Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dear Mrs. _____ - An Open Letter About Love and Hate

Dear Mrs. _____,

I am distressed today because I read the diatribe you posted on Facebook lambasting the high school graduation.  Yes, even though you and I are not friends in any social media network and even though you apparently took the posting down, I still got to read your hateful words.  And, as a result, there are a few things I would like you to know.

The first thing is that I absolutely and positively back your right to post whatever message you wish to convey on your social media pages.  I am a huge supporter of freedom of expression, and I welcome any and all to contribute to the community of social discourse created by the internet.  The main reason I feel so strongly about it is that I also wholeheartedly believe a person's words will ultimately reveal who he/she truly is.  I wonder if you realize what your words say about you.

In your statements, you complained about the speeches given by the guest speaker and one of the students at the graduation.  Admittedly, I wasn't there and didn't hear the speeches, so I have no way of judging the overall quality of any of them, but I am concerned that your additional comments on the matter only addressed one statement from the guest-speaker's speech and, most alarmingly, actually attacked the graduating student for something completely unrelated to what he had to say.

And that brings me to the second thing I wish to say to you: as a Christian and an educator, I am dismayed that you felt the need to verbally attack a teenage boy, a student who, by all accounts, is a credit to the high school, all for something as trivial as wearing eye make-up.  Yes, you got in a dig about his bringing up a particularly sensitive issue (and perhaps made a valid point about it being inappropriate for a graduation speech), but you seemed more offended that he was wearing glitter eye make-up and that school officials did nothing to stop him.

I have to say, Mrs. _____, that your statements do not reflect anything that I've ever learned and experienced about Christian love and understanding.  I don't know what in your life has caused you to take such a stance of judgment and disapproval against your fellow human beings, but I pray that you find peace and love in your life so that you will no longer feel the need to attack and condemn those around you, especially young people.

So, the last thing I want you to know, Mrs. _____, is that you will be in my prayers.  I pray for your peace, your health, and your prosperity.  I also pray that your hateful, bullying words (words, I hope, you will prove to be better than) did not unduly reach impressionable ears.  We've had enough teen suicides resulting from hate speech, and I'm sure we can both agree that we don't need anymore.  And, finally, I pray that those attacked by the hateful words of others find the love and support they need to carry on and bring something special into this world and that they help stamp out ignorance and intolerance wherever they find them.

Sincerely,
Steve Givens

What-to-Watch Wednesday - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Why watch One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?

Well, the cast alone is reason enough to give it a once over:

Jack Nicholson, one of the most devilishly gifted screen actors of all time, as Randle McMurphy, one of the most subversive, counter-cultural characters in literature.

Louise Fletcher, a terrifically under-utilized actress, as the icy, porcelain-featured Nurse Ratched, arguably the vilest villain in cinematic history.

And the inmates of the psychiatric ward played by the best character actors working in film.  Will Sampson, Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, and Brad Dourif to name a few.

There's also the score.  The movie opens and closes with the sounds of a musical saw, creating an eerie, yet playful tone that perfectly captures what the audience experiences as the story unfolds.

Oh, yes, the story!  Funny and allegorical.  Sad but uplifting.  A power struggle between freewill and submission.  Between male and female.  That offers a subjective view on sanity and dares to question the imposition of societal norms.  And an ending that will inspire debate even among the most dull-minded of movie goers.  Who wins in the end?  Is there even a way to tell?

Sweeping the top five Oscar categories and taking in a tremendous box office for the time, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is hardly an overlooked movie, the kind I try to highlight in this series.  And, I would venture to say most people who would be inclined to read this blog and pay any attention to my ramblings have already seen the movie and/or read the book.  But, good movies (and books, too) age like fine wine and need to be savored over and over throughout the years.  This is one such film and should be brought out once in a while for yet another viewing.

Released the year I was born, this gem is among my favorite movies of all time, but not for that reason.  It is nothing short of a masterpiece in filmmaking that remains every bit as compelling and powerful forty years later.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

What-to-Watch Wednesday - Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker (2000)

What-to-Watch Wednesday - Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker (2000)

This is the first animated film in my W2W series and the first one not to have a theatrical release.  Not that that matters a fig to any of you, but I thought I'd mention it.

Something else you may not know (or care about) is that I try to re-watch the films I recommend in effort to have something fresh and unique to say about them.  When I re-watched Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker, I found nothing new to think or feel about it, other than it remains a solid entertainment fifteen years after its release.  And, it stands strong among the multitude of DC Comics animated movies, most of which have been consistent in their high quality.

Like the best adaptations of super-hero comics, RotJ grounds itself in its source material and uses that to spring forward with a compelling story of its own.  That in and of itself is what we comic book nerds really want in the film adaptations featuring our beloved characters: connection to the old while bursting towards something new.  And, for some reason, Batman and his mythology seems especially capable of maintaining a solid core while allowing for some exciting change.

Batman Beyond is a prime example of this.  It started out as a follow-up series to Batman: the Animated Series, set approximately fifty years in the future of the DC Animated Universe as created by Bruce Timm.  A new, younger Batman is now protecting Gotham while an elderly Bruce Wayne acts as mentor and guide.  The new Batman is Terry McGuinness, and he is less grim, more humorous than his predecessor.  He also has a suit equipped with all the latest technological advances one would expect to find on a Batman suit fifty years in the future.  It was a fun series that carried on the tradition and standard of quality begun in Batman: TAS.

As a feature length film, RotJ does the nifty trick of fitting in smoothly within the continuity of the series, which was still airing when the movie came out, while presenting a complete, self-contained story so non-fans or casual fans (like me) could appreciate it.  The story is indeed about the return of Batman's ultimate arch-nemesis, and that mystery fuels the action, particularly since it had already been established in the series that the Joker was long since dead.

The answer behind the Joker's return is a great reveal and satisfying in how it ties together the past and present of the Batman Beyond continuity.  Plus, fans once again get to hear Mark Hamill's legendary portrayal of the Joker alongside Kevin Conroy's wonderful voice characterization of Batman/Bruce Wayne.

But, that is just the icing on the cake of a very well-made animated film that pleases fans of the TV show while being solid entertainment for those who just want to see a good Batman movie.  Fans and non-fans alike will enjoy what Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker has to offer.

(Side note: RotJ has also become just as famous for the many edits it had to undergo in order to get a pass to air on television.  The blu-ray disc has both versions, and I think either is acceptable as complete, fully-realized movies, but neither version is suitable for children under the age of ten in my opinion.  The unedited version is rated PG-13.)


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What-to-Watch Wednesday - Grizzly Man (2005)

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Grizzly Man (2005)

What is the line between life-fullfilling passion and life-threatening insanity?  Can a man be too passionate about his beliefs or way of life?  And, what are the consequences when our perceptions don't match reality?

These are the questions Werner Herzog wants us to ponder about Timothy Treadwell, the naturalist and bear enthusiast who spent 13 summers camping in the Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska living with and filming the indigenous bear population.  Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, were eventually attacked and killed by one of those bears.  The documentary attempts to recount the events in Treadwell's life that led to his unusual lifestyle and death.

For me, the film isn't about any of those questions though.  Instead, it paints a portrait of a man who very egotistically disregarded the savage indifference of nature because he romanticized the existence of wild animals.  And, he did all this at the expense of authentic human relationships.  Grizzly Man is in many ways a tragedy about hubris and its destructive effects.

Through personal interviews and various video clips, Treadwell slowly emerges as someone very arrogant and exceedingly attention-starved.  He bemoans his lack of a satisfying love life by spilling his guts to a bear, which seems almost comically indifferent to everything Treadwell says.  We learn that he is a failed actor who lied about his background and even affected an Australian accent for a period in his life.  And, we learn of his contentious relationship with the park service workers, many of whom felt Treadwell ended up doing more harm than good for the bears he purported to protect.

As a film, Treadwell's story is engrossing as we view clips of the hours and hours of video footage he took of his time out in the wilderness.  Some of the images he captures have a grandeur and beauty that can only be found in the wild.  But, there are moments, particularly when he interacts with the bears, in which you want to yell at the screen for him to move away or hide.  In those moments, we are seeing a man almost delusional in his belief that these creatures are kindred spirits and that he can connect with them on a spiritual level.

So Grizzly Man works mainly as a cautionary tale about the dangers of inappropriate human interaction with nature and wild animals.  It shows us a man who was largely disconnected from his fellow human beings and sought love and understanding in a world that could not offer them.  Although Treadwell is someone to be pitied, the film wisely doesn't take an overly sympathetic view towards him and, in exchange, it offers us something to ponder about the realities of our own lives.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

What-to-Watch Wednesday: Everyone Says I Love You (1996)

"It's Bavarian pasta, it doesn't need sauce. The Italians need sauce. The Italians were weak!"

You ever hear a movie line that struck your funny bone in such a way that no matter how many times you hear it, it makes you chuckle?  The one I quoted above from Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You is such a line, spoken by the German cook of a wealthy Manhattanite family.  The line's humor is derived from its historical resonance and the situational irony of a domestic talking back to her employer.

But, I don't want to bore you with my dime-store literary analysis.  The real joy of Everyone Says I Love You is the whimsy it brings to the characters and their situations.  The movie just refuses to take the troubles of these affluent people seriously, and the songs serve to punch up their melodramatic ridiculousness.

The songs are the real stars anyway.  Allen chose to use old standards rather than brand new material, and the result is a soundtrack you can hum along to while you watch the characters and their situations become more and more absurd.

As with many Woody Allen films, there are multiple storylines with characters and plot events weaving in and out of each other.  All of the stories in Everyone Says I Love You deal with love and its various foibles.  And, occasionally, the characters sing about what they are feeling and experiencing.  These moments take the form of boisterous ensemble numbers ("My Baby Just Cares For Me") to intimate moments in which characters seem to be singing privately to themselves ("I'm Through With Love").  

For the most part, both the singing and the dancing are characterized by how average they are.  Allen shied away from using authentic dancers and singers and instead had good actors just sing and dance as an extension of what is going on with their characters.  Many of them could already hold a tune (Alan Alda and Goldie Hawn), but most of them are just good actors with no particular vocal talent (Edward Norton and Julia Roberts).  

The result is paradoxically charming.  Edward Norton's unpolished voice really accentuates his character's goofy love for his fiancee.  Julia Roberts' pitch problems introduce a vulnerability to her character as she is being wooed by Woody Allen.  To describe this film is risk the idea of turning people away - a musical featuring actors who can't really sing or dance - but, to watch it is to be pulled into a silly world of people sometimes acting foolishly.  And, somehow, it all works.



Oh...Bother (Or No Good Deed Goes Unpunished)

I can't say what kind of face I have, but it must be one that invites total strangers to engage in random conversation.  It happens to...