meta-narrative, a story about a story being told. It takes place in an almost real land in an almost historical setting. I’m always tempted to wear pajamas to Wes Anderson movies because he makes me feel like a kid who is about to hear a story. Even though his themes and tone are definitely for grown-ups, his story telling style demands the suspension of disbelief that makes hearing a yarn as a child so delightful.  It’s not realistic but the story is consistent to it’s own set of rules and the themes are accessible and universal. It was an enchanting hundred minutes.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is populated with zany characters played by the usual suspects in an Anderson film: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, and newcomers to Anderson’s films: Ralph Fiennes, Saorise Ronan and Tony Revolori. The characters take themselves seriously in the midst of the surreal silliness of the plot. The deep sincerity of Gustave and Zero plays in stark contrast to the slapstick situations in which they find themselves. As concierge Gustave is the picture of solicitous perfection. Acting as mentor to young Zero, Gustave passes on his philosophy of service and his love for the grandeur of Grand Budapest Hotel.

One aspect of Gustave’s service is “taking care” of the needs of rich, elderly women who are guests of the hotel. His devotion to one such lady lands him in an inheritance battle with her children. Throw in a stolen art piece, greed and poverty, evil Nazi-ish cops, and romantic adventure  for Zero and oh, yes, a train; and the funny-sad-exciting-reflective story unfolds as told by Zero to the unnamed Author in 1968 whose book is being read on a bench by a teenage girl in present day. (Summarizing this requires several run-on sentences, so get over it grammar freaks.)

In addition to the financial appreciations, Gustave does seem to have a certain attachment to these older ladies, perhaps because they hold to the manners and customs of the age that is quickly slipping away. Years later, as Zero tells the story to another guest, he says of Gustave, “I think his world had vanished long before he even entered it.” The first few decades of the twentieth century marked a slow death to an era of manners and pretenses. It was a time when fortunes were made and flaunted and a time when people dressed up for dinner. Gustave and Zero’s story takes place in a similar time. Formality is beginning to relax in their world too, but Gustave is having none of it. The Grand Budapest clings to its shabby formality as it slowly wears out over the decades between the 1930’s and 1968 when Zero tells the story to the author.

Ultimately my take-away was a mood of  nostalgia for the times when  I sat cross legged on the floor, entranced as someone read me a story, or, better yet, embellished one told from memory. I remember visualizing unfamiliar settings and characters with the license of imagination. What I saw in my head skewed a bit from what the authors intended or what might eventually appear on screen when the story was made into a movie. Anderson has a way of making me feel like I’m reading a book and seeing it in my head but getting to share his skew. Like imagination inception.

 


Mar 19 2014

The giving and receiving of grace in Nebraska

maureen


Director Alexander Payne says he shot Nebraska in black and white because “this modest, austere story seemed to lend itself to being made in black and white.” Modest and austere is a good description of the settings and characters in Nebraska. The word I think of is “real.” It was so real that filming it in black and white actually helped distance me from the stark reality of aging portrayed in the film.

The film begins with Woody, an elderly man in early stages of dementia shuffling down the road with one of those “you may be a winner” promotional letters, determined to make his way to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize. Since he can’t drive anymore, he’s just going to walk. 76-year-old Bruce Dern plays Woody with authenticity and understatement. Woody isn’t a joke or a villain. He’s an average small-town retiree who is frequently grumpy, drinks too much, and has typical relationship issues with his wife and grown sons. Aging hasn’t made him this way, he’s always been this way. With aging the filters deteriorate so that we become more obviously the people we already are.

Woody’s practical, outspoken wife Kate, his successful son Ross, and non-so-successful son David are real human beings struggling to deal with the effect of aging on family dynamics. Woody’s irrational behavior and unsteady reasoning make it hard for Kate to live with him. She, in turn, keeps calling her sons for help with their dad, which is disruptive to their lives. Like so many families, this family is having to make some dreaded “decisions” about dad, who always before had the autonomy to decide things for himself. It’s a frustrating and painful time for any family whose lived through this. Watching Nebraska is like walking through it with friends or neighbors. The emotions and situations are absolutely spot on.

Younger son David, who is between jobs offers to take his dad to Lincoln in hopes that he’ll stop fixating on the letter once it’s clear he’s not a winner. He also sees it as an opportunity to spend some time with his dad. Their road trip involves a series of little episodes that are sometimes amusing and often frustrating for David. They spend a weekend in Woody’s hometown where old wounds and rivalries are rekindled. Thinking he actually won some sort of sweepstakes, Woody’s relative and old friends embrace Woody as a celebrity and possible benefactor. Kate and Ross join David and Woody for a family reunion and a revealing walk through Woody’s childhood home.

Throughout the movie David begins to understand and appreciate his father as a person rather than seeing him with all the labels attached. Alcoholic. Distant. Grumpy. Inconsiderate. Disappointment. Sucker. Inconvenience. Failure.

Family relationships always have baggage. By the time a parent reaches the point where a child has to step in there might be forty or fifty years worth of baggage. Imagine unforgiven offense, patterns of hurtful behavior, personality flaws, painful memories stuck to the baggage like those vintage labels on suitcases. To a great extent we define ourselves and others by those labels. If we are willing to peel off the labels we’ve placed on others because of past experiences and see who is under there, we actually create margin for change to happen in those relationships.

Nebraska gently nudged me to reminder that healing comes with forgiveness. Perspective happens when we experience someone else’s story as a participant instead of a spectator. Nebraska reveals how simply walking through an experience with another person changes the relationship. The characters don’t experience big character arcs or life-changing epiphanies. In fact, none of the characters change that much from the beginning of the movie to the end, but how they see one another does. In this film I saw a picture of the giving and receiving of grace.

 

 

 

 

Many


Jan 19 2014

Captain Phillips comes down to character

maureen

Captain Phillips was intense. The pacing, the acting, and the story were all compelling and emotionally draining. It kept my attention from beginning to end. The conflict between Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips and Barkhad Abdi’s Muse provide a strong framework for the narrative. Tom Hanks seemed so comfortable in Phillips’ skin that he was able to put me there as well. Abdi’s performance gave Muse a humanity and even humor, that provided a multi-dimensional shadow to Hanks’ Phillips. Continue reading


May 11 2013

State of Play: Who can you trust?

maureen


May 7

In State of Play a reporter, Cal McCaffrey, is investigating a possible suicide by the aide of Congressman Stephen Collins, who had been his college roommate. Collins approaches him for help after it becomes public that the married Collins had been in a relationship with his aide. To further complicate matters, McCaffrey had an affair with Mrs. Collins and the three had been friends in college. Pretty much everyone’s relationship status could be marked “complicated”, except cub reporter Della Frye played by Rachel McAdams. Continue reading


May 6 2013

Ironman Three

maureen


May 6

It doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it might have taken itself a wee bit more seriously. Compared to the previous movies in the series, Ironman Three felt just a little campy.

It had all the expected archetypes and basic plot line that made it feel to me like it was wearing a sign that said “superhero movie.” Not to say it wasn’t fun. The writing in Ironman Three was funny. Stuff blew up. There were cool gadgets. I do love the Marvel characters and I have to say  Ironman Three disappointed a little there.

Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin was a trip. I don’t want to spoil the fun for those who haven’t seen it.  His trickster villain was my favorite part of the movie. Continue reading


Jul 24 2012

My The Dark Knight Rises Review

maureen

SPOILER ALERT

The Dark Knight Rises was a credible end to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. On the whole it was a great movie and I liked it a lot. Certain elements were incredibly well done and really satisfying. Even the storytelling choices that I didn’t like made sense. I can’t say they were bad choices, just that I wanted something else.

What I liked best:

1. Catwoman. She is a character who speaks to the present rather than operating entirely off her back story. This makes her decisions much fresher. She is a beautiful picture of the battle between the new man and the old man. She seeks transformation on her own terms but struggles with the actual journey. Catwoman’s transformation and story arc are perfectly played. Continue reading


Jul 15 2012

Breaking Bad Season 5: Is Walter the new Gus?

maureen

TRAILER CONTAINS SPOILERS:

Season 5 of Breaking Bad airs tonight. So far Breaking Bad has chronicled Walt’s downward spiral, from the moment he becomes a meth cook with motives that he can justify to himself as understandable and admirable, to the final show in season 4 in which Walt seems to have become the very person he once saw as a necessary evil. Gradually, over four seasons,Walt’s desperation and fear have been replaced with the same pride, cunning, and aggression that has elevated his boss Gus Fring to executive status in the drug trade. Continue reading


Jul 11 2012

Linklater’s Comedy Bernie Raises Serious Questions about Grace, Mercy, and Justice

maureen

CAUTION: LOTS OF SPOILERS

In his latest movie, Bernie, Richard Linklater pulls back the “pine curtain” and takes an affectionate look at how the small East Texas town of Carthage responded to a shocking murder in the late nineties. Bernie Tiede, a mild-mannered funeral director/Sunday School teacher/leading citizen, kills Marjorie Nugent, a rich 81-year-old widow known as the “meanest woman in town.” The town is split on the extent of judgment or mercy Bernie deserves.  Continue reading


Jun 26 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter seriously serious?

maureen

SPOILER ALERT

Not since Snakes on a Plane has the title of a movie made we want to see it as much as Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. I got what I expected. I’m not saying I wasn’t entertained. I was. The historical details like Lincoln’s mother dying or his job as a shopkeeper lend enough historical accuracy that it actually makes it harder to suspend disbelief. Suspension of disbelief has no power over this movie. It takes a silver bullet through the brain of reason. Once that’s done, it’s a decent ride.

The vampires are the dark, devouring, bloodsucking villains they are supposed to be. No romance here, just scary bad guys who have the advantage of thousands of years experience in fighting and manipulation. Abe Lincoln is believable in appearance and personality. He reacts in much the way one would expect Abe Lincoln to react if he were confronted with vampires. Abe’s sidekicks are decent.The stage was set for an awesome girl fight but Mary Lincoln was as bland as a hospital diet. That was disappointing. Continue reading


Dec 25 2011

The Ghost of Christmas Present is aging fast

maureen

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that bears retelling. I remember watching the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim on TV as a child and being terrified of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  When the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge Marley’s deathbed scene I think I learned the meaning of mortality before I ever heard the word. It was my first sobering visit with one of Dickens’ ghosts.

I think the Muppets might tell it best, though Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse both do credible jobs. The most recent Disney offering starring Jim Carrey is pretty good as is the BBC version.  And I sort of liked Bill Murray’s modern version, Scrooged. With each viewing one of the ghosts has had something different to show me. Continue reading


Apr 20 2011

Celebrating Easter with 15 Moments of Redemption in Movies

maureen

Sometimes truth dawns slowly and change comes in fits and spurts. We begin thinking about eternity and seeking purpose. We recognize our baggage and want something better. We find ourselves inching toward truth in the choices we make and the causes we embrace. We want peace and reconciliation and community. While redemption happens in a moment of decision, the journey toward that decision and transformation that follows  is often a process.

Jules Winnfield – Pulp Fiction. Jules recognizes that redemptive forces are at work though he has not yet connected the dots. He finds himself longing to change his role from avenger to shepherd.   They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. Rom 2:15

Charlie Babbitt – Rain Man. When Charlie realizes that Raymond is the secret friend, the “Rain Man” of his childhood, his self-centeredness and greed begins to break down. It’s not the moment of truth but the truth that leads to the moment.  Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Mark 12:34 Continue reading


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 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


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


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 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


Jan 19 2010

Characters, Symbolism, and Sin in The Book of Eli

maureen

Spoiler alert – Eli is ready to kill and ready to die to protect the book he believes he’s been charged by God to carry west. In this apocalyptic world Eli’s Bible might the last one known to exist. Apparently the Bible played some part in a war that resulted in nuclear holocaust thirty years earlier, which led to an attempt to destroy all known copies.

Eli doesn’t know what he expects to find when he gets there, he just knows that his part is to carry to book. He brings it out and reads it every night, but otherwise keeps it hidden from sight. The care and reverence with which he treats the Bible as he carries it reminds me of the Biblical accounts of the Israelites transporting the Ark of the Covenant.

The Book of Eli made me think about the power of the Bible and how it is used. It also left me with some questions about Eli, his mission, and the characters he encountered along the way. Perhaps I’m completely off, but the names of the characters seemed to carry some significance for me.

A glimpse into Eli’s pack reveals a K-mart employee name-tag with the name “Eli.” Like Noah, David, or one of the Apostles, Eli is an ordinary guy who God seems to have called to do something extraordinary. On one hand Eli believes he is divinely appointed, divinely led, and divinely protected. On the other he’s a sort of Samurai / western hero with mad self-defense skills. I sort of wondered whether Eli’s skills are divinely inspired or whether he’s developed his unique abilities to sense danger due to years on the road. Whatever the case it seemed to me that Eli is heavy on violence and may have failed to explore other communication options. 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


Jan 30 2009

The themes of Greed and Blessing in Slumdog Millionaire

maureen

Warning : Spoilers. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie and are one of those people who don’t want to know what happens.

Slumdog Millionaire follows two brothers who make very different choices as they grapple with escaping from the hopelessness and poverty of Mumbai’s slum. For Salim money means hope. For Jamal it is his love for childhood friend Latika that drives him forward.

At the beginning of the movie Jamal and Salim flee an angry mob. Jamal’s concern extends to Latika who is also running. Salim fears that Latika will be a drain on them and resists helping her. Throughout the movie Jamal’s consistent love and concern for Latika contrasts with Salim’s willingness to treat her like a resource, using her when she adds value and rejecting her when she causes complications. Eventually Latika becomes a symbol of hope for Jamal. Finding her and loving her becomes his life’s cause. Continue reading


Dec 4 2008

The Themes of Greed and Grace in It’s a Wonderful Life

maureen

It’s a Wonderful Life is perhaps the quintessential Christmas movie. Every year we watch George Bailey’s search for meaning and purpose while we hiss and boo at the evil Mr. Potter. So what exactly does It’s a Wonderful Life have to say about our current mortgage scandals?

Just a minute – just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was – why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why – here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You – you said – what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be. – George Bailey

Continue reading


Nov 6 2008

The Theme of Greed in Burn After Reading and other Coen Brothers movies

maureen

Burn After Reading is more of the Coen Brothers’ ruminations on greed. Though No Country for Old Men and certainly Fargo provide humorous moments, Burn after Reading is more like Raising Arizona in its sensibility and humor. Brad Pitt is hysterical as Chad, the impulsive fitness instructor who helps his co-worker Linda who tries to cash in on a disk of classified C.I.A. information accidentally left at a gym in the D.C. area. Linda wants the money to pay for cosmetic surgery which, she believes, will lead to love.

As in No Country for Old Men and Fargo, greed induces characters to abandon their moral parameters. None of these characters are professional criminals. Each becomes the bumbling crook in order to obtain or keep something that is not theirs. In each case one of the main characters fails to value the opportunities for happiness already present in his or her life. In each case there is something at represents happiness that he or she is willing to break the law to get.   Continue reading


Oct 18 2008

The Theme of Greed in Millions

maureen

We can pay off all our debts. We can take a vacation. We can improve the lives of our families and friends. We can fill the gas tank. We can start a trust for our children. We can stay home and pursue something we love to do. We can weather an economic downturn. We can now afford to be charitable. We are certain we would be responsible and worthy stewards should a bag of money land in our laps.

Millions presents yet another story of finding a large sum of ill-gotten cash. Money literally falls from the sky into the hands of young Anthony and Damian. Britain is in the process of adopting the Euro so the fortune, which is in British Pounds, must be spent quickly before the country converts to Euros. Continue reading